Rules Are for Schmucks: The Humanist Punching Bag

Last Thursday was a long day. I spent it out on soccer fields, doing my volunteer job of cleaning them up for spring and laying out the precise lines necessary to enable several hundred boys and girls to learn about sportsmanship, determination, and teamwork. My step counter said I logged over eight miles back and forth, and the fields looked sharp when I was done. But twenty-odd years ago, when I first started doing this work, my body could handle it a lot better than it does now.

When I finally made it home and peeled the shoes from my swollen feet, I ran through some of the recent religion news articles. One in a Catholic magazine caught my eye right away: “Culture, Faith and the Craven Souls of the ‘Nones.’

So now I have a “craven soul?”

Immediately after that one, I spotted another. This time it was the pope himself, complaining about Catholics who don’t toe the church’s line closely enough. Why, these people are so evil, they’re as bad as “Catholic pagans or, uglier still, Catholic atheists, because we have no reference to the love of the living God. To not listen and to turn our backs—that makes our hearts harden.”

So now I have a hardened heart? And I’m “uglier still” to boot?

I have to tell you, I didn’t feel “craven” right at that moment. I didn’t feel “hard hearted” either. I felt sore. My feet and legs were killing me. And due to an error in judgment about my ability to drag a fallen tree by myself, my back wasn’t doing too well, either. If ever there were a moment when I was willing to endure one more set of gratuitous insults with equanimity, this wasn’t it.

I’m not looking for any medals for my volunteer work. I do it because I enjoy it. But I am fed up beyond tolerance with being stereotyped and maligned for my beliefs, especially by individuals who do so because they’re trying to make another buck.

What kind of outcry would there be if a Catholic magazine published an article condemning the “craven souls” of Jews? Or if the pope denounced as “uglier still” the hardened hearts of Baptists? It would be an outcry as well deserved as it would be shrill. What about other groups that have suffered from discrimination over the ages? Black people, gay people, disabled people? Aren’t we well past the time when it’s socially acceptable to spout smug stereotypes about them? But people who won’t fork over their money to the God industry—we remain fair game for the worst insults anyone can dredge up.

Our real crime is in not buying what these guys are selling. Both of them earn their living by selling their version of supernatural truth, albeit a “truth” that conveniently changes over time. Catholic truth used to be all about how much God loved slavery, torture, and military conquest. Since humanism began flowering in the Enlightenment, we don’t hear so much about those anymore. We hear a lot, though, about how disgusting those of us who don’t buy this ever-changing “truth” are.

The “craven souls” piece was written by a religion professor, Joseph Bissonnette, who bemoans the fact that a quarter of Americans now consider themselves “nones.” We are truly evil people. We sport a “cool, immovable indifference.” We are “cold and unloving, treasuring nothing” in our “black hearts.” He goes on to snarl that “For ‘nones’ there is a great impoverishment of spirit, they are safe, comfortable … and therefore lack energy.” I’ll admit I lacked energy while reading these words, but it wasn’t from being “comfortable.”

The pope didn’t carry on for as great a length as Bissonnette, because he didn’t have to. He should know all about what being “hard-hearted” means. Hard-hearted is running an organization that won’t even pay its elderly retired employees the full pensions they earned after a lifetime of service. Hard-hearted is running an organization rampant with the sexual abuse of children, then pretending to address it with a commission so willfully opposed to doing anything constructive that both of the members who were originally appointed (with great press fanfare) to represent the victims of these crimes have resigned in disgust. Hard-hearted is running hospitals that will not perform abortions, even where necessary to save the life of an expectant mother, and punishing employees who soft-heartedly save women’s lives.

Bissonnette and the pope are both Catholic. Unlike them, I’m not going to trash an entire category of individuals because of the hate-spewing of these two. In fact, most Catholics I know are wonderful people. For these two professional bigots, though, even though I don’t believe in any afterlife, I’d love to see them endure an eternity of sore feet.