The term ‘religious moderate’ is a misnomer, and this is why.
"You never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, quite intelligent enough." - Aldous Huxley
If you are a follower of international news, a day does not pass that doesn't include some reference to religious violence in the world. The gods are doing battle for the cash and the souls of mankind, and there will be no quarter given to those who would oppose them. Over time the names of the players change, the names of the groups evolve, and given enough time even the names of their gods start to shift, but one fact is always repeated to us ad infinitum in every report; the actions being reported are always done entirely by the extremists.
Sorry folks, but I call bullshit.
A man who takes a gun and shoots a child for wanting an education is an extremist ... but before he took up arms, before he felt capable of carrying out such staggering evil in the name of his faith, was he already an extremist? Is the common believer, wholly without blood on his or her hands, someone who fits the definition? I would argue that yes, indeed he or she would fit that description, and the reason is almost facile in its simplicity.
Religion, in and of itself, is extreme.
Human society forgets that fact, partly because so many of us are afraid to state it openly. But there's a greater reason than the constant threat of violence which keeps us from seeing it. It has to do with how our various societies have grown.
The modern, progressive cultures of the world have matured in a soupy mix of intellect and religion, and have stewed in that opaque broth for hundreds of years. Authors such as Thomas Paine in his Age of Reason made the case for human rationality quite well hundreds of years ago, and his work wasn't alone … so why didn't it take? Why is it centuries later we are still being terminally chafed by the followers of the gods?
One word. Magic.
Religion is, at its core, the belief that magic is somehow at the center of all things. Magic created the world. It runs our lives from beyond some wispy veil. It dictates the comings and goings of our fate, and therefore our role in directing the path of our lives is inherently beyond our ability to understand or control. We are told this is because the belief in the universal magic requires faith. Religion's four letter word to stop all thought.
As a result of this somewhat embarrassing feature of humanity, the cultures of the world have created a wonderful code, well understood shorthand words and phrases that tell us when we should consider some forms of irrationality sane, and others not. Extremist is one of those code words. The reasons for their use are simple to understand, and their importance is difficult to understate. They allow a culture to remain forever unchanged, stagnant and static, because they allow the society to quietly evade, to be utterly blind, to the grossest symptoms of its communal mental illness.
A culture built on even a shallow foundation of religion in order to remain stable cannot call its basic religious irrationality extreme. Part of the reason resides in the fact its religiosity is in fact quite normal for that particular group of humans, but the primary reason lies in the fact that to do so, to disparage even the common insanity that is that societies religion, casts the people of that culture into a very poor light. It shows them, in blinding contrast to more secular cultures, just how removed from the rational they truly are.
When a bomb shreds a Café in the name of a god, do the people hearing of it for the first time want to feel it was a direct result of the seemingly benign beliefs they hold for that very same god, or would they rather imagine it came from the diseased extremist minds of men and women who have somehow 'got it wrong?' The answer is obvious. We all want to believe we are good and noble, so to imagine our lifelong beliefs are somehow at the core of the world’s greatest evils is impossible to reconcile with our self image as good citizens of the world.
The basic truth of religion is that these polar extremes of thought can never be reconciled, not unless one is willing to abandon one's beliefs. We can be good people, but our gods, and our dangerous addiction to them, must be shown for what they are -- the modern manifestation of our primitive desire to believe in magic.
Unfortunately, most people aren't ready for that. As the papers tell us every day, a significant portion of humanity would rather kill those who would question them than try.
“Magic's just science that we don't understand yet.” - Arthur C. Clarke
Think of your own country for a moment. What portion of your nations laws are on the books not to further civil society, but to protect its citizens from noticing they still, fundamentally and unquestioningly, believe in magic? What portion of those laws are in place to protect those citizens from even having their belief so much as questioned? Here in Canada, we consider ourselves an advanced nation, and yet we've recently created a government agency whose sole purpose is seemingly to stop people from questioning, or even challenging, religion.
Government money spent to protect the belief in magic.
It is not a coincidence that Canada is also experiencing the most massive attack of its history on its scientific infrastructure. Like oil and water, science and religion simply do not play nicely together, and when one begins to dominate, the other invariably suffers for it.
So where does that leave the leaders of religion? If they are selling magic, a product whose primary function is to introduce an unsolvable cognitive dissonance into the minds of its buyers, to a world more and more dominated by the physical outcomes of rational scientific thought, they must be aware their importance to our species has an expiry date. They must understand that even the very word 'magic' carries with it the baggage of imbecility, and their churches, their mosques, their temples and their shrines, have been cloaked in it for eons. In other words, how are they planning on convincing a species, which is slowly growing more intelligent, to remain deliberately ignorant?
Why don't we ask the Pope?
"When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so." - Pope Francis
Is he trying to distance himself from the increasingly obtuse sects of Christianity in America, who believe all manner of voodoo and witchcraft? Is he perhaps trying to create a bridge between Catholic dogma and the real world?
To both of those questions I would answer yes … but there is more.
The most important word in that quote is magic, because by refuting magic as he has, by calling out the lie that rests at the base of his faith, he has essentially de-legitimized the faith that he is selling. If you wanted to pick a fight, you could even say he has de-legitimized ALL religions, at least for his more astute followers.
Personally, I think he was being intellectually dishonest, and I suspect he knows it.
The creation myths in Genesis are nothing less than pure, unfiltered magic. They are its very definition. To proclaim that, somehow, followers shouldn't call it so is nothing more than a lie. A lie designed to confuse those who are unwilling to give it even a moment’s thought. The pope sells a faith, and that faith is based solely, fully, absolutely and finally on magic. Nothing else.
Without magic, his religion disappears.
And perhaps that's what he fears. Perhaps that's why he is willing to lie to hundreds of millions of his followers. Because if he doesn't, he's out of a job.
The so-called moderate Pope, selected to show Catholicism is still relevant and worthy of respect, must disembowel his faith in order to save it.
How very extreme.
A world full of the moderate religious, all of them fighting to varying degrees the impossible cognitive dissonance of their faith, willfully ignoring the impossibility of their holy books, and each of them subconsciously faced with an existential question they hope they are never forced to learn the truth of; how far are they willing to go to defend their faith?
Why don't we end with one of my own quotes? I think it sums up my thoughts on the subject quite well.
"Extremism isn't just about violence. You believe in an all powerful invisible man? That's extreme all by itself. A bomb is just punctuation." - Michael Leamy