Thursday, May 01, 2008

Springtime for Zealots

When the Pope was in town recently, I was trying to visit my sister on the upper east side and got stuck in a throng of pedestrians. They were gathered to wait for the big guy's arrival at a church across the street. There was no particular look to the crowd -- just average people, some little girls with hand-drawn signs. Then, a bit further down the block, barricaded into their own small section, were protesters. They were chanting loudly, and held signs that mostly said terrible things about gay people -- not child molesters, mind you; gay people -- and how the Pope would be going to hell for supporting them.

Clearly, these people were religious fanatics. Secular New Yorkers angry at the church's sex scandals wouldn't be degrading all gay people. These were the kind of despicable nut jobs who show up at soldiers' funerals holding up signs about fags and damnation. I overheard one soft-spoken old lady, stooped over, telling a neighbor on the street, "I told them they should be ashamed of themselves." But like most zealots, it didn't appear that shame was in their repertoire.

The real reason I bring this up is because I'm not Catholic. I'm not even religious. But the idea that religion leads to evil and stupidity is making less and less sense to me as I get older. The group of detractors on the street that day were crazed first -- they were attaching themselves, like angry barnacles, to the underside of religion, but if religion weren't around, they'd be red-faced about skin color or gender or the use of the designated hitter in the American League. I'm not giving religion a pass on its more nefarious side -- which exists in spades. Just the idea that people were so excited to see the Pope, this frail man, as if he himself was God, makes me shake my head in wonder. But I still think human nature is the bigger problem, not religion. Not the easiest problem to address, I know, but a bigger one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey there afraid person.
I love this post. I too got caught in a bunch of Pope-lovers that morning. The ones that got in my way were hippy-dippy twirling latinos chanting folksy church songs, strumming guitars and beating bongos. If they weren't singing about Dios and Jesus I wouldn't have been surprised to hear them segue into "Sugar Magnolia" or "Box of Rain" and start passing a bong.
People are crazy, for example, anyone who disagrees with me. Crazy, I tell you! Crazy like a barnacle!

8:47 PM  

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