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Religious Tolerance logo


An essay by Daniel Hong

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The celebrated passing of the Pope John Paul II and Terri Schiavo yielded an unprecedented exposure to death and religion. No matter where I turn, I was encapsulated by the ubiquitous news. When the serried streets from Florida to Vatican enunciated the impact of the two ostensibly unrelated people, I was impressed. Firstly by the thwarted but resilient supporters at the Schiavo's hospital where she was pronounced dead officially, and secondly by the dolorous followers at the Pope's funeral, I was moved. Moved not to tear in my eyes, but to mull, "What has fascinated them and why are they there at the poignant postlude?"

Watching the confluence, my exigent concern has been shifted. The previously torrid issues--who decides to live or die, what is a person, who has the right to live, or will the Pope John Paul's legacy surpass the previous pontiffs, even to elevating him as a saint—relegated to a secondary place in my mind. I have a more pressing interest now: who was more successful evangelist to attract my attention to their religion? The Pope or Schiavo?

Although a CBS reporter called the Florida rallies a "religious road show," the Pope, the head of the largest religious sect, will be the limpid winner to the puerile question. Armed with his 2000 years of organized religion in his backdrop and with his 26 years on the embellished throne, the Pope emerges on top easily. He has demonstrated this aggrandizement unequivocally at his funeral. During the nine days of requiem, due to the unfortunate timing of her death, previously famed Schiavo simply glided away from the limelight.

However, Schiavo, a non-professional Catholic with her 15 years of the excruciating testimonies, succeeded in instigating the religious conservatives to inflame and jerking tears out of the esurient eyes of her avid supporters. The prolonged and extensive disputes on Schiavo's life might have drawn more attentions than the perturbing news during the fugitive days of Pope's ailment. Unlike the Pope who was old without a family, her relatively young age as well as the pestering family feud played a supporting role to ingratiate her advocates.

The underpinning message of Schiavo's followers was clear and loud. God is the decision maker on human life and death. "One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America," said Tom DeLay. Despite of their effort to across the message to the patrons, most will fall into oblivion within few months or even few days. Their message won't be palpable by many until another dose of court debatable controversy on 'right to life' surfaces at the Capital Hill.

In this sense, Cardinal William Keeler of the Archdiocese of Baltimore was scanty when he said, "It is not for us to determine when that time is…We are all diminished by this woman's death, a death that speaks to the moral confusion we face today. Ours is a culture in which human life is increasingly devalued and violated, especially where that life is most weak and fragile." Ours is not a culture where life is devalued. Do we know any country where they send a fire engine, an ambulance along with a police patrol when someone collapsed with a broken leg on street? We do care about human life. Ours is a culture of Alzheimer's disease and autism. It is not a culture of "devaluing" life but a culture of "forgetting" what life really is about due to our short attention spans.

If I remember correctly about life, no one begged to be here in this world. In absence of the volition, we're literally "thrown out here" or "being-there" as Heidegger perceived fastidiously. This "existence of human life", from its radical uncertainty and the fact that we will die, creates angst. The concern of our annihilation is the perennial human experience. Death is the key to life. Once we clutch the reality of angst, we can concede lucidly that our lives are limited—and therefore shaped—by death.

However, if we defy the verisimilitude of death, we will be gullible as Schiavo's whippy supporters who just didn't want to let her go. Learning their befuddled and anserine religious language would have been a help for me to understand their conviction better. But there is a simpler version to dispute the issue of right to live. I'll take a less traveled road. Thus, I am with what Jack London quipped. "The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."

Schiavo supporters' veneration to this 'earthly' life muffed my inquisitiveness for their religion. If they sincerely believe that there is a better world out there, why would they hold ardently this life on earth? Don't they believe in heaven anymore? Or, did they forget about the afterlife already? By holding their one foot in heaven and the other on earth, they were asking me to perform an unattainable task. I have pretty short legs. I can't reach the heaven and the earth both at the same time. That's not my cinch. The oxymoron attitude showed clearly their indifference to their faith. Thus, Terrie Schiavo, by her supporters who demonstrated their sanctimonious delusion, failed me to convince that her religion is worthy to consider.

On the second featured religious road show, the Pope disqualified himself with his ironic policies against his own people. The Pope preached human rights throughout the world, but imposed serious restriction among the bishops, theologians in the Church. He vetoed women's ordination. He mandated his priests to be celibate. He demanded his bishops to be absolutely loyal to his party line in the church. He generated hostility in the issues of abortion, artificial insemination, birth control, and divorce.

More than anything else, his anti-contraceptives campaign, which ironically went against his conviction of the "culture of life", resulting in uncountable deaths from Aids, tops the chart of reasons why I can't accept his religion.

The question, who did a better job to arouse my innate religious nature—in his book, "Religion Explained," Pascal Boyer asserts that religion is an evolutionary byproduct of our inference systems of the mind---ends with no winner: neither the Pope nor Schiavo gets my vote. Instead of turning to the publicized evangelists to be inspired about their religion, I decided to call my mother-in-law who is a real saint to me. While on the phone, I'll share with her my newly created wish after watching the double-featured religious road show. The wish concurs with what Ludwig Feuerbach said at the end of his "Lectures on the Essence of Religion:"

"My only wish is…to transform friends of God into friends of man, believers into thinkers, devotees of prayer into devotees of work, candidates for the hereafter into students of the world, Christians who, by their own procession and admission, are 'half animal, half angel' into persons, into whole persons."

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Copyright © 2005 by Daniel Hong; used by permission
Originally posted: 2005-MAY-02
Latest update: 2005-MAY-02
Author: Daniel Hong

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