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Huffington Post writer argues religion has ‘made a mess of the earth’. Here is why she is wrong

Catholics light candles for the victims of the Paris attacks at Notre Dame de France, the French Church by Leicester Square (Photo: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk)

An article on the Huffington Post website claims that Islamism is not the problem, but religion is the problem. Here is the nub of the argument.

By its nature, religion embodies particular understandings of God. For the last millennium or so, the world’s most influential religions have envisioned a hierarchical God who ruled over a vertical universe. God lived above in heaven; we lived on a sinful or evil earth; and the terrors of death threatened us from below.

Thus, religion became consumed with an issue: getting people from here “up” to heavenly bliss with God in order to escape damnation. Although a crude image, religion basically functioned as a sort of holy elevator between heaven, earth, and hell. And an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-distant God in the clouds oversaw the whole business, ready to condemn or punish heretics and infidels at a moment’s notice.

Vertical religion has made a mess of the earth. First, it diminished life here in favor of obsessive concern about eternal destiny. The planet served as little more than a temporary station on the way to the heavenly afterlife. Second, religions developed different plans about how to receive eternal reward. Each designated their path as the only one, making everyone else spiritual and ethical competitors in the process. And each valorised divine violence against outsiders as a mark of holiness.

I wonder if Catholic readers can see where this argument goes wrong? In fact it is completely wrongheaded, and nowhere more so when it speaks of a “hierarchical” God and a “vertical” universe.

If you go back to the most basic statement of Catholic doctrine, the Creed, you will see that we believe in the Blessed Trinity: Three Persons, One God, alike in and equal in their godhead. This is not, and cannot be, a hierarchical God. The Church has always condemned heresies such as Arianism and Subordinationism. Remember that word “consubstantial”? God is a community of love, He is not to be confused with some sort of chain of command. Belief in the Trinity rules out any sort of belief in a tyrant God.

Again, we are told that God lives above in Heaven. Well, yes, he does, in pagan mythologies. But Christians believe in the Incarnation, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the faithful. God is not remote, or far away from us, or inaccessible, as St Augustine made clear in all his writings. He is closer to us than we can ever truly appreciate. Incidentally, this belief is also strongly present in the Old Testament too.

One could add that the doctrine of creation makes plain to us that God’s hand is to be seen in His works. No believer demeans life on earth through obsessing about the next life, for that would be to demean what God has created and entrusted to our care. We are not dualists. Eternal life, as the gospel of St John makes clear, begins in the here and now.

Every sentence in the quote above is wrong, apart from the first. This reflects contemporary ignorance of Christianity, a religion that has to be appreciated from the inside, not the outside. But even so, non-believers should have some inkling of basic Christian beliefs such as the Trinity, one would have thought.

Finally, a religion without any of the following doctrines – Creation, Incarnation, Redemption or Trinity – would, I admit, be dangerous. But Christianity does not fall into this category.