Vatican considers atheism: Monopoly of virtue refuted

It is an unfortunate fact that religious extremism, anti-religious extremism too, has been at the root of tremendous bloodshed. Like any extremism, religious extremism seems to encourage a certainty that often becomes a justification for atrocity. The evidence is overwhelming and, tragically, accumulates every day.

Religious extremism plays out in other ways too. Last week’s vote on divorce was made necessary by the legacy of religious autocracy. Another legacy is the unquestioned and unsustainable belief that those without religious belief cannot be moral, decent people. Even the phraseology is loaded negatively — those who reject religion are described as non-believers as if they had failed.

New research presented in the Vatican rejects this view and suggests “that the public image of the atheist is a simplification at best, and a gross caricature at worst”. Most share objective moral values and human dignity at similar rates to their peers, said the report.

This is not in any way surprising as to suggest otherwise assumes a monopoly of behaviour that is not supported by experience. Despite that, the belief, or at least its implications persist in how we manage schools and hospitals. Religion is, or at least it can be, just one path towards leading a good life. There are others equally valid. We should accept that and allow it inform the way we manage our public affiars.

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