March 16th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

The pope's four biggest challenges

By John L. Allen, Jr., CNN

Editor's note: John L. Allen Jr. is CNN’s senior Vatican analyst and a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

Rome (CNN) - Every new leader gets a honeymoon period, and Pope Francis is smack dab in the middle of his. His gestures of simplicity and humility, set against the traditional grandeur of the papacy, have captured the imagination of the world.

Frankly, a whole team of PR wizards couldn’t have scripted a better start to his papacy.

At some point, however, charm alone won’t be enough, because Francis will have to turn to the heavy lifting of actually governing the world’s largest and most centrally organized religious body. Taking stock of where Catholicism stands today, he’s got his work cut out for him.

Four challenges loom especially large for the new pope.

First, two-thirds of the 1.2 billion Catholics on the planet today live in the Southern Hemisphere, a share projected to reach three-quarters by mid-century. If Catholicism was once a Western faith, associated with institutional power and privilege, its center of gravity is now in the developing world and its membership is strongest among the poor.

As the first pope from Latin America, and the first pope from outside Europe in more than 1,000 years, Francis carries the aspirations and expectations of all those non-Western Catholics with him into the papacy. They will expect him to be a tribune for their concerns: the inequities of a globalized economy, the carnage of war and violence, environmental degradation, and the perception that international affairs are stacked against the interests of smaller and poorer nations.

Sooner or later, a heart that's in the right place won’t be enough for those folks. They’ll expect Pope Francis to revive the diplomatic and political capital of the papacy, perceived to have diminished during the Benedict XVI years, in order to move the ball on their agenda.

It remains to be seen whether a 76-year-old intellectual, perceived to have had a rocky relationship with Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband, Néstor Kirchner, will be able to fulfill those expectations. It’s obviously unreasonable to expect one man, even a pope, to solve deep-seated maladies such as poverty and violence by himself, but the growing share of Catholics suffering the burden of these inequities at least expect him to try.

5 things to know about the new pope

Second, the most harrowing Christian storyline of the early 21st century is the rising tide of anti-Christian violence and persecution in various global hotspots. From the Middle East to Sub-Saharan Africa, from India to Eritrea, Christians today often find themselves in the firing line, and they’ll expect the new pope to have their backs.

The statistics are staggering. According to the International Society for Human Rights in Frankfurt, Germany, fully 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. According to the Pew Forum in Washington, Christians face some form of harassment in 137 nations, two-thirds of all countries on earth.

In the most bone-chilling assertion of all, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary claims that an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed for the faith each year for the past 10 years. That works out to 11 new Christian martyrs every hour of every day for the past decade.

Some experts believe that estimate to be inflated, but no one disputes the big picture. In Europe and the United States, a threat to your religious freedom means you might get sued. For scores of Christians in other parts of the world, it means you might get shot, which obviously rates higher on the urgency meter.

Christians under threat will expect Pope Francis to act on their behalf. Many believe that Benedict said the right things but never mobilized the resources of the Catholic Church to make an effective difference on the ground.

The first test for the new pope is likely to come in Syria, where Christian leaders are terrified that they’ll be the next Iraq, meaning the next country where Christians are the primary victims of the chaos and rising Islamic militancy that follows the collapse of a police state. Last fall Benedict XVI tried to dispatch a high-level delegation of five cardinals to Syria to appeal for peace, but it fell apart amid confusion about its mission.

A complete outsider to the world of the Vatican, Francis will be challenged to get his hands around its diplomatic apparatus quickly and to use it effectively.

Third, Francis inherits the unfinished business of the clerical sexual abuse scandals, which represent the greatest blow to the moral authority of the Catholic Church in centuries. In many ways, Benedict XVI was a reformer on the scandals, meeting with victims, apologizing for their suffering and embracing a “zero tolerance” policy for abuser priests.

Bergoglio's journey to the top of the Church

Critics, however, believe the process of reform has a long way to go, beginning with accountability not just for the priests who abuse but for the bishops who cover it up. The world will be waiting for a clear signal from Francis that his legendary “closeness to the people” includes compassion for abuse victims, and that prelates who mishandle abuse complaints will pay a price.

He’ll also have to make hard decisions on other unresolved questions about the abuse scandals, such as whether to impose a “mandatory reporter” policy on all bishops worldwide, requiring them to relay all allegations to civil police and prosecutors, and whether to order dioceses to release their files on accused priests.

There may well be good reasons for not taking those steps, at least as a matter of binding global policy. There are some corners of the world, for instance, where police and prosecutors don’t always have the best interests of justice at heart, and a policy of automatic cooperation could be tantamount to a suicide pact. At minimum, however, Pope Francis will have to explain the logic for his choices in a transparent fashion, in order to convince the world that the Catholic Church has turned a corner.

As history’s first Latin American pope, Francis is especially conscious that so far the sex abuse crisis really hasn’t exploded across the developing world as it has in Europe and North America. That may impose extra pressure to get ahead of the curve, sparing the Church in his part of the world the painful experiences of Catholics in the West.

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Fourth, Pope Francis also inherits a Church in Europe and North America that appears to be increasingly at odds with the surrounding secular culture.

In the United States, the Catholic bishops and other Christian leaders are still wrestling with the Obama administration over contraception mandates issued as part of health care reform, with the specter of prolonged litigation and nasty public fights. In the United Kingdom, several Catholic adoption agencies have been shut down after the 2010 “Equality Act” made it illegal for them to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, considered the leading intellectual light among the American bishops, issued an ominous forecast in 2010: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”

These tensions with the broader culture are exacerbated by divisions within the Church. A Pew Forum poll taken shortly after Benedict XVI announced his resignation found that 46 percent of American Catholics wanted the next pope to move Catholicism in a more progressive direction, while 51 percent wanted him to maintain its traditional teachings. That’s a fair reflection of the deep left/right divide within the Church.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus famously says that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” In many ways, the Catholic Church across the West is just such a house divided, plagued by tensions among competing tribes – pro-life Catholics versus the peace-and-justice crowd, liturgical traditionalists against innovators, dissident theologians against hard-line bishops, not to mention the free-for-all of the Catholic blogosphere, where no spleen ever goes unvented.

Francis will be expected to reach across those fault lines, reminding Catholics of what they have in common rather than what divides them, and working out a modus vivendi with an increasingly skeptical secular world.

Despite being a staunch theological conservative, Francis has a lifetime of experience within the Jesuit religious order, where the center of gravity tends to be more to the left. Perhaps that background will give him a leg up on trying to heal fractures within the Church, and in its relationships with the wider world.

So far, Pope Francis hasn’t made many substantive moves to address these challenges, but he has gone some distance towards reframing the debate.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Traditionally, critics accuse the Catholic leadership of being out of touch and drunk on its own power. That’s likely to be a harder case to make against a pontiff who shuns his limousine in favor of taking the bus, who packs his own bags and pays his own bills, and who makes his own phone calls.

Those may be small touches, but popes teach as much with their deeds as with their words, and so far Francis’ gestures have spoken to a humbler, simpler style of leadership.

Gestures alone won’t spare the pope tough choices. They may, however, incline the world to give the pope making them a greater benefit of the doubt. For a Church that’s long had an image problem, this alone can’t help but seem an awfully promising start.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope Francis • Vatican

soundoff (684 Responses)
  1. RICK

    Serious question here, when an atheist has to testify in court, do they put their hand on the bible and swear to tell the truth ?

    March 17, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • snowboarder

      there is no requirement to swear on a bible in court.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • Wootings

      As an atheist, aware of the fact that the Bible (and all religious books) is pure fiction, why would you care?

      Sure, I'll swear on any religious tome you want – since they're all lies, there's no ramifications for me one way or the other. Just stack 'em all up and I'll sit on 'em, how's that?

      March 17, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • RICK

      Got it.....thanks

      March 17, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • The real Tom

      Somebody watched too much Perry Mason.

      March 17, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • JJ

      It would be the same as putting my hand on a Superman comic book or Harry Potter. Pretty much the same as a Christian putting their hand on the Koran.

      March 17, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • centeredpiece

      They can chose to affirm rather than to swear. No one is forced to swear on the Bible. In fact, some Christians object to so doing based on the teaching in Mt. 5:37.

      March 17, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  2. usresham

    Leave Pope alone. He knows what are the problems and which needs to be address first. Stop creating pressure. Give him some time before bombarding with questions and our solutions.

    March 17, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • Edweird69

      Can't wait to see him in his ruby red slippers. Why, I feel closer to god, just thininking about it.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  3. Rainer Braendlein

    The above article labours under the misapprehension that the pope still had any temporal power. The pope has power only inside the Roman Catholic Church, there he is even God, but outside the RCC his power is about zero.

    Imagine Francis would call Obamba, and command him he should stop gay marriage in the United Sodoms, sorry I meant United States. Obamba would answer: Dear Francis, I appreciate you as a great spiritual leader but concerning the affairs of the US you should not meddle in, kiss my a-ss; if you don't stop meddling in we will send some missiles to Vatikan-state.

    Also when the pope would call Mrs. Angy Merkel, and command her that she should forbid abortion she would merely burp, and tell him that Germany doesn't belong to his realm, and he should fry his own fish.

    Today the pope is mererly allowed to tell his atti-tudes through speeches but he cannot enforce his will by violence. The pope has not more power than the German Ferderal President who is also an idiotic clown who always speaks about freedom but doesn't take care of the happiness of the German people, he is just a ridiculous fake.

    The role of the pope is that one of an evil clown which helps the current temporal leaders to keep the fiction they had any fear of God. Together with the temporal rulers the pope sucks the commen herd, us naive people who don't realize what is going on.

    Of course, the role of the pope as an evil religious clown more and more comes to and end. Less and less the temporal rulers see any need to keep the fiction they would be pious in any way. The Beast is about to show its true face, and the common herd will submit to the Antichrist who degrades them to stupid animals who are allowed to labour in his factories, and to hang around in front of the idiot box the rest of their sad life.

    March 17, 2013 at 9:51 am |
  4. obamaphone

    I'm a nincompoop.

    March 17, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  5. Rainer Braendlein

    The above article labours under the misapprehension that the pope still had any temporal power. The pope has power only inside the Roman Catholic Church, there he is even God, but outside the RCC his power is about zero.

    Imagine Francis would call Obamba, and command him he should stop gay marriage in the United Sodoms, sorry I meant United States. Obamba would answer: Dear Francis, I appreciate you as a great spiritual leader but concerning the affairs of the US you should not meddle in, kiss my a-ss; if you don't stop meddling in we will send some missiles to Vatikan-state.

    Also when the pope would call Mrs. Angy Merkel, and command her that she should forbid abortion she would merely burp, and tell him that Germany doesn't belong to his realm, and he should fry his own fish.

    Today the pope is mererly allowed to tell his atti-tudes through speeches but he cannot enforce his will by violence. The pope has not more power than the German Ferderal President who is also an idiotic clown who always speak about freedom but doesn't care fore the happiness of the German people, he is just a fake.

    The role of the pope is that one of an evil clown which helps the current temporal leaders to keep the fiction they had any fear of God. Together with the temporal rulers the pope sucks the commen herd, us naive people who don't realize what is giong on.

    Of course, the role of the pope as an evil religious clown more and more comes to and end. Less and less the temporal rulers see any need to keep the fiction they would be pious in any way. The Beast is about to show its true face, and the common herd will submit to the Antichrist who degrades them to stupid animals who are allowed to labour in his factories, and to hang around in front of the idiot box the rest of their sad life.

    March 17, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • Edweird69

      "United Sodoms"... As if str8 people don't participate in anaal s ex. You are a true baphoon.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • snowboarder

      today you have a rare comment that makes sense until you get to the whole anti-christ malarky. then you are back into the realm of make believe.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  6. TheAntiChrist

    Here are the 4 biggest challenges.

    1) Abstain.
    2) Abstain.
    3) Abstain.
    4) Abstain.
    5) Remove the stain upon failure.

    March 17, 2013 at 9:17 am |
  7. DJ

    Witout faith and the enlightment of the Holy Spirit the bible is meaningless words to an intellectual like a " dose of reality" .
    He thinks everything can be logically explained, but misses the big picture, and wouldn't have a clue about what that is. It is like trying to explain what the color green is to a person born blind that has no concept or desire to know what it means.
    Hopefully, he will come to understand and accept the existence of God before it is too late.

    March 17, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • snowboarder

      nearly all things once attributed to supernatural cause have been determined to be of natural origins. the realm of religion has been relegated to the unknown or unknowable. with every bit of knowledge gained that realm grows smaller.

      religious spirituality is a person standing in a silent room expounding on the quality of the sounds they have been told that they should hear. yet everyone experiences crises of faith in their lives and we know that it is simply because of the silence in the room.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      And after studying the bible and other religious doc uments, one discovers the fact that all religions and religious items including the bible were created by men and there are no gods.

      Why do you not believe in Zeus? If you can answer that question honestly, you should realize that you shoould not believe in any gods.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • One one

      A veiled threat. What could be more intolerant and obnoxious than preaching that people who don't believe as you do will be sent to hell to be tortured forever ?

      March 17, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

      If you knew anything about the "big picture," you wouldn't allow your thinking to be shackled by an antiquated, out-of-touch belief system. What catholicism espouses is completely out of step with humanity's plight in the modern world. If it weren't, it would do something about, oh say, poverty. Of course, the pope and his band of trolls would do nothing of the sort because if they did, they'd eliminate two thirds of the catholic church's membership. Can't have that, now, can we? Gotta make sure these poor saps worldwide keep filling our coffers with their money that should be going toward basic living expenses. How about considering that, huh?

      March 17, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • sybaris

      "Hopefully, he will come to understand and accept the existence of God before it is too late."

      Which God?

      March 17, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • Edweird69

      To this day, his "existence" is still in question. You'd have thought by now, there would be a shred of evidence, somewhere.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • snowboarder

      syb, his god of course. the only true god.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • centeredpiece

      Plus, Dose is simply wrong about what he claims is the Catholic Church's teaching. He makes things up and then criticizes his own musings. Must get lonely in there.

      March 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  8. Brandon

    Charm alone seems to be enough for Obama.... maybe Francis could school the prez on humility and concrete actions...

    March 17, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  9. A Dose of Reality

    Rather than inculcating our children with the primary-color simple Sunday school legends and myths most people do, might I suggest the following ten comandments to enable them to think for themselves.
    1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must.
    2. DO NOT think that claims about magic and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.
    3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.
    4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars get frightened when you want to "look under the hood".
    5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and goblins and believing in any of them does not make one moral.
    6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should I believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.
    7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?
    8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of god” or “god moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered wrong.
    9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?
    10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.
    I sometimes think that, if we first taught our children these simple guidelines, any religion or other supernatural belief would be quickly dismissed by them as quaint nostalgia from a bygone era. I hope we get there as a species.

    March 17, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • ArgleBargle

      Can you say "Cut and Paste"?

      March 17, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

      Hear! Hear! Bravo, Dose of Reality!!!

      March 17, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  10. ArgleBargle

    While the Catholic Church has many, many honest and faithful members, when it gets to the upper echelons, anytime someone shines a light into the inner workings of this Old Boys Club, the rats scurry away back into the darkness while crying, "No! You cannot understand the Mysteries of God!" Then, if you open your eyes and see it for what it is and not what it claims to be and read Revelation 17, you will understand the TRUE power behind the Vatican.

    March 17, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  11. nood2

    In the second point in this article, the writer, quietly states that Christians are under threat of Islamic militants at a rate of 100,000 per year or at a rate of 11 new martyrs per hour every day. Folks, this is simply a staggering statistic. The major threat to Catholics world over is Islam. Too bad the writer tried to hide this fact in his article. Yet the Church wants dialog with Islam and of course the Muslims will join in this supposed dialog while they continue to kill Christians at the rate of 11 per hour each and every day. When is Christianity going to stand up against this global cancer Islam?

    March 17, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • snowboarder

      nood, the only cure for militant theology is education.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      To the islamists, christianity is the cancer.

      In reality religion is the problem.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • Bostontola

      Crusade! You guys are too funny.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:09 am |
  12. A Dose of Reality

    No matter how you dress it up, there are some fundamental difficulties with Christianity that are pretty hard to overcome.
    1. At its most fundamental level, Christianity requires a belief that an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,720,000,000 years ago (the age of the Universe) sat back and waited 10,000,000,000 years for the Earth to form, then waited another 3,720,000,000 years for human beings to gradually evolve, then, at some point gave them eternal life and sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.
    While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Iron Age Middle East, including the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies.
    Either that, or it all started 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake. Either way “oh come on” just doesn’t quite capture it.
    2. This ‘all loving’ god spends his time running the Universe and spying on the approximately 7 billion human beings on planet Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He even reads their minds (or “hears their prayers”, if you see any difference) using some kind of magic telepathic powers. He also keeps his telepathic eye on them when they are not praying, so as to know if they think bad thoughts (such as coveting their neighbor) so he knows whether to reward or punish them after they die.
    3. Having withheld any evidence of his existence, this god will then punish those who doubt him with an eternity burning in hell. I don’t have to kill, I don’t have to steal, I don’t even have to litter. All I have to do is harbor an honest, reasonable and rational disbelieve in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque penalty on me a billion times worse than the death penalty – and he loves me.
    4. The above beliefs are based on nothing more than a collection of Bronze and Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology, much of it discredited, that was cobbled together into a book called the “Bible” by people we know virtually nothing about, before the Dark Ages.
    5. The stories of Christianity are not even original. They are borrowed directly from earlier mythology from the Middle East. Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Ho.rus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).
    6. The Bible is also literally infested with contradictions, outdated morality, and open support for the most barbarous acts of cruelty – including, genocide, murder, slavery, r.ape and the complete subjugation of women. All of this is due to when and where it was written, the morality of the times and the motives of its authors and compilers. While this may be exculpatory from a literary point of view, it also screams out the fact that it is a pure product of man, bereft of any divine inspiration.
    7. A rejection of the supernatural elements of Christianity does not require a rejection of its morality. Most atheists and secular humanists share a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent we reject Christian morality, it is where it is outdated or mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, our basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – we just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over our head in order to act in a manner that we consider moral.
    Falsely linking morality to a belief in the supernatural is a time-tested “three card trick” religion uses to stop its adherents from asking the hard questions. So is telling them it is “wrong to doubt.” This is probably why there is not one passage in the Bible in support of intelligence and healthy skepticism, but literally hundreds in support of blind acceptance and blatant gullibility.
    8. We have no idea of who wrote the four Gospels, how credible or trustworthy they were, what ulterior motives they had (other than to promote their religion) or what they based their views on. We know that the traditional story of it being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is almost certainly wrong. For example, the Gospel of Matthew includes a scene in which Jesus meets Matthew, recounted entirely in the third person!! Nevertheless, we are called upon to accept the most extraordinary claims by these unknown people, who wrote between 35 to 65 years after Christ died and do not even claim to have been witnesses. It is like taking the word of an unknown Branch Davidian about what happened to David Koresh at Waco – who wrote 35 years after the fact and wasn’t there.
    9. When backed into a corner, Christianity admits it requires a “leap of faith” to believe it. However, once one accepts that pure faith is a legitimate reason to believe in something (which it most certainly is not, any more than “faith” that pixies exist is) one has to accept all other gods based on exactly the same reasoning. One cannot be a Christian based on the “leap of faith” – and then turn around and say those who believe in, for example, the Hindu gods, based on the same leap, got it wrong. In a dark room without features, any guess by a blind man at the direction of the door is as valid as the other 359 degrees.
    Geography and birthplace dictates what god(s) one believes in. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own gods and they all seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams, and prejudices. Do you think they all exist? If not, why only yours?
    Faith is not belief in a god. It is a mere hope for a god, a wish for a god, no more substantial than the hope for a good future and no more universal than the language you speak or the baseball team you support.

    March 17, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • ArgleBargle

      For a smart person, you're not very bright.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Bostontola

      Argie, that's a snappy comeback, right up there with, "I know you are but what am I?".

      March 17, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • TurtleChurch

      An excellent summary

      March 17, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  13. snowboarder

    the current number of adherents to any religion is a testament to the effectiveness of indoctrination and groupthink they employ. you really have to take your hat off to them.

    March 17, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  14. A Dose of Reality

    A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.
    The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:
    (a) Astronomy;
    (b) Medicine;
    (c) Economics; or
    (d) Christianity
    You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:
    (a) historian;
    (b) geologist;
    (c) NASA astronomer; or
    (d) Christian
    I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am
    (a) A gifted psychologist
    (b) A well respected geneticist
    (c) A highly educated sociologist
    (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.
    I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am
    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;
    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly
    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or
    (d) your average Christian
    Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:
    (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;
    (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;
    (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or
    (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.
    I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty". I am
    (a) A victim of child molestation
    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover
    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions
    (d) A Christian
    The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:
    (a) Architecture;
    (b) Philosophy;
    (c) Archeology; or
    (d) Religion
    What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:
    (a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they are morally obliged to believe on pain of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;
    (b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is a composite god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;
    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or
    (d) All of the above.
    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:
    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;
    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;
    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or
    (d) my religious belief.
    Who am I? I don’t pay any taxes. I never have. Any money my organization earns is tax free and my own salary is also tax free, at the federal, state and local level. Despite contributing nothing to society, but still enjoying all its benefits, I feel I have the right to tell others what to do. I am
    (a) A sleazy Wall Street banker
    (b) A mafia boss
    (c) A drug pusher; or
    (d) A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister or Jewish Rabbi.
    What do the following authors all have in common – Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal:
    (a) They are among the most gifted writers the World has known;
    (b) They concentrated on opposing dogma and opening the human mind and spirit to the wonders of free thought and intellectual freedom;
    (c) They were intimidated by the Catholic Church and put on the Church’s list of prohibited authors; or
    (d) All of the above.
    The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:
    (a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;
    (b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;
    (c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions to distribute condoms; or
    (d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.

    March 17, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • ArgleBargle

      Right. People are going to read your wall of words. Not.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  15. jojo

    DO NOT QUESTION the Pope

    He's Inffalib...

    he's never wrong.

    March 17, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  16. Reality

    Why all leaders of religion will soon be "pink-slipped":

    1. origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    “New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment. “
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.


    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    2 b., Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:
    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

    3. Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

    This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, and the Filipino “koranics”.

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

    Current crises:

    The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

    4. Hinduism (from an online Hindu site) – "Hinduism cannot be described as an organized religion. It is not founded by any individual. Hinduism is God centered and therefore one can call Hinduism as founded by God, because the answer to the question ‘Who is behind the eternal principles and who makes them work?’ will have to be ‘Cosmic power, Divine power, God’."

    The caste/laborer system, reincarnation and cow worship/reverence are problems when saying a fair and rational God founded Hinduism."

    Current problems:

    The caste system, reincarnation and cow worship/reverence.

    5. Buddhism- "Buddhism began in India about 500 years before the birth of Christ. The people living at that time had become disillusioned with certain beliefs of Hinduism including the caste system, which had grown extremely complex. The number of outcasts (those who did not belong to any particular caste) was continuing to grow."

    "However, in Buddhism, like so many other religions, fanciful stories arose concerning events in the life of the founder, Siddhartha Gautama (fifth century B.C.):"

    Archaeological discoveries have proved, beyond a doubt, his historical character, but apart from the legends we know very little about the circu-mstances of his life. e.g. Buddha by one legend was supposedly talking when he came out of his mother's womb.

    Bottom line: There are many good ways of living but be aware of the hallucinations, embellishments, lies, and myths surrounding the founders and foundations of said rules of life.

    Then, apply the Five F rule: "First Find the Flaws, then Fix the Foundations". And finally there will be religious peace and religious awareness in the world!!!!!

    March 17, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • ArgleBargle

      Blah, blah, blah.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:09 am |
  17. A Dose of Reality

    1. You believe that the pope has personal conversations with God (that nobody else ever hears) and is infallible when speaking on matters of Church doctrine. You then wistfully ignore the fact that Church doctrine changes and that former popes therefore could not possibly have been “infallible”. Limbo, for example, was touted by pope after pope as a place where un-baptized babies who die go, until Pope Benedict XVI just eradicated it (or, more accurately, so watered it down as effectively eradicate it in a face saving way). Seems all those earlier “infallible” Popes were wrong – as they were on Adam and Eve v. evolution, heliocentricity v. egocentricity, and a host of other issues that required an amendment of official Church doctrine. You also ignore the innumerable murders, rampant corruption and other crimes committed over the centuries by your “infallible”, god-conversing popes.
    2. You reject the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours. You are blissfully (or intentionally) blind to the fact, that had you been born in another part of the World, you would be defending the local god(s) and disdaining the incorrectness of Catholic beliefs.
    3. You begrudgingly accept evolution (about a century after Darwin proved it and after accepting Genesis as literally true for about 2,000 years) and that Adam and Eve was totally made up, but then conveniently ignore that fact that your justification for Jesus dying on the cross (to save us from Original Sin) has therefore been eviscerated. Official Church literature still dictates a belief in this nonsense.
    4. You disdain native beliefs as “polytheist” and somehow “inferior” but cannot explain (i) why being polytheistic is any sillier than being monotheistic. Once you make the quantum leap into Wonderland by believing in sky-fairies, what difference does if make if you believe in one or many?; nor (ii) why Christians believe they are monotheistic, given that they believe in god, the devil, guardian angels, the holy spirit, Jesus, many demons in hell, the Virgin Mary, the angel Gabriel, thousands of saints, all of whom apparently make Earthly appearances periodically, and all of whom inhabit their life-after-death lands with magic-sacred powers of some kind.
    5. You bemoan the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don`t even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees or the 3,000 Israelites killed by Moses for worshipping the golden calf (or the dozen or so other slaughters condoned by the bible). You also like to look to god to for guidance in raising your children, ignoring the fact that he drowned his own – according to your Bible.
    6. You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that God impregnated Mary with himself, to give birth to himself, so he could sacrifice himself to himself to “forgive” an ”Original Sin” that we now all know never happened.
    7. You disdain gays as sinners, but have no problem when Lot got drunk and committed father-daughter in.cest (twice) or offered his daughters to a mob to be gang ra.ped, or when Moses, time and again, offered his wife up for the “pleasures” of the Egyptians to save his own skin.
    8. You believe that your god will cause anyone who does not accept your Bronze Age stories to suffer a penalty an infinite times worse than the death penalty (burning forever in excruciating torture) simply because of their healthy skepticism, yet maintain that god “loves them”.
    9. You will totally reject any scientific breakthrough that is inconsistent with your established doctrine, unless and until it is so generally accepted as to back you into a corner. While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you of the deep inanity of your silly faith, some priest doing magic hand signals over bread and wine is enough to convince you it is thereby transformed into the flesh and blood of Jesus because of the priest’s magic powers (or “sacred powers” to the extent you see a difference).
    10. You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to Lourdes, Fátima and other magic places and prayers in general. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. The remaining 99.99% failure was simply “god moving in mysterious ways”. The fact that, if you ask for something repeatedly, over and over, year after year, sooner or later that thing is bound to happen anyway, has not even occurred to you. A stopped clock is right twice a day.
    11. You accept the stories in the Bible without question, despite not having the slightest idea of who actually wrote them, how credible these people were or how long the stories were written after the alleged events they record occurred. For example, it is impossible for Moses to have written the first five books of the Old Testament, as Catholics believe. For one, they record his death and events after his death. In fact, the chance of the Bible being historically accurate in any but the broadest terms is vanishingly small.
    Heavens, I could not fit them into ten. Maybe, if they pray hard enough to their sky-fairy, the Catholics can turn them into 10

    March 17, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • ArgleBargle

      Isn't Judge Wapner on?

      March 17, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • snowboarder

      kmart sucks

      March 17, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  18. Elliott Carlin

    I'm a Protestant to the core and have no time for the RCC leadership, but the hatred toward religion by the athiest tells us what a society would be like if they had the reins. We're in their heads like Palin in a libs. LOL

    March 17, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • A Dose of Reality

      Yea, religion NEVER shows ANY hate towards ANYBODY. Right? Maybe Atheists wouldn't be so angry if RELIGION kept out of EVERYONE else's Business.

      March 17, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • Bostontola

      Atheists are just like believers when it comes to hate, some do, some don't. Your generalization of atheists is the same prejudice as when whites thought blacks inferior, and Christians thought Jews were untrustworthy. It is a form of bigotry that is very unbecoming. Do you think your pastor would approve?

      March 17, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

      Atheists? Hatred? Let's see here. The Crusades, The Inquisition (that went on for 700 years), the murdering of indigenous populations in the New World, live burning of women as "witches", multiple executions of peasants and political figures throughout the centuries for so-called heresy, invoking the name of god time and again to justify the killing of one's enemies. Yeah, this christianity boasts a solid moral base of non-hatred, now, doesn't it?

      March 17, 2013 at 9:51 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    March 17, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • Mirosal

      Nope, prayer cannot change a thing. Your own beliefs AND doctrine define that. If you really believe prayer changes anything, then you've spun your own doctrine and religion onto its proverbial ear. Of course, xtains are pretty good at twisting their faith like wringing a wet towel.

      March 17, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • .

      you can continue to be wrong if you want to be.

      March 17, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • A Dose of Reality

      Please provide proof that prayer Works. We are waiting.......

      March 17, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • .

      Proof prayer works as requested

      March 17, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • Mirosal

      How can I be wrong? Legitimate studies have shown that prayer has NO effect.

      March 17, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • A Dose of Reality

      Please prove salvation exists

      March 17, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • mark

      On Good Friday last year I prayed that God would give me an opportunity to help somebody that day to show my appreciation for His sacrifice. Within an hour there was a knock on my door. A women had a flat tire and stopped right in front of my house. She was incapable of fixing the flat herself. I fixed the flat for her. I told her what I had prayed and she began to cry. She indicated she really needed to here that. We hugged and she went on her way. Another time myself and six friends were walking in the Sinai desert. It was getting very cold and we seemed to be lost. I prayed we would find shelter some how. Within a mile or two we came across an intact structure in the middle of nowhere. We entered and inside there were, guess how many cots with blankets, yes 7. Jesus lives! And he loves atheists!

      March 17, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • A Dose of Reality

      Gee Mark, What a story! Now it's my turn to make things up. I love this game!

      March 17, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Mark: That's not proof that prayer works. That could have happened to anyone. In order for it to be validated as working, it needs to be testable and thus far, the studies show that prayer does nothing.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • One one

      @mark, god loves atheists? You need to read your bible.

      2 Thessalonians, 8-9:"In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."

      March 17, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • One one

      Gee mark, if god can deliver you a woman with a flat tire I would hope he would de liver something really meaningful , like world peace. Maybe Christians don't pray for world peace ?

      March 17, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • mark

      Dose.... Jesus loves you! Truth.... prove that life began as a single cell! One....I read the bible everyday. Jesus loves atheists,he died for them and if they were to repent they would be accepted into His kingdom. That is the essence of God. I am not denying Judgement by saying Jesus loves them. As long as they live he loves them!

      March 17, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • mark

      One...as long as there is free will, there will never be world peace. Jesus answered, "My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world."

      His kingdom is not here. I will pray for you though, becausehe knows every hair on your head.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • snowboarder

      mark, you suffer from the same ignorance that has plagued humanity since the evolution of communication. just because it can not currently be explained, it is of supernatural origin. when man didn't understand what caused lightning, or storms, or droughts, or earthquakes, or floods, or illness, they were all thought to be of the gods. just because we currently don't know does not in any way make a magical origin likely.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • mark

      By the way One,,,it was meaningful to me and to her. That's how intimate God can be. He loves you One!

      March 17, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • snowboarder

      mark, he loves you, but he will torture you for eternity if you don't love him back. lol

      March 17, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • mark

      Snow...I utilize cause and effect. I prayed it happened. Net result prayer works. God bless you Snow. Prove loves exists! You probably have said I love you once.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • midwest rail

      Event "B" follows event "A". That in no way means that event "B" was caused by event "A".

      March 17, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • mark

      Good point Snow...thank God I don't have to think about that accept when it comes to praying for you! How about you?

      March 17, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • mark

      You're right midwest, but it doesn't mean it didn't either. If there is a chance it did, might be worth looking into it humbly. God loves you Midwest!

      March 17, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

      Show me an undeniable "cause and effect" relationship between prayer and the "prayed for". I'm waiting.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • midwest rail

      mark, merely because someone points out the logical fallacy statement, why would you presume them to be a non'believer ?

      March 17, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • mark

      Midwest...I literally just prayed that God would bless you. And continued with Lord if he/she is a believer I pray you would keep working in there life.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • mark

      Whoops "their."

      March 17, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • midwest rail

      Mark – that in no way answered the question posed. Try again.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • mark

      The presumption was I presumed. I didn't, therefore it is not a valid question, equally a flawed premise.

      March 17, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      March 17, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Really?

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"

      That's why the data, has shown that atheists have happier and healthier lives than conservative Christians. Your post is built on a lie!

      March 17, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • mark

      Really...even if the data was actually true, enjoy your 72 years here, it is but a vapor in the time line of eternity. I'll take my chances on eternity. God bless you!

      March 17, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  20. palintwit

    Tea Party Patriots typically like to get all their bagging and birthing done by Friday. This leaves the weekend free to watch nascar , have incestuous relations with their sisters and cousins and then maybe even brush their tooth.

    March 17, 2013 at 8:20 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.