With the death of John Paul II and the intense media scrutiny of the election of the new pope there has been on TV and in the newspapers a great deal of talk about the importance of religion in public life. America is frequently said to be a religious country with a stronger interest in religious issues than we've had in decades.
I think that's nonsense. I see very little that's religious about America and the only reason we have so much discussion of religion is that we've taken the word and applied it to activities that have nothing to do with its legitimate definition.
Mostly when people say they're religious they're thinking about political goals or about various bigotries which are in need of sanctimonious cover.
Religion, rightly defined, is about the ground of our being and about the source of moral structure in the universe. It is not an easy thing, nor a simple thing, nor a comfortable thing. It requires the hardest of hard thought and after you've wrung your brain out trying to come to grips with its mysteries you find yourself with even more questions than when you started.
You can't tell me that the people who parade around in the media, making pronunciamentoes about God's disapproval of teenagers watching spicy movies, have done thinking of that quality. The childish strictures they attribute to God are an insult to the concept of a universal spirit of mercy and compassion. They are simply men seeking power through the hypocrisy of piety. That's all they are and that's all they're ever going to be.
It would be a good thing if America really were a religious country where a majority of citizens concentrated on the ultimate meaning of life. If children were raised with a sense that serious people will always seek to ask serious questions, many of our so-called difficult social problems -- like, for example, a decent health care system -- could be solved with relative ease. But if religion is going to be treated the way it has been dealt with lately, the best thing for all of us to do is hush up about it.