“Groupthink” and religion
Sir, – In “Organized Religion Provides Balance to the Uncritical Acceptance of Easy ‘Groupthink'” (Opinion & Analysis, April 4), Archbishop Eamon Martin asserts, somewhat contradictorily, that “the authority of organized religion serves as a bulwark against privatized interpretations”.
He argues that “organized religion . . . brings a coherent body of teachings which is the fruit of centuries of reflection on revelation, and dialogue between faith and reason”, but ignores the fact that religions are contradictory in their claims. Whose “revelations” should we believe, and on what basis?
The religion of a person depends to a large extent on the country and family in which he was born. How many people would believe in such things as transubstantiation, resurrection, immaculate conception, assumption, hell, and papal infallibility if they had not been indoctrinated to believe these teachings when they were impressionable young children? If they had not been exposed to these teachings until they reached adulthood, would they still believe them to be true?
Religious beliefs are instilled in children at an early age, when their minds are like a sponge and before they have a chance to develop a sense of critical thinking. This primacy can make such beliefs resistant to change, even unshakable, regardless of evidence, even in adulthood. Isn’t that a recipe for groupthink? Religious indoctrination and groupthink can have dangerous consequences. Human history is replete with examples of people committing all sorts of immoral acts, using religious beliefs as justification for their actions.
I agree with Bishop Martin that organized religion plays “a major role in local and global discourse on the common good” and has done great work for the poor and needy, but its role throughout history is decidedly jagged.
Just taking the Catholic Church, just think of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the conspiracy with various fascist regimes, and the cover-up of child sexual and physical abuse, to name a few examples.
The immoral actions and positions taken by Christian institutions are not limited to history. Some elements of the Catholic Church in Poland sided with far-right xenophobic nationalists. Patriarch Cyril of the Russian Orthodox Church has given theological cover for Vladimir Putin’s monstrous attack on Ukraine.
History clearly shows that organized religion is not always a bulwark against “fanatical distortions, violent extremism and fundamentalism”. In fact, he often sponsored and drove them. – Yours, etc.,
Sir, – I would say that Garry O’Sullivan’s view of religion in our postmodern world (Letters, April 8) is the definition of vague. For someone to trust their faith in diversity and wisdom “from below” seems to lack direction and without a system of core values. Also, I would suggest that if people are trying to find meaning in a mysterious universe from the ruler of a distant land, as noted, they’re looking in the wrong place. – Yours, etc.,