How Many Pilgrims

About a quarter of Australia’s population is self-declared as Christian Catholic.* Over the last few decades, the younger part of the population has been demonstrating a slow inclination to drift away from the conventional Christian Church (and indeed, organized religion altogether) but in about 20 days time in Sydney, the Catholic Church will attempt to reddress that trend by exerting its influence over the waning faith of the young people of Australia and holding an event that they are calling (some might say duplicitously) World ‘Youth’ Day.

Tourism New South Wales’s ‘Sydney’ page breathlessly gushes:

New South Wales looks forward to welcoming young people for World Youth Day 2008, the biggest event to be held in Australia, ever.

Poster and radio advertising around Sydney is urging people who are ‘not involved’ with World Youth Day to take a holiday or stay off the roads. The NSW Government is spending a small fortune on the event and the Catholic Church, notably the oleaginous and unpalatable Cardinal George Pell, is of course smirking all over the media.

I’m not entirely sure why, but if it is true that this is ‘the biggest event to be held in Australia, ever’† this makes me incredibly depressed. I intended to make this post a kind of jocular look at a silly phenomenon, in keeping with The Pope’s Cologne and Mother Teresa’s Breath Mist, but you know, I just don’t find it funny that at the beginning of the 21st Century, a two-thousand year old superstitious belief system has enough currency (metaphorically, practically and politically) to bring an entire modern city to a standstill. It’s particularly disheartening that this exercise is nominally aimed at young people – it’s hard not to be cynical about such things.

I often hear the argument, when it comes to religion, that it does no harm, and people should be able to make up their own minds about what they believe. While I disagree strongly that religion does no harm, I certainly approve of the concept that a person should be able to make up their own mind about it – with the caveat that they should also be given the tools to make their decision an informed one. This particularly applies to the young.

The Catholic Church has never been particularly squeamish about converting non-believers so I don’t expect that an event masquerading as Australia’s Biggest Sleepover is going to even register a blip on their moral radar, but in my opinion this is a sneaky, disingenuous ruse to attempt to lever more religious thought into a country that has been until recently making a slow but encouraging trek toward secularism (inherited religions notwithstanding).

I put this thought to you Cardinal Pell and Pope Benedict: if you’re really confident that God will come through with the goods, and you are morally committed to the betterment of young people as you claim, concentrate your efforts on giving them a proper education and the ability to make up their minds based on what we know to be true instead of attempting to indoctrinate them with intangible, absurd mythology while they are still impressionable. Give them the data and the brain tools and let them decide, when they come of age, whether or not to believe in a two-millennium-old fairy tale.

Surely, if you are right, and God really does exist, then you have nothing at all to be afraid of.


*Statistics from the 2006 Australian census.

†I guess it depends on your definitions of ‘biggest’, ‘event’ and ‘ever’…