I've got a soft spot for the Pope.
I don't know why; I'm about as religious as a satsuma. But given that Mum's an Anglican preacher, my Dad's an atheist, my brother a Catholic, and my Aunt and Uncle devout Jews, I've probably picked up second-hand religious interest somewhere.
Anyway, I like him. He seems friendly and humble. And I bet he'd be able to wear a white top for a day without dribbling spaghetti on it. Mad skills.
Perhaps his most surprising skill is that he knows how to get good PR. PR-savvy and the Church are fish and raccoons: unlikely bedmates. But today, as one article sniffed, Pope Francis gave another one of his snappy soundbites. He announced that creationism and evolution are compatible.
Now for any modern Christian, this is a, "well, obviously" moment. Only the most extreme believers think that God waved a wand, and out popped the human, the hippo and the hummingbird. Every other modern Christian knows that Darwin was right. Furthermore, that the Old Testament should not be taken literally.
The reason I find it interesting is that this announcement will have a bigger effect on atheists than Catholics. They will be the ones going what? Really? Religious people think that?
See, every time I have a conversation with an average atheist, I realise that they have this idea that anyone religious believes in creationism. I've lost count of the times I've heard, "but the Bible's been proved scientifically wrong!"
There are a lot of assumptions that we make about young religious people these days. We don't really judge old religious people; they were raised in a time when churchgoing was normal. Or middle-aged religious people, because they were raised in a time when feeling guilty for not going was normal. But young religious people? We think that's weird. We think they're a bit ignorant, prudish, and more than a bit intolerant.
With a religious family, religious friends, and my general inquisitiveness, I've spent a lot of time with religion. (We have good chats, we've had coffee, but we're taking it slow because I don't want anything serious yet ...)
One thing I've learned from my dabbling is that the ignorant, intolerant image isn't deserved.
Yes, you definitely get the nut jobs, the ones waving placards saying, "Carrots are an abomination before God! Kill the orange sticks of evil!" And these are the people who do deserve to be scorned, snorted at and sidelined.
But the majority of young people who believe in God are just normal. They tend to be tolerant. Not just because they're raised in a time when tolerance is the word of the day. But also because they believe that God loves everyone: black, white, straight, gay, three-legged, cactus lovers, ASOS addicts ... everyone.
They also tend to be fine with evolution. They too went to school, they too had to go through the pain of NCEA biology, they too woke up shouting, "it's a recessive allele! A RECESSIVE ALLELE!"
And often, they're cool with drinking, partying and premarital sex to boot. Even if they don't do it, they're fine with others doing it.
The only thing that marks them out as separate is that they believe in a higher power. A certain something, coiled up in the space between reality and imagination, that shapes and influences life.
It's these assumptions that make it okay for us to say things like, "oh the Church is so useless" in public. Because we think that any religious young person would be visibly weird, we'd be able to spot them and politely avoid them.
But that's the problem. Religious young people don't resemble giant, neon, flashing Furbies. They look normal - because they are normal.
This makes them hard to spot. It means we slip into casually ripping apart God, or religion, without realising people that we're talking to may be offended.
And not only does that cause a large amount of social awkwardness, coughing and emergency toilet visits, but it also means that people who believe in God are ashamed to admit it. It's sad, because they're just saying that they think there might be more in life than chips, new haircuts and bitching about public transport.
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