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Yesterday, two great pious leaders of the world met in Washington DC. President Bush has immense temporal power, leading one of the richest countries on the planet with the most potent military force. Pope Benedict is a spiritual leader to a billion people, with immense influence and the responsibility of a long religious legacy. What could they have talked about? Mostly, they seem to have patted each other on the back and congratulated each other on their commitment to superstition.
In remarks greeting the pope at the White House, Bush called the United States "a nation of prayer."
Bush was interrupted by applause as he said, "In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred and that each of us is willed."
Benedict responded by praising the role of religion in the United States.
"From the dawn of the republic, America's quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the creator," he said.
I am often told that religion is a source of morality. I've read the Bible myself; I can see that there were moral philosophers at work behind that book, that we have a tradition of law in the Old Testament, with a fellow named Jesus adding social justice and concern for the poor and weak in the New that are actually rather commendable. I also see a lot of myth and error and misplaced obsession with the supernatural that rational people are willing to set aside to focus on the core humanitarian message … or at least they do so in the best of circumstances.