The ongoing pedophile and other sex-related scandals that are plaguing the Catholic Church bring to mind an interesting metaphor, that of religions as cheese. Let me explain.
For the last 40 years, I have spent a lot of time with believers from many religions and denominations. I have lived with the monks on Mount Athos for weeks on end over more than 14 visits; I have spent time in ashrams and synagogues; I have attended week-long retreats with Tibetan rinpoches and Buddhist monks. And I have even engaged in the riskiest of all behaviours: I’ve invited Jehova’s Witnesses into my home! Many of my closest personal friends are internationally renown scholars on spirituality and world religions, who teach at prestigious universities.
Inevitably, if one raises the question of scandals, the answer is always the same: We are only human and must focus on the good in any religion and weed out the bad. It sorta makes sense….corruption is endemic in any human activity because there will always be a small minority of crazy people who screw it up for everyone.
In this view, religions are like hard cheeses, e.g. cheddar. If there is some mould growing on a part of the cheese, you can easily excise it and safely eat the remaining cheese. There does come a point however, where the mould is so extensive that cutting it out would leave very little edible cheese. It is up to each individual to determine how much mould they are willing to cut out and still eat the cheese.
Religions are also like cheeses in which the mould is a part of their flavour, e.g. Roquefort. Much of the perceived craziness is endemic to the belief system; one cannot excise the mouldy bits without ruining the whole cheese, nor would one want to. To question these beliefs from a logical, secular, and scientific perspective makes little sense because, ultimately, it’s all about the “flavour” and not about the technology of making the cheese.
But what happens when purposefully mouldy cheese like Roquefort, goes bad? When the “bad” mould intertwines with the good mould so that you can’t tell the difference. This is a very dangerous situation that can really make you sick. It requires a lot of self-awareness to be on the lookout for motivated reasoning, as well as a lack of defensiveness to know when it’s time to let go of long-held, comfortable beliefs.