What a sight. Pope Francis makes his grand entrance in Philadelphia to a cheering sea of thousands.  Kissing the heads of babies and waving to awe-inspired onlookers, he peacefully and majestically rides around the Philadelphia Independence Mall in his white Jeep Wrangler “popemobile” (great marketing for the American car company!) on his way to a World Meeting of Families festival Saturday.  Crowds of five- to 10-spectators deep, each spectator hoping and praying to catch a glimpse of the pontiff.

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The crowds, the reaction, the overwhelming positivity and optimism surrounding his visit – it was surreal!

A few weeks back I wrote about Daniel Dennett, assessing his view on religious beliefs. He calls on the general public to consider religion as a subject that should be scientifically investigated, but certainly not a system to which one should completely give themselves over in humble and loyal submission.  In an interview on Beliefnet, Dennett explains, in a pitiful tone, that people are ‘overwhelmed’ by religion, consumed and controlled by it’s obligations as if they were ‘under a spell.’  A belief in God is ‘irrational.’  Just as one is blinded when falling in love, the religion can ‘unreasonably’ render one helpless to it’s sense of strength and power.  You make a bold claim, Mr. Dennett.

It’s strange (for lack of a better word) to consider, however, that hundreds of thousands would flock from around the globe to sneak a peek as the ultimate symbol and face of the Catholic religion.  Are they all just acting under the spell, as Dennett argues?

Just watching the reverent display from my living room, I was unspeakably moved by the power of the crowd’s reaction to the Pope’s presence and inspired by his speech about the importance of religious freedom.  What an impressive message – that people have an inherent right to decide, worship and use their own choice of religion, in whichever way they choose.   This man, dressed head to toe in flawless white regalia, the leader of the highly conservative Catholic faith, not only allows people to worship whichever religion they feel speaks to them, even if it may go against Catholicism, but encourages them.

Sorry Dennett – this may just go against your argument that those who believe are ‘helplessly controlled’ and ‘unreasonable.’  The view that religions overwhelmingly and negatively influence people’s lives as they play a role in how they respond to every issue may be mistaken.  If the Pope takes steps to spread religious liberty and forward-thinking climate change, whether done in the name of God or not, these actions have positively impacted and profoundly inspired Catholics, non-Catholics and nonreligious groups alike across the globe.   Whether you’re religious or not, there’s no denying the Pope provides an uplifting and caring message on the respect, freedom and happiness to all of humanity we all should learn from.

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