The word “contagion” is usually associated with diseases like Legionellosis (“Legionnaires’ Disease”), a form of pneumonia first detected in 1976. History is filled with the pernicious, devastating effects of major diseases like the Black Plague (called in French “La Peste”), Bird Flu, and especially the current pandemic, Aids. We have all had our share of occasional outbreaks of less mortal diseases that have forced us to spend several days in bed. Fortunately many diseases are curable, some, tragically, are not (…yet ?).
There are other forms of contagion. One is that found in prisons. Some of my own juvenile delinquent wards in our Franciscan “Boys’ Home”, after “graduation” from Morning Star, were contaminated because of their incarceration, for relatively minor offenses, with hardened criminals, thereby becoming themselves professionals of crime.
Contagion is also one of the explanations of the spread of religious belief and practice. Most religious people grew up in a family if not social environment impregnated with faith and its expression in private devotion and congregational liturgical services. Some people “get religion” on their own, through reading, a quasi-mystical personal experience, or, most often, through an encounter with influential people whose faith is as rock-solid as it is contagious. The pity is, most people remain the sheep, the followers, they have always been.
My hope is that at least some of them, by reflecting on the content of my book and this blog, will take personal responsibility for their faith and religious convictions – or their denial. A religious stance is personal or it is pathetic. One can accept an individual’s decision to believe, as I hope people accept an atheist’s personal decision not to. It is hard to respect either, if it is the result of contagion and going along mindlessly with the crowd.