Questionable Motives

January 12, 2012

Why does the Pope want to screw your child?

Because he can.

I have been remiss in not posting on the pope’s year end message but I continue to hope that the man and his organization will simply disappear after every supporter justly walks away from it.

I can dream, can’t I?

Christopher Hitchens once described the entire career of this current pope, Pope Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Palpatine, aka The Rat, as having “the stench of evil about it.” He was writing specifically about the depth of responsibility carried by this man towards creating and maintaining the catholic church’s ongoing child abuse scandal and protecting those criminals who participated in the raping of children. Clearly, Ratzinger’s concern has been and continues to be focused on insulating the hierarchy of the catholic church from its deeds by sidestepping responsible accountability rather than instituting meaningful change to protect the health and welfare of children in its care.

It is richly hypocritical then to read pope Palpatine’s latest attempt to try to deny gays and lesbians equality in civil law and social policies, in what The Rat calls settings… all in the name of protecting the family regarding child welfare! This is the evil Hitch describes, a pernicious and malevolent intent to harm others in the name of bigoted piousness and religious doctrine:

Among these (settings for teaching children), pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself. The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue. It is in the family that we become open to the world and to life…

In this context of openness to life, I note with satisfaction the recent sentence of the Court of Justice of the European Union forbidding patenting processes relative to human embryonic stem cells…the European Court of Human Rights upholding the presence of the crucifix in Italian schoolrooms… I am convinced that legislative measures which not only permit but at times even promote abortion for reasons of convenience or for questionable medical motives compromise the education of young people and, as a result, the future of humanity. There is a need to implement educational policies which ensure that schooling is available to everyone and which, in addition to promoting the cognitive development of the individual, show concern for a balanced personal growth, including openness to the Transcendent. The Catholic Church calls for respect for religious freedom. This freedom has individual, collective and institutional dimensionsFinally I would stress that education, correctly understood, cannot fail to foster respect for creation….

And so on, and so on. It positively reeks of duplicity and dishonesty.  

For example, note carefully how insidiously this vile man circumscribes his way completely around the gay marriage bush without coming right out and saying it and how pleasing it is to him when public institutions kowtow to the Catholic church’s ignorant anti-life and bigoted positions. As Macdonald describes so well,

No, the pope doesn’t mention gay marriage at all, but he does speak about “policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself,” in a context where the heterosexual family — as the place where education for the future is to take place – that is, the restriction of marriage to a man and a woman (and the issue of that relationship), is the issue, and we know, from what the bishops in New York were up to recently (as the most salient recent case that I can think of), that when Roman Catholics say this, what they’re saying is that the very idea of gay marriage undermines the family, threatens human dignity, and the places the future of humanity itself in danger.

In other words, please stop whinging and complaining about nothing meaningful being done about the global scandal that is the Roman Catholic Church. It’s the fault of everyone but us. Now get to work incorporating our bigoted anti-enlightenment, anti-knowledge death cult doctrine into your secular institutions, your secular legislatures, your secular laws and into your secular schools. We who are Roman Catholic don’t just want to screw with our own children; we want to screw with yours, too!

December 17, 2011

What is a Hitchslap?

Filed under: Four horsemen of New Atheism,Hitchens — tildeb @ 9:22 am

It is a verbal take-down that obliterates an opponent’s argument in a few succinct statements with a grace that disarms his opponent while simultaneously eviscerating him. His voice will be greatly missed.

The way Hitchens faced his mortality also reveals the honesty and dignity of atheism, which Dawkins describes as:

the worth and dignity of the human being when not debased by the infantile babblings of religion. Every day of his declining life he demonstrated the falsehood of that most squalid of Christian lies: that there are no atheists in foxholes. Hitch was in a foxhole, and he dealt with it with a courage, an honesty and a dignity that any of us would be, and should be, proud to be able to muster.

Enjoy some of these fine examples:

November 28, 2010

Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?

Filed under: belief,Blair,Debate,God,Hitchens — tildeb @ 3:36 pm

Tony Blair vs The Hitch

July 8, 2010

What does the Hitch think?

Filed under: Hitchens — tildeb @ 10:15 am

The best of Christopher Hitchens

June 12, 2010

What’s with the militant and strident tone of New Atheists?

Filed under: Atheism,belief,commentary,Dawkins,Dennett,Harris,Hitchens,Religion — tildeb @ 5:00 pm

I read this complaint all the time: that the New Atheists are militant and strident and should take the advice of religious apologists and change their tone if they wish to communicate more effectively.

“I feel quite certain that a less emotional and less evangelistic atheism would garner far more influence. Atheism has a brand problem.  Lots of the people who do not believe in God refuse to call themselves atheists. Why? Because they don’t want to be associated with proselytizers” says Stephen Prothero over at Killing The Buddha.

Yes, atheism require some help to get its message out, and who better than religious apologists to explain to the likes of Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens why their best-selling books and sold out speaking engagements need more tweaking to be really effective. Yes, it must be all about tone.

It is very frustrating to be told repeatedly that one’s tone is of such tremendous concern when it dares to criticize the central and unjustified motivation of flying of planes into buildings, inserting theology into the science classroom, and undermining human rights and freedoms. The false charges of militancy and stridency about the tone of the message from New Atheists by religious apologists of all stripes is about trying to avoid the very real issue of being called to account, of being held responsible for appeasing the insertion of unjustified and caustic religious belief into the public domain where it has no legitimate place. That’s the issue – one ignored by far too many, and certainly by those of us coddled in the West who should know better.

Rather than be so concerned about the New Atheist’s tone, more of us should give thanks to those willing to stand up and express their (if not our) commitment to respect what is true with intellectual integrity against the excreta spewed by those of us who wish to excuse religiously inspired bullying, intolerance, and ignorance, who stand by and allow a concerted attack by religiously inspired policies, laws, and practices to directly undermine secular enlightenment values, human rights, and the dignity of personhood in the name of piousness and cultural relativity. The practices of religious belief in the public domain need more – not less – public criticism and the undermining of secular rights and freedoms need more – not fewer – public defenders. And if the tone by which this must be done offends, then so be it; it’s high time the tables were turned on those whom, by comparison, seem so accepting of the tone of religious offenders.

April 13, 2010

Why is the pope a criminal? Consider these three strikes…

From Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic article:

The AP’s story on Joseph Ratzinger’s direct involvement in delaying for six years the defrocking of a priest who had confessed to tying up and raping minors ends any doubt that the future Pope is as implicated in the sex abuse crisis as much as any other official in the church. The facts are as clear as they are damning.

The Pope cannot blame the local bishops this time – they desperately tried to get the priest fired.

He cannot claim he was out of the loop: his signature is on the letter.

He cannot get an underling to take the fall: it’s his name and his office behind the unconscionable delay and behind the actual, despicably callous and self-serving reasons to protect a man who tied children up and raped them.

It’s over now.

When we look at this Pope we see a man who knew that one of the priests he had authority to fire had restrained and raped children. Yet he did nothing for years, and finally sided with the priest. He had more sympathy for the relatively young age of the rapist, rather than the innocence and trauma of the raped children.

We see a man utterly corrupted by power and institutional loyalty.

Strike one.

From Richard Dawkins’ Guardian article:

Lashing out in desperation, church spokesmen are now blaming everybody but themselves for their current dire plight, which one official spokesman likens to the worst aspects of antisemitism (what are the best ones, I wonder?). Suggested culprits include the media, the Jews, and even Satan. The church is hiding behind a seemingly endless stream of excuses for having failed in its legal and moral obligation to report serious crimes to the appropriate civil authorities. But it was Cardinal Ratzinger’s official responsibility to determine the church’s response to allegations of child sex abuse, and his letter in the Kiesle case makes the real motivation devastatingly explicit.

This pattern of putting church PR over and above the welfare of the children in its care (and what an understatement that is) is repeated over and over again in the cover-ups that are now coming to light, all over the world. And Ratzinger himself expressed it with damning clarity in this smoking gun letter:

“This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favour of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the universal church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner.”

Suppose the British secretary of state for schools received, from a local education authority, a reliable report of a teacher tying up his pupils and raping them. Imagine that, instead of turning the matter over to the police, he had simply moved the offender from school to school, where he repeatedly raped other children. That would be bad enough. But now suppose that he justified his decision in terms such as these:

“Although I regard the arguments in favour of prosecution, presented by the local education authority, as of grave significance, I nevertheless deem it necessary to consider the good of the government and the party, together with that of the offending teacher. And I am also unable to make light of the detriment that prosecuting the offender can provoke among voters, particularly regarding the young age of the offender.”

The analogy breaks down, only in that we aren’t talking about a single offending priest, but many thousands, all over the world.

Strike two.

And from Christopher Hitchens’ Slate article:

It must be noted, also, that all the letters from diocese to Ratzinger and from Ratzinger to diocese were concerned only with one question: Can this hurt Holy Mother Church? It was as if the children were irrelevant or inconvenient (as with the case of the raped boys in Ireland forced to sign confidentiality agreements by the man who is still the country’s cardinal). Note, next, that there was a written, enforced, and consistent policy of avoiding contact with the law. And note, finally, that there was a preconceived Ratzinger propaganda program of blaming the press if any of the criminal conduct or obstruction of justice ever became known.

One should not blame only the church here. Where was American law enforcement during the decades when children were prey? Where was international law while the Vatican became a place of asylum and a source of protection for those who licensed or carried out the predation? Page through any of the reports of child-rape and torture from Ireland, Australia, the United States, Germany—and be aware that there is much worse to come. Where is it written that the Roman Catholic Church is the judge in its own case? Above or beyond the law? Able to use private courts? Allowed to use funds donated by the faithful to pay hush money to the victims or their families?

Good questions and salient points one and all.

And the conclusion…? Again from Hitchens’ Slate article:

Ratzinger himself is now exposed as being personally as well as institutionally responsible for obstructing justice and protecting and enabling pederasts.

Strike three.

April 11, 2010

Deputy Dawkins?

From Marc Horne at the TimesOnline:

RICHARD DAWKINS, the atheist campaigner, is planning a legal ambush to have the Pope arrested during his state visit to Britain “for crimes against humanity”.

Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

The Pope was embroiled in new controversy this weekend over a letter he signed arguing that the “good of the universal church” should be considered against the defrocking of an American priest who committed sex offences against two boys. It was dated 1985, when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with sex abuse cases.

Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, said: “This is a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence.”

Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, said: “This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalised concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded payoffs, but justice and punishment.”

Dawkins posted a comment about this article on his own blog here from which I have taken the following excerpts:

Needless to say, I did NOT say “I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI” or anything so personally grandiloquent. What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope’s proposed visit to Britain. Even if the Pope doesn’t end up in the dock, and even if the Vatican doesn’t cancel the visit, I am optimistic that we shall raise public consciousness to the point where the British government will find it very awkward indeed to go ahead with the Pope’s visit, let alone pay for it.

And that’s what makes the New Atheists different from previous atheists in general: we have decided to push back in various ways and means against the promotion and acceptance of religious belief in the public domain. Surely welcoming such a prominent and accused criminal with pomp and ceremony (and security) paid for by the state because the visitor is a high ranking religious figure falls into this category of unjustified promotion and acceptance.

Any push back – no matter how gentle but firm – will be presented as militancy by religious supporters and apologists , of course, and any public disagreement with the faithful’s unwavering support for the insertion of religious belief into the public domain will be described as strident and arrogant and a host of other negative but equally inaccurate terms. This is business as usual between the two groups. But the push back is necessary. By launching a legal challenge against the pope, the Hitch and Rich are doing what the British government and other secular states should be doing: holding  those accused of complicity in crimes legally accountable for their decisions and actions. Good on ‘em, I say.

March 5, 2010

Isn’t it about time to re-write the Ten Commandments?

Filed under: Bible,History,Hitchens,Ten Commandments — tildeb @ 12:37 pm

From the wickedly sardonic wit of the curmudgeonly funny Christopher Hitchens comes these excerpts (and picture) from his article in Vanity Fair:

What if it is the original stone version that badly needs a re-write? Who will take up the revisionist chisel?

There is in fact a good biblical precedent for doing just that, since the giving of the divine Law by Moses appears in three or four wildly different scriptural versions. (When you hear people demanding that the Ten Commandments be displayed in courtrooms and schoolrooms, always be sure to ask which set. It works every time.) The first and most famous set comes in Exodus 20 but ends with Moses himself smashing the supposedly most sacred artifacts ever known to man: the original, God-dictated panels of Holy Writ. The second edition occurs in Exodus 34, where new but completely different tablets are presented after some heavenly re-write session and are for the first time called “the ten commandments.” In the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses once more calls his audience together and recites the original Sinai speech with one highly significant alteration (the Sabbath commandment’s justifications in each differ greatly). But plainly discontented with the effect of this, he musters the flock again 22 chapters further on, as the river Jordan is coming into view, and gives an additional set of orders—chiefly terse curses—which are also to be inscribed in stone. As with the gold plates on which Joseph Smith found the Book of Mormon in upstate New York, no trace of any of these original yet conflicting tablets survives.

Thus we are fully entitled to consider them as a work in progress.

I am trying my best not to view things through a smug later prism. Only the Almighty can scan matters sub specie aeternitatis: from the viewpoint of eternity. One must also avoid cultural and historical relativism: there’s no point in retroactively ordering the Children of Israel to develop a germ theory of disease (so as to avoid mistaking plagues for divine punishments) or to understand astronomy (so as not to make foolish predictions and boasts based on the planets and stars). Still, if we think of the evils that afflict humanity today and that are man-made and not inflicted by nature, we would be morally numb if we did not feel strongly about genocide, slavery, rape, child abuse, sexual repression, white-collar crime, the wanton destruction of the natural world, and people who yak on cell phones in restaurants. (Also, people who commit simultaneous suicide and murder while screaming “God is great”: is that taking the Lord’s name in vain or is it not?)

What emerges from the first review is this: the Ten Commandments were derived from situational ethics. They show every symptom of having been man-made and improvised under pressure. They are addressed to a nomadic tribe whose main economy is primitive agriculture and whose wealth is sometimes counted in people as well as animals. They are also addressed to a group that has been promised the land and flocks of other people: the Amalekites and Midianites and others whom God orders them to kill, rape, enslave, or exterminate. And this, too, is important because at every step of their arduous journey the Israelites are reminded to keep to the laws, not because they are right but just because they will lead them to become conquerors (of, as it happens, almost the only part of the Middle East that has no oil).

So, then: how to prune and how to amend? Numbers One through Three can simply go, since they have nothing to do with morality and are no more than a long, rasping throat clearing by an admittedly touchy dictator. Mere fear of unseen authority is not a sound basis for ethics. The associated ban on sculpture and pictorial art should also be lifted. Number Four can possibly stay, though rest periods are not exactly an ethical imperative and are mandated by practicality as much as by heaven. At least, if shorn of its first and third and fourth redundant verses (none of which can possibly apply to non-Jews), Number Four does imply that there are rights as well as duties. For millions of people for thousands of years, the Sabbath was made a dreary burden of obligation and strict observance instead of a day of leisure or recreation. It also led to absurd hypocrisies that seem to treat God as a fool: He won’t notice if we make the elevators stop on every floor so that no pious Jew needs to press a button. This is unwholesome and over-strenuous.

As for Number Five, by all means respect for the elders, but why is there nothing to forbid child abuse? (Insolence on the part of children is punishable by death, according to Leviticus 20:9, only a few verses before the stipulation of the death penalty for male homosexuals.) A cruel or rude child is a ghastly thing, but a cruel or brutal parent can do infinitely more harm. Yet even in a long and exhaustive list of prohibitions, parental sadism or neglect is never once condemned. Memo to Sinai: rectify this omission.

Number Six: Note that mere human systems have done better subsequently in distinguishing different moral scales of homicide. Memo to Sinai: Are you morally absolute or aren’t you? If so, what about the poor massacred Midianites?

Number Seven: Fair enough if you must, but is polygamy adultery? Also, could not permanent monogamy have been made slightly more consonant with human nature? Why create people with lust in their hearts? Then again, what about rape? It seems to be very strongly recommended, along with genocide, slavery, and infanticide, in Numbers 31:1–18, and surely constitutes a rather extreme version of sex outside marriage.

Numbers Eight and Nine: Admirable. Also brief and to the point, with one rather useful nuance in the keyword “against.”

Number Ten: Does wrong to women by making them property and also necessitates continual celestial wiretapping of private thoughts. Sinister and despotic in that it cannot be obeyed and thus makes sinners even of quite thoughtful people.

March 4, 2010

What’s not to love about how Hitchens speaks his mind?

Hitchens On theism:

January 28, 2010

Is atheism fundamentally a Straw Man argument?

There is a reprehensible opinion piece posted online at the New York Times by Ross Douthat that supposedly offers us an “illustration of militant atheism’s symbiotic relationship with religious fundamentalism.”

Specifically, Douthat criticizes Dawkins for using Pat Roberston and his diatribe of god-sanctioned blame for the devastation suffered by Haiti as an example of a ‘real’ christian (read my previous comment on Dawkins’ article and why he argues as much). This is a failure of critical thinking by Douthat. By asserting that atheism requires a Straw Man approach, Douthat fails to comprehend Dawkins’ central argument: that a willingness by today’s theological apologists to grant any credence to a religious interpretation of some holy text that focuses on what is meek and mild without accounting for the parts that are vicious and genocidal is intellectually dishonest.

Douthat’s counter argument that quotes New Testament passages to negate Robertson’s interpretation is exactly Dawkins’ point: one biblical reference is not any closer to being true or accurate than the other. The only difference is that Robertson’s interpretation takes into account the capriciousness and violence of the christian god, making such an opinion based on biblical interpretation more ‘real’ in a christian vein than one like Douthat’s which simply ignores the Old Testament’s accounts of a god that is unconscionably cruel and immoral in favour of specific passages that casts Jesus as benevolent and forgiving. Let us all remember, however, that it is from Jesus we first gain a biblical account for eternal damnation… hardly one that enhances the CV of hope and love people so often attribute to Jesus’ message.

I have read repeated criticisms of Dawkins and other New Atheists as creating a Straw Man religious argument, that is to say, that these atheists create a Robertson-ian god as the one that defines the christian god and then tear it down by revealing its obvious malevolence. But the god worshiped by most christians, this argument points out,  is not this god – the one believed in by some fringe and/or extreme fundamentalists as the one so vehemently opposed by ‘militant’ and ‘strident’ atheists – but one that is actually benevolent and wise and compassionate. The faulty conclusion then held by so many moderate religious apologists is that Dawkins and his cohorts aren’t criticizing their religious beliefs but merely the ones held by hard core fundamentalists.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

New Atheists care about what is true. They care about knowledge – about what’s probably accurate, probably correct, probably true. They care about coming to a better understanding of the natural world, of promoting honest intellectual and scientific inquiry. They also respect the rights and freedoms and dignity of individuals within a secular society. They are concerned about any influence that intentionally impedes any of these cares, and there is no greater single impediment than the false certainty of religious belief. But rather than criticize specific people’s beliefs, the New Atheists’ approach is to enter the public forum and expose unjustified beliefs – regardless whether the unjustified belief is religious, superstitious, supernatural, or just poor thinking. To do this, New Atheists point out why the unjustified foundational belief of a Robertson is no different in quality of belief than someone who insists on holding a Jesus is Love assumption. Nor is there any difference in the unjustified foundational beliefs upon which the complimentary and alternative medicine industry has been built. Belief in the supernatural, whether it be god or evil spirits or the memory of water, cannot be honest knowledge: because such ideas are beyond our ability to be examined in the natural world under natural conditions subject to natural forces and natural efficacy all which can be naturally measured, supernatural belief cannot be justified by any other measure other than more assumption and assertion. Assumption and assertion that cannot by definition undergo natural testing and rational criticism because it is supernatural is immune from honest critical inquiry. Asserted beliefs are assumed to be true because they are believed to be true. That is not a justification for the truth value of the belief but an excuse, an allowance, a willingness to suspend critical inquiry. So it doesn’t matter whether or not it is a Pat Robertson’s unjustified belief or an Ayatollah’s unjustified belief or a Pope Benedict XVI’s unjustified belief or a Sarah Palin’s unjustified belief – the common denominator pointed out by New Atheists like Dawkins is that supernatural beliefs in their entirety are equally unjustified.

When a Pat Robertson makes another disparaging public statement about suffering people deserving their suffering and backs it up with theology, it is an opportunity and not a requirement for atheists to once again point out that if not for the acceptance of the moderately religious, then the foundation of unjustified religious beliefs would be treated with the same scorn and disgust aimed at Robertson for his outrageous truth claims. Robertson and his ilk have an audience because there is widespread acceptance by religious apologists to excuse, allow, and suspend legitimate criticism in matters of religious belief. That’s a public problem and it requires a public solution.

Is unjustified belief in the supernatural and all its various promotions in the public domain in need of public criticism? My answer is an unequivocal Yes. The New Atheists like Dawkins don’t just say a meek and mild yes to this question in the privacy of their own minds; they DO something about it by bringing their arguments and expertise into the public domain to tackle the problem of a Robertson, an Ayatollah, a Pope, a Palin, head on.

So the answer to the title is No, atheism is not fundamentally a Straw Man argument but a call to action, a growing movement that will continue to challenge anyone who doesn’t care about what is true but what is unjustifiably believed to be true, and who would allow unjustified beliefs the right to take a place at any table in the public domain.

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