Questionable Motives

March 31, 2010

The pope does what?

Thanks to Jesus and Mo


March 29, 2010

Is the tone of religious criticism important?

Richard Dawkins has written a short article answering the question, “Should the pope resign?”

As an atheist, Dawkins is often vilified as too strident, too aggressive, too unqualified about sophisticated theology to speak to the nuances of religious belief. His tone, in other words, is all wrong to be effective, we hear from so many ‘I’m an atheist, but…’ apologists.  Clearly, Dawkins has no respect for beliefs that are not concerned with what is true, and that central tenet of Dawkins’ philosophy must be kept in mind if one is to appreciate what the man brings to the discussion table regarding religious belief and its effects in the world. You may not appreciate the messenger, but the message is clear and truthful.

So when he Dawkins is asked to give his opinion, religious moderates and apologetic atheists need to gird their loins for what is to follow because they are about to hear the truth without the sugarcoating niceties so favoured by the apologetic faint of heart set.

“Should the pope resign?”

No. As the College of Cardinals must have recognized when they elected him, he is perfectly – ideally – qualified to lead the Roman Catholic Church. A leering old villain in a frock, who spent decades conspiring behind closed doors for the position he now holds; a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part; a man whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless AIDS victims in Africa; 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: in short, exactly the right man for the job. He should not resign, moreover, because he is perfectly positioned to accelerate the downfall of the evil, corrupt organization whose character he fits like a glove, and of which he is the absolute and historically appropriate monarch.

No, Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice – the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution – while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears.

The tone? Short, to the point, in your face, here’s the truth, now deal with it, kind of tone.

Shocking? So what? Is it true?

Now let’s look at what criticizing the tone really means.

Greta Christina has written a lovely response to those people who troll their concern about this very issue: tone.

Dear Believer:

Thank you for your concern about the well-being of the atheist movement, and for your advice on how to run it. I appreciate your concern for the image of the atheist movement, and I appreciate you taking the time to give us advice on how to get our message across more effectively.

In particular, I have received your observation that attempts to persuade people out of their religious beliefs are often seen as rude or offensive — along with your suggestion that we therefore should stop making our case altogether. I have also received your suggestion that, if we do feel it necessary to point out the flaws in religion, we do so gently and diplomatically, making the avoidance of any possible offense or hurt feelings our absolute top priority. I have received your observation that attempts to persuade people out of religious beliefs can be divisive, possibly alienating the progressive ecumenical religious community — and I have received your suggestion that we should therefore concentrate entirely on anti-discrimination and separation of church and state issues that we have in common with progressive believers, and abandon any focus on pointing out the flaws in religion or the harm done by it. And I have received your suggestion that we avoid any use of anger, humor, mockery, passion, and other traditional methods of drawing attention to controversial ideas, and that in the future we make our case soberly, moderately, and with little fanfare. These suggestions are certainly interesting, and I will give them all due consideration.

However, while your concern for the well-being of the atheist movement is certainly appreciated, I can assure you that it is unwarranted. rates of religious non-belief are going up at a substantial rate — a rate that even surprises many of us — all over the United States and all over the world. This trend is especially true among young people… arguably the most important demographic for any social change movement. What’s more, I personally have been told by several people that they left their religion and became atheists, in part, because of things I’ve written. And I know that I left my own religious beliefs, in large part, because of things that were written by people in the atheist movement. Clearly, we are doing something right.

It is difficult to avoid the observation that, whenever believers give advice to atheists on how to run our movement, it is always in the direction of telling us to be more quiet, to tone it down, to be less confrontational and less visible. I have yet to see a believer advise the atheist movement to speak up more loudly and more passionately; to make our arguments more compelling and more unanswerable; to get in people’s faces more about delicate and thorny issues that they don’t want to think about; to not be afraid of offending people if we think we’re right. I have received a great deal of advice from believers on how atheists should run our movement… and it is always, always, always in the direction of politely suggesting that we shut up.

You’ll have to forgive me if I think your suggestions on making our movement more effective would, in fact, have the exact opposite effect. What’s more, you’ll have to forgive me for suspecting that this, however unconsciously, is the true intention behind your very kind and no doubt sincerely- meant advice.

And you’ll have to forgive me if I am less than enthusiastic about taking advice on how to run the atheist movement from the very people our movement is trying to change.

And that’s the key point: the New Atheist movement recognizes the global danger unjustified religious beliefs that is organized and political brings to the world and is trying to do something about it not by violence or imposition but by discourse. The various styles and tones by which this is done are not the issue and never shall be; the issue is whether or not religious belief is justified to have say about anything. If we are concerned about what’s true, then we need to be very concerned with popular beliefs that are not.

And at the top of that list is religion. It is the criticism of unjustified beliefs that is important if one thinks that what’s true actually matters more the tone by which it occurs. Those whose opinions are more concerned with tone than what’s true are simply an impediment to meaningful discourse.

March 28, 2010

Why is the current catholic theme “We’re no worse than others!” so hypocritical?

Archbishop Dolan of the New York Archdiocese has posted a commentary here against the unfair treatment against the catholic church by the press and offers us a defense of the church in general and the pope in particular. He writes

What causes us Catholics to bristle is not only the latest revelations of sickening sexual abuse by priests, and blindness on the part of some who wrongly reassigned them — such stories, unending though they appear to be, are fair enough, — but also that the sexual abuse of minors is presented as a tragedy unique to the Church alone.

That, of course, is malarkey.  Because, as we now sadly realize, nobody, nowhere, no time, no way, no how knew the extent, depth, or horror of this scourge, nor how to adequately address it.

Really? Is that true? Nobody?

As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, didn’t Ratzinger – who admittedly had to read thousands of detailed reports and has since publicly stated that this revelation was cause for his enormous spiritual pain – know something of the extent, depth, and horror of this scourge? Is Ratzinger a ‘somebody’ in the archbishop’s estimation? More importantly – and certainly very revealing – is the answer to the question what did the man do to effectively stop this kind of abuse within the church? Well, the sad fact of the matter is that he shifted blame to others while maintaining and justifying the very policies of Vatican secrecy and interferences in judicial investigations that led to the abuse becoming a scandal wherever the church operated as an institution and not, as the pope himself would have you believe, merely unconnected local scandals the world over.

Now look what Dolan is doing: he, too, is playing the time-honoured blame game: ‘We’re no worse than anybody else!’.

So what?

What seem singularly difficult for the leadership of the church and their supporters to grasp is that calling on a fair comparison of abuse to other public institutions like schools and prisons is simply not relevant. Schools and prisons do not claim moral superiority the way the church does. The church has never claimed to be only a human institution; it claims to represent Jesus and his way of salvation in the world. Never just a human institution, that is, until it wants mercy for its culpability in criminal activity. Then, and only then, is the leadership of this institution willing to give up the claim to expect all kinds of worldly authority to be granted to it based on its self-proclaimed exalted moral status, but plays the childhood recess game of blaming everyone else for its failure to live up to its own claims and self-proclamations.

And you, dear reader, will note that whatever excuses we hear from church leaders like Ratzinger and Dolan for the church’s moral failings is always in response to secular revelations of these criminal activities – the same secular influence the pope blames for supposedly creating the social conditions that influenced helpless clergy into abusing, sexually assaulting, and raping children around the world. Yeah, secularism is the problem, we are told. But let’s remember that if it weren’t for this secular influence and investigations into abuse of children within the catholic church, we would know nothing about it. That’s the real danger secularism brings to the cloisters of the catholic church: exposure of what’s true.  That fact, that we the public find out about the depravity within the church only through secular investigations, is also quite telling and reveals the depth and breadth of the hypocrisy needed to defend and excuse the church as just another human institution with a few bad apples. That spin – between calling the church holy or human depending on what suits the church’s leadership at the time – is not an example of moral superiority but hypocrisy. The message from Jesus, if the church could ever be honest with itself, would probably be much more critical than anything offered up by secular authorities:

“whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Maybe after all the hypocrisy from the Holy See and the rest of the church’s leadership and supporters is revealed, that’s where the Vatican properly belongs.

Or we could just stop supporting it as any kind of moral authority when it clearly is not.

I prefer the latter.

March 26, 2010

Can anybody still be surprised that the Vatican intentionally covered up child abuse??

Excerpts from the NYTimes article Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys:

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal. The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

The Wisconsin case involved an American priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who worked at a renowned school for deaf children from 1950 to 1974. But it is only one of thousands of cases forwarded over decades by bishops to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Ratzinger. It is still the office that decides whether accused priests should be given full canonical trials and defrocked.

The New York Times obtained the documents, which the church fought to keep secret, from Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, the lawyers for five men who have brought four lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The documents include letters between bishops and the Vatican, victims’ affidavits, the handwritten notes of an expert on sexual disorders who interviewed Father Murphy and minutes of a final meeting on the case at the Vatican.

Father Murphy not only was never tried or disciplined by the church’s own justice system, but also got a pass from the police and prosecutors who ignored reports from his victims, according to the documents and interviews with victims. Three successive archbishops in Wisconsin were told that Father Murphy was sexually abusing children, the documents show, but never reported it to criminal or civil authorities.

Oh my.

So much for all the commentary here and here that insisted that the catholic church had no official policy of secrecy and denial and cover-up and collusion in the face of justified accusations and allegations of sexual abuse and rape and molestation by clergy against children. It seems the evidence that it did and still does just keeps on piling up, and the apologies by so many catholics on behalf of the church is not only growing stale but is really a major impediment against forcing an institutional change from the top down. And as long as apologists stay the course, it seems that the same policies of secrecy and emphasis on the church’s reputation will take precedence over fixing the problem that led to the global abuse in the first place. Just re-read the letter from the pope to to the Irish here

Global problem? It’s not a global problem, remember? It’s a local problem! And good little catholics will continue to believe their apology carries weight against the growing evidence: that this local problem can be corrected at the local level, in Ireland, in England, in Spain, in Germany, in Mexico, in Canada, in the Netherlands, in the Philippines, in the U.S., in Brazil, in Australia…

Remember folks: if you can believe in transubstantiation, is it too much to ask to believe that widespread abuse in the catholic church is a local problem?

March 23, 2010

Creeping religious accommodation: why should we enforce respect?

We shouldn’t.

Excerpts from John Hari’s article in The Independent:

In 2005, 12 men in a small secular European democracy decided to draw a quasi-mythical figure who has been dead for 1400 years. They were trying to make a point. They knew that in many Muslim cultures, it is considered offensive to draw Mohamed. But they have a culture too – a European culture that believes it is important to be allowed to mock and tease and ridicule religion. Some of the cartoons were witty. Some were stupid. One seemed to suggest Muslims are inherently violent – an obnoxious and false idea. If you disagree with the drawings, you should write a letter, or draw a better cartoon, this time mocking the cartoonists. But some people did not react this way. Instead, Islamist plots to hunt the artists down and slaughter them began. Earlier this year, a man with an axe smashed into one of their houses, and very nearly killed the cartoonist in front of his small grand-daughter.

This week, another plot to murder the cartoonists who drew caricatures of Mohammad seems to have been exposed, this time allegedly spanning Ireland and the United States, and many people who consider themselves humanitarians or liberals have rushed forward to offer condemnation – of the cartoonists. One otherwise liberal newspaper ran an article saying that since the cartoonists had engaged in an “aggressive act” and shown “prejudice… against religion per se”, so it stated menacingly that no doubt “someone else is out there waiting for an opportunity to strike again”.

Let’s state some principles that – if religion wasn’t involved – would be so obvious it would seem ludicrous to have to say them out loud. Drawing a cartoon is not an act of aggression. Trying to kill somebody with an axe is. There is no moral equivalence between peacefully expressing your disagreement with an idea – any idea – and trying to kill somebody for it. Yet we have to say this because we have allowed religious people to claim their ideas belong to a different, exalted category, and it is abusive or violent merely to verbally question them. Nobody says I should “respect” conservatism or communism and keep my opposition to them to myself – but that’s exactly what is routinely said about Islam or Christianity or Buddhism. What’s the difference?

This enforced “respect” is a creeping vine. It soon extends beyond religious ideas to religious institutions – even when they commit the worst crimes imaginable. It is now an indisputable fact that the Catholic Church systematically covered up the rape of children across the globe, and knowingly, consciously put paedophiles in charge of more kids. Joseph Ratzinger – who claims to be “infallible” – was at the heart of this policy for decades.

And the ever perceptive Jesus and Mo:

March 20, 2010

Who (or what) is to blame for sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church?

This sound suspiciously like the pope is suggesting that that old bugaboo secularism lies at the root of this Irish problem! Leave it to the pope to set us all straight:

In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone – a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle – who has given his or her life to the Church. Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who have dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with others, and putting that faith into action in loving service of God and neighbour.

In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected. Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations.

It is in this overall context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse.

How refreshing it is to see that the Vatican has taken on its fair share of the responsibility. Oh, that’s right; it is blameless, of course. Silly me. Why should senior leadership in any organization take any responsibility whatsoever for the actions taken under its policies and procedures, right? It’s not like the two are associated in any way if the effect of those policies and procedures is negative; that’s always the fault of middle management… which helps explain why, after all, this whole Irish problem of sex abuse brought about by rapid secularization  is obviously a problem for Irish catholic churches to overcome their failure.

Good grief.

March 16, 2010

What’s to cover up about sex abuse in the Catholic Church?

The great catholic cover-up by The Hitch in Slate can be read in all its glory here.


Concerning the most recent revelations about the steady complicity of the Vatican in the ongoing—indeed endless—scandal of child rape, a few days later a spokesman for the Holy See made a concession in the guise of a denial. It was clear, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, that an attempt was being made “to find elements to involve the Holy Father personally in issues of abuse.” He stupidly went on to say that “those efforts have failed.”

He was wrong twice. In the first place, nobody has had to strive to find such evidence: It has surfaced, as it was bound to do. In the second place, this extension of the awful scandal to the topmost level of the Roman Catholic Church is a process that has only just begun. Yet it became in a sense inevitable when the College of Cardinals elected, as the vicar of Christ on Earth, the man chiefly responsible for the original cover-up.

February 22, 2010

Is hell real and everlasting?

According to the pope it is.

Yup, the central message of christianity is that it’s all about god ‘s love. With visions of eternal torment haunting your ‘free’ choice if you make the wrong one, can you feel the love?

February 10, 2010

Did you know that the solution to poverty is found in uncontrolled population growth?

Neither did I. Nor am I criminally insane.

But according to Archbishop Celestino Migliore, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, population growth, rather than population control, can help societies overcome poverty. Archbishop Migliore made his remarks on February 8 at a meeting of the Commission for Social Development of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

This is what happens within the Catholic Church when one is divorced from reality and rewarded for delusional thinking.I think the archbishop is actually serious and honestly represents the Vatican on this.

Uncontrolled population growth has consequences that are dire. The state of a general poverty level is actually moot when the most pressing concern becomes basic survival. Some simple math will reveal the most glaring problem: population sustainability.

Assuming that the world’s population under the wise guidance of the men from Rome doubles according to reasonable parameters – let’s err on the side of caution and assume a doubling every 14 years (compared with various higher estimates here) – how long will it take until the population outstrips the earth’s ability to sustain all of us with the necessities of food and fresh water and brings about a population collapse? (By the way, the term ‘population collapse’ is a really nice way of saying mass death through starvation.)

I wonder what Archbishop Celestino Migliore’s estimation would be if most people actually followed this advice? Would it take a score of years to reach a tipping point of 9 billion? Half a century to reach 15 billion people? Might that be enough to overwhelm nature’s bounty? A century to reach 100 billion? Regardless of the actual number, it is there. It is real. At what point does uncontrolled population growth reach a tipping point and bring about immeasurable suffering and death? And the Archbishop is fine with this notion (probably having never thought about it)… as long as people don’t interfere in any way with having babies as most of us in the developed world do now. God, the catholic church assures us, wants us to bring about a population crash with mass suffering and widespread death of billions. Honest. It’s just phrased with nicer sounding words using the idea of ‘fighting poverty’ as the reason. I have no doubt that behind the suggestion that poverty can be beaten by uncontrolled population growth, any natural consequences easily foreseen by anyone with even a modicum of sense will be solved by the intervention of god. Nothing else will mitigate such a predictable disaster championed by the Vatican. And we’re supposed to sit idly by, keep quiet, and show respect to this organization?

I don’t think so.

This delusion must end by facing up to one of two possibilities:

So you tell me, dear Reader, is catholic doctrine of uncontrolled population growth insane or merely criminally irresponsible?

February 2, 2010

Why is it a criminal act to support Britain’s Equality bill?

From The Independent:

In the first official announcement from the Vatican that the head of the Roman Catholic Church will tour Britain, Pope Benedict XVI called on his bishops to continue campaigning against the Equality Bill which he said threatened religious freedom.

“Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society,” he wrote. “Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.

“In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed.” In a separate warning to any bishop thinking of deviating from the Vatican’s lead on such controversial issues, Pope Benedict also reiterated the need for the Church to “speak with a united voice”.

“In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognise dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate,” he said. “It is the truth revealed through scripture and tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.”

I have commented on this Pope’s meddling in secular law and public policy before (see here, here, and here). And I use the word ‘meddling’ quite on purpose to counter the lie commonly put forth by faithists that religious belief ought to be left alone from criticism because it is merely a private concern and people are free to believe what they wish. The atheist response is that private belief is a freedom in need of protection, but that when that belief leaves the private domain and undergoes a transubstantiation from belief into the justification for actions counter to human rights and dignity, then the justifications are quite properly open to criticism. When organized religion – not just some private individual’s belief in god – inserts itself into the public domain where it has no justifiable reason to intrude and interfere in real world matters, then dishonest, misrepresented, and misinformed justifications need criticism.

This is certainly the case with Britain’s Equality Bill; if we are talking about codifying fairness and equality into secular law, rest assured that religious organizations will line up to fight any attempt to impose non-discrimination on their religiously inspired misogynistic and bigoted practices because it undermines the basis of their legal ‘freedom’ to do so. That is the talking point these clergy will champion, that equality in law isn’t really about addressing the blatant inequality that is omnipresent in such organizations as the catholic church, to misdirect criticism away from practices and pretend it’s really about freedom of belief. It isn’t. These church people will lie, misrepresent, and misinform others and pretend the issue is about freedom to believe rather than freedom to practice discrimination and bigotry. And they will do it by pretending to support that which they actively fight against: equality and fairness.

Let’s take a closer look at what this pope is really saying:

He argues that the Equality bill threatens religious ‘freedom’ in that it will insist on ‘unjust’ limitations – that is to say, that the limitation will impact how religious organizations act if that action is based on inequality and targeted bias. I’m not ‘free’ to drive a car at any speed in any direction I want, and reasonable constraints imposed by the state for the social good on the rules of the roads of the nation are hardly an infringement on my ‘freedom’ to travel but quite rightly address how I do so. The same responsibility for the public good does not affect the freedom to belief; the state has every right to insist on reasonable constraints on how these beliefs are put into practice. So the honest issue here is about what constitutes the ‘unjustness’ of the limitations.

The ‘unjust’ limitations are unjust, it turns out,  because they run counter to “natural law.” And what might this law be?

Nobody seems to know. What we are told is that Natural Law is apparently the grounding as well as the guarantee upon which the very existence of equality rests. And here I thought it was constitutions and bills and declarations of rights and charters of freedom and other laws passed by legislation and enforced by the state… much along the lines of the Equality Bill, for example. Silly me. Natural law seems to be what the pope or any religious person says it is. And for anyone to go against such a natural law and insist on equality in secular law is, according to this pope,  undermining equality.


Isn’t that a lovely piece of circular reasoning? It smacks of relativism, when white means black and inequality means equality, doesn’t it? And we know this pope doesn’t think much of relativism… unless it belongs to him, in which case a miracle occurs and some relativistic piece of nonsense uttered from the source of papal bulls suddenly is ordained as a bill of truth… co-signed by god, no less.

But it is still dishonest.

To add insult to intellectual dishonesty, the pope wishes to describe any voice that dares criticize his dishonesty to be immature and unbalanced. Why so? Well, the proof for this is that the pope’s correct position is based on scripture, tradition, and the pope’s opinion, all of which is the necessary triumverate (or should I say troika)… for people to be free!  Of course. Why didn’t I recognize this simple truth right away? Any idea whatsoever, in other words, that disagrees in part or whole with the church’s interpretation of scripture, the church’s actual practices, and whatever the pope decrees to be correct, isn’t a criticism at all: such disobedience is a crime against this so-called ‘natural law’ that informs people’s freedoms. And we don’t wish to be criminals and advocate the elimination of freedoms, now do we?

So the solution is obvious: if one wishes to support real equality and freedom, the natural kind sanctioned by god and not the artificial secular stuff passed by legislation and enforced by the state, then one must allow the church… all churches, actually, as well as any and all acts justified by some religious assertion that can call upon natural law and god’s special favour… to be exempt from secular law. It’s only right and proper. To suggest otherwise turns out to be a crime against god’s natural law, making those who support the Equality bill criminals who wish to undermine your freedoms!

Good grief.

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