Every time another Vatican scandal crops up in the news this song begins playing automatically in my head.
There is a recent story in the NYT about child sexual abuse in the Hasidic community of Brooklyn. It seems that when parents of abused children – who were abused in places like the mikveh, or ritual bath-house, and in religious schools – spoke out and went to the police, they were shunned by their own community.
Abuse victims and their families have been expelled from religious schools and synagogues, shunned by fellow ultra-Orthodox Jews and targeted for harassment intended to destroy their businesses. Some victims’ families have been offered money, ostensibly to help pay for therapy for the victims, but also to stop pursuing charges, victims and victims’ advocates said.
One quote in particular caught my eye. The mother of an abuse victim told the paper:
“There is no nice way of saying it,” Mrs. Engelman said. “Our community protects molesters. Other than that, we are wonderful.”
Other than that, we are wonderful. I wonder if her son agrees with her.
There’s been a recent crackdown on religion teachers in Palermo, Sicily. Apparently, they’ve been asked (required is more like it) to produce a certificate of Catholic moral fitness in order to keep their jobs. These, mind you, are teachers of Catholic religion in Italian public schools, chosen by the Vatican and paid for by the State. Now it seems the Vatican has begun to notice that not all Catholics are quite as obedient as they’d like them to be.
How many of those who call themselves Catholics follow the teachings of the Church to the letter? How many of them go to mass, confess, take communion, avoid sex which isn’t for reproductive purposes, don’t use contraception, don’t get divorced, don’t have abortions, haven’t betrayed their spouses, don’t steal, lie and so on?
It’s seriously funny, isn’t it? I wish I were optimistic enough to agree with some people that we are witnessing the death throes of Roman Catholicism, but harmful and ridiculous ideologies have a way of sticking around for millennia.
But guess what? The teachers are really pissed off about this! Which is a good thing, and I hope their anger spreads more generally through the population and Italians finally realize they’re sick of being preached to by a corrupt gang of homophobic sissies. Most Italians have better moral values than the Catholic Church peddles, despite the fact that they often define themselves – erroneously – as “Catholics.”
They’re not, any more than I’m a Hasidic Jew.
It reminds me of Durban: a gathering of peace-minded folks from all over the globe getting together to discuss problems which afflict us all. But all they can talk about is Israel. The love-fest turns into a blood libel against the Jews.
Joseph Ratzinger knows that he can’t aim his pious invective at the Jewish people as his predecessors did. So this most contemporary pope takes aim at the next best enemy of his faith: atheists. It’s another blood libel in the making. Here are his words from Assisi yesterday*:
The enemies of religion…see in religion one of the principal sources of violence in the history of humanity and thus they demand that it disappear. But the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion. The horrors of the concentration camps reveal with utter clarity the consequences of God’s absence.
Do we really demand that religion disappear? Or do we just demand that it know its place and stay in it, and not meddle in things which aren’t its business? And there in that last line is the blood libel: that Nazism was the outcome of atheism. But Ratzinger was in the Wehrmacht as a young man, and knows perfectly well that Nazi anti-Semitism was a Christian inheritance. Adolf Hitler was a Catholic who has never been excommunicated and Mein Kampf was never added to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum as, say, Kepler, Voltaire, Locke, Mill and Galileo were. Kettle black enough for ya’?
The absence of God leads to the decline of man and of humanity. But where is God? Do we know him, and can we show him anew to humanity, in order to build true peace? Let us first briefly summarize our considerations thus far. I said that there is a way of understanding and using religion so that it becomes a source of violence, while the rightly lived relationship of man to God is a force for peace. In this context I referred to the need for dialogue and I spoke of the constant need for purification of lived religion. On the other hand I said that the denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence.
See? There it is: “the denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence.” While religion can be used either as a means to violence – as Ratzinger knows only too well – or peace, atheism inevitably leads to the degredation of humanity and the violent corruption of society.
He’s telling fibs again. The happiest societies on Earth are the most secular. Sociologists know this. Ask anyone who has escaped from religion and they will likely tell you they are happier and feel “free” for the first time in their lives. This is not uncommon at all, no matter which religion is being left behind.
This knowledge is making the pope shit his pants.
* One year ago, almost to the day, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said some disturbingly similar things about atheists. And he published them in a Vatican newspaper, to boot.
I’m not sure why, but until now I’ve never read Frederick Douglass’ Narrative. I think the impetus was actually from Carl Sagan, who devotes a section of The Demon-Haunted World to Douglass’ life. It’s a remarkable story, not least for the improbability of its ever being written down. His escape from slavery began, however, with his clandestine education by the wife of one of his owners. She taught him to read, but not to write.
Douglass, while invoking a general sort of God throughout, has nothing but the harshest words for the pious Christian slave owners of the American South (mind you he was in Maryland, the state I grew up in 150 years later; the deep South is a whole ‘nother story, as we say.)
“I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes – a justifier of the most appalling barbarity – a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds, and a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest and most infernal slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all the slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have found them the meanest, the basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others. It was my unhappy lot not only to belong to a religious slaveholder, but to live in a community of such religionists.”
Bearing this in mind, isn’t it amazing more African-Americans aren’t hostile to religion in general, and Christianity in particular? I think so.
It’s hard to think of any other reason for Roberto De Mattei’s latest comments than his deep religious commitment:
The collapse of the Roman Empire and the arrival of the Barbarians was due to the spread of homosexuality. The Roman colony of Carthage was a paradise for homosexuals and they infected many others. The invasion of the Barbarians was seen as punishment for this moral transgression.
It is well-known that effeminate men and homosexuals have no place in the kingdom of God. Homosexuality was not rife among the Barbarians and this shows God’s justice throughout history.
I keep hearing that religion is this necessary good thing that humanity will never outgrow because it needs it. I keep hearing that atheists construct straw man arguments for religious belief to tear apart on their blogs. But all one has to do is listen to a De Mattei to see that the ideas themselves are often pernicious. And that largely the only reason for holding such opinions is the adherence to a religious dogma like Catholicism, with its outspoken antagonism towards anything but the most rigorous “biblical” sexuality. Of course, that’s an invention and they are lying to us. But belief is belief and dogma is dogma. And even a smart fellow like De Mattei is reduced to wicked demagoguery by his piousness.
“According to the judges, there is no proof the crucifix has any influence over the students in classrooms where it is present.”
Well Jesus-fucking-Christ that’s a bit presumptuous, ain’t it? And if that’s the case, why can’t we put other symbols up next to that of the Holy Inquisition?
It’s theocracy. What other word can there be for this?
And think, there’s not even any hell for these bastards to go to. At times I wish there was.
The short answer is, “No.” Now for the long answer.
Miranda Celeste Hale has a post at Ex-Catholic Girl arguing against PZ Myers’ comment that Tony Blair must be “mentally deficient” for converting to Catholicism. Hale, who grew up Catholic (hence the name of her blog), argues that Blair’s conversion was rather “ethically questionable.”
Choosing to remain a member of and to support an institution that is as backwards, unethical, bigoted, and dangerous as the Catholic church marks one as, to varying degrees, ethically questionable, not mentally deficient. And to bring it back to Blair, I’d argue that choosing, as an adult, to become a member of the Church, marks one as much more ethically questionable than an individual who was raised Catholic and never managed to escape their childhood religious indoctrination.
That’s clearly a good distinction to make, one which recognizes the difference between having a belief system thrust upon you from your earliest days and choosing one of your own free will. None of us are to blame for the destruction others have wrought in our minds while we were too young to oppose it. But she has raised a question more provocative than Myers’ claim that Catholics are mentally deficient:
…choosing to remain a member of such a corrupt and dangerous institution does indicate that one is ethically questionable, at the very least.
This goes beyond the basic cognitive dissonance that plagues most believers throughout their lives. Is it ethical to belong to a religious organization that does such harm?
I’m guessing the answer from a person like Tony Blair would be, “But the Church does much good which outweighs the harm.” Indeed this was the gist of his debate with Christopher Hitchens, which inspired Myers’ barb, which inspired Hale’s retort, which inpired this post.
Living in Italy, most of the people I know formally belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Most of them are probably not believers in the true sense, although a few are. I have no doubt that they who are think their church is “the light of the world.” The majority try not to think about these things at all. Very few are openly opposed to the Church’s moral bankruptcy, of which a fraction have taken matters into their own hands and debaptized themselves. Apparently, they could no longer reconcile themselves to such an obviously incoherent worldview.
In Peru, a suspecting husband filmed his own wife in bed with the local parish priest, doing the nasty in church. The woman is apparently pregnant with the priest’s child, and is hoping he will recognize it. He has been suspended from his sacerdotal duties by the archbishop of Trujillo. The video, broadcast on Peruvian television, is here.
Geoffrey Robertson, in his recent book, The Case of the Pope, writes:
It may be that more is yet to come: after paedophile priests, promiscuous and predator priests will enter the spotlight [...]
The vow of celibacy is widely disregarded. A recent survey in Poland showed that 54% of priests would like to have a wife, while 12% owned up to already having one.
Isn’t it about time clerical celibacy became a thing of the past? If all the other Christian denominations can get by without it, then why can’t the Catholic Church?