Why I’m an atheist

Over at WashPo Susan Jacoby couldn’t resist having another laugh at the expense of the Catholic Church. But this is like sniggering at the shmendrick who drops his ice cream on the sidewalk: it’s too easy. Here’s Jacoby:

Let’s see. One in four American-born Catholics have left the church during the past 20 years. Parish schools are being closed throughout the country because many dioceses are strapped for cash after settlements with victims of priestly pedophilia. Seminaries are empty and nuns (those who are left) are in open rebellion against a male hierarchy that will not even consider ordaining women as priests. I guess it’s logical that the church needs more exorcists.

Talk about desperate. If I were the pope I’d be trying to make my church a bit more modern, a bit more humanistic and a bit more, well…serious. Exorcism is sheer buffoonery, like clown shoes. Did you ever see the pope walk out in public wearing something so silly as big, floppy clown shoes? Well, I guess you have.

Jacoby nails moderate religious belief as well:

The problem with “moderate” religion–as distinct from fundamentalists creeds that insist on the literal truth of ancient collections of fantasies–is that there is really no difference between “reasonable” and “unreasonable” supernatural beliefs. When you think about it, it is really no more absurd to believe that Satan can make us froth at the mouth than it is to believe that ashes will one day be reassembled and restored to life. Any belief for which there is no evidence apart from one’s own longings and fears is unreasonable. That is why I am an atheist.

She’s right, too. Why is belief in the recomposition of a decomposed body any less outlandish than belief in devils, demons and dybbuks? It’s all nonsense, and that’s the point. All religions are full of such beliefs, right down to the central one about God. If you think I’m being unfair (and I know a lot of people who hold on to God as a pre-teen boy holds on to his teddy bears) I’d like to know what you think the difference is.

And that’s one reason I, too, am an atheist.


Favorite film stills: Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane is the movie I’ve probably watched more than any other except Star Wars, and that’s only because when I was young we had cable television and it was on two or three times a week. But Citizen Kane is the movie that, as an adult, repays constant viewing. I always see some subtly-placed detail I’d never noticed before, from that murky opening scene with the spooky camera work around Xanadu to the balcony shot with Hitler.

"first support, then denounce"

That’s some proto-Zelig kind of stuff, too, because it really looks like Hitler. I don’t know much about the technical end of movie-making, or how things were done back in 1942, but almost seventy years on it’s still pretty convincing. And did I mention it was 1942? With all the knowledge we have of who Hitler was, what his actual aims were and how indescribably awful the Nazis turned out to be – stuff nobody knew back then except those caught up in its whirlwind, and for whom there was little hope at that point – the still is quite ominous. I’m not going to get schmaltzy and say the film sounds a “prophetic” note, but it sends a chill up my spine every time I watch it.

Exorcism is complete and utter nonsense

I just wanted to briefly add my voice to the chorus of those who thought Laurie Goodstein’s NTY article on the revival of exorcism in the Catholic Church was silly. I mean, is this news? PZ Myers made a thorough frisking of it here, so I won’t go into it. His point is summed up thus:

In any other subject, if someone made a specific claim like that, I’d expect a good journalist to ask, “how do you know that?” and try to track down a credible source for such a claim about an individual. When the subject is the Devil, though, anything goes. You can say any ol’ crazy thing about Satan, and the reporter will dutifully write it down and publish it without ever stopping for a moment to wonder, “Hey, is my source just making shit up?”

Ooga-booga, ol’ Satan is back to haunt us in the pages of the New York Times. I would expect this kind of silliness from the Osservatore Romano or even Corriere della Sera because I’m aware that the Italian media bend over backwards to accomodate the Church, regardless of the ridiculous nonsense its mouthpieces are spewing, in wholly uncritical fashion. We’re talking about expelling demons, for chrissakes!

Here’s the kind of thing that makes me laugh:

“The ordinary work of the Devil is temptation,” he said, “and the ordinary response is a good spiritual life, observing the sacraments and praying. The Devil doesn’t normally possess someone who is leading a good spiritual life.”

That’s the last paragraph of Goodstein’s article. Straightfaced. Let’s say it loud and say it proud, “THERE IS NO DEVIL. THERE IS NO GOD. IT’S ONLY PEOPLE MAKING SHIT UP. WE ALL KNOW THIS. NOW LET’S STOP PRETENDING AND GROW THE FUCK UP.”

I feel better. Enjoy your weekend.

Israel can has atheists?

Lately I’ve been reading a blog called the Atheist Rabbi. I’m not exactly sure what kind of rabbinical work there is to do among atheist Jews, but whatever: he has his degree and it makes a provocative name for his blog.

I like the way he sets the tone of a recent post:

It’s been a year or two since I last attended a meeting of the local rabbinical association, but the last time I did, I walked out with a sick feeling in my stomach.

When was the last time you read such a line? The post is about Christians United for Israel, a Christian Zionist group. Most Jews I know who support Israel (meaning, who do not wish for its destruction) are ambivalent about Christian Zionists. On one hand, they are a broad support group; on the other, they are convinced Jesus is returning and Israel represents the site of Armageddon. I’m not too comfortable with the Left Behind scenario, not because I think it might actually happen, but because I don’t want that to be the reason behind any sort of political activity. Messianism is an awful idea.

The post closes on a secular, democratic note you will never hear sounded either by Israel’s most maniacal religious supporters or its most heinous “We’re all Hezbollah” detractors:

I support Israel, too.  The version of Israel that I support is a secular, democratic state preserving Hebrew and Jewish culture while protecting the rights and dignity of the minorities in their midst.  I care not one whit for “holy” stories, sites or borders.  The only thing that is sacred to me is human life and well-being.

Accepting support from anyone who views Israel as the fulfillment of nonsensical supernatural legends is as irresponsible as it is ridiculous.

This is the view of a rabbi whose blogroll includes Richard Dawkins, Pharyngula and Greta Christina. I’ll be checking in regularly to find out what’s going on in his mind.

As a secular, atheist Jew I’m interested in more blogs like the Atheist Rabbi. What do Israeli atheists have on their minds? Are there any secular lobbies in Israel comparable to the Secular Coalition for America? I mean, if Turkey has all those atheists, what about a country in which a quarter of all its citizens claim to be nonbelievers?

Please send links.

My favorite Yo La Tengo song

I love the way this one reverberates. I think they ran a Farfisa organ through a guitar and then fiddled with the wha-wha…or at least that appeared to be what Ira Kaplan was doing on stage when I saw them play in NYC circa ’96. I also saw Richard Thompson that year, probably my last great year of concert-going before I stopped being obsessive about music and transferred my obsession to books. Oh, well.

Play the softer version with dozing infants in the room.

Nichi Vendola on being gay

It almost slipped by me as I was writing my last post, but a reader caught it in the comments. Quoting from the Haaretz profile, which still appears to be the most substantial yet in English on the rising star of the Italian left, I wrote:

Vendola does not see any contradiction between being a devout Catholic and his declared sexual identity. “I have always been Catholic and gay, I have never concealed this and I refuse to adopt feelings of guilt,” he said in interviews with Italian media. “It is easier to talk about this with priests than with politicians.”

Of course the reader in question (and this is why comments matter) asked, “Hm, suppose they have more gay priests than gay politicians in Italy?” How could I have overlooked that one?

It occurs to me that Mr. Vendola was skirting the issue a bit. Instead of looking the homophobic dogma of his Church in the eye and challenging it, he clips his sails to the prevailing winds. It’s easier to talk about these things with priests than politicians; that is, with those responsible for perpetuating the idea that homosexuality is an “evil” among huge swaths of the voting public, and inculcating a mechanism whereby politicians court the vote by adopting the rhetoric of the Church, which is itself bursting with homosexuals dressed up as Clark Kent.

It’s a tricky, Orwellian shtick abounding with smoke and mirrors. I’m always a bit baffled by devout gay Catholics. What exactly do they love about their Church, which is so consistently and stridently opposed to their sexual freedom and does everything in its power to deny them the same rights afforded to heterosexuals, endlessly manupulating the political processes of Catholic-majority countries like Italy to achieve their ends?

I’d love to see an Italian politician courageous enough to stand up to the unlovable Vatican. I bet a lot of disenfranchised Italian voters would support that, too. It might finally give them the voice they’ve been denied for so long by cowardly hypocrites prepared to steamroll democracy every time the pope hiccups the word “relativism.”

Fini or Vendola?


Nichi Vendola

Gianfranco Fini’s Future and Liberty party held a big event yesterday near Perugia. The Arcigay lauded his speech, saying:

[Fini’s] clear, explicit language about lgbt (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) and the rights of non-married couples – both heterosexual and homosexual – offer, for the first time in history of the Second Republic, the possibility of a right-wing party which is at last secular, liberal and European which may yet be a catalyst for the growth of an equally advanced Left truly in support of civil rights. The Left we’ve been waiting for for years.

Fini has definitively broken with Silvio Berlusconi. As the latter slips into a pathetic half-life worthy of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, Fini is doing a fair job of convincing skeptics he’s no longer a Fascist.

Nichi Vendola, on the other hand, is being touted by some as “the white Obama”. He has the virtue of actually being gay, and not just mouthing politically correct opinions (still a rare but welcome gesture in Italy). He is also a published poet, a Communist and a devout Catholic. Like Pasolini, on whom he wrote his thesis. One might wonder how he reconciles being gay, Catholic and Communist, but he says there’s no contradiction:

Vendola does not see any contradiction between being a devout Catholic and his declared sexual identity. “I have always been Catholic and gay, I have never concealed this and I refuse to adopt feelings of guilt,” he said in interviews with Italian media. “It is easier to talk about this with priests than with politicians.”

OK so we’re apparently making progress. The two most touted post-Berlusconi politicians are (so far) intent on making sure Italy deserves to be a European country. But can we expect either of them to stand up to the Catholic Church when the going gets rough? Can we expect them to respect the secular nature of the State?

Keep an eye on these two in the coming months.

Caught in the act

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?

h/t UAAR


Beatification prayer for Pius XII

I fell for it again. I bought Corriere della Sera today because they have a new promo, “Classics of Freethought;” for one euro you get a thin volume of Voltaire, Rousseau etc…provided you buy the newspaper. So I did.

And on the front page is an article telling me the Vatican has already prepared an official prayer for the beatification of Pius XII, that stone-faced, humorless pope who never spoke a word against the Nazi atrocities during the entirety of World War II.

The prayer begins, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You for having given to the Church Pope Pius XII, that faithful teacher of Your truth and our angelic pastor…”

Barf. Does “introspection” have an entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia? Or is it taboo, like “relativism?”