Tag Archives: Catholicism

Keep religious morals private

While theists on the political right have been regular contenders in battles over public policy, those on the political left have recently flexed their muscles.  First, there was the letter from progressive Catholics chastising fellow Catholic and Congressman John Boehner for pushing a budget that would cut some social welfare programs. And later, some liberal Christians decried fellow Christian and Congressman Paul Ryan for drawing inspiration from atheist pro-capitalist Ayn Rand.  These Christians on the left argued that Boehner and Ryan were abandoning Jesus’s teachings on protecting the poor and the weak.  The infighting has recalled to the fore a question that had been floating around in my head for a while now: how do theists decide which of their alleged objective moral duties and commands to make public policy, i.e., to impose on everyone?

On one level, it’s strange there’s even a question about this in the first place.   Shouldn’t every alleged divine dictate, no matter how trivial, automatically be a civil or criminal law?  They are, after all, supposed to be objective rules, adherence to which is not limited merely to believers, but mandatory for everyone.  Instead, theists pick and choose, seemingly at random: 

Gay marriage?  No way!  Divorce?  No problem. 

Abortion? Life is sacrosanct!  Adultery? Live and let live. 

Theft? God’s Word prohibits it!  Keeping the Sabbath? God’s Word..! Uhhh..oh, nevermind…

Source: Wikipedia

To make matters even more confusing, theists consistently revise what commands they think should be codified in law.  What was once vigorously outlawed by theists as an unforgiveable affront to God’s Holy Word, punishable by such tortuous means as tongue impalement with a hot iron, is today not only legal but routinely engaged in by theists to boot.  

The historical contingency of what’s supposed to be timeless morality is slightly less bizarre than the unresolved disagreement over just what that timeless morality is in the first place.  Can you use contraception?  Some say yes, some say no.  Drink alcohol?  Some say yes, some say no.  Have multiple wives? Again, some say yes, some say no.  Never in the entire history of theism has there been agreement on what is moral and what is not.  And what agreement there is has often been achieved through overwhelming force rather than voluntary acquiescence.

With all this persistent moral divisiveness and befuddlement, you’d think the reasonable thing for theists to do is keep their morality out of the public sphere altogether, or at least with only deep reluctance turn to scriptures when promoting it in public policy.  But “reason” and “theism” are like oil and water – ne’er the twain shall meet – so instead many shamelessly continue to insist on the primacy of whatever divine command they’ve happened to pull out of the scriptural hat.

I once had a conversation with a Christian who saw no problem with this practice.  Christians, he said, oppose murder and theft based on biblical dictates, and no one has a problem with that. So why should anyone have a problem when they oppose, say, gay marriage on the same grounds?  Objections to promoting one’s religious convictions in the public sphere are really a red herring; religion isn’t really the issue.
As I explained to this Christian (in a post which he deleted), things like theft and murder are violations of liberty, which is independent of religion.  Because one’s religious views happen to align with the preservation of liberty in this or that case does not make them synonymous, nor does it mean one’s religion is the font of rights and responsibilities applicable to all.  Such positions subvert liberty, and that’s what’s being objected to.

The ironic thing is, this is the same defense most theists employ against the imposition of other theists’ supposed divine dictates.  But such opposition is hypocritical.  If you grant yourself the right to impose your religion on others, in a democracy, you’ve granted it to all – and abdicated any grounds to object.

My advice to theists is to keep your religious morality to yourself.  Your efforts at imposing them are wildly inconsistent, which undermines both their authority and alleged objectivity.  If that isn’t sufficient reason, then remember: the sword you wield to force others to follow your morality can just as easily be wielded by someone else to force you to follow theirs.

The Pope is a Pious Fraudster

Or he’s insane.  But I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Speaking in Great Britain yesterday during his trip funded at the expense of the English taxpayer, Benedict characterized Nazi tyranny as “atheist extremism”.  Coming from a man who once said that condoms increase the risk of contracting AIDs, which was simply one more lie among a long string, this gross distortion of history shouldn’t shock anyone.  Who said, “We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out…We have put an end to denial of God and abuse of religion”?  Yep, you guessed it, that notorious author of “atheist extremism” himself, Adolf Hitler.

What’s behind Benedict’s misinformation campaign is not hard to discern.  The land the Catholic Church once practically ruled for so long has become increasingly denuded of followers.  Churches stand empty.  Fewer and fewer enter the priesthood.  For the most part, a sweeping secularization can take credit.  This is especially troubling to the Vatican because it can expect far less deference when its criminal activities come to light.  The aggressive police raid on Catholic churches in Belgium a few months back is likely just a taste of things to come.  Severely down in the polls, Benedict is doing what any other Machiavellian politician would do in a similar situation: sling mud, dissemble, and lie.

The sweet irony of the Pope’s fraud is that it’ll only hasten the very process he and his henchmen rail against.  I say this in full seriousness: the Pope is a godsend to secularists everywhere (and, well, pretty much anyone else who abhors the Catholic Church, which includes a sizable number of fellow Christians too).  It’s not simply his knack for offending anyone and everyone, but the clear fact he’s woefully inadequate to face the mounting challenges confronting his faith.  It’s hard to differentiate the actions this Pope and his lackeys have taken from those of someone who would actively sabotage it:

Claim the mantle of victimhood while your criminal activities are exposed – Check

Hide behind dubious grants of sovereignty – Check

Blame your troubles on invisible nefarious forces – Check

Insult the very hosts who are paying for your jaunt to their country – Check

The cumulative effect of all this just confirms one of the bylines of the so-called new atheism: religion poisons everything.  In a time when the entire edifice of faith has come under increasing scrutiny, thanks in no small part to the Four Horsemen, the last thing religion needs is a prominent liar for Jesus.  A few decades ago, the damage might have been mostly confined to within Catholicism, but I think people are beginning to agree with us skeptics that the mendacity is the inevitable product of minds beholden to magic and faith, minds which largely dwell within a “demon-haunted world”.

I wish the Pope a long life to continue his crusade.

Perhaps they should take the hint…

Whilst perusing the latest and greatest the intertubes have to offer this morning, I happened upon the site of The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP), which bills itself as an “organization of lay Catholic Americans concerned about the moral crisis shaking the remnants of Christian civilization”.  Appropriately enough for this collection of Catholic fundies, its online magazine is called Crusade.  Now that’s what I call tradition!

Unsurprisingly, TFP is a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage.  It wrote of the ruling overturning California’s Proposition 8 that the ruling “unmasks how the homosexual movement’s promotion of same-sex “marriage.” [sic] deprives marriage of its rational end, belittles a higher moral law and disregards the majority of California who hold marriage to be sacred.”  Perhaps as a way to demonstrate just how outraged its readers are at the ruling, TFP posted a poll inviting readers to offer their opinion.  Among the choices is “It is an irrational decision denying the nature and purpose of marriage” and “It was a slap in the face of California voters”.

Web site operators should know by now the dangerous terrain they tread putting up online polls.  Over a decade ago, there was the case of Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf winning People Magazine’s online poll for its “50 Most Beautiful People” issue.  More recently, comedian Stephen Colbert topped NASA’s online poll for whom to name its new wing of the international space station.  The lesson is: never assume you’ll get the results you anticipated.  It’s a lesson TFP is probably now just discovering, for when I clicked on its poll results (so far), the following popped up:

 No wonder TFP hates democracy in the church.

The turn of the tide

The New York Times recently reported that Belgian officials have raided offices of the Catholic Church in search of evidence related to allegations of sexual abuse.

Coming on the heels of months of ever-more sickening revelations about the church’s sexual abuse cover-up campaign, one can only say, “Finally!”  Finally, the hands-off, “let them take care of it themselves” bullshit has been dispensed with, which has only served the church’s interest in shuffling its sordid affairs under the rug and denying justice to its victims.  Finally, law enforcement has aggressively acted to uncover the full extent of clerical crimes, a wholly justified response against an organization with such a history of illegal activity.

I think this represents the turn of the tide  against the Catholic church.  A taboo has been broken against it.  The church has long claimed sovereign immunity as a “state,” a privilege largely respected.  But as the steady stream of sexual abuse allegations became a flood, as it was undeniable efforts to hide the abuse reached to the current Pope himself, as the horrifying and gruesome detail of Ireland’s exhaustive report on clergy sexual abuse and torture of children rippled across the world, whatever vestige of deference given the church  has evaporated.  And perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I can’t help but think that the efforts of the so-called new atheists — notably, Christopher Hitchens — contributed to setting the stage for the shift in attitude.

Exceeded perhaps only by the Workers’ Party of North Korea, there exists no other organization whose lofty rhetoric is so far removed from reality.  The Vatican should be placed in the category of rogue states — and dealt with accordingly.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – a great idea for every religion, even for Catholics

I happened to read recently that Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, converted to Catholicism.  What particularly intrigued me was that the twice-divorced, former Baptist apparently had to undergo a lengthy and time-consuming process known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), like every other convert new to the faith.  While many Christian denominations just require some sort of confessional statement for membership, if that, it seems to me the Catholic’s initiation process is the most honest.  One should be told upfront what you’re committing yourself to, as opposed to portions of it doled out piecemeal after you’re a member.  As one Catholic site justified it:

RCIA is the Church’s way of forming new disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s the normative way the Catholic Church welcomes its newest members, but even more important than membership in the Catholic Church is discipleship in Christ Jesus. Through a gradual, complete and comprehensive training in the Christian way of life (Rite, no. 75), the unbaptized come to know Jesus Christ through the Catholic Christian community and they learn to live as Jesus’ disciples. Then, as disciples, they continue the mission of Jesus Christ in the world today.

While Catholicism is admittedly somewhat unique in containing centuries of theology and ritual to bone up on, the logic of its approach to new members is hardly disputable, not just for itself, but for almost every other denomination or religion.  The common term for this approach is “informed consent” – a widely-recognized and practiced ethic, one often enshrined in law.  We are justifiably wary of those who fail to adopt it since more often than not they’re hiding information which would sway us away from their appeals.  Informed consent is considered grantable only by adults, since only they have the life experiences and knowledge to carefully weigh a profound and potentially life-altering decision – well, most of them anyway!

Theologically sound from the inside, ethically sound from the outside, the RCIA represents what every religious initiation process for prospective members should be like.  It’s thus a shock that Catholic Church doesn’t require it of all new members.  If the RCIA is so important, then why does the Catholic Church admit into its fold children as young as seven in a simple ceremony?  Why not wait until they’re adults, put them through some kind of version of the RCIA, then admit them?

My guess is that doing so would shrink Catholic numbers, which are already declining, as the requirement to adhere to a central doctrine would be made explicit.  Currently, the vast body of Catholicism contains a cacophony of voices at odds with each other.  Declaring vast swathes of those voices as questionably- or non-Catholic, as an RCIA program for all Catholics would effectively do, would just encourage schism.

So why not the opposite approach, make membership as easy to obtain for outsiders as it is for those born into the faith?  Probably because of the same reason as before: it would just encourage schism.  The last thing the Church needs is an even wider diversity of viewpoints.  The RCIA is in effect re-education, or perhaps moderate brainwashing, albeit voluntary.  Its goal is to achieve what a lifetime of indoctrination does: produce quiescent Catholics.  The Church knows it can obtain them if it can get a hold of them young, thus, the far lighter membership requirements for children.

But this is pure conjecture, one with which Catholics would no doubt disagree.  Yet, I cannot find an official Catholic reason for the difference, though the logic of RCIA would seem to demand it apply to all new members, not just outsider adults.  Perhaps it’s just another “mystery“.