Posts Tagged ‘catholic league’

And this is totally how grown-ups behave.

He’s finally noticed that in 1987 there was this award-winning photograph called Piss Christ. Don’t ask me why. I don’t understand art, and I don’t understand this.

He’s offended by it, which is not remotely surprising, but also not entirely unreasonable. It’s a symbol of Jesus on the cross submerged entirely in urine. Even if most Christians have more sense than to get particularly riled over it, it’s pretty offensive.

But Bill Donohue’s reaction to it is very confused. First of all, he wants those people who spoke out against that YouTube film which offended Muslims recently to mount a similar defense of Christians:

Where are they when Christians are being offended? We are offended over and over again, through the artistic community, on radio and television, in the movies. Where have these people been? Why don’t they ever speak out against anti-Christian fare?

I suspect the answer is partly to do with the dearth of Christian extremists bombing embassies who officials feel they should mollify, and partly because the overwhelming majority of the USA are still Christians, are in no way a persecuted minority, and are in no actual danger of suffering any serious detriment to their lives because of a few jibes about their belief system.

He then adopted a completely different set of principles, and presented a piece of art of his own creation, in which a doll of Obama is mounted in some fake shit.

It’s not a subtle or complex piece. (Or maybe I still just don’t get art.) But I suspect it honestly expresses the artist’s feelings, in a way likely to offend many people. In this way, perhaps it’s doing exactly what art should do. But the target of the work is in such a position of power or authority that their autonomy and dignity is not remotely threatened by something so weakly subversive.

Bill Donohue has, in fact, chosen to closely emulate the creator of Piss Christ.

You know what? This part kinda doesn’t bother me. Because, in his blindly petulant lashing-out, in his latest childish tantrum against some irrelevancy he’s picked on and inflated to a major injustice against the centre of his own personal universe, he’s actually managed to stumble quite by accident across the right answer.

The solution to bad speech is more speech.

If someone creates something which denigrates you or your ideas, then assuming those ideas have any merit, the only way for you to really lose that fight is to try and forcibly shut them up.

Make some art of your own. Add to the conversation. Don’t try to hush it up.

Bill Donohue’s part of the way there. He knows he ought to have the right to insult Obama and his supporters. He gets why free speech is important when it supports his cause, even if you can just hear him squawking:

“Hey, if you get to do that, I get to do this! Yeah, Obama’s covered in shit! See? Not so fun, is it? How d’ya like your precious free speech now, huh?”

We like it just fine, Bill.

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Let me briefly remind you about Bill Donohue before getting into this:

No institution, religious or secular, has less of a problem with the issue of sexual abuse today than the Catholic Church.

Yeah, for some reason we’re still paying attention to that guy.

Donohue’s “Catholic League” recently launched an “Adopt An Atheist” campaign, intended to make atheists “realize that there may be Christians in their community” – especially in the case of Christians who “don’t even know they are Christian”.

Hemant’s pointed out the two major flaws in this idea. Firstly, the idea Donohue was responding to – Dave Silverman’s campaign for wider recognition of atheists, even if “those atheists don’t even know they are atheists” – actually makes a lick of sense. In such a religiously saturated country as America, the idea of someone slowly abandoning their religious belief but going through the motions anyway, because everyone in their family and their community still seems to believe and it’s the only way they know how to act, is not hard to imagine, and is probably a fairly common story among American atheists. How someone can be a Christian without realising it is far from clear.

Secondly, nobody’s unaware that there are plenty of Christians in America. Donohue’s own press release puts the numbers at around 80%. It’s not plausible to suggest that Christians have an invisibility problem, or that many atheists might not be aware of how many religious people they’re surrounded by on all sides. Atheists, and gay or trans people, are among those with this problem, because there’s a genuine stigma for a lot of people attached to coming out. Christians being ashamed to admit to their religion is not a problem on the same scale.

The thing is, I think this misguidedness would be forgiveable if the intent behind this campaign was sincere and benevolent. But for a “light-hearted message with holiday spirit“, it’s deeply self-serving and prejudicial, not to mention condescending in its language.

Part of what purportedly motivated the campaign is the idea that “this time of the year atheists don’t have anything to celebrate”, even though the Catholic League’s own statistics indicate that a substantial majority of non-Christians do, in fact, celebrate Christmas. But they also claim to be trying to help atheists to…

…no longer be looked upon as people who ‘believe in nothing, stand for nothing and are good for nothing.’

You want to know how Christians could actually help atheists not be seen like that?

Stop seeing us like that.

What Donohue doesn’t get is that we’re not all sad, empty-hearted people in desperate need of any source of light or meaning to our lives. Most of us would be doing absolutely fine, if people like him didn’t keep judging us as being “good for nothing”.

He’s explicitly saying that we need to change for his sake before he’ll give us any peace. Like Greta Christina says, fuck that noise. Donohue himself has made it abundantly clear that we’re not the ones with the problem.

The parallel to homosexuality is again worth making. A lot of Christians who consider themselves loving and tolerant toward gay people still maintain that it’s the gays who need to change, not them who need to stop accusing other people of being inherently sinful. (That post has a great argument about guilt-driven gay suicides. Apparently “[e]verything in the media is pro-gay”. Srsly.)

I don’t think I have many Catholic followers, but if anyone religious happens to read this and thinks that Donohue might have any kind of a point, drop me a line. I’m honestly willing to turn the sarcasm down a notch for long enough to actually engage with anyone who wants to help me discover my inner Christian. Just don’t be shocked when I continue to reject the same old ideas for the same old reasons that atheists have been giving for years.

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This article from TIME begins with the phrase “The latest sex-abuse case to rock the Catholic Church”.

After checking the date and seeing that it was posted just over a week ago, I still wasn’t sure if this was going to be actual news, or just yet another in a long list of old stories I’ve already heard about.

A headline about a sex-abuse case that rocked, say, Microsoft, would be an eye-catching novelty. The slightly exciting and immoral sex lives of footballers are still making massive news at a time when nobody could possibly be surprised by something as dull as celebrity infidelity.

But the Catholic Church being involved in the institutional molestation of children? Eh, I heard about that already.

Father Riccardo Seppia was allegedly recorded on tape saying the following words to a Moroccan drug dealer:

I do not want 16-year-old boys but younger. Fourteen-year-olds are O.K. Look for needy boys who have family issues.

He is also said to have traded cocaine and money for sexual encounters with boys.

This is all particularly embarrassing for the Cardinal of Father Seppia’s archdiocese, who has recently been working with the Pope on “reforms to respond to prior scandals of pedophile priests”.


I think for something to invoke outrage, it needs to be somehow shocking. And this just isn’t, these days. Which is sad.

But don’t let’s get sidetracked from the important issues here. There are some monasteries out there were the monks and nuns are said to engage in regular sessions of dancing. Now that’s the kind of ungodly abomination that the Pope needs to put a stop to immediately. It’s a matter of priorities, people.

And remember the advice of Bill Donohue of the Catholic League: what really matters is that it’s not technically pedophilia, because many of these victims were post-pubescent.

Just in case you were forming an unfairly low opinion of the Catholic priests who’ve been using drugs to pay for 14-year-olds to have sex with.

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Some things in brief, easing myself back into this slowly after a few more days of uselessness:

– Bill Donohue believes that the Catholic Church has “less of a problem with the issue of sexual abuse” than any other institution in existence. Can we please stop acting as if the Catholic League isn’t just this one loon in his basement?

This is a link to a news website article about a scientific finding. This is a pithy remark summarising my feelings about it. This is a weary sigh about how it will be inevitably misunderstood and widely misrepresented.

– If you trust in watchdogs of honesty to keep tabloid newspapers in check – to enforce some kind of repercussions when, say, the Daily Mail spreads misinformation about dangerous substances, potentially putting people in harm’s way by giving them reassurances of safety, which are explicitly contradicted by the science and have been directly rebutted by experts – then apparently your optimism is foolish and must be crushed. The facts were always there in plain view, but it was months before the Mail were obliged to print a retraction acknowledging that asbestos is in fact quite nasty stuff.

– It’s not all bad, though. Sometimes the quacks go down.

– Two out of three political party leaders in the UK don’t believe in a god. Which I guess is nice. The Deputy Prime Minster has been an open non-believer for a while, and now the new Labour leader has followed suit. The way he qualifies it seems entirely reasonable to me, too; it’s a shame that some people probably do still need to be dissuaded from making the link between “atheist” and “baby-eating monster”, but it sounds like he’s doing a bare minimum of pandering on the subject. And hey, I’m with him on the thing about respecting people with different views. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about a backlash if I want to be more vocal about the active disrespect I have for some things those people believe.

More tomorrow.

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So I know I’m late, but I’m going to try wading into something that’s caused some internal controversy amongst skeptics lately.

Even though Richard Dawkins is not planning to arrest the Pope, he and Christopher Hitchens have been discussing with human rights lawyers an “initiative… to mount a legal challenge to the Pope’s proposed visit to Britain“. Hitchens has written a number of articles for Slate recently, describing the extent of Ratzinger’s complicity in the cover-up of numerous cases of the sexual abuse of children. Among many other recent developments, a 1985 letter from then-Cardinal Ratzinger, instructing the church in how to respond to accusations of such abuse, clearly shows him putting the church’s reputation ahead of the well-being of children left in the care of rapists.

It seems basically clear and unambiguous that any regular corporation would likely be torn apart by such levels of scandal, and have its reputation left genuinely in tatters. The fact that the Pope himself has been among those to have acted reprehensibly does not seem to be in doubt, among anyone worth listening to. The disagreement is over the question of whether Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ legal approach against the Pope is appropriate or useful, or whether a response that does the most good wouldn’t look very different from what we’re seeing here.

My opinion is a somewhat uncertain mishmash of the views expressed by Rebecca Watson, Phil Plait, and PZ Myers, and a useful focus point, for trying to unravel exactly what I think, is the recurring question:

Is this “a skeptical cause”?

And I don’t really think there’s a straight answer. There’s been discussion around whether Dawkins, for instance, has been “wearing his skeptical hat” in this campaign, or is acting solely as an individual. But the skeptical movement isn’t any formal organisation with its name in a fancy font on the letterhead, so I’m not sure I see the distinction.

The scandal has perhaps received even greater or more enthusiastic play among skeptics than society at large, because being critical of the Catholic Church constitutes a greater portion of our day-to-day leisure activities. But there’s nothing about children being sexually abused that ought to only interest skeptics. Everyone ought to be outraged and acting on this. If they’re not, then maybe it’ll fall to Dawkins and his fans to lead the charge, but not because it’s in any way a skeptical cause, or the responsibility of skeptics in particular. He’s not supporting this legal initiative as a representative of the skeptical movement so much as the “people appropriately outraged by child rape” movement. That’s a pretty inclusive movement.

Phil is keen to emphasise how “very delicate and very important” the role of skepticism is in this whole thing, and how carefully skeptics must tread if we don’t want to alienate potential allies. Many non-skeptics, believers, religious people, and even Catholics are surely plenty humanistic enough to be as appalled by child abuse as the rest of us, and would want any organisation to be investigated and censured appropriately if such serious accusations are made against it. The fear is that they’ll be put off this if it means having to join sides with that godless heathen Dawkins.

PZ is less concerned about tact, so long as we’re not devolving into irrationally screaming for blood, and continue to make appropriate criticism through valid channels. And Rebecca called bullshit on a number of more cynical interpretations of the situation, such as that most people would need to be gently coaxed into taking a stand against child rape, and are liable to get defensive and start justifying sexual assault on minors if they’re expected to agree with an atheist. (Also, the skeptical movement can go fuck itself.)

And, well, they’re all kinda right. Not compromising a message for an important cause that we have every right to be involved in sounds good to me. So does trying to get people on our side through methods that don’t involve being a dick.

As Rebecca points out, there aren’t really any prominent Catholic figureheads doing much to bring some accountability to their own organisation. If there were, I don’t doubt for a second that Dawkins would be happy to cheer them on. But right now, anyone not all that sympathetic to the skeptical movement who wants to take a stand against the Catholic church’s cover-ups of child abuse might just have to deal with finding themselves on the same side of an argument as Richard Dawkins. Sorry, but while he’s the only guy publicly saying this stuff, them’s the breaks. It behooves us exactly as much as ever not to be obnoxious and put people off wanting anything to do with us, but I don’t see any need to go out of our way to be conciliatory.

In particular, the people who are actually getting angry at Dawkins simply baffle me, and are probably the kind of people who there’s just no talking to. There’s a much more worthy target for righteous indignation, in the priests who molested children. Dawkins’ aim has been to try and achieve some sort of justice for those children. You might not think much of the way he’s going about it, or rate his chances of success – qualified lawyer Jack of Kent, for instance, thinks that any such legal process should take a very different route from that which Dawkins advocates – but this is a strategical point meriting some serious but amicable debate. How is it possibly worth, as I’ve seen a lot of people do, redirecting onto Dawkins any of the venom and fury that ought to be reserved for the organisation which fucking raped children and covered it up?

So, to sum up: I absolutely think skeptics should be getting involved in this, calling for justice as loudly as necessary. So should history teachers. And surgeons. And insurance analysts. And people who run cake shops. And everyone else. Right now, it seems to be predominantly skeptics who are doing it. And until anyone else brings a louder voice, that’s just going to have to be okay.

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So, I’d really suck as any kind of a skeptical blogger if I let this one slip through the net. A university student recently went to a Catholic Mass, and rather than eating the little bread thingy they hand out so that you can engage in the ritual cannibalism popular in that faith, he snuck it out as part of a wacky student prank.

Because of this outrage, people now want him dead.

Now, I don’t know a single religious person who wouldn’t agree with me that calling for the execution of another human being for stealing a small piece of bread (and then bringing it back apparently unscathed a week later) is a little over the top. But there’s a significant and vocal proportion of your religion who are like this. This is why we make fun. It’s because there are a bunch of nuts out there, large enough to be scary, whose wacky beliefs have a significant crossover with yours, who are shrieking “hate crime” at somebody for being given a piece of bread, and then taking it away with him. And there are major news organisations giving this significant airtime and serious internet space as if it were a real story with actual controversy and multiple sides of the argument to be discussed.

(Couple of short asides here. First, anyone else notice the “Obama & Infanticide” link to their page on that subject on the Catholic League’s main page? You can just tell these guys are classy. Also, it’s reported on their Chatterbox page, whatever that is, that a British MP has claimed that the League “bullies and intimidates anyone who dares criticise the Catholic Church, shutting down any dialogue on the Church’s political methods or doctrine”. The League’s very next words in reaction to this? “We are happy she took note of us!” Wow.)

Anyway, then it actually got sillier. PZ Myers reported on this story, and in an effort to highlight the (one would think) obvious lunacy inherent in getting so apoplectic over someone stealing a small piece of bread that armed guards are now presiding over the Sunday Mass there, he offered to disrespect, abuse, profane, and basically inflict as much “hate crime” as it’s possible to lay upon a small piece of bread, if anyone could provide him with some host from an appropriately consecrated source.

So, of course, now people want him dead too.

Note, by the way, how the hate speech of “You’re going to burn in hell forever, atheist scum” (I’m paraphrasing), or “You are really fucked now. Lock your doors at night, and check under your car before you turn the ignition key” (quoting exactly from an email PZ received), has yet to be commented on by the Catholic League in any remotely condemning way. Clearly making threats on the life of someone with the audacity to mock the holiness of a small piece of bread doesn’t come close to the horrific evil brought about by mocking the holiness of a small piece of bread.

There’s been some response even among the skeptical community that PZ may have gone too far here, or been needlessly antagonistic to religious people as a whole. Sure, the people taking this way too seriously are nuts, but this is something sacred to a lot of good people, so going out of your way to take the piss like that, that’s just not cool.

Except, no. I’m sorry, but if you’re going to choose to get offended by what some guy does to a small piece of bread, then I personally am going to suddenly lose all interest I may have had in avoiding offending you. This is the point being cosmically missed by everyone demanding things like “Why don’t you wipe your ass with the Koran while you’re at it”. There is not simply one black-and-white, absolutely demarcated line which takes you immediately into “ZOMG HATE CRIME RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE!!1” territory once crossed. There are some things which would make you kind of a jerk. I own a copy of the Bible, and have no desire to ever use it as toilet paper. This is mostly out of a general respect I have for all books, but also it would be petty, childish, make absolutely no point, and basically be a real dickish thing to do.

PZ’s point is that there isn’t even any scope for committing any act so heinous as to justify any of this backlash when the subject of your sacrilege is a small piece of bread. It might not be big or clever, but it shows up the inanity of your priorities if what PZ Myers does to a small piece of bread seems anything other than comically insignificant. The fact that this news story has taken off so dramatically that thousands of people are genuinely up in arms is possibly even more retarded than the teacher in the Sudan being jailed and threatened with death for naming a teddy bear Mohammed. Only, y’know, it’s not happening in some scary foreign religion that it’s popular to demonise, it’s happening in Christianity in the United States.

Hat-tip to Shakesville, Pharyngula, and good ol’ Billy D.

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