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Posts Tagged ‘pope’

…K-I-S- …Wait. Um. What letter rhymes with “Vatican”?

Okay, never mind. This is about The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, part of the Vatican, which sent some sort of open letter to all Muslims not long ago.

It’s possibly a bit weird.

The end of the month of Ramadan offers the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue a welcome occasion for sending you our most cordial wishes, hoping that the efforts you have so generously made during this month will bring all the desired spiritual fruits.

Impressively flowery language aside, I actually went so far as to look up Wikipedia’s page on Ramadan to see if I’d missed something here. Yes, this issue has actually driven me to research. Horrors. Anyway, my largely ignorant assumption was basically right: Ramadan is about fasting and abstinence, and maybe more praying than usual. Quite where generosity comes into it I’m not sure.

But still, it seems an odd thing for the head of the Catholic Church to be wishing for followers of Islam: that their efforts “will bring all the desired spiritual fruits”. So, you hope that their devotion to a false god who doesn’t exist, and their denial of the true Lord Jesus, is bringing them spiritual fulfilment? Huh. I thought those were generally advised against by Christian teachings, so I’ve only done the second one. Do I get a positive wish for spiritual fulfilment from the Vatican as well?

No, evidently not. Because one thing Christians and Muslims have in common is the way they are…

faced… with the challenges of materialism and secularisation.

Oh, right. That’ll be me, then.

Of course, it is possible to be a religious secularist. One can hold religious views, but consider them a personal matter which should not influence state policy or be involved in any official legislation. But it seems clear that what the Vatican’s objecting to is the irreverence against faith often exhibited by those without it.

We cannot but denounce all forms of fanaticism and intimidation, the prejudices and the polemics, as well as the discrimination of which, at times, believers are the object both in the social and political life as well as in the mass media.

Yep. Prejudices and discrimination in social and political life. I’m sure the spiritual leader of over a billion Christians knows just as much about that as the Muslims his office is addressing.

There surely can’t be much that they have in common. What do Christians and Muslims both share, which doesn’t also include atheists (or “secularists”)? It’s not the nature of God, or Jesus, or really any of the big important spiritual questions which they both claim to have answers to. Atheists, though, have at least one thing in common with every religion: they’re the only ones who agree that all the other religions are false.

The right to practice their own beliefs in a way that doesn’t inhibit the freedom of others? The right not to have an opposing faith view forced on you? Secularists are right with you on those.

The only significant unifying factor which atheists aren’t on board with seems to be the idea that believing in some all-powerful divine overlord is good in itself, even if it’s the wrong one – even, in fact, if that belief is completely untrue. Christians, by nature of their religion, believe all Muslims to be wrong in finding the prophet Mohammed’s writings to be divinely inspired – but the fact that they believe untrue things about a fictional god is still somehow seen as a virtue.

What they share is belief in belief.

Which in fact they probably do also share with a good many non-religious, who miss the comfort provided by a religion they no longer believe in. They use “church-going” as a synonym for “morally upstanding”, and so on.

It’s a flimsy connection for two opposing faiths to find with each other, and still fails to exclude the godless in the way they really want to.

(h/t Atheist Revolution)

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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”.

Yeah.

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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We don’t really have a single organisation comparable to Planned Parenthood in the UK. Many of their services are available on the NHS, and there are various other private organisations doing similar things, but none with quite the same national scope and importance.

They’ve been central to a good deal of American politics lately, though, so it’s probably worth finding out some more details about them. And one good place to start is with debunking some myths.

I’ve never heard of any fundamentalist Christians opposing, say, pap smears. The Vatican still officially refuses to countenance condoms (although they may be sliding on that point, in their anti-progressive way), but it’s less of a hot-button topic. Even the people who take that one seriously are more likely to maintain it as a personal decision, without expecting laws to be passed to enforce their own preference.

The only real controversy is around abortion. This is the one that makes people angry, to the point of violence, murder – and, in the case of some politicians, lying their tits off.

A couple of weeks ago, Republican Senator Jon Kyl bullshitted that “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does” is abortions. According to people who know what the fuck they’re talking about, it’s actually around 3%.

A spokesman later clarified that the 90% remark was “not intended to be a factual statement“. So, politicians are now confessedly under the impression that lying deliberately is okay if you have some rhetorical point to make.

I’m losing track of whether my main argument here was meant to be pro-choice or anti-state.

The thing is, even though the various other reproductive services offered by organisations like Planned Parenthood aren’t subject to as much vocal opposition, it’s far from clear whether many anti-abortionists are in favour of them.

The advice and preventative care offered by Planned Parenthood has led to hundreds of thousands of cases where the abortion question becomes moot, because no child was conceived to parents who weren’t ready or prepared to bring a new life into the world. Endorsing and funding and encouraging the services which actually make up 90% of Planned Parenthood’s work – such as preventing unwanted pregnancies occurring in the first place, and testing for and treating things like STDs and cancer – would be of huge benefit to the conservatives’ purported goals.

Any competent sexual health advice will include the fact that the only way to be sure of avoiding pregnancy and disease is abstinence. There’s so much that Planned Parenthood do which should be right up anti-abortionists’ street. I mean, who’s against curing cancer?

But all that just tends to get ignored, and the anti-abortion ideology insists on inflating the problem and cracking down on it in the only, blinkered way they know. It’s like the war on drugs all over again.

Tip o’ the hat to Bay of Fundie.

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After the nightmarishly enjoyable drama that’s been ensuing in the comments thread below yesterday’s post (1,600 pageviews, 59 comments and counting), I thought I’d lighten the mood with a little joke.

What’s better than feeding starving people in the third world?

Paying the costs of travel and accommodation when an accessory to institutional child abuse and his massive team of personal security come to visit!

… Hmm. The mood doesn’t feel very lightened.

Yes, news is emerging that the Department for International Development transferred £1.85 million to the Foreign Office last September, to fund the visit from His Popiness, Joey Ratzo.

The visit ended up costing taxpayers around £10 million total, which is bad enough, but it does seem to only make it horribly worse that some of that money was diverted from foreign aid.

The defense offered by a spokesperson for the department included the phrase:

Our contribution recognised the Catholic Church’s role as a major provider of health and education services in developing countries.

Which should elicit some severe head-desking from anyone passingly familiar with the Church’s stance historically on, to pick a totally non-random example, the role of condoms in preventing the spread of AIDS.

Certainly not everything the Catholic Church does in its attempts to provide health and education is evil, or even misguided. There’s no doubt been some good work there, in amidst the terrible stuff which tends to get wider publicity. But the good stuff isn’t anything that couldn’t also be done by legitimate apolitical organisations with a much better track record.

That’ll do. Maybe I’m just too tired to get very angry about this tonight.

h/t New Humanist

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An attempt to change the damn record already is edging into sight. To that end, I’m just linking to a few things tonight, some of which will continue the Popey protesty theme, but with strictly limited accompanying ranting from me:

– It’s annoying when the Guardian gets stuff really wrong. It has many excellent regular columnists, a political stance largely not far from my own, and a clearer interest in at least making an effort at things like impartial fact-checking than I’ve come to expect from most tabloids.

It doesn’t render the whole paper worthless or deplorable whenever they simply print something I profoundly disagree with, but it is frustrating. This column by Andrew Brown especially so, for the reasons Greg Laden explains.

You don’t have to like or agree with Richard Dawkins about everything, or about anything much – I’m not going to link to that Neil deGrasse Tyson clip again, but it can certainly be done. But to think that he was really “comparing every Catholic in Britain to Adolf Hitler” is just bafflingly wrong-headed. It makes me wonder how badly someone would have to want to hear Dawkins expressing unadulterated contempt for all religious people (because it’s such a convenient narrative to suppose that that’s what he always does) for them to so completely misconstrue his point. It’s almost like something you get from creationists who’ve taken half a fact about evolution out of context to make it sound ridiculous.

I said something about limiting the ranting, didn’t I? Sorry.

I’m with Jerry Coyne. There, much pithier.

– Also, when the Pope was here, you may have recalled the terrifying conspiracy that was bravely foiled, in which foreigners had been scheming a devilish plot to explode the Pope to bits.

Except none of it was ever really happening. There was a massive furore, with incredibly blatant speculation about “Islamic terrorists” with “links to Al Qaeda” that seem to have been entirely fictionalised by the tabloids. And then, depending on what papers you’re reading, you get a tiny paragraph on page nine later on, explaining that no charges were ever made against anyone.

Mark Steel’s summary of events is excellent.

– Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell is the latest prankster comedian to hit the headlines with her wacky in-character antics. Forget Borat and Joaquin Phoenix – she’s been doing this full-time for years. And the results are hilarious.

– There already was a Mosque at Ground Zero (neither of which was true about the “Ground Zero” “Mosque”, remember). It was there before it got that name, though, back when the site was called the World Trade Centre.

– Apparently it’s offensive to suggest that some Muslims aren’t terrorists. A newspaper recently apologised to its readers for printing a photo which implied that sometimes Muslims are just pretty ordinary people who pray – on September 11th, of all days – without even bringing up all the mass murder they’re probably thinking about. This was clearly a grave error of judgment. Muslims aren’t a diverse, complicated demographic encompassing much of the variety to be found in humankind as a whole; 9/11 is the only thing that there is about them, and it’s important that we never ever forget that. Or let them forget it.

– Finally, there’s one point I’ve seen raised by detractors of the Protest The Pope campaign which deserves highlighting. It was still couched in “stop banging on about the Pope and his pedophile army” whining, but aside from that it’s worth considering.

Not everyone who’s been tormented or abused as a child was suffering at the hands of a religious authority figure. Without looking up any actual numbers, I believe sexual and other kinds of abuse are likely more prevalent among families than churches.

So, while highlighting the crimes of the Catholic church, don’t let’s end up inadvertently marginalising victims of abuse from other directions, whose needs aren’t served by waving signs at a man in a dress. I’m not saying this has been happening, but it’s worth being careful about. And I wanted to give the protest-bashers partial credit for getting something nearly right.

That’ll do for today. Comment with your thoughts on any of this. Or say something about the protests to piss me off again, if you prefer the way things used to be.

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People are still going after Richard Dawkins and the Pope’s protesters for all the wrong reasons.

I commented yesterday on Buffy’s article about her objections to Dawkins, in which she disavows the entire atheist movement, and the very word “atheist”, because of the way some prominent non-believers are behaving. The parallels to the things she’s criticising Dawkins for in the first place – condemning all of religion and lumping in moderate believers with the extremists – seem strikingly hypocritical.

It’s sloppy, lazy, ignorant, and offensive to imply that simply because extremists exist that everyone who believes anything (even if that belief is no belief) agrees with the extreme views.

Yes, it is. I’ve never seen Dawkins do this. But in the way she disassociates herself from atheism because of what she sees as an extremist fringe, it looks like this is exactly what Buffy’s doing.

The latest swathe of anti-Dawkins criticism kinda reminds me of that SciencePunk piece I had a go at a while back. His problem was that he was taking other skeptics to task for being hostile and unapproachable communicators, but he communicated this message in a really hostile and unapproachable manner. Similarly, those deriding Dawkins for his smug tone usually manage to achieve comparable levels of self-satisfaction themselves.

I really want to hear some criticism of Dawkins’s style, from someone who doesn’t essentially shout that all those “New Atheists” are as bad as any religious fundamentalists, using exactly the kind of broad generalisation for which they’ve supposedly taken a dislike to him in the first place. Neil deGrasse Tyson makes a good point well, for instance. I know it’s simply not reasonable to expect people to be quite as awesome as Neil deGrasse Tyson, but it’s worth at least giving it a shot, guys.

But the criticism of the protest that I’ve seen so far just seems eager to make assumptions about the zealous irrationality of the people involved, using emotive language (“brawling mob”, “unholy crusade”) to paint a diverse group as a monolithic ideological force, blindly following a self-elected despotic leader. (Again, doing exactly what they claim to be fed up with when the other guys do it.)

@violet_towers said to me yesterday:

So many reports paint the protest as Peter Tatchell’s baby, in a dismissive way, like ‘oh, it’s a gay thing, it’s not for us.’

I hadn’t even thought of this, or really been aware of Peter Tatchell’s involvement at all – but this says a lot about the perspective some of us were coming at this from. I and the people I follow tended to be involved with the atheist/secularist side of things, but a lot of the protesters might not have even known that Dawkins was there. Or maybe they were attending as part of a campaign for gay rights, and gave Dawkins a cheer in passing when they saw him standing up for what seemed important. The idea that this entire crowd was there just for him, hanging dogmatically on his every word with some sort of divine fervour, is an assumption at least as unjustified and bigoted as anything I’ve heard from Dawkins himself.

This comment excellently sums up a lot of the problems with the anti-protest criticism, particularly that described in the post it responds to. I’ll defer to that in lieu of banging on about this any more, for now.

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On Twitter yesterday, Graham Linehan raised some concerns about the tone of the Protest The Pope campaign. He was more careful, measured, and reasonable than most complainants, and raised some points worth considering. I still don’t think there’s anything to panic about myself, but he mooted the question in a way that expressed the possibility of legitimate concerns.

Ben Goldacre responded, in part, as follows:

not sure if there were others, but the one i spoke at was focused on equality and diversity, and challenging discrimination…

coverup of child rape, and campaigns against condoms. it was misrepped as anti religion by bbc and others, which is sad.

if antipope protests consist only of atheists, thats because christians failed to speak out about these problems. source of sadness

There’s definitely a place for a discussion about the role of the atheist movement in protests like this, and making sure that a campaign against widespread child abuse doesn’t turn into some sort of atheist crusade. None of my recent moaning about this should be interpreted as an attempt to quash dissent.

As it happens, the impression I get is that atheism was far less of a theme for most protesters than you might be led to believe by much of the campaign’s media coverage. But there’s nothing wrong with being kept on our toes to make sure we don’t wander too far down that path in future.

However, even given that secularist or atheist sentiment might have been running strong in places, how much is it really on non-religious shoulders to make protesting the Pope “accessible” to those who aren’t part of the atheist crowd?

Even people who don’t support the atheist effort claim to abhor the actions of many high-ranking members of the Catholic church. But if those actions are more important than the smug tone of some atheists (which I think would be hard to deny), what’s stopping them from protesting anyway? Why have Christians apparently failed to speak out about this, in such large numbers?

Personally, I’d welcome some Catholics standing up to condemn atrocities perpetrated by members of their church. And for all that some commentators have tried to paint him as the manic leader of a band of zealots, I’m convinced that Dawkins would too.

But if the religious majority aren’t willing to take a strong position against child abuse, just because some atheists are getting a little rowdy, how much do they really care?

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