The Vatican, The Pope, The Roman Catholic Church, and a small bit of all their Bullshit

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Penn & Teller give us an inside look at the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), the Pope, and their policies and they way they wield their power around.

Covers the RCC’s official policy on condoms. Their cover-up of the RCC priests sex scandal, and much more.

Worth watching. These guys should all be facing criminal charges for several different crimes, ranging from murder to rape to aiding and abetting child molestation. The list is long and goes on and on.

By their works shall ye know them

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By their works shall ye know them

People of faith have rejected the benefits of an open mind and, perhaps through choice, are destined to repeat their bloody pasts

If one were asked to prescribe the fundamental condition for a good world, it would be: peace and freedom for all, where “freedom” means personal autonomy and mental liberation from prejudice, superstition, ignorance and fear. Cynics will no doubt think this a saccharine sentiment merely, if only on the grounds that it is unattainable and that one had better stick to the realities of a world in which the majority of people are trapped in economic and intellectual prisons made by history, perpetuated and promoted by demagogues and the greedy and powerful.

The cynics are of course right about the realities, but that does not mean one should shrug one’s shoulders and capitulate. There is something one can do to fight back, by taking part in the battle that underlies it all: the battle (to put it in Voltaire’s terms) between those who seek the truth and those who claim to have it.

On one side are those who inquire, examine, experiment, research, propose ideas and subject them to scrutiny, change their minds when shown to be wrong and live with uncertainty while placing reliance on the collective, self-critical, responsible and rigorous use of reason and observation to further the quest for knowledge.

On the other side are those who espouse a belief system or ideology which pre-packages all the answers, who have faith in it, who trust the authorities, priests and prophets, and who either think that the hows and whys of the universe are explained to satisfaction by their faith, or smugly embrace ignorance. Note that although the historical majority of these latter are the epigones of one or another religion, they also include the followers of such ideologies as Marxism and Stalinism – which are also all-embracing monolithic ownerships of the Great Truth to which everyone must sign up on pain of punishment, and on whose behalf their zealots are prepared to kill and die.

If anyone does not know how to pluck from history and the contemporary world examples of these opposing mindsets and their operation then he is either deaf, dumb, blind and illiterate – or he is one of the creatures of faith.

In the aftermath of the Reformation in the 16th century, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit Order as an army of defence against the attack on the One True Church. The Jesuits saw that the reformers had learning and intelligence on their side; they were translating the Bible into vernacular tongues, and encouraging lay people to read it, and when laymen did so they could see that the doctrines and practices of the Roman church were a mountain of rubbish. The Jesuits aimed to be an army of very smart casuists and propagandists, skilful in rhetoric and argument, trained to counter the reformers’ charges, not interested in truth but in Catholicism’s tendentious version of it.

It is said that the ignorant are condemned to repeat history, but it is equally true that those who know history can repeat it on purpose. In the US the proponents of intelligent design and creationism have taken a large leaf out of Loyola’s book of strategy, and are training a new breed of jesuitical defenders of faith against the onslaught of science. Only look at the exam set by creationist William Dembski for his Intelligent Design and Christian Apologetics course at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The Final exam questions are as follows (and can be seen here):

1. You are a panelist at the premier showing of Richard Dawkins’s BBC production debunking religion titled “The Root of All Evil?” Richard Dawkins is there on the podium with you. After the showing of this program, you are asked to present a brief response. Throughout the program, Dawkins emphasises that evolutionary theory is confirmed by overwhelming evidence whereas religious belief is as a matter of blind, unthinking faith. Challenge him in your response on both points: spend half of your response showing that evolution is not nearly as overwhelmingly confirmed as Dawkins makes out; also, indicate how, at least when it comes to the Christian faith, religious belief can be well-supported evidentially (eg indicate lines of evidence supporting the resurrection and the reliability of the Scriptures).

2. You are an expert witness in the Dover case. You’ve been asked to summarise why you think intelligent design is a fully scientific theory. Do so here. Sketch out ID’s method of design detection and then show how it applies (or could apply) to biological systems. Further, indicate how ID is testable: what evidence would confirm ID and what evidence would disconfirm ID?

3. Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross have characterised intelligent design as part of a vast rightwing conspiracy to undermine our democratic institutions by substituting religious dogma for scientific theory. Accordingly, they see intelligent design as part of a “Wedge Strategy”. Briefly recount the history of the “Wedge” and indicate why Forrest and Gross may be wrong to paint it in conspiratorial terms. Is the “Wedge” a legitimate cultural movement? Explain.

4. You’ve been assigned to teach six Sunday school lessons on intelligent design over six consecutive Sundays. Each lesson is an hour and fifteen minutes. Outline how you would conduct these lessons. What would you have people read? In what order? What would you present? What would you want participants to take away at the end of the six weeks?

As this shows, the training at the seminary is aimed at producing infantry for a religious war against science and reason; proof of this, and in Dembski’s own words, lies in another of his exam questions for the same course:

You are the Templeton Foundation’s new program director and are charged with overseeing its programs and directing its funds. Sketch out a 20-year plan for defeating scientific materialism and the evolutionary worldview it has fostered if you had $50,000,000 per year in current value to do so. What sorts of programs would you institute? How would you spend the money?

Apart from the interesting aside on the Templeton Foundation, which exists to keep religion confused with and implicated in science, this makes as clear as day the tendentious purpose of an “education” at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

When the faithful of any faith win the doors are open to horrors ranging from Muslims killing Christians in Gojra, women being whipped for wearing trousers in Sudan, Sunnis blowing up dozens of Shias in Iraq, oppressive theocracies, reactionary social policies, prejudice against gays and women, pogroms against Jews, slaughter of kulaks, starvation of millions as a result of ideological nostrums such as collectivisation, wars, communities separated by walls in Israel-Palestine and Ulster – the litany seems endless.

Someone once said “by their works ye shall know them”. Indeed. Do not venture the fig-leaf of charitable works – the non-zealous do these too, and for better motives. The true contrast is with antibiotics, surgery, television, lighting and heating, air travel – the litany is equally endless. And again, by their fruits we know them. Do not venture the canard that science produces atom bombs and mustard gas, as if mentioning them justified the atrocities committed by faith on the bodies and minds of multitudes, for these applications of science are the result of political and ideological decisions about how the findings of science are to be used. Scientists do not start wars with each other over different theories of nitrogen fixation or whether black holes or boson stars lie at the heart of galaxies. Theologians, however, have committed many murders over the word “and” in the formula “the father and the son”: if you want a lesson in lunacy, go and find out why; it makes all my points for me.

To summarise: the battle for peace and freedom is a battle about mindsets. The battle lines are clear. It is fought on many fronts: against faith-based schooling, against the overweening privilege accorded religious lobbies in society, and in the agora of public opinion. It would be easy to take the next step of showing that the mindset which looks for and tests the facts rather than shores up ancient edifices of authority is likely to make the world a fairer one economically and in power relations too. But that discussion is for another time.

Pew, that was a lucky escape

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Pew, that was a lucky escape

WEEK one, Planetshakers. Week two, the Quakers. Week three, and in the final instalment of my interrogating-reality triptych, I sat through Sunday Mass on the same pew I grew up on at my childhood parish. But this time with my atheist sons. How did they become atheists? That’s the way they were born.

Entering the cathedral of misogyny, deception, manipulation, chauvinism, hypocrisy and bigotry, all wrapped up in “If you don’t swallow this hook, line and sinker you’re going to hell”, felt like coming home. I’m not bitter, just being descriptive and honest. Going back was fabulous because it reminded me I’d escaped.

Under the same roof where I’d been baptised, confirmed and brainwashed, my six-year-old asked: “Where’s the Pope?” I laughed. Until the 11-year-old said: “Here he comes.”

The priest, obviously drawn by the unusual sight of new people, approached us to welcome us to his flock. I shot out my hand. “Hi, I’m Catherine.”

All the blood drained from his face. “You’re that writer?” “Yes,” I replied. I happily introduced my sons, who, in an uncharacteristic display of manners, shook the priest’s hand and said, “Nice to meet you.” The priest wandered off in a daze. Or was it a trance? Maybe it was religious melancholy.

After surveying the ”good news” of carnage and damnation on the wall, the 11-year-old asked what a virgin was. I explained. Then he said, “Is there something wrong with sex?”

When I was four, one of the girls from a ”good” family who sat two pews in front of us got pregnant. She was 15. She married on a Saturday afternoon wearing an orange kaftan. She wasn’t allowed to wear white because she wasn’t ”a bride”. The poor girl was being shamed and made an example for the rest of us.

On the way home from the wedding I remember Dad saying to Mum: “I feel for her father.” I remember wanting to jump over the front seat and ram my father’s head into the windscreen.

In the ’70s this building – so groovy it could have been designed by the dad from The Brady Bunch – was Rock Mass Central. The breeding baby boomers had the place packed with little Gerards, Damians and Bernadettes singing along to Sister Janet Mead. The sad little crowd last Sunday was mostly made up of defeated-looking nannas who could whip up a pav at the drop of a crochet hook, plus a handful of Asians.

Mass had the feeling of a miserable couple married for 40 years just going through the motions; passionless, soulless and loveless. Too late to back out now.

The priest said there would be no “sign of peace” because of swine flu and instead of shaking hands we should just nod to each other. I couldn’t help drawing a comparison with the Vatican’s refusal to endorse the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa. Who cares if we lose a couple of golliwogs, but we can’t have white people getting the sniffles.

Time for Communion, when bread and wine is turned into the actual flesh and blood of Christ by the priest. Because he’s special. They call it transubstantiation; I call it bullshit. The congregation lines up and shares in this ”celebration”, as long as you’ve officially been given the nod via a bizarre bridal ceremony around the age of 10 known as ”first Communion”.

As we lined up, I thought about priests refusing gay people Communion, which is hilariously hypocritical when you consider the amount of hanky-panky some priests get up to. And that’s just the stuff we know about. There’s a list of things that exclude people from receiving Communion, including “not believing in transubstantiation, participating in an abortion, homosexual acts, sexual intercourse outside marriage and deliberately engaging in impure thoughts”.

When it was my turn the priest picked up a wafer and said: “The body of Christ.” The expected response is “Amen”. Instead, I said: “I have three children and have never been married. I’ve used contraception, had an abortion, use the Lord’s name in vain, think transubstantiation is a crock and I’m an atheist. And I’m not sorry.”

Actually, I didn’t say that. I wanted to, but I felt sorry for the priest. He looked tired and worn out. I thought of Dan Barker, the former evangelical preacher who is now one of America’s leading atheists and who is gathering the names of atheist clergymen and women who only stay in their jobs because they don’t know how to do anything else. Hell is truth seen too late.

Catherine Deveny and Daniel Burt appear in An Evening of Insight and Filth at the Butterfly Club, South Melbourne, until Sunday.

The curse of religion

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The curse of religion

That religious leaders have joined forces on euthanasia is not surprising – favouring dogma over kindness is standard fare

  • AC Grayling

News that the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols and the chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, have joined forces in a campaign to prolong the sufferings of those incurably or terminally ill – by opposing a change in the law that would decriminalise those who accompany anyone who goes to Switzerland in search of help to die – comes as no surprise. A preference for dogma over kindness, for superstition-based moralism over humaneness, is standard fare for religion, as history too loudly attests.

Nevertheless it obliges one, wearily and with distaste, to return to the question of religion in the public domain. One would of course like to see humankind wake up from the sleep of reason that enables religious beliefs and the institutions built on them to persist. One would like a remark like Sir Harry Kroto‘s “the only mistake Bernie Madoff made was to promise returns in this life” to startle everyone into a great shout of laughter that would strip away the pretensions of religion and lay bare its absurdity and poverty. But while the man-made curse of religion exists, the question of what archbishops and rabbis do in the way of trying to subvert the ethical maturation of humankind has to be addressed.

So I repeat: in a free society people must be allowed to believe what they like, even stupid, ignorant and absurd things, provided they do no harm to others. Religious organisations have every right to exist and have their say, just as any other self-selected, self-constituted interest group does, such as trade unions and political parties. But religious organisations have to recognise that they are such groups, and nothing more than such groups – that they are civil society organisations like trade unions, existing to protect and promote their own interests – and although they have the same rights, they do not have any greater rights.

And here is the problem: the religions think they have much greater rights than anyone or anything else – rights to be heard, to be exempt from laws, to be awarded special privileges, to be given our tax money to run their own schools, to have representatives in the House of Lords (26 bishops plus all those retired bishops and archbishops who are now life peers), to be given hours and hours of air time on publicly funded radio every week, to have charitable status, to have their hospital chaplains paid for by the public purse, and so on and endlessly on, getting a huge slice of the pie out of all proportion to the realities: which – as an indication of the overall picture – are that about 3% of the population go to Church of England services every Sunday, less than 10% of the population going weekly to any church, temple, mosque or synagogue. And the state goes along with it!

How can this be tolerable? All religious organisations should be relegated to the status of private self-selected and self-constituted NGOs like trade unions and other lobby groups, should survive on what money they can raise from their adherents, should have the same and no more than the same rights and entitlements as any other such organisation and should stop getting privileges, money and an amplification for their views (views, never forget, derived from the beliefs of illiterate goat-herds in ancient times) from government.

What would we think if the Labour party or Conservative party received taxpayers’ money to run Labour party or Conservative party schools to teach 3- and 4-year-olds their party principles? Or astrologers, crystal gazers, voodoo merchants, druids, witches – all self-described and self-selected as such, and all parti-pris in their own way?

Let us note how the archbishops and rabbi stand together to block progress towards more humane laws. Technically, of course, each archbishop is doctrinally obliged to regard the other one and the rabbi as one or more of heretic, infidel or apostate; their organisations spent most of history fighting, persecuting and executing each other; indeed all religions have to regard all other religions as getting it wrong and misleading their votaries.

But when the religions are after a common goal, as with getting our tax money for their faith-based schools, or exemption from discrimination laws, or seats in parliament, they are a united front. This used to be called hypocrisy, but no doubt modern theology has come up with a convoluted polysyllable to redefine it.

Not that a new name helps much; rubbish smells as bad no matter what you call it.