Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.


No barriers to entry

Oct 1st, 2010 11:39 am | By

So even the Times Higher thinks it has a duty to tell the world that there is no tension between science and religion, that they are perfectly harmonious and compatible, and that the only people who think otherwise are militant atheists. The Times Higher – which has some connection to higher education, and thus to intellectual development and the exercise of reason.

Matthew Reisz leans heavily on Karl Giberson for his “information” on this lack of tension. Giberson has co-written a book about six prominent atheist scientists: Dawkins, Gould, Sagan, Hawking, Weinberg, and Wilson. All of them have written something

 setting out their largely unflattering views on God and the godly.Given that they have thereby ventured well beyond their central areas of scholarly expertise, Giberson disputes the accuracy of many of their claims.

And in doing so, Giberson “ventures well beyond his central area of scholarly expertise” – but does Reisz bother to point that out? I leave it to your wisdom to determine.

But that’s bullshit anyway. We hear it seven million times a day, and it’s bullshit. God is a public subject; there are no barriers to entry; so there can’t be any barriers to non-entry either. That’s only fair, and reasonable. There are no credentials required to believe in god, so there should be no credentials required to disbelieve in god. God is like a public park, or like the ocean, or air: god is there for the taking. (Not “God” the person of course, but god the concept.) Public. If it’s public, it’s public. We get to talk about it just as much as believers do. If they get to say god hears their prayers and answers them either yes or no or I’ll think about it, then we get to say show us the postmark.



Taking the temperature

Sep 29th, 2010 12:19 pm | By

Ajita Kamal defends the role of passion in social movements, in the context of explaining why heat is not necessarily or entirely counterproductive for atheism.

There is a very important role that anger, ridicule and passion play in any social movement. While intellectual understanding is key to a movement that is well-grounded, it is the primary emotions that provide the impetus for social organization. Without this, atheism would simply remain an idea to be discussed in academia and in private settings.

I think that’s spot-on. It’s also true that there are obvious dangers – self-righteousness, verbal or literal violence, confirmation bias, groupthink, tribalism, all sorts. But…we need the movement, and we need the passion. We should relentlessly self-monitor for self-righteousness and the rest of it, but we shouldn’t cool down.



Give Fox News a great big hug

Sep 28th, 2010 11:46 am | By

Ajita Kamal of Nirmukta is thinking about many of the same issues we’ve been thinking about around here.

A common misconception is that freethought implies treating all ideas equally. This could not be farther from the truth. Freethinkers are extremely discriminatory of bad ideas, and adopt a refined reasoning process in judging factual claims.

Exactly, and this is why the idea that the Center for Inquiry (for example) is and should be in the business of promoting “diversity” is so silly. Free inquiry isn’t some default state that flourishes is left alone; it has to be protected and encouraged, because there are always lots of people who want to shut it down the better to promote their own conclusions.

Organized promotion of freethought is a political ideology, even if freethought itself is not. The process of building a culture of freethought involves first creating communities of freethinkers- people who can find and communicate with each other, while living amongst the masses of people who are not freethinkers. Once these communities begin to come together online (and off), much good can be accomplished through activism.

Yes; then again there is always the risk of groupthink and other-hatred; then again if you let that thought trump all efforts to do anything, well then you can’t do anything.

Most freethinkers are wary of all ideologies. These are not usually the ones that are politically motivated towards promoting freethought, although they do benefit from the efforts of those who are.

Ah-ha. That’s a very helpful way of putting it – and accurate, too. I’m torn in that way myself. In general I am wary of all ideologies, all groups, all “communities,” all promotion…but somehow the backlash against gnu atheism has made me become more ideological (if you want to call it that) or more “loyal” (if you want to call it that) or more obstinate and refusenik about this one thing. My feminism has always been like that too, I suppose – opponents tended to firm up my allegiance.

That’s one thing backlashes do, as I think I’ve mentioned a few times – they stiffen the resistance. (So does that mean we should smile benignly on the Tea Partiers and Glen Beck and Sarah Palin? Dear oh dear, what a quandary.) Offer a prayer of thanks for The Enemy.



Whose “squawk”?

Sep 28th, 2010 10:42 am | By

It’s strange to see The Chronicle of Higher Education giving Carlin Romano space to promote the Templeton Foundation.

The Templeton Foundation, which specializes in prodding believers and nonbelievers to discuss such things in civilized ways, has published all sorts of booklets, like “Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?”…

That’s a very flattering way of describing what Templeton specializes in. To a less infatuated observer it looks more as if Templeton specializes in flattering its own self – as in the CHE blurb for Romano’s piece:

Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle Review, is a professor of philosophy and humanities at Ursinus College. This essay is adapted from a talk he gave this summer as a Templeton-Cambridge Fellow in Science and Religion at the University of Cambridge.

 See? To anybody who isn’t familiar with Templeton and its “Fellowships” that last bit sounds very very very ultra academic-prestigious. It’s Cambridge. It’s Cambridge twice, which must be twice as good as being Cambridge once. Plus it’s something else that sounds very dignified and prestigious too and it’s just because I don’t keep up that I don’t really know what it is, but being hyphenated with Cambridge and having temple in its name it’s obviously way important and rigorous and up there.

That’s how that works. Templeton “specializes” in locating itself in places like Cambridge so that the unwary will think that it has something to do with the eponymous university, and in giving out things called “Fellowships” so that the unwary will think that Templeton itself is kind of academic.

Romano, meanwhile, specializes in pejorative language.*

Before one gets edgy over Hawking’s latest ex cathedra squawk…Wittgenstein’s and Toulmin’s Cambridge antidote to Hawking’s smugness about God…

Is this the “discuss[ing] things in civilized ways” Romano had in mind?

*So do I, you might point out. Yes, but I don’t do it in the CHE, or about cosmologists.



Remember the nerds of South Dakota

Sep 27th, 2010 3:29 pm | By

Since I wrote a tut-tutting post about Caspar Melville’s tut-tutting post about gnu atheism last week, in fairness I should add that he promptly asked me to write a piece responding to his for the New Humanist, which I have now done; it will be in the next issue. That’s a generous way with critics, do admit.

The truth is, I really don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being bored by gnu atheism. I’m very easily bored myself; I find a great many things irritating; I can certainly understand being fed up with something even if I agree with it. What makes a difference is the context. The context right now is an endless flood of commentary about how boring/irritating/wrong/evil gnu atheism is, coupled with the fact that atheists are perhaps the last minority (apart from criminals and such) that it is just fine to despise. Atheists are perhaps the last minority that it is fine to despise for no really justifiable reason.

I see a lot of bloggy woofing about gnu atheists “whining” about being “victims.” Aw diddums, is the implication. But that’s not it. I’m not “whining” about this because it makes me cry. I’m way too nerdy for that; I don’t care what the great majority thinks; I’d much rather put up fresh curtains in my bunker than try to join The Mainstream. But not everyone is like me. I’m just barely reflective enough to grasp that.

Not everyone is like me, and then, I’m not sure even I would be like me if my circumstances were totally different. It’s easy for me to be like me, in a big cosmopolitan coastal port city with a university and a huge population of nerds. It’s not so easy for people in (say) small towns in the Midwest with no visible nerds as far as the eye can see. I think the backlash against atheism matters for a lot of people, not just (if at all) for me. I’m not whining, I’m not playing martyr, I’m not demanding sympathy, I’m just straighforwardly saying that there is a huge amount of unreasonable and often downright vicious animosity toward atheism and atheists in the US and even in other more secular places, and that that animosity is a form of bigotry rather than a mere disagreement about truth claims, and thus it needs to be pointed out and disputed.



Ignore the logo, no matter how big it is

Sep 25th, 2010 6:07 pm | By

I saw John Shook’s Huffington Post article on “O lord how awful are the ways of thy gnu atheists” a few days ago, and even read a bit of it, but I got bored so I didn’t finish, or comment on it. But Jerry did a post on it today, and the response has been energetic. A good many gnu atheists are irritated at yet another bucketful of crap being thrown at them by another atheist.

In turn, Ron Lindsay is irritated that Jerry criticized the Center for Inquiry (where Shook works) because Shook wrote what he wrote.

Jerry Coyne: I am extremely disappointed that you would make such an unsupported and rash accusation against CFI. If you can point out one instance where either I or someone speaking for CFI in an official capacity has gone out of his/her way to criticize CFI’s “atheist supporters for stridency, hostility, and ignorance,” please do so. If you cannot, please withdraw the statement.

The trouble with that is that an onlooker would have no way of knowing that Shook was not speaking for CFI in an official capacity in the article, given that he was identified as “Director of Education and Senior Research Fellow, Center for Inquiry” at the top of the article. That looks to an impartial observer as if he is speaking in his official capacity.

The same applies to the CFI blog, even though Ron Lindsay and Michael De Dora both like to insist that blog posts must be seen as the author’s independent opinions, not anything to do with CFI.

But I think that’s an absurd expectation. Look at the CFI blog. Would anyone glance at that and think that the post that appeared below the banner at the top was nothing to do with CFI? Look at it! It’s not what you’d call inconspicuous.

It’s odd for CFI officials to try to disavow things that have their name on it in GREAT BIG LETTERS.



A little list

Sep 25th, 2010 11:51 am | By

A beautiful takedown of Ahmedinejad by Muhhamad Sahimi at Frontline. One ludicrous boast after another countered with a statement of the reality.

“Sakineh Mohammadi has not been condemned to death by stoning”:

This is while activists have already posted a copy of the judiciary verdict and punishment for her, and the judiciary chief of East Azerbaijan province, where Mohammadi is from, has stated repeatedly that she will be executed as soon as Sadegh Larijani gives the go-ahead.

Oh – er – ah – that’s a different Sakineh Mohammadi.

“No one has been imprisoned for taking part in demonstrations”:

This is while the Tehran police chief acknowledged last year that on the anniversary of the Revolution on February 12 alone, 20,000 people had been arrested.

Oh – er – ah – um – yes but not for taking part in demonstrations. They all littered.



Scattering blessings

Sep 25th, 2010 10:45 am | By

The archbishop of Westminster is full of advice to fellow Catholics (I beg your pardon, I mean to his “flock”) on how they can make themselves disliked by pestering and nagging people.

The Archbishop of Westminster says Catholics should be more ready to make the sign of the cross and say “God bless you” to people.

The Archbishop called on Catholics to respond to the Pope’s hope that they would become “ever more conscious of their dignity as a priestly people”.

Brilliant suggestions. Make intrusive public displays of superstitious gesturing and invoke something called a “blessing” from a non-existent being. Force your religious beliefs on people so that they will be impressed by your “dignity as a priestly people.” Act and talk goddy nonsense in public so that an admiring world can see how it’s done.

Writing a week after the papal visit, Rev Nichols said: “With the blessings of this visit we can be more confident in our faith and more ready to speak about it and let it be seen each day.

“A small step we can all take is to be quicker to say to others that we will pray for them, especially to those in distress.

“Even the simple step of more regularly using the greeting ‘God bless you’, gently and naturally, would make a difference to the tone we set in our daily lives, as would the more frequent use of the sign of the cross.”

Yes, it would make a difference, but not, as the archbish seems to think, in a good way. It’s passive-aggressive bullying, that kind of thing. It’s typical missionary coerciveness, and it is not attractive; it is rude and intrusive and self-important. It’s funny, in a way, but it’s really more depressing than funny – this eagerness to force unmitigated goddy bullshit on everyone.



I’m losing count

Sep 23rd, 2010 6:09 pm | By

Mark Vernon went to the ”let’s pretend we get to tell atheists what to do next” debate (debate? it doesn’t sound like a debate – more like a self-congratulatory chat) and explains about it for CisF Belief. It is, predictably, very smug predictable stuff. It assumes from the outset that gnu atheism is obviously stupid and bad and wrong and laughable, and proceeds from there.

Marilynne Robinson was articulate on how the New Atheism erases the human by treating us as crudely material entities…She had a great quip. The theist looks at phenomena like the fine tuning and thinks, amazing. The (old) atheist looks at phenomena like the fine tuning and thinks, amazing. The New Atheist looks at phenomena like the fine tuning and thinks, well that’s that answered then.

See what I mean? What’s great about that? It’s not funny, and it’s meaningless. There’s no such thing as “The New Atheist” in the sense it’s used there – there’s nothing about putative new atheists that can be generalized in such a way that that “quip” describes anything real. It’s only a combination of contempt and smugness that makes Robinson and Vernon think otherwise.

And this points to one of the most irritating aspects of the backlash against gnu atheism, which is that a favorite trope about them/us is about the tribalism, the community-thinking, the demonization of The Other. Well of course there is plenty of that, as there is with any kind of agreement or “movement” or other commonality – there is always the risk of thinking to well of self and group and too ill of everyone else, but you sort of have to take that risk if you want to accomplish anything at all (apart from meditation).

And in any case – why do new atheist-haters focus so sharply on that among new atheists and ignore it in themselves and their allies? Look at Mark Vernon for a classic example, along with the parties to that “debate.” The whole thing looks like an exercise in brainless finger-pointing and “ew” shouting.

Even Vernon noticed that.

All in all, the implicit message was that the New Atheism is anti-humanist…Such analysis was only to be expected, given the speakers. But I did wonder why the New Humanist had no defender of New Atheism on the panel. The editor does seem to be having doubts about whether the defence is worth listening to.

Little wonder many in the audience started to shift in their seats and a certain frustration emerged during the questions.

Well quite. Why, exactly, is the New Humanist staging a pseudo-debate in which three people throw yet more crap at other atheists?

Your guess is as good as mine.



Who is the most contrarian?

Sep 23rd, 2010 12:17 pm | By

Caspar Melville says on the New Humanist blog that the “‘Beyond New Atheism” debate was

a genuine attempt to see if we could have a different tone for discussion about belief, non-belief, human nature and God.

Well I could have saved them the bother by just answering the question: sure we could. Of course we could. In fact we could find such a discussion, with its different tone, any time we wanted one – we could read Comment is Free Belief or the New Statesman, we could browse the BBC’s “Religion and Ethics” pages, we could stroll into a church or mosque. It is not the least bit difficult either to have or to find “a different tone for discussion about belief, non-belief, human nature and God.”

(Different from what? From that of the “new” atheism, as the post as a whole makes clear.)

Given that, why should we? Given that there is already an abundance of discussion about belief, non-belief, human nature and God that is very friendly to god and belief and very unfriendly to non-belief, why is there any need for the few people who take a different tone to be more like the majority?

Well, maybe by “we” Caspar meant humanists and atheists rather than humanity at large. That seems likely, especially since the debate was sponsored by the humanists. But even then, the answer is still yes of course; there are lots and lots of humanists and atheists who are more than willing to distance themselves from the blunt unapologetic “tone” of the gnu atheists and take a more obsequious tone instead. Many of them in fact take an obsequious tone when talking to theists and an acidly hostile one when talking to or about gnu atheists – which is in itself quite interesting.

In short there are different rules, and it is reasonable to wonder why. Many of the people now so caught up in lecturing gnu atheists for being so gnu are not caught up at all in lecturing old theists for being so gnu - so militant and aggressive and fundamentalist and evil. Why is that? Why do theists get a pass while atheists get a dam’ good scolding by other atheists?

I don’t know. I suppose some of them think it’s admirably contrarian and independent-minded and scrupulous about not letting allies off the hook – which might be fair if the claims weren’t so uniformly evidence-free and repetitive. As it is, when there have already been so many “the New Atheists have a bad tone” announcements, making yet another one looks much more like ganging up on a hated minority than it does like admirable independence of mind.



Another one

Sep 22nd, 2010 11:06 am | By

Here is another…can we say quisling? If they call us aggressive new atheists, can we call them quislings? Here is another quisling atheist moaning about how boring and boring the gnu* atheists are. It’s Caspar Melville of the New Humanist, I’m sorry to say – I like the NH.

He doesn’t say anything of substance - just offers a strawman version of gnu atheism and says it’s bad, even though it did some good, but now let’s move on. It’s lazy, tiresome stuff, which is particularly annoying coming from someone who is, as far as I know, an atheist himself.

Paula Kirby sums it up nicely:

It is disappointing when someone who is meant to be on the side of reason and humanism simply regurgitates the sillier claims of those who are desperate to oppose them.

Yes it is, and it happens every few minutes, these days.

*Insincere apologies to Michael De Dora



“Universal love is such a drag”

Sep 21st, 2010 5:26 pm | By

Karl Giberson says tut tut, religious people aren’t cramming their beliefs down children’s throats. He illustrates this assertion by an example:

In their journals my students are reflecting on their beliefs with a new philosophical rigor. One of them wrote: “The only thing I know with clarity is that I want to love all and do whatever I can to make sure that the life I have been given does not go to waste.” What a terrible thing to have had crammed down one’s throat as a child!

But that’s not an illustration of what it purports to be, because what that student says is not religious. It’s idealistic and admirable, but there’s nothing religious about it. Religious people have this unfortunate tendency to think that all or most idealistic and admirable ideas are inherently religious, but that’s wrong. That student’s desire is as secular as you like. Granted the idea that Jesus is love is a religious idea, and wanting to “love all” could well be a Jesus-inflected idea – but it could equally well not. It’s not inherently religious. (If it’s inherently anything, it’s probably inherently young.) Ambitions for universal benevolence don’t depend on belief in a deity or command morality.

So, no, that’s not bad religious throat-cramming, but that doesn’t show that there is no such thing.



We thought we were all alone

Sep 21st, 2010 4:30 pm | By

Did you watch that selection of speeches at the anti-pope protest? It’s a good selection – Geoffrey Robertson, Johann Hari, Maryam Namazie, Dawkins, Peter Tatchell, Andrew Copson. You can see Ben Goldacre to the right of the stage, and Terry Sanderson in the background.

And Barbara Blaine speaks; she is a survivor of priestly sexual abuse. She said this:

When we were children, and the priests were raping us, and sodomizing us, and sexually abusing us, we thought we were all alone – and we felt very alone, guilty, and ashamed. And over these past years, and even more recently over these past months, many of us as victims have found each other, and we have learned that we’re not alone. And I must tell each and every one of you: thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all the victims, because today we recognize that you too care about the victims.

That’s why the protest was not mere grandstanding, or a party, or piling on, or any of that over-fastidious bullshit. It was, among other things, a yell of rage about what the Catholic church and its priests have been doing to people – including children – for its entire history, and in particular within the living memory of millions of people. That yell of rage is music to the victims. What do you think its absence sounds like? It sounds like indifference, or worse, endorsement. It sounds like the apathetic or enthusiastic agreement of the whole society that it’s perfectly all right for priests to prey upon and torment children, and get away with it. Imagine how that adds to the misery of the whole thing. Imagine what a relief it is to know that a lot of people don’t agree and don’t endorse.

Next to that fact, finicky objections to groupthink or the joy of protest just look callous at best, and revoltingly self-indulgent at worst. Someone at Facebook (SIWOTI!) made a comment in that vein -

People are having way too much fun laying into the Pope. It’s like a party, which is parasitic on the sins of the Catholic Church. People just love the frisson of protest, and I find that rather distasteful, given that it tends to be parasitic upon the suffering of other people (precisely the sorts of people one is supposed to be protesting on behalf of).

Barbara Blaine didn’t see it that way. She saw it the opposite way. No doubt people do just love the frisson of protest, but so the fuck what? If what they are protesting needs protesting, then so the fuck what? Why is that more important than, you know, saying this evil is an evil?

That’s my considered view.

And having said that, I will add – you’re damn right. I wish I’d been there. Those people aren’t just trendy butterflies – Peter Tatchell got beaten up by Russian cops in Moscow on a gay pride parade – Maryam Namazie risked her life in Iran – Ben Goldacre does about six jobs. Yes, I damn well do feel elated listening to Johann lay into the pope. People who sneer at him and the rest of the protesters and moan about finding it all rather distasteful – well they don’t impress me so much.



Signing letters

Sep 21st, 2010 12:35 pm | By

Mina Ahadi and Maryam Namazie wrote a letter to the UN.

We are writing to ask that the UN general assembly condemn stoning as a crime against humanity and issue an emergency resolution calling for an end to the medieval and barbaric punishment as well as the immediate release of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and others sentenced to death by stoning.

We also ask that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not be allowed to address the general assembly and that his government be boycotted.

The letter has 40 signers. Is that too many, do you suppose? Would Julian Baggini consider that over the maximum for signing a letter whose content he agrees with?

I am glad that people are protesting on the key issues that the pope has got very wrong. If only a few people were doing so I might have felt it necessary to sign the petition. But when everyone starts piling in, it is perfectly reasonable for others to say it is time to back off before it gets too ugly.

What number adds up to “everyone”? It certainly wasn’t literally everyone in the case of the letter protesting against the pope’s visit, we know that; we know that from the fawning media coverage and the sycophantic government attendance and the groveling of much of the public. So what is the number? 40? 100? It’s hard to know if 40 makes it under the wire as “only a few people” or gets shut out as “everyone piling in.”

The two letters have a good deal in common – both have to do with urging bodies that should recognize universal human rights not to give a platform to a male autocrat who does not recognize universal human rights and who is at the head of a body that systematically violates human rights.

I have a hard time seeing any good reason for refusing to sign either one, much less for arguing against doing so in public.



The BBC just adores the pope

Sep 20th, 2010 12:19 pm | By

The BBC is all but wetting itself in its excitement about the pope’s visit. Everything was so wonderful! It was just so so so beautiful and touching and moving and spirichal and compassionate and terrific and brilliant.

A pope who had previously been regarded as someone rather cold, professorial, aloof and authoritarian; had suddenly been perceived as a rather kindly and gentle grandfather figure.

Ohhhhhhh – that’s so sweet! Of course kindly gentle grandfather would let any woman die before he would let her have an abortion, and he condemns Africans in their thousands and their tens of thousands to a miserable death and their children to orphanhood with his stupid, pointless, arbitrary Law against condoms, and he shielded child-raping priests – but he’s old and tottery and he can bare his fangs in a scary grin, so he must be a nice man and that’s what counts. Didn’t I tell you it was sweet?

The Pope’s triumph was really his speech to leaders of civil society at Westminster. One political mover and shaker told me afterwards his performance had been “sheer magic”.

Within the space of two hours Pope Benedict penetrated the heart of the Anglican Establishment.

Quite. And why was that?

Seriously – why was that? What the hell is this? No other religious boffin gets this treatment, so why does the pope get it? No other religion has a pope, but why does the fact that Catholicism does have a pope mean that countries have to treat him as some kind of super-dooper extra special starry exciting guy?

The UK is not an officially Catholic country; it’s not an unofficially Catholic country; why did it treat the pope as some kind of ambassador from god?

I don’t get it. I don’t see what’s in it for them. I don’t see what’s in it for the media, or what’s in it for the gummint. It looks like some kind of mass hallucination, from here.



Traipsing

Sep 20th, 2010 11:34 am | By

The Guardian must have scared itself with its “turbulent priest” editorial on Saturday – it has now taken it back.

The one on Saturday was not wholly admiring of the pope’s performance.

[H]e believes that there is only one one spiritual source – again his – from which all our values derive. He is attacking not only the Reformation, the separation of church and state, but the very basis on which a secular society is built.

But today, well, on further consideration, when confronted with an actual pope, the only thing to do is grovel.

Despite Benedict XVI’s unbending and in some senses cruel conservatism, the Guardian supported his visit, recognising that there was diplomatic business to do and, perhaps, a chance of reconciliation.

What diplomatic business? Vatican city is not a real state, so what diplomatic business can there be to do? And why would reconciliation be a good thing? Given the recognition of the unbending and in some senses cruel conservatism, why reconcile? Few people want reconciliation with Nazis or fans of apartheid or Fred Phelps; why should the Guardian want reconciliation with the reactionary top priest of a reactionary church?

The Guardian doesn’t say, perhaps because it is in too much of a hurry to say fuck those motherfucking atheists (that’s not me, I’m channeling Tim Minchin).

If the pope has not done much reconciling, then neither have his militant opponents. The thousands who traipsed through London chanting “he belongs in jail” may not see any connection between themselves and the anti-papist mobs of the past, but there is a failure to afford sincere faith the respect it is due.

What respect? What respect is the due of sincere faith? And does the Guardian really mean respect? Since it’s incompatible with protest, the meaning is apparently more like universal unquestioning obedience. Yes, the protesters failed to afford sincere faith that. Whew!

(And what on earth does the Graun mean “traipsing”? Automatic contempt for the very act of protesting now?)

Apparently the Grun takes exception to “he belongs in jail.” But it is at least arguable, and is being argued, that he has (as the head of his organization) committed a crime against humanity. It’s not simply self-evident that he is in no sense a criminal.

But hey – he is a religious leader. It Is Forbidden to say harsh things about religious leaders, at least according to the Tory papers and all the others too.



This fine radar

Sep 19th, 2010 6:03 pm | By

There’s another thing that frets me (for want of a better term) about Julian’s “why I didn’t sign the anti-pope letter” article. I mention this again because it seems to me symptomatic of a particular school of anti-atheist tut-tuttery.

It is that it seems kind of frivolous, at bottom. I think that’s probably why the arguments seem unconvincing…it’s because they are! Maybe he didn’t actually have any real reasons, maybe the letter just got on his nerves, and he had to reach for reasons, and it was a big stretch, and the reasons aren’t up to much.

And that makes the whole thing a bit self-regarding. He certainly wasn’t required to sign the letter, but for actually arguing that the letter and the people behind it are wrong and bad and ugly, I think he should have felt a responsibility to come up with something real, or not do it. I don’t think he did come up with anything real. He doesn’t even say why the letter and the protests are “creating divisions” more than any other letter or protest or other political activity – he just asserts that they are. I wonder if he really even believes that, or just thought it was the kind of thing you say when you take a dislike to a political view and can’t really explain why.

And here’s the thing. This is not a subject to be frivolous about. This isn’t some fad, you know. The pope is real, and he does real harm. He does the kind of harm that was done to Miranda Celeste Hale, for instance; he does it to millions of children – not personally, but institutionally. He does harm to women whose husbands are infected with the Aids virus; he does harm to women who need abortions; he does harm to people who would like to limit the number of children they have. These are not small things – these are things that mess up people’s lives.

Yet the great and the good in the UK are treating him as if he were a lovely auld fella. That means there really is a need to hear from people who say no he isn’t. I don’t see how that can be done other than by doing it. I think the only way to say the pope is not a lovely auld fella is to say it. Given that – I think it’s just self-regarding and self-indulgent and generally self-obsessed to worry about how groupy it all is, or whether the people doing it are having too much fun or not, or whether it will turn ugly some day. It’s over-scrupulous – and making a kind of parade of it. Get me, I have this fine radar that spots moral problems that the peasants don’t see.

That’s not a very nice thing to say, but I think it’s true.



What the pope said

Sep 19th, 2010 5:23 pm | By

I watched part of the pope’s speech at Westminster Hall on C-Span yesterday evening. He’s sure as hell not what you’d call charismatic, or even tolerable to listen to – fast, whispery, monotone – not fun. But the substance is what counts. The point is what he said.

Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law.While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God.

No it doesn’t. The Catholic church does not have an overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person. If it did it wouldn’t have let its priests fuck little boys in the ass, as Tim Minchin so elegantly put it. If it did it wouldn’t think it better for a woman to die than to abort a pregnancy. If it did it wouldn’t tell people not to use condoms during an Aids epidemic – if it did it wouldn’t tell people not to use contraception, period. If it did it wouldn’t have such scorching contempt for the notion that women should be allowed to be priests.

If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident…

Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person.

Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century.

But religion was around then, offering its “corrective” – but the Catholic church was perfectly fine with slavery at the time, and it didn’t do much to “correct” Hitler, either. So what is the pope thinking of? That’s not clear. Perhaps he’s just hoping no one will notice that, and instead people will just think the Catholic church is just the ticket for a “corrective” now. That would be a stupid thing to think. The Catholic church has an absolutely terrible record of “taking full account of the dignity of the human person.” It’s been taking full account of the dignity of the Catholic church, but that’s not the same thing.

 I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance.There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere.

He says, talking to a hall full of former prime ministers and other movers and shakers. He says, in the middle of a news-dominating trip to a mostly secular and/or Protestant country. He says, having received an amount and quality of deference and attention that would have made an emperor blush.

 there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience.These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.

“Their conscience” being the bit of them that thinks gays are icky and wants to treat them as different from and worse than other people. “The rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion” being the rights of people to treat certain sets of people as inferiors. That’s what this reactionary theocratic bastard is telling the British state – and complaining about being marginalized while he does it.



Informational question

Sep 19th, 2010 11:45 am | By

Is anyone else unable to get to Talking Philosophy? I’ve been getting a page that says “Forbidden” for almost a week; is it just me or is it some kind of magnetic disturbance over the US?



The lyrics

Sep 18th, 2010 4:50 pm | By

In case you want the lyrics to the pope song, here they are.

This is my favorite stanza, because it’s what I’m always thinking and what I keep saying and what was a big part of the argument of Does God Hate Women?

But if you build a church on claims of fucking moral authority
And with threats of hell impose it on others in society
Then you, you motherfuckers, could expect some fucking wrath
When it turns out you’ve been fucking us in our motherfucking asses.

That’s exactly it. Here’s the pope telling us we can’t be good without his god, but he and his priests aren’t good with his god, so I don’t think he knows a damn thing about being good, so I think he should stop acting like Global Boss of Morality. Or as Richard Dawkins put it more succinctly at the “We dislike the pope” rally,

Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity.