What the Pope actually meant

I’m sure most of us have seen the response by the Pope regarding the Catholic Church’s work with victims of AIDS/HIV and what place the condom has in fighting this. As can be seen from a few high profile Catholic blogs, writers and journalists themselves felt duty bound to correct the mistranslation of the Pope’s words, in lieu of the Vatican’s late press release.

Dr Janet Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, penned a blog entry underlining the Pope’s words as the understanding of a warped human subjectivity (namely, a male prostitute) on the path to “moral growth”. She reminds her readers that the condom, in homosexual sexual activity, does not act as a contraceptive, but rather the intention of wearing one is at once a step towards moral culpability (something she, and thus the Pope feels, is absent from such an individual) and of humanising sexual activity.

This outlines some complex notions of the condom in Catholic teaching, but also sees Dr Smith trip up a little; is the condom the means with which live sperm are trapped, leading to a loss of life, or is the condom only prohibited where the possibility of procreation exists, namely during heterosexual sexual activity? This problematic is not outlined here, rather, the Pope’s words refer to the opinion that condom use is a trivial means to stop the spreading of HIV/AIDS in comparison to the humanisation of sexual activity – which is the official line on the matter.

Does this change the Catholic Church’s attitude to condoms? No. Since “she” (the gender which the Pope attributes to the Church) still regards condoms as a failing means to combat disease, there is nothing in the Pope’s words which convey approval for public programmes relating to the distribution of condoms for male prostitutes, since according to Dr Smith this would risk actively condoning sin; what the Church does condone, however, is leading people to the path of Christ – a road which the Church accepts will not be entirely free from what they consider immoral acts.

The analogy Dr Smith chooses to represent the Pope’s stand is that of a bank robber with an unloaded gun. What he is doing is still wrong, but at least there will be less harm involved. This wasn’t the only analogy used to represent the Pope’s words. Thomas Peters of the American Papist spoke about the alcoholic who reduces the amount of days he binge drinks on, noting that while binge drinking is wrong, there is a modicum of harm reduction in his actions.

Lisa Graas, a self-described pro-life Catholic mom of four, lifelong Kentuckian and contributor at David Horowitz’s NewsRealBlog, did not use an analogy herself, but seemed to imply that the Pope was using the figure of a male prostitute as a means of characterising a person who is so ignorant of Catholic moral teaching, might still have “an ounce of moral responsibility” even if that is the moral injunction not to kill someone. The Church recognises this, at the same time as recognising that the person, on the rocky road to Christ, may act immorally.

So this is the point. And to all those who welcome the Pope’s words, remember that what he is saying is actually worse than we originally thought, to be precise male prostitutes are so disgusting that for them condom use is a moral step up. That’s not progress.

Response: Christopher Hitchens and Prayer

Andrew Hall is a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and a writer on Online Computer Science Degree for Guide to Online Schools.


The seemingly large number of people who seem to expect – or want – to pray for Christopher Hitchens, or who see Hitchens himself turn to prayer in the wake of his learning that he has esophageal cancer, is completely and totally baffling. Carl’s piece on Hitchens and prayer understands this quite clearly.

As a self-described “anti-theist” and someone who has made much of his career writing about religion and its negative effects upon society, which he explored thoroughly in much of his journalistic work as well as his nonfiction (particularly God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), it would make no sense for Hitchens to suddenly become a religious person in any capacity. It would appear, rather, as a complete and total cop-out, evidence of a man’s desperation to continue living that simply could not be justified in any capacity given who Hitchens is and what he’s made his life doing.

Carl Packman’s passage about Pascal’s wager makes especially clear why this is the case, as Hitchens would be “only doing this in case” it somehow were to miraculously cure him of a condition that very few people ever survive for more than a few years. Furthermore, Hitchens’ lifestyle has in many ways encouraged the development of his cancer, and you’ll hear this from Hitchens before anyone else, as Hitchens readily acknowledges his heavy drinking and cigarette smoking as a major factor in his having developed this condition.

Given that this is the case – and that Hitchens didn’t change his behavior for decades and is now undergoing treatment, but expects to live not longer than perhaps five years – one can safely assume that the essential qualities that make Christopher Hitchens Christopher Hitchens are not going to change anytime soon, and this includes his lifelong dedication to anti-theism and criticism of religion. Were Hitchens to embrace religion now and for nothing to change, he would merely prove his point; were Hitchens to embrace religion now and to miraculously recover, he would invalidate his career and ruin his legacy as a writer and thinker over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Not mentioned in the piece but also certainly of interest is the fact that Hitchens has also said that those who feel compelled to pray for him are welcome to do so, since it’s essentially harmless and may make people feel better. Rather than vehemently oppose all prayer about him, he’s simply chosen not to participate in it (including the day of prayer for Hitchens that some seemed to be interested in making happen). This stance seems surprisingly more atheistic than anti-theistic, though given that it is a personal belief and not one necessarily being imposed upon others, it could be viewed as less damaging or potentially destructive than other forms of religious expression and thus less immediately menacing.

What happens to Hitchens in the next several years, and his last writings, will be of great interest, but I don’t think either of us expect to see him turn to prayer anytime soon.

This is a response to my blog entry called Christopher Hitchens and prayer.

The Pope Protest

On Saturday I went down to central London to watch as the No Popey people marched through te streets. I went with a few intentions: to be among those who take an opposite stance to that of the Catholic church on abortion, on homosexual consensual sex, on condoms and on AIDS.

I also went to see the blatant displays of anti-Catholic bigotry – and stickers that read “religion is stupid”.

I went expecting to see one set of people for sure – atheist leftwingers protesting against a person who to them signifies everything that is wrong about extremely conservative, institutional religiosity.

I belong to this sub-set of people in most ways so this was fine. But I went along to see if I could spot other, less palatable folk, who have every reason to be protesting a visit by the Pope; namely Ulster Volunteer Force types, far right groups with those sorts of sympathies such as Combat 18, and the less unpalatable, more weird groups that believe the word of God is enough, rendering pointless the need for a papa.

I didn’t see any “Ulster types” – although I did hear a chap outside the Clarence pub, near number 10, say “the Ulster guys wouldn’t have had this”, by which I can only imagine he meant sharing a platform with quite a prominent cohort of gay rights activists, who happened to be walking past him at the same time as me.

I could hardly hear what Geoffrey Robertson QC, Richard Dawkins, Peter Tatchell and Johann Hari said as I was stood next to some anarchists with a flag which depicted Benedict XVI as a nazi with slave children, and they frankly didn’t give a shit about being there, instead were interested in waving scarves in front of the faces of policeman and replying “wha!!” to requests of silence from the rest of the crowd who were there to listen.

Proudhon wouldn’t have smelt like arse, throwing beercans at photographers by the women during world war 2 wreath, and shouting at the tops of the voices (feel better for that).

One thing I didn’t expect to see was the sight of a chap dressed as the Pope simulating anal sex with a young boy who had the words “God loves fags” scrawled upon his half naked body – but one has to expect the unexpected at these sorts of things.

My musings on the Pope’s visit can be found here.

Notes on The Pope

(Warning: this post is 3,931 words long)

Adam Wilcox has written two short pieces for Liberal Conspiracy which demonstrate his anxiety at the Papal visit – now in its second day – and his strong feeling that the Pope should be arrested. The second piece draws upon four main themes to his anxiety of the visit: 1) The Pope is not blameless on the sexual abuse cover-up; 2) paying for a wealthy church to visit is itself an insult to the taxpayer; 3) the Pope entering the UK when the Phelps family, for example, cannot, shows a level of hypocrisy – since their views on homosexuals are about the same; 4) the Pope should not be above the law, and certainly the British constabulary should not be complicit in the Pope’s being above the law.

In this entry I aim to discuss at length 1 and 4, while adding 2 into the latter, and 3 into a fifth element which discusses opposition to the views of Pope Benedict.

Is the Pope blameless on the sexual abuse cover-up?

Ever since the Pope was invited to visit the UK, a select few entered fantasy mode whereby attempting to arrest Benedict became the number one wet dream. The top names of those fantasists were Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whose words in the pages of newspapers and blogs were little more than PR folly.

Their fantasy entered phase two when they both decided upon a legal lackey to help bring their dream to fruition.

Enter Geoffrey Robertson QC.

It was not too long before the discussion among the three turned from arresting the pontiff on account of his supposed complicity in the cover up of sexual abuses, to opposition of the Foreign Office’s position on the Pope’s international standing and entitlement to Head of State immunity, to whether the Holy See fits the criteria of statehood.

That hasn’t put a fork in the spokes of the fantasy, for it is alive and well – memetically charged some might say.

But the fantasy, now infiltrated by reality, has caveats. Nonetheless, Robertson will not back down.

In a public seminar at the London School of Economics (LSE) recently, publicising his new book on the Pope, Robertson put forward his case for why the Foreign Office ought to change its opinion on the status of the Vatican, and his charge that the Pope was not ignorant of child abuse occurring under his watch.

Robertson makes note of a web of lies. When Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, said that less than 1% of Priests were involved in the sexual abuse of minors in America. The very well respected John Jay College of Justice put the figure closer to 4.3%. The church replied saying that this was an American problem, which it most certainly was not.

There were notable cases in the US, cited by Robertson, such as Father Lawrence C Murphy and his abuse of 200 deaf choir boys, which, according to Robertson, led some Catholics in America to blame such things as the Jewish media, secularisation, and the Devil. But cases elsewhere started to emerge, necessitating the sum of $18m spent in Canada on a Truth and Reconciliation Programme for example. Additionally there had been 30 cases revealed in Melbourne, Australia, alone, and 50 cases of child abuse among Priests in Malta, to name only a few.

The sexual abuse scandal in the Los Angeles archdiocese would prove to be the event that awoke the sentiment that Catholicism and child abuse were almost synonymous – in spite of the fact that, as Marxist and Catholic academic Terry Eagleton puts it, praising Robertson on his book “[t]he first child sex scandal in the Catholic church took place in AD153, long before there was a “gay culture” or Jewish journalists for bishops to blame it on”.

Robertson levels the charge that Canon Law is a cover for Papal secrecy and that the Holy See exploits its privileged place in the UN while stopping at nothing to secure the good name of the church – even if that means turning a blind eye, or issuing weak charges, against sexual abuse carried out by Priests.

Attempting to debunk the claim that Pope Benedict has been a reformer of any revolutionary worth, Robertson notes that amidst the changes affecting Canon Law earlier this year, the Pope refused amendment to provide clear evidence of child molestation to police or ensure that the punishment to fit such heinous crimes as the inappropriate treatment of children by a Priest result in automatic defrocking.

Robertson’s appearance at the LSE was met with huge applause from a packed audience, and the first round of questions when he had finished his 45 minute talk looked to testify the fact that he had almost universal support in the room. But the second round proved rather different. A man, who went nameless, accused Robertson of mishandling his information: “5% have been accused” the man said, in response to the speaker’s earlier use of statistics, “not found guilty”.

In reply to something Robertson opened on, the anonymous man retorted that “Canonical law is not a parallel law [to the rule of law practised in most countries, but it] only deals with issues inside the church [the charge that it cannot involve police or civil law] is utter nonsense”. To everyone’s disappointment of a meaty dialogue between the speaker and the angry audience member, Robertson instead told him to buy his book and observe the appendix at the back explaining the operation of Canon Law – leaving it at that.

Another major point of contention between the speaker and his angry audience member related to something Robertson spoke of at some length, and is indeed the main element of charge levelled at the Pope and the accusation that he covered up abuse in the church. That element is the infamous “H” – now, of course, known to be Father Peter Hullermann.

Tristana Moore for Time magazine reported that Father Hullermann had been assigned to the Western city of Essen, Germany, in the 1970s where in 1979 he forced an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex on him. Instead of being reported to the civil authorities he was sent to undertake psychotherapy with Dr Werner Huth, where he was diagnosed as a narcissist like other paedophiles.

Ratzinger at the time was Archbishop of Munich, a post he served from 1977-1982. Owing to this, and the fact that many profiles of him suggest he was a notorious micro-manager (Johann Hari, for example, and “a reader” of the Atlantic), accusations go forth on Ratzinger for having allowed a known paedophile to be moved from Essen to receive treatment in Munich – which Ratzinger reportedly approved of.

Since then, Father Gerhard Gruber, the then Vicar-General of the Munich Archdiocese, has taken responsibility for employing Hullermann from February 1980 until August 1982, and assigning him elsewhere – leading some to believe that Gruber has been scapegoated to protect the Pope.

This point cannot be substantiated upon, neither can the point about Ratzinger’s micro-management being reason to believe he knew of every odious act taking place in Catholic circles (no pun intended) in Germany, therefore to pontificate (an intentional pun) about it is purely conjecture.

While Hullermann made his way to Munich, a Jesuit Priest in Essen sent Dr Huth a letter informing him about Hullermann’s paedophilia before the Priest underwent therapy. Dr Huth set three conditions for Hullermann’s continued work; 1) he is not to work with children; 2) he is not to drink alcohol (for the reason that he used alcohol when abusing children); and 3) he has at his side at all times a mentor.

The same Time magazine article as cited above notes that Dr Huth made this clear to church officials, including to the auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising. But these condition were not met and in 1986 Hullermann abused another minor, for which he received an 18-month suspended sentence, before returning to the church carrying out pastoral duties.

In 2008, Dr Huth had been contacted and told that Hullermann was working with children in the Bavarian town of Garching an der Alz, supervising 150 alter boys. Huth quickly consulted with church officials, after which Hullermann was moved to the Spa town of Bad Tölz and made in charge of counselling services for tourists and visitors.

What all this proves is a series of very serious errors by individuals at the time. The same has been said by many others, even those who seek to clear the name of the current Pope, such as Thomas Bridge, who said recently:

I am not denying there were failings – at both the local and at the Vatican level – to get to grips with the problem […] It [however] does appear that on the abuse issue at least [Pope Benedict] is devoting more time to actions than perhaps he is to words.

This sentiment is shared among many, who do not seek to excuse the actions of the Priests involved in abuse, but know that to claim Pope Benedict was complicit in its cover up is a point unable to be substantiated upon.

Of course, for those who say cover ups would have benefited the Pope – inasmuch as, in the words of Geoffrey Robertson referring to the report made by Judge Yvonne Murphy into the Sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin, it’s about keeping the good name of the church and Priests from scandal – this all runs contrary to the work carried out by Ratzinger outing child molesters in the church later on, initiating “strict new norms for dealing with sexual abuse cases”, and in his words “ridding the filth”.

Certainly the point that Benny has done a good deal addressing child abuse in the Catholic church is not lost on some of the nations top Catholic writers. Damian Thompson reminds us that it was Benedict who prosecuted Mexican paedophile Priest Marcial Maciel Degollado despite pressure from popular support, including “Cardinal Angelo Sodano and John Paul’s secretary, Msgr (now Cardinal) Stanislaw Dziwisz.”

Some members of the church were keen to shove the issue to one side for the reason that Degollado was a ferocious fundraiser, having secured assets worth around twenty-five billion Euros. In a line that can hardly be matched for its dry wit, Thompson notes that: “This old pervert was the most effective fundraiser in the history of the Church – and the most crooked since Judas Iscariot.”

Elsewhere, Thompson cannot hardly keep his dislike of the Pope John Paul II contained. In an article bound to wind up many supporters of the previous Pope, citing heavily from noteworthy writer John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, the Vatican has not revealed the real Ratzinger story because “to make Ratzinger look good, they’d have to make others look bad [and] to salvage the reputation of Benedict XVI it might be necessary to tarnish that of Pope John Paul II”.

It is obviously not unknown to Thompson that:

In 2004, John Paul – ignoring the canon law charges against Maciel – honored him in a Vatican ceremony in which he entrusted the Legion [of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement] with the administration of Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Center, an education and conference facility. The following week, Ratzinger took it on himself to authorize an investigation of Maciel.

It is interesting how some have it that in order for the present Pope to retain his good name, others like Fr Gruber must be scapegoated, whereas for others the Vatican downplays the Pope’s good name to a degree in order to retain John Paul II with any dignity at all.

Thompson goes further still. In a piece, with a title also likely to have stirred crazy Pope John Paul’s supporters – Pope John Paul II ignored Ratzinger’s pleas to pursue sex abuse Cardinal – he begins:

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger tried to persuade Pope John Paul II to mount a full investigation into a cardinal who abused boys and young monks, one of the Church’s most senior figures revealed yesterday. But Ratzinger’s opponents in the Vatican managed to block the inquiry. As the future Benedict XVI put it: “The other side won.”

The pervert cardinal was the late Hans Hermann Groer, removed as Archbishop of Vienna in 1995 following sex allegations. The source for the story is Groer’s successor in Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, an intellectual whom some commentators have tipped as a possible future Pope.

That’s quite a revelation, in my book – but it doesn’t fit the script that the Benedict-hating media have written, so we’re not hearing too much about it.

The point being that Ratzinger was not someone who simply wanted to brush all things scandalous under the carpet, he was not deterred by popular sentiment when outing child molesters. This is not a character trait of his that is spoken about too much, now that he is touring the UK.

Furthermore, key officials point out that keeping secrecy about church matters does not exempt bishops from reporting such unpalatable cases to the civil authorities – much like keeping a company’s secrets secret does not in any way mean they can remain unaccounted for by the law. Mgr Charles Scicluna, for example, speaking to Gianni Cardinale, has said that:

In some countries with an Anglo-Saxon legal culture, but also in France, the bishops – if they become aware of crimes committed by their priests outside the sacramental seal of Confession – are obliged to report them to the judicial authorities. We’re dealing with an onerous duty because these bishops are forced to make a gesture comparable to that of a parent who denounces his or her own son. Nonetheless, our instruction in these cases is to respect the law.

Back on the subject of Munich, after Dr Huth had found out about Hullermann working in Bad Tölz and had finished consulting with a church official, Hullermann was suspended of all duties, while the Archdiocese of Munich and Friesing admitted breaking church orders to ban Hullermann from all duties, and Hullermann’s superior, prelate Josef Obermaier, stepped down assuming responsibility for “grave errors”.

Grave errors indeed have been made, but to this day, no evidence has been brought to the table which can affirm the present Pope had any input or complicity in the covering up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The law as regards the Pope

To strengthen his case against the Pope, Geoffrey Robertson calls into question the Holy See being designated as a state. In his article for the Guardian entitled Put the Pope in the Dock, he notes that:

papal states were extinguished by invasion in 1870 and the Vatican was created by fascist Italy in 1929 when Mussolini endowed this tiny enclave – 0.17 of a square mile containing 900 Catholic bureaucrats – with “sovereignty in the international field … in conformity with its traditions and the exigencies of its mission in the world”.

During the public seminar at the LSE, Robertson says that the Vatican fails to contain even the most basic tenet of a state: people. Looking at the issue Dapo Akande, writing for the European Journal of International Law, says that:

The size of population or territory are irrelevant for the purposes of Statehood. What is important is that the entity possesses those criteria as well as the two other criteria for Statehood – which are: a government in effective control of the territory and independence (or what is called “capacity to enter into legal relations” in the words of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States 1935)

Since the Holy See meets those other criteria it is legitimately a state. Nations such as Great Britain could kick up a fuss if they wanted, but it is not likely. The Pope, as a Head of State, therefore enjoys immunity under section 20 of the UK’s State Immunity Act (1978). In reply to the question Christopher Hitchens asked in May this year – Is the Vatican a Sovereign State? – the answer that Akande would give is “even if the Vatican is not a State, the Holy See (as a separate entity) has a special status in international law which gives it rights that are in some cases analogous to sovereign rights.” But regardless, whether Robertson, or anyone else, agrees or not, the Pope is a Head of the State of the Holy See, making the legalities of arresting him in this country extremely unlikely.

But actually, Robertson probably realises this. During the question and answer session at the LSE, an audience member enquired as to how one would operate an arrest on the Pope. Robertson, not expecting such a frank question, answered that one would probably have to do it under international criminal law in a country where the principles of universal jurisdiction are held, citing Germany or Belgium, but ruling out applicability to the UK (though this is a point of much contention, the debate of which Joshua Rozenburg recently added to). One would have to file crimes against humanity for the widespread systematic abuse of children and the doctrine of command responsibility, used against Charles Taylor and Slobodan Milošević, which is in article 27 of the Rome Treaty, where the commander of a state is liable irrespective of official capacity in the crime. The article itself reads thus:

  1. This Statute shall apply equally to all persons without any distinction based on official capacity. In particular, official capacity as a Head of State or Government, a member of a Government or parliament, an elected representative or a government official shall in no case exempt a person from criminal responsibility under this Statute, nor shall it, in and of itself, constitute a ground for reduction of sentence.
  2. Immunities or special procedural rules which may attach to the official capacity of a person, whether under national or international law, shall not bar the Court from exercising its jurisdiction over such a person.

Though surely, as the blogger at Heresy Corner seems to imply in an entry entitled Dawkins and the Pope, the judicial initiative would have to come from the country where the abuse took place, and further, as the blogger on the Church Mouse blog notes, the international criminal court (ICC) has no retrospective jurisdiction prior to its creation in 2002, and public or private prosecutions brought against Pope Benedict would first have to convince the Crown Prosecution Service that he was somehow responsible.

Even some of those most stridently against the Pope, PZ Myers for instance, accept that the likelihood of an arrest is low. Though Myers himself, commenting on the Heresy Corner comments thread, said that: “I don’t think anything will come of [the legal threats levelled against the Pope], either…but the effort should be made”.

Never wanting to be one spoiling the fun of those who demand the impossible, though it is quite clear that the Pope cannot be arrested in this country. However those who think he can be, should certainly stop complaining about how much the security is going to cost the taxpayer of this country (such as Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, who, recalls Andrew Brown, said on the comments thread of an article by Brown that “the security costs alone for the visit would far dwarf the £20m it will otherwise cost” – despite the fact that they will cost around £1.5m).

Which leaves me to quickly conclude this part by saying that since Theos – the public theology think-tank – found in an online poll of 2,005 adult Britons that77% do not agree the taxpayer should help shoulder the bill for the four-day trip even though it is a state visit” and that “76% rejected [sic] taxpayer funding for the visit on the grounds that he is a religious figure” in order for this to be credible, all heads of state from any country should pay for themselves to make visits – maybe this should be worth considering.

Opposition to the views of Pope Benedict

According to Geoffrey Robertson in his public seminar, doctors in El Salvador must report to the police women who try to self-terminate their foetuses. Currently 1000 women await trial. Condom packets in Brazil are apparently stamped with a warning that they offer no protection against AIDS – these measures are not taken in the name of received wisdom, but are in the name of Catholicism. And it is right and necessary for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to oppose it.

A few days ago human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell made a documentary where he demonstrated the reasons why Catholics and non-Catholics should vehemently oppose the teachings of the current Pope.

He noted in the film that once upon a time Ratzinger was a very liberal academic theologian, well placed to promote the values of Vatican II – the hub of reformist Catholic sentiment. But his views began to change. The ball started rolling when a group of unruly students, at the time protesting in the university Ratzinger was teaching in, broke into the lecture theatre where Ratzinger was delivering a seminar, making a “profound impact” upon the future Pope. It was here, as Tatchell implies with input from Hans Künga former friend of Ratzingerthat Ratzinger began to appeal to more conservative thinking and started to become alienated with democratic procedures, thus “rolling back the liberalism of Vatican II”.

Tatchell’s parting shot is that Pope Benedict wants to shape the church in to his own conservative views – something Peter Hitchens recently warned right wing Anglicans not to be too impressed by, since a good deal of left wing Catholics are doing their best to make sure Benedict’s visit to the UK is a bad one; thus ensuring the death knell of conservative coloured Catholicism.

Damian Thompson, this time in his scathing critique of Tatchell’s documentary, says that:

The teachings of the Catholic Church on sexual morality are NOT innovations of Joseph Ratzinger. He inherited them, he is faithful to them, and even if he wished to permit artificial birth control, abortion or extra-marital sexual acts he could not do so.

This of course is very weak argument. Either you oppose the views of Ratzinger, or you dismiss his level of nonchalance. But for someone like Thompson, who has otherwise praised Ratzinger for his getting the job done on rooting out paedophile Priests, and his overturning the non-commitment of John Paul II, this is not the same character profile of Ratzinger who stays faithful to views he opposes – because this must be Thompson’s point: he cannot change those things he inherits, but would if he could do so. Otherwise, it is entirely acceptable to oppose the views of Ratzinger, since they are likely to be very similar on artificial birth control, abortion or extra-marital sexual acts as that of the Church.

And this is the point I would like to end on; claims that Ratzinger was complicit in covering up sexual abuse cannot be substantiated upon; he cannot be arrested as he enjoys the immunity of a Head of State; the Holy See fits the criteria for being a state; but by all means oppose the views of Benedict (or at least the views he has accepted), it is the privilege of Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The Rushdie affair and responsibility

Kenan Malik has been on my mind lately. I recently read his book From Fatwa to Jihad and I have learnt that he will be speaking at Westminster Skeptics early next year.

Today I thought I’d search his name on YouTube and was thrown up a video of a Newsnight episode on which he appeared with Tariq Modood, Ekow Eshun and Germaine Greer.

The latter guest, Germaine Greer, is often thought to be one of those annoying feminist, liberal, middle class bastards!

She once stood accused of asking Salman Rushdie to apologise for writing his book The Satanic Verses and offending. Though on Newsnight, she denied having done this, before explaining what she meant when she used “apology”, “Rushdie” and “The Satanic Verses” in the same sentence.

Below is the video of that episode of Newsnight where Greer says:

I don’t care if people burn books, my books have been burnt, as long as they pay for them they can do whatever they like with them, but I do think that nobody should die for a book, and that if you think you can prevent anymore people dying for the book – we all know how the book was manipulated – and all you have to do is apologise, go on your knees to Mashhad or whoever, then do it to save your life, you shouldn’t die for your book either

(09.56 – 10.29)

If you have had your head buried under rocks you may also have upset Iran, the most important part of the Rushdie affair occurred on February 14, 1989 when Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims to execute all those involved in the publication of the novel.

At the time, an Iranian religious foundation called the 15 Khordad Foundation offered a reward of $US1 million or 200 million rials for the murder of Rushdie.

Greer in the above video, recognises some necessity in Rushdie apologising to Mashhad, a very holy city in Iran, but adds an important clause: to save his life and the lives of other publishers and people involved in the publication of the book in other countries.

The question becomes harder I feel at this point: should Rushdie have apologised to people who feel it justified to kill people on the grounds that they have offended them, or, since he knows these people will stop at nothing, should he have apologised to save the lives others?

Even more tricky: because to apologise, or not to, is a choice that Rushdie had to make, at what point would he have been responsible in the event of a death (Greer notes later in the programme that “the thing was Salman was the safest person around. It was everybody else who was at risk, and nothing was done about them”).

For me the answer is simple: Rushdie should not have apologised because to do so would be to give credibility to the idea that when someone is offended by something, the obvious reaction should be to kill that person – that is all it comes down to.

But not everyone agreed at the time. Tory tabloids pictured Rushdie as someone who purposely put national security in jeopardy; mainstream politicians talked about at what stage something should no longer be protected under the banner free speech.

I think when people believe Rushdie should have apologised because other people were in danger, they themselves are in danger of not recognising that those who call for the murder, or those whose desire it is to carry out the murder, are not making a choice, and that they are acting on some uninterruptible compulsion over which we can have no intervention.

Also I often wonder what motivates this view. Many people once felt that there was a causal link between poverty and terrorism, but this does two things: first, it doesn’t take note of the facts; people who have had otherwise stable backgrounds, university educations and decent jobs have committed terror acts (such as the 7/7 bombers), while not every person who experiences poverty commits terror, so it doesn’t follow ipso facto that terrorism is a determinant of poverty. Second, it assumes people of a certain class, or I dare say race or nationality, are simply automaton not able to think for themselves and act upon the sort of compulsion that Greer assumed those who wanted to kill Rushdie did.

Drawing this back to Rushdie, by blaming him for not apologising gives credibility to the murderous bastards that wanted to kill him or anyone involved with the book he had written on the grounds that they did not like what he’d written (or they’d heard from someone else that they wouldn’t like what had been written – Malik in his aforementioned book made note that Khomeini had definitely not read the book before forming an opinion on it).

By pretending certain people cannot form opinions or carry out actions without their being some obvious symptom is to allow the opinion that people are stupid. Since Muslims were involved in the Rushdie affair, I’ve little doubt that to blame Rushdie for the desire of certain Muslims to kill Rushdie is to assume Muslims are stupid.

Christopher Hitchens and prayer

There are an extrordinary amount of articles and blogs out there by people who are bothered by what Christopher Hitchens will do now that he has cancer and, now that there is a strong chance he will die (though, as he rightly says himself we are all dying, with him it has been accelerated). 

These aren’t necessarily religious people and writers, but they are all either concerned about what Hitchens will think or re-think on God, or are surprised that he has said he won’t be praying – surely it should drive some of these people to distraction just contemplating the unlikely event that Hitchens would turn to God; how stupid a reason for believing in God than being reminded of your own mortality.

Strikes me at first glance at being even more stupider than Pascal’s Wager.

Some examples are:

Christopher Hitchens tells The Atlantic magazine that he knows he’s dying, but still views all religion as manmade and all of its claims to divine revelation as false.

WTOL in Ohio

A month ago, the conservative Catholic writer challenged readers of the American Papist website to join him in praying one Hail Mary a day on behalf of the iconoclastic atheist Christopher Hitchens, who has been stricken with esophageal cancer, a disease that leaves few survivors.

Terry Mattingly for North West Arkansas Online

Nearly two months after being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, famed atheist Christopher Hitchens has lost much of his hair but his unbelief remains intact.

Nathan Black for the Christian Post

He said that as for a deathbed conversion, he would not, while lucid, do ”such a pathetic thing”, and that if there are any rumours saying otherwise, ”don’t believe it”.

Matt Buchanan and Leesha McKenny for The Sydney Morning Herald

That won’t change while he continues to undergo difficult cancer treatments nor will his belief that praying won’t help him a lick. At least he is consistent.

Paula Duffy for Huliq news

Hitchens elsewhere has noted a “lets paray for Hitchens” day which will take place on the 20th of September, though says he will not take part.

Now I’m not religious, and I’m not strident in my atheism as Hitchens, nor am I as anti-thesitic as him, which he regards more important than atheism in itself. But I would question the intergrity of someone who throughout their career has professed a deep and thought out dislike for religion, but then on finding out they have a potentially life threatening illness, decides to say “well, i’ll give that God a go now”.

Like the wager appropriated by Pascal in the 1600’s, God if he had any dignity should say “sod off, you’re only doing this in case”; either that or forgive those who don’t believe on the grounds that ockham’s razor is demonstrably an easier tool to muck around with than blind faith.

For those who think cancer is an appropriate occasion for conversion, perhaps they would prefer to concentrate their attention on President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay. For the second time a tumor has been detected in his thorax, between the lungs and the spinal column and like with Hitchens it will affect his lymph nodes.

The difference is, Lugo is the self-confessed “Bishop of the Poor”, a former Roman Catholic priest for 30 years. I don’t suppose they would want him to have a cancer conversion.

I shouldn’t like to be so strident (ever), but I will be for this reason: for those of us who don’t think religion is simply stupid, it is often quite a task to convince people who do, that religion doesn’t just pick on the vulnerable. With trying to encourage conversions for those with cancer, on their deathbed, or with any other illnesses, this doesn’t help my task out much.

So retire – and make the 20th of September just another day.

Stop saying “atheist school”

Many individuals and organisations are persuading Richard Dawkins to open up an atheist, free school to counter the amount of applications expected from the religious.

Two moments thought will tell you that an atheist school could be one of two things: a place where atheism is taught and promoted as the truth, thus not free thinking, or a place where bias over beliefs is not tolerated, thus the closest thing to free thinking that exists.

A school set up by religious people could also be one of two things: a place where their religion is taught and promoted as the truth, thus not free thinking, or a place where bias over beliefs is not tolerated, thus the closest thing to free thinking that exists.

A bit like a normal school, which could be one of two things: a place where their religion or atheism is taught and promoted as the truth (though perhaps not officially allowed), thus not free thinking, or a place where bias over beliefs is not tolerated, thus the closest thing to free thinking that exists.

The conversation is obviously ridiculous. It’s a secular school which is needed, and able to be achieved by believer and non- alike.

The Pope has a donor card – no problem then

The following words are reasons to oppose organ donation by faith leaders (provided by the Organ Donation Taskforce report on organ donation):

“The benefit is that [opt in system] is a more informed decision and doesn’t put the person in a quandary.” (Jasdev Singh Rai, British Sikh Consultative Forum)

“The question is of personal autonomy, and being able to make decisions for yourself. So for me, we should stay with the opt in.” (Mufti Zubair Butt, Muslim Council of Britain)

“Advantage is that people have choice, and I think that if there are some deeply held religious views that the body or organs should not be tampered with, then I suppose it is an issue of human rights laws that they should have that right to refuse to donate.” (Khurshid Ahmed, British Muslim Forum)

“I would think that you may see a backlash with increased opt out, not only in the Jewish community but also from other communities.” (David Katz, Board of Deputies of British Jews)

“By default we could create a promotion campaign that says ‘opt out’ and for this reason opt out is worrying.” (Katei Kirby, African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance)

“There is a danger of people overreacting because they see it as becoming not human anymore. This danger is not overstated.” (David Jones, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)

“It would up the stakes for people who are sceptical. Currently, those who are sceptical are happy to grumble on sidelines. It is likely to precipitate an anti-organ transplant movement that doesn’t exist now.” (David Jones, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)

Grumble grumble, fucking grumble.

But intersting to see that, by and large, these aren’t religious reasons, so to speak, to oppose organ donation, but rather issues of personal autonomy.

There is limited scope for diplomatic response to this, and I shouldn’t like to travel down the road of asking whether the dead enjoy human rights, but simply saying this: does their uncomfort about what happens to their organs after death justify the jeopardy of 8,000 people who continue to wait for organs by the 28% – a mere 28% – of people who are registered as donors. No.

There is no reason to worry oneself about what happens to our organs after death, put simply, you’re dead, it won’t be a problem for you not having kidneys.

Instead of religious reasons for being dubious of organ donation, the taskforce spelled the myths reasons why some are worried, refuse or reconsider being an organ donor. They are as follows: the belief that medics would make less of an effort to keep a person alive if their organs could be donated; the same doctor who looks after a sick individual is also involved in acquiring transplants and; only the organs of the young are used for transplants.

To prove this isn’t a rant against religious sensibilities, consider the fact that Pope Benedict has an organ donor card. And he carries it as an “act of love”.

The Times notes:

In reality it is highly unlikely that any organs would be transplanted from Pope Benedict after his death, since the bodies of pontiffs are interred intact and revered. Until the death of John Paul II in 2005 they were embalmed.

Maybe this act of love is in full knowledge that the love never has to be released, as such, but it is worth remembering that religious ideas do not necessarily explain away a person’s weird fear of donating organs after death.

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Finding Mecca and theology on the hoof

Bad news: Idonesian Muslims, who are approximately 86%, or about 200 million, of its population, have been praying the wrong way; not towards Mecca – the intended destination, but Somalia, in Africa.

But the most fantastic thing to come out of this all was the words of Ma’ruf Amin from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). After admitting the council made a mistake last March when calculating where Muslims should turn to when praying, Amin said “God understands that humans make mistakes. Allah always hears their prayers.”

This sounds like theology on the hoof.

Is this not the “no limbo” moment that the Catholic Church had in 2006. In October of that year the Pope had decided that limbo should be abolished for children.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he was on record as saying that “Limbo has no place in modern Catholicism.”

The Mail reported that:

In 1984, he told Vittorio Messori, the Catholic author, that Limbo had “never been a definitive truth of the faith”.

He said: “Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis.”

When A.C. Grayling talks about the dropping of limbo he uses it to exemplify the stupidity of religion, but actually Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has it correct, or at least half so, when he mentions the theological hypothesis.

I’m not sure how one would reach such a hypothesis, but a hypothesis it is: one based on thin air. But this asks more questions of the limits in human knowledge, more so than the truth of religion – which is the stuff beyond testing, thus, unverifiable.

However, if Islam has had it’s “no limbo” moment, what does this do for the rift between a clerics’ knowledge, and the truth of the Koran, a problematic which divides factions within Islam itself?

Ma’ruf Amin’s theology on the hoof will provide much laughter for those who have suspicion of the “authorities” of the subject.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he presided over the commission?s first sessions. He is on record as saying that Limbo has no place in modern Catholicism.

The Orphic Root of Monotheism: A Review of W.K.C. Guthrie’s Orpheus and the Greek Religions

Precious little other than playing the lyre and having women leering over him is known about Orpheus by some, but it is said that some rather important doings of our day are related to our dear chap, one being the invention of writing on the virtue of his poetry (though others who have observed the accounts of Orpheus’ life have concluded that he was an aural poet and in any case far too premature for the art of writing). Much time, also, has been devoted trying to attribute homosexual love to Orpheus, notably the Alexandrian poet Phankoles who designates Orpheus on account of his repulsion to women after the loss of his wife, Eurydice, to the underworld. But this could just appear to be homosexuality to the untrained eye, whereas it might actually be nothing less than mournful celibacy (this sort of situation in adaptionism taxonomists debate as homology/analogy). 

One very important factor, overlooked by modern studies, considered to be taken directly from Orpheus and the “Orphic communities” is that of monotheistic religion. Orpheus himself is taken to be prophet of a particular type of mystery-religion, as W.K.C. Guthrie, in whose book Orpheus and the Greek Religions most of the present information can be found, points out, the “mysteries of Dionysos”. Indeed the pagan mysteries of Dionysos are said to have influenced Christianity a great deal. Guthrie speculates on the notion that since Dionysos (son of Zeus, of whose leg Dionysos’ heart is implanted within) has many roles, and different names for his identification, study on this period has pointed to polytheism (more than one God) when in fact Phanes and Hades (the place, also named, that Orpheus descended and returned) etc. were used to identify Dionysos’ various functions. This and many other factors, supposes Guthrie, were what helped prepare the Graeco-Roman world for Christianity. Here we will discuss those other factors.

In an Orphic community (one in which treated Orpheus’ writings as a holy scripture, and at least followed Plato’s suspicion that Orpheus’ writings were too strong to be mere poetry) religious texts and acts were presided over by Telete, daughter of Dionysos. Some in that community thought it acceptable to ignore the “Orphic life” (some basic necessities that ought to be adhered in order to fulfill Orpheus’ prophecies, of which more in a moment) and simply assume that teletai alone would secure their salvation, of which the name for this calling was Orpheotelestai (Orpheus-initiators). But this, according to scholarly analysis, is based on a textual misunderstanding (and sounds rather like an ancient form of Pascal’s Wager in that one ought to act like one believes – just incase – and, not necessarily specified by Pascal, enjoy all the [Dionysian?] fun rather than commit to the “rules,” in order to achieve salvation). Plato, Theophrastas, and Plutarch all condemned the Orpheotelestai for, among other things, guaranteeing that no shared belief was practiced between the Orphics on account of their misunderstandings. The Orphic scriptures did, actually, demand a number of religious formalities, namely conversion, adherence to a religious way of life, original sin, communion, and a particular eschatology (final rewards of the pure Orphics was the eternal enjoyment of union with God). These said notions have, undeniably, a lot in common with Christianity, says Guthrie, and inform part of Christianity’s own identity.

Later on in the Greek world St Paul’s “Hellenism” advanced his popularity (the Gospel of Luke explains that the name Paul to identify St Paul was first used in the Graeco-Roman world, rather than using his real name Saul. Paulus was a Roman surname and St Paul was the first to use it specifically as a first name, using it when engaging in his ministerial role to Gentiles), as well as sharing a common tongue (which Paul dedicated a lot of time perfecting). According to Guthrie, other than avoiding talk of the (Dionysos) mysteries, Paul’s triumph in the Graeco-Roman world was guaranteed by the great similarities in Christianity and Orphism.

A further comparison should be found in the effect each religion has had on man, in the sense of how man has transformed into individual. Guthrie has described Orphism as “the beginning of man as an individual” since Orphism promoted the individual soul in order to curb the age of competing interests driving it “from the minds of all but the few.” The notion that separation brought people together was later used as the founding concept of Christian love, or agape (expression of love in God). In fact, it was rather ambiguously accounted for in the notoriously misunderstood chapters John 15:6 and Matthew 10:34 “Think that I come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”. As it was rightly elucidated by G.K. Chesterton in his Orthodoxy, Christianity is “on the side of humanity and liberty and love” as well as, and not hypocritically, “a sword which separates and sets free … that any man who preaches real love is bound to beget hate. It is as true of democratic fraternity as a divine love.” The Christian pursuit, in other words, needs to know its enemy in order to realise the agape revolution (in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his audience that they must not hate their enemy, but love him in order that they, too, can one day be part of the expression of love. What is crucial here is that the enemy be identified, realised). This separation of souls, of individuality, as such, is the only transformation obtainable to promote both freedom and union, and who could deny that this explicitly Christian assertion has an Orphic root.

What critics may object to in Guthrie’s work is that for all his historical work, whether Orphic religion had any real – other than purely analogous – influence on Christianity is all speculation. And this speculation does premise itself on rather grand questions concerning monotheism, its roots and its theological implications. For me, it does offer cultural reasons as to why the Graeco-Roman world took to Paul’s Christianity, but it doesn’t show Christianity to be in direct correlation to the poetry of Orpheus. The main point, whether Orphism marked the beginning of monotheism is a harder question to resolve. It certainly contradicts Freud’s research on the beginnings of monotheism, designating Moses who popularised and intellectualised monotheism in order for the Hebrews to worship one God, rather than embracing the Sun-God Aten (and was subsequently killed by the Jews, who later regretted their decision to kill Moses and acknowledged him in their religion, guaranteeing guilt as part of the Jewish faith). As such, Freud considered the Jewish God at the beginning of monotheism. What is difficult to discern in Guthrie’s text is at what point in history began the confusion of whether Dionysos was one God with many functions, or one of many functioning Gods. It is certainly a more established view that acknowledged Greek Gods in their plenty, and it is a problem not having any conclusive reasons as to why Greek and Thracian (group of Indo-European tribes) societies might have found it necessary to acknowledge Dionysos as monotheistic (like Moses’ society did). But some pretty strong conclusions are drawn by Guthrie and others (like Robert Parker in his essay “Early Orphism”). It’s the view of scholar Jan Assman that Orpheus, like Moses, played the mediator of monotheism to a series of religious rites, not least of which in his poetry, and so the debate on the origins of monotheism remain.