Thursday, 23 September 2010

Did we prove that guy wrong or what?

Comments like "religion must continually allow itself to be purified and structured by reason" might be thought to sit uneasily with a personality supposedly representing the nadir of religious intolerance, but you have to get used to paradox and misrepresentation when the subject is the Pope.
He was over here last week. I expect you all knew that.
And you probably knew that it wasn't going to be exactly a love-in all the way. Tempers were up on both sides. He for his part had a few stern things to say to us about how we have turned into puerile idiot exhibitionists, and we... well, we had some rude placards and umbrellas with rubber johnnies hanging off them to wave at him.
Love-fifteen to us I think.
And then there was that business with his advisor or whatever he was, who was all set to tag along too, until he said something along the lines of Britain being one of the leading crapheaps of the world and an insanitary nest of hectoring atheist bigots, and suddenly remembered he had the gout and couldn't come after all. Shame. We sure proved that guy wrong too.
.The commentary has been, to say the least, hot-tempered. Tanya Gold, a breathtakingly witless Guardian columnist who makes larky unfunny videos like this in startling illustration of what a once serious journal of record now feels, doubtless correctly, will divert its readership, was especially forthright. No pootling little accusations for her:
In his actions on child abuse and Aids, Joseph Ratzinger has colluded in the protection of paedophiles and the deaths of millions of Africans.
So over he came, and nothing happened.
The police did arrest what all the papers cautiously described as "six North African street cleaners" - though I would personally prefer to call them North African manual workers so as not to stigmatise street cleaners generally, the majority of whom are peace-loving - but it turned out that they had been merely discussing how to kill the Pope hypothetically, over tea and biccies in the works canteen.
But what about the Church of Dawkins? Weren't they going to have him arrested or something? That's what they were all saying. They even drafted in 'prominent human rights lawyer' Geoffrey Robertson, who nobly offered to take time off from his usual work - defending pornographers, the Brighton bombers and even The Guardian - to take on the heroic work. He even turned his findings into a book that for all I know you might still be able to buy in remainder shops alongside that one about Lord Lucan being found alive in the jungle.
Did they even try?
True, the idea that they had serious legal and moral grounds for pulling such a stunt was so silly that even an American tv anchorwoman was capable of rattling Dawkins just by asking him to explain it to her. (Depressing evidence here.)
But his belligerence had hardly abated when he took to the stage in London for this miserable performance. And though his latest tragic idea is to issue a DVD of the protest (the tears well in my eyes as I type, and they're not from laughing), he has written elsewhere of his disappointment that his speech was severely truncated due to time constraints. The original draft is even worse; here are some despicable highlights:
.Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, was respected by some as a saintly man. But nobody could call Benedict XVI saintly and keep a straight face. Whatever this leering old fixer may be, he is not saintly. Is he intellectual? Scholarly? That is often claimed, although it is far from clear what there is in theology to be scholarly about. Surely nothing to respect...
Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity. He is an enemy of children, whose bodies he has allowed to be raped and whose minds he has encouraged to be infected with guilt. It is embarrassingly clear that the church is less concerned with saving child bodies from rapists than with saving priestly souls from hell: and most concerned with saving the long-term reputation of the church itself.
He is an enemy of gay people, bestowing on them the sort of bigotry that his church used to reserve for Jews.
He is an enemy of women – barring them from the priesthood as though a penis were an essential tool for pastoral duties. What other employer is allowed to discriminate on grounds of sex, when filling a job that manifestly doesn’t require physical strength or some other quality that only males might be thought to have?
He is an enemy of truth, promoting barefaced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa.
He is an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families that they cannot feed, and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty that sits ill with the obscene riches of the Vatican.
All this plus all the usual stuff about whether Hitler was an atheist or a Catholic, and whether atheism should be considered a factor in the crimes of Stalin (any more than his moustache! Brilliant!!!) and the doctrine of original sin and the concept of Hell - oh how wicked, how evil, how disgusting etc. Unlike my opponents, I really do get tired of saying the same things over and over again, so responding to this sort of stuff every time they open their yaps is something of a chore, but I suppose I must.
You may wonder why the incessant harping on whether Hitler was an atheist, or why it doesn't matter that Stalin was, or that there is no correlation between atheism and acts of wickedness. Dawkins goes through this so often, and so intensely, that it is not hard to speculate on whom he is really trying to convince.
For while there is of course no direct link to evil from atheism, Dawkins knows all too well the connection between nihilism, selfishness, cruelty and lawlessness and the lack of an overarching, self policing system of restraint and governance, such as religion once provided.
He knows full well that the gradual erosion of this system, and its footsoldier stigma - a system that led to all manner of petty injustices and cruelties, of the sort that still light bonfires of fury in the libertine breast, but kept at bay those vastly more serious evils that are now rampant - is what accounts for the descent into callous individualism, ignorance and triviality that besets most modern democracies. He knows that his brave new Godless, freed of religion's control, are not rushing instead to evolutionary biology but to drugs and pornography and idle sensation; not to reality but to virtual reality.
He knows that humans left to their own devices cannot be expected to behave selflessly and altruistically en masse. He knows this because his specialism tells him so. The two disciplines of sociobiology and game theory tell him so, and in his younger, nobler days he was happy to explain why it is so. (Tellingly, that was when Darwinism was routinely attacked by the Left as an agent and ally of social conservatism.)
He knows that anarchy is the inevitable consequence of the loss of social restraint: as late as The God Delusion he was quoting Steven Pinker's account of how a police strike in Montreal led almost instantly to wild acts of public lawlessness, and then - despite choosing to quote the passage himself! - was unable to bat it away with anything better than "Perhaps I, too, am a Pollyanna to believe that people would remain good when unobserved and unpoliced by God."
There, I speculate freely, speaks a troubled conscience.
The only way to maintain civil society other than with a system like religion, which polices morality through myth, stigma and example, is under the boot of a police state. Most of us know which we'd prefer, but Dawkins, whose naivety is helping to create the conditions of the latter, prefers to fantasise a third way, in which the vast mass of humanity suddenly decide to give reason a try. In his less guarded moments he seems as if he'd even be happy with the totalitarian option, provided the people in charge are all enlightened rationalists like himself. (But on this eternal question I hand over to Popper - and I'll leave that for my next post.)
For now, let us return to the more concrete idiocies and hypocrisies of the Protest the Pope caper.
Because I still cling to the belief - these days more a hope, perhaps a prayer - that Dawkins has not lost his integrity but is merely hiding it under his crass new vestments, I take solace in the continuance of this peculiar habit he has of undermining his own claims, in isolated bursts of self-destructive honesty, such as the reference to Pinker cited above. It's as if there's two of them: the one that wrote The God Delusion in control, but with the one that wrote The Extended Phenotype still inside, fighting to be heard. He does the same with the single biggest issue supposedly uniting the Protest the Pope campaign, and on which he expounds so foolishly in his London address: Ratzinger's supposed complicity in priestly child abuse.
I'll deal - briefly - with the truth of the matter in a moment, but first let us consider the motives of the accusers. Most of these moral crusades atheists use to sublimate their essentially primitive hatreds crumble with a little probing, but this one is so nakedly spurious they stand exposed from the start. The only relevance of the child abuse allegations to this campaign is that they get reasonable people on board. It was never central to the atheists' beef with Catholicism.
Dawkins has admitted as much: this extraordinary passage from The God Delusion leapt from the page at the time - now it fair near pole-vaults (italics mine, American spellings his):
Others have noted that we live in a time of hysteria about pedophilia, a mob psychology that calls to mind the Salem witch-hunts of 1692. In July 2000 the News of the World, widely acclaimed in the face of stiff competition as Britain's most disgusting newspaper, organized a 'name and shame' campaign, barely stopping short of inciting vigilantes to take direct violent action against pedophiles... In fairness to the News of the World, at the time of its campaign passions had been aroused by a truly horrifying murder, sexually motivated, of an eight-year-old girl, kidnapped in Sussex. Nevertheless, it is clearly unjust to visit upon all pedophiles a vengeance appropriate to the tiny minority who are also murderers.
.Notice he says that it is unjust to condemn paedophiles for acting upon their impulses, merely those who go so far as to commit murder. Here he stands foursquare with the sexual revolutionaries that make up his fan base, and incidentally alongside Peter Tatchell, who can be seen holding the placard alongside Dawkins on the video above, and who Peter Hitchens has quoted as saying that "while it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful" in a letter to the Guardian defending a controversial book about ‘Boy-Love’.
Dawkins knows that paedophilia makes for good tabloid fury, and is happy to court it so as to create a smokescreen behind which to whip up anti-Catholic sentiment. Anyone who hates the Pope can join the party, hence the irresistibly tragic spectacle of creationist Ian Paisley lending his voice to a campaign orchestrated by atheists and supported by Peter Tatchell. All bedfellows considered, depending on the nature of the campaign: Protestants who think the Pope is the devil when it's Catholics they're after, 'pro-Palestinians' and Islamic extremists when it's the Jews. Naturally, they're a heap more cautious when it's Muslims, and I assume I'm not the only one that spotted the irony that the only time this banner gets proudly waved in London is when there's a Catholic in town:
.The bravery! It fair near takes your breath away.
The rest of that passage from The God Delusion is even more striking (again, my italics):
Priestly abuse of children is nowadays taken to mean sexual abuse, and I feel obliged, at the outset, to get the whole matter of sexual abuse into proportion and out of the way...
For all sorts of reasons I dislike the Roman Catholic Church. But I dislike unfairness even more, and I can't help wondering whether this one institution has been unfairly demonized over the issue, especially in Ireland and America. I suppose some additional public resentment flows from the hypocrisy of priests whose professional life is largely devoted to arousing guilt about 'sin'. Then there is the abuse of trust by a figure in authority, whom the child has been trained from the cradle to revere. Such additional resentments should make us all the more careful not to rush to judgement. We should be aware of the remarkable power of the mind to concoct false memories, especially when abetted by unscrupulous therapists and mercenary lawyers... There's gold in them thar long-gone fumbles in the vestry - some of them, indeed, so long gone that the alleged offender is likely to be dead and unable to present his side of the story. The Catholic Church worldwide has paid out more than a billion dollars in compensation. You might almost sympathize with them, until you remember where their money came from in the first place.
Once in the question time after a lecture in Dublin, I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.
It takes a very specialised, technical kind of bigotry that permits one person to say two entirely opposed and contradictory things about an issue and yet be equally wrong both times. Readers not given to such prodigious feats of intellectual elasticity may find themselves as repelled by the callousness of the over-inflated rhetoric quoted above as by the phony moral posturing that magically replaces it in the public address last week.
Why not be both honest and consistent, and simply say something like, "I hate Catholics because they don't agree with me and then have the effrontery to continue disagreeing with me even after I've set them straight"?
It's quicker, for one thing.
Now to the facts of the matter, as promised. The claims, repeated widely as certain fact, that Ratzinger was soft on sex abusers in the church, covered up their crimes and attempted to sidestep civil prosecution are blatant untruths, compounded of vindictiveness and ignorance in equal parts.
As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he investigated American cases of child abuse without fear or favour, publicly expressing his revulsion at what he termed the "filth" of it. He has created new systems of visible accountability that are designed not to sidestep civil prosecution but the opposite, to ensure that allegations go straight to the police rather than via any church body. He has been relentless in his pursuit of the criminals.
The idea that he was engaged in any kind of cover-up is absurd, and one taken entirely on trust by so many who shriek it with such convinced passion - including Dawkins, as that terrible American tv clip demonstrates. Far from the "Boss of the world's largest sex abuse gang" (as the placard at the head of this post claims with even fewer scruples than apostrophes) Ratzinger has done more than anyone else in the church to expose the perpetrators and make the church accountable.
.And so we move on to Aids. Tanya Gold sees it all pretty simply:
Condoms can protect Africans from Aids. But who can protect them from Ratzinger? The Catholic church has long pursued a no-condoms policy... Aids, Ratzinger says, "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems". That is a lie. Not a fantasy, like the virgin birth and all the other magical, mystical nonsense, but a dangerous lie.
I suspect that the poor love simply doesn't understand what he means here, though it's pretty basic. He's not saying that condoms are of no use as a protection against Aids. He is saying that they ultimately do not address the problem, and therefore will not arrest it, because the problem is caused by sexual promiscuity. No condom offers the protection of abstinence. His point, which you are free to disagree with but not to crassly misrepresent, is that the ultimate question is one of attitudes. The free availability of condoms, and the attendant message that sex is an act of pure pleasure divorced from any wider consequences or responsibilities, will exacerbate the destructive attitudes that are at the heart of the problem. The answer lies in restoring seriousness to sex - and that's what they really hate.
The condoms are an absurd distraction from this basic antagonism, and the argument that he or the church are somehow to blame for Aids is among the silliest in the anti-Catholic kit bag. With the casual contempt that comes so naturally to the Left, Tanya Gold calls the African Aids epidemic "the church's own holocaust", a phrase for which a few millennia burning in Hell might seem a fair exchange. (If only I weren't an atheist.)
The fundamental logical absurdity of this claim has been exposed many times, but for some reason it just doesn't sink in. The following very simple argument does not originate with me, but demands repeating.
First let me get this right. The Pope is opposed to artificial birth control, Africans are having unprotected sex and getting Aids, ergo: the Pope causes Aids.
Good argument, fellas - verging on adult in its sophistication.
But the Pope doesn't sanction unprotected sex either, does he? He prescribes abstinence. So what you are saying is that from fear or love of the Pope, Africans obey one half of his edict and not the other. They willingly disobey the Pope on the whole issue of sexual abstinence, but then risk their lives out of respect for him when it comes time to put a rubber on.
There's an adjective for this kind of argument. We call them crap arguments. They can only survive if they meet a deep-seated need that is utterly impervious to reason: ideological certainty and religious certainty, it seems, have that much in common.
In the light of this collosal refusal to think sensibly, there seems little point in adding that the church is the largest provider of Aids care in Africa.
One other thing announces itself with curious clarity in Dawkins's diatribe, and that's his resentment at Ratzinger being acclaimed as an important intellectual. I doubt it's of the least interest to anyone else in the crowd, but for Dawkins, who believes in the Platonic notion of the intellectual's right to rule, it really rankles.
The only way to dispute Ratzinger's stature as a major intellect is to refuse to listen to anything he has to say; the only way to deny that his view of modern society's ills is cogent and valid is to deny his central thesis, and cling to the 'everything is wonderful in our secular paradise' mantra that Dawkins and all the rest so shamefully endorse.
Ratzinger is a bigger thinker, a better thinker, because he starts from the premise that there is something deeply wrong: the grown-up's premise.
To merely accept this as a starting base takes courage, but without doing so nothing can be achieved. A world view - still more one that assumes entitlement to authority - that does not begin from this base is dangerous, cowardly and irrelevant.
If, like me, you don't like some of Ratzinger's answers then great - let the civilised adult debate begin. But if you'd rather attach condoms to an umbrella and parade through London with a bunch of dipsticks you rule yourself out of all serious consideration. Ratzinger is asking for a debate on some big subjects, and the best these supposed intellectual heavyweights can do is call him names, ignore the questions, and congratulate each other as the waters rise around their ugly necks.
Reason is not a wall that doesn't need defending, or a talisman incapable of perversion or misuse. It needs rigorous vigilance and bravery to safeguard it from without, and a larger context of legitimisation to prevent corruption from within. Left to fend for itself in the marketplace of ideologies it can never hold its corner against more basic passions, bigotries and appetities. If Dawkins wants us to believe he has not this knowledge, Ratzinger is rather braver, telling the Italian senate in 2004, "reason is inherently fragile", and ideologies based in the claim either that it can function without morality, or comes with morality attached, "become easy targets for dictatorships".
This, he explains is what happened in Nazi Germany - and that is what Dawkins and his cronies choose to misread as blaming atheism for Nazism. I wish it were only stupidity, but Dawkins is not stupid, so it can only be cowardice.
But compare Ratzinger's rigorous analysis of the "loss of an awareness of intangible moral values" in a culture that "sees in its own history only what is blameworthy and destructive [and] is no longer capable of perceiving what is great and pure" with the ghastly fluffy-bunny 'consciousness raising' of Dawkins's recent sermons and decide for yourself in whose hands your future would be safer.
As George Weigel writes in the recent issue of Standpoint magazine, from which all the above quotations have been sourced:
And that, in turn, is why Ratzinger constantly asks the contemporary West to reconsider its hyper-secularist reading of the past, in which black legends of Christian perversity dominate the historical landscape and the dignity of man is asserted only with effective cultural and political force in the Enlightenment.
Thus, in his lecture to the Italian Senate, Ratzinger, echoing the opening sequence in Kenneth Clark's TV series, Civilisation, reminded his audience that Christian monasticism saved European culture when it was in grave danger of losing hold of its classical and biblical heritage. In remote places such as Iona and Lindisfarne, the monks of St Benedict, he recalled, were the agents of a rebirth of culture, and did so precisely as "a force prior to and superior to political authority" (which, in the Dark Ages, had largely disappeared from the scene). Moreover, Ratzinger proposed, it was Christianity itself that initially suggested and defended that "separation" of religious and political authority (or, in the vulgate, the "separation of Church and state") so prized by modern secularists: in the first instance, when the late-fifth-century Pope Gelasius I drew a crisp distinction between priestly and political authority. Later, in the 11th century, when Pope Gregory VII defended the liberty of the Church against the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV's attempts to turn the Church into a department of the state by controlling the appointment of bishops. Remove Gelasius I and Gregory VII, Ratzinger suggested, the rich social pluralism of European life in the first centuries of the second millennium would have been much less likely to develop — and, to bring the point home in terms of Britain, there would have been no Magna Carta and all that flowed from there. It was the Church, in other words, that made the first arguments for the "separation of Church and state", not the philosophes of the continental Enlightenment.

Which, as Ratzinger surveys contemporary European high culture, brings us to yet another irony: the inability of the rationalism proclaimed by the Enlightenment to sustain Europe's confidence in reason. As the late John Paul II saw it, and as Benedict XVI sees it, "Europe" is a civilisational enterprise and not simply a zone of mutual economic advantage. That civilisational project rests on three legs, which might be labelled "Jerusalem", "Athens", and "Rome": biblical religion, which taught Europe that the human person, as child of a benevolent Creator, is endowed with inalienable dignity and value; Greek rationality, which taught Europe that there are truths embedded in the world and in us, truths we can grasp by reason; and Roman jurisprudence, which taught Europe that the rule of law is superior to the rule of brute force. If Jerusalem goes — as it has in much of post-Enlightenment European high culture — Athens gets wobbly: as is plain in the sandbox of post-modernism, where there may be your truth and my truth, but nothing properly describable as the truth. And if both Jerusalem and Athens go, then Rome — the rule-of-law — is in grave trouble: as is plain when coercive state power is used throughout Europe and within European states to enforce regimes of moral relativism and to punish the politically incorrect.
Dawkins has tasted some of that intolerance in the past, and his blind faith that the relativists' new found love for him is now absolute and eternal is nothing if not touching.
Says Ratzinger: "There is a clear comparison between today's situation and the decline of the Roman Empire. In its final days, Rome still functioned as a great historical framework, but in practice it was already subsisting on models that were destined to fail. Its vital energy had been depleted."
Even if some of his demeaning new allies have not the courage to see this nor the wit to comprehend, Dawkins must do. What will it take to get him to see reason again? If it's a short sharp lesson in the fickleness and superficiality of the mob then fine: I fear that may be coming, and it would be nice to think that some good will come of it.


Daniel said...

Superb as always, Venerable one.

Anonymous said...

The rampant individualism and selfishness of the contemporary western democracies is a hybrid of the social libertarianism of the 1960's and the economic libertarianism of the 1980's.
Without religion and in the absence of authority all that is left is the cult of the self.

hennesli said...

So Darwinism teaches us the necessity of religion? There’s an interesting thought

The Venerable Bede said...

Basically yes. A nice little paradox.
More accurately, Darwinism predicts violent anarchy unless tempered by some force for social cohesion strong enough to temper and redirect the individualist urge, and to foster loyalty to a strata of identity greater than kin but smaller than nation or race.
Nothing has ever achieved this like Christianity, the most important contributing factor to the great achievements of western civilsation.
If I can see that, so can any other atheist with the guts to face reality.
But guts are in short supply in the Dawkins congregation.

Jenkins said...

"If I can see that, so can any other atheist with the guts to face reality."

James Fitzjames Stephen wrestled with the same issues and came to the same conclusion as you in the 19th century.

The Venerable Bede said...

You fascinate me.
I know of Stephen only in relation to the Maybrick trial and Ripperology.
Can you direct me to anything online about his attitude towards these issues?

Anonymous said...


The Venerable Bede said...


Jenkins said...

Unfortunately, the best I can do is direct you towards James A. Colaiaco's 'James Fitzjames Stephen and the Crisis of Victorian Thought', and Stephen's 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity'.

Lori said...

Got here from The Anchoress. Fascinating post. Thank you for giving Benedict his due. Would you be offended if I added, God bless you? ;-)

The Venerable Bede said...

Jenkins -
Thanks - I'll take a look at those.

Lori -
Glad you liked it; no, I'm not offended in the least. Sorry for all the idiots.

Shifty1 said...

Got tipped to this from Brutally Honest. Excellent post, refreshing in it's honesty and lack of "the party line!"

And I join Lori in wishing God's blessings on you!

wrecktafire said...

It may have been C.S. Lewis who said that among the millions who hate Christianity, there may only be a half-dozen who hate it for what it actually is.

Ditto for the Roman Catholic version of it.

Paul Zummo said...

So what you are saying is that from fear or love of the Pope, Africans obey one half of his edict and not the other. They willingly disobey the Pope on the whole issue of sexual abstinence, but then risk their lives out of respect for him when it comes time to put a rubber on.

Great point. The fundamental illogic of the Catholic bashers on this issue has always baffled me - well, not really, because they are intellectually dishonest people.

The Venerable Bede said...

Thank you all for the support.

Paul: yes, it is a great point, but, as I stress, not one I came up with myself.
When you have to keep saying the same thing over and over again, and your opponents keep saying the same thing as if you hadn't, and can't and won't acknowledge it - that's when you've won the debate.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I wish everyone I met who shares your fundamental disbelief in God approached it this way. A real discussion, about the actual issues, would be fantastic, but as it stands, we just have to keep fighting the most blatant idiocies for the time being. At that, you've done a first-rate job. You're now on my dream-panel for an in-depth discussion of religion/faith (you and Fr. Robert Barron, so far).

Being a Catholic, I'm naturally suspect to most people when it comes to this subject, as if someone they otherwise know to be logical and thoughtful throws her brain out with the bathwater. But I noticed when I posted this to facebook, only a few fellow Christians "liked" it. It's been several days, and in my invitation to discuss has met with nothing from your side of the God/no god table. I'm hoping it's because you've given such food for thought they need a few days... but I think that's a pipe dream.

Anyway, great post, thanks so much, and I hope someday you get that real discussion about actual issues.

The Venerable Bede said...

Thanks for the kind words - but don't hold your breath for that sensible debate. Militant atheists are not interested in any views but their own, because they are consumed with hatred.
Your willingness to engage with them, take them seriously, and listen to what they have to say is of no interest to them. They only want to duel.
My apologies on their behalf.

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering, could you give me a source on your information saying that "he investigated American cases of child abuse without fear or favour, publicly expressing his revulsion at what he termed the 'filth' of it. He has created new systems of visible accountability that are designed not to sidestep civil prosecution but the opposite, to ensure that allegations go straight to the police rather than via any church body. He has been relentless in his pursuit of the criminals". Such information is useful to me, I just need the source.

The Venerable Bede said...

Standpoint magazine mainly, but the various Catholic websits that have commented and linked here are your best bets for chapter and verse.
Sorry for the delayed reply: I've been away.

Anonymous said...

A good source to begin learning about James Fitzjames Stephen as a conservative thinker might be the third section ("Stephen on the ends of life and politics") of the ninth chapter ("Legal and Historical Conservatism: A Time of Foreboding") of Russell Kirk's "The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot." Cheers.

The Venerable Bede said...

Thanks for this.