The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'catholic'
Yesterday, the Republic of Ireland held a referendum on repealing its near-total ban on abortion. The referendum had been many years in planning: other similar referenda had failed in the past, and most infamously, one in 1983 had enshrined, in the 8th Amendment to the Irish constitution, the rights of a fertilised embryo as being equal to its mother. There was, of course, a lot of discontentment with such an illiberal state of affairs, but the death in 2012 of Savita Halappanava, a 31-year-old woman who died in agony after being denied an abortion even when her pregnancy was no longer viable, was probably what gave this push its momentum. A referendum was announced, and the campaigns started in earnest. Ireland does not allow absentee voting (otherwise its huge diaspora might sway domestic affairs from abroad), so Irish citizens from as far as Australia and Argentina made their ways back to vote. Religious-Right groups in the US sent shiny-faced volunteers with 100-watt smiles to push the No vote. Google and Facebook clamped down on Cambridge Analytica-style targeted ads, with varying reports of effectiveness.
In the run-up to the vote, all the signs pointed to a victory for the Yes campaign, to end the abortion ban. Though, as the vote loomed, the polls tightened, with some suggesting a narrow victory for Yes, with a large number of undecided voters holding sway. There was talk of large numbers of “shy Nos”, people who believed the abortion of fertilised embryos to be murder but not wishing to state this out loud and be seen as reactionary barbarians. Some said that a surprise No triumph would be Ireland's equivalent of Brexit or Trump, a chance for a silent majority of conservative left-behinds to flip the table and savour the tears of the metropolitan-liberal-elites who, until then, had believed themselves to be presiding over inevitable progress. And, of course, the possibility of the vote being swayed by the reactionary international's dark arts: ghost funding making a mockery of electoral laws, psychographically targeted ads, supposedly autonomous campaigns coördinated with military precision. Would change come, or would it be deferred for another generation? And even if Yes scraped through a narrow victory, that would give conservative legislators the cover to nobble the resulting legislation to the point of ineffectuality.
It turned out one need not have worried: the Yes case has been carried by roughly a ⅔ majority. The first exit poll gave Yes 68% of the vote; the count, with 29 of 40 constituencies declared is within a narrow margin of this. No has conceded the referendum (though of course not the divinely-mandated principle behind their position), and it looks like the 8th amendment will be repealed and laws governing the provision of abortion services, along similar criteria to elsewhere in Europe, will be passed.
(Someone I know once jested, “I'm Irish. I can do anything—except have an abortion.” It looks like she will now have to retire that line.)
This is a major shift, or rather, a sign of a major shift that had been happening for some time now. Ireland having emphatically legalised same-sex marriage a few years ago was another sign of this. The Irish republic that arose after independence, when Catholic nationalists consolidated their power—a dour, authoritarian, priest-ridden backwater, a country that condemned its unmarried mothers to penal institutions, and in which the all-powerful church vetoed the formation of a British-style national health service because secular institutions alleviating the people's misery sounded like Communism—has not existed for some time, replaced by a modern, secular nation, and only now is the extent of the transformation becoming undeniably apparent. And if there were any shy voters, it was not the mythical Silent Majority of reactionary conservatives hankering for the certainties of the good old days, but those remembering all the suffering and misery imposed by laws that have stripped women of autonomy over their bodies, many only realising after the vote that they were in the majority, not just in the entirety of Ireland but even in their own, supposedly conservative, rural province. (And the disappearance of the expected strong rural No vote, counterbalancing liberal Dublin and Cork and pushing the result to a cliffhanger, is one of the stories of the day; while final results are not in yet, exit polls have No with a majority—and a slender one—in only one of the 40 constituencies.) One big take-away may be that the myth we have been conditioned to accept, of the silent majority of public opinion inevitably being viciously reactionary, is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit.
The immediate consequences—Ireland's infamously restrictive abortion laws being brought into line with the liberal secular world—are fairly straightforward. What remains to be seen are the secondary effects. The most obvious one will be pressure on Northern Ireland's own draconian abortion laws. Northern Ireland, whilst a province of the UK, is run as a hard-line Protestant sectarian state, established out of fear of the hard-line Catholic sectarian state across the border. Now that that state visibly no longer exists, it will be harder to maintain it as a special case increasingly divergent from both the Republic and the rest of the UK. The evaporating power of Catholic sectarianism in the Republic may also make the formerly unthinkable—reunification—less so (especially when the alternative, reconciling Hard Brexit with the Good Friday Agreement, appears to be logically impossible). Whether the result carries beyond Ireland is another question: they're talking about legalising abortion in New South Wales now. And while a No victory would have emboldened anti-abortion activists in other countries, it's not clear whether Ireland having voted Yes will have much impact in, say, Poland or Hungary, where proudly illiberal Catholic hypernationalism is on the march.
Beyond reproductive rights, the result may be another milestone on a trading of places, culturally and economically, between Ireland and England. As Britain (though, in reality, largely England-minus-London), led by its xenophobic tabloids, voted to cut itself off from Europe, to expel foreigners and become less liberal, both individuals and businesses have been scoping out locations abroad. (You can't find office space for love or money in Frankfurt these days, and Berlin's gentrification has been accelerated by a flood of Brefugees with MacBooks.) Ireland has been cited by many as a more open alternative to the UK, though there has been a perception that it is both smaller and more parochial. The Irish electorate's recent decisions are likely to put paid to the second objection: the first may last a little longer, but if one remembers what low esteem, say, dining in Britain was held in a few decades ago, or the sleepy, bureaucracy-ridden nature of doing business there, it may not take long for Dublin to displace London altogether.
The other big news this weekend, of course, Ireland voting in favour of legalising same-sex marriage. The margin (62%) was decisive enough, even without taking into account the fact that only one of Ireland's 43 parliamentary constituencies reported a majority against. The case is pretty much settled; even senior Catholic clergy have conceded that history was on the side of the change.
This result shows how much has changed in Ireland over the past few decades, and in particular, how much the influence of the Catholic Church, which once controlled all aspects of life in the republic, has waned. It has only been 22 years since homosexuality itself stopped being a crime in Ireland, and a decade or so longer since divorce became legal. Of course, the Church Holy Roman and Apostolic's influence still weighs heavily in one conspicuous area: abortion remains strictly illegal in Ireland, with several referenda in the past decades failing to reverse this. It is, to say the least, not at all clear that this would be repeated in any future referendum. (On the other hand, the experience in the US has shown that it is possible for a liberalisation in gay rights to occur alongside a rolling back of womens' reproductive rights, so legalised abortion in Ireland is by no means inevitable.)
The decision's impact will spread beyond the Irish Republic; calls for reform in Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is illegal, are likely to be strengthened (though still face an uphill battle, with the conservative Democratic Unionist Party coming increasingly under evangelical Protestant influence. Considerably further afield, Australia is another place where this may have an impact. Australians famously like their politicians to be more conservative and moralistic than they themselves are, which has been reflected, as recently as a few years ago, in both major parties being against same-sex marriage. The vein of religious conservatism that animates this opposition, meanwhile, stems largely from Irish Catholic conservatism (the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is an conservative Catholic whose political views stem largely from the ultra-conservative, Democratic Labor Party, which emerged when the Catholic elements in the ALP left, citing creeping Communist influence in the party); while it is possible that Australia will remain as a sort of Galapagos of the Irish Catholic Right circa 1950, preserving this otherwise extinct culture in the way that a 19th-century dialect of English remains alive on the South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, the fall of the Old Sod to secular modernity could have an effect.
Actor Gabriel Byrne talks about the 1950s Ireland he grew up in, and in which a new BBC crime series he stars in is set:
Both Byrne and Banville, who are old friends, grew up in this Ireland of the 1950s. "It was almost a Taliban-esque society," says the actor, recalling an incident when his mother, who was walking down the street with him while pushing a pram, stepped off the pavement into the road to make way for a priest. "That's how much power they had. Now all the rocks have been lifted and all the maggots have crawled out. The Catholic Church is a tyrannical, evil institution, there's no doubt about it – anti-woman, anti-homosexual, anti-love, anti-condom, totally elitist."The series, Quirke, is to air on the BBC “later this autumn”, and looks like it could be interesting.
Sidious I Benedict XVI prepares for his last day in office, before taking to the freshly minted office of “Pontiff Emeritus”, someone seemingly hacked his Twitter account, posting over 100 tweets, all in (varying) Latin and addressed to various celebrities and organisations. They were all deleted pretty quickly, but a few choice examples were preserved here:
@BillGates Hey debemus occursum dent. Nos ambae faciunt terribilis products populus coguntur uti.
@BillGates Hey we should hang out some time. We both make shitty products people are forced to use.
@charliesheen Hey relinquo in XXXVI horis. Occursum mihi in Vegas cum kilo of cocainum?(“kilo of cocainum”? “terribilis products”?)
@charliesheen Hey I get off in 36 hours. Meet me in Vegas with a kilo of blow?
A report to an inquiry in Victoria has estimated that at least one in every 20 Catholic priests in the state is a child sex abuser, with the real figure being likely to be more like one in 15.
He suggested that, though the Church tried to "fudge the figures" by including other church workers, Catholic priests offended at a much higher rate than other men. If the general male population now over 65 offended at the same rate, there would be 65,614 men living in Australia who had been convicted of child sex abuse — very far from the case.The report, by Professor Des Cahill, also condemned the Catholic Church's institutional culture as “verging on the pathological”, and called for reforms to be externally imposed, including allowing married clergy.
"Bishops are caught between canon law and civil law, and Rome has put a lot of pressure on bishops to make sure canon law and the rights of priests are being observed, but canon law has nothing to say about the rights of child victims," he said. The Melbourne Response — the internal protocol used by the Melbourne archdiocese — was designed to protect the image and reputation of the church and to contain financial liability, and had to be changed. "The church is incapable of reform, so the state will have to do it," he said.Meanwhile, the Vatican is slightly closer to canonising the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Karl von Habsburg.
And an Italian court has jailed seven scientists for manslaughter for failing to predict the L'Aquila earthquake of 2009, after they stated that minor tremors recorded before the earthquake were “normal”. The sentence has attracted widespread condemnation.
Let it not be said that the Catholic Church is out of touch with the pressing issues of today; a six-day conference in the Vatican this week discussed the alarming, internet-driven rise in Satanism that has been keeping the Vatican's exorcists flat out:
"The internet makes it much easier than in the past to find information about Satanism," said Carlo Climati, a member of the university who specialises in the dangers posed to young people by Satanism. "In just a few minutes you can contact Satanist groups and research occultism."It's good to see that the Vatican is concerned about protecting young people from danger.
An exorcist should be called when "the moral certainty has been reached that the person is possessed", said Father Nanni, a member of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints. That could be indicated by radical and disturbing changes in the person's behaviour and voice, or an ability to garble in foreign languages or nonsensical gibberish.
Father Gabriele Amorth said people who are possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron, scream, dribble and slobber, utter blasphemies and have to be physically restrained."Amorth" is a great name for a priest specialising in Satanic possession; it even sounds like a Norwegian black-metal musician's stage name.
It has emerged that the British government transferred nearly £2 million from Britain's foreign aid budget to pay for the Papal visit last year, on top of £3.7m from the environmental budget. This is presumably in line with the Conservative Party's platform (also shared by New Labour) that religion is a good in itself, from which it would follow that promoting religious organisations such as the Catholic Church increases the total amount of good in the world, and is thus a legitimate use of funds which would otherwise be spent feeding the hungry or eradicating diseases. Not surprisingly, this view is not shared unanimously:
[British Humanist Association] Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented, ‘Millions and millions from the public purse has been used to foot the cost of the Pope’s visit to the UK, with much of that diverted from crucial funds, including from foreign aid designated to help some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. It is irrational and wrong for government to say that the money was paid to recognise the work that the Catholic Church does overseas as an NGO – questionable in itself – when the money was used to fund the state visit. Most people, including Christians, did not think that the British taxpayer should pay for the Pope’s visit in the first place, and many will be astonished to see the detrimental impact that this illegitimate use of public funds has already made.’(Disclaimer: I am a member of the British Humanist Association, and recommend this organisation to anyone concerned about religious privilege in the UK (of which there is a considerable amount, from Bishops in the House of Lords to faith schools teaching Creationism in science classes with the blessing of the political establishment).) Or, in the words of another atheist:
Veteran human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, QC, has published a new book, in which he calls for the Vatican to be treated as a rogue state until it substantially alters its ancient canon law, which, among other things, protects child rapists:
''The worst that can happen, other than an order to do penance, is 'laicisation', that is, defrocking, which permits the paedophile to leave the church and get a job in a state school or care home without anyone knowing of this conviction. Canon law has no sex offenders registry.Robertson also argues that the Pope is not a legitimate head of state, with the 1929 Lateran Treaty, which established the Vatican, not being a legitimate international treaty, but rather a deal between Mussolini and a pro-fascist Pope.
The current Pope is about to make a visit to the UK, which is being treated officially as a state visit. Various humanist, secularist and human rights groups are organising protests.
In New York, Catholics are planning a rally to protest against the Empire State Building's owners refusal to light up the building to commemorate Mother Teresa. The Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights are outraged that the building owners turned down their request to light the upper floors in blue and white to honour the nun's 100th birthday, especially since they did light the same floors in red and yellow for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the (Godless, Communist) People's Republic of China. The building's owners, meanwhile, reiterate a long-standing policy of not accommodating requests by religions or for religious figures. The rally is expected to shut down 34th Street at rush hour.
(In the interest of context: Christopher Hitchens' exposé of Mother Teresa and her works.)
As revelations of endemic child rape supported by the Catholic Church for decades (if not centuries) emerge, including claims that the current Pope was instrumental in protecting rapists, the Church has responded,
apologising profusely, handing suspects over to authorities and liquidating its assets to pay compensation, rubbishing the accusations as "petty gossip", blaming "gay culture" for child abuse and comparing criticism of the Church to anti-Semitism. Some are calling for the Pope to be dismissed, though, unfortunately, there is no way to sack a Pope, what with him being infallible and all that. Now, Geoffrey Robertson, QC, has called for Pope Benedict XVI to be put on trial by the International Criminal Court; Robertson argues that the sovereign immunity of the Vatican is too flimsy to stand up, and even if not, heads of state who preside over atrocities can be stripped of it to face trial:
It hinges on the assumption that the Vatican, or its metaphysical emanation, the Holy See, is a state. But the 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". The notion that statehood can be created by another country's unilateral declaration is risible: Iran could make Qom a state overnight, or the UK could launch Canterbury on to the international stage.
This claim could be challenged successfully in the UK and in the European Court of Human Rights. But in any event, head of state immunity provides no protection for the pope in the international criminal court (see its current indictment of President Bashir). The ICC Statute definition of a crime against humanity includes rape and sexual slavery and other similarly inhumane acts causing harm to mental or physical health, committed against civilians on a widespread or systematic scale, if condoned by a government or a de facto authority. It has been held to cover the recruitment of children as soldiers or sex slaves. If acts of sexual abuse by priests are not isolated or sporadic, but part of a wide practice both known to and unpunished by their de facto authority then they fall within the temporal jurisdiction of the ICC – if that practice continued after July 2002, when the court was established.
As of Friday, it is illegal to insult religious beliefs in Ireland; this applies to any religion, which is the fiercely Catholic nation's token sop to pluralism. While secularists are dismayed, other religious groups are overjoyed; apparently, Islamic states are already using the Irish law as a template for a United Nations blasphemy law.
A group named Atheist Ireland (
God help them best of luck to them; they need it) are taking on this law and challenging the government to prosecute them by publishing 25 blasphemous quotations, with authors varying from Jesus Christ to Monty Python, from known troublemakers like Dawkins and Hitchens to Holy Men like the current Pope (quoted slagging off Islam, mind you),
13. Bjork, 1995: “I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men… I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists.”
15. George Carlin, 1999: “Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!”
23. Ian O’Doherty, 2009: “(If defamation of religion was illegal) it would be a crime for me to say that the notion of transubstantiation is so ridiculous that even a small child should be able to see the insanity and utter physical impossibility of a piece of bread and some wine somehow taking on corporeal form. It would be a crime for me to say that Islam is a backward desert superstition that has no place in modern, enlightened Europe and it would be a crime to point out that Jewish settlers in Israel who believe they have a God given right to take the land are, frankly, mad. All the above assertions will, no doubt, offend someone or other.”Atheist Ireland and their allies have a number of other campaigns on their site, including a campaign for a secular Irish constitution.
In the 1990s, Tony Blair took the helm of the Labour Party and modernised it, ditching its unfashionable brown-suited socialist tendencies and transforming it into a neo-Thatcherite centre-right party with really good PR (or "spin", as they called it). In fact, the spin was so good that it allowed it not only to "outflank" the Tories, pushing them into corners, but to manoeuvre into bizarre and impossible positions, such as supporting George W. Bush's faith-based invasion of Iraq.
Blair's luck ran out, and he left the floundering ship of New Labour. Now, however, he has turned his attention to modernising another organisation he has joined; namely the Catholic Church:
The former prime minister, who converted to Catholicism shortly after leaving office two years ago, said he disagreed with the Pope's stance on gay rights and controversially suggested that the Church should reform itself along similar lines to how he re-organised the Labour Party.
"Organised religions face the same dilemma as political parties when faced with changed circumstances," he said. u can either A: Hold on to your core vote, basically, you know, say 'Look let's not break out because if we break out we might lose what we've got, and at least we've got what we've got so let's keep it'. Or B: You say 'let's accept that the world is changing, and let us work out how we can lead that change and actually reach out'."Of course, there is a lot of merit in the content of what Blair is saying in this specific instance; on gay rights, in my (liberal, atheist, cosmopolitanist) opinion, the Catholic church is out of touch, and Blair is right. A lot of people, of course, would disagree; whether they are a minority as Blair says is another matter.
However, the other part of Blair's statement, about the Catholic church needing to reorganise along New Labour lines, is more thought-provoking. What would a Blairite New Catholic Church look like? Well, firstly they would ditch the unfashionable old-guard dogmas (such as condemnation of homosexuality and contraception, to name two); those who believed in these strictures would be allowed to remain in the margins of the church, much as the left of the Labour Party was, growing steadily into fusty irrelevance, though still occasionally putting on a good, if cranky, show to keep the old believers from completely jumping ship. Freed from these dogmas, the church would be free to move towards the centre and, in classic Blairite fashion, "outflank" rival religions, appropriating their ideas and pushing them further towards the fringes. We could expect Blairite New Catholicism to appropriate everything from new-age crystal healing to promises of an afterlife filled with willing virgins and repackage what works, only with much better presentation.
As with New Labour, presentation would be the linchpin of New Catholicism. The church would be rebranded extensively, with the centuries-old trappings given new designs, crisply contemporary yet with a comforting gravitas. The vestments worn by priests and altar boys would be restyled by Paul Smith or someone, and cathedrals given an overhaul by Damien Hirst, with stained glass by Banksy. And Jamie Oliver would do the communion wafers. The sacred music would have to change, with big-name stars being brought in to give it a facelift. Finally, the Catholic Church would have caught up to that other great innovation of contemporary religious practice, the celebrity centre.
The selling of indulgences would also see a return, with donors not only being able to procure absolution of sins, but in some cases, sainthoods as well. And given the tendency of some clergy to get into scandals, the Blairite faculty of spin could prove very useful.
Senior Catholics in Scotland are claiming that the old song Hokey Cokey was written to mock the Catholic mass, and singing it could fall foul of hate crime laws:
Peter Kearney, a spokesman for Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Catholic church in Scotland, said: “This song, although apparently innocuous, was devised as an attack on and a parody of the Catholic mass.”
According to the church, the song’s title derives from “hocus pocus”. The phrase is said to be a Puritan satire on the Latin “hoc est enim corpus meum”, or “this is my body”, used by Catholic priests to accompany the transubstantiation during mass.
A Catholic girls' school in Manchester has blocked its students from receiving government-funded Human Papilloma Virus vaccinations. They didn't say as much (their line is a cryptic statement that the school is "not the right place"), but this presumably has to do with the idea that HPV, and the higher risk of cervical cancer, is divine punishment for sexual promiscuity, and it would be sinful to interfere in this. Isn't religion a wonderful thing?
An art gallery is considering whether to withdraw a sculpture of a crucified frog after Pope Benedict condemned it as blasphemous and the president of the regional government went on a hunger strike in protest. The sculpture, Zuerst die Füsse ("Feet First") by the late German artist Martin Kippenberger, depicts an anthropomorphic frog nailed to a cross, its tongue grotesquely lolling, holding a beer stein and an egg, and was intended by the artist as a self-portrait illustrating human angst.
I'm hoping that the gallery stands fast and doesn't remove it. What too many people are forgetting is that one has to choose to be offended by something, and not being offended is not a fundamental human right. If the president of Alto Adige chose to be so offended that he went on a hunger strike and was hospitalised, that was his choice. If we allow one religion to censor art to protect its sensitivities (or, indeed, its claim to cultural hegemony), it sets a terrible precedent.
If you break the law, the law will break you: The fabled Australian commitment to free speech, civil liberties and the right of peaceful dissent is once again in the news, as the New South Wales government announced that anyone annoying those attending the Catholic Church's "World Youth Day" may face criminal penalties.
Police and emergency services will have the power to order people to cease behaviour that "causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day event" under the regulations. Anyone who fails to comply could be fined A$5,500 (£2,630).
Anna Katzman, the president of the New South Wales bar association, which represents almost 3,000 lawyers, said it was "unnecessary and repugnant" to make someone's inconvenience the basis of a criminal offence. "If I was to wear a T-shirt proclaiming that 'World Youth Day is a waste of public money' and refuse to remove it when an officer ... asks me to, I would commit a criminal offence," Katzman said. "How ridiculous is that?"This is possible under laws related to those used for suspending civil liberties during the 2000 Olympics, and could criminalise planned protests by gay rights, student and secularist groups. Not to worry, though; the authorities have given their word that these sweeping powers will be exercised reasonably.
In the latest advance in cosmotheology, the Vatican's chief astronomer has stated that extraterrestrial intelligence may exist—and may even be free from original sin.
Health authorities in the Philippines have warned devout Catholics taking part in Easter crucifixion rituals to get tetanus shots before they flagellate and/or crucify themselves, and to practice good hygiene:
In the hot and dusty atmosphere, officials warn, using unhygienic whips to make deep cuts in the body could lead to tetanus and other infections.
And they advise that the nails used to fix people to crosses must be properly disinfected first. Often people soak the nails in alcohol throughout the year.
In the northern city of San Fernando alone there will be three separate improvised Golgothas - the biblical name for the hill where Jesus was crucified.
The Catholic Church has just revised the list of mortal sins. Among new things which damn the sinner to Hell for all eternity if not absolved is engaging in "manipulative genetic science", i.e., modifying genetic material. To be fair, the Vatican did just erect a statue of Galileo, the scientist they forced on pain of death to recant the theory that the earth went around the sun, so they're not entirely anti-scientific; they just like their science to mature for a few centuries.
Other things Catholics may not do without risking eternal damnation include abortion (natch) and paedophilia, taking or dealing drugs (presumably not including socially acceptable ones, such as alcohol, nicotine or caffeine) or "the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few" (that's a few individuals, not the Church itself).
After Italy saw a spate of gruesome murders carried out by self-professed Satanists (who, apparently, indulge in "a lethal blend of black magic, hard drugs, sex and heavy metal"), the Italian police are planning to set up a "Satan squad". The special task force will include psychologists and a priest and will investigate "potentially dangerous religious movements". Some are concerned, though, that such a squad would become a hammer of Catholic majoritarianism and persecute harmless minority religions.
Conservative Catholic youth flock to Glastonbury to "cleanse" it of its pagan influences.
Maya Pinder, the owner of the shop, said: "We've had to hear comments such as 'burn the witches', we've had salt thrown in our faces and at our shop, people were openly saying they were 'cleansing Glastonbury of paganism'.
"It was as if we had returned to the dark ages. This is hugely damaging to Glastonbury ... it is hard enough to trade in Glastonbury as it is, if you were to take away the pagan element it would be a dead town." The Somerset town is known for having a large population of resident and visiting pagans.The Youth 2000 group, a conservative Catholic youth group which organised the pilgrimage, has publicly distanced itself from the incidents.
The world's oldest multinational corporation, the Catholic Church, is joining the intellectual-property age; the Vatican has declared it intends to claim copyright on the current and previous Popes' words, and require any publications carrying those words to license them for a royalty equivalent to 3-5% of the cover price. Newspapers are exempted from the royalty, but only by "prior agreement" (i.e., giving the Vatican the power of veto over unflattering uses of the Pope's words). This has raised the ire of those who object to a price being put on the "word of the Lord" and its official interpretation.
(via bOING bOING)
Today, in theological news: the Catholic church is set to abolish the concept of limbo, as a place for the souls of unbaptised children and virtuous heathens, saying that it "has always been just a theological hypothesis".
Meanwhile, terminally ill patients in Israel will be allowed euthanasia, as long as it's carried out by machines and not humans, as that would be forbidden under Jewish law:
A special timer will be fitted to a patient's respirator which will sound an alarm 12 hours before turning it off.
Normally, carers would override the alarm and keep the respirator turned on but, if various stringent conditions are met, including the giving of consent by the patient or legal guardian, the alarm would not be overridden.
Similar timing devices, known as Sabbath clocks, are used in the homes of orthodox Jews so that light switches and electrical devices can be turned on during the Sabbath without offending religious strictures.As Jamie Zawinski said, "Judaism is so awesome -- it's the only religion composed entirely of loopholes!"
A Roman Catholic cardinal and a priest in charge of Vatican Radio have been convicted of polluting the atmosphere with electromagnetic radiation; studies have found that magnetic fields around the Vatican Radio transmitters north of Rome were much higher than normal limits allow, and may have caused high rates of cancer in the area.
Pope John Paul II has died, aged 84. He was the most widely travelled pope in the history of the Catholic Church, and extended the religion to new audiences; he also was an ideological hardliner, a veteran of the battle against communist totalitarianism who then turned his guns on secularism and liberalism; or, to quote a Guardian article on his legacy:
"I think this has been a papacy of missed opportunities and lost years, leaving scars that will persist for decades. I would say the Pope has left the church in a shocking, sad state. There is an arrogance and a lack of spirituality in the Vatican, ecumenical relations are at their worst ebb for many years and we have a church crippled by clericalism. I think the Pope lacked faith to allow for a rebirth and renewal of the church."
As the old Pope's grip on power loosened, those around him issued proclamations that amplified his natural doctrinal conservatism, incautiously suggesting non-Catholics were not really Christians, casting anathemas at homosexuality and, most recently, suggesting that girl altar servers should be banned.
There was even an attempt to force God into the European Union constitution - a miscalculated political intervention doomed to failure on a continent where many parties were formed to fight Catholic clericalism in countries which had struggled free of an authoritarian state religion into secular and religious pluralism.
My views on his legacy are mixed; on one hand, he was clearly a man of personal integrity, who deeply believed in both social justice and the dignity of the individual, and was instrumental in ending Soviet tyranny in eastern Europe. On the other hand, the hard-line positions he took on issues such as contraception and the role of women caused much misery in the world. (Still, misery in the temporal world makes demand for hope for the next, and thus is good business if you're running a church. Though I doubt that he thought of it in such cynical terms.) The John Paul II Vatican, having ruled out compromise and rolled back many of the changes of Vatican II, has alienated a lot of liberals, though arguably gotten more converts in need of a strong religion demanding of absolute submission. Whether this is enough to maintain the relevance and power of the Catholic church remains to be see.
And here is the list of the leading candidates for the next Pope, who are also the conclave set to elect the successor. Given that John Paul II had a history of appointing theological conservatives on ideological lines (one cleric accused him of selecting cardinals the way U.S. presidents select Supreme Court judges), there is unlikely to be a radical about-turn during the next papacy. There are a number of Italians there (as expected) and a few other Europeans (notable among them head of Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Office for the Doctrine of the Faith, a.k.a. the Holy Inquisition), but the other bloc expected to exercise sway is from Latin America.
What do Saudi Arabia, the Bush Whitehouse, the Mormons, the Vatican and former Malaysian strongman Mahathir Mohamad have in common? They are all part of an international alliance against liberal secularism:
The Doha conference, and the resulting UN resolution, provided a striking example of growing cooperation between the Christian right (especially in the United States) and conservative Muslims - groups who, according to the clash-of-civilisations theory, ought to be sworn enemies.The coalition succeeded in introducing a resolution in the United Nations asserting "traditional" definitions of the family and attacking progressive social policies including promotion of contraception, tolerance of homosexuality, nontraditional views of the status of women and sex education. The resolution, proposed by Qatar, was backed by the United States, though, unusually, Australia (with its socially conservative and vehemently pro-US administration) sided with Godless Europe. Chances are that was the result of a miscommunication and, the next time such a resolution comes up, Australia's UN ambassador will vote with the Coalition of Willing.
The family debate certainly divides the world, but the divisions are not between east and west, nor do they follow the usual dividing lines of international politics. The battle is between liberal secularists - predominantly in Europe - and conservatives elsewhere who think religion has a role in government.
On this issue, with a president who sounds increasingly like an old-fashioned imam, the United States now sits in the religious camp alongside the Islamic regimes: not so much a clash of civilisations, more an alliance of fundamentalisms.
And in another unholy alliance, US Christian Fundamentalist groups are holding their noses and jumping into the hot tub with Hollywood on the issue of file-sharing, in the interest of instituting centralised control over the lawless internet, mechanisms control which could just as easily be used for enforcing religious morality and stamping out sin as for making sure that every byte of copyrighted content is paid for.
The twilight of secularism (an ongoing series): Australia's highest-ranking Catholic clergyman and leading conservative hardliner, Cardinal George Pell, gave a speech comparing Islam to Communism and saying that secular democracy has failed and must be replaced with what he called "democratic personalism", with paternalistic Christian government being the only hope of countering the spread of fundamentalist Islam.
"The small but growing conversion of native Westerners within Western societies to Islam carries the suggestion that Islam may provide in the 21st century the attraction which communism provided in the 20th, both for those who are alienated or embittered on the one hand, and for those who seek order or justice on the other," he said.
He asked: "Does democracy need a burgeoning billion-dollar pornography industry to be truly democratic? Does it need an abortion rate in the tens of millions? "What would democracy look like if you took some of these things out of the picture? Would it cease to be democracy? Or would it actually become more democratic?"
Perhaps, after a few more terms of John Howard/Tony Abbott, we'll find out. Besides which, "democratic personalism" has a nicely euphemistic ring to it. Given how misleading it is for the Tories to call themselves the "Liberal Party", perhaps they'll take the hint and rename themselves the Democratic Personalist Party.
The latest round of beatifications is out; among the candidates is Emperor Karl, who ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1916 and 1918. Some objected to his beatification on the grounds that he signed off on the use of poison gas in the trenches of World War 1, but he also miraculously healed a Brazilian nun's varicose veins, so it's alright. The last Habsburg Emperor is not a saint yet (that requires a further miracle to be attributed to him), but he may be accorded a feast day and his relics may be venerated. Which makes me wonder whether, in a century's time, the world may see Tony Blair or someone nominated for sainthood, supported by some true believer or other miraculously recovering from a medical condition.
A Catholic canon lawyer has filed heresy charges against Senator John Kerry, the US presidential candidate, in an ecclesiastical court. The charges relate to Kerry taking communion whilst advocating legalised abortion.
It will be interesting to see if the Catholic Church prosecutes these charges. They seem to have had a policy of not prescribing Catholic politicians' agendas, though this is changing somewhat with the conservative line taken by the current Pope (and, indeed, doesn't look to get any more liberal, with demographic shifts giving more power to conservative bishops in Africa). On the other hand, there are politics to consider; aside from the likelihood of a backlash occurring from any perceived interference in the election, the Vatican is not too fond of Bush (indeed, it has been claimed that the Pope thinks he may be the Antichrist foretold in the Book of Revelation, though this may well be apocryphal), and may not be too keen to shoot down the opposition.
A lot of stuff is being outsourced to India these days; call centre work, programming jobs, Catholic prayers...
A few facts about St. Patrick:
- He wasn't Irish, he was Roman.
- There never were any snakes in Ireland.
- "Driving the snakes out of Ireland" is a euphemism for leading the slaughter of the indigenous Celtic pagans.
Now, tomorrow I'll be wearing green to celebrate the arrival of spring, and surely I'll raise a pint or two of Guiness in honor of the Emerald Isle. But an Irish person celebrating "St. Patrick's Day" is as absurd as a Mexican celebrating "Cortez Day."
A new book from the Disinformation troublemakers: 50 things you're not supposed to know, with "irrefutable evidence" of factoids like "Nearly all American milk-cows are infected with Bovine Leukemia Virus", "Pope Pius II wrote a best selling erotic novel", and "One of the heroes of 'Black Hawk Down' was a convicted child molester". (via bOING bOING)
Arch-contrarian Christopher Hitchens gets mediæval on Mother Teresa, best known as the world's leading brand of goodness. According to him, her works served to increase poverty and suffering whilst boosting her personality cult, raking in lots of money from the guilt-assuagement industry, and the Pope (himself a reactionary) has improperly cut corners in the usually rigorous beatification process, eliminating procedures designed to guard against fashionable superstition, in order to make her a saint before he dies. Oh, and the "miracle" "she" performed was a fraud too.
A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of MT, which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumor. Her physician, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn't have a cancerous tumor in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine. Was he interviewed by the Vatican's investigators? No.
I wonder what would happen if one could look more closely, using primary evidence, at the miracles for which most historical saints got their haloes; how many of them would turn out to be polite fictions, well-meaning conspiracies of true believers cooking the books for the greater good of giving the faith (and the local community) a new saint. Faith can make people do intellectually inconsistent things; for example, Creationists who truly believed that the world was created in six days 6,000 years ago have been caught doctoring evidence and knowingly lying about verifiable facts that supported unfavourable hypotheses; who's to say that the vast majority of beatifications aren't the product of conspiracies of consensual deceit? I'll lie if you look the other way, and a hundred years from now, nobody will know the difference.
MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had beenshe preferred California clinics when she got sick herselfand her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?
Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. More than that, we witnessed the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality. Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.
A claim has emerged from Ireland (where else?) that incense, of the sort used in Catholic churches, can cause cancer, with altar boys and girls being at particular risk from carcinogens in the smoke. Ireland, once the most fiercely Catholic state in Europe, is currently banning the smoking of tobacco in most public places.
Only in Los Angeles would you expect to find something like this: Blessing of the Cars:
The all-day and into-the-night annual affair, held at Hansen Dam (this year's on July 26), begins with a mass morning blessing by a Catholic priest, who then goes car to car, blessing each individually. Some people also ask him put holy water in their radiators.
With the Shag title art and copious numbers of scantily-clad vixens in photos, I suspect it's not an official Catholic Church-sponsored event. I wonder where exactly it falls in the ironic/sincere spectrum. (via MeFi)
The Pope condemns sarcasm. Yeah, whatever. (via Reenhead)
The World's Oldest Multinational Corporation: The local branch office of the Catholic Church has attracted criticism after officially supporting a visit by an American psychologist who claims that homosexuality is an illness and can be cured.
Meanwhile, it has recently emerged that, on the other side of the world, a religious organisation has been rounding up single mothers, sexual abuse victims and orphans as well as girls who were too dangerously pretty to be allowed out, stripping them of their identities, forbidding them to speak, and forcing them into slavery, making a tidy profit of their labour. Is this in Saudi Arabia? Nigeria? Or perhaps one of the excesses of the Taliban? No; it's the work of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and its "Magdalene Laundries", the last of which closed way back in 1996.
The World's Oldest Multinational Corporation: Looks like the Vatican is still unclear on the concept of free speech and the open debate of issues, fiercely condemning a film about abuse in convents. Perhaps they should bring back the Index and summarily excommunicate anyone who partakes of forbidden media. Incidentally, I wonder how it will fare against Australia's film censorship regime.
The Issues that Matter: The Vatican, the world's oldest multinational corporation, has issued a media statement criticising celebrities for wearing jeweled crucifixes. Then again, mentioning celebrities by name is good for publicity, and right now, any publicity not connected to child sex scandals is good news for them.
In today's Onion: Pope forgives molested children for their misdeeds:
"The pope has shown great love and compassion, much as Jesus did when he ministered to tax collectors and whores," said Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. "Despite all they have done to jeopardize the careers of so many priests--to say nothing of imperiling the priests' immortal souls--the church embraces these underaged seducers and tempters with open arms. The pope's words and actions prove that the church is willing to put an end to the suffering and let the healing begin."
"There was a lot of concern when she was cast in Dr. T And The Women ," Braterman said. "[Director Robert] Altman is known for his subversive, countercultural views, and [co-star] Richard Gere is a passionate advocate for Tibetan independence. It was a dangerous situation to put her in, but by keeping Tara's trailer far away from Richard's and by frequently pulling her off the set for premieres, press junkets, and racy pictorials for Stuff magazine and Maxim, we managed to shield her from any potential indoctrination."
"It is just so unfair," Pressly said. "Because of her control-freak handlers, Tara will never learn of the joys and rewards of political awareness. Since my own awakening last year, I feel so much more full of knowledge and awareness, and I think celebrities should use their fame to educate the public about important issues. Like, for example, did you know that women in Pakistine have to be buried alive with their dead husbands, whether they want to or not? That is so wrong."
The World's Oldest Multinational Corporation: A Catholic high school in Pennsylvania has awarded students extra credit for picketing an abortion clinic. More than 50 students of a religion class earned extra credit for picketing outside a Planned Parenthood clinic. The clinic also offers counselling, cancer screenings and contraceptives.
The World's Oldest Multinational Corporation: Speaking of unswerving religious sanctions, Pope John Paul II has instructed Catholic lawyers to refuse divorce cases. How binding is his decree? Are Catholics still absolutely required to subordinate their consciences to the Church in all matters or face excommunication?
(This reminds me of how the Catholic church has been taking over hospitals, often dominating entire regional markets, and eliminating services which the Vatican doesn't approve of, for patients of all cultural persuasions.)
Did Tom and Nicole split over which evil cult (Scientology or the Catholic Church) to raise their kids in? (via Plastic)
Moral ambiguity of the day: The Catholic Church vs. McDonalds:
...a Catholic newspaper declared fast food to be fit only for atheists, or perhaps Lutherans. Munching a Big Mac with fries was the antithesis of receiving communion and should be spurned by Catholics, declared Avvenire.