Why Are We Still Arguing About This?

Today the European court made an important ruling against the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools, saying that “the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools violates religious and education freedoms.” Right. But the Vatican doesn’t see it that way. In fact, they (and most Italian politicians who either believe this hooey or don’t have the balls to stick up for their country against the bishops) are even trying to twist the crucifix into a universal, non-denominational “cultural” symbol. As Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini puts it:

”In our country nobody wants to impose the Catholic religion, let alone with a crucifix, but it is not by eliminating the traditions of individual countries that a united Europe is built.”

The Bishops’ Conference added:

”The multiple significance of the crucifix, which is not just a religious symbol but a cultural sign, has been either ignored or overlooked.”

Don’t be fooled. Europe is no more united by the crucifix than the United States are by the Ten Commandments. In fact, if anything unites the countries of the Euopean Union, it is a collective desire to get beyond the stifling, warring factionalism of inter-Christian warfare. The Catholic church imposed itself on Europe (and much of the rest of the Christianized world) largely through religious war and political domination, extirpating all other religious denominations except for Judaism, which was left to suffer beneath the heel of the Church as a “living witness” to Christ. Ghettoized, expelled, forced to convert, stripped of their rights and property, they were prepared for the slaughter of crusades, pogroms and – given enough time – the unprecedented carnage of the Shoah. This is the legacy of the Christianization of Europe and the universal values of the Catholic church.

It’s time Europe left them behind for good, making Christianity just another one of the many competing religious and non-religious identities on the continent. Everyone has the right to choose a religion and practice it, believe in it and love it. But no one has the right to impose that religion (yes, Christianity is a religion) on anyone else. Italy is a secular country, born in strict opposition to the totalitarian dogma of the late 19th century church (infallibility, et al). Under Mussolini, the church was given new life as a de facto state religion. The Italian constitution has upheld these agreements to this day.

The time has come for them to be abrogated in the name of humanism and a pluralistic, secular Italian state with freedom of religion for all and privilege for none.

Debaptism Is Your Human Right

Lately I’ve been fascinated by the debaptism phenomenon in Italy, called “sbattezzo.”  The numbers of debaptisms aren’t high yet (a few thousand are presumed), and it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many people debaptise themselves (I prefer the reflexive form) because the only records are kept by the Catholic church itself. Being a strictly individual act, there is no association of debaptized persons. The option is, however, promoted by the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics (UAAR) as coherent with religious freedom and freedom from religion.

Below are three videos about debaptism. They’re in Italian, so get a dictionary out if you have trouble understanding. This is one of the most interesting new developments in Italy in recent years, challenging the widely held belief that “all Italians are Catholics” and, far more importantly, the self-granted authority of the Catholic church over the lives of unwilling subjects. 

It’s important, in my view, that people know that debaptism is an option. I’ve never been baptised, so this is not my personal war against the Catholic church (in case you were worried). But it is consonant with human rights and individual freedom to be able to undo a symbolic gesture like baptism. There are also legal aspects related to Canon Law, but that’s Adele Orioli’s job (the woman in the videos) to explain. I’d bet most people don’t even know they have this right, which is why they’ve launched this campaign.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

An Unimportant Phenomenon?

Yesterday was Debaptism Day in Italy. Here is an interview with an Italian gay couple, both of whom have debaptised themselves. Apparently, the Catholic Church would like to pretend this is an unimportant phenomenon, but it is by now transnational and – apparently – growing due not only to lack of faith but also mounting disgust at the political and ethical (?) positions of the church. Who can blame them?

We decided to de-baptize for our self-respect, our freedom, and above all, our consciences. Today, in our country, the Catholic Church is a violent and arrogant power center, at war with the aspirations to happiness of many men and women, entirely centered on the defense of its own privileges, more interested in imposing its own ideas — on same-sex couples, gender, divorce, abortion, euthanasia, assisted fertilization — than in the actual lives that people live on a daily basis. We absolutely do not want to be complicit with this, not even on a purely formal level.

Dershowitz in Rome, the Pope in Israel

Alan Dershowitz was in Rome today speaking about his most recent book, The Case Against Israel’s Enemies, which just came out in Italian. I was there, and I took notes. (You can hear his press conference–in English–here.)

Here’s what he said, or what I felt was worth remembering (for the rest, you can read his trilogy of books on the subject).

1) Israel is a Jewish country in the same way that Italy is a Italian country. That is, it is not a theocracy ruled by halakha, but a liberal democracy whose inhabitants are for the most part Jews. Apparently this is still a hotly debated point.

2) When it comes to Israel, the Catholic Church imposes moral equivalence. This is especially relevant in light of the Pope’s upcoming trip to Israel. Dershowitz spoke at length about the Church’s failure to grasp its own ideas of “reconciliation”, as if the millennial war against the Jewish people by the Catholic Church is a conflict for which both sides must beg forgiveness. Not so, says Dershowitz. This is blatantly hypocritical rhetoric designed to draw a moral parallel between the aggressor and the victim of aggression. Such unwillingness to confront its own sordid history prevents the Church (understood as the Vatican, not the mass of people calling themselves Catholics) from taking a morally relevant side in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The result, as we have seen, is the Pope’s frequent calls for “peace” and “an end to the violence by both sides.”

3) What I will terms Dershowitz’s Two Laws:

a. If Israel’s enemies put down their weapons tomorrow–all of them–there would be peace.

b. If Israel puts down its weapons–all of them–tomorrow, there would be genocide.

Talking to people afterwards, I got the impression that some Catholics felt he had been hard on the Church. I felt he hadn’t been hard enough, perhaps.

The Most Serious Thing in Italy

Ruini is the other guy
Ruini is the other guy

Yesterday’s Corriere della Sera had an interview with the openly gay actor Paolo Poli, which is relatively rare in Italy. Now, I don’t know much about Poli’s acting career, nor do I think an actor’s opinions matter much. But when an openly gay communist–who also happens to be a declared atheist–tells a widely-read Italian newspaper that the only serious thing in Italy is the Catholic Church, and that Italy’s greatest politician is Camillo Ruini, I begin to have serious doubts about the future of the Italian Republic.

Yesterday was also April 25, an important holiday here in the Boot, as it commemorates the country’s liberation from Nazi-fascism. Not a minor holiday, that–somewhere between the Jewish Passover (liberation from slavery) and the 4th of July (national independence). And much more recent, too.

So let’s get this straight: Italy fought a war against the Church 150 years ago so that a secular state might be established. The Pope’s power was reduced to almost nothing, forcing him to declare his own moral infallibility that he might not be disposed of entirely by the newly-emancipated Italians. Then comes Mussolini, followed by Hitler. Pope Pius XII may not have been the devil in disguise, but he almost certainly didn’t use his influence to oppose the rising tide of fascism in his own backyard. The Church to this day claims Pius did everything he could to save the Jews–all of it in complete monastic silence, and without leaving the tiniest trace for posterity. The Vatican’s WWII archives are still off-limits to researchers and historians, which doesn’t exactly suggest transparency.

The Vatican’s positions on homosexuality, atheism and Communism are sufficiently well-known. So we’re left with this incongruous declaration by Mr. Poli–an affermation that makes no sense whatever no matter which way you look at it. Or was he being (maybe, just maybe), ironic?