The importance of being Catholic

There’s been a recent crackdown on religion teachers in Palermo, Sicily. Apparently, they’ve been asked (required is more like it) to produce a certificate of Catholic moral fitness in order to keep their jobs. These, mind you, are teachers of Catholic religion in Italian public schools, chosen by the Vatican and paid for by the State. Now it seems the Vatican has begun to notice that not all Catholics are quite as obedient as they’d like them to be.

How many of those who call themselves Catholics follow the teachings of the Church to the letter? How many of them go to mass, confess, take communion, avoid sex which isn’t for reproductive purposes, don’t use contraception, don’t get divorced, don’t have abortions, haven’t betrayed their spouses, don’t steal, lie and so on?

It’s seriously funny, isn’t it? I wish I were optimistic enough to agree with some people that we are witnessing the death throes of Roman Catholicism, but harmful and ridiculous ideologies have a way of sticking around for millennia.

But guess what? The teachers are really pissed off about this! Which is a good thing, and I hope their anger spreads more generally through the population and Italians finally realize they’re sick of being preached to by a corrupt gang of homophobic sissies. Most Italians have better moral values than the Catholic Church peddles, despite the fact that they often define themselves – erroneously – as “Catholics.”

They’re not, any more than I’m a Hasidic Jew.

Making stuff up

Watch Jerry Coyne get pugnacious on theologian John Haught. If ever a theologian was his own worst enemy, it is Haught. (Just try and follow his logic; you’ll get nowhere.) Coyne’s verdict: theologians “make stuff up.” (At the end of the first part, Coyne goes through a list of awful things that Catholics have done to the world thanks to their adherence to the arcane doctrines of their church. Haught is a Catholic theologian.)

Read Ophelia Benson’s view of what theologians do here. (Update: the videos appear to have been removed. Update: Now it’s back.)

A poison apple

Today my wife is attending a funeral for a young man – twenty five! – who recently died of a brain tumor. He was diagnosed only a month before.

My aunt died of cancer a few years ago, after a four year struggle. She was a very religious Catholic, went to church, kept statues of Padre Pio in her home and pictures of the Virgin Mary on the wall of her bedroom. She took trips to sanctuaries. She counted priests among her friends. And yet…she withered away to almost nothing. She lived in tremendous pain. Then she died.

So where is this great God believers speak of? Either he is fucking with us – in which case he is an evil God – or he just plumb don’t exist. Why it would give anyone solace to have faith in  such a thing baffles me. Even some atheists I know talk of the “gift of faith” with not a little nostalgia (that they never received it.) All I can think is, What’s wrong with you people? We can do better than this!

We all suffer, atheist and religionist alike. No one is exempt. Life will end in death for all of us, with no regard for our belief systems, education, successes and failures. We all know this. It does no good to pretend that there is a benevolent being who is looking out for us, who is amenable to prayer and flattery, and who will save us when the going gets rough. It does no good because this is quite obviously not true.

Let’s stop pretending it is, and that faith is a gift. It’s a poison apple if it’s anything.

Judeo-Christian roots? There’s no such thing

The pope is naked. Judge Luigi Tosti has torn his dress off and thrown it to the wind. And along with it goes the masquerade of Europe’s “Judeo-Christian” roots.

I asked permission to place a menorah next to the crucifix as a reminder of pope Ratzinger’s words, which assert Europe’s “Judeo-Christian” roots. I did this because I know that Catholics are racist hypocrites and they’d never have allowed a Jewish symbol to be placed by the crucifix.

It’s a pity, really. A lot of people seem to like the idea that Europe’s once-Christian majority decided to share its cultural wealth with the Jews. Of course, that was after centuries of the most terrible persecutions and having denied them just about everything imaginable in the realm of rights. After Nazi Germany, Europe could no longer bury its head in the sand.

One problem is that Europe is no longer very Christian. And it hardly has any Jews left. So – from a Jewish perspective – it’s too little, too late.

Another problem is that if anything unites the European Union, it is certainly not adherence to biblical authority. That, after all, is what is implied by the term “Judeo-Christian roots.” It’s a trope, and a clever one; however, Jews and Christians disagree on the most fundamental things – those very things that keep Jews Jewish and Christians Christian.

What about the Greeks and the Romans? Didn’t they help to lay the foundations of what we now call European civilization? Christianity was late in the game, picked up the pieces of a broken empire, and proclaimed itself ruler over Jew and Gentile alike. The Gentiles were Christianized by the sword; the Jews, persecuted, massacred, coverted by torture and ghettoized by the same Christians that now wish to share their bounteous “roots” with them. Again, too little, too late.

We’re so used to hearing “Judeo-Christian roots” that it no longer even registers. Besides being an exercise in phony diplomacy, it’s exclusionary towards anyone neither Jewish nor Christian.

Another use of the term is as a weapon against that very secularism that binds Europe. It’s a favorite of Catholics, for instance, who wish to defend their theocratic ambitions in Italy. “Judeo-Christian” lets them sound ecumenical to the uninitiated. It lets them play peace-love-and-understanding. But it’s pure unadulterated bullshit.

Judge Tosti knew this when he asked permission to place a menorah next to the crucifix in his courtroom. He knew his request would be denied. He knew those smooth-talking Catholics were hypocrites who don’t put their money where there mouth is.

I submit that the only Europe worth living in is a secular Europe. The Enlightenment project is what allows Jew, Gentile and everyone else to live here together without a holy war in every city. It’s hard enough, but its the best way we’ve ever discovered.

Today the pope is naked. No amount of fancy dress will cover up that fact.

Are Catholics mentally deficient?

The short answer is, “No.” Now for the long answer.

Miranda Celeste Hale has a post at Ex-Catholic Girl arguing against PZ Myers’ comment that Tony Blair must be “mentally deficient” for converting to Catholicism. Hale, who grew up Catholic (hence the name of her blog), argues that Blair’s conversion was rather “ethically questionable.”

Choosing to remain a member of and to support an institution that is as backwards, unethical, bigoted, and dangerous as the Catholic church marks one as, to varying degrees, ethically questionable, not mentally deficient. And to bring it back to Blair, I’d argue that choosing, as an adult, to become a member of the Church, marks one as much more ethically questionable than an individual who was raised Catholic and never managed to escape their childhood religious indoctrination.

That’s clearly a good distinction to make, one which recognizes the difference between having a belief system thrust upon you from your earliest days and choosing one of your own free will. None of us are to blame for the destruction others have wrought in our minds while we were too young to oppose it. But she has raised a question more provocative than Myers’ claim that Catholics are mentally deficient:

…choosing to remain a member of such a corrupt and dangerous institution does indicate that one is ethically questionable, at the very least.

This goes beyond the basic cognitive dissonance that plagues most believers throughout their lives. Is it ethical to belong to a religious organization that does such harm?

I’m guessing the answer from a person like Tony Blair would be, “But the Church does much good which outweighs the harm.” Indeed this was the gist of his debate with Christopher Hitchens, which inspired Myers’ barb, which inspired Hale’s retort, which inpired this post.

Living in Italy, most of the people I know formally belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Most of them are probably not believers in the true sense, although a few are. I have no doubt that they who are think their church is “the light of the world.” The majority try not to think about these things at all. Very few are openly opposed to the Church’s moral bankruptcy, of which a fraction have taken matters into their own hands and debaptized themselves. Apparently, they could no longer reconcile themselves to such an obviously incoherent worldview.

Ratzinger’s war against atheism

Miranda Celeste Hale writes an excellent blog called Ex-Catholic Girl. Here is her recent post on Pope Ratzinger’s declaration of war against atheism from his current tour of the UK.

…instead of using his platform to give a genuine apology to victims of clergy sexual abuse, or to take responsibility for his own actions in the subsequent widespread and institutionally-sanctioned cover-up of this abuse, he decided to lash out at atheists, asserting that atheism led to the Holocaust and that atheism is bringing about the downfall of civilized society as we know it.

My favorite line is this zinger, though.

An educated and empathetic individual is the Church’s worst enemy.

I’d add, is religion’s worst enemy. But you get the picture.