Abolish the Lateran Treaty!

Sometimes I wonder which is preferable: to live in a place like the US, where religious nuttiness is rampant among the population (and certainly not unknown among politicians), or a place like Italy, where the population is largely complacent and indifferent thanks to an unoffical State religion and politicians submit sheepishly to the whims of the State church.

American separation has led to a lively “cafeteria style” marketplace for all religions to compete for customers. Italy, on the other hand, has the Vatican: it’s a separate country nestled in the city of Rome, an autocracy and a theocracy (the last in Europe, I believe) which has the constitutionally-recognized right to interfere in Italian political life and – and this is the kicker – immunity from interference from the Italian government.

In fact, the Italian constitution is schizophrenic on this issue.

Art. 3

All citizens have equal social dignity and are equal before the law, without
distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinion, personal and
social conditions.

Art. 7

The State and the Catholic Church are independent and sovereign, each
within its own sphere.
Their relations are regulated by the Lateran pacts. Amendments to such Pacts
which are accepted by both parties shall not require the procedure of
constitutional amendments.

Art. 8

All religious denominations are equally free before the law.
Denominations other than Catholicism have the right to self-organisation
according to their own statutes, provided these do not conflict with Italian law.
Their relations with the State are regulated by law, based on agreements with
their respective representatives.

And it goes on like this, first establishing perfectly reasonable things like freedom of conscience, and then goes on to contradict itself by stating that the Catholic church has an entirely separate set of rules which govern its relations with the state (rules which highly favor the church and undermine the secular nature of the constitution.)

The Lateran Treaty (“All foreigners in official ecclesiastical employment in Rome shall enjoy the personal guarantees appertaining to Italian citizens, in accordance with the laws of the Kingdom of Italy.”) is the basis for an immense amount of biased and unfair treatment of non-Catholics in Italy as well as enormous and completely unjustified privileges for Catholics and clergy. They need to be abolished if Italy wishes to become a truly European nation based on secularism and rule of law and emerge from its illiberal, fascist-tainted past.

Of course, without Italy’s gentle nursing, the Vatican would probably wither away and disappear from the face of the Earth. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing for anybody.

More religion, please!

On. Giovanna Melandri, a deputy with Italy’s Democratic Party, has recently proposed a law to introduce even more religion into public schools. She has courageously published it on her blog. I’ve commented on it, but my comment has not yet been approved, perhaps due to strong words like “superstition”. I figure the next best thing is to take up the matter on my own blog.

The thrust of her proposal is this: God is alive and well in the world; belief in Him heavily influences the lives of millions and “entire communities;” a sense of the sacred is central to the lives of human beings; we must find a way to live in a multicultural, pluralistic society (presumably without fighting over whose version of God represents the truth); we must engage the “other,” etc…it sounds like she’s been reading Karen Armstrong.

This brings her to the realization that it’s time “to rethink education.” My first thought would be, “Let’s get Catholic religious education out of the schools and increase secular studies like science and foreign languages.”

Melandri’s proposal is – brace yourselves – to introduce comparative religion. She even suggests a “scientific, not a dogmatic approach.” Which sounds nice and fuzzy at first, as if to imply that all religions are part of the fabric of humanity, and none of them have any exclusive claim to truth. But then she adds that “particular attention must be paid to monotheism,” and that “adequate space should be reserved for Eastern religions.” So, Jainism and Islam will share space on the blackboard with Catholicism?

But Melandri admits there might be some difficulty in finding impartial teachers to teach the vast smorgasbord of human belief. Not to worry, though, for “incompatibility between teachers will only be temporary.” How does she know this? It seems to me that in her mind she would like disagreement to simply dissolve before the comforting flames of multiculturalism.

This isn’t realistic. More likely teachers will be at each other’s throats. Supposing there are more than a handful of teachers who aren’t nominally Catholic – already improbable in Italy – and as Catholic religious education is already part of the State curriculum, she will have to convince those lovable, infinitely pliable gentlemen over at the Vatican to loosen their stranglehold on the young. Since no Italian politician is likely to ever go against them, this rings hollow. There is not greater obstacle to comparative religious education in Italy than the Catholic Church.

Further on, Melandri assures us such a multicultural approach won’t infringe upon the Vatican’s right – according to the 1929 Lateran Treaty – to impose its own religious teachings in Italian public schools. She continues: “We believe that the discovery of the transcendental dimension, and how humanity in all its stages has dealt with this experience, is a fundamental component of personal development.” Here the text reads much more like a homily by Benedict XVI than a proposal to teach religion in a “scientific” sense (whatever that means).

In my comment I asked On. Melandri why students receiving a public education should have to study religion – the “catalogue of the world’s superstitions,” as I phrased it. Of what use is it, really? The impracticability of such an endeavor, the fragility of people’s sensibilities about religion, the mutual exclusivity that religion fosters and the utter nonsense of religious belief all point in one direction: less, not more, religion in public schools.

If Melandri wishes to do something radical, she should work on abolishing the Lateran Treaty and minimizing the influence of the Catholic Church, pulling crucifixes of the walls of classrooms and making Italian public schools more secular in nature. That is the only fair way to deal with students of multiple cultural backgrounds: by leveling the playing field once and for all.

“Take Down Our Crucifix and We’ll Cut Off Your Arms”

I just finished reading Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason (read it!), which took me two weeks in the subway going back and forth from work. I first encountered Jacoby when I read her book Freethinkers (read this too!), and have come to enjoy her logic-driven brand of cultural skepticism.

In Italy there is a culture war underway. It is not a debate over evolution vs. creationism. Somehow, despite the numbers (quoted in Dawkins’ latest book) that 32% of Italians believe that humans and dinosaurs coexisted on this planet – in Turkey it’s 42%, in Sweden 9% (2005 stats) – there is no debate over evolution. There is a debate over crucifixes.

Now the Catholics are on the counter-offensive. Slogans like “take down our crucifixes and we’ll cut off your arms” abound, crosses affixed to the doors of UAAR and Radical Party offices, and even a mayor (a self-declared non-believer) who will fine 150 Euro to any teacher who doesn’t have a crucifix on the wall of his or her classroom. He’s even taken pains to put up crucifixes in public places where they had been absent. Another upped the fine to 500 Euro.

Last year P.Z. Meyers earned himself death-threats along with Christian “compassion” while blogging his way to fame over a communion wafer scandal. The scandal culminated in a photograph (you can see it here) of a desecrated communion wafer – or “cracker” as Meyers insists on calling it – along with coffee grounds, a banana peel, a copy of the Koran and – just to show he’s a fair-minded bloke – a copy of The God Delusion. When I jokingly asserted we should burn a crucifix or two in public (they burn flags here) along with a mezuzah and a statue of the Buddha I was greeted with frowns. Of course, burning or desecrating these objects is only meant to accentuate their existence as objects. Isn’t the prohibition against idolatry widely interpreted to mean, “Don’t bow down before objects?” And yet here we have a cultural civil war underway for the sake of a piece of wood and plastic nailed up above a blackboard.

As ever, it’s not about the wood or the plastic. It’s about tradition, an “ancient” tradition going back some eighty years to Mussonlini’s fascist government. Mussolini was greeted at the time by Pope Pius XI as “the man Providence has led us to.” The Lateran Treaty was signed, as well as a concordat with Hitler’s Germany. Hitler, for the record, has never been excommunicated by the Catholic church.

A big hep, hep, hep! for tradition.