Was it for this that I broke the habit of years and accepted the Guardian’s invitation to listen to Thought for the Day? Was it for this that the BBC, including the director general himself, no less, spent months negotiating with the Vatican? What on earth were they negotiating about,if all that emerged was the damp, faltering squib we have just strained our ears to hear?
We’ve already had what little apology we are going to get (none in most cases) for the raped children, the Aids-sufferers in Africa, the centuries spent attacking Jews, science, women and “heretics”, the indulgences and more modern (and tax-deductible) methods of fleecing the gullible to build the Vatican’s vast fortune. So, no surprise that these weren’t mentioned. But there’s something else for which the pope should go to confession, and it’s arguably the nastiest of all. I refer to the main doctrine of Christian theology itself, which was the centrepiece of what Ratzinger actually did say in his Thought for the Day.
“Christ destroyed death forever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross.”
More shameful than the death itself is the Christian theory that it was necessary. It was necessary because all humans are born in sin. Every tiny baby, too young to have a deed or a thought, is riddled with sin: original sin. Here’s Thomas Aquinas:
“. . . the original sin of all men was in Adam indeed, as in its principal cause, according to the words of the Apostle(Romans 5:12): “In whom all have sinned“: whereas it is in the bodily semen, as in its instrumental cause, since it is by the active power of the semen that original sin together with human nature is transmitted to the child.”
Adam (who never existed) bequeathed his “sin” in his bodily semen (charming notion) to all of humanity. That sin, with which every newborn baby is hideously stained (another charming notion), was so terrible that it could be forgiven only through the blood sacrifice of a scapegoat. But no ordinary scapegoat would do. The sin of humanity was so great that the only adequate sacrificial victim was God himself.
That’s right. The creator of the universe, sublime inventor of mathematics, of relativistic space-time, of quarks and quanta, of life itself, Almighty God, who reads our every thought and hears our every prayer, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God couldn’t think of a better way to forgive us than to have himself tortured and executed. For heaven’s sake, if he wanted to forgive us, why didn’t he just forgive us? Who, after all, needed to be impressed by the blood and the agony? Nobody but himself.
Ratzinger has much to confess in his own conduct, as cardinal and pope. But he is also guilty of promoting one of the most repugnant ideas ever to occur to a human mind: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
This is an urgent message to anyone planning to take part in ‘Protest the Pope’ events over the next couple of days.
I have been thinking about those extraordinary remarks suggesting that atheism was the key factor in Nazism. It was no random insult, nor was it simply a sign of rambling insanity. The pope is an intellectual, a politician, a man who knows exactly what he is doing with the words he uses.
My conclusion is that the Nazi remarks were a deliberate attempt to deflect the anticipated protests about the scandal of the child sex abuse cover-ups in the RCC.
We know from comments made before the visit that both the Vatican and the UK govt were deeply concerned that the visit might be overshadowed by the sex abuse issue; so what could be more natural than that they would have put their heads together to try to find a way to prevent that happening? And what better method could they possibly find than to launch an attack on the likely protestors – an attack of such grotesque obscenity that we would be immediately deflected into protesting about that rather than the realissue?
It is inconceivable to me that the UK government didn’t know exactly what was going to be in the pope’s speech at Holyroodhouse this morning. Not only that, but had that Nazi comparison been made about ANY other group in British society, government officials would have been falling over one another in their rush to distance themselves from it. The fact this hasn’t happened suggests very strongly to me that this was a put-up job, an indicator of their determination to prevent the visit turning into an embarrassment to the pope (and therefore the government), as well as of the depth of their fear that it might.
And it further seems to me that the attempt has been largely successful – so far. The Nazi slur has dominated the news coverage as well as this website, Facebook, etc. I, too, have been seething about it all day and thinking about little else. The danger now, I fear, is that people planning to take part in the Protest the Pope events in London and Birmingham might also be deflected and might, as we speak, be replacing their child abuse posters with new ones complaining about the deeply insulting comments he made today.Nothing could delight Ratzinger more.
So if you’re planning to be present at one of the protests, PLEASE don’t play into his hands. Of course we are all outraged and disgusted at what Ratzinger said today, but if I am right, that was exactly what he intended us to be. If the protests during the rest of his tour focus on his comments about Nazis and valueless secularists, rather than the issue he fears most, then he will be chortling all the way back to the Vatican on Sunday. The Vatican and the UK government are desperate to stop people protesting about child abuse during this visit. It would be a terrible shame if their ruse worked.
Michael White, oddly enough, seems to be at it too:
Not that Dawkins, attention-seeking Stephen Fry or even my revered colleague Polly Toynbee, do much better on the heroism front. It is far safer to attack reactionary abuses and intolerance by Rome than the far worse excesses of Islamic fundamentalism, torture, rape, car bombing, systemic corruption, the oppression of women, the murder of dissent.
Mainstream Islamic states are not beacons of progress either, but are too often allowed to get away it because the left accords them third world victim status, their version of Cardinal Kasper’s racist myopia. The lack of interest in Turkey’s important constitutional referendum among progressives in the west says it all.
This attempt at relativism is quite bizarre. It’s entirely consistent to attack Catholicism and the Pope in particular for their abuses, without having to attack Islam in the same breath. I don’t even know what point White is trying to make here – so Dawkins is infuriated by Ratzinger’s historical protection of paedophile priests, so what? Why should being offended by and wanting to hold accountable a man who is guilty of serious criminal offences be wrong just because he’s the spiritual head of the Catholic Church? I just don’t get it. He goes on:
Where I part company with Polly Toynbee – see last weekend’s column – and the rest of what Rome calls secular fundamentalism is in its reluctance to concede that, by and large, irreligious societies – think Hitler, Stalin and Mao for starters, then cast a flick back to Robespierre – have been even beastlier than religious tyrannies in the scale of their ambition and bloodshed.
Sorry, but I do not think the abolition of religion will solve the eternal problems of human imperfection or – as Polly put it – of sex and death.
Well he’s wrong about Hitler for a start – he had all sorts of crazy, Christian-creationist ideas. Amazing the number of people who think Hitler had an atheistic thing going on – he didn’t. According to Wikipedia:
Historian Joachim Fest wrote, “Hitler knew, through the constant invocation of the God the Lord (German: Herrgott) or of providence (German: Vorsehung), to make the impression of a godly way of thought.” He used his “ability to simulate, even to potentially critical Church leaders, an image of a leader keen to uphold and protect Christianity,” according to biographerIan Kershaw. Kershaw adds that Hitler’s ability also succeeded in appeasing possible Church resistance to anti-Christian Nazi Party radicals. For example, on March 23, 1933, he addressed the Reichstag: “The National Government regards the two Christian confessions (i.e. Catholicism and Protestantism) as factors essential to the soul of the German people. … We hold the spiritual forces of Christianity to be indispensable elements in the moral uplift of most of the German people.”
According to Hitler’s chief architect Albert Speer, Hitler remained a formal member of the Catholic Church until his death, although it was Speer’s opinion that “he had no real attachment to it.” According to biographer John Toland, Hitler was still “a member in good standing of the Church of Rome despite detestation of its hierarchy, he carried within him its teaching that the Jew was the killer of God. The extermination, therefore, could be done without a twinge of conscience since he was merely acting as the avenging hand of God—so long as it was done impersonally, without cruelty.” However Hitler’s own words from Mein Kampf seem to conflict with the idea that his antisemitism was religiously motivated.
And while we’re all berating one another for attacking the man who said ordaining women was as bad as paedophilia, and who is resolutely opposed to gay equality, he has the unmitigated gall to get reactionary in his initial speech:
I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).
the notion that in free countries atheism promotes intolerance and immorality is demonstrably false. Last year, Californian sociologist Phil Zuckerman responded with facts rather than witless abuse to claims from Christian psychologists and theologians that atheists were “selfish and pusillanimous curmudgeons”, “unnatural” or “just damn angry”. He pulled together the available evidence and found that the more atheists or agnostics a free society has the more moral it becomes.
Predictably, atheists were far more likely to be tolerant supporters of women’s rights and gay rights than believers. The pope, like militant Islamists, orthodox Jews and the ultras in every faith cannot see that struggles for female and homosexual emancipation are among the most moral causes of our age. But as believers in a sternly misogynist and homophobic god, they must want to be tough on crime.
If so, they should welcome the contribution that atheists make to promoting law and order. A study in the 1990s found that a meagre 0.2% of the US prison population were atheists. In America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates are among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon.
Yet Ratzinger continued:
Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.
Tim Minchin replied on twitter to the Pope’s arrogant opening salvo, putting it perhaps better than anyone else so far:
You can check out Tim’s ‘The Pope Song’ here.
From today’s Guardian:
We, the undersigned, share the view that Pope Ratzinger should not be given the honour of a state visit to this country. We believe that the pope, as a citizen of Europe and the leader of a religion with many adherents in the UK, is of course free to enter and tour our country. However, as well as a religious leader, the pope is a head of state, and the state and organisation of which he is head has been responsible for:
Opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of Aids.
Promoting segregated education.
Denying abortion to even the most vulnerable women.
Opposing equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation.
The state of which the pope is head has also resisted signing many major human rights treaties and has formed its own treaties (“concordats”) with many states which negatively affect the human rights of citizens of those states. In any case, we reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican.
Stephen Fry, Professor Richard Dawkins, Professor Susan Blackmore, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Ed Byrne, Baroness Blackstone, Ken Follett, Professor AC Grayling, Stewart Lee, Baroness Massey, Claire Rayner, Adele Anderson, John Austin MP, Lord Avebury, Sian Berry, Professor Simon Blackburn, Sir David Blatherwick, Sir Tom Blundell, Dr Helena Cronin, Dylan Evans, Hermione Eyre, Lord Foulkes, Professor Chris French, Natalie Haynes, Johann Hari, Jon Holmes, Lord Hughes, Robin Ince, Dr Michael Irwin, Professor Steve Jones, Sir Harold Kroto, Professor John Lee, Zoe Margolis, Jonathan Meades, Sir Jonathan Miller, Diane Munday, Maryam Namazie, David Nobbs, Professor Richard Norman, Lord O’Neill, Simon Price, Paul Rose, Martin Rowson, Michael Rubenstein, Joan Smith, Dr Harry Stopes-Roe, Professor Raymond Tallis, Lord Taverne, Peter Tatchell, Baroness Turner, Professor Lord Wedderburn of Charlton QC FBA, Ann Marie Waters, Professor Wolpert, Jane Wynne Willson
Johann Hari has had enough of Ratzinger ahead of his State Visit:
Some people think Ratzinger’s critics are holding him responsible for acts that were carried out before he became Pope, simply because he is the head of the institution involved. This is an error. For over 25 years, Ratzinger was personally in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the part of the Vatican responsible for enforcing Catholic canonical law across the world, including on sexual abuse. He is a notorious micro-manager who, it is said, insisted every salient document cross his desk. Hans Küng, a former friend of Ratzinger’s, says: “No one in the whole of the Catholic Church knew as much about abuse cases as this Pope.”
We know what the methods of the church were during this period. When it was discovered that a child had been raped by a priest, the church swore everybody involved to secrecy, and moved the priest on to another parish. When he raped more children, they too were sworn to secrecy, and he was moved on to another parish. And on, and on. Over 10,000 people have come forward to say they were raped as part of this misery-go-round. The church insisted all cases be kept from the police and dealt with by their own “canon” law – which can only “punish” child rapists to prayer or penitence or, on rare occasions, defrocking.
Ratzinger was at the heart of this. He refuses to let any police officer see the Vatican’s documentation, even now, but honourable Catholics have leaked some of them anyway. We know what he did. We have the paper trail.
There are people who will tell you that these criticisms of Ratzinger are “anti-Catholic”. What could be more anti-Catholic than to cheer the man who facilitated the rape of your children? What could be more pro-Catholic than to try to bring him to justice? This is only one of Ratzinger’s crimes. When he visited Africa in March 2009, he said that condoms “increase the problem” of HIV/Aids. His defenders say he is simply preaching abstinence outside marriage and monogamy within it, so if people are following his advice they can’t contract HIV – but in order to reinforce the first part of his message, he spreads overt lies claiming condoms don’t work. In a church in Congo, I watched as a Catholic priest said condoms contain “tiny holes” that “help” the HIV virus – not an unusual event. Meanwhile, Ratzinger calls consensual gay sex “evil”, and has been at the forefront of trying to prevent laws that establish basic rights for gay people, especially in Latin America.
the visit has subjected Pope Benedict’s conservatism to intensely unfavourable scrutiny. On Friday he meets the Archbishop of Canterbury, who ought to send him off with a flea in his ear for trying to seduce over to Rome Church of England clergy opposed to women bishops. His beatification of Cardinal Newman for converting to Catholicism is an affront, along with his claim that Britain’s Equalities Act “violates natural law” for banning discrimination against women and gays.
“Pope Benedict XVI does not deserve the honour of a State Visit. He says women are unfit to be priests, childless couples should be denied fertility treatment and potentially life-saving embryonic stem cell research ought to be banned. The Pope insists that rape victims should be denied an abortion, using condoms to stop the spread of HIV is immoral and gay people are not entitled to equal human rights. On all these issues, Benedict is out of step with the majority of British people, including many Catholics.
“Most shockingly, the Pope is accused of covering up child sex abuse by clergy. In 2001, he wrote to every Catholic bishop in the world, ordering them to report all child sex abuse cases to him in Rome. They did. He therefore cannot claim that he was unaware of sex abuse. Moreover, his letter to the bishops demanded that they observe ‘Papal secrecy.’ It did not advise them to report abusers to the police.
“Even today, the Pope refuses to open the Vatican’s sex abuse files and hand them to the relevant police forces worldwide. Many people see his inaction as collusion with sex crimes against children. Such a person should not be feted by our government,” said Mr Tatchell.
They’re all entirely right. Ratzinger has covered up serious criminal offences. He has lobbied to disadvantage minorities he disagrees with on dogmatic grounds. He has argued against means of protecting the health and lives of millions on dogmatic grounds. It’s indeed outrageous that this man should be allowed into the UK at all, given his shameless homophobic preaching, when multiple equally homophobic rappers aren’t. There have been many on TV who have argued that he should be left well enough alone on this unprecedented State Visit, to spare the feelings of the numerous Catholics who unconditionally support him as the spiritual head of their Church. I couldn’t agree less. Noone should be immune from either the rule of law or the consequences of their actions. So Tatchell has acknowledged that he’s not going to be able to pull of a citizen’s arrest – it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean that Ratzinger’s life shouldn’t be made as uncomfortable as possible whilst he’s here, nor that he shouldn’t know just what we think of him and why.
I’ll be attending the demonstration on Saturday. You should too.
Not remotely safe for work…All hail Tim Minchin…
A Roman Catholic adoption charity’s appeal to be allowed to discriminate against gay people wanting it to place children with them has been rejected.
Catholic Care wanted exemption from new anti-discrimination laws so it could limit services provided to homosexual couples on religious grounds.
The Charity Commission said gay people were suitable parents and religious views did not justify discrimination.
The Leeds-based charity said it was “very disappointed”.
Catholic Care – which had been placing children with adoptive parents for more than 100 years – was among a dozen Catholic agencies in England and Wales forced to change their policy towards homosexual people by the equality laws passed in 2007.
I’m sure it was very disappointed – it believed, as the article goes on to say, that the Equality Act went against the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage and family life. Too bad. Gay people are suitable parents, and belief in the supernatural cannot in this day and age be allowed to justify discrimination against us. No doubt the agency and the church will complain that there are all sorts of disorders we are guilty of, that ‘forcing’ children to be parented by gay people goes against their ‘rights’ to have heterosexual parenting. My argument is that children have the right to good parenting – if the best available happen to be gay in this instance then so be it. The Pope however disagrees:
In a strongly worded letter to the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, the pope criticised the then-Labour government for creating “limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs”.
He wrote: “The effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed.”
Suggesting that discriminating against gay people on the grounds of belief is somehow justifiable under ‘natural law’ is wrong-minded and a misrepresentation of what equality law is supposed to be about, and Ratzinger was quite rightly roundly condemned for his intervention. It’s a relief that the Charity Commission has decided to rest its decision on the rule of civil, rather than ‘God”s law.
When Christians, Jews and others feel that the ideology of human rights is threatening their freedoms of association and religious practice, a tension is set in motion that is not healthy for society, freedom or Britain. Rather than regard the Pope’s remarks as an inappropriate intervention, we should use them to launch an honest debate on where to draw the line between our freedom as individuals and our freedom as members of communities of faith. One should not be purchased at the cost of the other.
It’s the same logic which Lillian Ladele and others have tried to justify, but he masks it in the language of human rights. But look how he misuses it:
We all have an interest in freedom, the freedom to act differently from others. Indeed, at the core of human rights is a religious proposition: that we are all, regardless of colour, creed or culture, in the image of God.
No. At the core of human rights is a proposition that we’re all equally deserving of fundamental dignity and rights. It’s a secular argument, which presumes that we’re all entitled to the same treatment before civil law, which in turn should protect those things equally for everyone, and under all circumstances. So when he suggests that human rights threaten freedom of religion he’s operating under an entirely false premise. Human rights don’t threaten the right to religious association, but they do presume that no organisation or association has the right to discriminate against people for being gay. And religion is far from fundamentally predicated on the right to discriminate, which Ratzinger clearly believes to be the case. The government ultimately remains short sighted in having allowed this clash to happen, and to continue. Having equality legislation which equates inherent characteristics such as age or gender with the imagined quality of belief makes a mockery of equality. Human rights are not about justifying discrimination or legitimising bigotry.