Persecution of the religious Sunday, Jul 18 2010 

We’ve recently seen in France that the Islamic full-face covering (the Burqa) has been outlawed. Whilst my opinions on this specific issue are conflicted (I really don’t like the idea of them, and they are obviously impractical, I don’t feel that simply making them illegal is a good solution: although the hefty penalty imposed on men who force their wives or daughters to wear them is something I can approve of 100%), it naturally leads to a debate as to how far a secular country can tolerate religion, and whether enforced secularism is persecution of religion.

I imagine you can guess what side of the debate I will come down on: secularism is absolutely about religious neutrality, and is as important for those who are religious as those of us who are not. Though some would frame secularism as some kind of communist-style state-enforced atheism, the reality is that secularism when correctly applied is merely about removing any particular religion from a place of undue prominence or favour, and making sure no religion can break secular laws.

There are many religious commentators in countries which are or have been majority Christian – mainly the USA, but we have our fair share in Europe and elsewhere – who claim that secularism is eroding their rights. Something they unfailingly fail to grasp is that removing one group’s position as favourites is not taking away their basic rights – it is simply putting them on a level-playing field with everyone else. When the USA made it illegal for a white man to own a black man, it wasn’t taking away the rights of the white man: it was giving rights to the black man. When a government makes it illegal to proselytize in a public school, it isn’t taking away the rights of religious people to indoctrinate children, it is granting the children the right to have an education free of undue religious influence. For the pedantically minded (which includes myself), obviously rights are being taken away – but these are rights which should never have been granted in the first place.

Religion should never be an excuse to break the law of the land, assuming the law of the land is just.

When debate becomes meaningless Friday, Jun 4 2010 

I recently realised something.

Debating with religious people is really difficult.

Now, obviously I already knew this up to a point, but I’ve recently had something of a realisation regarding the extent of this. In a recent debate about the nature of demonic forces allowing and spreading evil within the world (already with the benefit of hindsight I can tell I was taking far too much for the sake of argument), and a reply came back which basically consisted of several assertions and Bible verses. I realised at this point that we were having a completely pointless conversation.

I don’t care if you say god is love, I don’t care if you tell me angels have the free will to rebel and become demons, I don’t care if you tell me Jesus is the way to battle demonic influence, and I don’t care if you quote me every passage from the Bible complete with it’s little name and number. I realised after reading this that he was just talking utter nonsense because it was all unproven assertions as far as I was concerned. For me to take the existence of angels and demons as true for the sake of argument is conceding far too much – it loses me in a world of fantasy that I cannot argue against because I don’t actually believe any of it.

When it comes down to it, the only real debate is this: can the existence of god(s) be proven? All the arguments from morality, all the demonstrations of religious excess and cruelty, these count for nothing because they don’t tell us anything about whether god(s) exist or not. The real debate needs to be about if god(s) exist or not – is the teleological argument convincing, for example, and if not why not?

I suppose my point is really to point out something I’m guilty of fairly often: don’t concede so much for the sake of argument that you end up talking about angels and demons and how the affect our morality, because then we may as well be talking about how pixies affect the productivity of cobblers.

Is the criticism of religion bigotry? Tuesday, Jun 1 2010 

If you are an active atheist – someone who debates with religious people to any extent – it’s more than likely you have been called a bigot for your trouble. To some, criticism of religion is bigotry, and I have heard this opinion even from atheists.

The problem is that religion tends to be a large part of peoples lives (especially those who conciously seek out conversation with those of opposing views), and thus to criticise their religion is to critice something that is percieved to be a core and unchangable part of their life.

There is a further problem, for me as a Brit at least: criticism of some religions is equated with criticism of those who tend to follow it, or to put it bluntly: racism. Here in the UK, we have a fairly large Muslim community, who tend to come from Pakistan, India (along with Hindus and Sikhs) , and Bangladesh. Quite frankly, as a wishy-washy liberal, I love it. I love the fact that curry is now a British staple dish, I love the fact that we have different and more numerous cultural influences, I love the fact that most of us can live together without a whole lot of problems. Some people don’t love that fact: the BNP are the far-right party in the UK, and their dream is of an ethnically pure Britian. Seriously. However, the vast majority of people aren’t quite that racist, so for the past few years, the BNP has been using criticism of Islam as a way of criticising immigrants.

Amongst those of a liberal persuation, this leads to a distrust of criticism of Islam: I even find myself doubting something criticing Islam from time to time because I have a knee-jerk reaction to equate criticism of Islam with a blanket criticism of those who follow it.

And herein lies the difference. Religion is something to be followed, it is not what you are. Maybe you are a religious fanatic who feels that they are nothing without their faith: but you must choose to follow through on it. If someone is Pakistani, Eritrean, Fijian, Flemish, Irish, if someone is male or female, if someone is gay or straight: they didn’t choose it and there is no creed or set of instructions to be followed. With religion, there is a creed, there are sets of instructions, and to criticise those who interpret them a certain way is not bigotry, it is simply comment on the free action of another human.

Atheism, atrocities and idiot priests Friday, Apr 2 2010 

Well, being Good Friday and all, the Catholic Church has decided to come out swinging. Here in Australia, they have launched incredibly ignorant and nonsensical attacks on atheism and secularism. One of the newly appointed Bishops here in Sydney came out and said several things:

”Last century we tried godlessness on a grand scale and the effects were devastating,” he said.

”Nazism, Stalinism, Pol-Pottery, mass murder and broken relationships: all promoted by state-imposed atheism or culture-insinuated secularism.”

This is the first thing I’ll deal with here, and it is an absolutely preposterous and absurd thing to say. To first point to Nazism and the holocaust as an example of something that atheism or secularism is responsible for reflects ignorance of the highest degree of what actually happened.

The Catholic Church were responsible for 800 years of anti-Semitic filth that was propagated and spread throughout Europe before the Holocaust. Without this foundation, the Holocaust is completely unthinkable. Robert Runcie, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote:

“Without centuries of Christian antisemitism, Hitler’s passionate hatred would never have been so fervently echoed […] because for centuries Christians have held Jews collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. On Good Friday Jews, have in times past, cowered behind locked doors with fear of a Christian mob seeking ‘revenge’ for deicide. Without the poisoning of Christian minds through the centuries, the Holocaust is unthinkable.”

There are numerous documented incidents of Hitler making pacts and public relations campaigns with high ranking members of the Catholic Church all over Europe before WW2 and on almost all occasions he spouted the same kind of hatred and bigotry that would become the basis for the ideology of the Holocausts. Indeed the Catholic Church even signed a political Reichskonkordat with Hitler after he had stated just months earlier:

“I have been attacked because of my handling of the Jewish question. The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc., because it recognized the Jews for what they were. In the epoch of liberalism the danger was no longer recognized. I am moving back toward the time in which a fifteen-hundred-year-long tradition was implemented. I do not set race over religion, but I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the Church, and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions.”

This Reichskonkordat gave the Nazi government the political and moral support of the Catholic Church in return for the Nazi government’s introduction of compulsory Catholic teachings in schools in Germany and other such political gifts. Guenter Lewy, in his The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany says:

There is general agreement that the Concordat increased substantially the prestige of Hitler’s regime around the world. As Cardinal Faulhaber put it in a sermon delivered in 1937: “At a time when the heads of the major nations in the world faced the new Germany with cool reserve and considerable suspicion, the Catholic Church, the greatest moral power on earth, through the Concordat expressed its confidence in the new German government. This was a deed of immeasurable significance for the reputation of the new government

Furthermore, whilst 6 million people were being slaughtered for being Jewish, the Catholic Church pretended it wasn’t happening. In fact the Vatican was entirely aware of the slaughter of the Jews when they attempted to negotiate with the German ambassador from 1942-44. They were unconcerned with attempts to render justice to those responsible and even after the Holocaust continued further a dialogue of anti-semitism. As Dr. Michael Phayer, one of the foremost experts on Vatican foreign policy during WW2 says:

Questions about Pius XII’s moral leadership arose shortly after his death in 1958. These concerns [began]… with statements by German bishops at the time of the sensational Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem and on the eve of the Second Vatican Council in 1960. Julius Doepfner, cardinal of Munich, spoke of regrettable decisions that had been made by church leaders during the Nazi era and German bishops collectively apologized for the ‘inhimane extermi- nation of the Jewish people.’

What is troubling about Pius’s preocuipation with diplomacy is that Jews would continue to be murdered as peace negotiations were underway. [Note: the author refers to peace negotiations undertaken by the German ambassador to the Vatican between 1942 and 1944]. Pius knew this, of course. A high-ranking official in the Papal Secretariat of State, Monsignor Domenica Tardini, told the German ambassador that the United States would probably object to Weizsaecker’s (latest) proposal for negotiations because of the ‘Jewish matter.’

The difficulty with Pius’s inadvertence to the Holocaust lies in the fact that Catholics in high and low stations kept reminding him of it. The most persistent of these was Konrad Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, who wrote to Pius thirteen times in fifteen months during the most active period of the Holocaust. When Pius finally responded to his friend from the Weimar era, it was not the fate of the Jews but the fate of Christendom and of the Church that preoccupied him.

While the Vatican showed keen interest in getting the perpetrators of the Holocaust freed, and, as we have seen, had to be restrained by its trusted envoy Bishop Muench, it showed little or no interest in the question of restitution for survivors of the Holocaust.

As did most Italians, Pope Pius sought to save native Italian Jews during the Holocaust, but he did not allow the Jewish tragedy to upset his world vision which remained fixed on his church and the Marxist danger.

If the Holocaust was not sufficient cause for Pius to break with Germany during the war, it is not surprising that antisemitism, restitution, and strict justice for war criminals would not be his priorities during the Cold War.

As any rational person can see, to blame the Holocaust on Atheism is absolutely absurd and an affront to anyone with a brain that is not totally ignorant of what took place. Without the discourse of anti-Semitism that the Catholic Church ensured stayed at the heart of European society for hundreds of years prior to the Holocaust, the foundations never would have been there for Hitler to extrapolate upon. Hitler himself was a practicing Roman Catholic and not only did the Catholic Church have no qualms or will to criticize his anti-Semitic propaganda. Mein Kampf was written and published in 1925 yet the Catholic Church signed a political agreement giving him their backing in 1933, after he spent 8 years extrapolating on his plans and ideology present in Mein Kampf.

It was only until he started systematically killing Jews, which apparently surprised the Catholic Church after all of their dealings with him,  that organised criticism seems to emerge, and even at that point the Catholic Church was far more interested in protecting its own image and public perception than any organised resistance on their part, and they even proceeded to enter into diplomatic negotiations with Hitler’s Germany, fully aware of the situation of the ongoing Holocaust.

To palm this off onto atheism or secularism when it was committed upon foundations set by the Catholic Church by a Roman Catholic whose legitimacy was confirmed by the Catholic Church, the moral guide of Europe, even after he had spread such propaganda and genocidal filth for years prior is absolutely disgusting.

Happy Easter, everyone.