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Old 12 Jul 2010, 02:35 PM   #143161 / #1
Redshirt
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Default Is the Roman Catholic Church an evil institution? (DMB vs. Alex)

Welcome to an Exclusive Engagement!

DMB and Alex will participate in an informal debate on the following resolution:

Resolved: The Roman Catholic Church is an evil institution.

DMB (going first) will affirm and Alex will oppose. The debate will (tentatively) end on August 9, per the parameters.

Members can comment on this informal debate (except for the debate participants) in the Peanut Gallery set up in the Religion forum.

Enjoy the debate!

Last edited by Redshirt; 12 Jul 2010 at 02:53 PM.
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Old 14 Jul 2010, 08:24 AM   #143546 / #2
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Is the RCC an evil institution?

Preface

This discussion was sparked off by a thread in the Religion forum and Alex and I decided we’d like to pursue the idea one-to-one.

In a discussion on a secular board between two non-believers, what are legitimate areas of concern will be different from what they would be if at least one of the participants were a believer. We shall therefore try to avoid wading too deeply into theological questions that have little meaning for us, although it will probably be impossible to avoid all consideration of them.

The term “evil” does itself have theological connotations, so I will attempt to explain what I mean in applying it in a secular context to the institution of the RCC. It can, of course, be no more than a shorthand., but a convenient one nonetheless. What I am maintaining is quite simply that the RCC is responsible for a great deal of needless suffering in the world, that it has a disruptive influence on society and that these effects outweigh any good it may do.

By focusing on the institutional aspect, I will attempt to explain why I feel that the structure of the RCC is such that it is bound to have such effects. While, as an atheist, I cannot subscribe to the basic Christian ideas of an omnipotent creator God with a personal relationship and with care of human beings nor to a “God the son” who was sent at a particular time in history to redeem them, I am not maintaining that such basic beliefs are necessarily harmful or evil in themselves. The church is a human institution and should be criticised (or praised) as such.

The longevity and materialism of the RCC

I doubt that our hunter-gatherer ancestors needed structures we would refer to as “institutions”. They probably had some kind of religious beliefs, but they wouldn’t have needed the elaborate institutions of monarchies and priesthoods that developed with civilisation. In terms of most modern institutions, the RCC is very old and very deep-rooted, but it is merely a successor of many other such institutions that are no longer with us.

It is no coincidence that the church has been about power since its inception. On the one hand it is supposed to be based on the teachings of Jesus, who argued against laying up earthly treasures and allegedly told his followers to take no thought for the morrow and to give all that they had to the poor. On the other hand it has for centuries been accumulating wealth and treasure and playing an important role in secular politics. For much of its history it had considerable territory under its control and, as well as attempting to control other states by religio-poltical means, it functioned as an ordinary temporal power, even to the extent of fighting small wars.

I think that the duality of its role has been one of the factors that have led to its becoming an evil institution. Rather than concentrating on the message of Jesus, it has become corrupted by its lust for material power and wealth.

The source of truth

We humans need to have reliable ways of finding out truth of any matter. Science, for example, has developed methods of collectively approaching truth about the physical universe. In a pre-scientific age, what processes were available? In general, the approach appears to have been to find reliable authorities, and the church set itself up as the prime authority, initially on all matters affecting human life and then grudgingly conceding ground to scientific methods where it could no longer maintain credibility. The church, supposedly under the guidance of God, holds itself as the ultimate arbiter of belief and morals.

Unlike some of the bible-based Protestant sects, the RCC does not elevate the bible as the supreme authority. It would be strange if it did, since the content of the bible was itself decided by a church council. Nevertheless, since it lost the battle to control access to the bible, it does have to pay attention to it and seek biblical justification (if possible) for its policies. The RCC claims to derive its authority both from the bible and from the collective, God-inspired wisdom of the church. A lot of the attitudes that have become fossilised within the tradition of the church have little to do with Jesus and a lot to do with acceptance of some of the norms of the pagan societies in which the institutional church began.

But the RCC’s claim as a source of truth makes it very difficult ever to admit mistakes. It therefore finds itself with guidelines that are increasingly remote from the modern world and increasingly irrelevant to the problems faced daily by modern humans. It claims that its values are eternal, but it is clear to any secular observer that they largely reflect the patterns of a different age that had no particular claim to wisdom.

By whatever means the RCC arrives at its positions, it always claims an elevated moral status, able to lay down to the whole world the standards that should be followed.

In the past, the church sought to support its claim to be the sole source of truth by punishing and eliminating anyone who did not subscribe to the prevailing orthodoxy. I suggest that this is good evidence that it was an evil institution at that time.

Now that it has lost some of its temporal power, it has to use other methods, applying all sorts of political pressures and forming dubious alliances. In the 20th century it signed concordats with all the fascist powers, and it has even allied itself with Islamist states in its struggle against reproductive rights. I shall return later to the whole issue of sexuality and reproduction.

Obedience

The RCC has a very strong culture of obedience. Priests and members of religious orders take vows of obedience. All the way up the hierarchy, they must obey their superiors. The laity, of course, is supposed to obey the clergy, ideally unquestioningly. Disobedience can carry heavy punishment, up to excommunication, which Catholics are taught will imperil their immortal souls.

I maintain that this cult of obedience is very dangerous and is one of the major reasons why the RCC is institutionally evil. We have seen how cruelty perpetrated on helpless orphans in Catholic institutions was left unchecked because those religious who were worried about it did not feel able to challenge their superiors. In the modern world we do not need unquestioning obedience; we need independent thought.

Indoctrination

As with many other religions, early indoctrination of the young is a feature of Catholicism. Observing Catholics from outside, it seems to me that one of the results of the indoctrination is a sense of guilt. The church invented the idea of “sin”, and where no obvious sin is being committed then it adds in the corrosive concept of “original sin”. I can only suppose that Catholic feelings of guilt stem from a belief in original sin and some feeling of responsibility for the suffering of Christ on the cross. In past ages, I imagine that feelings of guilt among the flock were a useful emotion, enabling the church to maintain control. But whatever the reason, this sense of guilt causes a great deal of suffering, and IMO that is another indicator of evil.

I assume that early indoctrination is fairly effective, since the RCC is firmly wedded to it. It goes along with what in my view is a disregard for human rights. The RCC does not want children to have the possibility of choosing their ideas. It tries its very best to make sure that they are not exposed to non-Catholic views. An important part of the concordats is the special position of the RCC in schools. Even in countries with multiple religions and a strong secular presence, the church tries to pressurise Catholic parents into sending their children to Catholic schools. This has a divisive effect on society.

Sexuality and reproduction

From its earliest institutional times, the RCC has had a warped view of sexuality. Basically, it sees something gross about sexuality and the highest goal is to be celibate. They didn’t invent this view -- it was already current in other societies -- but it belongs to a pre-scientific age and has not been seriously modified. Countless generations of Catholics have suffered agonies of guilt and denial as a result of their sexual feelings and, in many cases, practices. The church’s condemnatory position on homosexuality owes nothing to modern scientific understanding and everything to threadbare tradition.

The RCC was born into a patriarchal world, where most women were of small account and men ran almost everything. As a result, the RCC remains a deeply patriarchal and authoritarian institution, run by men and where everything important is decided by men. Woman must be either sexless subordinates or baby-making machines.

The RCC’s position on contraception is one of the primary reasons why I maintain that it is evil. If we look at our overpopulated world today, it is clear that slowing and eventually stopping human population growth is an urgent need. Without access for everyone to efficient contraception, it s hard to see how this can be achieved in the short time we have available. The church has not only discouraged Catholics from using modern contraceptives and even traditional methods like coitus interruptus, but has worked energetically to deny free access to modern contraceptives. With the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the RCC has even taken a more evil step in deliberately spreading lies about condoms, one of the essential aids to controlling this horrible disease.

Because of the low value placed on women, it has even taught that if a man has HIV, his wife must neither deny him intercourse nor use any sort of barrier such as a condom. If the wife refuses intercourse and the man seeks sexual release elsewhere, she is responsible for his sin.

Until quite recently, the church insisted that the purpose of sexual intercourse must be procreation. It has now adjusted its teaching to include the expression of love and companionship that for most married couples is its main role, but still insists on the primacy of procreation. This means that if a married woman is told by doctors that another pregnancy will probably kill her, she must still refrain from using contraception and, if she does conceive, must at all costs continue with the pregnancy, even at the cost of her death and leaving her children motherless. We see an extreme example of this attitude in certain Catholic-dominated countries where abortion is illegal even for ectopic pregnancies, where the only result will be the death of the woman and the foetus.

The RCC has elevated its objection to contraception and abortion to an inhuman level, where foetuses count more than the welfare of families and even the survival of women. Curiously it has never objected to practices such as child marriage.

Priestly celibacy

Alongside the emphasis on procreation for the laity, the church has for many centuries imposed celibacy on priests and those in religious orders. At the time when this first happened, married priests were cruelly forced to abandon their wives and families. Of course, once celibacy was imposed, would-be priests, monks and nuns knew what they were letting themselves in for. However, if they made the commitment while young, they might not fully realise the stresses that celibacy would induce.

Nevertheless, it is a choice. But the result is that the RCC is run by an all male, supposedly celibate hierarchy that has never had the experience of married love and yet purports to rule on what sexual practices are permissible for the rest of the world. This is real perversion.

Maintaining the church

To an outside observer it is clear that maintaining the hegemony of the church as a rich and powerful institution and protecting or improving its status are the overriding objectives of the hierarchy.

Now this is, of course, a feature of many human institutions; the church is not unique in this respect. But it is such a distortion of its avowed purpose of serving God that it must always be considered when the overall impact of the church is under discussion.

I have tried in this OP to steer clear of the sex scandals, but there is no doubt that their worst feature, the cover-ups, was in line with the policy of the church over the centuries. No matter what the suffering of the victims, keep everything as quiet as possible, look after the priests and avoid financial cost to the church.
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Old 17 Jul 2010, 04:12 PM   #144289 / #3
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Before I attempt to defend the Roman Catholic Church against the huge list of accusations on DMB's charge sheet, here's a disclaimer: I don't think my simplifications of catholic doctrine would get an imprimatur from the Holy Office. I'll try to keep a detached tone and the discussion impersonal. I don't think personal anecdotes add weight to arguments and I haven't any emotional investment in "my case".

That said, here's a tiny summary of beliefs and attitudes that I think might be helpful in understanding the Church of Rome. It's written, of course, from the catholic point of view and I think I'll need to refer to it from time to time. I've also included some remarks about "evil institutions" that I believe are pertinent to this discussion.

The RCC is not just a voluntary association of individual believers but a corporation infused with the Holy Spirit and constituting the presence of God in this world. Its mission is to propagate the gospel of Jesus Christ to "all nations". Jesus, the son of God, so Christians believe, commissioned the apostles (or some of them) to inaugurate an institution that would disseminate his message to posterity and be the agency for the salvation of souls. Needless to say, the RCC claims to be that agency - appointed with the authority to teach Christ's authentic word and to dispense his sacraments for the salvation of mankind.

That, more or less, is the core of RCC teaching on its identity, mission, and foundation. As the repository and guardian of Christian truth, it maintains an impervious attitude towards both the opinions of non-believers and the exegesis of dissenting scholars. With its in-house corps of theologians and lawyers to advise it, the Vatican, to some extent, maintains a hostile posture to the values of the secular world. Whether or not this religious agenda makes sense to sceptics, scoffers, and atheists or whether it rests upon spurious passages of scripture and/or misinterpretations of the same, is immaterial. The Catholic Church carries on regardless.

Institutions pursue their purposes through the intentional conduct of their members. They also form and govern the intentions of their members by defining the principles and influencing the conceptions on which their members act. It does not follow, in this context, that any intentional behaviour should be inevitably construed as pursuing an institutional purpose.

In order for an institution to be described as "inherently evil", it must be shown that the purposes for which it was established were wicked. I don't deny that within the RCC contingent evil exists, has existed, and ought to be extirpated. All its members are human beings - none of which is incapable of doing evil. But the contingent evil of some of its members does not discredit the aims of an institution that exists for the relief of man's spiritual estate. An innately evil institution could not be reformed, it would have to be done away with.

My task is to defend a religious institution that's accused of initiating, tolerating, or appearing to condone, certain temporal mischiefs that it ought to prevent or at least repudiate. Recognizing those "temporal mischiefs" and justifying the church's perspective in relation to them is problematic. But I don't have to "prove" that the RCC is not an innately evil institution. So now I'll respond to some of DMB's specific charges roughly in the order she made them.

The Power of the Church:

It's not true that "the church has been about power since its inception". Even a cursory glance at the Sermon on the Mount reveals a deep concern for the powerless. It's not true that the church has failed to transmit that concern and to teach Christ's sympathy for the downtrodden multitudes. Nobody acquainted at first hand with catholic teaching would get an impression of indifference towards the fate of the poor, the troubled, and the subjugated. There is no reason to believe the church was set up from the beginning as a power base to exploit and control the ignorant. That's a bit of anti-catholic rhetoric.

In any case, there's nothing either good or bad about "power" as such - it's just the ability to get things done. Everything depends on the use that's made of power. It would have been impossible for the church to implement Christ's instructions without having a territory from which to operate and without having the authority and capacity to make converts etc. It requires buildings, money, and some sort of economic leverage to exist indefinitely as an earthly presence with material needs. The ministry of Jesus Christ could not be universalized unless the institution carrying on his work acquired the tools for the job.

"It has for centuries been accumulating wealth and treasure."
Yes, it's true that over the centuries the church has acquired an enormous treasure of wealth. Many properties were bequeathed to the church by pious plutocrats and funds were acquired by simony or other ingenious expedients. It has also taken the pennies of the poor. The fact that the church owns a vast number of lands, beautiful buildings, works of art, and has cash in the bank etc., is always going to be in contradiction to the values of simplicity and humility taught in the gospels.

As an instinctive leveller I find the stockpile of riches and haughty acquisitiveness of the church distressing; but suppose the church sold everything it possesses and gave the proceeds to the needy, how could it perform its functions in that case? Souls cannot be saved for free. Could the Queen of England continue to be a monarch without palaces, pomp, and pelf?

Truth and Politics:

"The RCC’s claim as a source of truth makes it very difficult ever to admit mistakes".
Truth about what? The RCC does not claim to know the truth about everything. It claims to know the truth about the meaning of Christ's ministry. It does not admit mistakes in its teaching about faith or morals because it believes itself to be an infallible guide to the Christian truth on these matters. If Christian truths are immutable and eternal, there can be no equivocation in communicating them.

The church is an enemy to relativity on moral questions and an advocate for objective standards of right and wrong in the natural law tradition. There is an intimidating tide flowing the other way in our pluralistic and sceptical age, but running against that tide isn't proof of malevolence.

The whole incentive for protecting and preaching eternal Christian truths would be lost if the church followed guidelines that were adapted to the modern world. The RCC is at war with the modern world on a number of moral fronts. And it doesn't follow thereby that its outlook is "evil". The world may be moving on the road to perdition accelerated by the follies of liberal humanism for all we know.

"In the 20th century it signed concordats with all the fascist powers".
It's correct that the Vatican signed concordats with Hitler and Mussolini, but the inference that it intended to endorse fascist policies by these agreements is false. The raison d'etat, from the Vatican point of view, was to preserve the catholic faith and its adherents from interference or perhaps persecution by the fascist dictators. This might not have been an heroic moment in the life of the church, but it was arguably prudent.

(DMB also claims: "Now that it has lost some of its temporal power, it has to use other methods, applying all sorts of political pressures and forming dubious alliances." These allegations are too vague for immediate comment, but I'll try to respond if they're sharpened up with some particulars.)

There is no doubt that the RCC is a deeply conservative and authoritarian organisation. It is cautious in the face of social and political change and ambivalent towards the idea of progress. It tends to support traditional and hierarchical structures. It almost always opposes revolutionary movements and it seldom endorses what secular society believes are "liberal measures".

To understand this negativity or why the church is so often averse to change, we must remember that it is necessarily a backward looking institution. Catholicism looks back to what is believed was a divine intervention in human affairs that took place two thousand years ago. This was the most important event in human history and the transient concerns of our day are but trifles in the long view.

Obedience:

"The RCC has a very strong culture of obedience. Priests and members of religious orders take vows of obedience. All the way up the hierarchy, they must obey their superiors. The laity, of course, is supposed to obey the clergy, ideally unquestioningly".

The obedience of catholics is understood as free submission to the word because its truth is guaranteed by God. Nothing can compel obedience. There is no "must obey" regardless of what is being demanded.

To emphasize: obedience is strictly limited. Catholics are not required to obey their "superiors" on any account. Aquinas says: "Sometimes the things commanded by a superior are against God, therefore superiors are not to be obeyed in all things." The obedience we're talking about has to be relative to the Christian faith and morals and within catholic ecclesiastical tradition.

So it's a mistake to infer from the requirement to obey the church hierarchy in matters of faith and morals that catholics are submissive automata who have abandoned their power of independent judgment. The Nuremburg Defence didn't work for the war criminals, and it won't work for catholic criminals either.

If it's true that cruelty in orphanages went unchecked because of unquestioning obedience and the fear of challenging superiors, then the people concerned had a warped understanding of catholic obedience. It does not apply outside the realm of doctrinal principles and traditional teaching. (See Aquinas above). Internal obedience to superiors never trumps the external criminal law. But I can think of exceptions to this general rule.

The Virgin Mary is usually considered to be the model of Christian obedience. There is a well known passage (Luke 1:38) in which she submits to the will of God by consenting to become pregnant by the Holy Ghost. (I threw that one in for laughs in case any weary reader has got this far and wants refreshment.)

Celibacy:

"The RCC is run by an all male, supposedly celibate hierarchy that has never had the experience of married love and yet purports to rule on what sexual practices are permissible for the rest of the world. This is real perversion."

Celibacy is a canonical requirement imposed on catholic clergy. It can be revoked - as for instance when married clergy in the Church of England become priests in the RCC. Its justification rests on the imitation of Christ - who is believed to have been celibate - and the apostolic tradition of Holy Orders. Celibacy is a sign that a catholic priest has consecrated himself entirely to the service of God. This is a free choice, and it seems reasonable to allow the benefit of the doubt that it does any harm. A similar consideration applies to nuns who take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The hierarchy do not "make up" arbitrary rules about the sexual conduct of married couples or the sexual practices of the world at large. They have, they believe, a mandate in scripture for their teaching on human sexuality.

This teaching on sexuality, as everybody knows, contradicts the orthodoxy of modern opinion and that consideration alone triggers blasts of opprobrium. Yet some of RCC teachings which now appear to be oppressive, misguided, and ridiculous (though not "perverted" - which is mere hyperbole) were part of mainstream secular thinking not all that long ago.

Indoctrination:

"As with many other religions, early indoctrination of the young is a feature of Catholicism".

The first thing to note is the use of the word "indoctrination" which like "brainwashing" is an emotive term that suggests having our heads stuffed with repugnant ideas against our will. If the reader were not already predisposed to to an anti-catholic standpoint, this sort of language will help along the way. Since I regard this as one of DMB's most serious charges, I'll digress a bit.

Catholic schools exist, like secular schools, to initiate children into a culture and to preserve and communicate a belief system. Teachers in catholic schools assume, like all teachers, that children are particularly impressionable up to the time they acquire intellectual autonomy. It's during those early years when the inculcation of values and attitudes is probably most successful. That's why the Jesuit maxim of "Give me a child until he's seven and I'll give you the man" gets quoted so often - even if it is apocryphal. There is no such thing as a school that isn't influenced by a social or religious philosophy.

The RCC is in the business of "saving souls" and given the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, that work cannot begin too early. From the catholic viewpoint, the fate of an immortal soul is the first priority. No child can be left to the caprice of fortune when its everlasting life in the Kingdom of God is jeopardized. A catholic school isn't a brainwashing factory turning out kids who can parrot the catechism and say their prayers. It's a foundation for living a Christian life.

If raising a child as catholic is itself a form of abuse, there can only be one answer: the state must protect children not only from religious institutions but from the influence of their religious parents by taking them into care homes managed by atheists. Is that what anyone - even the most ardent humanist - wants?

To sum up: Would any parent who believes that Paradise waits at the end of the road want to deprive their children of a ticket to it? Despite its coercion, a catholic education is considered to be of the last consequence in preparing children for a Christian life and saving their immortal souls. Not a merry prospect, but hey, who said that getting to heaven was fun?

None of this makes sense to the incredulous outsider who is stupefied by the whole immortality of souls thing, and sees only illegitimate pressure and theological mumbo-jumbo. The number of lapsed catholics (which is very high) suggests that the price demanded for one's salvation is too much for many people.

Sexuality and Women:

"The RCC has had a warped view of sexuality.....Countless generations of Catholics have suffered agonies of guilt and denial as a result of their sexual feelings......The church’s condemnatory position on homosexuality owes nothing to modern scientific understanding......."

A warped view implies that there is a "straight" or undistorted view of something. That undistorted view turns out, I suspect, to be the modern "liberal" view of sexuality. How long will that last? Have we arrived at the apex of wisdom in learning about this aspect of human behaviour? Does escape from the clutches of catholic dogma improve a person's sex life? Who knows? We are not privy to the agonies of guilt that people might endure as a result of their sexual feelings under any dispensation. Maybe there's something to be said for restraint and trying to keep sex within marriage. It's an old fashioned idea, but ideas that don't work don't last.

None of the church's dogmatic positions owes anything to modern scientific understanding. The moral law the church consults is derived from the scriptures and Natural Law theory. The church recognizes homosexuality as an orientation that (some) people are born with. It maintains, however, that homosexual activity is sinful and in breach of natural law. That moral judgment is in conflict with what most people believe these days. But not long ago the criminal law was based on the same sort of natural law premise, and homosexual behaviour in private was not decriminalized in England until 1967. When the criminal law against homosexual acts was enforced, its mainstream support had nothing to do with the influence of catholic thinking.

The RCC continues to condemn homosexuality - though it distinguishes between the person and the activity. I do not see how it could make an exception and adopt an enlightened policy in this particular matter. That would be inconsistent with its traditional teaching - which of course it maintains is based on the immutable moral law.


"The RCC was born into a patriarchal world, where most women were of small account and men ran almost everything. As a result, the RCC remains a deeply patriarchal and authoritarian institution, run by men and where everything important is decided by men. Woman must be either sexless subordinates or baby-making machines."

I don't think anyone needs reminding that the status of woman has always been subordinate to men since time immemorial. Here's a revealing snapshot: Women in the UK did not get the right to vote until 1918, and it wasn't until 1928 that the voting age for women was brought into line with men. The multiple oppressions of women isn't a social evil for which the RCC is exclusively responsible. It's been a fact of life just about everywhere at one time, and still is in some societies.

It could be argued that the Roman Church has a tradition of respect for women that, while not emancipating them, gave them roles that were recognized as indispensable to the maintenance of civilization. The cult of the Virgin Mary is often cited as evidence that women are valued in the Catholic Church as "pearls beyond price". That might sound a bit over the top, but devotion to Mary - the representative woman - is sincere and widespread among catholics. The number of prayers addressed to Mary - the Hail Mary, the Salve Regina, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, and the Rosary - give some idea of the extent and pervasiveness of this affection. She is not and never has been "a woman of small account" within what is admittedly a patriarchal institution.

A patriarchal institution obviously isn't run on representative lines, but it isn't necessarily evil either. Jesus Christ, we are taught, happened to be a man. Presumably he could just as well have been a woman - if God is omnipotent and changed his plans etc. He did not arrive on earth in order to preach democracy and the equality of the sexes.

"The RCC’s position on contraception is one of the primary reasons why I maintain that it is evil".

Catholic teaching on abortion, contraception, and the purpose of sexual intercourse is probably the most difficult set of imperatives to understand, let alone comply with, among insiders and outsiders alike. Clinging on to such a contentious array of prohibitions, as the modern world moves on with a more "enlightened" ethic, seems insane.

There must be some reason for the RCC holdout and there is: again it's the catholic claim to know the moral and religious truth and its divine mission to guard and propagate that truth among all nations. In case anyone hasn't noticed it, that claim has been the lynch-pin in my attempt to mitigate DMB's charges against catholicism. If you think you have good reason to claim you know the truth, it is not, in principle, "evil" to refuse to renounce it.

I have tried to avoid citations from scripture and theological references in this discussion, but I don't think it would be right to examine the RCC position (on sexual morality and the right to life) without getting into a philosophical discussion that might send anyone to sleep who is still awake. However, I'm willing to try if pressed.

************************************************** ********
According to my word counter, I've written well over three thousand words, so I think I should wrap up my discourse here and await further developments from Counsel for the Prosecution. It seems to take far more words to rebut charges than to make them. There are several important issues which I skipped past - such as the RCC refusal to ordain women priests, but I will address them if DMB reminds me. My winding up statement for the defence will of course appear in my final post.

3366

Last edited by Alex; 17 Jul 2010 at 04:36 PM.
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Old 21 Jul 2010, 06:15 AM   #145246 / #4
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I’m afraid that this is going to be a longish reply, because I want to quote some of what Alex has written.

The RCC’s mission

Alex makes a good attempt at presenting what the RCC might say about its mission if called before the bar of public opinion. But as far as I am concerned, it is totally irrelevant. This is a discussion between two unbelievers on a secular board. My OP made the point

Quote:
Originally Posted by DMB
What I am maintaining is quite simply that the RCC is responsible for a great deal of needless suffering in the world, that it has a disruptive influence on society and that these effects outweigh any good it may do.

By focusing on the institutional aspect, I will attempt to explain why I feel that the structure of the RCC is such that it is bound to have such effects. While, as an atheist, I cannot subscribe to the basic Christian ideas of an omnipotent creator God with a personal relationship and with care of human beings nor to a “God the son” who was sent at a particular time in history to redeem them, I am not maintaining that such basic beliefs are necessarily harmful or evil in themselves. The church is a human institution and should be criticised (or praised) as such.
I am therefore looking at the church through secular spectacles. When we had our initial discussion about this engagement, I think it was Alex who hoped that we could omit any deep examination of theology. I share that hope, but I am not therefore prepared to accept the church’s own estimation of its role or even Alex’s account of it.

Alex rightly says

Quote:
It does not follow, in this context, that any intentional behaviour should be inevitably construed as pursuing an institutional purpose
I attempt to deduce institutional purpose from behaviour, and, although I am mainly concerned with the modern world, I look at the patterns of behaviour over the centuries. I take the view that if it looks like a duck…

The RCC claims to have been commissioned by Jesus through the apostle Peter, but I do not consider that anything like the RCC existed before the Emperor Constantine gave it support throughout the Roman Empire. It is true that Christians existed before that, but nothing like the RCC as we have come to know it. Even then, it was hardly the RCC as we know it. Perhaps we should really date it from the Great Schism, some centuries later, when eastern and western Christianity were separated.

As a general comment, I must say that Alex has made an heroic attempt to explain away all the issues I had brought up by referring to the church’s view of itself and its mission. But IMO that does not provide any evidence against the proposition. Whatever the church may or may not believe about what it is doing, we secular bystanders can only look at what it does and what appears to be happening. As far as I am concerned, reference to its religious purposes can only be read as an attempted excuse for its shameful behaviour.

The Power of the church

Alex says

Quote:
It's not true that "the church has been about power since its inception". Even a cursory glance at the Sermon on the Mount reveals a deep concern for the powerless. It's not true that the church has failed to transmit that concern and to teach Christ's sympathy for the downtrodden multitudes. Nobody acquainted at first hand with catholic teaching would get an impression of indifference towards the fate of the poor, the troubled, and the subjugated. There is no reason to believe the church was set up from the beginning as a power base to exploit and control the ignorant. That's a bit of anti-catholic rhetoric.
I must point out that cherry-picking from the bible says nothing much about the institutional church. Whether Jesus ever existed or, if he did, spoke the Sermon on the Mount, has nothing much to do with how the RCC works as an institution. And I hope Alex is not seriously claiming that the RCC dates from Jesus. That’s about as credible as the claim of the divine descent of the Japanese Emperors.

It is certainly true that many Catholics do good works, just as do supporters of other religions and of none. But I find it hard to believe that the institutional church cares much about the fate of the poor, when its policies lead to their having more children than they can support and exposing them to the hazards of HIV/AIDS, or when it lays up such treasure on earth as is to be found in the Vatican and the great cathedrals, disingenuously claimed to be “for the greater glory of God”.

I must also take issue with this claim:

Quote:
It would have been impossible for the church to implement Christ's instructions without having a territory from which to operate and without having the authority and capacity to make converts etc. It requires buildings, money, and some sort of economic leverage to exist indefinitely as an earthly presence with material needs. The ministry of Jesus Christ could not be universalized unless the institution carrying on his work acquired the tools for the job.
I ought not to do it, but I can’t help recalling that according to the bible Jesus said, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” That hardly seems consistent with a requirement for territory, power and riches. And if we look at other Christian sects, the Quakers always seem to have set their faces against such acquisitions.

It is true that monarchy and religion have often co-existed either in collaboration or in a power struggle, but it is surely going to a ridiculous extreme to evoke the Queen of England in some attempted justification for the RCC’s love of mammon!

Truth and Politics

Alex says

Quote:
The RCC does not claim to know the truth about everything.
But over the centuries that is just what it has claimed. When Giordano Bruno was tortured and burnt at the stake and Galileo (an erstwhile friend of the pope and therefore the recipient of better treatment) was placed under house arrest, it was because of what we would now call scientific views, but on which the church claimed a monopoly of truth. Even Descartes had his work placed on the index of forbidden books.

I will not bore everyone by going through all the great books that were at one time or another prohibited by the church, but the fact that such a list existed illustrates the church’s approach to knowledge: prevent free expression and challenging ideas. Not only is it impossible for them to be wrong, but they must make it impossible for anyone to suggest the contrary.

Quite recently, pope JP II told the Pontifical Academy of Science that it would be inappropriate for them to look at what might have happened in a tiny period of time after the Big Bang.

Over the past two centuries, the church has constantly been forced to give ground. It has even taken on some protective coloration, claiming to support human rights, for example. If we examine this idea, however, it is largely spurious. The concept of human rights conflicts with the basic idea of the church being the source of authority. The church has either refused to sign human rights instruments or has done so with “reservations”, exempting itself from having to put them into practice.

If the church’s standards are really objective, as Alex claims, I must bring in the idea of usury. Back in the Middle Ages, usury (meaning then the lending of money for interest) was the big sin, the mediaeval equivalent of modern abortion. Since rulers often needed loans to run their countries, non-Christians, i.e. Jews, often stepped in and supplied the money. Since moneylenders are always unpopular, this may have contributed to European anti-semitism, although the RCC’s labelling of them as “Christ-killers” probably did even more.

Now with the rise of modern economies and the banking system, it became necessary to allow a lot more lending for interest. So the first ploy was to change the definition of usury to mean “lending for excessive interest”. Eventually, the church quietly stopped banging on about usury at all.

I think what happened about usury is an example of the fact that the church does make mistakes, knows it does, but will not admit it publicly.

Even if we were to accept the church’s estimation of itself and its mission, we should still have to face the problem that the church is constantly being confronted by information, ideas and practices for which there is no biblical guidance or past experience. But admitting that would detract from the desired image of the divinely inspired and wise church. And so the RCC muddles through in a thoroughly human way, trying to hide as much as possible from view.

Alex says

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"In the 20th century it signed concordats with all the fascist powers".
It's correct that the Vatican signed concordats with Hitler and Mussolini, but the inference that it intended to endorse fascist policies by these agreements is false. The raison d'etat, from the Vatican point of view, was to preserve the catholic faith and its adherents from interference or perhaps persecution by the fascist dictators. This might not have been an heroic moment in the life of the church, but it was arguably prudent.
Seen in the light of the Church wishing to preserve its influence in those countries, yes. But a more moral option would have been to oppose the fascist powers root and branch. The reason it chose not to do so is self-explanatory. Applying the principle that acts must be judged by their consequences, we can see that reaching an accommodation with the fascist powers was done at the cost of abandoning their victims to their fate. And this is not to deny the heroic work of many priests in saving Jews and others, but to point out that the Church as an institution chose to negotiate rather than condemn. And the church never even excommunicated Adolf Hitler, although it did excommunicate many of his opponents.

I did say all the fascist powers. The concordat with Spanish dictator Franco happened after WW2 in 1953. And don’t forget Salazar of Portugal, who also signed a concordat.

Although there was no concordat, there was papal support for Ante Pavelić, the vile leader of the Croatian Ustaše. For some idea of RCC involvement with this genocidal regime, see this article (Wikipedia)Catholic clergy involvement with the Ustaše

In general, one could say that the church was not uncomfortable with fascist bedfellows. It may not have liked everything they did, but in the Vatican's capacity as a state they were still prepared to ally themselves with them.

It’s perhaps a good idea to examine a bit more closely what concordats are. I see them as typical of the power plays of the RCC.

Rather than write an essay on concordats, I refer everybody to the website of Concordat Watch and in particular to this page, which explains what concordats are for: http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showsite.php?org_id=871

Quote:
What are concordats?

These church-state accords generally give the Church massive state subsidies and other privileges. They also permit Church employees to be hounded about their private lives. Yet as “international treaties”, concordats bypass the democratic process, making parliaments powerless to modify, let alone revoke them.

The Vatican’s triple crown: church, government and state

“The Vatican is inserted into the international community because it is a state; once there, it behaves like a church.” By setting up three legal identities and then adroitly switching from one to another, the Vatican has obtained unprecedented legal rights and international influence.
I suggest that anyone interested read the whole of that page.

In essence, concordats are treaties, enforceable by international law, that give many special privileges to the RCC and which tend to reduce the civil rights of the populations of the signing countries. Concordat Watch gives details of all the main concordats.

Obedience

Alex maintains that obedience in the church is not absolute and that it cannot be compelled. That may be technically true, but in practice the church has many weapons to compel obedience. Theologians who do not stick to the party line can lose their licence to teach, with an obviously detrimental effect on their careers. And then there is the weapon of excommunication, which we have very recently seen waved in the direction of any who might participate in the ordination of women.

Of course, any organisation has the right to expel non-conforming members, but because of Catholic indoctrination, excommunication looks to the believer as a huge punishment. Not only is the offender excluded from the fellowship of the church, s/he is also excluded from the sacraments. Even worse, the writ of the church runs in heaven too! So the offender is excluded from heavenly salvation.

And let us not forget that in the previous centuries the disobedient could be imprisoned, tortured by the Inquisition or put to death. Although the church has lost the ability to apply these particular sanctions, it still has a great deal of control in many societies. Anyone who spoke out too strongly against the Church, their priest or their bishop in 20th-century Ireland was at risk of losing their job, their career, their home and family, or, like the girls in the Magdelene laundries, being thrown into prison for life. And Ireland is just one example of a theocratic society in fairly modern times.

Alex says

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Internal obedience to superiors never trumps the external criminal law.
I’m sorry, but this is simply wrong. Throughout its history, the church has had something called “canon law”. This predates most state legal systems in Europe. As state systems evolved, the two systems sat side by side, with the laity subject to state law and clerics subject only to canon law. Naturally, friction arose between the two systems. Clerics in minor orders often constituted a large proportion of the population and they were able to commit state crimes with impunity. If the crime were also a crime under canon law, then they might be tried by a church court, but penalties were often derisory. This was the principal cause of the row between King Henry II of England and Thomas Becket in the 12th century.

Although the RCC has gradually lost a lot of its power, this issue is still a live one. The basic trouble behind the child abuse scandals has been the church’s unwillingness to allow that state law might apply to priests or to consider passing information about abuse to the state authorities. Only now that a huge, worldwide scandal has erupted has the church changed its position on this issue.

Celibacy

I do not object to clerical celibacy per se any more than I do to the apparently cannibalistic rite of the eucharist or any other religious practices of the RCC. I may think that the beliefs and practices are a bit crazy, but that is not my concern. As I said in the OP, what I object to is the idea that the all-male celibate hierarchy of the church, which presumably lacks all experience of married love, should lay down the law on what is permissible for the majority of humankind.

Alex says:

Quote:
The hierarchy do not "make up" arbitrary rules about the sexual conduct of married couples or the sexual practices of the world at large. They have, they believe, a mandate in scripture for their teaching on human sexuality.
I would maintain that that is just what they do. The bible (whose content, we must not forget, was determined by the church) is full of contradictions and fails to rule on all sorts of things that the RCC has felt it must deal with. Where, for example, does it deal with in vitro fertilisation – banned by the church? One could summarise the position of the church on sexuality and reproduction as follows:
  • Celibacy is best, so the best people (i.e.clerics) must be celibate
  • Sexual practices are permissible only between married couples (one male and one female)
  • Marriage may not be dissolved other than by death or by an expensive dodge known as “annulment”
  • Those unable to practise celibacy must have as many offspring as possible
  • No-one must take any measures to limit or enhance fertility, even when there is a risk to life.
  • Women have a responsibility for the sexual sins of their husbands
Alex says:

Quote:
Yet some of RCC teachings which now appear to be oppressive, misguided, and ridiculous (though not "perverted" - which is mere hyperbole) were part of mainstream secular thinking not all that long ago.
That simply illustrates the fact that European society was at least semi-theocratic for a long time in a pre-scientific age. Very little was known or understood about the reproductive process. There is no merit in sticking to the effects of such ignorance when better information is available. It is a perversion in the sense of turning away from what is true or reasonable.

Indoctrination

Alex objects to my use of this word, but it is something done by all religions, literally imparting the religious doctrine. Will doesn’t come into it. Indoctrination is only evil in my opinion when other sources of information are deliberately excluded.

In a secular state with publicly funded schools, children will probably receive religious indoctrination from their parents and the parents may in addition expose the children to indoctrination by priests, imams, rabbis, etc. But at school the children should be exposed to a multiplicity of ideas and should learn how to think critically.

In countries with concordats, the main requirement of the church is to have a monopoly in the schools, so that instead of critical thinking children just get indoctrination. Britain doesn’t even have a concordat as an excuse for handing over publicly funded schools to church control.

Alex says:

Quote:
If raising a child as catholic is itself a form of abuse, there can only be one answer: the state must protect children not only from religious institutions but from the influence of their religious parents by taking them into care homes managed by atheists. Is that what anyone - even the most ardent humanist - wants?
But this is nonsense. Except in totalitarian states, no-one wants to control what parents tell their children. But it is abusive to prevent children’s access to the fullness of human culture, knowledge and thought.

Sexuality and Women

The sexual impulse is the strongest one in sexually reproducing animals. To elevate celibacy above normal sexuality is surely warped. It denies our most basic instincts.

You only need to read the history of the RCC’s dealing with sexuality in past ages to see how bizarre they used to be.
I recommend Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality and the Catholic Church by Uta Ranke-Heinemann.

The church, as in other matters of doctrine, has been forced over time to modify some of its crazier doctrine, but it is still responsible for much human suffering. And that is what my thesis is about. I don’t care about the church’s reasons or justifications; I care about the effects of what they do.

Alex tries to cite the Virgin Mary to claim that the RCC respects women. Sorry, Alex, it won’t wash. The Virgin Mary is a non-human human: someone who is both a virgin and a mother. If she is the ideal woman, then that ideal is constructed to be unreachable. No normal woman can aspire to resemble the BVM.

It is clear that the RCC is misogynistic. Women are always subordinate to men for the most threadbare reasons. And even if they had really good doctrinal reasons, which they don’t, it would not excuse them from the fact that they collude in the oppression of women.

Alex admits that the RCC position on abortion, contraception, and the purpose of sexual intercourse is difficult to understand or defend but he tries to justify it in terms of the RCC’s “divine mission”. But I come back again and again to the fact that to me the RCC’s “divine mission” is of no interest to me in this discussion.

When we consider whether an individual is evil or committing evil acts, then it is appropriate to look at his/her motivation.

But we are not looking at individuals here. We are looking at a human institution. I said in the OP

Quote:
The term “evil” does itself have theological connotations, so I will attempt to explain what I mean in applying it in a secular context to the institution of the RCC… What I am maintaining is quite simply that the RCC is responsible for a great deal of needless suffering in the world, that it has a disruptive influence on society and that these effects outweigh any good it may do.
In those terms, Alex’s efforts to justify RCC behaviour with reference to their beliefs just doesn’t cut it. I do sympathise, because I think he has a very difficult task. But perhaps he has one advantage in that he is only faced with me and not some great thinker!
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Old 25 Jul 2010, 05:44 PM   #146451 / #5
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I want to start with the end of DMB's second post. She says: "Alex’s efforts to justify RCC behaviour with reference to their beliefs just doesn’t cut it."

This can be understood on two levels. First: My defence doesn't cut it because of the inadequacy of my arguments. In other words, I'm simply not up to the job of making the case. Well, I admit I haven't done any "research" in preparation for this discussion. I've relied on my background knowledge, common sense, and intuition. You can put this down to either folly or vanity on my part; but to have promised original arguments that could show the RCC innocent of all charges would have been an affectation. If Thomas Aquinas doesn't get any respect for his subtle disquisitions (which attempt to define and justify Christian dogma), it's obvious that my efforts deserve to be laughed at.

Second, No defence whatsoever of the RCC, no matter how intellectually sophisticated, would pass muster in this discussion. This is not a dialogue in which someone's mind hasn't already been made up. There is no concession (from DMB) that her opinions might be dubious or temporary in any particular. The Roman Church is put in the dock and inevitably convicted because modern educated or enlightened opinion will not, indeed cannot, tolerate any other outcome. There isn't even a faint sense of the numinous which might mitigate the zeal of the prosecution. "Guilty as charged" - it's an absolute and foregone conclusion.

But how could any justification of Roman Catholic behaviour be attempted without detailed reference to the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church? If we were talking about the "evils" of Soviet Russia, we could hardly make any progress without referring to communism. If we were talking about the "evils" of the French Revolution, we would have to examine the beliefs and ideals of the revolutionary elite etc.

Imagine I lived next door to a community of dervishes who whirled all day and howled all night. Suppose I tried to have them prosecuted for disturbing the peace. Wouldn't it be reasonable of them to claim (in their defence) that their noisy antics, while viewed as mischief by secular neighbours, are an expression of some religious belief or other?

DMB refuses to accept the church's estimation of its own role, but what other estimation could the RCC provide? Its belief system is on trial. It either steps up to the wicket and defends itself by explaining the Christian principles on which it claims to be acting, or it rolls over and expires. There is no middle ground here. On the one hand there is a world view based on scientific materialism informed by liberal humanism (perhaps), and on the other side there is a world view based on metaphysical considerations which are excluded a priori.

It is simply not possible to undermine allegations against the Roman Church without taking into account what it might say in its own defence. If what Catholics believe, or say they believe, is inadmissible as an excuse for the history of their activities, on what grounds could they get a fair hearing? Catholic beliefs make no sense to the atheist, but that doesn't mean they can't be a mitigating factor when impartially considered. So to rule the RCC description of its mission as "totally irrelevant" cuts the ground from under my feet. There is no such thing as a vindication which is not self serving in some respect.

I think any vindication of Catholicism which tries to answer each and every charge against it in detail, will appear to founder. There are two main reasons for this apparent failure. The first, of course, is that it's certain some allegations of irregular conduct by Roman Catholics will be true. When such allegations, at the institutional level, stretch over many centuries and have countless social, political, and even economic dimensions, then it would be miraculous if everything could be "explained" in a positive light. That would be airbrushing on a monumental scale.

The second reason is that the RCC is swimming against a tide of opinion which, for convenience, might be called modern liberal or humanist orthodoxy. In other words, Catholicism is opposed to a philosophy of life that most educated and socially concerned people now seem to embrace with an unquestioning trust. "Enlightened" people claim to know things when it would be more accurate to say they believe things. What is seldom admitted, as the secular point of view gets the upper hand all over the place, is that we are participants in an ongoing social experiment and we don't know how it will turn out. The hierarchy of the Roman Church, watching under the aspect of eternity, can expect no thanks for drawing attention to this.

That ends my defence of my defence.

If I now try to address some more of DMB's assertions about the misconduct of the Roman Church, I shall have to resume the task by referring to Catholic doctrine. Spinning criminal misconduct out of court isn't within the remit I've undertaken. I'm not a lawyer.

To control my prolixity and avoid repetition I've edited my responses into terse "bullet" paragraphs. I hope my brevity won't be construed as levity of purpose. I haven't deliberately overlooked any salient point because I'm afraid to "tackle" it.

I know brevity is the soul of wit. Alas, I haven't been able to spark any of the following ripostes with even a scintilla of wit.


The Foundation of the Church:

Whatever I say about the foundation of the RCC (whether or not it was established by Jesus Christ during his lifetime etc.) is immaterial: that's what the RCC maintains as the truth. We have to deal with its "existential beliefs" and not what it ought to believe in order to mollify the saucy doubts of 21st century sceptics.

Science:

By clinging on to a God-centred understanding of the world, the Roman Church had a history of suppressing scientific truths and persecuting some scientists. From that fact it does not follow that it knows the truth about everything. It claims to have the truth about the meaning of Christ's ministry. When it departs from teaching that singular insight or divine revelation, it can fall into error, stupidity and cruelty - just like any secular organization.

Concordats:

Concordats were concluded because of moral cowardice - not to signify endorsement of fascist aims. One factor influencing the concordat solution was the supposed choice of evils - e.g. between "godless" Bolshevism and nominally Christian governments. Christian institutions - Catholic and Protestant - compromised with the Hitler regime. The only Christians, if that's how they describe themselves, to defy the Nazis with constant resolution were the Jehovah's Witnesses. They ended up in concentration camps. Without the concordats, the RCC reasoned, many Catholics would have joined them. With hindsight we can see this would probably not have happened.

Obedience:

The RCC does not teach that Christian or clerical obedience should flout the secular law - unless it can be shown that the secular law is unjust. When the canon law was used routinely as an escape hatch to avoid prosecution in civil courts, the administration of justice was still in a state of flux. Those days are long gone in Western societies. Priests like everyone else are citizens under the rule of law.

Child Abuse:

The child abuse scandal was not covered up because priests claimed the protection of canon law, but because the hierarchy feared the damage that disclosure would do to the reputation of the RCC. Of course they made it much worse by not immediately handing over the criminal priests to the secular authorities. The church has not "changed its position" on this matter - which would suggest that it had somehow previously approved of molesting children etc. It has come to it senses and investigations are proceeding. Reforms are in hand. This will have implications for the training of priests in future. These implications are a ticking bomb.

Sexuality:

DMB's objections to the church's teaching on sexuality are simply excerpts from the manifesto of secular humanism. As such they illustrate the unbridgeable gulf between Catholic values and the values which educated people now think are essential to an humane and unprejudiced way of life. We do not know how long the contemporary moral consensus will last.

A merely personal observation: I'm not encouraged by some of the social trends, received wisdom, or unquestioned moral judgments of our time - whatever their provenance.

Mary and Misogyny:

The Virgin Mary is a representative woman - an ideal as you say. Nobody, man or woman, can emulate an ideal completely. That would destroy the concept.

You assert and I deny that the RCC is misogynistic. If, by misogyny you particularly refer to the refusal to ordain women as priests, the church has always maintained that it has no authority in scripture to do so. Not even the Virgin Mary had any "official" position within the apostolic commission. She had no priestly duties. Her status was and is symbolic.

The RCC is not an equal opportunities employer with careers open to both men and women. It's a religious institution guided by its mandate from scripture and supplemented by moral precepts abstracted from Natural Law.


Postscript:

DMB says: "I don’t care about the church’s reasons or justifications; I care about the effects of what they do."

There is no justification for evil, but not caring about the reasons which might explain an institution's conduct - whether it resulted in good or evil - is against the spirit of free inquiry.

My next post will wind up for the "defence". Then I shall take a few weeks holiday in a monastery.

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Old 29 Jul 2010, 09:24 PM   #147645 / #6
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Alex has wilfully misinterpreted my remark about his efforts to justify RCC behaviour with reference to their beliefs just not cutting it. I didn’t suggest it was an inadequate apologia. I thought in its own terms it was a very good effort and I said as much. Nor am I maintaining that “no defence whatsoever of the RCC, no matter how intellectually sophisticated, would pass muster in this discussion.” My position is that the beliefs claimed by the church hierarchy cannot constitute an adequate defence in this secular forum.

Messengers of god(s)

(Wikipedia)Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, claimed that voices coming from God told him to kill prostitutes. He was nevertheless found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment (now stated to be for his full life with no possibility of parole). A few years after his trial and sentencing, he was found to be suffering from schizophrenia and from then onwards was detained in a special hospital for the criminally insane.

So his claims of being an agent of God have not protected him from being found guilty of murder and dealt with accordingly.

Roeder, the anti-abortionist convicted of the murder of Dr George Tiller, claimed in court

Quote:
"I did kill him. It was not a murder," Roeder said. "If you were to obey the higher power of God himself, you would acquit me."
The court nonetheless sentenced him to 50 years of imprisonment without parole. Similarly, Osama bin Laden and various leaders of violent jihad against the west claim to be carrying out God’s will, as clearly expressed in the Koran. But many Muslims and virtually all non-Muslims think that they are evil people.

Let us try a simple thought experiment:
Nog meets Gog.

Nog: Gog, I have observed that you have killed someone every day for the past 100 days. This is terrible!

Gog: Ah, but I am simply obeying the instructions of the great god Zog, whose Prophet I am and who tells me He needs a daily human sacrifice. And now that I have plenty of followers, Zog tells me that each of my followers must also perform a daily human sacrifice.

Do we, the majority who don’t worship Zog, simply tolerate this horrible practice? Do we even consider that belief in what Gog claims for Zog exonerates those followers from any crimes they commit? I don’t think so.
Insofar as I understand the law, the mens rea is necessary for many acts to be considered crimes. But consider the difference between murder and manslaughter. In murder, the mens rea is the deliberate intent to perform an unlawful killing. In manslaughter, the mens rea may be absent or not focused on killing, but if you have killed someone, it doesn’t necessarily absolve you from all crime, but simply from the crime of “murder”. Some cases of manslaughter are so bad that they can invoke similar sentences to those for murder.

So what I am trying to show here is why the beliefs of the RCC about some sort of commission from God are really irrelevant in judging the actions of the RCC, except insofar as they may provide a small amount of mitigation. Of course, this is not a court of law; it is merely a secular discussion board. In considering such a question, however, I think we need to apply modern, secular ideals. Why should we as secularists care what people believe about gods? They can believe what they will, but they deserve no special consideration when their acts adversely affect others.

I am again succumbing to temptation and quoting from the bible

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gospel according to St Matthew, Chapter 7
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
So I am for judging the RCC by their fruits, and not by their claimed motivation.

Consideration for religious beliefs and practices

Alex’s dervishes might well claim that their racket is the expression of a religious belief, but that belief should not necessarily excuse them from compliance with the law.

I tend to support the concept of human rights and indeed to be an advocate for it. If we examine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the granddaddy of international agreement on human rights, we do indeed see that Article 18 is about the right to religion or belief

Quote:
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.
But the slightest consideration of human rights will make it clear that few if any of them can be absolute, because, quite simply, one person’s right to one thing can conflict with another person’s right to something else.

In my thought experiment about Nog, Gog and the great god Zog, it is clear that the right of Gog and his followers to practise their religious requirement of human sacrifice may conflict with the right of their victims to life. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration says:

Quote:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
I am not suggesting that something like the Universal Declaration constitutes a sufficient moral basis for society, but that it is perhaps a starting point for attempts to find a level playing field where we can look critically at any human practices and institutions. And I have said all along that I look at the RCC as a human institution. Alex instances the “evils” of Soviet Russia and says that if we were considering them we could hardly make progress without referring to communism. However, that is just what many studies have largely done. I am thinking in particular of this excellent book The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia by Richard Overy Overy is looking at two totalitarian systems. To a degree the ideological differences between Communism and Nazism are examined in context, but there is a great deal of similarity between the systems and many of the differences are cultural and a result of the personal characteristics of the two dictators.

Alex asks

Quote:
DMB refuses to accept the church's estimation of its own role, but what other estimation could the RCC provide? Its belief system is on trial. It either steps up to the wicket and defends itself by explaining the Christian principles on which it claims to be acting, or it rolls over and expires.
But I must point out that the church is not required to defend itself in this discussion. Alex is. He has chosen to try to present what he thinks the church’s defence ought to be, but that was his choice rather than his brief. This is a secular board and naturally we are going to look at this question through modern secular eyes. Over the centuries many Christians have produced damning indictments of the RCC on the grounds of its religious doctrines and practices, but I cannot see the point of my attempting to do so.

Replying to some of Alex’s points

I liked this one about the foundation of the church

Quote:
Whatever I say about the foundation of the RCC (whether or not it was established by Jesus Christ during his lifetime etc.) is immaterial: that's what the RCC maintains as the truth. We have to deal with its "existential beliefs" and not what it ought to believe in order to mollify the saucy doubts of 21st century sceptics.
Well, of course, I am aware of the RCC’s dubious claims in this respect, but I don’t think Alex has explained why anyone other than Catholic believers should give them the slightest consideration. So mark me down as a sceptic with saucy doubts.

Then we get this point about science

Quote:
By clinging on to a God-centred understanding of the world, the Roman Church had a history of suppressing scientific truths and persecuting some scientists. From that fact it does not follow that it knows the truth about everything. It claims to have the truth about the meaning of Christ's ministry. When it departs from teaching that singular insight or divine revelation, it can fall into error, stupidity and cruelty - just like any secular organization.
Of course, I am sceptical about its claims concerning Christ’s ministry, but they would not be as harmful if they really did stick to that and not indulge in persecution of anyone labelled an infidel, heretic or witch or not rush in with unsubstantiated claims. They have repeatedly made claims to know the truth about everything and they still do so with respect to far too many issues, such as the efficacy of condoms, where they lack expertise and have not been above blatant lying.

Concordats

I am making this a section on its own, because either Alex is dodging the issue or he doesn’t know enough about them. Once again, I refer everyone to the Concordat Watch website http://www.concordatwatch.eu/. Alex tries to explain away or even justify the concordats with the fascist powers, but I have to ask

Why are concordats established over 60 years ago with morally repugnant regimes still in force in the same countries?

The RCC has always had the same overriding objectives with all its concordats. First of all they are about channelling money towards the RCC and the Vatican. The RCC has striven through concordats to enforce its precepts with the full force of the law and with no allowance for individual conscience. It has also tried in any country with a concordat to insulate the population from any ideas that do not conform to the current church orthodoxy. None of this is consistent with human rights, scientific knowledge or human welfare.

The whole idea of a concordat, an international treaty between states that cannot be abrogated without the consent of both parties, and which may be signed in secret, is anomalous for a religion and clearly anti-democratic. Here more then anywhere we see the church’s dishonest posturing as a state, which so clearly represents part of its grappling for temporal power.

Canon law and secular law with particular reference to child abuse

Alex says on this

Quote:
The RCC does not teach that Christian or clerical obedience should flout the secular law - unless it can be shown that the secular law is unjust. When the canon law was used routinely as an escape hatch to avoid prosecution in civil courts, the administration of justice was still in a state of flux. Those days are long gone in Western societies. Priests like everyone else are citizens under the rule of law.
Whether or not it actually teaches such a thing, it appears to be understood at most levels in the church that priests and other clerics are to be protected if possible by the church and dealt with under canon law. Until this year, there was no instruction to report crimes by clerics to the secular authorities. The practice has been to deal with them within the church.

Priests ought to be regarded as citizens under the rule of secular law, but such has been the power of the church that police and prosecutors have colluded with the church in hushing up scandals. See for example the scandal of (Wikipedia)Mount Cashel Orphanage.

If you look into the complaints about the cover-ups, this one is far from atypical: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/new...cle7061133.ece.

Cardinal Brady is now the top man in the Irish RCC and has refused to resign.

Quote:
Brady. . . was a 36-year-old qualified canon lawyer and a teacher at St Patrick’s College in Cavan when the alleged Smyth cover-up took place.

As secretary to the diocese of Kilmore, he acted as the recorder of the evidence on behalf of Francis McKiernan, then the bishop, at one tribunal session on March 29, 1975. At a second meeting on April 4 the same year, he questioned witnesses and recorded their answers.

The hearings were held behind closed doors at the Dominican friary in Dundalk, Co Louth, and at Smyth’s Norbertine order’s Holy Trinity Abbey in Kilnacrott near Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan.

They were presided over by three canon lawyers and examined formal complaints that Smyth had sexually abused a teenage girl and, separately, an altar boy during church-related activities. Smyth was accused of sexually assaulting the boy, then aged 10, while on holiday in west Cork. The girl said the priest first abused her around Easter 1970, when she was 14.

Both the boy and the girl were required to sign affidavits swearing that they would not talk to anybody except priests given special permission by the tribunal hearings, known in church parlance as “ecclesiastical proceedings”.

Church authorities did not inform gardai about the allegations.
It was not until 1997 that Smyth was jailed in the republic for molesting 20 children.
So this is the sort of thing that was happening all over the place:
1. A canonical hearing was held.
2. Victims were sworn to secrecy.
3. No report was made to the secular authorities

Finally, this summer the pope has said that all abuse cases must be reported to the secular authorities. But they have centuries of not doing so behind them, and this change has come about purely because of the public outrage at the scandals and the church’s cover-ups.

Since clerical celibacy is an important requirement within the RCC, sexual abuse of minors has always been looked upon as an offence under canon law, although not always taken as seriously as sexual relations with a woman. Cruelty to children has been less regarded. I am not claiming that the church has therefore encouraged sexual abuse of children, but it has never regarded priests as necessarily subject to secular law. I do not have space to discuss this matter in detail. I suggest reference to Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse by Doyle, Sipe and Wall. All the authors are Catholics. Doyle is a priest.

I also still maintain that if we look at actual cases, the perceived requirement for obedience to superiors is an important factor. And Nuremberg taught us that “I was only obeying orders” is not merely a plea for clemency but an admission of guilt.

Sexuality and misogyny

Alex says

Quote:
DMB's objections to the church's teaching on sexuality are simply excerpts from the manifesto of secular humanism.
I wonder which manifesto he has in mind. Yes, I am a Humanist (I prefer to dispense with the adjective “secular”). But in this discussion I am guided principally by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, in discussing sexuality, knowledge about sexuality that has been gathered from research in the past 50–150 years and which was not available in the Middle Ages when the RCC was formulating most of its doctrine on the subject. Doctrines based on ignorance do not deserve to be followed when better information is available. Of course, more remains to be discovered. The advantage of science over most religion is that science can admit mistakes whereas religion, and particularly the RCC, tries to claim that it is stating universal truths.

The RCC is gradually losing ground on sexuality, certainly in developed countries. Modern Catholics are increasingly rejecting the teachings of the church, on contraception above all.

The RCC’s attitude to sexuality is closely connected to its attitude to women. There is no doubt that in past ages women were seen as a source of evil and a temptation to men, and this was of course linked to its negative attitude to sexuality. Since the church set its face so firmly against contraception, the role defined for the majority of women is that of prolific breeder, regardless of health or family resources. The church has largely failed to recognise all the roles that modern life has opened up for women.
In combination with the church’s views on contraception and abortion, restricting women largely to a reproductive role has caused much suffering.

In 2004 John Paul II canonised Gianna Beretta Molla. She was pregnant with her fourth child when diagnosed with cancer. She refused an operation, in an attempt to keep the foetus, and died as a result. Most non-Catholics would consider her an irresponsible mother to her existing children, knowing the huge risk that they would be orphaned. But the pope raised her to the status of a model for other women.

The fact that the church refuses to countenance the ordination of women is another indicator. The penalties for the ordination of women actually exceed those for child abuse!

The restrictions on reproductive freedoms, enshrined in secular law where the church can manage to achieve it, also victimise women. We now have a few largely Catholic countries where, under the influence of the church, all abortion is strictly forbidden. This includes the abortion of ectopic pregnancies, where without abortion the only outcome is death for both woman and foetus. I regard this as profoundly misogynistic.

And then last year in Mexico, doctors who carried out an abortion on a raped nine-year-old girl pregnant with twins, and the girl’s desperate mother, were excommunicated. The compassionate church, however, did not excommunicate the rapist. Another indicator of priorities?

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Alex claims the BVM as an ideal that Catholic women can aspire to, even though her combination of virginity and motherhood cannot be attained.

But many scholars of Mariolatry recognise that the role of Mary within the RCC is that of a mother goddess. (Her title “Queen of Heaven” suggests as much.) It is just one of many indications of the church’s willingness to incorporate features from competing religions.

Now if we look at goddesses in the ancient world, they do not in general imply the emancipation of women. The tutelary deity of Athens was the goddess Athene, but the status of women in classical Athens was very low.

So I don’t think that we can conclude that the BVM is a sign of respect for women in general.

Conclusion

Alex and I have agreed to restrict ourselves to just three posts each, so this is my final word on the subject.
I said most of what I wanted in the OP. But in this final look at the subject I would like to touch on some things I have not covered so far.

Many people will claim that churches do good. Well, to a degree they do. Or rather some of their members do. I have met a few heroic Catholics battling to help the unfortunate. These rare people are a shining example to all of us. But I have also met equally admirable non-Catholics, and my conclusion is that some people are good and, if so, they probably do not need an institution like the church to motivate them. Moreover, the pre-occupations of the church, such as those involving reproductive health, may detract from people’s efforts. If people genuinely want to help others they might do so from outside the church and its immoral constraints.

Much of the effort of the Catholic and other churches goes into missionary activity aimed largely at conversion. Of course, the churches will see this as a fine and good activity, but from a secular point of view it represents a huge waste of resources that could be better employed.

The RCC does not confine itself to guidance to Catholics on religion. It actively interferes in politics. In the USA and in other countries it has threatened Catholic lawmakers with excommunication if they vote for laws that the church dislikes. But Catholic lawmakers are typically not elected as Catholics but as citizens. They represent their voters, who may be of any faith or none. They are not elected to represent the church. IMO the church should stand back and allow lawmakers the exercise of their consciences.

Most people are unaware that proposed EU legislation is run past Catholic bishops before it is even presented to the European Parliament and that the bishops have an effective veto. This again is profoundly anti-democratic.

In countries where the church still has numerous supporters it is not content with warning people against the supposed moral perils of contraception and abortion. It lobbies strongly behind the scenes, putting all sorts of pressures on politicians to remove choice from the population, whether Catholic or not.
As long as the RCC goes on claiming statehood and playing an active role in politics on the back of this statehood, I think it will have very bad effects in the world

IMO Vatican II was an opportunity for the RCC to make many beneficial changes, but this opportunity was largely lost during the reigns of the semi-conservative Paul VI and the unashamedly conservative John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The result has been large numbers of Catholics voting with their feet and a severe shortage of candidates for the priesthood in developed countries.

Of course, as a non-believer, I am not at all sorry to see the wrong turnings and decline of the church. But I am just sorry that worldwide the RCC still has huge political influence, which it uses so much against the human rights and best interests of ordinary people.
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Old 01 Aug 2010, 04:18 PM   #148193 / #7
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All DMB's observations are in bold type.

DMB says: "My position is that the beliefs claimed by the church hierarchy cannot constitute an adequate defence in this secular forum."

Of course not. The members of this forum are a self selected group that are not, I suspect, representative even of the "atheist community". Using the phrase "in this secular forum," seems to suggest that an adequate defence of the RCC might be more successful with different audience that was more sympathetic than the people here. But even in that case such a defence would also require extensive reliance on the "extenuating circumstances" of Catholic beliefs.

There is no uninvolved way of defending a religious credo. A sociological inquiry might discuss the Catholic belief system in a dispassionate investigation. But that would not be a defence, and despite its scientific aspirations it wouldn't be impartial. There is no such thing as a scientific apologia on behalf of a religious movement.

"So what I am trying to show here is why the beliefs of the RCC about some sort of commission from God are really irrelevant in judging the actions of the RCC, except insofar as they may provide a small amount of mitigation.......I think we need to apply modern, secular ideals".

A defence of the RCC has no option except to put a case based on what the church says it believes. This applies emphatically to the fundamental belief in a divine commission. How a set of religious beliefs plays out in the world is not necessarily a judgment on their "character". Belief in pacifism - which is a noble ideal - isn't debased if a criminal lunatic like Hitler takes advantage of it and gets the jump on us. Even faith in the primacy of reason can lead to miscellaneous mischiefs. We don't abandon reason on that account.

My fanciful reference to the dancing of dervishes was meant to reinforce the point. Sometimes the actions of Jews, Hindus, Catholics, Zorastrians, or even Dervishes might disturb, annoy or appall secular society, but they will be justified by their devotees as a religious necessity. We can't make sense of what they're doing without trying to understand the religious imperative.

Modern secular ideals - whatever they are - are not indicators of absolute moral standards. Indeed, it could be plausibly argued that relativity of values is of the essence in modern secular opinion. There's a suspicion here of being on both sides of the question at the same time. Concentration on the secular instead of on the divine, has become the real orthodoxy of the modern world.

In a context where the absolutism of the Catholic Church is vilified, there must be at least an atom of irony in the position of secular extremists. Catholic doctrine bad: Secular dogma good: We need the wit of Alexander Pope to wring an emergency satire out of that juxtaposition.

"I am for judging the RCC by their fruits, and not by their claimed motivation."

These are very carefully chosen fruits. They're all bad. Like a crafty costermonger, you've taken them all from the bottom of the heap. Only the most grudging admission has been made about the good which has to be weighed with the harm - if we are to arrive at a just verdict. I'll return to this point in my 'peroration'.

DMB appears to distinguish between motivation and "claimed" motivation. The inference being that the motives of the RCC are advertised in bad faith. There is no objective evidence for this. Their motives are what they say they are on matters of faith and morals. On temporal matters the RCC is as prone to error and malice as any other human institution.

[As an aside: DMB's reference to The Dictators by Richard Overy is puzzling. In this book - which I haven't read - I understand the behaviour of Hitler and Stalin is analysed in the light of their ideology. Thus she endorses the point I've been labouring vis-à-vis the RCC, and which she has already dismissed as "irrelevant" !]

"I must point out that the church is not required to defend itself in this discussion. Alex is. He has chosen to try to present what he thinks the church’s defence ought to be, but that was his choice rather than his brief."

A lawyer's brief can't be put together without reference to the client's account of what he thinks he was doing and why. When Frankie shot Johnny three times in the back, her belief was that "He was her man, and he'd been doing her wrong". That defence might not wash in court, but it is a defence. If my terms of reference exclude any allusion to what the Catholic church teaches - i.e. what it thinks it's doing - there can be no traction in what I have to say.

There's no way the RCC can be put in the dock on a message board. If an SC Committee of Public Safety could arraign the Roman Church, it would try to vindicate itself in the same terms that I'm cobbling together. I imagine that if Jesus Christ himself registered here, his exculpatory posts would be smothered in mockery in no time.

"Of course, I am sceptical about its claims concerning Christ’s ministry, but they would not be as harmful if they really did stick to that and not indulge in persecution of anyone labelled an infidel, heretic or witch or not rush in with unsubstantiated claims. They have repeatedly made claims to know the truth about everything and they still do so with respect to far too many issues, such as the efficacy of condoms, where they lack expertise and have not been above blatant lying."

I have conceded that the RCC should stick to its self-proclaimed assignment for the salvation of souls. If did no more than that, it would still find itself in conflict with heretics because Truth is indivisible. Jesus of Nazareth did not intend to establish a free market in competing religions.

Witch hunting can't be unilaterally attributed to Catholic teaching. The Salem witch trials took place in an hysterical religious atmosphere created by Puritanism.

Either the Roman Church has repeatedly claimed to "know the truth about everything" or it has claimed to know the truth about "far too many issues". These two claims about what the RCC claims are perplexing. The efficacy of condoms is a side issue. The moral objection to the use of condoms flows from Catholic teaching on the purpose of marriage, contraception, and the temptations of promiscuity. Since this is a moral issue, the church seeks to guide the faithful on it.

"I am making this a section on its own, because either Alex is dodging the issue or he doesn’t know enough about them. Once again, I refer everyone to the Concordat Watch website..... Alex tries to explain away or even justify the concordats with the fascist powers".

I did a light quick step around the Concordat question because there is no way I can justify deals with tyranny - even when I can understand the reasons for them. Justification goes further than mere understanding. To make a partisan point, DMB tends to elide the difference.

With the benefit of hindsight we can now see that the Vatican acted most injudiciously. I've already suggested that moral cowardice was at the root of every concordat, but to understand we should try to think ourselves into the mindset of educated people in the 1930s and 1940s. Appeasement turned out to be a bad idea but it's wrong to castigate Chamberlain's government retrospectively on account of it.

One explanation (not justification) of the Vatican readiness to conclude concordats with Hitler and other dictators is the "lesser evil" argument. For example: In a choice between "godless Communism" which threatens to persecute the church and Nazism or Falangism that permits the church to continue and even, in the latter case, incorporates Catholicism as a kind of state religion, the outcome was inevitable. If elimination is a possibility, realpolitik will prescribe the terms for survival. Maybe that's a false perspective: it's easy to be wise after the event.

Another explanation is that when or if the RCC acts as a temporal power it can fall into the same political and moral squalor as any materialistic organisation. Julius II, the Warrior Pope, spent more time wearing his battle helmet than his helmet of salvation. This is in complete contradiction to the message of the gospels, but the RCC has always had its quota of ambitious, devious, and hypocritical human beings. The same could be said of the Council for Secular Humanism, I think.

On Canon Law: DMB says, "Whether or not it actually teaches such a thing, it appears to be understood at most levels in the church that priests and other clerics are to be protected if possible by the church and dealt with under canon law. Until this year, there was no instruction to report crimes by clerics to the secular authorities. The practice has been to deal with them within the church."

By "canon law" I understand the written policies that guide the administration and religious ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the Middle Ages, canon law was used in ecclesiastical courts to decide many types of cases that in modern times are decided by civil courts or criminal trials. Secular law has eclipsed canon law in most aspects of public life and canon law applies only to the internal governance of the Church and the discipline of its members. "Benefit of clergy" has been moribund for centuries as a device for escaping secular justice. There is no provision in canon law for the church to profess a superior jurisdiction in criminal cases.

From even this potted version of canon law, it should clear that priests cannot expect the hierarchy to protect them from the consequences of their criminality by invoking the code of canon law. As I said before, the conspiracy to prevent disclosure of the abuse scandal was not conceived behind the arras of canon law. It was actuated by the determination to conceal shocking misconduct from public scrutiny because of the damage it would do to the image of the Catholic Church. This is not a virtuous posture, but it's intelligible.

"Since clerical celibacy is an important requirement within the RCC, sexual abuse of minors has always been looked upon as an offence under canon law, although not always taken as seriously as sexual relations with a woman.....but it has never regarded priests as necessarily subject to secular law. I do not have space to discuss this matter in detail. I suggest reference to Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse by Doyle, Sipe and Wall."

Sexual abuse of minors or anyone else has always been looked upon as a moral offence: canon law doesn't have a "statute" that specifies it as such. If what Doyle, Sipe, and Wall allege is true - and I haven't had time to check it out - then the RCC has a history of concealing sexual misconduct by its clergy. But concealing is not equivalent to condoning. Again, for partisan emphasis, DMB tends to conflate the difference.

It's curious that I have read several histories of Christianity - by no means all written by sympathetic authors - which have not documented this chronicle of abuse and its systematic cover up. Is this evidence of a cover-up of a cover-up? Have we stumbled across a perennial Vaticangate? We need another Deep Throat to get in touch with the Washington Post on this one.

As for celibacy, the assiduous inquirer might be surprised to discover that there seems to be no statistically significant difference between the percentage of Catholic priests who are sex offenders and the percentage of male celibate ministers of other denominations who are sex offenders - which anyway is as low as half the corresponding percentage of the general male population. This fact, if it is a fact, doesn't excuse of course: but it puts some sorely needed perspective on the issue.

"The advantage of science over most religion is that science can admit mistakes whereas religion, and particularly the RCC, tries to claim that it is stating universal truths."

I would correct DMB here and say "the advantage of science over EVERY religion.....etc". The RCC does not claim to state universal scientific truths. The universal truths it promulgates are theological and moral. "Catholic" means "universal" - the word appears in the Apostle's Creed and refers to the ubiquitous nature of the "good news" which church is charged with disseminating. This has nothing to do with the truths of empirical science. The Catholic faith is not a self correcting body of knowledge in the way scientific understandings are always open to revision in the light of new data.

Arriving at DMB's critique of Catholic teaching with respect to abortion and contraception, seems an appropriate place to begin winding up this endeavour.

It might be said, and it is fair to say, that I haven't "engaged with the enemy more closely" on all the charges assembled against the RCC. What do I answer? Well, my first pretext is that there are simply too many accusations for each to be answered in detail. It would require a hefty tome of apologetics to get a grip on everything that DMB alleges. That's way beyond the scope of a message board discussion and beyond my powers anyway.

Another extenuating circumstance is the character of my defence - which is to explain rather than excuse the behaviour of the RCC. However, any reference to Catholic doctrine or the "divine mission" of the church has been dismissed by DMB as irrelevant. In other words, I've been expected to defend the church in terms that would be acceptable to a sceptical secular humanist. This is impossible.

Let me labour this point for the last time by taking one "issue" as representative. DMB dwells what she believes is the harm that results from the RCC line on contraception. This teaching is subsidiary to the church's theological position on the purpose of marriage, and has obvious ramifications that appear in the church's standpoint on abortion, the spread of AIDS, overpopulation, homosexuality, etc.

The only way to counter the charge that to outlaw contraception is tantamount to inflicting deliberate misery or even a death sentence on countless millions etc., is to consider the doctrinal basis of this opposition. There is no independent standpoint from which such a controversial set of questions can be examined. Whatever argument we make will have starting assumptions or embody personal prejudices.

A comprehensive exposition of the Roman Catholic view on contraception can be studied in the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Anyone who bothers to follow this link can read what Pope Paul VI had to say about the church's interpretation of its divine instructions on the sanctity of human life, the purpose of marriage, and the regulation of birth. It's the only link I've provided in this discussion. I could try to summarize the main points, but it would make no difference to the conclusions of the prosecution or the jury. All this doctrinal stuff as been rejected outright and in advance so why bother checking out what's beside the point anyway? Isn't this encyclical just another egregious popish imposture?

[When this sort of impasse occurs, you get the Godbole Effect - i.e. you can say what you like, but the outcome will be the same.]

In any case, I don't for a second expect that if DMB studied the Humanae Vitae she would modify her indictment of the RCC in any particular. The theological basis of its admonitions and guidelines don't interest her; but that insouciance doesn't make a scrap of difference to the Catholic conviction that the encyclical contains a truthful account of a divine ordinance.

If this example of the gap between the perceptions of Catholic orthodoxy and secular postulates is generalized, there's no hope of mutual understanding. Some issues are intractably divisive because they are deeply rooted in differences of values. And we end up in a quagmire of charge and counter-charge that cannot be objectively adjudicated.

The question of whether the RCC has done more harm than good is impossible to answer. We don't have access to the ledger of credit and debits with billions of entries over many centuries. We can give an opinion on how the balance comes out, but that's all we can do. And that opinion, which ever way it leans, doesn't spring out of an impartial consideration of the available information. As Lord Acton observed: If history is the best arbiter, it will conserve those moral standards which the powers of the earth, and religion itself, tend constantly to depress.

I haven't explored the record on the credit side. A few examples: the work of the "liberation priests" of Latin America; the good deeds of Catholic clergy in education, hospitals, prisons, and in the care of the dying; the assistance given under the noses of the Gestapo to American and British military on the run in occupied Europe (see Monsignor O' Flaherty's exploits as the Vatican Pimpernel); or how the despised Irish priests did a great deal to correct injustice and mitigate the suffering of the indigenous people when the English ruled Ireland. We know that some of the Catholic saints didn't even exist; but some of the so-called "saints" really were saints. Better let that pass.

Peroration:

When theism itself has been dismissed as mere superstition, there can be no benefit of the doubt for a religious institution founded on the assumption of God's existence. In other words, if God is dead - or better still, never existed - then nothing which might be said on behalf of Christianity will register with a sceptical audience.

This points to the conclusion that it's useless to argue with atheists about the doctrines of Catholicism and whether they tend always to precipitate vice and never to augment virtue. If religious beliefs rest on an ontological error - arising from whatever your favourite psychological or anthropological thesis - it's absurd to dispute the details when the whole thing is groundless on first principles.

The beliefs of Christianity are often irreconcilable with the values that guide the lives of almost everybody nowadays. Where clusters of ignorant credulity persist, the opinions of secular intellectuals filter down and are adopted by the multitude - usually in garbled forms. There's a liberal whirlwind blowing and it threatens the Catholic Church with "retribution". We should not assume assume on that account it has caught an everlasting cold and lost its voice most irrecoverably.

People create new values and discard old ones. Each generation inherits a set of assumptions (social, political, etc.) that it modifies as circumstances or even fashion seem to require. Who can say whether our present day consensus on questions about marriage, abortion, education, egalitarianism, the ultimate ends of man, etc. etc., aren't simply humours of the times that will pass as other things do? A long term waiting game is crucial to the strategy of the Catholic Church on the moral and eschatological fronts. The RCC sees itself as the nemesis of militant atheism.

Some of the horrors that the Catholic Church has orchestrated, winked at, or even revelled in have been pretty thoroughly reviewed in this thread. But, in my view, our moral judgment should always take into account whether the church has behaved in defiance of its own precepts and teaching. I do not accept that the RCC, ab initio, was and still is a wicked institution. Much of its wickedness resulted from trespassing in secular fields of inquiry where it had no business - the physical sciences are an incontestable example.

Finally, there's no contradicting that for a couple of millennia the Roman Catholic Church has provided plenty of ammunition for its critics and a box of delights for the connoisseur of follies. It's still here though.

Succinctness is all and I've been on the job too long. On that note I want my performance to fall apart like the end of a boogie-woogie played by Jimmy Yancey.



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Old 19 Aug 2010, 06:17 PM   #152963 / #8
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Since we have passed the deadline and DMB and Alex do not wish to continue, the debate is now finished. This thread will now be closed. I'd like to thank DMB and Alex for their participation!
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