The Pope Is Still A Catholic

Lefty atheists from North London to Northern California are in outrage today at the latest shock revelations that Pope Francis is, in fact, a Catholic. “The pope played us for fools, trying to have it both ways”, thundered Michaelangelo Signorile in the Huffington Post, outraged that the Pope had (briefly) met Kim Davis. Ms Davis, you’ll remember, is the rather silly Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on ‘biblical’ grounds while herself being on a rather unbiblical fourth marriage. (Giving her the martyrdom she so transparently sought by jailing her, however briefly, was both stupid and morally wrong.)

Trevor Martin in the Guardian felt his meeting with Ms Davis left “LGBT people with no illusions about the Pope’s stance on equal rights for us, despite his call for inclusiveness”. There has never been any doubt of the Pope’s stance on equal rights for LGBT communities – he doesn’t believe in them. He doesn’t agree with marriage equality; he used some pretty salty language in Argentina when it came into force there, several years before he hit the world stage. At the same time, he seems determined to avoid wasting energy fighting a battle that has already been lost psychologically everywhere in ‘the West’ and Latin America, even where the laws are yet to change.

As it turned out, this storm in a teacup involved a certain amount of shooting first before all the facts were available (it’s always fun to see the rational and evidence-based cyberlegions of New Atheism in action). The Pope seems to have been bounced into meeting Davis as one of dozens of attendees of a Washington reception, and her attorney’s version of events many not have involved a full exposition of facts. “The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects” said a tersely worded press statement from Vatican Press Office.

Still, this non-story tells us some interesting things. The way people want to read what they want into Francis is very revealing. For example, an old schoolfriend recently shared a Facebook meme that is typical of many: “It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person” it began, “In a way, the traditional notion of God is outdated…” Now, I’m pretty sure Francis would agree with the first part of that statement, but the second but and most of the rest were more New Age than Throne of Peter. And Snopes quickly confirmed the meme was nonsense.

In an oddly similar vein, Francis’ statements that good atheists are redeemed through Christ and that evolution and the big bang are real were presented by much of the media as ground breaking radical departures, when in fact they were mere restatements of positions held officially by the Vatican for many decades. The Big Bang Theory was first posited by a priest, for goodness’ sake!

Francis is a transparently good man, yet it’s strange that in a supposedly post-religious era so much is vested in a Pope, the ultimate symbol of hierarchical and autocratic religious power. Those with long memories will recall how John Paul II in his early years also enjoyed such fulsome and almost universal adulation. But what is revealed by all those social media memes and bad newspaper stories is that few people are paying that much attention to what Francis is actually trying to say. His fans simply want their version of a good life validated by a good man in a white cape. They’re all sure the Pope really agrees with them. Western culture no longer seems capable of critical dialogue between people of ideological differences but common goodwill. We want to affirmed, we are sure we are affirmed, and if we aren’t, we shout angrily.

That’s a particularly profound the problem for what we once would have called the centre-left. Lefties are increasingly unable to deal with reality as it is, or form workable coalitions with people who don’t pass every section of detailed ideology tests; what used to be disease of the fellow travelling fringe has now gone mainstream.

As so many of us, me included, get most of our news about the world via social media, those Facebook memes misreading Francis as a crusading liberal-left humanist/universalist actually matter.

Francis is a conservative Roman Catholic prelate (surprise, surprise) and in political terms, a social conservative on the moderate right of the very broad Peronist tradition. When Argentina split down the middle in the late 1970s and there was no middle ground anymore, Francis was on the right of that faultline, if not entirely comfortably.

What’s interesting is that this figure on the moderate right is leading a few crusades: for peace, for not wrecking the planet’s climate and for an economy geared to serving human need rather than rewarding rent-seeking and speculation on asset prices (it may be another figure on the soft right, his counterpart in Canterbury, who makes the most significant contribution on the last of those issues).

Part of the reason why Francis has real influence is because he isn’t an identikit politically correct lefty; when he speaks on climate change, many conservative people listen who aren’t convinced by, let’s say, a demo by the Brighton branch of Anarchist Green Action. When he says he’s opposed to the death penalty for the same reasons he opposes abortion, he challenges people to rethink their views who wouldn’t be convinced by a Guardian editorial or an Amnesty Twitter campaign.

One of the dangers of social media is that it makes it too easy for us to surround ourselves with an echo chamber of people who basically agree with us. Every time you unfriend people for voting Tory (like, seriously?) or even sharing a Britain First post you are ensuring that how you perceive the world is less reflective of how the world actually is. Lots of people do this now – I’ve been unfriended by a number of right-wingers I know from church or ham radio circles, for example. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why politics is getting more fractured and extreme across the West; that’s a debate for another time.

, , , , , ,

  • Jawine Westland

    It’s an interesting article, but starts with having a go at “lefty atheists”, has yet another go at atheism and then progresses to the fracturing of politics and some interesting info on the pope’s views. Which you could also interpret more cynical as Realpolitik… All good stuff, but why that opening paragraph and subsequent singling out of atheists?

  • Indeed.

    “Liberals” would have sufficed.

  • Gerry Lynch

    No, it wouldn’t. Christian liberals (and outright radicals) picked up on the subtleties much quicker.

  • Gerry

    Part of the reason why Francis has real influence is because he isn’t an identikit politically correct lefty; when he speaks on climate change, many conservative people listen who aren’t convinced by, let’s say, a demo by the Brighton branch of Anarchist Green Action. When he says he’s opposed to the death penalty for the same reasons he opposes abortion, he challenges people to rethink their views who wouldn’t be convinced by a Guardian editorial or an Amnesty Twitter campaign.

    Only if those people are also Catholic and place authority, of some degree, in the pronouncements of their Pontiff on something other than supernatural interpretations of the New Testament Bible.

    Of which he has more than an interest in maintaining the Idols of the Cave.

    The ‘shock’ for some, comes when the PR image is met by the reality of a conservative Catholic Pope. And I’m not entirely convinced by the belated official explanation of that meeting with Mrs Davis from the Vatican Press Office. Here’s an Independent report quoting Francis on the right of conscientious objection after meeting Mrs Davis

    On the flight back to Rome, he was asked if he supported individuals, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licences to gays.

    “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right,” Francis said.

    Earlier this month a city official in the U.S. state of Kentucky, Kim Davis, went to jail because she refused to issue a marriage licence to a gay couple following a Supreme Court decision to make homosexual marriage legal.

    Davis’s case has taken on national significance in the 2016 presidential campaign, with one Republican contender, Mike Huckabee, holding rallies in favour of Davis, a Apostolic Christian, who has since joined the Republican party.

    “I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right,” he said, speaking in Italian.

    “And if someone does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right,” he added.
    Francis said conscientious objection had to be respected in legal structures. “Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying: ‘This right has merit, this one does not.’”

    But complaints about the coverage of the Pope of the time are not novel. Though there are less complaints when that Pope’s PR presentation meets the liberal ideals of the majority of the media commentators. That, in itself, has influenced the current PR image as much as the current Pope’s ‘transparent goodness’.

    Too many posts to reference. But here’s one: The Un-Enlightenment hasn’t gone away..

  • See my comment above, Gerry.

  • Gerry Lynch

    Motivated by some of the stuff I’ve read in the past few weeks – the two articles linked in the blog, and the stuff saying he can’t really be in favour of effective action on climate change, because he’s not in favour of birth control.

    Now, I don’t agree with the Pope on birth control, if he does in fact really believe the official Vatican line, but nearly all the countries with significant natural population growth rates, and they’re surprisingly few these days, are places very very little carbon is emitted per person. How much more CO2 does an American produce in his or her lifetime than a Nigerois or Bhutanese? And few of the countries which still have large family sizes have a significant Catholic population, while we’re on the subject.

    I’m not sure it’s fair to say I’m ‘singling out’ atheists; many atheists are critical of religion in general and the Pope in particular – their prerogative, and it’s the prerogative of others to debate and criticise. Surely this is the essence of a free society?

    I do find that a significant proportion of ideologically committed atheists surf along on a wave of self-congratulation on their allegedly superior enlightenment and powers of reason. Now, I find reason can be a cold and unloving beast sometimes; but I don’t find that atheists, on average, are any more reasonable than anyone else or any less likely to try to make the facts fit their preconceived ideas of how the world should work. I enjoy puncturing that bubble when I can.

    Atheist societies have not historically been happy ones. Logical positivism, thoroughly secularised states, no religion in public life, an economy based on shared wealth rather than individual greed, a common commitment to scientific progress and the essential brotherhood of all humanity.

    What could possibly go wrong…

  • On another point, Gerry,

    But what is revealed by all those social media memes and bad newspaper stories is that few people are paying that much attention to what Francis is actually trying to say. His fans simply want their version of a good life validated by a good man in a white cape. They’re all sure the Pope really agrees with them. Western culture no longer seems capable of critical dialogue between people of ideological differences but common goodwill. We want to affirmed, we are sure we are affirmed, and if we aren’t, we shout angrily.

    I’d argue, and my other lengthy comment ties in with this, that Benedict sought just such a critical dialogue between people of ideological differences.

    Unfortunately, the media then didn’t see it in those terms.

    Even if some of us tried to…

    Just as a liberal media, now, just sees a Pontiff that agrees with their readers values…

  • Gerry Lynch

    I’m not sure what your point is here, Pete. I don’t know why you’re critiquing my post by noting that Francis is really a conservative Pope when I’ve said in the post that he is a conservative Pope.

    Francis has influence with plenty of people who aren’t Catholic, and in many cases aren’t religious. Also I’m not sure what the “New Testament Bible” is and I don’t think Catholic theology, or Christian theology, is limited to interpretations of the Bible, supernatural or otherwise. Pretending otherwise is a sort of revelling in ignorance which is not commendable but is the hallmark of too much of New Atheism; again, it’s not only Christians who make this point. Atheists like John Gray and Jaron Lanier despair of the deliberate ignoring of the Christian roots of many of the assumptions that undergird modern Western culture.

    I don’t agree with Pope Francis on gay marriage full stop, let alone on whether public officials should be any more able to refuse to marry a same-sex couple than to refuse to marry an inter-racial or inter-faith couple. I don’t think dismissing him entirely because I profoundly disagree with him on one, admittedly very important, topic helps produce a tolerant society or one focused on real human needs.

  • Atheist societies have not historically been happy ones. Logical positivism, thoroughly secularised states, no religion in public life, an economy based on shared wealth rather than individual greed, a common commitment to scientific progress and the essential brotherhood of all humanity.

    What could possibly go wrong…

    Well, indeed, Gerry…

    “that leads from Galileo to the atomic bomb…”

    But Bacon is still at fault.
    *shakes head*

  • “I’m not sure what your point is here, Pete.”

    That you’re not really focussing your argument?

    And your ad hominem response doesn’t improve that argument.

  • Gerry Lynch

    I’m not sure why you’re shaking your head. The “Knowledge Is Power” is an interesting précis of some journalism about Ratzinger’s thinking on science, progress and the good society. I still don’t know your own thinking here? Are you assuming that any reasonable person would think he was bonkers?

    Because I don’t. I yet to see any evidence that science has improved our moral capacity, as opposed to our physical condition (which it clearly has). We can’t yet know whether the 70 years since Hiroshima, extraordinarily peaceful in historic terms, especially the last 25, represent a maturing of humanity forced by confronting our capacity to wipe ourselves out or merely a brief golden age before it all hits the fan…

  • Gerry Lynch

    No ad hominem intended, I genuinely don’t know what your point is here… that “supernaturalism” is “bad”? Surely you know me well enough to know that I don’t agree. Or were you making another point that I missed.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    pete,

    almost all of your contributions here involve you quoting and linking at length and then inviting the reader to come to a conclusion that is obvious to you but almost nobody else.

    If you’re finding yourself being misunderstood – and it does seem to happen a lot – maybe you should reconsider your approach ? Just saying.

  • The “Knowledge Is Power” is an interesting précis of some journalism about Ratzinger’s thinking on science, progress and the good society. I still don’t know your own thinking here? Are you assuming that any reasonable person would think he was bonkers

    Read it again. Not that I expect you to change your mind.

  • I know you don’t agree, Gerry.

    Just as Benedict didn’t agree. But he did seek a critical engagement. Francis doesn’t.

    But they both believe the same.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “I do find that a significant proportion of ideologically committed atheists surf along on a wave of self-congratulation on their allegedly superior enlightenment and powers of reason”

    The ‘evangelically anti-evangelical’ brigade.

    I’m no man of faith (not by a long shot) but I do on occasion cringe at some of glee with which ‘significantly smarter than yaaow’ (to be read in Harry Enfield’s rich Brummie character’s voice) wing utilise on occasion when talking down to people of faith.

  • James7e

    Is one to take it, then, that the wealthy Sinn Fein elite (and of course the drones) are still not Catholic?

  • Jawine Westland

    I’m not sure it’s fair to say I’m ‘singling out’ atheists; many atheists are critical of religion in general and the Pope in particular – their prerogative, and it’s the prerogative of others to debate and criticise. Surely this is the essence of a free society?

    >>>Simple counting, you having two gos at atheism at the start, starting with a snarky “ah look at them simpletons” opener and then go to “keyboard warrior legions”. The notion you also were unfriended comes much later in the article, and mentions right-wing, with no mention of religion or lack thereof.

    I do find that a significant proportion of ideologically committed atheists surf along on a wave of self-congratulation on their allegedly superior enlightenment and powers of reason.

    >>>Where is this “significant proportion?

    Now, I find reason can be a cold and unloving beast sometimes; but I don’t find that atheists, on average, are any more reasonable than anyone else or any less likely to try to make the facts fit their preconceived ideas of how the world should work. I enjoy puncturing that bubble when I can.

    >>>Except you haven’t as you haven’t justified your notion with any balanced data, so this perceived bubble is there unpunctured.

    Atheist societies have not historically been happy ones.

    >>>Atheist societies are not secular societies. Atheist Ireland and Atheist NI favour a secular state.

    Logical positivism, thoroughly secularised states, no religion in public life, an economy based on shared wealth rather than individual greed, a common commitment to scientific progress and the essential brotherhood of all humanity.

    >>>Economical models do not relate perse to religious models (note the greed in the USA from the right-wing religious crowd, and dare I say it, certain parties in NI)

    Secularism doesn’t favour on religion in state power, but does offer room for religion.

    UK Humanism is committed to scientific progress and the brotherhood of humanity.

    What could possibly go wrong…

    >>>Dunno, sounds like you are describing The Netherlands, a secular state that used to more socialist and is alas going to a neo-con model, but is highly secularised and ranking high in various happiness surveys.

  • It’s questionable, though, whether there have ever been any genuinely atheist societies. There will always be a legacy of Judeo-Christian values in the west and Islamic or other religious values elsewhere. Even the Soviet state which you allude to had official policies in the social sphere not a million miles away from those the religious right in the USA advocate and the legacy of that is that most of the post-Soviet countries are far more illiberal than their Western counterparts on things like LGBT rights, the role of women in society etc.

    The history of religion in the USSR has many parallels with Christianity under the early Roman emperors, officially disliked and mocked and generally not the path to a solid political career, but serious attempts at supression tended to be short-lived, before the leaders decided that they had bigger fish to fry than fighting a futile culture war against their own citizens.

  • Virginia

    Well done.

  • The Pope might have lulled some on the Left but he sure didn’t fool the atheists (the ones paying attention). From his sponsorship of exorcist groups to his firing of gay priests and failure to make any actual change to the Catholic position on a host of issues which don’t belong in this century, he has long been dubbed “the PR Pope”.

    Gerry might well look down his nose at atheists. That is his right. He is, however, the one uttering magic incantations to a dead Jew who was his own father. When Georges Lemaitre proposed the Big Bang, the collar on his neck had much less to do with it than his brilliance in physics.

    If Francis is a good man, then his stark mistreatment of LGBT Catholics (any position other than full acceptance is abusive, a clear indication they are the lessers) is all the worse.

    As Steven Weinberg said, “Good people do good things and bad people do bad things, but for good people to do bad things, that takes religion”.

  • kensei
  • Gerry Lynch

    Georges Lemaitre didn’t cease being a Catholic priest when he went on his Gedankexperimente about the physical origins of the universe. To use your pithy turn of phrase, he remained someone who utttered “magic incantations to a dead Jew who was his own father”. As for how his Christian faith and work as a scientist related to and inspired one another, he isn’t around any more to make his own case but plenty of Christian scientists have.

    The Steven Weinberg quote implies that either that good people who are atheists never do bad things (simply not the case, we all do bad things sometimes) or that atheists who do ever bad things are bad people. Not sure where the evidence base and logic are here.

  • Gerry Lynch

    Interesting that you read the Netherlands out of my one paragraph summary of the philiosophical basis of Soviet style Communism. Many people on the left look at that set of values and see it as the road map to a good, happy, society, balancing freedom and interdependence. Whereas, in the only places they’ve ever been implemented, they led to authoritarianism, a shredding of trust between people, and non-functioning economic life. (I’m not sure how you work out that the Netherlands was ever a ‘socialist’ country – there has never been a Dutch government without significant involvement of parties of the right and and the political tradition of free-marketeering, individualist, liberalism has always been particularly strong there, but perhaps that’s a discussion for another time.)

    I think my point is that Western societies aren’t as different philosophically from Marxism-Leninism as people here credit. In particular, both share a damaging belief that human nature is malleable and capable of ‘improvement’ by the correct legal framework and policy decisions, and both are committed to the idea of progress. The difference is to a large extent rooted in economic undestanding – Maxist-Leninists, and many democratic Socialists in the West back in the day, believed that state planning led to prosperity and progress, whereas the dominant view in the West now holds the invisible hand of the market is more effective (now there’s a real case of magic incantations for you to attack). The democractic Left and centre-Left has been in a state of profound confusion since the 1980s with no real idea what it wants so settles for free marketeering with extra weath transfers to the poorest and an increasing taste for micromanaging personal lives; no wonder it has been in electoral retreat.

    I don’t think economic policies are remotely distinguishable from the overall philosophical outlook of a society, indeed they are one its most important practical expressions. I have long held that the decay of the Christian Democratic tradition and its analogues in the Anglophone countries (in Britain that covered both various traditions of Anglicanism/Catholicism/non-conformist Christianity on the Left as well as the churchy Anglican Tory wets) is one of the main reasons why distributive justice has slipped down the political agenda almost everywhere. And that’s also why I don’t think any ultimate triumph of rationalist atheism will lead us to an economically just society – perhaps quite the opposite.

    I didn’t realise you were an official spokesperson for Atheism NI. It is good to meet you.

  • Gerry Lynch

    I think that’s a bit of a cop out on a number of levels. The Czech Republic and the former GDR, for example, are as close to perfectly atheists societies as you’ll ever find, and Hungary only marginally less so. Only very small proportions of the population believe in God, engagement with religious rites is a minority taste and engagement formally with institutional religion even lower. China is also a largely godless and deeply rationalist culture (and Confucianism isn’t exactly a religion). Chunks of north western Europe are overwhelmingly atheist in terms of mass belief and in France that is coupled with a deep vein of aggressive offical laicism and hositility to the involvement of the religious in public life.

    On another level, all societies are palimpsets. We could at France or the Netherlands, say, as essentially atheistic societies, expressed over the top of 1000+ years of Christendom, which has shaped the grooves of how modern French or Dutch atheism is expressed, in turn overlaid on pagan and Greco-Roman substrates, which in the later case continues to be quite clearly visible. Similarly, even after 1300 years of Islam, Iran’s Zoarastrian heritage is still pretty obvious (and profoundly important in shaping Shi’a Islam even beyond Iran’s borders); the influence of traditional African religions is still pretty obvious in devoutly Christian parts of Africa and New World communities of African descent from the US to Brazil. Etc., etc., etc.

    I wonder why so many people want to minimise the specifically anti-religious character of the USSR and its satellites, openly expressed at the time and clear from the historic record. Sure, its intensity varied from time to time and place to place, but regularly attending any place of religious worship was professional suicide in all but the most menial jobs, in almost all of the Soviet Bloc, for the entirety of the Soviet period. East German teenagers who chose to be Confirmed rather than going through the secular Jugendweihe found it difficult to secure apprenticeships or university places. Teachers were sacked for attending church in Czechoslovakia until the late 1980s. Where piety was too widespread, essentially meaning Poland and Central Asia, the state had to compromise to some extent, but the continual official harrassment of the Polish Catholic Church under Communism is well documented, and practising Catholics were still kept out of the most ‘sensitive’ jobs. In Central Asia, the Soviet State quickly realised it couldn’t just make Islam disappear (although Stalin managed to starve 10 million or so of its adherents during Collectivisation) so it was forced into the private sphere. Islamic organisations were prevented from forming, religious education outside the home was effectively banned, permission to perform the Haj was almost impossible to secure, and there were only 500 mosques, mostly unstaffed, for 35 million Muslims in Central Asia in the late 1980s.

    That’s even before we talk about the millions worked and starved to death in prisons and camps when the mania was at its periodic highs. As well as that, Catholics, Baptists and observant Jews, in particular, were still being sent off to psychiatric hospitals and prison camps into Gorbachev’s time and converts to religion from atheistic Soviet homes were terminated with extreme prejudice – e.g. the fad for Buddhism among some of the intellegentsia in Central Sibera in the 1970s saw dozens of quite harmless people drugged into insanity at psychiatric hospitals.

  • Jawine Westland

    I see you are skirting the critique I had of singling out atheists here in the opening lines of your article 😛

    The Netherlands was more socialist-left in the 70s but not Communist, no. Bit of a false comparison with Communism.

    There’s no clear simple coupling between religion and economy that I can find. There’s usually a complex interplay and suggesting it’s one or the other’s fault is too simple. So suggest Rationalist Atheism will either fix or harm is too simple.

    Anyways, that’s why any systems needs to be science driven. There’s a fair bit of indication that huge gaps in wealth distribution do not benefit most in society, trickle down doesn’t work. It’s sold as if it does, evidence doesn’t back that up.

    Citation needed… (true for every policy, obv.)

    Come to a brunch perhaps? Meet the other side… 😉

  • Gerry Lynch

    Would be delighted to have brunch, or indeed a pint, next time I’m home.
    As for the Netherlands in the 1970s, I suppose Joop den Uyl’s single term government was probably the most left-wing the Dutch ever had, but it still included the then Anti-Revolutionary Party (they weren’t lefties – the name gives it away!!!)
    NL is often misread as a country. It’s decidedly liberal, but that doesn’t mean it’s left-wing. And the liberalism has its roots in pillarisation, which was exactly the sort of communalist segregation liberals in NI complain about (and liberals in NL too, until they got rid of it after the war).

  • The phenomenon of cognitive dissonance is well known. There are scientists who publish papers that they themselves disbelieve once they go to church.

    Now, what Lemaitre proposed isn’t necessarily in contradiction to Catholic doctrine. It is, however, irrelevant. His priestly vocation may have equipped him with motivation, but it granted him zero insight denied his peers. He was a brilliant man, the credit goes to him, personally.

    Weinberg’s phrase is actually a bit too limited – more accurately, the problem is dogmatic ideology. This encompasses harmful non-theistic ideologies such as communism, nationalism etc. It’s also possible to have non-dogmatic religion, though it is unusual in the West. The final caveat is that the dogma might be completely harmless, such as Jainism, except to oneself.

    If a belief system has dogma – e.g. homosexuality or abortion is a sin, witchcraft and possession is real, shun the apostates, death in the name of the state or God is noble an will be rewarded, belief in afterlife etc – beliefs held in spite of, or disproportionately to the evidence, then good people will make harmful decisions. Yes, people can make mistakes, consequences are often unintended, but at no point does faith improve the decision making. It makes the already difficult job of behaving morally and responsibly even harder.

  • Jawine Westland

    They’re on once a month, follow the Atheist NI page on Facebook.

    Pillarisation is weird, but if The Netherlands isn’t a country, then neither is NI with it’s ridiculous split on religion (a proxy for That Question) in schools, by that logic. We all have our ills, unfortunately…

  • Gerry Lynch

    Cognitive dissonance is a nice way to dismiss anyone who holds a different worldview. “People who disagree with me aren’t different, they have a mental problem!” And then you o on to note there isn’t ‘necessarily’ a conflict between Lemaitre’s Catholicism and his scientific work anyway.

    Neither you nor I can possibly judge at this distance what cross-fertilisation of ideas may have happened between Lemaitre’s faith, theological study and scientific study. I’d argue that it is eccentric in the extreme to imagine that ideas from different parts of Lemaitre’s life didn’t interact.

    I’m not sure how you come up with your list of ‘harmful’ and ‘non-harmful’ ideologies; why is nationalism ipso facto harmful and what constitutes non-harmful? Isn’t there a danger that ‘harmful’ is reduced to ‘things I more-or-less agree with’ and ‘non-harmful’ to ‘things I disagree with profoundly’? That doesn’t help us live in a world which has to live with the problems of being hyper-connected, with profound chasms in worldview, and too many weapons of mass destruction floating around.

    Nor can people be reduced morally to the ‘correctness’ of their ideological beliefs. I find Communism incredibly silly (in case you hadn’t worked that out) but there are Communists and sundry radical Leftists I’d trust with my life. There are a few ultra-Conservative Christians who claim to disapprove morally of homosexuality I’d trust with my life also. I tend to find judging people’s ideas is a less useful survival mechanism than looking at how well they live up to the high ideals that most of us, one way or another, claim to espouse.

    Not all dogma is bad. The dogma that all human beings are of intrinsic worth is difficult to prove rationally but can act as a bit of brake on the tendency of all states and institutions to behave in bestial ways. It can be one that is brutally difficult to hold on to in the face of life experience.

  • Gerry Lynch

    Sorry, maybe I wasn’t clear. NL Is definitely a country, but one that is often misunderstood, specifically as being some sort of lefty paradise because it is ‘liberal’ on sex and drugs; when the high Dutch regard for individual autonomy comes in part because it has ideological support on the right of the spectrum as well as the left. Belgium and Denmark also fit that pattern.

  • Jawine Westland

    Yep, according to some political commentators the right respects individual rights more, whereas the left wants to make everything common property.

    But…I don’t see that reflected in the NI socialists (drugs/abortion/other body related rights) or the USA right-wingers (no limits on business, but don’t be gay or a woman) or, once again, the Tories (who seem anti drugs against evidence). The labels are shifting like desert sand.

    Of course The Netherlands is not some perfect paradise, I can only hope NI imitates what it does well (secularism, personal freedom, a direct approach rather than a taboo driven one, less corruption) without falling into the uncaring/antisocial behavior traps.

  • Paddy Reilly

    There are many religions and they all have rules which are inconvenient to somebody. The Shakers do not allow marriage at all. That is why they nearly became extinct, but according to Wikipedia there are three of them left now, and one novice.

    The Catholic Church does allow marriage, between unrelated adults of the opposite sex. Nevertheless there are orders within it which married people cannot join: the Benedictines, the Poor Clares.

    It seems to me that happiness depends on selecting an outfit whose rules one can put up with, rather than spending one’s life protesting against them. It would be illogical to want to join the Shakers if you insist on having four wives: you should instead consider the Muslims or the Unreformed Mormons. There is no point in applying to join the Poor Clares, if you are male, and wish to have regular visits from prostitutes, both female and trans-gendered. It would be quite contrary to the ethos. Nevertheless, within Catholicism itself, though outside ecclesiastical premises, such behaviour is possible, though not necessarily encouraged.

    So beefing about the Pope because he does not allow what you think is going to make you happy is not merely pointless, but an infringement of his religious liberty. If he wishes to join an order which does not allow marriage, and head a Church which only allows unrelated adults of opposite sexes to marry in Church, is it not his right to do so?

    It’s not as if he has the power to cancel your reception or interdict your wedding cake, or even prevent you contracting a Civil Union in the Republic of Ireland. It’s just in his gaff, it’s not going to happen. The thinking behind this is that marriage exists solely for the engendering of children. There is a problem here in that the sacrament is not refused to the barren and the elderly, but the trite riposte to this is to invoke the case of Abraham and Sarah: a miracle will not happen, if you do not grant God the opportunity to perform it.

    So this whole confrontation of perceived LBGT rights and the Catholic ethos is a pointless waste of time, and worse, it strikes me as an instance of (Peter) Tatchellism, a ludicrous display of activism merely designed to attract the attention of sexual partners.

  • I share your contention about human life, and can happily justify it without recourse to the mystical.

    My contention isn’t that all dogma is bad. My contention is that adherence to dogma will, eventually, lead well meaning people to bad decisions and harmful acts.

    Of course your friends can be trusted with your life. If they have to chose between prayer or applying CPR, which do you think they’ll opt for?

    Getting back to the Pope – if he is as you say a good man, who refuses to change how the church treats LGBT people expressly because of Catholic dogma, then my point is made.

    Likewise, underage rape victims who cannot obtain an abortion in Catholic countries…because of adherence to dogma.

    Adherence to dogma is a terrible way to approach any decision. A decision based on reasoning and evidence is clearly superior to an Iron Age cultural moiré, forged in ignorance, fossilised in scripture, and applied to a modern context in an age of knowledge.

    I’m not advocating my position as the most correct…I’m advocating a method of reaching good decisions. It’s why methodological naturalism has advanced the human condition tremendously in the last few centuries, while religion has served only as a dead weight.