al-Benedict Strikes Again

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Quick. A cleric makes death threats against political figures who refuse to use government power to enforce edicts based upon his religion, and yet calls his opponents "terrorists" when they take reasonable steps to counteract his influence. Who is it?

Osama bin Laden? Not this time. Try Pope Benedict, who is threatening politicians with excommunication unless they toe the line in his crusade against the reproductive rights of women:

Pope Benedict on Wednesday warned Catholic politicians they risked excommunication from the Church and should not receive communion if they support abortion. [link added]
In other words, unless a pro-choice politician repents to the Pope's satisfaction before he dies (or better yet, starts opposing legalized abortion), the Pope may decide not to allow him to receive sacraments. This act will pretty much expedite the trip of said politician's immortal soul to Hell, where it will reside forever, as far as this former Catholic understands.

Yes, the soul and the afterlife are imaginary, but such things are more important than real, actual life on this earth to the faithful. And yes, the premise is that the Pope is just God's messenger. But then, there are lots of people these days claiming to be messengers for lots of Gods, each of whom is supposedly the only "true" God. Whip out the yellow crayon and color my eye jaundiced.

So the Pope is threatening members of his flock with a fate worse than death if they don't do as he says. Leaving aside the emptiness of this threat and the complicity of anyone who takes it seriously, is there anything substantively different from terrorism about it?

Yes and no. Due to the emptiness of this threat and the fact that this threat involves the sanction of its victims, what the Pope did is not legally terrorism, but an exercise of his freedom of speech. But on a moral level, it looks about the same to me. Except that anyone who caves is also to blame. Most importantly, these threats will force other people, many not even Catholic, to live to some extent according to Catholic doctrine. This last is due to the fact that the government is entrusted with the right to use force in defense of the rights of its citizens, and the Pope is demanding that his followers betray that trust, and to use that force to make them do his bidding instead.

And if you think I am being heavy-handed in my moral criticism of the Pope, consider the fact that he has already implicitly branded me -- and any other intellectual critic -- as a terrorist. Here's what got someone in Italy denounced by the Vatican for "terrorism":
At the concert, held every year in front of the Saint John in Lateran basilica -- Rome's cathedral where Pope Benedict sits as bishop -- one of the presenters, Andrea Rivera, spoke out against the Pontiff's stand on a number of issues.

"The Pope says he doesn't believe in evolution. I agree, in fact the Church has never evolved," he said.

He also criticized the Church for refusing to give a Catholic funeral to Piergiorgio Welby, a man who campaigned for euthanasia as he lay paralyzed with muscular dystrophy. [bold added]
Please tell me how this exercise of freedom of speech has threatened anyone -- bodily or "spiritually". It has not, although I am sure some theologian somewhere has concocted an argument that it has. I don't care.

Men making threats on behalf of imaginary beings in order to elicit obedience from other men: That's the essence of religious "authority". The world will either perish in an orgy of this soon, or mankind will finally reject religion once and for all.

We may one day thank Pope Benedict for making this crystal clear by emulating the Moslems with his inane threats of hellfire and wild accusations of terrorism.

-- CAV

6 comments:

Mike said...

I'm afraid I have to call you wrong on this one, Gus. Nobody is FORCING anyone to be a Catholic. When a person becomes a Catholic, they make a profession of faith, essentially a loyalty oath stating that they will conduct themselves according to this and that doctrine of the Church. This is really no different from soldiers swearing to defend the country and the Constitution. If they don't want to follow the UCMJ, all they have to do is not enlist.

I know of no Objectivist who would support the breaking of an oath voluntarily entered. Perhaps when seeing it in that perspective, you'll see that all the Pope is doing is enforcing the contract that's already in effect. Any politician who wants to act against Catholic doctrine has at their disposal the option of not being a member of the church, and thus being under no obligation to make or follow any profession of faith.

If Catholicism was the state religion of the countries where these politicians (let's just say John Kerry and be clear about it) hold office, then you'd be right on target.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Nobody is FORCING anyone to be a Catholic."

Exactly. This is what I meant when I said that anyone who takes the Pope's threat seriously enough to change his stand on abortion is also morally wrong. (Whether he should keep calling himself Catholic is, granted, a good question, albeit a separate one, and one I hadn't thought of.)

And what you say in the next paragraph is correct. This is in fact what the Pope means when he threatens excommunication.

And you do make a good point here. Yes. The pope should be doing this by his own lights.

Part of my point boils down to this: The pope is making it abundantly clear that his followers have a choice: reason in the service of life on this earth OR obedience for the sake of pie in the sky.

Having said that, the Pope is doing what he can (as he should, given his beliefs) to have his doctrine enforced to the extent that he can. No, banning abortion is not outright theocracy, but it is a step in that direction, and it is being effected by threats of hellfire against Catholic politicians.

Religion is fundamentally incompatible with secular government. And now we have a Pope who is going to press the point.

Interesting. Is this a last gasp on his part or does he see, in the non-response of the secular West to Islamofascism, an opening to begin reasserting control of the Church over secular affairs?

Mike said...

I certainly agree that religion and secular government are incompatible, as well as the general substance of your reply. I would temporarily set aside that train of thought, though, in order to pose a question:

Should the Pope really do otherwise?

I mean, if the Pope is responsible for the maintenance of the doctrine of the religion to which he is appointed vicar, is he not doing his job right to the letter?

Returning from that moment's pause, I'll concede that Benedict is certainly not ignorant of the impact and effect of his pronouncements on this matter. Nobody should be under the illusion that the Pope's position is in any way objective or unbiased. His is a completely, absolutely, irrevocably partisan stance on the matters. Of course, that's just fine with the church. The way they see it, they have no need to adapt to modern conventions (like the Enlightenment era) when the old ways have worked for 2000 years.

I tell you, it makes it harder and harder to be a Catholic these days. I am glad to have taken reason's red pill, though. I wouldn't go back to the way it was before. Of course, it's made easier by two factors... first, I am not a politician, and my public actions don't really reflect on church doctrine; and second, the greater part of what the church teaches about living one's life is justifiable on secular grounds (i.e. honesty, integrity, loyalty to family, and so forth).

Gus Van Horn said...

"Should the Pope really do otherwise?"

Given his premises, no.

"[T]he greater part of what the church teaches about living one's life is justifiable on secular grounds...."

I will grant that part of what the Church teaches is justifiable on secular grounds. This is what makes the parts that are not palatable to reasonable human beings, making religion more dangerous than it could be in undiluted form.

My father, who became an atheist (but was not an Objectivist) while I was still grappling with religion, and I once had an interesting conversation concerning the psychological merits of the sacrament of confession and concluded that it could serve a useful purpose, along the lines of unburdening oneself, gaining perspective, and learning from past mistakes. (This assumed for the sake of argument that the sins one confessed really were harmful to one's well-being, which is where my Dad's thinking seemed to be leading him. My father, in retrospect, was quite an advanced moral thinker, especially for someone with no training in philosophy.)

But our examples really both just show that religion is an attempt to address certain philosophical and psychological needs men have. Its basic nature, of undercutting reason, betrays all of these attempts to various extents, even sometimes turning what should be tools of survival into weapons of self-destruction.

Religion is not just incompatible with secular government (whose virtue is that it permits men to freely exercise their rational minds to their best benefits), it is ultimately incompatible with human life because it is designed to undercut reason.

Adrian Hester said...

Yo, Gus, you write: "My father, who became an atheist (but was not an Objectivist) while I was still grappling with religion, and I once had an interesting conversation concerning the psychological merits of the sacrament of confession and concluded that it could serve a useful purpose, along the lines of unburdening oneself, gaining perspective, and learning from past mistakes."

I agree, but only if it's private confession. The sort of public confession that was standard practice under communist regimes is simply abhorrent--it represents the subjection of the individual to the collective in the most intimate part of one's life (no, not sex, one's mind). This is distinct from public apologies for public actions, of course.

"This assumed for the sake of argument that the sins one confessed really were harmful to one's well-being, which is where my Dad's thinking seemed to be leading him."

Heh, one of my old girlfriends was Catholic, and she told me that Sundays she'd confess personally to God during mass what she had done with me during the week, and confess the petty stuff, which included anything she considered real sins like wrath or rudeness (not that there would have been much of that; she was a very sweet woman), to her confessor.

Gus Van Horn said...

Confessions, at least as things were when I was a kid, were confidential to the extent that they were between you and the priest. Of course, the quality of any "bouncing things off the wall" or guidance is seriously compromised in most cases simply by whom you're confiding in.

One thing I did when I was religious was go over how I wanted to improve myself during my daily prayers. That, too, was ultimately useful.

My God (i.e., my conception of the good) was a very benevolent "being" who had a very good sense of humor and would not do such things as condemn babies to Hell or punish men for doing what He made them to do. I studied Dante under a very dogmatic professor around the time I began to seriously question religion and decided that if there was a God and THAT is what he was, he was not worthy of my worship.