Ill-Advised Advice

Slate has a “Dear Prudence” section where people write in with interesting questions. Think Dear Abby, but occasionally with a more incesty vibe.

Today there was someone asking about their child who doesn’t want to go to church. Here was the question.

Dear Prudence,
Two years ago when my son was 10 he became very verbal about hating church and resisted going. My older son loves the teen group at Sunday school and assured his brother that when he made it out of the baby area, he, too, would love it. Well, he does not. Each Sunday morning he yells, pouts, and eventually succumbs to my threats. Then he takes his snarky and unhelpful attitude to Sunday school. He doesn’t believe in God, and his very cool Sunday teacher works with that. I hated my boring church as a kid, and looking back I wonder, had I not gone to church would I have been a worse person? My husband was forced to attend his church when he was little. Now, he sleeps late Sunday morning, then hikes and does other activities. He is supportive of the fact that both our sons’ spiritual development is important to me. Do I force my son to go or give up?

—Mad as Hell Mom

Here was the response.

Dear Mad,
There are some people who believe that one’s degree of religious belief has a large genetic component. That means in societies in which everyone appears to be pious, many are secretly saying to themselves, “This is a crock.” Let’s say this genetic theory is true. That means you may have passed your blue eyes and devotion to your elder son, and your husband may have passed his brown eyes and lack of belief to your younger. You and your older son find spiritual and intellectual sustenance in the church, but your younger son finds the whole thing intolerable. You’ve been fighting this losing battle for two years, and if you keep going, your son will flee all observance as soon as he is able. I think you need to walk a more tolerant path. Tell your little atheist that you’ve been thinking about what he’s been saying about church, you’re tired of dragging him to Sunday school, and you’re reconsidering your stand. But before you do, you have a requirement he needs to fulfill. You want him to write an essay (minimum two typed pages) about the progression of his (dis)beliefs, and he must cite examples of people who have struggled with lack of faith—Biblical sources get extra credit. Then, if he takes this assignment seriously, release him. But say this doesn’t mean he gets to watch TV or play video games while his brother is getting religious instruction. Have your husband agree that Sunday will be bonding time for the two skeptics. Maybe when they hike to the top of a mountain one day, your son will look around and feel a spiritual awakening.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG. This is terrible advice. The boy is clearly unhappy going to church and disruptive while he is there, thus making the experience less enjoyable for those who want to be there. Purely from a good manners standpoint, he should be left at home.

But making him write an essay about this? No, that’s total bullshit. Let me prove how by using one of my lovely little thought experiments.

Let’s suppose that the boy had decided he was going to be Jewish rather than being an atheist. Should his parents make him write an essay defending his desire to be Jewish? Actually, it’s more likely that the local rabbi would do that, but we’ll ignore that for the moment. If he wanted to be Jewish, should his parents say, “Prove it, or you’re going to Christian church!”

Or suppose that he was a boy who had been raised Muslim, but now wanted to be a Hindu. Should he have to sit and write two pages about the glory of Krishna? What if he was a Muslim, but now wanted to be a Christian?

Better yet, what if this kid’s family were all Wiccans, but he’d decided he was going to hit for Team Jesus. Actually, in that case it’s likely his parents would wince, but not get in the way, but let’s say they did. Would it be proper for them to make him “prove” that he wants to be a Christian?

The boy is twelve. He’s had zero interest in church for two years. Leave him be, and let him skip church. It would be nice if he and his father could spend time hiking, but if they just wanna sit around and watch football all Sunday, let them. It will likely lead to a “spiritual awakening” that’s got exactly the same value as that of hiking, ie: fuck-all.


Not the Best Ruling

The Supreme Court has gone and done a silly thing.

They ruled today, 5 – 4, as usual, in the case of Town of Greece v Galloway. In that case, an atheist and a Jew had filed suit when Greece, New York, started to have prayers before council meetings that were officiated by, essentially, only Christians. That town changed their tune back in 2007 and began to be more expansive, but by then things were already underway in the courts.

Today’s court ruling means, as near as I can tell, that there’s no problem at all having only Christians deliver prayers before town council meetings, or any other purely political event where people feel the need to add in a soupcon of religion.

This is a bad and stupid idea, if that is, indeed, what this ruling means. Imagine that you’re not a Christian, but you have to go and listen to Christian prayers before you can engage your local politicians in your civic duty to be an informed voter. Ok, maybe you don’t care. Perhaps you’re already a Christian and think that the rest of us who aren’t should just suck it up and realize we live in a “Christian nation”, whatever that means exactly. Fine, fair enough. Your point is stupid, but ok. Let’s go with it.

So suppose you, a good ole God-fearing Southern Baptist, are sitting in your town council hall, all ready to roll, and up steps Father John of the local Catholic church. How comfortable are you going to be? Let’s take that a step further, and assume that the only people who ever get to start off these prayers are people who are Catholics. You’re a Southern Baptist. How much are you going to tolerate that? Or assume that it’s a Mormon elder, a Methodist minister, or a Quaker. Are you really going to be happy with this?

Having religion invocations at purely civic and political events is a stupid thing anyhow. If I were religious, I think I’d be offended at people mixing God with common politics. But as it stands, I just think it’s obnoxious that the believers continue to insist that if we non-believers want to participate in civic government, we have to listen to your religious preaching first.

The Court was wrong, pure and simple, and I look forward to the eventual ruling, some ten or twenty years hence, that overturns this, and just maybe abolishes this nonsense.

Beacuse Religious People Never Commit Crimes

Bay Minette, Alabama, has a quaint idea for criminal justice, and by “quaint” I mean “incredibly un-Constitutional.” Their idea is this: rather than putting people in jail for minor offenses, they’re allowing said people to attend church every Sunday for a year.

This is stupid on so many levels. First of all, what if your religious denomination doesn’t have a church in the area? I’m sure there’s plenty of Catholic churches, Baptist and Presbyterian, but suppose you’re part of some more obscure Protestant denomination? Or what if your particular religion isn’t in the area at all? This doesn’t strike me as a place that’s likely to have or welcome any mosques, so Muslims couldn’t participate. What if you’re Hindu? Are they likely to have any Hindu temples in the area?

That’s not even asking the question of: what if you’re an atheist? Why should you be forced to spend time in jail rather than go to church? I’m sure the powers that be would simply shrug their shoulders and say, hey, if you don’t wanna go to church, that’s your choice, but if you’re an atheist it’s really not any kind of a choice at all. It’d be like telling a Catholic their only choice is jail or spending each week going to Southern Baptist services.

There’s also the question of what exactly they expect this to accomplish. I’m sure the people behind this approach religion with the belief that it’s a good, wonderful force that will somehow many people more moral if they are exposed to it. This ignores things like children being raped by priests, numerous televangelists having problems and people of all stripes, including Christians, committing acts of terrorism.

Then, lastly, there’s the fact that this is wildly illegal. It’s done to save money, and I promise you that there’s going to be a lawsuit. The end result of that lawsuit will be that the city winds up spending far more money in court costs than it would have spent just sending people to jail for a few days. They will likely fight tooth and nail to keep this law and it’s going to cost them so much money. It’s really quite sad.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m in favor of doing things to keep people out of jail. I think our desire to incarcerate as many people as possible is very self-destructive. But there’s right ways to do it and wrong ways, and this is clearly wrong.


Why Do the Faithful Avoid Church?

How many Christians do you know? Me, I know several. My mom, one of my friends, pretty much all of my extended family. They all consider themselves to be Christians. Yet here’s the interesting part: very few of them actually attend church on a regular basis. Oh, they might pop in for Christmas Eve services or Easter, but otherwise? They don’t go every Sunday. They don’t even appear to go on other days of the week.

Turns out they aren’t atypical. According to an article on Slate, a large number of Christians don’t actually attend church and the fun part is they say they do. Yes, they lie (bear false witness?), and say they attend church regularly, but don’t.

What’s up with this? Why do people lie about going to church? I think, and others seem to agree, that what’s happening is that people are constantly told that to be a good person, you must attend church. The people who lie about going know they are good people and want to appear as good people, so they figure a little white lie to firm up the image of them as a good person isn’t a big deal.

I think there are also a lot of people out there who really don’t believe in God anymore, but can’t quite take the step of viewing themselves as atheists. They certainly don’t want anyone else to know they don’t believe anymore, so they lie and exaggerate and claim to be religious and claim to go to church when they aren’t and don’t.

It’s an interesting disconnect, but one that I expect won’t last much longer. America is becoming more and more secular and in time we won’t have so many people feeling the need to pretend. They’ll discover the real freedom that comes with being true to themselves.


Why Remain Catholic?

I know, I know. I promised you Vegas coverage. It’s coming up soon! Meantime, there’s this.

The Huffington Post, a site I usually ignore since they’re bathed in ignorance regarding such things as vaccination, have published a fascinating article by a Catholic who justifies remaining a member of the church despite the scandals. It’s a good article, but from the outset there’s a bit of wooly thinking.

Those of us of a certain age remember traveling abroad during the Vietnam years when we would be asked, “How can you still call yourself an American?” Our answer was: we are not the White House. We are not the Pentagon. We are the people protesting; America is larger than your words suggest.

This is an invalid comparison. The American government is one that’s elected by a popular vote that almost every adult citizen can take part in. The Pope is a person elected by a small, select group of men who were all appointed to the position they occupy. This is like what we’d have if the Supreme Court always picked our President and the justices were all appointed by the President.

She then offers a parable in the style of Jesus, only slightly less subtle. It also really doesn’t make much sense. So I’ll offer my own parable.

Once upon a time there was an incredibly corrupt group of men that ran a large, multi-national business. These men, through a series of lies, manipulations, evasions and criminal activity, gave shelter to members of their own group who had raped and tortured their way through the last two-thousand years. While some voices in this group of men cried out for justice, most were content to cover-up the crimes and avoid doing the right thing, all the while claiming they were doing what was best, smearing the accusers and telling everyone that would listen that all these crimes were “gossip”.

Eventually these men were arrested for obstruction of justice and the men who were accused of the rape and torture were also arrested. Many were convicted. The business was left in tatters as customers right and left deserted it for their competitors who, while plagued with problems of their own, didn’t pretend that the rape and torture allegations were part of some conspiracy by the gays.

True, these people still filled their head with lies, but you can’t have everything, and some of them, not all, but some, finally had the scales fall from their eyes, saw the lies for what they were and decided they didn’t need to do business with any of these companies.

The end.

Parable win.

Sadly just a parable, since there’s been almost no prosecution in these cases and probably won’t be. But I can dream.


The Greatest Force of Evil, Revisted

Something about him always puts me in mind of Gollum...

Back when I first started this blog I managed to piss off people with an article called “The Greatest Force of Evil in the World Today“. It was a fair and balanced look at the Catholic Church.

I made a few errors and had some misunderstandings about things like the Doctrine of Infallibility and was happy to be corrected on those. But there were a lot of other things I said that I stand behind fully, the most central of which is this: the Catholic church remains the greatest force of evil in the world today.

How big is their evil? Well, they still won’t allow the faithful to use birth control. If you’re HIV+ you can’t even use condoms to prevent giving it to your wife. If you have ten kids already and you can’t afford more than two, you’re expected to forgo sex for the rest of your life rather than use birth control. Then there’s the whole abortion issue.

Of course there’s also the church’s stance on gays and gay marriage and the like. They stopped adoptions in DC recently rather than risk having to let kids get adopted by gay couples. A Catholic school also expelled the children of a couple lesbians on the grounds that, since the church teaches homosexuality is a sin, they wouldn’t want the little dears constantly hearing how evil their parents are. Very kind. I also note that I haven’t yet heard a loud condemnation from the Vatican about the “kill all the gays” bill in Uganda.

Then there’s my usual saw about how obnoxious it is that the Pope lives in a palatial art museum while so many of his faithful live in mud shacks if that. If the church liquidated even 1% of its assets imagine how much good they could do for the hundreds of thousands of Catholics God made homeless in Haiti.

These are all my usual complaints about the church, and ignore all my objections to problems with their theology (the Trinity, the Pope, original sin, etc), but they all frankly pale at this point compared with what is arguably their greatest evil of the last couple centuries: children being raped and abused by priests.

This is hardly a new issue, sadly. In the States we went through this back in the early part of the last decade, where it seemed like every day brought new revelations as to the level of evil within the church.

Give him a beard and call him Santa!

One of the people in charge of dealing with the problems, a certain Cardinal Ratzinger, sent out a letter to the church authorities in America which, among other things, could be interpreted as telling them not to report any allegations of abuse to the police. Now as the author of the post I linked to points out the wording on that is somewhat ambiguous. What wouldn’t have been was a directive from Rome to report such crimes to church and civil authorities but I guess they didn’t want to go overboard and actually try to, you know, actually do anything about the situation.

Apparently even as Pope the former Cardinal still enjoys writing, since his response to a massive, widespread series of abuse cases in Ireland has been to… send a letter where he apologizes for the way the church handled the crimes that occurred. For some this is enough, but not for me and not for Christopher Hitchens who tears the Pope a new one over this letter.

Civil authorities around the world really need to step up and do some real investigations of the various sex and abuse crimes the church has been involved in. The crimes themselves are horrible enough, but the fact that the church has gone out of their way to cover it up and not cooperate with criminal investigations or report the crimes to the police. They’re allowed to get away with doing that because they’re a religious organization. No secular group would accorded the same favoritism.

I know that in the long run this scandal won’t make any real difference. I know that the believers will continue to believe. I know that in the fullness of time the current Pope (who I’ve always viewed as something of a seat-warmer), will die and his replacement will probably be someone who has at least heard of the Enlightenment, but really I doubt that the culture of corruption and evil that permeates the upper-levels of the church will change much. It’d take something akin to Vatican II to bring real reform and that doesn’t appear to be on the radar.

I would however ask the church to remember this: there was a time in England where there was much discussion of the role of civil authority versus church authority. It ended with the Psychotic Bastard Church the Anglican Church being formed which cost the Catholic church a great deal of power, prestige and money. History has a way of repeating itself.


Ethics and Catholicism

I have just finished reading James Caroll’s article on the recent political moves by the Catholic Church here in America. These are moves designed to frighten and intimidate and to oppress and harm, and they are being done in the name of God.

The list, from the article:

• Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence “respectfully” tells Congressman Patrick Kennedy to refrain from receiving communion, a harbinger of what every pro-choice or pro-gay-marriage Catholic politician faces.

• Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington threatens to cancel Catholic provision of services to the homeless and poor if the D.C. City Council passes a law giving equal rights to gays.

• The Vatican, uneasy with the relative liberalism of American nuns, launches an intimidating investigation of U.S. religious orders of women, which, when criticized by Maureen Dowd, prompts New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan to complain of anti-Catholicism in the New York Times.

• In October, Rome violates a generation-long tradition of inter-denominational respect to invite disgruntled conservative Episcopalians to join a special new wing of the Catholic Church. Hostility to gays and rejection of equality for women trump theology, tradition, and even courtesy.

• Last week, more than a dozen of the most influential U.S. Catholic bishops (including Dolan and Wuerl) join far-right-wing Evangelicals like James Dobson in “The Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience.” Its co-author Chuck Colson (of Watergate fame) describes “a hierarchy of issues,” but the Catholic Church now has an issues hierarchy.

• On Capitol Hill this month, the Catholic bishops make clear their readiness to scuttle the entire package of health-reform legislation if they do not get their way on abortion restrictions. Health-care reform hangs in the Senate by a thread, which the bishops prepare to cut.

The Church has long since abroggated any moral authority as far as I’m concerned. They have a long legacy of evil that begins with the latter days of the Roman empire and extends all the way up until now. One need only look at the threats made to the DC government on charity work to see behavior that is un-Christ-like in the extreme (the same Christ who, according to myth, tended to everyone, even Romans).

Caroll believes this recent set of moves on the part of the church are primarily about deflecting attention away from things like the various rape and abuse scandals worldwide, particularly in places like Ireland.

The Catholic Church is such a fundamentally evil, immoral and all-around fucked-up organization that I’m seriously curious about something: for those of you who are Catholics, and who are against some of the tactics of your Church or some of the things they preach (like not allowing condom use and the like), how do you justify staying with the Church? Why not shop around and go to a church that’s more in line with what you believe to be right than continuing to support a church that does so much that’s wrong?

The only thing that pleases me about this whole story is that the more the Church does shit like this, the more support they lose worldwide, especially in places like Europe. I sincerely hope I live to see the day the Vatican has to file for financial bankruptcy. Their moral bankruptcy has already happened.