Saturday 2 October 2010

Why I Keep Banging on About Paedophile Priests and Papal Propaganda.

Of course I want justice for the victims of paedophile priests. I want the Vatican to be shamed into releasing its files on sex abuse cases to the proper authorities where they can be investigated in the same way as any other sex offender. I want the perpetrators to be brought to appropriate and fair justice and most of all, I want the marginal but significant institutionalised culture of abuse within the Catholic Church to be smashed.

But as a so-called “aggressive atheist” I clearly have an additional agenda too.

I hold my hands up.

I do have an additional agenda. I want to affect a sea change in the public perception of religious morality.

Let me start with a few Bible quotes all taken from the “Good News Translation”:

If a slave owner takes a stick and beats his slave, whether male or female, and the slave dies on the spot, the owner is to be punished. But if the slave does not die for a day or two, the master is not to be punished. The loss of his property is punishment enough.
Exodus 21 (v20-21)

When you go to attack a city, first give its people a chance to surrender. If they open the gates and surrender, they are all to become your slaves and do forced labour for you. But if the people of that city will not surrender, but choose to fight, surround it with your army. Then, when the Lord your God lets you capture the city, kill every man in it. You may, however, take for yourselves the women, the children, the livestock, and everything else in the city. You may use everything that belongs to your enemies. The Lord has given it to you.
Deuteronomy 20 (v10-14)

If a priest's daughter becomes a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she shall be burned to death
Leviticus 21 (v9)

If a man has sexual relations with another man, they have done a disgusting thing, and both shall be put to death. They are responsible for their own death.
Leviticus 20 (v15)

And finally from the New Testament, Jesus speaking …

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. I came to set sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law;
Matthew 10 (v34-35)

The purpose of the above quotes is not to try and convince you that the bible is completely full of hateful, immoral bigotry. Although there are frequent examples of intolerance, narrow-mindedness and chauvinism in all the monotheistic holy texts, there is thankfully a reasonable selection of wholly laudable advice on being nice to each other and loving thy neighbour with which to fill your bible study class.

Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, Humanists and moderate Christians, Muslims and Jews can no doubt all see that the messages in the above quotations are ones that we don’t really want to push too hard in these more enlightened times.

The average Sunday School teachers will invariably find a far more suitable piece of scripture that will instil a sense of morality into our children that we are all a lot more comfortable with.

But like much of the public, the selective Sunday School teacher above probably sees her faith and her scriptures as the root of an enhanced morality that can help us lead a better life.

She has however quite clearly self-selected a valuable set of worthy morals from a much wider scripture. This selection could only be achieved by deferring to a higher humanistic set of values prevalent in her culture. A set of values that has evolved out of those primitive ideas to become more inclusive and less divisive.

Yet we persist in the public myth that religion is the corner stone of our morality and the media enforce this myth by continuing to defer to religious voices to represent the perceived moral high ground.

But what’s the harm? If moderate religions are selecting relevant, compassionate and virtuous verses of their scripture to promote a world in which we should all be a bit nicer to each other, why not?

A familiar and valid argument against the promotion of this false religious superior morality, is that it harbours the religious extremists and fundamentalists who condone their honour killings, child witch torturing and terrorism, in the honest belief of the superiority of their religious morals over currently fashionable liberal ideas.

However, I would like to consider the far wider spread harm that can be caused by seemingly less extremist religious leaders to which we have erroneously granted the authority of our moral guidance.

In the past, when forward-looking religious minds embraced the culturally evolving liberal morality, greatness was achieved. Slavery was abolished and civil rights advanced by great men and women of faith who perhaps unconsciously valued their humanistic morality over many contradicting biblical texts.

But more recently, as Church attendance declines and liberal morality gallops forward, many devout religious people are unable to keep up with the change and fall back to the comfort of the unquestionable written word of God. A position from which they can piously condemn the rising antisocial behaviour reported in the Daily Mail as a direct result of a loss of the Nations faith.

Consequently we are now seeing the rise of divisive religious policies based on a more literal interpretation of the scriptures. We see the scientifically nonsensical notions of creationism and intelligent design popping up, we see the setup of more and more faith schools free to teach the religious doctrines of their sponsors, we see a desire to restrict the basic human rights of homosexual couples, we see the continued oppression of women within the Church and we see the revamped promotion of deadly contraceptive advice that smacks more of a strategy to outbreed the competition.

And much of the success of this religious backlash has been accomplished under the false pretence of its superior morality.

Hence my reasons for chipping away at the bogus moral foundations that underpins the justification of illiberal religious agendas.


Mike Hypercube said...

Well said. This has needed saying for a long time.

However you are too kind to the New Testament, and since it's a tenet of Christian doctrine that the OT no longer holds, these scriptures can easily be dismissed. For New Testament moral failings there's the extra-judicial killing of Ananias and Saphira (sp?) in Acts, the overt racism of Paul in Titus 1:12-13 and of course the entire Letter ro Philemon in which Paul sends back a runaway slave who came to him. That's for starters. Jesus had racist moments too, and Paul has some nasty sounding and thankfully now lost theological idea of "binding people over to Satan" which might raise moral issues today.

An old grey dog said...

There's also this:

"The book" is supposed to be the source of moral guidance, yet the mere act of picking and choosing implies that there is a moral imperative _external_ to the book that the reader uses to make the decisions.

If you want to claim that your holy book is the source of morality, then accept everything it says. If you can't accept everything, then it can't be the source of morality. Simples.

Anonymous said...

Graham, I like your logic.

Paul S. Jenkins said...

Keep chipping away.

The accusation by religionists that atheists have no moral foundation is one of the most prevalent misunderstandings about the source of morality. It's true that Britain, as a historically Christian culture, based its moral laws on the teachings of Jesus as related in the New Testament, which is in turn based on the Old Testament. The mistake Christians make, however, is in thinking that the chain stops there, when in fact the Bible took its morals from what people in history instinctively knew as "right and wrong".

Unfortunately our evolved moral conscience has been hijacked by religion, which has contaminated it with much that is morally repugnant if not downright evil.

Shawn said...

@Mike Hypercube

You make a good point, but also don't forget that Jesus himself quite clearly said that the old laws are applicable:

“For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19 RSV)

So Christians who don't live like Jews are essentially saying: "Fuckit, I'll tell people Jesus is my god but that rule about cheese and meat is too much for me. I'll just do exactly what my deity told me not to do and he'll forgive me."

I love Christians.

John said...

The quote from Matthew 10 is almost certainly a metaphor.

Dawkins has said similar things about 'attacking' religion, though I don't think he actually means any kind of literal bloodshed, I'm sure in 2000 years someone will interpret it as such.

Paul S. Jenkins said...


"The quote from Matthew 10 is almost certainly a metaphor."

I think that's the point. Some will say it's "almost certainly a metaphor" while others will say it's intended literally. How do we judge, other than by basing our judgement on something other than the thing we are judging?

ivan said...

Whilst the general point is well made, I think there may be a mistranslation issue in the specific case of Exodus c20 vv20-21. Different translations of the bible have v21 quite differently.
The New International Version, which is generally considered a much more reliable translation (in the sense that they went back to primary sources in Hebrew and Aramaic, and created a new translation ab initio, as opposed to many translations which are just based on the Latin Vulgate), has "but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property". Which is a bit more reasonable.
When you look at the wording of the King James "Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money." you can see how this reversal in meaning could have arisen.

John said...


Indeed, so texts this ambiguous are more like a rorschach test, how you interpret them says more about you than the text itself.

...which points to human nature as the problem and not religion per se.

Michael Kingsford Gray said...

It only takes a minute to establish to a religious nutter that they do not, in fact, obtain their morality from their babble.
As me how!

Free Documentaries said...

Dawkins has said similar things about 'attacking' religion, though I don't think he actually means any kind of literal bloodshed, I'm sure in 2000 years someone will interpret it as such.

Strelnikov said...

It's not just the Universal Church; the Protestant churches have the same problem, especially the Fundamentalists. The difference is that the Catholics have a hierarchy and a buracracy; the Fundies each have independent churches, and sometimes it takes years for these preachers to be caught.