"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Saturday, 30 July 2011

The role of the confessional in the Catholic child abuse scandal

The real scandal of the revelations about pedophile priests abusing children is not so much that it happened, although for the victims it is a personal tragedy, but that the Church so systematically covered for the perpetrators and failed to report cases to the secular authorities. Part of this is the unconscionable arrogance of the Holy See in believing its own cannon law supersedes the law of the countries in which it operates, but also the traditions of secrecy in the confessional will have provided ground cover for those priests who felt guilty enough to confess their transgressions to other priests.
The seal of the confessional is inviolate. No matter how heinous the crime committed by the "penitent", the priest hearing the confession is bound on pain of excommunication to keep the confession a secret. The only obligation on the priest is to seek advice from a superior, whilst still maintaining the anonymity of the penitent.
When the penitent is another priest confessing to fiddling with the altar boys, the "seal" provides an excellent excuse to keep the issue within the church and preserve its reputation. The dodgy priest's confessor need only seek advice and the hierarchy can begin operation cover-up.
In highly catholic countries, no government would question the seal of the confessional, but they should. If anyone has evidence that a serious crime has being committed, especially where circumstances suggest the crime will be repeated they should be legally bound to report this to the secular authorities before they talk to their superiors. It should be an offence for a priest to know about such crimes and not report them.
Pedophiles have a problem. Pedophilia is not of itself a crime, it is a psycho-sexual condition which like all other fetishes that fall outside of "normal" vanilla heterosexual concepts is probably more prevalent than anyone realises. Also, like most sexual orientations it is probably to some extent innate. However, no society is ever going to tolerate the sexual molestation of children, no matter how liberal it becomes and in my opinion rightly so.
I suspect, while offering no evidence whatsoever, that most pedophiles would rather not be attracted to minors so enforced celibacy in the priesthood may seem a good option for them. This will have the effect of concentrating these people within the ranks of the Catholic church and frankly, as long as they keep their vows of celibacy, that can only be a good thing. But if ever once they break those vows and molest children, they need to be exposed. The confessional is where they will go, and the confessional needs to grow up and 'fess up on its own account.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

It must be the wrong kind of sharia...

Isn't it ironic that one of the most conservative of British newspapers should get itself in a lather about a couple of stories involving alleged "sharia" in London boroughs?
O.K the stories are disturbing enough, in that a handful of Islamic dumbnuts have made unilateral statements that particular areas are under Sharia Law and will not tolerate alcohol, drugs, music, gay sex, liberated women prostitution or any other of the traditional liberties that grace British culture in the twenty-first century. But in all these cases the real law, you know, the one made by parliament and enforced by the police and the courts is dealing with them.
The irony lies in the fact that under normal circumstances, most of what this non existent sharia laws demands is exactly what the Daily mail would advocate if it wasn't being proposed by (faux) Muslims.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Vatican gets peevish

Following the publication of the Cloyne report into child abuse by Catholic priests the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny issued a well-deserved rebuke to the Vatican over its continued attempts to save face rather than address the issues.
In response the Vatican has recalled its Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza for consultations.
However the Vatican cannot resist showing its offence at being publicly called out by Enda Kenny.
- The recalling of the Nuncio, a measure rarely used by the Holy See, denotes the seriousness of the situation, and the desire of the Holy See to deal with it objectivity and with determination, as well as a certain note of surprise and regret regarding some excessive reactions(my emphasis).
Excessive reactions? The gall of the church in the face of its abysmal behaviour is astounding. Even allowing for the absurdity of pretending it is in some kind of diplomatic relationship with the Irish state they are lucky their ersatz ambassador was not expelled.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Blag Hag's blogathon

Why am I promoting a donation to a U.S secular organisation? Because like it or not, where the U.S goes so do the rest of us. The U.S is in danger of becoming the biggest threat to reason in the world. The best strategy is to help the youth of that christian besieged nation to break free. Here's a fun way to do it. BTW Jen is awesome.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Religious bigotry is still bigotry.

Following on from the Equality Commission’s blatant misunderstanding of the difference between equality and privilege, the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has mounted his own attack against equality legislation.
“Lord” Sacks, who occupies this privileged position merely by dint of being a Rabbi and for no good democratic reason, believes that in expecting religious people to obey equality legislation we are impinging on their religious freedoms. Even further he believes it will create a new “Mayflower” mentality where the faithful will leave in search of these freedoms
“I share a real concern that the attempt to impose the current prevailing template of equality and discrimination on religious organisations is an erosion of religious liberty. We are beginning to move back to where we came in in the 17th century - a whole lot of people on the Mayflower leaving to find religious freedom elsewhere.”
For one thing, this is a gross misreading of history, the Pilgrim Fathers left for America to escape the domination of one state sponsored religious orthodoxy for the freedom to pursue whatever faith they desired. In doing so the founding fathers wrote a constitution expressly preventing the U.S government from establishing or promoting one religion over any other, or indeed none.
Sure, we can argue that America has constant constitutional battles and challenges from the Christian right over this, they too make the same bleating calls for special dispensation, but essentially you are free to believe what you like.
Well guess what? You can believe what you like in the U.K too. You can believe that women are inferior to men, you can believe that gays are evil and bound for hell, you can believe that black people are the descendents of Ham and natural slaves. You can believe all of these things and you can justify it as a faith position (actually, probably the only way you could justify it). You can proclaim your misogynistic, homophobic, racist putrescent beliefs to your hearts content.
What you cannot do is impose those beliefs on other human beings. What you cannot do is refuse services to people you disapprove of if you are employed, or set up in business to provide those services. What you cannot do is put your beliefs above the law, those equality laws are there to ensure no citizens are discriminated against in the public sphere.
As an atheist there is no reason I cannot be a bigot too, it’s not exclusively the preserve of religion, and if I were I would be prevented from imposing my bigotry on society by the same equality legislation. Just because your bigotry has religious motivation does not privilege you in anyway. If you don’t want to perform civil ceremonies for gay couples, don’t be a registrar! That is the decision I would have to make were I so inclined. Just because you are a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim does not make your bigotry special.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Equality Commission gets it wrong!

After a series of eminently sensible court rulings which dismissed cases of religious discrimination, the Equality Commission has now said that judges have been interpreting equality laws too narrowly.
Among the cases involved are
Ms Eweida, a Pentecostal Christian, was sent home from work in 2006 after refusing to remove a necklace with a cross

Mrs Chaplin was moved to a desk job by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital for similar reasons

Mr McFarlane, a Bristol counsellor, was sacked for refusing to give relationship advice to gay people

Ms Ladele was disciplined after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies in north London
Some of which I have mentioned on this blog.
Admittedly some of the cases appear trivial, like insisting on wearing a cross when all other employees are forbidden to wear jewellery, whereas others are egregious, like refusing to council or conduct civil partnerships for gays.
This is not about equality, it is about religious privilage and the Equality and Human Rights Commission of all bodies should see that.
The most ridiculous justification comes from John Wadham, legal group director at the commission.
Our intervention in these cases would encourage judges to interpret the law more broadly and more clearly to the benefit of people who are religious and those who are not.
The idea of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person's needs has served disability discrimination law well for decades.
It seems reasonable that a similar concept could be adopted to allow someone to manifest their religious beliefs.
Making adjustments for someone with a disability is promoting equality. It allows people to participate on as near equal terms in employment and society as possible. Making religious accommodation is promoting inequality in that it is privileging some people to pick and choose their duties and obligations based on religious views.
Why is this so difficult for people to understand? Have we spent so long pussyfooting around religious sensibilities that we can’t see the consequences? Unless of course by equating religious belief with disability they are admitting that faith is disabling, in which case we should treat the religious exactly as the original judges in these cases ruled by helping them to function as rational fully competent members of society despite their handicap. Admitting defeat does not assist them to participate fully in society on equal terms, in the same way that not providing an access ramp marginalizes a wheelchair user.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Talking to the Taliban

In the wake of announcements by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron that substantial troop withdrawals are to be made from Afghanistan in the coming months, the prospect of engaging the Taliban in political talks has been raised by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
Now, while it is true that there are no ultimate military solutions to the problems in Afghanistan and a political resolution need to be found, I find it hard to believe that the Taliban can be engaged in this way. Even if the rhetoric from the west is true and the recent military surge has weakened the Taliban to the point where they could be persuaded to negotiate, what will they negotiate about?
The Taliban are not the Afghan equivalent of the IRA, their aims are not political or territorial they are cultural and religious.
The Taliban want an Islamist state and sharia law. They want to rule a country that forbids women an education and the right to work. It wants to force them to wear the burqa and be subject to male dominance. It wants to stone rape victims to death. It wants a theocracy with no god but Allah, where apostates and blasphemers can be killed with impunity.
These people do not have a middle ground, you cannot negotiate with Allah and whatever they appear to concede will quickly evaporate once they have the power and the west has gone away.
I have yet to hear any politician make this point, but I can’t believe they are not aware of it. Either they are afraid of insulting “moderate” Muslims by pointing out that it is their religion that is at the root of the problem or just a desire to seem reasonable in their engagement with the enemy. But whatever the reason it will do no good to pretend that the Taliban will, or even can negotiate in good faith.