Goal 2010: Religion (or lack thereof)

Both my parents are what I would term “Holy Joes”. It’s not a derogatory term, I just use it to mean that they’re religious, their religion is important to them and that they take it, and the observation of it, seriously. As a result, I was baptised a Catholic at three weeks old and my parents fulfilled their obligations (to the Church) to raise me as a Catholic.

Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for the Catholic Church, my parents also placed a strong emphasis on education, and as a result, as soon as I was old enough to think for myself I started questioning the existence of God, quickly coming to the conclusion that it was a total fabrication. This resulted in many discussions with my Dad, who, although he didn’t agree with my conclusions, wanted to ensure that I had given careful consideration to my point of view and that it wasn’t a knee-jerk teenage thing.

I’ve been an atheist for over 20 years now and one thing that has bothered me more and more in recent years is that the Catholic Church still counted me as a member. The existence of the Catholic Church pretty much proves there is no God, as surely a benevolent and loving God would baulk at being represented by such a fucked-up organisation?

I had wondered how to go about getting excommunicated until I realised that being excommunicated only meant you were a member in bad standing, not that you’d left. Then, last week, while reading about Atheism Ireland’s response to Ireland’s new blasphemy law, I noticed a link to Count Me Out, an Irish web site set up to make the process of leaving the Church as easy as possible. As it turns out, there’s been a provision in Canon Law since 1983, called an actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia catholica which allows you to formally leave. You sign a declaration, provide some identifying information (date of birth, parents’ names, place of baptism etc.) and send it off to your local diocese, the Church cogs roll and you’re out the door. You’re still in the Church records as having been baptised, but the record is amended to note your defection. According to the Church, baptism imparts an indelible seal, so technically I’m still a Christian, but since that’s just more religious mumbo-jumbo it doesn’t really bother me. The important thing is that I’ll no longer be a member, so they’re free to believe whatever nonsense they like.

Anyway, you’re required to send the request to the diocese in which you live, not the one in which you were baptised, so my situation is slightly complicated by the fact that I now live on the other side of the planet and I’ve never had any dealings with the Catholic Church here. Anyway, I posted my request yesterday, so I’ll wait and see what happens.

Child Abuse

The report into historical child abuse in Irish schools run by the Catholic Church was released yesterday in Dublin. It found that abuse, both physical and sexual, was widespread, with sexual abuse “endemic” in Christian Brothers schools.

“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from,” it said.

Children in industrial schools and reformatories were treated more like convicts and slaves than people with human rights, it said. Rape was particularly common in boys homes and industrial schools run by the Christian Brothers.

While all this was going on, the Catholic Church knowingly protected paedophiles from prosecution, so they were clearly aware of the problem and chose to sweep it under the carpet. I think it says a lot about a religion when its senior members condone the sexual abuse of minors.

Sure, Catholics may claim that the Church never approved of this sort of thing, but if they knew it was happening, was being perpetrated by people over whom they had authority, and they chose not to punish those involved, then that’s condoning the behaviour. It’s as simple as that.

After the revelations of systematic clerical abuse, Pope Benedict was challenged to hold a Vatican inquiry into the role of Catholic religious orders in Ireland’s orphanages and industrial schools. Irish Soca said it was now up to the Vatican to investigate the scandal further.

Kelly said: “Now that the Ryan commission is finished we call upon Pope Benedict to convene a special consistory court to fully investigate the activities of Catholic religious orders in Ireland.

Yeah, good luck with that.

Pope Says Sorry

“Here, I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country.

“Indeed I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that as their pastor, I too share in their suffering.

“These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. They have caused great pain and have damaged the Church’s witness.”

With these words the Pope apologised for past sexual abuse committed by priests in Australia. As recently as yesterday, there was speculation that he wasn’t going to acknowledge it at all, but that wasn’t really an option, given both that the media were highlighting the issue, and that he’d already commended the Government for saying sorry to Aborigines.

Today’s the grand finale of World Youth Day, with a mass being said at Randwick Racecourse, then they all go home and life goes back to normal. Phew!

Free To Annoy

Good news! Last night the Federal Court overturned the ridiculous law which could have seen people being fined up to $5500 for ‘annoying’ World Youth Day participants. The law, granted to police and emergency services, potentially allowed them to fine people for handing out condoms, or wearing t-shirts deemed offensive to Catholic sensibilites, and was widely criticised as being totally over-the-top, and a violation of civil rights.

RACHEL EVANS and Amber Pike handed out condoms on the steps of Sydney’s Federal Court yesterday - flushed with a ruling that struck out a World Youth Day law that made it a crime to annoy participants in the Catholic event. The NoToPope Coalition protesters object to several Catholic moral teachings and Ms Evans - emboldened by the court triumph - immediately went and handed more condoms to Catholic pilgrims posing for photographs outside a nearby church.

Wearing an anti-Pope T-shirt, for which she might previously have been fined as much as $5500, Ms Evans called it a “major victory for the protest movement”.

A full bench of the court, comprising Robert French, Catherine Branson and Margaret Stone, had ruled that part of the World Youth Day Act, passed by the NSW Parliament to keep order during this week’s events, “should not be interpreted as conferring powers that are repugnant to fundamental rights and freedoms at common law in the absence of clear authority from Parliament”.

The court struck the words “annoyance or” out of World Youth Day regulations, which originally referred to “conduct that causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day event”.

Why Religion's Crap

Richard Dawkins, responding to the question “What if you’re wrong?” neatly encapsulates why religion is bullshit: after all, if the foundation of your entire spiritual existence is largely an accident of birth, how can it be the one true anything…


This is an awesome summary of all that’s wrong with the world today: Seven Minutes of Truth.

Via Effect Measure

The Descent Of Man

A couple of good articles this week have commented on the ramifications of Joe & Josephine Public’s lack of intellectual curiosity.

First up is David Colqhoun, whose article Science in an Age of Endarkenment was picked up by the Guardian Science site. He comments…

The enlightenment was a beautiful thing. People cast aside dogma and authority. They started to think for themselves. Natural science flourished. Understanding of the real world increased. The hegemony of religion slowly declined. Real universities were created and eventually democracy took hold. The modern world was born. Until recently we were making good progress. So what went wrong?

The past 30 years or so have been an age of endarkenment. It has been a period in which truth ceased to matter very much, and dogma and irrationality became once more respectable. This matters when people delude themselves into believing that we could be endangered at 45 minute’s notice by non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

It matters when reputable accountants delude themselves into thinking that Enron-style accounting is acceptable.

It matters when people are deluded into thinking that they will be rewarded in paradise for killing themselves and others.

It matters when bishops attribute floods to a deity whose evident vengefulness and malevolence leave one reeling. And it matters when science teachers start to believe that the earth was created 6000 years ago.

He then goes on to bemoan the increasing popularity of quack medicine such as homeopathy and crystals despite any hard evidence for their efficacy.

In a similar vein, Charles P. Pierce’s article in Esquire, entitled Greetings From Idiot America, was originally written back in 2005, but has even more relevance today. He tours through the nonsense surrounding creationism, and the onset of the Iraq War, while lambasting modern society for valuing gut instinct over fact and showing a willingness to believe what they’re told without applying any critical thought to the matter.

The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise. It’s not so much antimodernism or the distrust of intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter deftly teased out of the national DNA forty years ago. Both of those things are part of it. However, the rise of Idiot America today represents — for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power — the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they’re talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

Richard Dawkins also has a new documentary entitled Enemies of Reason which is now showing on Channel 4 in the UK. I’ve downloaded the torrent of the first episode to watch later tonight. Should be interesting. Beats the reality shite hands-down!

Dumb Bastards

USA Today reports today that 44% of American adults believe that the theory of evolution is ‘probably or definitely false’ and that 66% believe that creationism is ‘probably or definitely true’.

Even more interestingly, 19% appear to believe that both evolution and creationism are ‘probably or definitely true’!!

Via: Stranger Fruit

Gay Animals

The Oslo Natural History Museum has an exhibition on gay animals which is quite interesting. Homosexuality in the animal kingdom has been noted since Aristotle’s time (~300BC), but was usually dismissed as part of male fighting rituals. However, it has now been been documented in over 1500 species. Predictably, Christians aren’t too happy about it…

While the images displayed at the Natural History Museum wash over passing school children, the exhibition has sparked consternation in conservative Christians.

A Lutheran priest said he hoped the organisers would “burn in hell,” and a Pentecostal priest lashed out at the exhibition saying tax payers’ money used for it would have been better spent helping the animals correct “their perversions and deviances.”

I can’t stop laughing at that stupid priest trying to counsel animals! Father Doolittle ;-)

Richard Dawkins Foundation

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science has been launched as a charitable foundation based in both the US and UK, with aim of opposing the spread of irrational thought (astrology, faith healing, religion, etc.) at the expense of science. Definitely one to keep an eye on. It’s also worth watching the introductory video for a more detailed explanation.

Dawkins has also written an article entitled Why There Almost Certainly Is No God in which he looks at a number of the most common arguments for the existence of God and explains why they’re not particularly good arguments at all.

The Chamberlain tactic of snuggling up to ‘sensible’ religion, in order to present a united front against (‘intelligent design’) creationists, is fine if your central concern is the battle for evolution. That is a valid central concern, and I salute those who press it, such as Eugenie Scott in Evolution versus Creationism. But if you are concerned with the stupendous scientific question of whether the universe was created by a supernatural intelligence or not, the lines are drawn completely differently. On this larger issue, fundamentalists are united with ‘moderate’ religion on one side, and I find myself on the other.