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"Given the number of sins we've committed over the course of 20 centuries, reference to them must be rather summary"
November 9, 2009 12:04 AM   Subscribe

Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world? Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry debate the question with Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Anne Widdencombe. Parts 2, 3, 4, 5
posted by empath (240 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is Christopher Hitchens a force for good in the world?
posted by ageispolis at 12:11 AM on November 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


Probably not, but that wasn't up for debate.
posted by empath at 12:13 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Stephen Fry is a force for good in the world several times over, so he makes up for Hitchens and Benedict as well.
posted by maudlin at 12:15 AM on November 9, 2009 [27 favorites]


Does Hitches claim to be the ultimate infalliable moral authority representing God?
posted by rodgerd at 12:16 AM on November 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


Luke 6:21: Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions* and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

*Unless you're the Vatican, in which case you can just value artworks, land, and assets that would bring in billions of dollars if sold at a "symbolic" 1 euro in order to plead poverty.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:24 AM on November 9, 2009 [16 favorites]


Does Hitchens claim(s) to be the ultimate infalliable moral authority representing God?

or a least that's impression I get whenever I read one of his pieces.
posted by nangua at 12:24 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


If it makes you feel better, you can watch him being waterboarded.
posted by empath at 12:24 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's a force for order, as much as laws, the State system, and even the Internet. (Coherence is a fundamental aspect of order, and rapid high speed meme transmission creates coherence.)

Order cuts as well as it binds.
posted by effugas at 12:25 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


If it makes you feel better, you can watch him being waterboarded .

You know, I gained a lot of respect for him when he did that. He was called on his shit, agreed to a demonstration, and changed his tune when he was shown to be wrong. He didn't even have to have anyone put to death to do it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:27 AM on November 9, 2009 [10 favorites]


You forgot Lois CK
posted by Damienmce at 12:30 AM on November 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


+u
posted by Damienmce at 12:31 AM on November 9, 2009


I give him props for that waterboarding thing too. Wish some of the people who are sure it's not torture would listen to him on that.
posted by nangua at 12:35 AM on November 9, 2009


Somehow I read this as being a debate between Stephen Fry and Christopher Biggins, which would be something else entirely.

As to whether the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world, like so much in life, one must take a more nuanced view; it is both a positive and negative force.

There are clearly problematic aspects (anti-science (certainly historically), condoms and HIV in Africa, massive wealth, etc.) as well as positive aspects (contribution it has made to European culture, comfort to the lives of the faithful/believers).

After all, it is simply a manifestation of human nature.
posted by Lleyam at 12:41 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Who elected Hitchens to be the Head Atheist in Charge?

Can't he go back to being a war-mongering neo-con so he can embarrass people I disagree with?
posted by delmoi at 12:42 AM on November 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


(contribution it has made to European culture, comfort to the lives of the faithful/believers).

If by "Contribution" you mean "thousand year strangle hold". Compare the pace of development before the founding of the church and after the protestant reformation and enlightenment.
posted by delmoi at 12:44 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


my girlfriend and her 3 siblings were raised catholic and are now all atheist. so if growing up in the catholic church results in atheism as an adult, then the church is doing something right as far as i can tell. the church might disagree...
posted by rainperimeter at 12:47 AM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


I love Stephen Fry. That is all.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:50 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


What is the pin Hitches is wearing on his suit? Looks kind of like the flag of Lebanon or something, but with a green stripe on the bottom, rather then two red stripes.

Anyone know?
posted by delmoi at 12:53 AM on November 9, 2009


Is Christopher Hitchens a force for good in the world?

Compared with Anne Widdicombe -- who opposed the repeal of Section 28 -- he's a veritable St Francis of Assisi.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:01 AM on November 9, 2009


What is the pin Hitches is wearing on his suit?

Iraqi Kurdistan, I suspect.
posted by Anything at 1:04 AM on November 9, 2009


If by "Contribution" you mean "thousand year strangle hold". Compare the pace of development before the founding of the church and after the protestant reformation and enlightenment.

Bwah? Does this ignore the thousand years of art, history, literature, politics, poetry, science and everything else under the sun that happened from 500–1500 A.D.? Despite the view that nothing really got rolling until the good ol' Enlightenment came along, things happened. It's entirely inaccurate to say that culture was somehow non-existent or retarded by the Church. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches were and are products of their time. They were the culture of an entire span of European history, not some bogeyman preventing the natural course of culture from proceeding. If you're going to blame the Church, you might as well blame the Romans, the Byzantines, the Greeks, the medieval Arabs, the Persians, the Celts, the Druids, the Franks, the Huns, the Mongols, the heresies, the Goths, and every other group in history for their dominant and recessive cultures. Good lord, it can't be your bogeyman every time.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 1:12 AM on November 9, 2009 [16 favorites]


Hitchens is one of those people who, whenever he comes up, gets always ridiculed for things such as a supposed self-image of infallibility. This is not interesting.

Responses to some of his specific arguments would be.
posted by Anything at 1:13 AM on November 9, 2009 [14 favorites]


As a nonbeliever who went to Catholic school, parts of this were difficult to watch. In the same way an awkward character in a romantic comedy is hard to watch.

I was, however, happy as always to see Stephen Fry. And just a little gleeful with the result.
posted by Muttoneer at 1:16 AM on November 9, 2009


It's much easier to vilify Hitchens than it is to, you know, actually ARGUE with him. Just sayin'. Personality aside, his ability to make a point is pretty impressive.

However, not having had a chance to watch this yet, I hold out little hope that debating Catholic thinkers will be a productive endeavour. It's usually just time you can never get back.
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:25 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ann Anne Widdencombe is a horrendous advocate.
posted by delmoi at 1:35 AM on November 9, 2009


Despite the view that nothing really got rolling until the good ol' Enlightenment came along, things happened.

Like what? I don't really think advancement was comparable to antiquity or post-enlightenment.
posted by delmoi at 1:38 AM on November 9, 2009


Hitchens is one of those people who, whenever he comes up, gets always ridiculed for things such as a supposed self-image of infallibility. This is not interesting.

Responses to some of his specific arguments would be.


Uncreative, redundant banality is the shoehorn some people use to game their favorites count right out the gates in popular threads like these. The same "That's what she said," "How's the weather up there?", and "Dad?" people. Shame on the people who favorite them.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 1:49 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Could the catholics not get anyone less useless?
posted by pompomtom at 1:53 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's to argue with? I don't think you'll find too many advocates for the Catholic Church. I think Hitchen's arguments were reasonable, if somewhat hysterical. He and Fry were able to sway opinion more then I expected.

The problem, though, is that while he may be correct here, he is still an asshole in general.
posted by delmoi at 1:55 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Antiquity? Well, the Romans were lousy scientists. Good engineers, but bad at figuring out anything new under the sun. I can thank the Medieval Period for the Enlightenment itself, the Reformation, a state of somewhat stable world order (things moving faster isn't always good in that arena), the sonnet, monetary theory, advents in brewing and distillation, cool writing scripts and illuminated texts, the beginnings of the modern university system, theology, architecture, naval designs, gunpowder weaponry, and the clock. The reason why technology and science seemingly (but not really) dropped off of the radar is because of lack of unification of the Western World. Roads weren't safe, hordes were invading, physical safety came back to the forefront. But all of these are symptoms of the Roman Empire falling, not the Church rising. In fact, much of the knowledge was kept alive because of the Church (and, yes, the Islamic Golden Age which later fueled the rediscovery of antiquity). The Church didn't cause the "Dark Ages", the partial collapse of the prior political system did that.

And that's science and technology, of course. There were many new things found, designed, and promoted in the Medieval Christian world that had never existed in Europe before. As much as some would imagine how far advanced we would all be if that silly Church hadn't stood in the way of progress, the Church was progress out of the chaos of the Roman Empire's last throes. We are here (with all that is bad and good) in part because of it.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:04 AM on November 9, 2009 [12 favorites]


Sorry, further to that, as an ex-debater:

Even the archbishop was so close to winning the debate for me, in his last showing. You could've argued that there was no need to be a net force for good to prove the contention.

Who'd've thought the catholics would be bad at arguing the semantics of the case?
posted by pompomtom at 2:05 AM on November 9, 2009


I would also personally thank the Middle Ages for the sonnet specifically. Sure, the later periods would innovate it, but it's birth is as medieval as you can get.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:06 AM on November 9, 2009


I think it's cool that we have reached a stage where something like this can be discussed without fear of violence.
posted by vanar sena at 2:07 AM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think it's cool that we have reached a stage where something like this can be discussed without fear of violence.

It helps that the Pope no longer has battalions like he used to.
posted by The World Famous at 2:09 AM on November 9, 2009 [10 favorites]


In Catholic terms, this is surely a side argument. The ultimate point is not whether the Church is a force for good in this world. The Church could be riddled with evil from end to end, and as an institution staffed by earthly sinners it probably is; but it's still the Church; and as we know, the water of life can flow through the jaws of a dead dog.

IANAC
posted by Phanx at 2:12 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I watched this earlier today as it made the rounds on the science blogs. There really wasn't much to it, the same old arguments on both sides.

What I did find fascinating were the 2009 AAI talks, particularly Dan Dennett and Lawrence Krauss (playlist).
posted by Rhomboid at 2:43 AM on November 9, 2009


It helps that the Pope no longer has battalions like he used to.

No doubt. I think this is because in some odd way, the Catholic Church now seems to care about its PR image with non-Catholics, at least in the developed world.

Widdicombe though... ugh. Whoever picked her to defend the church was having a larf.
posted by vanar sena at 2:53 AM on November 9, 2009


Anytime you have a large group, some of the people in the group are going to turn out to be sociopaths and others in the group will not work to fight their evil but allow it if not promote that evil.

As such, without vigilance, the group will turn towards evil.

Add in a desire to keep or maximize 'money wealth' and the banal evil will grow.

I'd be much more interested in the question 'does the Catholic church follow their own biblical teachings'. If they can't I'd like to know how they can make 'appeal to authority' work.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:37 AM on November 9, 2009


Yes, the sonnet has brought incalculable benefits to mankind and reduced the net sum of human suffering to an astonishing degree.

Oh, no, sorry, that was SCIENCE.
posted by unSane at 3:39 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Which I am QUOTING.
posted by unSane at 3:39 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see Stephen Fry doing more of this sort of thing. Hitchens lays down the facts well, but he can do that anywhere. I found a lot of Stephen's points to be sharper and much more compelling.
posted by lucidium at 4:02 AM on November 9, 2009


I'm sorry, unSane, are you saying that I shouldn't appreciate the sonnet? I'm not denigrating science; I like to think of myself as a man of it, in fact. I . . . I have no idea what you're saying.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:41 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Can't watch the debate as YouTube still blocked here and firing up the VPN too much of a fiddle, but just wanted to put in a good word for Ann Widdecombe.
I must vehemently disagree with her on just about every public political stance she takes, but as the recent expenses scandal demonstrated she possesses an integrity that is rare in our modern public servants and she does represent a certain constituency in British public opinion. If politics really was about disagreements, however extreme, between sincere persons, rather than back-room trade-offs and jockeying for power for its own sake, it might actually lead to more useful outcomes and in that sense I appreciate her as a figure in UK public life.
posted by Abiezer at 5:02 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, what an uneven match-up. A tag team of a rabid bulldog and the world's most charming fellow vs. a soft-spoken foreign cleric and a wicked stepmother from a fairy tale. I don't know that anyone could make much headway against bad cop/good cop Hitchens and Fry, but surely there are some articulate Catholic intellectuals who could have made a better showing.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:04 AM on November 9, 2009 [11 favorites]


Were the Society of Jesus all on a spiritual exercise weekend?
posted by Abiezer at 5:08 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


I have to agree with that; I've known some charismatic Catholic intellectuals and apologists and these are not them. I mean, it's Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens, heaven's sake! You better come out with your big guns. You have 1.2 billion people, so I know that they're there.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:10 AM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


that was the worst monty python sketch ever
posted by kitchenrat at 5:12 AM on November 9, 2009 [11 favorites]


LordChancellor, don't be obtuse. Upthread you argue repeatedly that Christian diktat of the middle ages didn't hold back the progress of science and technology. I'm as a big a fan of the sonnet as the next man but is that your best shot?
posted by unSane at 5:20 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, I haven't watched the whole thing yet, but I'm just impressed that such debates exist at all. Do (can) we have those in the US without everyone shitting a hysterical, ineloquent brick?


(side note: Dammit Firefox spellcheck, ineloquent IS a word.)
posted by Badasscommy at 5:22 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


No, I was merely expressing a personal like when I said that. It was totally different from my point which was why it was an afterthought and posted as one. It was in no way saying that as an argument for that the Middle Ages were not a Dark Age for science and technology. In fact, it was said as an afterthought (at best) to the other point that I was making, that science and technology are not the sole indicators of culture or progress.

I want to play fair, but you mocked in such a way something that I thought would not be confused with an argument. If you wish, you may withdraw me saying it. It was not meant to cause confusion, unSane.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:24 AM on November 9, 2009


I don't think you'll find too many advocates for the Catholic Church.

After all, it only accounts for > 1/6th of the world's population.
posted by pmurray63 at 5:28 AM on November 9, 2009


In fairness to LordChancellor - the original comment referenced 'European Culture,' not specifically science & technology.

In fairness to everyone else, I can't believe that anyone could say the Church did anything other than retard progress in all the arts and sciences by variously torturing visionaries, denying literacy to the general populace, forcibly exterminating competing cultures and maintaining a tightly controlled monopoly on whatever knowledge they did maintain.
posted by bashos_frog at 5:29 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who elected Hitchens to be the Head Atheist in Charge?

Come on, we all know he's been a HAC(k) for years.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:31 AM on November 9, 2009


I saw this debate on the TV this weekend, and thought it might make a good post for MetaFilter. But then I thought the resulting discussion might be a bit, um, exciting, and since it would have been my first front page post ever, that would be a heck of a way to start.

So I'm glad to see it here, and I'm glad it was someone else who posted it.
posted by FishBike at 5:44 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hitchens and Fry as the atheist vanguard makes feel like the Charge of the Anti-light Brigade is being led by Sir Digby Chicken Caesar and his trusty companion Ginger.
posted by srboisvert at 5:56 AM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


> Like what?

Dante. La Divina Commedia (written 1308-1321) is from the Middle Ages; the Renaissance can't claim a word of it. And it is still held to be the peak work of literary art of the western wing of the human race, edging out Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Tolstoy... you know, them. All of them. (N.b. for those who haven't read it seven or eight times, it's as full of Catholicism as cheese is of milk solids.)

Having ticked off the Commedia it's hardly necessary to go on to whatever's next on the list, but it's probably items like Mont-Saint-Michel or Chartres. Cheese:milk solids comparison applies here also, if possible even more than it does to Dante. (warning, big images. Here's Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres at project gutenberg.)
posted by jfuller at 6:05 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


comfort to the lives of the faithful/believers

I don't know if they should necessarily get credit for sustaining a problem that they created in the first place.

posted by Aversion Therapy at 6:06 AM on November 9, 2009


I don't know if they should necessarily get credit for sustaining a problem that they created in the first place.

I'm fairly sure the Catholic church didn't invent death.

On the other hand, if they did, I don't know how to score that. Evil, sure, but awfully impressive.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:16 AM on November 9, 2009 [9 favorites]


Well, having this debate in Britain, a country with a well-established intellectual tradition of anti-Catholicism, is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, to start with. Then, as others point out, they could have chosen more eloquent speakers to argue the Catholic Church's case, especially against the likes of Hitchens and Fry. One Anthony Charles Lynton Blair comes to mind...But, of course, for all his professed piousness, he's far too canny to expose himself to public humiliation by endorsing such a lost cause.

This said, I caught the tail-end of this debate on TV, and Fry was magnificent. Lady Skeptic was giggling out loud at the end (but then, she has a bit of a crush on him.)

You could've argued that there was no need to be a net force for good to prove the contention.

Except that that would be a thoroughly uncatholic defence. The whole reason for the Catholic Church's stance on condoms or euthanasia is its rejection of the notions of "net good" or "lesser evil". In its view, there is no such thing as a net positive result if you compromise your moral principles to achieve it. Sin is sin, period. (This, mind you, has not always been the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Indeed, the theological debate about whether to accept the "lesser evil" is as old as the Church itself. However, John-Paul II and Benedict XVI have swung the wheel hard towards an absolute view of evil. IMHO, this has a lot to do with their personal experiences in WWII and their uneasiness with the Catholic Church's ambiguous stance during that conflict. )

However, since for the Catholic Church you can also sin by omission, it's quite a Catch-22, situation. Ironically, the Catholic Church is incapacitated from defending itself competently...by good old-fashioned Catholic guilt itself.
posted by Skeptic at 6:19 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the theory is that kings and churches concentrated power, creating a leisure class, who then advanced the arts and sciences.

I'm pretty sure you must simply accept this premiss before any meaningful conversation can begin, otherwise you're comparing vastly different ages & cultures. You obviously won't assert that Europe was less advanced then Australian Aborigines and North American Indians. You might try asserting that more progress was made under pseudo-democracies, but you'll still be faced with massive cultural shifts, say between different phases of the Roman empire.

I feel one better question is : Did churches or royalty advance the arts and sciences more?

Isn't this still a trick question however? I'd expect separate indirectly competing leisure classes provided faster advancement. Indeed, China stagnation may have roots in the unification of these leisure classes, although the visible effects came from focus upon art over science.

So I expect that the Catholic church has been a force for good, meaning only that kings alone or even democracy would have stagnated, devolving into either deeper poetry, music, and art, or else more mundane activities, with either case abandoning science.

I'd imagine you'd get even faster progress once you add other isolated quasi-leisure classes, like maybe doctors or merchants that compete only indirectly with royalty and priests.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:30 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Isn't the classic comparison with medieval Islam though? All those re-discovered texts from the ancients and figures like Averroes flourishing in Al-Andalus?
posted by Abiezer at 6:37 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty: You know, I gained a lot of respect for him when he did that. He was called on his shit, agreed to a demonstration, and changed his tune when he was shown to be wrong. He didn't even have to have anyone put to death to do it.

A slight derail, but I'm not exactly certain that he really did. He admitted that it was torture, but his conclusion was that waterboarding was a bad thing because Americans got caught doing it and both lost face and allowed for terrorist organizations to train for it. He still largely supported the framing that extreme measures are necessary against an implacable menace.

Even if we take the view that the Church was, at one time, a progressive force that helped get the enlightenment rolling, the big question is whether it's now become a conservative and regressive force given internal hostility to reform.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:51 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Although there were numerous scientific accomplishments during the Middle Ages the following are notable discoveries which advanced the world of science.

• Scientific method — The scientific method, as systematic approach to theory and experimentation, developed during the Middle Ages due to the work of scholars such as Alhazen, Biruni, Bacon, and Robert Grosseteste, who produced a systemized process of scientific enquiry based upon observation, experimentation and verification of hypotheses.

• Mechanics — In the 6th Century, John Philoponus in his critique of Aristotle’s theory of motion, introduced the concept of “impressed force” to explain why thrown objects continued to move after losing contact with the thrower. This theory of impetus was modified by Islamic scholars such as Avicenna in the 11th century, who theorized the concept of momentum as well as by Avempace—who developed the concept of a reaction force— and Abu’l Barakat— who developed the concept that force applied continuously produces acceleration— in the 12th century. These concepts were adopted by various western thinkers, achieving their most developed form in the hands of Jean Buridan in the 14th century. Galileo further developed this into the theory of inertia, which after further modification, through Descartes, became Newton’s First Law of Motion.

• Modern surgery — Although the first known surgical text was written by Sushruta in antiquity, Medieval researchers, especially Abulcasis, developed the techniques and tools that led to modern surgical practices (e.g. double-edged scalpel, syringe, vaginal speculum, etc.).The 1266 work Chirurgia, (Surgery), by Theodoric Borgognoni advocates antiseptic surgery, in opposition to the Arab belief in "laudable pus."

• Trigonometry — developed in ancient times by Hipparchus, Menelaus and Ptolemaeus in order to facilitate their astronomical calculations. In Greek trigonometry, angles were represented by the chords of a circle. Hindu mathematicians, who may have borrowed much from Greek astronomy, replaced the Greek chordal trigonometry with half-chords producing the equivalent of our sine and cosine. The Islamic mathematicians and astronomers took over the mathematical astronomy of Ptolemaeus, Aryabhata and Brahmagupta, and introduced the secant, cosecant, tangent and cotangent. In the 13th century, al-Tusi produced the first complete work on planar and spherical trigonometry, treating it as a discrete mathematical discipline independent of astronomy. Trigonometry was introduced to Western Europe during the Latin translations of the 12th century, and later came into wider use due to Peurbach and Regiomontanus in the middle of the 15th century. Like the Islamic astronomers, they replaced the Ptolemaic chordal trigonometry with Hindu-Arabic half-chord trigonometry.

• Technologies for navigation — Although primitive versions of the technologies were known in antiquity, it was during the Middle Ages that key technologies such as the latitude-independent astrolabe (Arzachel) and the portable compass (Shen Kuo) were developed as practical tools for navigation, especially on the open seas. In the thirteenth century Peter of Maricourt made two major innovations to improve the accuracy and practicality of the magnetic compass by adding a calibrated scale and placing the magnet on a pivot.

Source.

...Nope, no scientific activity in Europe during the Middle Ages at all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:55 AM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos Most ironically, the form of rules-based debate that took place in the FPP links owes a great deal to the medieval scholastic traditions of the Catholic Church itself...
posted by Skeptic at 7:04 AM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Here's what the audience at the time thought about the motion "The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world"... "Before the debate, for the motion: 678. Against: 1102. Don’t know: 346. This is how it changed after the debate: For: 268. Against: 1,876. Don’t know: 34. In other words, after hearing the speakers, the number of people in the audience who opposed the motion increased by 774."

And here's my question to the 'for' crowd, a question Hitchens and many others have asked: What good thing can religion do in this world that cannot be done by secular means?
posted by eccnineten at 7:14 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think the whole "Well, the Church produced some great gains when it was dominant!" argument is flawed in (at least) two major ways. First off, it's trivial to respond with some variation on "And what if the Church hadn't been in place, or if it had not responded with violence to intellectuals who didn't toe their line?" One must argue that the Church produced a greater outcome than not having it- or having a different Church- would have caused. As proving- or disproving!- that claim is impossible, the argument lacks force. It is merely a statement of correlation which begs to be mistaken for causation.

Second, there is the simple fact that while those advances were carried out under the Church's dominion, that dominion is only a segment of history. The advance of human understanding of reality moves faster the farther it goes, and while we made great strides in the Church's millenium of dominating Western intellectualism and inquiry, we made many strides in the years before and have come even further in the years since. Our understanding of physics, biology, chemistry, and pretty much all sciences has gone further- and faster- in the last two hundred years than they did in a thousand years of Church dominion. I propose that scientific advancement is a thing that is helped or hindered by the forces that dominate and define society, and that scientific progress has advanced throughout history regardless. The era of the Church saw scientific advancement? So what? So did every other era. We built some of the tools in that era that allowed us to move forward, and now we have come to the point where we can tell that the structures that were dominant when we built the tools were not necessarily as beneficial as we thought.

I'm trying very hard not to make some kind of Hegelian historical inevitability argument, but if you replace the inevitability with a strong tendency, I think that describes my viewpoint well.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:21 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


And here's my question to the 'for' crowd, a question Hitchens and many others have asked: What good thing can religion do in this world that cannot be done by secular means?

Address spiritual needs in people who wish to have them addressed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:22 AM on November 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


Also Empress, are you seriously using the development of trigonometry and navigation in countries not dominated by the Catholic Church as an argument in favor of the Church?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:23 AM on November 9, 2009


The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches were and are products of their time. They were the culture of an entire span of European history, not some bogeyman preventing the natural course of culture from proceeding.

Well, yeah, you know, except for all the indigenous belief systems that they wiped out in the name of destroying heresy, or all the local literature they burned for the sake of protecting those who created it from themselves, or except for all the experimenters, herbologists, and other outlying thinkers which were killed as offending the nature of God by daring to explore concepts which came from outside the Bible.

You know, other than that, the Catholic churches were totally okay.
posted by hippybear at 7:23 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Address spiritual needs in people who wish to have them addressed.

In the absence of any evidence of the reality of a spiritual world, how can this be anything but a placebo? Shouldn't we be trying to come to grips with the world we know exists rather than pacifying ourselves with speculations?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:24 AM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also Empress, are you seriously using the development of trigonometry and navigation in countries not dominated by the Catholic Church as an argument in favor of the Church?

You will note that in those examples, Western European scholars did further research and contributed further development in both areas. Hence their inclusion.

Well, yeah, you know, except for all the indigenous belief systems that they wiped out in the name of destroying heresy, or all the local literature they burned for the sake of protecting those who created it from themselves, or except for all the experimenters, herbologists, and other outlying thinkers which were killed as offending the nature of God by daring to explore concepts which came from outside the Bible.

...No one is denying that the Church did these things -- several hundred years ago. They got the memo several hundred years ago that that wasn't cool.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:27 AM on November 9, 2009


...No one is denying that the Church did these things -- several hundred years ago. They got the memo several hundred years ago that that wasn't cool.

No, the Church lost enough power that it could no longer do such things, and then went "Oh, I guess that was wrong, huh?" It's like getting arrested and suddenly discovering that serial murder is morally reprehensible.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:28 AM on November 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


In the absence of any evidence of the reality of a spiritual world, how can this be anything but a placebo? Shouldn't we be trying to come to grips with the world we know exists rather than pacifying ourselves with speculations?

But that's the catch-22 -- for those whose spiritual needs are NOT addressed by the world that exists, no matter how much they try, what then?

The spiritual "world" isn't a "world" in the sense that you think of it. So addressing one's spiritual needs by "coming to grips with the world we know" is like telling someone to deal with their hunger by "coming to grips with sleeping habits". They're two completely different things.

If you are cool with a secular means for addressing certain spiritual questions, then great. Not everyone is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:30 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, the Church lost enough power that it could no longer do such things, and then went "Oh, I guess that was wrong, huh?" It's like getting arrested and suddenly discovering that serial murder is morally reprehensible.

My point, however, is that this happened seven hundred years ago, so why are you still trying to "arrest them" for it now? Moreover, the accused has alread plead guilty.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:32 AM on November 9, 2009


What good thing can religion do in this world that cannot be done by secular means?

What good thing can dreaming do in this world that cannot be done with eyes open?
posted by kid ichorous at 7:34 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I deny the real existence of spiritual distress; I think it's caused by living in a horrible world that we, day by day, strive to improve or worsen, depending on who we are. I think we should be spending our time eliminating the conditions that cause people to look to religion for comfort rather than making that comfort more effective. To bring out the hoary old cliche, we should be figuring out why people want morphine and eliminating the cause of their pain rather than focusing on how best to get the morphine to them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:34 AM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think we should be spending our time eliminating the conditions that cause people to look to religion for comfort rather than making that comfort more effective.

What if there are people whose religion inspires them to eliminate those conditions? Take away their religion, and they lose the impetus to better this world. now what?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 AM on November 9, 2009


EmpressCallipygos: My point, however, is that this happened seven hundred years ago, so why are you still trying to "arrest them" for it now?

The point was made during the debate that the church continues to do things that it is likely to have to apologize for down the road. Thomas More was declared a patron saint of politicians in 2000. It's not really clear that the institution of the church has changed enough for the rest of us to re-evaluate its position within society.
posted by vanar sena at 7:41 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is the Catholic church a force of good in the world?To answer the question as worded: Yes. Very little needs to be said besides 'provides aid the poor and sick.'

Has the Catholic church traditionally been a force of good in the world?
To answer the question as such: Probably still yes. I'd site the quick summary above as a tennant that can be deomonstrated and measured throughout history.

Is every action the Catholic church takes for a force of good in the world?To answer the question as such: No. This is simple - take any single arguement regarding birth control and africa that Hitchens and Fry make and apply it.

Has every action of the Catholic church taken in the history of the world ever been misguided?
To answer this question: No. That's why Popes appologize at a minimum for past infractions of the church... but part of that is also taking today's societal views and imposing them on the past... (and here's where if we want we can lodge into a debate of contextuality as to whether its ok to hold past cultures to todays societal standards, or whether at some point we just have to acknowledge the past happened and get over it.)

Does the net effect of the Catholic church - the good and the bad committed in the name of the catholic church - lean more towards the good or the bad?
Honestly, with history on its side... I do firmly believe the answer is yes, and I think that there were some good points made by the Archbishop and Widdencombe as such, but saying that the church has been good is different than the last itteration which is:

Is the net effect of the Catholic church of today - the good that it currently does, and the bad that it currently does leaning more towards good or bad?
Now that's the question which Hitchens and Fry should be addressing but FAIL because they repeatedly fail to draw a line regarding past infractions and attempts for improvement. Don't get me wrong, their argument is sound - but their failure is in their ability to properly segment for the question. As an overarching historical argument, they are wrong - there has been too much good by the catholic church for them to be bad - but the arguement that they should be making is: the Catholic Church is headed in the wrong direction and their current policies are such that the NET good that they do is severely hampered by bad policies.

I am/was Catholic.

If Hitchens and Fry put any religion to debate I think they could easily find examples of the same hippocracy. Hell, just put a nation up for debate in a similar manner, and you'll find the same thing - plus, as an added bonus, generally there's 49% of the population that will agree with the thought that whoever is in power is evil. Put up companies... put up societies... heck put up individuals...

Do You as a person Net Positive when examining the past 20 centuries? Fry would be OK when put to that test, but Hitchens - he'd be screwed...
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:43 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think we should be spending our time eliminating the conditions that cause people to look to religion for comfort rather than making that comfort more effective.

While I agree with the general point here, there are some things we just can't eliminate. Death is the most obvious example. If religion helps people to cope with that and live a happier life, that doesn't seem like a bad thing to me.
posted by FishBike at 7:43 AM on November 9, 2009


The point was made during the debate that the church continues to do things that it is likely to have to apologize for down the road.

I honestly can't think of a single institution that doesn't face the same danger.

Look, I'm not saying there aren't problems, and I'm not saying the Catholic Church perfect. I'm only questioning whether the way to handle the problems is truly a "tear it down and salt the earth" approach as opposed to doing what the rest of society usually does in such circumstances -- let the members within make the changes they wish to make at their own pace, and keep the institution from intruding too much upon the rights of the people without.

And even though I'm not Catholic, I used to be, and some people I'm close to still are, and the biggest reason I defend it is because they draw a great amount of their strength, their comfort, and their moral compass from it -- and they have managed to do so without looking down on me for doing things differently. They respect my choices, and I respect theirs. And I can't overlook or discount what Catholicism does for them, just because it doesn't do the same things for me. So for them, it's done good, and I respect them too much to try to take it from them.

That's all I have to say about that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 AM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Death is the most obvious example. If religion helps people to cope with that and live a happier life, that doesn't seem like a bad thing to me.

Religion does not enable us or encourage us to deal with death. It makes up stories about what comes after death, and thereby enables its adherents fundamentally to deny death and to believe that it is not the end of existence, but merely one point on a long line (or ray, depending on your beliefs about the origins of souls, but perhaps the geometric metaphor is already pushing it). We have no reason for belief in existence beyond death beyond made-up stories that many choose to believe, and that's fine- if anything, the fact that there's a time limit ought to inspire us to do the best we can with what we have, as well as pushing it back as far as we can, rather than welcoming it. Anyone who can remove your fear of death ought to frighten you rather than inspire you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:01 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Anyone who can remove your fear of death ought to frighten you rather than inspire you.

....Wait, are you saying we SHOULD fear death?

Mind you, I'm not saying that to mean that "whee, fearing death is bad let's all go play in traffic". But I'm honestly not understanding why someone who is coming to the end of a very long life, who is facing an inevitable death in a few weeks from ill health, and who is afraid of the inevitable should not have that fear assuaged.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:06 AM on November 9, 2009


I very much doubt that "tear it down and salt the earth" is even possible with an institution the size of the Catholic Church, which is part of the problem. When such a significant proportion of the population of the Earth is whole-heartedly and whole-mindedly committed to whatever ideological stance the church happens to take today (being that its infallibility is the bedrock of its philosophy), it carries a social and political clout that makes it untouchable in any way besides debates like this one.

What I mean is, you'll get your wish; attrition of believers is the only way that the church will be "torn down", and in the mean time we can hope that not too many people will be harmed by its command over entire nations.

This goes for all religions of course, though at the moment the Catholic Church is unique in the depth and breadth of its centralized power.
posted by vanar sena at 8:07 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


"In the absence of any evidence of the reality of a spiritual world,"

That the evidence marshaled. faith and revelation, does not appeal to your sensibilities makes it neither inconsequential nor false.
posted by oddman at 8:09 AM on November 9, 2009


Every week it's the same old shit.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:09 AM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


"my girlfriend and her 3 siblings were raised catholic and are now all atheist. so if growing up in the catholic church results in atheism as an adult, then the church is doing something right as far as i can tell. the church might disagree..."

Quitters... :)

A lot of Democratic, liberal Catholics turn away from the faith due to conflicting beliefs.
The Catholic church (not the faith) is good at two things:

1 - Being the "We're right and you are wrong. Follow us or burn in hell!" jerks in the room

and

2 - Being super conservative at times.

Most of the time fall away Catholics leave because they fail to get the true message of the faith. They get caught up in the church politics and all the finger pointing preachy garbage. If they would pay more attention to the whole "love thy neighbor" theory that almost all religions talk about then everyone would have a better chance of getting along.

As for addressing my spiritual needs, the Catholic church does just fine. I say my prayers and get free wine every Sunday. I have the faith that my religious choice is correct. I have hope that I am right. And lastly I have love of God. Those 3 things are all I need to get to a very cloudy place when I die.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:11 AM on November 9, 2009


"I think we should be spending our time eliminating the conditions that cause people to look to religion for comfort rather than making that comfort more effective."

So, you're advocating forced lobotomies? There are plenty of people who look to religion without being forced into it by circumstances.
posted by oddman at 8:11 AM on November 9, 2009


Burhanistan, Every week it's the same old shit

May be, but this time the shit has Stephen Fry in it.
posted by vanar sena at 8:13 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


But I'm honestly not understanding why someone who is coming to the end of a very long life, who is facing an inevitable death in a few weeks from ill health, and who is afraid of the inevitable should not have that fear assuaged.

That's the kind of thing I had in mind when I made my previous comment, yeah.

I was also thinking of the situation where someone has died, and the people left behind are a little less sad because they believe that person has gone on to a better place, rather than just simply gone. Having been in that situation myself (as have we all, I'm sure), I wished that I believed in some sort of afterlife to make it a little less painful, but I just don't.

Belief in an afterlife seems to me like a necessarily spiritual thing, because as Pope Guilty points out, there's no real evidence to back it up. And I'm not even saying that such a belief has only positive effects, just that there's at least one effect I can see that appears to be positive.

I guess there's an argument that could be made about whether spirituality and religion are the same thing. So I can concede that this one positive effect isn't the exclusive domain of religion, but it does seem to be like something that can't come from an entirely secular world view.
posted by FishBike at 8:16 AM on November 9, 2009


....Wait, are you saying we SHOULD fear death?

Of course we should. We should be doing everything we can to extend lifetimes and raise life expectancies.


evidence... faith and revelation

One of these things is not like the others! One of these things... aww, you know the song.


So, you're advocating forced lobotomies?

I'm advocating restructuring our societies to nurture human beings instead of alienating them from the world and from each other. Eliminate the sources of injury and you eliminate the need for painkillers.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:18 AM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is not the soapbox you are looking for. Try the bus station downtown.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:21 AM on November 9, 2009


I can't believe that anyone could say the Church did anything other than retard progress in all the arts and sciences by variously torturing visionaries, denying literacy to the general populace, forcibly exterminating competing cultures and maintaining a tightly controlled monopoly on whatever knowledge they did maintain.

Okay, but other this, the Church was pretty good, right?

I was raised Catholic but gave it up for good pretty easily around the time I hit puberty. But all spiritual/deistic concerns aside, I was still stuck with a pervasive worldview that took many more years to shed: specifically, that the Church, for all its flaws, was on balance a force for good over bad etc ...

One tome that helped me get over this thinking was Russell Hoban's novel Pilgermann. A quote from the wiki:

Pilgermann is a brilliantly conceived historical fantasy which deals with the relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. At the time of the book's setting Islam was the more technologically and culturally advanced of the three cultures and this is reflected in the comparatively sympathetic portrayal of Bembel and Muslim society as opposed to the brutality and hardship of European, Christian life.

It's worth pointing out that this view of Islam's superiority is presented as much via style as content. That is, the book's European passages read like a fever dream of Apocalypse (a Bosch painting of hell come to life) whereas the Syrian sequences are ordered, lyrical and precise. It's a powerful work of fiction that, as I suggested, makes a very strong argument that the culture of medieval Europe was a virulent disease that imperiled anything it touched ... and at the center of this culture was its Church.
posted by philip-random at 8:22 AM on November 9, 2009


I'm not sure that arguing from fiction is a productive tack.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:23 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


With the exception of charitable giving, correlations between religiosity and moral behavior have been problematic, with a strong argument that increased secularism is associated with decreased crime, divorce, and substance abuse.

But I'm honestly not understanding why someone who is coming to the end of a very long life, who is facing an inevitable death in a few weeks from ill health, and who is afraid of the inevitable should not have that fear assuaged.

Religions all have very different views on both the afterlife and the probability of salvation. Personally, I took great comfort that my grandmothers ceased to exist, rather than be relegated to some metaphysically sadistic afterlife.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:25 AM on November 9, 2009


Wow, I haven't watched the whole thing yet, but I'm just impressed that such debates exist at all. Do (can) we have those in the US without everyone shitting a hysterical, ineloquent brick?

That was my thought too.

Even more impressive was the audience. At least 410 people changed their mind after listening to a single civilized, rational debate. It's refreshing to see that kind of open mindedness.
posted by CaseyB at 8:29 AM on November 9, 2009


>But I'm honestly not understanding why someone who is coming to the end of a very long life, who is facing an inevitable death in a few weeks from ill health, and who is afraid of the inevitable should not have that fear assuaged.

Religions all have very different views on both the afterlife and the probability of salvation. Personally, I took great comfort that my grandmothers ceased to exist, rather than be relegated to some metaphysically sadistic afterlife.


What did your grandmothers think, though?

And what if the thought of their non-existance DIDN'T comfort you? I mean, I'm glad it did, but what if that thought didn't comfort you? Would you rather just be SOL?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:29 AM on November 9, 2009


I'm not sure that arguing from fiction is a productive tack.

Who's arguing? I'm just presenting. But, for the sake of argument, I'd say that pretty much all History is part fiction insofar as it's either:

A. In cases where we don't have a lot of documentation, a story pieced together from a combination of the available evidence and extrapolation (the extrapolation being the fiction-making part), or

B. In cases where there's all kinds of documentation, a story pieced together from selected bits of evidence (the selection process being the fiction-making part)
posted by philip-random at 8:35 AM on November 9, 2009


EC: And what if the thought of their non-existance DIDN'T comfort you? I mean, I'm glad it did, but what if that thought didn't comfort you? Would you rather just be SOL?

A very interesting question. But my view is that religion is only comforting if you have the freedom to pick ala carte the doctrines that are comforting to you. Many flavors of Christian faith would have my grandmothers likely burning in hell, and I think there are some significant conflicts between universalist belief and Christian theology for example. Buddhism which has IMO one of the more coherent views of the afterlife, strongly suggests one grandmother is highly likely to spend time as a hungry ghost, and then get tossed to the mill of rebirth long before she gets the opportunity for optimal human rebirth.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:47 AM on November 9, 2009


FishBike: "... there are some things we just can't eliminate. Death is the most obvious example. If religion helps people to cope with that and live a happier life, that doesn't seem like a bad thing to me."

Mainstream religion promotes the fear of death. Damnation in eternal hellfire is scary; simply not existing is really neither here nor there, since you never even experience it.
posted by idiopath at 8:50 AM on November 9, 2009


Regardless, people will doubtless develop explanations and beliefs they find to be "comforting" regardless of the existence of the RCC or not. My point is that advocates for religion overstate its role as both a balm and moral compass.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:55 AM on November 9, 2009


Watched this last night and was a little disappointed. Stephen Fry's statements were the highlight for me. Hitchens was entertaining as always but after seeing so many similar debates since God Is Not Great came out I'm tiring of the lack of scientific evidence presented in his talks. Of course Hitchens is not a scientist and perhaps he feels it inappropriate to buttress his points with information he might have trouble explaining thoroughly but the sheer magnitude of scientific knowledge is central to the argument.

Anne Widdecombe and Archbishop Onaiyekan were pathetic. In particular, Widdecombe's defense of the Church's passive participation in historical atrocities was especially offensive. "Why would the Catholic Church be privy to some morality others didn't have then? Everybody else was nice to the Nazis so..." Um...perhaps because your whole faith is built upon the belief that you are privy to such information? Then again, anybody who has seen that When Louis Met.. episode where Louis Theroux spent some time with her already knows she's a bit batty.

I don't think Archbishop Onaiyekan knows what the word debate means.

By the way, fans of Hitchens should definitely check out Collision: Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson which is out on DVD.
posted by inoculatedcities at 8:57 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


simply not existing is really neither here nor there, since you never even experience it.

Oblivion may not be so bad once you're [NOT] there, but don't kid yourself; the profound and motivating fear of it is exactly the kind of thing that drives a man (or woman) to religion. Billions of them.
posted by philip-random at 9:00 AM on November 9, 2009


Can't watch the videos. Firewall.

The question of whether the Catholic Church is a force for good is inherently unanswerable for several reasons:

1) "Good" remains ambiguous. Do we mean "progress"? Do we mean "maximization of individual potential?" Do we mean "the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people?"

2) Answering even the above questions requires a double-blind study of a world with a Catholic Church and a world without a Catholic Church. Since this is impossible, the debate will devolve into anecdotal evidence. But since ills suffered are always more poignant than benefits gained, the scales will find the Catholic Church wanting. How do we count the number of lives benefited by Catholic Social Services? Do we draw a one to one correlation between a life saved and a life lost, then tally up the figures?

3) It would seem the question must become, "If the Catholic Church disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow, would the world be better or worse because of it?"
posted by jefficator at 9:01 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


....Wait, are you saying we SHOULD fear death?

Of course we should. We should be doing everything we can to extend lifetimes and raise life expectancies.


It seems you and the Catholic Church have more in common than you thought.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:01 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


A very interesting question. But my view is that religion is only comforting if you have the freedom to pick ala carte the doctrines that are comforting to you. Many flavors of Christian faith would have my grandmothers likely burning in hell, and I think there are some significant conflicts between universalist belief and Christian theology for example. Buddhism which has IMO one of the more coherent views of the afterlife, strongly suggests one grandmother is highly likely to spend time as a hungry ghost, and then get tossed to the mill of rebirth long before she gets the opportunity for optimal human rebirth.

Many people do indeed pick a la carte the doctrines that are comforting to them -- by virtue of picking the religion that itself is comforting. That's why there are so many belief systems in the world and we're not all one thing -- one person believes one thing, but it doesn't quite work for another person -- however, this other different thing, the second person can get THAT, so that's what THEY believe.

True, there are flavors of Christian doctrine that would condemn your grandmothers -- but there are many more that would not. Judaism also has some wonderful things to say about the "World To Come" and how non-Jews fit into it. there are many other options out there, as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:14 AM on November 9, 2009


Forgot to add: atheism is, of course, one of those other options. The fact remains, though, that it doesn't work for everyone, just as Catholicism doesn't work for everyone, nor does Judaism, nor does Islam, or Sufiism, or Baha'ai, or....

But, I believe, it also isn't supposed to. That's why I would not dare talk you into abandoning something you believe - I seek only to defend the right of others to hold different beliefs from what you believe. Just because you don't get anything from it doesn't mean NOBODY gets something from it. Many do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:17 AM on November 9, 2009


philip-random: "Oblivion may not be so bad once you're [NOT] there, but don't kid yourself; the profound and motivating fear of it is exactly the kind of thing that drives a man (or woman) to religion. Billions of them."

Driven to religion? People are raised atheist and then choose their worldview tabula rasa upon adulthood? Most people who are comforted by religion have never experienced the lack of spiritual reassurance that they claim their faith protects them from.

Significant numbers of traditional metaphysics do not imagine any afterlife. Monotheistic religions spread and retain believers not by alleviating the fear of death but by amplifying it, making it the beginning of divine punishment.
posted by idiopath at 9:19 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's why I would not dare talk you into abandoning something you believe - I seek only to defend the right of others to hold different beliefs from what you believe. Just because you don't get anything from it doesn't mean NOBODY gets something from it.

I would only add that the usual suspects who rail against religion here in those kinds of absolutist terms, and call for some kind of vast and untenable change in daily life are very tiresome. They've stated their position many times over in as many threads, and are a broken record of boorishness. If they really felt that strongly, they would be out trying to forge some kind of wonderful new secular world order or something. Instead, they just stink up the place over and over again.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:20 AM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


EC: And I think that the ability to encounter and choose among those options is one of the fringe benefits of living in a modern and secular society where religious institutions don't have the political muscle to censure the free practice of religion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:25 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


They've stated their position many times over in as many threads, and are a broken record of boorishness.

I've yet to condemn anyone to hell, nor have I ever provided support for structures of authoritarian control that pick people's pockets while threatening them with supernatural retribution for disagreeing with me, so I think I come out ahead, thank you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:26 AM on November 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


There's a saying among the frustrated and dissenting faithful: "they're just the bishops, we're the Church." The bishop alluded to this at the outset, but allowed the distinction to remain largely ignored for the duration of the debate. The actions of Vatican/curia/papacy can be quite difficult to defend; the laity less so.
posted by klarck at 9:26 AM on November 9, 2009


I've yet to condemn anyone to hell, nor have I ever provided support for structures of authoritarian control that pick people's pockets while threatening them with supernatural retribution for disagreeing with me, so I think I come out ahead, thank you.

Perhaps, but that's a false equivalency in this context.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:29 AM on November 9, 2009


And I think that the ability to encounter and choose among those options is one of the fringe benefits of living in a modern and secular society where religious institutions don't have the political muscle to censure the free practice of religion.

Me too.

I also don't hold it against any institutions that used to do that in the Middle Ages, because...it's not the Middle Ages any more, and a lot of OTHER things have changed as well.

I've yet to condemn anyone to hell, nor have I ever provided support for structures of authoritarian control that pick people's pockets while threatening them with supernatural retribution for disagreeing with me, so I think I come out ahead, thank you.

But you lose that ground by insulting the intelligence of those who do believe.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:29 AM on November 9, 2009


Who was asked to defend the Church against Hitchens and Fry?"
While Kaye couldn’t remember all the people that Pisani had invited onto the panel defending the Church position, she said that they included Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Cherie Blair and George Weigel, who all declined.
posted by Anything at 9:30 AM on November 9, 2009


I claimed above that the Catholic church was probably a force for good historically speaking, by counter balancing the power of royalty, but I've no idea how you'd claim it's a force for good today, given that it's actively involved in holding back societal progress.

You must fundamentally argue that the Church does more good than bad while arguing that either (a) the good wouldn't happen without the church or (b) the bad would still happen without the church. I find this position exceedingly doubtful for numerous reasons. In particular, Buddhism and Hinduism are clearly universally far superior to Catholicism, speaking form a modern point of view.

I'll accept that Buddhism would not necessarily have helped the middle ages or countered the power of kings, Chinas decline provides some evidence. Otoh, humanity would advance much more quickly and everyone would live better lives if all Catholics spontaneously converted to Buddhism tomorrow.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:43 AM on November 9, 2009


"evidence... faith and revelation

One of these things is not like the others!
"

Well, if you're going to beg the question as to what counts as evidence, then I supposed there is really nothing left for me to say to you.

Enjoy your solipcism.
posted by oddman at 9:45 AM on November 9, 2009


The CC is responsible for The Inquisition. That's all you need to know to say: and thus, you are morally condemned forever. Nothing can redeem that history. Just as Nazism cannot be redeemed, not matter how it would have evolved after the Holocaust. If you have any doubt, it can only be because you do not have a good grasp of what the inquisition was all about - the Holocaust is much closer to us historically, so we don't have doubts there (though deniers exist even for that!).

The CC was instrumental in destroying countless native cultures the world over. That is indisputably true - but to bring it into the European context, it did the same for many native cultures in Europe too.

And the people bringing up scientific achievements in the middle ages as some kind of credit for the CC - this is laughable. Scientific progress in Europe was done in the teeth of the CC, it was in spite of, not thanks to. The CC fought any intellectual, social or political movement which could threaten its political power or in the intellectual realm, of the monopoly on claimed Truth. Science was seen as a huge threat to their monopoly of Truth. Such science as managed to be accomplished, was done often by people who had to use subterfuge to get published or left in peace, such as professing "faith" and pretending that it was proof of God's and the CC's greatness. The CC destroyed cultural artifacts and suppressed and eliminated traces of antiquity - the occasional transcribing monk notwithstanding. To latch onto such a monk here or there is rather like latching onto Schindler to redeem Nazism.

European culture blossomed and gained every time the power of the CC waned. And the other way around.

But it's all in the past, unforgivable as it may be? The CC doesn't have to apologize for their action today? That would be amusing, if it weren't so very wrong. Whether women's rights, gay rights, the AIDS epidemic in Africa and elsewhere - the CC has a lot to answer for. It is a criminal organization and a force for evil - not as powerful as once upon a time, but a potent evil nonetheless.
posted by VikingSword at 9:46 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Driven to religion? People are raised atheist and then choose their worldview tabula rasa upon adulthood? Most people who are comforted by religion have never experienced the lack of spiritual reassurance that they claim their faith protects them from.

True, but would the faith foisted on them in early childhood have a serious hold on them if it did not address some inherent existential need? And where did the faith come from in the first place? I doubt it was just a couple of guys (gals) saying, hey, let's start a religion just cuz. No, it came from a need, a deep inner anguish that could not be ignored: what is the higher meaning of this life of mine that, for all its pleasures, is also full of pain? why shouldn't I steal? why shouldn't I kill, lie, hate? WHAT HAPPENS TO US WHEN WE DIE?
posted by philip-random at 9:52 AM on November 9, 2009


DevilsAdvocate: It seems you and the Catholic Church have more in common than you thought.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The RCC's current political positions regarding family planning and the use of barrier contraception is extremely hard to on these grounds.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:56 AM on November 9, 2009


Perhaps, but that's a false equivalency in this context.

My point, really. It's fascinating to have "Religion does these nasty things by its nature, and religion as it is specifically instantiated does these nasty things" replied to with "How boorish!"

But you lose that ground by insulting the intelligence of those who do believe.

Being religious doesn't make you stupid, or unintelligent; it does, however, mean that you've signed over a not-insignificant portion of your mind to the dominion of unreason, and I don't think it's, well, reasonable to expect something good to come out of that. We have a history which shows the foolishness of it. If that makes you uncomfortable, well...


Well, if you're going to beg the question as to what counts as evidence, then I supposed there is really nothing left for me to say to you.

Enjoy your solipcism.


You are seriously arguing that people's claims of revelation and your own faith are evidence that should be taken seriously, on par with empirical data generated by repeatable observation, and you are calling me a solipsist- one who does not believe in the reality anything other than himself. You are not making even a little bit of sense and seem to be doing nothing but lashing out.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:59 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


The CC is responsible for The Inquisition. That's all you need to know to say: and thus, you are morally condemned forever. Nothing can redeem that history.

The United States is responsible for Wounded Knee.
The United Kingdom is responsible for Agincourt.
The Persians are responsible for starting the Jewish Diaspora.
The Japanese are responsible for disenfrancising the Ainu.
The Belgians are responsible for the Congo.
The French are responsible for the French Revolution.

...got anyone else you want to add to the shit list of People Who Will Never Be Forgiven For Anything Ever? I got a big piece of paper just in case.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:01 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Most people who are comforted by religion have never experienced the lack of spiritual reassurance that they claim their faith protects them from.

Have most people who are not comforted by religion ever experienced the spiritual reassurance that various religions claim to offer?
posted by The World Famous at 10:02 AM on November 9, 2009


I've yet to condemn anyone to hell, nor have I ever provided support for structures of authoritarian control that pick people's pockets while threatening them with supernatural retribution for disagreeing with me, so I think I come out ahead, thank you.
Perhaps, but that's a false equivalency in this context.


To be fair, the topic is the Catholic Church as an institution, and my most recent experience with them was my grandfather's funeral, which PG's comment concisely and accurately describes.

To be quite honest, paying someone a few thousand dollars to excoriate us for being bad catholics and cremating his remains, and also having the memorial outside the church (a proper Catholic funeral was out of our price range) left a sour taste in my mouth. Also, he spoke nothing of the deceased, save to contrast his supposed belief (he grew up in rural Quebec before the Silent Revolution, and on his deathbed refered to the church as "gangsters") with the inadequate faith of those present. He then launched into a tirade that returned, more than once, to both the Passion of the Christ (this was a few years ago) and gay marriage. He then threatened us with supernatural retribution once more, took his money and left.

Oh, and did I mention he was 90 minutes late?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:07 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Have most people who are not comforted by religion ever experienced the spiritual reassurance that various religions claim to offer?

I cannot speak for "most", but for myself, I was a dyed-in-the-wool True Believer for many years, even started taking Latin and Greek in college in preparation for entering the ministry. That is no longer my path, but I did "experience the spiritual reassurance" at one point.
posted by hippybear at 10:09 AM on November 9, 2009


The World Famous: Have most people who are not comforted by religion ever experienced the spiritual reassurance that various religions claim to offer?

In my case, yes. Michael Shermer, E. O. Wilson, and I believe Phillip Pullman are substantially on the record as having a history within Christianity.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:09 AM on November 9, 2009


Most people don't ever seriously cross the atheist / theist divide. My point is that people are not "driven into" theism and away from atheism nearly as much as born or coerced into theism. It could very well also be the case that atheists are more often raised atheist rather than finding atheism later in life, but that would be a side point and not really a refutation of my statement.
posted by idiopath at 10:10 AM on November 9, 2009


And further, raising children atheist is so far out of the norm in my country (the US), that judges explicitly grant custody of children based on which parent will take them to church.
posted by idiopath at 10:14 AM on November 9, 2009


The United States is responsible for Wounded Knee.
The United Kingdom is responsible for Agincourt.
The Persians are responsible for starting the Jewish Diaspora.
The Japanese are responsible for disenfrancising the Ainu.
The Belgians are responsible for the Congo.
The French are responsible for the French Revolution.

...got anyone else you want to add to the shit list of People Who Will Never Be Forgiven For Anything Ever? I got a big piece of paper just in case.


Wow. Just wow. Pretty much every single item on that list is in a different class from the crime of the inquisition. This was not a single event or series of events, like Wounded Knee, Agincourt, it was not mere disenfranchising like of the Ainu, or expelling like of the Jewish Diaspora. Exactly as I predicted and mentioned - only ignorance of its nature could lead one to compare it in such a way, rather than to that class to which it rightly belongs - the Holocaust.

This was an immense crime the scale, cruelty and all encompassing nature is comparable to the kind of crime that is seen as in special in its iniquity - the Holocaust.

And yes, the Holocaust is unforgivable. No matter what list you construct, there are those crimes, such as the Holocaust, the Inquisition, Stalin's Gulags etc. which hold a special place in history, and which uniquely discredit any ideology in whose name these crimes were committed.
posted by VikingSword at 10:17 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The Catholic Church is about the force of spiritual message... the force of values..."

The force of shame, guilt, and intolerance that helps contribute to the death of its own and of others, throughout the world.
posted by markkraft at 10:18 AM on November 9, 2009


PopeGuilty et al: I was not aware that the Vatican was still Inquisitioning and condemning Galileo. In fact didn't they apologize recently?

The framing of the question is in the present tense.

I also suppose it's too much to ask to distinguish between the Church and the Magisterium. The Catholic Church -- formally defined as the body of believers -- does not collectively condemn the use of condoms in Africa, for example.
posted by jock@law at 10:21 AM on November 9, 2009


Have most people who are not comforted by religion ever experienced the spiritual reassurance that various religions claim to offer?

Hippybear: I cannot speak for "most", but for myself, I was a dyed-in-the-wool True Believer for many years, even started taking Latin and Greek in college in preparation for entering the ministry. That is no longer my path, but I did "experience the spiritual reassurance" at one point.

Kirkjobsluder: In my case, yes.


Did you truly experience genuine spiritual reassurance (and not just emotional or cultural reassurance), and do you still admit the genuineness of that spiritual experience?

Because I did not intend to ask whether most people who are not comforted by religion have ever had a good or comforting experience as a follower of some religion. Sorry if I didn't make that clear. It seems to me (and maybe I'm mistaken) that it is quite unlikely that there are many atheists who, while maintaining a truly atheist stance, also believe that they at one time in the past actually experienced spiritual reassurance from a divine source. I am distinguishing that, of course, from cultural or emotional reassurance, which I think is often mistaken for spiritual reassurance.
posted by The World Famous at 10:23 AM on November 9, 2009


This was not a debate about religion. It was a meeting of two groups of people, one of which allows for the freedom of thought and inquiry and one that does not. The whole religion aspect is merely symptomatic.
posted by gallois at 10:25 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


You are not making even a little bit of sense and seem to be doing nothing but lashing out.

The interesting thing about his comment is that if he's really going to argue that his personal beliefs (or the beliefs of lots of people) are "evidence" of something being real then I can't think of a better segue into Solipsism.

Honestly if somebody thinks that the Great Cloud of Witnesses that the Church proclaims is "evidence" of God and Jesus being real then I have got some incredible news for you about this amazing new religion called Hinduism! Theres a ton of them and they are totally sincere about this Vishnu guy!
posted by Avenger at 10:27 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Delmoi: If by "Contribution" you mean "thousand year strangle hold". Compare the pace of development before the founding of the church and after the protestant reformation and enlightenment.

I notice that others have responded to this in my absence (damn work getting in the way); however, I think it worth noting that there's more to culture than scientific or technological progress.

I don't for a moment suggest that those aren't crucially important, but the church has contributed significantly to other areas of culture, like visual art, architecture and dramatic art. One might consider this the basis of European culture and, therefore, the seed of modern American culture, including south American.

I think you must separate your disdain for the church with the importance of the role it has played in shaping the western world.

posted by Lleyam at 10:31 AM on November 9, 2009


Pretty much every single item on that list is in a different class from the crime of the inquisition.

....Oh, I'm pretty sure the victims at Wounded Knee would disagree with you there...

My point, though, was not to win the Victim Poker Tournament. My point was that -- if you're honest in your research -- you'll find that just about everyone has been shits to everyone else at some point or another, and that the only way TO move forward as a society is to not hold a grudge in perpetuity.

....And anyway, the Catholic Church hasn't been the only Christian denomination who's executed heretics. Not that it was ever right for them to do so, of course, but if you're excusing other denominations unawares I may just be dubious of your scholarship is all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:32 AM on November 9, 2009


The World Famous: "t is quite unlikely that there are many atheists who, while maintaining a truly atheist stance, also believe that they at one time in the past actually experienced spiritual reassurance from a divine source"

You defined that category out of existence. An actual honest-to-no-god atheist of course would not grant that they experienced anything from a divine source.

When I believed in supernatural entities and events, I did experience reassurance, awe, profound subjective states of beatitude etc. while NOT experiencing any significant social or cultural comfort or reassurance. I was raised with beliefs that were far from mainstream, and without much community of fellow believers except obviously my parents.

My point was that people don't often go from not believing in any gods for the first 18 years of their lives and then get convinced based on the reassurance offered by religion. The normal case is to be raised with some sort of belief in gods, and if one ever experiences both sides of the divide, it tends to be belief in the supernatural that is experienced first in the overwhelming majority of cases.
posted by idiopath at 10:33 AM on November 9, 2009


The Catholic Church -- formally defined as the body of believers -- does not collectively condemn the use of condoms in Africa, for example.

At a certain level, I can see that you are correct. However, if Pope Benedict were here right now he would slap you teeth out for talking like one of those fucking Protestants. The idea that the "Body of Faithful Believers" can in any way be seperate from the Magisterium and the Chair of Peter is fundamentally Protestant in nature and has been LOUDLY rejected by the Church for 500 years now.

Actually, the fact that the incredible super-majority of Catholics practice contraception and support condoms in Africa is considered a sign of great corruption among the common believers rather than the Magisterium being out-of-touch. Catholicism is fundamentally a top-down organization and saying that "a lot of Catholics disagree with this doctrine!" is roughly equivalent to telling Joseph Stalin that a lot of pesants are kinda going hungry this winter. "Your point being?" he might ask.
posted by Avenger at 10:34 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I agree, idiopath. Also, yours is an interesting datapoint. Thanks!
posted by The World Famous at 10:35 AM on November 9, 2009


I was brought up religious - just a mild religion, the C of E - and the fear and unhappiness I felt until I realised it was all a big nasty story will stay with me all my life. People who mention the Inquisition, the Cathar genocide, the prohibition of barrier contraception etc. Yes, these are more serious in every way than the unhappiness of one child. But I think one is strongly influenced by one's own selfish feelings. I know I am.

So, for those who find comfort in Christianity - I literally can't comprehend you, but fine, I am glad it soothes you - but what about the price paid by other people for your comfort? Particularly children, who don't have the luxury of knowing alternatives or the intellectual recourse of cynicism.
posted by communicator at 10:37 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


[Forgot to close italics tag after quoting delmoi in my previous comment. Note that the second paragraph onwards is my response to delmoi.]
posted by Lleyam at 10:42 AM on November 9, 2009


The World Famous: I have to agree with idiopath that you've pretty much set an impossible bar that we can't both have a history in which we've had divinely empowered experiences and question the source and origins of those experiences later. You didn't ask about our interpretation you asked about the experience. Regardless of whether I see that event in my life as a visionary communion with the Goddess and God, or as a powerful testament to my imagination and will to believe, it did happen.

At least one of the reasons why I prefer Shermer and Wilson over Dawkins is that they both wrestle with the fact that powerful mystical experiences are certainly subjectively real and authentic in ways that shouldn't be trivially dismissed.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:48 AM on November 9, 2009


I think the Catholic Church is bad compared to empiricism and secular humanism. I think it loses big time. But I think it's stupid to assume that if it wasn't around all that would be left would be a billion and a half more secular humanist empiricists. I think in the weird counterfactual universe without the Catholic Church most of the people who believe the primitive lies of the Catholic Church would believe other primitive lies. I think the lies and institutions of the Catholic Church are damaging compared to my beliefs and the institutions I would choose instead, but I don't think they are more damaging than the median non-catholic universe of beliefs and institutions. I think people that believe Catholicism is actually true are the least equipped to win the debate against Hitchens and Fry. Because the right answer is not, "But we give away this many turkeys on thanksgiving" but "we're not all that bad for as far as professional liars go."
posted by I Foody at 10:51 AM on November 9, 2009


I agree, KirkJobSluder.
posted by The World Famous at 10:51 AM on November 9, 2009


The Catholic Church -- formally defined as the body of believers -- does not collectively condemn the use of condoms in Africa, for example.

Well, let's see, the body of believers gives or is at least obligated to give a tenth of its income to the Magisterium, which then uses a significant portion of that money to lobby against the use of condoms in Africa. The body of believers gathers each week or is at least obligated to gather each week to, among other things, reaffirm the supremacy of the Magisterium in matters of faith and morality, part of which is the belief that the use of condoms is immoral.

How is that not the collective condemnation of the use of condoms in Africa? If one gives money to an organization, attends the organizations meetings, and voices support for the organization at those meetings, how is that meaningfully distinguished from supporting the policies of the organization, especially when part of the affirmation of support is the notion that opposition to the organization is sinful? At best your argument is "It's okay that the Magisterium has lots of bad policies because it turns out that a lot of individual Catholics are hypocrites."
posted by jedicus at 10:52 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, for those who find comfort in Christianity - I literally can't comprehend you, but fine, I am glad it soothes you - but what about the price paid by other people for your comfort? Particularly children, who don't have the luxury of knowing alternatives or the intellectual recourse of cynicism.

....Kids grow up and find other things to believe sometimes. Hell, I did, and I really was uber-Catholic as a kid.

I don't hold Catholicism at fault for that. I don't hold ANYONE at fault for that, actually. They presented me with some ideas...then when I got older I heard other ideas, I thought about them, and decided those other ideas suited me better. Other people I know faced the same case, and stayed Catholic.

I hear you about some people having bad experiences as children with the faith they get brought up in. But I would posit that has more to do with how that particular faith is imparted unto them than the faith itself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:53 AM on November 9, 2009


Badasscommy: Do (can) we have those in the US without everyone shitting a hysterical, ineloquent brick?

CaseyB: That was my thought too. Even more impressive was the audience.

Intelligence Squared U.S. (with downloadable podcasts of previous debates). You can buy tickets to be in the audience member (debates take place in NYC; subjects and dates are on the site).

And I can't believe nobody's done this yet:

No, the Church lost enough power that it could no longer do such things, and then went "Oh, I guess that was wrong, huh?" It's like getting arrested and suddenly discovering that serial murder is morally reprehensible.--Pope Guilty

Eponysterical.
posted by tzikeh at 10:53 AM on November 9, 2009


^to be in the audience, not to be in the audience member.

so very, very much wrong there
posted by tzikeh at 10:54 AM on November 9, 2009


Pretty much every single item on that list is in a different class from the crime of the inquisition.

....Oh, I'm pretty sure the victims at Wounded Knee would disagree with you there...


And you'd be wrong! I ask - would you rather be shot or stabbed and die quickly, or be tortured in elaborate ways for many days so you die in unspeakable agony? Let's ask! Funny, how your glib answer which you thought was a clever comeback, backfired so very badly. You don't get it do you? The mere fact that both victims are dead does not make both crimes equivalent. A victim of street robbery who is shot dead is just as dead as someone who has been tortured to death in most unspeakable ways. But nobody in their right mind - even a Catholic crime apologist - would equate the two.

My point, though, was not to win the Victim Poker Tournament. My point was that -- if you're honest in your research -- you'll find that just about everyone has been shits to everyone else at some point or another, and that the only way TO move forward as a society is to not hold a grudge in perpetuity.

So do Jews engage in Victim Poker Tournament when they see the Holocaust as a unique crime against humanity? You don't have to be Jewish to do the same, you know. There are crimes so great, that they get special recognition - the Holocaust is one. The inquisition is another. The gulags. This is not, to use your tellingly callous phrase "Victim Poker Tournament".

And we do hold a grudge - perpetually - for certain crimes. Nazism will never remove the stain of the Holocaust, nor will the CC of the inquisition. What statue of limitations do you suggest for the Holocaust? Apply the same for the inquisition - and I'll be right there, protesting loudly. Never forget. Does that phrase mean anything to you? NEVER.

And we "move forward" is by eviscerating the last vestiges of such criminal systems which are responsible for crimes of such magnitude and the parties responsible - whether the NSDP, CPSU or the CC.

....And anyway, the Catholic Church hasn't been the only Christian denomination who's executed heretics. Not that it was ever right for them to do so, of course, but if you're excusing other denominations unawares I may just be dubious of your scholarship is all.

You don't get it, do you? The Nazi Party (NSDP) was not the only one that persecuted people, but they were in a special class of evil - like the CPSU, or the CC. Yes, other Christian denominations executed heretics and committed all sorts of crimes, but the inquisition was unique in its scale, cruelty and reach. It's rather telling that you say "executing heretics" - since what the inquistion did was not merely "execute" - but torture in an unspeakable way, with instruments specially invented for the occasion (Yay Catholic science and technology achievements!), and not merely "heretics", but immense numbers of utterly innocent people who were not even involved in any religious controversy. The scale and cruelty of the inquisition was a different order of magnitude compared to "other Christian denominations" - and funny that you should mention scholarship, because the way you write and the glib comparisons and unapt analogies you make indicates a sore need for some research on your part.
posted by VikingSword at 10:58 AM on November 9, 2009


I see, VS, that your mind is Made Up, and so I'm just going to say "be seeing you."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on November 9, 2009


So, to summarize the Archbishop's final defense to the question "Is the Catholic Church a force for good"...

"It depends upon what the meaning of the word "is" is."

posted by markkraft at 11:15 AM on November 9, 2009


a deep inner anguish that could not be ignored: what is the higher meaning of this life of mine [...] WHAT HAPPENS TO US WHEN WE DIE?
posted by philip-random at 9:52 AM on November 9 [+] [!]


It's a setup, philip! You are still in it, they told you a story so compelling when you were an empty narrative-acquisition machine. I mean sure these are valid questions, but the underlying emotional force; you should not have to have such a well of suffering pent up set to burst when that rare opportunity to pose them arises. On the one hand, were there more frequent opportunities to pose such problems, the imperative force would be less desperate. But on the other hand, asking the questions is a sort of falling back into the old answers; how you pose the question, the implicit assumptions of self and world which your language, their language, always already constructs predisposes an inevitable submission to their toxic worldview. These two facets leave you pinioned long after you've thought yourself to be beyond their grasp. The opportunity of inquiry is so reduced because everyone thinks they already know the answer, and just look what happens when we do attempt this sort of conversation (cf ^^^). And then, independent thinkers that we are, when we get around to really putting it all out there, stating the full dilemma of existence, our language is the tongue of the Latin empire, who lets not forget the Catholic Church is merely the coopted arm thereof. All the concepts with which we could hope to reason the constancy and impermanence of our lives already belong to that which we've rejected. I mean I'm all for existential angst (JUST WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS UNIVERSE), and I'm certainly not advocating substituting the verbiage of some other tradition, which lets face it are all implicated in authoritarian xenophobia (though not comparable to the CC, whose rape of the earth supercedes all prior evil), but, well. Let's just be aware of what we're working with here. The rest is silence.
posted by kaspen at 11:18 AM on November 9, 2009


I see, VS, that your mind is Made Up, and so I'm just going to say "be seeing you."

Indeed, my mind is "made up" that it is inapt in the extreme to compare the 200 people shot and stabbed at Wounded Knee in one day, with the lengthy, widespread death and torture of the Grand Inquisition over an entire continent. I think most sane people's minds are similarly "made up" - it's called common sense.

And I don't think you'll be "seeing me", since it seems you live on a very distant planet. Here on Earth, we don't see the Grand Inquisition as anything other than one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated on humanity. And the CC is at the very center of this crime.
posted by VikingSword at 11:23 AM on November 9, 2009


Indeed, my mind is "made up" that it is inapt in the extreme to compare the 200 people shot and stabbed at Wounded Knee in one day, with the lengthy, widespread death and torture of the Grand Inquisition over an entire continent.

I'm pretty sure that EC used Wounded Knee as shorthand for the genocide that was (and still is in some ways) perpetrated by American settlers for centuries across the entire continent.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:32 AM on November 9, 2009


I think most sane people's minds are similarly "made up" - it's called common sense.

Here on Earth, most people's minds seem to be 'made up' about the truth and value of religion - it's what they call common sense. Golly, that is a powerful argument you got there. Better get myself down to the church. . .
posted by barrett caulk at 11:34 AM on November 9, 2009


The CC is responsible for The Inquisition. That's all you need to know to say: and thus, you are morally condemned forever. Nothing can redeem that history.

Hmmm.... This sounds awfully familiar.... Let me replace a few things here....

The Jews are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That's all you need to know to say: and thus, you are morally condemned forever. Nothing can redeem that history.

Wow. Eery.
posted by Pope Gustafson I at 11:35 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pope Gustafson I, you know that the Inquisition was an official action by the actual organized Catholic Church as an entity, right? Or do you really not see the difference between saying that the Catholic Church is responsible for the Inquisition and saying that "the Jews" (whatever that means) are responsible for the crucifixion?
posted by The World Famous at 11:40 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


(Yay Catholic science and technology achievements!)

TORQUEMADA HAS UNLOCKED: THUMBSCREWS! 10 POINTS!

I've had people, both to my face and online, argue that the Inquisition gets a bum rap because it was scrupulously fair- that Inquisitors were careful to only torture, maim, mutilate, and murder actual heretics, and not only that, but the accused could at any time recant their heresy! How merciful! How many contemporary courts were so fair or merciful, they insist, as the holy Inquisition!

So no, I don't think it's anywhere near universal that the Inquisition was a bad thing, let alone the unspeakable atrocity that it was; this is distressing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:42 AM on November 9, 2009


The CC is responsible for The Inquisition. That's all you need to know to say: and thus, you are morally condemned forever. Nothing can redeem that history.

Hmmm.... This sounds awfully familiar.... Let me replace a few things here....

The Jews are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That's all you need to know to say: and thus, you are morally condemned forever. Nothing can redeem that history.

Wow. Eery.


You are comparing an extensively documented historical truth with a made up libel based on no evidence? Nice!

Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? How can that be, if we can't even prove that Jesus Christ existed in the first place?

A more apt analogy to your silly statement would be:

"Oh, you claim the Holocaust is unforgivable?

That's just like the claim that Jews use Christian baby blood to make maza!"

There's you "wow".
posted by VikingSword at 11:42 AM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hey Gustafson, do you know that there really is an objective reality and that in that reality, there really was a horrible series of crimes against humanity that is labeled the Inquisition and that "The Jews" did not, in fact, murder Christ? Are you aware that not all truth claims are equally valid?

Just checkin'.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:43 AM on November 9, 2009


VikingSword, even if you assume the absolute truth of every word of the New Testament, the equivalence drawn by Gustafson is ridiculous.
posted by The World Famous at 11:45 AM on November 9, 2009


I'm pretty sure that EC used Wounded Knee as shorthand for the genocide that was (and still is in some ways) perpetrated by American settlers for centuries across the entire continent.

Too bad that she didn't say that, then. It would be even a plausible interpretation were it not followed by a list of similarly bizarre nature: dinenfranchising the Ainu (!), Jews expelled from Persia etc. The mind boggles. What settles the interpretation though is this pearl:

"Pretty much every single item on that list is in a different class from the crime of the inquisition.

....Oh, I'm pretty sure the victims at Wounded Knee would disagree with you there..."


Ergo: it's Wounded Knee victims = same as Grand Inquistion vicitims - both ded amirite?! Not much to add to that, unfortunately.
posted by VikingSword at 11:48 AM on November 9, 2009


It's a force for order, as much as laws, the State system, and even the Internet. (Coherence is a fundamental aspect of order, and rapid high speed meme transmission creates coherence.)

Order cuts as well as it binds.

Dandy. Spiffy. Tautological, even.

But not remotely useful, effugas. The same can be said of the mafia, gangbangers, and even the kid who beat your kid up for milk money each day. They all want "order" - their order.

Congratulations on making the most pointless argument in this thread.

I much more agree with Lleyam, and others who made the same point that the real question is, or should be: Is the Catholic Church a force for good today?...

Sadly, Lleyam's best arguments for the CC are:
* contribution it has made to European culture
* comfort to the lives of the faithful/believers
Versus his "con" arguments, of which I'll post just one:
* condoms and HIV in Africa

Again, a piss-poor defense of the Church. Against even a single, unnecessary death caused by discouragement of condoms, I'll stack the "comfort" of every faithful believer on earth, and find in favor of the prosecution. (The contributions it made are incalculable, since we can't possibly know if something better would have been done in its absence.)
posted by IAmBroom at 11:49 AM on November 9, 2009


Well let's suppose, just for argument's sake, that the Catholic Church is correct about God creating the earth, Jesus being the human incarnation of God who died for our sins, St Paul and St Peter beginning the Christian church that eventually became the Catholic Church. Let's say they're right about all of that. Now, in light of the institution of the CC having perpetrated the Inquisition, which is a terrible, terrible thing, what should the CC do now, since all those people involved have been dead for 700 years? Do they need to disband? Change their name? I don't think that the comparison to Nazism is appropriate, because while the Inquisition was an official action by the CC, the Inquisition and acts like it are not essential to the tenets of the Church, whereas the Holocaust and acts like it are essential to Nazism-- extermination of Jews is a carrying out of the core beliefs of Nazism, and extermination of heretics is not a core belief of the Catholic Church. You might argue that it was a core belief of the CC 700 years ago, but even if that was true, it is no longer so. So how is a religious institution responsible for deplorable acts that are not tied to their belief system supposed to move forward now that everyone and everything responsible for those acts are dead and gone?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:49 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


VikingSword, even if you assume the absolute truth of every word of the New Testament, the equivalence drawn by Gustafson is ridiculous.

Of course. Unfortunately there are so many layers of absurdity packed into those few sentences and only so many hours in the day, so I picked one of the many, by no means addressing all.
posted by VikingSword at 11:51 AM on November 9, 2009


Of course. Unfortunately there are so many layers of absurdity packed into those few sentences and only so many hours in the day, so I picked one of the many, by no means addressing all.

Yeah, I pretty much fell out of my chair when I read it, too.
posted by The World Famous at 11:53 AM on November 9, 2009


I was brought up Catholic. I stopped believing by the time I was 11 or so (although I can remember having serious doubts when I was 7 or 8) but didn't tell my parents until I was 14. The whole thing was somewhat traumatic for me. My parents were fine with it eventually (it only took 10 years) but I had issues with it for a long time. Even though I'm now a happy, content atheist, Catholicism has fundamentally informed by thinking. You could call that brain-washing, if you like. Eventually, I decided that the only way I could be clear of the influence of the church was by letting go of my anger. So, it was with some trepidation that I watched the debate. Occasionally I start feeling myself getting riled up about Catholicism and I really don't want to be. Fortunately Stephen Fry made his points eloquently and without hysteria so the whole thing didn't make me feel all ranty (the technical term, I believe.) Lastly, due to her performance, it also made me want to be on the opposite side of Anne Widdecombe in any debate.
posted by ob at 11:54 AM on November 9, 2009


What statue of limitations do you suggest for the Holocaust?

I've heard it said that there's something in Torah about a trespass/debt being redeemable for six generations. That is, if I kill you and rob your family's fortune, your descendants can rightfully claim penance from mine for six generations ... which is what, hundred and twenty years. Makes sense to me. Long enough for everyone alive at the time of the initial crime to have died of old age ... at which point, we (that is humanity in general) had best get over the demands for reparation and get on with making the present and future work, as opposed to pursuing the ongoing punishment of the monsters of the past.

RE: Wounded Knee

One incident does not equal the Holocaust of WW2 but the wholesale and deliberate destruction of the First Nations cultures of North America by the white man (of which Wounded Knee is a pivotal event) definitely starts to rate as a holocaust of historical proportions.
posted by philip-random at 11:56 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can't have a force for good in this world without a good amount of force...
posted by samsara at 11:59 AM on November 9, 2009


Eery.

Come on, get it right. It's "eary." We can all find common ground in our ear-having-ness.
posted by Skot at 12:03 PM on November 9, 2009


You might argue that it was a core belief of the CC 700 years ago, but even if that was true, it is no longer so. So how is a religious institution responsible for deplorable acts that are not tied to their belief system supposed to move forward now that everyone and everything responsible for those acts are dead and gone?

You are wrong - nowhere in the charter of NSDAP do they speak of the physical extermination of the Jews. The analogy to the Holocaust is very apt - no matter what their respective charters say, these actions were promulgated from the very highest seats of power in those organizations. Both the CC and the Nazis are thus equally responsible for their crimes.

And yes, both the organizational descendants of NSDAP or the CC may no longer engage or advocate those actions - they are still noxious. You occasionally read about how some chapter or other of the KKK no longer holds Jews or Catholics as vile subhumans, what should we do with them? Most of their crimes against Jews and Catholics are in the past with perpetrators dead - "so how is an [...] institution responsible for deplorable acts that are not tied to their belief system supposed to move forward now that everyone and everything responsible for those acts are dead and gone?"

Yes, the CC is still respected in society today - just as the KKK was once (where even presidents belonged to it). And the crimes and numbers of victims of the CC were far more numerous than the KKK. Both have evolved and are no longer the noxious force they were. Today it's David Duke and Pope Benedict. What can they do? Not much, given they are still led by vicious evil men, and are both nasty organizations.
posted by VikingSword at 12:06 PM on November 9, 2009


shakespeherian: "the Holocaust and acts like it are essential to Nazism-- extermination of Jews is a carrying out of the core beliefs of Nazism"

Much Nazi propaganda emphasized repatriating Jews outside of Germany, and they were pretty consistent about calling the camps work camps and not extermination facilities. The holocaust may be central to our current conception of what Nazism was, but was actually not a defining characteristic for the Nazis themselves. Turning Nazis into a bunch of cartoon villains obsessed with the extermination of the Jewish race may be tempting, but does a severe disservice to our own understanding of nationalisms and their attendant hazards.
posted by idiopath at 12:08 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


while the Inquisition was an official action by the CC, the Inquisition and acts like it are not essential to the tenets of the Church

Not in 2009, in an era when the Church's political power is largely broken and its ideas of what constitutes moral have, to some extent, changed in response to most of the rest of the world figuring out that murdering for faith isn't acceptable. In the time of the Church's inception, that you would not kill heretics and unbelievers was kind of a minority view, and the Church cheerfully murdered millions of people for having the wrong beliefs over the span of over a thousand years. The modern prevalence of the idea that that sort of behavior is reprehensible is a thoroughly modern idea, its prevalence a product of the Enlightenment and not of Christian theology.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:11 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Who elected Hitchens to be the Head Atheist in Charge? " He was bequeathed it by Douglas Adams in a stunning upset to Stephen Fry who was sure he would get it; instead Stephen got a nice tea cozy and all of Doug's VHS tapes along with a small statuette of the Tardis which fits in nicely with the other brickabrak on Stephen's mantelpiece.
posted by NiteMayr at 12:23 PM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Pope Guilty: Not in 2009, in an era when the Church's political power is largely broken and its ideas of what constitutes moral have, to some extent, changed in response to most of the rest of the world figuring out that murdering for faith isn't acceptable. In the time of the Church's inception, that you would not kill heretics and unbelievers was kind of a minority view, and the Church cheerfully murdered millions of people for having the wrong beliefs over the span of over a thousand years. The modern prevalence of the idea that that sort of behavior is reprehensible is a thoroughly modern idea, its prevalence a product of the Enlightenment and not of Christian theology.

Okay, but given that this has changed, as you said, it seems that the ideology of the Catholic Church that is responsible for the Inquisition is no longer the reigning ideology of the Catholic Church. So of what value is blaming the current CC for the Inquisition? What should the Church do, in light of being the inheritors of a terrible past? What is it that you, in holding the current Church accountable for the Inquisition, desire of the Church?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:29 PM on November 9, 2009


NiteMayr: He was bequeathed it by Douglas Adams in a stunning upset to Stephen Fry...

Heretic! Everyone knows that Dawkins was appointed the title of Atheist Pope at the Diet of Berkeley!
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:31 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pope Gustafson I, you know that the Inquisition was an official action by the actual organized Catholic Church as an entity, right? Or do you really not see the difference between saying that the Catholic Church is responsible for the Inquisition and saying that "the Jews" (whatever that means) are responsible for the crucifixion?

Indeed, I do. But that is irrelevant to my point. My point is that VikingSword's reasoning considering the irredeemability of, and the length of time since said actions are strikingly similar.

Christianity believed that Jews were forever guilty of the death of Jesus; this was the prime reason for the persecution of the Jews for 1500 years. Regardless of whether it actually happened or not (looks at Pope Guilty), the people who might have committed the crime were long dead when the persecution started.

VikingSword claims that the Inquisition, the majority of the crimes of which happened 400 years and by my reckoning stopped completely 200 years ago, is an irredeemable offense, for which the Catholic Church is guilty of forever and ever amen. Even though the people who committed the crimes (and I agree with VikingSword that they were horrible crimes) are now long dead.

As I say, the similarities are fairly obvious.

(Also, I apologize for the lateness of this reply. I tend to write slowly and carefully so that I may not offend. But even that, it seems, does not help matters....)
posted by Pope Gustafson I at 12:45 PM on November 9, 2009


The holocaust may be central to our current conception of what Nazism was, but was actually not a defining characteristic for the Nazis themselves.
I've posted this piece by Postone here before but it directly addresses this question and certainly set me thinking:
In comprehending anti-Semitism as a peripheral, rather than as a central, moment of National Socialism, the Left has also obscured the intrinsic relationship between the two. Both of these positions understand modern anti-Semitism as anti-Jewish prejudice, as a particular example of racism in general. Their stress on the mass psychological nature of anti-Semitism isolates considerations of the Holocaust from socioeconomic and sociohistorical investigations of National Socialism. The Holocaust, however, cannot be understood so long as anti-Semitism is viewed as an example of racism in general and so long as Nazism is conceived of only in terms of big capital and a terroristic bureaucratic police state. Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Maidanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka should not be treated outside the framework of an analysis of National Socialism. They represent one of its logical end points, not simply its most terrible epiphenomenon. No analysis of National Socialism that cannot account for the extermination of European Jewry is fully adequate. In this essay I will attempt to approach an understanding of the extermination of European Jewry by outlining an interpretation of modern anti-Semitism. My intention is not to explain why Nazism and modern anti-Semitism achieved a breakthrough and became hegemonic in Germany. Such an attempt would entail an analysis of the specificity of German historical development, a subject about which a great deal has been written. This essay attempts, rather, to determine more closely what it was that achieved a breakthrough, by suggesting an analysis of modern anti-Semitism that indicates its intrinsic connection to National Socialism.
posted by Abiezer at 12:47 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


My point is that VikingSword's reasoning considering the irredeemability of, and the length of time since said actions are strikingly similar.

A few hundred years versus 2000 years. An actual formal organization that exists to this day and alleges to be the same organization versus a non-specific group of persons belonging to an ethnic group.

Regardless of whether it actually happened or not (looks at Pope Guilty), the people who might have committed the crime were long dead when the persecution started.

Contrast that with the Catholic Church, which undisputedly did commit the crime and which is not long dead.

for which the Catholic Church is guilty of forever and ever amen.

Whether some atonement might be made for the Catholic Church's actions is a fair question. But it will always and forever be true that the Catholic Church as an institution did, in fact, commit the crime.
posted by The World Famous at 12:53 PM on November 9, 2009


Abiezer: definitely, Nazism cannot be understood separately from the Holocaust. It is not like their posters said "vote for Hitler, he promises to kill all the Jews", any more than the missionary asks you "have you heard the good news about how you need to die a slow and excruciating death if you do not accept the orthodoxy of my church?".
posted by idiopath at 12:57 PM on November 9, 2009


While I was arguing about a point brought up in this thread (that the Middle Ages were a low point of culture), I don't think I can accurately debate the role of the Catholic Church as a whole in the present or in the past. No one can. In the past, the RCC was just too big and ingrained in the dominant culture to get a good idea what it would be like without it. In the present, the RCC is still ungainly large (>1 billion) if not in the same way. As is pointed out in the thread, the premise is incredibly hard to argue for or against without just pulling anecdotal evidence. From a historical perspective, it's a nightmare.

The problem is, we're all not arguing that. We're arguing a lot of different things. Is every monk who created art and beer or every priest that worked on genetics a point in the favor of the Church, or would they have figured it out themselves? Is every time the royalty and the populace of Europe used overzealous, weak, or even evil clergy to burn people at the stake an example of the darkness of the Church, or would they have in fact figured out how to do that within the dominant cultural paradigm no matter what? (During the Middle Ages, there were actually very few people that had their books burned, or they themselves burned, or their ideas suppressed. There was just too little communication and unity to do so. It was the 19th century anti-Catholicism that gave rise to the false notion that people were being killed all the time for being scientific. Now the many heresies and suppression of them? That certainly did happen a lot, though it's always hard to get everyone rounded up for any sort of official action.)

But this is neither here nor there. Because there are so many in this thread that want the RCC to be the ultimate personification of evil. There are valid reasons for that. For some, the past sins are unforgivable (and since they don't ascribe to belief system requiring them to grant forgiveness, they remain that way). For some, religion itself is antithetical to the tenants that they live their life through. For a few, it's the failure of the Church produce the good in metrics that they themselves prize.

So, it would be impossible to argue these points with us. Or to do so meaningfully. I'm not saying this discussion is meaningless, but we always hit a wall where the fundamental rules of what's being debated differ so drastically that it cannot be resolved. And so it remains unresolved for this thread and the thousands that will follow.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 1:01 PM on November 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


The World Famous: Did you truly experience genuine spiritual reassurance (and not just emotional or cultural reassurance), and do you still admit the genuineness of that spiritual experience?

Um... I'm not entirely sure I understand your question, or can answer it in a way which will not end up being disparaged as "not being true spiritual reassurance" in some way, but I hope you will take this answer at face value. When I was being raised in the church, I was much more radical in my faith than anyone else in my family. During week-long boy scout hiking excursions, I would regularly get up early for "quiet time" study and prayer. One morning I hiked up to a ridgeline where I could watch the sunrise, and got involved in a very deep prayer session where I encountered (as other mystics have named it) The Great Cloud Of Unknowing. It was like being in a warm lake of love and acceptance, with wave after wave of the direct presence of the Diety washing over me. It turns out I spent about 5 hours up there -- it felt like it was about 20 minutes.

Was it a genuine experience? I cannot explain it, can barely describe it. Maybe it was just random electric firings in my brain. I really fail to care. It was an experience, as genuine as any other I have had, and if it wasn't spiritual reassurance, then I am not sure what would be.

Did that answer your question, or do you need to clarify? I still am unclear about what exactly you are asking.
posted by hippybear at 1:55 PM on November 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


Was it a genuine experience? I cannot explain it, can barely describe it.

Thank you for sharing that, especially in front of this arrogant crowd.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:58 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Was it a genuine experience? I cannot explain it, can barely describe it. Maybe it was just random electric firings in my brain. I really fail to care. It was an experience, as genuine as any other I have had, and if it wasn't spiritual reassurance, then I am not sure what would be.

Did that answer your question, or do you need to clarify? I still am unclear about what exactly you are asking.


That did answer my question, and I appreciate your taking the time to share something so deeply personal. I think it is far to easy to get caught up in semantics about the meaning of the term "spiritual." I assume, and again, maybe I'm assuming incorrectly, that people who have had that sort of experience and then subsequently become atheists reject for some reason any possibility that the experience was spiritual in the sense of being related in some way to a real deity. I'm not trying to draw you into sharing more deeply personal stuff or asking you to explain your own personal process on MetaFilter. It is something I find interesting, though. Thanks again for sharing that.
posted by The World Famous at 2:02 PM on November 9, 2009


I would just like to thank all the well-informed people who have defended the reputation of the Middle Ages against the pernicious propaganda of the evil Early Moderns.

Anyone who can talk about the Middle Ages as having been a period of stagnant scientific, technological or economic developments between the classical and early modern periods -- let alone a step backwards -- shows that they have absolutely no understanding of the demographic, technical or economic history of western, central and northern Europe.

We're talking about a period in which this region grew substrantially in population, in which major agricultural breakthroughs (HORSE-COLLAR, THREE-CROP ROTATION) set patterns for farming that lasted in most of Europe and North America until the mid-twentieth century. This is the period in which north-western Europe went from being an under-populated backwater to being powerful enough to -- for better or worse (mostly worse) -- conquer the world. Okay, some of that development was also in the early modern period, but the major foundation for British, Dutch, German, French development, which was them basically catching up to the Medditterranean and south-east Europe, was in the middle ages. In c300ad, the Netherlands was an underdeveloped peat-bog; by 1500, the Netherlands was one of the most urbanised places in Europe.

It wasn't just clocks and wind-mills and sophisticated drainage systems that were developed in the middle ages -- we're talking about really basic things like chimneys. Can you imagine how in the Iron Age and Roman periods even the richest western European king just had a fire-pit in his hall with the smoke just going up and out under the rafters?

Of course, this is an argument about the Catholic Church, not the middle ages. But still people are commenting from ignorance. The Catholic Church promoted illiteracy? That's just a-historical and flat-out wrong. It was the Church which developed written systems for languages like German, English and Gaelic -- there were some native writing systems (Ogham, Runes) but they were largely ceremonial; they were never used as extensively or by as many people as the writing systems developed by the Church. There is a reason that almost all of our records of pre-Christian stories from north-west Europe were written down in the Christian era. It was the Church which introduced written records on a large scale to north-west Europe, clerics who filled the positions in the first western European governments to use written records extensively. The place of the written word in Christianity brought the book to Europe -- literally. The book itself, this codex form, was developed in Catholic Medieval Europe. It's a brilliant piece of information storage technology. And the idea of chapters and concordances and how we organise texts to this day -- these were all developed by clerical scholars in the middle ages.

As for the Inquisition and other church courts: yes, it tortured and killed a lot of people. Of course, it was a less violent legal system than the contemporary lay legal systems, but people forget that. People forget that the majority of inquisition cases (such as the Spanish Inquisition in th 16th century) had to do with issues like adultery and fornication and did not involve violence in investigation or punishment. Most of what we think in the Anglo-world about the Catholics Inquisitions (there were several, all different) comes from the rabidly anti-Catholic British protestant propaganda of the early modern period. Yes, the Spanish regime -- both lay and clerical power -- used the Inquisition to persecute and attempt to eradicate the Jewish minority in Spain. But we don't talk about how Catholic regimes in North America -- like the French and Spanish -- sought to incorporate native peoples into their societies, while the rabidly Protestant settlers of the British colonies sought merely to push them out and eradicate them. And we don't talk about how Jesuit missionaries and thinkers were some of the first to talk about tolerance and respect for Native North Americans, against the ruthless lay powers of the Conquisquadors (I can't spell) and other non-clerical settlers.

The Church always was the Inquisition, and arguments over heresy. The Church also established hospitals, old-age homes, alms-houses and fed those who would otherwise starve. It established a model of charity which was far more loving and far more important to society than any we have had since. And even as the religious prejudices of the Catholic Church have it campaigning against gay rights and save sex, something which is truly a black mark on their influence in the world, it is one of the few Christian institutions which has consistently and unceasingly argued for the better treatment of the poor and has never forgotten that charity really should mean "caritas" - love for one's fellow human being. Many other Christian Churches cannot claim the same, nor can most non-theist institutions.
posted by jb at 2:04 PM on November 9, 2009 [12 favorites]


I'm not a particular supporter of the Catholic church as it's currently constituted, but I think the Church after the Counter Reformation can't really be held accountable for many of the actions prior to it (for example, the Spanish Inquisition), since it was a much different organization after the Council of Trent, etc.
posted by empath at 2:35 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


The World Famous: Contrast that with the Catholic Church ... which is not long dead.

Oh for crying out loud. This is a most weaselish distortion of truth. You're going to compare a body of believers to another body of believers and say that one is continuous because they use a collective noun while another is not? Either sins are revisited upon the descendants or they are not. You could easily get around your semantic game-playing by referring to the guilt of the rabbinate instead of "the Jews." Fact of the matter is that it is possible to be "a force for good" regardless of past sins (and that successor liability is inappropriate for matters of personal, moral culpability).

All that aside, my understanding is that the horrors of Inquisition was as much the fault of the Queen as of the Vatican. Wikipedia agrees: "The Spanish Inquisition was an ecclesiastical tribunal started in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the medieval inquisition which was under papal control, and was considered too lenient." So the Spanish monarchs were extremist proponents of an ideology and now you want to place the blame at feet of not only their non-extremist contemporaries but also their modern ideological successors? Hogwash. And it's not like atheists haven't had their share of violent extremists, much more recently and with victims in much greater number.

Avenger: The idea that the "Body of Faithful Believers" can in any way be separate from the Magisterium and the Chair of Peter is fundamentally Protestant in nature ... Catholicism is fundamentally a top-down organization

This is... not even wrong. Wrongness is something this statement should aspire to. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
posted by jock@law at 2:41 PM on November 9, 2009


The World Famous: I assume, and again, maybe I'm assuming incorrectly, that people who have had that sort of experience and then subsequently become atheists reject for some reason any possibility that the experience was spiritual in the sense of being related in some way to a real deity.

I think a big problem is that "spiritual" gets so much baggage in our culture and is so tightly bound to assumptions of theism and monotheism that it's really hard to talk about "mystical" experiences without shoving those experiences into a box of either a validation of a particular brand of theism, or a delusional state of mind.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:45 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


jock@law: "And it's not like atheists haven't had their share of violent extremists, much more recently and with victims in much greater number."

I am sure the point is well taken by the Stalinist apologists and the advocates for the Spanish Monarchy who are reading this thread.
posted by idiopath at 2:47 PM on November 9, 2009


But plenty of the Spanish do support their monarchy; it's actually a rather popular institution, despite the blood of thousands at its feet. Sure, you're probably ambivalent about it because you're not from there, but if you were a secular liberal from Spain, you might be totally okay with the Spanish Monarchy. The same thing is that you're not from Russia (though many mefis might be from both of those places). So, yeah, the Catholic Church's sins are going to be much more up close and defended because they're more entwined with our culture.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:55 PM on November 9, 2009


I am sure the point is well taken by the Stalinist apologists and the advocates for the Spanish Monarchy who are reading this thread. There are no Stalinist apologists in this thread, and there are no Ferdinand II of Aragon apologists in this thread, so what again is your point? Did you even read what you responded to?

Forget it. It's clear that you and your intellectually lazy ilk want to impute the sins of all Catholics to all Catholics, but not the sins of all atheists to all atheists, with no basis whatsoever for doing so. The mental gymnastics you must perform to reconcile yourself with the combined fallacy of composition and division to do so is about the only thing cognitively impressive about you.
posted by jock@law at 2:56 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Catholic Church is a singular institution, which could be contrasted with a particular other singular institution, for example Stalinism as you chose. Atheism is a very large class of philosophies that can be contrasted with the class of philosophies that aknowledge the existence of gods.

I won't associate a Catholic with the Aztec human sacrifices, and kindly ask you not associate me with the Stalinist purges.
posted by idiopath at 3:04 PM on November 9, 2009


Of course, this denial of heritage is suspiciously selective. Claiming continuity in regards to Irish monks saving Greek philosophy and then denying continuity in regards to the Inquisition or slavery in the Americas is wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

But you know, when we criticize the RCC, we are talking about a specific organizational institution that has public spokesmen and makes a variety of recommendations in regards to contemporary politics and policy. Likewise we can criticize the United Methodist Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Individual Catholics stand on both sides of the gay marriage fight. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland Maine spent over a half-million dollars in support of Question 1 at a time when it needed to close parishes and services for lack of funds.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:08 PM on November 9, 2009


Oh for crying out loud. This is a most weaselish distortion of truth. You're going to compare a body of believers to another body of believers and say that one is continuous because they use a collective noun while another is not?

The Catholic Church is a political and religious institution, not a body of believers. There is, indeed, a body of believers that refers to itself as "Catholic" and that is a small subset of the total persons who are Catholics. But neither of those groups is the "Catholic Church." The inquisitions were not actions of some subset body of believers. They were official actions of the institution itself.

Either sins are revisited upon the descendants or they are not.

Descendents of whom? Sins of an institution are directly attributable to that institution. For example, when someone says the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan in WWII, nobody jumps up and says that's a distortion of the truth because really it was just the guys in the planes and the sins of nuclear war will be revisited only opon the direct descendents of the pilots of the planes.

On the other hand, sins of some unidentified group of people who pertained to a long-defunct religious branch of a widespread and varying ethnic group are to be revisited upon whom, exactly? Regardless of religious dogma, if you can't see the distinction between attributing the actions of the Catholic Church as an entity to that very entity and attributing the alleged actions of some unidentified group of members of a non-centralized ethnic group to all members of that ethnic group, then I've got an "oh for crying out loud" here for you, as well.
posted by The World Famous at 3:08 PM on November 9, 2009


But plenty of the Spanish do support their monarchy; it's actually a rather popular institution, despite the blood of thousands at its feet.

But then there are plenty of those that believe that mankind will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest, so there is that too.

Many evil men and evil systems were quite popular in their day, and we even have reasonably good statistics on that, at least in the last 100 years or so. Those same men and systems are considered today some of the most evil ever. So too with the RCC and its popularity.
posted by VikingSword at 3:09 PM on November 9, 2009


Is there any organization that is old enough to be considered on par with the Catholic church that can be considered “good”?
Hell – define “good.” As jefficator said.

What’s mostly argued here (as good) is ‘scientific advancement.’
But under what auspices? Seems to me most organizations dedicated to science have achieved killing or enslaving (literally or economically) more and more people, faster and in larger numbers.
There are more human slaves now than at any other time in history (if we’re taking Kevin Bales’ definition, and I’m happy to, you don’t literally have to have chains on to be a slave. Look at the cane workers) It’s in the top 3 of black market earning operations. By comparison – a slave in 1850s America cost about $40,000 in today’s dollars. A modern slave runs about $30. That's due to modern methods (more sophisticated economics, single point travel, immigration, etc)
Take any government – are they “good”? The U.S – plenty of debate open to that. The U.K. is a bit easier since it’s been around longer. China? Fairly contiguous if cyclic with the dynastic system (arguably the communists are an extension of that).

“This was an immense crime the scale, cruelty and all encompassing nature is comparable to the kind of crime that is seen as in special in its iniquity - the Holocaust.” VikingSword
“I ask - would you rather be shot or stabbed and die quickly, or be tortured in elaborate ways for many days so you die in unspeakable agony” VikingSword

Yeah, that trail of tears – a lotta laffs.
“VikingSword” Cute name. Any idea what the Vikings were all about?
You’re going to want to go ahead and take a history class. Wounded Knee - The Indian Removal act etc– just single events of a litany of massacres that add up to genocide, that’s just north America, not the whole European colonization of the Americas which could add up to tens if not hundreds of millions. Don’t think any suffering and torture accompanied all that? Pretty naïve.

The Russians – Stalin slaughtered far more than Hitler, say 23 million. Torture was routine.
Mao, coupled with famine – say 50 million give or take 20 or so, same deal. The Turks, Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, – genocide and torture is not exclusive to the Nazis or inquisitors.
Around the time of the Spanish inquisition, the Mongols had just gotten finished slaughtering about 50 million people.
There’s no ‘special class of evil’ and that kind of assumption only allows more genocides to happen. (Sure, we’re killing all these kinds of people, but hey, we’re not Nazis).
Plenty of groups, nations, etc, throughout history have tortured and murdered by the bucketload.
So as a matter of contiguous existence, I can’t think of any group that is ‘good.’ Certainly not the U.S. Certainly not any country or organization I can think of offhand that has had any degree of power or influence over world affairs.
Most of the good in the world seems to come from individuals and small, single purposed or well constrained organizations.

I’m not disputing the criticism against the Catholic church, but I think the criteria is all over the map, the comparisons are sloppy and the topic is far too broad. “Good.”
Is sex ‘good’? Really? Don’t think the planet is overpopulated then? Food is good no? What about all the GM foods and the contamination and – etc.

If church doctrine is to be assailed, one would have to question its basic effectiveness like any other charitable NGO and whether the ideologues get in the way of practical execution of beneficial policy.
Plenty of human rights and other organizations out there doing good work without the dogma (albeit with some ideology in many cases). So it’s a pretty easy topic and I can't imagine anyone successfully defending it from the church's position.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:10 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's clear that you and your intellectually lazy ilk want to impute the sins of all Catholics to all Catholics

Who's trying to impute the sins of all Catholics to all Catholics? The question in the post is "is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?" Not "are Catholics good people." The question is regarding the institution itself, not its members in the aggregate. The sins of the Catholic Church qua entity are imputed to the Catholic Church qua entity.

(By the way, while I have been told several times in my life that I have an "ilk," I have yet to meet anyone who self identifies as a member thereof. I hope one day to have an ilk meeting of some sort.)
posted by The World Famous at 3:12 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


The mental gymnastics you must perform to reconcile yourself with the combined fallacy of composition and division to do so is about the only thing cognitively impressive about you.

Thanks, jock@law. Don't know if I care to take sides in terms of context (notably omitted here), but this is one hell of a fine put-down. I plan to memorize it and no doubt use it verbatim the next time I need to destroy someone in ARGUMENT.
posted by philip-random at 3:14 PM on November 9, 2009


Hey, in 2010, ilk will be the new gay.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:15 PM on November 9, 2009


Hey, in 2010, ilk will be the new gay.

MeFi meetup at an ilk bar, anyone?
posted by The World Famous at 3:21 PM on November 9, 2009


It's interesting about institutional responsibility. The RCC is a pretty unique institution with perhaps the longest unbroken chain of organizational persistence on this planet. The mafia is only a few hundred years old and has had hardly a fraction of the kind of direct continuity. No dynasty can compete, no association, not even any other religion. The RCC is unique in that respect.

If we cannot hold the RCC institutionally responsible for its past actions, then I submit, we cannot do so for any organization, and may as well give up on the concept altogether. Which leads us to a fabulous world of:

The New KKK / New NSDAP - that old stuff, nah those old guys are dead, the NEW ones, why now we really are the good guys, quit yer yammering about the past. A few crimes later...

Nah, this is the NEW new NSDAP - NNNNNOW we reeeeally are the new guys and the old guys are dead and quit yer yammering. More crimes later...

AAAAAAND NOW the New New New NSDAP and quit yer yammerin'

The Catholic Church is right now, this second as we speak, fighting tooth and nail to destroy the rights of women, gays, and to help AIDS spread in Africa. I can't wait until:

But NOW the New New New New (say, one "New" per century - that should make almost 20 new News, so let's try: New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New Roman Catholic Church is opening a new chapter of purity and that old stuff is irrelevant and everybody is dead, and quit yer yammerin'.
posted by VikingSword at 3:23 PM on November 9, 2009



Forget it. It's clear that you and your intellectually lazy ilk want to impute the sins of all Catholics to all Catholics, but not the sins of all atheists to all atheists, with no basis whatsoever for doing so


I can only see this as an intentional misreading, since you're an intelligent person.

The Church as an institution is not the same as "Catholics" as a group. One can condemn the institutional church, without condemning it's followers. I was raised Catholic, my entire family is Catholic, I don't hold them responsible for raping young boys for decades and covering it up. That's the institution of the church itself that did that, and who is guilty of it.
posted by empath at 3:25 PM on November 9, 2009


If we cannot hold the RCC institutionally responsible for its past actions, then I submit, we cannot do so for any organization, and may as well give up on the concept altogether.

I think with an organization with as much history as the RCC, that after major re-organizations where they admit to past faults and implement reforms and drive particular individuals out, then they should be granted something of a fresh slate. The Church now is just not the same church that existed in the 15th century.

That doesn't mean that it isn't currently doing the world great harm (I believe it is), but I think that the harm its doing now isn't particularly related to or dependent on the harm it did prior to the reformation.
posted by empath at 3:36 PM on November 9, 2009


My personal opinion of the church is that if it ever drives all the sex-obsessed perverts out of the clergy and comes up with a reasonable, adult position on reproductive health and sex, then I think the church would have a stronger claim to being a force for good in the world. The Catholic Church is actually today fairly reasonable on social and economics issues, foreign policy, torture, etc..
posted by empath at 3:39 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


“VikingSword” Cute name. Any idea what the Vikings were all about?

My nick does not imply any endorsement, or identification or adulation or admiration of Vikings (the origin is in a dispute with a friend regarding how Viking's swords were made). The Vikings were many things, but yes, they too committed terrible crimes, and if there was an organization of Vikings with institutional persistence today that could be directly traced to the rampages of the past, I'd be the first to denounce such an organization. As is, there are only descendants of Vikings.

And indeed, Stalin killed a lot of people - which I did mention in the same list as the Holocaust and the inquisition. There were other atrocities, many of them in the same class. But that still does not mean that in the general depredations of the past we can't find some that truly stand out. It is not for no reason that we recognize some crimes as constituting a crime against humanity - and not all crimes. Some crimes truly are in a special class. I don't think it makes sense to say "well, even kids steal candy - it's all the same".

Crimes Against Humanity:

"Crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, "are particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; extermination; torture; rape and political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances, war crimes, but may fall short of falling into the category of crimes under discussion."
posted by VikingSword at 3:47 PM on November 9, 2009


I think with an organization with as much history as the RCC, that after major re-organizations where they admit to past faults and implement reforms and drive particular individuals out, then they should be granted something of a fresh slate. The Church now is just not the same church that existed in the 15th century.

Fine. But some organizations are just bad to the core, and society would be better off without them. I'm sure the KKK is not as virulent today as in 1920, and I guess it's some kind of progress if some chapters no longer consider Jews or Catholics subhuman. But they do plenty bad today as well. Like the RCC - no burning at the stake, but persecution of gay people, discrimination, fighting against women's rights and helping AIDS spread in Africa. We'd be better off without the RCC. Even the "progress" such as it is, I'm sure is a question of simply not being in a position to exercise their evil. They don't have an inquisition, because they can't. The KKK is less virulent, because they can't go on lynching sprees as they once could. It's like a rapist that's been paralyzed and so now he's "giving up" rape, and confining himself to mere verbal harassment. Reform!!!UNO!!! And now please donate to the new, new, new kinder gentler rapist RCC.
posted by VikingSword at 3:58 PM on November 9, 2009


I should also point out for the benefit of those who insist on conflating the Catholic Church as an organization with the body of Catholic believers that the body of Catholic believers are the primary victims of the evils the Church is visiting upon the world today. The Church has more or less stopped inflicting its worst on non-believers and has focused most of its recent efforts on destroying the lives of its followers.
posted by empath at 4:08 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


(which is also why I dislike focusing on the Crusades/inquisition/holocaust, etc.. because those aren't the sorts of fucked up things the Church is involved in now).
posted by empath at 4:09 PM on November 9, 2009


The Church has more or less stopped inflicting its worst on non-believers and has focused most of its recent efforts on destroying the lives of its followers.

Which, as I'm sure you'd agree, is not to say they don't have a vicious influence on non-believers too. Like in funding, organizing and lobbying to take civil rights away from gay citizens in California, and in Maine and in many other places - including non-Catholic gay people. Or fighting to take away reproductive controls from women - all women everywhere... that's over 50% of humanity right there. And so on.
posted by VikingSword at 4:13 PM on November 9, 2009


[We've got a reference to an "ilk" and use of the word "conflate." If we can just get someone to accuse someone else of "bloviating," we will officially be in an internet argument.]
posted by The World Famous at 4:16 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thank you for sharing that, especially in front of this arrogant crowd.

I always love when people refer to atheism or atheists as arrogant. I mean, come on, you believe- because you want to believe, not because there's any evidence of it- in a being that's omnipotent and omniscient- a being of ultimate power and responsibility and knowledge- and that this being is interested in you, personally, and can have its feelings hurt by you personally snubbing it.

And I'm the arrogant one somehow for finding that implausible.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:35 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


A few hundred years versus 2000 years.

First off, I was wrong. It turns out that the persecution of the Jews started with Constantine I. Thus it's 1700 years, not 1500. My error.

Secondly, it was only a few hundred years after the "crime" when the persecution started. And we all know (now) how long that lasted.

An actual formal organization that exists to this day and alleges to be the same organization versus a non-specific group of persons belonging to an ethnic group.

An ethnic group that just so happens to have the same religion and who were also persecuted because of said religion. (At least until the mid-19th to early 20th century. Then their ethnicity started to be an issue.)

As for the rest, when did I argue the opposite? I completely agree with you that the Inquisition happened, I completely agree that the acts were horrible. Where I don't agree is that the Catholic Church of Benedict XVI should be punished for the sins of the Catholic Church of 400 years and God knows how may Popes ago. And to claim otherwise would be following the same logic Constantine and the rest of the Christian world did, a logic which is unjust, immoral, and in my view bigoted.
posted by Pope Gustafson I at 4:41 PM on November 9, 2009


Like in funding, organizing and lobbying to take civil rights away from gay citizens in California

Granted, they did do this, but they weren't way out in front in funding prop 8 (that was the Mormons) and were not alone among Christian groups in supporting it.

You do have a point of birth control and abortion, and I think the Church's actions in Africa are inexcusable.

However, let it be noted that Catholics as a group still vote Democratic, for the most part, and they do it in large part because of the moral teachings of the church -- which today is generally anti-war, anti-torture, anti-death-penalty, pro-redistribution-of-wealth, etc. So I'm not sure that on balance that it doesn't even out in the US. Sure, they may be encouraging democrats to move toward a pro-life position, but as long as they keep supporting the democratic platform and democratic candidates and the democratic platform includes abortion rights and gay rights, there's a limit to how much damage the Church can do politically.
posted by empath at 4:52 PM on November 9, 2009


Granted, they did do this, but they weren't way out in front in funding prop 8 (that was the Mormons) and were not alone among Christian groups in supporting it.

I'm not sure how out front they were - certainly they were early, perhaps the first official opponents (I believe even before the Mormons declared their evil intentions - though perhaps I'm wrong). They were either the biggest or right behind the Mormons in funding. Anyhow, I never claimed that they were the only ones. It was a gang rape, and they were part of the gang. They are guilty as hell. Plus look at Maine - front and center.

However, let it be noted that Catholics as a group still vote Democratic, for the most part, and they do it in large part because of the moral teachings of the church -- which today is generally anti-war, anti-torture, anti-death-penalty, pro-redistribution-of-wealth, etc. So I'm not sure that on balance that it doesn't even out in the US. Sure, they may be encouraging democrats to move toward a pro-life position, but as long as they keep supporting the democratic platform and democratic candidates and the democratic platform includes abortion rights and gay rights, there's a limit to how much damage the Church can do politically.

I have no particular quarrel with individual Catholics - indeed individual Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and so on, apart from their institutions are - in my personal experience very often truly lovely people. I have a problem with the institution and many (but not all) of its operators. That said, I must say, for all the supposed moral teachings of the church trending democratic, I see the opposite - almost always when the official church or its operatives engage in the political process, it is to espouse conservative causes, deny the eucharist to the democratic candidate and generally push republican conservative causes. Individual Catholics may of course vote differently, but again, it is the vicious institution that is at issue.
posted by VikingSword at 5:03 PM on November 9, 2009


The question is where does the institution end and the body start though? Although you could say "where the funny clothes start" that isn't really the situation. Much of the Prop 8 and Maine stuff was organized by Catholics as a group of believers and less so priests. In addition does this make individual priests liable for the organization? The monks? The nuns? The deacons? The lady that organizes the Catholic get-togethers? The janitor that vacuums the church's carpet? The Bishop points out that its difficult to sort out the Catholic institution and the Catholic lay because they all form the Catholic Church, and the end and beginning of it all is somewhat murky. This doesn't mean that Catholicism can't be analyzed, but it does remind me of people that love their country and hate their government. Where do you draw the line?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:13 PM on November 9, 2009


Thank you for sharing that, especially in front of this arrogant crowd.

I always love when people refer to atheism or atheists as arrogant.


Heh. I assumed that it was a reference to me as the arrogant one.
posted by The World Famous at 5:18 PM on November 9, 2009


Much of the Prop 8 and Maine stuff was organized by Catholics as a group of believers and less so priests.

If you incite the mob, and the mob kills, you are responsible, even if the mob is not in your employee, but only follows your teachings and incitement. The RCC preaches against gay marriage - strongly. They encourage their followers to fight, politically, against gay rights. How responsible is the RCC? 100%. It comes from the top.

In addition does this make individual priests liable for the organization? The monks? The nuns? The deacons?

Are they following church teachings and official doctrines and engaged in political actions to promulgate those evil doctrines, resulting in the removal of civil rights of part of the population? If yes, then the answer is a firm "yes".

The lady that organizes the Catholic get-togethers? The janitor that vacuums the church's carpet?

Is the lady a paid employee of the CC? Is the janitor responsible for the formulation or execution of anti-gay doctrines and political action together with other church officials? If yes, then yes, if no, then no.

The Bishop points out that its difficult to sort out the Catholic institution and the Catholic lay because they all form the Catholic Church, and the end and beginning of it all is somewhat murky.

The same happened with the Holocaust. To what degree was the German population responsible for the death camps? At Nuremberg, we agreed that "just following orders" is not exculpatory. So the CC officials - priests, nuns or whoever - who engage in these actions, whether on direct orders or on their own initiative congruent with the teachings, are unquestionably guilty. The body of Catholics is like the Germans - the good, the bad, and the in between... but, we had no moral qualms or difficulties in holding the officials in the apparatus responsible at Nuremberg. Same here.

This doesn't mean that Catholicism can't be analyzed, but it does remind me of people that love their country and hate their government. Where do you draw the line?

See above.
posted by VikingSword at 5:32 PM on November 9, 2009


That said, I must say, for all the supposed moral teachings of the church trending democratic, I see the opposite - almost always when the official church or its operatives engage in the political process, it is to espouse conservative causes, deny the eucharist to the democratic candidate and generally push republican conservative causes

Well, that's what you've seen. As someone who went to a Catholic elementary/middle school, and who has been getting dragged along to Masses my whole life and have had quite a bit of direct interaction with nuns and priests -- a lot of them are fine people who espouse a fairly kind and liberal-minded theology and philosophy.

There are, to be sure, a lot of loud-mouthed conservative bigots in the church, and I assume it gets worse as you get closer to the Vatican, but it's not the church in its entirety. Catholicism as it's practiced at least where I've personally been involved in it, is not necessarily like that.

Which is why I'm somewhat conflicted about it. I'm an atheist, but by and large, I think Catholicism has been good for me and my family. My grandmother's best friend as she was dying of lung cancer was the local priest, who took care of her when my mother couldn't. It provided me with a hell of an early education and an intellectual grounding that I probably wouldn't have gotten in a public school. I think it gives my family members that practice it a sense of place in the community and in the universe that gives them a lot of solace and comfort.

I can recognize that the Church as an institution has done murderous, vile, disgusting, evil things. But that's just not all the church is, and I don't believe that's even most of what the church is today or what it needs to be in the future. Under JPII, it was moving in a really good direction, and it's unfortunate that Benedict seems to want to roll things back. Thankfully he was already old when he was sworn in, and the Church will have an opportunity to correct its course again probably in the not too far distant future.
posted by empath at 5:35 PM on November 9, 2009


Damn, these Holocaust analogies just won't go away . . .
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:39 PM on November 9, 2009


The Catholic pro-life position is one of the most consistent: the Church is anti-abortion, but also anti-death penalty and pro-social welfare.
posted by jb at 5:52 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Under JPII, it was moving in a really good direction, and it's unfortunate that Benedict seems to want to roll things back. Thankfully he was already old when he was sworn in, and the Church will have an opportunity to correct its course again probably in the not too far distant future.

Well, they certainly can't recruit any more members of the Hitlerjugend, as sadly for them, that pool is too old now. Aah, and such a good pool that was too! Perfectly congruent with the rich history of the Roman Catholic Church - what could be more fitting? /joke/ But joking aside, yes, I can certainly see them moving in a more progressive direction. Only I give them no credit for this - they have to, if they don't want to lose relevance altogether, because that's what the world is moving to. They can hardly bring back the torture rack after all. They are being dragged to the progressive side, kicking and screaming all the way (yes, another cheap pun).

I guess I have as little respect for them as I have for the atavistic conservatives everywhere. People would say to me "GWB is not so bad - you want real dictators, try the Taliban guys" - except I see no difference between them as people. GWB went as far right as he could, given the constraints of the circumstances and society here in the U.S. The Taliban did the same in Afghanistan. The fact that GWB was only intent on denying women some rights rather than practically all, was no great reflection upon him - take a man of exactly the same mentality, the GWB mentality, and set him in Afghanistan, and he'd be right there with the worst of the Taliban.

Same here. The church only has moved as far as it absolutely had to. All the while pulling back as hard as they can. Call me when they are out in front of gay rights, women's rights and freedom of thought, and we'll celebrate then. Meanwhile I'm not waiting for my order of fried snowballs from Hell's kitchen.
posted by VikingSword at 5:52 PM on November 9, 2009


But this is not true either historically or presently of the Church. In same ways, it seems very conservative on issues to you and the majority of the populace; in other areas, the Church is progressive as you can get. Though it might not jive with your personal politics on all issues, that's the equivalent to saying that anyone to the right of you is conservative and atavistic.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:56 PM on November 9, 2009


But this is not true either historically or presently of the Church. In same ways, it seems very conservative on issues to you and the majority of the populace; in other areas, the Church is progressive as you can get. Though it might not jive with your personal politics on all issues, that's the equivalent to saying that anyone to the right of you is conservative and atavistic.

I'll tell you this much, my personal liberalism is entirely based on my Catholic upbringing (which I was rather serious about as a child) - from First Communion to Confirmation. I was taught a lot about forgiveness, charity, multiculturalism, love for my fellow man, peace on earth, nuclear disarmament, etc and so forth. We were even taught evolution in biology class.

I don't remember at all a single discussion of gays or abortion, or if it was brought up, it was never emphasized. There was quite a bit more about the importance of not having sex before marriage, but homophobia didn't strike me as being part of the formula.

Anyway, that was in the 80s. I dunno if the church has changed a great deal since then or if the school I went to was unusually liberal, but it jibes with conversations with priests I've had since graduation.

In general, in fact, I'd say that the laity are quite a bit more conservative than the priests -- and the laity have been more influenced towards conservative ideas by fundamentalist christians and republican politics more than by the Catholic church, and the church is responding to that by being more politically active, rather than the other way around.
posted by empath at 6:05 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


But this is not true either historically or presently of the Church. In same ways, it seems very conservative on issues to you and the majority of the populace; in other areas, the Church is progressive as you can get. Though it might not jive with your personal politics on all issues, that's the equivalent to saying that anyone to the right of you is conservative and atavistic.

On the contrary, the RCC has been historically socially and politically conservative - at least in the last 1000 years or so. I don't think there is much dispute about that, even if there may have been an isolated issue here or there where the RCC was aligned with more progressive forces. So that is just wrong.

As to today, there are some issues where they are progressive... in comparison with right wing U.S. political forces, such as the death penalty... in comparison with most of Europe or indeed a lot of the political left here in the U.S., they are in synch. But it is hard to think of many progressive issues that the RCC is pioneering. At best, on those few progressive issues, they are somewhere in the broad middle of the political spectrum in the U.S. (while mostly on the right in Europe).

That however doesn't really address the bulk of their malign influence - it's all rather socially negative vs for example women, who are over 50% of humanity - a pretty huge failing with giant impact. Disqualifying, in fact. Faced with such huge failings, the stuff at the edges, their charity here or there or a semi-progressive position here or there is really overwhelmed. So they make trains run on time - okayyy... It's no better when it comes to women under their direct control (nuns and so on) - it is in fact worse, as many have long highlighted. Humanity would be much better off if the RCC disappeared tomorrow.
posted by VikingSword at 6:15 PM on November 9, 2009


Humanity would be much better off if the RCC disappeared tomorrow.

I doubt this. I doubt everything, but I doubt this strongly for some reason.

I don't know what's good for humanity, but I'm not sure "progress" universally is. I mean, I know that the idea denotes a positive change, but everyone disagrees on where we should be going or what ethical system of virtues to rate this progress. Was Lemaître progressive when he pushed for the Big Bang model decades before it would be adopted by contemporary physicists? There's quite a bit of dispute about it in fact. The nature of the RCC and the rest of society. The relationship with the ethics of the day and with the nation-states that rose later on. I have no idea where we're going, so I'm not sure where we're trying to go. I suppose my doubt makes me ill-suited to argue all of this. I'm not even Catholic and I doubt a Christian. Perhaps there are better that can carry this torch, but I have an overwhelming feeling that it should be carried.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:15 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know what's good for humanity, but I'm not sure "progress" universally is. I mean, I know that the idea denotes a positive change, but everyone disagrees on where we should be going or what ethical system of virtues to rate this progress. Was Lemaître progressive when he pushed for the Big Bang model decades before it would be adopted by contemporary physicists? There's quite a bit of dispute about it in fact. The nature of the RCC and the rest of society. The relationship with the ethics of the day and with the nation-states that rose later on. I have no idea where we're going, so I'm not sure where we're trying to go. I suppose my doubt makes me ill-suited to argue all of this. I'm not even Catholic and I doubt a Christian. Perhaps there are better that can carry this torch, but I have an overwhelming feeling that it should be carried.

Whenever there is burgeoning social change in response to some long standing injustice, there are of course those who oppose it. Then there are those like you - who don't necessarily oppose it strongly, but who steeple their fingers and muse darkly about "who knows where all this could lead, I don't know, lets perhaps keep the old way". Slavery - "free the Negro... I don't know, I just don't know, is that a positive change? Is it really "progress"? And what is progress?" And so you steeple your fingers and thoughtfully furrow your brow, while out there people fight and die and change happens, and slavery is abolished. Then, it's women's right to vote. You are there steepling your fingers, furrowing your brow, thoughtfully examining your fingernails, hemming and hawing, issuing vague and dark warnings... and well, we don't know, and shouldn't we really start a party, perhaps a - Know Nothings party? And people fight, and people struggle, and then women get the right to vote. Right now, women want to control their reproductive rights and contraception fully and fend off attacks by the RCC among other forces of darkness, and you are steepling your fingers. Gays are struggling for basic civil rights against the concerted efforts of the RCC and other evil forces, and you are steepling your fingers and thoughtfully looking at the ceiling, dark warnings and vague premonitions issuing from your lips.

So you sit back in your chair and keep muttering. Those of us who are not afraid to fight clear injustice will carry on fighting for civil rights for all, and we'll struggle against all forces which would keep the injustice intact, including the RCC. Thanks anyway.
posted by VikingSword at 7:30 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the contrary, the RCC has been historically socially and politically conservative - at least in the last 1000 years or so.

I disagree. Let's just take the example of slavery. Now, granted the church was wrong about slavery for a long time, but so was the rest of the world. Let's just ignore the claims of infallibility from the church and look at it's actual record in comparison to the world at large:

"...The exalted God loved the human race so much that He created man in such a condition that he was not only a sharer in good as are other creatures, but also that he would be able to reach and see face to face the inaccessible and invisible Supreme Good... Seeing this and envying it, the enemy of the human race, who always opposes all good men so that the race may perish, has thought up a way, unheard of before now, by which he might impede the saving word of God from being preached to the nations. He (Satan) has stirred up some of his allies who, desiring to satisfy their own avarice, are presuming to assert far and wide that the Indians...be reduced to our service like brute animals, under the pretext that they are lacking the Catholic faith. And they reduce them to slavery, treating them with afflictions they would scarcely use with brute animals... by our Apostolic Authority decree and declare by these present letters that the same Indians and all other peoples - even though they are outside the faith - ...should not be deprived of their liberty... Rather they are to be able to use and enjoy this liberty and this ownership of property freely and licitly, and are not to be reduced to slavery.."

That's 1537. A full 300 years before the US would ban slavery.

in 1839:

""Wherefore, we desiring to avert this disgrace from the whole confines of Christianity, having summoned several of our reverend brothers, their eminences the cardinals, to our counsel, and having maturely deliberated on the whole matter, pursuing the footsteps of our predecessors, admonish by our apostolic authority, and urgently invoke in the name of God all Christians, of whatever condition, that none henceforth
dare to subject to slavery, unjustly persecute, or despoil of their goods, Indians, Negroes, or other classes of men,
or to be accessories to others,
or furnish to them aid or assistance in so doing;
and on no account henceforth to exercise that inhuman traffic, by which negroes are reduced to slavery as if they were not men but automata or chattels, and are sold in defiance of all the laws of justice and humanity, and devoted to severe and intolerable labors.
"We further reprobate by our apostolic authority all the above described offences as utterly unworthy the Christian name; and by the same authority we
rigidly prohibit and interdict all and every individual, whether ecclesiastical or laical, from presuming to defend that commerce in negro servitude under any pretence or borrowed color [excuse],
or to teach or publish in any manner, publicly or privately, things contrary to the admonitions which we have given in these letters."


But both of those papal bulls were undeniably progressive for their times.

Now whether the Church actually acted on it's progressive agenda is another story. But they aren't particularly effective at enacting their conservative positions either. The Church doesn't have nearly as much power as it pretends to.
posted by empath at 7:34 PM on November 9, 2009


Then there are those like you - who don't necessarily oppose it strongly, but who steeple their fingers and muse darkly about "who knows where all this could lead, I don't know, lets perhaps keep the old way"

And sometimes people rush into change too quickly and you end up with the French Revolution and the reign of terror. There's nothing fundamentally immoral about wanting to slow things down.

I'm fully in favor of gay marriage. I've donated money in both CA and ME to support it. But I don't think that people that oppose it are necessarily evil, and I don't think it benefits anyone to label their political opponents in general as evil. It just makes them ignore you everything else you have to say.

Keep in mind, that recent polling shows Catholic opinion split on gay marriage. Catholics are not your enemy.

Also:
Support for gay marriage has grown somewhat among voters over age 65, from 15 percent to 28 percent, but six in 10 remain strongly opposed. Among those under 35, though, two-thirds support it, up from 53 percent in 2006, and nearly half support it strongly

You really may want to re-examine some of your assumptions about who your enemy is in this fight if you want to win it. It has a lot more to do with age and race (only 26% of black people support gay marriage) than religion.
posted by empath at 7:45 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


I disagree. Let's just take the example of slavery.

You know, I don't worry overmuch about what an official document or pronouncement says. Have you read the Soviet constitution? It's wonderful - all those rights! Whowee! And then we woke up.

Never mind the beautiful words thrown into the wind. Actions speak louder than words. Slavery?

How do the words match the actions?

"In 1639 Pope Urban VIII forbade the slavery of the Indians of Brazil, Paraguay, and the West Indies, yet he purchased non-Indian slaves for himself from the Knights of Malta;[101]
Papal involvement in the use of Muslim galley slaves in the galleys of the Pontifical squadrann, 1629-1788.
There are records which show that from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries some of the Popes were personally involved in the purchase and use of galley-slaves for the Pontifical squadran...In general galley slaves could be convicted criminals condemned to a life sentence...captured non-Christian prisoner of war who cold be ransomed..."volunteers", who through indigence had sold themselves into slavery...[Father Maxwell then describes several transactions of slaves involving Popes] [102]"


Forbid slavery, yet keep slaves themselves and be involved in the slave trade. Yeah. Beautiful words, now watch their hands.

Slavery and the RCC is a complicated subject. Certainly the RCC was not the worst in that respect. Nor the best - they were deeply involved in justifying and enabling slavery for many centuries. At best it's a mixed record. But to promote them as somehow ahead in the fight against slavery is absurd - strong opposition to slavery existed long before the RCC jumped on the bandwagon.

And I am not looking for Catholic enemies of gay rights on this board or in life. I make something of a distinction between the Catholic lay and the Church and its officers. People vote in all sorts of ways. But the RCC has an official position that is evil and deeply hurtful to the lives of countless millions of people, and for that, they deserve condemnation in the strongest of terms. The institution is rotten. The believers and adherents make their own practices and their own decisions and I have no quarrel with any but frank bigots - of whatever religion they may be, or whatever belief or non-belief. Peace to all, but may the RCC disappear tomorrow - of course, today would be better.
posted by VikingSword at 8:59 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know who I'd like to see Stephen Fry debate? Bill Donahue. That would be fucking sweet. I would pay in excess of one hundred American dollars to see that.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 9:09 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh jeez, I can't believe nobody brought up how it ended! SPOILER ALERT: The Catholics actually drove 400 people away from their position by putting forward what they believed to be their best arguments. I can say that was pretty much my own experience with their best arguments, so maybe now is the time for some earnest reflection.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 9:40 PM on November 9, 2009


I'm fully in favor of gay marriage. I've donated money in both CA and ME to support it. But I don't think that people that oppose it are necessarily evil, and I don't think it benefits anyone to label their political opponents in general as evil. It just makes them ignore you everything else you have to say.

Thank you, Empath.

VikingSword, please note these words. Though I agree with pretty much every idea you've put forward in this thread, the intensity with which you're doing it isn't working for me. Ideas are essential. Ideology has murdered millions (probably billions). I've certainly never been fucked around by anyone worse than I was once by an earnest, learned, fiercely intelligent left-anarchist-leaning politico. He said all the right things but man did he have a heart like Robespierre, or perhaps Joe Stalin.

I later discovered he was a junkie.
posted by philip-random at 10:13 PM on November 9, 2009


In the middle ages, the Church was a good thing for people re marriage -- it at least promoted the idea that marriages should be between two consenting people. It had a very hard time getting this to be reality among the lay nobles at the time, but in the end the Church's model of marriage between two consenting adults won over the medieval and earlier lay model of marriage between families. The Church's model is what led to the decline of arranged marriages in Western Europe for all but the richest by the early modern period; this is very different than other civilizations like China or India. We can thank the Church for not having arranged marriages today.
posted by jb at 10:21 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


First, let me start by saying I have few issues with the Roman Catholic laity. They are just people, like everyone else. And mostly because they were born, brought up, (and arguably Carefully Taught) that way.

But then you get the Vatican. Which as it currently stands is absolutely a force for evil.

First (and comparatively minor), there is no escape for the Vatican from its history. At least not until it revokes the doctrine of Apostolic Succession - the whole basis of Papal authority rests on the principle that it has been descended. And that puts everything into play.

Second, there is contraception. The Roman Catholic Church ensuring the deaths of women for nothing more than its stupid purity rules. There's a name for ensuring the death of people for religious purity rules. Human sacrifice.

Third, Paedophillia. When Joseph Ratzinger was put in charge of the inquiry into paedophillia one of his first acts was to order that the previously existing cover-up was to be continued under threat of excommunication. That made him an active and intentional enabler of paedophillia. Apparently the entire College of Cardinals approved sufficiently of his actions as Chief Inquisitor, including his attempt to cover up paedophillia, that they made him Pope. This makes every single one of them complicit in the paedophillia.

So the current state of the Magisterium is that it is actively pro human sacrifice and pro kiddy fucking. At that point little things like individual membership in the Hitler Youth seem comparatively trivial.
posted by Francis at 2:52 AM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


To the extent that it's humbled, to that extent it's a force for good.
posted by Twang at 4:05 AM on November 10, 2009


Wow, what an uneven match-up. A tag team of a rabid bulldog and the world's most charming fellow vs. a soft-spoken foreign cleric and a wicked stepmother from a fairy tale. I don't know that anyone could make much headway against bad cop/good cop Hitchens and Fry, but surely there are some articulate Catholic intellectuals who could have made a better showing.

It would have been interesting to see Andrew Sullivan take it up, but reading his Blog lately I think he might end up agreeing with Fry and Hitchens by the end. Maybe a year ago.

EmpressCallipygos: Look at the number of Arab names in your list. I certainly didn't say that the slowdown created by the Catholic Church affected the rest of the world. And of course Galileo was actually persecuted for his part. I didn't say nothing happened at all, simply that less of it happened then before, or after, in Europe.
posted by delmoi at 10:19 AM on November 10, 2009


“It is not for no reason that we recognize some crimes as constituting a crime against humanity - and not all crimes. Some crimes truly are in a special class. I don't think it makes sense to say "well, even kids steal candy - it's all the same".”

Again – debatable. You’re taking that as a standard. I disagree. I think genocide is broader in nature and both broader and (deliberately) more ambiguous organizationally, I don’t think it much matters. Far as I’ve seen – and I’ve seen genocide, systematic rape, etc. in action – the only real scalable difference exists on paper. Ten million jews or ten thousand – the evil is in the system and once that’s in place – ‘widespread’ doesn’t much matter. The intent to eradicate every single “other” is there whether the means exist or opposition rises.

I can see your point that the holocaust stands out, but that’s only because mechanization technology hadn’t caught up with communication controls (that is – a lot of people knew how it happened and it happened in a swifter more organized manner than at any point in history – that wasn’t a change in the nature of the crime though, just a sea change in the tools at a given society’s disposal). So, not that it’s the same, merely that it was less disguised, more overt, and statecraft had not achieved subtlety in the modern era (e.g. Hitler’s point about the Armenians – and indeed, it’s instructive that the attribution of that quote – which is true of genocide whether he said it or not – is contested).

Thus the point on slavery. Organized slavery to the degree of sophistication it exist in today wasn’t possible in the past because the technology wasn’t there. So it is more widespread and systematic than it has ever been. And, apparently, more tolerated since we have the communications level to know it’s going on. So what’s our excuse then for permitting a greater evil than our ‘ignorant’ forbearers?

I cede the argument as to continuity, e.g. Germany does not equal the Nazis, but the Catholic church of the past does equal the catholic church of today – only because I think that rests on ideology. Which, as far as my point is concerned, is moot. Since if you go around touting the virtues of national socialism, calling yourself a ‘nazi’ but in every action act compassionately and contrary to the odious acts of the Nazis, I’d disagree that you are, in fact, a nazi, but I’d also say that it doesn’t much matter because again – what’s at issue is not the label but the acts. And that would apply both ways, just because the membership of the church are all swell folks, doesn’t mean the organization is.

Indeed – what then does it say about the dichotomy between the good works of its membership and the dogma of the church? (as you allude to)

And again, I think the church is indictable on that score, whatever they espouse. So moot point for me – other than the broader derail that most governments, organizations, modern civilization in general – is subject to the criticism that it is not, in the broad sense, good.

“Damn, these Holocaust analogies just won't go away . . .”
You know who else’s Holocaust analogies wouldn’t …

“ ‘Humanity would be much better off if the RCC disappeared tomorrow.’
‘I doubt this.’ “

That’d be where I see a decent debate. Although I’d have the take the contra-Thoreau argument, in that, in many cases government (or in this case the church) – essentially its attendant bureaucracy - is a necessary evil and can’t be dispensed with overnight without major damage to civilization.
So too the Catholic church which is the only ethical game in town in some quarters. But! Were it replaced with a secular organization maintaining the same bureaucracy and the same charitable ethics – what then would be the argument?
Because if there is one to be had there, then we’re just talking brand of ideology, not practical effect in the world.
And I can’t see a realistic defense of any church in particular on that score.

I wouldn’t argue that the Catholic Church is liberal or conservative. I suppose it would be conservative to the extent that it does much of what it does to preserve its existence. Including the protection for child rape. The problem is, at some point, what you need to do to survive becomes contrary to why – contrary to what gives life meaning.

That really seems to be the core problem in that church’s philosophy. The continuation of life at all cost vs. the quality and nature of that life. I do admire the church’s pro-life position. And indeed, I would support it as far as it goes, insofar as its absent coercion from real force like the government (social programs are good).
On the other hand, there are places in the world where the church still has more influence than some governments. And I suppose in some quarters they do walk the talk.

But most of that, again, however alloy with genuine service, serves to support the continuation of the church, obviously predicated on their idea that they do good work which justifies that. And for the most part they won’t risk serious damage, or perhaps organizational death, to do that good.
I can’t accept that. Not as a veteran, not as a man or a father. Yes, you take care of yourself first if the plane is going down. Yes, if there’s a fire, you make sure you can breathe, you hit the floor, you go outside. But once that’s established, I will die before I accept my life without at least trying to secure the future for something other than myself. I accept that 100 years from now some guy or girl who perhaps has a vague resemblance to me will bear my name but have entirely novel ideas and perspectives on the world. And yet, I trust he or she will be committed to similar principles without overt directives from me and will accept their own death too as a matter of course and pass those principles on.

The organization serves the ideals, not the other way around. If you’re not willing to end your existence to ensure theirs, they’re not really ‘your’ ideals then are they?
It’s what you do that you embody, not what you say.

This is true of any organization as well. Once you’ve built the house, you put down the hammer. If those ideals are truly eternal, they’re not going to go anywhere and won’t need you or your specific organization to shepard them forever.

If the U.S. disappeared tomorrow but still had principles of democracy, the ideals in the constitution, all that, I'd be fine with it. I belong to those ideals, not to any church or group or country (Ubi libertas, ibi patria). And where my work and another's lay in common - there is our organization, not in the reverse.
I mean, hell, it's easy to say "I'm a Catholic" or "I'm a Nazi" and we're supposed to, what, take you at your word? We see you putting clothes in the poor box or working at the soup kitchen - that's who you are, call yourself what you will.
(The other stuff, as I said, is a matter of bureaucracy)
posted by Smedleyman at 10:45 AM on November 10, 2009


Metafilter: it cuts as well as it binds.
posted by jimfl at 7:20 PM on November 10, 2009


I always have the hardest time convincing undergraduates to see the people in the history of religions... People who have all the flaws and weaknesses of the average human. Violence, greed, lust, vanity, etc... the whole list. My point here is not that the Roman Catholic Church is a good thing... has always been a good thing... must always be a good thing. It's a human thing, an incredibly powerful human thing, with all the rope anyone would ever need to hang themselves.

I'm surprised that anyone can conceive of such a powerful institution, consider the odds of things going horribly wrong, consider the kind of impact things going wrong would have on that scale of social and political power... and not expect the RCC to have shameful horrific atrocities in its past.

Maybe it's too cynical, or sounds like an excuse, but have you ever met the type of person who ends up becoming head of a powerful organization? Can you imagine what it takes to end up head of the wealthiest most powerful one ever?

Do you really expect this group of guys to be all bunny rabbits and rainbows?

I can't believe anyone thinks they need to defend the Church using modern liberal standards of social good, I can't imagine anything the Church could care less about than appeasing those who disagree with it... even the most liberal of Vatican Councils was full of statements about where you could go stuff yourself if you rejected the "Truth".

from Nostra Aetate:
Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.(4)


Read that quickly and it sounds pretty tolerant...read it carefully and that line "nothing that is true and holy" sticks out. Who decides which parts of the other religions are true and holy...?

even better, on modern values, Leo XIII at the turn of the century:
And if any one of sound mind compare the age in which We live, so hostile to religion and to the Church of Christ, with those happy times when the Church was revered as a mother by the nations, beyond all question he will see that our epoch is rushing wildly along the straight road to destruction; while in those times which most abounded in excellent institutions, peaceful life, wealth, and prosperity the people showed themselves most obedient to the Church's rule and laws. Therefore, if the many blessings We have mentioned, due to the agency and saving help of the Church, are the true and worthy outcome of civilization, the Church of Christ, far from being alien to or neglectful of progress, has a just claim to all men's praise as its nurse, its mistress, and its mother.
from the fifth paragraph in Inscrutabili dei Concilio

Yes, he actually says "Happy Times" in there.

Look, you just don't get this job unless you are so deeply embedded in the worldview that you actually believe this stuff... I don't think the people in power in the RCC can even see the mistakes made in the same terms as your average Mefi reader. I don't think they'd even see why they need to bother defending themselves against most of this crap. Being evil in the eyes of the damned can't be all that worrisome.

I, for one, recognising that there are people who actually have values and a worldview that differ from mine so radically that I can barely understand their motivations, don't expect those same people to be on the side of the angels, the way I always am.
posted by ServSci at 4:32 PM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I would like to formally withdraw my former tepid half-defense of the Catholic Church. I think they're beyond redemption.
posted by empath at 6:09 PM on November 12, 2009


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