Mmm, church and state, mmmmmmm.
January 24, 2005 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Uhoh. Tony Blair's new Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is almost certainly a member of masochistic Catholic cult Opus Dei, as featured in The Da Vinci Code.
posted by Pretty_Generic (52 comments total)
See here for some strategies in dealing with prejudice.
posted by loquax at 1:33 PM on January 24, 2005

Numeraries are given a spiked garter to wear round the thigh for two hours a day, and a whip for their own back or bottom. These exercises, explains the Opus Dei constitution, are "for the purpose of chastising the body and reducing it to servitude".


Members are also encouraged to take cold showers every day and spend several hours in silence.


Jury's out.
posted by hackly_fracture at 1:36 PM on January 24, 2005

Prejudice to me implies making baseless assumptions.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 1:37 PM on January 24, 2005

Hey, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are members. I think they're open about it, too.
posted by rkent at 1:39 PM on January 24, 2005

These pages are intended to be an independent source of information and a collection of links about the Opus Dei sect. It is not meant as an anti-Opus Dei propaganda - both the positive and negative sides of the organisation will be mentioned. Of course, since they only present themselves in a good light, there is an emphasis on critical points of view.


(I get the impression that Opus Dei really is pretty out there, but a more informative or less biased link would've been nice.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:40 PM on January 24, 2005

Well, how about being fair then and linking to the organization and their rebuttal to the charges against them.

Pssst!! I hear there are Muslims and Baptists and Zoroastrians in government too! Some of them remove pieces of their children's penises as part of a bizarre ritual!!!! Some starve themselves for days at a time!!!!
posted by loquax at 1:42 PM on January 24, 2005

OK, sorry.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 1:42 PM on January 24, 2005

That's sorry to nebulawindphone. loquax, I'm pissed off that the person in charge of education is part of a small organisation that bans its members from reading certain books. I stand by that.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 1:44 PM on January 24, 2005

In their own words: "Some people in the history of the Church have felt called to undertake greater sacrifices, such as frequent fasting or using a hairshirt, cilice, or discipline, as can be seen in the lives of many of those explicitly recognized by the Church as models of holiness, e.g., St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas More, St. Francis de Sales, St. John Vianney, St. Therese of Lisieux, and Mother Teresa. In any event, the practice of mortification as lived in Opus Dei gives more emphasis to everyday sacrifices than to these greater sacrifices, and is not like the distorted and exaggerated depiction in The Da Vinci Code."

Well. As long as y'all give more emphasis to everyday sacrifices and save the spiked garter for special occasions, I guess it's okay.
posted by stonerose at 1:49 PM on January 24, 2005

It has been repeatedly accused of cult-style manipulation, encouraging physical self-harm and having historical links with General Franco's fascist rule in Spain. Critics call it misogynistic, fundamentalist, and opposed to modern society.

The same could said (minus the association with Franco) of any religion, should you be so inclined. Every sect or denomination has its extremists, and every culture and religion has its taboos. Until she *acts* inappropriately, it is unfair to prejudge her based on her alleged association with a religious organization.

And frankly, the way you raised the issue did not appear to me that you had sober concerns about the appointment of such a person to a government position, rather that the instant you read her name in conjunction with Opus Dei you judged her unworthy. I'm not religious at all myself, but I was offended. It seems to me that she's being quite discreet about her beliefs, yet the BBC (and you, apparently) have decided that it is appropriate to assassinate her character by association.

So should we ban all members of Opus Dei from government? How about a blacklist to make it easier? How about the whole Catholic church? Let's just mock all who have different beliefs than us. That will foster the tolerant society we all crave.
posted by loquax at 1:57 PM on January 24, 2005

What could possibly go wrong if her primary motivation is pleasing God?
posted by pmbuko at 1:57 PM on January 24, 2005

Pmbuko- Because it's not neccesarily God that she may want to please, but Opus Dei itself.
posted by amandaudoff at 1:59 PM on January 24, 2005

where are people's sarcasm sensors these days?
posted by pmbuko at 2:01 PM on January 24, 2005

Ruthie could be hiding from something by being in a hard-line religious sect. If only we could figure out what that might be...
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:07 PM on January 24, 2005

And I heard that Manuel Aringarosa is Tony Blair's new behind-the-scenes election adviser...
posted by runkelfinker at 2:07 PM on January 24, 2005

I am glad to live in a society where I have the right to say "Uhoh".
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:08 PM on January 24, 2005

I'm pissed off that the person in charge of education is part of a small organisation that bans its members from reading certain books. Me too.

As someone has pointed out, we should allow all religions to be professed by members of government. It is the actions that ministers take, not their beliefs in supernatural beings, or their personal 'devotions' which concern me.

Mossis Thatcher, whose early retirement I hoped for but never got, was apparently a Methodist: it hasn't made me more, nor less attracted to that sect.

I would say that about Disraeli, and his religion, as much as I would about Yusuf Islam, and his, should he ever stand for Parliament.

I am an atheist, and a recovering catholic. The bitterness fades, over time.
posted by dash_slot- at 2:09 PM on January 24, 2005

I don't think anyone's in the Opus Dei that is featured in that steaming pile of a book.
posted by m0nm0n at 2:09 PM on January 24, 2005

"as featured in", this is a heavy phrase!!! The Opus Dei "featured" in the Da Vinci Code is about as close to the real Opus Dei as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's version of Mormonism in the first Sherlock Holmes novel, "A Study in Scarlet" is as close to real Mormonism.

"as fictionalised in" might have been a better choice of words.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 2:16 PM on January 24, 2005

pmbuko, that really made me laugh. A+

I'm less worried about the content of the woman's beliefs than the fact that she is obliged to evangelise about her faith. That and the idea that she may be disallowed access to certain ideas and information because they are not approved by the religion she follows.

Walk that through with me.
  • A leader
  • with responsibility for schoolchildren's education
  • may have her information filtered by a religion
  • and is compelled to evangelise her beliefs.
Who's going to be the first one to put their hand up and say "nope, a religion dictating that adherents first duty is to God and the faith wouldn't mean she puts it ahead of her job"?
posted by NinjaPirate at 2:20 PM on January 24, 2005

Mayor Curley A++

(show off)
posted by NinjaPirate at 2:21 PM on January 24, 2005

A point that might escape the non-British MeFites on this thread is that religious instruction "of a predominantly Christian nature" is mandatory in schools here in the UK; the law was originally passed in 1945 but updated in 1989 (IIRC) under the Conservatives. There is no separation of Church and State here: in fact, the Head of State is also Head of the established Church.

The implications of a religious fundamentalist in the seat of Secretary of State for Education differs markedly when education has an explicitly religious remit -- and in a nation where 40% of the population are atheists, and the established church has about as many observant followers as there are observant muslims, her appointment is rather more inflammatory than would be the case in the United States.

(In the US, by and large, there's a much higher level of religious belief but a constitutional separation of religion and government. The UK, with its very low level of religious belief and diversity of faith among those who do believe, is much more sensitive to the beliefs of incumbents -- and not in a positive way.)
posted by cstross at 2:25 PM on January 24, 2005

I use to go to Mass at an Opus Dei church. The priests preached a very conservative brand of Catholicism (heavy emphasis on sin, the catechism, the need to go to confession regularly, etc.) but also encouraged social activism (charity, volunteer work, etc.).

While their theology wasn't my cup of tea (I left and went to a new parish after about a year with the Opus Deis), the priests did do great outreach work in the neighborhood. They run a tutoring / mentoring program for hundreds of grade school kids. The program is top notch and 100% free of proselytizing (I know, 'cause I'm a tutor).

I think the "cult" label is undeserved. Opus Dei, for the most part, embraces a conservative interpretation of Catholicism (which, for my part, I don't find particularly compelling). Similar to how Orthodox Jews embrace a conservative interpretation of Judaism.
posted by theknacker at 2:27 PM on January 24, 2005

in fact, the Head of State is also Head of the established Church.

As in C-of-E, not RCC, which I think actually makes the story more interesting.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:34 PM on January 24, 2005

When was the last time you heard the Queen [UK head of Sate] or Tony Blair [UK Head of government] speak about religion?

Compare and contrast with GW Bush...
posted by dash_slot- at 2:35 PM on January 24, 2005

Tinfoil hats on please. Opus Dei bailed out the vatican bank after Roberto Calvi's suicide, and took over Vatican Radio.
Richard Hanson the FBI official convicted of espionage
donated his rewards to Opus Dei schools.
Sargent Shriver is a numerary in Opus Dei and father in law of you know who.
posted by hortense at 2:36 PM on January 24, 2005

Well, it looks like I shot off my mouth too soon... to be fair, Snopes didn't say anything about this, so I felt like I was diligent enough, until it was pointed out to me that Opus Dei itself "would like to dispel once and for all the rumors that Louis Freeh, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Mel Gibson are members" according to this page:

And now that I look closely, most of the sources I found claiming they were in it, were those damn hippy-liberal rags, and most couched their statements with "allegedly" and similar language. Though some did not. Anyway, my bad. Thanks to a non-mefite for bothering to email me with that link.
posted by rkent at 2:43 PM on January 24, 2005

hortense, no true tinfoil hat wearer would refer to Roberto Calvi's suicide...
posted by runkelfinker at 2:47 PM on January 24, 2005

Well, the Da Vinci Code's depiction of Opus Dei was rather sensationalistic. However, apart from being very powerful, especially in the Spanish-speaking world, it is a pretty scary group. Just have a look at their founding book: The Way (from an Opus Dei site).
Number 44: Give the polite excuse which christian charity and social convention demand. And then... on your way again! With holy shamelessness, without stopping until you have finally scaled the heights of duty.
Number 208: Let us bless pain. Love pain. Sanctify pain... Glorify pain!
Number 311: War! 'War', you tell me, 'has a supernatural end that the world is unaware of: war has been for us...' War is the greatest obstacle to the easy way. But in the end we will have to love it, as the religious should love his disciplines.
posted by Skeptic at 3:03 PM on January 24, 2005

I'm pretty sure Opus Dei are not lying when most people's mortifications don't involve the masochistic tools, which are far from discouraged but only let's say 2-5% actually use. I think it's more common just to skip meals, etc.
posted by abcde at 3:11 PM on January 24, 2005

If they do not wear funny hats they are ok. In general, any and all religious little clubs tend to be nonsense as far as I am concerned...Do they have secret handshakes and decoder rings? any pics of self-flaggelation or other forms of self abuse? Please post.
posted by Postroad at 3:17 PM on January 24, 2005

When was the last time you heard the Queen [UK head of Sate] or Tony Blair [UK Head of government] speak about religion?

The Queen, as head of state, is careful not to tread on toes -- but did a bit of religious happy-talk during her Christmas Speech last month.

Tony Blair is the most overtly religious Prime Minister the UK has had in decades -- wears his religion on his sleeve, does the church-going shtick, uses religious imagery to a scandalous degree (by British standards), and only looks secular by American standards -- where a politician who came out as an atheist would be hounded out of office.
posted by cstross at 3:21 PM on January 24, 2005

Er ... aren't Opus Dei so old-school that they don't allow their women to work? So won't that rule Kelly right out?
posted by bonaldi at 3:23 PM on January 24, 2005

That's 2-5% more batshit than I'd prefer.
posted by basicchannel at 3:34 PM on January 24, 2005

On the bum!
(Free registration required)

From an article from the Spectator, about the proposed santification of the founder of Opus Dei, Monsignor Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.

It is claimed, for example, that he once completely lost it when told that a senior female member had broken the rules by putting uncensored letters in the post. ‘Draw up her skirts, tear down her panties and beat her on the bum!’ he is said to have shouted. ‘On the bum! Until she talks. Make her talk!’ The tribunal that weighed up his sanctity was not told that story because the woman who aroused his anger and several other prominent critics of Escriva weren’t invited to give evidence.

Be careful, Ruth!
posted by gdav at 4:00 PM on January 24, 2005

Well, I often hear that charge against Blair, but actually, my (fairly well-honed, atheist) ears do not pick up on his alleged religiosity. I mean, I detest his false sincerity, his fake exasperation with us - his 'congregation' - but I don't often hear Blair go on about his faith. And I am listening out for it.

TBH, I was objecting to the possible meaning behind your comment at 10.25: that our lack of the constitutional principle of Church/State separation may be a problem. Yes, we do have two intertwined institutions - the monarchy and the C of E - but two less powerful pillars of UK life could hardly be imagined.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:05 PM on January 24, 2005

I don't doubt that Opus Dei does perform good works, most cults do. I realize that the communion might sound a great deal like cannibalism to those who have never observed it.
But looking at this

just gives me the willies.

There is also an inherent duplicity:

Rules for male numeraries:

Sleep on the floor once a week.
Sleep without a pillow once a week.
Allowed to smoke and go to bars with recruits, for the purpose of drawing them closer to Opus Dei.

Rules for female numeraries:

Sleep on boards laid on top of the mattress.
Sleep without a pillow once a week.
May not smoke or enter a bar.

I'd be curious to know how accurate this Opus Dei watch group is. Personally I distrust any group that really seems to hate life.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:26 PM on January 24, 2005

From their website: "ODAN [Opus Dei Awareness Network] is a worldwide community of people who have had painful experiences as a result of their association with Opus Dei."

No shit!
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 5:45 PM on January 24, 2005

So in heaven, do they get to not glorify pain?
posted by sellout at 7:12 PM on January 24, 2005

The priests preached a very conservative brand of Catholicism (heavy emphasis on sin, the catechism, the need to go to confession regularly, etc.) but also encouraged social activism (charity, volunteer work, etc.).

Metafilter: heavy emphasis on sin
posted by m@ at 8:08 PM on January 24, 2005

You know in Dublin for years there was an Opus Dei student hostel (like a dorm, but with more purging) right *next door* to a gay nightclub called, endearingly, "Shaft".

Apparently with TV viewing strictly controlled by a permanent room monitor and no personal stereos allowed, the Opus Dei kids amused themselves by occasionally throwing rotten food and fecal matter down on exiting club patrons.
posted by meehawl at 8:25 PM on January 24, 2005

From David Frost:

DAVID FROST: And the papers, there two two-page spreads about Opus Dei in the papers today, and saying they're not secretive and all of that and so on, and says the Scotsman said yesterday that it's not a secret organisation and that you're a member of it. Are you a member of it?

RUTH KELLY: Well I, along with any other politician, I think are entitled to a degree of privacy in my private life. And I do have a private spiritual life, and I'm completely open about that. People know that I'm a Catholic and that I take it seriously. And I come to this job, you know, as a Catholic as well as as a parent and with all sorts of other influences. But the one thing I'm absolutely clear about David, is that I have a really collective responsibility as part of this Labour government...

DAVID FROST: But are you a member of Opus Dei?

RUTH KELLY: Well I do have spiritual support from Opus Dei, and, you know, I think that's right. But these are private, these are private spiritual matters and I'm sure that you'll respect that politicians are entitled to a private life.

DAVID FROST: Yes, yes, but at the same time, as you yourself have said quite a lot of times that, you've been quoted as saying anyway, that you wouldn't want to go to health international development because of policies there that you would find difficult to take on whether it's to do with abortion or contraception or whatever. So it does have an effect on your career, it would stop you going to those two places.

RUTH KELLY: Well let me just be absolutely clear, it wouldn't....

DAVID FROST: Oh! Because it's in every profile, every profile...

RUTH KELLY: I know, well it just shows you how rumours grow and things develop a life of their own. I mean I am absolutely clear that as a member of this Government I have collective responsibility for government policy. So as a member of the Cabinet responsible for education, I also have responsibility for those policies developed in the Health Department and in the international development department and so forth. And I stand by those.

These are policies after all which are not only developed by this Labour Government, but approved by parliament. And while there are issues of conscience which of course I expressed my view on in the lobbies in the usual way because most of these are questions for free votes. As and when does the government I've responsibility for those policies and for implementing them in my own department.
posted by quarsan at 10:08 PM on January 24, 2005

One of the great things about living in the UK is the fact that, except (or maybe because of?) the anachronism of an established church and a small handful of mullahs and evangelists here and there spewing hate, it is wonderfully so much more secular than the USA. Politicians are generally expected to be wholly secular in their behaviour and pronouncements, which is vital to be representative in a multicultural society. Blair is very religious and his spinners keep a lid on this as it would (rightly) horrify the electorate. His wife is a believer in all manner of chakras, salt scrubs and Mayan rebirthing nonsense (not quite sure how she squares this with her professed Catholicism). Maybe that’s why he let a member of a bizarre, censorious S&M cult become our Education Minister. He also has been rather tolerant of increasing the number of divisive ‘faith schools’ in the UK, which range from madrassas to Pentecostal indoctrination centres – which are a threat to our largely tolerant society. I am frightened and disgusted by this appointment given even the milder and more sympathetic information available on this secretive medieval foolishness. I also think Mayor Curley offered an outstanding insight about the whole affair.
posted by The Salaryman at 4:43 AM on January 25, 2005

Opus Dei is *yawn* so 20th century. The new scaries are the Legionnaires of Christ.
posted by Dagobert at 4:46 AM on January 25, 2005

I am frightened and disgusted

I hear that! Jews scare the hell out of me too! Who let Leiberman run for president? Did you know he doesn't even think that Jesus was the son of God? And speaking of S&M cults, Opus Dei has nothing on Islamic cults. Muslims like blowing themselves up! Talk about pleasure in pain! Not to mention female genital mutilation and honour killings! Let's blacklist the whole lot of them, just in case.

The ignorance and intolerance in this thread makes me frightened and disgusted.
posted by loquax at 6:23 AM on January 25, 2005

loquax, you seem to have successfully seperated religion from any other aspect of life, safe in the knowledge that it rarely influences how people actually behave. Other people look at the world around them and have trouble doing that. We also have trouble with the idea of our money being used to educate our children based in any way on batshit religious beliefs. I haven't called for Ruth Kelly's resignation; I am merely giving a "heads-up".
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:51 AM on January 25, 2005

Pretty_Generic: I agree that church and state must be kept as separate as possible. I took some exception with your early tone, and maybe was a little overdramatic, but I do believe that she deserves the benefit of the doubt, and doesn't deserved to be condemned based on her alleged beliefs or the private actions of those that may share her faith. As far as I know, Opus Dei seems very similar to many other Christian sects, what with the sin and all. Sure that pain stuff is a little weird, but I wouldn't preclude a submissive from office because of his fetishes, so why a member of Opus Dei (keeping in mind that only a small percentage of them even have anything to do with that thing). If she starts banning books at the request of Franco's ghost, I will be leading the charge to have her removed. Until then, even a "heads up" smacks of unfairness and bigotry, even if that's not the intent. What other groups require a heads up? Should all public servants declare any beliefs that they might have before serving? Should they be required to live under surveillance to ensure that they're not going to services run by banned organizations? How is this not like China forbidding Falun Gong?

I'm just really surprised at the level of prejudice against this woman. I understand a discussion of Opus Dei's practices in a thread about them - of which there have been several - but I cannot understand how this is any different than holding the beliefs of a Hindu, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist government official against them. Or for that matter, a black person, a Scientologist or a homosexual. After all, just think of the books a gay man would expose the children to!
posted by loquax at 8:35 AM on January 25, 2005

I'm afraid that, in my opinion, there is a world of difference between being born into a religion as part of your culture, and choosing to join a small sect or cult. The latter says far more about a person than the former. It doesn't mean that those people should be excluded from any position or part of life - but it indicates that their actions should be more closely scrutinised.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:43 AM on January 25, 2005

but I cannot understand how this is any different than holding the beliefs of a Hindu, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist government official against them.

There is a HUGE difference between the ideology of a religion (Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian) writ large and a fundamentalist/sect/cult offshoot of the core religious ideas that pick specific aspects of the religion to follow.

I believe that the valid concern people have is that as, an Opus Dei follower, she may hold these sect/cult religious beliefs as more important than her government duties.
posted by batboy at 10:08 AM on January 25, 2005

Loquax, since intolerance is generally the pimply, free-with-his-fists first cousin of ignorance, why does Ruth Kelly actively encourage our ignorance? In the Frost interview posted by quarsan, she hides behind 'these are "private spiritual matters"' as the answer to questions about how Opus Dei personally influences her. In other words, she's jolly well not telling. Yet those us who bother to try to get a handle on Opus Dei immediately learn that its "mission is to help people integrate their faith and the activities of their daily life". My reading is that it seeks to dissolve the separation of faith and behaviour. Which makes what Ruth Kelly believes - those "private spiritual matters" absolutely crucial to her political life. The problem with Kelly's dainty obfuscation is that it fans the worst sort of speculation about what on earth she does embrace as the truth. She makes thugs of us all by playing coy with her spiritual convictions.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:16 AM on January 25, 2005

Wow. I'm staggered that people are on Pretty_Generic's case about being biased.

Opus Dei have been strongly associated with a lot of... let's say unsavoury stuff since I was a boy - and that's 25 years ago!
posted by catchmurray at 4:25 PM on January 25, 2005

Bush and Kerry were BOTH in Skull and Bones?!
posted by nanojath at 8:32 PM on February 23, 2005

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