Sunday, May 29, 2005

If my daughter is a Catholic then is the Pope a Nazi?

Well, it’s done. My daughter has been christened. I didn’t make any trouble, though the priest was obnoxious, among other things saying to my wife, “Have you paid yet?” After the christening everyone went back to our place and we had a big dinner while the little one mucked about on the floor, blissfully ignorant of the idiocy that had just taken place – some of the things the priest said during the ceremony were just priceless, somewhere between emotional blackmail as used by a seven-year-old and a self-parody, including a long, rambling, puffed up soliloquy filled with hokey philosophy.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been thinking about the whole christening thing and the rationales offered. I can think of three – all of which made some appearance during the priest’s ham-fisted attempt at Hamlet. The first is that by being christened, the child becomes a catholic. The second is that it thereby cleared of the original sin, and the final is that christening is like dialling up an ADSL connection straight to the ‘Big G’, himself. Each is ludicrous in its own way.

I guess I have already mentioned what I think of the idea of a seven-month-old baby being a catholic. It is laughable. No commitment made upon the behalf of the child by its parents can be deemed binding upon the child in any reasonable country. I have been thinking about this in particular and realised that, because of this line that the Church takes, I have been far too easy on the Pope and his connection to Nazism. After all, if Catholics deem me a (deeply) lapsed catholic and my daughter a fully-fledged one then, being consistent, they must deem Ratzinger to be, at best, a lapsed Nazi. The Church has an official procedure to sign out of the Church which I have never bothered to actually go through. I wonder if Ratzinger ever officially signed out of the Hitler Jugend? All this is doubly ridiculous. It is ridiculous as the idea that either I or my daughter are Catholics is idiocy just as it is silly to think Ratzinger a Nazi. It is also ridiculous as the very way of thinking that the Church’s rules force upon one is sheer lunacy.

The idea of christening clearing away the original sin may be effective as a threat to motivate people to christen their children but it is a whole level sicker than the ‘you may not even know what your own name is but you’re still a Catholic’ line. The idea that my tiny daughter was weighted down with sin, any sin is, frankly, highly offensive. The idea that this sin was passed on to her due to something (eating a forbidden apple – in itself an idiotic offence) that was supposed to have been done several centuries ago by one of her ancestors is at the level of some medieval concept of justice. It feels strange to even have to point out that the children are not responsible for the crimes of their parents. A God who would send a tiny child to hell just because her ancestor once did something is, frankly, not a God who is the least bit worthy of our worship. Indeed, that kind of God is, at best, worthy of our disdain.

This leaves the third argument used for christenings – that they open up a connection to God. Well, I just don’t think they do. There’s no-one at the other end of the line. To accept that they do, one would already have to be a Catholic and have accepted that whole lunatic credo – making the christening nothing more than an official recognition of the status quo. Certainly, from my own personal experience, I have to say that the fact that a guy poured some water on my forehead at age less than one did not have a significant impact upon my spiritual development. The fact that I had to cope with the waste of time and intellect that followed did play a vital role, but that is another story.

So, why do people christen their children? For no other reason than that it is tradition, really. A thoughtlessly good reason, one might say.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

What kind of apostate are you?

I noted a couple of posts back that I am not only in no way notorious but actually also not an apostate as I was never a religious person and therefore could not leave the faith. This was quite a realisation for me, it having been beaten into my head that I was a Catholic when I was a child – a nonsensical idea if I’ve ever met one. Aside from that realisation I have also noted that I am more and more writing about the appalling effect organised religion has on politics and, in fact, on politics in general. This has made me realise that not only does the Catholic Church consider me to be a notorious apostate but so do my previous political associates. Allow me to explain.

In my wild youth I was an active member of one of the parties that are now aiding and abetting Dubya’s destruction of the planet. Yes, I was a right-wing apologist. I wasn’t so right wing as to support the kind of policies that are being now pursued but I did think that the right had a monopoly on sensible political ideas as I felt that anything left of centre was more or less communist. Such a simplistic view of politics was caused by having grown up in the cold-war era and was unsupportable in the face of the real political experience that being involved in and, in fact, at one time running a right-wing student organisation gave me. I got to meet and know a lot of people, some of whom are now in government, and came to understand that their values, such as they were, were foreign to me and my way of thinking. I remember well the various discussions I had with them and the slowly dawning realisation that their view of the world was essentially cold and selfish. Not surprisingly their government is one that appeals to that reptilian hind-brain that we all carry about, one that would have us fight for a scrap of meat atop a balance beam.

So, due to having abandoned that party and its ideology, I am much more a political apostate than a religious one. Of course, if things keep going in the same direction as they are now, the difference between the two will soon disappear.

Is this what it felt like in Jonestown?

What happens to a child that is given matches? It either burns its house down with itself inside or it becomes an adult. At this point humanity is more than capable of destroying itself and everything indicates that this is precisely what we will end up doing. Of course saying ‘we’ shares out the guilt where the power to affect things is not so shared out.

Been reading various things on the internet about what the Bush administration is getting up to and, frankly, I am terrified to the core of my nonexistent soul. One could say that this is the mother of all political disasters. Looking at their actions it is impossible to think of anyone for whom this administration will be good in the medium to long term. Sure, all of Bush’s business mates are getting rich now and the religious right is in raptures but Bush is selling the world and the US down the drain. Internationally, the US is now just about as popular as North Korea and, were it not for its massive military and economic power, would find itself just as ostracised. Internally, it is haemorrhaging economically and being torn apart socially. At the same time, the political atmosphere in the world is being pushed towards confrontation while the actual atmosphere is being pushed towards being unbreathable. And all this is being made possible by a fanatical administration that controls the legislative, executive and judiciary branches, a mainstream media that is compliant and a public that has been successfully terrorised by its government. And if this weren’t enough, the whole mixture is being super-charged by an outpouring of religious extremism.

All of the information about the bold-faced lies and egregious errors of Bush and Co is freely available. There is more than enough evidence for any fair court to convict that bunch of international terrorists of any of a number of crimes against humanity and for Bush to be impeached for the enormous damage he has done to the US. Yet none of this seems to matter.

My response to all this is so normal as to be a cliché. I look at my seven-month-old daughter and wonder what kind of world she will get to live in and, even, whether she will get to have a world to live in at all. And, also, I wonder what a sane resident of Jonestown must have felt watching his daughter and feeling the massacre approaching.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Another great stand against evil?

A few weeks ago I mentioned how Ratzinger decided to make same-sex marriages the very first thing he would fight against. Well, it is now time to add another thing to the list of evils he has chosen to fight first.

Abortion is in many ways a much more difficult and less clear-cut topic than same-sex marriages – I recognise this even though my own stance on the issue is very much pro-choice. Even if I were opposed to it, however, I would not see in abortion the greatest evil of the early twenty first century – it simply has too much competition from, to give just one example, the world’s superpower giving what is by now explicit support for torture being practiced both by its own soldiers and by its ‘allies’ (as explained in an article by Robert Fisk). Yet, Ratzinger puts his efforts into fighting abortion and not into ensuring that the prisoners of so-called civilized, democratic and oh-so-very Christian countries are treated humanely.

Frankly, I can not help but feel that, once again, the Catholic Church, instead of showing moral courage, is showing the kind of moral cowardice which, on the most favourable reading, it showed during the Second World War and which has helped it survive for two thousand years. Instead of actually standing up to the great evils of the day it seeks to build up a fake image of its virtue by attacking those who have little ability to actually fight back – in this case, the individual women whose rights to control their bodies are being taken away. If Ratzinger wished the Church to have real moral authority, he would have to turn the Church into a radical new direction. I can not help but think that if Jesus were alive right now he would feel that a Pharisee sat on the throne in Rome and that Jesus would fight against Christianity as energetically as he opposed the comfortable self-satisfaction and politic amenability of the religions of his day.

I've been wrong for more than twenty years, haven't I?

After reading the interview with Dawkins I mentioned in the last post I thought quite a bit about what he said. It was a couple of days later that I was finally struck by something that he said. For more than twenty years I had been thinking that I had left the Christian faith, that I was – as the title to the blog says – an apostate. This self-description had been a deep element of my psyche. But it was wrong.

I am not an apostate. To be an apostate I would have to have first been a Catholic and then have left the faith. But, and here is the rub, I was never a Catholic. Yes, I was baptised and I was even confirmed. So, in the sense that I was officially a member of a world-wide organisation with a particularly murderous history, I was a Catholic. But, as Dawkins observed, a child can be no more a Catholic than it can be a Capitalist, a Communist or, in the case of the current Pope, a Nazi. Its parents may dress it up in the uniform of choice but that is altogether a different thing. In the sense that to be a Catholic means to hold a collection of beliefs and to have made a commitment to live a particular kind of life, the only sense that has any fundamental meaning, I was never a Catholic. The moment I was capable of thinking about the world seriously and capable of making any meaningful commitments to ways of living I came to hold strictly atheist, humanist views and to commit to a humanist life. So it turns out that the name of the blog is, somewhat appropriately, completely false – neither notorious nor an apostate.