Friday, August 19, 2005

Would you mind keeping your religion out of my parliament?

It is often said that people ought to keep their religious beliefs separate from their politics. And, while I find the thought that there are politicians who are looking forward to helping bring about Armageddon frightening as anything, the idea of people keeping their religious beliefs separate from their politics is a cop out. If someone is serious about their religion they can not keep it separate from their politics. Only someone for whom religion is just a sense of belonging, a collection of traditions and a set of dimly remembered feel-good Sunday School lessons – i.e. most people – can keep their religion out of their politics. They keep it out because, quite simply, their religion is not that important to them. For someone for whom religion IS important it guides their life and, in so far as they are involved in politics, it must guide their politics. Which just means that if we are to keep religion out of politics we should simply strive to keep religious politicians out of power.

However, I am not convinced that it is that simple. The problem is that I would actually be willing to vote for some profoundly religious people even though I know that they would act on their beliefs once in power. Sure, it would be good to have all of those who determine national policy be working with a straight-up naturalist world view but there are many other things to consider when choosing representatives. By deciding to never vote for a religious politician one would be saying that this one characteristic is all important – I know I’d much rather vote for a liberal Christian than for a neo-con atheist. So, for what it’s worth I will try to make sure that I do not vote for religious politicians, just as I will try not to vote to corrupt ones or right-wing ones or populist ones or ones with only a feeble grasp of reality.

Which I guess kind of means that W doesn’t have much of a chance with me.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Ever done the Vatican shuffle?

Here’s a neat trick to learn if hypocrisy is your friend. If someone is doing something you don’t like, shout, “That’s disgusting, it’s completely unnatural!” Then, if they point out that animals have been doing it for millennia, shout, “That’s disgusting, you are behaving like an animal!” Sometimes, for the hell of it, start with the second option and go from there. Guaranteed winner, just leaves me wondering if animals are capable of hypocrisy.

I wouldn't trust this man around my child, would you?

On a related note, Ratzinger’s lawyers are trying to stop him from being sued in a child molesting case in the US. He’s being sued because in a letter to the bishops written in 2001, while he was head of the renamed Inquisition, he informed that cases of child abuse ought to be kept secret. Which brings me to ask whether ordering others to protect child-molesters isn’t against the law? I mean, what if I was the head of a company’s security department who told the employees not to inform the police of any cases of child abuse they were aware of? Of course, Ratzinger isn’t running a company – his lawyers are claiming that he is the head of a state. Which only makes it worse. Imagine that the Minister of Internal Affairs of some country sends out a letter to its foreign representatives that they are to hide the citizens who have committed crimes from the legal authorities of whatever country they committed those crimes in. Aiding and abetting? Criminal conspiracy? I have no idea how the law, including international law, would precisely deal with that but I suspect that it wouldn’t be very nice. Certainly, if I heard of such a case of assisting in the escape of child-molesters I would not allow the suspect into my country for a meeting of world youth. Or, perhaps, I would but only so as to send him to The Hague.

Which all raises the important question of what should be the status of the Vatican. Is it a multinational organisation or is it a state? Once again, it seems that The Church wants to have its communion wafer and to eat it at the same time. The claim will be that it is different again – a one off – but we don’t have to buy into that, thankfully. After all, by rights, if the Catholics can do it then every religion ought to be able to stick a flag up its pole and claim territorial sovereignty over some sod of earth. And, if the religions can then the atheists should not be discriminated against...

I, hereby, claim this quarter-acre lot for Atheistan and declare myself its ruler-for-life! (I just hope my wife doesn’t hear that last bit.)

Ever been to the Cologne cathedral?

If you haven’t, you really ought to go. The building is massive and looks it – a great big and very imposing structure. Even in the age of the sky-scraper the cathedral manages to impress and, somehow, manages to look more substantial than some much larger buildings. It is, however, on the inside that the cathedral really has a power all of its own. The sense of space is overwhelming, the great gothic arches reaching up into the half-darkness of the roof. The people walking are dwarfed by the scale of the thing – mere insects crawling across its marble floor. At the same time, one has to be amazed by the sheer individuality and mastery of the craftsmen who worked to chisel away the tiny details of ornamentation – the miniscule heads and animals that mass together at the bottoms of the pillars and in every other nook and cranny that offers itself.

At the same time, walking inside the cathedral one can not help but feel that one is desecrating a grave. The great arches are like the ribcage of some leviathan that had, long ago, washed up upon the beach and died. All that is left are the bones, imposing and grand but, ultimately melancholy. Walking down the echoing nave it is clear that life has left this place long ago, leaving to us a monument from an antique land. The only ones moving inside are the tourists who’ve come to gawk at the marvellous downfall.

The reason why I write this is that today the World Youth Day begins in Cologne with Ratzinger trying to live up to the image of the previous Pope and to start “a wave of new faith among young people”. The cathedral is full of people and alive with prayer. In a week, however, it will have been returned to the care of the tourists and the pigeons, while the young people who have gathered will have returned to their homes. Most will go back to their lives and will be just the same as they were before, just as they were unchanged by the death of the previous Pope – despite loud protestations to the contrary. Visionaries who tried to change the moral character of people have always failed to have anything but a short-term effect. Even if they did, the young are much more awake to the sheer hypocrisy of the church than those who have become cynical themselves. Who knows, maybe one of the cleaning crews will find a large pile of used condoms behind one of the main tents, just as they did in Paris?

So, most people will go back home unchanged. But it is not them that I feel sorry for. Rather, I feel sorry for those for whom Cologne will be a life-changing event. I don’t know, for some it may even lead to better lives than they would have led otherwise. Still, I can not help but pity lives premised upon a myth and mistakenly devoted to the continuation of an organisation that has harmed and twisted people’s lives for many centuries. I think of those lives as ghosts that haunt the cathedral when the massive doors are shut for the night.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Should I be calling the Godfather?

I was cleaning up and found another dead hornet in my study. That’s two in a matter of days. This can’t be a coincidence. In fact, I think I’ve figured out the story. All this summer I have been after flies with a vengeance – swatting, spraying, squashing or, my favourite method, vacuuming them to an early meeting with their maker. So I figure that the flies must have decided to end it and have put out a hit on me – a hit that the two hornets were trying to complete when I managed to off them with death-in-a-can. Now, you might say that it is silly for me to think such stuff but ask yourself what is less likely: that the flies have decided to rub me out or that there is an omnipotent being who watches and cares about every little thing I do (including fighting a turf war with the flies)?

Friday, August 05, 2005

It's just a phase you're going through, right?

Something has happened to me so often that I refuse to believe that it is not a common experience... I’ll be minding my own business when some believer will turn around to explain to me how my atheism is just a phase I’m going through and that I am sure to come back into the fold given time. Somehow, the sheer condescending nature of what they are saying never quite strikes them, even when I feel like I’d just been slapped in the face. It is condescending for two reasons. Firstly, because it treats my beliefs with disdain, as less worthy than their beliefs. Secondly, because it shows a total lack of appreciation for how deeply felt and inherent to my being these beliefs are. And, as is common with condescension, trying to explain has no effect – it just feels like there’s no real conversation – adding to the overall feeling of being ignored. Now, to add to the problem, the people who say this are usually somehow related to me, which means that on the one hand, wanting to avoid a blow-up, I can not just tell them straight out what I think of what they have just said and, on the other hand, have to then go on having something to do with them, even given the awareness of what they (at least sometimes) think of me. I’m left not knowing what to say or do.

You’d think they’d have given up that kind of talk once I’d turned thirty!