Monday, September 30, 2013

Disembowelling Bambi

Here we go again.  Another atheist is bashing the bejesus out of the saintly Mother Teresa.  
The beatified Nobel Laureate, Mother Teresa
 Atheists have made a habit of bashing Teresa.  The late Christopher Hitchins wrote a book objecting to her raising money without scruples, consorting with dictators and spivs, providing appalling care in her institutions and a lack of transparency in her accounts. Since that pioneering work, there has been a conga line of atheists being mean to a woman who is a Nobel Laureate and has been beatified (the third stage before sainthood).  In her life she was an apparent paragon of virtue who was to be sucked up to by any world leader in search of a photo opportunity. 
Atheists take aim for she not only she is an archetype of the supposed uplifting attributes of faith but is open to criticism as a self promoter rather than a saint.  The latest to deflate the personality cult are a Canadian trio who repeat, extend and document the main Hitch assertions. 
So is it fruitful grail for the knights of godlessness to quest for?  Or is it a risk that we look churlish?  Is the dead nun a legitimate target or should she be left in peace to pick up post mortal rewards like sainthood and global brand status?
I would argue that now is the time, with some exception, to stop demonising the Catholic equivalent of Bambi.  I think it sometimes demeans us.  For all her faults, she was utterly amazing.  But there are a couple of her beliefs that need to be mentioned and opposed.  They are her views on poverty and suffering.
Suffering and putting suffering into a context is a central theme of religious life.  Suffering is perhaps best summarised in the crucifixion.  The most central image of the Christian faith is someone being tortured to death.  Suffering can be so central that some beliefs perversely glorify suffering and venerate self harm. Where a faith links suffering to post mortal rewards, then happiness can be linked to guilt and self deprivation is elevated to an art form.  There are countless martyrs who have, under the devotion to faith, embraced death, pain and starvation.  These are deemed worthy of emulation.  The Almost Saint Teresa had a view of suffering that elevated it to a height of devotion which I think is very dangerous.  Suffering is awful not noble.  Suffering and poverty ought not to be endured but avoided.  Suffering as a precursor to Paradise is a fine opiate but is not believable by most in the West.  Linking suffering with guilt leads to an ascetic life where sex, material comfort and absence of pain are somehow bad.
I can see how the veneration of suffering gives comfort.  It demonstrates to those who are in anguish or agony that their faith empathises.  Their faith offers a post mortal reward.  Suffering is all good.  Torment is fine.  Let us all join in an embrace torment and fear fun.  As an exemplar of the problems with this ideology is the documented evidence that the life for patients in Teresa’s hospices, short as it was, was pretty grim.  Pain relief and medical resources were thin on the ground, even during the good times, when Teresa was pulling in the big bucks from donors.
Having said all of this, it must be conceded the godless have NO consolation or comfort for those who suffer distress.  There is no atheistic framework for understanding and dealing with misery and distress.  While we godless can criticise the Christian approach, we must confess that we have nothing to contribute to our unbelievers in pain.
My other gripe is that Teresa's views blunt political and social action.  India, at the time Almost Saint Teresa was there, endured extreme poverty exacerbated by Soviet style central economic planning.  The best thing for India was not her flawed palliative care but political and economic reform. Almost Saint Teresa eschewed such political action and in doing so contributed to the continuation of suffering.  I’m not saying that she had a vested interest in suffering (although she did). I’m saying that her focus on palliative care and her views on the dignity of poverty got in the way of reform and the alleviation of the said poverty.
In our code of footy there is the phrase, “Going the man not the ball” which is generalised to indicate personal, ad hominem attacks are to be deplored.  So it is with Almost Saint Teresa.  Let us praise the little Albanian for the amazing person that she was. Let us be inspired by her global brand and her devotion to duty.  Her achievements were legion.  But let not that veneration blind us the stupidity of her views on suffering and poverty.
What is your view?
Do you agree that it is time to move on from just knocking the woman? 
What do you think of her views on suffering and poverty?
How should the godless comfort those who suffer? Whilst Christians are wrong, we godless are a vacuum on the question of assisting our flock deal with their torment.  What should we do about this?
Over to you guys...


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Oh Hail the Chief!

With a fantastic first interview!  Pope Francis threatens/promises to blow away centuries of sexual cobwebs from the Roman Catholic Church. 
Pope Francis said the Catholic Church must shake off an obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality or risk the collapse of its entire moral edifice, "like a house of cards". 
Thumbs up from the godless for Pope Francis. What about his own community??
 To me this is a statement of the bleeding obvious.  Sexual “obsession” is the appropriate word.  A pack of old, celibate men opining on these matters (when they forgive and transplant sexual offenders of the most pernicious kind) is such an ethical turn off.  Who outside the Church is not at the same time, appalled, amazed, amused and disgusted by the current rules and practices of the Church?  They are a godsend for atheists.  It is slightly scary that, paraphrasing the words of Richard Nixon, “What will we do now we might not have the Catholic Church to abuse?”
In an interview with an Italian Jesuit monthly, the Pope said the church had locked itself up in "small things, in small-minded rules".
Its priests should be more welcoming and not cold, dogmatic bureaucrats stuck in confessionals that sometimes resembled "torture chambers", he said.
FANTASTIC STUFF!  He makes people like Cardinal Pell look like the antediluvian, doddery anachronism he most surely is.
APPALLING STUFF! For the foresight of Pope Francis with his inclusion of the marginal and marginalization of the reactionaries threatens to make Catholicism Kosher again.  Already going gang busters in the developing world, Catholicism with a decent leader threatens to become popular and palatable in places where it is really struggling in the West.
The full interview can be viewed here:
THE STEAK KNIVES!  But wait, there’s more.  Pope Francis appointed Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin as his new Secretary of State. One of his first acts was to open the topic of priestly celibacy.  He has argued that church’s tradition of priestly celibacy was not dogma and was therefore open to discussion. In guarded tones he has opened the door. “The effort made by the church to institute ecclesial celibacy must be taken into consideration. One cannot simply say that it belongs to the past,” he said.
Why are we still talking about celibacy?
Voluntary celibacy is maligned fairly or unfairly.  And yet it is surprisingly common across a range of faiths and practices.  It is to be found in the Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and other traditions.  Some of these requirements are temporary and some lifelong.  With the prohibition of pre marital sex which is very widespread there is an argument that every faith requires some degree of celibacy.
However, notwithstanding the many shapes and sizes of sexual restraint, the big Momma of the discussion is of course, the voluntary celibacy of the Catholic male priest.
Let us distinguish between celibacy and abstinence.  The former is usually a result of a vow and can be lifelong renunciation of marriage and sexual relations. Abstinence is thought of as a temporary lull in the proceedings such as the Orthodox Jewish prohibition on sex during menstruation.  In common parlance however, they are seen as identical. 
Celibacy is blamed as a cause of the sexual predation now emerging in the Church.  Whilst there is insufficient evidence to be conclusive, the logic goes like this.  Celibacy attracts those for whom married life is not attractive but want the prestige of having an excuse for not engaging in marriage and/or straight sex.  And even if you are attracted to the idea of heterosexual married life, abstinence and the strange obsession with it, might change one in ways that could lead to child abuse.  That is the logic.  The evidence from the John Jay Report seems to corroborate the logic but is not conclusive. 
But whatever the relationship between celibacy and abuse, voluntary celibacy seems to me to be weird and a deprivation of normalcy. 
Just wait for it.  There will be the inevitable counter revolution.  The habits of a millennium or more will die hard.  Will Pope Francis and his Secretary of State succeed in staunching the blood flowing from the Church’s sexual Achilles heel?  Or will the forces of reaction outlast and outplay the forces of reform?
What is your view?
Do you agree that Pope Francis’ interview was disastrous for atheism in the West?
Do you think it is too little too late?
How did he keep this reformist zeal so secret that he won the vote?
Where will the Church go on celibacy?
What is your view of celibacy?
Over to you.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

How Kevin could have given a less absurd concession speech

We all know that Kevin Rudd gave an embarrassingly bad speech conceding the leadership of his country to his opponents after the electoral drubbing he received on Saturday.  For 24 minutes, he gave a grinning peroration to a delirious, sycophantic crowd.  They cheered every word and screamed “Kevin! Kevin! Kevin!” as if they were hailing a conquering hero.  What hallucinogen was that mob on or were they simply moronic?  And he grinned like he had winned (sic).  The nation watched gob smacked as this train wreck annoyed us, then bored us and ultimately horrified us.  
Some smile...
Here is a suggestion of what he might have said to the Nation and his party (my party).

(Shushing and calming the crowd and wearing an earnest face devoid of the flicker of a smile)  “Please do not welcome me with enthusiasm.  I do not deserve it.  Screaming in joy is completely inappropriate for this appalling moment for our Party.
My Fellow Australians: I rise to concede victory in this election to my opponent Tony Abbott and his Coalition combatants.  Well done Tony. It was a huge victory.  I know that some pundits predicted a larger victory for the Coalition but that does not diminish the grandeur of your win.  I suppose I could claim some sort of Pyrrhic or partial victory because some pundits were a little out with their predictions. But I will not do that. There is no sense of achievement for the Government or my Party in any way from this substantial loss.  Who knows whether my late return to the Prime Ministerial office helped or hindered us, but the results are so bad, I take no comfort here.  We were trounced and I completely stuffed up.  
Not only did we lose government but we diminished the community’s trust in politicians so that they voted in protest for right wing buffoons with coal mines or a car fetish. The damage I and my party caused to the polity was widespread and deep.  I am so sorry.
Now some people when they apologise do so in a formalistic and token manner.  The Archbishop who utters apologies for hideous sex crimes by his priests but does not really mean it or the Minister or CEO who resigns after a debacle because s/he feels someone has to take formal blame, often do not really harbour remorse in their hearts.  They ape apologies because they feel they have to. I make my apologies with heartfelt contrition for I was a large part of the mess.
Let me say a few words about the vexing notion of "ambition". The political challenge is always to balance two things – loyalty to the party that promotes you and loyalty to your own ambitions. This is the ultimate political conundrum.  Where do my interests and the party’s interests begin and end?  I have been very poor at getting this call right. 
Ambition is complicated emotion. It is a precondition for high achievement and yet we deplore it when it is too naked or in conflict with the party or group who give politicians succour.  Parties and nations need the ambitious to fight to the top.  The winners of that competition are then sufficiently battle hardened to take on an outside adversary. So ambition is complex.  It leads to the uncovering of great leaders and is the cause of internecine warfare.  Lots of ambition is great unless it overwhelms the loyalty to the party or group we represent.  Thus, we never display ambition in Australia too enthusiastically. We nurture it secretly in deep within our souls.
My ambition is overweening and overwhelming.  Consequently, when the party forced me to step aside after leading it to victory in 2007, my secret longings drove me and my small band of followers to undermine my own party.  To be a leader of any group, one usually has to step over a few dead bodies.  That is expected and indeed, such ruthlessness is much treasured by groups in search of a leader. But years of leaking against the interests of my own party, even as they strove for victory in the 2010 election demonstrated that I had lost the plot.  Unlike the deposed Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu who has left office with dignity and anonymity, I festered like a boil for years.  I have now killed off my party and deeply tarnished my own legacy.  For this, I am extremely sorry.
To the Nation, I say this: I am sorry.  Please reconsider my Party in three years time.  In normal circumstances, they are a wonderful political movement.  And please refashion your respect for the political classes and therefore the major parties; otherwise our parliament will be an unstable collection of minor parties run by buffoons and billionaires (or both).  Democracy is too precious to be purchased by the rich or undeservedly won by preferences because of the vagaries of the proportional representation system.
To my Party, I say this: I cannot trust myself not to undermine my successor or curtail my ambitions so I will leave the Parliament to write a very dull and worthy book tentatively entitled “On Ambition – Pursuing a dream can be inspiring or destructive.”
To my successor/predecessor Julia Gillard, I say this – The political world is full of political couples who do really well.  Unfortunately, these couples never deal well with the ambitions of both, particularly on the question of transition.  Hawke and Keating, Howard and Costello, Tony Blair and  Gordon Brown and many other leaders and their deputies, often did well for a while and then clawed each other to death when ambition could not be managed in an orderly manner.  Obama and Hilary seem to have got the timing right after initially butting heads.  Let's hope both their ambitions are realised.  Julia, I am sorry we didn't get our timing or our partnership right.  But we could have been amazing…”

Monday, September 02, 2013

Christian Lobby and the Pious Poll

It has been a very challenging time to be godless in Oz. 
With the election looming, the Prime Ministerial candidates are crawling over themselves to display their piety and their theistic devotion.  It does make my godless skin crawl.  Moreover, there are a profusion of smaller, right wing, often religious parties with views informed by ignorance and conservatism.

The Australian Christian Lobby Election Special which could be joined by churches for $100 per church.
The Australian Christian Lobby (“ACL”) is the loud and I imagine not completely representative lobbyist for Christianity.  You may recall that its leader, Lyle Shelton made offensive comments about the children of gay and lesbian marriages.  In fact, the ACL seems to me like a pack of gay and lesbian bashing bastards.
The two Prime Ministerial aspirants presented themselves as prayerful Christians with a piety and philanthropic outlook that would have made JC seem secular. It was vomit worthy for a man such as me.  Tony Abbott spent some time talking about how he respected the PM.  As I reflected on this momentary calming of the combative discourse of an election, one must concede that there is, at least superficially, a civilizing effect of faith.  Its narrative is about service, charity and the common humanity we all share.  I do concede that these narrative strands do uplift the conversation and tame its usual belligerent heart. That much must be admitted. Kevin Rudd too seemed muted by the audience and was sorry for offending those with his volte face on gay and lesbian marriage.  Be loud and proud Kev I say.
Worryingly, Abbott seeks to lower the “red tape on charities”.  This sounds great but is scary.  Abbott has set that nasty little Catholic hypocrite, Kevin Andrews, to gut the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission.  This is a small and regrettable move that is a poor idea. But it does implement Cardinal George Pell’s explicit policy directive.  It is an ominous sign.  But you would expect a Labor voting godless guy to say that.
Interestingly ACL has collected a broad range of the contestants’ thoughts at its site  There you will discover parties that you never knew existed.  They include the Rise Up Australia Party, the Australian Christians, Christian Democratic Party, DLP and Family First.  These don’t include the more secular nutty parties, like Katter, Palmer and One Nation.  The hung parliament has sown the seed of hope for smaller parties. It is, I expect, and illusory hope.  But the Christians give succor to an array of marginal silly parties.  I anticipate that they will largely be seen as a recent curiosity if there is a decisive result.  That will polarise the Australian polity and make this blossoming of small right wing and Christian parties temporary.
And so the godless don’t have much to look forward to.  Taxpayer funded religious education will flower. Touchstone issues like gay and lesbian issues will founder.  It is not an uplifting election for the Godless.  But there is the Secular Party of Australia  They have high calibre candidates and good policy.  They have candidates in every state.  Look out for them.
What is your view?
Do you see Abbott as a sinister “Captain Catholic” or is he merely Rudd without the grey hair and moon face?
Can you forgive Rudd for killing of our noble atheistic former Ranga PM?
Who will you vote for?
Over to you guys…