Religion at work
[Thanks to James Sweet for the correction. The video is a parody. See here on Slate. The point made by the Slate piece -- "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing." -- is the reason why I will let this stand. People are complaining about TamTamPamela's lack of taste, but in what sense is this a lack of taste and Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell's remarks about the 9/11 disaster acceptably religious? But the following is an edited version of the original text, taking the parodic nature of the piece into account.]
And — just for comparison – this one is not a parody:
[And now you know why Christopher Hitchens, speaking of Falwell after the latter's death, said that, if he had been given an enema, he could have been buried in a matchbox.]
This almost made me physically sick. Sad but true: This is the religious mind at work. And even if, as James Sweet points out in a comment, this is a parody, it is a very good one, and it still says what so many religious people say. I can still remember the posters that used to be found in many church halls and offices. It showed a picture of a beautiful natural scene with the words under it: OUR GOD IS AN AWESOME GOD! And if you listen carefully, you will hear what faith in sky fathers and other imaginary friends must lead you to believe. I am relieved to hear that it is a parody, but I do not think I will change my mind that this is an apt expression of religious faith. For, if religious faith really does hold that there is a god who cares for us, and is interested in our welfare, then everything that happens must happen for a purpose. This, by the way, is one reason that my wife Elizabeth refused to believe in gods or life after death, because that would mean that the pointlessness of her suffering had a point, and was purposed from the start, and she was not prepared to accept that. Everything that happens must be for the best, and, as religious people say about answered prayers: Sometimes the answer is no.
But if you listen very carefully, you can still see why religious people will kill you to make their point, you can see why they think suffering is a god’s way of speaking to you, and you will realise that you have to be an airhead in order to believe in god. Anyone who doesn’t sound like this is hiding something, because, given the evidence that is missing, belief in god can only amount to this. Forget the sophisticated theology, forget all the scientific bible or qu’ran criticism (if there’s any of the latter), forget the figurative interpretation of biblical or religious stories, forget the ridiculous attempt to accommodate religion to science: Parody or not, THIS is what religion is all about! And it should make you sick.
This leads me naturally into what I was planning to write today. In response to the Anglican Church of Canada’s “Draft Statement on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide” that I put up on choiceindying.com yesterday, Loren Amacher said:
Basically, it’s the same pap as one hears and reads from the RCC. It is clear that the Anglican Church cares not one whit for patient autonomy, as they declare that that the patient is not the owner of her/himself, but the property of a sky-daddy. Sickening. The safeguarding against various imagined abuses is done very well in Holland and Oregon, but when your arguments are full of holes, any purported catch-basin is trotted out. It is very difficult to reason with fanatics (oops), people who believe implicitly in ghosts and fairies.
Yes it is (basically the same pap as we get from the RCC). And it is as fanatical as the airhead in the video above. Religion has nothing of importance to say about morality. Nothing. Let me repeat that: Religion has nothing of importance to say about morality. And every time a religion or religious group speaks out on a moral topic it reveals the emptiness and fanaticism that underlies its claims. The pretence of rationality is paper-thin, and when you see into the heart of religion it is simply empty rhetoric posing as significance and profundity.
Take the word ‘dignity’ as used in the Anglican Church of Canada draft statement. Here it is in context:
In Canada these [palliative care] programs involve health care professionals and volunteers from the church community in the attempt to alleviate pain and maintain dignity of life even at the moment of death.
I want you to notice two things about this. First, it places volunteers from the church community on a par with health care professionals. This is the context in which dignity is valorised. I do not deny that many volunteers are from the church community, but there are reasons for that. Until now, communities in Canada have been run on largely religious lines. (This is the same feature that allows religion and science accommodationists to claim that schools and universities are, somehow, religious in origin and inspiration — which of course is then used to defend the thesis that science is rooted in theology.) Churches and other religious associations are simply the way that volunteer activities are carried out, and have been carried out in Canadian communities for a long time. It should be recalled that those same religious communities once divided this country into what amounted to separate solitudes, still reflected in many parts of Canada by Roman Catholic school systems, and in Newfoundland, by a school system organised almost entirely on religious lines. The role that religious people play in Canadian communities is not so much a reflection of Christian compassion or care, as of the history of Canadian communities. If our communities had been secular from the start, secular people would still express their humanity in the same way that religious people do.
This is not to deny that many Christians and members of other religions do important volunteer work in their communities. But it is vital to remember that this more accommodating posture of religions is of relatively recent origin. At one time the religious shape of social programmes was due to the involvement of religions and religious denominations in the exercise of political power, a power that is still very real in some places, especially where questions of religious morality are concerned. Canadian law is still dependent to too large a degree on the once powerful churches that used to run this country. This theocratic involvement may not be obvious, but if you read through the Hasard debates on issues such as abortion and assisted dying, it soon becomes evident that there is still a large measure of religious involvement in decision-making. For many years Canada has had no regulation of abortion — which is as it should be, in my view — since the strength of the women’s movement was such, during the 60s and 70s of the last century, as to make sure that religion would not trump women’s freedom to regulate their own reproductive decisions.
The same desire to control individuals’ decisions about their lives is in evidence in the Anglican Church of Canada’s Draft Statement on Euthanasia, and this brings me to the second point I want you to notice. Relief of pain and maintenance of dignity are included in the same clause, without any consideration as to the meaning of the word ‘dignity’. Churches use this word for its cash value. Hobbes said that words are wise men’s counters — “they do but reckon with them” – but the money of fools. It is in this latter class that churches are to be found, and they use words for effect rather than to convey meaning.
As Loren Amacher says,
… the Anglican Church cares not one whit for patient autonomy, as they declare that that the patient is not the owner of her/himself, but the property of a sky-daddy. Sickening.
And he’s right. Human dignity, for the church, is … what? Does it have anything to do with dignity? No. Not a thing. Dignity is a property of persons. It is governed by several things, but amongst them most importantly are to be found (i) autonomy, the ability to make and carry out plans and decisions, and (ii) self-respect. These two features of human dignity are mutually reinforcing. A person who has no autonomy will have correspondingly less self-respect, and a person who loses self-respect will be to that extent less able to act autonomously. Yet the church is prepared to deny both to the suffering and the dying. For the church the person is not a person at all, but merely, as Loren says, a property of an imaginary sky-daddy. And, to protect that belief, no matter how foolish — recall the airhead in the video — the church is quite prepared to force people to suffer when they would choose otherwise. For the church, individuals count for nothing. Remember that, when they indulge — as they always do — in self-congratulation and the kind of hyperbole evinced in the video. Their god is so good that it brought disaster on hundreds of thousands of people. Yea God!