Trying to keep up!
Posted by Eric MacDonald
It’s really quite hard to keep up with the misdoings of religion around the world. Everyday brings forth its daily quota of horrifying outrages against decency, humanity, and plain common sense. What is so worrying about this is that the numbers of offences seem to get larger every day, as though religion were like a pressure cooker, with the top threatening to blow off any moment! How can the religions keep up this steady drip, drip, drip of perfidy without simply self-destructing? How is it that they can hold onto people’s commitment and loyalty? What is it about religion that seems to make it impervious to the normal attrition that wrong-doing, especially wrong-doing in high places, would impose upon any organisation daily implicated in scandal?
A couple days ago it was the British High Court’s judgement in the case of Nicklinson and AM, then the next day we have the culmination of the story of the death of the pregnant Dominican teenager with leukemia, and then, following closely on its heels is the conviction and sentencing to two years in a labour camp of three young Russian women protesting the oligarchy of Vladimir Putin. Then there is the bishop in France who had a letter read out in church which uses language deliberately to denigrate gay parents and their kids. And, of course, they would, wouldn’t they? The Vatican sprang to the bishop’s defence.
What, you might ask, is the account of the Pussy Riot singers’ conviction for hooliganism doing amongst a list the offences of religion? Or you might ask that about the Dominican teenager, or even about Nicklinson. Each of these are not offences by religion. They were all conducted by courts, government officials, and not by the church at all. Of course, that’s just the problem. Religion insinuates itself everywhere, and in these three situations the role of religion is paramount, even though it may look otherwise, and those who have commented on the these tragic stories note the part that religion plays in each of them.
In the Dominican Republic — some republic! — the laws governing abortion are carbon copies of the Catholic church’s belief that life is sacred from conception to natural death. Therefore, even saving a young woman’s life is irrelevant to the question whether she should be treated, even though she is pregnant. The right thing to have done would have been to abort the foetus immediately, without hesitation, and then to treat the young woman for leukemia. She would probably have survived. The foetus was, in this case, something that not only made her survival questionable; it was, in this context, a parasite upon the woman’s body. Just imagine all the grave discussions that were held – for twenty days! — over whether the young woman should be treated, even though it would likely mean the death of the foetus!!!!! That’s the church for you! It takes such things out of the hands of the individual who counts, and who should have been the one to make the decision, without prejudice, and puts it in the hands of stuffy officials who had no right to take the decision out of the hands of the individual whose life it was. When will the church learn that individuals count, and their decisions count, that their lives are at stake, and that, whatever else we want to say about foetuses, embryos, or what have you, they cannot defeat the decision of the woman in whose body they are growing. Call them anything you like, women should be allowed to remain in control of their own lives, and no government should take this right from them. The Roman Catholic Church cares not a whit for individuals and their lives. They deplore modernity and individualism, and they will do anything in their power to make sure that their rule extends over individuals.
The Anglican Church of Canada does the same thing, by the way, though it does not have the power to make its rules stick. It has taken a position that opposes the decision of the individual in cases where people are dying or are living with intolerable degenerative conditions. It would be, the church says, a failure of community to allow such people to receive aid in dying. In other words, according to the church’s official position — and though it is “only” a discussion document so far, it is the document that governs the church’s stand on this issue — when I accompanied my wife Elizabeth to Zürich where she received help to die — I abandoned her. That’s what “failure of community” means. And some people wonder why I refuse to step foot inside a church! To do so would be a betrayal, and so I never will — never!
The same thing goes for the Pussy Riot nonsense in Russia, a Russia which is reverting, true to form, to the autocracy of the Czars under the form of democracy, with the Russian Orthodox Church in close support. We are told that the Patriarch, Kirill, has asked for clemency, but that is just a bit of face-saving hypocrisy, and he knows it. As Nick Cohen points out in a comment in the Guardian this morning — well worth reading, by the way — “An evil collusion between a tyrant and a man of God” –
it is a mistake to dismiss Kirill’s support for Putin as simple cynicism. He believes in autocracy and hates liberalism as much as his predecessors did and Putin does. That Kirill is liberalism’s avowed enemy becomes clear from reading his Freedom and Responsibility: A Search for Harmony.
In other words, true to form, the Russian Orthodox Church is walking along the same path that has been travelled by the Vatican for so long — at least since Pius IX issued his Syllabus of Errors. These people hate liberalism and freedom. Autocrats themselves, they believe in autocratic government, as the government in the Dominican Republic is in respect of the reproductive rights of women. They want laws imposed on individuals to keep them in line. And they will, given the chance, team up with any other autocratic religious system in order to keep autocracy and theocracy safe from interference by individuals and their pesky rights.
Those who say, as though butter wouldn’t melt (as they say), that the new atheism is unnecessarily aggressive in its approach to religion, simply miss the point. The lines of battle are becoming much clearer day by day. It is the war of the ancients and the moderns all over again. The churches and other religions want to drag the world back to the halcyon days when they could murder people with abandon, and then sing a Te Deum after the massacre (as was done after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of French Huguenots).
Let’s not miss the point. It’s not only about the death of a teenager in the Dominican Republic, or the sentencing of punk rockers in Russia: it’s really about autocratic power, and the complicity between state and church, that makes these outrages possible, and increasingly probable as time goes on. A.C. Grayling commented that religion is dying, but that it may go through a characteristically bloody fling as it does. That may be a prescient observation. Large religions with a heavy investment in the truth of their beliefs, and in power over their members, do not simply fade away. They exert themselves that much more powerfully. When the pope made a “State Visit” to Britain in 2010, it was not just by mistake that he made a comparison between Hitler and the new atheism and relativism that he sees dominating European society. That was a deliberate play for power, and a warning to those religious believers who did not heed it. And yet the pope’s position opposing liberalism, and defending autocracy is arguably much more like the Nazis (that he brought into the conversation), than atheists and relativists are — though this should not be taken as agreement with the pope that relativism is as prevalent as he thinks.
The soft pedalling about the threat of Islamic violence is also, I believe, an aspect of the same trend of white-washing religion, and the suggestion that religion is, somehow, just waiting for the chance to redeem the chaos of liberalism from its ultimate failure. It must end it chaos, because only belief in god can prevent it. Any society that is not subject to the reign of god is bound to end in chaos and misrule. Every time the “pro-life” lobby rails against birth control, or abortion or assistance in dying, the implicit warning is there. Society is on a downward spiral into chaos and violence. All we have to do is to surrender to the god-ordained violence of theocracy, and everything will return to normal, people will be honest, faithful and true, and the world will be saved from disaster.
If you were reading carefully above, you will have noticed that Patriarch Kirill has written a book, published in England by the Roman Catholic publishing house of Darton, Longman and Todd. Its title is Freedom and Responsibility: A Search for Harmony, and its opening words (as Nick Cohen points out in his article) are these:
The most fundamental conflict of our present era is the clash between the liberal mode of civilisation on the one hand and national culture and religious identity on the other.
Make no mistake about it: religious nationalism is on the rise. If anyone, in this incipient conflict, is on the side of Hitler — it was Pope Ratzinger who made the connexion, not I — it is the Ratzingers and Kirills of the world. It is they who want to have control over the legislative agenda of the democracies, which would, of course, turn them into theocracies, just as they intend.
To a certain extent, I believe, this new resurgence of religion is due to the intermingling of the religions, and the new religious consciousness and zealous intensity that this has generated. The existence in Europe, America, Australasia, and elsewhere, of Muslim communities which take their religion with intense and literal seriousness, has produced an equal and opposite reaction from the heretofore toothless religion of the West. Rowan Williams, for example, in his attempt to keep the Anglican Communion together, has responded mainly to the demands of Third World Christianity, principally the Anglican churches of Africa, instead of to the more liberal tendencies that had become normative fare in the Western Church. He was concerned about the unity of the Communion, that is true, but he was also impressed by the zeal and faithful orthodoxy of those churches, which had drunk deep at the stream of European religion, but had evolved in conditions which did not permit them the luxury of liberalism and individualism, and it is this strain of Christianity which has had the greatest effect on the evolving priorities of the churches in Europe and America.
Yekaterina Samutsevich, one of the Pussy Rioters sentenced to two years hard labour, in her statement to the court (which you can read here), as Nick Cohen points out, sees the significance of the pact between church and government quite clearly:
The secular forces of oppression at Putin’s disposal were not enough for him, she said with remarkable lucidity given her perilous circumstances. He wanted “transcendental guarantees of his long tenure at the pinnacle of power” too. The Orthodox church, “associated with the heyday of imperial Russia, where power came not from earthly manifestations such as democratic elections and civil society, but from God Himself”, now gave credulous believers religious reasons to support the crime gang in the Kremlin.
What do you think the men in the Dominican Republic were considering for twenty days, before they offered to a young woman, now dead, the treatment that should have been provided for her immediately? They were talking in the context of complicity between church and state, and so, inevitably, the impact of the decision upon the church was uppermost in their minds. They must have decided — too late, as it happens — that the impact would not have been that serious. But, now that the Experanza Hernandez — we should call her by name — is dead, it should be abundantly clear to us what the priorities were, and who really counts in this game of churches and governments. And it is time, really time, that we started to keep up, because the church is way ahead of us, and is insinuating its power in places that we can only dream of influencing. If anyone really thinks the new atheism is aggressive, they really should keep a weather eye open for the real uses of power and aggression which are second nature to the religions. And they’ve had centuries of experience too. They know where power lies. It lies in frightening a bunch of people upon whom they continuously impose their delusions about life after death, god’s judgement, and other inanities — frightening them enough, so that they will bring of their wealth, and of their devotion, so that they should not perish, but have everlasting life. And all that wealth and devotion gives them the pass they need to walk the corridors of power. Now, that’s hooliganism!
Posted on 19 August 2012, in Abortion, Absolutism, Anglican, Archbishop of Canterbury, Assisted Dying, Autocracy, Autonomy, Cruelty, Danger of Religion, Death cult, Faith, Liberal Christianity, Misogyny, Monotheism, New Atheism, Pope, Roman Catholic Church. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.