Eternal Mendacity of the Religious Mind

There is, it seems, no limit to the utter mendacity of the religious mind when bent on self-justification, as the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy O’Connor so neatly demonstrates:

Two months ago I was in Zimbabwe, to see for myself the desperate situation of so many people and to offer my support and solidarity. It was a deeply moving experience. Many of those living with HIV/Aids are now too malnourished to take the drugs they need, though they have them. I asked Sister Margaret McAllen, director of an Aids programme in Harare, what she could do. She replied: “How can we give hope to people in such a desperate situation? Through love. Change comes through love.” Sister Margaret may sound like a romantic, but I know she is a very practical realist. Her faith is no obstacle to facing the most horrendous facts: it is a resource with which to change them.

Sorry?

I’ll get to the HIV/AIDS thing in a minute but did this guy just suggest that a ‘practical realist’ faced with people who are too malnourished to take their meds would suggest giving them ‘hope’, ‘love’ and ‘change’?

You’ll forgive me for being a little prosaic here but it sounds very much like a fucking meal or two wouldn’t go amiss either, if you can spare the time in between pitching them all the bullshit about hope and love.

And what all this crap about ‘change’ – what kind of fucking ‘change’ are we talking about here. Let’s face it, if the poor bastards are too malnourished to take their HIV meds then it sounds doubtful that they could manage to change their fucking underwear let alone anything else, never mind that hope looks pretty much off the menu as well when you get into that state, unless you’re hoping for a nice swift bout of pneumonia to finish the job that the HIV virus started as quickly as possible.

Okay, so its actually fairly obvious what the gig here is, ‘hope’ is the hope that these poor vulnerable sods will swallow the church’s usual line of bullshit about god, heaven and all the assorting bollocks that goes with it and sign up for the Pope after-life programme, without or without the Mother Teresa™ course in understanding how suffering is good for the soul because it brings a deeper understanding of Christ suffering on the cross.

Funny that… if MT™ was that keen on understanding that kind of suffering then how she never got around to volunteering to be nailed to a fucking tree?

This simple reality belies the caricature of the Catholic church as some heartless, insular institution that wants to deny people their freedom.

Fuck me, it this twat fucking serious?

No, of course the Catholic Church isn’t a heartless insular institution that wants to deny people their freedom… its a heartless insular institution that wants to deny people access to a simple latex prophylactic device called a condom, the use of which can prevent them ending up too ill to get away from senile twats in penguin outfits and their incessant stream of bullshit about the joys of an after-life that doesn’t exist

It is a distortion intended to persuade us that the church has no constructive role to play in our society.

I think the Church does a fine job of persuading us of that already, without getting any extra help.

It sees religious belief as mere prejudice while failing to recognise the doctrinaire nature of its own position. The tradition I belong to has a deep and distinguished history of reason. It is passionately concerned about the truth. After all, it was Christ who said: “The truth will make you free.”

Smart lad, that Jesus fella… the truth is that there is no god of any description and once you understand that you are then free of any obligation to treat twats likes this with anything other than utter derision.

This is why I believe that freedom of belief, openness to its arguments and respect for the insights it brings is a critical resource for our society.

Freedom of belief? Sure I can go for that, after all I’m under no obligation to protect anyone (offspring excluded) from their own fucking gullibility.

Openness to arguments? Sure… when you come up with one that worth considering then I’m game, although I do have say that you’re not making too good a fist of that one at the moment.

Respect for its ‘insights’? Into what exactly? Again, I’m game if you can come with something useful here but you are still really struggling.

If you see the church only as an institution then you miss its secret. Its secret is love.

Sure, I get what your saying… for god’s sake don’t mention the altar boys.

That is why it has survived for 2,000 years and still speaks through the faith of 1.3 billion people.

So PT Barnum was right – there is a sucker born every minute.

Yes, it is true that history shows how often the church can forget what it is.

Oh right… so all that not quite so love based stuff like the Crusades and the Inquisition was just a bout of temporary amnesia, was it?

But time and time again, history also shows the church rediscovering its own secret.

Sure, I suppose someone must think of checking down the back of the Pope’s sofa every once in a while.

Often when the politicians have forgotten and the aid workers have gone to the next emergency, it will be the church, the women and men of faith, who continue to work on.

Oh come on, you’ll be telling me next that St Peter’s got you all on piece rates.

In such a church you learn that the greatest freedom comes in the service of others.

No. can’t say I buy that one. The way I see it, one of the greatest freedoms comes from not believing in the existence of god and, therefore, being able to enjoy life and the world around us without having to worry about any of this hoodoo bullshit you’re peddling.

I believe this contains insights into the wellbeing of our society because it takes us to the core of our relationships.

Really?

And at the heart of these is the family.

Oh fuck… here we go…

Our society has embarked upon a massive social experiment regarding the family and how we understand it.

You mean that some of us have decided we’d be better off figuring this whole family thing out for ourselves rather than relying on you lot.

The fragmentation of the family and the loss of the relationships and continuities between the generations is, I believe, part of the social and personal disorientation that so many people experience.

And?

I know the pressures many parents and children face in trying to hold things together.

Said the unmarried, [presumably] celibate cleric…

I am filled with admiration for the generosity and sacrifices I see people make every day. Here is an extraordinary “ordinary” experience which is a deep well of goodness for the whole of our society.

Stop grovelling and get to the point…

Not to cherish it or give it the social, economic and legal support it needs seems to me to be damaging to our present and future good. We cannot do this unless we have a clear, deep and secure vision of what it is to be a human.

I don’t know much about this cherishing malarky but when it comes to giving the family some social, economic and legal support then we’ve got things like parliament, and economy and a judiciary to do all that.

This is where love is inseparable from truth, the deep truth about who we are and that which gives meaning and lasting value to life.

You know, for a minute there I thought he working his way up to talking about ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ before coming out of the closet… but he’s just spinning out more of the same bollocks as before.

The church’s vision of what it is to be human cannot be eroded by political systems, social status, or economic variables. It is grounded in a vision of the human person that can resist all reductive arguments and political strategies that undermine it.

[Sticks fingers in ears and says LA LA LA LA LA very loudly at the first mention of science]

From this, too, springs an understanding of our freedom.

Okay let’s hear it.

Freedom is not simply a capacity to do whatever we want, when we want, as we want: that benefits only the fittest and the most powerful.

Okay, so its not that.

Nor is freedom just a political or social construct.

Fine, I’ll cross that off the list of possibilities as well.

It belongs to our essence as moral persons, and cannot be divorced from our purpose as human beings.

You seem to be drifting here a little. Yes its nice to know that freedom ‘belongs to our essence as moral persons’ but you still haven’t got around to saying what it is.

It carries with it a deep responsibility for others and for the world in which we live.

Yeah, we seem to be prevaricating a bit here over the business of what freedom is… are you planning to get the point any time soon?

Only the cultivation of such a moral solidarity will galvanise the political will needed to confront the emerging global environmental crisis.

So now we’re past playing for time and into non-sequiteurs are we. You know, I’m beginning to wonder if this idiot actually has idea of what freedom is?

A society that does not see this, that makes absolute individual autonomy, does not guarantee our freedom. It destroys it.

And it looks like I’m right.

We know what it isn’t.

We know we have it as part of our ‘essence’.

It brings great responsibility and has something vaguely to do with global warming.

And it’s allegedly destroyed by individual autonomy.

Fuck me, this is turning into ‘Riddles with Gollum’ – is it Eggsses and do you keep it in your pocketses?

It is in this spirit, too, that I have called for MPs to be given a free vote on the human fertilisation and embryology bill.

So that Catholic MPs can be ‘free’ to vote as the Catholic Church, sorry, their conscience demands.

I believe we need solid values and a vision that inspires us. Could the church have a contribution to make in helping to find the moral and intellectual resources to map another way?

Not on the evidence of this screed, no.

TS Eliot once observed that it was a dangerous inversion to advocate Christianity not because of its truth, but because of its benefit.

He also wrote poems about anthropomorphic cats, so your point here is?

In the end it does come down to this – not just the truth about God but the truth about what it is to be human. This is why I wonder if there is not a lie that lurks in the appeal of an atheistic secularism. It is not its attacks on religion that gives me pause for thought, but its vision of what is human. It says that this is all we are, this is it! We have no significant purpose; we’re merely chance products of material processes.

Actually, there’s rather more to the Neo-Darwinian synthesis than just chance and its not just a matter of material processes, its the fact that evolution is an algorithmic process that makes all the difference but at least we’ve actually got to something approximating an insight – not into ‘atheistic secularism’ but into what really burns the clerical classes about modern atheism, the kind that deeply rooted in an understanding of the implications of evolution.

You see what really pisses on the prelate’s chips here is not just the idea that god doesn’t exist but the idea that god – as a concept – is completely irrelevant. That’s the real kicker for the god squad in all this, the fact that through an unattended algorithmic process over billions of years what has emerged is a sentient, purposive species, dear old homo sapiens sapiens, one that has the capacity if not the innate inclination to define, at the individual level, its own sense of what it regards as amounting to a ‘significant purpose’.

My whole life is full of significant purposes – right this very minute my purpose is the finish ripping this twat of a Catholic bishop to pieces, after which I think I’ll have a cup of coffee and maybe a bit of a snack.

I’ve got a family – partner and two kids – and they provide more than enough significant purposes to keep me going and when I done the usual dad things tonight I’ll probably sit down and read for bit, maybe a book, maybe I’ll just hit the blogs and see what’s cooking.

Now that’s freedom, the freedom to decide what my purpose is at any given moment in time and which purposes I consider to be significant or maybe not so significant and not one single shred of any of that has the slightest thing to do with either god or  some twat who claims the authority to speak on the behalf of whatever abstract brand of sky fairy they prefer to peddle.

That’s what burns here, the fact that I get to decide what my purpose is, not a non-existent god and certainly not a member of the clerical classes.

I believe we do have a purpose; that we are made for greater things.

Well that’s your idea of purpose, not mine, and you’re welcome to it.

Atheistic secularism ultimately diminishes us; it kills the human spirit under the pretence of liberating it.

I don’t about atheism killing the human spirit, but its definitely killing my morning having to wade through this crap.

Our democracy is too precious and costly a gift to be narrated by this version of the secular alone.

Says the man who belongs to an organisation with 1.3 billion ‘members’ of whom about 120 voters get a vote on the next boss when the previous one dies. Somehow I think I’ll start taking lectures on democracy from a cardinal at about the same time at around the same time I start taking advice on cellar renovations from Fred West.

I want to keep alive the church’s vision of humanity which is part of the truth it carries.

Well yes, as your job does rather depend on it, you would wouldn’t you.

It belongs not just to Catholics or to Christians but to us all.

Actually, you can keep it.

If we can start from this truth then I believe we can discover a real freedom to do things differently and to find that other way. This is part of my Christian faith; it is my hope.

I told you to stay away from the senile old bat in the penguin outfit but would you listen..?

No, of course you wouldn’t.

—–

After all that piss-taking, the serious point here is that O’Connor notion of ‘freedom’, which he fails to explain other than in the context of ‘service to others’ is the old Stoic conception of freedom, which was perhaps most succinctly illustrated by Epictetus:

Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one’s desires, but by the removal of desire.

That’s the Catholic definition of freedom that O’Connor was dancing around earlier without ever having the courage to come right out and call it for what it is. Freedom is a state of self-denial and self-abnegation; an unthinking, unquestioning surrender to a supposedly ‘higher’ purpose that isn’t your own.

And O’Connor has the nerve to accuse ‘atheistic secularism’ of ‘killing the human spirit’ when what atheism has to say on the subject of purpose is that as human beings we possess the natural capacity and inclination for finding purposes of our own.

That’s O’Connor’s brand of freedom, mine is nicely summed up by this quotation, from the liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin.

Those who have ever valued liberty for its own sake believed that to be free to choose, and not to be chosen for, is an unalienable ingredient in what makes human beings human.

  • Richard T

    Call me simplistic but any Minister (or MP for that matter) who does what the Roman Catholic hierarchy tells them isn’t fit to be in office.

  • Cracking title, Unity.

  • John Lilburne

    “Eternal damnation awaits anyone that questions God’s infinite love.” – Bill Hicks