I had originally intended for this blog entry to be a philosophical exploration of the differences and similarities between liberal, moderate, and extremist religious belief. Hopefully, I’ll still be able to illustrate one of my points successfully, but in light of recent current events, feigning the role of uninvolved bystander just won’t work.
We all know what this is about, right? We have a problem with the Catholic Church, and be “we,” I mean every literate human in the Western World. Let’s take religion out of the equation for a minute. We have an organized international business conglomerate that has been systematically letting its CEOs and regional managers get away with child molestation — for decades. Rather than assist authorities in bringing these abusers to justice, the president of the entire company has been signing off on company policy documents authorizing the reassignment of pedophiles to new territories where they will be immune from prosecution. He’s been defending the offenders — for the good of the company! He’s said it in as many words.
Is there a precedent for U.S. response to such a human rights violation? It turns out, there is. In 2005, The United States signed the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Granted, trafficking in human slaves is different from raping children, but the bar has still been set. The U.S., at least in principle, is opposed to human rights violations against women and children, and is willing to go on international record as supporting and assisting in the capture and prosecution of those who engage in organized and systematic violations.
What Defines Extremism?
We humans have problems with words. We often get caught in semantic arguments — as much to save face as to arrive at the truth. Is it fair to say that the Catholic Church is an extremist organization? On the face of it, many people are hesitant to say it is. After all, there are millions of Catholics in the world who don’t buy into a lot of the extremist dogma espoused by the Roman Pontiff. They don’t rape children. They use condoms when having consensual sex with adults. They voted for Obama. They’re opposed (in principle) to excluding the entire gay population from basic rights.
I suggest that it’s wrong to conflate “Catholics” with “The Catholic Church.” I’ll even go one further. It’s wrong to conflate “All Catholic Churches in the World” with “The Powerful Churches Supported by the Vatican.” Speaking of Catholicism as if it encompasses all aspects of the religion and culture it represents is vague to the point of being meaningless. But it’s time that we start drawing distinctions and following the logic wherever it leads. We cannot — for the sake of thousands, maybe tens of thousands of children — afford to keep pulling the wool over our own eyes.
Let’s go back to the scenario I described at the beginning. There’s a multinational corporation actively engaged in organized child molestation. Let’s call it… AT&T. Suppose the news hit the air tomorrow that AT&T had been moving executives around to facilitate the continued raping of children all over the world. What do you suppose would be the reaction of AT&T stockholders? Do you imagine that the company’s future might be in serious jeopardy? Would there be an international investigation? Would the U.S. government actively prosecute American citizens who had been involved in the cover-up?
In fairness, there’d probably be some nefarious activity at the highest levels. We’ve learned from Enron and similar company scandals that there are deals to be made. Arthur Anderson was guilty of facilitating fraud on a grand scale, but the Supreme Court threw the conviction out in 2005. But the broader point that I’d like to make here is that regardless of the government’s aid and abetment, Arthur Anderson and Enron are has-beens. Nobody will hire Anderson, and nobody will invest in Enron.
The broad point remains. Religion being cast aside, the international community would not stand for the crimes committed by the Holy See. What’s more — and more to the point — we wouldn’t continue to see dogged, blind support for the pope and his entourage of sociopath pedophile bishops and priests. Much like investors in Enron, the faithful would sell their stock and find a company that was producing profitable returns on investment.
Richard Dawkins Wants the Pope Arrested
This shouldn’t be big news by now. Dawkins and Hitchens have hired hot-shot legal eagles in the UK to find the precedents and legal justification for arresting the Pope when he arrives on British soil. And by rights, they’re correct for wanting him arrested. Augusto Pinochet was arrested in Great Britain, and he was a former head of state. It’s arguable that the Pope isn’t even that. The Vatican isn’t recognized as an official state. It’s gray area.
But curiously, most of the Catholics I have heard from on the issue are against Dawkins. Why?
Judging from their own words, I have to say there are two reasons. First, he’s an atheist. Second, they’re still loyal to the Catholic Church. Both of these justifications speak to me of extremism. I’ll address each individually.
- Party Loyalty — Party loyalty over human rights is extremism. I can’t think of any other way to put it. When Republicans vote en masse for the exclusion of gays from Constitutional protection, I see extremism. When they automatically vote against any Democratic nominee for Supreme Court, I see extremism. When they bluster and shout about “Death Panels” during attempts at reforming an obviously broken health system… extremism.
- Atheism — How is it any less extreme when Richard Dawkins is shouted down for being correct while being a member of the “wrong party”? Yes, he’s an atheist. But he’s right. The pope deserves to be arrested, and if we removed religion from the picture, there wouldn’t be any question on the matter. Whenever we are standing against people who we agree with in principle, but disagree with on party lines, we are being extremist.
Religion’s Hold on The Group Conscience
I want to be very careful here, lest my detractors accuse me of speaking without scientific backing. Without being so bold as to assert cause and effect, I’d like to point out that there are hundreds — thousands — of ways to be a Christian. The Catholic Church is far from a monopoly when it comes to belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, in the same way that there are thousands of companies in the world in the electricity and natural gas industry. When Enron turned out to be a lemon, virtually all of its public shareholders jumped ship. Many, perhaps most of them, went to competitor companies with whatever money they had left. And that’s the logical response.
But that’s not happening, at least not on any grand scale, with the Catholic Church. Instead, commentators are blasting us skeptics, humanists, and atheists for suggesting that anything be done about the Church’s crimes against humanity. Some moderates (forgive me for being harsh) are quietly skulking away so as not to appear culpable, but they’re not really doing very much if anything to call for an investigation. They’re not going in front of their former congregations and encouraging them to find other more humane ways to worship Jesus. They’re just quietly stepping out the door and hoping nobody noticed they were ever there. It’s too risky to stand up against the church, and anyway, someone else will do it. It’s someone else’s problem.
By comparison, Enron investors were screaming for federal intervention, for class action lawsuits, for jail sentences. Sure, some of them just quietly took their losses, but for the most part, everybody was really mad about it and publicly demanded justice. It was on the news every night for months, and I don’t mean that it was tucked away on page five of the paper. It was front page, lead story news, and we couldn’t get enough of it.
Can you imagine what would happen if millions — literally millions — of Catholics all over the world stood up together? “We will not be a part of this kind of crime against humanity. This church does not represent good human values anymore. It’s corrupt and evil, and is using its vast financial resources and public influence to grant itself immunity from even the worst of human rights violations — crimes against children. We demand justice, and we will no longer give our money to the Church until justice is served.”
Then again, Enron investors were not under the belief that they could only invest in Enron, and that if they invested in any other company, they’d lose their entire fortune. I wonder if that has anything to do with the dogged support for an obvious international criminal. I wonder if there’s any effect whatsoever when millions of barely literate people all over the world continue to drop their pennies into the church coffers for fear of upsetting the creator of the universe. Is it possible that people are reacting differently to a religious criminal crisis than they would a corporate criminal crisis?
I wonder what the streets will look like when the Pope visits Great Britain. Do you suppose there will be mobs of angry protesters throwing eggs, shouting down His Holiness, and screaming for the police to step in and arrest him? Or do you think there will be mobs of faithful, crying and thanking him for granting the privilege of his Holy Aura to the people of England? Oh, I suppose there will be protesters. But on balance, do you think they’ll outnumber the faithful?
Don’t count on it.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I think it’s fair to call the Catholic Church a bunch of extremists. From the top down, the organization doesn’t function according to human conscience and rationale the way other international conglomerates do. When there’s a scandal, the majority of the faithful side with the church, despite all the evidence. We freethinkers, atheists, and skeptics are up in arms about this. We think that powerful officials who facilitate systematic, worldwide raping of children ought to be punished. We have pity on the children, and though we feel sorry for the millions of Catholics who have invested their money, time, and energy in the Church, we believe justice ought to be done. We cannot tolerate these crimes against children.
And instead of being praised for standing up for children, we get blasted for being reactionaries. We are accused of being “angry at God.” We’re accused of trying to further our own agenda.
Well you know what? Fuck you. Yeah. I said it. Fuck you. All of you who are saying those things about me and mine. I care enough about my fellow humans to demand justice for those who are even now abusing the most defenseless of them. And you can go fuck yourself for vilifying me while you keep sending your checks to the former Hitler Youth who says condoms cause AIDS and who supports pedophiles.
Yes. I’m angry. And damn well I should be. And you should be too. Now get off your pious asses and do something productive for humanity. Jesus will respect you for it, and he won’t be mad if you skip church for a while.