Adventures in Catholic Morality – Nun Excommunicated for saving a life whilst Paedophile Priests are shielded from justice.

I was reminded of this slide which I’d come up with a while back when in the last week I helped organise a Counter-demonstration to defend reproductive rights in response to a nationwide series of anti-choice ‘kerbside vigils’ organised by SPUC the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. SPUC is supposedly a secular group but is utterly dominated by the Catholic Church which is whilst being a supposedly anti-abortion group it campaigns against condoms and gay marriage.

Then just a few days later came the news that Cardinal Brady the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland was refusing to resign after a BBC investigation revealed that in 1975 Brady, then a lowly priest, was sent by his Bishop to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by paedophile priest the Reverend Brendan Smyth. Brady interviewed Brendan Boland who was the first of Reverend Smyth’s many victims to appeal to the Church to end Reverend Smyth’s abuse. Brady interviewed Boland and was given a list of children Reverend Smyth was abusing, Brady swore Boland to silence and informed neither the police or the children’s parents. No action was taken against Reverend Smyth who with the assistance of Brady and the Church’s broader cover up continued to rape children till he was finally arrested in 1991.

Far from being excommunicated for his many crimes The Reverend Smyth was protected for decades by the church which did everything it could to silence his victims, whilst moving Reverend Smyth into new positions where he’d have access to more children to rape. In stark contrast in November 2009 Sister Margaret McBride, who was an administrator at a hospital, saved the life of a gravely ill 11 week pregnant woman by approving an abortion and was summarily excommunicated for doing so.

If the pregnancy had continued doctors warned there was “close to 100 percent” risk of the patient (who was incidentally incidentally a mother of 4) dying, this would obviously have resulted in the death of the foetus as well. For choosing one death over two and protecting four children who would otherwise have lost their mother Sister Margaret McBride was excommunicated. It would seem to the church that whilst ‘unborn children’ deserve protection actual children deserve protection from neither paedophile priests nor their parents needlessly dying.

Bishop Vernon Myer was excommunicated, not for raping children or enabling the rape of children but for taking part of the ordination of a woman!

Far from being excommunicated or in any way reprimanded for swearing victims of child rape to silence & not telling victims parents or the police about the active rapist in their midst Cardinal Brady’s career flourished.

You do have to wonder about the moral standing of an organisation which protects, enables and continues to employ paedophiles, promotes the protectors and enablers of paedophiles yet imposes it’s harshest penalties upon those who ordinate women and save the lives of dangerously ill pregnant women.

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What’s missing from these Anti-Choice logos?

On visiting the SPUC website (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) I was struck by their logo which reminded me of a passage in Janet Hadley’s excellent ‘Abortion – Between Freedom and Necessity’. In a section discussing the imagery used in the conflict over abortion she describes one of the effects of ultrasound:

 “In the screen’s grainy blur the foetus floats alone, like an astronaut in space: the woman is invisible, truly she has become nothing more than outerspace.”

I did a bit of googling and found a plethora of anti-choice groups for whom  “the woman [literally] is invisible”. To such organisations pregnant women don’t so much “become nothing more than outerspace” but nothing more than a bag of skin containing a foetus. The foetus is a person with all the rights that means, the pregnant woman has become a nothing, an unperson, at least when it comes to the basic right people have of exercising choice over what happens to their own body.

To be fair, by no means do all anti-choice groups use foetuses floating in space as their logos. Many use Christian iconography; cross, birds, Mary, saints, candles… A fair few have stylised words only, others show one or more adults and a baby or child. But remarkably few include the woman a foetus resides within, which is surprising as people must have been making this kind of criticism for decades now.

Some groups do include both the foetus and the woman:

In other circumstances I’d have started this paragraph by talking of ‘honourable exceptions’, but there’s nothing the least bit honourable about ‘Sidewalk Counseling’, the disgusting practice in which anti-choice zealots judge, harass, abuse, scream at and generally do everything they can to upset women entering family planning clinics. This is a vile campaigning tactic which prompted a justifiably enraged but admirably controlled husband to make a video of himself confronting ‘sidewalk counsellors’ who’d further upset his wife who was already distraught at learning that their much wanted baby had fused legs, no bladder or kidneys and would either be still born or die soon after birth if they continued with the pregnancy. Sadly, as with kerbside protests (about which more later), ‘Sidewalk Counselling’ has recently been exported to the UK from the US.

Some logos even go to the extent of showing something supporting the foetus, not the woman but god, or at least his hands. In these cases, they can’t even make the excuse of not showing the woman for the same of simplicity or clarity, no a deliberate decision has been made to completely remove her from the picture. ‘Pro-Life Artist’ Gary Clark seems to have a real fetish for this kind of thing. 

The strangest choice of imagery I came across was that made by ‘Democrats for life’ who included several babies in their banner and an adult couple but (not meaning to be harsh) a rather elderly one more likely to be pressuring their adult children to produce them some grandkids than to be in the need of an abortion.

This Saturday, SPUC (the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) are organising a nationwide series of American style kerbside protests against women’s right to control what happens to their own bodies. Loose coalitions of people who believe in women’s right to choose have got together across the country to organise counter-demonstrations. Details on SPUC protests and pro-choice counter demonstrations nationwide can be found at womensgrid, if you’re nearby one and can spare the time please drop by to help out.

Incidentally, the so called “Society for the Protection of Unborn children” don’t just want to end a woman’s right to choose. They also oppose pragmatic sex and relationship education in schools and contraception. These are policies which would drive up the number of unwanted ‘unborn children’ and demand for abortion, safe and legal or illegal, backstreet and unsafe. With such policies they should really be called ‘The Society for the Creation of Unwanted Unborn Children’.

SPUC also campaigns against fertility treatment and gay marriage!

If SPUC’s concern was really abortion they’d be campaigning for, not against, condoms and have nothing to say on gay marriage.  As broken down in this excellent post on Alas, if you look at the positions ‘pro-life’ people typically take, it’s evident they aren’t concerned with minimising and even ending abortion, but are on a religiously inspired mission to try and regulate and punish people for having sex.

Disclaimer: I make no claim to owning any of the images used in this post. They’re all used in what I understand to be a fair use manner for the purposes of comment and criticism.

The Daily Mail’s Self-Defeating War on Sexualisation – An Analysis

I don’t make a habit of reading the Daily Mail, in fact I only do so when a justifiably outraged friend has sent me a link to some unusually extreme and unpleasant bigotry, most recently the “Homosexuality IS a departure from the norm: We must beware of our civilisation being battered by the PC brigade” opinion piece which charmingly referred to homosexuality as “an aberration” and compared it to kleptomania and a propensity to violence. The article has since been pulled but can still be read here.

Whenever (against my better judgement) I do click on a link to the Mail, when I’m finished being annoyed by the proudly chauvinistic writing in question, I’m always struck by the profusion of wholly gratuitous images of women in states of undress down the right hand side of the screen. Whilst I’ve got nothing against photos of attractive women, the sheer abundance of them in the Mail seems rather incongruous given that when I encounter prominent Mail writers such as Melanie Philips, Richard Littlejohn and Peter Hitchens on the TV or Radio, they often as not seem to be railing against ‘the permissive society’ the ‘sexual revolution’, ‘sleaze’ and most recently ‘sexualisation’.

This incongruity is heightened by the way that ‘liberal media’ outlets such as the Guardian and the Independent that the Mail so likes to blame for everything just don’t have anything like as much female skin on display. Sure, rarely does a heat wave pass without the Guardian and the Independent printing a shot of a photogenic woman enjoying the sun in a bikini and so forth, but despite their rampantly ‘permissive’ ways when it comes to “outrageous” “raunchy” images of “starlets”, the liberal media can’t hold a candle to the Mail.

Vexed by this apparent hypocrisy I searched the Mail’s site for ‘sexualisation’ and got 619 hits. The ones I checked were almost without exception both consumed with anger at sexualisation and liberally illustrated with ‘sexualised’ images of attractive young women with little on in ‘provocative poses,’ to an extent that I really don’t think can be justified by the off chance that the readers have never seen an image of Rihanna, Beyonce, Britney Spears or some other female celebrity trying to look sexy. Of the articles I looked through the worst offender was:

Is this what they mean by the ‘sexualisation of teenagers’? Taylor Momsen whips her young fans into a frenzy with lewd act 

The ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ was simply outraged at “a raunchy show” performed by Taylor Momsen (who I must confess I’ve never heard of) in Barcelona the previous night. This expression of outrage was even more lavishly illustrated than usual with a scant 444 word article and 6 large images. I don’t mean to boast but I think I’d got a pretty good idea of what this concert was like and of Ms Momsen’s general appearance after a single photo, I’d certainly got the idea by the 2nd, so the following 4 really didn’t seem necessary.

I decided to do a little analysis of this article so screen capped the article and combined the images. Imported at 96dpi the entire body of the article ran to 133cm. Of this, 110cm (a not inconsiderable 82% of the body of the article) consisted of photos of Ms Momsen “herself only 17… gyrating on the lap of one of her fans as a group of half-dressed, similar aged girls were whipped into a frenzy behind her”.

As if that wasn’t enough, 60% of the huge number of articles (430cm worth) advertised with large thumbnails down the right side of the page, far beyond the end of the article, appeared to be sexual in nature. 88% of these seemed little more than flimsy excuses to show gratuitous photos of A to Z list celebrity women, the subject of the article often as not seemingly how sexually attractive the ‘starlet’ in question was or involving sex in some manner:

Carol Vorderman has worn the same dress more than once! If that isn’t an excuse for lots of leering photos what is?

6% of the articles seemed feeble excuses to show photos of attractive male celebrities.

Another 6% were about sex in some way but the thumbnails at least didn’t heavily feature ‘sexualised’ images.

Below is a shrunken image of the entire page. I’ve highlighted the ‘sexualised’ images of Taylor Momsen & other women in red, men in blue and articles about sex but without ‘sexualised’ images are highlighted in black, to give you some idea of just how much of this fine upstanding paper is given over to the very thing it campaigns against.

Another article;Sexualisation of our children is a crime that is endemic in our celebrity commercial culturecontained the photo on the right with the following caption:

“Endemic: A Gucci Fashion advert, showing a half naked man, run in magazines, many of which are aimed at or accessible by children”

It’s a good job that Mail readers always lock their papers safely away from their kids and that you have to prove you’re over the age of 18 before you can browse the Mail’s website otherwise that complaint would seem somewhat lacking in self-awareness.

Given the Mail’s habit of not only wrapping itself in the flag but increasingly bearing a cross (with all its whining about the supposed “war on Christianity”) you’d have hoped that the thought might have occurred to someone on the Mail’s staff that they were getting perilously close to one of those mote in the eye situations warned of in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 7:1-5 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

But of course, as with all that is said in the bible about economic justice – rich men, heaven, camels, the eyes of needles and so forth – such passages are of no interest to the modern day champions of Christianity. No, apparently to them preventing civil marriage for homosexuals, about whom Jesus never so much as speaks a word in the bible, is what really matters.

The death of innocence: How the crude sexualisation of pop music, TV and fashion is destroying childhood” warns:

“As children we quickly picked up that, for a woman, being thin and beautiful equals sexy and successful. In our lifetimes, we’ve seen the explosion of reality stars, WAGs and manufactured girl bands who have sent out the message that you can be rich and famous without an iota of talent.

As these celebrities have racked up continuous attention and impressive wealth — which reality TV has made seem within the grasp of everybody — have we also signed up to the idea that our daughters need to look a certain way to get on in life? …

From the moment our girls recognise their reflections in a mirror, we need to start teaching them beauty is a small part of what they are, not who they are. If we don’t, the price is high for our girls. We will be letting them fall into the traps today’s society has laid for them.

Eating disorders, self-harm, depression, casual meaningless sex, teen pregnancy and under-age drinking are just some of the side effects when girls judge themselves only by their appearance and sexual experience.”

All that said with images of “reality stars, WAGs and manufactured girl bands” and older stars being judged upon their fading looks down the side of the screen.

It’s like being given a lecture on the evils of deficit spending by Gordon Brown. The anguished author of that piece goes on to warn:

“As the first gatekeepers who most influence our children’s values, attitudes and aspirations, we also have to look to ourselves to work out how it reached this state of affairs.”

If you’re truly worried about this stuff and you read the Mail then perhaps you might like to consider if that’s a factor.

Notice the Difference – Kim Jong-il & Jesus

The details about supposed magical powers and so forth are intended to be just a bit of fun but there is a serious point to this which is that the central message of Jesus as set out in the gospels of ‘worship me or burn in hell’ is essentially the same as that of North Korea’s Kim dynasty. Yet strangely many people who rightfully condemn temporal dictators for demanding love and obedience on pain of torture seem to find the same behaviour from a celestial dictator both admirable and just.

The principle difference between the two is that you can escape the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by dying whereas if the bible is to be believed Jesus has eternal, inescapable torture waiting for those who fail to worship him.  For all the intolerance and brutality of the Old Testament it took Jesus and the New Testament to introduce the repugnant concept of infinite torture as a punishment for finite thought crime.

Hitchens of course used to make much the same argument in fact when I posted this on reddit Keoni9 found a video of him doing so with his usual eloquence.

The pro-Islamist left on Zionism and Islam – a study in double standards.

I recently gave a talk to the local Student Atheist society on the subject ‘Is it racist to criticise Islam’.  A title inspired by the seemingly inevitable accusations of racism a consistent atheist can expect to receive if they stray from Christianity and critique Islam. This brought forth a far from unexpected storm of accusations of racism and inciting violence from Muslims and the pro-Islamist left. Such as:

Assorted meetings critiquing; Christianity, Catholicism, Religion in general, Scientology… elicited barely a murmur of complaint yet when the Atheist Society dared have a meeting on Islam the floodgates opened.

The reasoning would seem to be: Muslims are a minority in the west, a minority which experiences some discrimination is subjected to crude abuse by the far right and even violent attacks. Therefore any and all criticism of Islam is racist and contributes to violence against Muslims.

As it happens this is by no means the first time that people have falsely accused me of bigotry and inciting violence in an attempt to try and cow me into silence. Back when I was at Uni I was chair of the Palestine Society and we were regularly accused of being ‘anti-semitic’ and ‘contributing to anti-semitic violence’ simply for arguing that Palestinians are people who should have their basic human rights respected.

The reasoning behind these attacks followed a similar pattern: Jews are a minority in the west, a minority which experiences some discrimination is subjected to crude abuse by the far right and even violent attacks. Therefore any and all criticism of Zionism is anti-semitic and contributes to violence against Jewish people.

Back then no Muslims or members of the far left seemed to find this logic convincing. They would nod when I pointed out that it’s perfectly possible to critique the ideas contained within the ideology of Zionism the ethnic cleansing and other abuses of human rights being carried out by true believing Zionists without being motivated by anti-semitism or contributing to anti-semitism.

Muslims and members of the left  in the audience also tended to agree when I pointed out that by no means are all Jews Zionists and that in fact most Zionists aren’t Jewish at all but American Christians (who’re ironically often rather anti-semitic) who want all the Jews in the world to return to Israel to kick start the 2nd coming.

Members of the left and Muslims would concur when I argued that the undoubted existence of crude anti-semitic attacks upon Jews in general and the state of Israel didn’t automatically render any and all criticism of Zionism as anti-semitic. They would further agree when I argued that cynically using the term ‘anti-semite’ as a weapon to try and frighten people into silence was eroding the power of the term ‘anti-semite’ that could backfire in the future.

Overall there seemed to be a general acceptance from Muslims and members of the left at meetings I spoke at that criticism of an ideology, in this case Zionism, isn’t the same thing as inciting hatred against people who subscribe to that ideology.

Yet strangely for some Muslims and members of the far left this ability to differentiate between an ideology and people seems completely absent when it comes to Islam and Muslims.

That double standard aside the way in which unequivocal condemnations of the EDL were interpreted as support for the EDL was rather perplexing, as was the odd accusation that:

 “your stupid meeting is a racist fest. You are racist, pretending to be humanists. You have no idea what atheism means”

As if the society members had been organising meetings upon Atheism, Christianity, Catholicism, the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal, Scientology. Creationism… for all this time as a rather convoluted cover to one day launch a racist attack upon Muslims under the cover of atheism.

Another thing I found a little confusing was the way in which the Student Broad Left & Socialist Action members kept on making specific attacks on the meeting in blissful ignorance of the actual contents of the talk:

“the argument is that the Atheist society presents Islam (not even certain Muslim clerics…) as almost the sole source of oppression against the LGBT community. I’d say it has the least influence.”

“This meeting assumes there is no debate and disagreement amongst Muslims about the many interpretations of Islam.”

Now I tend not to make detailed attacks upon a talk, article, book, film… until I’ve gone to the trouble of hearing/reading/watching it. Sure it takes a little more effort than condemning what you imagine what the content might be but even so I think that effort is worth it. It would seem Socialist Action/Student Broad Left have no time for such niceties.

If SA/SBL members actually cared about evidence they’d have spent a little time researching the society they were attacking and learnt that  the Atheist Society has long standing critiques of the homophobia of many faiths & particularly the Christian Churches campaigning against gay marriage and that the talk included passages such as this:

“When critiquing minority faiths we have a particular responsibility to be clear of the range of beliefs encompassed within that faith. Most Brits know atleast a few Christians and so they know that the “God Hates Fags” crowd for example are not typical Christians. Whereas they may well not know any Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims… to provide a counterexample. This doesn’t mean that we can’t critique religions other than Christianity, it just means we have to take additional care when doing so.”

Given that such intemperate attacks were a major motivation to hold the meeting in the first place the abuse we received for daring to hold such a meeting is sadly only to be expected. This doesn’t make the way in which some muslims and members of the pro-Islamist left are so determined to cry wolf and throw around accusations of racism to try and bully people into silence in such a cavalier manner any less depressing though.

Are “militant atheists” the new camp homosexuals?

Richard Dawkins

Before I go any further I want to be clear what I am and am not comparing with this analogy. What I’m comparing is the role ‘new atheists’ are playing in creating a cultural space for other atheists to openly operate in. What I’m not doing is trying to equate the discrimination & prejudice faced by atheists with that homosexuals face, so far as I can tell homosexuals not only face significantly more prejudice but for obvious reasons homosexuals who feel the need to remain closeted pay a much higher price in terms of unfulfilled lives than atheists do.

Now I’ve clarified what I’m definitely not trying to say I’ll move onto the point I am trying to make. Camp icons such as Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey rose to prominence in the decades before the initial partial liberalisation of the law on homosexuality in 1967. John Inman and Larry Grayson found fame post 67 but in a time when homosexuals were still subject to much legal discrimination and informal prejudice.

Such camp stars, even when not openly gay, played a significant role in humanising and normalising homosexuals for millions of people who didn’t know any ‘out’ homosexuals. In the process of doing so they outraged and offended many, often simply by being somewhat open about their sexualty. Aside from the expected bigots, they also offended some homosexuals who argued that they reinforced harmful gay stereotypes. That may well to some extent be true but it’s difficult to see how without such wildly popular, primetime stars taboos surrounding positive, or at least neutral, portrayals of homosexuals could have been broken.

Camp figures such as Graham Norton, Julian Clary and Paul O’Grady are still very much a fixture on British TV but significantly so are numerous homosexual presenters who aren’t in the least bit camp, and characters on soaps and other shows who are not only not camp but who just happen to be gay, without the need being felt for it to be a major issue on the show.

It seems to me that in many ways trailblazing atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris have played and, the sadly departed Hitch aside, are still playing a similar role for atheism that icons of camp played for homosexuality. They’ve broken down taboos in the process, receiving lots of positive and negative reaction. They are habitually accused of being ‘strident’, ‘shrill’, ‘militant’, ‘extreme’ and even ‘totalitarian’. As with camp homosexuals some of this criticism comes from more understated atheists who accuse ‘new atheists’ of perpetuating and even generating negative stereotypes.

Alain de Botton with his Atheism 2.0 is perhaps a good example of this, he’s highly critical of Richard Dawkins yet doesn’t seem to acknowledge that his “Atheism 2.0” is attempting to occupy cultural space Dawkins, Hitchens and others worked so hard to open up.

My knowledge of ‘light entertainment’ in the US is minimal so other than Liberace I’m not aware of any camp figures who may have played an equivalent role to that of Williams and Inman here so I don’t know if this aspect of the analogy works. However such is the prejudice against atheists in much of the US that in many ways the equivalence with homosexuality is stronger, the Out Campaign is an explicit recognition by atheists of this.

Unduly critical of new atheists as I think they are, I regard the likes of de Botton’s Atheism 2.0 as a generally good thing. Just as most homosexuals aren’t camp and may even dislike camp there’s no reason to think all atheists should be happy with the new ntheists’ joyous rejection of religion and upfront opposition to it. Plenty of atheists seem to rather mourn their realisation that there’s no good reason to believe in god/s, they still like their myths and find meaning and comfort in them even though they now recognize them to be myths.  I just wish Atheism 2.0ers would ease up on the criticism of camp/new atheists a little and give them a little appreciation for all the hard work they’ve done and all the increasingly desperate personal attacks they’ve weathered.

Adventures in Catholic Morality #1 Communism and Fascism

Adventure in Catholic Morality #1 Communism and Fascism