Posts Tagged ‘holocaust’

Richard Dawkins and P Z Myers versus Pope Pius XII

23/03/2010

Following recent comments by two of the World’s most outspoken atheists, manicstreetpreacher thinks a reassessment of the silent Pope is in order.

I have a morbid fascination with the figure of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII.  I confess that the only full-length biography I have read is John Cornwell’s controversial Hitler’s Pope, which has been so heavily criticised that even the author no longer stands by all of its claims.

I am currently researching and writing an epic post about the role of the Church and religion in the rise of fascism (so epic, that it might have to be an entire book!), and I really need to read a more sympathetic account of Pacelli.  I have read Sacred Causes by Christian historian Michael Burleigh which references a few Pius defenders such as Mississippi law professor Ronald Rychlak and Rabbi David Dalin.

The best defence anyone has been able to advance is that Pacelli’s scope for action was severely limited.  Hindsight is the cheapest form of wisdom.  Perhaps Pius XII would have inspired a mass uprising against the forces of darkness that had overwhelmed Europe by publically opposing Hitler.  By the same token, his actions could have backfired with the consequences for Europe’s population better left imagined than described.

Here is Richard Dawkins referring to Pius XII as “Pope… Nazi” at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention held in Melbourne, Australia earlier this month while commenting on the Vatican’s procedure of canonising saints.

The press widely construed Dawkins as referring to the current holder of St Peter’s keys, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI.  While growing up in Germany, Ratzinger was drafted into the Hitler Youth along with practically all other German boys when he was too young to understand the full implications of what he was being ordered to do.  Even the most virulent opponent of the Vatican would be punching below the belt to take this as evidence that Ratzinger supported Nazism.  Although the next photo is hardly something you want left on your Facebook profile.

In fact, Dawkins was referencing Pius XII, the man who while the Vatican’s Secretary of State concluded concordats with practically every fascist regime in Europe, including the 1929 Lateran Pact with Benito Mussolini of Italy and the 1933 Reichskonkordat with Adolf Hitler’s German Wehrmacht Republic.  These treaties, which incidentally were the first agreements signed respectively by both dictators upon taking power, guaranteed the Church’s total withdrawal from politics, embodied by the dissolution of the German Catholic Centre Party, a source of effective opposition to National Socialism, in return for control of state education and other ameliorations.

As if that wasn’t enough, Pius XII notoriously remained silence in public about the Holocaust, despite constant and reliable intelligence of the atrocities committed against the Jews.  This was only one in a whole litany of sins for which atonement was begged by the former pontiff, John Paul II, during a papacy largely defined by repeated requests for forgiveness.

Perhaps sceptics are being too hard on Pacelli.  Perhaps they are using him as a pawn in their private war against the parties of God.  Perhaps his back really was up against a wall.  Perhaps public condemnation of Hitler would have been foolhardy and lead only to Nazi aggression being redirected towards Catholics.  Perhaps he achieved more by remaining silent in public and while waging a “secret war” against the Führer.  The figures I’ve read for the number of Jews that the Vatican saved during the War range from half a million to 800,000.  I am quite prepared to accept the higher figure.

But while the Pope’s rural retreat of Castel Gandolfo and indeed the Vatican itself was used to hide Jews escaping the German occupation of Rome in 1943, the same “safe houses” were used to harbour escaping Nazi war criminals, not least of who was Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the “Final Solution”.  After the war Eichmann, along with many other Nazi war criminals, was spirited away to South America on an illegally acquired Red Cross humanitarian passport via a “Ratline”, before finally being kidnapped by Mossad agents in Argentina, standing trial in Israel and executed for crimes against humanity in 1962.

It is not proven that Pacelli had personal knowledge of the Ratlines, their chief architect being Austrian Bishop Alois Hudal, author of the Hitler-fawning tract, The Foundations of National Socialism But since Pacelli clearly turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the death camps during the war, it is not unreasonable to draw negative inferences.

The Vatican could always exonerate Pacelli once and for all by releasing the wartime documents from their archives which would prove the Pontiff’s defence, surely?  So far, they have declined to do this, making the utterly lame excuse that the copious documents have not yet been properly catalogued.

Ratzinger’s recent drive to canonise Pius XII has been discouraged by the Church’s own theologians as likely to cause grave damage to relations between the Catholic Church and Jews and that he had become a de facto “symbol of Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism”.

One very eloquent reviewer of Dalin’s book, The Myth of Hitler’s Pope, on Amazon US described the Church’s stance thus:

As long as Pope Pius XII allowed Hitler to remain a Catholic, the Pope supported his actions, period, and end of story.  There was no conspiracy, just failed responsibility, and lack of action.  David Dalin’s book, The Myth of Hitler’s Pope demonstrates very little except to try and defend the ridiculous.

That is about as reasonable and balanced an assessment as I have read from a sceptic.  The verdict of biologist and blogger P Z Myers was worded somewhat more strongly…

Oh, and Pope Pius XII really was a sniveling rat bastard who should have been held accountable for contributing to the evil perpetrated against the Jews.

The Pius Wars will not cease until the day Daniel Dennett’s dream of the Vatican being converted into the “International Museum of Roman Catholicism” becomes a reality.

Advertisements

“Genocide? No. Deicide? Yes!”

01/01/2010

manicstreetpreacher analyses the fanatical pronouncements of an anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier and a current bishop in the Roman Catholic Church.

As with so many of the quotes on my blog, I owe the title of this post to Christopher Hitchens.  During his October massacre of the Catholic Church with Stephen Fry in London, Hitch used the sound bite to describe the views of Bishop Richard (or “Roger” as Hitchens bizarrely called him on the night) Williamson; a member of Marcel Lefebvre’s ultraconservative Catholic sect, Society of St Pius X (SSPX), who was excommunicated along with several other members of “his rat bag organisation” in 1988 by Pope John Paul II, but was readmitted by the current pontiff, Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, in January 2009:

Williamson… has long been a believer that – I’ll put this shortly – that the Holocaust did not occur, but the Jews did kill Christ.  In word others, “Genocide?  No.  Deicide?  Yes!”

I realise that I am weighing in rather late in the day with this one, but at the Hitchens/ Fry debate, Catholic defender, Ann Widdecombe, chided Hitchens for grossly misrepresenting the Church in his opening address.  Widdecombe was adamant that Williamson had been ordered to recant his views by Ratzinger before his readmission.  However this post presents a series of video clips and articles on Williamson’s views.  It beggars belief as to why Ratzinger not only readmitted Williamson, but did not re-excommunicate him PDQ once the full picture of his views came into the public domain.

Denying the Holocaust

Below is the longest version I could find of the notorious interview on Swedish television that Williamson gave just days before his readmission to the Church.  I apologise for the clip being hosted by neo-Nazi scum who clearly sympathise with Williamson, as do many of the commenters.  However, there are some good refutations of Williamson there as well, particularly in relation to the utterly bogus and debunked Leuchter Report into the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

The interview was filmed in Schierling, south of Regensburg, Germany, and you’ll see that he knows full well that he is guilty of an act of anti-Semitic hatred by pleading with the interviewer not to report him to the German authorities.

9/11 was a setup by the US government

This next one is an audio clip of a sermon Williamson gave in London in 2007 where the deranged cleric insists that the attacks against the USA on 11 September 2001 were a government inside job as per the ridiculous cut n paste Internet film, Loose Change.  Notice how he refers to a 9/11 “mysteries” website where his parishioners can learn more if they so wish…

…because in this next montage of his ravings, he denounces the Internet as the biggest source of lies that the world has ever concocted.

Views and opinions

For a summary of yet more of Williamson’s crackpot views, see this post on the Fringe Watch blog.  Unfortunately, most of the links are now dead.  SSPX have clearly removed many of his sermons and newsletters in light of the scandal.  However, this shocking piece from 2005 on the civil unrest in France is a good indication of Williamson’s ultraconservative views:

This immigration has taken place in France, Great Britain, Germany and also the USA, amongst other countries, especially since World War Two, for two main reasons. Firstly, the Europeans in these countries wanted to enjoy the conveniences of materialism without the inconvenience of having babies.  So there were not enough workers for their factories or for all the menial tasks henceforth beneath their dignity as university graduates, university degrees having become as common as daisies.  Secondly the enemies of God, seeing as usual farther ahead than His friends, foresaw in the immigration of an alien population a great means of diluting the national identity of countries which by their long and proud history risked not easily being absorbed into the Antichrist’s New World Order…

For if they had kept the Faith of St Paul, they would never have let themselves be deceived by the liberals’ false equality and charity, which are no more than a parody of Christian equality and charity.  St Paul says, “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 27, 28).  Similarly, “…putting on the new man, him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of Him Who created him.  Where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3: 10, 11).

Notice how in each of these quotations, St Paul frames the equality of different human races, classes and sexes within Christ.  In other words the equality is before God, and will only be fulfilled in Heaven.  St Paul would never have dreamt of denying or wiping out the inequality of human differences before men.  As to the inequality in this life between Jew and Greek, see Romans and Galatians; between bond and free, see Philemon; between man and woman, see Ephesians and Colossians.  The will of God for men on earth is that Catholic save Jew, that the man free look after the bondsman and that the man be head of the woman.  So when the white men give up on saving Jews, looking after other races and leading their womenfolk, it is altogether normal for them to be punished respectively by the domination of Jewish finance, by the refusal to follow of the non-white races and by rampant feminism.

For by refusing Christ, these whites no longer understand the divine dimension of the true equality between men.  Retaining however from Christianity, because it suits their pride, the sense of the value of every man, then all eternity’s equality has to be squeezed into this little life on earth, where it necessarily crushes the hierarchies willed by God between races, classes, and sexes.  So by affirming the equality of men without Christ and without eternal life, these white men betray alike Jew and bond and woman.

In chronological order, before Christ, nobody in their senses would have dreamt of denying the inequality of different races, classes and sexes.  When Christ came, nobody in their senses imagined that men’s equality in Christ wiped out these differences, it transcended or rose above them.  However post-Christian modern man, by refusing anything transcendent or anyone above him, has lost all grip on reality, and in all likelihood it will take rather more than a few thousand cars getting burnt for him to see straight once more.

Then what?  Then we need to pray that the much greater disasters soon to take place will open as many eyes as possible, to save as many souls as possible, and if the white men still refuse to convert, let us pray for some great conversions amongst Jews, Muslims and blacks so that they may take over where the whites have left off, and may continue to show us the way to Heaven.  So long as God is served, all honor to His servants, of any race, class or sex!

Such paranoid ravings could have come from a member of a pagan, fascistic political party.

Catholic blogger for The Daily Telegraph website and editor of The Catholic Herald, Damien Thompson, had it right:

This is a truly appalling man. I realised this last year, when – in a fruitless attempt to warn the Vatican what he was like – I commissioned a front-page exposé of his poisonous anti-Semitism in The Catholic Herald.  Like most Holocaust deniers, Williamson has a soft spot for the Third Reich: that much is clear from his pathetic diatribe against The Sound of Music, of all films, for painting the German authorities in an unsympathetic light…

The SSPX has known for many years that one of its four bishops was a Far Right conspiracy theorist.  It was irritated by him, it pushed him to the margins – but it allowed him to continue exercising episcopal ministry in the Society.  That is a scandal that its leader, the arrogant Bishop Bernard Fellay, has never got round to addressing…

No one who supports the Holy Father should have any dealings with Richard Williamson. If he wants a congregation, let him set up his soapbox at Speakers’ Corner and gibber about Jews and Freemasons alongside all the other nutjobs.  I personally volunteer to heckle him.

The article in The Catholic Herald to which Thompson refers is worth the effort, if only for compiling the sayings of this raving loon:

In accordance with their false messianic vocation of Jewish world-domination, the Jews are preparing the Anti-Christ’s throne in Jerusalem.

Can you imagine Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music staying with the Captain if the romance went out of their marriage?  Would she not divorce him and grab his children to be her toys?  All the elements of pornography are there…

This is my diagnosis of the Unabomber.  You may say what you like about him as a criminal terrorist, and much of it is true…  But he still has a remotely Catholic sense of how technology brutalises man.  How Catholic are those technophiles who wallow at ease in their computers?  Give me the Unabomber’s seriousness over their shallowness, any day of the week.

A woman can do a good imitation of handling ideas, but then she will not be thinking properly as a woman.  Did this lawyeress check her hairdo before coming into court?  If she did, she is a distracted lawyer.  If she did not, she is one distorted woman.

Williamson was given a nod of approval from the Institute for Historical Review… which happens to be one of the world’s most prominent Holocaust denial outfits:

The Williamson affair underscores a great social-political danger – not the danger of dissent or of historical error, but rather of ruthlessly enforced orthodoxy.  Far more harmful than Williamson’s unconventional views about crimes committed, or not committed, more than 60 years ago is the well – organized global campaign, backed with the power of police and courts, that demands submission to an instrumentalized and dogmatically-presented view of one chapter of history.  This campaign is an expression of a hypocritical double standard that makes a mockery of the pretentions of “democratic” states to uphold freedom of speech and expression.

A society’s real hierarchy of values, and of power, is shown by what it prohibits. The Williamson affair underscores a well-entrenched Jewish-Zionist bias in the cultural life of modern Western society, and reminds us, once again, of the power behind that bias.

Poor Bishop Williamson is being hounded by the powers that be who want to preserve the memory of one of the greatest crimes against humanity in deliberate defiance to heroes like Norman Finkelstein who say that they are only profiting from a “Holocaust Industry”.   Yeah.

Not a very sincere sounding apology

According to an article on The Huffington Post, Bishop Williamson said that he was sorry to the Pope for the upset his comments had caused, but did not retract them.  On the contrary, comments reported by Der Spiegel were:

Since I see that there are many honest and intelligent people who think differently, I must look again at the historical evidence…  It is about historical evidence, not about emotions…  And if I find this evidence, I will correct myself.  But that will take time.

The magazine suggested that he could make a personal visit to Auschwitz, set up by the Nazis in occupied Poland, which stands as the most powerful symbol of the Holocaust. More than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died there.  Williamson replied, “I will not go to Auschwitz”.

Indeed, Williamson consulted the world’s most notorious “historian”, David Irving for tips on how best to express his appalling views.  Irving is of course infamous for his disastrous 2000 libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt, who branded him as Holocaust denier in her book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, as well as his imprisonment in Austria 2006 for breaking hate-speech laws:

He is not a Holocaust denier.  Like me, he does not buy the whole package…  About a week ago I sent him a lengthy email telling him what he could safely say.  He should not be quoted as saying things which are not tenable.  I sent two pages telling him what is incontrovertible fact.  I got a message back thanking me…  He is obviously a very intelligent man who did not realise the danger of talking to the press.

The exchange of emails between Williamson and Irving, together with photographs of the two of them at a party hosted by Irving can be seen in this article.  It also contains other useful links of Williamson’s ties with other notorious Holocaust deniers, not least of whom is Michèle Renouf.

In February, shortly after his readmission to the Church, Williamson was given ten days to leave his hideout in Argentina due to his comments on Swedish television which caused great distress to one of the largest Jewish populations outside of Israel.

Eventually, Williamson issued a formal written apology for his comments on Swedish TV.  Below is the full text to Williamson’s supposed retraction of his anti-Semitic rewriting of history:

The Holy Father and my Superior, Bishop Bernard Fellay, have requested that I reconsider the remarks I made on Swedish television four months ago, because their consequences have been so heavy.

Observing these consequences I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks, and that if I had known beforehand the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the Church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich, I would not have made them.

On Swedish television I gave only the opinion (…“I believe”…  …“I believe”…) of a non-historian, an opinion formed 20 years ago on the basis of evidence then available, and rarely expressed in public since.

However, the events of recent weeks and the advice of senior members of the Society of St Pius X have persuaded me of my responsibility for much distress caused.  To all souls that took honest scandal from what I said, before God I apologize.

As the Holy Father has said, every act of injust [sic] violence against one man hurts all mankind.

Richard Williamson,
London, 26 February, 2009

I don’t think I’m being overly cynical by saying that Bishop Williamson has chosen his words very carefully indeed and has simply apologised for the hurt feelings caused by him publically expressing his opinions based on an honest and sincerely held belief.  Nowhere in the statement does he say that he repudiates his actual belief that the Holocaust did not occur.  And quite frankly, for a man who is nearly 70 years old who has expressed such views at all in the recent past, the phrase “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” springs to mind.

Latest on Williamson

Williamson has been in the papers again recently when in October he was charged with Holocaust denial by German prosecutors and in November when he refused to pay a £12,000 fine for his comments on Swedish TV:

Under the German legal system, he was served with an ‘order of punishment’ informing him of the penalty.

Such orders are intended to cut down on bureaucracy and costs if both sides agree with the fine, which also would mean a criminal conviction.

But Williamson did not agree.  He is to appeal, paving the way for a full hearing which could prove highly embarrassing for the church once more – even though Williamson can absent himself from proceedings to be represented just by his lawyer.

A trial judge will demand to know why he believes that six million Jews were not murdered by the Nazis and on what facts he bases his views on.

In conclusion – Sorry, Miss Widdecombe, but I’ll stick with the Hitch

Williamson is clearly continuing to court controversy with his suborn refusal to admit to the true nature and harmful effects of his views.    Indeed, my research indicates that he has not properly recanted his views on the Holocaust.  His recent refusal to pay the fine imposed on him by the German authorities is final confirmation of this.

Ann Widdecombe’s rather lame defence of Ratzinger at the Intelligence Squared debate on the Catholic Church took the form of an attack on Hitchens’ research and presentation.  She implied that Hitchens had twisted the facts when she said that Ratzinger had made Williamson recant his views before readmitting him to the fold.  I hope that this post has shown that this is most definitely not the case.

I am going to stick with Hitchens’ analysis that Williamson is a fanatic, a racist and an anti-Semite.  But for Ratzinger, Church unity is more important for him than the unsanitary consequences of having this fraud and liar in the community, regardless of the things that he has said, and done, and continues to stand for.

For shame indeed.

YouTube Moment of the Year 2009

26/12/2009

manicstreetpreacher unveils the clip that he has replayed the most in this Year of Our Lord.

It has been a great year for the ‘Tube.  I have watched many brilliant lectures and debates and even appeared in one of them myself.  Certainly, NonStampCollector is the one YouTube user who has provided me with the most joy.  I wish I could include them all.  However, the clip I have played the most is the this wonderful “re-edit” of BNP leader Nick Griffin’s appearance on BBC One’s Question Time on 22 October 2009 by cassetteboy.

At over a million views, I’m probably not the only one who would class it as the cream of the crop for ‘09.

Many thanks to my friend, the anti-fascist blogger Edmund Standing, for forwarding me the link.

After life is there more? (And would we want there to be?)

14/11/2009

Stairway2Heaven

manicstreetpreacher muses on the pros and cons of departing this veil of tears to a big theme park in the sky or to somewhere less pleasant…

I was invited to speak at Liverpool University on 18 November 2009 on an inter-faith discussion panel on the topic of the afterlife, called “Follow My Way 2: Life, Death & Beyond”.  Originally, the discussion was to be on the rights and wrongs of religious tolerance.  I was amazed that the University of Liverpool Atheist Society (ULAS) had asked me whether I wanted to speak following the disastrous public reaction to my outspoken views on religion in March earlier this year, about which you can about in piece, “More Than I Could Chew?”

I have had to up sticks and move to the opposite end of the country in order to find employment in a recession.  To travel to Liverpool and return to my new home would have meant a £100 return train fare and my last two days of paid leave which I had been saving to get home ahead of the Christmas rush.  In case you are new to this blog, speaking out against the parties of God is just about my favourite pastime at present and I leapt at the chance.  If nothing else, it would have been an opportunity to repair some of the damage done at the beginning of the year and learn to keep a cool head against a hostile crowd and potentially baiting opponents.

FMW2Poster

However, the topic changed overnight, away from the role of religion in the world and to the rather saccharine topic of the afterlife.  With great reluctance, I declined to speak.  I felt that I only had a very limited amount to say on the motion which essentially boiled downed to:

  1. I don’t believe in the afterlife.
  2. Like telekinesis, Father Christmas and fairies at the bottom of the garden, it would be lovely if we did have a soul separate from our bodies which floats off our brains at the moment of death towards a tunnel of life to be reunited with our loved ones and/ or to wait for our loved ones to join us once their time on Earth is up but there simply isn’t any evidence for it.
  3. The consequences of certain people believing in an afterlife can be truly sinister for the rest of us in this life whether we share their beliefs or not.
  4. We ought to stop looking forward to our deaths and make the most of the one life we do have.

ULAS have managed to persuade a member of The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) to speak and I wish him all the very best of luck.  If I was still living in or closer to Liverpool, I would probably have still spoken despite the change of topic, but it just wasn’t worth the train fare or the holiday time.

However, as is so often the case, the experience of being asked to speak on a topic has made me think deeper about that topic.  I half-regret turning down the opportunity now and present my further thoughts to anyone who cares.

If I was there, I would… apologise for all the offensive things I am going to say

I think it would be best to start off by trying to wash out the bad taste I had left in the mouths of the religious members of the audience after last time by making clear that nothing I say is done deliberately for effect and while I am bound to offend a lot of people in the room, this is not intentional.

I have half a mind to say the most offensive thing I could possibly say right away by quoting Jimmy Carr and saying that it is a shame about all the wounded British soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but at least we would have a cracking team for the 2012 Paralympics.

There’s a more than 50 percent chance of that one going down like a lead balloon…

It would be wonderful if it were true but…

After the apologies and explanation, the first thing to be said would be that there are loads of things that I wish did exist – such as The Force, lightsabres, telekinesis, telepathy and fairies at the bottom of the garden – but there simply isn’t any evidence for them.  The religious instinct is informed by the same mentality as astrology and tarot reading: the human tendency to see patterns in everyday events and infer some greater meaning to them.

I blogged on this at length following a lecture given by Professor Chris French of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths College hosted by the Merseyside Skeptics Society in September 2009.  We are swimming in probabilities; it would be more incredible if these coincidences didn’t happen!   There may be some anecdotal evidence for telepathy and reincarnation, but these studies are flawed by what is known as the “Clustering Illusion”, also known as the “Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy”.   Rather like a marksman emptying his magazine at a barn door and then drawing on the target afterwards, if you repeat the same experiment enough times you are bound to see patterns emerge, but the conclusions drawn from them will be false.

American physicist, Victor J Stenger, touches on the search for a world beyond matter in his 2007 book, God, The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist and describes how the search for a soul, an afterlife, reincarnation and psychic powers has failed miserably.

Professor Susan Blackmore of Plymouth University charts her journey from naïve believer in the paranormal to hardened sceptic after she set out on a mission to prove in the lab that supernatural forces were at work, only to find that the experiments were flawed and the data inconclusive.  The story is told in her book, In Search of the Light: Adventures of a Parapsychologist.  At the time of writing, I hadn’t read Blackmore’s book myself, but she summarises her journey very eloquently in her debate on religion against Christian theologian Alistair McGrath at Bristol University on 13 November 2007.

A few years ago, thirty of the world’s “top” theologians met at the Vatican to discuss what happened to the souls of unbaptised babies after they die and whether St Augustine’s doctrine of limbo was valid.  I am struggling to think of a more intellectually forlorn exercise; did any of those theologians have any actual evidence of what does happen to the souls of said un-baptised babies, or even whether they possess a soul in the first place?

Positing that humans possess a soul separate from our bodies simply commits the philosophical fallacy of begging the question.  When did the soul evolve?  Do non-human animals have a soul?  Why would a deity bother with a mortal life at all and just have the afterlife as the norm so we can all enjoy his or her company straightaway?  How can a soul survive the death of the brain?  In what state is your soul when it leaves your body for good?  It wouldn’t be very enjoyable to be permanently suffering from a stroke for all eternity.

Sounds like hell to me

Most people can’t bear to sit in church for an hour on Sundays.  How are they supposed to live somewhere very similar to it for eternity?

– Mark Twain

I suppose my ideal version of the afterlife would be to live in a temple of knowledge and philosophical discussion with a library where you could read any book you chose for as long as you wanted and have discussions with the greatest thinkers of all time from Plato to Hume to Spinoza to Jefferson, one-to-one or in an auditorium.  But again, there’s just no evidence for it.

I have to say though that the Christian version of the afterlife sounds absolutely ghastly, as Mr Twain summarises so beautifully above.  I’m sorry, but did I miss something?  Spending all eternity singing the praises of your maker?  And you thought I was going to go for one blog post without quoting Christopher Hitchens, but it sounds like hell to me!

In 2000, Hitchens travelled to North Korea under his guise as a university professor and reported on the abject serfdom endured by the wretched population who are expected to wake up in the morning praising the Great Leader, Kim Ill Sung and his son the Dear Leader, Kim Jung Ill, only to wake up again in the morning and begin the process all over again.

Kim Ill Sung became President of North Korea in 1949, the same year as George Orwell published Nineteen Eighty Four.  It is almost as though someone lent the Great Leader a copy of the book challenging him to put it into practice and he gleefully accepted.

According to Hitchens, you will not open a newspaper, turn on a television set or watch a theatrical production, that is not dedicated to worshipping the cult of Fat Man and Little Boy.  However, Kim Jung Ill is only the head of the party and the army.  The head of state is still his father; surprisingly, since the guy has been dead since 1994.  Hitchens dubs the government a “necrocracy, or a “mauselocracy or a “thanatocracy.  Indeed, the son is said to be a reincarnation of his father.  This should strike a chord with the Christian apologist on the night.  It’s just one short of a Trinity.

But at least you can die and get out of North Korea.  Under Christianity and Islam at least, it’s only when you’re dead that the real fun begins.  Who would want this to be true?

Silly souls

Atheists constantly have the charge levelled against them that they cannot justify why they are moral and altruistic.  If we all end up the same way and there is no final judgement for our lives’ deeds, then why should we care what happens in this life?  Leaving aside for a moment my stock retorts about the intrinsic satisfaction of doing one of your fellow mammals a good turn without expecting reward or avoiding punishment, the theistic worldview hardly settles matters more satisfactorily.

Perhaps it is too cheap a shot to ask why religious people don’t just commit suicide rather than bothering with this veil of tears.  But the question still remains frustratingly unanswered: if there is going to be an in-gathering, if there is going to be a magical place where all tears will be dried and all injustices put right, then why do the religious care so much about what happens in this life?  Why do they want to control what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms?

It would appear that at least Mahatma Ghandi pre-empted my challenge.   Ghandi was undoubtedly the twentieth century’s most influential pacifist with his devastating policy of non-cooperation against India’s colonial masters, which sealed independence for the Jewel in the Crown in 1947.

However, it must be remembered firstly that Ghandi’s command to turn the other cheek only worked because the British Empire had by then been crippled by two World Wars in the space of 25 years and secondly, his ideals took a much more sinister side.   Ghandi’s remedy for the Holocaust was for the Jews to commit mass suicide because this “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.”

Even if we grant Ghandi’s religious dogma of karma and rebirth, is the suffering and agony of millions of people in this world an acceptable price to secure their happiness and freedom in the next?  Ghandi’s world was one where millions of people would have died in order for the German people to doubt the goodness of their Thousand Year Reich.  How would a world full of pacifists respond once they became “aroused” to the evil of Nazism; commit suicide as well?

The concern for human souls seems to have trumped the care for human beings when you consider the Bush administration’s denial of funding at the Federal level for potentially ground-breaking stem cell research.  Apparently a middle-aged father succumbing to Parkinson’s Disease or a young girl suffering from third degree burns are less important than the souls of three day old human embryos in a petri dish comprising no more than 150 cells.  If you think that still sounds like a large number of cells, there are over 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly.  You inflict far more pain and suffering every time you swat a household insect than if you use a three day old human embryo potentially to save another human being’s life.

You lot may be looking forward to checking out, but don’t demand the rest of us to come with you

Opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of the American population believe that Christ will return to Earth someday to judge the human race for 2,000 years of sexual indiscretion.  At least 20% think that this event will happen within their lifetimes.

To an atheist, this might seem like a ridiculous belief – particularly when you consider that we have waited long enough following Jesus’ promise to return to Earth within the lifetime of his followers at Matthew 16 among several other instances – but it does not appear to be a potentially harmful preachment.   Until you consider that there are fundamentalist American Christians hard at work in the Holy Land to this day attempting to incite the already warring religious factions into nuclear Armageddon.

SecondComing

Ronald Reagan brought in Hal Lindsay and Jerry Falwell – a pair of religious lunatics of the first, second, third and fourth orders – to advise the Pentagon on biblical prophesy regarding the end of the world when it looked like he was going to turn the Cold War hot.  Falwell in particular worked hard at inciting the worst and most fanatical elements among Jewish settlers on the West Bank in Israel and was even awarded the Jabotinsky Centennial Medal in 1980 by Menachem Begin.

A former Archbishop of Canterbury (!), Dr Geoffrey Fisher throughout the 1950s and 1960s consistently refused to condemn the apocalyptic madness of Russia and the West during the Cold War.  When some observers were proposing all-out surrender to the Soviets in order to avoid doomsday, sheepish Dr Fisher wrote a tract that could have been produced by Ahmadinejad in the present day:

I am convinced that it is never right to settle any policy simply out of fear of the consequences…  For all I know it is within the providence of God that the human race should destroy itself in this manner.

There is no evidence that the human race is to last forever and plenty in Scripture to the contrary effect.  Though, as you say, the suffering entailed by nuclear war would be ghastly in its scale, one must remember that each person can only suffer so much; and I do not know that the men and women affected would suffer more than those do who day by day are involved in some appalling disaster.  There is no aggregate measure of pain. Anyhow, policy must not be based simply on fear of pain.

I am not being unfeeling. Christ in His Crucifixion showed us how to suffer creatively.  He did not claim to end suffering, nor did He bid His disciples to avoid suffering.  So I repeat, I cannot establish any policy merely on whether or not it will save the human race from a period of suffering or from extinction.

GeoffreyFisher

In a later interview, Fisher commented that “the very worst it could do would be to sweep a vast number of people at one moment from this world into the other and more vital world, into which anyhow they must pass at one time.”

As Sam Harris comments in Letter to a Christian Nation:

According to the most common interpretation of biblical prophecy, Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry here on Earth.  It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen – the return of Christ.  It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves – socially, economically, environmentally, or geopolitically.  Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the US government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious.  The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency.

I don’t even want to get started on radical Islam’s commitment to Jihad, martyrdom, and three score and a dozen nubiles in paradise, so I’ll again defer to a man who is blessed with a far more eloquent turn of phrase:

The irony here is almost a miracle in its own right: the most sexually repressed people found in the world today – people who are stirred to a killing rage by reruns of Baywatch – are lured to martyrdom by a conception of paradise that resembles nothing so much as an al fresco bordello.

Apart from the terrible ethical consequences that follow from this otherworldliness, we should observe how deeply implausible the Koranic paradise is.  For a seventh-century prophet to say that paradise is a garden, complete with rivers of milk and honey, is rather like a twenty-first century prophet saying that it is a gleaming city where every soul drive a new Lexus.  A moment’s reflection should reveal that such pronouncements suggest nothing at all about the afterlife and much indeed about the limits of human imagination.

– Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and The Future of Reason

A rather less pleasant place

I could not finish a piece on this topic without a reference to the dark side of an afterlife: that of eternal punishment.  This is an utterly evil concept that has surely ruined the lives and peace of mind of many children and which some have said is a worse form of abuse than the mildest forms of physical and sexual abuse.

Hell

Before the first “Follow My Way” in March 2009, I had read extracts of the Koran as quoted by others, namely Sam Harris in The End of Faith and the excellent treatment by prolific secularist and anti-fascist blogger Edmund Standing on Butterflies and Wheels.

I had also purchased my own copy of Arthur J Arberry’s English translation of the Koran, but I had not read it in full.  I have now done so, cover-to-cover, and it was an appalling experience.  I am currently in the middle of writing my own opinion on the Koran for this blog, but I can’t bring myself to complete the piece, because the prospect of re-reading the central text in greater detail is utterly unpalatable.

Every time I now see someone wearing traditional Muslim dress or facial hair, I can’t stop myself from wondering, “What do you really think about me as an unbeliever, an infidel, a kuffar?  What do you really believe is going to happen to me after I depart this life?  Given that it says on practically every page of your holy book – which you claim is a miracle explained only if it were authored by an omnipotent deity – that I as unbeliever will face a painful chastisement in hell, fire or Gehenna for all eternity?”

I have not had the chance to ask this question of a believing Muslim myself yet, but I would certainly ask it of the Muslim apologist were I speaking on the night.

For the one life we do have

How’s this for an ending?

We’re all doomed.  One way or another we all end up dead.  The party will go on without us and we won’t be able to look down on it from on high.  The human race will go extinct one day.  Maybe at its own hands.  Certainly if the religious fanatics attempting to acquire apocalyptic nuclear weaponry while I write get their way.

But if we don’t finish each other off, then disease, famine or tempest ought to do the trick.  And our goose will be well and truly cooked in about half a billion years time when our sun runs out of hydrogen and swells up into a red giant and consumes half the solar system.  And if there’s anything left of us after all that, then the Andromeda Galaxy, which you can see now in the night sky on a direct collision course with the Milky Way and will be upon us in [theatrical glance at wrist watch] ooooh… four billion years time.

If that doesn’t do it for us, then maybe I’m wrong and there is a God!

We have but a few short precious years of consciousness.  But try to make it count.   Try to enjoy the time you have.  And above all, try to help other people enjoy their time as well.

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.  Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.  The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara.  Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton.  We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people.  In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

– Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and The Appetite for Wonder

Hitchens and Fry versus the Catholic Church: Post Mortem

20/10/2009

HitchensStephenFry

manicstreetpreacher witnesses first-hand a rhetorical massacre of Vatican hench(wo)men by the cream of British intellectualism.

On Monday, 19 October 2009 I attended a debate at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, London featuring “New Atheist” and author of God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens and actor, writer and broadcaster, Stephen Fry, to argue against the motion “The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world” with Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Conservative MP, Ann Widdecombe proposing.

The debate was filmed by BBC TV cameras and the debate moderator, Zeinab Badawi, told us that it would be broadcast to 70 million people throughout the world on 7 and 8 November 2009.   The full video of the debate can be viewed below:

Each of the four speakers were allowed 15 minutes for an opening statement, then there was about 30 minutes of the audience’s questions and comments and then the panel were given a final five minutes to sum up.  The whole event lasted a shade under two hours from 7:00 – 9:00pm.  The only disappointment is that Hitchens wasn’t signing books afterwards, but apart from that it was very well put together by the organisers, Intelligence Squared.

Exactly as I predicted before the event, this was an utterly one-sided affair.  Hitch and Fry wiped the floor with their papist opponents.  It was an embarrassment for the parties of God.  The two men had everything on their side.  They had the arguments, they had the historical facts, they had the present day facts, they had the rhetoric, they had the wit and most importantly they had the audience, although it has to be said that most of them were dead against the motion from the start.

Blow-by-blow: Archbishop John Onaiyekan

Archbishop John Onaiyekan opened the motion for the proposition.  He seemed an amiable enough fellow; I’m sure you’d like to have him round for dinner.  Unfortunately he was encumbered with a thick Nigerian accent, which made it difficult to understand what he was saying.  Not that it would have made too much difference.  From what I could pick up, his opening statement was a wishy-washy apologia that cited few factual examples and even less ideology.

The Archbishop said that from his Catholic upbringing to the present day as a 65 year old adult, he had no regrets and devoutly believed in the motion, otherwise he would not be a member of the Catholic Church in the first place.  The Church has stood the test of time over the last two thousand years ranging from the good ordinary folk of the world to the leaders of the world.  He cited the 2008 papal encyclical, Caritas In Veritate, “Charity in Truth”, as a good example of what the Church stood for.

Noises were made about the Church’s syllabus of errors, but the Archbishop stressed the need to keep perspective and be careful when judging others.  After all, the late pontiff, John Paul II apologised for many of the Church’s “misjudgements” throughout history.

The Archbishop argued that true good of the Catholic Church can be attested by its 1.2 billion members and we really ought to go and speak to some of them to realise that the world needs more people linking arms and striving for a future of justice.  The Archbishop also stated that the Church has a hand in setting up many schools and hospitals and contrary to the public perception of its stance on condom use, had worked closely with the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS.

It was a well-meaning and consolatory opening.  The Archbishop finished with plenty of his allotted time to spare and asked with a dash of irony whether there now could be anyone in the audience who didn’t think that the Catholic Church was a force for good.  Bless him, he must have hoped that his two opponents would be willing to search for common ground.

What planet has he been living on?

The Hitch

OK, let’s face it.  This is why the majority of the audience paid their admissions fee.  To witness arguably the world’s most outspoken atheist and opponent of religion take aim at the easiest target he could have wished for.  We were not disappointed.

After the usual warm-up quips about the moderator admiring his shirt, Hitch went at the Holy See like a rabid dog.

WHAM!  The statement delivered by Pope John Paul II’s spokesmen on 12 March 2000 apologising for everything from the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to the oppression of women (who after all comprise half the human race), to the forced conversion of the indigenous peoples of South America by the Conquistadors.

BLAM!  The 94 public recognitions of the Church’s crimes against humanity from apologising for the African slave trade in 1995 to the admission in 1992 that Galileo was actually right when he said that the sun was the centre of our solar system and the earth and the other planets were in orbit around it.

BatmanRobinFight

KA-ZAAM!!!  Hitchens’ demanded that apologies were long overdue for the crimes of the Croatian Utashe lead by Ante Pavelić in the Second World War which received the full blessing of the clergy, to the rape and torture and cover-up of children in Catholic schools and care homes from “Ireland to Australia”, to the hideous preaching of Augustine’s doctrine of limbo which had countless parents in agony over the destination of the souls of their un-baptised children.

BIFF!  There were a few more sins for the Holy See to atone for: the 1933 Reich Concordat with Nazi Germany which dissolved the Catholic Centre Party and removed all opposition to the rise of Hitler while ensuring that the Church maintained control of state education.  Come to think of it, wasn’t the first treaty that Mussolini put his name to the 1929 Lateran Treaty with the Vatican.  Wasn’t Jozef Tiso, the despot who governed Slovakia an ordained priest?   Wasn’t every other fascist dictator from Franco to Salazar raised as a Catholic with the public blessing of St Peter’s Basilica?  Wasn’t Adolf Hitler’s birthday celebrated from the pulpits every year right up until his death?

NO MORE, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!!!!

Well alright, then perhaps a little bit more.  This is getting kinda fun.

THWACK!!!  Hitch declared that none of this could be laughed off with gestures to the charitable.  After all, didn’t Pope Ratzinger qualify the apology to the South American Indians by saying while on a visit to Brazil in 2007 that they were “silently longing” for the arrival of Christianity?  The sex abuse scandal culminating in the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Massachusetts, only for the same Cardinal to show up at the 2005 conclave to elect the new pontiff doesn’t exactly enhance the Vatican’s claim to moral superiority either.  Neither does the doctrine of anti-Semitism for the Jews’ complicity for the death of Christ preached until 1964, nearly 20 years after the judgment of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.

POW!!!   Hitch then proceeded to tear the moral relativism that has engulfed the Church in recent years  (and would certainly engulf the arguments of its apologists this night) a new one.  He stated that the rape and torture of children is something that cannot be relativised.  It cannot be shrugged off as something that would not happen if “queers had not been allowed into the Church.”   If any “normal” person were accused of child rape, they would want to die.  If they were found guilty, they would commit suicide.

ZAP!!!  More suggested topics to apologise for?  How about the re-inauguration of Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, who effectively said, “Genocide?  No.  Deicide? Yes!”?  Ratzinger invited Williamson back into the fold because Church unity was more important than moral integrity.  And how about the genocide in Rwanda, the most Catholic country in Africa where priests and nuns were guilty of inciting the massacres and indeed, many are now standing trial for taking part in it themselves.  No proper apology has ever been issued.

Hitch then stood up for his friend, Stephen Fry, who is “not like other girls” and cannot be a member of the Church for being a “fag”.  The Church’s condescending stance to “hate the sin, love the sinner” means that a substantial portion of the world’s population is excluded from the sacraments.

Hitch ended by saying that he did not wish harm on anybody, but he looked forward to the death of Ratzinger for one reason and one reason only.  In the intervening weeks and months between one pope dying and another being elected by the College of Cardinals, there is a period when no one on earth claims to be infallible.  Our species must be rid of its faith the certainty from above if it is to progress.

The crowd loved every minute of it.  Hitch’s address was punctuated by applause and cheers several times.  The biggest cheer came when he faced the Archbishop and asked him for a public apology for the Church’s policy of delivering false information about the effectiveness of condom use, effectively saying that “AIDS is bad, but condoms are worse”.

In case you couldn’t tell, Hitchens is a personal hero of mine.  I’m well on the way to having read all of his books.  I’ve seen him lecture and debate as many times as I’ve been able to find on YouTube.  I’ve referenced him more times than I care to remember on this blog and in my appearances on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? and I have come in for some stick from commenters and listeners for being a mouthpiece for the Four Horsemen in general and Hitchens in particular.  This was the first time that I have seen him speak live and it was worth 10 times the admission price.

It was orgasmic!

Widdecombe

The Conservative MP and Catholic convert was announced to have left the Church of England in 1992 when it decided to ordain women priests.  In answer to a question from the audience, she explained that a woman can be an MP because it is a profession, but there is no theological basis for a woman to be a priest because they cannot lead the confession before Christ.  Apparently a woman can no more stand in for JC than a man for the Virgin Mary.  Right.

Out of the two papists, it has to be said that Widdecombe put up by far the better fight.  She raised rapturous applause from the Catholic supporters in the audience (all five of them) by starting off demanding that Hitchens give an apology for the caricature he had presented of the Church’s history, saying that members of the Waffen SS had to renounce their Christianity before entering the organisation, and Ratzinger made Bishop Richard Williamson renounce his views on the Holocaust before once again granting him the sacraments.  She also tried to deflect his remarks saying that he had to delve into history and go back to the Crusades and the Inquisition for the core of his arguments.

I was in dire need of a sick bucket at one point when Widdecombe indulged in the worst kind of relativism in defending the Church’s stance on slavery since it was simply in line with the opinions of the rest of the world!  Hitchens later pointed out that if slavery had to be considered in context, what could be more relative than that?  What happened; did God change his mind?

As if slavery wasn’t bad enough, Widdecombe went on to say that it has only been in recent years that the courts and the Samaritans have tackled the problem of child sex abuse and there has been a Sex Offenders Register.

Special pleading and calls for clemency do not convincing arguments make, Miss Widdecombe.

The worst offence Widdecombe committed was recommending the work of historian Michael Burleigh who, along with Martin Gilbert, has praised the efforts of the wartime pope, Pius XII, in rescuing many thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by giving them refuge in Castel Gandolfo. I wonder how many people realised that in fact Burleigh re-prints a bogus statement purporting to be from Albert Einstein praising the Church’s response to Hitler in his 2006 book Sacred Causes, the questionable authenticity of which Hitchens debunks in God Is Not Great.

While Hitch didn’t nail her for that point in his closing remarks, he did stand by his views on the Church preaching the doctrine of deicide against the Jewish people as likely to have provided a well of anti-Semitism throughout Europe which facilitated the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

It wasn’t all bad, however.  Widdecombe at least pointed out that the Church does much in the way of charitable giving and as a politician, she relied on them as much local government.

The address finished off with a call for the Church’s offer of hope and salvation, which the two nasty heretics at the other side of the table simply could not offer.  Hitch’s retort in the closing section was to agree whole heartedly that absolution was not forthcoming from him and Fry, but Catholics still had to live with their conscience and good luck to them.

Fry

As good as Hitchens was, the revelation of the evening was Stephen Fry.  Here was a man who I previously did not think capable of saying boo to a goose coming out (if you’ll excuse the pun) in full force against the forces of theocratic sexual repression.

Fry started off quoting Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest, saying that speaking one’s mind was quite often not just a moral duty, but a pleasure!  This was a subject he felt strongly about, not because he objected to people being religious, but because he felt passionately about the Enlightenment, which the Church has never tired of attacking.  Straightaway, Fry sarcastically rubbished Widdecombe’s dismissal of history, saying that history “quivers down all of us”.

Fry then went on to attack the appalling doctrine of purgatory and the hideous idea that a soul needs to be prayed for by us mortals here on earth in order to “take the first left when getting on the plane and getting a first class seat to heaven.”  He lambasted the tradition of people giving money to ensure the safe delivery of the soul and questioned why it should be a privilege that only men could enjoy.

The next target was the Church’s exploitation of poor people, citing Thomas More who burned people at the stake for reading English translations of the Bible during the Reformation yet was made the patron saint of politicians by Pope John Paul II!  Then there was the disgraceful joint statement on contraception with Saudi Arabia (!) in 2003 that began, “On behalf of the revealed religions of the world…”

However, the real meat came with Fry’s attacks on the Church’s stance on homosexuality.  As a gay man, Fry could not possibly be a member of an institution that thought him evil.  On the contrary, Fry announced that he was a man who was full of love and certainly had no need of the pope’s permission to tell him to practise it.  Fry compared sex to food.  It’s jolly and it’s fun.  But frankly, the Catholic Church is anorexic.

Fry has made a series of TV documentaries about HIV in Africa, HIV and Me, and attacked the Church’s stance on preaching misinformation about contraception.  “Yes, abstinence and being faithful help prevent the spread of AIDS, BUT SO DO CONDOMS!!!”  It was not the last time the mild-mannered British comic would raise his voice.

This wonderful opening speech was topped off by speculation as to what Jesus would think.  Fry is clearly one of those atheists who at least think that Christ was a great moral teacher (unlike Hitchens who questions both the man’s existence as well as his morality), and asked what the Nazarene would think of the opulence of St Peters and the male-dominated hierarchy.  Of course he would be horrified and would be the last person to become a member of his own church!

In his closing statement, Fry answered Widdecombe’s protests that he just had to bring up condoms and sexuality was rather like a criminal in the dock saying to the judge, “Do you have to bring up that burglary?”!  The second time he raised his voice was in reply again to Widdecombe’s relativist defence of the Church not condemning slavery because it was a socially acceptable normal with, “WELL, WHAT ARE YOU FOR?!”  Magic.

RatzingerCaricature

Democracy in action

After the main speeches, the debate moved to comments and questions from the house.  The atheists were in full force in both numbers and words.  The moderator eventually had to ask for Catholic supporters to ask questions to balance things out!

Several gay men and women took the mikes and made their feelings known on the Church’s interference with what they do behind their bedroom doors.  One man asked the Archbishop what current policy of the Church he was most ashamed of!

Hitchens answered supporters’ objections to the Church’s charitable work and fundraising with his stock reply that Hamas do much of the same in Gaza, but is anyone going to say a word in defence of them for that reason?  He also showed his feminist colours by attacking the Ten Commandments as suppressing women and that the one proven way of bringing a society off its knees was to bring about the emancipation and the empowerment of women as opposed to having them as field hands, pack horses and baby producers.

Hitch also quite happily admitted to being sexually obsessed after Widdecombe accused Fry in her closing remarks of saying the evening’s only piece of “unpleasantness” by mocking the Archbishop’s vow of celibacy.  Hitch’s retort to this piece of prudishness was that from the day he first discovered that his God-given male member would give him no peace, he decided to give it no rest in return.  He also pronounced that homosexuality was not just a form of sex, it was a form of love.  Stephen Fry was a good friend of his and he would allow him to baby-sit his children any day of the week.  If, on the other hand, a clergyman showed up to look after his children, he would first call a taxi and then call the police!

The audience polls before and after the debate said it all:

Before the debate:

For the motion: 678
Against: 1102
Don’t know: 346

After the debate:

For: 268
Against: 1876
Don’t know: 34

Therefore, the number of people in the audience who opposed the motion increased by 774.

Ouch!

Andrew M Brown, on his Daily Telegraph blog, summed up the problem for the parties of God rather well:

The problem (from the Catholic point of view) was that the speakers arguing for the Church as a force for good were hopelessly outclassed by two hugely popular, professional performers.  The archbishop had obviously decided that it would work best if he stuck to facts and figures and presented the Church as a sort of vast charitable or “social welfare” organisation.  He emphasised how many Catholics there were in the world, and that even included “heads of state”, he said, as if that was a clincher.  But he said virtually nothing of a religious or spiritual nature as far as I could tell, and non-Catholics would have been none the wiser about what you might call the transcendent aspects of the Church. Then later when challenged he became painfully hesitant. In the end he mumbled and spluttered and retreated into embarrassing excuses and evasions. He repeatedly got Ann Widdecombe’s name wrong.  The hostility of both the audience and his opponents seemed to have discomfited him…

Even if you didn’t agree with him you’d have to concede Hitchens especially was spectacular and hyper-articulate…  Hitchens drank bottled water mostly, and plenty of it, though from time to time when he was sitting down he raised a glass of amber fluid from out of sight, down on the floor somewhere, and took a slug from that.  I don’t know why he kept a drink under the table like that, perhaps because the debate was filmed for broadcast.  He sweated profusely and dabbed his shiny forehead, eyes and cheeks with a handkerchief. But his diction was clear and he was in control, like a revivalist tent preacher, building the volume to a crescendo at the end, to applause and roars from the audience.

Amen to that, brother.

In conclusion – more and more are wearing their scarlet letter with pride

ScarletLetterA

Aside from the superb showing by Stephen Fry and the utter annihilation of the apologists at the hands of the heretics, the evening was notable for one other reason: the number of people willing to announce their atheist colours with pride and make their feelings known about what they really feel about the most oppressive, hypocritical institution that our mammalian primate species has ever concocted.

The books by the “New Atheists”: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and of course, Christopher Hitchens have instilled the non-believers around the world with the motivation and the confidence to speak out.  This is no mere flash in the pan.  As Winston Churchill had it, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Sorry to all the bishops, priests, nuns and mullahs, but we are not going away in a hurry.  All we need now is the confidence not to pick on such a soft target next time and debate whether Islam is a force for good in the world…

Albert Einstein’s ‘support’ for the Church in the face of Hitler is bogus

26/08/2009

Einstein

manicstreetpreacher shows that a statement by the exiled pantheist scientist praising the Church in Nazi Germany falls down on closer examination.

Religious-types seem to think that massaging the words of prominent non-believers into concessions to faith approximates an argument for the truth or usefulness of religion.  I have long grown tired of this bogus and dishonest tactic.  If a theist told me Richard Dawkins’ or Charles Darwin’s take on the colour of an orange, I would scrutinise the primary source carefully.

Apologists are often desperate to claim that the Jewish-born, agnostic scientist, Albert Einstein was a theist.  Continuing in this tradition, you will hear and read the following statement attributed to the atomic scientist trotted out by those eager to defend the reprehensible (in)actions of the Catholic Church in the face of Nazism:

Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced.  Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks…

Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth.  I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom.  I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.

The statement first appeared in an article entitled “German Martyrs” which was published in Time magazine on 23 December 1940.  You will find it posted on many religious websites and repeated by clergymen.  Christian historian, Michael Burleigh, quotes it point-blank in his study of religion and politics in the 20th century, Sacred Causes, before rambling into a highly selective and ultimately, disingenuous defence of the Church during the Second World War.

Nevertheless, a superb piece by the analyst, William Waterhouse, first published in Skeptic (Volume 12, Number 3, Fall 2005), has exposed the statement as an exaggeration at best and a fabrication at worst by those eager to abuse Einstein’s prestigious reputation rather than convey his real opinions.

For starters, the statement appeared without any source or attribution when it was first published in Time.  It is not known whether the reporter personally heard Einstein say it.  The statement does not appear in the definitive collection of Einstein’s sayings, The Expanded Quotable Einstein.  Any reference to the treatment of Europe’s Jews is also conspicuously absent.

In addition, the language is too flamboyant compared to Einstein’s usual style, with its reference to “great editors” and “flaming editorials”.  The statement is also unlikely to have come from a scientist, stating as it does that Einstein “despised” something immediately after saying that he “never had any special interest” in it.

For comparison, here is a statement that Einstein definitely made in response to Nazism in 1933:

I hope that healthy conditions will soon supervene in Germany and that in future her great men like Kant and Goethe will not merely be commemorated from time to time but that the principle which they taught will also prevail in public life and in the general consciousness.

As Waterhouse points out, Einstein (like most German Jews) hoped for support not from Christianity as such, but from the German Enlightenment tradition.

Waterhouse’s enquiries with the Einstein Archives in Jerusalem lead to the discovery of a letter written by Einstein in 1947 stating that in the early years of Hitler’s regime he had casually mentioned to a journalist that hardly any German intellectuals except a few churchmen were supporting individual rights and intellectual freedom.  He added that this statement had subsequently been drastically exaggerated beyond anything that he could recognise as his own.

As Christopher Hitchens writes in God Is Not Great, “Those who seek to misrepresent the man who gave us an alternative theory of the cosmos (as well as those who remained silent or worse while his fellow Jews were being deported and destroyed) betray the prickings of their bad consciences.”

NaziPriestsSaluteHitler