bygging þar sem Alþingi Íslendinga situr, síðan 1881 (Íslenska); Parliament Building in Reykjavík, Iceland (English)For years now I’ve pointed out that the “crime” of blasphemy is really no crime at all; it doesn’t actually harm anyone or anything else. Consider: If (for example) someone expresses disrespect for a deity, what does that accomplish? It can’t harm the deity, since — if they exist — deities are metaphysical entities unaffected by such things. The deity — again, if it existed prior to the blasphemy — will continue to exist and in the same state as before. It can’t harm the deity’s religion, because it will go on just as it had previously; it will still have followers, its teachings won’t vanish, its various artifacts (objects/locations of worship, sacred texts, etc.) will go on as before. It also can’t harm the deity’s worshippers; they can keep on worshipping him/her/it as they always did, and continue believing as they did, prior to the blasphemy having been uttered.

Thus, blasphemy damages nothing and no one. People might be offended by it, but that doesn’t really mean anything, since they aren’t harmed in any meaningful way.

Despite this, a lot of countries have outlawed blasphemy, as well as apostasy (refusal to adhere to the prevailing religion, which is related). As noted, because blasphemy never harms anyone or anything, these laws accomplish nothing, except to protect believers in those countries from the terrible burden of being offended by someone outside their faith. This has the corollary effect of sensitizing people to any expression of blasphemy, and this in turn infantilizes them, fooling them into thinking the entire world believes as they do and they’re entitled never to have to know that not everyone does. This leads them to do insanely juvenile things like riot, maim and murder when they hear someone might burn a Qur’an (for example), or kill people over rumored blasphemies that never actually happened.

There really is no reason, therefore, for any jurisdiction on earth to have a blasphemy law.

I’m glad to hear, therefore, that — as the BBC reports — earlier this month, Iceland repealed its old blasphemy law (WebCite cached article):

Iceland’s parliament has abolished its blasphemy laws, despite opposition from some of the country’s churches.

A bill was put forward by the minority Pirate Party [cached], which campaigns for internet and data freedom.

It came after the deadly attack the same month against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The bill said it was “essential in a free society that the public can express themselves without fear of punishment”.

It’s too bad it took a massacre to bring this to their attention … but at least they managed to get this done, driven by Iceland’s Pirate Party, which had been small but is growing in both numbers and political influence (cached). What’s also gratifying is that Iceland’s largest church supported repeal of the blasphemy law (cached):

The Iceland Monitor website said that the Church of Iceland supported the change [cached], and quoted them as saying that “any legislative powers limiting freedom of expression in this way is at variance with modern-day attitudes towards human rights”.

The Catholic Church of Iceland, along with a couple others, opposed it, claiming that allowing people’s religion to be insulted somehow reduces their religious freedom. I haven’t a fucking clue how that works — and I suspect they don’t either — but that’s what they said.

It’s time the entire world grew the fuck up and did what Icelanders did, which is to get rid of blasphemy laws. Because that’s what this is all about, ultimately … the maturity it takes to let people say what they want, even if it offends their religious senses. We can no longer afford the alternative. We just can’t.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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The former archbishop makes his first remarks since resigning in June. Glen Stubbe – Star TribuneI’ve blogged a few times about recently-resigned Twin Cities archbishop John Nienstedt and his various specious behaviors. These were significant enough that — at his own direction — his archdiocese launched an investigation into his dealings a year and a half ago. He ended up trying to derail it once he learned it was going places he’d preferred it wouldn’t (WebCite cached version).

Well, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, it seems Nienstedt had more than a little reason to be embarassed by what that investigation had found (cached):

Former Archbishop John Nienstedt said he remains “dumbfounded” by the allegations of personal misconduct that emerged last year during an internal church investigation of his behavior — a report that the archdiocese now is considering making public.…

Commissioned by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the probe looked into claims that Nienstedt had engaged in behavior that was inappropriate for a priest. The Star Tribune has learned that investigators collected affidavits from priests, former seminarians and a former priest alleging actions, some dating to the Detroit area in the early 1980s, that range from inappropriate touching to visiting a gay nightclub.…

The archdiocese declined to answer questions about the investigation. Last year, it hired the Greene Espel law firm in Minneapolis to look into allegations of clergy misconduct involving Nienstedt and adults. The law firm’s work ended last summer, and the chancery hired Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Peter Wold to complete the probe.

Greene Espel has publicly disputed claims by the archdiocese that Nienstedt did not intervene in the investigation.

The firm conducted interviews and collected affidavits, or sworn statements, from people who worked with or knew Nienstedt. The Star Tribune has confirmed that five Catholic priests, one former priest and a former seminarian were among those who provided affidavits.

In one affidavit, a priest in Harrison Township, Mich., reported seeing Nienstedt at a gay nightclub in Windsor, Ontario, just across the border from Detroit in the 1980s. “I recall seeing John — and there is no doubt in my mind that it was him based on my prior interactions with him — at the Happy Tap,” the Rev. Lawrence Ventline wrote in his affidavit. “He appeared to wave me off as I was coming — and I backed off because I did not want impose on him.”

Another affidavit from a Michigan priest said that Nienstedt pulled up to his car in an area frequented by gay men one December in the early 1980s and asked him if he had any “poppers,” an inhalant used by gay men to enhance sexual pleasure. When he got into Nienstedt’s car, and Nienstedt recognized him as a former student, he changed the subject, the priest told the Star Tribune.

A former seminarian at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, James Heathcott, also filed an affidavit. He said that Nienstedt — who was the seminary’s rector — expelled him after he refused an invitation to join Nienstedt and two other seminarians on a private weekend at a ski chalet in the late 1980s.

In addition, the Star Tribune obtained a 2014 letter sent by a former student at Sacred Heart Seminary to former auxiliary bishop Lee Piché, who oversaw the Nienstedt investigation, alleging that Nienstedt touched his buttocks after a dinner together one night between 2000 and 2002. Joseph Rangitsch said he protested and Nienstedt replied he could “make things unpleasant for you very quickly.”

As I said, and as the Star Trib reports, Nienstedt categorically denies it all, and offered excuses for some of these encounters, which oddly enough tends to lend them a little credibility. It’s odd that such a vehement anti-gay crusader might turn out to have been a closeted gay … or, maybe it’s not so strange after all, given that it seems to happen now and again.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: Glen Stubbe / Star Tribune.

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Pope Francis with children on Friday in Luque, Paraguay, the final leg of his Latin America trip. Andres Stapff/Reuters, via New York TimesPope Francis continues making headlines by marching to what is largely his own personal drum. In addition to his recent encyclical calling for action on global warming, he keeps finding ways to poke his nose into things a lot of people would rather he didn’t. During his trip to Latin America, as the New York Times reports, he did precisely that, by condemning capitalism in strong terms (WebCite cached article):

His speeches can blend biblical fury with apocalyptic doom. Pope Francis does not just criticize the excesses of global capitalism. He compares them to the “dung of the devil.” He does not simply argue that systemic “greed for money” is a bad thing. He calls it a “subtle dictatorship” that “condemns and enslaves men and women.”

Having returned to his native Latin America, Francis has renewed his left-leaning critiques on the inequalities of capitalism, describing it as an underlying cause of global injustice, and a prime cause of climate change. Francis escalated that line last week when he made a historic apology for the crimes of the Roman Catholic Church [cached] during the period of Spanish colonialism — even as he called for a global movement against a “new colonialism” rooted in an inequitable economic order.

His apology for Church atrocities in Latin American during the colonial age have been a long time coming. The missionaries who arrived with the conquistadores and acted as their enforcers sometimes were a savage bunch. Which is why it’s odd that he pressed to canonize one of the more controversial among them (cached) — but at the moment that’s beside the point.

At any rate, it’s not the first time the Pope has made noises in this direction, and because of that, he’s already aroused the ire of American conservatives, who worship at the altar of Capitalism right alongside their Jesus. The first among them to weigh in on the Pope’s latest denunciation of capitalism was Rush Limbaugh, who as Media Matters reports — and provides audio — threw a fit over it (cached). Note that he managed to wedge Obama into his tirade, even though Obama had no relation to it whatsoever. Poor little Rushie has made a multi-decade career out of being sanctimoniously enraged that there are actually people in the world insolent enough to dare disagree with him on shit. He seems actually to think that no one on the planet is permitted to say or even think anything other than what he approves of. Expect more fierce Rightists, probably many of them, to agree with crybaby Rushie and go on self-righteous tirades of their own.

Photo credit: Andres Stapff/Reuters, via New York Times.

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Pope Francis talks about egoism and money during a meeting with the youths, in Turin, Italy, Sunday. (Luca Bruno/AP via CSM)My readers will already have heard about Laudato Si’, the encyclical Pope Francis released this week addressing climate change and economics (WebCite cached version). Media coverage of it, including that it was leaked a few days early (cached), and that Rightists have gone berserk over the Pope having dared support both environmentalism and (they think, erroneously) communism, has been addressed thoroughly enough that I saw no point in mentioning it here.

But the Pope continued to push buttons even after that incendiary encyclical. The Christian Science Monitor reports on his assessment of how the Holocaust was handled while it was underway over 70 years ago (cached):

Pope Francis on Sunday denounced what he calls the “great powers” of the world for failing to act when there was intelligence indicating Jews, Christians, homosexuals, and others were being transported to death camps in Europe during World War II.

He also decried the deaths of Christians in gulags in Russia under the Stalin dictatorship, which followed the war.…

“The great powers had photographs of the railway routes that the trains took to Auschwitz to kill Jews, Christians, homosexuals, everybody,” Francis said, citing the death camp in Poland, and asked: “Why didn’t they bomb” those railroad routes?…

Lamenting the cynicism of world players in the 1930s and 1940s, Francis said: “the great powers divided up Europe like a cake.”

He also cited what he called the “great tragedy of Armenia.”

“In the last century, so many, millions, [of Armenians] died. But where were the great powers then? They were looking the other way,” the pope said.

The CSM goes on to explain, as I noted at the time, that the Pope had referred to the Armenian Genocide using that word, “genocide,” thus pissing off Turkey (which rather childishly and petulantly refuses to acknowledge what happened).

I may not be Pope Francis’s biggest fan, but I definitely appreciate his candor in this regard. For too long we’ve done a dance of making excuses for why the world’s regimes made little to no effort to intervene in Germany during the Holocaust, in spite of an awareness of what was going on. The Pope is correct when he points out that the Allies could very well have bombed certain railroads, and taken other measures, to interfere with the diabolical infrastructure by which the Holocaust was carried out. It’s convenient to counter with the excuse that there was a war on and Germany was heavily militarized, and it wouldn’t have been possible to completely destroy the Holocaust machinery — but they might have done something, and doing something would have been far better than doing nothing.

Of course, something that would be even better than the Pope being honest about how the Holocaust was handled, would be for him to release the Vatican’s records from that era. There’s been chatter that he might do so, given that as a Cardinal he’d supported doing so. Hopefully this might actually come to pass in my lifetime.

Photo credit: Luca Bruno/AP, via CSM.

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Ted CruzA few days ago the Faith & Freedom Coalition held a conference, and most of the GOP presidential candidates showed up to promise this Christofascist collective that they’ll be dutifully Christofascist presidents, if elected. This is normal stuff, so it hardly merits much notice.

One of those Christofascist candidates, however, used this event to announce that the rest of the field isn’t sufficiently Christofascist. And he added a claim that’s so preposterous and idiotic that I just can’t avoid remarking on it. As the National Journal reports, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz actually thinks Democrats want to enact “mandatory gay marriage” (WebCite cached article):

“More than a few Republicans, sadly, even more than a few Republicans running for president in 2016, chose that moment somehow to go rearrange their sock drawer,” Cruz said. “I’ll tell you this, I will never, ever, ever shy from standing up and defending the religious liberty of every American.”…

He said religious liberty is no longer a priority for both Republicans and Democrats. “The modern Democratic Party has decided their commitment to mandatory gay marriage in all 50 states trumps any willingness to defend the First Amendment,” Cruz said.

Yes, folks, you read that right. Teddy thinks Democrats want to force each American to marry a gay partner. I mean, what else could “mandatory gay marriage” be? Isn’t that what the word “mandatory” means? How can he say that’s what Democrats want? If he or anyone else can offer any evidence this is Democrats’ goal, I’d love to know about it. But I suspect nothing of the sort is going on, and Teddy fabricated this notion in order to terrify his audience.

It’ll help to understand the truth about Ted Cruz. His father, Rafael Cruz, is a popular and fanatical preacher, and has preached dominionism, a Christian theocratic movement. His son Teddy is not much less extreme. Also, no one who belongs to the Faith & Freedom Coalition actually wants anyone other than themselves — i.e. conservative fundamentalist Christian white men — to have any “freedom” at all.

At any rate, the whole idea that gay marriage might become “mandatory” is so childish and laughable, it’s unbelievable that a sitting U.S. Senator would claim it’s coming. But Teddy did just that. Be afraid, folks … be very, very afraid.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr.

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Archbishop John Nienstedt celebrated Holy Thursday Mass in April 2015 at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Jennifer Simonson | MPR NewsHere’s a follow-up to my last blog entry. Archbishop John Nienstedt is out, Religion News Service reports, as the head of the archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis (WebCite cached article):

The Vatican on Monday (June 15) launched a major housecleaning of the scandal-plagued Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, accepting the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt along with that of a top Nienstedt aide, Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche.

The moves come a little over a week after authorities charged the archdiocese for failing to protect children from an abusive priest and days after Pope Francis unveiled the first-ever system [cached] for disciplining bishops who do not act against predator clerics.

As noted in the article, not only has Nienstedt had trouble dealing with allegation of abuse by his priests, including the possibility that someone on his staff may have destroyed evidence in a criminal case, he’s engaged in some questionable behaviors of his own.

Nienstedt’s resignation, therefore, has been a long time coming … too long, as it turns out. Although some have praised Pope Francis for this and other similar moves, the cold fact is that it’s too little, too late. The Pope finally got around to closing the barn door only after nearly all the horses got out.

The time for the R.C. Church to have taken strong and decisive action against abusive clergy and their enablers in the hierarchy, was a dozen years ago or so when the abuse had been known and the worldwide scandal really began to snowball, with various countries’ investigations coming in and demonstrating just how extensive it was. The abuse happened for decades — if not centuries — and by virtue of the hierarchy’s (until-recently) successful cover-ups and resistance to doing anything, a lot of the perpetrators and their enablers managed to evade punishment. For every cover-up artist like Nienstedt who’s now forced to resign, a dozen predecessors had already managed never to be held accountable for what they did. It’s a travesty — especially in an institution that claims to be the sole remaining arbiter of morality on the planet. The truth about them is that they wouldn’t know morality if smashed them in the face and knocked them out.

Photo credit: Jennifer Simonson / Minnesota Public Radio.

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St Paul Cathedral 2012Note: There’s been some news today about this archdiocese; see my next blog post for information.

The worldwide Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal continues slowly to churn out news stories, because the R.C. Church’s hierarchs continue covering up for abusive priests — years after they’d said they’d do a better job of policing them. The latest such story, as reported by the New York Times, comes out of Minnesota and involves an archdiocese, not a person, criminally charged with complicity (WebCite cached article):

Prosecutors in Minnesota filed criminal charges on Friday against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, accusing church leaders of mishandling repeated complaints of sexual misconduct against a priest and failing to follow through on pledges to protect children and root out pedophile clergymen.

The charges [cached] and accompanying civil petition, announced by the Ramsey County prosecutor, John J. Choi, stem from accusations by three male victims who say they were underage when a local priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, gave them alcohol and drugs before sexually assaulting them from 2008 to 2010.

The criminal case amounts to a sweeping condemnation of the archdiocese and how its leaders have handled the abuse allegations — even after reforms were put in place by church leaders to increase accountability — and the charges are among the most severe actions taken by American authorities against a Catholic diocese.

This case involves a catastrophic, consistent refusal to monitor and discipline Fr Wehmeyer, over the course of about 15 years or so. The archdiocese was repeatedly told about Wehmeyer’s antics, yet the abuse continued unabated. Wehmeyer finally was convicted in 2013 — not that the archdiocese did much to help bring that about.

At any rate, as this story explains, Fr Wehmeyer continued abusing kids in his care many years after the US R.C. bishops supposedly established a new “zero tolerance” policy, back in 2002. I guess “zero tolerance” must not mean what most of us think it means.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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