Posts Tagged “morality”

Michelangelo's "God", from "the Creation of Adam"Every time some hideous catastrophe takes place in the occidental world, inevitably, people start musing about “where God was” while it was going on. I’ve noticed this has been particularly common in regard to the Aurora massacre that happened just over a week ago. CNN’s Belief blog alone has hosted multiple postings which ask this one question … but that’s hardly the only place. The media and the blogosphere are literally choked with people asking that question. Last Sunday, preachers and pastors around the country were (trying to) answer it for their flocks during their sermons, and I assume are still trying to do so.

I tangentially mentioned that particular question myself, just a few days ago — so I have to confess, even I have stumbled into it. Given how frequently this question has come up, I’ve decided I must address it a little more directly.

The question, “Where God was during the Aurora massacre?” is a direct consequence of “the problem of evil” which lies at the philosophical heart of the Abrahamic faiths.

Elsewhere I’ve devoted an entire Web page to this particular dilemma. To keep it brief, the problem lies in the fact that the Abrahamic faiths believe in a creator deity which is simultaneously omnipotent (i.e. having the power to do anything s/he/it wants), omniscient (i.e. knowing everything that can be known: past, present, and future alike), and benevolent (i.e. wanting there to be no suffering on the part of anyone). In spite of this supposed combination of traits, though, we know that this deity’s creation contains suffering … a lot of it. Over the centuries many theodicies have been proposed to explain how this presumed creator deity can have all three of these traits yet still there is a lot of suffering. All of those theodicies, however, fail the test of logic, because they all fail to take into account the absolute nature of the three traits the Abrahamic deity is assumed to possess, as well as his role as the creator of the universe.

The one most apologists use is the “free will” theodicy, or the claim that the creator has given humanity “free will,” so that each of us can do whatevever s/he wishes at any time, and said deity refuses to do anything about it … hence there is suffering in the world that God cannot prevent. Unfortunately this fails for three reasons: First, not all suffering is even of human origin, so that someone’s presumed “free will” played no role in it and cannot have caused it. Second, that creator deity is believed to have intervened in human affairs many times in history and has gone so far as to order people around; clearly he is not some kind of remote spectator-being who’s philosophically opposed to getting involved in people’s decisions and unwilling to get in their way. Third, as the creator, he must have known how his creation would turn out; he must have known in advance what everyone would do; he must have known there would be widespread suffering for uncountable billions of people over many generations; yet — despite knowing all of this prior to the moment of creation — he created the universe anyway.

Ultimately, a truly omnipotent and omniscient being can never be absolved of any responsibility for what he creates; if he exists, and if he created this universe, he and he alone is responsible for everything that ever happens in it. Those who are part of that creation can, at best, only be secondary agents — since he created them as they are, and they did not create themselves. In the end, simply put, it is logically impossible for the creator of the universe we live in — which has suffering in it — to simultaneously be omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. It just doesn’t work.

The curious thing about the problem of evil is, as soon as you take the Abrahamic deity’s presumed benevolence out of the equation, the rest of it actually becomes logically tenable. Removing his omnipotence or omniscience tends not to work so well: If you assume the creator was less-than-omnipotent, you’re still left with a creator who made a universe he knew would get out of his control and have suffering in it that he couldn’t do anything about; and even if the deity was less-than-omniscient, he still must have had some idea that he was risking creating a universe that might have suffering in it. So even taking either or both of those out, you’re still left with a creator-being who must have behaved in a less-than-totally-benevolent manner.

While this is coolly logical, it unfortunately does not fit with prevailing notions about the Abrahamic faiths. Most Jews, Christians and Muslims are unnerved even to consider that the deity they worship might be something other than benevolent. Some are willing to dispense with his omnipotence or omniscience (e.g. Harold Kushner, author of the best-selling When Bad Things Happen to Good People), but for the most part they simply refuse even to entertain the idea that their creator deity could be anything less than loving and compassionate.

Thus, as far as I’m concerned, for followers of the Abrahamic faiths to have to ask themselves, “Where was God during the Aurora massacre?” just provides more evidence of the inherent, undeniable absurdity of their beliefs. They shouldn’t even be asking it! What they should be asking — instead — is, “Why do I believe in a creator-deity to whom tradition assigns a combination of traits that logic tells me he can’t possibly have?”

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Mordechai Jungreis, right, walks his mentally disabled son, 16, home from school in Brooklyn. (James Estrin/The New York Times)I blog often about the Roman Catholic Church’s worldwide child-abuse scandal. It may seem that I concentrate on Catholic cases at the expense of other institutions’ abuses. But I have mentioned other faiths’ abuses, and this blog post also concerns another religion. Worse than child abuse itself, is the manner in which religions close ranks around abusers. You see, it’s not only the Catholic Church that protects them; as the New York Times reports, it also happens in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of New York (WebCite cached article):

The first shock came when Mordechai Jungreis learned that his mentally disabled teenage son was being molested in a Jewish ritual bathhouse in Brooklyn. The second came after Mr. Jungreis complained, and the man accused of the abuse was arrested.

Old friends started walking stonily past him and his family on the streets of Williamsburg. Their landlord kicked them out of their apartment. Anonymous messages filled their answering machine, cursing Mr. Jungreis for turning in a fellow Jew. …

Abuse victims and their families have been expelled from religious schools and synagogues, shunned by fellow ultra-Orthodox Jews and targeted for harassment intended to destroy their businesses. Some victims’ families have been offered money, ostensibly to help pay for therapy for the victims, but also to stop pursuing charges, victims and victims’ advocates said.

That’s right, the abuse victims’ families are victimized a second time, merely for having stood up to the abusers. Wonderful, eh?

The retribution against the reporters of abuse has had some unfortunate ramifications:

When ultra-Orthodox Jews do bring abuse accusations to the police, the same cultural forces that have long kept victims silent often become an obstacle to prosecutions.

In Brooklyn, of the 51 molesting cases involving the ultra-Orthodox community that the district attorney’s office says it has closed since 2009, nine were dismissed because the victims backed out. Others ended with plea deals because the victims’ families were fearful.

“People aren’t recanting, but they don’t want to go forward,” said Rhonnie Jaus, a sex crimes prosecutor in Brooklyn.

The article is lengthy, and offers many examples of this kind of reprehensible behavior. It’s well worth reading to the end.

The article also mentions that the situation has begun to change. That’s all well and good, I suppose, but given that both Jews and Christians frequently sing the praises of their vaunted “Judeo-Christian ethics” and waltz around telling everyone else that only they have any morals, the fact that this could have happened at all, is telling: It tells me that theists may talk a good game of “morality,” but when it comes down to actually behaving morally … well, too often they can’t be bothered.

Sorry, but given situations such as this … wherein entire communities of people who belong to the same religion all behave in such a horrific manner … I am forced to conclude that the common theists’ claim that “religion makes morality” is, very clearly, nothing but fucking bullshit. It’s obvious these peoples’ religiosity did nothing to make them “moral” — just the opposite, in fact! What’s worse, the sense of righteousness that theists feel, actually prevents them from improving their behavior. Now more than ever, we need to stop giving theists the right to proclaim themselves morally superior to everyone else. Their hypocrisy really needs to end, and those of us who see it for what it is, must make it clear and stop giving them a “pass.”

Photo credit: James Estrin / New York Times.

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Pope Benedict XVI, holding a tall, lit, white candle, enters a hushed and darkened St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican Saturday, April 7, 2012, to begin the Vatican's Easter vigil service. Except for the twinkle of camera flashes, the basilica was almost pitch-black as the thousands of faithful in pews awaited Benedict's arrival through the rear entrance Saturday night. Christians on Easter joyously mark their belief that Christ rose from the dead after his crucifixion. Praying at the start of the service, Benedict said Easter brings hope to the faithful. On Sunday morning, he will lead Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)I continue to be amazed at the audacity of the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI who rules it. I suppose by now that nothing that comes out of that vipers’ den should surprise me any more, but it does nonetheless. This past Easter, the Pope used his Easter vigil service — unintentionally, I assume — to issue a moral indictment of his own Roman Catholic Church. The AP reports via Yahoo News (WebCite cached article):

Pope Benedict XVI, carrying a tall, lit candle, ushered in Christianity’s most joyous celebration with an Easter vigil service Saturday night, but voiced fears that mankind is groping in darkness, unable to distinguish good from evil. …

Benedict worried in his homily: “The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil.”

“The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general,” the pope said.

“If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other ‘lights,’ that put such incredible technical feats within our reach, are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk,” Benedict added.

Over the past several years I have blogged about the staggering amorality of the R.C. Church; its unwillingness to permit itself to be held accountable for its actions; its long history of keeping abusive clergy on, despite knowing they have abused children; its frequent attempts to shelter abusive priests from prosecution, and to silence those who would report them; its consistent claims to have done nothing wrong, that it’s more a victim than the abuse victims are; spewing nothing but excuses — some ridiculous or even insulting — over its worldwide clerical child-abuse scandal; and its staunch refusal to do any more about it than issue vapid non-apology apologies (along the lines of, “Bad things happened, we’re sorry they did, now stop complaining about it!”).

As for not knowing the difference between right and wrong, let’s talk about the R.C. hierarchy’s record in the matter of moral discernment. Former archbishop of Milwaukee Rembert Weakland admitted he’d been unaware that child abuse was wrong. While he’d been bishop of Bridgeport, retired Cardinal Edward Egan was indifferent to abuse allegations, to the point where he asserted no such cases had been reported in his time there, which is demonstrably untrue, and further claimed he had no legal mandate to report it, when in fact he did.

So we have child abuse worldwide, going on under the noses of the Catholic hierarchy. The Church was negligently indifferent to it, sometimes covered it up, to the point of thwarting attempts to investigate it. We have hierarchs who openly admit they did not give a fuck about children being abused. We have a steady stream of excuses being made — both for the abuse itself, and the concerted efforts to cover it up — along with a persistent, continuous refusal to accept responsibility for any of this behavior. We have, furthermore, the claim that the scandal itself is a complete fiction, cooked up as an attack on a totally-innocent Church.

All of this — and more — clearly demonstrate that the R.C. Church, as an institution, is every bit as morally blind as the Pope claims “the World” is becoming. Benedict sure has a helluva lot of nerve, whining and bellyaching about moral blindness in others, while he himself is as morally blind as anyone ever was.

Yes, folks, this is the very same kind of hypocrisy that Jesus himself clearly and unambiguously forbid his own followers ever to engage in. Maybe someday the Pope will actually try to live up to the standards of the religion he claims to follow and to speak for … but that day, apparently, is not today.

Photo credit: AP Photo / Pier Paolo Chito, via Yahoo News (cached).

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The Queen speaking to synod today, flanked by the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Duke of Edinburgh.In a move that will, now doubt, enrage lots of theists — especially religionists of the “there-can-be-no-morality-without-God” variety, Queen Elizabeth II commented recently that atheists aren’t entirely bad. The (UK) Guardian reports on these comments to an Anglican Church synod (WebCite cached article):

People of faith do not have a monopoly on virtue as British society was now “more diverse and secular”, the Queen told the Church of England today in an address to its governing body.

Speaking at Church House, central London, she told members of General Synod that believers and atheists were equally able to contribute to the prosperity and wellbeing of the country.

The Queen, who is supreme governor of the Church of England, said: “In our more diverse and secular society, the place of religion has come to be a matter of lively discussion. It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue and that the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation depend on the contribution of individuals and groups of all faiths and none.”

The irony here is that Queen Elizabeth — as the Guardian story mentions — is technically the head of the Church of England, as all English/UK monarchs have been, ever since Henry VIII cut off the church within his realm from the Holy See in Rome. Expect the furious retorts to the Queen to begin … not so much in her own realm or even the Commonwealth, but within the US, among the vocal militant Christianists.

Photo credit: Wpa Pool/Getty Images via The Guardian.

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Sagrada Família, Barcelona, SpainIn his continued effort to encourage the world to forget the abuse of children at the hands of Catholic clergy which took place around the world at least for decades, if not centuries, and which has been systematically covered up the the Catholic hierarchy for as long, Pope Benedict XVI keeps railing sanctimoniously about the evils of “secularism.” CNN reports on his latest outburst, when he dedicated a new church in Barcelona, Spain (WebCite cached article):

Pope Benedict XVI defended religion from critics Sunday as he dedicated the Sagrada Familia church, a still-unfinished emblem of the Spanish city of Barcelona.

“This is the great task before us: to show everyone that God is a God of peace not of violence, of freedom not of coercion, of harmony not of discord,” he said.

And he pushed back against what he sees as increasing secularism in the world, saying, “I consider that the dedication of this church of the Sagrada Familia is an event of great importance, at a time in which man claims to be able to build his life without God, as if God had nothing to say to him.”

Benedict would, of course, carry much more moral authority, if only he would finally come clean about the Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal, admit the hierarchy’s complicity in the crimes of abusive clergy, and hand over for prosecution all guilty priests, monks, nuns, and bishops remaining in the Church.

I know, fat chance that will ever happen. Nonetheless, until he does so, the Pope does not have the moral authority to pass judgement on the putative evils of secularism, or of anything else, for that matter; he remains the head of an organization with nearly the same moral fiber as the Mafia.

The Pope also could not help but spew more ridiculousness concerning same-sex marriage, which Spain recently legalized:

He also defended the traditional family, after Spain’s Socialist government legalized same-sex marriage.

“The generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman is the effective context and foundation of human life in its gestation, birth, growth and natural end,” he said.

The Pope suggests, here, that marriage is about procreation. As I pointed out way back in 2008, however, this is not the case, as millions of childless married couples around the world can attest. If the Pope — and other marriage advocates who also love to spew the “marriage-is-only-for-making-babies” canard — are correct, then all those childless married folks should be forced either to divorce, or to have children. If he — and those other marriage advocates — are not willing to do that, then they aren’t being true to their own stated philosophy.

At any rate, it’s long past time for Benedict XVI to stop wailing and moaning about “secularism” and finally put his own house in order. This would, of course, be the Christian thing to do, following Jesus’ own teachings:

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me remove that splinter from your eye,” while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:41-42)

It’s long past time for the Pope to read his own holy book and then do what it tells him to do. (The same goes for every other Christian in the world who thinks s/he’s entitled to tell everyone else what to do, but who refuses to abide by those teachings him/herself.)

Photo credit: Katonams / Wikimedia Commons.

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I blogged about Patty Robertson’s insane and insulting drivel about the earthquake in Haiti last night, but now I find that another Rightist figure has found yet another insulting and horrible way to comment on that same disaster. Rush Limbaugh has managed to say not one, but two, despicable — and in the case of the latter, possibly racist — things about it.

His first gem: “We’ve already donated to Haiti, it’s called the US income tax.” Here’s a Mediaite recording:

Limbaugh implies that no American need donate anything to Haitian relief, since it’s already been done by the federal government. Gosh, what a wonderfully charitable sentiment!

Then, he said: “[The Obama White House will] use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community, in the light-skinned and black-skinned community in this country.” Here, again, is a Mediate recording:

Limbaugh is correct in suggesting that politicians “use” disaster responses to promote themselves politically. This is old news. It’s also something all political parties do and it’s something they’ve long been criticized for (e.g. George W. Bush, who was accused of this back in 2004 (cached article) when he was running for re-election). The remarks about light-skinned and black-skinned and appealing just to “the black community,” though, are ridiculous, and reveal Limbaugh’s own racist thinking rather than saying anything about the Obama administration. If he thinks politicians like Obama only care about how “the black community” sees them, then he’s an idiot … politicians such as him typically want to look good to as many different kinds of people as possible, not just to a subset of the population!

So far this has only been reported by the usual partisan-political outlets, such as Huff and Media Matters, not by the mass media. They’re likely not aware of it yet. (It’s always partisans who first pick these things up, since they’re the ones with banks of monitors listening to and transcribing the comments of people like Robertson and Limbaugh. The mass media don’t have the personnel to devote to that.)

It’s absolutely unbelievable that people like Robertson and Limbaugh manage to get away with this. Once again I must ask a similar question to the one that ended my blog entry on Robertson’s latest spew, which is, “When are conservatives going to figure out that Rush Limbaugh no longer possesses the moral foundation to be their spokesman any more?” At what point have they had enough?

Update: Limbaugh is now saying (WebCite cached article) that his racist or near-racist remarks were merely his way of pointing out that Senate majority leader Harry Reid hasn’t taken any heat for his own quasi-racist comments during the 2008 presidential campaign (as reported in a recent book). There are two problems with this, however. First, Limbaugh is incorrect in insisting that Reid hasn’t been criticized for his comments. Reid has been criticized (cached); he has apologized (cached) for those remarks; and the apology was accepted (cached). Second, this is two wrongs make a right thinking, which is both fallacious and immoral. That someone else did something wrong, is not license for anyone to misbehave. Not to mention that Limbaugh’s claim that Reid hasn’t been criticized is … as noted already … factually incorrect. Thus he compounds the immorality of using another’s wrong to justify his own, with the immorality of deceit.

Nice. For that the man gets paid millions of dollars a year.

At that rate of pay, he can afford to hire a nanny who can make him grow up, for the first time in his life.

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I blogged a couple times already on a report by an investigative commission in Ireland on the abuse of children in the care of the Roman Catholic Church (such as orphanages and schools) which had been released in May. That report focused mainly on the operations of facilities, which had been mostly in the care of religious orders such as the Christian Brothers. A subsequent report, released a few days ago, delves deeper into the Church hierarchy’s cover-up, and the complicity not only of the religious orders but of the Dublin archdiocese, as well as government officials, police, etc. The New York Times reports on these additional revelations:

Report Says Irish Bishops and Police Hid Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church and the police in Ireland systematically colluded in covering up decades of child sex abuse by priests in Dublin, according to a scathing report released Thursday.

The cover-ups spanned the tenures of four Dublin archbishops and continued through to the mid-1990s and beyond, even after the church was beginning to admit to its failings and had professed that it was confronting abuse by its priests.

But rather than helping the victims, the church was concerned only with “the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of its assets,” said the 700-page report, prepared by a group appointed by the Irish government and called the Commission of Investigation Into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin.

The abuse — and the cover-up — were extensive, pervasive, and multi-generational. The Church’s reaction? I’ll relay what the Times reported (emphasis mine):

In a statement, the current archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, acknowledged the “revolting story” of abuses that the report detailed, saying, “No words of apology will ever be sufficient.” He added, “The report highlights devastating failings of the past.”

Note his Excellency’s specific mention of “the past.” It’s all “water under the bridge” for the Archbishop, it seems. How nice — and Christian of him to slough off any responsibility. What a way to uphold a higher standard of morality.

It wasn’t just the Roman Catholic hierarchy that allowed this to happen, though … many others colluded with the Church and were complicit in the abuse:

The report said the Irish police allowed the church to act with impunity and often referred abuse complaints back to the archdiocese for internal investigations.

The police said Thursday that they regretted their failure to act. “Because of acts or omissions, individuals who sought assistance did not always receive the level of response or protection which any citizen in trouble is entitled to expect,” Ireland’s police commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, said, adding he was “deeply sorry.”

It’s interesting how so many people are willing to apologize … but they’re only doing so after the fact, and essentially they plan never actually to truly do anything to express their remorse, or prevent such things ever from happening again. The government promised prosecutions, as the Times explains:

The Irish government vowed to make amends to the victims. The justice minister, Dermot Ahern, promised that “the persons who committed these dreadful crimes — no matter when they happened — will continue to be pursued.”

The problem, however, is that, as a result of a 2004 lawsuit by the aforementioned Christian Brothers, Irish courts caved in to the Church and have prevented the Commission from releasing the names of the abusers. Because of that, prosecutions will be next to impossible.

P.S. I assume that the fact that the New York Times reported on this, will only further convince Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, that the Times is “anti-Catholic.” He seems to believe the R.C. Church should be insulated from having its misdeeds reported publicly … and that the misdeeds of other churches and religions somehow grant the Catholic Church permission to misbehave. I guess these ideas, too, are part of the Catholic Church’s high moral standards … although most of us know better.

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