Pope Benedict XVI

// 7 February 2010

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Catholic Church has contributed more than most to the oppression of women. Whether it’s the deaths of women in childbirth and of HIV / AIDS due to their commitment to preventing safer sex, or covering up the abuse of girl and boy children and protecting the abusers, they have consistently chosen paths which keep women controlled and ‘in their place’.

This is the church that ordered the excommunication of everyone involved in helping a 9 year old girl, who was pregnant with twins after being raped by her stepfather, to have an abortion. The church actively tried to prevent the termination, and when it failed it ordered that the child’s mother and the doctors involved be excommunicated. (Not the step-father, tellingly).

“If the B52 bombers flying over Vietnam were dropping contraceptives, the American Catholic hierarchy would have condemned that in a minute, but they were dropping napalm”

— James Carroll

The Pope has also been in the news this week for speaking out against the UK government’s equality policies, which would have required churches to stop discriminating against LGBT people. This is a man who, when he speaks, people listen. Just think what he could use his voice for. He could protest poverty, he could condemn domestic violence. But no, he speaks out against equality.

Later this year, the Pope is planning a visit to Britain. Not only do I not want him here, I was really disgusted to hear that the £20 million cost of his visit will be paid for by public money. Just think how many Rape Crisis centres could be funded by that money!

The National Secular Society have started a petition to ask the Catholic Church itself to pay for the visit. As I write, it has 17,457 signatures, one of which is mine.

The Catholic Church, contrary to the guidance of many passages of the Bible, is a very rich institution. If this man, who played a leading role in a systematic cover-up of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests, wants to come here, let him pay for it himself.

(cross-posted at incurable hippie blog)

Comments From You

Lianne // Posted 7 February 2010 at 11:25 am

Agreed. We’re paying the bill because he’s visiting in his capacity as head of state (which means he should keep his nose in his own business and we pick up the tab); yet at the same time he’s using his position as the head of a religion to interfere in the legislative procedure and debate in another state by imparting archaic views of women/LGBT people/sexual activity etc etc.

This is precisely why secularism is an important issue; the two should be distinct in order to keep serious issues that affect people – Catholic and otherwise – unclouded from prejudice.

Incidentally, I’m (only half-jokingly) proposing that such visits should be covered by the state up to a reasonable threshold, and then the rest should be means-tested. Maybe it’d make people think twice about organising lavish trips with someone else’s money… or hacking off people enough to create a public threat to yourself, for that matter.

Laura // Posted 7 February 2010 at 12:55 pm

Already signed it, I’ve been meaning to blog this all week! The National Secular Society are also planning protests to ‘welcome’ the Pope, and wish to include feminist campaigners, so I’ve expressed my interest and will keep everyone updated.

Kristin // Posted 7 February 2010 at 1:00 pm

Thank you, Philippa, for another good post. Yes, of course the Catholic church should pay for their Dear Leader’s visit! given that they must be one of the richest institutions in the world. I don’t want him here either.

Not only the Catholic church, but ALL organized religions oppress women. I’ve just read a shocking piece about a girl in Turkey who was buried alive in a so-called ‘honour’ killing. Her crime? Talking to boys!

That this can still happen in 2010. No words.

saranga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 1:03 pm

oh my goddess.. thanks for posting about this, i’ll cross post it at my site and sign the petition now.

gadgetgal // Posted 7 February 2010 at 1:50 pm

Already signed it and have been trying to get others to sign it too – to me my secularism is as strong as my feminism, possibly more so, and this protest has highlighted how much more intertwined they are than most people realise. Religion of any kind is a personal decision, the state shouldn’t be involved in it in any way, but until we remove it from our schools and our government it will always be more about indoctrination than freedom of choice.

Elb // Posted 7 February 2010 at 1:58 pm

And will you expect every head of state from any nation which has problematic or oppressive legislation to pay for their own visit?

Furthermore, the visit will be paid for from taxpayers’ money. Catholics would be perfectly willing to raise the money themselves, but their taxes are already used to fund the Anglican church, which includes lavish pensions and school fees! We already have to pay extra to support our own churches, but the government forces Catholics to pay for the upkeep of the Church of England.

As a Catholic, please, feel free to criticise individual Catholics or the Curia, but to make negative blanket statements about ‘the Catholic Church’ is anti-Catholic, and refuses to acknowledge they already-silenced feminist, gay and liberal Catholics within the Catholic Church.

Amy Clare // Posted 7 February 2010 at 3:48 pm

@Elb:

“And will you expect every head of state from any nation which has problematic or oppressive legislation to pay for their own visit?”

IMO the situation is different in this case, as the Pope isn’t just a head of state, he’s also head of a religion which is followed by millions of people in the UK. Some of these people are members of our government and cabinet and millions more are voters. Already, religious institutions in the UK have ensured the removal of clauses in the Equality Bill which would have prevented them from discriminating on the grounds of sexuality. The Pope has already spoken publicly about the Bill and his church’s supposed ‘right’ to discriminate. In doing so he is sticking his nose into UK politics, where it does not belong, and what’s more, the UK govt is happy to have it there (so it would seem). Other heads of state may criticise UK policies, but when the Pope does it, *people listen*. Millions see him as a moral authority, who essentially communicates the wishes of their god. So yes, he is different from another head of state, and he should not expect UK taxpayers to pay to be told that he is allowed to discriminate against them because of his superstitions and prejudices.

“We already have to pay extra to support our own churches, but the government forces Catholics to pay for the upkeep of the Church of England.”

Catholic people are not the only people to pay tax. Most people in this country pay tax whether they are religious, atheist or whatever. The issue of which religion gets the most UK public money *in general* and the ethics of this is a whole other discussion. I personally don’t think *any* public money at all should be used to finance any religious institution. In any case, if taxes from Catholics are used for the upkeep of CoE churches, it does not follow that it is therefore okay to allow the Pope’s visit to be financed by the very people he wants to discriminate against.

“As a Catholic, please, feel free to criticise individual Catholics or the Curia, but to make negative blanket statements about ‘the Catholic Church’ is anti-Catholic…”

On this website, political parties are frequently criticised and statements such as ‘The Tories have done x’ or ‘New Labour have been responsible for y’ are written all the time (there’s one quite recent post about tax breaks). Does this mean that The F Word are anti-Tory or anti-Labour and would wish to silence the voices of all Tory or Labour voters, even the ‘liberal’ ones? Of course not. It makes no sense to accuse the author of being ‘anti-Catholic’, and to do so is a thinly veiled attempt to shut down a very valid critique of the Catholic Church (meaning the institution, its leaders and dogma – note the OP is saying ‘the Catholic Church’ not ‘all Catholics’). Perhaps there will always be members of a group who do not agree with all the group’s ‘rules’, but this does not make the group immune from criticism.

Personally I agree whole heartedly with Philippa and have signed the petition myself. She is right: the man has the ear of millions who see him as a moral authority – papal infallibility, anyone? – and as we live in a society with free speech there is nothing to stop him from spouting his hateful nonsense, so millions will hear it and believe it. But those of us who value equality can make it clear that we are unhappy to foot the bill for this, and in doing so suggest to the govt that ‘because magic man said so’ is not a good enough reason to discriminate against people.

gadgetgal // Posted 7 February 2010 at 4:04 pm

@Elb – Signing this petition is not picking on one religion for the Secularist Society – they (like me) believe that religion of any kind should play no part in government. That includes taking my taxes for the Church of England too – they should pay for themselves.

I understand the pope is a little different from most other religious leaders in that he is also technically a head of state (the Vatican City) however we don’t pay for every government leader in the world to come here indiscriminately, especially if their beliefs don’t tally with our own – I’m thinking here of Mugabe and Ahmadinejad specifically, who would find it difficult to even enter the country, let alone have us pay for the pleasure! I don’t always agree with those whom they let in or don’t let in, but based upon things like how they treat people in their own countries and how much/little respect they show our laws then yes, we have the right to refuse to fund anyone we don’t want to have here.

As to the criticism of the Catholic Church as a whole rather than just individuals or the curia that’s a tricky one – although ordinary members of the church (including my grandmother for most of her life) may take offense when someone makes that kind of blanket statement, the actual organisation of the religion makes it difficult to do otherwise. I’m not even talking about papal infallibility, which is a separate and confusing case altogether, but the acceptance that the pope is the ruling agent who decides (usually with the curia) what will be accepted as the formal beliefs of the church (i.e. papal primacy). If he makes a formal declaration of belief then that is the law of the church. Even my grandmother was forced to confront this when one of her sons turned out to be gay. She would now classify herself as a “lapsed” Catholic, but because of the stance of the church towards gay people she couldn’t in all honesty stay in it or call herself a Catholic anymore (certainly not a Roman Catholic, anyway, as if you are one then you accept that what the pope says goes, it’s one of the major tenets of the religion). So to say “the Catholic Church” when you discuss either the pope’s decisions on policy, or the history of the organisation, isn’t really inaccurate.

Caroline // Posted 7 February 2010 at 4:47 pm

Elb, what is wrong with being anti-Catholic, anti-Islam or anti any religion which seeks to impose its beliefs on people regardless, and has little or no respect for human rights? I personally feel deeply threatened by such organisations and how they abuse what power they have.

I don’t think any government should pay any money towards organised religion.

Elb // Posted 7 February 2010 at 5:14 pm

@ Amy Claire

I agree with a great deal of what you say. However, there is a difference between criticising a religion and criticising a political party – and the word Curia exists so there is absolutely no reason for people to attack ‘the Catholic Church’ when they actually wish to attack ‘the administration and institution of the Catholic Church’ – otherwise their attack includes the victims of the Curia as well, such a women and gay people, for example – that is what ‘the Catholic Church’ is. So when I suggest the word ‘Curia’ be used instead, I was not attempting to silence any criticism, but to introduce a term to differentiate this criticism from prejudice. This country has a long history of institutionalised anti-Catholicism, which is deeply entrenched and comes rising to the surface every time the Pope, with whom many UK Catholics seriously disagree, says something utterly deplorable. And Catholics CAN disagree with the Pope – non-Catholics toss the term ‘papal infallibility’ around an awful lot without knowing what it means, and without knowing that it has only been used a handful of times on doctrinal issues, like the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary. Never on gay rights, or the Equality Bill.

@gadgetgal

“as if you are one then you accept that what the pope says goes, it’s one of the major tenets of the religion.” Please see above. I am a Catholic and have absolutely no qualms with disagreeing with what the Pope says about gay people; in fact, as a Catholic, I feel that it is my duty to.

@ Caroline

The Catholic Church has a long history of very great work done for human rights; more than half of the charities and aid organisations in Africa right now are Catholic, and the deplorable statements of the current Pope do absolutely nothing to eradicate the work of Bishop Carlos Belo, Sr Joan Chittister, Father Alfred Delp, or all the other thousands of Catholics who have made the world a better place. Every single human institution has done terrible things, but I think if you are entirely anti-organised religion there is little I can say to change your mind at all, or even to ask you to respect other people’s spiritual beliefs, even if you do not share them.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 7 February 2010 at 5:54 pm

Elb, I think that part of the difficulty is that members of the Catholic church are inherent in upholding the hierarchy of it, and implicity supporting their views, by their attendance at Mass, their identification as Roman Catholic.

There is always an element of choice, and a key part of Roman Catholicism is accepting that the Pope has a God-given authority. By subscribing to Catholicism, you subscribe to that authority too.

The criticism in the post was aimed at the Pope and the upper hierarchies of the church, but supporting the church does, to some extent or other, mean supporting those people.

earwicga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:08 pm

@ Elb

I am very glad to read your comments on here as I wasn’t going to bother commenting but I (obviously) am now. I am also a Catholic and remember clearly the disappointment when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as pope. Not only does he have a terrible legacy within silencing liberation theology and it’s proponents in South America, but his staunch conservatism is out of step with many Catholics. Additionally his words and actions regarding clerical child abuse are no less than shamefull. For this reason I have already signed the petition that Phillippa links to above. Not because I don’t wish to see a Pope visit the UK, but I don’t want to see this current Pope Benedict to be given any validation. As for papal infallibility – the first time I heard it discussed was by my parish priest after Ratzinger was inaugurated. It is laughable that commenters don’t want a papal visit in terms that he is head of a religion. The Queen is head of state and also head of the Church of England, and I don’t want to pay for her jollies when she is invited to visit. Btw – Pope Benedict was invited to the UK by Gordon Brown so if anyone wants to take up funding issues then do so with him. I totally agree with you – there is a big difference in attacking individual Catholics and parishes who in large part operate in debt (while contributing to the whole community with aid (not just Catholics) and attacking the Papacy.

Elb // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:17 pm

@Philippa Willitts

I am a university student. If a lecturer, or even vice-chancellor, says or does something offensive, is any student who does not immediately drop out inherent in upholding the hierarchy of the university, and implicitly supporting the lecturer’s views?

There is a big difference between respecting the office of the Pope and blindly following every word he says. The pope was elected by a majority of cardinals, and has been a well-respected theologian for many years, and so I will listen to what he has to say. I also retain the right to absolutely disagree with it – which I do – as do many of the laity, priests and bishops in this country. I know one bishop who told me that every time Benedict released any statement he thought “that stupid git is fucking everything up for the rest of us”, and felt compelled to phone up all of the gay priests in his diocese – yes, they do exist – to tell them that “Rome is far, far away.” By subscribing to Catholicism – the religion I was born into – I follow in the footsteps of women like Mary of Nazareth, the teachings of Jesus with due respect for the evangelist’s own culture, theological emphases and redactional choices; it means that I believe in a triune God, angels, saints, the sacraments, etc. I believe that Christianity always operates more truly when totally separate from the government of the country in which its adherents live, but I also believe that religious people have every right to hold public office, and to vote in accordance to their consciences. But it would be good for the followers of this blog to remember that there are feminists in the Catholic Church, and some of those feminists are reading.

Elb // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:20 pm

@earwicga

Thank you – I agree with everything you’ve just said. I remember nearly crying when Benedict was elected; I knew how bad it was then, despite my youth. I have heard rumours that there is going to be a big push within a couple of decades for big liberalisation in the Catholic Church, similar to VII, and so a really conservative thin Pope was elected to justify a really liberal fat Pope next time. Here’s hoping.

earwicga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:21 pm

@ Caroline

Your comment is abhorrent and I do not know why it has been allowed through moderation.

Just to take one of your questions – what is wrong with being anti-muslim I can offer you a selection of answers.

1) Over a million civillians killed in Iraq by most recent Christian crusade for oil and a political foothold in the region.

2) Thousands dead and tortured in Afghanistan by most recent Christian crusade in order to show US citizens that a punishment for 9/11 was available, and to control natural resources and gain a political foothold in the region (no accurate figure is available as nobody has bothered to keep count how many have been killed).

3) Murders galore in the Yemen in the current Christian crusade as an excuse for a strategic foothold in the region.

I can only assume you are ignorant to the facts above to have enabled you to write such a comment. The simple fact that those men that have been released from Guantánamo Torture Camp after years of torture don’t then attack their torturers in every way possible shows that Islam is indeed a great religion. All religions can be criticised when they are abused by fundamentalists, but to dismiss them all by saying why shouldn’t be against them is very simple in the extreme.

earwicga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:22 pm

@ Phillippa

I think comments by myself and Elb shows that what you have written is not the case.

gadgetgal@ // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:24 pm

@Elb – I can always agree to disagree with people and that’s probably best in this case. I even agree with you on certain specific things, such as the inherent anti-catholic bias in this country (which is there for a lot of historical reasons, both good and bad). But I have to say that when you said there’s a difference between a political party and a religion I disagree, there absolutely isn’t – they’re made up of people just the same. So if you can be critical of one you can be critical of the other. I don’t think by virtue of being a religious organisation means no one can ever say anything to disagree with you, and it’s not showing a lack of respect to do so – if I see something I think is unjust and unfair I’m allowed to point it out, just as you’re allowed to then disagree with that.

And @ everyone here – secularism isn’t anti-religion, it just means a separation of church and state. Like I said before, I think that should also be the case with CofE – this is the 21st century, religion shouldn’t be playing a part in government or public life at all, whatever the religion!

earwicga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:33 pm

@ Elb

I doubt it. Benedict is going to be there a fair while and he is responsible for putting in place those who will vote on his successor. But we can always hope, and keep chipping away at the block in our own ways.

gadgetgal // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:44 pm

@earwicga – you make some good points but I have to mention one thing about what you’ve written. Caroline said she was “anti-Islam” not “anti-muslim” – in saying the second one you’ve implied she doesn’t like certain people based upon their religion, as opposed to disliking the religion itself. There is nothing wrong with saying you dislike a religion for whatever reason, it’s not the same as saying you indiscriminately dislike some people for who they are.

earwicga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:46 pm

@ Phillippa

I don’t think the author of your quote used in the op would agree with your comment re being a Catholic automatically means you support Pope Benedict. Looks like this practicing Catholic and an ex-priest would disagree quite a lot actually.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:47 pm

Gadgetgal and Earwigca,

Just a note to say that the reason I did approve that comment was because it said ‘anti-Islam’, which, like gadgetgal, I considered to be a critique of the religion, not the people. Had it said ‘anti-Muslim’ I would not have published it.

earwicga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:50 pm

@ gadgetgal & Caroline

Please read “anti-muslim” as “anti-Islam” in my comment at 6:21pm as that was what I meant to type.

Being anti-Islam isn’t saying you don’t like it – it is being opposed to it. There is a difference.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:52 pm

Hi again earwigca,

I probably didn’t explain myself well. I know that all Catholics don’t support the Pope, in fact the majority of those I know don’t! What I was trying to say was that by attending Mass and choosing to identify as Catholic, that offers a kind of tacit support for the institution and its head.

Like how I don’t buy Nestle products on principle, because giving money to Nestle offers an implicit support of their baby milk marketing policies, which I strongly object to. And why I don’t buy the Daily Mail – even if some of it is good – because buying it would offer support to an institution I wouldn’t want to support!

gadgetgal // Posted 7 February 2010 at 6:56 pm

@Philippa – slight derail but, yay, I don’t buy Nestle or the Daily Mail either – it’s good to see I’m not alone in trying to avoid the almost impossible to avoid!!

earwicga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 7:11 pm

@ Phillippa

Thank you for clarifying what you meant. I understood it originlly in the way you have clarified it, and disagree. Personally I find my voice is stronger as a critic within the Catholic Church that if I was to leave it.

As to your financial boycott comparison – I can choose which church collection I contribute to, the destination is always stated, so it doesn’t compare.

saranga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 7:12 pm

@ Phillippa: I don’t really think you can compare the Daily Mail or Nestle to Catholicism. I think Catholicism and Catholics in general hold a great deal more variety of views than any newspaper or profit making company does.

I don’t believe that going to Mass or identifying as a Catholic gives implicit support to all statements issued by the head of the Church. Actually, I completely fail to see how anyone could draw those conclusions, as to do so appears dismissive of the capacity for individual human thought.

Catholicism isn’t about blindly following what the Pope or Vatican says, it’s about (I think, Catholics please correct me if I’m wrong*) believing in the Holy Trinity, Jesus, Mary mother of Christ, first amnd foremost, then other stuff afterwards. For evidence, see what Elb and earwicga have been saying.

*I was brought up Catholic but it never really took, so my knowledge of the religion is somewhat shaky.

saranga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 7:14 pm

@ Phillippa again: I say appears dismissive because I don’t believe you intended to be so, but to me that is how it comes across.

gadgetgal // Posted 7 February 2010 at 7:15 pm

Sorry, gotta get into this again – yeah, saying you’re anti-something probably means more than just disliking it so there is a difference, but I have to say there really isn’t anything wrong with being opposed to something either. I’m opposed to the patriarchy, I don’t just dislike it, I stand against it – there’s nothing wrong with that if I disagree with it. I can see pluses and minuses in being either for or against religion and people should have the right to feel like that and also to express it. It doesn’t make them wrong, or bad people.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 7 February 2010 at 7:16 pm

Earwigca,

I really hope you succeed with change from within :) Trying wore me out, and I had to leave, but if change can happen I’m sure you’re a great person to lead it!

And the boycott thing I also clearly didn’t explain myself well. It’s been one of those days! Obviously financial donations within church, like you say, can be targeted so you actively choose who you support. With the boycotts in my example, I was using purchasing as more the idea where buying x product instead of y gives x a kind of ‘nod of approval’ to the company / institution, rather than the money directly, although that is obviously a factor too. I don’t want Nestle or DM to get my money as much as I don’t want to give them a silent nod.

Amy Clare // Posted 7 February 2010 at 8:20 pm

Many of the recent comments seem to be about how Catholicism isn’t about blindly following what the Pope says, it’s about believing in, to quote Elb, “a triune God, angels, saints, the sacraments, etc.”

Let me ask: on what authority do you believe these things?

Surely these truth-claims (the existence of a god, the existence of angels, the existence and divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, transubstantiation and so forth) were laid down by one human authority figure or another, many years ago? Aren’t you and basically every Catholic (or member of any religion) just believing what someone said some time? Someone you don’t even know, who lived thousands of years ago? Isn’t this still a form of ‘blindly following’?

If you take the ideas a) that condoms don’t protect against AIDS and b) virgins can have babies, for example – both are untrue, so why believe one but not the other?

I’m not trying to be mean, I genuinely want to know.

Seems to me that some people with the best of intentions just want to believe the nice stuff about their religion and explain away the bad stuff as ‘oh that’s just what the fella in charge thinks’ or ‘that’s just what’s in the manual, you can ignore that’. What ends up happening is a weird situation where people call themselves Catholics while ignoring large chunks of what the Bible and the Church leaders say.

But Philippa is right, every time someone says ‘I am a Catholic’ and goes to mass etc, they are adding their number to this institution. When the Pope says to a world leader ‘You’d better listen to me, I am the head of the Catholic Church which has A BILLION members’, every Catholic is one of that billion. The sheer number of Catholics in this world is what gives the Pope his power. That’s what persuades TV networks to stream his hateful bullshit, that’s partly what persuades governments to have him for a sleepover. That’s why he can sulk over the Equality Bill and the govt actually listens to him. I’m quite sure the Pope couldn’t give a monkey’s whether you think he’s a hateful bigot or not. If you’re a card-carrying member of the flock that all that matters. Bums on seats.

An old friend of mine believes sincerely that computers steal people’s thoughts and so are inherently evil. He’s just one person, see, so he gets put in a psychiatric ward. How many followers do you think he would have to amass in order for his views to become legitimate and start influencing social policy? One? A hundred? Ten thousand?

A billion?

Kath // Posted 7 February 2010 at 9:07 pm

@Amy Claire. Well said. For me, my feminism is pretty central to my atheism. To put it in a simplified way, all organised religions are patriarchal so if you don’t believe the world should be like that (which as feminists we don’t) then it’s clear that all religions are “man-made” in which case you can’t believe in them.

Elb // Posted 7 February 2010 at 9:15 pm

@ Amy Claire

Do not worry about being mean; with some of the names I get called, this really does not bother me to much. I hope you genuinely want to know; if you are genuinely curious, then I will try to explain.

“Surely these truth-claims (the existence of a god, the existence of angels, the existence and divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, transubstantiation and so forth) were laid down by one human authority figure or another, many years ago? Aren’t you and basically every Catholic (or member of any religion) just believing what someone said some time? Someone you don’t even know, who lived thousands of years ago? Isn’t this still a form of ‘blindly following’?”

Catholics believe that our knowledge arises from three things: Scripture, Tradition, Reason. There is also the more subjective factor of religious experience, which has its own criteria for credibility.

I am starting from a basic assumption of belief in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.

Scripture: since before Augustine, we have known that the Bible is full of metaphors; Biblical fundamentalism is a very recent phenomenon, only about 200 years old. Catholics have a duty to study the Bible, and using Reason, discern what is worthy of belief. Here is not the place to discuss the tools of exegesis and hermeneutics, but, for example, we can know that Jesus existed, that he came from Nazareth, that he was baptized by John the Baptist, that he was executed by crucifixion, and that he was a friend of women. We can know these things because of a. multiple attestations and b. embarrassment; all of these facts would have caused great embarrassment to the early Christians, and so their inclusion in scripture means they are much more likely to be true. There are more shaky metaphysical elements, like the miracles and the resurrection – if you are an atheist then I am not going to convince you here, but the Early Christians believed it them to the point of dying for that belief. If the first generation of Christians knew that the resurrection was a lie, then it makes no sense that they would die for it.

There are lots of methods theologians use to discern what were probably genuine sayings of Jesus; the America-based Jesus Seminar is just one of many areas of research. From the sayings of Jesus arise doctrines like that of transubstantiation, and the Triune God – it has all of its basis in the Scriptures, and was then forced into a Hellenistic philosophical mould by lots of Councils and thousands of bishops and theologians: if you want to read about that, then there are plenty of books on Patristics around. So already we can see that the vast majority of Catholic beliefs are arising through the intellectual efforts of lots and lots and lots of different people.

All of this is tempered by Reason: if something contradicts your intellectual evaluation of something, then you must give serious thought to whether you believe in something. “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.” You say “If you take the ideas a) that condoms don’t protect against AIDS and b) virgins can have babies, for example – both are untrue, so why believe one but not the other?” – but if, having a belief in an omnipotent God and having studied the Incarnation, I believe a Virgin birth was a rational, reasonable, possible and probable event, then I can believe in that – but all my reason tells me that condoms do protect against AIDS. Furthermore, there is a moral dimension to every rational decision; the view of the Catholicism is that something must be morally true as well as intellectually true in order to be True.

So, for example, imagine that I am persuaded by someone’s intellectual analysis of homosexuality; say I find the Pope’s reasoned arguments about the natural order convincing (I don’t). I may think, intellectually, I could see how that could be true, but when I think of love and human rights I realise that what he is saying is not morally true; it is morally harmful instead. The Curia has been wrong in the past, and it has admitted it! But belief in the Resurrection of Christ is not morally harmful (I have my own opinions on things like the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, but this is not the place.). And therefore I believe in it.

“Seems to me that some people with the best of intentions just want to believe the nice stuff about their religion and explain away the bad stuff as ‘oh that’s just what the fella in charge thinks’ or ‘that’s just what’s in the manual, you can ignore that’. What ends up happening is a weird situation where people call themselves Catholics while ignoring large chunks of what the Bible and the Church leaders say.”

You are being really quite patronizing – thank you for saying that I have the best of intentions, which I believe I do, but I have a brain and a theological education. And so, yes, I feel absolutely within my rights to say “that is just what a single very conservatively-minded old man thinks” – as for the Bible, what, am I meant to believe everything in it, even the bits that contradict the other bits? Yay to slavery, but also yay to ‘love your neighbour’? Yay to women being subservient to men but also yay to Mary, who was not submissive in the least, no matter what some men might think? My reason and my sense of morality tell me what it is right for me to believe; large chunks of the Bible are untrustworthy and culturally biased. It must be treated in the same way as any other historical document: with respect, and with suspicion.

Finally, I understand what you are saying about appearing to support the Pope, but in the Catholic Church change can only ever come from within. You just have to study, and learn Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Ge’ez – you gain degrees in Theology, Catholic Theology, Canon Law – you gain respect and credibility – and one day you might be contributing to Vatican III. That is one route. A 2000 year old organization with more than a billion members is not going to change immediately; liberal and feminist Catholics are in for the long haul. And we could frankly do with encouragement from other feminists.

saranga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 9:21 pm

@ amy: as i said earlier i’m not catholic, but as you asked ‘on whose authority do you believe in god’?’, well i believe in a multi deity system and my belief can about because I appreciate the (natural) world about me and I believe that there’s a lot of the divine in nature. i don’t believe in this because someone said it some time, i believe in it because i can feel it is true within myself. but that’s somewhat off topic, so back to the point.

when people say that by a catholic going to mass they are adding credence to the pope’s views and assertions, that ignores anything else the individual might be doing to counter the pope’s ideas. For example, blogging, taking part in discussions like this, going to protests about the pope, signing the petition, chatting about stuff like this with their mates or their priest. Generally raising awareness of different points of view by being themselves.

All this activity *is* a voice from those who take issue with the pope’s bigotry and should not be discounted, just because they also go to mass.

saranga // Posted 7 February 2010 at 9:26 pm

@ Kath: You can believe in God(s) without believing in patriarchy. And you can take part in religion while still abhorring the oppression of women.

Shea // Posted 7 February 2010 at 9:38 pm

@ Amy Clare- exactly! Thats the best post I’ve read on this thread. I find it even more bizarrre that these Catholics are saying “I just pick and choose what to believe within the Catholic religion according to my own conscience.” Why? If you have a good moral compass that allows you to see what is wrong or right, why follow a religion at all? Its clear that the teachings of the Catholic church are not morally good or you would follow them to the letter, so why follow them at all?

I echo Amy’s point, on what basis are you believing or disabelieving what you are told? How ludicrous does the belief have to be before you discount it?

I find the anology with the university disingenous in the extreme. When you sign up to be a student you sign up and pay for an education, not an endorsement of the University or its teaching staff in anyway. If I disagreed with what my lecturers or Chancellor said, I would publicly make this known. I wouldn’t need to drop out because I would not be a part of the University forever. I would just cease to support them with donations after I had graduated.

But card carrying Catholics actively support the Church and its policies by attending mass, donations, even describing themselves as “Catholic”. You are not forced to be Catholic it is an active ongoing choice.

Frankly I’m against any form of organised religion and more vehemently against paying for it with taxes. I would like to see an end to all state funding for religion and the removal of all the religious representatives in the House of Lords. There is something oxymoronic about a Catholic feminist (or a Christian feminists/Muslim feminist etc). All abrahamic religions are very patriarchal, and have been involved with the oppression of women for thousands of years. I find it worrying that people think they can reconcile belief in these organisations with feminism.

There is no way to distance yourself from the major abuses committed by the Catholic church. Saying “yes but its in the past”(not true!) or “yes but they also do alot of good” just shows the moral poverty and moral relativism of Catholicism.

(For what it is worth there have been no roll call of abuses associated with atheism or humanism.)

I also find this “but I also believe that religious people have every right to hold public office, and to vote in accordance to their consciences.” wrong. Why should the guiding conscience of a religious person be able to deny people basic human rights (e.g the right to life for pregnant women needing abortion, or the right to found a family for gay couples) . We are a secular country founded on the principles of rational humanism borne out of the Enlightenment (and hard fought for). By all means follow whatever religion or none in the privacy of your own life, but in public office you must adhere to secular non-discrimminatory principles, or else step down.

This is essentially what the Pope has said in interfering with the Equality Bill. It once again highlights the worrying deference we give religious figures in this country.

Lara // Posted 7 February 2010 at 11:16 pm

I wouldn’t mind if every time I heard about the Pope it wasn’t him going off on some sexist rant – if he wasn’t one of the most influential men in the world it wouldn’t be so bad.

They should just stop organised religion. Or any serious funding of it. But here is me dreaming of a world which didn’t have any problems.

Jenjen // Posted 8 February 2010 at 2:09 am

Hi there, just to say that it seems a little bit facile to compare a religion to a company – for a lot of people (not me personally, but many of my friends), living without their belief in and relationship with God would be an awful lot harder than living without Nestlé products, for example. For many churchgoers, church is much more about worshipping a deity (whatever that actually means to the individual or in general, I’ve never really understood), and doing that in a supportive community with people who believe in the same kind of worship, than it is about ‘adding your number to an institution’ or aligning yourself with an international figure like the Pope, whose views many Catholics, as has been seen, find thoroughly objectionable.

Although some people find their conception of religion to go against their feminism (like I more or less do), there are also a lot of religious feminists who reconcile their belief in God and the teachings of their religion with their feminism, and it seems far better to me as feminist to get to hear a multiplicity of voices from women of all religious persuasions, and not to dismiss anything out of hand which is so important to how so many people live their lives.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 8 February 2010 at 7:30 am

Admin note: Please can we all be careful to avoid being too personal, and to keep fairly on-topic. Thanks!

gadgetgal // Posted 8 February 2010 at 8:07 am

Back on topic (since we seem to have strayed into a debate on the merits or lack thereof in religion) – I want to agree with Shea about the Bishop’s Bench in the House of Lords, that’s been something that has seemed to me to be out of step with a modern society. And I’d also like to second your opinion on holding public office and voting according to your own conscience – in this country you are technically not allowed that luxury anyway as you’re voted in by your constituents and your opinion is secondary to theirs. So basically no matter what you personally believe it would be against the rules of public office to just vote according to how you feel and to disregard the majority of the people you represent. This is why all religion, or indeed anything that falls into the realm of the private life, should play little to no part in government. This is what secularism argues for, and in my opinion quite rightly!

Jenn // Posted 8 February 2010 at 9:27 am

I have to say – as an atheist – that I’m not impressed with how Catholic women here are being put on trial. A huge percentage of women worldwide are Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and so on. Is that how you speak to all of them?

You have to remember that religion is not something individual, it’s a communal experience. It’s also heavily influenced, in fact I’d say mostly defined, by the state of society and recent history. Religious practice is vastly different now from what it was a hundred years ago – and I don’t mean necessarily in terms of progress, either.

Someone up there mentioned Islam, for instance. Islam largely comes from countries that were colonised into total oblivion, largely by the UK and France. What we’re seeing now is not all that representative of what it looked like before that happened, nor is it representative of what is in its holy texts. What we’re seeing now is the result of our ancestors – or rather, not to make it seem misleadingly lost in history, let’s say our grandparents and great-grandparents – going over there, occupying the countries, torturing and slaughtering people, putting bottles up women’s vaginas… it seems a little too easy, a few decades after this happened (or, arguably, while it’s still happening), to be all ‘oh, why is all this stuff happening? I know, must be their religion, nothing a little common sense couldn’t fix!’, especially when you’re sitting in the country that occupied nearly a quarter of the surface of the globe at one point. And the thing is, the feeling of entitlement to do that – ‘oh, nothing a little common sense won’t fix!’ is just as colonial as anything the Catholic or Anglican church perpetrated during colonialism. We essentially went to people’s countries, ‘how can we get this place to work for us?’ – the ideological justification for this was ‘let’s teach these people a little Christian common sense, get them to put some clothes on’. Millions of people in former colonies are Catholic and Protestant too, for various reasons. Are you going to breeze through there and be all, ‘wow, how can you support that? don’t you have a little common sense?’.

Besides, even while being atheist, it just seems completely absurd to be anti-religion. Religion is the basis for so much of what we believe. Our entire cultures are based on religion, it’s an important part of the history of philosophy. Even atheism is based on religion. Most of the ideas we consider to be valuable – feminism, liberalism, you name it – had their origins in religion. I know I come from a Protestant background, and that has a massive influence on the way I think, even though my family haven’t been actively religious for several generations now.

Now, the Catholic and Anglican church are two of the most blood-stained institutions in the world. That’s not because they are religious institutions, but because of everything else about them, since they were, really, capitalist institutions before they were religious. That they perpetrate oppression against women (among other things) is down to power and money, not because individual Catholics or Protestants go to Church. On a community level, they are a massive part of everyone’s lives, whether you belong to one or not. Religion itself isn’t inherently evil. That Jesus guy was all types of okay.

How much help are you being, if you approach religion in the same capitalist way you’d approach Nestle, by using your purchasing power to boycott them? If that’s the main weapon against that sort of thing, what are people meant to do when they don’t have purchasing power? Are you sure your purchasing power is making all that much difference, really, or is it just enough to make you feel better? Besides, it’s meaningless, it takes a lot more than a small financial gesture to undermine the hold capitalism and/or organised religion have on your existence. Nestle or the Catholic Church might directly oppress people in ways that are immediately apparent to you, but other companies or institutions oppress them just as directly in ways you haven’t necessarily been brought up to point at and say ‘oh my god, that’s terrible!’, and you’d be surprised how much you’d be willing to ignore or even condone them.

Being socialist makes sense – being anti-capitalist, though, is a little absurd since it basically means you’re against the act of balancing one’s budget and managing one’s capital. Yet, look how destructive capitalism has been over the centuries. I usually find people describe themselves as anti-capitalist, something negative where they’re rejecting something, because they don’t want to positively take on the idea of socialism, which would involve doing something. It’s easy to reject something, it’s a lot harder to engage with a set of ideas.

It’s even more absurd to be anti-religion. I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean anti-religion, since supernatural belief is the least relevant part of religion. I don’t believe in an actual God – so what? Everything else about what I do has a basis in religion, mainly protestantism in my case. What informs my work ethic is the same set of ideas that informed the people who set up gulags in Kenya where they shoved bottles up women’s vaginas, and informed all the most widely-used torture and genocide methods of the 20th century and before. Although, I think when it comes to ‘WWJD?’, ensuring that everyone has a decent standard of living was a little higher on his priority list than killing and maiming millions and taking their land. In fact, it’s probably a similar relationship as between the works of Friedrich Engels and the deeds of Joseph Stalin.

When people are prepared to engage with a part of their community, try and use it for good, take on a set of ethical values and live up to them – that’s admirable, a lot more so than sitting there and talking about what you reject. In the end, I think that speaks more to your unwillingness to engage with the bloodier, more unpleasant parts of what makes your life easier.

As for taxpayers paying for the Pope to visit the UK, well, the UK has a State religion. Because of the very same equality and diversity policies the Pope is decrying, it actually makes sense for his visit to be publically-funded. Separate Church and State and it would be a different matter.

So, please, let’s stop giving atheism a bad name by badgering Catholic women, and anyone who belongs to a religion, in ways that make very little sense. Life is complicated, so are people. And, the impulse to go ‘eeew, how can you touch that disgusting organised religion thing!’ probably has a lot more basis in organised religion than you’d think.

Kristin // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:20 am

Totally agree with Shea and Amy Clare’s comments. I thought some responses to Caroline’s comment were extreme and shocking. Why shouldn’t anyone be anti any organized religion?! And as for having respect for people’s ‘spiritual’ views, I’m afraid I haven’t noticed any organized religions having much respect for those who don’t share their views.

If someone suddenly decides that tea is evil, am I supposed to respect that?

If people want to have a set of beliefs of any kind, that is of course their right. But I don’t think they have the right to demand that other people respect those beliefs. I won’t shout them down (unless it’s like the Nazis, for instance), but at the same time I will NOT respect them. Organized religion has far too much influence. You don’t need to be part of a religion to be a good human being.

Amy Clare // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:21 am

Philippa, I hear you, I’ll try and make this brief and to the point…

@Elb:

“I am starting from a basic assumption of belief in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.”

This is the problem right here, isn’t it? One of the things I asked was on what authority you accept the existence of a god. And your answer to this is to say ‘well let’s assume that god exists’…

I would say no, let’s *not* assume that. Nothing can be assumed. There is no evidence for the existence of a god or gods, and merely ‘feeling’ it to be true does not constitute evidence. In fact the presence of suffering in the world logically proves wrong the idea of a god who is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent. Religions still have no answer for Epicurus.

If all the other arguments you present rest on this assumption then I can’t really take any of them seriously.

“As for the Bible, what, am I meant to believe everything in it, even the bits that contradict the other bits?”

Well, no – I don’t believe *any* of it and I would never encourage anyone to believe all of it.

“Yay to slavery, but also yay to ‘love your neighbour’? Yay to women being subservient to men but also yay to Mary, who was not submissive in the least, no matter what some men might think? My reason and my sense of morality tell me what it is right for me to believe; large chunks of the Bible are untrustworthy and culturally biased. It must be treated in the same way as any other historical document: with respect, and with suspicion.”

The fact that the Bible is contradictory is the main reason for distrusting it completely and disregarding its authority on *everything*. The fact that you cite your ‘reason and sense of morality’ as the basis for rejecting or accepting certain parts of it just goes to show that you do not get your moral sense from the Bible, you get it from your brain. Same as us atheists! So why have the Bible at all, if you already know right from wrong? Why not use your reason to work out whether there’s a god?

Also, saying that large parts of the Bible are ‘untrustworthy and culturally biased’… well, of course they are. I would argue that *all* of the Bible is. On what basis do you decide what is trustworthy, what is free from bias? Other than those things you happen to want to believe? Perhaps all the lovely things Jesus said and did never even happened! Perhaps Jesus never existed – after all we only have hearsay from the Christian tradition which says that he did. You don’t know. None of us do.

If it makes you feel better to write my comments off as ‘patronising’ then that’s fine – I’m not going to apologise for being an outspoken atheist any more than I would apologise for being an outspoken feminist.

“Finally, I understand what you are saying about appearing to support the Pope, but in the Catholic Church change can only ever come from within.”

I disagree. I think it’s a pointless exercise. The money, time and energy that you would normally give to the Church could be better spent supporting charities such as Stonewall who actually work to achieve gay rights *now*, today, rather than some time in the distant future by which time all the people being shit on right now by the Pope will be long dead, having not been allowed to live their lives to the full because of an old man and his fairy stories.

earwicga // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:34 am

@ Elb

Thank you for your last comment (9.15

). It is quite wonderful and I hope other readers can take the time to read and absorb it fully.

Denise // Posted 8 February 2010 at 12:05 pm

I personally do not want to hear a “multiplicity of voices” from people of religious persuasions. I think we already have way too much multiplicity of voices as regards religion!

I really cannot see that Caroline (far above) said anything objectionable, except maybe to someone of a fundamentalist “persuasion”. I think some responses to her post are abhorrent, not her comment. I don’t want to read long religious diatribes on a feminist website, especially when it comes to people ranting over a comment they didn’t even read properly before they fired on all cylinders.

Come on!

Maeve // Posted 8 February 2010 at 12:32 pm

Good post, Philippa. I will definitely sign that petition. Especially after reading some of the responses here. I am sick and tired of those with religious views lecturing other people and demanding ‘respect’. It’s clear that they have nothing but hostility for anyone who dares to either disagree with them or keep quiet about the fact that they disagree.

Sue Schofield // Posted 8 February 2010 at 12:41 pm

This isn’t really a Pope v. Gay issue, it goes back much further than that. The original directive was posted by the EU on 27 November 2000. It was then supressed and unacted upon by Blair, a staunch Catholic supporter, and a reminder was issued in 2006. There was still no reaction. If Britain continues not to act there will be a hearing of European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Given how many gay men and women support the centre-left, the entire handling of this issue by the Government is a huge embarrasment, It’s a betrayal of the trust of the gay population.

Sophie // Posted 8 February 2010 at 12:43 pm

I’m curious, if secularism is keeping religion and politics seperate, how can you profess to be in support of secularism whilst criticising the Church over political issues ?

Kit // Posted 8 February 2010 at 2:09 pm

“when people say that by a catholic going to mass they are adding credence to the pope’s views and assertions, that ignores anything else the individual might be doing to counter the pope’s ideas. For example, blogging, taking part in discussions like this, going to protests about the pope, signing the petition, chatting about stuff like this with their mates or their priest. Generally raising awareness of different points of view by being themselves.” – saranga

I guess I’m kind of on the fence a bit here. I sort of see staying within the church (Catholic, CoE etc. ) as similar to abstaining from voting at an election. It doesn’t matter what petitions you sign, protests you go to, blogs you write – if you don’t vote the numbers just show you didn’t vote. The numbers are what decides who gets in, not each individual person’s actions or beliefs outside of voting, just like the numbers of followers give weight to that Church’s views in the world’s eye.

OTOH if you are in a position to try and change things but just leave because you feel it’s futile, that’s also similar to just not voting. The Church doesn’t know your individual reasons for leaving, they can make up whatever reason to cover it and never change their way because of it. Leaving, you lose your input into how things go and they’re one person closer to having more support of an overall opinion.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t I guess.

Elb // Posted 8 February 2010 at 4:24 pm

@ Denise

If you think my comment was a ‘diatribe’ then you have led an extremely sheltered life. The attempt at silencing will not work.

Elb // Posted 8 February 2010 at 4:48 pm

@ Amy Claire

Very well, I personally believe that God exists because of spiritual experiences and upbringing.

Religion has plenty of answers to Epicurus, but I doubt you will find any of them convincing, and if you want to study theodicies you may search the web or go to the library.

We must treat the Bible as a historical source – it deserves just as much respect as Suetonius or the tablets from the library of Ashurbanipal. Not more, but certainly not less. You will find only a handful of fringe scholars who would state that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist.

I am not going to persuade you about anything, I know that. I am only trying to state my reason for believing things, and why my view should be respected as much as yours.

I give my time to very many non-Catholic organisations, and I feel that many Catholic groups do a great deal of good. I think I just have to end this discussion now; I have tried to be polite and well-reasoned throughout, but we are coming from two entirely different viewpoints.

Elb // Posted 8 February 2010 at 4:51 pm

@ Jenn

Thank you for your comment. I simply do not have the time or spoons to continue in this conversation any further, but I am glad that some people here are not automatically decrying all organised religion.

Amy Clare // Posted 8 February 2010 at 5:57 pm

@Elb:

You are right, we will probably never agree. I am well aware of theologians’ attempts to answer Epicurus and you’re right again, I don’t find any of them at all convincing.

I have to repeat – lest anyone think I am a ‘fringe scholar’ – that there is no physical evidence for the existence of Jesus, and all sources that state he existed are hearsay from the Christian tradition. It is therefore quite reasonable to suppose he may not have existed. If this is a ‘fringe’ viewpoint then that is quite sad indeed and just shows how influenced by religion our society is.

No-one here is ‘automatically decrying organised religion’. What me and other atheists on this thread are doing are asking questions, and refusing to accept that religions such as Catholicism should have any place in public policy. This is fundamentally because there is no evidence for the supernatural being/s posited by these religions. I’m sorry if you feel that by pointing this out I am being impolite, but there it is. It’s just a fact.

@Jenn:

“Besides, even while being atheist, it just seems completely absurd to be anti-religion. Religion is the basis for so much of what we believe. Our entire cultures are based on religion, it’s an important part of the history of philosophy. Even atheism is based on religion. Most of the ideas we consider to be valuable – feminism, liberalism, you name it – had their origins in religion.”

How is atheism based on religion?

How is feminism based on religion?

Exactly how is religion the basis for what ‘we’ believe, seeing as we are all different individuals with different beliefs?

And indeed, to which religions are you referring, seeing as society, philosophy, ethics etc all existed centuries before Christianity, Judaism, Islam and indeed any of the world’s current major religions?

It is not necessary nor is it sufficient to posit a supernatural being in order to be a nice person, live in a functioning society, be compassionate, have moral values, be a feminist, be a philosopher, a politician, etc etc…

Also, no-one is ‘putting Catholic women on trial’. It is perfectly reasonable to ask questions of the Catholics who have posted here, seeing as there is obviously some disagreement about the subject of the OP (namely, the Pope’s visit). If someone were to ask me why I am an atheist or a feminist I would happily oblige. I wouldn’t feel as though I were being put ‘on trial’.

Anyway, I don’t want to derail any more from the central topic so I’ll leave it there. Just want to say though that I’m glad to see so many comments from feminist atheists, because I have been feeling lately like I was the only one!

Elmo // Posted 8 February 2010 at 6:07 pm

Okay, dont shoot me down, read the whole thing:

Religon doesnt kill people. People kill people. It’s another in a long line of excuses that humanity will always use to bash and oppress each other, and I would remind people that there are millions of religous people world wide who have never done anyone any harm at all.

Remember religon also offers hope to many women world wide who often had nothing else to rely on, certinely not other human beings. It HAS done some good in the world (I dont want to get into an argument about the bad stuff its done, i just wanted to point that out)

But the pope is certinely someone we could do without-unless he changes his views, of course.

I also think its silly to ask people to prove god exists. People dont beleive in God because he is the most rational explanation, they beleive in him because they feel they need guidance, hope and love. Apart from the fact that I think Jesus was quite a nice bloke with some pretty good ideas, im not a christian, and I dont follow any religon, I just cant help beleiving that there is something “up there”.

I think most organised religons have huge problems, especially catholisism (sp?), and many need to change (and stop having such an effect over governments in some countries), but I also think that its very unlikely that terrorists and oppresors, those who claim militantly to be religous, actually pray to god. I dont think these people ever go “Dear god, im sorry i killed all those people”. If they really were religous, they would be sorry (and they wouldnt do it in the first place).

Um, I hope I dont get attacked for this, I just wanted to point out that there are plently of feminist, gay-rights, pro-choice, evolution believing religous people out there (like me). But I know that their voices will always be drowned out by those of terrorists and others who abuse the idea of religon for their own means. Because thats the way the world works.

Im not bashing atheism, im just trying to give another point of view.

thats all :)

now lets all sing “what a friend we have in jesus”-hah, not really, that song is terrible

@ Kristin-um, tea is evil. Really evil. That Earl Grey has an evil plan.

Ben // Posted 8 February 2010 at 6:45 pm

@Sophie: That’s exactly the point. Secularists (myself included) argue that the Church shouldn’t *be* involved in political issues. The criticism is because it is trying to involve itself.

gadgetgal // Posted 8 February 2010 at 7:25 pm

Just thought I’d wade in again because Sophie had a really good question:

“if secularism is keeping religion and politics separate, how can you profess to be in support of secularism whilst criticising the Church over political issues ?”

Secularism is really more about the separation of religion and public life – so we’re talking more about the working government bodies, schools, the civil service, the judicial system, that kind of thing. Anyone can be critical of anyone else over political views, that’s what politics is all about, so if someone wants to be critical of the pope’s views on say, abortion, then it’s fine to make a comment about it, but that’s not secularism, nor is it the reason why a lot of people who hold secularist views are objecting to public money going on his visit. I feel the same about religion in any part of the public sphere, and I know a few quite religious people who are also secularist. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Shea // Posted 8 February 2010 at 10:46 pm

@ Jenn – I don’t think anyone is “putting Catholic women on trial”. However if you bring up the fact that you are a Catholic woman or an atheist or a radical feminist you should be prepared to say why it is you subscribe to that belief. It seems it is too often brought up as a silencer in debate, i.e “I am Catholic and therefore more qualified than you to give an opinion on aspect X”.

@ Sophie- it is because the Church is involving itself in politics and it has no place to do so. To intervene in matters of state or policy is actually anti-democratic as none of the religious leaders in the HoL’s were democratically elected (neither were the Lords, but thats another rant) or accountable to the electorate. The same goes for the Pope (its not even as though he is elected by the majority of Catholics).

@ Elmo- I don’t disagree with you, but I am not entirely convinced that is just “people that kill people”. Why do they do this? Poverty? Compeititon for resources? Yes, but why do otherwise seemingly rational people try to blow up an aeroplane mid flight or murder a doctor who performs late term abortions? Not because of either of the previous reasons, but because of a delusional belief expounded and incurated by religion. We have seen this over the centuries, from the crusades to pogroms, religion has been incredibly successful in incubating hatred and violence. It isn’t exclusively religion by any means, I think any dogmatic belief in ideology is dangerous (look at the excesses of facism and communism for example). But I think the fact that people have been able to see the dangers of ideology but not of religion and are still deferential today is so worrying.

We live in a 21st century world, in an age of technological advancement and with a clear theory of where life came from (evolution) and still people believe in the supernatural and worse, believe this entitles them to dictate the terms of other people’s lives. I don’t care if anyone chooses to believe 20 impossible things before breakfast, what I object to is being told that they are “real” and that these things should have an influence and affect on my life, health or bodily integrity.

This is what the Pope (and the Curia) are doing. We are talking about an exclusively male, almost exclusively white and exclusively heterosexual group trying to tell a mass of diverse humanity that what they believe and do is “wrong” and “evil”. These men have never faced the prospect of being raped, needing an abortion, or facing an effective death sentence in the form of childbirth. They have no idea what it is to be female and live in the real world away from the Vatican. They have no idea what it is to be gay. And yet they have the phenomenal arrogance to pontificate on the “rightness” of this.

I also like the idea of Jesus, and its certain that if he existed he was a very nice bloke (and probably a feminist). It is the disjunction between his teachings and the way the Catholic church behaves that grates on me. As I said by all means believe whatever gives you comfort and live in the way you deem best, just allow others the chance to do the same.

Elmo // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:38 pm

once again i urge people to read all of it.

@ Shea

(I never liked the @, it seems kinda rude)

to shea,

im glad you can see were im coming from. Im glad you picked up on my point that, although religon has been the cause of much suffering, so has things like fascism and communism-which killed about 56 million people altogether.

Thats what i was trying to say, that its not just religon that produces evil. It just upsets me the way that people flip through the good half of a book and look at all the bad stuff which was probably written by some sadist in sandals. Then these people do bad things, and the rest of the world goes “pft, religon, eh?”, all the while many religous people are screaming- “its not religon! its some nutters twisted it to fit their perogatives!”

A good example is the headscarf in islam. Its not a religous thing, its a culteral thing. But because the country of origin had bound culture and religon together in order to oppress women, the two become linked. I know muslim women who wear the headscarf and those who dont, and they come from different parts of the world and different cultures.

As you can see, i said that i do disagree with the pope, and im not a christian per say, especially not a catholic. You say that people should allow others to do and think what they please-well, thats what christianity was meant to be about-if by christianity we mean the teachings of christ.

Jesus said (oh, now i DO sound like a christian, sorry, my mum is one) that you should accept everyone the way they are. So TRUE christians would do exactly as you wish. Every time I get depressed about the suffering that religon has brought to the world, I always rember what beardy man said-love thy neighbour as thy self, or whatever. I suppose i like to think of myself as a new brand of christian who focusses soley on Mr. J christ.

People are arguing about whether Jesus exsisted? Does it matter? If we listen to all the nice stuff he suggested,(and all the trouble its caused), it doesnt really matter either way if he was real.

The truth is that i believe large chunks of the bible (new testement) were written by good people, who genuienlly wanted a better world. But the bad bits are the only ones people focus on. If the sole purpose of the bible is to oppress people, then why DOES it have passages about equality and forgivness and peace?

And i still beleive its important to those who have, literally nothing else. As Regina Spektor says “No one laughs at God in a hospital, no one laughs at god in a war, no ones laughing at god when their starving or freezing or so very poor. But god can be funny, when presented like a genie who does magic like houdini or grants wishes like jimminy cricket and santa claus, god can be so hilarious”

Once again NOT bashing atheism. And I too despise the way religon is used, and the suffering it has brought. Please dont think im trying to ram religon down peoples throats, im just trying to explain what i think.

Elmo // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:59 pm

Also, i think that it is actually rasism and predijice-predgicie-prejedice-discrimination which causes most extremism, religon is merley the mask.

For example, the crusades-white men dont really like the look of brown men, fancy conquering them and being all powerful-quick, look up that bit in the bible about it being the holy land! whats that? im meant to love my enemy? Sod that, charge!

the troubles in ireland were not really about catholics and protestants, it was about nationalism. Its the queen and the british flag you see on the NI murals, not jesus.

Islamic terrorism is not really about religon, its about east vs. west. A man who is poor and has had his family killed by a war for oil has developed a hatred for rich, white people with guns. Some extremists come along and tell him “god wants you to blow up western people!” what a lucky coincidence, this man wanted to do that anyway!

What im trying to say is that in this instance, religon is simply the excuse to hurt people different from ourselves, even when the religons in question dont actually tell them to. Of course religon has other failure-but i think in instances of terrorism, its simply the mask people wear when they cant admit that what there doing is wrong-some guy in the sky said do it, so thats why im doing it, not because i have a hatred for other races. Honest. Things become easier when you know some facless authority figure tells you to do it. For example, in nazi germany, there were plenty of people who hated jews and happily beat them up, but they only did it in daylight once Hitler said it was ok.

Okay, in conclusion to all my pointless and probably ill judged ramblings, these are just some thoughts, not attacks. Im sorry if i pulled this off on a tangent, we can go back to talking about the pope now.

Kath // Posted 9 February 2010 at 12:02 am

@Saranga, of course, if you make up your own religion, but then you must know it’s made up so…

Kath // Posted 9 February 2010 at 12:09 am

As I haven’t actually commented on the OP yet.. I think we should stop diplomatic relations with the Pope, Papal Nuncio etc and treat the Vatican only as a religious entity

saranga // Posted 9 February 2010 at 8:37 am

@ kath, (apologies, probably had problems expressing myself earlier): my faith/belief is real, the way I choose to express that and the way I choose to worship is in a manner which suits me and allows me to understand things better. I wouldn’t say that’s ‘made up’.

Jenn // Posted 9 February 2010 at 9:36 am

@ Amy Clare

“How is atheism based on religion?

How is feminism based on religion?

Exactly how is religion the basis for what ‘we’ believe, seeing as we are all different individuals with different beliefs?”

Well, I’m sure we all agree that without belief in god, there would be no need for atheism – to be an atheist, you need to have considered the idea of a god and rejected it at some point. The fact that most of us who are atheists go through that process almost without noticing surely proves how much all of our ethics are based on the whole history of our culture, including christianity, judaism, etc. and yes, ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, and so on – I never said our culture was exclusively based on religion, but religion is an enormous influence. The fact that you’re sitting in a non-secular country asking that question shows exactly how influential it is, that you’d be there and not notice the influence of Christianity. If you go to the UK from a secular country, you soon notice the difference.

Also, we’re all influenced by it precisely because we’re not all different individuals with different opinions. You don’t exist in a vacuum. You might be a free-thinking enlightened atheist feminist from where you are now. Had you been born in any other situation, you would have been someone completely different, there isn’t an essence at the centre of you that makes you, you. Believing that is what ‘essentialism’ means.

“It is not necessary nor is it sufficient to posit a supernatural being in order to be a nice person, live in a functioning society, be compassionate, have moral values, be a feminist, be a philosopher, a politician, etc etc… ”

But I don’t see any of the Catholics here doing that. And, the supernatural being is the least important part of it – much of my problem with fellow atheists is that they assume everyone affiliated with a religion believes in something that practically none of them believe in. If you remove God from religion, you would still have religion. It’s important not to confuse ‘religion’ with ‘fundamentalism’. What’s important about religion is the ethics, the theology, the social aspect. Elb admits in one of her comments that her religion is largely due to her upbringing. Why are we incapable of doing the same? We don’t exist in a vacuum. We’re not only influenced by our background and surroundings, we’re a complete product of them, that’s where we work from.

That’s also why I said that people are putting Catholic women on trial in this thread. It was a bit of a melodramatic turn of phrase, maybe, but the questions being asked are making some basic assumptions about why people belong to religions.

Probably useful to respond to Shea at this point.

@ Shea

“I don’t think anyone is “putting Catholic women on trial”. However if you bring up the fact that you are a Catholic woman or an atheist or a radical feminist you should be prepared to say why it is you subscribe to that belief. It seems it is too often brought up as a silencer in debate, i.e “I am Catholic and therefore more qualified than you to give an opinion on aspect X”.”

Absolutely, and as far as I can tell people are answering those questions very honestly. But, some of the questions are not that useful, and a lot make assumptions about religious people that they’d be entitled to feel upset about.

For instance, you say this:

“We live in a 21st century world, in an age of technological advancement and with a clear theory of where life came from (evolution) and still people believe in the supernatural and worse, believe this entitles them to dictate the terms of other people’s lives. I don’t care if anyone chooses to believe 20 impossible things before breakfast, what I object to is being told that they are “real” and that these things should have an influence and affect on my life, health or bodily integrity. ”

But hardly any grown adults really believe 20 impossible things before breakfast. The reasons the Vatican is a huge catastrophe for African and Asian countries are all political, cultural, social reasons. On the other hand, the majority of people on the globe have a religious persuasion. Most people are aware of the technological advances. A lot of atheists I’ve spoken to are convinced that if you believe in a religion it’s because you don’t know science. It’s like implying that because you’re an atheist, it means you know better than the majority of people on the globe. Can you really think that? Are we really this enlightened elite? Because that’s what we imply a lot of the time, when arguing with Christians. A lot of scientists are Christians. A lot of the people we see as opponents of religion as a whole were Christians. Darwin, for instance, was a devout Christian. Religion and science serve two completely different purposes. It’s meaningless to compare them or pit them against each other, just as it’s meaningless to argue over whether God or Jesus exist or ever existed, really – the words are there, they are what’s important.

Then, it seems that the questions atheists are asking here are based on a generic arguing with Christians scenario that simply isn’t taking place here. I guess it’s because they’re positing that all Christians wait for orders from a supernatural entity before performing everyday tasks. That’s fundamentalists you’re talking about – and even then, it’s really not that simple, since they can’t wait for orders that won’t come, and they already know that.

“This is what the Pope (and the Curia) are doing. We are talking about an exclusively male, almost exclusively white and exclusively heterosexual group trying to tell a mass of diverse humanity that what they believe and do is “wrong” and “evil”. These men have never faced the prospect of being raped, needing an abortion, or facing an effective death sentence in the form of childbirth. They have no idea what it is to be female and live in the real world away from the Vatican. They have no idea what it is to be gay. And yet they have the phenomenal arrogance to pontificate on the “rightness” of this.”

You’re not wrong – although I wouldn’t be so sure about them being exclusively heterosexual and not knowing what it’s like to be gay, that’s highly, highly arguable. However, the reasons for this are entirely political, social, cultural. They’ve got nothing to do with believing in a deity or not. The deity is irrelevant. In fact, if you look into Catholic theology, there’s very little that’s forbidden just because, there’s usually a moral or ethical reason. It’s not as simple as ‘put your tits away cause they drive the men wild’, either.

In fact, personally, I’m not an atheist out of being anti-religion – as I said before, I think that’s absurd. It’s more that I’m anti-mysticism. I think mysticism is incompatible with feminism, it’s something a lot of women get trapped in because they’re kept from finding out about how their bodies and minds work and they end up in terrifying situations where it’s the only recourse. If anything, religious community can be a protection from that, particularly the kind of religion that forbids mysticism. Someone up there mentioned that religion can be comforting to some women – it would be insulting to suggest that some people need to believe in something supernatural just to get through life, whereas we supermen don’t. However, what about community? support? That’s stuff we all need.

Really, the only difference between an atheist and a religious person is the least important part of it – belief in god. I think disowning religion and setting ourselves apart as separate individuals with fully-formed opinions that sprang out of our intellects is too easy. It’s like disowning your history completely – we have this bloody past that our entire culture was based on, but that’s okay – those religious guys did it, not us, so we can just sit here in the country that owned and terrorised a quarter of the globe in your case, or ten percent of it in my case, and be anti-Islam. Maybe I’m saying that because I live in a part of the world where lots of people are non-believing, but practice out of tradition. There’s very little mysticism over here, but lots of religious practice.

Besides, is it really worth implying to any woman that belongs to a church that she needs to give that shit up to be truly feminist? I can work with a quaker, free-thinker, protestant, catholic… a lot more easily, frankly, than I can work with a liberal feminist. And anyway, do you realise how many women that is, that are being told – come back here when you’ve given that shit up? If you really think the feminist movement is doing vital work, shouldn’t most women on the planet be allowed in without giving up their cultural, social backgrounds and their communities?

Denise // Posted 9 February 2010 at 9:37 am

Elb, interesting that you think my the ‘diatribe’ comment is directed at you, you and only you.

And have we met?! You don’t know me, or anything about my life. But it’s true that I would definitely like to be more ‘sheltered’ from the pressure that people with religious views think they have a right to exert on others.

And as for the attempt at silencing, I think it’s pretty clear who’s trying to do that.

Kristin, btw, I think someone once did actually declare tea to be evil! I can’t remember who or when (might have been in the US in the 1920’s or 30’s), all I remember is that the person turned out to be suffering delusions due to a problem with their temporal lobes.

gadgetgal // Posted 9 February 2010 at 10:35 am

“Well, I’m sure we all agree that without belief in god, there would be no need for atheism – to be an atheist, you need to have considered the idea of a god and rejected it at some point.”

Don’t want to get bogged down in the mire of discussing what anyone believes or disbelieves (that’s a personal matter as far as I’m concerned) but I do want to point out that the logic in this is faulty depending upon your definition of atheism. One definition (usually posited by strongly religious people or strongly anti-religious people) is that atheism is the rejection of belief in the existence of any deities, which would fit with your statement. Most atheists, however, would define it as an absence of belief that any deities exist, which would mean your statement doesn’t – you don’t need to have belief in order to not believe it, you just need to have a proverbial “blank” where that belief would be. For example, my sister, who is a practising witch, has decided to not bring up her children as anything – that in most people’s minds (mine and her’s included) makes them atheist, e.g. they don’t have a belief in deities, they’re not even particularly aware that such a thing exists. As they’ve had no other religious example to compare it to (even my sister keeps her religion out of her home and her husband is atheist) that would mean they didn’t need a religion in order to lack it, they just needed to, well, lack it! If they want to get religious then they can learn about it when they’re older and able make that kind of decision. Maybe, if everyone was atheist, there would be no need for the actual word “atheist” but the state of being not religious/believing in deities would still exist.

Elmo // Posted 9 February 2010 at 10:39 am

Jenn I agree completly

though i dont think Darwin was a christian, was he?

gadgetgal // Posted 9 February 2010 at 11:14 am

@Elmo – no, Darwin wasn’t a Christian – he originally trained in Theology when he was young (although that seemed to be more of a convenience than a calling) but by the time he wrote his autobiography he had rejected it in light of his discoveries (although some say he may have done so earlier when his daughter died).

Shea // Posted 9 February 2010 at 1:55 pm

to Jenn,

“But hardly any grown adults really believe 20 impossible things before breakfast.”

Ah but they do. However sincerely you believe in the resurrection of Jesus, or the virign birth you have to admit that these things are impossible (or were at the time). Believing them in anything more than a metaphorical way is a rejection of rational thought.

I agree that science and religion serve different purposes. They are different ways of looking at the world. But one is based on concrete verifiable facts, the other on superstition and mysticism and on texts of antiquity that could be interpreted to suit any purpose. The problem is that they are pitted against each other. We see this in the debate on intelligent design, on contraception and abortion, even in areas of medicine. If religion only concerned the spiritual life of individuals I would be happy to leave it alone, it is when it informs areas of policy, and practice and law that I have a problem.

(I’d like to second gadgetgal in the fact the Dawrin was NOT a Christian, he in fact pulled his son out of a school when they started teaching religion).

“I guess it’s because they’re positing that all Christians wait for orders from a supernatural entity before performing everyday tasks.”

But they do, this is what they claim, isn’t it? Isn’t this why Christian/ Jews /Muslims etc pray? For some kind of divine guidance? If they don’t need this, why follow a religion at all?

(This is a side point, but for me one of the greatest benefits of feminism is the liberation from following somebody’s rules of how to live my life. It is the confidence to believe I know best what to do with my body and my existence, not a man or men. For this reason I find it hard to accept Catholic/ Muslim/ Jewish feminists. )

“although I wouldn’t be so sure about them being exclusively heterosexual and not knowing what it’s like to be gay, that’s highly, highly arguable.”

But this is what THEY claim. If in fact they have gay members among their clergy, the fact that they continue to endorse such homophobia and hatred is just a testament to their hypocrisy and cowardice.

“I’m not an atheist out of being anti-religion – as I said before, I think that’s absurd” — I don’t think there anything absurd about being anti-religious. I think its the most sensible point of atheism. Not that you need to be atheist to be anti-religious or vice versa. There are many spiritual people who are anti-religion. I take issue with your claim of “anti” being diametrically opposed to something either in anti-capitalist or anti-religion. Neither socialism or atheism is. As gadgetgal pointed out, atheism is the absence of belief not necessarily being against it.

“If you really think the feminist movement is doing vital work, shouldn’t most women on the planet be allowed in without giving up their cultural, social backgrounds and their communities? ”

Absolutely. But their social and cultural identities and communities are not necessarily the product of religion. I don’t think anyone is saying give up your religion or your belief. I’ve never come across a proselytizing atheist before. But I and many others resent the influence of religion and the deference and importance given to it in debates. This incident with the Pope is a prime example. Why should an un-elected head of a fiefdom wield such power and influence? Why should his ill informed, ridiculous and scientifically erroneous (condoms allow aids to be transmitted) be given any kind of platform? I hate as a feminist the archaic and unwieldy influence of religion on every aspect of life in this country.

Until we have a truly secular democracy and religious arguments are shown for the fiction that they are, I will never stop criticising religion or the religious. As a woman and a feminist I can’t believe that people think that “an old man and his fairy stories” should be allowed to impact on the lives of real people (especially poor, coloured women) in this day and age.

Would we really listen to arguments from any other group of out of touch, irrelevant old men ?

Amy Clare // Posted 9 February 2010 at 4:45 pm

@Jenn:

Firstly, as others have pointed out, religion is not necessary for atheism to exist. Being an atheist just means that you do not believe in the existence of deities (and indeed anything supernatural). Deities do not need to be believed in by others in order for you to not believe in them yourself. I don’t need to know whether another person believes that an invisible fairy sits on their shoulder in order to know that I don’t believe I have one on *my* shoulder.

I don’t doubt that religion is an influence on our society, what I doubt is that it is a *good* influence. All that is good in human society (compassion, altruism, friendship, love) existed before the modern religions came about. Christianity likes to think that without Jesus everyone would be horrible to each other, but that is not the case at all. Far from it. Altruism even exists in the animal world, where religion could not possibly have been a factor in its development.

I personally feel that religions have influenced our society to believe that ‘faith’ is a virtue and it is okay to believe things without any evidence. We come across people’s unfounded beliefs time and again as feminists. Contrary to what you say, I *can* see this influence, I can see it everywhere and it makes me angry!

What specific countries are you referring to when you say ‘secular countries’?

As for your comment that we’re actually not all individuals… that’s just bizarre. Are the differing opinions on this thread purely the result of different backgrounds? I’d like to think that we actually all have the wherewithal inside us to question our upbringing. Many people have been brought up with strict religion and rejected it. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Dan Barker… to name just two.

As for this:

“The supernatural being is the least important part of it – much of my problem with fellow atheists is that they assume everyone affiliated with a religion believes in something that practically none of them believe in. If you remove God from religion, you would still have religion.”

I’m sorry, what? Are you trying to say that most religious people don’t believe in a god? Seriously? Despite the fact that religious people pray to god, sing about god’s glory, endeavour via holy books to find out what god wishes them to do, etc etc? I was under the impression that the whole concept of religion was *founded* on the idea that a god made our world.

How exactly would a godless religion work?

“What’s important about religion is the ethics, the theology, the social aspect.”

‘The theology’ is the god part, the supernatural part. You seem to be saying that being religious is basically belonging to a club where everyone decides to be nice to each other. It is much more than that, though, as the Pope’s views show – he decides what is ‘ethical’ based *directly* on what he believes his god wants. So do millions of other people. You cannot separate the supernatural element from religion.

“The reasons the Vatican is a huge catastrophe for African and Asian countries are all political, cultural, social reasons.”

Erm, no, the reason is because the Pope says condoms help to spread AIDS and are useless at best – he says this because he believes (based on what he thinks his god wants!) that contraception is evil. As the Catholic Church is very wealthy, he can then a) fund medical services in these countries who *are not allowed* to give out condoms to people and b) fund churches in these countries where priests tell people not to wear condoms or they will be sinning and will go to hell. Clear cause and effect, from unfounded belief to human suffering and death. Could not be more clear.

“A lot of scientists are Christians. A lot of the people we see as opponents of religion as a whole were Christians. Darwin, for instance, was a devout Christian.”

Darwin was not a Christian by the end of his life – his discovery of evolution saw to that. Yes some scientists are Christians – so what? Just because people are intelligent doesn’t mean they can’t be *wrong* about something. Fear of death and a wish for an eternal life is such a strong motivator that it can make the most intelligent and knowledgeable people cling to a religious belief and employ all their brain power to defend it.

“It’s meaningless to argue over whether God or Jesus exist or ever existed, really – the words are there, they are what’s important.”

What words are these, specifically? And I think having a debate about the existence of a god/Jesus is very relevant actually, seeing as so many people live their lives by the edict of ‘just have faith’ etc etc and all the consequences that come with that. Like the Pope, for example.

“It’s more that I’m anti-mysticism. I think mysticism is incompatible with feminism, it’s something a lot of women get trapped in because they’re kept from finding out about how their bodies and minds work…religious community can be a protection from that.”

Have you any idea just how much a religious upbringing shrouds sexuality (particularly female) in mystery, shame and secrecy? Christian lobby groups in the US literally try and quash sex education in schools and push ‘abstinence only’ programmes where girls are taught medically incorrect information about their bodies, are taught masturbation is dirty, are taught abortion gives you breast cancer… all based on the belief that girls should all be ‘pure’ like the virgin Mary.

To dismiss such activities as ‘fundamentalism’ is basically just denial. There is a clear line from belief to action in cases such as these, as there is with Pope’s views on homosexuality. The fact that social policy is influenced in both cases just shows that these views are not just those of a few fundamentalists – they are mainstream.

childerowlande // Posted 9 February 2010 at 8:52 pm

Jenn said: And, the supernatural being is the least important part of it – much of my problem with fellow atheists is that they assume everyone affiliated with a religion believes in something that practically none of them believe in.

Jenn, I know you’re trying to stick up for religious people here, but I think most mainstream Christians (I say Christians because Christianity is the religion with which I am most familiar) would be quite insulted/irritated by your insinuation that they don’t actually believe in God. It’s not only fundamentalists who believe in God or pray!

In fact, if you look into Catholic theology, there’s very little that’s forbidden just because, there’s usually a moral or ethical reason.

But the ultimate reason upon which these rules are based is ‘because God says so’. There’s no good moral or ethical reason for not allowing women to be priests, for example. It just comes down to ‘because God says so.’

As a Christian myself (well, Unitarian), I don’t really get the defensiveness of some of the religious people posting here. From a feminist perspective, religions DO tend to encourage sexism, and just because there are people in every religion/denomination who try to make things better, that does not take away the fact that many of the official teachings of (some) religions are openly bigoted along with many of the religions’ adherents.

Cathy AB // Posted 10 February 2010 at 3:04 am

I commented on this on another blog.Think the petition is a great idea but would also like to see one calling for the popes arrest as a paedophile enabler.Unlikley i know but it would at least remind people of the hurt he caused and prolonged.

I’ll be searching for info on protests when he visits, the security wont let people near enough for him to see the placards but if enough people shout he will be able to hear.

When i hear about the hypocrosy,the turning of blind eyes to atrocities (or causing them-condoms cause Aids etc) but speaking out against equal rights and examples such as the one above abou t child rape victem i cant express my anger in words and the frustration i feel when i hear the excuses people make just because he’s the pope.

Cathy AB // Posted 10 February 2010 at 3:25 am

Also just like to add after so many others did that you can count another atheist/feminist here.

earwicga // Posted 10 February 2010 at 9:11 am

Stephen Fry on the Catholic Church – A must watch imo.

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEhtOhwL8xk

Part 2:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BH0safHyhPo&feature=related

gadgetgal // Posted 10 February 2010 at 10:25 am

I love Stephen Fry – he gives me happy warm feelings and makes me more positive about life generally (and he likes gadgets, even if he is a bit of an Apple-monger…)

Elmo // Posted 10 February 2010 at 10:52 am

excellent video earwigca-but i really couldnt stop looking at Mr. Fry’s incredibly shaped nose.

I’m worried this is turning into (or HAS turned into) religous feminists vs. atheist feminists.

Shouldnt we all be united in agreement that the instiution of the catholic church and its leaders, need to change, rather than our personal beliefs?

Mobot // Posted 10 February 2010 at 11:22 am

Ok. So this debate highlights potential tensions between “religion” and “feminism”… I’ve put these in inverted commas because I find it a bit ludicrous to suggest that either concept is monolithic and can be upheld or dismissed so easily! There are feminists commenting here whose opinions I’ve read before and respected but who are, imo, displaying a pretty horrible attitude towards the beliefs of others. I studied religion for 4 years as a feminist and from a non-religious stance. The one thing I took away from my degree was that the ‘religion vs science’ debate is based on gross misrepresentation of both areas (in exactly the same way as ‘religion vs feminism). I think the closest I can come to a generalisation about “religion” is that the majority of religious adherents are moderate… sadly, as in many areas of life, those who make the most noise are way out of sync with the majority but come to represent them.

The idea that science completely undermines religion is disingeneous (sp?!), as “science” is no more a monolith than “religion”. There are scientific fields that contradict each other about the nature of reality, we’re not still in the Enlightenment where the dominant belief system (Christianity) suddenly came under attack as a result of Positivism (which feminist theorists now rail against as it was so misogynist and narrow minded…).

I find it sad that people are being asked to explain why they believe what they believe. Why should they? I feel that, despite the oppressive political power of some religious groups, secularism in this country is now – to all intents and purposes – dominant. So it’s all very easy for those who have the privilege of being in the majority (I include myself in this) to attack those who are, to some degree, marginalised but hang on… where have we seen that happen before?

Finally, Elmo I think your comments are spot on. And for the record I think the Pope is absolutely vile, it makes me rage to think about the bile he spews at every opportunity. And I know plenty of liberal religious folk who feel the same.

Jehenna // Posted 10 February 2010 at 11:57 am

Ah, one of these fights.

I find it highly amusing that people will accept ‘science’ but not ‘religion’ because science is based on facts and religion “can be interpreted to serve any purpose”.

I think it is essential as thinking, rational beings that we understand the nature of human knowledge.

“The world is flat” – this used to be a fact but was later disproved. So what defines a fact, exactly? General consensus? The important thing we need to remember about science is that it is not absolute and it is not finite. Science changes its opinions about what is or is not factual all the time. Deciding that science is an absolute and unchangeable truth is a fundamentalist position. In 200 years if science can prove the existence of God, what on earth will that do to the facts then? Sure we can say ‘well God doesn’t exist so it won’t happen’ but then we have a long history of not being able to even imagine the future scientific breakthroughs that we are able to make. Denying the possibility of the current ‘facts’ becoming the future ‘fictions’ is inherently closed-minded in a way that is usually how religion is described.

Science also has its own ideology and priesthood. Most people do not have the training and knowledge to understand science for themselves. They rely on scientists to make the discoveries and publish them. And then we accept that what they say is true. Because they have access to information and knowledge that we don’t have.

People don’t actually go through a scientific methodology when they are taught that the speed of light is a certain value, and cannot be broken. They accept it as fact. We do not reprove e=mc2 every time we get taught it. We learn the equation rote, understand how it interprets our universe, and keep going with our basic physics.

We accept science on the same level that we used to accept religion. We have faith in the people who say they understand it, that they know what they are talking about, but we do not spend our lives discovering everything for ourselves. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Now in the case of science, you can argue that scientific facts can be proven given enough understanding of the subject matter – peer review, repeated experiments etc. But you are still dealing with a group of people who accept the vast majority of the science which underpins the principle questioned, without actually proving it themselves.

It’s a bit like saying to a bunch of Catholic priests – “Well he says that God exists, what do you say?”

These people are coming from the same ideology – they are going to come up with the same answer.

You only get the really exciting moments when scientists don’t agree, and then politics gets lambasted as the cause (ie climate change etc). No one in this discussion is saying ‘let’s go back to the basic nature of thermal dynamics and reassess from there…’ – they are already converts.

Finally, if you believe that religion can be interpreted to serve any purpose, but science is somehow pure and above this, then you have not followed very much gender theory over the last hundred years.

Science is constantly interpreted to serve different purposes, and in some cases it is even custom made to prove arguments. We have had those discussions again and again at this website, talking about g-spots, rape statistics, trans-theory, and economics.

Holding religion up to scrutiny is essential. As thinking and rational human beings it should be our duty to question things and to come to conclusions based on an independant investigation of truth. But to say that science need not be held up to the same scrutiny is hypocritical. Science is a belief system with its own ideology, as much as religion is.

If we are to be entirely honest, all we can ever say is “with the information at my disposal at this time, I believe….”

The belief that there is no God is not somehow more rational or reasonable than a belief that there is a God. Both beliefs are based on an understanding of the world according to individual comprehension and experience.

It would be nice if both the atheists and the religious types could recognise that sometimes insight can come with something as simple as the fall of an apple onto someone’s head, and thus the nature of belief in what is fact can change.

Jenn // Posted 10 February 2010 at 12:45 pm

Amy Clare – we both agree that, in practice, various Churches do all those things.

What’s more likely: that they do it because they believe a God told them to? Or for reasons of political power?

Aren’t you actually excusing those actions somewhat by claiming that they’re based on irrational beliefs, rather than being calculated? If the beliefs were irrational, if the Pope really believes there’s an omnipotent God there telling him what to do, can he really be said to be ‘choosing’ to do those things, to the extent that anyone ever does? But you can’t reduce hundreds of years of catholic theology and philosophy to the Pope alone.

As for atheism being based on religion, I can’t believe I’m spelling this out, but the word ‘atheism’ is based on the Greek word for God. If there wasn’t a concept of God, there wouldn’t be the need to even define atheism. There wouldn’t be a word for it.

I’m also not implying that religious people don’t believe in God. But the concept of God is very complex, there are many ways to define it. You guys seem to be defining God as some kind of bloke in the sky who issues orders at team meetings – just because a religious authority is saying ‘because God said so’ you believe he means it . Well, go on, you rational people: prove it to me! I don’t see any of the Catholics who have now left the thread defining God in that way, for a very good reason: God doesn’t work that way. God is complicated. What you’re talking about isn’t God. What you’re talking about is Dad. He’s different. You can petition Dad with prayer, for one thing.

What’s more likely: that people are products of their social and psychological situations (note: that doesn’t mean they can never change their minds about anything), or that some people are simply smarter than others, and that enlightenment is mysteriously more concentrated among you and people who think like you just because you chose to think for yourself?

I’d like to remind you that feminism is the knowledge that women’s behaviours and attitudes and what they get to do with their lives are influenced by the situations they have been living in for centuries, not how they’re biologically constituted. Besides, as atheists, you’re not supposed to believe in the soul. Yet, ‘the individual’ and ‘the personality’ are basically the secular equivalents. What makes those rational, where the soul wasn’t? Where is this personality, this individuality, and how is it separate from your body?

Women everywhere make decisions based on their situations, for millions of different reasons, a lot of them excellent. A lot of those decisions are based on surviving in bad situations. All women are, in one way or another, in bad situations (that would be the whole ‘lack of equality’ thing). I don’t think it’s particularly useful, or even compassionate to yourself or to other women to walk up to all the religious people that turn up in your precious ‘feminist spaces’ and demand to know why they support an institution that spreads aids and kills women.

Shea // Posted 10 February 2010 at 6:08 pm

to Jehenna,

I don’t think anyone was saying science is infallible. What I was pointing out is that is can be falsified and challenged. This is the opposite of religion. There is no proof or basis for the beliefs of Christianity except the words of men, changed and handed down over the centuries. This cannot be challenged and must be believed because to do so is to have faith. That is the crucial difference.

Science allows for skepticism, re-evalutation and testing even widely accepted theories. Religion does none of this, because adherents are supposed to blindly, unquestioningly believe what they are told, because they have faith.

To Jenn

“As for atheism being based on religion, I can’t believe I’m spelling this out, but the word ‘atheism’ is based on the Greek word for God”

Here again you are conflating God and religion. Atheism is the non belief in deities, not the non belief in religion. Atheism isn’t based on religion. Not at all. It is based on a disbelief in God or Gods. Its a huge mistake to try and see atheism as a separate and competing belief system.

“If there wasn’t a concept of God, there wouldn’t be the need to even define atheism. There wouldn’t be a word for it.”

If there wasn’t a concept of God, there would be atheism. Because either people are belieiving in nothing (atheism) or they believe in something they do not conceptualise as God, which would either be agnosticism or atheism.

I’m sorry I just find the whole God/Dad conflation highly bizarre. I would never petition my Dad with prayer. As wonderful a bloke as he is, I’m not sure he could achieve anything that I can’t do myself.

As for the next bit, well I’m aware there are cultural and familial and social pressures on women to believe in God and follow religion. But I’d rather women do think for themselves and think through the implications of following a sexist, patriarchal religion, especially when that religion is directly concerned with causing them harm. (Lets look at a direct example- marital rape was legal in this country until 1991 because of a biblical belief that when men and women marry they become “one flesh”. Therefore it was held to be illogical that a man could rape his wife because she was a part of him and therefore he would effectively be “raping himself”.)

“Besides, as atheists, you’re not supposed to believe in the soul”

Why not? Where does it say I can’t believe in a soul? I’m not following any atheist credo, I’m not even sure one exists.

I believe passionately in the soul. But I don’t believe for a minute it is a separate spiritual entity waiting to be punished for my earthly transgressions. It is my brain, my neurons and neuro-synapses firing away. It is the imprint on that brain of my memories, preferences, emotions and knowledge and when I die and my brain stem activity cease, I cease to have a soul. That is where the personality and individuality are and they are not at all separate from the body.

“I don’t think it’s particularly useful, or even compassionate to yourself or to other women to walk up to all the religious people that turn up in your precious ‘feminist spaces’ and demand to know why they support an institution that spreads aids and kills women.”

They aren’t my precious feminist spaces and I don’t think the atheist feminists have demanded to know why they support an institution that spreads aids and kills women. I have ask why they subscribe to the beliefs they do and how they can justify active support of the Catholic church knowing the abuses it has committed. It is you that seems to feel on trial and oppressed here, even though you profess to be an atheist.

I don’t think for one minute there is anything wrong is asking feminists in light of discoveries about the Catholic church why they continue to belong to this organisation and actively support it. If I was a member of the Communist party, I think you would rightly ask me why in light of the gulags. There is nothing about religion that exempts people from justifying why they hold a belief. To expect otherwise is to accept a deference and respect which is entirely undeserved.

Elmo // Posted 10 February 2010 at 7:13 pm

Mobot and Jehenna :) say what im trying to say without all the spelling mistakes.

childerowland // Posted 10 February 2010 at 7:14 pm

You guys seem to be defining God as some kind of bloke in the sky who issues orders at team meetings

Except that that is how many Christians DO see God! And I say this as someone who grew up in a Christian family and attended church most Sundays of my child and young adult life (and not a fundie church, either). I was also quite heavily involved with Christian groups at university and worked for a year at the headquarters of a Christian denomination. Most mainstream Christians are uneasy about using female pronouns for God, so yes, the view of God as a man in the sky telling people what to do is a lot more prevalent than you’re suggesting.

Jehenna // Posted 11 February 2010 at 2:37 am

Shea, I am very much enjoying your posts – it is nice to be able to discuss this topic without getting too personal.

But to address your points… :)

Of course religion can be falsified and challenged.

That’s what people are doing all the time. That’s why schisms occur. Because someone will say that they don’t actually agree with the way the religion is being run/interpreted, and you get a breakoff which will do things differently.

You’re throwing all of Christianity in together when historically it has been exposed to, and exposed itself to, some pretty serious soul searching. It isn’t a cohesive belief system anymore precisely because of this scepticism and questioning.

You’re using the word ‘faith’ like its a bad thing. Our whole lives operate on faith in one form or another. We have faith that the doctor treating us knows what they are doing, and that the body that licensed them is ethical and ensures they are correctly trained. We have faith that our partners love us, though often love is not something that can be proved empirically. Faith does not have to operate seperate to an awareness of the facts, and faith is not some kind of monolithic structure which is unshakeable.

Faith is subject to experience, and when something happens that calls our faith into something or someone into question, we re-examine that faith. This is how people ‘lose faith’ or have a ‘crisis of faith’. Faith is not something you obtain and then exists in stasis.

Likewise science has a tendency to lend itself to ‘we said so’ routines where the general public are sold something as fact, and it is demanded that we accept this as fact because of the position of the people telling us so. We are expected to have faith in those people.

I think that atheism is precisely a seperate and competing belief system because it is premised on an equally scientifically unproveable premise as the belief in God. Atheists believe there is no God.

Neither of these two beliefs can be held to be true with empirical evidence. Agnosticism is by far the more ‘honest’ approach because at least there is acknowledgement that all the facts are not yet in. There is a possibility either way – of God, or no God.

The dictionary definition of atheism is:

1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.

2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

(Random House Dictionary 2010)

It is not a neutral standpoint, it is a belief.

Your example of marital rape is an excellent one which demonstrates exactly how science and religion are used for exactly the same purpose in many cases.

There are many interpretations of that passage, which presumably range from ‘marital rape is fine’ to ‘marital rape is abhorent’. Some people who wanted to justify marital rape went with one interpretation and then pointed to the text as justification.

Men have a larger brain mass than women. Some people used this fact to argue that men are thus naturally more intelligent than women, pointing to the science as justification.

Both groups used exactly the same technique – they took a fact and applied an interpretation to it, and expected that their position in the hierarchy of ideology enabled them to decide what the fact meant. It is not the fact that is the issue, but the meaning ascribed to it.

The role of the individual should be to look at the facts for themselves and consider whether the interpretation is reasonable given the data at hand.

I think it is extremely short sighted to assume that everyone who is religious is incapable of independent thought, and everyone who is an atheist is benefitted with wisdom and insight. There is indoctrination, deceit, sleight of hand, falsification and a vested interest in both science and religion, and just as many sheep in both camps.

I think it is reasonable to expect people to question their support of their religions, only if that expectation is applied to all belief systems. Should we be reconsidering our support for a secular society in light of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Surely we should be questioning our support of an increasingly secular society in light of these atrocities?

I don’t believe religious people have some kind of exemption from questioning their beliefs. But usually these demands are coming from people who have accepted another set of beliefs wholesale, and without the same level of scrutiny that they’d expect to be applied to anything with a ‘religion’ tag attached.

JenniferRuth // Posted 11 February 2010 at 9:53 am

Before I start I just want to put it out there that I am not religious and I certainly don’t believe in any religious gods but I don’t really identify as an atheist either. My stance is that I really don’t care if there is a god or not because I don’t think that it makes the slightest bit of difference to our lives on Earth. If people feel better being religious then that’s great for them – I just don’t want those beliefs influencing other people’s lives.

@ Jehenna

I do feel that you are misrepresenting what science is. “The world is flat” was never a fact and is something that was debated since the 4th century BC. The myth that flat earth was ever fact was invented in the 19th century.

Science IS absolute truth or at least it searches for it. People are fallible and people can do “bad” science and twist results – but science itself, what it actually IS is hypothesis testing, experiment, and good methodology. It is not a belief and it is not based on faith. You do not advance theories by going “oh, it might just all be wrong!” and second-guessing – you prove or disprove using logical and rational rules. It is not comparable to religion. The physicist Richard Feynman said “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

I would also point out that most misinterpretation of science is done not by scientists or the papers they publish but the media that picks and choose what they think will make a great story and often fundamentally misrepresents the results. I think it would be great if all schools had mandatory critical thinking lessons – it would help people not to swallow the bullshit the media feeds us.

But the fact remains that if people did want to see how E=mc2 was arrived at they could. There is no such thing as an equation that proves god. Belief in god is in a persons faith. Science is not a belief. Faith is not a prerequisite for science.

What people do with science is a completely different to what science is. You mention people that have used “scientific” myths in order to uphold gender oppression. Yes, this is true – but they were unable to uphold it because it doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. There is no standard to uphold when scrutinising religion and people will believe what they want.

Basically, you are making religion and science comparable and they’re not. On one side you can accept things that are tested and supported by evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other side you can accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified (creationism – which I know not all religious people believe in).

I don’t think this comparison makes sense but more than that I don’t think it matters. I do not have faith but I can see that faith brings some wonderful things into this world (charity, hope, platonic love) and it has it’s own merits. It doesn’t need to be compared to science and it doesn’t need to be in opposition to it either.

This is why I support secularism. Faith can be a beautiful thing on an individual level but it cannot rule us in a rational way.

gadgetgal // Posted 11 February 2010 at 10:32 am

@JeniferRuth – really good post, you get at the heart of why secularism is a good idea, whether you’re religious or not!

Jehenna // Posted 11 February 2010 at 10:47 am

JenniferRuth,

I absolutely agree that both science and religion can exist in harmony. They can provide different things.

I agree that what people do with science is not what science is. But this stands for religion also. Both of my examples were about things that we do not believe to be true, regardless of whether they were formed from science or religion.

There is no equation for God, but there is no equation for a whole range of concepts which we cannot yet express. We could not have an equation for e=mc2 in the 5th century BC because we did not have the cognitive capacity and conceptual ability to frame the question, let alone come up with the answer. Who knows what things will be discovered in the future? I think it is extremely bad science, and a form of belief, to decide that because we cannot prove something NOW, that it does not exist. Which is why I feel agnosticism is a far more sensible approach than atheism.

But I don’t agree that they are not comparable. Our privileging of ideologies, including often denying that the dominant ideology *is* an ideology and portraying it as fact, has a long history.

Too often atheists behave towards those with faith as being somehow mentally deficient for believing in something ‘unscientific’ and ‘unproven’, as though where we stand now is the end result of all human knowledge.

The contempt therein is incredible, and alienating for those people who may believe in God, but still be feminist. Or anything else involved with trying to improve the lot of people the world over.

No one has all the answers. We don’t know how everything works. Surely it is better to continue in a frame of tolerance and cooperation, rather than dismissing the beliefs of some because they differ from our own. We haven’t even started on homeopathy… ;)

Jenn // Posted 11 February 2010 at 12:11 pm

Shea,

‘Here again you are conflating God and religion. Atheism is the non belief in deities, not the non belief in religion. Atheism isn’t based on religion. Not at all. It is based on a disbelief in God or Gods. Its a huge mistake to try and see atheism as a separate and competing belief system. ‘

I never said atheism was a separate and competing belief system, I said it was a philosophical concept formed with respect to the philosophical concept of God. Is it just disbelief in supernatural deities? Or is it a rejection of the whole concept of God? They’re not the same thing: to oversimplify, monotheist religions have an interventionist God who, if you’re being simplistic about it, could be seen as supernatural. Religions that aren’t monotheist don’t necessarily. Buddhism doesn’t have a God, but there are plenty of lectures out there by Zen masters discussing the concept of God.

“If there wasn’t a concept of God, there would be atheism. Because either people are belieiving in nothing (atheism) or they believe in something they do not conceptualise as God, which would either be agnosticism or atheism. ”

There wouldn’t, though, because there wouldn’t be a ‘gnosis’ or a ‘theos’ to base that shit on.

‘I’m sorry I just find the whole God/Dad conflation highly bizarre. I would never petition my Dad with prayer. As wonderful a bloke as he is, I’m not sure he could achieve anything that I can’t do myself.’

Which is odd, because God is being described in this thread in very patriarchal terms. I won’t insult your intelligence by detailing the etymology of ‘patriarchal’.

‘As for the next bit, well I’m aware there are cultural and familial and social pressures on women to believe in God and follow religion. But I’d rather women do think for themselves and think through the implications of following a sexist, patriarchal religion, especially when that religion is directly concerned with causing them harm. (Lets look at a direct example- marital rape was legal in this country until 1991 because of a biblical belief that when men and women marry they become “one flesh”. Therefore it was held to be illogical that a man could rape his wife because she was a part of him and therefore he would effectively be “raping himself”.) ‘

I’m not talking about pressures. I’m talking about the fact that the vast majority of Western people who have made our culture what it is have either been religious, or defined themselves with respect to religion. Diderot was ignostic – he didn’t believe in God, but he defined his position with respect to God, I mean, he had to, that was probably the first question everyone asked him, certainly something that would have had the authorities on his back. Religion was obviously very important to him.

‘I believe passionately in the soul. But I don’t believe for a minute it is a separate spiritual entity waiting to be punished for my earthly transgressions. It is my brain, my neurons and neuro-synapses firing away. It is the imprint on that brain of my memories, preferences, emotions and knowledge and when I die and my brain stem activity cease, I cease to have a soul. That is where the personality and individuality are and they are not at all separate from the body.’

Nobody really ‘thinks for themselves’, or only to a limited extent. You have no idea what a relatively small thing can do to your entire life – you might hardly ever look at your birth certificate, but if you didn’t have it, it wouldn’t just be your sense of identity that would be completely altered, it would be your whole life – just that small act of registering your birth changes your whole life. Essentially, you’d be a completely different person. You’re not even the same person as you were ten years ago. Are you saying that if you were born on a different continent to different parents, you’d still be a freethinking Western intellectual? Or are you just saying that everyone should get a chance to be just that, because our way is best? We have identities because we need a sense of self to survive – but it’s important to be able to see that this isn’t an essence, that anything could have made you a completely different person.

Yes, every woman should get a chance to think for herself to the extent that it is possible for any of us to do so. As for your example of marital rape – yes, religion was used as justification for such abuses. So were social Darwinism and eugenics, which were used to justify keeping the poor poor (and preventing them from reproducing) in some cases, and active mass murder in others. Similar politics are at work in both the religious and secular case here. I argued before that science and religion are totally unrelated, so shouldn’t be pitted against each other. I agree with you that the scientific method is a method whereby you try and arrive at the truth as faithfully as possible, which is, though, by admitting all the ways in which you might be wrong. Religion’s a way of communing with other people that has nothing to do with gaining factual knowledge. That’s completely different.

‘They aren’t my precious feminist spaces and I don’t think the atheist feminists have demanded to know why they support an institution that spreads aids and kills women. I have ask why they subscribe to the beliefs they do and how they can justify active support of the Catholic church knowing the abuses it has committed. It is you that seems to feel on trial and oppressed here, even though you profess to be an atheist.’

Nice ad hominem there. I’m not arguing things because I feel undermined or oppressed, but because I think it’s true. Think you’ll win a prize if you get me to confess something troubling about my religious background, Dr Freud? Can we get back to the topic at hand?

I just have a fundamental problem with being anti-religious. First of all, it’s simplistic and intellectually lazy. Secondly, people fought and died for freedom of religion to be enshrined as a human right in various documents that are based on secular, if not atheist, premises – to see privileged Westerners talking about how they’re anti- one entire religion sends a chill down my spine.

JenniferRuth // Posted 12 February 2010 at 9:39 am

@ gadgetgal

Thank you very much!

@ Jehanna

I think it is extremely bad science, and a form of belief, to decide that because we cannot prove something NOW, that it does not exist.

This is what I mean when I say that you are misrepresenting science (and I don’t think you mean to do it). There are lots of things in this world that cannot be “proved” with 100% certainty but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t treat them as fact. I quote Stephen J. Gould: “fact” doesn’t mean “absolute certainty”; there ain’t no such animal in an exciting and complex world.

Bertrand Russell’s teapot analogy explains this nicely. I cannot prove that there is not a teapot orbiting the sun but I would definitely hedge my bets that there is not one. The existence of an orbiting teapot is just as plausible scientifically as the existence of god.

Basically, if all the evidence points in one direction I think it would behoove us to follow that evidence.

This is why I do not think they are comparable. Science is not an ideology. It is not an idea or something we put our faith in. It is something where we put our ideas and beliefs aside in order to find the truth. People may be clouded with prejudice and ideology but the methodology of science seeks to eliminate that. I am by no means saying that it always manages to do so but if it doesn’t then that is not the fault of science itself. Theology has no such rules.

Having said this, I do agree that there are many obnoxious atheists and there are those who cannot see the benefit of human faith. I agree that there should be tolerance – hell, I don’t think someones religious beliefs should even matter. What I don’t want is religious beliefs and matters of faith influencing my life or the decisions of the state.

We haven’t even started on homeopathy… ;)

Lol! Oh man, now that would be a long comment thread! :D

Amy Clare // Posted 12 February 2010 at 11:56 am

Science is being grossly misrepresented by some of the comments since I was last here, so I just want to address that first:

@Jehenna:

“”The world is flat” – this used to be a fact but was later disproved. So what defines a fact, exactly? General consensus? The important thing we need to remember about science is that it is not absolute and it is not finite. Science changes its opinions about what is or is not factual all the time.”

First of all, this was not a fact. It was a belief. What defines a fact is either a proof (in the case of mathematics, e.g. 2+2=4 is a fact) or an indisputable body of evidence (e.g. that smoking causes lung cancer is a fact). The force of gravity is another fact about our world – we can call it a fact not because of a ‘general consensus’ but because it has been measured time and again, perfectly explains how objects behave in our universe and has predictive power.

Scientists don’t change their opinions about what the facts are. There are differences of opinion between scientists, sure, but these concern theories, not facts – i.e. they have not been proven or there is insufficient evidence. Usually, when the evidence for a theory reaches a certain level, differences of opinion stop. I’d like to bet there isn’t one scientist who disagrees about the law of gravity, or who still believes the sun orbits the earth.

“Deciding that science is an absolute and unchangeable truth is a fundamentalist position. In 200 years if science can prove the existence of God, what on earth will that do to the facts then?”

Sorry, but you’re wrong about that. Scientists never discount the possibility of new evidence coming to light. If scientists manage to find evidence for the existence of a god, then what will probably happen is that most of them will start to believe in god! That’s how it works. Scientific inquiry is about the pursuit of truth, arrived at through observing and measuring our world. If new observations or measurements are made which uncover new phenomena then the scientific world will accept them provided the evidence is sufficient. Richard Dawkins has gone on record to say that he would believe in a god if only there were evidence for it.

“Science also has its own ideology and priesthood. Most people do not have the training and knowledge to understand science for themselves. They rely on scientists to make the discoveries and publish them.”

The only ‘ideology’ that scientists adhere to is like I said above, about testing a theory and finding evidence through observation and measurement. That’s the only way you can find out how our universe works. You don’t have to be a professor of astrophysics to ‘understand science’. People use scientific principles every day – how do you know the pan of water is boiling before you put your pasta in? Because of repeated observations that water bubbles when it’s boiling. Furthermore, if you wanted to get advanced training and knowledge for yourself, you could. If you doubted why scientists said ‘x is true’ you could, in theory, demand to be shown the evidence and *it could be shown to you*. Or, even better, you could read the paper they’d published and reproduce the experiment yourself. That’s one of the tenets of the scientific method – experiments must be reproduceable.

“People don’t actually go through a scientific methodology when they are taught that the speed of light is a certain value, and cannot be broken. They accept it as fact. We do not reprove e=mc2 every time we get taught it…We accept science on the same level that we used to accept religion.”

Actually, scientists use that equation all the time, so if the speed of light were to magically change some time, it would be discovered immediately, when other equations stopped making sense. The fact is though that it has never changed, since it was first measured. And if you wanted to re-measure it, you could. You don’t have to take the speed of light on blind faith, whereas you do have to take the existence of a god on blind faith.

“Now in the case of science, you can argue that scientific facts can be proven given enough understanding of the subject matter – peer review, repeated experiments etc. But you are still dealing with a group of people who accept the vast majority of the science which underpins the principle questioned, without actually proving it themselves.”

But *they could if they wanted to*. There is no theoretical limit to the amount of times an experiment can be repeated.

“It’s a bit like saying to a bunch of Catholic priests – “Well he says that God exists, what do you say?”

These people are coming from the same ideology – they are going to come up with the same answer.”

No it isn’t. In fact, you’ve just contradicted yourself. Above, you said that scientists always disagree with each other. Now you’re saying that they always come up with the same answer.

At the risk of repeating myself: scientists base their beliefs on evidence. If the evidence changes, so does the belief. If the evidence is inconclusive then disagreement may occur *until the evidence becomes conclusive either way*. A belief in a god, by contrast, is based purely on faith. The lack of evidence does not alter the belief because it is based on what a person *wants* to believe rather than what is observable.

“Science is constantly interpreted to serve different purposes”

The facts as discovered by scientists can be used by people who have their own ends, yes – but the people who are doing this are behaving unscientifically, e.g. from a standpoint of prejudice. The disgusting practice of eugenics *based* its theory on evolution, but was unscientific in itself, as there was no proof of the supposed moral inferiority of the people being sterilised. It was purely based on prejudice.

“But to say that science need not be held up to the same scrutiny is hypocritical. Science is a belief system with its own ideology, as much as religion is.”

Science *is* held up to scrutiny, all the time. Scrutiny is built into its framework. It is not a ‘belief system’ or an ‘ideology’, it is the practice of observing and measuring our world.

“The belief that there is no God is not somehow more rational or reasonable than a belief that there is a God. Both beliefs are based on an understanding of the world according to individual comprehension and experience.”

No. The belief that there is no god is based on the fact that *there is no evidence for a god*. Not even a *little* bit. To believe in something whole heartedly when there is no evidence for it is not rational or reasonable, it is delusional. And delusions, to get back to the original topic, should not influence social policy.

Moving on… @Jenn:

“What’s more likely: that they do it because they believe a God told them to? Or for reasons of political power?”

If you were to ask the Pope why he believes homosexuality is a sin, he would point you to the Bible.

“Aren’t you actually excusing those actions somewhat by claiming that they’re based on irrational beliefs, rather than being calculated?”

Not at all. Like I said above, I’d like to think everyone has the wherewithal to question their beliefs and upbringing. Why the Pope has never questioned his belief in a god is anyone’s guess. It could be that he doesn’t even believe, he is just pretending because he wants wealth and power. What I’m more angry about, rather than the Pope’s bigoted beliefs per se, is that the UK govt is giving this man and his institution influence over our social policy.

“As for atheism being based on religion, I can’t believe I’m spelling this out, but the word ‘atheism’ is based on the Greek word for God.”

I’m so terribly sorry that you ‘can’t believe’ you’re ‘spelling it out’ for me, but I am aware of the etymology of the word. If there were no religion, there would still be the *concept* of atheism (conceptually, atheism is simply the absence of a belief in a deity), but it would most likely be called something different. Is your argument about the word, or the concept?

“What’s more likely: that people are products of their social and psychological situations, or that some people are simply smarter than others, and that enlightenment is mysteriously more concentrated among you and people who think like you just because you chose to think for yourself?”

You’re asking a huge nature/nurture question which is beyond the scope of this thread, really. I can’t answer why some people can reject a strict religious upbringing and others can’t, or why some people never have religious beliefs in the first place. What we know, however, is that some people *do* reject the beliefs of a religious upbringing, and we also know that this is more likely when there is at least *one* source in a person’s life which says it is okay to question things.

“Besides, as atheists, you’re not supposed to believe in the soul. Yet, ‘the individual’ and ‘the personality’ are basically the secular equivalents. What makes those rational, where the soul wasn’t? Where is this personality, this individuality, and how is it separate from your body?”

I assume you’re talking about consciousness, a sense of self. Well, it is possible to talk of these in a rational way because it isn’t necessary to posit supernatural forces in order to talk of them. My personality, my sense of self comes from my physical brain, and so does yours and everyone else’s. There has never been any evidence of consciousness surviving the death of the brain. Consciousness can be manipulated by chemical and physical means, and people’s personalities can change with mental illness, drug abuse or brain injury. Therefore consciousness and sense of self are not separate from your body, they are part of it. They are physical.

Rose // Posted 12 February 2010 at 3:47 pm

AWESOME! Let’s protest the pope!

As an athiest, feminist, physics student….. there is nothing I would love more than freedom from religion. True freedom. From not having my human rights limited by religious opinion, to not having my money spent on religions, or their represtatives.

But lets be honest, in a country where the PM’s a proud preachers son, and the Tories hold so much power, theres not much hope. (They’re even offering to wave money infront of people for conforming to christian marriage now!)

All seem to agree that the pope is an abhorrent piece of work, willing to cause the deaths of millions. Does anybody really think that a guy like that would care about the sentiments of lowly followers?

If we care about equality, justice, human rights, etc, than thats something for our country. We can only petition our govenment about the kind of people we want in our country.

aka, if a leader was known to stand against equlity and human rights, we could just ban them from entering the country. (Face it, if he was a muslim leader he would prob. have been banned by now).

Unfortunately, as our govenment seems proactive in trying to out-do the pope for evils around the grobe…. maybe the only answer is to……. drink alot of gin….. (is this just the student in me talking?)

Oh, and the evil of tea deserves it’s own thread.

Shea // Posted 12 February 2010 at 4:30 pm

to Jehenna, I think JenniferRuth has done a brilliant job of answering the points on faith/science. Far better than I could.

But I debate your point on religion being able to be falsified and challenged. I think thats the reason schisms occur. Because competing beliefs in the Church or ideology cannot be reconciled.

to Jenn

“There wouldn’t, though, because there wouldn’t be a ‘gnosis’ or a ‘theos’ to base that shit on. ”

Exactly– so there would be atheism. If there is no concept of God there is no belief and therefore there is atheism.

“I never said atheism was a separate and competing belief system, I said it was a philosophical concept formed with respect to the philosophical concept of God”.

Actually you did. You have repeatedly implied that it is a separate belief system. When nothing could be further from the truth. And your wrong on the last part. There was atheism before any organised religion existed, possibly, conceivably before any religion existed. It was being debated by Diagoras in the 5th century BC. There also isn’t one, unifying philosophical concept of God. It seems to be a personal definition, that changes with the zeitgeist.

“Is it just disbelief in supernatural deities? Or is it a rejection of the whole concept of God?”

For my part its a wholesale rejection of the belief in God, and prima facie a rejection of belief in supernatural deities.

“Nobody really ‘thinks for themselves’, or only to a limited extent.”

Actually everybody thinks for themselves, i.e each individual supports their own neurological activity. I think in a broader sense this thread is proof that everyone thinks for themselves. But I grant you everyone is influenced by their own cultural and social upbringing to a large extent.

“Are you saying that if you were born on a different continent to different parents, you’d still be a freethinking Western intellectual? Or are you just saying that everyone should get a chance to be just that, because our way is best?”

I don’t believe “our” way is best. Do we even agree on a “way”? Although the flag bearers of atheism are white western intellectuals, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you in that I’m not white, and while I’ve have the benefit of a western education I wasn’t born in the West and my family aren’t originally Western. I know from my own experience there are plenty of “freethinking non-western intellectuals” and many who are atheists. I’ve met plenty in Latin America and a fair few in China and the far east. I’m certainly not advocating a sense of western intellectual superiority in the least.

“Nice ad hominem there.”

that actually wasn’t. And please not Freud of all people!

“I just have a fundamental problem with being anti-religious. First of all, it’s simplistic and intellectually lazy. Secondly, people fought and died for freedom of religion to be enshrined as a human right in various documents that are based on secular, if not atheist, premises”

That is a contradiction right there. I think you meant to write “freedom from religion”. There are still many many places in the world where this is not permitted. There is nothing intellectually simplistic or lazy about challenging the mass indoctrination of people through religion or the existence of God. It is simplistic and lazy to accept the status quo because of the intellectual effort required to challenge it. There is nothing simplistic or lazy in demanding proof of the existence of God and the benefit of religion. People have fought and died to have their own beliefs respected and not be forced to comply with beliefs they knew to be wrong. Religion is a private personal thing that has no place in the laws or governance of state. We are destroying the legacy of these people if we just continue to allow religion to permeate every facet of public life. Also the history of human rights is predominantly secular and as you can see from the Pope, most religious people have no problems demanding their human rights be respect whilst denying that right to others.

“to see privileged Westerners talking about how they’re anti- one entire religion sends a chill down my spine.”

This is your frankly simplistic and intellectually lazy assumption that everyone atheist must be a privileged westerner. When you know nothing about me, or my background or that of any person commenting on here. I’m not anti-one entire religion, I’m anti them all. They are all equally oppressive, be it Hinduism and the caste system, Buddhism and the acceptance of suffering as part of reincarnation, Islam and its oppression of women, Christianity and its oppression of women or Judaism and its oppression of women. I truly believe the world would be a much happier, harmonious place without any of them. But unlike the religions in question, I’m not advocating forcing my beliefs on other people and possibly violence if they resist. If that sends chills down your spine, you really haven’t been paying attention.

Atheist // Posted 12 February 2010 at 6:34 pm

I wondered the other day about how the bible and God became an apologist’s tool for sexual abuse. how Abraham was made to mutilate the genitals of his son because God asked him to, how God punishes women for taking the apple off Satan by giving us pain in childbirth – yeah!, how God would only impregnate a young virgin rather than sleeping with someone his own age, how Christ had to die unmarried and thus pure, how vilified Mary Magdalene was as a prostitute, how menstruating women are unclean, how we must submit to our husbands, the list goes on. I don’t know if God doesn’t exist. If he does, he doesn’t strike me as benevolent and he strikes me as having a distinctly odd attitude towards women. Of course, I don’t really think he has an attitude at all, because I believe he is a product of our desire to make sense and order out of our lives even at the expense of our freedom, especially women’s freedom. If God does exist, then our interpretation of him must be flawed or he can’t be the perfect being that he is meant to be, because a perfect being would not behave in the way that he is described as having behaved. You are entitled to make your own minds up. You are not entitled to make my mind up. I don’t want to pay for the Pope’s visit because I see the Pope as oppressive of women. I don’t see any good that he does in world politics or even in world spiritual well being. I can see that belief in a power greater than oneself is comforting though, so if people want to believe it, provided they do so at their own expense and without involving me, I don’t mind.

Amy Clare // Posted 12 February 2010 at 6:34 pm

@Shea:

Amazing comment, agree with every word!

Also, I want to post a link to a set of YouTube videos by an ex-Christian. They’re very well done and respectful, and describe in detail the various components of his belief in god and how he became an atheist. (And in doing so, he sets out the arguments for and against god’s existence extremely clearly.) I really hope that the theists or religion-apologists on this thread will take the time to watch them (if you’re pushed for time then just watch the one labelled 2.6). If not then the atheists will definitely find them interesting!

http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=A0C3C1D163BE880A&annotation_id=annotation_39101&feature=iv

(Start with ‘2.0: The God Concept’).

Philippa Willitts // Posted 12 February 2010 at 6:41 pm

Atheist, thanks so much for that comment!

I'm on my new Iphone Sorry // Posted 13 February 2010 at 3:39 am

I think saying you’re an atheist but that religion can exist in Harmony is out of pity.Like you imagine there’s bullying of religious folk and their crazy ways. You have to come out of that when a lot of the world is still tormented by religion.if it was a cult comprised of five or six and all believed in a big guy in sky and no one else did- that cult promoted misogyny and hatred and requires people to starve themselves. We’d be on their case in a heartbeat. Why is a two thirds of the world in such a cult any less scary? Why does two thirds of the world obsessed with a bearded guy need pity? It requires this serious scrutiny now we’re starting to see te light.

Kristin // Posted 13 February 2010 at 2:32 pm

Shea and Atheist, BRILLIANT comments! Pure delight to read. Thank you both, so much.

Jehenna // Posted 14 February 2010 at 2:42 am

Amy Clare,

Interesting comments for thought, thank you. Nothing really to come back with other than the acknowledgement that my overly simplistic argument needs further deconstruction in my head :)

Shea, the reason we see the two differently may be that my experience of religion has been profoundly different from yours.

“I’m on my new Iphone”

I think part of the problem for those who are religions or a ‘religion-apologist” is that we don’t actually do these things ourselves. For myself, I’m not part of a religion that believes in that kind of thing at all. And yet it’s considered acceptable to operate on a platform that lumps all religion in together, and all people who believe in God as “delusional”.

I do appreciate that some horrific things have been done in the name of religion/God/belief. And I certainly understand the perspective of not wanting a religious figurehead to be welcomed after such comments.

But I do object to a policy of treating a group of people as delusional based on the set of their beliefs. After all, I’d hardly consider it appropriate to treat atheists as wilfully ignorant and complain that they are pushing their beliefs (or lack thereof) onto me through the vehicle of secular society.

What I’d like is a more tolerant discussion of the issue, with an acceptance that perhaps it’s okay to believe different things, and that there isn’t a stance for ‘I’m more feminist than you because I … don’t believe in God/ do believe in God/ breastfed/bottlefed/ didn’t have kids/ had twelve kids/ believe in homeopathy…”

And a lot of these arguments seem to equate ‘true’ feminism with a rejection of religion.

As someone who believes in God, hasn’t had kids, doesn’t have a physics degree but has an arts degree, thinks homeopathy works in some cases, plays computer games (and doesn’t think they’re all immoral), and is a feminist…

… I’d hate to have my experiences or validity marginalised because of any one of those aspects of who I am. Regardless of the forum, whether that be here, or a religious one, or a gaming community, or the homeopath’s office.

One aspect of my belief system does not critically impair my adherence to my other beliefs.

I'm on my Ipone // Posted 14 February 2010 at 6:04 pm

Sorry Jehenna, I see no reason to believe in a God, and those who do believe in one seem to be terrifically intolerant and ignorant of those who want to speak logically.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 14 February 2010 at 6:20 pm

Jehenna: Just out of curiousity, why would any feminist want to buy into a belief system that says that she is inferior, and that has people actively working to deny her her bodily autonomy?

(For the record, I’d like to be a Christian, but I can’t reconcile it with my politics.)

Elmo // Posted 14 February 2010 at 6:44 pm

Your right “im on my new iphone”, I dont tolerate any of you. And im very ignorant. I cant even tolerate talking about it any longer, aaargh, the ignorance. Mmmm, terrifically ignorant, thats me. Thank you for the sweeping genralisation. I dont think ive actually seen any religous people on this page attacking atheism, just trying to defend why they beleive in something. No, really. Look at the whole page. No one here is being intolerant of athism. There trying to explain why they beleive what they believe. In fact, something i did notice was the way the atheists kept going “im so sick of defending myself against all the religous people on this page”-even though all (well, both) the religous people here have condemmed the actions of the catholic church, agreed that changes need to be made, and tried to clarify why they are still religous. Maybe in the real world you have to face zionists, but this is a safe-space, and ive seen nothing but courtesy from the religous commenters, and I could only count two actually identified religous commentators, Elb and earwicga, neither of which mentioned atheism AT ALL, until Amy Clare started asking why they belived in angels.

Once again, im not attacking atheism! I have no problem with what others believe! Im asking for a bit of courtesy for the religous people, especially as they are agreeing with the most important point-the corruption of religon and the control of the catholic church. Perhaps in future it would be nice if you didnt refer to the THREE (maybe about 2.5 im still not sure about myself) religous people on this page as intolerant and ignorant.

I would also like to second Jehenna in saying im thouroughly TIRED of people on this page and others declaring that they are more feminist than others because they dont beleive in god/have no kids/lots of kids etc etc.

There are plently of religous people I would NOT call intolerant or ignorant. Ghandi. Martin Luther King. Mother Teresa. Desmond Tutu. I would call them incredibly brave and inspirational.

Shea // Posted 14 February 2010 at 8:32 pm

to Elmo, I would strongly disagree with you about Mother Teresa. This is the woman that turned away five Indian women refugees, for aid or food because they had had terminations following their rapes by soldiers. There is not alot tolerant or enlightened about that.

I'm on my new iphone // Posted 14 February 2010 at 9:03 pm

Elmo:

They were inspirational for reasons that didn’t involve believing in Big Beard in the sky.

Elmo // Posted 14 February 2010 at 10:28 pm

shea, thankyou, i did not know that

im on my new iphone: I strongly disagree, nor does that have anything to do with how tolerant/ignorant they were, but i cant be bothered with this discussion anymore, I dont think anyone is going to change their opinion, i think were all just going to bicker until it dries up. Im happy that we do all at least agree about the original pope point. Personally, my faith in god wont go away, no matter how much my faith in religon wavers. that might sound silly-so shoot me, im silly. Happy valentines day :)

Jehenna // Posted 15 February 2010 at 7:32 am

Politicalguineapig, I have absolutely no idea. It puzzles the hell out of me. But I feel that way about raunch culture too ;)

I remember talking to someone at Uni who was telling me she almost became a Hindu nun. I asked her how she coped with the fundamental misogynies of Hinduism as it is practiced now. She looked at me like I’d grown a second head and said ‘well obviously I didn’t believe those parts’.

I couldn’t understand it then and I can’t understand it now.

If you’re asking me specifically how I can be feminist and religious, it is because I’m not a member of a patriarchal religion, but one that has as one of its tenets that men and women are equal in the sight of God.

I got quite the shock when I started cultural theory at university and discovered the whole patriarchy thing.

I’m on my new iphone – your decision to believe or not believe is your own. I’ve no interest in converting or convincing you. I haven’t even mentioned what my religion is, how I justify it, why I believe in God, or actually any details at all about my faith. I don’t see how those people posting on this thread who believe in God have been “terrifically intolerant and ignorant of those who want to speak logically.”

Seen a fair bit of intolerance directed at the religious people though. Like equating atheism with logic, rationality etc etc, as though your views must be somehow deficient if you believe in God.

I do appreciate that there has been a long history of intolerance based on religion, and that many people feel oppressed by that history and by the experiences they have with individuals who like to use religion as a sledge hammer. But I’m suspecting those individuals aren’t the ones posting here.

In the same way that we don’t want to replace patriarchy with a matriarchy and enact on men the kind of oppression that women have suffered, I’d really hope we’re not trying to start some kind of pogrom against those with religion now, just because in the past religion was used as justification for a lot of shit.

Isn’t it our responsibility as ‘aware’ people who are trying to critique society to avoid falling into the pendulum-swings that are only going to perpetuate exactly the same kind of problems that we’re trying to resolve, but for a different group?

This whole ‘holier than thou’ (the irony!) attitude really doesn’t serve the feminist community very well, when membership or ‘real’ feminism is held up as adherence to a certain set of beliefs.

My understanding is that we want a feminism that is accessible to all women regardless of cis/trans gender identity, race, class, work choices (prosititution/stripping), motherhood choices, employment, education, body size, ethnicity and cultural background.

Why would we try to overcome any prejudices we had in relation to these groups, and then wholeheartedly embrace prejudice against those who believe in God?

Without being tolerant towards the religious, we are going to struggle to understand many of the issues facing women, because as was rightly pointed out, many of these are based in religion. Telling someone she’d be perfectly alright if she stopped being deluded about the existence of God, will not resolve issues around the hijab or contraception, and it simply circumvents our ability to understand what those issues are. We wouldn’t tell a trans woman that if she just stopped bbelieving that her gender wasn’t cis, that she’d be okay. It shouldn’t be okay to be as dismissive to someone because of their religious beliefs.

Finally, whatever your experience of people who believe in God may have been, I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.

If you want to start associating a whole range of negative behaviours to me, based on the fact that I believe in God, then you should probably also include:

racist – I’m white

transphobic – I’m cis

snobbish – I’m middle class

elitist – I’m educated

homophobic – I’m heterosexual

promiscuous – I’ve had sex

But that would be silly, right?

Atheist // Posted 15 February 2010 at 10:45 am

Dear Elmo

Here is support from an unexpected quarter. I do not think you are silly at all to separate your faith from your sect or religion. The problem with god (or what I as an atheist would call my yearning for a spiritual dimension) is that religion gets in the way. It seems sometimes even that the religion becomes more important than the spiritual and that some deeply unspiritual and inhumane things are done in the name of religion. No doubt deeply inhumane things are done in the name of atheism too. I would also like to point out that I called no one delusional in my post and haven’t suggested that any group of people should be branded as tolerant or intolerant because of their religious faith or lack of it.

Kristin // Posted 15 February 2010 at 10:50 am

Elmo, I don’t think anyone here would castigate you for having faith. The (well documented) argument is that many people of faith have tried throughout history and still try to impose their beliefs on others and make them live by their rules. As someone said, religious belief should be a personal thing. And with you it is. Fine.

Rose // Posted 15 February 2010 at 2:25 pm

Ghandi? Really?

Do you know that a couple of years before his death he decided to ‘test’ his mental sexual abstinance by having sex with two 15 year old girls of his choosing. Right?

And that afterwards he congratulated himself on not having enjoyed screwing either of them?

Now, ignoring mental and physical damage for a moment, what kinda effect do you think that would have had on the girls futures, in Indian society?

Now if that behaviour wasn’t ignorant then it was out and out hateful.

(Sorry about my spelling!)

George // Posted 15 February 2010 at 2:55 pm

A few points …

1) Discrimination on the basis of religion is still discrimination. People deserve the same levels of respect, tolerance and empathy, regardless of their beliefs – and this is recognised in law. I think some of the comments on here haven’t had that in mind.

2) I’m amazed that some atheists seem so sure about the factual stability of science, when whole legions of academics (philosophers, sociologists, etc) have spent centuries trying to figure ‘the truth’ out. It’s not as simple as you think – but that would be a massive derail so google ‘induction’ and start from there :)

I can’t be the only person who has been put off calling herself an atheist by “the Dawkins attitude” …

3) Feminist theology. It has been around for a while e.g. christian egalitarianism. It would be interesting to see what feminist theologians etc feel about the Pope, rather than just saying “All religious people are stupid and their religion is misogynist” (see (1) for why this is bad).

JenniferRuth // Posted 15 February 2010 at 5:04 pm

@ George

Did you mean to say “google inductive reasoning” rather than “google induction”?

I have seen no-one of this thread make an argument about the “factual stability of science” – those legions of academics who have searched for the truth are the ones who used logic and scientific method. Once again, I must state that science is not a belief or a way of looking at the world or an entity that exists on it’s own. It is a method. It isn’t there to prove a point or to show that you are right – it is there to provide the tools to allow us to become right.

I agree with you – I do not like Dawkin’s attitude. I think it is often needlessly antagonistic and arrogant. He also places religion and science are in a struggle against one another (and he is certainly not the only one – both atheists and the religious do this). Religion and science are completely different things – one is based on faith, the other isn’t. This endless comparison and chalking points to one or the other is so pointless.

But this attitude has no bearing at all on the scientific method.

Harry // Posted 15 February 2010 at 5:58 pm

1) Discrimination on the basis of religion is still discrimination. People deserve the same levels of respect, tolerance and empathy, regardless of their beliefs

I don’t agree. I *do* judge someone on their beliefs. I don’t discriminate against people based on who they are (black trans, gay etc) because these are immutable charactersistics. Chosen beliefs however are another matter entirely. I don’t see why one set of beliefs deserves any more respect than any other – I don’t respect climate change deniers; I don’t respect fascists and I don’t respect misogynists. Why should I respect people that believe in sky faries who preach that I will burn in hell for all eternity? Just because you put the label ‘religion’ on it doesn’t make it above criticism or ‘respectable’.

Elmo // Posted 15 February 2010 at 8:25 pm

Yes Harry, but were talking about the religous people on this page being respected. None of whom are misogynists who think you (or anyone) should burn in hell.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 15 February 2010 at 10:11 pm

Jehanna: I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m glad you were able to find a religion that’s more or less egalitarian. Although I’ve found that almost all religions are patriarchial, so I’m not sure that I’ll be signing up any time soon. Nothing personal, but it’s just not my taste to submit to anyone.

It’s funny that most religions start off fairly egalitarian (Christianity and Islam come to mind) and then as they get co-opted by the reigning power, they end up becoming very oppressive.

I'm on my new Iphone // Posted 15 February 2010 at 10:29 pm

I think Harry has a point, though, about belief in a god being uncondemnable under the guise of ‘religion’. We shouldn’t have to respect views we don’t agree with. Just because religion has turned into culture, doesn’t mean it isn’t just views and beliefs, often used to patriarchal ends.

I meant no disrespect to anyone who believes in a God – but if a friend said this to me, I’d laugh in the same way as if they told be they believed in harmonious earthly balances as Wiccans. I don’t hate on them or disrespect them, but I find it a little humorous. As religion has done so much harm and is so accepted as this mass worldly cult, I think it’s good people are starting to see the humour of it.

Faith in something can be amazing, but it shouldn’t, imo, be forced on people or made into something we have to ‘respect’ as if it’s a culture or something. It’s a set of fairytales.

Jehenna // Posted 16 February 2010 at 1:08 am

I really can’t agree with an ideology that says I will respect you and your beliefs only so long as I agree with them.

The people saying this are also saying how they want the religious people to just leave them alone and stop trying to determine how they live their lives.

Why is it that you think only your views should be respected? You want the religious people to respect your choice not to believe in God, and to thus abstain from imposing their moral values on you, but you can still do that to them? Why?

Why does disbelief in God place you on higher moral ground than belief in God? Why does it mean that it is your choice to determine who has voice and respect and who doesn’t?

Why is the choice of religion considered more worthy of disrespect and intolerance than the choice to have children or work? Or to change gender?

You may think it is a set of fairytales, but this is just your opinion. You are presenting your opinion as fact, something you complain about the religious people doing. Other people have different opinions. Why should your opinion mean that you can treat people with intolerance and prejudice simply because you have decided they are wrong?

On the one hand we have a site to discuss feminism which specifically states that we should be tolerant of people with other views or positions about sexuality, gender, class, disability and race, and on the other hand you think that this tolerance should be thrown out the window when it comes to someone based on their belief in God, but without actually even discussing their belief or how they might behave towards other people?

Why is it that you think you can decide who I am and what I believe in, based on my belief in God? Have I ever posted on this site or any other an intolerance towards women, gay people, trans people, people of colour, disabled people, people from religions other than my own? No? And yet you think you are somehow justified in assigning these behaviours to me simply because I believe in God?

You are equating belief in God with misogynists, climate change denialists and facists. You are equating belief with action.

Do you believe in misogynism? Most feminists do, because much feminist theory is underpinned by it. Does that make you a misogynist? No. Do you believe in facism? Does that make you a facist?

I completely understand why you’d have no respect for someone whose actions and words indicate a reprehensible point of view about other human beings.

How does a belief in God equate to this?

Are you seriously saying that all people who believe in God must therefore subscribe to a homphobic, patriarchal, misogynistic form of Judeo/Christianity?

We cannot even come up with a statement that says ‘all women who believe in feminism think prostitution is exploitation’ or ‘all women who believe in feminism refuse to wear makeup’. Why on earth do you think you can ascribe particular behaviours to people you’ve never met, based on their belief in God, and then justify your own prejudice based on that?

Politicalguineapig // Posted 16 February 2010 at 2:46 pm

The loudest ‘Christians’ do subscribe to a racist, misogynistic and homophobic ideology, so it’s easy for athiests and non Christians to say that that’s all there is to Christianity. It isn’t neccesarily true.

I still believe that G*d endorses people like James Dobson, Ian Paisley and Pat Robertson becuase they’ve failed to be incinerated by lightning bolts.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds