It’s Good Friday, the day some people commemorate the execution of a character who they say was the son of a deity – in fact of the only deity who ever existed, in spite of the claimed existence, by members of other cults, of hundreds, if not thousands of other deities. It’s well-known, if not to all the believers of this cult, certainly to the cult’s top brass, that this son of their deity didn’t really die on this day. There is no evidence of any kind providing the date of Jesus’s death by crucifixion – in fact there is no evidence that he was executed at all, and no substantive evidence that he ever lived.
Of course, that is the way of cults. It’s necessary to have faith, not to be fashed by the evidence issue. And on the basis of their fervent faith, Christian leaders of various stripes feel it incumbent upon themselves to lecture us all at this time of the year, on various moral issues, which, due to some apparent mystical link with Jesus, their supernatural cult leader [and deity], they just know about.
Take George Pell, the Australian Catholic, who lectures us on the benefits his particular sect has brought us. His lecture is a disgrace and an insult to the intelligence. I could take apart every single line of it, but that would be tedious. Suffice to pick out the occasional howler. Take this piece of complacent nonsense:
Australians believe everyone is entitled to a fair go because of the Christian teaching that every person, unlike animals, is made in God's image.
Quite apart from the dubious linkage between the ‘fair go’ cliché and Christian belief in our god-like status, this claim, so deliberately made, that people, that’s to say Homo sapiens, are not animals, is a categorical rejection of the whole of biological science. The arrogance of such a claim can only be tolerable to an intelligent member of our species by the recognition that the man who uttered it is an imbecile.
Some of this year’s Easter homilies have stumblingly mentioned the atheist threat, an indication of how rattled they are. And always they go on about how angry atheists are. How fervent, how strident, how evangelical and so forth. Having attended a few atheist and skeptic meet-ups lately, I’m bound to say this is untrue. What I take from these meet-ups is a lot of wit, humour, playfulness, a fair pinch of scorn, and some quite stimulating speculative conversation. Why would atheists be angry about the fact that, in Britain, for example, the number of people professing Christian faith has dropped from 66% to 50% in the last two decades, while the number claiming to be atheist or agnostic has risen to 37%? The trend may not be as fast in Australia, but it’s definitely headed in the same way. Atheists have plenty to smile about.
It’s probably true though, to say that many nonbelievers have sensed that the tide has turned, and they’re happy to jump into the water where they would have been reluctant before. A boxer is never more aggressive than when he has the scent of victory in his nostrils. Writers like P Z Myers, of Pharyngula, no longer feel the need to pull any punches, to the delight of their swelling readership. Christian apologists, whose arguments have been so comprehensively refuted so often, have few options left, and are desperately resorting to insults, and the worst insult they can think of is that nonbelievers are behaving like evangelical Christians.
There are many reasons why Christianity is in recession in the west, but one of them is clearly the abuse of power by religious authorities, most noticeably the Catholic Church.
In the past decade or so, the massive power of the Catholic Church has crumbled under the weight of evidence relating to its profoundly inappropriate handling of serious child abuse by a number of its priests. Every time a diocese has been scrutinised, the same pattern of secrecy, of self-interest, of failure to act, and of consequent intolerable suffering, has been revealed, going back for as many decades as one would wish to, or be able to, investigate. Things are changing, but of course it’s too little, too late, and the most reluctant to accept culpability has been the Vatican itself. Now, moves are afoot to ensure the Pope’s immunity as head of perhaps the world’s most preposterous state [there’s some stiff competition], which is surely as close to an admission of guilt as we’re likely to get from the Vatican. This papal move should be fought on two fronts, neither of which is likely to succeed, at least in the short term. The Vatican should be de-listed as a sovereign state, and immunity for all heads of state should be prohibited. Of course, the consequences of such changes could hardly be underestimated. If the first occurred, it would devastate the Catholic Church, and if the second occurred, the former Bush administration, and its allies, could be prosecuted for the deaths of tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iraqi people.
We may say blithely that this will never happen, but many extraordinary things have happened in recent decades. The question we should ask is, should it happen? Should the Vatican be stripped of its statehood? Should any head of state be immune from prosecution? If we answer yes, with justifications, to each of those questions, then we should work towards achieving those worthy aims.