...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Day 2686: Cardinal Goes Godwin:


Always bracing to wake up to my chum, Professor Richard, coming on the radio to dice up Mr Humpy.

"You wouldn't let a politician get away with saying these things without asking where's your evidence?"

"Ah, but when it comes to faith it's a matter of what they believe…"

"Precisely! There's absolutely no reason to take seriously someone who says, 'I believe it because I believe it'."

Unfortunately an hour later Cardinal Carpark Mary O'Conman was on. With his claim that if Britain becomes "spiritually homeless" we'll be like the "godless" regimes of the Twentieth Century, like… the Nazis.

That is just WILFULLY IGNORANT or FLAGRANTLY DECEITFUL. And if your ONE ground for getting a BULLY PULPIT on the radio is just claiming "I'm a wise old man; I know stuff" then you just proved that you don't deserve your job.

Chairman Mao: aggressively atheist, difficult to argue with that; Mr Stalin (not Mr Frown), have to put my fluffy feet up to him too in his own strange making-a-sort-of-religion-out-of-Marxism way.

But not the Nazis.

Mr Adolf was a religious NUT. He based his ADDLED THINKING on some kind of bad-trip mish-mash of Catholicism and the Norse religions, but you can't get away from the fact that he and his goose-stepping loons were on a RELIGIOUSLY-inspired CRUSADE.

Nor, I have to remind you, can you avoid the CULPABILITY for the Catholic Mother Church SUPPORTING him for his campaign against Jewish people… pretty much the MAIN evidence for marking out the Nazis as the Number One in the All-Time-Evil Hit Parade.

And forgive me for bringing it up, but, er, didn't your BOSS – Pope Benelin – kind of used to WORK for Mr Hitler in the Hitler Youth. Oh SURE, it was "compulsory"; not EVERYONE passed up their principles to join, though, did they?

You can just see the PREJUDICE bubbles forming in his be-mitred brain: ooh, the Nazis… they were EVIL weren't they… they must have been ATHEISTS!

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

And all the more IRONIC because he was SUPPOSEDLY on air to big-up the speech he made to say: why don't we talk to the atheists because their non-belief is ALMOST like a belief, isn't it.

The CENTREPIECE of his argument is his assertion that: "The interesting question about atheism is what is the theism that being denied?"

In many ways this is the LEAST interesting thing about atheism.

Certainly, Professor Richard, born and raised in a so-called Christian country, concentrates much of his fire on the Christian myths and stories. And how a lot of them are not very NICE. (Fried cities, murdered courtesans, sacrificing children and fluffy animals and all.) But you have to bear in mind that Christianity TAKES IT AS READ that it's already proved that ALL other religions are NOT TRUE… so someone brought up with that only has to prove ONE MORE.

Of course, for the Archbigot, the UNDERLYING assumption is that someone who does not believe in Mr God has a SECRET belief in Mr God hidden inside them.

Professor Richard would sort-of agree… except he'd say he talks a lot about Christianity because that is the religion that got to him first and tried to BRAIN-WASH him.

His reply would be… well, Cardinal O'Conman, does that mean that you have a secret belief in Mr THOR? And in Mr Sutekh? And in Cuddly Cthulhu? And the flying Spaghetti Monster?

Everyone in the world is an atheist about EVERY religion ever… except at most one. Some of us just go one religion further.

That is to paraphrase Professor Richard, but if you think about it it's self-evidently true. Okay, there just MIGHT be one or two people who actually believe TWO contradictory religions, but that's got to be WEIRD, right? So, really the NATURAL state is to disbelieve almost everything you hear about almost every religion (with the exception of the one you believe in).

Professor Richard said that he had read the Cardinal's speech: never, he said, had he seen someone take five-thousand words to say nothing.

[A: Please sir! Please sir! I have!]

But why should I just take Professor Richard's word for it? So I have read the Cardinal's speech MYSELF.

(Professor Richard was RIGHT, though.)

The Cardinal-Archbigot starts off with a TYPICAL religious ASSERTION:

"No one generates their own faith: it always comes to us through the goodness, example and insight of others: that is the meaning of tradition…"

Except, no… "faith", such as it is, is a response to what we LEARN from other people, but it doesn't have to be from their "goodness" – it is a response to their habit. We learn our behaviour mainly from our daddies and mummies, but also from our friends, school-chums and so on.

No one generates their own ability to SWEAR using bad words either, but you would hardly say that it comes to us through the "goodness" and "insight" of others.

In fact, this is one of Professor Richard's MAIN COMPLAINTS: children are especially adept at learning from their parents, it is a SURVIVAL trait, but it also means that they are IMPRESSIONABLE and especially open to believing ideas JUST because they are told to. He thinks that the idea that there is a Mr God sticks with people BECAUSE it has been IMPRESSED upon them, NOT because they have LEARNED if it is true.

Cardinal O'Conman then quotes Cardinal Henri de Lubac, who tells of a priest who lost his faith. When a visitor congratulated the priest on having finally got rid of this religious nonsense, the priest said, 'From now onward, I am no more than a philosopher – in other words, a man alone'.

Lubac then says that this is true because the priest has left his "home".

The PROBLEM with this jolly little story is that it is basically Lubac saying "I heard this thing that I think is true and you know what, it's true". In fact, it's WORSE than that: it's CARDINAL O'CONMAN saying "I heard this bloke I know saying that he heard this thing that he thinks is true and you know what, when he says it's true it IS true."

What if I tell you a story about a priest who has lost his faith and the Cardinal comes and consoles him on his loss, and the priest replies 'but no, at last I am free of all that pointless guilt and rigmarole'. (At which point, the Cardinal calls for Pope Benelin and his friends from the INQUISITION, but we'll not go there…) Is this story any MORE or LESS true than the one that the Cardinal tells us that ANOTHER Cardinal once told him?

Because, in fact, this is indicative of the problem with THEOLOGY as a whole: it's all based not on things you can PROVE, or even things that you can make a DECENT CASE for, but on something someone once SAID. Ultimately this means it's FALLACIOUS, because it's all based on the "Appeal to Authority" fallacy.

Remember how I was repeating things that Professor Richard says earlier? Did you notice that I also tried to make sure that it STOOD UP to examination on its own MERITS and not just because someone FAMOUS said it?

How many times does a sermon or a Fart for Today begin with something like "Mr Saint Paul once said…"? It's got NOTHING to do with whether that one thing that Mr Saint Paul said is true or false in itself, except that Mr Saint Paul said a LOT of things, and some of them not very nice, especially concerning LADIES and their HATS. What the sermoniser is REALLY doing is STARTING with his answer and then looking up for something that Mr Saint Paul said and using THAT in order to make it LOOK like his answer is more right.

Mr the Cardinal ADMITS as much when he says:

"Our faith is not founded on the conclusions of reason, but it is grounded in the Logos, the expressive Word that comes from God…"

Only he then immediately goes on to add: "…and it is compatible with reasoned thought."

And you know: it REALLY isn't.

All elephants are PINK
Nellie is an elephant
Nellie is PINK

Compatible with reasoned thought?

Davros thought so, but he's an IDIOT.

It ISN'T compatible with reasoned thought and here is WHY: the PREMISE (elephants being pink) is false (just look: there is PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE all over my diary to PROVE it false). And, and this is the killer, "reasoned thought" requires that you CHECK YOUR PREMISE.

"Revealed truth" (daddy says: look up oxymoron) "Revealed truth" means that you SKIP the important REASONING part of "is this a REASONABLE assumption to base my logic upon?"

And you end up making NONSENSE statements about Nellie.

Cardinal O'Conman says that faith should be about TRUTH not about the social benefits.

(Actually, of course, he doesn't: being a THEOLOGIAN he bases his argument on what someone ELSE as said, so he cites an unnamed Muslim cleric saying that Pope Benelin said it and then backs it up by citing Mr TS Eliot saying it too, but you get the point.)

The PROBLEM, once again, is that "Does Mr God exist?" is a TRUE/FALSE question. It is one or the other. It is not an answer that should change depending on who you are asking.

Cardinal O'Conman said that he had been at PRAYER so he had not listened to Professor Richard (which makes for an INFORMED response, I do not think) but if he had he would have heard him say that.

"Does Mr God exist?" OUGHT to be susceptible to inquiry.

And you really OUGHT to be able to ask the "is this a REASONABLE assumption to base my logic upon?" question.

Getting to the GIST of his sermon, the Cardinal then put forward the suggestion that theists and atheists have a lot to talk about.

(Well that's TRUE, but I SUSPECT that he meant on the subject of RELIGION, rather than Liberal Democracy.)

His suggestion is that religions' folks should use their DOUBTS about their faith to talk to atheists because a wobbling faith is JUST like not believing in something just because it's written down.

This, of course, is where he starts on the "atheists really just WANT to believe" cant.

"In his recent book about death, 'Nothing to be Frightened Of'," says the Archbigot, "Julian Barnes begins with the words, 'I do not believe in God, but I miss him': this is the dilemma of so many people today. But where does this sense of 'missing' God come from?"

His answer seems to be that we all need a bit of LOVIN', a bit of MEANING, a bit of giving us a HUG when we are LOW. And that's where Mr God comes in.

Well, frankly I think that that's a bit RUBBISH!

I think that people are BETTER than that: the strength to live your life, to bear up under your troubles, to be happy lies within you and in your family and your friends.

Cardinal O'Conman goes on further to try to explain this feeling of "missing Mr God":

"A baby is called to self-consciousness by the love and smile of his mother…. It reveals four things to him: 1) that he is one in love with his mother, and yet he is not his mother, and so Being is one; 2) this love is good, and so the whole of being is good; 3) that this love is true, and so being is true, 4) this love is a cause of joy, and so Being is beautiful

"And of course, when you talk about the reality that is one, true, good and beautiful (what Thomists call the 'transcendental attributes'), you are talking about God."

Well, call me old-fashioned but I THINK what you are talking about is your MUMMY.

In fact, Dr Freud would say straight away: you feel the loss of the love of your MOTHER so you feel the need for a REPLACEMENT love, the love of an INVISIBLE FRIEND.

Yes, of COURSE I am oversimplifying. I am only eight [R: seven]; I am not a DOCTOR of PSYCHIATRY!

People have a sense of needing of something other than themselves, not just because their earliest bonding memories are of their mummies, but also because humans – like elephants – are communal creatures who actively form communities and links to each other. That ability to CONNECT – EMPATHY, if you like – is at the root of all of humanity's strengths. It just also contributes to the weird side-effect of empathising with all sorts of other things too: television programmes, political parties, soft toys, pet names for cars, imaginary friends (I mean ACTUAL imaginary friends, rather than being disparaging about Mr God this time).

You can't say that all of these are REALLY just because people are secretly searching for a Cuddly Cthulhu in their lives, can you?

You see, what Cardinal O'Conman clearly fails to realise is that for the atheist having doubts isn't a big deal.

I understand that if you DO believe, then it is one of the RULES that you have to, well, believe it. And this means that some people, when they find they don't, actually, totally believe all of the mysticism that they are asked to, find themselves WRACKED with DIFFICULTIES. For the believer, DOUBT is bad because it can be PAINFUL and it makes you feel you've let the side down.

Mind you, it probably DOESN'T help that the "side" is telling you that you are in actual physical danger of going to HELL! Believers are told that if you STOP believing then you are REJECTING Mr God and that leads to PUNISHMENT in the hereafter which if course you believe in. This makes having DOUBTS even MORE painful.

And, just in case the imaginary hereafter turns out not to exist, SOME theists have been known to practice precautionary punishment i.e. burning, stoning or shooting by a religious mob! Which is even MORE PAINFUL STILL!!

In CONTRAST, the rationalist, existentialist atheist doesn't give TWO HOOTS. Keeping an OPEN MIND is actually part of the deal. So, certainly, you can entertain the odd "well MIGHT it be true" notion and it DOESN'T shake your world.

Because, and this is what the Cardinal will find really SHOCKING, atheists do NOT spend all day and all night going round ACTIVELY DISBELIEVING. WE just don't waste our time with it. There is much more FUN to be had.

So, when you say: "oh we believers should go out and talk to atheists about our doubts and win them over," I'm afraid my response is: DON'T WASTE MY LIFE, GRANDDAD!

Anyway, clearly realising that he's just advocated DOUBTING Mr God, the Cardinal starts rowing back sharpish.

"We should remember that the proper response to God is that of faith, not absolute certainty"

he says before reaching for yet another quote:

"Si comprehendis, non est Deus, said St Augustine: 'if you understand, it is not God'."

Ah, the "Argument from Incomprehensibility"; I'm afraid it is just another FALLACY.

You do not need to be able to UNDERSTAND Mr God to at least show some effect of his (or HER) presence!

I don't comprehend QUANTUM MECHANICS either, but I can still prove to you that it exists because – gosh wow – the SEMI-CONDUCTORS in your computer are allowing you to read my diary over the Wibbly Wobbly Web.

You could say that Mr God is OMNIPOTENT and chooses to make his presence INDISTINGUISHABLE from his absence. That would mean, though, that there is a scientific and understandable reason based in physical laws of the universe for everything that happens everywhere ever. (Because otherwise you could spot Mr God by seeing where the rules are broken.)

I quickly add that that is NOT the position of the Catholic – or any other – Church. Because otherwise prayer would definitely be pointless. In fact, ALL religion would have to be pointless, because if it wasn't then Mr God would AGAIN be giving himself away!

So religions MUST assume that MR God makes a difference. A NOTICEABLE and, more importantly, COMPREHENSIBLE difference. In which case, it's not unreasonable to say: what the blinking Nora IS it?

But the Cardinal isn't having any of THAT. He says:

"The atheism we see around us today perhaps flows from an apologetic which attempted to prove God’s existence independently of any religious tradition or faith…"

There you go: we're back to saying that elephants are pink. You can't prove Mr God's existence independently of saying: "well it says so in this big book I've got". Hmmm.

The "Argument from Tradition" – it's really just the "Argument from Authority" in a older frock. Yes, it's another FALLACY.

So as he draws towards his conclusion, the Archbigot says: "I was extremely fortunate to have been born in to a loving family which gave me a sense of meaning and of 'home'."

Once again, by 'home' he means faith and the Church.

Here's the thing, your eminence. Most people, eventually, have to LEAVE home. It is sad and scary but it is a necessary part of life. It's called GROWING UP.

It is what EMPOWERS us, let's us make our own choices and just get ON with our lives.

Atheists are NOT Nazis. That's childish name-calling. They are quite the OPPOSITE: Nazism is based on the Fuhrer Princip, that of the supreme wisdom and authority of the leader; Atheism is about NOT investing power in some supernatural figure, whether human or divine.

And it's about NOT staying at home relying on mummy and daddy, but going out and FACING the world, and its fears and its wonders and its beauty.

And it's time you LET us.

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