The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Latest Vatican Research Findings: Boys Have Penises

The Vatican or, more specifically, The Congregation for Catholic Education, has just released a document regarding the teaching of gender theory. As part of the GBA service, I have read this document so that you don’t have to waste the precious moments of your life doing so.

Plenty of other press organisations have covered the provocative timing of this release, as well as the reliably dissident Jesuit response, but there’s been little to no engagement with the actual arguments as yet, mostly owing to that tried and true journalistic practice of never reading more than the abstract and conclusion of anything, no matter what it is. I, however, believe that there should be little to no engagement with the actual arguments because they’re either not actually arguments, or they are arguments, but they’re stupid.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, beyond the usual guff about love and doctrine, and that curiously unique Vatican style – all technical sounding multi-syllables interspersed, seemingly at random, with sudden bursts of mediaeval English and Latin. I knew that it would basically be a combination of rebuttal book and conversation starter: a set of things teachers can say when confronted with non-Catholic or, as I like to put it, sane views of an issue, as well as a call for academics and whatnot to engage with their position. This kind of polarity is also typical of the Vatican – an open-hearted and sincere wish to listen, combined with a greasy bag of low-down sophistry designed to maintain, at all costs, their doctrinaire view of the world and of themselves. Like an obese contortionist covered in food waste, official Vatican thinking has a tendency to be simultaneously compellingly beautiful, impressively agile, and deeply repugnant.

I knew, basically, that it would be very like other Vatican documents from this department. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how dim-witted it would be. Its attempts to define and answer gender theory reminded me of nothing so much as an octogenarian attempting to use Snapchat. The little tour of ‘gender theory’ the authors take us on is so befuddled, so obviously confused and intellectually outpaced, that it’s almost charming. One of their more risible contentions is the idea that the body, the sex, of an individual is a primary determiner of gender. This isn’t amusing or insane in and of itself, of course – what’s laughable about it is their assumption that gender theorists don’t agree with this. They do. For the same reason that most academics agree that rocks are made of stuff that forms rocks.

And then there’s their central contention – that gender theorists believe that gender is solely down to “human choice”. Now, I’m undecided on whether this is disingenuous or dim-witted, but the strong implication of the language is that this means an individual human’s choice. This is emphatically not an accurate summation of gender theory. Most theories of gender performativity, etc., emphasise the role of social and cultural constructs in the formation of gender. The radical bit is pointing out that these are artificial, and that the individual can and often does have significant agency in determining whether or not to conform to them. Which is actually a near identical position to the one adopted by the Congregation. Which would obviously be inconvenient and embarrassing, so I guess I’m going to opt for ‘disingenuous’ as the word which best describes the logical core of the argument.

Another charmingly oblivious aspect of the paper is its consistent use of the term ‘ideological’ to describe what they term to be the ‘radical’ end of gender theory. In the same paragraph – often the same sentence – as a call for the rejection of “ideologically based” theories, is a call for teachers to promote “doctrine”. One man’s ideology is another man’s doctrine, I guess. But this seemingly genuine lack of self awareness is another example of unexpected charm. It’s like Basil Fawlty – so flawed he can’t see his own flaws which, in certain contexts, is counter-intuitively endearing. The whole Catholic Church is a bit like that, and this comes through very clearly in this pretzel-like grab bag of random half-truths and invalid arguments.

Of course, when once we get past the impressive sounding ‘philosophical’ language, and the big-hearted rhetoric of universal love, the charm starts to wear off. Actual analysis of this document reveals that its entire position is based on a straw man and a false dichotomy. The egregious misunderstandings of gender theory are revealed as not so much befuddled as they are wilfully, shamefully dishonest and misleading. And the notion that only the most radical aspects of gender theory are being taught in schools, and that this represents a cultural crisis, is in actual fact on the same level of sanity as Alex Jones or David Icke. It does not represent reality in any way, and this isn’t because it’s a bunch of doddering confused old men doing the thinking. It’s because the Church is pulling an extremely nasty trick – the same one they’ve been pulling for about 1800 years. “We love you, whoever you are,” this document says, “so please come and talk to us so we can explain to you why you’re not allowed to own who you are.”

The Jesuit priest James Martin hit the nail exactly on the head. Or, to be more Catholic about it, rem acu tetistigi-ed. “Sadly, …[this document]… will be used as a cudgel against transgender people, and an excuse to argue that they shouldn’t even exist.” He’s right – it will be. Primarily because that is exactly what it was made to be.

Why I am an atheist – The second bit

The story so far: Young impressionable boy attends wacky Opus Dei school until he and his parents start to think Opus Dei might be a bunch of weirdos so they decide to try the Jesuits instead.

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After renouncing the flagellating wackiness of the Opus Dei guilt machine, my parents and I packed up our rosary beads and set out for the wild west of Catholic schooling – the Jesuits. Mr Mullins, the Opus Dei assistant principle, made it clear that he thought this was a terrible decision, telling my mother that my soul was in great danger, and that he would pray for me. Mum told Mr Mullins to go fück himself. Not out loud, of course, because she’s a lovely young lady and would never speak to anyone like that, unless they reeeally deserved it. Which he did. But she still didn’t say it because, as I said, she’s a lovely young lady. And so off to the Jesuits I went.

The most remarkable thing about the Jesuits was that they weren’t really that remarkable. Sure, they were all monumentally overweight (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and they all had terrible haircuts (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and one of them was eventually sent to prison for being a kiddy-fiddler (not that the Church thinks there’s anything wrong with that), but I was generally just amazed at how normal everything seemed.

For starters, there was no talk about it being a sin to kiss girls, which allowed me to carry on not kissing girls, but with the added bonus of not being able to claim it was for religious reasons. Popularity seemed to be determined by more normal things, too, like sporting ability or what suburb you lived in or sometimes even personality, rather than naff reasons like knowing the Catechism off by heart or going to confession. Speaking of confession, my new school showed an exceptional lack of enthusiasm for guilting us all into going to confession. Or to Mass, for that matter. They didn’t even guilt us into going to confession before Mass to confess that we hadn’t been to the previous Mass. In fact, the only confession I really remember is Brother Healy confessing that humans actually evolved from apes, and not two functional idiots wearing fig leaves in the Middle East.

This was, I admit, a little bit strange at first. But it didn’t take long to get on board with the Jesuit’s refreshingly non-judgey vibe. Free from the Sauron-like gaze of the Opus Dei Fasholics (a brilliant portmanteau of “Fascist” and “Catholic” that I just invented), I decided to stop going to Mass every Sunday. I also stopped going to confession to confess that I wasn’t going to Mass every Sunday. And by the time an authority figure with poor judgement asked me to give the farewell speech at the end of Year 12 dinner, I didn’t mention God or Jesus at all. Not deliberately, mind you, but because I was too busy being outrageously funny and it just didn’t occur to me.

Continuing my trend of attending increasingly secular educational institutions, I then trotted off to university where, for the first time ever, I wouldn’t have to take an exam about God or Jesus. I probably should have, given my first year results, but I digress. The main thing to note was that, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t subjected to daily reminders that there is a God and a Jesus and they need to be worshipped. The void was filled by other things like beer and maths and statistics and beer, and conversations with my new classmates became less “How good is Jesus” and more “OMG like what’s the eigenvalue of that case of beer”. Before I knew it, I had become the sort of Catholic that Opus Dei had warned my mother about, and I started only going to Mass at Christmas and Easter. On the one hand, this kind of meant I was definitely going to hell, but on the other hand, Mr Mullins had said he would pray for me, and mum hadn’t told him to go fück himself so he was definitely still praying for me, so I was sure it would be fine. And it was fine, until two things happened that made me stop going to Mass for good.

The first was that, like every other cool idea I’ve had (e.g. jet engines and socialism), this one had been invented already, and pretty much every normal Catholic already only went to Mass at Christmas and Easter. This meant the church was packed on those days, and a packed church seemed to make this particular priest very, very grumpy. To wit, instead of dedicating his sermon to the birth or resurrection of Baby Jebus as the occasion required, he dedicated it to telling us all we were annoying, ungrateful little shïts for only coming at Christmas and Easter. Somehow it failed to occur to him that he was basically wishing for the church to be that packed every week, which was odd, since we knew from what he had just told us that a packed church made him very, very grumpy. In any event, it didn’t take long to realise that the best way to avoid a lecture on diligence from someone who drew his salary from a collection plate was to just not go to Mass. Ever.

The second thing that happened was that I went back to Mass.

Yes, I had already decided that I would just stop going, but a friend of mine asked me to go one day, coincidentally to the same church as the above, and I thought that since it wasn’t Christmas or Easter, maybe the grumpy priest would talk about something interesting rather than being grumpy. And he didn’t disappoint, spending a good 25 minutes reinforcing traditional gender roles in heteronormative family units. Men do the jobs, you see, and women do the kids, and that’s how God wants it. I should add that this was about 20 years ago, and I had never even heard the words “traditional gender roles” or “heteronormative family units”. But even then, listening to a religious justification for entrenched sexism from an unemployed celibate man in a bright green muumuu struck me as odd, and it turned out to be the final straw. When it came to Mass, I was done.

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Questions are an interesting thing. You grow up believing something without question, and then one day, a lone, innocent little question presents itself. In my case, I was told that if I accepted communion in my hands, there was a chance Jesus would end up in the washing machine, and that would be bad. And the question I had was, if Jesus was God and God was all-powerful, why would he allow himself to be put through the washing machine? And even if he did allow it, why on earth would he care? Surely an omnipotent being that conquered death could conquer a Fisher & Paykel 8kg WashSmart front loading wachine machine with SmartDrive™ technology for a quiet and reliable wash. And that’s the thing about questions. If the answers prove unsatisfactory, they invariably lead to more questions.

My next question was around how Jesus came to be inside the communion wafer in the first place. For those who are unaware, it happens through the power of transubstantiation – a very silly word for the very silly belief that a grumpy celibate man in a bright green muumuu is imbued with the power to turn a small flavourless cracker into the actual flesh of Jesus Christ. For an extra ten points, he is also able to turn a shït Hunter Valley shiraz into Jesus’ actual blood. And no, I am not joking. This is what practising Catholics actually believe. And while it does shed some light on why you might be careful not to put some of the wafer through the washing machine, it doesn’t really explain why it’s apparently OK to chew Jesus up and subject him to our digestive process. I mean, if Jesus knows how to exit the wafer before he encounters the wonders of the lower intestine, surely he can figure out how to avoid the much more hygienic process of a spin and rinse.

While such questions led to the gradual waning of my Catholic belief system, there remained some things that, to me, were still obvious and irrefutable. In other words, I came to realise that while the Catholic version of God may not exist, surely there is some being that created everything and transcends us all. That seemed like a reasonable position to take.

That was until I read a little known book called The God Delusion. And that’s when things got even more interesting. But you’ll have to wait for Part 3, so there.

– Tim

Why Francis, anyway?(insert animal joke here).

This little missive comes under the sub-title:

‘Know Your Enemy’

A lot of fairly cheap capital has been made on the choice of the new pope’s name: Francis. Hilarious references to preaching to animals, as well as jokes about how feeding the poor is a new idea. Etc., ignorant etc.

The fact of the matter is that the name is astonishingly significant. Why has there never been a pope called Francis, do we think? It’s simple. Francis and the movement, initially outlawed and persecuted by the inquisition, that loosely took his name and (even more loosely) espoused his ideas, were a social and spiritual force that came close to tearing the mediaeval church apart. There were riots, massacres, and a long forgotten bloody and brutal battle. Check out Fra Dolcino at the link below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fra_Dolcino

What was so destructive about the Franciscans/Dolcinians? I’ll do it in point form.

  • They believed that the adjuration to poverty should be taken literally, i.e., that the church and all its clergy should be literally poor, rather than calling themselves poor on the basis of the claim that they cared not for the mountains of gold that they sat on.
  • They believed that the ‘secular clergy’ (priests, bishops, cardinals, etc.) were heretics simply because they had accepted rank and status, and should be killed – a belief that many Dolcinians, at least, put into practice.
  • They believed that the second coming had been delayed for reasons that they repeatedly explained (and which I still don’t understand) and that the program would resume normal function once everyone they didn’t like was dead, or something like that.

Needless to say, most of these beliefs arise from the fact that they were completely insane. The important thing, though, is that, say whatever you like about the church (I always do), the pope’s choice of name is in fact as significant as they say. It suggests revolution, upheaval and, potentially, a complete re-casting of ‘THE CATHOLIC CHURCH’ as ‘the catholic church’.

Why am I telling you this? Because if you wish to criticise the papacy, the fuss about the name or the Church at large without knowing this, you are going to look a fool, and a blindly partisan one at that.

If you intend to make cheap jokes about preaching to the birds and feeding the poor without understanding what the name ‘Francis’ means to an organisation that never forgets – well… suffice it to say, if you don’t know what you are talking about, there is no good reason for anyone to listen to you. This would be a shame, especially in light of the election of what’s shaping up to be one of the most popular popes of all time. It would be a crying shame if all we atheists started looking like tiny-minded bigots just as the church enters a period of likely resurgence, headed, of course, by the smiling Francis, forgiving us all for our malice.

There are several fundamental things deeply wrong with the church’s values, ways and very existence. None of these have anything to do with hats, gowns, funny names or Darth Vader’s boss. 

It annoys me that so many people are willing to undermine this central truth, as well as the credibility of all who espouse it, for nothing more than a cheap and not very intelligent joke.

Eeny meeny miny… Pope

Sometime tomorrow, all of the 115 Cardinals who are eligible for conclave will gather at the Vatican, shut off all communication with the outside world, and attempt to elect the new leader of the world’s one billion Catholics. But all is not well.

Intrigue. Scandals. Secret gay sex. Media bans. Stupid hats. This election has it all. In just one such example:

The Italian cardinals are prepared to back Brazilian cardinal Odilio Scherer of Sao Paulo, a Vatican veteran, provided he appoints an Italian or Curia veteran as secretary of state [aren’t they all veterans?]. This [rumour] has been around for some days, but now is supposed to have brought together the bitter rivals of the past two holders of the job, Angelo Sodano and Tarcisio Bertone.

And that’s just for starters. My secret spies tell me that the situation is more dire than any of us imagine, and many of the Cardinals have grievances that may not be overcome in time, threatening the entire election.

Cardinal Tuto, for one, is upset that Cardinal Fuzz gave his dog a Schmakos, despite being told many times that his dog Saint Bernard, a dalmation, is a vegetarian. Cardinal Fuzz, on the other hand, is furious at Cardinal Jinkerbottom for ruining last night’s spaghetti, which was clearly well short of al dente. But Cardinal Jinkerbottom only ruined the spaghetti because he’d been fighting with Cardinal Giancarlo Luigi di Matteo di Napoli over who got to take the life drawing class with Massimo Pector, the hot Vatican window cleaner. Meanwhile, Cardinal di Napoli has lost his fancy Cardinal’s dress because he left it at a “Saints and Sinners” fancy Cardinal’s dress party (he went as a sinner), so he can’t go to Conclave anyway, unless he borrows a spare dress from Cardinal Barry Black, who was at the same party (dressed as a saint), but was sent home early for trying to start a game of “Spin the Zucchetto” with the young exchange deacons, which is not only an extremely immoral game for celibate Cardinals, but is also very hard to play, on account of the zucchetto being round. None of that matters to Cardinal Fluff, though. He hates all the Cardinals because they’ve spent the whole week calling him “Cardinal Muff”, even though Cardinal Bees waxed him the week before last.

Seems like a right kerfuffle.

I have an idea though. If they really believe in god, and they really believe that nothing happens without god’s approval, and they know god hates their endless bickering and scheming and games of Spin the Zucchetto, then they should just stick everyone’s stupid name in one of their stupid hats, and draw out the next Pope with one of their jewel-encrusted, withered old hands.

If god is there, he’ll sort it out.

Right?

Priorities… Catholic style

Still not as dirty as the Bible

So it turns out that the German Catholic Church owns a company that has published over 2,500 erotic novels. Is it a cynical ploy to profit from the vile sins of the great unwashed? An ingenious form of market-making? The prudent minimisation of investment volatility via diversification? Or simply garden-variety Church hypocrisy?

Whatever it is, the story lines are a hoot. I managed to get my hands on a few of their best sellers.
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Missionary: Impossible
Allen and Doreen are a married Catholic couple from the suburbs. One night they try but fail to have passionless sex in the missionary position for the sole purpose of procreation.

Bill and Ted’s Sexcellent Adventure… of Sin
Bill and Ted have been friends for years. One day, after a tough gym session, they hit the sauna. Ted sneaks a peak at Billy’s willy and has an impure thought which we shan’t go into. After confession, Ted heads home to his wife and has passionless sex in the missionary position for the sole purpose of procreation.

Child’s Play
A strapping young man from the country resists the temptations of the village beauties, and commits himself to the priesthood. He takes up a position at the local Catholic school, which enables him to follow his true passion – children. He spends the next ten years being shuffled from parish to parish for completely legitimate reasons, before retiring to the Vatican, where he lives out his days making incense and enjoying diplomatic immunity.

Meaty Friday… of Sin
Tired of passionless sex in the missionary position for the sole purpose of procreation, George tries to convince his wife that she can eat his meat on Friday.

The Gift… of Sin
Phyllis is head of Embezzlement & Condom Destruction at the Vatican Bank. One day, a nasty Jesuit colleague gives her a dildo as a joke. Not realising the gift’s true potential, she mistakenly uses it as a door snake. This ends up saving her $15.30 on her energy bill, which gives her just enough joy to smile at her husband during passionless sex in the missionary position for the sole purpose of procreation.
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As good as these books are, though, I’m still not sure why they’re needed. There’s more than enough porn in the Bible.

This is just weird

There are a few religious websites I like to check out from time to time. Sure, most of the time it fills you with either unquenchable rage or bottomless despair for the future of mankind, but every now and then it’s just frikken hilarious. And by hilarious I mean weird. The letters page of the Australian Catholic Weekly recently provided just such an occasion.

Check this shit out.
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Bernard, from Clayfield, QLD
I heartily endorse the proposal by Martin Kerrigan to revive and promote the Holy Name Society. Ever since the Catholic Church disbanded its armies, the devil and his minions have pretty much ruled the roost. It’s high time we regrouped not only the Holy Name Society, but also the Children of Mary and the Sacred Heart Sodality. By all means let us invite our fellow Christians of the non-Catholic persuasion to join us in this holiest of endeavours.

Colin, from Leumeah, NSW
For Martin Kerrigan’s information, the Confraternity of the Holy Name of Jesus is established in Sydney. Members wear the Holy Name badge, receive the confraternity’s newsletter and say the litany of the Holy Name, etc.

Pat from Doonside, NSW
There is something unholy about motion pictures depicting animals as having human qualities, in particular a conscience.

Fr Tom from Bellevue Hill, NSW
The easy way to make heaven on earth for anyone is to make sure that there are angels all about you. Angels are where God is and as God is everywhere we can be sure that there is a multitude of angels always with us filling our world with sweet music because heaven is where God and his angels are. To experience their presence we need the awareness that God and his angels are with us all the time. For such experience of heaven here to be fruitful we must see God in everyone and in everything.

Next we make a strong bond of friendship with the angels by acknowledging their presence, greeting and chatting, making them share the joys and sorrows of our life, inviting them always to join us in our travels, requesting their assistance in our troubles, and always thanking them for the help.

They are ever ready to help anyone. But they cannot do anything unless we ask them.

Richard from Carindale, QLD
If same sex unions are recognised as legal marriages, why not polygamous unions also, and even unions of humans and animals ? In this age of constant incremental change, redefining marriage to include same sex couples could be the first step on a very slippery slope.
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I swear I didn’t make any of that up.

Bonkers.

What political honesty sounds like

Here is the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, publicly rebuking the Catholic Church, following the release of the Cloyne Report.

Great stuff.

With all this Uren, it’s definitely time to break the Seal

As I mentioned the other day, the Irish Prime Minister (or Taoiseach, which by the way, is apparently pronounced “Tea-shock”), has called for the Catholic Church to do away with their cherished “sacramental seal” of confession.

Needless to say, the Church hasn’t exactly warmed to the idea. Given the paucity, (or rather, non-existence), of cases where paedophilic abuse was reported outside of the confessional seal, their reluctance is hardly surprising. What is surprising are the feeble attempts at wrangling such a cynical position into secular legitimacy.

Which brings us to Father Bill Uren, Jesuit priest, and Rector of Newman College at the University of Melbourne. Unencumbered by such trivial concerns as empathy and common sense, Bill set his mighty intellect to work, and managed to coax three “arguments” out into the open. And here they are, in all their glory, paraphrased for your convenience:

1 – It’s all too hard
We have no idea who comes into confession, because of our fool-proof privacy measures. We may have been clever enough to figure out that god exists, is Catholic, wants his Church to be an obscenely wealthy dictatorship, and perfected (but declined to patent) the art of virgin birth, but how on earth do you expect us to see through that little curtain?

2 – We’d break the law anyway
Even if we knew who the confessor was, no one likes a snitch. Well, except Harry Potter, but don’t get me started on him.

3 – Confession would become boring
Faced with the possibility of being turned in, no more paedophiles would come to confession, which would leave us with just the blasphemers and chronic masturbators to listen to.

Pens down, Church wins!

Well, not really.

For one thing, it should be immediately obvious that his second and third arguments cancel each other out. I mean, if Bill is right, and Catholic priests never break the confessional seal, why would paedophiles suddenly be afraid of going to confession?

But let’s indulge Bill for a moment. Suppose that the laws of logic are temporarily suspended, and we concede that paedophiles will stop going to confession for fear of being turned in by someone who would never turn them in. If this happened, Bill argues, Catholic priests would lose the opportunity to convince paedophiles to turn themselves in.

So, let me get this straight. A paedophile won’t go to confession if he thinks the priest might dob him in, but he’s happy to go to confession knowing the priest will try and convince him to dob himself in?

Eh?

Anyway, all this is irrelevant, unless Bill can point us towards a single instance of a paedophile following a visit to the confessional with a visit to the police.

Well, Bill, can you?

Somehow, I very much doubt it. Unless, of course, I just happened to be away on the day that hundreds of paedophiles ran into the Police station yelling “We surrender! Yay for Catholic priests!”.

Now that I think about it, his efforts at logic remind me of the Flashbeer guy. I mean, Father Uren seems like he’s doing his best, but he looks so ridiculous that you can’t really be sure that he’s not taking the piss.