Too Stupid to be a Bishop

A Stupid Bisop breaks the Godwin Rule

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Catholic Bishop Anthony Fisher has just claimed that “GODLESSNESS and secularism led to Nazism, Stalinism, mass murder and abortion” [1]. This is a violation of the rule part of Godwin’s Law. We might not expect clerics to have enough general knowledge of society to know this rule, but it does seem reasonable to expect them to have enough empathy to understand why inappropriate Hitler analogies will just offend people and don’t advance their cause. But anyone in a position of leadership in a global organisation who is going to talk to the media should have enough intelligence to check historical references.

The Wikipedia article about “Positive Christianity” is worth reading, it includes references to Christian based race-hate in Nazi Germany as well as modern references [2]. There is also an interesting Wikipedia page about the Religious aspects of Nazism [3], there seems to be room for a lot of debate on the matter of how religion fit in to the Nazi regime – but it seems quite clear that it was not an atheist regime.

The Wikipedia page about the Rechskonkordat (the agreement between the Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church) is also worth reading [4].

Also I’m sure that the Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet wasn’t the only Catholic despot.

Community Services and Moral Authority

Cardinal Pell was quoted in the same SMH article as saying “we find no community services sponsored by the atheists“, of course if he was to investigate who is contributing to the religious based community service organisations he would find plenty of atheists. I know I’m not the only atheist who donates to The Salvation Army [5] on occasion. I wonder how many religious people would be happy to donate to an explicitly atheist organisation, I suspect that the prevalence of religious charities is due to the fact that a religious charity can get money from both religious people and atheists while a charity that advocated atheism in any way would be limited to atheist donors. If I was to establish a community service charity I would seriously consider adding some religious element to help with fund raising – it’s just a matter of doing what’s necessary to achieve the main goal.

Even if it wasn’t for violating Godwin’s law and a total lack of any knowledge of history Anthony would still have failed. We all know the position of the Catholic Church on the sexual abuse of children. The Catholic policies are implemented in the same way in every country and as far as we can tell have been done so for all time. I believe that makes them unqualified to offer moral advice of any kind.

Criticising the “Secular World”

Peter Craven has written an article for The Age criticising the “secular world” [6]. He makes the extraordinary claim “the molesting clergy are like the brutal policemen and negligent doctors and corrupt politicians: they come with the territory because pennies have two sides“. The difference of course is that police, doctors, and politicians tend to get punished for doing the wrong thing – even when they do things that are far less serious. But the “molesting clergy” seem to be protected by all levels of the church hierarchy.

Peter makes some claims about the “secular world” as if there is a Borg collective of atheists and claims that there is an “incomprehension of Christian values“. I believe that the attitudes of atheists and the secular justice system correspond quite well with what most Christians would regard as “Christian values” – the problem is that the actions of the church leaders tend not to match that.

It’s All About Money

I would like to know why Christians almost never change church and never cease donating. Religious organisations are much like corporations, they seek new members and new revenue sources. If a significant number of Catholics were to pledge to not donate any money to their church for a year after every child sex abuse scandal then Catholic policies might change. Also if Catholics were to start changing to Christian denominations that do the right thing in regard to moral issues then the Catholic church would either change or eventually become irrelevant. If you keep paying people who do bad things then you are supporting them!

I suggest that any church member who cares about the moral issues of the day should vote with their checkbook. If their church fails to do the right thing then inside the donation envelope they should put a note saying “due to the immoral actions of the church I will donate to other charities“. I am not aware of any church that would expel members for such a protest, but I know that some smaller parishes have cash-flow problems and would rapidly escalate the issue through the management chain if even a few members were to protest in such a manner.

20 comments to Too Stupid to be a Bishop

  • Florian Weimer

    Church fees are compulsory in some countries, as long as you are a member. For a Catholic, only the church can provide salvation, so withholding your money might not be as easy as you think.

  • etbe

    When you say “compulsory in some countries” what do you mean? Are you referring to some sort of government imposed tax on people that goes to the church? Or do you mean that the policies of churches such as the Catholic church differ by country?

    As for only one church providing salvation, I expect that a poll of Catholics would determine that most of them don’t believe that.

    In any case if “salvation” requires supporting child molesters then I’ll choose hell.

  • Florian Weimer

    Yes, there is a state-collected church tax in Germany.

    And if you don’t believe central points of Catholic doctrine, you aren’t Catholic at all. You may still be a Christian, but not a Catholic.

  • Henry

    Re: catholic despots, Mussolini and Franco come to mind.

  • etbe

    Florian: I don’t believe that protecting child-molesters is part of the Catholic doctrine. Therefore all parts of the Catholic church that do so can be considered as apostates. A true Catholic wouldn’t associate with a false church, they can do their own thing while waiting for the true church to re-establish itself and declare the current Pope to be an anti-Pope.

    As for state-collected church taxes, you really need a separation between church and state.

    Henry: Yes, and there was cooperation from the Catholic side – see Opus Dei for an example.

  • Florian Weimer

    Russel: AFAICT, church doctrine is that the church has the final say who can become a priest and who cannot. And the current discussion cuts right into that. If the state can decide that certain men cannot be priests, the relationship between church and state is profoundly changed. Few people outside the clergy could probably care. But I think this is the source of those totally inappropriate comparisons with Nazi Germany that keep popping up. (The main concern for the church back then was such meddling in the affairs of the church, cf. “With burning anxiety”.)

    Separation of church and state is part of the German constitution, but I’m not sure if it just means that the state must not favor a particular denomination.

  • buck

    The problem with your argument about voting with your wallet
    is that the Church is much more like a family than a business
    association, so, yes, we know that certain members of the fam-
    ily have problems, and maybe there’s more love and acceptance
    from the hierarchy than justice, when they see their subordin-
    ates fall down, but it’s more a matter of abandoning the 99
    sheep and looking for the one lost one than of a cover-up, i
    still can’t help but believe. But Church leaders are all com-
    ing around to realize that charity consists as much in taking
    necessary if disagreeable action to curb those who would harm
    their fellow members as in forgiving them, and, yes, even more
    so. But family is family

    Sorry if the Bishop offended you, in any case. It’s all the
    more unfortunate when these sorts of statements turn people
    off from the Church, since the whole idea is to get everybody
    to join (no, not for your money, but because Jesus said to
    preach the Gospel to and to baptize all–poor, rich, and, yes,
    probably even pedophiles [but ordaining them is another mat-

  • etbe

    Florian: Sure the church gets to say who becomes a priest, but the state gets to say who becomes a prisoner! Also I would be happy to see a church ordain some prisoners who are doing hard-time. The prison chaplain doesn’t really get to know the prisoners and a minister on the inside could do some good.

    buck: The above URL has a news report of a man who executed his 15yo son. I don’t think that killing the boy was the right thing to do, but he had to be prevented from doing it again. The Catholic church would rather let their priests keep doing it (maybe send them to Alaska or something).

    I would be totally happy to have pedophiles ordained while in prison! A convicted pedophile who is ordained could probably convince other pedophiles to abandon their evil ways. They just shouldn’t be allowed to look after children. But if a member of the clergy becomes a pedophile it’s a different story, they have grossly failed to fulfill their mission and should be defrocked and coerced to contact the police and make a full confession.

    Acts matter more than words. Priests are good at talking about morality (apart from at least one stupid bishop) but collectively they can’t demonstrate it in real life.

  • etbe

    sam: What relevance does that image (which appears to be a copy of something from Jack Chick) have with this post?

  • Brendan

    We donate to the Smith Family because we’ve been told the Salvos are more interested in building empires than helping people by a friend in the charity sector.

  • etbe

    Brendan: I am dubious about your claim regarding the Salvos, but the Smith Family seem to be doing some good things and they are apparently free of any influence by any religious organisation. One thing I particularly like is their aim for an evidence-based approach to solving problems. Religious charities are particularly prone to just making things up and then acting as if they were proven solutions.

    Now that you have drawn my attention to them I recall seeing adverts for the Smith Family. I find it difficult to believe that Cardinal Pell and his staff were unable to find any reference to the Smith Family in their search for non-religious community organisations. I suspect him of lying about this.

  • I wouldn’t donate via an explicitly religious group like the Salvation Army.

    The reasoning is most obvious with things like the Haitian Earthquake, where people gave money to the DEC, which gives money to the Catholic Aid agency which isn’t ring fenced, which the Catholic aid agency can use to displace it’s own funds, which it spends on abusing school children instead by teaching them incorrect historical facts, and indoctrinating them with daft religious ideas.

    So donating cash via groups like the DEC for earthquake relief means more cash is available for religious indoctrination in the UK. Not my idea of well targeted charitable giving, but others may disagree.

    Given there are plenty of secular charities that don’t waste cash on indoctrinating others, I think it is irrational for an atheist to donate via an explicitly religious organization. Or collectives groups that include religious organizations like the DEC.

    I’m sure the Salvation Army do a great deal of good work, but there are plenty of other deserving causes that aren’t churches.

  • John Walker

    Churches are human institutions , and as prone to going wrong as anything else that is human. I am not a catholic and thus could not comment on the internal dynamics of what is a very large and very disparate group.

    I am an anglican, who also has practiced a fair bit of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Somebody asked Evelyn Waugh; why it was that Evelyn Waugh despite being a very devote christian could be at times such a “bastard” Evelyn’s reply was : ‘You dont know what Id be like without it”. We are born very clever and very destructive monkeys .

    It is sort of true that the Nazis / Fascists et all were a sort of repose/caused by the individual freedom that modern free liberal societies grant . But moral panic is no way to live, and it is certainly not a quality of faith.

  • etbe

    Simon: Good point about the lack of fencing.

    John: Sure human institutions are prone to going wrong, but the problem is that the Catholic hierarchy doesn’t want to make it right. Why does the pope have so little interest in addressing these problems?

    The fact that some people like Evelyn Waugh might be less of a “bastard” because of being religious has nothing to do with the issue of supporting a morally bankrupt church. All the protestant churches formed because the Catholic church was too obviously corrupt for the population to stomach.

    There seems to be a correlation between Fascism and religion, but not in the direction you suggest. By today’s standards the level of individual freedom in the world was not particularly great 100 years ago, and the parts of the world that had the most individual freedom are the ones that didn’t get Fascistic governments.

    I think that a large part of the cause of autocratic governments was countries throwing off hereditary despots when the population knew little about any other sort of government which left things open for someone like Stalin or Hitler to take advantage of the situation.

  • John Walker

    The rise of the Nazis is one of those things :-lots of people have lots of ideas about causes. There is no doubt that the sort of freedoms for women , for gays ex cetera that the free liberal society grants causes panic in some older conservative circles.
    V S Naipaul was warning of this “moral panic”in parts of the Islamic world and the likely consequences, long before Sep 11 2001.

    The catholic church as an entity is old and very bureaucratic; change and dealing with change is not a strong point of such structures.
    The reformation and the general political crisis of 1550-1670ish had as much to do with the shear folly of a succession of popes as with anything else.
    The corruption at the time was very real, but few would describe the motives of Henry the eighth as all that pure.

  • etbe

    John: The fact that homosexuality was illegal in large parts of the non-fascist world long after WW2 (with Alan Turing being a case in point) shows that fascism was not related to freedom for homosexuals. It is true that the Women’s Suffrage movement was active in most parts of the developed world, but if this was one of the triggers for Fascism then it’s not an argument in favor of the world’s largest advocate of mysogeny – the Catholic Church.

    I don’t think that the Catholic Church is unable to make changes related to sexual issues, the above URL has a history of changes that they have made in the past. It’s not as if banning child molestation would be a difficult change to make, one would hope that the majority of the clergy already believe that child abuse and rape are bad things. It shouldn’t require much effort to change the “sex is bad – but only if it’s between consenting adults” stance of the Catholic Church.

  • John Walker

    I am talking about irrational -‘panic’, about things perceived in one country to be happening in other countries.
    Russia in 1917 was largely a pre-industrial country the reasons why it adopted marxisum had little to do with the actual internal reality of Russia at that time.

  • John Walker

    Regarding payments of support. The catholic church is much more centralised than most faiths. This has both strengths and weaknesses , they are a lot less prone to the extraordinary degree of splitting and sub-spliting typical of some parts of the lutheran branch of Christianity (something which is also common in the islamic faith). The inherent conservatism of the catholic faith has protected it from some of the worst forms of fundamentalist distortions of doctrine . In particular from the extreme anti-science positions of some american branches of the lutheran faith. Anybody at all can start a ‘church’ and thus there are some very strange sects in the protestant world.
    But this centralisation of authority in the catholic faith dose make it harder for the laity to withhold support to the central church without ditching support for the specific hometown church that they attend and also importantly to have a real say in the appointment of clergy.

    Why they are handling this so badly is a difficult question, but I would it has more to do with folly than badness.

  • The Salvation Army gets all pissy at a Tim Minchin song appearing on the CD even though the artists get nothing and the proceeds go to the Salvos.
    To my ear “White Wine In The Sun” beautifully expresses a healthy and positive spirit of the solstice celebration and what it means to us. I get moist eyes listening to either of Tim’s or Kate’s versions.
    As for the Salvos’s attitude:

    We hope the Australian community understands how important these funds are for us in supporting services for disadvantaged and marginalised members of the community, even though we do not in any way support the statements made in this song

    The song expresses the man’s joy of celebrating the solstice with his family. It condemns both dodgy sentiment and consumerism that is rampant at this time, and focusses on love and togetherness.
    If the Salvos can’t do charitable work without bristling whenever religious dogma is criticised, then we have plenty of secular alternatives including Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, Amnesty International, International Red Cross, and lots of other specific charities. They can all do their work regardless of whether you criticise religion.
    We even have the Smith Family helping disadvantaged families using evidence-based and community-forming approaches, so the Salvos can kiss goodbye any hope of our charity money.