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Posts from the ‘Catholicism’ Category

Pope Francis: a skilled abuser of rhetoric

More on Pope Francis:

Of the three Popes that I’ve lived through so far, Pope Francis is, I’d argue, by far the worst of the bunch (yes, I think that he’s even worse than Benedict, and that’s saying something).

Here’s the thing: if someone is a malicious ideologue, I much prefer that they be open about their maliciousness and their unwavering commitment to a rigid and regressive ideology. Francis doesn’t do that, though. He couches his callousness in pseudo-tolerant and pseudo-progressive rhetoric and hides his dangerous attitudes and beliefs behind a facade of avuncular populist everyman friendliness. And people (not just Catholics) are eating it up, buying into it, proclaiming that Francis is A Different Kind of Pope, one who will change the Church, modernize the Church, make the Church into a progressive entity (needless to say (I hope), none of these proclamations hold up under even the mildest of scrutiny).

If you buy into Pope Francis’s pseudo-tolerant & pseudo-progressive rhetoric, you’re gullible (it happens. It’s a very human trait and a trap we all fall into from time to time, no matter how smart and/or skeptical we are), wilfully ignorant (a form of maliciousness that I have no sympathy for (see the ‘willful’ part)), or committed to the same rigid and backwards ideology that Francis is.

Francis is manipulative. He’s a skilled abuser of rhetoric who knows how to say the “right” things at the “right” time. He’s good PR for the Church. Unlike his immediate predecessors, he’s neither an intellectual nor extremely intelligent. But he’s sly like a fox. He’s a gift to the Church, a perfect Pope for the Catholic Church of 2013.

Two examples of what I’m talking about:

One:

The pseudo-progressive rhetoric: Francis claims to be a friend to the poor. People believe this (partly because much of the mainstream media disseminates this claim without question). They fawn over him, declare him to be A Different Kind of Pope who is ushering in A New Kind of Church.

The reality: Francis’s previously-stated opinions on and actions taken against contraceptive use and access to abortion cancel out his proclaimed desire to remedy poverty and economic inequality (providing easy access to contraception is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce poverty). He has a history of actively opposing the free distribution of contraceptives and he opposes a woman’s right to an abortion, even in cases of rape.

Two:

The pseudo-tolerant rhetoric: Francis claims that he doesn’t judge gay individuals who “accept the Lord and have good will“. The news media is currently eating this up. People are swooning over it.

The reality: Francis’s previously-stated opinions on, vehement opposition to, and actions taken against extending equal legal rights to gays and lesbians cancel out his newfound pseudo-tolerant rhetoric.

And, well, if I have to choose between two powerful individuals who hold the same dangerous opinions and adhere to the same rigid and bigoted ideology, I’ll take an openly intolerant ideologue over a phony and manipulative abuser of rhetoric any day.

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My episode of the Skeptic Canary Show

I had a fantastic time on the Skeptic Canary Show today. The hosts, Tom Williamson (blog/Twitter), David James (blog/Twitter), and Paul Hopwood (blog/Twitter), are lovely and intelligent gents who do a great deal of much-needed and important work for the skeptic community, both in the U.K. and online. We had an interesting, fun, and thought-provoking discussion about a variety of topics, including:

  1. Skepticism and skeptical activism
  2. The scope of the skeptic movement (and the difference between skepticism as a movement and skepticism as a methodology)
  3. Applying skepticism to the testable claims made by religions
  4. The crucially important role that rhetoric and effective communication play in skepticism/skeptical activism/the skeptic movement (i.e. determining and making use of the most effective method of informing/persuading/communicating in any given situation and adapting one’s message and argument to whomever our audience happens to be, always making use of the principle of charity, the importance of acknowledging the fact that many people hold on to their irrational/potentially dangerous beliefs for emotional reasons and thus almost certainly cannot and will not be persuaded by facts alone, the brilliance and wisdom of Ray Hyman’s “Proper Criticism“, etc.)
  5. The fact that many of the things that I teach in my rhetoric/composition courses (critical thinking, why it’s absolutely necessary to support all claims and assertions with evidence from quality sources, how to determine whether or not a source is reliable/credible/etc., applying skepticism to everything we read (including our own writing), etc.) can also be valuable tools for skeptics/skeptical activists.
  6. Teaching how to think instead of teaching what to think
  7. Teaching critical thinking
  8. Atheism, how/why/when I became an atheist, and how being an atheist in the U.K. is almost always a very different experience than being an atheist in America
  9. Catholic childhood religious indoctrination and Catholic guilt (and my experience with both)
  10. Skeptic conferences/events (primarily TAMQED, and SkeptiCamp)
  11. TAM 2013 (only a month away now! :) See my recent post about it here)
  12. And, with the help of my favorite Bob in the world, Bob Blaskiewicz (who very kindly took the time to call in during the show), we discussed the Skepticism Across the Curriculum workshop that Bob and Eve and I will be doing at TAM 2013.
  13. (& I’m sure that we talked about lots of other interesting things that I’ve forgotten to include here (I haven’t yet had the chance to listen to the entire podcast of the episode))

And speaking of the podcast: if you’d like to listen to/download the show, it’s available both on the show’s website and via iTunes.

Thanks again to Tom, David, and Paul for having me on! Be sure to listen to the Skeptic Canary Show live each Wednesday (or download the episodes/podcasts) and visit/”like” the show’s Facebook page if you’re so inclined.

I’ll be on the Skeptic Canary Show today!

The Skeptic Canary Show

Yay! I’m going to be on the Skeptic Canary Show today (Wednesday, June 12th). It airs at 7 p.m. BST (which is 11 a.m. PDT/ 2 p.m. EDT/ 6 p.m. GMT, etc.). It’s a fantastic show hosted by Tom Williamson, David James, and Paul Hopwood.

From the episode description:

For this episode your hosts will be joined by writer, speaker, skeptic and atheist Miranda Celeste Hale. We will be talking about the upcoming TAM conference, skepticism, religion and education.

You can listen live, join the discussion in the chat room, or call in via Skype or telephone (here’s more info on how to call in to the show). If you can’t listen live, or if you prefer the podcast version, the episode will also be available to listen to/download here and via iTunes.

Catholicism’s rhetoric of suffering

I’ve been thinking about Catholicism’s celebration of suffering. Despite the strange and disturbing nature of this perspective, it is rarely discussed or questioned. This is unfortunate. A celebration of suffering lies at the heart of, and, in the minds of many Catholics, justifies emotionally abusive childhood religious indoctrination, and acknowledging and questioning this rhetoric of suffering is, I’d argue, one way to assist in removing the taboo that often prevents open discussion of the negative after-effects of Catholic childhood religious indoctrination. I’ll offer a few brief thoughts here and I encourage you to offer your own, in the comments section or elsewhere.

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Pope Francis is no friend to the poor

The puffs of white smoke have arisen. Habemus Papam and all that. Pope Benedict is out, and Pope Francis is in. And although Francis’s proclaimed concern for issues of social justice, poverty, and economic inequality is certainly admirable, in various articles and stories lauding these traits, many commentators and media outlets have constructed a narrative that is far from complete. Rarely mentioned is Francis’s history of vehemently opposing the free distribution of contraceptives in Argentina or his extreme (even by Papal standards) opposition to a woman’s right to an abortion, even in cases of rape.

My argument is this: Francis’s opinions on and actions taken against contraceptive use and access to abortion cancel out his proclaimed desire to remedy poverty and economic inequality. One of the simplest and most efficient ways to help the economic status of women (and, by extension, their families) is by providing access to effective methods of contraception (as the linked study illustrates, women who live in places where extreme poverty coexists with hardline Catholicism are the least likely to have access to effective means of contraception. And here’s the clincher: the study’s authors found that poor women in Latin America (Pope Francis’s domain) suffer the most from this lack of access).

So, no, I’m not buying the argument that “Pope Francis cares for the poor” or “Pope Francis has a deep concern for social justice issues and human rights”. Far from it. Pope Francis is, I’d argue, indirectly (and perhaps even directly, in some cases) responsible for the economic inequality, poverty, and social injustice he so disingenuously claims to oppose. His culpability in these matters must not be swept under the rug. Please expose it and shine a light on it wherever and however you can.

Child abuse and Catholic indoctrination: on being ‘kindling wood for Hell’

I would not for my life destroy one star of human hope, but I want it so that when a poor woman rocks the cradle and sings a lullaby to the dimpled darling, she will not be compelled to believe that ninety-nine chances in a hundred she is raising kindling wood for hell.

Robert Ingersoll

No one, let alone a small child, is “kindling wood for hell”, yet it is that message that is at the core of Catholic childhood indoctrination.

I’m in complete agreement with the sentiments and assertions expressed in this recent article by Richard Dawkins. I think that teaching small children to believe in a literal Hell and to believe that there’s a very real possibility that they will spend an eternity in this literal Hell is child abuse (relatedly, teaching small children that they are worthless and that their guilt, fear, and anxiety are valuable blessings from God is also child abuse). The Catholic Church hierarchy loathes and abuses children.

To be clear: I certainly do not believe that the vast majority of those who raise their children in the Catholic faith are child abusers. For the most part, they’re just continuing the cycle. Their parents permitted the Church to indoctrinate them, and now they are doing the same to their own children. This mindless continuation of the vicious cycle of indoctrination may never stop, but we can at least try to raise awareness of the fact that the core tenets of Catholic childhood indoctrination are indeed abusive to children.

I rarely write about this topic anymore. Doing so requires me to write in a way that makes me rather uncomfortable. I don’t  like writing about my personal life or personal experiences (I’m a very private person). I’d much rather create a rhetorically-effective, well-reasoned, and thoroughly-supported analysis/argument than discuss my personal experience with any given issue.

But, when it comes to this topic, personal stories can be extremely powerful. I learned this two years ago, when I first wrote and published the essay that I’m reproducing here. Of everything that I’ve written on Catholicism (and I’ve written quite a lot), it has received by far the most attention and responses, both positive and negative. For me, the most important and moving responses came from people who could relate to my experiences and who were relieved to know that they are not alone. That meant the world to me. However, a little over a year ago, I started to feel uncomfortable having something so personal posted online, so I took it down. This week, though, I finally decided to repost it, and I’ll also reproduce it below. I’m still a bit squeamish about it, but, if it helps you to feel less alone, or if it helps you to understand why/how the core tenets of Catholic childhood indoctrination are abusive and often cause life-long emotional damage, then reposting it is absolutely the right thing to do.

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A dirty little girl, her head hanging in shame

(This essay was originally published on September 19, 2010. It was reprinted at RichardDawkins.net and excerpted at The Daily Dish)

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I cannot remember a time before I knew I was a Catholic. I knew it just as clearly as I knew that I was a girl, or that I had brown eyes. These traits were inherited, fixed, unchangeable. It took me a few years to understand that I hadn’t actually been born Catholic, and many more years after that to realize that Catholicism was optional.

Why did it take me until I was sixteen years old to figure out something so obvious? Simple: Catholic childhood religious indoctrination is chillingly effective. Its most powerful weapons are guilt and the fear of a literal hell. When a child is taught that the simple act of doubting or questioning any of the Church’s teachings is a sin, and that even the tiniest of sins can result in an eternity spent in a literal hell, they quickly learn to suppress those doubts and to feel intense shame, guilt, and fear when they fail to do so.

Think for a second about how cruel that is. To ensure that the Catholic mind virus is passed down through the generations, the Church is willing to crush children’s curiosity and to stifle or completely destroy their ability to think critically.

Then there is the guilt. According to Catholic teaching, humans are born sinners and cannot help but continue to sin throughout their lives. The only way for a Catholic to atone for these sins is to confess them to a priest, do the required penance, and be absolved. As a child, I obsessively recorded in a little notebook anything that I had said or done that could possibly be considered sinful. Then, when the time came for confession, I would recite this list to the priest, my head hanging in shame, my cheeks burning. I’d do my penance and be absolved. For a fleeting, blissful moment, I would feel light and pure and holy. But soon I would sin again, the guilt would return, the little notebook would be filled up with a record of my indiscretions, and I would return to the confessional and repeat the process over and over again.

Although I left Catholicism fifteen years ago, on occasion I still catch myself wondering what I need to do in order to rid myself of the guilt, shame, and feeling of dirtiness that, in one form or another, is almost always my companion. I sometimes find myself feeling frustrated: why, I wonder, can’t someone just tell me what penance to do? I obviously no longer think in terms of sin or feel the need to go to the confessional, but the desire for absolution remains, like an itch that cannot be scratched.

Who can deny that this is a form of child abuse? The mere act of writing this is making my hands shake and my stomach churn with anxiety. Fifteen years ago, I made the choice to leave Catholicism, something that, among the family and community I grew up in, just isn’t done. This choice was, without a doubt, the best and most liberating choice that I have ever made. However, I do not have a choice when it comes to the ever-present guilt, shame, and anxiety that resulted from my childhood religious indoctrination, and which, to varying degrees of intensity, will always be with me.

The Catholic Church loathes children. Loathes them. To the Church, children are Catholics first and humans second, and the lifelong trauma caused by childhood indoctrination is mere collateral damage in the Church’s battle against the outside world. As is so often the case, the Church unashamedly places their own interests above all other concerns, including the welfare (physical, emotional, and mental) of children. And an organization that despises and preys upon its weakest and most vulnerable members (who haven’t even chosen to be members) is undoubtably a force of great evil in the world.

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Thank you so much for reading. ♡

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