The next person who tells me religion forms a basis for morality gets a punch in the face. Well, no, that’s almost certainly not true, but if they do, I feel it will be justified. This month’s Religious Crackpot Of The Month award goes to the entire Vatican, who are increasingly mad and incredibly dangerous.
Religion forms a basis for rules. Rules can be good or bad. But they aren’t morality. It’s not “moral” to be good to avoid burning forever in hell; it’s selfish. It’s not “moral” to obey some rules to gain access to some paradise afterlife; that’s selfish, too. The religious argument, though, says aha, but you see God created the universe and He gets to decide what’s Moral and what’s Immoral. Therefore, it reasons, if you obey the rules God laid down, you will be acting Morally, and if you don’t, you won’t.
This is slightly stupid, because there’s no actual logical connection between creating the universe and morality. You can’t get from one to the other. It’s also stupid because the rules that religions preach now are, even if we’re generous and grant religion the rather absurd assumption that whoever they believe vreated the universe actually did write their holy books, nothing like the originals. They’re not God’s Word; they’re Chinese Whispers.
Evolution doesn’t favour the most accurate forms, or the most true or the nicest. It favours the ones that survive best. And evolution is an inevitable consequence of any system that allows something to mutate, reproduce, and pass changes onto its offspring. So when a book is copied out, changes are introduced in every generation. When a religion is passed on by word of mouth, changes are introduced. When a text is translated, errors creep in. and all these little changes add up over time, and eventually you end up not with the an accurate reflection of any original work, God’s word or otherwise, but with a very powerful meme which is very good at getting itself passed on, very good at deflecting argument, and very good at sticking in your brain. There is no requirement at all for it to do anything else, so generally it doesn’t.
Of course, it will always keep something moral back, like “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. But not because it’s “moral” or “right” or “God’s Word”. It’s because that’s a good survival trait — it allows people to say things like “this idea forms a basis for morality; look, it preaches not killing”. Big whoop. So does Shazanity.
But I can forgive all that. You can believe that, and I won’t think less of you. It’s very hard to break out of something like religion, and some people get enough support and happiness out of theirs that it might not be a good idea anyway. They’re in a symbiotic relationship with the viral meme that is their religion. What I really don’t understand is Roman Catholics.
Now, as I understand this, and I used to be one and now I have a keen interest in them so I like to think I know at least as much about Catholicism as the average Catholic, a Roman Catholic is basically the same as any other Christian except that in addition to the Bible, they also believe a whole stack of other dogma churned out be the Vatican. For example, they have to believe that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are simultaneously three distinct entities and one single entity. This creates a problem, because if you apply set theory, which I’m given to understand is ultimately the root of all mathematics, then you can start from that premise and prove quite trivially that three equals one*. (Mathematics is important to Catholicism because without it Pope Pius I was the same person as Pope Pius III, and that’s just confusing.) So Catholics also have to believe a second bit of dogma brought in later, which explains it away as a “Strict Mystery”. A Strict Mystery is one that is so mysterious, it’s impossible to understand unless you’re God (or an idiot). This, of course, makes no sense either, and doesn’t really explain anything at all even if you assume it’s true, but that’s okay, because it itself could be a Strict Mystery.
And they you have Limbo. Now Limbo is very confusing. It was widely publicised a bit ago that the latest Pope, who was a Nazi, abolished Limbo, the traditional resting place of unbaptised babies. This meant that all good Catholics who read this had to immediately stop believing in Limbo. But it had been publicised weeks before that he was going to do that, so what were Catholics supposed to believe in the meantime? But the worst part of this is that these reports aren’t true. In real life, the new Pope, who wasn’t really a Nazi, issued a Papal Bull to the effect that Limbo may or may not exist. The Vatican doesn’t know, because the Bible doesn’t say, and of course anything that the Bible doesn’t mention may or may not be true and you can’t prove it, because only the Bible is proof of anything. (You know, the Bible, or anything the Vatican says, because of Papal Infallibility, which was introduced by the Vatican in– hang on.)
But that’s the point: it’s all just rules. Rules don’t define morality. And as if proof were needed, here it is.
This blogger is rather understandably annoyed because not only did some bastard kill two employees of an abortion clinic in the name of his religious “morality”, but now there is a group of people who frankly are at least as bad intent on worshipping him as a hero and re-enacting the murders. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, we now have to put up with the Vatican asking all Catholics to boycott Amnesty International. Why? Because they think women should, in some situations, be allowed abortions.
(Now, far be it for me to apply common sense to any of this, but it would seem to me that if aborted foetuses go to Limbo, where they get “natural happiness”, that’s not so very bad. Frankly it’s probably better than most of them would get if they lived a normal life and God Judged them. Really, abortions are selfless acts, with one doctor accepting an eternity in Hell to save a load of foetuses.)
But more to the point, what may or may not happen to foetuses, or for that matter, people, after they die is something of a mystery. It’s really impossible to know, at least, not when you’re alive. What happens in Iraq to people very shortly before they die is a matter of well documented fact. And anyone who read the excellent article in the Times should know what happens in Guantanamo Bay. Amnesty fight these causes, and need money to do that, but the Vatican just mindlessly applies a bunch of rules it invented to everything, with no common sense or compromise or thought of any kind. They spot Amnesty going even slightly against one of those made-up rules and they immediately announce that all the extra suffering, totrure and killings it will cause don’t matter and that all that matters is that Catholics teach Amnesty that God is not to be fucked with. It shouldn’t need stating that boycotting a charity aimed at, and successful in, preserving and standing up for human rights, based on your flimsy interpretation of a book written centuries ago claiming to be the work of God is an utterly abhorrent way to behave. (The same applies to the whole condoms-are-bad-oh-no-AIDS debacle.)
This week, the same Pope has just made an announcement that non-Catholic churches are somehow “not proper churches”. This means, logically, that non-Catholic denominations of Christianity aren’t proper Christianity. Naturally, that’s what Catholics would believe anyway, at some level, so we’ve learned nothing from this but it has still made people angry. Why did he say that? What use was it? Sometimes I think hegoes looking for a fight.
I generally allow religion its follies because they are harmless and because it’s just easier that way. But a number of people who are very important to me are heavily involved in Amnesty, and a number of other people who are also very important to me are Catholics. So I’m rather forced to form an opinion. And my opinion, or rather, the plain simple fact of the matter, is that whether or not Amnesty is right, the Vatican is wrong. So here’s the deal: anybody who refuses to support Amnesty because it conflict with their Catholic beliefs is no longer my friend. It really is that simple. I’m not, as a rule, friends with people who behave abhorrently. If you find yourself in that category, do not attempt to change my mind. Attempt to change your own mind, because it is your mind which is defective. (Anybody who considers themselves a Catholic but finds themselves forced to disagree with things the Vatican says probably ought to take a long look and decide if they are then, by any reasonable definition, a Catholic, or just a Christian whose nearest church happens to be a Catholic one.)
But I’m not going to sit there in conversations any more and act as if this kind of thing is okay. The next person who tells me they are a Catholic is going to get asked if they support Amnesty. Because it’s the difference between “I like to wear white clothes and have bonfires” and “I am a member of the Klan”.
*First,define a set of the father, the son and the holy spirit. This has a cardinality of one. Then one-to-one map it directly to the set of Chipmunks (Alvin, Simon, Theodore) which has a cardinality of three. This proves one equals three. Apparently.