Why the Catholic church is an intrinsically immoral institution


Ok, so is the Catholic church an intrinsically immoral institution? I say it is, and Minow in a comment on Poland’s AG has received files says it isn’t. So let’s discuss that.

I say it is, because it is a powerful but wholly unaccountable institution which tries to impose its dogmatic rules on everyone. It’s authoritarian, and it’s officially all-male. The source of its power and authority is its imaginary relationship to an imaginary god.

Those features taken together are enough on their own to make it an intrinsically immoral institution. It bosses people, on the basis of an invisible unaccountable god, and it answers to no one. That’s a god-based dictatorship, and that’s intrinsically immoral. It excludes half of humanity from even the possibility of sharing its power, and that’s intrinsically immoral.

And those features aren’t all. There’s its long long history of murderous persecution of “heretics” and other rebels against its arbitrary unaccountable power. There’s the squalid history of the Vatican as a state. There’s the blood-chilling history of Ireland’s industrial “schools” and Magdalen laundries. There’s Savita Halappanavar. And there is of course the sprawling history of child-rape by priests and the church’s refusal to obey the law and report its child-raping employees to the police.

What’s on the other side of the ledger? Well there’s charity work. Yes, there’s charity work, but it comes with strings attached – it’s Catholic charity work. It’s anti-abortion charity work, which can be way too high a price to pay. It’s charity work that can cloak child-raping priests. It’s charity work that gives the church a toehold in desperately poor countries, so that it can spread its power even more. Above all it’s charity work that doesn’t need to be theistic in nature, and shouldn’t depend on compliance with theistic rules to be available. It’s charity work in exchange for obedience, and that’s not a good exchange.

On the other hand there are generous, liberal Catholics who do the charity without making it depend on compliance. But then it’s just charity; it’s independent of the “Catholic” part; it’s often in outright defiance of the Catholic part. (Hence the Vatican’s bullying of the US nuns.)

If the church were a golf club that formally excluded women, I would say that was immoral but not necessarily intrinsically immoral. But the Catholic church has more power over people than does a golf club. Much more. It has enormous power, and it has no truck with democracy or equality or accountability at all. Yes, that’s intrinsically immoral.

Comments

  1. Minow says

    I say it is, because it is a powerful but wholly unaccountable institution which tries to impose its dogmatic rules on everyone.

    I say it isn’t because its power can only be wielded on those who voluntarily submit to it and anyway is not intrinsic to the church. It would still be the Catholic church if it lost its power. Nor need it be authoritarian. It has tended to be, as have many other institutions that we do not consider to be intrinsically immoral, but it need not be, it can reform. If it tries to impose its rules on everyone (does it? I don’t feel it imposes them on me) that is wrong, but it is an abuse of power such as any institution might make (and most do when they get the chance). If every institution that attempts to overreach is to be considered intrinsically immoral, we won’t have many left to enjoy.

    It’s authoritarian, and it’s officially all-male. The source of its power and authority is its imaginary relationship to an imaginary god.

    It is currently all-male in leadership, but it need not be. As many have pointed out the early church had women priests and this Pope may well raise a woman Cardinal, so this is not an example of intrinsic immorality either. As to the source of its moral authority, well that is not more immoral a source than a belief in imaginary ‘human rights’ (nonsense on stilts!). You need not agree, but it is not immoral to think something is true and be wrong.

    I keep stressing the ‘intrinsic’ because I don’t deny that the Catholic Church has often acted immorally, just that it seems absurd to me to think it cannot reform. As I said on the other thread, the US government in the last 200 years has arguably performed far worse evils than the church in all its long history, but the US government is not intrinsically evil, it is just evil a lot of the time.

  2. Gordon Willis says

    Human rights are something we agree about for the sake of justice. It is a moral principle. It doesn’t need to be true in a factual sense, but only true as a moral guide to how we treat each other. Christian belief is not a moral principle, but the Church makes large claims about its factual truth, and on the strength of those claims imposes heavily on the lives of many people. And yet it cannot prove a single claim. It has no basis in common agreement, but bases itself on one thing only: divine authority. It therefore cannot help but act immorally, for as long as it exists. But if it loses its authority, it will probably cease or disintegrate, because no one will have to follow its teachings any more.

  3. says

    Minow: just because someone voluntarily went along with a con-game, does not make the con-game, or the con-artist, any less evil.

    And besides, “voluntary” becomes a rather fuzzy concept in societies where large numbers of people have to choose between supporting the Church’s BS and being ostracised by people whose acceptance they need to function within their society.

  4. dmcclean says

    “I say it isn’t because its power can only be wielded on those who voluntarily submit to it and anyway is not intrinsic to the church.”

    Like Savita Halappanavar, who voluntarily submitted to seeking medical attention at the University Hospital Galway. Certainly her voluntary submission was well informed. Who can doubt that she knew that, with all the moral sense of an angry two-year-old, that they would choose to sacrifice her to their imaginary friend?

    Like the children in the Magdalen laundries, who voluntary submitted to not running away from the building they were locked in, except when they didn’t.

    Power, by definition, is something that can be wielded on those who don’t voluntarily submit to it.

  5. says

    I say it isn’t because its power can only be wielded on those who voluntarily submit to it

    If only that were true. Have you not been paying attention? The church does its best to prevent everyone from getting access to contraception and abortion. It buys up hospitals which then refuse abortions to all patients, not just those who voluntarily submit to it.

    What do you mean it can reform? How? Who can make it reform? It can’t reform in the usual secular way of shifting majority opinion. Its constituents can’t force it to reform by voting the reactionaries out of office. Of course its authoritarianism is intrinsic. It’s based on dogmatic authoritarian religious rules – what it calls “church teachings” – so the authoritarianism isn’t a mere accident, it’s intrinsic.

    As to the source of its moral authority, well that is not more immoral a source than a belief in imaginary ‘human rights’ (nonsense on stilts!).

    Yes it is, because it’s inherently (again) arbitrary, which the concept of human rights is not.

    I keep stressing the ‘intrinsic’ because I don’t deny that the Catholic Church has often acted immorally, just that it seems absurd to me to think it cannot reform.

    Then you’re missing the point. I’m not saying it can’t make little reforms here and there. I’m saying its structure and rules are inherently authoritarian – which is undeniable: they are that by definition – and that that is immoral in a huge institution with huge power over people.

  6. says

    Also, as to “intrinsic,” Ophelia mentioned certain properties intrinsic to the Church, and those properties left the Church unable to purge itself of the evil we see in its actions throughout its history. So yes, the Church is INTRINSICALLY evil.

  7. chigau (違う) says

    The RCC uses threats of violence to control the behaviour of its members.
    Eternal damnation is intrinsic to Catholic doctrine.
    That’s pretty immoral.

  8. dmcclean says

    “If it tries to impose its rules on everyone (does it? I don’t feel it imposes them on me) that is wrong, but it is an abuse of power such as any institution might make (and most do when they get the chance).”

    As to the first part, as Ophelia, I, and other commenters have noted, it certainly does.

    As to the second part, do you think that believing your institution to be the “one, holy, catholic (which basically means one), and apostolic church” created by “one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father”, might possibly predispose that institution toward such abuses of power?

  9. A. Noyd says

    I’m sorry, but how fucking stupid and dishonest do you have to be to look at the examples in the OP and say that those are just people voluntarily submitting to death, rape, imprisonment, and forced labor?

  10. Argle Bargle says

    The RCC hierarchy is interested in one thing and one thing only, power. It claims to be the supreme moral authority on Earth while acting in a manner so immoral that even Minow would recognize it if xe was in the least bit honest. The church has an official policy to support and protect child rapists. The church lets women die rather than have abortions. The church lies about condoms and AIDS because using condoms makes Baby Jesus cry. The church in Ireland ruined thousands of lives in their orphanages, vocational schools and the infamous Magdalene Laundries yet refuses to pay a penny towards the rehabilitation and compensation of the victims.

    No, I can’t see how anyone can think the Catholic Church is anything but a thoroughly immoral organization. Individual Catholics may be good people, the church as a whole is wicked.

  11. sailor1031 says

    An institution that shields criminals in its ranks from prosecution by deliberate obstruction of justice (worldwide); an institution that connives at genocide as in WW2 Croatia (Jasenovac Concentration camp run by a franciscan); an intitution that sides with fascist rebels against the legal government (Spain); an institution that launders money for other criminals (vatican bank, Banco Ambrosiano); an institution that connives at the murder of its own leader (JP1) and others (at least 10 persons involved in the Banco Ambrosiano affair have been murdered including police officers); an institution which actively assists wanted war criminals to escape justice (eg Eichmann, Barbie); and this is just the twentieth century….definietly not an organization where morals flourish

    If RCC Inc. is able to reform when do you think it might start?

  12. johnthedrunkard says

    Well, the church did punish Nazis… actually just ONE Nazi.

    Goebbels WAS excommunicated. For marrying a protestant.

    All the rest of the behaviors that can be categorized as ‘Nazism’ have tacit approval of the RCC.

  13. mudpuddles says

    Hi Ophelia,
    Much of your argument (which I agree with) references the notion that god is imaginary (which I also agree with). However, from the perspective of a Catholic your arguments would fail utterly because their response would probably be “there actually is a god and he’s super awesome, therefore you’re wrong”. I reckon that a more compelling point is that – regardless of whether there is any god or not – the Catholic church has always counselled bigotry and discrimination against people who do not fall into step with the Catholic ethos or follow certain rules of living, loving, worship and lifestyle, even whilst the church calls for everyone to “love thy neighbour as thyself”. It has always been central to doctrine, from St Peter onwards. I find that form of consistent hypocrisy and advocating of unfairness to be inherently immoral. “Be good to everyone! Love thy neighbour! Except those folks over there, them you can treat crappily!”

    Even if we just look at the church in its current form, with its current structure and ethos, then surely we would have to say that any organisation that commands such enormous wealth but limits its expenditure to its own interests (it funds healthcare, but only in Catholic institutions; it funds education, but only in Catholic schools; it provides some global development support, but always tied to Catholic missions etc.) is intrinsically immoral – again, love thy neighbour if he’s on your side, throw the others under the bus. I would argue that that ‘s some inherent nastiness right there. Its not enough for someone to say “but they can reform!”. Sure they can reform, let them reform to have another structure and ethos that rejects wealth accumulation in favour of universal attempts at poverty reduction and humanitarian work, and isn’t inherently bigoted.

    @ Minow, #1:

    If it tries to impose its rules on everyone (does it? I don’t feel it imposes them on me)…

    Good for you. Come live in Ireland for a while, and you’ll get a feel for how pervasive Catholic dogma and its attendant bullying has been (and often still is) here.

    …that is wrong, but it is an abuse of power such as any institution might make (and most do when they get the chance). If every institution that attempts to overreach is to be considered intrinsically immoral, we won’t have many left to enjoy.

    To be fair, the fact that other institutions behave that way is really irrelevant to Ophelia’s point. “They do it too” does not quite invalidate what she has said.

  14. says

    mudpuddles – I know, but they have bad reasons for thinking (and saying and “teaching”) that “there actually is a god and he’s super awesome.” I think that itself is in a way immoral when it comes to public beliefs that shape policy, and to some extent for beliefs taught to children.

    Of course I realize that’s a radical suggestion, and obviously not one that would persuade any bishops, but still I think it’s right. I think the reasons for not believing there’s a god (especially one who wants humans not to use contraception and all the rest of the bullshit) are much much better than reasons for believing there is.

  15. Corwyn says

    “I say it is, because it is a powerful but wholly unaccountable institution which tries to impose its dogmatic rules on everyone. It’s authoritarian, and it’s officially all-male. The source of its power and authority is its imaginary relationship to an imaginary god.”

    While true, none of that is necessary. It promotes the idea that a person should follow its moral code, without regard to the person’s own moral precepts. That alone is sufficient to make it an immoral institution. It doesn’t even matter if its moral code is perfect, advocating that people obey without thinking of the moral consequences is inherently immoral. Everyone from Abraham onward should have told them to take their divine commands and shove them.

  16. cubist says

    If it was just the fact that some priests rape children, then sure, there’d be some bad feeling directed towards the RCC, much as there is towards any organization which has child-rapists among its members.
    But it isn’t just the fact that some priests rape children.
    It’s the fact that the RCC actively shields child-raping priests from justice. And the fact that the RCC actively relocates child-raping priests to new locations, where the child-rapist’s crimes are far less known. And the fact that the RCC actively places blame for child-rapists’ crimes on the raped children (the victims of those crimes, for crying out loud!).
    Either Minow has been completely out of the loop for the past N years, or else Minow knows about all that stuff and, somehow, can still manage to cobble together a “hey, everybody else does it” not-defense for the RCC. You want to argue that some teachers rape children, therefore the RCC isn’t any worse than school districts? Wake me up when school districts whitewash child-raping teachers, and shuffle child-raping teachers to far-distant schools where the rapists’ crimes aren’t public knowledge, and yada yada yada, because then it’ll be time to talk about how the RCC is no worse than school districts.
    And by the way—if your argument is really “hey, the RCC is no worse than all those other guys”, well, doesn’t that kind of demolish any claim to moral superiority which the RCC might have? If you really want to play the “no worse than” card, shouldn’t you be casting a critical eye on everything the RCC says or does which rests upon a foundation of the-RCC-is-morally-superior? And shouldn’t you also be re-evaluating all of your own conclusions about the RCC which rest upon a foundation of the-RCC-is-morally-superior? Well, yes. Yes, you should be doing both. Because if you don’t—if you are the sort of person who’s capable of playing the no-worse-than card as a ploy to deflect criticism away from the RCC… well, let’s just say that Tim Minchin’s The Pope Song says it all and applies to you in spades.

  17. says

    I don’t debate religion with my parents. My father refuses to see past his “good” local parish and the “good” things they do, and my mother feels that the individual priests who rape should not reflect on the church as a whole considering “all the good the church does”.

    It’s disgusting. And I’m “a bigot” for disagreeing.

  18. Pen says

    It’s authoritarian, and it’s officially all-male. The source of its power and authority is its imaginary relationship to an imaginary god.

    I find those arguments convincing. As a structure for an institution it is not moral. It’s disappointing that the argument gets so easily side-tracked into the list of wrongs actually committed by the Catholic Church. These can’t have anything to do with whether the institution itself is intrinsically moral or immoral and it would be naive to believe that the perfectly structured institution will always act in a moral way.

    Is the Catholic Church capable of reform? I know Catholics who campaign for it to be more collegial with people of both sexes at every level. But there’s still that business of the imaginary being at the root of its tenets. If it refrained from any exercise of authority over people or society on account of that being, would it become morally acceptable? Or does the mere fact that it proposes beliefs that are contradictory to the best available evidence immoral in itself?

  19. Minow says

    What do you mean it can reform? How? Who can make it reform?

    It can reform by making reforms. I don’t understand why that is a problematic idea. It is in the process of reform right now. We don’t yet know how deep it will go, but it is possible. The reforms to the financial side of the church are already cutting hard and it looks like there may be a woman Cardinal coming along which would be a huge reform of one of your main objections to the church.

    It can’t reform in the usual secular way

    Well no, it isn’t a secular organisation.

    Its constituents can’t force it to reform by voting the reactionaries out of office.

    No, but reform is not always achieved by force. It can reform because reform minded people gain control. Those people will not be indifferent to the ideas and wishes of the members of the church. They need the support of the people who make up the church.

    Of course its authoritarianism is intrinsic. It’s based on dogmatic authoritarian religious rules – what it calls “church teachings” – so the authoritarianism isn’t a mere accident, it’s intrinsic.

    No it isn’t, it could reform to be less or more authoritarian, as the Anglican church did.

    Yes it is, because it’s inherently (again) arbitrary, which the concept of human rights is not.

    It isn’t arbitrary, the church cannot suck any moral principle out of its thumb whenever it chooses. Of course there are founding principles that must be accepted as fact, but we do the same with the idea of ‘human rights’ which is also a fiction and an arbitrary one in the sense I think you mean it. In fact, I think human rights is really a religious idea, it comes from Christianity. It would make no sense at all to a pre-Christian. Try telling Caesar that there is some meaningful sense in which he was the equal of his slave.

    Then you’re missing the point. I’m not saying it can’t make little reforms here and there. I’m saying its structure and rules are inherently authoritarian – which is undeniable: they are that by definition – and that that is immoral in a huge institution with huge power over people.

    See above. All these things can be reformed. It was the failure to reform them thhat led to the protestant schism, but that was a choice by the church, it could have reformed and other churches chose to.

  20. Minow says

    Minow by the way could have borrowed that “the others do it too” excuse straight from the revolting Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who used it himself.

    Ooh, that is a bit slimy. I haven’t made any excuses for any abuse by anyone. I just pointed out what should be obvious, that if a member of an organisation commits a crime, that does not necessarily make the organisation they belong to immoral. If it did, we would have to damn the US government as an institution too, and nobody seems to want to do that (outside of the more mad libertarian circles).

  21. says

    First, it’s based on lies, and harmful lies, and lying is immoral. And harmful lying is worse.

    Second, even if it were true, what they said about God’s existence, they’re on the wrong side. Yahweh, as depicted by Catholic doctrine, is a sociopathic monster with the ego of a toddler. The reaction of a rational sentient being to the tales of Yahweh’s exploits would be, “Somebody stop him!”, not, “Let’s all do what he says.”

    And that’s not even getting into the inherent immorality of the concepts of original sin and restitution by proxy.

  22. Gordon Willis says

    I don’t think that it is in the nature of the Church to refrain from exercising power. It has a divine commission, and divine authority, and its doctrines are the truth which sets men free. They can change bits here and there, but they can’t completely reform. The only thing possible is to contain their power, as has been done in the modern world, so that they can no longer order punishments and tribulations and persecutions on the scale of their past excesses. But power they retain, and great influence.

    As to the comment somewhere on the last thread, that Minow doesn’t see Humanists going out on cold nights to help people: in the first place, of course, lots of people do, and the world is full of nonreligious volunteers who help with every kind of charitable work. Such people have always existed. My father was one of them. Secondly, the Church has had more than 1500 years of government support, donations, taxations, and voluntary assistance from first the Roman Empire, then the rest of Europe, and since the days of colonialism has embraced the rest of the world. It would be extraordinary if the Church were not vastly and visibly involved in every kind of human transaction, especially when its nature is to assume that it has the divinely ordained duty to do so (and ensure that all is in accordance with God’s plan). On the other hand, nonbelievers have been forced to keep very quiet for at least the same amount of time, and such organisations as we have are new and small. Nevertheless, it is secular democracies, not religious states, that have raised living standards, fed the hungry, built the medical services, developed vaccines, arranged pensions and welfare, permitted freedom of thought and expression, and at last permitted us to speak our minds without fear of religious persecution.

    I found this on Matthew 16:19

    NLV Whatever you do not allow on earth will not have been allowed in heaven. Whatever you allow on earth will have been allowed in heaven.
    PRS …; whatever you forbid on earth will be what is forbidden in Heaven and whatever you permit on earth will be what is permitted in Heaven!

    Footnote: forbidding and permitting: There is a very curious Greek construction here, viz. a simple future followed by a perfect participle passive. It seems to me [Phillips] if the words of Jesus are accurately reported here, and I have no reason to doubt it, then the force of these sayings is that Jesus’ true disciples will be so led by the Spirit that they will be following the heavenly pattern. In other words what they “forbid” or “permit” on earth will be consonant with the Divine rule. If a simple future passive had been used it would mean an automatic heavenly endorsement of the Church’s actions, which to me, at least, is a very different thing. … . There is no ground for supposing that celestial endorsement automatically follows human action, however exalted.

    It makes little difference in practice, however, for if they decide to forbid or permit a thing it will have been forbidden or permitted in heaven, as they are the Church which is led by the Spirit and exists only by divine authority. They have to maintain this. Thus the way is open for every possible corruption of human error, arrogance and ambition, and it is only their own minds that determine God’s will.

  23. says

    I’ve pitched in quite a few hours for Habitat for Humanity. There’s nothing particularly religious about putting a house together.

    That said, I think many humanists are working to support legislation to reduce the need for private charity. Ultimately, private “charity” isn’t the most effective way of improving a society. Handouts should be blind to the “morality” of a person, merely recognizing their need. The government has the potential to be a much better, much more efficient method of redistributing wealth to greatest effect.

  24. says

    No, but reform is not always achieved by force. It can reform because reform minded people gain control

    How? The highest priests are completely regressive, and make sure that anyone promoted up is also regressive.

  25. says

    It can reform because reform minded people gain control. Those people will not be indifferent to the ideas and wishes of the members of the church. They need the support of the people who make up the church.

    Really? Why? The people in power now certainly don’t care about the support of the people who make up the church.

    I think human rights is really a religious idea, it comes from Christianity. It would make no sense at all to a pre-Christian. Try telling Caesar that there is some meaningful sense in which he was the equal of his slave.

    No it doesn’t come from Christianity. Try telling an inquisitor about human rights. And as for Caesar and his slave, read some Seneca instead of Caesar.

  26. says

    Why should the people in power care about the rank and file as long as the rank and file continue to tithe? Only by leaving the church do the “progressive” Catholics have any power to influence the hierarchy, and everyone I have talked to has this fantasy that they can somehow “change it from within”.

    The fact is, progressive priests are given narrow responsibilities. A parish. A locality. The regressive power at the top rules by fiat and grooms more regressive priests to replace them. There is no opening for “reform” under the current system.

  27. Gordon Willis says

    I think human rights is really a religious idea, it comes from Christianity. It would make no sense at all to a pre-Christian. Try telling Caesar that there is some meaningful sense in which he was the equal of his slave.

    It is not a religious idea, because in God’s just world there is only obedience and the joy of obedience. Throughout its history the Church has promulgated the view that each person has an appointed place in a hierarchical universe, and it has regarded the hierarchies of human social systems as proof of the divine will. Paul, for example, said only that slaves should be obedient to their masters and masters should be kind to them. The younger Pliny thought the same, and he knew next to nothing about Christianity (as he admits to Trajan in a letter written very near the end of his life). As to prechristians, Athenian democracy actually debated the rights of women and slaves, at least according to Karl Popper (The Open Society and Its Enemies vol. 1), and the work of Roman lawyers is deeply concerned with rights, including those of women. One could, in fact, tell Caesar that he was in a meaningful sense the equal of his slave. This was already acknowledged in Roman society. It’s just that a slave is a slave, which is tough, but that’s life. This is the way in which we justify oppression, and it’s simple enough: my convenience versus yours. But the Church has metaphysical means to prove it. The mission of the Church is not to be concerned with rights, but with Christian duty and obedience to the will of God. It believes (officially) that if everyone was obedient, it would all work and everybody would be happy. On this view, we are all slaves, and whatever happens to us is tough the will of God. There is no reason to promulgate a doctrine of rights, and several reasons to support whatever the status quo happens to be, especially if it is hierarchical.

  28. Deepak shetty says

    it’s not clear to me why you are using ” intrinsic” in your argument. The church is a man made institution so the intrinsic part seems to make your argument less defensible.

  29. Gordon Willis says

    Let’s look at Christian doctrine. Because of the sin of Adam (he believed a woman who believed a snake) we are fallen creatures, which means that we cannot obey the Law. This means that we are all condemned to eternal torment. But God, in his mercy, sends his only begotten Son to redeem us: his willing self-sacrifice on the cross expiates our sinfulness and makes us one with God, as we were before the Fall. Therefore, whoever believes in Jesus as the Saviour of the world will inherit eternal life. Jesus reduces the Law to two commandments (love God, love your neighbour) and Paul goes on at great length about the impossibility of observing the Law and the consequent necessity of faith in Christ’s sacrifice to attain redemption.

    And that’s it. That is what the Church is all about. It is not in the least concerned with rights, with care. Love is of God, it is God who provides it. So however the Church tortures you to recant or believe, God still loves you, while the Church does its holy duty to ensure your salvation, whatever it takes.

    This is the mission, the goal, of the Church: that everyone should believe this insidious drivel. You can inculcate belief by force, by fear, by kindness. You can mix up all three, and as far as I can see, the last is what actually happens. The combined result is cruelty.

    You can only go so far in reforming this, without doing away with it completely. This is where Christianity sticks, and this is the core that can never be changed, and from which the excesses and the cruelties result.

  30. Gordon Willis says

    Because of the sin of Adam (he believed a woman who believed a snake)

    I should have added that he believed the opinion of other creatures (mere creations) and ignored God’s command, thus making his own decisions instead of remaining obedient.

  31. Gordon Willis says

    Notice also that the responsibility is ultimately the man’s. The woman is a weak being who succumbs, but the man is held responsible (though he says that the woman told him). This subservience of woman to man and the temptations of women and the weakness and malleability of women are continuing themes throughout the entire history of Christianity.

  32. Al Dente says

    Minow @22

    It can reform by making reforms. I don’t understand why that is a problematic idea.

    It’s problematic because there’s no incentive for the RCC to reform itself. As long as the laity pray, pay and obey, the hierarchy is in exactly the position they want. Sure, a small and not particularly vocal group of Catholics mutter about reform, but they’re a toothless group which the hierarchy doesn’t even have to throw scraps to. Popes JP II, Benny and Frankie may publicly wring their hands about child-raping clergy but do they do anything to stop the child-rapists? No.

    The RCC hierarchy is happy with the way things are going now so there’s no reason for them to make any meaningful changes. Or to put it another way, the chances of the RCC reforming itself are somewhere between zero and zip point shit.

  33. mudpuddles says

    I think human rights is really a religious idea, it comes from Christianity

    Oh holy crap… the stupid… it burns…!

  34. Gordon Willis says

    I haven’t made any excuses for any abuse by anyone. I just pointed out what should be obvious, that if a member of an organisation commits a crime, that does not necessarily make the organisation they belong to immoral.

    All this is true, Minow, but you are missing the point that the organisation in question conceals crimes and protects criminals. This makes it complicit in the crimes of its members. Moreover, priests are not mere “members” of an organisation but representatives of the Good Shepherd to the sheep, Christ to his people. The priest represents the authority of the Church. He is not a mere leader of prayers but the embodiment of Christ’s will as mediated through the Church. It is an impossible commission, and it makes people vulnerable to every kind of temptation to abuse power.

    It is clear that priests are not prepared for this role. If Father B. is anything to judge by, priests are warned that there will be temptations (cue little boys from broken homes, or just little boys, or even not-so-little boys) but are not trained to recognise trauma and emotional confusion and actually do what is needed to remedy them. This would be consistent with the Church’s attitude to the nature of sin and the role of the Church: that obedience is all, and trust in the love of God. But it fails to address the cause of a person’s suffering and implants a sense of guilt or inadequacy (sin): I would not be so hurt if I really believed in Christ’s redemptive act and submitted myself to his will.

    Priests are left with no moral guide to help distinguish their own desires from another person’s needs, but they have a ready-made sense of authority which can easily overpower reason and compassion. If you are used to believing that reason and compassion are likely to be snares of the devil (what if they contradict doctrine?) it is easy to ignore good conscience. And how can you know? Well, you pray, but what if there is no answer, or if you think there is an answer, but you don’t understand it? In the end, only doctrine stands between you and self-deception, but the doctrine itself is a poor apology for the all-embracing love of God that you so fervently hoped for and believed in. So Christian teaching is no proof against self-will, and fervent belief doesn’t redeem us after all.

  35. says

    It can reform by making reforms. I don’t understand why that is a problematic idea.

    It’s “problematic” (how’s that for understatement?) because every effort to reform it has failed and been rolled back!

    It is in the process of reform right now. We don’t yet know how deep it will go, but it is possible.

    We know it’s nothing but window-dressing: aside from a nicer former-fascist-collaborator replacing a tin-eared dickhead with zero credibility, nothing has changed, and no real change is promised or even hinted. (I notice you haven’t given us any specific examples of reforms currently in progress. That silence speaks louder than your words.)

    It can reform because reform minded people gain control.

    No, they can’t — the Church has never made, or accepted, any real progress without being forced to do so from the outside. “Reform minded people” show absolutely no sign of gaining control, and all of the reforms launched by Pope John XXIII have been rolled back — if they ever took hold at all.

    It isn’t arbitrary, the church cannot suck any moral principle out of its thumb whenever it chooses.

    Yes, it can, and it does. There’s plenty of horseshit in Catholic doctrine that has absolutely no foundation in the Bible.

    …I think human rights is really a religious idea, it comes from Christianity.

    You think wrongly: there are plenty of peoples who have agreed on concepts of human rights with no help from Christians or any Christian doctrine. There are also people whose struggles for human rights have been explicitly OPPOSED by the Church.

    It would make no sense at all to a pre-Christian. Try telling Caesar that there is some meaningful sense in which he was the equal of his slave.

    Read some history, fool: such notions of human equality not only predate Christianity, they predate Rome. And yes, there were abolitionists in Rome, who were trying to free slaves before Christ was born.

    …if a member of an organisation commits a crime, that does not necessarily make the organisation they belong to immoral.

    When the ORGANIZATION commits and/or enables crimes, justifies said crimes by reference to its own official doctrine, and repeatedly shows itself to be unable to reform itself, THAT makes the organization immoral.

  36. says

    All these things can be reformed. It was the failure to reform them thhat led to the protestant schism, but that was a choice by the church, it could have reformed and other churches chose to.

    Actually, those other churches became WORSE: more authoritarian, more punitive, more intolerant, and more ignorant. And they did so for the same basic reasons the RCC was unable to reform itself despite so much unprecedented public outrage: they were all institutions based entirely on irrational ideas, with all of their “authority” coming from an unprovable being (as described by a self-appointed hierarchy) with zero accountability to any persons, institutions or principles of any sort.

  37. says

    …we would have to damn the US government as an institution too, and nobody seems to want to do that (outside of the more mad libertarian circles).

    The US Government is far more reformable than any church, because it is based on rational principles, not the alleged word of an alleged god as interpreted by this or that self-appointed group of sages or poobahs whose word can never be verified; and because it is accountable to its people by means of specific electoral and other institutions and processes. In fact, even an antidemocratic government is more reformable than a religious institution, because it’s understood that government exists to serve certain material needs, and its success or failure can be judged by that objective yardstick, not by what some fool says he heard a supernatural being say. That’s why even the Soviet regime was more capable of lasting reform than the RCC.

  38. sqlrob says

    Raging Bee @38

    Read some history, fool: such notions of human equality not only predate Christianity, they predate Rome. And yes, there were abolitionists in Rome, who were trying to free slaves before Christ was born.

    And isn’t it great how the ultimate moral person of Christ understood that and preached how the slaves should be freed in no uncertain terms?

    Oh, wait…

  39. Iain Walker says

    Minow (#22):

    No it isn’t, it could reform to be less or more authoritarian, as the Anglican church did.

    There are two issues here regarding the authoritarianism of the Church. Firstly, there’s one of authoritarianism in practice – the fact that it is a hierarchical organisation which emphasises obediance to the teachings promulgated from the top, and which traditionally has had a low tolerance of dissent from those teachings. This might be capable of reform, although I’m not holding my breath. There’s an awful lot of institutional and doctrinal inertia to be overcome, and any reform is (at least initially) going to have to be top-down. And I’m far from convinced that Senor Bergoglio has the moral imagination for the kind of radical transformation required – he’s at best a moderate conservative with a very selective view of what needs fixing, not a serious, root-and-branch reformer.

    Secondly, there’s the issue of authoritarianism in principle. Theism itself is inherently authoritarian, in that it teaches that human fulfilment must be based on the adoption of a subservient attitude towards an unaccountable authority. Some theists (the Quakers spring to mind) manage to erect a kind of egalitarian firewall between this core principle and their day-to-day values and teachings, but it still remains the case that the tendency even in the more egalitarian sects is to teach that it is up to the individual to determine what God wants him/her to do. I.e., for all their talk of “conscience”, the underlying belief-system remains a deeply authoritarian one.

    The Catholic Church is an organisation that is built on this kind of thinking. There may be Protestant sects that emphasise the submission to divine power rather more explicitly and with rather more frothing at the mouth, but the Church has constructed itself on the basis of a self-image in which it is a necessary part of the divine hierarchy. Its structure and doctrines are highly dependent on metaphysical assumptions about power, authority and submission, with God at the top, the Church in the middle, and the punters in the pews at the bottom. In other words, the authoritarianism of the Church isn’t just a matter of institutional organisation – it’s an integral part of the very mindset that gives it its raison d’etre. And while the former might possibly be reformable whilst still retaining the substance of Catholicism, the latter … not so much.

    In fact, I think human rights is really a religious idea, it comes from Christianity.

    There’s an element of truth in this, but only a very small one. The idea of natural law as developed by medieval Christian theologians is often seen as being influential on the later development of the idea of human rights, but the main work was done by secular thinkers like Locke, Spinoza, Rousseau, Paine, Godwin, J.S. Mill and others, some of whom were Christians and some of whom weren’t.

    More to the point, the influence of Christianity is at best a contingent fact of history rather than a necessary requirement. The concept of universal human rights is a secular one in that it does not presuppose any religious assumptions, and can be derived without reference to any religious ideas – all you need to do is recognise reciprocation as the foundation of human moral behaviour and be willing to universalise consistently. Just as the Golden Rule crops up independently in many different cultures, human rights is not dependent on any one historical belief system.

  40. says

    …the influence of Christianity is at best a contingent fact of history rather than a necessary requirement.

    Actually, it’s more of a pretense than anything else: the early Church simply took ideas from other sources, both secular and religious, and pretended they were “Christian” ideas, even if Christians may have bitterly opposd such ideas on doctrinal grounds.

    Way back when he was in seminary school in 1950, Martin Luther King wrote a LONG paper titled “The Influence of the Mystery Religions on Christianity,” which gave some good hints at the extent to which Christianity stole/assimilated ideas from all over three continents — ideas that subsequent generations loudly and steadfastly claimed were invented by Christ or Christian leaders, totally new and unique to all the world.

  41. Iain Walker says

    Raging Bee (#43):

    Actually, it’s more of a pretense than anything else: the early Church simply took ideas from other sources, both secular and religious, and pretended they were “Christian” ideas, even if Christians may have bitterly opposd such ideas on doctrinal grounds.

    That’s a point worth making, certainly – all cultural movements borrow from and build upon what goes before. But the same principle applies to the development of the secular idea of human rights as well. Locke et al weren’t operating in a vacuum either, and the role of medieval theologians in developing precursor notions based on “natural law” wasn’t an entirely insignificant influence. One can still give credit where credit is due while resisting the Borg-like tendency of some Christians to assimilate every worthwhile historical development to themselves and themselves alone.

  42. says

    But the same principle applies to the development of the secular idea of human rights as well.

    That’s irrelevant. The issue here is not who had what idea first; it’s the ignorance and dishonesty of Minow’s claim that Christianity had a certain idea first.

    By the way, if anyone wants to know how far down the rabbit-hole Minow is willing to go with his apologetics, just check out his comments on this thread, starting at #7.

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