My first love in philosophy. Having a degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies means I love going on a rant about God, the Universe and Everything. From here I’ll be giving my take about issues affecting all religions and atheist community groups with a view to understanding the universe a little better.

No Justice for Abuse Victims

The Irish Commission report demonstrates the need for Perpetrators of abuse to be made accountable

The Irish Commission report demonstrates the need for Perpetrators of abuse to be made accountable

The Irish Commission Inquiry into Child Abuse has finally been published. Since the first traces of an abuse scandal emerged in 1994, abuse victims have come forward, attempting to gain the justice they seek for sexual, mental and physical abuse thrust on them when they were children. Today, the report revealed that “a climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from.” Yet despite a strong condemnation of the nuns, priests and clergy involved,Β  it has failed to provide the justice the victims seek – the names of the perpertrators have been, along with the names of the victims, replaced with false identities. This shields the victims from unwanted public attention, but allows the perpertrators, who revelled in their public sanctiminity whilst privately commiting unspeakable acts, to evade accountability.

I myself am quite a conservative when it comes to the legal process. Innocent until proven guilty is a principle we must defend to the death, and the court of public opinion will never be a substitute for the objective and factual courts of justice. However, the goalposts shift somewhat when not only there is a mass of evidence linking the Church in Ireland with briberies, intimidation and repeated child abuse in the public domain, but also an attitude of pious superiority has been pervaded by these individuals as public and religious figures to be regarded. I put it to you that for every time these individuals flouted the law and yet preached about their distorted and hypocritical view of Christianity, they deserve to have their reputations hung, drawn and quartered, leaving the public image as a monstrous shell. Which is of course what they are as human beings.

This is by no stretch of the imagination an isolated incident. It’s such a well-known fact that whilst Pope Benedict XVI and his successor, John Paul II, preached for abstinence and against contraception, millions of abuses against children were being unveiled, that there is often a caricature of the ‘Seedy’ priest. Which is grossly unfair, considering there are many, many priests in the majority that spend an entire life dedicated to God and do a hell of a lot of good. I know a priest that spent a large amount of his time in Brazil, tending a parish of around 30, 000 people in extreme conditions. But the fact that such a caricature exists is unacceptable. And the sad and brutal fact is that it is only part ignorance and media manipulation. For the most part, the reason such a caricature exists is through a vicarious awareness of this dreadful situation.

And the cause is systemic – the widespreadness and multiplicity of the abuses demonstrate this. Anybody that doesn’t think the unnecessary vow of abstinence taken by priests isn’t the main contributing factor to the scale of the problem simply is ignoring the inconvenient contradiction human nature presents to romantic traditionalism. Although many would argue that the point of abstinence and of any Christian avoiding sin is to overcome human nature, it is incoherent for those same people to refer to natural law and the intelligent design argument as their basis for morality. It’s part of human nature to desire, and to have, sexual intercourse. Deal with it. The idea that somehow allowing a man to serve God and maintain a family runs contrary to nature and is more preferable then said man destroying self, victim and community by the dreadful act of abuse is too ridiculous and malevolently idiotic to consider, even for a nanosecond.

The only reasons offered for the maintaining of abstinence for the clergy and banning of contraception are lovely, romantic ideas but they don’t work and aren’t morally justifiable. They involve a need to feel secure in the romanticism of religion, in the idea that a priest loves his parish like Christ loved the Church, and the romantic idea that sex is only for making babies, and emotional attachment and involves no primal instincts whatsoever. Lovely ideas, as I say, but when these ideas have resulted in the abuse of children, and millions of people feeling that a natural part of their humanity is an evil sin, then one feels compelled to ask the question; Which would be more desirable to God? A constrictive refusal to appreciate one of the most beautiful acts in creation, or widespread oppression and abuse? The answer is of course the first one, unless you’re one of the small and militant group of Catholics that wishes to cling to everything old in order to escape the new, which of course, is impossible.

In order to end the vicious cycle of abuse and oppression, three things have to happen; first, a full and complete enquiry of abuses worldwide needs to be conducted by the Church, with names of perpertrators published and criminal prosecutions followed up where necessary. This is partly to make those guilty face justice, but more importantly, to clear the name of the vast majority of priests who do nothing but serve their community. Second, the ridiculous ban on marriage for priests needs to be lifted. This is the single greatest thing the Catholic Church could do to prevent abuse. Thirdly, the Vatican needs to grow up in its attitudes to sexuality. Sex is an important part of human psychology that shouldn’t be treated flippantly. What it isn’t is the dirty little secret of human nature, to be hidden underneath an outdated and romantic version of human nature that dates from the sixteenth century. If these steps are taken, then maybe some sort of reconciliation between the abused and the institution that facilitated that abuse can take place. But I fear what will happen instead will be the same, cynical dogmatism we have seen throughout the Church’s history. Finally, one most important and last detail; those hoping to cling to Leviticus or other Old Testament writings to justify their prejudices and fears toward sex, should remember but one quote and fundamental tenant of Christianity; “Judge not, lest ye yeself be judged.”

Pope Benedict in Israel

Pope Benedict will attempt to build bridges this week in Israel

Pope Benedict will attempt to build bridges this week in Israel

Pope Benedict has begun his tour of Israel having spent three days in neighbouring Jordan. It’s a crucial visit for the Pontiff as he attempts to repair rifts in Judeao-Catholic relations. The reasons for the tension? The Pope recently allowed members of a traditionalist society back into the fold, unaware that they had denied the Holocaust or that gas chambers were used for the mass killing of Jews. The Pope has also had a tempestuous relationship with Islam, having made remarks in Bavaria a few years ago that were seen as highly controversial.

This trip is about building bridges and attempting to find a commonality to religions that he has inadvertantly alienated. But if people were expecting the Pontiff to hold back on political matters, they’re very much mistaken. Speaking in Tel Aviv Airport, Pope Benedict called for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.”I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognised borders,” He said.

The Pope will also visit several Holocaust museums as well as Jewish and Christian holy sites in an attempt to bridge the gap between him and his Jewish counterparts. But will it be enough? One suspects that in order to truly mend the fences with his Jewish and Islamic counterparts, the Pope will have to adjust some of his interpretations of both, instead of going on trips. Imagery can only take you so far.

The Other Side

What Happens When We Die?

What Happens When We Die?

There’s a magnificent radio documentary that was broadcast on BBC Radio Two the other day called ‘The Other Side’. It’s basically the view of several different people, religious and atheist groups on the ultimate question – what happens after we die? I’m not hyperbolising when I say it really is one of the best things I’ve heard on radio in a long time. You can access it for the next few days on the BBC iplayer here.

One of the major things that struck me about the whole thing was how much, even in the religious sphere, the unwillingness to answer the question, ‘what if this is it?’ is prevelant. I myself, whilst thinking I was tackling the topic head on by doing a degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies have found that, after three years’ study, I still lack a definitive answer. Sure, I can point to arguments such as the design argument or the cosmological argument, and together with a limited amount of information, extrapolate these arguments to assumptions I can form about the nature of life and therefore death, but there is still there that great inconquerable schism – the eschatolgical curiosity that forces us to live our lives in the mortal present. Trouble is, whether somebody’s a devout Christian, a Buddhist, or even a bona fide Atheist, no-one can ever be sure about what happens when we die. All we can do is make guesses and rely on existential faith. Which of course is what renders death so terrifying.

So what does happen when these bodies of ours expire? Perhaps a metaphysical ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ is freed, and lives in eternal peace; perhaps nothing happens, save a carcass rotting in the ground; or maybe another process occurs such as reincarnation. Either way, let’s not kid ourselves, it’s nigh-on impossible to begin any form of inquiry in this subject. Whereas in an alternative discipline, such as quantum physics or astronomy, where an obscure topic may not have much empirical evidence at hand, it would be natural to start some basic assumptions and develop new ways of discovering the truth of the matter.

If you wanted to explore the ends of the universe, you’d use your best telescopes and use the data they provided together with experimental physics to make the best possible guess. But exploring the realm of death has no starting point. Unless you’re a religious believer, nobody has ever died and come back to tell the tale. And even if you are a religious believer, descriptions of the actual process of dying itself are few and far between. Advice on it is readily available, but as for a description of the actual experience of the moment of death and what happens thereafter, descriptions in the Vedas, Bible, Torah or Qu-ran aren’t specific. And it’s right that they shouldn’t be. For it is the uncertainty of death that validates faith in those religions. Furthermore, it is this same uncertainty that motivates, moves, and holds us to a better future.

It is impossible to imagine death. But then, where it not for death, it would be impossible to truly live. Because death, as a process is so indescribably different to our experiences in the living world, life gains its meaning. The threat of a posthumous nihilistic void beyond death is enough to terrify us all, but only because it is an experience ultimately other to what we experience in this world. When you’re starving, or have just stubbed your toe, it’s impossible to sit and concieve what a sensationless existence would be like. But this is the point to existence – its uncertainty!

What we can achieve in the face of uncertainty

What we can achieve in the face of uncertainty

Humanity is at its best in the face of uncertainty. When we landed on the Moon, We didn’t know if we could do it. When Martin Luther King began his peaceful protests for Civil Rights, despite pressure from Black Power movements to resort to violence, he didn’t know his protest wasn’t going to be one more movement that was ultimately ignored, or that it would be violence that would be more effective than pacifism. All he had to go on was his gut instinct in the face of uncertainty. There are millions of examples throughout history, where the uncertainty of the limits of our existence has propelled us to achieve some of the greatest things imaginable. This is not to naively claim that this fleeting mortality has not brought out the worst in some, and that the commonality of human beings has led some to believe death is nothing more than a plot point in a drama and so to treat life and death callously. But ultimately, the uncertainty of the immortal world propels us to realize, ultimately, ourselves and so define our meaning. As Jean-Paul Sartre so eloquently said, “Existence sur le essence” – “Existence over essence…Man first of all discovers himself, surges up in the world, and defines himself afterward.”

So what do we know about death? Ultimately, nothing. All we have to go on in this matter are individual beliefs and gut instincts. If your beliefs have lead you to a certain response, to a certain belief, than congratulations. You have managed to define yourself in the face of the yawning chasm that is our own inevitable mortality. If not, then don’t worry. Often by simply just living, we can learn more about the nature of existence than any theoretical discussion could ever teach us.


One response

4 05 2009

Ah, how often people forget to just – live πŸ™‚

Nice blog πŸ™‚

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