Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Europe's Strange Relation to Religion

Today is a bit of an unstructured ramble. Parents of newborns will appreciate that they can soak up quite a bit of time, but maybe if I call this a "stream of consciousness" instead of a ramble, people will be more forgiving.

I'm curious to know how Tony Blair — a man who might have made a great Prime Minister of the United Kingdom if he hadn't been running for Vice President of the United States¹ — feels about converting to Catholicism a few years ago now that the Church is beginning to resemble the largest organized pedophile ring in history. Still, as has been pointed out repeatedly, the spectre of the pro-abortion Blair converting to a religion which opposes his beliefs made a lot of sense if he wanted to become the first president of Europe.

As we all know, he failed in his quest to be first president of Europe, he never recanted (that I recall) his support for abortion, people are leaving the Catholic Church in droves over the widespread pedophilia scandals and Blair is still facing pesky questions about the UK's involvement in the Iraq war, involvement which is getting increasingly harder to explain, particularly in light of the Downing Street Memo. So unless there is more to the inexplicable Blair/Benedict marriage than meets the eye, I suspect Blair's conversion is doing neither of them much good; alleged pedophiles and alleged war criminals don't seem the most natural of allies.²

One of the things I love about Europe is that few get really upset about people with different beliefs, so even the strange conversion of Blair to Catholicism, while appearing cynical, doesn't cause too much of a fuss. As a contrast, I don't believe in God and back in the US I've been physically assaulted twice for this, been verbally abused many times and even my own mother forbade me to speak about my beliefs in her presence. I was taught early on to "keep my mouth shut".  So on a trip to Ireland a few years go, while reading a copy of The God Delusion (which, despite Dawkins' protests, can be a pretty mean-spirited book at times), I found myself taking off the cover lest someone see it and be offended. Then I realized a couple of things.

First, I didn't take the cover off to avoid offending anyone. I took the cover off out of the residual fear I still had of strangers finding out that I am not a Christian. Second, I was being stupid because I had already discovered that even the most devout Christians over here tend to be extremely tolerant about the beliefs of others.

And this all brings me to the real point of my ramble: I feel bad for many of my colleagues. As it turns out, quite a few of them are Catholics. However, this seemed an almost reluctant admission to me and some admitted that they were ashamed and embarrassed by their church. How horrifying must it be to find out that the primary symbol of your faith was working overtime to protect child rapists? I strongly suspect that when your church fails you, you are going to start questioning your own beliefs. That's what led me to realize I don't believe in God and I suspect that others will find the same path. Already there is often a distrust of those who profess their beliefs too strongly; it's a short step to questioning those beliefs.

Another reason not to talk too much about beliefs is because frankly, the US is an embarrassment here. Many in the US are quite proud of being so forcefully "Christian" and they're becoming quite a laughing stock to many around the world. There are things to admire about the US, but they get lost in the wash when stories about Tea Party members introducing bills to overturn all local LGBT rights appear.

But what really prompted today's rant is reading local news about a Dutch Cardinal working hard to protect a pedophile priest and this is only the tip of the iceberg here. It's not surprising that even here in Holland, increasing numbers of people are leaving the Catholic church.

Religion is really not a big deal in much of Europe, but as we move forward, it's looking like the influence of the Catholic Church is on the wane. Of course, the gay Vatican prostitutes didn't help the issue one bit, and the Pope is now widely mocked as Pope Palpatine.

This is not a great time for Catholics in Europe.

1. Don't worry if you didn't get that joke. The British do.
2. Though self-confessed gay male prostitutes and alleged war criminals apparently get along just fine.


  1. Much as I dislike Blair, and much as I abhor the paedophilia scandals, I would argue that there is more to religion on the whole, and the Catholic church in particular, than merely a paedophile ring. Paedophilia scandals have not been limited to the (Catholic) church- numerous schools, kindergartens, etc. also had their own scandals, and although they were obviously on a smaller scale (since a school tends to be rather smaller in scale than the Catholic church), you had exactly the same problems with those in authority, those who were charged with the welfare of minors, acting in a way that is inexcusable, and others covering up certain activities.

    You even have it in a smaller setting still, the innumerable instances where partners look away, either because they are scared, or because they don't want to acknowledge the truth of what is happening.

    As far as Blair's conversion is concerned, I really don't think that that was a political ploy- being a Catholic does not do you many political favours (nor, indeed, does it disadvantage you, unless you want to become the next British king); on that point I actually think that Blair may well have been genuine in his conversion. I happen to think that Blair's brand of Christianity (by which I mean his belief that he is the chosen one who converses directly with God & carries out his work by overthrowing the evil infidel, rather than the Catholic church as such) is somewhat misguided, but I don't think it is all an act.

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  3. I've been reluctant to come out of the closet when it comes to my atheist tendencies for years. I've been afraid that it will come back to bite me in the ass later (or I will be physically assaulted). The Buddhist in me sees that atheists are a threat to the illusion/lie that is propped up by religious fervor.

    America was supposed to be about religious tolerance; instead it is Europe that owns this?Why is Europe better at being an idealised America than America?

  4. I have a theory that Europe is so tolerant because, unlike the US, we've had religious wars. The Thirty Years War was as destructive as the Black Death, and the end result was that both sides agreed that the war was unwinnable and that both religions (Catholicism and Protestantism) should be tolerated. And, broadly speaking, they have been ever since. It's not that much of a leap to go from tolerating Christian heretics to tolerating heathens.

    The US, on the other hand, was originally settled by Protestants alone (glossing over some minor details), and one of the conditions necessary for toleration - that there be something to tolerate - was lost.

  5. I strongly disagree with whiskeylover suggestions that the Catholic church paedophilia scandals can be compared to paedophilia scandals in schools and other organizations. The huge uproar about the scandals in the Catholic church aren't only about the individual cases, it's about the cover up, and that priests who abused children, with knowledge of their superiors, got reassigned over and over again. That's the difference between the scandals in the Catholic church and scandals elsewhere. A teacher abusing a child would be relieved of his function, and the school would give full cooperation to law enforcement. Unlike the Catholic church which does not cooperate with law enforcement to bring the priests to court.

    How many European Catholic priest are actually behind bars for child abuse?