Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pat Condell's Curse: Part I

Pat Condell is (sort of) an atheist. I don't know Pat from anything other than his videos on Youtube, which I enjoy very much, for many reasons. He is clearly a thinking man who has done quite a lot of work in his head on the meaning of religion, based on what he has observed. He has come to some conclusions, many of which are, if not correct, at least understandable, given the information he likely started with and the times we live in. He also displays the kind of cheerful belligerence with which I can identify, when faced with the more glaring stupidities and hypocrisies of our times.

Pat Condell is interesting because he used to be a Catholic and now expounds very clearly and forcefully the typical beliefs about religious matters that many people hold in our times. Pat's atheism is not of the pure sort and this, I believe, is because he has a measure of intellectual honesty and logical coherence that other public atheists, Dr. Dawkins primary among, have failed to show.

Pat, (and Dr. Dawkins) might be very surprised to learn that very often, his brand of semi-atheism is also held by the clergy at our parishes, and is clearly the guiding creed of most of the religious orders of our times. The bishops, priests, religious and most of the laity hold these opinions and have yet to be widely corrected. They are also a great deal more zealous and evangelical about their beliefs than is Pat, an irony that will be explored more fully below. This is why I would prefer to spend an hour in Pat's company than with any of his co-religionists in my own Church.

This is why I watch him, and why I think Pat's ideas about religion are worth discussing and examining. First, he has a certain amount of intellectual rigor and second, his ideas are extraordinarily widespread and have become the commonly held beliefs of the great majority of Catholics in the west.

In the video below, for example, he expounds the idea that "spirituality" and "religion" are two different, separate and opposed things with the former being good and nice and warm and fuzzy, and the latter being wicked and destructive to freedom.

Standard late post-modern boilerplate.

So common, in fact, that even most Catholics believe it. In a letter to me before she died, my mother wrote that although she did not consider herself "religious" she believed she was a "spiritual" person.

I will address this idea at length below, but for now, suffice to say that I am using Pat's video as a kind of template for what most post-Christian westerners think about religion, why it is actually a distortion of real religion (that is, Catholicism) and suggesting some reasons why these ideas might have come about.

For those who have never come across anything like this before, it is called apologetics.

I'll start with a caveat: I'm not very good at this stuff. But I've read a bit of stuff by people who are and I enjoy the exercise of the intellect in the defence of something True and Good and Real so much, I thought it would be fun to put down a few ideas here, open things up to some discussion and see if we can't come up with something useful. Maybe it will give me an excuse to look some stuff up that I haven't looked up in a long time.

Apologetics is something that the Church, in its recent state of self-imposed dhimmitude since Vatican II, has declared Bad. We are not to do apologetics nowadays, favouring instead "dialogue". Anyone who has taken the trouble to read me for more than five minutes will know what I think of this. But by way of explanation, it is clear that Pat thinks what he thinks about Catholicism in particular and religion in general, because he is of an age when, in his youth, apologetics was not taught and catechetics was complacent and half-hearted and dumbed down to the minimum. It clearly failed even to admit of what were rapidly becoming the most common modernist objections to the basic notions of the Faith.

Catechists, teachers and priests, like the young charismatic nitwit of my acquaintance I mentioned the other day, normally addressed serious questions from students like Pat with some variation on "Ya just gotta beleeeeeeve", (or a smack) and did not deign to answer. (This, I believe, is why the religious orders collapsed like soap bubbles at the slightest touch of modernism, but that's a rant for a different day.) Obviously it is the reason these people, entrusted with effectively handing on the Faith, failed to do so. They didn't know the answers to the questions themselves.

I remember the kind of scenario well: "But Sister Pauline, how can we know that Jesus rose from the dead? After all, it happened so long ago."

"It says so in the Bible, Hilary."

"Well, yes, Sister, but how do we know the Bible is right?"

"Go to the principal's office, Hilary."

Is it any wonder that Pat came away thinking that if these people, who were The Catholic Authorities, refused to answer such simple, honest and obvious questions, that there were no answers and their religion was rubbish.

Add to that the whispering of the marxists and the proto-marxist secularists of the 19th century that it was all really about power and oppression, and the case was closed.

I am guessing this was probably what happened to Pat because it is the conclusion I came to at thirteen after three years in a Catholic parochial school in Victoria BC under Bishop Remi. My response was typical and I am not sure there are enough Catholics in that town now to fill a phone booth.

Despite the work of people like C. S. Lewis and Frank Sheed, very few Catholics were taught how to answer these accusations. It seems absurd now, because these are the same accusations that have been pointed at Christianity since 1 AD. We have answers to them, most of them devised and promoted by people who are still regarded as the greatest minds in the history of western culture. Some of the answers do not even require a Christian response. Some of them can be answered with work done long before the birth of Christ, (See notes on L. P. of Non C, below) to develop the rules governing rational thought. A bunch of the answers were developed while the Apostles were still stomping around Asia Minor and have been written down in the Big Book. Christ Himself gave us a bunch of it. So, there should be no excuse for a guy like Pat Condell going over to the Dark Side.

But Pat is interesting because he is clearly a man who does not want to leave religion alone. He has thought about it, and even made something of a living out of his thoughts. He is lucky in this because there are enough people in the world whose ideas are exactly the same as his to fill the seats in comedy clubs, but not enough who can articulate them. He has made a living preaching to the choir. But I think the necessity of making a living out of mocking religion was actually a useful thing for him, because it forced him to put the thoughts together coherently and clearly. This puts him head and shoulders above the great majority of people who hold them without realizing they hold them.

Why me? Well, because it popped into my mind as a fun thing to do, for starters. But also because I'm qualified. Not because of what I know, but because of what I believe. I'm the first to admit (well, OK, it took me a long time to admit it, and my friends had already figured it out) that I'm a lousy Catholic. I don't pray very much and I like the intellectual thing more than the spiritual thing. Plus, I'm kind of a bully, and, as it says at the top of the sidebar, I'm really not at all sorry about it.

But I'm the kind of Catholic that Pat would probably not like. I am unusual in being a Traditionalist Catholic who wants the Catholic confessional state to replace whatever weird diseased thing we've got now. I think that the state should have the right to capital punishment. I think that abortion should be a capital crime. I think that homosexuals are mentally ill and their activities should be suppressed by law. (More sharing, sorry.)

I'm not, in other words, your normal warm, fuzzy, friendly JPII-we-luv-yoo kind of happy-clappy Catholic. I'm not politically correct and I'm pretty belligerent about it. In fact, I think I may be a match for Pat's belligerent quasi-atheism. I think Pat and I have a lot in common. We both refuse to be dhimmis and despise the current anti-intellectual, dishonest atmosphere where people cannot safely say what they honestly think. Where they are so afraid of being called a fascist or a racist or a "BNP supporter" they will cower in shame at their own honestly held opinions...opinions, moreover, that are actually held by nearly everyone.

As for not knowing enough stuff, I figure that's why God gave us libraries and later, Google. We can look stuff up. It's what I did when I was 17 and decided that I needed to find out what the real answers were to the religious questions. That questioning led me right back into the Faith. But I've become terribly slack lately, and have let a lot of this stuff to go dormant in my mind. Well, here's a chance. We can maybe look stuff up together and see if we find anything interesting and new and shake up our brains a bit from their snooze.

I read a thing in the Telegraph a while ago where some BBC atheist had asked the religious leaders of our country to try to convince him that there is a God, and that He is the kind of God they say He is. It seemed to me like an honest question, devoid of the usualy BBC/Guardian sneer. (What was his name? Ooo this is going to bug me...he's a journalist and it was all over the papers...can't remember...dang...it'll come to me in a minute). I read some of the nonsense given in response to his challenge from Cardinal Cormac, the Archdruid, a "moderate" imam, and the leader of some Jewish group: "Ya jus' gotta beleeeeeve, man".

Anyway, this journalist is a typical post-Christian atheist and talked exactly like Dr. Dawkins, Pat, Douglas Adams and Stephen Fry: as if they simply had never in their lives been confronted with intellectually rigorous and coherent answers to their questions. As if they are just fed up with the pathetic wishy-washy new age bathwater being spewed from the religious mouths these days. Well, so am I. If this is all they've heard of religion, then honestly, I think they've come to precisely the right conclusion.

Dawkins said something a while ago in response to some droolingly stupid thing Cardinal Bubbles had said at Westminster: "There's absolutely no reason to take seriously someone who says, 'I believe it because I believe it.' God either exists or he doesn't. It's a matter of the truth."


Let's start by listening to what Pat says about his religious beliefs.

First of all, can I just say, to all the people who keep writing to tell me that I'm wrong when I say that Christians are born in debt to Jesus. Don't I realise that that debt has already been repaid by Jesus? Well, yes of course. But only in the same way that a finance company will pay off all your current debts but then you have to pay back the finance company or there's going to be trouble. Similarly if you decide to welsh on the debt that you owe Jesus, the one that He paid with is precious blood, well, then you're going to be in big trouble my friend, in fact, "big" is probably too small a word to describe the kind of trouble you're going to find yourself in if you reject Him as your saviour because you're going to fry for eternity. And eternity is not to be trifled with because it's forever. and we know this because they measured eternity and it came up exactly forever. And that's what's in store for you: eternal unimaginable suffering. And Jesus isn't going to do a damn thing about it. Why? because He doesn't give a s___. That's how much He loves you. I think after 2000 years, if anything, He owes us another crucifixion. You can't live on past glories forever...

Anyway, because of this, today I'd like to say a few words about faith, which I think has the potential to enslave us all by stealth. Because I think faith is a very dangerous and misleading word. It contains two completely separate entities which have got nothing at all to do with each other. One is good and one is evil. One's called 'spirituality' and the other is called 'religion'. One is a private experience; the other is a public nuisance. One leads to self-knowledge; the other to self-indulgence at everyone else's expense. In one there is no compulsion, whereas the other depends on compulsion for survival. One is grounded in innocence, the other in guilt. One embraces life; the other worships death. It's hard to imagine how these two things could be any more different. Yet for some reason they are always sold to us together, in a single package under the banner of 'faith'. You take one, you've got to take the other. A bit like a petshop giving away a free rattle snake with every bunny rabbit.

Now, I'm not saying there isn't more to this life than meets the eye, because there obviously is. Science has already shown us that. In the subatomic world it turns out that nothing is actually solid, if you can understand that. And some particles are so unpredictable we're not even sure if they exist or not. They seem to be there and not be there at the same time. A bit like western democracy, or is that just me? But at any rate, it's clear that we are part of a reality that we don't fully understand. And if there's a life force in this universe, and let's face it there must be, otherwise there wouldn't be any life, it's natural that we would want to make some connection with it, because everybody wants to feel more alive, right? But there's no evidence that it requires worshiping or any form of subservient behavior. Or that we are in any way central to its agenda or even relevant to it, any more than any other organism on the planet, or in the universe, this universe, or any other. So in that sense, I think we really need to get over ourselves big time.

Also, we need to stop pretending that all the man-made trappings of faith, the ornamental accessories, if you like, are really anything more than just that. I'm talking about scripture, dogma, ritual, prophecy, religious law, all these things that have been put there to give religion some kind of structure. And to be fair, that's why they're there, isn't it. It's a bit like dressing the invisible man; once he's got some clothes, you can see him. But of course, you don't see him; you see the clothes. And that's the problem. Everyone's become so obsessed with the goddamm clothes, we've forgotten if there was ever anyone there in the first place.

If you're a spiritual person, you don't need religion, and you know it. And you're certainly not interested in forcing your beliefs onto anybody else. If you're not a spiritual person, then what the bloody hell are you doing on your knees praying like an idiot, like some dog that's been taught how to do something without understanding why. Get up and stop making a fool of yourself. Because your faith is not a virtue; its a vice. It's a slave to dogma, to scriptural certainties which are, nevertheless, open to self-interested interpretation by men. Now I'm sure even you can see the obvious flaw in that little arrangement.

Also, faith in its Alice in Wonderland way, defines and measures itself according to lack of evidence. The less evidence there is, the more faith is required and the more worthy it is of respect and deference, for some reason, not to mention large amounts of public money generous tax breaks and the freedom to fill the minds of innocent young children with violent superstitions and baseless fears. And this to me really is the curse of faith. And it's something that shames us all from generation to generation. It's the cowardly way that we allow religion to be forced onto children, in a clear violation of their human rights. Hypnotising them almost at birth. Highjacking their lives and turning them into little Christians, little Muslims, little Jews before they have a chance to undestand the first thing that's involved.

Oh, we live in such civilized times in the 21st century, don't we? Human rights they're everything to us; we fall over ourselves to give compensation to every cheap-chancer, every lowlife criminal scumbag whose precious feelings have been hurt, but we don't give a damn about the rights of children having their minds molded and having them stunted by others before they've had a chance to fully form. Like deadheading flowers before they've bloomed. It's a crime against humanity is what it is, and one day, it will be against the law.


Anonymous said...

Interesting little speech he's on about, eh? He makes six points by my reckoning:

1. God as smiter of unbelievers.

2. Spirituality being warm-n-fuzzy vs. imposed dogmas of rigid faith.

3. Vague acknowlegement of something approaching Deism whilst at the same time telling us to "get over ourselves."

4. Most of religious ritual being man-made fakery.

5. God as your invisible friend---no evidence at all of the existence of God.

6. Passing on religion to children being the equivalent of child abuse.

These are all very current arguments. I've heard just about every one of those arguments posted by nouveau atheists in the "Religion and Spirituality" forum of the iThink application on Facebook. It is starting to get repetitive, actually. Hop on over there, if you want more of this sort of thing.

Where to start the counter-arguments: Here's my $0.02:

1. God as smiter of unbelievers. This is not how the Bible _primarily_ portrays him. Both Judaism (in the OT) and Christianity (in the NT) posit a God who woos unbelievers away from falling off a cliff into hell rather than a vengeful deity seeking to toss as many as possible over the edge.

cf. the entire book of Hosea with the image of a faithful loving husband putting up with a cheating wife and always taking her back, etc.

3. Dogmas. Rules are OK for coin collecting clubs, why not for religions. You are always free to leave, no one is barring the door. Spirituality: St. Teresa of Avila, for example, was pretty far along that path whilst remaining within the "rigid dogmatic" structure of the Church. Proof that the two need not be exclusive.

4. Rituals (clothing, wording of prayers, format of liturgy, etc.) being man-made. Again, so what if it is? Freemasonry is 100% man-made and I don't see him getting riled up about that.

5. Existence of God: cf. Thomas Aquinas et al.

6. Passing on religion to children. If you define religion as worldview and way of life, then it is functionally impossible *NOT* to pass this on to your children any more than you can avoid passing on your language to them. It is an absurd proposal.

hyoomik said...

some contras:

Mama bears in the wild smack the buttocks of little bears when they do something they should not do. Mammals raise their children. A fortiori, we as rational mammals should raise our children, all the more since our children don't have the instincts necessary to survive. Rather have rational mammals who raise their children in some mistaken way than rational animals who have no more concern than reptiles for the offspring.

The above applies to the comment that baby human beings have a right not to be brought up, that from the beginning they should make up their minds about all questions without interference. To mention "human rights" is sort of deus ex machina. Before the ten commandments were given, human rights were not written in stone.

As far as "spirituality" goes. There are all sorts of spirits. And some like the "Zeitgeist" and the grand constructions of Hegel. Saint John of the Cross could tell us what to think about spirits whispering in one's brain. Spirituality of a most dangerous thing, and organized religious practice has perhaps the primary purpose of curbing the irrational excesses of spirituality.

As far as a confessional state. The King of Nineveh, having heard of Jonah's message, proclaimed a fast. And he was not even a Catholic, nor a Jew, but saw that the buck stopped with him.

While private spirituality may be based on private experiences (pictures you see in clouds perhaps) the communal aspect of religion is based on shared experiences. For the Jews, going through a lot of miraculous stuff while leaving Egypt. For Catholics, having about 500 witnesses to the death and resurrection, who were sure enough to die rather than deny (Aquinas). For us more recently, the very public miracles at Fatima, seen also by many atheists, the very public miracles at Lourdes. It is not all apparitions on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Anonymous said...

I have to tell you that I just found your blog, and love it.

This is an excellent, EXCELLENT entry. You've put into words a lot of things that were bothering me but that I couldn't really put my finger on. You hit it bang-on.

I actually wrote an entry about Pat Condell on my blog awhile back, and the main gist was that he wants a secular culture, but that secularism was what paved the way for the Islamization of his country that he protests against. You delved into that little further, and explored what likely caused Condell to feel the way he does.

God bless!