Category Archives: Religion

Excommunication of Catholic nun

This is latest piece of news throwing the archaic morality of the Catholic church into the spotlight. To summarize, a pregnant woman was discovered to be gravely ill and the doctors decided that if she continued with the pregnancy, both her and her baby would almost certainly die. The patient therefore agreed to an abortion. The problem was that she was too sick to be moved and the hospital she was in was a Catholic one.

After some hesitation, an administrator at the hospital, Sister Margaret McBride, gave her approval for the abortion. The patient was duly saved at the cost of the fetus. But when the bishop heard about it, he declared that the nun was automatically excommunicated. According to the church, this was because it is not permissible to do evil even to bring about good as the end does not justify the means and abortion is unequivocally evil. The official church position is that the correct thing to do would be to allow both the mother and the fetus to die.

What’s even more infuriating about all this is that the patient was only 11 weeks pregnant, so the fetus had absolutely no chance of survival independently of the mother. Predictably, critics have compared this harsh and immediate judgment with the church’s tolerance of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy. It seems that according to the church, an abortion is a mortal sin that cannot be tolerated, regardless of the context and circumstances, while pedophile priests are to be sympathized with and forgiven.

British atheists call for arrest of Pope Benedict XVI

Well, this is a rather dramatic turn of events. The article’s title is a bit of an exaggeration as Richard Dawkins has since clarified that the idea came mainly from Christopher Hitchens and he never actually said that he would personally arrest the Pope, but the basic facts remain the same. Two lawyers, Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens, will try to bring the Pope to justice for his role in covering up child abuse cases involving clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. They will either convince the Crown Prosecution Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope, launch a civil suit of their own or have the case referred to the International Criminal Case.

The case will of course be complicated by the embarrassment that this will bring to the British government and the fact that the Pope is the head of state of the Vatican City, but the current plan is for something to be ready by the time of the Pope’s planned visit to the UK in September later this year. This may end up as being no more than a publicity stunt and the British atheists seem to happy if all that they’ve managed to achieve is to force the Pope to cancel the trip.

Continue reading British atheists call for arrest of Pope Benedict XVI

Islamic prostitution in Iran

I’ve been intrigued by the practice of what is effectively legalized and religiously sanctioned prostitution in Iran since I heard about it a couple of years ago and this article is the most in-depth look at it that I’ve read. It’s technically called temporary marriage but it’s clearly prostitution. The temporary marriage contract lasts for a predefined duration, from a matter of minutes to 99 years and there is an explicit provision for the woman to be compensated by the male in some way, with the precise terms being negotiated between the two parties.

What’s interesting is that like normal marriages, any children conceived under the temporary marriage contract are considered legitimate and may inherit the father’s property, but the woman is not required to obey the man as traditionally required under Islam, except in sexual matters. These actually sound like reasonable rules to protect the woman and provide for a measure of security for any children that might result.

In fact, the whole thing is refreshingly honest and straightforward. The religious authorities acknowledge that the primary purpose of such contracts is pleasure for the men and money for the women. They even insist that it be proudly branded as Islamic so that critics cannot say that Islam is blind to the physical needs of men. They also see it as a useful way for women, particularly widows, to earn money to support children who might otherwise go uncared for.

At the same time, the authorities remain puritanically strict against liaisons between men and women that are not sanctioned under Islam. Once you have the paper contract, issued and approved by the proper religious officials, everything is okay, but without it, the liaison is sinful and will be zealously prosecuted in Iran. It’s a weird disconnect.

Devil is in the Vatican

Or so claims no less a figure than the Chief Exorcist at the Vatican for 25 years. This article is surreal to read. It seems like something drawn from the script of a horror movie but it’s actual testimony from a senior cleric who has worked in the Vatican in an official capacity. How cool is it that the Vatican even has a post called “Chief Exorcist”?

But it is kind of troubling to see someone so high up in the Vatican have such a literal belief in the devil. As one commentator on QT3 asked, this guy apparently has assistants to hold supposedly possessed persons down to perform exorcism rituals on them. Wouldn’t it make more sense in our times to take that person to a doctor specializing in mental illnesses? Is there any third party oversight on what they do at all? It makes one think where the line is between respectable quirks of religion and all out looney tunes territory.

Scientologists in Haiti

This article about scientologists going to Haiti to help save the quake victims cracked me up. It only mentions that the plane was provided by a wealthy private donor but I’ve read elsewhere that it was personally piloted by John Travolta. Anyway, while I understand that they also carried emergency supplies with them and that is certainly a contributed that deserves appreciation, I’m also disgusted that they’re also sending along Scientology ministers who practice “touch” healing and other techniques that are frankly just snake oil.

Of course, there’s no danger of the scientologists trying to recruit in Haiti. They’re only interested in rich people and the Haitians are too poor to afford their expensive auditing procedures. But the intent is clearly to buff up their image and earn credibility for their quack medicine. As such, I think legitimate medical authorities should be readier to denounce bad science whenever they see it.

Allah in Malaysia

I haven’t posted anything on this because I’ve already vented about it on discussion forums and as comments on the blogs of other people. This means this is mostly just a recap of opinions I’ve written elsewhere. Basically I think that both parties are right. The Roman Catholics should have the right to use the “Allah” name for their deity. On the other hand, I think that the Muslims in the country are justified in fearing that this is a move that’s meant to confuse Muslims and to proselytize Christianity to Malays by stealth.

I realize that while there are non-Malay groups who primarily speak the Malay language, particularly in the more remote parts of Sabah and Sarawak, I think it’s also worth pointing out they represent a tiny minority of the population. By far, the vast majority of those who use the Malay language as their mother tongue are Malays and according to Article 160 of the constitution of Malaysia, Malays are Muslim by definition. Generally speaking, it is impossible in Malaysia for Muslims to convert to another religion. At the same time, deliberately conflating two religions to confuse people is an accepted part of the missionary’s playbook. This is for example how Buddhism spread in China, by taking on the names and characteristics of the existing Confucian and Taoist beliefs and appropriating them into itself.

Naturally the Christians in the country don’t claim to want to spread Christianity to Malays but I don’t see how they can reconcile this with their wish to use “Allah” as the name of their deity and the wish to import and distribute Bibles in a language that Malays can easily understand. 15,000 Bibles in the Indonesian language is a pretty impressive number. This is the 500-pound elephant in the room that everyone involved in the debate is shying about from. Of course it is unfair that non-Muslims can convert to Islam but Muslims can’t convert out of it. I can’t see how you can call it religious freedom while such restrictions exist. But this is the accepted reality and challenging this really would tear the country apart, which is why I think that pushing the issue in such a sly way is a really obnoxious move on the part of the Roman Catholics.

As a libertarian I’m all for true freedom of speech and true freedom of religion but unless the Roman Catholics are willing to come out and really state out what they want without avoiding the main issue, and face the inevitable consequences, all of this is just a distracting sideshow.

Swiss ban on minaret construction

As much as I detest militant Islam, I haven’t hesitated to defend the religion itself in the past. Similarly, I have no qualms about condemning the recent blanket ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland. Whatever assurances the government issues, it amounts to religious discrimination plain and simple. What’s even more ridiculous is that as far as I know the existing zoning laws already make it difficult to build tall minarets in urban areas. To me, construction regulations that prohibit the demolition of recognized heritage sites or the construction of overly tall towers that spoil the existing cityscape is reasonable. This is why you can’t build huge skyscrapers in the centre of Paris, for example.

Also reasonable would be moves to restrict the noise generated by places of worship so long as such rules apply equally to all religions. But unsurprisingly, for many Europeans being roused from your sleep on Sunday morning by the tolling of church bells is perfectly okay, but the Muslim call to prayer is deemed as being offensive. To be fair, many Muslim majority countries restrict the activities of other religions as well but this doesn’t give the minaret banning any legitimacy. Framing this as a tit-for-tat bargaining move is not acceptable.

Those who don’t think this is particularly alarming should recall the familiar “First they came…” lines by Martin Niemöller. The far right parties in Europe are targeting Muslims because they’ve realized that this is an unpopular group and they can score easy populist victories off of this cause. But historically the far right parties have no love for many other minority groups as well, including Jews, homosexuals and blacks. As one poster on QT3 put it, they might be only saying, “Let’s get all the Muslims out of Europe now” but they are really thinking, “And the rest of them will follow later.”

The most worrisome thing about this is that the ban came not from a government decision but from a public vote, which makes it an example of one of the limitations of a democracy. The correct response is not that democracy is bad and authoritarian governments are good, but that democracy should be curtailed by a set of inviolable rights for all individuals. Regardless of the source of a government’s legitimacy, no government should have the power to overturn anyone’s basic rights and being able to build whatever places of worship people want is certainly one of those rights.