Sunday, February 7, 2016

Why I am anti-Catholic, in one handy list.

Because I am atheist people sometimes mistakenly assume that I am against people believing in God or I have disdain for people who pray or hope that God will bless them. Last time I spoke with my mother (hi mom!), she started a sentence by saying, “I know you don’t care about this, but I’m praying…” I wanted to interrupt her and explain that it’s not that I don’t care, and in fact the implication is offensive to me. I care very much. And anyways, it’s hard to deny the power of prayer and its healing role in people’s lives. You can be atheist and still respect other people's beliefs.

So the other day I posted this article to my facebook page, entitled, "Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts, study finds." with this post: "This is the result of a system that tells you that it's ok to be an a-hole because you can confess it later, say a few prayers, and pretend it never happened. Oh, and that judging everyone and feeling superior to other people is ok too." And I say this not as a passive outsider but as someone who spent many hours in religion class (known as CCD) and in mass on Sundays. I was, to put it mildly, a religious kid. So while I recognise that my experience is not universal, I'd estimate that it is fairly typical, or at least unremarkable.

A family member of mine seemed to take it personally, commenting, “I don’t think I’m an a-hole. Do you?” You can recognise that a system contributes to the production of assholes without saying “All religious people are assholes.” You really, really can. I think people are confused about why I am so against the Catholic church and they can’t separate the corporation of Catholicism™ with individuals who believe in God or even who think they believe in the Bible (I say think because to be honest most people haven’t actually read the Bible for themselves and just think whatever their priests or religion teachers tell them the Bible says).

So here are just a few of the many reasons why I think Catholicism is bad for people and the world generally. To be honest, it was both boring and infuriating to think about, research, and write. I know this is a hard pill to swallow for people who persevere loving their religion and honestly believing that it's the only way to heaven. Well, if there's a heaven, I sure hope that participating in Catholicism isn't the only way there. And if it is, I'll take the nearest escalator going down.

1. Years and years of global child abuse at the hands of thousands of priests. But it's not even just about the abuse (sexual, physical, emotional). It's about the institutionalised cover-ups that occurred. When people started complaining about priests and their sexual misconduct, do you think the priests were fired and ex-communicated? Hell no. They were sent to other parishes. And guess what kind of places they were sent? Working class areas. Places where people didn't have as much agency and power. Places where people complained less. Everyone knew what was going on. You knew. I knew. The fucking Pope knew. Nothing was ever done. Maybe this kind of thing is why the Church teaches people to 'turn the other cheek.' Either way, thousands of victims' lives were completely ruined and they received no justice, and in many cases no apology. Many of them have committed suicide. The stories are heartbreaking, and no Pope has adequately addressed the issue. I guess I don't understand why Catholics aren't mass protesting about this. They just accept the infallibility of the Vatican. They just keep going to mass and giving tonnes of money to their churches. In my mind that's saying that everything is a-ok and it's just peachy that there was a mass cover up for decades of systematic rape and molestation of children. And if you don't believe in the top-down cover up of the abuse, then you haven't read enough about it.

I recently watched the film Spotlight. When that story broke, I was actually living in Boston and I actually had no idea how many priests and how many victims were involved. The scale, worldwide, is astounding. I honestly don't know how you can comprehend the heartless and systematic cover-up and still walk into a Catholic church, let alone give them a penny of your money.

2. Exercising control over educational systems and curriculum to spread harmful misinformation. Oof - where to begin with this one. Well, I'll start with the situation here in Ireland where in the year 2015 kids who aren't baptised in the Catholic church have a harder time getting into public school. Yep, public school is the one that's supposed to be free and available to all people. A person can be put last on a list to get into a school because they didn't get water poured over their head by some old dude chanting about original sin. The United Nations recently published a report saying Ireland needs to fix its discriminatory policies about their supposedly public education.

But Ireland aside, there are countless children all around the world whose access to education about health and science is being curtailed because of Catholicism's strange denial that things like evolution and sex ed are helpful subjects to know about. The upshot is that kids aren't left ignorant about healthy attitudes towards sex, sexual consent, sexual health, and healthy boundaries. Not to mention all those unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. So much money goes into Catholic-endorsed abstinence-only education, despite the fact that countless studies show it simply perpetuates untruths and harmful myths about how the world and humans work.

2. Symphysiotomy. I never heard about symphysiotomy until I moved to Ireland in 2009. Basically, when a woman was having a difficult childbirth, for various reasons, doctors in Ireland wanted to avoid using Cesarean section because you can only have so many of those. If women needed to limit the number of kids they had for medical reasons, then they'd need to make contraception available. But contraception was illegal and the Catholic church wanted to keep it that way. So instead of giving C-sections, they sawed women's pelvises in half without their knowledge or consent. Women were leaving hospitals in wheelchairs, unable to walk, and having no idea why. Some didn't discover it until years later. And this practice continued until the 1990s. Imagine going into the hospital to give birth and coming out with your pelvis split in two. Can you guess how that went? If you want to have a good cry, check out the website of the Survivors of Symphysiotomy. You might say oh that's the doctors, but no. The doctors were acting as the arms of the church when they mutilated those women.

3. Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes. It's easy to act like certain things that the church have done are ancient history, and aren't they so evolved because the new Pope was in a rock band or whatever. But the victims are still living with their trauma, and many of those that have died from crimes of the church are unnamed and hidden in the ground. There are some redress schemes in the form of pensions, but throwing money at people doesn't turn back the hands of time. Want to read something horrific? How about hundreds of dead babies thrown into a septic tank by nuns who didn't give a shit about them or the women who gave birth to them?

But that's actually just a blip on the institutions that were created for 'errant' women around the world. The last one closed in 1996. I don't know about you, but I was an adult in 1996. Many women were so desperate to escape that they literally died trying to climb their way out. And for what? Their own good, according to the church.

4. Anti-gay and anti-transgender bigotry. The Catholic church is still preaching that homosexuality is wrong and being transgender doesn't exist. People then use these teachings to beat and murder members of the LGBT community. Oh, and don't pretend that the Pope is all cool about the gays. He isn't. Honestly I'm really annoyed at how gullible people are at the Vatican's slick Public Relations techniques. The truth is that this new Pope isn't any different than any other -- he's just basically putting the same messages in different packaging to lull people into feeling as though the Vatican has made progress on social issues. They haven't. And meanwhile, people are suffering because of it. And if you think their attitudes about it have anything to do with the Bible, I hope you don't mind being stoned to death for using the lord's name in vain because that's in there too.

5. Inherent misogyny and sex negativity ingrained not just in Bible stories, but the church hierarchy itself. What's the big deal about women not being able to become priests, bishops, deacons, cardinals, or any other position of power in the church? It's the same big deal when women aren't in positions of leadership everywhere: decisions are made that affect them without their input or consent. Policies are put in place which endanger their lives. For example, as with the aforementioned symphysiotomy. Or birth control. Or abortion. You can't count the number of women around the world who die each year from lack of abortion services. This is to say nothing of the hetero-normative gender roles that the Church promotes, whether through the Bible or otherwise. But, honestly, I hate to even bring up the Bible at all because there is some seriously messed up stuff in there that only a psychopath would be ok with. The Church just picks and chooses which ones it's going to latch onto, and then sometimes 'interprets' the Bible to suit its opinions, when in actual fact that's not really what the Bible says when you study it. Case in point: abortion. Jews tend to have a different take. According to about a thousand years of rabbinical study, the Bible doesn't actually forbid it.

7. Cultural imperialism through missionaries and charity. First off, why can't Christians just let people have their own beliefs and Gods? I know, I know - they think they're saving people's souls. But I actually don't think it's about that. I don't think there's anything altruistic about it, to be honest. I'm no expert on this subject. And sure, they build houses and do charity work, but if it comes with strings attached, then I personally don't view it as charity. If you go back in history to the genesis of missionaries, you'll find that it was more about politics and making loads of money than God anyways. They prey on disadvantaged people with little agency, and have been doing so for thousands of years.

8. Use of wealth to fund causes of inequality and healthcare prevention. Each year, thousands -- actually it may be millions, but I'm too lazy to look it up -- of dollars are spent by Catholics in America to try and curtail the rights of people in places like Ireland. Youth Defence is one group funded in such a way. Life House is another. They spread horrible lies and misinformation about abortion and actively try to keep women from accessing basic health care and human rights.

9. Culture of secrecy and dictatorship. Do I really need to explain this one? Shame and browbeating is what the Church is best known for. Be ashamed of your bodies, your sexualities, conform to gender roles, do what we say, believe in our infallibility, and only tell God your secrets. Fuck. that. shit.

I know there are so many other things I should list. But frankly, I've spent enough time on this.
But really what I want is for people to stop judging me for not accepting that religion is this benign institution. It doesn't exist to send people to heaven. I'm sorry but it just doesn't. It exists to exert control over people's lives. End of story. If you believe in God and it's helpful for you in your life, that's great! I'm happy for you! But I think people need to take a look at the actual good vs. harm being done by Christian religions and ask whether it's worth being part of.

Finally, I entreat everyone to listen to the wonderful and hilarious Julia Sweeney talk about her journey to atheism. She talks about how reading the Bible made her lose her faith, and it's brilliant.