Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.


Your friendly reminder that the Pope is still an awful human being, and that if you were hoping he’d reform the Catholic church and finally make it LGBT friendly, you are a gullible fool taken in by PR hucksters (remember: the Pope has a PR guru, just like every other major league celebrity and politician).

Pope Francis: spanking your children is okay (so long as you aren’t gay, obviously).

Pope Francis has endorsed a rather ghastly anti-gay campaign in Slovakia. His face now fills billboards asking people to vote to an amendment banning same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples and mandatory sex education.

Which is perfectly understandable: he heads a church that is institutionally anti-gay and he has repeatedly acted in opposition to gay rights. Despite all the many predictably craptastic things that Pope Francis has actually done, people will still continue to believe he is a breath of fresh air, a reformer, someone who was going to finally welcome the LGBT community into the church. The huge gap between the reality of the Pope’s actions and the wishful thinking of those who are enamoured with him is spectacular. Cognitive dissonance is a scarily powerful force.

Churches weigh in on mitochondrial replacement

Both the Catholic and Anglican churches are opposing mitochondrial replacement, a promising new development in embryology that could potentially prevent a variety of diseases by transferring the nucleus of the mother’s egg into a donor cell which has healthy mitochondria.

The Catholic Church’s position on this is ludicrous. In order to protect the “life” of poppy-seed sized embryos, it is willing to subject children to extravagant amount of pain and suffering. Why? Here’s their reasoning.

Many people are rightly concerned about the profound implications of Parliament passing regulations under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act to licence the creation of human embryos using the DNA of three people.

Who are these “many people”? And how many of them aren’t middle-aged men in priestly drag? And that “DNA of three people” thing. The mitochondrial DNA from the third donor as a proportion of the total DNA in a human’s genome is absolutely tiny. But we are talking about people who put the rights of poppy-seed sized “babies” on a level of moral equivalence with beings that have actual rights, interests and concerns in the world.

No other country has allowed this procedure and the international scientific community is not convinced that the procedure is safe and effective.

There have been a number of reviews conducted of the proposed treatment which have failed to turn up any evidence that it is unsafe. As actual use in humans is not licensed, and no clinical trials can be conducted (partly because of of the massive ethical problems of doing a double-blind controlled study involving fertilisation), there won’t be a way to know if it is effective unless one actually goes ahead and tries it.

The document from the Catholic Church brings up the fact that the US FDA has not approved this treatment. That might be in part because during the time of President Bush, the government pushed through so many measures to prevent any of this sort of embryological research, guided by the advice of the President’s Council on Bioethics, a body replete with the medical and biological expertise of, oh, Charles Krauthammer, Francis Fukuyama and Robert P. George. Religious nutters take over the bioethical establishment in the US, pushes through an anti-scientific agenda that makes climate for research in these areas toxic, then argues for bans in other countries based on their successful takeover of the regulatory agenda across the Atlantic.

There are also serious ethical objections to this procedure which involves the destruction of human embryos as part of the process.

What “serious ethical objections”? Spell them out, my dear, otherwise they cannot be judged as serious or not. Because frankly the likelihood of the Catholic Church having a serious ethical objection rather than a ludicrously overheated pile of theological garbage is pretty low.

When embryologists start barging into arguments on soteriology and pneumatology, theologians will have the right to barge into arguments about human fertilisation. Given the pitiful track record of ethical interventions from the church in the area of sexual and reproductive ethics—which basically amounts to a noxious mixture of spreading fear-driven bullshit about every other in-vitro fertilisation technology ever proposed combined with their attempt at opposing every extension of rights to LGBT people—I’m not sure why anyone thinks that what they have to say is worth a damn. They have no useful contribution to make to this discussion, just pseudoscience and theologically-driven fear mongering. Their only notable contribution is to the pain and suffering of children born with rare mitochondrial diseases that could potentially be prevented by careful use of scientific innovation.

Guess who the Pope has appointed to the job of policing sexual abuse in the Catholic Church? A priest who helped cover it up.

I’m sure the mainstream media will cover this given how it doesn’t at all contradict the saintly reformer image that Pope Frankie’s spin doctors and PR agents have created.

The best thing about the otherwise pretty horrible Humanum conference: the mainstream media are reporting what should have been fucking obvious—namely, that the Pope isn’t the radical they sold him to be. Told you so.

Elton John seems to think that Pope Francis is Tinker Bell too. The Church was on the edge of saying that we had “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community”. Then they decided that we didn’t.1

Pope Francis is an amazing PR spin machine (in fact, the Vatican has external PR consultants), but his actions are so discordant with the progressive mood music. It is quite sad that Elton John can’t see through the spin and see that Francis doesn’t represent meaningful progressive change at all.

  1. Because fuck Michelangelo and his fucking Sistine Chapel—and fuck John Henry Newman too. Neither of those two men gave any “gifts” to the ungrateful Church.

Exorcism is coming back.

Remember: Pope Francis is a nice, liberal reformist. He’s reforming the Church back to the middle ages.

When the teenager being exorcised of his gay demons looks up at the priests looming over him performing their voodoo psychodrama, he can think “good thing we have a nice liberal reformist pope making everything better!”

Pope Tinker Bell turns out to be against feminism

Pope Francis thinks things about feminism.

What I would like to add is that feminism, as a unique philosophy, does not do any favors to those that it claims to represent, for it puts women on the level of a vindictive battle, and a woman is much more than that. The feminist campaign of the ’20s achieved what it wanted and it is over, but a constant feminist philosophy does not give women the dignity that they deserve. As a caricature, I would say that it runs the risk of becoming chauvinism with skirts.

Funny, because I thought feminism did things like fight for more equal access to jobs and education, and to help victims of rape and domestic violence and give people sexual autonomy to sleep with whoever they want to and plenty of other awesome nice things.

This is the guy everyone thinks is a progressive. He opposes abortion, opposes gay marriage, thinks feminism “does not give women the dignity they deserve”… but to the true believers in Tinker Bell, nothing as boring as evidence will change their mind. This is religion after all.

Tinker Bell II: Francis appoints an anti-gay bigot edition

Cardinal Fernando Sebastián has lots of nice things to say about gay people, like: “Homosexuality is a defective manner of expressing sexuality, because [sex] has a structure and a purpose, which is procreation. A homosexual who can’t achieve this is failing. Our bodies have many defects. I have high blood pressure.” Sebastián also said it is “possible to recover and become normal with the right treatment”.

The idea that homosexuality is treatable is a view that every mainstream psychological organisation rejects as being both scientifically inaccurate and harmful.

The Cardinal has been appointed by Pope Francis, a man who—if you believe his press—is a hippy-dippy queer-loving atheist-respecting reformer. As I’ve said before: Tinker Bell only exists if you continue to believe in her. Idiots seem willing to continue believing that Francis is a progressive in spite of the ghastly things he seems to be doing.

How gay adoption caused the Catholic Church to lose their shit completely and become utilitarians

I’ve noticed an interesting inconsistency recently over public moral reasoning over anti-discrimination laws. Every so often, religious groups will flare up over the requirement to not discriminate against gay and lesbian people. Under the previous government, Catholic adoption agencies decided to shut after they were not exempted from laws forbidding discrimination by adoption services towards same-sex couples seeking to adopt.

There have been incidents since with hoteliers and cake manufacturers and dating websites and so on, but let’s stick with the adoption agency for now.

When faced with a law that would require adoption services to not discriminate against same-sex couples, the Catholic Church seeked exemption on the basis that greater good would be provided to society by Catholic adoption services continuing even if they engaged in discrimination against same-sex couples. That is, the harm of discrimination against the same-sex couples is outweighed by the benefit of helping opposite-sex couples adopt.

What’s interesting about this is the moral theory behind it is purely utilitarian. If the government were to have granted an exception to the Church, the happiness of society would have increased: the closure of the adoption services would have reduced the societal good done by ensuring that children are adopted (albeit only by heterosexuals) and this is not outweighed by the good of reducing discrimination in society.

Despite my antipathy to religion and to the Catholic Church, as a good utilitarian, I ought to give that argument some consideration. (Of course, I wonder whether we would give similar credence to the Mormons before 1978 wishing to have an exemption from laws forbidding racial discrimination. Because, lest we forget, the Mormons only started believing black people were actually people in 1978.)

What I think about the merits of the utilitarian case that the Church made is irrelevant though. The astounding thing about it is that the Church—in order to protect their desire to discriminate against gay people—were willing to advance such a utilitarian argument.

The Church and utilitarianism do not go together. On topics like embryonic stem cell research, abortion and euthanasia, the Church loudly objects to utilitarian moral arguments. Indeed, utilitarianism is frequently decried by Catholics as one of the causes of a ghastly society like ours where the unborn are routinely aborted and the elderly forcibly euthanised etc. etc.1

Another point here: the Church is dedicated to the doctrine of double effect. The doctrine of double effect is used as a justification when some harm is done but with a noble end in mind. The theory goes that the harm is not intended even though it is perceived as an inevitable consequence of the action. Double effect reasoning is used most notably in end-of-life care. When you have someone at the end of their life, a doctor cannot euthanise that person, but they can prescribe them very strong pain reduction drugs that have as an inevitable side effect the shortening of their life. The doctrine of double effect says that so long as the intention is to reduce pain, the secondary consequence is acceptable.

But the Church seems unable to accept that governments might also avail themselves of the double effect principle. In passing equality legislation, the government’s action is morally good: it intends to reduce discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation etc.—which even the Catholic Church deems to be morally good (§2358 of the Catetchism says that with regards to gay people “Every sign of unjust discrimination should be avoided”). The secondary effect of passing the legislation is that organisations that do good work but which engage in discrimination (like Catholic adoption agencies that do not serve clients that are in a same-sex relationship) may face legal issues and/or choose to stop operating—that is foreseen but not intended. It seems strange that the Church would prefer to apply a utilitarian rule to the affairs of their adoption agencies than accept that their closure is an unfortunate secondary effect of an intended moral good.

When the Church—indeed the current Pope—says that they “love the sinner, hate the sin” when it comes to homosexuality, and point to §2358 of the Catechism and its call to accept gay peple with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity”,2 consider the case of the adoption services. The Church was willing to throw a fundamental piece of their moral theology—their non-utilitarianism—under the metaphorical bus to continue discriminating against gay people. As we saw with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, when one is in a war, one is sometimes willing to throw away one’s stated—even sacred, axiomatic or foundational—moral principles. Despite the Catechism and the Pope’s call to the contrary, this is what we saw: the Catholic Church in Britain was so enraged by the demand that they obey the same anti-discrimination laws as the rest of society that they were willing to throw away one of their moral principles in the fight.

The horrifying spectre of Heather having two mummies managed to turn the Church into utilitarians. This should tell you how much stock the Church places in the Catechism’s call to avoiding unjust discrimination against gay people. Remember that next time Pope Francis mouths some widely-reported, pious PR horseshit about how the Church really loves gay people.

  1. This, of course, ignores that these days raw Benthamite utilitarianism has been tempered into a preference utilitarianism of someone like Peter Singer, where the forcible euthanasia of an unwilling patient would go directly against their stated preferences and thus be immoral and rightly criminal. Of course, dealing with this kind of modified utilitarianism would require application of both the Principle of Charity and some understanding of the complexities and varieties of utilitarian thought.

  2. Although how much “compassion” is shown in saying when they describe gay sex as “intrinsically disordered” is an exercise left for the reader.

Parsing the Pope's new remarks on gays

The Pope said something nice about gays, and Twitter is aflame with excitement.

Here’s what Frankie-boy had to say (excerpted from the above article):

If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well

The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.

Let me translate Pope-speak into plain language.

Nothing has changed. The catechism, which I said “explains this very well”, still says this:

Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

But that’s kind of mean and I sort of realise I’m on the wrong side of history on this argument. So I’d like to be seen as less of a dick. I’m emphasising the very next passage of the Catechism (gays “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity”) and pretending that something has changed, even though in terms of the actual policy of the Church, it hasn’t.

I’m pretending it is about my judgment rather than about the actions of the Church in supporting political structures that discriminate against gay people. We’ll tolerate you poofters so long as you don’t actually do anything to make your lives better by lobbying for political change.

(Also, Freemasons! Be afraid!)

For some reason, people are cheering this, even though nothing substantive has actually changed. By their fruits you shall know them. If the Pope starts actually rewriting the Catechism or puts out a statement ex cathedra, perhaps then it is time to start paying attention. This is just feel-good PR fluff and people are lapping it up.

Catholicism and copyright

One of the most amusing things about Scientology–beyond the fact that it was started by a science fiction author who frequently misrepresented his own biography–is the fact that the scriptures of the church are copyright and some are kept very secret. The business model is simple: you have to pay to read more. In fact, they’ve even said that if you haven’t had the preparation to read the advanced scriptures, your head will explode.

This is all good fun, right? The Bible isn’t copyright. The Qu’ran isn’t copyright. If you want to publish your own version of a huge range of religious texts, you can. Pop over to Wikisource and you can read copyright-free editions of the Bible, prayers, the Apocrypha and the Tao Te Ching among many thousands of other religious texts (and why not some atheist/humanist manifestos too?). This enables scholarship: theologians, historians and others can make their own commentaries building atop these scriptures. Critical scholarship of the sort Biblical commentators do is helped by not having the threat of a lawsuit hanging over one if one quotes a bit too much from the text.

What makes the Scientology situation so egregious is that no independent theological, philosophical or critical reflection can happen when the text is locked away. There seems to me to be a conflict here. If you believe you have access to a truth that has the ability to save people in the afterlife or to dramatically make their life better in this one, you have some kind of duty to share it. Or rather, if you are keeping your religious truths to yourself and not sharing them, people have very good reason to believe you might be a huckster. If the Four Freedoms of the sort the copyleft and Free Software movement believe in should apply to any work of human culture, religious works would be a prime example of exactly what it should apply to.

The fact that Scientology fails so dramatically to adhere to that is cause for concern and criticism.

But I found out today that Scientology is not alone in locking up their teachings behind the wall of copyright. The Catholic Church does too. All of the copyright in the papal writings of Pope Benedict XVI now belong to the Vatican publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

The writings of the Pope will not go out of copyright until 70 years after his death. The earliest the Pope’s writings will come out of copyright is 2081 (if he dies this year).

What benefit is this to anyone? Did the lack of copyright protection for writings of Popes before the current copyright regime prevent the spread of Catholicism? If everything the Pope wrote was in public domain, would it prevent the development of the “useful Arts and Sciences”, as the U.S. Constitution puts it? The motivation of the Pope is really not the same as the motivation of the Walt Disney company. Without copyright protection, the Church will not fall to bits.

Indeed, one interesting question is what the copyright status of the Catholic Catechism is. This is the basic doctrine of the Catholic faith. I would presume it is copyright in much the same way. If we criticise Scientology for locking it’s scriptures up behind copyright, surely the same could be said for the Catechism?

For a body like the Catholic Church, it would seem totally reasonable and straight-forward to simply release all their materials completely as public domain.

I'm just listening to a Premier Christian Radio debate between Andrew Copson of the BHA and a Catholic apologist called Peter D. Williams: said apologist has decided to drag the debate into a 20 minute harangue on the objectivity and transcendence of morality. Said apologist used a little philosophical learning like, as the proverb says, a drunkard uses a lamppost - for support rather than illumination. Really, where do people like this learn their ethics? I dread to think, or rather the apologist seems to.

Said apologist was successful: he managed to throw out so many red herrings so that very little time could be spent on the child abuse scandals. You just got the pompous Catholic Englishman's version of being Gish galloped, Andrew!

Pope Vows To Get Church Pedophilia Down To Acceptable Levels. Wow. The Onion is so perfect sometimes it scares me. The Church really is beyond satire at this point.

Laurie Taylor has a damning, personal account of the never-ending tidal wave of revelations about Catholic child sex abuse.

Lessons in respect from the Archbishop: attack secularists, then make up lame excuses for child rape

The Archbishop of Westminster stated, in an appeal for reasoned and respectful dialogue that secularists just as dogmatic as the worst religious believer. Start as you mean to go on, and all that. He then goes on to decry sound-bites, which is pretty rich coming from one of the chief sources of idiotic sound-bites about "public life" and "the public square" - deliberately vague words used by the religious lobby to keep their feet under the table. Secularists like myself oppose religious privilege - unearned special rights given to people just because they are religious. Like, I don't know, special programmes on the radio about religion that are listened to by a tiny fraction of the population (the Daily Telegraph poll from a few years ago showed that only 7.5% of people attend a weekly religious ceremony), schools run on sectarian lines, bishops qua bishops given the right to sit in the House of Lords, the constant demand that religious people be able to exempt themselves from rules the rest of us have to abide by - to turn their noses up at any particular law or term of their employment that offends their delicate sensibilities.

If the Archbishop does want to have a reasoned dialogue - hell, I'm all for that - perhaps he could start by listening to what secularists are actually campaigning for rather than the straw man he has built up. We campaign against religious privilege. That is, certain rights religious people and groups get just because they are religious. Let's take the bishops in the House of Lords. The apology given for these is that they bring a "spiritual and moral perspective" to the business of the House of Lords. The justification is always consequentialist in nature. But the objection isn't about whether or not the bishops have a positive or negative role. It's not about the bishops themselves - many of whom are probably nice liberal Anglicans who ceteris paribus would be perfectly good people to have in the legislature. Whatever someone like Rowan Williams believes about religion, I'd rather have him writing laws than Nadine "Mad Nad" Dorries MP. But we're talking about principles and process not consequences. The fact is that the Lords Spiritual are there only because they are bishops. The justification works just as well for many other groups. Why not have the directors of Oxfam sit in the House of Lords? Or representatives of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? The reason is simple: religious privilege. The only people who defend religious privilege are those who benefit from it. The excuses given should sound self-serving and hollow, because they are self-serving hollow.

Secularists qua secularism don't oppose religion having a role in public life or the public square or whatever. You already have a role. People can choose to attend church and believe in religion. Religious people can vote. Religious groups can make their viewpoints heard like anyone else. And people can be free to disagree with them. Churches can provide charitable services. They can respond to public inquiries. They can publish their ideas in the press. But what is intolerable is for churches and religious groups to seek special favour from the State. That is what secularists oppose. Now, many secularists are also atheists, and many atheists hold stronger personal beliefs about religion - some even think that all religion is harmful and humanity would be better off without it. I agree to a limited extent with this view - I agree with the conclusion that if religion were to suddenly stop tomorrow, there would be a net gain, although I don't think that something being religious automatically makes it tainted as some of my more radical atheist brothers and sisters seem to. There's a really goofy argument put forward in this vein though: just because I think the world would be better without religion, I automatically believe that a world where religion never existed would be great. Various people feel the need to assert the idea that this is a secularist belief. It's not. It's a totally potty belief that relies on one enormous counterfactual that we could never really unpick (it's also a complete failure of the principle of charity, but that's unfortunately common). Saying that the world would be better if religion were to end doesn't mean that if that unrealistic dream were realised, religion wouldn't be part of history. I'm glad that the Roman civilisation no longer exists - there are far fewer incidents of people being forced to take part in mortal, gladitorial combat or being fed to lions. Saying that doesn't mean I would enjoy the counterfactual of all of the good things about Roman civilisation disappearing. We can't erase history, good or bad.

Nichols also stated that he wants believers and non-believers to work together for the greater good. We do. We do this already by having a secular political system - where religious differences are put to one side to try and build a better society. It's why we atheists, Catholics, Buddhists and anyone else who cares about some particular issue can work together.

Nichols then goes on to make some really lame excuses for the Catholic Church's covering up of child abuse in Ireland. On the "secularists are just as bad!" theme, I have a challenge for the religious: show me an equivalent. Go on. Dig up some Humanist equivalent of Crimen solicitationis. Show me all those child abuse victims that have been secretly paid off by the National Secular Society. Is the International Humanist and Ethical Union shielding child molesters? I mean, you can't be moral without religion, right? Dig out those secularist paedophiles and child rapists. Go on. I'll wait.

One day religious leaders will actually be sincere in their desire for "dialogue" by not misrepresenting their opponents. Or at least, I have a possibly naive wish that they might.