Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dawkins and the Pope

When I first heard the story about Richard Dawkins trying to put the Pope under Citizen's arrest, I groaned.

Professor Dawkins is a hero of mine. I read his book 'The Selfish Gene' in my early teens. He has a gift as a science writer of explaining things so clearly that the reader feels like a genius.

I cheered when I saw the title of his book, 'The God Delusion'. At last someone has had the courage to say it out loud. I myself would be too scared and superstitious. I remember the bits of the Inferno where the atheists are entombed in burning lead coffins for all time.

No close family of mine are religious, and the attempts to indoctrinate me at school washed straight over my head.

And yet the vision of eternal damnation, so woven through our culture and literature, still haunts me to the point where I'd find it difficult to speak out against Christianity.

Dawkins is a brave man. Everything I've heard him say seems reasonable to me, and I agree with all of it. The remarkable thing about him is that he has the moral, spiritual, intellectual and physical courage to say it to the world.

But trying to arrest the Pope looks like a publicity stunt. And most people who have heard of Dawkins think of him as an atheist fanatic and bigot. Maybe he is. I don't think so, but I'm biased by agreeing with him, and I may be a bigot myself. How does one tell?

So it was with some relief that I read that he's not behind the idea, although he has said that he supports it. (see here)

But what about the idea itself? Not long ago the Scout Movement, which on the whole is a terrific force for good in the lives of young boys, was the centre of a storm of paedophilia accusations.

I was a cub scout myself. I don't believe that scouting is intrinsically evil.

Maybe the problem is just that if you put men in authority over boys it leads to abuse. Abuse is, of course, a euphemism. What is meant, I imagine, is the rape, torture and intimidation of children.

I've always counted myself very lucky that my desires focus on adult females of my own species. Between the ages of about thirteen and thirty my sex drive was overwhelming. I could literally think about nothing else most of the time, and I would have done almost anything to get laid.

What sort of hellish temptation would it be if your desires focused on young boys, over whom you were given the sort of authority that a scoutmaster used to have?

How much worse would it be if you'd been given the sort of absolute moral authority of a priest?

We can make some comparisons between scouting and catholicism:

One of the overriding considerations of the Catholic heirarchy seems to have been to protect the reputation of the Church.

So consider how you'd react if the Scout Movement, once it was aware of the cases of sexual abuse within it, had, on a widespread, coordinated, worldwide basis:

  • Refused to contact the police.
  • Sworn victims to secrecy.
  • Moved scoutmasters they knew were guilty to other scout troops where no-one knew what they had done.

And all 'to protect the reputation of the Scout Movement'.

I'd want someone hung. If this was official policy, written down in documents and propagated world wide, then someone must have been responsible for it. There's no question that it would be illegal, surely?

I happen to think that the Pope is innocent. Three different incidents have been suggested as being evidence that the Pope himself was directly guilty of this sort of cover up.

In all three cases, the Vatican has produced plausible innocent reasons for why what was done was done.

But then they would, wouldn't they?

There's enough evidence to charge him, and have the matter properly examined in court. Why on earth would we not do this?

What amazes me is that the initiative comes from atheists. For us, this scandal is a stick with which to embarrass the church and destroy its credibility. I doubt that atheists find the actual offenses more horrifying than anyone else. Humanists don't claim a monopoly on humanity.

After all, it wasn't the atheists bringing legal proceedings against scoutmasters and care home staff, was it?

But what about the obvious initiators of proceedings? Why is this not being done by the victims themselves? Where is the State? Why is the Catholic Church itself not eager to open its archives and let the people of the world see what it has been doing? Why would they not want to prove their innocence? If they're guilty, why would the innocent parts of the church not welcome the help of the police in cleaning their house?

How did scouting react under the same pressure?

And what on earth made the church behave in the way it did and is doing?

Is the difference belief itself?

I find it hard to understand the religious mindset, let alone the catholic one.

But as I understand it, only the Catholic Church can save souls, and an unsaved soul is condemned to eternal torture.

If you believe this, and I get the impression that to be a catholic, you have to literally believe this, then any amount of evil is worth doing in order to save one soul.

It would be clearly worthwhile to allow yourself to be tortured to death if it would save your soul. Indeed many revered martyrs have done exactly that.

If you believed that it would save their soul, then it would be a kind and righteous act to burn a living human being. Whatever their own beliefs.

If you literally believe, then 'preserving the reputation of the church' becomes a very important thing indeed.

Every time a believer loses their faith, a thing infinitely worse than death happens to them.

You can, you should, you must do anything at all to stop this happening.

It may be that the Pope, or someone or some group in the church heirarchy is guilty of this horrible cover up, indeed this horrible promotion and safeguarding of evil, whilst being entirely innocent in their own eyes, and in the eyes of any true believer.

But should this 'innocence' be a defence?

Maybe it should. But it is a defence along the lines of 'My mind is so infected by a fixed idea that I can not tell right from wrong. I am unpredictable, and capable of feeling justified in any action whatsoever.'.

In other words, maybe the right place for the Pope is not a prison, but a mental hospital like Broadmoor. Alongside people like Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper of my youth, who raped and tortured prostitutes, because God had told him to.


  1. The story that Dawkins intends to carry out a citizens' arrest on the Pope is a fabrication by a newspaper more interested in muck-stirring than in truth. See, e.g., .