Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Cards On The Table

I am an atheist*.

Used to be that saying such a thing was profound, bound to cause a reaction and kind of a distraction from any other topic at hand.  Here the topic is generally writing, but I already branched out a bit to discuss gaming and injected a little politics.  Just a little, since there are more than enough blogs out there to preach at us about how evil this side and that side are.  I bring up atheism, though, for a couple of reasons.

One, it's where a good portion of my traffic is coming from.  I've been commenting on atheist or rationalist blogs and sites for years but never bothered linking to any blog until now.  So hello, heretical unbelievers.  May the Flying Spaghetti Monster, sauce be upon him, touch you with his noodly appendage.

Secondly, I bring it up because it provides an excuse to demonstrate and discuss some of my non-fiction writing.  Writing is both an art and an industrial tool, and while the cliche goes the pen is mightier than the sword, it is generally the pen that gets the swords swinging. 

Writing says a heck of a lot.  Silence says more.  I was raised as a Catholic, but I certainly do not consider myself one now.  Unfortunately, the Catholic church had a rather different opinion on that.  To them, anyone baptised, regardless of lack of consent or their conversion to another faith or just dropping faith altogether, is a Catholic for life.  There are only two ways to get out.  Well, three, but the two ways to get out alive are either excommunication (which only really refers to the sacraments and is temporary, until you say sorry for whatever you did, like helping a dying woman have an abortion so at least one of them will survive) or formal Defection.  The church has kept the idea of Defection quiet for a long time, but it was possible (until recently).  Defection required the filling out of a form, signed by oneself and a Catholic witness, and a letter sent to the bishop of one's diocese to explain why one was defecting.

I sent my letter over a year ago, a couple of months before the Vatican slammed the door on those who wished to leave, in an act of pure cowardice.  Now the Catholic church is rather like the Hotel California...  Anyway, as of yet I have received no reply.  As it has been more than a year, I doubt I ever will.  Perhaps my letter got lost in the post.  Perhaps it fell down the back of a drawer, or under a desk, or otherwise managed to vanish on its way to the bishop's hand.  It's certainly possible.  However, given my experience with the Catholic Church in Scotland, I would not be surprised at all if it was merely glanced at, the first couple of paragraphs being enough to raise a tut of disgust before my letter, my story, was tossed in the bin.

A shame, but not unexpected.  Silence is, after all, the modus operandi of the Catholic church.  But I will not be silent.  I will share the letter itself, though I am not sure anybody is interested in my own tale of woe when so many people suffered such greater pains and injustices at the hands of the church and its agents.  Still, the bastards almost killed me, and I am happy to wash my hands of them.

Dear Mister [Bishop]

Having been baptised since the day I was born, an emergency ceremony performed by the chaplain of [Hospital] as I was gravely ill, it is not lightly that I write to you now to formally declare defection from the Roman Catholic Church. I do so with no personal ill-will toward yourself, but I feel that as an authority of the Catholic Church in Scotland, my reasoning would be best directed to your office.

As is clear from the current media scrutiny cast upon the church, a tsunami of abuse allegations have come to light. These allegations, many accompanied by verifiable evidence, span decades and cross continents. Though they are shocking and repugnant enough, they are but a drop in the ocean of blood and misery wreaked by the Catholic Church over the course of its history. The Crusades; the Inquisition; the witch-trials and burnings of countless women; the current lie that condoms spread AIDS which condemns thousands of Africans to a slow and painful death; turning a blind eye to the persecution of German Jews and the subjugation, forcible conversion and attempted destruction of Europe’s medieval Jews and of indigenous peoples across the planet rank high among the catalogue of horrors wrought by the organisation referring to itself as the One True Faith.

Though one hand attempts to present a contemporary and caring church, a ‘living faith’ that aims to enrich lives, the church crushes this image with the other through its reaction to the current scandal. The response so far can best be described as callous. For the Vatican to refer to the public outcry and the victims’ painful step of coming forward as “petty gossip” betrays a kingly disregard for the church’s own members. That the pope himself would make no direct mention of this tumult in his Easter address [note - this letter was from April 2010] reveals his own disinterest in the flock, and this is underlined by the evidence of his own inaction over the years in dealing with abuse cases. An organisation whose leadership firmly believes that public image is more important than the suffering of victims of serious crimes against both the law and the trusted position of the priesthood is an organisation to which I cannot and will not belong. It is also an organisation I am sure that, if he did exist, Jesus would have thoroughly condemned.

I have spent much of my life dealing with the Catholic Church in one manner or another, and in all this time I have never come across evidence to suggest it is a force for good in this world. I do not believe it is even interested in goodness or in the individual pains of people. It teaches authoritarianism and prejudice, breeding angry, fearful bullies who firmly believe in preserving the status quo at any cost, over the interests of suffering individuals. I attended a Catholic High school where such an attitude was commonplace among the Catholic staff. Children were berated and bullied into compliance with nonsensical, arbitrary rules simply as demonstrations of power. Dissenters were isolated and treated with even more scorn to be used as examples. Asking questions about the One True Faith in classes specifically for Religious Education was met with the shutting down of the discussion and even punishment. When the students themselves followed this example, bullying isolated and vulnerable classmates as clergy and teachers prey on the vulnerable children left in their charge, the school’s senior teachers resisted and ignored calls to deal with the matter. As far as they were concerned, as long as they did not acknowledge the problem, there was no problem. Being bullied myself, my complaints eventually drew the ire of the head teacher. He summoned me for a private chat and, as the Catholic Church continues to do to this day, shifted the burden of blame onto the victim’s shoulders by insisting that I had a maturity problem. He had no interest in helping me, stating “Bullying is a fact of life, and I think you have to grow up and accept it”.

This is the caring, loving ‘Catholic Ethos’ of faith schools we hear so much about. This man now is the Director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service.

So I reiterate: I will no longer allow myself to be counted a member of this organisation. Its very structure is poisonous to the human soul, and it bears the blood of millions on its collective hands. Now, I wash mine of it. I am not a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, child-abusing, mind-warping drone who thinks anyone who disagrees with me deserves to burn in agony for eternity. I am not a Catholic.



Until next time, when we'll be back to writing and fiction, here is your moment of zen:


*as in, I do not believe in any specific, personal deity that has a list of dos, do nots and where you may not put various bodyparts.

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