Thursday, January 25, 2007

 

Church Latest: Protect Hate, Hate Love

At last, after centuries of taking pot-shots at each other (often literally), the Catholic Church and the Church of England have found common ground: persecuting gay people and children. They’re horrified at the idea of same-sex couples being happy, and have opposed every single removal of state-sponsored bigotry that used to give their churches’ views special rights. But we’re all used to that. Of many disgusting things about their united gospel of hate, the worst is that they are desperately proselytising to keep vulnerable children suffering in care, instead of giving them a chance of happiness with loving same-sex parents.

Astoundingly, much of the press has swallowed the line that condemning vulnerable children to stay locked up in care (with all its misery and poorer life chances) because church leaders want to throw out prospective adopters through bigotry is “discrimination against Catholics”. It is not. It is refusing publically funded Catholic organisations the special right to peculiarly harm children and enact their prejudices against adults.

The pleadings of these particular churches and their leading advocate in government, the ironically-portfolioed minister for equality Ruth Kelly, for Catholic adoption agencies to be exempted from the new equality laws have absolutely no merit. They are simply special pleading for the state to fund and approve the sort of bigotry that a civilised society is moving on from, wanting to keep abandoning victim children at public expense while whining of ‘victimisation’. It’s handy that Cardinals wear red, as that makes it easier to spot which character from Alice in Wonderland Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s upside-down approach to language is borrowed from. Every other adoption agency must decide on the suitability of prospective adoptive parents on the basis of how well they can look after vulnerable children, many of whom wait years – or forever – to find a loving home. Brought up Catholic, I am ashamed that the issues about which that Church cares most in today’s Britain are for special rights to keep bigotry enshrined in law and keep children who need loving parents from those loving parents. Many thousands of Catholics share that deep moral repugnance at the shameful bigotry of their Church.

There are not enough adoptive parents to meet the needs of all the children concerned; the Catholic Church wants to keep turning away suitable parents because of their own prejudices and no objective criteria; this is simply monstrous. That is the core of the argument that they attempt to dress up as morality.

The Churches and their collaborators, however, pretend there are other arguments to defend their bigotry. The first is to call on Church tradition. The Biblical tradition from which this comes has curiously been ignored when permitting, for example, eaters of shellfish, wearers of hats, sufferers from various medical conditions and women speakers in the Church, so they’re left with the elaborations on it which make up Church history. A swift glance will discover huge changes throughout the two thousand years of the Church – my Mother still remembers masses only ever said in Latin – and many other special rights it has exercised through the ages. The trouble is, almost without exception, the special rights the Catholic Church used to exercise in law are now ones met with embarrassed glances and protestation that that was hundreds of years ago and now should be ignored, save for the bits from hundreds of years ago that should still tell everyone else what to do (I know, it’s hard to keep track of how both of those arguments can be true). While the Catholic Church likes to imply – against every single piece of evidence ever found – a link between gay people and paedophiles, there are similar embarrassed glances when the Church is confronted with the mass of evidence that, if any single-sex group appears to have such a high tendency towards child abuse that it’s almost an intrinsic moral disorder, it’s Catholic priests. How do the people who conspired to let this keep happening have the nerve to pose as moral?

Obviously, the Catholic Church is in a tricky position. When asked to justify their special pleading to be above the law, all their spokespeople (sorry, spokes-men, obviously) can keep parroting is that “this is the Church’s teaching,” which is a ‘because it is’ response to avoid the actual ‘we are in fact bigots’ explanation that the Church teaches that gay people are worth less than straight people, and are in fact intrinsically disordered and evil (the Vatican, 2002 – hard to believe it’s the right millennium, isn’t it? Ironically, the Church hadn’t started preaching homophobia in a big way yet by 1002).

The other trouble with “this is the Church’s teaching” as an answer is that relying on ‘this is our history’ rather than ‘this is our rational argument’ opens up two thousand years of very mixed morality to scrutiny. There are howls of outrage when the Catholic Church is compared to the Ku Klux Klan merely because most of their public pronouncements these days are just like the KKK’s in trying to hang on to the vestiges of state persecution of mixed race same sex couples, but the Church standing its whole argument on its history makes that outrage difficult to maintain. Picture the scene in court: ‘Archbishop, you argue that the reason you wish to discriminate against gay people is that you must uphold hundreds of years of Church teaching and practice, yet you also claim any comparison to the Ku Klux Klan offends you. Archbishop, remembering your hand is on the Bible, have those hundreds of years of Church teaching and practice never included men in pointy hoods burning gay people alive?’

They can’t talk their way out of this, but you still can’t talk ’em oudda anything (hat-tip to Mel Brooks).

The Catholic Church, however, is not alone in this. Another Church takes exactly the same line. Well, not exactly: they say ‘me too!’ today, but in fact their own adoption practice will comply with the law; they talk at length about tolerance, and how “It is vitally important that the interests of vulnerable children are not relegated to suit any political interest” and then call for bigots to keep getting state funding to leave children in the lurch. Gosh, who could it possibly be, facing so many different ways at once?

No, it’s not a trick question. Of course it’s the Church of England. I have never been a member of the established Church. They merely speak on my behalf, take my taxes and make my laws (but don’t question their special rights over the rest of us: that would be ‘discrimination’). Fortunately, long-suffering Anglican Paul Walter has helpfully digested the bandwagon-jumping nonsense from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York so I don’t have to read the whole thing.

There are several possible explanations for their me-tooism, and try as I might, I can’t think of a flattering one. The most obvious is simple self-interest. The Anglican Church has long been a subject of humour in Britain for being a bit ineffectual; today, it’s a joke internationally for its new most famous aspect, splits over homosexuality. So this issue, enabling them to defend religious homophobia while not actually requiring them to put it into action themselves, is perfect for heading off those pesky evangelical bigots who think there’s too much of that peace and love nonsense and not enough hellfire, while whispering behind their hands to their glum more liberal brethren that they won’t really follow through.

This morning presented the unedifying spectacle of Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, portraying a law against discrimination as “discrimination”, claiming that “We’re totally against discrimination, absolutely no doubt about it,” but that this is a “balancing act” so as not to offend those who are totally in favour of discrimination. Fitting in well with the Today Programme, he made a number of ludicrous claims, completely avoided answering the key question asked of him, and spoke from a hypocritical combination of self-interest and naked prejudice.

The killer question was, of course, when Dr Sentamu was asked by John Humphrys whether he’d support someone’s right of conscience to turn black couples away as adopters due to disapproval of their race. Dr Sentamu proved his moral fortitude by consistently avoiding anything remotely like an answer to that question – as well he might. After all, he was on the programme purely to oppose laws against discrimination. These laws will apply in the same way as those we’ve had for three decades against racial and religious discrimination. I disagree with but respect those who would make a principled case against those anti-discrimination laws as well because all such laws are wrong; he does not. The black Archbishop Dr Sentamu is happy to be protected from bigots by such laws but appalled that the same protection should be extended to the targets of his own bigotry. Why does he not speak for the consciences of those who are ‘victimised’ by existing legislation, which forbids the genuine, deeply felt actions of many sincere people who, while not black like Dr Sentamu and not sympathetic to that aspect of the Archbishop, while also perhaps of a conflicting religious denomination to Dr Sentamu, share with him a deep, sincere, loathsome bigotry. Instead, confining himself only to special protection for homophobic bigots, his warning of too many laws “When you intervene too much in people’s private lives…” will be greeted with sheer disbelief by all those whose private lives have been intervened in over the years by church-driven legislation not just on adoption but on marriage, divorce, abortion and every other sexual subject with which religious posers are constantly obsessed.

Dr Sentamu’s claim that adding another strand to the law victimises the consciences of bigots is simply a lie. In a free society, no-one’s views should be battered into conformity, but anti-discrimination laws aim to protect the religious and irreligious alike not from thoughts but from actions. They are not an attempt to change the private views of bigots, but to prevent public behaviour which causes actual harm to other people. In the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, a church leader who stood against rather than in favour of bigotry:
“Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”
There are many actions which, in all conscience, people feel their religious beliefs demand they take. I’ve already mentioned the killing of gay people, but I could add the murder of heretics and disbelievers. Sati. Suicide bombers. Terror in Northern Ireland. Bombing abortion clinics. The churches whose teachings provided the moral underpinning of racial supremacy for Apartheid South Africa. None of these are simply medieval examples; all of them have had the wide support of genuine belief and conscience in living memory; most of them still go on today. All of them are evil, and I suspect even the bigots’ apologist Dr Sentamu would agree.

As Millennium said:
“There IS no clash of rights here… The RIGHT to freedom of religion means that Christians are COMPLETELY ENTITLED to believe any thing that they want to… BUT that SAME RIGHT means that Christians do not have and never have had the "right" to IMPOSE their beliefs and rules on anyone else. So saying "the regulations aim to over-ride [my] conscientious objections" is just to invent rights for yourself that do not exist.”

“The right to boss people around is NOT a human right.”
Unfortunately for the Catholic hierarchy’s hopes to keep us in the Middle Ages, the Church of England appears pretty much their most reliable ally (pretty disastrous for anyone, really). It used to be that you could rely on at least one of the Houses of Parliament, but no longer. When even the House of Lords won’t uphold religious homophobia, no wonder they squeal so loudly you’d think the sky was falling. And how charmingly tasteful it was that the mob howling their disappointment at the removal of state sponsorship from their bigotry waved lit torches, when you’ll remember that people of exactly their views and exactly their denominations used to cap their state-sponsored bigotry by burning gay people at the stake. ‘Ah,’ the subliminal message was surely meant to convey, ‘those were the good old days’. Tragically, this deeply conscientious evocation of the Inquisition was misunderstood by most viewers as ‘What a scary mob of murderous medieval loonies’.

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