Saturday, May 10, 2008

I don't believe it -Terry Sanderson

Terry Sanderson

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor takes a patronising line on atheists - and reveals he doesn't even understand the nature of secularism

May 9, 2008 12:00 PM

Where does on start with a speech as specious and self-serving as the one given by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor in Westminster Cathedral yesterday?

The BBC headed its report of the event: "'Respect atheists', says Cardinal". Can you imagine anything so utterly patronising than the leader of some rapidly diminishing religious sect (in the UK at least - with a 40% decline in attendance in a generation) telling a huge proportion of the population that he's prepared to tolerate them? And why is he prepared to tolerate them? Well, because even if they say they don't believe in God, God is still with them and, really, atheism is just a "distorted kind of Christianity".

But more worrying than that is Murphy-O'Connor's caricature of secularism as some kind of threat to people's personal beliefs. He conflates atheism and secularism, either through ignorance, or more likely deliberately, and then says that it is trying to rob people of their spirituality.

That is not what secularism is about.

Murphy-O'Connor is nearer the mark when he says that secularists want to "privatise religion" and reduce its influence in the public arena.
There is a difference between individual believers bringing by their version of morality into the public debate, and a Church wanting to write its dogmas into law.

Faith is about believers having a personal relationship with their God. Religion, on the other hand, is about organising those believers and bidding for temporal power in their name. Secularists have no problem with the former, but they have a lot of problems with the latter.

And as for the claim that Christians are "denied a voice", take a listen to the Today programme, as broadcast this morning. Richard Dawkins, who was personally attacked by Murphy-O'Connor in his speech, was given three minutes to tie John Humphrys in knots about the BBC's automatic deference to religious leaders. An hour later Murphy-O'Connor was allotted seven and a half minutes to repeat the unfounded assertions about non-religious people being incapable of living a full life, and about religion being denied a voice. Hopefully spurred by Dawkins' chiding, Humphrys did give the Cardinal a harder time than is usual with clerics on the BBC.

Murphy-O'Connor also speaks with forked tongue when he tries to portray the Catholic Church as some persecuted institution that means harm to no one. He says the Catholic Church is caricatured as "some heartless, insular institution that wants to deny people their freedom".

Cardinal - this is not a caricature. It is the truth. Your own actions and pronouncements confirm it.
You have tried to deny human rights to homosexuals, you have tried to rob women of the right to choose contraception and abortion and thereby take control of their lives, you have tried (and continue to try) to interfere with scientific research that may lead to the alleviation of enormous suffering. You have attempted to manipulate the political process by pressurising Catholic MPs. On a personal level you - and your church - try to control every aspect of your followers' lives, from telling them what to think, what to eat and when to eat it, to telling them who they can sleep with and even what they can and cannot do when they get between the sheets.

You have argued that Christian leaders should have privileged input to government policymaking. You have said that you should have unchallenged access to the BBC.

You are a politician as much as a priest, but no one has elected you. It is you and your church - not secularists or atheists- which are out of step with the people of this country.

Just how remote Catholic bishops are was illustrated in a YouGov poll (pdf) for Catholics for Choice in November. Only a seventh of the population agreed with the Catholic bishops or Vatican position on abortion law, and only just over a quarter (27%) of Catholics. And there is little doubt that the bishops' line on contraception and homosexuality would be even more out on a limb. Yet it is the Pope's three-line whip that the Catholic MPs are forcing the government to accept.

You ask why the government continually thwarts your will - the answer is that they are elected to represent the people, while you take your orders from an unaccountable central source in another country.

You may bleat that people no longer believe - but that is their choice and choice is the one thing that the Catholic church fears. As far as you are concerned, there is only one way - the Catholic way. Well, the country at large, and increasingly your own congregations, are telling you that the Catholic way is not their way, as this poll so clearly reveals.

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