Archive for the ‘Pope francis’ Category

Hell is Other People (Apparently)

April 2, 2018 Leave a comment

The Atheist news sphere was abuzz last week about the Pope’s apparent declaration of two things: that the soul is not eternal and that hell doesn’t exist. These comments were made to La Republicca reporter Eugenio Scalfari, a frequent interviewer of the Pope, atheist, and editor of the newspaper in question. He’s also 93 years old and doesn’t take notes or record his interviews (we’ll put a pin that for now).

So, this creates a problem because the typical story that has been happening since Francis has been in obvious is that he says something reasonable like Hell doesn’t exist, that God isn’t a wizard who can make creation out of nothing, or that atheists aren’t intrinsically bad people: then people cover the comment upon which the Vatican, not the Pope himself, begins walking back the comment.

Scalfari reported that the Pope said, “Hell does not exist–what exists is the disappearance of souls.”

Let’s assume he’s quoting faithfully. What are the implications? Well, first off this would be in line with the Renaissance belief noted in Dante that upon final judgment those in Hell are oblivated. They suffer their punishments in Hell, but then everything is washed away and those souls no longer exist after that event. This is noted in Dante as the souls in Hell can see the future. It’s an ironic punishment because they can see the end and know that though they wish their suffering to end, they also are aware that when the suffering ends they do as well.

As a philosopher it’s hard for me reconcile the comment that “what exists is the disappearance…” I mean, how does a disappearance exist? First off it’s an event, not a thing, but secondly it’s a lack not a presence so it can’t truly exist. None of that is important right now, so we will have to move on.

The problem with Hell is that it is a punishment that does not fit the crime, and this is true no matter what the crime actually is, simply because the length of time is infinite. We take this eternal situation and we place it against the notion of divine justice and we are thrust right into the Euthyphro dilemma. Divine justice would necessitate that punishment not only fit the crime but that it is done for the purpose of atonement. If I am a perpetual thief, I spend my entire life stealing, then I should be punished for it. In the afterlife, I should spend a certain amount of time being chased and bitten by reptiles. There has to be a certain amount of time by which a rational being would say that I have atoned for that crime. To say that I deserve eternal torture at the hands of these reptiles isn’t justice it’s vengeance.

Now, the apologist may claim that vengeance is the privilege of the Divine. Alright, that’s a fair point but it can’t, under any circumstance, be weighed against the crime or be called justice. The two are not related, and it is more reminiscent of Thrasymachus’ claim that justice is whatever the powerful say it is than some other metaphysical notion of justice.

Now of course, I as an Atheist, have a bias interest in their not being a Hell and for there not being a eternal punishment. I have to accept that, but I also have to accept the numerous conflicting crimes that get a person into Hell, in the words of Reverend Lovejoy, “Have you ever actually sat down and read this thing, we’re technically not allowed to go to the bathroom.” I’m pretty sure that it’s all a role of the dice anyway.

The problem with the comment is that we can’t assume that it’s the actual words of the Pope to begin with. The Vatican does have a point and this reporter doesn’t take notes or record the interviews. We can add that he’s 93 but some people, even nonagenarians, have sharp minds so let’s leave aside his age. The pope may have said something wherein he was clarifying the notion of Hell, i.e. saying that “Hell doesn’t exist the way people have imagined it” denying that “Hell” exists, but not the Hell of Dante. The popular view of Hell is not one that appears until John’s fever dream of Revelation anyway so the Pope could just be clarifying.

The most important point is that if he said it, and it was reported accurately the Pope isn’t making a doctrinal statement nor is he pronouncing the sentiment ex cathedra (invoking his infallibility). From the Catholic position this means he’s merely offering a personal view but not indicating a policy shift regarding the beliefs of the millions of Catholics in the world. While a shocking thing for a Pope to say, it’s not important as far as reflecting the beliefs of the Church itself.

As the Friendly Atheist blog points out, just last week the Pope urged members of the Italian mafia to repent less they be condemned to Hell. Further the Pope’s endorsement of exorcisms seems to bely at least the tangential belief in the place since that must be where all the demons and monsters live.

It’s important that we take this comment and the implications of it with a health dose of the same skepticism we apply to everything else. It’s a literal fallacy to accept the words of an individual that we normally would deny just because he’s saying something that we want to hear.


Pope Francis Update

January 22, 2018 4 comments

It’s been a bit since I’ve checked in with our favorite dude in the pointy white hat. Since no one will pay for an assistant who will go find all of my previous Pope check ins, I’ll say this much in summary: as an Atheist I’ve been told I’m supposed to like this guy. He’s publicly commented that I’m not necessarily going to hell because I’m an atheist (Catholics are typically deeds not words Christians), that the science of Evolution and the Big Bang explain life and how everything came about (which were publicly explained as not opposed to Catholic doctrine by previous Popes), and his commented about how the vast inequality in the world is the root of all social evil. However, and again, I’ve said this repeatedly: it’s always one step forward two steps back with this guy.

You can’t start talking about how god isn’t some magical wizard that creates everything and then publicly call for the ordination of new exorcists so that we can fight the demons. The two things do not really work together. So now we have the Pope wrap up for the last several months.

First story and the one that gained the most attention: his comments in South America about the accusations against Bishop Juan Barros, that it “was all calumny.” The facts are this: Barros is accused not of sexual assault but of covering up accusations of assault and improper conduct against Fernando Kardima a priest in Santiago, Chile. Kardima’s case is the same old story of all the cases, initial accusations were brought up in the 80s only to be discarded until 2004 when the Vatican opened up its own investigation…which was then suspended for three years because of a statute of limitations concern with regard to Chilean law. Finally, a proper investigation was opened by the Chilean government in 2010 and the Catholic Church removed him from his position forbidding him from performing in public and any kind of spiritual advising. Notice that there judgment does not include defrocking or removal of his title or status within the church. The accusers of Kardima claim that Barros was not only aware of the accusations but that he was direct witness to them. I cannot speak to the truth of falsity of the claims but given the “punishment” of Kardima, the history of cover ups within the church, it would stand at the very least as a public relations move to not accuse Kardima’s victims of slander against Barros. Even within Chile, a heavily Catholic country, there is a large resistance to the Vatican’s appointment of Barros as Bishop and a general reluctance to send children to Catholic school because of the known and systemic problems in the Vatican of dealing with these issues. Yet the Pope has offered an “apology.” The typical, “I’m sorry if you were hurt by my words but…” type of apology in which the first part of the statement is negated by the second part.

The second piece of news, from December, was largely uncovered by the news media for reasons that I’m not aware of. Boston Archbishop Bernard Law died at the age of 86 and was given a full Cardinal’s funeral in the Vatican presided over by Pope Francis. Law, if you don’t remember, was the villain in 2014’s Oscar winning Spotlight which told the story of the investigation into the sex abuse cover up in Boston which broke in 2001. Law, whose name I’m just realizing is ironic, is not directly responsible for any sexual abuse of children in that he isn’t accused of actually doing it. What he’s accused of his allowing and abetting it to continue by shielding the accused from the law and merely playing a large game of three card monte with those who have perpetrated the child rape. Law resigned his position in 2002 and then went on to live at the Vatican as an arch priest at the St. Mary Major Papal basilica in Rome. He got a nice retirement package and then a full honors funeral all presided over by the current Pope.

Is it hypocrisy, or just lies that we are dealing with because I can’t decide? On the one hand the Pope has set up a council to deal with sexual abuse amongst the church but on the other hand, these continued actions along with allowing Cardinal Pell of Australia to hide out in Rome as Vatican treasurer for a number of years (they’ve since sent him back). Still on the other hand that council has effectively been abolished since the “term limits” on the appointments had expired. The Vatican is really good about keeping track of legal time limits.

Once again, this Pope is all talk and no action. Sure, some of the things that he says sound really good–an expanded role for women in the Church, progress on social issues that aren’t abortion, and a reformed manner of conduct with regard to sex abuse; but when it comes down to action I’m wondering when we’ll see any.

This is just another brick in my foundation for refusing to like this guy. He’s like a bar friend, sure I’ll listen to him talk for a bit but I’ll never make a specific plan to see him. By now, the atheist infatuation with this new hope has long passed, but the mystery to me was why it ever existed in the first place.

How the Pope Can Win Me Over

October 6, 2015 2 comments

People ask me about Pope Francis all of the time. They do this because they know I’m an Atheist and the American Left wing seems to love him; and for some reason they equate Atheist with liberal. They do this also because the Pope has said that Atheists might be welcome in heaven provided they are good people, and has come out in support of science. So when I’m asked the conversation usually goes like this:

“So you like this new Pope right?”

“No, actually think he’s an asshole.”

“But, he thinks people like you are ok. Why wouldn’t you like him?”

I’ve said it awhile back, atheists who like this guy for the reason that he thinks we’re not hellbound have set a really low bar. Yes, that’s great that he doesn’t think I’m going to suffer for all of eternity simply because I no longer believe the same thing he does; but I don’t need this permission from him in order to be happy. Thinking that I shouldn’t be burned at the stake makes the last twenty or so Popes better than all of the ones in the Middle Ages but not by much. That’s like saying I should like the last five people I walked by because they didn’t start screaming about how I’m going to Hell; sure it’s a good start but it really ought to be the baseline anyway.

I’ll admit one thing, he talks a good game but like the poet Dr. Dre said he’s moving his mouth a lot but he ain’t saying nothing. Every time this guy says a good thing, he dials it back one step with the very next thing out of his mouth. The Vatican is one of the largest private land owners on the planet and he says that we need to be concerned about the poor and homeless. Ok, fine, you lead by example then I’ll know that you are being serious. Until then, it seems like he’s just talking. Is he better than the last guy? I guess, I mean I really don’t know because he hasn’t done anything of note other than sounding better.

I was raised Catholic so I know how the system works and it’s not a Democracy. He’s one the last kings, he gets to make policy with a pen without any of the bullshit concerning enough votes from a Senate/Congress/Parliament stands in his way. There is also no re-election process, he’s in for life. There is no way to get him out of office short of the old Renaissance method of assassination.This is a person who can literally invoke a label of infallibility from his throne, meaning that what he proclaims might as well have come from god for how correct it is. Now, I’m aware that this isn’t every pronouncement and also that it is extremely rare that it’s invoked but I’m just saying that it’s a tool he has at his disposal. So what does this Pope have to do to get me on his side? Short answer: something, anything that backs up roughly half of the things he says.

He cryptically tweeted, “inequality is the root of all evil social evil” last year. Yet he’s done nothing to either back that statement up or further explain it. Is he talking about gender equality? I doubt it since he’s done nothing to advance that concept within his own organization. Women are simply not able to be equal within the confines of the Catholic hierarchy, and this guy is simply letting that system chug on while reminding women that while they are important in spreading the Catholic religion, they apparently aren’t important enough to become ordained. The best they get is that he’s been encouraging the clergy to share roles with the common folk–including women. Yet this appeal to free labor doesn’t move the needle at all when you stop to think that women have only one official role within this vast empire and it’s always subservient to the lowest male role. You want me as a fan (I strongly doubt I’ll ever be a believer again) give women the opportunity to ascend the hierarchy.

Was he talking about social inequality? Because then I would like him to answer as to how priests who have been convicted of sexual molestation are being transferred to South American poor parishes. What’s the matter, did it get too hard for the Vatican to just move them from state to state, or from parish to parish in the US? I’m willing to bet it’s just easier to have them in countries where a religious official is seen to be more important than it is in the US. Want me as a fan? Let secular law deal with them, while ecclesiastical law removes them from their positions of authority.

How about this for an idea: remove the antiquated ban on birth control. Look I get it, life begins at the zygote stage for you people, then why not allow people to prevent the zygote from forming? You can still condemn pre-marital sex but by not doubling up on the sin there can be at least the prevention of disease and unwanted pregnancy. Sure, you may be one of the largest providers of AIDs relief in the world, but your ludicrous stance on condoms runs in contradiction to it as de-stigmatizing condoms would lessen the spread of the virus. At least, the very least, denounce the claim that AIDS is somehow able to penetrate them at a rate higher than any other disease as Cardinal Trujillo did back in 2003 in stark contrast to any empirical science on the matter. Now, I’m aware that there was some cryptic words that Benedict used in which they may be allowed to be used, however the vatican immediately pulled back the comment saying that it is a step toward moral responsibility but not a morallly justified step. The church allows for the birth control pill under it’s hair splitting doctrine of double effect based morality and I think it would be easy to twist that already twisted logic into preventing the spread of a disease which they spend so much money and time seeking to prevent.

Yes you have your Synod on issues regarding families as we speak, you can make considerable changes to doctrine and attitudes. If all of your talk about social inequality, gender inequality, and the plight of the less fortunate is anything more than wind you should do it. Otherwise you’re just the new boss, same as the old one.

Categories: atheism, Pope francis

Atheist Perspective: God is not a wizard

November 11, 2014 Leave a comment

A lot of pixels have been burnt among the atheist, agnostic, free-thinking crowd regarding Pope Francis. It was to be expected given that this guy is such a departure from the previous two popes that some controversy has been generated. It’s a shame though because for every step forward he seems to take a step backward as well. He wants Catholics to stop being so focused on social issues but then penalizes nuns for doing exactly that–focusing on poverty rather than abortion and homosexuality. He says that people like me are not damned to hell but then walks back his comment on whether or not we can be saved. This latest move, one that had the science fans all in a buzz, was that he claimed the Big Bang and Evolution were not incompatible with the Christian faith, and that the evidence for both theories were conclusive and necessary for the Catholic view on the formation of the Cosmos. He then went on to give his blessing to the Catholic exorcist conference. One step forward, one step backward.

If we consider his thinking on the Big Bang and Evolution though, he’s not that revolutionary. Sure, it may seem odd that such a pious Christian would accept the scientific theories, but if you think that it’s only because you pay too much attention to the likes of Ken Ham and other loud mouth bible literalists. The Catholic Church, since Pope Pius XII, has been accepting of scientific theory provided the evidence of it is overwhelming. That’s supposed to be the case, facts are neutral in that they reflect the reality of the world. Pius XII accepted the hypotheses, John Paul II commented that evolution was an “effectively proven fact.” You can shout “Galileo” and “Bruno” to me as evidence of the Catholic church’s opposition to science but there are two relevance issues with both of those martyrs. First they were over five hundred years ago and an organization can change. Second, there problem with the church was a bit more than just the ideas they proposed. Galileo in his dialogues repeatedly called the defender of the old system “Simplicio” (meaning “simpleton”) using Pope Urban VIII’s words. Whether this was on purpose or not is a matter of debate but the Catholic church did not take lightly both the insult and the denial of their doctrine. With Bruno, his crime was not so much the teaching of an alternative view of the universe but that he taught against Catholic dogma, most notably he denied the trinity and that Jesus was anything but a normal man (in either case immolation was undeserved but we must be careful on why it happened to him).

Whether or not you trust the Catholics on science is a matter of opinion, but their track record shows that they accept it with regard to the physical world. They also at least consider dissenting opinions, their “Pontifical Academy for Life” brought in the dissent, and while I hold the opinion that they came to the wrong conclusions on moral issues they do at least get the science behind the controversies. Claiming that evolution and the Big Bang are more than ideas is nothing new for the Papacy. In fact, Georges Lemaitre, the person who originally came up with the Big Bang was a Catholic priest and was completely uncensured for developing the theory (I suppose it would be hard to do so when even Einstein vocally applauds it).

It’s only Benedict in recent times that has tried to walk back on evolution, but nevertheless the Catholic church has stood by it’s acceptance of the theories.

What’s troubling is Francis’ comments. He said that “When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so…”

Really? I thought god was supposed to be omnipotent, able to do anything by sheer will. How else can he violate the physical laws of conservation. The same question that is posed to me and my ilk, “how did something form from nothing?” I thought was answered by the theists through divine will. Now, however, we have a qualification. God used the big bang and evolution as tools to make creation. I can accept it without the god part but it raises the question of why god needs tools and materials in the first place. The Epicurean asks Cicero in “On the Nature of the Gods,” what tools the gods used to create the universe, what methods, what raw materials, and the question is left unanswered by the Stoic and Academics in the dialogue.

The “magic wand” comment is curious, because I never have thought of god as a wizard, even when I believed. I have no memory as to how I thought creation was undertaken but my vaguest memory was just using words to bring things into existence (which of course would have been in Latin). God doesn’t need a wand, but he also would not need a mechanism. Claiming that these theories necessitate the existence of a god being begs the question–God used the big bang to create the Cosmos that’s how we know God exists. I’m afraid not Papa, if God is subject to the Big Bang and Evolution that means that the law of the physical universe are above His will, which means that the laws restrict those divine abilities of creation. It also means that the miracles of the holy book are impossible since the universe doesn’t allow them. The sun can’t stop in the sky to allow one army to massacre another, and many others that we can point to.

Accepting scientific theories is not something to be lauded, it’s the way it is supposed to be. It’s not a brave thing that he did, it merely represents a stance that was taken five decades ago. Pius XII wasn’t even changing the stance of the church at the time, he was merely clarifying that the soul cannot be explained by evolution. I’ll even accept that, evolution cannot explain the soul–nothing can because it’s an assumption. Yet the science is proven, it’s not a miracle to accept it it’s merely what we ought to expect form any rational person.