Pope Francis and the Illusion of Progress: Replacing Pope Benedict XVI

Pope BenedictWhen Emperor Palpatine (a.k.a. Darth Sidious, Joseph Ratzinger, etc.) was elected as Pope Benedict XVI, it seemed that a fitting figurehead was put forward for the scandalous Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI had served as prefect in the branch-formerly-known-as-the-Inquisition before bringing a tide of ultra-conservativism to the papacy in 2005, especially in contrast to John Paul II, his moderately chill predecessor. Ecclesiastically, Benedict XVI’s rule has been seen as a restoration of traditional Catholic values. Politically, it was thought of as a drift into the far right. But popularly, this pope is associated with one of the biggest scandals beleaguering the Church in recent history.

Joseph Ratzinger’s elevation to a higher seat of power as Pope Benedict XVI followed the barely year-old John Jay report, a document detailing the history of alleged child rape conducted by Catholic priests. Criticized for his subsequent lack of prosecutorial response, it may come as no surprise that Pope Benedict XVI himself played a part in covering up these allegations. In an article wherein Christopher Hitchens scathingly puts forward that “the pope’s entire career has the stench of evil about it,” he recounts one such cover-up:

In 1979, an 11-year-old German boy identified as Wilfried F. was taken on a vacation trip to the mountains by a priest. After that, he was administered alcohol, locked in his bedroom, stripped naked, and forced to suck the penis of his confessor. (Why do we limit ourselves to calling this sort of thing “abuse”?) The offending cleric was transferred from Essen to Munich for “therapy” by a decision of then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, and assurances were given that he would no longer have children in his care. But it took no time for Ratzinger’s deputy, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, to return him to “pastoral” work, where he soon enough resumed his career of sexual assault.

As Pope, Benedict XVI would become the leader of an institution that made possible the torture, molestation, and rape of countless children as well as the following attempts to veil these atrocities.

The strategy, since exposed, was to bounce these pedophilic priests from parish to parish, placing them in new places and replacing them with new faces. In light of this exposure, the consequent public awareness and upheaval, came Benedict XVI’s announcement that he was “deeply ashamed” and that the Church would “do what is possible so this cannot happen again in the future.” If true, we could have supposed that this pledge came better late than never. Equipped with 7 years of exposition, we know the Holy See did not honor this pledge and that the church continues to protect and conceal sexual predators using the same strategy. Cardinal Francis George, assessing this Catholic cataclysm, said: “The sins of priests and bishops destroy the church…That is what we’re seeing.” As it turns out, George was one among many protected by Benedict XVI throughout the scandal and had himself protected his share of rapists.

Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy of disgrace was punctuated by his resignation from the papacy in response to the Vatileaks exposition of a homosexual network of prelates in the Vatican. His reign witnessed seven diocese file for bankruptcy and the expenditure of nearly $1 billion dollars by the Catholic Church on settlements and legal fees over the sexual abuse cases. It should be noted that this was not money strictly set aside for legal fees. In at least one instance, Cardinal Roger Mahoney siphoned $115 million from a cemetery maintenance fund to pay off victims. At this point in our discourse, revealing that Mahoney also took part in priest reshuffling and redealing should come as no surprise.

The Church’s propensity to respond to systemic problems with a new coat of paint is neither new nor absent in its selection of popes. With even a superficial investigation into Benedict XVI’s misdeeds, it is clear why he is not seen in a positive light and that his replacement is seen as a new face, a new pope, and, by the lights of many, a new hope. Considering the Church’s poor PR, it does not seem so far-fetched to imagine that this seat-shuffling was an attempt by the Church to repair its image: Benedict XVI is elected as a fall guy. He plays the authoritarian and takes the brunt of criticism, presenting himself as the face of the old, nasty church. Then, he can is strategically replaced by Francis the Reformer, who arises as a Pope of the People.

Regardless of whether these considerations of conspiracy are true, the effect remains the same: The Church’s unfriendly, conservative, conniving face is replaced by a friendlier, less-conservative one, thereby creating the illusion of progress.

And so it is that Pope Francis is with us now and in his smiley-face, ingratiating way presenting the same dogma that the church has always held: the same sexism, hatred, bigotry, corruption, ignorance, and immorality held since its inception. Nothing substantial has changed, nothing substantial will, or even can, change; the church has declared as much. Nothing has changed, except that the man who now sits at the helm endearingly, humbly, heroically takes the bus to work.

Pope Francis

Thoughts on Empirical Idealism

I was practicing some Cartesian mediation a few weeks backby which I mean that I was laying in bed late into the afternoon thinking about philosophy in an attempt to convince myself that my desire to stay under my warm covers was somehow productive. At the end of my lapsing in and out of deep thought and shallow sleep I immediately grabbed my phone and jotted down some thoughts on Empirical Idealism that, upon review, aren’t as incoherent as I was expecting and promptly took a nap.

Anyway, here are the thoughts.

Idealists deny the possibility of knowing anything independent of the mind and some go as far as to say that nothing exists independent of the mind. If the idealist is right, perception is entirely illusory if interpreted in the light of a materialist (who acknowledges only the existence of a material world) or a dualist (who accepts the existence of both the material, mind-independent world and that which is posited as existing solely within the mind)the idealist’s perception is more a sensation, or experience of some kind…although, any term I can think to use seems to imply that there is a thing I am sensing or experiencing. So I’m going to put myself in the shoes of the idealist and imagine burning my hand on a hot stove. Ouch. Now the stove exists only in my head. The burning sensation is all in my head too. Also there is no stove.

Woah.

What makes me think I have a hand, anyway? That’s in my head too. Also I don’t have a head. I’m just an incorporeal mind.

Whatever the case, the tree falling in the woods, if the idealist is believed, does not make a sound if no one is around to hear it; because it doesn’t even exist: Nothing exists that is not perceived (in the idealist’s weird, not-perceivey sense of the word).

I wonder if the modes through which we perceive (or experience whatever sensation) would, in the light of the idealist, make something more or less real. What I mean is, if a tree falls in the woods and I hear it, I have the idea of a sound of a falling treethat is the whole of what exists, a sound of a falling tree. If I were also able to see the tree falling, would the sound and the image be two separate ideas? Or part of a whole idea (i.e. the falling tree)? Would the addition of this second sensation make the falling tree more “real” in some sense?

What if the tree fell without me hearing or seeing it and struck me deadhow could this be? Surely, I can’t perceive that which makes me unable to perceive it simultaneously with its killing me (the terminus of all perception, I imagine). If its existence is contingent on my perceiving it, then surely there is no way this unperceived tree could kill mebecause nothing non-existent can kill me. That vexes me.

I wonder then about false beliefs and if they are possible in this idealist frame. What if I perceive the recording of a falling tree but misunderstand it to be the sound of an actual falling treeis my cognition or interpretation of this sensation separate from my perception? Maybe that’s begging the question. But where is the line between my perception of a thing and my interpretation of that sensation in the mind of the idealist? I ask because if it’s all happening in my mind, why is it that I have a partition between my perception or sensation and interpretation or cognition? Can I feel a thing and not know what I’m feeling… or how I’m feeling? There’s not really a what to feel, only a feeling. But how could I be mistaken if all that exists is what I perceive and there is no objective, mind-independent truth that exists concerning the matter?

If idealism is true, how can I believe it?

After typing down these thoughts into a post, I have to wonder, are empirical idealists trolling?

Badass Motherfucker

I thought about you a few weeks ago. I wondered what you’d think of my band and, more importantly, what you would think of my vocals. We haven’t spoken in a while, years, but when we jammed back in high school (almost 8 years ago now) and you treated me and my fellow guitarist at the time to an excellent performance of Cradle of Filth’s rendition of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” I remember thinking, “Fuck, I wish I could do that.” Now I’m a vocalist too, and I can do that, and I wanted you to see.

I guess the most important question I wondered was, “What would you think of me?” I know exactly what I think of you; you are the most badass motherfucker I have ever met. That’s what I tell everybody; even though years have gone by and we haven’t spoken much, you are the person I enjoy arguing is the most badass motherfucker I have ever met.

I would argue this because when your honor was insulted, you did not let it slide—and when the honor of the people you cared for was offended, you would make the offender realize his mistake. The best part about arguing this were the specific stories illustrating your badassery, often involving a fist to some unlucky offender’s face. Violence wasn’t always the answer, but it was an option you weren’t afraid to take.

You weren’t without your vices, but you weren’t without your humility when brought to face them. When you did something wrong, you owned it and you apologized if an apology was called for. You were quick to listen to reason and always sought to cut through the bullshit of an argument—there was no point “getting mired in petty shit”, because you were above that. When things went wrong, your resolve rarely wavered, and if it was, you bounced back promptly, often meeting bad circumstances with good humor. That’s the sort of strength I admire in you.

When we were friends, you used to teach me a lot; more of a teacher by example than by instruction.

When I thought about you a few weeks ago I considered messaging you, but I figured we’d catch up eventually. That was a mistake. Nothing now can change my stupid decision then and, don’t worry, I’m not stressing that anything I could have reasonably done then would have changed how things are now: That’s the petty sort of shit that you warned me about.

You’ve taught me something recently though, not through instruction but again by example; you taught me not to ignore those opportunities to remind someone that you’re thinking of them and to touch base, even if it’s something small. One doesn’t always get that chance to catch up and when the opportunity arises one should seize it. I may not have told you directly about the impact you’ve made in my life, but I hope you knew about it.

You are a badass motherfucker. You are missed. I wish I could tell you.

Gideon’s Sermons #1: On The Limits of Goodness

This is a sermon given by a young cleric I role-play as in a Pathfinder campaign.

I cannot say I agree with all of the thoughts and opinions expressed by Gideon, but I think he provides an interesting perspective on goodness in a somewhat Stoical light worth considering.

Doom and Cookies

Starday – 14th, Sarenith

What are the limits of goodness? Should we care only for those who care for us? And should we hurt those who hurt us?

I will begin by telling you to not work against your fellow man—envying, hating, abandoning; to do so, is to work against yourself. Remember this: There is nothing that an evil man can do to you that can take away your goodness.

Each of us is faced with the same struggle—between doing good and doing evil—and it is within the reach of each of us to do one or the other.

There was a boy foolishly waddling about the edge of cliff. Expectedly, he slipped, barely catching himself on the cliff’s edge. Each time he tried to climb up, he slipped further and his grip was becoming weak. As he cried out for help, a man approached and stood above him.

The…

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The Antitheist Herald

Christopher HitchensEvery year since his death, I do something to celebrate and commemorate the life of Christopher Hitchens, one of the writers and polemicists who most influenced me in my skeptical inquiry of religion, Christianity and Islam in particular.

On December 15th, 2011 Christopher Hitchens died, and every year since I’ve done something to further one of his causes that I most identify with: To expose and criticize religious attitudes and ideologies that are not conducive to the well-being of humanity as well as the actions perpetrated by the religious adherents and officials under the influence or authority granted them by their religious institutions.

By far, my most outstanding effort in furthering this cause has been my Facebook page, “Antitheist Herald.” Every day this page posts evidence of Christopher Hitchens’ claim that “religion poisons everything.” It’s in his memory that this page was started and it’s my ongoing respect for his work that inspires me to keep the page running. Yesterday, August 8th, 2014, marked the start of the 3rd year that Antitheist Herald has been maintained and I see no evidence of the page slowing down.

As a Christian, I grappled with various problems apologists grappled with for millennia and have invariably come up short on a reasonable, coherent, and satisfying explanation for many of the logical inconsistencies and lapses in reason that seem to be inherent in religious thought; though, the problem that has given me the most grief is theodicy, the problem of evil; a new example of which is highlighted at least once each day on my page.

In one of many of Christopher Hitchens’ assessment of religion he said,

Religion is the outcome of unresolved contradictions in the material world. If you make the assumption that it’s man-made then very few things are mysterious to you: It would be obvious to you why there are so many religions; You will understand why it is that religion has been such a disappointment to our species – that despite innumerable revivals, innumerable attempts again to preach the truth, innumerable attempts to convert the heathen, innumerable attempts to send missionaries all around the world – that the same problems remain with us. That nothing is resolved by this. If all religions died out, or were admitted to be false, all of our problems would be exactly what they are now: How do we live with one another? Where, indeed, do morals and ethics come from? What are our duties to one another? How shall we build the just city? How shall we practice love? All these questions would remain exactly the same. Emancipate yourself from the idea of a celestial dictatorship and you’ve taken the first step to becoming free.

This is a point easily grasped by materialists, atheists, and skeptics alike — but one that is lost on many of our believing friends. One of my other intellectual heroes, Richard Dawkins described the materialistic world thus,

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

I believe Karl Marx was correct in writing that, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” We use religion as a drug to cope with our existential angst, but this opiate addiction is a serious problem and the side effects are grisly. Yes, an opiate has its uses, but only insofar as it aids recovery — I do not believe the analogy fails here.

God With Us

“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo (left), the motto Gott mit uns, or “God with us” on a Nazi uniform Koppelschlösser.

Religious beliefs have inspired some of the greatest works of philanthropy and art and has alleviated the mental anguish of many of its adherents, but it has also been the cause and justification of many, if not most, of mankind’s evils towards his brothers and sisters; it vindicates the bloodthirsty, validates the bigoted, offers sanction and sanctuary to zealotry, enforces compulsory doctrine of the irrational, opposes intellectual honesty and humility, proliferates unfalsifiable, pseudo- and un-scientific claims, ideologies, and explanations, promotes unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of people, grants confirmation for believing the preposterous, and through all of this it manages to pervade every aspect of the human condition; from our diet and dress to how we raise our children and care for our partners to how we tend to our planet and understand our place on it — nothing remains untouched, I am tempted to say “uncorrupted,” by the influence of religion.

“Antitheism” is the active opposition to theism. This position goes beyond the understanding that theism is false to saying that it is also harmful — which is what my page attempts to demonstrate.

The Antitheist Herald is not a hate group and I make no financial profit from running it. It is a network of individuals who feel a moral obligation to share the everyday evidence of the dangers posed by religion and its negative effects on humanity and its institutions. I invite you to like it, contribute to it, and share it.

The Measure of All Things

I begin by drawing a line with a ruler;
An outline of a timeline of a line of rulers;
Rulers that one of wisdom would never cross
(especially not those rulers under the cross).
I seek to serve man, but those rulers seek to serve man to other men.
I can’t tell you what that means because I don’t know what it means.
The one thing I know is that I know no thing,
but I believe that man should be more than a means.
Man should be an end in and of himself
but man is going to be the end of himself
if he doesn’t change himself —
This seems to be an ending in itself.

I began by drawing a line with a ruler
but I am not even the ruler of my own beginning.
In the beginning was a word: I
But before “I” was a beginning.
By some unwritten rule, all rulers were ruled by the rulers before them.
I don’t know if there was ever a first ruler
from which all rulers were measured;
But if man is the measure, the measured, and the measurer
then why believe in a first ruler aside from I?
I began by drawing a line with a ruler
and when I stop drawing, the line ends.

(Published in Naugatuck Valley Community College’s literary magazine “Fresh Ink 2014″)

What is a friend?

Rotten AppleWhat is a friend?

Is it enough to be friendly? Is it enough to be trustworthy? Can a bad person be a good friend? Can a good person be a bad friend?

How well must I know someone before I can justly consider them my friend?

Can I have friends that are better friends than others? Is a bad friend a friend at all? How about when a good friend does a bad thing to a good friend? Is that even possible for a good friend?

Is my good friend characterized by how much I care or is he characterized by how good he is at being my friend? Who are my good friends? Who are my best friends? Is she my best friend because she is my closest friend? Or is he my best friend because he’s the best at being a friend? Is there a difference?

Is a friend someone I enjoy hanging out with? Is it someone I hang out with often? Is hanging out in person necessary for a true, meaningful friendship?

What is a friend?

What are my responsibilities as a friend towards my friends? What are their responsibilities towards me and what should I expect? Do friends have responsibilities towards one another to begin with? Friendship should at least be reciprocated, right?

Is being a friend characterized by being a friend? What I mean to ask is: Is being a friend something we do or accomplish? Or is “friend” merely a label we bestow upon people whimsically and arbitrarily?

Should I have a standard for a person to measure up to before I consider one a friend?

Should I respect the views of my friend even when they’re wrong? Even when it would lead to unavoidable harm? Do I respect his autonomy and let him make a bad decision? Or do I care for her well-being and do my best to prevent her from making a mistake?

Should I continue to be a friend to someone who has become a bad person or a bad friend? Does being a friend come at the cost of myself? Or is a friendship mutually beneficial?

What is the role of a friend in the life of another friend?

I had a friend and then he died: Is he still my friend?

I had a friend and then he changed: Is he still my friend? Is he the same friend?

I had a friend who told me he didn’t want to be my friend anymore. He doesn’t talk to me, maybe he doesn’t even think about me, but I think about him. Do I miss my “friend”? Is he my friend even though he doesn’t consider himself my friend? Am I justified in calling him my friend?

Am I justified in saying “I miss my friend”?

I had a friend who I betrayed, disregarded, and treated as if he had never meant anything to me — but still, I think of him as one of the best friends I have ever had; am I right in thinking so?

How can I be a good friend to some and a bad friend to others? How can I be both a good person and a bad? If an apple is only half rotten, it is rotten apple — can the same be said of a person?

I want to be a good person. I want to be a good friend.

“What is a friend?”

I think have an answer.