Is the Pope Catholic?

March 18, 2019 • 1:30 pm

Here’s a video from the British comedy game show QI (“Quite Interesting”) about the official title of the Pope Francis. It turns out that it’s not “Pope”. Further, you’ll learn that THE POPE IS NOT A CATHOLIC! In fact, the man who is officially the Pope is also NOT a Catholic. Listen and learn.

h/t: Michael

John Henry Newman gets his second (bogus) miracle; stay tuned for sainthood

February 14, 2019 • 12:30 pm

As you know, to become a saint in the Catholic pantheon a candidate has to have performed two documented miracles, which are ostensibly debated in the Vatican after being stink-eyed by a hired nay-sayer, the literal “Devil’s Advocate“. (Hitchens was the Advocatus Diaboli for Mother Teresa’s canonization, but apparently they didn’t find him convincing.)

Now, according to the BBC and other sources (click on screenshot below), the second critical miracle has been approved for John Henry Newman, and so he’s on the fast track to sainthood—the first English saint in a long while. Newman (1801-1890) began as an Anglican and then, converting to Catholicism, became a cardinal and was beatified nine years ago (that’s step 1, which requires only one miracle).

The first miracle was “curing a man’s spinal disease.” Wikipedia says this about the pair:

In 1991, Newman was proclaimed venerable by Pope John Paul II, after a thorough examination of his life and work by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  After this, Jack Sullivan, a man studying for the diaconate in Boston, Massachusetts, was on the verge of complete paralysis in 2000 and 2001 and claimed to have been miraculously healed after praying to Newman. The miracle was investigated and confirmed by the Vatican. Newman was beatified on 19 September 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI on a visit to the United Kingdom.

A second miracle, necessary for his canonisation, was approved by the Vatican in November 2018. This miracle concerned the healing of a pregnant American woman from a life-threatening condition. The decree approving this miracle was authorized to be promulgated on 12 February 2019.


The Torygraph gives a bit more information about this second miracle:

The Church claims the recovery had no scientific explanation and attributed it to Newman’s intercession.

“An expectant mother was suffering from unstoppable internal bleeding which threatened the life of her child in the womb,” the diocese of Westminster said on its website.

“She had long been a devotee of Blessed John Henry, and in prayer she directly and explicitly invoked Newman’s intercession to stop the bleeding. The miraculous healing was immediate, complete, and permanent.”

The Diocese’s website adds no further information.

So I wrote my doctor asking if there are known natural causes for stopping internal bleeding during pregnancy, and of course there were. As the doc wrote me (my emphasis):

The devil is in the details. There are many causes of uterine bleeding during pregnancy.

Here’s just one from UpToDate:

Threatened miscarriage. Uterine bleeding in the presence of a closed cervix and sonographic visualization of an intrauterine pregnancy with detectable fetal cardiac activity is diagnostic of threatened miscarriage. The term “threatened” is used to describe these cases because miscarriage does not always follow uterine bleeding in early pregnancy, even after repeated episodes or large amounts of bleeding. In fact, 90 to 96 percent of pregnancies with both fetal cardiac activity and vaginal bleeding at 7 to 11 weeks of gestation do not miscarry; the higher success rate is associated with bleeding at the later end of the gestational age range [10,11]. Uterine bleeding in these cases is likely due to disruption of decidual vessels at the maternal-fetal interface. These separations generally cannot be visualized by ultrasound, but sometimes appear as a subchorionic hematoma. Management is expectant.

“Management is expectant” means the bleeding usually stops on its own. Hope that helps.

Yes, it helps. So what we have here is a “miracle” that occurs regularly without the intercession of prayers to saints. But of course that characterizes all the medical miracles touted by the Vatican. When an amputee regrows an arm after praying to a beatified candidate, then we’ll talk!

h/t: Kevin

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Beelzebub

October 10, 2018 • 9:00 am

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “devil,” was captioned “That pope chap really believes in the devil!” and came with the email note, “The Pope really believes in the devil, and angels, as this nicely pitched Reuters article explains.

I’ll remind you of the immortal quote by the Alabama philosopher Delos McKown:

“The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.”

(The source of the quote can be found here.)

For those of you who praise the “progressive” Pope Francis, here’s an excerpt from the Reuters report (my emphasis):

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The devil is alive and well and working overtime to undermine the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis says.

In fact, the pope is so convinced that Satan is to blame for the sexual abuse crisis and deep divisions racking the Church that he has asked Catholics around the world to recite a special prayer every day in October to try to beat him back.

“(The Church must be) saved from the attacks of the malign one, the great accuser and at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes, and abuses committed in the present and the past,” Francis said in a message on Sept. 29.

Since he was elected in 2013, Francis has made clear that he believes the devil to be real. In a document in April on holiness in the modern world, Francis mentioned the devil more than a dozen times.

“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable,” he wrote in the document.

Nope, it’s not the priests who are abusing children: they’re merely the puppets of. . . . can it be?. . . Satan.

So much for the new “liberal” Vatican.

Pope Francis does something good: changes Catholic dogma to oppose the death penalty

August 2, 2018 • 11:00 am

If we’re to be credible in our criticism of religion, we must also laud it when someone uses their religious authority to do something good. And that was just done by Pope Francis, whom I’ve criticized before for being all sweet talk and no action. This time there’s action—at least a formal change in Church dogma and a pledge to work toward the abolition of the death penalty. Here’s the report from CNN; click on the screenshot to go to the story:

I don’t know if he was speaking ex cathedra, but the Catholic Catechism, the guidebook to what the Church holds to be true and moral, is said to have been changed. CNN:

Pope Francis has declared that the death penalty is never admissible and that the Catholic Church will work towards its abolition around the world, the Vatican formally announced Thursday.

The change, which has been added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, makes official a position that the Pope has articulated since he became pontiff.

The church now teaches that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and states that it will “work with determination towards its abolition worldwide,” the Vatican said.

The declaration by Pope Francis, who is spiritual leader to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, may have particular resonance in the United States, where capital punishment remains legal in 31 states and as a federal punishment.

I couldn’t find this change today in the online Catholic Catechism, which still says the following:

2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

But I’ll assume that the Internet hasn’t yet caught up to God.

My only beef with this, and it’s a minor one, is that the Vatican’s rationale for opposing the death penalty is because it contravenes “the inviolability and dignity of the person,” a position that could be used to buttress almost any bit of Catholic morality, including opposition to abortion. In my view, the real reasons for opposing the death penalty are that it’s not a deterrent, it doesn’t allow for reformation of the criminal, it’s barbaric, it costs society more than putting someone in prison for life and, in cases when the defendant pleaded “not guilty”, it doesn’t allow the legal system to rectify a false conviction. (Also, some people plead guilty when they’re not.) As for the “dignity of the person,” that’s in short supply in most American prisons.

Curiously, since the Church has opposed the death penalty—albeit informally—for several decades, the proportion of Catholics favoring that penalty is in line with the rest of America, and is a majority. As CNN reports:

Among Americans, 54% favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 39% are opposed, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April and May.

That represents a slight increase since 2016, when public support for the death penalty reached a four-decade low, Pew said in a June news release.

Its survey found that 53% of Catholics favor capital punishment, while 42% oppose it. Support for the death penalty is highest among white evangelical Protestants, Pew said.

Here are the data from the Pew report, showing not only a sustained temporal decrease (but a slight two-year increase) in American support for the death penalty, but also a widening gap between Democrats and Republicans (guess which party favors it most?), as well as the heartening fact that those unaffiliated with a church are the biggest opponents of the death penalty. The first bar graph is especially interesting, but I’ll let you explore that yourself.

The general decrease over time:

So the Pope did a good thing, but nonbelievers and “nones” are still the group that takes the highest road with respect to the death penalty. Maybe Francis could give us a shout-out?

The figure below shows the gap between the Dems and the GOP, so that the proportion of Republicans who favor the death penalty is now more than twice the proportion of Democrats:


The Pope plays Nice Guy again

June 18, 2018 • 9:15 am

Reader Barry sent me this tweet showing Pope Francis’s encounter with a child, who wanted to know whether his dead father could go to Heaven even though he (the father) was an atheist. This will surely be spread widely, because it appears to show what a liberal and kindly man the Pope is.

Although the Pope is universally lauded by the press, and even by atheists, because he says the right things about gays and other sensitive matters—without lifting a hand to change Vatican policy—he screwed up here in several ways.

1.) He revealed something that the boy told him in confidence.

2.) He revealed it so he could expound his own ideas and look compassionate.

3.) He implied that the atheist father was “good” because he had his four children baptized.

4.) He says that only God can decide who goes to Heaven, but the Pope second-guesses God anyway. In fact, he gives the boy a definite answer.

5.) He asserts that if Dad didn’t baptize his kids, Dad would go to hell.

6.) He assumes that the father had the kids baptized because in some sense he wanted the kids to reap any benefits of God belief: a form of Pascal’s Wager. And God approved because baptizing your kids when you’re an atheist is hard!

Meet the new boss—same as the old boss.  He hasn’t done squat to reform his oppressive and medieval Church.


The weaselly Pope Francis and his views on gays

May 27, 2018 • 11:30 am

The word “weaselly” is weighing on my mind again today, and Pope Francis is instantiating it well with his latest comments on homosexuality. As usual, he’s being conciliatory towards those the Vatican has historically demonized—and here I mean gays—and the press is lapping it up like a cat laps cream.

The latest news is about Francis’s comments to a gay man who was the victim of sexual abuse by a priest. As reported by CNN:

A victim of clerical sexual abuse has said that Pope Francis told him that God made him gay and that his sexuality “does not matter.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of sexual abuse, spent three days with Pope Francis at the Vatican in April, in which he discussed his sexuality and the abuse he suffered at the hands of a Chilean priest.
Describing his encounter with the Pope to CNN, Cruz said: “You know Juan Carlos, that does not matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.”

I assume this is true, but it’s bizarre that Francis says that God made Cruz gay, despite Vatican doctrine (below) that being gay is “intrinsically disordered”, and their position that committing homosexual acts is a “grave sin” that, unconfessed, will send you straight to the Barbecue Below.  Why would God make someone who is “intrinsically disordered”? As some kind of test?

Before I comment on Francis’s hypocrisy, let me direct you again to the Church’s statements on gays (my emphasis):

From the Catholic Catechism in the Vatican Archive:

Chastity and homosexuality

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

From a 1986 letter to Catholic bishops by ex-pope Ratzinger on the Vatican website:

In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.

Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.

. . . The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behaviour therefore acts immorally.

To chose someone of the same sex for one’s sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator’s sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.

As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.

. . . What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption. While any call to carry the cross or to understand a Christian’s suffering in this way will predictably be met with bitter ridicule by some, it should be remembered that this is the way to eternal life for all who follow Christ.

Got that? If you’re gay, suck it up and refrain from gay sex, no matter how much you suffer. After all, Jesus suffered too! And of course you want to go to Heaven, which you won’t do if you commit “sodomy”.

I don’t deny that Pope Francis has humane impulses towards gays; after all, I don’t think this gesture was simply public relations. But what is public relations is Francis’s repeated conciliatory statements about gays in the absence of his doing anything to change church doctrine about it. If God made gays and loves them, then you simply can’t call this a “disorder”.

It’s time that Francis, if he’s serious about this, does something to change church doctrine. He can try, you know, but he doesn’t: he simply makes highly publicized statements. The press loves this kind of stuff, for it gives the Pope a human face, and the press, by and large, is soft on faith.  But it’s time they held Francis’s feet to the fire, telling him to put up or shut up. After all, he still doesn’t want gays to be priests:

In a closed-door meeting with Italian bishops Monday, the pope warned against admitting candidates with “deep-seated” gay tendencies or those who engage in “homosexual acts,” the Catholic News Agency reports.  Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, confirmed the remarks in a press conference Thursday, according to the agency.

“If you have even the slightest doubt, it’s better not to let them enter,” Francis said of aspiring seminarians with gay “tendencies,” according to Vatican Insider, an Italian site covering the church.

This isn’t a new stance for Pope Francis or the church overall, as the church has long held that men with “deep-seated,” as opposed to “transitory,” attractions to the same sex are not suited for the priesthood. Francis reiterated that policy in a 2016 document. Still, there are many gay men who are priests, and they, like heterosexual priests, are expected to remain celibate.

The Catholic church won’t change its dogma, I think. Rather, they’ll just hold onto the antiquated ideas of yore, resigning themselves to losing America and Europe (except for Poland), and placing their hopes in Africa and South America, where Catholicism is rife and homophobia is still deeply entrenched.

I wish the press would stop buying Francis’s talk and start asking when he’s going to walk the walk.

h/t: Grania

Demand for Catholic exorcisms rise

April 16, 2018 • 2:52 pm

For those who think that the Catholic Church is becoming saner and more liberal, have a gander at this article from the Guardian (click on screenshot to read it). I’ve reported before on the frequency of exorcisms in the Church (see here for a number of posts), and on the unofficial Vatican exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, who died two years ago claiming to have exorcised 160,000 demons.

As is clear from the article, the Vatican has neither denied the existence of demons nor distanced itself from exorcism as a way to expel them. The report deals with Father Cesar Truqui of Mexico, and the many exorcisms he’s performed. While he admits that many of them don’t involve actual demons, but still provide some psychological relief for people (I’m willing to accept that), there are some true demonic possessions:

Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, Truqui says full-on demonic possession is very rare. The vast majority of people who see him have normal problems or mental illnesses, and he says he has sent people to seek psychiatric help. But he says 2-3% show signs of demonic “vexation”.

These people, he claims, are capable of feats of superhuman strength. Sometimes their voice changes and they growl or speak in tongues. He claims to have witnessed people with vexations who can suddenly speak in Hebrew or Aramaic even though they have never studied the languages. Some are obsessive and show knowledge of what Truqui calls “secret things”, like what a person who is not present is doing or wearing, and they are sometimes overwhelmed by feelings of discomfort when they are in places of worship.

“Most of the time, the people who see me are victims,” he says.

Truqui also spoke at length about Satan, who he described as a pragmatic foe. “The devil tempts the holy man in his holiness and the sinner in his sin,” he says.

And here are some other instances of the Hornéd One’s appearance as a malefactor:

In his decade working as a Roman Catholic exorcist, expelling demons from individuals who he believes are possessed or vexed by the devil, the Mexican priest says the oddest thing he witnessed was the sudden appearance of a “satanic nail” on a tabletop.

“There had been nothing on the table and then suddenly it was there, a rusted black nail. We all saw it. I wanted to keep it but then I thought, no, it’s like keeping a radioactive thing,” he said.

And these are clearly signs of Satan’s power:

[Truqui’s] subjects, he says, have problems that cannot be explained in normal medical terms. One, who he believes may have been cursed by her mother-in-law, feels an almost constant sensation of daggers entering her legs, knitting needles in her arms, and a clenched hand at her chin. Another was so obsessed by self-gratification that he masturbated 40 times a day. “Normally speaking it is humanly impossible … so that is a satanic thing,” says Truqui.

I’m not going to pronounce on the demonic implications of a high frequency of masturbation, but clearly the Church’s belief in demons and the ability of ritual to expel them is a delusion. Again, I’m willing to admit that a ritual may help people who are anxious or have mental health issues—what better placebo is there than a caring priest and your feeling that he really can cast out demons?—but I suspect that treatment by a health care professional, who doesn’t have to decide which aberrant behavior really does result from demons, is superior.

In the meantime, it’s been reported in several places, including USA Today and Newsweek, that this month the Vatican is holding a week-long conference in Rome to train priests how to expel demons. This is necessary not only because it takes skill to recognize and get rid of real demons, but also because private practitioners are horning in on the Vatican’s monopoly of de-demonizing. As the New York Post reports (my emphasis):

While many of the reported cases are actually related to psychological or spiritual problems, Palilla conceded, they must still be investigated.

But the church is concerned that many priests either haven’t learned or refuse to learn exorcism techniques.

“We priests, very often, do not know how to deal with the concrete cases presented to us. In the preparation of priesthood, we do not talk about these things,” Palilla said.

In France, the demand for exorcists has also soared, but independent contractors have taken up the jobs — charging $178 an hour — as the Catholic Church neglected training priests in the practice, The Economist reported.

Palilla warned against using an amateur exorcist because they “certainly make errors.”

Exorcism is recognized under the Catholic Church’s canon law and can only be performed with permission from within the church. The Vatican-backed International Association of Exorcists was founded in 1990 and has licensed some 200 members across the world.

Note that the Vatican officially backs the practice of exorcism and supports the International Association of Exorcists. It’s also well known that Pope Francis, like Antonin Scalia, believes that Satan isn’t just a metaphor but a real figure, which he says is “a personal being who assails us.”

That is the Church’s beloved and liberal Pope, who still believes in a literal Satan. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

h/t: Grania

Catholic teacher fired for same-sex marriage; colleagues warned to stay away from such weddings

February 18, 2018 • 1:00 pm

It’s about time that the Pope has a revelation, and gives some pronouncement ex cathedra, that people can marry others of the same sex.  People happen to fall in love with others of their sex, and there’s no good reason, save an antiquated and fictitious book, to keep them from formalizing their relationship.  I don’t know how, given their history, that Catholics will eventually stop demonizing gays, but if they don’t they’ll lose adherents. Even if the Vatican isn’t moved by the moral suasion, they might be moved by Catholics voting with their feet. You don’t have to eat fish on Friday any more, so clearly the Church can change its tune.

The New York Times (click below) recounts the story of how a great teacher—one beloved by her first-grade students at a Catholic school in Miami—was fired because she married what she called “the love of my life.” That very phrase makes me tear up, and to think that she’d lose her job because of that is shameful. But go ahead, read the story:

Jocelyn Morffi (left above) was fired three days after marrying her girlfriend of two years, Natasha Hass.  The Archdiocese of Miami explained in an email that Morffi was fired “because she violated a contract stipulating that teachers must abide by Catholic teachings and traditions.” By all accounts, Morffi was a “faithful Catholic”. Her “sin” was falling in love with another woman.

The Church wouldn’t clarify what the violation was, but we all know, and so did Ms. Morffi on her Instagram account:

As if that’s not bad enough, the NYT reports that other teachers were put on notice (my emphasis):

Four teachers attended the wedding, one of them told The Times on Wednesday. She asked not to be named out of fear for her career.

After Ms. Morffi was fired, the teacher said, they were called into a meeting with school officials. She said they were warned that if they wanted to continue working for the school, they could not post pictures or attend events that would be considered supportive of same-sex marriage.

The human resources representative at the meeting “didn’t straight out say you’ll be fired if you do, but that’s what she led us to believe,” the teacher said, adding that she was disappointed about how the situation was handled.

“We pick and choose what is considered wrong and what we’re going to enforce, and I think it’s like a joke,” she said.

The teachers were also asked to read a memo written in 2015 by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, after Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was lifted.

The memo cited a statement from the Catholic Bishops of Florida that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and said that if employees did not lead lives that were consistent with Catholic teachings it could lead to firing, even if the behavior in question occurs outside of work.

Although Dade County, where Morffi worked, has legal protections for gay people, they don’t apply to religious organizations. Morffi’s former students are confused and upset, and the school, out of a screwed-up adherence to outdated morality, has lost a fantastic teacher:

Ms. Morffi was an exemplary teacher, several parents said, and one friend described her as a faithful Catholic.

She encouraged students to distribute food throughout Miami’s poor neighborhoods through a nonprofit she created called Teach Hope. She volunteered as a basketball coach. And Ms. Mills recalled that every morning, as Ms. Morffi’s students filed into class, she played feel-good songs, like Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Well, it’s their loss, and I hope somebody snaps up Morffi soon. Best of luck to her with that, and with her new partner.  And the Church can just bugger off.

(From NYT): Ms. Morffi, left, and Ms. Hass. Credit Katerina Reyes-Gutierrez

Priest at HuffPo: Dawkins is dangerous and has damaged our culture

August 4, 2017 • 12:00 pm

Amazingly, the link to the “religion” section at HuffPo seems to have vanished, so there’s no way to see its articles except by Googling “HuffPo religion”. This is good, for there’s no longer one-click access to the panoply of HuffPo pieces extolling all religions save fundamentalist Christianity, and the endless Islamsplaining articles by Carol Kuruvilla. Most of the pieces you get under “religion” seem to have been pulled from other sections of the site.

When I did the requisite Googling, however, I found a pretty odious piece, which you can get it by clicking on the screenshot below.  The author, Kerry Walters, is an retired academic and a Catholic priest. He’s quite prolific: his Wikipedia bio shows that he writes about three books a year (theologians can do that)—eight in 2013 alone. His latest is St. Teresa of Calcutta: Missionary, Mother, Mystic, (he should have added “Malefactor”), which appears to be a hagiography of the old charlatan.

Walters simply cannot abide Richard Dawkins, who’s now coming to stand for all bad things atheist and secular.

Walters begins his attack by going out of his way to pat atheists on the back—he avers that in his previous books he’s actually praised atheists, but only the Right Kind of Atheist. What kind is that? You know the answer:

People who have read my books and articles know how greatly I admire and learn from atheists who do the hard work of familiarizing themselves with the religious beliefs to which they object so that they can offer rigorous arguments against them.

Yes, he likes those atheists who have read the Bible, the Qur’an, and perhaps some Hindu scriptures, as well as some Christian theology. Well, Dr. Walters, I HAVE DONE THAT, and I still find religion a manmade set of fairy tales for which there’s not a bit of evidence.  Will you admire and learn from me? I don’t think so. What Walters is advancing is the Courtier’s Reply: that you can’t criticize religion unless you’re deeply familiar with scripture and theology.

And I agree that you have to know something about religion to criticize it—and to see its falsity. But the main criticism of religion by New Atheists is that its existence claims—about the existence of God, Jesus, and Allah, of Muhammad’s taking the Qur’an from an angel, of Joseph Smith being angel-guided to the golden plates, of the reality of the Resurrection and Moses’s journey in the wilderness—have no supporting evidence. Some of the existence claims are even contradictory among faiths: Islam, for instance, claims not only that Jesus was not divine, but that an impostor was crucified in his place. And the God-given moral codes are also contradictory. If religion is true, then there is at most one true religion.

But it doesn’t take much knowledge of scripture to realize two things. First, most adherents to religions don’t know their scripture. It’s well documented that atheists know more about the Bible than do Christians. Most believers don’t believe because evidence has convinced them that their faith is true; they believe because that they’ve simply been indoctrinated when young by parents and peers. So the claim of “brainwashing” that Walters finds so harsh and odious is in fact accurate.

Second, there is no evidence for the truth claims of religion. We have no substantive evidence (save the words in the Bible) that a Jesus person even existed, much less was divine, crucified, and resurrected. And, at bottom, the hold of religion on people depends on the existence of those truth claims. If Jesus wasn’t resurrected, if there was no Original Sin, if Mohammed didn’t take down dictation by Allah via Gabriel, then Christianity and Islam fall apart. Yes, they have moral codes, but those codes depend crucially on the authenticity of the religion’s truth claims.

I spent over two years reading theology, beginning with scripture and progressing through “folk theology”, as exemplified by C. S. Lewis, to the “sophisticated” lucubrations of people like Alvin Plantinga and David Bentley Hart. And the deeper you dig, the more bullshit you find. It’s excreta all the way down. Sophisticated theology provides no more evidence for God than does C. S. Lewis or children’s books on Christianity. There is no “there” there. And yes, I’ve read the entire Bible and Qur’an, and some Hindu theology, as well as part of the Book of Mormon (I couldn’t finish it).

To evade this factual disproof of religion’s strong claims, Walters simply defends faith as a virtue—it doesn’t need evidence:

Additionally, Dawkins trashes religious faith by inevitably conflating it with gullibility and superstition—it’s “weird,” “brainless,” “a crutch for consolation,” and a “cop-out.” These are soundbites that people who’ve never really bothered to listen to what serious students of religion say about faith typically toss around.

But it gets even sloppier. As an alternative to faith, Dawkins recommends reason. (Never mind that this is a tiresomely false dichotomy.) But he dubiously identifies reason with the scientific method, which he appears not to understand. Science’s methodology is specifically fitted to examine the physical world and generate hypotheses about it. As any good scientist will readily concede, science oversteps its mark and betrays its own methodology when it makes untestable metaphysical pronouncements. [JAC: like “there’s no empirical evidence for a theistic god”?] But Dawkins, in the name of science, does precisely this, claiming that science proves the through-and-through physical nature of reality—a metaphysical rather than scientific assertion.

Translation: “We don’t need no stinking evidence for what we claim is true.” Seriously, that’s all this says. As someone said, “It’s called faith because there isn’t any evidence.”

In the end, Walters simply doesn’t like three things about Dawkins. The first is his supposed ignorance of religion (see above).

The second is Dawkins’s tone, the supposed stridency that we hear so much about but is really just passionate writing. And, after all, a lot of “good” atheists, which I suppose include Bertrand Russell and Robert G. Ingersoll, were just as passionate. Wasn’t Russell’s classic treatment called “Why I am not a Christian”?

The stridency sniffed out by Walters includes this:

But Dawkins does neither. Instead, he gut-punches intelligence right out of the discussion.

To begin with, he demonstrates no real familiarity with scripture, instead cherry-picking passages from the Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim holy texts that, because they’re ripped out of context, easily make religion look stupid and cruel.

A representatively screechy passage from his best-selling The God Delusion gives some idea of what I mean. The “God of the Old Testament,” Dawkins sputters, is “a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

No one who’s actually taken the time to read the Wisdom books, prophets, or large sections of the Pentateuch could possibly write such nonsense. This is the sort of wild exaggeration you hear only from people with huge chips-on-their-shoulders.

Umm. . . what about Dan Barker, an ex-evangelical Christian preacher? Barker’s just written a book, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction, which agrees 100% with Richard’s characterization, and in fact, goes through each of those 19 characteristics of God, showing how the Bible supports them. And yes, Dan knows his Scripture; he preached it for years.

Finally, Walters objects to Dawkins “coarsening the culture” by using strong language:

Having said this, however [to his credit, Walters says KPFA shouldn’t have deplatformed Dawkins], I also agree with KPFA: Dawkins’ remarks about religion, Christianity as well as Islam, have indeed been abusive, contributing to the coarsening and polarization of our culture. And lest you think, “Well, of course a priest would say that,” let me assure you that my objection has nothing to do with my faith and everything to do with my regard for reasoned and civil discourse.

When I say that Dawkins is abusive, I don’t simply mean that his harsh remarks about religion have hurt this or that person’s feelings. Feelings get hurt all the time in this world, a sad but inescapable fact. Better to grow a slightly thickened skin than to petulantly nurse an attitude of permanent grievance.

No, the damage Dawkins has done is cultural rather than personal. Dawkins has basement-lowered the tone of discourse when it comes to religion, thereby giving his adoring fan base permission to do likewise.


[A few years ago], I merely considered Dawkins a parvenu and a nuisance. But over the past few perilous months, with the rise of an “alternative” facts and “fake news” ethos in which truth is ignored and bluster reigns supreme, I’ve changed my mind. I now think Dawkins and his ilk are downright dangerous—not because they say nasty things about religion, but because they feed, in their own small way, our increasingly toxic culture of vituperation, distrust, and ignorance.

Voices like Dawkins’ oughtn’t to be silenced, as KPFA chose to do. But they definitely need to be called out and challenged.

What Walters seems to be saying here is that Dawkins needs to be more polite about—more respectful of—religion, and engage with sophisticated theology rather than religion as it’s practiced by the average person. Well, refuting Alvin Plantinga will have no effect on that average person, because they could care less about Plantinga. It’s more important to engage religion as most people practice it, and that means engaging its truth claims. Further, as I said above, reading Sophisticated Theology™ doesn’t give you any more confidence that the truth claims of religion are valid: it’s just C. S. Lewis dressed up in fancy language.

When Waters bangs on about Dawkins “damaging the culture”, and being “dangerous”, I sense that what he really means is an unspoken fourth criticism: Dawkins has been successful in turning people into unbelievers. There is absolutely no doubt about this, and this is what bothers Walters. That’s where the “danger” lies. Walters is losing his flock! People are starting to question and abandon the doctrines Walter preached his whole life!

Unbelief is growing throughout the West, and some of that is due to Dawkins. The “respectful” atheists—people like Robert Wright, John Horgan, or Michael Ruse—don’t deconvert anybody, because they’re always making nice with religion and, in fact, telling people it’s okay to believe in God. Most likely they don’t care about deconverting anyone, which is fine, but in the end what really scares people like Walters is not the presence of atheists, but the presence of atheists who turn believers into atheists. That is why Dawkins is “dangerous.”

Catholic church prohibits gluten-free wafers as Jesus’s body must have gluten

July 12, 2017 • 12:00 pm

A communique from the Vatican, as reported by The Washington Post, lays out the guidelines for what must be in Communion wafers, and that means that there MUST BE SOME GLUTEN.  (Gluten is a complex of proteins in grains that allow bready stuff to rise and hold its shape.) This dictum apparently isn’t new, but has been reconfirmed in light of people’s recent tendency to avoid gluten. As the Post reports:

The letter drew attention from media outlets around the globe, but it actually reaffirmed earlier guidelines saying that bread and wafers must have at least some gluten in them. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops already has guidelines allowing churches to use low-gluten wafers and nothing will change in American Catholic churches, said Andrew Menke, executive director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship.

“Absolutely nothing has changed,” Menke said in a statement. “The ‘new guidance’ from the Vatican is simply a reminder to bishops that they need to be attentive to the bread and wine that is used for Mass, making sure that it’s consistent with the Church’s requirements.”

Guidelines are also given by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The most recent Church teaching on the use of mustum and low-gluten hosts at Mass remains the letter from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. . . on July 24, 2003 (Prot. n. 89/78-17498), which was addressed to the Presidents of Conferences of Bishops. In that letter, pastors and the faithful are reminded that for bread to be valid matter for the Eucharist, it must be made solely of wheat, contain enough gluten to effect the confection of bread, be free of foreign materials, and unaffected by any preparation or baking methods which would alter its nature. The amount of gluten necessary for validity in such bread is not determined by minimum percentage or weight, though hosts which have no gluten are considered invalid matter for Mass. (In the Roman Rite, the bread prepared for the Eucharist must also be unleavened.)

This is of course a problem for people with celiac disease, for if they can’t tolerate even a small amount of gluten in a wafer, they’re plumb out of luck. After all, theologians, who get paid to figure out this kind of stuff, have studied the scriptures assiduously and decided, “YES, there must be gluten” (my emphasis):

The Catholic Church teaches that the practice of the Eucharist should be in continuity with Jesus, who ate wheat bread and drank grape wine, describing them as his body and blood.

“Christ did not institute the Eucharist as rice and sake, or sweet potatoes and stout,” said Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at Catholic University.

Some theologians have argued the bread and wine are simply symbolic, but the Catholic Church does not consider the elements to be symbols. It teaches that Jesus himself instituted the bread and the wine during the Passover meal, and churches should follow his lead.

“It may seem a small thing to people,” Pecknold said. “But the Catholic Church has spent 2,000 years working out how to be faithful to Christ even in the smallest things. To be vitally and vigorously faithful … is something which is simply integral to what it means to be Catholic.”

Bread and wafers “must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition,” the letter from the Vatican states. “Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.” However, low-gluten wafers and bread may be used, it says.

But apparently most sufferers from celiac disease are okay, as there’s not much gluten in a wafer after all. You’d have to eat handfuls (or is it “handsful”?) of them to get sick:

In 2004, Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland, said that one of the Benedictine Sisters’ low-gluten wafers contained such low gluten that someone with celiac disease would have to consume 270 wafers daily to reach a danger point.

“You’d have to be very devout or really excited about going to church to eat that much at communion,” said Claire Baker, spokeswoman for Beyond Celiac, an advocacy organization for people with celiac disease. “You don’t eat communion wafers like you eat crackers.”

A regular wafer contains approximately 22 milligrams of gluten, according to registered dietitian Nancy Patin Falini. Wafers that contain under 10 milligrams of gluten are considered low-gluten.

This all reminds me of rabbis deciding that Passover matzos must be made from scratch and baked within 18 minutes after the process starts—lest yeast get in there and the matzos be “leavened.” That wouldn’t be kosher! The bakery is also cleaned out between batches. The 18 minutes was determined by oodles of rabbis intensely pondering scripture—and I suppose biology, though I’m dubious).

It’s all nuts.

h/t: Diane G.