Cardinal George Pell, humbug

He’s at it again: Faithless are coarse, uncaring and without purpose, says Cardinal Pell.  Most of it’s typical tosh. We’re all utterly miserable hedonists, apparently. He even goes Godwin on us:

Cardinal Pell said education was not enough to create a civilised society, that faith was necessary too. He cited the example of 20th century Germany, which he said was the best educated society in the world when Hitler became leader.

Pell is too well-educated himself to actually believe what he is saying here. It’s well documented that Germany in the 1930s was in fact a very religious society, and Hitler’s political success came from using a distinctly nationalist streak of religious conservatism to justify his scapegoating of non-Christian minorities as causing the problems besetting the ship of German state and to rationalise the resort to an authoritarian regime as the answer to those problems.

After all, organised religion encourages the faithfull to accept and obey authority as representing the proper order of things as ordained by God, and as an act of piety in itself: submission to the will of God is necessary in order to secure God’s blessings. See this video (via Shaun at polyaidoloi) for a blatantly unsophisticated view of the theologically approved position on how one should view those in positions of authority:

Sure, religious teachings give a lot of lip-service to doing the right thing in an immoral world, especially the virtue of standing up for justice and righteousness even when it’s likely to be a death sentence, but the faithful are given few actual tools in their religious education for recognising immorality in those given authority over them, and virtually no swift or transparent procedures for challenging it. The faithful tend to not even be given the vocabulary to discuss the possibility of immoral leadership as an ingroup phenomenon – immorality (and thus corruption and exploitation) are described as things that only happen outside their group.

This authoritarian worldview is ripe for exploitation by any opportunistic propagandist. Goering put it in a nutshell:

“Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Text alongside the scarlet A logo for atheism: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” - Stephen RobertsThe Christian worldview does not provide any special protection against the cynical implanting and exploiting of fear, uncertainty and doubt in normal, decent people by those in authority; nor against such tactics escalating to the point where those normal, decent people end up willing to look aside, acquiescing silently while those authorities do terrible things. Without the critical thinking skills encouraged by the skeptical worldview, people have fewer tools to recognise and rebel against authoritarian propaganda and exploitation.

Many of the first people sounding alarms against authoritarian excess are going to be the well-educated skeptics, because we’re always amongst the people such regimes scapegoat  first.  “Decadent intellectuals” were persecuted by the Nazis alongside the Jews, another historical fact of which Pell is most likely fully aware.  What a despicable purveyor of self-serving swill he is (which is exactly why he doesn’t want children taught critical thinking in ethics classes – can’t have them seeing through the cant now, can we?).

Even Her Maj groks that the religious do not have a monopoly on virtue, in her address to an Anglican synod lighter by around 50 traditionalist clergy who felt they had insufficient protection from the inroads of women in the church’s ministry. Such reactionary rebels highlight that disobeying authority is not always the socially just ethical choice, although it may accord entirely with received morals. The traditionalists view church tradition as a higher authority than the current hierarchy, and thus feel free to disobey. It remains ultimately the reverence for authority over critical thinking that leads to the unjust act.

The only protection against the misuse of authority is a healthy skepticism of those who claim to wield it over us. Faith is not the best tool for questioning authority, mostly because those who run the religions which preach it don’t want it to be.

Addendum: bloggers elsewhere on Pell –

Deborah challenges Pell’s swill from a different angle at In A Strange Land.

Shuan at polydaidoloi waxes lyrical on the meaning and purpose he finds in a faithless life.

Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy, history, religion

Tags: , , , ,

9 replies

  1. Awesome post, Tigtog. I loathe Pell. I think I have more atheist or agnostic friends and relatives than I do believers, and they are all wonderful, moral people.
    And really, if Catholicism is so great, he shouldn’t have to slam those outside his religion at all. He just has to talk about what’s good about Catholicism. Except, that’s right, it’s floating up shit creek right now, because people don’t like being told what to do by some self-righteous white old guy anymore. Even the nuns are sick of it.
    The saddest thing is that Catholicism *can* be good. I was reading about Mary McKillop when the fuss was being made about her, and she was a really cool lady. If Catholicism were more like what she had going with her egalitarian nuns, I think they’d get more people interested in it.
    But no, no, George Pell has to go by the usual uncreative stand-by of pushing around the less-represented. Way to go, Pell.

  2. if Catholicism is so great, he shouldn’t have to slam those outside his religion at all

    I think he is really scared by the media exposure of the dirty secrets of the Catholic church and he is trying the old faithful weapon of fear to drive people back to church. I think most people will have woken up to that bogey man being a dust bunny by now.

  3. Right, Mindy. Except it doesn’t work these days cause people have so many different alternatives than trudging along to church. Church isn’t a requirement to fit in as much as it used to be, it’s no longer the social glue. It’s changing to more secular things, things that transcend a single religious view, and that’s *such* a good thing.
    So bangin’ that old “THOU SHALT NOT” drum is not going to get the folks marching. Unfortunately it’s the only thing Pell knows.

  4. I can live with being a bit of a hedonist 🙂

  5. Cardinal George Pell strikes me as the type of person who realised at an early age that he didn’t want to do an outdoor job with heavy lifting involved, and therefore chose to go into the priesthood. He seems to be attracted to the authoritarian prospects of his role as a Cardinal (I don’t doubt he has ambitions to become either the next Pope, or at least someone who’s pulling the main strings in the background). His only real problem is he was born at least five centuries too late to really get the level of power I suspect he’d be happiest with. He certainly strikes me as a classic bully, following the classic bully tactics of crawling up to those above him while dominating anyone who happens to be placed in a position where he’s their hierarchical superior; it’s therefore no surprise any pulpit he finds himself behind becomes a bully pulpit.

  6. I believe that at all levels of society, whether that involves our family, nation or the international community, the key to a better, happier world is greater compassion. It is not necessary to become religious, or to believe in an ideology to bring this about. The important thing is to develop our basic human qualities as much as we can.

    I hope it’s OK to post this, it popped up on my fb page from the Dalai Lama, just after I’d been reading Pell’s nonsense. Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if Pell used his position and power to say something like that.

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