Sorry, dead people

The fashion for apologising for things that happened many centuries ago has now hit the Vatican, which is about to publish a book saying it might have made a bit of a mistake, according to the Times and Telegraph .*

According to the Telegraph,

In 1307, King Philip IV “the Fair” of France, in desperate need of funds, ordered the arrest and torture of all Templars. After confessing various sins their leader, Jacques de Molay, was burnt at the stake.

And the Church quickly declared them all heretics. The new -found paper supposedly shows that pope Clement dissolved the Templar Order but said they weren’t heretics. Though the evidence for their non-heresy seems quite unconvincing, by the standards of the day, considering how little it took for a hedge-witch or a dissenting peasant to get tortured and killed for heresy (by both Catholics and Protestants) over the next few hundred years. It is tempting to suggest that the surviving Templars must have still had a fair bit of that Holy land wealth left with which to buy a relatively favourable judgement.

Now, 1307 is 700 years ago. The Vatican could teach any existing government a thing or two about keeping politically sensitive secrets.

What is the point in this? Given that the Templars were monk-knights, they shouldn’t even have any direct descendants who could accept an apology for wrongs done to their 175th generation-back ancestors. It’s obviously a soundbite thing. The Templars’ much-vaunted “secrets” have been attracting publicity again, in the silly da Vinci Code movie for a start.

Just in case, some people might be put off the Catholic Church because it did wrong in the 14th century, it’s going to apologise and set the record straight. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s not like they are going to make France hand back any of Phillip the Fair’s ill-gotten gains is it?

Much as I hate these ritual apologies to people who don’t exist any more, on behalf of the people who wronged them, but also don’t exist any more, why stop there? Why not apologise for the Crusades and the things the Catholic Church rewarded the Templars for doing? It wouldn’t make any more sense but at least it would show the beginnings of a sense of moral responsibility.

* (Look I don’t read these papers in real life. Honest. But, they are online….)

Blind Faith

The tragedy of missing Madeleine McCann seems no closer to ending than it did three months ago. During this time the media personification of the parents has alternated between saint and sinner – sometimes seemingly at random. For the most of it, in Portugal, the McCann parents have been looked at as (at best) negligent parents while (again, for most of the time) in the UK the middle class, white, professional, religious status of the parents has ensured they have been seen as saints who are undergoing a terrible ordeal. This changed recently, when for a short period the tabloids smelt more blood and in the wonderful manner of the press changed allegiances, barely stopping short of calling for their execution (mentioned previously). Given the natural order of the universe, the “truth” probably lies somewhere between the two extremes and I certainly have my own personal opinion. I should stress at this stage that my opinion is based on nothing other than gut feeling and the information made available by the press, so I have no intention of going into detail about it.

Before I go on, I would also like to point out that one of the main search terms which is driving traffic here recently is a variation on the words “Kate McCann Guilty Violent Murderer.” Given that this is generating a LOT of traffic, I can only guess at public opinion on the matter.

I digress. Risking eternal disfavour by the Great Antero Vipunen, I actually read the Sun newspaper today. I know. I am sorry. I will try not to do it again. In it, good old Archbishop John Sentamu writes a piece titled: We Must Have Faith For Maddie

Despite the overt religious tones in which the the piece is written, this is a largely secular humanist bit of writing with the basic theme being that the presumption of innocence is the bedrock of the legal system. For example, he relates this parable:

In 359AD a trial took place where a local governor, Numerius of Narbonne, was accused of raiding his own coffers. There was little proof but that didn’t stop the whispers and accusations. Still, the prosecutor was convinced the governor was guilty and said as much to the judge, the Roman Emperor Julian. At his trial, the governor denied the charges and the case was due to be dismissed.

The prosecutor was furious: “Oh, illustrious Caesar,” he raged, “If it is sufficient to deny, what hereafter will become of the guilty?” Emperor Julian’s response has been repeated in countless trials for the past 1600 years: “If it suffices to accuse, what then will become of the innocent?”

And, for once, I find my self in total agreement with the Archbishop of York. Scary.

Sadly, despite the valid comments the Archbish makes and the fact the Sun newspaper of all papers prints it, there are a few things which still make me uncomfortable about it. I agree whole heartedly that as a society we should reinforce the automatic presumption of innocence.

Now, with this in mind, have a flick through the Sun news paper (or any media output over the last, say, day) and see how many examples there are where a person accused of a crime is assumed to be guilty. It is a regular occurrence. Take poor Robert Murat for example – due to his past he was largely assumed to be guilty of anything people wanted to accuse him of. He had no support from the various churches, he had no support from rich idiots. He had to defend himself against the court of public opinion.

Not so for the McCann parents. The cynic in me is screaming this is entirely down to their perceived image as “successful” white professionals – anything which implies this part of our society can harbour evil seems to damage the national psyche. In the same edition of the Sun which calls for the return of innocent until proven guilty, OJ Simpson is pretty much called a murderer several times. Is this hypocrisy?

Anyway, enough ranting about this obvious state of the world. Dr Sentamu concludes his article with something that produced mixed emotions:

Our focus must again be upon the love of the parents for their lost daughter, for their hope that they may one day be reunited with her and for their faith that she is still alive.

These must be our watchwords — faith, hope and love. For as St Paul once wrote, in the end it is these three which remain: Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Wonderful words, and I too hope she is alive and unharmed. The adult in me is aware that this hope is pretty much doomed to be dashed against the rocks of reality, but I would like it to be so.

Sadly, and again this is cynic in me now, the plight of poor Maddie has shown that despite all the prayer in the world (and the wishes of his representative on Earth, the Pope), the Christian deity will not intervene to save even one life, nor will s/he take action to return a lost child to an apparently grieving family. From this I can only draw one of three conclusions:

  1. God exists but is evil or totally uninterested in the human race, with no intention to get involved in any of our affairs.
  2. God hates Christians.
  3. There is no God.

It is up to you which option you go for, but I know which one I think is true…

[tags]McCann, Madeleine, Kate, Kate McCann, Maddie McCann, Sentamu, Archbishop of York, Society, Law, Rights, Liberties, Philosophy, Robert Murat, Gerry McCann, The Sun, Tabloids, Media, UK, Culture, Civil Rights, Trial, Crime, Murder, Dr John Sentamu, Church of England, Catholics, CofE, Roman Catholic, Pope, Portugal, Police, Atheism, Humanism, Faith, Hope[/tags]

Vestments of the Devout

The phrase “devout Catholic” appears so often in the news bulletins recently that it has started to intrigue me. The words just seem to go together like, well, any phrase where two words almost always appear together.

It seemed worth seeing how many instances there were on the Internet. came up with about 353,000, modest by Google standards. “Devout Christian” has only 452,000, suggesting that the Catholic Church does indeed hold sway over the reportedly devout.

“Devout Muslim” has 237,000, catching up fast with the RC showing (and putting the residual 99,000 unspecified Christians well into the deist devotion also-ran camp.) Buddhists 65,500, Hindus 30,100, Jews 36,500.

(Doh. “Devout jews” with an s actually gets 37,200, whereas “devout Catholics” with an s only gets 96,000. Buddhists now have a whopping 96,600. What is Google playing at? Surely the s should bring up all the singular devotees and add some more? But wait “devout catholics” is now bringing up 96,600. I suspect Google is playing silly buggers and giving me whatever number it feels like.

Taking the quote strings off exposes even greater devotion. Devout Catholics are up to 1,750,000, with the singular devout Catholic at 1,730,000. I begin to suspect that Googling is not much of an exact science. Shouldn’t Google at least replicate its own results when you repeat a search less than a minute later?)

“Devout atheist” even brings up 30,200. Quite an impressive tally, especially for a phrase being used almost purely ironically. In your face, Rastafarians, with a mere 612, or Jains, with your miserly 434 devotees.

In fact has the top three (real-world – rather than Google) belief systems as:

# Christianity: 2.1 billion
# Islam: 1.5 billion
# Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion

(Mild W00t. Those Red-A t-shirt sales could be onto a winner after all.)

The BBC suggests that the Catholic Church claims 1,086 billion adherents. Its dominance of Googled Christian devotion is certainly disproportionate.

I am still no closer to understanding why Catholics are pretty well always said to be “devout.”

Maybe the “devout” word is disproportionately associated with Catholics and Muslims because these religions’ USP involves having a personal God who needs lots of sycophancy to stave off tendencies to random smiting?

Sometimes, of course, the phrase is used to portray any Catholic as incapable of doing wrong. This applies only in exact reverse to Islam. Devout Muslims tend to be seen as fanatics.

Naturally, this post can’t appear without at least one reference to the crimes of those Catholics so “devout” that they joined the priesthood. In case this is a surprise to anybody, see Catholic Action’s.

The numbers of victims are huge, according to Joan Smith, writing in the Independent, in January

Three years ago, a report commissioned by the American Catholic church admitted that more than 10,000 children, most boys, had been abused by priests.

I make that one for every 35 “devout Catholic” posts picked up by Google.

Of course, if it wasn’t for their families’ sincere “devotion” to the Church, these kids would never have been put in such a position and the priests would never have escaped unchallenged for decades.