The Commenters Delusion

I was toying with the Blind Commenter as a title, but decided it would be too obvious 🙂 . I have been reading some of the opinion blogs on the Times today, which is always enjoyable. The main three have been two by Ruth Gledhill (On Dawkins and on Scientology), and thanks to Nullifidian’s blog, I read one by William Rees-Mog, again on Dawkins. As is often the case the columns, being written by sensible journalists, are well presented (with the exception of Rees-Mog but he is different kettle of fish) and the arguments are structured.

Fortunately, for me, the same most certainly can not be said about the people who leave comments. Yes, some are sane and balanced, but others range from mildly confused to massively off the deep end. In this post, I will look at some of the more pertinent comments and explain why I think they are at least a little, ahem, confused.

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Selfish Theists

In today’s newspapers (front page news even!), there is a bit about a nun who wrote down the Pope John Paul II’s name and was cured of Parkinson’s disease. The Catholic church is using this as one of the miracles towards JP’s saint hood. When I read it, I had to do a quick calendar check to make sure it wasn’t 1 April yet – phew. (It will be when this gets posted but never mind) I am not for one second going to doubt she had Parkinsons, nor will I doubt she is now cured.

Now, while I am glad that this nun was cured I think it is remarkably selfish of her to have asked for the cure – surely the fact she had Parkinson’s was part of God’s great plan? Is it not arrogant of her to ask to be “cured” of the same ailment John Paul II was suffering from? Is the suffering not the way God “tests” his followers?

When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of the “Why Wont God Heal Amputees?” web site. What is so special about this nun that JP2s powers were spent healing her? This is especially strange when he could have been doing so much more. 2005 was a harsh year, and surely there were millions of the faithful begging for help in one way or another. I mean, it is not as if he isn’t capable:

On June 2 2005, two months after the pontiff’s death, Marie-Simon-Pierre accepted her condition was so bad that she would have to resign from work. It was a difficult decision, being from a deeply observant Catholic family of five in northern France she had always felt a calling to serve in maternity. Her superior told her not to give up hope. “She asked me to write Jean Paul II on a piece of paper to give me strength. I didn’t want to write in front of anyone because I had such difficulties, and if someone was watching me, it would be even harder. But I wrote Jean Paul II. It was almost illegible.” Later the nun was “seized by a need to write”. It was such an unusual urge that she couldn’t even find a pen to hand. She wrote a few lines. “I looked at my writing and thought that’s funny, your writing is very readable.”

In the morning she was aware of a lack of the usual stiffness and pain. She said she felt an “inner strength”. She went to the chapel at 4am, with none of her usual difficulty walking. “I realised that my body was no longer the same. I was convinced that I was cured.

Seriously, if you were a saint, would you waste time healing nun’s in the backwaters or would you be putting paid to hunger, disease and the like all over the world?

Are saints limited in what they can do? (And if so, why and how much?). Is God a bit jealous about what powers he lets them have – if so, can some one in the Church have a word with God and tell him to unclench a little. How about the millions of people who died during that time – why couldn’t JP2 have saved them?

Maybe, just maybe, we are in fact slipping back to the eleventh century. The Catholic Church is indeed favoured by God and it’s workforce get special privileges. Time to get down to church, hand over some money and ask for a few indulgences. Obviously these guys and gals have the hotline to God and his saints, which no body else does.

The Trap- BBC2

The Trap – on BB2, on Sundays at 9pm for the next few weeks – is well worth watching. It is mainly brilliant. It’s rare to find television that addresses fundamental issues about our current society. If it’s any indication of how good it is, Charlie Brooker’s Screen Burn in Saturday’s Guardian – which introduced it as unmissable – was probably the only totally serious piece Brooker has written in that column.

The programme looks at our ideas about freedom, where they originated and how they serve to cage us. Ian Curtis traces our current views of individuals as totally self-serving to inventions that were necessary to make Rand Corporation cold-war game theory work, through anti-psychiatry’s attack on institutions and Thatcher-inspiring economists to a situation where, as Brooker put it

“conventional human traits such as sadness or irritability are reclassified as aberrant medical conditions, Narcissism and selfishness, however, are normal.”

I can’t say I can go along with all the arguments – I can’t believe that R.D. Laing was truly so influential anywhere, nor that anti-psychiatry can be blamed much for the medicalising of normal behaviours. Curtis’s argument here is that Rosenham’s experiments, by showing that psychiatrists misdiagnosed mental illness, shook the medical establishment and led to the application of non-human computerised automatic diagnoses. When applied to large numbers of non-mental patients, the diagnostic questionnaires showed that half of the US population had a recognised mental disorder. The questionnaires provided an “objective” set of standards of normality that became a model for the population as a whole to judge itself against.

I don’t know where the argument is going with this, yet, but it seems a little far-fetched. I don’t think the detail is really important. Tonight’s programme was very impressive and important. It looks very broadly at the action of ideas in our society, from their origin to their implications.. It should really make you think.