Archive for May, 2009

North Korean missiles

May 29th, 2009

Where does Kim Jong Il keep them?

This post from October 2006 is topical again. Watch the startling video footage.

Land of saints and child abusers…

May 22nd, 2009

I am angry.

This week in Ireland, The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse published its report after ten years (summary here – full report here). The commission investigated reports of the abuse of children in Catholic Reformatory and Industrial Schools over a sixty year period up to the 1980s. Such institutions were set up to care for poor and abandoned children and often as a means of dealing with troublesome children.

Scene from the feature film Song for a Raggy Boy

Scene from the feature film "Song for a Raggy Boy"

What makes me angry is not just that children were beaten, tortured and raped. What makes me angry is not just that children were beaten, tortured and raped by people who were supposed to be caring for them. What makes me angry is not just that children were beaten, tortured and raped by members of religious orders who were supposed to be caring for them. What makes me angry is that not one of the torturers and rapists still alive is going to be named and not one of them is going to be prosecuted.

It angers me that the Catholic Church and the Government in Ireland knew that abuse was going on and did nothing about it.

It angers me particularly that the Christian Brothers (against whom more allegations were made than all of the other male orders combined, according to the RTE news website) even successfully sued the commission in 2004 to keep the identities of its members anonymous in the report. I was educated by the Christian Brothers for all my secondary schooling. I was in a normal school, not one of the institutions that are the subject of the report. My memories of the brothers are generally good, particularly of one head teacher who was a gentleman. I have no personal axe to grind with the order, but to think that even now they would try to cover up the abuses of some of their members is a disgrace. If I had children in a CB school, I would withdraw them in protest.

Why was there so much abuse in Ireland? I think it goes back to the (not distant) past when poor families were large and couldn’t provide for all their children, so some were packed off at a young age to religious orders to become priests, nuns and brothers. Effectively condemned to a life of restrictions that they had not chosen for themselves. These were not vocations, they were sentences. What resentments and frustrations did these children carry with them into adulthood and subsequently take out on the children who eventually came into their own care?

Severe corporal punishment was considered normal in school when I was a child. Of course, “severe” is a relative term. I have no experience of brutal beatings, either as a victim or a witness, but when the whole class is being punished with strokes of a large, wooden ruler on the palms of both hands, and you are waiting somewhere down the line, having to see and listen to those before you receive their punishment knowing that yours is coming, and to top it off the class is being punished for making noise during a break when you yourself had stayed as quiet as a mouse – that can be quite traumatic for a six-year-old mind. That happened at the Sisters of Charity primary school in Gardiner Street, Dublin. I bear no ill-will towards the nun who meted out that punishment. She was generally a good woman.

Later I went to a school run by the De La Salle brothers in Navan. The young brother who taught me there was generally good-natured and friendly but had a bizarre way of testing the boys’ spelling skills. He would line the whole class up along the walls of the classroom. Each boy in turn would be given a word to spell. If he got it right, he sat down. Otherwise he would remain standing. Those were very long moments in a boy’s life because he had to wait for round one to be over. Round two started with a single lash across the palm of the hand with a bamboo cane for each boy who remained standing. The lash was excruciating; the waiting possibly even more so. Then the spelling bee would begin again. Each of the remaining boys would be given another word to spell. Round three would begin with a lash to each hand. I don’t remember whether there was a round four. Fortunately, I was literate from an early age, so I rarely got lashed for spelling mistakes. But I burn with anger and resentment now when I think of it. There was no educational value in such behaviour, certainly not for any children who had never been encouraged to read or who were dyslexic. My parents never learned of those beatings from me. I considered them normal and I had been brought up not to question authority. Ironically, the brother blurted it out to my mother during a meeting when he thought she had come to complain. He said that when he had started out, he vowed he would never strike a child, but in the end he saw no other way to control the class. Yes… because during our spelling bees we must have been like rioting prison inmates on crack.

I mention these two, generally good and kind, teachers because even they beat us when it came down to it. And we were ordinary children in an ordinary school who went home to our parents in the afternoon. What must have gone on behind the closed doors of those institutions for underprivileged children if ordinary kids like us were being physically and mentally abused for not knowing how to spell “anguish”.

I can only imagine the anguish suffered by those victims of abuse (and I personally know some) at the hands of the Catholic Church with the collusion of the Irish Government, to be told now that their abusers will not face justice.

The kinds of abuse that went on are Abu Ghraibian, yet perpetrated not on adults by soldiers following the orders of shadowy intelligence officers, but on children by priests, nuns and brothers with the consent of government ministers.

Anywhere else there would be prison sentences for the abusers and anyone who obstructed justice by shielding abusers. But not in Ireland, where the old attitude of “Ah, sure it’s best we don’t think about these things” that allowed it to happen in the first place is still alive and well, it would seem.

And the irony of recent times is that Ireland’s Minister for Justice wants to be able to prosecute people for “blasphemy“. But not for the abuse of a child, it would seem, because not offending religious people is more important than not raping children. Welcome to 1930s Ireland.

It’s at times like this I wish I was not agnostic, then I could believe that Hell awaits such people. What all this certainly does show me is that even if there were a god, religious organisations have no direct line to him and certainly receive no mandate from him.

To get a flavour for what the commission’s report is about, I recommend you watch “Song for a Raggy Boy“, which is based on the true story of a lay teacher’s courage to stand up against abuse in a Catholic Reformatory and Industrial School in 1939 Ireland.

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Musing #43

May 18th, 2009

I could be wrong, but that doesn’t stop me being sure.

Dear God…

May 10th, 2009

I was in one of your churches today attending a first communion.

There were several seats empty near me and an old man, who clearly was having trouble both walking and standing, passed from bench to bench, asking to be allowed to sit. In each case, he was told that the seats were being held for family (family who had chosen to be late, incidentally). Seeing as none of your flock was willing to give him an empty seat, I am sure it will not surprise you that none of them was willing to offer him their own seat.

So how come the agnostic offered to give up his seat when none of the Christians would?

Oh, wait. You work in mysterious ways, according to your followers (when their words and actions make no sense).

“And by ‘respect’, what I mean is…”

May 8th, 2009

According to The New York Times, the Pope has declared his “deep respect” for Muslims.

If I remember rightly, the Pope believes in a place called “Heaven” and also that a pre-condition for entry into Heaven is an acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and one’s Lord and Saviour. The last time I looked, Muslims did not accept that.

So what is the Pope really saying?

You’re all going to Hell, or at least Purgatory, but I think you’re great!

Surely the Pope’s statement reflects his understanding of modern politics and public relations. After all, only a hundred years ago, the Pope would have got away with saying that all Muslims are going to burn in hell, but he would not get away with that today, no matter how much he might think it.

According to Catholic theology, all Muslims are at least going to spend a considerable amount of time suffering in Purgatory, so either the Pope does not have a deep respect for Muslims, or he is calling into question Catholic doctrine. There I go using logical thinking again (which priests taught me at university).

I should just have faith that the Pope really does respect people he believes are not good enough to get into his Heaven.

To the Popes embarrassment, the reception at King Abdullahs palace was not, in fact, a Magnificent Seven themed fancy dress.

To the Pope's embarrassment, the reception at King Abdullah's palace was not, in fact, a Magnificent Seven themed fancy dress.

What’s the matter with blasphemy?

May 1st, 2009

Further to my post below, point 6.1.i of Article 40 of The Constitution of Ireland states:

“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

However, the Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that this point could not be applied in a legal case because it was not possible to say what blasphemy actually is.

Instead of moving into the 21st century and removing the point about blasphemy from the constitution, Dermot Ahern wants to make it enforceable by defining blasphemy. His proposal for a new law in Ireland against the publication or utterance of blasphemous matter defines such matter as:

“grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage”

Although I am not quite sure how one can “utter” matter, I’ll go with that for the moment.

There are two problems with this definition. Firstly, it does not go on to quantify the phrase “substantial number”, thus leaving it entirely subjective. Secondly, a successful prosecution would be contingent on proving that the defendant intended to cause outrage. So in his attempt to add clarity, Minister Ahern has added none at all.

But let’s suppose he made things clear by quantifying the “substantial number” and removing the clause about intent, there would still be problems.

Then suppose I started a religion which taught that the “God” of the Old Testament was actually the Devil and that he created the world as a prison, a religion which taught that Hell was in fact our own physical world, created by this Devil as a means of tormenting humans, a religion which taught that the resurrection of Jesus was not a physical resurrection of his dead body but more a spiritual awakening akin to Buddhist “enlightenment”.

Now suppose a “substantial number” of Roman Catholics felt outrage, I could be punished simply for expressing a belief that is at odds with what they believe.*

But hang on! What if a substantial number of my adherents felt outrage at the publication of Catholic beliefs? I could have all the Catholics punished!

Yes, everyone punishing everyone else over which mythology is the right one at a time when people are losing their jobs. That is the way to lead the country out of crisis.

I do not believe that simply causing outrage should be punishable. Such a policy tells us that things should be left alone, be nice, don’t rock the boat. But we all know that sometimes the boat needs to be capsized. Of course, people in power tend to lose their balance when boats are rocked, so they don’t like it.

“Outrage” is often just a politically correct synonym for “intolerance” and intolerance should not be rewarded by enshrining it in law.

Interesting article on this topic by Michael Nugent here.

* These beliefs were held by many in the Languedoc region of what is now called France. The Church of Rome was outraged at this blasphemy and dealt with it by torturing and murdering adherents to those beliefs until there were none left.