In 1480 a Turkish force invaded Otranto in Italy, killing 802 people. Catholics claim that they were killed for refusing to convert to Islam. Pope Clement XIV beatified the group in 1771, and now Pope Francis is declaring all 802 saints. He will thus become the Pope with largest number of saints created, overnight.
The Turks, however, furiously deny the story of a religious massacre. They say that the people killed were soldiers, or at least armed men. Italian researchers conclude that some acts of terror were committed by the Turkish invaders to create panic among the Italians around Otranto. But evidence that the 802 were killed for their Christian faith is apparently hard to come by.
I am deeply sorry about deaths in Otranto, as I am deeply sorry about the deaths of Muslims killed by drones today. But 802 saints?
Dear Mr. Pope, read Epicurus! Moderation, please.
The New York Times reports today that crowds, led by Orthodox priests, violently attacked a gay rights demonstration in Tbilisi, Georgia yesterday. The leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, compared homosexuals to drug addicts, and called the gay demonstration “a violation of the rights of the majority” of Georgians. One supporter of the Patriarch said she had come to the counter demonstration “to cure their illness”. Priests (who are above the law in Georgia) led the charge that broke through the police protective barrier. They will not be charged with an offense.
One doesn’t need to be a sceptic about reactionary religions to be shocked to read about this event. Epicurus, not an active supporter of the deities, would be appalled. He stood for respect, tolerance and equality for all human beings, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or the color of your eyes. Think how revolutionary that was 2,300 years ago! And some are still treating homosexuality as a disease or a lifestyle choice. Astonishing.
Alain de Botton is a Swiss philosopher living in England. in his new book, Religion for Atheists, he suggests that those who don’t believe in the teachings of the established religions should appropriate some of their ideas. They are good ideas, he says. They include how to:
- build a sense of community
- make our relationships last
- overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy
- escape the twenty-four hour media
- go travelling
- get more out of art, architecture and music
- and create new businesses designed to address our emotional needs.
I respectfully suggest that the major religions long ago appropriated the good ideas of oriental beliefs, plus hunks of Greek philosophy and offered a fine hotch-potch of ideas gleaned from a host of sources, as if they were in supermarkets. By all means be open-minded and take what you can from Christianity and Islam. In doing so also look carefully at the rational ideas of Epicurus, which are based on moderation, friendship, the search for peace of mind, the avoidance of ambition and power, of politics and disagreeable people. You can live your life calmly and ethically without being told what to do by anyone else.
To The Spectator
It is possible that I have been counting myself an atheist for longer than Richard Dawkins – if only because I am almost a decade older than he is. It is only fairly recently, though, that I began subscribing to the Humanist Association, of which Professor Dawkins has long been vice-president. I confess that I joined largely in the hope that membership might one day reduce the likelihood of some well-intentioned priest spouting mumbo-jumbo over my coffin.
Having signed up, I was faintly shocked by the ferocity of the humanist movement. I recognise, for example, that faith schools are intrinsically unfair, but I would be disinclined to deny parents their choice. The children will in any case make up their own minds later. (The world seems to be full of lapsed Catholics.) I cannot even get wound up by the prospect of a handful of bishops occupying seats in the House of Lords. Almost everywhere one looks in the West, religion is losing ground and seems set to go on doing so. With most things going their way, it is unnecessary for humanists to behave like a frustrated minority.
Geoffrey Foster, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire
Yes, we also believe that time is on our side. But Epicureans are nothing if they are not courteous, considerate of the feelings of others, and, yes, moderate. If you have read the writings of Professor Dawkins and have heard him talk the I think you will agree that people will be lured into the Epicurean fold more with honey than with bile. I’m glad to put Mr. Foster’s letter on this blog.
Epicurus said: Do not be afraid of the gods: they do not concern themselves with human problems; nor do they reward or punish you in this world or when you die. There is neither a Heaven nor a Hell.
Comment: Heaven and hell were invented to offer hope to the hope-less and as a means of frightening the general populace into compliance. No wonder kings through the ages have loved the idea.
A former employee at a Christian college has enlisted the help of high-profile attorney Gloria Allred to sue a California school that allegedly fired her for engaging in premarital sex. In a bizarre twist, the school reportedly went on to offer the pregnant woman’s job to her then-fiance.
Teri James, 29, told the news outlet that she did sign a two-page contract with San Diego Christian College that included a provision agreeing not to engage in “sexually immoral behavior including premarital sex.”
Offered the job to her fiance?!
No wonder people are fleeing organized religion and the intolerance and the sexism that often seems to go along with it. Mind you, why did she accept a job in an organization that intruded into her private life in the first place? It is, as usual, about control, and these people want control in the bedroom, as elsewhere.
“What the next pope needs to do,as his first act, is to demand an accounting of every act of child abuse in the church. Every priest who is known to be guilty should be routed out, excommunicated and jailed. Every priest, bishop and cardinal who had any knowledge of these heinous crimes and protected a users should be excommunicated and prosecuted in the courts…..If ever there were a time for the church to ask, “What would Jesus do?” This is it”.
(Adapted from an article by Sally Quinn in the Washington Post, February .23
An incoming Pope should set out to re-convert the Vatican to Christianity, explaining to the Italian establishment that runs the place that it is there to offer a message of love and compassion (presumptuous for me to say it, but nobody else seems to be doing so). The behavior of Catholic priests, and those who shielded them, was repellent, and justice has not yet been seen to be done. Once it has addressed the scandals properly the Church could start over, ridding itself of medieval dresses, silly hats, it’s antiquities in the Vatican museum, and the dogmatic accretions of centuries.
Epicureans should respect the beliefs of the religious, just as long as they do no harm, help the poor and help build communities. But we do look forward, however, to seeing superstition wither away, and along with it priests who presume to tell people how they should live.
With a short while to go before choosing yet another autocrat to run the Catholic Church (reactionaries continue to insist that the relative democracy of the early Christian church and the importance of women should be airbrushed out of history), the Vatican is battling persistent rumours that Benedict’s decision was triggered by an explosive report on intrigue in its corridors of power.
The secret report compiled by a committee of three cardinals for the Pope’s eyes only was the result of a wide-ranging investigation into leaks of confidential papers from the Vatican that caused huge embarrassment last year.
The Panorama news weekly and the Repubblica daily said on Thursday that the report contained allegations of corruption and of blackmail attempts against gay Vatican clergymen, as well as favouritism based on gay relationships. The cardinals’ conclusions “revolve around the sixth and seventh commandments” — “Thou shall not commit adultery” and “Thou shall not steal”.
There was a twist when Pope Benedict XVI replaced Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, a powerful behind-the-scenes figure in the Secretariat of State with a major role in handling the Vatican bank’s foreign relations. He is being sent as Vatican envoy to Colombia — a serious demotion. (Adapted from a Guardian report)
Blessedly, Epicureans will never have an equivalent of the bishop of Rome telling them what to think. Were such a person to emerge, he would stand alone, blathering on to himself. A nice thing about Epicureanism is that it is mostly common sense, with a number of recommendations. The gaps you can fill in for yourself.
An Amish sect leader has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for attacking fellow Amish, kidnapping them and cutting off their hair and beards. The Amish have a reputation for being quiet, law-abiding country folk, happy in their 18th Century lifestyle. Apparently, this is not true. They are subject to the same weird, irrational and uncivilized behavior that seems to be common with the extremist ends of all religions.
It’s true that a nutcase will be a nutcase whether or not there are religions. The human mind is astonishingly strange. But religions seem to attract extremists, who all too often are protected in the very names of their religions.
All Epicureans can do is to promote reason and moderation and hope that one day the intelligent and reasonable wings of some of these sects migrate to espouse Epicureanism, Humanism, Buddism, boring old Anglicanism, anything rather than exclusivity, intolerance and irrationality.
In “The Pope’s War: How Ratzinger’s Crusade Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved”, Matthew Fox, a former Catholic priest, talks about the “devastation” wrought by Benedict and his predecessor and elaborates on the following points:
1. His silence for years about the notorious pedophile priest Father Maciel, who was so close to Pope John Paul II that he was often invited on his plane and his seminarians enjoyed a mass ordination by the pope in St Peter’s Square. This man, who sexually abused dozens of his seminarians, had two wives on the side and sexually abused his own children (though a priest with vows of celibacy), was not fully investigated until 2005 even though a New York bishop wrote Ratzinger’s office in 1995.
2. Benedict’s attacks when head of the CDF (formerly “Office of the Holy Inquisition”) on at least 105 theologians whom he denounced, fired, and hounded, not only from his chair of CDF but also as pope. He brought back the Inquisition, reducing theology to 1) a catechism and 2) Saying Yes to whatever the pope (or his curia) said.
3. His unrelenting attacks on base communities and Liberation Theology in Latin America, leaving a religious void, now being filled by Pentecostal (and right wing political) churches.
4. His (and the previous pope’s) promotion of neo-fascist sects, such as the new “religious orders” and shock troops of the pope, beginning with the secret “Opus Dei”, which is embedded in places of great power throughout the world. Benedict and his predecessor destroyed the process of canonization by fast-tracking the sainthood of the founder of Opus Dei, Fr. Escriva, a card-carrying fascist, who praised Hitler.
5. The cover-up of pedophile clergy in the US, in Ireland and elsewhere, putting an Institution ahead of the rights of young children.
6. The end of religious ecumenism. Ratzinger as pope managed to insult Islam, Judaism, and all Protestant churches (he says they are not churches).
7. The dumbing down of the church not only by condemning thinkers but by appointing Bishops and cardinals world-wide whose only qualification for the job is to be loyal Yes men.
8. A complete reaffirmation of a “morality” of Sexism (no women priests ever; Catholic sisters in America are now subject to investigations like theologians have been); and of homophobia.
9. Benedict stuck by his “no condoms even in an age of AIDS”, and in a time in a time of excessive human population on a crowded planet, he has rigidly maintained the church’s opposition to birth control.
10. Interference in the U.S presidential election of 2004, when Ratzinger instructed American bishops to read his declaration that any “catholic politician” (i.e. Kerry) who did not denounce gays and abortion could not receive communion.
This is a terrible indictment of organised religion. The so-called “nones” (those who have rejected all this flim-flam) are growing in number daily. Epicurianism is a humanist alternative that does not require you to behave as part of a tribe, doesn’t tell you what to think, and is a rational, decent philosophy, not a religion.