Flagellum Dei

Typically when someone is about to make a contentious statement they want the major media to pick up on, they will release hints of it ahead of time. This gives editors a chance to slot it into their schedules, run previews and generally work their moral muscles up for the debate.

A statement by Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien against Catholic politicians who don't do their utmost to bring in a ban on abortion through the EU has all the hallmarks of this process. It appeared early as a ‘the cardinal will say’ piece, and represents one of the most vicious public attacks on abortion rights by a religious leader in the UK in years. Not only did he call abortion 'an unspeakable crime', he suggested barring Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from communion and pushing catholic doctors towards actively attacking abortion, signalling a hardening of outlook which had been preceded by similar statements from Pope Benedict.

What is of interest to me here is less the issue of abortion (an important subject in itself, but one not specifically limited to the libertarian sphere) and more that of religious politicking. O'Brien has not thus far been much of a public hardliner, and isn't massively renowned for swimming the seas of state policy. His two main interventions in recent years have been in his tacit agreement with Scottish Independence, and support for gay people teaching in scottish schools.

So why the change in direction? Hopes of elevation perhaps in Benedict's old model church? A resurgence of faith? Has he spied a gap in which to crowbar Catholicised political change? Has he seen similar Muslim-based controversies and thought 'me too'? Any or all are possible, but what it amounts to is a public attempt by the Catholic church, through him to manipulate how our society is run - something which even the protestant church leadership tends to shy away from. It comes on the back of similar complaints regarding gay adoption in England, in which Da Vinci code wannabe Ruth Kelly (she's in nutty catholic sect Opus Dei) had a near-fatal conflict of interest.

I would be the first to admit my relationship to religion has been rocky. Not from an 'I believed, now I don't' point of view, but from a 'should it be tolerated' one. I started off extremely antagonistic (I terrorised my school chaplain), and only recently came to the conclusion that not all believers were bad (just wrong) and that they can be worked with on occasion. While I still bait, I tend not to condemn the religious out of hand any more.

But this sort of thing though reminds me of why my visceral hatred of religion started in the first place. Its illogical moralising, spittle-flecked invective and condemnation - damnation - of even the possibility that they could be wrong about anything despite 2,000 years of barbarity is in complete opposition to any notion of liberty. The existence of its high priests, interpreters of God's Word, place it outside libertarian thought and poison the ground on which communism could be built.

O'Brien's public call, and implied confidence that he can get a payoff from it, is dangerous. As a senior priest, his intervention would be anything but unconsidered, and particularly in threatening MEPs, he is attempting to by-pass groups, organisations and laws across the whole of Europe which keep the church in check. It is a reminder of why it is not just the state which should be abolished. In a secular capitalist democracy their political influence may seem harmless, but beneath sleepy spires lies the desire to rule, and with that desire comes dark ages.

Posted By

Rob Ray
May 31 2007 13:44


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