Deliver Us From Evil

Greta Christina has a review of the movie.

Often I get visitors from the Roman Catholic Church. Many of them have been in congregations where priests have, in some way, abused their authority. A local pastor had a gambling addiction; the bishop had an affair; a priest in Croton had molested young boys. They say to me, “I love God and the church. I just can’t be in that family any more.”

Andrew Greeley once argued that the fundamental problem is pride and secrecy. The priests don’t listen to the people; the bishops don’t listen to their priests, and the holy see doesn’t even listen to its bishops. People can report to priests; priests can report to the church, but as long as the imperial church places itself above the rule of the state, without being held accountable, it will continue to harm people and open itself to further disaster.

In the early 1940’s a priest in my current church exposed himself to a young boy. He argued it was “sex education.” There was a local controversy. The wardens and half the vestry wanted to excuse the priest, but the bishop stepped in and in a letter argued, “what if it were your boy?” The bishop let the state handle it, and upon their verdict defrocked the priest. The bishop wrote a letter to the priest: “Our prayers are with you. But you have done irreparable harm to the family and to the church.” The case went to court. The bishop followed through.

Thus, my experience has been of bishops doing the right thing, even when parishioners themselves were convinced otherwise. The church is a wide organization.

I know the movie’s story. I get it a lot. I hear from people fleeing the church. Even my uncle, a Roman Catholic, joked with me after telling him about a break-up I’d had: “you aren’t the kind who likes little boys, are you?” He laughed, thinking he’d told an innovative, hilarious joke.

“Heh. Funny.” I replied.

I did not think it was funny.

Ms. Christina is an Atheist. She isn’t content to be a secularist or a humanist, a skeptic or a materialist. Atheism is the true way of understanding the world. Religion is for idiots. It’s really about the supernatural. Justifiably, she carefully unpacks the inconsistencies of particular propositions uttered by the religious.

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, but she does it with passion.

Here isher review.

And I have a couple complaints.

First, she believes she’s learned the entire nature of the church from a movie.

Yes, a movie. Not much reading on the early fathers, or Aquinas, a church historian or even the New York Times.

Here is what the church is about for Greta: When you teach people — especially children — that the only way to God and Heaven is through the rites of the Church, administered by Church authorities? When you teach people — especially children — that Church authorities have a special connection to God and goodness that ordinary people don’t have? When you teach people — especially children — that defying the Church and its earthly representatives will condemn you to permanent, infinite burning and torture?

The Children!
I thought this was the standard fundamentalist cry!

I understand: if you want to example the insanity of American Foreign policy, analyze Cuba; if you want to learn about graft, just examine how stadiums get built. We learn from lenses. And this is Christina’s lens. Is it the right one?

While she turns to the harm that religious institutions do, I wonder how empirically different it is than the eight years of mismanagement and real harm done to the entire world by the previous political administration. Were they religious? Not really. The religious right were their electoral pawns. Most of the neo-conservatives weren’t Christian, or religious. But she seems, however, to think the church behaves differently than other institutions that are shaped without checks and balances.

It’s a fairly pedestrian view: our culture doesn’t support sex and children. Blame the Catholic church! It just seems a little more tawdry than when it’s done in a public school or the boy scouts.

Why doesn’t she ask what the church really says about itself, and what its intentions are? I learned it was motivated by a love of the world and all people, not merely political power, working for their interests. It may be that the two are intertwined, and that it is difficult to tell one from the other. It is a view that can, and should be challenged. But all the evidence should be laid out, not just the ones of the detractors.

Arguing she understands the true maliciousness of religion through this movie is a lot like saying we know a lot about Germany by watching movies by Leni Riefenstahl. Or, saying that Stalin is a good example of Atheism in power. Is it absolutely true? Probably not. Did Germans participate? Are there atheists who would like to round up the dull and send them to Siberia? I’m sure a few. As she condemns the entire church, rightfully, for the coverup, there is an insinuation that somehow sexual abuse is worse because the church is the church. It reminds me a bit of how Michelle Malkin critiques Obama.

It’s not as if atheists are the only people critiquing the church. So is the church. Plenty of Roman Catholic priests are already critiquing the institution. Ms. Christina overreaches in implying these terrible events represents the entirety of religious work, or that finally damns the religious “experience.” There is no doubt that the secrecy and lack of accountability destroyed the lives of many. Where as she might say it is all too religious. I would argue, it is all to human. Alas.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s