The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Possibly not the best approach

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whose work I have followed for years, want to arrest the Pope when he visits the U.K. in September:

Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations.

I think the Pope's conduct in the child-abuse cover-up completely destroys any credibility and moral authority Ratzinger claims to have through his office. Still, despite the history of the U.K. vis a vis the Catholic Church, I caution Dawkins that perhaps this isn't the best way to make his case.

I think Dawkins was correct last month when he suggested the Pope "should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles," which creates dramatic irony, rather than trying to arrest him, which makes Ratzinger a victim. I just hope more children aren't tied up and raped before it happens.

Too much dark humor, but too many victims

Today the Vatican announced that there has been no cover-up in the latest U.S. sex-abuse scandal, and could we all just leave the Pope alone?

This whole thing must feel like someone stampeded cattle through St. Peter's.

But let's be serious. It looks quite like the current Pope intervened in the Ecclesiastical trial of a priest accused of molesting 200 deaf boys, and failed to act on dozens of other cases:

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

The Wisconsin case involved an American priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who worked at a renowned school for deaf children from 1950 to 1974. But it is only one of thousands of cases forwarded over decades by bishops to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Ratzinger. It is still the office that decides whether accused priests should be given full canonical trials and defrocked.

Andrew Sullivan:

What's fascinating in the steady onslaught of new incidences of previous cover-ups of child rape and molestation in the Catholic hierarchy is the notion that the hierarchs tended to see child rape as a sin rather than a crime. Hence the emphasis on forgiveness, therapy, repentance - rather than removal, prosecution and investigation. Obviously, there's one reason for this: they were defending the reputation of the church by hiding its darkest secrets, and they were using the authority of religion to do so. But I suspect it's also true that this is how they genuinely thought of child rape or abuse.

How could that be, one asks? Well: imagine you are a young gay Catholic teen coming into his sexuality and utterly convinced that it's vile and evil. What do you do? I can tell you from my own experience. You bury it. But of course, you can't bury it. So you objectify sex; and masturbate. You cannot have sexual or even emotional contact with a teenage girl, because it is simply impossible, and you certainly cannot have sex with another teenage boy or you will burn in hell for ever ... so you have sex with images in your own head. Your sex life becomes completely solitary. It can be empowered by pornography or simply teenage imagination. Some shard of beauty, some aspect of sensuality, some vision of desire will keep you sexually energized for days.

Now suppose your powers of suppression and attachment to religious authority are also strong - perhaps stronger because you feel so adrift you need something solid to cling onto in your psyche. And you know you cannot marry a woman. But you want to have status and cover as a single man. If this is the 1950s and 1960s, it's into the Church you go. You think it will cure you. In fact, it only makes you sicker because your denial is buttressed by their collective denial. And the whole thing becomes one big and deepening spiral of lies and corruption.

As Sullivan said only last week, "If this were a secular institution, the police would move in and shut it down."

Religion and prejudice

Via Dan Savage, a meta-analysis showing a correlation (not necessarily causation) between religious dogmatism and racism:

The February issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review has published a meta-analysis of 55 independent studies conducted in the United States which considers surveys of over 20,000 mostly Christian participants. Religious congregations generally express more prejudiced views towards other races. Furthermore, the more devout the community, the greater the racism.

This study finds that a denomination's demand for devout allegiance to its Christian creed overrides any humanistic message. By demanding such devotion to one specific and dogmatic Christianity, a denomination only encourages its members to view outsiders as less worthy.

Moreover, the study found that agnosticism correlates with tolerance, to which I think one should add "Q.E.D."

Again, the study doesn't show causation, only correlation. Religion doesn't itself make one racist. Possibly the conditions that lead someone to religious dogmatism also lead to racism; possibly the communities in which more-devoted religionists live are in areas with historically higher racism.

Things that make you say "WTF?"

Thousands dead, a country devastated, and this clown blames the devil? Seriously:

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," [Televangelist Pat Robertson] said on Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club." "They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal."

Assuming for a moment that Robertson isn't an ignorant, medieval, superstitious, wretched man, and that Haiti did make a pact with Satan, one must ask where Robertson came by this information. Possibly he was in the queue behind Haiti, waiting for his turn at the deal window?

No, that's just mean. Neither Robertson nor Haiti made a pact with the devil, and neither Robertson nor Haiti deserves what they have right now. Haiti doesn't deserve the suffering, the death, the destruction, the French colonial history, the dictators who took power, the poor soil, the lack of rainfall, or anything else that has led to where they are this evening. Robertson, for his part, doesn't deserve his money, his power, his influence, or anything else that has allowed this latest public utterance of such far-reaching and anti-Christian stupidity the audience it got.

Anyway, the devil, if he existed, wouldn't work through earthquakes. He'd work through televangelists.

Bur Dubai (Dubai residency day 6)

Mostly photos today, because I have an economics assignment due before I can get some desperately-needed sleep.

Today we did our Culture Dash (see the entry about the deliverable) through some of the same Dubai streets I walked just yesterday. Some highlights: first, Dubai Creek, with an abra (commuter flatboat) in the foreground and an Airbus 330 taking off in the background:

The textile souk in the old Bur Dubai neighborhood:


And last one tonight, a minaret during the evening call to prayer:

More tomorrow, or possibly Saturday given how much we have to do before then.

Finding the real Dubai

After a two-hour walk in the 34°C heat, I actually feel much better. (People who know me can feel free to express surprise and alarm.)

As I mentioned yesterday, spending too much time in a hotel depresses the life out of me. When will I ever again visit Dubai? Probably never. Since the hotel has gone to great lengths to make itself indistinguishable from any other similar hotel in the world, I fled the official corporate tours and hopped the Dubai Metro for Deira, the old part of the city.

Sadly for my scrap-book, and despite having my good camera, I spent nearly the whole time experiencing a place unlike any I'd ever seen rather than photographing it. The best part: a delicious one-dirham loaf of flat bread I bought from a "bakery" that consisted of a guy sitting cross-legged next to a small oven in a shop that couldn't have been two meters on each side. One dirham.

Second best part: hearing about 40 muezzins simultaneously call the faithful to the Asr prayer around 15:20 local time.

I did get some photos; here are two:


And I found that Dubai has lots of very small, completely fearless cats:

In all, despite sweating through every thread of clothing I wore, and despite feeling completely taken in one bit of bargaining I did (but not in the other, when I was only slightly robbed), I think I spent the afternoon perfectly. I feel much better than I did this morning, and I'll feel even more human in 15 minutes when I get out of the shower....

Canine parasitism

Journalist Robert Wright weighs in on the (ridiculous, I think) question of whether dogs are parasites:

I suspect the historical relationship between dogs and humans has been mutualistic, not parasitic; humans have probably been pragmatic in choosing what kinds of dogs to associate with during dog-human co-evolution, thus keeping wantonly exploitative tendencies out of the canine gene pool. (If anything, the parasitism has probably worked in the other direction.)

And as for the question of whether, evolutionary history aside, the average dog is now parasitic upon its owner: Well, these days we own dogs mainly for the joy they bring us, not to warn us about wild animals. So the question is simple: Does your dog bring you more joy than pain?

Yes, I can say about my own dog, which I feel even more acutely right at this moment owing to Parker's absence. I'm off to the Land of Uk tomorrow, so Parker is with a friend until I get back. I have to say, coming home to an empty apartment—I even took his bed up to the friend's house—really sucks.

The broad avenue between faith and delusion

A Wisconsin jury has convicted a couple of murder after they allowed their 11-year-old daughter to die right in front of them:

Dale Neumann, 47, was convicted in the March 23, 2008, death of his daughter, Madeline, from undiagnosed diabetes. Prosecutors contended he should have rushed the girl to a hospital because she couldn't walk, talk, eat or speak. Instead, Madeline died on the floor of the family's rural Weston home as people surrounded her and prayed. Someone called 911 when she stopped breathing.

Neumann, who once studied to be a Pentecostal minister, testified Thursday that he believed God would heal his daughter and he never expected her to die. God promises in the Bible to heal, he said.

"If I go to the doctor, I am putting the doctor before God," Neumann testified. "I am not believing what he said he would do."

No, if you go to the doctor, you're saving your daughter's life. Or put another way, Proverbs 16:18.

Seriously: praying is fine, especially if it makes the supplicant or sick person feel better. I believe this even though I think prayer acts through a placebo effect (when it works at all, which is usually no more often than random chance). Praying for someone's recovery at her hospital bed is positively admirable, as it combines a demonstrated placebo effect with actual medical care.

What is not acceptable, what is actually kind of depraved, what I hope outrages my Christian, Jewish, and Muslim friends as much as it does me, is to have a prayer group stand around watching your own child die in agony on the floor of your house.

I find it odd that Wisconsin Public Radio's report used the word "unrepentant." I'm absolutely sure he fully repents his sins within his understanding of his religion. He just doesn't think letting his daughter die horribly while he and his friends watched qualifies. Fortunately for the last glowing embers of the Enlightenment, the people of Wisconsin think it does.

Strength of belief

Via Sullivan, Pew has some interesting data on the differences in opinions about torture held by religious Christians and godless atheists:

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed....

Therefore, as Sullivan points out, "Christian devotion correlates with approval for absolute evil in America. And people wonder why atheism is gaining in this country." (Emphasis his.)

Merry...um....

I'm not a big fan of Seinfeld but I am a fan of this sort of thing:

The debate over religious displays in the Illinois Capitol's rotunda took a farcical turn this week when a student at a Lake Forest boarding school put up an aluminum pole to honor Festivus.

For those in the dark, Festivus is a mock holiday popularized by a 1997 episode of "Seinfeld." The pole is a Christmas tree-like symbol, and semi-ironic celebrations of Festivus, usually observed on Dec. 23, include such traditions as the "Airing of Grievances" and the "Feats of Strength."

Michael Tennenhouse, 18, said he was home in Springfield on winter break, taking in impeachment hearings at the Capitol, when he came across a nativity scene, a menorah and an atheist group's display in the rotunda. The exhibits have stirred up controversies, all of which struck Tennenhouse as silly.

I also remember a story I heard years ago. It seems that a missionary had trouble translating important concepts to a tribe in the Amazon. So now, years later, the tribe build an enormous mound of earth and entertain it all day on December 25th. Because on this day, the ton of sod was bored, you see.

Yeah, I know, but I can't get it out of my head.