#800deadbabies: A Fresh Catholic Horror

In the last few years, Ireland has been reckoning with a shameful part of its history: the Magdalene laundries. Established in the 1700s and surviving well into the 20th century, these were church-run institutions, overseen by nuns, where women were sent for transgressing against conventional morality or custom, or simply because they were viewed as a burden to society. Prostitutes, unwed mothers, rape victims, orphans, the mentally and physically disabled, or those who were deemed too … [Read more...]

Christian Radio Fans the Flames of Witch Hunting

A few years ago, I wrote about the horrible "witch children" craze in Nigeria. Like the witch hunts that once swept through America and Europe, this one is fed by sects of fanatic evangelical preachers, inflamed by Western missionaries, that believe in a miracle-drenched, demon-haunted world - and teach that people, including children, can be possessed by evil spirits, and that the only cure is to torture or kill them.One of the worst of the lot is a Pentecostal preacher named Helen Ukpabio, … [Read more...]

On Retconning Biblical Violence


In 2009, I wrote "The Twisted Moral of Passover", about how this major Jewish holiday is really a celebration of genocide: the mass killing of the Egyptian children that preceded the Israelites' deliverance from slavery. (The very name of the holiday refers to how the Israelite slaves supposedly marked their doors with blood so that the divine executioner would see it and pass over their houses.)Even if there isn't any archaeological evidence for this event, or for the Egyptian captivity in … [Read more...]

When Bishops Tie the Doctor’s Hands


Although the media has been thrilled by some symbolic statements about poverty by Pope Francis, the inconvenient fact remains that he's changed none of the doctrines that were the biggest reason for atheists to object to Catholicism in the first place. Last week in Michigan, we saw another example of that:Tamesha Means, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, said that when she was 18 weeks pregnant her water broke and she rushed to Mercy Health, the only hospital in her county.Her fetus had … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: November 9


• Following the resignation of the previous team, CFI has announced the new hosts of their podcast Point of Inquiry, one of whom is my friend Lindsay Beyerstein. Congratulations!• This week's entry in the WTF Department: Richard Cohen, an awful columnist for the Washington Post, saw the movie 12 Years a Slave and was shocked to learn how bad slavery was. I wish I were kidding about that.• Three cheers for science! A new antiviral therapy can cure hepatitis C without a … [Read more...]

Repost: Fossilized Opinions


[Author's Note: I'm reposting some old favorites while I'm away on vacation this week. This post was originally from March 2010.]Sam Harris is famous for the argument that religion, even moderate religion, does harm by teaching that faith is a virtue that should not be questioned, which encourages militant and violent strains of fundamentalism. Today, I want to talk about another way, subtle but unmistakable, that religion causes harm to human beings.Because of its tendency to treat … [Read more...]

New Pope, Same Old Dogmas


Earlier this summer, I wrote about some conciliatory (but ultimately meaningless) remarks from Pope Francis about gay people. Now he's given a longer interview to the Jesuit magazine America in which he appeared to suggest that the church has been talking about abortion, contraception and gay rights too much:"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was … [Read more...]

Moral Relativism in the Catholic Church

Back in March, I wrote a post about how the Catholic church isn't a democracy and therefore has no obligation to change its teachings in line with popular opinion. One theist commenter enthusiastically chimed in to agree and to insist that this was exactly the point:From my own perspective, the constancy (and internal consistency) of Church teaching is an enormously reassuring thing. How am I supposed to trust a religious tradition which claims to teach about right and wrong but is willing … [Read more...]

The Perils of Scriptural Morality


I was cheered by a story I saw last week about about heroic activist groups working to end the barbaric custom of female "circumcision", aka female genital mutilation, that's practiced in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. FGM isn't unique to Christianity or to Islam, but is found across a range of traditional societies that fetishize female virginity and purity and view girls as unfit for marriage if they aren't cut. The harm to women is immense: death from infection and blood loss, … [Read more...]

Winning a Two-Front War Against Anti-Feminists


This past weekend, while I was attending Women in Secularism 2, I was also reading Kathryn Joyce's Quiverfull. Joyce's book is an outstanding piece of reporting on the network of fundamentalist Christian churches and preachers who teach that the only role of women in life is to get married, to be completely obedient to their husbands and to bear as many children as possible. Depending on how extreme they are, Quiverfull preachers and other members of the Christian patriarchy movement teach that … [Read more...]