I think Bad Catholic gets a lot wrong about the Pope.

Marc has a post on Bad Catholic that is getting shared around about the Pope stepping down.  I don’t like it.  Here’s why.

On the day of his anointing he wore a sweater underneath his finery, for it was cold. “Pray for me,” he said to me, “that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.”

He wore a sweater because it was cold?  With a rebellious nature like that he must be god’s vicar on earth.

And the wolves in the metaphor are most likely to be the police while hunting down the people the Pope was shielding from arrest for the crime of raping children.  Those are the kind of wolves you should cooperate with.  They’re the type that run past the virtuous to hunt the wicked, which is probably why Ratzinger feared them.

But what a wolf-wrestler our sweatered German turned out to be. He taught me that the Dictator is best assassinated by silence. Silence and encyclicals.

As far as the dictator comment goes, this is probably a reference to a pre-conclave Mass from 2005 when Ratzi was griping about the new apologetic hotness of the day: relativism.  Ratzi said…

Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of education is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognising nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own ego.

Which would make perfect sense if humans didn’t share many of the same desires, like the desire to eat, drink, be happy, etc.  The problem for the Catholic church is that some people wish to pursue happiness in ways that are not approved by their church, and so we get this claim of relativism.  However, the things that lead to societal happiness, while not definitive, are certainly not as nebulous as the people crying “relativism” would have us believe.  Giving starving children oranges is better for societal happiness than, say, setting them on fire.  Even though we don’t know what makes societies maximally happy, we can still work on it.  This is much better than “It’s relativism otherwise, so we need to follow these ancient rules even if common fucking sense dictates that they make people less happy.”

As for the encyclicals, Ratzinger wrote three: Deus Caritas Est (Latin for “God is Love”), Spe Salvi (“Saved by Hope”), and Caritas in Veritate (“Love in Truth”).

If god is love, he has an awfully non-committal way of showing it.  He has conceived a system in which most people wind up in hell (if Catholicism is the one true religion, as Ratzinger affirmed).  He also conceived of AIDS (in children), hunger (when he didn’t need to make us with the need to eat), cancer, and a list of other afflictions so vast that the fullest application of one’s imagination would manage only a fraction of it.

And saved by hope?  No, nobody is saved by hope.  You might hope that you’ll stop being hungry, but if you stop there then you’re going to starve to death.  Salvation has only ever come with effort and introspection from humans.  God not feeding your family?  Guess you’d better discover new farming or hunting techniques and put in some work.  People dying of illness?  Better devise a medicine, because god ain’t doing shit.  Literally every human innovation is a testament to god’s unwillingness to help, and to the inability of hope to fill a stomach.  Hope is only useful insofar as it motivates people to think and work.  If hope for you means you think we’ve already got the answer to problems, then your hope is subverting those things.  For instance, you may hope you will live longer – even forever.  But if that’s ever going to happen, it’s going to happen like every other innovation – because we made it happen.  The solution is not simply to die believing it’s taken care of.

And as for love in truth, read this.  You can repeat that the Catholic Church is sitting on Truth with a capital T until you’re blue in the face, but until you back it up with evidence then you have nothing.  What’s more, when god’s supposed commands conflict with human decency and you betray humanity to obey god’s orders, there is no love there.  In fact, countless acts of malice have been performed throughout history by well-intentioned people who mistakenly thought god had delivered his will unto them.  There is clearly corruption in irrationality and false beliefs, which is the very stock of the Catholic Church starting with the idea that someone rose from the dead.

I’m sure he missed his books, his window, and the sparrows fidgeting outside, but he was courageous.

I’m sure the gilded halls, every imaginable luxury, and copies of those books at his mere command were some consolation.  How courageous he was to move into the Vatican.  Can I prove my bravery by winning the lottery?

He was the second hundred and fifty sixth, the sixteenth and the first. He told my generation to “leave the dead-end streets of consumerism” and we haven’t listened yet.

I remember that!  Back when the Pope condemned the Christmas shopping culture.

Pope Benedict XVI condemned the increasing commercialisation of Christmas as he celebrated Christmas Eve Mass, urging the faithful to look beyond the holiday’s “superficial glitter” to discover its true meaning.

You heard that right:

Benedict XVI in a gold throne, holding a gold staff, and wearing vestments adorned with gold.

Yes, the guy in a gold throne, holding a gold staff, in a gilded palace, and wearing vestments adorned with gold abhors superficial glitter (and also avarice).

So the guy who protected child rapists takes the time to make a moral stand on superficial glitter.  Good job.

I saw his cap fly off in the wind as he preached in a Spanish storm. His heart is as pure as his prose. He is a man of peace that cleaves like a sword.

His heart is pure?  His heart is pure???  In what universe does that even begin to make sense?  Ratzinger shielded the rapists of children from discovery and, later, arrest and prosecution, because he apparently valued the Church’s PR over justice for their victims.  He could save the lives of countless starving children by selling his fucking gold throne and maybe sitting on a bronze one instead, but he doesn’t.  I guess the guy needs some degree of comfort for being away from the sparrows outside his old place.

This is the guy who, when speaking about the spread of AIDS in Africa, said in 2009:

I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help, the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it. The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practise self-denial, to be alongside the suffering.

Condoms increase the spread of AIDS?  It’s hard to imagine getting something so diametrically wrong.  It’s like saying unprotected sex is a great way to not have children.  That assertion undoubtedly increased the level of misery in Africa, as people who inexplicably value the Pope’s opinion obeyed.

Ratzinger’s allegiance was always to the dogma of his church.  Where compassion would pull him ferociously in the opposite direction, the only purity in his heart was to his ideology.

He ruled with authority, motu proprio, applying salves to the schisms in the Skin, going about the business of waking a yawning Church with reminders of Her glory: See how the sparrows are clothed in surplices, stoles, cassocks, and frocks, the trees with their crosiers and capes. Do not ask what we will wear, the Bride of Christ is provided for. Just read the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

Yeah, he ruled with authority – even when humility was called for.  And waking the yawning church?  Last I heard, the Catholic Church was hemorrhaging followers.  Sure, immigrant converts are helping to keep adult numbers steady (which the Church needs, since lifelong Catholics around the world are deconverting).  But like every religion that draws its moral standards from deep in the past, rather than compassion informed by the fullness of modern knowledge, the Catholic Church is losing the battle for the next generation.

And don’t worry about what they wear when talking about the virtue of living in poverty, even if their vestments cost more than many people make in a month.  Noted.

He played the piano because God is Beauty, and “it is in this – in truth, in goodness, and in beauty – that we find happiness and joy.”

News flash: atheists play the piano too.  Hell, we even sing sometimes.

We do it because it’s fun, and because beauty is appealing to us.  We find happiness and joy in the same place we find ugliness and misery: in the world around us, without a single drop of god in any of it.  That’s why we have to work to find the bits we like, and we call those “beauty”.

Enemies crowned him…

No, we didn’t it.  People like me who see the litany of instances when the Pope stood between humankind and decency would like to see him incarcerated.

…jewels of a love that makes declarative sentences, while he made American saints and prayed for the salvation of sinners. How unwitting the darkness that made his light shine brighter.

It’s like poetry.  It’s not like poetry that actually means anything.

And he prayed for the salvation of sinners?  What sinners were those?  The people who are kind and honest, but who just can’t swallow the story of someone rising from the dead or that a god who “is love” would also genocide all of humanity by drowning?  Are those sinners the people who want to love and care about someone of the same gender for the rest of their lives, but can’t because brushing lips with them offends the Church’s dogma?  Or is it the people who, while not fucking boys, do wind up having consensual sex with adults and want to use a condom to keep STDs under control and to not have children they can’t afford?

Here’s the straight up facts: these things are all insignificant.  In fact, on the whole, they bring more happiness to the world, and anybody who calls that a sin is asserting that human happiness is not a concern to them.  And what’s more, if you think any of these things is a “sin” that amounts to more than a neutron in the universe compared to protecting a child rapist, you are a sick, twisted shell of a human.  His heart’s pure alright – it’s uniformly cold, and his mind is oblivious to what true immorality is.

He leaves as he came, with a humilty that shocks the world.

The guy considers his proclamations infallible.  That’s the opposite of humility.

What a pile of empty, undeserved compliments for a man for whom the tallest pillars in the pantheon of hell were conceived and built.  Go back, re-read Bad Catholic’s post, and just remember as you read that he is saying all this about a person who used his authority to shield predators of children.  That is the person onto whom Marc is heaping his approval.  Then come back here and tell me how religion makes people more moral.

Then read the comments on the post and tell me it’s not a problem.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • http://talkorigins.org jatheist

    I can’t handle the comments over at BadCatholic… so much adulation for such a disgusting scumbag of a human being. Ugh.

    • H.H.


  • Art Vandelay

    That was awesome, JT. You didn’t leave a stone unturned there. Well done. I love this line…

    Literally every human innovation is a testament to god’s unwillingness to help.

    And calling a man humble that claims to be infallible is the epitome of cognitive dissonance. On a side note, I was messing around on the piano the other night and decided to try Pope Song. It sounds just like Minchin doing it except if he hadn’t a shred of musical talent.

  • Andrew Kohler

    “He played the piano because God is Beauty, and “it is in this – in truth, in goodness, and in beauty – that we find happiness and joy.”

    Glad you called him out on this, JT. One of the highlights of my life to date was insisting on playing Beethoven’s last piano sonata, Opus 111, for my senior recital in high school. Last I checked, the vast and diverse body of literature for keyboard has one thing in common: it was written by humans, for instruments invented by humans. In another post, “5 More Things No One Knows are Ridiculously Catholic, But Should,” Marc described the Church’s role in establishing musical notation (other people would have figured that out eventually, I’m pretty sure, but they certainly deserve credit), and wrote: “I’d argue we invented the most beautiful form of music, but whatever.” He must really like singing entire pieces in parallel fourths (a very early form of writing for multiple voices called organum). It’s true that later composers (some not themselves Catholic or even theists) wrote incredibly beautiful music using liturgical texts, but I wouldn’t say that the Catholic Church can be credited for their musical innovations. In fact, at the Council of Trent the Church considered severely limiting what composers could do (Hans Pfitzner wrote an opera about this called Palestrina, which focuses on the composer of the same name who–yay!–saved polyphony.) Nor can the Church be credited with most instrumental forms and genres (eg. sonata form), art song, or opera. Just take a look at how well priests come off in Verdi’s operas, dude (Act IV Scene 1 of Aida is a choice example, and don’t tell me that it doesn’t count because they’re Egyptian). Also, J.S. Bach, one of the greatest composers of sacred music, was Lutheran. (Don’t mess with musicologists.)

    I once used the phrase “sylvan dreamscape” writing program notes (for Debussy’s Prelude l’apres-midi d’un Faune), so I don’t suppose I can criticize someone for flowery language. But even still: capitalizing Beauty is a bit much. And I’m pretty sure that my flowery sentences at least make some degree of sense, unlike the following: “See how the sparrows are clothed in surplices, stoles, cassocks, and frocks, the trees with their crosiers and capes.” Since when do sparrows and trees wear clothing?! (Why no sweaters, one wonders?) And what are “jewels of a love that makes declarative sentences” ?! As JT so perfectly said: “It’s like poetry. It’s not like poetry that actually means anything.” I think I’ll cleanse my brain with some Wilfred Owen.

    How is Marc a “bad” Catholic exactly? He seems to be fairly party line. I forgot that this is the same blogger who was incredibly snarky about the outrage over the papal meeting with the Kill-the-Gays-Bill lady. Ugh. And how disappointing that the post titled “When can Catholics wear condoms?” no longer exists!

    • Loqi

      How is Marc a “bad” Catholic exactly?

      Based on his fawning adulation for Ratzinger, I’d postulate that, in the name of the blog, “bad” doesn’t modify “Catholic.”

    • iknklast

      If you’re interested in seeing how the Vatican has reacted to making music, you should read a book called “Nuns Behaving Badly”. It’s a very interesting look at just what the Catholic Church considers “bad behavior”. (OK, the nuns who burnt down their convent – maybe – but when you read the whole story, it’s still hard to have anything but sympathy for them). I think my favorite in there was a nun who wanted to go to the opera, because she loved music. So she slipped out at night, dressed as a priest, because nuns weren’t allowed to be seen in public, or even to have any real pleasure in life. The ensuing uproar turned two convents on their heads for the next couple of decades. Yeah, they’ve really added to music…by denying it to people who really wanted to experience the most sublime experiences in the purest of ways.

      And yes, I know the Church no longer holds as rigid of opinions as in this book – but they still haven’t made it to the 20th century (I’m not sure they’ve made it to the 18th).

      • Andrew Kohler

        Thanks for that recommendation! It sounds very interesting. Perhaps a precedent to the excellent American nuns who got condemned recently for grave offenses like not being homophobic and failure to oppose birth control. This just reminded me that in Meyerbeer’s 1831 Robert le Diable (one of the first French Grand Operas) there is a ballet number in which a bunch of undead nuns behave decadently. This is very pleasing.

    • Artor

      Maybe he means “Bad,” in the Michael Jackson sense. Yeah, man, I’m a BAD Catholic! I got rosaries around my neck & bedazzled vestments. I’m hip! I’m cool! I’m BAD!

      • Andrew Kohler

        This certainly would be consistent with the fixation on surplices, stoles, cassocks, frocks, crosiers, and capes. (Oh, and sweaters, of course.)

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

    Oh, don’t forget that the Pope’s retirement home is a convent. He turned out a whole bunch of nuns so he could have a pretty place to die. WTF?

  • Andrew Kohler

    Oh, and as far as “relativism”: I do believe that there are some issues for which relativism is inappropriate, in that some things are always wrong. These include, but are not limited to, genocide, treating people as property (either in slavery or in treating women and children as chattel, etc), depriving people of bodily autonomy (genital mutilation, etc), exerting control of people’s sex lives, xenophobia, racism, oppression of women and LGBT people, and torture. If the foundational texts of the Abrahamic religions opposed these things rather than endorsed them, I may give B16′s statement about relativism some credence.

  • Loqi

    He is a man of peace that cleaves like a sword.

    Anybody have a fucking clue what that means? I read the whole article, and not one word of it makes a lick of sense. It was like someone gave a 3 year old a set of blocks with poetic sounding words on them, then when the child was done playing, posted the result online.

    • Art Vandelay

      That’s pretty much spot-on. Unless you’re Catholic in which case this guy may as well be James Joyce.

    • http://smingleigh.wordpress.com Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      He’s also a man of music who cooks like a skillet.

    • Andrew Kohler

      That is indeed the perfect characterization for this writing, Loqi. As one who loves language, it was very displeasing to me. (Is that a misplaced modifier? Or is it not, because “as” is understood to mean “from the perspective of”?)

      As to the “man of peace that cleaves like a sword” thing: I believe this is an attempt at poetic use of oxymoron, intended to highlight an inherent contradiction of some kind. I find no contradiction here, in that I don’t find the pope emeritus to be either gentle or benevolent. I guess the sentence actually means (if that word is applicable): “Well, he WANTS to be peaceful, but sometimes people say bad things (about him and the Church) and when he has to fight, he is excellent at slicing people up.” Anyone else detect an undertone of threat? Or making excuses for the emeritus pope’s harshness?

  • Greg G.

    I think I have too muh blood in my caffeine stream but was the sweater supposed to be sheep’s clothing?

  • Randomfactor

    His heart is pure???

    Unalloyed evil is pure. Just don’t get any on you.

    • Nate Frein

      One drop would turn us all into hermit crabs!

      • Artor

        Don’t touch it Mummy! It’s eeee-vil!

  • DoctorD

    “His heart is pure?”
    I doubt that, but I’m sure his neck is sore…. From looking the other way.
    (David Letterman’s joke, but a good one!)

  • Thurston Howell III

    Dude, that was awesome! Thanks for the laugh. I love watching little children throw vein-popping hissy fits in their piss-stained corner of teh interwebs. Never, ever gets old.

    Oh, no, wait. Yes it does.

    • http://smingleigh.wordpress.com Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      Any chance of following up your insults with an explanation as to why JT is wrong? Or do you concede that he’s right and you don’t have anything but insults to offer?

      • Andrew Kohler

        Or at the very least, perhaps Thurston Howell III could enlighten us as to how the post at Bad Catholic is actually coherent?

        • Thurston Howell III

          Oh, I don’t know…because it’s written by a Catholic who understands the Catholic Church and the role of the papacy? And you’re just an intolerant, angry atheist who strokes out at the slightest sniff of faith?

          • Andrew Kohler

            I was more wondering if you could explain the bizarre use of imagery (love making declarative sentences, a man of peace cleaving like a sword, surplices and other garments on sparrows and trees, etc.) But that’s just the literature major in me getting upset at poor use of language, and is somewhat beside the point. Moving on to the more serious issue at hand:

            I really don’t “stroke out at the slightest sniff of faith,” although there’s no point trying to convince you of this fact as you seem to have a firm belief as to who I am and everything about me. But even if your characterization were correct, your reply is just an appeal to authority: Marc understands the role of the papacy, therefore what he says must be well thought-out and correct. That is a logical fallacy. It is also a logical fallacy to assume that even an intolerant ignoramus isn’t able to identify flaws in another person’s writing.

            I’m pretty sure I speak for many people here when I say that my problem isn’t that either Marc or the emeritus pope have faith while I don’t. So long as their faith does not lead them to actions that are harmful to others and as long as they don’t denigrate those who don’t share their beliefs, it is not my business (I’d still likely discuss and debate religious issues, but I’m happy to extend to people the courtesy and respect I’d like extended to me). My issue with this Bad Catholic piece (aside from the writing) is that I don’t approve of adulation for a man who has such profoundly regressive views of sexuality (contraception, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, etc.) and gender roles, and who had a major role in shielding perpetrators of horrific crimes from justice. Respect is earned; it should not be accorded automatically. This is what you, Mr. Howell, have not even attempted to address thus far; should you deign to do so I’d be interested to hear what you have to say. Then again, when asked to back up your negative assessment of JT’s post, your response, as recorded below, is “Nope.” Not really an indicator of willingness to engage in a dialogue (nor do I see an answer from you at the post about the Iowa bill to make divorce more onerous to protect the legislator’s teenage granddaughter from becoming a wild sexual hedonist).

      • Thurston Howell III


        • Observer

          As devoid of real content as your faith.

        • Glodson

          Good answer, Gilligan.

  • Andrew Kohler

    For those of you who’ve not seen the orchestral version of Tim Minchin’s pope song:


    I love how the orchestra for the most part looks as serious as if they’re playing Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, but at 1:18 they show a violist (violinist? it’s hard for me to tell from this view) who is clearly having the time of her life :-) Also many compliments to the xylophonist and whoever did the orchestration (especially the use of vibraslap, first used at 1:07).