September 25, 2015

Fisking the Hoya

[I]t is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. - Macbeth V, 5

Definition and Apology: "Fisking"is a semi-official term for what I am up to below. Also, my apologies for the Shakespeare quote, as it's taken out of context. Still and yet, it seems so apropos.

Today, Georgetown University students Garrett Hinck ("H") and Joseph Laposata ("L") published an article in the Georgetown Hoya - the self-proclaimed "oldest and largest student newspaper of Georgetown University, serving as the [Jesuit] university’s newspaper of record since 1920." The title of the article: "Doing Good Without God." In it, they take up the atheist suspicion that someone, somewhere, thinks that atheists are asleep at the Pope Francis switch. At the bottom, the Hoya graciously invites the reader to "Write a letter to the editor" in the event that said reader has a "reaction." I've gone one better...I've written a blog post in response.

(Fisking to follow - my comments in red)

As a result of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, including Washington, D.C., Georgetown’s Catholic community is abuzz with excitement and praise for the pontiff. It doesn’t take much more than a glance at one’s Facebook feed to know that people are excited to see a pope who is changing the focus of the church to issues such as poverty, climate change and humanitarian crises, which many argue should have been the primary focuses of the church all along. [One has this sneaking suspicion that those that go about yakking about the exciting "new" focus of the Church haven't really been doing their homework.] This new pope helps attract a younger generation that is less inculcated in Catholic thought and more focused on social progressivism than previous generations. [The "new" Pope is the "old" Pope is the older "Pope." L&H are showing themselves to be members of that part of the Progressive movement which parrots whatever the New York Times sees fit to print.] For this, we applaud Pope Francis. ["The Pope was asked about the thunderous applause of L&H, and replied, 'Who?'"]

However, for those who are newly interested in the Catholic Church because of the message of this progressive pontiff, we’d like to highlight one key point[, "lest anyone who is paying attention forget"]: the Catholic Church does not own being good, nor does any faith. Being a good person ["which we do not define here"] is a universal principle that lies outside of religious doctrine. ["We will also steadfastly refuse to define 'good' further (except by example), and refuse to differentiate between 'being good' and 'acting good,' because, contrary to even pre-Christian philosophers such as Aristotle, there is no such distinction."]

While it is laudable that the pope, with the megaphone that he has, would call upon the nations of Europe to welcome refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East into their countries, homes and parishes, many leaders in Europe have also called for countries to accept refugees. Notably, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Fran├žois Hollande have led their nations to accept more refugees on explicitly moral grounds.  [False dichotomy alert! What, if they're a leader (like the Pope or Merkel or Hollande) calling for refugees, they cannot be acting pursuant to Christian principles as well? Sounds like someone is committed to such a strict separation of Church and State that the idea that a leader could be Christian and acting in that way in making calls to care for the immigrant is utterly foreign.] Hospitality is an ancient custom that predates the Catholic Church [many things "predate" the Catholic Church, nor has the Church claimed exclusive rights to "hospitality"] and the people and countries taking in refugees are not necessarily [Ah hah! Backing away from the dichotomy already, are we?] doing so because God or the church told them.

Likewise, on the issue of climate change, environmental activists have been trying to frame global climate change as a moral issue for years, and the pope’s words of action are helpful and appreciated. [The Church has been framing it as a moral issue for years too. See, for instance, "Octogesima Adveniens" from 1971: "Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation.”] That said, to assume that the only reason that one should care for the environment is in order to be a better Catholic is to ignore the work of those most dedicated to this cause. This last sentence is meaningless. It sets up a massive straw man - WHO is it that is assuming that the only reason one should care for the environment is to be a better Catholic? - and then knocks it down with a non sequitur. Is there some poll of people which indicates that "75% of Catholics working on environmental issues do so in order to avoid mortal sin?" And then, those Catholics turn around and proceed to dismiss non-Catholics works on the environment as...what...non-Catholic? 

Imagine that a leading atheist such as Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher called for the exact same things that the pope has and was able to reach the same amount of people. It does not take a particularly bright mind to realize that he would be given much less credence, almost exclusively because of his religious preference. [Wait..so if Dawkins or Maher agree with what the Pope says, the individual who, in one breath is cheering the Pope, turns around and thinks, "Well, wait a minute. Now Maher agrees with me and the Pope...now I don't believe it at all...because Maher doesn't believe it for the right reasons. Incredibly ridiculous.] And yet the substance of his proposal would remain the same. In its own way, this is a kind of discrimination. [Yes - this is discrimination by a strawman. It's difficult, because, I mean, who would one sue for this? A wheat field? Oppression by crops!] Atheists the world over, including here in the United States, are distrusted and believed to be immoral because most people believe that morality is inextricably linked with religious thought. 

This ostensible religious monopoly on morality has real world consequences. According to the Pew Foundation, only 41 percent of Americans view atheists positively. Only 45 percent would even consider voting for a qualified atheist for public office. Fewer people would be comfortable with their son or daughter marrying an atheist than a person with any other faith, knowing nothing else about the person. Perhaps this is because some atheists go about proclaiming themselves as more intelligent and more moral than Christians, which tends not to produce loving responses from Christians. For instance, this Pew Poll noted that on the "warm and fuzzy" 0 - 100 scale, Evangelical Christians see atheists at about a 25 - consonant with their view of atheists as L&H - and atheists see Evangelical Christians at a 28. I would be interested in seeing how many atheists would (honestly) support an outspoken Evangelical Christian qualified candidate for public office. 

People seem to believe that atheists are nihilists or that they have rejected the moral foundations of our society. [Many famous atheists have done so. Are they not to be included in your group? Why not?]  This is simply not the case. [Unless one is reading Nietzsche, for instance.] Of the 16 percent of Americans who do not profess any religious belief, at least 5 percent are self-identified atheists, which equals about 15.8 million people.  These are law-abiding Americans who find their moral centers in philosophy, societal norms and common human decency. [A massive leap in logic, claiming that all 15.8 million atheists are "law-abiding American" with certain traits. Really? Many Christians wouldn't make that claim for ALL of their fellow Christians. Who is being dishonest and broad-brushed here?] But because religious groups are credited with exclusive moral authority, most Americans would deny them basic rights. Basic rights? Really? Thank goodness someone realized that I, as a Catholic, am out to deny you food, water, breath, LIFE, the right to vote, etc. This sentence might be the most nonsensical in the entire post, though it clearly doesn't lack for competition.

We, as Georgetown students, respect Pope Francis because he advocates on behalf of our fellow man for the least among us and the most in need. These are common moral principles that people of all faiths or none can embrace. We ask that nonreligious people be given the same right to a judgment of character as religious people — not immediately labeled as amoral nihilists. Every person is much more complicated than his religious affiliation and condemning him based on a single belief misses who he really is. As Pope Francis himself said, “Who am I to judge?”

I am waiting for the day when "Brights," themselves extend the same judgment to Christians. 

I am not holding my breath.

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