Blaming the Media and Atheism for Child Rape and Immorality

Sorry for not posting in approximately a week. It's been quite odd being out of classes during this break...I'm usually responding to arguments from theists in my classes on this blog, but I haven't had many recent discussions with theists.

I found a letter to the editor in the Times Leader that I'd like to respond to. Unfortunately, the Times Leader doesn't allow unlimited text, so I'll post my full response here. Catholics often try to deflect attention away from the child rape and torture scandals by claiming that the media is "anti-Catholic" and is treating the church unfairly...so I'll respond to this letter and offer an open challenge to a public debate with the pastor emeritus of Saint Aloysius church in Wilkes-Barre to any of the following topics:

  • Is Catholic morality superior to secular morality?
  • Can we be moral without God?
  • Is the United States of America a nation founded by Christians on Christian principles?
  • Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?
  • Is the media undermining religion and being unfair to Catholics?
  • Did Jesus exist?
  • Did Jesus rise from the dead?
  • Does the Christian god exist?
  • Are the accounts of the New Testament reliable historical sources?

It's quite easy. If the pastor is so sure about his arguments and stances that he posed to his letter to the editor, he should be more than willing to debate me at his church with a public audience. People will surely attend and it's a great chance for him to spread "the word" and prove his points. What does he have to lose with God on his side?

Anyway, here's his letter to the editor and my response point by point:

I am writing to protest the degrading and insulting editorial cartoon published by The Times Leader April 5. It portrays a picture of the pope and someone shouting, “Do something about pedophile priests!” The caricature responds, “Say again?” And the caption is “the deaf boy.”

The timing for such a presentation could not be worse, coming the day after the joyful celebration of Easter. Certainly we all lament and deeply regret the crimes that have been committed by Catholic priests and the suffering by their victims.

Oh, no, degrading and insulting...it's a cartoon that's meant to prove a point and to garner some laughs. What's really degrading and insulting is the Vatican, its treatment of the child rape and torture cases, and the behavior of fundamentalist Christians, not this cartoon.

What do you, reader, think is more degrading: the idea that we should have justice for raped and tortured children and pointing out that the pope isn't listening to the victims and concerned human beings or a cartoon? In the tune of Richard Dawkins' great speech here, what about the idea that a mother and her potential child should die rather than having an abortion that saved the mother? How about Pope Benedict saying that condoms can make AIDS worse? How about the idea that children (and adults) are being taught that they will suffer and burn for all eternity because they think the "wrong things," behave contrary to the church's teachings, or don't accept Jesus? How about the idea that non-Christians are immoral and can have no meaning in their lives or that people treat atheists well because they feel sorry for atheists? ...but no, let's just notice the "insulting" nature of a cartoon.

Children who are raped and tortured by an institution who claims that the "good of the church" is more important than justice and the well-being of children is not something to write off and put to the side. We can't go around complaining that just because we might be offended that people should stop "offending." So what. Everyone can claim to be offended by something. Political humor mocks almost every well-known important individual from Sarah Palin to Obama to Glenn Beck...and they're not crying about it...well, at least Glenn cries.

I think that the cartoon's message is very subtle, perfect, and well-crafted...and not just because I'm an atheist openly against the Catholic church. The deaf boy is obviously referring to Father Murphy who raped the hopes and dreams of boys in a school for the deaf...and the Vatican failed to defrock and/or excommunicate him. The current pope, in his position as a Cardinal, ought to have done something about this...and certainly could have done something recently. The pope really isn't "listening," just as the deaf boys can't. People also certainly can't listen to the cries of the victims who aren't speaking as is beautifully sung in Epica's Cry For the Moon.

The letter writer complains that the timing was horrible on the cartoon...but would be honestly be less grieved or even happy about the cartoon that was "insulting and offensive" if it were published at another time? We ought not declare times where people ought not be offended - and let's face it - all sorts of people can claim offense to all sorts of behaviors, drawings, and even foods. Can I claim offense to gangster rap and have it stopped? May I declare days where people shouldn't criticize me and my organizations? Should I tell Fox News that they better stop critiquing Obama on Memorial Day?

Please bear in mind, though, the fact that not all Catholic priests are pedophiles and the vast majority are faithful to their calling. Please bear in mind also, looking at the whole picture, that the sexual abuse of minors is not confined to the Catholic Church.
You will find the same situation in the history of many other religious dominations, public or private institutions, social agencies, public or private schools, etc. Why is it that the Catholic Church is singled out by the media? In some instances the reports have taken place 30 or 40 years ago. To what purpose?

People aren't claiming that all priests are pedophiles nor are they saying that the sexual abuse of minors is confined to the Catholic church. This pastor is clearly strawmanning arguments from his detractors and trying to prove a case. What people like myself are claiming, though, is that the Catholic Church is not doing enough to crack down on pedophiles, offers half-baked apologies, and should care more about justice and children than the church. Sexual abuse, of course, happens everywhere...but it is a huge concern when it happens in the Catholic Church and almost nothing is done about it.

The letter writer claims that "the same situation" has happened, but I fail to see the "leaders" of any organizations who knew about sexual abuse harboring criminals, exempting them from secular authorities, differing blame to the media, claiming that the documented rape and torture is "petty rumor," covering up crimes, blaming it on homosexuality, transferring criminals to different buildings, etc, etc.

This reporting is being performed because it's important and the media should be disseminating information. If employees of Google were raping little children, would you say something like "why is the media singling out Google?" This blame of the media is ridiculous. The blame should be placed on the Vatican.

It is important, also, to point out that after the scandal broke in our country, the Conference of Bishops through “The Texas Charter” established a zero-tolerance policy, stating that any priest, religious or layperson working for a diocese will be immediately suspended from their position if a complaint is made, and the matter will be immediately referred to the lawful authorities for investigation. If the charges are found to be true, the person is permanently removed from office and is subject to legal punishment. I know of no other religious denomination or group that has taken such a strong stand.

Great...but is this happening? Why isn't the Vatican excommunicating these individuals? Looking at the list of excommunicated individuals, one sees that people are excommunicated for disagreeing with church doctrine, saving the lives of mothers, and being Freemasons. Since so many victims have demonstrated that they've been abused, why don't we see these priests on this list? It's great that Texas may be doing something, but it's not enough. Well, just as theists often say, "God's law is above human law," so why bother? Excommunicate and repudiate nuns who perform abortions, but forget about the rapists.

I believe that it should be the objective of the news media to report the news fairly, objectively and without prejudice. The cartoon I refer to fails to meet any of these criteria. To depict the office of pope or bishop, or any authority figure in another religion, in such a ludicrous fashion contributes to undermining the faith of the people and makes religion in general an unimportant institution in our society. I have to wonder if this is the intended purpose of this cartoon.

Political cartoons, by no means, are intended to be "objective and fair." Political cartoons are meant to poke fun and be unfair - it's satire! Journalists are supposed to be objective and fair, not cartoonists. Depicting people in a ludicrous fashion does not necessarily undermine faith or people...especially in political cartoons - again, it's a point being made. Atheists from around the world depicted Mohammad in various cartoons and this was not meant to provoke people, but rather stand up for free speech. Depicting religion in a negative light also doesn't "make religion in general an unimportant institution in our society" ... depiction does not make it unimportant ... the idea that something is depicted almost certainly shows that it is important. The purpose of this cartoon is clearly to criticize the Catholic Church.

George Washington said, “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.” It would appear that our modern age never heard the words of the “father of our country,” or, if so, choses to ignore the warning and immorality continues to increase day by day.
Is the letter writer seriously claiming that without religion we continue to become immoral? Morality is not, by any means, exclusive to religious people. People of various faiths or no faiths are moral individuals. It's also awkward to claim that immorality continues to increase...how can we possibly demonstrate this? What I can demonstrate, though as a correlation, is that the least religious nations and areas have fare better in terms of societal health: less religious nations have lower rates of teen pregnancy, STDs and abortions while the most religious nations have higher rates of poverty, income inequality, and dissatisfaction with life.

George Washington, also, was not a Christian by any means. He was a deist (a person who believe in an indiscriminate creator god who is not active in human affairs who embraced religious freedom and recognized that religion can be helpful and consoling for many:

"The founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [Washington; Adams; Jefferson; Madison; Monroe; Adams; Jackson] not a one had professed a belief in Christianity....
Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism."
-- The Reverend Doctor Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, in a sermon preached in October, 1831, first sentence quoted in John E Remsberg, Six Historic Americans, second sentence quoted in Paul F Boller, George Washington & Religion,pp. 14-15

Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.
-- George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792, quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom, also James A Haught, 2000 Years of Disbelief

If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists.
-- George Washington, letter to Tench Tilghman asking him to secure a carpenter and a bricklayer for his Mount Vernon estate, March 24, 1784, in Paul F Boller, George Washington & Religion (1963) p. 118, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

"I have diligently perused every line that Washington ever gave to the public, and I do not find one expression in which he pledges, himself as a believer in Christianity. I think anyone who will candidly do as I have done, will come to the conclusion that he was a Deist and nothing more."
-- The Reverend Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, in an interview with Mr. Robert Dale Owen written on November 13, 1831, which was publlshed in New York two weeks later, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 27
Regardless, it's absurd to claim that the lack of religion causes immorality to increase. Continuing with the letter...

Consider the corruption on the federal, state and local levels of government, as well as in private businesses; the crime rate; the rising number of drug and alcohol addicts; the breakdown of family life, many times due to infidelities; abortion; and same-sex marriages.

Corruption in government and businesses has nothing whatsoever to do with lack of religious faith. It's quite apparent that the majority of people professes religion, specifically some form of Catholicism, and these crimes still occur. I'm quite positive that the people involved in the county corruption probes are religious believers. Consider this...about 75% of Americans profess some sort of religious beliefs. People who run businesses, are politicians, commit crimes, and divorce are representative of the general population....so about 75% of these people are religious. Are you claiming that the lack of religious faith is a contributing factor to this when the people are already religious? When I think of crime and corruption, I think of greed, desperation, taking advantage of the system, poor life conditions, lack of positive peers, and perhaps a bad childhood...not a lack of faith.

Religion can certainly help people cope with problems and avoid crime, but we see that the majority of prisoners are religious (and were before entering prison) and continue to commit crimes in spite of religious devotion. If your idea that the lack of faith leads to crime is correct, we should see non-theists in prisons and on the front page of newspapers eating babies, shooting doctors, etc...but this isn't the case. Where are all the atheist prisoners?

This "breakdown of family life" is a recent myth perpetuated by religionists who assert that the traditional family is a man, a woman, and two children, but this idea is always changing. Many children grow up with one parent, stepparents, grandparents, and not their two birth parents. The "traditional family" was previously not people of mixed races, different religions, different ethnicities, etc. Marriages used to be arranged by parents and females were forced into relationships with people they didn't even know or like. Times are changing...and it's not because of lack of religion.

Learn how the "traditional family values" are Bullshit! from Penn and Teller:

The divorce rate among Christians isn't even pristine. ReligiousTolerance.org even claims that

Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience.

"While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that when those individuals experience a divorce many of them feel their community of faith provides rejection rather than support and healing.

Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality, said:

"In the churches, people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills. ...Just being born again is not a rabbit's foot."

Hughes claim that 90% of divorces among born-again couples occur after they have been "saved."

...so, it turns out that atheists and agnostics are more likely to stay with their partners and not divorce. So much for this idea that lack of faith leads to more divorces.

Pastor, I'd be more than happy to debate you in a public venue. I'm very easy to contact and I'm more than willing to debate. Take this as a challenge.

- Justin Vacula

Co-Organizer, Board Member, and Spokesperson of the NEPA Freethought Society