Wednesday, July 04, 2007

One of my occasional comments on religion in general

In 1858 Edgardo Montara, a six-year-old child of Jewish parents living in Bologna, was legally seized by the papal police acting under orders from the Inquisition. Edgardo was forcibly dragged away from his weeping mother and sitraught father to the Catechumens (house for the conversion of Jews and Muslims) in Rome, and thereafter brought up as a Roman Catholic... his parents never saw him again.

-Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 311-313
Montara had been secretly baptized by his Catholic baby-sitter, ergo he was a Christian. Ergo, the Catholic chuch had to drag him kicking and screaming from his parents. This caused worldwide outrage, to which the Catholic Church responded with this old chestnut:
That widespread outrage... was dismissed by the Catholic newspaper Civilta Cattolicaas due to the international power of rich Jews.
It was 1858, the "media" barely existed outside of some newspapers, and yet still the Jews controlled everything! How crafty!

But the thing that has had me laughing for 20 minutes since I read it is this:
A Catholic newspaper in the United States defended the Pope's stance on the Montara case, arguing that it was unthinkable that a Christian government 'could leave a Christian child to be brought up a Jew' and invoking the principle of religious liberty, 'the liberty of a child to be a Christian and not forced compulsorily to be a Jew'...


What the hell could that even mean? "Forced compulsorily to be a Jew" by the fact that he was born to Jewish parents, happily raised a Jew, and only made a Christian by an overzealous baby-sitter?

It seems ridiculous, of course, except it isn't. The refusal to accept, for example, what consenting adults do in their own bedrooms as a private matter is motivated by the same impulse -- you don't have the right to a private sin, even if it's not your religion that's judging the sin.

Or, to pick a more relevant example, the refusal to allow gays and lesbians to adopt children in the US: we're preserving the "freedom" of children not to be forced "compulsorily" to have loving parents who happen to have the same sets of plumbing. Brilliant.

I'm sure the Pope approves. No, really, I'm certain.


Chester N. Scoville said...

And yet, in the same book, Dawkins implies that the children of the Amish (who a recent study showed are among the happiest people on Earth) should be taken away from their parents and raised by...well, he's not too clear on the details.

Not seeing a lot of difference here.

john said...

I disagree. I think the closest he comes to that is saying that Amish parents shouldn't be allowed to force their children not to go to public school, on the same principle as the Montara case: nobody is asking the children's opinion.

He's also pretty scathing to Montara's parents, btw, arguing that they should have just lied and taken communion falsely to be with their son again. (All Gods being false to Dawkins, why does it matter?)

I actually think Dawkins is relatively consistent, in not bending a knee to any particular faith.

Chester N. Scoville said...

Maybe, but what happens if Amish parents refuse to cooperate? And what happens if the children want to stay as they are?

Anyhow, Dawkins seems to me to spend far too much time thinking about one aspect of religion -- theology (in a rather elementary form) -- and fails to take sufficient account of the social, historical, political, and economic factors that surround any given manifestation of it.

"All Gods being false to Dawkins, why does it matter?"

And that's exactly the problem. We're not talking about gods here; we're only ever talking about people, who exist in complex and specific situations, some of which they may find valuable for all sorts of reasons.

Chester N. Scoville said...

NB, I don't have Dawkins's book in front of me, so if I'm distorting anything he said, I regret that. But having read it a few months back I do think he vastly oversimplifies.

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