Episode 50 – 10th September 2010

[Direct MP3 Link]

Old Wives Med by Andrew West (ft Dr Evan Harris!)
Science Cuts by Jenny Rohn
Hawking’s God by Matthew Green
Protest Protest The Pope by Tom Morris
Miracles by Drew Rae (read by David Couch)
Guest Edited by Liz Lutgendorff

Pod Delusion Live
14th September, 7pm, The Monarch pub, Camden (London).

Matthew Green’s references:

9 thoughts on “Episode 50 – 10th September 2010

  1. I must admit I am more likely t o buy a newspaper if they are writing about a juicy god/sciene article, I am my own worst enemy in expecting a rational popular press reporting science. That said I did enjoy The Times supplement on M-Theory and had a chuckle that another gap may be filled.

  2. I usually enjoy Pod Delusion pieces arguing I disagree with, which is why I’m not dismantling the main argument of Tom Morris’ contributiong (@20’32”) here. But whereas such pieces are normally polite about it, this one felt like an ill-prepared and angry rant towards the end—in one moment of surreal self-obliviousness he calls the BHA and the NSS “arseholes” while trying to convince them not to alienate the people they’re trying to convince.

    What’s worse than the sanctimony is that I’m not convinced the argument backing it up was sound. I thought he conflated the Vatican leadership with Catholics as a whole. He likened Protest the Pope rallies to “bigotry”, calling them “mean-spirited” and “anti-Catholic”, but they’re only anti-Vatican. “Humane and sensible religious liberals” won’t be alienated by our “protesting their leaders” because we’re not—we’re protesting a dangerous and nasty bigot. The petty name-calling only serves to highlight this fallacy: he calls anyone who protests the Vatican’s stance on gay rights and secularism “a total dickwad”, and anyone who doesn’t support gay rights and secularism “a total dickhead”.

    That seems a somewhat misanthropic dilemma.

  3. Andrew: did you actually see the argument I was making? It was absolutely nothing about tone or misanthropy or angriness. It was about principle.

    My point is that the protests shouldn’t be anti-Vatican. They should be pro-secularism. If the government were to not fund the Vatican state visit, then we would have no complaint, right? That’s what the NSS have been saying all along. But it is bullshit.

    Let’s be honest: we are using the secularist argument about state neutrality towards religion as an excuse for bashing the Pope. All I really want is for people to be honest: protest the pope because you don’t like the Pope, but let’s keep the arguments separate. We’d still have reason to object to government funding someone who isn’t ideologically objectionable (say, Desmond Tutu rather than the Pope).

    And I don’t like that my support for secularism has been co-opted into Pope bashing because it cheapens the secularist argument. It makes it seem less like a principled objection to church-state entanglement and turns it into a populist (and, I expect, totally self-defeating) bit of Catholic bashing, which pushes Catholics to oppose secularism.

  4. Whilst I liked Tom’s article, in a six-minute piece it’s not possible to include precise definitions and constraints of the argument.

    Tom is absolutely right that if you oppose the Pope on secular grounds, it is irrelevant whether he is a good bloke or a dangerous nutter. The extension is also logical – if you criticise the Pope for being evil _in the name of secularism_ you draw a line between supporting the Pope and supporting secularism. The only legitimate time to do this is if he was an opponent of secularism, an accusation which could certainly be levied at his predecessor.

    The secular argument against the visit is much better expressed as Tom says – either he is a religious leader, in which case he can pay his own way on this little fundraising jaunt, or he is a head of state, in which case he should behave and be treated like any other mayor of a tiny Italian hamlet.

    The complexity is that there is nothing wrong in opposing the Pope for his behaviour and policies, but these are not _secular_ reasons, and you shouldn’t do it with your secular t-shirt on, or promote it on your secular organisation’s mailing list.

  5. Yes, I got the argument. I disagreed with it but that’s not what my comment was about. But since you ask, the NSS isn’t arguing that religious leaders should be automatically denied state visits. Their argument is (in part) that we’d never grant a state visit to a secular state guilty of the same crimes as the Holy See. In this context the crimes are directly relevant to a purely secularist argument: he’s being granted privileges a non-religious head of state would be denied.

    The religion-neutral state you pine for wouldn’t do that, but nor would it deny him a state visit purely because he’s also head of a religion. The Queen is head of the Church of England and I don’t recall a secularist outcry against her state visits to France or the USA, both secular states. Should there have been?

    But say we’d won. Say the Vatican had footed the bill and the government and monarchy had ignored them. I hope the BHA (who are humanists first and secularists second) would still have turned up with placards deploring the Church’s crimes. You seem to be arguing they’d be intolerant dickwads and mean-spirited arseholes for doing so. That’s what rubbed me up the wrong way.

  6. If – and it is a pretty big if – it is made clear that the principled secularist argument is separate from the criticisms of the Pope and the church, I’m okay with the protests. And I’m not going to object to people going if they want to go. But it looks to me like the NSS and others have had to really go for a much less principled, more populist appeal to rather baser and meaner anti-Catholicism to get the crowds to turn up.

    And that rather mean anti-Catholicism is completely lacking historical context. I’ve seen the word “papist” come up too many times. I’ve got no love for Pope Benedict, but if we are trying to get Catholics to support secularism and participate in the secular society, we can’t just go around shouting “papists” and the like, because people stop thinking John Stuart Mill and start thinking Tyburn and the Gordon Riots and the Popery Act of 1698.

    That’s rather the point that Padraig Ready was making in http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/22/pope-visit-catholic-prejudice

    I’ve also seen mention on blogs of people “hounding out” the Pope and the like. Oppose him, have a barney about it, whatever. But, cripes, keep it civil and sane, and let’s not burn all our bridges to the decent religious people who will be there fighting in our corner on all sorts of other important issues.

  7. But the principled secularist argument being made isn’t separate from the criticisms of the Pope — it’s contingent on them: the NSS are arguing that the Holy See should be denied a state visit because it’s a dangerous and nasty country, but that it’s being granted one anyway because the Pope is also a religious leader. To support that argument, they present evidence that the Vatican is as bad as they say.

    You, on the other hand, argue that the Pope should be denied a state visit simply because he’s a religious leader. That doesn’t require any supporting evidence, so when the NSS present it, I think you see that as irrelevant, populist Catholic-bashing and conclude that they’re dickwads pandering to anti-Catholic prejudice.

    That said, even when I thought they were making your argument, I still thought you were too quick to ascribe malicious intent and dismiss them (and, by extension, many listeners) as arseholes.

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