Thursday, September 23, 2010

Another Rant

For those lucky enough to be unaware of him, Kevin Myers is a columnist for The Irish Independent newspaper whose idea of 'opinion' is ugly, reactionary bilge, filled with coarse, hysterical hyperbole and belligerent, sarcastic denunciations of anyone who disagrees with him even slightly. Usually, his bullying drivel is hardly worth commenting on - he's one of those writers who seems to feed on tiresomely pointless provocation - but this week's column contains a particularly poisonous misrepresentation of the facts, even for him, so I feel I cannot let it go unchallenged.
Like so many right-wing loudmouths, Myers has a venomous hatred of 'liberals' and 'political correctness', which he uses to refer to anyone he happens to object to at any particular time. In this article (see here) he asks: Just whose moral guidance would you prefer? That of the Pope, or Stephen Fry? His central point seems to be that Fry is a hypocrite for protesting about the Pope's visit to Britain, because he hasn't protested about visits from other heads of state who espouse equally intolerant doctrines, including Jacob Zuma from South Africa (until we get to the end of his article, where he goes into an all-purpose rant about secularism and about how we need a "moral compass", which should be provided by the Pope and other religious types).
Can you spot the central flaw in his argument? It is that the heads of state from South Africa, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or wherever, cannot be said to have any global influence, however odious their domestic policies, and certainly cannot have any influence on policy in the UK. By contrast, the Pope is the head of an worldwide organisation which encourages its followers to put loyalty to itself before loyalty to the state, and which, if allowed, would enthusiastically force everyone in the world to bend the knee to its doctrines, just like it did in Ireland for all those miserable decades. It is also an organisation which views homosexuality as evil, and encourages its followers around the globe to do likewise. Stephen Fry is gay, so is it not fair that when an organisation of global reach labels him, because of his sexuality, as evil, that he protest against it? (This is, of course, not the only reason he objects to the Church; see the video below for his very eloquent defense of his position.)
But that's not what inspired this article. It is Myers' breathtakingly inaccurate and hateful assertion, while talking about the church's opposition to contraception in AIDS-ridden Africa, that:
I could equally declare that the legislators who removed the legal ban on sexual relations between men in the USA brought about 400,000 deaths by AIDS. You might not like it, but that is the indisputable truth: after liberalisation, homosexual men began to behave largely as conservative opponents of that liberalisation had warned they would, to much liberal derision (mine included). As it turned out, the consequences were far worse than predicted. Of course, no letter-writer to 'The Guardian' would ever dream of declaring what was actually true -- that sexual liberalisation helped bring about a human catastrophe. Why? Because liberal laws on sexuality are deemed to be 'good' laws, no matter their consequences, whereas Catholic laws on human sexuality are necessarily 'bad' laws, even if their consequences are largely identical.
Where does one begin with such a vile and misleading comment, assuming that Myers is talking about the devastation caused by AIDS in gay communities in places like San Francisco in the early eighties? To claim "that sexual liberalisation helped bring about a human catastrophe" is preposterous, for he wilfully ignores that, in the late seventies, almost nobody knew that AIDS existed! AIDS was a catastrophe for many, but it was not a "consequence" of lifting the ban on homosexuality, any more than being killed by a out-of-control car is a "consequence" of walking on a footpath! There was no reason to believe, in the 1970s, that removing the ban on homosexuality was anything other than admirable and enlightened; as I said before, nobody could have predicted AIDS was around the corner. Conservatives objected to such sexual liberalisation not out of concern for gay men's health; it was because (for whatever reason) they opposed the very idea of homosexuality being accepted by society. Besides, being criminalised has never stopped gay men from having sex, has it? Although it has certainly made their lives more painful and difficult. But, and correct me if I'm wrong, it wasn't until 1982 that the connection was made between the abnormally high illness rate in seemingly healthy gay men and their lifestyle.
Is Myers saying that it was wrong to decriminalise homosexuality on the grounds that legislators should have taken into account a disease which they had no reason to suspect existed? Or that gay men should thank conservatives of the time for objecting to this law, on the same grounds? What kind of nonsense is this? The media at the time liked to portray AIDS as a "gay plague", but in 1982, "[h]ealth authorities soon realised that nearly half of the people identified with the syndrome were not homosexual men. The same opportunistic infections were also reported among haemophiliacs, heterosexual intravenous drug users, and Haitian immigrants" (see here). And what happened in gay communities once the nature of AIDS was understood? They put rubber sheaths over their members and went back to enjoying their sexuality, in the knowledge that they could not be thrown in jail for doing so. And more power to them, I say! I'm open to correction here, but the same laws still exist in the US today, don't they? But the AIDS epidemic among gay men, as it existed in the early 1980s, is now merely a cautionary and tragic history lesson.
To claim that the Catholic Church's objection to the use of condoms in Africa, in an era in which the method of transmission of AIDS is understood fully, is anything other than reprehensible, is misguided to say the least. Condoms are not infallible - nothing is - but in the battle against AIDS they are a vital tool to prevent its spread, and should be encouraged, along with abstinence and faithfulness to one partner only. To fail to do so is not just irresponsible; it is despicable. And I do not object to the Catholic prohibition on condoms in Africa simply because it is the official position of the Catholic Church, based as it is on their twisted and puritanical view of sexuality, and because as a secular atheist and occasional Guardian reader I automatically and instantly object to anything the Catholic Church ever says on any subject. Being able to think for myself and weigh up evidence, I disagree with it because I believe it is a dangerous and ill-advised strategy (and, by the way, it's not a 'law') that will result in people dying needlessly.
Let us also point out the most laughable aspect of Myers' article: that we should turn to the Pope for moral guidance! I'm sorry, but the words "fifty" and "year" and "cover-up" and "child rape" just do keep coming to mind, don't they? And these words are indelibly linked with "Catholic" and "dominance" and "Ireland" in my mind, seeing as we were under the thumb of the Vatican for such a long time. No matter how often the Pope wants to lecture a secular atheist like myself on morality, the beam in his own eye will always be greater than the mote in mine! And Myers seems to be taking the approach of a lot of Catholic apologists here, in that he chooses to completely ignore this major aspect of the Church's recent history. No matter how thoughtful or laudatory the Pope's teachings on other matters may be, and by all accounts he is a fine theologian, this festering, poisonous moral lapse at the very heart of the church will invalidate everything he says until such time as he and his fellow clergymen make full restitution for their crimes. 
A while back I wrote a post (here) about the tactics the Catholic Church uses to justify its appalling record on child abuse, but there was one I missed which is becoming more and more prevalent. This is, as Kevin Myers demonstrates, to attack anyone who objects to the Church or the Pope as an intolerant secularist, and to claim that secularism is somehow responsible for the supposed decline in moral values in society (because Ireland in the 1950s was such a fucking moral place, wasn't it?). Ignoring the fact that, by and large, the Catholic Church has shown nothing but intolerance throughout its 2000-year history for anyone who questioned its dogmas or, more crucially, its power, most atheists and secularists that I know are entirely tolerant of other people's faith. I should know; my partner is a Catholic! Some are not, I admit, but any intolerance on the secular side can be matched above and beyond the call of duty on the religious side. It's a smear campaign, of course; Catholic apologists will dig up the most fervent, fanatically anti-religious types and insist that they are entirely representative of anyone who has any kind of issue with the church, thus enabling them to dismiss any valid argument brought against themselves as "secular intolerance". Well, I have no problem with religion of any kind as long as it respects my choice not to worship at its altars and doesn't insist that its beliefs are enshrined in law, but this view has never been shared by the Catholic Church, which has always sought to force everyone within its orbit to behave according to its strictures. But here's the man himself, Stephen Fry, discussing why he believes the Catholic Church is not a force for good in the world (and my apologies for borrowing one or two of his ideas in the above). Tell me if you spot any secular intolerance. 
An update: a letter to the Irish Independent here


6 comments:

Sean Jeating said...

D'accord, D.E.
As for Mr. Fry: I posted this very speech in December. Title: 'Frying the Shammers'.
As for Mr. Myers: The gentleman is obviously independent galore insofar as he posseses - is possessed by? - a big heap of intelligence outside his head.
As for political correctness: Unfortunately something like a new kind of religion.
Well, as long worshippers of whatever don't try to force me becoming gay, a worshipper etc. ...
Sometimes it is necessary to call a spade a spade, anyway; or an idiot and idiot. - Mr. Myers will/would certainly agree. :)

A Doubtful Egg said...

Thanks, Sean. My problem with the use of the phrase "political correctness" is not only that it's vague and ill-defined, which means that not only it can be used to attack anything liberal which a person happens to disagree with, but that it's selective. It's politically correct not to be a racist, isn't it? Or to be a feminist, or to support gay rights, or the rights of minorities? Yet most people would not object to these things! It can be taken to extremes, and like anything it needs to be monitored, but by and large it is a good thing. It's certainly preferable to living in a Catholic state...

jams o donnell said...

Ah for shame! Kevin Myers is one of Ireland's national treasures. In fact he should have pride of place in the National Museum of Ireland right there alongside the Ardagh Chalice.

How often does nature throw up an example of the perfect arsehole after all!

A Doubtful Egg said...

He certainly is in a class of his won when it comes to producing journalistic excrement; whether this should be treasured is another thing! I'd suggest 'cautionary example' instead, along with similarly incoherent conservative loudmouths like Eoghan Harris and John Waters...

Claude said...

Well said rant, D.E. Another sin that the old Vatican Bachelors are responsible of (and Mr. Myers doesn't mention) is the number of babies who are born unwanted, or are aborted in dark alleys, because of the Catholic Church sacred fears of and stubborn negativeness for the use of condoms, not only in Africa, but everywhere.

I have an infinite respect for life, and I spent many years teaching people, (females AND males), as young as possible, about proper methods of birth control. And would you believe that teaching the use of condoms is prohibited in Catholic Schools for the reason that it would encourage sexual promiscuity? I laughed at a Bishop's face in Toronto. I also cried...They've never seen a desperate, pregnant girl and an aborted still-breathing foetus. They condemn the latest without giving the means to prevent its conception. Sexual abstention (or else) is the most unrealistic, inhuman concept that was devised by a bunch of moronic, ignorant old men who have the bloody nerve to use the name of God to moralise and control the herds of ignorant, naive people who follow them.

A Doubtful Egg said...

Well said, Claudia. On a related note, in Ireland in the 20th century, especially in the country, it was not unusual to have families of up to 12 or 13 children, thanks to a lack of contraception and the fervent encouragement of the Catholic Church. I cannot imagine that most women actually wants to have 12 children, considering the physical effects of continual pregnancy and of rearing so many children, often in extremely difficult circumstances. But woe betide you if you suggested using contraception in pre-70s Ireland...