Monday, March 9, 2009

Disgusting Spectacle, Part II

M. D. Rodriguez's letter to the editor of the local Disappearing Daily (they've even cut the TV schedules in attempts to reduce costs due to low advertising revenues) has been answered by one Richard R. Lewinski, who, under the heading "Mercy for Celis," retorts:

"Ref. M.D. Rodriguez’s letter (“Bishop testifies,” Feb. 26) on Bishop Edmond Carmo­dy and Msgr. Michael Herras testifying in Mr. Celis’ trial, (Feb. 26). What they testi­fied to was the facts. Was Mr. Celis generous to the church? Are those the facts? Then the testimony was correct. I view Mr. Rodriguez’s let­ter as an attack on the Cath­olic Church. The purpose of the Catholic Church so stated by Jesus is for sinners. That is what the church exists for, to reconcile sinners to God through Jesus and building up the saints until they meet the Savior in the next life. It is the state that identifies someone as a criminal.

"There is a wrong concept that once one commits a great crime that person is a evil, undeserving of any­thing positive for the rest of their lives. This concept totally ignores the concept of people being rehabili­tated, or to put it in church language, converted by the Grace of God. Yes, murderers and drug dealers can expect the same treatment from church leaders whether they are rich or poor, contribute to the church or not. All sin­ners can expect the offer of God’s mercy."

Oh, my, so many logical fallacies it is difficult to know where to begin.

First, it is easy to dismiss an opponent's argument by labeling him this or that; in this case, an anti-Catholic. Such epithets however hardly suffice as refutation of the points Mr. Rodriguez made in his earlier letter. Nor does Lewinski correctly characterize Bishop Carmody's testimony as "factual," at least not entirely. Yes, the bish noted the many good works Celis performed with his money donations to Church concerns. These were part of a calculated and, to anyone with any sense, cynically designed public relations campaign meant to lay the groundwork for his defense. But the prelate was called upon to answer the ultimate question of whether society would be benefitted by having Celis do prison time -- an opinion, not a fact.

Nor is Lewinski correct in claiming that "the purpose of the Catholic Church so stated by Jesus is for sinners." Jesus, if he indeed existed at all, and there is scant information to suggest as much save the vague and inconclusive writings of Josephus and the contradictory anachronisms of the canonical accounts, could not possibly have claimed that the purpose of the Roman church was "sinners." (In all fairness, Mr. Lewinski shows a singular skillessness when it comes to grammar and sytax, but that is the least of his faults.) As has been observed by more than one atheist, that champion misogynist, homophobe, and victim of self-contempt, Saul-Paul of Tarsus poisoned Christian doctrine by institutionalizing it complete with priesthood, thus putting the nail on its coffin, while Emperor Constantine lowered the catafalque.

As with all religious pronouncements, it is not simply difficult but impossible to refute Lewinski's claim that the church exists "to reconcile sinners to God through Jesus and building up the saints until they meet the Savior in the next life." No one, not Rodriguez, not Lewinski, and certainly not I, knows what may come; however, science, which subjects theory to rigorous testing and objective analysis, tells us what is certain: that our bodies simply decompose. The so-called human "soul" is a fabrication of fantasists; again, it cannot be proved or disproved, so there is little point in belaboring its existence.

As for the claim that "there is a wrong concept that once one commits a great crime that person is a evil [sic]," one wonders if Mr. Lewinski would regard Hitler as evil. What about Charles Manson? What about Atilla the Hun? Pol Pot? Khomeni? Idi Amin Dada? One supposes that slaughtering six million Jews, gypsies, Marxists, and homosexuals in the name of Aryan purity was not an evil. Even if you brought them to the confessional, what positive things might Hitler, Stalin, and Ivan the Terrible possibly do to win the forgiveness of man or "God"? Seems to me there are some things for which an apology simply won't do.

As for "rehabilitation" or "conversion" by the "Grace of God" in the context of the Carmody testimony in the Celis trial, one is reminded of the sordid history of indulgences, which Chris Hitch, writing in Free Inquiry, notes have been reinstituted by Pope Benedict. It's probably no more than a coincidence that the Pope guy's revival of the practice of granting plenary indulgences was announced long after Celis' PR stunts. Still, even if Carmody's appearance as a character witness in the Celis fiasco was not, strictly speaking, a part of an indulgence, the parallel is worth investigating.

As the New York Times has observed ("For Catholics, a Door to Absolution Is Reopened," 02-09-09), indulgences were the first complaint lodged by Luther when he posted his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg lo these many 500 or so years ago. The Second Vatican Council of the 1960s did away with the practice -- but, obviously, only temporarily: what one pope taketh away, another can resinstate. (Personally, I've never forgiven them for relegating Saint Christoper to the status of a has-been; during my religious period, he was my favorite pietist.)

One of the Catholic leaders quoted by the Times, Bishop diMarzio of Brooklyn, when asked why the Church brought back indulgences, replied: "Because there is sin in the world." If logical fallacies were filberts, the Church would have the nut market monopolized. One must wonder, during the past 50 years, was the world any less sinful than now? Look at the events that have occurred in the intervening years. (Hint: they aren't limited to the jihadist attacks of 9/11.)

Indulgences, we're told, don't leave the sinner completely off the hook: even after confession, recitation of Holy Mary's and such, and, in Celis' case, payment of six figure tithes -- ecclesiastical money-laundering if you will -- the guilty party, as the Times put it, "still faces punishment after death in Purgatory." To borrow a line from the late George Carlin, God must be awfully arbitrary: the Protestant afterlife doesn't even contain a Purgatory. The Roman scheme of things even dictates that "there is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day." Does this mean I can get 1½ indulgences in 36 hours?

The Times piece quoted a Manhattan priest as saying that the reinstitution of indulgences has already produced noticeable results: "I had a number of people come in and say, 'Father, I haven't been to confession in 20 years, but this made me think it wasn't too late." One imagines this type of sinner going into the confessional and staying for days on end, necessitating priestly shifts in the box night and day. All humor aside, though, thinking "it [isn't] too late" raises another, perhaps critical point: where confession and divine forgiveness are concerned, it is literally never too late.

And that is precisely what I find the most obvious flaw in the Christer concept of sin in general (and Catholicism in particular): knowing that one can always be forgiven allows the sinner the luxury of thinking he can do wrong repeatedly and suffer no metaphysical consequences. Confession thus becomes almost a justification for evil. As the movie advertising for Martin Scorsese's film, Mean Streets, put it: "Go to Church on Sunday; Go to Hell on Monday." The Church responds to such criticism by saying that confession is not effective unless the sinner approaches the confessional corde saltem contrito, "at least with a contrite heart."

How are we to know that Celis has a "contrite heart," or whether, as is evident from the chronology of his charitable giving -- he started handing money around to the Church right after hiring the most prominent criminal defense lawyer in the city -- he's merely had the bejebus scared out of him by the thought of being butt fucked in a shower stall when he bends over to pick up the soap.

As I write, the local paper tells of million-dollar bonds being set by a judge for two men, ages 47 and 28, accused of the aggravated kidnapping and rape of two girls, aged 14 and 15. Assuming these defendants could come up with six-figure amounts to donate to Bishop Carmody's churches, I wonder if he would even give a nanosecond's thought to testifying in their behalf during the punishment phase of their trials. I kinda doubt it.

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