Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Sins Of Our Fathers

By Euclides Montes @Gatulino

It's been a bad couple of weeks for the Catholic Church. Defending itself from accusations of cover ups of child abuse – involving in some cases some of its highest dignitaries – the Church has taken some powerful knocks and not for the first time it has been called upon to explain itself.

Some in the atheist camp would have probably followed this news with more than a tinge of schadenfraude. But I imagine that most would have also shared my discomfort and sadness at each new development in the knowledge that each new crisis will almost inevitably mean another set of lives that will have been changed forever.

This had led me to ponder about religion and its place in society. Should we be pushing our society to a state of complete secularism where religion is simply a personal interest and its institutions regulated as any other public institution? Or would curtailing religious freedom perhaps lead us to miss out on the benefits generally associated with religion?

It’s a tricky argument and I’ve found myself at times getting angry and ready to take up some metaphorical weapons and fight against religion and what I perceive as all its evils; whilst at other times I find myself thinking about the good things religion has to offer and how sad a place the world would be for so many – some very close to me– without religion. It’s at this juncture where you join me and will hopefully be able and willing to help me ponder a bit more about this.

It is undeniable that religion can be, and by large is, a positive influence in people’s lives. Although it would be impossible to analyse religion as a whole in just a few lines, the significance of its role in helping people to deal with a variety of situations, from grief to imprisonment, is clear.

However, we only need to look to the scandals mentioned above, or the influence of the profitable right-wing Christian communities in America, or the extremist elements in Islam to see that it is also clear that religion brings into the social forum a large amount of negative baggage. And this is where my ponder lies. How can we find a balance between the religious and the social spheres?

So, should we be pushing our societies to a stage of overt and complete secularism? Where religion is reserved for the privacy of our own homes? In this scenario, religious institutions would be accountable to secular society and religious rites and customs would be informed by the accompanying secular values, rather than the other way around.

Alternatively, should we feel that the secularisation of our society is undermining some of the religious values that many have come to identify with Western civilisation?

It’s a tricky argument indeed but one that I feel can only be beneficial if everyone thought about it at some point in their lives. After all, whether it is faith schools or extremism, religion has been a regular feature in the arguments that have shaped the news over the last decade.

So, I open the floor and ask you, where should the balance lie between religion and society? Should we be pushing for an official inquiry into paedophilia in the Catholic priesthood in Ireland for instance, and expecting priests to be judged and held accountable just as any other person in a position of trust like a doctor or a lawyer would be judged? Or should we be giving the Church certain concessions and trust that there are enough internal systems of accountability to act as safeguards for everyone?

I invite you to think about this whilst we celebrate St Patrick’s Day and hopefully you’ll let me know what you think in the comments below.


  1. It's an interesting question and one I have thought about a lot. However, having done so, I would say absolutely yes to secularism in education, government and law. I believe it can happen without harming anyone's right to believe what they want, or harming the benefits that their religion supplies them.

    The country would be a better place if we were educated together. I think the very existence of religious schools is divisive and religious teaching should be kept for homes and places of worship. Except in religious education classes where you learn about all faiths and cultures (perhaps this should be changed to something like cultural studies, or incorporated into geography or social studies)

    In Government and law, there is no need to give any religion special consideration or freedom from behaving as we believe all people should. If we are giving them a particular special consideration, then we have to ask why. If it's something like not having women priests then fair enough. I believe there is room in equality legislation for things like that. If it's 'let us discipline our own members even when they have broken the law', then absolutely no.

    There is also still, in our culture, the slight bias and suggestion that people who are religious are more moral and have more principles that those who are not. Apart from that clearly not being the case, until this mindset has completely vanished, I don't think we can be completely free from religion in government, either as a tool for electioneering or in the passing of legislation.

    I dont think your question about a secular society losing the benefits of religion is an issue. I would think that any benefits there are, are largely personal, community-based and social. I don't believe that removing religion from education, politics and law would make any of those disappear.

  2. The Catholic Church gives paedophiles bad name.

  3. No group, be it religious or otherwise should be given "concessions" to deal with such issues.

    Lawful investigation, trial and conviction applies to us all and just because it's the Catholic Church doesn't give it some right to close it's ranks and clean up it's own mess and not be accountable to society.

    As for the benefits of religion and where does it sit in our modern society? I think it has it's place, but it's place does not make it above the law or simple morals, ethics and behaviours.

  4. So, I'd say corruption happens anywhere, anytime and that given the opportunity, someone with that mindset, will try their best to get into a position where they can take advantage, and abuse their power to exploit young children.

    But this also goes for your murderers, and your rapists, and your garden variety 'sinners' (word being appropriate) taking advantage of their target group.

    The fact that it happened within the Church made it newspaper gold, due to the obvious contrast of morals (Thou Shalt not touch little kids vs abusing children).

    If a story of abuse got out of say, a group of mechanics at a garage, abusing children, people would be disgusted but not all that bothered as there's no obvious major conflict of morals.

    Really, the problem is with the major abuse of trust and power, performed by the individuals.
    It shouldn't be taken out on the Church which, for the most part, has done the UK, and even the world, a lot more good than bad.