POPE FRANCIS, Mother Teresa, Bloody Mary, Cardinal George Pell, the Borgias, Joseph Ratzinger, the Spanish Inquisition, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the Virgin Mary, the scary monk played by Paul Bettany in The Da Vinci Code, the Singing Nun, erm, God, Father Dougal… can you hear me? Father Dougal, your boys took one hell of a beating!
It’s an upset to end all upsets to be sure, but apparently in my last column I successfully managed to bully the Catholic Church – the largest denomination of the largest religion on the planet. Go little ol’ me!
According to David Morson’s letter to the Observer on February 11, my outpourings were “a chilling reminder of the worst form of inflammatory and bullying rants designed to galvanise opposition to minority groups by some 20th Century authoritarian regimes”.
And there I was, thinking I was merely arguing that religious institutions should not indoctrinate children in state-funded schools. In reality, I was coming over all Adolf Hitler. Remember him? The guy whose Roman Catholic upbringing forged his belief that the Jews should be punished for their Christ-killing ways?
What form did this alleged bullying take? Did I give the Pope a wedgie and steal his lunch money? Did I threaten Catholics with eternal torture in the fiery pits of Hell? That would have been out of order.
No, a little light mockery and calling out religious leaders for targeting the ductile minds of children was enough to get me chucked in with the likes of Pol Pot, Josef Stalin and the Kim dynasty.
It takes mere milliseconds these days for certain religious quarters to whip out the victim card in the face of criticism.
Firstly, I’m not apologising for having a dig at religious “fairy tales”. For example, the Catholic tenet of transubstantiation – the belief that wafers and wine literally transform into Christ’s flesh and blood inside your body – is clearly nonsense, should be rightfully mocked and has no place being taught to children as fact even outside of taxpayer-funded schools. If you don’t want your beliefs ridiculed, don’t hold ridiculous beliefs.
That Mr Morson went on to insist that the Catholic ethos is not only compatible with but also beneficial to science is laughable.
Tell that to Giordano Bruno. No, wait, you can’t, he was burnt at the stake by the Catholics for questioning transubstantiation and believing the Earth went round the Sun.
In the case of the Catholic Church, whose record on child welfare has in recent years been shown up to be (understatement alert) a bit iffy, the myth of a war on religion is a diversionary tactic, an example of DARVO (Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender).
Indeed, there was something peculiarly apt, if rather sobering, about the fact that Mr Morson’s letter was published on the same day the Vatican (possibly still punch-drunk from my withering, bullying attack) issued guidance to its priests that the clergy were not obliged to report child abuse.
Now THAT’S a chilling reminder – that powerful institutions must be held to account and that people shouting “persecution” where no persecution exists should not make us feel cowed into giving these organisations a free pass.
After all, many religious people have reconciled themselves with the idea that the vast majority of humans will end up suffering for eternity.
To quote the fantastically forthright critic of religion Helen Pluckrose: “If your religion states an intention to do me horrific harm, how dare you claim you are the one being victimised by my verbally expressed disapprobation?
“If I were supporting a regime that intended to round you up and subject you to horrendous brutality for not sharing my worldview, I am sure you would have something to say about this.”
I don’t write my religious-bashing columns for the likes of Mr Morson, in any case. I write them for those who may be wavering in their faith, confused about why the stories they were taught in their childhood don’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny. I’ve been there.
I’m not arrogant enough to think I could deconvert anyone, but I hope I can offer some comfort to anyone worried about the consequences of losing their faith. It’s fine. Genuinely. In fact, it’s more than fine. After the initial, short-lived, feeling of embarrassment that you were taken in for so long, it’s great, freeing, and opens up a world of awe and opportunity.
The angry letters in response to my columns, however, replete with logical fallacies, occasional vitriol and repeated irrationality, do more to show up religion as an ill-thought-out human construct than my writing could ever do.
I’ve spoken to a surprising number of readers about the confused word salads that my columns provoke and one phrase crops up over and over: “That letter was a bit of an own goal, wasn’t it?”
So, please, do keep responding. Here’s another through ball – feel free to boot it into the back of your own net.