Tag Archive | "Christopher Hitchens"

Hitchens, Living Dyingly

When Christopher Hitchens died in December of last year, the atheist community echoed to the point of cliché that the world had lost a voice of reason. But, there was really no other way to put the loss of Hitchens. Hitchens was a prolific writer, with over a dozen published books, along with regular columns published on Vanity Fair, Slate, and The Atlantic. Even the toll of metastatic cancer could only do so much to diminish his output.

Hitchens died after over a year of battling esophageal cancer. Or rather, as he puts it, cancer fighting him. He wrote missives from the land he called Tumortown with the wit and vigor, however slowed by chemotherapy, that was unique to him. These dispatches were published in Vanity Fair, which comprise the bulk of Hitchens’ posthumously published book, Mortality.

Mortality begins with a foreword from Hitchens’ longtime editor at Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter. Carter gives us a glimpse of Hitchens’ writing method as he recounts one typically indulgent drinking session, after which Hitchens banged out a 1000 word column “of near perfection” in about 30 minutes. He talks about the story behind the iconic photo of Hitchens riding a bike, feet in the air—apparently breaking one of the odd laws of New York. Carter remembers Hitchens as the consummate writer, taking on assignments however frightening (such as a date with the waxing parlor), while declaring with nervous enthusiasm, “In for a penny…”

The “living dyingly” by an atheist, of which Hitchens wrote in his final days, served as a real depiction and acceptance of mortality. After all, dying is no more real to anyone but atheists who believe that this life is all that there is and all that there will be. Hitchens, however, warned of the “permanent temptation” of self-centeredness and solipsism that stems from cancer victimhood and a looming end of life. As a matter of “etiquette,” Hitchens imposed on himself not to inflict on others the torment of indulgence expected from people dealing with the dying. He pointed out in particular the well-loved Randy Pausch, of The Last Lecture and Oprah fame. He remarked, “It ought to be an offense to be excruciating and unfunny in circumstances where your audience is almost morally obliged to enthuse.” Unflinching takedowns such as this remind us of the cheeky audacity that the world lost when Hitchens died.

Despite his near-stoic bravery as he journeyed through the land of malady, Hitchens admits that he would sometimes falter and throw the banal challenge to the universe of “why me?”, of course, Hitchens’ clear rationality sternly admonishes him with the obvious “why not?” Mortality shows how Hitchens maintained his humor despite the understandable irritation of the courtesies when interacting with people from “the country of the well.” When asked, “How are you?,” he would give different playful responses, from “A bit early to say” to “I seem to have cancer today.”

Most heartbreaking is how Hitchens relayed the eventual loss of his legendary voice, “If I had been robbed of my voice earlier, I doubt that I could have ever achieved so much on the page.” He related the vocal cord, which is not at all a cord in its strict sense, to the musical chord and how there must lie a deep relationship between the etymology and how the human voice evokes emotion. Speaking was at the core of Hitchens’ identity and he saw its loss as “assuredly to die more than a little.”

Hauntingly, Hitchens recalled the time when he was waterboarded in order to write about the experience, which he describes as being slowly drowned. It’s quite revealing for a dying man to have an action the United States government denied was torture in his last recollections. Having pneumonia as one of the many perils of his disease, Hitchens would have fits of panic with the feeling of water filling his lungs, summoning back his experience with torture.

Among the most memorable passages of Mortality was one of the first Hitchens published after being diagnosed. He spoke of his plans that were interrupted by cancer. Valiantly, he expressed his desire of outlasting the “elderly villains,” Kissinger and Ratzinger. But, Hitchens’ disappointment was clearest and most moving when he disbelievingly lamented, “Will I really not live to see my children married?”

The closing chapter of Mortality allows us a quick look at Hitchens’ thought processes before they were laid out in crisp British prose. We see little notes that echo some of the previous chapters, which were the fleshed out beats from what Hitchens had jotted down.

As a prominent atheist, many believers pined, even threatened, for his conversion. This theme recurred in his final public appearances, when he assured people that should he ever convert, “I hereby state that while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be ‘me.’” In the closing notes of Mortality, Hitchens elaborates in one fragmentary passage, “If ever I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than an atheist does.” I would have loved to have seen that line bloom into a full polemic.

At just around 100 pages of previously-published material, Mortality leaves readers wanting. And, perhaps, that is just the hazard for people who have lived lives such as Hitchens. However, having all the material in one place provides a solemn context to Hitchens as he allowed the public to watch an atheist die and, as he saw it, cease to exist. Mortality encapsulates the resolute bravery of Hitchens in the face of death, refusing the comforting delusions of religion, as well as secular, but no less self-indulgent, sentimentality.

Hitchens’ widow, Carol Blue, closes the book with her own stories about her husband. She recalls how Hitchens scribbled notes in his books and how, even after Hitchens died, she would revisit them. And then Christopher Hitchens would always have the last word.


Mortality by Christopher Hitchens is published by Twelve.

Image Credit: Vanity Fair

Posted in ReviewsComments (0)

The Good Intentions of Religious Conservatives

“Name me a moral action made by a believer that could not be made by a non-believer.” This was the late Christopher Hitchens’ storied moral challenge against theists who claimed that it is impossible for atheists to be moral without gods. Hitchens turned this around by showing how ethics is prior to religion. He continued, “If I were to ask, could you name a wicked action made by someone attributable only to their religious faith? There isn’t a person here who would hesitate for a second.”

In a debate between David Wolpe and Hitchens, Wolpe countered the moral challenge by presenting a personal example. Wolpe recounted a story about his father, “When I think of the most powerful and intimate moments that I had with my father, it was when he put his hands on my head and blessed me on a Friday night.” Such an action is definitely unavailable to the logically consistent atheist. Hitchens dismissed this response, saying that he was not convinced that this was truly a moral action.

Even as an atheist, it is apparent to me that Hitchens’ skepticism was misplaced. You don’t need to believe in a supernatural deity to accept that mystical activities could possibly be conducive to well-being, if only for the false consolation that things are going to be okay. This is not to say that there is any evidence for the supernatural any more than there is evidence that placebos are universal cures. This is also not to say that the comfort produced by delusion is even worth the opportunity cost of being mistaken about the nature of reality. It is sufficient to show from this example that even delusion can be compatible with ethical motivations.



In the middle of the culture wars, it is easy to get lost in the absolutist narrative (I’m often guilty of such thoughts): conservative Christians are backwards Puritanical parrots, atheists and liberals are the height of pure rationality. The opposite view that Christians are the sole keepers of moral truth and liberals are mindless instruments of Satan is also a popular belief. Obviously, such black and white views are seldom accurate for any argument. By embracing such unconditional beliefs, we lose sight of the fact that we share a common human nature, regardless of our views.


The religious meme

It’s a common little jab by pro-RH activists against Catholic bishops that they are against the RH bill because they want more children—children that they can indoctrinate. This, however, is an unfair accusation. The Roman Catholic hierarchy has been more or less consistent about its sex negative stance for ages. This opposition to liberal views of sexuality comes from their own idea that sex was created by God for the purpose of procreation. Anything that falls short of God’s purpose is the privation (or the prevention of achievement) of the intrinsically good nature of creation. And anything that falls short of nature is evil. Having more children to indoctrinate is a bonus, but it does not come into their reasoning at all.

There can be, however, a naturalistic explanation for how the Church came to be so adamantly against contraception. We can appeal to the idea that the proliferation of cultural ideas, like religion, can follow a Darwinian analogue to genes called, “memes.”

Genes are selfish hereditary units. If they weren’t selfish, they wouldn’t be passed on. But this self-interestedness at the gene level need not be consciously held by the organisms they build. Animals, human or not, can exhibit altruistic motives, even though these behaviors are ultimately determined by selfish genes. Similar to genes, memes are selected for in cultures such that the ones that survive are those that exhibit characteristics that are conducive to virus-like proliferation in the minds of conscious beings.

To extend the Darwinian analogy to religion, the religions that dominate are predicted to have certain traits that are conducive to self-preservation—such as child-indoctrination and zealous opposition to change. Consider the Shakers, who prohibited any sort of procreation. They practically don’t exist anymore. Now, the Roman Catholic Church may have despicably self-preservationist doctrines (as in their protocol for shielding rapist employees) but this does not necessarily contradict with any benevolent motive. As in the selfishness of genes, the self-preservationism of religious memes need not manifest in persons as conscious malice. But, the road to hell, after all, is paved with good intentions.


Questioning motives

It is important to understand that apparently evil actions can have thoroughly good intentions because the assumption of malice tends to be the root of misunderstanding and conflict. Relevant to this is a psychological effect called, “the moralization gap,” described by the psychologist Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature. It is a self-serving bias where injured parties tend to see hurts, no matter how small, as undeserved, permanent, and egregious, while offending parties see hurts, no matter how bad, as justified, temporary, and exaggerated. This is a consistent bias in human psychology that makes any sort of dialogue difficult. Parties on the opposing sides of disputes tend to hold distorted accounts of their own experiences.

Since this is a bias built into our brains by evolution, we must be constantly aware whenever it pops up so we can avoid such things. It is best to adhere to the principle of charity and steer clear of assuming malevolence in the motives of people.

The truth is, most people on either side, religious conservative or liberal, have well-meaning intentions and do not go out of their way to maliciously provoke. That is, both sides see an end that would be good for all parties concerned. The problem stems from competing notions of what “good” is.


Competing notions of good

Conservatives, such as Manny Pacquiao, Miriam Quiambao, and Toni Gonzaga, are learning more and more that moral indignation is no longer the sole turf of the religious. From seeing the horrors of sectarian violence and the petty tyranny of religious self-appointed censors, people are growing more and more skeptical of religion’s purported monopoly on moral claims.

What liberals can fail to see, however, is that religious conservatives truly believe that they have everyone’s best interests at heart. Whether it’s closing down sacrilegious art installations or protesting blasphemous pop stars, religious conservatives honestly think that they are preventing future harm on all people—the fires of hell that will welcome all sinners. However detached from reality this motivation is, it does not diminish in any way the sense of urgency religious conservatives feel about the escalation of irreverence in the social zeitgeist. Theirs is an earnest and well-intentioned concern that liberals simply must accept and deal with.



The change in social values led by liberals is denounced by religious conservatives as moral relativism—the idea that there are no objective moral truths, only subjective moral preferences. However, liberals are just as morally motivated as their conservative opponents. It is just that liberals tend to view “bad” in light of the suffering experienced by conscious beings. This view of ethics is just as objective as the conservatives’ natural moral law, even though it is open to revision and correction as we learn more about human nature. Compare this with how medicine is an objective exercise despite the definition of health constantly changing as the years go by.

In contrast, conservatives tend to detach suffering in this world from the meaning of “moral.” They see morality as prescribed actions that lead toward the accomplishment of what they believe is their god’s desire. This is how they can find the “perversion” of the sanctity (God’s “natural” purpose) of sex and marriage more abhorrent (and more worthy of their time) than abject poverty and maternal deaths.


More noble than the “middle ground”

I see, in this state of affairs, an impasse. It is very difficult to argue ethics when either side comes from such completely different premises—the conservatives’ duty to God versus the liberals’ concern for earthly suffering. There is, however, hope for those who despise the notion that homosexuals do not deserve equal rights and that mothers do not have the right to raise the kind of family they want. It is this: conservatives always lose. It is only a matter of time. Our change in attitude towards slavery and the rights of women and homosexuals, clearly points to the possibility and reality of moral progress, as hard as religious conservatism may fight the rising tide.

In the meantime, we must be sympathetic to the motivations of all parties: we all mean well. We all want to make the world a better place. It is just that we mean very different and incompatible things by “better.” There is, in the understanding of this fact, a place higher and more noble than the so-called “middle ground” built by flawed notions of “tolerance” and “respect”. Acknowledging where each side is coming from without tritely asserting that everyone is right in their own way is, to me, the real meaning of respect.

Hindu Prayer Image Credit: Lauren Pursecki

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, ScienceComments (9)

“He knows the Truth now”

So Long and Thanks for all the Hitch

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), the spice and sting of the Four Horsemen, will be sorely missed. Hitchens did not have a deathbed conversion and his statements during the months before his death guaranteed that nobody is to take advantage of his death and sickness to further their personal agenda.

Hitchens the Dionysian.

But why expect a deathbed conversion from a bon vivant who uttered the following words?

“Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”


Taunting a Dead Man

While Hitchens will be sorely missed, Rick Warren will be sorely with us still. In the wake of Hitch’s death, this “friend” of Christopher’s mustered up the gall to tweet the following words:

My friend Christopher Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him constantly & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.

I believe it is one thing to be a Christian and to assert the superiority of your beliefs, and it is completely another thing to rub your beliefs on a dead man’s face. True, it is Warren’s right as a Christian to believe that Hitchens must be somewhat surprised right now to find himself in the afterlife. (Although we who know Hitch are sure that he can wit his way into heaven or hell, depending on whether he wants great climate or great company.) True, it is also his right to voice out this belief. True still, it is his right to place a thin veneer of taste over this belief by simply calling it “the Truth” with a capital T.  But doing it to someone who cannot answer back is simply going below the belt. Six feet below, to be precise.


“So how’s the weather down there, Hitchens m’boy?”

Madalyn Murray O’Hair once said,  “It is everybody’s right to be insane.” To that I would like to append the clause, “… as long as their insanity causes no harm to others.” Warren’s insanity in this particular instance is well within the bounds of allowable insanity. There is nothing immoral about Warren’s tweet. My argument against Warren does not come from ethics but from aesthetics. After all, the dead person he taunted in his tweet was a debate connoisseur for his entire career. One must not forget that to Hitchens, the content of a good argument will go to waste if it is not delivered with style and a few tastefully added cuss words.

Imagine one player losing a one-on-one basketball game to a good opponent. When the winner left the court, the loser kept on shooting the ball and counting his scores and declaring himself the winner of the match; Warren’s taunting a dead Hitchens is like this but worse. To me it looks like Warren was not able to get a good shot when Hitchens was around, so now that Hitch is gone, Warren thinks that it’s time to take all those missed free throws. Unethical? No. Pathetic? Yes. With a capital Y.


Truth with the capital T

Another sorry aspect of Warren’s tweet is his confidence on waving the banner of Truth with a capital T. This confidence of course he shares with millions of other fundamentalists, Christian or otherwise. There is nothing new in Warren’s religious hubris, but let me grab this opportunity to compare this religious hubris and the confidence of reason.

Hitchens was confident, as am I, that there is no afterlife. Both he and I share the conviction that this life is better lived without the “false consolation of religion” and its attendant hopes of heaven and threats of hell. Meanwhile, Rick Warren is confident, as are millions of believers, that we are dangerously wrong. And so they try their best to save us from fire and brimstone and to bring us to everlasting life. I sincerely appreciate the sentiment, but no thanks, I’m fine with my rational worldview.

So this is the situation: People disagree and everyone thinks they are in the right. Well, okay. That’s how the world is, messy and beautiful. What makes it ugly is that few if any fundamentalists appreciate the nuances between being confident of one’s belief and being absolutely certain of them. The appreciation for such nuances is what makes us freethinkers, believers or unbelievers, act rationally toward people who disagree with us. This appreciation gives us the ability to be considerate and to come up with reasonable compromises without compromising our intellectual conscience and values. On the other hand, the lack of appreciation for these nuances is not only behind Warren’s hubris. It is also behind the hubris of the terrorists who flew the planes into the Twin Towers. It is the hubris behind Hitler’s genocide. It is the hubris behind many people’s apathy toward environmental degradation and climate change. Now I am not saying that Warren’s nearly innocent tweet is comparable to the 7/11 attacks. What I am saying is that these actions, although very different, stem from the same root sentiment – the feeling of absolute certainty about one’s beliefs. In god is not great, Hitchens wrote, “The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.” Might I add that in this day and age, such immaturity is dangerous to us as a species.

I guess half of being a freethinker is being able to appreciate the aforesaid nuances. In light of its many profound effects, therefore, I think it is very important that we freethinkers share such appreciation with as many people as we can. And that goes for you too, mister Rick Warren. If nobody can convince you to become an atheist, I hope at least someone can convince you to lower down your hubris level. After all, isn’t humility a supposedly Christian virtue?


We’re All Gonna Die…Someday

Yup, we’re all gonna die someday. For Christopher Hitchens, that day has already come. But contrary to what Warren said, that day is not the day to know the Truth. Truth is something we strive for constantly throughout our lives, it is not a single destination but a series of stops along the journey of reason.

Thanks for letting us hitch, Hitch!

This is the same journey Christopher has been taking his entire life. We should consider ourselves lucky Christopher went up that road ahead of us, because now we can be assured there will be lots of open bars and dancing clubs along the way.

Good bye and thanks for all the laughter, Christopher Hitchens. It’s been great hitchin’ with ya, Hitch!

Posted in Personal, Society, StoriesComments (5)

Christopher Hitchens, 1949—2011

Christopher Hitchens died on December 16 at the age of 62. The man faced cancer head-on without, what he called, the false consolation of religion. He was a steadfast opponent of “mind-forged manacles” and “celestial dictators.” He had a legendary wit that he wielded with deftness against “elderly villains” such as Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). He was a champion of freedom of speech and he abhorred what he viewed as the servility promoted by religion. A self-described “anti-theist,” Christopher Hitchens was one fourth of the so-called Four Horsemen with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. He died in the presence of his friends and without a deathbed conversion. He wrote in his biography of Thomas Paine, “Thus he expired with his reason, and his rights, both staunchly defended until the very last.” The same could be said for Hitchens. A voice for reason in an age of overwhelmed by nonsense has been forever silenced but, Hitchens wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“It will happen to all of us, that at some point you get tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party’s over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on — but you have to leave. And it’s going on without you. That’s the reflection that I think most upsets people about their demise. All right, then, because it might make us feel better, let’s pretend the opposite. Instead, you’ll get tapped on the shoulder and told, Great news: this party’s going on forever – and you can’t leave. You’ve got to stay; the boss says so. And he also insists that you have a good time.”

—Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

Personal reflections

Christopher Hitchens’ eloquent words have touched the lives of many atheists here in the Filipino Freethinkers. Below are some personal reflections on the impact Hitchens has made in the lives of freethinkers.

Christopher Hitchens was the voice that led me out of the darkness, the wit that showed me the light. “god is not Great” was the first atheist book I had read on my journey away from theism. His words were the clarion call that crystallized the hazy thoughts that swam in my head as I pondered a universe without a God. I’ll genuinely miss his scathing, fearless humour.

We’ve lost one of the great voices for reason of our generation. While we can’t look forward to meeting Hitch in the afterlife, each and every one of us can help carry on his legacy. In our own ways, we have to raise up our voices against vicious unreason, we have to bring our wit to bear against ideas and beliefs that shackle people’s minds. We all have to be our own Hitch.


The first time I encountered Hitchens was several years ago, before I started giving a fuck about whether there was a god or not. I spotted the title “god is not Great” while scouring a bookstore, and the small “g” alone gave me chills. I felt drawn to the statement. I really wanted to agree with it, wanted to actually think further about it. It would take a while before my head was actually clear enough to embrace these few words wholeheartedly, but what matters was that I embraced them in the end. I read the book only after I realized that god did not exist, and that was a mistake. I should have grabbed that book the first time around. I will no longer doubt doubt from now on, Hitch.


I was 18 years old and very combative. I was very eager to argue with anyone I met that god is not great and that religion is a big lie. In fact, I did have this argument with a lot of believers. Looking back, I really wish I met Chritopher Hitchens as early as then. A touch of Hitch would have made all those debates more tonge-in-cheek and enjoyable. Finally getting to know Hitchens a few years back was life changing; although Hitch didn’t cause me to change my major beliefs, he effected something much better — he changed my way of approaching and delivering all rational arguments.

Hitch taught me that arguments should never be monotonous and dull and that reason and humor made an excellent pair. He showed me that serious talk does not have to be somber and that life-and-death matters can be and should be laughing matters. Yes, Hitch will be sorely missed, but he left us all an abundant gift of wit-spiced reason that we will always be grateful for.


Posted in PersonalComments (1)

The Future Saint John Paul II

Pope John Paul II was beloved in the Philippines, which he visited twice during his reign, and all over the world. He was seen as the rock star pope, with a papacy that was known for its close ties with the laity. And when his almost 27 year reign as pope ended in 2005, after years of suffering Parkinson’s Disease, the people gathered at St. Peter’s Square shouted “santo subito!” (“sainthood now!”) and called him “John Paul the Great.” With his beatification this past May 1, sainthood is now all but assured.

The Catholic institution of canonization requires a total of two “verified” miracles in order to recognize a Catholic as being a saint who can hear prayers and intercede for those who ask for their help. It is theologically important to note that Christians are not “made” saints by the Church, but, rather, recognized. Before one is confirmed as a saint, however, one must first be beatified. In order to be beatified, a candidate must have one of the two required “verified” miracles under their belt.

The Roman Catholic Church takes miraculous claims seriously—having, until recently, the office of advocatus diaboli, or the Devil’s Advocate, which makes a case against the canonization of a particular candidate. Incidentally, it was John Paul II himself who abolished the office, which expedited hundreds of canonization proceedings. Christopher Hitchens, when he was asked to argue against the beatification of Mother Teresa after the dissolution of the office of the Devil’s Advocate, described his role as representing the devil “pro bono”. The Church investigates miraculous cures and requires that, in order to be attributable to the intercession of a candidate for canonization, the cure be instantaneous, complete, and lasting.

For John Paul II, one of his necessary miracles for canonization came in the form of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who is said to have recovered from the incurable Parkinson’s disease, the same illness suffered by the late pontiff. Sister Simon-Pierre wrote the name of Pope John Paul II after his death on a piece of paper. The next day, she was apparently cured and resumed her duties in her order.

It is, of course, entirely possible that Sister Simon-Pierre was simply afflicted by an illness that had neurodegenerative appearances similar to Parkinson’s, but was curable. A doctor charged with investigating the nun’s condition aired out similar doubts.

But, even if the good Sister Simon-Pierre had Parkinson’s, what the Church is expecting its faithful (and the secular world) to accept is that her recovery was not a natural event. The Church is asking the world to consider that not only have the laws of the universe been suspended (let that sink in for a while: the laws of the universe have been suspended) but that they have been overturned in favor of the Roman Catholic Church and in a manner suspiciously convenient for its politics. With its pastiche of medical investigations that could earn a mid-season replacement spot on NBC, the Catholic Church purports its canonization procedures as scientific: skeptical and rigorous. And what could be more scientific and intellectually honest than concluding from an inexplicable recovery that a person who has died is now watching us from heaven and can help get our prayers to God answered?

With his recent beatification, John Paul II is now just one miracle shy of a confirmed sainthood. A confirmed sainthood would mean that the Roman Catholic Church believes on faith that John Paul II is, in fact, in a place called heaven, in the presence of someone called Jesus Christ. This is the level of pseudoscience, rivaling only ufology and homeopathy, that every believing Catholic has to swallow for each and every saint venerated inside their opulent cathedrals. It’s hard to imagine a bigger waste of human productivity. But for the sole political purpose of establishing John Paul II as a champion of the Roman Catholic Church and what it stands for, the recognition of his sainthood is perfectly appropriate.

Defenders of the current pope, Benedict XVI, cite Darío Cardinal Castríllon Hoyos when pointing the finger at the late John Paul II for the child rape scandal sweeping the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Hoyos served as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and was in charge of priests and deacons who are not in religious orders. In this capacity, he praised a French bishop, Pierre Pican, for not sending the child rapist Rev. Rene Bissey to “civil administration” and congratulated Pican for being “a model of a father who does not hand over his sons.” Cardinal Hoyos revealed that he did so under the approval of Pope John Paul II and was authorized to send his letter of praise to other bishops around the world. Pican served three months in prison for protecting the rapist. Bissey was sentenced to 18 years for the rape of a boy and the sexual assault of ten others.

A good friend of Pope John Paul II, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, “Father Maciel” as he was known, was the founder of the Legion of Christ. The pope described him as an “efficacious guide to youth.” Degollado used the Legion of Christ and his charismatic persona, targeting widows in particular, to funnel millions into Church coffers. The congregation’s assets have been estimated at 25 billion euros. Degollado had political clout with backers including current United States presidential hopeful Rick Santorum and the brother of former president George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, both noted conservatives in the Republican party. Father Maciel was honored by John Paul II in the Vatican in 2004 despite long-standing charges of sex abuse, which involved at least 20 Legion seminarians. As an efficacious guide to the youth, Degollado fathered several children, whom he also reportedly abused. The current pope, Benedict XVI, eventually invited Degollado to lead “a reserved life of prayer and penance”—apparently a punishment suitable for the crime. Degollado never faced any criminal sanctions and died in 2008 as a free man.

It was during Pope John Paul II’s reign when the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, the Holy See’s diplomat to Ireland, told Irish bishops that reporting the rape of innocent children to the proper authorities gave rise to “serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature.” Under John Paul II, Archbishop Storero upheld that canon law was above the secular law of a nation, showing a characteristic Vatican indifference to state sovereignty and cries for justice by their employees’ victims.

Pope John Paul II maintained when the first child rape cases started cropping up in the news that it was entirely an “American problem.” Like many other claims by the Church, this ultimately proved false. The Vatican’s position on the crisis was, and still is, that society, not the Church and its self-preservationist policies, is at fault with its permissiveness and “hyper-inflated” sexuality.

Society’s permissiveness apparently drove John Paul the Great to allow Hans Cardinal Hermann Groer, who molested over 2,000 boys (a number so large that it retains almost no meaning) to hide from police in a nunnery. Cardinal Groer eventually died there without being prosecuted for his crimes. Of course, the Church’s repressive Victorian attitudes towards sex, which were strengthened by Humanae Vitae and Persona Humana and reiterated in the Pope’s own The Splendour of Truth, which put the use of contraceptives on par with genocide, were not to blame for its systemic problem with sins against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue.

Pope John Paul II reinforced the old boys’ club of puritans and conservatives in the Catholic Church by having papal nuncios spy on clerics and recommend only for promotion to bishop those who were strongly against contraceptives. John Paul II’s policy of narrow-mindedness was crucial in the assembly of retrograde anachronisms that comprise the CBCP, as well as the other institutions that make up the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy we have today. This is his legacy to the world.

Filipino pilgrims led by Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales watched Pope John Paul II’s beatification ceremony this past May 1. It was their homage to a man who was indeed loved by Filipinos. While Pope John Paul II was undeniably a man who argued for peace and acted to heal religious strife between mutually contradictory faiths, he was also instrumental in the continued suffering of innocent children and the continued impunity enjoyed by child rapists in the Church. And because this moral inconsistency seems to be the spirit that guides the Church he left behind, there really is no one else better suited for sainthood than the Blessed John Paul II.

Posted in Featured, ReligionComments (33)

Livin’ on a Prayer

As in-house copywriter for a large hospital, I interview patients and write about their ordeals for PR and marketing purposes. I am happy to say that the hospital’s branding is strictly secular; I can’t, for instance, quote a patient as saying, “Doctor X is truly a blessing,” nor can I say that “the hospital’s devotion to quality health care is exceptional.”

Nonetheless, almost every patient I interview ends up going on a 30-minute homily on how their having battled cancer or stroke or what-have-you was ultimately God’s doing, and would then ask me to pray for them as they face their last few sessions of chemo or their final MRI. At moments like these, of course, I just throw them a smile and get on with my questions.

My dream patient interview, then, would be with the very vocal atheist Christopher Hitchens, who has esopheagal cancer and is likely going to croak any second — but not without spewing a few hundred thoughts or so beforehand.

Fortunately he’s said enough in this recent Vanity Fair piece.

Posted in Religion, ScienceComments (0)