Lib Dems face more spiteful attacks


10:30 am - April 20th 2010

by Unity    


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Since Nick Clegg dared to push the Lib Dems firmly above the electoral parapet with his performance in last week’s Leaders’ Debate, the attacks have been coming in thick and fast…

…although most thick, as this spiteful example by professional Catholic apologist, Christina Odone, neatly demonstrates:

The Lib Dems are a Jekyll and Hyde party. Forget nice Mr Clegg. What about ‘Dr Death’?

The mood music surrounding the Lib Dems is so loud and chirpy right now that we’re in danger of forgetting something. This is a Jekyll and Hyde outfit. It’s not just the party of Nick Clegg, with his lovely bright wife and faith school-educated children. It’s the party of Dr Evan Harris.

Dr Harris believes in euthanasia – and, I mean, really believes. He was instrumental in ensuring that legalising euthanasia became Lib Dem party policy. (I remember Charles Kennedy, the hard-living and charismatic former leader, refusing to support his party’s position.)

Dr Harris also believes our present abortion laws are too strict, and the fact that an astonishing fifth of pregnancies are terminated is of no great import. No wonder he is known as “Dr Death” by his critics.

Got that?

Cleggy’s alright, but only because his wife’s a Catholic and he’s sent his kids to a religious school, but not so the rest of the Lib Dems, because some of them take the view that sentient, reasoning adults should have the right to think for themselves and make their own choices.

As I see it, Catholics are the last people who should be calling anyone ‘Dr Death’.

This is, after all, a church that expects its followers to mumble incantations in front of a large statue of a mostly-naked European bloke nailed to Roman torture implement and includes an act of ritual cannibalism in its rites…

…so who’s really obsessed with death here.

If Catholics are going slate the Lib Dems because some of their members would allow people to check out at a time, and in a pain free manner, of their own choosing then its, perhaps, well worth taking the time to review the Catholic church’s view of how people should be treated as they approach the end of life…

…with a little help, naturally, from the redoubtable Penn and Teller (video NSFW, obviously).

The prosecution rests…

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About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Story Filed Under: Elections2010 ,Libdems ,News

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Reader comments


Right. I’ve written about this too. Time for all independents to assist rebuttal for the Lib Dems. They must feel the wind behind them.

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/trying-to-destroy-lib-dems

While not agreeing with this particular attack on Clegg it is a valid point that not all Lib Dems are like him and also that they have some nasty and some stupid policies. If the Lib Dems get any grip on power in this country due to an X-Factor performance then that is a very sad day for democracy indeed.

3. Shatterface

I’m with Doctor Death on both issues – but then I’m a Gene Wolfe fan.

4. Padraig Reidy

“This is, after all, a church that expects its followers to mumble incantations in front of a large statute of a mostly-naked European bloke nailed to Roman torture implement and includes an act of ritual cannibalism in its rites, so who’s really obsessed with death here.”

Unity, the point could’ve been made without resorting to cheap anti-Catholicism.

Christina Odone does not = “Catholics”

I know this a little off the point but one small observation – Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew – not in any sense “European”!

Padraig:

Uh-huh, no I’m not buying the old ‘but not all Catholics believe in…’ nonsense here.

Catholic dogma is what it is, and is perfectly fair game for a bit of snark regardless of whether individual Catholics buy into it or not.

Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew

Yes, in all likelihood, the historical figure of Jesus – if he did exist – would have been a Semite.

Catholic iconography is, however, a product of the Church’s Mediterranean origins and, therefore, routinely depicts Jesus as a white European.

8. Padraig Reidy

Unity, do you know many practicing Catholics? And do they all think in exactly the same way as Christina Odone?

And who died and made Christina Odone Pope?

“If Catholics are going slate the Lib Dems”

“Catholics” haven’t. Christina Odone has.

It’s cheap, Unity. And another example of the pernicious anti-Catholicism of this country in which all Catholics are imagined as thinking and acting the same.

9. Padraig Reidy

“Catholic dogma is what it is, and is perfectly fair game for a bit of snark regardless of whether individual Catholics buy into it or not.”

Translation: “I have zero problem crudely stereotyping over 1 billion people”

Catholic iconography is, however, a product of the Church’s Mediterranean origins and, therefore, routinely depicts Jesus as a white European.

Well, why use this false iconography then Unity? If you bothered to look you might see something different today.

I’m not agreeing with the all pernicious bigotry outlined by Padraig Reddy at 8, but the rest of the comment stands well.

Great article, Unity.

Padraig, Cristina Odone isn’t the pope and has no hope of attaining that office, thanks to the anti-woman sentiment embedded in the Catholic church’s internal rules. But if we look at what the current pope says about abortion and euthanasia, there isn’t much daylight between his views and Cristina’s, so I’m really not sure what point you’re trying to make.

You’re right that stereotyping *individual Catholics* and their beliefs is wrong, but that’s not what Unity did; this post mentions the chthonian trappings of the catholic church which are universal, indeed, which are necessary for the performance of catholic rituals (the crucifix, the transubstantiated communion etc.).

12. Padraig Reidy

Hi Jo
My point is that if Odone was pope, Unity might, just about feasibly, cast her as speaking for “Catholics”, if only in the strict hierarchical sense. But she’s not. She’s Christine Odon – a journo who is Catholic. So to say “If Catholics are going slate the Lib Dems…” based on one Catholic writer’s opinion is about as fair as saying “If Jews are going to slate Lib Dems…” based on something Melanie Philips has written, or ‘If Muslims are…” based on somethig Mehdi Hasan has written. Odone is not representative of anyone but herself.

The broader point is the sneery, snickering, admittedly snarky portrayal of Catholicism. Mumbling incantations, ritual cannibalism – this is the kind of stuff you’d hear at a Free P chapel of a Sunday.

This stuff, this snideness, is always there, Jo, and it’s uncomfortable. And I write as an atheist (indeed, a former professional atheist).

On a technical point, Unity, Catholicism isn’t about death; it’s about the triumph over death.

13. Shatterface

‘This is, after all, a church that expects its followers to mumble incantations in front of a large statue of a mostly-naked European bloke nailed to Roman torture implement and includes an act of ritual cannibalism in its rites…’

Apart from Anselme Noumbiwa, of course, who is a victim of anti-Catholic bigotry and we should all support his right to ritual cannibalism, etc.

Padraig: history suggests that Roman Catholicism is about the triumph over temporal princes more than it is about any other single thing. But one cannot deny that the Hellenistic mystery religion which Paul sold in the 1st century marketplace is an example of the mystery death-cult type, which also includes Attis, Adonis, Osiris/Horus, Dionysos, and many others. So, yes, the basic theology *is* obsessed with death; and, yes, it does offer a narrative which makes people feel better about it.

The Roman Church has been from its invention by Constantine the religious arm of an imperialistic state infrastructure. The Roman church is and has always been focussed ultimately on gaining complete temporal dominion. That’s what it was invented for. That’s what forced the Reformation. That’s why they, and their hysterical colleagues in the US bible-belt, look so much like their hysterical colleagues in Tehran and Pakistan to the unaffiliated observer.

If Unity had misrepresented orthodox Roman Catholicism, I’d have tasked him with it myself; it really pisses me off when Christians are criticised for things they don’t get wrong, and I’m better equipped to defend Christianity than most in spite of being a Druid.

But he didn’t. He exactly accurately described common practices of the RC, from the point of view of an atheist.

Odone’s article is explicitly a criticism of the Liberal Democrats for not accepting Catholic dogmatic dominion. Evan Harris is called “Dr. Death” because he has a reasoned, evidentiary and (get this!) medically expert opinion on euthenasia. It disagrees with Catholic dogma. Harris is not a Catholic. But he’s being attacked, by Odone, for that.

She is establishing herself as a representative of “orthodox”, or right-thinking, people. She is claiming the right to represent Catholic views, by phrasing her argument in terms of “Clegg is ok because his kids are faith-schooled and his wife is Catholic”. Unity did not accuse her of speaking for Catholics, she took on the responsibility of doing so of her own free will and then made herself look like a hysterical bigot.

Regardless of the deep and enduring respect I have for the Christian religion, Unity does not deserve to be taken to task for speaking truth to arrogance.

15. Padraig Reidy

Well done John. You’ve singlehandely driven me back into the arms of Mother Church.

Christ.

Padraig:

Orthodox Catholicism is ultimately about what all exoteric religions are about; unquestioning earthly submission to a hierachical, and all too temporal, political authority in return for a vague promise of immortality that will never be realised.

17. Padraig Reidy

Well obviously, Unity. At root.

But the narrative is about the triumph over death.

Anyway, this is a little bit of a sidetrack

18. Matt Munro

Unity says: “Catholic dogma is what it is, and is perfectly fair game for a bit of snark regardless of whether individual Catholics buy into it or not.”

By that logic it would be fair to characterise all muslims as suicide bombers ?
I don’t know if you have an unfortunate experience with a catholic priest as a child (which you secretly enjoyed, natch) but your anti-catholicism is getting a bit tedious.

Unity says: “Catholic dogma is what it is, and is perfectly fair game for a bit of snark regardless of whether individual Catholics buy into it or not.”

By that logic it would be fair to characterise all muslims as suicide bombers ?

No, that’s not a valid comparison at all, because (a) there is no centralised dogma which applies to all Muslims (note that we’re talking about Catholic dogma rather than Christian dogma), and (b) you’ve completely failed to note the distinction between a set of beliefs and the people who hold them.

By that logic, you’re more than welcome to criticise whatever Islamic dogma you like, provided you note, as Unity has done here, that not all Muslims buy into it. Of course there’s the additional complication that, as far as I know, there is no Islamic equivalent of the Roman Catholic Church or the Pope.

Matt, do you think suicide bombing is the official doctrine which every Muslim is obliged to at least nominally subscribe to? The Catholic church is an organised, hierarchical, authoritarian body, and it’s futile to pretend that Christina Odone is unrepresentative of its official stance (on abortion, or indeed on liberalism which is another of the current pope’s bugbears).

Do people think it’s unfair to attack Tories on the grounds that they all (implicitly or explicitly) support Conservative party policy?

21. Padraig Reidy

“provided you note, as Unity has done here, that not all Muslims [/Catholics] buy into it”

Sorry, Unity’s done this where?

@21:

Sorry, Unity’s done this where?

Comment #6: “Catholic dogma is what it is, and is perfectly fair game for a bit of snark regardless of whether individual Catholics buy into it or not.”

You quoted it yourself in #9, where you proceeded to assume that it meant the exact opposite of what it actually says. Standard tactic for religious apologists of all stripes…

23. Padraig Reidy

Dunc.

1. He doesn’t do it in the article, does he?
2. I’m not a ‘religious apologist’. I was deputy editor of New Humanist magazine for three years.

Sorry, when I said “here”, I was referring to the comments. I thought that was clear.

Jeebus, does everything have to end up turning into a media studies seminar.

Look, as has already been noted, Odone is writing from an orthodox position founded on official Catholic dogma, to the extent that criticism of that position implicit excludes Catholics who choose not to take up that position.

Then we have “As I see it, Catholics are the last people who should be calling anyone ‘Dr Death” as a lead in to the sentence that refers to a couple of the Catholic church’s less salubrious dogmatic affectations. That’s a simple rhetorical device that is intended to suggest that any Catholic who might be inclined to make use of that particular nickname would do well to look a little more closely at some of their own Church’s beliefs before starting with the name-calling.

Finally we have…

If Catholics are going slate the Lib Dems because some of their members would allow people to check out at a time, and in a pain free manner, of their own choosing then its, perhaps, well worth taking the time to review the Catholic church’s view of how people should be treated as they approach the end of life…”

The word ‘if’, when treated in context with the rest of the statement, provides explicit permission for any Catholic who may not be inclined to slate the Lib Dems over Evan Harris’ views on euthenasia and abortion to exempt themselves for any and all of the criticism in the preceeding arguments.

There is marked difference between a stereotype, which is intended to tar all members of a particular group with the same brush, and a generalisation, which permits those members of a group who do not subscribe to the general position that is being criticised, to exclude themselves from said criticism.

I’d like to think that LC’s readers are intelligent enough to appreciate the distinction, not least because that saves me the time and trouble of torturing the English language with streams of unnecessary exclusionary subclauses in order to spell who should and should not consider themselves to be party to the critical remarks on offer.

Now, where were we?

26. Padraig Reidy

“provides explicit permission”

Jesus, that’s nice of you.

And that’s not what that ‘if’ does at all, Unity. What you do in that par is not say ‘if Catholics want to do this, first they should consider this..”

You say “If Catholics want to have a go, then we (i.e. you) should have a go at Catholicism.” But Catholics didn’t have a go. Odone did. And she does not speak for Catholicism or Catholics, despite how she might set herself up as doing so.

I agree with Padraig on this – Odone is a an idiot, but I don’t see any reason to tar all Catholics with her and pretend they’re all the same. I’d object that if done to Muslims and I object it to being done to Catholics.

So Odone writes:

No wonder he is known as “Dr Death” by his critics.

Now I’ve just done a bit of research (typing “dr death” and “evan harris” into google…) and it would appear that the only people who criticise Harris as “Dr Death” are the Daily Mail and er…. Odone. That Telegraph blog is on the first page of results, as indeed is this LC article!

Great article Unity, ignore people defending their particular sky-fairy.

29. Padraig Reidy

Who’s defending sky fairies, Mr S?

Padraig Reidy: the general tone of the comments attacking this article are implicitly endorsing mumbo-jumbo monotheism and it makes me wonder why, whenever someone criticises a religion¹, they are immediately accused of bigotry and ignorance. Odone’s stance is directly influenced by her religion therefore it seems perfectly fair to take a shot at that if she is going to accuse the LD party of being anti-“life”.

¹ See also any article about Israel and Palestine, from whichever perspective.

31. Padraig Reidy

“the general tone of the comments attacking this article are implicitly endorsing mumbo-jumbo monotheism”

No it isn’t. I have absolutely no idea where you got that idea from. Seriously.

attacking this article are implicitly endorsing mumbo-jumbo monotheism

I’m sorry, but no no and no.

We lefties need to get away from this idea.

We are against discrimination and we’re against putting people into homogeneous communities that tar everyone with the same brush. Ergo, we should be against saying all Catholics act and do the same, in the same way we’d object to people saying that about black people. Sure Catholics can change religion but thats not the point. The point is stop saying they’re all bigots.

Not only is it rude – but it puts them off when we can work in alliance with them on issues such as poverty alleviation. In fact London Citizens do this a lot. That isn’t endorsing ‘sky pixies’ either.

Now let’s stop arguing please. It’s very circular.

Padraig, you said in an earlier comment:

The broader point is the sneery, snickering, admittedly snarky portrayal of Catholicism. Mumbling incantations, ritual cannibalism – this is the kind of stuff you’d hear at a Free P chapel of a Sunday.

I’m wondering why it’s apparently now forbidden to be sneery or snarky about a faith that is anti-science, anti-rationalist, and anti-equality. As I said, Odone is writing from a Catholic perspective, so it seems reasonable to attack that perspective. You say you’re a “former professional atheist” yet you disagree with saying Catholicism includes “mumbling incantations” and “ritual cannibalism”? How else would you describe Communion? You drink wine – it turns into blood. You eat bread – it turns into flesh. Magically. This is a key doctrine of the Catholic faith as well you know. I’ve been in enough Cathedrals to know that Catholicism is one of the worst forms of Christianity when it comes to holding onto pseudo-mystical nonsense.
Again, why is it off-limits to criticise religion? [It seems the BNP missed a trick there – they should’ve defined themselves as a faith-based group then anyone attacking them could’ve been accused of ‘stereotyping’ their followers…] I’m being disingenous with that comparison before anyone gets all shirty, but I’m still curious as to why it’s perfectly reasonable to slate a political party as being “anti-life” and yet unreasonable to slate a religion for the same reasons with somewhat more justification.

Sunny – I’d agree that one shouldn’t put every follower of a religion in the same boat but it seems fair to criticise the religion itself.

35. Padraig Reidy

“I’m wondering why it’s apparently now forbidden to be sneery or snarky about a faith that is anti-science, anti-rationalist, and anti-equality”

Nobody has ‘forbid’ anything, Mr S. I’ve questioned.

You say you’re a “former professional atheist” yet you disagree with saying Catholicism includes “mumbling incantations” and “ritual cannibalism”?

It’s the sneering I despise, Mr S. The condescension, the patronising, the casting as superstition, as something a little, perhaps, of the night, something untrustworthy.

It’s the recasting of classic English anti-papist language and imagery that gets to me.

@35 Padraig

“The condescension, the patronising, the casting as superstition, as something a little, perhaps, of the night, something untrustworthy.”

Of course, given the behaviour of the Catholic church recently with respect to paedophile priests, not to mention it’s long and shameful history in this, and so many other areas, some might argue that it is thoroughly untrustworthy, and has a lot of the night about it, never mind a little.

To any atheist, it is superstition.

37. Padraig Reidy

“Of course, given the behaviour of the Catholic church…”

But this was the behaviour of the hierarchy, not the believers. It’s important not to conflate the two. It’s like blaming Shias for the behaviour of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

38. Padraig Reidy

…and Anglicanism, even high Anglicanism, does not come in for the same treatment.

It’s the sneering I despise, Mr S. The condescension, the patronising, the casting as superstition, as something a little, perhaps, of the night, something untrustworthy.

I’m sorry, but if I can’t describe literal belief in the miracle of transubstantiation as “superstition”, then I don’t think the word has much use.

Also, your sneering, patronising condescension at other people’s (alleged) sneering, patronising condescension is giving my irony meter heartburn.

40. Padraig Reidy

Where have I patronised anyone, Dunc?

Where have the people you’re accusing of being patronising patronised anyone? It’s the tone.

@ 38 padraig

Not so. All superstitions are equally ridiculous. Catholicism may just be singled out because it has a larger membership or profile. I don’t think people are necessarily conflating the whole community of believers with the “guilty” parties in any given beleif system…. but if believers aren’t part of the solution to some of the crimes of the organisation to which they adhere, then they become part of the problem.

43. Padraig Reidy

“This is, after all, a church that expects its followers to mumble incantations in front of a large statue of a mostly-naked European bloke nailed to Roman torture implement and includes an act of ritual cannibalism in its rites…”

Patronising

“The word ‘if’, when treated in context with the rest of the statement, provides explicit permission for any Catholic…”

Also quite patronising

Galen, anti-Catholic sentiment is a massive undercurrent in British society. And it’s bloody unpleasant.

DISCLAIMER

For the avoidance of doubt, any superficial resemblance between the contents of this post and the febrile ravings of religious nutjobs, living or dead, is entirely in your own head and has fuck all to do with the opinions of the author.

@40, 43: Very well, I withdraw the accusation of “patronising” for the sake of a quiet life. Since you didn’t object to the two other adjectives used, I take it we can agree that your compliant of sneering, patronising and condescension on the part of your critics was itself both sneering and condescending, if not patronising?

46. Padraig Reidy

no dunc. we can’t agree

@43 Padraig

I’m a Protestant Celtic supporter from Edinburgh, so I have seen a fair bit of sectarian sentiment in my time. I wouldn’t condone any form of bigotry, anti-Catholic or anything else.

I fully accept that sectarian discrimination, and the atavistic anti-Catholicism which bedevilled so much of British history is deeply shameful. That doesn’t mean however that Catholicism as a doctrine, the heirarchy of the church, or the people who believe in it’s teachings are beyond criticism however.

Nobody is saying that individual believers, or all of them, are somehow culpable – but they do have some responsibility for pushing the church to change.

48. Shatterface

All religions are superstitious nonsense, and no religion exists outside the minds of the believers. If faithists gave up their beliefs their ‘gods’ would disappear overnight. Believers don’t just hold a belief, they *enact* it. No believers, no religion – other than as historical curiosities. The idea you can criticise a religion independently of those who follow that religion looks to me like some kind of idealism.

That’s not to say all believers follow their nominal beliefs. I don’t know any Catholics who don’t use contraception. Lets just say that each faithist is responsible for their faith to the extent that they enact it in much the same way an MP is responsible for their party to the extent they follow the party line or anybody else is responsible for their own role to the extent to which they perform it.

And lets be honest here: Catholicism might be wrong on abortion and euthenasia but at least they’re consistant in opposing the death penalty. That’s not true of most of the other brain-wrongs afflicting our species.

49. Shatterface

‘Galen, anti-Catholic sentiment is a massive undercurrent in British society. And it’s bloody unpleasant.’

Still, at least we get to play with fireworks once a year.

50. Shatterface

Today’s Jesus & Mo is on the topic of criticising religion:

http://www.jesusandmo.net/2010/04/20/aims/

Thanks for reminding me, Labour anti-religious people, why I prefer the pluralist Liberal Democrats rather than a party where you seek to play a major role.

@47: “I fully accept that sectarian discrimination, and the atavistic anti-Catholicism which bedevilled so much of British history is deeply shameful.”

I agree – but consider how anti-Catholic sentiment developed and what motivated it.

In Mary Tudor’s mercifully short reign 1553-58, at least 280 people were burned at the stake in public for heresy, meaning they were not willing to subscribe to Catholic doctrines. Those burned included the Oxford martyrs: Bishops hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer. In her lifetime, Mary Tudor who popularly known as Bloody Mary.

The Spanish Armada of 1588 was sanctified by commission from the Pope to invade England to restore Catholicism to the realm.

Guy Fawkes and fellow conspirators attempted to blow up Parliament at the state opeing in 1605:

“Guy Fawkes could have changed the face of London if his 1605 plot had not been foiled, explosion experts have said. His 2,500 kg of gunpowder could have caused chaos and devastation over a 490-metre radius, they have calculated. Fawkes’ planned blast was powerful enough to destroy Westminster Hall and the Abbey, with streets as far as Whitehall suffering damage, they say.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3240135.stm

Following the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Huguenots in France in 1572 and the subsequent religious wars there, a steady stream of asylum seekers sought refuge in England well into the next century:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Wars_of_Religion

Anti-Catholic sentiment had deep roots in English popular sentiments, which is why King James II fled in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and was succeeded by William and Mary, who thereafter reigned jointly in his stead at the invitation of Parliament, which implicitly meant that monarchs in England no longer ruled by divine right but with the consent of the governed.

The Gordon Riots of 1780 in London were effectively a populist anti-Catholic pogrom which was only finally stopped when Wilkes, as Lord Mayor of London, called out troops who fired on the rioters.

Evan Harris is one of the best MPs in the house, I wish there were more like him. As it happens, and as many who read this blog but not the Telegraph will know, he and Clegg have considerable differences. Harris was one of the ringleaders of the move to keep restoring the 50% income tax rate as party policy. The senior party figures said it was unnecessary as the party’s other spending commitments could be honoured with the green taxation and bureaucracy cuts already on the books but Harris and others felt there was a general principle to be upheld that the wealthiest should pay a fair share and the tax bracket should be restored back up to what it was under Thatcher. This move was defeated, but it gives a flavour of the man. He has been tireless in his efforts to fight quack medicine and to maintain liberal standards in our medical ethics laws. As well as fighting for the right for terminally ill patients to decide when it is they wish to die (that’s what this ‘Dr Death’ nonsense is, after all) he has fought to protect a women’s right to choose what happens to her body from being chiseled away by social conservatives. As a result he has earned a fair number of enemies amongst religious conservatives such as the author of the article above. He won the National Secular Society’s Secularist of the year in 2009.

Dr Harris is a personal hero of mine and a great MP for Oxford West; would that Parliament were filled with hundreds like him. Not that it’s relevant to the issue but it should probably be mentioned he has consistently been in the bottom half of the commons when it comes to expenses claims.

The Mail, impressively, has 6 columns devoted to bashing th’LibD’ms.


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