Cardinal Brady’s meetings with paedophile priest

Cardinal Sean Brady, Roman Catholic Primate of All Ireland, should resign today. Last December he told RTE that he would resign if a child had been abused as a result of a failure on his part. He has now admitted that he attended meetings in 1975 at which teenage victims of the paedophile priest Father Brendan Smyth were sworn to silence about the crimes committed against them.

At the time Cardinal Brady was a priest, and was investigating the complaints in his capacity as Secretary to the Bishop of Kilmore. Brady now says that he believed the victims were telling the truth but was only following orders from his Bishop in how he dealt with them. The Cardinal’s office said yesterday:

“In 1975, Fr Sean Brady, as he then was, was the part-time secretary to the then Bishop of Kilmore, the late Bishop Francis McKiernan. At the direction of Bishop McKiernan, Fr Brady attended two meetings: in the Dundalk meeting Fr Brady acted as recording secretary for the process involved and in the Ballyjamesduff meeting he asked the questions and recorded the answers given. At those meetings the complainants signed undertakings, on oath, to respect the confidentiality of the information gathering process. As instructed, and as a matter of urgency, Fr Brady passed both reports to Bishop McKiernan for his immediate action.”

As it happens, Bishop McKiernan’s “immediate action” was to report the matter to Smyth’s Abbott and withdraw Smyth’s right to hear confessions, but not to tell the police about the crimes that he was aware of. cardinal Brady’s statement last December, which ironically was made when he was putting pressure on the Bishop of Limerick to resign over similar allegations, was:

“I would remember that child sex abuse is a very serious crime and very grave and if I found myself in a situation where I was aware that my failure to act had allowed or meant that other children were abused, well then, I think I would resign.”

Well, that is exactly the position Cardinal Brady now finds himself in. Father Brendan Smyth continued to sexually abuse children for almost two decades after those meetings with Brady. Cardinal Brady is now (and has for many years been) aware that his failure to act allowed or meant that other children were abused by one of Ireland’s most notorious paedophile priests…

The case for a secular education system

There are two reasons why State schools should be run on a secular basis. But first, it is important to explain that a secular school is not the same thing as an atheist school.

A religious school teaches that a god exists, an atheist school would teach that no gods exist, and a secular school is neutral on the question of religion: it does not teach that gods either do or do not exist.

Instead, a secular school teaches children in a neutral, objective way about the different beliefs that different people have about gods, and leaves it up to parents and churches to teach specific religious beliefs outside of school hours.

As a symbolic example, a recent European court case ruled that Italian schools should not display crucifixes on classroom walls. But removing the crucifixes would not turn the school into an atheist school: that would require replacing the crucifixes with signs saying that there is no god. A classroom wall with no religious symbols of any type would symbolise a secular school.

That said, here are the two reasons why State schools should be run on a secular basis…

Secular education and human rights law

Parents and children have a right to a secular education under international human rights law. This is the first in a series of posts outlining the issues involved.

What are the main international human rights treaties? Founded in the aftermath of World War Two, the United Nations soon adopted the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was later strengthened by two legally binding treaties: the 1976 International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Together, these three UN documents became known as the International Bill of Human Rights.

By then Europe in 1950 and America in 1969 had already adopted regional human rights treaties, followed later by Africa in 1981. Islamic states signed a rival treaty in Cairo in 1990 based on Sharia law, which limits rather than protects many human rights. The UN has also brokered other treaties dealing with specific human rights issues including children, women, race, genocide, slavery and torture.

So today, thanks to an ongoing process first triggered by the horrors of World War Two, many but not all people have someplace to turn to if their own State denies them their human rights…

Atheist Ireland’s 25 blasphemous quotes

From today, 1 January 2010, the new Irish blasphemy law becomes operational, and we in Atheist Ireland begin our campaign to have it repealed. Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The new law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted.

This new law is both silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic States led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.

In this context we now publish a list of 25 blasphemous quotes, which have previously been published by or uttered by or attributed to Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Randy Newman, James Kirkup, Monty Python, Rev Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Amanda Donohoe, George Carlin, Paul Woodfull, Jerry Springer the Opera, Tim Minchin, Richard Dawkins, Pope Benedict XVI, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Ian O’Doherty, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Dermot Ahern.

Despite these quotes being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by various religions, we unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them, and we unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of being criminalised, and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement.

The false flow of the Biblical Jesus stories

Imagine you have never heard of the Bible, and you are given the 27 books of the New Testament and asked to put them in order.

You would probably come close to the order they appear in today: the four Gospels that tell the story of Jesus, then the Book of Acts that tells how the early church developed, then various letters by Paul and others, then the Book of Revelation that tells how the world will end.

If you did this, you would have created a continuous narrative, each book being a chapter, each building on the previous one, to create one grand story. You would also have created a false impression of how and why these books were written.

And you would have obscured the sequence in which different writers gradually introduced the various elements of the Jesus legend…

The fanciful first page of the New Testament

How soon is the first fiction in the New Testament? Try the first page. The title is the Gospel of Matthew. In reality, nobody knows who wrote any of the Gospels, other than they were Christians who spoke Greek and lived outside Palestine between about 65-95 CE. It was much later, maybe as late as 180 CE, that the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were attached to these books, in order to give them credibility and authority.

At that time there were many rival Christian Gospels, only some of which ended up in the Bible. The main theological dispute among early Christians was whether Jesus was totally human or totally divine. The faction that eventually won out, and that evolved into today’s Christianity, argued that Jesus was both totally human and totally divine. This enabled them to include contradictory stories about Jesus into what became their New Testament by about 300 CE…

140+ favourite atheist-related books

This list is regularly updated: add your own favourite atheist-related book to the comments and I will add it to the list.

During July I asked on Twitter and Facebook about your favourite atheist-related books, and why. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins was recommended as many times as the next three books combined. The Bible took second place, with its power to convince people of atheism edging it ahead of God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.

Also popular in the original list were books by Phillip Pullman, Sam Harris, Bertrand Russell, Daniel Dennett, Douglas Adams, Michael Shermer, Julian Baggini, Pascal Boyer, Nietzsche, Carl Sagan and Derren Brown. More have since been added based on the comments to this post.

But the most fascinating part is the eclectic list of books recommended once. You may not have heard of all of them, but each is a book that somebody, somewhere, believes to be a valuable read for anybody interested in finding out more about atheism, reality or morality.

Here’s the full list, along with some of the reasons that you gave as to why this was your favourite atheist-related book.

History of Irish blasphemy law

If you plan to campaign against the new proposed Irish blasphemy law, here are some key points that it would be helpful to be familiar with.

Blasphemy was a common law offence under Irish law when the 1937 Constitution explicitly made it an offence punishable by law. The Defamation of Act of 1961 also made it a crime, but did not define what blasphemy was.

The 1996 Constitution Review Group called for the deletion of the crime of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution, along with other references to the Christian God, religion and religious oaths. Two other All-Party Committees have also called for the removal of religious references in the Constitution.

In 1999, the Supreme Court found the Irish law against blasphemy to be unenforceable, and the UK has since abolished its blasphemy law from which ours evolved. And the 2008 All-Party Committee on the Constitution repeated the call to remove the blasphemy reference from our Constitution.

Just last year, Ireland voted at the UN against an attempt by Islamic states to make ‘defamation of religion’ a crime. And yet now the Minister for Justice is seeking to revive this anachronistic medieval crime in modern Ireland.

Read on for more details about each of these developments…

Ethics of the Ten Commandments

The ten commandments of Judeo-Christianity are not a guide for ethical conduct. They are laws for regulating the conduct of one Bronze Age tribe. When you read them in the context of the Bible stories from which they emanate, these are the underlying reasons and messages behind them:

1. Worship only the God who proved his power in Egypt.
2. Do not engrave or worship images of anything.
3. Do not swear by saying the word YHVH in vain.
4. Rest on the Sabbath or you will be stoned to death.
5. Honour your parents, because you will live longer.
6. Do not kill people, unless God arbitrarily allows you to.
7. Do not commit adultery, because men own their wives.
8. Do not steal things or people owned by your tribesmen.
9. Do not lie to or about members of your own tribe.
10. Do not desire things or people owned by your tribesmen.

Regardless of whether you believe this to be literal truth or literary metaphor, it is no basis upon which to build an ethical moral code. This becomes even more evident when you look at the Biblical background to each of these ten laws.

Cultural Map of the World

Religion and wealth are the two main factors that influence cultural values around the world. The influence of religion can be measured on a scale from traditional values to secular-rational values, and the influence of wealth can be measured on a scale from survival values to self-expression values.

Traditional values are highest in Africa and Latin America, and secular-rational values are highest in Japan and Protestant Europe. Survival values are highest in Africa and ex-communist countries, and self-expression values are highest in Protestant Europe and English-speaking countries.

That’s according to the World Values Surveys, which is the largest ever cross-national survey of social change. It was conducted from 1990 to 2005, in over eighty countries spanning all six inhabited continents, by a network of social scientists at leading universities around the world.

Based on these surveys, two political scientists (Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michegan and Christian Welzel of Jacobs University Bremen) have devised this Cultural Map of the World: