“If there is a right to life, there must be a right to death” – Mairin de Burca

Mairin de BurcaMairin de Burca is a founder member of Right to Die Ireland. She is also a veteran of many feminist and other political campaigns in Ireland. In 1974 she won the equal right of women to sit on juries in Irish courts. In this article Mairin explains why she supports the right to die.

I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in the right of every individual to end their lives when and how they wished. I could not see how it was anyone else’s business to say to a person that they had no right over their own existence.

Life is not something we choose. It was given to us by our parents for various reasons of their own. If it becomes unbearable and there is no way to improve it, then ending it makes sense for some people. If there is a right to life, there must be a right to death at a time of one’s choosing.

I respect the view of people with religious views to refuse to countenance such a step for themselves, but I positively reject their assuming that right over those of us without any religious belief.

Now this in no way precludes the fact that, if I knew of anyone thinking of ending their life without due consideration to the alternatives and due consideration to the distress of those they might leave behind, I would do my utmost to dissuade them and do anything I could to relieve the cause of their unhappiness.

Life is sweet for most of us and even for those who believe that theirs is not, it is possible to open up possibilities that would make going on a viable option.

Given that I believe that everyone has the right to end their own life (and no one else’s), how much stronger is that belief in the face of unbearable physical suffering? I cannot, in effect, say to someone facing a painful end – ‘tough, that’s life’.

I know all the arguments about palliative care – and can only stand in awe of those dedicated to providing it – but there are diseases and conditions, the end result of which don’t bear thinking about, and it is a deliberate misrepresentation to claim that even the best possible care can relieve them.

Religious people can offer this suffering up to whatever deity they believe in, but what about those who have no deity or belief? I believe passionately that we have every right to take matters into our own hands and that, if we need assistance, for whatever reason, that assistance should be provided.

Ideally it would be provided by our medical team, but, until the day dawns where that will be possible, it should be permissible for a loved one to do it for us without fear of penal sanctions.

It is a cliché to say that we give our pets a pain free death whenever it is possible, but allow humans to suffer on to the end. But clichés are often just truths which are endlessly repeated.

Last year a little dog I had had since he was a pup got terminally ill. He was old, and had never been subjected to a lot of medical procedures, and I decided that I wasn’t going to put him through any at that time of his life.

I was with him when the vet put him down, and it was the most peaceful death I could have wished for my dear friend. Grieving for him was so much relieved by the knowledge that I saved him from pain and suffering. Isn’t it ironic that the law says that I cannot give that final benefit and consolation to a human loved one?

This is not the place to go into things like all the safeguards that must be in place before the right to assisted suicide becomes law, but they must be a rigorous as human ingenuity can make them.

Luckily many jurisdictions now have such legislation, and can be studied so that they could be adapted to Irish conditions. This is for the lawyers, medical personnel and legislators to thrash out.

But thrash it out they must, because people will not wait forever for what we in Right to Die Ireland believe is a basic right.

How you can help

  • Please like and share our Facebook Page
  • Please volunteer any time or expertise that you may have
  • Please talk to your local politicians about this issue
  • Please help us to protect the right to live, and to respect the right to die

Annual Report and Agenda for Atheist Ireland AGM, 20 October 2012

This is the Annual Report and Agenda for Atheist Ireland’s fourth Annual General Meeting, which will take place tomorrow, Saturday,20 October 2012, from 2-5 pm in Buswell’s Hotel on Molesworth Street, Dublin.

We’ll be reviewing our activity for the last year, and planning our priorities for the next year. All members of Atheist Ireland may attend, and you can join or renew your membership on the day (annual membership is €25, or €10 for students or the unwaged.)

Hope to see you there!

Agenda for 2012 Atheist Ireland AGM

1. Report of Activities since 2011 AGM
2. Political Submissions since 2011 AGM
3. Financial Report for 2011
4. Committee Elections 2012

5. Priorities and Plans for 2013
(a) Major Political Priorities
(b) Policy on Ethical Issues
(c) Making Atheist Ireland Inclusive
(d) Women in Secularism Conference
(e) Good Without Gods Initiative
(f) Local Atheist Ireland Groups
(g) Strategy Review for 5th AGM

Continue reading “Annual Report and Agenda for Atheist Ireland AGM, 20 October 2012”

Right to Die Ireland: a new support and lobby group

Right to Die Ireland is a new support and lobbying group, protecting the right to live, respecting the right to die, and seeking to legalise assisted dying for terminally or seriously ill people in Ireland. If you believe that rationally-thinking people, who are terminally or seriously ill, should have the right to choose whether to live or to die on their own terms, please join us in bringing compassion, dignity and respect to our loved ones at the end of their lives.

I am involved in this project mostly because of three inspirational people who, in the past two years, have taught me so much about the value of life: my late wife Anne Holliday, who died last year of terminal lung cancer, and my friend Tom Curran, who along with his partner Marie Fleming is now taking a court case to vindicate her right to die with his assistance. Tom also chairs the Irish branch of Exit International, which supports other Irish people facing this dilemma.

Michael and AnneLast year my wife Anne died of terminal lung cancer, after a year and half of knowing every day that she was living and dying at the same time. Anne died naturally, but she had made preparations to take her own life, with my assistance, if she felt that she needed to. Making that decision made a huge difference to her quality of life, because she knew she could live her last months without worrying about unnecessary suffering at the end. It enabled her to fully live and enjoy the time that she had left, as did the wonderful medical care she got in the Mater hospital.

Tom and MarieThis year my friend Tom Curran and his partner Marie Fleming are taking a court case to vindicate Marie’s right to choose to die, and Tom’s right to help her to die. Marie is disabled to the extent that she cannot take her own life, and she had planned to travel to Switzerland to die five years ago. She changed her mind when Tom said that he would help her to die at home, if she reached the stage that she needed to. Because of that decision, Marie has lived for at least five more years than she would have. The price is that Tom faces prison if he helps her to carry out her final wish.

You may have seen RTE’s recent excellent documentary by Alan Gilsenan on the right to die. If you did, you will know that, when rationally-thinking people make preparations to take their own life, the outcome is that some of them go on to take their own life, and some of them go on to die naturally. This is because knowing that the option is available can be enough to increase your quality of life, to the extent that you do not need to carry out your desire to choose when to die. Instead you can just keep going until you die naturally, living as long and more fully than you would have otherwise.

Right to Die Ireland will support the right of any person, who wants to continue to live, to do so with the best available medical care and love and dignity. Nobody should feel pressurized in any way into feeling that they should die sooner than their natural death.

Right to Die Ireland will also support the right of any person, who is terminally or seriously ill and is thinking rationally, to choose how and when to die peacefully and reliably, with the support and assistance of their loved ones and the medical profession and the law.

The right to choose how and when to die is one of the final taboos for compassion and empathy in modern Irish society. Suicide is not a crime, and rightly so. Why then is it a crime to assist somebody in doing something that is not a crime? Criminal sanctions will not stop ethical people from doing the right thing for their loved ones. They only add to the stress and trauma faced by everybody involved in this already-difficult situation.

Tom Curran is prepared to go to prison if his partner Marie decides to die and he helps her because they love each other. Neither Tom nor Marie should face that pressure. Nor should any of the countless people and families who are quietly experiencing the same dilemma every day. Please join us and help to respect the dignity, and reduce the suffering, of all of these people.

How you can help

  • Please like and share our Facebook Page
  • Please volunteer any time or expertise that you may have
  • Please talk to your local politicians about this issue
  • Please help us to protect the right to live, and to respect the right to die

Brush your teeth, Clean your penis: My talk at TCD opposing religious circumcision

This is a video and transcript of my talk yesterday evening opposing religious circumcision at TCD Theological Society.

Thank you very much for inviting me here today. It’s a pretty disturbing topic.

I find circumcision to be one of the more disgusting and reprehensible examples of religion corrupting our natural sense of morality, which is based on compassion and reciprocity and not on this type of behaviour.

The foreskin, at risk of making a banal, non-controversial assertion, is a natural, healthy and useful part of the human body.

It protects infants from contamination when they have nappy rash. At any age, it protects nerve endings and keeps the penis warm and clean and soft. In adults, it helps sexually in terms of both sensitivity and natural lubrication.

If it poses any health problems, cutting it off is a disproportionate response to those problems.

Most of the supposed health problems associated with the foreskin can be resolved by cleaning your penis properly, and by using condoms during sex.

The HIV studies show mixed results, and insofar as they do show a possible protection, it is that a circumcised man may be less likely to contract HIV from a woman, but not to give HIV to a woman, but only if they are also consistently carrying out safe sex.

And cutting off your foreskin, to reduce your chances of getting HIV, is like pulling out half of your teeth, in order to reduce your chances of getting tooth cavities.

Just brush your teeth, clean your penis, wear a condom, and you don’t have to cut off parts of your body to stay healthy.

But the important point about religious circumcision is that it is not motivated in any case by health concerns.

It is motivated by worshipping a God who seems obsessed with the genitalia of human beings on planet Earth.

This God of the Judaic Bible tells Abraham and Moses to circumcise their children or he will kill them.

The first split in what eventually evolved into Christianity comes when Paul is trying to spread the good news to the Gentiles.

And he is selling them the message, and they are going “yeah, that sounds really good, yeah, eternal life, yeah, that sounds really great, how do we join?” and he says “well, you have to cut off your foreskin…”, and suddenly he has a bit of a marketing problem.

So he has to try to persuade the rest of the Jesus Disciples to allow Gentiles to follow the religion without mutilating themselves, which understandably they are reluctant to do, because they are adults.

And that is one of the reasons that religions insist on circumcising children when they are below the age when they can consent to it, because they know that the purpose of circumcision is to desensitize and control human sexuality.

And they know that if you leave the decision until the time when people are adults, that very few people will take up the option.

If they want to, that’s fine. I’ve no problem with adults choosing to mutilate themselves in any way they want.

But don’t inflict it on defenseless children.

It is a human rights issue. And human rights law, as was mentioned earlier, is moving gradually more and more towards respecting the fact that children have rights; rights of their own.

Human rights in the context of freedom of religion and belief an conscience used to be about protecting religious communities, when there was a concern that religious communities might die out.

And then they gradually evolved into protecting the rights of parents, as heads of families, to have their particular religious views and practices protected.

But it is now moving towards recognizing that children have their own rights, irresepective of what their parents believe.

And though it is unfortunate that the German Government has fallen in to religious pressure after the German courts recognized correctly the rights of the child, I think in the long run, or even in the medium term, we are moving in the right direction.

And the rights of the child will be protected by courts, and then cravenly and cowardly followed by politicians, who will protect them on the basis of “Oh well, the courts have made us do it.”

The final point I would like to make is that male circumcision is part of the same mindset that justifies Female Genital Mutilation

And that’s really a debate for another day, but it is a much more serious invasion of human rights than is male circumcision, and a much more serious mutilation of the sexuality of an individual, than is male circumcision.

But it does show the mindset of the type of people who, under any circumstances, are prepared to justify the mutilation of the genitals of a defenseless child.

So, I’ll leave it at that.

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

Well, circumcision is cutting off your foreskin to spite your penis, and to spite your natural sexuality.

If you want to do that for yourself, to yourself, go ahead.

But don’t inflict it on defenseless children.

Why nothing can be known with certainty, and why it is reasonable to say that we know things

What if anything can we know about reality? What if anything should we assume without being able to know it? Why is it reasonable to assume that reality is broadly as it seems to be? Why is it reasonable to say that we know things? I wrote an earlier version of this some years ago, and I am now thinking it through again. Please let me know what you think.


1. Speaking strictly philosophically, nothing can be known with certainty

  1. I seem to interpret the universe, and make assumptions, using my thinking.
  2. But I can never know if any of my interpretations or assumptions are correct.
  3. It is possible that this assumption may itself be incorrect.
  4. However, that possibility does not prove that anything can be known.

2. There is a scale of at least five possible theories of reality

  1. All that seems to exist, even what seem to be thoughts, may be an illusion.
  2. Only what seem to be thoughts exist independently.
  3. Only one thinking being and its thoughts exist.
  4. Several thinking beings and their thoughts exist.
  5. Real physical objects also exist, in conjunction with any of these scenarios.

3. In ordinary day-to-day life, it is reasonable to assume that reality is broadly as it seems to be

  1. Each new scenario seems closer to the evidence of my experience.
  2. Each assumes the existence of extra things that cannot be known to exist.
  3. Each seems increasingly functional as a working assumption of reality.
  4. These apparent patterns contain a key ‘on/off’ reason-switch.
  5. This leads me to assume that reality is broadly as it seems to be.

4. In ordinary day-to-day language, it is reasonable to say that we know things

  1. When we say we know things, this includes several unspoken conditions
  2. We should apply these unspoken conditions consistently

Continue reading “Why nothing can be known with certainty, and why it is reasonable to say that we know things”

Arizona State University gives pastor a platform to promote homophobia

Remember Steven Anderson, the Phoenix Pastor who in 2009 asked his parishioners to pray that God would kill President Obama, by giving him brain cancer so that he would die like Senator Ted Kennedy? And who followed that up with a radio interview in which he called for gay people to be executed, and insisted that the host of the show, Michelangelo Signorile, must be molesting children because he is gay?

Well, Anderson is still preaching his homophobic hate speech, and now Arizona State University is giving him a platform to do so. Here’s a video that Anderson posted on YouTube earlier this year, in which he is talking to a class at Arizona State University. As an aside, there is an amusing tell at about 4:30 when he starts talking about animals being homosexual, and his legs start involuntarily swinging from side to side under the table.

The homophobic hate speech kicks in at about 5:00. Anderson has been describing homosexuals as people who have been rejected by God and who go after animalistic strange flesh, and a student asks “So, after that point, God no longer loves them as a person?” Anderson replies: “The Bible… I could give you nineteen scriptures right now that talks abut God hating people. And I could give you a whole list of verses where he says I don’t love these people any more, and in fact I hate them. So this myth that God loves everybody is just that, it’s a myth.”

At about 7:00 Anderson says that “Anybody who remotely calls themselves a Bible-believing Christian agrees that that once people die, and go to Hell, it’s too late for them. Well, I’m just saying that the Bible says in many places that it can become too late for a person before that point, sometimes, if they reject Christ enough. And I would say homosexuals fall into that category.”

A student asks if we are supposed to also hate those people, or should we love them as ourselves as Jesus said, and Anderson replies: “But see, that verse doesn’t say love every single person on this planet as yourself. It says love thy neighbor as thyself,” and he then elaborates: “Is Jeffrey Dahlmer my neighbor? Is Adolf Hitler my neighbor? Then I don’t have to love them, do I? So there you go.”

In the comments under the video, one person asked: “Was the professor sitting there through this?” and Anderson responded “Yes. In one of his other classes, one of the students confronted me with the fact that they were a homo, and I told him that what he does is disgusting, and that everyone else in the class knows it; they just don’t have the guts to say it. I also told him he was a pedophile, and he ran out of the room upset. The teacher said it was the student’s fault because he already knew where I stood on that subject. What did he expect to happen?!”

So why does Arizona State University give Anderson a platform to promote his homophobic hate speech, and to then boast online about calling a student a pedophile and upsetting him so much that he ran out of his classroom?

Just for today, I agree that the creator of the universe impregnated a virgin

Day of AgreementMaryam Namazie is blogging once every hour today to celebrate today as The Day of Agreement.

This is in response to the crushing of dissent in Islamic and other totalitarian States. Today is also International Day against the Death Penalty, which is often used to silence dissenters.

So today, we pledge to agree with what everyone else believes and says, just for one day. We are not allowed to dissent, ‘offend’ or question. Also, to be fair, we ask everyone else to agree with everything that we believe and say. So let’s see how that works out.

Just for today, I agree with the following twenty five beliefs:

  1. I agree with the Greek poet Hesiod that the world began when Gaia emerged out of Chaos, and gave birth to Uranus, who made her pregnant to give birth to the Titans, after which Gaia convinced her son Conus to castrate his father and become King of the Titans.
  2. I agree with the Bible that the creator of the universe came to planet Earth, circling one of a hundred billion stars in one of a hundred billion galaxies, so that he could impregnate a virgin in order to give birth to himself, then be tortured and die and dictate a book about it.
  3. I agree with the Quran that Allah taught Adam all of the names of the plants and animals, which must have taken some time as there are millions of species, that salt water and fresh water do not mix, and that Allah made the mountains as pegs to stabilize the earth.
  4. I agree with the Church of Dermotology that former Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern created the world out of nothing, that ice cream wafers are literally the body of Dermot Ahern, and that magic underwear protect us from fire, bullets and blasphemy.
  5. I agree with the Indonesian legal system that Alexander Aan should be jailed for two and a half years for writing on Facebook that God does not exist and for publishing information about the life of Mohammad online.
  6. I agree with the Bible that God will bring so much evil that it will make your ears tingle, that God will smite you with hemorrhoids, scabs and an unhealable itch, and that God will make you so fearful that you will flee even when nobody is chasing you.
  7. I agree with the Hadith that says that Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.
  8. I agree with David Icke that Wang Yee Lee, a being who looked like a Chinese mandarin and had Socrates standing next to him, gave Icke a message that he had been sent to heal the Earth and to expose George Bush as a space lizard.
  9. I agree with the Catholic Church in India that Sanal Edamaruku should be charged with blasphemy for exposing a supposedly crying statue of a deity to be caused by faulty plumbing from a nearby washroom and capillary action.
  10. I agree with the Bible that a man should be stoned to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath, that a woman should be stoned to death for not being a virgin on her wedding night, and that children should be torn apart by she-bears for mocking a prophet because he is bald.
  11. I agree with the many investigators of unidentified flying objects who say that an alien spacecraft crashed at Roswell in 1947 and that successive US Governments since then have been hiding the aliens at a military base near Groom Lake in Nevada.
  12. I agree with the Vatican that it is an actual State, despite being just over a hundred acres in size, having no proper citizens, few public services and no real economy, because it issues its own stamps and has a novelty ATM machine that issues instructions in Latin.
  13. I agree with the Pakistani legal system that Asia Bibi should face the death penalty for having questioned the relative merits of Jesus and Mohammad after her Muslim work colleagues complained that she had drunk from the same water bowl as them.
  14. I agree with Rev Ian Paisley, former MEP, that the Catholic Pope is the Antichrist, a liar, the true son of the father of lies, the original liar from the beginning, who imitates Christ, a diabolical imitation, Satan transformed into an angel of light, which will deceive the world.
  15. I agree with the Quran that a man may beat his wife in certain circumstances, that a woman should receive half of the inheritance that a man receives, and that a woman’s evidence may be worth half that of man because she may not remember things.
  16. I agree with the Bible that It is okay to kill your slave if he takes a few days to die, that Jesus came not to bring peace but a sword, and that Jesus will kill the children of Jezebel with death because she did not repent of her fornication.
  17. I agree with the Saudi Arabian legal system that Hamza Kashgari should be jailed for tweeting that if he met Mohammad he would shake his hand as an equal, and tell him that he had loved some aspects of him, hated others, and could not understand many more.
  18. I agree with Pope Benedict who, soon after the launch of Vatican Airlines, announced that sick people who visited Lourdes during 2008 would get a free plenary indulgence that will get them early release from Purgatory, and get them faster to heaven, after they die.
  19. I agree with the Vatican that a priest sexually abusing a child is so serious a crime that it should be put on a par with the other most serious crimes in the Vatican’s list of Delicta Graviora, namely crimes against the Eucharist and Confession, and trying to ordain a woman as a priest.
  20. I agree with Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor that atheists are not fully human because we leave out the search for transcendent meaning that he calls God, and with Pope John Paul II that a culture which rejects God cannot be considered fully human.
  21. I agree with the Russian legal system that three women from the punk band Pussy Riot should eb jailed for singing their protest song ‘Punk Prayer: Mother of God, Chase Putin Away’ in a Moscow Cathedral and recording the protest to make a YouTube video.
  22. I agree with the Bible that Dwarves, or men with flat noses, may not offer bread at the altar of God, and I agree with Matthias, son of Deuteronomy of Gath, in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, that that piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.
  23. I agree with the Vatican for joining with the Islamic States at the UN to oppose attempts to decriminalize homosexuality, because it would “add new categories of those protected from discrimination” and could lead to gay people being allowed to marry.
  24. I agree with the recent joint statement by the European Union and the Islamic States, that we should respect all religions and all prophets, which includes respecting David Koresh at Waco and David Icke who believes that George Bush is a space lizard.
  25. I agree with anyone who believes that the earth is balanced on the back of a sea turtle, that homeopathy is more useful than a heart transplant, that Rapunzel wove her hair into a ladder or Rumpelstiltskin wove straw into gold, that stepping on a pavement crack will break my mother’s back, that a deposed Nigerian prince wants to email me several million dollars, that Uri Geller can bend spoons with his mind, that I am in danger from vampires or zombies or broken mirrors, or that I am protected by angels or leprechauns or horseshoes.

In return, just for today, I ask everyone who believes any of the above to agree that some of them are very silly beliefs and that others are very unethical and dangerous beliefs.

Just for today. You can go back to dissenting tomorrow.

Unless, of course you live in an Islamic or other totalitarian State.

Jimmy Savile case: BBC must answer questions about response to child abuse

Almost a year ago, the BBC dropped a Newsnight programme that would have publicly revealed that Jimmy Savile was abusing young girls while he was an employee of the BBC, including at times on the premises of the BBC, and while working on television shows specifically aimed at children.

The Editor who dropped the programme said that factors against pursuing the story were that Savile was dead and unable to defend himself, the nature of the allegations and the level of proof required, and the fact the incidents were 40 years ago. He said it was ultimately dropped because they could not establish any institutional failure by the police or the CPS.

The BBC did not pass on the evidence that it had gathered about Savile to the police. The Editor who dropped the programe says that this was because they were confident that all the women they spoke to had contacted the police independently already, and that they had no new evidence against any other person that would have helped the police.

There are at least five things wrong with the BBC’s response to this.

Firstly, and most importantly, the BBC let down the victims of Savile who had courageously spoken to them. These vulnerable women had trusted the BBC to take seriously the complaints that they were making, after decades of not being taken seriously by anybody else in authority.

Secondly, if the BBC had broadcast the programme, it would have encouraged other victims of Savile to also have the courage to speak out. This predictable consequence has been shown to be the case by the aftermath of ITV later broadcasting the same story.

Thirdly, the BBC had a conflict of interest. They were only interested in establishing institutional failures by the police or the CPS. But the claims included child abuse on BBC premises, by a BBC employee, who was working on programmes where he had access to children. They should also have been looking at their own institutional failures.

Fourthly, the BBC knew about Savile’s reputation, both because of ongoing rumours among other BBC employees, and also because they knew that complaints about Savile had gone beyond rumours, and that the police had questioned Savile about some of these crimes.

Also, the BBC itself had broadcast a programme in 2000 in which Louis Theroux had specifically asked Savile about allegations that he was a paedophile. That programme concluded with this astonishing exchange between Theroux and Savile:

Louis: So, why do you say in interviews that you hate children when I’ve seen you with kids and you clearly enjoy their company and you have a good rapport with them?
Jimmy: Right, obviously I don’t hate ’em. That’s number one.
Louis: Yeah. So why would you say that then?
Jimmy: Because we live in a very funny world. And it’s easier for me, as a single man, to say “I don’t like children” because that puts a lot of salacious tabloid people off the hunt.
Louis: Are you basically saying that so tabloids don’t, you know, pursue this whole ‘Is he/isn’t he a paedophile?’ line, basically?
Jimmy: Yes, yes, yes. Oh, aye. How do they know whether I am or not? How does anybody know whether I am? Nobody knows whether I am or not. I know I’m not, so I can tell you from experience that the easy way of doing it when they’re saying “Oh, you have all them children on Jim’ll Fix It”, say “Yeah, I hate ’em.”
Louis: Yeah. To me that sounds more, sort of, suspicious in a way though…
Jimmy: Hard luck.
Louis: …because it seems so implausible.
Jimmy: Well, that’s my policy, that’s the way it goes. That’s what I do. And it’s worked a dream.
Louis: Has it worked?
Jimmy: A dream.

Fifthly, the BBC has repeatedly reported on institutional failures within the Catholic Church regarding child abuse by priests, including by priests who are now dead and where the abuse took place as long ago as some of the abuse by Savile. They have a responsibility to answer the same questions about themselves as they rightly ask the Catholic Church to answer.

This story should not be primarily about Jimmy Savile. It should be primarily about finding ways to vindicate the rights of the victims of the abuse, then about identifying anybody else directly or indirectly involved in the abuse, and then about the institutional response of the BBC to the abuse itself and to the abuse becoming public.

Finally, and ideally, this could become an opportunity for vulnerable people who have been abused in other institutions than the BBC to come forward and to finally be listened to. And any institutions, whether religious or secular, that have behaved unethically towards victims of abuse should take the initiative themselves and voluntarily do the right thing for the victims of the abuse.

Catholic Church must stop dehumanizing atheists by saying we are not fully human

The Catholic Church makes a distinction between being human and being fully human, and it does not consider atheists to be fully human. It believes that being fully human requires a relationship with its imaginary God, and that by excluding this from our philosophy we are not fully human. Most of the time they phrase it subtly, by saying that you require religious faith to be fully human, and sometimes they let the mask slip and explicitly say that atheists are not fully human. And most worryingly, they teach this dangerous and arrogant theory of dehumanization to children through the ethos of Catholic schools.

This dangerous arrogance starts at Vatican level. The Catholic Catechism says that man is by nature a religious being, and lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God. Pope Benedict recently said that to truly live up to our being we must recognise that we are dependent on God. And Pope John Paul II said that a culture which rejects God cannot be considered fully human; that spiritual values are ultimately what make us fully human; and that Jesus came to teach us what it means to be fully human.

This dangerous arrogance is spread by Cardinals and Bishops and theologians. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor has said that atheists are not fully human because we leave out the search for transcendent meaning that he calls God. Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo has said that we will be fully human when we see the shining face of God. Cardinal Paul Poupard has said that there does not exist a fully human culture that is not open to the dimension of faith;. Bishop Patrick O’Donogue has said that the fundamental needs of the human person can only be truly fulfilled through encounter with the deepest truths about God and the human person.

More disturbingly, this dangerous arrogance is embedded in the principles of Catholic education of children. The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario says its Fully Alive program was created to help Catholic parents teach their children to be fully human. An Archdiocesan Board of Education in Iowa says that a Catholic school’s program must concern itself with the whole child in development that is fully human and thoroughly Catholic. Roncalli Catholic High School in Nebraska says its students become more fully human by becoming more deeply aware of God, self and others. Pope John Paul II Catholic School in Chicago says that it fulfills a person’s right to be fully human. Holy Cross Catholic College in Bury says a Catholic College strives to be fully human. These are only some examples.

I have personally heard two Catholic theologians making this argument, at a conference on religious pluralism in education in Ireland earlier this year. Prof Gavin D’Costa said that atheists are not fully human, and he defended this argument when I challenged him about it. And Dr Nick Van Nieuwenhove said that Catholic education enables a person to become fully human, and used a bizarre analogy of atheists seeing a photograph in two dimensions while Catholics see it in three dimensions.

Ordinary Catholics, and indeed Christians of other denominations, can share this dehumanizing belief, if they hear it being promoted by theologians or priests or ministers who they respect. And it can become a test for evaluating your faith and your natural morality. If you treat other humans as being fully human, on the same basis as you are and would like to be treated yourself, then your natural morality and compassion and empathy are over-ruling the theological arrogance that you have been taught to believe about your friends and neighbors and work colleagues who do not believe in gods.

Whatever theological imaginings the Catholic Church chooses to believe, its spokesmen should not articulate those beliefs by suggesting that atheists are not fully human. They should try to think back about various other ideologies that proclaimed that certain humans were not fully human. That didn’t work out very well for human rights, did it? Or for the dignity of the human person? Or for anything good at all, for that matter. And we should highlight this dangerous arrogance every time that they articulate it. We should make clear that the Catholic Church must stop dehumanizing atheists by saying we are not fully human.

Examples at Vatican Level

  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part One, The Profession of Faith, reads: (27) “The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God;” and (44) “Man is by nature and vocation a religious being. Coming from God, going toward God, man lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God.”
  • In 2012, Pope Benedict, in a letter to a Catholic meeting in Rimini, wrote that “every person is created so that he may enter into dialogue with the Infinite… To truly find himself and his identity, to live up to his being, man must turn and recognize that he is a creature, who is dependent on God.”
  • In 1998, Pope John Paul II, in an apostolic message delivered in Croatia, said that “A culture which rejects God cannot be considered fully human, because it excludes from its vision the One who has created man in his own image and likeness, has redeemed him through the work of Christ, and has consecrated him with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.”
  • In 1995, Pope John Paul II, in a homily at Saint Joseph’s Seminary, Yonkers, USA, said that when he was addressing the United Nations: “My task is not to speak in purely human terms about merely human values, but in spiritual terms about spiritual values, which are ultimately what make us fully human.”
  • In 1986, Pope John Paul II, in an Angelus statement in Adelaide, Australia, said that “Jesus did not come to lay burdens upon us. He came to teach us what it means to be fully happy and fully human.”

Examples by Cardinals and Bishops

  • In 2009, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor told BBC Radio 4 that atheists are not fully human because we leave out of our philosophy the search for what Cardinal Murphy calls God. This is a transcript of the relevant section of the May 2009 interview:
    Roger Bolton: “A lot of church leaders speaking on national matters sound rather defensive but you’ve gone on the attack because you’ve talked about secularists having an ‘impoverished understanding of what it is to be human.’ They might find that quite offensive, mightn’t they?”
    Cardinal Murphy O’Connor: “I think what I said was true, of course whether a person is atheist or any other…there is in fact, in my view, something not totally human, if they leave out the transcendent. If they leave out an aspect of what I believe everyone was made for, which is, uh, a search for transcendent meaning, we call it God. Now if you say that has no place, then I feel that it is a diminishment of what it is to be a human, because to be human in the sense I believe humanity is directed because made by God, I think if you leave that out then you are not fully human.”
  • In 2007, Bishop Patrick O’Donogue in Lancaster, Britain, wrote under the headline: “The Goal of a Catholic School is the Promotion of the Fully Human Person,” that “The fundamental needs of the human person are the focus of Catholic education… These fundamental needs can only be truly fulfilled through a rich and living encounter with the deepest truths about God and the human person.”
  • In 2005, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, in a homily about the Eucharist at Saint Peter’s Basilica, said: “In the Eucharist we can deepen and improve our understanding of what the human being and the size of the challenge are… Then, at the definitive encounter with God, we will be fully human when we see God, the shining face of God.”
  • In 2002, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, in a presentation to the Congregation for Catholic Education, said: “What Franciscan schools contribute in the apostolate of education is the integration of faith, culture and life. An effort is made to raise the student to a completely human level open to divine grace.”
  • In 2000, Cardinal Paul Poupard, as President of the Pontifical Council of Culture, told a convention in Lvov, Ukraine, that: “I have a dream when Europe will shed its blinkers and open its horizons to a vision that is fully human and Christian… This is the knowledge of the strictest link between faith and culture in the human person. In fact, there is no faith outside the realm of culture, just as there does not exist a fully human culture that is not open to the dimension of faith.”
  • In 1997, Cardinal Paul Poupard, as President of the Pontifical Council of Culture, told the Synod of Bishops Special Assembly for America that: “Evangelizing man also means evangelizing his culture – this culture which is the special way by which mankind – in a given peoples – cultivates its relationship with nature, with other human beings and with God in view of reaching a truly and fully human level.”

Examples in the Education System

  • The Archdiocesan Board of Education in Gilbertville, Iowa, USA, writes in its policy manual for Catholic schools that “Development of a Catholic Christian identity in the students is a basic aim of the Catholic school community… The school’s program must concern itself with the whole child in development that is fully human and thoroughly Catholic.”
  • The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, Canada, writes of its educational program Fully Alive that the program “was created to help Catholic parents teach their children to be fully human… The program always presumes the message of revelation and, when needed, Catholic doctrine and morals are explicitly presented.”
  • Roncalli Catholic High School in Douglas County, Nebraska, USA, says of its educational philosophy: “We at Roncalli Catholic believe that when we strive to follow the life of Jesus Christ, we become more deeply aware of God, self, and others; therefore, we become more fully human.”
  • Pope John Paul II Catholic School in Chicago, Illinois, USA, quotes Pope John Paul II as saying that “the right to education is the right to be fully human” and continues “Following these words of our namesake, Pope John Paul II School provides an exceptional education to fulfill a young person’s right to be fully human, and much more.”
  • Holy Cross Catholic College in Bury, Greater Manchester, Britain, writes that “A Catholic College is a centre of community, life and study which strives to be genuinely and fully human.”
  • At a conference on religious pluralism in education in Ireland earlier this year, Prof Gavin D’Costa of the University of Bristol said that atheists are not fully human, and he defended this argument when I challenged him about it. And Dr Nick Van Nieuwenhove of Mary Immaculate College said that Catholic education enables a person to become fully human, and used an analogy of atheists seeing a photograph in two dimensions while Catholics see it in three dimensions.