Sunday, 26 December 2010

Danger Man

St Joseph and the Child, Oil on canvas, Museo ...Image via Wikipedia

In arguing against religious influence in the public sphere I think it's important to distinguish between the right of the religious to express their opinion in a democratic society, which should be defended, and any undue influence their opinion carries, or privilege allowed to their opinion, which should be resisted.

The unfortunate case of St. Joseph's Hospital in Arizona highlights the undue influence religion can have. A hospital that chose to save a mother's life and abort her child has been condemned by the Bishop of Phoenix, and he is withdrawing its Catholic status. This barmy and misogynist decision is, nonetheless, in accordance with Catholic doctrine. A hospital losing Catholic status should be treated as of no consequence - there is no direct funding involved, although indirect funding may be affected - and yet letters have been exchanged between health authority and Diocese as if these things mattered. It's laughable that officials should be wasting their time responding to this deluded cleric. In the Bishop's letter to Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), who run St Joseph's, in November, he said this, in response to CHW's decision to disagree with his judgement on the abortion case:
But this resolution is unacceptable because it disregards my authority and responsibility to interpret the moral law and to teach the Catholic faith as a Successor of the Apostles.
Note the capitals on 'Successor'; he's referring to the supposed Apostolic Succession claimed by the Catholic Church. We see the privilege demanded by this priest for his moral authority, over and above the rest of us. This is quite simply unacceptable in a modern liberal democracy; no one person and no organisation can claim moral authority just because.

Now, in one sense I would grant he has authority; he is responsible for his Catholic Diocese so he has every right to give and withdraw Catholic status as he sees fit. However, writing to the responsible authority and badgering them to change their medical procedures because of some bogus authority *he* claims is fundamentally anti-democratic, and he should be roundly condemned for it. Unfortunately, too many people are still in thrall to his bogus authority, so by dint of popular support he still has undue influence. But one day such interventions in the running of our every day institutions will be regarded as ludicrous, and no attention will be paid.

This is the goal of new atheists, and gnu atheists, and accommodationists should also be looking to achieve this aim.

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