The march of organised religion into the centre of political life continues, as does the growth of religious sectarianism as a force in British politics. The latest sign is the outrageous speech of Cardinal Keith O’Brien against abortion in Edinburgh on 31 May.
O’Brien’s speech followed on Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s recent speech on lesbian and gay rights.
O’Brien called on Catholic politicians of all parties to act as religious sectarians — that is, to use their political power and influence to change the law and impose their views on people who do not agree with them.
O’Brien’s demand to have religion determine politics, to make sectarian religious identity decide political alignment, is identical in its substance to the demand of Islamists who in the affair of the Danish cartoons last year — employing violence and the threat of violence, including murder — tried to insist that the non-Islamic majority of society should conform to their ideas of morality.
O’Brien said that the abortion rate in Scotland is equivalent to “two Dunblane massacres a day”. If he convinces people that is true, then some of them will want to do something about it. That is the logic of it.
The cardinal’s incendiary speech may be looked back on as marking an important stage towards the emergence in Britain of a direct-actionist Christian anti-abortion movement like the one that exists in the USA. The Christian direct-actionists there picket or firebomb clinics, and harasses medics who perform or assist with abortions. They murdered seven of them between 1991 and 2005.
As we have said before, other organised religions learn from the successes of militant political Islam in bullying and bulldozing non-believes into observing religious rules.
The Catholic Church recently succeeded in stopping an attempt to infringe a little on its right to have its own denominational schools for their indoctrination of children. It forced the Department of Education to abandon an attempt to compel Catholic schools to take a quota of non-Catholic children. It failed in its attempt in England and Wales to retain the legal right for the adoption service it controls to discriminate against lesbian and gay putative foster parents, but it may yet succeed in Scotland.
The Life League group has now said that it will “out” Catholic MPs who fail to vote for the anti-abortion bill introduced by Tory MP Ann Winterton (not herself a Catholic).
This sort of thing is not new, of course. What is new is its openness. It is now unashamed and unafraid of political consequences for the MP who, in her or his role as legislator, acts as a religious sectarian.
Cardinal O’Brien himself took a public step towards coercing MPs when he said that Catholics in Parliament should cease to take the sacraments of their religion if, in their capacity as legislators, they do not obey the Church, that is, men like himself. The next logical step is for O’Brien, Murphy O’Connor, and the other spiritual dictators of Britain’s four million Catholics to forbid those MPs the sacraments — to excommunicate them.
For believing Catholic MPs to be told, as O’Brien told them, that they are not worthy to receive the sacraments unless they obey him, is to exert great moral pressure on them by way of the enormous personal threat that they risk damnation, spending eternity in the fires of Hell or a temporary spell, lasting perhaps millions of years, in the no less hot fires of Purgatory. It is difficult for those who do not believe even to begin to comprehend the power of such threats over a believing Catholic.
In fact the agitation of the Catholic Church against abortion is not even, so to speak, made in good faith.
The Cardinals and bishops exploit humanitarian concern rooted in the belief that an embryo incapable of surviving outside the womb is nonetheless already a child. Though such ideas are simply wrong, the concerns of those who hold to them are far from contemptible. Such people can be reasoned with. But that is not what concerns O’Brien and the Catholic Church.
O’Brien believes that an embryo, one day or one hour or one infinitesimal point of time after it is fertilised, already possesses a soul. That is what concerns the theologians. Their concern for “the child” comes after that. It is used to reach and rouse people whose concern is for what they mistakenly think of as a child.
In contrast to those people, the theologians are beyond reason here. They are not concerned with graspable, definable, knowable real things, but with their own theological beliefs. No amount of evidence on the difference between an embryo of a few cells, or a single cell, and a child, can touch them, since physical evidence can tell them nothing about the presence or absence of “the soul”.
They are in this as in so much else hypocrites, concerned not with what concerns those whom they incite, but with something else entirely.
The same Church — run by old men who are either life-time celibates, or hypocritical pretend-celibrates — preaches that any attempt by “artificial” means to avoid pregnancy is also a mortal sin.
The arguments for the legal right to abortion come under two heads: the right of a pregnant woman to control her own body, to choose whether or not to continue pregnancy and give birth; and the horrors that outlawing abortion inevitably generate — illegal, unsafe, backstreets abortions performed by unqualified or badly qualified people in unsuitable places, and the maimings and deaths of women that inevitably result.The outlawing of abortion hits hardest at working-class women. The well-off always had the right, in fact, to safe abortion, whatever the law said. It was poor and desperate young women who risked and sometimes lost their lives in “backstreets” abortions.
All attempts now to put difficulties and obstructions and delays and “time to think about it” in the way of abortions hit at the poor, the very young, the unconfident women who are intimidated by the intricacies of medical and legal bureaucratic procedures which they do not know how to handle.
The irresponsibility and indifference to human life of the Catholic hierarchy here, in a country like Britain, is of course as nothing compared to their irresponsibility in AIDS-ravaged Africa, where condoms are forbidden to Catholics even as a protection against infection.
Such people should not be allowed to tell their co-religionist politicians to act to impose their beliefs on those who do not choose to share them.