Kia ora:

· Last Sunday morning (24 August) on Weekend World Watch, Radio NZ National, there was a segment discussing the problem of honour killings among the Muslim community in England. By chance I have been reading a book Leila, Married by Force written by Laila in collaboration with Marie-Therese Cuny, published 2004, and translated by Sue Rose 2006. Leila, was born, brought up and educated in France, though her family came from Morocco. Leila was forced to marry a man 15 years her senior. She writes about her experience and the struggle against family tradition to regain her liberty. Leila expresses her observations on the requirement by Muslim families that their daughters at school in France should wear the traditional headscarf. Leila writes “When I watch reports about girls who want to wear headscarves at school because it’s their choice, I really have my doubts… I know many of the girls wear veils just for some peace and quiet, so that their brothers will leave them alone. I’m not at all keen on that solution, because it’s still based on a lie, and also because the headscarf can insidiously encourage parents, brothers, and husbands to become more deeply steeped in religion… Moreover, if they made wearing the headscarf legal in France, it wouldn’t be possible to prevent families from imposing it on their daughters.”

· September Monthly meeting
Monday 1 September 7:30 pm, Turnbull House, Wellington
Humanist society member Vincent Gray will talk to us about Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891) a political activist and famous English atheist of the 19th century. He founded the National Secular Society in 1866 and was editor of The National Reformer.

· Humanist Conference 2008
2008 Conference:
New Zealand and Australia’s Secular Heritage and its Future
8.45 am until 5.00 pm – Saturday 30 August,
Lecture Theatre 2, Rutherford House,
Pipitea Campus, Victoria University of Wellington, (Near the Railway Station).
This is a collaborative effort between the Humanist Society of New Zealand, the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, and the National Secular Association of Australia.
Bill Hastings Opening Address
Nicky Hager The effects of religion on New Zealand Politics
Dr. Bill Cooke Is New Zealand a “Christian Nation?”
Prof. Lloyd Geering NZ’s Contribution to a Secular Global World
Prof. Helen Irving Australia’s foundations were definitely and deliberately not Christian
Dr. Max Wallace Clericalism in New Zealand
Iain Middleton Secular Education in New Zealand
Lewis Holden Secularism and New Zealand Republicanism
A panel session moderated by Bill Hastings will follow the papers.

Dinner: The conference will be followed by an informal dinner at the Fisherman’s Table Oriental Parade, Wellington.

Registration: $20.00 waged or $10.00 unwaged. Registration includes attendance and morning and afternoon tea. Lunch may be purchased at nearby Wellington cafes.

There is still time to telephone us of your intention to come (04) 232 4497 and some door registrations will be available.

· AGM 2008: The 2008 AGM of HSNZ will held at Turnbull House Sunday 19 October 10.00 am with a break at 11.00 am to listen to the Radio Access broadcast. Nominations are now open for Council Positions.

· Radio Access: 11 am 783 kHz Sunday 21 September, and 19 October and every fourth Sunday after that.

If you are outside the Wellington radiobroadcast area, go to to listen or to download a pod cast after the event.

· Email discussion group: Operating on Yahoo at .
Join the group to contribute to the discussion?

· Did you know? The series 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 etc, each number being the sum of the two that preceded it, is called a Fibonacci series after an Italian Mathematician and that the spiral petal patterns on a sunflower are arranged according to this series. I didn’t and when summer and the sunflowers come I shall count them.

Gaylene Middleton

SHADIA B. DRURY – Benedict’s Subversive Journey

During his recent visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a series of speeches that reverberated with a strange tone of unreality He presented his church as a champion of religious freedom and tolerance as if his American audience, and the whole world, were in the grip of the most dreadful case of historical amnesia. But the world has not forgotten that from the moment that the Catholic Church became the official religion of Rome, all religious tolerance was outlawed. The Council of Nicea (325 C.E.) ended the religious freedom granted by the Edict of Toleration (313). Christian emperors prohibited pagan rites and worship. They prohibited Jews from building synagogues, marrying Christians, and serving in the imperial forces. Pope Clement VIII condemned the Edict of Nantes (1598) for granting equality of citizenship to all regardless of religion. Pope Innocent X denounced the Peace of Westphalia (1648) for granting toleration to those of all religions. Pope Leo X condemned Luther for saying that burning heretics is against the will of God. Pope Gregory XVI condemned every modern achievement that was wrenched from the tyrannical power of the church—freedom of religion, freedom of worship, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly freedom of education—as so much “heretical vomit.”

“Pope Benedict XVI… presented his church as a champion of religious freedom and tolerance as if his American audience, and the whole world, were in the grip of the most dreadful case of historical amnesia.”

Only a fool would assume that the Catholic Church has undergone a radical reformation. There has been only one significant change. Thanks to three hundred years of secular, liberal revolutions, the Catholic Church lacks the power to carry out its usual abominations. It lacks the power to act on its convictions openly and directly in the world. In view of his powerlessness relative to his predecessors, Benedict is compelled to pay tribute to the achievements of the modern world. But anyone who listens carefully will recognize that his posture of submissiveness and humility is only a veneer behind which lurk the same conceits. It would be naïve to think that Benedict’s opinions differ from the toxic views expressed by his predecessors.

For example, Benedict is fond of claiming that the separation of church and state has its roots in Catholic doctrine.* He accomplishes this fantastic feat by blurring the distinction between the modern doctrine of the separation of church and state (which guarantees religious freedom and tolerance) and the Catholic doctrine of the two swords as espoused by Pope Gelasius I (492—496). According to the latter, church and state have two separate functions: the state must care for the health and security of the body while the church must minister to the welfare of the soul. But since the soul is superior to the body spiritual well-being must take precedence over physical wellness. So, just as the body must be subordinate to the soul, the state must be subordinate to the church. This was the basis of the demand for papal supremacy over all civil authorities. Therefore, the Catholic doctrine of the “separation” of church and state does not guarantee religious freedom but quite the contrary.

The demand for papal supremacy was the harbinger of the fanaticism and intolerance of the Middle Ages. Nothing retarded the development of civilized nations more than the irrational demands of the popes who mobilized the power of the state to launch crusades, burn heretics, rob Jews of their children, and carry out other savage preoccupations. Thus, it is obscene for Benedict to pretend that the Catholic Church is the original architect of the separation of church and state and an advocate of religious freedom and tolerance.

“Nothing retarded the development of civilized nations more than the irrational demands of the popes who mobilized the power of the state to launch crusades, burn heretics, rob Jews of their children, and carry out other savage preoccupations.”

In his speech to the bishops of the United States in Washington, D.C. (April 16, 2008), Benedict declared that any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.” He urged his bishops to become politically engaged, telling them it was their duty to make sure that their Catholicism shapes “cultural attitudes” and becomes the basis of public policy.

Benedict asked his audience rhetorically: “Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs? Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?”

The message to the bishops was clear. If you are a true Christian, if your faith is to be more than mere words, it is not enough to live by it yourself. Nor is it enough to encourage your priests and their parishioners to live by it. Benedict tells them that it is their duty to avail themselves of the “freedom of speech” in the public square in order to influence “current and proposed legislation.” In short, it is their duty to make every effort to ensure that their faith becomes the law of the land.

Benedict’s ambition knows no bounds, but he is not under the illusion that the voices of his bishops will suffice to subvert the American Constitution and transform the American polity In a democratically organized society, the laity is necessary in great numbers. This explains the strong stand Benedict takes on the need for America to be lenient toward illegal immigrants—most of them are Catholics and so can be instrumental in restoring America to “the authentic teaching” and rescuing it from the precipice of secularism and debauchery.

It is important to recognize that the Vatican’s objection to abortion and birth control is not merely theological; it is a political strategy intended to augment the power of the church. The same strategy is at the root of Benedict’s staunch opposition to Muslim migration into Europe and his antipathy toward the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union. Far from eschewing political supremacy the Vatican is relying on biology to advance its agenda.

When speaking to the leaders of her religions Washington, D.C., on April 17, 2008), Benedict praised their ecumenical efforts. He extolled the shared values that unite them against the secular forces of depravity and dissolution. But he worried that the ecumenical dialogue might focus too much on the pragmatic search for peace while forgetting the search for truth. He urged them to consider the questions that really matter: “What is the origin and destiny of mankind?” or “What awaits us at the end of our earthly existence?” Pushing the limits of credulity the pope declared that “only by addressing these deeper questions can we build a solid basis for the peace and security of the human family” What could he possibly mean? Are these not the unknowable matters about which religions differ? Are these not the sort of questions that were, and continue to be, the cause of religious strife and persecution? How could these questions and concerns be the basis of peace?

There is only one logical answer. Since these are matters of visceral dispute among diverse religions, peace can only be secured by the domination of a single church and its faith. By modestly dubbing his visit the “apostolic journey” the Vatican reminds one and all that Benedict is supposedly the true heir of Jesus Christ and the apostles. The Catholic Church has not abandoned the conviction that it is the custodian of the one and only truth on which the salvation of humanity depends. This is the same conceit that fueled the religious barbarism of the Middle Ages from which the separation of church and state was intended to rescue us.

Americans should never forget that the Vatican condemned the American Constitution for its separation of church and state, which explains why American Catholics were once debarred by their government from high office, lest they undermine the Constitution. John E Kennedy was the first Catholic to be elected president because he distanced himself from the Catholic Church and declared without a shadow of a doubt that he did not speak for his church and his church did not speak for him. But Kennedy is not the sort of politician that Benedict admires. In contrast, George W Bush shares the pope’s aversion to the separation of church and state. He is therefore the perfect facilitator of Benedict’s subversive project—a fact that is not lost on the pope. FI

*Joseph Ratzinger (aka Benedict XVI) and Marcello Pera, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam (New York: Basic Books, 2006), pp. 70, 108, 109.

Shadia B. Drury is Canada Research Chair in Social Justice at the University of Regina in Canada. She is the author of Terror and Civilization: Christianity Politics, and the Western Psyche (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). Her newest book is Aquinas and Modernity (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).

Republished from Free Inquiry Aug/Sep 2008