Yesterday morning the big news was an interesting article with a ridiculous headline: “Richard Dawkins: I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI“.
I thought my Tweet summed up my feeling on the matter:
Richard Dawkins is going to personally arrest the pope. I hope it’s like the video for Sabotage but with old dudes http://is.gd/bo707
I was wrong to assume that people would read that and think, “Yes, that is a completely ridiculous headline.” I’m kicking myself for not being clearer, because when Dawkins posted a clarification to say that no, he did not say he’d be personally arresting the pope, a lot of my Twitter and Facebook followers happily declared that it was all a big hoax. A few others declared that it was all a big publicity stunt on Dawkins’ part, and that it therefore hurt “the skeptical movement.”
Dawkins’ clarification explained that while he was not going to swing into action Beastie Boys-style, he does support the actual effort currently underway to hold the Pope accountable for the systematic protection of child abusers. And that, to me, was the entire point: not that Dawkins is involved (though that is a funny image), but that the Pope may in fact answer for his crimes. So no, it’s not all a big, overblown hoax. It is a real and important story.
On to the second point, that this effort will apparently hurt the “skeptical movement”: it won’t, and it’s completely absurd to suggest otherwise.
I like and admire Massimo Pigliucci, but he is 100% wrong when he posted this (among other things) on my Facebook profile:
naturally, always a good thing to keep one’s baloney detector set to orange alert. though the basic problem remains: two of the “horsemen” are behind a sensationalistic stunt that has no chance in hell (pun intended) of actually succeeding in the real world
Bullshit, Massimo, on several points. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins lent their support to an effort that was already well underway, and if it weren’t for that support, most people wouldn’t know that this is happening. To describe their support as a “sensationalistic stunt” is pointless cat-fighting. And to describe it as an effort that “has no chance in hell” of succeeding is simply ignorant.
Geoffrey Robertson nicely sums up the case against the Pope, including his alleged violation of the ICC Statute, which defines a crime against humanity as including “rape and sexual slavery and other similarly inhumane acts causing harm to mental or physical health, committed against civilians on a widespread or systematic scale, if condoned by a government or a de facto authority.” He also dismisses the Pope’s right to sovereign immunity on several levels.
The original article (with the hyperbolic headline) pointed out that this kind of effort has paid off in the past, as with the arrest of Augusto Pinochet.
This is a serious legal effort to hold accountable a man who the evidence suggests has committed a terrible human rights violation involving the raping of children around the world. If you want to turn up your nose and call it a stunt that’s bound to fail, that’s your prerogative. Just don’t expect to have my respect as a humanist or a skeptic, and do us all a favor and stay out of the way of those who are trying to make a real difference in the world.
So is this effort going to somehow hurt the “skeptical movement?” You may notice that I use the quotation marks here, because I can’t bring myself to seriously consider a movement supposedly based on the defense of rationality that would turn its back on children who are raped by men they trust because those men claim a supernatural being gives them power, wisdom, and the keys to eternal life with a direct line to God’s ear. If we discovered that a world-famous psychic was leading a secretive cabal that protected child rapists, would we be silent? If a world-famous faith healer was using his heavenly persona to molest kids, would we say that it’s not our fight? You might. I couldn’t.
A few people suggested to me that Dawkins’ name attached to this effort would turn off religious people who would otherwise support it but who are too close-minded or stupid to examine evidence for themselves and come to a decision. Apparently I have a higher opinion of religious people than those who are making this argument, since I’d like to believe that there are people out there who don’t need to be told what to do by their preacher, and who can agree with a compelling argument from someone they don’t usually agree with. Yet supposedly this isn’t true, so you know what would be great? If we had a prominent theistic religious leader who could lead this effort.
While we’re waiting, I’ll be supporting the sensationalistic stunt.