Vanity thought #1520. Judging History

Next in the animated short summary of the debate on the merits of the Catholic Church was Anne Widdecombe’s attack on the atheist historical perspective. I won’t go through all the accusations hurled the Catholics way, there was Inquisition, there were Crusades, there was destruction of Constantinople etc etc. Hitchens read the long list of these past crimes and it was a blood boiling stuff that the Church can’t deny, in fact it publicly apologized for it, as Hitchens noted. That is not the end of the story, though.

As I said a couple of days ago, bringing up past transgressions for which the guilty party has apologized is too vindictive to my taste. Hitchens could have said that the apology was not accepted so he is free to raise this subject again and again but these crimes weren’t committed against him, the apology wasn’t directed at him. Afaik, no one blames the current Church for the sins of their predecessors, most of the world realized that it’s time to move on.

Hitchens then would say that if we want to judge the overall merits of the Church then we have to consider history as well, it’s not like the Church has always been good until recent child abuse scandals came out. Fine, let’s look at history then, and that’s what Widdecombe’s argument was all about:

“If you are going to judge the Catholic Church at any given stage in history then you have to judge it against the standards that were prevailing at the time, and condemning the Inquisition, which was a horrible thing [condemning or Inquisition was horrible?]… Condemning the Inquisition in isolation from condemning just about the whole, in fact the whole of European society, which at that time rejoiced in punishment and torture as a means of dealing with criminality, and with treason, and with wrongdoing, to try and divorce the Catholic Church from that and say that it was uniquely guilty, under the inquisition, is simply trying to look back at centuries gone past and apply a standard that nobody applied at the time.”

Nice, even though somewhat imperfect. There was a little ambiguity in the middle and the end wasn’t as powerful as the build up suggested but it’s still a solid argument. I don’t know how to improve it, perhaps just add that we don’t apply laws retroactively, it something wasn’t a crime at the time it happened it can’t be judged as crime now. If we now think that torture was wrong but at the time of the Inquisition it wasn’t, then the Catholic contribution to the society wasn’t evil by that society’s standards. At the time it could have been seen as a force for good while still torturing the heretics, no one minded.

Or, put it another way, if contemporary society didn’t think that Inquisition was bad and rather thought that the Church was undeniably good, then that’s what we have to accept as evidence from history. Hitchens could have found some testimonies condemning the church but he didn’t and so we can assume everyone went along with the Inquisition just fine.

As an argument it was solid but as a means to win the debate it wasn’t, because by that time it was all about rhetoric and emotional appeals. Hitchens’ cries for justice were more appealing even if there were groundless so they counted while Widdecombe’s argument didn’t.

Fry also jumped in, and the animation editors made it sound as if he was directly addressing Widdecombe but he went precisely nowhere. No matter, he did in style, with audience drooling at every turn of his thought, so he “won”.

“Now all this is in the past and it’s irrelevant and I acceede to Anne Widdecombe how irrelevant it is, except in one thing. This Church is founded on the principle of intercession. Only through the apostolic succession, only through the laying on of hands, from this Galilean carpenter, who we can all admire, only from the laying on of hands from his apostles, to Saint Peter, to the other bishops, all the way down to everyone consecrated in this room [consecrated in THIS room?], anyone ordained here [here?] will know they are… they have this extraordinary power to change the molecules of wine into blood, literally, to change the molecules of paste bread into flesh, literally, and to forgive the sins of the peasants and the poor whom they routinely exploited around the planet. Only this Church has this extraordinary principle that it is through these male priests, and only male priests, that this is given. It is a doctrinal fact, it is more than a doctrinal fact, it is a dogma, “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus”, outside the Church there’s no salvation.”

What has it got to do with history and Widdecombe’s argument against judging it my modern standards? Nothing whatsoever, the conclusion is an entirely different subject. I can’t be bothered to mark every word Fry stressed there with capitals, and despite a little ambiguity in the middle as well, the overall effect was in Fry’s favor because he is simply a better speaker with a better voice, and a better command of his voice.

Next time you hear atheists claim that they win with logic and reason remember that it’s not true, they are as reliant on flourish and rhetoric as any politician out there and logic and reason are often completely missing from their presentations, no matter how convincing they sound.

The animation moved on but there’s one more thing I think needs to be said about history. In the full version of the debate Widdecombe continued with the defense of child abuse, too – if judged from the perspective of that era, which wasn’t a long time ago but is still in the past. She was referring to the activities of Pedophile Information Exchange, a group that was disbanded only in 1984 and which was affiliated with UK’s Council for Civil Liberties and printed booklets on pedophilia sponsored by public funds. It wasn’t a big deal then, Widdecombe argued, we made it into a big deal much later. Respectable people who no one would ever accuse of child abuse supported that group and everyone was simply acting out the ignorance of that time.

She then also added that when they, the Church, learned of the abusive behavior they weren’t taught, because no one knew it at the time, that there’s no way that someone who abused would simply stop. I suppose she implied that punishing the priests was enough and there was no need to remove them from their positions. Punishment in those days was also light, it appears from her speech. The realization that sex offenders need to be registered and watched permanently didn’t occur to anyone until mid-nineties. In retrospect, she said, the Church should have acted differently, but so should have the magistrates, the courts, the Council for Civil Liberties etc etc.

This is the argument I heard from one ISKCON leader as well. At the time no one knew what to do and what the real dangers were, ISKCON acted as it would have been expected at the time, and it was only until much later that the world has realized it wasn’t enough. Neither we, nor the Catholic Church, had any unique insights into sex-offenders psychology at the time.

Could we have turned to Śrīla Prabhupāda or to śāstra on this? Nope, child abuse is such a low grade behavior that it goes beneath śāstra’s radar, and it didn’t even occur to Śrīla Prabhupāda.

Personally, I think the same argument can be made in defense of rape in our books. I don’t think Prabhupāda ever meant forcing oneself on a woman while she is screaming and fighting back with all her might. I don’t think “rape” in our books ever means sex without consent but a testament to the power of man’s persuasion. Some men are hard to refuse, like Rāvaṇa. He could have “raped” Sīta in the modern sense of the word but sex without consent didn’t occur to even demons like him, it’s such a low grade behavior and Rāvaṇa was an exemplary king in many respects, he wouldn’t have stooped so low.

This needs further investigation, though.

Edit:  Rāvana did rape a woman, though, and was cursed that he’d die if he ever tried it again. My bad. “Even Rāvana” part of the argument doesn’t hold.

Vanity thought #511. Not in defense of rapists

But this needs to be argued – women frolicking at night take the potential male-female relationships to an entirely new level.

If a woman goes to a bar and drinks alone at midnight she will be stereotyped and let’s talk about what that stereotype implies. First of all it implies that she is sexually available for an intercourse with a complete stranger. Not only available, she desires it.

That realization changes the entire dynamic of how men look and relate to her. They do not see someone’s mother, daughter or wife, they do not see someone doing her job, they see a female looking for an intercourse and they estimate their own chances of “scoring”.

They realize that while on the surface the woman is likely to say “no” to any advance, it is nothing more than a puzzle box that needs to be opened. A man just needs to possess the right amount of charm, wit, chivalry, attitude, whatever works, and voila – Open Sesame! Potential suitors realize that this puzzle box was put out there to be opened, and they also realize that there’s no one right answer, whoever gets close enough before others will be granted access. They know that there’s a very little chance of that woman walking home alone, that she WILL have an intercourse with a stranger one way or another.

Now, that is not a defense of rapists, the decision to apply force is entirely their own and they need to answer for it, this entire rapist argument is a red herring.

The real problem is women looking for sex with strangers. Never forget that. Rape, date drugs, lies and all other kinds of abuse are unfortunate side effects, symptoms of a larger underlying disease, not the root problem.

Next question – is this stereotype true? Can a woman go out for a drink in the middle of the night without being expected to have sex? Can she go to a late night movie and walk home through deserted streets? Take a bus? Take a taxi?

Theoretically yes, and even practically so, but there’s still one big caveat – they all emulate behavior of women, mostly western, who are ALWAYS open to an intercourse with a stranger, if the stranger looks right. Obviously not right away in the first available alley but three dates should do it, more if they already have a partner.

Most of these women do not like to advertise it but the mindset is there – if a right man comes along, I will have sex, I’m always open for potential “business”.

This is miles and light years away from Vedic women who completely close themselves to any possibilities of having intimacy with anyone but their husbands.

Let me put it this way – Vedic woman – unobtainable, western woman – available for the right “price”.

There is the thing called chastity and you either have it or you don’t. It is a really a binary number. That is not to say that there are no degrees of slutiness, there are plenty of gray shades there, but there are definitely no degrees of chastity.

There’s this old Bernard Shaw’s joke – as a rich and famous man he once asked a woman to sleep with him for a million pounds, after she hesitated with an answer he asked if she would sleep with him for a hundred. “What kind of woman do you think I am!”, she protested. “Oh, I know what kind of woman you are, we are just negotiating the price”, answered Shaw.

There’s a lot of truth in this and we should always keep this in mind when women go to any kind of outing on their own or even with their girlfriends, who often are just a female equivalent of a wingman, helping each other to find a partner.

Can the traditional women engage in those kind of activities? Yes, for a while, but this kind of freedom is intoxicating and it does eventually go to their heads. Basically, this is bad association, only very lucky ones might remain untarnished and never succumb to temptations.

Better not start on this path at all.

Once again, this argument should be considered on its own, without emotional interference from the recent or any other rape cases, it’s not about men, it’s about women and their duties.

Hope it doesn’t offend anyone.

Vanity thought #502. Wrong lessons from the horrific rape tragedy

The story that grabbed India’s attention is over, the victim of a gang rape on a public bus has succumbed to her injuries and left this world. Her case provoked waves of public outrage and everybody has something to say about it.

I can’t pretend to know what all Indians think about it but several points that reached international press show that the lessons people are learning from this tragedy are all wrong. I hope organizations like BBC misrepresent what people actually think otherwise India has no hope left, too.

First and foremost lesson that I hear is that Indian women should have the right to wear skimpy outfits in the middle of the night and strut their stuff as much as they want. It seems that this is exactly what women of India want nowadays and this tragedy has finally supplied them with valid excuses.

They can’t be more wrong about it, we don’t even need to trace the faulty logic of their reasoning, if it arrives to an outcome like this it’s just a waste of time, rubbish from the beginning to the end.

Actually, it’s very simple, in the varnashrama system the goal is to help everyone constantly remember about Krishna and minimize sensual distractions. Apparently this is not what people of India want nowadays and therefore it’s wrong and it will only bring trouble. Even Arjuna, whose reasoning was rejected by Krishna, knew that women should be protected or the society is doomed. If modern Indians don’t get that then, perhaps, we should rethink our preaching there. Normally we assume that they accept the authority of Bhagavad Gita but maybe this is not the case anymore.

Speaking of women protection, another thing that I read in the papers is the outrage that women now have to worry about their safety and safety of their daughters. This sounds like a genuine concern but it’s also complete rubbish, once you get past the emotional charge that they throw at you.

Traditionally safety of women should be main concern of fathers and husbands but I think that any sensible woman would also double check the arrangements anyway. What these women want, however, is having no concerns about safety whatsoever.

Well, this might come as a shocking news to them but this ain’t Vaikuntha – their demands don’t match their status and abilities. This world will never be safe, only if they fully surrender to Krishna, no one else can fully protect them.

Or maybe they want to outsource their protection to the state, thus officially becoming “public women”. Hmm, first the state will provide security, then jobs, then food and income, it’s only a matter of time before they demand that the state provides husbands as well. I think this has happened in Soviet Russia after their revolution – women were under complete protection of the state and were assigned mating partners they coudln’t refuse. Or maybe it wasn’t so bad, I haven’t checked the source of that story.

Anyway, once they start dreaming big they won’t stop, and this is the road to nowhere. Krishna is completely excluded form the equation and becomes just a quaint cultural relic, the stuff of lullabies and bed time stories.

Once again, it might be the international news media that misrepresents what is happening in India in reaction to this case but this is what I heard so far – not a single useful lesson that would make the society appreciate Krishna more, rather the opposite.

PS. I intentionally avoided discussing any particular arguments presented in public sphere as it would be time consuming and confusing. Just step back and look at the big picture, zoom out of the details.