Friday, 16 July 2010

Secular Puritanism

'Catholics angry as church puts female ordination on par with sex abuse'

Now there's a headline from The Guardian. The funny thing is though that the article is mainly about how angry secularists and feminists are and there is no evidence that 'Catholics' are angry (except for some individuals; but I daresay that 'Catholics' would be angry at ordaining women as well). And what really gets to me is how strong their opinions are, and what they think to be their business:

'Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, called the document "one of the most insulting and misogynistic pronouncements that the Vatican has made for a very long time. Why any self-respecting woman would want to remain part of an organisation that regards their full and equal participation as a 'grave sin' is a mystery to me."

I'd imagine it is a mystery to you Terry, so maybe you should keep your mouth shut as you obviously have no idea of the tradition, its history or its culture. I daresay that all the 'self-respecting' women will all entirely agree with you and leave in a few weeks, then you can have a pint with Big Ian and rant about the popish harridans with no 'self-respect'.

'Vivienne Hayes, the chief executive of the Women's Resource Centre, said the decision to raise women's ordination to the level of a serious crime was "appalling".

She added: "This declaration is doubly disempowering for women as it also closes the door on dialogue around women's access to power and decision making, when they are still under-represented in all areas of political, religious and civic life. We would urge the Catholic church to acknowledge that women's rights are not incompatible with religious faith."

Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: "We are sure that the vast majority of the general public will share in our abject horror at the Vatican's decision to categorise the ordination of women as an 'offence' in the same category as paedophilia – deemed to be one of the 'gravest offences a priest can commit'.

Yes, I'm always sure that the vast majority of the general public shares my abject horror at the RC church defending its traditions.

"This statement follows a series where the Vatican, an institution which yields great influence and power not only in the Catholic community but also wider society, has pitched itself in direct opposition not only to women's rights but to our equal worth and value. We hope this is an issue that the government takes the opportunity to raise if it still feels the impending papal visit is appropriate."

If the almighty British state 'still feels that the impending papal visit is appropriate'?

It is curious because I remember a time when Brits used the words 'busybody', nosey parker' etc as pejorative terms. Now I reckon that these would near-enough be compliments. Everything, or anybody, is now an 'institution' or 'organisation' and every Tom, Dick or Harry has the right to feel 'abject horror' at its shortcomings within their own ethical outlook.

Not everyone has to like the Vatican's opposition to female ordination. However, I find it difficult to see how anyone can get on their high horses about a tradition and faith which they don't belong to and which anyone can leave. I notice that the word 'rights' was used twice, which seems incompatible with the voluntary nature of Catholicism. I think if these people are genuine progressives, they would do well to think about what 'rights' really are, and how they can be enforced.


  1. Good points. I had an interesting conversation with an older gentleman today. He was telling me about how everyone was more relaxed and had more fun in the 1960s and 1970s, but that in the last 30 years people became very uptight and gloomy. This was especially true with regard to work.

    This older gentleman said that in the past, workplaces were much more relaxed. Contrast this with the fact that nowadays people wear being stressed out and miserable as a badge of honor.

    I find it odd that we live in societies that are arguably more socially progressive than what prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s but we seem to be more puritanical in many ways.

    My favorite theory is that many of the social radicals of the ‘60s and ‘70s became the yuppies of the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s, but never lost their social views, they just gained an economic outlook that was more favorable to turbo-capitalism.

    With governments and corporations increasingly mixing PC nannyism with management by stress, religious institutions like the Catholic Church that still base policy on supposedly ” irrational” traditions are becoming rarer and rarer, but their continued intransience angers the nosey parkers of the world.

  2. Churches are full of women and these women do not come there because they want to listen to some empowered modern and mortal female.

  3. @John

    Curiously, I asked people on another message board about the 70s and one guy said that he only spent a fraction of his income on rent back then. It does seem to be the case that people have been getting poorer in real terms and work is tougher, yet it seems no-one has any idea what to do about it.

    As for the hippies metamorphoses into yuppies you should look up an excellent documentary that I saw either on youtube or googlevideos called 'The Century of the Self' by Adam Curtis. He looks into this aspect.

    My one criticism is that he takes the libertarian nature of the corporate right for granted whilst in fact corporations can enslave people and be far more totalitarian than many governments.

    Exactly. And I think this comes as a blow to the collective egos of secular women who think they are inherently superior to those who have a different set of values to theirs.

  4. @Gregor,

    Thank you for the reference to the "Century of Self." I will have to look it up. I agree with you about totalitarian corporations. A number of left-libertarians such as the Mutualist Kevin Carson have made that same argument, along with a few remaining left-populists. In addition to cultural, political, and economic changes, I also think technology has made the workplace more totalitarian. Cell phones mean that more and more bosses expect their workers to always be "on call" further eating away at "own time," the time that workers have to themselves to spend with family, friends, or on anything else non-work related. Electronic monitoring devices on trucks make sure that truckers can't stop and have a leisurely meal at a diner.

    I suppose people will argue that workers are more efficient today, and that is likely true. But the problem here is twofold: 1: Workers are more efficient, but they have not gotten paid higher real wages commensurate with their greater productivity. As you mentioned, it seems like people have gotten poorer in a real sense since the 1970s. 2: “Sweat efficiency,” that is, efficiency derived from working longer hours, with less breaks or down time, etc. as opposed to greater efficiency from technological progress, is not always a good thing.

    Even if workers were being paid higher wages commensurate with longer hours, more stress, etc., I am still not sure it would be worth it in terms of the social and cultural costs of less family time, less time for cultural pursuits, etc.

    As for what to do about it, I know I sound like a broken record, but I feel the labor movement needs to work towards the establishment of worker’s cooperatives. In worker cooperatives, the workers themselves can decide, for example, how to apply new technology, and how gains from increased efficiency will be distributed.

    In the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain, I believe the highest paid worker-owner is only paid 5 times what the lowest paid worker-owner earns, as opposed to 500 times as in many capitalist corporations.

    Corporate totalitarianism is a product of the wage system, where the owners and their managers hold a huge amount of power over the workers, who have no productive property of their own and have to work for a wage to survive.

    During the Post-War Consensus, labor unions generally were pretty strong and many Western governments adopted conciliatory policies vis-à-vis labor. However, before the Post-War Consensus, it was not uncommon for employers to try to control the minutiae of their worker’s lives. In the U.S., this reached its apotheosis in the company towns, where the workers lived and worked in towns owned by their employers.

    This tendency towards control also influenced government policy that was designed to make workers less “immoral,” so you had some relatively affluent progressives arguing for farm land being set aside as places where the immoral poor could go and learn to be responsible in the clean air of the countryside.

    I think we might be heading back in this direction today, if we are not already there. The main difference between today’s Puritanism and that of the past was that out modern Puritans are often secularists and have added PC nannyism to their repertoire.

  5. @John

    The Mondragon corporation has achieved a lot and has a very interesting history.

    But as for how its ethos could be applied in the USA, as a somewhat less Libertarian leftist once asked 'What is to be Done'?

    It does seem to me that any American wanting to genuinely set up a try libertarian system has to compete with the self-aggrandising, selfishness is a virtue Ayn Rand dreamworld that seems appealing to so many down there.

  6. @Gregor,

    Yes, sadly, you are right. Although there are some cooperatives working in the United States, people wanting to foster a culture of solidarity have to compete with the Randroids and others, though there have been some hopeful signs lately. The United Steelworkers have announced an agreement with Mondragon to help promote cooperatives in North America.

    My hope is that if cooperatives become more common and if they can achieve success, people will look at them and decide they'd rather work there than for a corporation. Hopefully people will have enough sense to put Rand aside when they see that their own interests would be better served by working in a cooperative, although I realize that for the cooperative spirit to really triumph we need much more than just self-interest, which is why we must work to destroy the John Galt myth which is so prevalent in America.

  7. @John
    Great to hear about the United Steelworkers. Though oddly enough, I think a conservative on Neil Clark's blog attacked something like that as 'thuggery' or something of the kind, even though I'd doubt if he was himself anything more than comfortably off.

    Have you thought of starting your own blog on the topic of cooperatives? Starting a blog always feels a bit daunting, but I think it does give an opportunity for solidarity and it might introduce more people to alternative ideas about business and liberty.