Have there been mad Popes and other Patriarchs? Of course you dolts.

Napoleon vs Pope Pius VII

Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, tweeted me to ask if there have ever been any Popes who were mad. I will call him Carl here because his name is public, and we’ve chatted before, and it feels more intimate and less ostentatious. So:

Carl: To be honest I don’t have a comprehensive history in front of me nor in my head but there were certainly multiple terrible men in the papacy in its 2000 year history and doubtless there will be more in the next 2000 years.  Men do go mad and Popes are, after all, men.

Has a madman ever sat on the English throne? Was he any less King?  How do you think Richard III got away with killing those two Princes with no on-record witnesses by the way? If Queen Liz grabs one of the Royal Guard’s guns and starts wildly shooting while screaming that she declares war on Sweden, is she any less the Queen? Does everyone in England have to start knifing any Swedish tourists they spot? (Well do it anyhow, no one likes the Swedes.)

Yes, there have been men in the Papacy who should never have been there. Welcome to large institutions involving humans.

We orthodox Christians have this theological idea that all human beings are broken, and few achieve Sainthood in this life. And you might have noticed by now that not all Popes or Patriarchs or whatever are recognized as Saints, let alone your average Bishop or Priest. Hey guess what, if you look around, you’ll find out there have been priests who’ve murdered, raped, embezzled, got caught screwing a boyfriend or girlfriend, got involved in dodgy politics or organized crime, and other things that any other human being might fall prey to.

There’s this thing we Christians call “temptation.” You might want to look up what we think it does to people. There’s some ancient wisdom there. “All fall short” is another phrase you might look into. Our priests are human you know. We try our best to love them because most of them have sacrificed a lot for us, and been subjected to a lot of hate on our behalf. The priesthood is also a position of complete submission, you know. I’m amazed more people can’t see that.

Anyway, this is all easily verified with authoritative Church sources: the Popes are “infallible” on spiritual matters only. Furthermore,  he’s very tightly bound: he may not contradict the body of Bishops called the Magisterium, and he may not contradict the Deposit of the Faith, which includes the Catholic understanding of the Bible. He may also not contradict previous Popes. If he does any of that, he’s in error and has possibly excommunicated himself and probably requires us to figure out how to talk him back into his senses or get a new Pope.

Oh and on top of all those conditions above? He must state clearly that he is speaking on the authority of the Roman Papacy, i.e. “Ex Cathedra” (look it up) and not simply giving an informal opinion.

In other words, from a certain perspective, that doctrine of infallibility is more a burden than anything. He’s got assistants who have to run around after every public utterance assuring reporters that whatever just came out his mouth was not some new Official Doctrine. The Pope has to constantly measure his every word for fear that some dolt will take every stray remark as an announcement of a new policy. Like recently, when it was hailed as a “radical shift” that Francis said “who am I to judge?” on the question of a gay priest. No that wasn’t a shift at all, that’s Catholic 101. If you’re you’re in the habit of judging other individual person’s sins, you’re Catholicking wrong.

So it’s hard to know what to say to weirdo Atheists and Protestants  who seem to think, “the Pope just said his farts smell like roses, so Catholics must believe that now.” (I mean, I guess he wouldn’t lie, but do I have to note it in my Catechism? I don’t think so.)

If the Pope remarks tomorrow that Pi=3.2, I assure you I won’t be believing it, OK?

By the way, if you look at the Eastern or Oriental or Assyrian Orthodox, the answer here would be the same for all practical purposes for their Bishops, Archbishops, and Patriarchs. While they have no clear doctrine of infallibility for any of their particular Patriarchs, the issue does come up: if the Patriarch of Romania declared something dogmatically true, everybody would have a really long pause at least.  So that’s why those guys are also careful what they say, so no one mistakes their every word for Authoritative Church Teaching.  If the Patriarch of Constantinople (did you know he still exists by the way?) says “I hate thunderstorms, they are terrible” all Orthodox are not required to curse rainstorms, and storm-chasers may continue their hobby.

I must say that as a fellow student of history, I am stunned by how young people such as yourself are not at all educated on the complexities and subtleties of these things, as they’re not really all that complicated or hard to understand. The truth is, the history of the Church is, in a very real way, the history of Western Europe. So even if you remain a committed atheist, I suggest that you lose whatever ancient Anglican prejudices you have, and let me give you some historical reading that might make even an English atheist say, “Well all right, I might have some respect that Catholic Church after all, for both its history and the good works it still does, even if I don’t see any sense in this God business or agree with them on everything. They aren’t just primitive savages, and they do represent some pretty functional values even if I don’t share all of them.”

Do you have any idea how tiresome memes like this are? Seriously.

Do you have any idea how tiresome memes like this are? Seriously.

I think it’s time you atheists took a critical look at yourselves, applying some of that skepticism you’re so proud of to yourselves. Also maybe search yourselves, and re-examine whatever ancient prejudices you inherited or whatever old grudge you have against some religious persons who abused you. Reducing ancient Christianity to crayons and coloring books just makes you look shallow at best.

Because the truth is? Looks like you atheists are removing yourselves from the gene pool, for the most part. I think we’ve reached Peak Atheism, as people like me and things like the anatheism movement become more numerous. I hear regularly from former atheists, or people who are only pretending to be atheists, nowadays. Atheism makes no coherent logical sense to many of us. You may disagree, but we’ve as much right to think you daft as you think us. Either way, we might have ideas and insights we can exchange that are still profitable.

Like it or not, the religious will not go away in your lifetime. Or ever. Increased atheism has just brought on increased secular cults, which have grown like weeds since the New Atheist craze of the early 2000s. Now we have a wave of kids educated on shallow atheist and nonreligious leaders for most of their religious education, and it doesn’t look that’s given us the promised “more enlightened” society to me.

Isn’t it time the so-called “Rationalist” community consider the empirically obvious? If the religious are with us forever, shouldn’t we learn how to talk to the religious as something other than retarded children, scientific specimens, or a problem to be eliminated? Might we even identify religious people with whom we have substantial common ground?

By the way, did you know that Queen Elizabeth II’s reign has seen one of history’s most significant changes? Some within The Church of England are now openly in communion with Rome. Biggest shift since Henry VIII. Don’t you at least find that fascinating?

PS:  I’m writing a book on all this. Want to talk about it? Looks like Professor Eve Keneinan and I will be working together on another book, too. Would love to tell you about it. :-)


*-Edited after publication to fix some grammatical issues and clarify points. It’s my blog and I can do what I want. These are all draft chapters for the book anyway.

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Should spiritual men avoid the Men’s Rights Movement? I hope not but wonder.

Hello there, Mr. Christian Man. Today I am going to enlighten you and the world about your spiritual tradition. I’m an objective outsider you see, who left your religion when I was young.

The enlightened Romans.

The enlightened Roman Pagans.

Now, just so you know, my own theological views, and my epistemological and metaphysical assumptions,  are none of your business. This is about you and the truths I seek to tell the world about you. You and your most sacred thoughts, and about men you love and greatly admire.

Here is what you and billions of others have subconsciously been taught to believe, Mr. Christian Man: male sexuality is inherently evil and men’s penises are demon rods. Men’s semen is toxic glue. Women’s sexuality by comparison is taught by the Christian faith to be pure, making women closer to the Divine than men are, in their bodies and their sexuality. Indeed, it is an inescapable fact that you Christians believe the human penis is the vehicle by which all the evil in the world is transmitted.

Hold on, hold on, don’t open your mouth Mr. Christian Man! I have some angry gay men here who say it was the Christians who made the world uncomfortable with homosexuality, and sex outside marriage, and male sexuality generally, and they agree with me! We don’t need to hear your thoughts now, or what you know or have studied, or any of your references from the last 2000 years, or to compare it against any other philosophy or religion or political ideology. People like Ralph Reed, Glenn Beck, Pat Robertson, and the Creation Science people did all your talking for you already, Mr. Christian Man. What more could you say that wouldn’t be just rationalizations and self-delusion?  Besides, some Christians were really nasty to me in my lifetime, and that’s given me some serious objectivity that you must lack.

The fact that you believe God hates your male sexuality, Mr. Christian Man, is shown by the Virgin Birth of Jesus. Your mythos is based on the notion God had to avoid the toxicity of the male semen-glue by raping a girl called Mary–yes, God raped the same Mary I just said is women’s sexual role model. God elevated her and all other women to perfection by raping her, so we would know that whenever men have sex with women, the women are shamed and demeaned. Which makes women more divine and closer to God, which is why men think they must serve and sacrifice for the women they debase with their demon rods. Then Mary had a rape-baby son also called God, who would also serve as the sexual role model for all men because he never had sex. Ideal Christian men never have sex, according to the Christian mythos.

I’m not done, so sit back down Mr. Christian Man.  I’ve read Joseph Campbell and Elaine Pagels and The Jesus Seminar and much feminist literature, plus a bunch of other ancient mythology, so I know my stuff! I need to tell you about the Church Fathers. Well, Church Father anyway, the only one who matters, Augustine of Hippo. 

Augustine of Hippo all by himself brought the innovation of ancient Greek philosophy to Christianity, which helped Romans like Christianity better. But he still needed to outcompete the more popular and obviously more spiritual and egalitarian Pagans who viewed the penis as divine. So Augustine, a mere 1,600 Kilometers by horse and boat from the capital of the Empire, hatched a marketing scheme: while the Pagan priests and philosphers were busy blessing rape and disembowelment in the Colosseums  and blessing spiritually enlightened sex with street urchins, he would begin making men throughout the Empire hate their personal sexuality. And it worked! Penis-hating swept through Northern Africa, then Europe, and the Levant, almost Beatlemania-style when they heard about the gluey toxin rod! This is why we have Romantic Chivalry and gynocentrism today. Without ancient Christianity teaching you to hate your own sexuality, the world would clearly not be such an awful place for men today.

Wait, why are you walking away Mr. Christian Man? I’m just explaining your mythology that’s no different from any myth or fairy tale. I’m helping debrainwash you. I’m helping you better understand your own mythos and fucked up sexuality. Why you crying and asking me to stop spitting on and viciously distorting something you love to your core with David Futrelle-style distortions? It’s just criticism, it’s not personal!

This is not an open letter to Alison Tieman, although she is in it. She is free to respond herself or not. I will still always have a deep love in my heart for the amazing work she’s done over the years, and the sacrifices and unearned contempt she’s endured, and for that utterly amazing mind of hers. Still, it matters because she’s an important and influential figure, as are others in her circle, and an article she coauthored some years ago seems to have metastasized in the manosphere, at least in my eyes. In any case it’s undeniably exemplary of a phenomenon I see now commonly.

Some years ago I was part of a group of editors with her, and a decision was made to publish that article. It was called “Men, and patriarchy in the church.” I had been massively uncomfortable (to be honest, in actual psychic pain) with the article but had assented to its publication because I didn’t want to start a fight. I just prayed maybe it would bring about some good discussion.

When I watched the comments roll in with knowledgeable Christians trying to calmly respond being overridden by steaming contempt, I just averted my eyes and hoped it was a passing thing. I also thought, somehow, most reasonable people would know this was just a provocative polemic, not a serious article.

Ironically, that particular article’s been recently removed from the original publication, but for the record that was in no way at my request. The publisher removed it because the plagiarism was found, not the rest of the content. Alison did not respond when I asked if she knew about the plagiarism, but, because her coauthor on the piece has a known problem with that and she has a reputation for almost painful integrity, it seems safe to assume she did not know. Still, because of the plagiarism, it’s gone. The only copy I have is here, because I took a screen shot, and I keep it because really, it helps me distill so many of my concerns:

The stuff on the bottom about compassion seems ironic now.

“Men, and patriarchy in the Church: unaltered original.

Most of the assertions in my ironic introduction are from that old article, with other stuff like it I didn’t even mention.

You may be wondering why I didn’t just let it lie. It is an old article after all. But over the last few years I’ve seen these same assertions being repeated by her and others in the manosphere, more and more with time, as if this is some sort of academic and scholarly view. It’s disturbing to see. So much so I’ve begun wondering if I shouldn’t start warning people of a spiritual bent to avoid the Men’s Rights Movement entirely because of its scapegoating of religion generally and Christianity in particular. Especially orthodox Christianity. Either that, or I wonder if I need to try to create an MRA community for Christian men who would like to talk about how they’re being abused by family courts, how they’re dealing with false charges, being subjected to financial ruin, or being generally demonized and scapegoated–where they won’t also have to have their spirituality scapegoated with false and distorted charges too.

This isn’t a joke. I keep getting timid notes from manospherians about it, about how happy they are I’m speaking up. One of them was a man I helped get out of jail, who only escaped suicide in his darkest hours because God helped him through it. Not me, not the other MRAs trying to help him, because we weren’t enough. God was. God kept him alive. That’s how he felt, and I’m inclined to agree; we’re just the ones God sent to help him through it as best we could. (And if you say “his invisible friend helped him through it,” while I abjure violence I could hardly blame him if he gave you a knuckle sandwich for that juvenile crack.)

Shitting on people’s religions, grossly mis-stating them, and telling them they should just abandon them for the supposed enlightenment you have to offer, is a form of psychological abuse. It is often used as a form of torture. Literally so. So I’m hoping to get through here: people in positions of influence and perceived leadership within the men’s movement, who say they care about compassion and empathy for men need to knock that shit off. Or at least stop claiming you’re all about compassion and empathy and inclusion and acceptance.

This is not a free speech issue. Nor is it a debate on the merits of any religion. It’s a focus issue for leadership, and a call to conscience.

I could write an entire article on that weird take on the Virgin Birth and Original Sin, but I’ll dispense with it more properly: back that crap up by showing me any mainstream scholarly orthodox Christian source that agrees with it. Now or in all of history. If you can’t–and you know damned well you can’t–I suggest you do the honorable thing and retract it. The faith doesn’t teach that. Period.

Augustine of Hippo:L An imperfect, fallible man.

Augustine of Hippo:L An imperfect, fallible, and beloved man.

As for the take on Augustine, it’s also a distortion, including at least one totally fabricated quote about “toxic glue” that seems to source to a snotty liberal jewish feminist named Emily Nussbaum. Furthermore, a search through Augustine’s two most influential and cited works, The City of God and Confessions? The ones that got him Church Father status? The “demon rod” is nowhere to be found in my searches. If he ever said those words, it would likely have been in one of his lesser known sermons. If you find it there, I’ll find you places where he railed against deceitful manipulative face-painted women with similar firey rhetoric invoking Eve as the temptress of humanity. Which completely invalidates the claim that it was specifically male sexuality that was the focus of his criticisms of Pagan sex practices (which looked remarkably like our current culture, by the way, although we haven’t normalized pedophilia quite yet).

Christian doctrine tends to criticize both men and women for bad behavior. I don’t know how anyone managed to miss that, although some Christians in our modern mass media may still caught up in cultural gynocentrism and are terrified of offending women.

By the way, rhetoric? Augustine used that. He also used simile, metaphor, and jokes. He was known for his dripping sarcasm. What, did you think he was really that much different from smart people today?

I could say more on Augustine–the father who abandoned him, the child he went on to father and then abandon himself, his years of bouncing from one Pagan religion and philosopher to another, living as a Roman PUA screwing and gorging and drinking himself nearly to death before the nihilism became too much and he found Christ. But let’s stop with this: Augustine’s sometimes draconian views on human sexuality were an obvious reaction to Pagan excesses he witnessed and participated in, yet he still faced skepticism and criticism from his fellow Bishops at the time, and his views have similarly been subjected to skepticism and criticism by other great Catholic figures over the centuries, including great spiritual literary figures like Dante. He is not an infallible source. For other Orthodox? The Eastern Orthodox don’t even revere him as a Saint, though they call him Blessed. The Coptics also still revere him as a Saint, which is no surprise since he was based in the same part of Africa they dominate now–but they don’t consider him infallible either.

If you want an education on orthodox Christian thinking on men and women and things like chivalry or sexuality, let me get you started with figures like Shakespeare, Dante, Cervantes, Chesterton, Tolkein, and others who thought romantic “chivalry” was ghastly and wrote quite firmly about bad behavior by women.

I have references. Do you want some? I’ll also be happy to have a “let’s have a talk about this, not a debate just a talk” with anyone who wants (within reason).

Now: nobody said the Men’s Rights Movement needed to be a Christian movement. To fully succeed I would strongly argue that it can’t be one. But should it be an anti-Christian movement? If it is, I don’t know how it hopes to survive in the English-speaking world, because despite some people’s fevered wishes to the contrary, Christianity will never go away. It’ll only go underground at most.

Just like the underground MRAs I already hear from thanking me for writing about these things.

Now, God bless you all, even you nonreligious who think I’m a barking mad delusional. But please, I pray: contemplate my words, and what direction you’re steering when you start talking about what other people supposedly believe, quote-mining them to justify that, and suggesting they’re responsible for the evils we face.


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