I seem to be incapable of blogging at the moment – the problem with failing to do it for a couple of weeks is getting back into the habit is often really difficult when there are so many distractions out there.
This is a shame because there is plenty to blog about. The main thing that has been getting my goat over the past weekend has been the escalating row over the upcoming vote on the Embryo Bill, actively being stoked up by people such as Cardinal Keith O’Brien who has been come up with all sorts of colourful phrases to denounce it. He could at least get his literary allusions right – Frankenstein created life from dead matter; his beef here is about proposals to create animal-human hybrid embryos. That isn’t Frankensteinian – it is Moreau-esque. Is it too much to expect these turbulent priests to at least read? Clearly.
There is a big debate about whether Labour should allow a free vote on this. I am only too aware that both the Lib Dems and Tories are already allowing a free vote. It does rather bring into question what free votes are all about and why it is that religious bodies (and it is unerringly religious bodies) insist on free votes on such a narrow range of issues. As Laurence Boyce argues over on Lib Dem Voice these votes are hardly “free” in that the churches are only all too keen whip to their heart’s content. Is it not absurd that we regard scientific debates about the experimentation on small clusters of cells – or for that matter what two grown adults get up to behind closed doors – as “moral” issues while issues such as poverty, justice and military action are regarded as political?
It is in this context that Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor‘s article in the Guardian yesterday must be regarded. Murphy makes the outrageous suggestion that the difference between religion and “atheistic secularism” is love. Catholics love, atheists “kills the human spirit under the pretence of liberating it” (note how he frames the debate by denying atheists their very humanity). To be sure, he accepts that on occasion Catholics forget this lesson but insists that history repeatedly “shows the church rediscovering its own secret”.
O’Connor has not condemned or even mildly rebuked O’Brien for his speech on the embryo bill, in which he uses such love-filled phrases as “hideous” and “grotesque”. This, lest us forget, is with reference to scientific research intended to save lives and improve people’s quality of life. But presumably that’s okay because their “spirits” will live on.
It all but five years to the day since the House of Commons voted for an illegal war to invade Iraq. The Catholic church, to be sure, condemned it at the time, but did not seek to influence its own congregation in the Commons and require them to choose between the Pope and Tony Blair. Paul Murphy, Ruth Kelly and Des Browne – currently under intense pressure over the embryo bill – were let off the hook. Tony Blair himself has now been welcomed into the Catholic fold with open arms. Meanwhile, people with Parkinson’s are expected to suffer while in Africa and South America people are threatened with eternal damnation for using life-empowering and potentially life-saving contraception. And what does O’Connor use to justify all this and claims we atheists can’t grasp? Love.