Catholicism plus writing in the Telegraph apparently makes you barking mad

The Catholic church has not been having a good time of late.

There is the global furore over the long-standing problem of child abuse and sexual molestation of children by priests and by members of lay Catholic educational organisations.

Then there is the growing clamour about the inability of the Church hierarchy, right up to the Pope, to see that their prioritising of the church’s image and “public propriety” over abused children’s well-being and rights is viewed by most people as utterly abhorrent.

Then there is the phenomenon that part of this inability to grasp the issue periodically manifests as Catholic Church grandees lashing out with ludicrous “Epic Fail” comparisons, likening the ire directed at them to the persecution of the Jews (see here) or alternatively constructing ridiculous conspiracy theories.

And some of the UK papers have been having fun reporting the story that some atheists might try and stage a “Citizen’s Arrest” of the Pope when he visits the UK  (exploding volcanoes and others “Acts of God” permitting) later this year (see discussion at Heresy Corner).

In among all this ongoing meltdown, the Catholic Church clearly has bigger fish to fry than the UK general election. However. religious, and more specifically Catholic, prejudice has now raised its head in the campaign with a bizarre and spiteful attack by Daily Telegraph columnist, and prominent lay Catholic, Cristina Odone on Dr Evan Harris MP.

Odone’s article can be found here. Do read it quickly if you are interested, as I rather wonder how long it will stay up. It also has a marvellous comments thread testifying to many people’s evident disgust at Odone’s labelling of Harris as “Dr Death”. Some readers may remember that this was the sobriquet directed at Harris by the People’s Medical Journal Daily Mail during the debate over the Abortion time limit a couple of years ago (coverage on this blog can be found here and here).

Harris’ response to Odone can be found in the Telegraph comments. It is calm and reasoned (and just a bit puzzled) and is well worth a read. However, I think the single best response (and certainly the funniest) is the one by the Skepchick, aka Rebecca Watson:

“Thanks for the heads up, Cristina! Now I know to cheer for the LibDems. I want to know that if I end up in a vegetative state, I’m given a peaceful death rather than my own Telegraph column.”


12 Responses to “Catholicism plus writing in the Telegraph apparently makes you barking mad”

  1. Cybertiger Says:

    In the dense undergrowth, Evan Harris sells his snake-oil. High above the ground, twisting, turning, and contorted, the conflicted doctor is not what he seems. But Christina Odone has nailed him for what he really is, a snake, slithering menacingly through the grass.

  2. rob Says:

    Thank you (I think), DrAust for drawing my attention to this ridiculous article. I hope my teeth survive the grinding I’m giving them.

    However, I think it stands as a good example of how the Tories (and New Labour) have been caught on the wrong foot. They are obviously smart enough to know that an obvious smear on Nick Clegg will backfire; Vince Cable is sitting at the right-hand of God so he’s immune, but hey! let’s see if we can get s**t to stick on Evan Harris.

    Judging by the majority of the comments it too has already splendidly backfired. Yes, I’m right there with Skepchick; Odone has moved me nearer to the certainty of a LibDem vote. They really don’t know how to handle the democratisation of the media that has been enabled by the interwebs.

    Cybertiger: if you’re working on the theory that taking something potent, like the words “Evan Harris” and diluting them with other words will make it become a powerful cure against a disorder such as rational thinking … it doesn’t.

  3. Cybertiger Says:

    You have to larf at how the barking mad Tories are now defecting in droves to the LibDems. Perhaps, if there’s a hung parliament, we’ll have the pleasure of seeing Evan Harris hanged out to dry from the flagpole on the roof of the Department of Health.

    “Cybertiger: if you’re working on the theory that taking something potent, like the words “Evan Harris” and diluting them with other words will make it become a powerful cure against a disorder such as rational thinking … it doesn’t.”

    Ho ho. Powerful drollery from Rob the Tory defector and nutty LibDem arse-licker

  4. Cybertiger Says:

    “… let’s see if we can get s**t to stick on Evan Harris.”

    Eh? The guy’s wallowing in it. S**t that is.

  5. draust Says:

    We don’t know necessarily that Rob is a defecting Tory voter, Shabby.

    Rob – well put, and I agree completely. Like you, I find every smear attack on the LibDems makes me more likely to vote for them, though I am a lifelong Labour voter from a staunchly Labour family.

    I live in a LibDem/Labour marginal with the Tory a very distant third (a bare 10% of the vote last time out), so I actually have the luxury (from my political perspective) that I can “live” with either of the possible winners. I really haven’t decided yet which way to go, but the dirtier both the “Big Two” get the more appealing the LibDems become.

    The LibDems have, in my opinion, the best economist in parliament (Vince Cable) and also the MP with the best grasp of science (Evan Harris). The latter is something that, as a scientist, I obviously care about. And after the debate, they now also have a credible leader. [Of course, another reason the Tories are hamstrung in attacking Clegg is that all the jibes they would normally use about “callow, glib, lacks experience” would apply just as well to CallMeDave].

    I can’t quite work out how much “political” motive there was in Odone’s piece. Her undisguised visceral loathing of Harris would appear to stem from her Catholicism (though see below). One thing that clearly was overtly political was the decision by the Telegraph editorial staff to run such an article during an election campaign. That decision reflects badly on them and therefore, in my view, on the Tory Party. I truly hope they come to regret it.

    Odone is, as this blog describes her, a “respected but thoroughly old-world journalist”. She was also billed on the Telegraph article, I note, as a “Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies”. The Centre for Policy Studies, which older UK readers may remember as Mrs Thatcher’s house think tank and a key cradle in the UK of neoliberal/market ideology, has been instrumental in pushing some of the “Broken Society/Support the Family” stuff that the Tories have been dabbling in recently. An example was the proposed £ 150 pa tax break for married couples, which was so roundly ridiculed in the media and on Twitter a couple of weeks back.

    Odone has also written quite a bit about “the modern British state is anti-family”, and in support of faith schools, so I guess those are the sort of things where she and the CPS (and the Tory Party) are in step.

    Incidentally, in the interest of balance I should say that the Tory Reform
    Group have tweeted the following:

    “Odone’s attack on Evan Harris yesterday was a disgrace. Fight LibDems on their policies NOT conscience issues, this is not the USA.”

  6. rob Says:

    Dr Aust: “I can’t quite work out how much “political” motive there was in Odone’s piece.”

    I confess I saw the reference to the CPS in Odone’s bio, plus the fact it’s in the Telegraph, plus vague memories of other articles that CO has written and jumped to the conclusion, perhaps wrongly, that this originated in ToryLand. But even if not, even if it was a bit of freelance fisticuffs, it’s a bit clumsy. Unless they are being very sophisticated, and getting a ‘researcher’ at a ‘think tank’ to try out a bit of smear, to see how it goes. If there’s no big stink, then they could follow it by bad-mouthing the LibDems through other proxies. But there has indeed been a very satisfactory stink.

    Glad the Tory Reform Group had the integrity (or possibly the smarts) to criticise it and I admire the content of their (necessarily) pithy tweet.

    Speaking as a Labour voter of 40 years’ standing, that is.

  7. Cybertiger Says:

    Hi Herr Draust

    I live in a safe Tory seat with Nadine Dorries as my MP; the LibDems run a distant second. I have never voted for either of those parties. I lived in a fairly safe Labour seat at the last election but voted 1,2,3 for STV at that one. I was a Labour member until May 2003. Do I spoil my vote again … or vote LibDem? Despite the vicious viper in their midst, I think I’ll be going with the LibDems in two weeks time.

    “Her undisguised visceral loathing of Harris would appear to stem from her Catholicism …”

    An undisguised, visceral loathing of the snake is not a religious thingy … I’m agnostic, humanist, pro-choice abortionist, and an assisted suicide supporter … but I know a reptile when I see one.

    PS. Rob’s a hairy Tory without a rational bone in his body. Don’t believe that guff about Labour voting – except these nu-labour lefties have all gone hairy.

  8. draust Says:

    Odone is definitely a journalist rather than a think-tanker by career. Her Catholicism has always made her a social conservative (especially on family issues) but she worked for many years at the New Statesman and the Observer. See her Wikipedia entry here.

    I am coming more and more to the conclusion that UK Party Politics is a dead end, given the convergence in policy terms of all three parties on neoliberalism/markets-are-best-and-must-be-left-“unmanaged”.

    The converse is that there are politicians in all parties who seems to have intelligence and integrity, and others that lack one or the other quality (or both). I have little time for the Tory Party, but I could nonetheless identify one or two individual Tory politicians that strike me as people of some integrity or intelligence. Equally, I could identify people in the Labour Party who I wouldn’t, er, cross the road to put out if they were on fire, as the saying goes. A couple of them were on the TV expose about influence-peddling.

    As Mark Henderson said in the Times Online a couple of weeks back, if one can’t vote for a winner one can at least vote for an MP that believes in evidence-based policy. Rather than in Magic Beans.

    I should say that I have good friends who are adamant that Labour has made a big difference over the last decade-plus, particularly on social exclusion. My sister-in-law, who is a primary school teacher in a tough inner-city area, says that the difference Labour has made there is immense. But from my perspective Labour’s advances in social policy have been made at the expense of kowtowing to the market and (especially) to the banks; and looking at where we are at now, I think the price was too high.

  9. rob Says:


    “the convergence in policy terms of all three parties”

    “there are politicians in all parties who seem to have intelligence and integrity, and others that lack one or the other quality (or both).”

    … yes, and your last paragraph encapsulates the dilemma nicely.

    “UK Party Politics is a dead end”

    I am troubled by the pressure on politicians to please everyone: there’s always a subset of the electorate to be found which is outraged, insulted and offended – and which is used as a stick to beat any politician who pokes their head above the parapet. That outrage can then be expressed on the national stage to yield a detrimental effect out of proportion to the number of people who suffer it. Then it becomes very hard indeed to have a (national) grown-up debate.

    I do not make a point here for or against any party – they all suffer; it is only the marginal ones like UKIP, the BNP or even the Greens who can afford to say what they like because they only go after the rebellious vote. And here perhaps is a powerful role for the interwebs: to provide a platform, be it ever so slight (in blogs, comment threads or tweets) to those who would not normally be heard and who can thereby provide a balance that the conventional media cannot.

    Coming back to the first few paragraphs of your main post, it seems as if the Catholic Church is also caught on the wrong foot when it comes to mass (small ‘m’) communication. These big, powerful organisations that have prided themselves on managing the centralised ‘push’ media for so long, seem very clumsy at interacting when people can converse amongst themselves very effectively and on a global scale.

    And the fact that that conversation ‘may contain nuts’ and irrational skeletons is not a bad thing. We need a wide spectrum of diverse views, however expressed.

  10. Tessa K Says:

    Odone regularly has a go at secularists and hates the National Secular Society, where I work, because we dare to suggest that religion is not The Most Important Thing in public life and that religious people are not better or more deserving of privilege than the rest of us. We also don’t think it’s fair that they should get the exemptions they demand from the law.

    But apparently she thinks that Christians (of any flavour) should be able to ignore the laws they don’t like and deny others a free choice in areas like sexuality, healthcare, adoption, education etc etc ad nauseam.

    She is a prime example of how faith trumps evidence.

  11. draust Says:

    Hi Tessa.

    Yes. She also seems blithely unaware of the dogmatism that shapes her world view, and the sort of inherent contradictions and double standards it gives rise to – and that you just highlighted.

    Sadly this is a characteristic one often sees in a lot of those religious people who are publicly strident about their faith.

    Having worked in provincial UK Universities these last two decades and more I have had a lot of religious colleagues of various doctrinal persuasions. When I arrived here in the late 80s I found that roughly 25% (sic) of the academic staff of my Department were lay preachers or lay readers of various Christian denominations.

    My “favourites” were the Methodists, mainly because as a Church and as individuals they showed far less tendency to strike public poses of outrage about “insults to their faith”. And because if you sat next to a Methodist colleague at a Conference dinner you could drink all their wine allowance as well as your own.

    I always remember the mock furore over Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, just after I took the job, and which crystallised some of my feelings about religions and the religious. Here was a perfectly serious film about religion, derived from an equally serious book and made, with clearly serious intent, by a person raised Catholic. The Catholic Church leaders, of course, were fulminating away in the media, threatening private blasphemy prosecutions, demanding boycotts, picketing cinemas etc etc. A senior Methodist I heard interviewed on the radio said something like:

    “Well, if people feel that this film might challenge their faith in a way they’re not comfortable with, or might offend them, then I’d suggest they don’t go and see it.”

    Of all my colleagues over the years that were believers, the one I had the most respect for was a PhD student who used to go every Sunday night, without fail, and man a soup kitchen that distributed food to the homeless. He was also a genuinely nice bloke.

    A year or so later, he came out as gay and was promptly ostracised by several of his Christian “friends”.

    As a religious quote I seem to recall from somewhere says:

    “By their deeds shall you know them”

    (Not an exact quote, of course, but a paraphrase; some discussion of the real biblical line is here).

  12. A good man defeated by poisonous christians Says:

    […] Dr Aust wrote Catholicism plus writing in the Telegraph apparently makes you barking mad. […]

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