Monday, August 31, 2009

Penn and Teller on The Vatican

Wow, this was awful. Line up a bunch of anti-Catholics to talk about the evils of the Vatican? Sorry, guys, but that's bullshit. I say that as a never-been-Catholic, who has had more than a few historical beefs with The Church.

This was an awful, hacky one-sided hit-piece.

It started, as all these things do, with a long-winded list of the horrors committed over 2,000 years—well, it should be 1,600 years—which sure seem horrible. But then you realize it's over 2,000 years. Name an organization that's been around for that long that hasn't committed far worse.

Tough to think of many who've been around even a fraction as long. And, golly, the ones that have been around for any length of time? Most of them have done something awful, within the limits of their power.

Then, of course, there's child molestation. There are few crimes that are as devastating, and The Church has handled it badly, but part of their objection was that the current Pope (back in '60s) was part of the policy of covering up the crimes.

Well, duh. Was the Church supposed to adopt a policy of shouting this from the rooftops? The real sin, of course, was not taking the crimes seriously enough to remove the real risks. School systems across the country do the same thing, of course, but nobody seems to notice this.

Now, one could argue that the Church should be held to a higher standard, but this comes very close to Alinsky's Rule #4: "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules." To blame the Chruch, I think, you should make a case that it was policy to approve of abuse.

Most of the rest is about hatin' on the Church for believing what it believes. For example, the idea that being gay is not a sin, while acting gay is, and using the defense "You're saying they can't act in their nature." Well, yeah.

See, that's what religions do. (Western religions, anyway.) They say, "Yes, it's in your nature to kill those who stand in your way, covet like mad, and put your reproductive apparatus wherever you think it might feel good, and we're telling you not to, because you're better than that, it pisses God off, and all that short-term stuff pales next to an eternity of bliss."

I never get this argument of "It's our nature." Is it not a serial killer's "nature" to kill? Does anyone accept the pedophile's argument that it's in his "nature" to molest? Obviously, what two consenting adults do isn't in the same league as rape and murder but, let's not forget that coveting women is also on the no-no list, and few would argue that that isn't part of male nature.

It's not difficult, people: The Church says non-reproductive sex is a forbidden. There's no way gay sex is going to be okay under this dogma. If you are gay, your particular cross to bear is not having the sex you want to have. And, actually, that's probably your cross to bear even if you're not gay, if fantasy is part of your sex life, or you might want to have sex with anyone other than your spouse, ever.

Then they get around to blaming the Church for AIDS in Africa. See, the Church forbids condoms. Therefore people are having unsafe sex and passing on AIDS to each other. Well, guys, the Church forbids having the sorts of sex that make sex unsafe in the first place. You'll have to explain to me why you think that a bunch of promiscuous dry-sex fans are going to ignore the Church on sex but follow religiously (heh) on condoms.

No sale, guys.

The constant refrain of "Times have changed! Get with the program!" is really just a cover for "You try to make me feel bad about something I want to do." Or "You make others I want to do something with feel bad about it." As judgmental as P&T are, you'd think they'd get less fired up about others who are quite possibly less judgmental than they are.

They even screw up what should have been a pretty good point when they bring on the blaspheming comic. An Italian satirist suggested the Pope was going to go to hell and be sodomized by vigorous gay devils. According to P&T, the Vatican threatened the woman with a liable lawsuit which carries a potential penalty of five years in jail. Bill Donahue says this is an outright lie. (He also froths over the language, which is kind of dopey.)

First, they laud this women like she's really doing something brave. I don't buy that: Italy is rife with anti-Catholic, anti-Vatican types, not all of whom are Communists. But I think when porn star Cicciolina got involved in government 30 years ago, it was safe to say that The Vatican had lost a lot of its supposed clout.

Next, they applaud her for saying that the Church is wrong for meddling with peoples' lives. For merely having opinions on things and getting them into the media, they are just like Islam. (I bullshit you not: This comparison is made.)

Libertarian much? I guess not: P&T champion free speech, but seem to object to it when it comes from religion.

Sadly, while they're usually pretty pro-human, they look at all these Catholic people in the world and say, "Except for you guys. You guys are stupid." Er, no, the Church is "pulling the wool over their eyes."

Penn and Teller always approach their subject with a bias—the kind of glib smugness that comes from knowing the dogma and apocrypha of the era—but this is typically tempered with an allowance for the bias and humor. Even the tax show, which was supposedly rather personal to them, had plenty of humor in it.

This one? Nary a laugh. It was scold from the first minute to the last. Having decided up front that the Church is responsible for the sins of the world (that they could prevent if only they changed everything they believed in), they close by saying maybe you shouldn't believe in a God whose representative on Earth would do all these horrible things (i.e., disagreeing with P&T).

A sad, hacky ending to an otherwise decent season.


  1. I didn't get past season 1 of that show.

    I tend to read a variety of older media and often come upon anti-Catholic tracts. Sometimes I blog them, because I find it interesting how the Pope is thought of today compared to a hundred years ago. Still, it's disappointing how a lot of critics today seem completely unaware of the long history of anti-Catholic bigotry they are feeding into.

  2. I say this as an always-been-Catholic: your review was awesome. Thanks for saving me the time and trouble of watching the show.

  3. Thanks for the review. I decided not to watch that episode because what you described is exactly what I expected P & T would do.

    The problem the Catholic church faced with abusive priests is not exactly new. The church believes in the forgiveness of sins. Criminals like to shelter in an organization that they can easily take advantage of.

  4. Professing anti-Christian (especially anti-Catholic) sentiment is a sure way to get your ideas deemed "important." It's cynical of me, but it's possible P&T felt the need to do this so they weren't suspected of being too right-wing or conservative. And could still be thought of as "cool."

    I do believe the church has serious (and certainly more recent than the 60s) problems regarding child molestation, but I'll "save my breath to cool my porridge" on that topic.

  5. Boy, I'd hate to think that was the motivation, Knox. It's so dishonest.

    Faulkner said "Kill your darlings," and some of the best P&T:BS shows are where they do that. What they often fail to do much of—and seriously failed to do here—was to take a chainsaw to their hobby horse.

    That would be real bravery.

  6. Agree with Ruth Anne with the caveat that Penn and Teller weren't even on my radar.

    I don't get out much in TV/movie world. That might be a good thing.

  7. Eh. It's not so bad. You get used to the constant denigration of your ideas. kaff

  8. No seriously. Only just this week did we get regular cable after a hiatus of about 15 years. All that time just hearing about what others were watching and enjoying! My wife used to sign us up for trial cable connections right before the Oscars and then drop it afterwards. We got heavily into Netflix over the past years, getting up to 4 movies at a time, but we're going to scale that back to 1 or 2 now. What put us (her mostly) over the edge was not getting to see Mad Men and Project Runway until well post-season. I'm not a fan of Project Runway (I loathe it in fact), but Mad Men is pretty cool. But mostly I like some of the science and history programs that you can find on cable.

  9. You know, there's a lot of good stuff, but the providers make you take a lot of crap you don't want.

    It's a dying model. I was gonna blog about it. :P

  10. It's a dying model. I was gonna blog about it. :P

    I also just picked up a Sunday-only copy of the San Diego Union Tribune.



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