It's really embarrassing when they make it so easy, but that's not a reason to spare them. Today's e-mail brings one of Bill Donohue's hectoring messages from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (or Donohue's Drop-of-a-Hat Rant Machine, if truth-in-labeling laws applied). As usual, Bill is going hammer and tongs after the enemies (real and imagined) of Catholicism without ever suspecting that he is himself one of Rome's festering boils. If so mean-spirited and nasty a man as Donohue can prop himself up as a spokesman for Roman Catholic values, just how hollow must the Church be? During a rant about the supposed war on Christmas, Donohue famously referred to the putative founder of his church by saying “I've never met him.”
No wonder he never turns the other cheek.
In his latest electronic missive, Donohue waxes indignant over historical mistakes in a movie based on Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. Apparently Brown's work of fiction (it's fiction, Bill!) takes liberties with the historical record by pretending that the Illuminati have harbored a grudge against the Catholic Church since the days of Galileo's persecution for his defense of heliocentricity. Since the Illuminati were actually founded more than a hundred years too late to be involved in the Galileo affair, Brown's plot device is a historical solecism. It's shocking, of course, that a fiction writer would do such a thing and that a major movie studio would permit history to be similarly distorted in the movie version.
The tag team of Dan Brown and Ron Howard would have the public believe that Galileo was a member of a secret society, the Illuminati, and that the group seeks revenge against the Vatican today because of the Catholic Church’s anti-science history. All of which is nonsense.Clearly Dan Brown and Ron Howard are in league with the devil. Or something like that.
So why do they lie? Because their goal is to paint the Catholic Church as the enemy of science, and what better poster boy to trot out than their favorite martyr, Galileo? The ultimate victim, Galileo’s alleged persecution is cited as proof of the Church’s war on reason.Is that what Brown and Howard are doing, unfairly depicting the Church as reason's enemy?
The record clearly demonstrates that the Roman Catholic Church is not exactly reason's best friend. It makes a fetish of fecundity, thinks a fertilized egg is already a human being, and recoils in horror at the specter of pregnancy prevention. While Rome is not as brain-dead over evolution as many Protestant sects, it cannot help but make goo-goo eyes at the intelligent design crowd. The Church regards science with suspicion.
But Donohue is adamant:
Had it not been for the Catholic Church, the universities would have died during the Middle Ages. Had it not been for the Catholic Church, the Scientific Revolution would never have happened. After all, science did not take root in South America, Africa, the Middle East or Asia. In took place in Christian Europe.He's right, of course. Science flourished in Europe (especially during that Enlightenment period in which God was shunted aside as a historical curiosity) and Europeans might not like to be reminded of the role of Muslim intellectuals in preserving the works of Greek scholars during the Dark Ages (thus making it possible for them to be rediscovered during the Renaissance) and adding their own contributions. (Perhaps Bill has never heard that algebra and algorithm are based, respectively, on al-jabr and Al-Khwarizmi. And does he know why the title of Ptolemy's Almagest is in Arabic, although it was originally written in Greek?)
Despite what Donohue thinks (or merely feels), Brown and Howard are not conspirators against the Catholic Church. They traffic in entertainment, the former in vapid bestselling novels and the latter in blockbuster movies. Their thrillers need bad guys. Brown has tapped into a lucrative vein in this period of popularity for New Age nonsense and mysticism. And when it comes to religion-themed mysteries, who better to set up as the heavy than the 800-pound gorilla known as the Vatican? Or—to be less kind—who better to set up as the villain than a 2000-year-old mystery cult which has lost its moral authority with the recent exposure of decades of profound corruption?
It's not as though Nazis (already used Raiders of the Lost Ark) or communists (exploited in dozens of Bond movies) or drug cartels (defeated by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan) or international terrorists (blah, blah, blah, Jack Bauer) are the right bad guys for a modern religion-based novel. What, the Mormons? Jehovah's Witnesses? You've got to be kidding! The Catholic Church can rest assured of its primacy.
Donohue offers this parting shot, still irked at the mention of Galileo as an example of the Vatican's excesses:
Galileo was never imprisoned or tortured. His confinement to house arrest, though unwarranted, was more a function of his arrogance than his ideas: he persisted in presenting his ideas (taken from Copernicus, a Catholic scientist who was never punished) as scientifically accurate, something which scientists of his day scoffed at.Nice one, Bill! There's nothing like a humorous exit line to leave your audience in a good mood. If you didn't catch it—Bill is being uncharacteristically subtle here—perhaps it will help if I mention that Copernicus withheld publication of his earth-shattering book, De revolutionibus, until he was lingering on his death bed. The Church placed De revolutionibus on its Index of Forbidden Books, but it never punished Copernicus. He was dead.