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Cardinal O’Brien’s Vapid Polemic

March 5, 2012

Cardinal Keith O’Brien has made his contribution to the debate over religion in Britain, forming a triptych with Baroness Warsi and the Bishop of York; continuing to a series of vapid non-sequiturs delivered through undeservedly dramatic prose.

I heard about O’Brien’s article in the Telegraph before today and didn’t want to write about him seeing as I have already covered the subject. While listening to him on the Today Programme, however, I was made so furious by his remarks that I thought it wasteful not to make use of the junky — yet efficacious — energy which his unholy combination of fatuous reasoning and tarty prose provided.

The highest ranking Catholic in Britain said, while on the radio today, that: gay marriage is wrong because it is against human rights and because it would be a change in the way in which the law has worked for a very long time. I don’t know whether there was a discussion between him and the Bishop of York over the second point; nice argument chaps.

Once more the cleric commits the favourite arguing fallacy in Britain, the argument form antiquity. We do not have the privilege of stating, simply, that because something has a generous consignment of age, that it is inherently admirable and worthy of conservation. This is like saying that London buses are very red, and because of the depth and strength of their redness, we should maintain and protect them. I will not, and nor should anyone else, allow someone in a debate to make that logical jump. I insist that if someone is trying to prove something to me, that they should use agreed premises and clear logical steps. Age is just an attribute, I need the Cardinal to tell me why it carries such importance and why it means that we ought to keep the law in Britain the way it is, rather than deciding that the law has been the way it is for far too long.

To address the O’Brian’s first point, there are two ways in which it is insubstantial. First is that he says that allowing same sex couples to marry would be a contravention of people’s human right to marry.

Article 16:–

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Good work, the Cardinal has spotted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants men and women the entitlement to marriage. He says that allowing same sex couples the right to marriage would violate this right. Allowing people of the same sex to marry, does not, in any way, stop people of the opposite sex from marrying; therefore, the proposals which the British government are making will not preclude people from enjoying this right.

Secondly, don’t let people like the Cardinal tell you that because something is written or declared somewhere, that they, therefore, are justified in their assertions. As I said recently, it is not enough for someone to say that something is a right, as established by the UN or the EU, that it is justified — they need to tell me why it is their right; what precedents, logic and applications have they explored to determine that a person should be assigned this entitlement? Though this point is not so important because he mis-extrapolated the article.

In the case of the UN, theirs was a deeply honourable attempt, but it didn’t go far enough; the Declaration was radical when it was written, though if it were written today, or maybe in ten years, Article 16 would probably include same sex partners.

O’Brien made some other points, in his letter to the Telegraph, about whether same sex unions are capable of properly nurturing a child. In commenting on this point I may trespass outside my expertise, so I defer to the illustrious ‘surveys’.

To be very honest I have to thank the Cardinal, because this morning, he reminded me that I am alive. Friendship is a good way to give the brain a jolt and make it launch into activity — the gravely insulting speech of a gas-giant like O’Brien is different, but is just as good.

How dare he go on to one of Britain’s prime news programmes and assemble such boring and gaseous yet lurid arguments? I take it as a direct insult to the people of the UK and to me, while I chewed by cereal, that he thinks that we are credulous enough to swallow his fodder.

This universal truth is so self-evident that it shouldn’t need to be repeated. If the Government attempts to demolish a universally recognised human right, they will have forfeited the trust which society has placed in them and their intolerance will shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world. 

This is the last paragraph of the cleric’s letter to the Telegraph, look at the first sentence. There are no universal truths, instead there are numerous different truths, many regarded as universal by their adherents — to insist that one’s own is universal is childish. Some people conduct experiments and conduct other examinations, attempting to determine physical reality or even the way in which we should treat each other; I hope that none of them thinks that anything outside certain mathematical principles is universal. Nothing is ‘self-evident’, we determine the existence and the nature of things through their comparison to other objects and actions. Holding something to be self-evident is the contrail of a person who holds their own views with immodest esteem, and or who is unable to find proper external evidence.

I urge you, dear reader, to challenge and disparage those who say that their opinions are universal, and that their truths are self-evident; they have no such right.

From → News

  1. J Callender permalink

    You say “there are no universal truths”. Have you realised what a stupid statement that is? A universal truth is something like “there are two types of people, men and women”.

    “Nothing is ‘self-evident’, we determine the existence and the nature of things through their comparison to other objects and actions.” You are such a stupid person to say these things!! You know NOTHING about philosophy!!

  2. Thank you very much for your comment.

    I realise that my statement is provocative. The example of men and women is a difficult one, specifically because there are many different factors which affect and determine gender. Anatomically, there are people whose body shape suggests that they are not male or female; In terms of hormones and behaviour, the same kind of variety exists; genetically, the situation is even more complicated, as there are individuals who have a set of X and Y chromosomes, but who appear female, (there is a plethora of other interesting genetic states). This is the case with gender and with most other aspects of existence, I would be very interested if you have other examples.

    Concerning whether it is possible for something to be self-evident, you haven’t offered any arguments, so I will allow you challenge my points before I respond. I know a little philosophy, but I don’t claim to be particularly knowledgeable. If you have a counter-argument for my ‘self-evident’ point, I’d like to read it.

    Yours Sincerely,

    ‘such a stupid person’


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  1. My Missed Opportunity on BBC Radio | Queering the Church

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