To Breda O’Brien: A Comment

Today’s Irish Times featured a column by Breda O’Brien headed “Internet Attacks on Church belie need for open secularity online”.

As I was recently involved in an Internet campaign to have the Papal Nuncio expelled, during which I debated Ms. O’Brien, the topic caught my attention.

My response to her column, which exceeds the 3000 character limit set by the Irish Times for comments, follows. I have numbered the paragraphs of Ms. O’Brien’s article for ease of reference;

The author states that;

1) She is against censorship in China.

2-3) Someone else (cited) is against Censorship generally.

4) The author poses a question, but does not provide an answer or indicate her own opinion.

5) The author declares her instincts are against censorship and indicates that she does not seek to uninvent the internet. She also without stating it directly, suggests that ethics need to be developed in preparation for currently non-existent technologies. She implies regret that such precognition had not been applied to the internet. She does not address how such magic might be performed.

6-8) The author complains that a news agency decided which parts of Papal statements were of interest to its readers, as opposed to relaying them the bits the Pope wanted attention drawn to.

9) The author then demonstrates that the news agency was correct in this assessment by using the example of an alternative news agency who did report as she, and the Pope, would have preferred. She presents her research to establish this.

10) It is not possible with the tools available to decide what the author was attempting to say or what point of view she was seeking to advance in para 10. Either it is that the Church is not ‘obsessed with sex and homophobic’, which seems contrary to empirical evidence, or that it is, which seems at odds with her being on first name terms with the Pope (see para 22). In either event, as it is not developed or referred to at any further point in the article, we may ascribe it to a difficulty with the MS Word wordcount feature.

11) ‘These kind of examples multiply across the internet’. The reader is now in considerable difficulties. No thesis has yet been advanced for this article. It has so far consisted of a series of discrete, unrelated events strung like pearls on the thin thread of their either relating to, or being referred to on, the internet. We have been given no way of intuiting what they may be examples of. The rest of the paragraph does not assist, being an observation of the political commonplace that a group of like-minded people banding together can hold more steadfastly to a point of view than isolated individuals. It is implied that this communality is to be regretted.

12) The author demonstrates that she owns a mouse and her computer has access to Google.

13-14) Apparently apropos of nothing precedent, the author attempts to paint the Vatican state and its Curia as naive innocents who continue to do things which look unforgivable solely because of a lack of awareness of how to use that self-same Google search engine. Given their millennium of experience in diplomacy, institutional warfare and actual warfare this seems an unhistorical explanation to advance for unpalatable decisions. Alternatively, the author ought to have offered them some lessons by now (see para 12).

15) To the mild distress of any reader who has been attempting synthesis of the preceding paragraphs the author now strikes off in yet another direction. She makes a series of unsupported contentious statements. These statements also lack connection to each other, as she does not specify whether it is the assumption of anonymity or a working internet connection which results in ‘people’ becoming base and abusive. Both are advanced, but neither is chosen.

16) We suffer a short digression on the moderation and publication policies of all newspapers everywhere.

17) “What can be found on other websites is even cruder”. This is an undeniable fact, as anyone who has had to research the Sex Pistols will attest.

18) The author advances the proposition that Atheist Ireland provides an example. Sadly, she still doesn’t choose to tell us what it may be an example of, so we cannot assess the validity of her claim. She then expresses her preference for the new blasphemy law to be challenged by means other than those used by AI. The reader can only await the author’s announcement of her participation or establishment of this currently non-existent campaign.

19) Surprisingly, no such announcement follows. Even more surprisingly, given the foregoing para 18, the author now declares that the comments published by Atheist Ireland were ‘not really the problem’. Rather she expresses her offence that people who object to the existence of a law criminalising blasphemy should blaspheme. The reader, a tolerant sort, is by now slightly concerned. The worry starts to gnaw that there may turn out not to have been any thesis being advanced in this entire article.

20) The author then extracts a quote from a person who does not believe that any good the Catholic religion inspires outweighs its more ignoble institutional representation. The quoted commenter expresses the regrettable, but not uncommon, view that ‘grubby old pederasts’ ought to be ‘wiped from the face of the earth’.

21) The author commits a failure of logic, equating all Catholics with the ‘grubby old pederasts’ the preceding comment suggested the world would be better without. Alternatively, she presents a bleak assessment of the faithful.

22) The author quotes the Pope, referring to him simply as ‘Benedict’. It is good to see informality of this sort in the frequently stuffy pages of the Irish Times. The quote appears to be a complaint that people ‘in certain countries, mainly in the West’ have been guilty of hostility and scorn. The reader may at this point reflect on whether a tradition of freedom of speech in Western countries might have inconvenienced the Pope. And if so, whether his preference, quoted with approval by the author, to be addressed by a different set of citizens to that which actually exists ought to outweigh those freedoms.

23) The author says she had a conversation with a representative of Atheist Ireland. She does not give any account of it so the reader cannot imagine for what purpose it is mentioned. The author commits herself to creating a set of opponents who will choose a form of expression more to the liking of herself and the Pope. She ends by warning the reader against ‘murky’ writings, such as may be found on the Internet.

As a reader, I can only look forward with interest, albeit tinged with trepidation, as to the methods the author intends to deploy in so altering those who do not share her views.


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