Towards a unified theory of douchebags

Not a joke: How are the heads of the Catholic Church and Massey Energy similar?

Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI, is in trouble. Increasing evidence is emerging that he quashed internal investigations and discipline of priests accused, and even convicted, of pedophilia. This is very bad. Every new revelation about then-Cardinal Ratzinger's actions have had him closer and closer to the circle of people stating directly that the Church should not defrock abusive priests. The most recent documents including his signature underneath the argument (written in Latin) that a priest should not be defrocked after completing the probation period after a sexual abuse conviction because "the good of the Universal Churchâ had to be considered, and besides the priest was too young to fire just because he was a serial child abuser.

Rick Simons, an attorney who represents victims of priestly child abuse, told the New York Times about his experience with the priest in question:

Of all the priests who abused children that I have met, and thereâs probably a couple dozen, he was by far the most evil, remorseless sociopath of the lot.

But Pope-to-be Ratzinger wasn't sure. Having sat on the diocese's request to defrock the priest for 4 years, Ratzinger responded to a letter by saying he needed more time to think, especially given his concern for the "Universal Church." An earlier letter from the diocese had urged speedy action, noting: "there would be no scandal if this petition were granted and that as a matter of fact, given the nature of the case, there might be greater scandal to the community if Father Kiesle were allowed to return to the active ministry."

As Ratzinger dithered, the priest returned to ministry and began volunteering at a youth ministry. As the diocese predicted, parents and diocesal staff were outraged, writing angry letters demanding to know why "a convicted child molester is currently the youth ministry coordinator." It was two more years before the priest was finally defrocked, no thanks to Ratzinger.

Surveying the mess that the Pope made of this issue â the casual indifference to life and health â is sobering business. Not, I dare say, as sobering as the loss of life and health in Massey Energy's coal mines. Last year, the company was handed almost a million dollars in fines for 495 separate safety violations. And just a few days ago, one of the mines (responsible for $382,000 of the 2009 fines) experienced a methane explosion, killing 29 miners and bringing a nation's stark gaze to the history of negligence on Massey's part, and especially on the part of Massey CEO Don Blankenship. Consider this, from the Washington Post:

"This incident isn't just a matter of happenstance, but rather the inevitable result of a profit-driven system and reckless corporate conduct," Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and former head of the United Mine Workers of America, said Tuesday. "Many mining companies have given too little attention to safety over the years and too much to the bottom line." He pointed to Massey's safety violations and its failure to pay many of those fines while contesting them.

Massey has battled a number of lawsuits brought by workers injured or families of people who have died in its mines. In one of those cases, a memo was uncovered in which Blankenship urged mine managers to keep mine belts running. Subsequently a mine belt caught fire and two miners died of carbon monoxide inhalation.

Blankenship said in a radio interview Tuesday that accidents are "unfortunately an inevitable part of the mining process," but the former regulator said the 18 workplace fatalities among Massey miners since 2001 is high by industry standards.

ThinkProgress observes that Blankenship derided safety regulations, including those which would have saved the lives of those miners, as "nonsensical," noting that they are "hard to comply with," and that instead of doing all we can to keep miners safe and alive:

I think we need to be very pragmatic and very careful when weâre passing laws of that nature to make sure that we create as much safety and as much health as can be created for each of the resources we expend.

Emphasis added. Translated into Latin and back to English, I believe that would be rendered as a call for delay "for the good of the Universal Church of Mammon." And that's how Ratzinger and Massey are the same. Both are depraved human beings, more interested in the well-being of abstract entities than they are with the actual lives of humans whose lives they hold in their hands.

I think it's odd, then, that when I search for Blankenship's or Massey's name in my RSS reader, I don't see much reaction to their destructive acts from the scienceblogs which so vigorously monitor the moral failings of the Pope. Ophelia Benson is perhaps at her finest when tearing into the Church for its hypocrisy, as she does here with the latest news:

People don't get to tell other people what to do and demand all kinds of special deference and respect because they have a self-declared connection with some long-dead human being. It's silly enough when monarchs do it, and it's even sillier when 'popes' do it.

This is what is wrong with the Catholic church. It's a bad, diseased way to think, and it's exactly what's wrong with them. They think they are in a special caste elevated above other human beings, because of their 'ordination,' and this is a terrible, wretched, dangerous way for humans to think. This is obvious. It makes them think they can do no wrong. It makes them sanctimonious instead of good. It makes them incapable (from all appearances, at least) of thinking clearly about their own actions.

These are all fair points, true at least in part. It is unquestionable that the Pope and his defenders have been "sanctimonious instead of good," and that they are "terrible," "wretched," and incapable of acting responsibly (i.e., appearing to think clearly about their actions).

I don't know about the causal claim, though. Don Blankenship is terrible and wretched and incapable of acting responsibly towards other humans. He's sanctimonious rather than good. He gives every sign of thinking he can do no wrong. But he does not (to my knowledge) claim any divine writ for his evil works. Maybe his is truly a Church of Mammon. Maybe Richard Trumka is right that Blankenship's failure was the "inevitable result of a profit-driven system and reckless corporate conduct," a system most of us accept as valid every day. Maybe Blankenship can be likened to a Bishop or even a Cardinal in this twisted Church of Mammon.

Or maybe power corrupts, absolute power corrupting absolutely, and the issue with the Holy See and the Almighty Buck is not the nature of the epistemological claims underlying their claims to authority, but the existence in both cases of a deeply undemocratic system of governance. Maybe our democratic government (and those of many other countries) have ceded too much power over the daily lives of citizens to corporations, including church groups registered for tax purposes as nonprofit corporations.

My position for some time has been that people's beef with religion is really a symptom of a beef more people ought to have with authoritarianism writ large (with the corollary that non-authoritarian religions are not part of the problem, and may be part of the solution). Maybe this is a datapoint in favor of a unified theory of people who deserve to be hated. Maybe not. That's what the comment section is for!

More like this

We now have a smoking gun implicating Pope Ratzi in the cover-up of child abuse by priests. Pope Benedict XVI has become embroiled in new revelations over child sexual abuse, over a letter he is said to have signed in 1985 before becoming pontiff. Associated Press said it had obtained the letter…
The U.S. Supreme Court is not interested in hearing former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's claim that he didn't get a fair trial. On October 10, the court denied Blankenship's petition to review his criminal conviction. (here (see page 3)) In December 2015 a jury found Blankenship guilty of…
The criminal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship began this week in Charleston, WV. The company’s Upper Big Branch mine was the site of the massive coal dust explosion in April 2010 which killed 29 coal miners. The Justice Department’s case against Blankenship involves conspiring to…
On April 5, 2010, an explosion occurred at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The blast rocketed through 2.5 miles of underground chambers and tunnels nearly 1,000 feet beneath the mountains, and it killed 29 miners and severely injured another. The youngest…


The Roman Catholic Church has from the beginning acted as a corporation, a heartless amoral entity that amasses wealth for itself, shifts its costs to externals, and is limited in its malevolence only by its imagination.

Maybe this is a datapoint in favor of a unified theory of people who deserve to be hated. Maybe not.

I think rather not. In my opinion, Blankenship and Ratzinger are douchebags of quite different type and caliber.

Ratzinger is, at core, a moral man - the problem is not that he isn't able to react to reality in a moral way, his problem is that he isn't able to clearly perceive reality in the first place. His worldview is warped by his belief in the supernatural - in his world the continued existence and influence of the Catholic Church is of paramount importance, since it is the only way to salvation. His willingness to subject every other consideration to the protection of his Church would thus be consistent, logical and moral - if it was not based on a groundless and improbable belief.

Blankenship, on the other hand, isn't moral and doesn't even claim to be - let alone claim to be a supreme moral authority. His failing lies in the fact that he seems to accept at face value the idea that economical subjects don't need to be moral and actually serve the greater good by serving their own economical best interest. This idea is continually losing ground in view of it's obvious unsustainability, but it still has a considerable base of support, especially in the U.S.
But the major reason why Blankenship doesn't draw as much flak as Ratzinger is probably just the fact that he is a much smaller target, in terms of overall importance.

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 10 Apr 2010 #permalink

Interesting point, and an especially interesting counterpoint (in comment #3) -- but what mosts interests me is the range of types of possible responses to these people and their actions. If the Pope's guilt ultimately matters because of the (waning?) political power associated with his peculiar ideology, how much more does the CEO's guilt matter in light of the (waxing!) rise of corporate libertarianism?

It seems to me that if the Reformation essentially broke the Vatican's back through separation of church from state, the most important issue of our time may end up being campaign finance reform...

"Ratzinger is, at core, a moral man"

where has that ever been demonstrated?

dean at No. 5:

"Ratzinger is, at core, a moral man"

where has that ever been demonstrated?

Conceded, perhaps I should have qualified that: Ratzinger's supernatural beliefs, if sincerely held, leave open the possibility that he is subjectively moral while being objectively immoral (Whereas Blankenship would be objectively immoral, subjectively amoral). This, of course, isn't the case if his piety is just pretense in pursuit of power and status - though, in view of the fact that he didn't originally pursue an executive career path in the Church, I'd be somewhat inclined to give him the benefit(?) of the doubt.

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 10 Apr 2010 #permalink

"...(with the corollary that non-authoritarian religions are not part of the problem [citation needed], and may be part of the solution [citation needed])."

There. Fixed that for you.

Well put, and obviously it bears on what I'm always saying ... it's precisely why I'm not part of the skeptic community.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Massey had insurance against wrongful death suits but not against loss of production due to accidents. That says a lot. All sub surface miners should be union or at least have the right to refuse to work under unsafe conditions without being summarily dismissed.

As for the Catholic Church, look for a smaller, leaner and definitely meaner American church to come out of this. The lurch to the right has pretty much gutted the social justice movement. I'll come back into the fold when they let the nuns run the show.