The Magdalene Laundries; A Study in Authoritarian Idealist Regimes

So, I’m late in viewing the movie The Magdalene Sisters. I had a sense of the topic of the film, and I think I just wondered why on earth we needed more films to tell us that authoritarian idealist regimes do bad things?

After viewing the film, I read a review written by Steven D. Greydanus for the web site Decent Films.

Though Mr. Greydanus, an apparent apologist for the Catholic Church, admits to some wrongdoing on the part of the Church and some nuns who were involved in the Magdalene Laundries, he saves his real shot for film director Peter Mullan.

Mullan claims that his film isn’t meant to be anti-Catholic, but is meant to expose the victimization of young women by a certain phenomenon in the Church. Nevertheless, he freely acknowledges his animosity toward his Catholic upbringing, and admits that he brought his prejudices and sympathies to this project.

Perhaps he didn’t consciously set out to make an anti-Catholic film. D. W. Griffith didn’t set out to make a racist film, but it doesn’t make Birth of a Nation any less racist.

Whatever value the film might have had as an exposé of social sin is undermined, not enhanced, by its prejudicial stereotyping of every individual nun and priest. Instead of being a morally serious film about a corrupt institution in a flawed society, The Magdalene Sisters becomes mere agitprop about how evil and terrible Irish Catholic nuns, priests, and parents are.

To repeat a theme, human history has taught us that authoritarian idealistic regimes do bad things to people. These regimes are perpetuated by seemingly nice, normal people, who just happen to be participants in the abuse of their fellow humans.

Are there nice priests and nuns in the Catholic Church? I’ve no doubt that there are. But, in the end, fundamentally, they are working to further the cause of and giving their life’s energy to support an authoritarian idealist regime. As such, they are contributing to the devaluation of human rights and individual dignity.

Mr. Greydanus thinks that we should temper our criticism of nuns and priests who imprisoned a slave population of women, punishing them for minor sexual conduct, at times for years, for the mere possibility that some of them may have been conflicted about their role, or may have had other complex motivations for doing what they did.

This is silly. It is hypocritical to simultaneously decry the bad that is done by authoritarian idealist regimes, and then to also demand fair treatment of them. Authoritarian Idealist Regimes (Cathoicism, Mormonism, Communism, etc) afford no fundamental rights to individuals, provide no checks and balances for fair treatment, give too much authority to their leaders, and give too little assistance to adherents. “Just following orders” went out the window centuries ago as a moral justification for bad acts.

Even if you were a nice nun who worked in a Magdalene Laundry, you were still participating in the unjust imprisonment and forced slavery of young, innocent women. It doesn’t matter if you consoled a few of the girls along the way; in the end, you were still committing an abhorrent crime against human dignity, and committing a terrible injustice to these very girls.

Shame on you, and shame on any who seek to apologize for organizations that, by their very nature, will continue to commit grievous sins against humanity.

Passionate Agnosticism

When asked about my beliefs in God, I describe myself not only as an agnostic, but as a passionate agnostic. Many chuckle when I say this, thinking it an oxymoron. I of course, passionately disagree!

Claimed knowledge should be justified. If we don’t have adequate data to justify a claimed belief, we harm ourselves and our community relative to understanding and furthering our knowledge on that given topic.

I guard my claims of justified knowledge. Relative to the God defined by the religion of my youth, or the God of the religions of my friends, I have found little to support claimed knowledge.

By capitulating on questions of knowledge, by claiming knowledge before we can justify such claims, we do injury to our ability to continue on in the search, unimpeded by falsehoods.

See? I’m justifiably passionate in my agnosticism.