NR's Theodore Dalrymple writes in National Review, (subscription):
My militant atheism softened over the years, with maturity and experience. Some of the best, most selfless, and kindest people I ever met were Catholic nuns working in Africa, the only people I have ever met, in fact, who genuinely loved humanity. There was an aged Irish nun in Nigeria, for example, who single-handedly prevented a large number of prisoners from starving to death by taking food to them every day. And for a time, I spent an afternoon a week in an African mission hospital run by an old Swiss nun whose unmistakable goodness was like a protective aura. She was not a dogmatist: She knew perfectly well that I gave mothers in heart failure contraceptive injections to prevent a tenth, eleventh, or twelfth pregnancy that might kill them, since it was she who obtained the injections in the first place. We simply passed over the whole subject in dignified silence.
I have gradually learned that views that appear to me intellectually ridiculous are not therefore to be mocked. Not far from where I used to live was a secondhand bookshop, whose owner thought that civilization had reached its acme in the Albania of Enver Hoxha. The owner had come by an entire library of spiritualist works from the estate of a man who, I suspect, never read anything unrelated to spiritualism. The books, mainly published in the ’30s, ’40s, and early ’50s, bore titles such as Thirty Years Among the Dead (in two volumes), and it was difficult not to smile as one read them.
I bought a little volume informing readers how to get in contact with their dear departed dogs. It was published in 1940, and contained photographs of semi-translucent animals called forth from the “other side.” I bought it as an interesting specimen of man’s folly, but quite by chance I happened to read soon afterwards that the first victims of the Second World War in Britain were dogs, 250,000 of whom were put down in the first months of the war because it was feared that there would not be enough food for them. When I considered how passionately fond I am of dogs, a passion that is shared by many who like me find relations with humans not entirely easy, I began to see in this book, published at the time of the slaughter, not something ridiculous or absurd, but something deeply tragic, a manifestation of an intense longing accompanied by a nagging guilt at having consented to the death of a loved creature that had nothing wrong with it. I would never now argue with a spiritualist unless he insisted upon it.
Or unless he insisted that his beliefs could not be publicly examined or even mocked, and threatened anyone who attempted to do so with all kinds of retribution, such as having his throat cut in Amsterdam. Then I would feel obliged to argue with him, to let him know that I was not intimidated by his threats, and thereby to preserve my own freedom.
A mullah in Pakistan has offered a reward of $1 million, with a Toyota thrown in, to anyone who kills the Danish cartoonists. The money, it is reported, is to come from many contributors, including the jewelers of Lahore. If the Muslim world had risen up against this revolting and crudely materialistic specimen of thuggery committed in its name, I would have seen reason for hope, as well as to hold our peace. But to hold our peace when such things go unremarked because they are normal and accepted would be the most abject and cowardly betrayal of the ideal of religious tolerance.
I am reminded that religion is not alone in exhibiting the aspect of dogmatism. Militant atheism can also be dogmatic and intolerant of the views of others. All kinds of dogma can make people blind to suffering. I am also reminded of how hate-filled the Muslim teachings are concerning dogs. I thought I had seen hate before, but once when I passed a Muslim man walking my little dog, Beau, I saw a look I will never forget as long as I live. I think a religion that teaches hatred of God's creatures and other human beings is unworthy of the name. How can we understand God by filling our minds with hatred for his manifestation in material reality?
Mr Dalrymple's descriptions of those nuns is both joyful and sad. Joyful because human beings like that do exist, but sad, as well, because their numbers are decreasing rapidly. The newer "progressive" sisters eschew direct aid to suffering individuals ( too much work, too few media ops) in favour of slogans such as "end the occupation" and "free Mumia Jamal"! However, not wanting to be too negative I,d like to present an offer to these new "progressive" nuns; if they cut with the dumb slogans, I'll agree to teach 'em all a Catholic prayer or two! And I think pet dogs are great, by the way.
"Dogmatism"? "Dogma"? Forgivable Freudian slips, surely? Good stuff.