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Mick Philpott’s crimes have nothing to do with Catholicism

Multiple marriages are not the norm for Catholics, despite what the Daily Mail says

By on Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Mick and Mairead Philpott who were convicted of manslaughter this week

Mick and Mairead Philpott who were convicted of manslaughter this week

There is nothing funny about the disturbing story of Mick Philpott, the father convicted of killing six of his children by setting fire to his home.

But when I read the Daily Mail’s investigative offerings today, which seem to suggest that Philpott’s Catholic upbringing informed his repugnant attitude to fatherhood and marriage, I wondered if it was an attempt at a joke.

“Philpott was born into a sprawling Roman Catholic family, where multiple marriages and large numbers of offspring were the norm,” it reads.

It is fair to say that Catholics, (especially in the 1950s and early 1960s) are renowned for raising big families and here Catholicism’s relevance to this story abruptly ends.

It does not demand a genius to spot the moral difference between fathering eight children by one woman and fathering 17 children by multiple women. And a few more minutes of research would rapidly clarify which model of parenthood the Catholic Church promotes.

It is laughable to suggest that “multiple marriages” are “the norm” for Catholics. Furthermore, the Church is not very keen on the ruthless pursuit of sex and money, especially when it threatens the welfare of children.

As human beings we naturally want to make sense of the tragedies we report and read. Society wants to understand why we commit evil acts in order to ensure that they never occur again.

The horror of this story lies both in its grubby web of human complexities but also its cold simplicity. And so a debate rages today regarding who is to blame for this tragedy. Some say Mick Philpott, some say the welfare state and some blame a multitude of people and processes. But let’s get one thing straight: Mick Philpott’s Catholic upbringing is certainly not the culprit.

  • Dr Falk

    Thanks majorcalamity for the response. I agree that religion can bring out the best and the worst in folk. It can cause people to set up Inquistitions, accuse women of being witches and kill them and drive planes into buildings. It can as we know also lead people to love and care for those who no one bothers about. I think Catholics have to be humble about our history – some is wonderful and for that we can be inspired and grateful. Some is frankly evil and that should humble us and never lead us to have a ‘holier or better than thou’ attitude. I’m grateful your contributions can allow us to discuss this. Have a good week. All the best,

  • Dr Falk

    Thanks for these very kind words – it’s really good of you. I have plenty of failings too. Take care and God bless.

  • $20596475

    I think you are making two false assumptions. Firstly, that people who believe possess, in some way, a greater morality than those who don’t. This seems to be a widespread belief amongst believers, but I think it is simply wrong. I think our morality comes from our humanity, and not from any belief. Religions have just adopted what was always there and codified it. I have known some extremely moral, and immoral, believers, and non believers. I don’t think it has anything to do with it.

    Secondly, many of us WERE religious, but have come to realise it isn’t true. We therefore probably have a greater insight than anyone into its importance. The views of the non religious are anyway just as important, and deserve to be explained to all children, from religious homes or not.

  • $20596475

    There cannot be totalitarianism of a majority! Where debate and opposition exist, totalitarianism cannot. I am simply arguing that the rights of the child are more important than any of the parent. The parent has responsibilities and what I am trying to discuss is how best those be exercised.

    The state also has responsibilities to ALL its citizens, not just parents. We need to make sure that all children become rounded, tolerant, future citizens. A balance needs to be found and that is what I am suggesting. Specific religions to be restricted to home and churches. General religious knowledge to be taught to all, believers and none believers alike, at school. I can see nothing but good coming from such an arrangement.

  • $20596475

    Thank you. As the comment you are responding to has now been left behind in the debate it may not be too clear to others, but it was my first on this subject. I agree with you completely.

  • Julian Lord

    The Nazi Party was totalitarian in its ideology prior to its achievement of political power in Germany.

    I really don’t want to engage in a pointless battle of dictionary references –

    So :

    Democracy and totalitarianism

    This writer has proposed elsewhere (The Good History Students‘ Handbook, 1993) that liberal democracy can develop only where certain circumstances exist.

    These include a degree of industrialisation, an active media and expressions and discussions of opinion. Also needed are attitudes, held in common within society, of tolerance, respect for minority and individual rights and the absence of fixed goals. Alert readers will note that a totalitarian system uses the same circumstances needed for liberal democracy and, harnessed to a fixed goal, acts to negate or reverse the attitudes that underpin democracy. Twentieth-century technology has provided the possibilities for the use of media (newspapers, radio, film and television) to ‘brainwash‘ citizens, and modern communications to identify dissidents and co-ordinate action against them.

    Offspring of intrinsic conflict

    It is inconceivable that a person in their right mind would wish to loose two of democracy‘s greatest gifts, pluralism (a plurality of power centres) and the rule of law. It is noteworthy, therefore, that the roots of totalitarianism have been traced to the 1890s, thought by many to be the high point of liberalism.

    Liberalism, with its emphasis on individual liberty, contained a contradiction. Unrestrained pursuit of individual liberty was a threat to others, that is to the society, without which individual liberty was worthless. With their stress on the social rather than the individual, the three main totalitarian systems mentioned and other lesser systems, in their own crudely inhuman ways redressed this contradiction. If this latter view unsettles readers, then this last will do so more. It has been suggested by some thinkers that liberal democracies have totalitarian characteristics in the sense that the assumptions of capitalism, and the appropriate way of life, are remorselessly inferred in all that is public and creates a homogenised mind set among the population.

  • $20596475

    You’ve done it again! You are pretty good at shooting your own feet aren’t you?

    The Nazi regime could only be regarded as totalitarian after it came to power and removed all opposition. Until then, whilst its policies might have been distasteful, it wasn’t totalitarian.

    I can see why you don’t want to contemplate trading dictionary definitions, because they will all show you are wrong.

    Instead you make reference to an article by one, rather obscure, historian for support. You didn’t actually have to look that far. There are plenty of people on here who seem to share the same viewpoint, who are as wrong as you. That this one writer might share this approach, in some small way, adds nothing to it’s validity.

    You are then even very selective in your choice of quote from his piece. Here is another, which matches both the dictionary definition and my own:-

    “US historians Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski in Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy (1956). Friedrich and Brzezinski‘s theoretical model, derived from the history of the twentieth century, had six key features.

    An official ideology to which general adherence was demanded, the ideology intended to achieve a ‘perfect final stage of mankind‘.

    A single mass party, hierarchically organised, closely interwoven with the state bureaucracy and typically led by one man.

    Monopolistic control of the armed forces.

    A similar monopoly of the means of effective mass communication.

    A system of terroristic police control.

    Central control and direction of the entire economy.”

  • RuariJM

    “The Galileo case was about the church not listening to scientific advances,…”

    You could really only say that if you were genuinely unfamiliar with the Galileo history – the whole thing, not just the house arrest. The Heliocentric view was not new and not regarded as heretical as such; it was merely not proven. And portraying a Pope as a simpleton was simply asking for trouble.

    An organisation that can count Roger Bacon, Mendel, Georges LeMaitre and Erasmus among its membership is not one that failed to listen to scientific advances; rather, it is an organisation that fostered science, often in the face of prejudice and superstition.

  • lewispbuckingham

    Clearly we disagree.To declare that the majority cannot ensure totalitarianism

    is contrary to the observed incidents where this has happened and are presently unfolding in our world right now.
    Your statement that the rights of a child are greater than those of the parent avoids the subject of this debate, a masterclass in the origins and application of the prior right of parents to choose the education for their child.
    You erect a faux strawman to divert the direction of argument.

    As for your idea that religion is a sort of optional extra that should be hidden in the church and home, but not taught at the behest of parents falls far short of the universal declaration of human rights, which I would have hoped you both taught and applied in your own school.
    What we may both agree to is the notion that all children, including our own, need to be taught critical thinking and the ability to understand the received knowledge from parents and teachers.
    Being religious is no impediment to being a ‘good citizen’.
    But then being a good citizen involves not only tolerating others but upholding their rights, especially when they are fundamental.

  • Julian Lord

    Quite — Galileo’s principal crime was one of rebellion against the Curia, who had financed his research in the first place…

  • Julian Lord

    I can see why you don’t want to contemplate trading dictionary definitions, because they will all show you are wrong.

    If you insist, then … (sigh)

    Concept forgé au XXe siècle, durant l’entre-deux-guerres, le totalitarisme signifie étymologiquement « système tendant à la totalité »

    L’expression totalitaire vient du fait qu’il ne s’agit pas seulement de contrôler l’activité des personnes, comme le ferait une dictature classique : un régime totalitaire tente de s’immiscer jusque dans la sphère intime de la pensée, en imposant à tous les citoyens l’adhésion à une idéologie obligatoire, hors de laquelle ils sont considérés comme ennemis de la communauté

    Simone Weil écrivait en 1934 : « il apparaît assez clairement que l’humanité contemporaine tend un peu partout à une forme totalitaire d’organisation sociale, pour employer le terme que les nationaux-socialistes ont mis à la mode, c’est-à-dire à un régime où le pouvoir d’État déciderait souverainement dans tous les domaines, même et surtout dans le domaine de la pensée. »

    Bernard-Henri Lévy opère une critique du totalitarisme proche de celle d’André Glucksmann, et des prises de position que prend Michel Foucault en 1977. Centrée par Glucksman sur la question de la responsabilité de la philosophie allemande dans la construction du nazisme et du stalinisme, la critique qu’envisage Lévy, et sa définition du schéma totalitaire, se déplacent sur le terrain de la désirabilité de la révolution, selon des données que Foucault et Lévy conçoivent ainsi dans un entretien publié en 1977 : « Le retour de la révolution, c’est bien là notre problème. Il est certain que, sans lui, la question du stalinisme ne serait qu’une question d’école – simple problème d’organisation des sociétés ou de validité du schéma marxiste. Or c’est de bien autre chose qu’il s’agit, dans le stalinisme. Vous le savez bien : c’est la désirabilité même de la révolution qui fait aujourd’hui problème.»

    Dans son essai, La Barbarie à visage humain, Bernard-Henri Lévy met en cause la positivité pure liée au désir de la révolution – non pas d’une révolution, mais de la révolution, décisive, radicale, finale –, et à l’optimisme conceptuel, délibéré et assumé, qui « dope » alors la pensée. L’optimisme ne dépend plus, dans ce cas, d’un trait de caractère, mais d’une construction idéologique. Désir du meilleur, l’optimisme ainsi conçu créerait la condition qui permet d’accomplir jusqu’au pire avec la conviction de s’améliorer sans cesse. Les totalitarismes, quelles que soient leurs différences par ailleurs, se reconnaîtraient, tant dans leur théorie que dans leur pratique, à l’exigence de requérir la perception d’une dynamique purement positive, optimisante et énergisante, associée à l’idée d’une providence toute-puissante et naturelle, qui mènerait nécessairement les hommes vers une « société bonne » méthodiquement « épurée » de ses éléments « corrupteurs »

    Waldemar Gurian, historien et essayiste d’origine russe émigré aux États-Unis en 1937, a introduit la notion d’« idéocratie ». Selon Gurian, les totalitarismes bolchevique et nazi, en tant que régimes engendrés et structurés par une idée, étaient « idéocratiques ». L’idéocratie désignait toute forme d’organisation politique où il y avait fusion entre le pouvoir et une idéologie donnée. Le terme s’appliquait fréquemment aux régimes où un parti unique avait la mainmise sur l’appareil étatique.

    L’historien israélien Jacob L. Talmon a également perçu le totalitarisme comme le produit d’une idée. D’après lui, le totalitarisme avait sa matrice dans la philosophie des Lumières. L’intelligentsia russe a été influencée par le messianisme politique du XVIIIe siècle, c’est-à-dire par l’annonce d’un avenir radieux et par l’affirmation qu’il existe en politique une vérité, une seule. Jacob Talmon considérait Jean-Jacques Rousseau (auteur de la théorie de la volonté générale), Maximilien de Robespierre (le premier praticien de la Terreur) et Gracchus Babeuf (le premier conspirateur communiste) comme des précurseurs du totalitarisme.

    Alain Besançon a repris l’analyse du totalitarisme comme idéocratie : « L’idéologie n’est pas un moyen du totalitarisme mais au contraire le totalitarisme est la conséquence politique, l’incarnation dans la vie sociale de l’idéologie ». Comme Jacob Talmon, Alain Besançon voit dans la Révolution française la matrice du totalitarisme et porte un regard très critique sur l’héritage rationaliste des Lumières.


    The Nazi regime could only be regarded as totalitarian after it came to
    power and removed all opposition. Until then, whilst its policies might
    have been distasteful, it wasn’t totalitarian.

    This is an EXTREMELY naïve statement.

    That this one writer might share this approach, in some small way, adds nothing to it’s validity

    One can bring a mule to water, but one cannot force it to drink …

  • $20596475

    You have just dug your hole even deeper.

    Wikipedia is NOT really a dictionary, at least in the traditional sense. It uses references rather than attempt to give a considered, simple definition. It is also unreliable because, as it can be edited by anyone, it can include unproven, controversial views. I was asking for a dictionary quote to support your assertion, which you have again failed to provide. A quote in French adds to the sense of your desperation. I don’t speak French. If I were you I would stop now.

    That you regard my statement as naïve says so much more about your understanding of the term than anything about me.

    Your last quote is one of the very few ever made by you that I can agree with. I would encourage you to sip some of the simple truths I have presented to you, but anticipate your stubbornness will prevail.

  • $20596475

    We can agree that the majority can produce consequences that some minorities feel are very unreasonable, unfair or even immoral. That cannot though be totalitarianism, and to suggest so is to misuse the term. It also weakens your argument as it suggests you are just claiming a persecution which doesn’t actually exist. Unless a minority has no voice then totalitarianism does not exist. That we are debating it now is a clear demonstration of the falsity of such an idea.

    I don’t just think the rights of the child are greater than those of their parent (don’t you?) I think that no one person has rights over another. We have responsibilities TO other people. Society, though, does have rights over individuals. There is no strawman there, although I recognise the frequency this accusation is made by Catholics whenever an argument turns against them. It is actually central to the debate.

    At no point have I suggested that you allow religion to become an “optional extra”. It is likely to be at the centre of every Catholic home, so how could this be true? What I argue for is that religion be taught as a general, and not as a specific, subject at school and that it be taught to everyone. How would you react to an atheist parent instructing that their children NOT be taught about religion, in any circumstances, and threatening to sue you if you attempted to evangelise them?

    My own school taught about the major world religions, their place in the world, and what they meant to their followers. We celebrated each of the major festivals and explained what they meant. We recommended none, but encouraged understanding and further enquiry.

    We certainly agree about the need for critical thinking, for I think it is the whole purpose of education. I just don’t want ANY teacher, at school or an untrained teacher at home, to introduce anything other than total objectivity into the teaching.

    Of course being religious doesn’t mean you cannot be a good citizen. I have never thought otherwise. That though does not mean that they are incapable of making mistakes, or of thinking they are doing the best thing for their children, when actually they are doing the best thing for themselves.

  • Dr Falk

    Dear friend,

    Thank you for the post. I don’t doubt great minds belonged and belong to the Church. If you think the Church didn’t condemn the view Galileo held I would suggest you look at the decree of the Congregation of the Index dated March 5 1616 which said referring to ‘that well-known doctrine – of Pythagorean origin and wholly repugnant to the Sacred Scriptures – concerning the mobility of the earth and the immobility of the sun’. This is in Addis and Arnold Catholic Dictionary,1928, p 374. The authors ask ‘,What then does the decree decide or do? It decides that the theory of Copernicus is “false” and “entirely contrary to Scripture” and that the books that teach it are to be prohibited….It is abundantly clear that both Pontifical congregations held that the opinion about the earth’s motion now universally received was false and contrary to Scripture, and that no Catholic could hold it without falling into heresy.’ (p 375). This Catholic Dictionary was a standard work for many years.

  • Dr Falk

    Interesting quote from the Catholic writer Fr Ignatius Ryder,friend of Cardinal Newman and Oratorian – ‘There can be no doubt that the Congregations both of the Inquisition and the Index censured as false and unscriptural Galileo’s doctrine of the movement of the earth around the sun.’ ( Catholic Controversy,8th edition,p.33).

  • Dr Falk

    please see responses above.

  • Aaron

    I don’t disagree with any of that, but it has nothing to do with what I wrote.