Hibernia College and Vincent Twomey

Dr Vincent Twomey, Professor Emeritus of St Patrick’s College Maynooth, has attracted criticism recently for his teaching notes (and sample exam questions) on religious instruction prepared for Hibernia College.

Atheist Ireland felt aggrieved enough to complain to the Minister for Education and Hibernia College, citing ‘defamation’ of atheists in Dr Twomey’s material.

Hibernia College has agreed to revise its religion course with both input from Atheist Ireland on atheism, and input from members of non-Christian religions. Hibernia College has also since deleted certain statements about atheism in the notes and sample exam.

Dr Twomey, however, stood over his course content in a radio debate with Michael Nugent on Newstalk (7th March, 12:30pm – audio). He claimed as follows:

“You’re taking it [the course material] out of context.”

“I would claim what we are producing is objective.”

“I stand over my course, I stand over what I said.”

As Dr Twomey still stands over his course content at the time of writing, Facts are Sacred would like to fact-check the content which we have access to.

[UPDATE: FactsAreSacred has had sight of the course materials from which the following questions are taken, and is satisfied that Dr Twomey is not quoted out of context.]

 

Background
Hibernia College offers a HDipEd in primary teaching delivered by e-learning. Dr Twomey’s teaching notes were thus the only mode of instruction. The introduction to the online class (sourced from Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland on boards.ie) makes this clear:

Slide 1: Introduction
Hello, I’m Fr. Vincent Twomey. Welcome to this lesson in your course on Religion. The following lesson will focus on morality, what it is, and developments in moral theology, which is systematic reflection on morality.

Dr Twomey subsequently offers his online class assertions (not facts) about Hinduism, atheist humanism and Islam (see below.) However, in the online sample exam for the course students were obliged to answer ‘true’ to excerpted assertions from Dr Twomey’s notes.

David Quinn of the Iona Institute (where Dr Twomey is a patron), defended him over Twitter without appearing to have read the teaching notes. Dr Twomey did mention the Nazis (see below.)

The content Facts are Sacred has seen amounts to self-contained paragraphs from the teaching notes and the sample exam questions. It is difficult to imagine what context could change their meaning. The website invites Dr Twomey to provide us with a complete copy of his lecture notes (which will not be re-distributed) in the interests of clarity.

The Online Exam
The images of the online sample exam which follow (and course notes) are sourced from a Hibernia College student, and long-time poster on boards.ie who undertook Dr Twomey’s sample exam, unless otherwise stated.

The answer is ‘true’. To note: ‘produced’ clearly implies direct causation. Dr Twomey elaborates in the course notes:

Atheism seems to be fashionable in Ireland at present. It is seen as rational, progressive and compassionate. But above all, it is “in”, not to mention convenient. What bothers very few of its latter-day exponents is the fact that atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed, namely Nazism, Fascism and Marxism, the latter alone responsible for some 100 million lives, according to The Black Book written by French ex-Marxists. Atheism is not a benign force in history.

  • Emphasis added on the excerpt that formed a question in the exam.

Twomey’s assertion then is that atheism, allied to humanism, was what primarily led to Nazism, Fascism and Marxism.

Marxism

Firstly, let us consider Marxist states. It is true that states such as the USSR and People’s Republic of China profess(ed) state-atheism, sometimes closed churches and did not guarantee freedom of religion.

However, humanism supports freedom of conscience and religion [link]. Atheist-humanism is a conjunction of two separate schools of thought. Some atheists are not humanists. Some humanists are not atheists (e.g. Christian humanists.)

Atheism does not make ethical statements. It is simply non-belief in a deity. It needs to be allied with other schools of thought (such as humanism), or communism, to give it ethical content. Atheist democrats, atheist liberals and atheist bourgeoises are known to exist.

Furthermore, one could add up the death tolls attributable to the USSR and the People’s Republic of China but one still would not have demonstrated that atheism (with or without humanism) was the fulcrum of those states’ violence.

And, one could add up the death tolls attributable to “Christian” states but one similarly would not have demonstrated that Christianity (with or without humanism) was the fulcrum of those states’ violence.

The USSR and the People’s Republic of China, in the event, seem to have a mixed record on atheism (and are lacking in humanist credentials.)

Stalin, for example, revived Orthodox Christian worship (and nationalism) between 1941 and 1945 as an adjunct to the motherland’s Great Patriotic War. Don’t discount Stalin’s dynamism: he would switch policies as it suited his needs.

Stalin also concocted a personal propaganda tantamount to a quasi-religious cult of personality.

Mao, meanwhile, was apt to invoke Confucius ahead of Lenin before 1949 (in his fight to seize power in China.)

Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany
Secondly, let us consider Fascism and Nazism. This is where Dr Twomey’s analysis seems even more confused given that the Catholic Church enjoyed rapprochement with both Italian Fascism and German Nazism.

There was the Lateran Treaty and Concordat with Fascist Italy, after all [1929]. In Nazi Germany’s case there was a Reichskonkordat [1933]. Neither state had a policy of atheism.

Even when these concordats faltered, the Pope never accused Hitler or Mussolini of being ‘atheist humanists.’ Pius XI (1922-1939) was actually content to condemn an ‘aggressive paganism’ and a ‘cult of blood and race’ [Mit Brennender Sorge, 1938.]

Pius XI was not accusing Fascists of irreligion but false religion. Facts are Sacred does not know if Dr Twomey disagrees with Pope Pius XI. He is invited to clarify if he does disagree.

Hitler could also be given over to public endorsements of Christianity:

The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life.

  • Hitler at the Sportpalast, Berlin, February 1st, 1933

Yet, Pius XI’s 1938 analysis still seems reasonable. Nazi mythos could fuse Buddhism, astrology, Norse mythology, a notion of blood containing sacral energy, and an anti-Semitic world conspiracy into one incoherent whole. There was a proliferation of ‘Nazi cults’ in this vein after 1933.

It should go without saying too that atheism doesn’t entail racism unless one is primarily racist and happens to be an atheist. Racist Christians also abound and yet it would not be a valid procedure to say Christianity foments racism.

Humanism goes further and precludes racism outright.

Hinduism
To close, let’s take a second question from the Hibernia College online exam:

‘Hinduism is a positive force for change in society’ is the statement to which the answer is false.

Dr Twomey’s course notes on Hinduism (these are sourced from Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland):

Hinduism induces fatalism, namely a religious sanction of the status quo, which comes from their understanding of karma and reincarnation. Thus, the ruling classes are destined to rule and the outcasts must accept their lot at the bottom of the social and economic pile, since they merited their present social rank by their behaviour in their previous existence.

This will surprise mainstream Hindus who have largely disregarded the Caste teaching of their religion and legislated against Caste-based discrimination. See also: Article 15 of the Indian Constitution.

If Hinduism is to be sweepingly adduced as ‘not positive for society’ for its Caste teaching alone then Dr. Twomey also needs to consider if certain of the Church’s own teachings have always been positive for society.

If one is gay, for example, the jury has already returned a verdict and it’s a resounding ‘no’. In 2000, Pope John Paul II saw fit to apologise for the historical implications of Church teaching for women, ethnic minorities and human rights in general.

Again, if Dr Twomey disagrees with John Paul II issuing those apologies, we’re happy to have that comment for clarity’s sake.

Conclusion
Dr Twomey has not done his homework to any degree that Hibernia College should feel comfortable allowing him to set ‘true’ and ‘false’ answers to complex questions.

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