Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Church of the Sexual Animals

The Catholic Church’s recently floated suggestion that all homosexual men be barred from preparation for the priesthood, while not quite as bad as the suggestion the current Pope made as Cardinal Ratzinger that it might actually be impossible for a gay man to be a priest, reflects a trend beginning at least with Paul VI’s decision to bar all contraception over the objection of the best moral theologians of the day. This trend is none other than to see human beings, in all questions of sexual morality, as nothing more than animals.

In barring all faithful Catholics from the use of contraception, the Church opted for the narrowest possible reading of the natural law tradition with respect to sex, seeing intercourse not just as directed to reproduction and the consummation of the conjugal union, but as consummatory only insofar as it was (possibly) reproductive. This is, of course, to remove the human dimension of human sexuality, to say that the primary and essential purpose of sex is the purpose to which other members of the animal kingdom put it, the preservation of the species. It also profoundly misunderstood the very moral tradition that it supposedly drew upon, that of natural law, derived ultimately from the Stoics, which sees morality as based in the human nature implanted in us by God. As essential part of that natural law has always been seen as the way that human activities lead to the formation and continuation of human relationships. Seen in this light, sex has an essential role in the preservation of the marital (and, perhaps, other) relationships, not just as reproductive.

Barring gay men from the priesthood again views gay men as little more than animals in the realm of sex. It assumes that gays cannot possibly control their own sexuality, although presumably heterosexual men can. Now, of course, this move is largely a response to the recent coming to light of the massive pedophilia problem within the Church. This problem itself, much to the chagrin of conservatives, is not a result of their being more self-identified gay men in the priesthood. By and large, the perpetrators identify themselves as straight men and entered the priesthood before the much-derided liberalization of the Church during and following Vatican II. I’ve argued elsewhere that the real problem is men who have no fully human and adult respect for their own sexuality and what to do or not do with it. Treating humans as uncontrolled animals in need of controlling by the institutional Church will not solve the problem; it will only exacerbate the problem.

Benedict is noted for claiming that the Church may need to get smaller in order to stay true to the Faith. I predict that he will get the smaller Church he seems to desire, but it will not be one stronger or closer to the Church, nor will it resemble the medieval Church in its mindset—that was, in many ways, a celebratory and fruitful time for the Church—it will instead resemble a dying sect, more like the Amish than anything else. It will, if more respect for the humanity of its members does not arise, become ever more irrelevant to the world in which it is supposed to be leaven and which it is supposed to evangelize. Christ did not come to save animals nor to convince humans that they were little more than animals. (Nor, for that matter, to oppose the deliverances of science.)

The Truth, Christ said, will set us free. Ingrained, unjustified opinion has no such power.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The hereafter and the here and now

A week ago, I got into an argument as I began my Monday night bartending shift. (There are disadvantages to being disagreeable and having spent a lot of time thinking philosophically, when it comes to working in a service job.) A friend of a coworker was surprised to learn that I taught philosophy and so began to regale me with stories of the philosophy classes she took in college. In particular she wanted to tell me about her philosophy of religion class and how she couldn't understand why they even taught such a class, since it was all just belief anyway.

I went through my normal spiel about how even beliefs, even unprovable and irrefutable beliefs in the realm of religion can be more or less rational. I told her how, for instance, the positing of a material God does less explanatory work than the positing of an immaterial God, if for instance you find the existence of the material world in need of explanation. Positing another member of the material set does nothing to explain the existence of the set. I left aside the problem of using more being to explain why there were beings in the first place.

Then our conversation turned to the overall value of religion. She argued that we need religion to give us morality. I countered that there were religions that had pretty bad moralities, for instance those intent on reestablishing the Caliphate. She replied that those were the bad ones. And then I asked how she knew. Of course because they are immoral. But since this just means that you have an independent grasp of morality from which to evaluate religions, I said, you don't need the religion for morality in the first place.

She moved to the role of religion in providing peace of mind and hope in the hereafter. Being disagreeable, I said I thought that having peace of mind was overrated--for instance, having peace of mind, while the poor are walking through dead bodies in New Orleans is not a good thing; one ought to be outraged, not happy--and I'm suspicious of too much concern with the hereafter. I love and miss my dead relatives and friends and part of me wants to rejoin them, but focussing on this goal to the exclusion of doing something about the situation of those still on the earth has always seemed one of the great failings of certain kinds of religion--the kind evidenced by those "I'm not perfect, just forgiven" or "Saved" bumperstickers and their ilk.

Now, I have my own religious side, as well, and I do sort of hope for something in the afterlife, but it isn't something I worry too much about. I can't live this life as if it were a practice for something else (presumably something very different). This is the game, here and now. And, if it turns out that my performance or luck or grace or whatever gets me into the playoffs, so be it.