Fiddling while innocents die

Another evil old man or a ray of unexpected hope?

Tim Dunlop has an excellent post (with which I wholeheartedly agree) about an editorial in The Australian praising Pope Benedict XVI for deciding to reconsider the vatican’s prohibition on HIV-infected males using condoms when having sex with their wives! As Tim observes:

The notion that any rational person with a shred of decency could objectlet alone consider it evilfor a person to use a condom so as not to pass on HIV beggars belief. The idea that we should praise them because they are now thinking about changing their minds sure does set to a new low the bar on things-we-ought-to-admire in our betters.

Various other bloggers seem to think that it’s a wonderful thing that Ratzinger unexpectedly  seems not to be  quite as thoroughly evil an old troglodyte as his late unlamented predecessor.   But it’s praising with faint damns really, isn’t it?   I deliberately turned myself into a lapsed Catholic as a result of the Church’s conspicuous and ongoing failure to deal in good faith with priestly child molestation in many countries including Australia, and because of its utterly evil attitude to HIV, birth control etc.     Until we actually see substantial movement on some of these issues, it’s premature to  be handing out  plaudits.  

Many parts of the  Catholic Church continue to do great work on social justice issues throughout the world, but it’s largely negated by its continuing appalling attitudes  to sex-related issues,  which engender  such misery and suffering, especially in poorer countries whose people mostly lack the necessary  education levels  simply to quietly  ignore  the most egregious Church edicts as Catholics  in rich nations like Australia tend to do.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Cristy
15 years ago

Fair enough point Ken. I wasn’t trying to say that this meant that the Pope was now wonderful, just that I was glad to hear of anything positive happening on this point – because it is such a serious issue. Since I am not a Catholic and do not really understand how the Pope could have ever come up with the idea that there could be anything wrong with using condoms for any reason at all, I decided not to stray into such unfamiliar territory.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

The Pope’s a Catholic, Ken. The “liberal” alternative to Benedict, Cardinal Martini, is the one arguing for this change. You can bet your bottom dollar that this is as far as he would have gone if he’d been elected Pope.

You need to see it in perspective – if the Pope accepts it (and it’s likely he will – setting up a commission implies movement. If they were just going to restate the existing stance, a “no” would have sufficed.

The wheels of the Vatican move very slowly. But the symbolism is important, and also the theological principle.

So I’ll offer plaudits.

TJW
TJW
15 years ago

Since when did the use of the word ‘evil’ constitute an argument?

I suspect there is some other reason you are angry with the Church and you’re simply using this as a opportunity to take a pot shot at them. You used to write sensible stuff on them in the past but not in this post.

TJW
TJW
15 years ago

You’d criticize people for concluding that a legal judgment is flawed simply for not embodying their preferred social policies. But it’s okay to criticize church ‘judgments’ for failing to embody your preferred social policies?

You’re also forgetting that these people really do believe these things. If they truly believe that contraceptives are inherently evil, no matter how illogical that belief is to you, then what do you suggest that they do? They can’t simply substitute one evil for another, because that would be like saying “lets convert every murder into ten rapes”, if we somehow had the power to do so. They are there to give an authoritative interpretation of their ancient writings and traditions, not to produce rules that will give the greatest enjoyment to the greatest number. What you’re arguing is similar to suggesting a judge should ignore completely what they believe the law is and simply substitute it with a rule they think will achieve the best outcome for society, and then condemning them for failing to do so. It would be more appropriate to condemn Parliament, but in the Catholic Church there is no equivalent – only scripture which they believe embodies a unique revelation and cannot be changed in the way laws or the constitution can.

You must have seen some logic to their decision making structures because at one time you voluntarily joined them and defended them against unjust attacks. Perhaps it would be more constructive to view this less like an argument directed to Parliament and more like one directed to the courts. It may be that there is internal inconsistency in their theological arguments and their interpretations need to be revised. But that is completely different to condemning them because their interpretations result in consequences that no body (including them) wants to occur.

Caesar
Caesar
15 years ago

It has always amazed me how modern secularists can be so concerned about the tens of thousands dying (in part) due the Catholic churches edicts against contraception -but nonchalant about the tens of thousands of babies which are aborted each year due to secular edicts.

Both camps have their value systems. Each is willing to sacrifice lives for the sake of principles.

Draw a line in the sand -to kill on this side is OK -to kill on the other is not OK.

The thinking would not be out of place in Orwell’s 1984.

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

I am quite comfortable with the word ‘evil’, in appropriate circumstances, like killing our most helpless brothers and sisters.

But what, exactly, ‘engender[s] such misery and suffering‘? Catholic teaching? Or promiscuity, uncivilised belief-patterns such as ‘sex with a virgin will cure aids’, such wholesale rape that it could qualify as a crime against humanity, incomprehensibly callous politicians like Thabo Mbeki, and so on and so forth?

I think that belief in the sanctity of marriage, the virtues of abstinence and the pre-eminent place to be accorded to human life might properly be thought of as something more like the cure than the disease, at least if you aren’t a rabid anti-Catholic.

Julian O'Dea
15 years ago

I suspect that the problem the Church has with using condoms in an attempt to prevent HIV from spreading is that it enshrines the principle that one may do evil to achieve good. That is, that “the end justifies the means”. This is generally believed to be an unsafe principle.

The idea that we need birth control because the world is overpopulated is not as widely urged these days as it was once, especially as earlier world population projections have proved to be somewhat alarmist.

There is such as thing as being too smart for your own good. I read a number of remarks today from Hispanic leaders in the United States exulting that the USA was reverting to Hispanic control in some areas because, unlike WASPs, Hispanic Catholics still like to have children. Proponents of birth control tend to forget that tomorrow’s world belongs to those who still have the kids.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

The real evil is not in any specific edict the Pope may hand down. Evil is built into the fabric of any religion that is based on a divine book (which is pretty much all of them) and then interpreted and mediated by a small number of elderly males (which is most of them).

Those of us who still retain powers of rational thought are looking for the substance, the poetry and the truth of things throughout our lives. Those who believe in the Bible or the Koran or the Talmud have already found the truth. While I am still foolishly looking, they have found it. I have nothing to tell them. They have everything there in the book, requiring only adequate translation. Silly me for bothering to work stuff out for myself.

Hand over the job of interpretation of this oracle to a 1000 year old rolling cabal of extremists who self select through (a) voluntary celibacy and (b) successfully navigating the treacherous political landscape of their huge, archaic organisation to reach the top, and you can expect”

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

Dear me, Chris, so many many of us must have long ago lost our powers of rational thought! I’d better go back and tell my philosophy lecturers; they have a few dozen subject curricula to rewrite. Happily most of those I didn’t do, such as any of those with Derrida in them, will escape the cull!

Ken, I am far from convinced. Firstly, birth control is not as much about the sanctity of marriage as it is about the miracle of human life in general. Secondly, the Nazi reference is more revealing than telling! Very few ‘Nazis’ were sincerely haters of Jews in the way very many Catholics are lovers of life. And voila the second bis point, you’re comparing a set of beliefs derived from hate with one derived from love.

I think the point about belief must have been too subtle for you – which is odd; you don’t come across as slow. But let’s try it like this: If you actually believe that every conception is God’s sacred will and that every intended child is his image on this earth, then what do you do?

Mind you, I don’t have much against birth control, just a lingering feeling of regret.

Finally, what do you mean about ‘truly catastrophic consequences in an already over-populated world, especially in poorer countries‘?!?! Huh? Maybe Chris does have a point about rational thought, he just (unsurprisingly if you think it through) has it backwards!