Thursday, September 19, 2013

Give This Pope A Hand!

Let me say up front – as I have in past posts- that I like this new Pope a lot! He has in the space of a brief time, swept away more pennyante bollocks and malarkey from the Catholic Church than John XXIII did in his whole papacy. He got my vote early for asserting – and more than once- that atheists can "be there at the end", so long as they live moral lives. (Not that I believe there’s an "afterlife", but it’s always good to know there’s an ‘escape hatch’ in case I am wrong!)

Now, according to a front page story in The Washington Post, Pope Francis has come out full square against “small minded rules” dogging the Church – but which most of us know were put there to keep her “children” under firm control and on a short leash. In an interview with Jesuit publications released Thursday, Pope Francis set the framework for his papacy, calling for reform of both the attitude and the structure of the church, and “chided what he saw as the tendency of some church leaders to focus on ‘small-minded rules’ and instead insisted that “the church’s ministers must be merciful.” Francis said, “the people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.” I ‘ll second that!

The pontiff added:

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The scientific Materialist concurs with this, labeling such reactions to assorted minor acts as emotive moralistic trivialization. If such moral trivialization is permitted to metastasize into law then we describe it as moralism, For the most part, moralism isn’t founded on species survival but on an unsubstantiated and subjective belief in a uniform human sensibility to external stimuli. In this way it becomes the conscious vehicle of behavior modification, used by any group with political or economic power.

Nor, may I add, is it necessary to belabor sexual issues, as if one is a single-minded obsessive authority, especially when so many in the Church’s hierarchy are guilty of covering up real sexual crimes, i.e. priest –practiced pedophilia. And yes, that’s one reason I’ve no respect for Ratzinger, and very little for Pope John Paul II, and certainly not making him a “saint”. He wasn’t. Nor is there any proof he met the saint standard on even one “miracle”.

So, Francis is totally correct in advising his underlings to back off and not become so obsessive, because when they do they inadvertently turn the spotlight on their own acts – or absence of what they should have done when thousands of trusting kids were being abused across the globe. Clean up your own closet first, then you can seek to clean up others! (Advice I also proffer to nations who believe they are exceptional, 'holier than thou' moral stalwarts when they are not!)

One of the many factors that drove my departure from the Catholic Church, then onward to atheism as a college student at Loyola, was the litany of small-minded “rules” that almost entirely focused on sexual acts. There were piddling proscriptions against: “impure thoughts”, “looking at impure pictures”, “committing impure acts” (i.e. “jerking off”), and later – as an adult- there was the bogey of artificial contraception (defined as “mutual masturbation” by the Church’s throwback, residual Inquisition, i.e. the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the no-no of abortion.

In my new book, ‘Beyond Atheism, Beyond God’, I put all these acts under the category of third rate moralism not any actual morality. (My new book can be purchased at:

A classic example that highlights the moralizing instinct in humans was described by Dacher Keltner and presented to his students to gauge their level of moral revulsion. Keltner presented them with the case of a man who goes to the supermarket each week, purchases a packaged chicken and then takes it home for sexual relations, before cooking and eating it. (Keltner: , Born to be Good – The Science of a Meaningful Life,, 46)

Keltner reported that after his posed example he observed the students to “react with the full blown Darwinian-Jamesian emotion of moral disgust written across their faces". (ibid.) The nature of the reaction, presumably, discerned an innate moral right to judge, said to be inextricably bound to the “moral gut.” Keltner’s examples include moral philosophers (e.g. Jonathan Haidt) that “prioritize the moral gut”. In other words, millions of years of human evolution have embedded such disgust –revulsion reactions into us and we ought to heed them as a criterion for moral judgement when aroused.

But why? To the scientific Materialist one is then allowing emotions to rule and if these are codified into law many nasty consequences can ensue. In the case of the man abusing his purchased chicken, Keltner expressed relief to report that - after their initial disgust - the students agreed the behavior could be placed in the category of a personal perturbation or even idiosyncrasy. And so long as practiced in the man’s own home – presumably with blinds drawn – there were no laws broken. Oh, it would also be best if he had no dinner parties featuring abused chickens!

Obviously, and clearly, one can make the same case for an adult (or youth) “jerking off”, “having impure thoughts” or practicing artificial contraception as a married couple. None of these reach the standard of “severe moral transgressions” as the Church’s moralists have expounded, and certainly if they’re claimed to –they blow all moral consistency into a cocked hat. The moralists are then left to rationally ponder how the hell they can weigh a single jerk off, say, against slaughtering 15 people with a Bushmaster .223. If they say both offenses merit ‘Hell” they are all certifiably insane and their moral laws descend to inchoate horse manure.

As for the Church’s moral minions railing against abortion, Anne Druyan and the late Carl Sagan pointed out that John Connery, S.J, ( a leading Catholic historian), showed that up to 1869 the Church’s Canon Law had historically held abortion to be murder only subsequent to the end of the first trimester. (Sagan and Druyan: PARADE, April 22, 1990, 6.)

The interesting thing is that for the bulk of Church history the practice of abortion was allowed, at least up to the first three months of pregnancy. More interesting is that the doctrine of papal infallibility was pronounced in 1870. Could it be that the latter doctrine was introduced to back up the Church’s change in its moral position on abortion? If so, one wonders who really controls the Church, the Holy Spirit as is so often claimed or zealous prelates in positions of high power who fear relinquishing vise-like grips on their congregations.

As for that doctrine itself, Theologian Hans Kung, for example, observed the following ( Infallible? An Inquiry, 143.

….no one, neither Vatican I, nor Vatican II, nor the textbook theologians, has shown that the Church - its leadership or its theology - is able to put forward propositions which inherently cannot be erroneous.

The true fact, then, is that all the minor proscriptions – such as against assorted sex acts the prelates and hierarchy keep yelping about – are only violations of the Magisterium or teaching office. In other words, as one brave Loyola padre once confided to me: they are meant "to be offered as advice, not absolute moral laws." This is something the remaining Catholics, especially in the U.S., would do well to bear in mind.

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