Wednesday, August 1, 2018
RC's McCarrick Scandal Will Provide Another Opening For Materialist Ethics To Trump Religious Absolutism
In the image above, we see the ardent religious absolutists at work - carrying out Holy Mother Church's "sacred" Inquisitional tortures - on a putative "witch" (suspended at far right, after being disembowelled), a heretic with a red hot iron applied to his pudenda, and a generic unbeliever about to have his tongue ripped out, then his eyes. The picture, from 'A History Of Torture Through The Ages', shows what happens when people - believers- are convinced they have absolute moral truth on their side.
This introduces the recent WSJ op-ed ('When The Cardinal Sins') by William McGurn from yesterday (p. A15) in which we are treated to 4 columns (truncated fortunately) of religious caterwauling on account of the pederasty of one Archbishop Theodore McCarrick being exposed. As we know the pope demoted the filthy maggot, but now all the likes of McGurn can do is wring his mitts at how it will be another blight on the Church's moral credibility. He writes, for example:
"Think of it as akin to the (Protestant) Reformation, except here it will not be Protestant Christianity but some materialist orthodoxy that will likely move in after the Church takes this latest hit."
I have news for McGurn: that materialist orthodoxy has already "moved in". It was well on its way long before McCarrick's crimes, flaring after the first priest sex abuse crimes made headlines. Once repeated transgressions were made known, as well as how John Paul II and Benedict XVI played roles in concealing the deeds of many priestly pedophiles - and enabling their easy movement from parish to parish- while diverting calls for accountability- it was all over but the dirges. Anyone with more than air between the airs knew the RC Church had lost whatever remaining vestige of moral authority it possessed.
But you wouldn't know that from reading McGurn's twaddle, e.g.:
"In our day the battle is no longer between competing versions of Christianity. It's not even about God, though it's often characterized that way. The real fight has to do with who's right about the reality of the human person- those who posit him as a physical combination of matter and energy or those who believe him - as the Eighth Psalm put it, "a little lower than the angels"'
Himmm...how about a LOT lower than the angels, as in risen apes? E,.g.
See, any species that is capable of the violence unleashed in "ethnic cleansings", mass rape, atomic bombings, developing gas chambers for annihilating a whole race, ripping infants from parents and caging them - is no angel, not even close to it. Hell, in the case of the latter behavior (as demonstrated by the Trumpite vermin) one could argue humans aren't even as decent as apes. But this is the la-la land McGurn appears trapped in, so he can't fathom that fantasy train has already left the station, except for the odd cases of "sin" preached about by "frustrated old men in robes". (I suspect "robed fossils" is more apropos.)
He also whines that the Church's teachings, like about sex and such - e.g.. masturbation, use of artificial contraception ("mutual masturbation" according to one ethics prof I once had) are "incomprehensible to increasing numbers of people".
Well, why should they be comprehensible when sensible, intelligent people were told over and over again by the Church's prelates and popes that they had the moral answers and authority - but in the next breath were busy either raping children or hiding the rapists? Doesn't McGurn give the skeptics any credit for having brains at all? Evidently not!
At least scientific Materialism recognizes humans for what they are: evolved apes with many ape characteristics, and behaviors. It doesn't glorify Man as some demigod or an angel in the works. At the same time this perspective enables us to dispense with the virus of moral absolutism. Indeed, the archaic notion of "sin" can be seen in a new perspective.
Consider the Church's historic obsession with sins of the flesh that McGurn references, e.g. "Throughout history Christian teachings about the history and purposes of sex have often proved a hard sell.". But if one steps back and examines Church history one can grasp why. Thus, many of the Church sexual prohibitions date from Augustine's time. Less known is that Augustine was originally a Manichean. The ancient Manicheans (founder Mani, b. 219 BCE) absolutely believed that the human was essentially a spark of deistic light locked within a body of flesh fashioned by 'Satan'. Of course, semen was the satanic fluid that kept the cycles of evil going.
Birth was the manifestation or culmination of the evil when the devilish flesh finally sprouted. Hence, enabling birth, was in effect tantamount to multiplying the total of diabolically imprisoned 'sparks' in the world. Since there was never any assurance these sparks could be liberated, it was paramount that the diabolical flesh be prevented from reproducing itself.
Interestingly, when Augustine converted to Christianity in 387 CE, the only Manichean tenet he ditched was the contraception. He retained all the other flesh/pleasure =demonic connotations and interjected them into his various teachings including his 'letters'. (For more on this, see the excellent monograph 'Eunuchs For the Kingdom of Heaven' by Ute Ranke-Heinemann, Doubleday, 1990).
Augustine's Manichean teachings (after his conversion) held that any sexual pleasure whatsoever was "diabolical" in origin. However, it could be countenanced IF a baby was the end product. Otherwise, the offending parties were trafficking with demons. (He cites at one point, for "proof", the demon Asmodeus, who "slew seven men in 7 beds with seven women, but not when they were sitting at a table".)
Augustine's harsh and sterile dogmas also probably spurred the Church Father Origen (of Adamantius) to cut off his own sexual organs - because he was unable to control them. Since each 'stimulus' enabled a particular demon to gain a foothold, it was better to get rid of them entirely.
Ramping up the ante much further are the essays in the book, 'In Defense of Sin', edited by John Portmann. Thus, we find stirring contributions under the chapter headers: 'In Defense of Idolatry'( One), 'In Defense of Lying'(Six), 'In Defense of Adultery'(Five), and 'In Defense of Lust' (Twelve).
In regard to Augustine's up tight views on sexual sins, Portmann writes (p. 223):
"Missing from Augustine is the idea that lust completes us (however temporarily), fills us with a vivid sense of being alive, propels us along the way to self-fulfillment...Lust like the playfulness of children or the treasures of the Louvre, lights up a rainy day."
The author also makes a good case for enhancing creativity before listing (including with reasons) all those things we think qualify as "sex" but which really aren't, including: Phone sex(lack of touching so can't be sex), ogling porno photos or videos (voyeurism, but not sex, doesn't make the touching or intimacy cut), oh and flirting is not sex.
He also (rightly) rips into masturbation as sinful (p. 229) since it is based on a phantasm engineered by the early Church Fathers: to wit, that each sperm was a "homunculus" or "little man" - hence each and every sperm had to be protected. Extended the same rights as the big man in whom it lived, else akin to mass murder on a miniature scale. Thus, spilling it was a no-no (often confused with Onanism ....which was actually a different category of "sin" since it was an offense against the Hebrew law of succession. In this, the nearest male relative of the deceased husband is obligated to fertilize the wife. If he refused, and spilled his seed, he was guilty of onanism. This is different from the early Catholic view that each seedling is a little man with life of his own. (This position didn't change until after better optical resolution in microscopes was achieved and individual sperm could be as similar to single celled flagellate creatures.)
Once the actual sperm could be observed in high powered microscopes, as well as photographed, the Church's antiquated position was dispelled, and there was no more reason to oppose masturbation other than on an irrational basis. (Thus, the Church had to come up with its absurd "natural law" doctrine, which holds no weight - given it was also invoked to defend slavery.)
A common misconception, repeated as a subtext in McGurn's piece, is that Materialists have no ethical standards to offer. That we are fans of "survival of the fittest" thinking and "do as you please". Nothing could be further from fact. The reason is that precisely because the Materialist invests in no 'hereafter' or supernatural realm, he values the material world in all its attributes and dimensions.
Not surprisingly, the Materialist is much more likely than the supernaturalist to place a premium on revering the Earth and demanding the rational disposition of its resources. As a Materialist, after all, I can examine the evidence and determine that our planet is possibly the only inhabited one, at least in our galaxy. I can also ascertain that this life is most likely the only one and that I must strive to enhance it in any way possible. I should emphatically not squander what I have now, while awaiting a mythical afterlife.
As a Materialist I refrain from looking to any hypothesized deity for deliverance, or lay blame for human ills on some mythical demonic entity. On the contrary, Man alone is responsible for his actions and is the ultimate master of his fate. As a Materialist I maintain that Man need not suffer extinction as a species if he has the courage and vision to assume control of his destiny through the use of reason.
It isn’t necessary to wave a bible or the ten commandments at a Materialist, nor quote the "golden rule". The true Materialist, by definition, respects his fellow men and reveres all life, since he recognizes (through his philosophy) that they share a planet that may be unique in the cosmos. Thus, the true Materialist treasures and conserves the Earth's finite store of resources, since he comprehends that Earth also has one life to live - and there is no more after the existing resources are consumed.
With these things in mind, the true Materialist does not give his offspring any and every thing that grabs attention. He certainly does not wish to encourage the sort of wanton greed and over-consumption that has brought our world to its present sorry state. The Materialist knows well enough that the planet can ill-afford more such uncaring people.
Embodied within the above examples are a practical ethics, which have been forged out of the Materialist's reason and his priorities. This has one overriding aim: to cherish the Earth and all life upon it. Consequently, the true Materialist disdains all forms of violence, since ultimately these are inimical to the community and to species' survival. Since violent acts undermine a community's cohesion and threaten its very existence, the true Materialist must regard them as irrational. The Materialist is compelled to co-operate with his fellows and promote a common good, not out of fear for the wrath of a deity, but to held insure a thriving, harmonious community with high survival value.
As William Provine noted in his article Evolution and the Foundation of Ethics , young people should be encouraged to think rationally and critically concerning ethics, not out of fear of some divine force's wrath, but to protect their own long-term self-interest.
If a person asked me for a specific ethical code that Materialists can follow, I could do no better than to cite : "moral provisionalism" or what I would call: "ethical incrementalism". This ethical standard is superbly covered by author Michael Shermer in his monograph, The Science of Good and Evil. We are informed, for example (p. 168):
"Provisional ethics provides a reasonable middle ground between absolute and moral relative systems. Provisional moral principles are applicable to most people, for most circumstances, for most of the time - yet flexible enough to account for the wide diversity of human behavior"
As an example, let us recall how back in 2010, the Catholic Church excommunicated an American nun in Arizona for saving a 27 year old mother’s life at the expense of her fetus’. The physician nun's moral choice was either to let the birth occur and see both mother and infant die, or prevent the birth (because of the mother’s blood pressure complications) and save the mother. Meanwhile, absolutist ethics would have argued that an effort to save both ought to have been made, despite the fact that medically both would have died.
In yet another example of the triumph of Materialist provisional ethics over RC Church absolutism, Brittany Maynard chose to end her suffering from brain cancer 4 years ago. The Vatican's pseudo-moralistic fossils wasted no time in yelping from their high horse, condemning her decision as "reprehensible" . Evidently, the Vatican's relics would rather she had been reduced to a drooling vegetable, with no bowel or bladder control, and not even cognizant of those around her. But this is typical of the Vatican's scornful approach to morality, and also McGurn's endorsement of it.
To the Materialist moral provisionalist what is reprehensible is allowing a sentient being to descend into a totally vegetative state lacking any life quality - with excruciating pain to go with it. Hence, Brittany's choice to end her life was a greater good over merely existing in a debased vegetative condition, based on the specious presumption of "sanctity of life" demanded indiscriminately for any and all conditions. Hence, the greater good here is ending the suffering and degradation of life quality rather than allowing it to progress to the stage one can make no authentic choice.
So what is McGurn's Catholic rejoinder to the advance of Materialist ethics? He scribbles near the end - in the wake of the McCarrick travesty:
"The Church certainly has the sacramental tools for healing and forgiveness."
Hmmm....then why haven't they yet been successful in halting the predations of many current padres on their young charges? And this followup classic:
"The classic rejoinder is that we are all sinners and the Catholic Church will survive the McCarrick scandal as it has survived so many scandals over its 2000 years."
Brave words for a Church, a religion, on the ropes.
Will the Catholic Church go on? I have no doubt at all. Will it gain more converts? Sure, mainly of the poor, the ignorant and dispossessed in the more backward nations of the planet, as well as immigrants. However, its days as the moral arbiter and voice for the advanced nations in Europe, North America and Australia are forever gone. Those nations are becoming ever more secular, and even in the U.S. now the "Nones" (no religion professed) are increasing at a rate faster than new Catholics. Meanwhile, in the most advanced secular nations the Vatican’s voice has been reduced to barely above a raspy whisper.
The Roman Catholic Church will persist but also become a literal shell and shadow of its former self, paving the way for Materialist ethics (or secular humanist ethics) to make major inroads for millions to adopt a saner alternative.
 MBL Science, Vol. 3, No. 1, p. 25, 1988