Thursday, March 19, 2009

When Moralism Trumps Ethics

Africa currently is at the heart of the most devastating epidemic in recent history with tens of thousands dying each year from AIDS. In Africa, most HIV is spread hetero-sexually, male to female. The cost is staggering, not only economical (impeding the development of AIDS-countries) but human, in terms of the children born with AIDS.

Into this dismal scence Pope Benedict II has appeared, speaking a message at odds with common sense and science: that the conquest of AIDS depends on "spiritual renewal" as opposed to condoms. The pope's claim, in fact, is totally divorced to all the findings of biological science which show that condoms DO stop HIV-infection. Thus, the pope has peremptorily removed one effective weapon in the HIV fight. Thereby leaving millions of Africans open to even more devastation.

How can this be? Well, it exists because the pope's dogma, based on a hyper-sexual moralism, has been allowed to trump ethics.

What do I mean by ethics? I mean the effective and practical exercise of judicious choice in matters of morality which leaves the maximum benefit for the greatest number. As a Materialist, I also know that all valuable ethics (as opposed to false ethics) is human created, the same as human laws. There is no need to invoke a "divine lawgiver".

What do I mean by "moralism"? I mean a specious mutation of morality which isn't founded on species survival, but in unsubstantiated belief in the uniform human sensibility to external stimuli, and an irrational committment to an abstract doctrinal purity that is believed to surpass human life in import.

How else explain the pope's uncompromising rejection of condoms? Clearly it leaves the door open to millions more deaths in Africa, and it is founded on doctrinal purity.

The basis has been well articulated already by Roman Catholic scholar and ethicist Leslie Dewart in the (1964) article: 'Casta Connubi- The Devleopment of Dogma'.

For example, a reduction of all the Church's doctrines in the sexual sphere, comes down to forceful condemnaton of: i) masturbation, ii) fornication, iii) use of any artificial birth control devices in marriage.

In the case of (iii) most Catholic Ethics courses (such as I had to take at Loyola University) refer to any marital act performed using birth control as: "mutual masturbation". Thus, it isn't a marriage act at all, but an occasion for "mortal sin".

The reasoning is given by Dewart herself in her article, and is based on all the above acts being "unnatural" but in this context specifically refers to masturbation:

"It is unnatural precisely as a moral object, because it contains a moral defect against the generative powers and the use of the sexual organs. The moral perfection of these organs requires the congress of man and woman"

Of course, the careful reader will look askance at the use of the words, and how they are constructed for mind control. For example, what IS a "moral defect agianst the generative powers"? I know what an optical defect is, say in a telescope objective lens, but what is this moral defect? How do I determine it? What is this "moral perfection" of sexual organs? What observables characterize it that we may distinguish it objectively from "imperfection"? What are the precise criteria?

Unless such pointed questions are addressed and answered one cannot be sure if the language components have any remote correlation to objects, conditions in reality. If we don't know these things, then the construction of the precept and the bogus words may be merely a ruse or excuse for interference in millions of lives. To control them.

In the case of a married couple performing the sexual act using condoms, or the pill, the act is placed on the same footing. Why? Because according to the Church's Natural law doctrine, the act deliberately exclude the purpose for which marriage was intended - procreation. Thus, any act performed where that purpose cannot be fulfilled is "unnatural", hence it is the same as masturbation.

Thus, the pope would object to condoms in the same context, as artifacts which impede the proper execution of the act, and thwart the real purpose of procreation.
Note that it doesn't matter and is in fact totally irrelevant that the condoms protect against AIDS spread. The core issue is adherence to Natural law.

The pope is effectively saying:

"Just make sure your sexual acts are natural, and that means no condoms. If you die from AIDS, c'est la vie"

Of course, people will argue that isn't what he said, and that he is invoking abstinence as a solution. But anyone who has ever worked in a third world nation (as I have while in Peace Corps) knows that such feeble prescriptions amount to poppycock. No one takes them seriously, especially young people. In Africa and the (mostly) African-Carribean West Indies, "abstinence" is the prescription for elite white (e.g. Caucasian) freaks of nature who can somehow ignore their sexual urges at will.

But several larger points are being missed. First of these, can we always be certain that what is proclaimed "natural" really is, and not a ruse to control people? Theological sophistry employed as a subtle (and not so subtle) mechanism to control people's minds and lives.

For example, author Julian Pleasants in 'Contraception and Holiness' (1964) notes that for hundreds of years slavery was considered to be consistent with Natural law. It conformed to the natural order of things, because obviously slaves could not tend to themselves, they required masters. Of course, this was revoked by the Church. But the fact it cold so so once surely suggests it ought to consider doing it again for the many acts it condemns in the sexual sphere - that can lead to massive loss of human life.

artificial birth control itself ought to have been allowed from as early as 1968. At that time, Pope Paul VI's own papal commission recommended abolishing the proscriptions against it. Rather than pay attention to his own commission, the pope signed off on one of the most egregious and detrimental encylicals of all time: Humanae Vitae.

Author David Yallop, in his book In God's Name (p. 58) has portrayed Humanae Vitae in stark terms indeed:

"On a disaster scale for the Roman Catholic Church it measures higher than its treatment of Galileo in the 17th century"

Again, the implicit assumption in this egregious encylcical (and a later one, 'Veritatis Splendor' penned by Pope John Paul II) is that procreation takes precedence over any other function of sexual intercourse. In other words, the Roman Catholic Church has, by virtue of its Natural law doctrine, succeeded in reducing the human sex act to the same one as occurs in common lower animals. In the words of Elizabeth Daugherty, 'The Lessons of Zoology' in Contraception and Holiness (1964, p. 110):

"Why do we call secondary the ends of the sexual act which have been accorded in full measure to us, and why do we call primary the end which we share with the lower animals?"

If the Pope can answer that then he might be able to answer truthfully why he would casually permit the deaths of millions in order that the sexual end in common with the lower animals prevailed.

Perhaps because he considers humans as expendable as the lower animals, since both now stand to be wiped out by a phenomenon (human-induced global warming) driven expressly by intolerable increases in population of human beings.

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