Monday, March 12, 2018

WSJ Writer Rips Notre Dame U. - She Needs To Examine Her Own Hollow Morality

An op--ed essay in the WSJ ('Notre Dame Becomes A Bit Less Catholic'.. Mar. 9, p. A13) by Alexandra DeSanctis:

lambastes the University of Notre Dame, and its president,  Rev. John Jenkins, based on a farrago of distortions and ultimately, a gross misunderstanding of the practical limits of  Catholicism's moral capital.  Let's cut to the chase: the Church essentially lost whatever moral authority it possessed in the wake of the priest (and bishop) sexual abuse scandal. In that vile wave of pederasty, thousands of priests were involved - from Ireland to Germany to the U.S. to Australia-   and bishops, as well as the then pope (Ratzinger) protected them.  By being accessories after the fact they basically sacrificed whatever moral capital and voice they had up to then, which now means nothing. The argument that it was "a few bad applies" and it's "time to move on", doesn't cut it. It doesn't cut it because those abominations can't be erased given they're an integral part of Catholicism's moral matrix - or rather pseudo-moral (i.e.. pre-moral) matrix. Hence,  those acts have defiled and totally undermined the Vatican's  and by extension the Church's -  moral validity. Frankly, it no longer has any.

It is in this radical context that one needs to examine Ms. De Sanctis' WSJ essay.  She takes Rev. Jenkins to task in a kind of backhanded manner as when she first applauds his rejection of "abortifacents" (a misnomer) and then cites his justification for allowing artificial  birth control, i.e.

"Catholic tradition 'requires respect for the conscientious decisions of members of our community"

Writing in response:

"Of course Notre Dame community members can exercise their consciences without receiving university -provided contraception"

Which misses the point. That is, the total constellation of Notre Dame "community members" would clearly show a smaller subset (for non-Catholics),  compared to a larger one for Catholics. The former including many professors, lecturers, other staff (custodians, secretaries etc.)  as well as a number of students who elected to attend ND.   Given these are not Catholics they are not obligated to accept Catholic dogmas or ruling, but the ACA did mandate they receive birth control - which is what Notre Dame has since provided. This doesn't make the university "less Catholic" as the author claims, but rather adhering to the formal provisions of the law embodied in the ACA.

Roman Catholics are perfectly entitled to withhold contraceptive services for their own Catholic members, but may not do so for the general public that has no other alternatives or recourse than to go to a Catholic hospital, or work at some other Catholic institution - say like a school. Hence, if I (as an atheist)  am teaching at such a school, I need to be able to secure these.contraceptives for my wife if she should need them. To say I can't based on the fact the school is religious, is an infringement of my rights as a citizen. And certainly, if the Catholic Church is to continue to enjoy tax free status as a religion, it needs to keep its nose out of issues that don't concern it, namely those affecting non-Catholic citizens, irrespective of where they work.

This is why De Sanctis' next statement:

"With the decision to provide birth control, Notre Dame has forfeited its chance to stand in moral opposition to a utilitarian sexual culture."

Amounts  to unadulterated codswallop.  At stake here is the meaning of a genuine morality. We write or talk about this in distinction to what I refer to as "moralism": the use of emotional and subjective markers and memes to invent a false morality or ethics based on eliminating the role of reflective cognition and conscience.  

Perhaps no better formulation exists than  that compliments of Cheryl Mendelson, former Professor of Ethics and author of 'The Good Life'.     On page 157, for example, she writes - in reference to abortion and what she calls the "premoral mind.":

"The premoral mind confuses the disgusting with the wrong and retains an infantile fear of things sexual. Its rationality is overcome by emotion, fantasy, wish and projection. The belief that extracting a 10-week fetus from a woman's womb is murder rests to a large extent on the sense of disgust aroused by the thought of destruction of living tissue.......People who think this way are unable to override disgust with rational appreciation of the objective characteristics of the fetus. The ability to do so is an indispensable trait of the moral mind."

By extension those - like De Sanctis - who believe the prevention of the conception of a fetus amounts to some moral violation, are hostages to their premoral mind and moralism . In this case, De Sanctis' fear of things sexual compels her to see any act of sexual intercourse not geared to procreation as a "grave moral evil".  In other words, she's conditioned by false dogmas to see sexual acts, i.e. performed in marriage, as "evil'' or "disordered" if performed for the sake of mutual pleasure alone. (As one ethics prof once put it, "that would be mutual masturbation.")

But it goes beyond that.

Indeed, Mendelson argues the "infantile fear of things sexual" has driven nearly all sexual abuses committed by clergy because that fear drives sexual aggression against vulnerable victims.   It was precisely the "infantile fear of things sexual" which spawned those thousands of  priest predators to go after innocent kids in their charge. "Fear of things sexual" in the context of bad press, PR also drove the Vatican's cover up which followed.  But the Vatican, by its tacit actions of cover up, defiled its message of morality and converted it to hypocritical moralism.

In other words, the basis for a truly moral mind presumes the capacity for rationality to assess objectively - as opposed to emotively or via succumbing to dictates of dogma.  This is exactly what Rev. John Jenkins of Notre Dame did by acknowledging the validity of "conscientious decisions" of ND members, in accepting birth control, but which Ms. De Sanctis failed to do. Perhaps she failed because she allowed her emotions and personal investment, i.e. in her previous attendance at "Our Lady's university" (ibid.),   to trump her rational faculties. Or perhaps those faculties, including critical thinking, were co-opted ab initio  by her own unwillingness to challenge an archaic  and fallacious system of "natural law" that holds no ballast. (For example, the Church had earlier invoked natural law theory to justify slavery given "some men were more suited to be guided and mastered by others.")

Cheryl Mendelsohn's most trenchant observation in this connection may be (p. 160):

"The premises that the fertilized egg, embryo and fetus are ensouled or sacred are ideas that cannot be proved  factually and that many religions vehemently reject."

The false assumption highlighted here: "ensoulment",  can also be ascribed to the teachings on artificial contraception in encyclicals such as 'Humane Vitae' and 'Veritatis Splendor'.  Hence, if  the fallacy of zygotes being "ensouled"  is assumed then of course the Vatican's assorted fossils - as well as popes - would declare it to be  'intrinsically evil."  Why? Because the perpetrators are preventing a "soul" (
preferably of the  Catholic brand) from entering the world..  Take away ensoulment and nowhere near that investment in "sin" or "evil" emerges. Why would it?  We have essentially ripped away the veneer of  false sanctity as well as human exceptionalism and recognized that  human life is on the same  continuum as that of chimpanzees, dolphins and other remarkably sentient terrestrial life forms.   

Reinforcing this, Mendelson observes we fail to even treat the earliest stages of human life as sacred or in any way special. She writes (p. 159):

"Nature sloughs off early pregnancies at a high rate and we do not hold funerals for these embryos and early fetuses.  As many as 60 to 70 percent of fertilized eggs are lost overall, usually silently - without anyone ever knowing fertilization took place. 

Up to 15 percent of known pregnancies miscarry in the first trimester. Were we to take seriously the morbid pseudo-moralism ... we would recognize these countless millions of miscarried embryos and fetuses as lost lives and be sunk in a vast and permanent sea of endless mourning for the unending deaths of innocents."

But obviously we aren't taking these deaths of alleged "sacred" humans seriously. Why not? Because of the sheer impracticality of holding to such an absolutist stance. If this is "utilitarian" as Ms. De Sanctis frets, then what is her alternative? To separately baptize all those expelled, miscarried embryos after the fact? To then conduct special funerals for each? No, because she herself recognizes these are absurd responses.

With this sober recognition, the two cited encyclicals become redundant and specious as well as De Sanctis  related claim (ibid.):

"As promised the university can send a copy of Humanae Vitae to every enrollee in its health plan. But why would anyone seriously consider the teaching when Notre Dame provides the very contraceptives the document denounces."

So what?   Let us grasp here Humanae Vitae - circulated in 1968 -  was the orphaned brainchild of Pope Paul VI.  I say "orphaned" because it was issued in direct opposition to his own specially appointed Papal Commission on the matter.  Numerous reasons and valid arguments were arrayed against it as any kind of moral document, but Paul ignored them. Why? Perhaps because of an innate fear that if the Church lost control of her members' sex lives she'd also lose control of their brains, their ability to use their prefrontal cortex in critical thought.

Author David Yallop, in his book In God's Name, has portrayed Humanae Vitae in stark terms indeed, as well as its paradoxical consequences

"On a disaster scale for the Roman Catholic Church, it measures higher than the treatment of Galileo in the seventeenth century "

The implicit assumption in Humanae Vitae and later, Pope John Paul II's encyclical Veritatis Splendor, was that procreation takes precedence over any other function of sexual intercourse.  Hence if the act isn't "open" to procreation it's illicit, it's morally deformed. Again, the only way this illogic works at all is if one buys into the untested, unproven belief in "ensoulment". (And also the legitimacy of natural law dogma)

 So again, why would anyone consider the  teaching at all? Well, not because Notre Dame distributed contraceptives but because the beneficiaries would understand the teaching: 1) was originally roundly rejected by Paul VI's own Papal Commission and 2)  is based on the fable of ensoulment. 

In a  world currently overrun by too many people -  too many "sacred beings", in relation to too few resources - a serious limitation on births is needed. I refer here to global ecological overshoot, i.e. depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend.  Every year Global Footprint Network raises awareness about global ecological overshoot with our Earth Overshoot Day campaign. Earth Overshoot Day is the day on the calendar when humanity has used up the resources that it takes the planet the full year to regenerate. Just like the hands of the  'doomsday clock'  approaching 'midnight' for nuclear cataclysm.

Bottom line: artificial contraception has now become an essential tool to avoid overshoot. Hence,  we simply cannot afford to entertain such fables as embodied by 'Humanae Vitae'  any longer.  The new moral dictum -  the only legitimate one -  is to preserve the existing resources and inhabitants of Earth by rigorously controlling human numbers. 

It was the late Arthur C. Clarke who rightly called all the anti-contraception Popes "enemies of humanity" and with good reason! Their persistent commitment to this deformed doctrine and perverse moral value (again more a "pre-moral" value) has consigned increasing millions of people in Asia and Africa to destitution and starvation. This is because the underlying ‘natural law’ remains uninformed by current data concerning food production in relation to rising birth rates.

The science writer Isaac Asimov himself, at a lecture given in Barbados, was blunt:

"It is now the willingly childless woman who is the heroine of our planet. She is the one who now deserves all the kudos and praise, for helping to do what is necessary to spare humanity from the ravages of over-population"

Cheryl Mendelson's argument is that minds like De Sanctis' are trapped in a pre-moral void unable to invoke moral conscience because of being hamstrung by false moral  authority. This is exactly so.  At least one Pope, John Paul I (Albino Luciano)  saw this and had intended to change the Vatican doctrine, but he didn't live to achieve it, dying suddenly under mysterious circumstances barely a month after the papal vote.

`In his wake it is left to thinking Catholics, including the Rev. John Jenkins at Notre Dame (as well as the Jesuits at my former university,  Loyola),  to take up the rational banner and embrace the higher moral dictum already cited.  If this is done then De Sanctis' final remark, e.g.

"this school's administration has chosen to ignore Catholic teaching".

Is clearly seen as so much malarkey because that teaching is fallacious and unsupported by reason or the exercise of individual conscience.  As Mendelson points out:

"To equate the termination of an early pregnancy with the death, indeed the murder, of an infant or child is not merely morally uncalled for but dangerous. It implicitly demeans the value of real people's lives, both adults' and children's, and confuses the reasons why we protect them so vigilantly. If our moral obligations to one another are abstracted from our capacities for feeling, thinking, intending and wanting - from everything that makes us human and forms the ground for our care and protection of each other- we are thrown back into a premoral kind of thinking."

In like manner, to equate the obstruction of pregnancy to the prevention of  human life- by using contraceptives-  is also dangerous because it regards a genuine moral dictum to preserve the planet as a habitable environment,  as a "grave moral evil" (De Sanctis' own words).

Too much "life", in terms of the human population, can overtake and overburden a fragile world which can barely provide for all the people living on it as it is.  On any given day nearly 1 billion are living on half or fewer calories than they need and it will only get worse with climate change ramping up.  Given this, the greater moral evil today is clearly any willingness to add to the human population  while compromising  the planet's carrying capacity.

In line with Cheryl Mendelson's thinking, we need more contraception, not less  and it needs to be rewarded not indicted by false moraliists..  Notre Dame and its president merit props and kudos in light of the current moral dictum and we need many more Catholic institutions to follow suit.

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