Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Unholy Trinity

A Philadelphia grand jury today displayed the requisite courage and moral fortitude to spit in the face of United States Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa) and the Roman Catholic Church. (Thanks to Capitol Buzz, via Rising Hegemon, for the news...) The grand jury said that top diocesan officials ought not to have sheltered and concealed the actions of known child molesters, let alone assigned them to work in children's hospitals. In a 70-page report described as "blistering" (what, not stigmatizing?), the archdiocese disagreed.

Also this week in news of the Holy Roman Catholic Church...

Mexican Catholic officials, including a bishop, got a lecture on corruption from the government of Mexico. Specifically, the government of Mexico informed a Catholic bishop that he ought not be involved with laundering drug money. The bishop disagreed.

Our third story of despicable behavior comes from The Super-Sacred Extra-Special Holy Zone of Galveston, Texas, where the Magic Kingdom of Vatican-Land declared that its mightiest wizard is above the law and so can not be held accountable for his role in decades of church conspiracy to protect child molesters. And the government of George W. Bush agreed.

What's gone wrong here? A Philadelphia prosecutor and a grand jury of everyday citizens stand on moral ground, understand moral grounds, more than do the depraved local officials of the world's largest religion. A bishop in Mexico, one of the most religious (not to mention Catholic) countries on Earth, doesn't meet the exacting ethical standards of the Mexican government when it comes to corruption. The Mexican government!

Only the corrupt, religion-over-rationality government of George W. Bush bucks the trend. Why is that?

It's because government officials in Philadelphia and Mexico (intuitively or consciously) understand something that the faith-based Bush government does not: Morality is neither a creation of a magic creature, nor could it be even if there were a god. Morality is reason. Morality is logic. That's it. Every moral rule that deals with autonomy is a necessary logical parameter for the equitable interaction of independent, autonomous, intentional, sentient beings. (It's not quite, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That's a flawed rule, one that aims at the right target, but misses such exceptions as The Missionary Example; to wit: If I were a missionary, I could justify torturing heathens because if I were them, I would want my soul to be saved no matter what).

The point behind it, though -- the logic behind it -- is that we all have the same rights, and protections. These rights and protections are the logical boundaries between my personal autonomy and yours. I can't hit you or steal your stuff, you can't hit me or steal my stuff. Lying, too, falls in this category because bad information is usually intended to deceive us into acting differently than we otherwise would, thus also subverting our autonomy.

The Catholic officials in Rome, Mexico and Philadelphia are operating under the belief that morality came from somewhere, that the rules are not intrinsically logical but merely make sense cuz the guy whut wrote ‘em is REALLY smart. Their morality is answerable solely to a god. They mustn't displease him, or dishonor him, or go against him. So why should they worry about molested children or the victims of drug-running gangsters? It’s not hurting god, it’s not violating the rules he wrote, so what’s the problem?

Now, the instinctive counter-argument, for some, will be that I’m Catholic-bashing; that the church is a flawed, human institution consisting of people who err. (Anyone wishing to defend the church is kindly asked to read these documents first). The argument might have some merit if the Magic Kingdom restricted its judgment to autonomy. Autonomy is really the only thing with which a rational morality ought to concern itself (in addition to fairness, which preserves the value of our autonomy).

We can tell that the Catholic church is flawed in its moral thinking because of how it categorizes its sins. (No, I’m not talking about cardinal v. venal sins. I’m no more interested in the distinctions regarding those rules than I am in the rules of that other once-dominant role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons). What I’m referring to is the fact that Catholicism (like, to be fair, many or even most other religions) strays well beyond autonomy in deciding what behavior to condemn.

Look at how the Philadelphia archdiocese addresses issues of consensual sexual conduct. Its web page of sex-judgment doesn’t, of course, address its own horrific failings (and sins against the autonomy of children and parents who trusted it), but condemns people for normal, consensual, safe sexual behavior for no reason (and that’s what we’re dealing with: reason) other than God doesn’t like it. Here's the proof -- the church's site explains that masturbation is wrong because, "it is a misuse of God's gift of sexuality which, in his divine wisdom, the Lord intended to be used between husband and wife." As a philosophy major, I think I'm on solid ground when I postulate that the best, most succinct refutation of this argument would be: So? Using a gift in a way the giver didn't intend isn't a sin. It's not wrong. Sorry, but it just ain't. In fact, the only inherently negative aspect of it is that the giver might not like it. As any fourth grader could tell you, "Dude, tough shit, you gave it to me."

But more tellingly, the unnamed author begins his (do allow me the presumption here!) explanation of masturbation's sinfulness with this: “The Church has consistently taught that what determines a particular human act to be sinful is not the context or conditions in which a human act is performed nor the foreseeable consequences of an act, but rather the act itself.” I wish I had explained it that way myself. The act is sinful regardless of context or consequences! Why is it wrong to hit people? Because it hurts them. Why is it wrong to steal things? Because it deprives others of their property. Consequence is not irrelevant to morality, it’s the defining factor! That's why I don't think the Catholic church actually engaged in a conscious conspiracy to conceal decades of child molestation in hundreds if not thousands of churches around the world. But if you're dogmatically opposed to the consideration of consequence, to the unthinking adherence to "divine" laws, you will become a church forbids masturbation while enabling child molestation. In other words, because the church abhors consideration of consequences, the rest of us have to pay them.

5 comments:

Jason said...

From Blinq:

"Jason, what's the salient aspect of the sin you've described? Is it the misuse of the bat, or the homicide committed with it?"

The homicide committed with it.. just because of a misuse, you can't say it's a sin, but you can't say it's not a sin, either. It's up to the case... my statement didn't come to any clear conclusion, only that misuse doesn't define sin or righteousness.

"To review: Drunk driving with no potentially bad consequences: Okay. Drunk driving with foreseeable bad consequences: Not okay. Defining issue - consequences."

Ok, bad example... but you used theft. Theft is morally wrong because you are looking to take something that belongs to someone else, not because that person will then be without it. Another commandment is coveting your neighbor's posessions. Covet just means to wish for. How about one of the 7 deadly sins... Lust. A strong sexual desire. These are not actions that have consequences.

I look forward to more discussion.

Jason said...

Or, if those sins don't do it for you, how about this new sin that was just conceived on Friday, Giving a gift! Because, if I give someone a baseball bat and it COULD lead to bad consequences, like you say constitutes a sin, then I have committed a sin. Which also makes my drunk driving example not a bad example. See my logic and not lack thereof, yet?

Petty Larseny said...

Jason,

I apologize for the nasty tone of my previous responses to you. That said, your philosophical thought process (particularly when it comes to logic and ethics) are unquestionably deficient (I say this as a philosophy major who took courses in both). I urge you to take (a) course(s), as you seem to have a genuine interest in both and a willingness to engage good-naturedly in debate. Here are my responses to your latest shots:

"just because of a misuse, you can't say it's a sin, but you can't say it's not a sin, either. It's up to the case... my statement didn't come to any clear conclusion, only that misuse doesn't define sin or righteousness."

That's right, it is up to the case. And misuse DOESN'T define sin or morality. Which is the entire point I was making: That the church's argument of masturbation's immorality rested on it being a misuse of god's gift. Which, as you've concurred, isn't relevant to morality.

"Theft is morally wrong because you are looking to take something that belongs to someone else, not because that person will then be without it."

Jason, taking something that belongs to someone else is wrong BECAUSE that person will then be without it.

"Another commandment is coveting your neighbor's posessions. Covet just means to wish for. How about one of the 7 deadly sins... Lust. A strong sexual desire. These are not actions that have consequences."

Exactly -- which is why they are SINS (i.e. immoral in the eyes of religions) but are not actually considered immoral in the eyes of, say, ethicists. That's why we don't consider it wrong to want something that other people have.

"how about this new sin that was just conceived on Friday, Giving a gift! Because, if I give someone a baseball bat and it COULD lead to bad consequences, like you say constitutes a sin, then I have committed a sin. Which also makes my drunk driving example not a bad example. See my logic and not lack thereof, yet?"

Nope. Because giving a gift is only immoral not if it COULD lead to bad consequences (having a child would therefore be wrong if you were Mr. and Mrs. Hitler) but if reasonably foreseeable bad consquences are likely. The element of probability is what makes it okay to give an aspiring young baseball player a bat, but less okay to give that bat to a Mafia hoodlum who's just voiced his wish for a weapon to keep his restaurant free of black patrons. Why? Because the latter has likely and reasonably foreseeable bad consquences.

Jason said...

I did take courses, but I majored in computer science. What I'm saying is from a standpoint of religion, not ethics... those sins I mentioned are sins because you are feeling a certain way, which this particular religion claims is wrong. It claims that you shouldn't even WANT to take something from your neighbor, and you shouldn't WANT his or her spouse, and you shouldn't have impure thoughts. They get you before an ethicist even has a chance to say that you are unethical.

My thought process is not deficient. Sure, if you bring in ethics from out of nowhere, you might call my thought process deficient, but this argument didn't have anything to do with ethics. Only religion.

Looking at it from a religious perspective only will help you form better arguments. Saying masturbation is a sin because God doesn't like it is not the most convincing way to get your point across, but if God really doesn't like it, and you believe in that religion, then masturbation is a sin, until you hear otherwise from God Himself.

Petty Larseny said...

Jason said:

"What I'm saying is from a standpoint of religion, not ethics... those sins I mentioned are sins because you are feeling a certain way, which this particular religion claims is wrong. It claims that you shouldn't even WANT to take something from your neighbor, and you shouldn't WANT his or her spouse, and you shouldn't have impure thoughts. They get you before an ethicist even has a chance to say that you are unethical."

Maybe, but so what? The original discussion was about the fact that religion gets it WRONG when it tries to identify what's immoral and what's not. You're just agreeing with me. For which I thank you!

"My thought process is not deficient. Sure, if you bring in ethics from out of nowhere, you might call my thought process deficient, but this argument didn't have anything to do with ethics. Only religion."

Jason, that's factually not true. The discussion began with my posting about the distinction between what the church considers wrong and what's really wrong. It was, therefore, always about both ethics and religion.

"Looking at it from a religious perspective only will help you form better arguments. Saying masturbation is a sin because God doesn't like it is not the most convincing way to get your point across, but if God really doesn't like it, and you believe in that religion, then masturbation is a sin, until you hear otherwise from God Himself."

Exactly! And of course it's not the most convincing argument -- because it's WRONG! So why would they still trot it out after millennia of refining their theology? Because it's all they've got.

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