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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Decline of the Christian West

An American cardinal, Raymond Burke, gave a speech recently to the Australian Catholic Students Association, which was reported in our papers.

Here are some memorable quotes:

The respect for human life is related essentially to the respect for the integrity of marriage and the family.


The attack on the innocent and defenceless life of the unborn, for example, has its origin in an erroneous view of human sexuality, which attempts to eliminate, by mechanical or chemical means, the essentially procreative nature of the conjugal act. The error maintains that the artificially altered act retains its integrity. The claim is that the act remains unitive or loving, even though the procreative nature of the act has been radically violated. In fact, it is not unitive, for one or both of the partners withholds an essential part of the gift of self, which is the essence of the conjugal union.

What about women who marry after the menopause?  Or two old people in an old age home who marry?  Their marriage is obviously (according to Burke) not "unitive".   What happens when a woman has a hysterectomy for medical reasons?  Does the marriage immediately cease to be "unitive"?   When a man has sex with a woman, and she is pregnant, and therefore cannot conceive afresh, is this sex still "unitive"?  What does all this convoluted mumbo-jumbo mean?

Well, of course, it's about explaining why two men can't get married, or even love each other:

One necessarily thinks, too, of the ever advancing agenda of those who want to redefine marriage and family life to include the unnatural* sexual union of two persons of the same sex, which is justified as tolerance of the so-called alternative forms of human sexuality, as if there were a true form of human sexuality other than that intended by God, our Creator and Redeemer, as He has written it in our body and soul.
 He goes on:
Through the spread of the contraceptive mentality, especially among the young, human sexuality is no longer seen as the gift of God, which draws a man and a woman together, in a bond of lifelong faithful love, crowned by the gift of new human life, but, rather as a tool for personal gratification. Once sexual union is no longer seen to be, by its very nature, procreative, human sexuality is abused in ways that are profoundly harmful and indeed destructive of individuals and of society itself. 

The logical connections between all these assertions just aren't clear to me.  And anyway, it seems to me exactly the opposite:  that sex is mostly for pleasure, and that Providence or Nature or Evolution (alias God) made it so, so that we would do lots of it, and make sure our genes survived, that we would bond as a result of it, and thereby form tighter communities.  The fact that we can get pleasure without having kids is a bonus, kind of like consumer surplus, just as our appreciation of Mozart or Botticelli is a (wonderful) by-product of complex brains "designed" for quite other goals.   The pleasure of sex is a gift from God, that if you combine sex with love, you come as close to paradise as we ever will while still on this earth.  A sublime gift from the Goddess Herself.

Oh, and never mind the irony of an unmarried and presumably never-had-sex priest telling us what we should do in bed and advising us on married life!

One also thinks of other most grievous morals of our time, for instance, the plague of procured abortion, the wholesale murder of the unborn in the womb, justified as the exercise of the so-called right of the mother to choose whether to bring to term the baby she has conceived.

He has a good point.  But it's bad logic to oppose abortion because it's about preventing procreative sex (first quote above).  These are much better grounds:  it leads to the death of the foetus.  And then you can have a discussion about whether the foetus is human 1 day after conception (just a few cells) or 10 days or 6 weeks (when its heart starts beating) or 3 months or 8 months, and when in that process killing the foetus becomes murder.  Not to mention whether you should also then oppose the death penalty as well as the mass deaths of war, combatant and civilian.  I notice with wry amusement that the anti-abortion brigade also appears by-and-large to be in favour of the death penalty and wars, though to be fair, the Catholics are more circumspect about these two other forms of sanctioned murder.

The problem is that there are a whole series of explicit and hidden assumptions underlying the good Cardinal's rhetoric which if you sat down and thought about and really discussed them might prove unsound.  And this is precisely the issue with dogma:  you can't argue with it.

There are some dreadful things going on out there in the world, which have a rat's clacker to do with all this brouhaha about gay marriage and sex for pleasure not procreation.  Sad old people, alone and without companionship.  A vast and steadily increasing gap between the plutocrats and hoi polloi.  A world running out of oil, which will plunge billions back into poverty or death when it happens in 20 or 30 years time.  Loneliness.  Suicide.  Unhappiness.  Sickness.

I quote some alternatives to the complex convoluted nonsense of the learned Cardinal, some utterly simple yet profound alternatives:
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these [is] charity. (The translators didn't mean giving to the poor -- they mean selfless love)
There are Christians who follow these two precepts.  And I salute them and admire them and honour them.  For these are hard things to do, and it is a hard road to travel.

And then there are the others, hidebound in their narrow and rigid dogma, whose impact on the world, whether they mean it or not, is to make the world a sadder place, full of hate, and horrors, and sorrows.

*My emphasis.  More on this guff in another post.

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