Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Seven Papal Sins

by Bob Churchill @ Bob, Tuesday, March 11th, 2008
So some bloke at the Vatican has scored a bit of PR by announcing a list of seven new deadly sins for this the modern world, and I have fallen right into the trap by giving him even more publicity here.But that’s okay because most of the press are treating the announcement just as they should be: like the ramblings of a mad old Church which used to be humoursly senile but whose pronouncements are increasingly random and in self-denial.

The job of Bishop Gianfranco Girotti is literally to be the head honcho of confessions in the Catholic Church. A cushy ride you might think, given that fewer and fewer Catholics even bother to confess anymore. (Perhaps Girotti is inventing even more sins specifically in order that Catholics will feel even less inclined to navigate their way through the mine-field of deontological morality, thus saving him having to sit in a box waiting for them all day?)

Girotti thinks there are “new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation”. This makes some sense. This is fair enough. A humanist can get on board with this. If we have new possibilities to act, we also have new possibilities to act not for the common good or against the grain of other moral standards.

So what are these new sins?

“You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife,” — I thought it was “ass” but let it go — “but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos.”

Yep. Ruining the environment is a good sin (as it were). It’s great to see the Catholic Church utilising scientific evidence for once and taking the long view: a green stance is a utilitarian perspective on society as a whole, rather than the fetishized focus on individuals’ failings which the Vatican usually goes for. Indeed Girotti is explicit about this, saying that the old sins were very personal but now sin has a “social resonance”; if I didn’t know any better I’d think he’d picked this up from secular ethicists like Bentham and Mill, Hume and Locke, who have been taking the long view and looking at the “social resonance” of moral action for centuries!

But, um, wait a minute. What else goes along with “ruining the environment” in the not-so-long-term future history of the Earth? The strain on resources caused by over-population will lead to global shortages of food, water and energy and so to regional and international war. But the Vatican believes that all good Catholics should refrain from all use of contraception and have nice big Catholic families.

So I’m afraid I don’t buy it. Sure the conclusion is correct: ruining the environment is indeed bad. But there is no genuine process of moral, ethical or social consideration in the Vatican’s arrival at this conclusion. The Vatican belies its own lack of process in moral reasoning because it fails to follow through by considering its own impact on the issue of over-population which lies in the same general field: that of the long-term social consequences of our actions in the geo-political arena.

Next up is “morally debatable scientific experiments”. Surely the fact that something is “morally debateable” doesn’t actually make it sinful? All moral questions are debateable. It can’t be the case that all these debates must resolve to the conclusion that the object of the debate is immoral.

Again the Vatican just hasn’t followed through here. We don’t need to be told that they consider some actions morally debateable, seemingly on the basis of nothing more than the “yuck factor”. Exactly what is or is not the best course of action for a given proposed “scientific experiment” is sometimes a finely balanced question, sure enough. But “morally debateable” isn’t even a finely balanced concept, let alone a formula for resolving such a question.

So we come to “allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos”. Oddly enough this whole “new seven deadly sins” fandango is just in time for the Embryology Bill about to get voted up in Parliament. Coincidence? Not on your deconsecrated life.

The Vatican isn’t interested in the fact that lives might be saved soon and far into the future as the result of potential medical breakthroughs in genetic research. It has a petty and unfounded and irrational dogma that we shouldn’t dabble in certain areas reserved for God — which just happen to mainly be areas about which priests don’t have any scientific understanding or control — and which have the ever-present “yuck factor”. On this confused basis of priestly powerlessness, lack of understanding, and intuitive negative gut reaction, “genetic manipulations” are now a “sin”.

What about the gene therapy that is already saving lives, and saving people from suffering? Was that a sin?

This line on “genetic manipulations” is patently — or should I say “papally” — designed to manipulate the Catholic politicos who are about to get a vote on the Embryology Bill. It is designed to manipulate them by upgrading the Vatican’s vague yuck factor response to the methods proposed in the Bill, to a full-on Deadly Sin. It’s not just “Hey, guys, your Catholic overlords won’t like this very much”. Now it’s “Hey, guys, Hell awaits if you vote with the Government.”

I would go as far as to suggest that the timing of this whole new seven deadly sins episode could have be planned solely to coincide with the Embryology Bill in order to voice an edict by the back door.

There’s more:

Bishop Girotti said that mortal sins also included taking or dealing in drugs, and social injustice which caused poverty or “the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few”.

Dealing drugs, okay. Fair enough. I can get down with that. It’s selfish and destroys lives. Afterall, it’s just another of scoring bucks from the vulnerable isn’t it? (Is that the sound of a collection tin rattling?)

The Vatican is exceedingly, disgustingly, mind-blowingly rich, to Scrooge McDuck proportions.

The Pope wears a fucking gold hat. I mean an actual hat with gold stuff like totally all over it.

Can you get more “excessive accumulation of wealth” than a fucking gold hat?!

“No, stay back. This my gold hat. Admire from distance. Light will blind you otherwise. Fucking stay there or I’ll smack you with this equally gold stick.”
On the inside of the gold hat, out of view to the public, the word “HYPOCRITE” is — by the whim of some demon from the seventh circle — stained into the velvet, written in the blood of dead, poverty-stricken babies.

He said that two mortal sins which continued to preoccupy the Vatican were abortion, which offended “the dignity and rights of women”, and paedophilia, which had even infected the clergy itself and so had exposed the “human and institutional fragility of the Church”.

Right. So, giving women the right to abort… offends the rights of women? Say no more, this just doesn’t even make sense.

And then paedophilia. Interestingly this doesn’t make the final list, it’s just a bit of a concern. The fact that the Catholic Church appears to be mired in the sexual abuse of children — far above and beyond the levels found in comparable institutions where adults in authority have access to children, such as schools — is neither here nor there, because apparently:

The mass media [has] “blown up” the issue “to discredit the Church”, but the Church itself was taking steps to deal with it.

The Church itself! How very big of it. Never mind all the police you could have got onboard years and years ago. The Church is dealing with it itself. Well, that’s a weight off my mind. It makes me as happy as when I hear of police investigating their own crimes, or governments producing reports on the results of their own policies.

The Pope also complained that an increasing number of people in the secularised West were “making do without God”.

I thought that was my perogative? My own freewill? My own intellectual conscience? No, apparently I’m just a hedonist and a consumer whore.

He said that hedonism and consumerism had even invaded “the bosom of the Church itself, deeply undermining the Christian faith from within, and undermining the lifestyle and daily behaviour of believers”.

Because of course, all the secularised West stands for is hedonism and consumerism. There is no growing sense of global responsibility (which the Catholic Church is now belatedly attempting to appropriate after millennia of forging a morality based around personal fetish). There is no liberation gained from scientific knowledge and technology. There are no secular contributions to ethical discourse, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or democracy, or the philosophy of the open society and free enquiry. Nope. Secularism is all about hedonism and consumerism. Myself all I’ve doen today is screw around, buy trainers from sweatshops and eat Mars Bars. He’s got me down to a tee.

Instead of seven mortal sins, I propose seven Papal sins. If they can dole them out then they should be able to take ‘em too!

1. Instead of “genetic manipulations” we’ll have political manipulations as a sin, for example trying to influence politicians by telling them that that vote they’re about to cast could send them to Hell.

2. Paedophilia. It didn’t make the cut for the Vatican’s own revised list for obvious reasons. But on my list of Papal sins it’s pretty high.

3. Telling people in areas where AIDs is pandemic that condoms either do nothing to protect against it, or that their use will send you to Hell, or even that the condoms are actually infected with the virus, and that abstinence is the only solution, even though it has been proven time and again that abstinence fails at a social level causing massive and horrible death.

4. Choosing “sins” based on a yuck factor response without any real understanding of the underlying science or social situation and without any obvious process of actual moral reasoning.

5. Hating gays. Attempting to blackmail the British government in order to get your way on the sexual orientation regulations regarding adoption agencies; and effectively telling MPs that voting a certain way on a current political Bill is a deadly sin partly in order to prevent conceptions taking place where the fused gamete is based on the genetic material of two women. Both of these tactics basically had one aim, to stop gay people having families. And why choose to promote as “moral” this agenda which is destructive of gay people’s rights and freedoms when it comes to having babies? Because you are “defending the family” of course.

6. Being obscenely rich. They can keep that one.

7. Having the arrogance and total historical blindness to assume moral superiority over all humankind in the first place.

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