Magic and Morality

I had a long Facebook conversation recently with a friend-of-a-friend that I’ve been meaning to cut apart and discuss here in various topical segments.  (The conversation, not the acquaintance.)

This friend-of-a-friend calls himself both libertarian and Catholic (a bizarre combination on many levels) and derives a great deal of his thinking on ethics and social issues from papal encyclicals and other Catholic writings.  My conversation with him provides an opportunity, then, to examine the vital difference between religious and secular morality.

Let’s take two classic issues for “values voter” types like him: homosexuality and contraception.  My acquaintance writes (emphasis mine):

What Catholic source are you quoting? Not a normal subset of humanity? That is not what the Church teaches. The Churches teaches that all life is valuable, gay straight asian muslim good bad, all of them. Every life has dignity. Every life is a gift from God and should be treated as such. If you’re homosexual you are just as welcome in my Church as anyone else. The problem is gays define themselves as being gay, not as being human, and they should to alienate themselves because the Church tells them that the acts of homosexuality are sinful. But they are no different from me. They commit sins the same way I do. God, and the Church as His expression on earth, do too. Yes, it gets muddled, but that is because homosexuals choose to insist that what they do is not morally wrong. Many straight young Catholics feel justified themselves that if they’re in love it doesn’t matter if they have sex. But the Church recognizes premarital sex and homosexual activity to be equal in sinfulness. My Church accepts everyone as human, if others refuse to accept themselves as such, and insist on defining themselves instead as homosexual instead of a human being with SSA that is their problem, not the Church’s. And FYI, there are several Churches popping up that are gay-friendly and insist on teaching that expression of love for people has nothing to do with sexual activity. Love for someone that does not deviate into sexuality is not inferior. Think of the love you have for your parents or brother or sister or a friend… that love is still good and still powerful. But it does not manifest itself in sexuality — the Church knows and understands the limitations on its people. It deals with temptation on a daily basis. But it is the steadfast foundation for love, tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness in the world. And that is why, despite all the reasons you want to point out, and my experience being affected by some of the scandals within my own parish, I still believe in it. Jesus instituted it, so who am I to think there’s a better way?

I could devote an entire SERIES of blog posts just to debunking the factual inaccuracies this man dribbled out during our conversation, but I’ll merely tackle the most egregious of the ones quoted above before moving on:

·         The source I was quoting earlier in the conversation, to note that Catholic doctrine regards gay people as “innately disordered,” is the Catholic Catechism, as rendered on the Vatican’s own website.  Admittedly, the quote appears in a section that denies the existence of gay people altogether, so it’s not an entirely fair selection—I’m actually making them look better than they are.
·         Filial love, platonic love, and other non-sexual forms of love are not the same thing as a romantic bond including sexual intimacy, and if my acquaintance had learned anything about human psychology before mouthing off on this matter, he’d know that.  He’d likewise know that sexual desires are not sated, mitigated, or in any way resolved by the love of one’s family or any similar non-sexual substitute.  My acquaintance is proposing that gay people deny themselves this facet of human emotion, whether he admits it to himself or not.
·         Apparently my acquaintance thinks gay people don’t believe themselves to be human?  Wha…just, wow.
·         Also, my acquaintance still buys into the decades-discredited but religiously mandated notion that no one has a sexual orientation, but some people immorally choose to have sex with people of the same sex as themselves.  At this stage, the only appropriate response is to raise an eyebrow and stop taking this person seriously, but I am not a fan of propriety.

Let us, for now, take this pile of bigoted malarkey at face value.  Hell, let’s even suppose some subset of the bolded offenses against reality is actually true.  That brings this Catholic zealot to an interesting place.

Here, we have two Church doctrines which clearly and unambiguously not only fail at their stated real-world objectives, but carry such massive harm that they are specifically cited in document after document from just about every think tank and research group devoted to their subjects as a defining factor in why some parts of the world are as bad as they are, and the Church keeps them still.

Lying about the dangers of using contraception and promoting abstinence as the sole anti-pregnancy solution does not lead to lower incidences of unwanted pregnancy, does not reduce STI infection rates, and does not even reduce how often people have sex without wanting offspring. What it does is encourage people to have sex without protection, and to spread STIs to the point that this Catholic doctrine, also promoted by numerous Protestant groups, is uniquely responsible for Africa’s HIV epidemic.

Lying about how homosexuality works and pretending homosexuals suffer from a “condition” that it is laudable and/or healthy for them to resist, deny, ignore, and otherwise act as though it were a bad thing has as its primary consequence the infliction of all manner of emotional damage on gay people, leading excruciatingly often to suicide.  That is the ONLY sense in which Catholic doctrine reduces the number of people “experiencing same-sex attraction.”

And the Church, and thousands of others like it, keep them still.

This is where my acquaintance began shouting at the top of his lungs that all of these people are doing it wrong.  That is, of course, the point: millennia of the Church telling people that the only moral sex is married procreative sex has been a DISMAL, MONUMENTAL, ASTRONOMICAL FAILURE at making that the only kind of sex that people have, and CONTINUES TO BE SO. This Catholic policy is demonstrably out of synch with the human race’s reality to a positively fractal degree. This Catholic policy measurably and identifiably makes the world a worse place to live in, especially for Sub-Saharan Africa and the parts of the US where religious groups have had the most success at keeping information about contraceptives and the reality of sexual orientation from teenagers and their parents.

But the Catholic Church, and my acquaintance, call this insistence “moral,” and believe they do “good” by maintaining it.

It is curious, no?

In a world where people consistently thought about things based on reality, based on science, this kind of thinking would have Catholic priests and theologians routinely relegated to “Fiction” and “Psychological Case Study” sections in bookstores; arrested for fraud, slander, and/or medical malpractice; and blacklisted from running anything more complicated than a bakery. Their leaders would all be imprisoned and undergoing intensive rehabilitation.

But in our world, people look to these monsters for guidance.

The key difference is magic.  Religious people believe in it.  Catholics believe that a magical being beyond time and space has an opinion on their behavior, and looks askance on sex without its imprimatur.  They also believe that every human has a magical force or substance inside them that contains their personality and that this magical being can subject to eternal torment if they displease it, such as by having sex without its imprimatur.  And this being is REALLY picky about that imprimatur.

The Catholic Church stakes a claim to the moral high ground on homosexuality and contraception, despite promoting policies that are well-known to worsen the very conditions they purportedly help, because they believe in magic.  And the magic they believe in makes people’s lives here in reality, the only lives we know, utterly trivial to them.  Only the magic afterlife matters.  Feeding the poor and so on has incidental benefits in this world, but that’s not what it’s FOR.  It’s for bringing the feeder and the fed to Christ, and away from eternal divine torment.

For someone outside this spiral of unsubstantiated nonsense and anti-scientific claptrap, this is TERRIFYING.  These are people for whom basic human empathy—the core of any and every moral framework worthy of the term—has been so thoroughly hijacked and corrupted that making this world, our world, the only world we know, a worse place for everyone doesn’t make something evil by Catholic standards.

And it is THEY who accuse the non-religious of having no “basis” for our moral sense, or even of having no morality at all.  They look at us, who “selfishly” base our sense of right and wrong on what makes things better for actual people here in this actual world that actually exists, and have the gall to tell US that we’re missing the point.  They look at us, who view as nonsense the idea that we should be okay with destroying people’s lives in the here and now in order to secure them a supposed place in an afterlife for which there is absolutely no evidence, and which all signs say doesn’t exist, and think WE have it wrong.  Because we’re not willing to condemn entire continents to sickness and death in the name of making sure God never has the misfortune of seeing a condom, and because we notice that no harm whatsoever results from telling 10% of the human race that their love isn’t worse than ours.

They see the suffering of millions of people as an unfortunate accident on the way to fulfilling a magic spell that only takes effect after they die.  We see it as a horror to be expunged.

That is the difference between religious and secular morality.
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