I also hope you are managing the vagaries of having conversations with several people at the same time. Thank you for your replies. To go back to your answers to me:
On the Bible -
I’ll agree that this was the line I remember from my years as a Catholic. It is indeed something the Church modestly prides itself on. But I have come to see this as at best a sophisticated sleight of hand conceit; and at worst, disingenuously dishonest.‘Catholics have no difficulty with the notion that much of the Old Testament is poetic rather than literally true. Even parts of the New Testament need interpretation.’
Let me explain.
Firstly, the authors of the Bible were mostly expecting to be taken literally. Ecclesiastes perhaps is different, agreed. But take the story of Moses. Many Catholics and sophisticated Christians will admit that they have issues with this tale, ugly and primitive as it is. Leaving aside the fact that archaeologists (even Jewish and Christian ones) have shown this entire ‘history’ to be a bogus synthesis of Egyptian and Babylonian myth and invented Judaic / Israelite pseudo-history; the writers of Exodus and Leviticus clearly intended this history to be taken as actual fact. And fact is exactly how it is taught, even by the Church. I have rarely heard a sermon given by a priest on the Ten Commandments who is prepared to admit to his congregation the historical inaccuracies and uncertainties of the substance of the very text he is expanding on. In fact a rather artful type of cherry-picking goes on. The commandments are expanded on rather elaborately and ‘metaphored’ into modern day truisms; the God-commanded horrors committed as the climax of the story in the next chapters are completely ignored. I’m really glad that the Catholic Church has decided to ratify ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’. But why has it chosen not to ratify the ‘If a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not regain her liberty like male slaves…’ sequence? Again, I’m very glad they don’t ratify it. But don’t call it poetry or even metaphorical - it is neither. It is evil and awful, the words of a primitive man who would appal and disgust most of the First World morality today. One can try to rationalise this as a product of its time; but then rationalise all of it, not just the bits that are so repugnant that no normal modern human could condone them. It was a primitive attempt at moralising. As a result they got some of it right (murder, theft = bad). They also got some parts disgracefully wrong (its ok to rape little underage girls if you have just slaughtered her whole village), just as one would expect from our primordial, blood-lusty and male-dominated ancestors. This is the work of man, not a God - particularly not a God of infinite love and compassion.
Secondly, I take issue with the whole idea of metaphorical interpretation of these texts by Church authorities. The idea of metaphorical interpretation is one that only ever comes about when a literal reading of the text becomes untenable with modern morality and scientific knowledge. It’s the art of reverse-engineering ‘meaning’ to fit the texts. In other words, it’s a pattern-seeking exercise. Pattern-seeking is a very misleading but seductive occupation. You can make a vast range of random unrelated data ‘fit’ an apparent pattern. Its what makes us name groups of stars the Orion’s Belt; its what makes us see the Man in the Moon (in China they see a wife beaten up by her husband). By all means do it; but the result is not truth. It is illusion.
With regard to your statement:
; I think you already know that this raises all sorts of red flags with non-believers, non-Christians and atheists. I accept that this is a matter of faith to you, but even you have to see that this is not a rational statement to anyone outside the Faith. You may believe this; but how do you know it is true? There is no evidence for this, only pattern-seeking exercises of faith. It is a seemingly benign belief, but if I am to accept Catholics saying that it is a matter of faith then how is this different from the matter of faith of the Islamic martyr who believes that when he pilots a jet into a building he will be rewarded with 72 virgins in Paradise? There has to be good evidence for holding onto a belief. Otherwise it is wishful thinking of the feel-good variety. True, the one is on the face of it far more benign than the other; but they both have the potential to go horribly wrong.‘Christ's bodily presence on Earth was followed by the arrival of God's Holy Spirit which resides in the Church and guides its understanding’
Ok, how can I say that? How can I bring up mass-murderers with gentle, thoughtful Catholics who only want to do the right thing in the same sentence? Well, I’m not suggesting that the two are one and the same. They are not at all. But they are both deriving their comfort from the same source of illusion. It segues into the second answer you gave regarding Church Authorities’ teachings on faith and morals. I think I’m right in saying that you accept pronouncements regarding matters of faith and morality because you believe the doctrine that the Holy Spirit guides the Church’s understanding.
First off, there is a fallacy at work here: circular logic.
How do we know we can believe and trust Church Authorities?
Because the Holy Spirit guides the Church’s understanding.
How do we know the Holy Spirit guides the Church?
Because the Church Authorities told us so.
However, you can choose to accept this as a matter of faith, something that cannot be challenged by reason. That’s fine. But how about we take a look at the value of some of these teachings? And some of the morals of the Church Authorities?
Frankly, monotheistic religions have an absolutely unhealthy obsession with sex. One can look at this in anthropological and sociological terms and deduce that given the ancient and primitive origins of religions such as Christianity and Islam; the ‘morals’ preached by these institutions reflect the social order of ancient tribal life. In most primitive societies, males dominated the control of a familial group or tribe. Women were regarded as inferior, as valued only for their capacity to breed for the man that owned them. (Take a look at John Hartung, State University of New York, Department of Anesthesiology, who has written a number of articles on the subject - hair-raising stuff, not for the faint-hearted, but valuable if humbling lessons on our ancestors). If the story of Leviticus teaches us anything, it is that a woman’s only significance was in capability producing an heir for the man who owned her. The ownership bit was the part that mattered. This was why it was acceptable for a rape victim to be sold off to her rapist, for a woman who hadn’t screamed loudly enough to be stoned to death: any subsequent baby would be of dubious paternity, so she was essentially worthless. The Torah has likewise an unbelievably gruesome section where ‘wise’ men deal with rape victims - including baby boys and girls. Its educational. Stomach-churning, but insightful information into the origins of the so-called morality of human sexuality.
However it goes a long way to explain the current pronouncements on sexuality. Essentially, the Church wants people to not have sex. They recognise that it is a necessary evil to perpetuate the human species.
Taking issue with my use of the word ‘evil’? Well, frankly, that’s very much the message I get from the Humanae Vitae issued by John Paul 2. If I take it seriously at all, it’s absolutely repugnant to men and women, castigating males for wanting to have sex (please) and pretending that women, only if they are ‘good’ women, of course, have to endure being forced by their husbands. This might reflect a percentage of the situations in certain communities. It does not reflect the normal relationships between consenting adults that occur in both First and Third World countries. They don’t even address out of marriage relationships - they ignore this at their peril. The vast majority of people I know are Catholic. Some are relatively serious about their faith, others are more ‘nominal’. Virtually none of them (including the married ones) pays any attention to the Church’s teachings on contraception. This is not because they are immoral people. It’s because they have decided that the Church’s teachings on this matter are irrelevant or even immoral. I agree with them.
There is just no rationalisation for refusing to allow consenting adults to exercise responsible family planning or birth control. The way the Church defends this is claiming that sex should essentially be about procreation. This is a fallacy, once again. One of the biological consequences of sex, and perhaps the only evolutionary point of sex is reproduction. This is true. But every act of sex does not result in a baby, statistically relatively few sexual encounters result in a baby being born. In the vast majority of cases, either no fertilisation occurs, or the embryo is naturally and spontaneously aborted at some stage of pregnancy. And if you want to look to the natural world (not necessarily a vindication for human behaviour - but worth a look) other primates such as bonobos also engage in sexual activity for enjoyment, recreation and bonding. Sex is not just about reproduction, and furthermore I have yet to see any convincing argument that it should be.
Even worse is the outright lying that is being propagated by Cardinals and Bishops in Africa and South America about condoms in AIDS-ridden areas of the world. These are supposedly holy men, held in high regard by the Vatican. They can say they are motivated by the belief that they don’t condone condoms because they prevent conception. But that is not what they are preaching. They are teaching that the AIDS virus can pass through condoms, a statement that is as wicked as it is false. How many credulous men and women might have lived if they had believed the truth instead of the lies spread by Catholic clergy? What good does the Church possibly think it is doing for humans by lying to them about condoms? Does it honestly believe that a man’s soul will be saved if he contracts AIDS but is damned for using a condom? Does it care about the children who are orphaned or worse, born HIV positive as a direct result of its stupid teachings? This is actual fact. It was put forward by Cardinal Alfonso Lopez de Trujillo (the Vatican’s President of the Pontifical for the Family) and is now being propagated by Cardinals in several African countries. One of them has gone so far as to preach that a woman who dies of AIDS is to be considered a martyr because she has not used condoms. Cardinal Obando y Bravo, Cardinal Wamala, Bishop Rafael Cifuentes. This is, sadly, not a complete list of offenders.
I know that there are probably many Catholics, including priests and nuns, who are outraged at this lie. Nevertheless, the lie is out there, and doing untold damage in the name of Catholicism’s control or rather, stranglehold, on what it preaches as morality. What I want to know is why the many good and decent members of the Church don’t object most strongly when the Vatican condones this sort of peasant-like superstition and scare-mongering to be preached in its name? How can this outrageous nonsense be tolerated? And how can the men who preach such stupid and dangerous rot be treated with respect and regarded as moral guides? If this is what the leaders of the Catholic Church represent, even if I thought that there was a God, indeed even if it was proved that there was a God, I would still refuse absolutely any association with such fatuously stupid and immoral men. A man who deliberately lies and by his lie endangers the lives and probably causes the agonizing deaths of thousands of men, women and children ought to be called a criminal. What you hear on a Sunday morning in Dublin from a priest who is highly educated and rational; is not what is in line with the Vatican’s preferred dogma.
Again, we can say that We Believe that sex should be reserved for procreation between heterosexual married couples only. But why should we believe this? ‘Because the Church says so’ is not a convincing argument.
I am more than willing to debate the merits of homosexuality, divorce, abstinence and absurd papal pronouncements on the Dangers of Harry Potter ad infinitum but I’ve already taken up more than my fair share of space in this post.