Friday, March 27, 2009

Follow-Up: Benedict on Condoms, Dreher on Authority

I wrote recently, “People of good will around the world find this position [i.e., Pope Benedict’s statement that condoms make the AIDS crisis worse] incomprehensible and even malevolent" (here) (see also here) (and here).

And now the prestigious British medical journal the Lancet has published an editorial on Benedict’s statement (here), which sums it up as follows:

When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record. By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on the issue.

To repeat my point: despite what many American Catholics of the center appear to believe, people of good will around the world find Benedict’s position on condoms and AIDS incomprehensible and malevolent. And with good reason.

A pastoral leader of a Christian church has no business distorting scientific fact to uphold dogma, when human lives are at stake.

And I also blogged recently, re: the patriarchal underpinnings of Rod Dreher’s neocon ideology with its heavy emphasis on “authority,

What does not seem to occur to these neoconservative thinkers is that not everyone may be so ravenous for authority—for male authority, for paternal authority—as they are. Or that not everyone in the world and in the churches may think that everything hinges on authority—and male authority in particular. And that not everyone shares their analysis of a world hurtling to destruction through its denial of authority and tradition and its thirst for information (here) (H/T to Andrew Sullivan here) ( and also here).

And now, in a recent New Republic posting entitled “The Gay Fixation of Rod Dreher,” Damon Linker has the following to say about Dreher and authority (here):

. . . Rod has shown in his work as a journalist writing about the sex-abuse scandal in (and its cover-up by) the Catholic Church that he's perfectly willing to aggressively challenge religious authorities when he believes them to be acting immorally. Good for him. It shows that he's modern -- that is, he chooses which authorities to obey based on his own subjective judgment. So when Rod obeys the authority of orthodox (in his case, Eastern Orthodox) Christian teaching on homosexuality, he does so because he chooses to obey -- because he makes the subjective judgment that that teaching is true, is right, is worthy of being obeyed.

But why? Does Rod have any non-question-begging answer to this question? An answer that doesn't just amount to saying, "because the church says so"? That would be the answer of someone who really lives and thinks in (pre-modern) obedience to church authority. But we've already determined that this doesn't apply to Rod. So what's the answer? Why are the orthodox churches right to condemn homosexuality? Or in Rod's own words, what, precisely, does he "know to be true" about homosexuality? And, perhaps more importantly, how does he know it?

It is illogical and inconsistent to argue for authority as the basis for moral custom only when it is expedient to play the authority card. It also dangerous to argue in this way, particularly when one seeks to make one’s own subjective judgment of what is and is not authoritative binding on everyone else—in the absence of sound argumentation to convince those being bound that they ought to be bound.