Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When the Churches' Moral Arguments Are Weak, But the Church Continues Inflicting Pain

From a journal entry dated August 1990:

The sticking point, it seems to me, of Catholicism’s opposition to homosexuality, is whether one may ethically inflict pain on others when one’s reason for doing so is ethically unsound and rests on presuppositions that have come to be seen as ethically dubious. That the Catholic position on homosexuality creates pain for many people is undeniable. It does so directly by causing Catholic gays to doubt whether our nature is divinely ordained, whether we will achieve salvation, whether we may form lasting relationships, whether we may seek self-fulfillment sexually . . . . It does so in other ways by reinforcing cultural assumptions and practices (e.g., patriarchy) that inflict pain on society itself.

This pain has to be put against what is the foundation-stone of the Catholic argument: i.e., God creates male and female to procreate; natural law demonstrates this. So the church believes. So the church argues. And so the church wants us to believe, tautologically, as if the moral insights captured in these formulas are self-evident because to state them is to prove them: they prove themselves, the church wants us to imagine.

But when so many sound critiques of this natural law position exist, doesn’t the Catholic church have a moral obligation to reconsider its teaching, given the deep pain that results from that teaching? And if not reconsider, at least shut up about its teaching for a while in the face of such pain? When the vast majority of Catholics in the Western world reject the preceding tautology by practicing artificial contraception, isn't the argument about homosexuality increasingly dubious, as well?

The real question is, why has the church been so apathetic (and, indeed, complicit) in the face of human suffering in so many instances—the persecution of the Jewish people, torture of heretics, burning of witches (who just happened to be almost all women), the slave trade, the Crusades? Clearly, it has been apathetic and complicit in much human pain because of its stubborn certainty that it has truth (as with homosexuality today), and because of its theological elevation of suffering and afterlife to a central place in its canon of beliefs—a place that denies the value of human existence and human joy in this world.