Pope does something marginally decent

…and everyone loses their shit.

Of course this news is a bit dated now, and many of you have probably already heard this story:

Using a condom is a lesser evil than transmitting HIV to a sexual partner — male or female —even if that means averting a possible pregnancy, the Vatican said Tuesday, signalling a seismic shift in papal teaching as it further explained Pope Benedict XVI’s comments.

So the Pope has finally hit on the idea that it might be less evil to protect yourself and your sexual partner than it is to have sex without trying to make a baby. A few questions come to mind:

  1. What about papal infallibility? Were you wrong before, or are you wrong now?
  2. How is it that the moral “leadership” provided by the Catholic Church is about 100 years behind everyone else?
  3. How did it take you this long to figure that out?

Life is not a dichotomous state – there is no such thing as ensoulment or some kind of spontaneous creation of “life”. Ever since Friedrich Wöhler first synthesized crystals of urea, a feat that was supposed to be impossible (organic matter from inorganic components), the philosophy of vitalism has been rapidly dismantled. All of the evidence suggests that “life” is a continuum that reaches back millions of years to the first self-replicating molecule, which was itself made up of “non-living” materials.

In this way, wearing a condom is not “preventing life” anymore than masturbation is mass murder. You’re simply inhibiting a specific chemical reaction that will result in a fertilization. To even consider the suffering of a living, feeling human person equivalent to the prevention of a chemical reaction – to even put those things in the same moral ballpark – takes a particularly craven mind.

And so people began bending over backwards to congratulate the Pope on not being entirely boneheadedly evil:

Catholic reformers and groups working to combat HIV have welcomed remarks by Pope Benedict that the use of condoms might not always be wrong.

I’m reminded of a Chris Rock sketch, where he derides some black men for their perceived tendency to brag about things that aren’t accomplishments, like raising their kids and paying their bills. To this completely unwarranted bragging, Rock retorts: “what do you want, a cookie?” Apparently the world is quite willing to hand an abundance of cookies over to the Pope for finally saying something that pretty much everyone else had figured out already.

But hey, at least he figured it out, right?

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the Pope was speaking about “an exceptional situation” in one of the interviews in the book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, which is being published on Tuesday.

“The Pope considered an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality is a real danger to the life of another,” said Fr Lombardi. Benedict used the specific example of a male prostitute using a condom to illustrate his apparent shift in position.

Come the fuck on, Ratzinger! Condoms are only appropriate in exceptional situations? Apparently in the Pope’s world view, it is better for a woman to become pregnant with a child she does not want and cannot afford to raise than it is for her to protect herself during sex. It’s better for a man to become inextricably yoked to another person for the rest of his life than it is for him to use a piece of latex.

And why is it a male prostitute?

Not all sex results in pregnancy (and I thank my lucky stars for that fact), but there’s always a chance. Many people want to have a child, for whatever reason, and are in a position to provide for it. Using condoms, unlike implants or hormone therapies or other intrusive forms of birth control, do not prevent people who want to have children from doing so. It is a simple technology that harms nobody (unless you count sperm, which I don’t).

Whatever claim to some kind of moral insight or authority that the Catholic Church pretends to have is repeatedly undermined by the ethical stupidity that is repeatedly on display from the Vatican.

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  1. says

    I once heard from my Irish Religious Studies teacher (who was pretty nonreligious himself… not sure if he was atheist or agnostic) that most Irish people basically just roll their eyes, tell the Pope “that’s nice” and go on with their business.

  2. Autumn says

    What about papal infallibility? The Pope was not invoking papal infallibility but merely commenting in a book. This doesn’t count as a teaching of the Church, merely his opinion. Furthermore, the Catholics won’t admit to being wrong. They’re incapable of being wrong as they deal with “Ultimate Truths” – Truths which cannot be changed. Because, well, they’re ultimate. (Thats why they have a problem with science gaining more evidence and changing theories as needed.)

    Look at abortions, for example. They don’t allow abortions in any case, even if the life of the mother is at risk. BUT, you can get “treated” for your (tubal) ectopic pregnancy by having a (“afflicted”) portion of your tube removed. The fact that you’re removing a baby doesn’t matter. Its a “side effect.”

    They’re also against sterilizations, yet, if you get cancer or some other disease, you can have major sex organs removed as part of the treatment. Your intent is not to remove your testes or ovaries, its merely a “side effect” of removing your cancer there.

    Furthermore, with the condom statement, hes not approving condoms. He’s merely saying that in some cases, like that of a male homosexual prostitute, that using condoms to protect himself and his clients is the first step towards (a Catholic) moral sexual health. (I know, mental whiplash there.) To put it another way, lets say you’re a mean drunk and you like to drink and beat your wife 7 days a week. You then make a decision to, instead of beating her 7 days, you’re only going to beat her 6 days a week. Or, instead of using a bat, you’re only going to slap her around instead. You’re still doing evil, its just a lesser evil. Married couples should practice abstinence during periods of infection or possible infection, to be “good” in the eyes of the Church.

    Also, while there was some fear the Pope only meant to address men using condoms, as he specifically used the male prostitute word (German), it has since come out that the same holds true for female prostitutes as well. I don’t know if this was his original intent or a PR move. Either wouldn’t surprise me.

    Catholics feel that by preventing contraception, you’re screwing with the unity of sex. They’ve stayed alive, afterall, by being the dominate religion. If you’re not being procreative (or at least open to children, as they now approve of natural family planning, another-we-didn’t-change-our-minds,-you-just-misunderstood-us-for-the-last-2000-years thing), you’re destroying their idea of the purpose of marriage. Why, you might as well support gay marriage! Since, you know, Lust is just as unnatural and disordered as same sex attractions.

    In summary, NO- the Pope should not get a cookie.

  3. says

    That is pretty much correct, in so far as most Irish (even those who self-identify as Catholic) really don’t give a crap about what the pope says. Condoms became legal in Ireland 1978, but were doing a roaring trade regardless.

  4. Angela Squires says

    Agreed. Other than wondering what alternative reality the Pope lives in I find him and the Catholic Church a bore. Thank goodness for Henry VIII taking England out from under this papal tyranny!

  5. grassrute says

    I agree, the Vatican shouldn’t get a cookie.
    Suppose the Vatican’s comments were made in reference to other forms of misbehaviour:
    “Using sterile needles, when shooting up, is a lesser evil than transmitting HIV to yourself or a friend”
    Imagine a Vatican or other church leader encouraging people to “know your limit, play within it” when making reference to gambling. Considering teens are going to smoke anyways, imagine church leaders telling them it’s a lesser evil to smoke non-contraband cigarettes with a filter.
    Sugar-coating sin (in this case to be understood as un-marital sex, not sex that prevents life) or encouraging people to engage in it while diminishing its consequences is not the purpose of the church. To the contrary, a church that uses its influence to encourage reckless behaviour, as long as it’s carried out in a safer manner, exposes itself as a fraud, just another chess club. (The same can be said of a church that teaches papal infallibility rather than the infallibility of scripture)
    Is it also a lesser evil to transmit an STD to a sexual partner if a condom was used?
    Considering condoms only have an 80 – 85% success rate in preventing pregnancy, it shouldn’t be too surprising that their not 100% effective in preventing STDs. The plan for sex/marriage taught in scripture is much more effective.
    I guess I’m not getting a cookie either, eh?

  6. says

    Before replying to this, I got up and walked around. I started the kettle. There’s a cup of tea on the way. In short: I have taken some precautions to endeavour to take the edge off my comments here. Out of respect for whose blog this is, not for the primate to whom I am responding.

    Suppose the Vatican’s comments were made in reference to other forms of misbehaviour

    I am going to briefly respond to you. You don’t tend to reply to the points I raise, so this is largely a waste of time, but I’m typing this on the off-chance that someone who hasn’t had their intellect eradicated by decades of religious indoctrination will read and (maybe) understand.

    To further understand these points, please read some Nietzsche (“On the genealogy of Morals” would be an excellent start). No, don’t read *about* Nietzsche, go read him directly. He’s easy, and accessible, and reviled by all those who wish to control your mind (and others too, but that’s besides the point).

    You have classified “pre-marital sex” as a “misbehaviour”. As you have also clarified “drug” use as a “misbehaviour”. And “gambling”.

    All of these are “misbehaviours”, which you have also labeled “sin”. I do, of course, realise that you are not labeling them as such, but that you (in your empty-headed way) are merely parroting what you have been told: these behaviours are “bad” and “wrong” and should not be done.

    So I agree with you that they are all, in fact, behaviours.

    But wrap your tiny little mind around this: you have no justification to call them “sin”. You call them “sin” merely because those who are your social superiours have labelled them as such. And, as a social creature, you have been raised within a framework to see them as anathema. As “dirty”. As “wrong”. As phrases which themselves reveal the social origin of the Christian conception of “sin”: that which is not “Noble”, that is that which does not pertain to the “virtues” of the ruling class, but belongs to the “under”class, the plebians, the peasants, and the dirteaters.

    I am tired of reading uneducated drivel from people who don’t even understand the limits of their own “moral” system.

    If I asked you to justify, in a non-circular way, how and why these things are “sinful”, you would be completely unable to do so: you would refer to the (excuse me while I smash my face off the wall) “infallible scripture” that is so much used toilet paper. The excremental stench that arises from such a book when anyone with a modicum of thought peruses the [insert holy book of choice] is enough to drive anyone with functioning brain cells to seek an alternative that doesn’t require a metaphorical lobotomy to take place, in order to avoid seeing the inherent contradictions.

    Can you even acknowledge that?

    Can you even take a moment to ask yourself: Why do I believe that these things are sin? What justification do I have for believing that the bible is “true”? Is “because people told me that it was true” sufficient for believing the other important things in my life? Since it’s not sufficient for those things, why is it sufficient for this?

    For the love of all that’s holy, won’t you please think?

    I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.
    Galileo Galilei

  7. Autumn says

    He divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves without murdering either of them. I think it was more jealousy and accusations of adultery that lead to the others’ death.

  8. grassrute says

    Brian, you either missed my point or reject its relevance simply because I’ve had my intellect eradicated by decades of religious indoctrination. I was offering a biblical perspective on the Pope’s comment and trying to clarify the role of the church.

    It’s difficult to entertain your comment without sharing my life experiences and I don’t want to cause anyone to vomit over their keyboard. Your asking why I believe these things are sin is the result of an assumption that I’m irrational and incapable of critical thought. The reality is that I was raised in a Christan home. Because I have a functioning brain, I did question aspects of what I was taught and once finishing high school rebelled against it completely. I engaged in every form of activity I was taught to believe is wrong. I spent a few years in this life of vanity that is best described in the Bible book of Ecclesiastes. I have since repented and come to live a life of purpose and hope.

    I will read some Nietzsche as you suggest, but I’m not interested in returning to a life of hopelessness. Despite all Nietzsche’s writings, where is he now? The grave is where it ends for all of us and it comes faster than we might like to think. There is hope beyond the grave that is available to all,

    There is a church out there that is not interested in controlling your mind, but just wants to give you the hope of faith.

  9. says

    Grassrute – any group whose actions result in the increasing and prolonged suffering of human beings cannot make any claim of ‘morality’. If the RCC had, for example, said “sex outside of marriage is immoral” and left it at that, you’d have a point. But they didn’t stop there – they went on to say that using condoms degrades humanity, and that it would be better for a woman to contract HIV than for her to protect herself. Then they walked it back and said “well it’s still evil, but it’s a lesser evil” – exactly the situation you decry.

    It would be merely stupid to insist that people shouldn’t have sex – people have and continue to do so regardless of how much you jump up and down on your pulpit. Morality is not simply assertion of opinion; it is a reasoned process. However, when the process is based on faulty premises that contradict the evidence, the position has to be changed.

    I’d advise (for your own sake, and for that of your children) that you do a bit more research about the differences between getting pregnant and getting HIV, and the reason why condoms are 80% effective (hint: not everyone uses them properly). Also, considering that the rates of teen pregnancy and STIs are much higher in places that preach abstinence only (which would be your “scriptural” position – a position which isn’t actually in the scripture), I would call that much less effective.

  10. says

    reject its relevance simply because I’ve had my intellect eradicated by decades of religious indoctrination.

    If you would spend the time trying to think, rather than acting like a wounded moron, you would understand that my rejection of your point is because it’s irrelevant.

    My rejection of what you say has zero to do with you.

    I was offering a biblical perspective

    You say this like I don’t understand what you were saying.

    I fully and completely understand what you are (and were) saying.

    You are (and were) completely wrong. You don’t understand anything about morality.

    Your asking why I believe these things are sin is the result of an assumption that I’m irrational and incapable of critical thought.

    For fuck’s sake.

    No, you complete goddamn moron, no.

    I am not assuming that you are irrational and incapable of critical thought.

    It’s comments like this that demonstrate that you are irrational and are failing to think critically.

    Furthermore, I wasn’t *asking* why you think these things: I was telling you why you think these things. The questions were rhetorical, an attempt to get you to think, something which you appear to be allergic to in the extreme.

    There is hope beyond the grave that is available to all

    I’m sorry that you believe such nonsense. I’m sorry that you believe that ‘hope’ has anything to do with ‘beyond the grave’.

    I’m sorry that you are so fucking selfish that you need the idea that you live forever in order to have ‘hope’.

    I’m sorry that this life, here and now, is insufficient for you.

    There is a church out there that is not interested in controlling your mind, but just wants to give you the hope of faith.

    It is both appalling and depressing that you don’t understand how this statement is a contradiction: the “hope of faith” is an attempt to control your mind.

  11. says

    If I did that, you’d have a point. We’ve already established that Grasrute is a complete novice in this arena; yelling at him doesn’t teach him anything. You don’t have to teach him anything, and I’m not going to start blocking or editing comments for harsh language, I’m just saying that the response seems out of proportion to the provocation, particularly given who you’re dealing with.

  12. says

    [one shower later]

    Fair point.

    Expressing my frustration in this manner is neither helpful nor constructive.

    I shall cease kicking the dog (not a metaphor for ‘not posting’).

  13. says


    In the interest of slightly more productive comments…

    You may find a text called “Critical Wisdom” by Leonard Angel to be an excellent introduction to critical thinking. While the text is neither explicitly atheist nor theist, the book itself is a gentle exploration of the ideas of critical thinking and how they pertain to wisdom. It’s a short book (not even 100 pages, I think), and it’s quite cheap.

    You can’t find it on Amazon, but you can find it 2nd hand online, and you may find it in your local university’s bookstore.

    You can read the opening of ‘On The Genealogy of Morals’ here: http://tinyurl.com/2b6axrj

    I suggest skipping the preface and then just reading the opening of chapter 1 (The rest of the chapter is cut off). Then read the preface for a deeper understanding.

    I’d then recommend that you check http://tinyurl.com/36lnuea. This is another edition of the book, with a much longer ‘Editor’s introduction’, which will furnish you with a deeper understanding.

    Note: this is relatively advanced philosophy. This is something that is difficult for people who have spent several years studying philosophy specifically.

    You are welcome to email me about this stuff with the following caveat:

    Any objection that starts with “Nietzsche is wrong because of [something to do with the bible]” will be deleted without me reading further. That kind of criticism indicates that you are not even engaging in reflective thinking.

    That he is not in accord with the bible: damn straight.

    That the bible should automatically have precedence: this is your brainwashing speaking. Think harder.

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