27 August, 2015

A Catholic agrees with the Pope, who is a Catholic

A very important news article finds that a Catholic is Catholic.

'Perhaps we should de-politicize human sexuality', he said, 'by abandoning women's health to uncertainty and privation for political reasons'. 

Literally every claim here is the most beautiful ever made. Corporations are a fiction designed to prevent individual shareholders and owners from being personally liable for the misadventures of the company; as a convenience for legal proceedings. There are dramatically important reasons to protect an individual's religious freedom and the freedom of religious organisations - from the public utility to the individual sacredness of freedom of thought - but these considerations simply do not extend to the legal fiction of a for profit business. The instrument of a company already funds that which is against owners' morals through other taxes - and what is ACA other than a tax system to directly support employees' healthcare insurance through their employer - and we regularly suborn religious practices to the public and individual good. Jehovah's witnesses have no right to refuse blood transfusions for their children, no one has a right to refuse to provide basic healthcare, food, and shelter for their dependents, businesses are unable to dictate how their employees' wages are spent unless it personally offends Catholics sitting on the SCOTUS, etc. Freedom of thought and worship does not mean freedom from the basic administrative functions of civil society a public has designed through its government for the common good. The SCOTUS' argument is a nonsense, which they literally acknowledge in the decision: the distinction between contraception and blood transfusions, medical treatments that include pork-derived materials and psychological medication is that none of the latter religious objections derive from the mainstream American Christian belief set which, say, a given handful of rich white old Americans would hold. When an appeals court explicitly pleads in a ruling that its reasoning should not be used as a precedent or its logic be applied to anything else it is not a terribly good sign in even their confidence in it.

The fiscal arguments against universal and free access to contraception - the 'burden' of providing it - are absurd. No social democracy should or would allow children - who are innocent of the crimes, or ignorance, or irresponsibility, or forlorn hopes, or poor fortune of their parents - starve and suffer where there exists enough capital to prevent it. Freely available contraception reduces the number of single parents and the number of children supported through welfare; the cost of contraception is minuscule compared to the cost of supporting a struggling family. It is a nonsense to suggest that poor women - those most likely to abort foetuses - are able to afford contraception; for some women condoms are not an option - and can be expensive and difficult to acquire and use safely anyway - relying on a man to use condoms safely can be a very reliable method of ensuring an unplanned pregnancy or STI transmission, for some women other forms of contraception are non-viable or extremely difficult to implement reliably (they may be allergic to spermicides, have severe reaction to IUDs or the pill, etc.,) and so more expensive or multiple options must be considered. Noticing this as a woman is enough to be called a 'slut'
 in political discourse, never mind the fact that such costs have
 nothing to do with the amount of sex, let alone sexual partners, one is enjoying. There are an enormous wealth of reasons why the US has a much higher rate of single parenthood than the rest of the first world, although they can be summarised bluntly: poverty, a lack of political drive for (and frequent political opposition to)  competent education and a lack of universal access to basic medical care. Assuming Americans are uniquely, innately stupid is not one of those reasons, and desiring to be less like nations which have had immense success in handling the issue is actively opposing solutions to the issue.

Opposition to contraception turns arguments against abortion on their head, since such beliefs and practices actively promote it. The dramatic drop in abortion rates even America has enjoyed is one of the many boons of an albeit slow and imperfect unfettering of women from a Luddite and brutish understanding of and attitude towards their reproductive cycles and increasing acknowledgement of their equality as people. As education on human reproduction improves - as local religious and social restrictions on teaching children about contraception have gradually dissipated, as legislation (and community restrictions) on contraception and abortion drop away, as access to such things develops, then living conditions improve, children die less frequently and the harshest effects of poverty are alleviated. Empowering women actually has a huge number of benefits for society, unsurprisingly.

But the teachings of the Church are immune to such critiques, since they hold that contraception is itself an evil to rival both abortion and the unnecessary deaths of children, which has about as much to do with moral philosophy as opposed to intentionally segregating tribal beliefs as female genital mutilation and circumcision. Indeed we are left with the self-parody of the largest organisation of celibate virgins on the planet talking down to the rest of society, telling us that to fail to multiply is selfish.

The paucity of the supposed theological complaint against contraception is demonstrated by the repeated suggestions of numerous popes, for whom the mere fact that they have said it is against 'God's design' is enough to demonstrate that it is (except for one, who in a flash of inspiration and in an off hand comment that could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives if made several decades earlier noticed that an HIV infected prostitute wearing a condom during sex is acting more morally responsible than one who does not).

Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

It is facile. To rage against contraception as contravening God's plan is no different to complaining about lightning rods on churches diverting lightning (a contemporaneous objection raised against Benjamin Franklin's development of them), or roofs on churches to keep out rain (a witticism apocryphally attributed to Franklin in response), or using medicine to prolong the lives of those afflicted by disease, age, or for instance to save a newborn struggling from any one of a myriad number of common complications during childbirth, which are, for want of a better word, completely natural and a result of the evolutionary baggage of our own bodies. To suggest something is contrary to God's design because it is a product of the human mind is an entirely artificial pseudo-rage against a piece of technology, strategy or system, a veneer raised in lieu of an argument. Condoms are simply not logically distinct from using the rhythm method; both employ the ingenuity of the human will to greatly mitigate the risk of pregnancy during coitus, one merely has a much higher success rate. No Catholic teaching has ever explained, meaningfully and morally, the difference, and as one does not exist they never will. Instead, they stamp their feet and declare it is so, because they have said it is so. Such is their capacity for persuasion.

Indeed it is difficult to parse what it could possibly mean for us to be able to frustrate God's will or design in such matters: it casts God as actively evil minded but weak, determined to make us suffer and bend in some ways, to seek to limit our will in a completely arbitrary, illogical fashion, to restrict our capacity to express our love relationships, all for completely ineffable purposes. It sees God as someone whose heart is so hardened that we will be cast away if we fail to have sex with each other in the prescribed manner: not in terms of the love between us, the compassion and the intense emotional and physical bond and the tenderness we share in such moments - it is very strange to read virgins attempting to capture such emotions in their clammy writings - but in the precise way in which we confound our fecundity while we do it. Such machinations in his profound, infinitely clever design, in his will, are apparently baffled by a rubber sheath. There is little to respect here. The richness of the world and our capacity for decency, and life, and love, should not be sacrificed to esteem such silliness, and there is no other word for it. It's silly.

I can, however, evince more meaningful reasons for why the church teaches that contraception is evil: the fact that restricting the capacity of women to choose the manner and timing of their procreating is an exceptionally effective barrier to a society dragging its way out of poverty is a boon. It keeps societies, communities and individuals nestled in the arms of the church, which remains ever so pleased with its hold over millions of poor and uneducated, those it talks to in a completely different way than when it talks to industrialised nations - where a majority of Catholics may actually use or agree to the public funding of condoms - because, a less charitable soul than myself may suggest, the Vatican remains more than willing to suborn morality to political and financial interests.

When a Christian Scientist tries to prevent their child from obtaining basic medical treatment we overrule them, and in both the UK and the US, the taxes of Christian Scientists taxes pay for medical treatment through the NHS and medicaid, CHIP etc. When creationists attempt to get their nonsense taught in science classes we overrule them, and in both the US and the UK, the taxes of creationists fund biology, astronomy, geology and other science lessons which directly and fundamentally contradict their sometimes sincerely held beliefs. The providing of free contraception is an enormous boon to a society, it reduces the need for abortion, reduces the number of teen pregnancies, reduces the number of single parents, grants women and couples the opportunity to plan their lives and careers beyond their bodies, and ultimately saves the public money.  I do not particularly care that individuals believe their rights are being infringed by having to contribute to good civil society anymore than I care that the tax denial movement believes its rights are being stripped because they have to pay taxes. It simply fails to be a response but is a whine offered instead of one. They feel they do not have to contribute to the civil good because they believe it is wrong for them to do so, and this demands examination; but upon examination these beliefs are wicked and absurd. We are therefore under no obligation to kneel to them.

For some  people, the fact that there is usually a sexual component involved with using contraceptive methods - although there are frequently additional health benefits; for instance the recombinant human papillomavirus vaccine dramatically lowers the risk of cervical cancer in young women and the pill can help control painful menstrual flows - immediately causes a moral panic. In such a panic they presumably forget the suffering of an unwanted child, they abandon the reason involved in calculating the worse evil. Except the Vatican, of course, whose personal happiness is presumably enriched by condemning human sexuality and reveling in the misery of abused and neglected children. But paying for contraception is not paying people to have sex, because they will do it anyway; it is paying so that we do not have to pay the moral and financial costs of unwanted childbirth, disease and medical complication. The results of unplanned pregnancies are less pleasant than of people having sex without physical repercussions: more children growing up knowing hardship, suffering, broken homes and what it means to be unwanted and burdensome. 

-The Rev. Schmitt., FCD.