Saturday, December 4, 2010

Faith and morals; the Church and the world

In order to bring my posting about the great condom conflagration of 2010 to a close (I anticipate one more post mid-week next on the pastoral application of what I am suggesting), I want to point out that arguing over the morality of using condoms to reduce the risk of HIV infection, especially whether it is moral for a married couple to do so in light of what Pope Benedict said to Peter Seewald about the possibility of permitting such use by those engaging in extra-marital or pre-marital relations, it is necessary to point out two things:

1) In order to justify the use of condoms to reduce the risk of HIV infection between people engaging in pre- or extra-marital relations one employs the moral argument of the lesser of two evils. This argument goes something like this- Engaging in such relations is already gravely sinful and so using a condom to prevent the risk of contracting or infecting someone else with a STD is the lesser of the two evils. When seeking to justify such use within marriage, one is forced to employ a variant of the principle of double effect. As I previously noted, in order to apply the principle of double effect, which allows you to do something that has a double effect, something that can achieve at the same time a good and a bad effect, it is not enough to merely intend the good effect, the bad effect must not be the means by which the good effect is achieved. By my reckoning, using a condom prevents the transmission of HIV precisely through the bad effect (i.e., contraceptive effect) of depriving that act of its procreative meaning.

2) Additionally, it is necssary to respond to the argument made, even by several prominent Catholic commentators, that permitting the use of condoms in one case and not the other is unfair to married couples and in fact favors people who engage in sex outside of marriage. In no do the Holy Father's remarks indicate a retreat from the gravely sinful nature of sex outside of marriage. He bestows no moral legitimacy on such actions, but insists on their intrinsic and objective wrongness, if you will. Such activity remains gravely sinful, or at least constitutes a sin with grave matter, whereas sex within marriage is not sinful, especially when it is not distorted by the use of contraceptives and retains both its unitive and procreative meanings. So, to argue such a point is to reveal how very secular and even hedonistic our view of human sexuality has become, even the view of many Christians.

In a post back in October I referred to an article by Stuart Reid in the U.K.'s Catholic Herald in which he wrote about Mel Gibson's Catholicism, defending it even in the face of Mel's public failures and against longstanding accusations that Mel shares his father's sedevacantist views. Reid writes that as far as he knows Gibson "has never questioned, far less rejected, any part of Catholic teaching." He notes that such cannot be said of many Catholics, including many priests. Reid uses the example of the mass rejection of Catholics in what he calls "the comfortable West" of the Church's teaching as set forth most recently and comprehensively by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae and bolstered by Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, noting that the vast majority of Catholics not only ignore this teaching- "the way we all ignore moral teaching from time to time," which active ignoring we call sin, but "they believe the Church is in error." This grave situation gives rise to a certain moral relativity even among Catholics.

At the root of this view is the increasingly unreasonable way we approach sex, seeing it exclusively as a form of recreation and not at all, or only minimally about procreation. According to this way of seeing sex, pregnancy is what occurs when something goes wrong, when there has a been a contraceptive failure. In a speech he delivered in May 2008 to a conference at the Pontifical Lateran University to mark the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the Holy Father warned that "[i]f the practice of sexuality becomes a drug that seeks to enslave one's partner to one's own desires and interests, without respecting the cycle of the beloved, then what must be defended is no longer solely the true concept of love but in the first place the dignity of the person. As believers, we could never let the domination of technology invalidate the quality of love and the sacredness of life."

He echoes his words from that speech in his interview with Seewald by pointing out that if we concentrate exclusively on condoms as the primary way to stem the spread of HIV then we risk trivializing human sexuality "and this trivialization represents precisely the dangerous reason why so many people no longer see sexuality as an expression of their love, but only as a sort of drug, which one administers on one's own."

This is the 1,700th post on Καθολικός διάκονος.


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