23 September 2005

A priesthood of a different bent

James Dumay and Pia Waugh both took exception to the Roman Catholic Church planning to ban homosexuals from being priests. I just know I’m going to get flamed six ways from Sunday after this one, but the combination of a straight femme and bent BEM condemning the same thing and both of them and the offending news report missing the major points is too much to resist.

First off, the big problem is the requirement that priests be celibate. That’s a recipe for disaster right there — and it has no foundation at all in the book which supposedly founded this great political organisation, which says (and I quote from 2 Timothy chapter 3, emphases mine):

[A church’s] overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited [...]. He must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach [...].
The “free from the love of money’ clause is kind of ironic for the world’s largest land-holder, but I digress.

Note that the overseer (basically a priest; it’s “bishop” in some translations) is supposed to be married to one wife, and have children, and demonstrate dignified and compassionate control of those children before they are allowed to become a priest. This neatly and completely disqualifies the following:

  • celibates of whatever taste in gender;
  • homosexuals of either gender; and
  • women;
One of the things which surprised me about Pia’s reaction was that she didn’t complain about the ban on women as RCC priests. That’s a whole different story and hinges on the role the organisation assigns to a priest. Pia will be interested to note that the word “servant” in Romans chapter 16, which starts...
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea.
...is translated “deacon” everywhere else by the male chauvinist translators, even of relatively modern translations. If you view a priest as being a dispenser of divine power, then priests must be male since the religion is patriarchal; if you view a priest as being an ambassador for God, the distinction evapourates. But again, I digress, except that the RCC takes the former view.

So... according to the Good Book, the RCC is right to ban women and gays fom the priesthood, but wrong not to ban celibates. One wonders where their banning of non-celibates leaves them, and my guess is “frantically bailing their barbed-wire canoe, but not thinking to question the design”.

James’s terse comment was also interesting, as he seems to have confused peace with detente and acceptance with toleration. If practitioners of a religion are to accept and be at peace with everything, then first up there is no point in the religion existing, but second up the mission is impossible, since the practitioner cannot accept and be at peace with two or more mutually hostile and/or exclusive positions, yet would be required to by such a creed.

The next contentious issue is the relationship — if any — between being gay and being a child molester. First off, direct equivalence is evidentially insane. Not all child-molesters are gay, not all gays are child-molesters.

The question comes down to how big the relative overlaps are, and until someone comes up with good numbers (there are plenty of bad, useless, and obvious biassed numbers flying around) I’d have to say that it could fall either way or neither, but that conventional wisdom says that where there’s smoke, there’s fire — someone who’s demonstrated abnormal (in the clinical sense) sexual tastes in one area is likely to also demonstrate them in another.

One of the completely cuckoo statements I’ve seen in the research is this one:

adults who molest children of their same gender (ie an adult male. who molests a boy) are not necessarily homosexual
What? How do these idiots define “homosexual” then? Do children comprise a third gender? How am I supposed to trust anything from such a source?

Leaving that issue unresolved, let’s press on to the matter of the forthcoming decree itself. Pope Benedict is extremely conservative, which is to say that he hews to a religiously conservative line rather than a politically conservative one, but note that the directive originated from Pope John Paul II, who was relatively liberal, at least outwardly.

Benedict, as Cardinal Joseph Alois Ratzinger, was head of the Inquisition, the polite name for whom is the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”.

I really don’t understand how anyone with any real interest in the RCC (note that I didn’t say “positive” interest) could miss the importance of that point, or fail to expect Ratzinger to start enacting more and more conservative Papal legislation, and encouraging his little flock to start politicking to get everyone else to do the same.

The article mentions many priests resigning over the matter, and that’s exactly the right thing for them to do. If they don’t agree with the RCC, then they shouldn’t be members of it.

The sticking point comes with those few who are both threatening to resign and expect to spend eternity writhing in pain inside God’s great big toaster oven as a consequence because they believe that this church with which they disagree is the only way of avoiding such a fate.

To digress once more, even within conventional theology I have a problem with this, because if sinners are tortured forever, then sinners exist forever and the whole idea — in theory &mdash is to eliminate sin.

I guess you just can’t have your kayak and heat it too, either agree with the RCC and do as they say, or don’t and don’t, and don’t worry about it.

On the gripping hand, the RCC has traditionally not been shy about extending its political influence as far as it possibly can, the implication being that even if you’re not convinced that you’re going to be doing sausage impressions forever after, they’re going to intrude on your life sooner or later.

This brings us back to James’ idea of peace. It turns out that the RCC believes in peace, too, where peace is defined as being at peace with the Holy Roman Empire AKA the Holy See. Another way of saying “at peace with” is “in agreement with”, which immediately presents another problem.

Part of official RCC doctrine is that everything else should be subservient to them. Governments, armies, the works. Why not other churches? Well, read the doctrine carefully, and you’ll discover that, officially, there is only “us” and “heretics”.

Unpacking that a little, it means that the only way to be at peace with the RCC is to be subservient to them — to obey them.

I can’t be at peace with them on those terms, can you?

So far, I should be right up amongst the leaders in the How to Lose Friends and Infuriate People stakes, but if anything’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, so I’ll end by pointing out that many people succumb to the Microsoft-like marketing of the RCC, who refer to themselves as “the Church” as if there were no other.

This marketing often has a mesmerising effect, and people get to the point of completely confusing $DEITY with a bunch of people claiming an exclusive franchise from $DEITY.

The same thing happens in science, with believers in Naturalism carrying their a priori assumption across into their work, referring to it as “reality” and treating it as the only possible (or only sane) viewpoint.

People who encounter and examine situations such as this only lightly are bound to be confused and frequently embarrass themselves by relating to the fantasy they’ve just been sold as if it were fact; the “only rational” viewpoint. We seek closure, and often in the process jump on a simple-seeming answer right now rather than deferring judgement until a useful collection of observations have been accumulated.

Waiting risks the embarrassment of being forced to admit “I don’t know” — which words are amongst the most valuable in both science and philosophy. I’m happy to say “I don’t know — but I’m willing to find out.”

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