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On the Pope, condoms and messed up priorities November 22, 2010

Posted by laïcité in Religion, Society, Uncategorized.
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Perhaps you’ve already read about the pope relaxing the Catholic Church’s stance on the use of the condom. In a book that will be published this week, the Pope was quoted saying that the use of condoms could be justified in certain cases, such as by a male prostitute to prevent HIV. I wouldn’t disagree that despite this, there are still many aspects where the Catholic Church’s policies are outdated and unrealistic, such as its stance on abortion, homosexuality and attitudes towards women. But on the whole I guess we can all agree that this is a welcome step forward, a sign of progress away from archaic black-or-white rules about sexuality, towards (as the pope himself said) the “humanization of sexuality”. It is a very rare instance where, for once, a religion has got its priorities right.

Most of the time, I don’t let the incoherence of religious beliefs, traditional practices or superstitions bother me much. If you think sex before marriage is wrong, that’s fine as long as you don’t try and impose that view on others. If you think your dead relatives can receive your prayers and offerings, that’s fine if it gives you peace of mind. If you think a book written about desert nomads 2000 years ago contains a moral code that is still applicable today, then that’s fine too as long as you don’t try to use it as a basis for secular laws.

But what really REALLY gets my goat is when these irrational beliefs take precedence over human health and safety, and sometimes even human lives. The Catholic Church’s position on contraceptives is a key example. How could it ever rationally be argued that the preservation of sex as an expression of love between a husband and wife with a primary purpose of procreation, be more important than the ever growing problems of HIV/AIDS, STIs, and overpopulation? It’s one thing to view condom-less, contraceptive-less sex as an ideal (not that I can fathom why), but it is another thing altogether to impose that ideal as a moral law on real people, while expecting them to ignore real human urges or otherwise bear the lifelong or life threatening consequences. It is appalling how the pursuit of an ideal, “approved” circumstance to have sex is so important that the very real risks and outcomes become irrelevant.

The church’s lack of consideration for the problem of overpopulation is particularly worrying. Along with the “sex is only for procreation” mantra, there seems to be an accompanying view that isn’t so much “pro-life”, as it is “pro-birth”. By shunning all efforts for family planning, the Catholic Church is basically encouraging procreation as an end in itself, with no consideration given to the fact that resources are finite, and that uncontrolled procreation only adds the burden to family expenses, a country’s infrastructure, and the world’s already depleting resources. It may not be politically correct to mention so, but one can’t help but wonder whether the lowered social and economic status of Muslims in Singapore is somewhat linked to the increased rates of teen pregnancies, early marriage and divorce, and large families, all of which are consequences of a religion’s disapproval towards contraceptives. Should we really be worrying over the “sinfulness” of a piece of rubber when it involves compromising people’s quality of life and impeding the upward social mobility of a community, or even the development of a country (such as in the case of the Philippines)?

Another example of questionable prioritization is when people reject medical science at the expense of not only their own health, but also that of their loved ones. If there is one thing that humans have in common across all cultures and creeds, it is the empathy and love that we have for our family. It is shocking how religion or tradition can overwrite the very natural instinct of the preservation of self and family. This is exemplified in the biblical story of Abraham and his son, where Abraham shows his love for God by his willingness to murder his son (Genesis 22:2-13). It is even explicitly mentioned in the New Testament that believers should abandon their own parents, wife and children for Jesus (Matthew 19:29). So there is little question about the origin of such devotion to God that takes precedence over the life of an individual or his family, as seen when Christian Scientists withhold medical treatment from their sick children or when Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions for themselves and their children. I cannot decide which is worse: a person who would forsake his own family for his religion, or a religion which forces one to choose between being a good believer and being a good parent.

In the same vein, the practice of honor killings is extremely irrational and counter instinctive, and in my opinion, a serious case of screwed up priorities. Various cultures may place differing value on the concept of “honor”, but when such honor (or pride, or “face”) becomes more important than the life of one’s own child or sibling, there is something seriously wrong. It flies directly in the face of the human instinct to love and protect one’s own offspring.

Perhaps the examples I mentioned above may seem extreme and inapplicable to normal people in modern society. But religion and tradition taking precedence over family, loved ones and even public health is not uncommon in Singapore society, albeit to a less extreme extent. When a parent disowns his child for being gay, or when a staunch Christian refuses to attend his parent’s Taoist funeral ceremony, or even when parents and schools refuse to educate youths about safe sex by the rationale of conserving traditional values, it indicates that tradition, religion and policy are considered to be more important than family, love or health. It is sad how a an uncompromising belief can cause one to change his priorities such that love, empathy, and all other hallmarks of humanity have to take a backseat to moralistic ideals and doctrines.

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Comments»

1. Ralph - March 19, 2011

Sigh …

As usual, the atheist misinterprets Christianity, Catholicism and the Pope. I am too tired to say anymore.

2. laïcité - March 19, 2011

Perhaps I will never understand a human being who would choose to put religion or “god” above humanity.

Ultimately the world doesn’t need more religionists or atheists. It needs more humanists.


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