If you'd like to start your week in a nice, foamy emotional lather, click the graphic on the left and read the Papal instructions on keeping sexual abuses and abusers secret, from the BBC's October Panorama program on the Vatican's cover-up of known sex abusers within its clergy; or watch the video (right, Real Player or WMP required).
Perhaps the question may occur to you: "how did we get to the point where the foulest creeps are governing our civil and spiritual lives?" It's a question we attempt to address, if not answer, here in our regular dissections of the various governmental and religious cults of fundamentalism. Today, Terry McKenna touches on this topic in a discussion of Catholicism and its attitude toward sex; and a brief spout from me in the same vein follows. First, Mr. McKenna:
I want to start off this week’s missive with another post election comment. Ardent Democrats may not remember it this way, but the rest of us were hopeful when George Bush began his presidency in 2001. Even if we voted against him, he seemed a genuinely amiable fellow; his promise of uniting the country sounded genuine. Boy, were we ever wrong. George Bush has shown himself to be a small minded fellow who gets snappish when confronted by a difficult question. He’s intolerant of differing opinions, and a terrible leader. Think of the debacle in New Orleans after Katrina. It took a national outcry to move either Brownie or George Bush to do something as obvious as getting a bunch of busses to move people out of town.
And what about the continuing controversy over whether to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq? We are told over and over that it will be a mess if we leave. Of course, it’s a mess now. Is there anyone who thinks our being there makes the least positive impact? We’re sacrificing the lives of our young men and women for the sake of appearances.
But my topic this week is the Catholic Church and sex. Raised a Catholic, I continue to follow what the Church does and says. The prior Pope, although conservative, appeared genuinely saintly – by all accounts his personal presence was compelling. The current fellow appears to be just an average old man. My interest was piqued when the National Council of Catholic Bishops announced new guidelines for ministering to gay Catholics. The guidelines are pretty simple; love the sinner and hate the sin.
Beyond condemning sin, the Church offers gays nothing. Gay sex is considered to be disordered. And gay marriage is out of the question. The bishops also just came out with an update on Marriage, Sex and Birth Control. It turns out that in the Church’s eyes, all that it takes to turn straight sex from being a sanctioned act into a disordered one, even in the context of marriage, is to use artificial birth control.
In Brian’s Friday rant, he focused on fundamentalism. My focus is a bit different, for in many ways, the Catholic Church is fairly modern. Where it gets in trouble is when it tries to determine the morality of modern behavior – it relies upon what is called “natural law.”
The weird part about a reliance on so-called natural law is that it is not at all about the laws of nature. Thus it makes no effort to determine what behaviors are common and whether they have any consequences. Such thinking was useful before we had a genuine scientific method - but now such talk is utter nonsense.
The following sentences come from the Bishops’ decree. They sound well thought out at first glance, but the closer you look at them, the more troubling they are.By its very nature, human sexuality finds its proper fulfillment in the marital bond. Any sexual act that takes place outside the indissoluble and lifelong bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality… and is thus morally wrong…Because of both Original Sin and personal sin, moral disorder is all too common in our world today, among both heterosexual and homosexual persons.
Wow. What can you do with that? “Original sin” in a red herring. Is the teenage boy masturbating in his room engaging in disordered behavior? Will he go to hell for his sin? (As concepts, Hell and damnation are nonsense). What about a nice college aged couple – will they be damned for living together? And what about any two adults who wish to get to know each other a little better?
Most parish priests stay away from the Church’s antiquated moral teachings when they interact with their flock. Years ago, a sympathetic priest in my high school stated the following: “95% of boys masturbate and the rest are liars.” He didn’t deny any of us communion. Parish priests also don’t go out of their way to denounce birth control, and even with divorce, most let the issue lie quiet. If they pushed too hard they might lose the very folks who support their quaint lifestyle. Still, however practical a parish priest may be, the whole lot of them have dedicated their lives and work to a fraud – that these men are closer to the ineffable than the rest of us.
As a follow up on the article Brian linked to on Friday, not only is the priesthood a dying profession, but parishioners no longer follow the Church’s moral teaching on any of a number of issues. Reportedly, as few as 4% of married Catholics follow the Church’s birth control edict.
Let’s simplify sexual ethics, much of which boils down to old-fashioned respect. Try these three rules:
• Two people who come together for love should not betray each other – whether they are married or unmarried. And whether same sex or traditional.
• Sex acts should be consensual and mutual. Each party should try to please the other. Again, it works whether married or not.
• If children come – and they do! Both parties are responsible and both need to dedicate themselves to the children they bear.
Isn’t this enough? I think so. We don’t need a more complex set of rules, especially ones written by a group of men who have very decidedly set themselves on a path NOT to marry.
You can read the Church’s current position on marriage, sex and birth control.
Evolution: The Next Natural Step
It's getting colder now here in the Northeast, and I welcome it more than ever. We live in an alarmingly solar culture; we are defined by heat and glare—the heat of competition in business; of passion in lovemaking; the glisten of brilliance in academics; the heat of contention in politics; the blinding glare of authority in our government or our punditry; the blistering, destructive heat of our wars and conflicts. We have buried the cool and reflective arts of the lunar, or flushed them down a toilet into a fetid and swampy underground bog.
And so I welcome the short days and long, cold nights of late autumn and winter. They remind us that life is not all about heat, action, and the garishness of power. They suggest that the problem with power is not that the wrong people have it; it is that anyone has it.
This time of contemplation and thanksgiving also tells us that the moment may have arrived for us to commit ourselves to a new evolutionary step, which may involve a change of leadership—within the human, individual self and the social order—from the solar cults of power and contention to the gentler and more inclusive arts of the lunar and the terrestrial.
This does not, of course, mean that we abandon passion or quit on action; it simply means that we offer them a fresh leadership, a new guide that draws upon a broader perspective, a lighter and diffusely balanced luminosity.
As Terry McKenna (above) and the poet of the Dakotas remind us, Hell is not below, but within us. There is more of heaven beneath our feet than in the most distant star. Thus, the wisest Americans—Chief Seattle, Black Elk, and James Hillman, for example—have taught us to draw insight from the Earth; that "growing down" is probably the next natural step in our evolution. Here is how Hillman wrote about the idea of "growing down," in his book The Soul's Code:
By now, the upward idea of growth has become a biographical cliché. To be an adult is to be a grown-up. Yet this is merely one way of speaking of maturity, and a heroic one at that. For even tomato plants and the tallest trees send down roots as they rise toward the light. Yet the metaphors of our lives see mainly the upward part of organic motion.
Hasn't something critical been omitted in the ascensionist model? Birthing. Normally, we come into the world headfirst, like divers into a pool of humanity...Descent takes a while. We grow down, and we need a long life to get on our feet.
The solar, ascensionist model has failed, over and over again, for the past two or three millennia. Our upwardly mobile heat has brought us little else but recurring conflict, division, inequity, imbalance, and now, a heating of the planet itself that has brought our species to the brink of suicide. It is time for a new model; a redirection of our evolutionary path, if we and our planetary home are to survive, let alone grow.
So we are being called upon to reject, firmly and clearly, the heaven-gazing, ladder-climbing paradigms that have been the obsession of our institutional religious, governmental, corporate, and cultural leaders. We have to knock the authoritarian ladder of the solar obsession out from under them, and bring them all crashing down to this Earth. We do it by removing our adoration of these fakes and con artists—whether they call themselves Pope, President, Ayatollah, Prime Minister, Pundit, Saint, or Martyr.
From now on, whenever someone tells you—on your television, from a pulpit or a podium, or in a brilliantly-written screed in a newspaper editorial—that we must go to war; that we must kill the innocents of another nation; that we must hand over the wealth of our own country to a tiny and small-minded coterie of billionaires; I would encourage you to kick the ladder. We promise to keep doing it here, as well as we can.
Site Note: I have decided to offer the entire manuscript of my Tao of Hogwarts book as a pdf download (see link in the banner above). Anyone with an interest in psychology, self-development, or Harry Potter is welcome to download the file and check it out. I would only add that I still consider the book copyrighted material, because I haven't entirely given up on the possibility that an editor or publisher might stumble upon it and see something there that others have overlooked in the way of commercial potential. In any event, it's still a work in progress, but you might find something useful in Tao of Hogwarts. If you do, then it has served its purpose.