The Roman Catholic Church has a bizarre notion of human dignity, which it uses systematically to suppress every progressive movement, and to violate human rights. Dignity, for the Roman Catholic Church, is to live life solely in terms of its moral principles, principles which have no foundation other than dogmatic assertion. This is evident wherever Roman Catholic authorities make public statements about some act or other that they deplore. It is important to note that the Roman Catholic use of the idea of human dignity is not based on evidence, or even on rational argument. It is simply an article of faith. The failure to observe the Catholic ideal of human dignity is immediately to put oneself in the ranks of those who not only trespass against the church’s moral code, but it is — we are told again and again — to put humanity itself at risk. Take as an example of this a statement by the Catholic Bishops of Kenya, objecting to Melinda Gates’ drive to make family planning information and materials available to as many women as possible. Just to put this in perspective, here are the benefits of family planning, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:
Through family planning:
- Maternal mortality is reduced. Family planning could prevent up to one third of all maternal deaths by empowering women to decide when to have a child and avoid unintended pregnancies and abortions.
- Deaths and illness among young women are reduced. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death for women under 19, with complications of childbirth and abortion being the major factors. Adolescents aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as those in their 20s, and girls under 15 are five times as likely to die as those in their 20s.
- Child health and survival is improved. Reducing the number of births less than two years apart, births to very young and older women, and higher-order births, family planning lowers child and infant mortality. For example, if women spaced their births at least 36 months apart, almost 3 million deaths to children under age 5 could be averted.
To most reasonable people aims like these seem, not only morally unproblematic, but morally laudable. Reducing maternal mortality, the improvement of child health and survival, and, though not mentioned, control over an already unsustainably large human population: all these seem to be worthy aims, and most people of goodwill would praise the Gates Foundation for supporting and furthering these aims.
Not so, however, the Catholic Church — and as I mention the Catholic Church it is only fair to add Islam to the list of offenders, since the Catholic Church and the Islamic Conference have often teamed up at population and family planning conferences to hijack the proceedings and to diminish their effectiveness. I have pointed this out before, but it is worthwhile repeating. The Catholic Church (with the help of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference) has made it impossible to reach agreement on family planning initiatives, which would not only have helped to control world population growth and ensure a sustainable future, but has also made it impossible to recognise any form of sexuality besides genital contact between husband and wife solely for the purposes of procreation (see Geoffrey Robertson, The Case of the Pope, chapter 6: The Holy See and the United Nations). And of course, the swamp of nasty which is Lifesitenews has jumped quickly on the Kenyan bishops’ bandwagon.
The Kenya Episcopal Conference, in a letter from the chairman of the conference, Cardinal John Njue, entitled “Let us Uphold Human Dignity,” has gone on record as opposing Melinda Gates’ initiative. Using the standard “family values” language of Christian conservatism, Njue says on behalf of his brother bishops:
We cannot allow our country to be part of an international agenda, driven by foreign funds and by so doing, losing our independence and our African values of the family and society. The same foreign forces are dedicating billions of shillings promoting same sex unions while millions of women across are dying due to lack of proper maternal care facilities.
Notice how the bishops have wrapped up reflex anti-colonialism, homophobia, and the disempowerment of women, and African values, in one simple paragraph. But, of course, Njue is not willing to leave it at that, and goes further into fantasy and hyperbole:
Furthermore, the use of contraceptives, especially as radically proposed in the article is both dehumanizing and goes against the Teaching of the church especially in a country like Kenya where a majority of the people are Christians and God fearing. It already threatens the moral fabric of the society and is an insult to the dignity and integrity of the human person.
Not content with that bit of alarmist propaganda, the bishops go so far as to say that
Nobody should be forced to abuse his/her dignity through contraceptives.
It is, of course, not at all clear that the Gates Foundation initiative is aimed at forcing women to use contraceptives. What they aim to do is to make information about contraceptives available to women, as well as making contraceptives themselves more readily available. But the suggestion that the use of contraceptives is in itself to abuse a person’s dignity is absurd. By expressing themselves so unreasonably the bishops, it could be argued, have abused human dignity in their own persons, by betraying their capacity for rational argument in such an egregious way.
I have quoted the following before, but it is worth quoting again, though it will take a moment or two to get round to it. In a book by Cardinal Cahal Daly entitled Morals, Law and Life, an apocalyptic picture of a world in which contraceptives had come into common use is adumbrated. The book itself, published in 1966, is a riposte to works by Bertrand Russell, the American Episcopal Priest Joseph Fletcher, whose book Situation Ethics: The New Morality took America by storm in the 1960s, and Glanville Williams, whose book The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law had begun the process, now well advanced, of revoking the ponderous religiosity of the sanctity of life doctrine. Daly’s book is an attempt to resurrect the natural law morality of the Catholic Church, whose fate, as Hume noticed, had already been sealed by science. Daly claims that anyone who does not recognise that natural law morality is at its heart humanistic, because centred on “an enquiry into what man is as a moral person” (33), must himself be inhuman. (Shades of Lucie-Smith suggesting that Dawkins is inhuman because he does not recognise creative purpose at the heart of the universe.) Later Daly goes on to say outrageously that “[t]here is nothing in man that is properly to be called animal.” (43) So he can also say, without embarrassment, what sex is all about (though of course celibate, or pretending to be celibate, himself):
Sex is never merely physical, biological; it expresses man’s quest for absolutes, his desire for timeless happiness, for perfect mutual love and understanding, for unchanging loveableness, for unfailing faithfulness. 
Indeed, he goes so far as to say that
[a] sexual revolution involves a new philosophy of man and the world, of time and of human destiny, of sickness and health, of life and death. 
Someone who is this out of touch with human reality should not really be speaking about morality at all, and yet he takes all these outré suggestions and piles them all into one gigantic apocalyptic claim (to come at last to the passage I have quoted before):
The works of the scientific humanists are there to prove that man’s attitude to contraception determines whether he will think it wrong or right for a mother to kill her defective child, or for a doctor, “gently and humanely to extinguish his patient’s life.” 
Catholics apparently cannot stop themselves before they have reached the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and everything is brought to an end in some lurid prophecy of the end-times. And they are the ones who think they have a corner on human dignity!
Nor, it seems, can they stop idealising and fantasising about the possibilities that human beings might yet produce the ideal society, where, no matter how many people there are, everything that human beings have ever dreamed of can be realised in a perfect society. So the Kenyan bishops end their letter with these ringing words:
The Catholic Church in Kenya believes that 64 Million people are not too many, with proper planning where corruption, nepotism and individual egoistic trends are absent and a responsible government is in place. There are other efficient ways of proactive and Responsible Parenthood through the practice of Natural Family Planning. This of course demands discipline through abstinence, which is a necessary value in married life. This should not be rubbished as impossible.
We appeal to all Kenyans, men and women of good will to reject this Plan and to join forces in the liberation of women following the example of Christ’s own esteem for them. Nobody should be forced to abuse his/her dignity through contraceptives.
One has to wonder whether the cardinal has partaken of the insane root that takes the reason prisoner! It’s high time we told these pious virgins, whose offences against dignity are already so overwhelming, and where such offences are almost daily revealed, to stop pretending to a virtue which not even they, with all the inducement of belief, status and ritual reinforcement, can attain. Nor should they pretend that they really stand for human dignity or the liberation of women, whose subordination to biological imperatives they are attempting to enforce by law, wherever they can suborn government to their purposes. People like Michael Ruse, Jacques Berlinerblau, R. Joseph Hoffmann and even Paul Kurtz, think that we should be polite about religion, and stop being so aggressive in our condemnation of the religious and their many idiocies. But how does one moderate one’s tone when offences against humanity and human dignity by religion are such common daily fare? Scarcely a day goes by without many religious outrages worldwide. Leo Igwe is right:
… new atheists have discarded their ‘second class citizenship’ role of persons who should be seen and not heard. Yes, the new atheists have rejected their traditional role of keeping silent in the face of religious oppression. They have realised that, indeed, the man dies in him who keeps silent in the face of tyranny – religious tyranny. Hence they have decided, for good, to break their silence and take up a new and pro-active role. The new atheists have gone ahead to speak out and make their voices heard on issues of global significance. And what is wrong with that? I ask.
This is what makes the new atheism new. We are not prepared to remain silent when idiots like Njue speak out so absurdly for their religious ideals, ideals which harm and imprison people in a conceptual bondage that only words can break. So we must use our words, and seek to free those who are still immured within the boundaries of ancient superstitions. And the first to be freed must be the women, because of all those imprisoned by religion, the bars on women’s cages are the most resistant to the acids of criticism, and it is men who keep them locked and double-locked — men like the bishops of Kenya, who can think of no other way to defend human dignity, than to perpetuate women’s slavery to biology on the palpably absurd grounds that the use of contraceptives is to abuse human dignity in one’s own person.