Category Archives: Absolutism
There was one thematic trajectory at the Ottawa conference, Eschaton 2012, that seemed to me deeply questionable, and even, perhaps, deceptive, because so apparently anodyne. One of the things that the study of religions tends to do is to define things in such a way as to (i) present religious belief as an unproblematic means of exploring ordinary human reality, and (ii) to make what is expressed under the first heading of ultimate importance to human beings (because that’s the way religious believers view them), but often fails to recognise that it does the second. It’s the kind of thing that so many religious “experts” use when they want to say something to the effect that “the god you don’t believe in isn’t the god I believe in either,” while, of course, leaving the god just hanging there in midair, without any clear definition or delimitation. Such a god could be anything or nothing, or just, as the first speaker at the Eschaton Conference, Alan Doust, called it, a thought experiment. I was just getting up to inject a note of scepticism into the conversation when suddenly the discussion was brought to an end. Gotta get in there more quickly if I want to be heard! But I tend to mull things over a bit trying to get my ducks all in a row, so the only option left is to introduce a note of scepticism here at several removes from that evening.
At first sight, it seems to make perfect sense. Since myths are not really about gods and demons, angels or jinns, or even fairies at the bottom of the garden, since these are just imaginary entities, they must be about something else. Perhaps, then, they’re about human experience, and putting that experience in the only way that seems to capture the exaltation and significance of the experience. So gods and their doings come to be thought of as — as Alan Doust put it — cultural “thought experiments.” The particular type of speech in which this is done is called mythology. And myths, we were told, are simply everywhere. Politics itself, one speaker declared, is a mythology, which really leaves the door wide open to all sorts of wonderful high jinks with words. Someone got on the elevator after the last comment was made saying, “Politics is not a myth,” and I had to agree. I guess my problem with the idea that it is – if this is really the way that myth is used in religious studies departments — is that it fails to mark off a distinct form of discourse. It’s a bit like the definition of the word ‘religion’, which people seem to turn themselves inside out to compass, without noticing that, if we are going to treat the word ‘religion’ as undefinable, we are mistaking meaning as something that attaches to a word, so that, if we are going to use it meaningfully, we will have to nail down every possible inflection that the word is capable of. In this sense definitions amount to the discernment of essences (in the Aristotelian sense). Since there are very doubtfully any of these to be had, the project is doomed to failure.
The Irish parliament (or Dáil) has defeated an proposed interim measure concerning abortion, which (according to The Journal.ie)
would have provided an interim legislative arrangement as required by the Council of Europe, for termination of pregnancy where as a matter of probability a real and substantial risk to the life of the pregnant woman exists.
The measure was defeated 104 votes to 27! The Catholic bullies are in good heart today — which reminds me of the remark by Edmund Burke, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France:
He is not affected by the reality of distress touching his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it striking his imagination. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.
Sadly, the Irish parliament did not even try to imagine themselves into the lives of women faced with the prospect of dying, because they are pregnant. The flourishes of Roman Catholic ethics get the required genuflection; women are denied justice. This is what happens when the Roman Catholic Church gets control of a place. Remember this! For more on this visit Jerry Coyne’s website here. To the glue factory with them! Inhuman thoughtless bastards, the whole fucking lot of them!
The orignal post follows:
From the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Office:
The death of Mrs. Savita Halappanavar and her unborn child in University Hospital Galway on the 28 October last was a devastating personal tragedy for her husband and family. It has stunned our country. We share the anguish and sorrow expressed by so many at the tragic loss of a mother and her baby in these circumstances and we express our sympathy to the family of Mrs. Halappanavar and all those affected by these events.
In light of the widespread discussion following the tragic death of Mrs Halappanavar and her unborn baby, we wish to reaffirm some aspects of Catholic moral teaching. These were set out in our recently published Day for Life message on 7 October last, available on http://www.chooselife2012.ie.
- The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. By virtue of their common humanity, a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life.
- Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.
- Whereas abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances, this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby. Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice while upholding the equal right to life of both a mother and her unborn baby.
- Some would claim that the unborn baby is less human or less deserving of life. Advances in genetics and technology make it clear that at fertilization a new, unique and genetically complete human being comes into existence. From that moment onwards each of us did not grow and develop into a human being, but grew and developed as a human being.
With many other religious and ethical traditions we believe in upholding the equal and inalienable right to life of a mother and her unborn child in our laws and medical practice. This helps to ensure that women and babies receive the highest standard of care and protection during pregnancy.
Indeed, international statistics confirm that Ireland, without abortion, remains one of the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant and to give birth. This is a position that should continue to be cherished and strengthened in the interests of mothers and unborn children in Ireland.
Thus the Irish bishops as published in First Things. I had decided to put sanctity-of-life issues on the shelf for a while, and yet, here, in black and white, are several reasons for raising it once more. Indeed, the statement itself makes me very angry, and renews my sense that the church must be marginalised and kept far from the law. But the Catholic hierarchy will simply not be content until they see their principles applied everywhere, so that no one has any more control over their care than Savita Halappanavar was given by the paternalistic officialdom of the University Hospital in Galway.
Many years ago now, as a member of the Sexuality Task Group of the Diocese of Nova Scotia — perhaps at the time when I was Chairperson of the group, I do not now remember — and a supporter of liberalising the church’s traditional views of sexuality, especially as gay and lesbian persons were concerned, I sat with an older priest who was strongly opposed to the acceptance of homosexuals, and to any change in the church’s moral tradition concerning sexuality. After discussing the issue for some time, and realising that, on this point at least we were never likely to come to any agreement, I turned to him and said,
Can’t you see that there is room in the church for both of us?
And then he, staring me straight in the eyes, his patience clearly stretched to its farthest limit, said, sharply,
And that was the end of our conversation. That was simply a change too far, and an assault upon the integrity of the faith as he understood it. For me that “No!” was almost as devastating. It was as if I had been punched in the stomach; for I had been told that, so long as I held the views that I had expressed to him, there was no possibility of fellowship between us, and that he could not even consider me an Anglican, let alone a Christian.
Looking back on that moment, I have often thought that it was, perhaps, my first step away from the church. By that single word I had been excluded from a shared community, and I recognised, over the coming years, as my theology, such as it was, became more and more revisionist, that I was separating myself more and more from the community that had sustained me for so many years.
But I also recognised another thing — which I have expressed recently in a post about love making all the difference — that achieving the independence of mind that had been growing year by year depended, in no small measure, upon the close, almost fused relationship, that I had been privileged to have with my wife Elizabeth. The relationship itself was transformative. After years of trying to find some kind of firm basis in belief on which to build a life, I realised that lives are not fashioned from convictions or certainties — which must, of their very nature, be rooted in the past – but only by allowing life to unfold into an open future full of possibilities. Christians often speak of their relationship with Jesus as being transformative, but, to tell the truth, I have never been able to understand what this could be. Jesus was always dead for me, and talk of resurrection had less and less meaning as time went on. Perhaps, for lack of anything better, people flee to what they call a personal relationship with Jesus, but I have never seen any evidence that that relationship is anything but a fantasy, an ignis fatuus of the mind, a factitious something created to keep people in thrall to an idea that sucks the very marrow out of life.