Thursday, March 20, 2014

Investigating Theology on Tap - Conception

Well, this is one I've been rather lazy about posting. This event happened over a year ago and I'm finally posting it now. This is from a group that is apparently for young, adult Catholics to get together in a drinking establishment to discuss theology. I was interested in the lecture on contraception, figuring it might be both entertaining and painful all at the same time. I was not disappointed. As a result of my lack of disappointment, I was unable to resist the urge to take unnecessary jabs at Catholics.

I recorded the event with my little mp3 player and have tried to clean up the audio a bit so that I can reference and quote parts of the discussion in my analysis. (The quality isn't great, sorry...and there's also sounds of notes scribbling in there — notes I no longer have any idea where they are.) You'll notice I made it into a "video;" I thought that would be the easiest way to share. But there's nothing useful to see in the video.

Right of the bat, she did a good job explaining why this is an issue of the Catholic Church — They need babies to indoctrinate! (Otherwise, who would believe their bullshit? Well...maybe a few people...there is indication this speaker may have been a convert, as she says her first Catholic wedding was her own. If so, she's swallowed the bullshit well! But I digress.) Sure, she didn't quite say it that way, but she did say that they need them "to confirm."

The next bit went into the supposed sacrifice of Jesus. I've posted on this before here and here; I have nothing more to add from what these posts already say.

Then there's a little bit regarding the really messed up idea of a marriage being consummated when the couple first has sex after marriage. I'm guessing they're not, to do it "correctly," supposed to have sex any time before that. I really don't know what to say about this. I just find it really bizarre and, in some ways, disturbing how so many humans cling on to and blindly follow tradition.

Now we get into the meat of the conversation (around 9:30 in the audio), which revolved around predictions Pope Paul VI had made back in 1968. The prediction is as follows:
17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

There's some really horrible stuff in there, but I don't think I'll go into it to much in this post except where I find it necessary and instead focus on the points made at the talk. Note: I'm analyzing these based on the numbering she gave them. Due to audience questions, she actually discussed #4 first, but I'm still going over it last.
  1. Decline in Morality (14:30) — This is a place where I should have asked for examples since it was only discussed for 30 seconds. It seemed like some people there just accepted this. (Which is not at all surprising. It's not just Catholics that push this idea. Many churches want their members to believe things are getting worse because they can then use it as propaganda to keep people in the church under the premise that their morality will also decline unless they stay in church.) So what are the declines in morality? Is it in part because the gays are getting married? Oh, the horrors! (sarcasm) Yeah, if you've been raised Christian and have been told that this is morally wrong, I can see how you could think morality is on the decline. When you're like me, however, and weren't raised to believe one way or another and actually have you use your brain and rationality to come to a conclusion on the issue, you see nothing morally wrong about it. But what about issues I have at least some agreement with Catholics, such as abortion? I've heard that abortion rates for teens are down. It wouldn't be overly surprising if this is true for adults as well. In short, I only see a possibility of moral decline from a Christian/Catholic perspective(1) as people are behaving more and more in a manner in which the Catholic church disapproves. Then again, this is the prediction being made as this idea of moral decline is tied in to what the Vatican claims to be moral or not (this is what is referred to above as either the "moral law" or "divine law").

    But I must point out that not all accepted this fully. However, this led down a path where more discussion should have taken place. I'll quote the conversation.
    Presenter: Do you think that we've seen a general lowering of moral standards throughout society? >pause< I see some heads nodding.
    Man from audience (Jack): Yes. >General laughter< Not necessarily 100% contributable (sic) to that, but a factor.
    Uhh...OK. Well, then what percentage is attributable? Is it mostly attributable? Only slightly attributable? I'll at least give the man credit for the recognition that there is no way contraception could be fully to blame. Certainly not for things like gay marriage!

  2. Infidelity (14:58) — This really depends on how you define "infidelity." One way to define it is "marital unfaithfulness." This definition doesn't make sense given that the evidence provided that this is true is that people cohabitate more often. You can't have "marital unfaithfulness" if you aren't married! So might another definition apply? Another way to define the word is simply as "disloyalty." This, however, can be a very broad definition. Does it count as "disloyalty" if you're unwilling to make a life long commitment to someone? I don't think so, thus I do not find this to be true even from the Catholic perspective. But what I do find, again, is people behaving in a manner of which the Catholic church disapproves. (I.e, not getting married straight away, or not giving themselves "fully," or whatever things she claims need to exist in a marriage, according to Catholics.) Again, that was essentially the prediction. (There also seems to be an expectation that non-Catholics follow the rules of Catholics. Catholics seem to be a bunch of control freaks.)

  3. Less Respect for Women (15:42) — This one was bizarre. So bizarre that I'm going to need to quote (the best I can) the speaker word for word.
    This one's a little more controversial. Some people think this is true and others don't. Have you seen a lessening of respect for women by men? <pause> I see some heads nodding. <pause> Well, it's hard to say, 'cuz we fell like, OK, women are more equal now. But what I think what happens is because of that sort of equality women are more like men when [women] take the pill. In other words, [women] can't get pregnant and a man can't get pregnant, so when a couple contracepts, you know, a woman is more like a man, but in that way we kind of degrade the dignity of that woman. You say, you know, being a woman — there is something inherently bad about being a woman or bad about a woman's fertility or bad about the ability, you know, carry life within you. I think that it becomes fear — again that fear comes into it. And that becomes, I think, chance for men to sort of degrade women.
    There is only one appropriate reaction to this...
    So, alright, I can see how if you think women have a roll in which it is their duty to fulfill — in this case, having babies — and you believe society in general is now signaling to women that it is OK to not fulfill this roll how you could find this "degrading." I have three points to make on this.

    First, this reminds me of a Muslim coworker I once had back in the days when I was naive about religion. He claimed that women were respected in Islam because women are made head of the household. The main problem(2) — which I failed to fully recognize myself at the time — is that women may not want to be head of the household. If you were to suggest to women that they can have jobs outside the house, is it "degrading" because that might suggest that there is something "inherently bad" about heading up the house? Only, I think, if you have the belief that that is where women belong. As I don't have that belief, I don't find such notions to be "degrading." Likewise, since I don't have the preexisting belief that women are supposed to be baby factories, I don't find it "degrading" to tell women that they don't have to have children if they chose not to. Now, I do realize that some may think this analogy is a bit weak because childbearing is a biological function whereas heading up a house is not (or, if it is, it is not obviously so). But I do not find such an objection all too relevant because to suggest that women must bear children because it is natural to do so is a logical fallacy. What is relevant is the question of whether or not the woman herself wants children. As far as I can tell, women are generally deciding for themselves (and not being pressured, intimidated, etc, into such decisions) to not have children. What I see — yet again! — are women who are deciding to live their lives in ways the Catholic church disapproves and this is being called "disrespectful" of woman.

    My second point is that this is tilting at windmills. As I have sat writing and pondering about this, I have even come to realize that things have gotten better since these predictions would have been made in the 1960's. Back then, women could — and my understanding is they often would — lose their jobs if they got pregnant. If they didn't lose their job right away, they'd probably lose them while being gone on maternity. But today? We have laws now that protect against this. My manager, for example, was on maternity leave herself last year. Her job was still available for her when she got back. That's not to say things are perfect now; that certainly would not be true. (Some employers, such as San Diego Christian College, for example, may try to find loopholes around such laws or other legal ways to discriminate.) But to suggest that things are worse today is ahistorical.

    My third point is that this seems quite hypocritical of the speaker to suggest — I know! A hypocritical Catholic! Hard to believe! (Sarcasm) — Part of her talk was about the type of family planning on which she counsels. From what I gathered, she helps people learn the signs of fertility so that they can abstain from sex when the wife is fertile. How does this not imply that being a woman is inherently bad(3) but using contraception does? I imagine the excuses could include the idea that, as was said by the presenter, this is only to be done if the couple has "serious" reasons for not having children. They may also try to claim that they want women to have children as soon as it is practical. But, for this excuse, people who use birth control could say the same thing! I don't worry too much about this third point, though. They can use as many excuses as they want. I reject their premise that women have a duty(4) to push out babies.

    Side note: I have come to learn quite recently that praising women for supposedly having good characteristics that men do not is known as benevolent sexism. This is a really bad form of sexism as "women who [are] exposed to benevolent sexism [are] more likely to think that there are many advantages to being a woman and [are] also more likely to engage in system justification, a process by which people justify the status quo and believe that there are no longer problems facing disadvantaged groups in modern day society." In other words, it is sexism that leads to complacency. So don't be fooled when these Muslims or Catholics, etc, twist things around to make it appear that it is they who have a positive attitude toward women. They are still putting women into gender rolls, which is sexist.

    To be totally fair, I do need to take a look at this in reference to what Paul VI said. I assume this "loss of respect for women" idea revolves around this part of the quote: "[A man may] disregard her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection." What I gather from that is he is saying that men will be able to have sex with their wives whenever they want, as opposed to avoiding sex when she is fertile. This doesn't make things any better as this is horribly sexist.

    First, it basically implies that men are all sex-craved lunatics that turn into some sort of Mr. Hyde(5) whenever the opportunity for sex presents itself. This also implies that these men then must somehow be a respectable Dr. Jekyll otherwise. This is insulting, but not really surprising as it is not a new idea. After all, there is a reason religions like Christianity and, notoriously, Islam often expect women to cover themselves — it is so men don't fall into temptation.

    Think I may be a bit over the top on this point? Well, then I suggest reading what this Christian-themed article has to say!
    Archbishop Chaput of Denver...wrote that, rather than freeing women, "Contraception has released males - to a historically unprecedented degree - from responsibility for their sexual aggression."

    Second, such framing also implies that women don't want sex themselves, or at least not to the extent that men supposedly do. This is similarly insulting to women.

  4. Government Control of Fertility (12:45) — This point, much like the first, seemed like one that people there may have just accepted as true without much evidence. Because China. Seriously, that was the primary example. (To be fair, this example was provided by the audience. The presenter, however, did not discard it as a bad example; in fact, she accepted it as "the big one.") One country out of hundreds has some strict controls related to reproduction, so therefore this point is true. Ridiculous. Confirmation bias at its worst! Moreover, China's rules have no connection to birth control. As with the first point, the idea, as presented, was that these events are supposed to be a direct result of contraception use. Contraception may make it easier for the Chinese people to follow the one-child rule, but the rule is not because of contraception. Nor is the rule forcing people to use contraception. The other example did actually have a connection to contraception, which was about Israel allegedly forcefully giving birth control shots to Ethiopian women. It's a tragic story, I admit, but an example here and there goes nowhere toward proving that this prediction is even useful. This event would appear to more be a result of racism, where contraception is being used as a tool to subdue the persecuted ethnic group.

    Another part of this whole point that bothers me is how much the Catholic Church likes to control fertility. Not only does the church have a history of abducting children, they've put up this big fight against the government mandating that employers pay for their employees' contraception. They try to hide under the guise of "religious freedom," but this is bullshit. The government is not forcing them to use it. They just have to allow their employees, who, as it needs to be pointed out, may not be Catholic, or may even be Catholics who don't agree with the church on contraception. To just give an example of why the religious freedom argument shouldn't be given as much flexibility as it has been on this issue, imagine having a Jehovah's Witness organization as an employer. They don't believe in allowing blood transfusions. So is it OK if the health insurance that they provide their employees not cover this? How would you feel if you needed one? (Worse, what if the only hospital in town was run by Jehovah's Witnesses and it didn't perform blood transfusions?) This isn't about religious "freedom"...except for the "freedom" to impose one's beliefs on other people. But I's OK when a church does it because it's not a government institution.

    Oh, and then there are all the times throughout the past couple of decades of the Vatican fighting against UN resolutions to protect women's rights because — horror of horrors! — such protections apparently might make access to contraception and — worst horrors of all!!! — abortion easier. (See links here (Nov 2013), here (March 2013), here (June 2012), and here (June 1994).) Bonus (not related to fertility, though, but relates to the respect for women prediction from earlier): Here's an article that claims women living in Vatican City aren't allowed to vote.

Looking at these predictions overall, they aren't really that impressive. As an example, here's a prediction I'm going to make: It's going to rain somewhere in the world today. Here's another: The sun will rise tomorrow morning in the east (except, perhaps, for places near the north or south poles). These predictions go not only for the day I post this, but for any day that someone reads this. When these comes true, can I be regarded as some great predictor of events? I hope not! The point that I'm trying to make is that it is not surprising that the world ain't perfect. Making a prediction about some potential imperfection isn't anything special. Worse, three of these are predictions of events that were already occurring by 1968! I'm quite sure that people were already moving away from the Catholic Church's "moral law" by that time. So to predict that this would continue happening in the future? Not impressive. Likewise, predicting that countries would control reproduction was also not impressive. There were numerous countries, for example, that had sterilization programs in the early 20th century, with the United States perhaps being the first country to enact such programs as far back as 1907. Again, this amounts to being a prediction that events that had already occurred or were still occurring would continue to occur in the future. Those are some bold predictions! (sarcasm) Now if someone were to predict global flooding, and it came true? That would be interesting! That does not happen regularly. Or ever. But if your prediction is merely that floods will occur in the future? Yawn.

The "logic" that I have seen used here and in other articles I researched (the main resources I have linked below) is also unimpressive. The primary error is incorrect use of derivatives implication logic. This typically takes the form of "if p, then q." The error is then saying, "q. Therefore, p." This is not necessarily correct. Allow me to demonstrate. If my dog eats my homework (p), then I will not have homework to hand in (q). I do not have homework to hand in (q), therefore my dog ate my homework (p). For this example, it should be obvious that there are more likely reason that I wouldn't have homework to hand in, with perhaps the most likely reason being that I simply didn't do it. It is this type of logical error that I see quite clearly in the example of China — there is no obvious link between their one child policy and contraception. Similarly, there are no clear links between what the Catholics view as declining morality and contraception. This error in reasoning is also known as incorrectly thinking correlation implies causation.

Otherwise, the rest of the talk, which I probably just could have cut out, is about natural family planning. I have no comment to add to that discussion.

(1) Christian morality is actually relative morality (despite claims otherwise) because morality, as simply defined, is "a doctrine or system of moral conduct." This supposed "moral decline" is based on the Catholic system. Now, they themselves don't view it as relative because they've got it in their heads that this system comes from on-high. It should go without saying that I find that to be bullshit. Additionally, when you examine many of the Catholic doctrine from a rational perspective (a perspective that does not include a god), many of these doctrines have very weak support. And you can see this in some of the references I have added. Perhaps my favorite is claiming an increase in porn is an example of the horrors contraception use has led to. I don't know how to explain this to these Catholics other than to simply say that a lot of people no longer think pornography is inherently some horrible thing. Yes, often women and men can be treated horribly within the industry. But to blame this on porn itself is more irrational thinking that correlation implies causation. (After all, women (and sometimes men) are often treated horribly in other industries, such as the computer programming industry. So is this industry inherently horrible, too?) Until you can actually demonstrate that porn is the cause, I and a lot of other people are going to just point and laugh at you for your irrational beliefs.

(2) The second problem, based on my understanding, is that this really isn't even true. It's only true when no other man — which includes teenagers that our culture would consider to still be boys — is in the house.

(3) My guess at this has been that this is some sort of compromise position taken by the church. I suspect that they realize they can't completely stop people from having sex for purposes other than reproduction, so this is their compromise — have people engage in a form of birth control that likely has a high rate of failure (looks like it is 24%, or about 1 in 4 fail). (On a side note, it's not very popular. It's something like only 2% of Catholics (PFD) that actually use this method.)

(4) It may also be worth pointing out that the Catholic church does not allow women into the priesthood. (I don't remember — nor do I really care — what excuse they use for this.) Also, I was recently reminded of how women were used as slave labor in Ireland in the last century because they broke the sex rules of Catholic Ireland. It blows my mind to hear Catholics supposedly concerned about respect for women given their history. Pot, meet kettle. (Except the kettle is a figment of pot's imagination.)

(5) This is a rather odd contradiction that has existed in Christianity and Islam for years! I can't help but be a bit puzzled how the idea has survived. On one hand, men are implied to be these monsters that completely lack self-control. Yet, they are also implied to be the ones who need to run society. Because they're more responsible than women...or something? My best guess is a lot of the men don't care that there is a contradiction. They probably recognize that the idea of them being monsters is nothing more than an excuse to keep women "in their place." It is then up to the women to recognize there is a contradiction. And I think a lot of women do recognize this, but the problem is they aren't the ones in power, so their ain't a whole hell of a lot they can do about their situation. I'm generalizing here a bit, but that is, in a nutshell, how I think this contradiction has been able to survive — those who can actually change things benefit from the contradiction, so there's no motive to get rid of it.

“Heaps of Empirical Evidence” Vindicate Pope Paul VI’s Dire Warnings 40 Years Ago About Contraceptives -- LifeSiteNews
The Vindication of Humanae Vitae -- First Things
The Prophetic Pope Paul VI, and the Consequences of Contraception -- Shameless Popery

This is just a cool link that shows that abortion rates have actually been declining. I don't expect many Catholics to accept it, though, because the chart in the link, I am sure, is not counting birth control use in the statistics. A lot of Christians on the right promote this idea that birth control causes abortion. There's no science to back this up, but it's not like they care. It doesn't take a genius to realize the reason they promote this idea is so that they can label statistics like this as "misleading" in order to maintain their beliefs. We humans tend to do stuff like that.

Here's some 2014 "prophecies" from SomeGreyBloke that I feel are quite on par with those from Paul VI. Oh, look! Posting this seems to fulfill #12.

One final note. Peter Seegar recently died as of this posting. I never listened to his music and I doubt I had even heard of him (except, perhaps, in passing), but I was linked to this song below about female engineers.

It made me think about how there were a couple of female engineers present at that theology event. One I darn well know is a devout believer. (The other, I have come to learn, is no longer Catholic, if she ever was.) And it makes me sad. It has been through the work of men and women who fought against sexism in society that they are able to have the jobs that they do. Yet, here they are, at this event that is doing the opposite by promoting sexism and bashing those who have fought against sexism as being "disrespectful" of women. I can't help but wonder why this is. I figure most likely they're simply not thinking it through. It's the problem of taking things for granted. These women didn't have to fight institutional sexism; some of the big battles were fought many years ago. This video, for example, was taken in the 70's, before either of these women were born. These women, to use biblical phrasing, are reaping what they didn't sow. Which is fine; I'm sure many of those who did the sowing did what they did so that feature generations could reap the rewards. What is sad is the lack of recognition. What is even sadder is the allegiance to those who had opposed, and are still opposing, the sowing.

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