Sunday, October 28, 2007

The God Hypothesis ...

I'm totally exhausted from a weekend trip to DC and currently doped up on pain meds from the slipped disc in my back. Fortunately sleep will come shortly and a short operation on my back is scheduled for wednesday ... Halloween!

Contributing to my mental and physical exhaustion was today's return trip by bus, where there was quite an invigorating debate between myself and another fellow choral member on the subject of war, religion, and morality. Whereas science is my area of expertise, his skill is with history and politics. Several other people joined in from time to time to voice their opinion, but the argument stemmed heavily from the two of us. I was shocked to see his unwillingness to accept a gray world. There are many points I could describe for the sake of making my case, but I'll only select one at the moment - dealing with divorce.

Let's say, for example, that a woman and a man decide to get married. They go to the church to get marriage counseling before tying the knot, at which point their wedding is blessed in the eyes of God. Life is good for quite sometime, until the children come along, jobs don't work out well, and the husband begins to cope by drinking. In his inebriated state he begins to become physically abusive with his wife. Over time, this leads to more verbal, physical and mental abuse even during sober moments. The wife is terribly unhappy and sometimes fears for the well-being of herself as well as her children when her husband reacts during a particular rage. She finally decides that she wants to be separate from him as he shows no signs of change and lacks the willingness to hear her wishes. However it turns out that divorce is illegal, thus preventing the woman from escaping the tyranny of her husband and trying to start a new life as a single mother or with a second chance with another marriage. This doesn't sound much different than the political and legal issues abounding in southern Ireland in the mid- to late-1980s. Despite the woman being persecuted, she has no legal right to start anew, because divorce is seen by the Catholic faith as immoral and the Vatican does not endorse such practices.

As I was relaying this story to my friend, as a hypothetical, I wanted to know if he thought that the woman should be allowed to divorce her husband. His simple answer was "no" although to his credit (however little that may be) he seemed hesitant to say that. In his mind, since divorce and remarriage meant that the woman would end up with another man, that was clearly adultery as defined in the Bible and that is a sin in the eyes of God. As a result he felt it appropriate that she obey God's commands and stay married, even if she was being abused by her husband.

As if this isn't bad enough, the conversation moved to HIV in Africa. The Vatican does not approve of the use of condoms. It is a popular Catholic belief that condoms are (1) evil, (2) interrupt a holy process, and (3) actually promote sexual immorality. As for the first point, I can only say that tools in and of themselves are neutral. They can only be used by humans for good or evil. As for the second point, I hardly see how the production of gametes and their fusion to conceive another organism is hardly so precious - I'm positive that my friend has killed many flies before, which subsequently destroyed the sperm and eggs that would give rise to many future generations. The process isn't holy ... it's just natural. And finally for the third point, it's just simply not true. I've read from many credible sources that condom use does not increase or decrease sexual promiscuity among young people. My friend believes that the Pope is well within his right to denounce the use of condoms, despite the fact that should the Pope actually endorse the use of condoms, lay people who obey the word of the Vatican as law (which include many people in Africa) could be saved from the HIV epidemic. The case has been made that the Vatican has the opportunity to prevent these infections from occurring, but chooses not to endorse the method because the method is itself immoral - why is it immoral? ... because God said so.

Well, I guess that just says it all, doesn't it?

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