Scanning the news today, one finds a 'clip' from a conference convened in Rome by the Vatican's Academy of Sciences, in which one speaker grabs the headlines with this quote:
Man is a technical giant and an ethical child.
Pointing to a multitude of stories of natural disasters and human conflicts that see both hunger and over-consumption sleeping in the same bed, fire and flood sweeping the landscape, bloodshed and conflict pouring out of too many quarters, the phrase also acknowledges that man pays much more attention to his capacity to relate to a machine, no matter how sophisticated, as compared with his capacity to relate to each other in what could be called a collaborative manner.
The church has for centuries posited something it called "natural law" as a leaven on the theology of human ambition, greed and domination. Too much emphasis has been placed on the notion that man was given 'dominion' over the earth, in a phrase from Genesis, and the church has attempted to use nature as a monitor of "God's will and purpose" for humans. In relating ethics to natural law, as the standard by which man will be judged by God, the church has generated many 'sins' that illustrate how man has, is, and will deviate from God's intentions.
Birth control is one such example.
A scientific creation, borne out of years of research and experimentation, birth control has been for too long seen as a contravention of the natural 'rhythm' of the human body, the female menstrual cycle, and the dedication of the species to procreate, the sine qua non of holy matrimony. Unfortunately for the theology built on these assumptions, humans demonstrate every day both the value of birth control and the corresponding value of partnering without offspring. Does that mean that humans have lost their moral and ethical compass?
What it means, for starters, is that millions of practising Catholics around the world, in spite of the church's forbiddance, use birth control every day. It also means that, in so doing, those silent 'sinners' are calling into question the church's 'ethical' control of their lives, in the name of God, or at least the church's representation of God.
The church has also imposed other expectations on its followers. Among them, chastity, poverty, humility and obedience, not so much to God as to the authority of the ecclesia, the Pope, the Cardinals, the Bishops and their supporting cast. So in calling humans "ethical children," the very utterance of those words begs the question of just how integral is the church to the process of infantalizing of its members, through a highly structured form of authoritarian parenting.
Starting with God, the Father, in a literal interpretation of the word, taken from the Lord's Prayer, (buttressed by the "unless you become like little children" Biblical exortation) the very theology of the Roman church is one of too many unambiguous black and white rules, exhortations and punishments, and to disobey the church's traditional rules, (ethical and moral rules) is to risk excommunication, ostracizing from the church family, to continue a thread-bare metaphor.
History is littered with the memoires of various profound thinkers/disciples/pilgrims who have "crossed" the authority of that part of the Vatican's structure responsible for discipline. Matthew Fox comes quickly to mind, excommunicated for his heretical views (Original Blessing is the title of one of his more popular books) by then Cardinal Rattzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, only to be embraced by the Episcopal church in the U.S.
Let's also look at the hot-button issue of abortion, one of the church's litmus tests for dogmatic purity, and also for ecclesial militarism, including sadly the shooting of both doctors and nurses who dared to work in clinics providing therapeutic abortions by fanatical "believers". In a perfect world, no one would ever want or even countenance an abortion. The potential of a new human being, conceived and beginning the long road through gestation to birth would not be terminated by anyone lightly, or evil willingly, except under extreme circumstances. However, we have witnessed the combination of both the birth control pill and the feminist movement, in and through both of which developments women have attempting to reclaim control of their own bodies, with the professional counsel of their medical practitioners. It is not incidental that all of those professionals have taken a Hippocratic oath "to do no harm" and have struggled with their pivotal role in those discussions with patients whose lives, (physical and emotional, psychological and spiritual), have been seriously at risk should they continue a pregnancy (not only in the case of rape, but also in the case of an pregnancy that could injure or even terminate the life of the mother, and also in cases more complicated and potentially tragic for both mother and child).
And, to the birth-control, abortion list we might add the church's relationship to the gay and lesbian community, a relationship impregnated with rejection, contempt and hostility, all of it initiated by the church, based on some phrases deeply embedded in the holy book, written by some men whose vision of both their own world and the concept and definition of a human being, in relation to a deity was, at best limited, parochial and reductive.
All of these hot- button issues, notwithstanding, there is an underlying premise, apparently aimed at two obvious corporate goals, to recruit more people and to control the attitudes and behaviours of those who are recruited, that the church has taken that it represents the true path to God, and that all other paths are in a word heretical. That alone stands as self-sabotage from an ethical and moral perspective, and hardly warrants adherence or acceptance if one is pursuing a relationship with God and an growing awareness of and a commitment to an authentic faith journey.
Assuming the role of God, the parent of the pregnant mother, an ethical authority with real power over the lives of both the mother and the infant, the church has, in effect, positioned itself as the arbiter of each individual case, leaving no room for ambiguity, uncertainty, debate or even consternation and trauma, in a psychological sense. That, too, poses a serious ethical dilemma for those of us not raised in the church, and makes us question the degree of credibility and authority that we ascribe to the comparison of humans as "technical giants and ethical children."
Mature men and women, rather than accept without questioning the edicts of any authority, delve deeply into their own consciences and their own characters, and struggle with serious and complex issues around their lives, including around their sexual lives, and around their right to assisted suicide if the quality of their lives has become so impaired as to render them almost literally vegetables, and for many, around the question of whether or not to take up arms in a military combat that threatens national security. In taking the position of knowing the right answer, in those and other complicated and highly individual life narratives, the church has, in both effect and in literal reality, removed many of the struggles for those who have been conditioned to accept the church's discipline and has thereby eliminated the process of undergoing those very ethical dilemmas which are the only narrow path to "adulthood" in all meanings of that word.
Technological giants, are neither more nor less capable of resisting the church's prescriptions. In fact, the technological capabilities might enhance or impede one's capacity and willingness to enter into the deep dark nights of the soul that parallel and evoke the Gethsemene of each human life. And to eliminate that path, into the darkest night with the heaviest burden, in the name of God, is to render those same people less than God's highest expectations of their potential to make a good and honourable and ethical and moral decision.
In fact, it is only in and through the eyes of such needles of pain and self-examination that humans fully enter their own spiritual journey, previously denied by a myriad of influences, including a culture of positivism and cheerleading self-congratulation as well as a church that lays out a singular path to holiness and purity, and says that their path is God's will.
It is in the exercise of free will, outside of the imposition of an ecclesial pontificate, that humans grow to a maturity unavailable to those whose path is painted for them, even if the motives of that tradition were and are to bring people closer to God.