Kia ora:

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I recently attended a most interesting lecture series by Lloyd Geering and hope to include some of his conclusions in a future newsletter. I am also trying to sort out my garden which has not had much attention for two years, and I have found shoulder high tree saplings!!

April monthly meeting: Monday 2 April.
Vincent Gray reviews:
THE GOD DELUSION by Richard Dawkins
Venue: Turnbull House, Wellington. We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm. We would love to see you at the meeting, but if you are unable to attend you may wish to convey your thoughts on this subject to Kent at [email protected] Kent will bring them to the meeting.
( At this point I would like to include a small cartoon, but because internet filters screen out communications with pictures or logos in them I will describe it. ) Picture God as an old man on his cloud. He has a copy of Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion, and is grumpily saying to an equally grumpy angel ” Well, I don’t believe in HIM ”
* Previous meeting: Do we need to be religious to be good ? With stimulating discussion and wide ranging contributions we covered the Darwinian reasons given for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ” moral ” towards each other. They are genetic kinship, reciprocation, and acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness.
* Stem Cell Research: On Monday 26 March, our president Kent Stevens presented an oral submission to ACART.
* Radio Access: 11 am 783 kHz 8 April. This day, by co-incidence is also Easter Sunday. Unfortunately last month’s broadcast was cancelled as Radio Access was off air because of technical difficulties. On the 8 April we will re-broadcast the March programme. Radio broadcasts are every four weeks. Did you see on the news recently that a minister in Auckland has organised computer technology to run his weekly sermon through the internet so that it is available at a later time. Remember that outside the Wellington area this programme can be listened to via streaming on the Internet. The internet site is www.accessradio.org.nz. Click on Wellington Access Radio. At the home page click on the talk/link icon. Then on the Menu on the left hand side of the screen click on Radio, and with your sound up the radio is very audible. Broadband is not required to listen.
* Email discussion group: Is operating on Yahoo at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nzhumanism
Have you ventured into this group to contribute to discussion ?
* Book Review: An Inconvenient Truth –The planetary emergency of global warming and what we can do about it. By Al Gore. Reviewed by Robert Bender. Republished from the Australian Humanist No. 85 Autumn 2007.
This is intended as a popular call to arms, to alert a serious problem with planet Earth. Most of its bulk comprises stunning images, first-rate graphs and short spurts of text, to help ordinary people understand and become alarmed at the condition of our planet. That part of is very well done and persuasive. Retreating glaciers, increasingly intense Caribbean hurricanes, rising CO2 level, shifting rain patterns, dying forests, thawing permafrost, endangered Polar Bears, changing ocean currents, frost days declining, dying coral reefs, tropical diseases invading temperate zone, penguin populations crashing, forests being cleared (the main culprit) soaring use of coal to make electricity for cities, the Aral Sea and Lake Chad disappearing, etc. All brilliantly done.
There are eight inserts of a few pages each all about Gore and his family – father, wife, son, sister, etc, with black & white photos of himself (generally much younger) and his handsome family. This seems mainly self-promotion, preparing for his bid for the presidency when Bush’s term ends.
At the end of the book there are 17 pages on what you personally can do to help solve the climate crisis: save energy, get around on less, consume less, conserve more, be a catalyst for change. All of it is about individuals changing their lifestyle, none of it is about what big business and big government can contribute by way of changing laws or business practices. It is a very Puritan approach, about the search for personal purity and salvation, not about a search for good national or global government, or about big institutions taking real responsibility for the impact of their actions. I see that as a very serious weakness. Each individual and household must indeed change its behaviour radically, but that is not the only scale at which decisions are made, nor at which significant action can be taken. I find this exclusive focus on the personal scale astonishing by someone aspiring to lead a government of 300 million people. He seems to be saying he expects us all to change our ways but announces nothing about what he might do if he gets to lead the US government and what government can contribute to solutions.

* Joke Time:
” Mum, Where did I come from? ”
” From under a cabbage , dear.”
“And where did you come from, Mum?”
” The stork brought me.”
“And Grandpa? ”
” The stork brought him too.”
” Mum , doesn’t it worry you to think there’ve been no natural births in our family for three generations? ”

Gaylene Middleton

Shadia B. Drury
Sin, Sex, and Celibacy

There is reason to believe that the sexual-abuse scandals that have shaken the Catholic Church for the last two decades and implicated its highest-ranking officials reveal a pervasive culture within the Church. Cardinal Bernard F Law of Boston was forced to resign in disgrace because he was complicit in concealing the criminal conduct of his priests by shuffling them to new parishes. But this scandalous conduct did not prevent Pope John Paul II from offering Cardinal Law a plum post as head of the St. Mary Major Basilica In Rome. The basilica is under the jurisdiction of the Vatican and, therefore, beyond the reach of secular law.

Despite the crisis of authority caused by the sexual-abuse scandals, the newly inaugurated Pope Benedict XVI shows no sign of softening the Church’s position on celibacy On the contrary, the world has bought the argument that the whole scandal amounts to nothing more than a few bad priests who should not be allowed to cast a shadow on the Church and its policies. Even those who have denounced the Church as decrepit and spiritually bankrupt have stopped short of criticizing its insistence on celibacy. Why is the Church determined to pursue what seems like a disastrous policy?

St. Peter, the most prominent disciple of Jesus and the first bishop of Rome, was married-as were most priests of the early Church. But the tide soon turned against marriage Apart from the financial profit of having priests with no legitimate heirs, was there any other reason for the policy?

The veneration of celibacy has its source in the New Testament. In a discussion of marriage with his disciples, Jesus said that monogamy was the only form of marriage that was acceptable and that marriage was indissoluble except in cases of adultery (Matthew 19:11-12). The strictness of Jesus teaching was rather startling to the disciples, who ware accustomed to the polygamous laxity of Mosaic Law and the ease with which men could dispose of wives whom they no longer fancied. The new teaching seemed so strict that they wondered if it was worth the trouble to get mated at all. Jesus took this opportunity to casually remark that it was not a bad idea to become a “eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (Matthew 19:12). The Church has followed Saint Augustine (354-430) in interpreting this remark as a reference to celibacy rather Than a literal endorsement of self-castration. But Jesus did not endorse mandatory celibacy. He said that it was optional: “He that Is able to receive It, let him receive it.”

On another occasion, when Jesus was discussing life after the Resurrection with his disciples, he said that marriage does not exist in heaven. In heaven people live like angels, and they “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22-30; Luke 20:35). The implication was that the virginal life is akin to the life of angels in heaven.

When Jesus was led away to his crucifixion, he anticipated the day when “they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps [nipples] which never gave suck” (Luke 23-29). This was a reference to the spiritual kingdom to come, but it revealed a definite hostility toward procreation, not to mention family values.

In light of what Jesus said, it is not surprising that the fathers of the Church regarded virginity as a virtue second only to martyrdom. After all, Jesus indicated that it was a state of purity that made men akin to angels and fit for the company of God-surely an advantage where salvation was concerned. Since virginity was a state of purity the fathers deduced that all canal knowledge was sin, filth, and defilement. Anyone who disagreed with this assessment of the matter was condemned as a heretic, with all the horrors that implied. Jovinian, a fourth-century monk who decided that marriage was superior to celibacy was scourged with leaden whips and exiled to the island of Boa. More than a thousand years later, in 1518, when Erasmus wrote a treatise praising marriage and criticizing celibacy the Church condemned him as a heretic, and all of his work was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. In 1525, when Louis de Berquin translated Erasmus’s book into French, he was executed [- burnt at the stake on 16 April 1529]. In other words, celibacy was, and still is, a core value of monumental significance. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to ask: are there any good reasons for the practice?

The patron saint of the Catholic Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), argued that celibacy allows men freedom from the cares of married life to devote themselves to the service and contemplation of God, And echoing Jesus, he claimed that those who are undefiled by sexual passion are pure enough for the company of God in the beyond. All the Church fathers realized that celibacy was difficult because of the strength and intensity of the sexual drive and the “fact” that the Devil uses it to extend his dominion. Accordingly the triumph over sexuality came to be regarded as a triumph over the Devil.

What made the withdrawal from sexuality heroic is that it was a continual source of anguish. Saint Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394) put it bluntly when he said that the goal of virginity is to unite oneself with God; and this unity “comes from being crucified with Him” and sharing his agony. In other words, the celibate life mimics Christ’s agony as well as his triumph over the Devil.

In short, the main reasons for the veneration of celibacy are freedom from worldly cares, purity from the defilement of conjugal love, and imitation of the virginal life of Christ, his agony and his triumph over the Devil.

There are several reasons for objecting to these arguments in defense of celibacy. First, the radical thwarting of this natural inclination is more likely to interfere with contemplation in general and the contemplation of God in particular. It is those who have totally shunned these pleasures who suffer from the greatest fascination with them-a fascination that preoccupies their minds. Aquinas was busy contemplating the six different species of lust, defining lustful looks and lustful kisses, imagining the sex life of Adam and Eve, and worrying that the caresses of women might enfeeble the manly mind and threaten salvation. I venture to suggest that ordinary mortals who satisfy themselves now and again have more leisure for the contemplation of higher things.

Second, on careful examination, the life of the monk does not turn out to be much of a triumph over the Devil, Far from silencing sexual desire, the life of the monk strengthens it. Even in his old age, St. Augustine complained of “nocturnal pollutions.” St. Jerome beat his chest with a stone to drive away the evil desire he had for a dancing girl he saw in Rome, St. Francis tried to cool the lust that burned within him by caressing figures made of snow. St. Benedict stripped himself naked and rolled around in thorny bushes to chastise his body for its lust. St. Bernard was prone to so much self-flagellation that his body reeked (probably with pus from infection) and no one could stand to be near him. Far from undermining sexuality, radical repression has the effect of intensifying it. All this frustrated desire stokes the flames of hell. From his experience as a monk, Martin Luther realized that the severity of sensual deprivation succeeds only in giving the Devil the upper hand and that the temptations of Satan are at their most powerful in monasteries. So, he decided to marry Katharina von Bora in 1525.

Third, when sex is identified with sin in the minds of men, women generally bear the burden of this vilification. Perhaps the greatest vice of the celibate creed is that if cannot be sustained without actively cultivating hatred and antipathy toward womankind. Men who experience their sexuality as the greatest threat to their salvation cannot regard women with a simulacrum of objective detachment, let alone humanity And this is why the opposition of the Catholic Church to the ordination of women cannot be totally separated from its exaltation of celibacy and attendant demonization of women.

Fourth, celibacy is connected to the ascetic chastisement of the flesh. But to what end is all this sell-inflicted anguish? What is the point of this ascetic self-immolation? Who is benefited by this ordeal? Clearly, it is meant to be witnessed by God, but why would such a spectacle be pleasing to him? The idea that God enjoys witnessing the torments of those who love him casts serious aspersions on him because it imputes to him a sadistic pleasure, Of course, the God of Christianity has always been somewhat suspect-is he not a father who requires the death and torment of his innocent son to satisfy his sense of justice?

For the sake of Christians who do not suspect that they worship a sadistic God, The church should reconsider its policy of mandatory celibacy At the very least it should follow the example of Jesus and make celibacy optional. FI

Shadia B. Drury is Canada Research Chair in Social Justice at the University of Regina in Canada. Her most recent book is Terror and Civilization: Christianity, Politics, and the Western Psyche (paperback, 2006).
http://www.secularhumanism.org
Reproduced from Free Inquiry Vol. 26 No. 6 October/November 2006