Pope Benny’s recent comments on Aids in Africa reminded me of an experience I had as a child in the early 1950s. I used to help my Father (he was a milk delivery man) in the early mornings. One morning we found a wallet dropped outside the local Catholic Church before the early morning mass. I remember my Mother’s moral indignation when they discovered a condom, alongside a rosary, in the wallet. “Hypocritical Catholics” was her comment.
But I think it’s wrong to accuse members of a religion of hypocrisy because they refuse to go along with the “moral” demands of the Church dogma. With the “moral” exhortations of the Church leadership.
We know that many Catholics condemned the Pope for his comment on condoms and Aids, and most Catholics also ignore the Church’s ban on the use of contraceptives. People have all sorts of emotional, family and historical reasons for their membership of a religion. The moral exhortations of the Church leadership may well be irrelevant to most members.
Stem Cell Now
This was brought home to me recently while reading Stem Cell Now by Christopher Thomas Scott. A very interesting chapter, The Great Moral Divide, describes the different moral stances taken on stem cell research in the USA. The survey data shows a very clear difference between the moral “leadership” offered by church leaders, and the moral stances of church members. As Scott says the poll “show a disagreement between those who profess faith and those who institutionalise it.”
A 2004 Harris Poll showed 73% of Catholics supported embryonic stem cell research with only 11 % opposed. Protestants favoured the research by 8 to 1. Even amongst “evangelical” or “born-again” Christians only 20% were opposed to this research.
The problem with the “moral” dogma of religious institutions is that they are usually “supernaturally” based. “Supernatural” arguments are used to justify the moral prejudices of the church leadership. (That’s the advantage of “supernatural” arguments – they can be used to justify anything).
“Supernatural” arguments may have some influence on the ordinary “faithful” these days they are more and more likely to resort to an evidence-based morality. Especially where their health, or the health of their friends and family, is involved.
As well as presenting the religion-based moral positions Stem Cell Now also describes philosophical and evidence-based moral arguments on the question. It discusses evidence for the emergence of sentience in the foetus and shows this can provide a basis for moral decisions about embryonic stem cell research. For example, neuroscientists now know that the first electrical activity on the human brain occurs around week six and major brain divisions don’t occur before week four.
So science can provide evince like this which enables a rational basis for moral approaches to embryonic stem cell research.
When it comes to human morality religious “moral leaders” are superfluous – even dangerous. Church leaders are in no better position to law down “moral laws” than individual members of their “flock.” Humanity is a moral social species. Our moral intuitions and logic arise naturally and their are plenty of examples of the wrong that can be done by relgious moral eladership.
I think the Harris Poll data quoted in this book demonstrate our ability to get by without such “leadership.”