Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is it right to be absolute?

Pope Benedict XVI and President Barack Obama

President Obama has come out in favour of same-sex marriage. Good for him.

In an article in the Irish Times last January (2011) that was inspired by the film “The King’s Speech”, Fintan O’Toole wrote of the fact that he had once suffered from a speech impediment. He was interested to hear that some people who had such a problem also reported that, as children in school, they had been forced as naturally left-handed people to do everything with their right hands. That also happened to him.

Over many centuries, left-handedness has been seen by Christianity as being associated with the devil, and was therefore regarded as something that had to be “cured”, even if this meant using force and causing severe distress to the child concerned. Apparently there are many references in the Bible that could be interpreted as a condemnation of left-handedness, although no prominent church leader is known to have come out and made anything like the pronouncements against it that have been made against Gays and Lesbians by, among others, various popes.

The current pope is very fond of one particular word. He has condemned what he calls “relativism” on many occasions. He sees it as something that is taking over the world and as being closely allied to secularism. As used by the pope, it seems to imply that, for him and the church, there are a number of basic truths that can never, ever be challenged - they must remain absolute. This, of course, immediately causes problems for those in the scientific community because the scientific method is predicated on the idea of revising or even totally rejecting anything that does not continue to accord with new evidence as it becomes available. The pope’s defenders will say he is not concerned with science (the church was proved so embarrassingly wrong with regard to scientific pronouncements in the past that it has decided it is better to get out of the field altogether). However, his condemnation of Gays and Lesbians and his total rejection of same-sex marriage indicate that he is ignoring the modern understanding that being gay is just another part of the diversity of human nature, and is neither good nor bad – it just is.

As for the idea that the church cannot change its beliefs – this fails to stand up to scrutiny too. Can you imagine the uproar there would be if a teacher in any school was found now tying a child’s hand behind his or her back and forcing them, against their natural inclination, to write with their right hand? Here, at least, is one absolute belief that’s not so absolute any more.

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