PZ and the Pope - Take 2

Aug 31 2009 Published by under Religion

Judging by the comments, it would appear that I wasn't as clear in my last post as I should have been. I apologize. Let me try again.

Here's what PZ wrote:

I think I'd have a few questions for this pope. Like, "What about over-population, Ratzi dear? What's the devout Catholic plan for dealing with that rather serious environmental issue?" and "Hey, have you noticed all those hell-holes of destruction in Africa? How does catholicism help people achieve economic and individual autonomy, huh?"

I read that as covering two separate points: overpopulation, and the major problems faced by African (and by implication other developing world countries). Some of you appear to have read both as dealing only with birth control, and, since I just plain forgot to get back to the topic of birth control in the original post, I added to the confusion by never actually saying anything about at least half of what I was criticizing. I was also far too vague with the bulk of my complaints - a different form of intellectual laziness than what I was criticizing, but intellectual laziness nonetheless. Again, I apologize.

With regard to environmentalism and birth control:

Overpopulation is an environmental issue, and it's one that the Catholic Church's policies contribute to. I don't think it's the single most pressing problem we face, and I think that it would be entirely possible (in theory) to reach zero (or even negative) population growth while still wrecking the environment. At the same time, there are many environmental problems that have been caused largely by the conduct of the developed nations, which continue to grow worse because of that conduct, and which can be addressed separately from population issues.

I do not think it's unreasonable to criticize the Church's position on birth control, or to point out the long-term environmental harm overpopulation can cause. But if you honestly think that the Pope's position on birth control is enough to disqualify him from talking about environmental issues alone, then you're being just as asinine and small minded as the right wingers who said that Al Gore has no authority to speak on environmental issues because he flies around a lot to talk about the environment. Please. Being part of the problem at the same time you're trying to be part of the solution is a basic human characteristic.

The second part of PZ's response to the Pope ("Hey, have you noticed all those hell-holes of destruction in Africa?") is something that I still read as being a separate issue from the birth control one. If PZ took the time to look, he'd be able to see that the answer to that question is, in fact, "yes." The Vatican has involved itself in things like trying to reach a peaceful solution in Darfur. The pope met with the President of Sudan, and suggested that the Church could, "make a positive contribution in Sudan, especially in the field of education."

As to the next question - "How does catholicism help people achieve economic and individual autonomy, huh?" - I'd have to say that Catholic theology does not, in and of itself. Catholic schools, hospitals, and relief supply distribution efforts, on the other hand, can, do, and have.

Here, again, I think there's plenty of room for criticism of what the Church has done and is doing. Motivations, effectiveness, how much more (or less) they could and should be doing, to what extent their efforts at solutions are part of the problem - as far as I'm concerned, all of that is fair game. But suggesting that the Pope isn't aware of the problems at all - which is what PZ did - is not either a fair or reasonable criticism.

I hope that makes my problems with what PZ wrote clearer. I said that it was characteristic of blinkered vision because that's exactly what I think was going on here. I've known Paul for a while now, and I do not honestly think that he'd ever let an opponent get away with that sort of argument. For that matter, I don't think he'd let a friend get away with it.

This brings me to my final point - one that's not at all connected to my disagreement with PZ:

PZ Myers and I have inhabited the same parts of the intertubes for over a decade at this point. In that time, I've found that I agree with him more often than I do not. Slightly more often. This post hardly marks the first time I've publicly disagreed with him on something, and I strongly doubt it will be the last. I have not ever manufactured a disagreement with him in order to get traffic, and the day I do will be the day I stop blogging because I'll know that I'm taking it far too seriously.

However, those of you who think I am doing this for traffic gain are more than welcome to come over here, add to my traffic, comment, add more to my traffic, and check back for responses, adding to my traffic every step along the way. Whatever floats your boat.

12 responses so far

  • Roadtripper says:

    "However, those of you who think I am doing this for traffic gain are more than welcome to come over here, add to my traffic, comment, add more to my traffic, and check back for responses, adding to my traffic every step along the way."
    Well said! But it's not as if you're trying to sell a new book or anything. /smirk.
    Rt

  • Russell says:

    Well, hell. As long as you're doing it for the traffic gain, I'll ask again about your view on life in Pensacola. 😉

  • Coriolis says:

    In Africa, overpopulation and HIV are not simply an environmental issue. Both the many malnourished children and the rampant HIV infections contribute to a highly unstable and violent political climate, which arguably will not be stabilized without birth control. And of course in this political climate hardly anyone would (or could afford to) give a damn about the local environment. Although of course birth control by itself would not magically fix the political landscape by itself, it's a necessary condition. Kristoff, for one, has written much on the relation between so called "women's issues", and economic development. In the context of Africa the pope's stance on contraceptives is just evil, and yes, in my eyes it makes anything else he has to say useless.
    So while in principle you may well be correct that in the context of the developed nations, the church's stance on contraceptives does not necessarily have much to do with the environment, I don't think that's true for the developing world.

  • Mike Dunford says:

    Sorry, Russell - I knew I was forgetting at least one comment. The short answer is that life in Pensacola beats life at Ft. Rucker, Alabama - which is where we're living now. I'll get around to updating the sidebar one of these months.

  • Mike, I think you're being rather naive to think that PZ and the rest of us focus only on overpopulation as the cause of things.
    Saying things like:

    I don't think it's the single most pressing problem we face, and I think that it would be entirely possible (in theory) to reach zero (or even negative) population growth while still wrecking the environment.

    is just inane. Of course we'll still be wrecking the environment regardless of the population reaches some kind of balance, but continuing to let the population grow isn't going to make it any easier to control pollution. It's also inane because that's not what we were talking about in the first place. It's a tangent and irrelevant when we're talking specifically about overpopulation.

    You mention a part from the article (from 2007) about suggesting to al-Bashir about positive contributions. Well, here's the full quote:

    The pope and al-Bashir also talked about "the defense of human life and the family, the respect and promotion of human rights -- with religious freedom being fundamental, the importance of interreligious dialogue, and the collaboration between all religious believers, particularly Christians and Muslims, for the promotion of peace and the common good," the Vatican said.

    Okay... so he talk with al-Bashir. That was two years ago. What has happened since then? Oh that's right, the ICC filed charges against Bashir. Five charges of war crimes and two of murder (and originally also included THREE counts of genocide too.)
    And what has the Vatican done since then? Oh that's right. They deposed a bill at the UN that called for the decriminalization of homosexuality around the globe. We can't even get that under control in American and you think the Vatican wants to "promote human rights" and "promote peace and common good" in Sudan where they still KILL people for being homosexual?
    That's some contribution they made to "the promotion of peace and the common good." I also couldn't find anything about the Vatican improving education in Sudan. A lot of stuff on dicussing how to help, but none actually doing anything.

    As to the next question - "How does Catholicism help people achieve economic and individual autonomy, huh?" - I'd have to say that Catholic theology does not, in and of itself. Catholic schools, hospitals, and relief supply distribution efforts, on the other hand, can, do, and have.

    Yeah, and the money could be much more effective if the money were donate through specific organizations dedicated to the problems in Africa, rather than the church who will take as much as 60% of the donation in order to keep running. Not to mention the billions and billions of dollars they have (not including the billions in assets), but won't donate for some reason... and yet they still ask for more donations...
    It seems to me that PZ was completely right in asking the question about the "hell-holes" in Africa, and I highly doubt that PZ was referring to places like Sudan when he was talking about overpopulation. You're just being stupid if you really thought that PZ would blame Darfur on overpopulation.

    But suggesting that the Pope isn't aware of the problems at all - which is what PZ did - is not either a fair or reasonable criticism.

    After the Pope stated that condoms cause spread AIDS (which in some places is as high as 50% of the population have HIV) and the problems I just mentioned concerning saying one thing and doing another? He's either completely unaware, or impossibly stupid. Problems are being made worse or are being ignored in Africa because of the Vatican, not making them better.
    Maybe PZ isn't right about the Pope not knowing anything, but I think it's plain to see that he knows stupidity when he sees it, and, for whatever reason, you felt some need to defend the Vatican in whatever weak way you could. The term "grasping at straws" comes to mind here while reading your entire post.
    I suggest some actual evidence that the Vatican is doing anything good the next time you try to defend them.

  • Pierce R. Butler says:

    ... it would be entirely possible (in theory) to reach zero (or even negative) population growth while still wrecking the environment.
    Piece o' cake!

  • Pierce R. Butler says:

    I've been told by those with a lot more African travel experience than mine that many Catholic hospitals and clinics do distribute condoms, whisking them out of sight only when the high mucky-mucks come to visit.
    If that's still the case (these stories were from the last century), then we could credit the Catholic church for positive actions while still condemning the Pope for harmful activity, and be correct in both cases.
    The same could be said regarding the Holocaust (sound the Godwin Alarm!) as well.

  • I've been told by those with a lot more African travel experience than mine that many Catholic hospitals and clinics do distribute condoms, whisking them out of sight only when the high mucky-mucks come to visit.

    That's somewhat reassuring to hear that some people still have their wits there enough to know something wrong when they see it. However, I think that's repair to the damage done by the missionaries who preach condoms are evil and ineffective and will actually destroy shipments of condoms.

    If that's still the case (these stories were from the last century), then we could credit the Catholic church for positive actions while still condemning the Pope for harmful activity, and be correct in both cases.

    If that's the case, I think it's despite the Catholic church and the Pope. A action from religious person that is ignoring an injuction from the leader is an action made out of something outside their religion, in my opinion. That's altruism at its finest.

  • StormtrooperElf says:

    Unleash PZ Myer's disciples!!
    Him and the Pope are two spectacles both deluded by their own grandeur, puffed up by hot air and beetle juice.

  • Soren says:

    @StormtrooperElf:
    Gee you're just anothe mindless anti PZ drone. PLease grow up and develop a mind of you own will you?

  • SouthernFriedSkeptic says:

    Holy shit! Ft Rucker? I'm only a few miles from Dothan, AL. Listen, I'll come over and wash your car in exchange for intelligent conversation. 🙂

  • red rabbit says:

    Yes, religious (not just Catholic) clinics and hospitals quite often ignore the dogma in places across Africa to do what's right, but they have to hide these acts when the American or Canadian or European church donors come visiting. Many hospitals wouldn't even exist otherwise.
    I was educated properly about comparative religion and evolution in a church-run school in Canada in the 1980's.
    But the evils promulgated by missionaries in the places where I worked just blew my mind. "Condoms are a plot, they leak." We disproved that one.
    "Vaccinations are a plot to sterilise Africans." WTF?
    "It's all a part of God's plan." Said when people believed that the whole village was going to die of HIV, or when there was no money to get a child to hospital, or when the priest didn't feel like lending his car to the village so we could distribute food aid.
    The Presbyterians took to circumcising teenage boys because that was expected culturally, so now it's a part of CCAP dogma. And talk about trying to propagate the colonial attitudes of white=superior. It made me ill.
    I don't know what the pope and other religious leaders know and understand. I do know that if they do know and understand what they are propagating, they are immeasurably callous.