Saturday, July 21, 2012

In which the pond contemplates Catholics and contraception and sex and pain and love and death and the world population and the whole damn thing ...

The world wide web of useless things is endlessly rewarding.

There are, for example, any number of places you can go to for a world population clock, updating by the minute.

The United States Census bureau provides one here for the world and the good old USA. When the pond clocked in, the world stood at 7,027,519,356, and growing, no matter what a crazed gunman in Colorado might do to try to wind things back (and US gun laws and wild west attitudes and the grip of the NRA lobby will help others to make a contribution to insanity).

And then there's the projections, which bring out all sorts of numbers. At the high end of the scale, there's been talk that instead of levelling off around 9 billion by 2050, the population of the planet might reach 10.1 billion by 2100 and keep growing (here for the UN Population division projection).

And then there's the projections for specific regions, such as Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa's current population, at 856m, is little more than Europe's and a fifth of Asia's. By 2050 it could be almost three times Europe's and by 2100 might even be three-quarters of the size of Asia. By any measure, Africa is by far the fastest-growing continent. (The Economist, here).

This might disturb some, noting a world with limited resources and already struggling to cope with the pressures produced by number of people on the planet.

But if you're running a Ponzi scheme, it's great news. What you need for the pyramid to keep working is people joining at the base, so the more people to hand, the better the chance of keeping the scheme going before eventually the whole thing collapses.

Has there ever been a better Ponzi scheme than the Catholic church, replete with apologists ready to explain how the world needs more people because the Catholic church needs more converts?

Come on down, Joel Hodge, lecturer in the faculty of Theology and Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University's St Patrick's campus, Melbourne, and contributor of Sex isn't about consequences to the ABC's The Drum, thereby confirming that the taxpayer-funded site is a uselessly noisy showcase for the most regressive and conservative thinking doing the rounds. If somebody's prepared to write something for free, The Drum is ready to put it out into the ether ...

Only a theological Catholic, in the grip of Jesuitical casuistry, could deliver such an excellent example of muddled, muddied thinking.

The thing to note is that in past times Catholics tended to love their sex, and often fornicated like rabbits, on the theory that a trip to confession and a few prayers would keep the gates of heaven open.

Perhaps the most useful thing to arise from the rutting days, and parishioners consorting with priests was the work of Boccaccio's divinely earthy Decameron (with links to texts):

If she'll no more her mortar lend,
My pestle shall not it attend;
Thus parted, what's her mortar's use,
Alone it cannot sauce produce.
The wife, indignant at the joke,
To her confessor never spoke,
Until the vintage months began,
Which time she through the vineyards ran.
Though threat'ning him long while with hell,
All matters terminated well ...

Instead of five quid, the Master Priest gets to dip his wick for the price of a new skin on Belcolore's tabaret, fitting it with a little bell.

Sorry, the pond just wandered off for a bit - what a revelation Boccaccio was when growing up a Catholic. Women with lusty appetites, fucking and enjoying it, and priests always ready to rock 'n roll. Pick me Father Clarke, pick me ...

Back to dour old theological Hodge:

In the West, we implicitly accept the meaning of contraception. In other words, when we talk about contraception, we value it as morally permissible. In doing this, we accept that it is permissible to prevent the natural end of sexual intimacy: the fruitfulness of children and family.
Of course, not all sex leads to pregnancy, but clearly one of the ends of sex is procreation and the perpetuation of the species.

Perpetuation of the species means blessing the planet with ten billion people plus? While peddling the old nonsense about Adam and Eve?

These days the church frowns on hearty fucking, which can be enjoyed as a recreational activity, but also offers the benefits of good physical exercise and a reduction in neuroses (nine out of ten pond customers report intense satisfaction from sex and a good lie down).

Reprimand us Mr. Hodge, lash us for our wickedness:

Since the sexual revolution, this end has been obscured by the other ends that have become more focused on: sexual intimacy and pleasure. In other words, we have changed the meaning of sex so it is primarily focused on relationality, intimacy and pleasure.

Shocking. Sex that involves relationships, intimacy and pleasure. Is there no end to the decadence?

When we remove a natural end from an act, we change the act itself. In other words, when we take procreation out, we change the meaning of sex. In particular, we change it in terms of our intentions, ends and consequences.

Yes, for two thousand years or more, straights incapable of having children have been incapable of meaningful sex. As for gays ... well let's not go there, lest Mr. Hodge have to avert his eyes.

We have seen this in the West over the past 50 years: sex is increasingly seen as a private, individual affair for one's own use or for the expression of a relationship. This view is radically different from views of the past and from the views of most cultures in the world today.

Yep, fundamentalist Islamic cultures rulz.

Never mind those pack-raping dolphins and those kinky Antarctic penguins, Mr. Hodge knows the meaning of sex in the natural world, and it perforce involves guilt, sin and wickedness, and is best done in a cabbage patch with eyes closed and clothes on, and the next thing you know nine months later there's a baby in the cabbage patch, and do it ten times and enlist the entire tribe in the Catholic church and your work in this world can then be judged meaningful and useful.

We could go on and on, but the nub, the point, the lump, the protuberance, the gist, the stub, the bulge, the jutting hump, the protrusion, the swelling gibbous argument of the rest of the piece can be summarised thusly:

1. Contraception is baaad.
2. Condoms are baad.

You'll find this sort of idle chatter dressed up in a delightfully theological way:

Condoms and contraceptives played an ambiguous role: they were promoted as a last resort, but it has also been found that they encourage more risky behaviours, linked to higher rates of infection.
In the light of this evidence, is contraception, then, just a quick fix that accords with a dominant discourse in the West? Rather than addressing problems, are we just replacing one dominant cultural discourse around sex with another?

Dominant cultural discourse? Oh wash out your relativist post-modernist mouth with soap.

Naturally Mr. Hodge has an alternative. Natural family planning:

One area that may be a middle road - that addresses the deaths of women and children as well as respecting local cultural autonomy - is natural family planning. Natural family planning has increased greatly in its effectiveness to manage fertility, pregnancy and disease, and it also encourages an equalisation of gender relations, where men and women take responsibility for sex and the management of their family through a cooperative approach.

There is of course just one problem, as members of the pond's family have in the past discovered. Vatican roulette doesn't work. Well it does work, but only in the sense that at some point the house will win, and in due course there'll be another member of the Ponzi scheme arriving. How does Mr. Hodge deal with a stacked house, a fixed wheel and a tilted deck?

It is important that when discussing ethical problems we don't just focus on consequences. We can bring together an authentic ethical meaning and process with good consequences.

That's right, with blather. Mr. Hodge is especially big on abstinence as a way forward for Africans, perhaps because it's worked so well with priests when they come across a nubile young boy with pert buttocks.

The empirical results show that good outcomes can be achieved by methods that support meaningful ethical approaches. Thus, when considering family planning and contraception, we need to be aware of the underlying meaning of sex and relationships. We need to respect and develop good empirical data, which allows us to see the effects of our philosophical-ethical approach.

Uh huh. Let's see how Texas handles empirical data. It turns out that in the United States, the highest rate of teenage pregnancies occurs in states where abstinence-only education is standard. (States with abstinence-only education have higher teen pregnancy rates).

Some of the information fed to students is comprehensively bizarre, and a reminder of why Australia doesn't need to fawn and simper at the feet of the US in the manner of a Tony Abbott.

On the other hand, the US does have Gail Collins as a columnist, and here she is on Texas:

Quite a bit of the information Texas students are getting seems to have arrived from another era. An abstinence-only program used in three districts assures them that “if a woman is dry, the sperm will die”—which harks back to Colonial-era theories that it was impossible for a woman to get pregnant unless she enjoyed the sex. There are repeated suggestions that premarital sex could have fatal consequences—reminiscent of the 1950s’ legends about couples who had illicit sex in the backseat of a car and then were murdered by the Lovers' Lane Maniac. (A video used in three Texas districts has a boy asking an evangelical educator what will happen if he has sex before marriage. “Well, I guess you’ll have to be prepared to die,” is the response.)

So how's the horror movie shame game working?

Slightly more than half of 9th- to 12th-graders reported having had sex in 2009—higher than the national figure of 46 percent. By the time they’re seniors, 69 percent of Texas students are sexually active, and they indulge in risky behavior like sex with a large number of partners at rates higher than the national average. (Gail Collins on Texas's Abstinence Sex Education Problems).

So now we can amend the pond's empirical data. Young Catholics, evangelicals and Texans fuck like rabbits.

Over to you Mr. Hodge:

Yet, we should never lose sight that human activity is not just about consequences but about meanings. Sex is not just about consequences but the meaning it has for those engaged in it and for our society.

Oh dear. More blather. Is that all you've got?

It is no good to seek good consequences if we undermine the ethical and cultural foundations in which humans live. To lose the meaning of sex as has happened in the West to some degree (where we only see sex as an individualistic affair to be regulated, rather than a sacred, relational act for the good of those engaged in it and for the building of families and society) has consequences for our young people and society (as recent data is showing). Thus, we should be careful about how we construct the meaning of sex, because we may actually get what we wish for.

Construct the meaning of sex? Building families and societies and a condom-, contraception-free Catholic church world so we can top the ten billion mark on the planet?

Through the fog of blather, the pond paused only to note one of many negative comments beneath the piece, suggesting that the Ponzi scheme logic was falling on deaf ears, and people were no longer buying:

Only a religious person would have such a complex and confused view of sex and family planning.
To everyone else it's straightforward, practical, ethical and sensible.
When religious groups oppose family planning and contraception (in developing nations in particular), it is bewildering, nonsensical, and frankly, cruel.

Well said Jay Kay, but how could the pond resist throwing in Frank Zappa. Take it away Frank:

Catholic girls
With a tiny little mustache
Catholic girls
Do you know how they go?
Catholic girls
In the rectory basement
Father Riley's a fairy
But it don't bother Mary
Catholic girls
At the CYO
Catholic girls
Do you know how they go?
Catholic girls
There can be no replacement
How do they go, after the show?

All the way
That's the way they go
Every day
And none of their mamas ever seem to know
For all the class they show
There's nothing like a catholic girl
At the CYO
When they learn to blow...

Oh heck, if you've ever been a Catholic girl or a Catholic boy who doesn't understand the first thing about condoms and personal responsibility and sex education, yet can't get the hang of abstinence and chastity, why not sing along:


  1. Dorothy, Texas seems to have similar sex ed programs to those promoted by Sydney Anglicans UK affiliate, known as Anglican Mainstream. Here's a laugh for you... Anglican Mainstream has put together a petition aimed at stopping tax payers money being given to the Terrence Higgins Trust, which is a UK charity that works to help reduce the spread of HIV and promote safe sex practices. Avaaz withdrew the petition and now AM are now using Changing Org as a way of petitioning. You can check it out here and some of the comments are incredible. God help Africa if these religious zealots are running misguided "above the belt" "cock and bull" sex ed programs!

  2. There's only one cure Calamity, and that's a good laugh. Or perhaps there's two cures to the Sydney Anglican disease. A good laugh while fucking wildly, with sensible precautions always to hand.

    And thanks for the interesting links Anon, is the world weird or what ...


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