So! What about that racism, then?

Benedict has issued some new mortal sins. Being a not so good convent girl, and regarding the seven deadly sins more as a list to be worked through than activities that would imperil my eternal soul (not that I think I have one, anyway), I was intrigued to see what he proposed to add. Could I have some more fun?

Alas, no. It’s no longer just lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride; now we have some new sins:
- environmental pollution
- genetic manipulation
- accumulating excessive wealth
- inflicting poverty
- drug trafficking and consumption
- morally debatable experiments
- violations of fundamental rights of human nature

Whatever. Personally, I’m only involved in a few of those, and then only because I happen to live in a wealthy Western liberal democracy, and through the machinations of a market society, I am inevitably complicit in at least some of them.

There’s been plenty of commentary on them around the web, so I thought I would add my bit too. To those last two sins.

They’re just fundamentally incoherent. “Morally debatable” experiments? WTF does he mean by that? Just being morally debatable doesn’t make something morally wrong. Benedict, or his advisors, or his PR flunkeys, is engaging in a neat little dodge here. It’s clear that morally bad experiments are sinful (if you believe in sin, that is). That’s just what a sin is – something that is morally bad. And a morally good experiment is clearly not sinful. In between, we have to make judgements. These are not easy judgements to make – those in-between experiments are tricky. But according to the Vatican chief honcho, if something is dubious, it’s bad. No ifs, not buts, no maybes. If you can argue about its moral worth, it must be bad.

The clear message – DON’T THINK FOR YOURSELF! If you have to think for yourself, it must be dubious, and therefore it’s bad.

And a violation of the fundamental rights of human nature? Sure, that might be immoral, but what exactly are the fundamental rights of human nature? In order to commit this sin, I need to know what the fundamental rights of human nature are. Very poorly defined, Mr Pope. One (meaning me) would think that if you are to go about opining on how people should live their lives, then you should at least spell out exactly what you mean.

Push it all far enough, and it turns out that the fundamental rights of human nature are not to do with human rights, like freedom from oppression, but rights of human nature – a different beastie. Human nature is DNA – genetic manipulation is impermissible. Benedict slips into the naturalistic fallacy, beloved of environmentalists everywhere – if it’s “natural”, it must be good. (Quick- think of five counter examples before lunch!)

Nothing about real human rights, like freedom from oppression. That’s real sin, through action, or inaction, denying the fundamental equal moral worth of every human being. Of course, Benedict couldn’t consider adding sexism to his list of mortal sins – the Catholic Church is far too involved in oppressing women to consider that it might be sinful to deny them access to contraception. Nor could he consider that covering up paedophilia might be just as bad as engaging in paedophile rape of children. Far better to wuss around with weasel words about it being a stain which has “even infected the clergy itself” (see the Times online article).

But he might just have made a bit of an effort with racism. Unless of course, he thinks that the Church is racist too, so he better not name that as a sin.

I know, from the inside, that sexism is pervasive in contemporary Western societies. And so too is racism.

And there’s been a simply stunning example of it in Australia in the last few days. The Haven Backpackers Resort Hotel, in Alice Springs, asked a group of Aboriginal women and their children to leave, because of their skin colour.

They checked into the Haven Backpackers resort, but a short time later the manager told them that guests already staying there had complained of being scared.

The group included several young mothers and a three-month-old baby. Most were young leaders, chosen specially for their standing in the Yuendumu community.

The resort manager told Bethany Langdon from the Yuendumu Young Leaders program the group would have to leave.

That’s right. Aboriginal women and children were asked to leave a hotel because they were Aboriginal.

It’s shocking, and disheartening, and utterly banal. It’s the ordinary everyday racism that black people in Western liberal democracies face, everywhere and everyday. And it’s a sin.

The Hoydens have asked people to blog about this, so that in future, if tourists search or google the Haven Backpackers Resort Hotel in Alice Springs, they will find this story, and know that the Haven Backpackers Resort Hotel in Alice Springs is racist.

If you too have a blog, perhaps you might care to do the same.

9 responses to “So! What about that racism, then?

  1. Thanks for joining the blogswarm, Deborah.

  2. Anastasiya Lychyova

    Expecting the Pope or most church leaders to be in sync with our perspectives on the world is expecting the impossible. If you are stuck in a bureaucracy it is very hard to break from its clutches. If that is a regressive bureaucracy, constantly shaped in what it does and how it sees things by centuries of past history, even if you don’t think that way, it is hard to achieve anything ‘modern’ because the system keeps you stuck in the old ways. And because of the age of church leaders (remember, John Paul II when elected was 58, near retirement age in our world but a virtual teenager in church leadership terms, where you only hit major power in your 70s) it is doubly difficult to get in step with the modern world

    It is said about the Catholic Church that its leaders are three generations behind the world, the institution three centuries. It relied on tried and tested ideas – if a priest is an alcoholic, move him about so he is so busy started up in new parishes he won’t have time to get bored and drink, if a priest is a child abuser, move him around and the same principle applied. Believing in the sacrament of confession where you wipe away your sins and can start with a clean slate, they thought that if they gave a priest a good talking too, told him ‘now don’t do that again’ and moved him to pastures new, that would be the end of it

    If he kept doing it, they’d send him to a counsellor, presume that would cure him and then send him out again. They never grasped the reality that paedophiles can’t be cured, sex-abusers sometimes can be and sometimes can’t, but to be on the safe side should never be put anywhere that children might be

    You and I live in a world where we have constant contact with all sorts of people; adults, children, married, divorced, unmarried, sexually active, all races, creeds, sexual orientations

    Bishops lived in rarified worlds where usually the only women they met were nuns, most of their friends were priests, and children were something you saw from a distance come Confirmation time. As the cliché goes, become a bishop and you’ll never have a bad meal or hear the truth again. It was hardly surprising if, on the ground, they had no experience that would let them realise the impact of their decision-making. They don’t know gays (well, gays who are out to them) so they have no practical experience of the problems gay people face or even what being gay is. They have little contact with women and can’t marry them, so they have little comprehension from experience on sex outside marriage, on pregnancy, on unwanted pregnancy. They talk about sex ‘being open to procreation’ as if every time people have sex they want to ‘make’ a child. The out of touch ignorance that produced the Pope’s rant at gay marriage, Humanæ Vitæ and other monumental misjudgments was central to their messed up handling of the whole area of clerical sex abuse.

    Then there’s the Church’s belief in itself as a God-appointed institution, which means that not only does it not pay much attention to the outside world or listen to it, it believes that it has God on its side and so must be right. (All religions have that idea.) And finally that as a bureaucracy it acts in classic bureaucracy style; slowly, cautious, indecisively and seeing its first duty to protect itself

    Throw together a regressive bureaucracy, an out of touch leadership stuck in the past, a governing elite whose careers move them further away from the consequences of their own actions, sexual immaturity thanks to their lifestyle and a messianic belief in their own abilities and it would have been a miracle if the Church had not disastrously messed up its handling of clerical sex abuse, just as it messed up almost everything to do with sex

  3. I blogged the Haven Resort story.

    Gobsmacking, for a New Zealander, but I’m afraid entirely believable from my experience of Australians. (Note: there are many fine upstanding morally blameless Australians but somehow I have a talent for bumping into the racist ratbags).

  4. Excellent post Deborah, and a very insightful comment Anastasiya.

  5. - accumulating excessive wealth
    - inflicting poverty
    - environmental pollution
    - violations of fundamental rights of human nature
    - drug trafficking and consumption

    …This list of his doesn’t make any darn sense. Couldn’t most of those be applied to about every free country on the planet? ‘Inflicting poverty?” — don’t most corporations who have factories overseas do that? ‘Environmental pollution…’ Give me a break! How about one against racism, sexism, and the raping of little children?

    That may truly help make the world a better place to live in.

  6. Very interesting, thanks. I’m glad I’ve discovered your blog. :)

    I can see the logic in saying we shouldn’t conduct morally debatable experiments (i.e. we should settle the morality of an issue before we start doing anything), but realistically, in today’s world there’s always going to be someone who disagrees.

  7. 2 words…Vatican Bank.

  8. Heh. You’re right merc, the accumulation of excessive wealth by the Catholic church puts them in line for hell. Or does it only apply to people. Oh well, in that case, most rich people have it all in trust or in corporations, so they are okay!

    And I take it from the Pope’s silence that protecting paedophiles is not a mortal sin? Martin Luther, where are you when we need you !

  9. Something u might be interested in Deborah. My father in law used to work in Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia.

    He said the racism was beyond belief – men and women who had been quite reasonable in the UK became virulent racists within a matter of 3 months. They would run over Africans on the road and simply not stop.

    I think you get this mentality with ideas on the internet – people who marinate in extremist views become more and more extreme.