April 28, 2012

Is the Catholic Church bigoted?

I apologize for the sensationalist title to this post, but this is really seems to be the question underlying so much of my interactions with others with respect to the Church.  Recently, I was giving a presentation in front of DSG when a Senator muttered under his or her breath doubt as to the Catholic Church recognizing any rights whatsoever. Earlier this year, one of my good friends asked me, “How can you be a part of an organization that denies that an entire community of humans even exist?”

I’ll admit that these comments disturb me.  If the Church does in fact dehumanize a whole group of people, then the Church would be undermining the dignity of the human person it claims to prize so highly. But this doesn’t seem consistent with the Church’s actions—it is the largest charity in the world that provides aid regardless of race, creed, or orientation.  While the rest of the world was going on about GRIDS, it was the Catholic nuns who were the first to overcome the fear that paralyzed society and step in to nurse the suffering—sexual orientation a nonfactor. 

This just doesn’t seem bigoted to me.  I would say bigotry is an irrational judgment without considering the facts, and based solely on gender, race, orientation, religion, etc. With that in mind, a statement such as,

“Men tend to be physically stronger than women,” 

could be considered bigoted if I just made it a priori without evidence and reflection on how I came to that conclusion.  But if we, like the scientific community, believe in some objective physical reality, it could simply be a statement of scientific fact established by accepted methods within physiological research (e.g. Janssen et al, Journal of Applied Physiology, July 1, 2000 Vol 89 No 1, 81-88). 

Similarly, a statement such as,

“homosexual acts are intrinsically morally disordered,”

could be considered bigoted if I just made it a priori without evidence and reflection on how I came to that conclusion.  But if we, like the Catholic Church, believe in some objective moral reality, it could simply be a statement of theological fact established by accepted methods within ethical research (e.g. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357-9).

Sadly, it seems to me that many look no further than a single statement of the Catholic Church to call the Church bigoted without a study of the epistemology that the Church uses to construct her worldview, or the evidence that the Church considered to draw her conclusion.  Somehow, theological claims are something we’re all entitled to an opinion regardless of our depth of study.  Few educated people take seriously extremists who dismiss evolution or some other scientific claim without a degree in Evolutionary Biology or some related study.  Yet we as a community seem to laud those who, without theological degree or even carefully considering the Church’s evidences, reject the Catholic Church’s theological claim.  How many who reject the doctrine mentioned above can tell me the arguments the Church uses to justify that doctrine?  Yet, if we as a community don’t study the Catholic arguments, how can we ask Catholics to consider ours?

This is not to say that individual Catholics always act with pure motives, or have not used their religion to justify hate, despite the Church’s explicit forbidding of this (See again my comment about people feeling entitled to express theological opinions without a careful study of theology).  I am not asking non-Catholics to study or agree with a faith they don’t profess.   However, I am asking non-Catholics to not make judgments about a view they have not carefully studied based on an incomplete exploration of the arguments. After all, that would seem to be an irrational judgment without fully considering the facts.

Calling my Church names without studying her teachings dismisses a billion people worldwide for no reason other than their religion.  I invite the community here to, with me, enter into conversation with my Church on her view on LGBT rights.  But please, do so after careful study of her arguments and how she derives them.  It is, after all, merely the treatment you would ask any Catholic when considering ours.


  1. I appreciate the argument you're making, but I disagree with your conclusion. An opinion can be bigoted even if it arises from an objective moral reality for a certain party, because that party's moral reality is not objective for everyone.

    Merriam-Webster defines a bigot as "a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance" and bigoted as the adjectival form. It doesn't say anything about a priori, evidence, or reflection.

    The fact is that the Catholic Church condemns gay, lesbian, and bisexual people based on words in a historical document of (to many) questionable divinity. I'm sorry, I really am, but that is bigotry.

  2. I'm a little curious, Shane, whether or not you believe that this doctrine is theologically accurate? I wonder if that would require a certain amount of doublethink, assuming of course that you identify as LGBTQ yourself. Those two beliefs would then imply that you believe that you both are LGBTQ, and are not, because the Catholic Church denies that LGBTQ people actually exist (as I understand the argument).

  3. Let's cut to the chase here and ask Benedict what he thinks: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/pope-denounces-gay-marraige_n_1334504.html


    Now, with that said, it's not as if every individual who follows Roman Catholicism also follows every papal bull to the letter. IMO, the expectation of someone to leave the Catholic Church over this issue is ridiculous. If change can be better affected from the inside out, then it would be in the LGBT community's interests for them to stay.

  4. The Catholic Church Catecheism says that gay people are disorder. That is the kind of homophobia that really messes up people's lives. I know so many LGBTQ people whose internatlized homophobia takes a tole on their lives and development. Institutions like the Catholic Church are doing nothing to help that phobia. I don't think it matters if it fits the definition of bigotry or what not...it's still hurting LGBTQ people's lives.

  5. @anon 12:19 The problem with using moral relativism to attack an argument that assumes moral objectivity is that pure moral relativism cannot criticize. Suppose I accept a relativist morality, ie I claim. Now consider I am discussing with my Catholic friend, who claims that, objectively speaking, me engaging in homosexual acts is morally wrong. I can now tell my friend that she should not criticize me, because that is merely her truth and that I have a different truth. Unfortunately, my friend can respond saying that "her truth" is that for anyone to engage in homosexual acts is wrong. I am now in a bind. I can either admit my friend's has her truth, but that means she is perfectly justified in criticizing my behavior. I can tell my friend that she is wrong; that it's not her truth. But if I believe in true relativism, it is my truth that everyone has their own truth. If I tell her that her truth is wrong, I have stepped firmly over into making some universally objective moral claim, and now we're just haggling over which values are objective/universal.

    I'd also be curious to know what authority you're appealing to call the Bible of questionable divinity.

  6. Shane, you stated the following "With that in mind, a statement such as, “Men tend to be physically stronger than women,” could be considered bigoted if I just made it a priori without evidence and reflection on how I came to that conclusion."

    I know I'm picking out a small part of your argument here, but this statement really stuck out to me. I disagree that a statement of provable fact is "bigoted" just because it isn't a "statement of scientific fact established by accepted methods within physiological research" Certainly we can't be forced to prove every statement we make with this kind of research behind it? If I were to say that "Men tend to be physically stronger than women" and don't provide any evidence to back up this statement, that doesn't automatically make me bigoted; it's where I go from there that makes me bigoted.

    That statement alone doesn't imply any judgement for or against any group of people. I can make such a statement and not think any less of women, unless I use it to justify ostracism or mistreatment. For example, if I were to say something like "Men tend to be physically stronger than women and thus women aren't as useful", that would be a bigoted statement because now I have injected discrimination into my argument.

    Likewise, saying something like "LGBTQ identified individuals often do not fit into standard norms of gender identity and sexuality" isn't a bigoted statement if your stating something that's true, but if you use it to justify discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, that's when it becomes bigotry. One can put all the thought in the world into his/her opinions, but that effort doesn't make the effects of discrimination any less hurtful.

    I'm not on here to say that the Catholic Church is inherently evil or bigoted or whatever, because frankly that's an argument that is pretty much impossible to prove (because the world of opinion can be a nasty, lawless place), but I would argue that the Church's track record on LGBTQ issues is less than stellar.

    On another note, I thought your second paragraph was quite enlightening. I actually agree with your assertion that the Church does not "dehumanize" LGBTQ individuals, but I would still argue that the Church does discriminate against them. Accordingly, I'd really like to hear your response to both my previous sentence as well as to my argument about bigotry.

  7. Sorry for the delete and repost...I should have proofread BEFORE posting.

  8. @kyle I wouldn't say the Church denies the existence of LGBT folk. CCC 2358 would contradict that directly. I do try my best to be consistent :)

    @anon 6:30 If what the Church is doing is hurting people's lives...that's something the Church certainly needs to look at. Currently it doesn't seem to be doing that sufficiently, does it? That being said, if the Church seriously believe what she claims to, then people engaging in homosexual acts are in fact hurting themselves, and thus hurting the whole community because we are all connected by our common humanity and by Christ. It would in fact not be loving of her not to try to point this out to the community.

  9. "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible." That doesn't say that they ARE gay, just that they're more prone to doing gay things. So to speak. It sounds like them acknowledging that some people are more "at risk" for homosexual attraction than others. Like how some people are prone to alcoholism.

  10. @Kory I think my main point is that if morality is actually objective and universal, then we should be able to make moral judgments like we state our empirical facts. Perhaps they're harder to come to those conclusions, and the epistemology for ethics is an interesting thing to consider, but I digress. I would say your "therefore women aren't as useful" is a hurtful overgeneralization. After all, the sentence can be fixed by adding the specification "when I need to haul my bed up this flight of stairs." It's a judgment, and it's true. Just like it's true that men really aren't as useful when it comes to bearing children; we kind of suck at that. Again, a true judgment. The issue with an overgeneralization is that it takes a single instance and, without proper evidence, applies it to other cases.

    What's your definition of discrimination?

  11. @Kyle If being gay is being attracted to the same gender, then that's precisely what the Church means when she writes, "homosexual tendencies". The Catechism was just written by people a few generations older than us; be patient with them--they haven't quite caught on to the current lingo yet :-P

  12. @Shane Thanks for the reply. I argue that morality is not actually objective, and it certainly isn't universal. While we can judge the behavior of others as right or wrong according to our morals with relative objectivity, it doesn't change the fact that our morals are pretty subjective. (You can prove that E=MC^2 but you can't really prove that something like "stealing" is wrong) Though at this point I'm getting into philosophy and sociology, which isn't 100% relevant to this discussion.

    My definition of discrimination is the one I just copied from dictionary.com:

    "treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit:"

    I personally think this is a good definition, although now I find myself questioning exactly what "individual merit" means...

  13. You cannot sweep aside statements of morality with an ode to moral relativism when they affect people outside of yourself. If after extensive reflection and study, I honestly believed that Catholics were morally repugnant and that it was my moral responsibility to kill them all, would I be justified to do so? No, of course not, regardless of my moral beliefs. If Catholicism's moral policy affects other people adversely, then moral relativism does not justify its 'right' to its 'beliefs.' The Church's policies have set off tremors throughout the world and have led to countless atrocities committed in the name of 'morals' that adversely affect not just lgbt people but many others. Worse, with respect to LGBT people, the authority figures within the church actually outright condemn these same people. If people of faith take the the pope seriously, this rejection of an entire subset of people can and does lead to not just overt acts of violence and prejudice but the increasingly painful side effect of the emotional and psychological abuse of millions.

  14. Shane, I really liked this post! Lots of people (as evidenced even by the comments on this post) have absolutely zero understanding of where the catholic Church stands and where it derives that stance. I agree that people cannot argue with a position that they don't know the first thing about (though they will try).

    I'm a little surprised you were brave enough to express this, especially after what you wrote on my paper about my argument not making me any friends :P Expressing unpopular opinions, even in this "safe space" isn't usually a good decision.

  15. @ Kory As for moral relativism, see my response to anon 12 19.

    I think with that definition of discrimination, the Church ends up getting off the hook. The Church only judges based on individual acts, and there seems to be no problem saying that certain classes of acts are wrong. That's all the Church is doing. LGBT are not less "people" or anything like that. They are told, like everyone else with many many different acts, that there is a set of acts they should not engage in. That does not seem discriminatory to me according to that definition.

    @anon 3 09 The Church specifically states that "Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (CCC2358). It chastises individual Catholics who don't respect that teaching. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I agree it doesn't take into account the psychological effects of some way members of its Church communicate its teaching (even at the highest levels); it should work on that.

    @Jonathan Sadly, not everyone has taken my house course on Catholicism. Perhaps my comment on your paper was me speaking from experience, after al [though in all fairness I must point out that I've been impressed the rationality of many of the responses to my blog posts]...

  16. @ Shane That's a fair point about the individual acts, and I suppose I do agree with your comment in theory, although I'm not sure the Church's actions are always that cut and dry. That leads me into one last question, do you think that the Church believes that "homosexual acts are intrinsically morally disordered", and do you think such belief is correct?

    I know it's a rather personal question, but I am legitimately interested in your answer as I have virtually no background in theology.

  17. Personally, I don't like the word "bigoted" because it feels too nonspecific to me. But, the Church does invite uninformed opinions when it starts voicing its opinions on international politics. After all, though this may be an issue the Catholic Church is concerned about, but most of these political issues are secular government policies. So when the church voices an opinion on the push for gay marriage gaining ground in the states, of course people who are ignorant of the finer points of Catholic doctrine are going to reply.

  18. @ Kory: I suppose it's a complement that society hold all individuals associated with the Church to such a higher standard than it holds anyone else, but the Church is made up of humans and sadly does not live up perfectly to its own teachings all the time. Yes the Church's Catechism (official teaching) very straightforwardly states that the Church feels that homosexual acts are objectively disordered. My views are...complex and probably better if I message you or something after finals are done cause this is far too tempting to procrastinate with O:)

    @Kyle: Does the Church accept separation of Church and State in all issues? To do that I think you'd have to claim that there are no moral issues that come up. An obsession with separation of Church and state means 1) you seem to favor the atheist faith. 2) You get a lot of double talk where people actually make a moral judgment based on their faith, but then pretends they don't [thank you, Democracy]. However, at the moment it seems to be arguing it can get involved with gay marriage based on it falling under Natural Law...so implicitly accepts that you don't actually need Christian Revelation to come to the Church's conclusion. This would seem to mean it needs to be able to establish it outside of specifically religious reasoning, so I think your point is very valid and something the Church should probably address more closely than it does.

  19. @Shane: Referring to your last comment to Kyle, and playing the Hauerwasian :P I disagree that the Church needs to establish its reasoning outside of religious terms. The Church's job is to be a social ethic by being the Church, not to attempt to translate a social ethic to the secular vocabulary.

    I think this Hauerwas paper is starting to get to me...

  20. @Jonathan: Oh Stanley.... Some of us don't live in Divinity Schools and have regular interaction with people who are not Christian...

    So if the Church doesn't need to establish any reasoning outside of religious terms, is it permitted to press its religious views on others? The Catholic Church would claim if some moral law can be determined extra-religiously (through "natural law"), it can fight in the political world for that value.

  21. 2 things I'd like to address:

    the split between acts and people/intentions.

    what a precarious position one finds oneself in when claiming an act is morally reprehensible. Without resorting to consequentialism, a deontology system appears incapable of assessing the moral nature of an act without reference to the moral actors.

    But more specifically, what act is in question:

    sodomy? why is such an act outside proper moral behavior? because it's a waste of one's seed? well having sex with an infertile female would so seem to be an reprehensible act. What of homosexuals who do not engage in sodomy? What is the act that they do that is so morally rephrensible.

    It seems that the simplest resort the church faces is that the notion of 2 men (or 2 women) partaking in sexual acts together perverts some notion of physical love that God grants favor? What is the nature of the physical act that gives it justification?

    But that is only of trivial concern to me.

    I must stand here to correct you (yes correct you; how arrogant of me!) on something you said. Atheism is not a "faith." That has been bit of rhetoric and dialectic used by the religious right in recent years to correct gaps and dissymmetries between both sides of the argument. Implicit to faith is the notion of belief without warrant, at least evidential warrant. Warrant from such belief is of a different character than justification proper. If it was the stronger sense of justification we use, then it would be not faith, but instead knowledge.

    Atheism is not an alternative posed to counter faiths. Atheism is the null hypothesis. It is the obligation of the person making the claim (the person arguing for religion x) to provide evidence for that claim. Claims made with no evidence can be dismissed with no evidence. As such, Atheist are not partaking in a faith. Rather, they are unconvinced by any religion because no religion offers sufficient evidence to warrant belief, if one's main concern is truth. To call atheism a faith is a bit of dishonest argumentation, and so deserves immediate criticism.

    Thus, we see that separation between church and state does not favor any faith. It is instead a rejection of all faiths, at least in regards to the guidance of the state.

  22. @anon 3:00 The Church would claim that you cannot separate either. For instance, if I get drunk, get behind a wheel, and kill someone even though I certainly had no intent of doing so, I am still legally liable (and most would say morally liable for that death. Thus, we see that acts can be intrinsically wrong. The Church would teach the homosexual act is counter to "complementarity" between men and women, closes off sex to life, and are contrary to "natural law" (CCC 2357). Each one of those concepts could be a book in and of themselves, but that's a basic sketch.

    As for atheism being a faith, I'd claim that every belief system has at its core a faith. In your particular example, why do we believe in evidence? What counts as evidence? What constitutes "justification proper?" Any religion would claim it has proper justification. The first step of any reasoned argument is faith in one's premises (or axioms, if you prefer), because we never be logically sure of premises.

    And shall we always go with our null hypothesis if we don't have "enough" evidence? But I ask again: what's enough evidence? For instance: prove to me your own existence. Prove to me you're not a figment of my imagination. Prove to me you think, or prove to me you see colors, or prove to me the scientific method is valid (whatever valid means). If you can't provide proper "evidence" shall I assume the null hypothesis ? Why is the burden of proof always on the person making a positive claim? If we're extremely strict, no one can logically prove anything truly, so we'd be left with no claims at all. we all have faith; we have to. Some of us just try to call it something different.

  23. To call atheism a faith perverts the very notion of faith. Evidence is something that can be observed by any individual (i.e. not personal), has repeatability, and serves as a predictive explanation for some event. No religion can or has provide such evidence.

    Existence has no criteria. Thus no evidence can be given to deny criteria. The belief in other minds is inductive for the most part.

    But to answer you case of academic skepticism: the most common reply is that you are not in a position to put us in a skeptic's scenario. Without any reason to believe things aren't the way they are, you are being deceitful in your questioning.

    Moreover, your argument cuts both ways. If it is good enough to invalidate my system, it's just as good to invalidate yours.

    And evidence is always incumbent on the person making the claim because we don't live in a world where we are willing to take unwarranted beliefs. The reason atheism is the null hypothesis is because we have nothing immediately intelligible telling us there is a god, unless one at childhood was duped into thinking appeals to authority were a basis for belief.

    And no, we do not have faith. Philosophers have been for centuries arguing the question of epistemology. All systems of thought have adequate theories for explaining how knowledge comes to be. Each system, of course have some very big faults, but not one is willing to take things "on faith."

    No one is calling anything different. One would not simply believe (or be justified in believing) something in the real world simply because of authority or because of a desire for it to be. true or what may have you. Your system (religion/faith) is a special case. No where else in the world do we operate like we do here.

  24. With regard to a minor point Shane made, yes, we do choose to interact with our world in a logical manner, and the choice to be logical is just as arbitrary in an absolute sense as the choice to be illogical (ie. non-evidence based functioning). However, this divide is not equal as anon 5:35 has so eloquently demonstrated. As the world functions today, we make most choices--descriptively, innately--with the use of evidence as our motivator. If I charge someone with murder, they will not be thrown into jail without a trial by evidence; when I choose what to eat, I work off of past evidence of what I may like or off the evidence that new and varied experiences are worth having. As human beings such is our nature, and when we do not act in this way we are labeled insane, a danger to society, and locked away in mental institutes.

    So should religious people be locked away? Probably not, but that is due to the fact that these same people adhere to evidence-based logic in nearly every other facet of their lives. With respect to religion, however, they fall back on the argument that evidence-based and non-evidence-based decision making are equally satisfactory. Oddly, however, they then limit this 'reasonable' argument to only one conveniently chosen arena. A rather silly defense in my opinion.

  25. God says to love and honor all people, so having male-only priests and the Church's stance on gay marriage, are in direct contradiction to this teaching of God, and therefore, an unChristian and yes bigoted view.