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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An exercise for the reader

I'm leaving this one as an exercise for the reader - analyse this nonsensical blather, which I found via the ABC's Religion and Ethics Portal, for yourselves. Enjoy!


Zachary Voch said...

What it lacks in coherence, it makes up for in predictability.


Lisa said...

I'm not really sure what that article was saying, actually...maybe Part II will explain where this is heading?

Slightly off topic -- Here's another article from the site, "The Qur'an does not condone domestic violence." http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/07/11/2950543.htm

It says, "it is not Islamic Law that is the cause of IPV [intimate partner violence] (and specifically wife beating) found in Muslim societies" and ends with, "It is my contention, therefore, that most of the cases of wife abuse can be explained by the husband's ignorance of the basic teachings of Islam on the kind and just treatment of women."

A praiseworthy and noble aim, but I noticed that the discussion of the Qur'anic verse that is rather unsatisfying (a lot of "there's no consensus about how it's translated, it's 'symbolic,' Islam is against violence so the plain meaning can't be right," etc.). Also, several hadith and other sources that did seem to condone domestic violence were simply ignored, which is often the only way liberals can deal with such ugly "holy" texts.

Lisa said...
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Lisa said...

Ugh, the link didn't come out right, sorry.

Eamon Knight said...

I want back the 10 minutes I spent reading that. Also the brain cells that died in agony attempting to figure out whatthehell she's trying to say -- something about it being inconsistent and/or unfair to demand celibacy of RC priests while condoning same-sex unions of Anglican clergy.

Lorna Dueck, a Canadian religious journalist, writes similarly vague, pointless blather, albeit less pompously and tortuously, and mercifully shorter.

Zachary Voch said...

I linked a fuller post @1, but I'll publish my summary here for commenter convenience:


For the gripping conclusion, we'll have to wait for Part 2, I suppose. But here's the line the argument is taking, and it's only a "rethinking" in the sense of thoughts being repeated, but here we go:

1) Homosexuality and pedophilia (which may be lumped together here) in the clergy are small parts of the wider crisis of monogamy in society.
2) Due to our laxity in treating divorce and cultural interest in homosexuality, we have skewed the issue in the media, masking the underlying problem, i.e., a breakdown of stable monogamous relationships.
3) Clerical celibacy and marriage are essentially the same thing because married couples are often sexless for long periods of time.

So the essential argument is a combination of (1) and (2), and it's an old, overly-simplified one. For one, the beginning fallacy is the equivocation of pedophilia and homosexuality, which despite Coakley's efforts to demarcate, ended up being meshed together, both under a label and in later implications. She hasn't finished the argument yet, of course, but the ending seems predictable: homosexual and pedophile clergy are somehow the result of the breakdown of traditional religious morality with regards to monogamy in society generally. The chief culprit will likely be secularism.

(3) and the `pedophile ~= homosexual' line require no further refutation.

I want to end on the most representative note, in a word, incoherence.

The title of the article, the subtleties of the differences between how religious institutions treat homosexuality and heterosexuality, which is obviously a big part of the issue, all here are missed. No, homosexuality and pedophilia are just part of the broader breakdown in traditional marriage morals.

So far, this article is another tired refrain of the same reactionary line with the usual glossing-overs. As she hints, this is all build up to Part 2. Again, I'm not looking forward to it.

The structure of the reasoning is very representative of theological thinking. Start with a topic, find a religious meme, jump around history and thinkers and media, lumping everything into the narrative in support of that meme. And then, after this elaborate framing together and verbosity, miss the central issues.



Zachary Voch said...
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Zachary Voch said...

Hold on a second... This article has already been written!

Pleasure Principles, written in 2005.

The newer article has placed large, requoted word-for-word passages from this article under the header of recent scandals.

Part 2 will be an attack on "repression" as the fault in celibacy, based on this previous article. This more recent article was a dumbing down and partial requoting of this older one, with the added popular line about the general decline in traditional morality being the root problem, not celibacy.

goodgrieflinus said...

I can't stand these New Ascetics. Ascetism used to be so much more nuanced and thoughtful. The New Ascetics lack humility, and refuse to countenance any, er, pleasure. Bring back the good old ascetics.

Zachary Voch said...

Oh she's a gold mine!

"Second, it is not part of empirical science to discuss the possibility of a god and that god's relation to evolution. None theless, since atheistical science often veers into the realm of the metaphysical itself (quite dogmatically at times), it is reasonable for theology to put its own metaphysical cards on the table also."

Yep, because of dogmatic atheists, theologians will have to get involved. I just love her chronologies...

Metatwaddle said...

I actually can't get much out of this. It just seems like vaguely pious noise. But if I can't do analysis, I can at least do an uncharitable summary, right?

"So, we don't think priests should try to be celibate because they'll fail, but then we tell them they can't rape children. These two things are OBVIOUSLY inconsistent.

Also, we talk a lot about male clergy having sex with other males, but straight people get divorced a lot, and that makes me sad. :( Like this one bishop in Massachusetts, he got divorced and didn't even mention Jesus when he told the other bishops about it.

Also, celibacy is totally an achievable goal, because contrary to popular belief [??], married people don't have sex every night, which is exactly the same thing as NEVER EVER having sex or masturbating.

Tune in next week for the next exciting episode of God, Sex and Cultural Contradictions That Aren't There."

Dean Buchanan said...

I had not realized that there is some connection to Templeton.

"Sarah Coakley previously taught at Harvard, where she conducted a Templeton Foundation* research project with Martin A. Nowak on "Evolution and the Theology of Cooperation." Their coedited book, Evolution, Games and God: The Principle of Cooperation, will be published by Harvard University Press."

*my emphasis

Kirth Gersen said...

The author seems to be building up to the notion that the Catholic requirement of celibacy can't be blamed for rampant (no pun intended) culture of sex abuse that riddles the organization. She sloppily and haphazardly references traditional marriage and divorces within the Anglicans as contrasts/comparisons, then cloaks the whole thing in language which is doubtless intended to be flowery, but which is in fact awkward, artificial, and obfuscatory to a degree that should be illegal outside of a direct quotation from a Jack Vance scoundrel.

Tony Smith said...

Her juxtaposition of paedophile, "ephebophile," or (mature) homosexual (her quotes and parentheses) seems to too quickly drive otherwise clear and progressive thinkers to distraction when it should just be seen as an overdue reminder that the historically very recent confounding of ____ophilia and abuse is substantially grounded in (mis|re)directed homophobia.

Those who haven't overly censored their own memories of the world before the virus usually have the sense to keep their thoughts to themselves lest they be condemned by association, even jumping on the bandwagon that maintains that the kind of kiddie porn that was on open display on newsstands in the 1970s is now more dangerous than shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre, and so clearing a path for the Conroys of this world to insert their authoritarian Trojans up our communications orifices.

(Yes, I am consciously testing the limits of coherence, and without promising a part two which might tie it together, at least for some.)

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

If that post is an example of her writing, then I won't be buying the The New Asceticism. I shudder to think what contortions she could manage given room in a 300 page book.

Anonymous said...

@Tony Smith:

Wha? I mean, you admitted that you were "testing the limits of coherence," but you seem almost proud of the fact that you didn't seem to actually say anything.

Incidentally, the "distraction" that progressives get driven to is the fact that she called "paedophilia" a form of same-sex desire.

I see where "paedophilia" denotes a desire, but where's the same sex come in? Paedophiles never prey on anyone of the opposite sex? From what I understand, it's actually quite common for paedophiles to self-identify as heterosexual. There's no analytic connection to make between homosexuality and paedophilia. Maybe when we find out what leads to homosexuality and paedophilia, whether it be nature, nurture, or some combination, we'll find that there actually is a connection. But I doubt it, and it certainly hasn't happened yet.

That's the fundamental problem. That there is no analytic connection between those two concepts and yet traditionalists like this woman take it for granted that there is one without ever trying to establish it. You want to mention both in the same breath? Great, then either justify it or expect some screaming.

-Dan L.

Greywizard said...

It is quite clear, I think, that Ms. Coakley does not know what she is talking about, and that is mainly because she is confused. Take the following statement, for example:

"Here, then, we detect our first - and most profound - "cultural contradiction": celibacy is impossible, but celibacy must be embraced by some with unacceptable and illegal desires."

This is nonsense. No one is saying this, let alone Garry Wills, whom at this point she seems to be paraphrasing. No one has said that celibacy is impossible, but Wills is saying, I think, that the kind of enforced celibacy required by the Roman Catholic priesthood is impossible, and officialdom in that church should expect car wrecks. And there's plenty evidence for that.

Or take this claim:

"How can sexual control be demanded of anyone if celibacy is intrinsically 'impossible'?"

Of course, this follows on from the last. No one is saying that celibacy is intrinsically impossible. I dimly recall some Oxford don or other having said something to the effect that, while some people are troubled by carnal desires, it was not something about which he thought very much. So there is nothing intrinsically impossible about celibacy.

But then the rest of the piece is involved in all this sort of confusion. She keeps making snide comments (sotto voce, as it were) about the rarity of faithfulness, but first, she does not give any evidence of this, and, second, it is not quite clear why she thinks lifelong faithfulness, despite changes that overtake relationships, is particularly desirable. Presumably, it is just doctrinaire Christianity, but she does not make it clear that that is what it is.

Perhaps, the next episode of this soap opera will make all things clear, but, since it is going to focus on Freud, apparently, this is very unlikely, don't you think? This woman was an intellectual car wreck just waiting to happen. I think she can be safely ignored.

Gordon Campbell said...

There is an inherent cultural contradiction on matters of gastronomy. On the one hand, we disapprove of cannibalism; on the other, we tell anorexics that not eating is a bad thing! When will we make up our minds?

Gordon Campbell said...

This ABC site is seriously picking and choosing which comments to publish,yes? I'm guessing many others have had the same experience I have: reasonable, non-strident, beautifully-toned (even if i do say so myself)posts not allowed. And now the editor has written a condescending piece of puff chiding us to be more deferential in our comments to the very grand writers.

Neil said...

Lots of meandering waffle here, but I'll be generous. I see her points as

i) there is a inconsistency in expecting paedophiles to be celibate and thinking celibacy is difficult or unhealthy.

ii) there is an inconsistency in the degree of importance attached to homosexual "failings" and heterosexual "failings".

iii) the division into celibate, married and other is not as important as ones attitude to sex.

The solution to all this is for the church to provide a set of values/narratives through which people can sublimate undesirable aspects of human sexuality into acceptable religious behaviours.