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This is a great little combox skirmish between Big Bad Catholic, Mark Shea, and a pleasantly open-minded atheist called Toastisyummy that has been going on over at Catholic and Enjoying It.

It isn’t often you come across arguments on the internet that are conducted in good faith, and this is the reason I am linking to the exchange.  Toast disagreed with Mark, but was curteous in voicing his point of view, and it seems like he and Mark both got something out of the discussion.  I certainly did (thanks guys).  Also, check out Toast’s blog entry ‘Atheist, Not Enjoying It‘  – seems he feels he got more than he bargained for when he tussled with the Shea!

This was aired on Strictly Come Dancing a few weeks ago. The couple look like something off the cover of a pulp sci fi novel (perhaps with the word ‘Gor’ in the title), and the music is Freddie Mercury singing “Who Wants To Live Forever.” Just thought it might appeal to the scifi inclined out there.

I don’t mean to bring anyone down with this post, but the ‘right to die’ debate has been particularly in-your-face in the UK in recent weeks, with Sky One airing a suicide video, the BBC doing special episodes of Paranoia and Moral Majority, and a whole slew of news coverage from all the papers.  Most of the coverage has been sympathetic to the right-to-die folks, and so this funny and well argued article on the Guardian by comedian David Mitchell is a rare take on the debate;

Surely we haven’t cheated evolution so much that we’re even losing our survival instinct? That would be tampering with nature in a way that makes embryo research and GM crops look like the rhythm method. The normal reaction to death must still be to fight it, to deny it, to resist it to the last. I’d hate all this talk of dignity and ‘facing up to the inevitable’ to make people think that there’s anything wrong with raging against the dying of the light.

I had a similar gut-instinct response whilst watching the episode of BBC Paranoia which advocated assisted suicide, presented by Scottish Parliamentarian, Margo MacDonald.  One thing I get rather cynical about in the whole suicide debate is the narcissistic tendency of proponents to make it all about them and their unique suffering.  For example, Margo writes:

As someone with a degenerative condition – Parkinson’s – this debate is not a theory with me. The possibility of having the worst form of the disease at the end of life has made me think about unpleasant things.

One wonders for whom Margo imagines this debate *is* theoretical?  All of us are going to die, many of us in horrible and painful ways, of AIDs, or lung cancer, or being hit by a lorry.  Most of us will grow old, bits will fall off, other bits will stop working, and we’ll become incontinent, wheezing old bags, struggling to stay cheerful.  And, yes, we will all suffer.  Margo talks of dignity;

“I feel strongly that, in the event of losing my dignity or being faced with the prospect of a painful or protracted death, I should have the right to choose to curtail my own, and my family’s, suffering.”

But isn’t it undignified to set one’s thoughts on a type of death that might not even happen, inventing and exaggerating the awful details till it becomes an all consuming fear?  I mean, check out the video on this link for the Australian granny giving instruction on how to make a suffocation bag! If you’ve got old folks like this giving ideas to the kids, then perhaps it would just be best all round to finish them off with a tender, loving pillow hug.  How should one respond when someone expresses suicidal sentiments?  I do hope we can do better than sympathizing with such wishes!

Mitchell also goes on to write about the effect a loosening of the law would have on wider society;

Legalising the right to die would weaken, in some people, the stubborn will to survive which is the cornerstone of our nature. Many would be seduced into finishing life in good order, clearing their desks. Millions of pensioners already dutifully sell their houses, move into care homes and take out insurance policies to pay for funeral expenses: they don’t want to be a bother or a financial drain. It’s not going to take much to make some of them give everything up – give up – just to be selfless and tidy. Only the selfish and messy will make old bones.

This is what worries me more than anything else about the whole discussion; that suicide or euthanasia will become normalised and even encouraged.  It can cost in the tens of thousands of pounds to pay for a year in a nursing home, and if suicide was an option this would put enormous pressure on old folks to do the selfless thing.

h/t to In Hoc Signo Vinces, whatever that means,

The friendly neighbourhood pagans over on The Wild Hunt Blog are discussing “Religion, Abuse and Power” following the conviction of Lee Thompson, a pagan sex cultist from Darlington in Northern England, for forcing his girlfriend to have sex with other men.

Thompson’s cult of Kaotians is an offshoot of the Goreans, who base their religion on a series of pulp sci fi novels called ‘The Chronicles of Gor’, which depicts a world of female slaves dominated by their male masters.

Thompson and his cult were discovered a couple of years ago by police responding to complaints that a woman was being held against her will.  The cult was let be to do its thing, as all involved were there voluntarily.  There is more background from the Beeb and a hilarious take on the cult by The Independent’s Jemima Lewis.

This case obviously raises serious issues in relation to sexual ethics.  The Wild Hunt folks are quick to denounce and distance themselves from a monster like Darlo’s pagan rapist, and they also graciously concede at the beginning of their discussion that sex abuse is not the exclusive preserve of Roman Catholic priests.  Clearly, there is the potential for abuse in any power relationship, and neither the Christian nor the Pagan is immune.  Such abuse seems to be a facet of humanity in general, and not any faith in particular.

The question I would put to the pagans is; how exactly do you derive the ethics which (rightly) condemn predators like Lee Thompson?  The polytheistic realm seems to be an oddly amoral place; amongst the gods are characters of great virtue, but also of despicable vice.  In the pagan’s world, there appears to be no order but that which the individual chooses to impose.  If one chooses one’s gods, one’s lifestyle and one’s morality, who is to say the bloodthirsty worshippers of Moloch are any better or worse than the gentle followers of Wicca?

What strikes me about the Christian perspective is how clear cut are the ethics, how little space there is for personal preference and prejudices.  At its crudest, ethics in Christianity comes down to “Because God says so”, and you can’t really argue with the Author of Everything.  A pagan deity cannot claim the same moral force, and I say this for several reasons.  For a start, there is no reason (again, other than personal preference) to set one god’s commandments above another’s.  And secondly, the gods can be, and historically have been, manipulated by their human worshippers for their own ends.  I am thinking here primarily of the Roman Empire’s practice of absorbing cultures by identifying indiginous gods with their own, a pragmatic and politically astute practice which nonetheless indicates the gods were by that stage in history largely symbolic and possessing little power of their own.  I also think of the magician depicting her gods in order to influence over them, bribing them with sacrifices or punishing them when they have displeased her.  And again I think of the poets, whose myths and legends of the deities are never told the same way twice.  There is simply too much meddling in the affairs of the gods by humans for us to take seriously their divine guidance.

Of course, there is the Natural Law, which is conceived of as a law which may be recognised by all men, a sort of revelation through the natural world, rather than directly from the divine.  The Natural Law, however, can be problematic, almost to the point of relativism.  While a Christian might talk about the law of God written on the heart of man, there are, for example, plenty of feminists who claim to have the law of Choice written on their hearts.  As Christians maintain the Natural Law may be uncovered with reference to mankind’s collective experience, others can look at the same history and come to very different conclusions.  A lot of good shines through all cultures, but a firm attitude of discernment is required to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.  The Natural Law requires recognition of an absolute truth or authority to throw it into focus, otherwise it can be a rather woolly, feel-good concept.  So I guess my question to pagans is, what sort of credence do you give to the concept of the natural law, and do you recognise such absolute truth behind it?

On the specific subject of sexual ethics, Christianity contrasts with Paganism in that it lays down rules which to modern eyes seem draconian and unrealistic.  According to the church, the only circumstances in which sex should occur is within marriage.  It is as easy to lampoon this position as it is to ignore it for the sake of one’s own convenience and pleasure, but why does the church hold to such a strict position?  The answer is simple; children.  As someone discussing the Kaotians said on one of the science fiction forums, (inadvertantly paraphrasing the Simpsons), “I would only be concerned for any of the members children, how would they fit into the cult and it’s beliefs?”

The world that Christian doctrine tries to create is one which is as child-friendly as possible.  That is why sex is limited to an institution where a child will, all going well, grow up with two parents  committed to one another as well as their offspring, and who cannot just walk away when things get tough.  It is a tough set of principals to live up to, and as a Catholic I would much rather Jesus was down with orgies like Dionysus, or polygamy like Joseph Smith, but the logic behind the inherent goodness of marriage is, in all honesty, inescapable.  It is with that in mind that I reflect upon the pagan gods and conclude that they often encourage transgressions of morality, serving to give sin a holy veneer, rather than provide moral guidance.

I hope this post is thought provoking for our pagan friends, as well as the regular readers of this blog, and I invite them to share ideas on what ethical principles should guide our sexual adventures, and just where those ethics actually come from.

Superman is a Saint

If Superman represents the greatness contained in all men and women, written upon our hearts by the very God we seek to serve, then we represent that that very greatness can be attained by anyone, that it is a fundamentally human goal, and indeed, is the very reason each and every one of us is here. John Paul II, another superhero, once wrote to our generation "Never settle for less than the moral and spiritual greatness of which you all are capable." Let's take those words to heart, and live our lives, in Christ, the very source and inspiration for us, who is indeed the greatest hero of all.

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