The Pennsylvania Attorney General has put out a video in conjunction with the report on sexual abuse by Catholic priests. In that video three survivors talk about how the horror of their experience as children has affected their lives. One man said it left him with no desire to have children, and he never has. Another elderly gentleman says that he was never able to show affection to his wife and kids.
But the most important comment in the video is, “we were taught that the priests and nuns are God.” A young woman in tears explains that no one would believe her: “it’s your word against God’s.”
This brings us back yet again to Socrates’ question in Euthyphro: is something right because God says it is, or is it right because it’s right? In other words, could God, through a priest or through scripture, say something is right that we feel deep inside us is wrong? And if we agree that it is possible for a priest or scripture to be mistaken, can we figure out what’s right without reference to God?
The problem with the Catholic Church or any organized religion should be clear: men and women are not God. Nor are they the voice of God, at least not of a God who is all-knowing and the sole authority on right and wrong. All human beings are capable of wrong-thinking and wrong-doing. Further, since human beings wrote all of our holy books, there is lots of room for error in scripture as well.
So where does that leave us in our quest for living an ethical life? It leaves us thinking, not following blindly. It leaves us first with the admission that what we think we know now might be wrong. It leaves us prepared to weigh what someone else, even priests, even our parents tell us is the right way to think.
If we are willing to agree about these basic ground rules for moving forward, it leaves us open to answering important questions without referring solely to past traditions and age-old scriptures, questions like:
–Is it healthy for priests and nuns to take a vow of celibacy?
–Is anything wrong with homosexuality between consenting adults?
–Should contraception be outlawed?
–Is abortion wrong? When does a growing Homo sapiens become a human being with a guarantee to the right to life?
How will we answer these questions without a Pope or Bible? Through Reason, relying on human experience and by weighing the effects of our actions on other human beings in the age we live in, as opposed to the experiences of tribes of people who lived thousands of years ago.