Sunday, October 11, 2015

Katha Pollitt's Facile Put Down of Laudato Si

Someone threw Katha at me again.  That would be Katha Pollitt, specifically her column against Pope Francis for not overturning previous Catholic teaching on birth control and abortion and, apparently, in her view, cancelling out all of what he said that has made him the most radical voice among world leaders on ending the war against the environment.  I happen to agree with Pollitt about the right of women to control their own bodies, though I think our ideas about that are somewhat different.  I also agree that people controlling the size of the human population is an essential aspect of the continuation of the human population, biological diversity and life on Earth, human beings being the most destructive species in the history of life on Earth.  But the mere assertion that is going to be done through making birth control available is just plain wrong.   She makes a lot of hay out of the reproductive rate in the Philippines, a Catholic majority country,

True, Pope Francis did say that Catholics needn’t breed “like rabbits,” but he waved away the need for “artificial” birth control. If only those rabbits would use natural family planning! Interestingly, he made that comment as he was leaving the Philippines, a largely Catholic country where the powerful church hierarchy has fought tooth and nail against realistic sex education and government funding of contraception. Not coincidentally, the Philippines has the highest fertility rate among the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

While I certainly agree with her that women and men in the Philippines should have full access to and information about modern contraception and a right to control their bodies, her use of that issue in the article is nonsense.   In the Union of Concerned Scientists'  listing of Each Country's Share of COEmissions virtually every large country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is in the top 20, the Philippines doesn't even show up in it.  China and India, both with extensive programs and even mandates in controlling fertility (China) are in the top 5, China topping even the United States for number one.  Japan is number 5 and South Korea number 8.  Other than the oil producing nations of Iran (number 7) and Saudi Arabia (10) all of the top ten are modern industrial states which, I believe, have rather advanced programs of dispensing birth control information and, in some cases, even methods and, also, have no ban on abortion.

Even when you do get to Catholic majority countries on the list, Brazil (12), Mexico (13) both have free availability to contraception, Mexico is listed by the UN as having liberal availability of legal abortion and Brazil of having legal though somewhat more restrictive availability of abortion.

Britain, often touted as a secular paradise with liberal availability and government provided birth control and abortion services comes in at 11, before either of those Catholic majority countries.  If you look at the list from the Union of Concerned Scientists, being a Catholic majority country would not seem to be a strong factor in making you a major contributor to global warming.  If you want to force some kind of illogical algorithm on that count, someone could make an equally problematic case that secularism could be made into a stronger correlation than Catholicism.

One of the points she made was as trivial as it was easily testable with a word search.  She said,

It’s remarkable that the pope didn’t address a single sentence of his encyclical to these issues, especially since it otherwise deals so intelligently with the interconnection of so many disparate phenomena. Francis has often said that men and women have different gifts and “complementary” roles. He has spoken sweetly of motherhood and femininity and derided the movement for women’s equality as “female machismo.” Yet in Laudato Si’, the word “women” appears only in the phrase “men and women”—that is, people. Don’t women have anything special to contribute to solving climate change beyond serving their too-numerous children less fast food?

Apparently it didn't occur to Pollitt but she could have searched the document to find that the word "men" other than in about one quote always appears in the phrase "men and women".   The document is rather remarkable in its adherence to the policy of language inclusiveness.   I can imagine if Francis had singled out women for special contributions to the solution of climate change, Pollitt would be complaining that he was placing extra burdens on women when it was men who caused the problem.

I was interested to note that even back in 1963 Pope John XXIII used inclusive language in Pacem in Terris, as quoted by Pope Francis,

More than fifty years ago, with the world teetering on the brink of nuclear crisis, Pope Saint John XXIII wrote an Encyclical which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace. He addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the entire “Catholic world” and indeed “to all men and women of good will”. Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet. 

There are legitimate critiques to be made of Catholic policy on birth control and abortion but Pollitt's isn't it.   I don't think her motives in doing so are unrelated to her fallback career in antagonism to religion, a fall back which so many people of the scribbling class have taken to that it would seem to be a movement now that the paid magazine writing market isn't what it used to be.

The milieu in which Pollitt grew up and has lived and worked in for her entire life, in the affluent, industry, automobile, oil, gas and coal supported American middle class, all dependent on the science and technology that her anti-religious ideology worship are far more indictable than policies of the Catholic Church in bringing about global warming.   Using the issue in the way she does in her column is all about promotion of ideology, not looking for ways to really change things.  It lets the worst offenders off the hook.

Pope Francis isn't going to change the Church position on abortion and is unlikely to basically change its policy on birth control, though, as can be seen in, for example, Mexico, that isn't any guarantee that those policies will be followed by Catholics or even the governments of Catholic majority countries.  Even in the years when abortion was illegal in the United States it wasn't uncommon for women to go to Mexico to have abortions.  But the assertion that abortion is a solution or even a major contributor to ending climate change is belied by that list from the Union of Concerned Scientists given above.


I don't agree with the reasoning behind the Catholic position against artificial birth control but, given the current state of women in the United States where birth control has hardly led to an iron clad guarantee of equality or dignity or even an elevation of women above the status of object for the use of men - and that's the current sex-pos pseudo-liberal position on it, women as commercial comodities - the old assumptions we had back in the 1960s and 70s about how the pill was some great equalizer were naive in the extreme.   Even many feminists who seemed to know better back then have thrown their support to the sex industry, than which there is no more oppressive manifestation of sexism in the period when temple prostitution under Paganism was ended.

The only thing that guarantees equality is the moral requirement to treat people as they would like to be treated, with full equality and dignity, realized by individual people first in their own lives and, then and only through them, government polices leads to real equality.  In most cases I can see in the real lives of real women, birth control alone, not even abortion, alone, produces equality and dignity.   That requires something that Pollitt's atheist ideology can't provide but which is asserted in Laudato si, Pacem in Terris and, let me point out, most controversially of all, Humane Vitae,  the sacred status of women and men as more than mere material objects but as the possessors of divinely endowed rights, including the right to personal determination and the right to dignified treatement.  While I disagree with the conclusion that Paul VI reached about birth control and I disagree with the idea that there is a legitimate interest in the state controlling a woman's use of her own body, I can't see any progress being made without the definition of women as having divinely endowed rights being the basis of any assertions of those rights.   The acquiescence of so many feminists to the agenda of the sex industry in the past two decades, their support of the worst aspects of it forces the question as to whether birth control, even abortion rights, without the more basic belief in the sanctity of life, something which is not durable or effective without a belief in God. Secularism will never, ever be enough to ensure that.

Update;  OK, if you won't look at the link to the UCC, here's their pie-graph


  1. Religion is to be denigrated at every opportunity, yet the Pope is to be taken seriously as a "world leader" and, putatively at least, the head of a sovereign nation.

    When, of course, Vatican City makes Monaco look like the vastness of Russia. And the Pope is a world leader because of the Roman Catholic church, not because of Mussolini. So the Pope is supposed to be far less religious, except no one can seriously say that, so the Pope is supposed be a liberal Protestant (like, say, the UCC) but not a Catholic.

    I don't agree with the Catholic church on a lot of points but, then, that's why I'm not Catholic. Based on much the same reasoning, I don't vote Republican, either. Does this mean the GOP must change? Well, I'd much rather the Democrats did, actually; but that doesn't mean I like the GOP's position on pretty much anything.

    I don't care for Joel Osteen, either, or the positions of the SBC. Do I want them to change? No, I don't expect them to. Again, if I need to change anything, it's the UCC I belong to.

    Yes, I can argue about the policies and dogma of the Catholic church, just as I argue about the Gospel of Wealth or fundamentalism and inerrancy of scripture. But that argument is pretty much why I don't accept it, or don't want either belief system affecting, say, public education or public policy. I will argue against the Pope's positions on public policy, too.

    But I won't insist the Pope change the church to suit me. A) that's not what church is for, to make me, personally, happy in all things, and B) I'm not Roman Catholic. It's not my concern. I can't change the traditions of the Catholic church anymore than I can eliminate religious fundamentalism.

    Why would I ever act like I'm supposed to?

    1. Stop being logical. You'll break the Internet.

  2. Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I'm impressed!
    Extremely helpful information specifically the last part :) I care for such info much.
    I was seeking this particular information for a long time.

    Thank you and best of luck.

    1. That's kind of you to say. Praise is always welcome, sometimes perhaps deserved.