...they [the Roman Catholic Church] for example thought that slavery was perfectly fine... absolutely okay, and then they didn't, and what is the point of the Catholic Church if it says, “oh well we couldn't know better because nobody else did”? [To the affirmative team] Then what are you for?!
-- Stephen Fry, answering a question during the 2009 Intelligence Squared debate, “Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?”

Of course, slavery was okay to the Church. The concept isn’t just approved by the bible, its practices and usages are fully outlined in Exodus 21 and Leviticus 25. It’s also endorsed by their big boy, “J” in the New Testament – “Slaves, obey your masters…” As the bible is the revealed and inerrant word of their god, any belief, action, or practice which has such rousing approval should be beyond question.

Yet not only has slavery as a practice been questioned, it has been proscribed and abandoned by the vast majority of the civilized world in the current day. Worse, the RCC was well behind the curve as regards this massive change in attitude. While encyclicals from Rome varied in their opinions regarding the topic, as late as 1866, representatives of Pope Pius IX expressed no condemnation of the sale or exchange of slaves, based in “divine law.” Meantime, the United States had already very nearly torn itself apart in a Civil War whose primary point of argument was the issue of the ownership of people as property. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, establishing the rights of African-Americans, were being proposed and would be ratified only a few years later, even as the Vatican was holding forth with a clearly opposing position.

Very well … how was it that, all at once, the Catholic Church decided that slavery was NOT okay? Clearly, they were not taking their holy book as a primary source in making such a decision, as evinced by the above-cited biblical verses. It’s dubious that any other reference in the Vatican’s considerable library would be anything like definitive in countering the root basis for the structure of their religion. So what did it?

My own suspicion may be summed up in one word: “blowback,” the blowback of ordinary people whose personal moral senses were enraged at the idea of the treatment of certain human beings as something less than human. Simple human decency, bolstered by considerable numbers, finally forced the hand of the Church. One would think such a thing shouldn’t be necessary. As the Church is supposed to be the foremost authority on matters moral and ethical, for them to be so badly out of step on an issue this critical speaks to a systemic failure on their part to assess, understand, and adjust their position.

Sadly, this state of affairs is not limited to slavery. The status of women, of the LGBTQ community, of the aberrant behavior of their own priests with children, and too many other issues to count show the Church badly out of the mainstream of modern social thought. The reason is tragically simple: their seemingly immutable attachment to a standard, expressed in a single book, which was written by men, frozen in time, and exempt from modification or evolution, and which cannot deal with the changes which humankind has undergone in the intervening years and decades and centuries. Because of that dependence, any possibility of those who would represent Roman Catholicism of joining the rest of us in the 21st century is reduced to little or none.

In the light of that intransigence, one might well ask those of the denizens of Vatican City and its representatives around the world: “What ARE you for?”

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Comment by Compelledunbeliever on January 18, 2020 at 12:28pm

The RCC is for telling us what to believe as we obviously have immoral thinking, like loving people that are not our gender, not taking slaves etc.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on December 8, 2019 at 11:18am

Michael here is a good thing about the RCC.

Hubris, power and unchecked egoism of the RCC planted the seeds of their destruction. They would not cut Henry the 8th any slack. So Henry said fuck you and created the Anglican church. Also the corruption of the renaissance popes and the RCC in general was so outstanding and overwhelming that dissension was inevitable. Thus we have a splintering in power and the birth of protestantism. 

Most recently we have knowledge of the RCC protecting their child molesters. It is tough to be preached at by an institution that is a haven for such behavior. 

So a good thing they did and continue to do is enable their demise. Stupidity launched and launching a nose dive enabling an opportunity for a better civilization.

Comment by Loren Miller on December 8, 2019 at 10:00am

Michael, you and I both know that, for the large portion, the Catholic Church has been all but exclusively about the acquisition, development, and exploitation of POWER, both in terms of their sheep parishioners and the vast sums of money they have gleaned from them. Despite their supposed charitable efforts (which are inept by comparison with secular organizations and tainted by their constant proselytism), it is their moral and financial corruption which we most often hear about, especially in the modern day, mostly because the transgressions which they have mightily attempted to keep secret have become front-page news. That bell cannot be un-rung, and I sincerely hope that marks the beginning of the end of the church and its multiple sins against humanity.

Parenthetically, if you haven't seen the 2009 Intelligence Squared debate referenced above, I highly recommend it.  Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry were in rare form, and their opponents stood no chance at all, which obviously bothers me not in the slightest!

Comment by Michael Penn on December 8, 2019 at 8:15am

Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world? At what point are we talking about? I believe that the most evil and vile person or organization would have at least one point in its existence where it could be called a force for good. That might be miniscule and very short lived so it would not be a readily known fact.

Comment by Loren Miller on December 6, 2019 at 8:42am

Thank you, Joan.  This whole business reminds me of Abraham Lincoln's comment: "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion."  Yet the RCC hasn't risen; indeed, they are loath to so much as move from their calcified spot, and in so NOT doing, they increasingly remove themselves from relevance to the current day and situation.

I genuinely have to wonder if they are willing to recognize that, and their own need for change.  Honestly, I'm dubious.

Comment by Joan Denoo on December 5, 2019 at 10:53pm

Absolutely right on target. Of what use is the bible and religion if it does not lead us out of old attitudes, beliefs, customs, traditions, and values held by the generations of humans and over wide swaths of continents?

Science, based on fundamentals, i.e. 1+1=2 is the same kind of fundamentals to which religious beliefs and gods should be held. No-slavery speaks to the standards of human, religious, and political fundamentals that address codes of ethics. 

Comment by Loren Miller on December 5, 2019 at 6:35pm

Yeah, I know, Frankie.  Here's the thing, though: when is the last time he or any of his recent compatriots DID such a thing?  I'd have to look it up, admittedly, but I'd bet it's been a while, reason being that it is so damned easy to fact-check anything anything the current pontiff has to say against What Really Is The Case ... which entirely too often would wind up being embarrassing to both the pope and Vatican City.  Then, too:

Facts are intimidating … to those who don’t have them.
-- me

Comment by Frankie Dapper on December 5, 2019 at 2:19pm

Don't forget that the Pope speaking ex cathedra is infallible. So the Trump-turns of the popes destroy that silly over-reach. 

None of it is about exegesis. None of it is about an examination and analysis of morality. It is about one thing and one thing only. POWER.

Without accommodating and adjusting for the superior ethics of secularism the RCC would lose even more power/authority than it already has. 



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