A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies


Skeptimedia is a commentary on mass media treatment of issues concerning science, the paranormal, and the supernatural.

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Skeptimedia replaces  Mass Media Funk and Mass Media Bunk. Those blogs are now archived.

Natural Law, Celibate Men Who Wear Dresses, and Pastors Who Hate

4 Feb 2010. A celibate man in a dress and a beanie pontificates about how a law granting equal employment rights to homosexuals in the UK is "against the natural law," and the media report it with a straight face. The so-called Equality Bill has been pulled according to Equality Minister Harriet Harman. The Roman Catholic Pope, Benedict XVI, warned that the Equality Bill ran contrary to "natural law" and restricted the freedom of religious communities to discriminate against homosexuals. Well, he didn't come right out and say that religions should be given a special privilege to discriminate in hiring, but that was the spirit of his message. (He actually said: "the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal [equality of opportunity] has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.") Anyway, the discrimination issue is a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. I don't think the state should be telling the Catholic Church it must hire Protestants or Muslims or homosexuals or pedophiles or dog lovers. They should be free to discriminate against incompetent applicants and those they deem immoral. [new] (I take it for granted that nobody in his right mind believes Catholics, or any other religion, should be forced to allow members of another faith to become clerics in their religion.) On the other hand, I don't think the state should be funding religions, which is what they do when they fund so-called "faith-based" social programs. Obama promised a change from what the Bush administration allowed, but there's been no meaningful change. Germany has been funding faith-based social programs for years, and the result isn't pretty.

In Germany the churches run many of the hospitals, kindergartens, schools, universities, advice clinics, homes for children and youth, sheltered workshops for the handicapped, social agencies, nursing homes and day-care centres for young and old. These are largely publicly funded, (it's been estimated that the churches contribute less than 2%), and in some areas of the country church institutions may be the major, if not only service providers. This gives the churches the scope to discriminate against job applicants from business managers to part-time child minders.*

The UK, of course, has a state religion and is not bound by the US Constitution, which makes church-state issues different between the two. In the US, our federal constitution forbids the government to favor one religion over another, for any purpose, including funding. That's the theory, anyway. [/new] In the US, we'd probably force religious groups who believe that homosexuality is immoral not to discriminate in hiring against gays and then we'd allow the gays to sue because the religions create a hostile work environment. But I digress. I'll let others who see this as a civil rights issue take that up. I want to deal with the natural law issue.

'Natural law' is a theological expression made up centuries ago in an effort to justify moral rules that couldn't be found in scriptures and to add authority to those that could be found in scriptures. The natural law is allegedly the law of God made known to reason. In effect, it is a free ticket for religious authorities to claim they are psychic and can read God's mind. Ray Comfort appealed to the natural law when he defended masturbation by demonstrating how God had carefully designed the hand to fit over the male sex organ. (What? You say the banana was not a metaphor? He really was talking about bananas? Sorry, I must have misunderstood. That's kind of stupid, though, isn't it? To take him literally, I mean. Anyway, next time I view Comfort's theological lesson I'll turn up the volume.) The Equality Bill isn't against the natural law. Homosexuality is against the natural law, according to a long tradition of Roman Catholic theologians. The argument is fairly simple. It was explained to me once by a budding seminarian. God obviously designed the penis and the vagina for reproduction. Any other use is unnatural and therefore immoral. End of argument. Maybe so, but if you end there, you have an invalid argument. You need some more premises to get to your conclusion that unnatural sex acts are immoral and forbidden by God. I mean Beethoven's writing the 9th symphony was unnatural and so is wearing clothes, but that doesn't make them immoral. True, those aren't sex acts, but so what? The argument being put forth is that x is unnatural, therefore it is immoral. Sex isn't the only x that fits here. Anyway, some might argue that monogamy is unnatural or that marriage is unnatural, whether it be between a man and a woman or a man and four women. Anyway, the hand may have been designed for masturbation but that doesn't mean that using the hand for other purposes, say picking one's nose or patting a dog on the top of its head, is unnatural or immoral.

Some have noted that the human sex organs are dual purpose or designed for multitasking, but before one can validly conclude that any other use of those organs except to pee or make babies is immoral, one needs further premises linking these other uses to immorality. (Sorry, I've been joking about masturbation not being considered an unnatural and therefore immoral act by Catholic theologians.) For all the ancient theologians knew, perhaps God admires and is pleased by those who can find new and interesting uses for his designs. Nature, the actual designer in my opinion, doesn't care one way or the other. One might also consider that if a significant percentage of the population has gay desires, finds love and happiness with partners of the same sex, and aren't harming anyone by expressing their love, why would a God of love disapprove?

In any case, those ancient theologians didn't have the benefit of modern science. They must have known about men being attracted to men and women being attracted to women, but they knew nothing of genetics or hormones. They assumed there were two sexes, male and female. They didn't concern themselves with hermaphrodites or with men who feel they are women or women who feel they are men, despite their biological sex organs. They knew nothing about the role of culture and socialization on gender identity. They had an excuse for their erroneous beliefs about sex and the natural law, however: ignorance. Ratzinger has no such excuse.

Speaking of religion and unnatural acts: Fred Phelps (b. 1929) is bringing his inbred family circus to northern California this week. They'll be picketing at UC Davis, a few blocks from my house, on Friday. If it doesn't rain, I'll walk over and take a few pictures. Phelps's group pickets military funerals on the general principle that the US doesn't hate homosexuals. They are also fond of picketing Jewish places of worship, among other things and people.

I doubt if Davis will be as lively as the scene was in San Francisco, however. Counter-pickets showed up with counter-signs.


Phelps calls himself a pastor and his inbred family his flock. His "church" has a website with the URL www.godhatesfags.com and is called the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), though it is not affiliated with any Baptist organization. Phelps has been promoting his picket church for more than half a century. His flock now includes his grandkids.

Ratzinger, of course, has no grandkids to indoctrinate into the traditional invidious discriminations of his church. He doesn't picket and make a scene. He presents himself with a bit of gravitas, unlike Phelps and his little cult, who appear to be raving and out of the asylum on one-day passes.

Religion makes strange bedfellows. It almost makes an atheist wish there were an afterlife for these folks to spend eternity with each other.

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