San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford always seems to be trying really hard to be the left-wing atheist equivalent of Ann Coulter. His Friday column seems designed to shock and appall traditional Catholics on the occasion of Pope Benedict's apparently unforgivable statement that condoms don't help with the AIDS epidemic. (He makes no attempt to square his argument with the Harvard research scientist who wrote "The Pope May Be Right" in The Washington Post.)
His headline? "Pope, extra ribbed: Benedict says condoms make AIDS worse; God recoils in shame." This is an odd headline for a man who really doesn't believe in a god, at least not one that he can't get caught in his zipper. He began:
What sort of wretched deity is this? What sort of tormented, clenched God must you believe in to cause you to openly promote ignorance and death for the sake of power and ideology and fear -- always, always a deep fear -- of love and sex and basic human connection?
Let me try to be a little more specific: Is it not some form of strange self-torture, a kind of brutal spiritual immolation, to believe that God is this gloomy, obsessive micromanager, so petty and vindictive regarding what you do with your body that you/he will let people die for the sake of it? Do you have any sort of answer?
Morford's already disposed of the God of the Bible, in two paragraphs. He sounds a lot like Richard Dawkins. ("Petty and vindictive" are great adjectives for their writing.)
Morford's first flagrant flaw is the concept that traditional religion has a deep fear of sex. Wrong. It has a deep fear of adultery, and sin. Sex is a glorious good -- within the bounds of the marital union. Does Morford define "basic human connection" as anonymous sex at an orgy? Where people exchange bodily fluids, but not first names?
As expected, Morford found the Pope to be a villain radiating ill will for mankind:
...some sort of dangerous underworld automaton sent from the Netherrealms of Ignorance to inflict guilt and desolation upon the world.
It must be true. It's a question I'd want to pose, anyway, were I standing at the back of that papal aircraft staring down this dour and ideologically archaic man who seems very intent on not merely cementing slippery human divinity in the hard concrete of 1500, but also shoving it off a bridge to watch it sink to the bottom, just for good measure.
From his perch in San Francisco, would it be just as fair to imagine the Mark Morfords of the world blaming the outbreak of AIDS in the 1980s on those people who weren't in favor of unrelenting, undiscriminating "basic human connection"?
Does Morford believe that IV drug use is another glorious human activity that no one should stop? Clean needles should be provided by government? And how does he not see that the government provision of subsidized clean needles or condoms is the imposition of the libertine ideology on the wallets of the "backwards" religious citizenry?
But Morford's just getting wound up:
But wait, there's more. The pope did not merely say, as the church has yawned for a thousand years, that any form of contraception is wrong. Would that he were so quaint and easily dismissed.
Benedict actually took it a shocking, deadly step further and announced to sick, poor, dying Africans -- 22.5 million cases of HIV and counting fast -- that condoms could actually make AIDS worse, and that everyone should, instead, do what he and his sour band of unhappies have done for the past 2,000 very repressed years and simply not have sex, unless you are married and unsoiled and maybe not even then, because if there's one thing his very cruel God will not tolerate, it's humans doing things with their bodies in any way other than what some vindictive bishop scribbled into an insufferable rulebook about a thousand years ago.
Still out of line? Are you thinking, come on, the pope might not be all that hip to the basic health issues of this lifetime, but so what? He's largely irrelevant to the lives of everyday Catholics. He's just a surreal figurehead, a sad spectacle parading through the streets of foreign cities in his gold-dipped shoes and a scepter made of tears. Who cares about his harmful lies, really?
Perhaps you're right. Perhaps we shouldn't really give a damn for places where people are dying of diseases that could, at least in part, be easily prevented by simple sexual information and education, but which are instead being made worse by the appalling lies of someone who claims to have the Almighty on speed dial. What does it matter? Don't we have larger issues to worry about? Have you seen the housing market?
Perhaps you wish to point out all the good the church does in the world, the various charities and outreach programs and shelters for the poor and so on. And you know what? You are absolutely right. There are some lovely people at play in the fields of the lord, even if that lord is a bit of a domineering, patriarchal megalomaniac who's never really satisfied.
Morford expressed the thought that anyone who would be so bold as to claim to be Christ's representative on Earth must be mad:
Perhaps we should look at it differently, and use Benedict as our grand reminder that the general Rule of Divinity still holds true: the more you claim to be some sort of inviolable authority on things sacred and holy, the less you are to be trusted and the more we should all hope and pray for your urgent obsoletion. Simple enough?
(Cross reference the pope with, say, the Dalai Lama, widely considered to be one of the most divinely luminous beings on the planet, a man who claims, well, absolutely no divine authority whatsoever. His only claim? A deep humility shot through with astonishing kindness and love, a man who is always learning, always open to new ideas, the fluid and illusive nature of this life. What a contrast).
Of all the anti-Catholicism in this article, the strongest dose is the accusation that any man who would claim to represent a Church handed down from the Apostles must be the unholiest, unworthiest spokesman for God. What Morford really means here is that Benedict challenges the human race to live above its most selfish appetites, to practice a discipline of monogamy and fidelity, and the idea of having a lifelong love affair with one person of the opposite sex is somehow stuck in a Medieval time warp.
I'm not sure if the Dalai Lama should be so pleased that he is a religious role model to people who utterly reject God as real, but the affinity is predictable. If we must have "spiritual" guides, the Morfords insist, let them be people who are "open to new ideas" like untrammeled "human connection." Liberals are so remarkably unhistoric to think that libertinism is somehow a "new idea." Sexual incontinence had never been tried before 1967.
Unsurprisingly, Morford falls in with those European "humanitarians" who would slander the Holy Father as an autistic murderer:
Or maybe you agree more with former French prime minister Alain Juppe, who said that "this pope is starting to be a real problem" because he lives in "a situation of total autism." Or maybe German Green European deputy, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who seethed, "We've had enough of this pope," and described his condom comments as "close to premeditated murder."
There you go. Not even Obama would have the balls to say something like that.
He concluded: "maybe we can simply hope, when this pope's bitter, conservative reign is over and white smoke next rises from the Sistine Chapel, it will in celebration of someone who, if not exactly progressive and open-minded and full of joy at the deep pleasures of this life, will at least be, at bare minimum, not someone who so cruelly demeans it."
In this Holy Week, there's only one thing to say to the Mark Morfords: that we believe Benedict is speaking with great compassion (not to mention social-scientific truth), and that he is shining a light on the path to God the Father through the Ten Commandments and the words of Christ.
There is no dryness and cruelty in suggesting that people abstain from adultery that leads too often to death. Benedict is not just concerned, like the libertines, by the orgasm around the corner approaching in the next hour (will they have a name?), but on that "ancient" concept of eternal life in Heaven or Hell. Wishing to save one not just from an early death, but from the fires of Hell -- if one believes in that concept -- is a most compassionate wish.
(Image of Morford from Yogatreesf.com)