Benedict Ain’t a Borgia: Why This Catholic Wants the Church to Shut the Hell Up about Birth Control

(NOTE: As I was working on this post, word hit the web that the Obama Administration is — surprise! — working on some sort of compromise with the Catholic Church. And — double surprise! — even though the President has decided to bend over for the Church (not the first person to do that, BTW), the Church is saying, “Not good enough.” So I decided to run this because I spent some time on it, because I can’t believe birth control is still a debatable issue in 2012, and because I am generally tired of the Catholic Church — one of the wealthiest and most powerful organizations on the planet — whining when it doesn’t get its way on every little thing. And I figure I might as well give people one more reason to throw heavy objects in my general direction.)

First, let me state right up-front: I was raised Catholic. I am, as so many are (especially in America), a lapsed Catholic, recovering Catholic, whatever term you want to use. (Catholicism, like alcoholism, is something that never truly goes away. It just sort of fades into remission and lingers in the background and then pops up at odd moments, as when I was at a wedding recently and my girlfriend noticed me unconsciously crossing myself and said, “What are you doing?”)

So apparently the Catholic Church is up in arms because the new health care law (the one titled “It Doesn’t Really Cover Everyone, but I Guess It’s Better Than Nothing”) will force businesses — including organizations owned by the Church — to pay for the birth control purchased and used by the women in its employ.

For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure of being Catholic and therefore may not be aware, birth control is one of the Church’s bugbears. Birth control is a Bad Thing, and the proper Catholic answer to “But how do I not get pregnant, Father?” is “Don’t have sex.” Which, as we all know, really is the perfect solution, mainly because it’s so well aligned with the most basic human urges and desires; to wit, not having sex. It’s especially great advice for married couples who have ten kids already. They have two choices: Keep enjoying connubial bliss and maybe get pregnant again, or just stop having sex.

Oh, or use the Church-approved rhythm method. Which is not only convenient and easy, but also, like the Pill,almost completely effective.

(If you didn’t bother clicking on that link…that was sarcasm, people.)

Anyway, I’m here to tell the Catholic Church to shut up. I suspect it won’t listen to me, but then again, I also suspect that it will continue to insist that masturbation is also a Bad Thing and that those priests they shuffled around during the child molestation scandals were totally scheduled to be moved out of state anyway. (If history is any guide, we’re about five decades away from a Papal apology and admission of guilt in those scandals — that’s about how long it took for someone in the Vatican to find the stones to admit that the Church fucked up during the Holocaust.)

The Church’s position is simple: “Our dogma has it that birth control is Bad. The law makes us support birth control. Therefore, the law is making us do something that is contrary to our beliefs and we should be exempt because we are special.”

No. No. Shut up, Church. (I can call you Church, right? You’re cool with that?) You are not special. You don’t get to play by a different set of rules. Separation of church and state doesn’t mean that the church is above the state. It just means that the state can’t force religion down our throats and, similarly, that the church can’t dictate to secular society.

Did you get that last part? The Church doesn’t get to dictate to secular society. There are atheists and Jews and Muslims and non-Catholic Christians and (uh-oh) Catholics who disagree with the Church employed BY the Catholic Church. And the Church has every right in the world to tell those people that birth control is immoral, but it has no right — absolutely none — to tell those people that they are to be denied something guaranteed them by law just because they happen to work for the Catholic Church.

Imagine if a business run by atheists decided not to allow Christian employees to have Christmas Day off. Imagine the slings and arrows hurled in that business’s direction.

Imagine the Christian-run business that denies time off for Yom Kippur to its Jewish employees.

Get it, Church? Employees get to exercise their consciences and their rights, even when doing so offends or inconveniences you.

People do not give up their rights just because of their employment!

So, really, Catholic Church: Just grow up already. Yes, yes, I know — it bugs the living shit out of you that people are having sex out of wedlock and putting their genitals where you devoutly wish they wouldn’t. And deep down, it probably still bothers you that the Mass isn’t in Latin any more (c’mon, admit it — you know it’s true). But it’s really time to smell the 21st century. Once you decide to step outside the bounds of the pulpit, you have to play by the same rules as everyone else. You open a school or a hospital, then I say, “Good on ya!” and I thank you for your charity and for giving back to the community. But damn it — that means you’ve come down from the pulpit and now you’re not just providing health insurance for nuns and priests, man. Now you’re providing it for single moms and people who don’t share your beliefs and people who aren’t married who may be putting their genitals in places your dogma says not to.

When you run a school or a hospital, I don’t really give a good shit what your moral beliefs are. You play by the same rules as everyone else.

Hey, I get it — it sucks when we don’t like laws. Believe me, man, when I get called for jury duty, I would love nothing more than to shrug and say “Piss off” as I toss the summons into the recycling bin.

But sometimes we live by laws that personally inconvenience, annoy, or — yes — offend us because that is the price of living in a society that deems itself civilized.

My offense, however, has no right to determine your course. I am, for example, offended that the Catholic Church refuses to ordain women as priests. Somehow, I manage to persevere and live a productive life despite my outrage at this moral affront. (Seriously, it is just so stupid!) I have not demanded that the Church shut down its operations as a result. I have not filed a lawsuit on behalf of women, claiming that the prohibition against the ordination of women violates their civil rights, seeking redress and compelling the ordination of female priests. And if someone did file such a lawsuit, I wouldn’t support it. Why? Because what happens in the nave is up to you. Separation of church and state, again. Inside, you’re the king.

Outside, though?

Outside, that’s the business of the People.

And look, Church — the People have sex. (Not you, of course. Well, not openly.) In fact, the People enjoy sex for its own sake, not just for its procreative aspects. As a culture, we’ve decided this is okay. (How do I know this? Because there are no laws saying you can’t have sex for fun. Thank — blasphemously, perhaps — God for that!) Therefore, we need some way of keeping people from getting pregnant if they don’t want to. Therefore, the many various methods of birth control available to us. Huzzah! And guess what? People are cool with it. Overwhelmingly so. Even a majority of American Catholics are cool with birth control.

(American Catholics have always been sorta Chinese restaurant believers, picking one from Column A and one from Column B as it suits them. If the Church doesn’t like this, it should pack up its operations here because there’s zero evidence that American Catholics are going to fall in line any time soon.)

Hey, Church — I get that this bugs you and you want to do something about it. Honestly, the proliferation of shitty reality TV bugs me, and I wish I could do something about it, too. (And I’m not trying to minimize the issue of a woman’s reproductive choices by equating them with TV. Because I think the impact of shitty reality TV is massively deleterious on our culture and we’re going to pay a big, big bill for that in the future. See: Idiocracy. No, really — go see it. Fucking prophetic and terrifying, man.)

But, Church, here’s the thing: I don’t get to dictate what’s on TV. Nor do I get to dictate to you that you ordain women as priests.

And you don’t get to dictate, either.

I can’t believe I have to say this in the year 2012. Benedict ain’t a Borgia. (And hey, can you imagine if certain Popes had had access to easy, effective birth control? How different history would have been!) The Church isn’t in charge.

Tyranny is when those in power tell those without power what they can and cannot do. Liberty is when people without power get to make their own decisions.

Which side are you on, Church?

Church, you get to talk. That’s about all you get to do. You have the right to urge. To cajole. In other words, to preach. You have the right to harangue users of birth control from the pulpit every Sunday at Mass. And since it’s so important to you, I advise you to do so often, even though I personally think you’re wasting your breath.

You do not have the right to force, to compel. (Hey, go back in time some day and ask the ancient Icelanders how much they enjoyed being “converted” at sword point. Hell, to this day, we’re still living with the consequences of the decision to wage the Crusades. When the Church decides to take charge of things beyond its spiritual purview, history proves that shit tends to get nasty.)

So…preach. Do that at Mass. Once you step outside that and start forming hospitals and schools — laudable achievements, to be sure — you’re playing with the rest of the world and you need to abide by the rest of the world’s rules. Which means those people who work at those schools and hospitals need health insurance, and health insurance includes contraception.

Hey, you always have the option of not offering health insurance at all, I guess.

I’m not sure how your boss would feel about you not helping the sick in that instance, but that’s your call…

And when I say “your boss,” I don’t mean the Pope. I mean the other one. You know, the dude who got you into this mess. No, not Barack Obama. I’m talking about the guy named Yeshua ben David. Most people just call him Jesus Christ.

The guy who talked about helping the poor and the sick and treating the least of our brethren as we would treat the Son of God.

While you think about that, Church, let me wrap up this grotesquely long rant with this:

Once upon a time, I read an amazing book of essays, written by nuns. One nun wrote about abortion and said that she struggled with this issue, but at the end of the day, she came down on the pro-choice side, despite the dictates of the Church, because she realized that she couldn’t imagine Jesus Christ — “my loving, forgiving lord and savior,”  I seem to remember her calling him — looking at a single, pregnant teenager and saying, “Oh, well, you made a mistake. Tough. Live with it.”

And you know what, Church? Somehow I also can’t imagine the dude who was hip to the whole “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” deal-i-o being cool with you so vigorously protesting a law not because it causes pain, suffering, or anguish, but just because it offends your prissy, outdated morality.

I’m certainly not a religious scholar (as I’m sure folks in the comments will point out any moment now…), but as best I recall, Jesus never forced anyone to follow him. He talked a lot and he gave people things to think about. Some of them changed their minds and some of them didn’t, but he didn’t go to the recalcitrant ones and punish them.

If, Church, you are Jesus’s representative on earth (hey, that’s what they taught me all those Saturdays in CCD!), then you should probably act like him. And just because there are women in your employ who disagree with you about birth control doesn’t mean you should punish them.

(I imagine you’ll want to pray for their poor, damned, immortal souls. That’s fine. That’s your right. Isn’t it greatwhen people get to exercise their rights?)

I realize that what I’m about to say goes contrary to so much of what the Church has stood for over the years, the years of the disgusting Concordat with the Nazis, the ratlines, the vile anti-gay rhetoric, and the abominable cover-up of priestly child abuse, but I’ll say it anyway:

Church: Do the right thing.

(To see the comment thread from the old, click here. If you want to add to the conversation, use the comment form below.)

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