The atheist blogs are filled today with reports of a debate over whether the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. (Note the use of the present tense in the proposition. It means that prior harms are not relevant to this discussion.)
(See: Common Sense Atheism We've Moved Beyond Christian Morality)
With the audience being polled both before and after the debate, the polls show that the team of Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry won the debate. They were able to cause a substantial portion of the audience to adopt their proposition.
I often pay no attention to debates. There seems to be a huge gap between one’s ability to convince people to adopt a proposition and whether the proposition is true. I can imagine Hitler winning a debate over whether the Jews have been a force for goodness in the world, or Dinseh S'Souza convincing an audience of the same claim about atheists. The question that interests me is not whether a particular agent or team successfully convinced others that something is true. I am more interested in whether it is true in fact.
Also, as I have stated before in this blog, do not like generalizations. Generalizations lead to bigotry, and it deflects attention from specific wrongs. I see little merit in debating the proposition of whether the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. I would rather focus on the specific (and significantly more defensible claim) that the Catholic Church is doing evil in the world and the world would be a better place if it would end these projects.
Three of those projects are:
(1) Bringing grief to the lives of homosexuals and to block them from securing long-term relationships with those that they love, supporting barriers that interfere and aim to “tear asunder” these relationships.
(2) Promoting death and disease, particularly in Africa, by opposing some of the most effective methods for fighting the transmission of AIDS, such as the use of condoms.
(3) Promoting death, disease, and injury by putting barriers up against embryonic stem-cell research, which promises to be the most potent avenue of medical research for understand, preventing, and treating a wide range of illnesses and injuries.
I do not know what percentage of the resources of the Catholic Church are devoted to these projects. Therefore, I cannot weigh the evil that they do against the good in order to make an overall assessment. One would also have to consider the fact that some of the evil that they do weighs against the good. The good done from Catholic hospitals and orphanages, for example, must be weighed against the fact that the Catholic Church itself is creating more sick people to hospitalize, and more orphans to take care of.
The fact that the Catholic Church believes it is doing good is irrelevant. Even Hitler believed that he was a great man who was doing great things – promoting that which had read value and clearing away those things that did not have value.
We all do this. I write this blog in the hopes that I am promoting that which has positive value and helping to get rid of that which has negative value. I, too, may be wrong.
That is why the fundamental question that anybody who is concerned with doing more good than evil in the world must begin by asking, "How do you know?"
That was the question that got me into this situation. When I decided that I would try to make the world a better place, recognizing that I was surrounded by people fighting against each other where both sides believed the same of themselves, I asked how I could know that I was on the right side.
Ultimately, the evil that the Catholic Church does springs from the poor answer it provides to the question, "How do I know?" It insists that one can know moral truth by looking at a book that is, in fact, the transcriptions of the oral stories told by a group of bigoted, ignorant, self-aggrandizing farmers and sheep herders. Then, it struggles day in and day out to try to reconcile facts in the real world so that they somehow corroborate those ancient myths and superstitions – trying to cast as 'divine truth' what is, in fact, human error.
In fact, we could add a fourth force of evil here.
(4) It seeks to legitimize the practice of twisting and distorting evidence to try to match some ancient superstition, taking some very good minds away from the project of actually solving problems in the real word.
Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?
It doesn’t really matter. Regardless of the answer to that question, it would become more of a force for good and less of a force for evil if it would alter its position on the three issues that I mentioned above.
There are, of course, other issues that we should talk about. However, these three would make a good start.