Home > philosophy, religion > The Road to Atheism V: Moral Certainty

The Road to Atheism V: Moral Certainty

Nine years of Catholic elementary school, then it was on toward the Catholic highschool. I’m not sure what the public school students took instead of religion class, but we had it. Everyday for thirty nine minutes, for four years we were in our Catholic Religion class. The first year, I have mentioned, was bible class. For me, having gone to the elementary school, it was pretty boring and I spent most of the time flipping through the bible looking for stories of war and sex (there are a few). I don’t exactly remember what the second year religion class covered. A quick visit to Google tells me that the first year wasn’t just the bible, it was the Old Testament. Sophomore year, was the New testament and the seven sacraments. These two years are merely historical in nature, with the end of the second being more theological but not delving entirely into theology. Neither of these classes contributed much into my current status. It would be nice for me, now, to say that I somehow noticed the contradictions in the story–but that would be dishonest. I grew up with the stories, I believed them because I grew up with them. I had no reason to think that such contradictions mattered. Especially, because, Catholics are not bible literalists.

The third year was where things got heated. Third year religion began inquiries into morality, specifically Catholic morality for obvious reasons. I couldn’t really explain what my morality was prior to this class, I had some of my own ideas but for the most part I subscribed to the idea that a person was immoral if they harmed other people purposefully. For other issues I just conceded to the religious ideas that I was taught. This class was susposed to explain how the Catholic church arrived at their moral compass, and how they handled certain issues that did not appear in the bible (like abortion for instance).

I may consider the conclusions that the Catholic church arrives at to be incorrect, but I will not fault them on method. Being a Catholic priest means that the man has gone to many many classes. The people they gather to consider issues of moral worth have long debates about the topics, they even have advocates for the opposing position. Famously, the church hired super atheist Christopher Hitchens, to argue against the beautification of Mother Theresa. They do consider all points of view on these things to their great credit. This was instructed to us, I felt that this meant we were free to disagree with their ideas. This was an error.

As I must honestly credit them, I must also criticize. One thing that always stuck in my mind was the idea of infallibility. The Holy See, has this attribute that once it decrees something that decree is universally true for all people in the view of the Church. It can’t be argued with for any reason other than as an exercise in intellecutal debate. That debate must always end with agreement. This is one of the lasting contributions that the Roman Empire gave to Roman Catholicism, once the emperor has made a declaration it might as well have been coming from god himself. Upon learning this I thought it was odd that anyone could hang a cross in the same room as the American flag. Didn’t my history class down the hall teach me that this country was founded on the idea that such royal edicts wouldn’t be tolerated?

The issue we were discussing was Euthanasia, “the good death.” The Church opposes it. I disagreed. Now, I disagreed because I didn’t see the difference between refusing treatment and overdosing on pain medication, if every other circumstance was the same. To me, it seemed like the Church was splitting hairs. You can let them die on their own but you can’t do something that kills them? Letting them die was the same thing to me, it was mere rationalization to say that it was different. An act of ommission was still an “act” and to say otherwise was ridiculous. I said as much to the priest and was promptly sent out of the room. The only difference was that this time I was being sent to his office, rather than to linger in the hall. I knew I was in trouble, but again all I had done in my mind was state an objection.

I sat in his office waiting for the bell that signaled the end of class. It would be nice to write about the fear and dread of what was coming. However I possessed that youthful defiance that teenagers possessed. I knew two things: that I hadn’t done anything wrong as in breaking the code of conduct in the class. We were engaged in a debate, so that much was simple. The second thing was that he could only give me detention. Sure he could give me a week if he felt necessary but I didn’t warrant the dreaded Saturday detention, I knew the rule book enough to know that. He walked in, and the first thing I did was apologize for the manner of my position.

My reflection during that period of time, did lead me to one realization: I had yelled the part about splitting hairs. I had also called the rationalization “crap.” Bad form indeed.

The first thing he said was that it may be hard to accept a theory that conflicts with some personal event.

“Personal event.” In his view, the only way that I could be disagreeing is because I had a relative or friend that this happened to. This was not the case. I was disagreeing with the idea because it was a terrible idea. Infallibility isn’t just the notion that you were never wrong but that you are incapable of being wrong. This is of course wrong. I knew that you couldn’t split this hair, although the church wasn’t just saying that it could but that I must. This was the first moral disagreement I had and it was based entirely on theory. The person who decided that an incurable painful disease shouldn’t have to endure suffering just to postpone the inevitable wasn’t immoral. He wasn’t hurting anyone, if anything he was reducing the amount of pain in the world. To say that otherwise was objectionable to me. Not only did the morality of the church now come into question, but the whole authority of the Pope himself was now suspect. I disagreed and while that gave me a bit of trepidation it quickly passed. This was also the first time I ever seriously questioned a teacher, and came out knowing that I was right.

I realized that ecclesiastical authority was based on my consent and this time I wasn’t giving it. I was certainly on the path to freedom from religion at this point.


Oh, and I didn’t get detention either. I was just told to keep it down.

Categories: philosophy, religion
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  1. October 9, 2012 at 2:24 am

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