What Pope Francis said was plenty stupid, but it wasn’t quite as dumb as it must have sounded to non-Catholics. In the Catholic enumeration, commandments 5 and 6 are the prohibitions on murder and adultery, respectively. Isn’t it always possible to both not murder and not commit adultery? Of course. However, the catechism insists on stuffing the whole moral law into the 10 commandments, so that the 5th commandment has ended up morphing into something more like the First Law of Robotics. It now contains all sins of omission against anothers’ life or health. And the 6th commandment has come to encompass all sexual ethics.
Nevertheless, it’s still true that sexual morality doesn’t contradict the Catholic version of the first law of robotics. Good consequences don’t justify intrinsically immoral means, so refusing to commit a sexual sin is never itself sinful, even if the whole world depends on your unchastity.
This is, let’s admit it, a hard saying. Consequentialists also have their own hard sayings. One sometimes hears some consequentialist philosophy professor confessing that although his ethical system demands he regard everyone’s utility equally, he actually does prefer his own parents and children. One suspects he would be ashamed to be found consistent with his philosophy and wants it to be known that he’s not nearly as perverse as it is. On the other hand, we non-consequentialists might seem embarrassed to be so virtuous that we would let every human being perish in horrible torture rather than commit adultery.
Would I have extramarital sex if my kids’ lives depended on it? (Think of Fantine in Les Miserables, engaging in prostitution to support her daughter.) Yes, I would. For that matter, if I was isolated with that girl Vulcan from Star Trek: Enterprise, and she came down with pon farr and needed me to have sex with her or she’d die (How’s that for a 5th-vs-6th scenario, your Holiness?), I’d probably do it. I’ve been unchaste so many times in my life, I’d have a lot of trouble suddenly deciding to become virtuous when someone else is going to suffer grievously for it. Is this me signaling to you that I’m actually more moral than my system of morality? Not at all! I’d probably also commit adultery if the alternative were having my fingers cut off. There’s no word for that but cowardice. I’m not a virtuous person, and I know it, but my ideas of what’s right don’t have to be limited by what I think I would actually do.
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