Local View: Church must enact true change to regain trust
Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard advocates in his latest research text, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” that the 1960s counterculture’s alternative lifestyles had serious, long-term repercussions on the moral fabric of society. According to Pinker, in just one decade, social norms, especially with regard to marriage and raising a family, suddenly and recklessly were cast aside. Not surprisingly, violent crime rates, after centuries of decline, immediately escalated.
Pinker’s research is both compelling and resourceful, indicating how and why over the past 800 years violent behavior has declined. Pinker claims one of the most significant forces for change was when the ruling aristocrats began treating each other more humanely. Another was when rampaging knights and tribesmen married and were thus forced to stay home to protect the family. Century by century, violent behavior rates have been slowly but steadily falling. For example, in 12th-century Europe the murder rate was more than 100 incidents per 100,000 people. Today it is about one incident per 100,000.
Still, this remarkable achievement that Pinker calls our “great civilizing effect” is merely a feel-good exposition from the secular model of moral progress and has little merit on the remaining social entities mired in a 12th-century mindset. Pinker succinctly classifies these fringe groups as morally retarded.
And there is no greater example in my mind than the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
In parish after parish, state after state, and even country after country are allegations of pedophilia (that make all other ongoing criminal misconduct inquiries about the Church pale by example). As with any other powerfully corrupt syndicate, what follows is the usual array of survival techniques: denial, cover-up, payoff, uncooperativeness, false promises of correction and a complete lack of remorse. Moreover, what is astounding is how long this pathology has persisted — centuries, perhaps.
Pinker states that our cognitive development has taken millions of years to evolve and has brought forth countless positive material advances like basic human rights, instant and long-term health care, a mostly stable economy, mass education, and safety from violence. But right along with the pleasantries of consciousness is its crutch: Dante’s nightmarish
fantasy illuminating the awareness of our mortality. This unsubstantiated fear is an archaic holdover from our Paleolithic past and is something most religions manipulate to subscribe and control their followers.
Recently, another piece of empirical evidence has been authenticated, revealing Jesus’ married life. For centuries his marriage was recorded throughout European history but mistakenly was rejected by Church authorities — just as it has done with so many other controversial subjects like heliocentrism.
By denying its clergy the experience of marriage, the Church continues to emulate outdated zeitgeist and defunct behavioral role models. Even the strictest of English divinity colleges rescinded their tradition of celibacy for its clergy in the late 18th century.
If the Church were any other organization, this sad chapter of sexual misconduct would bring about drastic change. But I know I’m not the only one who believes the Church won’t change anything anytime soon. Its leadership is like the ultimate dysfunctional good-ol’-boys’ club.
My wish is for the pope to undergo a Moses-like epiphany, maybe on top of a mountain somewhere in Turkey, afterward proclaiming a twofold message to the world that, “First of all, we are truly sorry for our past behaviors and are going to correct and prevent our amoral behavior from reoccurring, and, secondly, like Jesus, we are going to shake things up. As of today our clergy will be allowed to engage into the sacrament of marriage.”
Unfortunately, no amount of wishful thinking ever will change behavior. Change occurs only when the corrective steps, including their inherent risks, are implemented and put into practice. Above all, as Pinker illustrated, change must begin to be modeled from the top. Therefore, by allowing its clergy to marry, the Church would signal to the world just how serious its intent is to change. Maybe then will it begin its long journey back, regaining the trust of its fold — not to mention its moral integrity.
Thomas Schur of Mountain Iron is a municipal power plant operator for the city of Virginia, an ex-Catholic, and a psychology major and western philosophy minor from the University of Minnesota Duluth.