So the biggest news this week for Catholics is the imminent retirement of our current Pope. This, as you have likely read, is the first time this has happened in 600 years. For me, however, this is not as interesting or as blog-worthy as a 5 word comment by Richard Dawkins, stating that the Pope’s was a “wasted life, with no sex.”
It was an interesting comment, and probably the one thing that really stood out among all the comments I heard, blogs I read or articles I happened to skim. What first struck me was why on earth Richard Dawkins was asked for comment. Was it for a sense of “balance”? Was the comment too good not to use? Was it just one person saying what everyone else was thinking? Who knows what the writer was thinking when they included it.
It really got me thinking, however, about why Dawkins said such a thing. I can imagine he must believe that the Pope’s life is a wasted one. For someone who doesn’t believe in God, the idea of someone dedicating their life to such would seem kind of ridiculous. So that part I get, however to include such an incredulous statement as “…with no sex”, it really irked me. What was this comment really about? Did he mean it was a wasted life because the Pope had no sex, or were they two separate comments? Did he say it to ensure it got published? We all know sex sells, so making such a comment would surely make it to print. But this is the whole point, isn’t it?! Its the value we place on sex… or lack of value. Dawkins might think he is highlighting just how important sex is to being human, but in fact, he is showing just how little value we place on it in society.
Sex sells. Its well known. Our society is saturated by it. Companies promise that their products will make us more attractive to the opposite sex, as though how we look is all we have going for us. Girls are being sexualised at an earlier and earlier age (Steve Biddulp states in his book “Raising Girls” that “our 14 is their 10, and our 18 is their 14”), and boys are led to believe they have little to no control over their sexual urges. Marriage and family are seen as quick ways to kill your sex life, and magazines quickly follow with ways to keep the passion alive, or else advice to leave a sex-less marriage. In the process, pornography addiction has warped the view of many about sex, and has quickly hit the center of relationships, tearing them apart. And yet entertainment media celebrates the one-night stand, or falling into bed with someone with whom you have just shared your first passionate kiss. Its completely confused.
Can we really say as a society that sex is valued as the sacred act that it is? Women become misguided that sleeping with a man is the way to “bag him”, but men are told that sleeping with a woman is a normal way of determining “sexual compatibility”. Do these misguided ideas fit with a concept of sex providing some sort of depth to life as Dawkins seems to suggest? When sex is taken out of the context of marriage, it would seem so. So we need to ask ourselves if this is the view of sex we want to perpetuate and continue to thrust on our youth.
Marriage, as Catholics see it, is a sacred vocation intended to bring life to the church. Family is a logical consequence of this vocation. At this stage of Catholic history, priests, and hence bishops, cardinals and the Pope, cannot marry and fulfill the privileges of married life. Choosing such a role for your life must not be an easy one, and in the context of our society which tells us just how important sex is to life, vocations to the priesthood have dwindled over the years.
This is another thing that confuses me about the comment. How does a society that places almost religious fervor to each person’s ability to choose his/her own way, finds it impossible to consider that someone has chosen a life of celibacy. There are, of course, those whom celibacy is thrust upon. Is their life to receive such a comment? Does a life of sex ensure you have really lived? I’m not so sure. I know many people who live without sex because they never found the right person, and who have lived fruitful, honorable and dignified lives. In fact, from experience, having a family (at least a young family) places great strains on both mother and father, limiting their ability to contribute to society in the way they would like (apart from contributing their offspring!). Imagine, then, being the Pope, and having commitments to babysitting the grandchildren.
Ultimately, Dawkins needs to reconsider his position that the Pope had a “wasted life, with no sex”. Not only is it insulting to all those living a celibate life by choice, but also those living in celibacy through circumstance. I personally have no view on the rest of Pope Benedict’s life. What he has or hasn’t done is between God and him, and seeing as all I know is what I read or what people tell me, I cannot be his judge. Similarly, I ask the same of someone such as Dawkins, who’s petty insults may gain the praise of those who are like minded, but which shows to the rest of us his complete lack of understanding about how the social world works. Stick to science Dick.