Thursday, November 25, 2010

E-Mail Exchange On Benedict's and Rohnheimer's Remarks

Footnote on Fr. Rohnheimer's point:

"Condoms (things) are not immoral, but human acts are."

Comment: But condoms are not things that God created in the natural world. The human acts involved in their existence and availability -- manufacturing condoms, or making them available, also has to be strongly evaluated as a moral/immoral human act. If a plastic company has capacity to create X useful, lifesaving products to send to the less developed world, should they choose to manufacture condoms or band-aids or other lifesaving, petroleum-derived products?

This has indeed opened a huge moral discussion about human acts. Not only the limited, dim act of the confused sex worker, but the prior human acts involved in commerce, the medical profession, all the people who are contributing to or influenced by what the Holy Father calls "the banality of sexuality." There are human acts involved in every level of commercial, medical, humanitarian activity through which condoms may reach from the R&D department of a plastics company to the end user. He may have opened an enormous discussion on business ethics. Given factory capacity, given the needs of people in the world, is this the best use of our goods and creative abilities? I can think of better things to do with plastic, the cardboard or foil used in the wrappers, and the human labor involved in the manufacturing of contraceptives. Maybe such intensive effort, energy (human and factory power), and capital could actually be brought to bear to find a cure for HIV/AIDS. Just a thought.

My Response:

Not a bad thought. And worth considering, for sure. However, it seems that the point at issue was the Pope's point as to whether the use of the condom in a person already engaged in a morally depraved act could be a step in the direction of restoring the person to a beginning of relationality and giftedness. That is, I think he was talking about eliciting a glimmer of concern for the good of the other which could be a beginning to the restoration of the ontological orientation of the person.

It occurs to me in writing this that the ontological ground of morality in the mind of the Pope is the Christian anthropology of GS#24. He is not talking Greek ethics or Greek metaphysics of nature. He is talking the metaphysical anthropology of finding self by the sincere gift of self. It would be worth while to review Ratzinger's "Conscience and Truth" that he presented in the bishop's workshop in Texas 1989 or 1990. It has recently been republished in the small hard cover by Ignatius called "Conscience." His initial pique is with the so-called invincible ignorance. He asks deeper than St. Thomas: why the ignorance that we call invincible? His response is telling. The problem is the dwarfed state of the person such that he is not conscious that he is doing evil because he has neglected the development of the ontological self as gift. His examples are the Hitlers and Stalins. Their consciences may have been depraved and silent, but Ratzinger, going back to St. Basil, etc., does not stop there. There is a moral culpability for the diminished state of the person in his ontological giftedness or rather non-giftedness, and therefore in the consciousness that "this" and "that" is wrong. One is morally responsible for knowing or not knowing that so and so is right or wrong.

So also here with the condom. Let's say that the person is a gay prostitute. He is culpable not only for the homosexual activity, but also for the state of his conscience vis a vis the moral turpitude of what he is doing.

Benedict's mind - within his understanding of the meaning of the person as relational in so far as imaging the Trinitarian Person Who are pure relation - would be searching for the ontological rehabilitation of the relationality of that person, and therefore the rehabilitation of his conscience. Hence, the condom - which has nothing to do with the gay act as moral or immoral (which is not even a sexual act, and therefore in its execution as act is gravely immoral) - is not immoral. In this context, it has nothing to do with sexuality. But the use of the condom as an attempt to protect another from contracting AIDS may be a first glimmer in concern for another beyond the self. [In reality, it is a moot question since the condom really does not stop AIDS as far as I understand.]

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