Raping nuns on the holodeck

February 26, 2016 § 29 Comments

By all accounts Pope Francis’ airplane interview story, about Paul VI authorizing nuns in danger of rape to use contraceptives, is false. It would almost be better if it were true, because the fact that it is false seems to be leaving everyone deceived. I’ll address one particular way in this post. (I addressed a different way in the previous post).

The interview has given rise to a discussion which is especially pernicious, because various parties are turning it into a debate over the application of the principle of double effect. So most people who read stories about the interview are likely to be presented with two sides to choose from, both of which are wrong, under a form of (selectively) relativistic moral reasoning which is disconnected from reality.

The principle of double effect cannot ever apply to contracepted sexual acts, because contracepted sexual acts are intrinsically immoral in themselves, as kinds of behavior. Choosing an intrinsically immoral kind of behavior is always morally wrong, full stop, no exceptions. The principle of double effect describes conditions under which a morally neutral behavior with both bad effects and good effects is and is not permissible. But contracepted sexual acts are not morally neutral behaviors in the first place.

Nominalists don’t believe (or make a selective pose as if not believing) in the reality of kinds of behavior. They believe that individual human acts are chosen (that individual objects exist), and that categorizing these acts (actual objects) into kinds of behavior (kinds of objects) is a matter of lumping things together in whatever way suits our purposes, giving those lumps a name (thus nominalism). Categories are merely tools of the mind which we fashion for ourselves, mere names for more or less arbitrary aggregations of bits of reality: categories are not objective features of reality-in-act, actual reality.

Nominalism is, of course, insane and self refuting; and like all incoherent views can only be applied selectively in a context of more or less heavy doping by unprincipled exceptions and other impurities of the mind. The heavily doped semiconductor is an archetype of modernity, with the will providing base-emitter current or gate-source voltage: modernity is a fabric of programmable switches over which we impose our will to construct the virtual reality in which we live, inside the padded walls of the holodeck or the vast virtual reality system of the Matrix.

Contraception is a kind of behavior: a kind of sexual behavior. A nun who wears a chastity belt is not choosing a sexual behavior; she is physically excluding certain sexual behaviors from material possibility (to the extent of the chastity belt’s security). A rapist may violate her in other ways, but the chastity belt restricts the ways in which he is materially capable of violating her. When she chooses to put on a chastity belt and give the key to her Mother Superior she is not choosing that a rapist violate her in one of those other ways: she is choosing to block the possibility of violation in a particular way.

A vowed religious woman living in a third world hellhole (or, say, in Germany) where she is likely to be raped is not choosing a particular kind of sexual violation when she wears a chastity belt. She isn’t choosing a sexual act at all. This is not a matter of applying the principle of double effect to a contracepted sexual act, because she is not choosing any kind of sexual act at all. She is merely securing her body – imperfectly, as is the case with any kind of security – from a particular kind of violation.

Now, it is entirely possible that she is unjustified in doing so under some moral analysis or other: perhaps a particular chemical chastity belt under consideration is abortifacient, for example. But the behavior she is choosing cannot be permissible on the basis that she is supposedly justified in choosing a contracepted sexual behavior under the principle of double effect. A rape victim is not choosing the sexual behavior of her rapist at all, by definition.

The point is not to justify the use of particular kinds of chemical or physical chastity belts by nuns in some particular set of conditions or other. The point is that people who are talking about it as an application (right or wrong) of the principle of double effect to contraceptive behaviors are making a basic category mistake — where categories are objective features of reality, not merely nominalist buckets into which we get to put whatever we want however we see fit.

A legitimate rape victim is not choosing a sexual behavior at all; and the category ‘non-sexual contracepted sexual acts’ is not even rationally coherent, let alone an objective feature of reality. It exists only in the Matrix.

§ 29 Responses to Raping nuns on the holodeck

  • Zippy says:

    Am I the only person who finds the fact that these interviews are given in the artificial highly controlled interior environment of a technologically advanced machine hurtling along at great speed high above the earth – in an environment where no human being can survive (absent the encapsulating technology) for more than a matter of seconds – weirdly appropriate?

  • ACThinker says:

    that the interviews are in an artificial environment and what is reported out of them is so artificial? Yes that does seem appropriate. I’d not reflected on it at all.
    My reflection on it is that Pope Francis is speaking one way, and everyone is listening another. And no effort is being made to probe what is really said, but just what the listener wants to hear.

  • CJ says:

    Jimmy Akin made a similar argument (RE nature of the act. You’re on your own about airplanes).

    Also, linking is cumbersome on my phone, but “clarkhat” has written a piece defining neoreaction as opposition to democracy. I suspect you would say it’s an example of planting a flag at the base of Mt. Everest, but I’d be curious as to what you think of it.

  • Zippy says:

    CJ:

    … “clarkhat” has written a piece defining neoreaction as opposition to democracy. I suspect you would say it’s an example of planting a flag at the base of Mt. Everest, but I’d be curious as to what you think of it.

    That is about right. My reaction is that the NRx folks really do tend to consistently get things almost exactly wrong. The precision with which they miss the central point and become lost in the weeds is unnervingly consistent.

    Democracy is not the core problem, it is a symptom of the core problem, which is that the political philosophy of the ruling class – of really all classes of society other than a few freaks and nutcases wandering around raving in the darkness outside the padded walls – is liberalism.

    Structure is at best a tertiary concern, a symptom not a pathogen. Political philosophy and structure do tend to reflect and reinforce each other (lex orandi, lex credendi), but suggesting that the fundamental problem with our politics is democracy is like saying that the fundamental problem with Islam is the Salat ritual, or that the fundamental problem with Twitter is its organizational structure.

    This is similar in the domain of authority, where they tend to define the problem as the moralization (by progressives) of process over outcome and embrace a faux-amoral consequentialism (‘product over process’) — moving in exactly the wrong direction. (I am thinking in particular of this discussion with one of the NRx leading lights.)

  • […] in modern life is not what happens in objective reality. The important thing in modern life is maintaining our illusions. Shattering illusions is even more unmerciful than infecting your partner with […]

  • Alex says:

    Zippy, sorry, but I am a bit confused. As far as I understand, the only kind of contraception the Holy Father could have meant was an iud, right? The only other alternative I can think that isn’t flat out ridiculous would be a morning after pill, but since those can (as far as I know) cause abortions, I think we can exclude them.

    Well, the issue I have with your argument is that iuds aren’t at all like chastity belts. A chastity belt seeks to stop the sexual act from occurring, while an iud seeks to keep it from having any consequence.

    A nun choosing to use such device isn’t choosing a certain kind of sex act she wants to have without consequences. But she would still be choosing to make sure that any sexual act she might have wouldn’t have consequences, when she could instead choose to use an actual chastity belt. The only reason to choose the iud, as far as I can see, is because you see having an illegitimate child as the worst possible result of a rape.

    I don’t want to sound heartless here. I certainly can understand that is something a rape victim, and especially a nun, would want to avoid. But it is still a choice of separating sex from its life creating purpose, even if the sex in question happens to be repulsive and be forced upon the victim.

  • Zippy says:

    Alex:

    As far as I understand, the only kind of contraception the Holy Father could have meant was an iud, right?

    You know what they say about assumptions. And in any case I am making a general point in moral theology, I am not attempting to interpret what Pope Francis said, nor am I focused on any particular method. In the other thread I suggested that a nun in Germany might keep a diaphragm close to hand hand in case rapefugees start rioting through the streets again, for example.

    But the point is not about specific methods, it is about the moral theology more generally. Contraception is wrong because it involves choosing a disordered sexual act. A rape victim is not choosing a sexual act at all, let alone a disordered one, and thus cannot be morally guilty of contracepting.

    But she would still be choosing to make sure that any sexual act she might have wouldn’t have consequences …

    “Any sexual act she might have” meaning any sexual behavior she chooses?

    If she chooses a sexual act with a diaphragm in then she is contracepting: choosing a disordered sexual behavior. If she is not choosing any sexual behavior at all then she cannot be contracepting in the pertinent sense.

    And if she is being raped she is not choosing any sexual behavior at all.

    As usual this does not mean ‘anything goes’. But it does mean that a perfectly continent nun is not contracepting, in the morally pertinent sense, because contraception is (like sodomy and masturbation) the choice of a disordered sexual behavior.

  • Alex says:

    You know what they say about assumptions. And in any case I am making a general point in moral theology, I am not attempting to interpret what Pope Francis said, nor am I focused on any particular method. In the other thread I suggested that a nun in Germany might keep a diaphragm close to hand hand in case rapefugees start rioting through the streets again, for example.

    Very well. Still, we have established that you are also including certain contraceptives, right?

    But the point is not about specific methods, it is about the moral theology more generally. Contraception is wrong because it involves choosing a disordered sexual act. A rape victim is not choosing a sexual act at all, let alone a disordered one, and thus cannot be morally guilty of contracepting.

    Look, I want to make it clear I may be completely wrong here. In which case, I would really appreciate some kind of source so I could dispel my errors about this. But what I understood about contraception is that its evil lies in separating from the sexual act its capacity to create life.

    Now, if this vision is correct, this would always be a consequence, even if unintended, of using a contraceptive. Using a chastity belt would be a very different situation because those try to stop the sexual act from happening in first place.

  • Mike T says:

    Using a chastity belt would be a very different situation because those try to stop the sexual act from happening in first place.

    Yes, it would. There is a biological reality that conception is not a possibility until semen is released into the vagina. An act that actually stops the sexual act from happening or reaching the point where conception is first biologically possible is different from one that works on preventing the semen and ovum from merging and implanting.

  • Zippy says:

    Alex:

    But what I understood about contraception is that its evil lies in separating from the sexual act its capacity to create life.

    Rape, though, is not a sexual act on the part of the victim, any more than murder is a killing act on the part of the victim.

  • nickbsteves says:

    Wait. So giving say contraceptive implants to wards not capable of licitly consenting to sexual relations would be okay?

  • Zippy says:

    nickbsteves:

    It isn’t clear that you’ve described a concrete well-defined particular kind of case at all. Are you talking about an errant teenager, or a non functional autistic adult who is in conditions where she is likely to be raped? If she is your ward and is literally incapable of consent, then why do you have her in conditions where she is likely to be raped or otherwise engage in sexual activity?

    By qualifying consent with ‘licit’ you introduce all sorts of possible incommensurable scenarios.

    And even once we’ve reached a well defined kind of case, there are more than a few dots to connect between “you can’t commit sexual sin without choosing a sexual behavior” to a positive license to do whatever it is that you are concretely proposing to your subjects, whomever they may be.

    But a person who is literally incapable of consenting to anything at all – say someone in a coma – is incapable of committing any sort of moral evil at all, so there is that. What you do to someone who is literally incapable of consent is fully your responsibility, not hers.

  • nickbsteves says:

    An unmarried person cannot licitly consent to sex. That seems simple enough. The ward aspect unnecessarily complicates matters. Shouldn’t have brought it up. May a person who cannot licitly consent to sex use a contraceptive device like an implant?

  • Zippy says:

    nickbsteves:

    It depends (as the morality of sometimes-licit choices always does) upon why she is using it. If she is using it for some medical purpose like managing endometriosis and has no intention of engaging in any sex acts, sure. If she is using it because she lives in a dangerous area and might get raped, but has no intention of choosing in any sexual acts herself, also sure.

    If she is using it because she is worried that she might get drunk and ‘accidentally’ have sex, then no — even if that does not happen. She is engaging in formal cooperation with evil in contemplation of choosing a future intrinsically immoral behavior — a contracepted sexual act.

    Deliberately preparing to choose an intrinsically immoral behavior is itself immoral. Technically, it is formal cooperation with our own anticipated future intrinsically immoral act: uniting our intention with an intrinsically immoral behavior (one we have not done yet).

    Persona Humana:

    In reality, it is precisely the fundamental option which in the last resort defines a person’s moral disposition. But it can be completely changed by particular acts, especially when, as often happens, these have been prepared for by previous more superficial acts. Whatever the case, it is wrong to say that particular acts are not enough to constitute mortal sin.

    Popping a pill or whatever is a “previous more superficial act”. The mutilated sexual act itself is the intrinsically immoral behavior. It is always wrong to either directly choose or to intend an intrinsically immoral behavior — even if we a thwarted by circumstances or what have you from actually choosing that behavior.

  • Alex says:

    Rape, though, is not a sexual act on the part of the victim, any more than murder is a killing act on the part of the victim.

    Sure, but the hypothetical nun is still making a choice of separating the sexual act from the conception. If a rape does occur, shouldn’t that count for at least aiding the sin? Again, in our hypothetical situation, without the nun’s help, the only specific sins that would result from this vile act would be (using the terminology from the Summa Theologica) those of rape and sacrilege (and I guess the sin of rape would be made that much worse by how much against charity it goes). However, with the nun’s actions, there is also unnatural vice.
    Now, I think I understand your point about the nun not sinning because she lacks any kind of lust. It even sounds a bit ridiculous to accuse the nun of unnatural vice when the vice itself was absent in her action.
    But I don’t think this scenario is that different from, say, the person who asks to not be kept alive through machines if she should have a medical problem. Such a person doesn’t desire suicide per se, he doesn’t hate life and want it to end. But nevertheless would rather be separated from life than to live as a vegetable.
    At any rate, I want to reiterate I don’t know if this is the right way to look at the issue. I will try asking the priest on my parish about this.

  • Alex,

    I don’t get the connection to not being kept alive by machines. I really don’t see how this relates to the nun issue at all.

  • nickbsteves says:

    I too am curious why a person living in a “dangerous area” who (therefore?) might get raped gets any sort of license here. The only possible intention using contraception in this way (excepting cases where there is a treatment of some medical condition that accidently made you infertile) would be to prevent conception in case of unintended sexual activity. If we accept that it is licit to intentionally safeguard against pregnancy in the unlikely event of unintended sexual activity, then it seems that license could be extended to any unmarried woman who intends not to have sexual activity. After all, it is always theoretically possible that she could be raped. No neighborhood is perfectly safe.

  • Zippy says:

    It isn’t a license. The perfectly continent do not, by definition, commit sexual sin – because they literally never choose sexual behaviors.

    Generally speaking married people are not perfectly continent. But if they were perfectly continent (e.g. Josephite) for some reason, then would be impossible by definition for them to contracept in the morally pertinent sense.

  • Zippy says:

    Strictly speaking, it is not immoral for your wife to be on the pill. It is immoral to (in reality or intention) have sex with her when she is on the pill.

  • […] on recent combox discussions, it is clearly time for a little refresher in basic moral […]

  • nickbsteves says:

    So then, strictly speaking, it is not immoral for an unmarried woman to be on the pill. It would only be immoral to be on the pill if she intended to have sex. But it would be immoral for her to intend to have sex whether she were “on the pill” or not. I suppose being on the pill would only have the effect of making two grave sins out of one act were she, at some point, to intend to have sex.

    If that’s true, then would it be immoral for a person in charge of the care of a dependent unmarried woman (like a parent or legally appointed caregiver) to require her to be “on the pill”, provided she doesn’t intend to have (illicit) sex?

  • Zippy says:

    nickbsteves:
    I’d ask what the caregiver’s intentions are if I found that whole line of questioning particularly interesting. If his intentions are to keep her from getting pregnant if she chooses to have sex then that would be like making her wear body armor in case she decides to rob a bank. There are a whole host of metaphysical and moral issues (again) raised by the ‘ward’ issue – which I thought we had set aside: issues which are irrelevant to the kind of case we are discussing here.

    If someone finds ‘ward’ cases baffling that is neither here nor there: I am not addressing that kind of case here, and in general bafflement is not transitive.

  • nickbsteves says:

    There doesn’t seem to be anything intrinsically wrong with forcing someone (under your legitimate authority) to wear body armor. Especially, if you live in an area with an awful lot of stray bullets flying around. That it would protect her in case she decides to rob a bank might not fail to enter the would-be protector’s mind, but that need not be his primary reason for ordering the body armor.

  • Zippy says:

    Nickbsteves:

    I am sure that is all very fascinating to people who are interested in exploring ‘ward’ cases. Many, many questions immediately occur; but again, the entire subject is OT.

  • oogenhand says:

    She doesn’t choose to commit a sterilized sex act, but she does choose to render HIS sex act sterile. Compare forcibly vasectomizing someone else, which is immoral beyond regular mutilation as it renders further sex acts sterile.

  • Zippy says:

    oogenhand:

    She doesn’t choose to commit a sterilized sex act, but she does choose to render HIS sex act sterile.

    Only in the same equivocal sense in which a person who wears a bullet proof vest ‘chooses’ that his murderer shoot him in the head. Limiting the manner in which it is possible to be violated is not choosing the violating act.

    Compare forcibly vasectomizing someone else, which is immoral beyond regular mutilation as it renders further sex acts sterile.

    If I took the analogy seriously I suppose I’d have to conclude that when she stabs him in the genitals to defend herself and he ends up sterile, she is guilty of ‘forcibly vasectomizing’ him.

  • […] martyr to metaphysical realism.  If rape isn’t an objective violation of sexual integrity worth resisting when possible then why is it wrong at […]

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