In God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens invites the reader to “close your eyes and try to picture what you might say if you had the authority to inflict the greatest possible differing in the least number of words”. I’d suggest ‘the sins of the father are passed onto the child’, while Hitch goes with something similar to the words of the head of the Catholic church in Mozambique:
Condoms are not sure because I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with [HIV] on purpose
This is why it’s vital to deny authority to organisations founded on falsehoods and incapable of change. This man did not start out ambivalent and come to the conclusion that condoms are being deliberately laced with HIV, he’s clearly looking for a way to justify Catholic teachings. The belief comes first, all thought second – that the hatred of condoms could be morally vacuous and exist only to induce guilt and thereby create more devotees is not a possibility.
Sure, this is some nutter in Mozambique. A UK priest wouldn’t say such a thing, it’s true, but why not? It’s obvious: they’re probably better educated. But all the UK priest does is find another, less obviously nonsensical, reason to think condoms are evil. If the Mozambique guy were in the UK, he’d be coming out with the regular nonsense about the social problems caused by casual, read: protected, sex. The error is exactly the same: belief, then justification.
This isn’t a unique flaw, of course. Most people, including me, instinctively migrate towards information that supports their point of view, and will ignore competing evidence up to a point. It takes an effort of will to avoid this inclination. But the nature of religious institutions is that they cannot change their core beliefs – if condoms were shown to directly cause world peace, the Catholic church would still hate them. A priest who saw reason and acknowledged that condoms are a force for good would be rejecting his entire belief system, and it’s (not surprisingly) incredibly difficult to do such a thing.
It’s tempting to make comparisons with political beliefs. What’s the difference between the Catholic church and a political party, if both have core beliefs? It’s that the latter should (and, I think, do) base this upon evidence, and would, on average, be prepared to change its ideas should they not pan out in practice.
Any system which has core beliefs set in stone (not to mention based on particular historical events that may or may not have actually happened) shouldn’t have any say over public affairs. Differentiating between the systems is another reason the most important education goal should be teaching children how to think.
By the way, I look forward to the Pope stepping in to put the matter straight.