"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Saturday, 4 December 2010

You see? They can get it right sometimes.

Sometimes it is only fair that institutions that get criticised for the bad that they do should also get some credit when they get things right. When that institution is the Catholic Church I'm afraid that credit will come with some qualifications but credit it will be nevertheless.
The first thing that the Catholic Church has done right follows a statement from the Pope that condom use is permitted for Catholics “in exceptional circumstances” by which he means to protect against HIV transmission. Coming from the man who denied that condoms were a solution for aids this is a welcome U-turn.
As you might expect this was not an unqualified endorsement and there was some amusing confusion over exactly what the Pope was endorsing given that initially he appeared to be referring to male prostitutes exclusively, which on the face of it seems to also endorse gay sex as that is by far their primary market. Subsequent clarifications from the Vatican seem to suggest that condom use is now acceptable (if not preferable) in all circumstances where HIV transmission is a possibility.
The second thing is that the Pontifical Academy of Science (why does that seem like an oxymoron to me?) has come to the rational conclusion that GM technology is a valid contributor to alleviating food poverty in the third world.

GE technology, used appropriately and responsibly, can in many circumstances make 
essential contributions to agricultural productivity by crop improvement, including 
enhancing crop yields and nutritional quality, and increasing resistance to pests, as well as 
improving tolerance to drought and other forms of environmental stress. These 
improvements are needed around the world to help improve the sustainability and 
productivity of agriculture. 

The Vatican itself has stepped back a little from this position but signs of a rational and progressive view from such a dogma bound Church should be encouraged.
Why this matters is that like it or not the Catholic Church has a significant influence on the opinions of millions of followers. Insofar  as the Pope can change false and damaging beliefs amongst his faithful, whenever his Church makes the right call it does no harm to tell it so.

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