A tweak for morality
January 26, 2011
The Catholic Church must now come with a health warning. Like those gruesome pictures of cancers on cigarette packets, the Catholic Church must have a picture of a young couple with genital warts and herpes, with five babies crawling around them. It’s only fair.
The Straits Times today reported that Catholic school principals have met MOE officials to discuss how the ministry’s sexuality education programme can be “tweaked”. “Among other things, they had asked for a segment on the use of condoms to be modified so that it better matches Catholic beliefs. The segment includes a video on the use of condoms.”
It’s not known exactly what they wanted “tweaked” (I hope no child’s bum was within a 100 metre radius), but given the Church’s stance on contraceptives, it’s safe to say that any mention of condoms will be suppressed. One only has to re-visit Pope Benedict’s remarks on condoms in Africa to understand the deep aversion the Church has to them. And the crux of the problem is what the Church has always done – confuse sex education with moral education. In fact, it goes further to conflate morality with a faith or set of religious teachings. Archbishop Nicholas Chia was quoted as saying:
What is at stake is not the method used or whether this method is natural or artificial. What is at stake is the moral act of contraception.
The good clergyman is wrong. There is a clear conceptual difference between method and morality. The former is taught in sex education, the latter should not. Sex education is about the biological and mechanical aspects of the sexual body. It deals with bodily changes, sex organs, sexual intercourse and sexuality. It should be taught responsibly in classrooms by mature teachers with teaching aids. A faith-based moral education, on the other hand, can be taught in churches, temples, mosques and other private places. To conflate the two and, as a result, omit valuable information that may save a teen from sexually transmitted disease or an unwanted pregnancy is plain irresponsible. Teaching abstinence is important. But it must be taught alongside contraceptives.
But there is nothing new in this. The Church has always adopted a ‘morality first, reality second’ approach when it comes to sexuality. More interesting is how the Christian right in Singapore are pushing the boundaries of secularism back. At the heart of the AWARE saga was a faith-based morality seeking to suppress alternative lifestyles. In this case it is seeking to suppress educational information that does not conform to its worldview.
Granted, the Catholic principals were speaking only for Catholic schools, and not proposing that the “tweaks” be reflected across the board. But the last I heard, these Catholic schools also received public funds. Furthermore it would be a sad indictment of the education system if a faith-based morality is allowed to influence the science of sexuality. What next, creationism in classrooms? Well I guess if you can believe that the world was created in 6 days, you can also believe you can teach Catholic girls to say no.