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.


4 Responses to “A tweak for morality”

  1. Sloo Says:

    Great piece! Now if only st had the moral guts to write a piece like this

  2. ST Says:

    What next? Catholic school principals dictating the science curriculum and asking that the teaching of evolution to be replaced with intelligent design? Don’t laugh; this is already happening in the US.

  3. barsushi Says:


  4. spoodie Says:

    I am a Catholic, and I agree with you. The act of conceptually separating method from morality on the part of the church is – ironically – immoral. It is one thing to say that “abstinence is the best form of prevention” if they are talking about spreading STDs and preventing unwanted pregnancies, but it’s an entirely different matter to appeal to ignorance under the guise of morality and say “don’t tell them about condoms because you’re contradicting our moral message”.

    Teaching young people about safe sex is just good sense; assuming that they won’t find out about condoms and won’t be curious about sex if you don’t tell them about it is just sheer folly. The more information people have, the better rational decisions they can make. I can’t understand why the educated religious can’t seem to understand something as simple as that.

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