And this isn't necessarily a bad marketing strategy. But unfortunately, this isn't how it should be done. It's like if Nintendo followed up the huge success of the Wii with a Get Off My Lawn machine. Pope John Paul II expanded the base and was a positive ambassador of the church, impressing even many of the church's critics. Pope Ratzinger will make their base contract while giving a negative image of the church.
And the thing is, there really isn't too much difference between what JPII said and what Ratzinger says. The main difference is the emphasis of how they say it. And it's not just that Ratzinger is untactful. It's that he's purposefully trying to be controversially reactionary. He wants to make the Catholic Church look out of touch and inflexible. That's the whole point: He wants to show that God's not a moral relativist, which is inherently an inflexible position to take. And then, when he gets called on it, the Vatican acts all surprised and shocked that anyone is attacking their positions.
Not that they're going for controversy, but they're trying to draw the line in the sand. And that's a huge mistake, as the sand has shifted quite a lot since these original positions were adopted. And rather than reinforcing the church's longstanding moral code, these hardline positions will only marginalize them.
Abstinence or Die!
And the latest mistake is with Ratzinger's remarks on condoms. Now, it's not like Pope John Paul was Mr. Condom or anything. I don't remember him passing out rubbers from the Popemobile or showing up at Cancun as the surprise judge at Trojan's wet t-shirt contest during Spring Break. I'm quite sure Ratzinger isn't entering new territory with any of this. But it's the emphasis on the ineffectiveness of condoms that draws all the attention.
I mean, I'm all for monogamy and would be quite happy if everyone in Africa abstained from having sex until they found their life partner. But...that's just not a realistic strategy. It's great and I'm sure it happens, but...you've got to have a back-up plan. And emphasizing the sketchiness of condoms is a recipe for murder. And what, are we to imagine that no one in Africa has thought of this one before? Like they're all "What? I just need to wait until marriage and make sure that my bride-to-be does the same? Oh, excellent. Thanks."
No, the problem isn't that people aren't aware of the advantages of abstinence. It's just that, well, sometimes people don't think through their actions. And having a condom handy for safe sex is a much more realistic option than having them remember the pope's wise words on abstinence. Then again, I suppose just thinking of Ratzinger might spoil the mood for anyone who was in the mood. Seriously, would it kill them to get a sexy pope for once?
Acts of Kindness
The article even quotes a pro-Vatican guy who defends the church by pointing out that they help AIDS patients, saying:
Sending a package of prophylactics signifies a lot less in terms of self-giving
in comparison to someone who has left their country and dedicates their lives to
caring for people sick with AIDS.
And while that's great and everything, I definitely think it's better to prevent someone from getting AIDS than to help them after they already get it. It's not about the commitment to help someone. It's about actually helping them. I find it somewhat troublesome that this guy places so much emphasis on the person doing the good deed, rather than on the person receiving the deed. It's like God gave us misery so we can prove our worth, or something.
But beyond that, this guy's wrong for attacking Ratzinger's critics on this one. Because again, the problem is with Ratzinger's emphasis. Had Ratzinger given a speech praising the work his church does to help AIDS patients in Africa, that'd be fine. Nobody is attacking him for that. The problem is that Ratzinger, along with the rest of his church, is trying to get folks to stop using condoms. He's got his moral code and if Africans can't follow it, oh well. He's got missionaries who can earn their wings by helping them before they die.
Owning Your Policies
And hey, if that's his attitude, great. He doesn't want folks using condoms, and that's fine. But if he expects the rest of us to sit back and smile while he tries to convince Africans to essentially commit suicide, that's just not going to happen. He's going to use his pulpit to convince people that using condoms is a death sentence, and we're going to use our pulpit to convince people that the pope is bonkers for saying this. He denounces us, we denounce him. That's how this works. If he wants people to reject his church for being reactionary, then he's doing an excellent job.
And if he doesn't want to take heat for saying these things, then perhaps he shouldn't say them. His policy is the equivalent of telling folks that they shouldn't jump out of planes, because parachutes sometimes fail. And it's true. Parachutes fail. But people are going to jump out of planes all the same, and if they are, they should still wear parachutes; even if they sometimes fail. And again, if that's his position, that's fine. He just needs to understand that we're going to push back against it.
And if he wants to be liked, he should emphasize the good things his church does, rather than saying bad things. But then again, I think this is what he wants. He wants to be the grumpy old pope that people accept on his terms and if that's the case, well, he needs to get used to the idea that we might reject that. We're not against the church and we're not against abstinence or monogamy. We're just against people who insist upon undermining the alternatives. Condoms may fail, but not nearly as badly as abstinence-only policies do.