My uncle, Father Michael as we called him, was a Jesuit priest and headmaster of a Catholic boys’ high school and an occasional guest at our house. My own father had been a student at Holy Cross College when he “lost his faith,” as the Irish will put it, transferred to Harvard, and became a lifelong non-believer. He tried to maintain some semblance of family peace with his pious older brother. And so, when I was 16, Father Michael was in our home on a Christmas evening, sipping his Manhattan, when we fell to talking about my future dreams—college, travel, and so forth.
Well, he said, that doesn’t matter much, as “you’ll probably wind up as a prostitute.”
Startled, I asked, “Don’t you mean ‘promiscuous’?” I could imagine that, from what I understood to be his point of view as a celibate, I might perhaps, in the future, qualify.
“No, I mean what I said, a prostitute. It’s inevitable, since you’ve been raised with no morals.”
“I have morals,” I objected.
“No, you have been raised with no religion, and so you have no morals,” he said. “Morals are based in the fear of God. Without the knowledge of hell, people will all be sinners.” And, it seems, slide quickly from a little sin to a life of prostitution.
When Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Flake a slut and a prostitute, I recalled my uncle and the powerful Catholic hierarachy behind him who say the same: Say no to birth control then submit to birthing all the babies that God generously sends along.
Preach that message in America, and hundreds of thousands of women who work at Catholic institutions or are patients in Catholic hospitals are denied contraceptives. Preach it abroad in overcrowded and impoverished countries such as Mexico or the Philippines, and you leave women with nothing but prayer to cope with poverty, male dominance, and big families.
Looking back to my teen years, I’d say that Father Michael did me a favor—not just in reducing the appeal of Catholicism, which I’d once considered an option, but in making me ask myself what my morals were based in, if not fear.
Eventually I came to understand that a person must decide on her morality for herself. Embracing such values as love, concern, and compassion grounds you, and encourages you to willingly assume responsibility for others. You consider the long-term effects of your actions. Then you follow your conscience.
Secular people and less orthodox religionists have perhaps failed to proclaim that apparently little-known truth that they actually do have ethics and morals, and to describe how a world without a fear-mongering, dictating god can be a world of both pleasure and responsibility.