Rules Are for Schmucks: Pope Versus Puppies

Photo by Edgar Jiménez via Wikimedia Commons

Everyone loves Pope Francis, TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013. That’s due in part to the heroic efforts of his PR guy, Greg Burke, who learned his trade at fair and balanced Fox News.

Poor Mr. Burke may have his hands full dealing with the latest blast from His Holiness, though. Here’s what he had to say earlier this month to a group of couples celebrating their 25th, 50th, and 60th wedding anniversaries:

“In a marriage, this fruitfulness can sometimes be put to the test, when children don’t come or when they are ill,” he said. Couples who have to cope with infertility or loss can still look to Jesus and “draw the strength of fruitfulness that Jesus has with his church.”

What they cannot do, according to longstanding Catholic doctrine, is use modern science to help the conception process along, through techniques such as in vitro fertilization. Five million babies have been born this way—that’s five million terrible sins in the eyes of the church.

That’s old news. The new sin, according to Francis, is that “there are things that Jesus doesn’t like,” such as married couples “who don’t want children, who want to be without fruitfulness.” This “culture of comfort,” he said, “has convinced us that it’s better to not have children! That way you can see the world, go on vacation, have a fancy home in the country and be carefree.”

According to Francis, people think it is better or easier “to have a puppy, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the puppy. Isn’t this true or not? Have you seen this?”

This is real news. Jesus hates puppies! Or, being fair and balanced, Jesus can only abide puppies in families with children—presumably the more the better. So long as they’re Catholic.

Digging deeper into the story: is there any connection between the war on puppies and new legislation in Ohio to ban insurance coverage for certain forms of contraception, including the Plan B pill and IUDs? This is not Hobby Lobby-type employer choice we’re talking about – it’s an absolute ban on any Ohio insurance company offering this kind of coverage to anyone. Once the bishops win their Hobby Lobby “freedom” argument, the next logical step in the path goes rather in the opposite direction. No more puppies! You’re gonna have children whether you want them or not.

Some of us are all in favor of a “culture of comfort,” the kind Epicurus was talking about, 2,400 years ago, which teaches that the whole point of life on earth is to be happy. For most people, being happy does involve having children, and church teaching against using scientific methods to solve physical problems preventing child-bearing is viciously cruel. A significant minority, though, really don’t want to have children, for lots of perfectly valid reasons. Francis, who must claim a special psychic power to read Jesus’ mind since nothing in the Bible records what Jesus had to say about puppies, puts this squarely in the category of “things that Jesus doesn’t like.”

Dear PR guy Burke: Your client would do a lot better staying on-message by sticking to the “Who am I to judge?” line than by wandering off into a campaign against puppies, or by championing what can only be viewed as a “culture of discomfort” over an anti-Jesus “culture of comfort.”

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  • Mike

    Yup, if the pope really cares about relieving poverty or saving the planet, he would bless birth control. He could make such a difference.

  • Neil Purcell

    I am an atheist, but perhaps not so much a humanist. People mostly suck, so being a humanist might be more than I could aspire to. Certainly, I would not wish to be a humanist if it meant having to read such whiny ankle-biting crap as this article. Francis seems to me a step in the right direction in the Church, which is a very good thing. I don’t expect the guy to align himself perfectly with the views of people like me. Catholics use birth control – perhaps 90% of married Catholics do. It is hardly worth arguing. As for puppies, the complaint in this piece is ridiculous on its face. The Pope wants people to choose to have children – how outrageous! I wish my fellow atheists could find a way not to be such crabby jerks.

    • Steven

      98% of Catholic women in the United States use birth control. It is likely much lower in developing nations. The church’s stance against birth control in general and condoms in particular is causing real harm in the world.

      • Neil Purcell

        Developing nations have many problems, but the birth control position of the Church need not be one of them. They are free to ignore the Church on this as do almost all of us in the developed nations. But you at least are not charging the Pope with some perverse hatred of puppies.

    • Dutch550

      I’m also an atheist. I don’t think we are crabby jerks. Lots of people think atheists are crabby jerks, but it’s usually religious people, not another atheist! So Francis made a misstep here. Puppies are here for us to love. Kids, too, I guess, as long as they belong to someone else, in my opinion. But that doesn’t make me a crabby jerk!

      • Neil Purcell

        Sorry, Dutch. I was criticizing the author, not you. My use of the plural was meant to extend my remarks to cover some other atheist writers who make the same mistake. It was not meant to be a general assault on atheists. I am one myself.

    • Cythrawl

      You totally missed the point: The complaint wasn’t that “The Pope wants people to choose to have children”, it was his claim that it is a sin not to want to have children. There is a difference.

      • Neil Purcell

        A difference without much of a distinction in my opinion. The Pope wants people to choose to have children because he believes that to be what God wants of us. To do otherwise than God intends is some kind of sin, I am sure. To those of us who do not care about sin, what difference does it make? As i indicated, 90% of American Catholics do not think much of this label – why should we atheists? In any case, it was the hyperbole about puppies that I was objecting to – but go right ahead and hate Francis if you insist. My point is that, for a leader of the Catholic Church, he seems a step in the right direction. Maybe we shouldn’t be in a big rush to pee on his shoes?

        • Cythrawl

          It’s a difference with a world of distinction! If you are unable to decipher that it’s all a matter really! . I don’t hate on Francis, i just couldn’t care less for him. You might consider him a “step in the right direction”, (whatever that is meant to mean), but considering how far the CC has fallen in the past 20 years then it was almost impossible for them to step in any other direction!
          At the end of the day he is still a leader of the same old bigoted, misogynistic cult of fear mongering claiming we are all “fallen sinners” that need redemption. still makes me sick, no matter how charismatic a leader they try and use to spread the message.

          • Neil Purcell

            Those are all fair charges against the Church. If one accepts that the CC is an important institution with the potential for good, and a record that includes some good (despite the evils you have mentioned), and that it is likely to continue to be important in the United States for years to come, then I think it is not a small matter to notice that Francis seems to be giving strong indications of a more progressive and liberal point of view – what I call as step in the right direction. We are a minority, a small and scorned minority. We ought to be able to make realistic appraisals of the leaders of the major religious institutions. I think atheism and humanism can be reasonable and tolerant – in fact, I think humanism, if I understand it at all, must be reasonable and tolerant. Am I mistaken?.

  • polysciguy

    This article is nothing more than modernism or post-modernism hating traditionalism through swaying by emotion. Doesn’t humanism have anything positive to say or is all their writers focus on attacking? Humanists need to distinguish themselves not by simply saying ‘they suck’ but by communicating a unique response to our human issues and foibles. Until that happens, it will remain marginalized.

    • Luis Granados

      The article was quite positive about a number of things:

      I’m for people being able to use in vitro fertilization without being condemned as sinners.

      I’m for people being able to decide not to have children without being called anti-Jesus and ridiculed.

      I’m for Ohio insurance companies having the legal right to sell contraceptive coverage if they feel like it.

      I’m for applying the same standards of hypocrisy to religious politicians as to any others. Basking in the glow of “Who am I to judge?” while busily issuing judgments against the intentionally childless fails that standard.

      I’m for lifting the scales from the eyes of those like the commenter who calls Francis “a step in the right direction in the Church,” when in fact the direction of the church has not changed by a millimeter. Only the PR smokescreen has changed.

      There: no emotion, no humor, dry as a bone. Happy?

  • Jude I⚡caяiot

    Hooray! I’m a sin and a sinner!

  • Lotus

    I don’t agree with the pope’s position on procreation, but I don’t think his direct quote suggests that he hates, or that Jesus hates, puppies. This is sensationalism. Talk about his position on having children or not… The puppy thing is a side-note, and interpreted poorly, not the main story. This is the kind of thing I expect from a religious press, not a humanist press. I am disappointed.

    • Well said, Lotus. Both the headline and the Facebook lead were misleading click-bait to say the least – exactly the sort of behavior that I (and probably many others) only tolerate a few times before no longer following an outlet like TheHumanist.

  • Goose

    I read this as satire. Where is people’s sense of humor?

    • Corky Wedges

      No, the Pope really did say it, and both the Catholic Church and Fundamentalist Protestantism are waging war on birth control. That’s fact, not satire.

  • squeak

    There’s nothing like humor to underscore the foibles and hypothetical but logical consequences of misguided ideas, and Luis Granados accomplishes this here. The humanists who wrote or enjoyed this piece are not the crabby ones.

  • Charles Mumford

    I am in a long-term hetero relationship and have no intention of getting married or having children. I am also an agnostic and I have four cats. It’s hard to believe that people like me are really considered by the Pope’s to be his enemies.

    Perhaps he should busy himself not with making speeches and praying but in coming up with a plan to disseminate the Catholic Church’s vast wealth to the poor, whether or not they profess to believe in that (or any) religion. If the gold leaf were pried off the Vatican, I’m sure it would go some considerable distance towards helping to feed, house and educate many who desperately need it.

  • Raynebird Dragonwyke

    the puppy thing is obsequious. it’s just the man making a point. point actually being, procreate, that’s what his god wants you to do. to that i say F_ _ _ YOU! i have 3 daughters, 2 of them do not want children and they have perfectly excellent reasons for not wanting them. genetics. on their fathers side they have diabetes, 3 forms of cancers and heart disease. on their mothers side they have ever known form of neurological disorder available to humanity floating around the women in this family. they believe that having children, which we tend toward daughters, will only guarantee that they will be condemned to illness. they believe it is time for that genetic line to end, it’s too sick. so what do they do? they have ADOPTED children that other women who didn’t have birth control available to them but had their babies and abandoned them.

    because someone was PROBIRTH, but not PROLIFE!!!!!!!

  • Joe

    How many kids does Francis have?

  • Warren Taylor

    Senseless, irrational rant.