Nichols at it again – now he’s going to save YOU from condoms!

April 10, 2009 at 4:40 pm (Catholicism, rights, voltairespriest, women)

Well, he didn’t waste any time, did he? To the further delight of a crowing religious right, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols has now waded into the debate about condoms and HIV. Not only has he supported the Pope’s remarks on the subject recently, albeit not with quite the same panache as our new friend Joanna Bogle recently did on Channel 4. No, he has also set about campaigning against plans to allow pregnancy advisory services to advertise on television and radio. Apparently some of the planned ads would include information about abortion and condoms, and obviously we can’t have an informed public questioning the pronouncements of a 63 year-old celibate in a dog collar on such issues, about which his past life will have obviously made him a massive authority…

Nichols has spoken a lot of de-contextualised tripe about one of the ads featuring a couple having sex on a street corner (Well! Be still my fluttering cassock!), but I don’t think that such outright Mary Whitehouse-style moralism will be the main emphasis of his campaigning around issues of sexuality over the next few years. Instead expect to hear more of the sort of smooth language which talks about “humanising sexuality” and a criticism of real sex education campaigns as over-emphasising the act of sex and not the human relationships which surround it. Nichols may be many things but he is certainly no fool.

After all, what could possibly be wrong with “humanising sexuality” (to re-quote Nichols and the Pope), any more than “humanising war”, “humanising education”, “humanising healthcare” or any other word in front of which you wish to stick the prefix “humanising”. It’s one of those words which drive spin doctors into raptures, precisely because it sounds warming whilst meaning precisely nothing outside of a specific context. And it is so with this case:  don’t look at the warmth of Nichols’ terminology, look at what he’s actually asking the national TV networks to do. He’s asking them to censor out advertisements giving information about perfectly legal practices, to which he happens to object because other people once codified such objections in textual form. One may or may not believe that said people were divinely inspired, however either way it is quite extraordinary for a minority religious leader to try to have perfectly legitimate sexual health information removed from the airwaves because of a doctrinal objection. That is quite extraordinary in a 21st century state, and certainly goes to show that attempts by powerful, conservative religious lobbies to gain political traction in the national life of the UK have not gone away.

It’s time to remember that the point of the airwaves should be to facilitate education and discussion, and not to provide a means for politically motivated interest groups such as the social conservatives currently ascendant within the Catholic church to impose their stances upon the public as a whole. I personally find it objectionable that these people should crowd my television screen with talk about issues of sexual health which has about as much relevance to social reality as reading chicken entrails does to correctly predicting the future. Furthermore on the commercial side there can be no more legitimate rational objection to Durex ads than there can to ads for Mars Bars, Cornflakes or Jacob’s Creek wine. Just because they’re on the telly doesn’t mean you have to buy them. And really, even were the information contained in these short pieces to be so offensive, I don’t think the majority of UK Catholics (whether supporters of contraceptive choice or not) would be driven to such distress by either the public health ads or commercial ads, that this discussion could be seen as in any way legitimate.

The provision of public health information should not be subject to censure by political religion. And neither should public policy as a whole. It is up to progressives of all religions and none to ensure that such a situation never becomes the norm.


  1. Red Maria said,

    Public health information from the abortion industry and anti-natalist brigade. I think not.

    Of course there are also sound economic reasons for objecting to these repugnant groups, which originated in the Eugenics movement, you may do well to remember, advertising their “services” on television. And that is this: anti-natalism is simply unaffordable. The potential costs to future GDP growth with particular implications for pensions of further falls in the already below-replacement birth rate are worrying.

    That’s without even mentioning the fact that the government’s sexual health and teenage pregnancy strategies – drawn up by these very groups – have proven to be phenomenal failures. The peak age for abortions is now 19, it used to be 24. Teenage conception rates are still astonishingly high. The last figures were so bad that the DCFS was reduced to the most embarrassing spinning, clinging to one quarter’s figures in a London borough.

    I realise the temptation to snigger at ++Vincent may be overwhelming but you could try and do your research before writing such a silly post.

  2. Voltaire's Priest said,

    None of the above has any relevance beyond your bizarre notion that any group advocating women’s choice over contraceptive methods and seeking to inform them of such, is part of an “anti-natalist” conspiracy, Maria. It’s an interesting variant on the usual hidden-hand conspiracy theory, but a particularly weird one as well.

    It is simply not true that pregnancy advisory services are “repugnant” or “eugenicist”: that statement really does demonstrate quite how tinfoil-titfered the views of those who are trying to censor these simple public health education advertisements really are. BPAS is no more “eugenicist” than the Tufty Club, and neither is any mainstream pregnancy or sexual health advocacy group operating in the UK.

    The economic section of your argument is wacky, and drawn straight from the same basic ideas-sets that feed the Cato Institute or the AEI. Eternal growth theory, with no possiblity of collapse, finite resource or burn-out. I would have thought that the current global economic collapse goes to show just what bollocks it is.

    Now really RM, if you can’t think of anything sensible to say…

  3. Red Maria said,

    If you’re going to fall back on sneering it would be as well for you to have read what I had written rather than succumbing to that infectious disease known as Dunbarism, that is the tendency to invent things, words, arguments or facts which don’t exist or don’t appear in a given text.

    Ho hum.

    Who mentioned conspiracies? Not me. I didn’t say that anti-natalist groups now are eugenicist, I said that anti-natalist groups grew out of the Eugenics Movement, which indeed they did. Surely you can grasp the difference? Nowadays they package themselves as feminist and use overtly liberal language to describe their aims and practices; however, many of them are still either involved in or lobby aggressively for population-control. None of this conspiratorially done; it’s out in the open. I’m sorry that you are unaware of this, as I said, a bit of research would do your posts on these topics no end of good.

    Not all abortion organisations are involved in population control. You mentioned BPAS which isn’t. Indeed its its chief executive, Ann Furedi is an eloquent opponent of population-control.

    You may feel that organisations such as BPAS are far from repugnant. That adjective, incidentally was meant to convey a point of view; my one. Hence it is inappropriate for you to say it is simply not true that they are repugnant any more than it is for you to say that it is simply not true that mustard is disgusting or waterlilies beautiful. They aren’t statements of fact but opinion. And in my opinion, BPAS is an unpleasant organisation, though not repugnant as some others are. Still, I completely fail to see how such pungent opinions can attract the designation, tin-foil hatted, unless you characterise everything which isn’t blandly moderate as tin-foil hatted, I suppose. Maybe you do.

    Similarly, I’m sorry if you consider my arguments about the economic problems of low birthrates whacky. I suspect that is because you don’t know that much about the subject – hence your strange comment on the recession. That’s also why you say some silly things about New Growth Economics, a macroeconomic theory I’m not convinced you understand. Neither do you seem to grasp the point about pensions, a subject which was giving economists, actuaries and policymakers a severe headache well before the recession.

    I’ll quote from a paper from Deloitte which makes the point clearly:

    Today the birthrate ratio is, for example, 1.4 in Germany and only 1.2 in Italy. For the first time in human history the population tree is turning head down. In 2030 the dependency index in Europe will reach 70%, and 97% in Japan, which practically means that there will be one dependent citizen for each worker.

    The economic consequences of this trend are clear. There will be a labour shortage, consumption will fall and economic growth will slow down. Government expenditure will rise, but incomes will get thinner. There will be wider differences between the various regions and an outflow of capital can be expected from developed countries to countries with a younger population.

    According to Deloitte, immigration is not a reliable solution. Between 1950 and 1960 there were around 50,000 immigrants a year. Today the USA alone receives 1.3 million legal immigrants (and millions of illegal ones), but the country is still aging. According to a UN study, more than 700 million immigrants would have to come to the EU between 1995 and 2050, which is 12.7 million a year, so that the ratio of people over 65 to people between 15 and 64 remained at the 1995 level. This, however, is fifteen times more than the number of immigrants who actually arrived in the 1990s. For comparison, 188 million people would have to come to Germany by 2050.

  4. Matt said,

    RM misses the point again: why should the Catholic Church have – or attempt to have – a veto on what is advertised on television?

    I agree Nichols is no fool: as on many of these issues, you won’t catch him voicing his real objection, that contraception frustrates God natural law, as he knows this is a non-runner even among his own flock. Instead he comes out with guff about ‘humanising relationships’ (the Catholic Church over the centuries being characterised by its ‘humanising’ role of course).

  5. Voltaire's Priest said,

    That’s also why you say some silly things about New Growth Economics, a macroeconomic theory I’m not convinced you understand

    You appear either not to know much about the underlying themes of economics, or else to be pretending to believe (or wishing you believed) something which, in reality, you don’t. Essentially, when one brings it down to brass tacks and gets past the smoke and mirrors beloved of the PT Barnum show that is “debate” in the world of free-market economics, any kind of eternal growth-based market capitalist theory of the economy (including endogenous growth theory/new growth theory) bears much the same relationship to 19th-century laissez-faire, that Intelligent Design bears to creationism. You can wibble and obfuscate all you want, but essentially you are arguing for massive and ongoing capitalist growth (a theory discredited by the time of the Great Depression), based on a booming population. It’s a case of using the economics of the Cato Institute to defend the politics of the Curia.

    The great tragedy is that I don’t even think you yourself really believe that argument, but rather just reach for it as part of a rhetorical “box of tricks” when trying to defend socially conservative stances questions surrounding women’s rights to control their own bodies.

    More on the rest of RM’s rather incoherent and rambling post later, but suffice to say Matt is right. She’s running up all of these blind alleys to avoid the central point, which is that Nichols and supporters are trying to censor perfectly reasonable ads from the UK’s TV screens simply because they have a theological disagreement with the content of those ads.

  6. Matt said,

    “The Roman Catholic hierarchy in this country is getting pretty bold and taking in a lot of territory. They not only want to regulate the morals of their communicants; they also want to regulate mine and yours according to their own perverted conceptions of morality. That’s where my grievance begins. It may seem like a long way from a couple of movies to the highest affairs of state. But there is a direct connection as I see it; and they merge together, along with a lot of related questions, into a menacing shadow of clerical thought-control over America…before I got around to it, the right to see this picture was brutally taken away from me and others who wanted to see it. Cardinal Spellman, the ecclesiastical hoodlum…denounced ‘The Miracle’ as immoral. And forthwith the subservient public officials in New York banned the picture and took it off the screen”.

    James P Cannon, ‘From Hollywood to Rome’, ‘The Militant’, 12 November 1951, reprinted in ‘Notebook of an Agitator’

  7. Neprimerimye said,

    Not a partiularly precient comment from James Patrick. I mean c’mon folks there is a Xian right in the good ol’ US of A but it ain’t papist.

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