December 15th 2013, a 25-year-old woman went to see a doctor at an emergency center in Cologne, Germany. She told the doctor that she was at a party on Friday night, and that at one point she went blank, not remembering anything until coming to on a bench in a different part of the city Saturday afternoon. The doctor suspected the woman to be a victim of date-rape drugs and that she was sexually abused.
With the permission of the woman, the doctor contacted the police. In the next step the doctor informed the woman of the risks of pregnancy and gave her a prescription for the “morning-after pill” as an emergency contraception, in this case of violent rape and abuse.
She also called the gynecology department at the neighboring St. Vincent’s Hospital to arrange for the woman to have a gynecological exam. This medical exam was refused.
The doctor at the Catholic hospital told the emergency doctor, that the hospital’s ethics commission, after consulting with Cardinal Joachim Meisner, had decided not to conduct exams after sexual attacks. This decision was made to avoid the situation of having to advise on possible unwanted pregnancies resulting from the attacks. After trying to arrange an appointment at another hospital to exam the abused woman the emergency doctor was turned away again, also by a Catholic hospital of the foundation of the Cellites of St. Mary. Both hospitals turned the abused woman away, even aware of the fact that the emergency doctor already wrote a prescription for a “morning-after pill.”
The incident of refusing rape victims of a medial exam generated strong reaction not only by newspapers and TV-stations but also by the Catholic Church and local victim advocacy organizations.
The local Catholic church in Cologne set in a investigation team and the ethics commission started new discussions with Cardinal Meisner. He apologized publically, saying it “shames up deeply because it contradicts our Christian mission and our purpose.”
Now, two month later, the situation has changed. The Catholic Church, usually firmly opposing abortion and artificial birth control (including emergency contraceptives as abortion-inducing drugs) was challenged by this incident, that sparked uproar. The bishops’ conference now talked about the topic to agree on a common line.
New models were discussed, like new pills, that do not abort fertilized eggs but rather prevent fertilization altogether. To cardinal Meisner this was an acceptable way of dealing in those emergency and rape cases.
Reading Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics this week I was reminded of the incident in Cologne.
The author is siding with the Christian orthodoxy, but he is also showing the challenges to do so in a multiconfessional culture of religious heretics.
Douthat promotes the return to a old and trapped orthodoxy that was only weakened by the self-inflicted wounds through contemporary Christian heresies. “America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it,” Douthat claims. Orthodoxy had provided both “a moral and theological center for Americans,” as well as “a means of necessary dissent.” Not unbelief, but the prevalence of heretical Christian beliefs, lies at the root of our nation’s decline.
Going back to the Cologne incident.
Where are the heretical tendencies and where is the orthodox ethic in this story?
And what made the Cardinal change his mind?
When even the orthodoxy itself, presented by a Catholic high-ranking representative, is shaking and dogmata are changed by him within two month, the ethical principle seems to be fluid and shifting.
In a society where no agreement or unified cultural values are available it is hard to tell right from wrong.
Turning away a raped and traumatized woman and refusing her any medical help is wrong.
Throwing morning-after pill’s like candy is wrong either.
My question to the author of Bad religion is: how do we find a good religion or how do we find a adequate orthodoxy?
And this is where I disagree with Ross Douthat, the conservative Catholic Wunderkind, youngest op-ed columnist the New York Times ever had. To him orthodoxy is the conservative (lat. conservare – maintain, save) act of committing to authorities.
“Not the orthodoxy of any specific Christian church, whether Lutheran or Presbyterian or Roman Catholic, but the shared theological commitments that have defined the parameters of Christianity since the early Church.”
In the end of the book, Douthat fears that biblical criticism is not only dangerous and corrosive of orthodox faith but also leads to a relativism.
“No account of Christian origins is more authoritative than any other, ‘cafeteria’ Christianity is more intellectually serious than the orthodox attempt to grapple with the entire New Testament buffet, and the only Jesus who really matters is the one you invent for yourself.”
Douthat warns against the relativism of the “accommodationists” with their tailor-made principles and ethics and by doing so, he terms one of the most important challenges for the postmodern Christendom.
In my eyes his conclusion of a slaved orthodoxy falls to short. It would be brave (and this is where I see us as successors of the early Church) to develop and approve a healthy heretical tradition in our midst.
When even conservative Catholic cardinals change their minds, then we need to be well prepared to do this is a smart, wise, biblical and theological way and not only in a obedient and submissive way.
One of the smartest modern Christian heretics I know is Pete Rollins. You should check him out.