The Religious Consultation Report

Published by The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics

Volume 8 No. 1
November, 2004

Send this page to a friend!      

   Table of Contents

The chastity mask
Catholic and Pro-choice pamphlets available
Water for sale … and going to the highest bidders
Estimated HIV-positive adults and young people living with HIV/AIDS
The shaky future of Roe v. Wade
Fundamentalism ironically strong in the U.S.A
The defrocking of bishops’ authority
Two new Consultation projects launched
New Sacred Choices video documentary available
News from Indonesia
Putting population growth in perspective
Movers and Shakers

      Acrobat Reader pdf version

The Chastity Mask

By Daniel C. Maguire
President, The Religious Consultation on Popultion, Reproductive Health and Ethics

hen you are up to a lot of immoral mischief and even criminality, you must either admit you are evil or find some way of looking sensitive and good, preferably in some area that will not inconvenience you much. In other words, you need a mask.

The United States is a rogue nation, armed to the teeth with Weapons of Mass Destruction while preaching disarmament, the only nation to use atomic weapons on population centers in a classical example of terrorism, having today 800 military installations sprinkled all over the world, rushing into wars without declaring them in the way the Constitution requires, overturning more than 25 governments around the world since 1945, ranking 22nd of the 22 richest nations of the world in per capita foreign aid, welching on its bills to the United Nations, and having millions of its children bereft of health care insurance.

Time for a mask!

The first tactic of mask-making is displaced indignation. Minor issues stir fervent moral passions. Rigid pelvic orthodoxy is a favorite masking technique. Get really serious about sexual and reproductive issues. President George W. Bush deserves a masking award.

Of course he requires a good mask. He is marked out by the fact that he is the first president in United States history to start and be losing two wars simultaneously. (Neither Iraq or Afghanistan could be described in terms of "victory." Chaos, yes, but victory, no.)

So suddenly, same sex marriages threaten our civilization, our families, and our own heterosexual marriages. The Constitution (that document he violated by going to war without a declaration) must be amended to stop them. Abortion decisions by women are more serious and abhorrent than the carnage of our military adventures and the deaths from our foreign aid penury. In a weird contortion, resulting no doubt from an excess of puritanical zeal, contraceptive aid to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (aid that would prevent abortions) is stopped by the president's imperial decree. On top of all that, our reformist president, who should have been a bit more tolerant on the subject of drugs, even agonized in his 2004 State of the Nation about performance enhancing drug use by athletes. Horrors!

Meanwhile Rome burns

Of course it is an old gambit. If you are allegedly sexually abstemious and judgmental, you can swallow big doses of evil. A United States delegate to the Baptist World Alliance congress in Berlin in 1934 gave this telling comment on Nazism:

It was a great relief to be in a country where salacious sex literature cannot be sold, where putrid motion pictures and gangster films cannot be shown. The new Germany has burned great masses of corrupting books and magazines along with its bonfire of Jewish and communistic libraries. Commenting on this, biblical scholar Walter Wink writes: "Surely, so the reasoning went, a leader who does not smoke or drink, who wants women to be modest, and who is against pornography cannot be all bad. Evil is always parasitic of the good and must masquerade as good in order to remain in office."

There were German chaplains accompanying the Wehrmacht in its ruthless invasion of the Netherlands who preached sermons warning the troops against the Dutch prostitutes, overlooking a few other problems like World War II and the holocaust of Jews, Poles, gypsies, and homosexuals.

Evildoers wearing chastity masks make other hypocrisies seem almost benign.

Top (Table of Contents)

“Catholic and Pro-Choice” pamphlets available

The Consultation has recently published an English version of its Catholic and Pro-Choice pamphlet, which had originally been available only in Spanish and Portuguese.

Nearly all 100-plus Planned Parenthood affiliates nationwide have ordered copies to place in clinics to alert visitors to the Catholic Church’s strong theological tradition in favor of the right to choose an abortion.

Catholic and Pro-Choice is also a valuable informational tool that can be used in the classroom or parish adult education programs. Pamphlets are available in quantities of 85. If you are interested in using the pamphlets, call the Consultation office (414) 962-3166 or fax your order (414) 962-9248 or email us at Pamphlets are free;moreover, Spanish and Portuguese translations are still available.

Top (Table of Contents)

Water for sale … and going to the highest bidders

The earth’s poor are (once again) being deprived of the earth’s resources.

by Daniel C. Maguire

It is amazing to think that we are drinking the same water the dinosaurs bathed in. Of course, some changes have been made as to purification, but the fact is that we have “a closed hydrologic system.”As the authors of Blue Gold: The Corporate Theft of the World’s Water, Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, put it, “Water is continually being recycled through rain and evaporation, and none of it leaves the planet’s atmosphere.”

Sounds like a great system. It is.

Here’s the problem. The species that calls itself “sapiens” is fouling up the planet’s water and rendering much of it unusable.Water waste is at crisis levels. To make matters worse, corporate grabbers are also trying to monopolize the precious commodity and sell it to the highest bidder. Fact: 65-70% of all water is used in irrigation, increasingly for huge “industrial farms.” These water hogs are subsidized by governments and so have little motive to employ conservation practices, such as drip irrigation.

If anything is a basic human right, the right to water is. Yet this ancient and natural resource is moving into the marketplace and becoming increasingly available only to the well salaried. By 2025, demand for water will exceed availability by 56%. The main losers, of course, as ever, will be the poor. All the world religions preach compassion for the poor. Nice thought, but few of them address water needs or the corporate grab for water which is taking it out of the hands of those who live on the planet and turning it into a sellable commodity.

Top (Table of Contents)

Estimated proportion of HIV-positive adults and young people living with HIV/AIDS

The greater an HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the more long lasting it is, the more feminized it becomes as heterosexual intercourse becomes the main method of transmission. Indeed women are more at risk than men. This is partly for biological reasons; they are the more likely to be infected during intercourse.

Young women are particularly vulnerable. They tend to have sex earlier than young men, and with older partners, who may already be infected; one study in Zimbabwe, for example, found that nearly a quarter of women in their 20s were in relationships with men at least ten years older. They are also often even less able than older women to resist pressure for unsafe sex: many also experience rape and forced sex, which increases the danger of transmission even further.

Our Planet, The Magazine of the United Nations Environment Programme, Vol. 15, No 2, p. 17.

Top (Table of Contents)

The shaky future of Roe v. Wade

How likely is it that Roe v.Wade could be reversed by the Supreme Court?

It’s a question that deserves attention, especially now that Republicans have won the White House and control the Senate and the House of Representatives. An article last October in The Boston Globe by Jim Abrams of the Associated Press analyzed the threat.

Here are the highlights. According to The Center for Reproductive Rights, if the Supreme Court reverses its 1973 ruling, 30 states would likely make abortion illegal within a year. Many states have old laws on their books that would be quickly reinstated if the landmark Roe v.Wade decision were reversed. The Center’s research reports that 18 states have pre-Roe laws that either totally or partially ban abortion. Other states would look to their state constitutions or turn to their strongly anti-abortion legislatures to swiftly reverse the federal protection for a woman’s legal right to an abortion.

The Boston Globe quoted Nancy Northup, Center for Reproductive Rights’ President, as saying, “The building blocks are already in place to re-criminalize abortion.” Here is where the states stand: 21 are termed high-risk and 9 are termed middle-risk, totaling 30 states capable and determined to ban abortion within a year of Roe being overturned. The Center concluded that more than 70 million women of childbearing age would be affected by the law.

The Boston Globe quoted Representative Louise Slaughter, Democrat of New York, one of 11 abortion-rights lawmakers to attend the Center’s Capitol Hill news conference: “We are really … in some peril now.” Republican Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut concurred. He said that Roe v.Wade was “an extraordinarily important document,” and “we need to elect more pro-choice Republicans to the Congress.”

Top (Table of Contents)

Fundamentalism ironically strong in the U.S.A.

Americans cherish the idea that the First Amendment made us a
modern, secular society. Not so.

Consider these findings: Nicholas Kristof (New York Times, August 15, 2003) pointed out that Americans are three times more likely to believe in a literal virgin birth of Jesus — parthenogenesis — than in evolution. 83% for virgin birth and 28% for evolution.

Stunningly, 47% of U.S. non-Christians also accept the miraculous conception of Jesus.Mainstream biblical scholars see the virgin birth as a metaphor, a literary device to signal the importance of Jesus and his mission, and not as a biological stunt.

58% of Americans say belief in God is necessary to be moral, compared to 13% in France. Says Republican author Clyde Prestowicz (Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions, Basic Books, 2003): “Tocqueville noted in the 1830s that Americans were the most religious of people, and that has remained true to this day. On any given weekend, more than half of all Americans will attend a place of worship, as compared with 10-20 percent in most European countries and Canada. In this regard, America is more like the Muslim societies.”

President Bush talked to his heavenly father, not his earthly father, before launching his “crusade” into Iraq — and the mass of Americans seem to accept that with a quiet Amen. On the basis of faith, President Bush considers little clusters of embryonic stem cells to be the moral and civil equivalent of himself and other born persons … citizens in a word. (Could they be called for jury duty?)

And then there is the Fundamentalist website,, that said of the 2000 elections: “God defeated armies of Philistines and others with confusion. Dimpled and hanging chads may also be because of God’s intervention on those who were voting incorrectly.Why is GW Bush our president? It was God’s choice.” (God certainly has a lot to answer for!)

Said the English poet, Alexander Pope, “The worst of madmen is a saint gone mad.”When the saint is infused with a superstitious anti-intellectual fundamentalist piety, when the saint is the most powerful military and economic nation on the planet, and when that saint feels called by God to impose its concept of “freedom” on others by force, small wonder the people of the world are scared.

Top (Table of Contents)


The defrocking of bishops’ authority

Catholics for a Free Choice commissioned a significant national opinion survey of likely Catholic voters that illustrates how the bishops have squandered their moral authority by pontificating on issues about which they have no privileged expertise. (See Conscience Summer/Autumn 2004.) Here is what the Catholics surveyed say:

  • 83% think Catholic politicians should not follow the bishops’ lead in voting.

  • 78% do not agree with the bishops on denying pro-choice politicians the sacraments.

  • 76% say the bishops should not deny communion to pro-choice Catholics.

  • 61% of Catholics agree that abortion should be legal.

    When bishops speak, Catholics still listen, but increasingly, they don’t agree. Not only are the bishops out of touch with contemporary Catholic and ecumenical theology, but they more and more embrace a right-wing agenda, bashing Democrats in ways that promote Republicans.

    As businesspersons, the bishops should see perils here: the bishops are endangering the taxexempt status of their properties. “Tax exempt” is a fiction — it should read “tax shifted” since other citizens are expected to pick up the tab. Why should other citizens subsidize the bishops’ political partisanship! That’s a question whose time has come.

Top (Table of Contents)

Two new Consultation projects launched

Two groups of Participating Scholars met last summer at the Temple University SugarLoaf facility in Philadelphia to begin their projects on The Religious Roots of Violence Against Women and Heterosexism: Roots and Cures in World Religions (For more details on these projects, see past issues of this newsletter: Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 8; and Vol. 7,No. 2, p. 3, respectively.

Violence Against Women

The Violence Against Women project includes scholars from Judaism, Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and African indigenous religions. The project recognizes that all religions — some more, some less — encourage the subordination of women. Yet there are better insights in all those religions to combat this subordination. After spelling out some of the horrors that religions inflict on women, the scholars will seek out the cures within those same traditions.


The Heterosexism project will do the same, showing how religions in subtle and not-at-all-subtle ways have engendered and fomented homophobia. Then those religions will be called before the bar of their own professed ideals to fight this prejudice. This project will also defend, on religious grounds, the right to same sex marriage.

Watch future issues for updates as the studies progress.

Top (Table of Contents)

New Sacred Choices video documentary available

The Consultation has produced a new 55-minute video, Sacred Choices and Abortion: Ten New Things to Think About. It is available on request for $10.00 in DVD or VHS formats, in English or in Spanish. To order, phone the office at (414) 962-3166, email us at, or fax (414) 962-9248.

Among other things, the video tells the painful history of women killed in the pre-Roe v.Wade period and includes segments on clinic violence. It opens and closes with strong scenes from the April 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington. It also features pro-choice testimony from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim scholars.

In one of its most powerful segments, the video tells the story of Rosita, a nine-year-old Nicaraguan girl who was raped and impregnated. The Catholic hierarchy and local authorities tried to prevent Rosita from having an abortion. The bishops even offered to adopt the baby!! However, courageous doctors and Catholic laity helped the family to get the abortion and give the little girl back her life.With threats of excommunication in the air for the parents and the doctors, some 26,000 Catholics presented the Vatican with a statement saying they all wanted to be excommunicated too. The hierarchy fell silent.

In 10 insightful segments, the video explores “the big lie”... that religion is opposed to a woman’s right to choose.

The video, made possible by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, reframes the debate over reproductive rights within the context of the world’s religious cultures.

Top (Table of Contents)


News from Indonesia

Call to prayer and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

Participating Scholar Paul Knitter has received a Senior Special Fulbright Award to teach and lecture at the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Here’s what Paul writes:

Where else in the world can you be stirred from your sleep at 4:45 a.m. by the rousing,
thundering Muslim call to prayer,mixed with the jingle of bells playing Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer!

I’m back in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. And every morning, this is the summons I hear from the nearby mosque and from the breadman on his bike making his first rounds of the day. It’s good, so good, to be here again. I arrived on September 11, and will begin the long journey home on October 2. The magic carpet that brought me here is a Fulbright Senior Specialist” award. On the occasion of the recent Indonesian publication of my book, One Earth Many Religions, I’ve been enlisted to give lectures and workshops for the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS) of Gadjah Mada University. This is where I taught a year and a half ago, so it has been like coming home to old friends and familiar surroundings.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Islamic nation. Yes, the vast majority of the Muslims here take their faith very seriously. But this is also a nation where religious freedom is not just affirmed but lived, where minority religions — Christians,Hindus, indigenous traditions — are not just tolerated but given a respected place in society and culture. All of my Muslim students are committed to showing, through hard-nosed scholarship and their daily living, that Islam is not just compatible with, but conducive to, democracy and diversity. I feel so privileged to be invited to offer them a helping hand.

I was also privileged to be with my Indonesian friends on a very historic day in their nation’s development. On my second day in Yogya, Indonesians went to the polls and for the first time elected a new president in what monitors and the local critics have judged to be free and fair elections. Only six years after throwing off the 32-year yoke of the dictator Suharto, Indonesia has moved from autocracy to democracy.

Admittedly, we don’t know what the new President S.Bambang Yudhoyono will be like. Admittedly, corruption still pervades much of the political and legal system. But democracy has been exercised, the so-called Islamic extremists have been clearly rejected, and there has been a resolute call for the demilitarization and de-corrupting of the political process. All this, in a dominant, devout Muslim nation! In Indonesia, I have experienced the reality, and the growing promise, of a dialogue, not a clash, of civilizations.

I have been lucky and privileged to be here.

Be well,

Paul Knitter
Participating Scholar

Top (Table of Contents)

Putting population growth in perspective

Worldwatch Institute recently pointed out two encouraging statistics:

  • In the mid 1960s, each of the world’s women gave birth, on average, to six children. Today, that number is slightly lower than three.

  • Forty years ago, 10-15% of married couples in developing countries used a modern method of contraception. Today that number has risen to 60%.

Such numbers may suggest that the world has responded to the dire warnings of the mid-60s about the ticking population bomb. In fact, a few countries like Italy, Japan, and China are concerned that smaller numbers of young people won’t be able to economically sustain the needs of the aging population.However, we shouldn’t start congratulating ourselves yet.

Consider this:Worldwatch reports that while the rate of population growth has declined since 1970, the rate of growth is being applied to the largest population in the history of the planet. Currently, 1.2 billion young people between 10 and 19 constitute the largest generation in history. The choices made by these young people will determine the future of the planet in mid-century. Now there’s a sobering thought.Here are some more.


Many countries — Pakistan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example
— are expected to double their populations by mid-century. Yet food crops, water, and
forests are already dwindling in these countries while indigenous species are being crammed into ever-smaller spaces. Says Worldwatch, “Populations in the world’s 48 least developed countries could triple by 2050.”

In rich countries, high rates of consumption are sapping the earth of its resources. Look at Worldwatch’s numbers:

  • Carbon dioxide levels are 18% higher today than in 1960 and an estimated 31% higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution.

  • 50% of the world’s forest cover is gone, and another 30% has been degraded or fragmented.

  • 90% of all large ocean predators, such as tuna, marlin, swordfish, cod, halibut, skate, and flounder, have been fished out in the past 50 years.

  • An estimated 10-20% of croplands and more than 70% of rangelands are degraded.

As the world consumes increasing amounts of natural resources — oil, animals and fish, forests and water — in the form of fuel, food, paper, and electricity, the planet’s resources are disappearing.What’s more, people are living longer, and extended families no longer share a single household and share energy and goods. The result? Consumption is growing enormously.According to Worldwatch,“A one-person household in the U.S. uses about 17 percent more energy per person than a two-person home.”

Beyond reproductive rights

The global conferences that have convened since the 90s have concluded that the solution to many of these problems lies not just in providing modern methods of family planning, but in taking a further step: expanding the choices and capabilities of women. Studies show —

  • Women with education have smaller, healthier families; their children have improved chances of avoiding impoverished lives.

  • Wealthier women and those who have the power to make their own decisions also have fewer children.

  • Women who have the choice to delay marriage and childbearing until after their teen years have fewerchildren.

  • In countries where gender inequality exists, little is done to combat poverty or spur economic growth. All these problems go hand-in-hand.

Still struggling

In the face of these findings, women continue to struggle to be heard.Worldwatch cites these facts.

  • More than 100 million girls will be married before they reach age 18 — some as young as 8 or 9 — despite that early childbearing is known to be the #1 cause of death and disability among developing countries for women ages 15 to 19.

  • At least 350 million women still lack access to a full range of contraceptive methods.

  • Demand for reproductive services will increase an estimated 40% by 2025.

  • Two-thirds of the world’s 876 million illiterates are women, and a majority of the 115 million children not attending grade school are girls.

  • Nowhere in the world are women judged to have political, economic, and social power equal to men. Even in the U.S., women’s reproductive rights continue to be constrained by tightening of restrictions on choice. (See page 5, The shaky future of Roe v.Wade.)

    Then there is AIDS. For the first time in 2003, women’s rate of infection equaled men’s.

    So while some numbers are down, let’s look at the whole picture.We’ve got a good ways to go and plenty of obstacles to surmount before we can celebrate any victories.

Top (Table of Contents)

Movers & Shakers … Activites of our Participating Scholars

Harold Coward, who teaches at the Centre for Studies in Religion and Societyat the University of Victoria in British Columbia, has released four books in the last two years. He has written Yoga and Psychology: Language,Memory and Mysticism, SUNY Press, 2002 and Hinduism and Human Rights, Greenwood Press, 2004.Harold has also edited Indian Critiques of Gandhi, SUNY Press, 2003, and co-edited Religion and Peacebuilding, SUNY Press, 2004, with Gordon Smith.

Chris Gudorf has contributed several entries to Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Sex, Alan Soble, ed. (New York: Continuum Publishers, 2005). She has also written a review essay in the Fall 2004 Journal of Religious Ethics on three books by Susan Franks Parsons: Feminism and Christian Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1996), The Ethics of Gender (Blackwell, 2002), and The Blackwell Companion to Feminist Theology (Blackwell, 2002).

Hsiao-Lan Hu, a member of the Religious Roots of Violence Against Women project, coauthored with Theresa Yeh, Yearning for Justice and Mercy: Visions of Hells in the Nineteenth-Century Chinese Pao-chüan [precious scrolls] in Considering Evil and Human Wickedness, edited by Daniel E. Keen and Pamela Rossi Keen, Oxford, United Kingdom: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2004. Hsiao-Lan’s book, Taoism, will be coming out in spring 2005, Chelsea House Publishers.


Ben Hubbard participated in a State Department-sponsored visit to India and Bangladesh last July to meet with Muslim leaders and hear their concerns. The visit was lead by Participating Scholar Dr.Riffat Hassan who also went with other members of the tenperson delegation to Pakistan.



Pinar Ilkkaracan, a member of Women for Women’s Human Rights – New Ways, reports that last September the organization brought together in Jakarta 25 NGO representatives and researchers from Muslim societies in South and Southeast Asia. It was the first solidarity network of activists and scholars working on the issues of sexual and bodily rights in the Middle East and North Africa. The organization has also published in English, Turkish, and Arabic, the first comprehensive reader on the issue, Women and Sexuality in Muslim Societies.

Patti Jung contributed Sexuality for Christianity: A Complete Guide John Bowden, ed., Continuum International, soon to be published. She also contributed Heterosexism for Sex from Plato to Paglia: A Philosophical Encyclopedia, Two Volumes, Alan Soble, ed., Greenwood Press, 2005.


Paul Knitter participated in a conference, “Peacemaking and Muslim-Christian Dialogue” in Monrovia, Liberia,West Africa. The workshop, organized by the The Interreligious Council of Liberia, gathered together about 80 Muslim and Christian leaders as well as ministers, grassroots organizers, and students. Paul, who spoke on the need for a globally responsible dialogue” among religions and on the hopes and challenges of authentic inter-religious dialogue, was the only non-African in the conference.


David Loy and his wife, Linda Goodhew, have just published a book, The Dharma of Dragons and Daemons — Buddhist Themes in Modern Fantasy,Wisdom Publications. This groundbreaking book has received wonderful reviews. It employs a Buddhist perspective to appreciate some of the major works of modern fantasy — and uses modern fantasy fiction to elucidate Buddhist teachings. This pioneering work illuminates both the stories
themselves and the universal qualities of Buddhist teachings. Loy and Goodhew examine J.R.R. Tolkien, Philip Pullman, Ursula K. LeGuin, and the animé movie, Princess Mononoke.

John Raines has been elected Prof of the Year for 2004 by 1,200 honors students at Temple University. However, John has been busy in other areas as well. An article that John wrote, The Room Where I Work Is A Class-room, will be published in an upcoming edition of Cross Currents. The article shows how classrooms perpetuate the stratification and dominance of society’s economic “classes” from one generation to the next.

John has received funding from The Henry Luce Foundation to support a three-year graduate student exchange program between U.S. students and students from The Center For Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The American universities that will participate in the program are Temple, Florida International University (where Participating Scholar Chris Gudorf is chair of the religion department), and The University of California at Santa Barbara.

Sa’diyya Shaikh, one of our board members, received her doctorate last May from Temple University in Philadelphia. Sa’diyya’s areas of concentration include Islamic Studies and Women’s Studies. Her dissertation, Spiritual Cartographies of Gender: Ibn ‘Arabi and Sufi Discourses of Gender, Sexuality and Marriage earned distinction.

Sa’diyya presented Narratives of Gender, Violence, and Sexuality: Wife-battery in a South African Muslim Community at the Conference on Gender and Islam in Africa: Discourses, Practices, and Empowerment ofWomen at the Institute for the Study of Islam in Africa at Northwestern University.

Alice Shalvi is collaborating with her husband on a Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia of Jewish Women, which, Alice reports, contains some fascinating articles on reproductive issues in Jewish thought and practice.

Lloyd Steffen, Professor and Chair of Religion Studies and University Chaplain at Lehigh University, recently participated as a featured speaker for a Thursday U.N. briefing panel on “Population, Reproductive Health and the Millennium Development Goals.” Steffen, who is the NGO representative to the United Nations for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, spoke on Religious Ideology and Reproductive Health. The panel was sponsored by the United Nations Association-USA and the Business Council for the United Nations.

Top (Table of Contents)


Send this page to a friend!

me | News Archives | Newsletters | Ab Us |