The Vatican Banned my Book! Six Months Before I Began Writing it.

I was egosurfing the other night, anxious about the upcoming publication of my book Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll: How evolution has shaped the modern world and brooding about how to promote it. Searching on the book title I was surprised when the 10th ranked page on Google was titled Vatican condemns sex, genes and rock ‘n’ roll. My, they work quickly!

I was sore amazed, however, when I noticed that the article had been posted in December 2008, fully six months before I wrote the first words for my book. I knew my book was a miraculous feat, but here, surely was an act of prescience to rival any scriptural prediction. A miracle to sit alongside the virgin birth, transubstantiation, and even Pope John Paul II’s lightning-fast beatification.

Having allowed my imagination to run wild, I was understandably a little underwhelmed to find myself reading a very brief blog post highlighting an even-more-arcane-than-usual Vatican pronouncement on bioethics. In keeping with the age-old tradition of outwardly celibate holy men micromanaging women’s fertility, the Vatican was taking aim at the so-called “abortion drug” RU-486 which can be used to terminate a pregnancy in the first nine weeks, as well as the use of morning-after pills and IUD insertion after unprotected sex to stop an embryo from implanting.

Not a single mention of my book. No miracle after all.

After all the dread, I found myself really disappointed. A good, solid, banning from the Vatican would have made for a cracking social media campaign.

But then it occurred to me that if the Vatican only knew about my book, then surely they would ban it. They might even burn it to keep His Holiness’ feet warm of an evening while he thumbed through the Malleus Maleficarum, Geoffrey Robinson’s Case Against the Pope, whatever else he’s reading these days.

So I thought I’d set out a case for my book to be banned by the Vatican, just in case they decide to bring back the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

  1. My book is absolutely soaked in sex. The very first sentence states that my job is to think about sex. The word sex is found on 219 of the 310 pages.
  2. The word “Fuck” is found in the bits about rock ‘n’ roll. Especially the Keith Richards quotes.
  3. It’s a book about evolution, a process the Church only partially and ambiguously acknowledges. My book shows how the signature of natural selection can be seen in various aspects of modern life, from obesity to marriage customs, from the links between violence and polygyny to the problem of Asia’s missing women, and from Rock music to overpopulation.
  4. Despite the book being about evolution, I refuse to spend pages and pages giving oxygen to creation mythology and theistic banalities about directed evolution. After all, when your doctor prescribes antibiotics, does she first spend half an hour explaining why she didn’t suggest a course of leeches?
  5. One of the most important themes is that the evolutionary interests of men and women often conflict, and that male-dominated institutions (especially religious ones) prosecute male interests within this evolved conflict. I advocate progressive views on gender equity and the education of girls and women, arguing that there is no more important global cause than the pursuit of gender equity.
  6. I use sexual conflict theory to explain why societies are better off when people generally have small families, when economic power is shared by men and women, and when women have safe access to contraception, family planning and abortion.
  7. In discussing the most important developments in human history, all of religion is confined to the sidenote that priesthoods originated as a form of social parasitism.
  8. I question marriage and especially anybody who purports to know what the “natural” human mating system is. People are capable of monogamy, polygyny and even polyandry, and the causes and consequences of these mating patterns can be quite predictable once you understand evolution.
  9. I consider Rock ‘n’ Roll the most important cultural development of the 20th Century, above televangelism, Vatican II and even the Eurovision Song contest.

But maybe my book isn’t cut out to be banned. Even though I avidly read and enjoy the Four horsemen of New Atheism (Dennett, Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins), my book really doesn’t concern religion directly. It is written for all people who are curious about their world and their lives – though I imagine materialists, atheists and secular humanists will make up the bulk of my audience.

Given my view of history, the Church really gets off rather lightly. I even surprised myself in writing the book, by sympathetically quoting something the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney said about the origins of marriage and, presumably, the Church’s obsession with monogamy and child-rearing.

So if the Pope won’t do it, then perhaps I can persuade Hillsong to condemn it, or the Westboro Baptist Church to put it on their list of things to hate. Or perhaps Pastor Terry Jones might want to burn a copy – if he buys it first. After all, it’s just a book.

I’d love to hear your ideas on how to get Sex, Genes and Rock ‘n’ Roll banned by the Church. Any Church.

Rob Brooks

I am an evolutionary biologist who thinks about sex for a living. Things I have thought and written about include the evolution of mate choice, the costs of being attractive, the reason animals age and the links between sex, diet, obesity and death. Follow @Brooks_Rob on Twitter.

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