THE SHIFTING MENACE OF CONSCIENCE

In 1885 the Protestant clergyman and popular author Josiah Strong wrote his most widely read book, Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis. His treatise was popular largely because it was awash in the kind of nativist sentiments that found a receptive audience during the immigrant boom that began after the Civil War and intensified throughout the Industrial Revolution. Strong identified the Seven Perils to American society, most of which are easily predictable and align with the most common prejudices of the era: Catholicism, Mormonism, Socialism, Intemperance, Wealth, Urbanization, and Immigration. In the era of scientific racism, social Darwinism, and Robber Baron capitalism it is not hard to see why the moneyed classes and the anti-immigrant working classes alike applauded Strong.

I'm going somewhere with this, I promise.

In his warning about the menace of Catholicism, Strong wrote:

…the Roman Catholic is not at liberty to weigh the Pope's judgment, to try his commands by his own conscience and the Word of God – to do this would be to become a Protestant. Worse, (the Catholic) stands not alone, but with many millions more, who are bound by the most dreadful penalties to act as one man in obedience to the will of a foreign potentate and in disregard to the laws of the land. This, I claim, is a very possible menace to the peace of society. (Emphasis original)

Throughout the book, Strong repeats the warning ("Again, our Constitution requires obedience to the laws of the United States and loyalty to the Government. The Pope also demands of every subject obedience and loyalty to himself.") For this exact reason, Catholics were for many decades – as they are more than happy to remind anyone within earshot – discriminated against in American politics. Today, of course, Catholicism has mainstreamed along with the people – Irish, Polish, Italian, etc – who brought it to the United States. Catholics are no longer discriminated against outside of their own imaginations. Instead, they have become part of a new bloc that argues that far from being a menace to civil society, the right to disregard the law when one's religious beliefs – even those curated by a Foreign Potentate – conflict with it.

Of course 19th Century Protestant leaders feared Catholic conscientious objections only inasmuch as they were perceived to conflict with laws that were already crafted in accordance with the beliefs and desires of the dominant Protestant orthodoxy in the United States. There is no conflict between the law and one's religion, in other words, if one's religion is the de facto faith of the civil institutions that create the law. Now the Papist Menace has exercised enough political power and influence over the law to have their wants and beliefs taken into account from the outset – try to find a remotely relevant law in the last thirty years that doesn't have some sort of abortion caveat written into it. I'll wait.

Allowing personal religious beliefs to trump the law was perceived as a threat to the future of our nation and of civil society when it was wielded by a religious minority. In the hands of the now-majority, it has been rebranded as the last bulwark against that same civil society. What the white Protestant male majority once treated as a combination of treason and heresy is now an act infused with nobility and, as of Monday, sanctioned by the highest Court of the land. While the practical impact of Monday's decision likely will be minimal, the endorsement by the Court of this once-dangerous principle has introduced a dangerous precedent and we will be bathed in its radioactive fallout for some time to come.

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66 Responses to “THE SHIFTING MENACE OF CONSCIENCE”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Strong obviously had never met any actual Catholics.

  2. Scott Says:

    Is it significant (and I'm not saying it is) that, although Protestants comprise 48% of the US population, there are no Protestants on the Supreme Court?

  3. Dave Dell Says:

    My only hope is that the unintended consequences start early. I blame Nader for this as well as the Gore campaign that couldn't carry his home state.

  4. Misterben Says:

    I'm having trouble with the last sentence of your second full paragraph, ending with "conflict with it". I've read it out loud a few times and it just isn't clear to me. I get the overall thesis of the post but that sentence is eluding me.

  5. c u n d gulag Says:

    With The SCOTUS's Fascist Five's ruling, they have badly split the baby, and opened-up a can of sick worms.

    Where does the Supreme Court draw the line in the next decision on the religious rights of corporations?
    And the next one?
    And the one after that?

    Note to women in 2014 and 2016:
    Vote.
    While you still can.

  6. Sarah Says:

    I seem to recall that Maryland was founded as a haven for Catholics who were fleeing persecution.

    Also, and this is a bit off your point, but it is hysterical to read someone getting all huffy about immigration when the biggest wave of that phenomenon in this nation's history was going on (my own patrilineal great-great grandparents immigrated to Iowa from Switzerland in the mid-1870s), and to know that the descendants of those immigrants are now whining about how the immigrants of today are taking all the jobs.

  7. geoff Says:

    The Hobby Lobby case was practically custom-made for the Five Guys. Grant corporations Constitutional rights? Check. Restrict women's (actual people's) reproductive rights? Check again!! It's all good!!

  8. Anonymouse Says:

    Keep in mind that Hobby Lobby, the cult-owned business that started this whole sorry affair, is not Catholic at all, but instead part of a Protestant group led by a charismatic leader (Gothard) who's trying to overthrow society and put in place a theocracy headed by himself and his hand-picked followers. This is the cult the Duggars, among others, belong to.

  9. doug Says:

    Question for the peanut gallery. I want to read about how the Dark Ages started, came to be, whatever. Is there a good book on the subject? Thanks for any suggestions.

  10. Major Kong Says:

    @doug

    I realize this was probably snark, but the fall of the (Western) Roman Empire is generally considered the beginning of the Dark Ages.

  11. John Danley Says:

    The cool thing is that CEOs get honorary degrees to become OBGYNs.

    In hoc signo crucis vinces.

  12. democommie Says:

    @doug:

    Are you asking about the OLD Dark Ages or the the NEW Dark Ages? Cuz, the old ones started right around the time that the Romans made Christinity their defacto state religion (312CE?) and the new ones are about to begin.

  13. Arslan Says:

    "Cuz, the old ones started right around the time that the Romans made Christinity their defacto state religion (312CE?)"

    Nope, later. After the fall of the Western empire. Things were still pretty decent in the East as well.

  14. Anon Says:

    Speaking of Catholics, they recently found a mass grave containing 798 children under a Catholic orphanage in Ireland. Turns out that from the 1920's to the 1960's, the nuns were killing roughly one child every two weeks and stuffing them down the memory hole.

  15. Elle Says:

    Keep in mind that Hobby Lobby, the cult-owned business that started this whole sorry affair, is not Catholic at all, but instead part of a Protestant group led by a charismatic leader (Gothard) who's trying to overthrow society and put in place a theocracy headed by himself and his hand-picked followers. This is the cult the Duggars, among others, belong to.

    Bill Gothard? Ugh. Let no womb or hemline be unpoliced by him and his quiverfull brethren.

  16. Brian M Says:

    You blame Nader for this? ROFLOL. I know you Dem-bots are still ThanksRalphing two decades later, but…..

    What about blaming a Democratic Party so enervated of ideas and basically a pale copy of Nixon-era Republicanism that it gave (gives) no reason for voting for them?

  17. Matt Says:

    If I was a Christian Scientist, could I just refuse to offer any medical coverage at all?

  18. Anonymouse Says:

    @Sarah; yes, Bill Gothard. You know the Vice Chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party who offed himself? Standing next to him in several pictures is one of the Duggar kids. The Duggars follow Gothard. The Duggars are getting into politics, and if they get their way, no womb will go unfilled, no woman will be allowed to leave the house unless under male escort.

  19. Two Below Says:

    Anticipating the Hobby Lobby decision, I took my closely-held corporation and its wholly-owned subsidiary to Mass with me Sunday. Afterward, the corporation told me it wants to become Methodist, and we both became very upset when the subsidiary said it is agnostic. What can I do when my corporate persons disagree with me? Dissolving the corporations will have a negative income tax impact – or does the Hobby Lobby decision deal with that situation and allow me to avoid paying taxes when my conscience prohibits me from maintaining an ongoing relationship with my corporations?

  20. Templar Says:

    Ed, this is a pretty disturbing post. As a Catholic and long-time reader and fan, you're getting pretty close to the old adage that anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the left. You are conflating Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas with the Church and ignoring entirely progressive movements in the Catholic world such as Liberation Theology, Catholic Social Teaching, and every nun I've ever met.

  21. Sarah Says:

    @Anonymouse, I think that's Elle, not me. But you're right. I don't watch the TV show, but I read the story about their daughter's engagement and how they made a big deal out of the young bride-to-be and her fiancé always being supervised and chaperoned up until the ceremony. Creepy creepy creepy.

  22. Anonymouse Says:

    @Sarah and @Elle; sorry; got you two mixed up. I don't watch the show, either, but a number of political sites make it their business to keep tabs on the Duggars–who get free healthcare for life because of the patriarch's time in politics. They've got quite the shady enterprise going on.

  23. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Templar – I hear you, but there's a wide disparity between Catholic and Catholic, and Ed–and, I hope, the rest of us–know that.

    It's not that the Fab Five are Catholic. It's that they're people who allow their religion to be the primary guide to their legislative decision-making–who believe, in fact, that their religion and the legal/governmental system ought to have significant overlap. (And, to repeat myself, the degree of that overlap varies from Justice to Justice–Kennedy, for instance, is pro-gay marriage, whereas Thomas thinks Opus Dei is a bunch of limp lefties.)

    That's not a "Catholic" thing. That's a theocratic thing. And that's the quality that makes these men so creepy and dangerous.

    Well, that, and the fact that they're not alone. The theocrats are legion–not a majority, to be sure, but their willingness to work and speak out and involve themselves gives them a power far in excess of the lazy majority. And they're really quit upfront about what they want: they want an America that is legislated according to strict Conservative Christian principles (combined with a lot of Old Testament endorsement of mass suffering and death.)

    They want prayer–Christian prayer!–in schools. And in every other place that flies a government flag.

    They want the Ten Commandments to be on the courthouse lawn–and inside the courtroom itself.

    They want Biblical precedent to be legal justification for things like corporal punishment.

    They want censorship guided by Leviticus and Romans.

    They want women to shut the fuck up because Paul tells them to, and they want the poor to lapse into slavery because, hey, the Good Book says that's an OK thing for a society to have.

    They want the LGBT community dead–and no, that's not a metaphor.

    They have been remarkably upfront about all of this–it is to their credit that, increasingly, they do not hide behind dog whistles, having discovered that blatant fundamentalism actually helps them get elected.

    And now the SCOTUS has joined them in this openness, and American women have been firmly reminded that, hey, fuck you, harlots, would it kill you to put on a burqa and stay in the house?

    And so I stress again–this is not a Catholic thing. It is an American thing. God help us all, because His followers are determined to fuck us.

  24. mothra Says:

    I wish my mother were still alive. She'd be pointing at the television talking head announcing the Supreme's decision and saying "I TOLD you Catholics were bad news." Heh.

    But here's my question: how can the Supreme Court reject writs certiorari from businesses who want to deny service to gay folk based on their religious beliefs and rule how they ruled yesterday? Seems that one thing is just like the other to me…

  25. Nemoleon Says:

    @Doug: you might try James J. O'Donnell's The Ruin of the Roman Empire (2009), which lays the start of the Dark Ages (a controversial term, but still …) at the feet of Justinian. Or try Cullen Murphy's Are We Rome? (2008) if you go in for that sort of thing.

  26. Elle Says:

    and ignoring entirely progressive movements in the Catholic world such as Liberation Theology, Catholic Social Teaching, and every nun I've ever met.

    The Catholic church has used its massive institutional power to block the advance of human rights (the Vatican is a skilled practitioner in the dark arts of the UN), lobbied to have the statute of limitations reduced in some jurisdictions to prevent victims of child sexual abuse from suing their diocese(s), bullied legislators to restrict access to abortion and contraception to women and girls, and used its control of schools to prevent students from receiving sex education, including programmes designed to reduce rape and domestic abuse.

    Any analysis of poverty that includes cheerleading women to have as many babies as physically possible should be ignored on the grounds that it is ridiculous.

    I truly feel for people who believe that the Church offers truth, and aligning with its teachings is the only possible way that they can be happy, or achieve salvation, or avoid hell, or be a good person, or live in their community or family. I just don't think the rest of us can reasonably be expected to avoid critiquing its obvious shortcomings, especially when they are the stuff of gothic horror.

    Anon alluded to the grisly mass grave in Tuam, Ireland. The fact that took my breath away about the practices at the mother and baby house were not the illegal medical experiments conducted on children without their mothers' consent, or the enslavement of women who had the temerity to be the victims of rape. It was the fact that, systematically and deliberately, babies born to women who were unmarried were denied baptism and Christian burial. The Church, in its own imagination, sent children to hell to punish their mothers.

  27. Rothbard Scissorbill Says:

    @Misterben–I mentally rewrote that sentence as follows:

    Instead, they have become part of a new bloc
    that argues that far from being a menace to civil
    society, the right to disregard the law when one's
    religious beliefs conflict with it is guaranteed
    by the first amendment–even when those
    beliefs are curated by a Foreign Potentate.

  28. Templar Says:

    Elle, those are valid points and I'm not happy about those things either. However, you missed the point that I was making. The Fab Five don't speak for Catholics; they speak for the Republican Party. Frankly, the bishops doing the UN conniving or the Irish nuns of a century ago don't either. My point is that you can't take the most reactionary elements of a group and project their beliefs onto the whole. That's like saying that the words of Meir Kahane represent the views of Israel or the Jewish people.

  29. Elle Says:

    My point is that you can't take the most reactionary elements of a group and project their beliefs onto the whole.

    We have absolutely no way of knowing the extent to which the justices' opinions were influenced by their Catholicism. What we can discern is that the court aligned itself with the position advanced by the Church, which privileges anti-choice religious orthopraxy over women's health and rights.

    Frankly, the bishops doing the UN conniving or the Irish nuns of a century ago don't either.

    Well, it wasn't a century ago. Medical experiments were being conducted on children up until 1976, and the last Magdalene laundry in Ireland closed in 1996. If you want to read more about the collusion between medical practitioners and the Catholic church in the pro-natal torture of women, then google 'symphisiotomy reparations'.

    The Church isn't a democracy, so obviously the hierarchy doesn't "represent" Catholics. What Catholics do, though, is prop up the whole shameful edifice. If participating in the life of the church isn't also accompanied by critique and resistance then it's collusion, and it comes at a considerable cost to your fellow humans.

    (All of this applies to those megachurches concealing abusers, attaching anti-choice conditions to aid, and finagling to advance homophobic laws around the world.)

  30. Skipper Says:

    The Mormons today started baptizing defunct corporations.

  31. Sarah Says:

    Whether or not the Fab Five speaks for Catholics doesn't matter. The difference between them and the guy standing on the street corner shouting at pedestrians to come to Jesus, or going door to door pestering homeowners with mass-printed literature, is that the SCOTUS has an actual effect on the real lives of real people. Speaking of the Israeli people, there seems to be a lot of them celebrating genocide, and some of them are able to back up their revelry with state-issues uniforms and guns. The state-sanctioned power appears to be the difference between the soldier and the random guy talking shit about Palestinians.

  32. Coises Says:

    @Mothra:

    “how can the Supreme Court reject writs certiorari from businesses who want to deny service to gay folk based on their religious beliefs and rule how they ruled yesterday?”

    In Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock the issue was “Whether applying a state public-accommodations statute to require a photographer to create expressive images and picture books conveying messages that conflict with her religious beliefs violates the First Amendment’s ban on compelled speech.” (See: Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock at SCOTUSblog.)

    The Hobby Lobby case was brought under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. (See the court’s opinion and dissents at Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al. v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al. (PDF).)

    If the Hobby Lobby case had been brought on constitutional grounds, it would almost certainly not have been decided in the same way. The Supreme Court invalidated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as applied to the States as an overreach of authority by Congress, so it could not have been used in the Elane Photography case. The Act remains in force as applied to the Federal Government; in this case, to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act by the Department of Health and Human Services.

  33. Skipper Says:

    Two points:

    The ever-so-Christian Hobby Lobby is invested in contraception and abortion products. So, apparently their religious beliefs include hypocrisy.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2014/04/01/hobby-lobby-401k-discovered-to-be-investor-in-numerous-abortion-and-contraception-products-while-claiming-religious-objection/

    It's not that the Fab Five are Catholic, but that at least three of them — Scalia, Alito, and Thomas — are members of Opus Dei, a super-scary Catholic cult. In fact, they belonged to the same Opus Dei klavern as FBI spy Robert Hanssen.

  34. Skipper Says:

    There's a lot more to Hobby Lobby than meets the eye. They are a very scary outfit, connected with even scarier outfits. Violent cults.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/02/07/452169/-Hobby-Lobby-Gothard-and-the-funding-of-Joel-s-Army-with-guns#

  35. Mo Says:

    One of the things I respect about my son and his peers is their determination to be ruthlessly upfront and "owning" their personal decisions and mistakes.

    Claiming that No True Catholic would commit atrocities is being a weasel.

    Your organization, Templar – the one you support with your membership, attendance, and dollars – has done and still does awful things, with a bonus of being dyed in the hide misogynist. Own it.

  36. Anon Says:

    @Templar:

    Do you believe that the actions of the Catholic judges and bishops are strongly influenced by their Catholic beliefs? And do you believe (particularly in the case of the bishops) that their actions are consistent with the official teachings of the RCC?

    Or do you believe that Catholicism is really kind of irrelevant to how Catholics live their lives, even when they are bishops, even when they are members of Opus Dei? So irrelevant, in fact, that even bishops in their capacity as representatives of the RCC apparently go completely off-message and teach things antithetical to Church doctrine?

    You know, like when the Pope says that condoms cause AIDS. Is he anti-condom because he's Catholic? Or is RCC doctrine in reality enthusiastically pro-condom? Please answer – if the Pope is wrong about what Catholic doctrine really is, somebody ought to straighten him out.

    If Catholicism is just kind of a hobby, let me know. Then I can cut loose and ridicule it the way I ridicule Taylor Swift and her fans. No harm done, right?

  37. Anon Says:

    @Templar:

    "That's like saying that the words of Meir Kahane represent the views of Israel or the Jewish people."

    This, to me, is the essential strawman that pops up in every discussion of this sort.

    Did ANYONE say that all Catholics are like the Fab Five? Did anyone say that all Catholics are dumb enough to think condoms cause AIDS?

    The question is whether Catholic doctrine is inspiring these people to do evil things. That's a very different issue. If I stand on a streetcorner and preach that all Black people should be lynched, and 0.01% of White people take me up on that, I can't wash my hands of it by saying, "Hey, most of the people who heard my message ignored it, so those lynchings aren't my fault."

    Jesus Christ, why does this even have to be spelled out?

  38. Templar Says:

    Mo, first, I never tried to weasel out of anything or engaged in the No True Scotsman. I acknowledged Elle's good points and reaffirmed my original statement that you can't tar the entire Church for what Alito writes or ignore the many progressive elements in the Church. My Church does and has done awful things, as has my country, and my gender. I was cautioning Ed against lazy thinking, painting with an overly-broad brush, and engaging in a line of discussion that alienates religious progressives by taking the reactionaries and conflating them with the whole. I never tried to whitewash anything, but you and Elle seem to be asking that I engage in Maoist self-criticism in front of our little group. Now, I am expected to defend and explain the actions and beliefs of every Catholic over the Church's 1700-odd year history.

    I converted to Catholicism as an adult after being drawn to Catholic social teaching and recognizing, as I was asking Ed to recognize, that it is an extremely diverse institution. That was it. I never asked anyone to ignore the corruption or the hypocrisy. I've been arguing for years that a knee-jerk assumption that religious people are have the same politics as the theocrats is a dangerous tendency within the liberal commentariat and have done my best to show that we are all not George W. Now, you demand that I own the Church and all it ever did wrong. This is not the courtesy or charity I expect out of the people who come here nor is it expected of anyone else here. I can remain part of the Church and try to change the things I see as wrong and love the things that I see as good and unique. That's what Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, and Tony Campolo have done. I'm going to leave it at that and hope everyone has a good day.

  39. Skipper Says:

    If I make a decision as an informed adult to join the Mafia or the KKK, then I pretty much own what they do and have done — even thoughI'm sure there are some very nice people in both organization.

  40. Templar Says:

    Skipper, that is an impossible standard for people to live by. You are asking that every person who ever joins any group to affirm everything they have ever done or get out. I don't want to keep going back and forth in the comments, but that's just the sort of purity test that we regularly make fun of the Tea Party for having.

  41. Skipper Says:

    As soon as someone uses "purity test," they're weaseling.

  42. Xynzee Says:

    @J.Dryden:
    "…It's that they're people who allow their religion to be the primary guide to their legislative decision-making…"

    Are you saying that all decision making (is/should be) done within a vacuum? You for one should know better that's a philosophical impossibility. All of us bring our prejudices and biases to the table, these then inform our decision making process.

  43. Arslan Says:

    Templar, if you come to defense of the Church in general, you're owning everything that has to do with it. Personally I grew up in the Protestant fundamentalist world and as far as America's concerned, they are a far greater threat to freedom. It's sad that in the past two decades more and more Catholics have been drawn into an alliance with these people who actually hate them and call them "Mary worshipers."

  44. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Xynzee: The operative word was "primary." And in the cases of Thomas and Alito, I could have gone further and said "sole."

    No, of course I don't want people to forget their personal beliefs–neither do I want them to forget that those beliefs are personal, and therefore not necessarily the best guide when it comes to making decisions that affect the lives of millions of other, differently-minded, differently-valued people.

    I especially want those who make judicial decisions based on a secular
    document and the collection of scholarship that has grown up around it to try to remember that what they're doing must be done with an eye towards secular neutrality.

    So, no, not a vacuum. Just, when the call has to be made, focus a little more on drawing your opinion from Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, et al., and not so much from the Prophets.

  45. Anon Says:

    @ JDryden:

    Attitudes like Xynzee's are, of course, why it's impossible to talk about religion in America. Suppose Xynzee went to the emergency room and were told by the doc on duty, "I'm sorry, but I'm a Christian Scientist/Jehovah's Witness/whatever, so I'm going to do something *more* effective than give you medicine- I'm going to PRAY for you!"

    I imagine his response would be something along the lines of, "Then why the hell are you an emergency room doc?!?"

    But of course, if *you* are uncomfortable with the Fab Fanatic Five's rulings being based on their superstitions… you're a bigot. Heaven forbid any of us should say, "Hey, maybe if your religion is so important to you that you can't put it aside in the name of DOING YOUR JOB in a secular society… then why the hell did you accept the job?"

    What a bunch of fucking whiners. If you don't want to deliver rulings based on secular logic, don't be a fucking Supreme Court Justice. BE A FUCKING PRIEST.

    If you don't want to fill prescriptions for birth control pills, DON'T BE A PHARMACIST.

    If you don't want to serve cakes to gay people, DON'T FUCKING WHINE WHEN GAY PEOPLE BOYCOTT YOU.

    I'm sick of the double standard by which religious folk can shit all over me, and justify it in the name of their religion- but if I complain about how shitty that is, they accuse me of being a bigot. These people are no different from the conservatives who whine that their freedom of speech is being taken away when people criticise their asinine statements.

    I don't remember who said it- maybe Bill Hicks- but he said, "Why should I respect your religion? It's not like your religion ever respects *me.*"

  46. eau Says:

    @Templar – #notallcatholics, amirite?

  47. eau Says:

    @anon – "Hey, maybe if your religion is so important to you that you can't put it aside in the name of DOING YOUR JOB in a secular society… then why the hell did you accept the job?"

    YES!

  48. Xynzee Says:

    @JDryden: I see your position, and on most points I agree with you.

    I haven't read any (incl commentary) of Hamilton or Madison to comment. Jefferson though, one would be hard pressed to consider a stellar example of dispassionate objective reason.

  49. Anonymouse Says:

    I think it's more important to note that the "Fab Five" are Republican appointees and Republican through-and-through. They Republicans are currently pandering to their batshit-insane, religious-cultist Protestant fringe. Sotomayor, also Catholic, voted against the Hobby Lobby (which is owned by Protestants) farce. It's very telling that Republicans put party purity over religion, but those folks are more than happy to ignore the facts that the whackjobs they're pandering to hate their guts because of their claimed religious faith.

  50. Pat Says:

    A fun game to play, with friends or on one's own, is to try to imagine Earth History textbooks written a thousand years from now. Most of the big stuff is obvious, and there will be a handful of unpredictable or outright unknowable, but the real fun is to be had in the interstices between those big moments. Every time I try, I have to have a chapter on America that begins with some description of it as "the peculiar nation." We persist in our limitless allowance of private gun ownership, for instance, as well as our allergy to anything resembling a modern healthcare system. And we have this really curiously durable fascination with socialism.

    Consider this: The Right Reverend Strong declares "socialism" an unqualified evil, and a mortal enemy of the American republic. What's really significant is he didn't it worth his time explaining what exactly was so wrong with "socialism." Not too far off in time, and in fact a bit later, the German amateur sociologist Oswald Spengler (precisely nobody's idea of a leftist) declared in print that every social philosophy worth taking seriously had to consider itself "socialistic," because society was of course the relevant unit.

    That's obvious. And it's controversial in our country! It might be worth noting at this point that, should you ask an American what was wrong with communism, you'll likely get no intelligible answer, but should you ask him what the opposite of communism is, you'll probably hear one of "freedom" or "democracy."

    Meanwhile Bismarck invented "state socialism" a hundred and forty years ago, and every other county in the OECD decided in the mid-1900s that the thing most worth purchasing with all their historically unprecedented wealth was the social security of medical care, retirement security, and access to higher education, for each of their citizens.

    And we decided we'd rather spend it on letting our billionaires build more mansions, buy more yachts, and spend litigating the question of whether they could forbid their employees from using birth control pills.

  51. Andrew Says:

    Most Catholics are not theocrats, but by voluntarily participating in the Catholic church, you are enabling theocrats. If you belong to an institution no one forced you to belong to (and this is especially true of adult converts to Catholicism such as Templar), you are in some small way responsible for the bad acts of that institution, particularly if you remain silent about them.

  52. Jeffrey Says:

    Templar,

    You are asking the readers of a liberal blog to be understanding of something that is by all objective standards stupid and backwards. No matter how you explain your attraction to Catholicism, it's still a religion and all religion is magical thinking regardless of how well-meaning its adherents may be.

  53. Anon Says:

    There's a really simple question one could ask of these people to determine how sincere they are:

    We've already seen you *defend* your religion. How much time have you spent *investigating* your religion to see if it's worthy of being defended?

    Templar can squirm all he wants, but the fact is that he supports the RCC, morally and financially. All of his justifications are glib *self* justifications, not actual reasoned argument and evidence.

    What we have not seen is Templar saying, "I am already aware of all these abuses, and I was so shocked by them that I investigated them thoroughly, because I wanted to make sure I wasn't giving my loyalty to a corrupt organization. And here are the detailed facts of the matter, showing that the RCC is not culpable, all appearances to the contrary." I, for one, would be very glad- even relieved- to hear such a defense, particularly if it held up to scrutiny. Instead we get glib dismissals that it's all bad apples and old news, adn the usual whinge that everyone who disagrees with him is a bigot.

    Ditto for homophobes like Xynzee. He'll sneer that people are too dumb to understand the "nuances" of his views on homosexuality, or that his opponents don't know as much about the Bible as he does. But frankly, does he or any of his ilk know jack shit about LGBTQ issues? I've challenged him before, asking him to list some of the books he's read by queer authors, but of course he ignored me. He arrogantly declares that he is such a brilliant expert on homosexuality that no homosexual can understand the sophistication of his beliefs. But in reality, everything he "knows" about homosexuality comes to him through bigoted pseudo-experts like himself.

    Meanwhile, I've studied the Bible all my life, and read plenty of Christian authors- not to mention the fact that I'm continualy surrounded by these people. But none of that counts, does it?

    Like I said, respect is a two-way street. Why should we respect Templar's disagreement with our investigations of the RCC, when he can't be bothered to make a serious investigation of his own? Why should we respect Xynzee's arrogant declarations that he's an expert on homosexuality, when he doesn't respect queers enough to read what they have to say?

    They will never understand this, by the way. Like they say- "Atheists are so arrogant- they can never understand that I have a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe." I've had Christians tell me outright that they don't need to listen to anything I say, because the Bible already told them everything they need to know about me. To Templar, any criticism of the RCC is automatically spurious, because the Church outranks you. To Xynzee, there's no need to read Beebo Brinker, because Leviticus and the Letter to the Romans have already taught him more about homosexuals than the homosexuals know about themselves.

  54. Templar Says:

    I'd like to take a moment and thank everyone for ignoring anything I actually said and turning me into some right-wing theocrat. I have never experienced anything like the kind of hostility from fellow liberals or progressives as has been displayed in the comments here. I thought we were supposed to be the Big Tent and I especially expected that any discussion would be made on the assumption that we were all arguing in good faith and with charitable respect for each other's views.

    My original and only point was that I believed that Ed was wrongly conflating the Fab Five with Catholics generally. For that, I been accused of whinging, weaseling, and enabling the whole shameful edifice of a bunch of hateful theocrats. It's also been assumed that I have never spoken out against the policies of the Church with which I disagree. If our community here demands that I accept my responsibility as a member of a group that has and does horrible things, fine. I just want you to know that there is another human being on the other end of your monitor and one who has been an active and supportive participant in Ed's little community. It truly hurts to been purposefully misunderstood and attacked based on assumptions that in no way apply to me. I've become a stand-in for every right-wing religious person that has ever done a hurtful thing to a number of you. This has turned mean-spirited in a way that I truly did not expect. I'm sorry if my statements offended anyone, but my comments here are anyways considered and made with the sole intention to help build understanding. Please do not assume that I am someone I'm not. That has been my entire point all along, that we should ere on the side of caution when considering the characteristics and motivations of groups or their members.

    I hope everyone will take a moment for reflection and accept my apologies for any of my statements that have offended or have been interpreted to belittle the suffering of others. That was never my purpose.

  55. Coises Says:

    Mothra asks:

    [H]ow can the Supreme Court reject writs certiorari from businesses who want to deny service to gay folk based on their religious beliefs and rule how they ruled yesterday?

    [My first comment on this is still “awaiting moderation.” I’ll try leaving out the links to supporting documentation.]

    Short answer: different laws.

    “Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock” was a constitutional question. A law of the State of New Mexico, upheld by the New Mexico Supreme Court, was challenged on First Amendment grounds. Elane Photography claimed interference with freedom of speech.

    The court had already ruled, in “Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon vs. Smith,” that the “compelling interest test” was inappropriate in free exercise of religion cases because that would “open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.”

    “Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al. v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al.” was decided based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—a law which Congress passed in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Smith. That law was ruled unconstitutional as applied to the states, and hence it could not have been used in the Elane Photography case (which, together with Smith, explains why they positioned it as a freedom of speech issue); but it remains in force as applied to the Federal government.

    The Supreme Court had already indicated that this was not the right way to decide free exercise of religion cases. Congress attempted to overrule it; while the court held that to be beyond the authority of Congress in regard to the states, it did not dispute the Federal government’s power to apply the rule to itself.

  56. Adam Says:

    I don't read this blog to see pissing matches like this. Usually the comments here are respectful and informative. In fact, sometimes I like the comments area better than Ed's posts! Can everybody please try not to bash each other?

  57. Sarah Says:

    For those who are worried that their religious freedoms were being infringed upon before the recent Hobby Lobby decision, the Huffington Post has a handy-dandy quiz to help determine the status of their rights. A sample:

    3. My religious liberty is at risk because:

    A) I am being forced to use birth control.
    B) I am unable to force others to not use birth control.

  58. Robert Says:

    One of the dualities of the RCC is that those who are lay communicants often view it as the universal fellowship of believers, while those who are not see it as the corporate hierarchy running an enormous multinational entity.

    A comparison might be the phrase 'the Pentagon'. There are many people in the US military, but when we read 'the Pentagon says', we don't think of the enlisted Air Force medic running a clinic on an airbase in Germany. We think of the career officers who actually make and implement policies and procedures. Again, to those who are not sympathetic to the RCC spiritual and theological culture, it seems, at best, authoritarian. A good friend of ours, the UCC minister who married us, just lost her position as pastor of a church due to the congregation's leadership deciding they wanted a new and different pastor. That's not how it happens in Catholicism; the pope names cardinals, archbishops and bishops, bishops appoint priests to parishes, and parishioners take what they get.

    There's also the duality of the papal identity – he is both the supreme head of the church and the absolute monarch of the City State of the Vatican. Depending on what he needs to accomplish, he acts in one capacity or another. E.g., if he visited the UK in the former capacity, it could not be treated as a state visit; in the latter, it would have to be. Same with UN representation.

    When believing Catholics complain about this sort of thing, the above issues are what I would like them to reflect on.

  59. acer Says:

    @Adam:

    I'm usually doing the pissing, but even I am bummed at the way Templar has been treated.

  60. eau Says:

    Um.

    Has Templar really been treated all that poorly? I threw a couple of lame jokes in there, skipper provided a couple of better ones. A few others have demolished his arguments, but I don't see a whole lot of abuse in the comments above.

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  62. fernando_g Says:

    "Has Templar really been treated all that poorly?"

    Short answer: yes

  63. Elle Says:

    @ Templar

    I am truly sorry that you feel so hurt and upset by this conversation. I've been at the centre of a very robust conversation on G&T, and I know that other longtime commenters have as well, and it is hard to feel that you're being fundamentally misunderstood. It's especially hard when it's about something that feels very dear to you, or is at the core of your identity.

    I have a number of Catholic friends and colleagues who struggle with some of the ideas in this comment thread. My best friend from high school is a nun, and she tested her vocation with immense care in light of her commitment to social justice. Other friends have made a range of choices about staying part of church communities (Catholic and Protestant), creating places of resistance, or walking away entirely. I'm not insensible to the individual consequences of all of that.

    I skipped over your point about the five justices, because I had assumed you'd slightly misread the original post. I may be missing the nuance because I'm not from around your parts, but I don't see any references to the justices in Ed's post. My response was to your supplementary point, which was about whether it's necessary to bob the head to Catholic progressives in a post about Catholicism being absorbed into Christian hegemony.

    In terms of institutional power, in my opinion, there is little to no progressive strand within Catholicism. Self-organised places of resistance, like liberation theologians, We are Church, and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious have all been subject to swift and decisive disciplinary action. They have been explicitly told that the Vatican allows them such space as they have, and to step out of line will result in an end to that accommodation. This position has continued under Pope Francis, widely feted for his anti-poverty signalling.

    In the spaces in which I work (gender, human rights, and social justice), institutional power is used by the Catholic church to suppress rights (and it's nuns that I meet at the UN, because women make better shills for denying other women's rights), to influence local and national political parties to make being anti-choice a candidate selection shibboleth, and on national and international policy in a host of ways that harms LGBT people and women. In terms of political activity, there is virtually no common cause to be made with even the most progressive Catholic initiatives, because they're massively behind the curve, have no political muscle inside the Church, and can't step out of line within getting spanked by the Holy See. Progressive Catholic women are progressive despite their Catholicism, and not because of it.

    I think Eau summed this up perfectly, but have taken far too many words to give an explanation that I hope will make clear why asking that a criticism of Christian hegemony includes an acknowledgment of Catholic progressives is not a neutral act. If the tent stretches too far, it leaves women and LGBT people firmly out in the rain.

  64. democommie Says:

    Religion has, for at least the last several thousand years been a con run by men to get everyone who's NOT them to do the heavy lifting, donating and–when the pope, imam or whatever religious leader calls for it–putting their lives on the line and dying for the faith.

    It's always been bullshit.

    I was raised cath-o-lick and spent my youth being told what a terrible person I was by nuns and priests. My dad, fortunately for me, was not a GODbot. He had two sisters who were nuns and he usually deferred to their wanting a "rosary" after supper when they came to visit. The one time he didn't was memorable. His older sister didn't speak to him for the better part of a year. He said, later, that he wished he had known sooner what it would take to shut her up.

    I had a few great teachers both lay and religious in the school I attended for 13 years. The good ones' teaching was not in any way informed by their being cath-o-lick.

    I don't argue with my siblings who are still practicing their faith. We've had some heathens marry into the family (along with Afro, Asian and Hispanic Americans) and me declaring myself atheist is a source of pain for some of them. Too fucking bad; I love them but I don't require their permission for or approval of the life I live.

  65. Ursula Says:

    All of this makes me hope that PBO uses his time for the SOTU to read The Constitution to everyone in attendance. He could issue a written SOTU document or have a part of his time dedicated to that, to satisfy the constitutional requirement and all.

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