Archive for the ‘Catholicism’ Category

Lies and Facts About the “Ground Zero Mosque”

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

There has always been a strain in American politics of paranoia and intolerance grounded in the suspicion of people who are different from what we know, who seem to have a set of values we are not familiar with: beginning with the Masons, then the Catholics, Jewish bankers, Communists, gays, and now Muslims. A prominent  scholar, Richard Hofstadter, writing in the 1960s, explained these suspicions were fed by very similar conspiracy theories involving hidden agents of foreign powers insinuating themselves into American society while attempting to destroy it. These conspiracy theorists made their cases in similar ways, relying on in-depth citations to obscure tracts proving half-truths and outright falsehoods as well as the “confessions” of former members of the conspiracy. Yet the facts presented by these people were seen as ridiculous by those with personal knowledge of the targeted group, even as they were seen as plausible by those who were ignorant on the matter. Politicians and writers who knew better often attempted to use these suspicious ginned up by these false claims to further their own political ends.

Regarding Catholics, for example, Jesuit priests were said to be “prowling” the countryside “in every possible disguise”  including as puppeteers to propagandize children. Nuns were said to take a vow of obedience to perform any sexual act a priest would demand. The pope was said to have the power to command any Catholic to do his will. All of this was seen as part of a vast plot to overthrow American democracy and replace it with a vassal state of the Vatican. Questions were raised regarding the funding of Catholic churches, hospitals, and schools. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Catholics or Catholicism could see how ridiculous this was: And yet, the Founding Fathers were casually anti-Catholic (or as they would call it anti-papist); and the best selling book of the pre-Civil War period next to Uncle Tom’s Cabin was an anti-Catholic memoir called Awful Disclosures by a woman who claimed to have escaped from a life of sexual slavery in a nunnery.

It was due to these rumors fueled by and fueling anti-Catholic bigotry that priests in Manhattan were subject to arrest and no Catholic Church was allowed to be built until St. Peter’s, just a block from the World Trade Center, was, in the 1780s as Mayor Bloomberg explained. President Millard Fillmore used anti-Catholicism as a political tool and later attempted to run for office as a member of the vehemently anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party. President U.S. Grant saw Catholic schools as unpatriotic and driven by “superstition, ambition and greed.” Anti-Catholicism was used against Alfred Smith’s opponents as he ran for president in 1928 and memorably against John F. Kennedy as the famous Protestant minister Norman Vincent Peale declared in an essay for Newsweek, “Faced with the election of a Catholic, our culture is at stake.”

It is hard not to see the parallels between this anti-Catholic bigotry and the claims of the most ardent opponents of the Ground Zero Mosque who regard the billion Muslims in the world as members of a cult which funds a conspiracy of sleeper cells waiting and working to destroy American democracy from within.

While the hardcore Islamophobes are the ones who have fanned the suspicions of many otherwise sensible Americans, they have only gained credibility as political and opinion leaders who should know better attempt to use these suspicious for their own end. They seek to play on the ignorance of the American public. About the Cordoba House, they have lied and told half-truths repeatedly, when they should have known better.

In light of this, I present a list of claims checked and evaluated about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Claim #1: A Lie: Ground Zero Mosque.
People Who Should Know Better: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and almost every opponent who has commented on the matter.

The proposed Cordoba House is not located at Ground Zero. It is 2 blocks away located in a former Burlington Coat Factory which has been used as a prayer space by this imam for years. It has no view of Ground Zero. It is not “overlooking” the site. It is not “towering” over the site. A 13-story building in Lower Manhattan is typical. If you’re familiar with Lower Manhattan, you have some idea of how dense the neighborhood is and how distant each street feels from even the next street over given the narrow roads and cavernous buildings all around. To quibble for a moment though, the building proposed for Park 51 is not even a “mosque” but is modeled on the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, whose rabbi is close with Imam Rauf and his wife, and includes a swimming pool, an interfaith center, a gym, as well as a prayer room.

The branding of the community center in Downtown Manhattan that would include a prayer room as the “Ground Zero Mosque” started with right-wing, Islamophobe blogger Pamela Geller (See footnote) and did not enter the national conversation due to opposition among those in the area it was being being built. Rather it became front page news after Sarah Palin tweeted for “Peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate” the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Claim  #2: A Lie: Opening date: September 11, 2011.
People Who Should Know Better: NY Post columnist Andrea PeyserPat Condell, along with many other blogs and commentators.

The Corboba House and its imam have both denied they ever planned on opening the mosque on September 11, 2011. In fact, that date would never have been feasible given that after all the necessary approvals were received, the project would take between 18 to 48 months to complete.

Update: A redditor, azdiscovery, sent me a link to an Associated Press story that may have served as the genesis of this claim in which Imam Rauf’s wife seems to have mentioned the possibility of a groundbreaking “later this year” (meaning September 11, 2010) on the tenth anniversary of September 11 (meaning September 11, 2011). Clearly some sort of an error regarding the date there. And the passage is not attributed as a quotation. But somehow, various opponents transformed this into an entirely false claim that the opening of the Cordoba House was scheduled for September 11, 2011 representing some sort of Islamic triumphalism.

Claim  #3: A Lie By Insinuation: Questions About Funding.
People Who Should Know Better: Republican candidate for NY Governor Rick Lazio; former NY Governor George Pataki; my own Congressman, Republican Pete King;
Glenn Beck.

Many opponents of the Cordoba House have prominently insisted they are just “asking questions” about who is funding the project. This tactic is often used by the conspiratorial-minded. 9/11 Truthers for example “often maintain they are simply ‘raising questions’.” Glenn Beck has made a career out of such questioning with this method being ably mocked by the satirical website that was created  ”to try and help examine the vicious rumour that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990,” but that asking the probing question: “Why won’t Glenn Beck deny these allegations?”

Other opponents have gone as far as to claim that Cordoba House has refused to reveal who was funding it while insinuating it was Hamas, Iran, Al Qaeda, etc. In fact, to date “the developers [have] raised so little money, there [is] nothing to investigate: the most recent government filings show the organization has about $18,000.” Park51 itself has stated: “We have not launched our fundraising campaign.” They further guaranteed, “We will hire security consultants to assist us in the process of reviewing potential financiers and philanthropists. We will refuse assistance from any persons or institutions who are flagged by our security consultants or any government agencies.” These “questions” raised by opponents are a cynical attempt to plant blatantly false information that will incite outrage in your average American. They call them questions while they are merely insinuations which they call questions because they have no evidence to back them up but want to plant the seeds of misinformation.

Claim  #4: A Lie: The Name Cordoba Was Chosen As Because It Is “A Symbol of Islamic Conquest.
People Who Should Know Better:
Newt Gingrich; though subsequently repeated by many blogs and commentators.

Beware those who claim to know the secret reasoning of their opponents. Newt Gingrich wrote, “It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex.” (Newt apparently got his history lesson wrong in terms of the mosque at Cordoba’s significance in Islamic history.)

But more important: Imam Rauf himself explained that the caliphate in Cordoba represented, for “its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth” in which all three Abrahamic religions coexisted. This was the traditional view of Cordoba, though some revisionist historians have disputed this interpretation – but this is clearly the camp in which Rauf allies himself.

Claim  #5: A Lie: Imam Rauf Is An Extremist and Terrorist Sympathizer.
People Who Should Know Better: Sarah Palin;
Newt Gingrich; Rick Lazio; as well as most other opponents of Cordoba House.

First, Imam Rauf is a Sufi Muslim. There are no known Sufi terrorists. There are three main branches to Islam: Shiites, Sunnis, and Sufis, divisions that are as deep and profound as the differences between Orthodox Christians, Protestants, and Catholics. The theological and historical distinctions are too much to cover here, but to paint in broad strokes: Bin Laden and Al Qaeda subscribe to the most extreme version of Sunnism, Wahabbism; Hamas is Sunni as well; most Iranians including Ahmadinejad are Shiite. If one claims Imam Rauf bears a portion of the collective responsibility for September 11, then one must likewise logically claim that evangelical Pastor Rick Warren bears a portion of the collective responsibility for the abuse of children by Catholic priests.

Second, Imam Rauf has explicitlyrepeatedlyand emphatically condemned terrorism as well as “Islamic triumphalism” and “Islamic militancy” and many other variations on this.

Third, both the Bush and Obama administrations have sent Imam Rauf abroad to promote the idea that America was not at war with Islam and indeed that America is the home to many Muslims.

Fourth, Imam Rauf has claimed that America is a better country to be a Muslim in than countries with many Muslims because he believes the American Constitution and system of governance protects the core values shared by the Abrahamic faiths.

Fifth, Imam Rauf has gone further in promoting interfaith dialogue. His Cordoba Initiative’s board of advisors includes a Jewish rabbi, a Hindu, and a former Catholic nunIn memorial to the most prominent Jewish victim of Al Qaeda, Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf, according to former Israeli Defense Forces soldier Jeffrey Goldberg, placed his own life in danger to say:

We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind and soul Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ahad; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl.

If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one Mr. Pearl.

And I am here to inform you, with the full authority of the Quranic texts and the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, that to say La ilaha illallah Muhammadun rasulullah is no different.

It expresses the same theological and ethical principles and values.

In expressing this, Imam Rauf was restating an old Sufi idea that is considered heresy by Bin Ladin and his followers: “The great Sufi saints like the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi held that all existence and all religions were one, all manifestations of the same divine reality.” One Islamic scholar explained the role Sufis play in Islam:

In the most radical parts of the Muslim world, Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs, every bit as bravely as American troops on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul do.

While you may disagree with Imam Rauf’s positions on Israel, Palestinians, the effect of America’s policies, to claim he is an “extremist” or a terrorist sympathizer or anything of the like is slander.

Claim  #6: A Lie: The Cordoba House Opposes the Plan of a Fox News Host to Build a Gay Bar Next Door.
People Who Should Know Better:
Fox News host Greg Gutfeld; Allahpundit, though each merely presumed opposition.

Actually the group tweeted in response: “You’re free to open whatever you like.” This is what I like to call tolerance and I would guess that many other religious institutions would not be similarly tolerant under the circumstances.

Claim #7: True: Imam Rauf Said: “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened. But the United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened…[I]n the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”

This is actually true. It is widely known that US funds given to the Pakistani secret service (ISI) during the Cold War were used to fund Muslim militants of various sects in their jihad against Soviet occupation. It was here that Osama Bin Laden got his start (as the September 11 Commission Report further explained.) This is what Imam Rauf’s wife has explained he was referring to.

Even when read in their broadest sense — as claiming that American policies helped cause September 11 — it also happens to be a widely held view. Glenn Beck said almost the same thing earlier this year which he is now condemning Imam Rauf for. So have numerous US intelligence and national security officialsThe September 11 Commission Report as well supported this widely accepted view (large pdf, pg. 379):

[Islamic Terrorism is] fed by grievances stressed by Bin Ladin and widely felt throughout the Muslim world – against the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, policies perceived as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, and support of Israel.

Whether one agrees or not, using such an opinion as proof that Imam Rauf is a terrorist sympathizer is ridiculous.

Claim  #8: True: There Are No Churches or Synagogues in Saudi Arabia.

This is actually true. Though why Newt Gingrich thinks it is wise for Americans to adopt Saudi views on freedom of religion is beyond me.

Claim  #9: A Lie: There Are No Other Mosques Near the Areas Attacked on September 11! There Is No Shinto Shrine Near Pearl Harbor! Lower Manhattan is Sacred Ground!
People Who Should Know Better:
Charles Krauthammer; Rush Limbaugh. Implicitly, Newt Gingrich; Minnesota Governor and 2012 presidential aspirant, Republican Tim Pawlenty.

The Pentagon, attacked on September 11, in fact has a room where Muslims hold services and has celebrated Ramadan and other Muslim holidays. There are also 2 overcrowded mosques (one founded in 1970 before the World Trade Center was finished, and the other in 1985) only a short distance from the proposed location of the Cordoba House in downtown Manhattan. There is in fact also a Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor. (I’ve read there are 2, but not been able to locate the second one.)

Those who claim that Lower Manhattan is sacred ground have not raised any issues with the strip clubs (2 within 4 blocks of Ground Zero), the porn stores, the many, many bars, or the overflowing stands of September 11 merchandise all over the neighborhood.

Claim #10: A Lie: The “Ground Zero Mosque” Is Part of a War of Civilizations of Muslims Against America.
People Who Should Know Better: Newt Gingrich;
Andrew C. McCarthy.

There are only 2 groups of people who use this “War of Civilizations” rhetoric: far right-wingers such as Newt Gingrich and supporters of Al Qaeda. The Wall Street Journal reports that counter terrorist analysts have stated that the rhetoric of some opponents to the Cordoba House has served as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

Claim #11: A Lie: Imam Rauf Has Personal Connections to Terrorist-Sympathizers.
People Who Should Know Better: Stephen Schwartz; widely hinted at by those spreading Claim #5.

After weeks of attempting to find such connections, the right wing Weekly Standard ran a breathless article describing what they found: Imam Rauf’s wife’s uncle used to be a leader of a mosque whose website now links to an organization that some have claimed is linked to a political party in Pakistan which allegedly has links to terrorism. Fox News also connected Imam Rauf to Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who Rudy Giuliani famously refused to accept a donation from after September 11. Fox News neglected to mention that Prince Al-Waleed happens to also own 7% of Fox’s corporation, thus linking them even more closely to this purported extremist.

N. B. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show has been an excellent source of actual fact-checking combined with humor throughout this controversy with clips about Fox News’s connections to Prince Al-Waleed, Newt Gingrich’s various claims, the guilt-by-association techniques used to tar Imam Rauf, and the idea of collective religious guilt.

Footnote: Christopher Hitchens has decried the use of the term Islamophobe because he feels it denigrates both those who point to the many injustices within majority Muslim countries justified by Islam, most especially the treatment of women. While I agree with Hitchens that the term is overused, it is appropriate in this instance.

Edit: Numbering corrected.

[Image by Joshua Treviño licensed under Creative Commons and adapted with permission of the author.]

Robert P. George’s Perversions of Natural Law

Monday, December 28th, 2009

I just hope I am right. If they are going to buy my arguments, I don’t want to mislead the whole church.

Robert P. George, perhaps prophetically, in the New York Times.

There’s a lot to excavate from this piece. And, in fact, if you are interested in Catholicism or politics, you should read the whole thing. I’ve heard of Robert P. George in passing, but in David D. Kirkpatrick’s telling, he has become the center of the Catholic-Evangelical-Republican coalition since the passing of Richard John Neuhaus.

Kirkpatrick brings out very clearly how George’s (and other Catholic conservatives’) theology happens to have evolved to perfectly suit the Republican Party – almost as if these people began with ideology and then picked and choose what to accept from Catholicism. But unlike most Catholic conservatives, George has an elaborate rationale for why this is so. It begins with Thomism and St. Thomas Aquinas’ theory of natural law. Aquinas applied Aristotlian logic to Christianity, creating a vibrant and comprehensive philosophy that explained everything with precision: from what was, to what should be, to what had been, and what would be. All that was left was to determine – as some mockingly pointed out – was how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Since Aquinas’ time, humanity’s understanding of the world has undergone enormous changes: Gravity was discovered. Then the relativity of gravity. Genetics was discovered by an Augustinian abbot. The double helix by two Americans. Evolution postulated and then subsequently supported by discovered facts. The foundations of democracy and the rule of law had not been laid yet, let alone America’s two-party system. When Thomas Aquinas alive, it was still thought that the sun revolved around the earth!

Today, in many ways, science has evolved past common sense, and change and uncertainty are as constant as was constancy during the historical lull of Thomas Aquinas’ Europe. Which perhaps provides an emotional justification for the popularity of Aquinas today: He offers all the answers – almost literally in his magnum opus, the Summa Theologica. And in a world with so much uncertainty, such certainty can be a salve. It seems consistent with the retreats to the certain and firm grounds of ideology and dogmatism that have characterized so much of the world’s response to today’s change – from Orthodox Judaism to islamist fundamentalism, from Nazism to Communism, from evangelical fervor to hippie free love, from Randian libertarianism to right-wing Catholicism. I do not mean to tar all of these movements as terroristic or totalitarian, as some certain are. Rather, they are all radical rejections of the world as it is, and of the direction it is heading. All these movements have these elements in common: rigid answers to life’s question, a rejection of some “Establishment” that is pushing the world to be as it is, and a promotion of purity as the answer to rapid change.

George sees such purity in the application of reason through natural law.

Thus for George, God’s will is most evident, even to those who do not believe in Him, within natural processes, while it is obscured in more sophisticated human interactions. In this understanding, the social justice issues that the New Testament revolve around: helping the poor, healing the sick, loving one’s neighbor, turning the other cheek, &tc. are secondary. Reasonable people can disagree because the answers to these questions are complex and not obvious to reason. On the other hand, George believes that the answers to what we call Culture War issues are self-evident to any person capable of reason. Thus, George believes reasonable people can disagree on capital punishment, but not on abortion. Reasonable people can disagree on health care, but not on gay marriage. Reasonable people can disagree on the mechanisms by which the state collects taxes, but not on the mechanisms by which a married couple has sex. I always find this focus on sex to be puzzling. I don’t accept the slanderous views of some on the left that it is all about making war on women. Yet, if one can apply reason and ascertain there is only one way for two individuals to “get jiggy,” why can’t one use reason to figure out the one way to tax people? Both involve the interactions of human beings within a fallen-redeemed world; both involve emotional responses and complex social constructs.

Another small thing: I’m sure George would have some answer to this, but according to Kirkpatrick, one of the basic distinctions that animates George’s writing is the conflict between Hume and Aristotle:

Against Aristotle, Hume argued that the universe includes facts but not values. You cannot derive moral conclusions from studying the world, an “ought” from an “is.” There is no built-in objective reason for me to choose one goal over another – the goals of Mother Teresa over the goals of Adolf Hitler, in George’s hypothetical. Reason, then, is merely a tool of whatever desire strikes my fancy.

Yet, does it seem as if George has studied the world and derived his “oughts” from the “is” of the way things are? Aquinas certainly extrapolated universal moral principles about the essence of sex and the natural order from observing barnyard animals. For all the faults and biases of this approach, it seemed to be a genuine attempt to understand the world. From my limited perspective, it does not seem as if George similarly started with observation; rather, he seems to have begun with his conclusions based on the ideology of right wing Catholicism and worked his way backwards. Specifically, his views of sex seem derived – not from observation or lived experience – but from sterile intellectualization divorced from reality (which my study of history has shown is capable of the truest perversion of what God created.) One can see how such a limited view of sex does seem likely to appeal to a group of celibate men though. I know of myself that reading George’s view of sex, I felt a deep unease in my stomach – similar to when I saw the movie Quills about the Marqis de Sade, as George had intellectualized sex and perverted it from its natural form so much that it was deeply unsettling. Take this for example:

Their bodies become one (they are biologically united, and do not merely rub together) in coitus (and only in coitus), similarly to the way in which one’s heart, lungs and other organs form a unity by coordinating for the biological good of the whole.

In another’s hands, this idea could be beautiful – a beautiful rationale for why sex can be wonderful. But by limiting sexuality so, by postulating that sexuality ought only be channeled into only this particular type of ritualistic purity, by declaring unclean an enormous swath of human and animal experience, by maintaining that only this sterile intellectualization can justify desire, George is truly separating man from his own nature, and woman from hers. This is the most fundamental perversion of all, the most grievous sin against natural law.

(Andrew Sullivan also has some good comments on the piece here.)

[Image by Fenchurch! licensed under Creative Commons.]

Chinese Racism, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Power, Andrew Sullivan’s Catholicism, America’s Decline (?), and Megan Fox’s Savvy Self-Creation

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Chinese Racism. Reiham Salam posits that China’s ethnocentrism will retard it’s development into a superpower – especially given the demographic obstacles it is facing thanks to it’s One Child Policy.

Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Power. Gabriel Sherman describes the world of Andrew Ross Sorkin, star financial reporter for the New York Times, in New York magazine. He describes the unique amount of power Sorkin has accumulated in financial circles, all from the paper that was traditionally lagging behind the others in financial journalism. Attending a book party, Sherman observes the way Sorkin is treated by the many powerful titans of Wall Street:

“What you noticed when you went was how many powerful Wall Street people were there to kiss his ring,” adds The New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta, a party guest. “He’s a 32-yeard old guy, and there were all these titans of Wall Street crowding around to say hello and make nice to Andrew.”

That type of praise only makes your job harder of course.

Andrew Sullivan’s Catholicism. Andrew periodically writes these moving pieces about his Catholicism, and why he is still a Catholic. Yesterday, in an emotional response to a number of recent events, he writes:

Maybe I am too weak to leave and be done with it. But in my prayer life, I detect no vocation to do so. In fact, in so far as I can glean a vocation, it is to stay and bear witness, to be a thorn in the side, even if the thorn turns inward so often, and hurts and wounds me too.

I stay because I believe. And I stay because I hope. What I find hard is the third essential part: to love. So I stay away when the anger eclipses that. But the love for this church remains through the anger and despair: the goodness of so many in it, the truth of its sacraments, the knowledge that nothing is perfect and nothing is improved if you are not there to help it.

America’s Decline (?). John Plender writing in the Financial Times pokes several more holes in the growing consensus that China’s power will soon eclipse America’s. Rather, he sees China as returning to it’s historic position of economic power – increasing relative to America, but not eclipsing it given the various problems they are facing.


Megan Fox’s Savvy Self-Creation. When I saw the New York Times Magazine was writing a major article about Megan Fox I was intrigued. What about her might be interesting enough to hold up a feature? It turns out that there was quite enough. Lynn Hirschberg writes about a starlet whose main focus is her own image, the character she plays in the media. Fox deliberately holds herself apart from this character:

I’ve learned that being a celebrity is like being a sacrificial lamb. At some point, no matter how high the pedestal that they put you on, they’re going to tear you down. And I created a character as an offering for the sacrifice. I’m not willing to give my true self up. It’s a testament to my real personality that I would go so far as to make up another personality to give to the world. The reality is, I’m hidden amongst all the insanity. Nobody can find me.

As she studies Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, and other Hollywood icons, almost all of whom were overwhelmed by their characters, Fox seems to be searching for lessons she can take herself:

Monroe was her own brand before branding existed. “She lived her whole life as a character playing other characters,” Fox said. “And that was her defense mechanism. But Marilyn stumbled and lost her way. She became overwhelmed by the character she created. Hollywood is filled with women who have tried to cope. I like to study them. I like to see how they’ve succeeded. And how they’ve failed.”

Hirschberg didn’t seem to know whether Fox’s obsession with Monroe and other starlets would foreshadow Fox’s own decline, or whether it could be managed. The last lines Hirschberg leaves her readers with are plaintive:

In a few short weeks, she had gone from happily outrageous to virginal and controlled. It was, perhaps, a healthier attitude, but pale by comparison. “I have to pull back a little bit now,” Fox said. “I do live in a glass box. And I am on display for men to pay to look at me. And that bothers me. I don’t want to live that character.”

Matt Yglesias’s Prejudiced Caricature of Catholicism

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Dan Gigloff of US News reported yesterday that a number of anti-abortion groups – specifically citing the US Conference of Catholic Bishops – are opposing an Obama administration attempt to bridge the Culture Wars by offering a comprehensive package to reduce abortions including contraception and sex education. This prompted a few responses in the liberal blogosphere.

Matt Yglesias:

It’s precisely because of stances like this that it’s very hard to take the “abortion is murder” crowd seriously when they say abortion is murder. Their revealed behavior indicates that they don’t actually find abortion especially problematic, but just place it on a spectrum containing a general aversion to women controlling their own sexuality

Atrios:

Those People We Want To Find Common Ground With?

Aren’t interested. I’m shocked!

The fact that these two prominent liberals both take such idiotic positions astounds me. Though I have to give Yglesias credit for not faulting Obama for the outreach – as Atrios seems to be doing. Yglesias instead seems to be describing “the Obama Method” at work. And to be clear – I think Obama is doing the right thing here and should keep these two initiatives together. It’s smart politics – and it makes sense to the majority of Catholics and other religious who believe that abortion is awful but contraception isn’t.

But the fact that these two people – who I normally find to be intelligent and worthwhile commentators – cannot understand the position the bishops are taking perhaps explains why the Democrats have had such trouble getting the Catholic vote.

Let me start by way of analogy: Knowing that Yglesias and Atrios opposed wars of choice, I could ask them to support a bill that was meant to reduce wars of choice by supporting coups d’etat in countries who we might otherwise invade. To back up my push, I would show statistically – over history – that such coups would reduce overall violence in the globe. Now, if Yglesias or Atrios rejected this compromise, it wouldn’t mean they didn’t really oppose wars of choice. It would mean that they didn’t think two wrongs made a right. It wouldn’t mean they were appeasers and pacificsts. And for me to claim it did would be nothing but political theatre.

Back to abortion and contraception: the Catholic Church has officially opposed contraception and abortion through much of its history – and certainly for hundreds of years. The justification has changed over the years – evolved it is said – but the basic foundation has remained the same – and this foundation is not the subjugation of women as Yglesias flatly states. Yglesias reveals a prejudice here, grounded as most prejudices are, on ignorance.

The foundation of the Churhc’s policy is a perverse view of sexuality that sees its only redeeming value as procreation. Many Catholics do not live as if this were true – and many reject it – but it remains (with a few qualifications) the official position. This is why the Catholic Church opposes masturbation, blow jobs, dildos, plastic vaginas, anal sex, pornography, prostitution, etc. Given this, it is pretty clear why the bishops view both contraception and abortion as wrong. The Church has even condemned the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS – which is incredibly irresponsible – but it goes to demonstrate their consistency on this issue.

It’s not about oppressing women. And it’s not about bad faith. To suggest such indicates a kind of ideological blinkering I most often see on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. To top it all off, it certainly alienates Catholics – even the majority who disagree with the Church’s position.

It behooves intelligent liberals such as Yglesias and Atrios to actually respond to the Catholic bishops’ position on the merits rather than resorting to prejudiced caricatures.

[Image by Lawrence OP licensed under Creative Commons.]

A Cartoon Rejoinder

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Some people are unable to step out of themselves to see what how what they say looks to others.

Which is why this priest should take a minute to read this short cartoon.

It’s not as if the guy doesn’t have a point – but as the Deity once said, take care to remove the log from your own eye before attempting to remove specks from the eyes of others.

Political Catholicism and the Obama Apocalpyse

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Cardinal Stafford, a prominent American Catholic close to Pope Benedict XVI, launched into a vicious tirade against the newly elected President of the United States, Barack Obama, last week. He incorporated  some boilerplate conservative attack on the state power reminiscent of Ronald Reagan (implying socialist tendencies in the President-elect); he stated that America would be experiencing the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before it’s Crucifixion and destruction in the coming years, comparing America to Jesus and Barack Obama to Pontius Pilate; he stated that America as a nation was suicidal and has been “thrown upon the ruins;” and then, he used three curious words to describe Barack Obama: “aggressive, disruptive, and apocalyptic.”

As a Catholic I am offended by  Cardinal Stafford’s extreme politics delivered without distancing himself from his official capacity as a “prince of the church” or official rebuke from the church. It is not just what he said – but when and who he is. One thing that surprised me in the aftermath of this election was the number of Republicans, conservatives and other McCain supporters who came to me – as a person who had argued with them in favor of Obama – and expressed their cautious optimism about Obama and their pride in America for having elected him. Cardinal Stafford though seems to lack such common grace.

He joins the small cadre of movement conservatives who – rather than giving President-elect Barack Obama a chance to govern even for a few days before declaring the end of civilization – has decided to preemptively attack Barack Obama, the American people and our democratic choice. Rush Limbaugh has begun to call the financial crisis “the Obama recession” – because he clearly can see that Obama caused it by running for president. Steve Marlsburg, while talking to a prominent Israeli, encouraged her to press her leadership to launch a preemptive strike on Iran – so America would already be embroiled in yet another war in the Middle East before Obama comes into office. Michael Savage proclaimed that all competent white men would be fired from their jobs at fire and police departments and that America had been destroyed by this election. While most Americans, and many in the world, hope and pray that Barack Obama will have the strength and resolve to face the challenges that face us collectively, these men choose instead to fan the flames of fear and violence in uncertain times. They are demagogues whose latent anger at America has been unleashed by the election of a progressive in a time of crisis.

Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Steve Marlsburg are all radio shock jocks though – whose job it is to be outrageous. The fact that an Eminence has outstripped all of these men for sheer outrageousness and for blatant fear-mongering is telling. Pope John Paul II’s long reign had many legacies – but the most lasting may prove to be his politicization of the clergy, and especially the hierarchy of the Church. In America, he encouraged a culture that rewarded conservative ideology and encouraged a hierarchy-centered approach whose focus on minimizing scandals to protect the church’s power led to child abuse scandals. But the more direct result of this politicization has been the gradual movement of the church hierarchy away from the Body of the Church and its transformation into an arm of the Republican Party. Bishops, using their sacramental authority as a political public relations tool to aid the Republican Party, have publicly stated their desire to deny Communion to John Kerry (while he was running for president), to Kathleen Sebelius (after she endorsed Obama) to Republican lawyer Douglas Kmiec (after he endorsed Obama on pro-life grounds) to Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden (in the lead-up to the 2008 election). Now, post-election, some priests have begun to equate Catholicism with voting Republican so completely that they see any support for a Democrat as a mortal sin, and are denying Communion to anyone who voted for Barack Obama. And now we have a cardinal warning of the Obama apocalypse.

The Church – 54% of whom voted for Obama in America and a greater percentage who wished him to win abroad – sees it differently than the old cardinal and the politicized clergy.

For many years, the Catholic clergy have had their radical leftists and their reactionaries – but the great mass of priests have been moderates of various sorts. Today, we are seeing the fruits of thirty years of promotions of the most conservative ideologues, the fruits of a church hierarchy that no longer has any appeal except to the sexually repressed, morally corrupt, or fanatically certain, and the result of the gradual dying of the older generation of priests from a less ideological era and the emergence of the Baby Boom generation into leadership positions among the bishops – prolonging the 1960s culture war within the American Church. We are seeing the politicization of the church hierarchy. Sometimes it seems as if the more radical elements are deliberately attempting to provoke a schism, to sow disunity in the Church, so that they, with their monopoly on the institutional power of the church can declare themselves the uncorrupted Remnant.

I have never felt more distant from the Catholic church than I do now; yet I have rarely felt more one with the community of Catholics around the world and in America, more hopeful about the future, or more certain of my path and America’s path.

The Catholic Church has survived far worse men than Cardinal Stafford and the current hierarchy – it has survived popes and cardinals driven by an insatiable lust for power; it has survived warmongers and thieves who claimed their evil was done in the name of God; it has survived the greedy and corrupt, who used the institutions of the church to protect themselves; it has survived it’s war on reason and science in an age of reason and science – until it came to terms with these forces; it has survived it’s condemnation of democracy and freedom – until it came to terms with them; it has survived as popes and cardinals and bishops transparently used their moral authority to profit for themselves – until these rules promulgated for private purpose became enmeshed in tradition; it has survived it’s attempts to declare itself the sole source of Truth in the world; it has survived a plague of child molestation – enabled and covered up to the highest levels of the church. The Catholic church has survived – and it will survive this too.

The corrupt institution – through all of this – has survived because of the faith and good sense of the Church, the people and their sensus fidelium.

As Cardinal Stafford misuses his office to promote fear of apocalypse and as reactionary priests use the sacraments to provoke a schism, it should be remembered that this too will pass, and that as Christ challenged the Pharisees, so we too must challenge the corrupt institutions of our church. What we need to get past with Baby Boomer church politics is a new generation of leadership for the Catholic church, an Obama-like figure able to move past the debilitating culture wars and partisan politics to focus on the true business of the church.

It’s hard to see new leadership arising from the politicized clergy – but God does work in mysterious ways. Remember – just four years ago, it was almost inconceivable that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama could be President of the United States. Yet here we are. Know hope.

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WWSPD – What Would Sarah Palin Do?

Friday, October 17th, 2008

I’ve reluctantly come around to the view of Sarah Palin, John McCain, and other luminaries that we must judge our fellow citizens by their associations – and we must assume that you at least partially endorse the views of anyone you pal around with. Hence – Barack Obama pals around with a terrorist – by which I mean he served on the board of a charitable foundation with this guy, along with a bunch of conservative Republicans. Therefore, Barack Obama does not see America as you see America and as I see America.

Clear. Logical.

So, I decided to see who else I could disregard because of their poor judgment and unsavory associations. Now – I first thought about Sarah Palin herself, whose husband is a member of a political party whose founder recently declared: “The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government” among other nice tidbits; worse, Palin herself has spoken at this party’s convention and was at one point thought to be a member by their spokesperson – before the McCain campaign corrected her. I mean, in this case, Palin isn’t just palling around with this group – she’s associating herself with their politics by speaking at their convention – and her husband believed in the party enough to join! But then I realized that I know Sarah Palin – and Sarah Palin wouldn’t endorse those views. Obama on the other hand – he’s got bloodlines I don’t trust.

And then of course, I started thinking about John McCain and the mafia connections behind his wife’s vast fortune and his requests that leniency be given to terrorists who killed many Americans and attacked Madison Square Garden, JFK Airport, and Lincoln Center among other targets. But I know John McCain – and I know he loves America – so I put these unsavory associations out of my mind.

Then of course, I came across this other guy – a peacenik, with long hippie-like hair, preaching namby-pamby, weak-kneed, anti-American values like forgiving enemies and avoiding violence and caring for the poor and telling people they should pay their taxes – basically a filthy liberal. He seems to have influenced a lot of people – so I wanted to point out that not only was this guy born in what was called in his day, “Palestine” – making him likely an Arab.

This guy apparently was well known for palling around with tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, and political radicals. He even attacked the religious authorities saying that the tax collectors and prostitutes were better than them. The guy also seethes with class resentment and seems to be trying to wage class warfare.

Clearly, the guy is a dangerous liberal with worrying bloodlines who’s going to wage class war on the rich. That’s not what this Christian nation needs. Enough of this WWJD. It’s time for WWSPD!

We need a Straight Talkin’ Maverick to save this country! And it’s about time Sarah Palin and John McCain took the gloves off and denounced that guy with long hippie hair, class warfare rhetoric, and questionable associations with radical and prostitutes.

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Jerome Corsi, Author of Obama Nation, Is an Anti-Catholic Bigot

Friday, August 15th, 2008

I write this as a Catholic, disappointed and disheartened by the abuse scandal in the Church. I also write this as a dedicated supporter of Barack Obama.

Jerome Corsi, the author of Obama Nation, the bestselling, bound volume of deliberate and egregious lies about Barack Obama, is apparently an anti-Catholic bigot (also a 9/11 truther, and a serial slanderer of Islam and Judaism). Put aside the fact that much of this supposedly well-researched book has been entirely debunked (with a 40 page rebuttal from the Obama campaign called “Unfit to Publish” here.) Media Matters uncovered a number of Corsi’s postings on freerepublic.com in which Jerome Corsi attacks Catholicism and the Pope.

In 2003, a poster that Media Matters identifies as Corsi wrote:

Maybe while [Pope John Paul II]‘s there he can tell the UN what he’s going to do about the sexual crimes committed by “priests” in his “Church” during his tenure. Or, maybe that’s the connection – boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.

In 2002, Corsi wrote:

So this is what the last days of the Catholic Church are going to look like. Buggering boys undermines the moral base and the laywers rip the gold off the Vatican altars. We may get one more Pope, when this senile one dies, but that’s probably about it.

This now makes two anti-Catholic bigots who have prominently provided support for John McCain. Catholics are far from a uniform voting bloc, but as they are traditionally the most significant swing vote voting, you have to wonder how this anti-Catholic bias will affect McCain’s campaign.

If you recall, McCain condemned the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry in 2004 – attacks based on the book that Jerome Corsi co-wrote.  He specifically called “the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad.” It’s hard to see any justification McCain could use to justify calling on Bush to condemn the Swift-Boaters while no condemning this piece of trash by Corsi.

This book has been in the news for some weeks now, which reaises the question: Why is McCain taking so long to declare the book off-limits?

This isn’t the campaign that McCain claimed he was going to run. This is not an honorable campaign. This is gutter-politics.

Pope Endorses Barack Obama in UN Speech

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Pope Benedict @ the United Nations

Not quite. But close.

Addressing the United Nations on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of reducing income inequality; of increasing international cooperation; of respecting the law; of having solidarity with the poor and weak; of opposing (unnecessary)1 war; of “giving attention and encouragement to even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation;” of creating “structures capable of harmonizing the day-to-day unfolding of the lives of people;” of the “protection of the environment…and the climate.” And like Barack Obama, though many conservative Catholics are loathe to admit, the previous pope, Pope John Paul II even specifically opposed the invasion of Iraq.

In the past eight years, the Republican party has come to stand for the right of the president to torture prisoners; for rising inequality and acceptance of corporate fraud; for elevating the executive above the Rule of Law and the other constitutionally co-equal branches of government; for ignoring the climate crisis; for refusing to give aid to the poor and weak because of potential “moral hazards” while bailing out big corporations; for preventive war; for refusing to engage in dialogue with our enemies. Pope Benedict’s speech was a direct challenge to the worldview and policies of the Bush administration and an articulation of basic moral principles and basic responsibilities of the state.

Within these principles articulated by the pope, we can easily find the mainstream Democratic agenda, a rejection of the radical policies of George W. Bush, and more specifically, an endorsement of the school of politics that Barack Obama stands for: talking with our enemies; avoiding unnecessary wars and violence; respecting the Rule of Law; reducing income inequality; promoting access to health care; and protecting the environment.

This is the Democratic agenda.

The Pope explained that it is the responsibility of “every generation [to] engag[e] anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs…motivated by hope.” I would call that a pretty good encapsulation of Obama’s appeal – that he represents a new generation striving to find the best way to manage the world and our nation “motivated by hope”.

Jonah Goldberg may call it fascism; Steve Marlsberg may call such efforts to reduce inequality and allow citizens access to basic needs Communism; Rush Limbaugh may call efforts to focus on the real threat of Al Qaeda in the Pakistani/Afghani border “cut-and-run.” But those who listened to Pope Benedict’s address to the United Nations can see that he stands with those the so-called “conservatives” have labeled fascists, communists, and cowards – and the pope understood that the basic moral values he stood for are the essence of what he called “freedom.”

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  1. I inserted unnecessary here although Pope Benedict did not. Although the pope spoke in this speech of avoiding war, I presume he speaks of this in the context of the “just war” theory that has been accepted by him and the rest of the Catholic Church in the past. []

Mock-forbidden

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Excerpts from my Journals

[Dated August 18, 2001.]

What a sickness it is, Rory, this latter-day post-Christian sex. To be pagan it would be one thing, on easement taken easily in a rosy old pagan world; to be Christian it would be another thing, fornication forbidden and not even to be thought of in the new life, and I can see that it need not be thought of if there were such a life. But to be neither pagan nor Christian but this: oh this is sickness, Rory. For it to be longed after, longed after as a fruit not really forbidden but mock-forbidden and therefore secretly prized, prized first last and always by the cult of the naughty nice wherein everyone is nicer than Christians and naughtier than pagans, wherein there are dreamed not one but two American dreams…

Binx Bolling in Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, page 207.

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