In a recent blog post filled with straw men and false equivalencies, Francis Cardinal George (not his name at birth) made the common Conservative Christian mistake of equating laws that require to you to let people who don’t practice your faith to do things of which your faith disapproves with you not being allowed to freely practice your religion. The two have nothing to do with each other. After starting out with a story that seemed to treat religious belief as historical fact, George went on to claim that the government had tried to take on the role of religion.
There was always a quasi-religious element in the public creed of the country. It lived off the myth of human progress, which had little place for dependence on divine providence. It tended to exploit the religiosity of the ordinary people by using religious language to co-opt them into the purposes of the ruling class. Forms of anti-Catholicism were part of its social DNA. It had encouraged its citizens to think of themselves as the creators of world history and the managers of nature, so that no source of truth outside of themselves needed to be consulted to check their collective purposes and desires. But it had never explicitly taken upon itself the mantle of a religion and officially told its citizens what they must personally think or what “values” they must personalize in order to deserve to be part of the country. Until recent years.
Actually that’s not correct. The laws we pass are supposed to reflect the mores of our Society. (Note, I did say “supposed to.” Clearly we never agreed to let corporations who make billions of dollars in profits pay no federal taxes to the government who made their success possible.) When a government passes laws that say things like “You can’t kill anyone except in self-defense,” or “You can’t take things that don’t belong to you,” we are saying what values you should have. And that’s the way it’s always been. Just because a law is passed that permits people to do things your religion wouldn’t permit you to do does not mean we are making your religion illegal. Nor does it mean we are forcing you to do anything other than live and let live. I often hear religious conservatives complain when the government decides you have permission to do something, that the government is requiring you to do that something. And that’s completely and totally wrong. And it shows in their misguided belief that because the government is letting you worship whichever god you choose to worship, that you must choose a god to worship. They seem to forget that ti also means we are free to NOT worship any god, if we so choose. This is because they have the erroneous belief that in order to have a moral center, you must have a belief in God. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I lack a moral code by which to live. My personal motto (and i didn’t invent it) is to treat other people the way I would want them to treat me. (Sound familiar?) I don’t need some trumped up fear of hell fire and damnation to know that this is the right thing to do.
But George’s real problem seems to be about sex, and why should that surprise anyone? After all, a man who took a vow of celibacy for his own personal religious reasons (one of which includes belonging to an organization with a history of covering up sexual child abuse by a small percentage of its members) is the perfect person to be standing in judgment of the sex lives of others.
In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered “sinful.” Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger.
I call straw man! It is not true that legislative approval has been brought “to all types of sexual relationships.” Only one, and that’s same-sex marriage. Just because ignorant buffoons have equated homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia does not mean he has a valid point. Those people have no idea what they’re talking about, and their viewpoints should not be treated as perfectly valid. Of course they have the right to hold those views, and the rest of us have the right to hold people with those views in contempt. And, FTR, we tried the “live and let live” approach to the rights of the LGBT community and it didn’t work out so great for them. It was mainly in the “let live” part where Society failed, and as a result we decided to tell people what values to personalize, in this case, the value being to “Love one another.” Being gay is not a choice, so it’s not true that gay people are willfully being immoral by being gay. The whole “Hate the sin, love the sinner” attitude doesn’t work if you believe gay people are just doing it on purpose because they lack morals and, therefore, shouldn’t have the same rights as everyone else. Because you’re still hating the sinner.
He goes on to lament that when a recent SCOTUS ruling went “against the State religion” (again, a false premise, which makes the rest of his argument meaningless), it brought on a crisis of belief for many Catholics, apparently because the Huffington Post raised “concerns about the compatibility between being a Catholic and being a good citizen.” (I tried to find the specific article that said this, but he only gave a date and not a title.) Actually I can answer that one. In the United States of America, an officially secular nation, your responsibility is to be a good citizen before being a good Catholic. If you want to live some place where being a good Catholic is your first duty, then move to The Vatican. I hear they’re big on Catholicism there. But the First Amendment not only allows you the freedom to practice the religion of your choice, it also disallows the government from interfering with that right so long as your religious exercise does not interfere with the religious freedom of others. That’s the part Conservative Christians don’t seem to get, especially the ones who call for our laws being based on the Bible. You see, there are many, many different versions of the Bible, and they are not all translated the same way. Nor are they interpreted the same way. So my first question to anyone who thinks our laws should be based on “the Bible,” is “Which Bible?” The second question would be, “Why that one and no other?” And, of course, my third and fourth questions would be, “Why would a secular nation want to do something that?” and “How is that any different than deciding to base our laws on the Q’uran?”
[NOTE: This post, like many of the ones I post at The Zoo, will be cross-posted at my blog, but I'll have more to say over there. Feel free to drop on by It should be finished by later this afternoon.]
This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Conservative Christians, Catholicism in a secular society, mental illness in an overly religious society, or anything else you wish to discuss.