"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -- Theodore Roosevelt

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Impeach the Pope! Because I Said So in a Rage!

I thought long and hard before deciding to post a link to this article in The Washington Post. The article by Robert S. McElvaine regurgitates standardized bile at Pope Benedict XVI. But it also represents more-- a viewpoint prevalent in the left and even in mainstream American society, and that is why I chose to address his essay. The reason I was hesitant about this link or even to write a post about McElvaine's article has nothing to do with his criticism of the Pope. I myself have profound difficulties with much of the Catholic Church's doctrine. Nor did it have anything to do with the claim that the Catholic Church is "a hierarchical institution set up, not by Jesus but by men who hijacked his name and in many cases perverted his teachings." Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and one man's ranting should in no way sway people who truly believe in their religion's philosophies.

No. The reason I was so reluctant to give this article the dignity of acknowledgment was because of this little gem by McElvaine: "As I detail in my latest book, 'Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America' (Crown)..." Cute. His whole essay is little more than a glorified advertisement for his most recent book... a tome of outraged platitudes. And I wasn't sure that I wanted to give this book any more publicity (no matter how meager or negative).

I suppose McElvaine's mercenary motives should be somewhat obvious given the relative brevity of both the article and thought contained within it. In its meandering anger, McElvaine never really seems to get to the heart of what his argument actually is. Despite the issues of birth control, misogyny, AIDS, insulting Muslims, excommunication, holocaust deniers, moral hijackings, all being raised in a vapid but outraged manner, he makes no real connection to his "Enough! No-- Too much!" opening and his ending demand that we should all get together and impeach the Pope.

Oh sure, I understand the laundry list of McElvaine's complaints and understand that the progression of his argument is: (1) I don't like the Pope because I disagree with him (2) the Catholic Church is against birth control (3) I continue to not like the Pope and disagree with him, so we should get rid of him (4) the Church's stance against birth control is because of misogyny (5) I still continue to disagree with the Pope and still think we should get rid of him. Intersperse this with some random references to Bernie Madoff, AIG, holocaust denying, ordination of women, AIDS in Africa, insulting Muslims, moral hijacking, a pantomimed call for defiant "heresy," and his shameless book plug (as I said the real gist of this sloppy piece) and you have his entire article. That's some brilliant work there professor... bet you have tenure there, don't ya?

What's noticeably missing is any sort of reasoning or actual cohesive argument. Why is the denial of birth control theologically wrong? Why should women be allowed to be priests? Why should Catholics not confront Muslims? There could be reasonable answers to these questions (and there are, though McElvaine seems to believe they are of no consequence), but they are wholly absent in McElvaine's rant. He offers no reasoning, no evidence, no viewpoint-- preferring to present only feigned outrage, issues prominent in academically liberal circles, and hot topic references.

In fact, among all his allegations the only evidence that McElvaine bothers to state is reserved only for his misogyny charge. This "evidence," merely a citation, is both deceiving and only tangentially related to his topic. It offers no philosophical, theological, nor moral base for any of its charge.

McElvaine writes: "Why does the Church persist in such a manifestly immoral doctrine [condoms as birth control]? One suspects that it must be the usual twisted thinking about sex and women. The Church's opposition to birth control is largely an outgrowth of its all-male composition and those males' attempts to degrade women's physical powers by asserting that women and the intercourse into which they supposedly tempt men are necessary evils ('It is well for a man not to touch a woman,' Paul instructed the Christians of Corinth), the only purpose of which is procreation.

"Misogyny may not be 'the Church's one foundation,' but it is a major part of the base on which it was constructed."

In this passage, the only evidence McElvaine uses, is a short excerpt from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians. chapter 7). There are various translations but the one I use here is from The New Oxford Annotated Bible. The actual passage that this single phrase is from reads: "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation of immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does." Huh... when you read the whole passage doesn't sound quite so misogynistic, does it?

Paul's reasons for favoring celibacy are given, among other places, just a few paragraphs later in the same chapter. "I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided attention to the Lord."

One can disagree with what's being said in the letter's passage, but it's a bit of a stretch to call it misogynistic. It also does not suggest anywhere that sex is only for procreation, as McElvaine claims. Furthermore, it is intentionally deceiving and manipulative for McElvaine to use this single sentence, given with absolutely no context, as evidence for his statement that "Misogyny may not be 'the Church's one foundation,' but it is a major part of the base on which it was constructed." If misogyny is indeed a "major part" of Catholic doctrine, McElvaine will have to provide more evidence than a single sentence from the bible. But then this is asking far too much from someone who couldn't finish reading the entire paragraph (let alone the chapter) of the sentence he was quoting.

Let me be clear here. I'm not promoting any sort of religion in this post, nor in this blog. I do not and will not shy away from religious topics, but the purpose of this blog is not for me to promote my formal religious beliefs (should I have any-- I will say no more than to state that I am a theist). And I'm not quoting from the bible for any reason other than to give fair hearing and context to McElvaine's duplicitous "evidence."

But the sheer arrogance of McElvaine, and what he represents in this article, is astonishing. I mean, McElvaine seems to believe that his simple disapproval of the Pope on three issues is sufficient cause to call for Benedict XVI's impeachment (a process which he acknowledges is wholly absent in Catholic doctrine and institution) or his forcible removal from office. In other words, because the American left is for birth control, abortion, and "dialogue" with Muslim fundamentalists, the Pope should be removed.

McElvaine's column-- actually an advertisement for his book thinly veiled as a rant-- is nonsensical. He offers nothing except worn out bile that others of like mind can nod their heads to. And, as paradoxical as this sounds, that's why I bothered to address his essay.

McElvaine's essay and arrogance are both symptomatic of the currently popular idea that people ascribing to a religion get to pick and choose tenets of their faith. Religious doctrine is a buffet... I'll take the loving and forgiving God concept, heaven everlasting... good... but skip over the sour birth control restrictions, the anti-abortion stance, and the I have to go to church every Sunday stuff. Faith and religious conviction has been reduced to believing in comforting concepts... things people find easy to digest, that they already want to believe in. Religion must now coincide with societal values.

This view is actually from where McElvaine's advertisement springs from. The AIDS and condom "controversy" that so "outraged" McElvaine is nothing more than a pretext to claim religion should follow certain public opinion, that religious figures should be directly accountable to the voice of the left (certainly not the right). I admit that I have not been following the Pope's tour nor his statements. However from what I've read, it appears that what Benedict XVI actually said was "AIDS cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms," an opinion factually based by the reality that condoms have been distributed in Africa for 20+ years and AIDS remains a problem. But facts, like bible citations, are meaningless to McElvaine. He demonstrates a belief that both are merely grist for his millstone, and as adaptable as the faith he champions.

McElvaine's perspective, a view that a surprisingly vast number of others share, preaches that if a religious doctrine is inconvenient to our opinions, we must adapt the religion-- thus the Pope needs to go. While this view may appeal to both our vanity and sense of democracy, religion should not appeal to either. Religion does not exist to stoke the high opinions of ourselves (just the opposite really) and is not a democratic institution. Religions purport to offer truth-- something that is not dependant on the majority.

But that's what socialism does as well, purport to offer truth, and for that reason it must confront religion and discredit it when differences arise. Just as it is popular for individual opinions to come before doctrine, so must politics come before faith, party line before religious doctrine. As party line shifts due to various pressures of political reality, so are religious tenets expected to change to accommodate governmental policy. Thus churches and faiths becomes dependant upon the state for guidance and become nothing more than mouthpieces for political leaders. While Karl Marx famously said that religion was the opiate of the masses, it was only because it interfered with the opiates he offered-- among them cathartic mass executions. Since his time the left has instead found churches to be potential buttresses for political policy and McElvaine demands that they behave as such.

I wrote in a previous post, The Trap of Government as a Moral Compass, of the importance of separation of church and state. In this post I asserted that religion is protected from governmental influence by the "free exercise clause" of the First Amendment and that such protection is fundamental for a true representative democracy. I will not repeat the argument here (read it if you would like), but McElvaine's and the left's wish to control religious doctrine bypasses this protection and is antithetical to the Constitution and the spirit of representative democracy.

To be a member of a religion is to necessarily subjugate the self to the morality and doctrine of that religion. This is the essence of faith-- to believe beyond what is obvious to the self, beyond what is comfortable. This is what makes faith difficult. Some religions (such as McElvaine's Roman Catholicism) offer some outs by possessing mechanisms to allow adaption from within their ranks. Yet, these mechanisms of change exist within the structures of the religion itself and do not function in the manner of a democracy. McElvaine recognizes but resents this, and I must question whether his moral resentment is not politically based. He offers no evidence to the contrary.

I once wrote that to truly be a "government of the people, by the people, for the people," the government cannot be morally, nor considered morally, superior to the people. A religion, however, is not a government, and its teachings must be viewed as morally superior by its truly faithful.

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