Monday, October 20, 2008

The Old Gil Bailie - Updated: 10/21/08

In a comment below John asks: "Where is the OLD Gil Bailie?"

The answer is that he is older than he was when he was "the old Gil Bailie." In the meantime, he has learned a great deal, and the world has changed a great deal.

Here are my opening remarks (as they now stand; I am half way through the October round of lectures) for this month's Emmaus Road Initiative. The theme this month is "hominization" -- the birth of homo sapiens, but it is essentially a exploration of the Trinitarian and Nuptial mysteries. The controversial introduction helps explain the importance of recovering the anthropological relevance of these mysteries in our time.

Here are my introductory remarks:

Since, as T. S. Eliot wrote in “Little Gidding,” the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at where we started and know the place for the first time,” it behooves us to begin at the beginning, which is in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. For that Trinitarian mystery is not only at the origin of all things, but it is also the great mystery into which Christ came to invite us.

And as it happens, our theme this month – Creation and Fall – returns us precisely to where we started – namely at the birth of humanity itself – and we will be trying to “know the place for the first time.” But before turning to it I feel it my duty to make a few remarks about the contemporary cultural and historical setting which makes this month’s topic especially urgent.

In a rightly ordered world – a world in which the most essential moral and cultural realities are “as American as motherhood and apple pie” – this month’s theme would be the least controversial subject imaginable. With each passing day, however, the gears of a massive cultural revolution grind on, drawing western civilization ever deeper into what John Paul II called “a culture of death,” the certain historical outcome of which – if not reversed – will be the death of western civilization itself.

We will all have to answer to God and posterity for how we conducted ourselves at this critically important moment in our history.

So, I ask your indulgence while I outline the immediate moral and political threshold we – as a culture – are poised to cross in the wrong direction. If my opening remarks seem overly polemical, the argument that justifies them will follow, and I hope you will stick around for it. So if you feel the impulse to walk out, I hope you will resist it, even if only to spite me. For I have a hunch that for every person who walks out on a talk like this I’ll reap a small recompense in the life to come.

I have worked hard on this presentation, so if you you’re going to reject what I have to say I hope you will do me the favor of hanging around long enough to reject the whole of it and not just the first of it.

Speaking to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, on July 17, 2007, today’s Democratic nominee for president was loudly cheered by the largest abortion provider in America when he declared: "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do." The FIRST THING he would do . . . that’s quite a testimony to his political priorities. What is the Freedom of Choice Act?

The Freedom of Choice Act would Eliminate:

• State abortion reporting requirements in ALL 50 states
It would render null and void:
• Laws in 44 states requiring parental notification when minors request abortions
• Laws in 40 states laws restricting late-term abortions
• Laws in 46 states providing conscience protection for individual health care providers
• Laws in 27 states providing conscience protection for institutions
• Laws in 38 states banning partial-birth abortions

The bill would abolish all restrictions on government funding for abortions. Once signed into law, therefore – as the Democratic nominee for president has promised to do – all restrictions on abortions would be eliminated and they would be funded by taxpayers, like it or not. Doctors and nurses would risk losing their jobs if they refuse to cooperate.

But there’s more: The Born Alive Infant Protection Act – which would require medical personnel to provide medical care to children who survive an attempted abortion – passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate – all the pro-abortion politicians voting for it. But the Democratic nominee for President, then a state legislator, led the fight against an identical bill in the Illinois legislature.

Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics and former member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights – says that the Democratic nominee for President: “has favored protecting what is literally a form of infanticide.”

In the pagan world, infanticide often took the form of what was delicately referred to as EXPOSURE – leaving the unprotected infant to die out of sight of those who abandoned it. The Born Alive Infant Protection Act prevented the revival of that pagan practice in our day, but the Democratic nominee for president fought vigorously against the Illinois version of that bill.

As Professor George puts it:
he . . . is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress. . . .
To show just how unyielding he is determined to be, the Democratic nominee for president dismissed those who object to this radical proposal in words that cheered the Planned Parenthood gathering:
. . . I am absolutely convinced that culture wars are just so 90’s. Their days are growing dark; it is time to turn the page; we want a new day here in America. We’re tired arguing about the same old stuff. . . . On this fundamental issue, I will not yield and Planned Parenthood will not yield. . . .
Phrases like turning a new page, moving beyond the culture wars, and so on are pure political boiler-plate – the audacity of hype – I would call it. They make it sound as though he has some compromise in mind. The truth is that the plan the Democratic nominee for president proposes for ending the culture war over abortion is to crush the pro-life opponents of abortion with draconian legislation which amounts to the destruction of religious freedom. To the great satisfaction of abortionists, he is also on record as opposing any federal funding for pro-life emergency pregnancy centers that provide alternatives to abortion.

As weary as you and I might be of the culture wars, in the face of such aggressive assertions of the culture of death we must never grow tired of “arguing about the same old stuff,” for the outcome of that argument will determine whether our civilization descends into barbarism or recovers its moral bearings.

His temporizing in the last presidential debate notwithstanding, the Democratic nominee for president made it clear in a Glamour magazine interview that he would apply a pro-abortion litmus test in nominating people for the judiciary and especially the Supreme Court. The next president will fill countless judiciary appointments and is likely have to fill several vacancies on the Supreme Court. If filled with dedicated pro-abortion judges, these appointments will set the nation on a full-steam-ahead culture of death course for decades to come.

Happily, if belatedly, a growing number of Catholic bishops have spoken courageously on the gravity of this situation. As someone who visits Dallas every month, for instance, I’m aware of how forthright Bishop Farrell of Dallas and Bishop Vann of Fort Worth have been on these matters. Their joint statement on the moral responsibility of voters in the upcoming election states unequivocally that abortion is “THE preeminent intrinsic evil of our day,” and that Catholics “are morally obligated to . . . abolish the evil of abortion in America.” Predictably of course, others equivocate, often suggesting that, on balance, foreign policy, economic or environmental issues outweigh the life issues.

Imagine what life was like for the average German in the 1930s. The Jews were being rounded up and sent first to ghettos and then to concentration camps while respectable German politicians sought to “balance” their hand-wringing on those matters by pointing to how clever and compassionate their proposals were for improving the tax code or public transportation or working conditions in the armaments industry. This is our situation today.

What, after all, was the moral monstrosity at the heart of both slavery and the Holocaust? It was that a whole class of human beings were morally and legally invisible and therefore exploitable or expendable at the whim of others. This is the crystal-clear moral center of the abortion issue.

If western civilization abandons the most vulnerable and innocent to abortion, it doesn’t deserve to survive, and if it abandons the institution of marriage, it won’t.

For the other paramount moral and cultural issue of our age – ideologically related to the abortion issue – is the meaning and definition of marriage. On that issue, George Neumayr, editor of Catholic World Report decodes election-year winks and nods when he writes that the Democratic presidential nominee:
. . . goes through the throat-clearing rigamarole of saying that he's opposed to gay marriage, but he isn't. Were he opposed to gay marriage, he wouldn't be sending out letters to gay-rights activists congratulating them on their new marriage licenses; he wouldn't consider Bill Clinton's Defense of Marriage act reactionary; he wouldn't send his wife out to applaud gay-rights activists for torpedoing gay-marriage bans . . .
The dogmatic secularists relentlessly pushing this agenda are quick to say to the rest of us: “just move along; there’s nothing here to see, just a few belated items of social justice, nothing to be concerned about. Let’s get back to the ‘real issues’ we face.” Busy as we are with other things, their reassurance is comforting.

But, with a court decision here and an act of political or ecclesial cowardice there, the screws are tightened. When the Rip Van Winkles awaken and rub their eyes, they will find that their children and grandchildren are being taught in public schools that the deeply held moral principles of their parents are not only wrong but morally odious and socially hateful – a hint of what’s to come as the modern intermission in the world’s persecution of the Church draws to a close and Christian faith once again entails an increasing degree of social opprobrium, legal and financial hardship, and more.

Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the number of innocent babies killed in this country alone is at 48.5 MILLION and counting. If the voters elect the presidential candidate who has made his radical commitment to the culture of death appalling clear and his acquiescence in the demise of traditional marriage as clear as political expedience allows – future historians will blame two groups: American journalists and American Catholics, the culpability of neither mitigated by the threat of physical violence. History will judge the former for professional negligence in refusing to apply the same standards of scrutiny to the Democratic nominee that they applied to his opponents, but Catholics will be judged more harshly for a moral failure, especially when the whole sordid episode of abortion becomes as clear in hindsight as the Nazi Holocaust is today. The past is prologue.


Jonathan Larson said...

This is much the Gil I know. yet still I am fully left in a quandary as to what to think, Because I think and also see and raise similar issues for the other candidate, maybe I am just to apocalyptic in my vision, but there is just too much at stake to go into all this lightly. I just don't know if we can really say that we have arrived yet at where we started, and so we don't know the place for the first time. There is a great deal more going on than simply abortion in the "culture of death". It seems that we must examine both the sides, and if we do I fear that we as Christians will be left with nowhere to stand. So what now shall we do?


Mark Gordon said...

There is a great deal more going on than simply abortion in the "culture of death".

This year's strategy on the Catholic left is to contextualize abortion as just one among many elements constituting the "culture of death." The purpose of this effort is to recast Obama as the true "pro-life" candidate because, despite his position on abortion, his views are supposedly more consonant with Catholic social teaching overall. An Obama Administration, they sugggest, would therefore have a greater net pro-life effect, including reducing the demand for abortion, than would a McCain presidency. This is the position taken by pro-life Catholic professors Kmiec, Cafardi and Kaveny, for instance, in their Newsweek article, A Catholic Brief for Obama."

Without commenting on the merits of their arguments - Gil's post and others like it do that quite nicely - two things occur to me about this strategy. The first is that it really is on some level an excuse, not an argument, and it is one that they would never make in favor of a candidate who so explicitly endorsed another unspeakable evil. One can hardly imagine, for example, an antebellum Catholic liberal claiming that while he disagreed with Stephen A. Douglas on the slavery issue, he had nonetheless decided to support him because his economic program would benefit all citizens, including black slaves. No, in context it is hard to escape the conclusion that these folks decided for Obama for reasons that have nothing to do whatsoever with his impact on abortion. Only subsequently did they go about constructing a rationale that could salve their tortured consciences.

The second thing that occurs to me is that this position really represents a kind of fatigue in the pro-life movement. It's been 35 years since Roe and not surprisingly some people are tiring of the effort to protect the unborn. I know it sounds a bit harsh, but in my reading of many liberal Catholic blogs, I can't escape the feeling that many people are simply fed up with talking about the little bastards. The attitude seems to be that there are other things going on in the world, and Obama is a magnetic secular savior, so can't we just this once take a break from all the abortion blood-and-guts talk? This impulse, though understandable, has to be resisted. If it takes us 50 years, 100 years, 500 years, we can't relent in defending an entire class of human beings from the legal extermination.

Look, I'd love not to have to think about abortion. If it weren't out there, I might even support Barack Obama. But Gil is right: this is not the time, and this is certainly not the candidate, for us to stop giving the crime - not the tragedy, the crime - of abortion primacy of place in our struggle for a justice.

Doughlas Remy said...

As a happily-partnered gay man, I was struck by Gil’s reasoning in his remarks about the institution of marriage. Gil asserts that western civilization will not survive if it abandons the institution of marriage. He does not explain what he means by “abandon the institution of marriage,” but the usual background for that kind of rhetoric is the assumption that the definition of marriage cannot be extended or nuanced without somehow destroying marriage as an institution. That is a very extreme, ungenerous, and uncompromising position.

In reality, healthy institutions the world over constantly morph and adapt to changing times and circumstances. While it may be foolish in some cases to discard the accumulated wisdom of institutions, institutions that are ideologically resistant to change in any form are likely to be dysfunctional and will sooner or later lose adherents—and we’ve seen a lot of this happening in Christian churches lately. My own view is that responsible, moral individuals must constantly evaluate the merits of changes that are proposed or under way. This requires careful weighing of pros and cons, a process that cannot even begin if we start with a rigid position that any change is unthinkable.

To engage in that process, I would invite Gil to examine the social benefits—and disadvantages, if he can find any—of extending the benefits of legal marriage to gays and lesbians. This approach, of course, is very different from one in which we look to scripture or to the Church for all authority. And—I would suggest—it is productive of much saner results.

Gay marriage does not end the institution of marriage but only extends its benefits to more people. Supporters of gay marriage are also supporters of the institution of marriage. The fact that millions of gays and lesbians want marriage for themselves is a testimony to the value of the institution. If the institution is in any way under threat of demise, then I should think the endorsement of millions more people would be heartily welcome.

The institution of marriage does indeed seem battered and bruised and in danger of collapse at times. If I were snide—which I’m not, of course—I would suggest that heterosexuals haven’t done such a great job of protecting and preserving their cherished institution. However, studies show that lesbian relationships are by far the most stable of the three possible combinations. If you want to strengthen the institution of marriage, I would at least start by legalizing marriage between lesbians.

Another way that Christians can strengthen the institution of marriage is by working to totally end the stigmatization of gays. Many marriages fail because one of their members is a closeted homosexual who may have entered into marriage with the idea that it would keep him on the straight and narrow. And maybe it does—but at what cost to his own mental and emotional health and that of his wife and children? Closeted gays and lesbians who marry may also do so out of fear of exposure, loss of jobs, and all the other horrors that stigmatization produces. The best way to ensure that homosexuals do not marry heterosexuals—a scenario that is almost certainly doomed to failure—is to work toward a world in which homosexuals can live without fear and can form committed relationships with each other.

Doughlas Remy

Linda said...

I attended your talk at Our Lady of Confidence in La Jolla a few days ago and I thought you made some excellent and insightful points. I have to tell you how sad it makes me to hear of "Catholics" who are voting for Obama. Just yesterday I ran into the Matthew 25 Network, a Prolife-ProObama website which is "a community of Christians – Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, and Evangelical – inspired by the Gospel mandate to put our faith into action to care for our neighbor, especially the most vulnerable." (Huh? How can this be???) The author of the site insists that Obama is NOT pro-abortion since "he is looking into measures for reducing abortions." Wow! Can you believe this?
Meanwhile, I am offering daily mass and rosaries so that the outcome of this election will be in favor of the unborn. I have also signed the petition you emailed us and have asked my entire family to do so as well. Thank you for all your hard work!

Dane said...


I got here by a link my friend Larry Anderson sent me.

I must admit that you actually brought up a point that I hadn't really considered. Though I am a catholic I don't even have to look at it from that stand point to make an argument against abortion Roe vs Wade on a couple of fronts.

First - look at the economy. Considering that there is negative growth in several areas of the population if you just consider the 50 million lives aborted as potential workers and consumers they could have had a dramatic effect on the economy.

Second - as a federalist I believe that these decision lie with the states. The federal government in no way shape or form has any business in this at all.

The inconsistency of the central government on the issues of life are incredible. On one hand they will tell you (especially under Obama and the liberals) that you have the RIGHT up until the day of birth to terminate a life that you are carrying - while on the other hand if you should decide not to abort they will prosecute you if you indulge in behavior they consider bad for the fetus. A perfect example of this is the woman (several years ago) - seven or eight months pregnant - who was arrested for drinking in a bar. Supposedly for endangering the baby.

Dane said...

By the way Gil,

I think you would get more comments and more discussion if you changed your settings to allow anonymous comments and comments from non-google bloggers. You can do this and still maintain moderation approval.

who, me? said...

It would seem that the primacy of being alive for anything at all that follows, would trump the rest of the questions up-front, and cloud the luxury of genial world-wide-material-welfare considerations, important as they are. If there is a bleeding wound, education, for instance, falls to a distant second at the moment of life-or-death crisis. Note the actions, in what order, of the Good Samaritan in Jesus' parable.

Clear moral thought, and whatever action is possible, really isn't a matter for delay into the distant future.

Please, weigh the blood of 30,000,000+ babies, versus the philosophical disagreements, so that at least the Wrong isn't buried under a "right." Be honest how much chin-stroking reluctance is driven by dislike for some of the dowdier inarticulate rosary-praying old fuddy-duddies who speak for Life, and thus by a primitive fear of social contamination.

Aesthetics, fashionable affiliations, and clever nuances are not, I suspect, going to be much of an excuse on Judgment Day. I tremble for us all.

Mark Gordon said...

...institutions that are ideologically resistant to change in any form are likely to be dysfunctional and will sooner or later lose adherents—and we’ve seen a lot of this happening in Christian churches lately.

Funny, the religious institutions that are dying in this country are precisely those most willing to trade age-old truth for contemporary "relevance," especially in the realm of human sexuality. 30 or 40 years ago, mainline religion in the United States meant the Episcopal Church, the establishment Presbyterian and Methodist denominations, the UCC. Now that they have each reinvented themselves as "welcoming" communions, they're collapsing under the weight of their doctrinal weightlessness. At the same time, it is precisely those denominations - and, of course, the Catholic Church - that are exploding in membership, both here and around the world.

This doesn't mean, of course, that truth is determined by plebiscite. But neither does it mean that conforming to the spirit of the age is a guarantee of anything, except perhaps sterility.

Unknown said...

...In a rightly ordered world – a world in which the most essential moral and cultural realities are “as American as motherhood and apple pie” – this month’s theme would be the least controversial subject imaginable.

Does anyone else find this nationalist utopianism troubling in a Girardian? Can any thinking person seriously believe a vote for McCain/Palin will move us one millimeter toward a "rightly ordered world"? I actually find much to agree with in this post; I ask these questions seriously.

The dismissal in the comments here of the Kmiec et al. position as "on some level an excuse, not an argument," is as unaquainted with the notion of argument as it is convenient. The implication that the political world can be "rightly ordered" or purified of ambiguity, uncertainty, and compromise is not just wrong, but dangerously so. Antebellum opponents of slavery (most of whom were not Catholic) were left to support the pro-slavery Lincoln, or not vote at all. It turned out to be the right choice, of course.

Pr. Russell Meyer said...

The notion of intrinsic evils and how to respond to them are not forgone conclusions. It's been said that abortion is the cause of the failure of peace in our time. Such statements defy understanding except by those who make them. The postmodern application of Catholic moral teaching has divided things between level A and level B norms; level A is absolute, level B is open to interpretation on the proper response. Abortion and gay marriage are level A and everything else (now under debate)is level B. Personalistic norms have an absolute status regarding what defines intrinsic evil. Okay, whether one agrees with such moral reasoning may be a matter of philosphical conviction. We can debate such things. My problem occurs with the next step that says the way to implement the natural law in society is primarily through political law and conventions. It seems we've let the word "law" allow some category confusions. Almost 2/3 thirds of abortions occur in women under the poverty line and 27% of abortions are performed on Catholics. What if the church said to everyone poor woman, we will support you in your pregancy -- pregnancy will not reduce you to squalor. What if the church shed its wealth for the sake of the poor? Legalities cannot perform what only the will can do. Action is needed, but it's the action of the heart and the pocketbook, not of the abstract notions of law. Picking fights on politicians may be crowdpleasing marketing, but it won't accomplish the real results needed -- which is to end the practice of abortion.

Doughlas Remy said...

Russell Meyer’s comments were helpful to me in understanding my own differences with Gil over the gay marriage issue, which Gil raises in his opening remarks. (See my earlier comments under “Doughlas said...”)

Meyer alludes to certain “norms” (as seen from the perspective of Catholic teaching) that many Catholics would prefer to treat as absolutes—not open to interpretation or debate. One of these norms concerns the status of homosexuality and the question of extending the benefits of marriage to gays and lesbians.

In the wider culture and outside the bubble, the norm of stigmatizing homosexuality has been eroding for some time, and with hugely positive results, as I can attest from my own personal experience. One reason for this was that the norm has been challenged by physicians, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and even theologians the world over. There has been an avalanche of research and information about homosexuality in the past thirty years or so. The consensus among social and health professionals is that there is nothing inherently problematic about being gay, but that problems do result from societal attitudes about it—attitudes that sometimes seek legitimacy in religious teachings.

The advantage of grounding our fears and phobias in religious teaching is that we don’t have to really engage in dialog. We can declare there to be an absolute norm, consider the matter settled and expect everyone to either fall in line or risk God’s displeasure. And above all, we can avoid thinking about matters that disturb us.

In my experience, it has been very difficult to draw opponents of gay marriage into discussion. The line that we heard from Gil about changing the definition of marriage and destroying the institution is about as far as it ever goes, and it gets repeated over and over with little variation. And of course that is in itself an extremely thin argument that has no hope of convincing me or anyone else who thinks about these matters seriously. It can be demolished with almost no effort.

I used to be puzzled that the arguments didn’t get a little “thicker,” and take on more depth and substance. Meyer’s comments helped me realize that for many Catholics, this is a matter of faith and that it is simply not open to discussion. Absolutes, almost by definition, reside in logic-tight compartments.

Then, to be fair, I asked myself if there are any issues about which I will not be drawn into discussion, where my own “absolutes” refuse to be drawn out, dissected, and analyzed. And I suppose there is one that comes to mind at this moment, and it is the issue of torture. The very idea of it fills me with such loathing that I cannot even discuss it rationally, and I would even go so far as to say I cannot be friends with anyone who advocates it.

I realize that many people regard homosexuality with as much horror as I regard torture, and I believe that is not only unnecessary but unfortunate. In Texas, where I grew up in the 50s, homosexuality was treated as a criminal deviancy on about the same level as serial murder or cannibalism. As soon as we began to “unpack” those attitudes, we made an interesting discovery: In the case of homosexuality, there is really nothing to fear.

To Mark Gordon (See above): I am sorry that we are still unwelcome in so many denominations. I am deeply grateful to my own church for opening its doors to me and my partner. It was not only good for us, but it was also a profound spiritual transformation for them as well.

Doughlas Remy said...

Just a postscript to my earlier comment (See just above), and then I’ll shut up for a while:
I am very pleasantly surprised that my comments have been accepted on this forum. This, to me, is one more sign that the times are changing. As recently as twenty years ago, I’m sure I would not have been allowed to join such a discussion with the views that I hold. Thirty or forty years ago, it would have been even more difficult for them to be heard. It is very encouraging to me that Catholics are becoming more open to discussions of these issues, and I appreciate Gil’s and Randy’s willingness to keep the forum open in this way.

Ben from St. Leo's said...

This post finally impelled me to write the response that has been forming in me for the last few years, as I have followed your career as a public intellectual. I was initially introduced to your work by discovering a trove of audio cassettes in the library at St. Leo's Church in Sonoma. I was enthralled with them, and listened to your entire collected lectures from over more than a decade. I have spent hundreds of hours listening to your voice, to the point where I feel that I know you intimately, even though we have only met a few times.

I have become increasingly dismayed in the last few years, as you have taken a turn from providing a robust, literate, and intellectually stimulating exposition of the tenets of the Christian faith to becoming an intellectual enforcer of Catholic orthodoxy. Now, I realize that you have descended one step lower, into the domain of being just another mouthpiece for the Republican Religious Right.

I remarked to a mutual acquaintance a few years ago that you had become the William F. Buckley of the Religious Right. This latest screed, filled with hyperbolic hyperventilation: "the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress!" demonstrates to me that you've finally succumbed to the fumes of the rest of the social conservatives who are your fellow travelers and funding base. Now you've descended to the level of a Dobson, Falwell, or Gary Bauer. Their panic at the imminent loss of their hegemonic political power has been transmitted to you by mimetic contagion. I can't even trust your facticity anymore, something that I would have previously taken for granted.

I have had to come, sadly, to the conclusion that you have lost your intellectual and ethical compass and can no longer be regarded as a reliable source of moral authority. I long ago began to recognize that your theory of culture was incomplete, in that you never acknowledged the role of the economic structures on the formation of the collective consciousness. Increasingly, your fixation on fringe characters in secular culture and the denunciation of 'liberal' values seemed cranky and inadequate to the intellectual task. You share the same blind spot that most conservatives have in failing to recognize that the one single most important force in coarsening the culture and atomizing social solidarity is the relentless influence of the immensely powerful corporate hyper-capitalism and the culture of greed and self-centered identity that it reinforces.

I am walking away from you, but I have heard you out thoroughly, and you have lost my confidence.

Ben from Sonoma

Doughlas Remy said...

When the Rip Van Winkles awaken and rub their eyes, they will find that their children and grandchildren are being taught in public schools that the deeply held moral principles of their parents are not only wrong but morally odious and socially hateful...

Gil’s dire scenario of generational conflict over gay rights lacks nuance and rests on two apparent presuppositions which immediately weaken his case. The first is that deeply-held parental moral principles are somehow sacrosanct (and, are we to assume, the more deeply held the more sacrosanct?). The second is that families cannot heal themselves through processes of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Is this the same Gil who once gave lectures on King Lear?

Gil’s remark caught my interest because of a moment of clarity that I experienced many years ago when I was watching Eyes on the Prize, the award-winning PBS documentary (by Ken Burns) about America’s Civil Rights movement. Cameras had captured the scene in which James Meredith, the University of Mississippi’s first black student, was escorted to his classes by federal marshals. White students were crowded around the periphery, shouting hateful epithets. Once of them in particular was an otherwise attractive young woman, but in this moment her face was twisted with hatred as the crowd’s frenzy rose to a crescendo. In that moment, I realized that she could have been my own mother, for my mother would have been only a few years older, lived in the South, and supported the racist policies of George Wallace, Ross Barnett, and, later, of David Duke. If my mother had been present at this scene, I believe she would have been a part of the mob.

I would indeed hope that our schools are teaching that the “deeply-held moral principles” undergirding racism are, in Gil’s words, “morally odious and socially hateful.” Furthermore, I am aware that many white southerners of my parents’ generation were less than pleased when their sons and daughters began absorbing the more liberal and progressive values of the Civil Rights movement. Such is life.

The claim that a social cause is misguided because it offends our parents’ moral values is simply shallow in the extreme. If you oppose abortion and your parents have “deeply-held” pro-choice principles, are you to silence your own objections about it?

Gil’s inability to spot such a glaring weakness in his own argument causes me to start connecting the dots. In the context of the extreme orthodoxy for which he has now become known, his comments about gay marriage contain three very powerful nodes: institution, definition, and parents. Add “civilization” if you like. At the risk of seeming cryptic, I would recommend Ernest Becker’s take on Freud’s fainting spells in The Denial of Death (1973).

Doughlas Remy
Member, Colloquium on Violence and Religion

Athos said...

No need to put this up, Gil, but Aramis and I at one time not long ago bemoaned the loss of the "old Gil" from the Florilegia Institute days. We wanted more Girard and less Von Balthasar.

What I now see, besides an aversion to moving from one medium to another - tape to CD, which my newer vehicle forced me to do anyway - is that you aren't so much moving away from a "robust, literate, and intellectually stimulating exposition of the tenets of the Christian faith" as you are going more deeply into the scandal of "positivity" that avoids the Scylla of rarefied Gnosticism, on the one hand, and the Charybdis of leap-frogging the canonical presentation of Scripture and Tradition like the fruitless endeavors of the search for the "historical Jesus."

I do not see you caving due to "mimetic contagion" with those interested in maintaining political power. But I do see that, like Newman, you have sufficient illative proof to throw your lot with the Catholic Church, her magisterium, the saints, the Fathers, and 2,000 years of presenting the unique "External Mediator" - Jesus Christ - through word and sacrament.

I still am in agreement with John Paul II that we should never have invaded Iraq. But those who do not anyone in any agreement with George W. Bush for president ought to remember a thing or two about Girard's "negative imitation," let alone the structural implications for murdering millions of unborn children.

Lastly, as far as fact-checking goes, Sen. Obama is on the record as saying the first thing he will do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. Watch for yourself.

Kevin said...

Greetings all,
Full disclosure: I'm was raised Roman Catholic but now practice as an Episcopalian. Also I believe abortion is the taking of a human life.
Now that's out of the way. There is a certain disingenuity with all of the talk against the "culture of death." From over here it appears that life is sacred only when in utero, infirm or elderly. To say it the other way: life is sacred unless you are Iraqi, Pakistani, Afghani or a black man accused of a capital crime.
If the "pro-life" candidate was not willing, nay eager, to continue occupying a nation we should never have invaded, if he wanted to provide universal health care and shut down Guantanamo and reject unequivocally torture; I could have voted for him. But that is not the case.
One more thing; Gil does not acknowledge the global climate change caused by human actions. Given that this has impact on all humanity, it carries much weight in my decision. McCain made it clear with his choice of Palin that environmental protection was not his concern.
Why do I bring this up? Because without the potential destruction of the climatic conditions which make civilization as we know it possible in the balance, then the candidates cannot be evaluated properly. Gil is working with less data on the table.
Finally, when I was Roman Catholic I did vote for the "pro-life" candidates. And then I noticed that for all the "pro-life" rhetoric, they did very little about anything to do with preserving life or improving living, least of all abortion. I was used and so were millions of others. The GOP simply trots out these issues every 2 - 4 years in order to get the "pro-life" vote and then ignores them.
I think it is high time we looked at the full overall effects a candidate is likely to have rather than looking at only one point.
Ad Astra Per Aspera,

Doug Hickman said...

Kevin’s broader perspective on the “culture of death” (see just above) exposes the fallacy—and the inherent weakness—of single-issue politics. I disagreed with Obama about an issue that was important to me, but I voted for him because we agreed on so many other issues, especially those that Kevin mentions: torture, the war, and climate change. The economy was also hugely important in this election. These are all issues that affect people’s lives just as much as the abortion issue does, and one of them—climate change—must be intelligently addressed by our next president if we are to have any hope of surviving as a species. If you think this last point is extreme, I would suggest you read Thomas Friedman’s new book, “Hot, Flat, and Crowded.” Midnight on the doomsday clock may turn out to be a period of irreversible ecological collapse rather than a nuclear holocaust. We simply cannot afford to drag our feet any longer on this issue, as McCain and Palin seemed poised to do if they were elected.

Similarly, the current economic downturn has had the effect of backgrounding issues that once had the power to decide elections. Losing one’s job and one’s home are powerful incentives to shift focus towards a candidate’s position on the economy. Furthermore, healing our bruised economy can only help families in distress and thereby reduce the pressure women experience around pregnancy when their livelihood is at risk.

I agree with Russell Meyer (see his comment, above) that there are more intelligent and effective ways of ending abortion than simply declaring it illegal. If the incidence of abortion correlates positively with poverty levels, then let’s address poverty, to begin with. This requires, in Meyer’s words, action of the heart and the pocketbook—real Christian charity, in other words. The negative and accusatory style of most political pro-life rhetoric is not in that league.

Doug Hickman