1.

Last week, spurred by the whole mess in Charlotte, Bill Lindsey published a series of heartrending and intellectually piercing posts regarding his dismissal from his post as the chair of the theology department at a Catholic college in that city in the 1990s. Lindsey wrote the then-bishop of the diocese, William Curlin, in the hopes of obtaining a meeting that never materialized. Lindsey shared that correspondence last week at his blog, Bilgrimage, and powerfully connected his questions in those letters to the current situation in the Queen City. His posts, in order:

“May God Send You Many Outspoken Truth-Tellers and Holy Trouble-Makers”

“More Excerpts from My Letters to Charlotte Bishop William J. Curlin in Latter Half of 1990s”

“When the Church Treats People as Things … It Undermines the Very Meaning of the Eucharist”

“I Began to Realize That the Abuse Crisis Was Rooted in a Profound, Widespread, Deep, and Systemic Betrayal of Pastoral Office in the Catholic Church”

Why’s, Wherefores, and In Conclusion

2.

If you paid attention to the Brendan Eich affair (and you’re probably better off if you didn’t), you know that it caused quite a bit of controversy among gay marriage activists. People who supported the public pressure on Mozilla to remove/chasten Eich felt (with some justification) like they were being called fascists and intolerant. People who opposed that pressure felt (with some justification) that they were being called Uncle Toms.

Rob Tisinai wrote a self-searching post that not only diagnosed the differences between the two groups but also offered a measure of reconciliation. Tisinai wrote:

In recent days, we’ve seen two admirable sets of values collide. First,

A free and open society works best when all positions are argued clearly and explicitly, along with their rebuttals. This climate of open debate, whatever its bumps and pitfalls, is the best way to try and secure a culture free of ignorance and superstition. It’s important to do as little as possible to discourage such debate because when an orthodoxy is imposed through legal or social pressure, it opens the door to tyranny and corrodes the human spirit.

 

But also,

 

A free and open society can only work when it recognizes the humanity, the dignity, and the equality of all its citizens. Movements that stigmatize entire swaths of the population, that declare them to be inferior, that try to rob them of their rights, have no place in such a society. They open the door to oppression and tyranny, and corrode the human spirit.

 

It’s hard, for me at least, to oppose either of those positions. Gay people have suffered in the past when either one was discarded. They overlap, they reinforce each other, but they can also contradict each other. And when that happens, long-time allies flare at each other and demand to know, How can someone I’ve respected hold such a view?

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I link to Tisinai and the other writers at Box Turtle Bulletin all the time. And I use their writing in the trenches, too, whenever I get involved in debates with folks on the religious right. They do great work, in other words, work that I think is especially persuasive. So it bothered me to see them characterized as anti-gay apologists. One commenter even wrote, “soon nom will be inviting [andrew] sullivan, tisani [sic], [jim] burroway, and [john] corvino as key-note speakers to their hate march in june.”

But the intellectual honesty of Box Turtle Bulletin is one reason I think it’s so effective, and this post is a great example of that.

The Problem with ‘Natural Law’ in 6 Short Quotes

Emphasis added.

1.

“The intrinsic desirability of such states of affairs as one’s flourishing in life and health, in knowledge and in friendly relations with others, is articulated in foundational, underived principles of practical reasoning (reasoning towards choice and action).”

(John Finnis, “Natural Law Theories,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

2.

“Marriage and family are not merely apparent goods but real ones, and the rules and habits necessary to their flourishing belong to the natural law.

(J. Budziszewski, Touchstone Magazine)

3 & 4.

“With the normative framework provided by the telos of human flourishing, social science can serve as the common language with which to talk about human life in a way that is comprehensible and legitimate to non-Christians.”

AND

“But Christians have nothing to fear and everything to gain from good social science, because it should confirm what we already know from natural law—or help us revise our understanding of the natural law in light of human experience.”

(Paul D. Miller, The Public Discourse)

5.

The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the oldest peer-reviewed medical journal in the world, last week published an article detailing how same-sex marriage makes entire families healthier.”

(David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement)

6.

“I’m not telling you whom to love; I’m telling you that there is nothing loving about mutual self-destruction.”

(J. Budziszewski, “Advancing a Heterosexual Public Ethic With Grace, Wit, and Natural Law”)

Sigh.

 

Three More Things: Jamie Quatro, Johnny Cash, J.D. Salinger


Who else needs a break from the culture war?

1. The Oxford American has made available online Jamie Quatro’s musings on reading Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal, from the Spring 2014 issue. Those musings start:

I received Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal while in residence at the Sewanee Summer Writers’ Conference. I carried the galley around with me for a week. Dorm to lectures to lunch to workshops to readings, the book always in my backpack. I’d take it out multiple times a day, turn it over in my hands, read the press materials—then put it back. Flannery O’Connor’s prayers. Flannery O’Connor’s prayers. In her handwriting. To peer over her shoulder and read what she’d written to God, and God alone? It felt voyeuristic, uncouth. Sacrilegious, even. O’Connor’s fiction, letters, and especially her essays were of tremendous importance to me as both artist and believer. Would reading her intimate communication with God alter my perception of the feisty, guns-blazing Flannery I’d long admired and, in many ways, needed?

Surely this was holy ground. I felt I should at least remove some figurative sandals.

2. At The American Conservative, Daniel J. Flynn explores Johnny Cash’s complicated Christianity, including this:

Once the rescued had the ability to rescue, he himself needed a rescuer. Cash was a sucker. Folsom Prison inmate Glen Sherley, whose “Greystone Chapel” found its way into Cash’s set list in his famous concert at the penal institution, served as the poster child for both the country artist’s activism and his gullibility. “To Cash, Sherley, who was four years younger, was living proof of redemption, which is why he spent months lobbying California prison authorities to grant Sherley a parole,” writes Hilburn, noting that the singer “had met the man for only a few minutes.” Helping to win the release of his very own Hurricane Carter, Cash experienced Sherley’s shiftlessness and psychopathic behavior when he brought the untalented musician on tour. Sherley’s story ended with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Some people are better off stuck in Folsom Prison.

3. On Ash Wednesday, I quoted from an Andre Dubus essay on the sacramental nature of making sandwiches for your kids, of dropping them off and picking them up at school. Knocking around on the internet this week, I found this piece by Casey N. Cep at the Paris Review blog. Cep writes:

One way of understanding the sacraments, perhaps best articulated by liturgist Gordon Lathrop, is that simple things become central things. When Christians refer to the bath and the table, they refer not only to the specific sacraments of bathing and eating, but they point also to the sacramental character of every bath and every table. The setting apart of one table and one bath shows forth the splendor of all tables and all baths.

That setting apart is the calling of Christians but also the vocation of the writer. The attentiveness of the writer is shown in how that writer lifts to the level of extraordinary the most ordinary of people, places, and things.

She even finds a fragment from Salinger’s Franny and Zooey that echoes perfectly what Dubus was getting at. “When the benignity of Bessie’s chicken soup offering goes unnoticed by Franny,” she writes, “Zooey tells his sister that ‘if it’s the religious life you want, you ought to know right now that you’re missing out on every single goddamn religious action that’s going on around this house. You don’t even have sense enough to drink when somebody brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup.’”

Consecrated chicken soup. Sacramental sandwiches.

I like that.

[About the song above: “Rollerskate skinny” is a description from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and the title of a 2001 song by Dallas band the Old 97s.]

 

Three Things for Thursday Night. Okay, Make it Four.

1. Do you care what I think about the Brendan Eich situation? I didn’t think so. If you do, the piece that best expresses my opinion is this one, by Bishop Gene Robinson.

2. Remember when I said, after the Michigan gay marriage case, that Mark Regnerus’ NFSS study is now, finally, D-E-A-D? And that “it would take serious stupidity for gay marriage opponents to keep pulling it out now?”

Well, it looks like I was right. And it turns out that the attorneys representing the state of Utah in its appeal of that state’s gay marriage decision aren’t quite that stupid. According to Jim Burroway at boxturtlebulletin.com, those attorneys are distancing themselves from Regnerus. They had largely based their case on Regnerus’ work, but after his humiliation in the wolverine state, they filed a supplemental brief yesterday basically writing Regnerus out of their argument.

Unfortunately for them, as Mark Joseph Stern notes in Slate, that turns their argument into “gibberish.”

3. Important but relatively un-discussed on this side of the Atlantic: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recently disclosed that he was once shown a mass grave in Nigeria, and informed that in it were buried hundreds of Christians who were killed by people who claimed that their actions were justified by American Christians’ tolerance for gays. The Guardian reports that, “Speaking on an LBC phone in, Justin Welby said he had stood by a mass grave in Nigeria of 330 Christians who had been massacred by neighbours who had justified the atrocity by saying: ‘If we leave a Christian community here we will all be made to become homosexual and so we will kill all the Christians.’”

On one hand, this helps me better understand the reluctance of the higher-ups in the Anglican Communion to embrace simple, obvious justice. I feel for leaders like Welby and his predecessor, Rowan Williams, who must be constantly aware of the ways their actions and decisions will be interpreted globally. And Welby is right to say that, “We have to listen to that. We have to be aware of the fact.”

On the other hand, it’s a misguided stance. At least if Welby is suggesting that we shouldn’t embrace gay marriage because non-Christians might use that as an excuse to kill Christians. As Andrew Brown points out in the Guardian:

[Y]ielding to bullies does nothing to discourage them. It’s a dreadful thing to say that the lives of Christians who will die in Africa should be balanced against the rights of LGBT people here. But the equation is worse than that. The lives of LGBT people in Africa are put at risk whenever homophobic arguments are accepted as valid. We’re balancing Christians who are massacred for being Christians against gay men burnt alive by Christian lynch mobs in Uganda. Unfortunately, it seems that the lives of LGBT people in Uganda are just as much threatened when foreigners reject homophobic arguments as bigoted.

More to the point, it’s not a very Christian stance. As Brown aptly puts it: “Archbishops are not supposed to be Peter Singer-style utilitarians.”

4. You know who should know that? Catholic (and former Anglican) priest and blogger Dwight Longenecker. In a disturbing post from last week, Longenecker (who opposes gay marriage, obviously) writes:

I’d never thought of those ramifications. The African Anglicans are heartily opposed to homosexuality and the biggest fight in the Anglican Church over this issue is between the Africans and the Americans. The Africans think homosexuals are all demon possessed while the Americans make soothing, patronizing noises to the Africans saying things like, ‘One day you will have grown in your understanding of human sexuality as we have…’

And then:

What will Church of England proponents of same sex marriage do with this information? In my experience they will dismiss it as irrelevant. As one Episcopalian minister said to me, ‘I don’t really understand what the problems of a Nigerian have to do with the people in my parish in Massachusetts.’

Look. There a few things that ought to be clear to any moral person. Among them:

Killing Christians for being Christians is wrong.

Killing gays for being gay is wrong.

Killing Christians for supporting gay marriage is wrong.

Killing Christians because other Christians support gay marriage is wrong.

Believing that living near Christians will turn you gay is wrong. (This one is less morally wrong than just stupid.)

But those moral truths aren’t what Longenecker finds important in this story. Instead, for him, this story is a chance to beat up the real villains: American Episcopalians. 

And, yes, this is the same Dwight Longenecker who spends half of his posts insisting that “progressives” are all relativist utilitarians who don’t believe in objective truth.

 

Whose Keyboard is Spittle-Flecked?

If you can stand it, read all of Father John Zuhlsdorf’s reaction to the Charlotte situation, linked in my previous post, and compare it to the online petition written by Catholic High student Emma Winters. In an ungrammatical, typo-riddled mess, Father Zuhlsdorf accuses Ms. Winters and her classmates of being “whiners” and mocks parts of her petition as “stupid” and “manipulative.”

Ironically, he also calls her petition “spittle-flecked nutty, bullying, intimidation [sic].”

Like I said, compare.

Another follow-up: this blog is “Letters to the Catholic Right,” and I really do intend it to be seen by the Catholic Right. And I welcome responses from a) the people I write about and b) folks who agree with them. I almost never get that, though, so I was glad that blogger Katrina Fernandez, whom I mentioned in the previous post (and a tweet), at least replied via a twitter:

 

If you read my post, you know that I didn’t say that criticism is the same thing as hate—I didn’t even say that Sister Jane Dominic’s presentation was motivated by hate. I just pointed out that you can’t defend her talk as doctrine, at least not the parts to which Catholic High’s students are objecting. Nor can you defend it as objective truth. And I tied those facts to a question I had been answering in a previous post—why the Catholic Right’s “love” is so often taken as hate.

So Fernandez missed the point of the post, and avoided the questions I asked at the end of it. But it was good to get a response.