Monday, July 16, 2012

Ross Douthat's Catholics Win, Episcopalians Lose Meme: Let Us Make-Believe Together

The Episcopal Church USA holds its triennial convention, at which it approves the use of rituals to bless same-sex unions, and within days, New York Times talking head Ross Douthat offers readers a hand-wringing analysis of how liberal Christianity is failing to save Christianity.  That analysis focuses--surprise!--on the Episcopal church.

And on its supposed demise, the more liberal it becomes.  In contrast to Douthat's own Roman Catholic church, where, as he boasts, Pope Benedict has held the line against all those liberal reforms.

Any chance Douthat's analysis and the timing of his piece could be connected to the recent decision of the Episcopal Church USA to bless same-sex unions?  Nah.  Not a chance in the world.  Douthat is, after all, not homophobic in the least.  Or so many of the leading members of the centrist commentariat who give him cover, including some significant gay voices, want us to think.

Here's the thing: this attempt to play thriving conservative Catholicism against decadent liberal Episcopalianism is becoming exceptionally threadbare, because the meme totally obscures what's going on with the Catholic church these days--as if facts and figures have no bearing at all on an argument that is purportedly all about facts and figures, all about a numbers game which demonstrates that, yet again, conservatives win and liberals lose.

And when conservative Catholic journalists like Douthat trot out their argument ostensibly proving that 1) the Episcopalians lose the game by blessing same-sex unions and 2) liberal Christianity is writing its obituary by pushing for ordination of women, inclusion of gays, and fidelity to the social teaching of churches, said conservative Catholic journalists run the risk of looking a tiny bit foolish the minute anyone takes a close, sober look at the figures for the right-wing Catholic model they want to sell us.  

A tiny bit foolish and a huge bit dishonest.  Since they surely know the figures as well as anyone else.

What they want us to forget, but what cannot be forgotten as they shop around the shopworn "liberals (i.e., gay-friendly Episcopalians) lose again" meme, is the following:

1. In 2009, a Pew Foundation study reported that a third of American adults who had been raised Catholic had left the Catholic church. 
2. The Pew study pointed out that one in ten American adults is now a former Catholic. 
3. If all these Catholics who have exited the Catholic church were aggregated together into one denomination, they'd form the second largest denomination in the U.S.

With rare exceptions, the U.S. Catholic bishops, who are the standard-bearers for the right-wing variety of Catholicism promulgated under John Paul II and Benedict that is supposedly winning the numbers game and saving real old-time Christianity, have kept their mouths totally shut about this Pew study and the mass exodus of Catholics from the church.

They don't talk about it.  They don't address it.  They pretend it's not there, not happening on their watch.

They pretend it's not in some ways a direct result of their cover-up of crimes of sexual abuse, a cover-up that goes to the very top of the Catholic church, to the pope himself--to the same two right-wing popes who have supposedly saved old-time religion for the world and are winning the numbers game.  

Any pastoral leaders with any sense of what being pastoral is all about would have been all over this problem of mass exodus of Catholics by now.  They'd have commissioned studies, tried to figure out what's going on, why it's happening, what to do about it.

How to respond to it pastorally.

Instead, they have maintained complete silence.  And they and their defenders have tried to play the shift-the-blame game by pointing their fingers at liberal Christian churches like the Episcopal church, as they boast that, thank God, we're not like the Episcopalians.

We've held the line.  And we're thriving.

There are strong anecdotal indicators that the exodus Pew tracked up to 2009 has accelerated since 2009, and that even more Catholics have exited the Catholic church since then, and are now exiting as the U.S. bishops ramp up their faux "religious freedom" war against the Democrats.  Against liberals, that is to say.

I've heard anecdotal reports from Minnesota that so many Catholics in some areas of the state are leaving the Catholic church for the Episcopal church because they're furious at their bishops' attacks on gay folks, that Episcopal churches in these areas have begun hospitality ministries to attend to the needs of former Catholics flocking to the Episcopal communion.

But Ross Douthat and other conservative Catholics, along with the political and religious right in general, want us to turn our laser beam on the Episcopalians and figure out why they're dying?  While right-wing Catholics move from triumph to triumph, winning the numbers game at every turn as they ratchet up the conservatism and purify their church?

Something's not right with this picture, is it?  The meme cynically turns reality on its head.

It's almost as if it has been deliberately constructed to serve some political end that matters far more than knowing what's really going on with Catholic numbers and the Catholic numbers game, as Catholic leave the church in droves in the developed nations, precisely in the same time frame in which its top leaders have taken their sharp turn to the right.

No comments: