And speaking of how the Catholic church (at an institutional level) is often perceived these days as a retrograde force in American public life, particularly vis-a-vis issues of gay rights and women's rights (I'm piggybacking here on my preceding posting about Charlotte, North Carolina): at his Hepzibah blog site, Alan McCornick offers a superb point-by-point refutation of the argument (loosely so called) that the Catholic bishops of New Jersey presented against same-sex marriage in January 2012. As Alan notes, it's important not to forget this argument as marriage equality is now enacted in that state--because the battle for gay rights continues everywhere and what religious authority figures have to say about these topics continues to influence many people.
I'm struck by the reasonableness of Alan's response to arguments that are, for the most part, preeminently lacking in reason--to arguments that are, for the most part, preeminently irrational. The bishops' style of argumentation is to assert what they believe as an apodictic principle that in and of itself obviates all need for discussion, since they're asserting principles that are right and who can argue with rectitude?
As Alan suggests, this method of moral argumentation just doesn't cut it in the public square of a pluralistic secular democracy where many citizens (including many Catholics) don't approach many moral issues with the bishops' taken-for-granted starting points. And where informed, fact-based, reasonable discussion should carry the day when moral issues are under consideration, and not the enunciation of apodictic principles trumpeted from on high . . . .
Ironically, as someone outside the Catholic tradition, Alan is representing the Catholic tradition of moral thinking at its best, while the bishops to whom he's responding represent it lamentably. He's implicitly noting something that Catholic moral theology at its best has always taught: that is, that faith and reason have to work hand in hand as we assess moral issues. And that reason has to inform our approach to moral thinking and moral decision-making, if that approach is to be sound and grounded in reality--so that the moral principles we derive from our faith-based rational analysis are compelling ones and not flimsy ones that can easily be dismissed as irrational.
Alan's conclusion, as he asks the Catholic bishops of New Jersey to think along with him more carefully about the issue of same-sex marriage:
I believe you are in error, and that your blinders keep your church a retrograde force. Your new pope appears to understand the need for positive change. Most Catholics, I believe, are behind him in his efforts to make your church more loving and compassionate. Could you too not consider the possibility that some rethinking on your part is in order?
I doubt seriously that the Catholic bishops of New Jersey will hear what Alan is saying in his open letter to them. After all, dialogue with anyone outside their clerical elite--including with the majority of their fellow Catholics in the U.S. who support marriage equality--has never had anything at all to do with their moral position on gay marriage.
They talk to no one as they hurl down their unyielding principles from on high. As a result, no one listens to them much at all--except, unfortunately, people who want to keep anti-gay prejudice in place and who want religious reinforcement for their homophobic positions.
And so Alan is perfectly correct when he concludes that, at an institutional level, the Catholic church in the U.S. continues to function as a retrograde force in the area of human rights for gay people. See Mount St. Mary, Little Rock. See St. Matthew, Charlotte. See the next story that will come down the pike in this area in the next several days . . . .