Friday, September 11, 2015

Concluding Thoughts on the Huckabee-Staver Show Involving Kim Davis: It's a Catholic Show, Too

As this work week wraps up, and as we reach the level of full glut (and concomitant dyspepsia) with more news about Kim Davis, some wrap-up thoughts about her story:

1. First, Kim Davis (and are Mike Huckabee and Mat Staver) are exactly what Antonin Scalia wanted when he called for the nation to pay more attention to the perspective of "the vast expanse in-between" in his Obergefell dissent. Aren't they?

Scalia wanted the (anti-gay) perspective of folks in middle America (especially in the bible belt) to be included and respected as the Supreme Court made up its mind about marriage equality. His dissenting statement tells us he wanted (right-wing white) evangelicals to be heard vis-a-vis gay marriage.

As Linda Greenhouse pointed out after the Supreme Court decision was issued, Scalia and the other dissenting justices (all Catholic men) actively sought, with their dissenting statements, to sow the seeds of angry backlash, especially in that mystic "vast expanse in-between" heartland space that is supposed to have veto power over the rest of the nation anytime it shouts "Bible!" Kim Davis is what they wanted.

And Kim Davis is what they got. And those powerful Catholic men need to own their complicity in producing her.

2. Second, of course we're all now thoroughly sick of Kim Davis and the sordid little drama that Reverend Huckabee and Mr. Staver have staged for us using Ms. Davis. In being pulled into the drama against our will — in having our energy for what is good and holy dissipated by these religious charlatans, hucksters, and liars — we find ourselves tainted, as it were, by our unwilling complicity in their sordid drama.

But if we're tempted now to shrug our shoulders and stop paying attention to the Huckabee-Staver show involving Ms. Davis, I'd propose that we're making an irresponsible decision that will harm all of us. As Ta-Nehisi Coates presciently noted several days ago in a Democracy Now interview, new technologies which are now widely available, including phone cameras and the internet, allow us to "do" news stories in an entirely new way.

They allow us to take tired old stories (in Coates's case, longstanding police brutality against people of color, but what he says can be applied to the longstanding strand of religious hucksterism and its attack on minority rights in the U.S., too) and see them with new eyes.

These new technologies capture footage for us that's immediate and which can be immediately disseminated around the globe. And because they have such power, these new technologies challenge us to keep the cameras rolling and to keep the uploads to the internet going, even when it appears stories have become stale and tiresome.

People throughout the world saw — through the magic of the internet, they could see in real time as if they were right on the scene — Reverend Huckabee this week stage his Kim Davis show, his aide shouldering Ted Cruz out of the picture, Ms. Davis laboring onto the stage to the beat of "Eye of the Tiger" — the raised hands, the effusive suggestions of entirely faux martyrdom, the waving white crosses and the tears.

And what people saw enacted on that stage elicited, in very many cases, a visceral, immediate reaction of revulsion against the entire staged event and all it claimed to stand for. This picture of what "religious liberty" (used as a tool to attack LGBT human beings and their rights) is really all about for these folks cannot now be "unsaid." It has instantly become iconic in a dark, kairotic way, and will now be, for millions of people, the brand of right-wing evangelical, homophobic Christianity and its "religious liberty" rhetoric anytime they hear the words "Christian" and "religious liberty."

And that is not good news for Reverend Huckabee, Mr. Staver, and their consorts. If nothing else, it means that all the rest of us will, after we've watched the sordid drama, be watching what they and Ms. Davis do with renewed critical attention.

3. Third, have you noticed — I certainly have — that the very same Catholic journals that gleefully permitted "liberal" Catholic commentators to use their journalistic platforms to express "sympathy" for Ms. Davis before the Huckabee-Staver show involving Ms. Davis have now fallen utterly silent about her release from prison?

And about the Huckabee-Staver show using Ms. Davis?

What's that all about, I wonder? 

In the first place, it's obviously all about their recognition that Kim Davis is, as Mark Joseph Stern has recently noted, an absolutely "terrible poster girl" for the "religious liberty" crusade of the religious right. Having seen that show staged by Rev. Huckabee and Mr. Staver using Kim Davis, what can any person of sound conscience and with eyes in her head (and much sense at all) say except, "If this is what religious freedom is all about, I'm not sure I want anything to do with it."

But second, and perhaps more important, there's the fact that these "liberal" Catholic publications which now want to pretend that the Huckabee-Staver-Davis show is beneath their notice, not worthy of attention or comment, bear a great deal of responsibility for setting the stage for this sordid drama.

They went to bat, after all, for the U.S. Catholic bishops from the very inception of the bishops' faux "religious liberty" crusade — though it was very apparent to many of the rest of us from the outset of this crusade that it was energized, in large part, by hostility to LGBT human beings and the rights of those human beings. 

Having defended the indefensible, what can these publications now do except pretend that the sordid drama millions of us watched around the world via the magic of the internet this week simply did not take place? Because it was their Catholic drama, too.

Just as it was the drama of the Catholic men on the Supreme Court who sought, with their Obergefell dissents, to elicit precisely the kind of hostile acting out, in the name of "religious liberty," that we're seeing in the case of Kim Davis. 

This is not just a right-wing evangelical story. It's also a Catholic story, one parallel to the equally sordid drama of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who, like Kim Davis, claim that they cannot possibly sign their names to pieces of paper that would involve them in horrendous evil — a claim that has surfaced in religious right groups only when LGBT people have obtained new rights, and when the Obama administration has sought to extend contraceptive coverage to women through their employers. (See Patricia Miller's thought-provoking analysis of this parallel at Religion Dispatches today, and Ryan Rowekamp's equally valuable comment here several days ago on the same point.)

There has not been any such hue and cry on the part of these Christian actors about the evil in which we (and they) involve ourselves every time we sign our tax returns and permit our tax dollars to be used to produce weapons that are deployed to kill innocent people. It is only when breakthroughs occur for LGBT people seeking rights and when the Obama administration seeks to extend contraceptive coverage for women that we see such claims suddenly arising.

The Catholic "religious freedom" drama is co-extensive with the right-wing evangelical "religious freedom" drama, and has set the stage for the Huckabee-Staver-Kim Davis show every bit as much as has right-wing evangelicalism. And Catholics buying into the bishops' claims about how Catholic "religious freedom" is under attack when same-sex couples can civilly marry and when the Affordable Care Act extends contraceptive coverage to women need to own this fact.

The cartoon is by Steve Sack of Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Cagle Cartoons, by way of Truthdig.

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