A day or so ago, I mentioned that I'd have a few words to say about an important posting Alan McCornick made at his Hepzibah blog recently. This is a rich and wide-ranging report-cum-meditation on issues as diverse as the role of religion in global politics today, the perceived battle between Christianity and Islam, the rise of ethnocentric nationalism in Europe and North America, and the place of LGBT people and questions about LGBT rights as all of this takes place.
One section of Alan's report zeroes in on out gay German Catholic theologian David Berger, author of the book Der Heilige Schein describing his experiences as a gay Catholic theologian. In November 2010, I offered Bilgrimage readers a brief glimpse into what was then happening with Berger. I noted that he had been a darling of the reactionary, anti-modern, anti-democratic Catholic right in Europe, until he came out of the closet as a partnered gay man and began to describe for the rest of us the "parallel world" occupied by reactionary Catholics in Europe.
His insider account of what the Catholic right is really all about, really like, as it "defends" "the" church against enemies, is stomach-churning.
Note his observation that many secretly gay Catholic pastoral leaders collude with the right-wing groups he describes in his interview [in Spiegel] — groups that try to keep alive the old vision of a "Christian" Europe in which aristocrats lord it over common people, gay men are susceptible to violence, women are expected to obey their men, and Jews and Freemasons are the enemies of the church. Groups which, according to Berger, continue to meet in "luxury hotels" and plot coups, while "[ol]d men smoke fat cigars, drink expensive red wine and eat well."
The following January, I pointed readers of Bilgrimage to commentary of Berger at the Pray Tell blog which now appears no longer to be at that site, in which he spoke of Pope Benedict XVI as a "tragic pope" who had "lavishly pulled extreme forces to the very center of the Church." As with Donald Trump in the American context, Benedict normalized groups such as the ultra-reactionary schismatic Society of St. Pius X, which have rejected Vatican II and is explicitly and overtly continuing the bitter fight against modernity and democracy — a fight to which this group believes the Catholic church as a whole must commit itself or be in danger of relinquishing its Catholic identity.
Alan's recent report at Hepzibah brings us up to date with the Berger story. As Alan indicates, Berger has now made a "boomeranging back to conservative causes." Following his coming out of the closet and the publication of his tell-all memoir Der Heilige Schein with its revelations about the inner life of reactionary Catholic circles in Europe, Berger had made public statements supporting same-sex marriage. He has now retracted those statements and has once again in a very public way allied himself with the hard-right wing of European Catholicism.
A central question running through Alan's report about this is why Berger has taken this "boomerang" step. As Alan writes,
One wonders how Berger reconciles the conflict he has between the church's claim that his sexual activity is sinful, on the one hand – he has what in Germany is called a "registered partnership" with his life partner (Germany does not permit same-sex marriage) – and, on the other hand, his need to come to the defense of the church as the mainstay in Western Civilization, particularly against the modern-day in-migration of Muslims. I also find it hard to understand his defense of Roman Catholic orthodoxy in light of the fact he has chosen to call his blog Philosophia Perennis, perennialism being the view that all religions share a greater truth, that all religions are different paths to that truth. Obviously I am missing something important here. Berger appears, ironically, to be advocating a mixed message. Allow me to go on sinning, he seems to be saying, and I will support your need to survive as an institution. So much for putting an end to the "holy illusion."
"Holy illusion" = der heilige Schein. A central claim of Berger's book is that the leaders of the Catholic church approach issues like the issue of human sexuality in a duplicitous way, teaching officially what they knows full well lay Catholics do not and will not live in their personal lives, and in this way, undermining the integrity of the church's proclamation of the gospel and its claim to be the bearer of unique truth for the world.
In Alan's view, a primary reason Berger is now choosing to regress, to walk back some of his previous views including his support for same-sex marriage, is that he has now allied himself with European and North American thinkers and groups that want to frame the current moment in global history in explicit terms as a battle against Christian truth and Islamic error, against a "Christian" civilization they see as under attack by demonic Islamic ideology: Alan writes,
He now expouses the view, shared by other intellectuals such as the German secular Muslim Hamed Abdel-Samad and the American spokesman for the new atheists, Sam Harris, that it's not merely radical Muslims that are a danger to Western Civilization, but Islam itself as an ideology. This anti-Islam camp finds the defense of Muslims by most people on the left, including one's gay brothers and sisters, to be unacceptable and self-destructive. Berger will now tell you he no longer wants his gay identity to be central. He has swung sharply to the right, joined the conservative CDU (Christian Democratic Party) (although he remains opposed to its head, Angela Merkel), attacks the leftist Green Party, accusing it of becoming an enabler of the rightwing AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) party. He has also become a supporter of Donald Trump and a defender of another radical gay rightist, the provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, editor of Breitbart News, notorious for its white supremacist and anti-feminist sympathies. One wonders if he really knows who he is in bed with.
This move leaves Alan puzzled:
Is he deliberately closing his eyes to the fact that most victims of terrorism are Muslims, and that closing ranks with Muslims would probably be a more effective strategy for fighting radical Islam than closing ranks with separatist-oriented Catholics? That joining with clericalist Catholics, in the mistaken belief that they are the church, even though they are outnumbered by Catholics seeking reform, is counter-productive?
Whether Berger sees the irony in his instrumentalization of the church for political purposes after having criticized it for encouraging hypocrisy through the mechanism of illusion, remains an open question. To instrumentalize religion, and make it serve any purpose other than to spread the message of the gospel, according to the pious, is to pervert the faith.
To my way of thinking, the answer to the conundrum that is David Berger and his recent "boomerang" is fairly simple: it's right in front of our eyes in Alan's observation that "[h]e has also become a supporter of Donald Trump and a defender of another radical gay rightist, the provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos . . . ." As ethnocentric nationalist movements sweep across Europe and North America and show their power in Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, Berger is, quite simply — and to put this point crudely — choosing what he sees as the winning side in an historic battle. It's easy for him to choose this side because he has been immersed in the ideology of right-wing anti-modern reactionary Catholicism for much of his life — and right-wing anti-modern reactionary Catholicism is at the very heart of the anti-Islamic (and anti-Semitic, misogynistic, racist, and homophobic) ethnocentric nationalism now gaining such power in Europe and North America.
We can and should look for more of these "boomerang" people to come down the pike now, following Donald Trump's inauguration. They are everywhere in the media as the media normalize Donald Trump. They are richly represented among "liberal" Catholic intellectual leaders in the U.S. who will find every way possible to praise Donald Trump, as they continue to find every way possible not to stand in solidarity with African Americans and LGBT people.
It's really not news, is it, that people like to be on the "winning" side, and will, like Jason Chaffetz, who told us he could not support Donald Trump because Chaffetz has a daughter, fall all over themselves now to curry Trump's favor?
The photo of the cover of Berger's book is from its Amazon page.