Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winter, Discontent, and the Ashes of Hope: The Pilgrimage Continues

Winter.  Discontent.  I believe some famous quipster once made a comment about the connection between the two.

You may have noticed I haven’t been posting here lately.  Here’s why.  Well, what follows is the best explanation I can muster of a process that reaches deeper into my soul than I may be able to verbalize.

I’m tired.  As this long winter grinds on, and as the culture wars heat up all over again with the political and religious right smelling blood in the American political arena, I’m worn out. 

I’m worn out with the fighting and the hate.  I’m tired of the lies and the religious hucksterism that brands and sells the lies as gospel truth. 

In recent weeks, leading spokespersons for the American political right have gone on the warpath again against the gay community, and are floating rhetorical trial balloons as they call for the recriminalization of homosexuality.  At the same time, these same folks are trying to reinvigorate ugly, never really vanquished stereotypes of gay men as promiscuous, disease-ridden child molesters who engage in filthy sexual practices.

This rhetoric links to a volatile situation in Africa that these same “religious” groups have helped create, in which a nation is considering putting gay people to death solely because they are gay, while other nations are witnessing mobs crying for the blood of gay citizens and police are rounding up those who are gay. 

In Paris this weekend, at one of the kiss-ins that gay folks have been staging in France, police informed those planning a kiss-in that they could not protect them, if the kiss-in occurred in front of Notre Dame.  Police had received reports of threats of serious violence if a demonstration occurred in front of the church.  When a few demonstrators persisted in the plan to hold the kiss-in at that location, a mob tried to attack them, hurling homophobic insults as it did so.  The mob claimed to be representing Catholic integralism.

Videos I've seen show the mob trying to attack gays as mostly young folks: if they are Catholics, they are Catholics of the John Paul II generation.  They are tangible evidence of the bitter fruit that his and the current pope's strategy of restorationism has yielded in the life of the Catholic church.

As all this is going on, the most vicious and partisan elements of the Catholic right in the U.S. are working overtime to drive a wedge between Catholics for whom such hate-oriented actions are ethically abhorrent, and Catholics who buy into culture-war rhetoric and who have resisted the current administration solely because it’s not Republican.  As a number of commentators have noted, the ferocity and destructiveness of right-wing Catholic political rhetoric is peaking in an unprecedented way now in American culture.  The politics of division and hatred are alive and well in influential sectors of American Catholicism, and those politics are likely to make inroads, because the groups promoting these politics are well-funded and powerful.

And as all this happens, what has been the response of the American Catholic bishops?  Just as this new hate-driven initiative got underway with right-wing American Catholic political groups, the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference came under fire from these groups, who are claiming that the USCCB is pro-gay and pro-abortion. 

To repeat: this is part of a well-orchestrated, well-heeled strategy on the part of influential right-wing political and economic interest groups to divide American Catholics in order to neutralize Catholic social teaching in the political and economic spheres.

And what has been the official response of the American Catholic bishops to this hate-driven political strategy?  Silence.  Slience about the hate.  But not about the gays.  The response of the spokesman of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Cardinal Francis George, to the spiking rhetoric of hate of the Catholic right was to issue a statement—out of the blue—condemning New Ways Ministry.  Condemning one of the few Catholic groups trying to keep alive a pastoral strategy of healing and inclusion for LGBT Catholics.

And so I’m tired.  I’ve been fighting for a long time and I’m worn out.  I’ve been fighting to open spaces in which the real story—the truth—about these “religious” hate groups and what they want to accomplish in American society can be told.  I’ve been fighting to call people of faith to accountability for their silence in the face of such hate.

And I don’t seem to have made a dent.  I have to say this: far more disheartening to me than the hate itself is the continued appetite of my Catholic brothers and sisters of the center for such hatred.  When I say “appetite,” I mean that Catholics of the center continue to find it possible to make room for the rhetoric of hate, while marginalizing their brother and sister Catholics who combat that rhetoric and try to open discourse spaces that name the hate for what it is.

I had thought—I had hoped—that perhaps centrist Catholics would have learned something in recent years, something about how toxic the anti-gay hate rhetoric emanating from some sectors of the Catholic church, and nurtured right in the center of the discourse spaces of centrist Catholics, is not only for gay Catholics, but for all of us.

For the whole world.

I had hoped that, at last, the blinders would begin to fall from the eyes of wishy-washy, “objective,” “balanced,” commitment-phobic centrist Catholics and that they’d finally help their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters push back against the hate.

I have been wrong in maintaining that hope.  Not even the possibility of executions of people who are gay, or of recriminalizing homosexuality in this country, seems to make any significant difference in the apathy—in the tacit alliance with right-wing Catholics promoting a politics of hatred and division.  The economic ties that bind the centrists and their blogs and publications to the very groups engineering the social divisions are too strong and too decisive for centrist Catholics to budge.  Budging would involve them in a reassessment of their economic self-interest and social privilege that they do not intend to undertake, even as they talk about helping the poor and building a more humane society.

Next month, I turn 60, God willing.  I want to spend what’s left of my life living with what peace and dignity I can muster in a world not conspicuously intent on according me and my kind peace and dignity.

Since my attempt to engage the world around me in direct ways through blog conversations seems to have failed dismally, I want to spend what time is left to me doing a few of the things that feed my soul—things like reading, writing, cooking, gardening, spending time laughing and eating with family and friends.  Learning languages and reading more frequently things written in the languages I now know, since, as Rilke says somewhere, learning to exist in a new language is developing another soul.  And we can't have too many souls inside us.

Who knows, I may even learn a few languages useless for commercial purposes, along with the Latin name of every songbird wherever they sing.  (With a bow to one of the many underrated American women writers who penned those lines.)

Something that becomes ever clearer to me as I enter the senior period of my life is how fundamentally at odds some of my most heartfelt presuppositions about human relationships are with the prevailing worldview of most American Catholics.  The culture in which I grew up had glaring flaws.  It had deep inbuilt cruelties, particularly around issues of race, class, and gender.

Even so, it had a strong sense of solidarity that I have found, throughout my life as a Catholic, almost totally lacking in the American Catholic sensibility, despite the high profile that the term “solidarity” has in Catholic thought.  Most American Catholics are deeply individualistic, with very little sense at all of how their lives connect, inextricably and forever, to the lives of everyone around them—to the lives of every other citizen of the world, past, present, and future.

I grew up in a world in which those connections were tangible.  They were the air I breathed.  Though the world in which I grew up saw the squire and the cottager as distinctly different people, due to their distinctly different social classes, it would not have dreamed of trying to separate the two—of trying to deny the patent, undeniable connection of the squire to the cottager.  Or the rector to the village drunk.

I am—we are—all of these characters.  Trying to deny my connection to any one of them is trying to deny my very self.  Conducting my moral and religious life in the absence of any awareness that, at the end of my life, I will have to account for how I have dealt with the manifold connections that link me to every other citizen of the planet, is impossible to me.  It’s as impossible as trying to deny that the air I breathe each moment—the sustenance of my life—contains molecules of air that has been breathed by every other citizen of the world today and every other citizen of the world in the past.

We are all care of one another.

And I am deeply disappointed in the church I chose in late adolescence for its inability to recognize and live according to that recognition.  I am deeply pained and saddened by the ability of many of my fellow Catholics to continue living as though their silence and lack of commitment as one after another brother and sister is shoved from the table does not matter.  I find far more wisdom and insight among younger Catholics who are now distancing themselves from the Catholic church because of its violations of human rights than I do among those mesmerized by the cynical, media-savvy John Paul II dog and pony show.

I’ve, frankly, had it.  I find myself viscerally repulsed right now when I try to read or engage in the non-conversations taking place on most of the blogs of the American Catholic center.  It’s as if I’m looking back at the rise of the Nazis in Germany, as one law after another caging in the Jews and then putting a capital sentence on their heads, is enacted, and I’m watching the Catholic community natter on about Latin Masses.

I want to be—I have to be—as far away as I can get from my church right now.  The hate is too much to bear.  I have to distance myself to save my soul. 

So that’s where I am, in a nutshell.  Winter.  Discontent.  The ashes of hope and of aspirations to love, in the face of grim reality.

And I have to find a way, on my pilgrimage, to live honestly where I find myself. 

Whether I’ll continue maintaining this blog, I don’t know.  I very much appreciate readers who have slogged along with me for several years now—more than I can say.  You have been a lifeline for me.  I appreciate those of you who have emailed me, and in once case, phoned me to ask after my well-being recently.  I value you and your friendship, and hope I am not letting you down as I fall silent. 

There are, after all, many other blogs that do what I do far better than I do it, and with far fewer superfluous words. 

Please keep me in your prayers.

Here, by the way, is a posting I have tried to make on one of the blogs of the American Catholic center, where I recently tried very hard to push back against the rhetoric of the toxic Catholic right.  I now find myself censored at that blog, though the person with whom I was trying to maintain honest dialogue is not censored.  Let this comment, which is apparently more inflammatory for the Catholic center than the hate rhetoric of the Catholic right, be my swan song.  The topic of discussion is a recent billboard put up by right-to-life groups in Georgia, targeting the African-American community.

And now I see that my comment did make into onto the blog thread.  I had originally posted it last night.  By this point, a red notice had appeared on the thread, noting that comments would have to be approved before being uploaded.

When I saw this morning that my comment did not pass muster, while a comment from the person whom I was addressing, who represents, in my view, a tea-party version of Catholic pro-life thinking, had gone through, I decided to try again.  I re-posted a new version of the censored comment, and it has now been approved and has gone through.  And so I am deleting the comment from this posting.