Thursday, November 4, 2010

Democratic Failure to Change the Terms of Debate (and Implications for Centrist Catholicism)

Note the fulcrum point in the see-saw diagram I just used in my posting about the American Catholic center, to indicate the dishonest, unjust balancing act in which the center continues to engage: balancing viewpoints whose legitimacy has been radically called into question in almost any respected arena outside the parochial boundaries of the Catholic church with viewpoints that point to greater justice for and fuller inclusion of minorities.

When the center works overtime to recycle outmoded ideas that are being challenged for valid reasons by increasing numbers of people of good will, and when it calls its recycling of outmoded ideas a balancing act that assures a fair hearing to all ideas, it actually pivots the discussion in the direction of the rightly discarded ideas.  Not in the direction of full, inclusive discussion of a new consensus that tries to overcome the blind spots and exclusions of the old one.

This is what is going on when the Catholic center claims, on the one hand, to deplore exclusion of gays and lesbians from full participation in the life of the church and discrimination against gays and lesbians, but tries on the other hand to rehabilitate long-exploded clinical terms like "homosexuality."  And while it discusses the place of "homosexuals" in church and society as it rules out the actual testimony of real gay and lesbian human beings as "political" testimony, as promoting a "p-c" "agenda" that has no place in the church.

Though this balancing act, in which the illegitimate claims of now outmoded (but still powerful) ideas of the past are weighed against the legitimate (but often marginalized) views of those pointing to a future necessary to the construction of a more humane world, offers us a false sense of fairness and an illusory sense of stability, it is ultimately destructive to the institution engaging in such a balancing act.  It is destructive because the stasis we achieve when we keep legitimating ideas and linguistic patterns that have rightly been challenged by those building a more humane future places us on the side of injustice and of retrogressive, anti-progressive movements.

When organizations that claim to be on the side of human rights, justice for all, and full inclusion of all human beings in the human community--organizations like the Catholic church--deliberately play retrogressive political and linguistic games to "balance" their discussions of matters of rights, justice, and inclusion, they undermine their ability to give unambiguous prophetic witness to any issue in which rights, justice, and inclusion are at stake.

It's important to note that this is a point now being made in political discussions of the recent U.S. elections.  As Ruth Rosen notes at AlterNet today, underlying the repudiation of the current Democratic administration (and the failure of the Democratic party to mobilize its base to vote) in these elections is widespread revulsion against the refusal of the Democratic leaders elected in 2008 to change the terms of debate following the 2008 elections, with the large popular mandate those leaders were given precisely to do what they had promised: to change the national political conversation.

Rather than take the courageous (and necessary) step to do that, the Democratic party has persisted in keeping alive the old terms of debate, the old "balances" that it inherited from previous failed administrations--at a point in history at which large numbers of Americans indicate discontent with both political parties and the way in which both parties continue to try to recyle now outmoded ideas and solutions to our pressing economic and political problems.

As Rosen argues,

Barack Obama ignited a hope for change and then squandered the opportunity -- right in the middle of high unemployment, terrible economic anxiety, and widespread fear of a declining America -- to hold tightly to the terms of debate that vaulted him to power and might have resulted in many fewer Democratic losses.

And as she concludes,

History reminds us that any social movement that changes the terms of debate will eventually change the national conversation.

Rather than build a new consensus with the mandate they had received in 2008, the leaders of the Democratic party chose to engage in a futile, false "balancing" act in which the very ideas and political strategies that brought us near the brink of economic destruction in the final decades of the 20th century have been treated as legitimate, as a necessary "balance" to a progressive agenda that points the way to a far more viable future for the nation.  To a necessary future.  To the only future possible, if we expect to survive as a nation.  

And into the gap between the glowing progressive campaign rhetoric of the leaders of the Democratic party in 2008 and the plodding, pedestrian way in which those leaders chose to do business once in office, the tea party and the far right leapt.  Relegitimating their voices and spurious ideas after those voices and ideas were resoundingly repudiated in 2008.

And filling the void with constant loud chatter about how science really doesn't know whether evolution is a legitimate theory, or how the constitution really doesn't draw a line of separation between church and state, and how Islamic sharia law is a real threat to the heartland, and how immigrants are beheading American citizens along the Mexican border (even when no headless bodies can be found), and how states need to amend their constitutions to reinforce the constitutional right to hunt, since it may be taken away by federal laws.  And how homosexuality is a chosen "lifestyle" and all homosexuals are likely to die young because they engage in destructive, promiscuous, disease-ridden sex and are prone to suicidal depression.

On and on.  Totally indefensible ideas, rooted in irrationality and prejudice, in bogus science and malicious theology.  

Just like the continuing assault in centrist Catholic circles on the well-substantiated scientific finding that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, and is established at birth or soon after.  And that even teens can know with assurance that they are gay, and can be bullied to suicide precisely because they are gay.

Going backwards--pretending that God made the world in seven days some 4,000 years ago and that the Muslims of the world have targeted Oklahoma for control by sharia laws--doesn't help us move forwards.  Not at all.

Neither, in American Catholicism, does the attempt to rehabilitate the term "homosexual" and to exclude authentic gay and lesbian voices--real gay and lesbian human beings, brothers and sisters in Christ--as political activists, when we're discussing the place of gays and lesbians in church and society.

The Democratic party is in real hot water because it failed to delegitimate nonsensical anti-scientific and historical ideas from the outset, once it came to power in 2008, and to move the conversation forward--to shift the fulcrum point of the center, because it has to be shifted, if we expect to have a bright future as a nation.

And the American Catholic center is radically undercutting its credibility as a voice for authentic Catholicism and for a bright Catholic future, as it continues to legitimate viewpoints and terminology regarding its gay and lesbian brothers and sisters that have been rightly discarded by people of good will outside the parochial boundaries of an inward-turning church that increasingly sees itself as the only light in a dark world headed for hell.

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