Wednesday, February 23, 2011

They Call It a Non-Sequitur . . .

I call it the sacramental principle.

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels has posted an interesting summary at Commonweal's blog re: Catholic presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's response to a question asked by a student when Mr. Gingrich spoke yesterday at the University of Pennsylvania.  Student Isabel Friedman asked Gingrich,

You adamantly oppose gay rights ... but you've also been married three times and admitted to having an affair with your current wife while you were still married to your second.  As a successful politician who's considering running for president, who would set the bar for moral conduct and be the voice of the American people, how do you reconcile this hypocritical interpretation of the religious values that you so vigorously defend?

And some of my brethren of the Catholic right, as they discuss this question and Gingrich's dismissive response to it at the Commonweal site, are calling Ms. Friedman's question a non-sequitur.  That is, what does Gingrich's own moral behavior in the realm of sexuality or his marital history have to do with his right to oppose gay rights?

This is precisely the point I addressed in my posting yesterday noting the increasingly high price the Catholic church is paying now for turning itself into a heteronormative homophobic old boys' club in which any and all heterosexual men, no matter how morally dubious their behavior in the area of sexuality and marriage, are considered the standard-bearers of "traditional" morality and "family values."  While any and all gay or lesbian persons, no matter how morally admirable, are considered ipso facto to be betraying Catholic moral values.

Once again: the price the Catholic church is paying for equating morality with the Newt Gingriches of the world and denying the title "moral" to every self-accepting gay and lesbian person in the world is a price of cognitive dissonance: the clear disconnect between the moral lives of the Gingriches et al., who are the most stalwart defenders of the Catholic hierarchy's continued ugly attacks on gay and lesbian persons and gay and lesbian rights, and what the Catholic tradition really teaches about moral values and goals is too stark for many Catholics to support any longer.

In a church based on a sacramental principle, there's no getting around the lives being led by those doing the teaching and the proclaiming.  When those lives are at an utter remove from the values being proclaimed--and being used to bash others on the ground that those others aren't up to moral snuff--people will stop listening.

As they should stop listening, since what a group lives is far and away its more important message than the words it uses to proclaim its message.  

What these right-wing Catholic brethren call a non-sequitur, I call the sacramental principle.  When men who have been married three times and have cheated on one of their wives while married to a previous one preach to me about sexual morality, I tend to listen with jaded ears.  As I do when leading Catholic journalists whose own widely known sexual histories and lived witness to traditional marital values in no way conform to the ideal then egg the bishops on to attack gay and lesbian folks, in the name of defending the sanctity of marriage.

P.S. When I read uncensored (!) comments of my Catholic brothers on Catholic blog sites comparing my committed, monogamous relationship of love with another man to bestiality, I feel--precisely so--as I feel when I go down to my city's public library, scroll through newspapers from my state in the 1950s and 1960s, and read letters from white Christian gentlemen of those decades describing African Americans as apes.

Yes, those letters exist.  And yes, they were freely published at one time.  No credible newspaper would publish them now--not on your life.  Nor would anyone air these opinions in public, not even those who continue to whisper such ugly lies in the privacy of their homes and clubs.

In another century, people are going to scroll through Catholic publications now considered credible and professional, and be equally shocked to read comments like the bestiality ones now being made about gay human beings in these publications.  And people are going to wonder what kind of publication that wished to call itself Catholic and to be thought credible would permit such comments to go uncensored--when these same publications freely censor comments of gay folks trying to defend themselves against such slander.

And they're going to wonder, as I wonder both about my fellow Christians of the past in my part of the U.S. and about these Catholic brothers in the present: who gave these men such an astonishing sense of entitlement?  Entitlement to regard themselves as the center of the universe, and their lives full of power and privilege as the norm to which everyone else should aspire?  Who anointed them the moral arbiters of the universe, even when their own lives in no way conform to the values they're preaching to those beneath them?

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