Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"Don't Say Gay," Cordileone Tells His Flock, and I Think Hannah Arendt and George Orwell

When I read this--San Francisco's archbishop Salvatore Cordileone decreeing that Catholics are not to say "gay marriage"--I think of this:

The Nazis evacuated language of all meaning, having gained power, corrupting all the terms they used and twisting them to new meaning running barely hidden beneath the old.

That's Hannah Arendt in her classic work Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt notes that the Nazis began to seize control of the German mind by playing language games that forced people to hide--to lie about, she says explicitly--the reality to which language points, via use of circumlocutions, euphemisms, and ordained evasions of truth. The Nazis took the laws governing speech in everyday discourse (the Sprachreglungen), and gave them a twist to make the unthinkable thinkable.

The banality of evil in any society is rooted first and foremost in the abasement of language by the powers that be. Or, as George Orwell puts the point in his classic essay "Politics and the English Language,"

Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

The grand irony here, of course, is that Cordileone argues that he himself is defending popular discourse from an insidious corruption--from the corruption of calling what is not marriage a bona fide kind of marriage. But he's seeking to do so by establishing a Sprachreglung, handed down via episcopal fiat, which seeks to obscure something to which popular language itself points: to a reality that Cordileone and his Vatican overseers want to pretend does not and cannot exist.

Does not and cannot exist, along with the humanity of those who are made invisible by these draconian Sprachreglungen . . . . The ultimate injustice, the ultimate sin, of how the current pastoral leaders of the Catholic church want to deal with gay and lesbian human beings is that they are seeking in every way possible to erase gay and lesbian human beings from the human community, by denying that we exist, by scrubbing discourse that provides evidence of our existence, by narrowing linguistic rules such that there is no longer any place in which gay and lesbian human beings can be ourselves and speak in our own voices.

"Don't say gay marriage," Cordileone instructs his flock. Which is another way of saying what Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's U.N. representative, said back in 2011 when he explained why the Vatican cannot and will not support U.N. resolutions to safeguard gay rights: there is no category called "gay," and therefore gay rights cannot exist.

Out of sight, out of mind. The linguistic tack that oppressive regimes always have to take as a preliminary step as they seek to justify their attempt to disappear entire groups of human beings from the human community . . . . 

What any of this behavior has to do with Jesus and the gospels remains exceedingly mysterious to me.

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