Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Another Day, Another Tribalistic Argument Defending USCCB in ACLU Case: Why I Beg to Differ

Another day, another firing of a gay teacher in a Catholic school another tribalistic defense of the U.S. Catholic bishops as pro-life leaders: this one is from Kevin Clarke at America, who is citing the Catholic Health Association's response to the ACLU lawsuit in Michigan. Clarke writes,

The Catholic-bashing supporters of abortion rights, based on the seething commentary at some pro-choice web sites, will not be satisfied until every Catholic medical center that offers emergency or OB/GYN care in the country is shuttered and every person who has moral qualms about abortion is driven out of the medical profession. The ACLU claims its suit is based on a desire to protect women from poor emergency treatment for crisis pregnancies when they have no choice but to rush to a Catholic-affiliated health provider. One can only wonder what kind of emergency care folks in such poorly served communities can expect when there is no health provider for them to rush to at all.

I pointed to two similar tribalistic defenses of the bishops yesterday--Phyllis Zagano's and Michael Sean Winters's in National Catholic Reporter. These tribalistic defenses of the bishops all have in common their exceedingly frayed argument that holy church and its holy bishops are under attack by a congeries of ill-intentioned anti-Catholic forces: feminists; graduates of women's studies programs; the ACLU; secularists; the New York Times, etc., etc.

They have in common, as well, their assumption that the bishops represent goodness and righteousness, and the obligation of good Catholics is to rally 'round the bishops's flag. I am not persuaded by these arguments, and I continue to maintain that if the goal of the Catholic pro-life movement is to make a dent in the way the culture understands the values of life, something has to shift--because the tribalistic saber-rattling and flag-waving clearly aren't working and haven't been working for a long time now. 

Here's why I keep saying this:

1. What the tribalists repeatedly offer us is not a rational argument about the complex moral issue of abortion: it's a tribalistic reflex response that asks us, in fact, to set aside rationality and line up behind the leader.

2. The tribalists in the Catholic media have forfeited critical perspective on the bishops and how the bishops themselves betray the values of life--becoming a serious impediment to the pro-life argument, in the minds of many folks--because said tribalists are far too thick with the bishops. Not a few of them boast of their cozy relationship to the USCCB and its media spokeswoman Sister Mary Ann Walsh. They give the appearance of being quasi-official echo devices for the USCCB, rather than bona fide journalists.

3. Good journalism requires critical perspective. Tribalist Catholic journalists who become mere echo devices for the bishops are seriously betraying their calling to engage in real journalism, which always engages critically the authority figures on whose views it reports.

4. Many Catholics and many outside the Catholic church do not automatically see the bishops as good guys and holy leaders--rather, the opposite. When we uncritically apotheosize our tribe and its leaders, we do no service to the tribe, insofar as it wants to convince people that it does stand on the side of morality and right. When we demonize anyone who disagrees with our tribal leaders, we slam the door on the possibility of learning something of value about our tribe from those who don't follow our party line, and whose critical perspective may sharpen our own understanding of our ideals.

5. The bishops are themselves one of the greatest impediments possible to the Catholic church as it tries to make a credible pro-life argument in American culture today. Attacking women and giving the general public the impression that women are dispensable sub-humans does not serve the values of life. Attacking gay people and giving the public the impression that gay people are dispensable sub-humans  does not serve the values of life. Allying yourself with the super-rich and the political party most in thrall to the super-rich--with a party that resists welcoming immigrants as human beings, treating those on the margins of society as human beings, extending healthcare to those on the margins of society--does not serve the values of life.

If we who are Catholic want to make a compelling pro-life case in the U.S. public square, we need to learn to respect those who have viewpoints different from our own, and stop demonizing them. We also need to look critically at ourselves and our tribal leaders, and how we communicate the good news of the gospel to the world around us. As Pope Francis keeps saying over and over, the choicest way in which we can proclaim that good news is by living it.

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