Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Case: Questions about the Waning Credibility of Catholic Moral Discourse, or Ignoring Real People to Talk about Hypothetical Ones

So, thank you for the many insightful comments affirming a central point of my last posting: that is, that I'm not simply imagining that we're at some kind of cultural turning point when it comes to questions of how gay people are to be received and treated by religious communities and societies at large. And (a point we've discussed here before), the more that turning point is reached, the more vehement becomes the reaction in some quarters of faith communities and society. Witness the brouhaha over the quickly reversed decision of World Vision to include married same-sex couples in their organization's policy statement about married couples.

So much that you've all said in that posting resonates, and has rung in my head all day long, after I initially read your responses:

Evagrius says that we're at a tipping point at which the social construct that we've been living in has run its course, its foundations in the Neolithic age have run out of steam. 
Maggie thinks we're hearing the "death rattle of meanness sponsored by the church." 
Colleen envisages the anti-gay rage of the trolls at various faith-based blog sites as a white flag they're waving as they realize they're being defeated. 
John hears "the last gasps and screams of the old ways" getting louder as those who have charted their religious course by those ways become the marginalized and no longer the marginalizers, and as "the wheel of karma rolls along."

There are many other wonderful comments in the thread responding to my posting. I'm focusing on these because they're all echoing the point of  my posting, and helping me to see that the kind of exercised response to the cultural-religious shift through which we seem to be living, which I keep discerning as someone who seems to be the target (along with other gay folks, and with women everywhere) of some of the deep anxiety it evokes, is really out there.

I'm not imagining it. Others of you are seeing it--along with people I cited in yesterday's posting, like Rachel Held Evans, who says that the response of some American evangelicals to the World Vision decision to include gay married couples in its marriage policy for employees (the initial decision that was then revoked because of the response of these folks) has been eye-opening for her. She had not realized, she says, the "true extent of the disdain evangelicals have for our LGBT people" until she saw the response to the initial World Vision decision.

The Christian Left group reacts in a similar way to the really vile way in which many "Christians" reacted as soon as World Vision announced the now-rescinded marriage equality policy for its employees. Christian Left says this reaction forces the group to reevaluate its optimism about how far along the road to justice we've really walked. "They're not going to let go of their deep-seated hatred, condemnation and self-righteousness with regard to treating gay people with dignity," Christian Left says about the "Christians" reacting vehemently to World Vision's policy placing heterosexual and gay married couples on an equal footing.

And so here we are, on the eve of an historic ruling by the Supreme Court that may well give historically monumental aid and comfort--from the level of the highest court in the land--to those very people who, as Christian Left rightly observes, are not about to yield their deep-seated hatred, condemnation, and self-righteousness and start treating gay folks with dignity. As Adam Winkler recently wrote

The focus of the [Hobby Lobby] case will be on President Obama's health care law and its requirement that employers provide health insurance that includes coverage for birth control. Yet, what the case is really about is the future of gay rights.

Dahlia Lithwick echoes that judgment, noting, 

The rights of millions of women to preventive health care and workplace equality elicit almost no sign of sympathy or solicitude from the right wing of the bench today. Nor does the possibility that religious conscience objections may soon swallow up the civil rights laws protecting gay workers, women, and other minorities. Religious freedom trumps because we’re "only" talking about birth control.

As Eli Clifton notes, the "Hobby Lobby" case is not just about Hobby Lobby itself: it's about a vast right-wing network being funded by the craft store empire, whose real agenda is to impose a theocratic Christian-right agenda on the nation as a whole. The attempt to deny contraception to women employees with spurious claims that emergency contraception is a form of abortion is only one prong of a wider strategy, which also includes claiming the "right" to discriminate against gay workers in the name of "religious liberty."

The National Christian Charitable Foundation, of which Hobby Lobby is a primary funder, is thickly connected to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a key player in the attempt to enshrine the "right" to discriminate against gay people in the recent legislation in Arizona, and the legal organization that is defending and pushing the anti-Obamacare lawsuits of many Catholic universities and other Catholic organizations. As Patricia Miller points out, behind this movement, as a driving force in it, stand the Catholic bishops of the U.S., who chose to pick a fight with President Obama about the Affordable Care Act even when he bent over backwards to accommodate their concerns about the contraceptive-coverage mandate.

Did you know, by the way, that until President Obama came along and proposed the Affordable Care Act, Hobby Lobby was already voluntarily providing coverage for the very forms of contraception it and the Catholic bishops now suddenly find problematic--for the purportedly "abortifacient" morning-after pill? See Brian Beutler on this point. And did you know that the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services" already permitted the use of the morning-after pill in cases of rape (a recognition that the pill is not an abortifacient) before the bishops suddenly discovered that the pill is an abortifacient? A discovery they seem to have made suddenly when the Obama administration included a mandate for contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act . . . . 

As Patricia Miller has also noted, it was the U.S. Catholic bishops who crafted the truth-defying claim that, in requiring businesses to cover contraception via the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration is actually requiring all of us to pay for government-funded abortions, because emergency contraceptives are (they insist counterfactually) abortifacients and not contraceptives. The U.S. Catholic bishops are at the very center of the attempt of powerful, well-funded religious-right groups to carve out special religious "exemptions"--to invent special religious "rights" to discrimination--not only for religious groups, but also for private employers. 

And gay citizens of the U.S. are, along with women, right in the center of the sight of the bishops' guns as this is now playing out, and as a Supreme Court heavily weighted in a Catholic direction lends credence to the special claims of Catholic leaders about these matters. It is entirely possible that, in a few days' (or weeks' or months') time, we'll see an enormous setback for gay rights in this country, spearheaded by the Catholic bishops of the U.S. and seconded by the Catholic-dominated Supreme Court, as the Supreme Court hands down its decision about this.

My question as all this plays out: why are so many of the intellectual leaders of the American Catholic church--the kind of people who bustle around at the Commonweal site, a site known for the level of its intellectual discourse and for the many Catholic academics it attracts--talking about the Hobby Lobby case as if it's all about hypotheticals, and not about real people, about fellow human beings, whose lives will be radically impacted by these legal decisions?

Why are so many of the intellectual leaders of the Catholic church in the U.S. assisting the bishops in spreading their lie that emergency contraceptives may well be abortifacients, and participating in the bishops' campaign to convince the Supreme Court justices and all the rest of us that the case is about the slippery slope of what if and where we might end up, if we pretend that the morning-after pill is an abortifacient?

When real human beings--not hypothetical zygotes--are affected by these discussions, and when their real human lives are affected in radically important ways . . . . 

My question is, what kind of tradition of moral thinking that expects to be taken seriously and treated as morally credible ends up talking about hypotheticals, about what ifs, about human beings that aren't even there, while ignoring human beings that actually are there? How is the moral tradition dominating Catholic intellectual life at present, with its obsessive focus on hypothetical, what-if claims about slippery slopes and non-existent abortifacients, but its total inability to see real human beings who are being radically affected by these debates, any different from the moral tradition that led so many Catholics in Nazi Germany to ignore the humanity of Jews being carted off to crematoria?

What makes people--in this case, the moral leaders of a church with a venerable tradition of profound moral thinking, its bishops and its academic elite--so shockingly morally obtuse? What kind of moral deformation has occurred among many Catholics, especially our moral leaders, that we could have ended up at this place, in which real human beings who happen to be gay simply don't count for us, as we split hairs and hypothesize about sperm, ova, and zygotes and what might happen if we allow women access to contraception through their health-insurance plans?

Just asking.

The graphic: once again, a graph of the extremely pertinent recent finding of the Public Religion Research Institute demonstrates that the American public sees the Catholic church as more hostile to gay people than any other religious group. There's a reason for that finding--and the reason is on full display right now in the Commonweal discussion of the Hobby Lobby case I highlight above, with its fixation on hypothetical abortifacients and hypothetical slippery slopes, as the potential for this case to do serious harm to gay human beings (and women) is totally ignored. By people who are the intellectual leaders of the American Catholic church . . . . 

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