Friday, May 1, 2015

Things I'm Reading at Week's End: Marriage, Bible, Catholics, Women's Rights, Recovering from Religious Trauma, Pope Francis and Women

Things I'm reading as this week ends — these items all connected in that they talk about issues of religion in the public square:

At her Extra Ecclesiam Est Libertas site, Leah Mickens deftly explains why the official Catholic "middle road" that tries to hold together defining gay persons as intrinsically disordered with nice statements about respecting and not discriminating against gay people is untenable:

The fundamental problem with the way the Catholic church deals with LGBT issues is that it regards such people as being outside of its moral concern, much in the same way it traditionally regarded Jews and similar to how the church in America traditionally viewed black people. LGBT people are a social and moral problem, not individuals in their own right, similar to how Western societies once spoke of "the Jewish question," "the Negro question," and even "the woman question."

In other words, the official "middle road" of the Catholic hierarchy and those who toe this party line handles the irreconcilable clash between defining a segment of the human population as "disordered" in their very nature and making nice sounds about respecting those human beings by simply pretending they are not there. They aren't what it means to be Catholic, or what it means to be moral, such that we can go right on talking about morality and human rights while pretending they aren't in the room, while congratulating ourselves on our Catholic benignity.

At Religion Dispatches, Patricia Miller engages the arguments of the Supreme Catholic men in the hearing about marriage equality that it has always been this way: marriage has always been about a man and a woman for life, and supporters of same-sex marriage are arguing that the very definition of marriage must be changed. Patti Miller notes that there's abundant evidence that marriage as an institution has developed over time, including within the Catholic church, where it became a sacrament only relatively late in the church's history. As she points out, what is consistent in the understanding of marriage, including within Catholic theology, is that it's a contract between two people, solemnized by those two people in front of witnesses, for the mutual support of the two people and to provide their loving relationship public standing in the community.

For Arkansas Times, Max Brantley notes that the argument from tradition ("We've always done things this way") is a weak argument indeed when we look at the longstanding tradition of discrimination against people of color in the U.S. (a tradition rooted in slavery), the longstanding tradition that women must be subjugated by men (under the law of coverture, which applied for millennia), etc. He writes:

The arguments for legal discrimination have been reduced to this: We've always done it this way. 
The argument of long custom — raised by Supreme Court justices — is a red herring. The U.S. law discriminated against black people. It discriminated against interracial couples. It discriminated against women. Customs change.

In Huffington Post, Rebecca Tood Peters, who teaches Religious Studies at Elon University, observes,

In truth, like most social institutions, the institution of marriage has shifted and changed over the years in ways that have strengthened it and made it both more accessible and more just.  
200 years ago, we debated whether or not slaves should be allowed to marry. 150 years ago, we debated whether married women should remain their husband's property under the principle of coverture (the principle of two-becoming-one-flesh), or whether women should be regarded as their own persons, with full rights and responsibilities. 47 years ago, we debated whether or not interracial marriages should be legal.

And then she goes on to point out that the default definition of "traditional" marriage in the bible for millennia was polygamy (a man could have many wives, but a woman could not have many husbands), with concubinage and slavery attached to that definition.

At his SLOG site, Dan Savage asks, Isn't it interesting that the New York Times published a big article yesterday about the recent marriage of a man aged 82 and a woman aged 77 — right after the attorney arguing for "traditional" marriage solemly assured the Supremes earlier this week that marriage is for procreation, hence the "traditional" definition must be maintained in law and the non-procreative the gays must be excluded:

But marriage, as we heard during arguments before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, is not about adults and our piddling desire for happiness. Marriage is not about whatever "love and commitment" might exist between two adults, the attorney representing Michigan told the court, "[as] the state has no interest in that." Marriage is about procreation.

Dan Savage links to an Atlantic article by Garrett Epps which notes that the argument of John Bursch, Michigan's solicitor general, in favor of upholding traditional bans against same-sex marriage, hinges on the curious assertion that straight folks are caught up in an "anarchic swirl of straight sexuality" that demands marriage as the yoke to keep them together, and letting the gays marry will somehow unhinge that yoke and encourage straights to go hog-wild with their anarchic sexuality. Or something like that.

Epps writes,

Gays and lesbians—bless their na├»ve hearts—believe that marriage is about love, about commitment, about mutual support in sickness and health as long as we both shall live. But government, Bursch explained, knows that this is not true. Bursch was representing four states—Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee—whose constitutions ban same-sex marriage. The challengers are residents of those states, all involved in—or survivors of—committed and stable same-sex relationships. Except for their gender, they are models of the kind of family life Americans once believed to be menaced by the emergence of gay America from the shadows. But they should not win, Bursch said, because they falsely believe that "that marriage is all about love and commitment. And as a society, we can agree that that's important, but the State doesn't have any interest in that." 
The state's cold-blooded interest is in chaining up heterosexual couples to make sure they raise their biological children together. And same-sex marriage might harm that; or at least, no one can prove it won't. "If people think ... marriage is more about love and commitment than about staying bound to your children forever, there might be different consequences" from allowing them to enter the legal state of marriage. And those consequences might very well be that "if marriage and creating children don't have anything to do with each other, then what do you expect? You expect more children outside of marriage."

A strange argument to offer, is it not, when the state has already and for a very long time been permitting men aged 82 and women aged 77 — and all sorts of other heterosexual couples incapable of having children — to marry? And no one has tried to claim that this choice on the part of the state will cause other heterosexual couples to kick over the traces and skip down the primrose path of promiscuity right to hell's door. It's only when the gays want to marry that the argument from procreation and the "anarchic swirl of straight sexuality" kicks in. Curiously . . . . 

A Reuters article picked up by Religion News Service today notes that an article that Jimmy Carter published in 2009, about why he left his Southern Baptist church over the issue of women's rights, has recently gone viral. Reuters writes,

His determination to promote the rights of women led him in 2000 to sever ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, over its rejection of women in leadership. 
He explained his decision to quit the church in a 2009 article titled "Losing my religion for equality."
"Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God," he wrote in the article.

At his politics blog at Esquire, Charles Pierce notes, with more than a little wry amusement, that Rev. Huckabee is still speaking. On behalf of God. Who does not want the Supremes to approve of same-sex marriage. Because God the Rev. Huckabee says so. And He speaks on behalf of God.

At Alternet, Valerie Tarico interviews Sarah Morehead, who works with the group Recovering from Religion, founded in 2009 by psychologist Darrel Ray to help people struggling to put their lives back together after leaving authoritarian and abusive religious groups. Tarico writes,

"Reclaimers," people who are actively working to rebuild their lives after a period of religious immersion, may struggle with harmful ideas and emotions from the beliefs they once held or the behavior of fellow believers. Alternately, they may find that leaving is lonely and disorienting. Marlene Winell, a human development consultant who assists people leaving their religion, coined the term Religious Trauma Syndrome to describe a pattern she saw in some clients, in particular those leaving closed, authoritarian, fear-based communities. But even doubters who don’t experience this level of distress may find themselves feeling confused, afraid, self-doubting or overwhelmed."

And in case it needs to be said all over again (I find it a little insulting that anyone would imagine I stand any place other than here), I think and have long thought that some people actively need to leave behind abusive religious constructs and abusive religious groups — for their own good and the good of all of us. I also think and have long thought that one of the abusive religious constructs some people may well have a moral obligation to leave behind is an idea of "God" that has become demonic for them and for others.

I think and have long thought that atheism is not only a viable but a necessary option for some people, when the only image of the divine they ever encounter is a demonic image. I think that the "God" many Americans encounter when religion is discussed in the U.S. public square is precisely that kind of demonic image, and that it needs to be shattered like any other idol. And I think it's all to the good that atheism is out in the open and being discussed seriously in the public square in the U.S. these days.

But, as with any other discussion, I don't think that discussion is productive when it results in the creation of new demonic images that threaten to stunt the growth of others in the same way religion has often stunted the growth of those who repudiate it, and when it degenerates into a slinging match in which all that we're doing is hurling insults from behind battle lines akin to the same old tired battle lines that have been created for the "debate" about abortion or women's rights or same-sex rights. And it bothers me — tremendously — when I sense that this blog, which I've worked to make an alternate space, is degenerating into that kind of mirror of the U.S. public square.

Finally, last but far from least, Jerry Slevin wraps up so many of the issues and discussions touched on in preceding articles, by noting how the reality that women experience right in the Vatican belies the nice rhetoric of Pope Francis about women's equality with men. Jerry writes, 

Francis has paid lip service to women’s equality many times, calling for women to take on greater decision-making roles in the Catholic Church, though he has , in effect, in practice needlessly ruled out women’s ordination, women cardinals or having women head Vatican departments. Only about 18 percent of Vatican employees are women, up from 17 percent four years ago. Currently, only two women hold the rank of undersecretary in a Vatican department. Indeed, it took the pope over two years to get the successor “doctrinal German Shepherd” (that he appointed a cardinal) to release his arrogant fangs that had been clamped on American nuns.

The graphic is by Ryan Grant Long, and was published at Upworthy by Adam Mordecai.

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