Friday, November 25, 2016

Readers Ask: How Do We Live in a World or Church with No Connection to Evil? My Response: I'm Saying, "No More. Not in My Name Any Longer"

Neil Gabler, "And So It Begins: Normalizing the Election"*

Thank you all for your responses to my last posting. Since they're directed to me personally, for the most part, I do intend to respond to each one by commenting in that thread. In the meantime, I appreciate Sister Lea's good question, which gives me the opportunity to make clear some points my statement about repudiating my Catholic ties may not have made clear: you say, Sister Lea, 

The only Question I have for you, Bill, is this: how do we live in this world or in any Church without the connection to evil? How do we be members of the human race and not be connected to the gross evil our fellow humans perpetrate in this world?

That's a good question. I definitely do not believe in political purism. I do not believe that anyone exists in a politically pure bubble, or can make pure political choices that are unmixed with evil. I think all of our political choices necessarily fall in the gray area between absolute good and absolute evil, and that we set ourselves (and anyone connected to us) up for a hard, abusive fall when we posture as pure.

By distancing myself in a formal, final way from the Catholic church, I am not seeking a position of political purity. I have inside myself — and I need never to forget this — the potential to be Cain as he murders Abel, to be the brothers of Joseph as they throw him into a pit with his coat of many colors and consign him to death, to be the elder son in the parable of the prodigal father. 

What I am distancing myself from by rejecting all ties to the Catholic church in a formal and final way is the evil that this institution does in my name as someone who remained on its rolls, even after I was discarded by the institution and its leaders. I am saying, "No more. Not in my name any longer."

Making these statements does not claim for me a position of purity that sets me apart from Cain, the brothers of Joseph, the elder son of the parable of the prodigal father. It does not imply that I have found some substitute location in the religious world that is pure — purer than the Catholic location.

What it does, as I see it, is separate me from the evil that white Catholic people in the U.S. have just done — and I believe this is spectacular, world-historical evil, and that this evil requires serious, decisive steps in response — so that this evil is no longer done in my name. I have had my fill of Catholicism and the games it plays, and I want to distance myself from those games, because they have just issued in evil that is going to cause serious suffering for many people throughout the world.

They have just issued in evil that is already causing serious suffering for many people throughout the world . . . . And as the evil fruit of the political choice white Catholic voters have just made begins to be borne in the post-election period, as anyone with eyes to see could have foreseen, the people who have the most potential to bear prophetic counterwitness as lay Catholic intellectuals in the American public square, a group to which I have belonged by vocation and education, are doing what they have always done in the past several decades.

They're pretending. They're lying. They're posting statements on Twitter attacking the numerous news reports of hateful assaults on members of minority communities, suggesting that these news reports are overblown and are based on false, manufactured allegations. They're plastering National Catholic Reporter discussion threads with comments about how those being assaulted around the nation are "hypersensitive" and are blowing out of proportion the "rude speech" they're encountering from Trump supporters.**

Pro-life Catholic intellectuals are doing this, people who represent "the" pro-life voice of the American Catholic church in its academies and journalistic sector. Lay Catholic intellectual leaders are doing this, ones who call themselves standard-bearers of the pro-life cause — just as they have deliberately and with utter cruelty refused even to use the word "gay" when speaking of the human beings slaughtered this past summer in an act of mass murder at a gay bar in Orlando.

I'm frankly very tired of all of this. I'm tired of the mealy-mouthed editorials of the ilk published by Commonweal in the lead-up to the election, about Catholic political choices this election cycle — statements that say neither yea nor nay while priding themselves on walking some spurious middle line called a both-and line. When evil is at stake, when evil of historic significance is about to be done, and something far different than mealy-mouthed "both-and" mumbles is required to combat that evil . . . .

I'm tired of the refusal to call evil what it is, of the pretense that all evil in the world is comprised in assaults on zygotes, while living and breathing gay human beings gunned down in an act of mass murder do not even have names — while their humanity is cruelly and capriciously denied by Catholic theologians given seats at Vatican discussion tables immediately after they've engaged in such acts of cruelty with the complicity of the Catholic journals who feature their work. I'm tired of the moral puerility of the Catholic intellectual tradition at its best, as it's represented in the journalistic sphere and academy in American Catholicism.

This is moral puerility that has been deliberately inculcated by people who refuse to listen to the voices of those on the margins of church and society, even as they pretend to be defenders of human rights, of catholicity, and of the value of human life. I'm tired of the excuses for this refusal to listen and include, to respect the humanity of anyone outside a club that is overwhelmingly white, middle-class, and heterosexual — but which masquerades as catholic, inclusive, and justice-oriented. I'm tired of being told to listen respectfully to discussions of the morality of homosexuality — to discussions of the meaning of my very own human life — offered to me in Catholic discussion spaces in which those parsing the meaning of my human life are heterosexual married men who have been accused by former paramours of having instructed their lovers to have abortions when they were impregnated, or by heterosexual men who are divorced and yet imagine they are credible defenders of the sanctity of marriage as they attack same-sex marriage as a threat to "real" marriage.

I'm tired of the silly grasping at straws, of the hysterical parsing of every papal word and every papal hand gesture, to find some mere glimmer of hope that this pope will somehow magically make things better, will set in motion a more merciful and inclusive church. Those words and hand gestures have in no way translated into political enlightenment among white American Catholics, have they? Not when six in ten white American Catholics have just voted for the opposite of mercy and inclusion in this presidential election . . . .

I'm tired, frankly, of caring whether anyone in that stifling, parochial, morally puerile club wants to hear my voice. In distancing myself from that club, I want to distance myself from caring about what these folks think or believe. To that end, when I wrote the posting to which you are responding, Sister Lea, I then removed from my list of bookmarked sites to read daily both Commonweal and National Catholic Reporter — as I had already removed America magazine long since from that list after its editor Matt Malone brought right-wing anti-LGBTQ "pro-life" activist Helen Alvaré aboard, announcing that we need to include "all" voices in the American Catholic conversation. 

But he has never included openly LGBTQ Catholic voices in his American Catholic conversation.

In the moment through which we are now living, to which white American Catholic voters chose to introduce us, it's time to conserve our energies and muster our strength for battles that are going to be monumental — and monumentally important for those on the margins of society. It is very clear to me that in those battles, neither I as a gay person (who happens to enjoy male privilege and the privilege of someone with white skin) nor anyone else on the margins of society can expect much solidarity or assistance from the Catholic community in the U.S. — from its pastors and its lay intellectual leaders. They're behaving right now exactly as their counterparts did in Germany as Hitler set the Holocaust into motion.

The Catholic community in the U.S. has just signaled to the world that it learned nothing at all from the painful kairotic moment of Nazi Germany, from the moral abasement of the Catholic community as German and Austrian Catholics lied and pretended about what was unfolding from the moment people began being publicly shamed and attacked on the streets all over Germany and Austria, to the moment in which the shop windows of those same targeted people were broken and their shops looted, to the moment in which those same targeted people were rounded up and sent to the death camps.

Morally obtuse people — the kind of white Catholic people who just put Donald Trump into the White House and who are being given shameful cover by lay Catholic intellectual leaders — cannot respond effectively to evil that they refuse even to see or name as evil. Such people, who profess to be morally superior to the culture in which they live, cannot see or name evil that is targeting members of minority communities to whose voices they refuse even to listen, whose human faces they refuse even to see, while — and isn't this astonishing and shameful? — they profess that they are morally superior because they "value" human life!

When all is said and done, why, really, should we expect lay Catholic intellectual leaders in the U.S. to show any mercy to those now being assaulted by hate speech and violent acts all over the U.S., when those same Catholic academics and journalists, who have always had great power to change Catholic culture if they had chosen to use that power, have stood by in total, complicit silence for years now as LGBTQ people have been assaulted by their own pastoral leaders? I'm not surprised to find leading Catholic pro-life theologians now shopping around lies about how stories of assaults of minority groups going on all over the nation are fabricated stories, and I'm not surprised to find leading Catholic pro-life journalists blaming "identity politics" for Trump's victory — because, as a gay Catholic, I saw for years just how much that "pro-life" tag meant to these "pro-life" crusaders when my human life and that of other LGBTQ people was on the auction block.

I'm simply tired, and I want to distance myself from what's sapping my energy and strength when I know I will need energy and strength for very important new battles that white Catholic voters have just set into motion for people like me. I'm tired of the dysfunctional game-playing that will never go anywhere good because it's not designed to do that.

I'm tired of having to deal with very real evil in the world while my religious family announces to me that it specializes in distinguishing good from evil, but cannot bring itself to name the assaults on my humanity as what they are — evil — and certainly cannot lift a finger to help me. Even as it natters on and on about matters of mercy and justice and the supreme importance of human life . . . . 

Does all this mean that I exist in some morally superior, some pure, place in which I can tag myself as Abel or Joseph or the younger brother of the parable of the prodigal father, and all those others as the malefactors of those biblical stories? Not at all. I am both Cain and Abel, both Joseph and his brothers, both the prodigal son and the elder brother.

What it does mean, however, is that I am one of those most susceptible to the maleficent effects of the evil that my white Catholic brothers and sisters have just set into motion, and I must apply my time and energy to naming and combating that evil now, and finding allies as I do battle and stand with many others who are about to be assaulted in very harmful ways by the new GOP administration, who are already being assaulted. As this happens, we will not find allies in the Catholic community, even among its peace-and-justice advocates — who have never been willing to reach out to me and others like me before now.

And so why would they begin to do so at this important historical juncture when many of us are now likely to be targeted in draconian ways as a result of "pro-life" Catholic choices?

*What Neal Gabler says here applies to the Catholic media, too, of course — and to lay Catholic intellectual leaders.

*Note: this report harks back a few days. As I say later in this posting, I have now deleted National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal from my online bookmarks and am no longer reading them. These "liberal" Catholic journals offer little but carrion comfort with a tepid cup of weak tea to people like me, as they talk about human rights or mercy and justice — and, above all, as they sound their ludicrous "pro-life" horn that never in any way calls fellow Catholics to merciful engagement with the lives of LGBTQ human beings.

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