As an old altar boy (obscure “Exorcist” reference there) I am more than a little astonished at how badly the Catholic church has sold its soul to the false gods of culture warfare. In fact, if it weren’t for John McCain and the United States Supreme Court it would hard to come up with a more appalling example of a once venerable institution disgracing itself with craven pandering to the forces of anachronism.
On the other hand, of course, this is the same Holy Roman Catholic Church that has had some pretty overwhelming episodes of un-Christian behavior over the centuries — can you say “The Inquisition”, for starters? So these things have happened, and with the local Catholics spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to blunt the inevitability of gay marriage here in Minnesota, and nationally admonishing nuns for spending too much time assisting the poor (and not enough countering the forces of liberalism), it is happening again. But given this moment in time, when secular humanism is a widening, deepening meme and organized religion is more a hub of community than a font of genuine spirituality for most of its participants, a church that flaunts its intolerance is slathering itself in common sense repellent.
Moreover, and I speak as a kid who was regularly reminded by eerily asexual women in medieval black garb that “impure thoughts” (as common to most 12-year-old boys as breathing) were a near certain path to fiery damnation, the church’s fanatical absorption with sex — gay sex, pedophile sex, conception sex — is almost certain to alienate another subset of parishioners. (If anyone out there has been to mass in the past four years, has your priest delivered a sermon against or handed out a DVD on the horrors of predatory investment bankers?)
The Catholics likely to peel off next will be those who up until now were giving the Church the benefit of the doubt, accepting that, yes, it is a 2000 year-old institution dominated by a mysterious cult of aged, doughy men who actually believe in human infallibility … but is also one that occasionally feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless and teaches kids not to steal, murder and cuss in public. That crowd can funnel their charitable intentions through other organizations and take a Sunday morning stroll in the forest when they need a whiff of spirituality.
How someone like Archbishop John Nienstedt here in St. Paul thinks he cultivates the church’s “brand” by grossly overreacting to something — gay marriage — that most young Americans, (acculturated by the godless media), have long since stopped questioning, and others have examined without seeing any peril to their marriages or moral health, I don’t know. But — with the Vatican’s approval, and with an infusion of hundreds of thousands of dollars from unidentified, no doubt conservative donors, (I’m thinking the $400k that bought those anti-gay DVDs during the Tom Emmer campaign) — Nienstedt and his confederate clergy are walking a high wire in terms of losing the last of their credibility with modern, moderate, broadly informed, non-fanatical followers.
Plainly, the church I grew up in has taken a hard right turn, aligning itself with retrograde forces that have more in common with Bible Belt snake handlers and self-serving TV ministries than a religion interested or capable of being relevant to a highly diverse 21st century society.
And so it is with the U.S. Supreme Court, as we await the full release of this week’s decisions, most notably the Court’s ruling on “Obamacare”. Were I a betting man — and the nus said I could burn for that one too, especially if I was wagering on whether Peggy M.’s bikini top would fall off at the Montevideo pool — I’d take the bet that it strikes down the mandate in a 5-4 vote.
Despite a startling consensus of legal scholars saying publicly that the Court — the Scalia Court, as I think of it — will have to stand on its head and tie cherry stems in knots with its tongue to contrive a precedent for doing what it is going to do, it will do it, because as the Court is composed today it is an ideological force, as “activist” as it gets in terms of resisting action required by progressive legislation. (And calling Obamacare “progressive” is being extraordinarily generous on my part.)
A rapidly expanding base of global knowledge (via the internet and other technologies) and experience (via travel and facilitated human interactions) is wreaking havoc on institutions like the Catholic church and the Supreme Court. Both are in the business of guarding a form of not all that intuitive institutional thinking. Neither sees its role in terms of revising canon to better serve a rapidly evolving culture. (Scalia would argue that that is Congress’s job … and thwart it at every turn.) While they still have the ability to hold the respect of flocks eager to be led and directed, they will (with a vote to gut health insurance reform) rapidly lose the respect of those — albeit still a minority — who know damned well that nothing any human has ever invented or decreed is infallible.
And as they say about good name and reputation, once its gone … good luck getting it back.