Tuesday, February 12, 2013

One does not need to know anything in order to be a pundit.

Someone named Amanda Marcotte wrote a blog post at Slate saying:  (1) we should not care about whom the College of Cardinals chooses at a papal conclave to be the next Pope; and (2) the next pope will continue the "war" on women and gay people. I am pretty sure that war is used in the figurative sense as I feel like we would have heard about a literal war on women and gay people before now.

It is not really clear whether Ms. Marcotte has some special knowledge into the election of the next Pope. It is not even clear whether Ms. Marcotte is Roman Catholic. I suspect she is not given that she thinks that the message the Pope brings to the world is that "God has it out for gays and women." I've been going to Mass regularly my whole life and I cannot say I have ever heard that message (although I will admit that I have dozed off during some homilies).

If the Catholic Church is at war with women and gay people, it is a pretty strange war.  With respect to women it would seem the war consists entirely of the position that women can't be priests. That doesn't seem like much of a limitation to me. After all, the most famous Catholic person of our lifetime is probably Mother Teresa.  One might say John Paul II but Mother Teresa was famous long before him.  To characterize the Catholic Church as being at "war" with women also overlooks that for the vast majority of its history, the Church was more open-minded about the role of women in the Church than any country was about the role of women in society. This isn't to say that the Catholic Church is still leading the way on the role of women—it isn't. But if one is going to criticize the Church's position, it seems to me that one has to acknowledge that it is only in the last 40 years or so that the Church fell behind society in its treatment of women.

Regarding homosexuals, it is true that the Catholic Church (like virtually every other religious denomination) does not condone same-sex marriage. However, the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality says that gay people "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity."  The Church also teaches that "Every sign of unjust discrimination" towards gay people "should be avoided."  These statements can only be interpreted as having it "out for gays" on Bizzaro World.

Finally, as for Ms. Marcotte's "knowing" that the next Pope will not do anything to change the Catholic Church's position on women or gay people. In 1958 no one thought that the College of Cardinals would elect a pope who would change the Catholic Church's position on mass in the vernacular, the role of the lay people in the Catholic Church, or confess—on behalf of the church—to the sin of anti-semitism. However, the Pope they elected did exactly that.  No one knows how the next Pope will treat these issues. The late Raymond Lucker, Bishop of New Ulm —in addition to supporting the ordination of women—wrote a book that discussed the many ways the church has changed its thinking on issues that, at the time, seemed like immutable positions. Maybe Ms. Marcotte should give it a look.


  1. "One does not need to know anything in order to be a pundit."

    I believe that, for a time, that was the subheading of this blog. It is certainly my blogging philosophy. So, Ms. Marcotte: I salute you!

  2. Regarding the substance of your post: I have not read Marcotte's post, but I suspect the source of her disagreement with the Church is not the prohibition on women priests but rather the Church's position on abortion and contraception.

  3. Are there Christian denominations that are not opposed to abortion?

  4. I thought the substance of my post was that popes sometimes do unexpected things. But if what she was talking about was abortion and contraception, then isn't that really a war on sex or maybe sex without procreation? As Anonymous notes (assuming the question was rhetorical), all of the major Christian sects are opposed to abortion. Yet, I doubt Ms. Marcotte writes about how there is a Baptist war on women.

  5. Yes, there are Christian denominations that support abortion rights. My wife's, for instance: the United Church of Christ. But perhaps this is not a "major" sect.

    Roman Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination and certainly the most powerful and outspoken individual denomination in American (and most other countries') politics. For example, it was the Catholics sued over the contraception mandate in Obamacare, and it is the Catholic Bishops that are negotiating directly with the Obama administration on that issue.

    Some other things to think about, when objecting to special criticism of the Catholic church: is there any church that the average American can name the leader of? Is there any other church that has schools in essentially every American jurisdiction? Is there any other church whose internal politics are front-page news?

    Here's the point. The Roman Catholic Church is by far the most important religious entity in the United States. This is because there are many Roman Catholics here, and because the Church takes outspoken political positions on controversial issues, particularly issues related to reproductive freedom. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is why people care about what the Catholic church says and does more than they care about what other Christian denominations say and do, and why the Catholic church gets criticized for taking the same positions as other sects.

  6. I had a hearing in Marshall, Minnesota today and the six-hour round trip has tired me out so I will respond more substantively tomorrow. But your point about American church leaders is not well-taken (or maybe it is not well-made). First I think that most Americans can identify one or alll of the following: Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen, or Rick Warren. All leaders of Christian churches and none of them are Catholics. Assuming you meant denomination and not a particular church, your point is a poor one because one of the major points of the Protestant movement was that church leaders should not be as famous (or influential) as a pope. The idea was local control not international control.

  7. Frankly I don't know what we're arguing about. If you don't think the Catholic Church is an especially powerful and politically active religious organization, I guess we can just agree to disagree on that. Because I am absolutely positive that this is why Marcotte singles it out for criticism.

    As to your earlier point that "if what she was talking about was abortion and contraception, then isn't that really a war on sex or maybe sex without procreation," that may be correct but that's an argument with Marcotte. Many women feel that reproductive freedoms are essential to equality and that efforts to narrow those freedoms are an effort to reverse the gains of feminism. The argument is that if a women cannot control her reproduction, then she cannot control her life.

    As you may recall, I find the "war on women" rhetoric to be ludicrous, so I'm sure we're ultimately in agreement in substance. But it's important to understand what people like Marcotte are actually saying.

  8. Agreing to disagree is not a way to make sparks fly.

    I didn't think we were arguing about what Marcotte was saying because you said you did not read it. So, I thought I was responding to your point that no one can name a leading religious figure in America other than the Pope.

    In what way is the Catholic Church an "especially powerful and politically active reglious organization"? Compared to what other religious organization? We just witnessed a GOP presidential primary season where none of the main candidates would admit to believing in evoluation because they were afraid to offend evangelical (i.e., not Roman Catholic) voters. I don't believe that Chuck Hegel is being filibustered by the GOP because of his position on the Vatican.

    Unlike Evangelicals and the GOP, Catholic Church does not drive the policy of either party. Moreover, the Church's power seems somewhat diffuse given that the Bishops don't like Obamacare and President Obama's position on abortion. Yet, Roman Catholic voters seemed to have ignored the Church's teaching given that President Obama won the Catholic vote rather handily in 2008 and 2012. http://www.pewforum.org/Politics-and-Elections/How-the-Faithful-Voted-2012-Preliminary-Exit-Poll-Analysis.aspx

  9. Just want to note that Mr. Gillette got his life's wish: today someone found their way to this blog with the search "pope gillette." It has all been worth it.

  10. That is weird. I thought everyone knew that a pope is known by his first name.


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