Sunday, December 26, 2010

I’m your guy – I believe

Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with perfect hatred.
I count them my enemies.

Psalm 139: 21-22

A couple weeks ago I commented on the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has now certified the appearance of Mary to a little Belgian immigrant girl in rural Wisconsin as “worthy of belief.” Trolling for news on Friday, I noted that The New York Times had finally picked up the story.

Must have been a slow day. After all, it was Christmas Eve and the only other earth-shattering news was the divorce of Ryan What’s-his-name from Scarlett Johansson.

I couldn’t get that story out of my mind as I listened for a while yesterday to two folks quizzing Republican candidates Saul Anuzis, Gentry Collins and Reince Priebus, who are seeking to unseat Michael Steele as chairperson for the Republican National Committee.

The quizzers were Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List and Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage.

On the surface it looked like routine television interviews. But in fact, they were job interviews, and these two ladies were checking credentials. And letting the candidates know when they gave the right answers.

If you were born in America anytime up to the day before yesterday, you know that you can’t tell anything about an American political organization by its name. Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony has top place of honor in the struggle for women’s rights in America. Dannenfelser has pulled off a pretty crafty trick appropriating her name for ends which most women today would consider unequivocably opposed to their interests. Her organization’s purpose is to overturn Roe v. Wade, the right to end an unwanted pregnancy.

The other interviewer, Maggie Gallagher, has done something similar. She has misappropriated the word “marriage” to cover the fact that her organization’s sole purpose is to make sure marriage never becomes a reality for same-sex couples. And just as the candidates line up to assure Ms. Dannenfelser they know the right answers to her questions, they assure Ms. Gallagher they’re on the right side of her issue as well.

Now there is nothing surprising about the fact that candidates interviewed for head of the Republican National Committee should take pro-life, anti-gay positions. What is remarkable is the ease with which two of them, Anuzis and Collins, justifed their choice on the basis of “what the Catholic Church taught” them as children. And the third, Priebus, identified himself as “a 100% Psalm 139 pro-life Republican.”

Anuzis says he believes 90% of Republicans are pro-life. He provides no evidence for this. He also identifies himself with “the American exceptionalism that Ronald Reagan once talked about." "I do think we’re better," he says. "I do think we’re different. I do think we have the kinds of beliefs and faiths…that made us who we are today…the strength of America….” In discussing marriage, he rolls out the “3000 years of tradition argument,” and ties it to his faith, oblivious of how much this serves to identify those uninformed about the history of marriage – or, for that matter, the history of Christianity.

Gentry Collins speaks of his life working with a catholic organization on pro-life. Reince Priebus makes no secret that he’s working directly from religious belief. “Marriage is a gift from God.” This is the same guy who made news recently for accepting a whole bunch of money from a stimulus package and then stomping around on the evils of the stimulus package. No word as to whether hypocrisy is also a gift from God.

I repeat, there is nothing surprising here. But there should be. We should be startled, as much of the rest of the world is, to hear an American political leader make such a loud and clear point of telling a supporter he can be trusted because he takes his lead from the Vatican. It wasn’t that long ago when my father refused to vote for Kennedy because he might do that and we were all a bit ashamed of my father’s retrogressive ways, because we knew Kennedy was culturally but not dogmatically catholic, and had made it plain it was the Constitution, not his church, that would inform his decisions.

But this is the new America, and one gets credibility now at the national level, in the party that will control the Senate for the next two years, from religious devotion. From religiosity, not from spirituality. From adherence to dogma, not evidence of humility.

A brief aside here. Last word is the interview with Priebus would appear to have been time wasted. He’s been bumped as a contender, allegedly for saying one thing and doing another.

But dirty politics aside, the pairing of the notion one should vote to withhold marriage from gays and lesbians because it’s the will of God with the belief that somehow children suffer unless they live with a mother and a father makes you wonder if these people ever read a newspaper. Research widely publicized during the Prop. 8 trial showed that the decisive factor in a child’s mental health is being cared for, not being in so-called traditional families. All three candidates ignore that evidence entirely and jump on the ideological bandwagon in dismissing the judge as an “activist”. The secret's out that activist has been drained of all meaning other than "a judge whose opinions differ from mine," but apparently it still has currency.

What never gets properly exposed in all this “that’s the right answer” religious litmus testing is the connection between the grounding of an opinion in “religious” belief (as opposed, say, to legal argument and judicial findings) and the Republican right. So frightened are we that people will turn on us if we are seen to be anti-religious, that we jump to assure all within hearing we mean no disrespect to religion.

Yet here it is, plain as the nose on your face. Men pulling out their “traditional faith” to get people to put them in charge of the Republican Party. And icing on the cake is their willingness to deliberately ignore or misconstrue evidence and level ad hominem attacks on judges for opinions that run contrary to the religious dogma.

Three Republicans vying for the job of running their party’s National Committee. Three men getting “that’s the right answer!” stamps of approval from two women demanding to see their anti-abortion anti-gay credentials. And those credentials grounded in credibility in that same institution that declares credible the appearance of a lady in the sky who promises to move a tornado around the spot you’re standing on so it will kill other people but not you. Because you asked her in a nice way.

Not that the church can’t be reasonable. After all, they did reason at one point that since Christ was resurrected and ascended into heaven in the flesh, the only part of him that could be had to enshrine in a reliquary must have been his foreskin. Being Jewish, he had to have been circumcised. You can just see the wheels of reason turning around. The only problem is there are at least ten churches claiming to be in possession of the “true foreskin” of Jesus. A problem that could be cleared up, actually, if next time Mary appears we get her to swab her cheeks.

Because we have a tradition of separation of church and state, any American can say publicly, without fear, that Mary appeared to somebody in Wisconsin, and that he’s not making this up because his church told him it really happened. But, thanks to separation of church and state, we can go to bed at night confident this madness will not be imposed on the rest of us.

What a pity this is not true for what these good catholic and evangelical boys have to say about the right of women to determine if and when to end a pregnancy. Or for gay men and women to live in America as equals.

Maybe it’s just pie in the sky, and will never come to pass. But I yearn for a time when candidates assure their voters they are the right kind of folk to head one of America’s political parties because they are smart, honest, hard-working, sensible, cooperative, flexible, generous, compassionate, well-respected, and maybe tall. But not because they can assure you their values are derived from Roman Catholic tradition.

Or any other tradition which gives believing for the sake of believing priority over grounding one’s values in the universal human rights of all men and women, without regard to creed. When nobody prevents them from worshiping the gods of their tribe if it suits them, but they no longer assume obedience to those gods make them better human beings than the rest of us.


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