In the Culture Wars, Who Are the Aggressors?

A conversation between an ultra-conservative Catholic (Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum) and a gay secular humanist (myself), with additional comments from Martin Snigg and Sorella Karamazov:

Gil Bailie:

Our public discourse is redolent with “separation of church and state” rhetoric, almost always invoked with all the piety due lapidary principles of our constitutional order. In fact, of course, the phrase doesn’t appear in our founding documents. What does appear there is the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which forbids the establishment of a national religion, and, with equal or greater force, the prohibition against governmental interference with the free exercise of religion. The phrase “a wall of separation between church and state” appeared in a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802. Jefferson’s wall is routinely invoked today—even by members of the Supreme Court—with a solemnity that most of the proponents of this “wall” have ceased to accord to the genuinely canonical documents of our republic. The First Amendment has been turned on its head.

If the public can be coaxed into watching only the magician’s right hand, his left hand can work the political trick he has come on stage to perform. Time and again in recent years, we have seen the first two clauses of the First Amendment used as part of a political shell game. An artificially manufactured and politically laughable fear of a “theocracy” is used as a decoy for distracting public attention from the fact that the state has increasingly been encroaching on the free exercise of religion by encouraging the privatization of religious convictions while imposing on people of faith and their children moral novelties sharply at odds with their religious beliefs – insisting, for example, that there is no important difference between the homosexual attempt to replicate the conjugal act and the nuptial embrace of a man and a woman, the latter’s procreative potential notwithstanding; that two people of the same sex can contract marriages that are anthropologically indistinguishable from the marriage of one man and one woman; and that the State’s educational system should usurp parental prerogatives and instruct small children in these moral novelties, in effect teaching most children – whether explicitly or implicitly – that the deeply held views of their parents are morally retrograde, and that their elder’s persistence in holding such views can only be explained by, at best, ignorance and, at worst, hatred.

Moreover, in recent months it has been crystal clear that the State intolerance toward those citizens holding traditional views on sexual morality and marriage – which, for instance, has forced adoption agencies to close their doors for insisting on adhering to an understanding of the meaning of marriage that has been universally recognized for millennia – will soon be brought to bear on those with moral or religious objections to the abortion regime to which the current administration has so thoroughly committed itself.

It is ludicrous to think that none of this constitutes a violation of religious freedom because it does not prevent people from believing what they want in private and worshiping as they wish in private. Religion – most of all Christianity – cannot be reduced to morality, but it has moral ramifications – the concern for the most powerless and voiceless, for instance, or the commonsense understanding of sexuality and marriage.

Mussolini was fond of saying: “Everything in the state, nothing against the state, and nothing outside the state.” The two major obstacles to the state’s extension of control over the most precious aspects of our lives are the church and the family. Look around at what is now under attack.

Doughlas Remy:

Gil, I lived in the South during the Civil Rights era, and my parents were outspokenly racist. They supported the presidential bids of George Wallace and David Duke, and I strongly suspect my father was a Klansman during his early years.

As you know, because you are also from the South (and you are my age), religious justifications for these positions were never in short supply. If my parents had articulated their views in a more refined way, they might have called integration a “moral novelty.” If it was a moral novelty to them, it was only because they had forgotten the teachings of Jesus. Nevertheless, they would have found plenty of Bible verses to support their views.

By the time I was in high school and college, I was already learning the truth about my parents and knew that they were bigoted. Too bad. They just were. But, like George Wallace, they later repented of their bigotry (somewhat). Today, I am grateful that the urban school districts and the universities where I was educated had the courage to assert that “deeply held views” are in fact sometimes “morally retrograde.” My brother and I went through some difficult years with our parents over this issue (think Archie Bunker and his son Michael), but I don’t think anyone would dispute that we are ALL much better off now—especially the victims of racial discrimination and violence.

People need services and employment, and no one should have a right to deny these goods to them on the sole basis of either religious beliefs or immutable characteristics like race, gender, age, and sexual orientation. If you object to same-sex marriage for religious reasons, then don’t marry a man. But we’re not going back to the era when blacks were denied service at lunch counters or had to sit at the back of the bus, drink at separate water fountains, and attend separate schools. Neither will we return to an era when gays were marginalized and persecuted.

No one wants to interfere with your beliefs, but other people see things differently than you, and a democratic, pluralistic state must accommodate their beliefs as well as yours.

My partner and I regard our plans to marry in the state of Washington next year as matters of belief and conscience. As we are Unitarians, we expect to be married in our own church, and our minister will joyously officiate.

When we enter the public sphere, we expect to have all the rights than any other American citizen has, including the right to avail ourselves of services that are freely available to others. Adoption agencies in this country may not discriminate against black couples, and neither should they be allowed to discriminate against same-sex ones.

The Catholic Church promises us “respect” but would deny us equality. How is this different from the hypocrisies and equivocations I used to hear from my parents about African-Americans? They’re still ringing in my ears: “We don’t hate the negras! We just don’t believe God made them equal to white folks or intended them to mix with us. It’s in the Bible! What’re all you radicals tryin’ to get ‘em stirred up for?”

One of the major reasons I became interested in Girard was to understand the phenomenon of racist scapegoating. How ironic that someone who claims to have been influenced by Girard is now using rhetoric that is structurally indistinguishable from what I heard at home and in church during all those years in East Texas.

And how ironic that he sees himself and the Church as the “powerless and voiceless” victims in the Culture Wars. Posting an image of a Catholic priest being executed in Latin America is not going to convince very many people that the Church is under attack in this country. President Obama’s administration has given roughly 23% more financial support to Catholic institutions during his first three years than George W. Bush did during his last three. ($673 million vs. $549 million)

One thing I know that you learned in your reading of Girard was that, in our modern era, oppressors know they can buy time and maintain control by assuming the mantel of victimhood. It seems that insight has become strategy for you. I invite you to take a long hard look at the question of oppression in the issue of same-sex marriage. There are methods for determining who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. Let’s start applying them.

Martin Snigg:

Doughlas, you’re doing that very common thing of begging the question of what marriage is. All the world religions and human societies that have ever lived understand its procreative and sexually complementary nature. [It] unites men and women, [and it] makes and raises children. You’re just assuming it is a contract between adults of whatever gender, based in erotic feeling.

That our understanding and commitment to marriage has been corroded is reason to renew it not legislate it away in resignation. It was the moral authority of Christianity that inspired the end of institutionalised racism, the same Christian grounds given by the lone dissenting judge in Dred Scott. Christianity was used to justify irrational prejudice that was no part of the Good News, a sexual ideology inspired by 20thC atheistic psychology is also no part of the Good News. The powerful and the ruling class connected to the state, are completely united by the sexual revolution’s ideology and new moral metaphysics—a denatured one of will, consent and contract—that benefits the largest wills (those in power and with privilege). Disestablishing marriage, [which is] rooted in the order of nature, establishes a morality in its place that is one of will/desire and is incredibly dangerous in an era of [the] leviathan state and biotechnology. It also portends the destruction of public Christianity. If public defense of marriage is considered by the law [to be] rooted in irrational prejudice (male-female, procreative) or bare animus, then that same law will treat the church like a racist organisation similar to the KKK, publicly marginalised and discredited over time. It will be Caesar’s way or the highway.

It insults everyone’s intelligence, when SSM receives almost total support from money and political power, to claim that gays are being persecuted or scapegoated by Christians. The majority are being asked to give up marriage and have it replaced by genderless erotic partnerships, essentially making all marriages “gay marriages.” That Christians are some of the only ones standing up against the state highlights us but only because of the command given by Christ to thirst for justice, to give a voice to the powerless—the silent majority. Christians are the ones scapegoated when the principled and universal understanding of marriage embraced and preserved by the church is called “hate” or “bigotry.”

For the sake of the next generation, who stand to be deprived of a society ordered toward them marrying and raising a family, people of good will are asking you Doughlas to join with groups like ‘gays against gay marriage’ for example to prevent this astonishingly unjust political movement from succeeding. Join with us and oppose the will of the powerful.

Doughlas Remy:

@Martin G. Snigg: I decided in my comment to focus on the constitutional issue that Gil had raised, but I appreciate your broadening the discussion to include the definition of marriage.

Where do you get the idea that I’m “just assuming [marriage] is a contract between adults of whatever gender based in erotic feeling.” Did I say that? Are SSM advocates saying that?

Your characterization of my views is baseless and reveals a profound animus toward homosexuals. Where’s the “respect” that your church counsels? Don’t we even get THAT? To suggest that homosexuals are only interested in sex and incapable of feelings of love, trust, bonding, and commitment is to suggest that we are nothing more than animals. If you have read Girard, you know that such dehumanizing characterizations are a telltale sign of scapegoating. Yours is particularly egregious because you knew that I had a life partner.

Rather than insult your marriage (or your parents’ marriage) as you have insulted my “domestic partnership,” I will address your claims about the nature of marriage.

First off, though it may be true that marriage was until recently only between opposite-sex partners, this is only because same-sex couples have been a “powerless and voiceless” minority until recently. But, in case you hadn’t noticed, a “rights” revolution has been going on under our noses for the last couple of centuries, and all kinds of groups that were once marginalized are now finding their voices. If you cannot find oppression in any of this unfolding story, you haven’t been paying attention.

Second, aside from the gender thing, the definition of marriage has been very plastic over the past few millennia, and it has usually conformed itself to the prejudices du jour. During various times in history, wives have been regarded as property, interfaith and interracial marriages have been prohibited, men have been allowed to have concubines or multiple wives, childless widows have been required to marry their brothers-in-law, and virgins who were raped have been forced to marry their rapists. (All these “definitions” of marriage are from the Bible.) Our modern conception of marriage is relatively recent.

Third, the definition of marriage has already expanded to include SSM. Look up the word in Merriam-Webster’s. You’ll find two definitions—one for you and one for me. What could be fairer? Furthermore, “marriage” now has the expanded legal definition in six states and 10 countries.

Fourth, it matters not even a little to me whether a practice such as SSM has any historical precedent whatsoever. I am much more interested in justice than in preserving tradition.

So much for the definitional issues. Now on to your fears about the church’s position on this issue. You are right to be worried. The discreditation of your church’s hierarchy was already well under way, and its current campaigns against marriage equality will only worsen matters. The church is on the wrong side of history, as it so often has been, and it will eventually revise its teachings about SSM. Let’s hope it does not take 339 years (the time elapsed between Galileo’s initial trial and his retrial) for the church to come around.

As regards your bizarre claim that “SSM receives almost total support from money and political power,” I would just remind you that ONLY six states have legalized SSM and that powerful interests such as the Knights of Columbus and the Mormon Church are fighting it tooth and nail through NOM and other organizations.

Now, can you tell me: How many members of the U.S. Congress are openly gay? How many are openly heterosexual? How many of them support SSM? How many Hollywood actors/actresses are openly gay? Percentages, please? How many of the Republican presidential candidates supported SSM? Do you know the President’s position on it? I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Of COURSE gays are being persecuted by Christians! Don’t you read the news? Don’t you read your own comments? Can you be so totally unaware of the torrent of dehumanizing language issuing from pulpits and directed at gays? In the face of all this, how can you say that Christians are a “powerless” and “silent” majority?

You write, “The majority are being asked to give up marriage and have it replaced by genderless erotic partnerships.”

Howbutwhatinthewhat? Did you read that sentence again before you punched “Enter”? I think even Gil will recognize how far off the rails you’ve gone.

You suggest I should join with groups like “gays against gay marriage?” Why on earth should I do that? Should I also join the Filipino Catholic flagellants who have themselves nailed by the hands and feet to crosses every Easter?

Gil Bailie:

Opposition to “gay marriage” is not synonymous with hatred or with any desire to pry into anyone’s private life. It’s a matter of preserving an institution without which our civilization will collapse as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. If we’re still in darkness by noon tomorrow, I withdraw all my comments. My best to all.

Doughlas Remy:

@Gil Bailie: Though your prediction of civilizational collapse is not supported by any evidence from countries where SSM has been legalized, you are entitled to hold that view. You understand, however, that mounting an effective defense against SSM requires much more than dire predictions about future consequences. We saw that in the Prop 8 trial last year.

We all have a right to our religious scenarios concerning human history. But we don’t have the right to force others to bow to them. If the state is to deny equal rights to a group of people in our country, the courts must find a “compelling reason” for doing so. No compelling reasons were offered in the Prop 8 trial. Scenarios of civilizational collapse will be laughed out of court, as they should be.

Sorella Karamazov:

I really don’t understand this comparison Doughlas wrote: “Adoption agencies in this country may not discriminate against black couples, and neither should they be allowed to discriminate against same-sex ones.” In Italy we call marriage: “matrimonio”, from the Latin “matrimonium,” from the union of the words mater (mother) and munus (duty). This form of legalization has helped to protect women in the history of civilization. It’s the only key topic of our debate. Are you able to breastfeed a child? To me this is very, very fundamental (and I’m a fundamentalist of children’s rights). An adoption mother CAN breastfeed, it’s an option of human nature and its laws. Live your life, love and do what you want, said S. Agostino, who’s denying? But what has this to do with marriage?

And before you say: well, so marriage of women has this option, I tell you that a child needs a father as well. A father and a mother, as required by nature. There is no human law or decision that can change this.

Doughlas Remy:

@Sorella Karamazov: My own adopted son is now 24, has a college degree and works in a bank. Surprise: He was never breastfed. Another surprise for you: Lesbians do as well or better than opposite-sex couples in raising children. Yes, it’s true. The American Journal of Pediatrics last year published the results of a longitudinal study of lesbian parenting. Its conclusion was that children raised by lesbian couples are at least as well-adjusted as those raised in traditional families.

As for the origins of the word “matrimonio,” they obviously reflect a majority conception of what marriage is. I doubt any homosexuals were consulted about the choice of the word. In a constitutional democracy such as our own, however, minorities have a voice, and that is why we are now attempting to make the institution of marriage more inclusive.

Sorella Karamazov:

Happy to know how the study of AJP (that I well know) gives you such a conviction. [Matrimonio reflects a] majority conception? Yes, I would say so… I am a mother and I (not you, sorry) can give life to someone. Without a mother, you also couldn’t be the (good) father you’ve been. So, you couldn’t, by nature, be a father without a natural conception, right? And nature played its role, doesn’t it? I know several stories of unhappy childhoods, [but] “unfortunately,” children are able to adapt to any situation. They take for good what they receive, however. [sic. They make the best of what they can get. (?)]

Doughlas Remy: 

Buongiorno Sorella. Yes; I am quite aware that I cannot bear children. Nor would I wish to, thank you. I love my mother and am very grateful to her for bearing me and raising me. I do not wish to convert her or my father (or you) to homosexuality. Homosexuality is not like a religion. You can go on doing what you have always done, and I promise not to interfere. You will not be forced to marry a woman. Nature is indeed good at times, and I am satisfied with my nature and would not wish to trade it for anyone else’s.

As you say, children are very adaptable. They need love, good role models, and an environment that helps them reach their potential as humans. There is no basis for thinking that same-sex parents are unqualified to be wonderful parents. Parenting is a very difficult and at times discouraging task, and gay parents need all the encouragement they can get. Being viewed with hostility and suspicion only makes their lives more difficult and cannot be good for the children that they attempt to raise.

I am glad you are interested in children’s welfare. So am I. On that we can agree.

One Response to “In the Culture Wars, Who Are the Aggressors?”

  1. Frederick Says:

    I came across your site via a browse on the intolerantly bigoted M Snigg. Bigoted because he proposes that only his right-wing “catholic” has anything to do with the truth and that ALL other perspectives, even those of other faith traditions are inherently false and full of “relativistic” errors.

    Plus I would describe Gil Bailie as being deeply psychotic.

    But then again most/all of what is now called “conservative”, in both in its so called religious, and secular forms, in the USA, is essentially a form of deeply toxic individual and collective psychosis.

    To me this essay sums up the situation in very stark terms.

    As does the book by Chris hedges titled American Fascists: The Christian Right & The War On America.

    Bailie is a fully fledged paid up foot-soldier in this war.

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