Archive for the ‘Free Speech’ Category

Students at a D.C. Catholic University Seek Ouster of Catholic Chaplain for Anti-Gay Comments

April 25, 2013

Reaction to a story published April 9, 2013 in Bondings 2.0.

by Doughlas Remy

Blake Bergen and Damian Legacy

Blake Bergen and Damian Legacy

(Background: Last month, two gay seniors at George Washington University in Washington D.C., filed a formal complaint with the University’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion against Fr. Greg Shaffer, Chaplain at the Newman Center, which receives funding from the GWU Student Association. The students, Blake Bergen and Damian Legacy, claim that Fr. Shaffer has created an environment hostile to GLBT students seeking pastoral care at the Newman Center.)

Fr. Greg Schaffer

Fr. Greg Schaffer

This is where change will come from. The new generation of young people in Catholic universities have little patience with spiritual bullying of the sort that Fr. Shaffer practices, and I believe they will either win their case against him or both the Newman Center and George Washington University will take a hit. Let’s not forget that students these days generally select the universities they will attend, and so they are a force to be reckoned with. GWU cannot survive without them. The Newman Center there depends on the GWU Student Association for a significant amount of its funding.

And let’s not imagine that it is just a couple of gay activists demanding Fr. Schaffer’s ouster. The two seniors mounting the campaign–Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen–have the support of many straight students on the campus, many of whom have also complained of Fr. Schaffer’s harsh counseling style and his homophobic homilies.

He tells gay students that they should be celibate for the rest of their lives (!) and calls their relationships “unnatural and immoral.” He called Legacy “wicked and faithless” and “intrinsically disordered” for being gay. Legacy reports that he was on an “emotional rollercoaster” for months afterwards, losing sleep and appetite.

Under the law, Fr. Shaffer is free to speak as he likes, even if his counseling is abusive. But if he is upsetting the students who come seeking pastoral care, then he may have to take his abusive speech elsewhere. The younger generation of Catholics are not afraid to challenge him.

Bergen and Legacy filed their complaint in GWU’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion. The University has a zero-tolerance policy toward harassment or bullying of LGBT students. Fr. Shaffer’s conduct appears to be in violation of that policy.

In response to charges that they are “persecuting” Fr. Shaffer, Bergen and Legacy have explained their position:

Let us be clear, we are not attacking the Roman Catholic Church. We are by no means asking the Church to change its views on same-sex marriage, nor are we seeking validation or celebration of our sexuality by the Church, or anyone for that matter.

What we ask is to be treated with dignity and respect at our university. We ask that the Chaplain of the George Washington University Newman Catholic Student Center, a man charged with the pastoral care of students by a non-university entity, treat each of us with equal love and value. We ask that our university provide a safe and welcoming environment for every student.

Can we not agree that our students should be safe in schools and that all bullying should be stopped? Furthermore, as an institution dedicated to acceptance and inclusion should GW not be called to take steps to stop homophobic bullying along with all other forms of bullying? We might not all agree about full celebration and inclusion of LGBT civil rights, but we can all agree that bullying should be considered unacceptable, especially from our spiritual leaders.

We have been criticized for waging an intolerant attack on civil liberties by speaking out against a religious leader for espousing discrimination and anti-LGBT rhetoric. Hate in God’s name is hate, not religion.

4/26/13: Further thoughts:

For some time now, we’ve been seeing the fruits of the diversity programs that began in the K-12 schools 20 years ago, especially in the progressive urban areas of the East and West coasts.  My own son, now 25, is a product of those efforts, and I couldn’t be more pleased. He gets along with everyone and I’ve never heard him bully or disparage anyone.

University students now have high, though certainly not unrealistic, expectations about the respect that they are due. It must have been a shock for these two GWU students to be treated in ways that would have been completely unacceptable in their K-12 schools. The Catholic Church is going to lose these young people unless it can change its message, which they rightly perceive as psychologically or spiritually abusive.

It is sad that the secular schools, and not the Church, were the ones to lead on this. What efforts has the Church made to stop bullying and teach respect for diversity in the schools?

Another Purge, More Melodrama at The Cornerstone Forum

November 22, 2012

Not long ago, Gil Bailie was considering a run for public office. But voters beware. If he were to run an administration anything like he runs his Cornerstone Forum website and Facebook page, his periodic ideological purges would rival those of the Politburo.

The Cornerstone Forum is certainly no forum, if by “forum” we mean a place where ideas on a particular issue can be exchanged. Those who step up to the microphone must be prepared to parrot the prescribed line, or they’re out on their duffs. The ideological purity exacted from commenters is extreme and even extends to prohibitions against factual corrections.

Mr. Bailie’s bottom line is that the Catholic Church can do no wrong. She is the gold standard for all that is True and Good. She has never erred. Her teachings are not to be questioned. And in Mr. Bailie’s little empire, one does not question them. Or him.

Dorothy Jospin was the latest unwary visitor to Mr. Bailie’s Venus Flytrap. It all started when Mr. Bailie posted the photo shown to the right, with the following caption:

This is what we all looked like at 12 weeks in the womb. Legal to kill in all 50 states. Anyone think its not a person? Pass this along. It literally might save a life.

Dorothy responded:

This photo actually shows a plastic baby replica made by Mattel. It sells for $25, and you’ll find it on Mattel’s website.
For a photo of a real 12-week-old fetus (which looks nothing like this one), go to YouTube and find the video called “Week by week fetal development showing fetal development stages.”

At week 5 the fetus is the size of a poppy seed. At week 12, it is about two inches in length and weighs less than an ounce. It’s not until week 17 that it becomes the size of an orange.

The majority of abortions (88% to 92%) occur during the first trimester (the first 12 weeks), and the majority of those are well within the embryonic, pre-fetal stage of development. Most abortions occur sometime after the blastocyst attaches itself to the wall of the uterus.

The blastocyst has 70-100 cells (contrasted to a fruit fly, which has 100,000).

Mr. Bailie responded:

Quite literally, the devil is in such details. Poppy seed. Fruit fly. All these dismissive metaphors, and all the technical equivocations, so profoundly miss the essential point that it is hard not to assume that that is their purpose. Whatever the fetus looks like at 12 weeks – or 12 minutes – it remains perfectly clear to anyone who has not hardened himself against reality that abortion takes the very human life of the most innocent, powerless, and voiceless among us.

To which Dorothy had the effrontery to respond:

If the case against abortion is really compelling, then misrepresenting the facts makes it seem that the facts are not on the side of the pro-life movement. I believe it would be best to studiously avoid any tinkering with images or transparent attempts at propagandizing. They only discredit the movement.

At about the same time, Mr. Bailie posted a photo of German Lutheran pastors filing in front of Nazi officers, with the following caption:

This photo is a march of Lutheran pastors who allowed themselves to be useful idiots to the Nazis, and march under the banner of the deutsche Christians. Do they look like idiots today or what?

Dorothy responded, pointing out that the Catholic Church also collaborated with the Nazis, and not just the Nazis but with virtually every fascist regime of that era. The Church saw these regimes as bulwarks against Bolshevism and French anti-clericalism. Dorothy mentioned the 1933 Konkordat between Hitler and the Vatican. This is something that one must never mention on The Cornerstone Forum.

Mr. Bailie “clarified” by referring to Catholic and Lutheran “heroes” and conveniently ignoring the Vatican’s complicity as well as that of rank-and-file clergy of both confessions:

There were heroes among the Lutherans and Catholics in the face of Nazi thugs. But most of those who complain that the Church failed to stand up to savage oppression are cowered into submission by the threats of political correctness. It doesn’t inspire confidence that these same people would resist something far more threatening. More to the point, those who criticize the Church for not doing more to resist the mass murderers of yesteryear are the first and loudest to condemn it for resisting today’s mass murder of the unborn. You can’t have it both ways.

…Nor should Mr. Bailie. But that was it. Dorothy disappeared. Every trace of her. All that was left were Mr. Bailie’s responses, dangling like half an arch in the air.

At this point, Sophie Sommers, who must have been following the awkward exchange, spoke up to ask, “What happened to Dorothy??” and “Was that really a Mattel baby?” She reminded me of the gangster’s moll played by Mia Farrow in Woody Allen’s “Radio Days,” stumbling into a restaurant just as one of the diners—a Mafioso—has been gunned down at his table. She looks at the assassin, who is still holding his gun, and says in her shrill Brooklynese, “Oh my God! You KILLED Mr. Luciano! I SAW you shoot him!” (View clip here.)

As if that weren’t messy enough, Ben Boyce, a parishioner from St. Leo’s Parish in Sonoma, left this comment:

Oh, Gill [sic], what happened to you? You’ve drunk the Konservative Kool-Aide, and now you see the tepid centrists of the Obama Administration as some kind of anti-Christ threat to religious liberty in America. You might have known that this was ridiculous at one time, but now the logic of orthodoxy has backed you into defending this absurd thesis. The greatest blow to the last remnants of the moral authority of the Catholic bishops was delivered by their own unhinged attack on Obama and making common cause with the most reactionary elements in American society in the 2012 election. Thank God the Catholic laity had more sense than their bishops. When Bishop Jenky denounced Obama as a threat to America like Hitler and Obama, and not a single bishop had the courage to standup for decency and common sense to distinguish themselves from this outrageous comment, I knew that the American Catholic Church has hit bottom. Men of that caliber have no spiritual teaching worth listening to.

Whereupon Mr. Bailie brought out the big guns again:

It pains me, on the day before Thanksgiving, to have to repeat—once again— what I have said multiple times about this Page and our comments policy. But below is a word-for-word repetition of what I have said many times. Those who ignore this, and especially those who insist on slandering the Catholic Church or mock its teachings, should not be surprised to find that they are blocked from further comment.

Mr. Bailie then, for the fourth or fifth time, pastes in his entire speech about the purpose of The Cornerstone Forum.

Mr Boyce responds:

Apparently, my comments have precipitated this response. I do take exception to being described as some kind of random outsider who is coming in to stir up trouble on your Facebook page.I am a weekly Mass attendee at St. Leo’s parish in Sonoma, where you lived and worshipped for many years.I have listened to every audio tape you made over a twenty-year period, until you took a turn to the dark side by falling under the influence of the Religious Right. I have attended a number of your lectures and have always held you in high regard until this latest chapter in your career. You can ban me from the page, but that will not be because I am making inappropriate or offensive comments. Yes, I and my Catholic colleagues are directly challenging your assertion that you and your conservative Catholicism represent the gold standard.

Mia Farrow as "Sally" in Woody Allen's "Radio Days"

Mia Farrow as “Sally” in Woody Allen’s “Radio Days”

And Sophie again, in her best gangsta moll voice:

So THAT’s what happened to Dorothy! Was it her comment about the plastic baby? Or pointing out that the Lutherans weren’t the only ones who collaborated with the Nazis? These things are both true, aren’t they? Don’t you want to know when something you’ve shown or written on your Facebook is untrue? I always taught my children that truth was important–not just “Truth” with a capital T, but “truth” with a small one. The little truths all add up, and when you punish those who speak them, pretty soon you lose the big Truths, too. I know this, because I have family who lived in the DDR before Reunification.

I think you owe Dorothy and Ben Boyce an apology. But you’ll probably throw me off now, too. How many of us have there been?

Mr. Bailie responds:

I shared a post by my friend Jennifer Roback-Morse and the photograph she posted. I never said Lutherans were the only ones who collaborated with the Nazis. My gosh. What nonsense. I made my point clear in the follow-up. Who thought that the fetus in the palm of the hand was an actual fetus for goodness sake? Of course it was a replica —and of course it was not bloodied and covered with fetal fluid. My gosh. To make such a big deal out of that—all the while ignoring the real point—the systematic killing of millions of unborn babies in the womb—is simply amazing. You wonder why I’m uninterested in that kind of dialogue. I know it will be a badge you will wear proudly, but unless you can show some respect for the purpose of this Facebook page, you will be obliged to find another outlet for your positions. Don’t expect further response.

Sophie’s bold response:

I know you won’t like this, Mr. Bailie, but what you said about the Catholic and Lutheran heroes suggests that they were in opposition to their churches’ official positions, because both churches supported the Nazi regime. The Vatican was not heroic; it collaborated and cooperated with fascist regimes. If Catholic priests in Germany were heroic, it was because they spoke out not only against the Nazis but also against their own magisterium. This is what you don’t seem to be able to acknowledge, and I wonder why you can’t. It is the truth.

And an offline comment from Dean Hansen:

Golly Jeepers, Sophie!  Golly gosh!
Bullshit.  Thou dost protest too much. You fully believed the fetus was real:  “….This is what we all looked like at 12 weeks in the womb. Legal to kill in all 50 states. Anyone think its not a person? Pass this along. It literally might save a life.”  Why would you ask others if they thought it was a person unless you thought it one yourself?  If you knew it was plastic, it would cancel out the rhetorical assertion in your question. “Anyone think it’s not a person?”  (Well, you don’t of course, but will nevertheless use any kind of trickery to get a concession from your captive audience even if it means lying to yourself.)  I’m sure that once you Googled the images and realized your error, you had two options.  Come clean and acknowledge that you were fooled, or lie and pretend ignorance.  The second option seems to fit you well, but it makes you look no less foolish.  Why make a big deal out of that?  Because you have decided to make abortion your Waterloo; your rubicon.  When you use the word “killing” and “murder” indiscriminately to define what women do when they are pro-active in their own decisions, it is a big deal.  It’s a big deal because 1) You are barred from the actual experience of birth, and need to show some humility when it comes to other people’s plight.  2) Life actually begins before conception (sperm and ova are alive) but they don’t make babies, therefore, since life is a continuum, you draw the line at conception, which, along with birth, are both false thresholds.  At what point does a baby become a person?  Fertilized eggs, like the gametes that precede them, cannot live on their own, or think or feel.  They are biological life in the strict sense, but they are not human life.  Since they are not human, you are not guilty of murder if you abort them.  3)  Look beneath the heated passions on the surface and you will find there is a remarkable lack of polarization on the issue, save with old guard Catholics and picketers at abortion clinics with concealed handguns. Most people think that abortion should be allowed but not encouraged. That is the de facto reality.  And most people choose the first trimester as their own threshold because of what science, biology, nature, and common sense tell them.  It is why only 1% of abortions occur after week 20, and usually only when the life of the mother is in danger, or the fetus is damaged and not sustainable.  (Most women who waited 15 weeks or more to get an abortion did so because it was so hard to find a clinic where the operation could be performed, and not because they were resistant to basic information about gestation and pregnancy).

The Cornerstone Forum Once Again Refuses to be Confused by Facts, Alternative Opinions, Data, Evidence, Documentation, Reliable Information, or Scientific Studies.

June 13, 2012
“I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of my gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night.”  — Sir George Sitwell, English Eccentric

Since its inception, Gil Bailie’s Facebook page for The Cornerstone Forum has sought to interpret and respond to contemporary culture “from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to the social teachings of the Church.” This is because Bailie sees Catholic faith and practice as increasingly caught “in the crossfire,” as he puts it. And he is a faithful son of the church.

Benedict XVI and Gil Bailie

But Bailie’s use of the “crossfire” metaphor is a mite disingenuous. It implicitly casts the Church in the role of an innocent bystander or a disinterested third party—despite all indications that it is not and has never been either of these. Just in recent months, Catholic institutions have sued the U.S. government over the HHS contraceptive coverage mandate, thrown their full weight behind anti-same-sex-marriage initiatives, chastised nuns for focusing on poverty and hunger rather than abortion and homosexuality, bullied the girl scouts over including a 7-year-old transgendered girl, excommunicated doctors and nuns for saving lives, and joined Republican efforts to restrict women’s access to abortions at the state level. Over the years, Church institutions have lied about contraceptives to poor Africans, obstructed patient access to accurate information and services in secular hospitals, and purged scholars who attempted to build bridges to other faiths. (For details on several of these points, see “8 Ugly Sins of the Catholic Church,” by Valerie Tarico on Alternet.)

There can no longer be any doubt either that the Church has a horse in the race or, in the case of Gil Bailie’s unfortunate metaphor, that the king has no clothes: the Church is not “caught in the crossfire.” It is firing mortars at its enemies.

Bailie’s attempt to propagate an essentially hermetic and authoritarian ideology via the Internet was a tricky proposition from the start. The Internet is by design an open, expansive, inclusive, and anti-authoritarian medium—a “real” forum, unlike the “gated” one Bailie would like to cordon off within it. People come and go, expressing all kinds of opinions willy-nilly, in a real marketplace of ideas. It’s like a Turkish souk alive with chatter and dissension. You can buy anything there, but you’ll have to negotiate—sometimes loudly.

So, The Cornerstone Forum has indeed had visitors from all kinds of people from all parts of the world—England, Austria, China, Italy, and Australia, to name a few—and, surprise!—not all of them have expressed views that perfectly match Bailie’s own. Some of their voices have been more strident than his. Some of them have been highly articulate and even argumentative, as if they had no idea of the gravitas of The Cornerstone Forum’s founder or the unassailability of his views.

Flat earth orbited by sun and moon

A large part of the disputation at The Cornerstone Forum has concerned issues of truth. The thread I have reproduced below is typical: Bailie informs his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall, and then he seems genuinely offended that they don’t buy it. (Well, actually, some do.) At that point, facts and logical arguments are offered—always by readers, virtually never by Bailie—and he ignores or dismisses them with smug little retorts like, “We’ll see.” A few weeks later, he puts up another post informing his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall.

This has been the pattern during the many years that I have visited The Cornerstone Forum’s pages, where we’ve learned that climate change is a hoax, homosexuality is gravely disordered, same-sex marriage will cause civilizational collapse, religious freedom is under attack, the Obama presidency is precipitating totalitarianism, the Muslims are taking over Europe, and secularism is to blame for everything that is wrong with the world.

About a month ago, Bailie reacted to the growing chorus of dissent by issuing a warning similar to the one you will find in the thread below. When it was not heeded, he issued a second one and expelled one of the most insightful and articulate of his critics, George Dunn. All traces of Dunn immediately disappeared, and dozens of threads no longer made sense without his voice. If you’ve ever seen photos of Stalin’s politburo with purged officials airbrushed out, you’ll get the picture.

Today, Bailie issued a third warning. This time, the one expelled was I. Here is the conversation:

Gil Bailie:

I am currently researching the worldwide demographic decline and its enormous consequences. The evidence for the decline is overwhelming, but so are the studies that trace it and the data confirming the researchers’ conclusions. I cannot claim to have a complete grasp of the problem, but I have arrived at a preliminary hypothesis:

Whereas some animals don’t breed when in captivity, humans apparently don’t breed when in metaphysical despondency, regardless of how unacknowledged and embedded in material prosperity that despondency might be.

Doughlas Remy:

There is no “worldwide demographic decline.” However, there are declining birth rates in certain countries, such as Japan and some countries of Europe. The world’s population, now slightly over 7 billion, is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. That’s really rapid growth, so rest assured there’s no lack of breeding going on.

I’m not sure how you measure “metaphysical despondency” or whether there is in fact such a thing. But surely people in certain high-growth societies (e.g., in parts of Africa and East Asia) have much more reason to experience metaphysical despair than Europeans and Japanese, and it is not slowing them down.

Birth rates in Europe and Japan are falling because women are now better educated and have more options. And yes, low birth rates can pose social challenges, but so can high ones, as we discussed earlier. See my article about this on The Bent Angle.

Darrick Northington:

This seems like an impossible argument to make. I echo Doughlas, given that every human belongs to some demographic and earth’s human population is in fact growing rather than declining, the claim that we’re experiencing some kind of “global demographic decline” is false.

Gil Bailie:

We’ll see.

Doughlas Remy:

@Darrick: I’m surprised The Cornerstone Forum is again making this bizarre claim after the earlier discussion we had, where so many facts were laid out. And these facts are incontrovertible. Population growth, fertility rates, and youth/elder bubbles can all be measured. We’re talking hard data here.

It’s like one of those strange experiences where somebody points up to the blue sky and tells you it is green. You say, “No, it is blue, and my spectrograph will back me up on that.” And they say, “No, to me it’s green. And what’s a spectrograph?”

Patrick Daoust: 

The Economist recently published a book called Megachange, the world in 2050. I’m currently reading the chapter on demography. Mr Remy’s numbers fit with data in the book.

This said, we must ask ourselves why so much of Europe has such a low fertility rate – I think it’s about 1.3 in Spain and Italy. This is quite a problem for policy makers to deal with. My intuition is that in modern western societies the freedoms normally associated with men are seen as more desirable. A lot of feminist movements fight for equal rights with regards to salary, women in high profile jobs, etc. As a whole, our society seems to have stripped away all pride in motherhood.

Darrick Northington:

‎@ Patrick, it sounds like you think mothers have to be second-class citizens. In my opinion, motherhood and fatherhood are both consistent w/ equality, and any definition that necessarily subordinates one to the other is wrong. To suggest that our society doesn’t take pride is wrong, too. I think this kind of talk has more to do with white male dominance than motherhood…the kind of thinking that says a woman’s place is in the home, in the kitchen, and a man’s place is king.

By the way, birthrates in Spain have increased every year for the last 12 years.

Doughlas Remy:

@Patrick. In connection with your final sentence, about society stripping away all pride in motherhood, here is an interesting opinion from Gail Collins of the NYT:

If you look back on what’s happened to women over the last half-century – how the world has opened up for them to have adventures, pursue careers, make choices about the kind of lives they want to live – it all goes back to effective contraception. Before the birth control pill came along, a woman who wanted to pursue a life that involved a lot of education, or a long climb up a career ladder, pretty much had to be willing to devote herself to perpetual celibacy. That’s what contraception means to women.

Iron Woman. Photoshop rendering by Dean Hansen

So, maybe other life paths are simply more attractive to women. Motherhood, after all, is damned hard work, it’s unpaid and under-appreciated, and raising a child is more expensive than ever. Yearly tuition at state universities in Washington State, where I live, is now over $12,000.

In the face of all these obstacles, we have in this country a political party that wants to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids. These cuts are part of a larger proposal to cut social services block grants to the tune of $17 billion over ten years. These grants support Meals on Wheels, child welfare, and day care for children. State legislatures are also unable to raise revenues in the face of anti-tax initiatives.

Child-bearing may also about to become riskier to women if hospitals are allowed to let a woman die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.

Because of the work that I do, I’ve had countless more-or-less unstructured conversations with Japanese mid-career professionals over the years, and we always talk about Japan’s birth dearth. They say raising a child is just too expensive. They value quality education and would feel shamed if they couldn’t give their children access to one.

I think there are ways women can be incentivized to have children, but governments like our own seem intent on disincentivizing them. Banning contraception is not, of course, an option, and it shouldn’t be. Women’s need for choice in these matters is paramount. The demographic problems will take care of themselves as we begin to think creatively about them.

Gil Bailie:

Let me try once again to explain why this Facebook page exists. It exists to offer encouragement to those who share its point of view. It does not exist to argue with those who don’t.

This is not a bulletin board or campus kiosk. It is a Cornerstone Forum page, and its purpose is that of the Forum, namely: to encourage and, with God’s grace, occasionally to inspire, those who share our vision and concern. The Forum and this Page exist to give an account of the contemporary cultural and moral crisis from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to Magisterium and the social teachings of the Church, and to do so, when appropriate, by drawing on the extraordinary anthropological insights of René Girard and the theological riches of Benedict XVI, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and others. It is also our purpose here to bring these perspectives to bear on the sundry cultural and moral issues we now face, paying special attention to what we regard as the gravest moral and civil rights issue of our age – abortion – and the gravest anthropological blunder – the evisceration of the meaning of marriage and the demise of the traditional family.

“Censer,” by Dean Hansen

We are not surprised to find that many do not share these concerns, and we offer our best wishes to those who don’t, but we will no longer allow this Facebook page to become an outlet for points of view that are wearily familiar to us, the refutation of which would be as tedious an exercise for us as it would be entirely unconvincing to our naysayers.

To those more sympathetic to our efforts, we are grateful for your interest, and we will continue to try to be as useful and encouraging as possible. If we occasionally point to certain unhappy developments in our cultural life, it will only be for the purpose of encouraging resistance to them for the sake of our children’s children.

Doughlas Remy:

Gil, I think your only option may be to “de-friend” those who do not share your point of view, as you did to George Dunn about a month ago. The Cornerstone Forum will no longer be an open forum, but at least you will have an echo chamber where you can get validation from your supporters and carry out your mission of channeling the church’s (and dare I say, the GOP’s) talking points on issues of the day. I hope you will be fair with your visitors, however: Let them know up front that they will be de-friended if their opinions diverge too much from your own.

As I said in an article on my own blogsite, it’s obvious you don’t value the time and thought that your readers devote to responding to your posts. That is a shame, and it is why I hope to provide a truly open forum on The Bent Angle for some of the issues that you raise. As you will notice, I have already begun to port some of the discussions over there, for fear they will suddenly disappear from TCF. So far, the idea hasn’t caught on with your visitors, and it may not, but I’ll continue the mirroring effort, as I think it is important.

I continue to maintain that truth is important and that none of us has a lock on it, or exclusive rights to it. We reach the truth through dialog.

Catholic Hierarchy Lobbies to Suppress Religious Freedom

May 28, 2012

Away Point / by Valerie Tarico

What do Koch Industries and the Catholic hierarchy have in common? A determination to shift rights away from individuals and assign them to institutions.

Since the founding of the United States our ancestors have wrestled with the question of who counts.  Who gets the rights and dignity that define the promise of America? For two hundred years generations of Americans have fought to bring the rights of personhood and citizenship to those who had been excluded:  the landless poor, religious minorities, Blacks, First Nations, women, gays.  But always, as we have expanded those rights it has been with the goal of giving greater dignity and self-determination to individuals.

Continue reading this article.

“Churches are becoming political organizations…”

May 27, 2012

Robert Ingersoll, 1833-1899

“It probably will not be long until the churches will divide as sharply upon political, as upon theological questions; and when that day comes, if there are not liberals enough to hold the balance of power, this Government will be destroyed. The liberty of man is not safe in the hands of any church. Wherever the Bible and sword are in partnership, man is a slave.

“All laws for the purpose of making man worship God, are born of the same spirit that kindled the fires of the auto da fe and lovingly built the dungeons of the Inquisition. All laws defining and punishing blasphemy—making it a crime to give your honest ideas about the Bible, or to laugh at the ignorance of the ancient Jews, or to enjoy yourself on the Sabbath, or to give your opinion of Jehovah—were passed by impudent bigots, and should be at once repealed by honest men. An infinite God ought to be able to protect himself without going in partnership with State Legislatures. Certainly he ought not so to act that laws become necessary to keep him from being laughed at. No one thinks of protecting Shakespeare from ridicule, by the threat of fine and imprisonment. It strikes me that God might write a book that would not necessarily excite the laughter of his children. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that a real God could produce a work that would excite the admiration of mankind. Surely politicians could be better employed than in passing laws to protect the literary reputation of the Jewish God.”

Robert  Ingersoll,  quoted from, Some Mistakes of Moses, Section III, “The Politicians,” in Works, Dresden Edition, Volume 2, 1879


A Response to Thomas Sowell’s “Occupy and the Moral Infrastructure”

May 9, 2012

Thomas Sowell, writing for The National Review Online, claims the Obama administration has granted the Occupy movement immunity from the law and opened the gates to anarchy, barbarism, and civilizational collapse.

Read his article here.

My response:

Sowell, addressing The National Review Online‘s overwhelmingly Christian readership, complains that educators “indoctrinate their students with ‘non-judgmental’ attitudes.” I wonder if he is equally disappointed with the teachings of Jesus regarding judgment. (“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”) Or maybe there is a distinction that I am missing here. If he is correct about the Academy’s indoctrination of the young in non-judgmental attitudes, then maybe there is some hope after all.

Sowell claims the Fourteenth Amendment (guaranteeing equal protection to all citizens) has been “suspended”, or even “repealed” by authorities unwilling to “clamp down” on the Occupy movement. I would just point out that the 14th Amendment has been neither suspended nor repealed and, in any case, a repeal would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. I would also point out that authorities have not stood idly by when anyone’s safety was at risk.

Sowell doesn’t mention the First Amendment, which provides for “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” What does he think it is, chopped liver?

Sowell makes no distinction between peaceful and non-peaceful protest. Fortunately, many or most municipal governments have tried to maintain a balance between their sworn duty to protect citizens and the rights of citizens to protest. Closing down the entire Occupy movement as a response to the excesses of certain individuals would be like closing down the anti-abortion movement over an occasional shooting. Notice no shootings have yet occurred in the Occupy protests.

Sowell claims the Occupy movement’s aim is mob rule. This is patently untrue, and Sowell needs more than a broken plate-glass window in San Francisco to make his case. Not even the Occupy movement is certain of its aims.

Sowell thinks concentrated applications of pepper-spray are appropriate for dispersing students sitting on the ground with their arms interlocked. I think he should try getting doused with pepper-spray before recommending its use on seated protesters.

Sowell frames these events as a struggle between anarchy (barbarism, even!) and law and order. No shades of grey here. No nuance. But why should we expect nuance from The National Review? I imagine President Bashar al-Assad of Syria would take heart that some Americans see things the way he does.

The Cornerstone Forum Announces Housekeeping

April 17, 2012

From The Cornerstone Forum, April 17, 2012 (My response follows at the end.)

HOUSEKEEPING

In the next few days, in addition to whatever posts that arise from my daily survey of the ever-shifting sands of the faith-and-culture nexus, I will be posting a number of things that we hope will re-frame the purpose of the Cornerstone Forum’s Facebook page. In advance of these posts, however, we can say at least this: our Facebook page is an extension of the Cornerstone Forum mission, which is to foster an intellectually compelling and theologically orthodox Christian response to the contemporary cultural and spiritual crisis. The question is: to whom are we addressing our efforts? In the first instance, the answer is: to those most likely to be receptive to it, to find it helpful, and to draw encouragement from it. We welcome those who may disagree with our project and its underlying assumptions, even as we hope that they may find at least some portion of what we post on this site to be useful. But we are here on Facebook to offer encouragement to the former and not to engage in protracted debate with the latter.

(more…)

Catholic Bishops Close Charities Rather Than Comply With Anti-Discrimination Laws

January 2, 2012

Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois have reacted to their state’s anti-discrimination laws by closing their Catholic Charities affiliates. These charities served the state’s poor and neglected children for more than 40 years and were networked with the state’s own Department of Human Services.

Illinois recently began to require Catholic Charities to accept applications from same-sex couples for foster-care and adoption. The state could no longer justify supporting the affiliates with taxpayer money. In Illinois, the affiliates received from 60 percent to 92 percent of their revenues from the state. Same-sex couples who were turned away complained that their own money was being used to discriminate against them.

The bishops have accused the state of “intolerance” and of violating their First Amendment rights. A circuit judge in Sangamon County thought otherwise. In August 2011 he ruled against Catholic Charities, saying, “No citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government.”

Catholic Charities is to be credited with having helped build Illinois‘ child welfare system, but now their share of responsibility for it will pass to the state and other agencies. The state’s anti-discrimination laws will prevail.

Is There Too Much Morality in the World?

December 21, 2011

Steven Pinker

In his latest book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature” (Viking, 2011), Steven Pinker begins a section called “Morality and Taboo” (p. 622) with the following short and provocative declaration:

The world has far too much morality.

Yes, I, too, had to re-read that sentence. Is he about to say there should be more immorality? Well, thankfully, not. He explains:

If you added up all the homicides committed in pursuit of self-help justice [revenge, vigilantism, honor killings, etc.], the casualties of religious and revolutionary wars, the people executed for victimless crimes and misdemeanors, and the targets of ideological genocides, they would surely outnumber the fatalities from amoral predation and conquest. The human moral sense can excuse any atrocity in the minds of those who commit it, and it furnishes them with motives for acts of violence that bring them no tangible benefit. The torture of heretics and conversos, the burning of witches, the imprisonment of homosexuals, and the honor killing of unchaste sisters and daughters are just a few examples.

What Pinker is telling us is not too surprising when you think about it: the human moral sense can go off the tracks.

Unless one is a radical moral relativist, one believes that people can in some sense be mistaken about their moral convictions; that their justifications of genocide, rape, honor killings, and the torture of heretics are erroneous, not just distasteful to our sensibilities.

Pinker is careful to distinguish between behaviors that are deemed immoral and ones that are merely disagreeable, unfashionable, or imprudent. Only the moralized infraction is universalized, actionable, and punishable within the culture that prohibits it.

Some of these prohibitions are truly universal, or “pan-cultural.” In every part of the world, murder, theft, perjury, and extortion are considered moral infractions. Our revulsion at such acts reflects our species’ core moral values of fairness, justice, and the prevention of harm. Such values pre-date not only religion but indeed the appearance of homo sapiens sapiens. They have been promulgated exclusively via religion—and sometimes horribly abused and violated by it—only in societies where religion has been culturally all-pervasive.

But other “infractions”—e.g., apostasy, blasphemy, homosexuality, and idolatry—have been shown to be culturally contingent rather than universal. They are violations of archaic purity and sanctity codes that might have served some purpose in iron-age tribal societies but that are useless in modern pluralistic democracies. They persist wherever the secular state has not developed or has not completely disentangled itself from religion.

A society that values individual freedom and autonomy cannot bind its citizens to sectarian claims about what constitutes a moral infraction. We cannot all be required to forswear martinis or short shorts because they are forbidden by sharia law, and Mormons cannot expect us all to forswear lattes and black tea. Why then, do so many Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Mormons hope to universalize their prohibitions against homosexuality? These prohibitions have no rational basis and are as culturally contingent as the scripture-based codes from which they are derived.

Yes, we have far too much morality. Maybe it’s time to return to the true moral universals and reassess our culturally contingent ones. Instead of asking whether a behavior was forbidden by ancient scriptures, let’s ask, “Who is being harmed?” Or, as Sam Harris might ask, “How does our behavior affect human and animal flourishing and the health of our planet?”

The National Organization for Marriage Plays the Free Speech Card … Again.

December 8, 2011

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has has found a poster boy for its new project, the Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance. He is Damian Goddard, the Canadian sportscaster who was fired from his job in May 2011 shortly after tweeting his support for a sports media figure (Todd Reynolds, vice-president of Uptown Sports) who had come under attack for opposing same-sex marriage. Goddard tweeted, “I completely and wholeheartedly support Todd Reynolds and his support for the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage.” (emphasis his)

Goddard’s Twitter photo, showing him at his anchor desk, clearly identified him with his employer, Sportsnet. And in case this was not clear enough, he referenced Sportsnet in the tweet.

Officials at the broadcast company quickly disavowed any connection between their views and Goddard’s, and the following day they fired him, saying that he was not “the right fit for our organization.” Goddard responded by filing a Human Rights complaint against the company.

Sportsnet denies Goddard was fired over this incident alone and released the following public statement:

Mr. Goddard is aware of the reasons — which are well documented ­— why he is no longer with Sportsnet. Out of respect for our employees we do not discuss personnel issues in the press.

Steve Buffery, writing for the Toronto Sun, calls Goddard’s firing “scary business” and frames it as a free speech issue:

Do we want to live in a society where, if you don’t believe in something like same-sex marriage because of your faith, you have to be silent for fear of being ridiculed en masse, or for fear of losing your job?

Daniel Villarreal, writing for Queerty, takes the broadcaster’s side:

The high-profile TV personality was fired for making a negative political statement against his employer’s wishes, period. They didn’t want their company represented by a man who just told tens of thousands of viewers that he considers their marriages false, dishonest and wrong. Keeping him just would have been bad business, plain and simple.

Villarreal has got it right. To understand why, let’s look at the context:

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Canadian provinces starting in 2003, and legalization at the national level followed in May, 2005. Canada is not due for another census until 2012, but the most recent census (2006) showed 45,300 same-sex couples, of which 16.5% were married. By now, the number of married same-sex couples must be, as Villarreal says, in the “tens of thousands.” Sportsnet’s marketing department could not have been ignorant of this fact.

This alone would explain Sportsnet’s decision to fire Goddard, even excluding other factors. Goddard’s high-profile position made his connection with Sportsnet conspicuous, even when he was tweeting off-site, but all the more so when his tweets made that connection explicit. Goddard’s widely-propagated tweet was bad for Sportsnet’s business, c’est tout.

But should he have had the right to express himself as he did under these circumstances?

That is an entirely different question, and it is for the Canadian Human Rights Commission to decide. However, NOM, which has adopted Damian Goddard, is based in the U.S. and claims to be concerned about First Amendment guarantees for free speech. Does the Goddard case bode ill for Americans who wish to freely express their opposition to same-sex marriage? Are GLBT activists intent on bullying, intimidating, and silencing ordinary Americans who are on “the wrong side” of this issue? NOM, through its “anti-defamation” initiative, would have us believe the answer to both questions is “yes.”

However, a little research into U.S. case law reveals NOM’s  initiative to be more than a little disingenuous. NOM is a lobbying organization with considerable resources (revenues of more than $7 million in 2009)—surely enough to hire a legal expert or two. They must know that, under U.S. law, employers are legally entitled to discharge employees who publicly harm their company, provided that the company is pursuing a lawful and ethical policy.

To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, sportscaster Goddard (transposed to the U.S.) may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be a sportscaster.

NOM’s position on this issue is clearly pro-government and anti-corporate. Are they really advocating for more regulation of companies like Sportsnet? Their Republican contributors may want to know.

The Damian Goddard case shows how determined NOM is to frame any criticism of their position as an attack on marriage. To be clear, their position is that the state should prohibit marriage between same-sex couples and that such couples are somehow “anti-marriage” for wanting to marry. (!) This is facially absurd. GLBTs who advocate for same-sex marriage are hardly interested in “defaming” marriage. No one is, so far as I know. NOM is trying to create a bogeyman, to portray marriage itself as under threat, and to cast themselves as its champions and protectors. On the way to this inspired goal, they will claim victimhood if anyone calls their hand.

If I didn’t know better, I would say it’s an elaborate paranoid fantasy. But in reality it’s just tactics—transparent ones, but effective enough in the short term to keep the cash flowing in their direction.

Other Bent Angle articles related to Maggie Gallagher and/or NOM:

For additional information about NOM, visit the NOMExposed website here.