Archives For: Keepers

A Declaration Of War On Francis

Oct 27 2014 @ 12:15pm


So this is why it took Ross Douthat so long to utter an opinion about the recent Synod on Family Life in Rome. He was weighing whether to call for schism! For the record: for all my questioning and concern about the direction Benedict XVI was taking the church, I never wrote a column that actually called for open revolt against him. The theo-conservative reaction to Francis reminds me a little of the wing of the GOP that simply cannot tolerate the give and take of democratic life, and as soon as a president of the other party is handily elected, and actually dares to enact a clear campaign pledge, declares the end of the republic!

But, of course, the Catholic church is not a democracy, so the analogy won’t work. But neither is it a dictatorship – least of all under this Pope who, from the very beginning, insisted that he was merely a bishop among bishops. And in Ross’s column, there is a clear assumption that his side of the debate owns the church, that any contrary views to his are an outrageous, treasonous and unprecedented attack on the institution itself, that any accommodation of mercy for those caught in the cross-hairs of the teachings on sex and marriage and family is somehow a “betrayal” of the core faith. Not a misguided idea – but a betrayal.

This is nonsense and panic, but it is a useful insight into the theo-conservative psyche. Notice the language used to describe a civil, rare and open debate of issues that the church is grappling with. This process – in which the theocons won on their core issues – is “a kind of chaos,” it’s “medieval” and “dangerous,” it sows “confusion.” It is as if these questions cannot even be debated (which was, of course, the view of John Paul II and Benedict XVI), as if faith itself is so fragile and so rooted in unquestioning blind obedience to a body of teaching that makes no distinction between central and more marginal issues, that any Pope that actually seeks to have a conversation about these questions is a threat to the church itself.

And what are these questions that are so dangerous to consider? That some divorced Catholics who sincerely want to be part of the life of the church should be allowed some participation in the sacraments; that a gay relationship should not be defined and condemned solely for its sexual nature – but can be appreciated for other virtues, such as mutual love and sacrifice; that doctrine should never be imposed without an option for mercy. These are not violations of the core teachings – that marriage is for life and must be always open to life; that non-procreative sex inside or outside marriage is always sinful – but attempts to acknowledge that human beings are involved here, and that exclusion and cruelty and contempt are not the only options for those following the teachings of Jesus.

But for Ross, it appears that mercy is an attack on inviolable truth, rather than its essential Christian complement. And it also appears that allowing the Vatican to reflect the actual debate going on among actual Catholics in our real lives is some kind of threat to the faith itself. Please. If your faith cannot admit of doubt, of debate, of conversation … then it is a white-knuckled faith in the religion of total certainty, rather than the calm faith of those who know we do not have all the answers to every pastoral question.

Ross seems to think, for example, that Francis is proposing an end to the idea that marriage should be monogamous and life-long. That’s just bizarre. What Francis is encouraging us to debate is not whether those whose marriages failed should be re-married in the church, but merely, depending on the circumstances, whether they can be allowed to participate in the full sacramental life of the church. What Francis is suggesting in another respect is that gay people’s real human lives and loves cannot be reduced to a psychological and moral “disorder.” You can see these suggestions as an attack on Jesus’ austere view that marriage is inherently life-long or it is nothing, if you really want. Or you can see this as a reflection of Jesus’ constant, persistent empathy with the sinner, love for the individual and mercy toward the flawed. I suspect most Catholics would instinctively see this as a function of the latter.

And Ross agrees that his is a minority view. Which explains a little of his rage.

Read On

Obama Departs The White House En Route To New York

There have been posts I’ve written over the past decade and a half on this blog that have left me with a very heavy heart. Absorbing the full meaning of what was revealed at Abu Ghraib was one; reflecting on the horrifying child-abuse in the Catholic church was another; reacting to president Bush’s endorsement of a Federal Marriage Amendment or president Obama’s half-assed decision to re-fight the Iraq War one more time were not exactly easy posts to compose. I confess I find it hard to write dispassionately about these kinds of things. The abuse of children; the torture of prisoners; the madness of permanent warfare; and the citizenship and dignity of gay people: these are first order questions for me. I understand, as we all must, that politics is an inherently flawed, imperfect, deeply human and always compromised activity. But some things are not really open to compromise. And torture is one of them.

The mounting evidence that president Obama’s long game may well mean the entrenchment and legitimization of torture and abuse of prisoners is a deeply painful thing to report on. He’ll say otherwise; they’ll reach out and insist otherwise. But the record, alas, is getting clearer by the day. We have seen Obama’s rock-solid support for John Brennan’s campaign to prevent any accountability, even to the point of spying on the Senate Committee tasked with oversight, across his two terms. We have watched as the White House has refused to open up its own records for inspection, as it has allowed the CIA to obstruct, slow-walk and try to redact to meaninglessness the Senate Intelligence Committee’s still-stymied report on torture. Our jaws have dropped as the president has reduced one of the gravest crimes on the statute book to “we tortured some folks,” while doing lots of “good things” as well.

Now for the moment when the stomach lurches. The Obama administration is actually now debating whether the legal ban on torture by the CIA in black sites and brigs and gulags outside this country’s borders should be explicitly endorsed by the administration in its looming presentation before the UN’s Committee Against Torture (which might well be an interesting session, given the administration’s consistent refusal to enforce the Geneva Conventions).

One has to ask a simple question: what on earth is there to debate? Torture as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment has already been banned by the executive order of the president, and it is not bound by any geographical limits. Here, moreover, is the text of the Detainee Treatment Act, pioneered by torture victim John McCain, making it even more explicit:

(a) No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

(b) Construction. Nothing in this section shall be construed to impose any geographical limitation on the applicability of the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment under this section.

Well: here is the explanation, as given by Charlie Savage in the NYT yesterday:

Military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects.

The CIA’s lawyers want more time to study whether banning torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners in line with the law and Obama’s executive order would have “operational impacts”. But how could it when torture and mistreatment are hereby forever banned? Doesn’t it imply that the CIA still sees an option for restoring torture in the future, especially if a pro-torture Republican wins the presidency?

A strong case for this interpretation can be read here in a post by David Luban. It’s essential, if complex, legal reading for anyone concerned that Obama, by taking the CIA’s side in this debate and promoting and exonerating those implicated in past torture, has actually left open the real possibility of this darkness descending again.

Read On

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Oct 19 2014 @ 7:34pm

Synod On the Themes of Family Is Held At Vatican

[Re-posted from earlier today]

The inevitable media headline from the final Relatio of the Synod on the Family will be: “Bishops scrap welcome to gays.” And this is literally true. The astonishing mid-term Relatio’s language of outreach, inclusion and welcome shrank last night into much more arid, cold and unsparing prose.

We don’t yet have an official English translation of the critical paragraphs, but the gist is clear. Gone are the paragraphs that extol the “gifts and qualities” of gay people; gays are no longer to be “welcomed” in a “fraternal space” but merely “accepted with respect and sensitivity”; the church should no longer “value” homosexual orientation; it should merely accept people with “homosexual tendencies.” Of the three paragraphs in the mid-term report, the two with the most positive language have been excised completely; and the remaining one reaffirms the tone and language of Benedict XVI and John Paul II. Here it is – in my unofficial Google-enabled version:

55. Some families live with members with homosexual orientation. In this regard, our view of the pastoral care appropriate to this situation refers to what the Church teaches: There is no foundation whatsoever to assimilate or to establish same-sex unions as even remotely analogous to the plan of God for marriage and the family. “Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. In their regard should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4).

Notice the very Ratzingerian foot-stamping:

There is no foundation whatsoever to assimilate or to establish same-sex unions as even remotely analogous to the plan of God for marriage and the family.

It’s not exactly subtle. My marriage, according to this version of the text, is light years away from the marriage of my own sister. There isn’t even a remote analogy between her family and mine. In fact, there is no foundation whatsoever to compare the two relationships in any way. Let me simply respond by saying what most Catholics who have encountered these relationships in our own lives would say: it is indeed hard to read this and believe it. This is not because I differ one iota from the church’s view that the life-long, procreative marriage between a man and a woman is a precious, beautiful and unique thing. Two men or two women cannot replicate it, if only because of basic biology. The sacrament of matrimony is a celebration of this unique institution – and cannot be re-fashioned into something else without diluting its central truth.

But where I differ from the old guard is in their refusal to see anything good or precious in the mutual love, responsibility and sacrifice that are as integral to same-sex unions as they are to heterosexual ones. To see nothing worthwhile there, nothing to value, nothing to affirm seems, well, untrue to the reality more and more of us live. As Cardinal Marx of Germany said earlier this week:

“Take the case of two homosexuals who have been living together for 35 years and taking care of each other, even in the last phases of their lives. How can I say that this has no value?”

He cannot, which is why this paragraph – along with two others on the pastoral care of divorced or re-married people – failed to win the 2/3 majority vote for it to be part of the official text.

But it was included anyway – with the vote tallies appended. And there you see why it is not wishful thinking to believe that something profound has indeed occurred so far in this Synod. Neither of the two previous popes would ever have allowed the original language to even see the light of day – Ratzinger as arbiter of church doctrine for decades could sniff heterodoxy on this like a beagle with a distant potato chip – and stamp it out with relentless assiduity. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI would have excised the outreach to gay people altogether. And the idea of a transparent vote tally – revealing a vigorous internal division on these questions – would have been unthinkable.

The true headline of this past remarkable week is therefore: the Vatican hierarchy cannot find a consensus on the question of pastoral care for gays, the divorced and the re-married, and the Pope is happy for this fact to be very, very public. These remain open questions for a year of continued debate and discussion before the second stage of the Synod this time next year and the Pope’s subsequent summary. That these are open questions is the real result of this Synod.

I also think its worth reading Pope Francis’ concluding speech to the Synod, which was granted a four minute standing ovation. It is a beautiful text – certainly more so than the unavoidable consensus-speak of what might be called the interim communiqué. Here is Francis’ Obama-style weighing of two different temptations to avoid:

A temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

Avoiding both these temptations is the goal – which has to be accomplished pastorally and with prudential judgment. In his speech, Francis nods to the traditionalists by quoting Benedict XVI verbatim, but then says this:

Read On


We are still, of course, waiting for the Senate Intelligence Committee Report to be released to the public. It’s been forever since it was finished, and forever since the CIA managed to respond, and the endless process goes on and on – even after John Brennan’s attempt to spy on the very committee supposed to oversee his out-of-control agency, and then lie about it. The very fact that Brennan is still in his job – after displaying utter contempt for the Constitution and the American people – tells you all you really need to know about where Obama really stands on this question. He stands for protecting the CIA – and Denis McDonough, his chief-of-staff, has become the CIA’s indispensable ally in enabling not only its immunity from any prosecution for war crimes, but from even basic democratic accountability.

So it does not, alas, surprise me to find this anecdote in Leon Panetta’s memoir:

The extent of the Obama’s fury over the [Senate Committee's] study was revealed in a memoir by former CIA Director Leon Panetta that was released this month. The president, he wrote, was livid that the CIA agreed in 2009 to give the committee access to millions of the agency’s highly classified documents. “The president wants to know who the f— authorized this release to the committees,” Panetta recalled then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel shouting at him. “I have a president with his hair on fire and I want to know what the fuck you did to fuck this up so bad!”

We don’t have merely passive indifference to the CIA’s record on torture, we have active opposition to the entire inquiry from the very beginning of Obama’s term in office. If you want to know why we are still waiting for the report almost two years since it was finished, and if you want to know why the White House refused to provide mountains of internal documents that would have added to the report’s factual inquiries, just absorb the anecdote above. And if you want to know why the White House did nothing to discipline the CIA after it hacked into the Senate Committee’s own computers, ditto. It’s impossible not to conclude that Obama wants as little of this material made public as possible. His pledge for the most transparent administration in history ends, it seems, at Langley.

The question is: why? The answer, I’d wager, is pretty simple and deeply depressing. From the very beginning, Obama was told (and apparently believed) that if he attempted to investigate or cooperate in any inquiry into the CIA’s war crimes, he would “lose the agency,” as they say in Washington. It’s a curious phrase when you come to think about it: “lose the agency”. In what other branch of abu_ghraib_thumbgovernment would cooperating with a Congressional investigation into alleged misconduct risk “losing the agency”? There’s an implicit sense here that the CIA can and will retaliate against presidents who dare to hold it to account. And that kind of conventional wisdom is what led Emanuel and now McDonough to protect the CIA at nearly any cost.

The current battle – in which McDonough is apparently indistinguishable from John Brennan – is over the extent of the redactions in the report. They’re already voluminous, but the CIA is now asking for unprecedented concessions in order to make the report as hard to understand as possible and to render critical narratives impossible to follow. So, for example, they are objecting to the use of pseudonyms to identify individuals who crop up often in the report, alleging that they somehow risk agents’ lives.

But the pseudonyms in the report are not the pseudonyms that agents use to protect their actual identities; they are merely completely fictional names in order to clarify an individual’s role over time in the torture program. Without them it could become close to impossible to make sense of the torture narrative. In the past, moreover, all sorts of reports that have emerged from government inquiries – from the Church Committee to Iran-Contra – have used real names for some individuals, and pseudonyms for others, in laying out their conclusions. But not this time, apparently. And even from the CIA’s perspective, this battle makes little sense. If all identifying pseudonyms are turned into black spaces, it can lead to the impression that the agency as a whole was responsible for various war crimes, as opposed to pseudonymous individuals within it. Removing pseudonyms actually paints the entire CIA with a much broader and darker brush than it deserves – for there were many in the CIA appalled and shocked by the amateurish brutality of the program, and many who were integral to ending it.

Then there is an attempt to redact parts of the report that include the history of intelligence before the torture program was put into effect. The CIA wants this removed as irrelevant, but in the context of the report, it can be highly relevant. If, for example, it can be shown that a certain piece of intelligence was already known in the CIA before the torture program, and a torturer subsequently claimed it was discovered in a torture session, then it is highly relevant for that history to be known. For it proves that torture was not necessary and that many of the claims for its success were without key context and therefore deeply misleading.

Yesterday’s McClatchy story leads with the notion that the report does not follow the trail of responsibility up to Bush, Cheney, Tenet, Rumsfeld et al, and is thereby somehow toothless.

Read On

The Best Of The Dish Today

Oct 9 2014 @ 9:00pm

Sydney Locals Create Bondi's Largest Fluro Wave

A reader writes:

I have had to correct this misstatement numerous times with friends, and now I’m disappointed to see you parroting Kristof, who is parroting Allah-knows who else. The data from the Pew Report [pdf] showing majorities in many Muslim countries in favor of the death penalty for apostasy come only from those Muslims who believe Sharia law should be the law of the land.

So not all Muslims, by any means. What percentage of Muslims across the diverse Muslim world favor Sharia law? The key graph from Pew on executing apostates is below. And when you do the math (and yes, fair warning that I usually do it wrong), you find that 63 percent of Egypt’s Muslims, 58 percent of Jordanian Muslims, 78 percent of Pakistani Muslims, and 53 percent of Malaysian Muslims believe that if you decide you don’t believe in Islam any more, you should be executed. Think about that for a minute.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 6.57.21 PMCentral Asian and South-Eastern European Muslims are very different, as are Indonesians. You’ll notice also that in one of the least devout of the Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Tunisia, only 16 percent favor the death penalty for non-belief. It does not shock me that Tunisia’s democratic revolution is the only one that has survived.

The more devout you are, the more you tend to favor the state enforcing religious doctrine, Pew also finds. Not how poor you are, how devout you are.

But variety and diversity exists as well. And nowhere has Islam come closer to a reconciliation with modernity than in America. American Muslims are far more like American non-Muslims than Muslims in any other country. On the core question of religious liberty, 56% of American Muslims “believe that many religions can lead to eternal life … Across the world, a median of just 18% of Muslims worldwide think religions other than Islam can lead to eternal life.” Here’s another big difference between Islam in America, and Islam elsewhere:

About half of U.S. Muslims say that all (7%) or most (41%) of their close friends are followers of Islam, and half say that some (36%) or hardly any (14%) of their close friends are Muslim. By contrast, Muslims in other countries nearly universally report that all or most of their close friends are Muslim (global median of 95%). Even Muslims who also are religious minorities in their countries are less likely than U.S. Muslims to have friendships with non-Muslims. For example, 78% of Russian Muslims and 96% of Thai Muslims say most or all of their close friends are Muslim.

I think it’s essential that this is better known in America, and that dumb conflations of Islam here and around the world – leading to foul prejudice and discrimination and fear – be challenged at every point. At the same time, I just don’t think the extreme and barbaric views of so many Muslims around the world can be denied. They are dangerous for their own societies and for ours. No one should not be intimidated into silence about it.

Today, the debate about Islam continued – see the thread here. We have updates on the Senate races where the GOP is in some trouble – in South Dakota and Kansas. I pushed back against the Beltway bullshit that the Obama presidency is suddenly a failure – au contraire! The intervention in Syria is another almighty clusterfuck that the US should have avoided at all costs; and our experiment in new media is chugging along.

The most popular post of the day was my defense of Sam Harris and Bill Maher against Ben Affleck and Nick Kristof; followed by my defense of religious freedom in Gordon College.

Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here. You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 29 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. And drop us an email; we love hearing from new subscribers.

(Photo: Sydney locals line up along the waters edge dressed in fluro costumes in an attempt to create Bondi’s largest fluro wave stretching from South Bondi to North Bondi at Bondi Beach on October 10, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. The event is to raise awareness on World Mental Day and show support for everyone who has ever suffered, or knows someone who has suffered with depression and other disorders including bi-polar and anxiety. By Ryan Pierse/Getty Images.)

Krugman makes the case:

[T]here’s a theme running through each of the areas of domestic policy I’ve covered. In each case, Obama delivered less than his supporters wanted, less than the country arguably deserved, but more than his current detractors acknowledge. The extent of his partial success ranges from the pretty good to the not-so-bad to the ugly. …

Am I damning with faint praise? Not at all. This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don’t care about the fact that Obama hasn’t lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn’t quite say, a big deal.

wile_e_coyote_and_road_runner-cliffYes it is. The current indiscriminate pile-on about a “failed presidency” is just bandwagon bullshit. Unlike Krugman, I’ve long had confidence in Obama’s long game, even as I have had several conniptions in his term of office (his early prevarication on gay rights, that phoned-in first debate in 2012, his negligence with, his caving into hysteria over ISIS). And I see little reason to question its broad thrust now.

Just a year ago, I had a conversation with a friend as the healthcare website was crashing. All that mattered, we agreed, was if, this time next year, the healthcare reform is working and the economy is doing better. Well, both those things have happened – Obamacare is actually a big success so far; the growth and unemployment rates are the envy of much of the Western world – and yet we are now told that he’s a failure. WTF? The architects of the Iraq War – like, yes, Clinton and McCain – somehow believe they have a better grasp of foreign affairs in the twenty-first century than he does. And the party that bankrupted this country in eight short years now has the gall to ignore the fastest reduction in the deficit ever, and a slow-down in healthcare costs that may well be the most important fiscal achievement of a generation.

Add to this two massive social shifts that Obama has coaxed, helped or gotten out the way: marriage equality and the legalization of cannabis. These are not minor cultural shifts. They are sane reforms, change we can absolutely believe in and have accomplished on his watch. Jihadist terrorism? It has murdered an infinitesimal number of Americans in the past six years, compared with almost any other threat. Yes, Americans are still capable of PTSD-driven panic and hysteria over it, and Obama has failed to counter that more aggressively, but to be where we are in 2014 is something few expected after 9/11.

The idea that he has “lost Iraq” is preposterous. We “lost” Iraq the minute we unseated the Sunnis, disbanded the Baathist army and unleashed the dogs of sectarian warfare.

Read On

The Trouble With Islam, Ctd

Oct 9 2014 @ 2:57pm

I cede the floor to Hitch, peace be upon him:

It’s well worth twelve minutes of your time. And I think Hitch’s arguments about what must follow from a religious text still regarded as perfect and pristine and utterly unquestionable, and a caliph or Shi’a theocrat regarded as a “supreme leader”, and a politics saturated in apocalypticism, and a culture marinated in absurd levels of sexual repression, and an endemic suppression of blasphemy and apostasy as unthinkable offenses, stand the test of time.

The totalism of Islam is as dangerous as any other totalism – and liberals better understand that about it.

Read On

The Trouble With Islam

Oct 9 2014 @ 12:31pm

Refugees Flee Iraq After Recent Insugent Attacks

Well, this debate really does have legs, so allow me to address some of the latest arguments. There seems to be a consensus that Islam in the contemporary Middle East is in a bad way. When you have hundreds of thousands killed in sectarian warfare, ISIS on the rampage, Saudi Arabia fomenting the more virulent flames of Salafism, Iran’s theocrats brutally suppressing peaceful protests, and Hamas cynically relying upon the deaths of innocents for strategic purposes, you can surely see the point. No other region is as violent or as inflamed right now – and since the battles are all on explicitly religious terms, it seems crazy not to see unreconstructed forms of Islam as part of the problem. Last night, I specifically mentioned the absence of any civil space for scholarly or historical examination of the sacred texts of the religion. Without such a space, it is impossible for this current Middle Eastern tragedy to resolve itself. And the lack of such a space is a key tenet of the religion itself. It’s a little amazing to me to watch some liberals who get extremely upset at religious people refusing to bake a cake for someone else’s wedding on religious grounds, suddenly seeing nuance when a religion believes that anyone who leaves it should be executed. If you’re against fundamentalism of the mildest variety here, why are you so forgiving of it elsewhere?

It’s also good to see Nick Kristof note the following today:

Of the 10 bottom-ranking countries in the World Economic Forum’s report on women’s rights, nine are majority Muslim. In Afghanistan, Jordan and Egypt, more than three-quarters of Muslims favor the death penalty for Muslims who renounce their faith, according to a Pew survey.

For me, that last statistic is a key one. Here you do not have a fringe, but a big majority in one of the most important Arab Muslim states, Egypt, believing in absolutely no religious freedom whatsoever. Democracy doesn’t cure this – it may even make it worse. To argue that this majority belief has nothing to do with Islam is also bizarre. The Koran is as complex as the Old Testament, and there are injunctions to respect religious freedom, but also deep currents in favor of suppressing it, for the sake of people’s souls. These latter currents are not unique to Islam, but they are now clearly dominant in one region, and they are a terrible threat to all of us when combined with modern technologies of destruction. It is legitimate to ask why core human rights, such as the right to follow one’s own conscience, are non-existent in much of the Middle East. It is legitimate to point out that Saudi Arabia forbids the free exercise of any religion except its own. It is legitimate to note the sectarian murderousness of the Sunni-Shi’a battle lines and the brutal assault on religious minorities in the region. These excrescences are all defended by the tenets of that religion and in the terms of that religion. Of course religion has something to do with it.

Does it actually help anyone to keep saying this? Here, I think, there is a pragmatic case for non-Muslims like yours truly to shut the fuck up for a change. Ed Kilgore notes regarding the Real Time exchange:

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The Power Of Francis’ Glasnost

Oct 8 2014 @ 1:00pm

Synod On the Themes of Family Is Held At Vatican

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI understood the power of open dialogue, which is why they did all they could to shut it down within the Catholic church. The sensus fidelium, the insight that ordinary Catholics may have into the Christian life, was all but banished in favor of top-down control and increasingly fastidious theological certitudes. And perhaps the most striking thing so far about the Synod now going on in Rome is simply that: a venting of reality in that airless context, that, while not in opposition to church teaching, is nonetheless frank about its challenges in the modern world.

And language matters. Ed Morrissey notes:

The most intriguing part of that discussion, at least as noted in the briefing, was a call to change the language associated with those teachings [on marriage and sexuality] and find more inclusive and welcoming language instead. The specific terms that some bishops wish to stop using are “living in sin,” “intrinsically disordered,” and “contraceptive mentality.”

Each of these terms is designed to define human beings in ways that can only wound and alienate. A couple co-habiting before marriage cannot be reduced to “sin” without obliterating everything else that may be wonderful about their relationship – and that may well lead to a successful marriage that is perfectly orthodox. Suggesting that all couples who use contraception can be reduced to endorsing a “culture of death” is equally likely to push flawed human beings away from Jesus rather than toward him. And, as for “intrinsically disordered”, Ratzinger’s prissy prose was impossible for a gay Catholic to read without feeling punched in the gut. The key to a renewal of Christianity in our age will be a shift in language, a reintroduction of the core truths of the faith with words that are not designed to wound, hurt or alienate, and that can convey truth in a positive manner for a new generation.

Then there is the remarkable testimony of an Australian married couple – about the central role that sex plays in supporting their marriage vows:

The couple explained that “gradually we came to see that the only feature that distinguishes our sacramental relationship from that of any other good Christ-centred relationship is sexual intimacy and that marriage is a sexual sacrament with its fullest expression in sexual intercourse.” “We believe,” they added, “that until married couples come to reverence sexual union as an essential part of their spirituality it is extremely hard to appreciate the beauty of teachings such as those of Humanae Vitae. We need new ways and relatable language to touch peoples’ hearts.”

Well: good for them. And wouldn’t Catholic marriages be better if more were able to tell their sexual story in ways currently repressed? There is, after all, an obvious and almost painful limitation on the clerisy’s ability to understand sexual intimacy, because they have all taken vows of celibacy. (Another gigantic obstacle, of course, is that of the nearly 200 voting participants in the Synod, only one is a woman. Of the 253 total participants, only 25 are women.) But the Australians had another point to make on the question of homosexuality:

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In Defense Of Gordon College

Oct 8 2014 @ 11:55am

Here’s a possibly troubling story out of Massachusetts:

The regional body that accredits colleges and universities has given Gordon College a year to report back about a campus policy on homosexuality, one that may be in violation of accreditation standards. The higher education commission of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges met last week and “considered whether Gordon College’s traditional inclusion of ‘homosexual practice’ as a forbidden activity” runs afoul of the commission’s standards for accreditation, according to a joint statement from NEASC and Gordon College.

Here is that college’s public statement about its policy on homosexuality:

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 10.58.37 AM

They key issue here, it seems to me, is whether the college’s orthodox views about sex are being fairly implemented. If the prohibition against non-marital sex is enforced only on gay students, we have a problem. But there is no evidence that it is. And the college – which implemented its own review of this policy – seems attuned (see the last sentence) to the problems for gay students in such a setting.

In a liberal society, a college should not be denied accreditation because of its religious teachings, as long as they do not endorse double standards for different individuals who are enrolled.

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