I didn't think my points were especially controversial. Archbishop Wenski suggested that supporters of gay marriage are fantasists, while its opponents are gritty realists. I pointed out the incongruity of such a claim issuing from the desk of a man who believes in virgin births and the resurrection of the dead. Wenski called pro-gay-marriage activists intolerant; I pointed out that no homosexual activist has yet attempted to interfere with the marriage rights, or rites, of Catholics. Wenski implied that heterosexual, monogamous marriage was the norm in recorded history; I pointed out that the Old Testament is full of deity-sanctioned polygamy and that plenty of early Christians were reflexively opposed to marriage of all kinds. (I used the word loathe, which was hyperbolic. Mea culpa.) And I pointed out that the attainment of rank in the Roman Catholic Church does not necessarily confer moral authority. Rapists and murderers have received Holy Orders, after all, as have many good and decent people.
After a day of relative quiet, writers on various Catholic websites began responding. They weren't happy.
The most thoughtful treatment my article has received was penned by a very smart Catholic writer named Eric Giunta, with whom I once had the pleasure of speaking. Writing for RenewAmerica, he called my story "a rhetorical (but not intellectual) sodomization of an editorial published by Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski."
[Wenski's] editorial was not an exercise in Catholic apologetics but a plea for public civility and that intellectual sanity that is not exactly a staple of contemporary leftist (especially homosexualist) discourse. Thorp seizes on this apologetical deficit... and caricatures Wenski as some sort of superstitious dogmatist ready to oppress the psycho-sexually dysfunctioned at a moment's notice. Like any ideological primitive unable to distinguish between objects or concepts that share only the most superficial characteristics, Thorp is apparently unable to distinguish between a Catholic prelate and an Iranian ayatollah.
Bingo, actually. I do fail to make that distinction, especially when discussing a Catholic prelate who argues that his beliefs ought to be the basis for a binding public policy affecting believers and nonbelievers alike. To misquote the archbishop's views of sodomy: Even those Americans who hold that religious activity is silly are tolerant of religiosity as a "private" phenomenon.
Obviously, Bishop Wenski is no Ayatollah. But why is that? Did the Catholic Church willingly renounce its thousand-year hegemony over the Western world? Of course not. It was ripped away, at the cost of many thousands of lives and many decades of misery. (This was not the sole fault of the church; Protestant reformers were equally to blame.) If we now live in a society radically different from Iran's, it is primarily because certain godless heathens -- Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson spring to mind -- managed to seize the future from the hands of theocrats.
Which isn't to say religious people are bad or that secularism confers rectitude. It's simply to say that religiosity is not sufficient evidence that a person is right, though that is all Thomas Wenski offers, at least in his recent editorial. This strikes me as pompous. Feel free to disagree.
There are things worth pondering in the rest of Giunta's piece, but the above reflects the nut of our disagreement. Giunta did catch me in an overstatement -- the early Church didn't loathe marriage, as I claimed, but merely recommended against it -- and in his second-to-last paragraph, Giunta taught me something I didn't know. In my editorial, I claimed that the church didn't begin performing marriages until the Ninth Century. This is true, in a sense: There was no wedding Mass until the Ninth Century. But Giunta informs me that "the Catholic Church has always considered laymen and laywomen themselves to be the divinely-ordained ministers of their own celebration of Matrimony." So I guess "the church" has been performing marriages all along. Nicely caught, Eric Giunta. And perhaps I should clarify my larger point, which is this: "Traditional" marriage isn't as traditional as most of its proponents believe. I hope Mr. Giunta will agree with that, at least.
I wish all of the responses to my editorial were as well-articulated as Eric Giunta's. No dice. Thomas Peters, at CatholicVote.org, wrote a response titled "Archbishop Wenski's words made true by gay writer who viciously attacks him for defending the reality of marriage." You'll note that the title mentions my sexual orientation. Another, shorter article, written by a priest named John Zuhlsdorf, is titled: "The face of homosexual anti-Catholicism to come." I wonder if Zuhlsdorf's or Peters' headlines would have mentioned sexual orientation if my screed had been written by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, P.Z. Myers, or Sam Harris -- five heterosexual writers whose views of the Roman Catholic Church are similar to mine.
Both the Zuhlsdorf and the Peters article suggest I am an anti-Catholic bigot. Let me be clear: Of the various monotheisms currently mucking up the planet, Catholicism is one of the least odious, and I would happily debate theology with its adherents in a civil manner. But Archbishop Wenski was not arguing theology in his Saturday column. He was proposing that his sect's views of matrimony be adopted as public policy, affecting believers and nonbelievers alike. This is bullying, and it brings out my claws.
More to the point: Peters ought to learn his history. He mocks the idea that the Catholic Church has condoned the burning of women and that Catholic missionaries have subjugated native populations. Incredibly, he even pokes fun at my assertion that the Bible contains deity-approved polygamy. Peters writes:
Hold the phone! How could the church have missed this?! All these thousands of years and only now we find out from Brandon that we should have been advocating for polygamy!
Now, now -- I didn't say anybody should advocate polygamy. I said that polygamy appeared in the Bible and that the deity didn't seem to mind. I referred specifically to King David, who had eight wives. Of these,only Bathsheba
seems to have troubled the Lord, and only then because David couldn't marry her 'til he slew her troublesome husband, Uriah. This point is inarguable, unless Peters' Bible is very different from mine.
Peters rejects my claim that the church was responsible for the subjugation of native populations during the era of European exploration, claiming the church "defended the dignity" of Native Americans "long before any European government." Fascinating but not relevant. If true, that the church ceased to sanction the murder, rape, and robbery of indigenous people slightly before other European bodies isn't a very compelling argument for its moral authority. While Rome may not be responsible for every savagery visited upon natives by missionaries over the past 600 years, Popes Sixtus IV and Alexander VI (the Borgia pope) thought it perfectly reasonable to divvy up already-inhabited lands for their political friends. The former gave most of Africa to Portugal in the Aeterni regis; the latter gave most of South America to Spain in the Inter caetera.
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Peters disregards my claim that the church bears responsibility for the burning of women with a flip reference to the "First Council of Salem." It's hard to believe he's serious. Pope Innocent VIII wasn't joshing when he wrote the Summis desiderantes in 1484, proclaiming a worldwide witchcraft epidemic. Since the issuance of that papal bull, there has seldom been a corner of the world in which Catholics haven't been burning "witches." The practice continues still.
I hesitate to even link to this video, which documents a recent witch burning in Nyamataro, a village in the Catholic district of Kisii, Kenya. It's the most vile thing I've ever seen. Watch if you've the stomach, and then read this article, also from Kenya, in which Catholic clergy attempt to inflame the public's fear of witchcraft. This is murderous irresponsibility from men who claim to regularly stand in persona Christi. Fact is, the fear of witchcraft is always more dangerous than witchcraft itself. If mere religiosity were enough to confer moral authority, the Kenyan clergy would understand this. Which is the point I attempted to make on Monday.