Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Religious Fanatics Infect Nation's Capitol

It seems patriarchical religious zealots who often favor medieval robes and rituals have descended on the nation’s capitol recently. Strategically placed in the offices of fearful congressmen and holding brow-beating sessions with parishioners not toeing the selective edicts of their secretive hierarchy, they seek to conform the nation’s secular laws to their random religious preferences.

If such an organized effort was put forth by Islamic clerics or Buddhist monks, investigations would be held as to why our elected leaders are holding audiences with such obvious fanatics, much less reshaping essential legislation to meet their unyielding demands. But these are representatives of the Catholic faith. Those not unduly impressed by their paternalistic zeal to keep women underfoot will be struck like so many of their cloistered nuns wielding metal rulers.

I know these people. I have spent more time on my knees in the service of various Vicars of Christ (mostly John XXIII, as I recall) than most of the right-wing commentators that use Catholic doctrine to beat up on those who would dare to let a woman control her own body. Sure, it was mostly back in the ‘60s, when I was a kid, a dedicated altar boy throughout grade school, back when we had to go to Mass every morning before class. I sang the ritual cants and even played in some of the first guitar Masses at the small parish in my small town.

Back then, the only politics the church involved itself in was a quaint notion of social justice. We gave lip-service to the poor, while spending most of our money on vestments and gold chalices. There was even an anti-war tinge back during that ugly Vietnam thing.

But now, the Catholic church is in the middle of a hard-right swing, careening around in political circles like a bull in a Holy Hill gift shop, slapping down any politician who would dare show independence or common sense on issues related to women’s health. When the House of Representatives was debating a health insurance reform bill a couple of weeks ago, a conservative German “pope” headquartered in Rome sent various functionaries (called “bishops”) – all, incidentally, carrying some fine health coverage – scurrying across Capitol Hill in an effort to scuttle the legislation if it dared to allow coverage for reproductive services, even in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the woman (read: incubator). The foreign, medieval effort was scarily effective, weakening and almost killing the bill.

This week, comes word that one of the scions of the Catholic family that has done more for the church’s historical goal of social justice than any other in the nation’s history – Patrick Kennedy – has been informed by one of the costumed clerics that he shall not be allowed to receive the sacrament of Communion until he toes the religious party line on the disfavored right of a woman to control her own body. “If you freely choose to be a Catholic, it means you believe certain things, you do certain things,” declared the bishop. One wonders what would happen if, say, Keith Ellison, the congressman from Minnesota who happens to be Muslim, would receive such a threatening directive from one of his religious leaders. You would hear the screeching all the way from here to Mecca.

But, we allow the Catholics to interfere in the most important issue of our time on the grounds of their narrow, male-centered campaign to rid the women of the world of their right to choose. “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament,” Florence Kennedy famously said. Such irony is lost on the Soldiers of Benedict as they fan out to undermine social justice in the guise of protection of the “unborn”, even at the expense of the lives and health of adult women. Jesus famously threw the money-changers out of the temple. It’s time for someone to throw the medieval prelates out of the Capitol.


Anonymous said...

I really feel deeply sorry for you sir. First of all, the Bishop informed Kennedy three years ago. Only now Kennedy decided to make it public....why now...the Health bill. All politics and he is all politics like Ted.
Does not the Bishop or the Church have first amendment rights like all other Americans? They and we as Catholics have our beliefs. If Kennedy wants to disregard the laws of the Church, that's his business, but there are consequences. If he is not a believer...as you appear not to be....heaven is not is the cards. Simple as that. That's the way it is.

Anonymous said...

I would much rather see a special interest group in Washington D.C. that focus on beliefs rather than on money.
In the end, the Church asks one to look at themselves and their core values before a vote on the hill.
Unless I am missing something, I do not think the Church in Rome will be getting a kick-back from the United States, as many special intrest groups do.
Its about time people in society start being held accountable. If one decides to take a public office, and wants to state their title in a belief system, then be prepared to defend it.
We all have to remember that its black and white that make shades of Grey. If publicaly you say you stand on one side, then be prepared that people are going to be watching when you enter the other.

patrick said...

Liberals always want to talk about allowing women to keep control of their own bodies, but anyone who looks a abortion statistics knows it is a quiet genocide against African Americans. African American women are much more likely to "exercise control" of their body by slaughtering their children far beyond the rate at which white women do.

As far as Kenedy, if he does not bleieve in the tachings of the church, why belong?

Finally, I love the comparison to Imams here. Nowhere on the planet are women, gays, the poor, the daiabled treated with more disdain and hostility than in Islamic countries. So much for standing up for those who need help.

Mike Plaisted said...

Well, Patrick, I do think the Cathoic church gives "the Islamic countries" a run for their money in terms of the treatment of women. The old gray men who have always controlled the church know nothing and care less about the health, well-being and human status of women, who they have always treated as convenient incubators for fetuses who, at the instant of conception, attain more human value than the women will ever have.

The woman was raped? She is likely to be permanently injured or die if she tries to bring the fetus to term? Silence, woman! Do your duty and serve the self-righteous ideals of the men who know better!

The church's anti-choice position isn't about being "pro-life" -- the greatest phony label attached to a monsterous policy in PR history -- it's about contraception. The basis for all of the church's ludicrous and -- in a 3rd world infected with HIV and overpopulation, deadly -- anti-condom, anti-contraception program, is the sin of sex. Or, rather, the sin of sex among the general population. Priests get a pass for all manner of private diddling, no matter how often or how young.

What the conservative church of Ratzinger is doing on abortion is abandoning the parts of its agenda that is pro-social -- the part the Kennedy family have moved forward so effectively all these years -- to try to reimpose the kind of irrational male supremacy that the old men of the church enjoyed back when women had to wear veils to Mass.

The theme song for the church's attitude towards women isn't one of the empty hymns to the Virgin Mary; it's "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones.

Sven said...

If Kennedy wants to disregard the laws of the Church, that's his business, but there are consequences.

So by this logic, the Know-Nothings were right and JFK was wrong: No "true" Catholic can be trusted to hold public office.

patrick said...


If you include rape, incest, and danger to the mother, you have accounted for 5% of abortions. Another large percentage of these could be prevented with the use of drugs like RU 486. The vast majority of abortions are women who have simply decided to put off childbearing. Check the statistics for yourself. Nobody has argued that a fetus has "more human value" than a woman, only that the fetus has human value and potential.

After we put aside all your irrational hatred of the Catholic church, there isn't really much to respond to. I'll note that the SNAP network is working hard to punish abusers and conspirators, but millions can't make up for the scars of sexual abuse. The church, however, does recognize that the ability to bring children into the world is a wonderful gift; it is this gift that elevates women. The desire to have women available for easy sex lowers their status; this is the real patriarchal attitude, and there is no greater rape of a woman than abortion. In this twenty-first century America, women are not going to be kept down because they have children. We both know that.

We'll also note that abortion does not make women happy or wealthy or more free. Why not talk to some who have had them?

Beyond all this, if Kennedy does not believe in what the church teaches, he should quit the church. Wouldn't this be more honest anyway?

Sven: Your argument boils down to this: Nobody with convictions other than my own can be trusted to hold office. Stupid. Really stupid.

Unknown said...

"The church, however, does recognize that the ability to bring children into the world is a wonderful gift; it is this gift that elevates women. The desire to have women available for easy sex lowers their status; this is the real patriarchal attitude"

Yes it is and that what's problematic and oppressive, Patrick! This essentialist view of gender ties women's social value to their sexuality and child-bearing ability. This is dehumanizing and objectifying! If the ability to bring children into the world is what elevates women, what does that make a woman who is barren or otherwise incapable of reproducing? And the desire to have women available for easy sex lowers their status? So their status has nothing to do with them as independent human beings, but only with MEN'S desire for sex? That's a shitty thing to stand behind.

"Beyond all this, if Kennedy does not believe in what the church teaches, he should quit the church. Wouldn't this be more honest anyway?"

That's absurd. If everyone who didn't believe everything the church teaches left, there'd be no one left! There are more than a billion Catholics in the world, and to assume they all share the same beliefs is to ignore a host of survey data on the subject. To argue that they SHOULD share the same beliefs, and further that those beliefs should be the ones that the Pope and his bureaucracy espouse, well that's just silly. People should believe whatever they think makes the most sense to them in the contexts of their own life situations.

patrick said...


First, I think you make some good points about my response. While I'm not exactly sure what the term "essentialist" means, I do admit that when I consider gender it is hard do so without considering the role of reproduction. It seems to me that nature has made certain realities--childbearing being one of these. To me, part of defining "female" is to recognize this seemingly obvious fact. While my wife can certainly compete with anyone in the professional world, while she is strong, able and willing to compete with any man, it is her ability to have children which seperates her from men. While there is more to it--being female--this is certainly an important aspect to consider. However, this is also private in the sense that were I to walk down the street, I would not be able to identify one woman as a mother and another as not. I can respect this potential in all women without disrespecting some. There is no reason to pity a woman who choses not to have children because she is still much more than this, but my heart does go out to those women who want to get pregnant but can't. I'm not sure how this attitude diminishes their individuality. To ignore this aspect of "female" seems to limit one's definition of "female". We must also note the reasonable belief that a fetus likewise has some individuality, too. How we treat the helpless says much about who we are.

I'd likewise argue that men's objectifying of women as sexual objects is a problem within men, not women. Most men I know--or knew when I was younger--wanted to have sex with as many women as possible. I did too. It is our culture and nature. My point was that men who view women as sexual objects lower them. Status is in the eye of the beholder. I think you might agree with this.

As to the Kennedy issue, the reasoning is still simple if we approach it from a different direction. The Catholic church has every right to make public its stance on abortion--that it is a mortal sin. Despite what surveys show, the purpose is to teach morality and to ask people to consider the moral value of their actions. While many catholics might not have problems with the morality of others, I imagine the basic morality the church teaches on this point gives them much to consider. After all, if the only reason not to murder was because the Pope said so, we would have a lot more murder. They are likewise free to censure Kennedy because he claims to be Catholic and supports abortion. As he is such a public figure, they are right to ask him to choose one or the other. He is no ordinary citizen. Would Green Peace be happy with a member who used his public office to advocate killing whales?

Either way, your response prompted a lot of thought on my part.

Mike Plaisted said...

Patrick: "not being happy" with a member of an organization is one thing (although equating Greenpeace to a paternalistic medieval religion is kind of an insult to Greenpeace); kicking someone out of a community (did anyone ask his parish?) because he fell on the wrong side of a political issue is quite another.

What about the church's commitment to social justice in general and health care reform in particular? Are they banishing Republicans from taking communion for being wrong about every social justice issue known to man? How about the death penalty? The church is supposedly so damn (yes, I said damn) consistently "pro-life" because of its anti-death penalty stance, but I don't see them flying around the country trying to get Catholic governors to stop killing people in the name of the state. The fact is that the right-wing Ratzinger is diving headlong into national politics on one issue only.

This, from the church who ordered Father Dornan to stop running for congress because such a position in the secular government was inconsistent with the mission of the church.

And, what's this in your previous comment about abortion being OK in cases of rape, incest and health of the mother? That's not part of the church's position - the woman must be an incubator for whatever seed of Satan (or Father McGuire) is growing inside of her.

Thank god altar boys can't get pregant. Wait, maybe that's the point...

patrick said...


I never said abortion was okay in cases of rape, incest, and the health of the mother; I argued these are a tiny fraction of the larger number of casual abortions for birthcontrol.

As far as the other social justice issues you mention, that's changing the question--a technique of distraction used by those who have nothing better to say.

As for the rest of your nonsense--how can I respond to such opinions except to suggest that perhaps there is more to the story than you are telling. Many people lapse or drift away from their religion, but few become so violently anti-catholic without some other provocation.

Mike Plaisted said...

Really, Patrick? A woman cannot control her own body even to expell the result of rape or incest. Jeez, what's the matter with you, man? "Nobody has argued that a fetus has 'more human value' than a woman" Well, yeah, I think you just did.

I think the question about why the church doesn't go after Republicans who, everyday, undermine its (more historical) social issues is a fair question. You just don't like the answer. And that is that, after flirting, however lightly, with the real world in Vatican II and, less so, with John Paul, the church has been taken over by hard-right patriachical zealots.

As for the church, I am against all religious zealotry that works against human rights and the common good. Whether it's Islamists hiding behind twisted interpretations of the Koran to commit acts of violence against the innocent; Israelis continuing and expanding the occupation of the West Bank by continuing to build settlements under the guise of some religious claim to the land; Christian extremists murdering doctors; or the male-centered religions (that would be: all of them) using the convenient words of dead "prophets" to make is easier to subjogate women.

I have awakened from my facination with the Catholic rituals, garments and incense I grew up with be disgusted with all organized religions. The irrational worship of sky-gods has lead to little more war and misery for the people of the world. The impact of the good works that some churches sometimes accomplish, almost by accident, are overwhelmed by sheer ridiculous notions of power, sin and keeping women underfoot and three steps behind.

So, thanks for the attempt at at psychoanalysis, Partick. I'm just your basic kid-pretend-believer turned adult-agnostic. I construct my beliefs, such as they are, around facts and logic. What's your excuse?

Unknown said...

Patrick, "essentialist" as I use it means presuming that any characteristic (ie gender) is an inherent, automatic, beyond argument feature of something's existence. It could be counter-posed to "socially constructed," which is how I view masculinity and femininity - things which society and culture define for us as we grow up surrounded by it and constantly bombarded by messages about it. I would say the danger with an essentialist viewpoint is that it may lead you to conflate these two statements: 1. you must be a woman to be able to give birth, and 2. you must be able to give birth to be a woman.

I'm glad you agree "that men's objectifying of women as sexual objects is a problem within men, not women." Yes, status is in the eye of the beholder, but it's also in the eye of the generalized beholder of culture as well (messages we receive from institutions like government, religion, pop music, etc...) and this is BECAUSE individual beholders (usually men) CHOOSE to participate in this more generalized de-valuing of sexually available women by chiming in with their opinions (themselves informed by cultural programming) to perpetuate these institutions. If that makes sense.

Anyways, I'm glad you found my words thought-provoking.

Mike: it's too bad you wound up disgusted with all organized religions and irrational sky-gods. There's a lot of interesting stories, wisdom, and history wrapped up in religion. Yeah, a lot of terrible things came from religion. But do you really believe that without religion, we'd be free from war and misery? I think those problems spring from a deeper human nature, from greed and fear, and religion is merely epiphenomenal. You should save your disgust for governments and militaries if you ask me.

Anonymous said...


If you think abortion is the "most important issue of our time" you have not been paying attention.

Anonymous said...

"But do you really believe that without religion, we'd be free from war and misery? I think those problems spring from a deeper human nature, from greed and fear, and religion is merely epiphenomenal. You should save your disgust for governments and militaries if you ask me." This is a great point and exposes the stupidity of Mike's kind of religion-bashing. If you don't accept religion as anything other than a human construct, you're on shaky ground trusting the same humanity that invented the "evils" of religion to be wise and beneficent when trusted with unconstrained powers of say, government.

Mike Plaisted said...

The difference between religion and government is that government is, ultimately, accountable. Religious charlatans (that would be all of them, no matter how nice the vestments) place themselves above it all, literally with god on their side. There is no argument or accountablity with their often bizzare edicts, which they often claim came to them in some kind of fever-dream.

The epitomy of god-hucksterism is Joseph Smith, who was, shall we say, struggling in the American economy of the 1800s when he decided to create a fantasy world of seer stones, golden plates and the American Jesus. That anyone paid any attention to him -- much less the millions that now make up the Morman cult -- shows just how gullible people can be.

There is no arguing with Joseph Smith or Joseph Ratzinger. They are wrapped in the security blanket of their own sanctimony. Not only that, anyone who dares question the self-declared blessed are called blasphemers or worse, regardless of whether they expect the Spanish Inquisition or not.

On the other hand, government in general and politicians in particular are never "unconstrained", especially in a democracy. Government isn't "trusted", but the process that develops its actions and policies is or can be, at least in comparison to the top-down, self-serving commands of old religious men.

Government actions, by their nature, can always be changed -- even if it takes a revolution. Decisions made under the sham of religion can never be changed, since the claimed voice of god never changes its mind. The religious are stuck with the first guy to write down or blurt out something he imagines from the mind of the sky-god.

So, yes, I do "trust" government leaders more than self-appointed religious figureheads. At least the politicians are trying.

patrick said...

Hittler. Mother Teresa.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Mike. Usually you're good for a few laughs but this is too lame even for comedy. Government accountable? Approval ratings in the teens and incumbent reelection rates in the nineties? By contrast religions (except for a few nutty cults) are things you can walk away from. You don't have to support religion you don't like. Try that with government and let us know how it goes. I do however admire your integrity and courage in talking straight about people who cook up nutty self-serving religions. I can't wait to hear what you think about Islam.