Pot, Meet Kettle!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Through Progressive Revival, a religious left blog hosted at Beliefnet, comes an amusing and instructive article accusing America's Roman Catholic bishops of being "cafeteria Catholics."

To set the context for the following explanation of what a "cafeteria Catholic" is, the article notes that, generally, America's Catholic bishops tend to take theocratic stands on the so-called "social issues," and yet sound (at least to its author) more like fiscal conservatives at other times (e.g., They do not get behind major expansons of the welfare state, like physician slavery.):

"Cafeteria Catholics" is a term often used by conservatives to describe members of the church who are not in alignment with Church teaching on every issue. Using this term, conservatives claim that liberals are too willing to pick and choose which teachings they will follow.
Fair enough, and author Paul Gorrell has a point here, too.
But conservatives overlook the reality that the Catholic Church has a very liberal social teaching that places the dignity of the person at its core. This influences the way the Church teaches about aid to the poor, economic justice within taxation systems, and universal health care. Since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, the Church has formally taught that a social approach to health care was necessary to ensure equal access for all. The burden of providing health care to everyone belonged to the society at large. Catholic Social Ethics has further developed this notion since the Council and consistently articulated support for universal health care within society.
A recent papal encyclical should remove any doubts about the accuracy of the above, although it hasn't in some quarters.

Where the article gets amusing for a moment is where Gorrell, clearly on the moral offensive, decides to go in for the kill. [For some possible amusement at the expense of yours truly, see the Note below.]
It's important to realize that the official teaching on marriage in the Catholic Church has been written by men who have never been married. These men also teach that birth control can never be used by a married couple. Aside from the fact that much of the official teaching of the Church contradicts the understanding of healthy sexuality within the field of modern psychology, it is stunning that those whom the Church authorizes to speak on these topics have often defended, hidden, or participated in a system of sexual abuse that highlights their own deeply disordered relationship with human sexuality. [bold added]
The implied call for his church to adopt a more reasoned approach to sexuality would be laudable were it not made ridiculous at the outset by the fact that not half a minute ago, Gorrell was chiding these very bishops for failing to adhere to the Church's economic teachings. Add to this difficulty the fact that these economic teachings suffer a defect similar to that of the sexual mores he skipped over during his own pass at the buffet: They were also originated by men who did not make a completely rational study of man and his nature before formulating them, much less ever got around to proving the existence of God.

But that's just a quick laugh. Note several things here: (1) Gorrell is the more consistent altruist, and as such, is more in tune with the moral principles of his faith on economic matters. His side will eventually win any debate (such as there can be) on "economic justice" within his religion because... (2) Such debates are circumscribed by certain arbitrary premises that all its members will never examine because they accept them on faith. (3) Any follower of his religion, whose ethical code demands that man act against the requirements of his own nature, must necessarily be of the "cafeteria" variety. (4) This fact makes the inevitable guilt a valuable psychological weapon for anyone participating in that sordid debate. Read on.

With Barack Obama's reinvigoration of his opposition, there are and will be calls for the "next Reagan" and other such attempts to revive the "alliance" between theocrats and individualists. Now the article becomes instructive, because such an alliance would concern us with debates like this and their likely outcome.
Catholic Bishops in the United States, however, have opposed universal health care out of fear that abortion will be included in whatever bill that Congress might pass. Instead of proudly stating the Catholic tradition on universal health care and then demanding that abortion be excluded from public option benefits, the Catholic bishops have started from a place of opposition and, in so doing, failed to uphold a core social teaching of the Church.
This is not the only reason to avoid making such a mistake again, but one look at the basis for some of Obama's "opposition" should show that such calls are ill-advised.


Note: Paul Gorrell, or someone claiming to be him, informs me that he is actually no longer a Catholic. This sounds plausible to me, but I cannot presently confirm it one way or the other.


Added a Note.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your commentary...this is Paul Gorrell..by the way, this is my former faith..no longer a believer..just a commentator at this point.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks.I'll post a correction.