Thursday, March 21, 2013

O those awful Catholic writers!

Nope, no religious bigotry here in the Land of Tolerance!
My last post, on gender differences, drew attention from an unexpected source. I mentioned that SisterLisa, the author of a condescending piece on women’s ordination and male insecurity, had drawn inspiration in part from a piece of satire written for Forbes by Victoria Pynchon. I just mentioned it; I neither praised nor blamed it.

In the marvelous world of cyberspace, that’s all you need; it must have shown up as a trackback. Pynchon decided to be the first to comment. As of this writing [3/21/13 @ 12:27 am], I’m having issues with IntenseDebate, so her comment hasn’t shown up yet.

There are a few lines that deal with Pynchon’s own experience of gender stereotyping and social role expectations. It’s not my purpose to devalue or minimize them; while the examples she quotes may sound quaint to postmodern ears, there are still parents who are pleased when their daughter is a “girly girl”, and who are more apt to give them a cosmetics case for their twelfth birthday rather than a chemistry set. No, I’m simply cutting to the chase:


I have no business telling Catholics what they should do, think or believe. I’d prefer it if Catholics didn’t tell non-Catholic American women what they should do, think or believe. [That’s a first.] If Catholic writers would like to tinker with women’s lives, perhaps they should stick to reconciling the gap between the Church’s position on birth control (it’s wrong) and American Catholic women’s refusal to stop using it.


In other words, she’s happy to “discuss” gender biological differences — so long as it’s her talking and me shutting up. Drat that pesky First Amendment, which allows me to shoot my mouth off whenever I please on whatever I please! Why … it even allows Catholics to have opinions on secular subjects! O the outrage!


Of course Pynchon is being more than a little disingenuous. If she felt it wasn’t her business to tell people in general what they should do, think or believe, you’d never see another article or post with her byline. If she believes she shouldn’t comment on Catholic beliefs or practices because she doesn’t know enough about them, marvelous — she’s a refreshing exception to the legions of pundits and self-appointed Wise Persons who regularly screw up basic information about the Church (some of whom, sadly, claim to be Catholic themselves).

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Rather, it seems that in Pynchon’s oddly constructed world, one that she shares with plenty of other Americans, Catholics aren’t people. Or, rather, they’re not regular people, not real people … certainly not people who can be trusted to have a worthwhile opinion about anything outside the confines of their little Catholic enclave.

Consider Pynchon’s last sentence: “If Catholic writers would like to tinker with women’s lives ….” You see, Catholic writers have this magic power by which our written word is given fiat power. When we write, Constitutional protections crumble into dust like the walls of Jericho, and whole classes of people are forcibly brought into the Church to kneel at the foot of the Pope. Strangely enough, as Pynchon herself points out, this awesome force we wield so fanatically and despotically has no hold over Catholic dissidents, especially “cafeteria Catholic”[*] politicians such as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, who enthusiastically back plenty of policies in contradiction to Church teaching without fear of hellfire, excommunication or loss of votes.

So okay, maybe our writing isn’t that impressively powerful. Nevertheless, non-Catholic writers persuade, argue, cajole and convince people concerning the reasonableness of their positions; Catholic writers impose their religion on everyone else. Our opinions are only true within the confines of our medieval, anti-scientific, authoritarian patriarchy; never mind whether they’re backed by science, history, logic or common sense — that’s irrelevant. By sheer dint of belonging to a religion whose beliefs are authoritatively defined, our opinions are poisoned at the well … except when they congrue with postmodern enlightened thinking. (After all, the Pope is promoting environmentalism now.)

Yes, yes, every now and again you have to pat these little Catholics on the head and kiss their babies because they’re a very critical “swing vote”. But actually give them a voice in the shaping of law and policy!? Fuhgeddaboudit! You might as well move the president out of the White House and put a steeple on the Supreme Court building, because the Church will take over everything.

I exaggerate, you say. I’m putting implications into Pynchon’s words that were never intended.

Perhaps that’s so. I went to college at a time when it seemed half the academic world was finding unconscious racism/sexism in every conservative argument, and discerning institutional racism/sexism in every statistic that indicated the Wise Persons’ policies didn’t produce the desired results overnight.

On the other hand, Catholics don’t inhabit a space-time bubble where secular laws have no impact; the laws affect us as much as anyone else. Bad personal decisions aren’t placed beyond criticism by being labeled “private”; bad policy is not made better by reserving discussion to select groups. This is because those so-called “private” decisions sometimes have unforeseen consequences that destabilize communities and degrade life for everyone else.

We Catholics are outnumbered by non-Catholics by 4:1, and that’s lumping in not only the “cafeteria Catholics” but the “Christmas and Easter Catholics” as well. We know better than anyone else that we’re in no position to dictate law and policy; if we’re not a minority group, then there is no such thing.

But when we dare not open our yaps, when we can’t be allowed to have an openly-expressed opinion on what the law should say because the very utterance is “imposing our religion” — that’s beyond ridiculous. That’s Catholic-bashing, pure and simple. Or, if you prefer (and even if you don’t), it’s religious discrimination.

It’s not a “discussion” when only one party gets to talk.


[*] So called because they pick and choose what parts of the Faith they want to believe.