Praying the Post

Reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in one hand and a rosary in the other.

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Thursday, May 01, 2003
The good news

The Washington Archdiocese finally has a candidate for sainthood in Servant of God Mary Virginia Merrick, who founded the Christ Child Society in 1887 at the age of 21.

For most of her life, she could neither stand up not hold up her head.

She will make a palatable saint, I think. People can admire her work for needy children without troubling themselves with her personal sanctity. Her triumph over physical suffering can be marvelled at, without inquiring into the cause of her triumph or the meaning of her suffering.

Intolerance swaddled in punditry

I missed Richard Cohen's "Santorum is a moron" column the first time around, and it's probably not worth revisiting it.

Cohen, though, revisits the topic today, staking out a disturbing position.

He sets it up by portraying Senator Rick Santorum as the wicked inquisitor condemning St. JFK:
... Kennedy not only said he believed that "the separation of church and state is absolute" but added something else as well: "I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair." For this, Sen. Rick Santorum has rhetorically excommunicated him.
To appreciate this, we have to recognize that Kennedy really is regarded as a saint by a certain segment of the American population. Not, obviously, a religious saint; in fact, one of the marks of his sanctity was precisely his support for the dogma that a person's "religious views are his own private affair."

Note how Cohen frames the context in which Kennedy said those words:
He gave that speech in Houston because most Americans did not share his faith -- some of them to the point of ludicrous bigotry. Others, though, merely had some qualms. Therefore, he was assuring them all that he would not try to translate his faith into public policy.
Some Americans were ludicrously bigotted. The bigotry of others, though, were mere qualms. Kennedy reassured all the bigots that what he believed in would not affect the public policy he followed.

For Richard Cohen, this is a good thing.

Why? Because
If you think, simply as a matter of faith, that homosexual sex ought to be a crime, then I cannot reason with you.
Let's set aside his "simply as a matter of faith" misrepresentation, and look at the underlying reasoning:
  1. A man who believes something to be true dogmatically cannot be reasoned with.
  2. Reasoning with people is fundamental to the sound operation of a democracy.
  3. Therefore, a man who believes something to be true dogmatically is a threat to the sound operation of a democracy.
Of course, everybody believes things to be true dogmatically. Cohen himself names two things he believes dogmatically, but note how he describes them:
It is one thing to refer to the Judeo-Christian heritage to justify a ban on polygamy, which is often just another term for the exploitation of women, or on incest, where children are often victimized. But it is quite another thing to give the police the power to invade your home and arrest you for a consensual sex act with another adult -- which is what happened in Texas -- or read you your Miranda rights for committing adultery. Many Americans would be appalled by that.
Polygamy and incest? Refer to the Judeo-Christian heritage. Homosexuality and adultery? Refer to police invading your home and arresting you.

Well, yes, many Americans would be appalled by the thought of police invading their home and arresting them. That's an unremarkable observation masquerading as a profound distinction between Cohen's personal beliefs, which he apparently wants to inform public policy, and Santorum's personal beliefs.

I've changed "religious beliefs" to "personal beliefs." Some might object to that, but I don't think it's a significant distinction for most Americans. In the public square, Cohen's belief in the doctrine that a person's religious views are to be kept private operates in much the same way as Santorum's belief in the doctrine that homosexual acts are immoral.

Cohen exhibits a kind of low-grade anti-Catholicism in his embrace of St. JFK's One Commandment. It's not surprising that Santorum has a better understanding of Catholicism than Cohen, that the Catholic can see JFK's "private affair" doctrine iss contrary to Catholicism in a way the non-Catholic cannot.

The fact is that Catholicism by its nature is a public affair in a way that Protestantism is not. The Church is one, the Truth Who founded the Church is One. A Catholic cannot not be Catholic in his public life and still be Catholic.

Most people don't want to think of themselves as low-grade anti-Catholics, so most people -- including many Catholics -- like to pretend that Catholicism as a private affair is a coherent position, a valid way of being Catholic. It is not.

What's odd is that anyone can live in this country and think being a threat to the status quo is necessarily a bad thing.