Contra Mozilla

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bottom of the Barrel

The other guy has already written up his reflection on Joseph Bottom's interminably pointless Commonweal piece. Rock bottom, indeed. It's not just the despair and "weariness" of the piece, which really was "weary and wearisome" (as somebody who was not fired from First Things so aptly put it). There have been many criticisms leveled at it, though I think that Emily Stimpson's summary of them should suffice from hitting each one in turn:
Around the 1,000 word mark, however, I realized this piece was more worthy of skimming than reading. That’s the point where he fell into the heresy of Americanism, noting that “We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.”
That tidbit of heretical wisdom and just about every other shortcoming of the essay is being roundly criticized elsewhere on the Catholic internet. I don’t disagree with a one of those criticisms. The essay was interminably long, rambling, self-indulgent, shoddily reasoned, and woefully deficient in its grasp of first principles—of what really matters.
I feel a little sorry for him, because from reading the comments around the internet, it would seem that he doesn't have many friends left in this fight. As Mark Shea put it, "I come back to work today and FB is teeming with flutterings about Jody Bottum and Miley Cyrus. And for the same reasons." On the other side, Bottom knows that his gay friend isn't going to be mollified: the "homosexualists" who are pushing this campaign don't want to stop at winning on marriage, but rather are engaged in a scorched-earth campaign in which surrender isn't an option save on the terms presented Germany after the first World War.

The attitude of those driving this campaign, of those to whom Bottom is surrendering, is encapsulated in this early comment on Ross Douthat's post about the whole affair (my empahsis added):
Listen closely, and you can almost hear the angels tap dancing on the head of a pin. Douthat analyses an analysis of church doctrine, trying to find relevance for a worldview that Oscar Wilde may have been stuck with, but that today doesn't seem to be worth the electronic ink spilled to discuss it. Gay people are real, and religion isn't. The happiness of gay people is worth more than all the hateful hypocrisy the Church has ever uttered. If the love homosexuals feel for each other can rattle the foundations of the Church, then the Church deserves to crumble. We're constantly hearing about the Church denying the full participation of women, demeaning gay people, shielding pedophiles and inserting nonsensical dogma into public policy. It's embarrassing, and it needs to stop.
Left unsaid is how, exactly, it will be "made to stop" (and also, since the person writing it is not a faithful Catholic, how, exactly, it can be "embarrassing"), but the final solution isn't going to be pretty. And if this essay encourages the Bottom-Feeders who would seek to destroy the Catholic Church, I can only imagine the kind of damage done by lines like this:
Mostly when people today toss out a reference to “natural law”, they really mean “biology.” To be crass, they mean “those parts don’t fit together.” If they’re Catholic or Mormon, they might toss in “and they can’t make a baby“. Let me tell you who is convinced by this argument: exactly no one, including, usually, the person making it.... 
I just also happen to agree with Joseph Bottum, that the fight over gay civil marriage is not the good fight we should be fighting....Attempting to stop legalized gay civil marriage because of the “grave threat” it poses seems disingenuous, not just to gay people but to everyone. Even to me. Where was the united effort to stop legalized no-fault divorce? Or contraception? We didn’t fight those civil battles. Why are we fighting this one? 
With friends like these, who needs enemies? The first commenter out the gate takes her to task on this one:
"Where was the united effort to stop legalized no-fault divorce? Or contraception? We didn’t fight those civil battles. Why are we fighting this one?"

It's before my conversion too, but I would never say "we" as if no one fought in my absence. You seem to be saying that "we" should not fight now, and just wait until the disordered society is thoroughly disordered. How can you say there was no "we" fighting before and now ask the current "we" why we are fighting?
She's joined by the next one:
The battle against contraception and against no-fault divorce was barely fought and completely lost before I was even born. Why should the failures of the previous generation force me to throw up my hands on the only live issue on which I can articulate a unitive-procreative view of marriage as opposed to a contractual-emotional model? If everyone thinks that marriage must include same-sex couples, they can't admit the first model. Our recitince to argue against this hurts our chances of re-opening the issues of divorce and contraception.
My sentiments exactly. And it's more than a little annoying to have my sincerity (collectively) called into question by turncoats and people who have all but admitted that they don't know what they're talking about. That our parents' and grandparents' generations largely drove the culture to the edge of the cliff on the whole marriage issue so that we have been teetering on the brink (at best) is no excuse for us to insist on finishing the job. Why is it that with these people, it's always an either/or?

Either we can love our spouses and raise our children rightly (Alexander's suggestion, which is itself not bad advice) or we can fight against gay "marriage" in the political realm; I just don't buy it. It's little different from arguing that pro-lifers don't care about children once they're born: it's not only false, but actually disingenuous. The gay "marriage" equivalent is now apparently "pro family people only care about the marriage until the man and woman say 'I do.'"

I can understand that some people are too weary to fight what they see as a loosing fight, too tired to run a losing race, and thus want to bow out. I can even understand the desire to punt on this issue, the supposedly "bad fight" of the Christian right (the "good fight" being against abortion). But if you plan on punting, it would be nice to at least make sure you're personally punting on this issue rather than kicking the people who are willing to attempt the fourth down. It seems (to hide behind the same word as Alexander uses) as if these people not only never cared about this fight, but frankly never wanted Christians to win it. I've known too many people who seemed quick to criticize the Church, in particular through criticizing particular individuals, while pretending to be on the Church's side, only to show their true colors by actively rooting for the fight to be lost. I don't know if Alexander and Bottom are such people, but their writings on the subject sure seem to fit the model.

And while I suspect that neither Bottom nor Alexander wants to see the church take it in the, er, teeth on this issue, they sure seem quick to surrender without attempting to negotiate some sort of exit strategy. We're fighting an opponent whose basic strategy is scorched earth. We haven't yet seen whether our opponents in this particular battle of the culture war will take prisoners and treat them with mercy, but the outlook on the likelihood of that is rather grim.

If the rest of this rant is born of frustration, I should add something in charity to the end. If you want to give up on this fight, and focus on some other fight, or look into some other avenue, look to evangelize the culture, or whatever because the engagement with this dirty bit of politics is not to your liking, then please: at least have the courtesy do do so without stabbing the rest of us in the back. Make a clean break, and by all means be honest, but try to do so without calling the integrity and honesty of the rest of us into question. You may have spent the last few years fighting for something that you didn't believe in, but some of us really do think that this is a fight worth winning, or (barring that), worth losing. Don't go throwing us under the bus for the sake of getting better treatment from the would-be cultural victors.

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