Last week’s column on the HHS mandate brought a rash of email from the usual suspects—men and women who feel passionately inclined to inform me that the church is “mysogynistic, women-hating, gay-hating, authoritarian, fetus-idolizing…” well, you get the drift. People who could not begin to accurately articulate the church’s position on most matters are quite sure that her counter-cultural stances are grounded on nothing more than hate.
The dominant narrative of the mainstream is that whatever gets in the way of what you think you should have must be founded on hate, and not just hate, but hate-without-reason. Love, in this narrative, is nice; it always says yes. Alternative points of view offering nuanced philosophies and theologies, reasoned compellingly and with depth through the ages and offered with respect? The very definition of twenty-first century hate.
Aside from revealing a general deficiency in reasoning skills and a stunning lack of curiosity as to why the Catholic church objects to contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients, there existed in these emails a general lack of interest in identifying what the conflict between the administration and the church is actually about. What little coverage has surfaced in the mainstream has been framed along predictable lines: those nasty Catholic bishops are trying to deny women contraception, which “even Catholic women” use. The constitutional question of whether the government has the right to define a church’s mission or usurp its conscience is ignored. For my correspondents, at least, it’s “all about contraception and the Catholic Church of No.”
That people are still swayed by headlines and the tired bumper-sticker rhetoric that gets hauled out and tapped into Twitter feeds is not surprising. But it speaks poorly of our academic institutes, where civics classes have been put aside and our students develop only a passing acquaintance with their rights and responsibilities; it suggests that curiosity has been discouraged in an effort to stick to the curriculum and, perhaps, the standardized tests.
That people can willingly believe the church is dishonorable, misogynistic, homophobic, unreasonable, and sexually repressive, however, speaks poorly of the church’s own instruction and her presently strained abilities not just to catechize—although that is important—but to bring light and clarity to issues that have gone murky thanks to distortion and emotionalism, and in doing so, foment genuine conversation instead of name-calling, real understanding instead of memes.
The culture, cognizant of almost nothing about the whys and wherefores of Catholic teaching, is being encouraged to believe that religion is not simply unenlightened and unnecessary, but a socially negative force best driven from the public square. Its historic mission of outreach—its healthcare, educational, and charitable service to surrounding communities in need—is being redefined as not a mission at all, but an intrusion. Her effective and cost-efficient programs, to which the federal government contributed because doing so saved taxpayer monies, are now being cited as justification for wholesale government interference with the church, with who and what she is, and how she serves.
Time is running out; it is up to the Bishops and an informed laity to defend the church from ideological aggression and they must do it by engaging the other side and gently, but firmly, challenging them to learn the church’s teachings before demonizing them.
When someone spits the word “homophobe” at us, we must offer them the USCCB’s pastoral letter, “Always Our Children” and—acknowledging that the document may not be precisely what they like—ask whether, having read it, they can make a credible argument that the church is “anti-gay.”
Then, when they accuse us of misogyny and a lack of compassion, give them the brief but powerful and prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae and then ask: can you credibly call the church anti-feminist or anti-humanist?
Can they read Pope John Paul II’s exhaustive teachings on The Theology of the Body and credibly declare the church to be sexually repressed or disinterested in the full expression of ourselves as sexual beings?
Can they read Gaudium et Spes and credibly argue that the church is out of touch with the Human Person or Society.
Can they read Fides et ratio and credibly argue that the church does not hold human reason in esteem.
Can they learn of the Vatican supporting and funding stem cell research, or read even the briefest list of religiously-inclined scientists and researchers and credibly argue that Christianity is “anti-science?”
The secularist society does not want to hear alternative thought; they want a simple “yes,” to whatever is on the agenda of the worldly world and suits its values. People seem not to realize that far from being an Institution of No, the church is a giant and eternal urging toward “Yes”—a self-actualized “yes” formed through an engagement with what is true, over what is reported; what is real, over what is caricature. A “yes” that is greater than the self, and lives beyond the moment.
The moment to argue the credibility of our church, however, is now.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.
Last week: Obamacare's Great Gift, Clarification
Six things to know about the HHS Mandate
Sandra Day O' Connor on Civics
HHS Mandate fight under-reported
Always our Children
Gaudium et spes
Fides et Ratio
Vatican Supports Stem Cell Research
Priests and Scientists
On the Theology of the Body
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