“Religions are like bullies. One feature of bullying is that attacks are often made for no reason, aside from the ease of attacking the target. Such attacks can be used to establish dominance, or at least a reputation as someone to be feared and obeyed. …By forcing obedience in trivial matters – even harmless ones- religious leaders establish a reputation for punishment that allows dominance in more meaningful aspects of life. In this view the content of rules is relatively arbitrary" - Skeptic magazine, (Vol. 15, No. 2, 2009)
In her WSJ op-ed (Counterfeit Catholicism, Sept. 23rd, p. A13), Prof. Andrea Picciotti-Bayer offered what she hypothesized are two extreme, counterfeit forms of that faith. On the one hand we read:
"Two of the nation’s most prominent Catholic politicians, President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have unequivocally abandoned the church’s teaching on the dignity of human life from conception onward."
And on the other:
"Meanwhile, despite the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, a group of Catholic hard-liners in the academy and media have written off American institutions as hopelessly compromised and demand that all public life be radically reoriented along strictly Catholic lines."
Adding this question:
"Neither offering is distinctly Catholic, yet both are given national airing. What are ordinary Catholics to do?"
Well, the first thing would be to notch down the sense of importance or authority. As Amanda Marcotte wrote in her Salon.com piece Aug. 2nd:
Religion, especially Christianity — while still powerful in American culture — is in decline. Fewer than half of Americans even belong to a church or other house of worship.
That's a good first barometer to use to judge what an "ordinary Catholic" is to do. That is, minimize one's faith, doctrinal teachings in all interactions. And especially do not quote, cite or mention past papal encyclicals or "natural law" doctrines. Thereby, one can determine the latter subset of "hard line" Catholics to which Piccoti-Bayer refers are out to lunch on their face.
The second step, in reference to her criticism of Biden- Pelosi type Catholics who defend abortion and artificial birth control, is to keep in mind which part of Lawrence Kohlinger's moral pyramid she's coming from:
That pyramid is shown above for reference and as an ex- Catholic, I can say it's clear she is referencing the "pre-conventional" moral standard - the lowest of all, I.e most applicable to those humans just above the 'rugrat' (AGES 3-7) stage. "Billy, you must not poop on the floor, do it on the potty! Or Mommy will spank you!" . Too insulting you say? Then you know nothing of Catholicism's dogmas, decrees and Canon law - including the prescription of punishments for all the assorted "sins" - most of a sexual nature. Basically, as one writer has noted, we have an institution which displays an over reliance on indoctrination and authoritarian moral commands, despite having lost all moral authority from the sexual abuse crisis.
"In a misguided attempt to reconcile Catholicism with modernity, many American Catholics have begun to embrace progressive ideologies that Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles calls “profoundly atheistic.” From critical race theory to gender ideology, these ideas “deny the soul the spiritual, transcendent dimension of human nature; or they think that it is irrelevant to human happiness,” Archbishop Gómez has said. Some Catholics— perhaps inspired by dissident Catholic politicians— even promote abortion."
First, as I've written before, e.g.
RC Bishops Need To Be Taught That Biden Is Under NO Obligation To Espouse Catholic Moral Teachings
Jose Gomez has no clue what he is talking about, as I wrote:
Does he really expect the president of 330 million with dozens of creeds, beliefs and moral positions can dictate one religion's moral values? ...Take abortion. It is now acknowledged by progressive secular Catholics as fundamental to a woman's control over her own body as well as her physical welfare. The notion of "moral evil" is itself absurd, given as Ethics professor Cheryl Mendelson has pointed out ('The Good Life', p. 157):
When fundamentalists insist on risking the life of the mother to deliver an anencephalic fetus they take this tendency to an extreme. People who think this way are unable to override disgust with rational appreciation of the objective characteristics of the fetus. The ability to do so is an indispensable trait of the moral mind."
Those Catholics Piccotti-Bayer accuses of embracing "progressive ideologies" are, in fact, embracing (and using) higher moral reasoning to achieve effective personal ethics. Which, truth be told, carries vastly more power than the dogmatic anti-sexual tropes spouted by padres and bishops who preach chastity and "respect for life" yet have no issues with the abuse of innocent children. And the popes - like John Paul II - who moved these despicables from parish to parish to protect them and the Church. See e.g.
Revoke "Sainthood" For Pope John Paul II ? It Should Have Been Done Long Ago
"The antidote to problems fracturing our country won’t be found in counterfeit Catholic teaching that sows yet more division. It will be found in engagement with authentic, American witnesses of the faith."
But what if the Catholic teaching is itself counterfeit? Based on what Cheryl Mendelson calls "dangerously irrational" and "quasi-magical thinking". Especially over the range of "pelvic" issues such as artificial birth control, abortion, masturbation, premarital sex etc.? Oh and ending life when it has itself become intolerable on account of the ravages of a terrible disease, e.g.
This surely factors into the entire adjacent argument that basically, all religions are counterfeit because they subscribe to a realm (the "supernatural") which does not exist. I pointed this out at length in a Physics Today letter from 4 years ago, i.e.
Readers' thoughts on science and religion: Physics Today: Vol 71, No 6
What more needs to be said? Gomez as well as Picciotti-Bayer are chasing phantoms of the supernatural when they attempt to form arguments based on supernatural authority and dogma, as opposed to natural (not natural law!) reasoning. In addition, let me make it clear that a healthy engagement with politics, as well as care for the natural environment, does not require religion to be effective. The main quality needed is to face the truth, whether the Big Lie destroying our political fabric (not modernist Catholics, according to Picciotti-Bayer) or the climate denial threatening our environment, our planet.
We do not need the supernatural, in other words, to defend or support the natural order. Instead, it is a wild card element that can be grossly misused to sow toxic division - such as when dogmatic bishops try to deny Biden communion, or mindless QAnon morons - fueled by evangelicalism - seek to overturn our elections.
The mistake made by Jose Gomez as well as Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is one typical of ardent Catholic religionists and ancient - based on Manicheanism. That is, that all humans - being of the wicked flesh - are inherently weak creatures in needs of authoritarian direction and indoctrination.(For more on this, see the excellent monograph 'Eunuchs For the Kingdom of Heaven' by Ute Ranke-Heinemann, Doubleday, 1990).
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