Friday, February 10, 2012

The Limits Of Faith, Roman Catholic Edition.

I’m not Catholic. For me, the Roman Catholic Church is an interesting institution that has survived for over sixteen centuries with many ups and downs. As the last Mediaeval and absolute monarchy left standing, it is an always a fascinating, if frustrating, anachronism. Battered and bruised by modernity, diminished by secular society, it struggles to be relevant in a zeitgeist soaking in materialism. The Catholic Church has a few shreds of moral authority to wave about; but the authoritarian nature of the Papacy is its own worst enemy in keeping that moral authority relevant.

The church limps into the 21st Century as an institution diminished by the slings and arrows the 20th. The last part of the 20th Century was a really bad patch, as the church failed to meet the challenge of the Nazi terror, and then was called on the carpet for the failings of its Priests and charitable organizations in the last decade of the 20th.

With a new Millennium at hand, the Church that Peter and Paul built is a deep funk in the developed, post-industrial world. It keeps trying to play defense, but the social revolutions of the 20th Century, especially the sexual liberation of the 1960’s, have left its moral teaching in tatters. While increasingly authoritarian, the papacy has ever less authority among the laity.

This brings us, by an admitted long, circuitous route, to the Roman Catholic Church’s attempt to get a carve out an exemption for Reproductive health services for it’s hospitals and other institutions in the US. The Church’s insistence on following a deeply flawed teaching on birth control has once again brought in conflict with secular society. The church fathers are attempting to nullify the secular government’s prerogatives, and to carve out an illegitimate exception to the notion of the commons for themselves. This is ridiculous.

Let’s be clear, Catholic institutions that interface with the commons, Hospitals, Universities, Charitable organizations, etc. fall into the purview of governmental regulations. They are subject to Federal, State, and Local regulation just like any other institution. They are businesses, just like any other business. They are not special because their CEO hangs out in some very nice digs in Rome.

In the US, we live under the protections of a Constitution that separates church and state. The state in our nation is the final authority. Secular institutions have the final word about the most intimate details of family life. The state regulates marriage and family life; not the church. The church is allowed to participate in the institutions of marriage and family life, but the final answer, the rules for marriage, divorce, child rearing, are made and enforced by the secular state.

We live in a nation grounded in the notion of unalienable rights. These rights obtain by the very fact of our humanity. They are human rights, and to deny them is do violence to human beings. It is to do an act of evil.

But no right is absolute, they interact and are limited by other rights. Put simply, the right to swing your fist freely ends at someone else’s nose. What the Catholic Church is proposing is that it has the right to swing its fist into the noses of thousands of citizens who just happen to be women. The proposal is specious and wrong headed.

The church does not even have the right to impose it’s views on contraception by force on its own parishioners, never mind the general public. The insisting on the right to nullify the laws laid down by the Federal government is unacceptable. By offering its employees and others health services, by entering the commons, by serving the outside public, the Church has to accept the rules and regulation laid down by the state.

The church is not allowed to discriminate on account of sex. It can not create a second class, second tier cohort in its ranks. If a Catholic institution were to baring people of color from certain health benefits, the general public would demand immediate restitution from the government. Race bias is not allowed by the government in any institution that serves the public, neither should gender bias.

In one way the attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to get away with gender bias, its attempt to keep on wallowing in Patriarchy and Misogyny, is hardly surprising. The Catholic Church has become ever more reactionary, both politically and in matters of faith as the 20th Century wound down. The new century has not halted the retrograde activities of the church. If anything, the elevation of Benny the Rat-zinger has made the march rightward pick up speed.

What is surprising though is how the Church is getting away with this utter nonsense. The willingness of bobble head pundits to be spear carriers for the Roman Catholic hierarchy is mind bending. That an aid to the Speaker of the House does not get how the church is trying to do an end run around the constitutional protections of women is depressing. Is this a sign of creeping senility, or has Chris Mathews always been this dense?

This is all about equal protection under the law. You cannot have one level of care for the male of the species and then have a lower, more restrictive level of care for the female.That is flat out wrong, and no appeal to rosary-bead fiddling can ever change how wrong this kind of backwards thinking is.

The church has a right to teach on every subject under the sun. It has a right to expound on any weird notion that strikes its fancy. It can lock itself in any number of cloisters, and attempt to count the numbers of Angles sitting on a pin. It can continue its regard action against modern science. It can continue to rail against modernity in all its forms. It has that right. What it has no right to do, is shove its retrograde notions down the throats of millions of women in the US, and billions of women throughout the world.  The fundamental right of women to control their own bodies trumps Humanae Vitae.

In a world were the struggle against religious extremism is a a real concern, the only true bulwark against Theocratic rule is secularism.  The bar against the rule of zealots and fanatics of all stripes is a strict separation of church and state. If you wish to bar Sharia law from our governance, then you must also bar Roman Catholic Hierarchy from gaining a carve out on birth control. It is not the governments concern that the Bishops have issues with women’s sexual agency. The government is only concerned with bending the cost curve of health care via sound preventive medicine. The Catholic Church can either comply with the rules as written, or it can remove itself from the requirement by no longer participating in the public sector.

Final words. Every idiot pundit out there is indulging in heavy breathing about First Amendment protection for this outrageous move by the US Bishops. The First Amendment is not a get out of jail free card. The state would stop the Roman Catholic Church flat if the Holy Father attempted to restart the Auto Da Fe' of the Inquisition. The State these days has zero interest in persecuting Christian Heretics. This is because the state has made it clear it has no interest in establishing a religion. It is right there in the First Amendment : Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

We have no official Church in the US. Faith has its limits. In public governance, it is excluded. In the public sphere, the church is strictly regulated.  It has to follow the rules of any other employer. It has to answer to the state for any and all egregious malfeasance; which is why the Roman Catholic Church got clobbered in the tort courts when the hobbies of certain priests were revealed. The Roman Catholic Church is not a law to itself. It does not earn a carve out for birth control any more than it earns a carve out for child raping priests.
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