Can a movement survive the embarrassment of its leaders?

It’s been a terrible, horrible spring for social conservatives.

We’re used to the Republican establishment being embarrassed of us.  I’ve long thought that it does more harm than good for Congressmen to threaten to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood, not from any ideological objection to the services they provide, but just out of a desire to balance the budget.  The only message this gets across is that no respectable person would question what Planned Parenthood does.  To take another example, everybody, I think, realizes how pointless it is to have a religious liberty bill that doesn’t allow private persons to discriminate against gays, when the whole point was to protect us from being punished for continuing to recognize (“discriminate”) the difference between real and fake marriages, even when the state fails to do so.  As I said, the fact that respectable conservatives don’t like us is nothing new.

It is new to see activists and leaders of culture war organizations betray their embarrassment over the core beliefs of their movements.  The whole point of the pro-life movement is that abortion should be criminalized.  But now the pro-life movement is rushing to reassure us that they would never want women who procure abortions to be tried for criminal activity.  It’s like they’re screaming, “We didn’t mean it!  Please don’t take us seriously!”  I don’t see how anyone can take the pro-life movement seriously after this.  Why should anyone even consider our arguments when passionate pro-lifers act as if they don’t believe them, act as if the ultimate goal of the movement (beyond minor harassments of the abortion industry) is something shameful, something we would not like the public to consider.  One way or another, we’ve lost at least a generation.

Has anyone estimated the damage done by the fact that, when American Catholic organizations started being pressured to pay for their employees’ contraceptives, the bishops didn’t dare go public with an actual argument that contraception is sinful, that no one should be paying for it, but instead argued for “religious freedom”, practically admitting that they have no reason for their beliefs (perhaps even that the Church’s teaching is not what they privately believe)?

Sexual morality is not the center of Christianity, but it is the current center of Christianity’s conflict with militant modernity.  That the Pope cannot bring himself to say that unreformed adulterers are living even in venial sin is a devastating blow to our morale and credibility.  Just as in the pro-life “women are the second victims” rhetoric, it’s not what is said that’s so damning, but the cringe that’s so visible behind it.  That the Church teaches and has always taught that marriage is indissoluble, not as an ideal but as a universal law, is a source of embarrassment, something to be hidden away and qualified as much as possible.

It is, of course, true that people are often not fully culpable for their acts.  Often they act with imperfect knowledge; always they act under pressure, and sometimes the pressure is so strong that their consent to their own acts really is questionable.  And yet, these observations are manifestly not used in a consistent way.  Has Pope Francis ever fretted over whether gossipers, extortionists, rapists, racists, or immigration restrictionists are really responsible for their sins (real or imagined)?  Do pro-lifers think that murderers of all other categories should be automatically assumed to have not consented to their deeds?  No, it’s only the popular sins, and only when perpetrated by protected groups one is not allowed to criticize, for which consent is to be automatically presumed absent.  If I steal a woman’s purse, everyone assumes I consent to my own act.  If instead of mugging her, I ditch my wife and run off with this other woman, then suddenly the concern shifts exclusively to my mental state, and all sorts of subjective factors make it impossible to assess my degree of culpability.  One could engage in this discussion about subjective states, arguing against pro-lifers and the Church that people really are choosing wicked things, but this argument is only worthwhile if our opponents really believe what they’re saying.  The fact that consent is assumed for some sins and assumed absent for others gives us reason to doubt this.  In terms of the objective and subjective components of sin, illicit sexual activity is no different from illicit economic activity and illicit violent activity.

As I keep pointing out, the new excuse-making for adultery merely follows the logic the Church has already embraced in questioning the validity of most marriages in order to make annulment easier.  Consent, it seems, is impossible for mere mortals.  From this it follows that we cannot marry, but also that we cannot seriously sin.  It seems that modern Catholics regard this as good news.  Not such good news that we’d want to apply it to areas other than sex, though.

12 Responses

  1. […] Can a movement survive the embarrassment of its leaders? […]

  2. I don’t see how anyone can take the pro-life movement seriously after this.

    Indeed. Why would anyone donate time or money to those charlatans at this point? I certainly won’t.

    Agnostic had a nice post about what this behavior means for the true ideology of the pro-life movement.

    It’s also interesting to think about the difference between the way Trump was treated and the way Mittens was treated. Both, obviously, are pro-choice. But when Mittens pandered to the pro-lifers, his pandering was accepted. On the other hand, when Trump pandered to the pro-lifers, his pandering was rejected. Why?

    This is not an easy question. The ostensible reason the pro-lifers give, “Donald Trump is a bad man because he takes our issues somewhat seriously, unlike us,” isn’t worth considering. But what *is* the reason? I can’t imagine the NRA doing this.

    The most plausible conclusion is that the pro-life movement is just one more cog in the cultural marxist, corporatist machine that is the GOP, and they were just throwing crap, on command, at the GOP’s enemy du jour.

    Conservatism Inc seems to be self-immolating over Trump. Can you really have a political party which consists exclusively of PR people and lawyers talking to each other at the Four Seasons?

    As I keep pointing out, the new excuse-making for adultery merely follows the logic the Church has already embraced in questioning the validity of most marriages in order to make annulment easier.

    And it is even broader than this. When His Holiness says that he is merely continuing the Council’s thematic embrace of “gradualism” (that is of moral/theological categories really being moral/theological clines), he speaks the truth.

  3. @DrBill —

    The most plausible conclusion is that the pro-life movement is just one more cog in the cultural marxist, corporatist machine that is the GOP, and they were just throwing crap, on command, at the GOP’s enemy du jour.

    Yeah, it was a little amusing (but much, much more painful) to watch the Matt Walshes of the world sit back and grin smugly, having finally nailed that Trump bastard, totally oblivious to the sacrifice of their own moral credibility which the nailing entailed.

  4. Consent, it seems, is impossible for mere mortals. From this it follows that we cannot marry […]

    This line of reasoning is inescapable.

  5. Cane:

    This line of reasoning is inescapable.

    Indeed. In banana republics the law says one thing and everyone actually does something else. Every agreement, every formal act of consent, is in scare quotes.

    Now we have banana republic doctrines and a banana republic Pope.

  6. “Consent, it seems, is impossible for mere mortals. From this it follows that we cannot marry […]”

    This struck me as a secondary line of attack against marriage. If no one can actually marry, and everyone is living in adultery / mortal sin – or no one can commit mortal sin in this regard – what is gay “marriage”?

  7. […] civil society is not only flatly contrary to the Natural Law, it undermines other moral arguments. A favorite argument of the Reactionary Right these days is that the woman who procures an abortion ought to receive legal consequences if […]

  8. Can a movement survive the embarrassment of its leaders? Probably not. And maybe that’s a good thing. Perhaps thinking of ourselves as a “movement” is the wrong frame. Is the Catholic Church a movement? Was it ever? Do you suppose the Amish think of themselves as a movement? I’m of the opinion that the very idea of “Movement for political goal X” is modernist illusion and inherently destabilizing to society. Which, even when goal X is per se just, manages to serve chaos.

  9. It can survive the embarrassment of its leaders but not the disgrace of its rejecting God.

  10. […] wonders Can a movement survive the embarrassment of its leaders? The case-in-point is the Prolife “Movement”. Which has grown increasingly embarassing. […]

  11. Why should anyone even consider our arguments when passionate pro-lifers act as if they don’t believe them, act as if the ultimate goal of the movement (beyond minor harassments of the abortion industry) is something shameful, something we would not like the public to consider. One way or another, we’ve lost at least a generation.

    Yes, the culture war is lost.

  12. The choir/music director at my parish is undergoing training to become a deacon. He was explaining his exams and papers to us before practice started and it came across that issues that should have detail, like marriage, was only covered in a shallow manner. The sacrament of marriage, as his instructor told the class, was based on two important things: (I) It was made by God and (II) It’s between a couple. There was no clarification that it was between one man and one woman.

    A couple of the choir members spoke up and asked about women priests (this is a Novus Ordo parish, not at all reverent) to which the music director really couldn’t answer, giving a “Because the church wouldn’t allow it.”

    But the sacrament of penance? 18 points. I wonder what are these 18 bullet points that are so darn important. I can only guess … (I) Don’t judge; (II) Don’t make people feel bad; (III) Don’t give them 20 Hail Mary’s if they admit to adultery – instead give them five.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: