Gary Willis, in a blog on that noted theological site, the New York Review of Books, has opined that the uproar over Obama's HHS mandate is being caused by Republican con men and Catholic fanatics. Willis, to his credit, makes virtually every leftie argument in favor of Obama's HHS mandate that I have heard to this point, plus a few more:
- The conflict over the HHS mandate is really about contraception, not religion.
- If the issue is about religion, than the question is whether Catholics can force their views on everyone else.
- Obama has offered a reasonable accommodation, but the Bishops are fanatics acting unreasonably.
- The fact that the Bishops are even complaining about this shows their bad faith.
- Catholics want to impose a religious dictatorship on America.
- The Church got it wrong on contraception, and thus they should be ignored.
- The "religious freedom" argument is about whether we as a nation can disagree with the Bishops (stated while ignoring the HHS mandate)
- The polls are in, contraception is accepted by most Americans, and therefore this core doctrine of the Church is not entitled to be respected under the First Amendment.
- Contraception is not a valid religious issue since there is no mention of it made in the bible,
- Left wing interpretation of natural law is obviously superior to the Pope's. The Pope got it wrong on contraception, and so the Pope can and should be ignored.
- The Catholic Church thinks sex is dirty. Let's hear a cheer for free love!!!
- Catholic doctrine should be subordinate to polling.
What follows is an answer to those issues:
By a revolting combination of con men and fanatics, the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office. Take the controversy over contraceptives.
Willis begins with a patently false premise. There is no controversy over contraceptives - nor for that matter the plan-B abortion pill Willis ignores throughout his argument. Both contraceptives and plan-B abortion pills are unconditionally available in America to all women today. Indeed, there is nothing stopping the government from opening up kiosks to hand out contraceptives and Plan-B abortion pills like candy, free to any and all. The Catholic Church isn't contesting that. The sole issue is whether the federal government is violating the First Amendment when it forces religious institutions and individuals to pay for those items in violation of their core religious beliefs, with their only remaining alternatives being to pay a fine or dissolve.
American bishops at first opposed having hospitals and schools connected with them pay employee health costs for contraceptives. But when the President backed off from that requirement, saying insurance companies can pay the costs, the bishops doubled down and said no one should have to pay for anything so evil as contraception.
This is a cynical argument. Obama backed off nothing. He announced - without coordination with the bishops - an accounting trick as an accommodation. Contraceptives and abortion pills don't fall off trees. The only way a health insurer can make them available is to collect sufficient premiums to cover their costs. So all Obama is doing is telling insurers of Catholic institutions that they have to use some creative accounting. The costs are still going to be paid by the Catholic institutions for their employees regardless of how the accounting is done. Moreover, Obama has done nothing to address those Catholic institutions that self-insure.
And it is not just Catholic Church institutions that are at issue and that Obama does not address. Most Christian sects share the same doctrines regarding abortion and contraception. And then there are the individual devout believers in Catholicism who run secular businesses, but who will also be required to fund the HHS mandate contrary to their religious beliefs. Mr. Willis describes complaining about that as something radical. But the First Amendment Free Exercise clause is written to protect religious individuals every bit as much as institutions.
Some Republicans are using the bishops’ stupidity to hurt the supposed “moderate” candidate Mitt Romney, giving a temporary leg up to the faux naïf Rick Santorum; others are attacking Barack Obama as an “enemy of religion.”
I must admit, it has been so long since I have read or heard anyone called a "naif" (Ivanhoe?) that I had to look it up. I was prepared to give Willis kudos if it made sense, but "naif" merely means "naive." So Santorum is faux naive? That makes no sense. It does however mark Willis as a faux intellectual. At any rate, Obama is an enemy of religion - as has been virtually every honest socialist since the founding of socialism in the crucible of the French Revolution some two centuries ago.
Pusillanimous Catholics—Mark Shields and even, to a degree, the admirable E. J.Dionne—are saying that Catholics understandably resent an attack on “their” doctrine (even though they do not personally believe in it). Omnidirectional bad-faith arguments have clustered around what is falsely presented as a defense of “faith.” The layers of ignorance are equaled only by the willingness of people “of all faiths” to use them for their own purposes. Consider just some of the layers:
So for the Catholics and other religious in this country to mount a "defense of faith" is, according to Willis, a mark of ignorance and bad faith. I know the left does not like to have to justify their baseless assertions in argument, but this is ridiculous.
Far too many Catholics have fallen for the utopian belief of the left - that society can be perfected on earth under the benevolent hand of an omnipotent government - when we now have two centuries of historical evidence, much of it soaked in blood, and all showing to the contrary. Moreover, much of the Catholic "left wing" don't seem to understand that they have made a bargain with devil in the secular socialist left. These people want to see Christianity as a whole put to the dust-bin of history. It is almost like Stockholm syndrome.
The eyes of many of the Catholic left have apparently been opened on that score thanks to Obama and the HHS. But then again, Obama promised to be a uniter, not a divider.
The Phony Religious Freedom Argument
The bishops’ opposition to contraception is not an argument for a “conscience exemption.” It is a way of imposing Catholic requirements on non-Catholics. This is religious dictatorship, not religious freedom.
Oh, you lefties, you love turning arguments on their head and accusing an innocent opponent of doing what you yourselves are doing. The Bishops' argument is a moral one. It does not impose anything on non-Catholics. It does not stop a single person, Catholic or non-Catholic, from purchasing a contraceptive. The only imposition in this case is of course from Obama, who would impose the costs of contraceptives and abortion pills on the Catholic Church. I would say nice try, but it wasn't.
Contraception is not even a religious matter. Nowhere in Scripture or the Creed is it forbidden. Catholic authorities themselves say it is a matter of “natural law,” over which natural reason is the arbiter—and natural reason, even for Catholics, has long rejected the idea that contraception is evil. More of that later; what matters here is that contraception is legal, ordinary, and accepted even by most Catholics. To say that others must accept what Catholics themselves do not is bad enough. To say that President Obama is “trying to destroy the Catholic Church” if he does not accept it is much, much worse.
For Willis to claim that contraception is not a religious matter is akin to Sebelius ruling that a Catholic charity is not a religious organization. Sebelius and Willis are both applying ridiculously narrow definitions to meet their goals. It is risible. Simply because mention of the pill, the IUD, or abortion does not appear in in the New Testament does not mean that they are of no religious concern. Contraception and abortion directly raise the issue of the creation of life imbued with a soul by God. Maybe its just me, but that sounds kind of central to all of Christianity.
Natural law is not devoid of moral underpinnings, nor does it fall outside the competence of the Church to make binding moral judgments within the rubric of natural law. Thomas Aquinas wrote extensively on that issue. And indeed, Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, did in fact reason within the construct of natural law to find artificial contraception "immoral" and "evil." (H.V., Par. 14). Willis can have contrary opinions to Church doctrine, but in this case he is being wholly dishonest about the nature of those doctrines.
To disagree with Catholic bishops is called “disrespectful,” an offense against religious freedom. That is why there is a kind of taboo against bringing up Romney’s Mormonism. But if Romney sincerely believed in polygamy on religious grounds, as his grandfather did, he would not even be considered for the presidency—any more than a sincere Christian Scientist, who rejects the use of medicine, would be voted for to handle public health care. Yet a man who believes that contraception is evil is an aberrant from the American norm, like the polygamist or the faith healer.
Disagreeing with Catholic bishops is of course not an offense against "religious freedom" - it is a function of it. Willis nonetheless uses this construct as a means to obfuscate the real argument - that requiring a religious institution to act against the tenets of its faith is where the offense against religious freedom lies.
It is interesting that Willis brings up polygamy as an issue, because it was center stage in Reynolds v. U.S., the first Supreme Court case interpreting the 1st Amendment's Free Exercise of Religion clause. A Mormon man was prosecuted for polygamy and appealed on Free Exercise grounds. The Court resolved that case by looking at mainstream religious doctrine extant at the time of the signing of the Bill of Rights. Mormonism was an invention that preceded the adoption of the First Amendment, and polygamy was "odious" to then extant mainstream Christian traditions. Thus polygamy fell outside the ambit of Free Exercise protections. In the instant case, Catholic Church doctrine on contraception and abortion can be traced back to antiquity, and though reexamined by the Church in the 1960's, were certainly settled doctrines at the time of the inking of the First Amendment. This should qualify for protection under the Free Exercise clause.
Although Willis frames the issue cleverly, what Willis is arguing for in reality is that today, some two and a quarter centuries after the inking of the First Amendment, any religious tenet in conflict with modern secular left wing dogma should not be honored as legitimate and, thus, should fall outside First Amendment protection. Willis and the left would have the rock upon which Christ built his Church loosed into the quicksand of the modern secular socialist left.
The Phony Contraception Argument
The opposition to contraception has, as I said, no scriptural basis. Pope Pius XI once said that it did, citing in his encyclical Casti Connubii (1930) the condemnation of Onan for “spilling his seed” rather than impregnating a woman (Genesis 38.9). But later popes had to back off from this claim, since everyone agrees now that Onan’s sin was not carrying out his duty to give his brother an heir (Deuteronomy 25.5-6). Then the “natural law” was fallen back on, saying that the natural purpose of sex is procreation, and any use of it for other purposes is “unnatural.” But a primary natural purpose does not of necessity exclude ancillary advantages. The purpose of eating is to sustain life, but that does not make all eating that is not necessary to subsistence “unnatural.” One can eat, beyond the bare minimum to exist, to express fellowship, as one can have sex, beyond the begetting of a child with each act, to express love.
And Willis got his theology degree where? You can compare Willis's secular reasoning within the natural law sphere to that of the Pope in Humanae Vitae and perhaps glean a few differences in the moral thrust. That a leftie such as Willis ultimately comes to a different conclusion is hardly surprising, but it is also meaningless. Catholic religious doctrine has been decided by the Pope, sitting ex cathedra.
Willis can't abide that reality that it is only the Pope's view that matters, since to do so is to concede the argument that Obama and the left are in fact conducting an attack directly upon the religious freedom of the Church. Nor can Willis even concede that different people could arrive at different, yet valid conclusions, without likewise conceding the argument. Instead, he declares the Pope's encyclical a "phony" and thus, the modern left can impose their will on the Church, marginalizing it in American society.
The Roman authorities would not have fallen for such a silly argument but for a deep historical disrelish for sex itself. Early Fathers and medieval theologians considered sex unworthy when not actually sinful. That is why virgin saints and celibate priests were prized above married couples. Thomas Aquinas said that priests must not be married, since “those in holy orders handle the sacred vessels and the sacrament itself, and therefore it is proper (decens) that they preserve, by abstinences, a body undefiled (munditia corporalis) (Summa Theologiae, Part 3 Supplement, Question 53, article 3, Response). Marriage, you see, makes for defilement (immunditia). The ban on contraception is a hangover from the period when the body itself was considered unclean, as Peter Brown overwhelmingly proved in The Body and Society (1988).
It is hard to see what relevant point Willis is trying to make here. Pope Paul VI's reasoning in Humanae Vitae is in no way is prudish or implies that sex is "unclean." Is Willis suggesting that, since the modern left has been pushing a secular message of sex without consequence, moral or physical, in and out of marriage, that modern Christian sexual morality is thereby invalidated? Curious.
The Phony “Church Teaches” Argument
Catholics who do not accept the phony argument over contraception are said to be “going against the teachings of their church.” That is nonsense. They are their church. The Second Vatican Council defines the church as “the people of God.” Thinking that the pope is the church is a relic of the days when a monarch was said to be his realm. The king was “Denmark.” Catholics have long realized that their own grasp of certain things, especially sex, has a validity that is lost on the celibate male hierarchy. This is particularly true where celibacy is concerned.
So to restate Willis's argument, Catholicism is antiquated, the Catholic hierarchy cannot pass judgment on moral issues surrounding sex because they aren't out chasing skirt every night, and therefore it is only legitimate that questions of Church doctrine and sexual morality be determined by polling. Unfortunately, Willis neglected to site the biblical references supporting that argument. I have read most of the Bible, and I have yet to see reference to the Prophet Rasmussen or the Book of Pew.
Thus it seems Willis and the left would add an addendum to Mathew 18:18. That's the bit were Jesus told the soon to be First Pope, Peter, that "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven." That is one of the biblical passages that gives the Pope the final authority to pronounce on matters of religious doctrine and morality. Willis would rewrite that bit to add "subject to majority approval." I can't wait to see Willis's rewrite of the Golden Rule. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor, but only when using HHS approved contraceptives."
There was broad disagreement with Pius XI’s 1930 encyclical on the matter. Pope Paul VI set up a study group of loyal and devout Catholics, lay and clerical, to make recommendations. The group overwhelmingly voted to change the teaching of PiusXI. But cardinals in the Roman Curia convinced Paul that any change would suggest that the church’s teachings are not eternal (though Casti Connubii had not been declared infallible, by the papacy’s own standards).
When Paul reaffirmed the ban on birth control in Humanae Vitae (1968) there was massive rejection of it. Some left the church. Some just ignored it. Paradoxically, the document formed to convey the idea that papal teaching is inerrant just convinced most people that it can be loony. The priest-sociologist Andrew Greeley said thatHumanae Vitae did more damage to the papacy than any of the so-called “liberal” movements in Catholicism. When Pius IX condemned democracy and modern science in his Syllabus of Errors (1864), the Catholic historian Lord Acton said that Catholics were too sensible to go crazy every time a pope does. The reaction toHumanae Vitae proves that. . . .
So let's see. The issues of contraception and abortion were given a second look by the Church with the advent of modern contraception, there were two sides to argument, and the Pope picked one. The left disagrees with the Pope's choice. And that matters the tiniest bit why?
The only person whose decision counts is the Pope's. Now, people who disagree with that on a fundamental level can leave the Church, or choose to live in sin. But none of that remotely gives the left in America the right to substitute their morality for Church doctrine. That is, according to Thomas Jefferson, what the Free Exercise clause was meant to prevent.
But to be clear, that is precisely what Willis is arguing for, with the goal of the replacing God with a socialist government as the final arbiter of morality in our society. As I quoted in A Historical Perspective On Religion & The HHS Mandate:
In any left revolution, be it progressive, bolshevik, socialist, fascist, maoist, or bolivaran, it is necessary to knock down organized religion. The Catholic Church competes for the hearts and minds of people and does so effectively, as do the evangelical Protestant churches, etc. Further, the Church is organized and so can put out a message of opposition. So at some point the revolution has to take the Church on, or lose.
And there it is in a nutshell. The left is the enemy of religion and Obama is their standard bearer in this attack on religion through the HHS. Mr. Willis's entire argument, replete with misstatements of fact and use of rhetorical devices, is used to hide that fundamental truth. The HHS mandate is not about contraception, it is about whether God or government will be the final arbiter of our nation's moral code.
On a final note, is it possible that Obama's decision to post the HHS mandate now is a cynical ploy right out of Wag The Dog. Is HHS mandate designed by Obama to create a social policy issue that would deflect from economic concerns going into the 2012 election. Certainly a lot of people are speculating about that, and not without some due cause. Given the apparent collusion on this issue between someone in the HHS decision chain and George Stephanopolous in his moderation of the 8 January Republican debate, it certainly leads one to suspect that this mandate is part of Obama's reelection year strategy. That suspicion gains a lot more life when one sees how the HHS pushed out this mandate long before it had finished what would be a normal review. HHS Sec. Sebelius, in her recent testimony before the Senate, admitted that, in the rush to announce the HHS mandate, she did not bother to float the mandate through the Justice Dept. for an opinion on its First Amendment legality, despite being asked to do so by 27 Senators, nor did HHS bother to studying how the mandate might impact on those 60% - i.e., the majority - of all companies and organizations that are self-insured.