Blogs > Cliopatria > What Battle Have You Fought? What Victory Have You Won?

May 26, 2004 7:52 pm

What Battle Have You Fought? What Victory Have You Won?

My friend, Allen Brill at The Village Gate, sent me a despairing e-mail yesterday. His complaint was with Mark Kleiman. Kleiman had written:
Am I the only person who couldn't care less about the opinions of a bunch of preachers about policy toward Iraq? If I don't pay anyt [sic] attention to what Jerry Falwell thinks about same-sex marriage, why pay attention to what the National Council of Churches thinks about foreign policy?
If someone believes that the Christian tradition generally or one of the Protestant traditions specifically has something useful to teach us about how to deal with Iraq, by all means let's hear the argument and look at the texts. I concede that the heads of denominations count as experts on what those traditions have to say.
But offhand I can't think of a reason to expect the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA to have an especially valuable opinion about the proper role of the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq.
I suppose preachers have the same sort of general license to opine at random as bloggers do, but at least the bloggers don't put out press releases about it.
This is an issue close to Allen's heart and I'm afraid that my reply didn't give him enough encouragement. I told him that at Cliopatria we'd recently knocked heads about the public use of religious language and that I found it draining. But now I see that Allen appears ready to withdraw from the blogosphere altogether.

Over the last year, I've watched Allen Brill build a site which is quite remarkable. Single-handedly, without institutional support, he has built, not merely a blogsite like Cliopatria, but a blog hosting site, like History News Network. Currently, it hosts 10 different blogs, including Allen's own The Right Christians. As an advocate for the Christian Left, Allen has been decidedly open-minded, hosting both a gay-friendly blog, The Christian Agnostic and Austin Cline's very secular The Village Atheist. Moreover, The Village Gate draws a huge readership, perhaps twice as big as Cliopatria's. Allen has done all of this in the face of open hostility from major vehicles of the secular Left in the blogosphere: most notably, Atrios, the Left's major traffic director, who is vitriolically secular and has always shunned The Village Gate. But Kevin Drum at Political Animal and, now, Mark Kleiman, have also attacked Allen's major premise: that, if it is to be vital, a progressive Left must welcome its potential religious allies.

I should have thought that it need not even be said. To my colleagues of the secular Left, I'd ask two simple questions: What battle have you fought? What victory have you won? I'm an American historian and I'd stake my professional reputation, such as it is, on the claim that no work of progress has been achieved in American history without major support from our religious communities. From founding organizing colonies to fighting a Revolution; from abolishing slavery to enfranchising women; from the civil rights movement to the feminist revolution, these things could not have been achieved without major support from our religious communities.

I say that, knowing about all the obscurantist backwaters and eddies. I say all that, knowing that, as we used to say in seminary,"the church is a bitch, but she is still my mother." I say all that, knowing that you're inclined to hold me responsible for the Crusades, but you accept no responsibility for the radical secularism of the French Revolution, Stalin's Soviet Union, or Mao's China. I say all that because I've read the"heroes and sheroes" – few of whom ever shunned religious language in the public arena. Read the abolitionists. Read Jane Addams, William Jennings Bryan, Eugene Debs, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and hundreds more. I say all that, because I challenge my friends of the secular Left: What battle have you fought alone? What victory have you won without our support, even our leadership? The simple answer is"None," but if you can show me where I'm wrong, then as we move toward November and even more difficult times ahead, both Allen Brill and I will keep our peace.
Update: After checking with both Allen Brill and Kevin Drum, I withdraw the characterization of Political Animal's attitude on this issue and extend my apologies to Kevin Drum.

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Jonathan Dresner - 7/19/2004


I think you're conflating issues. I partially agree with you that "the infidelity of the secular left is a huge embarrassment" though I think the infidelity of religious movements to leftism explains some of it.

But Soviet Communism and Maoism were not allied with religious organizations or significantly aided by them: they were mutually hostile pretty much from the start. The same is true of the French Revolution, which concieved the power of the Roman Catholic Church as a threat to democracy, legal and economic equality. While I agree that those were atrocities, I disagree that those are evidence of infidelity.

I would also point out that there was dissent within all of those revolutions, in spite of the fact that even moderate dissent which was invariably answered with brutal force. The history of revolution is in large part the history of the enforcement of ideological purity against the revolutionaries themselves; the American Revolution is the notable exception in this regard, being a remarkably non-ideological event. The rise of the Catholic Church, and the early years of the Protestant Reformation are similar: revolutions which create authoritarian ideologies. Christianity had time and need to (and just enough good reason) to grow out of it, but it took time and effort, and the various sects still vie for converts, resources and theological purity.

I've never read Dickens' Tale of Two Cities (yes, a pitiful modern education, blah, blah, blah), so I had to go looking for the reference. After wading through quite a number of student-cheat sites, I found, which seems to cover the ground reasonably well. This was good, too, being by G.K. Chesterton: I've always been more struck by the story of Olympe de Gouges, myself, executed for being too feminist and too sympathetic to Marie Antoinette. But I think you're being unfair to Ophelia: she's strident, but there's no evidence of violence or sympathy for violence in her stridency, at least not that I've seen. She may not be answering the question you wanted to ask, however.

john cornelius halasz - 5/31/2004

I wouldn't be conflated with OB and JS. I'm not particularly welcome over there, just stubborn. At any rate, I'd never heard of "Cliopatria" before the B&W outbreak. But I simply don't understand your charge, as it is void of specifics.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/31/2004

Had you been reading my posts at Cliopatria, rather than B & W's caricatures, you'd recall much criticism of consumerist hedonism here by me. My point about the secular Left is precisely that it currently and historically has been the Left's excoriator and stigmatizer. And you, OB, and JS still haven't answered my observation that where the secular left has led and won its victories it has turned with vengence on religion; where the religious Left has led the Left's victories, here in the United States, there has been no such treachery.

john cornelius halasz - 5/30/2004

I frankly have no idea where this immense accusation against the "secular left", as an hypostatized whole, comes from. In my first reply, I made a parenthetical remark about the likes of Donoso Cortes. Just in case I was being too quick or concise, the point of that remark was a reductio. Of course, I don't suspect that you hold any such views, but it was a mirror held up to how your accusation sounds from the other side. Your citation of immense and tragic historical upheavals to indite the secularism of the left reeks of an inverted form of Heilesgeschichte. With respect to the French Revolution, certainly a violent affair containing many bizarre episodes, the reason that it is harkened back to as a seminal event is that it marked, within the context of continental Europe, at least, the emergence and establishment of a universal secular state "of all its citizens", (together with the notion of a functionally autonomous organization of the economy), and of the subsequent course of conflicts that ensued over the secular state. None of that can be summarized in a simple way, nor in black-and-white moralistic terms, and it has affected variously the thinking and views of religious and secular alike. But the religious left has been a minority faction within the left,- (and it would be useful here to distinguish anti-religious views from anti-clerical ones)- and that does have something to do with the ideological deployment and functionalization of religious establishments on behalf of reactionary and dominating interests. And as for the grand march of the secular left merrily on its way to power, that owes a good deal to your own imagination. If anything, the genuine, thinking left has been, if not unrealistic, then too evasive and allergic, in its analysis of power and its relation to responsibility: that has been the perennial weakness of the left and a source of its self-defeating tendencies. But then those who do hold power are precisely breathtaking in their level of irresponsibility, (since power is, in one sense, an exploitation of weakness rather than a mark of strength), even if "Love covereth a multitude of sins" -(my favorite polyvalent ambiguity from the Gospels). At any rate, I can't help but think that something of the unhappy consciousness and discontent, by which you excoriate and stigmatize the "secular left", would be better and more accurately directed at consumerist hedonism rather than left-wing oppositionalism.

I have to go to work now, so I leave off the rest of my reply.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/29/2004

Mr. Halasz, What supernal perspective have I claimed? Clearly, I know that there is a majesty higher than myself. That is a certainty my secular colleagues have not yet acknowledged. Are you suggesting that I use religion as a cudgel or that other believers have done so? It isn't clear where your blow is intended to strike. I haven't made religion and its welfare the sole criterion for anything. Clearly, other things, such as social justice, are important. The willingness of the secular Left in power to walk all over its religious allies, however, is a matter of social justice. I've simply observed that the secular Left has rarely been a reliable ally of the religious Left and Madame DeFarge appears to believe that that is as it should be. It really is up to her, not to me, to vindicate her rationality. It is, after all, her claim that reason is the sole virtue.
And, by the way, if you dislike my use of the French or the Russian revolutions as prime examples, come let us speak of the civil rights movement in the United States. I can make the same point about it.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/29/2004

Your cheerleading wore out your audience over there so you came back for a visit here, eh? Really, go look at your comments files there. Nobody's interested. See ya 'round the guillotine.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/29/2004

Mr. Halasz,

Please do me the favor of checking the spelling of my name before writing it incorrectly, over and over and over. Thank you.

Ophelia Benson - 5/29/2004

Hmm - not everyone even here understood that, let alone what people not here understood. And then there's the matter of the flat denial, which turns out not to have been accurate. And the reason not to take up some other significant issue is that I find this one quite interesting - quite symptomatic, in many ways. And I'm not obsessing, I'm merely discussing. And as for benefit - well, that depends whom you ask. I'm benefiting, for one - getting a lot of material on Christian ethics.

Gotta go, I have a ton of knitting to do. It's been fun.

john cornelius halasz - 5/28/2004

Jonathon Drezner:

I did scan your post, but I don't think I read the discussion. However, since I'm coming at the issue from the unbelieving side, I think there is a slight difference in perspective and not just in phrasing. At any rate, since Ralph Luker's manner seemed to me to be self-defeating, if he wants to promote dialogue and cooperation between secular and religious "progressives", I thought I'd come over here to put in my $.02 worth.

Ralph Luker:

Though you are an historian, I can help but think that your thinking is ahistorical here. The French Revolution was a vastly important event or series of events, but how long did the Great Terror last, 2 years? And what became of Danton and then Robespierre? And who were the Girondistes? And what of the vast power of the Catholic church under the ancien regime? They were not called the Second Estate for nothing. And they had exercized there power of St. Bartholomieu's Day. France had not had a reformation like England, since the French had failed to heed their prophet, Rabelais, so it was bound to be a messy business. As for the Russian Revolution, who were the first to enter the newly established Gulags? The Mensheviks, the Social Revolutionaries, the anarchists. Remember the Kronstadt Rebellion? I know nothing about China. Perhaps Mr. Drezner could enlighten us. But history is not the theater of happiness. Nor is it a moral fable, with clear and exemplary lessons.

If one chooses to have religious faith, that is a matter of personal justification. It does not of itself confer a supernal perspective, by which the world or history as a whole can be judged. (I would think nothing does confer such a perspective.) But religion should not be used as a cudgel to browbeat the actions and fatalities of all individuals and groups and to absorb from history a sense of supreme righteousness and the certainty of salvation. That is more than the personal moral responsibilty of any single individual can allow for. And if you insist on rendering the justification of religion as a whole the prime criterion for the justification of any human project, then all that you will achieve is the obstruction of any mutual understanding as the basis of cooperation. And the fault would not lie with the profane. There are times when you actually make OB seem reasonable.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/28/2004

Ophelia, If you don't want to understand, as other people here have understood, that it means that secularists in France during the French Revolution, secularists in the Soviet Union during Stalin's regime, and secularists in China during Mao's reign ..., it is clearly only that you don't want to understand the obvious meaning of what is said. Why not take up some other significant issue? You're obsessing to no particular benefit to anyone.

Ophelia Benson - 5/28/2004

Ralph, excuse me, you did say exactly that.

"Of your first point, however, Richard, the same cannot be said of the secularists. They were all on the side of the outrages committed in the French Revolution, in Stalin's Soviet, and Mao's China."

That is a straight copy and paste from your own comment. See the second sentence? The word "all"?

Ralph E. Luker - 5/28/2004

No one said that "all secularists" were supporters of Stalin or Mao, but you have yet to refute my point -- that the secular Left has historically been a poor ally of the religious Left -- and you don't refute it because you believe that it is just and right that that should be the case. So, we are in agreement that my original point is correct.

Ophelia Benson - 5/28/2004

Well, Jonathan, that's a good point about inflexibility on the Internet. But I can't agree that 'leftists' was implied in that original post - the plain meaning is just too plain. And I also can't agree with the point about allowing correction or clarification - because no correction or clarification has been made. The original omission has simply been ignored.

And, of course (she said stridently), given by now a history of wild assertions about secularism and secularists, atheism and atheists, I am all the less eager to or at least able to read in a latitudinarian manner. Or to put it another way, it's a convenient sort of 'accident' that paints all secularists as being supporters of the outrages of Stalin and Mao.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/28/2004

Mr. Halasz,

If you read a little further in the discussion, and my subsequent post (, you'd find that most of your points had either been said or addressed in some form.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/28/2004


Actually, given those three examples, "leftists" is, I think, implied. And it's pretty clear (to me, anyway) that the question Ralph was and is asking is about internal dissent: resistance within Stalin's Russia to his atrocities from committed communists; resistance within Mao's China to his atrocities from committed communists; resistance from French Revolutionaries to the Terror. It seems to me a slightly artifical division, but he's trying to highlight the way in which religion provided an avenue for dissent, self-criticism, and corrective action which seems to him lacking in those secular ideologies. You may not want to engage in the debate on those terms, but at least lets be clear what the terms of debate are.

Without intending this as a one-sided critique, one of the real problems with internet communication is the inflexibility of previous statements and the unwillingness of interlocuters to allow clarification, specification or meaningful correction. Gosh it would be nice if we all thought very carefully before posting something, and knew in advance what would be unclear or misread..... There'd be so much less to read.

Ophelia Benson - 5/28/2004

Okay, well, I tried to keep names out of this by way of tact and consideration, but since other people have seen fit not to, I might as well answer.

Ralph - you forgot the 'leftist' bit in your original statement. That's what I was taking issue with, obviously. You simply said 'the secularists' - not 'leftist secularists.' Not all secularists are leftists, to say the least. Of course I don't dispute that a great many leftists 'were on the side' of those outrages (though by no means all, and by no means all secular leftists either). But that is not what you said. This is what you said.

"Of your first point, however, Richard, the same cannot be said of the secularists. They were all on the side of the outrages committed in the French Revolution, in Stalin's Soviet, and Mao's China. They were all pushing the secular vision of progress."

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/28/2004

I can't help but suspect that Stalin's plan to ship all Soviet Jews off to the desolate border with China had some grounding in his seminary days. Certainly some of his rhetoric has shown the influences of the catechism. Where the followers stand on religious v. secularist is often not as important as the themes tracing their way through the heads of leaders, which often have roots in religious training even in avowedly secularist states.

I'm reminded that Castro, at his high school graduation (a catholic school, of course) delivered an encomium to Generalissimo Francisco Franco. The strands of influence often take us in interesting directions.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/28/2004

No, of course, I'm not for religious dictatorships or theocracies and there's absolutely nothing in what I said that suggests that I am. Cite me, if you will, Mr. Halasz, the secular leftists in the French Revolution who fought its excesses. Cite me, if you will, the secular leftists in Stalin's Soviet who did not support it or look the other way when churches were razed. Cite me, if you will, all the secular leftists, in Mao's China, who fought for the right of traditional religion there. Ophelia Benson's Bertram Russell is no evidence against what I said. The infidelity of the secular left is a huge embarrassment, of course. It is both unfaithfulness toward G_d and unfaithfulness with its religious allies. Our friend, OB, is simply Madam DeFarge at the keyboard, instead of fiddling with her knitting needles.

john cornelius halasz - 5/28/2004

The claim that secularist were all on the side of Stalin and Mao was cited without attribution at "Butterflies and Wheels". I guessed at the source and it did not at all take me long to find it. As someone who has argued from the other side a similar line- about the common ground and considerable overlap between the religious and secular left and the need for mutually respectful dialogue around "religious" differences, so as to be able to work together, (though obviously I get nowhere with this at B & W)- I must say that the conceptual grammar of that comment is seriously screwed-up and unhelpful, to say the least. Such a clumsy and careless rhetorical manner needs to be redressed, else it undermines the very cause in which it speaks. (You certainly are not arguing the de Maistre/Donoso Cortes line about the need for a religious dictatorship to combat the rising evil of secular modernity, eh?) Yes, many religiously-inclined individuals, informed and inspired by the religious traditions to which they affiliated, have made important contributions to struggles for political and socio-economic justice and the allieviation of misery and want. But that is not a fact about hypostatized religion. That is a fact about the lives and times of those individuals. Yes, religious traditions contain many admirable normative ideals and insights that can inform the thinking of the secularly-minded, as well. But equally they can be subject to quite other interpretations, that rationalize the injustices of this world and stigmatize and persecute those outside the fold. There is a wide distribution of evils in this world and religion can be especially sensitive to evil, (though often too intensively so), but religion itself confers no immunity from evil, nor does it necessarily constitute of itself a self-sufficient means of redress.

As for the relation between religion and politics in general, my view is that religion should play no part in the affairs and policies of the state. But religion can play a perfectly legitimate role in the politics of civil society, of those institutions, formal and informal, that form the basis of the public sphere, to which the affairs of state should ultimately be held accountable, as that which it serves. But if the religious choose to adopt a position and practice in the affairs of civil society and the public sphere, they should be prepared to get as good as they give: they should enjoy no special immunity from criticism and expect no exemption from inquiry for the taboos that enshroud the "sacred". That is just a cross that they have to bear, by virtue of their own commitments. And they should realize that ultimately political goals, even if they can be lent a religious coloration and interpretation, remain fundamentally secular in nature. Even if they were to be fully realized, they would save no souls and guarantee no virtues; at most, they would allow for the opportunity for souls and virtues to develop without undue deformation.

I can only guess at this, but I would think that the rise of the fundamentalist religious hard right, in alliance with political and economic interests that seek a narrow dominance over the body politic, would be even more disturbing to religious believers on the left than to us secularly-minded types. It must be painful to witness a cruel caricature of one's own beliefs being promulgated in an authoritarian-dogmatic fashion that belies the real power of spiritual suasion and of the injunction to charitable love and compassion and the risks that they entail and by means of a glorification of falsehood and ignorance, (as with, e.g., "creation science" and the fictionalization of the Apocalypse.) We secular lefties can sympathize with that feeling.

Adam Kotsko - 5/28/2004

And rightly so. I say that if the church is going to have coersive powers such as excommunication, it should use them -- and it should use them for political reasons, strategically.

I have maintained before on my own web page that excommunicating John Kerry would not be good strategy. I have also maintained that the whole "controversy" is basically horseshit. If this Kerry thing was serious, then he'd already have been officially excommunincated by his own bishop. Until I hear otherwise, I'm going to continue to believe that the Kerry "controversy" is something dreamed up by maybe a couple bishops and a few right-wing Catholic commentators. Some random bishop in Colorado most likely cannot excommunicate someone who is not of his diocese.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/27/2004

Interesting that religious movements are to be embraced when they move in the direction you approve of, but not to be censured when they don't move at all. I seem to recall major religious traditions (like Catholicism) being strongly anti-union, as well. The French Revolution did become a pseudo-religion, as you know, right around the same time that it became a Terror, and it's not an accident that we use the term "cult" for Mao and Stalin. Yes, secularism was part of their justification, but their behavior and faith structure were very similar to the most abusive (not normal, mind you) theocratic orthodoxies.

Which is to say that you're right: I'm trying to draw meaningful distinctions, just as you are, and draw what is useful and positive from what is objectionable and problematic. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater, as they say. Geese walk like ducks, and talk kind of like ducks, but they're not really ducks. There's a vast middle ground here for us to meet on.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/26/2004

Well, yes, Oscar, but it was alert Christians and Jews who were stepping up to the plate. On that point, you might want to read David Chappell's _Stone of Hope_. There really wasn't much secular about the movement, at least in its direct action dimensions.

Oscar Chamberlain - 5/26/2004


I have not looked at Atrios. I trust that on this subject that the writers there are as wrongheaded as you said. However, your reference to them in the portion I excerpted was not as clear as your response to me.

Certainly, the problem of race relations was a national failure. I do not think, and I know King did not think, that it was only mainstream American Christianity that had failed. I know he was always pleased to get new allies. However, that does not lessen the failure of mainsteam Christianity, black and white. It simply indicates that they had lots of company.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/26/2004

Interesting that the FR and Communism become pseudo-religion when one wants to disclaim them, but they are secular when one wants to praise their accomplishments.
But, btw, there's a whole literature about the religious character and language of the American labor movement. Sam Gompers's bureaucratization and secularization of it shouldn't obscure the deeply religious character of the Knights of Labor, the Brotherhood of Railroad Workers, of Eugene Debs, etc.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/26/2004

I said that it makes as much sense to hold me responsible for the Crusades as it would to hold you responsible for Stalin's extreme secularism. Does that statement toss you in "with those responsible for Stalin"? No. And, if "no," where's the "invective"?
If you read Atrios with any regularity, you'd know that the Left's main traffic director on the net is a vulgar critic of all things religious, right or left. That does a whole lot more damage, and does it every day, than anything I've said here.
Finally, King's "LFBJ" wasn't intended as a final statement about what was going on in Birmingham and no historian should take it as such. King welcomed the clergy and lay people who rallied to his side there and, to put it all in some context, only about 10% of Birmingham's black clergy did. If there was a profound failure, it was a failure of both the black and the white mainstream.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/26/2004

Yes, Ralph, secularists were responsible for the outrages and atrocities committed in the French Revolution, under Stalin and Mao (though the cult-like nature of their rule makes me wonder a little bit about whether we should distinguish between actual secularism or alternative faiths mascarading as secularism when in fact they have simply replaced God with a non-theistic deity). Not all of us secularists were actually on their side, either (all of those revolutions attacked and abused their faithful almost as much as their putative enemies).

But all of those were, for what it's worth, actually attempts to make the world a better place, generally for those who had the least, and in some measure succeeded. I'm not going to argue the equations, or try to minimize what happened. But I'm not going to ignore the way in which Stalin's industrialization, universal communist education in China and Russia, the abolition of serfdom, the spread of the Napoleonic code, etc., were good things that probably wouldn't have happened without secularists. And, by the way, there's the union movement, very secular in most incarnations.....

I understand your frustration, but I do not accept simplistic terms of debate, either.

Oscar Chamberlain - 5/26/2004

Actually, I hate to say it, but this seems just like another shot of invective, though as Ralph is a superior scholar, it is invective laced with food for thought.

Example of the former: "I say all that, knowing that you're inclined to hold me responsible for the Crusades, but you accept no responsibility for the radical secularism of the French Revolution, Stalin's Soviet Union, or Mao's China."

Who is this addressed to? Who is "you?" The answer is "colleagues of the secular left."

All of us? You state that religious participation and leadership were essential in many struggles for rights. I--and many others who are not Christian--cheerfully concur. You state that without that Christian almost nothing would have been done. Again, there are lots of folks who concur, many on the left, and not all those leftists Christian.

If your target was narrower, and I assume it was, your rhetoric needs to be narrower, too. Too many on both sides blur "some" with "all." That gets in the way of an alliance between the secular and Christian left that I also consider essential. However, it's a bit harder to say that after being tossed in with those responsible for Stalin, however unintentially.

A final thought. Martin Luther King, Jr. was most assuredly driven by Christianity, but he knew full well that his Christian opponents were not restricted to "obscurantist backwaters and eddies." He understood that the need for his movement indicated a profound failure of mainstream Christianity in the United States.

That is certainly one of the messages in his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail."

Derek Charles Catsam - 5/26/2004

Jonathan --
Yes, I love the pretenses of humility and insignificance from bloggers who then at the same time talk in absurdly hyperinflated terms about how bloggers are changing the universe. Andrew Sullivan's onanism on this latter point is especially self-indulgent -- a columnist at a major mainstream news magazine and a senior editor at one of the most respected opiunion journals in the country then pretending that his blog is somehow transcendent of "major media." Ugh.

Hugo Schwyzer - 5/26/2004

What a marvelous post, Ralph; thank you!

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/26/2004


I've just read an interesting article that mentions another case of religion "meddling" in secular affairs. Seems Archbishop Rummel of New Orleans excommunicated (not just denied communion to) segregationist politicians who tried to block integration of church schools.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/26/2004

I'd simply point out that the Abu Ghraib scandal evoked a papal outburst ("it is an offense to God" -- true enough, we now know he graps the obvious), but I can't remember the Pope going ballistic over Saddam's reign. Similar sentiments come to mind when the Pope's Peace and Justice honcho complained that Saddam being medically examined was treating him like an animal. It's the silences that speak so loudly.

I'm not sure I draw the line where you do on Kerry and communion. I disagree with the Catholic Church on the abortion issue, but I'm not conversant enough with Catholic teaching and dogma and practice, to know whether advocating abortion calls for withholding communion. I do know that the Church teaches Catholics not to take communion in other faiths, as it confuses the laity, and blurs the distinction between transsubstantiation, and consubstantiation. Kerry has taken communion in other faiths, against church teaching. Is it blackmail for the Church to point out that he has transgressed its teaching? (I bring up this example only because I don't know the answer to the question of the Church, abortion, and communion).

Ralph E. Luker - 5/26/2004

Of your first point, however, Richard, the same cannot be said of the secularists. They were all on the side of the outrages committed in the French Revolution, in Stalin's Soviet, and Mao's China. They were all pushing the secular vision of progress.
Frankly, Richard, I am more sympathetic with your second point. The church should reserve its authority to matters about which it can speak knowledgeably and authoritatively. But I think this means, for example, that Catholic bishops should not appear to be committing political blackmail when they threaten to withhold the sacrament from Senator Kerry or even from those who would vote for him. I think that they do have every right to lobby for legislation which tends to support the church's pro-life position, but that would include legislation against the death penalty as well as anti-abortion legislation and lobbying against war. I take it that you hold it against John Paul II that he made even more gracious gestures to Castro than the NCC ever did. You'd think the man was a comsymp or something.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/26/2004

Good points, Ralph. But religious folk have been on every side of the battles (for and against slavery, etc.), so it must always be counted among the winners.

I have a certain sympathy for part of what Kleiman is saying. I've had it up to here with uninformed pastoral letters on global warming, etc., -- stuff for which the clergy are not well-trained, and on which experts disagree. I also remember the NCC supporting the return of Elian Gonzalez (no dispute there, as reasonable people can differ), but also vouching for Castro, his freedom of religion, and his pledge not to exploit Elian. That last bit didn't last long. I must have missed the NCC press release condemning Castro for exploiting Elian, and going back on his word. Maybe you can point it out to me. When it comes to the majority of political questions and the NCC, Kleiman has my vote.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/26/2004

I was struck by Kleiman's comment that "I suppose preachers have the same sort of general license to opine at random as bloggers do, but at least the bloggers don't put out press releases about it."

What is a blog, if not a public statement? Some of these blogs are read by more people than read major metropolitan newspapers, and if you add up the cross-posting and linkages it comes to pretty high totals. So a claim of moral superiority based on humility.... from a blogger? No, I don't think so.

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