Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

From distinguished antiquity to anthropological nonsense

by Doughlas Remy

(This is a continuation of my previous post, just below, in which I am responding to Gil Bailie’s untitled post of 6/28/13 on The Cornerstone Forum Facebook page. [TCF])

Gil Bailie writes:

Pope Red PradaA few critics seem to think that opinions expressed on this FB Page are so alien to common decency as to be intrinsically odious. These critics are unlikely to be convinced otherwise when shown that these opinions and perspectives are shared, not only by the Church to which I belong and to which I intend to remain loyal, but also by the greatest theological and philosophical minds of recent memory, including Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger, Joseph Pieper, Henri de Lubac, John XXIII, Paul IV, John Paul II and Pope Francis, to name but a few. These points of view and principles are rooted, however, in anthropological reality and moral reason, the persuasiveness of which depends on no particular religious belief.

Those who consider the distinguished antiquity of these principles as proof of their contemporary uselessness, and who therefore regard those who adhere to them as mean-spirited Neanderthals and moral dullards, often use the comments section of the Cornerstone Forum FB Page to let fly entirely predictable salvos of contempt. When reminded that our purpose here is not to argue with those who do not share our perspective but to be of use to those who do, howls of protest arise. And when, in exasperation, we refuse to allow this Page to become a bulletin-board for anthropological nonsense, moral muddle, and anti-Catholic discourses, their authors enjoy the satisfaction of believing themselves to be martyrs in the cause of free expression.

They are as welcome to believe that as they are to believe all the rest of what they believe. I bear them no ill-will, but they will have to find other venues for propagating ideas that, though wildly popular among Lady Gaga Liberals, evince rather than seriously address the civilizational crisis that is upon us.

Mr. Bailie says his purpose here is “not to argue,” and yet he presents several arguments to refute criticisms of TCF’s principles and assumptions. He might more accurately have written that his purpose here is “not to tolerate counter-arguments.”

The first of his arguments—the appeal to authority—is in fact Mr. Bailie’s first line of defense, and its logic goes something like this: “Our opinions are highly respectable because they are shared by our church and by certain theologians and philosophers that we happen to hold in very high esteem.” Mr. Bailie apparently sees no need for further discussion of any of these opinions, since their definitive and authoritative expression has already been offered up in distinguished texts that should be considered the modern-day equivalents of sacred scripture. And yet, TCF offers a comments field after each dollop of wisdom from these august sources, apparently in the hope of gathering up offerings of assent and admiration for them.

Mr. Bailie’s second argument is an attempt to shore up the first: “These points of view and principles are rooted, however, in anthropological reality and moral reason, the persuasiveness of which depends on no particular religious belief.”

This is of course circular, since the “anthropological reality and moral reason” of which he speaks have been garnered from the eight theologians and philosophers he cites, all of whom, significantly, are Catholics, and five of whom are popes! And then he adds, as if not having noticed any of this, that “the persuasiveness [of these views and principles] depends on no particular religious belief.” Really?

Mr. Bailie’s third argument is the appeal to the “distinguished antiquity” of these principles. The older the better, right? To this I would say, if you want antiquity, go to ancient Greece, Egypt, India, or China. Antiquity is a guarantee of nothing, least of all truth, justice, and the American way.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga

And when all else fails, one can always resort to name-calling. No one has called Mr. Bailie a “Neanderthal” or a “moral dullard,” but he has no scruples about calling his critics “Lady Gaga Liberals” who use TCF as a “bulletin-board for anthropological nonsense, moral muddle, and anti-Catholic discourses.”

One would like to know WHY he has reached these conclusions about his interlocutors. But we are not likely to find out, because in Mr. Bailie’s world there is no intermediate stage between expressing an opinion and attacking those who disagree with it. There is no desire to enter into conversation, no respect for divergent opinions, and no tolerance of vigorous debate. This is the Old Catholicism of centuries gone by, a Catholicism that held sway through ignorance, fear, and deference for authority. It is a far cry from our contemporary lay Catholicism that has sought openness, dialog, and reform.

TCF’s own comment thread for Mr. Bailie’s post follows:

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From intrinsically disordered to intrinsically odious

by Doughlas Remy

After more than a week of testy exchanges with friends and other respondents on The Cornerstone Forum’s Facebook page, Gil Bailie expresses his exasperation in an untitled post on 6/28/13. I believe his post clarifies his position very ably, and I will respond to it in detail. First, however, a little background:

Mr. Bailie believes we are in the midst of a cultural crisis. So do I. The one that he sees and the one that I see are same, but our perspectives on it are very different.

Though hardly a utopian, I see our cultural stresses in a mostly positive light, for I believe they are signs of a creative unfolding of the better parts of our human nature. I am hopeful, but not always optimistic, that this unfolding will continue, because time is running out and the worsening condition of our planet is creating environmental stresses that could warp or reverse these positive tendencies.

Mr. Bailie’s view, on the other hand, is apocalyptic: the worst impulses of our fallen natures are in the ascendency, and only those who are faithful to the teachings of the Church will resist being swept away by the currents of cultural change.

The “crisis” results from the opposing movements of two great tectonic plates: modernism and religion. Modernism is associated with the European Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and, more recently, the scientific and communications revolutions. It is fundamentally consequentialist and pragmatic, secular and naturalistic, progressive, democratic, and egalitarian. Religion (including the political religions of Communism and Nazism) is associated with resistance to all of the above. It is supernaturalist, conservative/regressive, authoritarian, and anti-scientific when contradicted by science. It tends to distrust and even abhor the expansion of knowledge and the free exchange of information and ideas.

The Cornerstone Forum’s Facebook page is a microcosm of the cultural clashes that I have just described. This accounts for my longstanding interest in it. One can’t do a longitudinal study of a cultural petrie dish without somehow staying in the lab and collecting data.

So, I found Mr. Bailie’s post very enlightening and will respond to it here as best I can. He begins:

A few critics seem to think that opinions expressed on this Facebook page are so alien to common decency as to be intrinsically odious.

Notes from the UndergroundThe term “intrinsically odious” cannot fail to remind us of the Catechism’s description of homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered.” Is this just a coincidence, or is it a reverberation? Several of Mr. Bailie’s critics and one of his supporters have already commented on the mimetic doubling effects that have become apparent, both in Mr. Bailie’s responses and my own project of “mirroring” TCF on this site. I believe there is considerable truth in these observations, and I am willing to own that truth for my part. Resentment has indeed driven many of my responses to Mr. Bailie’s incessant disparagement of homosexuals over the years. Why do I continue reading his homophobic comments? It’s not because I enjoy being demeaned. Rather, it is because Mr. Bailie’s treatment of me and other LGBTs makes me angry, and I believe I can both own that anger and put it to good use in the service of others. (I realize this holds the promise of a fruitful discussion about the merits of righteous anger from a Girardian perspective: How can one be certain that one’s anger is righteous, and what if it is not?)

An additional reason for my returning again and again to track Mr. Bailie’s shabby treatment of homosexuals is that I am witnessing the fascinating spectacle of a mimetic reversal in progress. In recent years, those who were once so virulent in their denunciations of all things gay have begun to worry that the tables are being turned on them and that they will become as marginalized for their bigotry as LGBTs have been for their sexual orientation. We have heard this from Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown of NOM, and from virtually every other media opponent of same-sex marriage. In fact, it has become one of the major talking-points of the opposition. Just last week we heard it in Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion on the DOMA case, where, unaware of the irony of his remarks, he made the very same complaints that we have heard from homosexuals for years, i.e., we are being condemned, demeaned, and humiliated; we do not wish to be adjudged “hostes humani generis” (enemies of the human race). This is the language of the victim and of the powerless, and I do not believe Justice Scalia was shamming for the sake of effect. There was emotion in his words, and that emotion was fear mixed with anger and resentment.

I sensed that same trepidation in Mr. Bailie’s opening sentence for the post in question: “A few critics seem to think that opinions expressed on this Facebook page are so alien to common decency as to be intrinsically odious.”

US-JUSTICE-GAY-MARRIAGEThe DOMA and Prop 8 decisions, added to the state legislative victories of recent months and years and the same-sex marriage legalizations happening in Europe and Latin America, have rattled the political right. There can be no mistaking that. Cultural crises are always about paradigm shifts and usually entail redistributions of power. But the long arc of equality and justice in our consitutional democracies should ensure that no one has anything to fear when these changes occur.

There’s much more in Mr. Bailie’s post to chew on, and I will continue doing so tomorrow.

Gil Bailie’s Critics Take Him to Task (The Saga Continues)

Chestertown Tea Party Festival

Chestertown Tea Party Festival

This is a continuation of the “purge” account begun in our previous two posts. As the story unfolds, Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum Facebook page has jettisoned several of his critics for objecting to his calumnies against poll workers and President Obama. One of these critics, Timothy Brock, evaded his captors and has now returned to give Gil a piece of his mind about the purges and to repost Sophie Sommers’ link to this site, which Gil had deleted. Gil’s stalwart supporter, Gordon Savage, attacks this site for “crude Photoshops,” ad hominems, etc., and Timothy responds with what may be his dying breath on Gil’s site.

Timothy Brock:

Gil, you forgot to throw me overboard along with Sophie, Ben, and Jim S. As you know, my son is about to be married to his partner, so I naturally take exception to some of the ideas in your post. [re: TCF’s post of 6/23/13 on equality and the redefinition of marriage]. However, you seem to have taken all the flak you’re going to take for now, so I won’t waste my time responding at length. For those who are interested, TCF’s shadow site is here, and discussions that are not allowed here are apparently welcomed there.

In your “friends” box at the top of this page, you’ve got one “friend,” Ben Boyce. You might want to take that down now that you’ve cast him off.

Farewell.

Gordon Savage:

Timothy, It’s a stretch to call what goes on at Doughlas Remy’s mirror to Gil’s FB “discussion.” There is ridicule, ad hominem attack, stereotyping, crude photoshop images, and, most of all, a bizarre obsession with Gill [sic] that illustrates Girardian theory about scandal and mimetic obsession without comprehending it. But “discussion”? Hardly.

Timothy Brock:

On the contrary, Gordon. I found lots of discussion on the site. In fact, the two most recent posts are simply transcripts (without commentary) of two discussions that took place here during the past week. Remy managed to capture them before they were hatcheted here.

As for ridicule and ad hominems, I don’t see anything egregious, and certainly nothing worse than Gil’s recent slanders of poll workers and the president. What I do see is a free discussion, and free discussions do get messy at times. Why don’t you leave a comment there and see what kind of reception you get? Don’t be afraid.

Crude Photoshop image
Crude Photoshop image

Crude Photoshop images? Huh? Your standards must be much higher than mine. I thought they were very tasteful.

A bizarre obsession with Gil? Maybe it’s just an obsession with the truth. And what about Gil’s bizarre obsessions with homosexuality, abortion, and Obama? Why is it that anyone who disagrees with Gil is said to have “bizarre obsessions” about him? Let’s be fair.

Don’t flatter yourself that you are the gatekeeper for Girard’s mimetic theory. I know from what these people have written that they are all familiar with Girard and his theory, as I am, and that is precisely what brought them to Gil’s site, hoping for an open exchange of views. Furthermore, they had all read Gil’s book. Unfortunately, Gil attached the condition that one must be hard-line neo-con Catholic in order to talk about mimetic theory, and so they were thrown out of the game.

Gil’s three stipulations–(1) fidelity to the magisterium’s brand of Catholicism, (2) fidelty to his own interpretation of Girard, and (3) fidelity to his own view of reality–are fatal to any sort of productive discussion. If you want “bizarre,” you’ve got it here in spades: A purely ideological and propagandistic Facebook page that invites people to step in and comment, but then throws them out on their ear when they dare to have any views that are divergent from the host’s own. So far, upward of ten Girardians have been expelled in just the last year, and please don’t tell me they were wild-eyed radicals. Most of them were Gil’s fellow Catholics, though he would probably deem them to be “unfaithful” to traditional Christianity. Most or all of them came here in the belief that Gil was an intellectual who could enter into an honest, give-and-take discussion with them—or, at the very least—tolerate such a discussion between his guests. Instead, Gil has discussed nothing. He has just laid down ultimatums. He has been a most inhospitable host and has revealed himself as an intellectual fraud.

BTW, why are you frowning in your photo?

Gordon Savage

If I’m a gatekeeper it’s of the painfully obvious: running a parallel site that finds in the “other” a source of almost daily scandal is at the very least ironic from a Girardian perspective? You do see that? Girardian “theory” is first about untying the knots of mimetic obsession. Get out of the vortex of obsession with what others think about you — even more what you imagine they think. Doughlas’s site reminds me of that old cartoon in which a man sitting at his computer all night says to his angry wife: “I can’t come to bed, somebody on the internet disagrees with me!” 

“A bizarre obsession with Gil? Maybe it’s just an obsession with the truth. And what about Gil’s bizarre obsession with homosexuality, abortion, and Obama?”

Since he’s working on a book about the cultural crisis these topics reveal, his focus on abortion and homosexuality might qualify as research. If he was truly obsessed with Obama, on the other hand, he should set up a website dedicated to mirroring everything Obama does, photo-shopping his head on pictures of babies (sound familiar?), coming up with your own truth squad to call him out for every breath he takes — I can even recommend a website as a model for this.

Gordon Savage

Gordon Savage

Anyway, since you make it sound so inviting I’ll come by Doughlas’s website sometime. Otherwise I’ll look forward to carrying on this conversation somewhere in God’s heaven.

And who is frowning?

Timothy Brock:

Gordon, the fact that you see “othering” at TCFS but not at TCF is truly amazing and ironic from a Girardian perspective. Gil’s treatment of homosexuals is “othering” at its most vicious. You needn’t dignify it as “research.” And not only is it “othering,” but it is also scapegoating in its starkest and most repugnant form. René Girard wrote a magisterial work on scapegoating. Are you blind to what it was about, to how it might apply to what is going on in the current cultural scene, or to how Gil himself has mastered its techniques? The recent flap about the Bill O’Reilly slanders or any number of Gil’s posts about gay issues should have alerted you to this. Do you want to discuss this? I would be happy to, but apparently that discussion won’t happen here, because Gil cannot stand to hear it and I am shortly to be thrown off like the others.

So I should get out of the vortex of obsession with what others think of me? But I am not the one who squelches any whisper of dissent from my own views. Do you think Doughlas Remy does? Try him out. Go ahead, post a comment on his site and see if he throws you off for not towing his line. It seems to me that Gil is extraordinarily thin-skinned and insecure, extraordinarily concerned with his reputation and his credibility, and extraordinarily fearful. People who feel secure in their worldview do not create a “public forum” and then censor those who accept their invitation to join it. Remy was right-on in describing it as a Venus fly trap. And it does a monumental disservice not only to Girard but to Catholicism.

Gil doesn’t need to start a separate website on Obama. He’s got this one, and he is clearly obsessed with Obama as “the other.” Nothing that our president does is ever right in Gil’s view. Surely, any human being must occasionally do something right. But this is just another discussion that we’ll never have, because I’m about to disappear.

Who has photoshopped Obama’s head on pictures of babies? What are you talking about? 

To answer your last question: You are. Try smiling.

The Cornerstone Forum (Gil Bailie):

Who’s obsessed with whom? I haven’t been showing up on your timeline or Page to carp at your opinions. One can “unlike” or “unfriend” this Page with the click of a mouse, thereby relieving oneself of the experience of being offended. I cannot imagine going to a Facebook timeline or Page or website or blog just in order to carp at the opinions expressed there, opinions which—in our case—are not intended for just everyone, much less as a starting point for an endless and useless Facebook debate, but are rather offered—for what they might be worth—to those who share our perspective, and who might find them worthwhile.

Jim Daly:

Carping

Carping

Gil, “carping” really doesn’t seem like a very kind or accurate way to describe how people have gently taken you to task for some of the more questionable things you’ve posted, such as the lies you reposted from the Bill O’Reilly site. And, in any case, even when I’m in agreement with you, which is often, I still find it useful to hear dissenting views. Nobody can be right all the time. We need others to help us identify our own biases and errors and to remind us that there may be valid perspectives other than our own. 

I looked at this TCFS site and read the posts that allegedly got people banned from this page. For the most part, they seemed to have expressed their ideas and criticisms in a courteous and thoughtful manner. If it’s true (and I hope it’s not) that this was all it took to get them banished from this forum, it really does make you look bad. Were there other infractions that the TCFS site isn’t reporting?

Tim Brock (not quite dead yet):

Mr. Bailie, when you misrepresent the truth about other people in order to put them in a bad light, and then you refuse to either apologize or retract what you’ve written, then you are guilty of slander. That’s not just your private concern. Slander is not an innocent past-time. It harms people unjustly, and your own faith tells you it is a moral failing that requires redress and repentance.

SpeakeasyYou write that your opinions “are not intended for just anyone.” Who are your slanders intended for? Those who will agree to channel them or at least not challenge them? You’re on the Internet, and on Facebook, no less. If you want a private, select audience, then you’ve absolutely come to the wrong place. Even if Facebook allows you to “unfriend” people at the click of a mouse, it does not allow you the option of screening all those who view your page,  A restricted website might be the answer, and you could limit access to those personal friends who will swear an oath of fidelity to your view of Catholicism, your view of mimetic theory, and your view of reality. Better yet, make the site unidirectional, with no input allowed from visitors.

You would describe our objections as “carping.” How would you describe your own objections to everything that emanates from the Obama administration? And the Supreme Court’s recent DOMA and Prop 8 decisions? Not carping, just principled disagreement? I think carping is in the eye of the beholder.

Critics Take Gil Bailie to Task (Part 1)

SlanderThe following is a transcription of a discussion that occurred beginning 6/16/13 on Gil Bailie’s The Cornerstone Forum Facebook Page:

The Cornerstone Forum (Gil Bailie)

A friend alerted me to this. It apparently comes from Bill O’Reilly’s message board. It’s about the last presidential election, and the figures appear to be accurate.

As each state reported their final election details, the evidence of voter fraud is astounding. Massive voter fraud has been reported in areas of OH and FL, with PA, WI and VA, all are deploying personnel to investigate election results.

Here are just a few examples of what has surfaced with much more to come.

  • In 59 voting districts in the Philadelphia region, Obama received 100% of the votes with not even a single vote recorded for Romney. (A mathematical and statistical impossibility).
  • In 21 districts in Wood County Ohio, Obama received 100% of the votes where GOP inspectors were illegally removed from their polling locations – and not one single vote was recorded for Romney. (Another statistical impossibility).
  • In Wood County Ohio, 106,258 voted in a county with only 98,213 eligible voters.
  • In St. Lucie County, FL, there were 175,574 registered eligible voters but 247,713 votes were cast.
  • The National SEAL Museum, a polling location in St. Lucie County, FL had a 158% voter turnout.
  • Palm Beach County, FL had a 141% voter turnout.
  • In Ohio County, Obama won by 108% of the total number of eligible voters.

NOTE: Obama won in every state that did not require a Photo ID and lost in every state that did require a Photo ID in order to vote.

Jim Daly responds:

I love and respect you, Gil, but it really makes you look bad when you post scurrilous rumors. It tends to discredit the many other true and helpful things you post. I have no idea why you say that the figures are accurate. In fact, just a little fact checking shows them to be false. Here is a link to the snopes.com page that refutes these claims.

The Cornerstone Forum: 

statue1Jim, thanks for passing this along. Everyone is welcome to take a look and come to a decision. If I had more confidence in this administration, I would have been less
credulous. I remain skeptical. But, everyone is welcome to take a look and come to his or her on conclusion.

Sophie Sommers:

Gil, one way to avoid propagating scurrilous rumors is to do some careful fact checking before you post anything of this sort. Stories like the one above do unjustified damage to people’s reputations, and that is wrong by any moral standard. Your distrust of Obama and your faith in people like Bill O’Reilly could lead you down some dangerous paths. Please give everyone the benefit of the doubt and speak no evil of anyone without really solid evidence of wrongdoing. You know as well as I do that the Internet is full of false reporting about everything that’s going on in government and society. There are a number of fact-checking resources. Jim Daly mentioned Snopes.com. There are others, all mostly reliable. (Just avoid the ones that are funded by groups with ideological agendas.)

Jim Daly:

Trust meGil, when you say that you remain “skeptical,” do you mean that you doubt Snopes.com’s debunking of these ludicrous claims? Could you explain why? Is it simply because your dislike of so many of the Obama administration’s policies inclines you to believe the worst about the President? That’s understandable. But recognizing your biases should give you the incentive to be extra diligent about verifying the things you post, so you don’t end up committing the sin of slandering your neighbor and discrediting the many true and helpful things you post.

The Cornerstone Forum:

My skepticism of the present administration and the Chicago politics it represents is such that I find stories like the one my friend highlighted believable. Whatever the validity of the article in question, my skepticism remains.

Jim Swenson:

scandal2There are clearly a lot of people in this country who will believe anything about Obama and his policies as long as it is bad. This is very unhealthy for our democracy, because we are seeing unprecedented infusions of misinformation into the media to satisfy these people’s need for scandal. Willfully passing along false and libelous information is, according to the Catholic catechism, a very serious sin for which penance is required. It’s so serious, in fact, that it is mentioned in the Ten Commandments.

To make responsible decisions, citizens need accurate information. Responsible citizens will do their part to ensure that the media don’t contaminate and distort the political process. When we put up Facebook pages and blog sites, the “Media ‘R’ Us.” Let’s keep it clean!

Jim Daly:

TruthPerhaps you found it “believable,” in the sense of being at least plausible, but that doesn’t make it true. And since we as Christians have an overriding responsibility to the truth, especially when what’s at stake is the reputation of our neighbors who may be innocent of the accusations brought against them, don’t we have a responsibility to check our facts before we post something that turns out to be a scurrilous fabrication? You’ve rightly complained about the decline of journalistic integrity, as journalists sacrifice their traditional commitment to the truth and allow themselves to be used as mouthpieces to promote an ideological agenda. But your credibility on this and many other points vanishes if you do the very same thing you complain about when it’s done by others. That’s what your concerned friends on this thread are trying to help you see.

The Cornerstone Forum:

For what it’s worth, I find Bill O’Reilly to be insufferable. The things I quoted from his message board seemed to me plausible, for reasons that most people might recognize. I’m done with this post. Carry on if it seems worth your while.

Ben Boyce:

So that proves it! Not only is Obama not a citizen, but five million votes were manufactured to install the Anti-Christ as president. (That’s the problem with the right-wing Republicans; they not only have their own opinions but they make their own facts). It has come to this. It must be hard to breathe in that bubble, what with all the noxious fumes being emitted.

Jim Daly:

Shame2I do understand why you found the figures to be plausible, despite their untrustworthy source. But plausible doesn’t mean true and, when what’s at stake is the possibility of unjustly sullying the reputations of so many dedicated poll workers, it’s morally imperative to verify your claims to avoid promulgating the sort of falsehoods found in your post. Earlier today, you posted a beautiful sentiment about how heavenly it would be to have the opportunity to seek forgiveness from all those whom we have wronged. But, of course, before we can seek forgiveness, there must first be an admission of wrongdoing. That may actually be the hardest part, because our desire to get right with God and our neighbor meets all kinds of resistance from that proud part of ourselves that is loath to admit our mistakes. That’s why the person who can admit error is so deserving of our respect. It would be wonderful if you could stop hiding behind the excuse that it’s alright to spread calumny as long as it strikes our biased ears as initially “plausible.” There is no shame in admitting a mistake. To the contrary! The shame lies in refusing to do so.

Critics Take Gil Bailie to Task (Part 2)

Image6/18/13: Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum posts the following:

THE NEW MORAL CAUSE: Freedom from Moral Constraints

What does the average man of today expect when he cries out for freedom and liberation? Approximately what Marx gave as a vision of full freedom: ‘hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon … and criticizing as suits my pleasure after dinner.’ By ‘freedom’ one generally understands today the possibility of doing everything one wants and of doing only what one would like. Thus understood, freedom is arbitrariness. … According to this vision, freedom would be complete if there were no longer any rule or any obligation to other persons or things, but only the unlimited arbitrariness of each individual who has everything he wants at his disposal and who can do everything he likes. In this view, liberation consists in throwing off all obligations. Every obligation appears as a fetter that restricts freedom; every obligation one eliminates means progress in freedom.— Joseph Ratzinger

Alas, however, where does one who has fallen for this trivialized anthropology look for help in freeing his shoulders from unwanted obligations? He looks to the state. If enough of his contemporaries can be coaxed into adopting his liberationist anthropology—for this purpose, the ideological takeover of educational institutions will be necessary—many of the obligations once associated with family, faith, church and community can be transferred to the state, even as the state can be made the arbiter of new lifestyle rights, and the enforcer these rights, when necessary, at the expense of rights traditionally understood—religious freedom, conscience, and so on. Thus the adolescent interpretation of freedom eventually requires the paternalistic, authoritarian state as its enabler and champion. Perpetual childhood in a walled prison.

Timothy Brock responds:

Certainly, “throwing off all obligations” can only lead to toxic levels of “liberation.” At such levels, we find only sociopaths.

People who are considered “healthy” in their outlook and habits usually know how to manage their obligations. This means not taking on too many, or too few, but it also means selecting them carefully. “Liberation,” then, might just mean having the freedom to manage one’s own obligations to an optimal degree under given sets of circumstances.

Why shouldn’t we look to the state for help in doing this? I don’t regard the “state” as something completely alien to myself. Ideally, it empowers me to join with others in deciding what our mutual obligations are, and it is an arena of negotiation. Where else would you want to conduct these negotiations? Sectarian institutions are too narrow, and they lack the power to make and enforce binding laws. Family is sometimes too constrictive, imposing obligations that we may properly deem unreasonable. Faith may deprive us of the autonomy that we need for the work of managing our obligations.

Family, faith, church, and community are important, even essential, in getting our balance right. But anthropologically, they are at the level of the tribe, which has long since been superseded by the nation state, and—now—the community of nations. We don’t abandon the tribe just because the tribe has been folded into the state, but we get strength and meaning from each of them. There’s no going back to life in the little duchy bounded by mountains and lakes, impervious to events outside its borders. We are all connected, and no tribe is ever going to expand to fill the space occupied by the secular state. It’s just not going to happen, at least not here.

Authoritarianism is a separate issue. There’s no reason why the secular state should be authoritarian. It may be democratic and constitutional. On the other hand, church, community, and family may be highly authoritarian. The Catholic hierarchy is not exactly a democracy, you know…

Ben Boyce:

Well said, Timothy! There is an unsettling insurrectionist tone in American conservatives, now that they do not control all the branches of government. The Southern accent that is the tone of the Republican Party tells me that the Civil War never really ended. That, coupled with the worship of the gun in their sub-culture, is cause for concern.

Criticism isThe Cornerstone Forum:

Ben and Timothy, you may want to get into email communication. This page will not long be a posting board for rants against the Church, etc.

Sophie Sommers:

Easy, Gil. This is an interesting discussion. You got it started. Now just listen.

Implicit in the idea of a “transfer” to the state of “obligations once associated with family, faith, church, and community” is the notion that the state is somehow antithetical to family, faith, etc. But is it really? Or must it be? Maybe the state is—or can be—an expression and an extension of community values.

If the state is the “arbiter” of rights, perhaps it is well suited for that role. What other entity can match the impartiality of the state or its accountability to all stakeholders? What other entity can balance competing claims of religious liberty and conscience?

The state’s enforcement of rights should not be confused with authoritarianism. The rights of Americans have been elaborated over the past two centuries through legislation and judicial decision. This is the antithesis of authoritarianism, which establishes rights and obligations through edict.

Jim Daly:

I’m also interested in hearing the discussion, Gil. I think it’s an important topic. And, as far as I can tell, no one is engaging in a rant against the Church. Ben said nothing about the Church and Timothy merely noted that the Church hierarchy is not democratic, which is an indisputable fact. I think you would agree that the Church ought not to be a democratic institution. In this respect, it’s unlike the state, which needs to be democratic in order to ensure that the interests and rights of everyone are protected, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack of same. The Church has a different responsibility: to safeguard and promulgate the deposit of faith. To fulfill this obligation, the Church counts on the continued protection of its rights by the liberal state. Viewed in this way, rights and obligations aren’t at odds with each other. They’re mutually supportive.

Ben Boyce:

Just to be clear, I’m not “ranting.” Nor am I taking the Catholic Church to task. What I am reacting to is the conflation of the Catholic Church with right-wing American politics. This is not an academic issue, because I experience it in parish life. I find it alarming that anyone who is associated with progressive politics is openly questioned as a “real Catholic.” This was demonstrated vividly for me when a member of my parish told a friend that he had a hard time “hearing the Word of God from a socialist,” after my turn as a lector, apparently in reference to a monthly column I write for the Sonoma Sun, entitled “Progressive Majority Coalition”, which makes the case for what I believe to be a social justice perspective that seems more compatible with the Gospel concern with lifting up the poor and fashioning a society that asks for mutual responsibility from all classes, including the wealthy and powerful. I never use theological justifications for my positions, because that would seem presumptuous, even though I do believe that my Christian social democratic views are closer to the spirit of Christ than the mean spirited social darwinism that is the core of contemporary American conservatism.

Sophie Sommers:

Jim, a lot of the anti-statism that we’re hearing is from entities that would like to override and supplant the powers of the democratic state. These entities are mostly corporations and religious institutions that want unfettered power for themselves. Anti-statist religious groups have made provisional alliances that would not survive long after the disappearance of the state, if that were ever to happen. Then it would again be Catholics against Protestants, Jews against Christians, Christians against Muslims, Baptists against Methodists, and so on down the line. The state holds all these forces in tension and, far from starving it, as Grover Norquist would like to do, I think we need to cultivate it.

Ben Boyce:

Dead-EndAdditionally, the reason that you are provoking these kinds of responses is that you keep throwing out highly politicized positions that reflect the views of the American Religious Right as if they represented the Magisterium of the Church. I feel as though I have the right to comment on this page based on my having listened to every tape and CD you produced from the beginning of your career until around 2008. I have been dismayed to see how you have thrown in your lot with the intellectually and morally bankrupt enterprise of the right-wing forces, who seem so seized with their own conviction, based on a very narrow bandwidth of moral issues, that they really do believe that God is on their side and any other orientation is not just a political difference but an affront to God and the Church. The lesson for me is to avoid the logic of orthodoxy, which can lead even intelligent and educated people like yourself into an intellectual dead-end which squeezes out mercy and charity for the sake of rigid conformity to a hard-line doctrine. The attempt to impose hard and fast categories on the messy fluidity of the human experience is yet another road to tyranny, as history can attest. We can be grounded in the absolute revealed truth of Christ and still retain a sense of humility about our limits as flawed humans. I don’t object to you expressing your personal views on culture and politics (since I do it all the time myself!) but I do resist your implicit assertion that your views are cloaked in the majesty of the teachings of the Church.

Ben Boyce:

Finally, since this will be my last chance to address this concern in a public forum, I would ask you to rethink how you use your Facebook page as a means of communicating your mission. You can choose to continue along the same trajectory and ruthlessly edit out unflattering comments by banning individual users and quickly removing content that does not reflect well on your message, or you can re-evaluate whether the mission of the Forum is served by taking so many nakedly partisan positions on political issues. I am not interested in having one-to-one e-mail exchanges on your public positions, because that does not accomplish the goal of getting your audience to look at alternative perspectives. I don’t think that I have been a pernicious poster, although I have started to mock some of the more outrageous claims as a way of waking you up to just how it sounds to folks outside of the conservative media bubble. I do hope that you will examine the role that you have adopted in the last few years, because it is distracting from a very deep core message that should be heard by the culture. OK, fini!

Sophie Sommers

The Emperor's New ClothesIn memoriam: Dorothy Jospin, Thomas Hostomsky, Frank Lozera, Ernest Karam, George Dunn, and several others whose names I cannot recall. [Editor’s Note: These are the names of the “fallen,” i.e., those who have been thrown off The Cornerstone Forum Facebook Page for taking issue with Gil Bailie’s positions.]

Jim Daly:

Reading Gil Bailie’s book, Violence Unveiled, was a turning point in my spiritual and intellectual development. Since then, I’ve listened to many of Gil’s recorded lectures (I hope it’s okay for me to use your first name, Gil), which have been a rich resource for me in reflecting on the meaning of the gospel. In short, I hold Gil Bailie in very high esteem. This is why I’m also disappointed and concerned about how Gil has been letting his partisan loyalties get in the way of what is of truly enduring value, his brilliant interpretation of the revelation given to us in Jesus Christ. It seems that these partisan loyalties are even preventing Gil from dealing in a truly ethical and Christian way, that is, both charitably and fairly, with those with whom he disagrees. A particularly troubling case in point is his repost of false information about the election, taken from Bill Reilly’s website, though there are other examples I could give.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding, let me explain that politically, I’m neither a doctrinaire liberal nor a doctrinaire conservative. I hold views that are strongly pro-life, but I’m also concerned about the poor and other social justices issues more traditionally associated with the left. My social justice concerns, however, don’t mean that I necessarily support every initiative put forward by those calling themselves “progressives.” Sadly, many programs intended to help the least well off have backfired or generated new, unanticipated problems. What we need is both wisdom and compassion, a combination rarely encountered these days anywhere on the political spectrum.

I only bring up my own politics so no one will think that my criticisms of Gil stem from a doctrinaire allegiance to the political positions he sometimes excoriates. I’d like to think that my politics are informed by my understanding of the gospel and, as I’ve already said, I owe much of that understanding to the brilliant insights of Gil Bailie. That’s why it saddens me so to see Gil deal with others in ways that seem to me to be so antithetical to the spirit of Christ.

Gil Bailie responds to all:

There are, and will always be, disagreements between and among those who share our basic premises, and we welcome an opportunity to learn from people who share our basic principles, but who may have a different understanding of their implications. But there are visitors to our Page who have fundamental disagreements with us on first principles and on many of the cultural, theological, and moral issues of our time. Our clear and unapologetic intention is to be useful as we can be to those who share our fidelity to the Church and to the moral realism rooted in the Catholic anthropology. There are countless people who disagree with us on these and other matters. We wish them well, but we will not let the comments box of this Page be turned into a soapbox for carping about the Catholic Church or the moral tradition it represents. Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the patience required to respond to those with whom an incessant exchange of opinion would accomplish precisely nothing except to turn this Page into both a full-time job and a shouting match.

There are literally millions of venues for the airing of views antithetical to the ones for which we stand, but this Facebook Page isn’t one of them. This Page is not a bulletin board or a blog or campus kiosk for the posting of angry disquisitions at odds with the three simple principles mentioned above. With no ill feeling, we encourage those who want to champion causes incompatible with our own to find other venues for doing so.

Rick Boone:

Your position is elegantly and graciously stated. Anyone who has a problem with it (and I wasn’t aware there might be those about who did) reveals himself morally and intellectually unworthy to participate in the Forum.

Jim Daly:

Gil, I honestly think you’re misinterpreting many of the responses on this page. I haven’t read anything that would constitute carping, angry or otherwise, against the Catholic Church. You also seem to have deliberately chosen words that denigrate the contributions of those who express views with which you may not agree. Impugning Christian brothers and sisters in this way is neither fair nor charitable.

Mind made upFar from “carping” against the Church, several participants in this forum who share your commitment to the Christian faith have expressed concerns about whether you may be letting your partisan political loyalties get in the way of effectively representing and advancing the mission of the Cornerstone Forum. An example of this is your readiness to post scurrilous attacks on poll workers that two minutes of research would have shown to be malicious fabrications. That someone as bright and well-intentioned as you could fall prey to such a sin only underscores how important it is for even the best of us to have friends who will alert us when we go astray and help us to overcome our powerful predilections for self-deception. It is through your writings and those of Girard that I have come to understand how robust and insidious the human capacity for self-deception really is.

Again, to voice these concerns isn’t the same as criticizing the Church or its moral traditions. To the contrary, they are a reminder of how prone we all are to confuse fidelity to the gospel with blind allegiance to some partisan political cause of the moment. We all need to guard against this tendency, lest it lead us inadvertently to betray the gospel in both our words and our deeds.

Jim Swenson:

Mr. Bailie (as I now know you prefer to be called), I just caught up with these discussions, or should I say “shock waves,” starting with the flap over your handling of the Bill O’Reilly slanders and rippling through a couple of other posts. Frankly, I am just aghast, but I also feel privileged to have witnessed what has happened here, because it is so emblematic of the crisis in the Church. This crisis amounts to a schism of historic proportions, one that will probably continue unfolding for many years to come. In intellectual history, or “anthropologically speaking,” as you would be fond of saying, everything that is said or written in these pages holds clues that can lead us to the truth.

Mr. Bailie, you are in some sense the face of modern hard-line conservative Catholicism, which brooks no criticism and makes no apologies for its bad behavior. It is so persuaded of its rightness, its absolute God-given mission, and its unassailable moral rectitude that it has no remaining scruples about silencing critics, trampling inquiry, and expelling anyone who dares, however meekly, to raise an objection.

How can you possibly denounce authoritarianism? You are authoritarian to the core. How can you possibly critique scapegoating when you have so thoroughly mastered and deployed its techniques? And how can you throw around the word “anthropology,” when you haven’t a clue how scientists think?

You are a fraud and a phony who would like nothing better than to attract a loyal following of sycophants who hang on your every word. You don’t want to worship God. You want to BE worshipped, and so you have become the false prophet “par excellence.”

Your shabby behavior when you were confronted with your slanders is key to understanding your character. Instead of admitting your error, you looked for some little infraction of your rules that would justify warning everyone to be silent. To shut up. And then you pretended that Ben Boyce’s exposure of you had nothing to do with your fit of pique.

Just so you know, the Cornerstone Forum has a shadow site, operated by one of those unfortunate individuals who made the mistake of thinking you were some kind of intellectual force, only to be thrown off for actually trying to converse with you without at the same time genuflecting. The shadow site is called “The Cornerstone Forum Samizdat,” and it is at https://thecornerstoneforumsamizdat.wordpress.com/.

Cheers, and farewell.

Chestertown Tea Party Festival

Chestertown Tea Party Festival

Sophie Sommers:

Uh, oh, time for another purge. This time, I’m putting my bets on Jim Swenson, Ben Boyce, Jim Daly, Tim Brock, and, of course, myself. But I will pass the flame onto someone else.

Editor:

Within a couple of hours of Sophie’s final comment, three of the individuals she listed had “disappeared” from The Cornerstone Forum Facebook page. Only Jim Daly and Tim Brock remained.

Requiescant in pace.

An Inconvenient Truth at the Heart of Catholic Teaching About Abortion

Abstinence-only ed

by Dean Hansen

6/20/13: Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum quotes part of a recent letter to Nancy Pelosi from Father Frank Pavone:

You speak here of Catholic faith as if it is supposed to hide us from reality instead of lead us to face reality, as if it is supposed to confuse basic moral truths instead of clarify them, and as if it is supposed to help us escape the hard moral questions of life rather than help us confront them,” Father Frank Pavone continues in the letter. “Whatever Catholic faith you claim to respect and practice, it is not the faith that the Catholic Church teaches. And I speak for countless Catholics when I say that it’s time for you to stop speaking as if it were.

Mr. Bailie, our seemingly interminable argument about abortion has been so wracked by blame-fixing and moral one-upmanship that it has become nothing but a great waste of time. To properly address the issue, we must cut straight to an obvious and unavoidable question: How can people be forced to stop engaging in sexual activity? This is not a silly question. It lies at the heart of the dilemma for those intent on controlling our sex lives out of a misguided quest for moral “purity”—a quest that is neither dignified, honorable, nor compassionate.

Unless you can prevent premarital, marital, extramarital, and even postmarital sex from happening, people will continue to seek abortions when they fail—through ignorance, distraction, or avoidance—to take the necessary and available precautions to avoid unwanted pregnancies. But the Church tells us, “To avoid pregnancy, don’t have sex.” To which I can only respond that if you expect people to listen to you, much less to trust you, you’ll have learn how to be less clueless and more emotionally available. An entire segment of the population has already proven you wrong. They never get pregnant though they have sex all the time. Needless to say, you’ve discounted them as “intrinsically disordered.”

Since the Church condemns contraception and the vast majority of its members disregard its proscriptions on sex and birth control, abortion will unfortunately continue apace. This sad state of affairs will continue until the Church opens itself to a truly modern discussion about sexuality and contraception and begins fully honoring its congregants’ humanity and sexuality. What has been lacking is mercy, common sense, and genuine compassion for those who face tough decisions about unwanted pregnancies. The Church must stop treating these persons as criminals and murderers. It must stop setting up false thresholds of life and personhood. It must extend love and forgiveness to those who have chosen abortion. Caring about abortion’s effects must begin with caring for those who have survived it.

All the horror stories about evil, sadistic abortion doctors running filthy, medically unsafe clinics and destroying the lives of women who seek their help will not dissuade women in the slightest when it comes to making the decisions for themselves, hopefully minus the inhuman monsters who sometimes prey on them. The more untenable you make safe abortions by driving them underground, the more horror stories you’ll have to back up your flawed arguments, and the more complicit you’ll become to the worst of those vile scenarios. People are sexually active in large numbers. This is an ineluctable fact of life. As a result, many women get pregnant when they don’t want to, and many of them kill babies they don’t want. The surest way to prevent these two unpleasant outcomes is to teach them about responsible birth control and make it fully accessible to them.

The disgrace of abortions is one for which you and the so-called church fathers are largely responsible. All your moral badgering and and mind-gagging ethical anguish will only make people even more determined than they already are not to allow you or the church anywhere near their bodies or their souls. Since people are not going to stop fucking, you have two options: Either promote legal abortion or change the Church’s teaching about contraception. Legal and accessible abortion ensures that people who are too overwhelmed or distracted by desire to guard against pregnancy in the first place will have a reasonable alternative to being bound together in a merely physical relationship against their will. Changing the Church’s policy toward contraception will give those who act as though they care what the church thinks the more reasonable option of avoiding pregnancy, therefore making abortion unnecessary.  Those are and will forever remain, the only options.

But of course, your deep concern and moral anguish is disingenuous rubbish, because you’re not telling the truth. You love the Church so much you’ll let it sink into hell rather than be an agent of real change and reform so that it can better the lives of those you claim to be concerned with. The truth is, you don’t want there to be fewer abortions because you’re creepy enough to believe that disastrous consequences have a way of reforming people and making them despise their own sexuality. But the Church has a sad history of pouring kerosene on the flames, whether it’s discouraging condom use amongst those stricken with AIDS, promoting abstinence, encouraging teenagers to take chastity vows and wear purity rings, or just sticking your noses in people’s crotches as an excuse for introducing them to Jesus. In fact, it’s safe to say, you don’t even know what the problem is.

Hopefully, Catholicism under Pope Francis is beginning to steer the church away from some of its past errors. His acknowledgement (fiercely and immediately contradicted by his underlings who claim deference to him unless they disagree with what he has to say) that God loves and saves atheists as well as everyone else is as good a start on the road to real grace and freedom as anything could be. When Catholicism finally includes homosexuals as something other than  fodder for renewed scapegoating, invites women to participate in the church in real positions of authority, and learns to treat all women with respect and compassion when they are forced into painful choices they shouldn’t be required to make, then you may have to abandon your role as son of the church and embrace the double jeopardy of being an orphan of two fathers. The only way you can countenance this very real possibility is to engage in a thorough re-evaluation of what you hold dear. The Church already recognizes that it’s in crisis. If it is ever to repair the damage wrought by its rejection of science and modernity, it will have to shake off the anachronisms of thought and piety that have eroded its moral force for centuries. What is needed is a détente with the real world through what the current Pope is calling the culture of encounter. You don’t encounter the culture by turning tail and running from it. Will you be among those in his service when he declares that all are redeemed, or just absent without leave?