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.

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