Thursday, June 29, 2006

Catholic marriage law debate

There’s lots of discussion in the comments sections of the posts about mocking supernatural beliefs, Roman Catholic marriage rules, and the Cruise-Kidman (non-)marriage. Sullivan’s still talking about it, too:
If the church is utterly indifferent to marriages conducted by other churches or the state, then why has it devoted so much effort to demonizing civil marriages for gay couples? Shouldn't they be as irrelevant to the Vatican as, say, civil divorce or re-marriages in other churches? The double standards abound.

This is my main exasperation with the Roman Catholic Church. Their twisted logic would be all fine and good if they kept it within their bizarre cult of Christian Voodoo (“Recite this incantation, and your sins will go away!”). But this is an organization that seeks to alter the laws of my country to suit its notions of morality. They don’t get to hide their weirdness behind the shield of “You have to respect our religion!” while at the same time denying communion to Democrats and pressuring congress to pass “sanctity of marriage” amendments. If you’re going to criticize my gay marriage laws, I get to criticize your Orwellian notion of annulment. (At the same time, I’ll praise you for your stances on the death penalty and pre-emptive war.) If you’re a public advocacy group, you can’t whine when your opponents attack your ideas. It comes with the territory.

I wanted to address some of the defenses of the Catholic churches rules offered by my very intelligent and articulate commenters:

Anthony: I understand your argument that applying non-RC norms and logic to RC marriage does not work. If Roman Catholics have a very different conception of marriage than I do, it doesn’t make sense for me to call their version silly. First, as I said above, the Roman Catholics are trying to apply their norms to the larger world, and the particular piece of the larger world that is me is not interested in their silly rules. So I claim the right of self-defense in my attack on Catholic nuptial logic.

Second, I don’t think the Catholic conception of marriage is really all that different than the mainstream Protestant conception of it. I don’t think there is some vast unbridgeable cultural gulf here that my non-RC mind can’t possibly grasp. It seems to me that the main differences involve the Catholic Church’s view of its institutional role in sanctifying and legitimizing marriage. So I don’t think I’m completely out of bounds in criticizing their rules.

Third, the cultural differences argument can only be carried so far before it falls off the cliff into complete relativism. If we can never apply our own moral laws to someone else’s situation, then we’ve basically surrendered the right to intervene or even criticize no matter how egregious, harmful, or dumb the idea from that other culture is. We must be cautious and ready to admit error, certainly. But I do not believe cultures are so different as to constitute other universes. Other galaxies, probably. But not other universes.

Grishnash: Your defense of the existence of legal fictions is good. Yes, sometimes, for the benefit of some larger system, institutions must act as if certain obvious things don’t exist or didn’t happen. But as a cognitive psychologist, I highly doubt people can really “pretend they didn’t see something” with any degree of accuracy. Our imagination machines just aren’t powerful enough to construct a hypothetical reality in which we didn’t see that big bag of cocaine obtained in an illegal search, and sustain that reality throughout the whole trial. Similarly, I imagine it is hard to sustain the hypothetical universe in which Nicole Kidman was not married before getting hitched to Keith Urban (what a ridiculous name for a country singer, by the way). We should arrange our rules so that this kind of great divorce from reality is minimized.

Secondly, when examining a legal fiction, we must ask what higher good is served by putting our head in the sand and pretending something doesn’t exist when it’s as obvious as Everest. In the case of ignoring the existence of the bag of cocaine, the higher goods are our Constitution, our privacy rights, our protection from government intrusion, and the maintenance of a system in which police do not benefit from illegal actions. With such important things at stake, I’m willing to try to pretend not to have seen that, and to encourage others to do likewise. With the Kidman-Cruise marriage, what are the higher goods that would be served from pretending it didn’t happen? (Aside from the higher good of not having to ponder why Nicole Kidman would marry an adherent of a religion whose ridiculosity exceeds that of Roman Catholicism and hasn’t produced nearly as much good art.) It seems to me that the higher good being preserved here is the institutional prestige of the Church, and its monopoly on the spiritual lives of its flock. Those don’t mean squat to me. I’m not going pretend something didn’t happen just to flatter the Catholic Church’s prerogative that only it can say whether its members are married or not.

App Crit: Your analogy about Princeton not accepting a community college’s calculus credit is not quite on target. In your example you say, “Instead [Princeton] would offer a placement test, as a way to validate the experience according to their own terms.” I think this is right and proper. But this isn’t what the Catholic Church is doing with the Kidman-Cruise marriage. It is denying credit no matter what. No “placement test”, no consulting with the professor, no matter if the class was taken at community college (is Scientology to Roman Catholicism as community college is to Princeton?), or Harvard, or MIT, or if the person has won the Field Medal and is considered the greatest mathematical mind of their time. Credit denied because you didn’t take the class here. Classic case of “not invented here syndrome”. Yes, your school can have that as a policy. But don’t expect me not to mock you mercilessly.


Blogger App Crit said...

To ride the analogy to its fullest milage: you can take a 'placement test'. Those Cathollics married outside the Church are required, if they are confirmed and active Catholics, to get the marriage blessed in the Church.

Now the requisite internet discussion disclaimer: I was trying to steer the conversation towards institutional behaviours in general, and merely pointing out the the initial issue was not at odds with the standards within that institution. As well, I was trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to point out that all institutions operate on similar exclusive standards. I'm not defending any institution, but instead pointing out the reality of institutional psychology.

But if the thread is to remain a Catholic-bashing diatribe, I'll bow out, thank you. Though my family is historically Catholic, I do not practice it nor accept its doctrines--it doesn't make any sense to me. But it does make sense to many people, several whom I know and love. So, whilst I've long established that the Church isn't for me, I accept that it is right for many. I respect their devotion, and likewise I respect the truly devout of any religion. But, Catholics, cultural or otherwise, seem to merit a special treatment that is reserved for few cultural-religious groups. I've ancestors who were imprisoned and worse for it. So you'll understand if I don't suffer this Catholic-bashing well.

Apparently, religion and politics do mix.

(dare I say) Adieu

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