Catholic marriage rules debate fallout
Hey App Crit, sorry you feel you have to say “Adieu”. (“Goodbye” has equally theistic origins, and I’m fine with the relics of religion sprinkled throughout our language). In any case, even if you’re going, I’ll reply to some of the things in your farewell comment, for my own edification and that of my other readers (Site meter tells me there’s at least one or two).
I didn’t know that Catholics could get their outside marriages blessed within the church, and that is a pleasing concession to reality. But in a way it just reinforces the notion that the institution of the Church controls what is and is not a marriage. And I believe that what transpires between two people, their families, and society (i.e. what happens in the world) is what determines what is and is not a marriage. I understand that the Catholic Church has a “right” to determine what is and is not a marriage within its own institution. But I think I also have a “right” to criticize their rules.
I disagree with your statement that “all institutions operate on similar exclusive standards.” Certainly, all institutions must operate according to some standard, but those standards needn’t be similar to the Catholic Church’s in exclusivity. Example: My mother and father were married in a Catholic ceremony, and my father’s Presbyterian church seemed to recognize the marriage just fine. They would probably have preferred a Presbyterian wedding, but a Catholic one seemed good enough to “count”. They probably wouldn’t have recognized a marriage ceremony that consisted solely of my mother and father exchanging plastic decoder rings in front of a portrait of Elvis and devoid of any further religious, social, or legal backing. They did have a standard of some kind; it wasn’t “anything goes”. It just wasn’t as exclusive a standard as that of the Catholic Church. And I think that in this case, the Presbyterian standard was better than the Catholic standard, because it better accommodates the reality of what existed between my mother and father.
I’m sorry you think that this thread is Catholic bashing. Perhaps I should launch into some screeds against other beliefs and organizations to show that it’s not just the Catholic Church that bugs me. (I attacked Dobson, a Protestant, does that count?) I know that there is a long history of Protestant-based anti-Catholic prejudice in this country. And I don’t want to participate in that ugly tradition of bigotry. But I do not think this should prevent me from pointing out what I think are real dysfunctions within that institution. I think these dysfunctions cause real harm to real people, and they need to be pointed out at the very least, and corrected if at all possible.
For example, I have a Catholic friend who got married in a ceremony that wasn’t “Catholic enough”, and because of this certain people very close to this friend refused to attend the ceremony. This caused real pain and anguish. I have family members who have had similar difficult experiences. Now I think part of the blame lies with these no-shows for valuing the institutional control of the Church above the connections of blood, marriage, and friendship. But part of the blame lies with the institution itself, for insisting on this level of control over its members and over the definition of what a valid marriage is. I know that if the Catholic Church wasn’t so hung up on these rules, there would have been more family and love and community and support and joy, more God, if that’s how you see it, at these ceremonies. This is why I attack these ridiculous rules. Not just to demonstrate how much smarter and more in touch with reality I am (though that is certainly a part of it), but because people suffer real pain because of these rules I’m mocking.
And I must take issue with you when you say, “I respect the truly devout of any religion”. First of all, even if we respect someone, that does not mean we must respect every idea that they have. Wonderful people can believe ridiculous things, even awful things. The goodness or intelligence of a person does not transfer automatically to the beliefs they hold. If Gandhi thought the world was flat, then Gandhi was wrong, despite his goodness in other areas. (I don’t think Gandhi actually thought this.)
Secondly, I want to challenge the notion that devotion to religion deserves respect in and of itself. I think we can all come up with examples of people who are unquestionably “devout”, but not really worthy of our respect (any more than all humans deserve a certain amount of respect). The Heaven’s Gate cultists leap to mind. They strike us as weird, but one can’t question how “devout” they were. They were willing to commit suicide on the strength of their beliefs, which is more “devout” than I will ever be. Do they deserve respect? Compassion, pity, sadness, yes (and maybe a bit of condescension and ridicule, too), but not respect. Not from me. How about the Puritans who conducted witch hunts (more Protestant bashing, see?) and had innocent people killed in frighteningly large numbers? They were “devout”, but their devotion was to a twisted version of Christianity infected with supernaturalist paranoia. Let’s check Zac’s respect-o-meter reading…not very high.
This is the deeper point that underlies the whole thrust of my criticism of Catholic marriage rules: I don’t think beliefs should be shielded from criticism, just because they are part of a religion or are believed religiously. There are too many bad ideas sulking behind the cross (“George Bush was chosen by God to lead our country”), the crescent (“Martyrdom bombers go to heaven and are attended by virgins”), the Star of David (“God said we can kick everyone else off this land”), and the symbols of other religions for us to allow them to become “no criticism allowed” signs. (See? I can bash other religions, too). Now, I suspect that the majority of adherents of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism wouldn’t agree with these bad ideas (at least I hope not). But that doesn’t change the fact that those who do believe those bad ideas believe them religiously and devoutly. I seek to peel pack this “shield of automatic deference” that surrounds religious ideas. I think that this deference is a particularly bad an idea, as it allows other bad ideas to fester unexamined. There is much that is good in religion, too. But how can we tell the good stuff from the bad stuff if we don’t examine it, criticize it, argue about it? That is my objective, not to single out Catholicism in particular.
So App Crit, I’m sorry if in my zeal to ferret out nonsense and hold it up to ridicule, I have offended you. I don’t want to hurt feelings. I don’t want to single out a particular group of people as a target for hatred. Sorry you feel you have to bow out of the thread (or of this blog, I’m not sure which you meant). I love your blog and have enjoyed your contributions here greatly. But I will not stop calling something a bad idea unless someone convinces me it’s a good idea. (Or maybe pays me a whole lot of money. And I worked at Microsoft in the mid-to-late 90’s, so when I say a lot I mean A LOT.)