Before this week, I never thought particularly hard about the way the Catholic Church wants to enforce its policies against contraception. I think my default assumption was that they wanted Catholics to assent to such policies freely and without coercion, as matters of shared belief and conscience. The thought actually never crossed my mind that the Church had an interest in actually forcing women into pregnancies against their wills. I naturally assumed they were interested in persuasion. I thought they would want women and men to abstain from contraception by using their uncoerced wills that acted from religious and moral reasons, not against their wills and only for financial reasons. I also just took it for granted that they would not see it as their place to impose their contraception doctrine on unwilling non-Catholics either.
But this week, the vociferousness with which they insisted on their right to put up barriers to both their Catholic and non-Catholic employees getting desired contraception made it crystal clear to me that even where they know full well that their employees are not Catholic and explicitly don’t want to get pregnant, the Church actively hopes to obstruct their abilities to avoid pregnancy. The Church’s desired outcome is that the consequence of their refusing to pay for insurance that covers contraception would be that their employees will have babies they do not want to have. And that this will happen even to non-Catholics.
The full pettiness, moral childishness, and simplistic absolutist meanness of their position became most crystal clear when even after they were unconstitutionally absolved of having to pay for the contraception, they then balked at even being asked to refer their employees to others who would cover the contraception costs for them. Their response to the free wills of their employees would be a juvenile, obstinate refusal to cooperate with the exercise of those employees’ consciences in any way whatsoever that allowed them to determine the course of their own reproductive lives. These self-absorbed authoritarian absolutists cannot honor their employees’ wills even that much without “compromising a fundamental tenet of their religion”. Based on wholly abstract and formal considerations about it being wrong to ever thwart what is only one functional purpose of the sex act, they not only irrationally conclude that contraception is an “intrinsic evil” but go so far as to refuse any accommodation to others’ legal rights to it. Even though contraception harms no actual people whatsoever, even though it is actually medically vital for many people, even though they are dealing with autonomous adult employees with consciences and rights of bodily self-determination of their own, they see contraception as so intrinsically wrong that they cannot accommodate differing consciences from theirs at all, not even while making their abstract dissent known through all the normal religious channels available to them. Instead they want to paternalistically get in the way of their employees—doctors, nurses, teachers, etc.—being able to exercise their legal and moral rights according to their own consciences.
They refuse to make the minimally necessary public compromise that accepts that others are entitled to differing moral judgments on matters which incur no palpable civic harm or unjust treatment to anyone else. They worry that, like children, the employees (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) who they accommodate might take away the “wrong message” if they refer them to a place they can get the contraception they freely choose.
So, the only conclusion I am left to draw is that an essential and uncompromisable tenet of the Catholic faith is that the Catholic Church is religiously bound to put whatever obstacles she can devise in the way of Catholics and non-Catholics who don’t want to become pregnant, so that they must become pregnant anyway if they have sex and are fertile.
I am also curious about what barriers to people’s exercise of non-Catholic faiths (or atheism) that they feel entitled to put up, lest they be confused for tacitly approving of non-Catholicism in any case whatsoever.
In all the debates this week about whether or not the Catholic Church hierarchy’s conscience deserved accommodations, the content of what their conscience amounted to was never looked at logically in the mainstream media. Not once in numerous mainstream media interviews I closely followed did anyone just come out and say it: the Catholic Church is working to make sure their employees, regardless of faith, get pregnant even when they don’t want to. That is the only difference in the world that their policy they fought for could actually make. And they made it indisputable that they indeed have this desire when they whined about not just paying for the insurance but even about having to direct their employees to other federally mandated options for them.
And it is also worth noting the silence of the Catholic hierarchy about the self-professed Catholics Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich flouting the pope’s teachings that “justice requires guaranteed universal access to health care”, that at least minimal health care is “a fundamental human right”, that “justice in health care should be a priority of governments and international institutions”, or that governments and other agencies should dedicate “the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access” to health care.
Amazingly, no one in the Church hierarchy, in the “liberal” media, or on either side of the political aisle in Congress has accused Santorum or Gingrich of waging war against religion for going around the country expressing gross hostility towards all government involvement in health care. Strangely, no one has suggested that their policies evidence a secret hostility towards the Church or religious people. Strangely, no one ever asks Santorum or Gingrich whether their defiance of the pope’s teachings represent a secularist hostility towards faith.
When Obama had planned to follow all sorts of state precedents which had received little to no public outcry and apply a moderate exemption policy which allowed the Church to prevent its distinctly religious employees from getting contraception coverage but not those it hired for secular purposes, it was legitimate to cast him as expressing a personal animus against Catholicism and against faith itself. It is being actually suggested that even after he entirely caved to the Church merely clearing its throat that Catholics will still leave this episode with cause for “suspicion” of him. Where are the calls for suspicion towards Santorum and Gingrich when they equate the government aided health insurance the pope calls for with a deeply immoral and intrusive socialism?
In fact, where are the Church’s deep expressions of gratitude and moral approval for Obama for so substantially advancing the cause of universal health care which the pope called for and for doing it in a way that even made it so that women couldn’t get any federal support for their legal abortions that the pope disapproves of? Where is the mobilized army of Catholic bishops and voters to support him for this or for his ending of the torture regime of George W. Bush, which also flouted Church teachings? Or for his expansion of “faith-based initiatives” to the benefit of the Church?
Apparently, the Church actually cares a little bit about the health of every individual being treated as a “precious asset” (as the pope called it). But not enough to demonize political opponents who disagree with them on the point.
But what the Church really cares about and takes as the litmus test of its full and free exercise of faith is its right to prevent those who don’t want to have children from not having them. That’s a part of the non-negotiable core of Catholicism, apparently. And anyone who stands in the way of that (or who, you know, thinks about opposing it until the Church whines for ten seconds and then gives in) is a dangerous threat to religious freedom everywhere.
In a post yesterday, Ophelia Benson rightly took to task the Obama administration’s foolish decision to cave (again) to the religio-political fundamentalist right wing. He keeps making huge accommodations so that they cannot legitimately demonize him and they keep grabbing all the concessions and just go about finding new issues to demagogue and demonize him with, so they can get more out of him—while ignoring the myriad compromises he has made and painting him rather as a left wing secular extremist.
He expanded Bush’s “Faith Based Initiatives”, he participates piously in unconstitutional National Prayer Breakfasts, he let his Republican-inspired health care reform plan give no federal help for any abortions, in a move that displayed massive, party-betraying deference to the power of Catholic bishops, and was rewarded for all of this with being accused of “warring against religion” and “giving Catholics reasons to be suspicious of him” for simply trying to insist they at least had to follow the new law and provide insurance that covers contraception.
And within a week of an angry letter from the bishops about this, he folds nearly immediately. And his reward? Stories in the media about how Catholics are walking away from the whole exchange worried about his commitment to respecting their religion, and with bishops who say it is still too demanding of their consciences to be asked to point their employees to the necessary supplemental contraceptive coverage.
Bravo, President Obama. Way to protect yourself from villainization. I’m sure you have finally persuaded Republicans of your eminent reasonableness and they will stop calling you a radical Muslim atheist secularist socialist communist Nazi at war with religion, posthaste. And I’m sure the principle of secularism will survive all these endless accommodations to religious leaders who want tax free land, government subsidies, the unfettered and unfair right to interfere with legislation while receiving non-profit tax status, the right to have laws written so as to impose their religious beliefs on non-believers, and to have special exemptions from whatever laws they do not want to follow.
For related coverage: Libby Anne, our exciting new Freethought Blogs neighbor at Love, Joy, Feminism, is an escapee of the repressive American Christian fundamentalist patriarchy/quiverful movement. Her thoughts and her rage over this issue are especially righteous and especially poignant.
Chris Hallquist, another exciting recent addition to the Freethought Blogs stable whom I’ve yet to properly welcome, is properly scathing against the Church and baffled as to why rank and file Catholics, who clearly must see the anachronisms, obtuse regressiveness, and corrupting authoritarianism of the hierarchy’s behavior, continue to identify as Catholic nonetheless.
Also, I had many more thoughts on this issue earlier in the week in my post: Religious Privilege and Grievance-Based Catholic Identity Politics on Full Display.
I also debated a Catholic theology student for three posts: