Bright Lines

You know when you hear a word or phrase you’ve never encountered before, and suddenly it’s everywhere? While listening to the SCOTUS arguments on the health care case, I first heard the phrase a bright line used in its legal definition: “a clearly defined rule or standard, leaving little room for varying interpretations,” as Wikipedia has it. I liked that notion, and could even visualize it. In the months since, it seems I’m hearing it used by news commentators in a slightly different sense, to indicate a clear distinction between two concepts or proposals. From justices to journalists, however, there seems to be agreement that a bright line is hard to find.

I’ve got bright lines on the brain these days, as I struggle to live counter to a culture that doesn’t appear to have many, or to have much respect for those who draw them. Anything Goes is not just a witty Cole Porter lyric anymore, and I don’t only mean that in the shocked, morals-are-collapsing-everywhere tones of the aged curmudgeon I’m terrified of becoming. In politics, in social issues, in relationships, and particularly in the pool of religion and spirituality where we Patheos bloggers swim, anything had damn well better go, or you’re a bigot, an oppressor, ignorant, and out of touch with the real world. 50 Shades of Grey, indeed, but no bright lines, please!

Conservative critics, especially of academia, have made much over the years of the Tyranny of Tolerance, the ways in which thoughtful exchange among those who differ is purposely derailed by accusations of privilege and claims of victim status, examined for evidence of political incorrectness with a scrupulosity usually reserved for clerks of the Spanish Inquisition. I am not a conservative critic—I don’t even want to play one on TV, in spite of my new crankiness—but I’m starting to think they’ve got something. Being Catholic again has suddenly moved me (an old 60s hippie, an erstwhile political liberal, a woman, a person of complicated sexual identities) from US to THEM, from ally to enemy, in so many situations. And after a few weeks spent banging around the threads of the Patheos bloggers’ Facebook page, being tarred with the general brush of Privilege-Majority-Intolerant-Disrespectful by Pagans and Progressive Christians and the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious and even an Atheist or two, I’ve finally figured out why.

I have come home to a Church that is all about bright lines, honoring clearly defined rules and standards that leave little room for personal interpretation—not in all areas, by any means, but in the ones that count. I have come home to a Church that does not tolerate everything and does not apologize for that—but one that, get this, does not mistake tolerance for love and intolerance for hate. I have come home to a Church that is hierarchical in structure and teaching, one that privileges Scripture and Tradition over personal revelation, natural law over experiment, life in its messiness over temporal expediency, the common good over the individual entitlement, God’s will over what I want. In a world of Anything Goes, I have come home to a Church that says No, It Doesn’t.

I understand that this is, increasingly (and even for Catholics), few people’s experience of religion. I am nowhere near, myself, the point of giving joyful, and not merely formal, assent of will and intellect to all of this. I will be in dialog with my Church for the rest of my life, and I look forward to that. It doesn’t leave me much time, though, to engage in the kind of dialog with other traditions that many are asking for—a “dialog” in which, seemingly, I must defend my Church’s teachings and my commitment to them, or apologize for them, or humbly submit to the judgment of others regarding the error of my ways. No disrespect intended, but I send my regrets. I can’t pretend, even for the sake of interfaith conviviality, that I don’t see the bright lines.

So, yes, politically incorrect as it is, I believe Catholicism is true and that its teachings are right. I’m not shopping around, waiting to hear a better deal. That belief of mine is in no way intended to oppress you, coerce you, belittle your beliefs, or even convince you of the rightness of mine. Apologist is not on my resume. If I blog on a topic on which my beliefs differ from yours, or even one in which I have lots more to learn about why my own Church teaches what it does—abortion, say, or marriage, or the male priesthood—or if I share my beliefs in a comment on one of your posts on these topics, I am not doing it to hurt you, or to hate you, or to exercise unjust privilege, or to be intolerant. I am not, on the other hand,  inviting you to tell me what a crock my religion is and how much nicer, smarter, and freer I’d be if I just ditched this medieval nonsense. In this, I suspect (though I have not heard their voices in the conversation yet), I differ little from followers of other bright-line traditions, such as Islam or Orthodox Judaism. Nor is my mind, in perceiving bright lines, closed to other sources of illumination. I interrogate myself, my world, my faith, my presumptions, on a daily basis—not to find fault or to dissent, but to seek deeper wisdom.

I would be interested, I think, in a discussion of the meta-discussion. Is it possible for bright liners and grey liners and no liners to talk to one another at all? Or must we only talk among ourselves? Do we have things to learn from one another’s positions, even when we cannot subscribe to them? Are there some issues we have to keep off the table? (That’s a funny question, when you consider I grew up in a time when it wasn’t considered polite to discuss religion or politics. Now that’s what all my discussions are about.) Must privilege always be used as a stick? Are there times when tolerance is intolerant? Can we stop assuming that “all Christians” think or act one way, any more than “all Jews” or “all Pagans” or “all Muslims” or “all Atheists” do? How do we thread our way through the things that divide us to find possible commonalities? And can we do any of this without name-calling, insult, the imagining of insult, the taking of offense, the lecturing of one another on what our traditions should do or believe? Can we stipulate to the fact that there are bright lines of distinction between us, but that these need not be insurmountable walls? (I ask these questions of myself first, and my sister and brother Catholic bloggers as well.) Do these questions, which began as a reaction to interfaith rumbles, have relevance for Catholics of differing positions, too?

I’m not sure. I’d like to think so. I do know I don’t have the temperament for unresolved and continuous sniping. If we can’t agree to disagree, I’d rather we just found a virtual bar that could meet our diverse proclivities (the Mos Eisley Cantina comes to mind—though I hasten to add I mean that only in terms of its eclectic population, and not because I think we are a wretched hive of scum and villainy!) and just hang out. Have a few laughs. Spin a few tunes. The kind of place where the only bright line worth looking for is the neon script that reads WE’RE OPEN—COME ON IN.

  • juliedavis

    I love it when you talk like this!

  • http://littleportionhermitage.blogspot.com/ The Hermit

    My favorite paragraph:
    “I have come home to a Church that is all about bright lines, honoring clearly defined rules and standards that leave little room for personal interpretation—not in all areas, by any means, but in the ones that count. I have come home to a Church that does not tolerate everything and does not apologize for that—but one that, get this, does not mistake tolerance for love and intolerance for hate. I have come home to a Church that is hierarchical in structure and teaching, one that privileges Scripture and Tradition over personal revelation, natural law over experiment, life in its messiness over temporal expediency, the common good over the individual entitlement, God’s will over what I want. In a world of Anything Goes, I have come home to a Church that says No, It Doesn’t.”

    To which I can only reply, “Thank God for His Church and welcome home Ms. E.T.!”

  • Marilyn Crawford

    I’m afraid that what we thought in the 60′s – rational discussions might change minds or give one something to think about – is gone forever. I’m left trying to figure out how to ‘explain’ that priestly abuse is not what the Church is about, women priests are not going to happen and what on earth all this has with my belief in the Incarnate Word of God. So – I’ve given up. I change the subject because NOTHING I can say or reason will change anyone’s mind. Hang out and drink a beer – keep your blood pressure down and pray pray pray. There are loads of like-minded people who love you.

    • Rene

      I agree with you, Marilyn. People are always trying to engage me on the various incendiary Catholic/political topics and I just change the subject, because I believe no one is really listening with an open heart and mind anyway. It helps to realize I am not alone in this feeling. I’m going to have a beer.

  • http://www.patheos.com/About-Patheos/Greg-Garrett.html Greg Garrett

    Joanne, this is smart and kind and makes a great deal of sense. (Even if you may have backed too quickly away from your “wretched hive of scum and villainy” comment!) I wonder if maybe there are Bright Lines we have in common throughout the tradition (I think especially of Augustine’s Two Fold Commandment of Love) where we might talk about how our faith is being acted out? I get that in your faith, tradition is going to be definitive, where in my life it’s one of several strands I’m sifting. But in any case, I agree with you that we’re not wishing to convert or be converted, but to offer up our lives and our experience for those to whom it might be of use. I’m grateful for your witness, and hope to learn more from you–including how you’re doing with all your Bright Lines.

    • joannemcportland

      The gratitude is mutual, Greg! And I love the idea of tracing common Bright Lines. As in physics, the light of these lines may be both wave and particle–ground of being and lamp to our feet–depending on where we find ourselves within our various traditions.

  • Star Foster

    You would likely find my views on tolerance very similar. Here’s the thing, tolerance does not mean acceptance. I tolerate a great deal without accepting it. It is the tyranny of acceptance that is the issue. I tolerate the Catholics in my town every day. I drive right past their church without getting in their way or stepping on their rights. I also don’t make a point of hugging the local priest. Some people think tolerance means I should hug that priest, have coffee with him and make him my best friend until we see eye to eye on everything. That’s ridiculous. Tolerance means I stay out of his way until he steps in mine. I’m all for tolerance. It’s all I want and all I fight for. Acceptance is a different matter, and it’s generally what people mean when they talk about tolerance. We don’t have to accept everything to do interfaith work or be good people.

    • Elizabeth Scalia

      Well said, Star. When the definition of “tolerance” changed to “acceptance of all my earthly desires” things went haywire!

    • joannemcportland

      Agreed, Star. There’s no bright line at all, in some people’s way of thinking, between tolerance and acceptance or even positive admiration and applause. On the other side, I’m not in favor of standing around lobbing gratuitous judgments at people who differ from me, either. I’ve got enough trouble casting stones at my own sins.

      • Elizabeth Scalia

        Yes, wasn’t it one of the Queens in Through the Looking Glass who said that if everyone would just mind their own business, the world would go around a good deal faster? I’ve got enough trouble keeping up with my sins, I don’t need to mind the rest of the world’s .

    • http://www.thecatholicbeat@gmail.com Gail Finke

      So true! I don’t think Muslims are right. I think they are wrong and mistaken. I do not feel the need to attack Muslims for their beliefs, or picket one of the Mosques in town — although I would be happy to have a discussion about religious beliefs any day, any time. When my kids were in class with some Muslim kids a couple of years ago, I waved to their parents in the parking lot and chatted with the kids, My kids gave them Valentines and birthday treats and whatever else was distributed to the whole class. Not agreeing with people is not the same thing as hating them. Tolerating people is not the same thing as endorsing everything they do, say, or believe. It never came up at the school, but if the Muslim parents had wanted the kids to go to a different room than the lunchroom during Ramadan, FINE BY ME. Just as it was fine by me when the Jewish kids stayed home for the High Holy days. You can respect people’s beliefs (and the expression of their beliefs) without agreeing with them.

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  • Steve M

    Very nice post. Somehow we have to find commonalities with our fellow citizens so that we can maintain a functioning government and society. Each person should strive to contribute to the society/country through the processes (voting, running for office) and should form their contribution from their values and beliefs. It only makes sense. It would be crazy to advocate for a position that I believe is wrong morally whatever the source of that morality. Then we have to come together and agree on how to proceed as a country. This unfortunately will require compromise and debate which has been part of the solution since the country was founded.

  • Melody

    “Is it possible for bright liners and grey liners and no liners to talk to one another at all?… Do we have things to learn from one another’s positions, even when we cannot subscribe to them?….How do we thread our way through the things that divide us to find possible commonalities?…. Can we stipulate to the fact that there are bright lines of distinction between us, but that these need not be insurmountable walls?”
    I like the questions you ask here.

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  • Tim Peterson

    It seems that tolerance started as the grand idea (articulated by Christ at great length) that we are all brothers and sisters with equal dignity regardless of race or wealth, but has morphed into the notion that we are all brothers and sisters with equal dignity regardless of behavior or belief. Where tolerance clashes with sin, the Tolerant declare the ancient concept of sin to be judgmental of behavior and thus invalid. Tolerance as presently practiced is thus at war with orthodox religion, and thus for believers of such religion, with God Himself.

  • calahalexander

    I love this post. Sadly I think that people who are able to have civil conversations with opposing beliefs are few and far between. We’re conservative , Ave Maria-dwelling Catholic and our best friends are very liberal, Silicon-Valley dwelling rationalists, and we have the best conversations in the world because we love each other very much and respect each others’ opinions, understand why they hold them, and aren’t trying to convert each other. I’ve rarely found anyone else (Catholic, Christian or otherwise) who is content with that type of discourse. I believe that too often those lines are walls, and it’s most often when the ideas leave the realm of ideas and become realities. When a gay person meets a Catholic who believes that practicing homosexuality is wrong, and a damaging choice for that gay person, it stops being discourse and starts being a real objection to someone’s life…even if the Catholic never judges, never voices his or her opinion. Just the mere fact that the Catholic believes that and the gay person knows it becomes a wall between the two (or can, at least). I actually understand that from both sides. The gay person feels judged and condemned, the Catholic feels that he or she can’t hold a deep religious conviction without being accused of hatred, even if hatred is the last thing the Catholic feels. I don’t know that those walls can be overcome. It’s too painful for everyone involved. But because we’re human beings and we should love each other, I think we have to keep trying. And failing, most likely. And then getting drinks. Anyway, really good post, Joanne. One of your best.

  • Corita

    I remember feeling this way first during the last pres. election. I lost three friends during it, all from FAcebook discussions– one even just from the fact that she knew I was pro-life and a believer…and extrapolated from there to Republican (not true, but a slander from her) and from THERE to anti-gay and illiberal. When I asked, “Why have you ended our friendship without any kind of discussion?” she admitted she knew *no* Republicans in “real” life and was just trying to spare herself the heartache of what she felt was the inevitable reveal of my hatred for her.

    **This woman is a tenured professor at Cornell University.** She knows no Republicans and ended our (admittedly, long-neglected, Facebook-only) relationship, NOT based on anything I actually said, but on stuff she thought I might possibly say based on the fact that I had some other thoughts ….that her untested stereotype of a conservative hatemonger also had… on unrelated topics.

    Sheesh. It is four years later and I can not but shake my head in disbelief at it. But that was a shock to me then, and now it wouldn’t be a surprise.

    • Corita

      And I realize I am being oblique to the topic of this magnificent little meditation you have written, Joanne, so to tie it in as my brain had already done: What was underneath the act on my friend’s part was *not* an intellectual process at all. This brilliant, funny and kind woman was just plain *scared*. And she said as much, as I wrote above, when I questioned her, which makes her head and shoulders above so many others, but it seems to me that discussions can’t take place if they are not *humane*; that is, with a humility before the humanity of self and other. Acknowledging how much fear and need go into our opinions, and the basic need to have other people agree with us.

      I don’t see how anyone can discuss anything if the goal of one or both parties is just conversion. Dialogue is, ideally, an act of love, of searching for something together, even if it is just an understanding of how another person thinks about things. If it is an act of love, it will be de facto revealing, there will be nakedness involved. My questions are more along the lines of, how can we get people to love properly in dialogue?

      And I guess that is the question that is eternally plaguing us, at least as Catholic Christians.

      • joannemcportland

        “Dialogue is, ideally, an act of love, of searching for something together, even if it is just an understanding of how another person thinks about things. If it is an act of love, it will be de facto revealing, there will be nakedness involved. My questions are more along the lines of, how can we get people to love properly in dialogue?”

        Brilliant. And just one more of the amazing things I learn from my wise commenters! Thank you.

    • http://www.thecatholicbeat@gmail.com Gail Finke

      Corita: I read in First Things a month or so ago about a study that demonstrated that conservative people understand liberals, but liberals don’t understand conservatives (I’m using those terms for lack of better ones). When asked to explain liberal arguments on various issues, conservatives were able to identify correctly what the liberal positions were and the arguments for them. But liberals, on the other hand, were wildly inaccurate about conservative positions and could not present conservative arguments for them. I found this fascinating, particularly after a long discussion about “gay marriage” with a professor friend who could not imagine any rational arguments against it and would not accept that any I made, no matter how modest, had any validity. She accepted only her definition of marriage (any loving committed relationship between two adults) and her only argument for it was that it wasn’t fair or nice to “deny” it. She too is a professor and a very smart one! I imagine that this failure of imagination extends to religion as well as politics, and that progressives really cannot see that there is any validity to arguments against their beliefs. After all, if you really THINK people are bigots and hateful, why should you be tolerant of them?

  • TeaPot562

    It may seem strange, but the teachings of orthodox Christianity, Judaism or Islam have a positive survival value for the family line or the culture. The influence of the “Enlightenment” upon family reproduction is obvious in Western Europe’s lack of children. Greece as an extreme example has about 46 grandchildren for every 100 grandparents. In the absence of immigration (of fertile and “willing to reproduce” immigrants) how many Greeks will there be in 2100 A.D.?
    The dominant US culture teaches youth to pursue pleasure, delay commitment and avoid responsibility. Is their objective to “save the Earth” by eliminating human beings?
    The teachings of the Church do not need to be justified by practical results; but the evidence presented above shows the practical effect of widespread contraception, abortion and sex w/o commitment such as Marriage.
    The Church has truth, and we need not apologize for it. Others may believe differently, but that is their problem.
    TeaPot562

  • Melody

    Tim Peterson said, “It seems that tolerance started as the grand idea (articulated by Christ at great length) that we are all brothers and sisters with equal dignity regardless of race or wealth, but has morphed into the notion that we are all brothers and sisters with equal dignity regardless of behavior or belief.”
    I thought Christ articulated the concept that we all are brothers and sisters with equal dignity, full stop. Which isn’t the same as validating sin. But where the discussions get toxic is when we lose sight of the “equal dignity” thing, and add qualifiers and modifiers to exclude others from this consideration.

  • TaylorKH

    Well done. Thank you.

  • Kimberly Knight

    Bright lines is a brilliant topic! First let me say that I hear and deeply appreciate that you are looking for commonalities and ways to work together. I think we both know what a hard thing that may prove to be when some of our bright lines are in direct opposition but I am grateful for ANY opportunity to work at Kingdom building with my sisters and brothers on this planet.

    I absolutely agree that a tradition and the people within should recognize and claim bright lines. I have been saying that in different words to progressive Christians for years now. Stand where you stand is the phrase I like to use.

    The commenter who said that tolerance and acceptance are two different things is spot on. I tolerate (but on a razor’s edge) that Catholics have closed communion but as a prayerful and thoughtful Christian in my own right I do not accept that as right or even biblically based. I tolerate (just barely) evangelical hubris and certitude of a 100% inerrant and literal Bible even though as faithful seminary graduate who has spent years studying the bible I do not accept that as true or even how many of those believers that I know actually live their lives. I tolerate my Methodist friends who remain in a system that refuses to acknowledge their full humanity but I do not accept that their choice is healthy or entirely rational. I tolerate denominations and churches and people who faithfully believe that homosexuality is not a gift from God but I do not accept their understandings as right or true. And on the other side of the fence – I tolerate (minimally) the random sexual exploits (gay and straight) celebrated by secular culture but I do not accept them as a Christian way of living into the gift of sexuality.

    There are bright lines in progressive Christianity, only it seems we have a hard time claiming them as absolute because we accept that Truth is elusive and contextual. While living our Gift in these mortal coils we can not, with absolute certainty, know The One Who Is Outside Human Understanding – our minds simply can not grasp that which is outside time and space and yet in all time and all space. EVERY attempt to know is merely an attempt, even those attempts that have been codified in thousands of years of doctrine.

    With that said I still believe there are bright lines that I am learning to claim without apology. While we may differ on a few, it’s my hunch that some of these bright lines just might draw us together.

    That everyone, everyone, everyone is loved by God and welcome at God’s table.
    That nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God.
    That as we come to understand the truly radical way we are loved we respond to that Grace, sharing it with others by:
    Working to eradicate poverty
    Clearing mammon out of our temples, our hearts and our governments
    Standing up to the InJustice system that feeds off of and into poverty and ignorance
    Advocating for affordable and competent healthcare for all
    Speaking up for those whose voices are systematically drowned out by those with more power, and yes privilege
    Demanding human rights (not special rights) for every soul under the sun
    Cleaning up the mess we have made and are making of Creation
    Calling for the beating of swords into ploughshares everywhere, everywhere, everywhere

  • http://www.hancaquam.blogspot.com PNP, OP

    Thank you for this! Having spent my entire young adulthood enslaved to the Academic Tolerance and Diversity Machine, I can testify to the monotonous intolerance of Tolerance, Inc. So long as you bow to the dictates of diversity, you are tolerated. And diversity means nothing more than “people who look different but think identically.”

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    “Is it possible for bright liners and grey liners and no liners to talk to one another at all?”

    I don’t think there is any way for anyone to talk to “no liners” at all. They are just out there and reason doesn’t help. Certainly there is much to be gained on discussion with grey liners. On certain issues I might be a grey liner myself. It depends on the issue. I’ve always felt that our Catholic position on non abortifacient contraceptives for married couples was silly. But then there is no fuzzy line for me on abortion, except for when the life of the mother is truly at stake. This is a nicely written piece Joanna, but I have to say that the vagueness of issues is a weakness. I don’t think one can respond to a generic “bright line” concept. It depends on the specific issue. There are many issues on which the Catholic Church is in the grey line camp, for instance, free market capitalism.

    “Are there times when tolerance is intolerant?”

    Yes. One thing we Catholics do not do well is being judgmental. I think we over emphasize judge not lest ye be judged. If society doesn’t turn a supercilious eye toward people who hook up in the sexual connotation or live together unmarried, have children out of wedlock, indulge in drugs, or whatever other anti social behavior, then there is no self correcting mechanism for society. Tolerance of anti social behavior, and lets include something apparently trivial as tattooing your entire body, is consent. I don’t know if that’s intolerance, but it leads to social dysfunction. I don’t mind being called a curmudgeon. ;)

    The heart of these “bright line” issues we Catholics have with the general society at large is rooted in our dissent with the values of the sexual revolution. In many respects Catholic values are incompatible.

  • abb3w

    While I think it’s “possible for bright liners and grey liners and no liners to talk to one another”, there’s some limitations, particularly in so far as there’s disagreement to starting premises.

    You believe Catholicism is true and that its teachings are right. You can certainly discuss the implications to other questions. This has the potential to allow others to better understand your view, and the view of others like you. However, in so far as someone else may have different premises, someone may understand, but not agree. They can simply present their own premises, and explain how their own conclusion differs thereby. This, however, isn’t so much talking TO one another as PAST one another. Another approach is to ask questions within the framework; for example, if (hypothetically) you appear to subscribe to elements both of predestination and of free will in the Church teaching, why you favor a conclusion supported by one when the other appears to support the opposite conclusion.

    Alternately, however, one can try a Socratic (or more direct) challenge to the underlying premises, as to whether they are correct, or simply whether they are not in fact fundamental, but taken as implication of other premises. For example, it’s possible you take the correctness of Catholicism as a primary point of faith; however, it seems more likely that you have reasons underlying why you do. Discussion of the conclusions leads back to discussion of the premises.

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  • Cathy

    Look, as a Catholic and a progressive-leaning academic, I think that one place to start would be by recognizing that we tend to evaluate our own positions in a much kinder light than we do those of others. For instance, when you contrast “sharing my beliefs in a comment box” to “telling me my religion is a crock,” you set up a pretty easy choice: obviously the former is superior to the latter. But as Calah points out above, there are Church teachings — especially on sexuality, but also on other issues — that non-believers simply will hear as unjust and discriminatory: say, “homosexual desire is intrinsically disordered,” or, “only the Church possesses the fullness of truth.” If people object both to the content of such claims and to the implications they have for society, we’ve got to be ready to hear that — and ready, in all senses of the word, to apologize.

    The other thing to point out is that progressives aren’t necessarily wishy-washy grey area folks — for many many (indeed, the vast majority) of people I know who advocate for gay rights, for instance, it is not a “live and let live” proposition — it is a matter of fundamental moral issues like human dignity, justice, and affirmation of God’s creation, values they have in common with the Catholic Church. So we may as well acknowledge that the truly difficult debates are not ones in which good comes up against eh — they’re the ones in which one clear good runs up against another clear good. This is true even of abortion: people who are pro-choice are fighting passionately for what we as Catholics can agree are good things: the right of individuals to defend the integrity of their own bodies, and the right of women to be treated as humans possessed of full freedom and dignity. We may believe that they are in grievous error to assert those values in violation of the unborn baby’s right to life (and I do believe that), but I don’t kid myself that they are driven by an overwhelming disregard for moral judgment itself.

    • joannemcportland

      Catherine, I’m not sure I can agree with you that Catholics must be required to apologize in all senses of the word for holding truths that others find difficult. That we are required to find a common language in which to communicate the positive, non-”insulting” truth behind the teachings we profess is one thing, but to say I have to apologize to you because what I believe makes you feel bad? Uh uh. I know that doesn’t fly with the popular notion that religion is about making everybody feel good about themselves, but that’s precisely why I wrote this post. Some of the teachings of my Church don’t make me feel good when I come up against the distance between the fullness to which I am called and the place where I’d like to just sit down and feel all special and wonderful.

      And I struggle myself with the “conflicting goods” in the abortion question. I don’t believe most women make the choice to terminate a pregnancy lightly—not nearly as likely as Planned Parenthood would wish them to—and I know there may appear to be overwhelmingly good reasons to make that choice. But I have just come up against a fact of logic: the nature of a living thing does not change according to whether it is wanted or unwanted. If it is a baby (a unique product of TWO persons’ DNA) from the moment joyful parents conceive, it does not become a piece of disposable tissue or an nonliving alien invader, a kind of virus, if unwanted. I would respect those who argue the need for abortion far more if they could be honest about what is involved, and not just trumpet abortion as a right necessary to women’s fulfillment as a person and threatened by the “war on women.” I too deplore the politics of prolife, which seems to draw such bright lines between those who care for the lives of the preborn and those who care for life from birth through death. But I can’t choose one over the other, even if it leaves me with a passel ‘o strange pewfellows.

      • Ellen Witko

        “not nearly as lightly as Planned Parenthood would wish them to”? That remark is unsubstantiated.
        Can we speak our minds and share our faith without smudging the truth? Planned Parenthood is not in the business of persuading women to have abortions.
        “trumpet abortion as a right necessary to women’s fulfillment as a person” –I’m not sure what that means. A women’s right to control her body and to be respected as capable as any man of making clearly informed medical decisions that are right for her is what I hope for as a person favoring a pro-choice point of view.
        As for the “War on Women”–I have to wonder where are all the protestors outside of the urologists offices as they perform vasectomies? Where are all the protestors picketing deadbeat dads who aren’t paying their child support? Where are all the bills passed by congress to generously provide healthy meals (organic, nonprocessed, fresh food) to children who weren’t aborted who depend on food stamps?
        We all have bright lines we choose to live within. Some draw their own bright lines, some chose bright lines drawn by others. So be it. Questions from others about the bright lines we’ve chosen to live by are good for us–they push us to think and consider why we choose as we do. They inspire us to ask God (pray) for enlightenment. Let us respect each others thoughtful choices even when we don’t understand them. Respectfully yours, Rev. Ellen Witko

        • Mike Melendez

          “Where are all..”
          Apparently, Reverend, you do not understand the pro-life position or you wouldn’t be asking those questions. Does PP conduct a “war on embryos”? If not, how do peaceful demonstrations against something the demonstrators are against constitute a “war”, let alone a “war on women”? Disagree, as you decide, but understand what you are disagreeing with. Unless, of course, your purpose is to put down those you disagree with. Then we’re back to that inconsistent wonder, intolerant tolerance.

      • Cathy

        I’m actually in agreement with you on both of those counts, Joanne — I never said that the purpose of religion is to make either believers or unbelievers feel good, and to be honest it’s exactly that kind of putting-easily-mocked-views-in-other-people’s-mouths that I was objecting to. When I said apologize in both senses, I meant that if we propose to stand publicly for our Church, we need to be willing to accept the burden of the legitimate hurt and anger others may express to us, because of cruelties inflicted in the name of those beliefs, even if *that* doesn’t feel good to us, because it’s one of the most important forms of witness we have. My real main point was that we’d do well not to patronize those who disagree with us by assuming they have no bright lines of their own — most progressives do.

        Re: abortion, you’re preaching to the choir; as I said, I’m thoroughly convinced that the child’s personhood trumps the autonomy of the mother. All I’m saying is that I recognize autonomy as a good and reasonable thing to desire, and to defend. I too would LOVE to have a national abortion debate that confronts honestly the hard truths at the core of the matter, and sort of hear you saying that, too — but I also see you indulging in the same sort of dismissive smears that make such debates all but impossible.

        All that said, I enjoy your blog, and appreciate your integrity and eloquence. Sorry to respond in such prickly fashion.

        • joannemcportland

          I’m sorry to have come across as prickly and dismissive. The post was the tip of an off-blog iceberg, and it was actually a lot calmer and less prickly and dismissive than I felt at the time.

          But I appreciate having my feet held to the fire. You make me better.

          • Cathy

            Oh, back atcha — I think it’s time for me to take an internet holiday, since you’re one of my favorite Catholic bloggers, and here I am picking a fight with you. Love the new post on Mary Magdalene; thanks for being gracious with me.

          • joannemcportland

            You’re the gracious one, to keep coming back after finding what I had to say offensive. You really have helped me refine the message. Can’t guarantee I won’t offend again, but please don’t take too long a vacation. :)

  • Bob

    “I would be interested, I think, in a discussion of the meta-discussion. Is it possible for bright liners and grey liners and no liners to talk to one another at all? Or must we only talk among ourselves?”

    If you’re going to call call those of us who disagree with you “no-liners” — meaning, I suppose, we have no moral lines — then, no, we can’t have the dialogue you seek. The reason is that you consider yourself morally superior to me, and until you stop considering yourself morally superior, we have nothing to talk about. We can have the dialogue when you’ve given up the idea that human morality exists only within the framework of religious faith, and that the former can’t exist without the latter. Not until then, though.

    • joannemcportland

      No, no, no—that is not what I mean at all. I mean that some traditions have a centralized core of doctrine, others do not. Some have codified rules for worship and polity, others do not. I am not saying one is better than the other except in the sense that mine is best for me—just that trying to dialog from those differing stances is difficult and in some cases might be impossible. For example, Catholics who are faithful to the Church’s teaching on sexuality are often told just to ignore it and follow their own conscience, often by people whose traditions place a primacy on individual choice. In the same way, Catholics often can’t understand why everybody doesn’t live by traditional Catholic teaching. One of the things I am learning from the commenters to those post is that everyone has bright lines when it comes to their own moral codes. When I say grey liners and no liners, I mean people from traditions that don’t codify or set clear non-negotiables, or people from no religious tradition. Please don’t confuse religion with morality; I’m sorry if I gave you the impression I had.

  • fellis34@yahoo.com

    Absolutely beautiful!!!!!! Thank you for your honestly!

  • Corita

    Hi, Joanne,
    I thought of this post this evening. I was staring in horror and heartbreak at numerous internet sites linking to the just-published database of the Maryland voters who signed a petition to put the new gay-marriage law on the ballot this November. Many of them were headed with titles like, “Who are the bigots in your neighborhood?” and all suggested that to sign a petition to put it to the vote is the same as being a gay-hater or, maybe at least, a deluded fool.

    A few commenters tsked at the idea of publishing the names (and addresses!!!) because it seemed to be provocative. And I wonder how representative a sample it is when you read the comments. Many of them were discussing how to go about confronting their neighbors whose names are on there.

    I guess I am just hearsick because the feeling that I started to get four years ago when friends were dropping me for just *being* Catholic, or prolife, or having major reservations about Obama: that I can’t be in the “liberal” crowd any more, they won’t have me. It doesn’t matter what I actually think; it’s guilt by association. This leaves out the issue of people not even trying to understand *why* someone might be on the other side fo an issue…I am talking about my being refused membership in the groups *I* want to associate with because I DO agree with them, because I don’t agree on *all* the issues.

    Maybe I am being incoherent. I am so upset about it, not the least reason because I know that people I know and love might also be convinced to (or already do) think you are a “bigot” for petitioning to have the law voted on…and those people might think that of me…and the world I always thought existed– in which rational and respectful discourse was still possible among people who care about each other — might not exist much at all anymore.

    I was going to email this to you but I can’t find an address here on the blog pages. Feel free to not publish this and treat it as an email if you like.