A Catholic Scholar Has a Change of Heart on Gay Marriage, and It’s a Doozy For All the Wrong Reasons

The New York Times has a piece that goes to great lengths to describe what a serious and weighty thinker Joseph Bottum is. Bottum is a conservative Catholic whose scholarliness is such that he refers casually to “Thomas” when he means the 13th-century Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas. You and I might find that vaguely amusing or off-putting, but the Times is smitten:

His erudite writing for conservative magazines like National Review and The Weekly Standard is laced with references to church history and theology and to Christian writers like G. K. Chesterton and W. H. Auden. He fiercely opposes abortion, and for five years, until 2010, he was editor in chief of First Things, a key opinion journal for religious conservatives.

Joseph Bottum

It seems that the Times now applauds Bottum primarily because he has changed his views on gay marriage. Only five years ago, Bottum railed against proponents of equal rights, calling them promoters of an “amoral world,” and adding in no uncertain terms,

God’s will is for marriage to be a covenant between a man and a woman. Nothing else will work.

Now he’s come around. Bottum (hold the jokes) is in favor of gay marriage, he explains in a long, aimless, meandering essay in Commonweal Magazine.

Here, as summarized in the Times, are the three key arguments through which Bottum came to his change of heart.

[1] Basic democratic premises like fairness, equal rights and majority rule suggest that the time for same-sex marriage has come, he says. We can agree, Mr. Bottum argues, that Americans are turning in favor of same-sex marriage, and there “is no coherent jurisprudential against it — no principled legal view that can resist it.” Furthermore, the bishops’ campaigns against same-sex marriage “are hurting the church.” Especially for the young, Catholicism is coming to symbolize repression.

True enough, but this is hardly the stuff of principles. “We’re losing this one, let’s move on” is not exactly what you’d expect from a man billed as a fierce intellectual.

[2] Natural law, as systematically explained by Aquinas in his treatise Summa Theologica, is the will of God as understood by people using their reason. Aquinas extrapolates many principles of natural law, including those of marriage. But Mr. Bottum contends that these rules are not the point.

Natural law, Mr. Bottum writes, depends for its force on a sense of the mystery of creation, the enchantment of everyday objects, the sacredness of sex. In the West, that climate of belief has been upended: by science, modernism, a Protestant turn away from mysticism, and, most recently, the sexual revolution. The strictures of natural law were meant to structure an enchanted world — but if the enchantment is gone, the law becomes a pointless artifact of a defunct Christian culture.

“And if,” Mr. Bottum writes, “heterosexual monogamy so lacks the old, enchanted metaphysical foundation that it can end in quick and painless divorce, then what principle allows a refusal of marriage to gays on the grounds of a metaphysical notion like the difference between men and women?”

Again, I’m underwhelmed. This second line of reasoning smacks of the same curious white-flag-waving that characterizes the first one. I even sense a bit of — petulance, perhaps? Divorce cheapens marriage, Bottum seems to be huffing, so letting the institution fall into further chaos by opening it up to “homosexuals” (as he liked to refer to gay people until very recently) will not cheapen it by much more.

It’s not really an argument, but an assessment of what’s feasible. It substitutes intuiting for thinking.

[3] Traditional-marriage activists would counter that we can at least begin a Christian renaissance by upholding marriage’s last connections to its Christian past. But Mr. Bottum says that’s the wrong starting point. “There are much better ways than opposing same-sex marriage for teaching the essential God-hauntedness, the enchantment, of the world,” he writes.

Better tactics might include “massive investments in charity, the further evangelizing of Asia, a willingness to face martyrdom by preaching in countries where Christians are killed,” and a churchwide effort to beautify the liturgy.

At this point I’m officially embarrassed for the man, damn the to-be-respected fact that he has changed his once non-conciliatory stance. There’s no shortage of words in Bottum’s gargantuan essay, but there certainly is a paucity of crisp argumentation. The entire thing ultimately rests on considerations of strategy, rather than on what he believes to be morally and intellectually right or wrong, and why. Bottum is content to observe the wind vane of public opinion, and finds it sufficiently turned away from his preferred direction that he no longer has the heart, or the energy, to weigh the actual merits of the case.

Sure, I’d rather have an influential Catholic on “our” side rather than seeing him pointlessly charging windmills for the sake of religious orthodoxy. I just wish he’d tried harder to convince other Catholics, instead of leaving them shaking their heads over the thinness of his opinions.

The thing that frankly puzzles me the most is not Bottum’s all-too-cursory mea culpa to gay people (which reads, in its entirety)

There’s been damage done in the course of this whole debate, some of it by me. And I’m not sure what can be done about it.

Instead, it is that while the Bible didn’t change (and neither did the works of the sainted Thomas Aquinas), Buttom now finds the opposite meaning in those books that he did a mere five years ago.

The willingness to revise one’s opinion is the mark of an intellectually serious person; but if the sacred writings by which millions or billions live their lives are so malleable as to support diametrically opposed exegeses, it’s time to admit that the solidity, relevance, and usefulness of these ur-texts are seriously in question.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • 3lemenope

    The guy comes to endorse a position you agree is best, and then you savage him for not using the same reasoning to get there? There is no pleasing some people. Newsflash: he’s a Catholic. He’s going to support whatever position he ends up supporting for reasons consonant with his Catholicism.

    • Jasper

      It could be argued that coming to the right conclusion for the wrong reasons is insufficient, and even dangerous.

      It’s the same reason why people who become atheists for bad reasons are more likely to stop being atheists for bad reasons… and then spread the word on just how bad it was to be an atheist.

      • 3lemenope

        It’s the same reason why people who become atheists for bad reasons are more likely to stop being atheists for bad reasons… and then spread the word on just how bad it was to be an atheist.

        This is a hop-skip-jump from “no true atheism”, and is of a piece of the same reasoning that folks use when trying to engage in a no true [whatever]. The reasons why people are atheists (or for that matter, Catholics) are extremely diverse and generally very personal. To assert that some reasons for being an atheist are better than others is dangerously close to saying that some atheisms are better than others in the domain of atheism generally. By these standards, seeing as how the vast majority of atheists are apatheists, most atheists are atheists for “bad reasons”, e.g. no positively asserted reason at all.

        It could be argued that coming to the right conclusion for the wrong reasons is insufficient, and even dangerous.

        In a diverse polity, people will come to a similar conclusion for all sorts of reasons. If the reason why a given atheist wants to see gay marriage approved is For Great Justice™, while a given Catholic does so because s/he wishes to not be lumped in with obnoxious Evangelicals, the result is the same. It is not dangerous but essential to the functioning of a diverse society that people come to positive policy decisions by their own reasoning. To insist on a particular “why” seems to me to entirely miss the point of having the political system and social norms that we have.

        • keddaw

          Not exactly, his reasoning suggests that should religiosity increase to such a degree that opposing gay marriage would not hurt the church he’d jump right back on that bandwagon.

          It’s like a white supremacist who hasn’t altered their beliefs but recognize the political reality that, at present, lynching people is politically harmful to their cause, but change the political weather and they’re be out there with a rope before you can say “where’s my good hood?”

          • 3lemenope

            If you want a racism metaphor it’s actually much more like a white guy who sees the stark inequity of segregation but still doesn’t want his daughter dating a black guy. If segregation still exists, you want his vote for ending it because you aren’t exactly spoiled for choice. You can visit what’s in his heart after you’ve won that vote if you really want to and are a masochist.

            • keddaw

              No, you’re not reading his reasons:
              1. It harms the Church’s attendance esp. with the youth (fear of irrelevance);
              2. Marriage is no longer a sacred bond in society (acceptance);
              3. Head east, there’s plenty of people where we can create a society where marriage keeps its sacred links and so gays can be banned from marriage there (tactics).

              Or, to put it another way, if Bottum was asked if a very religious country, say Poland, Malta or Italy with 90%+ Catholics, where divorce is difficult and religion rife, should adopt gay marriage, what do you think his answer would be?

            • Bitter Lizard

              In other words, the segregationists should dictate the terms of discourse for everyone else.

              • 3lemenope

                How you got that out of my comment I will never guess, so why don’t you explain it.

                • Bitter Lizard

                  In your above comment, you describe modulating your criticisms of racism based on where the racist is on segregation. By this model, the racist is the one determining what we can or can’t talk about since you’re making the discourse contingent on his position.

                • 3lemenope

                  By this model, the racist is the one determining what we can or can’t talk about since you’re making the discourse contingent on his position.

                  Which is why I was confused when you asserted it was the segregationist who controlled the terms of discourse. Yes, the undecided middle does get to dominate the discourse, because successful social arguments are going to be honed and targeted to their values and prejudices, not those on the poles. In the 1960s, your average white guy is sorta racist and sorta against segregation. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to put together a political coalition capable of ending segregation.

                  Do you, (a) Loudly call all racists secret segregation supporters?

                  or

                  (b) Concentrate on the inequity of segregation that is apparent even to racists and make common cause with a broad coalition?

                  This isn’t Oregon Trail. There are right answers.

                • Bitter Lizard

                  I think my other response to you below addresses most of this, so I’ll wait for your response instead of continuing two simultaneous discussions where we both have to repeat ourselves a lot.

                • jferris

                  Please continue, all of you. Wonderful discourse. Civil, intellectual, causing one to think against pre-defined beliefs. Thanks, I was going to just skim the comments because they are usually monotonous (after the first original thought) but that was somewhat refreshing. Looking forward to more.

        • Jasper

          “This is a hop-skip-jump from “no true atheism”, and is of a piece of the same reasoning that folks use when trying to engage in a no true [whatever].”

          It’s not even close to a “No True Scotsman” fallacy. There are lots of people who are actually atheists, but that doesn’t mean they arrived to that position in rational ways. This is in no, way, shape or form a logical fallacy to recognize.

          “The reasons why people are atheists (or for that matter, Catholics) are extremely diverse and generally very personal. To assert that some reasons for being an atheist are better than others is dangerously close to saying that some atheisms are better than others in the domain of atheism generally. By these standards, seeing as how the vast majority of atheists are apatheists, most atheists are atheists for “bad reasons”, e.g. no positively asserted reason at all.”

          So basically your objections boil down to A “is close to” B, even though they’re distinctly different.

          If someone thinks that Earth has one moon because Taro cards said so, even though he/she is correct on the result, the process is messed up (as opposed to counting how many moons we have).

          The conclusion is not as important as the process, because if the process is screwed up, the fact the person happens to get one thing right is statistically bound to be dwarfed by all the other things they get wrong.

          It IS better that the process be correct too.

          ” If the reason why a given atheist wants to see gay marriage approved is For Great Justicetm, while a given Catholic does so because s/he wishes to not be lumped in with obnoxious Evangelicals, the result is the same. It is not dangerous but essential to the functioning of a diverse society that people come to positive policy decisions by their own reasoning. ”

          And their agreement on that one topic will be coincidental, not evident, and it’ll work against the functioning of a diverse society who’ll be squabbling about everything but that one topic, because they can match up opinions, due to chaotic reasoning.

          In addition, the whole point of having the political system is not so that people can use their own reasoning, but rather, that they use their reasoning to bring others onboard with theirs. It’s called “persuasion”. How else do different factions come to an agreement on something, if not trying to persuade the other side? Do they just flip a coin?

          If women and gays are given rights, not because they’ve been decided upon through the right reasoning, but rather, because Christians, for example, decide they don’t have enough power to enforce their ideals.. then that erroneous reasoning for allowing those rights becomes unstable. As soon as they’re in power again, those rights will vanish, as opposed to if they agree with the reasoning that those groups should have rights, for the right reasons.

          Look at the voting rights that Republicans are systematically destroying right now – they relented before, which was technically the right position, but now that the bad reasoning is gone, they’re at it again.

          The reason why we have so much political unrest is because many people don’t arrive to the right conclusions for the right reasons.

          • 3lemenope

            You presented two classes of atheists (one implicitly), those with “bad reasons” to be an atheist, and those with “good reasons” (presumably) to be an atheist. You said that the first category is dangerous specifically because they are likely to be fairweather atheists whose commitment to atheism is such that they are easily fooled by bad reasons to become not-an-atheist.

            This is, if not an outright disguised No-True-Atheist, edging up so close to the line that the distinction becomes trivial hair-splitting. How close is that to the temptation to call such ex-atheists “never really were atheists”, something that readily falls out of poster’s mouths when we discuss people like Kirk Cameron?

            As for process, yeah, it would be peachy keen if everyone agreed not just with what I wanted but also why. They don’t. I’m not going to waste too much time trying to get those who agree with me for other reasons to agree with me for what I think are the “right” ones. Any social movement worth its salt isn’t going to bother with that either, and if you look at the history of said movements, they took allies wherever they could get them.

        • Gribble

          We should not be marching towards particular conclusions regardless of how we get there. We should be skeptics, critically thinking about issues using the evidence available and coming to a conclusion that flows from the evidence. We shouldn’t celebrate those who get an answer we agree with by guesswork or false reasoning, we should celebrate those who get the “right” answer through a strong and supported process.
          While we should celebrate that this nincompoop is no longer working against gay marriage, there is little praiseworthy in how he reached his conclusion.
          Someone who learns to think critically will find it easier to get better conclusions, not just on gay marriage, but on vaccination, climate change, energy policy, health, education and so on. Someone who gets a right answer (Bottum) through fallacious reasoning is is just as likely to get the other issues wrong, or be unable to change his stance on issues when new evidence is made available.

    • Art_Vandelay

      His reasoning isn’t consonant with Catholicism though. It’s really all just a recognition that the rest of the world is moving forward in spite of religion trying to hold us back and Catholicism needs to join in with humanity as to stop making them look like assholes. When the day comes that gay marriage is an afterthought and it would be embarrassing to admit you ever opposed it, the church will try to take credit for it. After being a tool for oppression for so long, it would be ill-conceived to let them do that.

    • islandbrewer

      I sort of agree, but at the same time, this guy is supposedly lauded as a principled intellectual. He hasn’t really changed his mind per se, he’s merely grumbled, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Let’s moved on,” after it was obvious that he was on the losing side of history.

      If he actually changed his mind, he would have said something like, “I was wrong, and here is where my reasoning has changed. I apologize for being so [insert appropriate adjective here].” Instead, he’s taken the attitude of “Well, I can’t beat you, so just ignore me.”

      Not unlike Orson Scott Card.

      • Doomedd

        His 3rd point sounds a little like “We can spread in Asia and create a fortress of bigotry here. This guy really scare me.

    • Spuddie

      Its not really an endorsement of the position. Its petulant capitulation. Its saying “My position is against this but I don’t have the energy to bother fighting it.”

      • 3lemenope

        I’m confused. Isn’t this exactly what we want Catholics to do? Or are we slipping over into arguing that Catholics not only have to stop fighting gay marriage, but also must in their heart-of-hearts love it?

        • Spuddie

          Not exactly. At best its more of a cease-fire than a victory.

          The hostility of the Catholics is still there. It still lends credence to the idea of treating gays as less than people.

          They will seek a change of methods in achieving the same goals as before. Kind of like how anti-abortion politicians use phony medical rationale to create de facto bans or how people try to sneak school prayer in through student groups.

          • flyb

            For me, I see a better comparison to interracial marriage. It was not something that was accepted overnight by everyone in exactly the same ways. Some religious people and others were still opposed to it after the Loving decision (and perhaps still are) but mostly people have come around to see it is not a big deal now and wonder what was the big deal to begin with.

            • Spuddie

              And there was still a lot of resistance by Southern Baptists to that as well. In some cases, there still is. It was only when a generation passed and they revised their history was there anything resembling outright acceptance.

              I expect in about 20-30 years, the Catholic Church will say they were supportive of it all along.

              • Anna

                Oh, I doubt that, but I do think most Catholic churches will eventually look the other way, the same as they do with birth control, divorce, and remarriage. They’ll tell you they’re against those things, but they don’t really talk about them anymore. It’s not in their best interests to alienate most of their members.

                • Spuddie

                  You’re right. That seems more in keeping with how they handle such things.

          • 3lemenope

            I don’t know how many different ways I can say this:

            You can’t (in a free society) force people to like what you like. People who are hostile to an institution, an activity, even a group of people are in all likelihood going to continue to do so when the society at large has moved on. Many individuals are still racists long after the civil rights movement smashed all the legal barriers. But that’s not to say that breaking those barriers required a lot of social capital, some of which was provided by people who were racist but had come to realize the specific and stark inequity of segregation. Would the movement had done so well if black leaders went to visiting the private opinions of black people that some of their white allies held?

            It’s only really after the legal battle is won that you can work the moral suasion of the larger society on fixing hearts and minds, as expressions of racism, or in this case homophobia, become increasingly socially unacceptable. When children start correcting their own parents on what is acceptable, that’s when you’ve won. You seem to want to skip a few steps.

            • Spuddie

              You can’t mistake seething hostility with acceptance either.

              All I am trying to say is its nice that they are claiming to waive the white flag here, but I am a little skeptical.

              The kind of rhetoric employed still makes it a distinct possibility we are only talking about a change of methods, not about a change of goals. It may not be the victory you think it is. Not yet anyway.

    • vivekananda

      Why shouldn’t people be allowed to question the reasoning he provides for his change of position, especially when he provided mostly strategic reasons benefiting the future health of the Church rather than speaking on moral grounds, either disavowing his previous comments on traditional marriage being “God’s will” or the Church’s moral teachings on the sinful nature of homosexual acts (obviously this’ll never happen). Instead, he talks about the Church focusing its efforts on appealing to the youth or on the “evangelizing of Asia”, where many of us heathens live so that our native, indigenous religions are rooted out in favour of his own.

      • 3lemenope

        Instead, he talks about the Church focusing its efforts on appealing to the youth or on the “evangelizing of Asia”, where many of us heathens live so that our native, indigenous religions are rooted out in favour of his own.

        If this were the primary grounds for a criticism, it would be a fertile one. But it isn’t; most people seem to be complaining that he isn’t enthusiastic enough about gay marriage, that it is only for tactical reasons that he counsels disengagement. Which seems more than a bit thought-policeish to me; in a free society you can’t legitimately demand that a person love something, only that they allow it.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          In a free society people are allowed to criticize what you say and publish just as you are free to say and publish it. No one has suggested that he be censored. They are simply disagreeing with what he said and/or how he said it. That is their right. That’s not “thought police”. How absurd.

          • 3lemenope

            That is their right. That’s not “thought police”. How absurd.

            I meant it in a very specific way which I thought was clear. It’s thought-policeish insofar as people seem satisfied with the policy result but wish to visit the personal reasons for the policy conclusions, and on those grounds engage in what amounts to a very obnoxious “you’re not good enough to be our ally” routine. Obnoxious in particular because turning away allies for insufficient ideological purity is supposed to be their game.

            • Bitter Lizard

              So where do you draw the line between “valid criticism” and “thought police seeking out ideological purity” when critiquing somebody’s reasoning? Is there an objective way of determining this for every situation, or is it more like something that you just determine personally? My view is that criticism is only invalid if its facts or reasoning are invalid.

              • 3lemenope

                I’m not saying the criticism is invalid. I’m saying it is improvident. I’m saying that by engaging in this particular criticism of a person who has (clearly with much personal pain and a public risk of shaming from his own “people” so to speak) come out in favor of something you want, you discourage anyone similarly situated of making a similar positive move. And, not for nothing, but it is churlish to visit the reasons by which someone comes around to agreeing with you and find them insufficient.

                • ShoeUnited

                  To touch on your ideas, I don’t want religiously inclined people to accede to a defeat. I want them to treat other people as humans because they want to and because it is right. Not because they admit that they can’t win the fight. Where is the love and honor in that? I would rather have a hundred enemies who state how much they hate me, than to have 10 friends who kowtow to my presence with a knife behind their backs.

                  And that’s what’s going on here. That’s the problem of the reasons. He isn’t saying “You know what? Jesus said love your neighbor.”, he’s saying “We’re losing this battle, so let’s quit fighting it before we lose the war. Let’s go shift over here and rethink our ways so that we can win in the end.” and that isn’t acceptance.

                  It’s a poisoned well. If I say “Christians shouldn’t be allowed to live.” and then notice a growing trend against me to then sometime later say “Clearly society is in favor of having Christians. So let’s stop fighting here before there are no more atheists. We can concentrate in Asia where there’s tons of Chinese people and we can work from there.” Would my actions be just? Would my reasons be right? Would a Christian have any right to trust me with their children?

                • 3lemenope

                  This is driving me bonkers. So, to sum up, we shouldn’t ask white people to end segregation unless and until they could make peace with the fact that their children might date interracially? Until they could with pure love and acceptance sit down at the table of brotherhood blah blah blah…seriously?

                  We’d still be a segregated nation, but hey! The desegregationists would all be doing it for the right reasons and I’m sure that matters on some level, just not the practical one of ending segregation.

                  Is is the case that gay marriage is legal in the vast majority of the US? No? Then stop attacking people who argue, for whatever reason, that it should be. There are millions of Catholics in the US. If this guy gives cover for them to disengage from this piece of the culture wars, why is everyone so damn hellbent on opining how that isn’t good enough? You want those Catholics to stay opposed, thus guaranteeing the culture wars be dragged out for longer to the disadvantage and cost of only one group: the very people who seek to have their civil rights respected and enshrined into law?

                • ShoeUnited

                  You misunderstand me. Or I wasn’t clear.

                  To use your segregation metaphor, society decides the trends of right and wrong. Segregation was wildly unpopular among large segments of the population. But it was a trend that more and more people desired because it was right and just. But that doesn’t stop some people from being racist. Stopping segregation didn’t turn that off overnight. If we were to merge your and my examples, what I am saying is that I’d rather have a racist spout obscenities at me than pretend he’s my friend until later that night. Because the one telling me how he feels (even if it’s in a hateful way) is still letting me know so I can keep myself safe. Even if the law and the majority of society say it’s illegal for him to spit in my eggs, at least when he’s calling me a slur I know to avoid eating those eggs.

                  Yes, the change is good. But there is a thing about wolf in sheep’s clothing. A fly in the ointment. A snake in the chicken coop.

                  Just because he and I can agree that society is against him on an issue, doesn’t change the fact that he’s not actually supporting the issue.

                  He didn’t say “Gay Marriage is Right.” he said “Gay Marriage is Inevitable.”

                  And if I’m supposed to stop attacking people for not sharing my principles (which I’ve only actually ever argued to reason with them to better themselves and treat all humans equal), then by your argument and complaints, why are you arguing? Perhaps because you have convictions (which I think are misguided but honest)? Overwhelmingly, people are saying they don’t like the way he did this. And you keep insisting that we are all having a problem because he quit fighting. When that isn’t even the issue.

                  You are not missing the forest from the trees. You are missing the forest from the trees in a completely different forest.

                • 3lemenope

                  Overwhelmingly, people are saying they don’t like the way he did this. And you keep insisting that we are all having a problem because he quit fighting. When that isn’t even the issue.

                  Huh? I keep insisting that y’all are having a problem because of the way he did this, a “problem” that is entirely self-inflicted, an inability to tolerate a plurality of reasoning (troubling-in-itself for liberal values of diversity and cosmopolitanism, esp. as they intersect with democracy) and an inability to accept that others aren’t going to love what you love (which is just generally troubling). I find that “problem” particularly nigh-stupid in light of the fact that he quit fighting, is declaring the fight is over, and is saying that his side really ought to go do other things.

                • ShoeUnited

                  So, you’re saying we are intolerant of his intolerance. That’s what you’re saying. By gum you’re right. I don’t like that he’s still hateful. And I do believe I have a right to voice my opinion stating that I don’t like his opinion.

                  Now tell me where in that train of thought he has the right to not like my opinion and I don’t have a right to not like his. Or his reasons. Or his methods. Point that out for me, cause I want to know where the line of privilege starts.

                • 3lemenope

                  That’s pretty clearly not what I’m saying, but if it makes you feel better then run with it.

                • ShoeUnited

                  If that’s not what you’re saying then you aren’t being clear. If it was clear, I’d understand what you’re saying. Running away isn’t an answer, isn’t clarification, and isn’t conducive to a rational argument.

                  Again, I ask you, if this is what you truly believe. That people shouldn’t try to argue with others when they’re in the minority, or because others just won’t agree, why the fuck are you still here arguing? Clearly you’re in the minority. Clearly others are not agreeing with you. By your own rationality, you should have left the moment you started bitching nobody was agreeing with you.

                  Are you being a cosmpolite? Is this your liberal values intersecting with democracy? Are you just a hypocrite? Or unaware that your actions contradict your own statements?

                  Are you giving up because I’m right? Are you afraid I’ll think less of you if you change your opinion?

                  I’m not looking for answers. As per my idiom, I ask question for you to reflect on your own actions and I then hope that you’ll come to at least better understand what you don’t agree with. It makes no difference to me if you don’t agree with my feeling that people should be challenged. But that’s not going to stop me from challenging anyone (including myself) when I disagree. And there’s plenty of times I’ve been wrong. I used to believe in hell and believed it was just. New data comes in, new arguments are presented, and myself and others are further moved to a greater understanding and love of one another. It isn’t a shifting a cities but grains of sand. A little at a time is all I can hope to do, but it’s enough that I try.

                  Cosmopolitanism isn’t a state of being, it’s a goal like perfection, love, and honesty.

                • 3lemenope

                  If that’s not what you’re saying then you aren’t being clear. If it was clear, I’d understand what you’re saying.

                  Thus ignoring the possibility that your parsing skills aren’t perfect, that you wouldn’t properly parse 100% of clear sentences correctly.

                  The rest of your comment was a flight of ridiculous rhetorical self-congratulation (i.e. “your idiom”), so the less left said about it the better.

                • Michael Fugate

                  Hey, if they waste their resources fighting a losing battle, then they can’t use them somewhere else. That is Bottum’s sole argument – let’s retreat from this war we have lost so we can fight another one somewhere else that we might win. And really he is encouraging people of faith to proselytize where they are likely to be killed? while he sits in his office reading Machiavelli and writing op-ed pieces?

                • 3lemenope

                  I’ll take that as a “yes”.

                  EDIT: Got Disqus’d! Originally this showed up as from ShoeUnited in my browser.

                • Bitter Lizard

                  The reasoning behind someone’s conclusions is important. For example, it’s great that evangelical Christians are cool with Jews, not so great that they see their annihilation as the key to the End Times.

                  I think I get where you’re coming from: you’re trying to be politically savvy about making this a step-by-step process where the more specific criticisms should be held until after major policy victories. But I have a few objections to this:

                  1) Social movements need politicians and ambassadors–I’m with you there–but I think it’s ridiculous to insist that everybody be one. There needs to be flat-out truth-tellers who are appropriately critical of everything, too. A movement can’t do honest thinking about an issue if it shuts out truth.

                  2) In politics, what is determined to be the “center” is determined by the extremes on the right and left. When the left moves to the right, so does the center. Likewise, having uncompromising people in a movement redefines what having a “moderate” viewpoint means.

                  3) I don’t believe in letting the bad guys determine the rules of discourse for everyone else. I think the people on the right side of reason and ethics should take the initiative on that.

                  (Edit: fixed a grammatical mistake in the first sentence that was bugging me.)

                • 3lemenope

                  The reasoning behind someone’s conclusions is important. For example, it’s great that evangelical Christians are cool with Jews, not so great that they see their annihilation as the key to the End Times.

                  Eh, I think it tends not to matter outside of specific rare situations where the reason becomes more salient than the effect. Take your example, aid to Israel being supported by US whackadoodle evangelicals on, shall we say, reasons orthogonal to Israel’s long-term well-being. But, the end result is that Israel gets more in military and non-military aid from the US than anyone else. Of the nearly countless ways that aid plays a role in the well being of Israelis (for good or ill), how many are affected by the reason motivating the giving? I think you’ll struggle to come up with even one example.

                  I think I get where you’re coming from: you’re trying to be politically savvy about making this a step-by-step process where the more specific criticisms should be held until after major policy victories.

                  You are correct that my criticism is primarily a strategic one, not one based in an evaluation of the legitimacy of the criticism itself. I think there is plenty in the reasoning provided to criticize if criticism were an academic activity. Problem is, right now most homosexuals in the US do not have the right to marry, it’s an uphill battle in many places precisely because people rely on religious reasoning akin to that employed by Bottum, and that traditional rational arguments haven’t had much purchase among people who reason in that way. There is practical exigence in taking allies where one can, especially those who are speaking in the language of the enemy, because the overriding moral imperative of the situation is to make gay marriage legal!

                • Bitter Lizard

                  I think the basis of our disagreement is becoming a little clearer to me now. You are focused on achieving immediate, measurable goals and believe the discourse about relevant topics should primarily, if not exclusively, be directed around achieving them. I take a broader view of the purpose of discourse.

                  (Actually, I think there may be a second, related disagreement–regarding the efficacy of certain strategies for political change–that is illustrated by the three numbered points I made. But so as not to muddy the waters further, I’ll put that aside.)

                  Of the nearly countless ways that aid plays a role in the well being of Israelis (for good or ill), how many are affected by the reason motivating the giving?

                  Regarding the specific example you give here, you might be right that it doesn’t. Well, maybe not–the specific terms of the relationship between evangelicals and the Israeli right seems to have some toxic implications for foreign policy in a region riddled with religious violence–but I’ll concede it for the sake of argument.

                  The problem of your specific example is that it’s too specific. The irrationality of the End Times proponents is a problem in and of itself. It still would have been irrational a hundred years ago, but a hundred years ago nobody could have forseen how End Times views would actually affect the way a lot of people–including politicians–are dealing with climate change policy, to give one example. We can’t always forsee the adverse consequences of irrationality. But irrationality in and of itself is a bad thing, and worthy of criticism strictly because it’s irrational.

                  I think there is plenty in the reasoning provided to criticize if criticism were an academic activity.

                  Here’s part of where I think we differ: I don’t think of criticism of the thought behind serious moral issues as just an “academic activity”. I think it’s valuable. This guy is presented as an intellectual by The New York Times. Yes, the discourse between academic types may seem to be worlds away from Joe Bob the Baptist from Kentucky, but it matters. Bottum’s ideas obviously matter to a small but significant number of people. So if he’s full of shit on something, he should be called on it.

                  This goes back to the same point: irrationality deserves to be called out whenever it rears its head precisely because it is irrational. Irrationality is the underlying root cause behind homophobia, racism, End Times beliefs, religion in general and all the other examples and analogies that have come up. Irrationality will be responsible for things we don’t know about yet. I agree with you that your way of approaching things–immediate, measurable goals–is important. But I think an open, rational criticism of all ideas regardless of some perceived measurable benefit is also essential for the broader human project of keeping stupidity at bay.

                • OregonJeff

                  Never confuse acquiescence with favor. This is *not* favor. This is an “oh, crap, our position is totally overrun” statement, with an underlying “we’re still right” tone.

                  I don’t much care how much or little “personal pain or public risk of shaming” this intellectual celibate masquerading as a “thinker” is risking. He took on that risk by being on the wrong side of the debate from the beginning, seeing and ignoring valid counterarguments, and refusing until now to admit he was wrong. His “people” can metaphorically burn him at the stake and I won’t care.

                  Similarly, I don’t at all care how painful a change in position is. It should be in proportion to the intensity and length of time which you’ve defended your newly abandoned position. Frankly, I also don’t care if people change their minds. I care about changing laws. Those that won’t or can’t change their minds will die and their terrible ideas about reality will die with them.

                  No, it’s not churlish to visit why someone has changed their position. It’s important, actually, to understand why. If people are changing their position for reasons unanticipated, perhaps the messaging needs to change to focus on the unanticipated “better” argument. If people are changing their position for the wrong reasons, the approach should focus on that to educate *why* that reasoning is wrong, so as to avoid protracting the matter any longer than necessary. Specifically, if the reason isn’t agreement, but is mere acquiescence in order to regroup and dig back in in opposition, then it’s absolutely vital to know that and let them know their “agreement” is insufficient.

            • Whirlwitch

              He’s not an ally. That’s not obnoxious, that’s the truth. He’s still not seeing me as a full an equal person, he still doesn’t see my marriage as a full and equal marriage. It has nothing to do with “ideological purity”, just one simple principle – if you see me as lesser, you are not my ally.

              • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

                Agreed. And I don’t think your definition of ally is too much to ask. In fact, I think it ought to be the bare minimum we should expect from anyone.

            • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

              But he’s not really an ally. I’ve been through this before. People who don’t follow gay stories closely often see one big public statement and don’t see the backpedaling that happens a week later or the research that reveals that they lied about something. A good example of this is Rick Warren. Warren claimed in public statements to have nothing to do with Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill. But public statements he made in Uganda reveal the opposite. Our lazy media didn’t bother to do any research and merely took his words at face value. Yes, he’s against those laws when speaking in the U.S. In Africa he speaks out of the other side of his mouth. I find that terribly frustrating. I realize that most people who aren’t gay don’t have time to read multiple blogs and news sources to stay on top of these stories but the fact that people can get away with this shit infuriates me. So this is an anti-gay person who made one kind of not-all-that-anti-gay statement (along with the gayest looking picture he could have). So excuse me if one op-ed isn’t enough for me to be convinced someone isn’t actively working against gay rights. As a certain movie star once said, “Don’t fuck with me fellahs, this ain’t my first time at the rodeo.”

              • Michael Fugate
                • Spazticus

                  I can’t say I’m remotely surprised.

                • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

                  I had hoped I was wrong about this guy. Sometimes I am. I’m happy to discover that people aren’t as bad as I had suspected. I wish it happened more often than it does, in fact. He’s not an ally. He’s just trying to rebrand his message because he doesn’t like being seen as an anti-gay bigot. Too bad it doesn’t occur to him that the best way to accomplish that is to STOP BEING AN ANTI-GAY BIGOT.

            • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

              I don’t see anything in what he wrote that comes anywhere close to “ally”. If he wants to stop fighting that’s fine, but don’t expect me to throw him a fucking parade for accepting the obvious.

          • Bitter Lizard

            I posted a link in another thread to a recent evangelical blog post where the author insists that other people saying they’re offended by his beliefs is somehow an infringement on his religious freedom (feel free to troll).

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2013/08/the-meaning-of-religious-freedom/

            It is one of my biggest pet peeves (and I have a few) when people equate criticism with censorship or force. Everybody having a right to free speech means, by definition, that nobody has a right to be immune from criticism or being offended.

    • MyScienceCanBeatUpYourGod

      “I support something because it’s right” is NOT the same as “I support something because I can’t possibly win against it.”

      One is a declaration of agreeing with and supporting a moral conviction. The other is reluctant acceptance of something you have always been against and always will be against.

      News Flash: We know whatever position he ends up supporting will be consonant with his Catholicism. And that position is CRAZY. And such craziness should be exposed and ridiculed when it is presented to the world under the guise of intellectualism.

      Someone who stops fighting you because they have changed their mind and now think you are right becomes your friend. Someone who stops fighting you because they think they can’t win is still your enemy, biding their time, waiting for a better opportunity to attack you again.

      • Anna

        Someone who stops fighting you because they think they can’t win is still your enemy, biding their time, waiting for a better opportunity to attack you again.

        Very true, and we’ve seen what the Catholic church is capable of. When it has the power to use the law to force people to abide by its rules, it does so.

        • Pofarmer

          Which is also why the Catholic Church must not win against Obamacare, not matter what you think of that particular bill.

    • The Other Weirdo

      He is saying they can’t win, so they might as well just go with it. They don’t believe in it, and for every 10 steps forward, they’ll force you to take 9 back. That’s not the same thing as endorsing a position.

      Reasons do matter, you know.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      I once had a neocon columnist tell me that he opposed the death penalty because he didn’t trust the government to carry it out correctly, as in, to execute people in a timely fashion. This was right after I described how common it is for people who make Death Row to later be determined innocent on new evidence, and how the death penalty isn’t serving any actual purpose such as deterrence. I didn’t count him as an ally, because he didn’t understand the basic principles of the position. His position wasn’t based on reason, but on his paranoid, anti-government ideology. One article from The Blaze or a Hannity rant would have gotten him back in lockstep, so there was no trusting him.

      That said, the expediency of counting a person with irrational and reprehensible views as an ally is always something to be considered. It just depends on what that person has demonstrated to that point.

  • Peter Mountain

    “Hold the jokes” ~ love it

  • paulmoloney

    Hey, he’s young but wearing an old fogey jacket and tie. He must be an intellectual.

    P.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      i was thinking the same thing. “look at me, in my professorial chair surrounded by all these books! i’ve even read some of them, that’s why they’re in the picture with me!”

      whatever, dood. catholic apology is a legitimate degree, but it isn’t really that impressive unless you like people with esp highbrow versions of grift and bullshitting.

  • unclemike

    He could have been actually brave and intellectual by saying something like, “The bible has gotten many things wrong, like slavery, women’s rights, the eating of shrimp, the value of pi…the bible also got gay relationships wrong, and we need to blah blah blah.”

    But he didn’t.

  • Stev84

    Once more showing that “natural law” is whatever someone pulls out of their ass.

    And that the only thing churches really care about is converts and the money they bring. Once their positions don’t pay anymore, they change.

    • flyb

      I agree with you that the churches only care about themselves, and these decisions tend to be for selfish reasons. But I also think it is important for us to take “changes” like these as small victories. Ones that will foment even modicums of doubt and change in others that follow these people. Minds will not be changed instantaneously or for the same reasons.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.freshfield Matt Jones

    His U-turn can be explained in two words: self interest.
    ‘…campaigns against same-sex marriage “are hurting the church.”’

    • Carpinions

      That’s the gist of it. That will be the gist of the GOP eventually acquiescing and falling down the stair case into “accepting” homosexuality and LGBTQ marriage. They’ll never do it on the right bases, only because it’s costing them votes and money.

    • JET

      It seems he’s been taking lessons from his Mormon brethren. All that racist and polygamy stuff in our holy book? Let’s just have a revelation telling everyone to ignore it for political purposes. It’s all still there of course, and those of us “in the know” realize that it’s still true, but it’s making us look like assholes in public. To say nothing of keeping blacks and women from joining our ranks. And they won’t find out they’ve been bamboozled and kept out of the highest order of heaven until it’s too late to do anything about it anyway.

  • KMR

    Personally I think this is probably the best you can hope for in regards to theologically conservative folks. They think the Bible teaches that all homosexual relationships are wrong and it’s not like they are pulling that position out of their asses. If they change their mind because of a strategic reasons so be it because at least they’re changing their minds.

  • Gus

    I don’t know, it sounds to me like his argument is basically: “We lost. We’re wrong. They’re right that we have no legal or moral basis for our position.” I guess I just don’t expect much more than that from someone like him. Maybe if he’d just stripped away the rest of the words and said that more clearly…

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Thank you! I can’t tell you how many gay bloggers have gushed over this nonsense in the last week. And nonsense is all it is.

  • The Captain

    Actually he does get the most important part about gay marriage right.

    As he says there “is no coherent jurisprudential against it — no principled legal view that can resist it.” This is all that need be said. I don’t care about the rest of anything he says after that. This has been the most important thing to get people to understand in the gay rights fight. The legal arguments against gay marriage have all been rubbish! That popular opinion is now swinging to the the favor of gay marriage is great, but it has always been the legal basis for “traditional marriage” laws that where the real travesty. Peoples rights should not depend on popular opinion.

    The fact that Bottum gets that there is no judicial argument against gay marriage is the most important thing he says. That is what religious people need to understand, they can hate something, be against it, but that doesn’t give them the right to use the rule of law to stop others from doing it. To skip that and just bash him for the crapy packaging of that idea to fellow christians shows Fima either really misses the point too, or doesn’t care if it gives him a chance to take a shot at someone. This whole article is badly focused.

    • 3lemenope

      The fact that Bottum gets that there is no judicial argument against gay marriage is the most important thing he says. That is what religious people need to understand, they can hate something, be against it, but that doesn’t give them the right to use the rule of law to stop others from doing it.

      Explain that to the rest of the comment thread, if you can. I’ve all but given up.

    • http://fractalheretic.blogspot.com/ Fractal Heretic

      Good point. I hate asparagus, but I don’t think it should be outlawed.

      • http://bearlyatheist.wordpress.com/ Bear Millotts

        Blasphemer! Asparagus contains the holy Vitamin K that leadeth to clotting!

        • jferris

          And noxious smelling pee….

          • Bdole

            Only for those cursed with the alleles for that smell receptor. I, thankfully, don’t have to endure the consequences of my asparagus addiction.

    • Janet Holmes

      But this man is a theologian, surely that means that his ideas about religion are what matters? Any jurisprudential argument against gay marriage is hardly his purview is it? Did he previously argue that there was such a thing and now realises there isn’t? Or did he argue that there’s a religious prohibition against gay marriage but now thinks we should ignore it because it’s hurting Holy Mother Church? Seems like the latter to me.

  • OregonJeff

    Ah, First Things, the end-point for so much of the writings of the Theocons during Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II. A read of The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege by Damon Linker is the only thing necessary to understand why Bottum is so staunchly anti-abortion, so staunchly, until now, anti-marriage equality, and so vapidly “academic”. It’ll also help explain why groups like this are so Johnny-come-lately to moral issues.

  • Bob Becker

    Having read through the entire comments thread, seems to me 3lemenope has offered the soundest argument. As for Mr. Buttum, I am happy he’s laid down his arms on this issue and raised the white flag. The particular — can I say Jesuitical? — twists and turns of theological musings that got him there matter, in practical terms, very little.

  • Lina Baker

    “a paucity of crisp argumentation.” Oh, this made me all tingly… well done!

  • Anna

    Natural law, as systematically explained by Aquinas in his treatise Summa Theologica, is the will of God as understood by people using their reason. Aquinas extrapolates many principles of natural law, including those of marriage.

    Remind me again why these people think we are obligated to pay attention to anything philosophers say. It seems like conservative Catholics (and others) rest their entire belief system on philosophers, who were all just ordinary human beings writing down their opinions on what they had been indoctrinated to believe as children. Who cares what some guy in the 13th century thought? How are his opinions relevant or important? It seems like Catholics have created this elaborate system of “natural law” and have just decided to act like it exists independently of their own assertions.

    Better tactics might include … the further evangelizing of Asia, a willingness to face martyrdom by preaching in countries where Christians are killed”

    Because what the world needs is further colonialism and teaching people that willingness to be killed for your religion is a good thing.

    • Pofarmer

      “It seems like Catholics have created this elaborate system of “natural
      law” and like to pretend that it exists independently of their own
      assertions.

      The worst thing is, individuals can’t get free to abandon it when it is clear that it doesn’t work.

      • Anna

        It’s sad that they devote so much time and energy to defending something which doesn’t even exist outside of their own theology.

        • Pofarmer

          Well, hell, just read Bad Catholic or Longenecker here on Patheos. They are constantly redefining things to fit the “Catholic worldview”. The whole thing is nuts.

    • Bitter Lizard

      I find modern analytic philosophy on ethics and epistemology really interesting and challenging, and think reading up on some of these debates has made me a sharper thinker. It’s just that when philosophy gets chained to a bunch of ridiculous assumptions about transubstantiation and miracles and whatnot, all of that rigorous thinking is for nothing.

      • Anna

        While I’m sure a basic education in philosophy is worthwhile (I took some classes on the subject in college), I just don’t understand why Christians seem to think that philosophers should be listened to. They can have their opinions, and they can create elaborate arguments to justify those opinions, but at the end of the day it’s still just their own point of view.

        Are we obligated to take philosophers seriously and deconstruct their arguments? What if we disagree with the premises upon which their arguments are founded? I had a long conversation with a fundamentalist Catholic on another thread who didn’t like the fact that I refused to engage with his philosophical arguments.

        If someone starts talking about “natural law” as if it is real, then I just dismiss the argument. There’s no evidence such a thing exists outside of Catholic theology, and I’ve never understood why a theologian or a philosopher is supposed to be different from any other human being.

        • Bitter Lizard

          Most influential modern analytic philosophers seem to be atheists, from what I’ve read. I don’t really think “Christian philosophers” are of much value either. When apologists insist that atheists address the more “sophisticated theologians”, they’re basically dragging their feet (notice that they almost never include a specific argument from one of these “sophisticated theologians”). If the premise is bogus, there’s really no reason to waste your time picking apart the arguments made from said premise.

        • RobMcCune

          The problem with these “christian” philosophers is the same problem with “christians” in other professions, namely that it is all just a means of promoting their faith. They don’t reflect poorly on philosophers the same way that a therapist using their practice to promote their religion doesn’t reflect negatively on that profession as a whole.

          What if we disagree with the premises upon which their arguments are founded?

          Well if you articulate what premises you disagree with and why, then you’re engaging that person’s arguments philosophically. With regards to natural law, if you’re an atheist who believes in evolution, then by definition you reject the premises. You don’t believe in any sort of natural order so the is-ought distinction applies to anything found in nature.

          What’s more, most catholics I’ve seen use natural law as a big exercise in begging the question where they make unjustified assumptions about nature. Namely that it follows the rules of their god. If they’re trying to establish natural law as somehow independent of divine commands, this is unacceptable.

          … I’ve never understood why a theologian or a philosopher is supposed to be different from any other human being.

          The same could be said of doctors, lawyers, and scientists to name a few. You are kind of on the right track here, since in many cases christian philosophers are name dropped as an argument from authority.

          • Anna

            Thanks! That makes a lot of sense. Actually, what made the conversation so frustrating was that he clearly believed that these philosophers had established certain premises as facts, whereas I felt they were clearly assumptions and thus did not warrant a blow-by-blow refutation.

            The same could be said of doctors, lawyers, and scientists to name a few. You are kind of on the right track here, since in many cases christian philosophers are name dropped as an argument from authority.

            I think that’s exactly it. It’s an appeal to authority, but unlike with doctors, lawyers, or scientists, the subject on which Christian philosophers claim to be experts has not actually been proven to exist. There’s a lot of name-dropping of Aquinas or Plato or Aristotle, but I remain utterly confounded by the notion that I should take those men’s opinions seriously when it’s obvious that they did not have any special knowledge about the universe.

  • Pofarmer

    Here’s the thing though, this gives them cover to simply stand by and allow Gay marriage to be enacted without actually supporting it, and then continue to attack it from the pulpit afterwords as “our fallen society” or whatever the hell they’ll come up with. It’s quite subversive, and very Catholic.

    • Chakolate

      Nonono— That’s not how they do it. It goes like this:

      Step 1) Fight viciously tooth and nail against any improvement in the lot of humanity

      Step 2) Admit, when you can no longer deny it, that humans seem to have taken this step.

      Step 3) Claim credit.

      For reference you can look at Christian churches’ record on civil rights.

  • rhodent

    Personally, I’m kind of glad his argument is such weak sauce. It undermines the very notion of the Catholic Church being a source of meaningful authority. It will probably be ignored by the vast majority of Catholics (as it would have even had it been a strong argument), but maybe this will get a few people thinking more critically about an institution that needs to be thought critically about.

  • Paula M Smolik

    “homosexuals” (as he liked to refer to gay people until very recently)
    What’s the point? One is more formal, one is less. Now “homosexual” is offensive? I’m tired of never knowing what word will offend someone. People call each other the N word. I can’t do it because I’m white. Which is what I’m still referred to as. I’ll just keep saying “black”, thank you.

    • Anna

      “Homosexual” has long been used by conservatives as a way to signal their disapproval. They refuse to say the word “gay,” hence the amusing Tyson Homosexual story:

      http://voices.washingtonpost.com/sleuth/2008/07/christian_sites_ban_on_g_word.html

      • Tor

        It’s similar to the way they use the words “Democrat Party,” instead of “Democratic Party.” But more offensive. Dog whistle.

    • Gus

      I have a hard time believing there’s anyone who doesn’t actually understand why black people can call each other niggers but white people can’t call them that. It’s really not that hard.

      • The Captain

        On a side note, actually young people (millennials for instance) and many non-americans don’t understand why white people can not use it. For many of them, it has never been a word used out of racial hatred, and they hear it all the time in music. I think in the next few years we are going to have a few awkward social moments and outcries as older people clash with a younger understanding of what a word means and how it is used (Fag being another one).

        • Nancy Shrew

          I’m an American millennial and there is absolutely no mistaking how offensive “nigger” is, especially when used by white people. It’s a similar deal with “fag”. Whenever I have taken issue with a peer for using a slur (in a non-reclaiming way) they generally acknowledge that the word /can/ be offensive, but then proceed to give special snowflake reasons for why /their/ usage is okay. You might have a point with non-Americans.

          • keddaw

            The only way to make nigger less offensive is to overuse it to the point at which it loses all power (and meaning?).

            Besides, no-one has the right not to be offended – that’s what atheists say, right?

            Of course, people setting out to deliberately offend for no other reason are dicks. Or comedians.

  • Mario Strada

    I actually refer to Aquinas as “Tommy boy”. That’s how we roll. Kant? I call him “Manny”.
    The only one I don’t call with a family nickname is John Calvin. He irritates me by always lugging around and talking that imaginary “Hobbs” character.

    • ajginn

      The only one I don’t call with a family nickname is John Calvin.

      He’s JC, mainly because he corrected the original JC’s teachings using Paulie as a primary source.

    • duke_of_omnium

      I call Aristotle “Doug,” but that’s an inside joke that only Doug and I can appreciate.

    • Bdole

      I call god, “good buddy.”
      It’s one of those opposite nicknames.

  • trj

    “Basic democratic premises like fairness, equal rights and majority rule suggest that the time for same-sex marriage has come”

    So he agrees that same-sex marriage is about fairness, equal rights, and basic democratic premises. And yet until now he just ignored these principles?

    “Yeah, sure, same-sex marriage is about equal rights, but I don’t think it should be allowed.”

    WTF? This guy is a “serious thinker”?

    • duke_of_omnium

      Wouldn’t that mean that those same premises would suggest that the time for birth control and female clergy have come?

      • Spazticus

        One can hope, but one concession at a time. I know this isn’t a victory, practically speaking.

  • ajginn

    What did you expect him to say – that the bible is wrong and can’t be trusted on this issue? The logical follow-up argument is “how can I know what, if anything, in the bible can be trusted? Is it all just made up BS that a bunch of primitive, superstitious people wrote thousands of years ago? Of course he’s not going to say that, but that does not mean the people who read this won’t think of that as a possibility. Baby steps.

  • rustywheeler

    “Natural law…depends for its force on a sense of the
    mystery of creation, the enchantment of everyday objects, the sacredness
    of sex.”

    Actually, Thomistic Natural Law depends for its force on 13th-century misapprehensions of what really goes on in nature.

    • duke_of_omnium

      And many of those misapprehensions are borrowed from 4th Century BCE Aristotle, whose writings on anything natural are almost universally wrong.

    • Guest

      Natural law depends on ignorance?

    • Anathema

      That line threw me off too. If I were asked to define “natural law” I would have said “a system where reason is used to determine moral or legal principles based on observations made regarding human behavior and the natural world.” (Well, at least that what it’s supposed to be in theory. Your description is probably a more realistic description of what the Catholic version of natural law is in practice.)

      I have no idea where any “sense of the mystery of creation” or “enchantment of everyday objects” is supposed to enter into it.

      Typically, proponents of natural law argue that natural law is universal and objective. But Bottum says this:

      The strictures of natural law were meant to structure an enchanted world — but if the enchantment is gone, the law becomes a pointless artifact of a defunct Christian culture.

      Which seems to imply that natural law only applies to certain people and certain societies, rather than being something objective and universal which applies to all people.

      Bottum statements about natural law seem far more subversive than his statements about marriage equality. Someone could argue in favor of marriage equality without disagreeing with the idea of natural law. But Bottum seems to be undermining the entire concept of natural law. (Not that this would necessarily be a bad thing . . . but it’s utterly bizarre coming from a conservative Catholic scholar.)

      • Tor

        Bottum’s description of natural law is totally creepy. Natural law does not equal Science.

  • Gerry Mooney

    From the Times article: “He took his family from Manhattan back to South Dakota three years ago, after he was fired by First Things, for reasons he will not discuss.”

    Now THERE’S a story waiting to be told!

  • Roxane Murray

    There has always been a pragmatic streak in the Catholic church. In the eleventh century, when there was a huge problem with drunk and fornicating priests of questionable literacy, there was a huge debate over whether a priest had to be in a state of grace–i.e., “clean since his last confession”– for his sacraments to “work.” The church basically decided that he didn’t; any ordained priest could say the words and his product would be OK, since they had no control over the behavior of individual priests and didn’t want their customers to start questioning the value of their product.

  • Michael Fugate

    Here is First Things take on the essay – they are not pleased.

    http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/08/23/joseph-bottum-weary-and-wearisome/

    “At one point in this bloated, interminable essay, meandering hither and yon, Bottum allows as how the authors of the Manhattan Declaration were chiefly thinkers and not writers. Never was it more obvious that the reverse is true of Bottum.”

  • Hi Father!

    If anyone is interested, Fr. Alfonse has a wonderful piece on homosexuality. Everyone go over and say hi!

    http://fralfonse.blogspot.com/2013/08/mt-2313-22-love-and-order.html

    • Hi Father!

      And by wonderful, I mean go over an make fun of his idiocy.

      • Anna

        I can’t bring myself to comment there, but it’s curious that he describes the student’s questions as “leading.” IMO, they’re pretty straightforward. Some of them are even weighted towards his side, ie: the use of the term “homosexual lifestyle,” the assumption that sin is a real thing, etc.

  • Rain

    effort to beautify the liturgy

    Sounds like a dishwashing commercial. Beautify your hands with Palmolive dishwashing liturgy. You’re soaking in it now!

    • Anna

      I find it interesting that he seems to think the liturgy is problematic. If there’s one thing Catholics do well, it’s their services. They may be baffling to an outsider, but I can see how people become emotionally attached to them, especially those who have a penchant for rituals.

      • Tor

        I don’t know. I have attended a few masses (mostly funerals) recently, and I find the liturgy to be truly ugly. The language is clunky, the phrasing awkward, and the meaning – well the meaning – just as irrelevant as ever. Still love the smoking purse.

        • Anna

          I think familiarity is what draws people in. Mass attendees know exactly what to expect, they know what to repeat in unison, and the language seems (to me) at least somewhat poetic, compared to what you’d find in evangelical churches. It’s less emotional and more dignified. Some people are drawn to that. I think if you changed the liturgy, all those Catholics who attend for the comfort of familiarity would be put off. At least most the ones I’ve spoken with seem to like the repetitive, traditional feel of it all.

          • Tor

            I grew up in a liturgical church, and you are correct, that there are no surprises in the service. The catholic liturgy was dramatically changed after Vatican 2, but I don’t know how that affected the people. Some claim the “mystery” of the Latin was lost. But, whatever. All I can say, is that current language of the catholic mass is not poetic or “mysterious.”

            • Anna

              I think I remember hearing that Catholics were pretty upset about Vatican 2, but I suppose they must have gotten over it. From what I’ve read about the most recent changes to the language used in Mass, it’s even less “poetic” than it was even a few years ago.

              I don’t get the “mystery” part, but maybe it’s related to the robes and the procession and the pageantry of it all. If people are raised in that environment, they might grow used to seeing these rituals as supernaturally-tinged.

          • Carmelita Spats

            I speak from experience: there is nothing dignified about eating the body and drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old virgin carpenter. Communion is creepy. When I was a child, I hated to eat spinach, guacamole and Jesus Christ. My parents obligated me to go through a
            first communion. At eight years old, I wore a white dress with a veil, just like a bride, and I was told that this was a special day because it was the first time that Jesus entered me. Yay. I remember being thoroughly disgusted while responsible-adults-with-background-checks
            instructed me to “swallow” and not “chew” Jesus because “chewing would be disrespectful”. Since I’ve always had violent issues with authority, Idecided to “fake swallow” Jesus and I put the nasty wafer inside my
            shoes. Catholics like the liturgy because it’s all about getting their mouthful of Savior on Sundays.

            Communion is creepy:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fBlkeH0Bhw&list=PL6FCB19B760FABA5C&index=20

            • Anna

              I meant “dignified” in contrast to churches where people shout out, wave their arms in the air, or roll around on the floor. I suppose it’s more a matter of decorum than dignity.

              I’ve been to lots of Catholic services, including First Communions, and I find the atmosphere creepy. The first few times were a novelty, but after you get used to it, the rote repetition and uniform movements really stand out as weird and cultlike.

  • Chakolate

    So easy to preach “a willingness to face martyrdom by preaching in countries where Christians are killed” from in front of your computer in the US, innit?

    • Anna

      Not to mention the disregard they seem to have for those they seek to convert. What about their potential converts getting killed? They’re going to go into these areas and teach people that they should be willing to die for their faith. How is that any different from what the fanatical Muslims do?

      • Derrik Pates

        But you see, because they believe, their soul will go straight to Heaven. Who cares about their actual life? That’s meaningless and expendable, y’know.

        • Anna

          Even that’s not a guarantee in Catholic theology. You can believe and still have to spend time in Purgatory first.

  • Hat Stealer

    Catholic drinking game: whenever some Catholic pseudo-intellectual says the word “metaphysical” in order to fluff up some stupid bullshit argument, take a drink.

    Good luck.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Jesus, I got sick of that word just reading Anita Blake books*. Now it just makes me stop paying attention. It actually means less than the word “spiritual” in common usage.

      *At some point we have to stop calling them “novels”.

      • Japooh

        *Agreed. Her readers seem to be participating in her personal therapy sessions, don’t they? I followed the series for longer than it merited and gave up when it became clear that no more stories would be forthcoming, having been preempted by metaphysical sex from cover to cover. Let’s just call them soft-core porn and be done with it.

    • Derrik Pates

      Sounds like a recipe for alcohol poisoning.

  • Swiper Fox

    Enough with the “Thomas” worship. He took a mish-mash of orthodox viewpoints and ran them through a sieve of platonic hogwash, always admitting that his First Principle was based on faith in God’s Word.

    “Natural Law” now…that was the greatest PR phrase ever!

  • Guest

    I’m all for them investing more money in charity, especially if the charities they pick have some way of measuring their own effectiveness, but they should leave Asia alone and the suggestion Christians should basically seek martyrdom is reckless and irresponsible considering his influence. We don’t need young men and women to die needlessly for a bullshit message. It’s a waste of human potential. And I bet the guy won’t be doing it himself.
    I think more and more Christians will give up the fight against gay marriage. A majority of the American public is now in favour. They will spend 5 to 10 years complaining how terrible it is once it’s finally made law, and then they’ll realise nothing has really changed and forget the whole thing.

  • Tor

    Yes. Beautifying the liturgy really should be the main focus of the church. Get the fuck out of my bedroom and fix your goddamned liturgy!! Maybe help some poor people, too. Forget evangelizing Asia. The already have their own gods.

  • Tor

    I have just read about 100 of the comments…..

    The issue is a non-argument. Same gender marriage is about a civil contract. It has nothing to do with “natural law” or the catholic church. The church will never be forced to perform marriages for divorced people, non-virgins, multiple partners, or whatever. In reality the church remains vocal, but irrelevant to the argument.

  • Neil

    “…while the Bible didn’t change (and neither did the works of the sainted Thomas Aquinas), Buttom now finds the opposite meaning in those books that he did a mere five years ago.”

    This is what the Bible allows. It’s precisely why the Bible is an extremely poor guide to morality. You can spin a line with supportive citation any which way. There’s been pro gay theological reasoning for decades. It’s no surprise we see more of it as public opinion becomes more accepting. Eventually it’ll become mainstream church thinking.

    The problem with the Bible is that it tends to promote absolutist rhetoric, so when the theological line is anti-gay, it’s supremely and righteously anti-gay.

  • Jonathan Weintraub

    The Bible condones slavery. Slavery’s proponents used the Bible until the Freedom Riders put their lives on the line, and the greater culture said “enough!” The “new” idea, that black people are fully human came from somewhere and for religious people, that somewhere is called the “Holy Spirit.” Maybe, as a next step, Mr. Bottoms will learn that the people he’s evangelizing in Asia are just fine the way they are.