The headline popped up on my Facebook feed: “Jessa Duggar’s Christian boyfriend deletes anti-Catholic Facebook rant”
For those who don’t know, the Duggar family is a reality TV family well-known for having many children and being religious Evangelical Christians, the two being connected through their belonging to the “Quiverfull Movement” which says married couples should have as many children as God will grant them. For obvious reasons, even though I’ve never watched the show, I’ve had a soft spot for the Duggars and their defiant rebellion against bien-pensant elite morality.
What to make, then, of Ben Seewald’s “anti-Catholic Facebook rant”?
From what I can tell from the Daily Mail‘s writeup (yes, that’s not much, but it’s what I have to go on), the “anti-Catholic” rant was not based on fantasy anti-Catholic prejudices, but rather on the interpretations of Scripture common to Evangelical Protestantism, in particular its rejection of Marian devotion.
Given recent and not-so recent events, American Catholics are understandably twitchy about Protestant anti-Catholic memes. But ultimately the public pressure that forced this man to delete his Facebook Post is to be deplored. As Ross Douthat pointed out in a very valuable column after an eerily similar fracas, one of the memes of late post-modern society is that a person’s particular religious views, being inherently a private and an irrational matter, and all religious views being in their essence basically the same, should not be subjected to public scrutiny.
As Douthat wrote, “[i]n practice, the admirable principle that nobody should be persecuted for their beliefs often blurs into the more illiberal idea that nobody should ever publicly criticize another religion. Or champion one’s own faith as an alternative. Or say anything whatsoever about religion, outside the privacy of church, synagogue or home.”
Even though he did it in the uncouth way one might expect from 19-year-old reality TV stars, as someone who views the privatization of religious belief and relativization of religious doctrine as essentially abhorrent, I can’t help but admire Mr. Seewald.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but yes: Evangelicals and Catholics have different views about Mary! We have different interpretations of Scripture! And while I believe (spoiler alert) that Mr Seewald’s interpretation is incorrect, I certainly agree with him that these questions matter, and I certainly agree that they are entirely appropriate topics of discussion for public fora. (Otherwise, needless to say, I wouldn’t have this blog.) That a point of view is liable to cause offense–and it is concerning that this should even have to be said–in and of itself tells us nothing about whether it should be spoken.
There is a difference between irrational prejudice and rational views; religious doctrine is indeed subject to critique, particularly Christians’ different interpretations of Scripture; and vigorous debate about these is in no way contradictory with Christian brotherly love. All Christians believe that Love finds its fullness in Truth, and Truth finds its fullness in Love.
So kudos to Mr Seewald for treating religious doctrine as something important and worth debating, and shame on the unthinking spasms of public outcry that mobbed him into censoring himself. Christians who treat doctrine as a serious thing are a blessing.