This Doesn’t Look Like a Victory to Me

Over in Patheos’s Catholic channel, Thomas McDonald of God and the Machine has run into a couple problem commenters.  Specifically, the kind of atheist who think posting the following in a Christian combox is equivalent to counting coup:

The creation story of your own religion involves a man created out of dust who is convinced by his rib-woman wife to eat a magical fruit because a talking snake told her that it would make them like gods. The universe as we know it took much longer than six days to form, human beings didn’t spring forth from dust or rib bones, fruit isn’t magical, and snakes lack the vocal apparatus or the mental ability to speak. Before you slam Mormanism [sic] for being False, make sure the insurance policy of that glass house of yours is all paid up.

The commenter has made the mistake of assuming that every Christian is a biblical literalist/Young Earth Creationist, and the attack just doesn’t map on to McDonald’s Catholicism.  But even if the aspiring pugilist had posted this in the right kind of combox, I really doubt the intended target would have been much moved.

Very few people shift their worldview on the mere fact that not everyone agrees with them.  For some cloistered, isolated people, this may be a big surprise, but people running a blog with open commenting don’t usually fall into that category.  So this kind of comment is, at best, equivalent to kicking someone in the shins and running away, and at worst, about as useful as biting your thumb.

Mark Shea of Catholic and Enjoying It tagged me in a follow-up post to ask

[How does Leah] endure the same cramped round of bad reasoning, bad faith, and anti-social behavior from her compatriots on the atheist community. Does she ever get sick of it and toy with the idea of throwing caution to the winds and becoming a nun just to make the A******s for Atheism freak out

The answer is I almost never run into this kind of commenter, from either side.  I don’t run out of fingers if I try to count the number of times a commenter has popped in just to tell me I’m going to hell.  And, unlike a lot of female bloggers, I haven’t gotten sexual threats or ever had someone threaten me offline (please see “A Woman’s Opinion is the Mini-Skirt of the Internet“).  My atheist readers are sometimes baffled by my metaphysics, but seldom call me stupid or take the kind of potshots that Thomas McDonald is enduring.

Why have I been spared?  Well, given my habit of talking about religion through the lens of meta-mathematics and weird epistemology hypotheticals involving time-travel, I think drive-by trolls may not realize they’re reading a religion blog in the first place, or just figure it’s not worth their time to choose a rant to copy-paste.  I’ve asked people to step away from fights, and for the most part, people who got a little out of hand in one thread were able to contribute productively in others.

The worst it’s ever gotten was during the discussion of PZ Myers’s desecration stunt, and that was partially because some people openly admitted their goal was to hurt people, not convert them.  (Though technically I appreciated the honesty).  But I was particularly happy with the commentariat during my dialogue with Matt Gerken on gay marriage, when, even if people were baffled by his position, there were relatively few ad hominems.

What I’ve found works the best (particularly during the PZ fight) is just assuming commenters are arguing in good faith and replying as though they’d asked you a slightly more respectfully phrased question.  And it’s good to watch out for trigger language and dogwhistles.  I wince every time I see Mark Shea refer to gay marriage supports like me as “brownshirts” and it makes me hard to read the rest of a post.  My goal is to never give a reader I disagree with an easy excuse to close the window or write me off.  Sometimes that means my language choice looks ‘soft’ but that’s only so I can entice people into reading my ‘hard’ content.

 

*Given that a commenter once referred to me as “the Alan Colmes of Atheism” I was tempted to title this post “The Wages of Alan Colmesianism is a Pretty Reasonable Combox” but I only just found the strength to forbear.  I guess the takeaway is really just a big thanks to most of you.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • anodognosic

    Leah, there’s a reason this is the only atheist blog I read: it’s not just constant confirmation of what I already believe. More than that, it’s not suffused with anger like so many other atheist blogs are, and I don’t find here anything like the chauvinism found elsewhere. I don’t want to completely discount other bloggers, because many are thoughtful and have interesting things to say, but the communities that are fostered in their comments are too often full of this sort of unthinking triumphalism like in the first comment you posted.

    • Charles

      Here, Here! – I have read a LOT of atheists, and watched/listened to many programs. Sometimes I find the same reasonableness after digging deep, almost like they were placating the home team, because they were afraid to be reasonable. I do however see the need for multiple types of fighters when the fight is as bleak as it once was for atheists (not that it is much less bleak, but thats another topic). However the PZ myers desecration stunt is just hurtful, and being hrtful for hurt sake is always wrong. The first comment you posted was just as wrong.

      Recently I watched an episode of ‘Catholicism’ (a mini-series about Catholicism hosted by Fr. Robert Barron) in which he explicitly discussed the age of the universe, age of earth, etc… it was refreshing in the other direction to also see a religious speaker able to make comments about scientific facts withotu discounting them.

      • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

        That’s the funny thing about Catholicism.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    You are a very reasonable person, and your attitude of “assuming commenters are arguing in good faith and replying as though they’d asked you a slightly more respectfully phrased question” is a perfect approach. I wish I had the patience for that.

    My greater irritation is how so many of the comments (I don’t post most) are just wholly off-topic and merely regurgitate atheist talking points, almost like a cut-and-paste job. In my post I compared it to wandering into a soccer game and complaining that the teams are playing hockey wrong. This seems to be the “treat them with contempt” approach encouraged by Dawkins. I’m assuming reasonable atheists understand that this is less “bold new way to debate” and more “borderline personality disorder.”

    The other trap they fall into is this idea that only atheists possess reason, or at least that they possess some fuller and more complete kind of reason. It really does no one any good to assume that a faith tradition that includes Augustine, Aquinas, Scotus, Roger Bacon, and countless scientists, artists, and philosophers is somehow reason-deficient. I know this is part of the shtick for many fundie atheists–pretend that faith is so unreasonable that it can merely fall under a barrage of scorn–but you know, that really doesn’t work with educated adults. Go ahead an assume we’ve all read the same books, and have come to different conclusions.

    By the way, I know that Christians do the same thing. Even I get weird Christian comments. When I write about games, I’ve had the fundies telling me that these are just the devil’s playground &c &c. Someone scolded me about my post on the Patron Saint of Gamers because such a thing isn’t really Christian, or something. (And just a quick note: if someone in the combox tells you you’re going to hell, they’re probably not Catholic. Or, at least, not a Catholic who knows squat about their faith. We’re not even sure Judas is hell.)

    • Ash

      Fundamentalist Christians have been pretty successful at convincing politicians, the media, and probably the majority of Americans that they are Christianity. The only times I generally see Catholics represented in the public sphere is in reference to birth control, priests who rape children, and as convenient allies of fundamentalists on specific social issues. In my experience, there’s also little Catholic presence on atheist blogs or forums. Most of the theistic commenters are Christian or Muslim literalists of one stripe or another. I suspect this has something (though not everything) to do with the types of comments atheists make on your blog.

      To put it another way, at least some of this stems from politics. Fundamentalists are my enemy on many more issues, particularly considering that Catholics are not a voting bloc the way fundamentalists are. Like most people, we tend to get a bit locked in on our most dangerous foes.

      It would be interesting to see if Catholic blogs in heavily Catholic, non-English speaking countries get a different type of atheistic commentary. Conversely, I wonder if Catholics have a heavier presence on atheist sites in those countries.

      • leahlibresco

        I think it’s true that the anti-science Evangelical is the default picture of a Christian in the political sphere, but TvTropes is right that, in movies and TV, all Christians are Catholic.

        • Ash

          True, though usually those depictions come with KJV quotations. Now if the movie is out to show How Dumb Christians Are, fundamentalists are probably over-represented. Lots of Christian (non-Catholic) high schools and tent revivals.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christophers/ Tony Rossi

          The TVTropes article was interesting. I once heard a Catholic screenwriting teacher say that her Catholic students were initially better able to write with visuals in mind because their faith tradition has always focused on images and sensory experiences. Protestant students grew up in a tradition that focused on “the word” so they tended to “tell” when they should have been “show”ing.

        • Ted Seeber

          Yeah, but mainly Anglican. Complete with an overrepresentation of effeminate homosexual bishops.

        • Mark Shea

          We have the most cinematic visuals. Also, on TV, all nuns wear habits and all priests *always* call people, “My child”. I have never *ever* met a priest in real life who talks that way. If scriptwriters hired a professional Catholic to advise them on how real Catholics talk (and there are subdialects within the Church just as there are elsewhere–Clericalese, Modernesque, Teutonic Traddery, Charismatic, Keepin it Real Hipster, Theology of the Body devotee, Apparition Chaser, etc, with attendant buzz words and jargon) they would go a long way toward improving their portrayal of Catholic characters.

          • Ted Seeber

            Yeah, my priest calls me “My brother”. Of course, maybe a part of that is because I was the one who finally got him to observe a Knights of Columbus 1st Degree Ceremony.

      • Ted Seeber

        Considering that from the fundamentalist standpoint, all Catholics are Agnostics (just less about the existence of God than the goodness/evilness of humanity) I doubt it. I think an athiest in a majority Catholic country would find himself surprisingly well treated- I’m sure Galileo never expected that his “punishment” from the Inquisition would be to be set up in a 47 room mansion with a fully equipped laboratory in exchange for his silence, but that’s what happened.

        • Ash

          I can’t speak to Galileo’s specific experience, by to my mind house arrest in a mansion is still house arrest.

          • Ted Seeber

            Oh it is- but it isn’t the Torture and Execution at the Hands of the Dreaded Inquisition that most Protestants and atheistic scientists think it was either.

        • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

          And I’m sure you don’t have any problem with the military rulers of Myanmar, right? After all, the only thing they did was sentence Aung San Suu Kyi to 15 years of house arrest.

          • Ted Seeber

            I have yet to form a complete picture of Myanmar (formerly Burma). But if they didn’t torture him, if all they did was restrict him to house arrest in an effort to censor his ideas, that is completely within trying to build a single-culture society.

          • Ted Seeber

            2nd reply, from the wikipedia article on the subject:
            “Aung San Suu Kyi has been placed under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years, on different occasions, since she began her political career,[44] during which time she was prevented from meeting her party supporters and international visitors. In an interview, Suu Kyi said that while under house arrest she spent her time reading philosophy, politics and biographies that her husband had sent her.[45] She also passed the time playing the piano, and was occasionally allowed visits from foreign diplomats as well as from her personal physician.[”

            Which leads me to ask the question, where do I go so that I can be placed under house arrest in Myanmar? Aside from the lack of contact with family, which would be the worst part for me, this sounds like heaven and is much better than my life in America.

          • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

            Just so you know, Ted, that was meant to be a reductio ad absurdum. But since you’re now on record as saying you find it perfectly legitimate for dictatorships to confine dissidents to house arrest as a means of stifling their ideas, I guess I have to accept that.

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            Just to state the obvious, Ted Seeber is not speaking for me, nor, I think, for the other Catholic regulars around here.

            The Myanmar thing is of course not OK.

            As for what Galileo got, it is mild by the standards of how other absolute rulers treat(ed) people who disgruntled them, but certainly not by the objective moral standard.

          • Ted Seeber

            I’m fine with the Inquisition too- including it’s modern form, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

            It stands to reason that if you have an *objective morality* of any sort, defending the objectivity of that morality is a part of being able to keep that morality; and if we claim the right to defend OUR “objective morality” then we must grant OTHER Dictatorships the right to silence their dissidents as well.

            Now here’s the weird part: What is the Freedom From Religion Association about if not silencing dissidents against Atheism in America?

          • leahlibresco

            Asking that religion stay at church, not in public school =/= putting ministers under house arrest or beating them

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

            I think the Galileo thing being bad is pretty well illustrated by the Pope apologizing for it.

        • David Hart

          Even if imprisoning someone in their own house for the rest of their life is a lenient punishment for the ‘crime’ of discovering and publishing facts about the universe, you do not get to point to Galileo’s getting off lightly without having to account for Giordano Bruno, another astronomer-type renaissance man around the same time who was tortured to death merely for saying stuff, some of which turned out to be true.

      • deiseach

        Speaking purely for myself, I tend to stay far away from atheist blogs or reply to comments where the exchange goes something like this:

        Eponymous Freethinker: Ha, those sky-fairy boobs are so dumb! The best they can come up with for their fairy-tale beliefs is some kind of ‘Just-So’ story that I realised was nonsense when I was only nine! It’s nothing at all like the rigour and discipline of SCIENCE (TM) where you have to be a big brain and study for years to understand the disciplines and use big words in Latin and Greek to demonstrate the nuances, subtleties and fine shades of exact and precise technical meaning necessary to define the concepts!

        Muggins Here: While I agree with you that the religion of a nine year old is the simple introductory version and that to stay at that level is unsuitable for an adult faith, I demur that there is no progress or deepening of understanding that takes place over the course of deepening one’s spiritual life. Please allow me to quote you reams of theology from big brains who studied for years to understand the discipline, replete with big words in Latin and Greek to demonstrate the nuances, subtleties and fine shades of exact and precise technical meaning necessary to define the concepts.

        Eponymous Freethinker: Oh, why do these religions do this? Why do they use big words in Latin and Greek with tons of nuances, subtleties and exact and precise technical meaning necessary to define the concepts that mean you have to be a big brain and study for years to understand them? Why can’t they just say what they mean in ordinary language that anyone can understand, in a simple and clear manner? See, this is the kind of obfuscation and needless complexity that I’m talking about is why I don’t believe!

        Muggins Here: But you said – you – that- er, never mind. I have to go bang my head against a brick wall for a bit.

        OR the other version that goes something like:

        Assured Skeptic: Honestly, how can these faithheads expect us to take them seriously when they insist on the literal truth of a Bronze-Age text that is a mish-mash of folklore and superstition? All of them, from the Pope on down to the Two Seed in the Spirit Predestinarians expect us to swallow uncritically the notion that, after their ‘god’ clocked in for a six-day work week, a group of former slaves went for a paddle in the sea without getting their feet wet and then sat down to a cannibal banquet where wine turned to blood! What is their hang-up about stones, amulets, formulas, shibboleths and why do they insist on us learning the right placement of a button or the bending of a knee or else we’re all going to be tortured by fire forever?

        Muggins Redux (for I am she): May I just point out that, in the words of Chesterton, “(T)o most ordinary outsiders with any common sense, there would be a considerable practical difference between Jehovah pervading the universe and Jesus Christ coming into the room” and that there is something of a disagreement between what the Pope believes and what the Two-Seeders believe on the matter of wine turning to blood (for a start, that it wasn’t wine but unfermented grape juice)? Also, that arguments about the discipline of genuflection and the dogma of the Resurrection are two very different kettles of fish with very much different degrees of gravity as to one’s eternal fate?

        Assured Skeptic: See, there you godbotherers go again, pretending that you don’t believe what you really believe! Don’t try to fob me off with twaddle about the Pope isn’t a Calvinist, I know all about it, because I read the book by Some Guy who quotes Another Bloke on an article he read written by This Fella who researched how all you people think the same!

        Muggins Redux: But as a Catholic myself, I can assure you that This Fella is mistaken on the Roman Catholic position on predestination –

        Assured Skeptic: *breaking in* Oh, now we get to it! Now the gloves are off! Here is more of that lying about what we all know you really believe, just to pretend to be moderates!

        Muggins Redux: But –

        Assured Skeptic: We don’t want your sort round here telling us what to think and what not to think! The Spanish Inquisition! Galileo! The Crusades! The Witch Hunts! Salem! *continues on in best imitation of Edward Gibbon, if Gibbon had been a late 20th century autodidact with a blog*

        The most fun, of course, is when you get a mix of both approaches, viz. ‘don’t tell me what you believe because I know better’ and ‘your beliefs are simultaneously too simple for any but the most uneducated peasant to be fooled by and too ivory-tower scholastic to be understood by ordinary joes, so either way we don’t have to take them seriously’ :-)

        • Ted Seeber

          Completely agreed, except for I prefer the Chesteron Society of America’s Four Square Meals and a Sandwich a Day Evangelicals for my “lowest denominator joke Christianity”

          • deiseach

            Oh, I’m not laughing at the Two-Seed folk. I generally use “Brother Billy-Bob” as my exemplar of a fake preacher (so as not to insult any real denomination or non-denominational group) but in this instance I wanted two very divergent theologies within Christianity that would be lumped together as ‘you all treat the Bible the same’ by the self-identified knowledgable.

          • Ted Seeber

            You mean to tell me the Two Seed in the Spirit folks are real? As opposed to the Four Square Meals and a Sandwich folks, who as far as I know are an invention of the Actor Kevin O’Brian from the Chestertonian _Theater of the Word_ acting group, used in his skit “A Nutting Family Christmas”
            Hmm, can I find a link? Yes I can:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1FOOto-JpU

            Meet the whole Nutting Family of whacky Christians, Agnostics, and Atheists.

          • deiseach

            Ted, never underestimate the ability of Christianity to inspire extravagance in the susceptible ;-)

            American religiosity is fascinating because while over here in Europe, a preacher who struck out on his own may have been able to get a couple of dozen followers, if he went to America these groups became counted in the hundreds and thousands and the doctrines became part of the mainstream standard of reference, even if the mainstream did not hew to them, e.g. the Rapture.

            This doctrine actually originated with a 19th century Anglo-Irish clergyman named John Nelson Darby, but took off to stratospheric success in the United States due to the Scofield Reference Bible, an edition of the Bible put together by an Evangelical clergyman, Cyrus Scofield, who propounded this doctrine in the notes he included, backed up by his interpretation of certain verses and texts. Since this was the most widely distributed Bible of the time, the doctrine of the Rapture and Dispensationalism became incorporated into the beliefs of a large chunk of American Christians, which is why Americans regularly get exposed to ‘end-of-the-world/the Rapture is coming!’ stories (as the latest example with Harold Camping) and Europeans tend to go “The what is coming??”

  • Mark Shea

    For what it’s worth, I don’t say gay “marriage” supporters are brownshirts. I say gay “marriage” supporters who attempt to crush free speech and control badthink by draconian acts of oppression are brownshirts. I’m quite aware that there are lots of nice people supporting gay “marriage” because they think it the fair thing to do and if two people consent then what’s the harm, etc. I assume the vast majority of Americans who favor it are in this camp.

    As to the rest of what you wrote, it just illustrates why I like you, Leah.

    • leahlibresco

      The problem is that I’m not really clear on where the line is being drawn. If conservative Christian court workers aren’t comfortable administering civil marriage contracts for gay couples, I think they’re not doing their jobs, same as I would if they refused to process marriage licenses for previously divorced couples. I’m not saying that the employee has to assent internally, but s/he needs to perform the basic functions of the job.

      • http://a-star-of-hope.blogspot.com JoAnna

        The problem is though, most Christian civil employees in this situation did do their jobs and were punished anyway.

      • Debra

        I try to be a reasonable Catholic and a faithful one. I would be very upset if the Church, for example, were to be told that not solemnizing gay marriage was discriminatory and therefore being made illegal. It would be a trampling of religious freedom. However, in the case of a public official (judge, JoP, mayor, etc.) granted authority to perform a civil marriage by the state, if he cannot comply with state law regarding marriage in good conscience, his proper course of action would be to not perform marriages at all (if that is an option available) or resign the position, not cruelly dragging some couple’s hopes and dreams through the mud with a public statement made by active defiance.

        • leahlibresco

          I agree. Demanding the Church solemnize gay marriages is as senseless as asking them to bless Jewish ones.

          • Ted Seeber

            At least for the Catholic Church- there are, after all, other denominations NOT in union with the Pope who are perfectly happy to solemnize the wedding between a man and a rock if you pay them enough.

      • Ted Seeber

        Here’s where I draw the line, being on BOTH sides of the debate:
        Civil unions for everybody (get your government out of my church) and no church being required to rent land or otherwise support civil unions; leave the covenants and sacramental marriage to the churches according to their discriminatory rules is just fine.

        But call it MARRIAGE, and start down the road they’ve already started down in Kansas and British Columbia and New Hampshire towards forcing churches to sanctify that which cannot be sanctified under their theology, and that’s brownshirt territory.

        • Ted Seeber

          Of course, I should point out that for the first, I’m an evil Catholic Bigot who wants to Prevent Gays From Getting Married.

        • SAk7

          I understand that Mexico has completely “divorced” the sacramental marriage of the Church from the civil ceremony recognized by the state. I don’t know the history here, but it’s intriguing. I cannot help but ponder why Catholic priests in states recognizing homosexual unions “gay marriages” don’t refuse to sign any state licenses for any type of wedding… and opt out of the charade. Continuing as agents of the state in some, but not other, marriages still leaves them cooperating with “evil”, does it not?

          All scare quotes carefully considered and deemed appropriate for viewers of all ages.

          • Ted Seeber

            March 2, 2002- that’s the day I went from being a liberal Cafeteria Catholic supporting Civil Unions for Gays and Polygamists and anybody else who wanted to cohabitate, to an Evil Catholic Bigot Traditionalist who wants to Prevent Gays from Being Married.

            All without changing a single idea of the above.

        • Donalbain

          You mean the way that allowing remarriages for divorced people led to forcing churches to solemnise those ceremonies?

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            The thing is, so far nobody proposes divorcees as a protected class in human rights law. We already have Christian bakers forced to make wedding cakes for gay schmarriages and churches forced to rent out their premises for them if they rent them out for any real marriages and we don’t have analogies to that in re-”marriages”. And in the contraception mandate fight we heard that suppressing a church’s conscience is perfectly fine as long as the law doesn’t specifically target the church by name. Some atheists follow that principle to quite totalitarian conclusions and I don’t hear much protest from their fellow atheists.

            So yeah, I know that right now most liberals don’t want to force churches to solemnize gay schmarriages. But I don’t see the principle behind not wanting that. And the unprincipled exception won’t last long beyond the need to paint a nice picture.

          • Patrick

            But religious groups are. And Catholic aren’t required to marry Protestants.

            Heck, religions are the last group legally allowed to be racially discriminatory, and there’s no drive to change that.

            And the objection to the ministerial exception is less about the exception as applied to ministers, and more about attempts to use fraud to escape legal consequences. The present law is pretty simple: if you’re in a ministerial position, your church is allowed to be as utterly vile to you as their deity demands that they be. If you’re not, you get regular, secular job protections. But churches always discover that their employees are all ministerial, down to the last janitor working for a “religiously affiliated” (not actually a legal category…) secular business, the moment a law suit is initiated. I wonder why.

            So yeah, there’s an easy bright line to draw. Churches get to be as counter cultural as they ever have been when they’re performing a private religious function. But when they’re owning businesses, they don’t get to lie and defraud people, again, like always. So operate a Catholic wedding hall for Catholics? Great, exclude everyone you want. But rent it out to non Catholics at a profit, and you have to follow non discrimination law for everyone. You don’t get to pick and choose, because you’re running a business now.

            I think you’re being alarmist because you’re sublimating your real concern- my generation tends to view your generation’s views on gay marriage as falling beneath our minimum standards for moral integrity. THAT is what will change the Catholic Church’s stance on gay marriage, if anything does. THAT is what you have to fear. Your own laity. But declaring the real culture war always comes at the price of destabilizing the present day detente between huge numbers of mass-attending, middle and upper class liberal Catholics, and the oft ignored doctrines they mouth. Leave us secularists out of it, we’re not coming for your church. We made our principled stand a while ago, now its your turn.

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            Just to squelch my curiosity, can you give me ranges of birth years for what you mean by your generation and mine?

            On the actual points:
            Well on this specific issue that may be today’s bright line but that tells us where the trenches are, not that they are intrinsically stable. For example, being non-profits isn’t saving any Catholic hospitals ore universities form the contraception mandate. Also, renting facilities for marriage seems to fall on that specific side of the bright line pretty arbitrarily, one could just as easily draw the line at actions that look like endorsement (which is of course the reason why gay people want to rent those facilities in the first place). And considering that the present administration argued against any ministerial exception just a few months ago, to the applause of the secular movement, one might be excused in wondering how principled secularists’ sudden commitment to this particular bright line actually is. It’s a bit like the other side suddenly discovering they believed in intelligent design which was totally different from the scientific creationism they used to believe in. Churches still being allowed to discriminate on racial grounds is a good point but I think that is more battle-choosing than principled restraint. If there were important churches left discriminating on racial grounds there would be a drive to challenge that. And Protestants by and large aren’t really complaining they don’t get to marry in Catholic churches. On the other hand if the state joins in the pretense of gay “marriage” conservative churches will be the last obstacle to the social standing gay righters are after. So yes, you can always offer a rationalization for the bright line of the week, but so can your successors at every further inch of the slippery slope.

            On your pop-psychological idea of me sublimating my actual concern, well I can’t prove I’m not a witch. But I can note we Catholics also got the thing about being condemned by a new generation and that making us change from eugenicists and socialists. Barring the eschaton, I’m confident we’ll outlive your version of modernity as well. It’s just the interim I’m worried about, for I have to live in it.

          • Patrick

            1. Its not about whether a company is non profit, its about whether its a church. If you’re selling goods and services, what you do with your surplus revenue isn’t the dividing line.

            2. No one argued against the existence of the ministerial exception. There was a court case about to what extent the ministerial exception covered non clergy. The issue is that religious groups invariably “discover,” once litigation commences, that everyone they employ is in a ministerial role. One position was that the ministerial exception should apply only to people who actually engage in religious education or the performance of religious rituals or duties. The position that ultimately prevailed was that religious groups are almost completely free to decide who counts as a ministerial position, even if that decision is done only in reaction to a financial need to close off a lawsuit from an employee they’ve mistreated, and even if nothing in their religious doctrine indicates that such a person is in a ministerial position. As usual, the rights of churches to be evil has been protected.

            The fact that religious people the country over believe that the entire ministerial exception was under attack is, frankly, a problem. We cannot function as a nation if so much of our electorate is in thrall to people willing to lie to them in order to advance sectarian interests. Even if those sectarian interests deserve to have their say, decisions based on lies never help anyone.

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            IANAL and much less an American one, so I may be missing something here.

            Still, I note that it says in the government’s brief(pdf) that

            To the extent that petitioner suggests that the Court should nevertheless resolve this case by crafting a broad prophylactic rule that would require dismissing some or all suits brought by “ministerial” employees at the outset, the Court should reject that suggestion.

            This doesn’t mean that they reject anything called a “ministerial exception”. As far as I get it (and again I’m incompetent) they want the free exercise of religion to be one of several factors the courts should be balancing in individual cases and call that the ministerial exception. Or something like that, their oral arguments read so waffling that I wonder if they even had a coherent position.

            But it does read like they opposed the usual meaning of “ministerial exception”, namely that the government doesn’t get any involvement ever in who is hired or fired as a minister. And any governmental involvement in hiring and firing ministers is exactly what “religious people the country over” were worried about.

            So I think you might have a case for arguably imprecise terminology, but that is a far cry from “people willing to lie to them in order to advance sectarian interests”.

          • Patrick

            Then you read things wrong, Gilbert. The dispute wasn’t over whether the ministerial exception should be one factor amongst many. The dispute was over who counted as being under the ministerial exception, amongst non clergy employees. The paragraph you’re reading refers to the opposition’s assertion that the case should be dismissed immediately, upon assertion of ministerial privilege, without a hearing on whether that assertion was true. There was a legitimate dispute on that score- in general, courts will avoid litigation over what is or isn’t someone’s religious belief. In general, if you assert that your religious belief is X, the court will take that at face value, because there is the potential for harm in interrogating you on your sincerity. But there is also harm to this approach, as noted in this paragraph, from slightly below the paragraph you quoted.

            “Petitioner recognizes this difficulty, but its solution is to require courts to defer to a religious employer’s position on the religious significance of an employee’s duties (unless the position is a “sham”). Pet. Br. 49. Yet experience shows that religious employers invoking the ministerial exception as a defense in employment discrimination lawsuits often take a very broad view of which employees qualify as “ministers.” See, e.g., EEOC v. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 651 F.2d 277, 283 (5th Cir. 1981) (rejecting seminary’s contention that “all its employees,” including “support staff,” “serve a ministerial function”) (emphasis added), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 905 (1982). To lend near dispositive weight to a religious employer’s characterizations could well result in unnecessarily depriving large numbers of employees of the statutory protections Congress intended to afford them.”

            I’m aware that religious people thought their ability to hire clergy of their own faith was under threat. This is because your leaders are evil and told you so, even though it wasn’t true.

            Finally, the comment about people willing to lie was about churches in lawsuits being willing to lie in order to claim ministerial exceptions for employees who are not ministerial in any meaningful sense of the term. I’m not 100% sure that was clear, based on your response. If it was, ignore this paragraph.

        • David Hart

          Ted Seeber: “call it MARRIAGE, …. and that’s brownshirt territory.”
          I don’t think so. ‘Marriage’ has pretty much always meant a civil union recognised by the state. Of course, in many times and places, that has been entirely overlapping with the religious union recognised by the church (i.e. you couldn’t have one without automatically having the other), but it’s a bit presumptuous of the church to claim exclusive ownership of the word ‘marriage’ if the two meanings should start to diverge. You do not get to start nit-picking and say that your narrow definition of a word is the only correct one, and that everyone else’s somewhat broader definition, which is widely used and recognised, is wrong.

          We in the UK, and I presume in America too, can go to a registry office and have a marriage that the state will recognise for all the legal rights and responsibilities that you sign up for, without anyone having to set foot in a church. If this is extended to same-sex couples, they will be able to get married in exactly the same sense that anyone who currently has a non-religious ceremony is married. Unless you are going to insist that the people who currently marry in a non-religious ceremony stop calling it a marriage, you don’t really have any basis from which to keep the word out of the hands of same-sex couples.

          If you’re worried about churches eventually being forced to perform same sex marriages, I would point out that no church is currently forced to perform any marriages. If it were to come to it, and a church were to have to make the choice between performing same-sex marriages or not performing any marriages at all, that latter option would surely be open to them. I gather that some Catholic adoption agencies have already done that when forced to choose either not discriminating against same-sex couples or ceasing to arrange adoptions entirely. But it is unlikely to come to that, as long as the churches are careful to limit their marriages to members only – i.e. if you make it an article of doctrine that same sex couples can’t get married, and only accept as members of your church people who agree with that, and only perform marriages for people who are members of your church, then the problem need never arise (though, as outside society becomes more accepting of gay couples, your church’s membership as a whole may suffer – but that will happen anyway if a church insists on badmouthing a class of people that every one else realises it makes no sense to discriminate against).

    • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

      And yet you still use scare quotes: gay “marriage”.

      • Mark Shea

        Correct. Because I regard gay “marriage” as an ontological impossibility, much as I regard attempts to marry the Eiffel Tower, or one’s self or one’s dog (all have been in the news recently) as ontological impossibilities. All these acts are expressions of some kind of relationship. They are all deeply felt. They are, presumably, something the actors regard as expressions of love. But they are not marriage.

        • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

          In that spirit, I believe I’ll begin referring to “Catholic” women. :)

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

            You know what ontology is, right?

          • Mark Shea

            I have to agree with Ubitquitous. I *think* you are attempting a clever tit for tat, but it’s not making any sense.

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

            “What’s ontology?” suddenly strikes me as a great one-line joke.

        • keddaw

          Regard it however you like Mark, but marriage is just a word that is defined by its use in society. Some societies allow marriage between two people of the same gender, some between more than two people. Neither of these are ‘wrong’ in any sense of the word but are relative to their community.

          Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is (currently) impossible for gay people to have the Catholic (and many other religions) Holy Sacrament of Marriage.

          • Therese Z

            Marriage is the outward legal action of a fundamental unchangeable biological truth: our anatomies are made to join together and sometime produce a new life from that joining. The legal, physical and emotional protection of the vulnerable mother and the children is marriage. It’s that simple.

            Polygamous marriage is still biologically true, but our society condemned it long ago because of the danger of neglect and the complications of inheritance (and on Christian principles, too). So your concept of “relevance to the community” works in that model.

            But two men or two women cannot unite physically. Can’t be done no matter how you force the tabs and slots together. And the coming of contraception is supposed to “free” the woman from the risk of motherhood (as though something her body was made to do is something to be avoided – timed, yes, but not avoided). The boundaries of marriage are less necessary, if you make the act sterile. Redefine “marriage” as the promise of eternal romance and friendship, and sterilize the act, and you strike at the foundation of the whole structure.

            But you can’t make the physical proximity and arousal of two bodies of the same sex fruitful. And you can’t make that “marriage.”

            I understand all of this as a Catholic (and a scientist by education). We haven’t forgotten the corporeal in the spiritual and the emotional parts of life.

          • Mark Shea

            What you are effectively arguing is that marriage is a word meaning anything and nothing. In which case, why bother getting married at all. No. Marriage is a word referring to the union of man and woman (or women in some culture). The background is irrevocable biology and has in view the protection of the family as the natural home of children. It is a privileged relationship because if the family is not privileged, the civilization inevitably dies. We have already, with no fault divorce, put a bullet in the brain of marriage. Gay “marriage” is simply kicking the corpse. But declare any an every relationship we feel like to be a “marriage” does not make it so.

          • leahlibresco

            I like the definition given in The Last 5 Years

            If I didn’t believe in you
            I couldn’t have stood before all of our friends
            And said, ‘This is the life I choose-
            This is the thing I can’t bear to lose

            The irrevocable contract. The person we always want to constrain us. The musical substitutes accountability before a community for accountability before God as the third party in the union.

          • David Hart

            Therese Z: “But two men or two women cannot unite physically. Can’t be done no matter how you force the tabs and slots together”.

            I think you should click to 26.50 in this video by John Corvino: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRTbzeTgHvU . A hilariously deadpan answer. If you think that two persons of the same sex ‘cannot unite physically’, you’re not using your imagination. It may not be a physical uniting that causes pregnancy, but where in any marriage ceremony are the couple made to promise to have children? Having children is optional.

            If a man who had lost his penis in an accident wished to get married, and found an understanding partner, would you say that he shouldn’t be allowed to? He couldn’t perform a ‘physical union’ in your sense, after all. The couple could, of course, adopt. But so, of course, can same-sex couples.

            Mark Shea: “What you are effectively arguing is that marriage is a word meaning anything and nothing. ”

            Talk about a false dichotomy. What is being argued here is not that ‘marriage’ should become meaningless, but that ‘marriage’ should mean the union of two consenting adults. That is a very far cry from ‘putting a bullet in [its] brain’. It is more like a bout of surgery – what you’re left with is very like what you started with; it’s still alive and kicking, it’s only different in the limited sense of which consenting adults can marry which other consenting adults. It won’t have even widened the class of people who can legally get married (since marriage was already limited to consenting adults) – it just dismantles one barrier within the pool of people who can legally marry.

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

            The musical substitutes accountability before a community for accountability before God as the third party in the union.

            Which doesn’t sound like it would work. Democracy is “designed for a moral and religious people.”

      • Ted Seeber

        It isn’t entirely scare quotes either. It’s to make a distinction between civil marriage and the Catholic Sacrament of Marriage.

        • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

          I would say that it isn’t scare quotes at all because I’m not sure whether adding “so-called” beforehand is any better. If anyone sees an elegant linguistic solution for an ontological impossibility, I’m game.

          • Ash

            Yes, there is a simple and elegant linguistic solution for many such “ontological” questions. Just admit that you’re squabbling over the definitions of words. Simple, beautiful, and honest. Then instead of saying “gay marriage is an ontological impossibility”, you can simply say “I choose to define the word marriage in a way that excludes gay partners.”. Much cleaner and easier to understand.

            The alternative is to build mountains of philosophy to obfuscate that truth. You’ll change almost exactly no one’s mind, but you can probably populate a blog or even a book doing it.

          • Ted Seeber

            A better truth is that “Historically, marriage has excluded gay partners, in every culture, including the most gay one of all, Ancient Greece”.

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

            Ash: You presume you, or we, have the authority to define marriage, or that defining makes a thing a thing rather than represents an existing thing.

        • joe mc faul

          Then the quotes should be around the term “marriage” as in [Insert famous politician/celebrity/Radio Personality's name here] third “marriage.”

          • Mark Shea

            No argument from me. But heterosexual serial adultery masquerading as “marriage” does not magically make the masquerade of gay “marriage” into real marriage. In both cases, people are simply re-defining marriage to mean “getting society to pretend that what I am doing is good”.

    • Donalbain

      Yes. Those imaginary gay marriage supporters are so nasty aren’t they? Excuse me while I list all the groups and individuals who have said that people should be prevented from opposing gay marriage.

      OK. That was easy

      • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

        This would be an example. If you want more perhaps you should subscribe to Mark’s blog and look for the posts about gay brownshirts. Mostly the characterization is perfectly apt.

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  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

    Leah this is a good post. You do manage to run an uncommonly civil site, and that tone usually inspires us commenters to participate in your civility. That said, I now want to apologize to you and the other commenters for anything bad I have ever said or mean tone I have taken or otherwise. I am sorry and I ask your forgiveness, particularly from some of the regular atheist commenters. I respect you guys a lot and I should do better. I am going to try to be kinder in the future, less grumpy, and less interested in sowing discord.

    • leahlibresco

      Maybe I should have an open thread on Forgiveness Sunday next year.

      • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

        I like that. I grew a new appreciation for forgiveness after I read a story about a priest (Fr. Elias Chacour http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elias_Chacour now bishop) in 1966 Israel/Palestine whose congregation was hatefully split into those who opposed and those who cooperated with the Israelis. One day after mass he locked the doors of the church and declared no-one could leave unless they either killed him for the keys or reconciled with each other. Eventually they reconciled and the town was transformed. He’s continued with projects of reconciliation since then.
        Also, Forgiveness Sunday is Cheesefare Sunday, and if you could somehow work cheese into this hypothetical thread, that would be very impressive. :)
        Hey, I just realized two stories I’ve mentioned here now (the above, and the one about the footwashing Baptists) are from the same book _The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics_ edited by Hauerwas and Wells. Excellent book if you are looking for one; 36 short chapters with lots of good stories.

        • deiseach

          If you want quotes about cheese for Cheesefare Sunday, permit me (in the interests of ecumenism between the two lungs of the Church, Eastern and Western) to refer you to Chapter Nine, “Cheese”, of “Alarms and Discursions” by G.K. Chesterton:

          “My forthcoming work in five volumes, “The Neglect of Cheese in European Literature” is a work of such unprecedented and laborious detail that it is doubtful if I shall live to finish it. Some overflowings from such a fountain of information may therefore be permitted to springle these pages. I cannot yet wholly explain the neglect to which I refer. Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. Virgil, if I remember right, refers to it several times, but with too much Roman restraint. He does not let himself go on cheese. The only other poet I can think of just now who seems to have had some sensibility on the point was the nameless author of the nursery rhyme which says: “If all the trees were bread and cheese”–which is, indeed a rich and gigantic vision of the higher gluttony. If all the trees were bread and cheese there would be considerable deforestation in any part of England where I was living.”

          • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

            Chesterton is a very funny man. :)

          • Ted Seeber

            Too bad he didn’t live to see the Wallace and Gromit series of videos on the subject of Cheese.

            I seem to be suddenly posting a lot of youtube to this thread.
            http://www.youtube.com/v/CJDhmlMQT60&fs=1&source=uds&autoplay=1

  • http://ecben.wordpress.com Will

    And the Eastern churches are simply invisible — probably because they don’t fit into the “Catholic-Protestant-Jew” meme, thank you Will Herberg (NOT me!)

    • Ted Seeber

      This still bothers me, several hours after I was told by the computer at Patheos that I was commenting too quickly.

      In the Catholic-Protestant-Jew meme, Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics are part of CATHOLIC because they have Apostolic Authority as opposed to Bible Alone From My Favorite Verses Christianity.

  • http://ecben.wordpress.com Will

    Expanding a little…. one my enduring frustrations is the assumption that “Protestant” means nothing more than “not (Roman) Catholic” embraced by people who wouldn’t know justification by faith if it punched them in the nose. I take what satisfaction I can in answering “Are you Catholic or Protestant” with “no”, before enduring the latest attempt to point out that there assertion “If you aren’t Catholic, your’e Protestant” is just wrong.

    • Ted Seeber

      In that meme, Will, assuming you are Eastern Orthodox under one of the Metropolitan Archbishops with Apostolic Authority, you’re Catholic. You don’t have to be in communion with the Pope (the Metropolitan of Rome) to be Catholic.

      High Anglicans are Catholic under the Metropolitan of Canterbury (though, they’re borderline thanks to the Protestant actions of Henry VIII and his daughters and sons). Greek Orthodox are Catholic under the Metropolitan of Constantinople.

      They call the Patriarch by different names under different traditions- Pope is simply an Anglicization of the Italian Papa.

      Hope that’s all as clear as mud. Is to me too. But I know there’s a MAJOR difference between Eastern Orthodox Catholics and Protestants, despite the schism of 1060.

      • http://ecben.wordpress.com Will

        And the Patriarch of Alexandria is called “Pope”. But to the Great American Public, “Pope” means only Benedict, and “Catholic” means in obedience to Rome, and most of the self-styled-mainline Protestant around me are unable to explain “their” theology beyond we-don’t-believe-in-the-pope. Justification, sola scriptura and the priesthood of all believers are all of no importance beside not being one of Them.

        • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

          And the Patriarch of Alexandria is called “Pope”.

          For what it’s worth, the Vatican used the same title to describe the Patriarch of Alexandria. Lest anyone think this is an unusual or even controversial usage.

        • Cous

          I would totally be fine with a mandate for everyone in America to brush up on Church canon law :D But seriously, I myself couldn’t have explained the distinctions between the different autonomous churches within the Catholic Church and their various rites until I went on a Googling spree a few minutes ago.
          Apparently Roman Catholic is only used to refer to the entire Catholic Church, which comprises the Latin/Western Church, often mistakenly called the “Roman Catholic Church,” plus the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Roman pope, even if they call the leader of their “particular autonomous church” (technical term) their “patriarch” or “pope”. So Will, speaking canonically correct English, it sounds like you and I are both members of the Catholic/Roman Catholic Church, but within that Catholic Church, I’m a member of the “particular autonomous church” known as the Latin/Western Church, and within the Latin/Western Church I’m most familiar with the Roman liturgical rite, specifically the Ordinary Form/Mass of Paul VI, whereas (it sounds like) you belong to one of the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches, and are probably most familiar with one of the Eastern liturgical rites listed here.

          • Rade Hagedorn

            Cous
            It all depends on what Will means. Most English speakers (at least when speaking to a general audience) refer to those churches in communion with Rome as Roman Catholic (whatever their particular liturgy) while those Apostolic churches not in communion with Rome are Anglican, Assyrian, Eastern Orthodox, or Oriental Orthodox. I have no particular expertise on the Anglican, Assyrian, or Oriental Orthodox but the Eastern Orthodox Church refers to itself as Eastern Orthodox only as a convention when it will help people understand that we are not in communion with Rome. Internally we are the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church (the same as claimed by the Roman Catholic Church) but as it is incredibly confusing for multiple entities to call themselves the Catholic Church there are colloquial names that are used instead.

          • Ted Seeber

            It might be a little bit more complex than that. There are still 6 or 8 (I forget how many) Eastern Orthodox Churches that have not become Eastern Rite Churches- that is to say their Apostolic Authority is intact, but they have NOT reconciled from the Great Schism and thus are NOT “Roman Catholic” because they are not in communion with Rome. But they are still “Catholic” because they are a part of the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” referred to in the creed.

            Clear as mud yet?

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

            Preferred nomenclature, if we’re on the topic, is Roman Catholic as in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, but Catholic Church as in the full communion of visible bodies. Nearly all bishops in America are Roman Catholic —- Catholic, Latin Rite — but there are a few who are Eastern Catholic.

            In short, even USCCB does not have R.

  • Patrick

    Commender: “Before you slam Mormanism [sic] for being False, make sure the insurance policy of that glass house of yours is all paid up.”

    Leah: “The commenter has made the mistake of assuming that every Christian is a biblical literalist, Young Earth Creationist,”

    Me: But all Mormons are? Good to know.

    • Ted Seeber

      Large numbers of Mormons are. In college I knew a Mormon man who claimed the “Giants” referred to in the Bible were really dinos.

    • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

      Nope! There are plenty of evolutionist Mormons. The biology department at Brigham Young University teaches evolution in no uncertain terms, in fact.

      But this IS the treatment Mormons get. “OMG, how can they possibly believe all these things? I read Jon Krakauer and now I know all about them.”

      • Patrick

        I guess that since sarcasm never comes across well on the internet, I should make myself a little more clear so as not to upset anyone I’m not presently trying to upset for reasons other than the ones with which I was hoping to upset them.

        I know there are plenty of Mormons who aren’t literalists. I also know that there are many Catholics who are not literalists. I think that the ability to critique them by pointing out that their holy texts contain falsehoods is reasonably equivalent. I think that any dodge Thomas McDonald can utilize by playing the metaphor card is equally available to the Mormons he criticizes (likewise the personal revelation card, and all the other means by which modern religiosity distances itself from its past), and that if what the commenter meant was to point that the two faiths are in an equivalent position on this score, then the commenter was behaving reasonably.

        • Ted Seeber

          I would love to hear what Bringham Young’s polygamy was supposed to be a metaphor for.

          • Patrick

            They just note that Brigham Young isn’t supposed to have been a morally perfect person or anything, just chosen. That’s the official apologetic. Then they avoid talking about it as much as possible.

            It should be familiar to you, its how your religion deals with the way all of its Old Testament founders were murdering, raping pedophiles, and believed in a God who supported them and fed them virgins as a reward for good behavior.

            There is parity here.

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

            Raping pedophiles? All of them? Why would a man rape a pedophile? Surely you cannot mean that all of them were rapists and pedophiles, which is necessarily less likely.

            Having just read Kings, not a single example comes to mind. Perhaps that’s not a book of the Bible.

      • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

        Judging by my interactions online, I haven’t heard Mormons as a whole articulate with any consistency. It would help if Mormons had a Catechism and organized theology.

        • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

          Maybe. I’ve run into plenty of other Christians with organized theologies that can’t explain them well, and it’s almost part of the point of Mormonism that we don’t have one, and some have said (even past Mormon leaders) that orthopraxy is more important than orthodoxy for Mormons.

          On that topic, here’s a good explanation:

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peculiarpeople/2012/04/why-is-it-so-hard-to-figure-out-what-mormons-believe/

          The takeaway? “There is a great deal which Mormons might believe; there is very little that they must believe.”

          And the third question I answer here has some of my thoughts on the topic: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/03/qa-on-mormon-priesthood-part-2.html

          • Ted Seeber

            I could certainly understand that. For all of the 1970s and 1980s it seemed that heterodoxy was more important than Orthodoxy for Catholics (and a huge number of Catholics my age have fallen away from the faith, even become atheist over it- Recovering ex-Catholics is the 2nd largest denomination of Christians in America today, if they were a denomination).

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

            I have therefore no respect for the Mormon faith, for the reason you say. They have no love of truth or our ability to know it. This has particular implications on our ability to know Him.

        • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

          I’ll also point out that strictly anthropologically, Catholicism is in the minority (as far as traditions, not aderents goes) in emphasizing doctrine and centralizing doctrinal authority. Most religious traditions value doctrine far less than Christianity, and centralize it far less than Catholicism. And I’m not even talking about Hollywood-Catholicism here; I realize how much lay theology matters in Catholicism. But Catholicism has a single head figure who can, sometimes, kinda speak infallibly about some things (technically, maybe not practically). Even that is way more than most.

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

            Communities without the Mass lack gravity; the insubstantial, unauthoritative nature of Mormon thought would make Mormonism very easy to shift even if it didn’t claim a prophet who could and, by all interpretations I’ve heard from Mormons, would turn the faith on a dime if some state necessitated it.

            Mormonism is a self-patching “making it up as you go along”; it is a truer, direr enemy of any man with any regard for truth than the Catholic Church ever was or could be.

  • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

    I’m sure Mark Shea meant it to be tongue-in-cheek, but still, I’m baffled by the implication that you should convert to Catholicism as an act of spite towards disagreeable atheists.

    There are plenty of Catholics who are equally disagreeable if not more so: like Richard Williamson, the Holocaust-denying Lefebvrist bishop whose excommunication the pope lifted in 2009, not to mention his anti-Semitic compatriots in the Society of St. Pius X whom the Vatican is trying to reintegrate into the church. If you became a nun, would you then have to convert back to atheism on their account?

    • Mark Shea

      Don’t overthink it. It was a joke.

      • Ted Seeber

        Next time, though, you should have Leah do something *much more in keeping with her personality*: Renounce homsexuality, go through RCIA, get married to her boyfriend (in a full Mass wedding, of course) and start a new blog called “Equally Yoked” where she happily posts pictures of her 26 children growing up.

    • Ted Seeber

      I’d point out that Richard Williamson got himself excommunicated from *BOTH* the Roman Catholic Church AND the SSPX in 2010 for his remarks in 2009, and there’s a direct contradiction of his viewpoint on the holocaust at the SSPX website right now.

      Having said that, one of the barriers to reintegrating the SSPX, is indeed their belief that Pope Pius XII betrayed the faith by claiming “We are all spiritual semites now” after WWII.

  • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

    This is why I’ve pretty much committed to never read comments on online articles about Mormons. In addition to the sort of atheist you describe, you also get evangelical Christians and ex-Mormons that take much the same tack: “It’s so idiotic it doesn’t even merit serious engagement. I’ll spout the same rhetoric used since the 1830s and that suffices to disprove the entire religion. Or Jon Krakauer, or the Mountain Meadows Massacre, or Warren Jeffs.”

    (Note for those who may not know: Warren Jeffs is a member of a schismatic polygamous sect, and judging Latter-day Saints by him is as reasonable as judging the Pope by Martin Luther’s actions; there has been considerable scholarship on the aforementioned massacre, including a book written by Mormon scholars and published by no less than Oxford University Press; and “Under the Banner of Heaven” is horrifically irresponsible journalism.)

    Unfortunately, this attitude often pervades even mainstream media coverage of Mormonism (for example, a Washington Post column on Mormonism in politics that used a 1980 from a woman who had been excommunicated to explicate present-day gender conflicts in the church… ugh).

    Even though you’re mostly engaged with more populous forms of Christianity, I thank you for taking Mormons seriously when you do speak of us. :)

    • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

      Edit: “a 1980 *quote* from a woman…”

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  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

    What I’ve found works the best … is just assuming commenters are arguing in good faith and replying as though they’d asked you a slightly more respectfully phrased question.

    How the preceding compares with the following is left as an exercise to the reader.

    To assure better cooperation between the one who is giving the Exercises and the exercitant, and more beneficial results for both, it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false. If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If he is in error, he should be corrected with all kindness. If this does not suffice, all appropriate means should be used to bring him to a correct interpretation, and so to defend the proposition from error.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

      (The latter quote comes from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.)

      • Ted Seeber

        This explains the existence (and heterodoxy) of America Magazine to me, somehow.

        • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

          If they read the first half and not the second half of the quote. Please note that until the mid-20th Century Jesuits were bombdiggity — even after the papacy dissolved and then reinstated the Society of Jesus.

  • @b

    >>The commenter has made the mistake of assuming that every Christian is a biblical literalist

    Maybe the commenter has merely made the (mistaken?) assertion that wrt the creation of our universe, every Christian has faith in ancient wisdom (void + act of god = all that is seen).

    • Ted Seeber

      The scary thing is so does every cosmologist I’ve ever met; they just try to relabel “act of God” by replacing it with other variables such as “the law of gravity”.

      • @b

        “Just re-labelling” doesn’t seem to convey the profundity of the modern discovery that the Big Bang event that created our space-time needn’t have been a glitch nor a fluke, just predictable quantum physics.

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  • keddaw

    @ Mark,
    I am arguing that words are given meaning by their use in the culture, that they do not have some mystical meaning that transcends usage, culture and humanity.

    “In that case, why bother getting married at all?”
    Not that this makes any sense whatsoever but still… Because people want the legal, financial, social and cultural benefits that come from marriage? Because people want a party? Because religious people have managed to blame children for the fact that their parents were not married when they were born and that bigotry still exists today? Because people want to signal to their family and friends that they have met someone they want to make a lifelong commitment to?

    The rest of your comment is irrelevant speculation, but basically amounts to a fallacy that we have a purpose and nature is the guide to that purpose. It is an example of how people use arguments they vehemently disagree with in circumstance A if it seems to bolster their view in circumstance B.

    • Joe

      “amounts to a fallacy that we have a purpose and nature is the guide to that purpose” I would love to hear more about how you prove this statement. You should ask Leah if you can write a guest post.

  • Concerned Citizen

    I love this comment thread.
    Leah: My commenters are great and tend to argue in good faith and assume that others do the same.
    Commenters: NAZIS! People who disagree with me are NAZIS! NAZIS EVERYWHERE! NAZIS!!

    • leahlibresco

      Totally jinxed it. I guess I’ve learned my lesson. :)

  • Pingback: It’s Hard for Me to Hear You Over the Sound of Your Nazi Analogies


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