In which I dissent from Fr. Z and his readers

In which I dissent from Fr. Z and his readers February 7, 2012

One of the things that has come to deeply concern me about the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism is the way in which it has bought into the identity politics which used to dominate (and make stupid) the left thirty years ago. What matters is tribal affiliation. The search is not for converts, but for heretics. Anybody who is less than 100% pure in their tribal (not moral) fealty is to be shunned, even when they are doing something we agree with. This produces the weird situation of Catholics boosting for some politician who endorses torture and pre-emptive war (because the Tribe says that’s okay) but rejecting as ritually impure people who voted for Obama, but who now want to oppose him because of his assault on religious liberty.

An example of the latter is Fr. Z’s completely unnecessary rallying of the troops to jeer at and reject Doug Kmiec’s letter to Obama protesting his assault on religious liberty. A mentality that is asking, “How can we mount a successful fight against Obama’s assault?” would be rejoicing to see, not just Kmiec, but the National Catholic Reporter, and blog like Vox Nova denouncing Obama’s actions. That’s because those seeking to oppose Obama successfully realize that it is necessary to win the hearts and minds, not merely of those who absolutely despise Obama already (they *lost* the last election, you will recall), but of those who voted for him. And they must win those hearts and minds using the kinds of persuasion that actually persuade, not the kinds of persuasion that are really a form of cathartic self-medication for people who just want to settle scores, not change hearts and minds.

Kmiec is, quite obviously, a lefty writing for the benefit of other lefties, attempting to make clear that he is not writing out of mindless hatred for the Prez, but out of a genuinely offended conscience. He is making the case that this is not merely some savages with sexual hangups getting offended about nothing (the comforting narrative our civilizers in the Obama Administration tell themselves as they stoop down to bestow their draconian rules on us), but a real issue of conscience that threatens actual American liberty. He is *far* more likely to get a hearing from from the sort of Catholic who (only getting information from the press) has been told that the HHS mandate is much ado about nothing. Such a Catholic (the majority in this country, recall) is not likely to understand immediately the gravity of the Administration’s assault because he is contracepting already and figures “No skin off my nose.” Kmiec’s letter, as well as people like Michael Sean Winters at the Reporter and the various bleats of protest at America and Commonweal, are the people who stand the best chance of speaking to the majority (there’s that word again) of Catholics who don’t grasp the gravity of situation.

So what are conservative Catholics at Fr. Z’s blog and elsewhere doing? Attacking their allies who are trying to win the majority in the mushy middle over to their position for them. Because Kmiec is ritually impure. It is more important to punish and ridicule him for past sins than to let him do the right thing in the present. What matters is pure tribal identity, not the success of the struggle to defeat this atrocious attack on religious liberty. We don’t want to win converts or form alliances. We want to settle scores and gloat over heretics. We want to hate Obama more than we want to defeat him.


Now, doubtless somebody will charge me with hypocrisy here because I refuse to vote for candidates who ask me to support grave moral evil. For them, I have a simple question: How will welcoming Doug Kmiec, Michael Sean Winters, or any other lefty into the struggle to oppose Obama’s assault on religious liberty make me an accessory to grave intrinsic evil? Answer: it won’t. So welcome them, and let them do their bit to reach those Catholics who must be reached (the majority, recall) if sufficient numbers are going to stand up for religious liberty. Welcome Jews, Protestants, Muslims and atheists too.

Or sit in the bunker, priding ourselves on our impotent purity and watch religious liberty go down the drain.

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