Jody Bottum Thinks I’ve Accused Him of Not Being Prolife

Jody Bottum Thinks I’ve Accused Him of Not Being Prolife August 24, 2013

in my remarks here, which is sort of like thinking I’ve accused him of being part of the Double Malt Scotch Manufacturers Lobby.

No.  I’ve merely accused him of embedding nonsense like this in the interminable 6000 word styrofoam packing material of a windy, ill-composed bid to make himself what the NY Times considers a Man of Letters Who Has Grown:

“I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.”

This, being translated, means “We have no king but Caesar.”

It’s pretty much the same stuff he argued in his piece on the New Fusionism, in which he preached that prolifers and the paladins of global war for salvation through hedonistic democratic capitalism are the Brangelina of the New American Century.  Christ and Caesar are basically saying the same thing, especially Caesar.  Pay no attention to the old guy in the papal mitre.

It’s the kind of thing Rockefeller Republicanism and Kennedy Liberalism says in the eternal quest to jettison or tame and harness for use those awkward bits of Catholic teaching that conflict with what all sensible people in DC, LA, and NY say about those intractable issues the Church is on about.  The key to Bottum’s “Get with it, Catholics, and be real ‘Murkans’.  Everybody else is.” argument is not “not being prolife” (in terms of “allied to that political demographic and finding it useful to furthering one’s political aims”). Of *course*, his argument is compatible with being “prolife” in that sense.  It’s been a hugely useful demographic for the “conservative” side of the duopoly (though, unfortunately, rather obsessed with the hope that the Republicans will actually do something besides exploit them, which has always been an annoyance.)  So “prolife” is, you know, great and all.  Salt of the earth people.  Very, er, pious and stuff. It’s just that that demographic ought not to be allowed to, you know, have controlling interest in the real aims of those the Germans call the besserweiser: people who Know What’s Best for You and when you should ignore the Church. People  who know the time has come for the Church to just get over that silly thing it has with

“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’?

That’s a nice sentiment and all, but the important thing is the triumph of Reasonable Republican Leadership that increasingly looks indistinguishable from Reasonable Democratic Leadership when it comes to all that Life, Marriage, and Family stuff the Church is on about.  That stuff may still gin up the crowds in Paducah–the sort of people you can reliably count on to be snookered into believing even an empty suit like Romney is “prolife” when you need to cast that spell on Election Day.  But the bottom line is that once that little task is past we need to temper our faith in the teaching of the Church with “I believe, American Catholics should accept whatever America insists upon simply because they are Americans.”

Once you’ve made that bargain, Mr. Bottum, everything else is just haggling about the price.

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  • I think you’ve misconstrued Jody Bottum’s position. I think it comes out more that actually arguing for the Church’s position is only ok as a conserving act, not as a revolutionary act.

    It’s absolutely naive and precious to think that John Paul II’s anti-communism won him points and goodwill from America’s elites back in the day. In fact, that position was evidence of the throwback nature of his papacy among the right thinking poobahs in the “cultural elite”. The people with whom it won points were the Reaganite revolutionaries who were storming the gates of DC.

    This error makes him historically revisionist with all the problems that go along with that position but it is a different sort of error than the one you seem to be tagging him with. So, in a sense, he is right to feel aggrieved. His foolishness and error needs to be corrected, not misdiagnosed.

  • Marthe Lépine

    I began to read Mr. Bottum’s piece, but gave up after a fairly long time… After which I had not been able to make any sense of that hugely boring dissertation and decided that I was wasting my time.

  • thomas tucker

    Well said, Mark.
    An observation: his friend, who gave rise to his way of thinking, seems to have a personality disorder. Odd that he would not recognize that, and the role it plays in this fellow’s behavior.

  • Em

    So will Jody and Doug Kmiec become BFFs?

  • Thank you for this, Mark.

  • Ye Olde Statisitician

    It was this Modern Age “I’d rather be a citizen-of-X than a Catholic” that lost England when the then-Pope gave English Catholics the choice by excommunicating Elizabeth I. Most of them decided to be English and the Church was blamed for forcing the issue. It is also what informed the minds of German Catholics during Bismark’s Kulturkampf, when they were accused of being un-German. Knowing this, the Pope refrained from excommunicating the German Dear Leader fear of precipitating the same sort of mass defection. Naturally, the Church is now blamed for for not forcing the issue.

  • Art Deco

    Romney is not an empty suit. He is a very capable man and has a well-ordered domestic life. The sources and motives of his manifest opportunism in public life are a puzzle (and he likely would have been less injurious than Obama).

    What’s curious about Bottum is 1) he’s 52, old enough to have settled views on obtrusive questions; 2) he is not running for office so does not have to curry favor with donors &c (or, referencing Sen. Portman, truckle to his late adolescent son); 3) publishing in Commonweal, which is not something you do if you would like to reach a certain Catholic constituency.

    • Jim

      I think his point on the ’empty suit’ is this.

      I lived in rural Utah. The LDS leadership is not pro-life nor pro-birth. But, the rank and file Mormon on the ground is generally unaware of this, or decidedly embarrassed and willingly ignorant on the issue.

      Perhaps ‘veneer’ would have been a better word. Perhaps I lean in that direction having been a furniture salesman.

      • The LDS leadership is not pro-life nor pro-birth.

        Wait, what? Is this true? Are you talking about the leaders of the LDS church or the elite political lay Mormons? In other words, are you talking about the Dolans or the Kennedys?

    • Howard

      No doubt Mark congratulates him on having more time to dedicate to his domestic life. He was not running for Husband of the Year, though, but President of the United States.

    • enness

      “he likely would have been less injurious than Obama”

      Oh, I would call that debatable.

  • Ryan Larson

    I was very saddened to read Mr. Bottum’s post. But I do have to ask if the post I just finished reading was written with the following post in mind or not:

  • First Things Fan

    Richard John Neuhaus rolls in his grave,

    • Howard

      Maybe. He had his own problems, notably a confused attempt to claim that we should listen to him and not the Pope as to whether the US was justified in starting a new war on Iraq. I had been a subscriber to his magazine, but after that I let the subscription lapse.

      • kirthigdon

        I did the same.
        Kirt Higdon

        • Sue Korlan

          I didn’t. I was going to let my subscription lapse when Bottom was editor but luckily he was fired before that happened. It’s been a great magazine again ever since.

  • tom in ohio

    It’s Besserwisser and best identified as a noun if capitalized.

    Thanks Mark

  • Florentius

    Nailed it, Mark. Very well said.

  • James Patton

    There is nothing as weak as arguing from a position that is not supported by your own constitutes. Until Catholics stand together (at least a majority of them) on these issues and actually LIVE accordingly, you will continually drift with the rest of the society that you reside in. Fix your own house before you attempt to design others.

    • Howard

      “Your argument is weak because Catholics do not stand together on these issues.” However, that was neither a premise nor even evidence. Your statement is no more than an ad hominem fallacy. There is nothing as weak as arguing from a fallacy.

      • James Patton

        ‘”Your argument is weak because Catholics do not stand together on these issues.” However, that was neither a premise nor even evidence. Your statement is no more than an ad hominem fallacy. There is nothing as weak as arguing from a fallacy.’

        Since you failed to quote me correctly, do you think we can burn your straw man together while I roast a few marshmallows? If you prefer an ad hominem, at least allow me to make a proper one…:)

        • Howard

          Here, PRECISELY, is your quote: “There is nothing as weak as arguing from a position that is not supported by your own constitutes.” It is the genetic fallacy, specifically the ad hominem fallacy, because you judge the strength of an argument based on who makes it, not on the argument itself.

          Google “genetic fallacy” if you have never heard of it before.

          Based on your reply, I accept that your second two sentences may be unconnected to the first and entirely without purpose.

          • James Patton

            “Based on your reply, I accept that your second two sentences may be unconnected to the first and entirely without purpose.”

            Person A makes claim X.
            Person B makes an attack on person A.
            Therefore A’s claim is false.

            Which person are you, again?…:D

            • Sue Korlan

              Just because an attack has been made on A doesn’t mean A’s argument is incorrect.

              • James Patton

                I never claimed that an argument was wrong, only weak…:D

                P.S. I also defined the logical fallacy of ad hominem for Howard. The question was actually the icing on the cake…:)

    • enness

      I’m all for Catholics being Catholics, but the situation is not my fault, and I’m not waiting around until humanity is perfect (spoiler alert: it will never happen in this life) before I’m “allowed” to say anything.

  • steve

    Oh hang it all….What we need is a Beer Summit. Let’s all have an ice cold Besserwisser…..

  • Sygurd Jonfski

    “I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.”
    It has been said before: “I believe English Catholics should accept the King’s divorce simply because they are Englishmen.”
    I hope we will all remember and imitate Saint Thomas More’s reply to that…

    • I agree. Here’s my answer- I can no longer be American and Catholic- so I choose to be Catholic and never again American. There is nothing worth saving there.

  • Brad Miner

    Only one problem I have with what you’ve written, Mark. Jody’s column isn’t 6,000 words. I copied and pasted it into Word: it’s 9369 words. -Brad Miner

  • Deb

    That’s pretty much what the judge in New Mexico said: You must recognize same-sex marriage by providing photography services, even if it’s against your religious beliefs, because you are an American.

  • yan

    ‘This, being translated, means “We have no king but Caesar.”’

    Perfect summation.

  • Vicq Ruiz

    The leadership of the Catholic Church in America seems to desire a good and continuing relationship with Caesar more than it desires to defend some of what it deems essential doctrines.

    This is evinced by the ever-so-nuanced approach to those politicians who continue to fly the Catholic flag high while they fight vigorously for abortion and homosexuality.

    And evinced further by the policy pages of the USCCB, of whom I observe that if there is a single problem in contemporary America to which their desired solution is not more supervision by our elected and regulatory ruling class, I have yet to encounter it.

    • I love how Commonweal types say the exact same thing … just in the other direction.

  • Ita Scripta Est

    The problem as admited by Bottum himself is Americanism. We are to be Catholics first and Americans second-period.

  • Ita Scripta Est

    What do you think of Ron Paul attending the “Fatima Conference” which is hosted by many of the same rad-trads you have critiqued here before?

    • chezami

      Don’t know anything about it.

  • Guest

    The Church should no longer require a marriage license for the sacrament to be administered. If the Church cannot win the political battle to preserve traditional marriage, then she should support the abolition of state sanctioned marriage all together.

    This battle over human sexuality is morally essential, but politically unnecessary. There is a way to dodge the legal bullets without sacrificing either Truth or courage.

    The Church needs to see Ceasar for what he is, and detach herself from the Federal government. It will result in a smaller Church, but one that better speaks truth to power and lives that truth.

    • enness

      “If the Church cannot win the political battle to preserve traditional
      marriage, then she should support the abolition of state sanctioned
      marriage all together.”

      I think that would be short-sighted, over something that is only a few decades old at most, if you really squint…

  • Sue Korlan

    As a former Paducah girl I find that comment insulting. But it seems to me that what we as Catholics are facing here in the US is what 16th century Catholics faced in England; are we English or are we Catholic? The country to which I owe allegiance is headquartered in the New Jerusalem, not in DC, and I have to live like that is the truth regardless of the consequences.

    • kirthigdon

      Well put! In the evil empire run from Mordor on the Potomac I consider myself an alien and not a very legal one at that.
      Kirt Higdon

      • Imp the Vladaler

        You mean “undocumented”

        • kirthigdon

          In the age of the NSA panopticon, no one escapes documentation.
          Kirt Higdon

    • erin

      I’ve just begun reading COME RACK, COME ROPE! by Benson, and it certainly feels like it could become a familiar choice.

  • Tess

    Bravo Mark! You nailed it.

  • Dave

    I quit subscribing to FT when he took over. Something just seemed off to me. Glad to hear that the mag is getting better again now.

  • Imp the Vladaler

    Here are three things that the Church and I think are bad: (1) Capital punishment; (2) Paganism; (3) Same-sex marriage. Each of these harms the participants directly and hurts society at large. Yet our responses to each, as Catholics and Americans, differ.

    We try to stop capital punishment because it involves killing people who do not need and deserve to be killed. But we don’t try to outlaw Paganism or its rituals (as long as they don’t involve the abuse of children or animals). We’re content to let the First Amendment protect them, and to do nothing more to stop them than to bring the Gospel to them.

    So is SSM more like capital punishment, or more like Paganism? I don’t know that it’s completely out-of-bounds to treat it more like the latter.

    • Dave

      There are two main reasons I’m against SSM:

      (1) It involves giving tax benefits to people for no expected benefit. Originally, tax benefits were given to married couples because the family is the source of future citizens, and it was in the states best interest to see that those future citizens were raised in a healthy, stable way.

      (2) If SSM people can be “married”, they should be able to adopt children, right? I do not believe this is in a child’s best interest, and I have not yet decided whether it would be an exaggeration to call this “child abuse,” but it certainly is not good. BTW, I would also classify allowing single parents to adopt in the same way. Children have the right to their natural parents, or at least to a structure that mirrors natural parents, if that is not possible.

      Reason (3) would be that SSM “sanitizes” something that is sinful and unnatural, thus leading to unhappiness and perhaps damnation for many people, but this reason is seemingly beyond the ability of our culture to understand at the moment.

      Reason #2 seems to have the best chance of making headway, if the experience in France means anything.

    • Jacob Suggs

      But if the government tried to exalt paganism as a good thing, I hope you would be annoyed. This is what issuing same sex marriage licenses does – it calls a bad thing good with the power of law.

      If two men who think they are married decide to live in the same house and and imitate married life, well I think that’s bad but I’m not going to outlaw that. But government recognized marriage is not merely “not outlawing something,” it using the law to call a bad thing good. And that is bad.

      • Imp the Vladaler

        That analogy doesn’t quite work. Try this: a group of Catholics get together to build a church. The town grants them a building permit. The next year a pagan group comes along and wants to build a temple. Issuing a building permit to the pagans doesn’t “exalt paganism as a good thing.”

        Now, there are other reasons why we might not allow them to build their thing in our town. Maybe their rituals create a fire or health hazard. But we wouldn’t think it sufficient to say “the way they worship is bad, therefore they can’t do it.”

        • LFM

          In fact, though, I think that there are solid utilitarian reasons to condemn same-sex marriage: once legalized, and given the ongoing determination of our legal systems to enforce correct speech and thought codes, it will become nearly impossible to teach, preach, or argue that children need married mothers and fathers (who are of the opposite sex, and not “transgendered”).

          Don’t misunderstand: I’m not that troubled about adoption by gay couples as such, because I suspect that the ones who do adopt, or otherwise have children, will be highly motivated to do it well. (There are certainly going to be exceptions to this.) That isn’t the issue. Instead, the issue is that SSM establishes a principle – the principle that children don’t need mothers/fathers – in the law, and this is likely to have all kinds of terrible social consequences.

          The original, liberal compromise that made it possible for Protestants and Catholics to live together without killing each other (for that is what liberalism originally was, in its essence) was never really approved by the Church, but it had certain good qualities. It accepted biological reality, recognized man’s fallen nature, and restrained it without trying to achieve Utopia. The new liberalism is illiberal, uncompromisingly Gnostic, ignores nature, and tries to impose Utopia through education and speech codes.

          • Imp the Vladaler

            Well I’m against SSM, too, and given the opportunity to vote against it, I will. It’s harmful and creates tax expenditures on things that I don’t want to spend money on. But I just don’t know if a Catholic is required to vote against it, given that Catholics are not required to work to repeal the First Amendment and outlaw heretical faith communities.

        • Jacob Suggs

          Right, but the problem is that a marriage license is not like a building permit. A building permit is permission to construct something.

          But a marriage license is not permission to live together. It is not necessary for two men to get a marriage license to live together. They can do that now pretty much anywhere. A marriage license is granted because the union is recognized as a good thing that deserves recognition and special status.

          • Alex Marsh

            It does deserve legal recognition. The law exists to protect people from harm, and punish them for causing harm, not to force the beliefs of any one religion on people.

    • faustinaagatha

      The problem is not that same sex couples can call themselves married if they want to. The problem is that in the name of “equality and fairness” any thing giving recognition to true marriage will be forbidden as discriminatory; and I can hear the lawyers rubbing their hands at all the lawsuits they get to file against B&B owners and wedding photographers who cannot in conscience abet sin.

    • Alex Marsh

      As a Catholic, I still believe that religious views should not be in the law. People should have a choice to follow solely religious beliefs, not have it forced upon them. The law exists, as it should, to protect people from physical and mental harm, not spiritual harm. People must choose faith themselves, not be dragged along with it by others.

  • One cannot lie for love- and that is what homosexuality is, the attempt to live a lie for love.

    There is no truth there, no love- only hatred.

  • I was taken aback at how badly written was Bottum’s essay.

  • RobW

    “but the important thing is the triumph of Reasonable Republican Leadership that increasingly looks indistinguishable from Reasonable Democratic Leadership when it comes to all that Life, Marriage, and Family stuff the Church is on about.”…a big AMEN to that!