Equating religion with misogyny is bad for women and bad for religion

Equating religion with misogyny is bad for women and bad for religion February 17, 2012

Who in 1965 would have dreamed that the stuff of Griswold v. Connecticut would be coming back to haunt us almost 50 years later, in a time when the parties to the original lawsuit probably imagined we would be wearing rocket belts and commuting to Mars? — Arthur Goldwag

Yesterday, Congressional Republicans organized a public hearing on women’s reproductive health.

No women were called on to testify.

No doctors were called on to testify.

And one of the old men called on to testify has vowed to never, ever have sex.

Feminism is dead,” says Dianna Anderson, cataloging the outrages of a “rage-face inducing” day in the accelerating war on women.

This ain’t about religion. Anyone trying to sell you that line is either lying to you or else is so profoundly confused himself that he cannot distinguish between his religion and his own fear/loathing/resentment of women.

The attempt to say this is about “religious liberty” or “freedom of conscience” equates religion with misogyny. It says those two things are intrinsically inseparable. That’s bad for women and it’s bad for religion — redefining religious belief as the desire to control and dominate women.

Those men in that picture there are not religious leaders. They are religious distorters of religion. They have declared themselves to be the enemies of religion — the crooked men who would twist the church and the faith into their own crooked image, all in the name of “religious liberty.”

Frock that.

Those who love the church cannot like these men or allow them to succeed. Those who love women cannot like these men or allow them to succeed. Those are the two biggest reasons why I do not like these men and why I think it’s very, very important that they not be allowed to succeed.

(Links a-plenty and much more after the jump, including Tara McGuinness’ “Why I Wish Catholic Leaders Would Stop Saying Our Church Is Under Attack.”)

John Holbo shredded the “religious liberty” nonsense in a post titled “Religious Freedom and Contraception (among other things).” Matt Yglesias summarizes Holbo’s argument:

Start with the assumption that ObamaCare is repealed, in its entirety, tomorrow. The day after tomorrow Abdul Hussain, owner and CEO of a large private firm with 5,000 employees, announces that his firm will no longer offer employees health insurance that permits women to visit male doctors or male employees to be treated by female doctors. This is a newsworthy event, and the day after the day after tomorrow Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder both offer the opinion that this is a form of illegal discrimination and that if it’s not already illegal it should be made illegal. Will Mitch McConnell and other congressional Republicans stand up for Hussain’s “freedom of conscience” in this case?

Conservatives don’t like the Affordable Care Act and are sympathetic on the merits to the claims of those who think contraceptives or morally wrong, so in this particular case the principle of “freedom of conscience” seems appealing to them. But there’s actually nobody who endorses the general principle being invoked here.

Mark Gordon is one of many who note that this claim of religious liberty is similar to the longstanding, but unsuccessful, argument made by pacifist tax protesters.

It’s also interesting to see, as Kyle Mantyla notes, that religious right groups like the Family Research Council are now saying contraception coverage “violates the separation of church and state.” That’s strange, Mantyla says, because Tony Perkins’ organization has spent years arguing that “the separation of church and state doesn’t even exist.”

But there’s really no need to continue engaging the stupid/dishonest claim of “religious liberty” concerns, since the Republicans seeking to deny access to contraception have now abandoned that claim. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said his party’s goal is to ensure that any employer could exclude any health coverage. McConnell says this is a “First Amendment” issue.

BooMan responds, “Shut Up and Take It to Court.” McConnell won’t do that because his “religious liberty” argument is just barely substantial enough to meet the low standards of a cable news shout-fest, but he knows it would get laughed out of court.

The “religious liberty” business is meant to serve in support of the partisan political campaign inventing President Barack Obama’s “war on religion.” It’s that explicitly partisan and that explicitly dumb. As Stephanie Mencimer notes in Mother Jones, “If Obama is hell-bent on waging battle with religious institutions he sure has a funny way of showing it.”:

When it comes to religious organizations and their treatment by the federal government, the Obama administration has been extremely generous. Religious groups have benefited handsomely from Obama’s stimulus package, budgets, and other policies. Under Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, according to a spokeswoman from the US Department of Health and Human Services, where much of the funding comes from. The USCCB, which has been such a vocal critic of the Obama administration, has seen its share of federal grants from HHS jump from $71.8 million in the last three years of the Bush administration to $81.2 million during the first three years of Obama. In fiscal 2011 alone, the group received a record $31.4 million from the administration it believes is virulently anti-Catholic, according to HHS data.

Sierra of No Longer Qivering explains “Why the Birth Control Mandate Is Not About ‘Freedom of Conscience’“:

The “controversy” (which is a kind way of saying “the ruckus kicked up by the Religious Right”) is about denying “freedom of conscience” to organizations. Not people. Specifically, not women. Since when did organizations have consciences? The members of their boards of executives might have consciences, and they might agree on some things, but they emphatically cannot speak for every member or every employee of their organization.

… The truth is, this “controversy” is about the exact opposite of “freedom of conscience.” It’s about denying freedom of conscience to religious women. … [The policy] isn’t forcing women to take birth control. It’s forcing religious organizations to let women choose whether to take birth control.

… If this were really about freedom of conscience, it would be a non-issue. Women whose consciences are not bothered by birth control would be able to practice their faith according to their own relationships with God. Women who accept the Church’s teachings would similarly avoid birth control. This is about religious officials’ fear of losing control, fear that their beliefs don’t match those of their congregations, fear that people will wantonly surge toward sinful abandon if not reined in by financial constraints. It’s authoritarianism cloaked in hypocrisy.

That “fear of losing control” has been palpable in the bishops’ actions and statements over the past two weeks. It’s not just that they’ve been transparently desperate to assert their control over women, but that they haven’t even got a decent argument for doing so.

Again, I’m not saying that they haven’t got an argument that’s persuasive to non-Catholics such as myself, but that they haven’t got a credible Catholic argument in support of their position.

Here, again, is Catholic historian Garry Wills on “The Phony Contraception Argument“:

The opposition to contraception has, as I said, no scriptural basis. Pope Pius XI once said that it did, citing in his encyclical Casti Connubii (1930) the condemnation of Onan for “spilling his seed” rather than impregnating a woman (Genesis 38.9). But later popes had to back off from this claim, since everyone agrees now that Onan’s sin was not carrying out his duty to give his brother an heir (Deuteronomy 25.5-6). Then the “natural law” was fallen back on, saying that the natural purpose of sex is procreation, and any use of it for other purposes is “unnatural.” But a primary natural purpose does not of necessity exclude ancillary advantages. The purpose of eating is to sustain life, but that does not make all eating that is not necessary to subsistence “unnatural.” One can eat, beyond the bare minimum to exist, to express fellowship, as one can have sex, beyond the begetting of a child with each act, to express love.

The Roman authorities would not have fallen for such a silly argument but for a deep historical disrelish for sex itself. Early Fathers and medieval theologians considered sex unworthy when not actually sinful. That is why virgin saints and celibate priests were prized above married couples. Thomas Aquinas said that priests must not be married, since “those in holy orders handle the sacred vessels and the sacrament itself, and therefore it is proper (decens) that they preserve, by abstinences, a body undefiled (munditia corporalis) (Summa Theologiae, Part 3 Supplement, Question 53, article 3, Response). Marriage, you see, makes for defilement (immunditia). The ban on contraception is a hangover from the period when the body itself was considered unclean, as Peter Brown overwhelmingly proved in The Body and Society (1988).

But let’s pretend, for argument’s sake, that the religious “principle” of opposition to contraception wasn’t based on such regrettable silliness. Let’s stipulate that it’s a meaningful and important religious tenet.

Well, then it’s still true that the bishops are not following good Catholic reasoning. As David Gibson notes, the “Bishops’ contraception objections fail their church’s own moral reasoning.”

Shorter Gibson: If John Courtney Murray weren’t already dead, this nonsense would’ve killed him.

Mark Silk brings us a letter from a veteran priest who is appalled and embarrassed by the bishops’ baldly partisan attacks on women’s health care coverage:

I’m trying to look beyond the hyper-ventilating about “religious liberty” (poor Courtney Murray would turn over in his grave to hear this precious term used the way it is by “Fightin'” Tim Dolan and Bill Lori.)

… I don’t need Guttmacher stats to tell me that using contraceptives is not an issue for Catholic women…I see it every week at the Masses I celebrate at large suburban parishes…each one of those couples has 2.5 kids…I hear it in the casual conversations that men have with me informing me that they long ago had “snip-snip”…I haven’t had confession about birth control in years…So why the uproar about a “mandate” that mirrors what many states do (Marquette provides contraceptive coverage for its employees and has for years–neither Dolan nor Listecki has ever said a word.)

… But what of the subtext of all of this — a deliberate and … a pre-meditated attack by the Catholic bishops on the character and reputation of a sitting president and an effort to affect the outcome of a presidential election.

Birth control debate exposes divide between bishops and Catholics” is a headline from Reuters. That article talks mostly with academics and the leaders of large Catholic institutions. Jon O’Brien talks to the people in the pews — or, rather, to the people increasingly no longer in the pews. “Catholics and Contraception: Letters From the Laity Paint a Very Different Picture Than the Bishops Want You to See.”

Tara McGuinness also brings her own layperson’s perspective in “Why I Wish Catholic Leaders Would Stop Saying Our Church Is Under Attack“:

If this is really a war against religion, maybe it’s time to ask the people of faith who are supposedly under attack. People like me.

My expertise on this topic is personal. Mine is a family in which priests and nuns outweigh any other profession except nurses. My mom taught nursing and medicine at a Catholic college, and placed nursing students in Catholic hospitals for 40 years. Family, faith, and taking care of people — these values are at the core of what we were taught growing up. Perhaps that is why the harsh tones, the imaginary division of the world into two camps — the faithful under attack and the attackers — seems more politics than theology. Certainly it is extremely distant from the millions of lives that could be affected by these conservative outcries. This would merely be entertaining election year political shenanigans if there were not so many lives at stake.

… It is about time we raise the policy debate in Washington to keep up with complexity of faith, health and family that most Americans already navigate in their daily lives. Most Americans are religious. Fifty-five percent told Gallup that religion is “very important” to them. But these same Americans are also focused on the health of their families and they are, in fact, using birth control. Newt, Mitt, Rick, and all the other gentlemen trying to demagogue this issue would be best served listening to the folks in the pews before launching any more pious screeds. Most of America’s faithful families aren’t under attack from a “war on religion.” I for one don’t feel under attack — except perhaps from a small group of Republican presidential candidates who keep ignoring the voices, values, and lives of women like me.

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