Wednesday, January 8, 2014

bare knuckle

It's a new year, but it's the same ol' song-and-dance when it comes to the nation's last acceptable prejudice.  Jamie Stiehm borrows U.S. News & World Report for some good old-fashioned, but elitist, anti-Catholic bigotry

Stiehm writes in response to US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's decision for the Little Sisters of the Poor's appeal of the Affordable Care Act's birth control provisions.  The Sisters had appealed an earlier judicial decision that insisted they abide by the law, but Sotomayor reversed this.  Such sent Stiehm over the edge:

Et tu, Justice Sonia Sotomayor? Really, we can't trust you on women's health and human rights? The lady from the Bronx just dropped the ball on American women and girls as surely as she did the sparkling ball at midnight on New Year's Eve in Times Square. Or maybe she's just a good Catholic girl.


The Supreme Court is now best understood as the Extreme Court. One big reason why is that six out of nine Justices are Catholic. Let's be forthright about that. (The other three are Jewish.) Sotomayor, appointed by President Obama, is a Catholic who put her religion ahead of her jurisprudence. What a surprise, but that is no small thing.

There are so many, quite frankly baffling, misrepresentations throughout the article.  What are we to make of her note that "the other three are Jewish"?  After reading Maria Monk, does Stiehm plan to begin The Protocols of the Elders of Zion?  Furthermore, since when did Nancy Pelosi become, of all things, the standard for measuring authentic Catholic womanhood in this country? No nod for embattled HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius?  She's Catholic, too, y'know...



Philosophically Stiehm could be engaged over her definition of "human rights."  Obviously she starts somewhere other than the intrinsic dignity of the human person.  Stiehm also perpetuates a subtle but thus all-the-more-damning distinction between the customary presumption of "freedom of religion" and an apparently simpler, but radically confining and redefining, "freedom of belief."  Those two, suffice to say, are not the same.

Thanks to Cathy Schiffer on Facebook, this criticism by Scott Belhorn:

Here in seven paragraphs of spleen belches forth our secular ruling class' hatred of the Church. Having re-written the First Amendment in their own image, they regard anyone who interprets it as protecting individual freedom of religion and conscience as a traitor to the new order.

Yep, that pretty much nails it.  Stiehm manages to resurrect, in grand postmodern fashion, a unreconstructed expression of Paul Blanshard's elite anti-Catholicism last en vogue in the late 1940s.  That's quite an accomplishment, actually.  Make no mistake:  this anti-Catholicism shares nothing with the tired theological opposition sent up by Protestants, evangelical, liberal, or otherwise. There's no scarlet woman, no drunken Whore of Babylon, no esoteric numerical combinations.  (On 666, others have done better. \m/)  Furthermore, for all that Stiehm gets wrong she doesn't lapse into the phantasmagoria of Opus Dei conspiracies ala The Da Vinci Code.

No, Stiehm is a secular anti-Catholic who's also a feminist.  (The two should not be equated.  After all, can't Catholics be feminists, too?)  Stiehm's feminism obviously prompted the article--and her antipathy towards Sotomayor.  The anti-Catholicism, quite frankly, goes deeper, largely because it is so uninformed but equally surely held.  Stiehm sees herself and her readers as sensible, a word she uses to describe the ACA's contraception mandate.

She blocked the most simple of rules – lenient rules – that required the Little Sisters to affirm their religious beliefs against making contraception available to its members. They objected to filling out a one-page form. What could be easier than nuns claiming they don't believe in contraception?

If only these religious nutjobs would just settle down--if they would only be good Catholics--then we'd have our nice, neat, new healthcare system.  Things would just be so much better if....Well, too bad. Studying religion has taught me this much at least:  it's a human endeavor and thus messy.  People rarely do what other people want them to do.  (Cf. Humanae Vitae 1968--which Stiehm, surprisingly, doesn't mention.)  More to the point, Stiehm has no problem with Catholic nuns per se--their own freedom to believe as they wish--but Stiehm subtly abolishes their freedom--one generally recognized as constitutional--to practice their faith.  In other words, Stiehm recognizes only "freedom of worship," not "freedom of religion."  The former is domesticated and politically acceptable.  The latter frees the Little Sisters to make pesky legal injunctions.

Beyond all that, the article exhibits a stunning lack of awareness.  A "nunnery"? "meddlesome American Catholic Archbishops"?  I suppose this isn't the time or place for a lecture on Catholic terminology.  Nevertheless, Stiehm's recklessness conveys a quite intentional accusation.  

But right now, the climate is so cold when it comes to defending our settled legal ground that Sotomayor's stay is tantamount to selling out the sisterhood. And sisterhood is not as powerful as it used to be, ladies.

Now I finally understand all the Zombie mania of the past decade!  Stiehm fears the Catholic zombie apocalypse.  No longer will the dead reanimate to eat the living.  Oh no, this time a cabal of Roman Catholic clerics will cajole hapless, unthinking Catholic women--first nuns and now Justice Sotomayor--to do their bidding.  Will Stiehm next have us despair over the return of meatless Fridays?

The scary part is that I have faculty colleagues who will accept Stiehm's article without qualification.  Elite anti-Catholicism's sophistication allows it mobility and longevity that religious anti-Catholicism simply no longer enjoys.  If American Catholics' grasp of their own catechetical knowledge were any stronger, they'd realize that Stiehm's caricature of their own Church exists only in her own mind--and those of the like-minded.  To wit:  only in the minds of anti-Catholic elites like Stiehm do Catholic nuns and the all-male celibate Catholic hierarchy get along so swimmingly.  Have we forgotten Nuns on a Bus so quickly?

Like a frustrated bully, Stiehm sees none of these distinctions and, to reassert (cultural) dominance, strikes at any (Catholic) enemies nearby.  The Catholic response will surely be swift, and it will also be varied.  Bill Donohue's Catholic League will respond in like fashion by first removing the gloves:  Stiehm wants bare knuckle?  She'll get it.  But what else can be said and done?  Will we instead seek opposition that does not duplicate the same mistakes committed against us?  (One of the early comments posted to Stiehm's article:  "Enjoy the outer darkness." Funny, but not helpful.)  And will those agreeing with Stiehm recognize, as Justice Sotomayor did, that the ACA contraception mandate excludes far more than it empowers?

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