14 February 2007

The Right to Mock and Inquisition 2.0

Melissa McEwan and Amanda Marcotte recently resigned from the Edwards Campaign.

The story? Both had written things critical of the Catholic Church in their private blogs. Disparaging perhaps even disgusting. The backlash against them and the Edwards campaign was so vitriolic that they chose to resign. This seems to me a setback in the march of progress.

When JFK ran for president, his religion was an issue. The United States was previously an English colony. It was assumed that we simply would not subordinate beliefs, commerce, or politics to the men in Rome. For decades, centuries probably, the average American could shake his head in amazement at the thought of a pope claiming to be infallible. This country was founded on contentious argument and the silly notion that even the atheist, debt-ridden farmer had an opinion worth hearing. As George Carlin quipped, "I have as much authority as the pope, I just don’t have as many people who believe it." Only when Kennedy made it clear that he wouldn't be taking any advice from the pope but would, instead, try to follow the lead of the American people did he win the vote.

Now, today, we have Catholics like Bill O'Reilly who claim to be cultural warriors. What they are really fighting for is the imposition of their religion onto the rest of the citizenry. One reason that these cultural conservatives so violently attacked the two irreverent bloggers is because the success of their campaign rests on getting people to show a reverence towards authorities that have no authority over the American people. What did Peter say to the beggar who fell before him bowing? "Get up. We are men like you." Obviously we engage in odd forms of worship in this country, but it is generally self imposed by giggly teenage girls watching music videos or awed middle-age men watching ESPN.

One of the biggest differences between the West and the Middle East is the ease with which we can mock religious leaders - indeed, the ease with which we can mock leaders of any stripe, whether they are priests, politicians, or Boy Scout troop leaders. We laugh at people like Jon Stewart without realizing that this power to mock is, in many ways, the foundation of the modern world. Yet the option of mocking is showing reverence for even absurd notions; it seems hard to imagine a better way to stifle free thought than to squelch the childish impulse to poke fun. (Think how different Italy's development would have been if Galileo could have mocked the Church instead of submitting to its house arrest. Italy was far ahead of England before this terrible event that effectively shut down science in the Mediterranean. But Galileo showed respect for the church about the time that Henry VIII thumbed his nose at the pope and formed his own church. The result? Italy hosted the Renaissance and Galileo and England hosted the Enlightenment and Isaac Newton - and the Industrial Revolution.)

I don't want to live in a country unable to mock men who dress in fashion that dates from the Roman Empire or the people who take seriously their pronouncements. And yet, it would seem, certain people do lack the freedom to exercise the right to mock without harassment that borders on the criminal. We are effectively saying that only people who have no serious influence on politics can mock and everyone else must show reverence to authorities with no authority. That, it seems, is a serious setback.


Life Hiker said...

If a person is not critical of the Catholic Church, a person does not know much about the Catholic Church.

Another reformation would be a good idea for them: married priests (like the apostles), women priests (read Paul's letters), and retirement of the silly ideas that a person can stand between another person and God and that God gives a hoot about a clearly man-made idea like apostolic succession.

Even diehard Catholics like Gary Wills say that Jesus would both laugh and cry to come back and see these "servants" walking around in crimson robes and wearing funny hats while subservient idiots kiss their rings. What's not to mock?

The resignations are meaningless because John Edwards has no chance to be president anyway. But resigning was cowardly on someone's part.

And if you think this comment comes from a nasty old Catholic basher, think again. I was in charge of filling a Presbyterian pulpit for six weeks, and my "star" stand-in was a Roman Catholic deacon who got rave reviews...a wonderful man and true Christian, he was.

Fortunately, many American Catholics have reformed on their own, recognizing that their church will die in this country if Rome rules the roost.

Ron Davison said...

thanks for once again clarifying and elaborating on my thoughts.

The real point, it seems to me, is to reject any attempt to subordinate popular will and individual rights to any group's notion of absolute truth. Although there have been plenty of examples of such notions throughout history, it still seems difficult for me to conjure up a better example of that in the West than the Catholic Church. What's not to mock indeed?

Vladimir Dzhuvinov said...

LH: Another reformation would be a good idea for them: married priests (like the apostles), women priests (read Paul's letters)...

Every year I spend couple of months in the German state of Saarland, which is predominantly catholic. The local church goers often complain about the lack of young priests and think the celibacy vow should be abolished to liven up the church.

Interestingly, the Orthodox church has a completely opposite stance on marriage: you cannot become a priest there until you get married!

Dave said...

As you know from reading my posts, I don't shirk from mockery. Though that may be acceptable because I have no serious, or any, influence on politics, I have a real problem with the politics of attack. Edwards, from what I read, hired the two women to target his "base." They were to be low level, out of sight, rabble (or faithful) rousers.

A faithful rouser of the opposite view, Bill Donahue, outed them with some aid from the Media. They were no longer going to be effective. The good operatives that they were, they fell on their keyboards, cried mea culpa, probably not mia maxima culpa, and "resigned."

Mockery is as you say, is for the people, such as me. It is unattractive when practiced cynically by either side in a political debate.

Norman said...

Not sure this is the best place to post this, but if you haven't seen Fareed Zakaria's Newsweek Commentary, "The Road to Reformation," you'll probably enjoy it. Quite interesting.