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.