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"Not five years ago, he condemned backers of gay marriage as amoral."
August 23, 2013 1:16 PM   Subscribe

A Conservative Catholic Now Backs Same-Sex Marriage
"Among religious conservatives, opposition to same-sex marriage has remained essentially unquestioned. Which is why “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” an essay by Joseph Bottum, published Friday on the Web site of Commonweal magazine, is something new in this debate."
posted by andoatnp (27 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think that Catholics really do have it in them to change the church from within and it's heartening to see an increasing number of them speaking up. This is the kind of debate we need!
posted by ipsative at 1:24 PM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I find it pretty fascinating that the organized religions want to involve themselves with the government regulation of marriage. Why should they care what kind of explicitly secular contracts people enter into if they're not part of the religion? After all, the outsiders who aren't part of their churches are already going to hell, and their marriages outside the church already don't count in the eyes of god. Do they believe that a government-provided marriage certificate is forcing god to recognize their marriages? It seems that if churches are going to care about government involvement in marriage at all, it would be to get government out of the marriage business entirely. It doesn't make much sense for the government to be dealing in what our former president acknowledged were 'religious sacraments.'

My favorite is the lie that goes around saying that if the government allows same-sex marriages, churches will be forced to perform them.
posted by mullingitover at 1:32 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Good.

I got myself in a bit of trouble with my family when my Catholic stepmother decided to declare to us all after a Sunday dinner that same-sex marriage is wrong because church bible something. I responded that opposition to same-sex marriage has bigotry at root, which did not go over well.

Reading his argument, I don't think it would convince her. She is not the "reads Thomas Aquinas and thinks hard about natural law" type of Catholic. I don't think she is ready to give up the proverbial ghost with new information and understanding as Mr Bottum seems to. I get the impression Mr Bottum is not happy to see "enchanted" things become less so, but he accepts it--although I could be wrong here because I'm not familiar with this sort of theology--and that is certainly a lot more forward-looking than a lot of religious dogma we encounter.
posted by Hoopo at 1:34 PM on August 23, 2013


Follow the leader. In a good way.

P.S. my inner 14-year old is dying to say "eponysterical" about mr Bottum.
posted by chavenet at 1:37 PM on August 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


Is it just me, or is that essay a mess?
posted by rtha at 1:38 PM on August 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


His tone seems so odd throughout that whole essay, it reads very much to me like a begrudged decision; He's come around, but he's not happy or excited about it. For instance,

In other words, the bishops are not going to be convinced to end their hopeless fight by some casual appeal to cultural consensus or a feel-good call to join the winning side. And if we appreciate a willingness to be countercultural, how can we ask them to do so for those reasons?

Same sex marriage simply isn't immoral, so why should the Bishops be forgiven for still working under that assumption? There are better arguments to make to them than "hey guys, everyone else is cool with this so I guess we should come along..."

I don't know, after that I started skimming because it's so long, but the whole essay just seemed weird. He also seems to need to defend himself against his "friend" Jim, who just couldn't be the bigger man about all of Catholicism telling him he's a monstrosity. It's such a shame Mr. Bottum lost a friend over something so small...
posted by DynamiteToast at 1:43 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


American Catholics have been more progressive than their counterparts in the Vatican and elsewhere, and are usually at or near the forefront of a lot of social justice movements. A majority or plurality have been supportive of gay marriage for a while now, the only thing stopping them from making it official are the archdioceses, and fewer Catholics listen to them with every passing day.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:43 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's a take on it from a writer at his former magazine, an ecumenical, right-of-center religious publication:
Joseph Bottum, once the editor of this magazine, has unburdened himself of a change of mind on the subject of same-sex marriage, in Commonweal (and thereby earned himself also a grateful, and perfectly timed, pilgrimage by a New York Times writer to his home in South Dakota).

...

At one point in this bloated, interminable essay, meandering hither and yon, Bottum allows as how the authors of the Manhattan Declaration were chiefly thinkers and not writers. Never was it more obvious that the reverse is true of Bottum.
Ouch.
posted by resurrexit at 1:49 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The change in the religious institutions won't come from people suddenly coming to their senses, it will come from young people growing up with modern values and the old guard dying off. Change will come to the major religions one funeral at a time.
posted by mullingitover at 1:50 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sometimes, I just want to pat these people on the head and say "Yes, it's true that what you've been practicing in your religion is the opposite of legal and moral thought in the country you live in. Thank you for finally coming around to the idea that consenting adults do have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:53 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I haven't yet got beyond the point where he whines about all those big gay meanies being so self-interested:

"And so too when a gay-rights activist speaks emotionally of the personal sorrows he suffered during the time he was unable to marry. But even when offered in service of something we agree with, doesn’t that kind of personal fact deployed as argument reduce public discourse to little more than self-interest and self-importance?"

So a gay woman talking about how her partner died alone because the hospital wouldn't let her and their children in because they weren't 'family', that's merely self-interest, not an illustration of the unbelievable cruelty of the ethos he supports. To which my reaction is fuck him and his own self-importance.
posted by tavella at 1:59 PM on August 23, 2013 [25 favorites]


And, yeah, my link should have gone here, not to a link to a book about Texas A&M's mascot taking a dump at center court of a game between the Aggies and U of H. Boy, is my face maroon.
posted by resurrexit at 2:04 PM on August 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


resurrexit: "And, yeah, my link should have gone here, not to a link to a book about Texas A&M's mascot taking a dump at center court of a game between the Aggies and U of H. Boy, is my face maroon."

I was seriously confused there for a moment.

I used to read First Things pretty regularly, but stopped when Richard Neuhaus passed away, since his column in the back was the only thing really keeping me around. After reading that, I am not surprised to find that Bottum is no longer the editor.

I went to a talk awhile back by a fairly well-known Catholic writer and he made a point in the midst of it that has stuck with me ever since. In reference to a particular issue (it might have been abortion, I honestly don't recall), he said something along the lines of "I can hate this...with every fiber of my being. And I do. But only my sins will keep me out of Heaven."

And I've had to go back to that, a lot, when I found myself getting drawn into the online dogfights or IRL arguments. What I should be thinking, right then, is: Christ stands before me. What do I say? What will I do? I hadn't heard about the Benedictine concept of radical hospitality then. Better late than never. If the Church wants to re-evangelize the culture, there are worse places to start than something like radical hospitality.
posted by jquinby at 2:35 PM on August 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Following up on tavella's quoting this bit:

"And so too when a gay-rights activist speaks emotionally of the personal sorrows he suffered during the time he was unable to marry. But even when offered in service of something we agree with, doesn’t that kind of personal fact deployed as argument reduce public discourse to little more than self-interest and self-importance?"

It really, really doesn't. Sharing those kinds of stories is done in the service of justice for everybody. It's saying, "Look, this injustice deeply and irrevocably harms a lot of people. Let me tell you, as one example, about the way it wounded me, so you can come to understand why we need to change this for everybody."

It couldn't be further from self-interest or self-importance, except in the sometimes sadly radical act of saying, "Yes, I know many people think my kind aren't important, but actually, I matter - all of us matter - just as much as you do."
posted by kristi at 3:10 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not feeling particularly charitable, I suppose, but to me this exemplifies the trappings of privilege, the ability to publish a long meandering intellectually lightweight essay in which you demonstrate that you are a decade or more behind prevailing progressive thought, yet somehow your belated insights still matter a great deal. So, yay, I guess.
posted by xigxag at 3:41 PM on August 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


The essay has the tone of someone who's world has let him down bitterly. Bottum grudgingly accepts that same sex marriage isn't the hill the RC Church should die on. He would love to be doing a victory dance right now, but acknowledges that the ship going in that direction has long since sailed away, sunk, and lies in a place where it can never be raised again.

I hope the world continues to let him down in exactly the ways he holds so dear.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:52 PM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I get the part about same sex marriage having won, legally and that further opposition is harmful to the church.

I just don't understand what his natural law argument is. Is the idea that natural law supports or at least doesn't forbid same sex marriage ? That natural law cannot apply to a secular, non-mystical world but that if this changed same-sex marriage would be immoral again ?
posted by colophon at 4:24 PM on August 23, 2013


Despite his self-conscience attempt to set aside the idea, it seems that in Bottum's world, gay people don't have any real grievance and instead same-sex marriage is somehow all about the Catholic Church. Bottum repeatedly points out that he had never really bothered to think same-sex marriage through, and this is his remedy of that oversight? Despite claiming to favour same-sex marriage, this essay makes no attempt to understand where same-sex advocates are coming from and instead makes the whole issue some sort of abstract debate between elites.

I have to give him credit as a writer though; I would have never thought it possible for an essay in favour of same-sex marriage to simultaneously make me feel insignificant and marginalized.
posted by jamincan at 5:06 PM on August 23, 2013


I found this article to be incredibly long-winded and self-important, and I'll admit to skimming some in the middle, but I did read the majority of it. Talk about a lackluster endorsement of gay marriage. I got to the end and still felt like he was opposed. There were, however, two things that really struck me about it.

First, I was surprised by how genuine this guy seems. Arrogant and misguided, yeah, but this essay doesn't have any of the Fox-News-flavor of riling people up with purposefully bent facts in order to score better ratings. (Instead he seems to favor name-dropping famous philosophers to make his points seem more valid by association, but I didn't get the sense that he was intentionally or deliberately misrepresenting anything to make his point.) I'm not used to that approach from the anti-gay-marriage folks.

Second, I'm left sort of shaking my head in amazement at his internal debate about whether the fight for same-sex marriage is really just an excuse for the liberals to attack the Catholics. He makes it sound like all the super-powerful gay sympathizers are just trying to disenfranchise the poor, downtrodden Catholics in any way they can. And then he thinks, no, maybe they genuinely do care about allowing loving couples to get married. But then he's back to believing that really they just hate the Catholics. It's a belief that's so extremely far from reality, I just... don't even know how to process it.

The whole thing left me with this vaguely unsettled feeling of, "Huh." Like, the way this person is processing the issue is so completely outside the realm of what I could have imagined, that I don't even know what I'd say in response to him.
posted by vytae at 5:19 PM on August 23, 2013


My favorite is the lie that goes around saying that if the government allows same-sex marriages, churches will be forced to perform them.

And the people that say that, claiming that they are only protecting freedom of religion, they never recognise that banning same-sex marriage means imposing their views on those churches who believe in marriage equality. To truly support freedom of religion, there must be marriage equality.
posted by jb at 5:28 PM on August 23, 2013


Same sex marriage simply isn't immoral, so why should the Bishops be forgiven for still working under that assumption? There are better arguments to make to them than "hey guys, everyone else is cool with this so I guess we should come along..."

They are the ones who define morality for their religion. If the bishops interpret the scripture and history to say that some policy or behavior is immoral, it's their job to tell people about that and not change based on the "whims" of society. (Whims from their perspective.)


It really, really doesn't. Sharing those kinds of stories is done in the service of justice for everybody. It's saying, "Look, this injustice deeply and irrevocably harms a lot of people. Let me tell you, as one example, about the way it wounded me, so you can come to understand why we need to change this for everybody."

Two things with that: the people who like pushing people around don't care about the harm their policies create, because they don't care. Or they honestly believe gay marriage is harmful in spite of the fact that a lot of people are hurt by it. Two: the plural of anecdote isn't data.
posted by gjc at 6:36 PM on August 23, 2013


Second, I'm left sort of shaking my head in amazement at his internal debate about whether the fight for same-sex marriage is really just an excuse for the liberals to attack the Catholics. He makes it sound like all the super-powerful gay sympathizers are just trying to disenfranchise the poor, downtrodden Catholics in any way they can. And then he thinks, no, maybe they genuinely do care about allowing loving couples to get married. But then he's back to believing that really they just hate the Catholics. It's a belief that's so extremely far from reality, I just... don't even know how to process it.

This weird streak of "with us or against us" tribalism is a very real thing among some serious conservative Catholics. Just a couple months ago, an old whackjob acquaintance of mine from my short stint at Catholic seminary way back in the 80s (now a Roman Catholic priest and pastor of my old church), popped up on Facebook giving his hearty public support for Bashar al Assad. Now, why would a normally patriotic right wing American Catholic come out and endorse a widely reviled murderous dictator? Because toppling Assad's regime would present a threat to Syria's Orthodox Church. With a strange emphasis on the actual physical churches. With us or against us!

Religion can make people really fucked up in the head.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:57 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, but staunch "with us or against us" attitudes are common among people who care about political issues. It's true on both sides of the gay marriage debate, it's true of both sides on gun control, it's true of abortion and welfare and unions and affirmative action. I agree it's a thing but I don't think it's fair to say it's a thing with conservative Catholics, and it's certainly not grounds to say that last part.
posted by cribcage at 7:35 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I just don't understand what his natural law argument is. Is the idea that natural law supports or at least doesn't forbid same sex marriage ? That natural law cannot apply to a secular, non-mystical world but that if this changed same-sex marriage would be immoral again ?"

His argument, as I understand it, is that natural law per Aquinas only says that Christian marriage is the most meaningful kind of marriage, not that polygamy is against natural law, mutatis mutandis, gay marriage is OK but not as great.

I was frustrated by this essay, not only because it was pitched against Jimmy Strawman, the NY banjo gay, but also for the gratuitous asides about liberals and assertions of deep victimhood, e.g. sexual revolutionaries winning culture to the point where prudes are persecuted. I think they largely detract from his points, and he does make some interesting points.

I also realize that I'm not the audience for this, honestly — I disagree with him on his most fundamental assumptions. His entire essay is predicated on the belief in God as equivalent to magic (or "enchantment"), and he sees it as a tragedy that this view has slipped from currency. And sees it as a tragedy that I don't see it as a tragedy.

I think the Enlightenment was a good thing, and he's fighting battles lost 500 years ago.

And frankly, the past he lionized never existed, at least not to any standard worth emulating. He's not conservative so much as inventing a pastoral fantasy which corresponds with the fantasy of metaphysics that he finds through faith. From within that, trying to come to grips with the fact that fact supersedes faith is something that he wants to be as insulated from as possible, and does not mean that plucking logic from enchantment and mystery is valuable beyond self-deception. That's particularly apparent in his asides about the effects that the culture of divorce has on children — poverty is a far bigger drain on children than divorce is. Catholicism finds the wrong priorities again and again, which is why it can't, to me, be an attractive philosophy.

At least he has the good grace to no longer oppose other people's happiness and rights on the basis of magic.
posted by klangklangston at 8:22 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Usually in "with us or against us," the "us" is used to refer to a particular issue OR a particular group, not both. In this case it's more like "Either you're with us on this issue, or you must be against us as a group." It denies that people might have differing opinions based strictly on the merits of the issue, and instead pretends as though their opposition is inspired by dislike of your group. It's a great way to rile up people in your group to take a stand on an issue, because it makes them feel personally attacked and defensive, even if they didn't care much about the particular issue.

I feel confident that most supporters of gay marriage actually support gay marriage. They are not motivated primarily by a dislike of the Catholic church.
posted by vytae at 8:23 PM on August 23, 2013


It denies that people might have differing opinions based strictly on the merits of the issue, and instead pretends as though their opposition is inspired by dislike of your group. ... I feel confident that most supporters of gay marriage actually support gay marriage. They are not motivated primarily by a dislike of the Catholic church.

I agree with you on both points. But just rhetorically, at that point in the conversation I'd ask—I'm not actually asking, definitely not trying to put anybody on the spot—whether the person has an opinion on gay marriage and whether the person supports it. If the answer to both is yes, then we haven't really proved anything beyond the person has a favorable opinion of his/her co-members in a collective "us."

It's when an opponent of gay marriage can say what you just said, or when a supporter of gay marriage can declare confidence that most opponents aren't motivated by hatred of homosexuals, that we've broken the constraint of "with us or against us."
posted by cribcage at 9:37 PM on August 23, 2013


Yeesh. I thought maybe after reading I don't mean to hide this essay’s conclusions that I was somewhere near a conclusion - or at least the end of the essay, but. Nope. Not even close to either.

I kept reading and now I'm more confused than ever - the gay marriage battle is lost but there's still hope for abortion? Or something? Gay marriage is now okay, sort of. But only because gays insist on existing (and embarrassing passers-by with being vocal about it, too) and having rights and stuff and young people these days don't see anything wrong with that so sure, go ahead - that will give us more time to battle abortion?

Okay then.
posted by harujion at 3:43 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


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