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The Religious Zealotry of the Catholic Bishops

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 26, 2012: I find it difficult to generate a strong sense of empathy in myself for the Catholic bishops. On an intellectual level, I understand that it must be tough to be a Catholic bishop today. Nevertheless, even though I come from a Catholic background and was for a period of time a Jesuit seminarian, I somehow just cannot generate a strong sense of empathy for the American bishops today in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), because they seem to me to be consumed with non-violent religious zealotry regarding sexual morality in a way and to a degree that I am not. For this reason, I find it hard to empathize with their religious zealotry regarding sexual morality.

As American citizens, the Catholic bishops are of course free to express their views about legislation and regulations and other matters they consider to be connected with the tenets of Catholic sexual morality. But I do not agree with the tenets of Catholic sexual morality.

In the spirit of at least trying to understand how difficult the job of being a Catholic bishop today must be, we should note that Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed war on secularism. By proclaiming war against secularism, Pope Benedict has locked himself into a Manichaean worldview of supposed good (i.e., Roman Catholicism) versus supposed evil (secularism, as defined by the pope and bishops).

This is the Catholic cultural war in which Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the USCCB, is a warrior. Contraception is but one focus of this Catholic culture war. As is well known, the anti-abortion crusade against legalized abortion in the first trimester is another focus. (Disclosure: I am not opposed to abortion in the first trimester, just as I am not opposed to contraception.)

To help advance the Catholic culture war against secularism, Pope Benedict XVI has called for New Evangelization, which sounds like a call for renewed efforts for the evangelization that was already in place.

For Cardinal Dolan, promoting the New Evangelization and inflaming the culture war are two sides of the same coin. In effect, they are one and the same thing -- interchangeable with one another. The New Evangelization helps inflame the Catholic culture war against secularism, and the Catholic culture war against secularism should in principle help make Catholic culture warriors stand out as non-violent witnesses to their religious faith, thereby contributing through their example to promoting the New Evangelization.

The aim of the New Evangelization is to recruit new would-be non-violent martyrs for the Roman Catholic Church. Of course the new recruits need to be properly indoctrinated, so that they learn that they should be willing to die a martyr's death for Catholic doctrines. Once they are properly indoctrinated in Catholic doctrines regarding sexual morality and certain other matters, then they will be well equipped religious zealots like Pope Benedict and Cardinal Dolan.

So Cardinal Dolan's religious zealotry is designed to show that he's leading by example -- he's showing by his words how a non-violent Catholic culture warrior advances the Catholic culture war proclaimed by Pope Benedict against secularism. As a non-violent Catholic warrior, Dolan is willing to die a martyr's death, if necessary, as a witness to his religious zealotry.

One problem with Dolan's religious zealotry is his misplaced certitude about the Catholic "natural law" moral theory regarding sexual morality. Dolan has made the mistake of believing the Catholic propaganda about the so-called "natural law." He apparently believes that Catholics have discovered the "law" regarding, for example, contraception. But Catholic "natural law" moral theory is a conceptual construct constructed by fallible human beings. Catholic sexual morality consists of mistaken tenets (i.e., mistaken constructs). However, properly indoctrinated Catholics such as Dolan evidently are incapable of thinking for themselves. Thus for the purposes of Catholic religious zealotry, the mistaken tenets of Catholic sexual morality are certitudes and are worth dying a martyr's death for, if necessary.

Let's review.

On the one hand, the designated adversary in the Catholic culture war today is secularism. Secularism is operationally defined by the pope and bishops to include whatever they say it includes. See how that works?

On the other hand, there is Catholic doctrine and being properly indoctrinated to hold Catholic doctrines, including of course Catholic doctrines (i.e., teachings) regarding sexual morality. When you have been properly indoctrinated as a Roman Catholic, then you carry your Catholic thought-world around with you as a portable prison-cage, because your Catholic indoctrination imprisons you in the Catholic thought-world. And your Catholic indoctrination leads you to believe that you should be willing to die a martyr's death for your religious faith, regardless of how foolish the doctrines of your religious faith may be. Of course you are indoctrinated not to examine the foolishness of the doctrines of your religious faith. See how that works?

As we examine how Catholic indoctrination works, we might expect that Catholic indoctrination could trigger religious zealotry, albeit non-violent religious zealotry. Under the circumstances, we might wonder if any Catholics could emerge from Catholic indoctrination without becoming religious zealots. In any event, I do not share the religious zealotry of the Catholic bishops today.

In the recent controversy about the Obama administration's initial regulations regarding the contraception mandate, the Catholic bishops exercised their right as American citizens to criticize the government's contraception mandate. Next, President Obama once again proved that he will cave in to pressure. He stepped back from the initial mandate. At first, Dolan said that this was a first step in the right direction. Subsequently, however, the USCCB undercut Dolan admittedly short statement and renewed and expanded its original critique of the initial contraception mandate to cover Obama's compromise. The USCCB's rejection of Obama's compromise shows the religious zealotry of the bishops at work.

Initially, a lot of properly indoctrinated Catholics supported the bishops' critique of the contraception mandate. (But I did not. I think the initial contraception mandate is the right way to go.)

However, after the USCCB rejected Obama's compromise, some Catholic who had initially supported the bishops had second thoughts about the bishops' rejection of Obama's compromise.

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell

Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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The Catholic bishops' religious zealotry regarding... by Thomas Farrell on Sunday, Feb 26, 2012 at 3:58:45 PM
Thank you, Mr. Farrell, for a thoughtful, well-wri... by Ariel Monserrat on Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 5:35:45 PM
Please, no more apologetics for Obama the wimp who... by Walter J Smith on Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 10:47:22 AM