If you haven’t heard yet, the New York Times recently published a full-page “advertisement” by the “Freedom From Religion Foundation” (FFRF) viciously attacking the Catholic Church. Even some not typically inclined to rush to the Church’s defense have noted the particularly mean-spirited and bigoted nature of the propaganda piece. What has followed in the wake of its publication is rather interesting as well, and so let us explore this entire phenomenon.
First, the “advertisement” itself. The primary claim is more of the same outrageous nonsense we have been hearing from the left since the Obama contraception mandate was announced: that by simply not wanting to pay for the contraception of the employees at its various institutions, the Catholic Church is “waging a war against women” and threatening to return us all “back to the Dark Ages.” Claims of this sort are either so intentionally dishonest or so detached from reality that they ought to be considered threatening in themselves. Our adversaries either know that these are fallacies and lies, which demonstrates that they are banking on an unthinking mob-mentality to force its will upon the Church, or they are so narcissistic and deranged that they actually believe the things that they say.
Either way, we appear to have reached the limits of what reason and dialogue can accomplish. The real war was declared when the people behind this message decided that what we have to say for ourselves is irrelevant and that our opinions and our consciences mean nothing. This level of hostility, disrespect, and hatred—and you have to truly and deeply hate that which you are willing to so brazenly lie about—is like a swarm of termites eating away at the foundations of our civilization. It is clear that there is a significant section of the political, media and social elite that would like to see the Catholic Church run out of the country, permanently silenced, or perhaps even physically destroyed.
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America is looking more like Spain on the eve of its Civil War, not long before radical leftists dragged priests and nuns out of their churches and convents to be executed in cold-blood. It has the air of Bismarck’s Prussia when the Kulturkampf was getting into swing, or revolutionary France not long before the Republic’s troops marched into the Vendée. I say this not because of the overt signs that a widespread persecution is about to happen, but because the level of disdain that one must be possessed with in order to persecute, rob, and murder is hardly different than that required for the propagation of black legends and blood libels (the piece accuses the Church of perpetuating every manner of “social evil”). If you think this alarmist, consider why the Obama White House would advise the bishops to listen to “the voices of accommodation”—one must ask, or else what?
With that said, the authors of this particular black legend have made one point worth making, and a point that I tend to agree with: that liberal and/or “nominal” Catholics ought to simply leave the Church. This is not a cute little social club; it is the Mystical Body of Christ. And while I would never counsel anyone who had even the slightest pang of conscience regarding the truth and validity of the Catholic faith to simply walk away, the same cannot be said of those whose words and deeds demonstrate that their hearts have entirely turned to stone. Unfortunately such people are likely more inclined to remain right where they are so that they can spread their poison throughout the Church; to walk away simply on principle actually requires that one have principles.
If our enemies are growing increasingly bold, our friends sometimes seem to miss the mark. As this controversy continued to unfold, I had hoped that the Church’s natural allies in the conservative media would come to her aid. Now there has been no lack of commentary from the conservative media on the Times ad, but it has all taken a tone and a direction that doesn’t really help, and which does not really address the primary issue. For while it is acknowledged on the conservative side that the ad is bigoted and hateful, which no honest person could possibly deny, the primary concern of many of these right-wing commentators has been the Times’ refusal to print a similar type of ad aimed at Muslims. An actual ad, mimicking the style and tone of the FFRF’s own work, encouraging “moderate” Muslims to leave Islam for the historical and contemporary reasons one might imagine was submitted by Pamela Geller in an attempt to catch the Times in a blatant double-standard.
Well, mission accomplished. The Times did refuse to run Geller’s ad, on the grounds that offending Muslims in such a way, in light of the recent troubles in Afghanistan, would further endanger U.S. troops. So the Times‘ double-standard has been exposed, but what possible good does this bring for the Church? Frankly I don’t care if the Times has a double-standard, and I see the entire response as an absurd distraction.
It validates, first of all, the notion that Catholicism and Islam are somehow in the same camp: two outdated, reactionary ideologies that should be despised by all right-thinking modern people. Secondly, Geller and many others who support her work actually believe many of the things that the anti-Muslim ad claims. It isn’t just an attempt to make a point about double-standards; the Church’s misfortune is being exploited as an opportunity to stick it to the Muslims. Third, it plays into this warped idea of “fairness” that our enemies are obsessed with. The Church was publicly attacked, so someone else has to be publicly attacked to maintain the “fairness” status quo. It’s as if some on the right are trying to reassure themselves and others that we still live in a free society by answering an outrageous and hateful attack on one religion with an even more outrageous and hateful attack on another.
I say “thanks, but no thanks”, to “help” of this sort. What we need is a forceful public response that denounces anyone who would incite hatred and hysteria towards the followers of any religion. We must also continue to point out the irrationality and insanity of the argument that the Church’s refusal to provide coverage for contraception is in any way equivalent to some sort of active effort to ban it or deny anyone free access to it. It isn’t just contraception at stake, or even religious liberty; if these lunatics prevail, whatever of the fruits of your own labor you keep for yourself will be the equivalent of a hostile attack on someone else’s “right” to something they don’t want to pay for with their own money.
I must also say that I hope and pray that the American bishops have finally woken up, or are at least in the process of waking up to the utter folly and disaster of statism. It is not to late to repent and regroup, and to insist upon the natural right to private property and the social principle of subsidiarity in a way that actually matters. In doing so a mighty coalition will arise to do battle with the enemy, not only of faithful Catholics, but many fence-sitters, non-Catholics, even non-religious people who are able to see that the narrative of the hysterical left threatens them to such an extent that the Church is more of a friend than a foe.