Friday, September 27, 2013

Just Asking

In Thursday's post I put in this aside:
I imagine some readers will criticize me for "asking" these young women to be flaming queer militants and write Politically Correct song lyrics that will alienate most people, etc. etc.  I'm not asking them to do anything of the kind.
I wrote this partly because I've been the object of such accusations about other gay people in the past.  And the more I think about it, the more I feel sure that the interviewer brought up pronouns and universality in his talk with that young woman because he knew she's gay, and she knew he knew it, and he was congratulating her for closeting herself.  How often, after all, does a heterosexual artist get chided for not being universal enough?

But I also wrote it because I had fresh in my mind a similar accusation about another issue.  It had just emerged that a pro-gay, pro-feminist Australian priest was recently excommunicated under Francis' authority.  So when someone linked to a story about Francis denouncing "global economy for worshipping 'god of money'" and various people got all excited about it, I pointed out that his grinchy predecessors had made similar denunciations.  Someone else, whose initial reaction was "Best. Pope. Ever", countered with "Yeah, but this pope is getting the conservatives in the Vatican in a knot with his de-emphasis on gays and abortion." I answered, "'Getting the conservatives in a knot' is no achievement. If he actually de-emphasizes gays and abortion, I'll manage a wan smile. I won't actually praise him unless he changes church policy on those and other issues. Right now he's just doing PR. It's amazing how many people are falling for it." The other commenter, who as it happens isn't even Christian let alone Catholic, replied: "You're asking him to out and out change Catholic doctrine which may be more than he is capable of doing. He may be a 'representative of God on earth' but he still has to play politics with the other Catholic humanoids ... Radical sudden change isn't possible. But [the church] can be nudged."

I'm not asking Francis to do anything.  In most respects I'm not even talking about Francis, but about the people -- including active Catholics, lapsed Catholics (including one friend who's now a Unitarian quasi-neopagan), Jews, and secularists -- who are overreacting to Francis' rhetoric.  I thought I was fairly explicit about that, when I said that I'll manage a wan smile when he changes doctrine on these issues.  Until then it is just talk, and talk is cheap.  My Unitarian friend linked to the story about the excommunicated priest, but backtracked by saying that she "know[s] better than to expect sudden, dramatic change from the Vatican. I was just pleasantly surprised that he's trying to emphasize the importance of doing good over dogma to the public." Which means, as I pointed out, that she's falling for his PR strategy too.  She also forgets that American Catholics, at any rate, are less reactionary than the Vatican (including Francis himself); they don't need to be reminded of the importance of doing good over dogma -- they already know it.  (Francis isn't emphasizing "doing good over dogma" either: he says he wants them in better balance -- but "dogma" still rules.)

Later that same day, Katha Pollitt posted a new column at the Nation, expressing her own skepticism about Francis.  Yes, she acknowledged, Francis "seems a lovely man", but liberals and secularists shouldn't overreact. Liberals, she said,
have seized on the pope’s words as signaling a change in the church’s teachings, the way they did when Pope Benedict XVI seemed to say condoms were permissible to prevent AIDS. (Actually, he didn’t quite say that.) There has been no doctrinal change, nor is there likely to be one anytime soon. Rather, the pope was calling for a change of tone and emphasis: forbid with love.
Ah yes, Pope Rat on condoms -- I'd almost forgotten that.  It's another case where people, and not only Catholics, are so eager to paint a nasty bigot in positive colors that they exaggerate his words.  Francis may not be quite as bad as Benedict -- that will have to be seen -- but the secularist desire to put a human face on religious bigotry has little or nothing to do with what either man has said or done.  That's some pretty heavy denial going on there.

Pollitt also noted:
Pope Francis is continuing the investigation, begun last year by Pope Benedict, of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the progressive nuns’ organization charged with espousing “radical feminist themes” and being insufficiently zealous against abortion and gay rights. It’s hard to imagine winning many hearts and minds among American Catholic women—who use birth control and have abortions and even same-sex weddings like other American women—by putting these immensely learned, dedicated and, of course, devout women under the supervision of male authorities, as though they were children.
One of the first commenters on Pollitt's column complained, predictably enough:
This pope's actions have been far more radical and courageous than any of Katha Pollitt's nothing-is-good-enough, by the numbers feminist columns. I am grateful Pollitt's was not writing in 1963, undermining the Rev Martin Luther Kings March on Washington. Bourgeois so-called "radicals" like Katha Pollitt are too bloated w their pseudo-revolutionary narcissism to recognize truly radical steps made by individuals who are taking true risks (see:John Paul I, assassination) because they are men.
But what has Francis done? So far he has only talked. What risks has he taken, except to continue the doctrines of his predecessors?

And isn't this business reminiscent of another holy figure whose advent was greeted with similar inflation of his significance, one whose fans were ready to credit him before he even took office with achievements that he had, as it happened, not even promised, and in the event didn't deliver?  I'm referring, of course, to the Only President We've Got, whose critics were also told to wait, to give him a chance -- even as he, like Francis, was busy establishing his reactionary bona fides.  This all-too-human tendency clearly has nothing to do with the qualities and actions of the people it celebrates and defends; it expresses the wish for a Savior.  No human being is going to be that, but people will go on canonizing one New Hope after another.  Sometimes I think they prefer talk to action; at the least, they consistently confuse the one with the other.