Yes, Pope Had a Private Meeting — With a Gay Couple

Yayo Grassi (left) watches as his partner Iwan hugs Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ Kim Davis Visit Is the Dumbest Thing He’s Ever Done

 Why, Frank?


The big news today seems to be that Kim Davis, the goldbricking county clerk from Kentucky, met secretly with Papa Francesco in Washington and that he endorsed her current status as a faith-based layabout. Given this pope’s deft gift for strategic ambiguity and shrewd public relations, it’s hard for me to understand how he could commit such a hamhanded blunder as picking a side in this fight. And it’s odd that he (or someone) sought to publicize it through an American media entity that is not wholly sympathetic to his papacy. Inside The Vatican, the e-newsletter that broke the story, is edited by Robert Moynihan, a 79-year old whose patron was Benedict XVI.

God, the crowing from the Right is going to be deafening. Everything he said about capitalism and about the environment is going to be drowned out because he wandered into a noisy American culture-war scuffle in which one side, apparently the one he picked, has a seemingly ceaseless megaphone for its views. What a fcking blunder. What a sin against charity, as the nuns used to say.

This is, obviously, the dumbest thing this Pope ever has done. It undermines everything he accomplished on his visit here. It undermines his pastoral message, and it diminishes his stature by involving him in a petty American political dispute. A secret meeting with this nutball? That undermines any credibility he had accrued on the issue of openness and transparency. Moreover, it means that he barbered the truth during the press conference he held on his flight back to Rome, in which he spoke vaguely about religious liberty, and freedom of conscience, but claimed, “I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection.”  He certainly knew the details of this case.

I really wish I could blame this on some shadowy Vatican cabal. Not that there aren’t some really weird elements to the story.

In case you were wondering about the publication that got the message out, it’s an e-newsletter whose editor-in-chief, Moynihan, is entirely a creature of the Catholic Right, at least as far as his career as a journalist is concerned. He was originall encouraged in his efforts by then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, and he built his publication specifically to take advantage of the climate of apologetics among conservative Catholics that Ratzinger best represented.​

I then began making calls—to Phil Lawler, to Father Richard Neuhaus, to David Schindler, to Deal Hudson (who at that time was known as a Maritain scholar), to Stratford Caldecott, and to many others. I was seeking insight into what people thought was needed. What message would The Catholic World Report proclaim? I knew I did not want it to be superficial or knee-jerk; I wanted it to be profound, provocative, and fearless, looking at the world from a thoroughly Catholic perspective. One great concern I had was that we would be “too American.” Then Father Fessio explained that we would not be alone, but together with some French and Spanish editors in a group which would be called “I.Media,” short for “International Media.” The French would be financed by Vincent Montagne’s publishing group, Media-Participations, the largest Catholic publisher in France, and the Spanish by the Legionaries of Christ.

​That list is more than something of a tell. His good friend, Father Joseph Fessio, is an important figure among American conservative Catholics. He founded Ignatius Press, and he was twice fired from his posts at Ave Maria University,  the bungled attempt at creating a papist Bob Jones Universityand recreating Franco’s Spain around it—in Florida funded by pizza billionaire Tom Monaghan. Lawler writes for an extremely conservative Catholic website, and he once chastised Sean Cardinal O’Malley because, in a sermon he’d given after the Boston Marathon bombings, O’Malley had mentioned this country’s lax gun-control laws as contributing to a “culture of death” which included abortion, and that O’Malley had failed to use the words “Islamic terrorism” in reference to the bombing. The late Father  Neuhaus was the crackpot editor of First Things, in which he once published a symposium that appeared to call on American Catholics to commit sedition. Deal Hudson founded and edited Crisis, a conservative Catholic journal, and was the director of Catholic outreach for George W. Bush’s campaigns in 2000 and 2004.  Hudson was forced to resign from a position at the Republican National Committee under very strange circumstances. And space limitations preclude discussing all the horrors of the Legionaries of Christ, which Moynihan says financed the Spanish edition of his publication.

There is no question that the conservative Catholic backlash began as a response to the ever-detonating scandal involving the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, and the international conspiracy to obstruct justice that followed. An explosion of revelations was followed by a well-financed explosion of apologetics. The latter emphasized that liberal Catholics were using the scandal to attack the Church generally. I wrote extensively about it at my previous gig. This did not abate during the papacy of Benedict XVI, and there exists a kind of silent civil war in Catholicism that continues to this day.

(It’s here where I should mention that there is a serious line of thought among Catholic conservatives that Benedict was forced into retirement by a cabal of liberals. There’s even a new book on the subject that Rod Dreher found interesting, although I have to admit that, every time I hear the author’s name—Gottfried Danneels!—I hear it in the voice of W.C. Fields.)

So not only has the pope trashed whatever good will he’d accrued here, he (or someone) did so through a publication aligned with the forces in the church opposed to everything for which his papacy allegedly stood. He did a really stupid thing and he (or someone) is dealing with the dingier elements of the religious media to get the news out. Somebody needs to get fired behind this. Who are you to judge, Papa Francesco? I’m afraid you just did. I will pray for you, because, damn, son, you need it.

Complete Article HERE!

How the Pope Might Renew the Church

By Francis A. Quinn

I AM a Catholic, born in 1921 of Italian and Irish families and raised in California seminaries. After decades of work as a priest, I was astonished that Pope Paul VI appointed me a bishop in San Francisco. I love my church, and every night I pray that I might die in her warm, loving arms.

Francis A. Quinn
Bishop Francis A. Quinn

Yet I worry about my church’s future. Basic doctrines will not change. But the church may change policies and practices after doing serious study.

So, as we await Pope Francis’ visit to America, I offer a peaceful contribution to the controversies that convulse the church today.

American Catholics are divided, primarily, by three internal church conflicts.

The first is over priestly celibacy. Observers within and outside the church point to mandatory celibacy as a principal factor driving down the number of American priests.

A celibate life is admirable for a priest who personally chooses it. For 1,000 years, great good has been accomplished because priests could fully devote their lives to their ministry.

Nevertheless, in recent years married clergy of other Christian churches have been accepted into service in the Catholic Church. So far, the ministry of these married priests has appeared successful.

The church should start relieving the desperate shortage of clergy members by also accepting for ordination men of mature age, of proven character and in stable marriages.

Optional celibacy allows a choice between an abstinent life, totally free for ministry, or a married life that enables better understanding of the lives of parishioners.

American Catholics are also divided over the ordination of women as priests.

Recent popes have said publicly that priesthood for women cannot be considered because the gospel and other documents state that Christ ordained men only.

Yet women have shown great qualities of leadership: strength, intelligence, prayerfulness, wisdom, practicality, sensitivity and knowledge of theology and sacred Scripture.

Might the teaching church one day, taking account of changing circumstances, be inspired by the Holy Spirit to study and reinterpret this biblical tradition?

Finally, why is a divorced Catholic who has remarried denied the Eucharist? Such people are considered living in an irregular union.

Valid marriages remain indissoluble. However, in confession a priest, after reviewing the circumstances with a remarried penitent, already can assist that person to develop a clear conscience with God and resume receiving the Eucharist.

Last month, Pope Francis stated that divorced and remarried Catholics were “not excommunicated,” perhaps suggesting that prohibition of the Eucharist is under review.

In surveys today, the question “to what church do you belong?” increasingly prompts the answer “none.” Polls show that many high school and college students have gradually come to believe that what they learned as children about the nature of God can be erased as readily as Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.

The culture that surrounds them focuses on science, growing out of the long history of Copernicus, Darwin, Freud, Einstein and Hawking. Still, most young people become not atheistic but agnostic, still searching even as they entertain doubts about God.

Pope Francis prefers the simple title “bishop of Rome.” So I ask my brother bishop: Should we not convene a third Vatican Council just as ethical and paradigm-shifting as Vatican Council II of the 1960s?

A Vatican Council III would bring together the world’s bishops under the unifying guidance of Peter. It would include representative major theologians, scholars of sacred Scripture, scientists and appropriate academics, lay people of all ages, clergy members and parishioners, and officials of other faiths.

st petersIn addition to the three issues dividing the church, this council and future councils would explore the morality of world economies, spiritual life, human sexuality, peace and war, and the poor and suffering.

Such a council might slow or reverse the flow of the faithful out of the church. It would also stimulate a new conversation about God, one that shows young people that God is not an old man with a long white beard. God is infinite and unlimited.

This is not easy to grasp. God is incomprehensible to our finite minds. We surmise that God is spirit, straddling the universe and parallel universes. At the same time God is intimate to each of us. We cannot prove existence by reason, nor can science disprove God’s existence.

Moreover, faith and science are not in conflict.

Many of the young say they relate to God personally and do not need a church. We applaud this personal relationship, but it is also truly human to do things in community: We party together, we play sports together, we enjoy meals together. The three generations of my own nieces and nephews are just as moral as I am, if not more so. Could it be that they know more clearly what Pope Francis has been asking of us for the past two years — to be more loving and accepting?

What caused much of the church over the centuries to underestimate the gospel’s core message, which is love? After the emperors Constantine and Theodosius embraced Christianity in the fourth century, one strain in the church developed a spirit of power and dominance, seen most clearly in the Crusades and the Inquisition. Many, including Pope Gregory VII, tried heroically, but unsuccessfully, to stop this trend.

Therefore, the main challenge facing the church today is not simply to resolve questions like celibacy, but to relearn how to communicate a deeper, more intelligent, more relevant religion that leads to a life of acceptance and love.

Complete Article HERE!

Vast majority of U.S. Catholics who left the church can’t imagine returning, study says

Pope Francis has a light moment as he leaves St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican after an audience with with altar boys and girls on Aug. 4.

Most Americans who were raised Catholic but have since left the church could not envision themselves returning to it, according to a new Pew Research Center survey examining American Catholics and family life. The survey’s findings were released Wednesday, weeks before Pope Francis makes his first visit to the United States, and as Catholic leadership contends with dramatic demographic shifts.

005Seventy-seven percent of those who were raised Catholic but no longer identify with the religion said they could not envision themselves eventually returning to the church, according to the Pew survey. The survey also examined U.S. Catholics’ views on issues such as divorce, same-sex marriage and sinful behavior, finding an openness for non-traditional family structures.

Although Catholics have long made up about a quarter of the U.S. population, recent data has shown that percentage dropping. In 2007, 23.9 percent of Americans identified as Catholic. In 2014, 20.8 percent of Americans said the same, according to previous survey results from Pew.

But the new survey illustrates something else about Catholic life in the United States: while the percentage of Americans who may identify their religion as Catholicism is dropping, a much larger group of Americans identify as Catholic in some way.

In all, 45 percent of Americans say they are either Catholic, or are connected to Catholicism. That larger percentage includes “Cultural Catholics” (making up nine percent of those surveyed) who are not practicing Catholics but who identify with the religion in some way; and “ex-Catholics” (also nine percent) who were formerly Catholic but no longer identify with Catholicism at all. And another eight percent said they had some other connection to Catholicism, for instance by having a Catholic partner or spouse. For the purposes of the survey, Pew kept each category mutually exclusive.

According to the survey, about half of those who were raised Catholic end up leaving at some point, while about 11 percent of those who left have since returned.

The breakdown provides an interesting look at the cultural reach of Catholicism, beyond those who would call themselves members of the religion. For instance, the survey also found that eight in ten American Latinos have some direct connection to Catholicism, whether as a current practicing Catholic, as an ex-Catholic, or otherwise.

The study also sheds some light on how Catholic American attitudes on family, sex, and marriage compare with church teaching. When asked whether they believed the church should change its position on a variety of issues, a very large percentage of religiously identified Catholics — 76 percent — expressed a desire to see the church allow the use of birth control. Sixty-two percent felt that the church should allow priests to marry, and about the same percentage thought that the church should allow divorced and cohabitation couples to receive communion.

004Fifty-nine percent of Catholics surveyed thought women should be allowed to become priests. Meanwhile, just 46 percent of Catholics believe the church should recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples.

Among those Catholics who attend Mass weekly, support for these changes was lower overall. But Pew notes that even among this particular population, two-thirds of Mass-going Catholics think the church should relax its prohibition on contraceptives.

Overall, cultural Catholics were more supportive of the changes named by the survey, while ex-Catholics were more supportive of allowing priests to marry, and for women to become priests.

Although an overwhelming majority of Catholics (nine in ten) believe in the concept of sin, they don’t seem to agree on what, precisely, constitutes one. Fifty-seven percent of Catholics think it’s a sin to have an abortion, compared to 48 percent of the general U.S. population who say the same. Forty-four percent think homosexual behavior is sinful (about the same say this among the general public). And just 17 percent of Catholics believe its a sin to use contraceptives, while 21 percent say the same of getting a divorce.

And although those percentages are higher for those who attend Mass weekly — 73 percent of weekly churchgoers say that abortion is a sin, for instance — the numbers are still pretty low on the issue of contraception: just 31 percent of weekly Mass attendees say the use of artificial contraception is a sin.

Despite those disagreements between U.S. Catholics and church teaching, the poll does not indicate that a change in that teaching would lead more Catholics to “revert” to their faith than do already.

Cultural and ex- Catholics gave a variety of answers when asked why they decided to leave Catholicism, and no consensus emerges from those reasons that could point to any one factor driving away those who were raised Catholic from the faith. A 2008 Pew study asked a similar question, and found that fewer than one in four Catholics said that the rule banning priests from marrying was an important reason for leaving Catholicism. About 3 in 10 said that the church’s teachings on abortion and remarriage were important.

Far more common, in that 2008 survey, were those who said they simply stopped believing the church’s overall teachings, or gradually drifted away from Catholicism, or said that their spiritual needs weren’t being met.

The latest survey finds clearer answers for why “cultural Catholics” identify with the religion in some non-religious way – 59 percent of those who were raised Catholic or have a Catholic parent cite this familial connection as the reason they are tied to the church. Cultural Catholics without a parental connection cite a variety of reasons, including having a Catholic spouse (15 percent), a general affiliation with Christian beliefs or practices (nine percent) or the idea that their religion is rooted in Catholicism (15 percent).

The 2015 Pew survey was conducted between May 5 and June 7 among a national sample of 5,122 adults reached on conventional cellular phones, including 1,016 Catholics. The margin of sampling error for results among Catholics is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; the error margin is 5.5 points among the sample of 425 “Cultural Catholics” and among the sample of 413 “Ex-Catholics.”

Complete Article HERE!

Opinion: Homosexuality Will Never Be Eliminated. How About Eliminating Homophobia?

by Neela Ghoshal

A report published in June by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), in collaboration with the Uganda National Academy of Sciences, could help reshape understandings of human sexuality – if African policymakers take the time to consider the report’s findings.

A Ugandan transgender woman in a town near Kampala, shortly before she fled the country. She left to escape the police harassment and violence she experienced after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.


Contrary to widespread belief amongst African lawmakers and ordinary citizens, homosexuality is neither a Western import nor a matter of choice. These are some of the findings the panel of African scientists revealed after reviewing hundreds of studies on same-sex attraction.3

But some African politicians seem too busy fomenting panic around homosexuality to pay attention to the facts, by, for example, spreading false claims that U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing same-sex marriage on Kenya and Nigeria.

Desperate to distract voters from real, unresolved problems, such as poverty, insecurity and corruption, many African politicians like to raise the specter of homosexuality as a mortal danger. In the name of protecting society, “traditional values,” or children, they pass deeply discriminatory laws.

Nigeria, under former president Goodluck Jonathan, slapped 10-year prison sentences on anyone who even “indirectly” demonstrates a “same sex amorous relationship.” In Uganda, before its Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down on procedural grounds last year, a landlord who didn’t evict a gay or lesbian tenant could have been convicted for maintaining a “brothel.”

For the proponents of these laws, Obama is the latest bogeyman, with one Kenyan politician suggesting that if Obama so much as mentions the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people during his upcoming visit to Kenya, this might tear Kenya’s “social fabric.”

But the panel of well-respected African scientists roundly dismissed claims that homosexuality is imported, finding the prevalence of homosexuality in African countries “no different from other countries in the rest of the world”.

The panel concurred with a previous a finding by Ugandan scientists that “homosexuality existed in Africa way before the coming of the white man.” When these Ugandan scientists presented their report to President Yoweri Museveni in early 2014, he shamelessly ignored their conclusions, claiming their report justified the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The recent report notes that same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities exist even where laws are most repressive, and levels of stigma are highest. Criminalising LGBT identities or same-sex conduct simply won’t make LGBT people disappear.

Likewise, an approach to sexuality and gender that is in line with international human rights law will not open the floodgates to waves of Africans “converting” to homosexuality. Indeed, countries like the Netherlands and Sweden, known to be particularly open to sexual diversity, have no higher rates of homosexuality than any other countries in the world.

The scientists find that “… studies such as this show that young people can be friends with LBGTI youngsters without fearing (or their parents fearing) that they will ‘catch’ same-sex attraction from their friends. Such ‘transmission’ of sexual orientation simply does not happen.”

Nor should policymakers worry that LGBT people are a threat to children. The fear that gays are recruiting and abusing children is often offered to justify cracking down on homosexuality. However, the panel found “no scientific evidence to support the view” that LGBT people are more likely to abuse children than anyone else.

Instead, the panel, having examined studies of child sexual abuse, concluded that “most of the perpetrators are heterosexual men.” Rather than scapegoating homosexuals, the report suggests, governments should identify and hold accountable the real child abusers.

When given an opportunity to speak for themselves, LGBT people often emphasise that they were aware of their sexual or gender identity from an early age. Similarly, heterosexual people often develop romantic feelings toward the opposite sex from early childhood—they don’t “choose” those feelings, nor can they change them.

In examining the scientific literature, the panel says that, “Overall, the surge in recent confirmatory studies,” including those of twins and of similarities in chromosomes across a population group with a particular trait, “have reached the stage where there is no longer any doubt about the existence of a substantial biological basis to sexual orientation.”

If sexuality has a biological basis, the scientists ask – and if there is no evidence that LGBT people “recruit” or otherwise harm children – what could possibly be the justification for punishing people for their sexual orientation or gender identity?

African policymakers should ask themselves the same. And rather than wringing their hands about a US court decision on marriage equality, or tearing their hair out over purely hypothetical comments that Obama may or may not make, they should look at the very real social harms caused by homophobia and transphobia.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights – which, like the South African and Ugandan scientists who produced the report, can hardly be dismissed as Western – passed a resolution in 2014 condemning widespread violence on the grounds of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The commissioners expressed “alarm” that “acts of violence, discrimination and other human rights violations continue to be committed on individuals in many parts of Africa because of their actual or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity.” They cited “‘corrective’ rape, physical assaults, torture, murder, arbitrary arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings and executions, forced disappearances, extortion and blackmail.”

The commission calls on African countries to end all violence and abuse on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The ASSAf report goes a step further in concluding that “As variation in sexual identities and orientations has always been part of a normal society, there can be no justification for attempts to ‘eliminate’ LGBTI from society.”

As the study shows, same sex attraction and gender variance have always existed and nothing will change that, no matter how many repressive laws are passed, how many LGBT people are raped, murdered, imprisoned, expelled from schools or evicted from their homes.

Instead of trying to “eliminate” LGBT people, why not begin taking steps to eliminate violence and discrimination against them?

Complete Article HERE!

A Catholic University Wishes Professor “Many Blessings” After He Marries His Same-Sex Partner

“Same-sex unions are now the law of the land, and Professor Hornbeck has the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans,” said a statement from New York’s Fordham University after the marriage of its theology department chairman.


J. Patrick Hornbeck

A Catholic university in New York City has said it will take no action against the chair of its theology department after he married his same-sex partner on June 27, in contrast to the several parochial K-12 schools that have fired gay and lesbian employees who marry.

The marriage of Fordham University Theology Professor J. Patrick Hornbeck and Patrick Bergquist — who directs the family ministry of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan — was announced in the “Weddings” section of the New York Times the day after their ceremony.

In response to an inquiry from BuzzFeed News, Fordham University provided a statement from Senior Director of Communications Bob Howe saying that university wished the best for Hornbeck and his husband.

“While Catholic teachings do not support same-sex marriage, we wish Professor Hornbeck and his spouse a rich life filled with many blessings on the occasion of their wedding in the Episcopal Church. Professor Hornbeck is a member of the Fordham community, and like all University employees, students and alumni, is entitled to human dignity without regard to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation,” Howe said in a statement that had been released previously. “Finally, same-sex unions are now the law of the land, and Professor Hornbeck has the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans.”

Fordham’s response to Hornbeck’s marriage has been attacked in a number of conservative Catholic websites over the past two weeks, apparently beginning with Patheos.

Fordham University describes itself as “both Catholic and Jesuit” in identity, and invokes Catholic doctrine in other areas, including prohibiting the distribution of birth control.

“As an institution in the Catholic, Jesuit tradition, Fordham University follows Church teachings on reproductive issues,” states the university’s student handbook. “Distribution of contraceptives, contraceptive devices and/or birth control, in any form, is prohibited on Fordham University property and at University-sponsored events.”

The New York Archdiocese did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Fordham’s response to Hornbeck’s marriage. Neither Hornbeck nor his husband could be reached for comment.

Hornbeck’s marriage follows controversies in several archdiocese around the country where gay and lesbian teachers at Catholic K-12 schools have been fired after marrying their same-sex partners. The most recent firing to make national news was at the Waldron Mercy Academy just outside Philadelphia, where the archdiocese will host a large family summit in September that is schedule to include a visit by Pope Francis.

The Academy notified parents at the end of the school year that it was not renewing the contract of its longtime director of religious education, Margie Winters, because of her marriage to Andrea Vettori. Vettori appealed directly to the pope to intercede in a letter made public on July 1.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput praised Winters’s firing as showing “character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.”
Complete Article HERE!

A Point of View: Why are opponents of gay marriage so sure they’re right?

By Adam Gopnik


Protester in front of US Supreme Court with placard reading: "God said: One Man + One Woman"

Critics of gay marriage often base their arguments on the certainty of their religious convictions. But societies without doubt are dangerous places, argues Adam Gopnik.

One of the strangest consequences of the recent Supreme Court decision here in the US – the one that made marriage between people of the same sex legal in all 50 states – is the amazing persecution mania it has engendered among religious people who don’t agree with it. They don’t just disagree with the decision, as of course they would. They feel threatened by it. They feel that the reality that men in San Francisco are now fighting over who should be first in line to rent formalwear has thrown them, the faithful, back into the catacombs, where they tremble at the tread of the legions and hear the distant roar of lions. They feel victims of a form of secular martyrdom that could easily bleed over into the real thing.

It’s hard to know why. No church has been closed, no temple shuttered, no sermon suspended. No-one who thinks that gay marriage is an abomination has been kidnapped and thrust, chained and dressed in leather, into the depths of a bar on Christopher Street. If you run a business that is open to the public, like a wedding caterer, then it does seem that you may have to cater for gay marriages along with straight, but that was a civil rights battle fought and won at the lunch counters of the American South 50 years ago. If you are open to the public, then you are open to the public, and have to take the public as it is, multi-coloured and many-sided and oddly angled.

Now, it has always been my view that gay marriage is the religious conservative’s best friend. If it is your aim to remove potentially subversive sex from the American scene, then marriage is always the answer. Indeed, if your goal was to stop gays from ever having sex again, then you ought to want to make gay marriage compulsory. But this essentially conservative decision creates an odd panic. What will come next, they cry? Polygamy, or legalised bestiality?


Well, all such “slippery slope” arguments are silly, because all social life takes place on a slippery slope. Once we have banned walking across the street when the red light is on, what is there to prevent us from imprisoning all pedestrians? When once we have a speed limit for cars, what is to prevent us from enforcing a rule of absolute stasis on every Volvo? Nothing, except all that protects us in any case, which is common sense and the experience of mankind. A law lowering the drinking age does not mean that some day soon all babies will have bourbon in their bottles, and gay marriage no more implies polygamy and bestiality and incest than a law against breaking and entering implies the abolition of windows and doors. The courts bless gay marriage now, in any case, because it was already blessed by our entertainments and its own peaceful existence. Manners make laws, and manners alone can repeal them.

No, what the opponents of gay marriage really cannot stand, I realise as I read them, is being criticised in the same spirit as they choose to criticise their opponents – not as holding a morality that might be too stringent to be obeyed, but holding a morality that was never really moral at all. Their complaint is, in its way, one that seems fixed in the political choices of the late Roman Empire. The only alternatives they can recognise as real are either power or persecution. Either you are the magistrate making rules, or else you are the martyr being sacrificed to them. This love of authority, and panic at its absence, is perhaps their central shaping conviction. This is why fundamentalist theologians tend not to mind hysterical atheists, who run around miserable at the loss of a super-deity, but do mind complacent atheists, who cannot see what the fuss was ever all about.

I have, I will confess, a certain intellectual sympathy with the believer’s position. There is a built-in contradiction between the claims of religion properly so-called, and those of a tolerant society. A religion in its nature, if it isn’t an ethic or worldview or philosophy (notice I didn’t say “merely” an ethic, since there’s nothing mere about those), makes astonishing cosmic claims about the nature and destiny of life itself, and usually about some supernatural incident in history. If you truly believe these claims with any degree of seriousness, then you are bound to believe that everything else retreats into insignificance before them. If I truly believed, say, as countless better writers than I once did, that the rulers of the world lived on a mountain in Greece and divided the realms and oceans among them and could be pleased and placated only by sacrificing heifers and rams and pigeons – well, I would be racing to Whole Foods to find a heifer to take out. No pigeon on the Manhattan street would be safe.

We’ve learned, though, by painful experience over the millennia, that ceding control of human life to those beliefs is catastrophic – as we see every day in the Middle East, where the “true believers” of IS give us a indelible picture of what rule by pure unrestrained, urgent belief actually looks like. Those who slaughter heifers to the benefit of their gods are soon slaughtering people to the same good cause. So, as much by clandestine co-operation as by any declaration, we have learned how to remove absolute belief from the seat of secular power.


But it has been done, and must be done, gently – the dispossession of faith from power is a long and slow one. The best books on how religious toleration came to the Western world rightly emphasise that they did not come in the spirit of religious conversions, in wild waves of enthusiasm and ideological conviction. Tolerance came slowly, and more often in the form of uneasy working truces than open sieges and surrenders. A painful practice of grudging co-existence created time for reflection – and the peace provoked the possibility that maybe the cosmic truths were neither quite so cosmic nor quite so true as they might have seemed.

What people forget now, I think, is that in the middle of the terrible 20th Century there was a kind of religious revival among the most humane poets and philosophers – I think of WH Auden, of TS Eliot, of Simone Weil and Dietrich Bonheoffer. The reason was simple. They wanted to reaffirm the sanctity of individual conscience in a time of genuine totalitarian coercion – the real thing, with camps and gulags, not a fantasy of it consisting of mean things being said about you on Twitter. Some of them longed for authority to be re-established, and pined for old popes and Byzantine emperors. But the best – I think particularly of Auden, a gay man after whom I named my own son – turned to an idea of divinity because they thought it the best way of doubting the dictators. To keep a conscience, Auden thought, one must at least imagine a soul. Auden turned to faith because, by making the individual’s inner life paramount, it seemed a form of dissent from a mass society devoted to warping all those outer selves. Mass society wanted to take the soul out of the self, and faith could pop it back in.


WH Auden

  • Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973) born in York and educated at Oxford University. Published his first volume of poems in 1930
  • His left-wing political sympathies inspired him to go to Spain in 1937 to observe the Spanish Civil War. In 1939 he was accused of fleeing danger when he emigrated to the US on the verge of World War Two
  • In New York, Auden met the poet Chester Kallman who would be his companion for the rest of his life. He taught at a number of US universities and took citizenship in 1946
  • Auden’s most famous poems include In Memory of WB Yeats, The Unknown Citizen and “Stop All The Clocks…” which was quoted at length in the 1994 film Four Weddings And A Funeral

But these people of faith were too busy doubting themselves to be furious at those who doubted them. Auden knew how little we know by observing the consequences of people in power who thought they knew it all: “There can be no ‘We’ which is not the result of the voluntary union of separate ‘I’s’,” he wrote.

A crucial third term intervenes between power and persecution – and that is, simply, pluralism. Pluralism is a not a weak doctrine, but a radical one. It accepts the truth of all those “I’s. Though science has given us genuine certainty about a great deal of celestial and human conduct – we know that men and women sprang from apes, as we know that gun laws limit gun violence – science cannot give us any certainty at all about ends, about what we ought to feel and how we ought to live. We know for certain that men and women sprang from apes but each of us must choose how to land that leap. At least pluralistic societies that accept many ways of seeing the world have tended to let us see inside our plural selves. Cults of certainty can only persecute or be persecuted. Communities of common doubt can always co-exist.
Complete Article HERE!