Archbishop: Priests Should Feel Free To Bless Same-Sex Couples

The Church must take “the individual… their life story, their relationships,” into account,” said Archbishop Reinhard Marx.


A German Cardinal is giving his blessing to priests who want to officiate same-sex unions.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, told Bavarian State Broadcasting “there can be no rules” about whether clergy can bless such relationships. Rather, the decision should be made on a case by case basis.

“One must encourage priests and pastoral workers to give people in concrete situations encouragement,” said the 73-year-old. “It’s about pastoral care for individual cases, and that applies in other areas as well, which we can not regulate, where we have no sets of rules.”

Marx, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, was responding to a question about why the Church is slow in moving forward on progressive causes like the ordination of women, blessings for homosexual couples, and the abolition of compulsory celibacy.

The important question, he said, was how “the Church can meet the challenges posed by the new circumstances of life today?”

Priests must take “the situation of the individual… their life story, their biography… their relationships,” into account, he added, rather than offer blanket regulations. The language and liturgical format of such blessings or other forms of “encouragement,” though, would require further consideration.

Marx previously called on the Church to apologize for centuries of anti-LGBT persecution.

“The history of homosexuals in our societies is very bad, because we’ve done a lot to marginalize [them],” he said in a 2016 talk at Dublin’s Trinity College. Calling the legacy of institutionalized homophobia “scandalous and terrible,” he added that, “As a Church and a society, we have to say ‘Sorry, sorry.’”

In 2014, Marx shocked attendees of the Synod of Bishops when he argued the Church couldn’t simply dismiss longtime same-sex relationships as worthless.

“We have to respect the decisions of people,” he said at the time. “You cannot say that a relationship between a man and a man and they are faithful [that] that is nothing, that has no worth.”

Complete Article HERE!

Most Religious Americans Support Gay Marriage, Poll Finds

By Samuel Smith

The majority of Americans who identify as religious say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry and oppose policies that would give business owners the right to refuse services to same-sex wedding ceremonies, according to data compiled by the Public Religion Research Institute.

John Sullivan (L) and Chris McCary, both from Anniston, Alabama, walk away from the Provincetown, Massachusetts Town Hall with their marriage license May 17, 2004. They were the first in line to file for a license and were married later in the day. In November 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Massachusetts must allow same-sex couples to marry beginning May 17, 2004.

Last Friday, the Washington, D.C.-based polling firm released a new analysis drawn from interviews with 40,509 Americans throughout 2016 for PRRI’s American Values Atlas.

The data, which has an error margin of less than 1 percentage point, finds that the majority of only three religious demographics — white evangelical Protestants, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses — said they oppose “allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally.”

While 58 percent of Americans said they support same-sex marriage, 61 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 55 percent of Mormons and 53 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses signaled that they oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, which happened in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, making it legal nationwide.

By comparison, only 28 percent of white Mainline Protestants and white Catholics, 25 percent of Hispanic Catholics and 30 percent of Orthodox Christians said they oppose allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry.

found that 54 percent of all Christians surveyed agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Over half of all Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Orthodox Christians and African-American Protestant respondents said they believe that homosexuality should be accepted in society, while only 36 percent of evangelical Protestants, 36 percent of Mormons and 16 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses agreed.

As reports have indicated in the last week that President Donald Trump is considering a possible “religious freedom order” that conservative religious freedom advocates say could do many things to protect the rights of religious institutions and federal contractors to operate their organizations in accordance with their beliefs, the PRRI data also shows that most American religious demographics oppose allowing businesses to refuse services for same-sex wedding ceremonies based on religious objections.

In recent years, small business owners across the U.S. were fined, sued and punished over their refusal to provide services for same-sex weddings because their participation would violate their religious beliefs. Advocates have called for state governments to give these religious business owners accommodations to non-discrimination laws, while opponents claim such exemptions would give these businesses a license to discriminate.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholicism and LGBT discrimination

By Father Paul Keller, C.M.F.

rainbow flag church_flickr

We have once again witnessed a devastating and horrific act of mass murder. On June 12, 2016 a violent young man and fellow citizen who was heavily-armed, psychologically-troubled, and professing hatred of LGBT people and allegiance to a radical and violent form of Islam killed 49 people and injured another 53. These kinds of mass shootings happen regularly in the United States; this is the most recent and the most lethal.

Many have responded with the usual statements about keeping those who have died and their loved ones in our thoughts and prayers. But some Catholic bishops have responded to the shootings at Pulse, the Orlando gay nightclub, in a way that goes beyond these all-too-familiar sentiments. Instead, these bishops seem to be adopting the much more inclusive pastoral vision of Pope Francis—a vision that embraces a “culture of encounter” with those with whom one has serious disagreements.

Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida called for a ban on weapons designed for mass killing and rejected barring all Muslims from the country as un-American. But this was not all he said. He also expressed dismay that religious people can express hatred and contempt for LGBT people in a way that makes acts of violence against them more likely.

Similarly, Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago decried gun violence and, addressing the gay and lesbian community as “our brothers and sisters,” said, “We stand with you.” Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, CA wrote, “This tragedy is a call for us as Catholics to combat ever more vigorously the anti-gay prejudice which exists in our Catholic community and in our country.”

To understand the true impact of the bishops’ words, one must also consider the other statements from the church regarding LGBT people. In 1997 the Committee on Marriage and Family Life of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released the document “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers.” This document was warmly welcomed by some for the kind, pastoral tone it adopted. It was criticized for the same reason by others, who wanted a more rigorous emphasis on homosexual behavior as seriously sinful.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.” (Church officials using the terms LGBT or gay and lesbian is still a very recent and rare occurrence.) The catechism continues: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Leaving aside for the moment the philosophical and technical meanings of the term objectively disordered, what is “unjust” discrimination? In 1992 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) released “Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons.” In this statement there is a condemnation of violence against gays and lesbians; however, there is also an acceptance of many other forms of “just” discrimination against LGBT people—in housing, employment, adoption, and military service. From this statement, it seems that the only unacceptable behavior against LGBT people is a violent attack.

The recent statements of the bishops responding to the tragedy in Orlando seem to go beyond the very mediocre, minimalist understanding of discrimination offered by the CDF. In a very Pope Francis-like move, these bishops directly or indirectly address some very challenging questions to the church itself. What does it mean for us to consider LGBT people “our brothers and sisters”? In what ways do Catholics breed contempt for LGBT people? Where can we find and how can we combat the anti-gay prejudice that exists in the Catholic community?

We need our bishops to give us guidance concerning the anti-LGBT prejudice and contempt that exists within the Catholic Church. A continuing silence is not morally courageous or pastorally responsible.

No normal human being should have any problem condemning acts of violence directed toward someone because of his or her sexual orientation. However, as a Catholic community, we need to do much more than just condemn violence. For example, it is legal in many states to fire someone for being gay, lesbian, or transgender. If we believe that this represents unjust discrimination, then how is it that our church is not on the front line working to end it? Surely we can’t congratulate ourselves because we explicitly condemn violence against LGBT people. Who doesn’t? Can’t we as a church do better than that? Shouldn’t we be actively doing something to end other forms of unjust discrimination?

Given the way that the Catholic Church has spoken about LGBT people and given the church’s stance against the moral acceptability of homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage, we will probably not be a welcome presence in the fight against LGBT discrimination, at least initially. However, that is all the more reason to speak out. If the Catholic Church is to have any moral credibility when we address issues like same-sex marriage or the natural moral ends of sexual intimacy, then we as Catholics must be willing to spend time and money fighting against injustices suffered by our LGBT brothers and sisters. We should not feel as if we need to change or water down our moral teachings, but we should look and act a lot more like Jesus Christ in our fight for justice. This is one of the more powerful lessons we should be learning from Pope Francis.

For some, the only experience they might have of the Catholic Church is being told that they or their favorite uncle, kindest teacher, or most generous neighbor is “gravely disordered,” “intrinsically evil,” or an “abomination.” In the face of having their dignity or that of the people they love diminished and insulted, these people, without an understanding of the technical vocabulary of moral theology, may conclude that it is the church itself that is “gravely disordered” or “intrinsically evil.” In order to persuade them that this is not the case, the Catholic Church should be much more willing to work in solidarity with and on behalf of communities that are suffering unjustly, even when we do not agree with all the beliefs of that community.

Complete Article HERE!

Satisfaction With Acceptance of Gays in U.S. at New High

Satisfaction With Acceptance of Gays in U.S. at New High

by Justin McCarthy

Story Highlights

  • 60% are satisfied, up from 53% in 2015
  • For first time, majority of Republicans (54%) say they are satisfied
  • Sixty-seven percent of Democrats are satisfied

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new high of 60% of Americans say they are satisfied with the acceptance of gays and lesbians in the U.S. — up from 53% in 2014 and 2015. As recently as 10 years ago, satisfaction was as low as 32%.

Trend: Americans' Satisfaction With Acceptance of Gays and Lesbians in the U.S.

The latest data, from Gallup’s annual Mood of the Nation survey conducted Jan. 6-10, come after a landmark year in achievements for the gay rights movement. Most notably, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated state laws that banned same-sex marriage. Prior to the court’s decision last year, 60% of Americans supported gay marriages.

Gallup first polled on Americans’ satisfaction with acceptance of gays and lesbians in 2001, when about a third reported being satisfied. Over the next eight years, this figure hovered between 32% and 40%. The level of satisfaction climbed in each poll between 2006 and 2014 amid a state-by-state battle for marriage rights. During this time, the federal government also repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the Supreme Court struck down much of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Gallup asks Americans who say they are dissatisfied with the acceptance of gays and lesbians if that dissatisfaction stems from their desire to see more acceptance or less acceptance. Similar percentages currently choose each explanation. Both of these figures have declined over the years as overall satisfaction has climbed, with a much greater decline in the percentage who are dissatisfied and want less acceptance.

Trend: Satisfaction With the Degree of Acceptance of Gays and Lesbians

Majorities of All Party Groups Satisfied With Gay Acceptance in U.S.

The latest poll marks the first time that majorities of Americans from within the three major political identifications report being satisfied with acceptance of gays and lesbians in the U.S. Democrats remain the most satisfied (67%), as they have been since 2012. Meanwhile, 59% of independents and 54% of Republicans report being satisfied on the issue.

Trend: Satisfaction With Acceptance of Gays and Lesbians, by Party Identification

Over the past 15 years, Democrats were least satisfied — ranging between 27% and 38% in satisfaction — during the administration of President George W. Bush, a Republican president who called for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage as he campaigned for re-election in 2004. But as Democratic President Barack Obama completed his first term in office in 2012, Democrats’ satisfaction climbed to 48% and has gained 19 percentage points in the years since.

Satisfaction among the GOP has been a lot tamer, ranging from 32% to 41% from 2001 to 2013. Though Republicans were generally more satisfied than Democrats during the Bush presidency and the least satisfied group during the Obama presidency, the percentage of those who report being satisfied has climbed quite a bit over Obama’s second term.

Bottom Line

The past decade has seen significant progress for the gay rights movement in the U.S., and along with that, a greater acceptance of gays and lesbians in the country more generally. Now a new high of 60% of Americans are satisfied with the acceptance of gays and lesbians in the U.S., nearly doubling the 32% from 10 years ago.

But despite being in the minority, there are many Americans who are unhappy with the advancements made in gay rights, and there are judges, religious figures and GOP presidential candidates who seek to undo what gay rights supporters have achieved. Meanwhile, another faction of Americans are dissatisfied because they seek more acceptance for gays and lesbians — perhaps in response to continued efforts to walk back newly achieved gay rights, hate crimes against LGBT people and other acts of intolerance directed at the community.

Still, a stronger majority than ever before is content with the current state of gay acceptance in the U.S. Given the generational differences Gallup has found among supporters of gay rights, it is likely that satisfaction will continue to grow as younger generations supplant older ones.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 6-10, 2016, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Complete Article HERE!

Gay and Catholic: What it’s like to be queer in the church

After the synod’s slightly reformist report, LGBT Catholics reflect on their religion and sexuality

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!

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!