Bill Donohue: Puritan-at-Large

I suppose it was more than ten years ago that the waiters at the café I was managing started telling me about “Raves.” These were all-night, drug-infested parties where the music was loud and, to my Bach-attuned ears, obnoxious, the incidences of copulation or near-copulation many, and the over-doses not uncommon. They were called “Raves” because the kids were so high they were raving mad. I thought of these raves when I read Bill Donohue’s screed in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” columns yesterday.

Here is how he begins: “There are many ways cultural nihilists are busy trying to sabotage America these days: multiculturalism is used as a club to beat down Western civilization in the classroom; sexual libertines seek to upend the cultural order by attacking religion; artists use their artistic freedoms to mock Christianity; Hollywood relentlessly insults people of faith; activist left-wing legal groups try to scrub society free of the public expression of religion; elements in the Democratic party demonstrate an animus against Catholicism; and secular-minded malcontents within Catholicism and Protestantism seek to sabotage their religion from the inside.” Nihilists. Sabotage. Beat down. All of it finishing with that dark, McCarthyite fear of traitors working “from the inside.” This is raving mad.

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I am sure that what struck most people about Donohue’s column, which is evidently  recapitulation of themes from a book he is promoting, was his relentless indictment of “secularists.” He writes, “Yesterday's radicals wanted to tear down the economic structure of capitalism and replace it with socialism, and eventually communism. Today's radicals are intellectually spent: they want to annihilate American culture, having absolutely nothing to put in its place. In that regard, these moral anarchists are an even bigger menace than the Marxists who came before them.” He equates gay activists with the Marquis de Sade and claims their primary motivation is a “pathological hatred of Christianity.” He complains that Hollywood no longer makes pro-Christian movies except, of course, Mel Gibson who got “run out of town.” (Not, of course, because of the movie but because during an arrest he unloaded, on tape, a catalogue of anti-Semitic tropes that would have done Father Coughlin proud.) Donohue says of the ACLU: “Lying about their real motives, they say their fidelity is to the Constitution.” And on and on. Nothing new here except the even higher decibel levels of paranoia cum nostalgia that has long been Donohue’s calling card.

I think much of this is unfair. I do not see anyone who wants to “annihilate American culture” although the titans of Wall Street did a pretty good job of crippling it. I think the ACLU is misguided but I think they are sincere in their very different reading of the First Amendment, and I see why reading a few columns by Donohue would convince many to write a check to the ACLU. He says that pro-life Catholics are not welcome in the Democratic Party but I have not been shown the door and, much more importantly, neither has Sen. Bob Casey. 

But, what is really problematic with Donohue’s screed is not his caricature of contemporary culture but his caricature of Catholicism, although it is worth noting that Cardinal Francis George, in his new book The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture, makes the point that following the Master, we must love the culture we seek to evangelize. Donohue’s words are the words of a Puritan not a Catholic. We Catholics have confidence that we bring Christ to the world and to the culture, that in our encounters with the lost and the poor we find a privileged place for the operation of grace, we have, in a word, hope. Donohue’s dark vision neither sees any hope nor encourages any hope.

I was having a conversation with Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete the other day about an event being sponsored by Crossroads Cultural Center tonight in New York to present Cardinal George’s book. I encourage anyone in the NYC area to attend. At one point in our conversation, Msgr. Albacete said that one of the problems with our culture today is that we have lost the “taste for life” and that the Church must find a way to rekindle that taste if we want to invite people to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” that is, if we want to evangelize. Catholics are not Puritans. Cardinal George grasps the fact. Pope Benedict grasps that fact. Alas, Bill Donohue is too busy being angry to even notice it.

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8 years 2 months ago
Being of Irish Catholic working class from the Bronx let me explain what happened to the Donahues, Bill ORiellys and Sean Hannitys... all NewYorkers. Their parents/ grandparents were all New Deal Dems. they moved  to the suburbs [white flight] and sucked up on Country Club Republicanism. They really have contempt for the Catholics who stayed in the cities or  took their working class solidarity with them when they moved .. e.g. Vatican II priests and Michael Moore. The above 'turncoats' are the real values changers and Cafeteria Catholics. When they used the term 'lace curtian Irish' they were talking about their them>>>Their only cultural 'hang-on' they are proud of is the  loud voice and pugnacity.
david power
8 years 2 months ago
The love of the status  quo is inscribed into the hearts of most of us and we are no longer capable of considering a new proposal.The Bible is testament to this,the struggle of Christ and the scandal of His being was what marked out his proposal as a challenge to each person on a very individual level.We then try to get around this radical thing called Faith in Christ by polishing away at morality and building a society on certain sentiments.As a friend of Albacete said "Christianity shrivels up to a scruple".That aside I have never understood how anybody could not see that for all of his terrible ways McCarthy was essentially right.His Paranoia was rooted in reality and as a close friend of the Kennedy Family (nobodys fools)knew what was being advanced underground.In an alternative ending to the one we got the Cambridge Five and the likes would have gotten a lot further if i was not for those who put out the alert such as McCarthy and there probably would have been a lot more in the way of Alger Hiss.
James Lindsay
8 years 2 months ago
Some issues are entirely secular or have secular aspects which must be addressed (like abortion). As far as culture, I have always found it abundantly amusing that Fox News is subsized by the Fox entertainment establishment, which has some of the raunchiest entertainment in the marketplace.
As far as sexual morality, it exists not for God but for people, because God loves people and because He is intrensically happy regardless of our moral behavior. When the Catholic hierarchy creates dogma that ignores this fact, the people in the pews are right to ignore it. Secularism is good here, since it prevents violence on the part of religious authorities to enforce their idealistic and wrongheaded views.
Bill Donohue seems to discount that the President of the United States started his career as a Catholic Charities employee and the Vice President and the Speaker of the House are Catholics and Democrats. Six Justices on the Supreme Court are Catholic - the last of which was appointed by the current Democratic President. Of course he has his own version of who is or is not Catholic. He is not entitled to an opinion on this, however.
Finally, it is the liberals in the Church and public life (and the voting booth for Obama) who see economics as the solution to abortion. We are begining to win the day - starting with health care reform and the raising of wages for the least among us. Don't count out our ability to increase the number of liberals once our economic agenda gets done. By the way, it is false to alledge that abortion and ideology are linked - many conservatives resort to abortion when their children end up pregnant, or when they cannot afford yet another child. Indeed, given the economic status of many conservatives, the Democratic economic proposals may not actually help our cause - however we are not so callous as to have political motivations for doing good.
Marie Rehbein
8 years 2 months ago
The words caught my eye when I was reading this ("these moral anarchists are an even bigger menace"),  and I am imagining a black t-shirt with white letters saying "MORAL MENACE".  I think it would sell.
Pearce Shea
8 years 2 months ago
It's like someone took Neuhaus's delightful and clever American Babylon, pumped it full of cocaine and then reduced it ab absurdio. Donahue normally does a much better job of creating a coherent argument.
david power
8 years 2 months ago
 
 
God is intrinsically happy regardless of our moral behaviour.When Hitler slaughtered six million of His own God did not bat an eyelid so blissfully happy was He.
When the scandals of sexual abuse enraged American Catholics who considered the torment of the children God merely thought to Himself "Lighten up guys".When the Bombs dropped on Iraq and left so many wounded and wreaked havoc on that nation Our Lord was giddily tutting at all those who were not so intrinsically happy. 
The next time a woman finds her husband cheating and goes crazy the husband should just respond" why dont you act in a more Godly way?".I am going to finish this message now to go and beat up some old people and whilst doing so I will meditate on the serene face of My Saviour.  
 
 
James Lindsay
8 years 1 month ago
David, you totally misunderstand me.  A perfect God cannot be made unhappy. That does not mean morality is of no use, however.  Your examples prove my point in each case, since there are victims involved.  The justice of God is not for God, but for them.  This is why I cringe for Catholic business owners, clerics, educators and stock holders who, by failing to pay a living wage, have employees and students who resort to abortion - since they are arguably as accountable as those who actually do the procuring.
Helena Loflin
8 years 1 month ago
Donohue welcomed Reverend Hagee to his offices last year after Hagee's long history of hateful anti-Catholic rants became national news.  Donohue ended up defending Hagee and finding common ground.  In Donohue's twisted right-wing authoritarian mind, prosperity gospel preaching Hagee is somehow good while supporters of social justice are moral anarchists trying to annihilate American culture.  Right now, with his new book, Donohue just wants to make a buck so he's playing as hard and fast as he can to the rapidly shrinking Republican Party's ultra-conservative base.  Maybe he picked up some pointers on maximizing hate talk from his best bud Hagee.  Or, maybe Donohue and Hagee and McCarthy are just like three shameless peas in a rotting pod. 
 
 
 
 
david power
8 years 1 month ago
Michael on rereading I see that I misunderstood what you wrote as I failed to connect with the above part.The point though of abortion being primarily a question of money is not credible for me as I have known many poor women who did not abort through the strength of their humanity and others from a middle class or higher whp spoke of their abortions with pride.The real solidarity may not be economic but emotional and so resorts to the Family above all.My own Family have lived this and I have 6 nephews and nieces who would not exist if they had been conceived by more enlightened people. 
Think Catholic
8 years 1 month ago
MSW as an expert raver yourself (e.g. your commentary on Catholic Key) you certainly know one when you see one.  When Donohue said the Democratic party doesn't tolerate pro-life Catholics, he means those Catholics who actually vote and act pro-life, not those like yourself and Senator Casey who vote and act in favor of the most pro-abortion administration in history, and vote for funding Planned Parenthood internationally and are either walking the fence or abandoning the USCCB's opposition to abortion expansion in health reform, and then yes will say or do something moderately pro-life now and then when the stakes aren't high.  So yes, if what you mean by pro-life is mere self-identification plus effectively supporting the Democratic party's ability to expand abortion, then sure the party is welcome to pro-life Catholics.  But that says a lot about your own warped views, and almost nothing about the substance of the issue.
Think Catholic
8 years 1 month ago
And Mr. Bindner you are ignoring the too-many-to-list actions that Obama has already taken to expand abortion, his limitless abortion-is-necessary-for-"health"-as-determined-by-abortionists requirement to your so-called criminalization, and once again the research that unanimously disagrees with your own self and instead proves that tens of thousands of women don't have abortions because it is for-pay rather than covered by insurance or otherwise free.
James Lindsay
8 years 1 month ago
Mr. Bowman, you seem to be taking the Administration's position on life issues as axiomatic for reasons other than his record.  He is the only president in American history who is actually willing to criminalize abortion in the third trimester using federal law, which is actually constitutional (while judicially repealing Roe is not).
There is some room for debate as to whether expanding health care for the working poor will expand abortion.  I will grant it that it will be easier to pay for one - however for 75% of families, it will be part of a scenario where abortion will no longer be seen as economically necessary.  Frankly, abortion is so cheap in a clinic setting that not having insurance is a detail.
James Lindsay
8 years 1 month ago
The Mexico City Policy was a farce that has not prevented one abortion.  Doctors make "health" decisions all the time - for example when they are separating conjoined twins.  I am all for tightening the exemption - which has already been significantly tightened by the upholding of the Partial Birth Abortion Law.  Tens of thousands of women do get the abortion because it is free, however tens of millions of women get them because they can't afford to raise the child.

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