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John A. ColemanSeptember 29, 2012

    The gospel for the 26th Sunday in Cycle B is about the strange or alien exorcist whom the disciples try to hinder because he was not, they said, part of 'us'. Scripture scholar, John Donahue S.J., in his commentary on Mark, notes; " The episode of the ' strange exorcist' is remarkable for the attitude of tolerance it counsels toward those who are outside the circle of Jesus.' Whoever is not against us is for us'. It is ironic that this advice appears shortly after another account of the disciples' own personal failure to cast out a demon in Mark 9:14-29. Read in the context of a gospel written for a small Christian community facing persecution, this instruction would have encouraged a postiive attitude toward adherents of other religions while reinforcing the absolute centrality of ' the name of Christ' ( in the passage about giving a cup of water in the name of Christ to little ones) in salvation. It would also serve as a critique of exaggerated Christian exclusiveness."

The passage set me thinking about the proliferating rhetoric in society and church exasperating an us versus them mentality. Too many of us only read blogs or journals which support one side of the arguments about economics and politics in our society. Similar closure to the other and its arguments is no less apparent in the church. Sometimes, as I read the screeds in certain Catholic blogs, both left and right ( and truth be told as I read some of the exaggerated or inflated claims and comments of some of our American bishops!), I sometimes think we especially now need to hear Mark 9:39-48 about the invitation to see that those who are not against us are for us. I was simply flabbergasted when the Archbishop of Newark on Sept. 25th told Catholics who supported  a civil form of gay marriage that they should forgo receiving communion. He was even quoted on NPR  as saying that either you are wiith us or you are not.

I do not assume that all those who oppose gay marriage are homophobic. They, I assume, presume that allowing the title marriage to be granted--note civilly ( There is no question of a sacramental marriage in the church except between a man and a woman)--somehow denigrates marriage or threatens heterosexual marriage ( but we need sociological evidence to back up any such, essentially empirical, claim!). Nor do I assume that a Catholic who supports civil gay marriages necessarily is dissenting from church teaching that Catholics, outside of marriage, should remain chaste. But more than Catholics are involved in approving gay marriages civilly. A Catholic who votes in favor of gay marriage is not counter-acting any clear church teaching about civil marriages ( is there such a thing?). Clear church teaching is that a sacramental marriage is between a man and a woman. There is no clear church teaching about what constitutes a civil marriage. The church opposes divorce but does not counter civil laws which allow divorce and also allow divorced people to re-marry ( the church does not allow divorced Catholics to remarry if their first marriage was a valid sacrament). Similarly, the church opposes contraceeption for Catholics but does not oppose civil laws which allow their sale and use more widely in society. To do so would violate others' religious liberty. Also, as Thomas Aquinas once argued, civil law need not ensrhine in law every virtue or punish every vice ( this would make for an overly intrusive government).

I actually tend to be in favor of civil gay marriage. The term, marriage, has a long history of secular meaning and resonances the way the term, civil unions, does not. It carries overtones of fidelity, mutual support and sustenance and monogamy. Whether the state should recognize civil marriage for gays and lesbians is not, it seems to me, a matter of clear church teaching, as such. Bishops and others can oppose civil gay marriage, to be sure. But to claim that to disagree with their, at best, ' prudential' reading of what is best in a pluralistic socciety is tantamount to denying ' authentic church teaching' strikes me as a little bizarre.

I actually had occastion, recently, to talk to a retired archbishop about Archbishop John Myers' letter. The archbishop said he thought Myers had better consult a canon laywer before he starts telling people to refrain from receiving communion because of their support for civil gay marriage. In some ways, Myers' comment tends to feed into that noxious us versus them mentality. He, even, somewhat unfelicitously, likened or compared allowing gay marriages to allowing incestuous marriages for tax purposes. Somehow, I prefer the bishop of Duluth who, when it was discovered that one of his priests gave $1,000 to support marriage equality, did not take any punitive action, although the bishop, himself, opposes a Minnesota bill that might allow gay marriages. The data from Pew polls shows that 53% of Catholics support gay marriage. This number rises to 72% among those aged 18-34.

I was reminded of a scene from Star Wars: Episode Three: Revenge of the Sith where Obi Wan Kenobi is sent by Yoda to contront and destroy Anakin Skywalker who has betrayed his comrades. Obi-Wan-Kenobi hopes, however, that he might be able to evoke some genuine reprentance from Anakin. Instead, the fallen traitor Anakin boasts that he had restored peace to the Empire. Obi-Wan reminds him that, for a Jedi, the primary allegiace was to the Republic. Anakin then blurts out: " You are either with me or my enemy". This is a clear and unmistakable sign to Obi-Wan-Kenobi that his former friend is, indeed, irretrievably lost. He retorts: ""Only s Sith Lord deals in such absolutes!"

Maybe I am unique in feeling that there has been a  decided and unhealthy uptick in us versus them language among our Catholic population and episcopacy. Now, to be sure, we need not nor can not be simply relativistic. But compromise in a pluralistic society does not necessarily mean relativism. We have a right to plead our own vision of a pluralist society, even on the question of opposing gay marriage, if we believe it would somehow denigrate or undermine heterosexual marriage. But I find it distressing, as the church begins its Year of Faith to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II which did so much to encourage ecumenissm and inter-religious dialogue ( looking for connections and not just where we differ) and counseled us to work for the common good of society, even with unbelievers, in its document, The Church in the Modern World, that so much rhetoric in the church is tilting much more now toward an us versus them mentality.

Again, to cite John Donahue S.J., commenting on Mark 9:38-48. The good news " is that those who do Jesus'  work without formally being his followers are ' for him' and those who have given evven a cup of water to those who ' belong to Christ' will be rewarded ( even if they remain unbelievers). Jesus' words are a challenge to read the signs of the times and to discern those who are confronting the power of evil in in our world and so are ' for us'". Jesus eschewed an overly strong Us versus them rhetoric.

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David Smith
9 years 9 months ago
Homosexuals, tired of being treated as outcasts, want to be accepted in society as normal. Marriage is normal. Attach marriage to homosexual couples, and, voilà, instant acceptance. Textbooks and the media will do the reinforcement.

Of course, marriage has traditionally been about children. But that's clearly much less the case in the West than it was in past centuries. Therefore, why not redefine marriage to bring it up to date? Traditionalists and religious people object, but they can easily be brought on board by proclaiming that widening the definition of marriage is only fair. And everybody in the West strongly believes that anything that's fair must be done immediately.

Gay Marriage Now!
Marie Rehbein
9 years 9 months ago
I would question the prescience of Pope Paul VI.  The loosening of sexual mores was well underway when the pope opposed allowing contraceptive use by married couples.  There have always been some married people who cheated in their marriages, and the development of contraception has not made that more common.

The pope's entire purpose in opposing contraception was to keep sexual activity tied to reproduction, almost to the point of making pregnancy a punishment, as if given the choice, no one would choose to have children.  As we can see, however, despite the easy availability of contraception, there is still plenty of reproduction occurring.  Similarly, despite the ease of divorce, there are still plenty of marriages not being ended.

It would be my guess that even if gay marriage were simply to be considered marriage as in the joining of oneself to one's life partner, it would not be the end of traditional marriage and offspring production.  Unless we have been genuinely deluded as to the number of homosexual persons in the world, there will be little impact from the legalization of marriage between persons of the same gender.

One thing, however, that will linger is the hurt from all the foul rhetoric emitted by those who oppose this development in society, such as the comparison of homosexuality with bestiality and the comparison of the devoted relationship of one individual to another with plural marriage.
Thomas Rooney OFS
9 years 9 months ago
While I am uninterested in the precognitive abilities of the aforementioned Popes, I would like to correct Mr. Brooks on one score:

"...billions of federal dollars poured out for HIV/AIDS research (an originally homosexual disease)..."

Orginally HIV/AIDS was incorrectly LABELED a homosexual disease by the CDC, GRID (gay-related immune deficiency).  When it was determined it was NOT exclusive to the gay community, affecting Haitians, hemophiliacs, and herion addicts in large numbers, the CDC begain using AIDS in terminology in 1982.


Mike Brooks
9 years 8 months ago
Secular Franciscan Tom:  

A pluralistic society is not required to accept all ethical beliefs as equal, nor is it required to tolerate behaviors that adversely effect an individual either directly or indirectly via a drastic societal change. 

So the "issue" as I see it is that a lot of bad things have happened since our laws have been changed to accomodate the demands for "sexual freedom," regardless of sexual preference.  And I put "sexual freedom" in quotes because the fact is that those who have ever wanted to participate in sexual acts of whatever sort have never really been legally prohibited from doing so; yes, there were laws against homosexual acts in effect as recently as 10 or so years ago, but these laws were never really enforced or enforceable if the acts were performed in private.  Similarly, there were laws on the books that made adultery illegal, but never enforced.  To me, that approach essentially of "do whatever you want, but keep it to yourself," was a good compromise that liberals never acknowledge.

I once read a quote that said (paraphrase) that any time you legalize a previously prohibited act, you will have more people participating in that act.  And i think that all of the bad acts that I listed in my first post suggest that there is truth in that remark.

I don't have time here to formulate a solution for how to clean up the damage that the over-sexualization of our society has caused, but with respect to the current issue, I think it would be prudent, given the outcomes of previous legal changes, to pay attention to what the Church has to say on the issue of marriage and not sidestep the issue by reframing it as an "us versus them" problem, where, of course, the Church is the offending party because it is resistant to change.

And, by the way, I don't see how the reading about the alien exorcist applies here.  In that story, the man whose behavior the apostles disapproved of was casting out demons - something that they all could agree on - in Jesus' name.  It wasn't the casting out of demons that was the problem, it was the fact that he was not part of the apostles' group while he was doing it.  With respect to the same-sex marriage issue, it would be as if a Presbyterian minister was preaching against same-sex marriage and a Catholic priest chastised him for it because he wasn't a Catholic.  If the minister was preaching in favor of same-sex marriage, then we'd instead look to the story of the adulteress in which Jesus did not condemn the woman but told her to go and sin nor more.  The point, as I read it, is that it wouldn't make a heckuva lot of sense to stop someone from teaching about something you believe in just because he isn't a card-carrying member of your group.  But when there is a point of disagreement, it's ok to take an "us versus them" attitude.  Recall how Jesus railed against the Pharisees? 

Sorry for the long-winded posts.
Thomas Rooney OFS
9 years 8 months ago
Michael, thank you for the response -

"A pluralistic society is not required to accept all ethical beliefs as equal, nor is it required to tolerate behaviors that adversely effect an individual either directly or indirectly via a drastic societal change."

But don't all citizens who make up a pluralistic society have a say in what said society accepts and tolerates?   

I understand all of your points.  We have a different idea on how these issues are tyo be dealt with, however.  The genie is out of the bottle when it comes to these issues, particularly divorce, contraception, and most recently same-sex marriage.  I don't believe there is any question what our Church teaches regarding these issues.  And NONE of them, no matter how strongly the Church condemns them, are going away.  They are woven into the fabric of our society, for better or for worse.

However, instead of condemnation and - I'm sorry - what seems to me a serves-em-right tone (particularly in your HIV/AIDS comments), don't we as Christians have an obligation to meet these people WHERE THEY ARE?  The adulterous woman in all probability went and sinned no more.  I don't pretend to have Christ-like charisma where I can say "that's wrong" and expect the person's soul to be converted and healed.

How do we as fellow sinners meet these people where they are?

I appreciate the conversation.  Peace to you.
Thomas Rooney
9 years 9 months ago
What is the "issue" as you see it, Mr. Brooks?  And what do you propose be done about things, as they are?  Make divorce, contraception, active homosexuality, whatever our Church defines as immoral behaviour CRIMINAL behaviour?  That simply doesn't work in a pluralistic society (and yes, the Unites States IS and was meant to be a pluralistic society.)

By the by, I am not a Friar.  I'm a professed Secular Franciscan.
Amy Ho-Ohn
9 years 9 months ago
This is pretty clearly a column about same-sex marriage, masquerading as a column about rhetorical style, so I think somebody should kick over that gigantic strawman standing in the middle, before it intimidates any little, timid, chirpy people nearby.

The main reason Catholics who object to the redefinition of civil marriage do so is the same reason atheistswho object do so: not because they expect it to harm marriage and not because the bishops command them to, but because it is a patently inane idea.

If dog-owners got together and decided to lobby the government to change the definition of "child" to include dogs, so they could receive child credits on their taxes; even if they met with some limited success, it still would not transform dogs into children. Everybody knows people who call their dogs their "children" and call themselves their dogs' "mommies" and pay outrageous amounts for "doggy day care" and interrupt conversations about children to interpose some facetious remark about their dogs. But everybody (one hopes) understands it's just a satirical joke.

Or if the hog farmers got together and decided to lobby the government to classify a hog as a vegetable, so that hogmeat could be subsidized by nutrition programs for school lunches; even if they succeeded, in a few states and countries, what would it accomplish? Calling a hog a vegetable doesn't make him one. Vegetables are good for you, everybody knows that. And hog isn't. After a while, maybe some cultured, elite people would begin to remember that one is expected to call the hog a vegetable (especially the ones who secretly hate broccoli and try to have as little to do with it as possible) but their intestines and arteries wouldn't be fooled.

A couple who are incapable of the marital act are incapable of consummating a marriage. Allowing them to claim each other as "spouses" on their income tax returns will not change that.

Laws should conform as much as possible to reality. Once a legal system degenerates to the point that every word is up for politically motivated redefinition, nobody will respect the laws, nobody will be able to remember what they mean, and nobody will bother to obey them. There are enough ridiculous laws on the books already. Sensible people, regardless of their religious convictions, are opposed to adding more.
Joris Heise
9 years 9 months ago
Interesting perhaps is my objection to both of the writers.  On the one hand, I oppose ''gay marriage'' for reasons parallel to but opposite of the reasons the original author gives. For all the talk about ????''overtones of fidelity, mutual support and sustenance, and monogamy'' history suggests that marriage is about children more than anything else. These are ''overtones''-a nice, exact word. the ancient world saw marriage as containing love (most of the time).  It too often was not monogamous (the patriarchs in particular). It clearly suggests definitely sustenance, as it is how a woman in a very patriarchal world managed to survive-both as to food and shelter and as to protect from lawless elements, the environment and the vicissitudes of health. Gay marriage is not primarily about children, but about true love, fidelity, and the like. I think we need to coin a new word, if not a whole new vocabulary-even as we have changed the meaning of ''gay.'' Gay marriage is bad not because of religious reasons at all (I agree with the distinction between religious and civil approaches), but because it breaks a historical continuity that is useful-the begetting of children through what appears to be natural love and commitment. (I am aware, of course, that gay couples can "produce" and raise children.)

On the other hand, the ''comment'' is nothing but illogical exaggeration. We teachers call it the fallacy of ''false analogy.''  The writer also uses the ''poisoned well'' fallacy as well as ''circular argument-it is bad because it is ''inance.'' You make up some wild, wild comparison, use several false analogies, and say it is like THAT.  Rush Limbaugh does this all the time (to use a little hyperbole myself). it is not persuasive to thoughtful people. The writer needs to find a more persuasive argument
Joseph O'Leary
9 years 9 months ago
dogs and hogs, Amy?

I think the millennial plague of homophobia will be healed only when the churches celebrate sacramental marriage of gay couples. 
Mike Brooks
9 years 9 months ago
Believe what you will, my Protestant "Catholic" friends, but you have to admit that the Church, with its 2000 years of experience (versus the 250 of our Republic), has been prophetic concerning changes in civil law on matters of sex and reproduction and its impact on society.  In Human Vitae, Pope Paul VI warned of 4 outcomes of the widespread acceptance of contraception:  Lowered moral standards, increased marital infidelity and illegitimacy, the sexual objectification of women, and government coercion in reproductive matters.  I need not expound on this; the state of society speaks for itself.

When no-fault divorce laws were proposed in the 1970s, the Bishops spoke out against them, warning of the undermining of marriage and the family, harm to children and harm to women.  Right again.

And today, Pope Benedict speaks of gay "marriage" as not only undermining marriage, but a "threat to the future of humanity itself."  And we're supposed to sit back, throw our hands up and say, "Hey, whatever civil society wants to do is the government's business; and after all, what do the leaders of the Catholic Church know?"

And it's not just the Catholics, by the way: virtually every one of the world's great religions teaches that homosexuality is immoral behavior, forget the notion of equating this behavior to that of the reproductive act between men and women.  And the secularists claim that this is all based in "homophobia," notwithstanding the explanatory texts released on the subject.  And the brainwashed, politically correct liberals buy-in to it.

It's remarkable to me that in a society that has witnessed in the last fifty years the escalation to a 50% divorce rate, a 40% illegitmacy rate (70% for Black Americans), billions of federal dollars poured out for HIV/AIDS research (an originally homosexual disease), unprecedented levels of STDs in male homosexuals, rampant pornography and its associated ills, amongst other indicators of a morally degenerated society, that we're again being bamboozled by the hippie-dippy-beads-and-love-children that another drastic change to our laws on sexuality is going to be a good thing for our society.  Inane indeed.

Mike Brooks
9 years 9 months ago
WADR, Friar Rooney, splitting hairs as to the difference between the disease being  exclusive to homosexuals and overwhelmingly prevalent in homosexuals as compared to the rest of the population doesn't change the issue.  As of the end of 2009, men having sex with men made up about 2% of the population but accounted for an estimated 56% of all of the HIV/AIDS infections in the US (http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/msm/index.htm).
Patricia Bergeron
9 years 9 months ago
Interesting... After reading a post about the necessity of avoiding misunderstandings and giving others the benefit of the doubt, I'm wondering.... why so much raw hatred expressed by people who claim to be Christian?
Thomas Farrell
9 years 8 months ago
In the spirit of being holier than thou, Fr. John Coleman, S.J., has lamented what he denigrates as an "us versus them" attitude or mentality.

But Fr. Coleman refers to civic debate about public issues.

In my estimate, civic debate about public issues should be characterized by spirited pro-and-con debate.

But Fr. Coleman doesn't seem to leave any room for spirited pro-and-con debate, because for him, spirited pro-and-con debate appears to bespeak an "us versus them" attitude or mentality.

But d?id the historical Jesus set out to eliminate somehow spirited pro-and-con debate abou?t public issues? Di?d? ?h?e??? ?a?l?s?o set out to eliminate somehow the use of invective against one's opponents in such? debates??,? ?w?h?i?c?h? ?s?e?t?s? ?u?p? ?a?n? ??"?u?s? ?v?e?r?s?u?s? ?t?h?e?m??"? ?a?t?t?i?t?u?d?e??

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