Although much of the “culture of life” rhetoric focuses on the supposed evils associated with heterosexual relations (e.g., abortion and contraception), condemning LGBT rights is another important aspect of this ideology. As many readers probably know, the Catholic church teaches that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered” and therefore not something that any well-ordered society should be promoting. Thus, preventing the spread of LGBT rights (i.e., the “homosexual agenda”) is another front in the battle over whether the future will be a “culture of life” or a “culture of death.”
So let’s talk about Mississippi.
Although anti-abortion rhetoric usually takes up most of the space in the “culture of life” discourse, opposition to contraception pays a key part in this ideology as well. A particular point of scorn is the so-called “contraception mentality” which is:
…rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfilment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception (from Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II).
This is a previously unpublished essay that I wrote about six months ago in response to the scandal at the (now closed) Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Ireland. I’m posting it here, because I think it dovetails nicely with my series on how the “culture of life” is anything but. At the time the story broke, the conservotrad blogosphere focused on debunking the claim that the bodies of hundreds of babies had been stuffed into a septic tank, ignoring the fact that the horrific conditions at Bon Secours and other unwed mother homes were an open secret in Irish society. The real scandal was how the children were treated as non-persons by their community when they were living. That their bodies ended up in a septic tank or some other anonymous mass grave was merely the natural outcome of a lifetime of indignity. If Ireland, perhaps the most Catholic country that ever Catholic-ed, couldn’t treat these children and their mothers (many of whom were the victims of sexual and physical abuse) with dignity and compassion, why should we expect a better outcome with a Catholic culture 2.0 (i.e., a “culture of life”)?
One thing you hear a lot in the conservotrad bubble is this so-called “culture of life,” that elusive utopia governed by Catholic social teachings in which abortion, contraception, euthanasia, stem-cell research are absent, and human dignity is flourishing. Juxtaposed against the “culture of life” is the “culture of death,” which if you believe John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, sounds a lot like the world outlined in Peter Singer’s book Practical Ethics:
In the wake of the Ferguson decision, I’ve been thinking about I Love Lucy. What, I Love Lucy? What does a sixty plus year old sitcom have to do with our current racial troubles? There’s a scene in that show where Lucy and Ethel are complaining about not being treated fairly on account of their gender, to which Fred answers dismissively (and here I’m paraphrasing), “You (i.e., women) can vote. You can wear pants. You can wrestle. You can drive buses. What more do you want?” I’ve encountered this same attitude in the conservotrad world, the general attitude being that since de jure segregation has been eliminated that blacks and other minorities have nothing to complain about, and any problems they experience are completely their own fault. I feel like they could rewrite the afore mentioned quote by Fred Mertz to say, “Black people can vote. You can sit where ever you want on the bus. You can even be president. What more do you want?”
As a traditional supporter of all things ancien regime, the Catholic church has always had an ambivalent relationship with industrialization, capitalism, and urbanization. The growth of cities creates a literate middle class, a group which invariably demands a greater role in determining the trajectory of their own lives, whether in the spiritual or temporal realm. While the hierarchy theoretically prefers a laity that is characterized by an informed orthodoxy, the truth is that a superstitious and illiterate populace residing in the countryside is much easier to deal with, since they don’t make the same intellectual or economic demands as educated city-dwellers.
During a potluck at St F, I once had a lengthy conversation with a homeschooling mom who regaled me with tales about why the Girl Scouts were a hotbed of Marxism and secular humanism and other culture war scare stories (as an aside, I have to mention that I was a Girl Scout for ten years and if that organization was as radical as she claimed, I would have been a lot more into attending meetings). In any event, she mentioned that one of her sons went to an all-boys Catholic boarding school run by the FSSP and she would be seeing him to the airport in a few days. I didn’t think much of this information until a few years ago, when I idly Googled the school and discovered that it had closed amid a lurid sex abuse scandal:
Assuming that Christianity is still a relevant force several centuries into the future, I believe that future theologians will look at our generation’s obsession with “family values” in the same way that the Manichieans or Catharism are regarded today, namely as a set of extreme and dangerous views that condemned normal life in the physical universe. I say this because the current Catholic church’s obsession with heterosexual marriage, rigid gender roles, extreme pro-natalism, and over-romantization of childbirth and parenthood would have been very foreign to previous iterations of the institution.
During the turmoil that occurred at St F in 2008, a meeting was held to try to defuse the some of the tensions, as well as provide a forum for Fr B to defend himself from the crazy stuff that was being circulated about him from the SSPX/homeschooling faction. At this meeting, a gentleman quipped that the anti-Fr B crowd were essentially “congregationalists with a desire for valid sacraments,” not traditional Catholics. Yet, it seems to me that this “selective clericalism” is an essential part of the phenomenon known as “traditional Catholicism.”