Back in the 1990s, my parents and I were attending Mass at a church in a town we were visiting, and the priest gave what I described as 15 fantastic 2 minute homilies. When he finished, my Mom whispered, “What the [bleep] was he talking about?” and, due to the architecture of the building, it came out a bit louder than she’d intended, resulting in chuckles from people around us.
Well the latest controversy in the Catholic blogosphere concerns a “personal essay” that former First Things editor Joseph Bottum has published in Commonweal of all places, on the topic of “same sex marriage.”
As controversy has erupted, Bottum’s response on Facebook has been to say that his critics are misinterpreting his essay because his style is to hide a didactic essay inside a “self indulgence” personal essay. He claims that he develops the argument to go along with the culture only to reject it in the end, but I don’t see where he rejects it. Indeed, when a columnist in The New York Times headlined his response to the article as “A Conservative Catholic Now Backs Same-Sex Marriage,” both Bottum, on Facebook, and Commonweal, linked the NYT review approvingly, yet somehow when other conservatives reach the conclusion that Bottum is saying we should stop fighting same sex marriage, he says we’re wrong.
Bottum overtly makes the argument *for* homosexual marriage, assents to letting “gays” determine the terminology, attacks the Manhattan Declaration for linking same sex marriage with abortion and anti-Christian trends in society, laments the loss of a gay libertarian friend over said friend’s perception of the Church, and suggests that some good may come from redefinition of marriage. He also naively suggests that the negative consequences traditional marriage forces have been worried about may not actually happen, even though they’ve been happening in Canada for years and are happening already since the Supreme Court’s verdict, as “gay” couples are beginning to sue churches and even wedding photographers for refusing to participate in their “weddings”.
Bottum dismisses the fear of traditional marriage advocates, particularly Catholics, that the “gay marriage” movement is not just about letting gays get married but is actually about destroying Christianity. He claims we should presume the best of same sex activists’ intentions, even while admitting that his now former friend thinks that way:
Certainly it will not satisfy Jim Watson, my old friend from New York. How could he accept talk of the Catholic Church’s charity and evangelizing? He wants the church hurt, its tax exemptions and even property-holding rights stripped away until it not only accepts laws allowing same-sex marriage, not only encourages same-sex marriage, but actually performs same-sex marriage. Even that might not be enough; the institutional weight of the history of Catholic bigotry, he thinks, is probably too much for repentance and reformation to overcome. Best, really, if the Catholic Church is systematically outlawed. – See more at: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/things-we-share#sthash.xCNXUybC.dpuf
Bottum is right that, at this moment, we are on the “losing side” of history. He specifically rejects the notion, proposed by many, including the late Deacon Paul Weyrich and Pope Benedict, of focusing on forming small orthodox communities and setting ourselves apart from the secular world, the way Christians have done in various historical situations, such as ancient Rome (or parts of Asia, where Christians spent centuries living in hiding and passing on their faith in secret). He rightly says we’re losing the fight against homosexual marriage because we never fought against no fault divorce, but he specifically rejects the notion of fighting against *that*.
I’ve long said the Culture Wars were lost at the 1929 Lambeth Conference, when the Anglicans became the first Christian communion to accept artificial contraception. Bl. John Paul II makes clear in _Evangelium Vitae_ (13) that contraception is just as much a cause of the Culture of Death as abortion.
To that extent, I and most of his critics agree: in the short run, we’re going to lose this fight. However, that doesn’t mean we should give up.
What everyone agrees on is that nobody really understands what his point *is*. He tries to dismiss this as a question of his chosen style and genre, but even a personal essay would not justify the numerous sentence fragments and convoluted reasoning process.