Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Baptists, Alcohol, and Catholic Barbecues

I was thinking again about the post I did recently on the difficult question of attendance at invalid or unnatural weddings or unions (outside the Church; ones done disobediently under a co-opted banner of alleged Catholicism, ala Rent-A-Priest, are an even pricklier question).

This is not at all just a theoretical question, but one of (increasingly) practical import in our modern world. People in my generation, at least, especially if we run in circles which are intellectual and diverse (as all the best people do!)...are likely to receive an invitation to a gay union/"marriage" at some point in our lives, just like many of you probably attended at least a couple bar mitvahs in your day (though I never did...) And certainly my parent's generation began very quickly being faced with lapsed Catholics marrying outside the Church, or with non-Catholic friends remarrying after divorce, etc.

My basic conclusion in that post was that there is a difference between tolerance and approval that would seem to allow attendance (with mental reservation) at such ceremonies. That, just as it isn't the Church's job to try to institutionalize Gospel values on the rest of society, on non-believers, in the political sphere, it also isn't our job in our personal lives to "impose" our framework on outsiders in this sort of practical way ("punishing" them by not attending their wedding for example). We can and should share our beliefs in a charitable manner, of course, but there is a way to do that while still respecting theirs.

It is a bizarre putting of the cart before the horse to hold them to our moral standards if they haven't even embraced our moral system (yet), or to think that it is "scandal" to attend an invalid wedding for people who don't even share our paradigm of morality in the first place (and thus, I would think, can't possibly be scandalized relative to it internally). As I said in my first post, if I attend a Unitarian Gay Marriage and am more concerned with the fact that it's gay rather than the fact that it's Unitarian...I really need to reconsider my motives and priorities; that's focusing on a tree while hypocritically ignoring the forest. It seems to me utterly absurd to expect two Protestants in a divorce-and-remarriage situation to approach the Catholic Church for an annulment; they're not Catholic, why would they do that? It would make no sense, so why should it be the hypothetical criterion for whether we should attend their wedding or not?

At the same time, I meant to emphasize, this doesn't mean reducing our moral doctrines to "mere" disciplines (like not eating meat on Fridays or something like that) as if they are not universal or objective or absolute. A temptation of a few friends of mine, I've noticed recently, has been to shy away from fully embracing Catholic morality theoretically, while still following it practically as something like a personal devotion. Trying to couch it as "merely" a "personal calling" or "personal commitment" for themselves, or as something only applying to practicing Catholics (like the Sunday Mass obligation, etc), but stopping short of saying that it (theoretically) applies to everyone as part of the natural law. In order to not offend friends or whatever.

However, this is well-intentioned but misguided, as there is a happy medium! It is not acceptable to view Catholic moral teaching merely as a personal calling or as a sort of ecclesial discipline or tradition; if you don't admit something is a sin (or view the sin as only that of falling short of a personal calling or commitment), you can't repent of it as needed. If you're willing to admit a category of action is truly sinful, however, then that means it is sinful for everyone objectively, not merely "wrong for me personally."

But. We can hold something is objectively immoral according our beliefs without imposing it on others who do not hold our framework. And while such a "live and let live" attitude does not work when it is a question of ethics, of someone's rights being violated (say, the right to life), when there is a victim who needs us to defend them...when it is "only" a question of morality, of "merely" personal virtue, it is very possible to respect someone's different beliefs (or behaviors according to those beliefs) while still believing that they are objectively wrong.

If we had to make a scene and avoid people over all their sins or heresies, evangelization would become impossible, as no one would be able to be friends with anyone outside their own cult. Rather, it is possible to respect people's beliefs while believing they are wrong, and it is even possible (and probably even spiritually healthy!) to take an attitude of "What they do is none of my business as long as they don't force me to participate. My concern is my soul and my relationship with God, and I know what what my conscience says not to do. Their conscience and their relationship with God is between Him and them, I'm not going to even going to speculate on it or try to place it in my framework. All I can do is be a good example of Christian cheer and share my beliefs charitably, in a non-pushy fashion, when appropriate." (This is similar to the question of hope vs. presumption when it comes to the non-water-baptized, I think.)

As for how all this affects attending weddings, I thought of an analogy (which puts us on the "other end" of things) that I think helps elucidate why it can be okay and what attitude we should take:

A Catholic man invites his strict Baptist neighbor to a barbecue. Being a Catholic BBQ, of course, there will be plenty of alcohol, yet the Baptist is a strict teetotaler (and not merely as a "personal life-choice" as it once was for me, but truly because he believes drinking is a damnable sin).

Yet, surely, the Baptist can attend and simply not drink himself. Surely that's enough. There is no need for him to "protest" the drinking of us Catholics, whose own system doesn't forbid it. And surely we'd feel that if he insisted on "punishing" our drinking (rather than merely not drinking himself) by skipping the barbecue altogether, he'd be being unreasonable, that would seem a sort of haughty attempt to impose his beliefs on us (not positively through actively trying to stop us, but negatively through refusing even passive toleration by his presence.)

And yet, surely, people who believe drinking is wrong attend parties where drinking is present (even "the main event") all the time, and simply choose to personally abstain according to their own conscience, yet without being a jerk about it. We understand the strict Baptist's non-drinking is because he thinks it is objectively immoral. I suppose we also realize, if we think about it, that he must think we're doing a terrible thing. And yet if he attends and is friendly nevertheless, we're not going to mind or try to force him to engage in what goes against his conscience (and I'm sure, in turn, he recognizes that in the subjective forum it doesn't go against ours, even if he thinks it is objectively wrong and that our conscience is malformed in this regard). It is possible to respect each other's beliefs like this while still holding them firmly.

And speaking of BBQ, I'm reminded of an episode of The Simpsons regarding the dilemma that vegetarians or vegans face in this regard living in a meat-eating world that I think sums up my own feelings on the matter, especially the conflict Lisa gets in with Homer over the question, and the conversation between Lisa and Apu (and Paul and Linda McCartney) near the end. Actually, in this case the attitude goes beyond even what I'm recommending, as Apu clearly sees this as a matter not only of personal morals, but of ethics (ie, the animals' rights are being violated from his perspective) yet he realizes he can't do much to stop it except influencing people subtly rather than than driving them away:

Lisa: When will all those fools learn that you can be perfectly healthy simply eating vegetables, fruits, grains and cheese??
Apu: Oh, cheese!
Lisa: You don't eat cheese, Apu?
Apu: No! I don't eat any food that comes from an animal!
Lisa: Ohh, then you must think I'm a monster...
Apu: Yes indeed I do think that. But, I learned long ago Lisa to tolerate others rather than forcing my beliefs on them. You know you can influence people without badgering them always. It's like Paul's song, "Live and Let Live."
Paul: Actually, it was "Live and Let Die"...


Robert said...

"My concern is my soul and my relationship with God, and I know what what my conscience says not to do. Their conscience and their relationship with God is between Him and them, I'm not going to even going to speculate on it or try to place it in my framework."

Does this remove your need to preach the Gospel? I feel as if claiming, "my conscience says not do this, but I don't know your situation" doesn't have the force of saying, "this is morally wrong." Perhaps this is just my relativism-sense tingling.

A Sinner said...

Well, as I tried to emphasize: we can definitely share our beliefs in a manner reflecting theirs. My position boils down to nothing more than Christ's "Judge not lest ye be judged."

We know what the Truth is. We can proclaim it. But proclaiming it doesn't mean judging people. It's not up to us to "make" people follow the Truth, merely to proclaim it by our own lives ("using words when necessary.")

Attending a gay marriage, for example, doesn't force you into having gay sex YOURSELF. It's like the man at the barbecue who doesn't drink. You can be there without drinking yourself (even if that's sort of of-the-essence of the whole gathering for many of the other attendees), and even believing that the people are engaged in something wrong. But no one made you Inquisitor, and your mere attendance with mental reservation isn't really encouraging anyone to sin (they'd be doing it with or without you there, as they don't even believe it's wrong in the first place).

Another big part of my point is that saying "This is morally wrong" to a person who doesn't even believe in God or Christ or human nature even...is putting the cart before the horse. Why ignore or tolerate that they lack the whole basic framework, but then try to impose or enforce or "witness to" piecemeal one sub-aspect INTERNAL TO that framework?? It makes little sense.

Han said...

I'm not sure your BBQ analogy fits a gay marriage ceremony. The purpose of having the wedding is to manifest the public ratification of the marriage. After all, one can have a marriage without a wedding ceremony (or perhaps a very private ceremony. One cannot, therefore, attend such a ceremony in good conscience. It would be different if it were something like "couples bowling night" or a dinner party or something. Just as the BBQ is not really about the booze, but rather about the company, once could in good conscience socialize with a gay couple at an event that is not about the relationship as such, but a wedding is about approving the relationship, so one ought to absent oneself from the ceremony.

A Sinner said...

I added a bit to my post using something I saw on Catholic Answers. Specifically: it seems absurd to expect two Protestants in a divorce-and-remarriage situation to approach the CATHOLIC Church for an annulment. That would make no sense, so why should it be the hypothetical criterion for us attending the wedding?

And, even most conservative Catholics would admit it shouldn't be, would admit a sort of recognition that "holding" people who aren't even Catholic to Catholic notions like that...is putting the cart before the horse and is at the very least a reversal of priorities.

I don't think we can say that about divorce and remarriage but then have a different standard when it comes to homosexuality, however. Either attendance is participation or it isn't. There is no reason it wouldn't be for objective adultery but would be for objective sodomy.

In reality, I do not think attendance at a wedding constitutes anything like participation in unchaste sex the couple may have.

You say, "a wedding is about approving the relationship" and as I discussed in the last post, I'd probably agree! However, "the relationship" does not equal "sex." And most people (and, frankly, ESPECIALLY if they have unnatural or untraditional views about marriage) would probably tell you their wedding was about institutionalizing their relationship, not the sex particularly. And there might be much good to celebrate in a RELATIONSHIP, even one tragically flawed by unchaste sexual expression.

However, the notion that "attendance equals ratification" whether of the relationship OR sex seems strange to me too. Public worship is about ratifying the praise of God or gods, as it were, and yet we don't consider mere attendance at heretical or pagan worship to be "assenting" to the propositions contained therein.

Neither do I think Catholics are required to abstain from viewing blasphemous art or literature. We must be careful, but merely witnessing something that already exists with or without us...is not "participating" in its sin.

If I can be part of the congregation (as an "observer" with mental reservation) at a pagan sacrifice, even though the point of congregations is to, as it were, "ratify" the priest's offering...I think I could attend a gay union (with mental reservation) without that constituting some sort of active participation in their sexual immorality.