Friday, May 25, 2012

Just Stupid

So I saw this story today on New Advent.

Basically, it's about a girl who got invited to this American Legion Auxiliaries summer camp, but ultimately has decided not to go because they won't let her go to Mass on Sundays.

The whole situation is really absurd. The campus where they'll be is right across the street from the Catholic cathedral, the mother has offered to come down and escort her daughter on Sunday if liability is a question, and someone else in the organization even was arranging for a priest to come in on Sunday and say Mass right there on campus for any Catholics among the girls who wished to attend.

But the leader, Robin Briere, absolutely shot any of this down. Ironically, Briere herself is a Catholic but says, "The Catholic religion that I know is not that narrow thinking" and insists that the non-denominational worship service they organize on Sunday should be "enough."

Now, I'm not bringing this story to everyone's attention because I want to go all "Bill Donahue" and throw a fit about freedom of religion or anti-Catholic bias or religion being marginalized in favor of "inoffensive" civic activities that are supposed to keep religion out.

This last thing, especially, is a real concern in our society, this idea that religion has no place in the public square as if people are supposed to compartmentalize in their lives and not let it effect their civic selves. But ultimately no one is forcing this girl to go, it's an optional thing not a required school trip, and the insensitivity seems to result more from a bull-headed notion of group unity or political correctness (or fears of a slippery slope of accommodation).

Furthermore, it's arguable about how much of a bind she's really being placed in. Catholics can seek a dispensation from their pastor to miss Sunday Mass for a good reason, and Catholics traveling who simply cannot get to Mass are also dispensed. Though it is questionable whether going to this thing (it is a week long) knowing that there will be no provision for Sunday Mass would dispense or excuse or not. But the point is there might be other ways around this on our end of things.

However, to me what's so annoying is how it would be so easy to accommodate her, and yet this leader is being so completely stubborn about not. The cathedral is right across the street. The mother offered to escort her. A priest was going to come to campus and have a Mass right in the next room! And it was all "No, no, no," because that didn't fit the original plans. Someone is clearly being an obsessive stickler for the rules. And I hate that kind of person, with their false officiousness. Dolores Umbridge (from Harry Potter 5) is what I'm imagining when I read about this woman.

Furthermore, part of it might even be suspect as a sort of personal agenda. This woman is Catholic, she obviously finds the idea that missing Mass on Sunday is a mortal sin to be "narrow minded." But even leaving her own priorities aside, her ability to empathize with how other people prioritize values seems utterly compromised. "You might have to make sacrifices to come to this"!?!? It's not like this girl enjoys Mass so much and is complaining about having to miss out on the party! She feels it is an obligation to go, an obligation to schedule her life in such a way that she will not deliberately prioritize any other engagement or commitment above going, and this woman is acting like she's just being spoiled for not being able to do two things? It's not like she's saying, "I want to be able to leave to go to my friend's birthday."

Of course, some of the comments are even more ridiculous in the version of the article in the non-Catholic source: "This young lady needs to speak to her priest. It is NOT a mortal sin to miss mass. It may be another level of sin, but only if it is for no valid reason. Catholics may, in fact, choose to set aside another day in the week to replace Sunday -- go to mass and be holy on that day. Guess she isn't as good a religious scholar as she thinks." Of course, this is nonsense. Catholics can get dispensed for true necessities, but Catholics may not "choose to set aside another day in the week to replace Sunday" and it's unclear whether this could qualify as a necessity.

Other comments are along the lines of, "another example of the catholic faith brainwashing the simple minded. the smart choice was to go to the program, her only reason in making a stink was to get her name and picture in the paper," and "I am trying to imagine how it is a moral sin to miss Mass or any religious service. Where is it written that missing Mass or any religious service is assault to one's faith. I have been taught that our faith is the substance of things hope for and the evidence of things not seen; therefore my faith in God has nothing with missing a service which is a ritual, although we should not make it a habit to regularly miss our weekly fellowship with other believers, it is not a sin."

While someone is free to hold such a belief, the disturbing thing that seems to be happening in our society right now (ala the contraception insurance mandate) and which does have very real implications for religious that people seem to think that religious freedom or accommodation should only be granted for a reason they agree with or judge "good enough." So you hear people using the arguments, "Sorry, most Catholics don't even agree on contraception, so you people who do object to it are just irrelevant and out-of-touch. Therefore, you have to be made complicit in it." Or, in this case, "The idea that missing Mass is a mortal sin is stupid and ridiculous, therefore this girl is getting what she deserves for believing such nonsense."

This utterly misses the point that religious freedom and accommodation aren't about whether you think a person's beliefs are silly or not, but about recognizing that some people place a high moral value on very different things than you, on things that might even seem strange or arbitrary or utterly irrelevant or "out of touch" to you, and that this sphere of conscience is nevertheless sacred and must be respected. You can't bulldoze over it and say, "Yeah, that precept is out-of-touch and only held by a few loonies, therefore it is invalid and we can bulldoze over their conscience rights for the sake of the convenience of the rest of us." 

Yet that's what we've been hearing lately, something along the lines of: "Your objection here is stupid, therefore we really don't have to accommodate it." It doesn't matter whether you think the objection is stupid! Whether something constitutes a violation of conscience is not for any outside judge to judge! If someones says, "this violates my beliefs" the most you can question is their sincerity. But if they are sincere, you don't get to demand that they explain why it violates their beliefs, or that they make some sort of moral argument that you deem valid. The whole point of religious freedom is to protect parties whom others disagree with about the validity of their beliefs, even if you think they're arbitrary or wrong! 

Can you imagine if a child from an SSPX family refused to eat meat on Fridays, and the school tried to froce him and said, "The Catholic Church doesn't require that anymore, therefore your beliefs are invalid"?! It doesn't work that way; a belief doesn't need institutional legitimacy for it to have legal protection under the concept of religious freedom. The SSPXer would be right (constitutionally speaking) to say: "I don't care what the Vatican says; I'm a traditionalist, and this is what our family believes!" They need no more justification than that! The State (even if it's representative is of the same religion as you nominally) has no right to tell you what your religion believes or not, as if there is some absolute standard they can appeal to (while also claiming to not recognize any religion). 

This frustrated me after September 11th too when I heard George W. Bush and other Christian politicians claiming that the terrorists had acted "against true Islam." Well, not according to the terrorists beliefs! Muslims as Muslims (not as politicians) could condemn the terrorists that way and say "That's not true Islam"...but it's just absurd for a Christian to say, "That isn't true Islam!" because what the hell does "true Islam" mean to a Christian (who presumably believes all Islam is false anyway)?!? By what standard can an outsider have any right to make such a judgment regarding the authenticity of a sect of another religion?? None!

I'm not claiming the American Legion is an arm of the State, mind you, just that the same sorts of attitudes towards religion are at play here. The most ironic comment of all, however, is "What a non-story. Rules are rules for these types of events. The Girl should have her invitation revoked, if she can't comply with rules in place." Ha! But "rules are rules" is exactly the principle the girl is sticking to as regards her faith!! Ironic!

Anyway, I think you can contact this Umbridge woman here if you feel so inclined to politely tell her what a fussy supercilious bitch she is.

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