Except for the ones I have signed, I do not sign petitions. I don’t like them.
As a literary genre, which includes the righteous proclamation that invariably precedes the space for all the names, I do not like it. I can understand how petitions can be useful, as voting can be useful, in any large decision-making process, where it would be well to come to the better result. Still, I don’t like them.
More generally, I do not like reductionism. In human life, in human terms, a yes or a no must usually be placed within a very considerable field of qualification. And it will not be the same field, for every signatory. And yet it is that field, in each case, that makes the yes or the no significant.
The “Yes” of Our Lady was made against a field consisting of the whole humanly apprehended universe. It was the greatest Yes of all ages. It was the moment in which, on behalf of all ages, our humanity answered to God, out of the most profound free will, and said Yes, we mean Yes, save us! And the fact it was a woman who spoke for all, is in itself of such bottomless significance.
But that was not an Internet petition.
In defense of petitions, they are usually drafted to address a topic that has already been reduced to the simplicity of yes or no. There is no room on them for “yes, but. . .” or “no, but. . .”
I could lunge into my usual deprecation of “democracy” at this point. I could change the subject to “petitionary prayer,” on which I could be rather more positive. But let me stick with “petitions” of the kind to which we have become over-accustomed in this Internet era.
One that landed in my inbox this week I found especially absurd. I was being asked to sign yes to the defense of the observer status of the Holy See, at the United Nations. [Editor’s Note: This petition is an initiative of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, which is headed by TCT regular, Austin Ruse. – Robert Royal]
This status was held to be in jeopardy after the publication of a mendacious U.N. report, attacking the Holy See. As I condensed the matter in Twitter, the report was an “easily predicted vicious and ugly tissue of smears against the Vatican, full of irrelevancies and with nothing new.”
The report simply aggregated every piece of already-published dirt that could be found on priestly sexual scandals, all over the world. It then added gratuitous attacks on Catholic doctrinal positions opposing contraception, abortion, sodomy, and a few things more. It did not for a moment acknowledge that every priestly and organizational failing had occurred in defiance of the same Catholic doctrine.
Petition to the Roman Emperor Gordian III from the Thracians, c. A.D. 240
The degree of hypocrisy will not be appreciated until we imagine a parallel attack on, say, the doctrinal establishment of Sunni Islam. Let us try to imagine a U.N. report that holds the Sheikh of Al Azhar in Cairo, along with his predecessors and staff, personally responsible for every act of terrorism in which a Sunni Imam has been involved; and then instructs Al Azhar to delete or rewrite all passages in the Koran and Islamic tradition that might be currently unfashionable.
For that matter, it might be used to support the pro-life teachings and sexual morality that are also intrinsic to Sunni Islam, and have been for 14 centuries – as the condemned Roman positions have been intrinsic to Catholic Christianity for 20 centuries.
Or let us even try to explain such things to media that instinctively hate not only our Church and her teachings, but beyond that, every sincere manifestation of religious faith that is trying to weather “the signs of our times.”
To my mind – and it is the only one I have to work with – the breach between our Church and the contemporary world of politics must be plainly recognized. Read not only that U.N. report, but almost anything that is written in an official capacity anywhere, touching relations between Church and State. The conflict is not subtle.
The United Nations is a compact of modern nation states. They consort there, and by factional means, reach decisions acceptable to the majority of members. As a “parliament of states,” the General Assembly is at not one, but two oceanic removes from the interests or the will of any actual people.
And in their arrogance, these quasi-legislators make a habit of forgetting this. Their “we are the world” proclamations are, in every word and by their very nature, always a lie.
Several individual U.N. agencies may still do some good work, and the use of the organization as a diplomatic clearinghouse has been sometimes demonstrated. But these accomplishments must be held in the balance against the evil that is done, by the politicization of every activity. Even in relief for refugees, or the distribution of food and medical aid, the political conditions that are attached to each activity are apt to make them counter-productive.
On such material questions as “population planning,” innumerable volumes could be filled with the evils done to living human beings, behind a posturing façade of “duly constituted moral authority.”
The Holy See has understandably involved itself in the lobbying efforts within the U.N. in the hope of influencing each policy for the best. But by doing so it is compelled (as in any political process) to lend legitimacy to collective results – to conclusions that are almost never compatible with Catholic Christian teaching; or for that matter with the teachings of any other major religion.
Hence my own refusal to sign an absurd petition. By its own membership, the Church has now lent legitimacy to a condemnation of her own being. How can this possibly be acceptable to Rome?
And if Rome will not dissociate from this vileness, then I pray that the vileness will dissociate itself from Rome. Godspeed those who would kick the Holy See out of the United Nations. I actually think they would be doing God’s work.