When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of “gay” marriage, one ranking Churchman declared that the decision is now the “law of the land.” Not exactly fighting words, those. Complacency is a serious threat to the moral and spiritual life, and democracy (or if you prefer a “democratic republic”) provides temptations to complacency. When a behavior becomes lawful through democratic means, we somehow think we have to relinquish our right to judge its morality. Or if we do judge it, we must be pathologically serene, lest we be labeled “judgmental” or “harsh” or “mean-spirited.”
The “compare and contrast” literary approach many of us were taught in rudimentary English classes is useful, I think, for breaking such patterns of complacency. That’s why, in my parish bulletin, I’ve compared Planned Parenthood to the ISIS terror organization. ISIS beheads Christians; Planned Parenthood beheads unborn babies. But the comparison wasn’t well received by everyone.
A very nice, politically aware parishioner objected, although she professes to be pro-life and opposes the practices of Planned Parenthood. By my reckoning, she likely represents a good number of church-going Catholics – call them, “Catholic establishment types.” A Catholic establishment parishioner generally goes along with Church teaching and can’t quite admit that a good deal of our popular culture and of America’s legal system has become irreconcilable with the Catholic faith. (A lot of priests and bishops are Catholic establishment types.) It’s sheer complacency, and insensitivity to profound evils.
She gave me an inside report on the many who “roll their eyes” reading the parish bulletin, though she wasn’t one of them. She looks forward to my bulletins, but insisted it is over the top to compare PP to a terror organization. Normally, I give the homilies, but now it was her turn. The theme was, “Try a little tenderness.”
Women with whom she associates in business meetings, she said, are often surprised when she reveals her pro-life views. You see, pro-life women can have a place in polite society as long as they keep their views to themselves. Besides, she argued, abortion is unfortunately legal. (She knows the head of PP personally, and finds her very friendly.) And the sale of baby body parts (at bargain basement prices) is also legal in our country. Hence, the comparison with ISIS is too harsh to be persuasive.
So I next decided to contrast PP with ISIS. As my parishioner pointed out, PP is engaged in legal abortions. Even the sale of the body parts is legal, provided there isn’t a profit. The babies that are beheaded are unborn, are not yet citizens, and cannot vote – and therefore have no civil rights. A pregnant woman cannot obtain a personal deduction for the fetal tissue on her IRS tax return.
ISIS beheads real human beings, born into the world and who are citizens of the country of their birth. Their individual legal rights are violated when ISIS beheads or crucifies them. Unlike PP, the mutilated bodies are usually displayed in public as a warning to others. These are significant differences.
So, if I am going to continue to compare PP to ISIS, some things then would need to change. ISIS would need to establish a legal caliphate to establish legitimacy in the family of nations. ISIS would need to secure the appropriate fatwahs (by ranking imams) within the context of sharia law, permitting beheadings and ensuring that they, too, are “safe, legal, and rare.” The beheaded and crucified bodies should not be left on display. ISIS should follow the example of PP and sell the body parts to researchers at cost, carefully avoiding any appearance of trafficking.
Finally, it would be helpful if ISIS would organize its caliphate to include a Supreme Court – or, if you prefer, a Supreme Jihad Council. If they could squeeze out a judicial opinion or two that sounds soothing, open-minded, and non-judgmental, the beheadings could continue, fully legal and unabated.
Justice Kennedy’s judicial words of wisdom would provide the template: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Exactly the intellectual narcotic that shuts down the discourse that dares to compare and contrast. The world could use that kinder and gentler ISIS.
Flannery O’Connor explained her use of the bizarre and the outrageous as a means to break the moral and spiritual complacency of her readers. Her story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” shocks the reader with the cold-blooded murder of a grandmother by the psychotic “Misfit.”
In the dialog preceding the murder, the kindly grandmother, unable to recognize the evil right before her eyes, sentimentally calls the Misfit her “child.” Her intellectual and spiritual complacency costs her her life. The killer has the last word: “‘She was a talker, wasn’t she?’ Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel. ‘She would of been a good woman,’ The Misfit said, ‘if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.’”
Well, I only shoot my metaphorical bullets in weekly bulletins. And since I’m not planning to change my ways any time soon, I expect the usual eyes to roll. I suppose that makes me a kind of misfit. But those who are too comfortable run their own spiritual dangers.