Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Abolish all legal marriage

The Anarchists were right. Marriage, like wage slavery, is a legal device designed to oppress women. Now it is being claimed by gays. Rather than open up this instrument of oppression and discontent to gays, why not simply get the State out of the business of weddings?

Of course, the Anarchists would have abolished the State, in favor of voluntary social associations. That might be going too far. Or perhaps not?

But let's not get distracted from my main point: marriage under civil law in a religiously neutral system of government is, at best, a contract. It does not have a track record of working very well and as soon as people found a way to get out of it, they have done so in enormous numbers.

In the United States, one out of every two marriages ends in divorce. By various soundings, a majority of men and women admit to adultery. Domestic violence is a rampant social problem.

Why have marriage at all?

I'm not saying people would be forbidden to go to a church and promise the lifelong fidelity that most will not observe. Go, have your church wedding with all the nine yards -- or do some ceremony on a hilltop reciting poetry or whatever.

Why do I, and every taxpayer you don't know, have to be involved in this?

I'm not saying that we should abandon all child protection laws that are built around marriage. Children still need all the protection society can offer -- which at present is not stellar.

Nor am I saying that cohabiting couples should not have a claim to insurance for cohabiters, or parents or whatever; nor that a longstanding cohabiter should have some priority in inheritance.

Nor am I saying abolish love. Although, seriously, what does marriage under civil law have to with love?

Just abolish the pretense that the State has an inherent interest in marriage that it does not have. Marriage may be a religious idea, but the State has no business with religion -- nor, I would argue, marriage.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Argentine reaction to the new pope reminds me why I left

In the streets they celebrated the election to St. Peter's chair of Argentine as if it were a soccer championship. At the same time, others began to sling mud made out of murky allegations without facts or dates. This is Argentina I left in 1970, never again to reside in its territory. 

How much ignorance! How much bile!

There are nations that have been staunchly Catholic, mostly out of rebellion: Ireland and Quebec against English Protestantism; Poland, Slovakia and Croatia against the Orthodox Russian Empire (later the Soviet Communists). However, they are exceptions and Catholicism has declined among them at about the same rate as the influence of the heretical invader.

However, in Argentina, and Latin America in general, the Church is colonial. The Catholicism of the majority is largely confined to rites of passage: baptism, wedding and burial. In the Pampas, the traditional gaucho greeting was "Hail Mary Purest," to which the newcomer was expected to reply "Conceived without sin." Was it faith or custom?

The nominally Catholic Argentines, who make up 90-something percent of the population since time immemorial, have received little or nothing of the content of the faith. There's a mixture of popular piety, superstition and remnants of pre-Christian religions that mixes Lent with Carnival, with the African orixa gods with saints, the decals of the Virgin next to that of the pinup of the moment, and Argentine Indian blessed Ceferino Namuncurá with "San Perón." 

Behold the mass that this week "won" the papal "world cup." As always with Argentina and Latin America, however, there are also conventional thinkers who hate the Church for ideological reasons; their information is no better than that of the flock. 

There's no anticlericalism more rabid than that of traditionally Catholic countries. See Garibaldi, Voltaire and Unamuno in Italy, France and Spain. In Argentina, Italianized by a huge influx of migrants from 1880-1914 and the two post-war periods, there is a huge motherlode that comes from the famous Anarchist Errico Malatesta, who emigrated there, along with other persecuted ideas of Europe. 

For them, it's enough to find photos of Jorge Bergoglio, in his role of national superior of the Jesuits and later bishop, with the first de facto head of state under the 1976-83 military regime -- both portrayed in liturgical or protocolary circumstances -- to argue that the new pope is a "murderer". I know perfectly well that Gen. Jorge Videla was tried in open court and, with plenty of evidence, found guilty of active participation in more than 5,000 kidnappings and murders.

However, in the case of Bergoglio there haven't been trials nor even proof of anything remotely criminal. There were inquiries and investigations, both official and unofficial; none of them unearthed the proverbial smoking gun proving complicity in what the Argentine military called the "dirty war". 

Gossip is not enough to condemn him, but the Argentine lumpen intelligentsia don't let the absence of facts get in the way of conclusions. 

Let me be clear. Bergoglio is and has been part of a clerical leadership that fundamentally tends toward conservatism in theology, philosophy and their vision of society. The hierarchy Argentina is a sea of ​​Thomists at the service of last absolute monarch in the world. One cannot quote expect revolution from them. 

I confess that this conservatism was one of the factors that influenced me to abandon what might have been be a priestly vocation that I felt in that bygone era when lights sparkled in the post-conciliar Church then reading "the signs of the times." 

I refer to the encyclical Populorum Progressio and the Latin American bishops' social justice cry in the Declaration of Medellin. I have in mind Dom Helder Câmara, the Brazilian bishop who advocated treating atheist Marx as Thomas Aquinas dealt with pagan Aristotle. Or Gustavo Gutierrez, the scribe of the liberation theology that was spawned in basic ecclesial communities, or Carlos Mugica, the priest of the slums of Buenos Aires -- I met both very briefly. Finally, I recall Camilo Torres, the Colombian guerrilla priest whose death with machine gun in the hand is still a sign of contradiction to me. 

Were they exceptions? Or are those like them, like Francis of Assisi or Francis Xavier, the minority that actually became Christian. 

All this is debatable. What is indisputable it's not a crime to be a dogmatic Pope, such as Francisco I.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Secularism USA

As a former resident of Quebec (1970s), and in partial (and belated) response to a post by my good friend Bill (see here), I'd say I witnessed the effects of the Revolution Tranquille in declericalizing and secularizing the province. I can't quite see a parallel in the United States for two reasons:

(a) Quebec, like Ireland and Poland, was fiercely Catholic as a matter of national identity because it faced a Protestant conqueror (in the case of Poland, one that was Orthodox, later Communist, but in an Orthodox way). Remove the British and the Russians and religious fervor waned. Poland legalized abortion just a few years after the Soviet Union collapsed.

(b) The USA is a predominantly Protestant society, with a Protestant epistemology. Protestantism itself was the major secularizing force in northwestern Europe, transforming religion from an artifact controlled by a clerical caste based in Rome to an assertion of the freedom to engage in individualistic profession of an endless variety of idea systems.

The origin of secularism in Christian Europe across confessional lines lies, paradoxically, in Christianity. The Christian acceptance of nominalism in its ranks between the third and sixth centuries of our era, when missionaries started converting entire Barbarian tribes by convincing their king or chieftain sowed the seeds of secularism.

Christendom (RIP...DG!) was an edifice built on compulsory religious affiliation that never developed authentic deep roots of faith among the mass of Europeans. They were what we would call cultural Christians and nothing more. The continued existence of pagan shrines throughout supposedly Christianized Europe as late as the 12th and 13th centuries gives witness to this.

Enter industrialization and capitalism, both arguably the children of Protestantism (see Weber), and the Church and churches lost the working class. That happened in the 19th century.

What we have witnessed in our lifetime is a belated echo in America, where religion was socially compulsory, a matter of manners more than conviction. Among urban, educated Americans the compulsion has slackened to the point that religious ignorance is the prevailing coin of the realm. Maybe that's more honest.