Catholic Remonstrance Now!
Remonstrance is a word that has gone out of fashion. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary offers this definition:
Main Entry: re·mon·strance
I think it is a word that best expresses what we need to do now, in the face of an emboldened Catholic Right, and drawing on the vital tradition of religious liberty in America.
Perhaps the most famous use of remonstrance was in the title of one of the key documents of religious freedom in American history. James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. Fortunately for us, more than 200 years later, it still contains the very logic we need to square Christian faith with religiously plural society; and the wisdom we need to address the dangers of the Catholic Right.
Madison's Remonstrance was written in response to a bill, introduced into the General Assembly of Virginia shortly after the American Revolution. The legislation, supported by a faction led by Patrick Henry, would have required the state's citizens to pay an annual assessment to a denomination of their choosing, for the support of religious instructors. (The legislation was defeated and instead the General Assembly enacted Jefferson's Bill for Religious Liberty.") Memorial and Remonstrance was widely distributed throughout Virginia in the campaign to defeat Henry's bill.
A mind-numbing fundamentalism has taken hold in Mother Church; one that replaces the thoughtful discussion of new ideas with the all-too-casual howling condemnation of heresy. Reason and respect is being replaced with outdated orthodoxies and intolerance. Increasingly, a police-state mentality is taking hold.
As an American Catholic, I believe the warning signs are ominous. Catholic reactionaries held up the federal oversight and funding of embryonic stem cell research for eight years with the help of the administration of George W. Bush -- research that had the support of both the majority of Americans (including Catholics) and other faiths. With a sense of misplaced priorities, the Knights Columbus spends millions to fight marriage equality while Catholic schools are closed down for a lack of funds. We see parishes without priests forced to close down, but when nuns step up to seek ordination they and their supporters are denounced as heretics. And when Catholic politicians vote their conscience in support of reproductive rights, Church leaders go so far as to use the sacraments as a political weapon by publicly denying them participation in the ritual.
Such Catholic Right leaders as George Weigel, Deal Hudson, Bishop Robert Finn and Cardinal Raymond Burke would have church and state entangle themselves to the point where each could strangle the other.
Madison warned us against this. He observed, for example, that the Roman Empire persecuted Christianity for three hundred years -- while the faith grew by leaps and bounds. And when the Empire and Christianity became united as one, corruption of power and ego set in.
These are reasons why Madison warned against the establishment of any one faith, let alone a single sect of Christianity:
"It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties... Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever."
But the reactionaries who call themselves Catholic seem unable to see that some things are truly the province of God and not government. But Madison did:
Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered.
Similarly, these same reactionaries are unable to trust the merits of their own faith and seek to use the power of government to enforce their notions of "the truth." Once again, Madison understood the problem:
Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.
Meanwhile, those of us who are uneasy about reactionary trends in the Church have yet to coalesce. There are those who do bravely speak up. But I believe that there are many more who remain silent not as much out of a sense of fear of retribution but more out of a sense of no support.
While many are tempted to just walk away, I say that doing so only empowers the reactionaries of the Catholic Right. It is exactly what they want. In fact, it is their plan for conquest through schism. They want those of us who embrace religious pluralism in society and liberalization within the Church to leave a global religion, with its well-organized hierarchy and diplomatic nation-state status, and massive resources, property and prestige -- solely in their hands.
I say that now is the time for rank-and-file Catholic to revive the idea of remonstrance, and draw on the wisdom of James Madison, who provides us with timeless tools with which to understand and to combat theocratic wannabes. In this way, we can disrupt the disrupters, not rudely or condescendingly but with dignity and firmness.
Our remonstrance can help us confront clergy who use the pulpit as a vehicle to seek to restrict the rights and the freedom of conscience of others. Our remonstrance can remind the media that the dogmatically orthodox do not speak for Catholics, or for Catholicism, but for themselves. And our remonstrance can remind our elected officials that their allegiance is to safeguard the religious liberty of all from an increasingly out of touch Church hierarchy.
And our remonstrance is just the beginning.
Now is the time for bold action. Surrender or grudging compliance is unacceptable. Resistance in the form of a loyal thoughtfulness that seeks reform, not overthrow, is the only acceptable course of action. Arrogance and intolerance are our opponents' way, not ours'. But all the same, it is bold action that will give our remonstrance collective strength.
Our bold action will strengthen the hand of our allies within the hierarchy and hearten those clergy who are waiting to speak out for the Church we believe in. We will rebuke the reactionaries. Some of us may pay a price for our actions. But sometimes such prices must be paid in order to achieve progress.
There will be those who read this and accuse me of being ant-Catholic. But nothing can be further from the truth. I am a Catholic who desires a vibrant Church, one that exemplifies the tolerant, dissenting, and inquisitive nature of its Founder. I understand that a Catholicism that uses oppression via secular government to enforce its dogmas is itself insecure in its own position. And I know that when any one set of religious beliefs become dominant over others then the free practice of all faiths is also threatened.
That is why I am calling for remonstrance - now!
Catholic Remonstrance Now! | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden)
Catholic Remonstrance Now! | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden)