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Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Maureen Malarkey Share the 2015 Coughlin Award!

Originally <a href=http://www.talk2action.org/story/2015/12/30/134622/25”>posted at</a> Talk to Action.

Yes, folks it’s that time of the year again. It’s time for the presentation of the annual Coughlin Award. As it is every year, the competition was stiff, so much so that this year for the first time we have a tie!  This year’s award goes to <a href=”http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/archbishop-salvatore-cordileone-takes-divisive-action-san-francisco-archdiocese“>Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone</a> and <a href=”http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2015/01/maureen-mullarkey-strikes-again-and.html“>Maureen Malarkey</a>.

 

The Coughlin Award — affectionately known as “The Coughie” — is our way of recognizing the person who has best exemplified an exclusionary, strident interpretation of the Catholic faith in the preceding year. The award is named for <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Coughlin“>Father Charles Coughlin</a>, the notorious radio priest of the 1930s who is the role model for today’s Religious Right radio and television evangelists, and other conservative media personalities.<p>

 

Best known for his diatribes against FDR, Judaism and open sympathy with the racist policies of Adolph Hitler, Coughlin’s advocacy was antithetical to the very definition of the word “catholic,” which, according to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary means:<p><p>

 

<blockquote>Catholic Cath”o*lic\ (k[a^]th”[-o]*[i^]k), a. [L. catholicus, Gr. kaqoliko`s, universal, general; kata` down, wholly + “o`los whole, probably akin to E. solid: cf. F. catholique.]<p>

  1. Universal or general; as, the catholic faith.<p>

Men of other countries [came] to bear their part in so great and catholic a war. –Southey.<p>

Note: This epithet, which is applicable to the whole Christian church, or its faith, is claimed by Roman Catholics to belong especially to their church, and in popular usage is so limited.<p><p>

*Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.<p>

*Of or pertaining to, or affecting the Roman Catholics; as, the Catholic emancipation act.</blockquote><p><p>

In order to win a Coughie, a candidate must complete three qualifying tasks: 1) Make the faith decisively less inclusive 2) Engage in incendiary behavior and 3) Ultimately embarrasses the Church. This year’s winners — as usual — have risen to the challenge.<p>

 

This year there were so many exemplars of the Coughlin tradition, our judges had a hard time deciding whom to choose. For example, there was Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), the Tea Partying, climate change denying gun rights activist who published a screed on <i>Townhall.com</i> entitled, “Why I Am Boycotting Pope Francis’ Address to Congress.” And then there was (and <a href=http://www.talk2action.org/story/2014/12/30/82455/131”>last year’s winner</a>), Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia — whose strident divisiveness always makes him a contender. But as the nominating committee pointed out — neither of them can hold a candle to this year’s co-winners.

 

Since it is my belief that chivalry is not dead, ladies first.

 

<b>Maureen Mullarkey</b>

 

Our first award winner is Maureen Mullarkey, the <a href=http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2009/02/dana-rudolph-educational-challenge-of.html”>painter</a>-cum-political writer who

topped the charts of high-minded commentary about the current pontiff with <a href=http://thefederalist.com/2015/09/24/che-guevaras-pope/”>Che Guevara’s Pope </a>.

 

As I <a href=http://www.talk2action.org/story/2015/9/21/131542/062”>

observed</a> in September 2015 :

 

<blockquote>Then there is conservative writer Maureen Mullarkey who recently inked a poison pen piece entitled, <a href=”http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/mullarkey/2015/01/francis-political-illusion“>”Francis and Political Illusion”</a> in which she describes Francis as “an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist.” Mullarkey subsequently published a piece entitled, <a href=”http://thefederalist.com/2015/01/26/pope-francis-is-a-leftist-and-must-be-called-out/“>”Pope Francis Is A Leftist And Must Be Called Out”</a>. In it, she complains that Francis is not being harsher on Islam “when innocents are slaughtered in Paris by the same forces that are shedding Christian blood in the Middle East… .”<p>

Such ranting should be no surprise coming from Mullarkey who is a contributor to the journal <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Things“><i>First Things</i></a>, the well-known outlet for Catholic and Evangelical neoconservatives.</blockquote>

 

But Mullarkey had gone too far — even for <i>First Things</i>, which took down her last piece and fired her as a contributing writer. Editor R.R. Reno explained, <a href=https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2015/09/no-more-tirades”>No More Tirades</a>:

 

<blockquote> I’ve criticized Pope Francis and his encyclical, <i>Laudato Si</i>. However, Maureen’s commentary on Francis goes well beyond measured criticism. She consistently treats him as an ideological propagandist, accusing him of reducing the faith to secular political categories. This is her way of reducing him to the political terms she favors. And those terms are the ones used by radio talk-show hosts to entertain the public with mock-battles against various Empires of Evil. I don’t want First Things to play that game.</blockquote>

 

That, readers, was the Coughie clincher!

 

<b>Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone</b>

 

But in 2015 Coughlin Award-winning divisiveness was not the sole domain of Maureen Mullarkey. In fact, this year’s co-winner is a culture warrior, <i>par excellence</i>!

 

In 2012 Pope Benedict installed Salvatore Cordileone as the archbishop of San Francisco. To say that he was not a good fit for the progressively tolerant City by the Bay is an understatement. The archbishop is both a strong proponent of the Latin mass as well as being a signatory to the anti-marriage equality manifesto known as <a href=http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/07/23/christian-right-seeks-renewal-in-deepening-catholic-protestant-alliance/#sthash.savcOVUH.dpbs”>the Manhattan Declaration</a>.  (He went on to chair the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on the promotion and defense of marriage.)

 

 

Archbishop Cordileone is such a polarizing figure that a hundred prominent Bay area Catholics took out a full page ad in the <i>San Francisco Chronicle</i> calling for his resignation. <a href=http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/influential-catholics-call-removal-san-francisco-bishop-full-page-ad”>

According to</a> the <i>National Catholic Reporter</i>:

 

<blockquote>In an April 16 <a href=http://ww2.kqed.org/news/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2015/04/cordileonead.jpg”>full-page advertisement</a> in the <i>San Francisco Chronicle</i>, more than 100 signers say the embattled archbishop pursues “a single-issue agenda,” coercing teachers with a “morality code which violates individual consciences as well as California labor laws” and “[isolating] himself from our community” as he “relies … on a tiny group of advisors recruited from outside of our diocese and estranged from their own religious orders.”</p>

 

Referring to themselves as “committed Catholics inspired by Vatican II,” signers include well-known philanthropists in the archdiocese, members of school and university boards, the former director of Catholic Charities CYO, high-profile attorneys and physicians, major figures in the business and corporate world, and officials of trusts, foundations and charitable organizations.</blockquote>

 

Part of what triggered all this was Archbishop Cordileone’s attempt to add a morality clause to the local Catholic high school teachers’ handbooks. As the <i>San Francisco Chronicle</i> <a href=http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/S-F-archbishop-s-morality-clauses-run-counter-6063227.php”>reported</a> earlier this year, “It contains a 2,000-word section calling for staff members — in their professional and private lives — to honor church teachings. He specifically cited opposition to abortion, contraception, homosexuality, artificial insemination, cloning and same-sex marriage, not to mention masturbation, fornication and pornography.”

 

Then, as if to outdo himself, in February 2015 a “morality pamphlet” was distributed to elementary School level parochial students within the diocese. Its shocking contents <a href=http://www.cbsnews.com/news/star-of-the-sea-school-morality-pamphlet-backlash-parents/”>were reported</a> by <i>CBS News</i>:

 

<blockquote>Questions included, “Did I participate or approve of a mercy killing?” “Did I perform impure acts by myself (masturbation) or with another (adultery, fornication or sodomy)?” …  Star of the Sea parish pastor Father Joseph Illo said when he realized in December the adult content of the pamphlets in December, he halted their distribution.</blockquote>

 

The many examples of the Archbishop’s Coughie-worthy achievements include <a href=http://ncronline.org/news/people/surprise-resignation-stuns-california-seminary-students-faculty”>the sacking of popular priests</a> and the use of <a href=http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/03/19/3635964/what-would-jesus-do-definitely-not-this/”>sprinklers to keep the homeless away</a> from St. Mary’s Cathedral.  Archbishop Cordileone may not be a Pope Francis Catholic — but he may be a Maureen Mullarkey Catholic!

 

So then you have it ladies and gentlemen; I give you Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Maureen Mullarkey our 2015 Coughlin Award co-winners!

 

 

 

 

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What Catholic Neo-Confederates Don’t Want You To Know About Secession

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

During the summer of 2013 I wrote several posts about Catholic Neo-Confederates. My purpose was to explain the activities of libertarians such as Tom Woods, Thomas DiLorenzo and an organization known as the League of the South: all of whom advocate for the secession and nullification as tools to be used by the Christian Right.

To that end, they perpetuate the myth of an antebellum South that was united in its belief in and desire for secession. They paint a portrait of Old Dixie as both an orthodox Christian and libertarian paradise for all its inhabitants that was spoiled by a foreign intruder: thus their claim that the conflict of 1861 to 1865 was not a Civil War initiated by a faction of Southern planters — but a war of Northern aggression.

Bullfeathers and balderdash!

In an August 6, 2015 article Sarah Posner interviewed author Julie Ingersoll about her book on Christian Reconstructionism, Building God’s Kingdom was asked about the influence the movement’s founder, R. J. Rushdoony has had upon the Neo- Confederate movement. Ingersoll explained:

I’ve tried to handle this delicately and in detail in the book and a brief answer is really difficult. This is partly because neither of these movements has clear-cut membership requirements and it depends what you mean by Neo-Confederates. There are numerous organizations that identify as Reconstructionist and Neo-Confederate that hold lectures and conferences—there is a lot of cross-fertilization among them…

What’s important, I think, is the larger way in which Rushdoony and the Reconstructionists helped build a resurgence of interest in and affection for, a pre-civil war vision of society. They did this, in part by promoting the work of Southern Presbyterian theologian R. L. Dabney and the view that the civil war was not about slavery but was a religious war to preserve a godly southern culture from the tyranny of a secularizing North.

Libertarian and traditionalist Catholic author Thomas E. Woods, Jr. is correct that the Civil War is surrounded by mythology. But with that said, the real myths are the ones Woods believes in and teaches in his homeschooling courses and in his books. The war was not about the North against the South, but patriot against secessionist. And for our purposes, many of those patriots included Southerners – a fact that today’s secessionist faction all-too-conveniently ignores.

Take for example Woods’s claims about the Civil War in his heavily criticized work – from both the left and the right, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Woods starts out his chapter on the Civil War by claiming it should be more accurately described as a “War Between the States.”

Strictly speaking, there never was an American Civil War. A civil war is a conflict in which two or more factions fight for control of a nation’s government. The English Civil War of the 1640s and the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s to classic examples; in both cases, two factions sought to control the government. This was not the case in the United States between 1861 and 1865. The seceding Southern states were not trying to take over the United States government; they wanted to declare themselves independent.

But contrary to this assertion, secession was, as it is today, a tool of factionalism. As Civil War hero, General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain noted, “The flag we bore into the field was not that of particular States, no matter how many nor how loyal, arrayed against other States. It was the flag of the Union, the flag of the people, vindicating the right and charged with the duty of preventing any factions, no matter how many nor under what pretense, from breaking up this common Country.”

Chamberlain’s statement cuts the heart out of Tom Woods’s central argument, that Southern secession was not a factious action. In fact, the majority of American Southerners did not support the secession.

Two excellent books on secession and nullification pose a challenge to Woods and his ilk: The South Vs. The South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War by William W. Freehling and David Williams’s Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War. On page 7 of the introduction of the latter, Williams makes two important points:

It seems to gratify the pride of most southerners, at least white southerners, to think that the wartime South was united. It seems also to gratify the pride of many northerners to think their ancestors defeated a united South. Few northerners seem willing to consider that’s the Union may not have been preserved, the chattel slavery would not have ended when it did, without the service of nearly half a million Southerners in Union blue

And:

Our skewed image of the Civil War South also stems in part from the ways in which we emphasize the era’s military and political aspects. The great mass of literature dealing with the war years focuses largely on battles and leaders. Such studies are crucial, to be sure. By focusing so much of our collective attention on those aspects, tends to foster the myth of sectional unity, minimizing dissent or ignoring it altogether. In doing so, we paint all southerners, all white southerners at least, with a broad brush of rebellion. This oversimplified an often not-so-subtle effort to, in a sense, generally demonize white southerners as led to the mistaken idea that the terms “Southern” and “Confederate” are interchangeable during the war. They are used as such in most texts to this day. That firmly embedded misconception leaves little room in the popular and, too often, professional imagination for the hundreds of thousands of southern whites who opposed secession and worked against the Confederacy.

Williams documents how secessionist factions seized control many of the state conventions called to decide whether or not to leave the Union. Over and over again the author cites examples of secessionist intimidation designed to prevent the participation in these meetings of those who chose loyalty to the United States. Williams said in a 2008 interview:

That’s right. In late 1860 and early 1861, there were a series of votes on the secession question in all the slave states, and the overwhelming majority voted against it. It was only in the Deep South, from South Carolina to Texas, that there was much support for secession, and even there it was deeply divided. In Georgia, a slight majority of voters were against secession.

He also said:

The popular vote [in Georgia] didn’t decide the question. It chose delegates to a convention. That’s the way slaveholders wanted it, because they didn’t trust people to vote on the question directly. More than 30 delegates who had pledged to oppose secession changed their votes at the convention. Most historians think that was by design. The suspicion is that the secessionists ran two slates — one for and one supposedly against — and whichever was elected, they’d vote for secession.

In that same interview Williams commented, “It seems like the common folk were very much ignored and used by the planter elite. As a result, over half a million Americans died.” Such behavior does not describe a reasoned citizenry justifiably seeking independence but a poisonous faction trampling on the rights of the many.

Indeed, a close examination of Confederate society as well as of the Antebellum South exposes the weaknesses of economic libertarianism, especially of the Austrian School laissez-faire variety. And as both authors esoterically point out, it was devotion to libertarianism that ultimately did in the Confederacy.

As both authors point out the Confederate Army never had enough food to feed their soldiers. The problem was not enough farming but no government planning that would require the plantations to produce certain amounts of food. Instead, the plantation class exercised “their freedom” and concentrated on growing cotton and tobacco simply because those products were far more profitable. Woods, DiLorenzo and other Neo-Confederates often speak of the Confederacy and the Antebellum South as if they were paradise. That may have been true for the plantation class, but not for slaves and poor white farmers.

As David Williams points out in Bitterly Divided, plantation owners used slavery not only to exploit African-American labor also to control poor white dirt farmers. Slavery was used to keep wages artificially low by creating a surplus of cost-free labor. It also allowed the wealthier members of Southern society to build economic empires against which any smaller free labor enterprise had to struggle to compete with (at page 11, Williams states that on the eve of the Civil War half of the South’s personal income went to just over 1000 families). The planters used their economic muscle to outbid poor whites for the best farmland – and in the process, drove up prices. And to control them politically, devices such as literacy tests and poll taxes were used to keep poor whites from voting – the same devious devices that would later be employed to keep African-Americans from exercising their right to vote.

How unpopular was the Confederacy in the South? Those “nearly half a million Southerners in Union blue” more than replaced the 364,511 Federal soldiers and sailors killed in action. Our nation would not have been preserved without the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Southern whites and blacks dressed in blue uniforms, along with the countless others who engaged in everything from civil disobedience to out right guerilla activity.

As I have previously written, libertarian economic s is not about freedom per se but the freedom to oppress others:

This is libertarianism ‘s inherent fatal flaw: Its sole emphasis upon the liberty of the more powerful individual and its striking indifference to the rights of others. It fails to account for externalities — when a third person is affected by an occurrence or transaction to which he is not a party. It is a philosophy of governance that refuses to consider that the individual’s well-being is linked to the well-being of all within a given society

And this brings us back to the mythology pedaled by Rushdoony and the Reconstructionists — that of an idyllic pre-Civil War Southern society and notion that the war was not about slavery but was a religious war to preserve a godly Southern culture from the tyranny of a secularizing North. It was not. It was more about preserving a caste system society based upon Mudsill economics — a libertarian model that has more in common with feudalism than with capitalism.

Secession and nullification have regained currency with elements of the Christian Right in recent years, as Rachel Tabachnick and I have reported. They now rise, zombie-like, and threaten true economic and religious freedom. One way to expose the fraudulent foundations upon which secession and nullification are built, is to look at our own history — and to give long overdue credit to the brave American Southerners who helped to preserve the Union.

Archbishop Chaput Wins the 2014 Coughlin Award!

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo franksgraphic_zpsbe286320.jpgIt’s time again for the presentation of the annual Coughlin Award. This year’s award goes to the cultural warrior’s cultural warrior, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

The Coughlin Award — affectionately known as “The Coughie” — recognizes the person who has best exemplified an exclusionary, strident interpretation of the Catholic faith in the preceding year. The award is named for Father Charles Coughlin, the notorious radio priest of the 1930s who is the role model for today’s Religious Right radio and television evangelists, and other conservative media personalities.

Best known for his diatribes against FDR, Judaism and open sympathy with the racist policies of Adolph Hitler, Coughlin’s advocacy was clearly antithetical to the very definition of the word “catholic,” which, according to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary means:

Catholic Cath”o*lic\ (k[a^]th”[-o]*[i^]k), a. [L. catholicus, Gr. kaqoliko`s, universal, general; kata` down, wholly + “o`los whole, probably akin to E. solid: cf. F. catholique.]

1. Universal or general; as, the catholic faith.

Men of other countries [came] to bear their part in so great and catholic a war. –Southey.

Note: This epithet, which is applicable to the whole Christian church, or its faith, is claimed by Roman Catholics to belong especially to their church, and in popular usage is so limited.

*Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.

*Of or pertaining to, or affecting the Roman Catholics; as, the Catholic emancipation act.

In order to win a Coughie, a candidate must complete three qualifying tasks: 1) Make the faith decisively less inclusive 2) Engage in incendiary behavior and 3) Ultimately embarrass the Church. This year’s winner — as usual — has risen to the challenge.

Chaput did not earn the 2014 “Coughie” because of any one specific action; instead, he earned his award through the sheer cumulative force his divisive career in the Church and in movement conservative politics. He is a role model for contemporary Coughlinesque Church leaders.

Archbishop Chaput has not only met requirements — he epitomizes them. So much so, that he is often able to meet more than one of the criteria in a single episode, and this year’s Coughie is in many ways a lifetime achievement award.

First; His career has been marked by stern pronouncements that meet the first Award requirement of making Catholicism less inclusive. From his time as the Archbishop of Denver when he uttered a harsh declaration of support for a Boulder, Colorado Catholic school’s denying re-enrollment of a lesbian couple’s two children; to his call for denying pro-choice Catholics Holy Communion; and finally to his open displeasure with Pope Francis’s most recent overtures to divorced and gay Catholics, Archbishop Chaput has made it clear that in his vision of the Church there is no room for greater tolerance, understanding, and dialog.

Second; Over the years he has engaged in incendiary behavior. For example, during the 2004 presidential election Archbishop Chaput declared that it was a sin for American Catholics to vote for the Democratic Party nominee John Kerry (Kerry is pro-choice and supports embryonic stem cell research). While serving as the archbishop of Denver, Colorado he opposed legislation that would expand the statute of limitations for prosecuting child abusers. He gives the appearance of one who is more interested in preserving the financial assets of the Church as an institution, and the privileges of an old boys club, than in securing the safety of the children in his care and holding to account people who abused their position to exploit the vulnerable.

Last Fall, he said: “I was very disturbed by what happened” at a Vatican sponsored Synod on the Family, where some 190 cardinals and bishops discussed such matters as how to treat LGBT people and divorced Catholics. “I think confusion is of the devil,” he declared, “and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.”

To suggest that a conversation convened by the Pope is ultimately “of the devil” is about as incendiary as it gets in Catholicism. But Chaput was not finished. He went so far as to suggest that in the wake of the court decisions legalizing same-sex marriage in most states, Catholic bishops might consider engaging in what he called “principled resistance” by opting out of certifying civil marriages.

Archbishop Chaput will be the host of the long planned World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next September. Pope Francis will be the featured speaker (replacing Pope Benedict who retired before he could make his planned appearance.) The Vatican Synod on the Family, which Chaput found to be “of the devil”, was a forerunner event to the World Meeting. So if past is prologue, Philadelphia may be shaping up as a showdown between the two leaders.

Third; All of this is an embarrassment to the Catholic Church.

So, for all that and so much more, Archbishop Chaput come on down and claim your 2014 Coughlin Award!.

Note to Bookmakers: It sure looks like Chaput is positioning himself to be an early front runner for the 2015 Coughie.

And Yet Finn Remains Bishop

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

It has been well over two years since Bishop Robert Finn and was convicted by a Missouri criminal court for failing to report child abuse by Fr. Shawn Ratigan, one of his parish priests. Within that same period of time Ratigan pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and is now serving a 50-year sentence in prison. Finn was warned about Ratigan’s behavior but inexplicably waited six months before notifying authorities.

Enter Pope Francis. On a myriad of issues the new pontiff has been a breath of fresh air. But when it comes to removing Bishop Finn as head of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Missouri the air has gotten quite stale. Finn has yet to be removed.

Just last month Cardinal Sean O’Malley was interviewed by the CBS program 60 Minutes. O’Malley is not just any Cardinal but named by his close friend Pope Francis to lead the Vatican’s new sexual abuse commission aimed at strengthening rules to protect children. When the conversation turned to Bishop Finn, Cardinal O’Malley did not mince his words:

Norah O’Donnell: I want to ask you about Robert Finn, who is the bishop of Kansas City/St. Joseph and, as you know, he pleaded guilty to a criminal misdemeanor for not reporting one of his priests to authorities. Bishop Finn wouldn’t be able to teach Sunday school in Boston.
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: That’s right.
Norah O’Donnell: How is that zero tolerance…
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: Well…
Norah O’Donnell: …that he’s still in place? What does it say to Catholics?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: Well, it’s a question that the Holy See needs to address urgently.
Norah O’Donnell: And there’s a recognition?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: There’s a recognition of that.
Norah O’Donnell: From Pope Francis?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: From Pope Francis.
If anything sounded as if Bishop Finn I was on his way out the door, it was that exchange. The 60 Minutes statement struck me as two minute warning that Finn would be sacked within the week. But it was not to be.

It has now been more than a month since that interview. Bishop Finn still remains in charge of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Why is he still there?

Bishop Robert Finn is very antithesis Pope Francis. Where the Pontiff is tolerate and more open-minded, Finn is a shrill cultural warrior. More importantly, Finn – a member of Opus Dei – apparently sees the Catholic Church in terms of being an institution whereas Pope Francis – a Jesuit – often talks about the Church and its relationship with helping the marginalized, such as the poor. The differences in styles and agendas could fill the Grand Canyon. This only makes the Pope’s inaction even more puzzling.

But more than anything else, inaction in this matter only hurts Pope Francis. It undermines his credibility by casting him as a leader who says the right thing but does nothing. As long as Finn remains a bishop in control of a diocese there is a black stain on this papacy.

In stating the obvious, it is time to remove this stain in Missouri.

The Author of Loathing Lincoln Explains Why Some on the Christian Right Loathe Lincoln

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo loathinglincoln.jpgOne under-reported result of the 2014 elections was the rise of Neo-Confederate politics in the U.S. This included the election of unabashed apologist for the Confederacy Michael Peroutka, who was elected to Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Council; and Joni Ernst, a proponent of nullification and secession, who was elected to the United States Senate from Iowa. It has also resulted in divisions on the Christian Right as well as in the wider Republican Party.

Thus is seems like a good time to ask John McKee Barr, the author of one of this year’s most informative books, Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present for some insight into what is going on. As Barr told me before our interview, it is within the Neo-Confederate movement where the hatred of Abraham Lincoln and all he stood for meets the Religious Right.  

John Barr is currently a professor of history at Lone Star College-Kingwood [Texas], having joined their faculty in 2008. There he teaches a variety of courses including the survey of U.S. History, “Political Novels”, “The Emancipators: Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, and the Making of the Modern World,” and “Revolution and Counterrevolution.” His website can be found right here.

Loathing Lincoln is his first book and an important first effort. The tome not only provides the reader with excellent insight into the to peculiar tradition of Lincoln hatred, but by extension, a more complete understanding of many of the beliefs that underlie the current nullification and secession movements.

I began our conversation by asking Barr to explain Lincoln’s religious philosophy. Was it unchanging or did it evolve over time?

Barr: Lincoln’s religion has been a topic of unending fascination, both for his admirers and his critics. For me, the best book on this subject is Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln:Redeemer President. In broad terms, I think we can say that Lincoln grew up in a deeply religious world of Protestant Christianity. As Guelzo puts it, “Intellectually, he was stamped from his earliest days by the Calvinism of his parents.”  In addition, Lincoln certainly had what many have called a melancholic streak in his personality (Lincoln’s “melancholy dripped from him as he walked” his law partner William Herndon said), and that too, at least in my view, shaped his religious beliefs. One of his favorite poems was by William Knox, one entitled “Mortality.” A close look at that poem I think verifies the future president’s dark outlook. Still, Lincoln did go through a phase of being what Guelzo calls a “religious skeptic.” He never joined a church, and one political opponent, Peter Cartwright, accused Lincoln of what was called then “infidelity” in a congressional campaign. You can see Lincoln’s response to that charge here. Personally, it seems to me that Lincoln would just rather avoid the whole subject and he does not really answer the charge, thus lending some credence to the idea that Cartwright’s allegations were true.

Now, when Lincoln is campaigning against the extension of slavery into the territories in the 1850s he frequently attacks, or mocks, the idea that slavery is a divine institution and good for the slave (e.g. pro-slavery theology). I especially like the sentence in the preceding link where he says that “Certainly there is no contending against the Will of God; but still there is some difficulty in ascertaining, and applying it, to particular cases.” Thus, he condemns slavery’s defenders for using God to mask their own self-interest.

During the Civil War, I think Lincoln’s language becomes much more suffused, if you will, with religious imagery. In a sense, how could it be otherwise? Hundreds of thousands of Americans are dying (this would be millions, proportionally speaking, today) and he had to make sense of all this suffering and communicate it to the American public in religious language. The culmination of this is his Second Inaugural Address, which some historians believe is truly his greatest speech. Notice Lincoln’s sense that the war is God’s just punishment for the sin of American rather than southern slavery. It is a remarkable address, yet one without rancor and closing with perhaps the finest peroration in the English language.

Once the war concluded and Lincoln had been assassinated, then the issue of his religious beliefs became of profound importance for Americans. This is something that I explore in great detail in the second and fourth chapters of my book, Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present. Lincoln’s opponents accused him of being an “infidel,” or unbeliever (this was true not only in the South, I might add), while some of his defenders claimed him as the quintessential Christian. Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, tried to set the record straight in the aftermath of his friend’s death, but in claiming Lincoln was not a Christian he made many people quite angry. Nowadays Lincoln’s religious beliefs are interesting to Americans, of course, but I’m not sure they are as important to people (we are a much more religiously pluralistic country today, including those Americans who like Lincoln affiliate themselves with no church at all) as they were in the latter part of the nineteenth-century, or the early twentieth century. Still, I would agree with Christopher Hitchens that Lincoln cannot be enlisted in the atheist cause. He is instead a political figure who challenged those who claimed religious certitude, those who used religion to justify what was in their own self-interest, yet drew on religious tradition/language in attempt to ascertain the meaning of the Civil War for all Americans.

Cocozzelli: Why would conservative Christian libertarians despise Lincoln?

Barr: I think that it is because Lincoln and the Republicans used public power to intervene into a private arrangement – slavery. And, it seems to me anyway, that today many Christians are deeply suspicious of any government that might do something similar. Think gay marriage, for example. Also, I don’t know that all, or even most, Christian libertarians despise Lincoln. To be sure, some do and they are influential, but I don’t know if they are a majority.

Cocozzelli: What about Lincoln’s legacy teaches us how to effectively answer the Christian libertarian right?

Barr: Consider these words from Lincoln: “Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much. Public opinion, or [on] any subject, always has a “central idea,” from which all its minor thoughts radiate.”

Archbishop Schnurr Throws Cold Water on the Ice Bucket Challenge

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has been an outstanding success in raising both awareness and research money needed to find a cure for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) . As of September 10, 2014 the ALS Association has raised $111.6 million in Ice Bucket Challenge donations. The wildly popular charity stunt captured the hearts of millions of people last summer bringing together former presidents, movie stars and ordinary citizens in an effort to create a greater awareness necessary to cure a hideous muscle disease. They did it by pouring ice water over themselves and then challenging friends and neighbors to do the same.

The challenge is important because ALS (commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease” (because of its fatal impact upon the life of the great New York Yankee first baseman) is still considered an “orphan disease” —  defined as

“A disease that has not been `adopted’ by the pharmaceutical industry because it provides little financial incentive for the private sector to make and market new medications to treat or prevent it.”

Fortunately, the Ice Bucket Challenge has gone a long way in correcting that dynamic.

But all this warm hearted, spot-on humanitarianism did not deter Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr from sounding a sour note. It seems that his eminence wanted to seize an opportunity to change the subject to stage a culture war battle over stem cells.

It is not that Cincinnati prelate did not want his diocesan members to take part in the challenge; instead, he did not want them to send any money to the ALS Association. Perhaps without realizing the consequences, he was making the phenomena more about stem cell ethics then being focused on cure this dreaded disease  — or perhaps, as a more cynical mind would suspect, he was deliberately trying to change the topic of conversation.

But before we get to our story, let’s note that Schnurr is the kind of culture warrior many of us hoped might seek a truce in the era of Pope Francis. Unfortunately, that has not come to pass. Schnurr seems to seek to impose his personal moral parameters, even upon those who do not share his Catholic Faith.

For example, as CNN reported this past May:

(CNN) — If you want to teach at a Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, regardless of your religion, you must be willing to sign a detailed morality clause that critics say focuses on “pelvic issues.”

The revised contracts forbid teachers from — among other things — living together or having sex outside of marriage, using in-vitro fertilization, a gay “lifestyle,” or publicly supporting any of those things.

The system’s 2,200 current teachers must sign the agreement to stay on the job.

Anyway, here is the reason behind culture war commander Schnurr’s lastest exploit. The Washington Post recently explained, “That’s because the [ALS] association funds a single study using embryonic stem cells, mainly through the funds of a single donor.”

To that end, the Archbishop asked those who took part in the challenge to send the matching donations to an institution such as The John Paul II Medical Research Institute which, while doing extensive research on adult stem cells is not focused on curing ALS.

The Post continued: “In a statement to the American Life League, ALS Association spokesperson Carrie Munk said that donors are able to specify whether they want their funds to support embryonic stem cell research or not.”

Schnurr created a false equivalence in order to try to direct donor funds away from from an organization that exclusively engages in ALS research to an institution that does not do ALS research. The ALS Association is completely focused upon curing this one fatal disease while the John Paul II Medical Research Institute is not. In fact, the Institute, which has only three paid staff, has done no work on ALS (Its focus has been on cancer research). And while The National Catholic Register  reported that between August 15 and August 20, 2014 “received 350 donations for $15,000 dollars,” The Gazette of Iowa City reported otherwise. The newspaper directly quoted the Institute’s CEO who claimed that the Institute “has gotten “hundreds of thousands” of dollars in donations from people who want to support research on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), but don’t want the research done with human embryos.”

The archbishop used the Ice Bucket Challenge to mooch off of the campaign’s newly found heightened awareness to raise money needed for heretofore underfunded research. Schnurr managed to siphon off both attention and hundreds of thousands of dollars that might otherwise have gong to do actual research into finding a cure for this orphan disease. And in so doing, kicked instead of assisting the orphan.

For this Catholic writer, to equate an embryo with a natural born human being is tantamount to equating an acorn with a fully-grown oak tree. While there is clearly a relationship between the embryo and the human they are not one in the same, just as an acorn and an oak tree are not the same. A significant portion of the embryo is the placenta, which is discarded as “afterbirth.” But what is more strikingly different is that a natural born human being has a face. And it is by looking into the face of an ALS victim we see the vital necessity of exploring every avenue that may lead to extinguishing this horrible disease.

And to that end, we should all look into the face of a victim of this illness. William M. Tendy Jr., who is pictured below.

 photo talk2actionfrankc.jpg
Affectionately known as “Billy” to his family, William Tendy was an extraordinary person.  After a difficult two-year battle, sixty-year-old Billy succumbed to ALS. A dedicated husband and father, he was a private practice attorney who successfully took on the death penalty while commanding the respect of the legal community. In his August 26, 2014 obituary in the New York Law Journal his law partner said of him, “Bill was very compassionate to his clients. He didn’t treat clients like files” while another lawyer who was his friend described him as a “truly gifted trial attorney.” In that same piece a former Court of Appeals Judge warmly recalled, “It was astonishing how he gained admiration of the judges,” said Rosenblatt. “They often commented he was a staunch advocate, a model of politeness, hard work and fairness. That was well known and widely reported.”

It is often said that you can tell a lot about a man simply by looking in his eyes. When you look into Billy Tendy’s eyes in the picture above it is easy to see the basis for such plaudits and fond memories. His eyes were the centerpiece of a warm face that simultaneously reflected kindness, intelligence and strength; they complimented a smile that exuded self-assurance without arrogance. And now that is all gone, stolen by an illness that gets too little attention and too few dollars for research.

I can tell you from my own 30-year battle with a lesser form of muscular dystrophy what happens to the body. Month by month, sometimes week by week, and even they by day the ability to do even the most basic tasks desert you. At first it is difficult to stand up from sitting position or to step up from a curb. Being able to play a game of catch with you son becomes an impossibility, let alone hugging your wife and children. Eventually, you need help with the most mundane tasks such as showering and eating a meal. The constant deterioration is selfish and causes friends and family to do things for you such as taking a simple drink or scratching an itch on the head. And as your body turns to nothingness your mind remains unchanged and alert slowly becoming imprisoned in a castle tower that used to be your healthy body.

But that experience is nothing compared to what Billy Tendy went through. His illness accelerated 20 times faster than mine ever will, compressing more than my 30-year of atrophy in less than two years.

Perhaps we should give the archbishop the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he did not realize the consequences of his comments – although I, for one, am not so sure. (On the other hand, his insistence that Catholic school employees abandon their own moral code and legal rights as a condition of employment, suggests that maybe Schnurr is more wily than he is short sighted.) Either way, in his overzealousness to battle embryonic stem cell research he has done a disservice to all the victims who suffer as Billy Tendy and his loved ones suffered.