Kurtz, Marcotte, Paul, and The Church


In the wake of Amanda Marcotte’s resignation from the John Edwards campaign, Howie Kurtz has responded with one of his patented, snide, attack-without-attacking columns in the WaPo. After a reasonably fair summation in which he quotes liberally from Marcotte’s resignation post at pandagon, he swings into Howie-mode with this little gem of a graf:

The former North Carolina senator was caught between conflicting pressures. On one hand, Marcotte and McEwan, like many writers in the freewheeling blogosphere, had written profane and offensive attacks on their detractors, using language that no presidential candidate would be comfortable defending. On the other, liberal bloggers were embracing their cause, depicting them as victims of an orchestrated conservative campaign to discredit them.

There are two outright lies in that short graf and one opinion stated as fact. Let’s begin with the First Lie:

1. “…had written profane and offensive attacks on their detractors”.

The posts which so offended Donohoe and from which Howie quotes later on – out of context, naturally – were NOT attacks on her “detractors”. They were attacks on the Catholic Church’s anti-female attitudes, biases, and policies, in particular its rigid insistence on mixing into the abortion debate with what an objective observer could only call a “heavy hand”. It would be impossible in any legitimate sense to consider the quotes for which Marcotte was pilloried a personal attack on any “person” when they were so obviously aimed at an organizational entity. Here’s the quote:

The Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics.

“The Catholic church” is not a person and, so far as I know, has never attacked Amanda Marcotte. Benedict would probably be a “detractor” if he knew or cared what she said but he doesn’t. I feel safe in saying that you could search his recent speeches exhaustively without once hearing the name “Amanda Marcotte” pass his lips, so she certainly wasn’t responding to anything he said about her.

As a recovering Catholic and a minor student of Church history, I can also tell you, categorically, that there’s only one mistake in that sentence: Catholics don’t “tithe” (give one-tenth of their pre-tax income to The Church). They pass the hat every week – usually, in reality, a little basket – in which people put money. It’s called “The Collection”, and in the circles I moved in, ten bucks was considered a major contribution. Usually it was a dollar or two. Kids were given quarters or dimes to throw in, more to get them in the habit than anything else.

“Tithing” is an old idea The Church abandoned centuries ago because the poor – who in those days made up most of its congregants – couldn’t afford it. It has more recently become a fund-raising scheme promoted by evangelical pastors like Pat Robertson who are more interested in getting rich than they are in helping the poor survive another day, more’s the pity.

The rest of the sentence is quite true, even generous. The suggestion that “The Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way”, for instance, allows as how The Church has some compassion for girls that it’s setting aside for a larger purpose. That’s nice of Amanda because the simple fact is, whether Donohoe likes it or not, The Church doesn’t have and hasn’t had since Paul any compassion for females whatsoever. Not even pregnant ones, unless the pregnancy was Church-sanctioned, and even then it didn’t absolve women from the sin of sex.

In the early days of The Church (Catholics never refer to the Catholic Church as anything but “The Church”, part of the ingrained assumption that no other religion is legitimate), women held as many important places as men. The enclaves of Christian communes (Catholicism hadn’t been invented yet and the Reformation was centuries in the future, so everybody was just “Christian”) were structured loosely along lines of influence, not gender. Christ had made a particular point of rejecting the prevailing misogyny of the time, going so far as to defend prostitutes and spinsters. In that spirit, the communes were, by all accounts, pretty open. Women were allowed to speak in Council, to preside over services (such as they were) and even to lead the social life of the group if they had the best ideas or were the most convincing speakers.

It was Paul (you know him, the Epistle Guy) who put an end to all that. Paul was a misogynist to his bones. He attacked, relentlessly, the idea that women had any place in The Church except that of child-bearer, and reached back into the Old Testament – when Christ’s whole mission had been to destroy the OT and replace it with a more forgiving and tolerant system – to invent the doctrine of “original sin”, effectively removing women from participation in The Church because they were the vessels of that sin. Christ didn’t have much to say about sex, in fact he never mentioned it, although his defense of prostitutes might suggest that he didn’t think it was all that horrible. His attitude seemed to be that people had sex and blaming the woman without blaming the man wasn’t fair (he was very big on justice for all).

Paul, however, like many esthetes, was terrified of sex and therefore terrified of women. He invented the original sin doctrine to get them out of their positions of influence, forbid their leadership, and eventually forbid their presence at the “Mass” altogether. (He was married to a strong woman, maybe that was the reason. We all know how weak men respond to strong women….)

As a matter of history (to the degree we can piece it together), Paul – The Organizer – was single-handedly responsible for twisting Christ’s vision of forgiveness and peace (don’t forget, Jesus invented the concept of passive resistance) into an OT-style intolerance of differences, vengeance for unbelievers, and inflexible doctrines that eventually became the foundation of Catholic dogma. Christ’s words and ideas were to be honored in the breach while The Church was built on their opposites. If Christians, Catholic or Protestant, want to be historically accurate, they ought to be calling themselves Paulists because Christ has little or nothing to do with their actual religious beliefs, especially the fundamentalist Protestants who rely so heavily on the OT. That’s pure Paul.

Why the people who lived in those peaceful, egalitarian communes listened to this hateful crackpot remains a mystery, at least to me. But then I don’t understand why people listen to hateful crackpots like Donohoe. Paul was a fanatic – as most converts tend to be – and brooked no dissension. Yes, he was a powerful speaker and writer, and a brilliant organizer, and yes, I suppose it’s at least possible that Christianity might have died out if all those little enclaves hadn’t been incorporated into a united whole, but turning its back on Christ in order to obey Paul was an awfully high price for The Church to pay for mere survival. The history of The Church is rife with crimes as a result: forcible conversions, The Inquisition, wars, the slaughter of numerous bands of so-called “heretics”, the forced subjugation and wholesale murder of “pagans” (anybody who wasn’t Catholic), and, of course, the oppression of women for 2000 years.

It isn’t a pretty picture, and it isn’t something a lot of Catholics are proud of. It might have been better for all concerned – and for the world – if Christianity had vanished in those early days when it was still Christ-like. Paulism has done vastly more harm than good. Which brings us to the Opinion-Stated-As-Fact:

2. “…using language that no presidential candidate would be comfortable defending.”

Howie calls modern national politics a “more buttoned-down environment” and maybe it is. But if so, the responsibility lies with the far right wingnuts who have made any public discussion of facts or history that doesn’t fit their illusions or puts their extreme versions of religious autocracy under a very unfavorable light a dangerous political decision. SWAT Teams of right-wing and Xtianist whackos attack any political figure who dares to challenge their fantasies or hegemony, and the right-wing media – as they did in this case – are only too happy to oblige them by featuring them on tv and treating their wildest and most vile ravings as if we should all be taking them seriously.

Still, it’s not all that hard to imagine that a political figure with guts and oratorical skill might be willing to take them on and demolish them in a way that wouldn’t much hurt his/her chances for election. Edwards could have done it if he had the balls. It would have been simple. All he needed to say was:

a) “They’re entitled to their personal opinions. They weren’t speaking for me, they were speaking for themselves, and – despite 6 years of Republican rule – this is still a country where free speech is respected.”

And b) “Donohoe is an anti-semitic whacko who lives out where the buses don’t run. He doesn’t represent Catholics – in fact, he doesn’t represent anybody except himself – and I resent him pretending he does. I also think the media ought to be a lot more careful about who it decides to promote. A little fact-checking now and then wouldn’t hurt.”

Now what was so hard about that, Howie? The HUGE Democratic base – the people he needs to win the primaries – would have been cheering themselves hoarse and lining up to work for a candidate who finally said what we’ve been waiting for a candidate to say. Contrary to your opinion, Howie, it might have been a very smart – even brilliant – political move on Edwards’ part. If he added to what I said above the fact that his religion doesn’t believe in telling people what to think, he’d have, in addition to the activists, a lot of mainstream religious groups, who are tired of the nutball Religious Right and the Theocrats controlling the public discourse, backing him to the hilt.

The “buttoned-down” nature of national politics these days is a response to fear, and all it takes to break through that is one courageous political figure who knows how to frame the issue. Edwards, beholden to the gutless wonders of the DLC, is clearly not that guy. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been done.

3. On the other, liberal bloggers were embracing their cause, depicting them as victims of an orchestrated conservative campaign to discredit them.

This is the Second Lie. Nobody I know of used the word “orchestrated” or did more than hint that there might be more than Donohoe and Malkin involved in this particular attack campaign. The posts “liberal bloggers” wrote were almost universally condemnations of Donohoe and recitations of his past intolerant and anti-semitic statements, none of which Howie saw fit to quote. When Michelle the Miraculous Mudhen weighed in, she got a little condemnation, too, and who deserves it more? Only Ann Coulter, perhaps, but Anorexia Annie doesn’t have a blog.

All of the above is in response to a single graf of Kurtz’s (expletive deleted so as not to offend Howie’s virgin ears) column. If I took the rest of it apart this post would turn into a book. Suffice it to say that the intention of the column is to tell enough lies and sport enough innuendo to give one the impression that Marcotte is a fringe figure, Edwards is an indecisive weenie, and the left blogosphere is full of paranoid idiots who think the world is out to get them.

Howie, dear, your slip is showing.

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