Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Last Prejudice

Woltz:             Let me lay it on the line for you and your boss, whoever he is! Johnny Fontane will never get that movie! I don't care how many dago guinea wop greaseball goombahs come out of the woodwork! 
Hagen:            I'm German-Irish.
Woltz:             Well, let me tell you something, my kraut-mick friend, I'm gonna make so much trouble for you, you won t know what hit you! 
—John Marley as Jack Woltz and Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen in The Godfather

There’s a reason I don’t read The Huffington Post, and I almost missed this one as a result. 

It seems that last week THP ran a piece by Larry Doyle entitled "The Jesus-Eating Cult of Rick Santorum."  As if the title itself weren’t disgusting enough, in the piece Doyle accuses Catholics of cannibalism, terrorism, and institutionalized pedophilia, and accuses Pope Benedict XVI of being a “‘former’ Nazi” (internal quotation marks Doyle’s).  Doyle further extrapolates from Santorum’s open connection to the Church a secret plan to “supplant Christianity as our official national religion”—indeed, twice in the piece Doyle purports to draw a distinction between “Christians” and Catholics.  I suppose he has license to do this because he’s a former Catholic himself.

Taken to task for his remarks, Doyle issued what was expressly a non-apology, and attempted to cloak himself under the banner of “satire” that is somehow directed to Rick Santorum’s candidacy.  Apparently, we’re already supposed to know that Doyle is a former writer for The Simpsons (I didn’t—shame on me), and that we should therefore automatically understand that anything he pens is both inherently funny and intended to be construed as satire.  He then challenged us to look up what “satire” is.

Well, I did:

sat·ire (săʹtīŕ) n.  1.a.  A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.


The first element of “satire” is that it is an attack on human vice or folly.  What human vice or folly, exactly, is Doyle attacking with Catholics?  Is reception of the Holy Eucharist a vice or folly that should be held up to ridicule?  And if so, what, exactly, does that have to do with Rick Santorum’s campaign for President?

Rusty, what about the Crusades and the Inquisition?

Presumably, Doyle’s vague attacks on “bloody jihads” and “reigns of terror” are intended to refer to the Crusades and the Inquisitions, to which I respond:  what about them?  The Crusades ended about 800 years ago, and in any event were expeditions of liberation after Muslim armies overran the Holy Land.  The Inquisitions were programs intended to root out heresy—not unlike the witch trials carried out by Protestants in the Colonies in the 17th Century; shall we go after the Anglicans and Presbyterians, too?—and while in some instances the inquisitors occasionally regrettably resorted to torture, that practice was common in all tribunals of the time.  In point of fact, contrary to popular belief very few were actually tortured and killed during the Inquisitions; that is not to excuse the practice, but to explain that the actual scale of the abuses is invariably blown far out of proportion from reality.  And again, for all intents and purposes, the Inquisitions ended hundreds of years ago.  Neither the Crusades nor the Inquisitions have anything to do with Rick Santorum’s Presidential campaign, nor are they even currently relevant.  If the purpose of “satire” is typically to prompt a change in the behavior being ridiculed, what possible purpose is served by Doyle dragging back up practices that have already long ago ended?

What about the priest sex-abuse scandal?

Again, what about it?  Some in the Church, particularly in the U.S., have had some obvious failings, and the Church as an organization has in some cases not taken appropriate measures to deal with these issues.  The fact that some people in the Church have fallen down—however seriously or regrettably—is no basis to condemn the institution or its teachings.  But again, more to the point, Doyle’s raising of the issue has nothing to do with Rick Santorum or the body of Catholics as a whole; would he have all 70-some million U.S. Catholics fired from their jobs because a handful of priests committed the sin of pedophilia?  If the sex-abuse scandal somehow disqualifies Catholics from public office, I suppose Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry should resign right now—come to think of it, that IS a good idea.

The second element of “satire” is that it employs irony, derision (laughing in scorn), or wit (cleverly amusing).  In short, it is a means of drawing attention to a shortcoming by poking fun at it.  But what’s funny (or witty, ironic, or derisive) about accusing present-day Catholics of participating in “centuries” of “bloody jihads”?  What’s amusing about claiming that the Catholic Mass is a “barbaric ritual” in which a “black-robed cleric” (false, by the way; I have NEVER seen a priest celebrate Mass in black robes, and I can only assume that as a former altar boy Doyle knows better, meaning he’s deliberately mischaracterized the Mass to create a false impression that it is some sort of Satanic ritual) “casts a spell.”  Where is the wit in falsely accusing the Pope of being a Nazi—not as in “you’re an overly strict disciplinarian,” but literally “you were an active member of Adolph Hitler’s National Socialist Party back in Germany”?  Doyle’s commentary is littered with deliberate falsehoods, and is in no sense humorous or clever to anyone other than those who think Bill Maher is funny and that covering the Virgin Mary in feces is “art”—it’s just mean and spiteful.

Doyle has deliberately taken out of context statements Santorum has made on the campaign trail, and used them as a springboard to spew virulently anti-Catholic nonsense.  Doyle pretends to be chastising Santorum for his commentary on President Obama pursuing a “false theology,” as though Senator Santorum was unfairly demeaning Obama’s religious faith.  But when you hear what Santorum actually said in context—as he has repeatedly explained—it is painfully clear that he was not talking about religion, but worldview.  That is what he meant when he said “not a theology based on the Bible”; he wasn’t saying Obama’s religion was non-Biblical (it isn’t, but that’s another discussion).  Santorum was qualifying his own use of the term “theology” to say that as he was using it in that context, he didn’t mean “religion” in a deity worship sense, but in a blind ideology sense.

Of course, facts don’t matter when it comes to Catholic-bashing, and somehow Doyle gets away with it.  Can you imagine the reaction from the Anti-Defamation League if you published a similar work trashing Judaism?  How many riots and murders would CAIR and other Muslim organizations sponsor—better yet, how many Imams would issue fatwas against your life—if you published a piece like Doyle’s trashing Islam?  So where are the Presidential apologies and calls to cool down the rhetoric?  Where’s the indignation from the Leftist media?  Where are the civil rights lawsuits from the ACLU?  You publish a piece ridiculing the beliefs and practices of other religious groups, and you’re a bigot and a racist.  But you do it to the Catholics, and well, we just don’t have a sense of humor.

I am not one of those who thinks a candidate’s faith is off-limits; anything that informs how one thinks and views the world is fair game in a Presidential race, particularly when you’ve put your faith out front as Santorum has.  In that sense, if issues like abortion and same-sex relations are important to you, Santorum’s Catholicism is relevant, because it gives insight into how he is likely to think about those issues.  Likewise, if national security is your issue, then Barack Obama’s long-time attendance with a pastor prone to spewing “God d#mn America” and blaming the U.S. for 9/11 is germane to understanding how he might react to foreign conflict issues as President. 

You want to criticize Rick Santorum and say his views as a Catholic on abortion are wrong and therefore you can’t support him for President, fine.  But if Doyle's piece is to be understood as legitimate political satire, where's his political point?  He doesn't have one. Doyle’s caustic ridiculing of the faith of 70 million Americans—the largest religious denomination in the U.S., comprising roughly a quarter of the population—makes no substantive political point, and it serves no constructive purpose. 

It is nothing more than a vile perpetuation of the last acceptable prejudice. 

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