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Friday, January 09, 2004

Why We Fisk, Part I.

Because secular smarm peddlers like Aussie blowhard Stephen Crittenden walk the earth, and would otherwise go unchallenged. Crittenden hosts something called The Religion Report for Australia's equivalent to NPR. In the semi-competitive world of American corporate news, he'd have topped out at guest host for a local PM Magazine-style show, or maybe--maybe--weekend news anchor. In the Australian public sector, since he parrots the party line, he gets a national platform and the opportunity to feel superior at taxpayers' expense.

In one of the more surreal explorations of the issue of gays and Christianity, Crittenden has E. Michael Jones and Marcus Borg on to address the topic. Yes, he predictably sniggers at the former, but Jones being Jones, it's at least slightly warranted. Equally unsurprising, he fawns over the Borgster, batting his eyelashes coyly and heaving up hanging curveballs my grandma could knock out of the yard. This first post will address the Jones interview.

Before we get started, I'd like to pose the following hypothetical: would he adopt the same tone and position he does toward Jones if he were questioning a Wahhabi imam on the same topic? If, for some reason, your answer is "yes," I have a follow up: Can you say "fatwa"?

Let the caning begin.

Homosexuality was one of the biggest religious issues for 2003; it almost split the Anglican Church, and indeed the Uniting Church. Back in June, the vatican published a document concerning homosexuals and marriage, in which gay people were described as "seriously depraved" - a small improvement on "intrinsically evil".

I hate to start off with a medical diagnosis, but I have no choice. Mr. Crittenden suffers from a frightening syndrome that is spreading throughout the media world. This syndrome allows men and women to appear in public media and spout the "progressive" worldview when their only ability consists of either possessing looks that do not frighten advertisers or offering a voice that doesn't sound like that belonging to a love child of Rosie Perez and Gilbert Gottfried after a three week cigar bender.

The Syndrome Crittenden and a growing number of others suffer from goes by the abbreviation "N-TC", which is short for "No-Talent Clown." Perhaps the most tragic aspect about N-TCS is that its effects on the ability to reason cannot be distinguished from that of the brain being deprived of oxygen for no less than five minutes.

His is a sadly advanced case, which will require much snipping in order to prevent you, Gentle Reader, from experiencing Cartridge-Monitor Impaction (a/k/a the Ol' Elvis Channel Changer).

Contra news "man" Crittenden, with respect to each quote Das Vatikan did not either (1) use the language to describe persons, or (2) actually use the language.

Good thing for the Critter that being smarmy means never having to say you're sorry.

[Rest of Steverino's observation about how the American political process works, involving certain temporal impossibilities, for starters, brain donor commentary about Cardinal George and so forth, snipped. If you really want to view the verbal bowel movement, follow the link.

Also snipped: misstatement of medical knowledge; skull/rectum fusion-inspired commentary about Courage; transcript of confrontation between Courage member and totalitarian bent on stifling uncelebratory speech; and touchy-feely exchange about how Catholicism can best surrender to the zeitgeist ASAP.]

Homosexuality has become a touchstone issue for many conservative Christians. Some say they're engaged in a culture war, that Western society is in deep decline, and that the rise of the homosexual is symbolic of that decline. The term 'culture war' was made popular by hardline American neo-conservatives in the years when President George Bush senior, and President Bill Clinton were in the White House.

"Neo-conservatives" in both the Bush 41 and Clinton White Houses? Well, the Protocols say those Juuuuuuuuuus are nothing if not clever.

E. Michael Jones is the Editor of the ultra-conservative American Catholic magazine Culture Wars, formerly Fidelity magazine. For years now, he has written about the scourge of homosexuality in the church, and what he calls the "culture of appetite".

He hasn't held back from writing highly personalised attacks on liberal American bishops, and one of his recent articles is entitled 'The Unanswered Question behind the Rembert Weakland Scandal: Was the Implementation of Vatican II a Homosexual Fantasy?'

Michael Jones spoke to me from his home in Indiana.

Oh, dear Lord. Jones.

The perfect foil for the Critter, and no doubt deliberately selected for the role. Jones, who has been and still occasionally is quite perceptive, has basically fallen prey to his own metanarrative: IT'S ALL SEX! RIGHT DOWN TO THE ARCHITECTURE OF OUR BUILDINGS AND SUPERSIZING AT MCDONALD'S!

Followed by screams of "Why can't you see it?!?"

[Reasonably good points by Jones about the cultural conflicts gripping the country snipped. There's nothing really wrong with them, but I don't want this post to be as long as a Torah scroll.


[Also snipped: Crittenden in preening pseudo-intellectual mode. In my experience, people who use "neo-" more than once in a five minute period without reference to The Matrix need Taser therapy to help break them of this particularly damaging substitute for thought.]

Stephen Crittenden: Why has homosexuality become such a symbolic issue in this culture war?

Michael Jones: Because it's the cutting edge of the sexual revolution. Basically, they won every other battle up to the homosexual battle, and the homosexual battle is in many ways the last frontier. In other words, we are now being subjected to a huge media blitz, in which the homosexual is now being portrayed as a cultural hero for the entire world, and we are all expected to go along with this. The reason is, because if homosexuality is OK, that means that there is no such thing as nature any more. OK? That means the Catholic church was completely wrong in saying that there was a natural order of sexuality. In other words, if these people win this cultural battle, there will be no such thing as nature. And I think that is really the type of world they want to create: "we're masters of the universe, have complete control over everything", everything is what they say it is, and if you say there's a natural order, you're wrong.

Not half-bad by Jones, although it's incomplete. Still, it's a decent point--the issue, at its heart, centers on whether there is a natural order. If not, then what order exists is a human construct ("anthropomorphized," to borrow the derisive term) and infinitely malleable. Most especially the people who have to live in that order.

Fear not: you will be re-educated.

Sadly, Jones almost peaks here. The Critter will derail him momentarily.

Stephen Crittenden: You've actually written an essay in which you pose the question of whether the Second Vatican Council was a homosexual fantasy.

Michael Jones: Actually, I said "was the implementation of the Council a fantasy?" I do not think the Second Vatican Council was a homosexual fantasy. I do think, though, that the implementation of the Council documents on the liturgy in America were a homosexual fantasy, because they were implemented by Rembert Weakland -

Jones is right to correct him--the Critter recited the correct title in its entirety approximately a minute earlier, making him dishonest, an idiot, or more likely a dishonest idiot. Still, it avails Jones little because no matter how the premise is stated, it's ludicrous. I defer to no one in my disdain for Weakland and his supposed liturgical and pastoral brilliance, but come on.

Stephen Crittenden: -- who I need to tell listeners in our country, is the just-retired Archbishop of Milwaukee, a Benedictine who was also a leading musician.

"A renowned scholar in Gregorian chant," his feverish admirers are ever-hasty to remind us. Frankly, he might has well have been an expert in Sanskrit for all the opportunity you had to hear Chant in his archdiocese.

Michael Jones: Right, right. Studied at Juilliard, just retired in disgrace, because it was revealed that he paid blackmail money to some homosexual who was blackmailing him. We're talking about 1965, now, when Weakland is head of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. We're talking about a thing that was called then the "Hootenanny Mass"--to show you how dated the concept is--of basically folk songs during the liturgy. And Rembert Weakland is the man who carried the day with the liturgy committee, first of all to get this on an experimental basis, and then simply the whole idea that it was experimental just was forgotten.

Note Crittenden's chirping cricket response to Abp. Weakland's...regrettable...funding...of the christodrama artist.

Stephen Crittenden: Where does homosexuality come into that?

Michael Jones: Oh, well, it was his impassioned plea to the committee that carried the day, and what he talked about in the committee was him at La Trobe, Pennsylvania-- at the Benedictine Boys' School there, where he was the Rector--the boys all singing "He's got the Arch Abbot in his Hands'. That's a homosexual fantasy. I mean, you know, a homosexual would feel one way about that, a normal person would feel another way. And I think that he was so swept away by that vision of all these guys singing this folk music, you know, just like the type of thing you'd hear at a hootenanny, that he gave such an impassioned speech that he carried the day, and that became the norm for American liturgy--much to the detriment of the sacred, I would say.

Ye gods. The train has left the tracks. Elvis has left the building. An anecdote does not a metanarrative make.

Find another idée fixe.

Stephen Crittenden: You know, I once interviewed Rembert Weakland and asked him who he thought the two most significant religious composers of the 20th century were, and he said Igor Stravinsky--which maybe plays to your argument-- but his favourite and the one he regarded as the most important was the great French Catholic composer, Olivier Messiaen. It doesn't necessarily all stack up to the Hootenanny Mass, does it?

Michael Jones: No, why didn't we get Messiaen then in our liturgy? Why did we get this sort of deracinated folk music? That doesn't add up. I mean, I can understand why we didn't get Igor Stravinsky, but why not Messiaen?

Stephen Crittenden: Too hard to sing, I suspect.

Meeeoooowww! Remember: N-TCS. Crittenden likely doesn't know Messiaen from the Messiah himself.

Nevertheless, it helps if you think of Crittenden as a brain-damaged dilettante Who Once Read About Something Similar In The New Yorker Or Some Other Magazine Like That. When he can't answer a rebuttal, he gets catty and snorts into his glass of flat Veuve Cliquot.

[Critter:] Michael, you argue, don't you, that the homosexuals in the church want to in a sense sort of wipe the sacred out of the Mass and so on, and you also draw a link between that and the way that black popular music enthused popular culture in general in America, from the 60s on.

Michael Jones: Yes, it was basically the importation of black Dionysian music into liturgy, which was in effect the sexualisation of the Catholic liturgy. So in effect, when Catholics were going to Mass, they were getting this cognitive dissonance, they were getting two completely different cultural messages. In other words, the message of the Mass itself, the sacred raising the mind and heart to God; at the same time you're listening to Dionysian music, which is about what goes on below your belt. That's where you move when you hear Dionysian music, it's below the belt.

I imagine it would be gruesomely fascinating to watch a train barrel-roll after derailing. Horrific, but mesmerizing. Pray God this is as close as I get.

There are many problems with the music at Catholic liturgies, but Jones hasn't hit on a single one here. One, you almost never hear such music at the liturgy. Why? The lyrics promote a radical dependence on God, acknowledge His transcendence, and otherwise fail to affirm the Gathered Community As God. Which is why we get saccharine megadoses of the St. Louis Jesuits, Haas, Haugen, Dufner....

Suuuure, spirituals are the reason Catholic liturgies have gone into the crapper, developing into the worship equivalent of an Eyes Wide Shut saturnalia. Indeed, I can clearly recall those times Heather and I frantically scanned local hotel signs for "Hourly Rates" tags after hearing "Amazing Grace" or "Were You There?" at Mass.

Then there's the effect of all those Winans CDs on the airwaves. Gives a disturbing new meaning to the word "uplifting."

"Dionysian" hymnody probably explains the breakdown of the family in minority communities, to boot. Not to mention cavities and ELE comets.

In other words: Please.

Lord, let this wreck roll to a stop....

[Rolling to a stop snipped.]

[Jones]: I mentioned in that article on Weakland that the Catholic bishops held a meeting at St Mary's College, the college I got fired from, about the upcoming Synod of the Laity in 1987, and during that meeting, Father Bryan Hehir stood up, and he said 'America has something to teach the Catholic church when it comes to sexual issues.' That was a complete reversal of what the Gospel is all about, and it's had catastrophic effects on the Catholic church in the United States. [Father J Bryan Hehir is Professor of the Practice of Religion and Society, and Chair of the Executive Committee of Harvard Divinity School. He worked for the US Catholic Bishops' Conference from 1973 to 1992].

Stephen Crittenden: And so you're of the view that actually America has nothing to teach the Catholic church?

Michael Jones: No, the church is there to teach America.

Jones regains some equilibrium here. Although, I think he's much too dismissive: America has plenty to teach the Church on moral issues.

Think of it as a continent-sized cautionary tale....

Stephen Crittenden: The Catholic church is just a perfect society that doesn't change?

Michael Jones: The Catholic church is the infallible arbiter of the moral order.

Good answer to a loaded question.

Why do I find it so easy to picture the Critter saying "Hath not God said...?"

Stephen Crittenden: Some people might say that in view of what's happening, not just in America but in Europe and Canada and Australia, it's not a culture war that you can win--that governments all over the Western world are continuing to strengthen antidiscrimination laws; gay marriage has been introduced in The Netherlands and Belgium; and is certainly on the cards in many other countries. You know, in New Zealand, you've got a trans-sexual Member of Parliament now. Here in Australia, we're starting to see the beginnings of a campaign to take away the right of the church to discriminate against gay teachers in church schools. You know, I know that Cardinal George in Chicago, and Archbishop Pell here in Sydney, talk about the liberal agenda being exhausted - but isn't the truth that the juggernaut is just rolling on and on?

The Wehrmacht looked pretty unbeatable in June 1941, too. We all know that one turned out. Call me in 1945 (e.g., a few years after mandatory re-education from K-Ph.D. has been instituted, speech codes enforced, rights to worship and witness publicly curtailed and a real run at crushing traditional morality has been tried).

I have to admit, though, the mention of the transsexual was a deft touch. Vaguely biblical, too: "I became all things to all people, so that I might get elected by some...."

Jones' reply is creditable:

Michael Jones: I think both statements are true, they're not mutually contradictory. The liberal agenda is exhausted, and that's why you're seeing this regime imposed by force now, with the government, vis-a-vis the Catholic church, because that's what we're talking about here. We're talking about a conflict between state and church, in which state is trying to impose its views of sexuality on the Catholic church.

The Critter will not be denied the last word, of course:

Stephen Crittenden: E. Michael Jones, the Editor of the American Catholic magazine, Culture Wars. And listening there, it's interesting how homosexuality almost seems to have become a thread that draws together a whole range of conservative phobias.

"Phobias," eh? Classic projection.

We need a telethon for people like Crittenden, and can use this quote to gin up sympathy.

"N-TCS is much like Tourette's in its symptoms. Consider the sad case of Australian Stephen "Critter" Crittenden, where the Syndrome has frozen his intellectual and emotional development at the college sophomore level, leaving him wallowing in a sty of self-adulation and firing verbal snot rockets at those whose worldviews he will never be capable of understanding. [Clip plays.] While there is no cure right now, we're racing to find one. Won't you please help?"

Crittenden isn't alone in fearing theocrats under every bed while he and his friends re-enact Cabaret without the catchy tunes. The irony is, he's right to fear them. Unfortunately, he's looking in the wrong direction. Pay no attention to the imams waiting in the wings....

In the next installment, we examine the theological stylings of Bible scholar and noted Jedi Christian, Marcus Borg, who is the recipient of a rhetorical tongue bath from the suddenly considerate host.

Yes, I'll say it for you: Torah scrolls are shorter.

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