Over the weekend I watched (at a safe distance) all the uniformed might of the People’s Republic of Berkeley arrayed to keep an educated Jewish lawyer named Ben Shapiro from being rendered a splotch on the pavement by Antifa. Maybe, I thought, this is finally it: the moment we forgot how to America.
Meanwhile another controversy was brewing in my own backyard that seemed destined to draw parallels – though, as I’ll soon explain, this is an optical illusion.
By now I trust we’re all familiar with the case of Fr. James Martin, SJ. Leaving aside all the LGBT stuff, he also promulgates some seriously mind-warping theology. Apparently many Catholics felt he was an inappropriate choice to address Catholic University of America (CUA) students with any sort of official blessing, which led to the withdrawal of an invitation to speak at Theological College (TC).
In a right world, everyone would have gone “Whew, that was a close one,” had a beer, and that would have been the end of the story. If only.
News media waxed incontinent. TIME was aghast at evil conservatives’ War on Compassion. “McCarthyism!”, cried New York Times Religion Correspondent Laurie Goodstein, spinning the Random Scary Historical Allusion Machine (R-SHAM) like she was trying to win a Camaro.
Never mind that any backlash toward Fr. Martin was extremely unlikely to involve riot police, or even any real danger of being defrocked (much to the chagrin of Michael Voris), and that there are many places where he can speak to his heart’s content.
There were predictable preemptive accusations, with a heavy dollop of smugness, from critics with no particular regard for the souls of the students in CUA’s charge. After all, conservatives had just defended Ben Shapiro’s right to speak at Berkeley.
“Whaddaya say now, conservatives? Huh? Huh?” Consistency, they demanded.
It appears they got it. President Garvey released a less-than-convincing statement citing University policy to defend the Martin speech. Although the policy pertaining to invited speakers does not address rescissions, whether TC deserved to get officially thrown under the bus seems plenty debatable:
The Catholic University of America, as a private institution, is not required to provide a forum for advocates whose values are counter to those of the university or the Roman Catholic Church. The university recognizes a distinction between objective explanation and advocacy in the presentation of issues. This means, therefore, that it may refuse permission to prospective speakers who in its judgment promote or advocate such counter values. This also means that balanced programs explaining positions on both sides of a controversial societal, political, moral and/or ecclesiastical issues may be staged in the pursuit of a more complete educational experience and a greater understanding of the issues. [emphasis mine]
Much harder to dismiss were defenses of Garvey’s statement by no less than Robert George. It is painful to be in disagreement with such a figure, who is beyond my league – but pain, as the Marines say, is weakness leaving the body.
On the idea that the truth speaks for itself, I am in complete accord with Dr. George. But we should not forget that a Catholic student, as such, is opposed by most of society.
Throughout a Catholic student’s life, he will hardly need reminding who runs this world. If a CUA student wants to be existentially challenged, he need venture no further than Logan Circle, D.C.’s well-known “gayborhood” and locus of all things LGBTQ.
The Catholic (small “u”) university might be the one place on Earth where he gets anything resembling a breather. Why take that away? Why open the gate and let the wolves exercise in the sheep pen?
Being consistent, and seemingly unintimidated, has undeniable appeal. It wouldn’t be a trap if it didn’t. As an extreme example, imagine telling a pregnant young woman that since she had premarital sex without apparent religious compunction, she might as well abort her baby as well. Such nasty hectoring about “hypocrisy” can have damning results. Indeed, thank God for the hypocrisy of inconsistent sinners!
If consistency is illusory, what could or should guide us instead? To avoid the trap, consider a thing or institution’s true purpose, as G.K. Chesterton does in a classic passage:
For my friend said that he opened his intellect as the sun opens the fans of a palm tree, opening for opening’s sake, opening infinitely for ever. But I said that I opened my intellect as I opened my mouth, in order to shut it again on something solid.
For public schools, a series of Supreme Court precedents have established that viewpoint discrimination is verboten, theoretically. There is, of course, an absurd disconnect between that theory and reality.
It’s no coincidence that in a country where more than 90 percent of children receive a public education, nearly 40 percent of adults are unable to name any First Amendment rights, and one in five college students think it’s right and just to deck a provocative speaker.
The disaster in Berkeley is the natural product of a culture of ignorance that has always stood in contrast to to the Truth. If public schools want to maintain the pretense of viewpoint neutrality, of “opening for opening’s sake, infinitely and for ever,” religious conservatives have every right to give them something to chew on.
But we Catholic “hypocrites” need never claim neutrality. As I mentioned in my last column here at CatholicVote, the Catholic school answers to a higher authority, for a nobler reason.
Let’s not prefer being damnably consistent to being saved by “hypocrisy.” If anyone needs explicit permission to disregard the critics, here it is. And if anyone still has to ask whether we can America and Catholic at the same time, the answer is always yes.