Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Prop 8: Catholics, Mormons, and why they lied

Every few days I receive newsletters from the Human Rights Campaign (http://www.hrc.org/), who gave excellent coverage of the Prop 8 fiasco as well as coverage of many other issues. In a recent newsletter, editor and president Joe Solmonese, discussing the passage of Prop 8, makes this interesting observation:

It is chilling to realize that the Catholic and Mormon Churches knew they were telling lies -- that marriage equality would require children to learn about homosexuality in school, that priests would be required to solemnize marriages of same-sex couples -- and they lied anyway.

And a lot of atheists, agnostics, pagans and Others (being Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Shinto, Sikh, and scores of regional, parochial, traditional, aboriginal faiths, all of which have an equal claim to existence and respect) would be asking, "Why would a Catholic lie, when s/he knows it's a sin, sins get right up God's nose?"

Good question. And if you will accompany me into the murky, paranoid, somewhat fetid basement of the Church, I shall endeavor to explain.

Disclaimer and Full Disclosure: I am not a Catholic. I was nurtured in an Irish Catholic community where the religion was a foil-thin veneer over the Old Religion of Ireland, and by the time I was about 10, my only interests in the Church were 1) the architecture, which I still like a lot, and 2) a morbid curiosity for what seems (when you examine it deeply) like some kind of mental aberration sorely in need of diagnosis and treatment. Meanwhile, I know nothing about Mormons except that they hang out in Utah, Zane Grey hated them, they used to steal women from other communities (I've read Riders of the Purple Sage ... and a more soporific book I have never discovered), guys can marry multiple women, but women can't marry multiple guys, which is the worst inequity of polygamy (!), and they're even more bonkers than Catholics on the subject of (wait for it) sin.

Yet in the run-up to November 4, both Mormons and Catholics pasted on friendly smiles and lied fluently, with ease, without reservation, without hesitation. And they did this knowing that lying is a sin that gets in God's ear. Why in the world would they do it? Doesn't make sense. Does it?

Well, yes it does. As I said, accompany me to the basement of the Church ... the deep, dark place underneath it, where the worms wriggle. The place few folks who're not obsessed by religion even know exists. Put on your hard hat, rigger's gloves and rubber boots, and let's go down there ... see what fascinating worms we can find.

Lying is a sin, right? Well ... maybe. First off, how's about the Ninth Commandment? You probably know it as, 'Thou shalt not lie.' Right? Wrong. The actual wording is this: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Like ... dob him in to the law for something he didn't do, because you hate his guts? Like, spread rumors about him, to cost him is job and ruin his family? Like ... malign him to his kids so they hate his guts too? Uh huh. Other kinds of lying -- no problemo. The whole lying thing turns out to be so specific, you can warp the Ninth to make it mean anything ... or nothing.

Then there's a little verse (not even rhyming), known as "Rev 21:8," and this one is brilliant. It's specific about lying: liars are all going to be burned alive. Or are they? Here's the problem with this old chestnut: it's quoted out of context. It says this: "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” But in fact, if you read the whole thing, you'll discover that the worms wriggled in a different direction.

(Go on, I dare you to actually read it! Revelation reads like the ravings of a deranged mind ... you ask yourself if whoever wrote it -- and they're not even sure! -- hadn't accidentally set fire to the carpet by knocking over the candle when he wrote this last night. In those days, carpets were made of (!) hemp. Breathe enough of that stuff while you're in a mood for Armageddon, and you'll be invaded by Orks and Urukhai, under the gaze of the Great Eye, before you can say "Frodo Baggins.")

In fact, the Revelation worms wriggled their way over here (and don't take my word for it, here it is from a Bible scholar, which is more than I profess to be):
All of those sins mentioned in that verse refer to some specific set of events taking place during the tribulation, after all the context is set at the end of the tribulation period. The lying in this context refers to preaching and teaching a lie (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1, 2). It refers to propagating false doctrine. There would be a lot of false doctrine during the tribulation period (many false prophets and false teachers) even more so than today.

So, in the first place, lying probably isn't a sin anyway. Go ahead, fib: God ain't even listening.

But supposing lying was a sin ... what then? Bear with me: this gets even better.

If you're not a Catholic (or from the fringe of an Irish -- possibly Italian -- community), you probably aren't even aware that they divide sin into two convenient forms, which essentially lets 90% of people get away with bloody murder and at the same time let these same miserable sinners come down like a load of bricks on folks they don't like.

This is where it gets really good: Type A Sin is venial sin. Wrap your head around this:
Venial sins are slight sins. They do not break our friendship with God, although they injure it. They involve disobedience of the law of God in slight (venial) matters. If we gossip and destroy a person's reputation it would be a mortal sin. However, normally gossip is about trivial matters and only venially sinful.

Woah. Let me get this straight: what constitutes a venial sin (which is an oopsie so fiddling, it's going to be forgiven in exchange for a prayer, or a round of the rosary, or even a novena ... who was it who said, "talk is cheap"...?) resides in a gray area, a foggy limbo, where everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) is open to any individual's interpretation...? Yup. Follow that link to Global Catholic Network, and read the whole page -- it's not long. It's just shocking, if you rather hoped God's law would be specific enough to get a net over the world's villains and keep 'em in check for ten minutes, maybe fifteen. Never going to happen, not on the terms set out in the Book.

So hee we have another so-called Biblical Law that can be (and is being) twisted to say anything anyone needs it to say today. Venial sins are white lies, lies in a good cause ... snapping and snarling, dropping a blasphemy or two, goofing off work or school, eating meat on Friday (!), staying out late, having one too many to drink...

Meanwhile, Type B Sin is known as mortal sin. This is the sin for which the aforementioned lake of fire is waiting for you. So, what's mortal sin? What's Our Father going to barbecue us alive for? Let's take a peek:
A serious, grave or mortal sin is the knowing and willful violation of God's law in a serious matter, for example, idolatry, adultery, murder, slander. These are all things gravely contrary to the love we owe God and, because of Him, our neighbor. As Jesus taught, when condemning even looking at a woman lustfully, sin can be both interior (choices of the will alone) or exterior (choices of the will carried into action). A man who willfully desires to fornicate, steal, murder or some other grave sin, has already seriously offended God by choosing interiorly what God has prohibited.

Oh ... boy. Idolaters? That can be twisted to mean anyone other than a Catholic. Adultery is a global passtime. Slander is the meat and potatoes of American politics -- they do it proudly, in public, and audiences applaud. Looking lustfully at women?! Then everybody who's drooling over Angelina and Kate, and Kate, and Cate, and Catherine, are in deep doo-doo ... only somebody poured gasoline on the doo-doo and set it on fire. And as for homosexuality -- the doo-doo's so deep, it's way over your head even before they set it, and you, on fire. And what about having daydreams about making off with the boss's sports car?! You'll burn. And having lustful daydreams about any other human being of whatever gender? It's gasoline time. And that one-night stand when you were 19? They're striking the matches already.

Of all the sins for which God will roast his own children alive, only murder is the one where intelligent people draw the line. For the rest? We're all going to burn. All of us. There isn't one single human being who hasn't done something on the Burning List, and God's up there, making sure the gasoline tanks are full and there's a good supply of matches ...

[Have a look at this -- "The List of Mortal Sins Gets Longer Under Vatical Overhaul":

Or at least, this is what goes on in the heads of devout Catholics.

And this is why the majority of them would have considered it a small price to pay for the venial sin of lying through their smiling teeth, when they spread such deceit about California's gay community. The know they can pay off the venial sin of lying with a few prayers -- talk is cheap -- while the garbage they dished up to the community at large, and especially to the African American community, might just (you got it) save a few souls from the mortal sin of committing homosexual acts.

Bottom line: they were out there saving souls by lying, and now they're all in church saying their rosaries to pay off the fiddling little sin of what they said and did.

I've been extremely flip and glib in this article -- and intentionally so. If I've offended anyone ... I don't actually apologise, because I often find myself offended and insulted by religious tracts and folks, and since I respect their freedom of speech to call me a moron and a sinner, I expect my freedom of speech to be reciprocally respected.

For the record: my own belief is that the level of religious obsession that believes in lakes of fire as the punishment for the imagined sin of falling in love (or even in lust, for that matter) is a mental illness. Before anyone suggests I "Study the Bible, turn to Jesus" for my wicked ways ... I already read that particular book, and I know how it ends: almost everyone in the world gets burned alive -- if you believe this stuff.

Sorry, guys, I don't. And I've read it. But don't take my word for it -- find out for yourself!

Other sources you might find useful:
http://www.newadvent.org/index.html (The Catholic Encyclopedia)
http://www.ewtn.com/index.asp (Global Catholic Network)
http://www.saintaquinas.com/theology.html (Saint Aquinas-dot-com)
...I'd say "enjoy," but I sincerely doubt you will.

Ciao for now,

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