Tomorrow, the silliness of corporate religion will be on full display once more with the start of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. They are trying to spin this as being about more than the "contraception mandate," but it is hard to escape the emphasis, oftentimes hysterical, that they and their supporters have placed on this issue. A Los Angeles Times reporter observed as much in an article covering this month's USCCB meeting in Atlanta:
It was clear that the bishops' overriding concern was the birth control mandate. "I would right now like us to see all of our energy directed at every level, whether it's at the executive, the legislative or the judicial, to changing that," said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. "Once that has been resolved, we can get on with the rest of our work."
Out of all the places the bishops could choose to direct their energy, all of the issues that could benefit from a two-week "special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action," this is the one they select? They're really saying that the key challenge to religious liberty in our society, one that necessitates reflection on the "great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power," is over who pays for birth control pills? Seriously? Are they peddling a reality show?
Yes, American pluralism produces many areas where we are asked to tolerate and/or cooperate with things we find immoral, even evil. Such occurrences are not limited to "faithful" Catholics; they arise for people of all persuasions. Resolving these conflicts requires the wisdom of Solomon. It is good and appropriate for the bishops to have a voice in the public square. However, it is not "persecution" if the people or the people's representative, the government, disagrees with that voice.
The bishops' real complaint seems to be that they are ignored too often, especially by their own followers. Some of these actions may indeed be colossally stupid mistakes, but they also represent true religious liberty in action. We Americans assume that no single faith controls the market on Truth or Goodness. That attitude may be frustrating to corporate religion, but who ever said that democracy is supposed to be easy? Our system demands serious and thoughtful leadership. Throwing a temper tantrum when you don't get your way does not count as a quality contribution.
Unfortunately, silliness seems to be a main ingredient of American culture, as David Horsey illustrated in a recent L.A. Times editorial cartoon. Sideshows are much more entertaining, and they don't require hard decisions. But shouldn't we be able to expect more from men who claim to be the true successors of the apostles? Then again, the apostles were ignorant clowns on occasion, so I guess it's all good.