The Catholic blogosphere hit Bottum recently, and hit it very hard indeed—the Bottum in question being Jody, a Catholic journalist and former editor of the highly regarded First Things. He wrote a long article in the little-read Commonweal magazine outlining why he had changed his mind on the subject of same-sex marriage. While I have never been close to giving in and supporting gay marriage, I’ve heard some pretty compelling arguments for it over the years; this, however, was not one of them. In fact, it was positively extraordinary how in such a verbose and wandering article, the author could not assemble a single intelligent selling point for his epiphany, his conversion on the road to New York.
Because that, it seems, was what this was all about. Bottum was let go as editor of First Things because the publication was doing badly and was losing the previous, precious identity given it by founder Fr. John Neuhaus. It must have been humiliating for the man, and for some time now he’s been on the metaphorical and even literal margins—he had retreated to South Dakota!
The Commonweal article coincided with a visit by a New York Times reporter, and with the publication of a new book. The Times has, naturally, splashed the story, and commercially and career-wise this is all jolly good stuff for the fellow. But, of course, career and commerce had nothing to do with it. It’s just that Jody simply had to announce to a world that had not heard of him that he now saw the light about men marrying men, women marrying women, children being raised without a mother or a father, and what may well be the most radical departure from natural law in human history. Not that Bottum discusses any of that with either perception or wit.
Look, the guy doesn’t matter. It will hurt us when he’s interviewed on mainstream television as the conservative Catholic who saw the light and grew up, proving that the rest of us are stupid and bigoted. But he’s not the first, won’t be the last. We are Catholics not because we want to be loved, but we want to love. And to love is sometimes to say no, to tell people that they are wrong. It means speaking of sin and unacceptable behaviour. It’s unfashionable, unpopular, and sometimes dangerous talk, but it’s quintessentially Catholic talk.
It’s easy to conform, and I cannot tell you how tough it can be in the public square standing up to the demands that, on this subject more than any other, Catholic teaching has to change. Journalists can ignore the poor, call for mass bombings, approve of closing hospitals—but if they support same-sex marriage they are regarded as enlightened and moderate.
Marriage is not a human right but a social institution; not everybody qualifies for marriage and gay people can enjoy full rights without the privilege of claiming marriage. We are designed differently biologically for a specific reason and not by accident. Marriage has as its core purpose the probability of procreation; children have a right to be, if at all possible, raised by two complementing genders; and God’s creation is based on male and female.
But while we must stand resolute in this, we have to do so while soaked in the mercy and compassion of Catholic love. And I have to tell you, especially in the past few months, I have seen certain Catholics obsessing about this issue in anger and extremism. They have lashed out, screamed, refused to condemn persecution and oppression, and thus betrayed what we are and how we are supposed to live. It’s not easy turning the other cheek and reacting in loving wisdom, but I think you will find it’s what we are called to do.
Times are likely to become even harder in the next few years, and I fear for the next generation of Catholics. Neither a Bottum-feeder nor a fanatic or hater be, but remain a Catholic. A mere Catholic. If truth was easy to proclaim it probably wouldn’t be true, and a bit of purging fire will do us all some good. Frankly, I’d like to die aged 90 surrounded by candy, but if God wants a different path for me, so be it. The sweets can wait—Heaven is full of them.
Michael Coren’s website is michaelcoren.com, where he can be booked for speeches and his books can be purchased.