Thursday, December 3, 2009

Roman Culture of Death

Last evening I watched the following segment of the Rachel Maddow Show with horror.

The three fundamentalists who lobbied the government of Uganda to write laws, which target homosexual people for death, are reminiscent of the 1937 Nuremberg laws of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Laws are the codified mores of a people. If you want to know what a society’s values are, read their law codes. Like Hitler’s Nuremberg laws, they effectively disenfranchise and dehumanize a minority within society. They send an unmistakable signal that it is permissible to discriminate against, insult, assault, and even murder a despised group.

Laws are not passed overnight. It takes time to alter values such as “Thou shall not kill.” It took the Nazis four years to move the German people to embrace and support the Nuremberg laws. In 1938 when Germany annexed Austria, Hitler was delighted that the Austrian people took only weeks to embrace the Nuremberg laws enthusiastically. After the invasion and occupation of France in 1940, Hitler was upset that the French were more anti-Semitic than the Germans.

The comparably rapid embrace of hatred of Jews by Austrians and the French was possible, not because these people were morally defective; but rather, because they had been desensitized and socially pre-conditioned by a stream of hateful propaganda against Jews. While the Nazis amplified and promoted much of this, much of it was already present in European culture. What created and fed those cultural prejudices? The late Pope John Paul II apologized to the Jewish people on behalf of the Church. He apologized for the Church’s role of inculcating and nurturing this anti-Semitism through hateful references to “the Jews” in Catholic Holy Week services, religious plays, etc.

There was considerable controversy a few years ago with the release of the film “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson. The script was a slavishly literal use of the passion narrative taken verbatim from the Gospel. Such a literalist reading of the Scriptures fails to explain the nuances that would be known to anyone doing a serious exegesis of those passages. Contemporary filmgoers, unfamiliar with intricate historical, political, theological and scriptural commentaries; were presented with graphic depictions of physical abuse and violence visited upon Jesus. The audience was left to draw the conclusion that this evil was done “by the Jews!” It was precisely this sort of depiction, which promotes and inflames hatred, for which the late Pope John Paul II apologized to the Jewish people.

Religion forms culture. If you want to understand the culture of the Middle East, Israel, Tibet, or Europe /the Americas, you must first understand Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or Christianity. Hitler and his Nazi Party simply cashed in on European culture. The Nazis were the product of ignorance, fear, myths, stereotypes, and hatred created by popular Christianity. Hitler simply proceeded to the logical conclusion that this despicable group must be cleansed from society and thereby society would be “saved.” Of course, an angry mob with pitchforks and torches requires some one to direct its actions. The place of the Nazi Party was secured as the guardians of society and the arbitrators of purity. Their “pay-off” was power, wealth and control. The cost? The suffering and death of countless innocent human beings.

The last several years have seen a decided up turn in the amount and virulence of anti-LGBT language and political action coming from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. They have quietly orchestrated the stripping from same sex couples of the civil right of marriage. They have done this in California by backing Proposition 8 and in Maine by backing Question 1. Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington DC, has threatened to suspend services to the poor and homeless if the District of Columbia extended same sex couples the legal right to a civil marriage. Several prominent US Catholic bishops have signed the “Manhattan Declaration” in which they threaten to disobey American civil laws that grant same sex couples civil marriage. The papal spokesperson Dr. JoaquĆ­n Navarro-Valls encouraged Spanish citizens to disobey civil laws in that nation, after the Spanish parliament granted same sex couples the right to civil marriage. Most recently, Cardinal Barragan announced that homosexuals and transgender people would not go to heaven.

What are the practical effects of all of these statements and actions by the hierarchy? Recall the young gay man who was murdered in Puerto Rico, simply for being gay. His murderer burned, decapitated and severed all four limbs from his victim’s lifeless body. I asked a psychologist “Why would someone do that to another human being?” The psychologist looked at me and said, “The answer may be found in your question, he wanted to de-humanize the gay victim.” The detective investigating the murder commented, “These [homosexual] people ask for this when they go out onto the street.” Where did the murder and the detective get the idea that it is acceptable to speak of and act towards gay people in such an inhuman manner?

Religion forms culture and Puerto Rico is a predominantly Roman Catholic country. Most of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, and the current pope has targeted LGBT people with a coordinated international campaign to strip them of civil rights and the protection of anti-discriminatory laws. They are using their privileged social and historic position to create what in their very narrow viewpoint is a “purer” Church and society. Perhaps Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) learned this repulsive lesson during his time spent as a member of the Hitler Youth.


Joe said...

There's no doubt the Church has caused an immense amount of psychological, emotional, and spiritual pain to LGBT people. Now you're making the argument that the Church has a hand in causing physical pain & death to LGBT people. Yet, we shouldn't expose the flaming hypocrisy that the Church has a large percentage (maybe even a majority) of gay clergy? Sorry Father Geoff, I find that position to, put it mildly, inconsistent.

I greatly appreciate what you have done & sacrificed. Your posts on this blog have given me much comfort.

However, the Church has waged WAR on us. The old ways of withholding donations, standing outside of diocesan headquarters, etc., don't work.

Michael Dodd said...

The obscenity of this situation is beyond words.

Leonard said...

They are hurting and fearing in Uganda...bigtime and the Roman Catholic Church remains silent (and the Bishop Orombi/Anglican Church of Uganda is now silent after promoting the murderous ¨anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009¨ legislation currently before the Parliament of Uganda...gug, or better known for his blog ¨Gay Uganda¨ is reaching out to Roman Catholics to speak out against the murder of LGBT Christians...please take a minute to follow this link to his appeal for Roman Catholics to speak up for mercy.

Frank said...

The more I read in various blogs and links the more overwhelmed I become. What is happening? There is more than enough hate to go around, for sure. In Google-ing a news story about the Sisters of Mercy abuse settlement in Ireland I landed on a Canadian news service to read the article; at the end, readers comments displayed such hatred and contempt for the Catholic Church, Catholic clergy, and Catholic nuns, that I was taken aback. And, godknows, I have my issues with the Church. In Uganda, "gug" is pleading for help from the Catholic Church whose stance on homosexuality is vastly more humane than the proposed Ugandan law. How do we sort all this out?

Mareczku said...

What is the Vatican saying about the situation in Uganda? Are they standing up for human rights and the sanctity of every life and the dignity of every person? The Church really needs to speak out about this. I do wish to note, however, that when Benedict XVI was a young man he was only a member of the Hitler Youth because this was obligatory, he did not take part in any of the activities of the Hitler Youth from what I understand. He was just unfortunate to live in a horrific society.

In the Kitchen With Don said...

Jesus wept