A NEW ABSTINENCE SLOGAN

On a poster!

USURY AND BENEDICT

An emailer makes the following point:

Usury usually means the charging of interest at an “exorbitant” rate. The pope is going after loan sharks, not banks or credit unions, or 401Ks for that matter.

The church is headed in the wrong direction in so many ways, but combating predatory lenders is not one of them. Predatory lenders break up families, are a drain on the economy and exacerbate poverty. This is a fight worth having, and I, for one, am glad the Pope is speaking out about it.

The trouble, of course, is that usury has an ancient meaning in Catholic doctrine and it has historically meant any interest on loans, which was indeed integral to the rise of Catholic anti-Semitism. But I do see that the more modern meaning of excessive interest rates is a reasonable inference; and I have no problem with criticizing it.

THE LOWEST BLOW

I am constantly being told that every position I hold – from support for flat taxes and balanced budgets, to opposition to affirmative action, hate crime laws, and torture – is simply a function of my being gay. Here’s a recent contribution to the topic:

The key to everything Sullivan writes is the defense of his sex life. His attacks on Bush suddenly began after Bush said no to gay sex. And, of course, his increasingly shrill loathing of Benedict springs from the same source. Now, an attacker can exploit an enemy’s weakness or he can try to create a weakness where one does not exist. In the case of Bush, [Bush] really is vulnerable on the question of torture and Sullivan has been doing a bang-up job pointing out the weakness of the Administration and its apologists on this matter. I have serious difficulty believing he would be nearly so passionate if Bush had announced that he would do everything in his power to make gay marriage the law of the land. In that event, I think we’d be reading lots of fawning suck-up pieces about Bush’s “tough stands” against international terror, etc.

Not a word of this with respect to my motives is true; and all of it is deeply offensive. Bush supported sodomy laws in Texas and strongly opposed gay marriage when I reluctantly endorsed him in 2000. My opposition to Bush’s massive spending began long before Bush backed amending the Constitution to deny gay citizens civil rights. My opposition to the conduct of the war began very early – almost as soon as looting took place and Rumsfeld embraced the chaos his terribly-managed occupation had begun to foster. I’m used to these slurs, and the record shows they are baseless. But the notion that I would be finding excuses for torture if Bush had refused to back the FMA is so vile an attack on my integrity it deserves a response. My position on this question has been the same my whole life. I grew up reading Orwell and Solzhenitsyn. I was educated to have an acute awareness of the evil of totalitarianism, and to see torture as that system’s ultimate weapon. Anyone committed to human freedom in any way finds torture an abomination; and my abhorrence of it stems from my religious faith and also my love for America and all she has always stood for. To try and trivialize my position on this, as James Taranto disgustingly did, and as Mark Shea now does, is simply beneath civilized discourse. As is the crude reduction of my defense of the dignity and equality of homosexual persons as a mere defense of my own “sex life”.

THE SMEAR IN FULL

To appreciate fully the sweep and depth of the Vatican’s attack on the dignity and integrity of all homosexual persons – our alleged psychological sickness, our inability to relate to men and women, our affective “immaturity,” our clannishness, our selfishness, our insufficiently “masculine sexual identity,” and on and on – you can read this story. The sheer accumulation of unfounded slurs, malicious smears and unsubstantiated prejudice should remove from any reasonable person’s mind the notion that the Vatican is not now a repository for bigotry and hatred of the clearest kind. The new policy is a betrayal of charity, of faith and of truth. Kathryn Lopez makes the following point:

Andrew Sullivan’s post on the life of Fr. Mychal Judge is heartbreaking – that anyone would conclude that the Catholic Church thinks that if Fr. Judge (the priest who died ministering at the World Trade Center on 9/11) was a gay man his life had “no social value.” The Catholic Church says no such thing.

I refer her to the Vatican’s official gloss on its new ban on even celibate gay priests here. I quote:

The article by Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a French Jesuit and psychologist, said homosexuality could not be considered an acceptable moral alternative to heterosexuality.
“During these past years, homosexuality has become a phenomenon that is always increasingly worrying and in many countries is considered a quality that is normal,” the article in L’Osservatore Romano said. The article was specifically approved by the Vatican’s secretariat of state.
“It (homosexuality) does not represent a social value and even less so a moral virtue that could add to the civilization of sexuality,” Anatrella said.

Yes, homosexuals, in so far as they are homosexual, have no “social value.” Our commitments and loves and relationships, moreover, have no “moral virtue.” We are moral Untermenschen, a class of human beings inherently incapable of serving God in any religious orders. I hope that Lopez will correct herself. She is, sadly, mistaken.

RESISTING THE DARK SIDE

You want to see religious fundamentalism in one of its more extreme forms? Enjoy.

PACE VERSUS RUMSFELD

This is a fascinating exchange – a rare glimpse of a direct, public confrontation between Sec Def Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman General Pace on the question of moral responsibility to stop torture in wartime:

Q: And General Pace, what guidance do you have for your military commanders over there as to what to do if — like when General Horst found this Interior Ministry jail [where evidenceof toeture was widespread]?

GEN. PACE: It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it. As an example of how to do it if you don’t see it happening but you’re told about it is exactly what happened a couple weeks ago. There’s a report from an Iraqi to a U.S. commander that there was possibility of inhumane treatment in a particular facility. That U.S. commander got together with his Iraqi counterparts. They went together to the facility, found what they found, reported it to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government has taken ownership of that problem and is investigating it. So they did exactly what they should have done.

SEC. RUMSFELD: But I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it’s to report it.

GEN. PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.

Rumsfeld sees looting under American authority and says “stuff happens.” He sees appalling torture, and merely believes it should be reported, not stopped. The fish rots from the head down. Thank God for decent soldiers like General Pace and Ian Fishback. I have to say I do not recognize the Don Rumsfeld I once knew in the callous, reckless, immoral stances he has taken these past three years. It is a matter of urgency that he be replaced, if this war is to regain its moral standing and military effectiveness.

A FORMER INTERROGATOR GETS IT

I am relieved and impressed to see – finally! – a serious debate on the right about torture and abuse of military detainees. One thing I’ll notice. We have gone almost without a momentary pause from a debate on the right which consisted of “We do not torture!” to “Torture works!” The months of painstaking factual accumulation of evidence for widespread, legally sanctioned torture and abuse can indeed eventually get through to people, which gives one more faith in democratic discourse. Jonah deserves kudos for posting this email, which represents the vast majority of input I have received from professionals in the field, who find the process demeaning and ineffective. Ramesh has not abandoned his moral sense. Even Richard John Neuhaus, who has wobbled on this in the past, writes a stirring and clear condemnation of torture in all circumstances for all the right reasons. This does seem to me to be a moment of truth for the Christian right. If they refuse to give up the most basic Christian position on one of the most fundamental moral issues, even when their own administration is against them, they will deserve a new respect from their opponents.

NOW USURY?? Benedict XVI’s latest enthusiasm is, apparently, the “infamy of usury“. The original formal condemnation of usury – i.e. interest-bearing loans – emerged at roughly the time the Church also created the formal doctrines condemning Jews and “sodomites” in the early medieval era, so it is not surprising Benedict would seek to re-emphasize it. He recently honored the National Anti-Usury Consultancy, and described interest-bearing accounts as a “social plague,” and all financial interest as something that “annihilates the life of the poor.” If you are versed in the ancient anti-Semitic tropes of the medieval Church, you will be unsurprised by this language. Just so all you Catholics with 401ks and interest-bearing bank accounts: according to this pope, you are enmeshed in evil. Welcome to the club. By the way, does the Vatican earn interest?

McCAIN AND TORTURE: An emailer makes a point about the most recent Newsmax obscenity, noted previously here:

As I’m sure you noticed, the most interesting thing about that article was it actually demonstrates that torture doesn’t work: on the first occasion that McCain “broke”, he gave his interrogators information that “was of no real use to the Vietnamese, but the Code of Conduct for American Prisoners of War orders us to refrain from providing any information beyond our names, rank and serial number.” On the second occasion, the “breaking” consisted of signing a document in Vietnamese, “confessing to war crimes. “I signed it,” he recalled. “It was in their language, and spoke about black crimes, and other generalities.” Presumably, McCain did not believe that he had committed war crimes, so this story demonstrates only that, under torture, people will sign just about anything!
Great… so the right’s point is that if we torture suspects sufficiently, they’ll give up trivial information and sign documents in English confessing to war crimes they didn’t commit. Duh…

Ah, yes, But then you don’t get to launch another vicious personal attack on a war hero, do you? That’s what today’s GOP specializes in, and it’s partly how George W. Bush got the nomination in 2000 and won the election in 2004.