April 20, 2009

This is the kind of article one writes with Kinky Friedman blasting in the background, and that’s how it is meant to be read. Otherwise, the experience might prove a little too painful. So crank up “€œHomo Erectus,”€ grab a bourbon, and I”€™ll explain to you the workings of The Catholic Bullshit Generator”„¢.

The Generator was invented in the “€˜60s, but it didn”€™t come from Ronco, the folks who brought millions of bloodshot, white-knuckled insomniacs the joys of the Pocket Fisherman. In fact, there’s no single tinkerer who can claim sole credit for The Generator. Like eugenics and the A-bomb, it was developed by a team. Its function is to take the complex and deeply-considered doctrines of a 2,000-year-old, divinely-revealed religion and turn them into dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. Like chunks of squirrel, they taste a little like… chicken.

Our Generator is distinct in structure, design and output from its competitors that serve other faiths. The Evangelical Balderdash Engine helps divorced pastors of megachurches churn out press releases supporting reckless wars and the rape of Nature (since the devil planted them T-Rex fossils and Jaysus is comin”€™ soon!). The B”€™nai B”€™rith Drek Fabrik produces whole magazines devoted to proving how heterosexual marriage laws caused the Holocaust. The Mormons…. Okay, that’s just not fair.

But I”€™m kind of partial to our own papist device. It does my Catholic heart proud to see what we”€™ve come up with. It whirs at every level of American Catholic discourse, from the bloviations of certain bishops, down through some Catholic columnists, to ordinary bloggers and local pastors in the pulpit. Large sections of those helpful documents produced by America’s bishops in the 1970s and 80s on economics and military policy were clearly squeezed out of The Generator, along with much of what the bishops say today on immigration.

In The Faithful Departed, Catholic journalist Philip Lawler shows how The Generator enabled various bishops to write earnest thank you notes to pedophile priests, praising them for their “€œministry,”€ and vague reassuring letters to anguished parents that spoke of “€œcompassion,”€ “€œtherapy”€ and “€œlegitimate concerns.”€ The pastoral letters of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, which appear in his paper The Tidings, seem to have been entirely produced by The Generator”€”which must be running day and night in the basement of his extraordinary new cathedral.

Here’s how The Generator works: Presented with a complicated problem that requires balancing the interests of groups with competing claims, it will draw selectively on Biblical references and Church documents to churn out rhetoric that simultaneously:

1) Clouds essential distinctions in a pink, emotive haze.
2) Suits the user’s political sympathies, institutional interests, or unspoken emotional needs (e.g., socialism, cover-up, or envy).
3) Presents the speaker as a gentle, vulnerable soul who’s acting only out of compassion, whose motives it would be wantonly cruel to question.
4) Casts his opponents as blind, cruel, or hypocritical.
5) Pretends it is not attacking anyone, but gently and bravely pointing to “€œdeeper truths.”€ Hence any polemical reply amounts to beating up on Jesus.

To see the Generator operating full throttle, check out this exchange I and a group of other frustrated commentors had with one Catholic columnist over immigration. In that article and his comments on my own, in cringe-worthy, moralistic prose, the writer excoriates, in turn:

“€¢ America for causing poverty in Mexico.
“€¢ Europe for causing poverty in Africa.
“€¢ All middle-class Americans for living a “€œsinful lifestyle.”€ (I guess that includes my sister who works 60-hour-weeks as a nurse treating immigrants who get free medical care from the taxpayers. My sister has cable TV).
“€¢ Any American concerned about the social problems caused by immigration.
“€¢ All the residents of Scottsdale, Arizona.

When commentors responded to these wild attacks with facts, logical syllogisms, and direct quotations from binding Catholic teaching, the writer responded with the mewl of a wounded bully, “€œWhy are you so hostile? Why are you addressing me as if we are fighting?“€ Time to grow a pair, pal.

In case you can”€™t afford to buy your own, I”€™ll tell you how to build a Catholic Bullshit Generator from ordinary items you”€™ll find around the house.

All the moving parts are ordinary words, wrenched out of context and used to suit your polemical purpose. When arguing with someone, be sure to use the following terms at regular intervals in your sentences (don”€™t worry about the grammar): Voiceless. Afflicted. Disadvantaged. Marginalized. Pastoral. Handicapped. Diverse.  Needy. Displaced.

Anything you are defending, characterize with words like these. For instance, tenured homosexuals living in Cambridge, Mass., pouring the money they don”€™t need to spend on diapers into overseas investments can be presented as “€œindividuals whose personal choices of whom to love have rendered them marginalized and voiceless in a heterosexist world.”€ A drug lord scheduled for deportation back to Bolivia is really “€œa displaced Latino business-owner subject to America’s draconian drug laws.”€ A black guy who’s collecting disability for a minor injury while working side-jobs off the books can come across as “€œa handicapped African-American struggling to support his needy family.”€ A pedophile priest who molested your son is really, the bishop explains, “€œa brother in Christ afflicted by a serious mental handicap with which he struggles prayerfully with the pastoral support of our Christian community.”€

Conversely, if you need to attack someone or something, employ any or all of these pejoratives: Comfortable. Bourgeois. Secure. Smug. Materialistic. Consumerist. Careerist. Racist. Xenophobic. Suburban. Hence a family where both parents work to pay Catholic school tuition so their kids won”€™t get stabbed by members of Mexican gangs at Martin Luther King Elementary School are really “€œmiddle-class suburbanites whose racist attitudes are centered on a fear of diversity.”€ See how it works? Anyone who has worked hard and built a career, and lives in a city where you can”€™t afford an apartment can be characterized as “€œa comfortable materialist engaged in the consumerist pursuit of a worldly lifestyle incompatible with Gospel values.”€ And so on.

Remember that you, too, are marginalized and disadvantaged by your courageous embrace of the needy and voiceless, uttered in bold defiance of a smug and materialistic society, which cruelly and in plain violation of the commandments of Jesus Christ, won”€™t give you a stipend so you can sit around all day in your Spiderman PJs writing blogs, in a nice suburban house in Scottsdale, Arizona. 


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