Monday, May 13, 2013

On Dirty Hands

See that picture? It's a quote from one of the internet's favorite movies, The Big Lebowski. It occurs after Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski has just watched his best friend Walter Sobchek pull out a loaded gun and shove it into the face of an old man, finger on the trigger and screaming at the top of his lungs... because said old man crossed the foul line in a bowling game. An important bowling game, sure, but as The Dude points out, it's kinda hard to see Walter as the good guy in this situation. It's a lesson that people in politics ought to take to heart, and don't. In a democracy at least, supreme power is in the hands of the people, and a smart politician tries to get the people on his side. Being an asshole is a bad way to do that. It's an equally bad idea in religion; whether you're evangelizing or just trying to go about your business and worship as you choose, you need at least a silent agreement that the rest of the populace won't run you out of town. Acting like a jerk is a great way to turn said populace against you.

This isn't rocket science, and in fact smart people in both fields have known it for centuries, even millenia. So why do we now, at the most educated time in human history, still have people dragging the names of their own causes and churches through the dirt with obnoxious behavior?

A few weeks ago Tim Dolan, Cardinal of the Archdiocese of New York, posted a rather condescending article on his blog, which compared homosexuals attending church to people coming to a dinner table with dirty hands. He intended it to be a "love the sinner, hate the sin" message, a sentiment no good Christian would disagree with. What people disagree with is his interpretation of what is dirty or sinful, but that's an argument for another day.

Reasonably enough, some gay Catholics and their supporters took exception. Last week a group of them gathered to stage a protest. Or "vigil", perhaps. Same difference. They smeared their hands with dirt and ash, attempted to attend mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and were prohibited from doing so. In fact, the church called the cops, which may seem a little extreme until you realize that church authorities are ill-equipped to respond if protesters get violent. We can debate how likely such a possibility was. On the one hand, if there's enough anger in the air, all it takes is one good shove to turn a protest into a brawl. But on the other, the slideshow shows about eight or nine protesters, hardly an army of revolution. In any event, the protest eventually ended with neither violence nor arrests, and everybody went home and presumably got on with their lives.

I heard about all of this via Anne Rice's twitter feed, which ought to be a required follow for all liberal and moderate Christians. The link led me to the article linked in the above paragraph. It was written by Joseph Amodeo, who organized the protestr, and I have to seriously wonder what in the blue hell he was thinking.

I don't know how many of my readers have ever attended a Catholic Mass, but there's this point near the end where you're supposed to shake hands with anyone around you that you can reach. And you're also supposed to receive the Eucharist in your hands, and take the chalice to drink the sacramental wine. And your hands are touching the pews, the missals, the doorknobs, and all these things which are in turn touched by other parishioners. So if you come in with filthy hands, you're going to get that filth on everybody around you. It's intrusive and unhygenic, but more than that, it's rude.

In other words, Cardinal Dolan acted like an asshole and the protesters responded by acting like assholes themselves. And then Amodeo writes the above article, with its "poor, pitiful me" tone of voice, trying to portray himself as the victim here. At the absolute best, the protesters are pricks the same as the cardinal. At worst, they're bigger pricks. And they doesn't seem to get this at all. I quote:
"What astounded me most was when he said that we could enter the cathedral so long as we washed our hands first. Even now, writing those words I find myself struggling to understand their meaning, while coming to terms with their exclusionary nature."
Hey, moron, maybe the meaning is that you shouldn't come to a church expecting to smear dirt on everything within reach and be surprised when they don't let you do so?

More than that, however, what annoys me about this protest is the utter immaturity of it. Accused of being dirty, the protesters opted for the grade-school response of "I'll be dirty if I want to be!" That's the wrong argument. The right one is "There's nothing dirty about me!" The protesters don't seem to realize that by embracing the analogy instead of rebuffing it, they legitimize Dolan's opinion.


In the end, this protest probably won't amount to much. It'll vanish into the news cycle and be forgotten, and a week from now we'll all be bitching about something else. But it's disappointing. As Christians, we ought to be better than this. As human beings, we should at least have the intelligence to think through the consequences of our actions. I try very hard to have respect for all my brothers and sisters in Christ, and then they go and make me wonder why I even bother.

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