Feminist Philosophers

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So a lesbian goes into a church February 29, 2012

Filed under: bias,glbt,religion,Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 8:00 pm

with her partner. It was her mother’s funeral. And then:

The Rev. Marcel Guarnizo had learned of their relationship just before the service.

“He put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin,’ ” she recalled Tuesday.

She reacted with stunned silence. Her anger and outrage have now led her and members of her family to demand that Guarnizo be removed from his ministry.

Family members said the priest left the altar while Johnson, 51, was delivering a eulogy and did not attend the burial or find another priest to be there.

In very partial mitigation:

Late Tuesday, Johnson received a letter of apology from the Rev. Barry Knestout, one of the archdiocese’s highest-ranking administrators, who said the lack of “kindness” she and her family received “is a cause of great concern and personal regret to me.”

“I am sorry that what should have been a celebration of your mother’s life, in light of her faith in Jesus Christ, was overshadowed by a lack of pastoral sensitivity,” Knestout wrote. “I hope that healing and reconciliation with the Church might be possible for you and any others who were affected by this experience. In the meantime, I will offer Mass for the happy repose of your mother’s soul. May God bring you and your family comfort in your grief and hope in the Resurrection.”

It is extraordinary that someone did not have a proper burial because her daughter is a lesbian.

 

122 Responses to “So a lesbian goes into a church”

  1. Remind me to have a private, non-church funeral.

  2. grannylizzy Says:

    sad to say often third world priests dont get the ” kindness and love ” part of the Gospel.
    as a woman who does not exactly fit into any churches description of how I should behave I have been embraced by Priests, Nun’s and Pastors, by Rabbi’s, By Bishops I have been made welcome by all who understand the ” first you love “.

    My family has had similar experiences, in the Catholic Church, a parrish Priest from a south american counrty rejected them entirely, but they were scooped up and served, loved by a wonderfull Monsenior.

  3. Kate Norlock Says:

    Well, one can have a proper burial without everyone in the building taking part in the Communion portion of the service. But the way it was done couldn’t possibly have been conducive to a proper experience for the family members. So sad.

  4. annejjacobson Says:

    Grannylizzy, though this all took place in Maryland. I’ve know a number of priests in the US who didn’t seem to get the bit about love. Part of the reason I left the church.

    Kate, but this was a RC burial, and the priest had a partcular role in the rites of the committal of the body. And he didn’t send a replacement. It would be a bit like going to a graduation ceremony only to find you child wasn’t allowed to receive her diploma in piblic.

    When my mother in law died, people were upset that the exhausted old priest was exhausted. At least he got through the ashes to ashes and sprinkling parts.

    I do remember going through the ceremonies thoroughly jet lagged but telling myself that after all there was a chance that a 2000 year old institution would have something enlightening to say about death. Not a bit of it, as far as I could see.

  5. Nemo Says:

    Here’s a canon lawyer’s take on the story:

    http://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/note-on-the-lesbian-communion-case-3/

    I agree with Kate that proper burial doesn’t require everyone to take Communion, but that this was not, shall we say, a positive pastoral experience for the family. That said, from the standpoint of the Church, I’m given to understand that burial is not a sacrament while Communion is, so on some level the obligations with respect to Communion will take precedence. One does wonder why she was presenting herself for Communion.

  6. Bijan Parsia Says:

    One does wonder why she was presenting herself for Communion.

    Really? Maybe it was because she was a Catholic and was at her mother’s funeral? That seems to be a pretty standard reason for presenting oneself for Communion. It’s not too hard to figure out.

    To address the “But if she were REALLY REALLY Catholic she’d know that as a lesbian she was eeeeeeeevil yadda yadda yadda” line, I’ll just note that tons of Catholics do not agree with large aspects of church dictats (contraception use comes to mind) and yet consider themselves to be practicing and faithful Catholics. So, again, not to hard to figure out a plausible reason for her presenting herself for Communion.

  7. annejjacobson Says:

    If I could just explain, my point was not that she didn’t have a proper burial because her daughter didn’t have communion. I should have been clearer. I was relying on a distinction between the funeral and a specific part, the burial. There’s a specified rite for the burial and she didn’t get it because the priest, unbelievably to me, walked out on the whole thing..

  8. Nemo Says:

    Bijan, while not my area, it seems to me that both Catholics and many non-Catholics understand that Communion is not available to all Catholics, no matter how practicing and faithful, at all times under all circumstances. Rather than Googling up some sources on Catholicism, I will defer to you on the standard reasons for which Catholics present themselves for the sacraments of their Church, but I wouldn’t have thought that what you’ve described as a standard one (such as “being Catholic”) really rose to the level of a purpose. That “tons of Catholics do not agree with large aspects of church dictats” seems almost as irrelevant as noting that tons of non-Catholics disagree with them too. For example, let’s say that I might not agree that as a non-Catholic I should be denied Communion in a Catholic Church, but I would understand, expect and respect that religious bodies set the conditions for their own sacraments, and I can only assume that the adherents of those religions understand that even better, regardless of whether they agree with those conditions. At any rate, I wasn’t so much interested in a “plausible reason” (plausible to whom?), but in her actual mindset, which I suppose we can’t know except to the extent she comments about it publicly.

  9. Nemo Says:

    Anne, that part is also unbelievable to me. Well, not absolutely unbelievable, but worth taking with a grain of salt nonetheless.

    One of the local religious blogs has publicized a conflicting account according to which the excuse offered to the family at the time (that the priest had some medical episode that prevented him from making the trip graveside) was genuine, and more importantly that the parish did ensure that a substitute was found for the committal rite.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2012/02/from-the-e-mail-i-wanted-you-to-know-there-is-more-to-this-story/

  10. Bijan Parsia Says:

    I find your extrapolation to non-Catholics irrelevant. Being a member of a community and not being a member of a community are just obviously different. If you want to argue that qua Catholic, she should respect the rules of Catholicism (either by the general respect of institutional autonomy you appeal to or because you think that’s part of what it is to be Catholic) just do so.

    She self identified as a life long Catholic and taught in Catholic schools (according to the article). Lots of Catholics (very high rates) use birth control and, I’m sure, take communion. They are obviously able to reconcile this with their Catholicism. In institutional de facto norms are an obvious place to look to understand what is, after all, a rather quotidian motivation.

    There a gay Catholics, pro-choice Catholics, divorced Catholics, and Catholics having non-martial sex as we speak! I’m pretty sure that a huge swath of them take communion ever week without confessing or repenting on these things. I’m pretty sure that lots of Catholics who largely left the church might feel a strong pull toward taking communion at the funeral of their Very Catholic mother.

    While further information may come to light, my attribution of mindset is based on what was reported in the article. She went to her mother’s funeral and it never occurred to her that she’d be denied communion.

    Not exactly a mystery.

    (I’m not sure “one” does wonder. YOU may wonder, but *I* don’t think it’s all that mysterious.)

  11. Nemo Says:

    Bijan, I find inapposite the references to birth control and to all the extramarital-sex-having Catholics partaking of Communion without going to confession. (I leave off this list the divorced Catholics and the gay Catholics that you had added, since from what I can tell the Catholic Church doesn’t view being divorced or gay as sins to be confessed.) Sure, Catholics are not supposed to go to Communion if conscious of unconfessed/unrepented grave sin. But it’s easy to understand why they might present themselves in such cases – they probably don’t fall, or at least don’t see themselves as falling, within that exclusion, and it would not occur to them to be denied Communion because in most cases these things would probably not be known both to the priest and to the rest of the faithful. I take it that that was your point. But the difference in the case in question relates to one the prohibitions imposed on the *priest*, namely that (going on the basis of what that canon lawyer was saying) he’s required not to give Communion to someone who is “obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin.” Now, whether that priest failed in his due diligence to get to the bottom of this before denying Communion (as the canonist suggested might have been the case) is one thing. But since the woman apparently (if reports are true) introduced herself and her lover as such to the priest just before the funeral mass, and she was apparently a Catholic and a Catholic educator at that, it strains credulity to think that it never occurred to her that she had put the priest in a position where he *might* feel he could not both give her Communion and obey the restrictions placed on him. (Quite different from the case of the birth control user who takes Communion.) Unless she were momentarily insane with grief, I think she must have known that presenting herself for Communion under those specific circumstances was at least somewhat likely to lead to a denial or else to induce the priest to do something she knew *he’d* feel he was not permitted to do. That strikes me as an unusual thing to do even – and perhaps especially – at a religious ritual in honor of your late pious mother. So yes, I do think there is at least a little worth wondering about in there.

  12. Bijan Parsia Says:

    Nemo,

    If it’s easy to see the birth control using Catholics as seeing themselves as not falling in the exclusion, it seems easy to see the lesbian Catholic seeing herself as not falling in the exclusion. If you think that being gay is not confession worthy, then unless she told the priest that she was having sex with her partner, I don’t see why she should expect to be denied communion.

    Couples of 10 years with no kids may reasonably be guessed to be using birth control. So the priest probably has about the same degree of knowledge there.

    I guess you are shifting from her presenting herself to her predicting the reaction to the priest…well, I don’t see why. According to this article, the woman’s partner identified herself as such when asked.

    It does’t strain my credulity (by the by, I wish you’d own such bits; it’s may strain your credulity, but it certainly doesn’t strain credulity itself; plus, paragraphs would help!) that a gay women who is living in US society (perhaps in a gay friendly community) would not immediately recognize that her partner’s perfectly normal reaction to a question would trigger communion denial, esp. at her mother’s funeral.

    She clearly was wrong not to think so, but it’s pretty easy to see how it would happen. No attribution of insanity needed.

    Perhaps she normally is not around homophobic catholics, after all. Including non-homophobic priests.

    Again, this is hardly surprising, unusual, or difficult to believe. It may not be correct, obviously, but it’s not remotely bizarre.

    (And clearly my examples are right on point. Imagine the priest asking a recently married women when she was going to have children and the women said, “Oh, we’re not ready to do that yet. After school maybe.” The reasonable supposition is that they are using birth control. The canonical law sanction inference is that the priest doesn’t no. So too, that a women claims to be the partner of another women might well suggest that they are having sex. But the priest doesn’t know.)

  13. annejjacobson Says:

    One thing to worry about here is the possibility that the church has far fewer problems with heterosexual sin than it does with gay sin. I expect this is Bijan’s point, or one of them.

    I have only anecdotal evidence here, but I certainly have members of my family who are visible members of RC parishes even though they are “living in sin.” One can in fact often petition to have the church declare one’s first marriage invalid. However, that can be very hurtful for one’s children. So some people choose to have a second secular marriage that the church does not officially recognize. That needn’t be a problem at all, even in a church where one is very visible.

    In fact, in the most recent case in my family, nuns in the parish were pushing for the introduction and eventual marriage. (“O, you will be perfect for each other. You must meet her.”)

    No doubt there are some parishes where a similar match making goes on with gay couples. But somehow if the attitudes really were comparable then I think the whole take on the case under discussion would be different.

  14. oldmunni Says:

    I took “sad to say often third world priests dont get the ” kindness and love ” part of the Gospel.” to be an indictment of the fact that the US is now a 3rd world nation, rather than a misinterpretation of the location of the incident.

  15. Alan Says:

    I would note that uses of “woman” and “women” would not be that hard to discriminate in even casual use, unless one were hardened to the insignificance of the reference to singular or plural. Just saying.

  16. Kate Norlock Says:

    Oh, geez, I read too quickly! I did not realize that the priest did not attend the funeral or find a replacement to preside. Geez.

  17. brett Says:

    annejjacobson, i have what may be conflicting anecdotal evidence. my mother and father were divorced, but their marriage was never annulled. (for anyone unfamiliar with catholic doctrine, an annullment is when the church declares the marriage invalid, as anne mentioned. it’s essentially the church saying that the marriage never happened at all and that what everyone thought was a marriage was really something else.) anyway, she’s now in a second (secular) marriage, and she’s not permitted to receive communion.

    the rules as i understand them are that one is not permitted to receive communion while “in mortal sin”, i.e., if one has committed a mortal since one’s last confession. adultery is, of course, a mortal sin, which is why my mother isn’t permitted to receive communion. this is the same reason gay people (at least, those who are sexually active) aren’t permitted to receive communion. (i’m not endorsing the church’s position. the church’s position is absurd. but those are the rules.) i’m sure people who have pre-/extramarital sex do go to communion all the time, but they are, as you might say, doing it wrong.

    i guess the point is that, in refusing to give johnson communion, the priest was just following the church’s rules. (again, the rules are terrible and ridiculous in a lot of ways, but that seems like a separate issue.)

    wandering off in the middle of the service is, of course, a different matter. if that’s true, it really is inexcusable.

  18. occasional lurker Says:

    I’ve made this point before, and I don’t want to be tiresome, but I continue to be baffled by the persistence with which posters here treat Nemo as a good-faith interlocutor. If you’re going to repeatedly minimize the problems with state-imposed obstacles to acquiring abortion and birth control, and if you’re going to justify hurtful and discriminatory treatment of lesbians, and so on and so on, why are you posting on a purportedly feminist blog? And, more confusing yet, why are purported feminists responding, given this track record of trolling? Are philosophers really so unable to distinguish questions and challenges that are worth reflecting upon from those that are meant to waste our time?

  19. Nemo Says:

    Bijan,

    Just in passing, may I ask what you are doing/typing in order to indent quoted text? I would like to do that.

    –“If it’s easy to see the birth control using Catholics as seeing themselves as not falling in the exclusion, it seems easy to see the lesbian Catholic seeing herself as not falling in the exclusion.”

    Easy to see herself as not falling in the exclusion of Canon 916, which relates mostly to the communicant, but not so easy (or at least not so reasonable) for her to see the priest as completely unlikely to construe Canon 915, which relates more to the cleric, as possibly not permitting him to admit her to Communion.

    –“If you think that being gay is not confession worthy, then unless she told the priest that she was having sex with her partner, I don’t see why she should expect to be denied communion.”

    In one of the competing accounts, one of the partners identified the other to the priest as being the lover of the first. I was thinking of that when I wrote my earlier comment. I generally agree with you here.

    –“Couples of 10 years with no kids may reasonably be guessed to be using birth control.”

    It’s not a wild guess, but in my opinion it isn’t a comparable inference.

    “I guess you are shifting from her presenting herself to her predicting the reaction to the priest…well, I don’t see why. According to this article, the woman’s partner identified herself as such when asked.”

    I don’t see it as shifting; I when I wondered why she presented herself I think I chiefly had in mind why she presented herself in light of the decent chance that the priest might balk under the circumstances. Possibly the facts were such that that reaction wasn’t within the range of reasonable prediction. I have the impression from the sum of the accounts that it probably was, though.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at by noting that the lesbian relationship was revealed to the priest. (In one account, the partner physically interposed herself to prevent the priest from engaging the daughter any further on that point.)

    –“It does’t strain my credulity (by the by, I wish you’d own such bits; it’s may strain your credulity, but it certainly doesn’t strain credulity itself; plus, paragraphs would help!) that a gay women who is living in US society (perhaps in a gay friendly community) would not immediately recognize that her partner’s perfectly normal reaction to a question would trigger communion denial, esp. at her mother’s funeral.”

    I didn’t say it strained credulity that she would not know that communion denial would result. I said it strained credulity that a lifelong Catholic and former Catholic schoolteacher would not know that it was at least *somewhat likely* that this would result *either* in communion denial *or* in the priest giving her communion anyway against misgivings about his ability to do so. I will own that – it strains *my* credulity. But I also think that it ought to strain a reasonable person’s credulity.

    –“Perhaps she normally is not around homophobic catholics, after all. Including non-homophobic priests.”

    I expect that she is not. And since it is perfectly possible that a Catholic priest, at least one without great pastoral sensibility, could act likewise whether he were homophobic or not, I don’t think we can conclude, pace your implication, that this priest is homophobic.

    –“(And clearly my examples are right on point. Imagine the priest asking a recently married women when she was going to have children and the women said, ‘Oh, we’re not ready to do that yet. After school maybe.’ The reasonable supposition is that they are using birth control.”

    I don’t think that’s a reasonable supposition for the priest re birth control, at least artificial birth control.

  20. anon "sr" philosopher Says:

    #18: “Are philosophers really so unable to distinguish questions and challenges that are worth reflecting upon from those that are meant to waste our time?”

    Ouch! Maybe this time you’ll get a conscientious reply.

  21. Nemo Says:

    occasional lurker,

    You praise me with faint damns. Yes, you (as well as on the rare occasion someone else) have made this point before. The last time, you caused a comment thread to to be closed, which I hope doesn’t happen this time. I have always thought it unseemly to defend oneself against charges of trolling. But I have benefited from the gracious defenses offered by others in the past, for which I am indebted, and now I suspect that to do so again while remaining silent in my own behalf would perhaps also be unseemly. And also, I think you have now insulted the others here with your last comment. So – damned if I do and damned if I don’t – I will say this once, and I hope only once.

    It should be clear from the way I write posts that (for all the faults in the way they are written) that they are geared toward intellectual and rhetorical engagement and not emotional response. They derive from the content to which they respond, even if you think they are pedantic or go into minutiae, but I think they cannot shown to be off-topic or not germane. I have almost never run afoul of the forum rules, I think it happened once and I was genuinely regretful and duly embarrassed. I endeavour to treat other posters with respect which is hardly ever feigned, and I yield to no one in my esteem for the moderators. I’m a member of the community. The troll thing hurts.

    I get that you don’t agree with me on some things, though I think you’re imputing content and opinions to my posts that actually aren’t in them. It’s hard for me to explain why in a given case unless you actually participate in the discussion. As for my posting on a feminist blog, there are apparently more things in feminism than are dreamt of in your philosophy. It’s a big tent.

    We now return everyone to the discussion already in progress.

  22. annejjacobson Says:

    Occasional lurker, and anon “sr” philosopher, Let me say that we have been discussing this off line. Concern trolls present very serious problems. While they seem interested in supporting one’s enterprise, they actually work to subvert it. Their seeming sincerity gains strength from the fact that academics are loathe to silence intelligent voices.

    To take the comments on this post as a specific case: I am very concerned that Nemo has been a strong, informed advocate of the anti-woman RC policies, and yet today he tells us he is not a Roman Catholic. (Did I get that wrong?). I mean, how many non-Roman Catholics know of people blogging about Canon Law.

    I have zero desire to make decisions on my own. But the thought that the discourse on this and other posts are alienating the people we are most concerned about is extremely serious.

  23. CC Says:

    A few comments from another former Catholic, for whatever that’s worth.

    I’m puzzled by the canon lawyer’s claim that an “admitted practicing” lesbian presenting herself for Communion is somehow especially bizarre, when “admitted practicing” adulterers – whose divorced-and-remarried status is known to the priest – regularly present themselves for Communion (at least, this was the case in my parish, and I understand that it is not uncommon).

    If we’re going to talk about what people may reasonably expect: in my experience, it is really quite rare for a priest to publicly deny the Eucharist even to people who are openly “living in sin,” to the point where the reasonable expectation is that one will not be denied the Eucharist without forewarning. The statement from the archdiocese seems to support this expectation, at least for people living within the archdiocese. I think debates about who should have known which points of canon law, or who should have reasonably guessed what another’s interpretation would be, ultimately obscure the fact that a person reasonably expects things to go the way they have gone in the past, ceteris paribus.

  24. s. wallerstein Says:

    About Nemo once again.

    I find Nemo to be a very intellectually stimulating commenter.

    Yes, he is not always politically correct and at times is an outright contrarian.

    He forces people to defend their positions, does it fairly and politely, without abuse and what’s more, since Nemo is very well-informed, forces others to do their homework.

    There is a tendency in every political movement for people to get lazy, to not check out their facts because after all, we all agree and no one will question us about the stupid details. Nemo keeps this blog from getting lazy.

  25. Nemo Says:

    Anne, I can’t believe we’ve come to speculating about people’s religious beliefs, which even apart from the ad hominem/feminam and relevance problems it poses, should make everyone uncomfortable.

    Occasional lurker, my feminist chops aren’t on trial, for pete’s sake. And if they were, the burden wouldn’t be on me. If you have a bone to pick, why not just jump in and make a reasoned objection on relevant grounds *at the time*, rather than saving it all up for these oppressive irruptions of name-calling and other non-argument? Believe it or not I, and I daresay the rest of us, would genuinely like to hear from you outside of the occasional drive-by trolling accusation, which could easily be mistaken for trolling in its own right.

    I defer to Anne et al. on the question of thread domination. I hadn’t really been bearing that in mind, and maybe OL is right that it’s an issue. I would have thought that the nature of these threads, and in particular their differences from actual conversation (numerous conversations can take place simultaneously, people can tune out what they don’t want to read, time and space aren’t issues, etc.) meant that it can’t infringe on other people the way real conversation can, and it doesn’t reduce anyone else’s opportunities. It’s true that I write long posts in response to people sometimes, but I endeavour to show that I actually read the other person and thought multiple points worthy of a response rather than ignoring them (also, on occasion I can be reluctant to let something go). It’s partly personality, I suppose, and partly the way I was trained. This being an electronic conversation, I honestly never thought that sort of thing from me was an issue. But admittedly, I do not have a moderators’-eye view of that question as it pertains to this particular forum. Now at least it’s on my radar, so I am obliged to occasional lurker for that.

    S. Wallerstein, te saluto!

  26. Nemo Says:

    Whoops, I am embarrassed I was led into responding to a comment that was bound for deletion. Please feel free to delete mine entirely.

  27. annejjacobson Says:

    Brett, I am sad for your mother.
    I

  28. s. wallerstein Says:

    One of the reasons that this is a good blog is the diversity, that it surprises the reader.

    There are blogs where one reads the heading and one can predict all the comments, because they all pat each other on the back and congratulate each other over their
    purity and righteousness.

    This isn’t one of them. This is a blog where one ventures into reading the comments section because there are surprises, twists, discoveries.

    One reason why this blog is what it is because there is no party-line, no orthodoxy,
    no gurus, no loyalty oaths.

    There are rules about politeness, good taste and non-sexism, but feminism, as someone says above, is a big tent.

  29. annejjacobson Says:

    Nemo, You introduced the topic of your religious beliefs. I also do not get what’s wrong with commenting on the fact that someone sounds like a roman catholic – or a baptist, for that matter, etc. Religion and philosophy share a lot of territory.

    This is particularly true in your case. Much of the RC’s teachings on topics concerned with sexuality comes from “Natural Theology” which in effect is philosophy. Aquinas’ Summa Theologica is often read as philosophy and in courses concerned with Medieval Philosophy. As an advocate for policies that at least coincide with those of the most conservative of roman catholics, you shouldn’t be surprised at people noticing it.

    I do find your responses to topics of sexuality highly problematic. For example, wittingly or not, you clearly take the lesbian to be the (main?)cause of the funeral disaster. That is problematic, to say the least, and citing a Canon lawyer to justifiy it is, for many readers here, a bit like citing the KKK to justify segregation. In addition to being problematic, it is offensive to those readers and creates for them a very unwelcoming climate.

    I think it has got to stop, but this is a group blog, and the decision of what to do is not mine alone.

  30. annejjacobson Says:

    SW: I think it is what many of us perceive (I say carefully) as the sexist, homophobic nature of the policies Nemo defends that is problematic.

    Despite the fact that many of us deplore the adversarial nature of much philosophical discourse, we are actually a pretty argumentative group. After all, we have all sort of survived in this highly combative profession. So I’m not sure we need a representative of RC policies to keep us out of line.

  31. annejjacobson Says:

    Finallly, let me add that I am now walking away from this discussion for a while. I’ve said at least enough.

  32. jv Says:

    Was Nemo defending the policy or pointing out that it could be justified within the terms of Roman Catholic teaching/regulation and wasn’t simply one homophobic priest acting out of line with what his church believed. Admittedly, the apology does suggest that what the priest did was not necessarily in line with what the Roman Catholic church thinks to be right but … Does Nemo suggest that what the priest did was the right thing to do per se?

  33. Bijan Parsia Says:

    Nemo,

    I use the “blockquote” tag. I don’t know if this will go through but, <blockquote>Quoted Text</blockquote> should yield:

    Quoted Text

    —–
    I had a response almost done (today’s been hectic), but I’m unclear how or whether to proceed given the meta-discussion and my own internal state. Sorry for contributing to derailment and distress, esp. as I’m pretty sympathetic to e.g., occasional lurker’s POV.

    —-
    jv wrote:

    Was Nemo defending the policy or pointing out that it could be justified within the terms of Roman Catholic teaching/regulation

    Hi Jv. What I found puzzling and offensive was Nemo’s characterisation of the woman. While, obviously, there’s all sorts of mental states in the range of possibility Nemo, for example, wrote:

    Unless she were momentarily insane with grief, I think she must have known that presenting herself for Communion under those specific circumstances was at least somewhat likely to lead to a denial or else to induce the priest to do something she knew *he’d* feel he was not permitted to do.

    I feel as if there’s been plenty of evidence, partially from Nemo’s own links!, to show that this is, at the very best, rather uncharitable or even hostile reading of what we know. Ordinary human and American Catholic psychology strongly supports there being plenty of reasonable alternatives compatible with her statements. Contrast this with a “Well, there’s some probability, and I think it was a strong one, that she the right explanation mistakenly thought she could get away with flaunting it, or even that it’s a stunt.” While I still don’t agree that its a strong probability given what we currently know, this doesn’t force us into a set of alternative explanations that are all…unfriendly toward the woman.

    Similarly, that the priest doesn’t come in for any similar examination (“how can a trained priest not know the actual applicability of the Canon or of church policy as confirmed by the archdiocese?”). Etc.
    —–

    Oops, I’m semi back in the fray. I’m really stopping now. Sorry!

  34. Nemo Says:

    JV, thank you for noticing that key point. Of course I didn’t suggest that the priest did the right thing per se. I didn’t even suggest that the priest did the correct thing vis-a-vis what his church believes. (Neither did the canonist who gave some people heartburn, incidentally; he strongly implied that the priest messed up and that people were hurt as a result.)

    I *did* suggest that it seemed to me a sufficiently realistic prospect that an ordinary priest might react in that way that it seemed likely to me that the bereaved (presumably well-versed in such things) took it into account – which in turn made me wonder what her overall thought process was. Bijan quite capably offered a rebuttal which didn’t 100% convince me otherwise, but that’s all. I hardly advocated or defended any Catholic policy or justified some cleric’s actions (though I did highlight the fact that there are competing accounts of the facts in circulation, which I thought was merely prudent).

  35. Ti Says:

    “Does Nemo suggest that what the priest did was the right thing to do per se?”

    I won’t attempt to speak for others, but what I find problematic about Nemo’s line of argument is that the main point seems to be, “What did she expect?” But even that is too innocent a rendering, since as Bijan has aptly pointed out, “She expected to receive Communion.” Case closed. However, Nemo’s real point seems to have been, “She should have known she might be denied Communion, so her outrage is inappropriate.” This smacks of classic victim-blaming rhetoric: “She should have known she might get raped at that house-party, so her (outrage/grief/hysteria) is inappropriate.” Sorry, no.

    Nemo’s point is also a derailment. Now, instead of discussing the inappropriateness of the priest’s actions (let’s not forget he LEFT the funeral halfway through), or the efficacy of the Church’s apology, or the greater implications for sociopolitical philosophy and philosophy of religion, we’re dissecting Johnson’s motives, feelings, expectations, reactions, etc.–to determine whether or not they are justified. Why? Does it have any bearing whatsoever on the aforementioned issues? Does it carry any philosophical import?

    I’ll grant Nemo’s point that, in this format, other discussions can take place simultaneously, but at the same time, derailment is a real phenomenon. It IS possible for a single commenter to frame the discussion in such a way that it favors a certain set of data and a certain kind of agenda while negating or obscuring others of equal validity. I think that has been happening here, and it may be what others have found so troubling.

  36. jennysaul Says:

    I think there are enough people who feel that this thread has been derailed that I’d like to ask that we stop the line of discussion initiated by Nemo, and that we also stop the metadiscussion of Nemo. Derailing is tricky to judge, but to some extent I think it makes sense to crowd-source this, and the crowd (both on-blog and off) is wanting to change direction of this discussion. So this is a friendly request to do so.

  37. annejjacobson Says:

    Ti, can you still see the comment? It looks to me as though it has been removed. I appreciate your comment, but I want to suggest that we stop discussing it, given it cannnot be seen.

    That said, let me point out that one can blame the victim without saying the victim is to blame. Similarly one can excuse a perpetrator without saying the perpetrator is excused. Philosophers here will probably be reminded of Gice’s work on conversational implicatures. Roughly, in this case, focusing on something can suggest it is the important element in an account of what happened.

    To elaborate a little. Suppose I tell you that there was a bad accident in my neighborhood. A child was standing near the curb on a sidewalk, a car jumped the curb and struck the child. If someone responds with, “Well, why was the child standing near the curb?” they do suggest that there was something wrong with the child’s being there and that it caused the accident, thus lessening the driver’s responsibility. To take a much more familiar sort of case, when a girl is found to have been raped and people immediately say, “Where were her parents?” we can have the sense that the rapists are on the verge of being excused because they girl’s parents were not protective enough.

  38. annejjacobson Says:

    Jender, I posted my comment above as you were posting, but in any case, we’re coming to the same conclusion.

  39. Sammi C Says:

    Lovely people, priests, eh? Perhaps the woman was lucky that the priest’s self-righteous indignation didn’t lead him to heed Jesus’s instruction “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” because she might have been on the receiving end of a load of flying masonry.

    Insensitivity amongst priests is sadly a concomitant of their immersion in a world of fairy stories. Hence one priest who said to a friend’s uncle who had an infant child who survived but a few days, and had missed mass due to caring for the child and mother – the priest far from showing compassion castigated him for not coming to mass and informing the priest more quickly!

    Priests are professional liars and bullies (with untrue stories and instructions to others on how to behave) – is it reasonable to expect a decent standard of behavior from them??

  40. occasional lurker Says:

    I see that my previous comment has now been deleted entirely rather than simply redacted. I want to respect @jennysaul’s request to move on, but since my contribution has been interrupted, I’d like to make three final, short points if I may. First, insofar as my previous comment focused on a commenter’s motives rather than the effects of that person’s comments, I apologize for violating the community rules. Second, I am gratified to see that my substantive concerns about making space for a dialogue among feminists are widely shared. Third, I would like to object to s. wallerstein’s implication in what is now #28 that a space where feminists discuss among themselves would be a predictable one without diversity and disagreement. Spending time with almost any group of feminists would quickly put the lie to that assumption. My concern echoes @annejjacobson in #37 – it’s a question about what disagreements it’s valuable to be having.

  41. ajkreider Says:

    I’m not sure there’s much disagreement here, though perhaps equivocation between epistemic and moral oughts??

    Should(moral) the woman in question have expected to be allowed to participate in communion? Obviously yes. The fact that lesbians (and others) don’t get from the church what they have a right to expect reflects the church’s moral failings.

    Should(epistemic) the women in question have expected to be allowed to participate in communion? Harder to say, not knowing her knowledge of this priest’s interpretation of Catholic policy, etc.

    They’re of course very different questions, the second of which seems largely uninteresting and irrelevant to the first. I’m not sure how interesting the first is either, as the answer seems so clear. That many in the Catholic church hold and act on such views surely isn’t news to anyone. All the more reason to publicly point these things out when they happen, though the fact that church higher-ups at least recognized that something went wrong is hopeful.

    (I hope the above is not too egregious a violation of Dr. Saul’s friendly request.)

  42. s. wallerstein Says:

    Lurker:

    I did not say that feminists discussing among themselves are predictable and lack diversity and disagreement.

    I consider myself to be a feminist and have been one for about 40 years.

    What’s more, Nemo considers himself to be a feminist (post 21), as his remark about the “big tent”” makes clear, so all of us here, including Nemo and myself, are feminists conversing.

    If I did not consider myself to be feminist and did not try to act on feminist principles in my daily life, I would not participate in this blog.

  43. annejjacobson Says:

    OL, we were trying out a new policy. I must say when I saw its effects for the first time I was horrified, but it took me a while to see what was going wrong. I think you were publcly chided, and I doubt anyone on the blog thinks that was good.

    According to the newspaper, the church’s policy in that geographical area is to allow comminion.

  44. Anonymousqueer Says:

    I request an official ban on the phrase “practicing lesbian” and it’s near cousins “practicing homosexual”, “practicing gay”, etc.
    It’s rude. And bizarre. And meant to be insulting, and draw to mind pernicious analogies.
    Furthermore, as Barney Frank pointed out long ago, the persons to whom the label is being attached don’t need any practice. I certainly don’t. Thank you very much.

  45. Nemo Says:

    These are all excellent and thoughtful points, which is not to say that they (or their specific applicability to this situation, as the case may be) should not be, or might not validly be, disputed. I wish they’d been brought up at an appropriate juncture when they could be addressed, rather than just before (or simultaneously with, or indeed just after) the request to press the reset button on this, which we ought to oblige.

  46. Kate Norlock Says:

    Sorry, y’all, ordinarily I would’ve logged in and helped with moderation. All this travel is seriously disrupting my routines!

    I do find myself thinking of Margaret Walker’s distinctions, in Moral Repair (2007, OUP I think), between normative expectations and predictive expectations. One may have an argument that it is foreseeable or predictable that a Catholic priest could, possibly, be officious, or unethical, or insensitive. And then again, even though one can argue for particular predictive expectations, one may also, simultaneously, have normative expectations, which as Walker says, indicate that to which we expect to be entitled, that which we have a right to expect, that which we tend to assume others will accord us for moral reasons.

    I say this not to visit comments already deleted, but to — well, to be honest, I say this because it strikes me how very insightful Margaret Walker’s work is, on such occasions. Brilliant, highly recommended. And indeed, this is the it-ness of the thing, is it not? My predictive and my normative expectations are not identical. But despite their differences, they can be justifiable.

  47. annejjacobson Says:

    Kate, that is so interesting. I’ve been thinking about Anscombe on direction of fit. I wonder if they are related. I think the basic common element would be that in one case the prediction is at fault when the world doesn’t fit, but in the normative case, the world (or some small part) is at fault.

    I wonder, though, in what sense both are expectations. Does she address the issue of equivacation?

  48. Kate Norlock Says:

    Hmm, I want to say, no, she does not consider equivocation. She aims to use the word ‘expectation,’ if I recall, to consistently mean the possibility, the likelihood “of more than zero,” that X. Walker seems to argue that normative expectations are shared, hence the belief in the possibility that the world ought to fit, because it has, and it can.
    I think you’re right about the basic common element, indeed!

    (This is tied to her arguments for hope’s role in moral motivation. But my objections to that are so complicated, it will take a book. Oh, yes, it will.)

  49. CC Says:

    Kate, what a useful distinction. I remember several politically conservative people opposed to the Occupy movement arguing that the students in the Berkeley pepper-spray incident deserved to be sprayed (or at least that they ought not complain) because they were warned and therefore should have expected what was coming to them. The use of “expect” there to (apparently) excuse the officers’ bad behavior seemed really odd, and I think the normative/predictive distinction helps account for both the usage and its defects.

  50. Kate Norlock Says:

    Agreed, CC! And I’ve often thought of MW’s work in relation to Lynne McFall’s on bitterness, that it is distinct from cynicism because cynicism says, “I should expect negative things,” and bitterness says, “I’m disappointed because I actually hope for better, because I actually believe the moral demand is not unwarranted!” Or words to that effect.

    I must go to dinner, which is for the best, else I’d talk about cynicism and pessimism all night.

  51. Ti Says:

    @Anne (re: #37), none of the comments I referred to in my post (#35) have been removed. The quote I reference is from #32, and my criticism of Nemo’s position refers to the sum of his posts, none of which, as far as I can see, have been removed.

    Can someone explain the difference between Walker’s normative/predictive distinction (as articulated in #46) and ajkreider’s moral/epistemic distinction (as articulated in #41)? Because to me, they seem to be more or less the same point, and it bothers me that ajkreider’s comment is being collectively overlooked.

  52. profbigk Says:

    Geez, I thought ajkreider’s moral/epistemic distinction (#41) was excellent, and inspired my own assocations. No need to assume ajkreider’s being overlooked. It was that comment which moved me to mention Walker. (And how collective can overlooking be when only three people even talked about Walker?)

    The difference between the two distinctions which motivated me to post about the second one was that, as I saw it, Walker unpacked some of the content of the moral ‘should.’ The moral content includes the assertion of the moral demand, the sense of expectation that one has a right to a certain kind of moral treatment, that this is or should be a shared normative expectation. It’s an account of any shared normative expectation, which I thought an instructive supplement to the particular expectations being discussed. It’s an account of whole moral lives, of the structure of social and political communities. Maybe I’m just not communicating the fullness of the account, so again, may I recommend Moral Repair.

  53. Ti urges us to consider the “greater implications for sociopolitical philosophy and philosophy of religion”. As I understand the issue, the allegedly “derailing” topic (to wit: whether individuals have some kind of moral claim to equal treatment from private religious organizations, and whether this claim can be preempted by claims to freedom of association or conscience) is practically the only main philosophical question that has been raised so far.

    Otherwise, what else is there to discuss? Was Johnson disappointed that a priest denied her communion and bailed on the funeral? Yes. Was the priest a jerk? Yes. Does the entire affair strike one as a depressing waste of collective human intelligence? Yes. But whether a private religious organization owes it to Johnson, or anyone else, to conduct a religious ritual with her is not nearly as clear to me. If I attended a neo-Pagan wedding and were denied entrance to the Menstrual Yurt or whatever because I was incapable of menstruating, even if I really really wanted to sit in the Menstrual Yurt, have I suffered an injustice? For that matter, if the KKK rejects my membership application because I’m not a white supremacist, have I really been harmed?

    Unless we can do a little more to spell out what claims we can levy against private associations with bad rules, I’m afraid that we can do little more than agree with each other that said bad private associations are bad.

    I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but I would ask whether allegations of “derailment” are always healthy tools for dealing with people who disagree with you in good faith. (Especially when those accusations need not even be made public.) Many writers less sympathetic to feminism have made hay of the fact that feminism has an entire vocabulary of terms (viz. “derailing”, “intellectual harassment”, “backlash”, “silencing”, “concern trolling”) for discourse that could often be reasonably interpreted as plain “disagreement”. While I would agree that feminist philosophers probably encounter more than their fair share of bad-faith interlocutors, it is also a basic, universal and tempting cognitive fallacy to assume that one’s political opponents are just obviously dishonest and beneath contempt, whatever one’s position. I would expect philosophers to feel especially sheepish about refusing to respond to facially sincere objections. When fighting monsters, &c.

  54. anon "sr" philosopher Says:

    re #53: “Unless we can do a little more to spell out what claims we can levy against private associations with bad rules, I’m afraid that we can do little more than agree with each other that said bad private associations are bad.”

    Given such a thoughtful observation, and shamed by appeals to tolerate “good faith” or “plain” disagreement, I’ll feel invited to “levy” a couple claims.

    “Private associations” ought to change their “bad rules” for good reasons. Or “private associations” at least ought not to apply their “bad rules” in prejudicially selective ways. I will not insult the reader by spelling out these elementary claims.

    Still, I would suggest that established religious institutions–in which, for better or worse, many people are born and raised and feel a membership stake, regardless of the particular authorities in charge at a particular time–are perhaps not most helpfully thought of as “private associations,” along the lines of a neo-Pagan gathering or the KKK. More generally–and I am almost embarrassed to make this unoriginal point on a feminist site–the very distinction between private and public, whatever its useful purposes in law, can be unstable and counterproductive.

    With all due respect, we should not care what “[you and your doppelganger] would expect philosophers to feel” and to discuss.

  55. annejjacobson Says:

    Synapseandsyntax, I think you’ve generalized to the point of losing contact with the issues of bigotry and homophobia, as ‘sr’ has pointed out. The RC Church also requires that one fast for an hour before receiving communion. One might well regard that as arbitrary, but if the priest had refused to give a grieving daughter communion because he’d seen her eating candy a few minutes earlier, we would not be writing about it.

    I am surprised to see the list “derailing”, “intellectual harassment”, “backlash”, “silencing”, “concern trolling” labeled as somehow characteristically feminist. I leaned about concern trolling over at DailyKos, and these terms are useful in any public discussion with a POV, as progressive, conservative, etc, blogs have.

  56. Jamie Says:

    I thought the ‘derailment’ was not Nemo’s own posts but the meta-discussion of Nemo’s posts. So I suppose this is a meta-meta-remark, but that won’t surprise anyone who knows me.

  57. Jamie Says:

    Oh, and by the way:

    With all due respect, we should not care what “[you and your doppelganger] would expect philosophers to feel” and to discuss.

    [edited]
    I think anon “sr” is accusing synapseandsyntax of something devious or nefarious with the ‘doppleganger’ crack, but I can’t tell for sure and I can’t tell what it is.

  58. Bijan Parsia Says:

    I guess we’re back to metadiscussion?

    Jamie,

    Just to report my perspective as one of the wheels off the rails…I felt as if the first order claim was derailing, see my reply to JV (#33). I’ll also not that I was dumbfounded to read from Nemo: “Bijan quite capably offered a rebuttal which didn’t 100% convince me otherwise, but that’s all.” since my impression before then was that while there was some small shift in the particulars of the claims, that Nemo found my points utterly unconvincing. Since I thought I was making quotidian everyday psychological observations that were amply backed up by links and other experience reports in the thread, I was taken aback at the implication that I was not reasonable since the women’s story did not strain my credulity (see comment 19).

    That bit raises some interesting questions about niceness (perhaps another thread?), but also about credulity. Just as we might consider that Johnson’s normative expectations might influence her predictive expectations (esp. if she habitually lives in a situation where they are aligned or if commonly held beliefs about appropriate behavior around funerals were strong enough to dominate), I think that our assessment of the plausibility of explanations for her behavior also are strongly guided by our normative expectations. So, for example, a pretty basic normative expectation in many feminist contexts is treating women’s claims as good evidence, being inclined to non-insanity readings of their behavior, and not neglecting the surrounding context including not taking e.g., male behavior as by default unproblematic. My interpretation of Nemo’s mental model lying behind the “wondering what she was thinking” — backed up by the interactions we had — strongly suggest to me that these expectations are met. At least, I have a hard time explaining the exchange without giving up all three.

    For me, it’s the violation of these expectations which make me wonder what the hell is going on in the conversation. It’s akin to arguing whether women should have rights or rather arguing against points that are hard to understand as stemming from anything other than “women lack rights”.

    Now, I don’t know if my impressions are an accurate model of Nemo’s psychology, but it is this sort of analysis that led me, before, to ask whether they were a troll and to feel as if I were participating in a derailment now.

    If I’m systematically misreading in a basic way which is causing me to react poorly, then I suppose I’m the blameworthy party in the derailing and I’ll just take it as a rule not to respond to Nemo in that way. If, however, my reading is accurate or, at least, highly plausible, then perhaps we can find a way to acknowledge that we’re debating basic principles or clarify things so we don’t implicitly do so.

    Obviously, I don’t think my reading is so very out of wack.

  59. anon "sr" philosopher Says:

    Re #57: I wasn’t “accusing” anyone of anything.

    There are those who prioritize form, legalistic debating points, the “meta-meta,” etc.–and those who prioritize, at least on a feminist philosophy blog, content that has a sociopolitical orientation.

    I imagine that there are blog places for the former. I don’t go to such places, since their priorities and main interests are not mine. If I did find myself in such places, I would not hope that they pursue their priorities on my terms were I to be moved to join the discussion. Nor, whatever my noble intentions, would I be unsympathetic to patterns of complaint that many of my interventions were unhelpful on balance. That’s just me, though.

  60. Jamie Dreier Says:

    Oh, okay. So, why the crack? Why is synapseandsyntax supposed to have a doppleganger?

    I don’t understand the rest of what you’re saying in #59. Are you suggesting that someone else — maybe synapseandsyntax, maybe me — prioritizes legalistic debating points? You don’t actually say so, but there is a pretty straightforward Gricean implicature to that effect in what you wrote.

  61. Jamie Dreier Says:

    Bijan, just to respond with my own impressions: I was also puzzled by Nemo’s initially wondering why the woman presented herself at communion, but it became clear to me later. But anyway I don’t want to be responsible for further meta-ascent.

  62. anon "sr" philosopher Says:

    Re #60: I withdraw “doppelganger” and substitute for it “kindred spirits.” I hadn’t taken them to include you, and I have no strong view about this now.

  63. annejjacobson Says:

    Bijan,nyou will not be surprise that I have a very similar model, though mine adds in some things that make it possibly context-relative. E.g., there might be a difference in epistemic merit attributed to a woman simply disagreeing versus one who is a lesbian accusing a priest.

    In any case, I was interested in this list of yours, and I am wondering whether a post to see how we might expand would be good.

    So, for example, a pretty basic normative expectation in many feminist contexts is treating women’s claims as good evidence, being inclined to non-insanity readings of their behavior, and not neglecting the surrounding context including not taking e.g., male behavior as by default unproblematic

  64. Bijan Parsia Says:

    Hi Anne,

    I’d certainly find such a post interesting.

    Note that my list wasn’t ment to be extensive, but merely picking the ones I was reading as being strongly violated by Nemo’s line of argument above.

  65. annejjacobson Says:

    It’s a good list and raised in my mind the question of whether feminists agree on more formal, procedural principles than substantive ones. Actually, I can see that distinction quickly breaking down.

  66. Nemo Says:

    I second Bijan’s sentiment about the prospect of a post like that.

    Bijan, I would like to say that I’m unaware of any grounds for inferring that I accorded any less evidentiary value to Johnson’s claims on account of her sex or her sexual orientation as such, or for that matter her posture as the complainant here. I would be very vexed to discover that I had done so.

    I am most definitely inclined to non-insanity readings of women’s (and men’s) behavior; indeed, I thought the implication of my (more colloquial than clinical) reference to insanity – namely, that I did *not* believe Johnson was insane – was relatively clear, but I may have erred there. I was saying I found it implausible that she would not have considered the eventual outcome as a possibility, which, I hasten to add, insinuates neither that Johnson was culpable nor that the priest’s culpability, whatever it may have been, was in any respect diminished.

    I am not certain of the respect(s) in which, in your view, I was neglecting the surrounding context; I didn’t do so in any way obvious to me even in the light of your contributions to our exchange. I don’t think any inference from my remarks that the priest’s behaviour was unproblematic by default would be warranted.

    To the extent I implied that you were unreasonable, Bijan, I unreservedly withdraw it and request your pardon.

  67. anon sr philosopher,

    There is no contention about the view that a possible Church that didn’t discriminate against lesbian couples would be preferable to the actual Church that does, ceteris paribus. Yet, I think the analogy to the KKK membership application is exactly apt: if I were denied a job or a membership to a public pool because of my insufficiently racist views, that would certainly be shocking. But in the case of the KKK, having my application denied would be no more surprising than the brute fact that the KKK exists in the first place. In Bayesian terms, the KKK’s stated racist views “explain away” the racist behavior. So too with the Church.

    Whether the rules are even selectively enforced is also somewhat unclear to me. During my time in Catholic school, students were routinely advised not to take communion in any kind of spiritually compromised state, and so did not. One might suspect we are suffering from an availability heuristic here: the most controversial cases of communion denial are the most discussed, and therefore seem most representative. Whether priests make undue efforts to be jerks toward lesbians within a church that is institutionally committed to being jerks toward lesbians seems like a very, well, scholastic point.

    If you want to “suggest that…it is perhaps not most helpful” to think of the Church as a private institution, then I would be glad to learn of the criteria that distinguish public and private associations in your view, and the morally relevant differences that are entailed. Your suggestion that “many people… feel a membership stake” in the Church would only be compelling if the Church were the sort of institution which takes stock of membership stakes. But the sheep do not get to vote with the shepherds. This is actually, for many Catholics, a point of pride.

    What is the nature of this membership stake in your quasi-public interpretation of the Catholic church? Does it apply to me as an ex-Catholic? (Could I attend Mass and ask for ten wafers because I’m hungry?) You might object that, by snacking on ten communion wafers, I am “not taking the religious community seriously” in some sense. But that is precisely what the Church thinks of lesbians “living in sin”. How do we reach the conclusion we want (Johnson: serious; me: not) without appealing to the very authority of the religious leaders whose edicts we wanted to challenge in the first place? Do you sense my confusion?

    At end, I’m still unsure what exactly is the point of disagreement between us.

  68. [...] on the most excellent Feminist Philosophers blog, there was an extended thread wherein some aspects of one commenter’s (Nemo) contributions seemed (to me and several others) [...]

  69. Bijan Parsia Says:

    Hi Nemo,

    I spent some time trying to explain where my impressions of your comments came from over on my (rarely used) blog, in order to avoid us taking over the thread again. I hope it’s helpful. Feel free to ask for further clarification.

    I do accept your apology with gratitude. Thanks!

  70. Synaesthetik Says:

    As somebody who frequently responds to posts about sexism in religion in the most visceral terms possible, without getting deleted (thank you Stoat for not deleting my potty-mouthed re-working of Nietzsche last year) I’ll put up with Nemo, even if his views often get my hackles up. Most of the regulars have seen Nemo and me get into it before. He knows durn well when his arguments have degenerated into absurd little Monty Python circles, and he seems to have a sense of humour about being called on his silliness.

    Concern troll or not, I don’t mind debating with him. The kid’s good, and he’s never come at me with an ad hominem. That’s more than I can say for my own MRA/homophobe bashing techniques ;-) I will also defend Nemo for the way he defends rape victims, even when he’s spelling out the letter of the shitty laws that protect rapists before their victims.

    General patterns aside, I’m still going to read the comments here a little more thoroughly to see if I need to jump on Nemo over specifics. You’d BETTER use good manners with Bijan Parsia, little dude.

  71. xena Says:

    Bah. My sister’s been on the blogs again. Sorry. #70 was me, xena.

  72. annejjacobson Says:

    Nemo, you said, commenting on my comment about the priest’s walking out:

    Anne, that part is also unbelievable to me. Well, not absolutely unbelievable, but worth taking with a grain of salt nonetheless.

    One of the local religious blogs has publicized a conflicting account according to which the excuse offered to the family at the time (that the priest had some medical episode that prevented him from making the trip graveside) was genuine, and more importantly that the parish did ensure that a substitute was found for the committal rite. (My italics)

    This is a good example of what Bijan is referring to, and that cannot be accepted on a feminist blog. That is, a woman claims a man injured her, he denies it and now her claim is merely worth a grain of salt. You take a man’s word to show hers to be without merit.

    Someone else on the blog has deleted an earlier comment of yours as too offensive to stand. We have banned people for stuff like this. It creates a unwelcoming climate for many of our readers. You should consider yourself to have been given a choice; meet the basic expectations of a feminist blog or leave.

  73. xena Says:

    I see. The Argument From Womb-As-Predisposing-Its-Owner-To-Mental-Illness. PFFTT!!

    I will step off and enjoy the fireworks while Dr. Jacobson and the others showcase their brilliant Nemonic Mitigation.

  74. annejjacobson Says:

    synapse and syntax: I hope “sr” will reply, but in case that doesn’t happen, let me make a few observations. You say:

    If you want to “suggest that…it is perhaps not most helpful” to think of the Church as a private institution, then I would be glad to learn of the criteria that distinguish public and private associations in your view, and the morally relevant differences that are entailed.

    Here’s a possible background to “sr”‘s comment. Various people/groups of people have treated some areas of human life as private, and such decisions have been understood to permit oppressive practices, including ones that are homophobic. In this context, it is not a feminist’s obligation to distinguish the two; rather, the obligation is to show that there’s a legitimate and applicable sense of “private” that allows homophobic exclusion. That might be really hard, but in any case, the burden of proof is on you who invoked the idea of private domains.

    You say:

    Your suggestion that “many people… feel a membership stake” in the Church would only be compelling if the Church were the sort of institution which takes stock of membership stakes.

    I am really perplexed by this reasoning. It seems to suggest that it is morally ok for the church simply to decide it is going to promote the welfare of some members but not others. People are baptized in the RC church typically without their assent; ditto communion and confirmation. Getting excluded from the family’s religious practices and being condemned for behavior that may have been inevitable from birth can be pretty awful. But you seem to think that the fact that the church doesn’t care about the damage it is doing to families, then the damage doesn’t matter.

    I think that you may not have really thought about very harmful discrimination. Maybe all societies do harm by discriminating against some people – e.g., murderers, child molesters, etc. But the justifications you offer – it’s private, that it feels proud not to respond to some people’s interests – are not enough.

  75. Nemo Says:

    Anne,

    I can see what you’re getting at in #72, but if you will indulge me I hope I can offer a reasoned and reasonable demonstration that what you cited there is not, in fact, an example of what you or Bijan initially took it to exemplify.

    The specific part you said you found unbelievable (and I understand that by this you meant that you believed it but found it shocking) was that the priest had “walked out on the whole thing”, with the clear implication that he did so for some non-objectively-compelling reason (otherwise it would not shock). Before we even get to the “grain of salt” bit, it should be noted that this is, first of all, not even an instance of a woman making a claim and a man denying it — or, at least, it was not so known to me when I made the comment.

    The source from which your proposition was derived was the line in the news article that said “family members say the priest left the altar while [Johnson] delivered the eulogy”. Thus, this claim was not attributed to Johnson but to others of indeterminate gender. I never cast doubt on it, either. The source for the explanation that the priest at some point experienced a medical episode that rendered him unable to continue was also a source of indeterminate gender. So isn’t what you’re referring to a non-gender-sourced account of a fact being basically accepted by me, and a particular *explanation* of that fact striking me as subject to doubt in light of the perceived merits (which I’ll get to) of an alternate (and equally non-gender-sourced) explanation of that fact being available. OK, it actually just occurred to me that the presumed *indirect* source for the medical explanation was probably the priest, but I wasn’t thinking of that until now. I haven’t yet seen any claim actually attributed to him.

    For what it’s worth, to take a statement with a grain (or pinch) of salt does not mean to regard it as “without merit” or “merely worth a grain of salt”; it means, per phrases.org.uk, “to accept it but to maintain a degree of skepticism about its truth”. You may not regard that clarification as significant here, but it I offer it anyway. I believe I had an objective and neutral basis for maintaining a degree of skepticism (not denial, mind you) about the proposition that this priest decided to “walk out on” a mass in progress in the manner you intimated, and it is chiefly the following. To the best of my information, clerics of this particular religion have it drilled into them that they must not, on pain of severe spiritual and temporal penalties, abandon a mass in progress come hell or high water, and that they have been widely observed in practice not to do this even if someone is dropping dead in the pews or soldiers are pounding on the church door, so long as they are physically able to continue.

    It’s obviously possible that when this particular priest left the altar mid-mass it *was* a “walkout” (i.e. protest, withdrawal in disgust, what have you). However, for me to remain skeptical of that notion is in no way to give the priest the “benefit of the doubt” (plus, it doesn’t excuse or say anything about what he did at Communion) – and, notably, does not contradict (based on the article) any claim of Johnson, her family members, or the journalist so far as I can see. It was merely a function of my assessment, based on the knowledge available to me at that time about the religious denomination in question, of the fairly remote a priori likelihood of a mid-mass walkout by a priest for less than an objectively compelling reason such as experiencing serious medical symptoms (even if one was, for example, triggered by anxiety over the Communion conflict).

    I take responsibility for any faults in the reasoning in my head earlier and which I have now clarified explicitly, but whatever they might be they’re errors of reason, not mala fides, and I would humbly submit that they ought to be be critiqued neutrally on that basis (how should I respond to the suggestion that this reasoning process was unwelcoming?). You’re a philosopher, Anne – as such, I appeal to the principles of the discipline in asking you to reconsider, in light of what I’ve endeavoured to demonstrate, whether it’s fair to say that the comment was misconstrued/mischaracterized, or whether it is blameworthy and failed to meet the reasonable expectations of this blog.

    (I know this is verbose and some of my readers here already suspect I’m paid by the word. But I’ve tried to give a careful and thorough explanation, Anne, because I will genuinely be grieved if I can’t persuade you on this.)

    I wish you had not brought up the one comment of mine that was deleted a while back, and not merely because I regret the memory of it. If I recall, the moderators, after our discussion, accepted my apology and my demonstration that it was not ill-intended after all, and to the contrary manifested an impulse to deride the perpetrator of an anti-woman act, but nonetheless that the highly sensitive specific circumstances of the case dictated that it should not remain; I concurred. It seems a bit gratuitous to drag it up months later, particularly given the spin that your reference to it in the present context will inevitably but (I think) unfairly impart to other readers. I understand that you’ve done it in an effort to “connect the dots”; my defense, I suppose, is that the presumed dots aren’t dots.

    Xena,

    I appreciate your fair-minded words about our past exchanges. In return I would like to stress again that “The Argument From Womb-As-Predisposing-Its-Owner-To-Mental-Illness” (there should be some awesome Latin for that, no?) – assuming you were referring to me – was in no way advanced by me nor ever would be, and in context my implication was, if anything, to the contrary.

  76. Nemo Says:

    Bijan, I will try to make it over to your blog in due course. Cheers.

  77. xena Says:

    Yeah, yeah, Nemo. I think we both know that the groovy latin word is Hysteria. My flip way of presenting it in #73 was my way of saying that the discussion started in #53 irked me as much as it irked the following commenters, and I’m refusing to step into THAT derailing circle, too.
    About the rest of your comment: I’ll take it, ya scwewy wabbit. If you’re trolling, you’ve elevated trolling to an artform. I was tempted to post some clips of my favourite Bugs Bunny toons in your honour. “Kill da Wabbit” to Flight of the Valkyries came to mind ;-)

    However, we’re discussing a real person in her time of very real grief. For reasons I can’t even fathom, she’s made her peace with a religion that says she should burn for eternity for the physiology her god gave her. And then some fool finger-pointing preacher takes it upon himself to dish out the punishments his god’s supposed to be giving. If people like this would just STFU and let their god do the punishing, this world would be a much nicer place. (Can you tell I don’t believe ‘god’ would punish people bc…well, I don’t believe he exists?) No matter what a person’s religious views, a funeral is the last chance a person has to see their dead loved ones, their last chance to say goodbye. Family is family. I don’t care if the preacher was the frikkin pope. He has no right to get between a woman, the woman who gave her life, and the woman who still gives her life, in their last moments together.

    Ms. Johnson was right to be outraged by this indecency. Guarnizo should be given the boot. But since we’re dealing with RC ritual forms, I’m sure Guarnizo will score some plenary indulgences, chant higgledy-piggledy, and kiss some rings and cloth, and all will be forgiven :-P

  78. Jender Says:

    I’d like to suggest that those who want to continue the discussion of what counts as trolling do so at this post, which already has some really interesting discussion of the topic in more general terms: http://www.newappsblog.com/2012/02/in-defense-of-snark-or-breaking-down-the-walls-of-the-universal-seminar-room.html

  79. annejjacobson Says:

    Jender, thanks for a great suggestion.

  80. Bijan Parsia Says:

    I’m quite happy, if Nemo doesn’t feel too piled on, to continue this situation specific discussion over on my post as well.

  81. annejjacobson Says:

    Bijan, I looked at your post there, and I think it is sensitive and respectful. It’s a generous idea to take the discussion of Nemo over there. Let me ask for people to do that.

  82. anon "sr" philosopher Says:

    anne… re #74: I could not offer a better, more respectful reply.

    I would only add that some “private associations” (e.g., churches, non-state universities) seek and enjoy special, state-supported privileges–and to this extent plainly are not merely “private.”

    synapseandsyntax re #67: I am not unmoved by the thought that one might do better not to participate, other things being equal, where one is not wanted or has fundamental objections. But that thought seems to me marginal to the main issues under consideration here.

  83. Anne,

    Thanks for your reply. I would respectfully submit that I have tried to think about discrimination, especially in the context of religious institutions. Issues like these were motivational for me when I decided to reject the Church as a teenager in an Extremely Catholic family. They were even more salient to my Very Religious grandmother, when she abandoned the Church after decades of service as a lay minister, pretty much over things like these. On the other hand, my Super Religious uncle’s deep commitments to the Church as a teacher, musician and missionary (!) certainly must have contributed to his decision to remain a practicing Catholic and live in the closet as a gay man. While my family respects his privacy and autonomy in that decision, we cannot help but feel saddened that his religious views about his own sexuality force him to keep such an open secret from his family. While I probably cannot say more without uniquely identifying my family, please know that I am quite familiar with the net aggregate dis-utility that the Church has inflicted on its adherents, especially all stripes of other-than-straight people. I would say that my family has been pretty badly damaged by the Church, thanks, and the damage matters. To the degree that these questions have affected my family and myself personally, I would say I have thought rather a lot about them.

    I just ask that you not presume that anyone with a position that differs from your own has simply not thought it through. I say that the proper responses to religious institutions that are intolerant in their private practices are voice or exit. Since the Catholic Church, as a matter of empirical observation, seems especially unlikely to respond to voice, exit is the remaining alternative. I don’t see any conceptually coherent alternative to that scheme, although I am willing to be persuaded.

    Maybe I have been unclear in explaining my view of this issue. I edited the word count on my last reply down by a factor of two on the supposition that no one wants to read a book-length comment full of qualifications and hedges. In light of the responses, perhaps that decision was ill-judged. Let me try once more to aim for clarity.

    We all agree that there is nothing wrong with being a lesbian, of course, and that religious institutions that do not make prejudicial distinctions about lesbians are preferable to those that do.

    I believe we differ on the question on whether an individual has a moral claim to be included in the activities of a religious organization on terms of their own choosing, even when the rest of us (outside of the organization) think such terms are eminently reasonable. I think that we could even exchange “religious” with “private” in the last sentence, just because I am wary about ethical distinctions that hinge on whether the participants involved think their actions have supernatural significance or not, but I am happy to stick to religious organizations pro tem, since it is probably clearer what constitutes a religious organization than a private one. My primary argument for this view is that there is no non-arbitrary way to distinguish “reasonable reforms” and “unreasonable reforms” except by leaving it up to the members of such organizations and ensuring that people can vote with their feet.

    Let me offer a few analogies which seem directly analogous to me:

    Philosopher: A Catholic raised in the Church since birth becomes a philosophy major, and concludes that there is no good reason to believe in any of the Church’s main tenets. The newly minted philosopher still considers themselves catholic, but denies the existence of any supernatural entities, the divinity of Jesus, the trinity, the immaculate conception, or the performance of miracles. Our philosopher points out that if these elements were dropped from the Church liturgy, the Church would become a much more inclusive organization, and people of all religious persuasions could take part.

    Non-Catholic: A non-Catholic attends Mass, but is denied communion on account of not belonging to the Church. The non-Catholic points out that the Church would be a much more inclusive organization if it dropped this rule.

    Snack: A Catholic attends Mass, but is very hungry. They ask for ten communion wafers. They point out that the Church would be much more decent and responsive to human welfare if communicants could take a variable number of wafers according to their satiety.

    Kippah: A Jewish man goes to shul, but objects to the requirement to wear a kippah, as he feels it makes a pernicious and arbitrary distinction between men and women. He points out that the shul would become more inclusive place if such arbitrary distinctions weren’t made.

    Hijab: A Muslim woman goes to her mosque, but thinks that the rules of adab requiring women to cover their hair inside a mosque are sexist and problematic. She points out that it would become more inclusive place if such arbitrary distinctions weren’t made.

    I have deliberately attempted to devise scenarios of varying plausibility. I don’t, however, think that there is any bright line from the religion’s point of view between reforms aimed at eliminating sexist distinctions (Kippah, Hijab), and reforms aimed at complete theological overhaul (Philosopher, Non-Catholic). If it is not reasonable for a member of a religion to ask to be accommodated on the basic tenets of the faith, then we (as outsiders) are put in the position of deciding which attributes of a religion are accidental, and which are essential, before we can say which accommodations and reforms are reasonable to insist upon. Since none of the claims of faith made by religious organizations are true in the first place, this is a fool’s errand. It is like the matter of house rules in Monopoly: you can petition Hasbro to declare that the money from fees goes to Free Parking, and you can privately play with the variant rules and encourage others to do likewise, but I can’t make sense of a moral claim that you are owed the money when you land on Free Parking. Those are the rules of the game as agreed upon by the people who play it, and those who care not for them can play another game. As they should.

    Most importantly, the benefit of the money in Free Parking is only valuable within the context of Monopoly. Likewise, a communion wafer is only valuable inasmuch as you already accept the Church’s interpretation of it, i.e. if you are already “playing the Catholic game”. If you agree with the Church that the wafer is the literal body of Jesus Christ, then you are engaging in a purely internal theological debate with the Church about the Church’s rules, including the rules about what sin is and who gets to receive communion. Otherwise, you are arguing about a claim to receive a wafer that, as any good Catholic knows, has zero or negative gustatory value. I find it slightly more plausible that someone could be materially harmed by being denied Monopoly money than by being denied a wafer.

    With respect to the public/private distinction, I mean to show that some matters are widely and rightly considered private (e.g. whether I believe that Jesus is the son of God, whether I invite my boorish colleague to my birthday party, what sexual acts I engage in with my consenting partners), whereas others are widely and rightly considered public (whether I am allowed to vote, whether I am given a fair trial for alleged crimes, whether I am excluded from employment on the basis of some irrelevant personal feature). A great advance for personal autonomy and general human welfare in Western political philosophy has been the elevation of tolerance as a political principle: we have decided to treat religious affiliation as a private rather than a public matter. The basis of this distinction, I would say, is that whereas the benefits of political participation, fair trials and employment can be acknowledged intersubjectively by people of any faith, the benefits of affiliation with a given religion generally presume the veracity of that religion’s claims. That, I think, is an excellent reason to remain publicly agnostic about religious practices, so long as they do not interfere with the public rights of others.

    The fact that people are baptized into the Church is regrettable, and the general question of the degree of religious influence that parents can rightfully exert over their children is a hard one. Even if the Church became the most LGBT-friendly organization on the planet, I would say that those children are still harmed: encouraging–and even forcing–children to accept preposterous metaphysical claims is a deleterious practice. If the Church’s relationship to impressionable children incurs an obligation not to discriminate against lesbians on theological grounds, doesn’t it also incur an obligation not to promulgate theology at all? If we can’t even prohibit the Church from urging children to commit their lives to the worship of a 2,000 year old Judean woodworker, how can we claim that they ought not instruct them on particular points of faith that we find repugnant?

    I agree that “[g]etting excluded from the family’s religious practices and being condemned for behavior that may have been inevitable from birth can be pretty awful”. I just don’t see how it follows that there is a moral claim to inclusion in anyone’s religious practices. If anyone recognizes such a claim, it would be helpful to me as a kind of diagnostic if they could offer their responses to the scenarios I offer above. Perhaps then we could understand exactly what such a claim entails.

  84. Anon,

    I agree that receiving special, state-supported privileges might license a greater degree of public control over private institutions. It seems to me that the better thing to do would be to eliminate the differential treatment. It is my understanding that churches are treated differently than, say, Masonic Lodges in many jurisdictions, and this difference is mistaken in my view. But while I agree that the Masons should be held to federal equal opportunity laws if they wish to hire a groundskeeper, I don’t think it follows that they must adhere to them in their membership procedures.

    Can I ask what you understand the main issues under consideration to be? I have tried in the previous comment to identify them and offer a defense of my position. Am I missing the point as you see it?

  85. annejjacobson Says:

    SandS, you say, “I just ask that you not presume that anyone with a position that differs from your own has simply not thought it through”. I really don’t think I was doing that. Rather, I was struck by the fact that many of your analogies used differences that we wouldn’t or don’t consider serious examples of bigotry. Hence, I could respond to your arguments just by saying, but homophobia is different. Consequently, your arguments were weak and vulnerable in the way that suggests to me, perhaps wrongly, that you are not experienced in the dialectics of philosophical discussions of bigotry.

    . I am really sorry that I was so unclear.

  86. annejjacobson Says:

    SandS, i could add that it seemed to me that you also got the burden of proof wrong. That’s a neophyte’s error. I want to assure you that we don’t eat neophytes for fun on this blog. I think you may have made a serious strategic mistake in starting off by maintaining we had all missed out on the one important philosophical issue.

    I just don’t have the time to assess you new points, but I was confused by the very sad story of your uncle. I don’t think staying in the closet helps much with the church unless one also abstrains from sex and remains chaste. If your uncle never had a loving sexual relationship because of the church, that seems a tragic loss of one of life’s joys. Of course, such relationships are rarely purely joyous, but his loss remains tragic, I think.

  87. xena Says:

    I think this new thread, beginning with S&S @#83 might be a good starting point to address Anonymousqueer’s offense at the term “practicing lesbian”, comment #44. Could you give us more, AQ?

  88. Anne,

    Though I appreciate the apology, it’s really not needed :) I tried to select the first few analogies for their pertinence to the theme of private organizations discriminating on the basis of morally irrelevant attributes. The problem with analogies, of course, is that the only exact analogy is the trivial one from the explanandum to itself.

    Even as opponents of homophobia, we wouldn’t say that “but homophobia is different” is a universal rebuttal in philosophical discussion; sometimes a desire to combat homophobia comes into conflict with other values, and we are forced to wade in and sort it out for ourselves. If my arguments were weak and vulnerable, I would be grateful for correction. Some of the novel scenarios I sketched above bear more directly on bigotry, I think, and might be more amenable.

    Just to address a point you made that I missed before, I wouldn’t say “concern trolling” is a uniquely feminist trope, although it has gained much traction in feminist blog circles. (“Backlash” and “intellectual harrassment”, on the other hand, seem to have pretty strong feminist pedigrees, owing to Faludi and Lourde respectively. When I took a Women’s Studies class as an undergraduate, for example, a surprising portion of class time was given over to lectures on backlash, and psychologizing people’s reasons for disagreeing with the positions asserted in the class. This is very frustrating if you actually believe that feminist positions can be successfully defended on the merits.) Very often these terms really are applicable, since very often one’s opponents really are arguing in bad faith, especially on the internet. My only point is that there is a real danger in getting complacent and unresponsive to genuine objections once dismissing one’s opponents as trolls becomes a live option.

  89. I’m willing to hear an argument that I got the burden of proof wrong, but all I have so far is an assertion.

    My view, which I have defended at relative length as an opponent of homophobia and an opponent of religion, is that tolerance of the homophobia of religious ceremonies is the least bad alternative. If there is a moral claim to be included in other people’s religious ceremonies, then there are moral claims to many other things which seem implausible to me.

    This is not to say that said religions aren’t behaving appallingly by being homophobic, that we shouldn’t sympathize with people who are excluded for arbitrary reasons, or that adherents shouldn’t petition for change or leave.

    You are, of course, not obligated to respond to the case I’ve tried to lay out. But if the view that Johnson had a moral claim to inclusion follows so obviously from feminist first principles, one might consider how effectively those principles are being communicated, even to readers who are sympathetic to the general project.

    In re my uncle, I mention him as an example of the kind of psychic damage the Church wreaks. I have no idea, honestly, whether he condemns himself to celibacy or just thinks himself a wretched sinner. Either way it’s a sad story. And although I would be happy for his sake if the Church dropped the homophobia bit, I have to admit that as a grown man he’s doing this voluntarily.

  90. s wallerstein Says:

    I’m an atheist and have been one since a child, but in the one Catholic funeral of a family member that I’ve been closely involved in, the priest behaved shabbily, although his shabbiness had nothing to do with homophobia.

    However, the priest did not walk out on the ceremony, even when I (and then others)
    began to voice our grievances and dissidence at the cemetery.

    In fact, the priest seemed to have an admirable ability not to notice that things were not going according to the church’s gameplan, since his chief interests seemed to be order, decorum and preserving appearances.

    Given that the Catholic church seems to give priests tremendous leeway in not noticing what is before their eyes, including the sexual conduct of many other priests, it seems doubly out of order for the priest in question to refuse communion to the woman in this case and then walk out, since he so easily could have closed his eyes to the state of things in the interests of order and, in my opinion, understanding/empathy with someone who is grieving.

  91. annejjacobson Says:

    SW, I sadly agree. I was thinking this afternoon that many of those involved in the scandal may well have been serving themselves communion.

    Apparently there was a priest at the burial. The funeral director says he arranged it, while the original priest says he did.

  92. Bijan Parsia Says:

    Hi synapseandsyntax,

    First let me say that I appreciate you posting the long form of your comment in which I find a lot to chew over.

    I believe we differ on the question on whether an individual has a moral claim to be included in the activities of a religious organization on terms of their own choosing, even when the rest of us (outside of the organization) think such terms are eminently reasonable.

    I’m confused why we would differ on whether there was a moral claim. We all (I believe) think that the homophobic beliefs and attitudes of the church are morally wrong. So, it seems straightforward to conclude that e.g., shaming their gay members is wrong and that gay Catholics have a moral claim to be treated better.

    Now, when I was working this out, I kept thinking, “Oh, we can distinguish between the morally nasty false beliefs (e.g., that lesbians should be shamed) and the morally neutral false beliefs (e.g., transubstitution)”, but this is perhaps your bright line problem?

    If it is not reasonable for a member of a religion to ask to be accommodated on the basic tenets of the faith, then we (as outsiders) are put in the position of deciding which attributes of a religion are accidental, and which are essential, before we can say which accommodations and reforms are reasonable to insist upon.

    Maybe not. As an outsider, I don’t need to distinguish between what attributes are accidental or essential before judging which are (by my lights) morally wrong. I can even make judgements about how morally wrong an attribute must be for it to become obligatory to change it. If the severely morally wrong attribute is essential, then the religion is itself morally wrong.

    So, now I’m back to not understanding why we can’t make this judgment. (Obviously, this is orthogonal to supporting legal interference.)

    What did I miss?

  93. swallerstein Says:

    Wise words from Pope John XXIII that the Catholic Church and the rest of us would do well to consider:

    “See everything; overlook a great deal; correct a little”.

  94. Hi Bijan,

    So, it seems straightforward to conclude that e.g., shaming their gay members is wrong and that gay Catholics have a moral claim to be treated better.

    I agree with the first clause, but I still deny the second even though I think it would be nice if the Church treated its gay members better. I wonder whether you are appealing to something like a moral analogue of Newton’s third law: “in order for some moral agent’s actions to be bad, there must always be some other moral patient who is harmed by it”. But I deny this too, I think.

    I say this because I just don’t see how participation in a religious ceremony is something one can have a claim to. For example, although it would be nice if the Druze community accepted me as a convert, they do not owe it to me. I am not injured by this refusal because acceptance was never due to me in the first place. The fact that the Druze discriminate according to one of the most arbitrary criteria possible (whether you happen to be born Druze or not) seems ethnocentric and bad, but one does not have a right to be included in other people’s religious rituals.

    I don’t see how we could recognize such a right without at the same time denying that individuals have a right to freedom of association. Many feminist writers have criticized the value of absolute freedom of association, but I need not argue for an unrestricted right here. Rather, I think the example we are considering lies at the core of the right to associate. This point becomes clearer when one observes that the benefit being denied here is not employment or a good that could be recognized by any third party, but merely participation in the ritual itself. If we persist in asserting that excluded adherents have a moral claim against the excluders, I think we must also conclude that the excluders do not have a claim to their own freedom of religion and conscience. Our values sometimes conflict, and I say that the claim to associate is stronger than the claim to be associated with. We can still make sense of claims to non-discrimination in employment, public office, places of public accomodation, the criminal justice system, &c., but I do not see what remains of freedom of association if there can be such things as claims to be included in religious rituals.

    If we accepted such claims, we must consider that we do rather a lot of harm to other people all the time. We form associations with others on the basis of their sentiments, ambitions, intelligence, creativity and motives, but also on the basis of their humor, charm, and general pleasantness to be around. Whom we invite to our birthday parties has nought at all to do with any concern that I do justice to the partygoers and the uninvited, because there just isn’t any moral claim to be invited. The people whose company we do not enjoy did nothing to deserve their personal abrasiveness, dullness or numbing incuriosity, and if we stated aloud our reasons for excluding them they might even sound cruel. Nevertheless I do not see how one can have a claim not to be excluded from some association one never had a right to join in the first place. Perhaps we have different intuitions about this?

    I slightly mis-stated my argument by mentioning a “bright line”. My concern isn’t with distinguishing “reasonable reforms” from “non-reasonable reforms”, so much as pointing out that the distinction is incoherent. I do not think there is any defensible difference from the religion’s point of view between Johnson’s claim to be served communion and my claim to be served communion despite not being Catholic. In my understanding, it’s not as though some cases are clear whereas other cases are borderline, so we might as well focus on the cases that are clear. It’s that I don’t see any dimension of “reasonableness” whatsoever, for reasons I’ve outlined above. If we recognize the moral claim to be served communion as a lesbian, we must also recognize the moral claim to be served communion as an atheist. They are equivalent (according to the rules of the Catholic game) so the first case is no more obvious to me than the second.

    Just to be clear, I have no qualm with the position that belonging to the Church, respectfully speaking, is morally wrong.
    As a moral evidentialist I think beliefs in things like transubstantiation are also morally harmful. So, if you are skeptical of my view that no one has a moral claim to participation in a religious ceremony, you might substitute my opinion that all of us are harmed by religious adherents who debase the common stock of reason by believing things without sufficient evidence. But these seem like two different questions to me.

  95. “Our values sometimes conflict, and I say that in this case the claim to associate is stronger than the claim to be associated with.”

  96. Nemo Says:

    Anne,

    For what it is worth, I have since seen mainstream press articles elaborating on the details of the mass that corroborate the bit in the original WaPo story that the priest left the altar at some point during a eulogy delivered by Johnson, but which supply the additional detail (oddly omitted by WaPo in that story) that he had returned to the altar by the time the eulogy was concluded. If that is the case, then the stuff that I and everyone else wrote about abandoning the mass seems moot now.

    One mildly interesting thing I learned from Googling this topic is that Catholic funerals aren’t supposed to have eulogies actually at the church building, though it’s common at Protestant funeral services. On the supposedly rare occasions when the priest consents to a funeral remembrance by a layperson, it’s done after the liturgy (so sometime after Communion) and is supposed to be extremely brief. Good to know, I guess.

    Bijan,

    I was going to take you up on your invitation to comment at your blog, but not possessing a WordPress, Twitter or Facebook account, I inferred from the instructions on your blog that I would be unable to leave comments. If there is some workaround, please let me know.

  97. Bijan Parsia Says:

    Hi Nemo,

    Sorry about that.

    I changed the setting so that registration and login are not required, but name and email are (I presume dummy email values are fine). If this still doesn’t work, please let me know and I’ll open them altogether.

  98. Bijan Parsia Says:

    Thanks for the follow up, synapseandsyntax. Interesting stuff.

    I agree with the first clause, but I still deny the second even though I think it would be nice if the Church treated its gay members better. I wonder whether you are appealing to something like a moral analogue of Newton’s third law: “in order for some moral agent’s actions to be bad, there must always be some other moral patient who is harmed by it”. But I deny this too, I think.

    The connection between the two clauses was something like “people have a moral claim against those who morally wrong them”. This doesn’t seem to require that any wrong involves a harm against someone (or even a “moral harm” against someone). But, I find it hard to see that shaming someone isn’t a wrong against them.

    I say this because I just don’t see how participation in a religious ceremony is something one can have a claim to.

    Legal claim, I grant. But why not a moral claim?

    For example, although it would be nice if the Druze community accepted me as a convert, they do not owe it to me. I am not injured by this refusal because acceptance was never due to me in the first place. The fact that the Druze discriminate according to one of the most arbitrary criteria possible (whether you happen to be born Druze or not) seems ethnocentric and bad, but one does not have a right to be included in other people’s religious rituals.

    I’m still not sure why there isn’t a moral claim (if perhaps not a right). Your example doesn’t quite work for me because I don’t think actual harm is as common for being non-Druze. There are cases, of course! My father is of Zoroastrian descent and my mom is not. Zoroastrians are less persnickity than the Parsees about inclusion (Parsees generally require both parents.) I got crap from relatives for being a half breed and the one Parsee I encountered was also, well, a jerk about it. Interfaith romantic relationships can be difficult, for example. But these are example of things religions (arguably) shouldn’t do. The religion should change or (moral) people should abandon or defy it.

    Whom we invite to our birthday parties has nought at all to do with any concern that I do justice to the partygoers and the uninvited, because there just isn’t any moral claim to be invited.

    Sometimes there is, isn’t there? The easy case is when I promise to do so, but I can implicitly promise, or set up a reasonable expectation to promise. I can exclude someone with the intent (and effect) of shaming them or hurting them. Some of these things may be failures of benevolence rather than justice, but I don’t see that they are always morally null. So I guess we do have somewhat different intuitions, but maybe they aren’t so very different. I agree that there is a wide range of permissible behavior and that some of it may be quite unpleasant without rising to being morally bad. Even when entering the morally bad, it might not rise up to a rights violation. But I do think that there are possible rights violations in those contexts and that a hierarchy of moral badnesses may generate a hierarchy of moral claims. The claims may not even extend directly or strongly against the baddoers. E.g., systematic lack of benevolence might require me to abandon that institution even if I’m not directly affected. More minimally, it might require that I’m supported and sympathetic to the wronged person and speak up for them.

    I’m not sure if this requires me to shift the claim. I think, for example, that the Catholic church is wrong to not allow women as priests. It makes to me sense to campaign against it on moral grounds. It makes sense, once they give in, to regard women who wanted to be priests before the ban to have some claim to apology and restitution. (I feel this is a bit stronger than participating in communion because priests have a lot of power and the denial of that or comparable power is a big deal.)

  99. Bijan Parsia Says:

    To abbreviate, it seems that the possible points of disagreement are whether this or that particular immoral act by some religion generates any specific claims (I agree that it’s very case by case; obvious case like a church which defrauds someone because they believe that that person is the devil’s friend and so defrauding them is obligatory doesn’t escape needing to return the money/jail time/what have you) and whether there are a variety of possible claims other than those supported by rights (I suspect you agree there).

    Does this sound right?

  100. annejjacobson Says:

    Bijan, I often find it helpful to substitute race for gender or sexual orientation in thinking about these issues. Do we think it is ok for a church to refuse communion to people of color? Can a church get away with barring people of color from serving in the highest positions of its clergy?

    Perhaps the church holds that dark skin color is the mark of Cain, and that it is abhorrent to defile the host, etc., etc. would that make it alright?

    These are rhetorical questions, and I gather we agree on these issues.

  101. Nemo Says:

    Bijan,

    Thanks, I will try again with the blog.

    As I’ve been reading your exchanges with synapseandsyntax over whether or not a particular act by some religion generates any specific claims and what those claims are, it’s gotten me thinking about one of the things that possibly is posing difficulty in settling this question. Take as an example Communion in Catholicism. It seems to me that the nature and extent of the claim would depend at least partly on a view of the nature of Communion and the goods are that are conferred by Communion. If we approach that from a nonreligious – or at least, in this case, a non-Catholic – perspective, we come (I think) to a view of those goods as being at best modest, perhaps nominal or even nonexistent. Yet approaching it otherwise seems to entail assenting to at least some theological propositions. And at that point, the matter of the basis on which we would justify assenting to some of them but not others in coming to a conclusion seems to me to become somewhat thorny.

  102. Nemo Says:

    Re #101, I’ve realized that s&s made very close to the same reflection at one point and probably better than I.

  103. Bijan Parsia Says:

    Nemo,

    Let me know if you’d like me to start a fresh post. It’s a bit convoluted now.

    I agree that there’s a dual issue of, on the one hand, lack of reality and, on the other, what claims do we have on certain sorts of associations (esp. when they are divorced from real goods). For example, usually, whatever suffering it might occasion, one is not required to love someone else. (Even, I’d argue, one’s children.) (Before we invoked voluntariness, let me shift it to people are generally not obliged to try to love someone.)

    But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any moral claims which generate claims in such circumstances. Santa Claus doesn’t exist, but we may have obligations with respect to various children not to disillusion them. We have certain obligations (probably pretty mild) with respect to various people’s religious beliefs, however kooky they may be. But then it’s easy to imagine that there might be moral claims which “cross into” those belief structures.

    Of course, we might want to be pretty careful about how we go about pursuing or supporting such claims (as synapseandsyntax points out). But urging caution in action (and humility in assessment) isn’t the same as claiming that there are no claims there. But it might be a minute difference in the end.

  104. xena Says:

    @S&S #94. That’s an interesting point. But it still ignores Anon Sr.’s repeated statements that the RC church receives public funding. Are you saying that instead of debating about how to make a publicly funded institution more inclusive, we should instead recognize it as the Boys’ Club it is, and focus on revoking its tax-exempt status, withdrawing its public funding, and forcing it to sink or swim on its own investment capital, like any other business that has the right to exclude people for such trivialties as not wearing a tie?

  105. xena,

    I don’t think I’ve ignored any such point. I believe I addressed this in my #84. I am saying that it would be best to remove tax, zoning and other legal distinctions between religious organizations and other non-profit entities, to the extent that they exist. In cases where the Church has “expanded” into public roles like social service provision, it has often been challenged over things like anti-discrimination statutes in hiring. I think such challenges are correct. But in general, I think the right thing to do is scrap religious distinctions categorically in public policy.

    I have never suggested that the attempts to make the Church more inclusive are wrong. As I said before, I think decent members of the Church should either leave or petition for change (in order of efficacy). What I specifically reject is the view that anyone has a claim to inclusion in anyone else’s religious ceremonies.

    As an aside, I am curious to know how you see the other alternatives in “mak[ing] a publicly funded institution more inclusive”. Surely you don’t think federal troops should escort Johnson down the aisle to receive her wafer?

  106. Bijan,

    Thanks again for the reply. Let me begin by attempting to clarify two points where I don’t think we disagree.

    Firstly, we are definitely of the same opinion that religious beliefs don’t excuse civil harms. People have very strong claims, for example, not to be assassinated by zealots.

    Secondly, I agree that in this particular instance, the situation was handled extremely ungracefully. Perhaps there was in this case a kind of reasonable expectation not to be denied communion at the altar as a matter of tact. (Even if the scenario is unambiguous as a matter of doctrine.) For example, one is not obliged to accept an invitation on a date, but one is perhaps mildly obliged as a personal courtesy not to shout “No I will not go out with you! You possess the following undesirable traits: [long, cruel list follows...]“. I guess there is a kind of claim not to have a scene made out of oneself unnecessarily. On the other hand, this too seems borderline because the nature of the scene has to do specifically with the religious ritual itself: rather than denying Johnson communion because her ears were too big or she had bad breath, the priest denied communion (in a very untactful way) over some perfectly morally neutral trait of Johnson’s that happens to violate the rules of the Catholic game.

    I was thinking about the general case, though. It seems to me like religious rituals, especially communion, embody beliefs pretty straightforwardly. When the priest gives you the wafer, he is in effect asserting “I believe that (1) this is the body of Jesus Christ, that (2) I am authorized to dispense it, and that (3) you are authorized to receive it.” If there is a claim to be given communion despite being a lesbian or an atheist, it seems we are saying that the priest is not only obligated not to believe what is entailed by (1-3), but is also positively obligated to believe some other theology.

    I can certainly agree that Catholics are obligated to treat non-Catholics equitably within civil society, but it seems very counter-intuitive to say: “I have a claim to your belief that I will go to heaven!”

  107. Anne,

    I do agree that it is also useful to think through cases of differential treatment by trying to mentally exchange one group for another, salva veritate. But I think you will find if you reread my comments here that I’ve never claimed it’s “ok” for churches to do things like these. I think it is wrong, and I think it would be better if they didn’t. What I specifically don’t endorse is the view that excluded groups have a moral claim to be included in religious rituals. (I say this as a member of a group excluded from the ritual in question.) It is perhaps not a very palatable conclusion, but all of the alternatives seem worse.

    Whether my position is correct or not remains to be seen– I am open to persuasion in my attempt to seek reflective equilibrium with all of my other intuitions about religion, private associations and civil society. But that is at least the position. I’ve tried to stake it out as cleanly as I can in order to present as broad a target as possible for objections, but I’m afraid I’m unmoved by criticisms of views I don’t hold.

  108. Nemo,

    Yes, your #101 is a fair abstract of what I think is the crux of the issue. I worry that I am being unclear, so I appreciate the summary.

  109. xena Says:

    S&S, if you re-read my comment, #77 above, you’ll see that I have no love for Patriarchal Monotheism, either. Personally, I think male gods are the sock puppets of a bunch of misogynistic control freaks. Frankly, I’m glad my gran’s Catholic relatives disowned her for marrying a Protestant. I could have grown up like one of the characters in The Crying Game. Instead, I had a cozy non-religious childhood on this side of the pond.

    Personally, I would not have done what Ms. Johnson did, not even for my dead mother. But we’re not talking about me. We’re talking about creating guidelines that work for most people, with a few little loopholes to allow for special emergencies like this one. Who needs troops to accomplish that? You wouldn’t be from my gran’s corner of the world, would you?

  110. xena,

    I know we’re of a similar mind about the Magical Man Who Lives In The Sky. (Although I personally see no reason to carve out exemptions for female gods; the work of the Thuggee in service of Kali comes to mind.)

    I just don’t understand what you mean by “creating guidelines”. Who are the guidelines for, and how do you see them binding, if at all? When you write “debating about how to make a publicly funded institution more inclusive”, what did you have in mind? My interpretation of that is roughly this: ‘since the Church is publicly funded, it makes sense for the state to exert some influence over the celebration of Mass’. In point of fact, the Church is not publicly funded (at least in the US, although it does enjoy certain tax advantages there), but it seems much more sensible to just start treating churches like any other non-profit than to get the state involved in theology.

    Perhaps I have mistaken your point?

  111. annejjacobson Says:

    Wow. Sometimes it feels as though neglected and even denigrated or dispised perspectives are finally getting attention. This might be a case for standpoint epistemology.

  112. xena Says:

    S&S, between getting sidetracked by RL responsibilities, and wanting to put some careful thought and research into this question, I took a little longer than I wanted to answer it.

    The state has already interfered in church business to correct a much worse rights infringement than freedom of religion. Bob Jones University lost its tax-exempt status back in the 70s for its racist policies. Check it on wiki.

    Is that what should be done to this church for its discrimination against this lady? Possibly, but maybe not right now. There is plenty of evidence proving that homosexuality and transgender are biologically determined, like skin and hair colour. Americans, even many of the more progressive religious Americans are able to accept this as fact. I believe it won’t be long before enough Americans accept this fact, that they will be able to design legislation that protects LGBT people from discrimination, even in church. I look forward to that day.

  113. synapseandsyntax Says:

    BJU was acting as a place of public accommodation by exchanging degrees (a secular good) for money. The Church offers you communion, which is either (a) the body of Christ if you believe the Church, or (b) an unpalatable wafer if you don’t. The putative benefit is entirely theological, which is why I think it makes no sense to speak of a moral claim to be included.

    There is definitely a biological component to homosexuality and gender variance, but those questions have nothing to do with ethics (and it is not correct to say that they are “biologically determined”, either. The heritability of sexual orientation is about 50%, which is no slam dunk for nature or nurture).

    But we already know of plenty of churches that discriminate on the basis of 100% biological criteria, like being female. I think it is wrong to do that, but I also think it’s wrong to legislate church membership. I’ve explained and defended this view at length and am loathe to do it again until someone presents an actual argument against it.

  114. xena Says:

    Huh? I didn’t mean that gay-ness is inherited from one’s parents. I meant that gay is not a choice. The exact hormonal and genital formation is too complicated to google right now to justify my position, so I hope we’re in agreement about the lack of choice involved for gays, lesbians and trans people.

    Wouldn’t it be great if these harmful and discriminatory church practices would just fall out of fashion, like this possibly not-so-harmful but slightly unsanitary and rather distasteful practice?

    http://motomom.tripod.com/index-3.html

  115. xena Says:

    A BJU degree in Xtian Science is hardly a secular good, imo. And I disagree with that 50%. For gays and lesbians, their sexual orientation is rarely a choice. For transgendered people, it never is. I’d have to google to refresh my memory on the hormonal and genital formation to justify my position on that, and I’m as tired as you are of justifying your position on legislating inclusive practices in the church. So let’s agree to disagree on that one.

    Wouldn’t it be great if these harmful discriminatory practices just fell out of fashion like this possibly not-so-harmful but likely unsanitary and rather distasteful practice?

    http://motomom.tripod.com/index-3.html

  116. xena Says:

    Are comments closed on this thread, or am I on Moderation Probation again?

  117. xena Says:

    Slam dunk? That’s an expression JW Loftus and his former apologists use to defend their rhetorical style. You couldn’t possibly have followed me here from his site, now, could you S&S?

  118. synapseandsyntax Says:

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but the answer is no. A “slam dunk” means “an overwhelmingly convincing case”. Its usage is germane in what I wrote.

    This now the second time that you’ve responded to me by picking at the minutiae of my vocabulary and making guilt-by-association innuendoes instead of substantively engaging anything I’ve written. It’s been baffling to me both times. It verges on trolling, and I wish you wouldn’t do it.

  119. annejjacobson Says:

    Xena, in this and other treads you have engaged in tactics that fail to conform to our ‘be nice’ rule. Other commentors find themselves the targets of your bullying. You need to respect boundaries. Rage, scorn and personnel innuendoes have no place on this site.

  120. swallerstein Says:

    Xena:

    Can I give you a coaching tip?

    Your tendency to get aggressive in your arguments weakens the force of your reasoning. People focus on your rage and not on your arguments: I think that our brains are set up so that we tend to notice strong emotions like anger and overlook
    fine logic, if the two are present at the same time.

    Now, I’m not accusing anyone of this, but you should know that good arguers (my father was one) will intentionally try to get you to blow it, to lose your calm or your center; they will prod and provoke you so that they can show the spectators: look, she is……..

    Watch out for that.

  121. xena Says:

    Actually, I was dismayed by the disappearance of what I thought was a perfectly reasonable comment. I posted it twice before I asked about it in #115. I gave up and decided to respond with cheek. I’m not all that concerned about it now. I mean, it’s only a blog.

    Thanks for the tip, SW. I didn’t realize I came across as angry. I could show you the way I communicate on more relaxed sites where I feel like I’m among my own people. The cussing and the sarcasm are really kinda funny. I thought I was doing ok with being my own manners police for this more upscale site. Apparently not.

    I’m fine with stepping off if the moderators don’t feel I belong here.


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