It never ceases to amaze me how readily some opponents of Roman Catholic stands on moral issues resort to smears and lies. That practice is again on display in the “On Faith” column in the Washington Post. The question of the week has to do with the response of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington to cut its social welfare ties to the District of Columbia after the City Council pushed through gay marriage: “If a church or other religious organization receives government funding, should it follow all government rules, including those against discrimination based on sexual orientation? Or should government exempt such organizations from requirements that violate particular religious beliefs?”

Now you can argue either side of these questions (the panel, which includes two secularists, five far-left Protestants, a Mormon and N.T. Wright of the Church of England, is heavily weighted toward the strict separationist approach), but what caught my eye was the way one of the secularists, secularist Paula Kirby of Scotland, went about doing so. Following a paean to democracy, she unloads:

For the Roman Catholic Church this kind of democracy is not enough. For them, nothing short of theocracy will do. God has spoken (or is it the Pope? So hard to tell the difference!) We must obey! Not for Roman Catholics the free trade of debate in the marketplace of ideas. Not for them the tedium of persuasion, the tiresomeness of having to actually engage with opposing arguments. No, religion demands a special voice! An extra voice! No, not even that: the ONLY voice! In matters on which Roman Catholicism considers itself an authority, its aim is to wield that authority with absolute power. Never mind that public attitudes to gay rights have been transformed in the last few decades. Never mind that the leaders implementing legislation to enshrine those rights in law have been democratically elected. Never mind that every shred of decency and common sense tells us that loving, stable relationships are good and healthy regardless of the sexual orientation involved. No – the church simply decrees that homosexuality is wrong, and expects our democratically elected governments to drop to their knees in blind obedience and submission.

Kirby is apparently writing from a parallel universe where neither the Reformation nor Vatican II took place, and where lying is an acceptable way of winning an argument. Let’s take this apart piece by piece:

For the Roman Catholic Church this kind of democracy is not enough. For them, nothing short of theocracy will do.

In Kirby’s universe, Vatican II didn’t pass the Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae), and Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have not spoken out repeatedly about democracy and human rights. In Kirby’s universe, it is still 1077, Henry IV is still kneeling in the snow outside Canossa begging Pope Gregory VII to lift his excommunication. To say that the Roman Catholic Church used to hold views on church-state relations that could be called “theocratic” is a caricature. To say that is does now is a calumny.

God has spoken (or is it the Pope? So hard to tell the difference!) We must obey!

Catholic argument with regard to homosexuality, like its positions on abortion, are not based in revelation, but natural law. Rome would say, rightly or wrongly, that its position reflect what nature tells a rational person about right and wrong. Kirby, of course, isn’t interested in debating an actual argument, but in smearing an institution with which she disagrees, so she doesn’t bother to make an argument of her own.

Not for Roman Catholics the free trade of debate in the marketplace of ideas. Not for them the tedium of persuasion, the tiresomeness of having to actually engage with opposing arguments.

And in Kirby’s universe, when one doesn’t feel like coming to grips with an opponent’s argument, one simply projects. Various Catholic leaders and theologians have been doing the “tedious” job of persuasion for years on the subject of gay marriage and homosexuality in general, but Kirby disagrees with the conclusions, so that proves that they haven’t been “engaging.” I suspect that, if Kirby isn’t simply lying, it’s because she never reads anything on this subject with which she disagrees, so that she can in all innocence claim that her opponents aren’t engaged in the debate–after all, she’s never seen anything from them!

No, religion demands a special voice! An extra voice! No, not even that: the ONLY voice!

In Kirby’s universe, the printing press was never invented, television and radio are a fantasy, the Internet nothing more than a glimmer in Al Gore’s mind. There is no source of information other than those controlled by the evil Romans–or at least there wouldn’t be, if brave souls such as Paula Kirby didn’t take to the pages of the Washington Post to provide notes from the underground, as it were.

In matters on which Roman Catholicism considers itself an authority, its aim is to wield that authority with absolute power.

Translation: the Catholic Church holds a position that Kirby disagrees with, and which it would like to see enacted into law, just like Kirby, the difference being that only Kirby and those who think like her are allowed to win the debate. Any other result is totalitarian by definition.

Never mind that public attitudes to gay rights have been transformed in the last few decades.

That is certainly true. Public opinion, which used to be overwhelmingly against putting any form of public imprimatur on homosexual behavior, is not split roughly down the middle (a majority are against gay marriage in almost every state, though the margins between approval and disapproval are smaller than they used to be in most places). That means, in Kirby’s mind, that it is now time for complete and total capitulation on the part of anyone who hold a view contrary to her’s. Anything else is an undemocratic power grab.

Never mind that the leaders implementing legislation to enshrine those rights in law have been democratically elected.

This is certainly true, and an improvement over the efforts of courts in Massachusetts, California, Iowa, and others to impose it by judicial fiat. For the Catholic Church, however, right and wrong is not determined by majority vote. Public policy may be made that way, but that isn’t going to stop Catholic efforts to persuade (not force) the citizenry to embrace the morality taught by the natural law. Nor should it.

Never mind that every shred of decency and common sense tells us that loving, stable relationships are good and healthy regardless of the sexual orientation involved.

This isn’t an argument, it’s a solipsistic assertion–apparently, in Kirby’s universe, she is the arbiter of decency and common sense, and the collective wisdom of the centuries, or even the present-day opinions of the bulk of the world’s people, are of no account.

No – the church simply decrees that homosexuality is wrong, and expects our democratically elected governments to drop to their knees in blind obedience and submission.

Another example of lying, whether in willful ignorance or deliberate deceit. The Catholic Church didn’t “simply decree” that “homosexuality” is wrong (for the record, it says that homosexual behavior is sinful, homosexual desires are not, and homosexual orientation intrinsically disordered, but not sinful in and of itself)–it simply holds to what it sees as the teaching of natural law, as well as Scripture, on the subject. Nor does any even semi-official advocate for the Catholic position, to my knowledge, make anything like a demand for “blind obedience and submission.” The Catholic Church, through its leaders, theologians and many laypeople, is an active voice in the public debate on an issue that it considers to be of great moral, cultural, and legal importance, and is seeking through rational argument (unlike the Kirbys of the world) to persuade people that the position it takes is the right one.

But that’s in our universe.

UPDATE: In the ultimate compliment, Paula Kirby herself responds to me at RichardDawkins.net. For your edification, here is the entire reply:

How lovely: I’ve always fancied space travel –

She then elicits this extraordinarily insightful reply from”jel“:

What a nonsense response. He argues in circles. What a pity he doesn’t disappear up his own arse!

RichardDawkins.net: There be intellectual giants there.

UPDATE: Another genius heard from:

From Paula’s link:

The Catholic Church didn’t “simply decree” that “homosexuality” is wrong (for the record, it says that homosexual behavior is sinful, homosexual desires are not, and homosexual orientation intrinsically disordered, but not sinful in and of itself)–it simply holds to what it sees as the teaching of natural law, as well as Scripture, on the subject .Eliminate the parentheses, and here is what’s left from this Dorkus McCorkus:

The CC didn’t say homosexuality is wrong; it’s just holding to Scripture: If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death.

So…if you can’t actually come to grips with your opponent’s argument, re-write it, leave out the hard parts, and substitute some of your own! (Oh, and don’t forget to name-call like a five-year-old.)