Thursday, June 28, 2012

apostasy and moral cowardice

"Apostasy" is one of those words I tend to bandy about as a child might swing a sparkler after dark. Its spitting brightness may be appropriate, but it's a bit showy as well. And I am wary of too much showiness and too little substance: Sparklers invariably go out.

An internet definition of "apostasy" goes like this:
--  the act of abandoning a party or cause
--  the state of having rejected your religious beliefs or your political party or a cause (often in favor of opposing beliefs or causes)
But the word, if I am not mistaken, carries with it the horror and disdain of the belief system from which the apostate man or woman has separated him- or herself. So apostasy (like atheism) still asserts that which it has come to disdain or disagree with.

I was thinking about this in terms of the Roman Catholic priest sexual abuses arena, a heinous and vile arena which critics like me can be all too facile about when they see it as an apostasy within the self-appointed virtues of Roman Catholicism itself. It is easy to intone: This is hypocrisy: For an institution and belief system that posits kindness of the highest order to condone such abuses must surely qualify as some sort of apostasy. Even Roman Catholics will sometimes grant the point ... even as others scramble to save and preserve the goodness of the church.

So perhaps the sex abuse scandal qualifies as an apostasy within the realms of the church, an apostasy which some honest church men are willing to concede.

But I think such concessions constitute moral cowardice when all is said and done.

I think this because the apostasy of priest sexual abuse demands a wider eye -- one that goes beyond the Roman Catholic Church itself. It is not enough that quite specific crimes within a quite specific venue should be pointed out. That is as far as some are willing to travel -- point a finger at religion or a church and wail volubly... and thus reassert the value and importance of the church itself. On the one hand, it is appropriate to remain on message and give a specific context. But on the other ...

It constitutes moral cowardice.

Why? Because the crimes within the context of the church are not just crimes within that context. They are crimes against the very humanity that gave birth and substance to the church in the first place. Religion, in one sense, has nothing to do with these crimes. Religion is just the fins on the car. Religion is a side issue, and a pretty inconsequential one at that.

The bedrock of the situation is humanity ... nothing sexy or elevated or profound, just humanity. Priest sexual abuse and the efforts to camouflage and hence condone it are not something that requires a church in order to prove its apostasy. A visceral humanity revolts at the idea of grown men manipulating and using children for their own pleasure. And the revulsion extends to the excuses that condone such pleasures. The word "obscene" does not even enter: The gorge rises and the protective muscles flex without any help from words like "obscene" or "apostasy." The reaction is as sure as the finger quickly withdrawn from a burning candle ... instinctive, protective, fearful, assured.

The current flurry of sex abuse revelations will probably have to play out a bit further as examples of Roman Catholic depredation. More trials. More convictions. More news reporting on the apostasies of a particular spiritual persuasion. Let the evidence mount and then ...

If we do not want to be labeled as moral cowards ...

Let the International Court of Justice at the Hague hear the whole matter as what it is -- a crime against humanity. My humanity and yours, irrespective of religious persuasion. That court, assuming enough evidence is marshaled to warrant some trial in the future, will not solve anything. It will not salve the ancient and remaining wounds. It may not even reform those institutions whose depredations are most obvious. But it has the capacity to remind all who will listen that there is something to be said for humanity and that saying it reminds us all of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature."

Moral cowardice and easy apostasy be damned!

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