It's hard to get worked over hompohiba. Defending the people who want to discriminate against homosexuals, I mean. (I consider myself a LGBT ally, in my own little way, and I can get quite obsessed with stories of LGBT discrimination. I really was excited when Illinois passed their civil unions law, and the bodega owner down the block can testify that I sometimes swear at the newspaper rack when the Daily Mail talks about how my state's own stalled drive for civil unions. Also, I'm no great supporter of the RCC, for all that I attend a Jesuit school and quite like the clergy I know there. Jesuits rock, often enough, in my experience, but the RCC as a general institution? After all the scandals I personally think you'd have to be pretty thoroughly brainwashed not to apply a healthy dose of skepticism to that particular church. (Or Christianity in general; the rest of us aren't the city on the hill we once strove for, either.) So it's not like I don't think a religious, much less Catholic, group can do any wrong.
That raises the more interesting question of why I cared so much to begin with. I could point to some personal factors. kneejerk reaction to reading too much Christopher Hitchens lately. Several blog posts and newspaper editorials on unrelated topics that trash Southerners as hicks, and my obstinacy making itself known through defending the other institution from my childhood, the Christian church. Or it might be much simpler: I'm grieving someone who was very involved in charities not unlike Catholic Charities, and so I feel a great drive to defend an organization that reminds me of good memories. All of that is true, and it explains a lot. But it's still not the whole truth. There's an actual idea that's giving me pause, not just the confluence of personal situations, and that seems worth digging into a bit.
I don't know enough about this particular case to make a judgment on whether the CC acted rightly or not, first impulses aside. But there's an idea that really troubled me, and that case touched on it. I've noticed a growing push toward what I call in my head "radical secularism": the idea that if you're religious you can't act based on your particularly religious values you're interacting with non-religious folk. Put more simply, I'm talking about what my dad always called freedom from religion vs. freedom of religion. To a religious person, this sounds like, if you're religious you might as well stay home. (Or leave an important part of you home.)
There are two things about that kind of claim that send shivers down my spine. The first – probably the most troubling – is I feel really, really bad for the kid living in one of those pockets where a certain religious subculture rules the day. If you tell people that who they are isn't welcome in society at large, then they will set up their own society. And you get kind of a siege mentality going, where there's no contact with the "outside" and people that are drawn to it, there's something wrong with that. If you force people too far and they withdraw into their own little subculture, it can be really hard on those already in the subculture. (The Chosen by Chaim Potok has a great treatment of just how poisonous this whole dynamic can be.) For the sake of people stuck on the inside, I think you need to draw people out of their little corners as much as you can. That means welcoming them for who they are, exposing them to different sorts of people, and letting them come around bit by bit when they're ready.
The other thing is with society at large. Many people say that Catholic Charities should still be allowed to do what they do, but if they can't accept government regulations they should have to do it at their own cost. That assumes that the government is some sort of distinct body from the people it represents. It's not that simple. In this case those contracts the Catholic Charities are being told to opt out of if they don't change their position on homosexual foster-parents are paid for from tax monies – monies taken in part from Catholics. If I were involved in CC I would probably ask why I was expected to pay twice (first for taxes and then for donations. The obvious answer would I think be to say we need less government contracts, less taxes collected, and more work done through the private charities who can set their own agenda as they see fit. The problem with that (well, two of them; I have several) is first, that people just don't give willingly like they would if compelled through taxes. And second, as I said charities are very good at meeting very specific needs but not so good on the big-picture and making sure that there's a uniformity of service. They are myopic by their very nature. Government projects can take a longer view.
What's the answer? I honestly don't know. I definitely think you can go too far toward accommodating religious beliefs, especially the damaging kind. And I could go on and on about how I hate this view on families and all the facts that our into it: latent sexism, gender essentialism, and just generally a rather twisted view on what makes a good parent. But I also believe – very strongly – that forcing a certain group underground isn't going to do anything but hide the problem. The answer is to expose people to different ways of viewing the world, encourage critical thought and dialogue. That doesn't happen when people think that who they are isn't really welcome.
Maybe the current situation in Illinois doesn't go far enough down this road to make it clear what was bothering me. I wish I could just be disgusted by this choosing homophobia over helping children in need. I am disgusted, but not just disgusted. I guess in a lot of the talk about this issue I saw a drive to ghettoize religious groups. And something about that struck me as really dangerous. It seems like a much better solution would be to let different groups come together where they have common ground (helping get homes for abused/neglected children), and where people don't agree, don't try to homogenize people too much.
But maybe I'm wrong about that. As I said, I don't know the answer. I just know there's something about this drive to separate groups off that freaks me out a bit. :-S