A few days into the Boy Scout policy controversy
by Dr. Edward Peters
Despite appearing over a holiday weekend, my post on the Boy Scouts of America has garnered thousands of views and generated many comments, pro and con, on the web or sent to me personally. Most comments are positive, which is nice but, for all I know, folks who agree with me are more likely to say so than are folks who disagree. Or maybe not.
Folks who disagree with me typically start off by saying “I agree with Peters on the ‘law’ or on the ‘principles’, but . . .” These folks should stop and reflect on what they are saying. Agreement with Peters on ‘the law or the principles’ is agreement with Peters, period, for I make no claims beyond those directly consequent to the law or principles. May I suggest that critics read with the same precision with which I try to write?
Anyway, those who disagree with me almost always make one, sometimes two, points but they make them in so many different ways that I simply cannot respond to each individual and point out how. Either they (1) assert a criterion for membership in the Boy Scouts that the Church herself does not observe and, I suggest, would not expect others to observe, or (2) they predict disaster for the Boy Scouts based on predictions about possible (maybe even probable, for all I know) future developments, something I expressly refrained from doing because the only question before us, today, is the text of the policy.
A few other points have come up with some frequency:
How can a gay boy keep himself “morally straight”? First, of course, the BSA term “straight” far pre-dates the sexual connotation it has taken on in the last generation. But to answer the question, he can do so the same way every other single male can keep himself morally straight, namely, by adhering to the norms for behavior expressly set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and repeated throughout BSA literature, i.e., by acting chastely.
There’s going to pressure to admit gay men as Scout leaders. Notice, we’re not talking about the youth membership policy anymore. Notice, we are making predictions about future developments. That noted, there is already pressure to admit gay men as Scout leaders, and the BSA has rightly resisted that pressure before in rather the same way that the Church admits as members people who experience/identify as homosexual, but she does not admit them to formation to Orders.
Now atheists will have to be admitted to the Boy Scouts. Really? Why? Scouting, a free association of private persons, makes reverence toward God an express membership requirement. An atheist youth might be a perfectly pleasant fellow, but he cannot make a profession of reverence toward God, so he can’t join a group requiring reverence to God. How people can think the revised BSA membership policy opens the door to atheists escapes me: Scouting does not make “heterosexuality-ness” a requirement of membership (any more, by the way, than does any other major youth formation program I’ve googled over the weekend, including those who claim to teach important values for use in life); what the BSA does do, in contrast to every other youth formation program I’ve looked at recently, is expressly reject non-marital sexual activity. The BSA is strikingly counter-cultural in that regard! One would not know that to judge from some of the condemnations heaped on it in recent days.
In the film A Man for All Seasons (1966), Margaret confronts her father Thomas More with news of an oath going thru Parliament. When Sir Thomas asks what are the terms of the oath, Meg blurts out “Who cares what the words are, we know what it will mean!” More’s reply is vital: “An oath is made of words. It will mean what the words say it means.” Well, a membership policy is made of words, and it means what the words say it means.
“No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
Now, if the words of the BSA policy are unsound (as were the words of the oath More was confronted with) a Catholic may not cooperate with it; even if the BSA policy is sound, but is later abandoned in principle or in practice, Catholics must cease their cooperation. But if the words of the BSA policy are sound, as I argue they are, and if it has not been abandoned, as it obviously has not been, Catholics may well cooperate with the BSA, and some Catholic critics of the BSA should temper their remarks lest they unjustly harm the BSA or lead others into doing so.
Dr. Edward Peters | May 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: http://wp.me/p25nov-CD
Former solicitor general Robert Bork, whose bruising 1987 confirmation fight for a seat on the Supreme Court entered the verb “bork” into the American political lexicon, died Wednesday. He was 85. A notoriously cranky and conservative jurist, Bork was a stalwart “originalist” who argued that American freedom, prosperity, and morality were under siege by liberalism.
It was a thesis Bork bluntly explicated in his bestselling 1996 book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, an angry jeremiad cataloguing the supposed moral collapse of the United States. A once great country, he argued, had come under assault by feminists, multiculturalists, gay- rights activists, the professoriate, libertarians, and liberals. The New York Times called it an “an ugly and intemperate book”; Christian conservative leader Ralph Reed praised it as “a must-read for anyone concerned about the state of American society at the close of the twentieth century.” And it sold by the pallet load.
A younger generation of conservatives, wary of a waging an endless culture war, moved away from Bork-style rhetoric. In 1999, then-Gov. George W. Bush told a gathering at the Manhattan Institute that the Republican Party required a certain degree of modernization to compete in the 21st century, taking a not-so-veiled dig at Bork: “Too often on social issues my party has painted an image of America slouching towards Gomorrah.”
Rereading Slouching Towards Gomorrah, it’s rather apparent why Bush, then preparing a run for the presidency, bristled at Bork’s almost cartoonishly reactionary politics.
1. Bork made the ‘case for censorship’ to ‘avoid social devastation.’
Bork had a seething contempt for unfettered speech rights. Like Irving Kristol before him, he advocated targeted censorship in hopes of straightening America’s slouch: “Sooner or later censorship is going to have to be considered as popular culture continues to plunge to ever more sickening lows.” If America didn’t limit speech, he argued, it would surely speed the end of Western civilization: “There is, of course, more to the case for censorship than the need to preserve a viable democracy. We need also to avoid the social devastation wrought by pornography and endless incitements to murder and mayhem.” Indeed, the Founding Fathers, Bork claimed, would be appalled by what modern culture had wrought: “Any serious attempt to root out the worst in our popular culture may be doomed unless the judiciary comes to understand that the First Amendment was adopted for good reasons, and those reasons did not include the furtherance of radical personal autonomy.”
Bork underscored that he was, indeed, advocating the censoring of films, pornographic “prose” and images, and the still-new Internet: “I am suggesting that censorship be considered for the most violent and sexually explicit material now on offer, starting with the obscene prose and pictures available on the Internet, motion pictures that are mere rhapsodies to violence, and the more degenerate lyrics of rap music [Ed: emphasis in original].”
2. Bork attacked multiculturalism and the focus on ‘allegedly’ oppressed minorities.
Like many of his contemporaries, Bork railed against the prevailing doctrines of multiculturalism, arguing that American universities were captive to a broad ideology of anti-Americanism and corrosive identity politics. He objected to the academic focus on groups who “allegedly”—his word—suffered from institutionalized discrimination: “Courses are not offered on the cultures of China or India or Brazil or Nigeria, nor does the curriculum require the study of languages without which foreign cultures cannot be fully understood. Instead the focus is on groups that, allegedly, have been subjected to oppression by American and Western civilization—homosexuals, American Indians, blacks, Hispanics, women, and so on.”
3. Bork argued for maintaining the social ‘taint’ on homosexuality.
Bork thundered against gay marriage and the “normalization” of homosexuality: “If all traces of taint are removed, if homosexuality is made to seem completely normal, a matter of indifference to anyone else or to society, young men and women uncertain of their sexuality will be that much more likely to be drawn into a homosexual life.”
4. Bork saw libertarianism as a ‘virus.’
While a proponent of limited government, Bork nevertheless believed that the “virus” of libertarianism—which he saw as indistinguishable from libertinism—had infected too many supporters of classical liberal economics: “Free market economists are particularly vulnerable to the libertarian virus. They know that free economic exchanges usually benefit both parties to them. But they mistake that general rule for a universal rule. Benefits do not invariably result from free market exchanges. When it comes to pornography or addictive drugs, libertarians all too often confuse the idea that markets should be free with the idea that everything should be available on the market.”
Libertarians concerned with personal choice, Bork said, should be worried about the effect of those choices on the collective: “To complaints about those products being on the market, libertarians respond with something like ‘Just hit the remote control and change channels on your TV set.’ But, like the person who chooses not to run a smelter while others do, you, your family, and your neighbors will be affected by the people who do not change the channel, who do rent the pornographic videos, who do read alt.sex.stories.”
5. Bork thought a hedonistic culture would foster anemic economic growth.
Indeed, Bork’s moralism infused all of his thinking. Slouching Towards Gomorrah maintains that if a society’s moral health is compromised, so too will its economic health: “Improbable as it may seem, science and technology themselves are increasingly under attack, and it seems highly unlikely that a vigorous economy can be sustained in an enfeebled, hedonistic culture, particularly when that culture distorts incentives by increasingly rejecting personal achievement as the criterion for the distribution of rewards.”
6. Bork said modern liberals have to use devious lies to get elected.
Many of those who voted for President Clinton, Bork averred, did so because they were rooked by devious liberal lies. Unwittingly cribbing from Friedrich Engels, he argued that right-leaning Americans were frequently overwhelmed by “false consciousness,” voting for policies they didn’t want and underwriting universities they would hold in contempt—if they only knew the truth: “Modern liberals, being in charge of the institutions they once attacked, have no need to break heads and only an occasional need to break laws. They do, however, have a need to lie, and do so abundantly, since many Americans would not like their actual agenda.”
7. Bork argued that women in the military will lead to more lives—and battles—lost.
Slouching Towards Gomorrah was released not long after the Tailhook sexual harassment scandal, and around the same time as the integration of women into military schools like the Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute, by court order. Bork, unsurprisingly, opposed the rulings and stood squarely against female participation in combat units. “What has happened to education at all levels is paralleled by the ongoing feminization of the military. Because of the political strength of the feminist movement, women are assigned jobs close to combat and, in some cases, placed in combat roles. The result is certain to be additional lost lives—of men as well as women and perhaps lost battles.”
8. Bork wanted to amend the Constitution to fight activist judges.
Bork advocated amending the Constitution to allow a congressional supermajority to overturn Supreme Court decisions: “To the contrary, it is now clear that it is the courts that threaten our liberty—the liberty to govern ourselves—more profoundly than does any legislature.”