Weariness and Current Events

Paul Zummo - Bottum


Upon completing Joseph Bottum\’s now notorious essay in Commonweal, several dozen snarky thoughts crossed my mind, some of which I shared elsewhere. But honestly I don\’t feel like being snarky because Bottum\’s seemingly bottomless (sorry, couldn\’t resist) piece makes me more sad than anything else.

In one sense I share Bottum\’s weariness. It\’s a weariness born of reading essays such as his, and I\’m not referring to the length. It\’s the weariness of one who looks on in exasperated helplessness as yet another person waves the white flag of surrender, all the while employing the flimsiest logic to defend this preemptive surrender. It\’s a weariness that comes from acknowledging that it certainly seems like part of the essay is rooted in truth – the inevitability of same sex marriage being recognized throughout the United States – even though Bottum\’s cowardice is partly responsible for that inevitability.

Most importantly, it\’s weariness from reading someone employ the most contorted of reasoning to justify one\’s position.

Bottum basically argues that that the Catholic Church needs to stop fighting same sex marriage because it is weakening their ability to fight more urgent battles. Bottum\’s naivete is breathtaking. He seems to be under the impression that all those forces who so virulently oppose the Church will soften their stance against the Church. Moreover, not only will they soften their views, they will pretty much rally around the Church once she says \”No Mas!\” Yes, Andrew Sullivan will suddenly stop being such a prickly dissenter once the Church looks the other way on this one issue. Right.

It strikes me as rather bizarre to think that people who seem to relish in bashing the Church at every corner will suddenly slacken in their resolve once they\’ve managed to get her to capitulate on something as important as marriage. Bullies don\’t tend to back down when they sense weakness in their opponents.

Bottum\’s naivete is most clearly highlighted by this paragraph:

But how can we not take same-sex marriage advocates at their word, accepting that they really seek the marriages they say they desire? For that matter, I still believe in the general resilience and common sense of America, which will halt those who wish to hijack the movement. Christians are sometimes called to martyrdom: “The sacrifices you want to make aren’t always the only sacrifices God wants,” as the interesting lesbian Catholic commentator Eve Tushnet once observed here in Commonweal (“Homosexuality & the Church,” June 11, 2007). But I just don’t think that same-sex marriage is going to be the excuse America uses to go after its Catholic citizens.

Of course not. Just don\’t tell that to Elaine Huguenin.

Bottum disregards the anxieties of same sex marriage opponents even as we witness the current administration trample on religious freedom through the contraception mandate, and even as we witness more and more societal shunning of those who don\’t hold politically acceptable views with regards to homosexuality. But hey, at least Bottum has confidence in the common sense of Americans.

Admittedly I\’ve felt at times like Bottum. Let\’s just give up now and move on to more pressing issues, I\’ve reasoned. But that\’s simply an untenable position in light of the reality of what will unfold if same sex marriage manages to become entrenched throughout the country. Bottum\’s inability to see this, or at least his casual dismissal of these concerns, might be the saddest part of a pretty sad essay.

Furthermore, there\’s something thoroughly un-Catholic in Bottum\’s white flag approach. I\’m not just talking about the failure to defend and uphold Church teaching with regards to marriage. No, we have a faith that is rooted in the cross. Jesus, the ultimate sign of contradiction, gave up his ghost in the ultimate sacrifice to redeem mankind. Martyrs have spilled their blood to defend the faith in the centuries since then. Jesus told us that his teachings are hard, and that those who follow him would be shunned. Yet Bottum preaches the Gospel of \”please don\’t hate me.\”

Yet I sense that despite ostensibly writing from a Catholic perspective in a Catholic publication, Bottum\’s main concern is not really with the Catholic Church. No one with a passing familiarity with Church history could seriously claim that this is the thing that will make her lose legitimacy or blunt the import of her overall message. No, this is ultimately nothing more than Bottum\’s attempt to salvage (in his mind) the Republican party and move the debate along because he thinks it is damaging to his political party.


Since Bottum\’s piece is deeply personal, I should share something of a personal anecdote. Back when the same sex marriage debate swung into full focus around 2003, I was at least sympathetic to if not supportive of same sex marriage. Among the reasons why my opinion changed was due to the paucity of well-reasoned arguments on behalf of same sex marriage. It seemed that most arguments on behalf of same sex marriage, even conservative ones, were based on raw emotionalism. What\’s so funny about Bottum\’s essay is that he implies that the weight of the logical arguments support same sex marriage. Yet in a 9,000 word essay in which he talks of everything save for what he ate for breakfast the day he penned this article, Bottum offers up a specious, emotion-based argument, not necessarily in support of same sex marriage, but for surrender on the issue. Ten years later and the best argument out there, at least from the conservative Catholic side, is \”let\’s give up so they\’ll like us.\” I\’d laugh if it didn\’t make me cry.

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13 thoughts on “Weariness and Current Events”

  1. Pingback: Throwing in the towel is the one tradition American conservatives will always support | Zippy Catholic

  2. Pingback: Paul Zummo takes down Bottum’s “Against the power of Mordor, there can be no victory” essay. | romish internet graffiti

  3. “Of course not. Just don’t tell that to Elaine Huguenin.”

    Or Lisa and Isabella Miller. It’s not just Catholics being crushed under the treads of the homosexual panzerkampfwagen, but anyone upholding traditional marriage.

    Another commenter put it well: where Bottum says:

    “I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.”

    that we’ve heard this somewhere before:

    “I believe English Catholics should accept the King’s divorce simply because they are Englishmen.”

    P.S. The link under Elaine Huguenin goes to Bottum’s Commonweal entry, which I don’t think you intended.

  4. Donald R. McClarey

    “But I just don’t think that same-sex marriage is going to be the excuse America uses to go after its Catholic citizens.”
    Hilarious since Illinois has put the Church out of adoption by mandating that the Church must grant gay couples the same adoption rights as husbands and wives. Hundreds of other examples could be brought to mind. The Gay Agenda and Catholicism are incompatible, and the message of the Gay advocates within the Democrat party is that the Church will submit or be driven from the Public Square. That Bottum does not acknowledge this speaks volumes either about his intelligence or his intellectual honesty.

  5. “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.”
    ~ Genesis 5:2 (RSV-Catholic Edition)

    What are these “more urgent battles” of which Bottum speaks? If Blessed John Paul II was correct that the marital family – male and female bringing forth new life – is a reflection of the image of the Trinitarian God, I can’t imagine what could POSSIBLY be a “more urgent battle” for Catholics to fight.

  6. “No, this is ultimately nothing more than Bottum’s attempt to salvage (in his mind) the Republican party and move the debate along because he thinks it is damaging to his political party….”

    Betraying Christ? Besides, it is the Democratic Party who ‘s days are ultimately numbered… Blessed be Sodomy, Blessed be Abortion..

  7. Pingback: Various & Sundry, 8/27/13 | The American Catholic

  8. Pingback: Joseph Bottum and Same-Sex Marriage - BigPulpit.com

  9. I found Bottum’s “because we are Americans” reasoning flabbergastingly specious considering that there are few things more contrary to the principles this country was built upon than the idea of same sex marriage.

    However, he does kind of sort of stumbles on to the truth when he says the bishops have been ineffective in the culture war overall and this issue in particular. But it is not for the reasons he seems to think, The reason is that the bishops exert more energy plumping for pro-illegal immigration polices and opposing the death penalty that are not essential from a Catholic point of view than they do issues that ARE. You have bishops like Dolan who goes to the lengths of falsely accusing the state of AZ of racism vis-a-vis SB 1070 and Chaput (and many other bishops) who parrots the fraudulent anti-death penalty arguments. Why would any skeptic take these guys seriously?

    And is there anyone in the Catholic media complex who will actually challenge on this point? No. There isn’t a mainstream “orthodox” Catholic publication who will do their job and challenge these guys on this. They act in MSM-like fashion and look the other way at this deplorable conduct. Hell, they won’t even practice much needed fraternal correction of Mark Shea’s behavior. The closest thing I have seen to an exception that didn’t get yanked (George Nuemayr’s excellent fisking of the bishops pro-illegal immigration stance quickly got yanked by Crisis Magazine) was Mr. Zummo’s piece on the Bishops bad faith immigration argument.

    While I find Bottum’s arguments sadly ridiculous, the Catholic media complex is getting what it deserves.

  10. Nathaniel DeParis

    I have not read the full article in it’s entirety. As such I also do not think his is an isolated incident. There is a site called Chicks on the Right who basically support very limited abortion such as rape or when there daughter was drunk and realized she was pregnant. I see some pockets of this where the white flag is raised in heard issues because id a little slack is given people will stop name calling others.

    also I am a KoC 3rd degree council 14725 North of Boston. I also receive a lot of flack from one of my close friends on these issues, and even though sometimes I can come to an agreement without going against Holy Mother Church
    s teachings these times are few and far between. Sometimes it feels very ostracizing because at least in my circle of closest friends I am alone in these matters. Sometimes I pray for a tongue of fire so I can spread the gospel more easily, but then again I guess God works differently so I just hang tight, and I try not to be spiteful if there comes a blatant disregard of religious freedom. I have a blessed life no doubt about it, and I try every day to count my blessings, especially the such put together arguments or teachings of the Church. There a examples in the bible of God’s people going away from him and they fall pretty hard, they hit rock bottom. and God comes and lifts them up. I think we are in for another time like that although in a different way, but if it brings a new dawn of faith than so be it.

  11. Pingback: Weariness and Current Events - CATHOLIC FEAST - Every day is a Celebration

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