Saturday, August 21, 2004

Fisking Father Garvey, part 1

Someone I greatly respect sent me and a number of other people this article, I think hoping to start a discussion. I dashed off an e-mail and wisely clicked the "save" rather than the "send" button, because, well, I don't think my snarky remarks were the sort of discussion he was trying to start.

After a few hours at the Silverton Arts Festival, I'm in a much better frame of mind to figure out what I found so infuriating.

For the record, I've always liked John (now Father John) Garvey, since it was he who wrote the 1989 Atlantic Monthly article that began my journey to the Orthodox Church. I think our journeys were contemporaneous, because the next time I heard of him, he had converted also.

So I am predisposed to like his work, and the first couple of paragraphs read like the beginning of a good but short blog post:
There is a cliché floating around that people drop as if it were a self-evident truth-a category that may not exist, despite our Declaration of Independence. In anything involving religion, morals, medical ethics, or sexuality, whatever you choose to do is “between you and your God.”

Euthanize comatose grandpa? This decision is between you and your God. (Grandpa’s God is presumably as out of it as grandpa is.) A woman’s decision to abort is between her and her God, and how a man chooses to worship, or whether to worship at all, is between him and his God.

He continues:
This "between you and your God” language comes up mainly in political contexts, usually in defense of a prochoice position, but the fact that it is so frequently accepted without debate shows that its effects are everywhere. The god invoked here is plainly a reflection of its possessor, and can be counted on to affirm its owner’s every longing or whim.

I think the first sentence is a factual inaccuracy, which doesn't even agree with his own blog-opening paragraphs. "Me and my god" is not used mainly in political contexts: it comes up in any context in which someone wants to do something that his own conscience disapproves of. Otherwise, there would be no need to justify the action in the face of someone else's more persnickety "god."

It does usually defend a pro-choice position, but that's by definition. Yes, pro-choice can apply to abortion, but also to euthanasia (remember comatose grandpa?), worship, pornography and traffic laws (ever met someone pro-choice on stop lights?).

The fact that the formulation is so frequently accepted without debate could be a sign of its wide acceptance; it could also be because it's such an effective argument stopper that people use it in the first place. (How do you answer someone who says, "Well, my god says abortion is almost a sacrament"? By leaving the realm of religion entirely and talking human rights. Then we're accused of secularization, but that's later.)
Those unlucky enough to feel obliged to vote this November will have to choose between a man whose god has no problem with the near-infanticide of late-term abortions and a man whose god was not displeased with hundreds of killed Texas prisoners, not to speak of dead GIs and Iraqis.

"Those unlucky enough to feel obliged to vote this November": You poor man. People have died for the right to choose their own leaders; a lot of them have died for your right to whine about the leaders you either participate in choosing or allow someone else to choose for you.

". . . choose between a man whose god has no problem with the near-infanticide of late-term abortions": Kerry certainly is more consistent in his abortion record than in many of the important issues (he's in favor of it), but when he was speaking in the Midwest, he had some muddled statement about life beginning at conception, but not wanting to impose his religion on other people. I would argue the point with him, but it doesn't fit Father Garvey's pattern of "between my and my God."

The same is true of Father Garvey's attributing to Pres. Bush a god not displeased with hundreds of killed Texas prisoners. Here's a quote from an October 2000 debate against Vice Pres. Al Gore:
Q: Are you proud of the fact that Texas is number one in executions?

BUSH: No, I’m not proud of that. The death penalty is very serious business. It’s an issue that good people obviously disagree on. I take my job seriously, and if you think I was proud of it, I think you misread me, I do.

I was sworn to uphold the laws of my state. I do believe that if the death penalty is administered swiftly, justly and fairly, it saves lives. My job is to ask two questions. Is the person guilty of the crime? And did the person have full access to the courts of law? And I can tell you, in all cases those answers were affirmative. I’m not proud of any record. I’m proud of the fact that violent crime is down in the state of Texas. I’m proud of the fact that we hold people accountable. But I’m not proud of any record, no.

By all means, Father Garvey, argue the death penalty if you will, but applying base and baseless motivations to someone else is dishonest and dishonorable.

Onward, Watson, a thorough fisking is afoot. ". . . not to speak of dead GIs and Iraqis": Yes, Father Garvey, since you mentioned them while not speaking of them, I guess I'll speak of them while not mentioning them. To say that any president is not displeased by the death of U.S. soldiers is scurrilous on its face and beneath the dignity of an answer, but I will continue to fisk. There have been a total of just over 1,000 coalition deaths in Iraq since March 2003 (958 U.S. deaths; Father Garvey didn't mention or speak of the other coalition partners--if he were fisking himself, he might conclude that his god doesn't care about Poles, Brits and Ukrainians, but Father Garvey isn't doing this fisking, and I'll presume sloppy writing and thinking, rather than evil will). By comparison, more than 2,000 U.S. troops died on one day in Europe, June 6, 1944. But back to Bush's god's state of mind: here's a quote from the president's press conference:
By helping to secure a free Iraq, Americans serving in that country are protecting their fellow citizens. Our nation is grateful to them all, and to their families that face hardship and long separation.

This weekend, at a Fort Hood hospital, I presented a Purple Heart to some of our wounded; had the honor of thanking them on behalf of all Americans. Other men and women have paid an even greater cost. Our nation honors the memory of those who have been killed, and we pray that their families will find God's comfort in the midst of their grief. As I have said to those who have lost loved ones, we will finish the work of the fallen.

". . . not to speak of dead . . . Iraqis": Iraq Body Count gives a death toll range of 11619 to 13603. A rough estimate (page 12 of a pdf document, but the whole thing is worth reading) of the number of people Saddam Hussein killed from 1980 until his ouster from office is 1 million, divided by 24 is an average of about 42,000 deaths per year, leaving a negative death toll of about 30,000, even taking the high figure from Iraq Body Count. The coalition troops have endangered themselves to preserve Iraqi civilians, and they deserve to have that fact acknowledged.
Am I saying that my god knows better than theirs? No. I am saying that any time any politician says anything about God and our relationship to God we should realize that we are being used, and idolatry is afoot. And we should loathe what we have been offered as a choice.

Very humble of Father Garvey to state that his god isn't any smarter than Kerry's or Bush's. I'm not sure what that means, though. His article started as a rant about pro-choice (whatever choice) justified by "me and my god" and has wandered to the "loathsome" election.

". . . any time any politician says anything about God and our relationship to God we should realize that we are being used, and idolatry is afoot": any time and any politician. Father Garvey said it. Here's what it takes in:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Declaration of Independence)

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds. . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations. (Abraham Lincoln)

I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. (Thomas Jefferson)

We should live our lives as though Christ were coming this afternoon. (Jimmy Carter)

America stands for liberty, for the pursuit of happiness and for the unalienable right for life. This right to life cannot be granted or denied by government because it does not come from government, it comes from the creator of life. (George W. Bush)

I fail to see evidence that I'm being used in any of these quotes, and I fail to see idolatry. If Father Garvey wishes to go back on his "any time" and "any politician," then he's left actually analyzing actual words and arguing specifics instead of airy generalizations.

"And we should loathe what we have been offered as a choice": On what basis do we loathe these people? Because Father Garvey has proclaimed them idolators? Because Kerry supports abortion and Bush supports capital punishment and the war on terror. Say it, Father Garvey. Say that the innocent unborn is the moral equivalent of the men who cut James Byrd's throat and dragged his body to bits on a Texas country road (who didn't even receive the same cruel sentence as the partial-birth abortion that Kerry ran back to the Senate to support).

It's past my bedtime, I'm only halfway through the column, and Father Garvey is just preparing to pontificate on Catholic bishops, Catholic politicians and the Communion issue. This is going to have to be a two-part blog post, and I may not get part 2 in tomorrow. I'll finish it, though. It's doing me good to unpack his wacky presuppositions.

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