Double Standards

What do you think the reaction would be at the New York Times and the major newsweeklies to this scenario: President Bush appears on the Sean Hannity show with a group of young people and an earnest young woman asks about the differences between Republicans and Democrats.

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(This article originally appeared in The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe call 651-224-5733.)

The president replies like this: “Young lady, I am going to be as direct and honest as I can be. Here’s the best way to think about these things: Do you favor appeasing dictators and terrorists rather than taking a stand against evil in the world? Do you think that it is wrong to reform big government spending programs designed to aid the poor that have proven to be counterproductive and wasteful?

“Do you think we should heed the unproven warnings of environmental extremists even at the cost of the jobs of American workers? Do you think the United States military should treat captured terrorists with the same respect we expect the American police to give American citizens accused of a crime before they are proven guilty, even when it puts the lives of American soldiers on the battlefield at risk? Do you think that Republican presidents are the only ones responsible for the national debt and that Congressional Democrats deserve no blame? If you answered no to these questions, you are a Republican.”

You know what the response would be: Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman would be howling from their perch on the upper floors of the New York Times; Chris Matthews would be blinking and sputtering in search of one of those telling metaphors that always seem to elude him; Bill Moyers would be teary-eyed and aghast over the depths to which modern partisan politics has sunk. Ted Kennedy would be holed up in his office poring over the prepared statement his aides came up with to make him sound coherent in his protestation.

Yet consider the following. It comes from the August/September issue of First Things. It is the transcript of an actual interview that Jimmy Carter gave to an Atlanta magazine. I submit that Carter’s cheap shots are as bad as my caricature of the Bush appearance on the Sean Hannity program, worse in fact. Here’s Carter:

I was teaching a Sunday school class two weeks ago. A girl, she was about 16 years old from Panama City [Florida], asked me about the differences between Democrats and Republicans. I asked her, “Are you for peace, or do you want more war?” Then I asked her, “Do you favor government helping the rich, or should it seek to help the poorest members of society? Do you want to preserve the environment, or do you want to destroy it? Do you believe this nation should engage in torture, or should we condemn it? Do you think each child today should start life responsible for $28,000 in [federal government] debt, or do you think we should be fiscally responsible?” I told her that if she answered all those questions, that if she believed in peace, aiding the poor and the weak, saving the environment, opposing torture,… then I told her, “You should be a Democrat.”

Don’t laugh. What you have just read is not a parody of Carter concocted by a heavy-handed young writer at a right-wing college newspaper. Yup: this is the same Jimmy Carter who has spent much of the last decade scolding Christian Evangelicals for mixing politics with religion. You can’t make this stuff up. Does Carter really see the world in this simplistic way, with all the guys in the white hats lined up behind him and his views? I am afraid that he does.

Look, I know that not every “progressive” Christian is a narrow-minded left-wing prig like Carter. I am not protesting too much: I have friends and former colleagues who call themselves liberals and progressives. These people love the Church and the country, but disagree with me on just about every issue of the day. When I talk to them, I know I stand little chance of changing their minds. I am convinced they are in error, but they are intelligent, well-read, good people. They have thought through their positions. They treat my opposing views with respect. They would shake their heads and chuckle in disbelief if I showed them the Jimmy Carter interview.

But that does not mean there are not left-wing ideologues worthy of criticism, some even of contempt, individuals who fit George Orwell’s description of the left-wing intellectuals of his time: “pious hypocrites,” a “dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking toward the smell of 'progress' like bluebottles to a dead cat.” Jimmy Carter is not alone. Whether the contempt that these holier-than-thou leftists display toward those who disagree with them is due to a Machiavellian willingness to distort reality for ideological purposes or fuzzy thinking brought on by their ideological enthusiasms is hard to tell. But the double standards they employ can take your breath away.

Let me give you another example. For my entire adult life, Catholics with a fondness for the old Latin Mass who protested the changes in the liturgy made in the wake of Vatican II have been scolded by “progressives” in the Church for their hidebound attitudes, their unthinking resistance to change and unwillingness to accept the reforms of Vatican II . It did not matter that the old Latin Mass had been part of Catholic life since the 16th century. We were told to get over it; to listen to the way the Spirit was talking to the modern world.

Yet consider Fr. Richard McBrien’s column in reaction to a recent decision by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments and the US Catholic bishops. I am sure you have heard: The hierarchy has decided to drop “And also with you” in favor of the older “And with your spirit” as the response to the priest when he addresses the congregation, “The Lord be with you.” Also the laity’s response at the time we receive Holy Communion will no longer be, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you.” Instead, we will use the pre-Vatican II response, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof,” the response of the centurion to Jesus after he requested our Lord come to his home to heal his servant.

McBrien is up in arms. He protests that “Catholics have become accustomed to the approved translations in use for more than 35 years” and “are entirely at home with the present wording and have long since committed it to memory.” Got that? The 400 years since the Council of Trent? Get with the program. Change is good for you. But the 35 years since Vatican II? Whoa, now… let’s be careful about overthrowing tradition. Egads.

McBrien argues that trying to explain the new wording will “require a major catechetical effort” and that while we “do not have hard statistical evidence as yet (social scientists need to provide it as soon as possible), the anecdotal evidence thus far is clear. Many parish priests regard this latest development out of the Vatican and the bishops’ acquiescence to it as pastorally counter-productive — and that is putting it delicately.”

Let me see if I have this right: English instead of Latin, Communion in the hand, tearing down the communion rails and the old altars, the priest celebrating Mass facing the congregation, politically correct translations of prayers and biblical texts to appease the feminists — all these changes could be introduced without any serious difficulty. They were worth the effort. The social scientists were not needed for confirmation. But trying to explain the meaning of “and with your spirit” and “not worthy to come under my roof” will prove too jarring an experience for the modern, educated Catholics who we are told are ready to take charge of the Church?

What is the appropriate response? A jeer or a horse-laugh? And that is putting it delicately.

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