At the end of May this year, Bloggingheads.tv hosted an hour-long discussion between Amanda Marcotte, an atheistic feminist, and Michael Brendan Dougherty, a traditionalist Catholic, which covered a range of topics including a report on the Catholic sex abuse scandal and the sexual behavior of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger, which were occupying a great deal of the news coverage at the time. However, the parts that I found most interesting were their discussions about fundamental questions of social organization and this came out most in their discussion of marriage toward the end of the diavlog.
In the first few minutes of their dialog, Amanda Marcotte summarizes some prescriptions she made for the Catholic Church in an article she wrote for The Revealer a few days before talking to Dougherty:
…the Catholic Church has failed in a way that a lot of Protestant denomiations have not in order to retain its reputation and keep existing believers from going out the door, especially in the wake of the sex abuse scandal, and the way I put was, they have no feminism, no love of feminism. The way I see it is, I’m a feminist atheist; I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “feminist religion” really, but that’s personal for me. I do think that feminist critiques have been incorporated into many religious faiths and it’s been to their benefit.
I said that I feel like if the Catholic Church just gave a little on any single issue that perplexes their believers right now they would get so much credit and everyone would act so releaved and grateful. I suggested that they could let women be priests, they could revoke the celibacy requirement for priests. The biggest thing they could do, in my opinion, is get rid of the injuction against contraception. Any one of those, I think, would go a long way to getting back a lot of people that have left the faith because they just feel it doesn’t speak to them any more.
While as an outside observer, I am none too fond of the celibacy requirement or the Church’s injuction against contraception and I don’t particularly care whether the clergy is all of one sex or the other or a mix, I think that all three of Marcotte’s suggestions on that front would be a poor strategic choices if enacted by the Church. To illustrate why, I want to look at their discussion of the culture surrounding marriage:
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If you have time to watch the 25 minute clip, it is an interesting exchange, but for the sake of this post, let me distill the messages of the two interlocutors. First, Amanda Marcotte takes a very laissez-faire attitude toward how couples form and maintain their relationships, seeing marriage as an option that people take when it makes sense for them. Michael Brendan Dougherty, on the other hand, accepts the freedom of communities to set their norms in this regard, but would prefer to see a much more robust standard of expectations for couples and wishes to see this grounded in tradition. To reduce these positions into quotes, here is something that Marcotte says 14:27 into the clip above (56:00 into the original video):
When you give people choices, they are surprisingly good at making the correct ones. They might not follow tradition, but to my mind that says that maybe traditions were wrong.
A minute and a half later, Dougherty says this before being cut off by Marcotte:
It’s funny you say that you can’t have all that information, but that’s precisely what’s hidden in in traditional wedding vows. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…
These attitudes match up very well with the overall strategies of perpetuation employed by the ideologies espoused by these two interlocutors: feminism and Roman Catholicism respectively.