Today's Ross Douthat column lumps together three recent news developments, in two different countries, and concludes that they're all signs that people like himself -- good, upright believers in "Western monotheism's ideas about human sexuality" -- are being persecuted, or at least relegated to the status of people who believe in human sacrifice.
The three affronts to his sensibility are the birth control mandate in the Obama health care law, a decision by a court in Cologne, Germany, that restricts circumcision, and recent statements of opposition to Chick-fil-A by a number of U.S. municipal officials. Never mind that prominent opponents of Chick-fil-A have backed off attempts to prevent the chain from opening new restaurants, and that a number of liberals have denounced attempts to restrict the chain. Never mind that the circumcision ruling has been denounced by Angela Merkel and by other German politicians. And never mind the fact that the birth control mandate is already on the books in 28 states. Help, help -- Douthat and his fellow sexual traditionalists are being repressed!
... of course every freedom has its limits.... You can believe in the gods of 15th-century Mesoamerica, but neither Chicago values nor American ones permit the use of Aztec sacrificial altars on the South Side.Working back, let me just point out that the folks at Chick-fil-A don't simply want to make people "uncomfortable" with their sexual orientation -- they want to make them feel that they're (a) destined for hell, (b) destroying America, and (c) discriminating against sexual traditionalists. Oh, and the Chick-fil-A folks are spending large amounts of money to keep a traditional expression of "sexual choices or identity" illegal for one group of Americans. Even then, I'd say they have a legal right to open their restaurants (which I then hope will be widely boycotted).
To the extent that the H.H.S. mandate, the Cologne ruling and the Chick-fil-A controversy reflect a common logic rather than a shared confusion, then, it's a logic that regards Western monotheism's ideas about human sexuality -- all that chastity, monogamy, male-female business -- as similarly incompatible with basic modern freedoms.
Like a belief that the gods want human sacrifice, these ideas are permissible if held in private. But they cannot be exercised in ways that might deny, say, employer-provided sterilizations to people who really don't want kids. Nor can they be exercised to deny one's offspring the kind of sexual gratification that anti-circumcision advocates claim the procedure makes impossible. They certainly cannot be exercised in ways that might make anyone uncomfortable with his or her own sexual choices or identity.
Regarding the circumcision case in Cologne, has Douthat even read the judge's ruling? It's online in translation, and it's very brief. There's not a word about "the kind of sexual gratification that anti-circumcision advocates claim the procedure makes impossible." The court decided (in a case involving a circumcision that led to excessive bleeding) that circumcision of a minor is, by definition, unacceptable bodily harm without the possibility of informed adult consent. I see both sides of this: I'm circumcised and don't feel mutilated, but I'm sure it hurt like hell, and I'm inclined to think I wouldn't have wanted a son of mine circumcised. But I'm opposed to a ban on the practice, because its effects are not like those of clitoridectomy, and it's a deeply meaningful ritual to two major religions. And I think a lot of liberals come down pretty much where I come down on this.
I'm not surprised that Douthat distorts the Cologne ruling -- his distortion dovetails so perfectly with his Santorumesque view of sex, which is that it really isn't supposed to be fun and it really must always be procreative within marriage. (For the record, Pat Robertson doesn't even believe that all married sex must be procreative.)
I understand that Douthat is repulsed by gay marriage and sexual pleasure and birth control and voluntary sterilization. I understand he wants to be the bestest Catholic ever. What I don't understand about Douthat and other non-cafeteria Catholics is why they don't take it all the way. For instance, when are strict Catholics going to start complaining that their tax dollars help pay for divorce courts? Surely that's religious bigotry! Surely that should be stopped immediately! It's bad enough that America offends "Western monotheism" by allowing divorce, but the legal system in which it's obtained is government funded! Unfair! Unfair!