Gay Marriage, Vincent Browne and negotiating post-Christendom

In today’s Irish Times, Vincent Browne, who is never short of opinions, has a piece “The Bible not the rule book on gay marriage”

In it, he scolds Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for reiterating the Catholic Church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and woman and this view is based on biblical teaching beginning in Genesis.

He then goes on to say this

What is or is not Catholic Church “teaching” is neither here nor there in the context of public debate on public issues. Catholic “teaching” has or ought to have no traction in public debate, just as Islamic “teaching”, Marxist “teaching”, or any “teaching” should have.Some of these may be illuminating on the moral or political issues in question, but have no determinative value in themselves. This is because in public debate we seek to deploy arguments that, we hope, might have universal appeal across society, arguments based on principles that we presume all agree upon, such as freedom of speech, at least a minimal commitment to the idea of equality, to democratic values, to respect for others.

It is possible that the Catholic Church has arguments against same-sex marriage that do not depend on being “teachings” but rather are of merit in themselves, in which case they deserve to be weighed with other arguments in public debate (I have not heard such arguments).

Sounds reasonable? Not really.

Here is the rational, secular, objective journalist, sitting on his throne deciding what opinion is or is not legitimate and whether it deserves to be heard or not.

The Catholic Church can only speak if it does so in the discourse of liberal democracy. It must share the narrative and assumptions of that worldview in order to be heard.

This is a recipe for emasculated Christianity, detached from an overarching biblical narrative and belief in the Lordship of the risen Christ. A Christianity that is tamed and meek with little or nothing distinctive to say from a Christian perspective.

Why does Vincent get to decide what is the acceptable common ground in a plural democracy?

No, what we need in post-Christendom Ireland is a truly inclusive pluralism. One where Marxist, Catholic, secular, Islamic, evangelical, and agnostic voices are listened to on their own terms.

I agree with him that in a plural democracy no voice should have determinative authority. But is is all the more ironic then that Vincent seems blithely to assume his voice alone should.

Then, after a superficial and stereotypical dismissal of parts of Genesis as ‘morally and politically repulsive’, he goes further and explicitly seeks to silence the Catholic Church altogether.

Although Diarmuid Martin is personally exempt from this charge, wouldn’t you think that the institution that has been exposed as so comprehensively compromised morally on its persistent complicity in the sexual abuse and rape of children might, for a while at least, have the self-realisation and humility to remain silent on what they perceive as moral issues?

Vincent is demonstrating illiberal liberalism and intolerant tolerance in action.  We’ll tolerate you as long you say what we agree with and play by our rules. If not, you are to be silenced and demonised, insulted and marginalised.

Yes Catholic Ireland was not an inclusive, tolerant place if you happened to be on the ‘outside’. But the answer is not to seek to construct a similarly exclusive, intolerant, form of liberalism in its place.

Vincent is articulating what I’ve called “the oxymoron of mono-pluralism”

Comments, as ever, welcome


4 thoughts on “Gay Marriage, Vincent Browne and negotiating post-Christendom

  1. Excellent comments Patrick. The idea that Vincent’s mores are “principles we presume all agree upon” is a throwback to the days when emperor or pope could speak for all – now it’s journalists who seek to occupy the throne

  2. V.B. writes “It is possible that the Catholic Church has arguments against same-sex marriage that do not depend on being “teachings” but rather are of merit in themselves, in which case they deserve to be weighed with other arguments in public debate (I have not heard such arguments).”

    That must be a fair comment. There has to be some consensus for discussion and debate in public affairs.

    So, what are the arguments against same-sex marriage? What is the EAI’s position, and arguments for that position, in this latest move away from the old exclusive and intolerant Catholic Christian Ireland? In the recent Irish Presidential election five of the seven candidates had absolutely no doubts about introducing same sex marriage. That’s a large proportion among what was a colourful representation of Irish political and social leadership.

  3. Hi David, an eventual reply (unplanned events getting in the way).

    Yes I agree that any Christian voice in the public square has no automatic right to be heard and can no longer expect a hearing just because it used to be influential. And yes, such a voice needs to be well reasoned and thought through to make a persuasive case for whatever point is being argued. And even especially so given a post-christendom climate of suspicion of religious voices.

    But what VB is proposing is that Christians stop being Christians in order to be allowed to speak.

    Linking this to the paper I’m blogging on: the Iona Institute argue the case that marriage should be supported actively by the state. They explicity jettison Christian reasons for doing do. I think this sacrifices too much. You end up just like any other conservative pressure group

    Christians need to speak with an authentically Christian voice that rejects any sacred / secular dualism but seeks to reflect unapologetically on all of life from within the overall framework of the biblical narrative.

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