Gun to the Head

Back in the early seventies the Doobie Brothers had a bit of a hit with their song China Grove – about a sleepy little Southern town, but in Texas, which is only sort of the South. But that’s okay as it was one of those rousing rock things where no one at all could make out the lyrics much at all, as if it mattered. It didn’t matter. The song wasn’t about much of anything at all. China Grove was just the hook, two random words, just an excuse to rock hard and loud. And it’s quite good if you like that sort of thing.

But there’s a real China Grove down south, the one in North Carolina:

Authorities in Rowan County say a man held a double-barreled shotgun to a woman’s head and made her read her favorite scripture.

The Salisbury Post reports that the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said 20-year-old Jonathan Alan Morton was taken into custody when deputies arrived at his home shortly after midnight Sunday.

Investigators said Morton held 19-year-old Elizabeth Nichols against her will inside his bedroom, pressing a shotgun to her head and, at one point, a screwdriver against her throat. A report said Morton stood behind Nichols and held the gun to her head as she read.

Nichols escaped and called 911. Morton was arrested as he walked in a ditch near his home.

Morton was jailed under a $35,500 bond. His attorney wasn’t immediately available for comment Tuesday.

In the South they take their religion seriously, but it’s different elsewhere:

At least six Catholic parishes in Washington state have ignored the Seattle Archbishop’s call to gather signatures for a referendum repealing the state’s recently-enacted marriage equality law, calling the effort “hurtful and seriously divisive in our community.” Seattle’s Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church gave the Rev. Tim Clark a standing ovation Sunday when he announced that the parish would not be participating in the anti-equality effort:

“I am happy to report that Our Lady of the Lake parishioners have been overwhelmingly and, thus far, unanimously supportive of the decision I made NOT to gather signatures in support of this Referendum,” Clark wrote in response to an e-mail.

“The standing ovation experienced during one of the Masses says less about me and much more about the health of this parish. I only wished the archbishop could have experienced the sustained applause – the ‘sensus fidelium’ – of the people. He needs to listen to this ‘voice.’ That is my prayer.”

Is that taking religion seriously too? This is charity and love and forgiveness versus Church doctrine, so it’s hard to tell. Do you bow to the authority of the Church hierarchy, in this case the Pope, or follow your conscience, informed by what you think that Jesus fellow had said so long ago? Are you allowed to decide that on your own? The Vatican must still rue the day Guttenberg invented movable type and the printing press that soon followed, with lots of Bibles anyone could read, and think about. The whole Protestant Reformation was caused by that major shift in information technology. Things haven’t been the same since. Sudden widespread bursts of information always undermine authority.

And look at the Ryan budget, the one Paul Krugman called ludicrous and cruel – as it does seem to shove money at the rich and take most everything from the poor and elderly, ending the government the people elected doing what people since the thirties have elected it to do, assuring the minimal survival of those who don’t have the big bucks at the moment. Here’s a thorough analysis – most of its budget cuts target programs that benefit struggling families. Funding for food stamps, health care, housing assistance, and education would be severe. And you’d think this would bother the Church, or the churches.

And it did. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the group Republican leaders consider an ally, as they were all for excoriating Obama for a healthcare plan that provided coverage for contraception, calling it Obama’s War on Religion, surprised the Republicans by hammering the Ryan budget:

In a letter sent to the House Agriculture Committee on Monday, the bishops say the budget fails to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.”

A second letter sent Tuesday to the Ways and Means Committee criticizes a provision that makes it more difficult for illegal immigrants to claim child tax credits. The bishops called the credit “one of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation.”

There’s Stephen Blaire, the bishop of Stockton – “Major reductions at this time of economic turmoil and rising poverty will hurt hungry, poor and vulnerable people in our nation and around the world.” And Richard E. Pates, the bishop of Des Moines, wrote this for the conference – “A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to the poor and vulnerable persons.”

And Steve Benen comments:

The criticism is politically problematic for GOP leaders, and not just because it’s unhelpful for religious leaders to criticize Republicans for trying to punish poor families during difficult economic times. There’s also the context of recent events – Republicans just got finished arguing that those who disagree with the bishops on contraception are guilty of waging a war on faith.

Are those who disagree with the bishops on food stamps, immigration, health care, education, and housing assistance equally anti-religion? And isn’t this especially problematic for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) who is both Catholic and the one who said his faith helped shape his budget plan?

Yes, he did say that – the answer is subsidiarity, as delineated, authoritatively, by Pope Leo XIII and those who followed. And a panel of Catholic theologians told him he was absolutely wrong about that somewhat arcane concept. Even authoritarians, as all conservatives seem to be, can inadvertently go rogue. Say you’re sorry your budget is obviously brutal, but you’re just submissively bowing to real authority, and not thinking for yourself at all, and you can still get it wrong. This is a tricky business.

But House Speaker John Boehner, who like Ryan is a proud Catholic, says he is aware of the bishops’ concerns, really, but you see, they just don’t understand. At Talking Points Memo, Brian Beutler reports this:

At his weekly Capitol press availability, Boehner cast the GOP’s budget as a plan to preserve key federal support programs, which he said are growing unsustainable and will cease to exist without far-reaching reforms.

“What’s more of a concern to me is the fact that if we don’t begin to make some decisions about getting our fiscal house in order, there won’t be a safety net, there won’t be these programs,” Boehner said.

So the Bishops just don’t get it, and Benen adds this:

So as far as John Boehner is concerned, he has to cut food stamps while giving tax breaks to millionaires because, without these steps, there won’t be any more food stamps. It’s unlikely the bishops will be persuaded by such nonsense.

And Benen says Jonathan Cohn explains why:

As Boehner surely knows, the only reasons the programs can’t survive under Republican budgets is that Republicans insist on using some of the money to finance tax cuts for the wealthy – and because Republicans keep opposing attempts to control health care spending by reforming the system itself, rather than simply reducing support for the sick and elderly.

Yes, if you’re going to insist the nation would be better off as a quasi-theocracy, bowing to the authority of the Mother Church in thorny matters, you do work to end all birth control and family planning, but you also work to care for the poor and the sick and the elderly. Otherwise you end up like that fellow in China Grove – holding that double-barreled shotgun to everyone’s head and making us all read your favorite scriptures, about how Jesus loves us.

But beyond scripture, the authority of the Church – those folks who are the only ones who can interpret scripture properly – can sometimes be a muddle:

The Vatican has appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying that an investigation found that the group had “serious doctrinal problems.”

The Vatican’s assessment, issued on Wednesday, said that members of the group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

The first part is the usual – women shouldn’t be priests or even Church leaders, as you have to be male to be allowed to be an authentic teacher of faith and morals. They must accept their subservient place in the scheme of such things, taking direction from men. But the second part is the real problem:

During the debate over the healthcare overhaul in 2010, American bishops came out in opposition to the health plan, but dozens of sisters, many of whom belong to the Leadership Conference, signed a statement supporting it – support that provided crucial cover for the Obama administration in the battle over health care.

They thought providing healthcare for everyone was the Christian thing to do. The bishops were more of the pay-for-it-or-die mind, as what was being proposed had elements that had to do with birth control and medical support for gay folks and such. And these women were being uppity.

But it’s not like they’re nobody:

The conference is an umbrella organization of women’s religious communities, and claims 1,500 members who represent 80 percent of the Catholic sisters in the United States. It was formed in 1956 at the Vatican’s request, and answers to the Vatican, said Sister Annmarie Sanders, the group’s communications director.

This is eighty percent of all nuns, and a group created by the Vatican itself. Something odd is going on here:

Word of the Vatican’s action took the group completely by surprise, Sister Sanders said. She said that the group’s leaders were in Rome on Wednesday for what they thought was a routine annual visit to the Vatican when they were informed of the outcome of the investigation, which began in 2008.

“I’m stunned,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Yes, focusing too much on poverty and economic injustice was the problem, and they don’t get it:

“I would imagine that it was our healthcare letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching – we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.”

And here is Ed Kilgore’s summary:

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican agency (and distant descendant of the Roman Inquisition) once led by Pope Benedict XVI, has issued a document rebuking the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella groups that often speaks on matters of public policy for America’s 55,000 nuns. Its alleged sins include association with “radical feminists,” an unwillingness to speak out on behalf of “the church’s biblical view on family life and human sexuality” (code for opposing same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion), and most of all, its failure to follow the lead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on controversial issues. A smaller but closely associated group founded by nuns to promote social justice, Network, was also reprimanded by CDF.

The message here – don’t question authority. But he adds further context – the US Conference of Catholic Bishops had announced their summer series of protests – all about “religious liberty” and their opposition to the Obama’s efforts to go ahead with that contraception coverage mandate, and these nuns have said they would support compromise efforts – something can be worked out. But the Conference wants no compromise, and wants Obama gone, and wants Paul Ryan to tow the line too, it seems. It’s a matter of who’s in charge here.

And in Chicago, Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky, delivered a sermon before a march by “Catholic men of faith” – a march to demand women not be allowed to choose contraception:

The Church will survive the entrenched corruption and sheer incompetence of our Illinois state government, and even the calculated disdain of the President of the United States, his appointed bureaucrats in HHS, and of the current majority of the federal Senate. …

Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and healthcare.

In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.

Hey, the current Pope was once a member of the Hitler Youth, not Obama, and “Hunter” at Daily Kos comments:

Let me get this straight. Barack Obama is like Hitler, and Barack Obama is like Stalin, because you’re being oppressed with some pissant rule about how now, if you’re an employer, you’re not allowed to demand all your non-religious employees comport their healthcare choices with your personal religious bigotries? That’s the big fight? Oh my goodness, Barack Obama is so pro-abortion! Oh, he’s radical, he’s an extreme secularist! Somewhere some woman is getting health insurance that covers birth control pills, and that’s just like the Holocaust!

You know what? Screw you, guy. If having some insurance company somewhere pay for some Protestant woman’s birth control even though she works as a secretary in an office affiliated with a Catholic-run hospital or school is such an affront to you that it’s on the order of Hitler, you can just sod off right-the-hell-now, thank you very much. That’s nowhere near the realm of “I have to treat you seriously” discourse. That’s just announcing to the world that you’re a big, self-important, delusional jackass.

And there’s this:

I would love to see my former church (and the word former sounds better and better each time I type it) be as impassioned about anything as they are about demanding the entire world comport to their sexual demands, but apparently that’s just not going to happen. I don’t know of anyone who’s ever been denied communion because they were pro-death-penalty. Or anti-immigrant. Or because they supported monstrous wars for monstrous reasons. Or because they introduced a budget to screw the poor, or supported that budget. I never heard a single American bishop condemn the notion of letting the sick rot or the poor starve – because that’s what Deficit Jesus would want, of course – as being something comparable to Hitler or Stalin. Oh, they’ll write letters. Oh, they’ll maybe mention how that’s not really a good thing, tsk-tsk. But it’s nothing compared to the all-out war they will wage to make sure women who are not even Catholic have to abide by their bullshitted notions of what a woman’s “place” is, and how she should be having sex, and what the consequences of that sex ought to be.

But there was the warning:

He warned participants in the “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith” rally that Catholic schools, hospitals, and Newman Centers “could easily be shut down” by the fall of 2013 rather than cooperate with the government’s mandate that most health plans cover the cost of contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can induce abortion.

“No Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the intrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb,” the bishop said.


In my lifetime there have been three fights, and only three fights, that the American Catholic Church has worked themselves into all-out public relations war for. The first was, of course, abortion. The second is protecting pedophilia in their ranks. The third is demanding other women not be provided birth control if they are employed by someone who doesn’t want them to have it. That’s it. The entire modern history of my church revolves around sex. Not social justice. Not caring for others. Just the sex. The church would rather close down adoption centers than have to treat the gays as potential parents. The church fears it will have to shut down its Catholic hospitals rather than bow to the demand that some protestant woman who works there be provided with fucking pills, or some atheist man have coverage that includes (shudder) sterilization. And it’s all Obama-Hitler’s fault for it happening.

And Hunter has this to say to Jenky:

If you would rather stop working for the sick or the poor than have some non-Catholic person’s sex life covered by insurance, at no cost to you, with no involvement from you other than that you sign their damn paychecks as their employer, do it already. Go for it, nobody can or will stop you. If Jesus travelled in the company of prostitutes the least you can do is forgive some extracurricular fucking on the part of your janitors or nurses or secretaries, instead of threatening to withdraw all of your supposed good works in fear of being associated with it. I have no tolerance for this nonsense at this point, I think the church should in general be very, very wary of getting into any conversation about Hitler and people like Hitler, and I have no notion as to why the bishops of the church believe they have the moral authority to lecture anyone on anything, at this point.

Ah, some people just don’t like authority. But maybe the Bishops will send that fellow from North Carolina to visit Hunter.

And of course there’s Wonkette:

Nazi Pope Joseph Ratzinger is so proud of his image as the CEO of a lucrative club for child rapists, who runs around modeling Prada shoes and phallic hats that he is going to celebrate, by scolding some nuns for failing to be enough like the Pope. He ordered one of his henchmen to sneak up on a group of American nuns visiting the Vatican this week and give them a letter informing them generally of their neglect for their fundamental Catholic duty to worry feverishly about other people’s genitalia while also ridiculing them specifically for their work advocating for social justice and tending to the poor and sick.

Ha, ha – the Pope is just Rick Santorum in a moldy toad costume.

That sums it up nicely. We’re all in China Grove now. That double-barreled shotgun is at all our heads.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to Gun to the Head

  1. Rick says:

    I know they probably don’t want to open up this whole discussion any more than it already is, but I do think the Obama campaign (not to mention the American public) would benefit from their pushing back on this idea that Obama is somehow assaulting religious rights and freedoms.

    After all, the preamble of the Constitution does not start out, “We the Churches of the United States…”.

    I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but it annoys me that nobody is specifically pointing out that the rights protected under the constitution are for people, not organizations, and I’m sure the founders did not intend the government they founded to side with churches, and against the people, and especially against people who don’t even belong to those churches.

    For example, do the Catholic Bishops and their supporters think that polygamy should be legal in this country, just because some Mormon splinter groups claim it as part of their religion? Somebody should ask all these folks that very question.

    And while I’m not in a position to ask these folks that question, I really wish that someone who is, would.


  2. Paul Ryan convinced me that Ayn Rand should be a saint, but then Paul Ryan betrayed me!

    Saint Ayn Rand has a great ring if you believe in GOP Jesus!

    You can read about my efforts here: Saint Ayn Rand

    I have been consulting His Eminence, Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Laws for the Causes of Saints to determine if an atheist can be nominated for sainthood. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) influenced my thinking on this and brought me to the conclusion that survival of the fittest and individualism are the true foundations of God’s plan for us here on Earth.

    Bishop Daniel “Bear” Jenky of Peoria
    Saint Ayn Rand

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