Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thomas Williams Strikes Again.

Remember, Williams defended Maciel on 20/20 back in 2002 and said that all the accusers were lying, since he really knew Maciel....

CBS, Rev. Thomas D. Williams and the Theoconning of America
by Frank Cocozzelli
Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 02:17:47 PM PDT

Recently I discussed the disturbing world view of CBS's go-to rightwing Catholic guy, pundit Rev. Thomas D. Williams, a member of the far right Legion of Christ. This is part of a larger trend that merits further discussion.

Neoconservatives and their theocon allies have had considerable success in getting us to see the world through their eyes; and each other as solely as all good or all bad; enemy or friend. These distortions often contribute to grotesque distortions of fact being presented as given truths.
This Manichean framing has infected the news media, which in turn functioned as a carrier of the disease. Apparently gone are the days of more nuanced newsman such as Edward R, Murrow, John Chancellor or Walter Cronkite, who assumed that we are intelligent enough to think and reason for ourselves; that the world is not black and white (even on TV) but that the news of the world mostly comprises shades of grey, where justice often only approximates the ideal.
The Manicheanism of the media is especially evident on television. MSNBC and Fox News act more like vehicles for affirming their views' current political outlook or, as we have seen with CBS, provide a platform to a Catholic priest whose view of both Catholicism and religious pluralism better reflects the über-reactionary Pope Pius X rather than the reform-minded Vatican II.

As discussed last week, CBS News' analyst Rev. Williams is no ordinary priest or theologian. He is a prominent member of the Legion of Christ, an authoritarian, anti-liberal organization that has a history of cult-like behavior and whose founder, a legacy of promiscuity. Rev. Williams believes that the only truth that should prevail is traditionalist Catholic orthodoxy, and that this worldview should be favored by and reflected in government.

Williams is a perfect example of the way that pundits pass for reporters, telling us what to think and how to act, while democracy is packaged for us as entertainment. The spectacle of media gladiators and bloviators is glorified over the participation of an informed citizenry. While this critique is not new, less well developed is the increasing role of religious right framed presentation of the news, and the risk of discounting the centrality of religigious pluralism as a key to constitutional democracy. One consequence of the creeping theoconism in the media is that we often fall prey to historical revisionism -- the weapon of choice of the Religious Right. Naturally, the narrative that emerges from this history of convenience attacks the very tenets of liberalism, such as religious pluralism as being sinister and evil. Faith and reason are not synonymous, but antithetical entities. Indeed, this is exactly how Rev. Williams approaches it.

For example, in an article he published in Richard Neuhaus's theocon journal, Crisis entitled "The Myth of Religious Tolerance:
Religion is a good to be embraced and defended, not an evil to be put up with. No one speaks of tolerating chocolate pudding or a spring walk in the park. By speaking of religious tolerance we make religion an unfortunate fact to be borne with, like noisy neighbors and crowded buses, not a blessing to be celebrated.

Here it is instructive to recall that modern ideas of religious tolerance sprang from the European Enlightenment project. A central tenet of this project was the notion of "progress", understood as the overcoming of the ignorance of superstition and religion to usher in the age of reason and science.4 In the words of Voltaire, "Philosophy, the sister of religion, has disarmed the hands that superstition had so long stained with blood; and the human mind, awakening from its intoxication, is amazed at the excesses into which fanaticism had led it."

Williams cites Voltaire as if he was the only Enlightenment philosopher to discuss the place of faith in secular society, which was far from the case. But does not stop there: he then goes after the idea of religious freedom itself. He this by first besmirching religious tolerance - the forerunner of contemporary religious freedom, as "exceedingly undesirable and counterproductive":
This definition mirrors that of the American Heritage College Dictionary, which states that tolerance is "(1) a fair and permissive attitude toward those whose race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry. A fair and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one's own."

If tolerance is a virtue, it is a decidedly modern virtue. It appears in none of the classical treatments of the virtues: not in Plato, not in Seneca, not even in Aristotle's extensive list of the virtues of the good citizen in his Nichomachean Ethics. Indulgence of evil, in the absence of an overriding reason for doing so, has never been considered virtuous. Even today, indiscriminate tolerance would not be countenanced. A public official tolerant of child abuse or tax evasion would not be considered virtuous.

The closer one examines tolerance and strives to apply it across the board, the more its insufficiency as a principle to govern society becomes apparent. Even if it were possible to achieve total tolerance (which it is not), it would be exceedingly undesirable and counterproductive to do so.

This disingenuous picking and choosing plays itself out later in the piece by going after John Locke:
John Locke (1632-1704) himself, in the midst of his impassioned appeal for religious toleration, notes that of course toleration does not extend to Catholics, Muslims or atheists. "To worship one's God in a Catholic rite in a Protestant country," he writes, "amounts to constructive subversion."

In the end, the question for everyone necessarily becomes not "Shall I be tolerant or intolerant?" but rather "What shall I tolerate and what shall I not tolerate?"

Williams continues:
Locke, on the other hand, dismissively notes that "everyone is orthodox to himself." His own ecclesiology that lacked belief in the existence of any one true church led Locke to the conviction that all Christian churches (except the Catholic Church) should be tolerated. "Nor is there any difference," he confidently wrote, "between the national Church and other separated congregations."

Locke further appeals to the "Business of True Religion." A true Christian,Locke asserts, will dedicate himself principally to a life of virtue and piety, which are the chief concerns of religion. He relegates to a lower tier "outward pomp of worship, reformed discipline, orthodox faith."
His own theological prejudices and political concerns led him to arbitrarily place morals above doctrine, since morals at the time garnered greater unanimity and generated fewer disputes. Their roles have been somewhat reversed today.

Williams cleverly acts as if the Founders never evolved from Locke's own prejudices. In fact they moved beyond Locke from a concept of tolerance to one of religious freedom, thereby enlarging Locke's original concept for the better.

But this is what Williams wrote in a theocon journal not for broadcast on CBS. So why then should we care?

The problem is that Williams is not the only one. In fact, this Theocon priest is the next step past neconservative pundits like David Brooks and Michael Gerson who hold that only the most orthodox teachings of conservative Christianity and Judaism even qualify as "religious" are disproportionately represented in our national media and dominate our religious discourse. In their universe those who people of faith who question such orthodoxies are labeled "quasi-religious" or sometimes simply "secular."

In Williams' universe religious freedom is an obstacle to a more theocratic society. Ironically, were his ideal society to come to pass, while allowing non-traditionalist Catholics to practice their respective beliefs (or non-beliefs) it would subject them to the supremacy of the pundit-priest's faith - an ironic outcome indeed as it would place Williams and his ilk in the same position for which he criticized John Locke.

Apparently, CBS News has either bought into this agenda or perhaps worse, has no clue about what their Catholic analyst of choice is all about.

Personally, I think that Cocozzelli gives this flim flam Williams way too much credit. This is just another example of Legion of Christ long but lite formation.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Okay, I tried to read that 3 times, and my eyes kept rolling into the back of my head.

The net of it for me is this - if Father Thomas Williams wants to be taken seriously, he needs to follow the example of Father Thomas Berg and leave the LofC, distance himself from the corruption and suffering that follows the Legion wherever it goes. Until Father Thomas does that, I will not find him totally credible as a theologian or commentator on matters of ethics.

He has everything he needs to move forward and continue an unblighted vocation; everything except credibility on moral issues, and that he can easily fix by moving on.

I am sure Father Thomas Berg has never looked back with a second of regret.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what Lucrecia thinks about all this...

Anonymous said...

Lucrecia DOES NOT THINK.She's neuronally challenged.

"He has everything he needs to move forward". NO he DOES NOT. He's incredibly ignorant. So much for LC's academic achievements...

Anonymous said...

Pope Pius X was not Uber-Reactionary. Just too many of the people who look to his defenses against modernism are. But of course, even in criticizing the media for being shallow, we can't bother to delve into deep history, can we?

Somewhere after there it got boring, so I might be wrong, but it sounds like it's just a rant about conservative extremism -- and while there is such a thing, the fact of the matter is that there's plenty of genuine openness and diversity in the real conservative world and obsessing about the extreme doesn't help any more than the extreme does.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Fr. Williams hasn't a clue what he's talking about like most LCs and just makes it up.

I wonder did he actually study theology and philosophy? I mean we really have to question that when we read or listen to a Legionary... maybe he got the rubber stamp to allow his ordination.

I imagine his writing process was the following:

Religious tolerance is an in vogue topic I'll write about that.

I must consult my fichero and see what things I have that have to do with religious tolerance.

Must consult my notes from clase de estilo and make my essay plan.

And finally all I need to do is imagine what Nuestro Padre would think about it.

There you go, I'm already an expert.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but people who use the term "Theocon" without irony do not qualify as intelligent.

Mr. Cocozelli's article, and indeed his entire website, reflects little more than anti-Christian fanaticism. His belief that Fr. Williams and fellow "theocons" really seek a confessional state is delusional, without a scrap of evidence to support it.

I never thought I'd be defending an LC on this site, but compared to the kind of garbage Cocozelli is slinging around, even Fr. Williams' rather superficial piece looks erudite.

Molly Callahan said...

I agree with comments #4 & 6. I will say that I can see that the author's perception that Fr. Williams might be presenting a sort of "my way or the highway" point of view might be accurate. That has been my experience with the LOC. Questions, concerns, objections are met with smiley faces, character assassination and no change what-so-ever in their plan of action.

" Tolerance is the virtue of a man
without convictions." G.K.Chesterton

Anonymous said...

Question: do we have a head count on numbers of LCs who have left since the scandal of '09 began in Feb.?

I know we'll never get an accurate head count on RCs who have left! No one keeps track.