Vatican standoff

A Vatican Standoff

At a recent conference on Tolerance, Vatican representative Bishop Mario Toso makes the following obviously problematic assertion:

Intolerance in the name of “tolerance” must be named for what it is and publically condemned. To deny religiously informed moral argument a place in the public square is intolerant and anti-democratic. Or to put it another way, where there might be a clash of rights, religious freedom must never be regarded as inferior. On the other hand, the issue of religious freedom cannot and should not be incorporated into that of tolerance. If, in fact, this was the supreme human and civilian value, then any authentically truthful conviction, that excludes the other, would be tantamount to intolerance. Moreover, if every conviction was as good as another, you could end up being accommodating even towards aberrations.

Seems like the last sentence contradicts the first bolded one.  If every religion is as good as another, you could end up being accommodating even towards aberrations.

But I think it is obvious what we’re talking about here.  Where a Christian’s right to hate upon a homosexual conflicts with that homosexual’s right not to lose job, house, etc., the Christian’s right absolutely prevails, or is at least equal.  It’s not obvious that this ought to be the case.  It’s also not obvious why the Bishop thinks this ought to be the case, other than to invoke the tolerance regress argument:  If you criticize my intolerance, you’re intolerant.

Via Reddit.

16 thoughts on “Vatican standoff”

  1. Hi John,
    The first rule of all standoffs is to stay cool, honey bunny. Stay cool.
    A rule of cool: if one can’t make a ‘religiously informed’ moral argument without extensive religious information, then one isn’t making a moral argument. One is just quoting scripture.

  2. I was thinking about this article this morning and it strikes me that you might be using a straw man fallacy to undermine the words of this gentleman. By saying, “Obviously” you seem to be making the assumption that his words are specifically targeting gay rights, and specifically in the U.S. This bishop, however, would be speaking on behalf of a global church. In fact he is the secretary for the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, which is focused on advancing social justice and peace projects throughout the world. While I do not side with the Roman Catholic position on gay rights, nor do I believe in any religion’s infallibility, his argument makes more sense in the context of other global conflicts. The “legalization” of genocide by a government or when a multinational company begins to destroy the environment or abuse the workers of a host country would be different examples which would paint the bishop’s words in a much more sympathetic light. The later examples are actually occurring in Albania, where he presented this document. In the source document, he is condemning blatant discriminatory practices against Christians and does mention “sexual immorality” at one point, but this is not directed at any particular practice. Religious liberty that allows the mobilization of people to express themselves and gives them the courage to perform ethical deeds in the face of real “aberrations” is generally not a problem for most.
    The monsignor does not make an argument that religious rights should be considered superior. He only makes the argument that they should not be considered inferior. Later he makes the statement that if all convictions were held as equal, (not religions, as rephrased in the blog) then one might seek to accommodate aberrations. Thus, if a belief in human rights based on religious conviction is held as inferior to a secular conviction that a segment of a population should be slaughtered, then one might err on the side of slaughter by demonstrating a bias based on the nature of the conviction. If he was in fact making an assertion religious rights should be evaluated on equal footing with other rights, then his argument is not inconsistent at all. Relatively speaking, religion may on occasion have its merits.
    Now, all that being said, get my wallet out of the bag. You know the one.

  3. Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for the context here–though I think you’re giving this guy rather more credit than he deserves. Indeed the things you mention are important issues, but, to repeat, it doesn’t seem obvious to me that religious liberty should be treated on equal footing with other basic rights. Seems like he’d have to have an argument for that. He should also have an argument for distinguishing among religious rights and adjudicating conflicts between religious liberty and other rights. Along these lines, he’ referring to religious people’s alleged right to discriminate against people on the basis of their alleged views–in the US this involves denying insurance to women, etc.

  4. I might be giving him more credit than he deserves, but I don’t know him, so I would question on what basis do you make that judgment. This smells like an ad hominem attack to compound the straw man fallacy with which you began.
    A bit more context, he was making this presentation in front of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, an organization among whose objectives, expressly stated on its website, is the goal of “combating all forms of racism, xenophobia, and discrimination, including anti-Semitism, and discrimination against Christians and Muslims.” Assuming that he would need to explain to his audience the need for his argument to be taken seriously assumes a level of hostility that would be unwarranted in this setting.

    Discussion of religious liberty based on this document would be like finding a bag of popcorn in the woods, making assumptions of how it was made and who/what consumed it, and then using it to debate the merits or evils of free market capitalism. It could be done, but the number of assumptions necessary to make the argument stand based on the artifact at hand makes the effort hardly worth it.

    As I pointed out before, he never says religious freedoms should be superior. He only says they should not be held as inferior to other rights. There will be discrimination, dissent, and conflict with or without religious discourse, so your emphasis that removing religion will improve matters to me is not obvious. Lastly, telling every country in any European council how to run their courts in adjudicating matters between civil and religious rights seems a bit ambitious for what appears to be a 5-10 minute speech, so once again, context.

    Based on your comments, you seem intent on pointing out the incredibly fashionable view that current mainstream Roman Catholic doctrine can be oppressive. I would agree. Your capacity to prove it based on this document however is weak, at best. Rather than hide behind logic or philosophy, just a statement to that end would be more intellectually honest. In academic circles, I doubt anyone would even challenge the such a delcaration. Just remember that the freedom to make that statement is inextricably bound to the same constitutional amendment that protects religion. To limit the first amendment means handing power back to the government, but as governments are never oppressive I guess we can congratulate ourselves that we at least silenced those intolerant Christians.

  5. Hi Daniel,

    It’s a mystery to me that you don’t get the central claim: “freedom of religion is never inferior in a clash of rights.” This means that in a clash of rights between someone’s “freedom of religion” and someone else’s “right to life, etc.” religion gets equal consideration. This is a fairly controversial claim.

    Also, in the context of the Vatican of late, and in particular Vatican sexual and reproductive politics, I don’t think it’s at all out of bounds to make the connection I have made. Further, the terms “tolerance” and “intolerance” make that connection even more explicit.

    Finally, since you’re giving lessons on fallacies here, perhaps I should point out that the ad hominem does not typically work as you suggest. I would have to allege something about the Bishop–his big nose for instance–disqualifies him. I haven’t done that. I’ve interpreted his position in light of the Vatican’s public commitments. that’s not a straw man either. That’s a maybe harsh but not implausible interpretation. So far your responses haven’t given me any reason to reconsider that interpretation.

  6. It’s not that I don’t understand the central claim; I just think deriving it from the source that you have chosen is a very dishonest way of presenting the issue. The Monsignor was not addressing reproductive rights, he was addressing anti-Christian discrimination. Tolerance/Intolerance is a sticky issue. In the EU only 25.9% of the population claim to be Christian, and based on the source text, the Monsignor is concerned about an increased in hate crimes and discrimination. To interject a new topic into this essay does not address the central argument the Monsignor is making. If you’re pro-Christian hate crime, this might be a proper essay to use as a source. Your current argument is on par with suddenly decrying someone’s carbon footprint when you read somewhere they have a new car. Which leads to my accusation of the straw man.

    A straw man argument can be “Quoting an opponent’s words out of context—i.e., choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent’s actual intentions (see fallacy of quoting out of context).” So, by this definition, your argument is the very epitome of a straw man. You also opt to interpret the Monsignor’s comments in light of very selective Vatican commitments which are currently unpopular ignoring aspects with which you or others might agree. As I keep bringing up: context.

    “Ad hominem circumstantial constitutes an attack on the bias of a source.” Thus, your off-handed comment that I was giving him more credit than he deserved “smelled” as I put it, indicating an implicit attack on him as the source. If you were not assuming he had not thought out his position because he was a Catholic, then I apologize for my assumption.

    Alright. I do have a confession to make. I was quoting from Wikipedia above, but I’m at work with limited access and this is the best I can do for now.
    Try a different source and make the same point, and I might agree entirely, but it’s just too easy to de-contextualize and make people sound stupid. I tend to expect more.

  7. Daniel,

    Here is a salient passage from the document cited above. Speaking of intolerance against Christians, this is the first example he gives. I don’t think I’m being uncharitable or taking him out of context.

    The first is intolerance against Christian speech. In recent years there has been a significant increase in incidents involving Christians who have been arrested and even prosecuted, for speaking on Christian issues. Religious leaders are threatened with police action after preaching about sinful behaviour and some are even sentenced to prison for preaching on the biblical teaching against sexual immorality. Even private conversations between citizens, including expression of opinions on social network, can become the grounds of a criminal complaint, or at least intolerance, in many European countries.

    His second example makes a similar point.

  8. Right. I mentioned the sexual immorality bit in my first post. If sexual immorality was the topic of the speech, I could see it being proper fodder. He mentions the topic once and specifies nothing else. Perhaps he meant the clergy sex abuse scandals. We don’t know. He is also talking about public discourse regarding Christian teachings on sexuality, which vary in their level of condemnation, enforcement, and acceptability even within Christianity itself. Even assuming he meant the Roman Catholic viewpoint, one would need to factor in the positions of diocesan bishops, archbishops, clergy, and lay preachers. If you assume that Christians would only malign women’s rights or LGBT rights, you also forget segments also condemn adultery, whore-mongering, premarital sex, pederasty, anal sex, slavery, and/or endorse polygamy, chastity, or celibacy. In essence, I suppose you are going to see what you want to see in this matter, though I hardly think going for inflammatory relations (pun intended) between sex and the Church will not be “obvious” to most people unless they already have a negative view of Roman Catholicism, in which case you are merely preaching to the choir. This is why I think the straw man fallacy still applies. You are drawing from the text what you want it to say, rather than what it says, and holding it up for criticism. This is easy. Understanding the religious argument is harder (again pun intended).
    The idea of tolerating the intolerant can be used by either side in this case, be it the Christians who don’t like being put in jail for their faith or the (insert name of group Christians oppress here) who don’t like being oppressed either. Tolerance is the focal point of differing opinions. Religious freedom, states the Monsignor, should not be incorporated into tolerance as this would lead to religious freedom being subservient to tolerance. He does indicate that Christianity should be able to be intolerant, but at the same time condemns intolerance towards Christians. This would seem contradictory or at least hypocritical on the surface. At the same time others would feel the same way that are not even religious, such as Karl Popper’s quote:
    “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”
    Tolerance fails to be tolerance once it needs to be defended. In Popper’s case, this was defense against the intolerant. In the case of the Monsignor, he necessarily takes the position and reverses it.

  9. Hi Daniel,

    Yes, the Catholic Church has a position against all of that sexual stuff, but it really only takes a stand on homosexuality. It would be hilarious to suggest that the Church is expressing concern over its right to condemn adultery and divorce (which, by the way, they kind of dislike, but well they don’t go about condemning adulterers like they do homosexuals).

    The second of the Bishop’s examples alludes to its position on reproductive issues (without saying so explicitly).

    Those are the good Bishop’s examples of people being intolerant towards Catholics (he’s a Catholic, so I infer he means the Catholic Christian view) or punishing Catholics for taking a religious stand. I would be crazy or completely disingenuous for taking this any other way.

    Having said that, I don’t follow your position on tolerating intolerance. You write: “He does indicate that Christianity should be able to be intolerant, but at the same time condemns intolerance towards Christians. This would seem contradictory or at least hypocritical on the surface.” This was the point of the original post, you know.

  10. Yeah, I’m with John Casey here, and don’t understand the confusion. In that second example, Toso asserts that religious beliefs should trump civic law when it comes to “Christian conscience” and the workplace, although he’s vague about the details. “Or to put it another way, where there might be a clash of rights, religious freedom must never be regarded as inferior” amounts to the same assertion in the context of civic law, certainly in America (I don’t know about Albania). Toso isn’t arguing for freedom or equality; he’s arguing for privilege. The featured passage above isn’t fully coherent because the thinking behind it isn’t. I’m guessing Toso doesn’t see that because his faith is deep and sincere. It doesn’t make him any more right — just “righteous” in his own eyes.

    Moreover, none of this is anything new. The previous pope, Ratzinger, made a big speech that spoke of “tolerance” yet also asserted the clear rightness and superiority of his faith, a conservative brand of Roman Catholicism. Similar assertions are absolutely commonplace from religious figures, who, surprise surpise, all think they know “the Truth.” In America, we have the Establishment Clause and a couple of centuries of constitutional law to draw on to help sort such conflicts out. (Europe does have some “universal human rights,” but I don’t know the law in every country.) It’s not surprising that religious figures believe their own faiths; that’s to be expected, but many of them are not truly down with the whole “tolerance” thing.

    If you’ll forgive a self-link, I wrote a longish piece on similar issues (“tolerance”) last year. I’ve found that the semantics on this stuff can get very muddled, with plenty of cross-talking (perhaps that’s the issue here), and I attempted to provide a framework for discussion:


  11. Battochio: I’m not sure how you’re getting privilege from “not inferior.” I notice in your blog that you’ve already drawn this conclusion, and given your sources this may be valid, but my point was Casey’s argument is not valid in the original post given a straw man fallacy. I also see no mention of civic law in either provided example, so I’m not sure from where you are drawing that conclusion either. You are introducing a lot of information that is relevant to the larger topic, but not specific to Casey’s assertion using Casey’s facts, which, as I’ve said, are minimal, full of assumptions, and to me not sufficient to prove his point. My assertion holds that Casey’s argument is a straw man, which has been my point from the beginning. Batocchio has better data, and I can accept some points in his argument a bit more, though I would need to go through it all which would take far more time than I have now.

    John Casey: The Roman Catholics frequently take stands for all Christians, whom they often view as mislead (but trying), so in that light my assertion is not “hilarious” and actually follows the text, versus making an assumption or introducing unsupported facts. If you make an assertion, understand the context and stick to what is actually written.

    My point with tolerance is that the Monsignor is not pretending to be tolerant, though I would also point out that he never claims to be a theocrat. He wants exception to tolerance, because it is not the way his faith is constructed. He is needing to defend the faithful, and so makes it clear the church will not be tolerant. Any group feeling persecuted will probably not be tolerant of their persecution, and thus feel the need to defend itself. This would apply to religious and non-religious alike. Batocchio’s Tolerance Advocate script has a similar feel with minimal alteration:

    Christian: I believe we should all be Christian.

    Tolerant Person: No, you’re a second-class citizen.

    Christian: Go to hell. (Or “I forgive you,” or “Here take this Chick tract, ’cause comics will help you understand God.”)

    Tolerant Person: Why are you so rude and intolerant?

    European police office: That’s it, jail time for the Christian.

    Note that tolerance of the opposing view, based on the Monsignor’s examples, ends with jail time for the Christian- because its not unlimited tolerance, it is functionally intolerance. He opposes this for obvious reasons. It would seem that tolerance functionally acts as the dominant culture’s ability to accept a variety of beliefs. When Christians were the dominant culture they were not very good at this, but many churches are learning, and short of liberation theologians in the Roman Catholic church, very few are actually theocrats.

  12. Hi Daniel,

    A straw man involves the manipulation of someone’s commitments so as more easily to defeat her argument. I think I’ve excellent grounds for interpreting the Bishop’s remarks the way I have. In particular, the two examples of intolerance he cites regard (1) sexual morality (by which one has to read “gay marriage”) and (2) reproductive politics. Those are his examples of intolerance towards Christians.

    Since you don’t really get it, my basic point is this: without an argument on point, the Bishop cannot just assert that religious rights stand on equal footing with others’ rights in all cases.

    And I think you’re wrong about the Bishop’s point. He’s claiming that intolerance of intolerance is incoherent. That’s the intolerance standoff I was talking about. My objection is that not all intolerance is equal. Nor is all tolerance equal.

  13. You seem to assume I don’t get it when I have asserted and I believe substantiated that you are reaching and incorrect in your assumptions. This is sad, as you seem to read what you want into my arguments the same way you read into and misconstrue the Monsignor’s. You have no knowledge of the commitments of this individual. I recognize you need to feel victorious in this however, so I’ll concede and just say okay. I can still tolerate your opinion. I still want my wallet out the bag.

  14. Hi Daniel,

    Sorry to baffle you with terminology you don’t understand, but “commitments” is a technical term in informal logic. It basically means the set of propositions an individual affirms and can be understood to affirm. This includes those things he utters in documents such as the one I linked to. To manipulate them would be to distort them. I haven’t manipulated those of the Bishop nor have you shown that I have. I have referred you directly to them, citing them more than once.

    To repeat, I’ve interpreted the Bishop to be concerned about the alleged intolerance of people who object to the intolerance of others (such as the Bishop). Is that not his point? Here is another version of my objection: If you don’t like the self-regarding sexual behavior of others, then that’s your business. If you want to restrict their legal rights, that’s really a different matter. Legal obstacles to your doing so do not for the love of Mike constitute intolerance, as it appears Toso maintains.

    One further point, unless you have special training reading into people’s souls, I’d kindly ask you to stick to my explicit points made here. Don’t, in other words, concern yourself with my need to feel victorious. To be honest, if I were wrong in this matter I would consider that a victory.

    As it stands, you accuse me of distortion, but you have failed to show how that is the case and I fail to see an interpretation that would entail that. You can read the document for yourself, as can anyone. That’s why I linked to it.

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