Banter M Issue 78: The Catholic Church and Me

In this issue of Banter M: 

The Catholic Church and Me - Ben Cohen describes complex relationship with the Catholic Church, and what lessons he drew from Netflix's shocking new documentary 'The Keepers'. 

Trump's Embarrassing NATO Speech Represents More Irreparable Damage to America - Bob Cesca lambasts the president for a humiliating performance in front of America's NATO allies. Can America come back from this? Maybe not, he argues.  

We Don't Take Hate Speech Seriously Because White People Are Always Innocent - Justin Rosario takes on one of the greatest myths in America. 

The Catholic Church and Me

by Ben Cohen

Last week, my wife and I sat down to watch Netflix's new crime documentary, 'The Keepers'. It is a gripping, deeply disturbing and phenomenally well produced series that is making ripples around the world. The seven part documentary details the murder of Cathy Cesnik, a young nun murdered in Baltimore in 1969 whose killer was never found, and the shadowy trail leading to a network of depraved sex abusers, the Baltimore police, and the Catholic Church. I won't give away the plot, but the revelations are shocking and have incredibly serious implications, particularly in regards to the Catholic Church and its sordid history of protecting sex abusers and covering up their crimes. 

The purpose of this piece isn't to go into the documentary so much, but to discuss what the implications of the scandal means to me on a personal level. My wife is a practicing Catholic who was born and raised in the religion by a deeply religious Latin American family. The Church is part of her identity and while she does not take her religion literally, it is deeply woven into the fabric of her social and family life. The Catholic faith has been the foundation for her personal cosmology and belief system, and she has gotten a great deal out of it for many, many years. But this documentary, in tandem with "Spotlight", the movie portraying the Boston Globe's uncovering of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, has had a profound effect on her and she is struggling to find justification for staying in the Church and potentially raising our children in it. 

Given my Atheist/Agnostic background, I have never had much time for the Catholic Church and have somewhat struggled to accommodate her faith in our life. It hasn't been a source of significant conflict, but we are well aware of our religious differences and have made real efforts to work around them. I don't mind going to church with her on occasion, but I find little meaning in the massively complicated theology that appears (at least to me) to be little more than a hierarchy designed to further the interests of the Vatican. I am deeply skeptical about raising children in the Catholic faith and I voiced these concerns early on in our relationship. To my wife's great credit she has been incredibly understanding about it and has probably been far more flexible than I have when it comes to making compromises. I agreed to get married in a Catholic Church in the UK and did Catholic wedding prep before that. The wedding was great, but the preparation was, well, not that great, and I was extremely disturbed by the type of things being taught to practicing Catholics. From issues like IVF treatment, birth control to the misogynistic mythology of human origins, I sat aghast at the antiquated and frankly ludicrous theology being taught as fact. I voiced my concerns with my wife more aggressively during wedding prep, and while I am not necessarily proud of the way I dealt with it, I think my wife began to seriously understand my misgivings about the Catholic faith and the church I was promising to raise our future children in. 

'The Keepers' documentary unveils much about the culture within the Catholic Church and lays bare its deeply repressive nature. From the grey, soulless Catholic school Sister Cathy worked in, to the rigid views of human sexuality and gender roles the Church enforced, the culture (as portrayed by the documentary) seems almost designed to create sexual and physical abuse. The documentary uncovers sinister networks of violent pedophiles hiding within the hierarchy of the church who skillfully used it to wield power over their victims.  They covered their tracks with sophisticated psychological strategies that played on the guilt and shame of their victims -- the same guilt and shame the church has traded off of since its inception. Almost worse than the horrific abuse is the extents to which the Catholic Church went to (and is still going to) to cover up the abuse. 'The Keepers' exposes seemingly good Catholics who refused to help victims in order to protect the church, moving abusive priests from parish to parish and sending them to clinics to treat "depression". It is as infuriating as it is shocking, and sadly there are many, many more victims still coming forward. The documentary strongly infers that Sister Cathy's death and the horrific tale surrounding it is merely the tip of the iceberg -- an implication that spells serious trouble for the Catholic Church. 

To be honest, my own experience of the Catholic Church does not mirror that of the documentary series. I've found the priests I have met to be kind and humble men, and practicing Catholics in my new family to be some of the best human beings I have ever come across. The world my wife grew up in was for the most part a gentle, spiritual world filled with decency and a reverence for the teachings of Christ. While staying away from it is not difficult for me, it isn't quite so easy for my wife to disavow the whole institution given she was raised inside of it and grew up seeing it as a very positive force -- and I genuinely cannot blame her.

That being said, 'The Keepers' documentary made a powerful impact on both of us and we've spent the past few days after watching it discussing how it effects things going forward. On my part, I will support her whatever she decides to do, with the caveat that Catholicism will never be a part of my own spiritual life, and I won't teach it to our children. I can't teach something that I don't believe in, and I don't believe anyone else should either. And that is why my wife is struggling so badly right now, because films like 'Spotlight' and 'The Keepers' have cut away at her own beliefs and provided a very different perspective on the faith she grew up in. 

But as I have told her, the crisis in faith she is experiencing isn't her fault -- it is the Catholic Church's. And it is down to them to win her back.

Next: Trump's Embarrassing NATO Speech Represents More Irreparable Damage to America - by Bob Cesca

Trump's Embarrassing NATO Speech Represents More Irreparable Damage to America

by Bob Cesca

Trump's Embarrassing NATO Speech Represents More Irreparable Damage to America

by Bob Cesca

Article 5 of the NATO charter was first invoked on September 11, 2001 in defense of the United States in the wake the catastrophic terror attacks here. The article states, among other things, that an attack on one NATO member nation is an attack on all NATO member nations. 

In Brussels, Belgium today, a memorial featuring remains from "Ground Zero" was dedicated to that first invoking of Article 5, and so the leaders of all current member nations were in attendance, including Donald Trump who predictably embarrassed everyone in the process. Not only is it profoundly embarrassing to see this unserious, clownishly-coiffured reality show boob lurking among legitimately serious leaders like Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, but Trump's words and actions only exacerbated the humiliation of it all.

Where to begin?

Despite appearing at a dedication for a memorial to actions taken in the wake of an attack against both his home nation and home city, Trump chose pettiness instead of gratitude -- pettiness about something that isn't even true. During his remarks, Trump returned to a familiar slagheap of lies about NATO and its member nations "paying their fair share."

Trump said with a straight face, “These grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct with Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the alliance in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations.” While Trump worked his way through his prompter speech, cut-away shots of Merkel, Trudeau and others showed the NATO leaders snickering and facepalming -- and for good reason.

This isn't how it works.  

Naturally, Trump was ludicrously wrong about how NATO operates. See, NATO nations are advised to spend around two-percent of their GDP on national defense, but it's merely a guideline and not a rule. Nor does it say anywhere in the NATO charter that nations have to pay a central treasury for the privilege of being in NATO. It's a matter of individual preference. No money is owed to other nations, nor is the "two-percent" advice mandatory. In other words, it's not unlike a football team going to the Super Bowl and, after winning, demanding out loud to millions of TV viewers worldwide that the losing team owes oily back massages to the winners.

If you watched this speech and experienced flop-sweats, you're not alone. These were scripted remarks prepared by Trump's staff. We can't call it a gaffe, which usually occur spontaneously. This was far worse. Trump confirmed our closest allies that he's deeply misinformed. And, worse, that he's more than willing to do the bidding of Russia, a nation that's also deeply critical of NATO. It's also worth noting that the reason for the two-percent guideline's existence is due in part to Russia's actions against Ukraine.

Compounding the embarrassment is the fact that Trump's lectured NATO during a dedication linked to 9/11, of all things -- a reality that should've triggered deep gratitude and humbleness from our president, not finger-wagging and moronic scoldings. Oh, and he didn't even mention Article 5, either to reaffirm our commitment to it or to criticize it. He just ignored it. 

Later, during an assembly of NATO leaders for a group photo, Trump obnoxiously shoved his way to the front of the group, pushing aside the leader of Montenegro. But I suppose his unprecedented electoral college victory and very, very large inaugural crowd gives him the latitude to act like a dick. At least, that's what Trump thinks.

And finally, during an interview with Der Spiegel, Trump ranted about importing cars from Germany, referring to the European nation like so: "The Germans are evil, very evil."

I... I don't know what to say about that.

Look, I get it. Trump is pandering to Russia as well as the anti-globalism Pepe-the-Frog cultists -- the "America First" crowd of mouth-breathing yokels and douchebag alt-right neo-Nazis. I get that they don't want to participate in overseas glad-handing and the like, and this is why they unquestioningly support Trump. While I emphatically disagree with this crowd on literally everything, including this, I understand their grievances about (small-L) liberal interventionism and their distrust of foreign powers. 

But Jesus, at least be accurate about the NATO charter. Don't make shit up. And Trump is making shit up, while acting like a self-righteous bully about it. If his intention is to slowly back away from these alliances, don't embarrass 60 percent of the voting-age population of the United States in the process. Nevertheless, it's a foregone conclusion that Trumpers will continue to repeat Trump's lies about NATO, Russia and everything else, for that matter, regardless of how many links to the NATO charter you tweet to them. It's all fake news, as far as they're concerned.

And it's truly exhausting. Taking this down to a personal level, I'm usually pretty resilient when it comes to my work as a professional political writer and podcaster. But I have to confess that covering Trump is tending to suck the wind out of me after a while. I've been finding myself overwhelmed with the sheer volume of Trump's horrendousness -- the flaming tennis ball machine firing one egregious story after another into our faces. And I do this for a living -- I've been writing politics since high school. What's truly exhausting is the embarrassment and frustration at knowing that our president is colossal nincompoop and his disciples are even dumber. To repeat: there's no getting through to them. No matter how much evidence we generate, they'll never admit to their guy's rank incompetence and complete lack of worthiness for the presidency.

Have I mentioned that Republicans are ballyhooing Trump's trip as being free of major gaffes? My brain hurts.

Worst of all is the knowledge that, as each flaming tennis ball whizzes on by, the bombardment is beginning to feel like the status quo -- chaos is the new normal, and sandbagging against that tide can't continue in perpetuity. If it does, there are innumerable consequences to this level of instability and abnormalcy, but one of the most worrisome consequences is that an eventual return to normal politics will seem comparatively boring to more than a few observers. Even before Trump, it was almost impossible to drag viewers to articles about the climate crisis, for example. The previously unsexy stories will surely become even less sexy compared to the Trump dumpster fire. So, some of my exhaustion is pre-emptive knowing the heavy lifting that'll be required even after Trump is (hopefully) dragged out of the White House kicking and screaming.

I really hope this is all a glitch and that everything will return to politics-as-usual after it's all over. But one of my worst fears is that it'll never be over, with or without Trump. The damage, desperation and destabilization continues...

Next: We Don't Take Hate Speech Seriously Because White People Are Always Innocent - by Justin Rosario

We Don't Take Hate Speech Seriously Because White People Are Always Innocent

by Justin Rosario

I'm innocent. I know this because I am white and this is America. As long as I personally do not pull the trigger or light the fuse, I can never ever be guilty of inciting a hate crime against brown skin. And if I'm a cop, I can even be on video pulling the trigger for no particular reason and I'll still be innocent. I am white and that means I am always innocent. Why can't Salon's D. Watkins understand this simple fact?

You can see he really struggles with this reality as he rakes white supremacy over the coals:

As the media breaks its neck to paint hate crimes as the actions of troubled individuals, rather than as symptoms of the many problems in society that create, justify and co-sign these crimes, law enforcement gets away with not investigating or taking meaningful action against the many disgusting, hate-filled Facebook groups and online publications like the National Policy Institute and the Council of Conservative Citizens, the website that originally radicalized Roof. The leaders of white supremacist organizations may not be perpetrating hate crimes themselves; I believe, however, that Roof’s multiple murders, as well as other hate crimes, are a reflection of the culture and rhetoric being circulated. And as a result of our inaction, we have lost another life.

Well of course the media depicts white murders as "lone wolves" and "isolated incidents;" only minorities have to answer as a whole for the crimes of the one. One undocumented immigrant can drive drunk and we should deport them all because every undocumented immigrant is a danger. One Muslim can stab a Jew and it's obvious all 1.6 Billion of them are bloodthirsty jihadists we need to kill. One black man can rape a white woman and, seriously, how are we not putting them all back in chains to protect ourselves? Doesn't Watkins know he, himself, is guilty just for sharing the same color skin? Why else would little old white ladies cross the street to get away from him? 

On the other hand, we can't possibly hold anyone else accountable for the actions of people like Dylann Roof. Sure, he read websites that told him all the blacks were going to kill whitey. And, yes, Fox News told him every day how the black president was going to destroy America because he hates white people. And, maybe, just maybe, he listened to AM Hate Radio tell him that White Genocide was on the way. But, really, what has any of that got to do with Roof wanting to start a race war so the White Man would be forced to defend himself from all the brown filth plotting his death? Trying to draw a line from all those people telling Roof 24 hours a day, 365 days a year that white people were under attack to him murdering nine unarmed black people in a church is just silly!

You might as well suggest that all the Confederate monuments littered across the South are paeans to slavery instead of southern heritage! Ridiculous! The Civil War wasn't even about slavery and anyone who says it was is probably just trying to rewrite history because they hate white people. How shameful.

Watkins laments the loss of a bright and rising star in the person of Richard Collins III, a graduating senior from Bowie State University and a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army. He was killed by Sean Christopher Urbanski, a white man that in no way whatsoever is a reflection of the hate-filled groups he belonged to. It's true that if the roles and been reversed, Watkins would be expected to feel guilty over a black man killing a promising white student but as things stand, it's just crazy to hold anyone else responsible for Urbanski's actions.

Certainly not me. I'm white and I'm never guilty.