Joseph Bottum Goes For “Strange New Respect”

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Patron Saint of Opportunists



Former editor of First Things Joseph Bottum, before he got canned in 2010, writes a truly vapid and interminable essay at Commonweal in which he comes out for Gay marriage.  I am not going to link to it.  The writing is atrocious and the thinking behind it worse.  The Henry Luce Foundation that paid for it should demand their 30 pieces of silver back.    Bottum I assume is going for the ever lucrative conservative apostate market.  There are always people willing to reward conservatives who, unafraid not to be able to look square in the mirror when they shave, are ready to give the heave ho to what they purported to believe.  Old friend of this blog Richard Rich Douglas Kmiec, former ambassador to Malta, can perhaps give Joe tips about the rewards that await turncoats.  Damon Linker, until now having cornered the market for First Things apostacy, is no doubt green with envy!

Update:  For those who appreciate irony as much as I do, go here to read a First Things post from 2009 in which Bottum takes both Damon Linker and Doug Kmiec to task.  Don’t hold it against him guys!  Let bygones be bygones!  He is now a member in good standing of your club.



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  1. The two cases are somewhat different.

    It is difficult to believe Linker was aught but a fraud who collected a salary from the Institute on Religion and Public Life while compiling material for a book denouncing that enterprise. If you followed some of the online debates Linker got mixed up in, you got to marvel that a lapsed professor of political theory who had spent four years on the editorial staff of publication not pitched to simpletons was less than deft attempting to argue with obscure professors (Joseph Knippenberg) and assorted laymen. It was difficult to understand what Neuhaus ever saw in him; the Editorial Board reportedly attempted to dissuade Neuhaus from promoting him, to no avail. Linker could never get an academic department to hire him for longer than two years; maybe they got a good idea of his talents. (Rod Dreher fancies he’s a decent chap).

    The Joseph Bottum story is much more obscure. He was rather more a generic Republican than the other editors (he comes from a prominent political family in South Dakota and was employed primarily for Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard) and made some curious editorial choices while editor. After the Institute axed him, he moved to Rapid City – not having lived in South Dakota for a generation – and went about attempting to make a living as a free lance writer. I hope he gets ad copy commissions because it is difficult to figure how you make a living at that otherwise; Joseph Sobran ended his days as a ward of the Commonwealth of Virginia. I suspect that he is, like a great many people, just too bloody other-directed.

  2. Don, there’s been a lot of pondering lately as to what has happened in the last five years in particular and 50 years in general that have caused so many to doubt their faith and bedrock beliefs. Some including myself have talked about historical events like elements of the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, Modernism, the 1960s etc. However, while all of this is true, I think our biggest problem is that we live in an era of “disbelief.” We have thrown out dogma and mystery for hyper technology. People line up for days at their local techy store to await some midnight release of this device or that believing it will give them all matter of answers about life. Jesus told us we couldn’t serve two masters and sadly we see another prophetic example of His teachings.

    The faithful need the kind of zeal displayed by hyped up sports fans before a big game. Yet, too many of the faithful (leadership included) are afraid to be disliked so they refuse to take a stand and sadly the people lose their faith and their vision. As I have stated in my various articles and books, I do believe the Church is much better off in 2013 than 1973, even as society grows ever closer to tumbling over the precipice. Prayer and courage are needed lest more people lose their faith.

  3. If and when my loved one leaves the “lifestyle” he wiil face the jeering from that side. Many people can only make their own leap back knowing that love is the true mark of a Christian

  4. I was saddened to see this. I became acquainted with Jody when be commissioned an article for my book on Doctors in the Movies for the Weekly Standard. Later he was instrumental in the publication of my book on Christians in the Movies by Rowman and Littlefield and wrote an excellent foreword for it. He was very close to Richard Neuhaus. i wonder what Father Neuhaus would have said about his current stance– another of many reasons that he is sorely missed..

  5. Well that’s a decade of my life I’m never getting back.

    One wonders if the Luce Foundation pays as much per word as the Wall Street Journal.

    All right, enough snark. That was a depressing read. Bottum’s naivete is particularly galling in light of the fact that this was published days after the New Mexico Supreme Court case. He actually has convinced himself that if we just surrender on this one little issue, then homosexuals and same sex marriage supporters will stop hating the Catholic Church, and we can all just move along now. I wonder what other fairy tales he believes in.

    Also, I must ask in all seriousness – he was an editor? At one point in the article I thought he might start talking about what he ate for breakfast. There’s certainly room for personal anecdotes in such a piece, but couldn’t he have edited down by about half and still made roughly the same point?

  6. Never had much use for a grown man who calls himself “Jody” (sort of like a 40-something year old man who still calls himself “Chipper”, but that’s more about me hating the Atlanta Braves than it is anything else).

    But I do have to confess that I very much enjoyed Bottums’ suggestion that Dougie Kmiec do anatomically impossible things to himself in response to Dougie’s self-serving “eulogy” of Fr. Neuhaus.

  7. This is one(of scores) reason I wake up each morning and thank God Almighty that I am not an intellectual.

  8. I skimmed the article, and it only took me six years, Paul. But at no point does he ever seem to make an argument for gay marriage. He says that the fight is over; he (maybe correctly) cites gay marriage as the “cost” for the Catholic sex abuse scandal. He talks a lot about stuff, boring stuff mostly. He says that the natural law argument is weak (although I don’t remember him pointing to specific weaknesses in it). The subtitle of the article is “A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage”, but the article isn’t interested in making the case, only giving up on making the opposing case.

    The only thing I found truly offensive in it is that he thinks that gay marriage may lead to improvements in chastity, love, and family. You can argue the latter two if you want to, although, again, you’d have to actually argue them rather than just walking by them nodding. But that first one: how do you argue that gay marriage might lead to chastity, in any Catholic understanding of the word? It is nearly the exact opposite.

  9. The man got a grant from the Luce Foundation to write this article. I guess the ad copy work has dried up.

    Fr. Neuhaus said Midge Decter used to tell him, “You don’t think low enough”.

  10. People writing as angrily as Mr. McLarey miss at least one (maybe the only) point in Bottom’s essay. He is genuinely pained by the experience of homosexuals regards marriage and the Catholic Church. Some writers are making fun of the sentiment but it appears genuinely held. Attacking a very long (for the web) essay with a paragraph of “atrocious” “turncoat” “pieces of silver” etc. does not come across as serious.

  11. “Where we’re going with all this is toward a claim that the thin notions of natural law deployed against same-sex marriage in recent times are unpersuasive, and, what’s more, they deserve to be unpersuasive—for their thinness reflects their lack of rich truth about the spiritual meanings present in this created world.”

    “…after the long hard work of restoring cultural sensitivity to the metaphysical meanings reflected in all of reality, Catholics will have enough experience to decide what measure of the deep spirituality of nuptials, almost absent in present culture, can reside in same-sex unions.”

    “I believe in a thick natural law.”

    I’ll leave my commentary on the intellectual content of his essay to the minnions:

    As for Bottums himself, he appears as either one of two things. He may simply be a confused man who has not thought through the basic positions involved in the subject. He goes part-way in confessing this in the essay. “…I went along with them on same-sex marriage mostly because I lacked the seriousness and strength of mind to work through it for myself.” The arguments, or lack thereof, in this essay show that not much has changed for him.
    He could also be of that sort that knows in his heart what is right, and knows intellectually what the real, non-straw-man arguments are, but doesn’t like their conclusions. Or perhaps it’s the company he would be keeping if he fully embraced those conclusions. You don’t get invited to all the cool parties if all the cool people know you’re a medieval Christian reactionary.
    Whichever his faults, he tucks them nicely under the worn blanket of nuance. With nuance he could be confused, a coward, or both since it yields the same result; not doing the hard things.
    At least Bottums will get invited to all the right cocktail parties now.

  12. “does not come across as serious”

    Much more serious than that stream of consciousness drivel that Mr. Bottum inflicted on the reading public ec. His pain is truly newfound since he had no problem defending traditional marriage when he was paid to do it as editor of First Things.

  13. “At least Bottums will get invited to all the right cocktail parties now.”

    “I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.”

    CS Lewis, Screwtape Letters

  14. He is genuinely pained by the experience of homosexuals regards marriage and the Catholic Church. Some writers are making fun of the sentiment

    Funny thing about that.

  15. What is very striking is that nowhere in his lengthy article does Mr Bottom touch on the heart of the issue.

    It is a fact that every jurisdiction that has introduced same-sex marriage has also permitted human gametes to be treated as articles of commerce or tolerated a market in babies, bespoke or prêt-à-porter through surrogate gestation, assisted reproduction and joint adoption by same-sex couples.

    In France, the commission established by the National Assembly, “the Mission of Inquiry on the Family and the Rights of Children” (usually referred to as the Pécresse Commission, after its rapporteure) reported in 2006 that “The link between marriage and filiation is so close that the question of making marriage accessible is inseparable from that of making adoption and medically assisted conception accessible. This link was acknowledged by almost all witnesses, whether they were in favour of or opposed to developments in this area.”

    In this, they were prescient; the recent legislation does authorize both SSM and joint adoption by same-sex couples. In that country, opposition to SSM, much of it secular, stemmed from the belief that it would erode the ethical principle, enshrined in the law of France, that children cannot be made the subject and source of a transaction, restricting joint adoption to (opposite-sex) married couples and declaring that the human body, its parts and products cannot be the subject of a patrimonial right. In this, I believe they are absolutely right.

    Mr Bottom could do with a spot of Gallic logic.

  16. Fathom the depth, breadth and height of meaning of the human activity known as marital, conjugal, um, nuptial (oh, how many of these adjectives do I need to make my meaning clear?), ‘honest’ sexual intercourse.

    It is the arch between the pillars of the two sexes, each of which “hold up half the sky”. It is the generating driveshaft working mightily between this generation and the next one; thus, between 10,000 generations past, and (God grant) 10,000 generations to come. It is a holy Communion between Heaven and Earth, since by it we obey God’s first command, conjure Eden anew, and invoke upon ourselves His Eden blessings. It is a constitutive element of a holy Sacrament which — in any Creed and even for the creedless — is still a natural covenant recognized, by being solemnized, in every civilization, in every century, on every inhabited continent.

    This intercourse is a connector between male and female generative organs (am I still allowed to say that?) and makes solid, mutually resonating sense of male and female anatomy and physiology. This intercourse breeds — bless it, breeds immortal beings. The close study of its cells, tissues, organs and systems invokes awe; even in videos it thrills our little ones and, alike, their elders on whose laps they rest. Seeing this, we’ve see and sense wonders equal to a billion galaxies: and we sense it in our own flesh!

    Fecund phraseology? Still, you know what I’m talking about.

    It seems to me that one of the sad and disappointing things about homosexual relations is that they reduce the two participants to a kinds of nut/nut or bolt/bolt absurdity. Clunk. Thud-headed. Where’s the sense in this sensation?

    Now speaketh the Bride:
    High must be the chamber –
    Make it high, you builders!
    A bridegroom’s coming –
    Like the War-god himself, the tallest of the tall!

    Same-sex relations take the whole grand architecture of sexual differentiation and divide it by zero.

    “Immanentize the Eschaton,” did somebody say?

    I say, Immanentize the Epithalamion.

  17. I probably shouldn’t be but I’m still curious. By what creative mechanism does someone who ought to know better and certainly understands the distinction between prudential judgment and defined moral precepts, one day wake up and decide that prudential judgments are too restrictive for the purview of their conscience? I can understand that when one is outside the Church but once you acknowledge you are not your own vicar then how do you ever arrive at usurping that authority as if it’s open to discussion on a case by case basis? Crazy apostates.

  18. echarles1 – Concern for the individual person, homosexual or heterosexual, is a good thing. No one’s faulting Bottum for that. But concern is not an argument, for gay marriage or for anything else. Indeed, concern for the individual should drive him to be more outspoken in defense of the teachings of the Church, because those teachings can steer all of us toward God. His essay muddies things up for the people who are under attack by our messed-up society. Those who would give up some truth out of a sense of love will lose both.

  19. Indeed, concern for the individual should drive him to be more outspoken in defense of the teachings of the Church, because those teachings can steer all of us toward God.

    If you suggest someone has to adhere to a standard that requires some discipline and is not defined by the social work/psychotherapeutic trade, you are not feeling their pain. Recall that the exchange between the bourgeois and the homosexual is one of mutual ego satisfactions, affirmation for opportunities for self-congratulation.

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