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Obama, Athanasius, and the Bishops



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All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie. . .

— W. H. Auden, “September 1, 1939” 

Until President Obama proclaimed his “accommodation” last week, I never  was certain what Auden meant by “folded lie.” But suddenly there it was. To fold is “to bend over  or double up so that one part lies on the other part.” The obviously exasperated president didn’t even bother to come up with a good cover story. (One could almost hear him say, “Who will free me from these turbulent bishops?”) The new lie (“accommodation”) was hastily folded over the old lie (“this is all about a woman’s reproductive freedom, and it won’t hurt your conscience a bit”). So he bent over and then doubled up two lies, and then blamed Republicans for making the HHS diktat a “wedge issue.” And so, petulantly, angry at having to tell yet another whopper to those oafs clinging to their God and their guns, he began a new era in American politics.

This is indeed something new, although it resembles something very old. The radical Left, in every country in which it has gained power or influence, ever since the French Revolution, has wanted to dismantle, destroy, marginalize, or make impotent the Roman Catholic Church, which, at its best, has always stood athwart Progress (not “progress”) shouting “Stop!” Unlike many of my friends, I have never believed Obama is a Socialist or a radical or even a left-winger. He is, instead, a classic political adventurer, a true believer only in the Imperial Self, unhindered by doctrine or dogma, willing to channel the myths of whatever ideological fantasy allows him to gain power and then hold it. He chose the statist myths that appeal to the Left because they are now, as they have always been, no matter what rhetoric is chosen to disguise the fact, about the will to political power through control of or influence over the coercive power of the state. All in a good cause, all for progress and, er, progress, y’know, but still, one can’t do good unless one has, er, state power.

But Obama has been until now careful to disguise his contempt for those who disagree with him. His frequent calls for “civility” have always smacked of the disdain the Left feels for the great unwashed: One is polite, one tries to be civil, but, really, who are these people?

But now, in a moment of breathtaking, brazen over-reach, he finds himself in a fight he never believed would take place. Who, after all, would have believed the Catholic bishops, old, celibate men, their authority weakened by the manner in which they dealt with the homosexual sex scandal, scorned by the major media, not listened to by the vast majority of Catholics concerning the church teaching on contraception — who could imagine that these . . . these . . . people . . . would say “No!,” not once, but twice, to the Imperial Self? The White House, the New York Times, the entertainment industry, the mainstream media, radical feminists, and esteemed Catholic lay theologians like Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Mikulski all said “Yes!,” as did the liberal Wall Street fat cats whose big bucks made New York state safe for same-sex marriage. This was a slam dunk for Obama. Obama shoots . . . he scores. Game over. As it is written, so it shall be done.

But the bishops, just about the most unfashionable group of old guys this country can produce, said no. Twice, yet. And so we have a battle Obama, by his calculations, should win.

I wouldn’t bet on it, Mr. President. And I’ll tell you why — and I bet you never learned this at Harvard Law:

In the fourth century, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, stood contra mundum against the world of emperors, (including Constantine, his sons, and Julian the Apostate), the well-organized Arian movement led by the charismatic Alexandrian priest, Arius, and even many frightened or misguided orthodox bishops. The struggle, as Athanasius wrote, was “for our all.” Was Jesus divine or not divine?

That was the question. The Arians said Jesus was highest point of creation, but not God. Athanasius said that from the beginning the Church believed and taught Jesus was God. After decades of exile, being hunted in the desert by Imperial troops, after murder of his allies, especially the desert monks, after a thousand folded lies and various forms of treachery, he won. It wasn’t easy and he was no model of civility (the nicest word he could find for his opponents was “Ariomaniac”). But he won and saved the Church.

The American Catholic bishops now are contra mundum, but it is a different world they confront. It is the world of secular radical leftism and its religious fellow travelers. It is the world of big Hollywood money, big Wall Street money, and the infinitely folded lies of the New York Times, the networks and the clueless gang at MSNBC. Even if the bishops map out a strategy including everything from prayer to mass civil disobedience, it will be an uphill struggle. But, in a constitutional sense, they will be fighting for our all. They have said No, and in doing so have taken the first step on the road back for those who do not believe the folded lie.

— William F. Gavin is author of Speechwright and a former assistant to Sen. James L. Buckley.



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