Anti-Gun is not Pro-Life

[Note: I wrote this piece for another site, but since it doesn’t seem to be being published there I’m putting it here. It’s intended as a bit of a companion piece to my most recent ‘Federalist’ article].

I’ve heard some people talking about the recent student march in Washington saying things like “it’s really a pro-life march” and “gun control is a pro-life position.”

Let’s put a stop to this nonsense right now, shall we? Whatever your ideas of gun control are, anti-gun is not pro-life; it is just anti-gun. To call it pro-life is a cheap rhetorical trick, akin to saying that those who opposed Obamacare opposed all healthcare reform, or that those who are against affirmative action just hate Black people. It’s what’s called the straw-man fallacy: purposefully misstating your opponent’s position in order to make it appear weaker than it is.

To be against abortion, or euthanasia, or other such things is to be against a clear, concrete practice. It amounts to a tautology: don’t kill people and those people won’t be killed. It is a matter of principle that it should not be legal to willingly take an innocent human life for any reason because it is wrong.

To be in favor of gun control, on the other hand, does not generally mean to be against weapons in principle (few people would advocate the overthrow of the military, police, and similar institutions). It means that we believe removing or limiting privately owned firearms would reduce violence. That is, it is the idea that enacting certain laws will result in certain effects.

Now, whether or not they actually will is not the present concern; the point is that we are talking about a means to achieve a goal, not about the goal itself. The end desired is less violence; the means being discussed is greater restrictions on firearms.

You see, having fewer guns available, or even outright banning private firearms (assuming such a thing could be done) is not the same thing as reducing violence. Again, don’t think I’m saying more than I am: for the purposes of the present discussion, it may have that effect, but my point is that it is not an obvious or indisputable connection. It is open for debate. If you make abortion illegal, then quite simply there are no legal abortions. There is an essential connection between what is enacted and what is achieved. That is objectively not the case with gun-control.

The key difference is that, when it comes to guns, the thing we desire to stop is already illegal and we are only discussing ways to further discourage it. When it comes to abortion, the thing itself is what we are trying to outlaw.

In other words, one is a matter of principle, the other of strategy. One is a debate over whether to permit certain practices that by definition involve killing people. The other is a debate over whether or not certain new laws would reduce violent crime and to what extent they would infringe on legitimate individual rights. This is not a matter for discussion: that is objectively what is at stake in each case.

The distinction is further complicated by the fact that guns are often purchased and used to protect lives. The justification pro-gun advocates use is precisely that they need guns to defend themselves, their families, and their rights, and it is simply an objective fact that guns are often used in this capacity. You can debate how great a need this is and how it compares to the potential for abuse, but you cannot argue that it does not exist. Furthermore, if you intend to argue that without guns those killed by them would be alive, then you have to accept the counter argument that without guns those who have used them defensively would be dead or at the very least assaulted. I don’t think either argument is very good, but the point is that can’t accept one without accepting the other.

As this indicates, you cannot simply claim that gun-control is ‘pro-life’ because it is an open question whether it will actually lead to less violent crime. You could just as well say that being pro-gun is pro-life because guns are used to protect life and deter crime. Again, I am not currently arguing one or the other; I’m saying that they are rhetorically equivalent and thus calling either one ‘pro-life’ – equating it with opposing the legal killing of innocent people – is disingenuous. It is claiming a one-to-one progression where none exists.

More importantly, it is dishonest. To say that being pro-gun control is to be pro-life is equivalent to saying that someone against gun control is anti-life: that is, that they want more violent crime, or at least think that violent crime is a matter of indifference. You see, it’s a disguised straw-man attack, obliquely misstating the opposing position to make it appear weaker than it actually is. It is the sort of thing a con-man or snake-oil salesman does: if you doubt the efficacy of his patent blindness cure, that means you think blind people don’t deserve to see.

Do you see the point? The objection is not to the intended goal, but to the proposed method of reaching it. You cannot describe a means to an end as being either pro-life or otherwise, because ‘life’ (here meaning the reduction of violent crime) is the end goal and the debate is over how best to achieve that. Whatever your views on the issue, please have the honesty to acknowledge what is being discussed.

The Two Thieves


All four Gospels note that Christ was crucified along with two others. These two are described as ‘thieve’ or ‘robbers,’ though this is sometimes rendered ‘revolutionaries’ or simply ‘criminals.’ One was crucified on His right, the other on His left.

Viewed from a modern perspective, the designation of right and left is a little interesting, especially if we take the interpretation that they were revolutionaries. If we follow it out, it could be taken as an interesting perspective on Our Lord’s relation to politics.

First of all, the linking of the terms ‘revolutionary’ with ‘robber.’ Apparently, the same Greek word ‘Iestes’ was used for both. I’ve heard several reasons for this, from the idea that revolutionaries were attempting to steal from the Romans to the notion that it was a way to avoid letting the Emperor know of revolutions. For our purposes, the background doesn’t really matter, provided the two terms were linked.

It is a quality of both a thief and a revolutionary that his focus is on the here and now. The thief wants a certain object so much that he takes it regardless of the law, the revolutionary wants a certain social or political state so much that he fights for it. Either one may or may not be justified by circumstance, but both have the quality that their aim is a change in the material world.

This is also a quality of politics: that its focus is entirely upon the here and now, or at the very least what the future here and now may be made to be. It is the science of organizing human society in the way thought best. Even if this is done for the purpose of establishing justice, liberty, or other abstract values, it is still establishing them in the present world and by the means of social organization. Politics, thus, is a fundamentally earthly practice.

Now, let us take the two criminals as revolutionaries (this interpretation is supported by the fact that crucifixion was generally associated with acts of sedition rather than more typical crimes). Again, the fact that one is on the right, the other on the left is interesting, though obviously it carries a significance to us that it wouldn’t have for St. Luke. We needn’t fear reading it thus for that reason, though; there are no coincidences in revelation.

The right and left revolutionary, therefore, may be taken as images of political movements in general. One on this side, the other on that. If we take it thus, what does the image imply?

First that politics ultimately comes to nothing. These revolutionaries fought for their particular cause and ended up crucified. In the end, their efforts were futile and led to nothing but death and disgrace. Politics, though it may be important in the short term, is ultimately a dead end. The promise that this or that political system will solve the ills of mankind is a lie.

Note that they are being crucified along with Christ, who is bearing the sins of the world. They suffer the same fate, but without the salvific character. It is Christ who can save them, if they will allow it, not the other way around. Politics, thus, always must be subordinate to Christ.

Now, the reactions of the revolutionaries to Christ are instructive. One of the two blasphemes Christ, demanding that He save their lives if His is the Christ. The other – traditionally called St. Dismas – rebukes him and begs that Jesus remember him when He comes into His Kingdom.

Again we see the focus on the here and now. The one revolutionary, even in the process of dying, still has his mind fixed upon earthly things. He is, in effect, standing in judgment over Jesus, setting his material well being as a condition for belief. One recalls how certain political movements have done similar things: from Communists taunting Christians to pray to God for bread to moderns attacking prayers offered in the wake of national tragedies. Politics of a certain sort has always claimed the right to stand in judgment of God over the material state of the world.

St. Dismas’s rebuke shows another approach. Though he’s given his life in a political cause, he yet retains a perspective on where politics stands relative to God. He admits that his punishment and that of his companion is a just one; they have indeed committed the crimes they are accused of and must suffer for it. Upon the cross, he lets go of his political motivations and speaks only of justice and fear of God. He subordinates his political concerns to his piety, merely begging Jesus to have mercy on him.

Thus we have the place of politics relative to God: the evils done in its name are done on all sides, whether for a good cause or an ill. The righteous politician or revolutionary is the one who sees that God is beyond all such things and places himself under the mercy of Christ. The unrighteous is the one who tries to subordinate God to his own interests.

In summary, politics cannot save but itself needs salvation, politics leads men to do evil, for which they are justly condemned, and all politics is subordinate to the claims of Christ.


New Federalist Article

…With a title that doesn’t really match the point. I didn’t want so much to make a simple ‘abortion kills more people than guns’ argument, but to point out how fundamentally different the two positions – pro-life and pro-gun control – really are.

Oh, well: go check it out for yourself 


Of course the most obvious distinction is in the subject matter: one favors limiting or ending gun owners, the other limiting or ending abortion. Let’s consider the two subjects, for here the crux of the matter rests.

Gun rights deal with a person’s right to own a particular tool for a particular purpose. Put briefly, a gun is a weapon; weapons are used in fighting. People want to own guns so if they ever need to fight to defend themselves, their families, or their rights, they can do so effectively. There are obvious and legitimate reasons why they would want this, ranging from violent attackers to civil unrest.

But, although they have legitimate uses, guns by nature are open to abuse. They allow a person with evil intent to inflict more damage than he would otherwise. Gun-control advocates argue the potential for abuse is greater than the legitimate need for private firearms, at least with regards to certain weapons. In other words, gun control advocates wish to limit access to guns in order to limit their potential for abuse.

Abortion rights deal with a person’s right to do or have done a particular procedure. This procedure, by definition, destroys a human life: specifically the human life the people in question created by having intercourse, whether consensually or violently. They desire this because, to one degree or another, the life to be destroyed is unwanted or inconvenient and was not intended to be created.


Although the reasons for wishing to destroy this life may be understandable, abortion still destroys an innocent human life. Moreover, in most cases that innocent human life was created by other people voluntarily engaging in an act they knew could lead to this outcome. Pro-life advocates argue that deliberately killing an innocent human being simply cannot be justified, save in cases of direst need such as when the life of the mother is at stake.

In other words, pro-life advocates wish to forbid a particular action that, by definition, destroys a human life.

Note the difference: one involves a right of possession, the other of action. To own a gun says nothing of how it is used, and there are clearly legitimate reasons someone would want to own one. To perform an abortion, on the other hand, means to kill a human life, and the only question involved is whether such an act can be justified. Gun-control advocates argue that the undeniable potential for abuse outweighs the undeniable goods derived from gun ownership, while pro-life advocates argue that abortion itself is an unjustifiable action.

Another Thought

There is a popular idea, particularly in feminist circles, that men generally want women with pretty faces, empty heads, and closed mouths.

Jane Austen thought this idea was stupid back in 1815.

Emma: “I am very much mistaken if your sex in general would not think such beauty, and such temper, the highest claims a woman could possess…I know that such a girl as Harriet is exactly what every man delights in—what at once bewitches his senses and satisfies his judgment. Oh! Harriet may pick and chuse. Were you, yourself, ever to marry, she is the very woman for you.”

Mr. Knightley: “Miss Harriet Smith may not find offers of marriage flow in so fast, though she is a very pretty girl. Men of sense, whatever you may chuse to say, do not want silly wives.”  (emph. added)



What’s Wrong with ‘Victoria’

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been watching Masterpiece’s Victoria. I really love the Victorian era as a historical period, so I ought to love this. But I don’t. It’s not…bad, but it’s not very good either. The actors are good and very well-cast in general, the characters are mostly fairly enjoyable (I especially like the Duke of Wellington, Robert Peale, and Diana Rigg as an ancient battleship of a duchess), and the relationship between Victoria and Albert is played up for all it’s worth. The sets and costumes are very nice to look at.

The trouble is the writing, for two reasons. First is that it’s pretty contrived and very melodramatic, as well as being kind of clunky and heavy-handed.

I previously wrote about the scene where Victoria and Albert, pre-marriage, find her dog, Dash in a snare and somehow it ends with him yelling at her regarding the poor, forgetting the dog entirely. That sort of thing happens fairly often. That’s what I mean by it being heavy handed: the transitions are not properly set up, the characters don’t always act believably to move from one scene to another, and the guiding hand of the writers is visible all-too often.

Or there are complications that show up out of nowhere and do nothing just to pad out the subplots for a little while longer, like the would-be romance between the chef and the dresser is briefly complicated when she finds out he’s been seen talking with another woman. Turns out she’s someone from America trying to hire him for a restaurant. This is wrapped up in two episodes in maybe five or ten minutes of screen time, we never find out just who the woman was, and we move on. It served absolutely no purpose except to drag things out a bit and a gin up a little extraneous drama.

Or characters are ignorant of things they ought to know about: when Victoria gives birth to her first child, in the middle of labor she notices a group of ministers standing outside her door and asks what they’re doing there (they’re ensuring against a substitution). She didn’t notice them at any point in the past few hours? No one thought to let her know about this practice at any point in the past nine months?

Then there are just moments that made my roll my eyes. When Victoria’s beloved dog dies, she walks in and finds his body in the middle of her bedroom. Was no one in charge of looking after him? Did no one check the room to make sure it was ready to receive the Queen? None of the servants had been in there recently? I may be wrong, and it may have happened like that, but…well, I’d lay long odds against it.

Also, the Queen’s household is oddly small: we’re told it measures in the hundreds, but we only ever see the same half-dozen or so servants hanging out in the kitchen.

The historical events are portrayed, but in a slapdash and generally simplified manner. The first assassination attempt is played up as her evil uncle possibly attempting to usurp the throne…which goes nowhere, as the show is constrained by the historical record that the man was just an obsessive lunatic. It plays up the melodrama as much as possible, but since it’s also trying to be somewhat historically accurate it can’t deliver much of a payoff.

So, the show is pretty clunkily written. But I don’t think I would mind that so much if it weren’t for the other problem, which is that it just feels off. The best way I can describe it is that the characters don’t act like Victorians so much as a modern person’s idea of Victorians.

There’s one episode, for instance, when Victoria comes home from opening parliament in her full regalia; mantel, sash, and so on. As she walks in, she drops the mantel casually to the floor, takes off her sash and tosses it aside, and so on. That’s something a modern person would do, but the Queen of England circa 1850 would never imagine doing this (again, none of her servants are on hand to take her very expensive and important regalia for her?).

Likewise there’s the fact that everyone we’re not supposed to like is extremely rude and condescending to Victoria. Now, I can buy that people and politicians of the time would be dubious about an 18-year-old girl ascending to the throne, and I can buy them muttering about her in private, but she’s still the Queen, not to mention that this was a time and situation in which manners were given very high priority: I do not believe that these men would speak to her like this. When Sir Charles Trevelyan is telling the Queen about the Irish situation, he makes a condescending comment about teaching her about it “when she’s finished with her nursery duties.” Again, he’s talking to the Queen of England; why would he make that kind of comment?

The reason is that we’re not supposed to like Trevelyan and having him talk down to our heroine is an easy shortcut to that (because his disregard for the starving Irish isn’t enough, I guess). But it doesn’t feel authentic; it’s the modern trope of the condescending Victorian male who casually talks down to the plucky heroine. This is a way for the writers to signal to us the viewers that, though we are in the Victorian era, we know that is was really a very bad time.

Now, I am perfectly aware that, by our standards, many men in the Victorian era had a very narrow attitude towards women in general. The expectations for what was proper for each sex were very firm, and though there was some flexibility, it came at the price of being conspicuous. Medical science made broad and unjustifiable statements about women’s mental capacity, emotional stability, and so on. In short, the attitudes of the day were not ours and in many cases were simply unjust and wrong.

However, this trope of men being casually rude and dismissive towards women in person rather than in theory (two very different things) is one that I find extremely annoying, as it doesn’t ring true for me. If nothing else, didn’t they have basic manners in the Victorian era?

The thing is, I don’t see this much in actual Victorian literature. Quite the reverse, actually: Victorian characters tend to go out of their way to be complimentary and polite towards women. Take Dickens’ Bleak House, for instance (published between 1852 and 1853). You have numerous female characters of all different personality types. There’s Esther, the heroine, who is quietly sensible, generous, and part way through is made the housekeeper for a large mansion because she is recognized as being intelligent and having very sound judgment. There’s Mrs. Jellyby, whose time is wholly taken up with arranging charities for children in Africa, leaving her family to fend for themselves. Her daughter, Caddy, befriends Esther, marries her dancing instructor, and sets about teaching herself different skills in order to be useful. Then there’s Mrs. Pardiggle, an officious busy-body who goes about doing ‘good works’ that annoy the poor without actually helping them.

This is just a small sample (it’s a Dickens book: there are tons of characters), but the point is the each of these female characters are very active, busy, and hard-working in their own way, no one tells them they need to stay in the kitchen or talks down to them for being women. They’ll tell them off for being foolish, annoying, or troublesome, but the kind of casual rudeness that is de-rigor in contemporary stories set in the Victorian era is, in my experience, all-but unknown in stories actually written in the Victorian era.

Now, let me be clear: I am not claiming this means it didn’t exist. Fiction is not real life, but fiction is a reflection of culture and values that were present in real life. It’s not a record what happened, but it is a record of what people were thinking about. That is why I like looking at fiction from different time periods: it is a more ‘inside view’ than reading historical accounts. The fact that I don’t see this sort of thing in Victorian fiction tells me that either it wasn’t particularly common or that people didn’t think of it much, meaning that it wasn’t taken as an insult (and if you’re going to say that’s because Dickens was a man, I don’t see this sort of thing in Jane Austen – pre-Victorian – or the Bronte sisters – though admittedly I haven’t read much of the latter). Take it for what it’s worth, but in all my Victorian and pre-Victorian reading (which I confess I haven’t done nearly as much of as I would like) I can recall this sneeringly dismissive attitude occurring only a handful of times…and always at the hands of people we’re supposed to dislike. Half they time, they’re women.

In short, I am not saying that this kind of dismissive attitude didn’t exist in the Victorian era. I am saying that, to the extent it did, it certainly was not expressed like this. That’s why this sort of casual rudeness feels very artificial to me, an imposition of modern views onto a pre-modern setting.

There are a lot of things like that in Victoria, from the Obligatory Gay Couple™ to Victoria complaining about post-birth purification and replying to someone referring to her new baby as a gift from God with “God had nothing to do with it.” These strike me as modern sensibilities foisted upon a distinctly pre-modern world, either because the writers weren’t able to project themselves into that mindset, didn’t wish to, or thought the audience wouldn’t go along with it. I find this extremely annoying because it seems unfair to the Victorians that they’re not simply allowed to be themselves and let the audience judge how we like them. Like many contemporary stories set in the past, the main point seems to be to make the modern world look good.

For a counter-example of this sort of thing, I recommend the 1995 Pride and Prejudice BBC adaptation, which was content just to let the story play out and allowed the characters to talk and act like people of their time and place (e.g. the only one really complaining of the entail was silly Mrs. Bennet, whom we’re not supposed to take seriously, rather than having Jane and Elizabeth lamenting the unfairness of it all). The 2009 adaptation of Emma did this as well: I suppose writers are a little wary of messing with Miss Austen.

Anyway, that’s my opinion of Victoria: not bad, but kind of shallow and artificial.

Our Lady of Perpetual Grievance

So, some friends linked to this article the other day and I had some thoughts. Fair warning, if you liked this article, you probably won’t like my response, because quite frankly, this article was repulsive.

On Facebook yesterday, a number of Catholic friends were sharing around an image of Mary the Mother of Jesus, modeled after the famous Polish icon, Our Lady of Czestochowa. While the art style may not be to everyone’s taste, what I liked about the image was that Mary is presented as strong, cool – possibly staring down an opponent, certainly keeping her thoughts to herself, while holding her baby close. All we see of the face of baby Jesus is that he is looking up at his mother and protector. It’s an expression I wish I could emulate, any time I feel I need to take a stand to protect my family. And insofar as I have a devotion to Mary as Mother, there is reassurance in knowing that she might be facing down my enemies, too.

Starts out reasonable enough: nothing to speak of in the first paragraph.

Mary of Nazareth bore her child into uncertain political and economic circumstances, a poor young woman in a marginalized group oppressed by Imperial powers. That she had to travel long miles while pregnant to register for Augustus’ census is a reminder of the cruelty and heartlessness of such imperial regimes, the disdain for the poor, for mothers and children. The indifference to families unless they are “good Roman families” such as Augustus liked to praise.

Okay, this is where things start to move in a bad direction. I do not like the sight of the scare quotes around “good Roman Families,” or the accusation of indifference of ‘other kind of families.’ This is insinuation, so responding to it would necessarily involve interpretation (which is why I don’t like insinuation tactics: people can always claim you’re reading too much into it, or that they didn’t mean what you thought they meant). I have ideas of what she meant, based on the rest of the essay and based on my knowledge of my own society, but since she doesn’t actually come out and say it, I’ll let it pass lest I get bogged down in fighting suppositions. Trust me, there are plenty of more solid targets to come.

All I will say is that we’re definitely getting a bad vibe so far.

She bore her child in a stable, and shortly after had to flee as a refugee from state-sanctioned violence, into a foreign land. She may have saved her child, but what about all the other babies who were killed? This might be one of the things Mary pondered in her heart: why the others couldn’t have been saved. Why she was singled out. What would it feel like, returning to Nazareth and raising a child among women whose sons of the same age had been slaughtered?

Small issue: the slaughter of the innocents took place in Bethlehem, not Nazareth. I would also point out that Egypt was not exactly a foreign land, being part of the same Empire and with a large Jewish population of its own, but that’s a quibble. In any case, I really wish she wouldn’t try to impose modern political categories onto the Roman Empire.

It makes sense to portray Mary, at this point in her young life, as angry or defensive. If Jesus could fly into a rage and kick over tables because of economic injustice, why shouldn’t his mother be able to rage against the injustice of a violent regime? Maybe it was a family trait.

The crime that enraged Our Lord to the point of violence was not economic injustice but sacrilege: He was angry that the sellers were using the Temple as a marketplace. He’s very clear on that point: “‘Take these things hence, and make not the house of my Father a house of traffic.’ And his disciples remembered, that it was written: The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up.” (John 2:16-17). Your re-interpretation is another troubling tonal sign.

I’m all in favor of an angry Mary, if done well and reverently. One of my favorite pieces of religious art is M. Bouguereau’s Pieta, which shows a tearful Mary clutching the dead Christ to her chest while staring accusingly at the viewer.


But the commentary on this image, mostly from males of a more conservative background, was hugely negative. She doesn’t look meek was the most common response. Or, she doesn’t look humble, she doesn’t look loving. Even: her neckline is immodest. Or, worst of all, she looks like a whore.

I couldn’t find the image in question (the link she provided no longer worked and a subsequent search was unsuccessful), so I can’t tell how appropriate this criticism is. For our purposes, though, it doesn’t really matter. People like what they like, and it may be that people thought the image was inappropriate. Since it’s the internet I’m sure some people probably overreacted or were crass about it, but you’ll excuse me if I don’t absolutely take your word for it, as you’ve already shown a degree of prejudice and will be showing much more before we’re done.

Forget about the fact that in the history of art we often see Mary with her breast completely bare, nursing Jesus. Or even squirting milk into the mouth of a male saint. Yes, that’s right. St. Bernard of Clairvaux had a vision in which Mary appeared, lactating, and squirted milk from her breast into his mouth: thus, the story goes, he acquired his great eloquence. Okay, Bernard.

Here’s the problem, though; the images of Mary nurturing Christ and the Saints from her breasts come from a very different cultural context: one that had a different view of sexuality and the body. The same image coming out of our culture might have connotations that it would not coming out of just about any previous culture.

Again, the image that prompted this essay may be a perfectly acceptable and reverent image of Our Lady, or it may not, or it may be one that people may disagree over. But one’s reaction to a modern image will necessarily be different from one’s reaction to a historical image simply because it is using a different cultural language. It is the responsibility of the artist to understand and work with that (e.g. a swastika would have vastly different connotations in an image made in modern Europe than it would in one made in medieval India).

Forget about the fact that we have images of Jesus in which he is more like a judgmental Apollo than gentle Messiah. Why is it acceptable to portray different facets of Jesus, but not of Mary? If Mary is indeed supposed to be “queen of heaven” and the “woman clothed with the sun” who strikes at the serpent, we should see her fierce side, too. She herself sang the revolutionary Magnificat, rejoicing in the casting down of the mighty from their thrones.

There is also a problem with this: though, as I say, I’m up for an angry Madonna, there are certain conceptual issues with it. Mary’s role in salvation history is not that of judge. She bears Christ to the world, which by its very nature implies a gentler, kindlier mission. There simply is no basis for comparing her with Christ in the final judgment. Though again, Our Lady of Victory as a stern queen, or bearing the sword, or other powerful images are fairly common depictions of her in religious art, ones I’ve never heard anyone not-Protestant complain of.





The description of the Magnificat as ‘revolutionary’ is highly unfortunate, turning what is a religious exultation into a political one. That, frankly, seems to be a major problem with the essay as a whole.

The men who object to Mary’s representation as other than the meek, pink-and-white maiden of countless kitschy holy cards seem to be objecting not out of an adherence to Biblical accuracy or artistic tradition. They’re objecting because this is not “their” Mary, the Mary they are willing to venerate. Theirs is an idealized image of the feminine, not even a real woman anymore, but an airy Platonic ideal. Pure, meek, humble.

And you plunge right down the straw man slope: you are first setting up a false dichotomy, that either you like this particular image or all you want is “the meek, pink-and-white maiden of kitschy holy cards.” Somehow, I doubt all the men who objected to this image also had the same objections to Our Lady of Victory presiding over Lepanto, or to the aforementioned Pieta, or to the stern, Queenly images of Mary from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Then you start ascribing them motives, which you have no rational basis to do (why do you need to deduce anything beyond the reasons they cited?) and which seem to correspond more to your own personal prejudices than to anything you could reasonably deduce from what you’ve described: that men are only willing to venerate an “idealized, meek, and humble” Mary who presents an airy, idealized image of the feminine (by the way, what’s with women objecting to idealized femininity?).

Giving birth to her baby through her ear.

Oh for goodness sakes! For one thing, the image is of Mary conceiving through her ear, not that she gave birth through the ear, and it is a way of expressing that she conceived through receiving Christ, who is the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit conveyed by the voice of the angel. It is a means of conveying an inexpressible spiritual truth, incorporating rich, complex notions of the transference of ideas and the efficacy of words, implications regarding the nature of the Second Person of the Trinity, as well as incorporating allusions to Genesis and the Psalms. Like so many works of ancient and medieval art, it is a fantastically rich image.

So, naturally, you boil the whole thing down to men being squeamish about women’s bodies.


By the way, finding that took all of two minutes of Googling. The fact that you didn’t even bother to try to uncover either the actual image or its meaning is telling.

Usually silent, unless she says “obey him” – or appears to chastise children about immodest clothing, or not praying enough.

Again, you’re putting words into their mouths: are you really going to suggest that the men who disliked this image (by the why, why does a single image inspire so much vehemence on your part?) also discount Lourdes, Fatima, Lepanto, The Ballad of the White Horse, St. Dominic, basically every work of art to come out of the Middle Ages, St. Alphonso de Liguori, St. John Paul the Great, and so on? That is, every piece of Christian heritage in which Mary plays an active role and speaks with authority?

I would also take issue with your sneering comment about “appears to chastise children about immodest clothing or not praying enough,” as if those were insulting matters of no real importance. Especially with the matter of “not praying enough,” since that is quite literally what Mary has actually told people time and again.

But Mary was not an ideal.

Depends on what you mean by an idea. She is held up as an ideal to follow, as is Christ, and as is every Saint, in the sense that we are to look on her with reverence and seek to imitate her in our own lives. That doesn’t mean a bloodless mental image.

She is portrayed in Scripture as a real woman, and one with quite a bit to say, in the few scenes where we see her. She questions an angel, sings revolutionary hymns, sets off on journeys alone, even chastises her son when he slips away from them.  

Please stop calling the Magnificat a ‘revolutionary hymn.’ Mary had much more important things on her mind than the iniquities of the Roman Empire or political revolt, and you are demeaning her by referring to it as such. The saving work of God is far greater than any mere political agenda.

Also, when in Scripture did Mary set off on journeys alone? St. Joseph was with her in the journeys to Bethlehem and Egypt, and she accompanied her son to Jerusalem for the Passion. He explicitly entrusts her to the care of St. John, implying that she’d been living with Him and the apostles. There isn’t the slightest suggestion that she travelled alone, and given the time period, we may reasonably assume she didn’t. The story of the Good Samaritan gives a hint as to why this would be, and I cannot imagine either Our Lord or St. Ann and St. Joachim being so irresponsible as to require her to travel anywhere alone.

As to Mary being a real woman, who on Earth said anything different? As far as I can tell, and as far as you have indicated, they simply didn’t like a particular image that you did because they thought it made Mary look too angry, immodest, or proud. Whether or not they showed good taste in doing so, that doesn’t imply any of the things you’ve been ascribing to them.

If, as the teaching says, she was devoid of sin, being devoid of sin does not mean being confined to just a few virtues, the ones that men have deemed “feminine.”

Yes, there are particularly feminine virtues, just as there are particularly masculine virtues: virtues that especially exhibit and coincide with a feminine nature. Men have ‘deemed’ them such because they saw by reason that they were so. If you disagree with their assessment, you have to show why they are not: you can’t just make a sneering insinuation. But regardless, once again, no one ever said being devoid of sin means being confined to a few key virtues. You are choosing to ascribe to people views that they have never expressed and then blaming them for it. Please stop.

And obedience to God does not mean obedience to men, or to the laws of men.

“For love of the Lord, then, bow to every kind of human authority;” (1 Peter 2:13) “Every soul must be submissive to its lawful superiors; authority comes from God only, and all authorities that hold sway are of his ordinance,” (Romans 13:1) “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:21). This is one point on which you are simply wrong on fact: obedience to God means obedience to lawful human authority. Both Scripture and Tradition are very clear on that.

Usually, in the lives of memorable women, it means quite the reverse.

Ah, the “well-behaved women have never made history” deal. Well, One, as Christians our goal is to be virtuous, loving, and God-fearing, not to be ‘memorable.’ Pagans sought to be remembered as their only reward: we have something better. Two, to the extent that this is true it’s largely because modern tastes consider being ‘disobedient’ as one of the chief qualification for being remembered. Three, Queen Victoria, Empress Maria Theresa, Queen Isabella, Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Jane Austen, and nearly every female Saint would disagree with you on the point. And finally, you could say the exact same thing about men (“well behaved men have rarely made history”) and it would be just as accurate and just as false.

And they suffer for it. They don’t emerge looking pink and docile, until after those who rewrite their stories have rendered them fit for a holy card.

Many artists choose to render Our Lady looking, as you so contemptuously describe it, “pink and docile” because they wish to emphasize her gentleness, kindness, and welcoming nature. Other artists who wish to emphasize other aspects of her show her differently. Our Lady of Czestochowa does not look in the least ‘pink and docile,’ nor do the images of Mary Queen of Heaven or Our Lady of Victory. Mel Gibson in The Passion of the Christ depicted her as a poor workingwoman filled with intense emotions and quiet dignity. The point is, different artists have different goals. You can discuss whether those goals are good or bad and whether they are realized well or poorly, but you seem to simply be holding up your preferred image as the best one because it speaks to you, while ascribing evil motives to everyone who doesn’t like its. You are insulting and attacking people on an incredibly flimsy pretext. 

Back in 2016, I wrote about the fact that, whenever we object to sexism in the church, someone is sure to remind us that “we have Mary. So what are you complaining about?” We’ve elevated a woman as queen of heaven; a woman was chosen to bear God in the world – so, move on, no sexism here!

That is quite a legitimate response. As is the fact that Christian civilization has pretty much from the get-go given women greater autonomy, respect, and scope for development than just about any other (though such things vary over time and place, of course). Among her female Saints the Church includes Queens, soldiers, scientists, lawyers, doctors, and theologians. Abbesses in the Medieval era often wielded enormous power and influence, almost akin to modern CEOs. St. Catherine had the clout to publicly criticize the Pope and have him listen to her. These things are all highly relevant when discussing the Church’s historical attitude towards women in general.

The real question is what you consider ‘sexism,’ because all too often it is apt to mean anything you happen to dislike or anything that acknowledges a real difference between men and women (the fact that you considered your mistaken idea that Mary ‘journeyed alone’ as an example of her independence is an example of where your particular ideas of this subject might mislead you). If you want a real discussion of these issues, you need to define your terms and stop making unfounded insinuations and gratuitous insults.

 Some of the views I expressed in that earlier piece have changed since then, but I still stand by this assertion: that until women are the ones leading the conversation about sex, gender, and equality in the church, we don’t “have” Mary. Men do.

Due respect to a lady forbids me to write my full reaction to this. Let me start by saying, as a minor point, that if it’s a conversation of equality, why ought women lead and not men? Wouldn’t the whole idea be each equally taking part?

Saying that unless “women are the ones leading the conversation about sex, gender, and equality in the church” that means women don’t ‘have’ Mary is so wrong, so unutterably ridiculous and foul that I hardly know what to say. What is this nonsense about who “has” Mary? Do you think Mary is some kind of prize? Some kind of baton of power that can be passed back and forth? Do you think she is in any way dependent upon how you think of her? You are talking about her as if she were some kind of tool to be subordinated to your own political and social ideas, or a mascot to be used for cheering on one preferred side or another.

Mary belongs to the Church entire, not to either men or women, and that’s only because Christ gave her to us out of love. You already have her in any meaningful sense of the word, and you have her by sheer gift, as you have everything from God. You want to own that gift? Go pray a Rosary and stop trying to make the Mother of God into a political prop.

As for your talk of a conversation about ‘sex, gender, and equality,” I won’t get into that nonsense here, except that your setting that up as a condition for “having” Mary says quite a bit more about you than you probably meant it to.

Or, rather, they have an idealized, fetishized image of her, one they can comfortably put on pedestals – or even fantasize about suckling from – without feeling guilt, or feeling obligated to give a space to real, living, inferior women at all.

Once again, my outdated chivalry forbids me from saying what I think of you right now. Where the heck did this Freudian nonsense come from? Who are you to throw out these kinds of insults and insinuations against men whom you don’t even know? You have given absolutely no justification for this kind of conclusion: you are simply scattering attacks wholesale and seem to feel justified in doing so because they’re directed against men. This is not analysis: this is bigotry.

Also, now you’re objecting to the image of St. Bernard? Weren’t you just holding it up as an example of depicting Mary as a ‘real woman’? Or did you mean it as somehow an example of how men have ‘used’ Mary in the past? If so, that shows an extraordinarily narrow and ignorant point of view; one that means you have no business speaking about religious art.

And again, all this is coming out of your head; men saying they didn’t like a particular image of Mary doesn’t even come close to justifying this nightmare of an amateur psychoanalysis. You are being needlessly insulting towards your audience and offensive towards our Lady by suggesting that men’s devotion to her is based on some kind of psycho-sexual dominance fantasy. Not to mention that, in all this, your focus has been entirely on fashionable political and social issues: not faith, not Christ, not salvation. It’s all about your personal response.

They’ve parceled off the virtues, designating any that might be associated with obedience of subordination as “feminine” and assigning those to the mother of God.

Obedience is a virtue for both sexes and always has been. “For Christ was obedient even unto Death.” “Slaves be subject to your master.” “I too am a man subject to authority and with soldiers subject to me.” Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Socrates submitting to the laws of Athens. The knight obedient to his lord. “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

On the other hand, traditional feminine virtues include circumspection, good sense, kindness, purity, temperance, and prudence, none of which have anything to do with subordination to men. Once again, you are simply wrong on fact.

In this cultural context, seeing Mary as representing emotions or virtues that have been reserved for select males – white males, the ones who call the shots – is an affront to their authority, specifically their authority to define and limit women.

Oh, throw a little racism in: nice (we had a Black President for eight years; stop pretending ‘white men’ rule our culture). Again, you are basing all of this on the fact that some men didn’t like a particular picture that you did and extrapolating from that into a nonsensical Marxist/Freudian fantasy that cherry-picks or ignores everything to do with Marian spirituality for the past two thousand years.

Note the conspiracy theory that men, especially white men, seek to maintain their “authority to define and limit women” through the virtues in general and Mary in particular. Do I even have to explain how asinine and paranoid this is? Sure thing: St. Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Francis de Sales, Dr. Johnson, John Henry Newman, they all had as their first priority keeping women down, because that is absolutely how pre-modern minds worked. No disinterested desire to know the truth, no honest piety, not even any good-will or love towards the women in their lives: just raw, unthinking urge to power for power’s sake relative to the opposite sex.

Do you even hear yourself?

To tell us how we must dress, lest we lead them astray.

“Let us cease, then, to lay down rules for one another, and make this rule for ourselves instead, not to trip up or entangle a brother’s conscience” (Romans 14:13). Trying to avoid being an occasion of sin for someone else is part of charity, and it’s one the most basic aspects of the Christian faith. The fact that you apparently feel insulted by it is telling.

To tell us what to think, since they are the ones attuned to the voice of God.

No one has ever said that. Even discounting the Blessed Mother and St. Mary Magdalene, just consider St. Catherine of Alexandria (Patron of Philosophers), St. Monica, St. Teresa of Avilla, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Terese of Lisieux. No one has ever said that women cannot be attuned to the voice of God. You’re not even cherry picking your examples at this point: you are simply making up your own opponents to argue with.

And judging by your essay, “telling us what to think” in this context means “trying to tell you that you sound insane.”

To tell us how to use our bodies.

It’s called ‘virtue’ and ‘ethics’ and it applies to men and women. Nearly all moral laws revolve around what you do with your body, because the body is how you enact your will. You are not exempt from the moral law because you are a woman: if you were, that would be an insult and statement of inferiority.

We’re allowed to stand very, very still on pedestals or in holy cards, and only speak when echoing.

You are simply saying nonsense right now: extrapolating an absurd cartoon fantasy based on half-remembered half-truths about attitudes that have been dead for a century and applying it wholesale to everyone who disagrees with you, even in the most unimportant of matters.

If Mary looks angry in the painting, she has every right to be. Look at what she lived through. Look at what Christians have done in her son’s name – and what men have done with her, too, turning her into a weapon to be used against her daughters.

Look at people like you, insulting her, trying to claim her for your particular political views, and slandering those who honor her. Oh, yes; she has a lot to be angry about, but she is merciful and kind. Maybe instead of trying to co-opt her for your own purposes, you should listen to what she actually has to say. Such as:

“Do not offend the Lord our God any more, because He is already so much offended.”

“Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”

“Are you suffering a great deal? Don’t lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”

“I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next.”

“Pray for sinners.”

“Kiss the ground as a penance for sinners.”

“I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.”

“Do whatever He tells you.”

These are things she has actually said. You, on the other hand, are ascribing to her your own particular grievances, frustrations, and hatreds.

In other words, you are assuming that, as a woman, the Blessed Mother has one role and one purpose: to speak with your voice and attend to your needs, while ignoring or dismissing what she actually says (remember the sneering contempt for “admonish children to pray more”). You are literally doing exactly what you are accusing men of doing, except that I have never known a man so presumptuous as to try that game with the Queen of Heaven.

Here at the beginning of 2018, when a megalomaniacal demagogue – elected with the wild approval of right-wing American “family value” Christians

Nice gratuitous swipe at Trump supporters. Couldn’t see that coming. Note the scare quotes on “family value” Christians; one more nasty insinuation for the road to reinforce the image she creates of herself as someone who really hates people who disagree with her.

– is tweeting nuclear violence at another megalomaniac on the other side of the globe, I fear for my children, and the world they will have to navigate. Looking at the face of a mother who is also a protector is encouraging. Okay, I say to her. You’re with me. We’re in this together.

This essay was frankly disgusting. A fairly innocuous incident is blown completely out of proportion, straw-manned into next week and then ineptly psycho-analyzed to work out into the worst possible interpretation: a hyperbole inside of a fallacy wrapped in an insult. She paints a huge number of people with the worst possible brush, dismisses their faith out of hand with completely uncalled-for suppositions, and treats the Blessed Mother as a pawn in a petty political game. There is not the slightest attempt at logic, reason, charity (which, since this is supposed to be a Christian site you’d think she would at least give a gesture towards), or even basic facts. It is pure, venomous accusation and insinuation.

Now because it is written by a woman and for women, I suspect that someone will read my response and accuse me of being anti-woman, or insulting towards women, or even say that, as I am a man, I have no right to speak on such things and should only listen. To which I would answer: I am treating this lady like a rational human being who has written a terrible and disgusting essay. I have attempted to show why and how I think it fails from a logical, moral, and religious standpoint. If you disagree with me, then show me how I was wrong. No one, man or woman, gets to plead exemption from criticism based on either their sex or their subject matter.

This is what being treated on an equal footing looks like. You want equality? You’ve got it. And everything that goes with it, including being called out when you spew hateful nonsense like this.

In conclusion, if you want an image of Our Lady that is not soft and white and pink, let me offer you one. This comes from a man who lived a hundred years ago and who despised feminism (even before it went mad) precisely because he loved women.

“One instant in a still light
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was a queen most womanly –
But she was a queen of men.

 “Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart –
But one was in her hand.”
-The Ballad of the White Horse
, Book VII