Bishop Robert Morlino must have been having a bad day.
The spiritual leader of a quarter-million faithful in the Madison Catholic Diocese just issued a column lamenting that "night" has overcome the United States and our democracy is untenable.
I sometimes think he is right. When I read of the Supreme Court decision equating the ability to give millions of dollars to subvert American democracy with free speech, I too, began to wonder if our society had survived.
The bishop, however, isn't worried about billionaires. He is worried about giving homosexuals the right to marry.
That's kind of weird, but I think I can explain what the bishop is thinking.
His position is that for a democracy to operate, there must be dialogue but there can't be dialogue unless people have a common reference point.
Without that common reference point, dialogue is "just noise," the bishop asserts.
Probably true. The pope justifies his dialogue with atheists on the proposition of that pope and atheist are each created in the image of God so the pope has an obligation to listen to the atheist.
Morlino, however, chooses his starting point as "reason" and suggests that men and women are created differently and you don't have to be a Christian to know that homosexuality and "artificial" birth control are contrary to that reason.
But look what's happening in the United States, he says:
"Society chooses abortion on a large scale. Society chooses artificial contraception on an almost universal scale. And society is more and more by a large majority choosing to support same-sex unions. All these things go against the law of reason and thus, we don't have a starting point from which to dialogue."
I've noticed this about Morlino before. He can be a charming and compassionate man, but his idea of dialogue is that you have to begin by accepting his initial premise.
If you start by accepting someone's initial premise you stand a pretty good chance of ending up at his conclusion.
And, if you start with Morlino's initial premise, you end up with this conclusion: "If we lose the meaning of marriage, we lose democracy and we lose our culture."
Now, here's where the problem with that kind of thinking begins: Once you begin from the premise that God has a plan and God has made the plan clear to everyone, believer or unbeliever alike, you start thinking of those who disagree with you as being enemies, enemies of God and your own enemies.
"When we try to reply (to those who promote same-sex rights) in a loving, compassionate way, we are called hate-mongers. We are accuse of using hate speech. In Canada, it is already a crime to simply state publicly what the law is that is written on the minds and hearts of human beings by the creator."
Canada does have hate speech laws that would be unconstitutional in the United States, but the case that brought the matter to the Canadian Supreme Court was that of one William Whatcolt who liked to carry placards reading "Sodomy in Public Schools" and "Gay activists expect taxpayers to fund their porn addiction."
I doubt even Morlino would say it is a matter of stating simply and publicly the law written on hearts and minds. Nor does any of the rest of the argument work, because night has not fallen on American democracy, neither because some states allow gay marriage nor because the infamous Koch brothers can now spend even more money lying about Obamacare.
A better initial premise might be the pope's: If we're all created in the image of God, we have something in common. Let‘s build on it.