WashPost On Faith Page Celebrates Muslim Modesty But Trashes Catholic Bishops As Prudish on Sex

Today's "On Faith" page in the Washington Post featured a puzzling contrast that shows the left-wing media's schizophrenia when it comes to traditional religious faith. The paper's religion section editors ran these two items side-by-side: a Religion News Service (RNS) article that was thoroughly positive about Muslim women who want to design and/or model fashionable yet modest clothing, and Post religion writer Lisa Miller's attack on Catholic bishops for their stances on Christian sexual ethics in general and opposition to the ObamaCare contraception mandate in particular.

In "A Muslim fashion statement: Agency connects modesty-minded models with designers," Omar Sacirbey of RNS opened his 23-paragraph feature with the story of Savannah Uqdah, a devout Muslim woman who at one time aspired to be a fashion model but "didn't want to violate Islam's tenets on modesty." As such, Uqdah "shelved her modeling dreams and instead expressed herself through the fashions she wore." But now that modeling agencies eye a lucrative market in fashionable yet modest attire, Sacirbey notes, women like Uqdah are excited at the potential to live out their dreams.

At no point in Sacirbey's feature did he turn to anyone to deride as outdated or retrograde the very notion of modesty as informed by traditional Muslim teaching. The next column over, however, was a far different story, with Miller waging a full-throated attack on Catholic teachings on sexual morality.

By contrast, in her B2 column headlined "Where bishops have trouble understanding young: Sex," Miller opened with an all-too-predictable line of secularist liberal attack on the Catholic Church: they're out of touch with modern times:

The headline last week in the National Catholic Reporter, the country’s go-to source for all things Catholic, might have run on the satirical news site “The Onion”: “Vatican admits it doesn’t fully understand youth culture,” it said. Next week, perhaps NCR will run a follow-up piece: “Bishops admit they have no clue about sex.”

But it's not just that the Church is out of step with modernity, in Miller's eyes at least, no, it's that they're out of step with the Obama administration and with the Washington Post:

The Obama administration has tried to be sensitive to the bishops’ claims to conscience. After much yelling about the trampling of religious liberties, most notably by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the administration last week unveiled adjustments to its health-care plan that would allow religious organizations to abstain from offering their employees contraceptive coverage under their group plans while, at the same time, requiring insurers to offer the coverage separately. The compromise is a win-win-win, the Department of Health and Human Services argues. The religious employer can follow his conscience. The woman gets the coverage, if she wants it. And the insurer doesn’t have to pay the higher costs associated with unplanned, unwanted pregnancies. In an editorial, The Washington Post supported the compromise.

Yes, those pesky bishops are belligerently seeking a fight, against both the Obama White House and the 21st century, Miller sighed (emphasis mine):

But some bishops just won’t be satisfied. Three American bishops said on Jan. 30 that they’d sooner go to jail than submit to the contraceptive mandate. The archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, called the administration’s concessions “minimalist” and used the phrase “immoral services” as a euphemism for birth control. The spokeswoman for the USCCB, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said the accommodations “did not completely satisfy concerns related to conscience rights,” and Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s fuller response was equally chary.

What these most conservative advocates want, it seems, is for American women to be thrust back to a time before Vatican II, when legal birth control was scarce, expensive and difficult to procure.

Miller then brought it back to the National Catholic Reporter -- which she failed to mention, by the way, is a theologically liberal Catholic publication -- to round out her column and suggest that when it comes to sexual ethics, it's the shepherds of the church who should be listening to the sheep (emphasis mine):

Which brings me back to the NCR piece, and the Vatican’s articulated lack of understanding of youth culture. The hierarchy is worried enough about its hold on the young to have held a closed-door conference in Rome from Wednesday through Saturday at which bishops listened to experts on youth in an effort to improve their messaging to the young and recapture some of the generation who — in the developed West, at least — are falling away. In preparation for the conference, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, said he’d been listening to Amy Winehouse.

Ravasi will probably come to this on his own, but in case he doesn’t, here’s a clue: Young people care about sex.

And it’s not just having sex that they care about. It’s how religious leaders talk about sex. In America, young people emphatically don’t like religions that preach negative messages about sex. They don’t like to be told that sex is bad or that premarital sex is a paving stone on the road to hell or that homosexuals are in any way, as the catechism says, “intrinsically disordered.” The conservative insistence on birth control as “immoral,” as Chaput would have it, is, for young Catholics, a turnoff.

Donna Freitas, a scholar of religion and a Catholic who studies college students’ attitudes toward sex, wrote as much in 2010: “Catholic students especially spoke with great sarcasm about the ‘don’ts’ with regard to sex in the Catholic tradition, which make them feel alienated, and which make them think that Catholicism is utterly out of touch.” To underscore her point: 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control at some point in their lives, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Social conservatives like to point to the widespread use of the pill, and the subsequent sexual revolution, as the beginning of the end of American morals, the gateway to the erosion of family and marriage, the beginning of the end of a healthy respect for sex as an act of great emotional significance, as well as the means of procreation. But recent data fail to support this thesis. Teen pregnancy rates have sunk to record lows, according to a report last year by the Guttmacher Institute. Teenagers are waiting longer than they did in the 1990s to have sex for the first time, and when they do have sex, it is usually in their later teens, with contraception and a steady boyfriend or girlfriend.

So, despite all the hysteria about the eroding effects on values of social media and YouTube and the fear that the availability of birth control will lead to a nation of hedonistic narcissists, the kids are all right. They’re sensible and self-protective. But they’re less likely than ever to take advice about personal morality from older men who think they know better.

To Miller, an atheist who affiliates on the high holy days with Reform Judaism, the bishops of the Church are just celibate old men who think they're know it alls, not men who take vows to shepherd the flock of God with care for the immortal souls in their charge.

But this sort of derision is reserved exclusively for conservative Catholics and conservative evangelicals who insist on standing by the Bible's teachings on sexual ethics and abortion. While traditional Muslim teaching on sexual ethics is equally if not more so prudish by the secularist standards of folks like Ms. Miller and the editors of the On Faith page, don't hold your breath for them to mock Muslims who are serious about living out the tenets of their faith on such matters.

When it comes to bashing conservative religious folks as backward and self-righteous simpletons, the media are not equal opportunity.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters