Shortly after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, when it became clear that Amy Coney Barrett was on the short list of President Donald Trump’s potential nominees to the Supreme Court, a clip started circulating on conservative Twitter from California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s grilling Barrett during her 2017 nomination to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country.”
Conservatives all understood what this meant: To Feinstein, Barrett’s Catholic faith was a way to “other” her. She may have been of sound legal mind (more than sound, actually) to be appointed to a high-level judgeship in her40s, and a potential nominee for a Supreme Court position if one opened up, but she wasn’t quite like you. She actually believed all that stuff in catechism was worth following, unlike the good Catholics like Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden.
Feinstein even made it clear what she meant, just in case you didn’t get this was anti-Catholic bias, by using the word “dogma” — generally used, if in a religious and not colloquial context, in connection with Roman Catholicism. (Feinstein used it wrongly, since matters of dogma in a Catholic context are almost universally unconcerned with constitutional precedent in United States jurisprudence, but now Democratic donors knew this was some kind of papist whacko Sen. Feinstein was keeping them safe from.)
“The dogma lives loudly within you.”
— Sen. Dianne Feinstein to Amy Coney Barrett, Sept. 6, 2017, nomination hearing for Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. pic.twitter.com/WpaWa8F809
— Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) September 21, 2020
Every conservative, particularly people of faith, knew what was up.
Eventually, the argument against whoever President Trump nominated to the Supreme Court couldn’t just be a kicking and screaming fit about considering a judge in an election year and matters of consistency regarding how Republicans treated the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016. There had to be some substance there, even if it were low-quality substance.
If the president’s nominee were to be a female, there likely wouldn’t be any sexual harassment or fraternity hijinks to dig up, eliminating the kind of baseless smears Democrats used against nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
Barrett came of age before social media, so there wouldn’t be an errant tweet from her high school days she’d live to regret. At 48, she also came of age after the era of the all-white country club, so there was nothing like that lurking in her background — and she’d likely have been excluded from that world inasmuch as it existed, being a Catholic.
And while liberals can’t attack Barrett directly on her Catholicism (nothing about how deeply that dogma might live within her was going to fly this time), they can make her seem unacceptably alien.
An early preview of the strategy might be glimpsed in a Monday Reuters article about People of Praise, a mostly Catholic charismatic group. The story quoted a former member who described the group as a “cult.” It then quoted a professor of comparative religion at the University of California, San Diego, Thomas Csordas, who said it’s not a cult.
And what does Reuters say?
“The group says on its website it is made up of liberals and conservatives, with a mixture including Roman Catholic and Pentecostal traditions, though at least one expert and a former member consider it very conservative,” the news service’s Daniel Trotta wrote. “Until 2018, it used the term ‘handmaid’ for its female leaders.”
Reuters Compares Amy Coney Barrett’s Faith Group To Dystopian Series ‘Handmaid’s Tale’https://t.co/l083srvMEd
— The Federalist (@FDRLST) September 22, 2020
The article’s inclusion of the “handmaid” nomenclature was petty clearly intentional, meant to set off alarm bells among liberals and the rest of the mainstream media.
The group changed its use of the term for precisely the reason you might think: Because the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian feminist novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” has led to implicit insinuations of dystopian levels of control among People of Praise, all made without evidence. (Or explicit insinuations, such as in Refinery29‘s click-tastic “Did Amy Coney Barrett’s Religious Group Inspire The Handmaid’s Tale?” Again, no evidence — but you know, there’s smoke there, so there might be fire! Who knows?)
According to Heavy.com, a People of Praise spokesman described the group’s 2018 decision to stop using “handmaid” to describe its female leaders this way:
“Regarding handmaids, the People of Praise has both male and female leaders. For many years, we referred to our female leaders as handmaids, following the use of the term by Mary, Jesus’s mother, who calls herself ‘the handmaid of the Lord,’ as reported in the Bible (Lk. 1:38). Recognizing that the meaning of this term has shifted dramatically in our culture in recent years, we no longer use the term handmaid to describe those women who are leaders in the People of Praise.”
While the Refinery29 article didn’t mention the Hulu series itself, referring only to Atwood’s novel, its point of view was much more of the decade we’re living in than the world of 1985. Here’s the last paragraph of that Refinery29 piece:
“We know a lot of people have jokingly said that if Trump gets elected – or in this case reelected – that the alternate reality of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ will become real. While we are still optimistic that it will remain the fiction of books and television, Barrett’s potential nomination to the Supreme Court is concerning.”
There’s no evidence presented that the group’s beliefs has or will influence Barrett’s jurisprudence. There’s no talk of how her membership would move us closer to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” unless you believe that the moment Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey is overturned for being bad precedent when decided (they were), we’ll have taken an incontrovertible step toward fitting women for red robes and doing so in a hurry.
But it sounds creepy enough to you, right? Transmitted intolerance, now as always, depends so much on what’s suggested to the hearer’s fecund imagination.
(It’s worth noting that the Reuters report underwent some extensive rewriting, as National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru reported. And there was even some more editing after Ponnuru posted his piece. Apparently, Reuters editors knew it had problems. The Daily Caller has an article on it here.)
So is Barrett a member of People of Praise?
“The group has declined to confirm or deny whether Barrett was a member since a New York Times article in 2017 said she was in the group, citing unnamed current and former members. It says it leaves it to members to disclose any involvement. At the time, Barrett did not respond to requests for comment from the Times,” Reuters reported. “Sharon Loftus, a judicial assistant to Barrett, said in an email the judge’s policy was not to give interviews or comments to the media.”
The Times’ evidence that Barrett is or was a former member of People of Praise is significantly better than the evidence that the group is some kind of Atwoodian cult.
Barrett was mentioned in group publications, for instance. She was also a trustee at a school founded and run by People of Praise; trustees of the school were required to be members of the organization.
Other than that, though, the Reuters, Refinery29 and New York Times articles are pretty loose on the specifics of what People of Praise really is other than vague assurances that its members are Just a Bit Strange. Women are tightly controlled, except that they hold positions in group leadership and apparently have enough on the ball to be considered for the Supreme Court.
All three are very upfront with the fact that the group believes in elements of charismatic Christianity like speaking in tongues — without bothering to go into too much depth on what charismatic Christianity is or that it’s well within the mainstream of Christian thought.
But that’s not really the point and that’s not why you were here. Now, as in 2017, the point isn’t to make People of Praise out to be a cult right out of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” It’s to have you conceivably believe it might have been.
The whole thing feels vaguely reminiscent of how Robert Di Niro’s spin doctor character in “Wag the Dog,” needing to distract from an Oval Office sex scandal, instructs his press people to hammer home the message the president is in China on trade and his visit has “got nothing to do with the B-3 bomber,” a fictitious warplane.
“There is no B-3 bomber,” an aide replies.
“I just said that,” Di Niro responds. “There is no B-3 bomber, and I don’t know why these rumors get started.”
People of Praise is not a cult. Nobody on the left is calling it a cult, and no one is saying for sure it controls its female members or that it inspired “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Nobody is saying speaking in tongues — I’m sorry, charismatic Christianity — is weird or cult-like. And nobody is even saying for sure that Amy Coney Barrett is a member.
I don’t know why these rumors about strange dogmas living loudly within her get started.
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