Garry Wills on the Contraception Mandate

At several points during the administration’s ongoing struggle with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over contraception coverage, I’ve found myself thinking: “Wonder what Garry Wills would have to say about this?” For those unfamiliar with Wills (one of my idols, from my first reading of Nixon Agonistes back in the 1970s right on up to the 2009 book What the Gospels Meant) he’s the author of an entire array of remarkable books about Christianity, Catholicism, the Founders and U.S. politics.

Turns out we don’t have to wonder any more, because Wills has at least initially weighed in on the subject at the New York Review of Books‘ blog. He certainly doesn’t mince words:

Pusillanimous Catholics—Mark Shields and even, to a degree, the admirable E. J. Dionne—are saying that Catholics understandably resent an attack on “their” doctrine (even though they do not personally believe in it). Omnidirectional bad-faith arguments have clustered around what is falsely presented as a defense of “faith.” The layers of ignorance are equaled only by the willingness of people “of all faiths” to use them for their own purposes.

Wills goes on to describe the whole issue as “phony,” from its framing as a test of religious freedom, to the effort to make it a token of Catholic solidarity, to the very assumption that contraception is a religious matter at all.

I have no idea if Wills is going to write about this more in the immediate future, but I certainly hope so. His blog post has the air of an brief, irritable introduction to a lecture that will leave his opponents scrambling through centuries of texts to salvage their arguments, and their self-confidence.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.