The establishment in this country needs to do a bit more thinking about civility and transgression. It is not civil or honest to attack a religion by trying to degrade its symbols.
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Barack Obama isn't the only presidential contender with a prominent bigot among his supporters. John McCain accepted the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee, who regularly attacks the Catholic Church as "the great whore of Revelation," a "false cult system," and "the anti-Christ." McCain deflected concern about Hagee's bigotry simply by saying he does not endorse all the opinions of people who back him. "He says he has never been anti-Catholic," McCain added, "but I repudiate the words that create that impression."

Like the hatred spewed by Louis Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright, Hagee's diatribes are available on videotape, but the mainstream media has barely reacted. The likely reason: reporters, editors and intellectuals aren't much interested in attacks on Catholics. Minorities, women and gays are eligible for sensitive concern. Catholics aren't.

Consider some recent provocations, mostly publicity-free. Comedian Bill Maher said Catholics are schizophrenic for believing that in communion they are "drinking the blood of a 2000-year-old space god." A skit on Utah public radio said Mike Huckabee's family likes "deep-fried body of Christ -- boring holy wafers no more... Mike likes to top his Christ with whipped cream and sprinkles." In Jerry Springer: the Opera, which played for two nights at Carnegie Hall in January, Jesus is an effeminate gay-like character who walks around in a diaper and is hailed as a "hypocrite son of the fascist tyrant on high." The Virgin Mary is introduced as a woman "raped by an angel," and Eve fondles Jesus' genitals.

Bearded guys dressed as nuns are regular feature in gay parades, sometimes accompanied by a swishy Jesus. In painting and sculpture the bashing of Christian symbols is so mainstream that it 's barely noticed. Attacks on the Virgin Mary include Mary coming out of a vagina, Mary encased in a condom, Mary pierced with a phallic pipe, Mary as a bare-breasted Jesus figure presiding at the Last Supper and an Annunciation scene with the Archangel Gabriel giving Mary a coat hanger for an abortion.

Jesus on the cross can be wrought in chocolate ("My Sweet Lord"), as a homosexual sex scene, or on the cover of the New Yorker as the Easter Bunny. Advertisers and movie-makers feel free to mock Catholics too. An ad for Equinox fitness clubs featured young women dressed as nuns sketching a naked man while staring at his crotch. Elizabeth: the Golden Age took many swipes at Catholicism. Writing in the Newark Star-Ledger, critic Stephen Witty wrote that the film "equates Catholicism with some sort of horror-movie cult, with scary close-ups of chanting monk and glinting crucifixes. There's even a murderous Jesuit...a second cousin to poor pale Silas from the Da Vinci Code."

Off-Broadway has produced many plays about corrupt cardinals and stupid nuns. In most cases these are not real plays, just political screeds by angry gays and feminists lashing out at the church over abortion or gay rights The anti-Catholic play almost writes itself. Just have a gay Jesus or a lesbian Mary have sex with a pope, Judas, or a farm animal, and contract a venereal disease or go to work in an abortion clinic. Nobody in the art world will object. Instead there will be lots of talk about artistic freedom.

The establishment in this country needs to do a bit more thinking about civility and transgression. Believers can expect open and honest argument about their doctrines and social teachings, and frank criticism about poor behavior. But it is not civil or honest to attack a religion by trying to degrade its symbols. The word for this is propaganda.

John Leo is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and editor of the Institute's web site on universities, Minding the Campus.

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