Many of the following letters were submtted to "The Independent" a Durham, North Carolina weekly. "The Independent" maintains a fine website at www.indyweek.com (I recommend columnists Hal Crowther and Melinda Ruley.)
Dear Editor (In These Times),
In "Lie, Distort, Harass" (October 14, 2002) Neal Horsley's photo is carefully cropped so the aborted fetus doesn't show. It is ironic that this massive distortion occurs in an article critical of "misrepresentation."
Later in the same edition, "Death is Different" re-prints an intact photo of a woman being electrocuted.
In These Times uses the full shock value of electrocution while sweeping the photograph of fetal debris under the editorial carpet. This insures that Choice is a calculated, cerebral act with no opportunity to experience visceral response to yet another silent scream.
Choice supporters rail against the depiction of fetal gore to the extent that their own psyches are ill-prepared to confront the real outcome of their feckless ideology.
On a late-night walk in Berkeley, Ken Kesey confided: "Abortion is the Achilles' heel of the Left."
"Is death different?"
Review the photographic evidence.
Editors (The Independent),
I admire The Independent's recent coverage of Michael Moore's pledge to refrain from voting for Democrats who signed the War Powers Resolution. (Independent Weekly, October 23 29, 2002)
In the same edition, "This Modern World" accurately depicted Hillary Clinton and Tom Daschle as invertebrate opportunists.
However, your repeated praise for Senator John Edwards (in "Best in the Triangle") is reprehensible.
To praise this recreant as "an independent mind" and "a non-superficial politico in Washington D.C." endorses a political trajectory destined for the quadrant's nearest black hole. The oval office?
Had we fewer politicians trying to save their ass, we might - even in the gathering dark - save the world.
Pax on both houses.
Alan Archibald www.alanarchibald.homestead.com
(Polite discourse can not describe the cravenness of Edwards, Kerry, Daschle, Gephardt, Lieberman, Feinstein and "It takes (out) a village" Clinton.)
Here's my original commentary, complete with appropriate vulgarity.
I admire The Independent's recent coverage of Michael Moore's pledge to refrain from voting for Democrats who signed the War Powers Act. (Independent Weekly, October 23 29, 2002)
In the same edition, "This Modern World" accurately depicted Hillary Clinton and Tom Daschle as invertebrate opportunists.
However, your repeated praise for Senator John Edwards (in "Best in the Triangle") is reprehensible.
To praise this chickenshit poltroon as "an independent mind" and "a non-superficial politico in Washington D.C." endorses a political trajectory destined for the quadrant's nearest black hole. The oval office?
Had we fewer politicians trying to save their ass, we might - even in the gathering dark - save the world.
Pax on both houses.
PS I wrote this letter two days ago. In the interim I've considered changing "chicken-shit" to "gutless." Today, after hearing of Paul Wellstone's death, a Google search revealed George Bush's first comment on the Minnesota senator "Who is this chickenshit?" We owe it to Senator Wellstone's memory to restore appropriately foul nomenclature to its proper object any politician who "signs off" on the murder of innocents despite the promptings of conscience.
Editors (The Independent),
Ex-governors Holshouser and Hunt praise the privatization of Blue Cross/Blue Shield, saying it will result in a splendid charitable institution.
"At no cost to the taxpayer!"
"The only chance we have is if Blue Cross converts."
Color me jaundiced. It is the nature of charitable institutions to serve as stop-gaps when systems fail.
The privatization of Blue Cross/Blue Shield IS the failure of a remarkable system. The vaunted charitable institution that acts as carrot and goad to ratify this failure is grossly inadequate recompense.
Building on the Clinton debacle of health maintenance organizations as "the new messiah," privatization of Blue Cross/Blue Shield is another way to sell our "social contract" for a mess of pottage.
I recall Rebecca West's observation that "Charity is an ugly trick. It is a virtue grown by the rich on the graves of the poor. Unless it is accompanied by sincere revolt against the present social system, it is cheap moral swagger. In former times it was used as fire insurance by the rich, but now that the fear of Hell has gone... it is used either to gild mean lives with nobility or as a political instrument."
Pax on both houses,
Dear Editor (NC Catholic),
NC Catholic's front page photograph (9-22-02) portrays Jesus as cheerleader for the American flag. "Old Glory's" appearance on the back cover "bookends" a powerful urge in American Catholicism to make the stars and bars the Alpha and Omega.
The United States is at a crossroads. If the Bush administration succeeds in normalizing "the pre-emptive strike," essential elements of "just war" definition disappear from the American political landscape.
Spin doctors will be trotted out to perform their horse and pony shows, claiming "precise alignment" between "first strike violence" and Christian principles of "just war." These sophists will deny or ignore the principle of "proportional response" to "an actual act of aggression."
Augustine - the originator of "just war" theology - assumed that an individual's life and property never justified killing one's neighbor. (Revealingly, American jurisprudence is based on the primacy of property over persons.)
According to Augustine, "just war" is a special dispensation for political leaders who shoulder a unique obligation to "keep the peace."
Despite America's self-image as dedicated peacekeeper, we are a belligerent people. Since the Monroe Doctrine was declared in 1823, the United States has invaded Latin America eighty (80) times. President Reagan's "Contra War" prompted the World Court's only condemnation of an entire nation -- the United States -- for systematic and sustained acts of terrorism.
I dispute Mario Cuomo's characterization of the United States as "the most violent society in the history of the world." However, he is not far from the mark. According to Bureau of Justice statistics, over six million violent crimes were committed last year sixty million in the course of a decade. Any other country whose citizens perpetrated 20,000 annual killings would be viewed as a polity immersed in civil war. In comparison, fifty years of "troubles" in Ireland, Ulster and England took a grand total of two thousand (2000) lives.
To rationalize the violence at the heart of American affairs, it is increasingly urgent that we compromise Christian principles, set the nation on limitless war footing and imprison a greater percentage of the populace than any country in the history of the world including the Soviet Union at the height of the Gulag.
The easiest way to accommodate ongoing erosion of Christian principle -- while taking comfort in the appearance of righteousness -- is to wrap oneself in the flag.
The only other cover story in September 22nd's NC Catholic reviewed pope John Paul II's observance of September 11th. Addressing a general audience, the pope petitioned God's "mercy and forgiveness for the authors of this horrible terror attack." He also addressed "the scandalous situations of injustice and oppression" that "make it easy to fall prey to the temptations of hatred and violence," concluding that "armed violence and war are decisions that only sow and generate hatred and death."
How many Catholics -- how many Catholic parishes -- have prayed for God's forgiveness of Mohammed Atta?
Is it possible that American Catholics are more at peace with the administration's chest-thumping demand for "first strike capability" than the pope's call for "reason and love as the only valid means to overcome and resolve strife between persons and peoples?"
Recently, George Herbert Bush -- considerably more dovish than his son -- confessed: "I have nothing but hatred in my heart for Saddam Hussein." What happens to our souls when we support policies rooted in unmitigated hatred?
We confront a sea change in planetary affairs.
The choice is clearly constellated.
We refrain from attacking a country which has not attacked us, or, we cross a threshold that re-defines morality forever.
In these emerging shadow-lands, I recall the insight of Lord Acton, the devout Catholic who edited the first Cambridge History of the World: "Power tends to corrupt. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. Almost always, great men are bad men."
"Sweeping powers" will corrupt.
Bad men (and bad women) will emerge at the pinnacle of power.
If any good emerges from this morass, it will be the clear separation of "Church" from "usurping State."
No longer will it suffice to burn the candle at both ends. Time grows short. There's nowhere left to grab hold.
Then, for the first time, we pledge allegiance.
The "New document (that) says targeting Jews for conversion is unacceptable," is a curious piece of work with profound implications.
What does it mean to stress the theological uniqueness of the Jewish people by saying they were "called upon to live in a special relationship with God?" Has there ever been an individual -- or a group of people - that was not called to live in special relationship with God?
I recognize that Jesus was a Jew, probably more Jewish than any modern human being including contemporary Jews can conceive.
Correlatively, what does it mean that Islamics trace their lineage back to Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism? Might all Semites share in the unique covenant of Old Testamental times?
At a much more seismic stratum we confront an insurmountable theological barrier.
Judaism has always held that the messiah would be a human being. From the Jewish perspective, it is blasphemous for a human being to represent himself as God, or - for that matter - to be represented as God. Similarly, the Jewish people dislike the dictum that "an eye for an eye makes the world blind," a repugnance rooted in the perceived superiority of the Law of the Talion, which does not leave much room to respect the New Covenant's evident reversal of our understandable urge to retaliate.
Arising from Judaism's admirable tolerance of other faiths, Christ's blasphemy is regarded with quiet dismay. However, the subterranean fault line is present, creating a greater breach between Judaism and Christianity than the separation between Hinduism and Christianity, Buddhism and Christianity, or Islam and Christianity, all of which consider Jesus a prophet and an eminently virtuous embodiment of ultimate truth.
I do not wish to create discord by these observations. However, I do wonder if any evangelization not communicated first and foremost - by lives of evident love, service and forgiveness is acceptable.
Maybe we should not exempt Jews only, but challenge ourselves -- always and everywhere -- to communicate the incarnate love of the resurrected Christ through sympathetic soulfulness, and then, when asked for theological elaboration, provide it.
I've often wondered what Christ meant when he said "Why do you call me good? No one is good save God." Perhaps such utter self-emptying is The Way to transform ourselves into actual conduits of God's grace, and by extension to become vehicles of conversion to the risen Lord.
The July 7th cover story "Diocesan study confirms sky-high Hispanic numbers" observes that "Protestant churches have been successful in attracting Spanish-speaking immigrants, while Catholic churches have not been as welcoming."
Protestant churches embrace Hispanic immigrants with an abundance of Latin-American ministers.
Alternatively, there are not enough Catholic priests to go around. There are even fewer Catholic priests who speak Spanish, and fewer still who have time, energy or willingness to celebrate mass in Spanish.
This planet is home to dioceses with one priest per 100,000 believers.
It is scandalous - in the precise ecclesiastical meaning of the word - that the Catholic Church limits Holy Orders to celibate men, while millions of faithful Catholics - and, increasingly, former Catholics - go hungry.
Although "forms" are important, it is more important that "form" not shackle Spirit.
Ultimately, the crisis confronting the Church is a crisis of authority. When clerical policies deliberately impoverish the life of the Church, faith is broken and people turn elsewhere.
At the "pearly gates" there will be no quizzes concerning doctrine. Rather, the Mysterium Magnum will reveal whether we helped our fellows experience life more abundantly. If the sacraments are to inspire abundant life, they must be universally available.
Tragically, the universal church is involved in an impossible balancing act, trying to stretch a limited number of priests over parishes increasingly structured like fast food franchises. To keep pace with the corporatization of ecclesial life, it is a sad fact that "communion line traffic flow" has become a "real" issue at parish council meetings.
Reality no longer fits the old box.
Compassion - for clergy and laity alike - begs a new model.
What would Jesus do?
May 25, 2002
Dear Editor (The Independent),
"The great philosophical battle is not between good and evil but between absolutism and relativism."
Jeff Turrentine's advocacy of relativism ("Truth Decay," May 29 June 4, 2002) is understandable. It holds special appeal for "brainwashed pseudo-liberals like me" (to borrow Mr. Turrentine's self-portrait, itself a spinelessly relativistic disclaimer).
The mortal flaw of relativism is intrinsic shiftlessness. When push comes to shove when confronted by a choice between suffering/death and "an easy way out" -- relativists dive for the escape hatch.
Martin Luther King Jr. observed that "if a man hasn't found something he's willing to die for, he isn't fit to live."
As a shiftless alternative to decisive commitment, relativism devises countless arguments suggesting we needn't die for anything. Or, as Jeff puts it: "Hey, look, I just find it easier to live my life this way."
Relativists shun the dark reflection of self-interest, certain they'll behave nobly when times get tough.
In the end, relativists pose this question: "If I'm going to suffer - or die - by taking a moral stand that puts my life in immediate danger, why not redefine the rubrics of debate? After all, there are no truths, just positions."
"Truth Decay" provides wide angle insight to a decisive dilemma.
Either value is grounded - in which case it "stays put" or, there is no solid ground in which value can root.
It cannot be proven that value is, ultimately, grounded.
I believe the Ground of Being is stable. I believe "dharma" exists. But I cannot prove it.
This much can be demonstrated. If groundless relativism is ultimately true, the human experiment reduces to a brief exercise in destructive self-interest.
PS Relativism plays a critical role in "the scheme of things." We are, for example, statistically confident that 98% of an atom's electrons are located within a definable "cloud." The other 2%? God knows. They could be anywhere. Truth (and value) needn't be absolute to be dependable. Jewish scripture describes God's presence as "shekinah" Hebrew for "cloud." Like the localization of electrons, the truth is rather cloudy. Nevertheless, the "cloud" - shekinah - occupies a (relatively) certain domain. Mr. Turrentine will be disappointed to learn that investigation of this domain does not "spare us the time-sucking burden of participating in the quest for truth."
May 3, 2002
Dear Editor (The Independent),
Gary Govert's "Sermonizing in Suburbia" (April 24-30, 2002), held my attention.
However, I disagree with his observation that "a desire to go four-wheelin' through the mud is a decent reason for having an SUV."
"Four-wheelin' in the mud" is not decent.
Since the 1960s, we have grown stuporously proud of our "non-judgmentalness," of our precious ability to keep such open minds that our brains fall out.
The future of the planet relies on judgment. Not to pass judgment - to shun wise discrimination - is barely distinguishable from infantile regression. Seemingly, our national obsession with "youth" has awakened memories of undifferentiated placental bliss obliging us to deny any judgment that divides or separates.
Reluctance to pronounce judgment is the cornerstone of our quandary. What we call "progress" is an anomic drift into "the future," a cultural collapse that conflicts with the better angels of human nature.
In the absence of judgment, cowboy capitalism defaults to aimless consumption. Lacking judgment, "anything" goes. To be value-free is a prelude to being value-less. At every turn, moneyed interests capitalize on our spinelessness, polluting the headwaters of meaning.
Apparent "broadmindedness" colludes with forces of destruction that expand in direct relationship to their diffuseness.
Every time we say "whatever" we enhance the likelihood that "whatever" will rule.
If the planet is to thrive, we must --- while fostering convivial diversity --- declare certain values better than others: for example, the "sacrament of the table" is superior to the excision of beating hearts with obsidian blades.
Urban assault vehicles are - with a few clearly definable exceptions - baubles for those who decorate their lives rather than live them.
Lacking the courage to teach our young that "more than we need is never enough," we contribute to the wanton degradation of the biosphere.
E.F. Schumacher noted that "the people of the West refused to make the distinction between gluttony and the good life."
As Thoreau put it: "My greatest skill has been to want but little."
Dear Editor (NC Catholic),
The church's approach to the current sexual crisis scrutinizes the trees while turning a blind eye to the forest.
Consider the unresolvable conflicts contained in the following set of circumstances.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, head of the Catholic Conference of Bishops, notes the constant struggle to keep the nation's seminaries from homosexual domination. "Newsweek" reports that 35% to 50% of American priests are gay. (Parenthetically, I note that the same secular culture and secular press that Pope John Paul II rightly accuses of participating in "a culture of death" played an indispensable role in obliging the church to acknowledge priestly pedophilia.)
Meanwhile, the Vatican rumbles that homosexuality is 'objectively skewed toward evil' and that we shouldn't admit gays to the priesthood at all.
Perhaps I misunderstand. Does not "original sin" skew us all toward evil?
What will happen when bishops and cardinals are obliged to swear - by God - that "they are not now, nor have they ever been, homosexually inclined."
I've always been proud of the fact that the Catholic Church is the world's largest employer of gays and lesbians.
With some justification, Bishop Gregory claims that seminaries need to be made more inviting for heterosexual men. However, how many NC Catholic readers believe that straight men will flock to celibacy if seminaries are no longer influenced by homosexual administration?
If Holy Orders were opened to all loving men and women reserving a special place for the special calling of celibacy not only would seminary admissions soar, we would simultaneously experience a massive "return" of honorably laicized priests, most of whom are determined not to resume priestly service until ALL people are invited to answer God's call.
I am not recommending a specific remedy for pedophilia because the only remedy is to make the entire church a healthier place. The problem is not the gay/lesbian "content" of the church but an exclusive ecclesiastical "context" that institutionalizes gender and sexual bias. We cannot treat the symptoms of this crisis without reforming the whole Body.
Resolution lies in expanding our scope, not limiting it.
What impulse in Catholicism reflexively seeks to excommunicate rather than expand communion? "Take this, all of you, and eat."
By and large the Protestant Reformation was based on principles that eventually found a home in Catholicism, "the primacy of individual conscience" foremost among them. Recently, the Pope apologized for the Church's treatment of Galileo. Might it be time to apologize for our hardhearted collaboration in the 16th century rupture of Christendom?
We need, for once, to get ahead of the curve, to abandon the medieval myth of monolithic immutability, to renounce the pretense that Catholic doctrine never changes. We need to advocate on behalf of openness and inclusiveness. Even more importantly, we need to provide priests for the tens of millions of Catholics currently "going hungry" while this ungodly power struggle over "who can serve table" slogs on.
Having said that, the larger issue is authority.
Currently, the Church is more eager to support dubious doctrine -- and the consequent need to devise increasingly acrobatic justifications for having painted itself into "quasi-infallible" corners -- than to imitate Jesus' unfailing determination to feed the hungry.
When the Buddha was asked what he was, he answered: "I am awake (bodhi)."
Less dogmatic squabbling and more meditative bodhi would oblige us to recognize what most priests and nuns already hold as self-evident: the current state of priestly orders is dysfunctional and cannot be remedied within the context of prevailing doctrine.
To many Catholics, this call to "change" smacks of treacherous betrayal.
However, I recall the counsel of biblical exegetes who hold that the most accurate translation of the Testamental Greek word "metanoeo" - routinely rendered"repent" - should, in fact, be translated "change."
We have outgrown paternalism. There is no going back. The current crisis tells us - emphatically - that "father doesn't know best."
Every one of us is all we need.
For God's sake.
Dear Ms. Hatmaker (The Independent),
I admired Patrick O'Neill's "God and Country" (Independent Weekly, April 3-9, 2002). I attended Hauerwas' talk at the Silk Hope Catholic Worker House and would relay one ditty that Patrick didn't include: "If this nation's bishops don't start teaching bedrock gospel values, they're all going to hell."
The Catholic Church is in turmoil. "NC Catholic" - an exceptionally good Diocesan newspaper - declined to publish the letter I've included below.
Although I wrote with Catholics in mind, my letter outlines the scope of debate now taking place in the church. These same issues were broached by the Second Vatican Council, convened by Pope John XXIII to re-vitalize the Church after 150 years of vindictive anti-Modernism. Once again, the inter-related issues of authority, ministry, sexuality and gender-equality are coming to a head.
The Church is home to many good people, among them a wealth of fine ministers. My friend A.C. a retired Air Force general and Presbyterian elder readily acknowledges Catholicism as world leader in social service, disaster relief and hospitalary care.
However, parallel to these deep wells of compassion is a current of "Catholic Manicheeism" whose prissy adherents cling to corporal denial and tight-assed rigidity as certain signs of virtue.
Recently, Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha, Nebraska, rebuked a parishioner for criticizing a decision to re-assign a priest accused of viewing child pornography. The Archbishop's rationale? "The church has enough trouble defending herself against non-Catholic attacks without having to contend with disloyal Catholics." Similarly, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York City said that current scandals might put the Church "out of business" although many Catholics fail to understand why we are "in business" in the first place.
It is urgent that we transcend the arrogance of clerics whose pre-emptive authority and arctic frigidity result in cavalier dismissal of necessary criticism.
Abuse is everywhere. The Vatican continually scandalizes "the faithful" by failing to liberalize Holy Orders - the sacrament that confers priesthood. Although high-ranking clerics mask their intent even from themselves their fundamental concern is to exercise power, strictly limiting the corps of ministers authorized to "serve table" while ignoring the Kafkaesque grotesquerie that tens of millions of Catholics have no sacramental ministres and therefore go hungry.
It is time for Rome's "good ol' boy network" to foreswear the infallibility (and quasi-infallibility) ramrodded through the First Vatican Council by Pope Pius IX, who --- stripped of the Papal States --- condemned the foundation of modern Italy, refused recognition of the Italian state by Catholics, anathematized freedom of speech and railed against freedom of religion. Not only does infallibility "put God to the test" - something Jesus Himself was loathe to do - it also focuses such power within the Church that clergy are disproportionately prey to Lord Acton's dictum: "Power tends to corrupt. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. Almost always, great men are bad men" (Acton, a devout Catholic who edited the first "Cambridge History of the World," resisted Pius IX's maniacal drive to establish infallibility as Church doctrine.)
For years, there have been rumblings that Catholic progressives would provoke schism. Ironically, current scandals have arisen in Dioceses whose bishops - uniformly - were appointed by John Paul II.
I'm reminded of Lao Tzu's saying: "The profoundest truths are paradoxical."
The same clergy that long pontificated sexual morality with stiff-necked self-certainty systematically shunted pedophile priests from one parish to another. Why? So they might prey on fresh carousels of choirboys? "Remove first the beam from your own eye, and then you will see to remove the splinter from others'."
If Catholicism wishes to restore wholeness, it must rely on the sensus fidelium - "the general sense of the faithful" - that is the only authoritative foundation of the entire body of believers.
When finally the church treats the faithful as equal children of God, we may save ourselves from the sins of our Fathers.
Dear Editor (NC Catholic),
It has been said that "the first duty of a citizen is to keep his mouth open."
If those of us privy to sexual misconduct in rectories and schools had not been cowed into silence by "authority," we would have averted immeasurable tragedy.
I admire Bishop Gossman. However, his pastoral statement on sexual abuse is curiously oblique despite its apparent candor.
Fifteen years ago I asked a Paulist friend: "How many Catholic priests are sexually active?"
Without hesitation, Michael replied "About half."
Oddly, this statistic didn't surprise me as much as Father's next comment: "To tell you the truth Alan, I'm more worried about the ones who aren't."
Like other high-ranking clerics, Bishop Gossman seems to believe the current scandal is confined to pedophilia. In fact, the church is grappling with geometrically expanding revelations of "prohibited behaviors (including) all forms of overt or covert seductive speech or gestures as well as physical contact that sexually abuses, exploits or harasses another person."
Admittedly, priestly pedophilia is a crying sin. Sadly, these outrageous scandals overshadow the broader issue of clergy who vow celibacy, preach single-minded sexual commitment, and then deviate from every commitment they've undertaken.
These sexual issues are momentous. However, their impact on authority and ministry will change the nature of the church.
In 1967, Trappist priest Thomas Merton wrote to W.H. Ferry: "Authority has simply been abused too long in the Catholic church, and for many people it just becomes utterly stupid and intolerable to have to put up with the kind of jackassing around that is imposed in God's name. It is an insult to God himself and in the end it can only discredit all idea of authority and obedience. There comes a point where they simply forfeit the right to be listened to."
Celibacy and gender limitation are pre-requisites for Holy Orders. Coupled with the church's unique status as an "extra-legal" and "infallible" organization --- we have invested our rapidly dwindling, all-male clergy with extraordinary power.
In the 19th century, Lord Acton a renowned Catholic historian and adamant opponent of papal infallibility observed: "Power tends to corrupt. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. Almost always great men are bad men."
From now on, let us teach our children that the essence of moral obligation is to keep our mouths open whether in the workplace, politics or parish. It is increasingly critical that we speak truth to power even though power hold us in contempt.
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
Ballad of the White Horse
G. K. Chesterton, 1911
Dear Editor (Independent, 2/25/02),
Recently, George Bush became the first American president to address the Chinese people by television. He cautioned his audience that 'American television programs and Hollywood movies don't always reflect the real America."
No, Mr. President, television and movies only partially reflect the real America. They also taut "nouveau norms" for future emulation. Television and Hollywood are a constant reminder that "the worst is yet to come."
I understand the frustration expressed by Mary-Russell Roberson in "Premature Exposure." Like many moms, Mary thinks "there's good stuff on TV." The Salt Lake City Olympics - and round-the-clock Twin Tower coverage - are living proof of television's benefit --- rink-side seats at Olympic malfeasance, and a tape loop of mass murder. "Hey kids! This is cool!"
No television program is as good as reading aloud to one's children, singing in chorus, mounting a play, shooting hoops or hiking the banks of the Eno.
Playright David Mamet argues: "We gotta throw our televisions away. It's all trash. It's like talking about how cocaine might have some vitamins."
Television is George Orwell's "wallscreen" --- Big Brother's chief propaganda machine. Television colonizes the psyhe, subjecting us to the manipulation of mercenary strangers who genuflect to fear, violence, avarice, envy, lust, meretriciousness, misrepresentation, disinformation, and frank mendaciousness. This wide range of vice and viciousness is aimed at persuading well-trained "consumer units" to purchase products rarely relating to human need, but always focused on human greed.
For years, I taught the K-12 cycle. Rarely did I meet children who grew up without TV. When I did, they were immediately recognizable.
Un-programmed children are not sullen or combative. Un-programmed children delight in conversation: they have a vocabulary larger than "Shhh! I'm trying to watch this." Un-programmed children do not treat adults like agents of the Borg. In short, un-programmed kids "have a life."
Programmed kids think they've escaped the clutches of adult folly. However, it is their shrunken heads that have been most thoroughly assimilated. The adolescent presumption of "coolness" - of being "above it all" - is a measure of television's devastation.
Television erodes soulfulness as surely as Leonard Nimoy's "body snatchers" suck soul from the unwary.
Here's a test America will never take.
Every school district shall create K-12 Charter Schools in which the only criterion for admission is that students' families trash the tube.
Twenty years down the road, we'll have opportunity to learn whether isolation from the idiot box enabled the un-programmed to live richer, more spirited, more satisfied lives.
The argument will be put forth much like plutocratic arguments against meaningful campaign finance reform that "this deprivation is un-American. How dare Public School Systems shut down television?"
Television is the central altar of American life. Television fuses "Golden Calf Worship" the nation's real Religion --- with the essential aspirations of "America Inc."
If some School District do launch television-free charter schools, we may find that students who percieve life with their own eyes become "the only sighted people in the land of the blind."
If so, "the un-programmed" will be crippled in their attempts to navigate "reality" normalized by television.
We're all Golden Calf fundamentalists now!
PS The idea of television-free charter schools is explored at greater length in "Bread and Circuses" - http://archibaldessays.homestead.com/BreadandCircuses.html
I also recommend "Strangers in the House" (a Canadian Film Board investigation of television's impact) at http://www.onf.ca/FMT/E/MSN/35/35383.html; and "Merchants of Cool" ('A Report on the Creators and Marketers of Popular Culture for Teenagers') -
Dear Editor (NC Catholic),
Hearty thanks to John Strange for his unabashed praise of Harry Potter (NC Catholic, 12/02/01).
Opposition to Harry Potter smacks of the exculpatory urge to overlook the evil residing in our own lives. We live in thickets of greed, envy, covetousness and ambition, and are loathe to recognize the extremity of the vice we've normalized. As "The American Way" merges with rank materialism, it becomes ever harder to justify the festival of consuming wantonness.
Over thirty years ago, Trappist monk Thomas Merton expressed similar misgivings: "It seems to me there are very dangerous ambiguities about our democracy in its actual present condition. I wonder to what extent our ideals are now a front for organized selfishness and irresponsibility. If our affluent society ever breaks down and the façade is taken away, what are we going to have left?"
Instead of grappling with the sin that's palpably present in our own lives, Harry Potter becomes a scapegoat to divert attention from our selves onto trumped-up demons "over there."
If "love casts out fear," opposition to Harry Potter suggests lack of love rather than a meaningful engagement of evil.
Locating diabolism in Harry Potter fosters gratuitous dread and exemplifies Aquinas' observation that 'sinfulness is always accompanied by loss of perspective.'
If critics were to denounce the 24/7 "Buy Channel!" as eagerly as they denounce Harry Potter, they might have opportunity to read the books they're eager to burn.
Dear Editor (NC Catholic, 11/04/01),
While reading Bishop Gossman's explanation of "just war doctrine," I was not persuaded that our current attack on Afghanistan is justified, even by his own doctrinal clarification.
A.) "All other means of putting an end (to the aggression) must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective." From Cuba to Iraq, the United States has advocated economic boycott and clings to boycott even now - as an effective means of obliging aggressors to yield. We have not yet tried this practical means of evoking a political solution and have thus failed to show that boycott is ineffective. Furthermore, if the United States and its allies were to devise a radically new form of boycott/siege, we might craft an effective means for dealing with rogue nations in future conflicts. How?
1.) Stop ALL monetary transfers into - and out of - Afghanistan until bin Laden is brought before the World Court. Currently, the world banking system particularly the American banking system relies on such slack procedures that it's easy for anyone with financial clout to "wash" money and/or transfer it wherever they will. Each year, American banks "write off" thirteen billion dollars in credit card fraud just to keep the system "fluid." If the system were tightened globally -- and if screws were really torqued on Kabul-Kandahar, we would soon witness Taliban's ouster.
2.) Simultaneously, "we" would announce that any and all goods - or vehicles - leaving Afghanistan (except personal possessions carried as individual baggage) would be confiscated and sold. The proceeds from these sales would be used to finance massive food relief.
3.) By massive food relief, I propose the introduction of brown rice, beans and lentils in such abundance that most Afghans would enjoy a more nutritious diet than they do currently. Simultaneously, the ruling, mercantile and managerial classes would find no advantage in cornering the market on rice or beans since the whole country would be awash with both of these highly nutritious foodstuffs, and nothing but these highly nutritious foodstuffs.
B.) "The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated." "Civilians would not be targeted." If food aid does not flood into Afghanistan during the next several weeks --- when already-planned bombing raids will preclude such an attempt --- it is estimated that 1,000,000 Afghans will die during the upcoming winter (assuming weather is not particularly severe.) If we re-calculate these fatalities relative to the size of the United States, the slaughter visited on Afghanistan would be the equivalent of 20,385,000 ("twenty million, three hundred and eighty five thousand") dead Americans. Furthermore, almost all Afghanis dying from winter privation have as little to do with The Taliban as American-Arabs, who according to Newsweek magazine - are 43% Roman Catholic!?! (Interestingly, only 22% of American Arabs are practicing Islamics.)
To argue that we are not targeting civilians, and that we are not deliberately risking "evil graver than the evil to be eliminated," is inexcusably naïve.
According to Bishop Gossman's own criteria, the war on Afghanistan is not a just war.
Rather, it is a growing debacle with ever fewer "serious prospects of success."
One shrewd student of Arab affairs recently interviewed on NPR noted that bin Laden suffered his most serious setback when America did NOT respond with massive violence at the outset. According to this analyst, bin Ladin was counting on an immediate and extraordinary show of force, and harbored linchpin hopes the attack would polarize non-alligned Islamics into his camp.
Similarly, Afghans were universally sympathetic with America's plight in the weeks following 9-11, but sympathies have shifted precipitously since bombing began.
Bishop Gossman cautions that "the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily" in deciding whether there can be a proportional response steadily focused on targeted elimination of evil.
Although recent events hint at a sort of slow-motion apocalypse, it is more important that we confront the obvious: Our determination to retaliate -- like the word "re-taliate" itself -- is predicated on the Law of the Talion. An "eye for an eye" has been the fundamental justification for vengeful hostility since Abraham took possession of Canaan. Ironically, we recognize the deadly futility of escalating hatred between these two Abrahamic tribes, but cannot refrain from nurturing the same seedbed of reciprocal violence in ourselves.
Recent American military history is fraught with tragic outcome. From the World Court's condemnation of American involvement in Guatemala's perpetration of genocide, and the World Court's condemnation of the United States' Contra War for destroying Nicaragua's economy, through the nightmare of Viet Nam, the relative futility of Desert Storm, and the addlepatedness of expeditionary forces in Panama and Grenada, we are hard-pressed to recall "the good old days" when battlefields were occupied by gaily-dressed soldiers whose strictly circumscribed war-making was a theatrical event for civilians picnicking on nearby ridges.
Increasingly "Just War" is just another name for just war.
October 17, 2001
I thank Melinda Ruley for having written a balanced view of "God's Country." (Oct. 10-16)
The turbaned fellow who commented that "Chrissy's short-shorts" represented "godlessness" cuts to the heart of our quandary.
The inexcusable malice of 9-11 is rooted in a sort of self-righteous indifference that informs the worst manifestations of hatred.
To make headway in this "new world order," we must recognize - as Chesterton did - that "all wars are religious wars."
All value systems are functionally religious which is to say they attempt to "re-ligature" (from the Latin root re-ligare) the primordial rent that cleaves the human psyche.
Notably, Buddhism is avowedly agnostic while Jainism professes atheism. There is no need for religious believers to postulate the existence of a God. By definition, we are religious the moment we seek wholeness in any fragmented human condition.
Paradoxically, many of those who are least likely to identify themselves as believers worship the oldest and crassest deities.
Wall Street worships the Golden Calf.
Hollywood worships the Indus Valley's lingam and yoni.
These are real gods.
To assert that "true believers" must worship a transcendental deity is to assure the pre-eminence of humankind's basest religious instincts. By pretending that lucre and lust are not objects of worship is to surrender every meaningful debate to those "moderns" and "post-moderns" who pretend to be above the fray.
It is time for devotees of riches and carnality to enter the fray, to relinquish their easy postures of feigned superiority.
The ancient "gods" of stone, metal and flesh inspire real religiosity. When finally the vast pantheon of non-transcendental deities is re-deployed on an even playing field, our social and political debates become real.
As a culture, we have normalized vice, rendered "vice-iousness/viciousness" virtue. Greed, avarice, lust, envy, pride and anger are construed as essential qualities for anyone hoping to make way in the modern world.
The problem is not that we are godless, but that we refuse to recognize the inevitability of worship.
The collapsing Trade Towers immersed us in the same global stew. As painful as it has been, we suddenly find ourselves in a better position to examine which deities are best suited to making human beings whole.
Establishing the terms of this new debate will not be easy. Those who consider themselves "above the fray" will not readily admit they're already in the thick of it.
Like it or not, we're all believers.
The question is this. What beliefs enable escape from cycles of violence? What credo can short -circuit self-destruction?
On 9/15/01, MSNBC reporter, Tom Aspell, wrote:
"Hundreds of refugees started streaming out of Afghanistan's capital Saturday even though the Taliban's supreme leader urged them to stay and fight a holy war for Islam.
Those who remained in Kabul spent their meager savings to stock up on food, grimly accepting their fate.
'There is no pleasure in life anyway, so I don't care if the bombs come and I have to die along with my children," said Leilama, a 38-year-old mother of six in Kabul. "But the United States should know that the Afghan people are not their enemies.'"
Some Americans show renewed fondness for the phrase: "Bomb 'em back to the Stone Age."
Kabul has been bombed back to the Stone Age. Years of war with the Soviet Union, followed by civil war and drought/famine have left Kabul the most ravaged city in the world. It is already rubble.
I pray for the capture of terrorists and terrorist sympathizers.
However, it is increasingly clear that the United States will kill indiscriminately for the dubious satisfaction of retaliatory bloodshed.
Nietzsche advised: "When fighting a monster, take great care not to become one."
Nietzsche's warning is not idle caution. Rather, it is a precise description of the way the world works.
The final victory of terrorism converts us to terrorism.
In the end, what hatreds will we purge? What hatreds will we inspire?
Mencken said "there's always an easy solution to every human problem: neat, plausible and wrong." The "easy solution" of "an eye for an eye" has been the governing "principle" of our kind. Tragically, the Law of the Talion is shadowed by "the law of unintended consequences." Tragically, the First World War -- and the ensuing "peace" treaty -- created resentments that led directly to the Second World War.
If God has not yet rid the world of evil, where will hubris lead?
Many hold that "God-talk" is a stupefying delusion: "What we're dealing with now is Realpolitik!"
Realpolitik confronts two options.
One is to inflict massive damage having little impact on minuscule, highly-mobile terrorist "cells." As a sequel, "massive damage" will provoke such tragic loss of innocent life that the Arab world may abandon majoritarian opposition to terrorism in order to defend its people.
Alternatively, realpolitik may engage a "dirty little war." Sadly, this option ignores the close collaboration of America's military with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. It also ignores the training we supplied to Osama bin Laden during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Ironically, bin Laden learned to terrorize super-powers -- and their armies --from American mentors.
Ostensibly we are a Christian culture and claim to subscribe to "a new world order." "Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you."
America may be fierce when stirred to anger.
The law of love is fiercer still.
It takes no prisoners.
Pax on both houses,
"Nobody Offering Nothing" (Independent Weekly, July 18 24) reveals how easily we ignore folks on the fringe; how few people undertake communication across age or race barriers.
We occupy our neatly delineated professional boxes warehouse our children in age-segregated "instructional facilities" (whose halls are patrolled by gun-toting police) - and hope that an occasional foray "into the real world" will keep us in good standing with humankind.
I'm reminded of my experience as a public school teacher. After years of bewilderment, I finally identified the growing tendency to spurn learning as "aggressive ignorance." This fixated drive to remain benighted is much more widespread than people outside the schools dare admit.
Malcolm X said: "Without education, you aren't going anywhere."
A hundred and fifty years ago, the law prevented slaves from reading. Now many descendants of slaves accompanied by members of every other ethnicity -- refuse to read. With surprising regularity, these non-readers are proud of their recalcitrance, boasting their academic failure while creating social obligations that others join them in their misery. In a culture where parents are preemptively busy we see the horror of children raising themselves, pop idols providing priestly mediation for "the gods of cool."
When Rev. Kenneth Hammond suggested "this might be God's way of saying we need to get our house in order," gang members walked out of eighth grader Catrina Carr's funeral service.
Where were they heading?
What were they avoiding?
"Ain't nothing to do but bang my colors."
This nouveau fascination with color is a form of prejudice whereby people randomly kill other human beings according to the coloration of their clothes regardless the color of their skin. I understand that random violence is a plea for recognition. Still, such violence reveals an extraordinarily degraded quality of being.
Admittedly the prevailing powers are apathetic to this tragedy. The tacit subscript of plutocracy is: "Let them kill each other."
Happily, Headstart has proven somewhat successful and I'm grateful the program is being expanded.
Still, the Washington D.C. School District now spends nine thousand, five hundred dollars ($9500.00) per student per year. Despite this stunning outlay, no federal legislators send their kids to any of these schools.
Ironically and revealingly -- they send them to private schools for far less.
Ultimately, the roots of many modern conundrums run deeper than money.
We are infected by a psycho-spiritual malaise for which no cure can be purchased.
Dear Editor (The Independent, June,2001),
Hal Crowther is "disappointed to see that activists still feel compelled to remind us that Death Row inmates are human beings just like the rest of us."
Many capital crimes are unspeakably heinous. If anyone permanently harmed my children, I would want to dismember the fiend slowly - with circular saw and pruning shears.
Still, when we deprive Death Row inmates of human status even if these lost souls have deprived themselves of that status already -- they become the dumping ground for any monstrous quality we wish to deny in ourselves. Simultaneously, we activate the mechanism of psychological projection that is the cornerstone of warfare and genocide.
In the second century, Terence discovered an antidote: "Nothing human is alien to me."
Hal lards his analysis with pejorative reference to theocracies and "ecclesiastical baggage" without recognizing that the Abolition Movement is primarily faith-based. Most resistance to capital punishment including Catholicism's global opposition -- arises from belief in the bedrock dignity of each human person. For a disproportionate number of activists, it is this belief in essential human dignity that energizes resistance to state-sponsored slaughter.
It is counterproductive for "rational humanists" to advocate perpetual quarantine, simultaneously representing quarantined criminals as "mad dogs." Once the debate reduces to life-long incarceration of "mad dogs," the vox populi will demand they be "put to sleep." (Hal quotes Mencken: "If we had 2,000 executions a year in the United States instead of 130, there would be an immense improvement." I agree with Mencken. I also oppose him. In Cuba, "burglary of an occupied residence" is a capital offense. Not surprisingly, Cuba is a very safe place. The essence of fascism even "benign fascism" -- is to create a social environment so safe that the fundaments of freedom are inevitably compromised.)
If Abolition takes root, it will be attributable, primarily, to people who value the transcendental meaning of each human "person." This transcendental meaning even when it is deformed, defiled or hidden from view makes it possible to contemplate the personal, interpersonal and social devastation of human sacrifice.
Simone Weil observed that "purity of heart is the ability to contemplate defilement."
I agree with Hal that perpetual incarceration is, typically, the best path.
The Hanuman Foundation -- founded by Ram Das (Richard Alpert) --works with convicts to re-conceive prison cells as monastic cells. Both venues provide opportunity for reflection, repentance, meditation and spiritual liberation.
If these neo-monastic opportunities are not put to good use, capital offenders bear significant responsibility for the futility and frustration of their imprisonment.
Personally, I would "leave the door open" to eventual albeit extraordinarily exceptional commutation.
Ironically, Hal's unwillingness to open any door hints at his own burden of unrecognized "ecclesiastical baggage." Unflinching insistence on perpetual incarceration reprises the Christian vision of eternal damnation and flirts with a hubristic desire to deploy God's relentless wrath.
Dear Sister and Father,
Yesterday's eruption at mass was profoundly disturbing for us all.
As a product of Irish-American "sweep-it-under-the carpet" Catholicism, I was impressed by Father Tom's direct and compassionate engagement.
Still, the situation bears further exploration.
Two days ago, I scanned the Dalai Lama's interview in the current edition of "Psychology Today." Although I cannot quote him precisely, here's the gist: "We do not know the reasons why people have gotten stuck in angry patterns of behavior. If we steady ourselves in the awareness that our knowledge is limited, we will be in a better position to work toward solution." And again: "If we remember the destructive qualities of anger, perhaps we can refrain from reactionary ire even when circumstances seem to justify it most."
I think the Dalai Lama is on target.
However, "the brighter the light, the darker the shadow." ( except, of course, at high noon). The danger in the Lama's position is that it flirts with the proposition that "to understand all is to forgive all." (Having said that, I must confess the possibility that universal forgiveness lies at the heart of sainthood. Notably, Christ accepted crucifixion with the words "Father forgive them for they know not what they do.")
Still, throughout my adult life I have been impressed that Jesus was not a smarmified Mommy's boy as rendered in popular iconography. Indeed, this smarmification is a deeply-rooted psychological attempt to protect ourselves to "get by" with our half-hearted, partial commitments to contain and control the eruptive force of someone whose mission was "not to bring peace but a sword;" whose purpose was "to set family members against one another;" whose vitriolic attacks on the Pharisees (a reference most aptly translated as "upright church-goers") knew no bounds.
"You are vipers. You are whited sepulchers full of dead men's bones and rot."
"Let the dead bury the dead."
I cannot read the gospels without re-inforcing my impression that Jesus was a sort of wild man who ran roughshod over purificatory niceties and other liturgical formulae in order to "get down and dirty."
I don't deny he saw himself squarely planted in the Jewish prophetic tradition. However, the prophet to whom he was most closely allied in time/space John the Baptist was another wild man, living on insects probably eating them live.
Then there's Jesus' fondness for traitorous tax collectors, prostitutes (Rahab herself figures in his ancestry), wine-bibbling festivity, re-directing the cast stone back upon the thrower.
Although I'm concerned about the shouting parishioner's "stuckness," I'm more concerned about the woman who fled the Church.
It seems Jesus spent little time in church buildings, preferring to preach in the open air. Significantly, yesterday's abused mother and children had to flee to the open air in order to escape the intolerable stiflingness of the pharaseeic church.
"Suffer the little children come unto me."
"Unless we become like children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven."
It is plausible that Jesus spent so little time "in church" because he knew that the nature of "church-going" would always squelch "child spirit" --- the very spirit that holds the keys to the kingdom.
However, even more than his determination to stay in touch with everyone including children - I suspect Jesus saw that Phariseeic self-righteousness resides close to the heart of mainstream church-going, and that it wasn't worth continual confrontation of this well-organized, institutionally-validated self-righteousness.
In any event, what would be gained by "carrying the battle" into the temple where "Pharisees" controlled the rules of engagement "back then" just as they do now?
What I fear will happen as a result of yesterday's upheaval is that HFC will develop protocols for insuring that we do not suffer the little children, but instead contain them outside the sanctuary.
There is a level on which containment may be appropriate. However, I believe it becomes appropriate only after we've wrestled --- no-holds barred --- with "good, church-going phariseeism".... the sort of monstrosity that assumes "we should be able to enjoy mass!"
'If on your way to do temple-offering, you realize you have anything against your brothers and sisters, go first to your brothers and sisters to reconcile with them, and then and only then go to temple.'
Mass is the remembrance of bloody sacrifice. Although Paul may be correct in saying that Jesus did it "once for all," I think we are wide of the mark whenever we represent Mass however tacitly - as another "good" to be "consumed" by radical individualists fixated on their own private salvation while ignoring the essence of common union.
Father Mike once gave a homily about East Africa's Catholic Church. If -- after mass had begun -- it became apparent that any parishioner was not reconciled with all other parishioners, mass was halted.
People simply disbanded and went home.
Communion is common union or it's nothing.
To quote Father Mike: "Mass never ends."
It is to be lived in service.
Shouting at someone minutes after being instructed to seek out our smelly brothers and sisters, despite - or perhaps because of -all the bad choices they may have made, reveals a blindness I recognize in myself and hope we can heal everywhere.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply.
I'm preparing to leave tomorrow morning and will be gone for nearly a month.
I don't have time to formulate a balanced response to your letter, but I'll offer a few tentative observations.
It is often assumed that my point of view is narrower than the breadth of the catholic tradition. To some extent, I suppose any individual's opinion must be narrower than the vantage of the church. Still, the situation is analogous to Chesterton's observation about Liberalism: "I have not deserted Liberalism; Liberalism has deserted me."
Yes, Jesus was a practicing Jew but he was revolted by much of what he saw practiced in Temple. The Pharisees and Sadducees represented the leading "tendencies" in Judaism at the time of Christ. Between these two tendencies, Jesus' understanding is closely alligned with the (formal) understanding of the Pharisees who believed in life after death and the widespread activity of angels to name a few common trends.
Still, Luke 12:37 begins a lengthy (and typical) passage in which the Pharisees are attacked because they "noticed with surprise that he had not begun by washing before the meal."
On one level, failure to wash his hands seems very slight offense to earn such a concentrated dose of Jesus' wrath: "'You are like unmarked graves...' At this one of the lawyers said, 'Teacher, when you say things like this you are insulting us too.' Jesus rejoined: 'Alas for you lawyers also! You load men with intolerable burdens, and will not lift a finger to lighten the load. Alas you build monuments to the prophets whom your fathers murdered, and so testify that you approve of the deeds your fathers did; they committed the murders and you provide the monuments." (Parentheticallly, I'll note that contemporary Catholicism has little appreciation -- or teaching -- concerning Jesus' wit. Is it possible we avoid probing his wit because it would add a dimension that might make his teaching too lively?)
To conceive of lawyer/scribes and Pharisees as so different from us that they can be contained as a quaint "historic curiosity" "over there" "2000 years ago" contributes directly, as I see it, to the chief problem of the modern Church --- maybe the chief problem of church throughout all ages.
Most people feel comfortable "discharging their formal obligations" while a very small group of practitioners grapple with the nitty gritty of poverty, peace and justice issues. How does this fixation on formal obligation come to pass?
To pretend that Jesus criticizes the Pharisaic pillars of his community, and that his criticism simply refers to "a historical accident" or "an exception to the ecclesiastical rule" prevents Jesus' most striking - and insistent - criticism from including us. It guts his criticism of analogical power. As I see it, parenthetical treatment of the Pharisees -- stripping the Pharisees of the "imaginative ability" to include us all -- gives rise, specifically, to "institutionally validated self-righteousness." I may be wrong, but that's my considered belief.
No, the angry voice last Sunday was not smarmy in itself, but it did arise (at least in part) from the carefully cultivated christian tradition that "Jesus seeks MY personal salvation" without FIRST hammering home the more central truth that he came for the sick, not the well, and that no one is going to be saved - at least without purgatorial hell to pay - who "fails to do (the corporal works of mercy) to the least of the brethren."
I don't think it coincidental that Jesus outgrew the temple when his ministry started striking real chords among the poor and sinners and disenfranchised. If we truly focused on the primacy of the sick --- and anyone else who might be among "the least of the brethren" --- every temple structure would be outgrown because the truth would no longer be so genteel as to quietly hide beneath a bushel.
It's also significant - perhaps central - that Jesus left the Temple because it was increasingly clear "the priests" were determined to kill him.
Yes, people are stuck where they are stuck.
And for many people, there's no insight if learning is prevented by disturbance or inattention.
And yes, it is an appropriate function of church to awaken soome these "sleepers" slowly so they're not blinded by the sudden light of day.
I must also confess that Jesus got MY attention precisely through disturbance.
It may be impossible to read "the highlighted red words of Christ" (as printed in many bibles) without growing attentive through disturbance. (Every word Jesus spoke --- and it is NOT my intention to limit the wisdom tradition to Jesus' words --- can be read out loud in less than an hour, perhaps less than half an hour.)
I think we need to refocus the central truth of "the sick and the poor" so the Church doesn't become an accoutrement of "middle-class morality."
I don't say this to offend you or Sister. Almost all the work you do is important work.
I say it because -- to some significant extent -- it is true.
Furthermore, we're not doing what we can to redirect modern Catholics from the mounting compromises so easily made in the enveloping enviroment of materialist acquisition. To return briefly to Luke/Matthew: "Beware! Be on your guard against greed of every kind, for even when someone has more than enough, his possessions do not give him life... This is why I tell you not to worry about food to keep you alive or clothes to cover your body... How little faith you have! Do not set your minds on what you are to eat or drink; do not be anxious. These are all things that occupy the minds of the Gentiles, but yoour Father knows that you need them. No, set your minds on his kingdom and his justice, and the rest will come to you as well.
A recent study revealed that fewer than 40% of Catholic School teachers had even a rudimentary understanding of Church history and Church doctrine.
What might happen, for example, if each month we sponsored a dramatic reading - stem to stern - of Jesus' own words? Perhaps we could ask a different parishioner to render Jesus' words eacj time. Sounds like it could be a good ritual. I wonder who'd come...
Unfortunately, by closing on this note, I may be supplying a misplaced particular that will facilitate oversight of my more nuanced argument.
Be that as it may, without particulars, generalities --- regardless their beauty or truth --- never incarnate.
Once again, many thanks for your thoughts and your willingness to ponder.
I'll see you in late July.
PS Might there be such a thing as "compassionate invective?" Might "the body ecclesiastic" reach a point where compassionate invective is the only way to awaken the somnolent? But I find myself begging my original question: might "pharisees" not be best translated as "upright churchgoers?"
PPS It may be a measure of how wrong I am but I must say that I live with a FAR-from-certain sense of my own personal salvation.
Timothy McVeigh's fate weighs on me.
Having witnessed no public prayer for Timothy in our churches, I wonder about the roaring silence --- about our apparent inability "to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us."
Recently I received "Search for a New Pastor" from my friend Randy who shepherds Bethel United Methodist Church in Graham, North Carolina. I've made a few amendments to his text.
Following Randy's piece, you'll find "Who was Jesus?"
Search for a New Pastor
The following candidates were interviewed and all have been rejected, except one, who has promising qualifications for the position.
· Noah: A good preacher, with 120 years' experience, but no converts.
· Moses: A speech impediment causes him to stutter. His former congregation says he loses his temper over trivial matters.
· Abraham: With the arrival of hard times, Abraham fled to Egypt. When he got into trouble with authorities there, he tried to lie his way out.
· David: Has major character flaws. Among them, David is a peeping Tom who arranges political assassination to "get the girl." However, he is good with music ministry.
· Solomon: A good reputation for wisdom but fails to practice what he preaches.
· Elijah: Proven to be inconsistent and folds under pressure.
· Hosea: His family life is a mess. He's divorced and remarried to the same woman, a known prostitute.
· Jeremiah: An alarmist --- unable to control his emotions.
· John: He lacks the ability to compromise, and dresses like a hippie. Upright members of the community question his fondness for leaning on his master's chest while reclining at meals.
· Peter: Has a temper, and publicly denies the Truth when self-interest is at stake.
· Paul: He preaches too long and is overly demanding in his moral expectations.
· Timothy: Too young for the position.
· Jesus: He revels in the company of low-lifes, prostitutes and traitors. He routinely fails to wash before eating. He offends church members, excoriating self-certainty while focusing on self-scrutiny. He seems to delight in controversy and asks too many pointed questions.
Fortunately, one candidate has promising qualifications on every score.
His name is Judas. He's very practical, cooperative, good with money, cares for the poor, criticizes those who take Truth too seriously, and, perhaps most importantly, dresses well.
I wrote the following piece a couple years ago. It seems an appropriate follow-up to "Search for a Pastor."
Who was Jesus?
Born in a barn and cradled in a feeding trough, Jesus of Nazareth is the most influential figure in human history.
Who was he? What chord did he strike in our collective consciousness?
The child of a temporarily homeless, unwed mother, Y'eshua grew up in a backwater of imperial Rome. Tribesmen from other parts of Palestine wondered "if anything good could come out of Galilee."
Surviving accounts provide little information concerning Y'eshua's youth. Raised in a small town, he trained as a carpenter. One vignette reveals that his parents lost their 12 year-old son, only to find him days later, in church, dazzling the priests with knowledge and insight. On this occasion - as on others - Y'eshua referred to a unique relationship with his "heavenly Father."
This Father -- referred to as Abba ("poppa") is imbued with transcendental meaning. According to Y'eshua, anyone who embarks loving relationship with Abba is beholden to no one, and is therefore able to forego the enticements of home, parents, friends, wealth, power --- everything but sandals and a single cloak. Indeed, if your cloak is commandeered, Y'eshua joked, "Hand over your underwear as well."
Paradoxically, Y'eshua's loving relationship with his "heavenly" Father did not cause him to shun the world. Rather, this uniquely personal relationship inspired him to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, liberate captives, heal the sick and illumine the blind --- activities he performed with unfailing energy. (Casual observers recognized Y'eshua as a magician of unprecedented power.)
In spite of Love's centrality, Y'eshua reserved withering vitriol for those religious leaders whose philosophy was closest to his own, calling them "vipers" and "sepulchers full of putrid rot and dead men's bones." Those who condemned others - while exempting themselves from judgment - were excoriated. On at least one occasion, Y'eshua wielded a whip to drive ecclesiastical hangers-on from the temple.
At a time when females were obliged to hide themselves "behind the veil," Y'eshua's most faithful companions were women, often women of ill repute. His flamboyant disregard for biblical rules concerning cleanliness and "fit company" enraged Jewish leaders. Y'eshua did not wash properly. He reveled in the company of low-lifes, and had a taste for wine, which, on occasion, he made available in staggering quantities. (It should be noted that contemporary Romans believed Christians were orgiastic cannibals.)
Y'eshua taught that the reign of peace and justice are at hand. To merge with this realm, we must accept the gifts that surround us, and, after giving thanks, share these gifts with others, particularly the downtrodden, the spurned, the useless, the outcast, the shattered.... in short, with anyone whose life is in ruins. To enter the divine domain of peace and love, Y'eshua counsels special care to include -- fully -- those with no political, social or economic power. "Truly I tell you: anything you failed to do for one of these, however insignificant, you failed to do for me."
By his own account, Y'eshua did not come for the healthy, but for the sick.
Y'eshua's commitment was nourished by a well of "living water" that bubbles up from Abba-God. Although the Father dwells - essentially - in transcendental realms, his effusive Spirit is always available. Jesus encourages "completeness" of love (poorly translated as "perfection"), so that we become like the Father who causes the sun to rise on the good and bad alike; who makes rain fall on us all, the virtuous and vicious alike.
So strong was Y'eshua's belief in the liberating power of caritas that he tells us to "love our enemies." After all, "if you love only those who love you, what merit is there in that? Do not tax collectors do as much?" Jesus' question is as true as it is scathing, and as scathing as it is uproarious. Centuries of pietism have tried - unsuccessfully - to dull Y'eshua's mordant wit.
The bite endures. Humor prevails.
Chesterton suggests that Y'eshua retired to remote places to vent such thunderous Mirth that "the world" would not have understood; would, in fact, consider him mad if it ever heard the din of his laughter.
When Y'eshua was "thirty something" -- about 1000 days after quitting carpentry to roam the world -- revered religious leaders, joined by legitimate political authorities, executed him, first freeing a lethal terrorist in his stead.
Jesus bled to death in the company of criminals, simultaneously reminding us that there are "good thieves."
Although some followers symbolize their belief in Y'eshua's transformative power by honoring images of a naked cross, others prefer a body nailed to the cross to remind us that innocence and goodness are in constant danger of crucifixion.
Jesus' nailed body reminds us that forgiveness is available in any situation, and that all suffering can be transformed into divine sacrifice.
What happened at Y'eshua's empty tomb is hotly debated, as are his post-mortem appearances, during which his disciples' often failed to recognize him.
Believers hope for the resurrection of a "transfigured body," and look forward to a fulfilled world yet to come.
To understand Jesus' criticism of society, it is useful perhaps necessary - to read all four Gospels translating "scribe" as "lawyer," and "Pharisee" as "devout, church-goer."
Radix malorum est cupiditas
June 13, 2001
Dear Editor (The Independent),
Phil Harvey undermines the substance of free speech while feigning stalwart defense.
Beset by economic globalization, freedom now hinges on our determination to prevent corporate money -- including Phil Harvey's -- from re-defining "community standards."
The aim of corporate re-definition is to insure that the profit motive "justifies" any behavior --- the despoliation of Alaskan wilderness, the ongoing economic warfare in Iraq, the degradation of lives made vapid by "sex work."
I share some of Phil Harvey's philosophical principles. However, he is, essentially, a profiteering opportunist who helped pave the way for "society's tolerance of nudity and sexuality in the public domain" so that we are now sufficiently "enlightened" to accept Bill Clinton "cavorting with a mistress."
(If -- as one credible witness attests -- Mr. Clinton is also a rapist, perhaps Mr. Harvey can be credited with helping to minimize that misdemeanor as well. Ah, the lineaments of progress!)
Currently, Orange County "community standards" proscribe "child pornography, bestiality and sex involving violence or bondage." We assume these standards are set in stone; that they comprise an immutably ordained 11th Commandment. (Notice what happened to the other 10)
As mounting "tolerance" desensitizes humankind to all forms of violence - as we become so open-minded that our brains fall out --- why shouldn't community standards drift toward the acceptance of child pornography, violence, bondage and bestiality?
There is no moral code immune to progressive subversion.
Within years of the Sarajevo Olympics, Yugoslavia collapsed in genocidal chaos.
Whole cultures have salivated after human sacrifice --- including the "legitimized" slaughter of capital punishment.
Until his dying breath, George Bernard Shaw -- an otherwise astute fellow -- clung to his media-manipulated belief that Stalin was the great liberator of humanity.
When the primacy of capital has finally "leveled the playing field," everything will be possible.
Next, everything becomes plausible.
Then, everything is deemed "necessary."
Eventually, the riotous pleasures of the post-industrial smorgasbord become so entrancing that no one will look up from the gluttonous feast to witness the starvation of the human spirit.
And finally, well-trained historians -- thralls to the corporate re-definition of reality -- will represent this travesty as liberation.
Dear Editor (North Carolina Catholic),
The Vatican's desire for "exact translations of liturgical texts" (May 27, 2001) overlooks the impossibility of exact translation. I'm a professional translator (Spanish/English, English/Spanish) and have daily opportunity to consider that "something is lost in the translation."
Recently, I've been pondering the standard English and Spanish renderings of the Lord's Prayer. In English, we say "Lead us not into temptation." Spanish speakers, on the other hand, say "No nos dejes caer en tentación" ("Don't let us fall in temptation".)
These two translations embody radically divergent theologies. The English rendition suggests that God is a sort of trickster who might lead us into temptation. The Spanish version suggests that temptation exists "out there" and that God can help us avoid it.
I'm also intrigued by our ongoing use of the word "trespass" in the English language Lord's Prayer. Increasingly, this legalistic term suggests a relatively insignificant misdemeanor.
It is doubtful that Jesus intended his prayer to enjoin forgiveness for minor infractions, while giving free rein to vent bloodlust in capital cases.
I'm in favor of translations that aspire to reflect linguistic and culturally-predicated meaning. However, to pretend that exact translation is achievable disregards the inevitable "approximation" of translation.
By pretending that precise, incontrovertible translation is possible, "we put God to the test," struggling - dishonestly - to constrain the Mysterium Magnum to written formulae.
Greetings (NPR Morning Edition),
Daniel Schorr's deceptive comments concerning Cuba (April 1, 2001) beg redress.
It is misleading to represent Cuba as a country whose citizens go begging for appropriate health care.
Cuban health care is better -- and more accessible -- than elsewhere in Latin American countries.
Poor Cubans -- none of whom make their living as dump-scavengers as tens of thousands of "democratic" Mexicansdo -- have better access to health care than the poor in any other Latin American nation.
In 1999, a delegation from Johns Hopkins' Medical School returned from Fidel's less-than-perfect polity recommending that the United States model its primary health care system after Cuba's.
Elements of Mr. Schorr's commentary were extraordinarily wide of the mark. Perhaps they broadcast on April 1st to see if anyone got the joke.
Dear Editor (The Independent),
Henry Johnson's recent letter to the Independent (March 7) is full of chatter about broad-based participation in the decision-making process whereby a new public school curriculum will be put in place.
I suspect Mr. Johnson believes his own lies. I don't.
Having served as a public school educator for a decade (K-12 through Community College and State University) I find there is no American institution -- with the arguable exception of the American military - that is as autocratic.
Public Instruction invites "public participation" only to display the stuffed head as a trophy.
The multiple levels of community involvement to which Mr. Johnson proudly refers comprise an obfuscatory haze having negligible impact on the State Board of Education's "final action."
Unless one participates in these public fora as an accusatory burr-under-the-saddle, the outcome will be the ugliest sort of co-optation.
When the process is finished, Ms. Ruley's "Homeschooling" allegations will be a mild indictment of the curriculum that the Board of Education (abetted by Department of Public Instruction) actually puts in place.
Dear Editor (The Independent),
Melinda Ruley's "Home Schooling" (February 21) draws attention to an instructional conundrum.
Public Instruction fosters globalization at the expense of local and even "self" -- control. Acculturative mechanisms no longer aspire to personhood but to the efficient production of "consumer units."
Globalization has a lofty "ring." Sadly, its purpose is the homogenization of world culture.
"We never know what we've got 'til it's gone."
"Progressively" we are re-made in the image of a "global" god. Disabled from recognizing "golden calves" as "side dishes" on the smorgasbord of deity, we surrender to the assimilative power of techno-scientistic religiosity disguised as "value-free objectivity."
The result? The planet increasingly resembles a strip mall outside Hackensack.
While this "commercial strip" mining of planetary culture moves forward, "educators"
particularly Public Instruction administrators - justify the exercise by calling it "multi-cultural."
Such brazen Newspeak recalls Ronald Reagan's promise to exercise "budgetary restraint."
By quashing local history, the grand abstraction of "globalization" overwhelms us. Public Instruction has been dubbed "lackey-in-chief" by the promoters of trans-national "unification." Stunned by the scope of this process, we gape at our "wallscreens," mute witnesses to the de-incarnation of the world. Virtual and spectator realities deconstruct our lives, hindering direct participation in any Reality not mediated by money-manipulated imagery.
The military-industrial-educational complex dis-integrates human beings by selling our collective birthright for a mess of pottage, or, more fashionably, for a fistful of stock options.
My leftist friends typically love "humanity in the abstract" but despise the rednecks - and assorted Republicans - who live within eyeshot. Tragically, if humanity fails to encompass next-door neighbors, it's foolish to think global abstractions will have a happier ending.
Globalization is the climactic excuse for focusing attention on any "reality" other than the one we live. Commercial crassness -- and the nouveau wantonness it engenders -- thrive in the absence of Real Presence.
We no longer fear Big Brother.
His hand is in our pants.
We want more.
Resistance is anathema.
Dear Editor (The Independent),
I was moved to reflection by Melinda Ruley's "Rest stop."
Last Fall, my friends Lonnie and Nancy visited Oaxaca during "Día de los Muertos."
Inside a cemetery gate, they met a family cleaning the bones of a disinterred loved one.
A patch of hair still attached to the skull.
My Portuguese friend, Anabela, tells how each family "in the old country" owns a single burial plot. When someone dies, the grave is opened and bones are moved to the periphery before the shrouded body is laid to rest. And so, the generations mingle.
Alternatively, America seals its dead in hermetic boxes. And so, rugged individualism is consummated.
The denial of death in American culture is as unprecedented as American culture itself.
I have come to wonder if this denial is the fundamental propellant of our national character. Paradoxically, by denying death, we isolate ourselves from the wellsprings of life.
Two years ago, when my father died, I was pleased to learn that American law still lets family members wash the bodies of loved ones --- an accommodation of orthodox Jewish burial practice.
Until 100 years ago, families routinely washed the bodies of their dead, dressed them, held vigil at home, and finally committed the "remains" to holy ground, often digging the plot themselves.
Then, a sudden stroke of genius palled American culture: "When a loved one dies, let's deliver the body - as quickly as possible - to a complete stranger whose chief interest is profit."
If historians ever calculate the real cost of American "convenience," we will roll over in our graves.