Wednesday, June 26, 2013

But Why Wear a Silly Hat? Episcopal Bishop Denounces St. Paul

Katharine Schori in silly hat
Photo credit; Anglican Ink
Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, recently challenged the teachings of St. Paul in a sermon she gave on the resort island of Curacao.  As reported by an Anglican news source, Bishop Schori “denounced the Apostle Paul as mean-spirited and bigoted for having released a slave girl from demonic bondage . . . .” 

Bishop Schori was interpreting a passage from the Book of Acts in which the Apostle Paul called an evil spirit to leave a slave girl who had been working as a fortune teller.  Most Christians interpret Paul’s conduct as an act of healing, but Bishop Schori condemned Paul for depriving the girl of “the gift of spiritual awareness.” According to Schori, “Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.”  

If I understand Bishop Schori correctly, she basically said that the slave girl’s pagan spirit is as valid as Paul’s Christian teachings and that Paul acted wrongly when he exorcised the girl.

If that is what Bishop Schori truly believes, then in my opinion, she is not a Christian; she’s a postmodernist.  She is one of those people who believe there are no eternal truths, only a myriad of personal perspectives, with one perspective being as valid as another.

And that’s OK with me. University English departments are full of people who espouse postmodern views.  These people are experts at interpreting ancient texts and finding evidence of bigotry and hypocrisy where duller souls only found truth and beauty.

But what I can’t figure out is why Katharine Jefferts Schori wants to call herself a bishop. English professors who preach postmodernism can do so without relinquishing their dignity. But a woman who espouses those views while wearing a pseudo-Catholic bishop’s mitre simply looks ridiculous.

Ms. Schori and Episcopalians who think as she does need to face reality; what they espouse is not a religion but what G. K. Chesterton described as “the modern mood.”  As Chesterton so succinctly put it:
These people merely take the modern mood, with much in it that is amiable and much that is anarchical and much that is merely dull and obvious, and then require any creed to be cut down to fit that mood. But the mood would exist without the creed.
 A lot of Episcopalians want a religion to fit the modern mood. But others want something more. That's why people are leaving the Episcopal Church in droves. And some--by the grace of God--are returning to the Catholic Church, which still thinks St. Paul is a pretty nice guy.

References

Chesterton, G. K. (1928). The Catholic Church and Conversion. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

George Conger. (2013, May 20). Diversity, not Jesus, saves says Presiding Bishop. Anglican Ink. Accessible at: http://anglicanink.com/article/diversity-not-jesus-saves-says-presiding-bishop

Oppenheimer. Mark. (2013, June 22). For Episcopal Church's Leader, a Sermon Leads to More Dissent. New York Times, p.  A15.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Eye of the Needle: NYU Lends Money to Fat Cats to Buy Second Homes

Remember when college and university leaders bragged that American higher education is the envy of the world? I think Derek Bok, president emeritus of Harvard, said that.
John Sexton, President of NYU
Photo credit: nymag.com

You don't hear that boast much any more. People would laugh in your face now if you said American higher education is the best in the world. Americans know that a college education costs too much and that it  becoming more and more questionable regarding whether anyone learns anything from sitting in 30 or 40 college classes.

Part of our disillusionment with American higher education stems from the way its leaders behave.  The Times published a story yesterday about New York University's loans to its president, John Sexton, and other so called university "stars." NYU pays Sexton a salary of nearly $1.5 million, it guaranteed him retirement benefits of $800,000 per year, and he is due to receive a "length of service" bonus in 2015 of $2.5 million.  That's not enough to keep Sexton happy?

Apparently not. According to the Times, NYU loaned Sexton $1million for the purchase of a summer home on Fire Island.  This is one of about 100 loans NYU has made to faculty and administrators, including a loan to the former law school dean for a 65-acre estate in Connecticut.  Some of these loans are forgiven, essentially making them cash gifts.

Sexton, exhibiting the brazenness one might expect from someone with his compensation package, said home loans to NYU faculty help keep tuition down. "Faculty housing loans on which interest is paid and appreciation is enjoyed by the university actually produce additional revenue," he said. "They're probably the best-performing part of our portfolio, so as to reduce the amount of tuition that we require."

What a load of bull.  According to a Huffington Post story,  NYU's 2010 graduates had amassed a
student-debt load of nearly two thirds of a billion dollars, the highest in the nation with the exception of students graduating from a few for-profit institutions.  And the cost of obtaining a degree, including tuition, housing and other expenses is about  $280,000.

University trustees all over the United States claim that obscene compensation packages are necessary to attract top talent.  But when they say this, they are basically admitting that our top university executives are motivated by greed.


St.Francis
I need $800 K & and a car allowance
I don't buy it.  I don't believe colleges, universities, banks, and corporations have to pay their people ridiculous amounts of money in order to obtain good executive leaders. Can you imagine the Catholic Church being run that way? Picture St. Francis saying this to the Pope: "Yes, I can organize a world-wide religious order for you full of  pious monks who have sworn a vow of poverty, but I will need 800 K, a summer home in Tuscany, and a car allowance."

What was it Jesus said? "[I] it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." But of course John Sexton isn't thinking about the Kingdom of God. He's going to Fire Island, not Heaven.

In our postmodern society, a meaningful life is now measured by wealth, power, and recognition.  Even President Obama is probably plotting his next gig.  He's been editor of the Harvard Law Review and President of the United States; he's even won the Nobel Peace Price.  But that's in the past.  To have a well rounded life, Obama will have to become president of a prestigious university--Harvard, Yale, or the University of Chicago.

It is time for Americans--Catholic Americans, at least--to say no to this model of  a successful life.  It is time to say we will not live our lives in search of wealth and power. We won't send our children to college and universities led by buffoons like John Sexton, and we won't take out student loans to finance the extravagant lifestyles of a bunch of clowns.

It is time to look at different models for living--models provided by people like Dorothy Day, who dedicated her life to the poor, and St. Katharine Drexel, who gave all her wealth away in service to Native Americans and African Americans.

It will be hard to turn our backs on postmodernism.  Our colleges and universities preach it, the New York Times and the New Yorker preach it, and our politicians preach it. The Times and the New Yorker murmur liberal platitudes but their pages are crammed with advertisements for luxury goods.  They know what their readers really want--a Rolex watch.

In my view, only the Catholic Church--that battered, sin-riddled and seriously flawed institution--can restore our nation to sanity.  We were not meant to live in the materialistic and power-mad world we created. God meant for us to care for our families, to ease the suffering of the disadvantaged, and to lead modest and wholesome lives. Unless we turn away from postmodern insanity and return to our Mother Church, I believe our society is lost.

References

Ben Hallman, NYU's 'Toxic' Expansion Prioritizes Marketing Over Debt-Saddled Students, Professors Day, Huff Post Business, June 17, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/17/nyu-expansion-student-debt_n_3437097.html

Ariel Kaminer & Alain Delaqueriere, N.Y.U. Gives Stars Loans for Summer Homes, New York Times, June 18, 2013, p. A1.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

News Flash! Frank Bruni of the Times is still annoyed with the Catholic Church.

He's baaaaaack! Just when Catholics thought it was safe to begin reading the New York Times again, Frank Bruni releases another carping attack on the Catholic Church. 

Bruni's latest screed was triggered by news stories reporting that Pope Francis is concerned about a so-called "gay lobby" in the Vatican.  Titled, "The Pope's Gay Panic," Bruni's essay criticized the Church yet again for its positions on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

I have a few comments to make about Frank Bruni's latest attack. First, the essay's headline--"The Pope's Gay Panic"-- is offensive and inaccurate.  There was nothing in the newspaper reports I read--including the report in the Times--that indicated Pope Francis is in a panic about homosexuals in the Vatican.

Second, following his usual line of attack, Bruni argues that the Church's position on sexual morality is irrational.  It's irrational--"madness" to use Bruni's term--to ask people to fight their sexual urges. Quoting a dissident nun, he argues: "It's like saying, 'You're a bird, but you can't fly."
Frank Bruni
Photo Credit: NY Times
Essentially, Bruni is saying that Catholicism should mold itself to fit people's sexual urges.  He may believe he is arguing for a more humane and compassionate Church. . But what did G.K. Chesterton say about that? "Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church."

I am weary of Frank Bruni's slashing attacks on the Roman Catholic Church, and I am weary of responding to them. I am no expert on the Catholic position on sexuality, and I cannot argue the merits of the Church's position with any authority.  I stand with Dorothy Day who never publicly criticized any one's position on sexual morality, yet knew from her own experience that sexual energies must be controlled. "Even so called 'natural love,' it must be controlled and, if not enlightened by grace, can become a 'delectation into temptation," she wrote in her diary.

I plan to continue challenging Frank Bruni and the other New York Times columnists who attack my Church.  These attacks, which are published repeatedly in the most powerful newspaper in the world, frighten me.

I am reminded of Erik Larson's book, In The Garden of Beasts, which describes the years when Hitler came to power in Germany. Clearly people witnessed Hitler's people abusing the Jews for several years before the Nazis unleashed their genocide campaign. But few people said anything.  In the end, 6 million Jews and at least 3 million Polish Catholics were slaughtered.

So let us Catholics protest these pointless and unfair attacks on the Catholic Church when they appear in the New York Times or anywhere else in the elite media. Of course, I do not equate Bruni's attacks with the Nazis.  I'm sure he is a kind and gentle person who sincerely believes he is laboring to build the best of all possible worlds.

Nevertheless, every gratuitous and unreasonable attack on our Catholic faith contributes to the creation of a political climate that tolerates the erosion of  our religious liberties. If our religious liberties are ultimately taken away in this country, let Catholics not say it happened while we sat on our hands. Let us protest. Let us protest again and again. Let us protest without ceasing.

References

Frank Bruni, The Pope's Gay Panic. New York Times, June 16, 2013, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.

Robert Ellsberg (ed.). The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2008.

Erik Larson. In the Garden of Beasts.Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin. New York: Random House, 2011.

Robert Royal. The Catholic Martyrs of the 20th Century:  A Comprehensive World History. New York: Crossroads, 2000.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Panhandler on Siegen Lane: More Reflections on Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day
I took the Siegen Lane exit off of Interstate 10 a few days ago and saw a panhandler standing at the end of the exit ramp. He was holding a sign that read: "Hungry, Need Food, Please Help."

He was young, clean, and apparently well fed.  As I watched from my car, I saw him take a long, luxuriant drag from his cigarette.

I couldn't help but smile and think of my late mother.  My mother hated panhandlers, and she especially hated panhandlers who smoke.

There are plenty of jobs available, she would say.  That Siegen Lane panhandler could be working at McDonald's instead of standing on the street begging for money. And a smoking panhandler, she would point out, obviously has money for cigarettes--money he should be spending on food.

My mother was especially infuriated by panhandlers who promised to work for food.  She often threatened to call their bluff by offering them a job raking leaves or some other menial chore.  She didn't think anyone would accept her offer.

No--in my Mom's view--actually working is anathema to a panhandler. Panhandlers would rather loaf around on a street corner waiting for a handout than rake leaves for a meal.

I disagree with my mother.  In my opinion, anyone who stands on street corner on a hot Louisiana day is working--there's nothing easy about that.

Moreover, I discovered through experience that most panhandlers will thank me graciously if I give them a couple of bucks, and many said "God bless you."  In my opinion, two bucks for a sincere "God bless you" is a fair transaction.

How about those smoking panhandlers?  Should we boycott them?


Dorothy Day would say no. I recall reading that Dorothy once gave a homeless woman an expensive ring that had been donated to the Catholic Worker, and she was criticized for it. People said the homeless woman would pawn the ring and spend the money on drink--that it would have been better for Dorothy to have sold the ring and used the proceeds to pay the woman's rent.

The woman can sell the ring herself, Dorothy replied, and use the money however she likes. She might pay the rent or she might decide to spend the money on a Caribbean vacation!  That would be her choice.

If we insist on categorizing the needy into the deserving and the undeserving, we will wind up helping no one. Congress doesn't want to help overstressed student-loan debtors because some of them borrowed too much money to attend college and some made poor choices in choosing their majors--art history instead of business, for example.

I say, so what? Millions of former college students are burdened by crushing student loans they will never pay back.  Why not provide them some relief instead of stewing over whether or not they deserve help?

I confess, I don't always follow my own advice. I don't help every panhandler who approaches me.  I definitely don't like being accosted at night by a panhandler in the Walgreen's parking lot. But that guy standing on a hot street corner waiting for a motorist to roll down the car window and give him fifty cents--I say let's help him out a bit.

And so--when I saw that clean, young, and apparently well fed panhandler standing at the roadside on Siegen Lane, I gave him two dollars.

 I admit, however, that my mother's spirit came welling up within me as I handed over the money. "Those cigarettes,"I chided, "will kill you."



Sunday, June 9, 2013

Drone Strikes in Pakistan: What Would Dorothy Day Say?

Dorothy Day was an unqualified pacifist.  She opposed America's participation in World War II, and she was arrested several times for refusing to participate in civil defense drills in New York City.

Dorothy Day
 Not many people agreed with Dorthy's pacifism during her lifetime, even within the Catholic Worker movement.  A few young Catholic Workers went to prison for refusing to serve in World War II, and a few burned their draft cards; but Dorothy stood virtually alone regarding her stance toward war.

Over the weekend, the United States launched its latest drone attack in Pakistan, killing seven people.  The U.S. is not at war with Pakistan, and Pakistan's recently elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif specifically said these attacks must stop. In fact, the Pakistani government summoned the U.S. Charge d'Affaires Richard Hoagland to its Foreign Office to protest the latest attack.

I found myself wondering what Dorothy Day would say about the United States' repeated drone attacks if she were alive today. I am sure she would say our nation's drone strikes are morally wrong.

And of course, she would be right.  Drone attacks in friendly countries violate fundamental principles of international law and have been condemned by an independent expert appointed by the United Nation's Human Rights Council.  These strikes violate the national sovereignty and territorial
 integrity of nations with which we are not at war. And they are particularly reprehensible when innocent civilians are killed.

In 1970, American college students protested en masse at the U.S. military incursion into Cambodia. From coast to coast, students shut down the universities; and four Kent State University students were killed by National Guard troops during these protests.


Kent State University, 1970
Today--we hear nothing but silence on the topic of the drone attackes, attacks that should disturb all Americans.  Even the New York Times--that hoary beacon of right mindedness, had nothing to say in today's Sunday issue about the recent drone strikes, although it devoted three-quarters of a page to the same-sex marriage of Kellli Carpenter, former spouse of entertainer Rosie O'Donnell.

Why the silence? Are we afraid we will be audited by the IRS if we protest? Do we assume that drone strikes are morally acceptable because Barack Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, ordered them?

Or do we just not care?

Today the United States is in a global battle with militant Islam, a political and religious force comprised of people who hate us so much that many are willing to become human bombs in order to kill us.

Personally, I think we would take a major step toward defusing this war if Americans became better Christians--Christians like Dorothy Day, who respected all human life and who devoted her own life to easing the sufferings of others.
 


References
Ellsberg, Robert (ed.). The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2008.
Shattuck, Kathryn. A Bond Forged Over Time on the Open Sea. New York Times, June 9, 2013, Sunday Styles section, p. 14.
US Drone Strikes in Pakistan 'simply unacceptable': Sharif. Times of India, June 9, 2013.