Friday, June 30, 2006

Two Giants

Two titans in their respective fields, who were paying the cost to be the boss.

Here is a rare circumstance in which two of my abiding interests happen to intersect – The Blues and The Church. This is a photo of Blues legend B. B. King handing over his guitar “Lucille” to Pope John Paul II in 1997.

B.B. King might not be the most technically proficient blues player in the world, but as far as I’m concerned he’s earned his props just for being such an influential and seminal figure in the development of the electric guitar. Besides, he’s a beautiful player in his own right, with an unmistakeable, signature sound all of his own. He can play with great economy and taste. He can make his guitar sing and say more in a brief solo of a handful of notes than a guy like Johnny Winter can say in a blizzard of one hundred. Sadly, he has diabetes and is getting on late in years. He may not have much time left.

The Blues can’t be dismissed casually as “The Devil’s Music”. The purpose of the blues is to assuage pain. Like religious faith, it is a means to speak to the suffering inherent in the human condition and to ameriolate it. Country Music, with its tales of weal and woe and cheap trouble, has never appealed to me for some reason. I can’t relate to it at all. Maybe because it has no swing.. no lilt. I probably shouldn’t be able to relate to the blues for any logical reason either, but for some reason it grabbed me as soon as I heard it. It has always spoken to me as one of the most authentic types of music. “If you don’t like the blues, you’ve got a hole in your soul.”

Actually, the guitar that King handed over as a gift to JPII wasn’t the only, or original “Lucille”. Apparently, there have been as many guitars as women in his life. Here is B.B. telling the story of how he happened to name his guitar Lucille in the first place:
In 1949 I was playing a club just outside of Memphis. Actually, . . . it wasn't so much a club as a shack with a big room in it. For heat the manager lit a garbage can full of kerosene.

Well, don't you know these two men got to fighting over a woman and one of them knocked over that can. The whole floor instantly lit up like a river of fire and everyone, including B.B. King, went running for the door.

It was after I got outside that I realized that I left my guitar behind. I ran back in to get it, but the fire was so hot that the building started to collapse around me. I almost lost my life. I was pretty badly burned, but at least I saved my guitar.

The next morning I learned that the woman that those two men were fighting over was a waitress named Lucille. I named my guitar after her to remind me never to do something so stupid again.

And since you asked, here's a funny story. I got 16 different Lucilles. Every time I needed my guitar repaired, I'd send it to the factory. And while they were working on it, they'd loan me another one.

Only thing is, when I got my regular guitar back, I never did send back the loaner! So over the years I built up a pretty good collection. And when I travel, I only have two Lucilles on the road with me at a time.

Does this sound like a near-fatal barfight around closing time over a woman barely known to either man? Now, that is an old, familiar story. I’ve seen it happen many times myself.

As for JPII, he was an actor, poet, and singer in his youth. I guess he was known to play a bit of guitar too. When I look at photos of the young Karol in those shades with a vaguely beatnik type of look, I wonder if he ever tore off a few blues riffs on the guitar himself back in the day.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Camel's Hair, Locusts, and Wild Honey

St. John the Baptist by El Greco, 1597 - 1603

Yesterday, on Crystal’s blog (along with her usual display of beautiful and inspirational artwork), there was a reminder that it was the Feast of the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist on June 24th.

One thing that always intrigued me about John the Baptist was the strange clothing and diet. I figured it must have been rough living in the desert, but why did he wear camel-hair clothing? Why was that significant? Why did he restrict himself to eating locusts and wild honey?

Of all the current crop of historical Jesus scholars out there right now who write for the mass-market, I find Paula Fredriksen to be the most impressive (although I haven’t gotten around to reading Fr. John Meier’s tomes yet). It seems to me that she has tried the hardest to be the most honest about going where the texts lead her without letting herself be steered by presuppositions and an ideological agenda about what she wants the meaning of Jesus to have been (as opposed to say, the Jesus Seminar scholars such as John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg). Although I strongly disagree with her ultimate conclusions (which apparently led her to convert from Catholicism to Orthodox Judaism), I find her work to be well-researched, easy-to-read, thought-provoking, and challenging.

She had an interesting theory about John’s clothing and diet that I thought might be worth sharing. She theorizes that John the Baptist, like many of his contemporaries, had a fixation on Ritual Purity and Kashrut that was not shared by his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth. In her book ‘Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews’, she writes of John:
Mark's introduction of John fits with the information in Josephus:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leather girdle round his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. (Mk 1:4-6)

The italicized snippets in Mark's passage cohere well with Josephus' summary of John's preaching: John, Josephus says, "had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing to join in baptism. In his view, this [behavior] was necessary if baptism was to be acceptable to God." This immersion, Josephus explicitly states, did not confer forgiveness of sins,but served rather "for the purification of the flesh once the soul had previously been cleansed by right conduct." Repentance and sincere contrition before God, John and his contemporaries believed, would gain forgiveness. The former sinner, having harkened to John's call to repentance, would then amplify his new moral purity by immersion for bodily purity. In short, both Mark and Josephus describe a ritual of purification so immediately associated with John's mission that the activity itself was how he was known: John the Immerser, or Baptizer. The water of the Jordan purified the bodies of the former sinners only once their prior acknowledgment of sin and consequent repentance had already "purified" their souls.

Mark's description of John's clothing and diet in this passage may further cohere with Josephus' report of John's concern with bodily purity. Cloth of camel hair, a loosely woven fabric, would easily allow water to completely penetrate the garment during immersion, thus ensuring the body's full contact with water (a desideratum of immersion for purity). Purity concerns, too, might account for the details of John's diet. True, locusts and honey fit first of all with his venue in the wilderness: Such would be readily available in the desert. But Q adds to our knowledge of John's eating habits, claiming that he "came eating no bread and drinking no wine" (Lk 7:33//Mt 11:18). In other words, the Baptizer evidently did not eat man-made or cultivated foods. This, too, may reflect his purity concerns: Such food - locusts, honey, water - runs no risk of being impure, that is, of violating in any way the laws of kashruth.

The Judaism 101 article on Kashrut says that bugs aren't generally Kosher... but apparently some kinds of locusts are:
The various winged insects that walk on all fours are loathsome for you.
But of the various winged insects that walk on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs for leaping on the ground.
Lev. 11: 20-22

Incidentally, the author Anne Rice also admires Fredriksen’s work and used her as a consultant for her recent novel Christ the Lord : Out of Egypt, but Rice has returned to her Catholic roots. Rice says:
“In sum, the whole case for the non-divine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified by nobody and had nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and would be horrified by it if he knew about it – that whole picture which had floated in the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for 30 years – that case was not made.”

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Mike McG" on Polarized Discourse

"The blind leading the blind", by Pieter Bruegel (the elder), 1568.

As stated in my profile, polarization is on of my special concerns... not that I'm not guilty of fomenting some myself now and then...

One of the occasional correspondents here, "Mike McG", has sent me an excellent essay on polarization. As someone who spent two years off-and-on in the rough and tumble combat world of Catholic apologetics, I can testify to the fact that I have seen, been guilty of, or fallen victim to every single cliche, process, syndrome, and logical fallacy that Mike lists below. Of special resonance to me is the last one he lists, on "woundedness". Thanks for the great work, Mike.

A Pox on Both Their Houses:

Why Content Matters so Little when Navigating in Polarized Waters

The Dominant Discourse in Polarized Public Debate

Polarized public conversations can be described as conforming to a ‘dominant discourse,’…the most generally available and adopted way of discussing the issue in a public context. For example, the dominant discourse about the American Revolutionary War defined the war as one of colonial liberation. It is not usually described in the United States as a conspiracy of tax dodgers led by a multi-millionaire from Virginia.

Dominant discourses strongly influence which ideas, experiences, and observations are regarded as normal or eccentric, relevant or irrelevant. On a subject that has been hotly polarized for a long time, the dominant discourse often delineates the issue in a win-lose bi-polar way; it draws a line between two simple answers to a complex dilemma and induces people to take a stand on one side of that line or the other…Most people who care deeply about the issue yield to this induction.

Being aligned with one group offers benefits. It gives one a socially validated place to stand while speaking and it offers the unswerving support of like-minded people. It also exacts costs. It portrays opponents as a single-minded and malevolent gang. In the face of such frightening and unified adversaries, one’s own group must be unified, strong, and certain. To be loyal to that group, one must suppress many uncertainties, morally complicated personal experiences, inner value conflicts, and differences between oneself and one’s allies. Complexity and authenticity are sacrificed to the demands of presenting a unified front to the opponent. A dominant discourse of antagonism is self-perpetuating. Win-lose exchanges create losers who feel they must retaliate to regain lost respect, integrity, and security, and winners who fear to lose disputed territory won at great cost. Carol Becker et al., From Stuck Debate to New Conversation on Controversial Issues: A Report from the Public Conversations Project.

How Polarization Sells: The Growing Disconnect between Politics & Ordinary Life

Politics is increasingly a world unto itself, inhabited by people convinced of their own moral superiority: conspicuously, the religious right among Republicans; and upscale liberal elites among Democrats. Their agendas are hard to enact because they’re minority agendas. So politicians instinctively focus on delivering psychic benefits. Each side strives to make its political ‘base’ feel good about itself. People should be confirmed in their moral superiority.

Polarization and nastiness are not side effects. They are the game. You feel good about yourself because the other side is so fanatical, misguided, corrupt and dishonest. Because real differences between party programs have narrowed, remaining differences are exaggerated. Drab policy debates become sensational showdowns – one side or the other is ‘destroying’ the schools, the environment or the economy. Every investigation aims to expose the other side’s depravity: One side’s Whitewater becomes the other’s Halliburton.

Entertainment and politics merge, because both strive to satisfy psychic needs. Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore are more powerful political figures than most senators, because they provide more moral reinforcement. Politicians, pundits and talking heads all heed the same logic: By appealing to their supporters’ strongest passions and prejudices, they elevate their standing. Of course, much of this is essential to legitimate debate. But it’s also a marketing strategy and a formula for power. Stridency sells, because, for many, polarization feels good.

Politics should reflect and, at its best, conciliate the nation’s differences. Increasingly, it does the opposite. It distorts, amplifies and inflames conflicts. It’s a turnoff to vast numbers of centrist voters who do not see the world in such uncompromising absolutes. This may be the real polarization: between the true believers on both sides and everyone else. Robert J. Samuelson, The Washington Post, Wednesday, June 30, 2004, p. A21.

Tradition and Modernity in Tension

Before we can get a sense about the right claims being made by the traditionalist and modernist sides here, it is important to see what is wrong with both of them…To lean too much on a scriptural defense…or upon a continuous church tradition, could lead us to ignore or to downplay those situations in which we have in fact decided, not only as individuals but over time as a community, to ignore passages of scripture or areas of tradition that we do not accept the way our ancestors did.

At the same time, tradition is an important voice – or better, a harmony of voices, a consensus – that should make us critical of merely contemporary understandings. Its strength is that it is, as Chesterton said, ‘the democracy of the dead.’ To think that the common opinion of people whose perspective is blinkered by the zeitgeist of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is wiser than the agreed wisdom of the previous two thousand years is, maybe, a little arrogant. Still, for many contemporary Christians, when traditional understanding meets the zeitgeist, the zeitgeist wins. It is assumed to be the correct, enlightened view. John Garvey, Commonweal, January 16, 2004.

How Can the Sometimes Vicious, Sometimes Silly Culture Wars Be Calmed?

Realize that all combatants are morally motivated. It seems to be part of the nature of moral argument that one’s opponents are seen to be motivated by evil….But such moralization and demonization obscure the true nature of the conflict and make moderation or compromise into a moral failing – one should not negotiate with the devil. It is more accurate, and certainly more conducive to cooperation, to acknowledge that both sides are driven by their moral commitments…The two sides differ in their conceptions of the good, not in the goodness of their motivations.”

Recognize that American morality is plastic and pluralistic. American morality has, from the very beginning, been woven out of two strands, which Bellah et al. (1985) call the republican and the biblical strands. It has always struggled to grant independence and autonomy to individuals within a society that believes strongly in Christianity and in some elements of Puritanism….If history is any guide, neither side can ever win the culture war and eliminate the other.”

Recognize that moral discourse is an ex post facto product. One of the most frustrating aspects of moral argument is that the other side is not swayed by one’s arguments, no matter how good they are. The failure to respond to reason makes the other side seem unreasonable, and invites charges that their ‘real’ motivations are hidden and sinister. But this inference is based on the naïve idea that moral reasoning drives moral judgment, so that one can change people’s minds by refuting their reasons. The present findings are more compatible with an intuitionist model of moral judgment in which moral judgments are based on gut feelings and emotional intuitions. People then create moral arguments by drawing on a priori moral theories, which they put forth as social products, required by the discourse of an argument (i.e., one must provide reasons for one’s judgments.) The refutation of such arguments does not cause people to change their minds; it only forces them to work harder to find replacement arguments. Jonathan Haidt and Matthew Hersh, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2001, 31, 1, pp. 191-221.

The Faults of Others

It’s fun to laugh at a hypocrite, and recent years have given Americans a great deal to laugh at…Scandal is great entertainment because it allows people to feel contempt, a moral emotion that gives feelings of moral superiority while asking nothing in return. With contempt you don’t need to right the wrong (as with anger) or flee the scene (as with fear or disgust). And best of all, contempt is made to share…Tell an acquaintance a cynical story that ends with both of your smirking and shaking your heads and voila, you’ve got a bond.

Well, stop smirking. One of the most universal pieces of advice from across cultures and eras is that we are all hypocrites, and in our condemnation of others’ hypocrisy we only compound our own. Social psychologists have recently isolated the mechanisms that make us blind to the logs in our own eyes. The moral implications of these findings are disturbing; indeed, they challenge our greatest moral certainties. But the implications can be liberating, too, freeing you from destructive moralism and divisive self-righteousness. Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, pp. 59-60.

Do We Really Value Diversity?

Arguments (for diversity) will be so much shadow-boxing – stalking-horses for the real arguments – because diversity is not a condition anyone actually desires.

What people desire is the alteration of a situation that displeases them; they regard it as an injustice that some group or population has been excluded from a benefit. They are not for diversity with a capital D – no one is. They are for the limited expansion of the franchise in the direction of their preferences.

In short, diversity – and I would say the same for its close relatives – openness, balance and inclusiveness – is a political rather than a substantive rallying cry. You call for diversity when your enemies dominate the playing field. You preach balance when the numbers are against you; you tout openness when you and your friends have been shut out.

Once the resonant phrases have had the desired effect and remade the world so it suits you just fine, the universalist vocabulary of diversity, balance and openness is discarded, only to be picked up by those who would deploy it in the service of an agenda you would never sign on to. Live by abstraction, die by abstraction. Stanley Fish, Ph.D., New York Times, December 29, 2002.

A Collection of Clichés in Translation

Accountability: Your misdeeds are intentional and malevolent; we’ll never forget…nor let you forget…your full responsibility for them. Our mistakes are inadvertent and well intentioned, meriting full contextual understanding and a clean slate.

Dialogue: Conversations after your full renunciation of ill-considered, narrow views and acquiescence to our well-reasoned, authentic ones.

Extreme and Shrill: Your positions, as compared to our positions which are Moderate and Nuanced.

Inclusivity from the perspective of the Left: The desire to cultivate people like us plus those even more progressive.

Inclusivity from the perspective of the Right: The desire to cultivate people like us plus those even more conservative.

Inconsistency: The perfect gotcha. No need to take you seriously if we can uncover any dissonance between views espoused then with views disclosed now.

Special Interests: Intense, influential zealots who advocate for your interests. We, on the other hand, never advocate for narrow self-interest, preferring instead to devote ourselves to the interests of the entire community.

Wedge Issues: Unfair and divisive issues raised by your side to discredit us. The issues we raise, on the other hand, are fair game.

Random Thoughts on Sorting Process from Content

Ambivalence: The experience of finding compelling arguments on both sides of contentious issues, of regarding these issues as ‘close calls.’ Seems rare in public discourse, at least among participants with the greatest visibility and influence.

Binary: The tendency to categorize issues as bipolar, black and white. (Obviously their problem since we, of course, have open minds.)

Cognitive Dissonance: The discomfort felt at the discrepancy between what we already know or believe, and new information or interpretation. The repertoire for reducing dissonance is ample, but when not reduced dissonance can result in (gasp!) change.

Deconstruction: The practice of subjecting competing worldviews to debunking, harassment, sabotage, critique, contempt, caricature, and ridicule. Adroit deconstruction is often more effective…and certainly safer…than battling at the barricades!

Engagement with the Enemy: ‘Aiding and abetting’ ideological foes….especially when their arguments may be persuasive….is strictly forbidden. Never cede any ground! Any hint of conciliation only invites evisceration! Cast their positions and motives in the worst possible light. Engage the least plausible of their arguments and the least credible of their spokespersons.

Energy Management: Holding dissonant views, especially publicly, is hard work and often exhausting. Circling the wagons conserves energy for other battles. True believers are pumped; both/and thinkers become depleted and estranged.

Exile: A condition shared by those who visibly resist the comfort of parochial loyalties. Painful! Even more painful than the alternative of Silence.

Intolerance of Ambiguity: The tendency to prefer rigid boundaries of thought and experience discomfort with messier, ‘grayer’ formulations. Recognized exclusively in others; our positions are nuanced.

Myside Bias: The pervasive tendency to search for and evaluate evidence in a way that favors one’s initial beliefs.

Open-Mindedness: The willingness to search actively for evidence against one’s favored beliefs, plans, or goals, and to weigh such evidence fairly when available. A corrective virtue.

“What If:” A revealing, if exasperating, exercise in which we imagine the implications of being fundamentally mistaken in our presumptions or facts. What if they have a point? Nah!

Woundedness: The allure of ideological realignment as a method for settling personal scores. Its premise: Repudiating the views of persons and institutions that have wounded us moves us closer to the truth. But does it?

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. …Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I have this naïve notion that despair at the spectacle of absolute ludicrous quantities of mutual contempt on all sides breeds tolerance and mutual respect – due to laughter at the absurdity of it, or wariness at the endlessness of it. …random blog comment

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A quick follow up

A quick follow up. Just one last bit on liberation theology... for now.

Joe Cecil, in his excellent collection of Progressive Catholic Reflections, has written a brilliant essay on liberation theology, summarizing in a few pages what it is, and what the principal criticisms of it are (including a critique by Michael Novak - even if it's good theology, is it bad economics?). Like everything that Joe writes, it is clear, logical, poignant, and written through the eyes of faith. A Franciscan friar in his heart, I think he'll always be.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Tribute to the Salvadoran Martyrs

Salvadoran Martyrs Archbishop Oscar Romero and Fr. Rutilio Grande SJ

While we're on this Liberation Theology theme, and in honor of the Feast of Corpus Christi, I thought I'd call attention to some of the Salvadoran martyrs, who sadly seem forgotten today, at least in North America.

The Panamanian actor and musical genius Ruben Blades released a classic masterpiece of an album called Buscando America in 1984. On that album was a cut called ‘El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés' (Father Antonio and his Altar Boy Andres). It is one of my favorite songs of all time. Most people say that the song is based on Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered while saying Mass in San Salvador in 1980. I actually think that the Padre Antonio character is a composite of Archbishop Romero, Fr, Rutilio Grande SJ, and Fr. Alfonso Navarro. Fathers Grande and Navarro both had young parishioners killed alongside them.

Here are a couple of audio clips from that song. I wish I could find the whole thing on the web. If anyone else can, please post a link.

El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés (Clip 1)

El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés (Link to Clip 2)

El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés

El Padre Antonio Tejeira vino de España,
buscando nuevas promesas en esta tierra.
Llegó a la selva sin la esperanza de ser obispo,
y entre el calor y en entre los mosquitos habló de Cristo.

Father Antonio Xejeira arrived from Spain,
searching for new promises in this land.
He came to the jungle without hope of becoming a Bishop,
(and) in the midst of the heat and the mosquitoes
he spoke of Christ.

El padre no funcionaba en el Vaticano,
entre papeles y sueños de aire acondicionado;
y fue a un pueblito en medio de la nada a dar su sermón,
cada semana pa' los que busquen la salvación.

The priest didn’t function in the Vatican
in the midst of paper work and air conditioned dreams;
and he left for a town, in the middle of nowhere, to preach every week, for those searching salvation.

El niño Andrés Eloy Pérez tiene diez años.
Estudia en la elementaria "Simón Bolivar".
Todavia no sabe decir el Credo correctamente;
le gusta el rio, jugar al futbol y estar ausente.

The boy Andres Eloy Perez is 10 years old.
He studies in an elementary school named “Simon Bolivar”.
He still doesn’t know the Creed by heart;
he likes the river, to play soccer and be absent.

Le han dado el puesto en la iglesia de monaguillo
a ver si la conexión compone al chiquillo;
y su familia esta muy orgullosa, porque a su vez se cree
que con Dios conectando a uno, conecta a diez.

He has been given the post of altar boy at Church
in the hopes the position will straighten him out;
his family is very proud because they assume
that with God connecting one,
he connects them all (10).

Suenan la campanas un, dos, tres,
del Padre Antonio y su monaguillo Andrés.

Father Antonio and the altar boy Andres’
bells ring one, two, three times.

El padre condena la violencia.
Sabe por experiencia que no es la solución.
Les habla de amor y de justicia,
de Dios va la noticia vibrando en su sermón:

The priest condemns violence. He knows from experience it is not the solution.
He preaches about love and justice.
Of God he gives the news, vibrant in his sermon.

suenan las campanas: un, dos, tres
del Padre Antonio y su monaguillo Andrés.

Father Antonio and the altar boy Andres’
bells ring one, two, three times.

Al padre lo halló la guerra un domingo de misa,
dando la comunión en mangas de camisa.
En medio del padre nuestro entró el matador
y sin confesar su culpa le disparó.

But war found him one Sunday, at mass,
giving communion, his shirt rolled at the sleeves.
In the middle of the Our Father the killer entered, and without confessing his guilt, shot him.

Antonio cayo, ostia en mano y sin saber por qué
Andrés se murió a su lado sin conocer a Pelé;
y entre el grito y la sorpresa, agonizando otra vez
estaba el Cristo de palo pegado a la pared.
Y nunca se supo el criminal quién fue
del Padre Antonio y su monaguillo Andrés.

Antonio fell, host in hand and, without knowing why
Andres died beside him, never having met Pele;
surrounded by surprise and screaming,
once more agonizing
was the wooden effigy of Christ, nailed to the wall.
The identity of the criminal was never known.

Pero suenan las campanas otra ves,
por el Padre Antonio y su monaguillo Andres

But the bells ring one, two, three times; for Father Antonio and the altar boy Andres

I revered and respected the late Pope John Paul II, but here is one thing that I can't understand... He canonized over 300 saints. Archbishop Romero should have been among them. It is a travesty that he was not.

Good Pope John XXIII should have been canonized by this time as well, but that is a story for another time.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Whatever happened to Leonardo Boff?

As Pope Benedict prepares for his trip to Latin America, it reminded me of a post where Crystal and I had discussed the Maryknolls and Liberation Theology. Thinking about Liberation Theology led me to wonder whatever became of one of its leading theologians and proponents, the Brazilian Franciscan Leonardo Boff.

When Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected to the papacy in April of 2005, taking the name of Benedict XVI, a collective groan of disappointment, shock, and disbelief rose up from Catholic liberals and dissidents around the world. A little more than a year later, some observers have maintained that the Pope we’ve seen is the one they always knew. On the other hand, some conservatives and traditionalists are disappointed that he has not cracked down on liberals as they had expected, and some liberals such as Charles Curran and Andrew Greeley have been encouraged that he has been more gentle and open to dialogue than they were led to expect from his days as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

Two dissident scholars who know Benedict very well share this more optimistic view of him.

Uta Ranke-Heinemann was a classmate of Joseph Ratzinger’s when studying theology at the University of Munich. She went on to become the first woman ever to become a professor of Catholic Theology, when she was granted a chair at the University of Essen. She also became the first woman to lose her position and chair as a professor of Catholic Theology when she was excommunicated for denying the Virgin Birth. In this interview, she speaks highly of Pope Benedict and for their mutual respect for one another. She has tremendous respect for his intelligence, and considers him to be humble.
…After I lost my chair and was excommunicated in 1987, Ratzinger was the only one, of all those bishops and cardinals, to write to me in a friendly way, offering support.

I did reconcile myself with John Paul II after he died. But with Ratzinger, I am already reconciled with him in life. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps because, like Socrates, the more I know, the less I understand.

Hans Kung, of course, is the famous liberal theologian who was a rising young star at Vatican II along with his colleague and friend Joesph Ratzinger. They taught together at the University of Tubingen, and started to part ways when student radicals appeared at Tubingen, and in a watershed event, invaded Ratzinger’s classroom in 1968. Ratzinger was never the same, and took a markedly conservative turn after that. On the other side, Kung, in his struggles with the CDF, eventually lost his license to teach Catholic theology. He is still a priest.

Recently, the two men who were once friends had an amiable, lengthy meeting and a dinner together, pledging to work together on issues surrounding human rights and world peace. Kung spoke highly of the meeting, and also of the Pope’s first encyclical on love (Kung was not given back his license to teach Catholic theology, nor did he ask Benedict to do so).
I can certainly tell you that my disappointment . . . I had when I heard of the election of my former colleague Joseph Ratzinger . . . that this disappointment did not realise. I must say he made it much better than I expected, and we still can have hope that he will make progress in the church.

I was happy that he spoke about love; and he has done it in a rather constructive way, without [the] negative statements you hear sometimes from Church people.

He may now be in a new situation, you know. When he was the head of the Holy Office, he always had to say, “Well, here are doctrinal deviations; here are some people who are not absolutely Catholic”, and so on. He had always to use censorship, and all the rest. Now he is in a different position: he has to talk to people, he has to face all sorts of people, he needs the sympathy of the people, he has to show a pastoral mind. And, I think he [understands] very well that he cannot show the same face as he had before.

With Leonardo Boff, there has apparently has been no such rapprochment. Boff was a student of Ratzinger’s when he wrote his doctoral thesis in Germany. Later, he went on the become well-known as one of the principal writers on Liberation Theology.

Taking a cue from Vatican II and the Medellin Conference of 1968, which emphasized the “preferential option for the poor”, liberation theologians stressed that the Church should derive its legitimacy and theology by growing out of the poor, and that the Bible should be read and experienced from the perspective of the poor. They had a much more horizontal view of the Church than a vertical one, and established “base communities”, in which priests and nuns moved out of their religious houses and lived among the poor, sharing their living conditions. There was a heavy emphasis on social justice, human rights, and the Church being aligned with the working class to bring about social change. Some priests became active in politics and trade unions.

There was a great deal of alarm by the 1980’s in the Vatican over certain aspects of this, especially since many of these theologians used the language of Marxist dialectic, and were committed to socialism. Marxism of any kind or in any guise was never going to fly with Pope JPII or the CDF.

For his part, concerning the structure of the Church, Leonardo Boff wrote in his book, Church, Charism, and Power:
The church recognizes the unfathomable dignity of the human person and so can be the conscience of the world with respect to human rights… But proclamation alone is not enough. The church will only be heard if it gives witness by its practices, if it is the first to respect and promote human rights within its own reality. Otherwise, one would be right to criticize a church that sees the speck in the eye of another while ignoring the beam in its own.

For this book, Boff landed himself in some trouble with the CDF. He was summoned to Rome to discuss his book and his views. The late Penny Lernoux describes the scene in her 1990 book, People of God. I think it says a lot about the difference between the way Leonardo Boff and Joseph Ratzinger think:
Boff kept up his good humor once inside the small interrogation room - the "room of the knights of the round table," as he called it - saluting Ratzinger with a smart, "Gruss Gott, Herr Kardinal." A cordial Ratzinger told Boff to read his responses to his charges, then questioned him politely about their differences. Afterwards there was a coffee break and banter, and it was then that the knives emerged:

"A cassock suits you very well, Father Boff," said Ratzinger, "and it also offers proof to the world of who you are."

"But it's not easy to wear in Brazil because of the heat," responded Boff.

“But that's how people recognize your devotion and patience, and they will say: He is paying for the sins of this world."

"Of course we need proofs of spiritualism, but they don't come from a cassock but from the heart, and it is the heart that should be well worn."

"But one doesn't see the heart, and something has to be seen, doesn't it?"

"Yes, but it could be that the cassock is a symbol of power. When I wear it on a bus, people feel they have to get up and give me their seats. We should be the servants of the people.""

Despite the apparent cordiality of the meeting, Boff found himself silenced over this matter in 1985, removed from editorial functions, and suspended from his religious duties.
Cardinal Ratzinger, when he was a Professor in Germany, it was he who orientated the doctorial thesis of Leonardo Boff on Christology and he liked it so much, gave it a very high mark and helped him even with money to publish his thesis in German at that time. And then Boff wrote a book based on his thesis that was published here 'Jesus Christ the Liberator' and some time afterwards when the book was being very criticised in Rome, Cardinal Arns spoke to Cardinal Ratzinger and said to him but how is it possible that you gave him such a high mark for his doctorial thesis and now your saying that his book is dangerous and should not be sold to Catholics etc, and Cardinal Ratzinger answered and said 'Well you have to understand when you are a university professor you read thesis one way, when you are responsible for the CDF you read books in another way.'

-- Ana Flora Anderson ( theologian at Sao Paulo's Catholic University)

Boff was obedient, stating that he would “rather walk with the Church than to walk alone”. He obeyed. The decision was repealed in 1986, Boff went back to work, but proceedings against him began again in 1992. This time, Boff left the Franciscan Order and the priesthood. He said:
Ecclesiastical power is cruel and merciless. It forgets nothing. It forgives nothing. It demand everything.

Before the 2005 conclave, Boff was quoted as saying:
Ratzinger is one of the (Catholic) church's most odious cardinals because of his rigidity, and because he humiliated the bishops' conferences and fellow cardinals in an authoritarian manner on questions of faith… (Ratzinger) will never be pope, because it would be excessive, something the intelligence of the cardinals would not permit

After the conclave, he said:
I feel let down because I was expecting someone who would bring hope in the sense of a new chapter in the Catholic Church which would be more open to dialogue.

I really believe that the Church is much more than the pontificate in the Vatican.

The Church is enormous and comes from the dream of Jesus Christ, which extends all over the world.

I personally believe that Cardinal Ratzinger has a profound spirituality, is a man of great virtue, but as well as these virtues, you need to have an ample vision of the world.

Even though he has left the priesthood, Boff is still active with Liberation Theology in Latin America, working with the "Landless Movement" and base communites, as his website suggests. From the look of him I’d say he has sort of a Jerry Garcia thing going on. :-)
He says this about theology:
Theology, as the word suggests, is a discussion about God and all things as seen in the light of God. It constitutes a singularity in our species that, in some moment during millions of years of evolution, the consciousness of God appeared. With this word, “God,” is expressed a supreme value, a final sentiment of the universe and life and an original Source from which all other beings came.

This God inhabits the universe and accompanies human beings. The sacred texts of religions and spiritual traditions testify to the permanent action of God in the world. He always acts in favor of life, defending the weak, offering forgiveness to the fallen and promising eternal life in communion with Him.

It belongs to the faith of Christians to affirm that God approximated Himself to human existence and made Himself man in Jesus of Nazareth. In this the promise of blessed union with Him is anticipated and will be the destination of all the beings of the entire creation.

Among the many functions of theology today two are most urgent: how theology collaborates in the liberation of the oppressed, who are today’s “crucified Christs,” and how theology helps to preserve the memory of God so that we do not lose the sentiment and sacredness of human life which is threatened by a culture of superficiality, consumption and entertainment. We should always unite faith with justice, where a perspective of liberation is born, keeping the flame of our sacred lamp burning so that it can feed the hope for a better future for the Earth and all humanity.

Was the Liberation Theology that seemed to wither away in the early 1990’s a lost opportunity for the Church? I see a remarkable, and in some ways, regrettable difference between the episcopate in Latin America back then and the men there now. As the lack of priests starts to tell, and more and more Latin Americans become convinced that the Church doesn’t care for their concerns, and leave for Pentecostalism, men like Colombia’s Cardinal Castrillon De Hoyos are obsessed with bringing back the Latin Mass. Were the base communities the way to go? Was Boff right, or is he really just rain-forest chic, “Ben & Jerry’s” gone over the top?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Zarqawi and bin Laden: “It was loathing at first sight”

If there is a periodical which interested people should read for serious, in-depth articles on national and international affairs, especially developments in the Middle East, it is the Atlantic Magazine.

This month, they published a cover story article called “Inside the Jihad. The Making of America’s Deadliest Enemy in Iraq”, on the topic of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. In the online edition, they have since edited it after Zarqawi’s death, and named it “The Short, Violent Life of Abu Musab aL-Zarqawi". It detailed the events of his life, from city thief and brawling thug, to gangster, to prison tank boss, to jihadist.

Back in April, I had put up a post speculating that Osama bin laden might be dead, and that there was a power struggle of sorts going on between between Zarqawi and bin Laden’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. According to the sources cited in the Atlantic article, the animosity between bin Laden and Zarqawi was real and intense.
In December 1999, al-Zarqawi crossed the border into Afghanistan, and later that month he and bin Laden met at the Government Guest House in the southern city of Kandahar, the de facto capital of the ruling Taliban. As they sat facing each other across the receiving room, a former Israeli intelligence official told me, “it was loathing at first sight.”

According to several different accounts of the meeting, bin Laden distrusted and disliked al-Zarqawi immediately. He suspected that the group of Jordanian prisoners with whom al-Zarqawi had been granted amnesty earlier in the year had been infiltrated by Jordanian intelligence; something similar had occurred not long before with a Jordanian jihadist cell that had come to Afghanistan. Bin Laden also disliked al-Zarqawi’s swagger and the green tattoos on his left hand, which he reportedly considered un-Islamic. Al-Zarqawi came across to bin Laden as aggressively ambitious, abrasive, and overbearing. His hatred of Shiites also seemed to bin Laden to be potentially divisive—which, of course, it was. (Bin Laden’s mother, to whom he remains close, is a Shiite, from the Alawites of Syria.)

Al-Zarqawi would not recant, even in the presence of the legendary head of al-Qaeda. “Shiites should be executed,” he reportedly declared. He also took exception to bin Laden’s providing Arab fighters to the Taliban, the fundamentalist student militia that, although now in power, was still battling the Northern Alliance, which controlled some 10 percent of Afghanistan. Muslim killing Muslim was un-Islamic, al-Zarqawi is reported to have said.

Unaccustomed to such direct criticism, the leader of al-Qaeda was aghast.

Had Saif al-Adel—now bin Laden’s military chief—not intervened, history might be written very differently…..As an Egyptian who had attempted to overthrow his own country’s army-backed regime, al-Adel saw merit in al-Zarqawi’s views. Thus, after a good deal of debate within al-Qaeda, it was agreed that al-Zarqawi would be given $5,000 or so in “seed money” to set up his own training camp outside the western Afghan city of Herat, near the Iranian border. It was about as far away as he could be from bin Laden.

At least five times, in 2000 and 2001, bin Laden called al-Zarqawi to come to Kandahar and pay bayat—take an oath of allegiance—to him. Each time, al-Zarqawi refused. Under no circumstances did he want to become involved in the battle between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. He also did not believe that either bin Laden or the Taliban was serious enough about jihad.

When the United States launched its air war inside Afghanistan, on October 7, 2001, al-Zarqawi joined forces with al-Qaeda and the Taliban for the first time. He and his Jund al-Sham fought in and around Herat and Kandahar. Al-Zarqawi was wounded in an American air strike—not in the leg, as U.S. officials claimed for two years, but in the chest, when the ceiling of the building in which he was operating collapsed on him. Neither did he join Osama bin Laden in the eastern mountains of Tora Bora, as U.S. officials have also said. Bin Laden took only his most trusted fighters to Tora Bora, and al-Zarqawi was not one of them.

Later … in October 2004, after resisting for nearly five years, al-Zarqawi finally paid bayat to Osama bin Laden—but only after eight months of often stormy negotiations. After doing so he proclaimed himself to be the “Emir of al-Qaeda’s Operations in the Land of Mesopotamia,” a title that subordinated him to bin Laden but at the same time placed him firmly on the global stage. One explanation for this coming together of these two former antagonists was simple: al-Zarqawi profited from the al-Qaeda franchise, and bin Laden needed a presence in Iraq. Another explanation is more complex: bin Laden laid claim to al-Zarqawi in the hopes of forestalling his emergence as the single most important terrorist figure in the world, and al-Zarqawi accepted bin Laden’s endorsement to augment his credibility and to strengthen his grip on the Iraqi tribes. Both explanations are true.

It was a pragmatic alliance, but tenuous from the start.

“From the beginning, Zarqawi has wanted to be independent, and he will continue to be,” Oraib Rantawi, the director of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman, said to me. “Yes, he’s gained stature through this alliance, but he only swore bayat after all this time because of growing pressure from Iraqis who were members of al-Qaeda. And even then he signed with conditions—that he would maintain control over Jund al-Sham and al-Tawhid, and that he would exert operational autonomy. His suicide bombings of the hotels in Amman”—in which some sixty civilians died, many of them while attending a wedding celebration—“was a huge tactical mistake. My understanding is that bin Laden was furious about it.”

The attacks, which represented an expansion of al- Zarqawi’s sophistication and reach, also showed his growing independence from the al-Qaeda chief. They came only thirteen months after he had sworn bayat. The alliance had already begun to fray.

Some analysts are now predicting that Al Qaeda in Iraq may be more likely to unite the various insurgent groups under its umbrella now that Zarqawi is gone than when he was alive, because his replacement is likely to be far less sectarian than Zarqawi. It makes me wonder who gave him up? Who ratted him out? Was it Al Qaeda themselves?

James Cameron, lynching survivor, passes away at 92

Civil rights activist James Cameron, founder of the Black Holocaust Museum, has passed away at the age of 92. In 1930, at the age of 16, he survived a mob lynching, in his words, because of "a miraculous intervention" from Divine Providence. Listen to this short NPR interview with him here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Czech Republic: 3 USA: 0 .... Ouch!

AP Photo

Well, so much for the USA's fifth place world ranking... Stick a fork in 'em folks, they're all done... Even if they managed a miracle to beat Italy, the goal differential hole they dug themselves against the Czechs is too deep to overcome. The American team was completely outclassed by a much more aggressive squad with superior, dazzling skills.

As I said before, I really like watching World Cup soccer. It's such a huge, world-captivating event, but it's also fascinating to see such a high level of play. The skills on display are just amazing. As I watch it however, I can't help thinking of a number of reasons why I don't think this sport will ever really catch on in the USA, at least while it is still predominantly English-speaking. :-)

1) We really stink at it. If we can't be the best, we tend to act like spoiled children and lose interest.

2) The bargain-basement histrionics. What actors. What divas! There is some aggressive tackling that goes on, and I'm sure it hurts to be tripped at full speed, but I've seen what would be labeled as "incidental contact" in the NFL with barely any notice, cause these guys to fling themselves to the ground and roll around in agony as if they'd been knee-capped with a cattle gun. Come on, guys... Boston Herald sportwriter Gerry Callahan had a funny column about the game today that included this quote:
Speaking of which, do these guys know they’re on television? In high definition? With slow-motion replays? Do they realize how silly they look when they grab their hamstrings and fall to the ground as if they had been shot when they were virtually untouched by an opposing player? Do they all have to be such phonies? I mean, is it required? At any given time, there are more drama queens on a soccer field than backstage at La Cage aux folles.

Yesterday, I saw two Czech players taken off the field on stretchers after obvious flops. They both made AJ Soprano look like Olivier, but it’s apparently part of the game: You dive, you flop, you writhe, you scream, you grab something and you get up and play 30 seconds later.

3) As far as I know, we are the only ones of God's creatures with thumbs opposable to each of our fingers. We can do really great things with our hands. So why a sport with no hands...?

4) The game has a built-in flaw in that it is too hard to score. Defense really has the upper hand. In my opinion, this doesn't make the game less exciting, it just makes for too many draws. Americans can't see the point of playing anything without having a winner. When draws do occur, and they happen often in the late rounds, the games are decided by penalty kicks, which is a terribly unjust way to decide the game. They ought to consider continuing play, gradually removing players from the field as they go along.

5). Only one man in the stadium knows when the game is going to end, and that is the referee. At his discretion and whim, he can decide when the injury time is up, or when he is going to stop letting one team have a "last chance". This will never fly in the egalitarian States, where the referee would never be so trusted. Nine innings, four quarters, clocks down to the hundredth of a second. When it's over, it's over.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Theories on the Meaning of the Atonement

The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and St. John by Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588 – 1629) Click on image to see larger version.

(Brugghen was a Protestant, but most likely painted this piece for Catholic patrons in Utrecht)

I love this paining by Brugghen, not so much for its image of Christ, but for the simple, homely Dutch peasants who were used for the models, contemplating Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf.

A couple of weeks ago, Paula pointed out that A Minor Friar had written an excellent quick and dirty guide to the atonement. I hope that at some point the Friar will give us the benefit of the more in depth version too. :-)

St. Anslem of Canterbury and Peter Abelard were a couple of the better know Catholic brainiacs of the 11th and 12th centuries. They both held different views of the atonement, not only from each other, but from what had been held in common between both the Eastern and Western halves of the Church in the first millennium of Christendom.

For the first one thousand years of Christianity, the prevailing theory of atonement has been variously described as the “Classical Theory”, “Recapitulation”, “Christus Victor”, and the “Ransom Theory”. In this view, Jesus paid a debt to Satan, or the “grave”, for our sins rather than to God. It emphasizes Christ’s victory over evil and His release of humanity from bondage to Satan. It puts more saving power of the Christ event in the incarnation than on the cross. This theory is still the one that is held by most theologians in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which does not really have a doctrine of Original Sin. They don’t look to St. Augustine for anything. In fact, some of them think he was a heretic. St. Augustine was not proficient in Greek. The Orthodox claim he fatally misread Romans 5: 12 from the Latin Vulgate as "and so death spread to all men, through one man, in whom all men sinned" instead of "Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned." (They say that in Latin the Greek idiom eph ho which means because of was mis-translated as in whom.) They believe that we inherit death and corruption from Adam, but not his sin. Therefore, they don’t look at the atonement the way that we commonly do in the West.

Due to the influence of St. Augustine’s doctrine of Original sin and the development of feudalism in the West, this juridicial ethos led to the development of the Satisfaction Theory by St. Anslem of Canterbury, who published Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became man) in 1098. Anslem was not content with the theory that God had tricked the devil and had essentially pulled a “bait and switch” on him. It wasn’t fitting, nor was it fitting to have a debt owed to the devil, but rather, to God. The Satisfaction model is still the one most prevalently held in the Catholic Church today (although strong Christus Victor elements are retained - see Salvation in Catholicism) In this model, the logic is built from a feudal understanding of society. Adam, an inferior being, had offended God, a superior being. Satisfaction for the offense and restoration of honor was demanded by the superior being. In feudalism, only a person of equal rank within a hierarchy can make amends to the one who has been offended. Justice reigned supreme in value over mercy. Only the freely chosen sacrifice of a God-Man could serve to make amends to God, and this is what Jesus freely chose to do out of love for us, on our behalf.

I don’t really have a problem accepting the Satisfaction Theory itself. The Stations of the Cross is my favorite Lenten devotion. I sense deeply and profoundly that in some fashion, Jesus did make a sacrifice on our behalf. What bothers me about it is that it slides too easily into the theory held later by some of the Protestant reformers of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, in which the freely chosen sacrifice of Jesus is underplayed, and we see instead a wrathful God who is actually punishing Jesus in our place. It is a theory of a bloodthirsty deity who demanded the death of his son to placate his anger at humanity. To me, such a view is unworthy of God and insults him.

Peter Abelard was one of the most brilliant men of the 12th century (and is a fascinating and tragic story in and of himself for another time). He had a theory of atonement very different from Anselm’s. In his Moral Theory, Christ did not die to pay a debt on our behalf to either the devil or to God. Instead, he died to pour charity into our hearts. Christ’s life and death provided us with a moral example to follow. Love and mercy override God’s demand for justice.

Here are some interesting articles on atonement.

Various Christian theories of the Atonement

A Covenantal View of atonement

Atonement – Wikipedia

Violence In Christian Theology – Non-violent atonement

Christ's Death: A Rescue Mission, Not a Payment for Sins (Frederica Mathewes Green)

Friday, June 09, 2006


We all know that pornography is ubiquitous on the internet. It may in fact be the thing that most drives the internet. I think everyone should see a bit of it just for the sake of having some awareness of what it is, but to wallow in it is to deaden the soul. The same holds true, but even more so, for “warnography”.

A lot of us have been kept naïve as to exactly what the horrors of war are. In this country, at least, we see very few graphic images of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our network and cable news programs are extremely sanitized. The web, however, is full of dark corners to view images and videos of the carnage.

Not enough people know the actual effects of what bullets, shrapnel, and high explosives actually do to the human body. More people should. If they did know, they might think harder about what war means to begin with. What war does to the body is the ultimate in obscenity. It is the worst kind of porn. It makes sexual pornography pale in comparison. When they say that “war is hell”, nothing truer has ever been spoken. After seeing these kinds of images, it almost makes you want to see embracing flesh just as a celebration of being alive.

While I do think there should be more awareness, there is unfortunately a pathological alt.subculture that revels in this and allows it to deaden their collective souls. Not long ago, I came upon this post on Jihadwatch, which was raising an alarm about an Islamist website and forum that shows Al Qaeda “snuff videos” of American troops being shot by snipers, or more commonly, of IEDs exploding next to American military vehicles. In most cases, the commentary of these kinds of videos includes the perpetrators chanting “allahu akbar… allahu akbar… allahu akbar…” against a soundtrack of jihadist music. They post articles from American newspapers about deceased American servicemen and mock them.
jazakallah for those videos, i like the one where they shoot 1 american at a time. they first show him just patrolling, then bang bang. lol. it shows dem not to mess with ppl in their own countries. an illegal they gona face the consequences. whether they like it or not.

There sure is a ton of irony to be found on the web, this invention of ours. The world is seeing something, or at least Americans are seeing something, that has rarely or never been seen before – Video images of Americans being injured and killed in a war.

Not that we are innocent here. Early on, there were times at work when we’d send URLs to each other with grim satisfaction, showing what we were inflicting on terrorists, and there are plenty of psychotic “reality” sites where Americans wallow in mayhem. What may be even more troubling and irresponsible, however, is what sometimes comes out of our own Pentagon briefings – Photos like the ones we’ve seen of the dead Zarqawi. The photos of Saddam Hussein's sons, where we even took the ghoulish step of applying pancake make-up to their dead faces. The briefings often show JDAM-guided bombs obliterating buildings, and the briefers go on to talk about the forensic teams going in afterwards to pick up the human bits and pieces for fingerprint and DNA evidence as dispassionately as a Jeffrey Dahmer... In the battle for hearts and minds, what do they think the Islamic world makes of this? Do they have that much of a tin ear? After “shock and awe”, I guess they do. If we treat dead Arabs like lab specimens or bagged deer, should we be shocked when they post videos of humvees being blown apart?

Tons of irony on the web… Today, we can be vicariously brutalized, almost as brutalized as the victims and combatants themselves. What a dehumanizing age. What a thing war is. Is man destined to live this way forever, or until we destroy ourselves? Will we ever be worthy of the promises of Christ?

More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? – Jeremiah 17:9

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Appreciating Vatican II: Nostra Aetate

Lest we ever forget, Jesus was a Jew, as were his Apostles.
As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock…

…The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: "theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:4-5), the Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the Church's main-stay and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ's Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people. -- Nostra Aetate

One of the main reasons I started this blog is because I have detected among Catholics on the web, and in most of Catholic blogdom in particular, a real lack of appreciation for Vatican II. Most Catholic blogs appear to me to be ultra-traditionalist. Among these traditionalists are some people too young not only to remember the pre-Vatican II Church, but too young to remember Vatican II as well. They are nostalgic for the image of a Church that they never knew. Since Pope John Paul II’s death, I’ve detected a shift, some of it subtle, some of it not so subtle, of directing blame for the state of the Church from those who somehow committed abuses in the name of Vatican II to the Council itself. I think this is a huge mistake. It is my view that the Second Vatican Council was a true gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and to the world. If we have failed to put it into practice, or if we have since made matters worse by retreating from it in fear, that is hardly the fault of the Council or of the Holy Spirit that guided it. In my opinion, the Council happened at the last possible moment it could have; barely in the nick of time. Without it, I doubt there would be much left to save.

What has most caused me to distance myself from the traditionalist movement on the web has been the crude and disgusting anti-semitism that has been shown by the more extreme elements, and a reluctance to condemn it on the part of the less extreme elements.

One of the wonderful documents of the Council was Nostra Aetate – The Declaration On The Relation Of The Church To Non-Christian Religions. After the Second World War, the Church clearly had to come to terms with the Holocaust and what role the manner of speaking about Jews for centuries in Europe and in the Church had to do with it. The document stated unequivocally:
Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.

Last year, Hurricane Katrina disabused us of the notion that this country has completely freed itself from its legacy of racism. In a speech given to a group of Jewish community leaders in Boston in May, Cardinal O’Malley shared an anecdote in which he was confronted with anti-semitism quite unexpectedly, and shows that we still have a legacy of our own to wrestle with as well.
Let me share with you an experience I have many years ago working with immigrants in Washington D.C. I was visited in my rather dingy offices on Mount Pleasant Street by two gentlemen from the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, who came to speak to me about anti-Semitism in the Hispanic community. I felt completely blindsided. I said to the gentlemen, “Most of our people are from very remote, rural villages in El Salvador and other central American countries. Most of them have never met a Jew, and probably don’t know who you are. The only exceptions would be, those whom we placed in Jewish homes and businesses, through our employment agency, and they were unanimous in their praise and affection for their Jewish employers, who universally treated them with generosity and respect.”

I assured the men that they were barking up the wrong tree, and sent them off with that “don’t call me, I’ll call you” complimentary close. A couple of days later, at a meeting with my parishioners to plan Holy Week, one of the people said, “Padre, this year on the Sábado de Gloria, let’s have a burning of the Jew.”

I was horrified. I thought I didn’t understand what he was saying, and in disbelief, I asked him again and again to repeat. I finally realized that in many of the villages were he’d come from, Holy Saturday was like a Catholic Guy Fawkes Day. As the English say, “Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,” and then they burn the pope in effigy on the anniversary of the Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot. The scriptures describe the suicide of Judas, who sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. It says that he hanged himself, and his body burst open. Accordingly the folkloric custom arose of hanging Judas in effigy and filling the dummy with fireworks. The atrocious practice was dubbed, “la quema del judio.” The burning of the Jew.

I ran back to my office, rifled through my desk, looking for the business card of the gentlemen from the Anti-Defamation League; luckily, I throw nothing out. I was very embarrassed, but I explained what happened, and asked for their help to educate my parishioners. They came up with the idea of a Seder meal, and produced a wonderful Argentine Rabbi, Leon Klenicki, who came and conducted a Seder meal in Spanish. We had it on Holy Thursday, the night of the last supper, the night when Jesus celebrated his Seder meal. The whole community was fascinated to see the connection between the Seder meal and Eucharistic celebration of the mass. After that no one asked to burn any Jews.

The whole affair reminded me that Cervantes had dealt with anti-Semitism in one of his famous works. In the Spain of Alfonso el Sabio, Jews, Moors and Christians lived in peace. But that peace was shattered, and there was much persecution of those who were not Christians. Cervantes, who was very possibly from a conversos family himself, wrote a book called, El Retablo de las Maravillas, sort of a Spanish version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. And in the work, he describes a group of actors who traveled from village to village and put on plays in the public square. And when they would assemble the whole crowd, people would come. They would announce the name of the play and then tell them that this was a magical play and the only ones who would be able to see it, were those who had pure blood. There was great obsession with what the Spanish call, “limpia de sangre.” In other words, no Moorish or Jewish blood, only old Christians could see the play. And then they pulled back the curtain and began the music. The people would laugh and applaud and cheer, and of course there was nothing on the stage.

Once and for all, we too must expose racism and anti-Semitism for what is - a fraud, a lie, an affront to humanity.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Dante's Inferno Test

My fate?

The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to Purgatory!

Take the Dante Inferno Test

OK... Then again, maybe you shouldn't. Remind me to file this under "Bad ideas". :-)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Catching up on old correspondence

Erasmus of Rotterdam, by Hans Holbein the Younger

A couple of new guests have added some late posts to some of the older threads that are due to roll off soon. I think they have good points in them, and I’d like to let some of the more frequent guests here see them and free feel to comment on them too.

Mike McG posted on 'Baghdad ER – The Cost of War'.

Mike McG... said...

Three comments:
1. "We can't kill our way out of this war." So true; a profoundly helpful reframing. Thank you.
2. My wife and I saw Bagdad ER last night. Incredibly moving. We need to see the wages of war. Only regret: too little focus on Iraqi casualties.
3. While observing the stirring recent marches on behalf of undocumented immigrants, I reflected that we haven't seen such a massive outpouring on behalf of a peace and justice issue since the end of the Vietnam war. Commonalities, then and now: there were concrete, personal consequences for not marching. The House bill would criminalize the undocumented; the draft put middle class boys' lives at risk.

I seriously doubt we'd be in Iraq today if there were a draft. Middle class Americans wouldn't stand for sending their children, but somehow the economic conscription of the poor is tolerable, even to us progressives.

Mike makes a good point that the Baghdad ER program could have focused more on Iraqi casualties than it did, particularly Iraqi civilian casualties. I heard one doctor in the program saying that they kept our troops on one side of the unit, Iraqi civilians on the other, and “the bad guys” in between. The progam didn’t focus much on the Iraqi casualties, but the ‘On Point’ Radio program did a bit more. There was an interview with one doctor who related how an insurgent was brought into the unit, “coded” several times, but was rescued and revived. The insurgent was furious to have been rescued by the Americans. For all the suffering we’ve endured and inflicted there, I do think it says something about us as a people that we are willing to give the same level of care and effort to the insurgent casualties as we do to our own troops.

On the third point, Mike is absolutely right. If there was a draft in this country this Iraqi adventure would never have been embarked upon. Not a chance. Due to the fact that these soldiers all volunteered, there is far less reticence on the part of the government to use them, and there is danger in this. Our founding fathers were very distrustful about the idea of professional soldiery. That is why they preferred to see a citizen militia. As it stands now, our all-volunteer military, impressive as they are, are not reflective of the country as a whole. They tend to be “red-state”, southern in style and character, and politically conservative. I’m not saying that this is wrong in and of itself. It just tends to build an atmosphere in which the military feels isolated from the very people it has been assigned to protect. I fear that over time this professional class of warriors will tend to see themselves more and more as an embattled minority which lives in loyalty to itself and its own members, and its own values, and not to the “slackers” they’ve been commisioned to defend.

In the thread 'Greeley on Poland: Does affluence trump traditionalism?', my old friend Joseph has weighed in.

Joe is one of my two best buddies in the world. He has lived in Madrid since 1989. My other best friend, Kevin, lives in Berlin… as in Berlin, Massachusetts. :-)

Back in the 80’s we used to spend long nights talking into the small hours of the morning, exploring mysteries on faith, women, and trying to fix the world’s problems. Faith and the world’s problems were pretty easy relative to the other one. Women are still a mystery to us, and we admit that better men than us have tried to figure them out. ;-D

Joe gives his take on Spain, and I think his comments are eloquent and insightful. Donald Rumsfeld talks about “Old Europe”. There is still some wisdom left in old Europe, as my good friend has discovered.

Joe said...

We are what we eat. Its true in that the food we eat each day (lifestyle, culture, beliefs, biased and unbiased media, stance justification, etc ) shapes our perpective on everything from patriotism to religion. Put another way, its difficult to have the Vision to climb out of the box we live in to see (and accept) the experiences and views in the boxes just around us or in the ones far away from us. In fact, it takes a Visionary to do so, in spite of the fact that information at a global level is more available than ever.

The Spanish post-Franco knee-jerk reaction to the institutional church was predictable. Mass attendance and "practicing Catholicism" is about as low as it can go, yet the real stuff of Faith remains strong just below the surface of the collective Spanish skin.

Living the hard experience of 40 years of dictatorship and forced fed institutional Catholicism is quite a learning experience to have in your knapsack. The Spanish Civil war and the dictatorship that followed is recent enough for people here to have 1st and 2nd hand experiences "fresh" in their minds. Learning experiences can be painful (even unjust). But they always provide us a perspective that we did not have before that experience. In that sense even the painful experience has an extremely positive side in that it provides Wisdom and heightened perspective.

Growing up as an American Catholic (in my box) it was pretty easy to write off the European attitude as cynicism. After 17 years of living abroad its been interesting to discover that Wisdom is not so scarce (or cynical) as I might have believed.

I always had my own particular view on the "practice" of the Catholic Faith. I've always asked myself what Christ might have thought of the church born of His name, (which is another rant for another time...) My time in Europe has accentuated that perspective. Its so much about humanity through the perspective of the figure of Christ than about Divinity through the doctrine of an institution called the catholic church.

I honestly don't feel its self justification for where I find myself today. I feel blessed to "find myself" in tune with the journey toward Christ with many of the folks around me here on the old continent.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

World Cup Roundup

The USA is ranked 5th??

Although my son is an avid soccer player, and we enjoy watching his games intensely, I have to admit that like most Americans, I don’t follow professional soccer too closely. An exception for me, however, is the World Cup. I usually do follow this huge event and enjoy watching it and tracking the teams.

The USA has qualified again for the World Cup this year. Perennially, the team has been considered a joke around the world even though they did manage to cling to life in enough games in 2002 to squeak into the quarterfinals.

This year, they are not considered a joke at all. The team has improved to the point that FIFA has them tied for fifth place in the rankings as the teams head into the Cup. The main reason the USA Team is so highly regarded is not so much for the individual skills of its players, but because they are known to be one of the most superbly conditioned teams in the world. Their players have been willing to submit to training regimens that some of the prima donna, highly paid stars in the European leagues would not allow themselves to be subjected to.

FIFA’s world rankings before the World Cup.

1 Brazil
2 Czech Republic
3 Netherlands
4 Mexico
5 Spain
7 Portugal
8 France
9 Argentina
10 England
13 Italy
19 Germany

Even with that high ranking, the USA has a tough road ahead of it. It starts out in one of the most difficult groups, with Italy, Ghana, and the Czech Republic. Tough teams to beat, every one of them.

High ranking or not, the USA is considered a long-shot (90-1)to win the Cup. Here are the current favorites among the oddsmakers:

Brazil: 3-1
Argentina: 13-2
England: 7-1
Germany: 8-1
Holland: 9-1
Italy: 9-1
France: 10-1
Spain: 16-1
Portugal: 20-1
Czech Republic: 25-1
USA: 90-1

Now, for the darker side of the cup... Our friend Paula has posted here about moral relativism in Germany, and while some Germans are worried that the behavior of Neo-Nazi hooligans might embarrass the Germans in hosting the World Cup, the bigger story might be in the human trafficking that is expected to occur.

Importing 40,000 Sex workers for the World Cup? Is Germany out of control?

Prostitution is legal in Germany, and for the World Cup, it is expected that in addition to the 400,000 legal prostitutes already working in Germany, an expected 40,000 additional “sex workers” will be imported/lured/drawn/coerced into coming to Germany to meet the expected “demand”.

Human sex trafficking and slavery is one of the world’s most under-reported problems. Thousands and thousands of Eastern European and Asian girls and women are being manipulated and abused in this world-wide scourge, often to meet the tastes of men in the West.

Some people here and abroad advocate the legalization of prostitution. How can a moral case ever be made for it? I know that there are woman who say that they do this of their own free will without coercion. Can that ever really be true? I find it hard to fathom or believe that a woman could ever do this without severe moral, social, psychological and physical trauma. I have three daughters of my own. If anyone should ever suggest to them the viability of this as a “career choice”, the consequences for that person would be most unpleasant.

What can the Germans be thinking?

Here is an NPR radio story on Concerns Over World Cup's Impact on German Sex Trade, and a BBC video piece.

Here are some anti-human trafficking links:

Nuns show the red card to forced World Cup prostitution (CATW)

Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute

Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

“An instinct to see life in a comic light…”

While reading Jack Beatty’s terrific biography of Boston Mayor James Michael Curley, The Rascal King, The Life and Times of James Michael Curley – An Epic of Urban Politics and Irish America, I came upon this quote from William V. Shannon, who was known in the early part of the 20th century for having written a monumental sociological analysis of the Irish in America.
”Supreme egotism and utter seriousness are necessary for the greatest accomplishment, and these the Irish find hard to sustain; at some point, the instinct to see life in a comic light becomes irresistible, and ambition falls before it.”

The instinct to see life in a comic light becomes irresistible… Speaking for myself, sometimes I feel like the venerable Mr. Shannon has me pinned down like a moth to a corkboard.

My Italian grandmother grew up in the fabled multi-ethnic neighborhood of Boston called the West End (which disappeared in the urban renewal projects of the 1950’s). She married a neighbor who was an Irishman, much to her father’s consternation. Her father, a one-legged self-made man who worked his way up from a shoe-shine box to owning a tenement, used to refer to my Irish grandfather as “The Statue”, presumably because he thought he stood around all day doing nothing… It wasn’t true, and it wasn't fair, but that’s how the tough old Neapolitan saw it.

My beloved grandmother was always challenging us to be better. When she passed away from pancreatic cancer in her late eighties, I remember the last thing she ever said to me. She rolled over, fixed me with her gaze, pointed her wizened old finger at me and said “procrastinator!” What a send-off, but you were right, Nan. I’m working on it. God Bless you. :-)