SHORT TAKES

By Paul

Here are a few “short takes” on items large and small that have been in the news of late:

  • CHICK-FIL-A FRACAS – OK, so maybe I’m not really a good one to comment much on this, given the fact that I’m more or less a vegetarian (I do occasionally eat some fish).  However, I think I can categorically say that I wouldn’t be eating any Chick-Fil-A chicken, even if I did crave the bird.  Of course, it’s true that the head of this company has every right to express any opinion he likes.  I am, in fact, a full and total supporter of the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution.  And no one has the right to tell him that his bigoted statements cannot be openly expressed.  On the other hand, everyone else also has the right to choose NOT to eat chicken that comes from a restaurant owned by a bigot.  So, Mr. Cathy, if you’re going to run your mouth off in public about your hateful attitudes toward LGBT people and their right to get married, you may just have to accept the social, and the economic, consequences of your narrow-minded homophobia.  Sorry, but in case you didn’t know, that’s the way Capitalism works.

 

  •  ROMNEY’S FOOT-IN-MOUTH DISEASE – If the presumptive Republican nominee is going to use the world as his stage by traveling to the UK, Israel, and Poland, I think he’d have done well to better prepare his statements a little in advance.  As it is, it’s looking as though he never quite got over jet lag.  He insulted the Brits first off by telling them that it didn’t look as though they were really prepared for the Olympics.  This is, at very least, what could be called an undiplomatic thing to say.  Some might call it insensitive, or even just downright dumb.  I mean, it’s probably not a good idea to insult your hosts, as they prepare to host you.  And then he seems to have suggested that the Palestinians aren’t doing so well economically because, well, something to do with their “culture”?   No word from Mr. Romney about the devastating effects of the Israeli blockade on Gaza, or on the fact that no economy can really flourish under constant stringent restrictions on the free movement of goods, services and people. No, it all seems to be about “culture,” whatever that may have meant to him.  We might ordinarily have expected that reporters accompanying him could have questioned him further about what he meant, as a matter of fact, except that his handlers weren’t letting those reporters anywhere near him.  No less a figure than Romney’s traveling press secretary told reporters to “Kiss my ass,” when they insisted too much.  Now that, too, might be thought of as undiplomatic.  Just take your pictures, boys, he seemed to be saying, and report on the platitudes our guy is spouting as he makes his way across Europe.  Oh, and don’t forget, Lech Walesa came out for him!  That should mean something in Chicago, shouldn’t it?  At least he hasn’t told any Polish jokes – not yet anyway. 

 

  • WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LIGHTS? – And the electricity to run the trains, or the hospitals, or even the crematoriums?  On the heels of a power outage that affected 370 million people, India has now gotten the prize for the mother-of-all power outages.  This latest one affected people all across northern India, amounting to an astounding 620 million souls.  Now there’s a number to gasp at!  That’s more than twice the population of the United States.  Another way to think of it is, if you combined the populations of Canada, Mexico, and the United States, there still would be more than 150 million people left over who were without power.  Of course, there are many reasons that can be given as to why India lost power, having to do with outdated equipment, weak monsoonal rains and continued high heat, routine pilfering of electricity by millions of dispossessed individuals, and outright stealing of the stuff by whole Indian states (all right, “over-drawing” of their allotted amounts, if you prefer).  But is anyone else wondering whether this kind of thing is just the beginning?  Given run-away population growth world-wide and continued oddities (to use perhaps an overly polite word) in weather patterns due to ever-increasing temperatures caused by global warming, ought we not to prepare ourselves for many more such problems in our future, and not just in so-called developing countries?  Here in our house, we’ve got a good old Coleman stove left over from our camping days that we can use to cook on, and lots of water saved up.  We used to think that this was preparation for “the Big One” here in California, that major shift in the San Andreas Fault that everybody know is coming sooner or later.  Now I’m beginning to think that there may well also be lots of other catastrophes we’d better prepare for, and some of them have nothing to do with the shifting of those pesky tectonic plates.

 

  • BLESS ME, FATHER, FOR I HAVE USED A CONDOM – The latest installment in the Los Angeles Times series on the population explosion, which I wrote at some length about in a posting on this site last week, has to do this time with the Philippines.  No doubt, it goes without saying that this is an overwhelmingly Catholic country.  Some 80% of the current population of 96 million people not only profess to be Catholic, but are serious about it.  They are what we used to call “practicing Catholics (I maybe ought to have capitalized the “P”).”  The Church’s absolutely intransigent stance there, and elsewhere, not just on abortion, but on any and all use of contraception has led to an out-of-control birthrate in a country that can ill afford it.  Rationalizations on the part of the Church are rife as to why the birthrate ought to remain high.  Signs and billboards are plastered all over the country, paid for by the Church, which declaim “NO to the Reproductive Health Bill – YES to the Gospel of Life.”  The Reproductive Health (RH) Bill referred to is a piece of legislation which has languished now for more than 14 years in the federal legislature, but which is coming up for another vote soon.  It would provide contraception for masses of poor people who otherwise cannot afford to buy it themselves.  As things stand right now, and if the population rate continues to soar as it currently is, the population of the Philippines is set to reach an astounding 155 million by the year 2050.  That makes it one of the fastest-growing populations in all of Asia, and metro Manila is already among the most densely populated places on the globe.  Dangerous back alley abortions – one of the few avenues currently open to many poor women attempting to control whether, or how often, they have children – are on the rise.  It is well established world-wild, in fact, that abortions  rise in countries where women have little access to reliable contraception.  And yet, here is a recent quote from Bishop Leo Murphy Drona of San Pablo in the Philippines, claiming that the country’s president was “misleading the Filipino nation into believing that killing children and the unborn through aggressive population reduction, through the RH law, will be better for the country.”  In what way, I would like to know, would population reduction NOT be better for the country?  As is so often the case in the Philippines and elsewhere, the Catholic Church is on the right side of rigidity, dogma, and convention, but sadly on the wrong side of history. 

 

WATCH OUT SISTERS, THEY’RE AT IT AGAIN!

 By Paul

 Well, the Vatican has done it again.  The Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith recently gave American nuns a damn good scolding for not toeing the line.  For those of you who may not be so familiar with some of the more arcane practices of the Catholic Church, a Prefect is a cardinal who heads up one of the main bureaucratic branches of what is called the Roman Curia, the principal administrative arm of the Catholic Church.  The former Prefect of this particular branch was Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.  The current head is William Levada, former Archbishop of San Francisco, who is famously known for having said that Catholic theology does not recognize the right to dissent.  This organization, by the way, used to be known back when I was a kid as the Holy Office.  But before that, and up to the very beginning of the twentieth century, it had a name with a more distinctive ring.  It was called the Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition.  Now, does that sound familiar?

The beef that Cardinal Levada has with American nuns (also known as “religious”) is that he seems to think they’re guilty of deviating from Church teaching and promoting what is being called “radical feminist themes.”  Really?  Women who have dedicated their entire lives to teaching children, tending to the sick, caring for the poor, the dispossessed and the homeless, and generally helping those in need, are criticized for doing what many people think Christ, himself, came here to do?   I mean, didn’t he?  Or please raise your hand if you think that Christ came instead to run a bloated bureaucracy, or to mercilessly harangue people for leading so-called “immoral lives,” or in order to hide priests who spent years harassing children, so that the bishops might protect the property and the reputation of a rich, inflated and soulless administrative structure. 

But just what exactly did these devious and obstructionist nuns in fact do to so bring down Cardinal Levada’s wrath on them?  It seems as though Levada and company think that these American religious were not sufficiently fervent in their condemnation of women who choose to terminate a pregnancy, that’s sin number one, and the other unmentionable act is that they apparently were too lenient, too cozy with those horrible gay people, who want to marry each other. 

Now, it almost does not matter what you think about either of these topics.  I can imagine, for example, that good people might think that abortions ought not to take place, because they are utterly convinced that fetuses are living human beings.  I don’t agree with them, but I can at least understand their point of view.  The opposition to gay marriage thing, on the other hand, is a complete mystery to me.  What in the world can anyone have against two people who love each other deciding to enter into a civil marriage?  It is simply a complete falsehood that such a thing could ever, in any way, weaken heterosexual marriage.  I’ve read a lot about this, and I have never yet found one credible argument that would serve to substantiate this claim.  But I’m getting off track a little.  We’re here to talk about Catholic nuns.  Some will say the fact remains that, for better or for worse, both of these activities are against official teaching and that the Church condemns them.  So, isn’t that enough?  Isn’t it sufficient, and reasonable, that their bosses in Rome should have every right to come down on those who profess to be special status members of the organization, but who don’t jump on the band wagon with the same degree of enthusiasm as is required? 

Well, I guess the answer to that is yes, IF you believe that the Church is a bureaucratic organization only.  Personally, I do happen to believe that, and so I was not in the least surprised when I heard that the cardinal who runs the team that used to be called the Inquisition might come down in this way on a bunch of deviant and recalcitrant sisters.  I mean, how dare these women get so uppity?  Let’s face it, men are in charge of the Catholic Church.  It’s always been that way, and from what I can see, it probably always will be.  So, it was clearly time for these ladies to hear from the guys in charge and to feel a little bit of the lash of discipline. 

But let’s take another tack, shall we?  What if the Catholic Church were something different?  What if it were actually some kind of spiritual organization, dedicated to love and to compassion and to helping people who need assistance getting through the tough times in life?  What if it were a bunch of people who actually took Christ’s teaching seriously, and even lived by those teachings?  What if it were made up of individuals who genuinely wanted to find some connection with the Divine, and to help people in need, and who didn’t much care who those people were, since everybody is a reflection of Christ and of the Divine Spirit? 

I actually know some Catholics who are like that.  Again, I’ll admit to being not so enamored of the Church, or of any organized religion, and would rather just do things on my own.  But not everybody thinks like me.  Lots of people want to belong to an organization that they feel helps them personally and that helps other people at the same time.  These good friends I have belong to a parish in upstate New York, which does wonderful work reaching out to the homeless and helping to feed the poor.  They even tell me there are gay couples who are members of the parish, and that they are accepted just as if they were regular humans like anyone else.  These friends of mine have never had a problem with my being gay, and frankly I don’t know what they think about abortion.  But the point really is that it doesn’t matter much, does it?  They are doing something that they feel feeds their souls, and which also reaches out and helps people around them.  And guess what!   The local bishop is totally exasperated at them for doing this!   He’s angry and annoyed that they don’t toe the line, and that they spend their time helping people, rather than condemning them.  Hmm, now is this beginning to sound familiar?

It kind of sounds like what Cardinal Levada has to say about women religious, doesn’t it?  It sounds like the big bloated bureaucracy speaking, the so-called magisterium, coming down hard on people who are trying to do the right thing.   Personally, I really hope that the Catholic laity AND the nuns are furious at the hierarchy for missing so totally and so woefully what the whole point of the Church really ought to be.  I gave up on the Church a long, long time ago, and so it’s longer capable of disappointing me.  But some people haven’t.  Some people need it, and still think highly of it; they even love it.  These are the folks I feel sorry for.  I feel for all the nuns and the laity, and maybe even a couple of priests here and there, who actually get what the Church is supposed to be about. 

But they’d all better watch their p’s and q’s, these dissenters, these radical feminists, these true believers.  Or the likes of Cardinal Levada will come down on them like the avenging angel.  And after all, he’s got the power, he and the rest of the red-robed cardinals, and the pope himself.  As I see it, in the end the Church actually does not trust anyone who really believes in Christ’s teachings, or who tries to live by them.  He was, after all, a radical, a dissenter, a lover of the poor and the dispossessed.  He came to help those in need, not to support the administrative status quo of the day.  And look what happened to him.  So, sister, it’s time to sit up and fly right, follow the leader, and get in line, or – God help you – who knows what will happen to you next!