Friday, September 30, 2005

The Values of William Bennett

This is an early twelfth-century ivory from León in Spain. It is not a picture of William Bennett. Why? Because no matter what, I want this site to look good, and Bennett is one ugly hypocritical racist pathological gambler.

Bennett made the following remark on his radio show:

"If you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.”

Of course he was criticized for saying this, and he responded. His quotes were taken out of context, he says. Does this mean that he was making an observation about the racism inherent in our way of collecting and presenting statistical data? Is there any other way these words could have a context that could show them to have redeeming value? And even if there was, did Bennett apologize for saying something that could be misconstrued in an inflammatory way?

No, no, no. Bennett did not apologize. Rather, he said, “I think people who misrepresented my view owe me an apology." He didn’t really support aborting every black baby in this country, although he thinks it would work (I suppose any kind of abortion is a problem for him). His argument was against the idea that “the ends justify the means.”

What is implied here is the idea that there is an intrinsic, not merely statistical, connection between race and crime. It has nothing to do with the structure of society, but with the color of one’s skin. This is foul racism, pure and simple.

It is not surprising to find such claims coming from the right in this country. Although the Republican party PR machine has done a good job of taking advantage of the fact that the only thing the Democratic party really does for Afro-Americans is to show up at their churches every four years, the Republican party is still the party of Trent Lott, suppression of the Black vote, and a policy war against the poor in general and the Black population in particular. Bennett, however, is a great symbol of the stench that lay under the perfume of their “moral values.” I don’t care if he wants to gamble away his money, but he shouldn’t do so while hypocritically decrying the moral decay of the nation. More disturbing are his views on the origin of crime. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the following important moral values: the fight against racism, poverty, and war. You want Bible quotes, just let me know. Just don’t go asking a scumbag like Bennett for advice on values.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Vatican & the seminaries

Pope Innocent III, the great early 13th- century pontiff who understood his own time well. For the action figure, click here.

My cousin has asked me if I was planning on commenting on the report that Vatican officials visiting American seminaries will be looking for evidence of homosexuality among the seminarians. I certainly was, but was waiting to read a bit more on the issue. The officials will be asking some 56 questions about each seminary, ranging from queries about the seminarian's sexuality to those about their spirituality and orthodoxy. The question of homosexuality arises, apparently, from the sexual abuse scandal that has damaged the Church so seriously in recent years.

A wider question is whether or not the Vatican plans to ban gays from the priesthood altogether. One prelate, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, is awaiting a Vatican statement on the issue and has proposed that homosexuals should not enter seminaries. Since Archbishop O'Brien is coordinating the visitations, perhaps his idea should be seen as something more than one churchman's particular opinion.

It remains to be seen how this will affect American seminaries and the American Church as a whole. Were the archconservatives at the top right now to be successful with their purge, it would be a great injustice, both to gay priests and to the rest of us, depriving us of the excellent pastoral care of a number of dedicated and devout men. If the percentage of gay priests is as high as some suspect (as much as 50%), and if all these men were to pack their bags and leave our Church, it would exacerbate an already critical shortage of priests. Adding gay men to the list of people who are called to serve but are not allowed to (women, married men) by a short-sighted hierarchy will leave the sacramental structure of the Church in a desperate crisis.

Another disturbing aspect of this issue is the scapegoating of homosexuals for the abuse scandal. It is disturbing because it is utterly false. A homosexual is no more likely to abuse a small boy than a heterosexual is a small girl. It is especially disturbing because the hierarchy continues to refuse to admit its own responsibility in the manner. What made the abuse scandal so horrifying was not only that there were sick men who abused children, but that their superiors covered up the crimes and gave these men the opportunity to abuse other children.

Perhaps mandatory celibacy is part of the problem, although I believe that many good priests (and brothers and nuns) are quite capable of living according to their vows without turning into sexual predators. Celibacy makes sense for members of religious orders, if not always for parish priests. No, I believe that the greatest problem here is a clerical culture that sees the laity as fundamentally inferior, to be taught and to be put up with, but never to be listened to or taken seriously. This obviously creates an "us/them" mindset in which the clergy sees any cleric, whether he be a bad administrator or the worst of sexual criminals, as one of "us," to be protected from "them." While I think a clerical culture had its place in the history of the Church, in a world with an educated laity that demands more participation in the decisions of Church administration we need less division between clergy and laity, not more. The clergy has to trust us and see us as partners, not as children who need to be disciplined and whose role in Church affairs stops at the collection plate.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest that all the clergy is like this. In the most dynamic parishes (like mine), enlightened priests work side-by-side with knowledgeable and dedicated laity to create a true sense of community. If only this could be understood by those a couple of levels up on the totem pole!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Black Death

Just a quick additional post to let everyone know that mice infected with the bubonic plague are missing in New Jersey. If this were a serious problem, I wouldn't make light of it, but apparently the risk is minimal. You can get the plague from squirrels in the Rocky Mountains. Still, if you are in Jersey and you do suffer from black swelling and stinking bumps on your thighs, do go to a doctor or at least a priest. Who says knowledge of medieval history is not useful?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Beatus and Katrina

More from the Beatus of Liebana. This illumination is, of course, the four riders that appear with the opening of the first four seals in the Book of Revelations. I believe this is from the manuscript that King Fernando I and Queen Sancha of Leon gave to the Church of San Isidoro in the 1040's.

I apologize for the very silly previous post. The truth is that I needed to break the ice again and post something. The hurricane and especially its aftermath took over my attention completely. The horror and rage I felt following the news the week after it hit New Orleans seemed to demand expression, but what could I say that wasn't already being shouted from the rooftops? The lack of response, the exceedingly callous behavior of Bush and his administration, the terrible result of appointing incompetent and unqualified toadies to important positions, the lack of foresight and long-term funding in addressing the Damocles' sword over the city of New Orleans, the National Guardsmen in Iraq, the exposure of how deadly the racial and class divide is in this country, the sick irony of an administration that people voted for out of fear failing to protect them from disaster... And I could go on. Global warming, etc. It was too horrible. I guess now we have to see how the thing settles. Have we learned anything? Should we, perhaps, pay more attention to making government work rather than cutting its funding?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Beatus and Elipandus

"The fact that Beatus called Elipandus the Antichrist in the Adversus Elipandum should not be seen as a confirmation that the references to Antichrists in the Commentary are directed at Elipandus. In fact, Elipandus had called Beatus the Antichrist, which indicates that the label was applied indiscriminately, without any specific Apocalyptic meaning."

-from The Illustrated Beatus, by John Williams, p. 114.
I think the 8th-century exchange went like this:
Elipandus: You're the Antichrist.
Beatus: No, you're the Antichrist.
Elipandus: No, you're the Antichrist.
Beatus: No, you're the Antichrist and a dick.
Elipandus: No, you're the Antichrist and a double dick.
Beatus: No, you're the Antichrist and a double dick times infinity,
and you can't get worse than that. I win.