Monday, April 28, 2008

The Politics of Association: Should Catholics Disown the Pope?

Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former (and now denounced and severed) pastor, is only one of several "warriors" that have surfaced since the start of the primary season who are stuck in a time warp - an angry civil rights advocate who's fighting a little too hard, a little too late. His record of achievement when it comes to community service and social work is admirable, but the residual anger and bitterness he still harbors is, well, a little dated.

It's not all that different from fossils of the second-wave feminist movement like Geraldine Ferraro and Gloria Steinem, women of admittedly revolutionary achievement who also held on to the anger a little too long, and surfaced briefly in this campaign season with their own takes on race, gender, or both. Steinem pitted sexism against racism in a January 2008 New York Times piece, and Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate in U.S. history, suggested that Barack Obama owes his current stature in the country to being black. She defends her position to this day, even after being booted from the Clinton campaign in March.

We then briefly had Sir Elton John dismissively alleging that all opposition to Hillary Clinton's candidacy is a function of Americans' misogynistic attitudes.

And John McCain said he denounces supporter John Hagee's anti-Catholic comments and his assertion that America's policy towards Palestine resulted in its being attacked by terrorists - very Wright-esque - but he still solicited Hagee's endorsement, telling ABC's George Stephanopoulos he is "glad" to have it.

Finally, filmmaker/writer Nora Ephron has expressed her "seasoned" opinion about white men being either sexist (Obama voters) or racist (Clinton voters), even suggesting - pretty self-assuredly - that "white men cannot be relied on, as all of us know who have spent a lifetime dating them."


These characters have a public platform because they earned it through a multitude of achievements that have benefited all of us and provided stepping stones to something better.

The problem is, times have changed and the social milieu has evolved, but they're still adhering to their age-old agendas, confused, for instance, by the betrayal of third-wave feminists that don't mind supporting Obama, or young, "post-racial" blacks, some of whom feel that Clinton or McCain have the experience and/or character to lead the country in a more competent way than Obama might.

Many of these iconic old-timers are still standing firm in empty battlefields - that, to their credit, they themselves helped clear - poised and adrenalized with their combat boots on, holding strong to the batons they should have passed on long ago.

In a presidential race with no incumbent, where race, gender, religion, age, generational gaps, and multi-ethnic lineage all figure more prominently than they have in decades, they feel (post-maturely) re-energized. And they're pretty loud about it.

But you can't completely blame them. They did spend most of their lives passionately and dedicatedly promoting their agendas. It's not easy to break away from that, even after the war has largely been won. They do need to understand, though, that anger or screaming foul doesn't rile people up the way it used to. When you're downtrodden, you fight to be noticed and acknowledged. Once you're noticed and acknowledged, you want to reach out and peaceably start a conversation to be able to work together.

Jeremiah Wright spoke to the NAACP on Sunday night about the differences in everything from the academic learning patterns to the clapping-to-music styles of black and white children, where he arguably suggested that even their little brains may be physically and structurally different. This is (sort of) supported by (now debatable) research carried out in the 1970s that lumped American and African black children against American and European white children, and it's eerily reminiscent of a similar equal-but-not-the-same argument by Richard Hernnstein and Charles Murray in their 1994 book The Bell Curve, which caused a furor among minority racial groups and whites alike.

Wright's speech at least tangentially echoed much of its theme and content.

But the unavoidable twenty-first century question flapping obscenely in the face of these age-old contentions is: what about a half-black, half-white child raised partially by an Indonesian stepfather, who went to Harvard for his law degree?


Look, the fighting part is over - the time now is for a conversation. Obama artfully articulated this in his landmark Philadelphia speech on race. Provocation and aggression at this time in history will not bring about this conversation, but impede it.

Speaking angrily about white oppression of blacks to a generation of white hip-hop fans - most of whom have never lynched, enslaved, or asked a black person to sit at the back of a bus - is likely to alienate them and drive a wedge between them and their black classmates, friends, colleagues, or significant others. For many - and Jeremiah Wright might find this hard to believe - it may force them to see color significantly and divisively for the very first time.

Similarly, the residual anger in Steinem and Nora Ephron may alienate many young men who are the reformed products of their own struggle spanning decades. Many of these men have never thought of their female counterparts as anything less than what they think of themselves. And they're okay with a conversation. Why all the yelling?

Effectively, these "warriors" may end up reintroducing the very sentiment into a new generation that they worked so hard to remove from the old.

Many elements of the mainstream media (which is not monolithic despite what they would have you believe, as isn't the black community that Wright claims to represent) have jumped on this in their typical, sensationalist, ratings-driven "gotcha" fashion.

Denounce or reject?

Disown the comments or disown the pastor?

Do you choose your family like you choose your pastor?

If not - you can disown either of them, can't you?

This is where we get into the juvenile pastime of painting everything with the same brush, or trying to squeeze complex, nuanced, context-dependent, historically rich, delicate issues into neat, narrow little boxes so that they can be understood in simple true-false form by the average second grader.

So, as my personal tribute to this journalistic style, practiced by the likes of Fox News "anchor" Sean Hannity, I am proposing that he, as a Catholic, disown the Pope.

I also propose that he call for any Catholic running for president to disown the Pope. And I don't say this baselessly. I come prepared with a collection of delightful (out-of-context) quotes and events as some pretty potent ammunition.

First, Pope Benedict XVI (Cardinal Josef Ratzinger), with his distinguished career, doesn't seem to believe that non-Catholics can make it to heaven: "[Followers of other religions are] in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the [Roman Catholic] church, have the fullness of the means of salvation." That's from the Ratzinger-penned Dominus Iesus, jointly issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Those in this "gravely deficient situation" also include non-Catholic Christians - and when the Lutherans complained, the Pope labeled their concerns "absurd".

Second, on the condemnation of Galileo by the Catholic Church in 1633 for suggesting that the Earth revolves around the Sun, Pope John Paul II acknowledged the Church's error. Cardinal Ratzinger, however, maintained that " the time of Galileo the Church remained much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The process against Galileo was reasonable and just." What? This "process" included over eight years of persecution and house arrest. For being right.

Third, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI infuriated Jewish groups worldwide by meeting with the unabashed anti-Semitic Polish priest Reverend Tadeusz Rydzyk, with whom he had pictures taken at Rydzyk's summer residence. Rydzyk has suggested, among other things on his own Maryja radio station, that Jews are benefiting from the Holocaust by way of a "Holocaust Industry", and that the Polish government is in the "pockets of the Jewish lobby": here and here.

Fourth, as is widely known, the Pope was able to infuriate Muslims around the world (without drawing a single cartoon, by the way), when he said the following: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Finally, on homosexuality: " is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."

So Sean Hannity, a Catholic, should probably not plan a run for the presidency without first publicly disowning the Pope. He should also call on any Catholic presidential candidate to disown the Pope before running. He'll probably say that there's a difference between a pastor and a pope. Yes, Sean, an anti-Semitic Pope is worse than a racist pastor.

So should he do it?

Of course not.

Those quotes, all of which made news worldwide, are not all in context. And Christ the Savior being the only pathway to salvation is a fundamental Catholic concept, which, by the account of most Christian leaders, means that the rest of us, including the Jews, are going to hell.

So how much should Hannity distance himself from the Pope? Should he disown him? What comments should he disavow? What lines from Scripture should he publicly state his disagreement with to get the vote of the Jews who don't want to accept Christ as their Savior but would still like their candidate to think they're going to heaven? Will the same be asked of a Catholic candidate that was asked of Barack Obama?

No, and it shouldn't be asked of anyone.

Religion is just like that. One man's pastor is another's lunatic. One man's God is another's mythical figure. We all go into the church, mosque, or synagogue and hear our priests, imams, and rabbis say some pretty outlandish things on occasion. Being religious means believing, without material proof, that you know the infallible truth.

And this "truth" isn't prone to debate, or to proof by experimentation - it's about wooden arks, worldwide floods, and men living inside whales, and prophets ascending to heaven on winged horses from Jerusalem, and the parting of seas, and virgin births - it has no place in the presidential election campaign of a secular, democratic country. Religion, for all of the good - and bad - it may cause, cannot be debated on the basis of rationality or logic. Faith by definition means to believe without material proof. The gap cannot even hypothetically be bridged as it can with human-made philosophy or ideology - because it's the word of my god against yours.

That is why the Founding Fathers wanted to keep it out of the affairs of the state. And that is why it should be kept out of presidential campaigns.

To his credit, the only candidate that has maintained a relative silence on his personal faith is John McCain - the Republican.

That - is change. And hope.

Now that Obama has (smartly) denounced Jeremiah Wright to the satisfaction of the electorate, he may be able to get away with not wearing that flag pin. In a thinking, insightful, non-Hannity world, though - neither would have been an issue.


docanwar said...

Agreed. What's annoying is that the obvious needs to be pointed out...again and again. People are perpetuating this debate, permitting cynicism about the human race.

Ali A. Rizvi said...

Yeah. Common sense isn't very common, is it?