Meanwhile, Cardinal Dolan spanked the Democrats on their home field

My favorite moment in either convention came late last night, when one of the commentators on PBS used the word “exegesis” in describing what he’d just heard.

He was referring to Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s benediction right after President Obama’s speech. I had not heard it, whether because PBS didn’t show it or I was out of the room, I can’t recall. But C-SPAN had it, as you see above.

The commenter — I think it was Ray Suarez — was saying that the Cardinal had delivered “a riff” on something. Then he corrected himself, saying perhaps the word “exegesis” was more appropriate. His colleagues were impressed.

I very much appreciate that the Democrats gave the cardinal this forum, only about an hour after ostensible Catholic Joe Biden had roared out his approval of the party’s embrace of abortion. The cardinal said, among other things:

Thus do we praise you for the gift of life. Grant us to defend it. Life, without which no other rights are secure. We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected…

At the end of his prayer, the assembled Democrats responded with a strong “amen,” which was a settler for all those Republicans who think they’re just a bunch of heathens. To what extent all had been listening carefully, I don’t know. But the fact is that as with most public prayers, most of the words were ones they would most likely have agreed with.

The coverage came later, after the assembled media caught their breath.

The cardinal was the one person who spoke at both conventions, by the way.

Oh, what did I mean by my headline above? Well, this morning I saw a Tweet from the Charleston paper that said, “Bishop England beats Porter-Gaud. Story:http://bit.ly/NYyg6j .” So I couldn’t resist responding, “… And Cardinal Dolan thrashes the Democrats. Big night for the Catholics…”

Mackerel-snappers had a big one the night before, too. Among the non-headliners, I thought the speech by Sister Simone of “Nuns on the Bus” probably the most uplifting, least off-putting of the two weeks. Her delivery was beatific, but pulled no punches: After taking apart the budget of another dubious Catholic, Paul Ryan, she said to fervent cheers, “This is part of my pro-life stance, and the right thing to do.”

Both of them expressed what I believe. Which is a big reason why I’m so uncomfortable with both parties.

33 thoughts on “Meanwhile, Cardinal Dolan spanked the Democrats on their home field

  1. Karen McLeod

    May the as yet unborn be wanted. Until then, I’m not sure that “protecting” them until there born and no further, does them any favors. And meanwhile may the already born be wanted, protected, and respected.

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  2. Tim

    And what makes Paul Ryan a “dubious” Catholic? The Old Church has some pretty wide eaves that a lot of folks with different views huddle under.

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  3. Brad

    “What makes” them ostensible and dubious? Well, I do. This is my blog, you see. The assessments are always my own.

    I would have thought that would be obvious.

    Of course, I’ve always been against stating that obvious point in opinion writing. Some namby-pamby writers of opinion will say “I believe that…,” which is a waste of words. Of course you believe it; otherwise you wouldn’t say it. So whether you’re saying the sun rises in the East or so-and-so is a big fat idiot, just say it. If people don’t know they’re reading an opinion piece, then they’re just going to be confused anyway.

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  4. Tim

    Thanks, just needed the clarification.

    “I would have thought that would be obvious”

    I believe that you could have shortened that.

    I think its obvious. Or in Aussie, “Obvo”

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  5. bud

    Now we have Paul Ryan a “dubious” Catholic and Joe Biden an “ostensible” Catholic. I guess that makes anyone who supports wars against non-threatening nations on the basis of a pack of lies a “treacherous” Catholic. Come on Brad let’s leave this religious stuff out of the political debate. It’s starting to get very old.

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  6. Andrew

    Bud – could you tell me where the appropriate place is for the religious stuff?

    I’m a Christian, an old school Calvinist, really, but I appreciated Cardinal Dolan’s attempt to speak the truth to the watching world.

    Can you tell me where religious folks are allowed to speak and comment?

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  7. Brad

    One would THINK the appropriate place for “religious stuff,” even if there is no other appropriate place, would be in a prayer, which is what the cardinal was invited to deliver.

    But perhaps Bud has other ideas…

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  8. bud

    Andrew I wasn’t picking on the Cardinal’s words but rather Brad’s attempt to diminish other Catholics because he disagrees with them politically and accordingly they are not real Catholics. It comes across as hypocritical.

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  9. bud

    As for the prayer, if I had my way there wouldn’t have been a prayer by any religious person. Perhaps some secular invocation by a Unitarian.

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  10. Kathryn Fenner

    Unitarians are religious, bud,
    I think we could dispense with all invocations and other expressions of piety in political and governmental matters.
    Actions speak louder than words.

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  11. Karen McLeod

    Kathryn, I agree. In these areas it smacks too much of the Pharisees who liked to pray on street corners and in public places. They have their reward.

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  12. Brad

    As much as I dislike the two major parties, I’ll say this for them — neither are as extreme in their attitudes toward religion as my good friends Kathryn and Bud.

    Even those allegedly heathen Democrats (to hear the Republicans tell it) respectfully bowed their heads all through an invocation that, if they were paying attention, said some stuff they really don’t believe. Which made me like them more than I had liked them all week.

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  13. Brad

    Karen and I just crossed paths; I had not seen her comment when I wrote the one above.

    Karen hits on a point that is near and dear to me.

    I pray in public. Before I eat a meal, wherever I am, I bow my head and give thanks. In direct contravention to what Jesus instructed his followers to do.

    You know why? Because of my interpretation of what Jesus actually meant.

    He lived in a place and time in which public prayer boosted your status in the community. It was a way of using God to put yourself above the other people around you.

    We live in a place and time that is about 180 degrees from that. In the circles in which I move, at least, such public expressions of humble thanks to God for what you have before you set you apart as at the least eccentric, if not some sort of dangerous nut. Rather than raising your status in the world, it sets you apart from the world, just a bit. It sort of shunts you off to a sidetrack.

    It can also get you into an embarrassing situation. Once, at a Capital City Club board meeting, my fellow board member, the Rev. Charles Jackson of Brookland Baptist, failed to attend as anticipated, and our chair, having so often noticed me giving thanks at breakfast, asked me to do the invocation. I was totally unprepared. It was awkward…

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  14. Herb Brasher

    A seminary professor of mine, Paul Little, admitted to us that a friend rebuked him for his knee-jerk reaction in public of bowing his head and scratching his eyebrows, so nobody would think he was really praying.

    No reason not to give thanks, Jesus did, and even looked up to heaven when he did. If people think my wife and I look like dangerous nuts, then so be it. To me, sitting down (or not) and just starting to stuff it in seems irreverent and arrogant. Especially in view of some of the places I’ve been to, with nearly half of the kids suffering from malnutrition.

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  15. Brad

    Steve says, “I thought there was supposed to be a separation of church and state.”

    I’ll answer that two ways…

    First, it depends on what you mean by “supposed to be.” You’re wrong if you mean that the Constitution requires such a separation. There’s a popular misconception that it does, but that’s because of views about a “wall” between the two set out by Thomas Jefferson — who had nothing to do with writing the Constitution. The First Amendment says Congress may make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or abridging the free exercise of religion. Which is not the same as saying the worlds of government and faith must be entirely separate, just that government may not take any one faith and make it the official one, or interfere in the religious practice of dissenters.

    But let’s take that in its least restrictive sense, and say that there IS a requirement that the state be separate from “church,” in the sense of not establishing a church. Hey, let’s take it further and suppose that we are proscribed from the state being involved with any sort of religious expression whatsoever.

    That would bring me to my second response… This was a political gathering, a private assembly, and in no way a government-run event. A political party, a private organization, can pray and sing hymns from gavel to gavel if it chooses, even if you take the strictest, most Jeffersonian view of church and state.

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  16. Andrew

    Bud – could you define hypocritical for me?

    Because the way you used it earlier does not seem to me to say the same thing that it means.

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  17. Karen McLeod

    Brad, I also pray before meals, and often, when I’m with friends, we use communal prayer. The difference is that we are not politicians; we do not pretend or believe that we are better than anyone else (‘thankyou that I’m not like these sinners’); and we’re not trying to convince anyone that we’re so good that you should vote or give money to us. Nor do we pray so loudly as to call attention to ourselves. It’s when you pray for the purpose of showing how good you are, in order to influence others that you have a problem. Since political conventions are by name “political,” a show of religiosity is very suspect in my book. Just out of curiosity, how are people who honestly believe very differently from the good bishop supposed to join in that prayer?

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  18. kc

    “We live in a place and time that is about 180 degrees from that. In the circles in which I move, at least, such public expressions of humble thanks to God for what you have before you set you apart as at the least eccentric, if not some sort of dangerous nut.”

    Yes. Truly you are a member of a persecuted minority. To paraphrase Jon Stewart, I dream of the day when an avowed Christian will be permitted to hold public office in the Unites States.

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  19. Phillip

    I don’t know what circles you’re moving in, Brad, but certainly since I moved back to the South 8 years ago, people saying grace at the table seems pretty standard around here, when I’m at some friends’ homes they do it, when at others, not. I’ve never seen that look of “what an eccentric, or dangerous nut” cast towards grace-sayers around here…maybe on the Upper West Side or in Berkeley or something but surely not in South Carolina.

    This agnostic thinks giving thanks for the food you are about to enjoy is a wonderful ritual, for precisely the reason Herb mentioned. (The fortunate condition most of us find ourselves in relative to so many in the world, and even in our own backyards). One does not need to be specifically religious to do so.

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  20. Mark Stewart

    Karen is correct about the purpose and message of religion within the context of political theater.

    If the Cardinal really wanted to represent piousness at either convention he should have spoken of themes which were not combatively delivered. Instead he sounded like a 7pm speaker; “off” note, weakly delivered with an abundance of partisanship.

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  21. Scout

    In the circles in which I move I don’t find it that unusual to see people praying in public before they eat. It really doesn’t seem that uncommon around here to me. I sometimes do get the feeling from some of the people I see doing it that it is a status thing for them. Like they almost are asking to be challenged on it and they do think they are pointing out they are better than the heathens around them not doing the same. It’s just a feeling I get from some, but not certainly not all, people I’ve been around who choose to pray publicly before meals. I guess it really is a reflection of what I know of the person’s character already whether or not it feels authentic to me. I certainly have been around people who do this and it seems very authentic and not at all for show, and I respect that. Personally, I pray often but privately. I have always felt that what Jesus said about praying privately was very important. That is just what works for me.

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  22. Scout

    Bud says, “I wasn’t picking on the Cardinal’s words but rather Brad’s attempt to diminish other Catholics because he disagrees with them politically and accordingly they are not real Catholics. It comes across as hypocritical.”

    I could be wrong, but I thought he meant their views conflicted with accepted Catholic doctrine rather than his personal political views (even if that also is the case).

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  23. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    kc is expressing something very important: the persecution complexes of many Christians. There is no War on Religion. Your kids can pray all they want in school, but the teacher can’t make them. You can put up a nativity scene on private property–heck you can even put one up on public property as long as you put up similar displays for other religions’ holidays. This is such a straw man that so many right-wingers love to beat up on.

    If a party fails to mention G-d in its platform, that is perfectly fine and does not necessarily reflect the views of a majority of its members. If it cites the usefulness of religious faith in the public sphere, this is fine, and also in no way reflects the faith of its members individually.

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  24. Steve Gordy

    kc, to the contrary, it’s become politically dangerous for anyone OTHER than an avowed Christian to run for President (remember Howard Dean?). When the TV cameras caught John Kerry crossing himself at the bier of Ronald Reagan, it caught a lot of folks by surprise. They assumed no REAL Democrat would possibly do something like that in public.

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  25. Brad

    Steve, kc was being sarcastic. In an obtuse way.

    Here’s the thing — I started praying obviously in public in part because I was uncomfortable doing it. It didn’t make me feel good or fine or better than other people. It made me feel awkwardly conspicuous. So I quit being surreptitious about it, as though I were ashamed of it.

    For me, it was a very mild version of like when I started giving blood. I did it because I was TERRIFIED of giving blood. I wasn’t terrified of giving thanks publicly, but I did have an aversion to it. And I thought, how dare I put my own discomfort ahead of simple gratitude for the food before me?

    But defying my own awkwardness wasn’t the only reason. About the time I started doing it, I heard or read something in which someone said you should pause to give thanks even for a glass of water, because each thing you receive is a blessing to you. I decided that was a good way to live.

    Now, I must admit, I don’t feel awkward about it, although there’s always that moment of being uncertain of someone’s reaction when you say, “I’m going to pause to give thanks now…”

    It’s not just a Christian concept, of course. I always liked the little water ritual in Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”…

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  26. bud

    Scout, I guess my comments were a bit vague so let me clarify. The Catholic Church has been pretty adamently oppossed to the American bombing of Kosovo, the invasion of Iraq and other optional American wars as well. In completed opposition to what Brad so ardently endorses the Catholic Church beleives the missions are not just wars and regard them in a very negative light. Given the 180% difference between the Catholic Church and Brad’s stated position on the issue of war AND in light of Brad’s labeling of Paul Ryan and Joe Biden wouldn’t it naturally follow that Brad too is not a “real” Catholic in the same vein as Ryan and Biden? If Brad doesn’t agree then that would make him a hypocrit.

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