Category Archives: Faith

Pope Francis as a marketing draw

St. Thomas More

Lately, I’ve found myself stopping at the light at Gervais and Harden, heading west on Gervais, and having time to contemplate the messages on the electronic billboard that faces the intersection.

Day after day, I saw the “Come to Mass” billboard for St. Thomas More, the Catholic chapel at USC. It caught my eye because I’d heard that the current chaplain — Fr. Marcin Zahuta, a former professional soccer player from Poland with a good sense of humor — was really packing them in at multiple masses each weekend. I’d been meaning to drop by for one of the masses, but hadn’t gotten around to it.

Anyway, the billboard I was seeing originally looked like the right-hand side of the one in the photo above (sorry about the low quality; the traffic light is quite a distance from the sign, and this was just my iPhone) — all maroon (or garnet, or whatever), with white lettering. Still, it caught my eye.

But then, about a week ago, I started seeing this new version with Pope Francis taking up about 40 percent of the space, and the rest of the message squeezed into what’s left.

I guess our new pontiff is seen as a draw. I sort of doubt the sign would have been amended to include a huge photo of his predecessor…

On Pope Francis, Cardinal Bernardin, Vatican II, American politics, and the church today

Today, Massimo Faggioli brought this WashPost story to our attention via Facebook:

Conservative Catholics question Pope Francis’s approach

Rattled by Pope Francis’s admonishment to Catholics not to be “obsessed” by doctrine, his stated reluctance to judge gay priests and his apparent willingness to engage just about anyone — including atheists — many conservative Catholics are doing what only recently seemed unthinkable:

They are openly questioning the pope.

Concern among traditionalists began building soon after Francis was elected this spring. Almost immediately, the new pope told non-Catholic and atheist journalists he would bless them silently out of respect. Soon after, he eschewed Vatican practice and included women in a foot-washing ceremony.

The wary traditionalists became critical when, in an interview a few weeks ago, Francis said Catholics shouldn’t be “obsessed” with imposing doctrines, including on gay marriage and abortion….

This was particularly relevant because Dr. Faggioli was our 2013 Cardinal Joseph Bernardin lecturer last week at USC — and the topic of that news story bears upon what he spoke about in his lecture, and what we discussed in a panel discussion I moderated earlier in the day.

I’ve mentioned this lecture series in past years. (You may recall when E.J. Dionne gave the lecture a couple of years back.) I’ve been on the panel that runs it for more than a decade, along with members of the Religious Studies department at the university, some clergy (Catholic and non), some members of the Bernardin family and Patricia Moore Pastides, USC’s first lady (and my fellow parishioner at St. Peter’s). Cardinal Bernardin, for those who don’t remember him, is easily the most distinguished churchman ever to come out of Columbia. He was born here, grew up in my parish, attended USC, then went on to be come the most influential member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the 1980s.

Our committee’s goal is to establish the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Chair in Ethical, Moral, and Religious Studies at USC. We moved a huge step toward achieving that this past year, with a $1 million gift from former USC President John Palms and wife Norma, more than half of which goes toward the chair.

Dr. Faggioli’s topic was, “Bernardin’s Common Ground Initiative: Can it Survive Current Political Cultures?

Before I share what he said, I should explain the Common Ground initiative, which the cardinal launched as he was dying of cancer in the mid-90s. It’s founding document, “Called to be Catholic,” was written by the cardinal in the summer of 1996, and began:

Will the Catholic Church in the United States enter the new millennium as a church of promise, augmented by the faith of rising generations and able to be a leavening force in our culture? Or will it become a church on the defensive, torn by dissension and weakened in its core structures? The outcome, we believe, depends on whether American Catholicism can confront an array of challenges with honesty and imagination and whether the church can reverse the polarization that inhibits discussion and cripples leadership. American Catholics must reconstitute the conditions for addressing our differences constructively – a common ground centered on faith in Jesus, marked by accountability to the living Catholic tradition, and ruled by a renewed spirit of civility, dialogue, generosity, and broad and serious consultation…

The cardinal was trying to bridge left and right within the church, calling on Catholics of all stripes to listen respectfully to each other. He was addressing the same long-standing conflict described in today’s WashPost story:

Some Catholics feel Francis is resurfacing fights that followed the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. Conservatives felt liberal Catholics misinterpreted the Council’s intention and took “open” too far.

The last two popes seemed to agree, making a priority of establishing “Catholic identity” among people and institutions by emphasizing the importance of crystal-clear doctrine,particularly on issues around human reproduction and marriage.

“The angry screaming debates in parishes — I don’t want to go there again,” said Lawler. “Things were calming down.”…

With some Catholics thinking that Pope Francis’ recent remarks will bring back those “screaming debates,” Dr. Faggioli’s lecture was particularly timely.

Massimo Faggioli

Massimo Faggioli

A central theme in his talk that had not occurred to me before was this: In the days of Vatican II and before it, Catholicism was largely a European phenomenon. Today, the American church is so dominant that what happens here has repercussions in his home country of Italy, and everywhere else.

In reading “Called to be Catholic” and its companion document from later that year, “Faithful and Hopeful: The Catholic Common Ground Project,” I can’t help but feel that the cardinal was talking about American politics rather than internal church matters:

The problem of dissent today is not so much the voicing of serious criticism but the popularity of dismissive,demagogic, ‘cute’ commentary, dwelling on alleged motives,exploiting stereotypes, creating stock villains, employing reliable‘laugh lines’ The kind of responsible disagreement of which I speak must not include‘caricatures’ that‘undermine the Church as a community of faith’by assuming Church authorities to be ‘generally ignorant,self-serving,and narrow-minded’ It takes no more than a cursory reading of the more militant segments of the Catholic press, on both ends of the theological and ideological spectrum, to reveal how widespread, and how corrosive,such caricatures have become….

I figured that was just my bias, based on my experience.

But Dr. Faggioli sees that as highly relevant. In fact, he says the American style of political discourse, which in many ways is quite alien to the European mind, has profoundly influenced dialogue, or the lack thereof, within the church.

Well, it’s taken me a lot to get this far, because there’s so much to explain along the way — which is why I haven’t written about the lecture and panel last week before now.

So from here on, I’ll just hit a few highlights:

  • After Dr. Faggioli had indicated, during our panel discussion, that we now had a Vatican II pope after two strict doctrinalists whose appointments had reshaped the U.S. Conference into something very different from what Cardinal Bernardin knew, I asked whether Francis and the largely conservative American bishops were headed for conflict. The other two panelists — political scientist Steven Millies and Fr. Jeff Kirby of the Diocese of Charleston — said they didn’t think so, and I thought their reasoning was both strong and ironic: Their point is that because Pope Francis is less down-from-above, more collegial, more into subsidiarity, he would act more like the bishop of Rome than supreme pontiff, and leave American bishops alone to run their dioceses their way. Dr. Faggioli disagreed, saying conflict is inevitable. I think he’s right.
  • Our speaker provided insight into the interview the pope gave with Jesuit journals — the one that caused such a sensation last month. He’s almost uniquely qualified to do so, as he was one of the people who translated the interview into English, and therefore influenced what the rest of us read. Today’s WashPost story quotes a conservative activist as complaining that “now we’ve got a guy who doesn’t seem to think clear expression is important.” On the contrary, Dr. Faggioli says, the pope was very carefully controlling what he said. He saw some of the rough drafts of the pope’s remarks as well as what appeared eventually, and the pontiff was taking great care. Not only that, but in talking to the Jesuit journals, Pope Francis was deliberately bypassing the Vatican bureaucracy — which is filled with his predecessor’s people. Bottom line, the pontiff knows what he’s saying, and he’s not letting the usual filters get in the way.
  • That said, this pope has one weakness in communicating what he means: His Italian is excellent, says Dr. Faggioli, but his English? Not so much. Worse, he lacks understanding of “the Anglo-Saxon mindset.” Our speaker said the pontiff apparently didn’t fully anticipate exactly how obsessively every word he spoke would be parsed by fussy, picky Americans. (And in keeping with our speaker’s theme, if Americans interpret things a certain way, that influences the perception of the rest of the world.) If he had, there are a couple of different words he might have chosen in that interview.

There was a lot more, but it’s a miracle if any of y’all have read this far, so I’ll stop for now. Dr. Faggioli indicated that his lecture, or part of it, might be available online soon. When it is, I’ll give y’all a link…

The panel -- Fr. Kirby, Dr. Faggioli, your correspondent, and Dr. Millies. No, I don't know why my tongue is sticking out...

The panel — Fr. Kirby, Dr. Faggioli, your correspondent, and Dr. Millies. No, I don’t know why my tongue is sticking out. I meant no disrespect.

Obamacare, the Constitution and the Bible: A Facebook conversation

Just thought I’d post portions of a conversation I jumped into over on Facebook.

First, Bill Connor posted:

In watching the fight to defund Obamacare, I have this to say. I am a Christian first, as I believe the Bible is the inspired word. Therefore, it is Truth. That said, the Bible is not silent about the role of government and it’s sphere of authority. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 give the mandate for governmental authority. That mandate is for the “sword” of protection. Protection from external enemies, and protection from lawlessness (law enforcement, Courts) from within the nation. The government is about force in protection. The Church is given the mandate to care for those in need. The Church does not possess the power of the sword, as “Charity” means love. God wants men to give freely and without coercion when it comes to taking care of the less fortunate in society. When Government exceeds its sphere and gets involved with church functions (as in Obamacare, among other things like welfare, etc.) it destroys the idea of Charity. Forcing someone with the sword to give to another is not a Christian ideal. Our founders believed in the Biblical spheres of authority for Church and State and the Constitution makes this law. The Constitution enumerates powers to Government, and those powers do not include Church type functions. Government is to be restrained by the Constitution to the “Sword” functions. Otherwise, Government essentially takes over the Church and all else and attempts to become “god”. That is a reason while I believe the Biblical position to to oppose Obamacare. We care about those in need. However, we are to give to those truly in need through Charity (Love). We did not give the government the power

After a bunch of other people had had a say, I posted:

Bill, in a representative democracy, we vote to elect people to decide what government does. When enough people are elected to decide to undertake something like universal health care, then that’s what we do. If enough people are elected who don’t want to do that, we don’t do that. That’s how the system is supposed to work. It’s really a stretch to make like the government is something outside ourselves coercing us to do something. We, the people, acting through our elected representatives, have decided to do this with the money that we will all pay into it. Does that mean all Americans wanted to do this? No. There probably hasn’t ever been a single action by the government of the United States that all Americans favored. We’re all in the minority on something. But what we do is accept that fact, and work to have our preferred candidates win the next election. In the meantime, we accept the lawful actions of those who have already been elected. We certainly don’t declare lawful actions illegitimate. Nor do we claim, with very thin evidence, that it’s contrary to the Bible. On that last point, I’m not seeing anywhere in the Bible where it says we can’t pool our resources as a people and provide health care for all, and I’d be shocked to find it. Near as I can tell, in terms of saying what the civil government should do, the Bible is pretty silent on something like Obamacare. That leaves the decision up to us and our elected representatives.

Then Bill responded:

Brad, first I appreciate you posting thoughtful note, even though I disagree. Daniel spelled out my opinion exactly. The reason we have the Constitution is to protect certain rights from the whim of the majority. In this case, we had a very quick period of time in which Democrats controlled the House and POTUS. The founders intended to restrain gov’t to its legitimate functions (drawn from the Biblical worldview) and Obamacare exceeds those Constitutional and Biblical limitations.

The another reader (Ltc Robert Clarke) responded:

Brad is right in that the law was passed following our system….but since not a single person in the opposition party supported it, it is bound to face stiff resistance. The people house holds the pursestrings and they should be able to cut the $ off? If you are going to do something this big, best to do it as a bipartisan effort.

And finally, I said this:

Yes, that is best. But when is the last chance we had in this country to do that? Both parties operate on the strategy of getting 50 percent plus one, and then doing whatever they like — which sets off the other party in paroxysms of desperation, because both parties look upon the other, and all its works, as completely lacking in legitimacy. Both parties need to chill, and accept the fact that sometimes people they disagree with are going to win an argument, and just try to win themselves next time around. It’s really getting overexcited to see Obamacare as some sort of Gotterdammerung, the end of all that is good and holy and American and Constitutional. It’s just not. It’s a fairly ugly, pieced-together mish-mash that IS so ugly because there is such opposition to taking the simple approach that Britain and Canada have taken. This is the kind of mess that our hyper-polarized politics produce. It may be too much of a cobbled-together mess to work. But we’ll find out when it’s implemented. It’s going to work, or it’s not going to work. Or it will work in some ways, but not in others. But we won’t know until it’s been in place for awhile.

I didn’t want to get into arguing about whether our Founders intended the Constitution to be “Biblical.” I preferred to stick to this not being the end of the world, or even of the country.

Dropping ‘Canon 915′ on Nancy Pelosi, et al.

On a previous post, I said (on my way to eventually agreeing with him) that Pope Frances’ description of a church “obsessed” with gays and abortion doesn’t match my own experience in the church. And it doesn’t.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not describing a reality that’s out there — some of it pretty close to him in Rome.

The same day the Pope was saying those conciliatory words, there appeared an interview with Cardinal Raymond Burke, who heads the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura and is America’s most senior prelate. This was brought to my attention by Jennifer Sheheen via Facebook.

Cardinal Burke advocated getting tough with wayward public pro-choice Catholics, such as Nancy Pelosi, and went on at some length about “the homosexual agenda.” An excerpt from a story about the interview:

“This is a person who obstinately, after repeated admonitions, persists in a grave sin — cooperating with the crime of procured abortion — and still professes to be a devout Catholic,” the cardinal said. “I fear for Congresswoman Pelosi if she does not come to understand how gravely in error she is. I invite her to reflect upon the example of St. Thomas More who acted rightly in a similar situation even at the cost of his life.”

The cardinal also urged the faithful to practice “much prayer and fasting” to counter the growing threat of the homosexual agenda.

“The alarming rapidity of the realization of the homosexual agenda ought to awaken all of us and frighten us with regard to the future of our nation,” he said. “This is a work of deceit, a lie about the most fundamental aspect of our human nature, our human sexuality, which after life itself defines us. There is only one place these types of lies come from, namely Satan. It is a diabolical situation which is aimed at destroying individuals, families, and eventually our nation.”

Yeah, OK, so I see what the Pope’s on about. I wonder whether Cardinal Burke sees what the Pope is on about.

As y’all probably know, I’m a member of the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin lectureship committee. Remember, we brought E. J. Dionne here a couple of years back. Anyway, back in his day Cardinal Bernardin was the most prominent American in the Catholic hierarchy, and he had a very different approach from Cardinal Burke. He was about reaching out. He was about Common Ground.

I find myself focusing on Cardinal Burke’s assertion that “Canon 915 must be applied” in the Pelosi case. Personally, I had never heard of “Canon 915,” but he made it sound like Orwell’s “Room 101.” I read on to see that it says, those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

Cardinal Burke, the pope and I are together in being opposed to abortion on demand (as the pope affirmed over the weekend). But when it comes to what you do next, Burke and Francis seem to be on opposite poles.

Which brings me to the heart of what the Pope said the other day. What I heard was that he prefers that the church talk less about doctrine, and more about the love of Christ. As he Tweeted this morning, “The Church has no other meaning and finality than to witness to Jesus. May we not forget this.”

Before that, he Tweeted, “True charity requires courage: let us overcome the fear of getting our hands dirty so as to help those in need.” And before that: “Christ is always faithful. Let us pray to be always faithful to him.” And before that, “We are all sinners, but we experience the joy of God’s forgiveness and we walk forward trusting in his mercy.” And so on. Follow him on Twitter, and you start understanding where his head’s at, as the less grammatical members of my generation used to say.

No mention of canons, 915 or otherwise. His focus is on the teachings of Christ.

And at the risk of sounding like a raging Protestant or something, it’s kind of hard for me to imagine Jesus of Nazareth having a positive reaction to someone invoking something called “Canon 915″ in his name. If you had interrupted the original communion, barging into that upper room and talking about Canon 915, the Apostles would likely have looked at you as though they thought you were barking mad. Canons? 915 of them? Really? It just wouldn’t have made any sense to them. I can imagine Peter, or someone, muttering something about “small-minded rules,” and about certain people insisting on missing the point…

But perhaps I’m getting far afield…

I think maybe the pope’s thinking the way I do on Kulturkampf

At first, I was sort of confused.

When I saw this headline on the NYT app Thursday night: “Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion.”

… I thought, What focus? Where’s he been going to Mass?

Because in my experience, there is no particular focus on those things, in actual Catholic churches. And the Church I know is certainly not “obsessed” with those things, as the pontiff said.

All of you who are not Catholic are now asking where I’ve been, that I don’t know the Church is “obsessed” with those things.

Here’s where I’ve been — I’ve actually been in the Church, rather than experiencing it as it is written about by secular media. And I cannot recall when I’ve heard a single homily concentrating on any of those topics. Occasionally, during the petitions, I’ve heard an affirmation of life mentioned among all the other things we’re praying for. But “obsession”? “Focus,” even? No. Not part of my experience.

Now I do hear that there are some parishes that do have more of such a “focus.” But I don’t know that from personal experience.

It’s the rest of the world that thinks about those things, constantly, and only interacts with the Church in terms of its positions on those subjects. That’s pretty much all most Catholics seem to know about us. Well, that, and pedophilia. A topic that also fails to intersect with my experience of the Church.

The only intersection I can recall in this diocese between these separate perceptions is when then-Bishop Robert Baker was one of the bishops who said politicians who favor abortion on demand should not receive Communion. But I mostly read about that in the paper. I don’t recall it intruding into my parish life. And I don’t recall of hearing of anyone actually being denied communion in this diocese, although maybe it happened.

I want to say there was another bishop’s letter regarding a political issue sometime since then, but I don’t remember what it was about. It just didn’t have much impact on my experience of church life.

Oh, wait — I remember now that our current bishop, Robert Guglielmone, wrote a letter advocating for Medicaid expansion in SC. Does that count? Probably not.

So I was wondering what the pope was on about.

But when I read some other versions of the story, with different headlines (such as the WSJ’s “Pope Warns Church Focusing Too Much on Divisive Issues”), I got it.

Pope Francis was, in a way, doing what I did as editorial page editor at The State. Not to elevate myself to the level of the Holy Father or anything.

Y’all know I have an aversion to seeing Culture War issues intrude upon our politics. It’s because of the habit of thought I developed as EPE. My view was that there were all sorts of things we needed to talk about in South Carolina — economic development, education, our dysfunctional form of government, the need for comprehensive tax reform. It was tough enough to try to have constructive conversations about those things, untainted by partisan, ideological foolishness, without wasting any capital we had on issues that were hopelessly divisive.

There was nothing, absolutely nothing, we could accomplish in terms of changing minds on abortion, or same-sex marriage, or any of those kinds of things. Both sides in the partisan battles in this country used those issues for one purpose — to divide. As a sort of password to identify “their” people — to identify the good, right-thinking people — and to delegitimize those who disagreed.

All we could have accomplished by writing about such things would have been to make close to half our readers furious, thereby closing their minds to anything we had to say about pragmatic solutions to the issues we could actually do something about here in South Carolina.

I still don’t like to see such issues take a front-and-center position in our politics, because they drive us apart, and make it even harder to have constructive conversations on anything else.

Anyway, what does that have to do with what the Pope said?

Well, to begin with, this pontifex maximus is a very humble guy. He doesn’t care about winning argument points. And he understands that in terms of the way the world interacts with the church, perception is reality. So never mind that the church isn’t really obsessed with these things. It’s perceived as being so, and that erects walls between the church and lots of people who would otherwise be open to its central reasons for being.

So, he very publicly lets the world know that while he is Pope, the church will not be “obsessed” with such things. He’s not for a moment backing away from church teachings on those matters, but he assures us that he and the church he heads aren’t going to be going on and on about them. From E.J. Dionne’s column on the subject:

Francis responded plainly in the interview. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible,” he said. “I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

As the WSJ described them, his remarks “appeared intended to nudge the church away from politically charged issues by setting out a vision of a church that is more welcoming and less preoccupied with emphasizing doctrine.”

Doctrine. That’s the key word, I think.

This pope’s predecessor was an enforcer of doctrine. That’s how he made his bones in the church. Under John Paul II, he was the bad cop, the modern-day version of a Grand Inquisitor. He was Mr. Rules and Regulations.

This pope is more about the central issues that our faith is about. Love, mercy, open arms and healing hearts. And he doesn’t want to be going on and on about things that distract from that, or to have the world think the church is going on and on about those things.

I like this Pope.

Have a blessed Yom Kippur

Stan Dubinsky shared this today, saying:

For those observing Yom Kippur, may you have an easy fast and a meaningful day of prayer …

… along with links to this Leonard Cohen song.

I knew the song, but did not realize it was, according to Wikipedia, based on the Unetaneh Tokef, an 11th-century liturgical poem recited on… Yom Kippur.”

I thought that was a cool new thing to know, so I pass it on.

Pope Francis is right: Read all the Dostoevsky you can

You may have heard by now what the Pope had to say on the plane flight back from Brazil, and he’s absolutely right: He told the reporters they should “read and reread” Dostoevsky.

Or maybe you missed it. Most of the news stories about his informal papal bull session have been about what he said about gay priests. That didn’t seem as newsworthy to me, but then unlike much of the world, I didn’t think that the church hated gay people. What those remarks told us is that this pope is personally very different from the last pope, which is a good thing. In terms of style and orientation and emphasis, we’ve gone from a Grand Inquisitor to a parish priest, with all the best things such a pastoral role suggests — loving, welcoming, kindly, caring deeply about the “least of these.”

As we go along, I expect a lot of people who think the church is hateful will be pleasantly surprised. For me, it will be pleasant, but less of a surprise.

Here’s another prediction — this pope is going to get good press, so he’s going to seem like a nicer, friendlier guy, whatever he says. Why do I say that? Because he’ll walk to the back of the plane or bus or whatever and bat the breeze with the media types, no holds barred. John Paul II did that, and you know what good press “John Paul the Great” got. Whereas Herr Benedict only took prepared, screened questions. Reporters love a guy who’s generous with access, and spontaneous. It has always puzzled some people why the press was historically so kind to John McCain. He did the same thing, long before there was such a thing as the “Straight Talk Express.” And the press loved him for it.

The WSJ story was headlined, “Pope Signals Openness to Gay Priests.” It probably would have captured him in a nutshell if it had just said, “Pope Signals Openness,” period.

But while I was sort of kidding about the Dostoevsky thing as big news, I’d like to know more of what he said about that. This pope has made news mentioning Dostoevsky previously, in a recent encyclical. But since that document was put together on the previous pope’s watch, no one knew for sure whether it signaled a particular interest in the Russian master on the part of Francis.

The Holy Father says, read more of this guy.

The Holy Father says, read more of this guy.

Anyway, his comment — however sketchily reported — about reading Dostoevsky does what the previous pope was so good at. It’s made me feel guilty. I read Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov when I was in college (the first as a class assignment, the second on my own), but haven’t reread either since then, and have never gotten around to such other masterpieces as The Idiot (which was specifically mentioned in the encyclical).

I suspect the pope recommended such reading because Dostoevsky is way, way deep on moral issues. Which is why I should have read him more by now. Yet I haven’t, while reading O’Brian’s novels about the Napoleonic Wars over and over and over and over (on my fifth time through the earlier novels now). Ditto with John le Carre.

What’s really awful is that I go around citing Crime and Punishment all the time, thereby giving an artificial impression that I’m way, way deep, too. Or maybe not. People can probably see through that…

But I hereby resolve to do better. I downloaded The Idiot to my iPad this morning. That counts for something, right? I feel more serious already, almost profound.

Isn’t it cool how, in ebook form at least, all the greatest literature is free now?

What Charles Ramsey did — now THAT’S redemptive (as opposed to what Mark Sanford did the next day)

My initial purpose in writing this is to second what Joan Walsh says on Slate — that despite very bad things in Charles Ramsey’s past, including domestic violence, what he did the other day still makes him a hero:

In hindsight, maybe Charles Ramsey was trying to tell us something when he insisted to Anderson Cooper Tuesday night that he’s not a hero. “No, no, no. Bro, I’m a Christian, an American. I’m just like you,” he told the news anchor.

Maybe he knew the whole hero story line would come with an unhappy ending: Now we’ve learned, via the Smoking Gun, that Ramsey was charged with and served time for multiple domestic violence counts. He was also convicted and imprisoned on drug charges and receiving stolen property.

All of that is awful, particularly for his ex-wife and daughter. But it doesn’t change the fact that Ramsey was a hero when he helped Amanda Berry escape Monday night. It may make him even more admirable, if he had an inkling that his sudden fame might expose his troubled past…

Of course he’s a hero — one with deep flaws. But all heroes are flawed. That Mr. Ramsey’s are what they are makes what he did this week, if anything, more laudatory.

I’m not dismissing his past offenses as some sort of colorful details. To me, there is no crime more contemptible than domestic violence, except the abuse of children — which is its close relative. Wife-beaters are right down there among the lowest of the low.

But what he did Monday was a redemptive act. One more excerpt from the piece:

To dismiss the character Ramsey showed in rescuing Berry is to suggest that nobody who’s ever done something bad should try to do something good, because the bad will always matter more. It would be a shame if Ramsey’s exposure, and the cackling about his past from some quarters, served to discourage other ex-convicts from helping others for fear that their pasts will come back to haunt them.

What Mr. Ramsey did on Monday didn’t erase his past offenses. Those are still on his ledger. But it was still heroic, and it has redemptive value.

This brings us to Mark Sanford.

I was pretty upset with the news headlines I saw in a couple of SC newspapers saying that Sanford had achieved “redemption” through his victory. Note again, these were news stories about the election, not opinion pieces, expressing a highly debatable opinion about the meaning of his win. More offensively, they were using the language of faith, of theology, making an assertion about the salvation of a man’s soul. Unless they were talking about trading in pop bottles for the deposit — the only other common use of the word “redeem” I can think of — and we don’t do that in South Carolina.

They had no business doing that. Especially since Mr. Sanford presumes to speak for the Almighty a lot, with his line about the God of… what’s he up to now, by his own count… eighth chances? (As I said in a comment yesterday, I think God should get a good lawyer and seek an injunction to stop Sanford from going around blaming the election result on Him.)

Managing to con a Republican district into voting for you with a campaign that consists of frightening them with a big picture of Nancy Pelosi — a cheap, generic, off-the-shelf, appeal to visceral partisanship — does not constitute “redemption.” Showing Nancy Pelosi and saying “Boo!” is like striking Republicans on the patellar ligament with a rubber hammer — you get a reflexive response. Earlier, when he was talking about himself, he was losing.

So don’t talk to me about redemption.

“Oh, but that’s just your opinion, Brad,” you say. Absolutely. It’s a carefully considered, supportable opinion that I think a lot of people would share. Which is why that word shouldn’t have appeared in those headlines.

I’m about to get back to Charles Ramsey, in just a moment…

For close to four years now, Mark Sanford has been going around asking us to forgive him, being careful to mention that God has forgiven him — the heavy implication being, so what are you people, better than God? He does this in that casual, unconcerned way that he has of expressing himself. Within the context of his other actions — such as his repeated violations of the terms of his divorce decree — it all comes across as just another element in his powerful sense of self-entitlement. Mark Sanford does whatever he wants — ditch the job to run off to Argentina, abandon his boys on Father’s Day weekend, lie to his staff about where he’s going, veto the entire state budget, block stimulus money that his state needs so he can posture on FoxNews about it 46 times, carry defecating piglets into the State House to make a cheap political point and leave others to clean up the mess, use state funds to visit his mistress in the Southern Hemisphere when he’s making state employees on state business double up in hotel rooms (because he’s such a fiscal conservative), enter his ex-wife’s house without permission repeatedly, because he feels like it. Because he’s Mark Sanford, and he’s entitled. And if any of it gets him into trouble, then we’re supposed to forgive him.

Meanwhile, Charles Ramsey is a sinner who’s done jail time for his crimes. He doesn’t ask us to forgive him, much less expect us to forgive him. He doesn’t ask anything of us. He exhibits no sense of entitlement. He’s just this dude who, when a woman cried for help while he was eating his McDonald’s, went out of his way to help her. A guy with a low-enough opinion of himself that when a pretty young white girl comes and hugs him, he knows something is wrong.

What he did doesn’t erase what he’s done in the past, and he doesn’t go around telling us that it should. But it was a redemptive act, and it was heroic.

Bishop Guglielmone on Medicaid expansion in SC

Cindi Scoppe had a column, way back on the St. Patrick’s Day, in which she cited a letter by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, the head of the Roman Catholic in South Carolina, advocating for Medicaid expansion in SC.

I meant to say something on the subject then, but didn’t get to it. Which is ironic. Cindi’s not even Catholic (OK, she’s a kind of Catholic; she’s Anglican — but not Roman Catholic).

Anyway, something came up to remind me of it this week — a story in the Anderson paper about religious leaders in SC pushing for Medicaid expansion — so I thought I’d go ahead now and share the bishop’s letter.

It is a letter that, unlike the pronouncements of our governor and the House leadership, makes all the sense in the world:

February 20, 2013
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
To be Christian means that we are concerned about the wellbeing and health of all people. God took on flesh to restore the integrity of broken and wounded humanity. Indeed, Jesus made healing of the sick central to his ministry. “He came to the world to make us fully human, to help us to realize our human dignity as creatures made in the image of God. He came to bring the fullness of life” (USCCB Pastoral Letter: Health and Health Care, Nov. 19, 1981).
Throughout the centuries, the Church has carried on the ministry of Jesus by establishing
hospitals and nurturing the apostolate to the sick in response to the needs of suffering people. Pope John XXIII included medical care as a basic right founded on the sanctity of human life in his encyclical, Pacem in Terris. Reaffirming this traditional concern for today, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “Health is a precious good for the person and society to promote, conserve and protect, dedicating the means, resources and energies necessary so that more persons can enjoy it. Unfortunately, the problem still remains today of many populations of the world that do not have access to the necessary resources to satisfy fundamental needs, particularly in regard to health. It is necessary to work with greater commitment at all levels so that the right to health is rendered effective, favoring access to primary health care” (Benedict XVI: Message to the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, Nov. 18, 2010).
The Catholic Bishops of the United States have consistently called for access to health care forall our citizens: “Our approach to health care is shaped by a simple but fundamental principle: ‘Every person has a right to adequate health care. This right flows from the sanctity of human life and the dignity that belongs to all human persons, who are made in the image of God.’ Health care is more than a commodity; it is a basic human right, an essential safeguard of human life and dignity” (USCCB Resolution: A Framework for Comprehensive Health Care Reform, June 18, 1993). While the Church’s call for access to health care reflects an application of the Gospel to a contemporary need and therefore reflects the urgency of the Gospel, determining how to implement such access is open to prudential judgments of how to make it happen most effectively. We must continually discern wise solutions to the challenges we face, solutions that are both economically and politically viable. In that task of discernment, however, we as Catholics bring time-honored principles of Catholic social teaching to inform our reflection.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) now being legally enacted in our
country is an attempt to bring health care access to a broader range of citizenry in the United States. It is not perfect. In fact, the U.S. Catholic Church is deeply concerned about mandates associated with aspects of the law that would require religious institutions to provide contraception coverage, asking us to violate a consistent position by the Church on this. There are also many concerns about how to rein in the costs of health care so that its expansion is affordable to our country. However, providing access to health care is consonant with Catholic social teaching. Indeed, it is more than consonant — it is called for by Catholic social teaching.
This spring, our South Carolina state legislature will consider whether to opt into the expansion of Medicaid as provided for by the Affordable Care Act. Persons eligible for Medicaid would be expanded by about three hundred thirty thousand more South Carolinians who live near the poverty line but previously have not been eligible. Key state-wide elected leaders and many in the General Assembly have voiced their opposition to this expansion. Leaders of our state’s hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, on the other hand, have endorsed this legislation. It will expand their ability not only to serve the poor of our state but to pay for those services. The State of South Carolina would be required to pay for ten percent of the total cost of this expansion after three years of full funding by the Federal Government. This will require us as a state to find the revenue to pay for this expansion. It will cost us.
Bearing a cost for the sake of something greater is the heart of our faith; it brought us salvation. At the same time, we can and must make this expansion and our whole healthcare system more effective and economically viable. If health care funding as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act is not perfect, we nevertheless are not powerless as a society to refine and make it more effective even as we implement it.
I write as your Bishop in noting the call of Catholic social teaching, and I appeal as a fellow
citizen in making a case for acceptance of Medicaid expansion by our state. I urge my fellow Catholics to study this issue and form your own prudential judgment on its wisdom. However, I ask that you start that evaluation with a presumption in favor of what the Church says is a good to be pursued in society, namely, the flourishing of all people through access to health care. Hold as well our faith conviction that shared sacrifice for a greater good and concern for the poor make us more like Christ. Make your views known to your legislators. For my part, I believe Medicaid expansion offers a step forward for South Carolina.

In the Lord’s Peace,
Most Reverend Robert E. Guglielmone
Bishop of Charleston

The greatest commandments, reduced to a bumper sticker

sticker

Saw this bumper sticker on the road, and was intrigued by the degree to which its creator reduced the two greatest commandments to the briefest possible expression. Here’s the previous record-holder for brevity:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

I’ve gotta say, I prefer Matthew. But I give the maker of the bumper sticker points for effort.

New Pope hugs trees, atheists — and some hug back

I’ve finally found something online backing up what I heard on the radio yesterday afternoon. It was Pope Francis embracing people of all faiths, and atheists as well, as allies in practicing good stewardship of the Earth:

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis extended a hand to those who don’t belong to any religion, urging them on Wednesday to work with believers to build peace and protect the environment.Francis

In his first ecumenical meeting, the new pope greeted representatives from Christian churches and other religions, including Jewish and Muslim leaders, who had come to Rome to attend his inaugural Mass on Tuesday.

Francis said that he intends to follow “on the path of ecumenical dialogue” set for the Roman Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

But he also reached out to those who don’t belong “to any religious tradition” but feel the “need to search for the truth, the goodness and the beauty of God.”

Francis echoed his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, saying that the “attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity” has often led to catastrophic violence.

But Francis, who has set a humbler tone to the papacy since his election on March 13, added that atheists and believers can be “precious allies” in their efforts “to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”…

In looking for that, I also discovered that some atheists, or at least near-atheists, have given the new pontiff some props as well:

Why even atheists love Pope Francis

Never mind all the guff: it is a rare thing indeed for atheists and agnostics to be genuinely impressed and inspired by religious leaders. Speaking personally – as a man who is but two drinks short of atheism – although I try to view such leaders with respect, the reasons informing my lack of faith temper the depth of my admiration.

… But on the whole, in a short period of time [Francis] has become unusually well regarded, especially given the general unpopularity of the Catholic Church.

The reason is simple. This is a man who pays his own hotel bills, travels by bus and jeep, wades out into the crowds unguarded, and makes his own telephone calls. (Yesterday, he telephoned the main number of a Jesuit residence in Rome. The receptionist, upon hearing the identity of the caller, responded “yeah, and I’m Napoleon”.) This might seem like no great shakes, but given the luxury normally showered upon his office, it takes guts.

In other words, whatever one may think of his views, the Pope has genuine humility…

False humility can be spotted a mile off, of course, and we are all used to doing that. But Pope Francis has proved that authentic humility can be just as immediately visible. This most straightforward of qualities has been absent from public life for so long that we have almost forgotten it were possible. If our politicians had a bit of this to offer, the world would be a very different place.

OK, so that’s really just one, sort of semi-atheist. I was misled by his headline. But I thought it was nice, anyway. I like it when people get along.

The first pope, babbling incoherently

My post about E.J. Dionne’s take on how the Chair of Saint Peter should be filled brings to mind yesterday’s Gospel reading in Catholic churches. It’s one of my favorites — Luke’s account of the Transfiguration:

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.

Why is it a favorite? Because in the middle of this description of a mystical event that transcends everyday experience, we have a very human reaction that brings things down to Earth and makes the story real: Simon Peter babbling about tents or booths (depending upon the version of the story). Just as you’re wondering what in the world he’s on about, the narrator tells you not to mind him, because “he did not know what he was saying.”ALG169046

Instead of the event being accompanied by humming choirs of angels, you have a soundtrack in which Jesus’ most impetuous disciple is heard clearly freaking out. It’s another example of the reason why Peter is one of my favorite, if not my very favorite, figures in the Bible. No matter how holy or somber the occasion, Peter could always be relied upon to do something that drew attention to his very human attributes: His bluster that nobody was going to lay hands on Jesus while he was around, followed by his clumsy denials, leading to his bitter self-reproach. The way he fell behind the younger and apparently fitter John running toward the tomb, then impatiently pushed past him at the entrance, so he could get in and see whether what the Magdalene had said was true.

These details in these stories have a naturalism about them that says, to me anyway, that no matter how fantastic these events being related are, you can tell a real person actually witnessed them.

It’s like… recently I was rewatching “All the President’s Men” (I have it on DVD), and being impressed all over again. One of the best parts of the movie is that so much of the dialogue seems off. Particularly in the awkward scenes in which Redford and Hoffman are trying to get information from sources who don’t want to talk, the dialogue often doesn’t follow. Someone says something, and the response doesn’t quite make sense in that context, or it’s awkwardly worded. Which is the way real conversations go — nervous people in particular babble in non sequiturs. They don’t speak as though a skilled writer had composed their lines. This makes the story real.

And so does Peter’s nonsensical response to the Transfiguration…

E. J. Dionne: ‘The best choice for pope? A nun.’

Over the weekend, E.J. Dionne — who does this sort of thing every week with David Brooks — was kind enough to write me and say he’d caught my bit on Weekend Edition Saturday on NPR, and “I wanted to tell you that you were excellent.”

Which, along with similarly kind plaudits I got from other friends and family, made my day.

While he had me, as a fellow RC he brought up Pope Benedict’s retirement, and asked whether I had read his “make a nun Pope” column.

I had not, but I went and read it immediately, and really enjoyed it. Excerpts:

In giving up the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI was brave and bold. He did the unexpected for the good of the Catholic Church. And when it selects a new pope next month, the College of Cardinals should be equally brave and bold. It is time to elect a nun as the next pontiff.

Now, I know this hope of mine is the longest of long shots. I have great faith in the Holy Spirit to move papal conclaves, but I would concede that I may be running ahead of the Spirit on this one…

Nonetheless, handing leadership to a woman — and in particular, to a nun — would vastly strengthen Catholicism, help the church solve some of its immediate problems and inspire many who have left the church to look at it with new eyes…

More than any other group in the church, the sisters have been at the heart of its work on behalf of compassion and justice. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times made this point as powerfully as anyone in a 2010 column. “In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches,” he wrote. “One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch. . . . Yet there’s another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.”…

Throughout history, it’s not uncommon for women to be brought in to put right what men have put wrong. A female pope would automatically be distanced from this past and could have a degree of credibility that a male member of the hierarchy simply could not…

And a church that has made opposition to abortion a central part of its public mission should consider that older men are hardly the best messengers for this cause. Perhaps a female pope could transform the discussion about abortion from one that is too often rooted in harsh judgments (and at times, anger with modernity) into a compassionate dialogue aimed at changing hearts and minds rather than changing laws.

Unborn children are vulnerable. So are pregnant women. In my experience, nuns are especially alive to these twin vulnerabilities…

There was a lot of other good stuff, about how consistent this would be with the church’s devotion to Mary, and other points. But I fear I may have exceeded the bounds of fair use already.

You might wonder, “Is Dionne kidding? He knows this can’t happen, right?” Yes, he knows it won’t happen, and no, he’s not kidding. At the least, he hopes “they at least consider electing the kind of man who has the characteristics of my ideal female pontiff.

I urge you to go read the whole, well-reasoned piece.

Mark Sanford’s math doesn’t add up, either

Mark Sanford’s new ad begins, “Washington’s math doesn’t add up.”

Well, neither does his. It goes like this: He spent six years representing the 1st District before. And his accomplishments added up to zero. And yet he blithely tells people that they should send him to Washington because he’s “fought to do something about it.” Yeah, I guess so, if ineffectual posturing counts. Which it doesn’t, in my book.

Change Washington? Really? You? You never made the slightest dent on Washington.

Then, he gets to talking about mistakes.

Really? You sure that’s the work you want to use? Mistakes? So… you accidentally slipped away from your SLED detail and went to Argentina, only admitting what you had done after you were caught dead to rights?

I truly don’t want to be the guy who casts the first stone. But I will note the line that everyone seems to forget in recounting that great story of forgiveness: Go, and sin no more.

In this ad, with regard to mistakes, Sanford piously intones, “In their wake, we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances, and be the better for it.”

Here’s the thing: When did our former governor repent of anything, so that he might clear the way for second chances? After the sins that we are all prone to, we only become “better for it” when we sincerely believe what we did was wrong, and repent.

After his rambling confession that day in June 2009, what was his penance? How did he live his life differently going forward? I’m not at all clear on that. Of course, that’s between him and God — unless, of course, he spends money buying ads that pull us into the equation.

I’ve heard a lot from this guy about how we are supposed to forgive him. He places that burden on us. Well, what’s his part of the deal?

I’ve got a great idea for a penance that would demonstrate that he’s truly sorry: If he would stop inflicting himself on the electorate. That would be better, in his case, than a thousand Hail Marys.

But no. There he is again, saying the same stuff. And we’re supposed to take him back. That’s the way he sees it, anyway.

Pope Benedict the Quitter?

As the world received the surprising news that Pope Benedict will be the first pope in just under 600 years to retire rather than die in office, the commentariat struggled to produce instant analysis. A typical facile effort (particularly typical for Slate), was this Tweet linking to a piece by the late Christopher Hitchens asserting that this pope’s “whole career has the stench of evil.” Not that they wanted to be critical or hostile or dismissive or anything. (Of course, as always, the Hitchens piece is powerfully written. If atheists had a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Hitchens would have been the perfect guy to head it up. Whatever he had to say, I almost always admired how well he said it.)

By contrast, I was impressed by the quick-draw thoughtfulness of this piece from The New Yorker. An excerpt:

One thing is clear: Benedict has made a conscious choice not to be John Paul II, who turned his own wrenching, illness-filled last days into something like a parable. It could be hard to watch John Paul wave at a crowd with a hand that trembled, and he knew it, and sought consciously to use that time to emphasize his community with anyone who hurt, and with his God. Say what one will about John Paul II, but one couldn’t honestly read his biography without being moved—he worked in a limestone quarry during the German occupation of Poland, studying at a secret seminary—and one can’t quite blame Benedict for not matching that, or for lacking John Paul’s Popemobile charisma or the manner that made his faith seem so manifest. But then it was John Paul II’s conservatism, particularly in the selection of cardinals, that assured Ratzinger’s succession. And which way is really better? Should pain—not only of the ill, but of the poor—simply be borne? One can argue that Benedict is far more honest—and by providing a valuable example of his own about knowing when one is done, perhaps he is doing the Church a six-century-overdue favor. But it is inescapable that Joseph Ratzinger has not lived, and will not die, as Karol Wojtyla did.

That’s an interesting thing to contemplate. There is an object lesson, and particularly a spiritual one, for the world in how a man perceived as so powerful deals with the powerlessness of age and sickness. Like John Paul II, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (Columbia’s homeboy) did what he could to be an exemplar of how to face a terminal illness, showing solidarity with the weak and suffering of the world. In other words, they imitated Christ.268e5db8bcfc76f99fe9b324a4fbc86f

On the other hand, does not the head of any major organization, including the church, have a stewardship responsibility to make sure there’s someone in the job who’s up to it?

I thought it an intriguing question to raise, particularly since I’m not entirely sure how to answer it. The Pope’s made his decision, though, and as is his habit, he didn’t check to see what I thought first…

No, actually, ‘Islamist’ has a pretty clear meaning

Just got a release from CAIR on this subject:

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 1/3/13) — The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today distributed a commentary urging media outlets to drop the term “Islamist” because it is “currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context.”…

In this connection, the group offered an op-ed from Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director. Here are the first few grafs:

As many people make promises to themselves to improve their lives or their societies in the coming year, here is a suggested New Year’s resolution for media outlets in America and worldwide: Drop the term “Islamist.”

Hooper-thumbnail

Hooper

The Associated Press (AP) added the term to its influential Stylebook in 2012. That entry reads: “Islamist — Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.

The AP says it sought input from Arabic-speaking experts and hoped to provide a neutral perspective by emphasizing the “wide range” of religious views encompassed in the term.

Many Muslims who wish to serve the public good are influenced by the principles of their faith. Islam teaches Muslims to work for the welfare of humanity and to be honest and just. If this inspiration came from the Bible, such a person might well be called a Good Samaritan. But when the source is the Quran, the person is an “Islamist.”

Unfortunately, the term “Islamist” has become shorthand for “Muslims we don’t like.” It is currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context and is often coupled with the term “extremist,” giving it an even more negative slant…

Look, I sympathize with people who feel like their group is marginalized or misunderstood. But I’m sorry, “Islamist” has a clear meaning in newswriting, one that the AP set out quite well. It most assuredly does not mean “Muslims we don’t like.”

What it does mean, and what professional journalists are careful to use it to refer to, is someone or something based in a worldview that holds “the Quran as a political model.” It’s about theistic government (which is not the same as being influenced by the principles of one’s faith in seeking to serve the public good, although of course the two things can coincide). If that comes across as pejorative, that’s because in the West, we believe in pluralistic government that neither dominates, nor is dominated by, a particular faith. So yeah, even when we’re not talking about an Islamist extremist (another very useful word, which by its employment lets anyone who understands English know that not all Islamists are extremists), we’re talking about someone whose political views are fairly inimical to values we hold as fundamental.

“Islamist” is also useful from an American context (since we do distinguish between the political and the religious) because it allows us to separate the political viewpoint from Islam itself. It’s important to most of us to respect the faith, even as we disagree with the idea of its being used as a basis for government.

Distinctions are important. “Islamist” allows us to make distinctions. I’d be surprised, and disappointed, if any news organizations respond as CAIR asks here.

At the nexus of religion and politics

Here we have a more 19th-century understanding of the relationship between faith and politics...

A column in The Wall Street Journal this morning notes:

A hypothetical Martian with a deep interest in America’s political and cultural history would be surprised and perhaps amused at the religious composition of those running in the current presidential campaign.

The incumbent president is an adult convert to Christianity after being raised by a mother he has described as agnostic but interested in many faiths. His opponent is a Mormon, a faith tradition entirely indigenous to America and less than two centuries old. As for the two vice-presidential candidates, both are Catholic. This is the first presidential election in American history in which neither of the two presidential candidates or vice-presidential candidates was brought up as a Protestant…

I sort of knew all that, of course, but hadn’t put it together that way. And so it is that Protestant hegemony in American politics passes away, almost unnoticed.

After a review of times, especially the 19th century, when such would have been unthinkable, and some discussion of our growing secularism, the author concludes:

The eyes of all are still upon America, but it is a markedly different place. As the secularization of that city upon a hill continues, it is not hard to imagine a presidential race one day that involves candidates who practice no religion at all.

I’m not sure how to put this in a morally defensible way, since there is no way I can truly know the content or quality of another man’s soul, but… I’m wondering just how big a departure from the past that would be.

Let me just put it in generalities… Generally, I seldom believe that national politicians are as interested in religion as they let on to be. They are after all men, and occasionally, women of the world, not given to extended periods of contemplation. The world is so much with them that their pieties have a sort of formalism about them. Not that they’re lying or being hypocritical, just that… they’re more like, “Going to church is something you do, so I go to church.”

There are exceptions. Jimmy Carter was serious about his faith. I think Paul Ryan is, even though I think he’s really confused as to what “subsidiarity” means (which isn’t something most Catholics sit up nights thinking about, frankly). Rick Santorum is. I suppose, just on the basis of the time he’s put in, that Mitt Romney is, although I confess to such a lack of understanding of Mormonism that I’m not qualified to tell.

I think Joe Biden is sincerely Catholic, in the way of cultural, cradle Catholicism. It goes well with his hail-fellow-well-met manner, reminding me for some reason of the Belloc quote, “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine.” It sets him apart from gray-faced Calvinists, I think. And I think he truly cares, in a Catholic way, about the common folk from which he keeps telling us he springs, which speaks to the warm, human side of theology.

Barack Obama? I don’t know what to think, except to take him at his word about his faith. His adoption of Christianity as an adult is so tied in with his deliberate self-invention from being an unrooted child of uncertain identity that it’s hard to grab hold of (in one way — in another, I sort of identify with his journey). But I’ll put it this way, meaning no judgment of anything I have no right to judge: If asked to describe him, “religious” would not be one of the first words I mentioned — whereas with Jimmy Carter, and maybe Rick Santorum, it would be.

The president’s relationship with religion is of a sort that the more aggressively secular legions of his party can be more comfortable with, whereas one gathers that Jimmy Carter’s piety sort of gave them the willies.

Don’t know where I’m going with this; I just thought I’d toss those thoughts out there…

Details emerging about that stupid video

The AP is getting credit for achieving what so many others have been striving to do the last couple of days — which is to sorta, kinda get some details on who seems to be responsible for the anti-Islam video that has sparked multiple anti-American protests:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal authorities have identified a Coptic Christian in southern California who is on probation after his conviction for financial crimes as the key figure behind the anti-Muslim film that ignited mob violence against U.S. embassies across the Mideast, a U.S. law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The official said authorities had concluded that Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was behind “Innocence of Muslims,” a film that denigrated Islam and the prophet Muhammad and sparked protests earlier this week in Egypt, Libya and most recently in Yemen. It was not immediately clear whether Nakoula was the target of a criminal investigation or part of the broader investigation into the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya during a terrorist attack…

Now a reasonable person would assume that at this point, some of those rioters would go, Ummm… It took America two days to even begin to get a clue about who produced this video, and it turns out he says he’s from Egypt. Maybe it’s just a TAD illogical for us to be blaming anyone who happens to be an American for this.

But no such luck, because logic has nothing to do with this.

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.