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Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

Social Justice is not a Communist Plot

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Recently Glenn Beck, the High Priest of Mammon, alerted his followers to a supposed hidden conspiracy in their churches: social justice. (more…)

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Human Sexuality is a Continuum

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Recently over at the blog of America Magazine, there was a rich variety of comments on a post by Fr. Jim Martin about how gay and lesbian Catholics are to live their lives. Much of the comment from the right was what you might expect: a determined insistence to see the world in black and white, us v. them.

However, the lived experience of humanity demonstrates that there is not just gay and straight, but a spectrum of sexuality between the two, and we all fall somewhere along this spectrum. This is the same as in every aspect of human experience: there is not just A and Z as polar opposites, but A, B, C, D, E, F and so on through Z.

The following chart contrasts the black-and-white fundamentalist view of sexuality to how the spectrum of human sexuality is actually lived (to an approximate degree, because I do not pretend to assign actual percentages to the bell curve).


Certainly this graph is nothing new to anyone who has taken human biology in college. Kinsey explained it all back in the 1950s. But my point in presenting it in a blog on religion is to call your attention to the small slice which I have called the “Crisis Zone.”

Here’s my theory: The Crisis Zone represents those who are predominately heterosexual, but who may have experienced some episode where they realized they had some slight attraction to the same sex. And I propose that it is the people in this Crisis Zone who have made our public and ecclesiastical discourse on homosexuality so divisive and polarized.

Why? Because these are the people who insist–beyond all lived experience of gays and lesbians and all scientific studies to date–that homosexuality is a choice. They maintain the fundamentalist choice theory because they actually believe, based on a high school crush, a glance, a visit to some website, that the terror they felt at experiencing some fleeting same-sex attraction was a “choice” to be heterosexual.

So they are convinced that those on the other end of the spectrum have “made” the same “choice,” and those who are predominately homosexual merely do not have the same “strength of will” they believe they demonstrated in this momentary panic. They become vocal advocates of “change therapy” because they think that if they resisted the charms of Bobby Jones amid the churning adolescent hormones of their sophomore year of high school and are now happily married, then gays need only do the same thing. What they do not take into account is that emotional and sexual attachment to the same sex increases as you progress to the left of the spectrum. Their momentary crisis, which looms so large in their psyche, was an entirely normal, insignificant phenomenon. But to them it takes on epic proportions.

Naturally, the Crisis Zone obsessives would never admit this, because they are so ashamed of such a momentary experience that they could not say it out loud. By nature, they are not prone to sharing intimate feelings.

Of course, those to the right of the Crisis Zone are well-adjusted heterosexuals who, if they ever had some fleeting attraction at some point, make no big deal about it. They think, “Hmmm…,” or “Wow, that was kind of weird,” or they joke about it and move on. They are confident in their sexuality in a way the Crisis Zone people can never be. So those on the right of the spectrum typically are at ease with gay people, have gay friends and support equal rights for gays, because they don’t feel threatened. Their fleeting experience, if they even had any at all, does not traumatize them as it does the Crisis Zone people. My boss, for example, recently got a new haircut. He proudly announced that a “gay guy” had “checked him out” at the store. He is happily married, secure in his sexuality, and merely took it as compliment and went on about his day. He did not feel a need to beat the gay guy with a baseball bat.

Some of those who fall to the right of the Crisis Zone may also intellectually accept the idea of choice in sexuality, but they do not exhibit the same obsessive preoccupation with the theory as those who are in the Crisis Zone; they simply do not have the same personal investment. They may agree with the Crisis Zone fanatics, but they don’t fixate on the issue.

The Crisis Zone people are the gay-bashers, those who invoke the “gay panic” defense in criminal trials, and who exhibit an unhealthy and vicious obsession with the supposed threats of gay people in society. By attacking gay people, they think they are deflecting any suspicion that they may be gay, a suspicion only they feel towards themselves. They overcompensate, for example, by tattooing passages from the Book of Leviticus on their bodies (ignoring the fact that Leviticus also prohibits tattoos).

It’s tragic, really. Just because as a teenager they realized the high-school quarterback was kind of handsome they have tortured themselves for years and become obsessed with gay people, adopting homophobia as a defense against their darkest fears. And it’s a shame, because they are predominately heterosexual.

But they can never forget that moment of terror, and the rest of their lives is spent in proving their heterosexuality, even if they must tear society apart to do so.

“Nothing dollarable is safe.”

Monday, September 28th, 2009

If you haven’t been following the latest Ken Burns series on PBS, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” you really should. Tonight PBS aired the second of six episodes that promise to equal Burns’ epic stories of the Civil War, New York City, baseball, jazz, World War II and other aspects of our common heritage.

Burns, the great biographer of the American people, has created a wondrous testament to one of America’s unique contributions to the world: the concept of a national park, which was born in fiery controversy in California and has since spread throughout the world, from Australia to Africa.

While today the idea of the National Parks is a treasured value of the United States, it was not always so. In an early form, the idea of the National Parks was born to prevent industrialization of the great Yosemite Valley and Yellowstone. Today it is the stuff of lyrics we sing, “America the Beautiful,” but at the time many conservatives felt it was a dangerous idea that inhibited commercial advancement and industrial freedom to destroy the land for the enrichment of the few. In fact, for 30 years the United States Army had to occupy Yellowstone and Yosemite to protect the parks from rapacious capitalists who sought to enrich themselves off the National Parks at the expense of the American people.

The comparison of the struggle to preserve our greatest national natural treasures with the current struggle to provide health care  to all Americans is unavoidable. As we see the huge lobbying power of the health care industry arrayed against any reform, we are reminded of the warning John Muir gave in regard to the National Parks: “Nothing dollarable is safe.”

Conservatives opposed the creation of the National Parks as they opposed anything valuable in our history. Here is a list of just a few ideas of the top of my head that we have had to fight conservatives to establish:

Election of senators, allowing Catholics to own property, religious freedom for Catholics, abolition of slavery, allowing Catholics to vote, allowing African-Americans to own property, allowing African-Americans to vote, allowing women to vote, allowing African-Americans to marry, religious freedom for Mormons, honoring treaties with Native Americans, sanctuary for Jewish immigrants, Catholic immigration, Chinese immigration, abolition of Jim Crow laws, integration of schools and universities, interracial marriage, establishment of the National Parks and National Monuments, Social Security, bank regulation, anti-trust regulation, interstate highways, anti-pollution measures, wildlife conservation, anti-discrimination laws in the workplace, protection of endangered species, seat belts, airbags, integration of the military, Medicare, accessibility for the handicapped, immigration reform, minimum-wage legislation, HIV research, civil rights for Mexican-Americans, civil rights for gays and lesbians, and oh, I don’t know, give me another 10 minutes and I could come up with more.

In each of the above cases, conservatives argued against the proposed reform with one or more of the following arguments:

a. It was against the law of God,
b. It would cause the collapse of civilization,
c. It would lead to economic ruin, and or
d. It would destroy the United States

It is important to note that in no instance did these dire conservative warnings ever prove true.

In these past struggles, there was an element that is missing today. A powerful example of that missing element was the meeting in 1903 of the Republican president Theodore Roosevelt and the progressive activist John Muir. Roosevelt wrote Muir and told him that he would like to spend time with Muir in Yosemite. Roosevelt rode out with Muir into the Yosemite Valley, accompanied by a great cavalcade of dignitaries. At the end of the day, the dignitaries turned around and went to a hotel to fete the president on his noble mission with an elaborate banquet. But the president never showed up at the hotel. Instead, Roosevelt spent three days and three nights with Muir hiking and sleeping under the stars in Yosemite. They debated and shared intimate stories, discussing with each other what the experience of nature meant for them as they stood awestruck together before the majestic vistas of Yosemite. Today we would call that dialogue, and it’s missing from our national conversation.

The Republican Roosevelt emerged from his retreat with the progressive immigrant to become the nation’s greatest conservationist president. As the PBS website for the Burns series notes:

As president, Roosevelt created five national parks (doubling the previously existing number); signed the landmark Antiquities Act and used its special provisions to unilaterally create 18 national monuments, including the Grand Canyon; set aside 51 federal bird sanctuaries, four national game refuges, and more than 100 million acres’ worth of national forests.

For over 100 years, the American people have been engaged in a struggle to provide health care to all our citizens. That struggle was begun by the very same Theodore Roosevelt who made conservationism an American virtue. Today, our century-long struggle has reached a fevered pitch. Conservatives have trotted out the same four arguments they have to every social advancement since the beginning of our republic, along with the new accusation of socialism. That would be the same evil concept of socialized nature (National Parks), socialized protection against crime (police), socialized communication (the Postal Service), socialized fire protection (fire departments), socialized education (our public schools and universities), socialized culture (our great public museums), socialized transportation (the interstate highway system) and so on.

The irony, of course, is that as in every struggle toward social improvement, the children and grandchildren of today’s opponents of progress will embrace the progressive values that will triumph, just as the descendants of those who fought the establishment of the national parks enjoy those same parks today.

John Muir lamented the greed that caused the dynamiting of the Grand Canyon, the near-extinction of the buffalo, the destruction of the Petrified Forest, the mining of Yosemite’s forests and other such crimes against our stewardship of the environment because he saw these places as cathedrals for the worship of God. Today we are engaged in a similar battle, for the powerful are arrayed against us as they seek to perpetuate the commercialization of the human body, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, for corporate profit.

But unlike the era of Roosevelt and Muir, there are no nights spent talking into the early morning under the stars of Yosemite; there is only ugly demagoguery, lies spread to fuel the fears of the ignorant. Our society has lost the value of civil discourse and mutual concern for the common good. It has entirely vanished. Who will rise up to be the advocate of the people against the greed of the health care industry? So far, our prospects are bleak.

What would Roosevelt and Muir say about our current crisis? I suspect the Republican president and the immigrant activist would agree: “Nothing dollarable is safe.” And sadly today in the United States that includes human lives.

Michael Vick, a god of second chances for some……the Prophets of ancient Israel would scream from the mountaintops in disgust and call us out for the unjust double standard!

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Michael Vick left federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas and was allowed to complete his 23 month sentence confined at home for the last two months. You probably know that Vick was found guilty of participating in dog fighting for “sport” where the animals were treated in ways so atrocious that I refuse to elaborate further.

But Mr. Vick has talent beyond his taste for the sport he finds in animal cruelty. He is a quarterback capable of performing up to NFL standards. Upon Vick’s release NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Vick would have to show him and the public genuine remorse before he was reinstated in the league. Vick’s sentence ended July 20, 2009 and before the end of August the Philadelphia Eagles, with the blessing of Commissioner Goodell, signed Vick to play for 1.6 million in year one with a second year option of 5.2million accompanied by incentives that could total an additional 3.0 million dollars. About 30 days of “remorse.”

So far I’ll bet you think I am just a tad bitter at the idea of this god of second chances.

Well you are right…..and wrong. I believe we do worship a God of second chances and we all deserve a second chance, tell me, as we look at our own lives, you disagree?

All things being equal let Vick have a second chance, yep go ahead Comissioner Goodell and the Eagles. After all, let’s face it, if he plays up to your expectations he should make the Eagles far more than the 9.8 million he stands to earn over the next few years. Maybe a soft drink company or some other nationally recognized brand name would even give Vick a chance to endorse their product, although I don’t see much of an opportunity to become the national spokesperson for the SPCA.

The Vick’s of this world and especially our country where all are “created equal”, those who enjoy celebrity status, cannot be the only ones given their second chance if we live in a society where justice is the rule of law. We do say that don’t we? That justice for all thing?

Every week a group of dedicated women accompany me to a conservation camp where women who are incarcerated for non-violent crimes serve out their time. Here they are trained to fight our California wild fires and for that receive a reduced sentence. These women are well educated or were highly skilled in the workforce before they made their mistakes and like Vick are serving their time.

But there is a difference! They are not celebrities, they cannot pass a football with precision accuracy, and no one is waiting to hire them upon their release for multi-million dollar contracts that benefit national organizations. In fact no one is waiting to hire them at all after their debt has been paid. They stress as their parole date approaches and they are given their $200.00 with which to buy a bus ticket home.

Why would the Prophets of Israel rail this injustice? Because again and again they tell us that if you want to measure the level of justice in any society you MUST look at those most marginalized. How any society treats the least of God’s children is the true measure of justice.

Therefore comparing Michael Vick, Roger Goodell, the Philadelphia Eagles, and similar stories of celebrity comebacks we can all recall to the fate of the women at the conservation camp: Bonnie, Sabrina, Jenny, Rosi, Tiffany, Colleen, Cynthia, Nancy, Janice, Sue, Janene, Kelly, Jen, Maria, Margarita, Ado, Breanne, and Emma we have, as a country, failed to meet even a minimum standard of justice.

“Just as individuals may sin, a society may also engage in social sin. Social sin is when a society embraces injustice as public policy or becomes so accustom to injustice it no longer sees its structures as an affront to human dignity.” Ascend: The Catholic Faith for a New Generation Stoltz/Tomkovicz, chapter 18 page 108.

I refuse to capitalize god in the heading of this article. This god of second chances is a false god whose name is invoked in vain. The God I know is one who demands that we give all people, according to their ability, talent, and sincerity, the same second chance after their debt has been paid.

Move over Martha Stewart, our God is looking at us. The difference that this god and our God sees is a failure to live out our American Creed. What the founding fathers stated as “self evident” has yet to be realized in this scenario and so many more like it in our land.

How can we make a difference? Maybe our winnings next season from the weekly NFL football pool won’t seem like such an honest “take” after all!

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? 150 Years of Papal Insights

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Each pope has a different way of approaching things. So as an illustration, we can imagine how each of the popes over the past 150 years might have offered an answer to the question of why the chicken crossed the road.

Pius IX (1846-1878): “If anyone should assert that the chicken has a right to cross the road, in direct disobedience the the Decrees of the Supreme Roman Pontiff which specify the divinely ordained place and roles of chickens, let him be anathema. And by the way, We are never wrong.”

Leo XIII (1878-1903): “The right of the chicken to cross the road, especially because all chickens are empowered to organize collectively for the right of crossing the road, must not be infringed. Unless the chicken is Anglican.”

Pius X (1903-1914): “Among the propositions to be condemned is the subversive Modernist doctrine that a chicken, without full knowledge of what lies on the other side of the road, may freely cross such a road. And you will swear an oath to that effect.”

Benedict XV (1914-1922): “The chicken has a right to cross the road in peace. Please don’t bomb the chicken.”

Pius XI (1922-1939): “You cannot prevent a chicken from crossing the road simply because it is Jewish. Stop that! No, stop it right now!”

Pius XII (1939-1958): “Herr Ambassador, if I let the chicken cross the road, will you also put me in one of your concentration camps?”

John XXIII (1958-1963): “Oh, just let the chicken cross the damn road already.”

Paul VI (1963-1978): “On the one hand, the chicken feels a need to cross the road. On the other hand, one wonders if the chicken really must cross the road.”

John Paul I (1978-1978): “The chicken crossed the road because…”

John Paul II (1978-2005): “The chicken crosses the road as an eschatological prefigurement of the parousia, when Christ will be all in all.”

Benedict XVI (2005-present): “The Byzantine emperor Paleologus Constantinius Optimus Prime once engaged in a colloquy with a devout and scholarly cooper in which his imperial majesty observed that chickens often engage in the non-teleological practice of crossing the road for seemingly mystagogical purposes. The cooper was recorded to have opined that the learned emperor’s discourse was ‘as the corporeal remnants of an ox which effuses its bad humours upon the wayside.’”