Catholics and the “Ground Zero Mosque”

August 20, 2010 at 10:33 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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It’s safe to assume that there are a lot of American Catholics among the zillions of people who oppose the building of the “mosque”–really the Community Center at Park51–in lower Manhattan near Ground Zero. Somebody on the radio yesterday said that 63% of New Yorkers oppose the siting of the center there.  This certainly includes a whole bunch of Catholics in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn.  Then there’s west of the Hudson.

There are some very particular reasons why American Catholics might want to think twice about such opposition, however. Now I have to apologize to some of you for telling stories you already know. But as my friend and former professor David Watt learned from his Religion in America students at Temple University a while back, not everybody knows them. (David asked one of his classes how far you would have to go to arrive somewhere where Catholics had been persecuted. “China?” they responded. “The Middle East?” “How about down Broad Street?” he replied–Temple being just above the  locations of those churches on Broad Street, one of the main thoroughfares in the City of “Brotherly Love.”)

So it seems that after a period of relative peace and openness in the early years of the American republic, in the decades before the Civil War, partly because of increasing Catholic  immigration, the Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority became increasingly hostile toward the Catholic church. By the 1830s, mob attacks on Catholics and the burning of  convents and churches “became so frequent,” as historian Jay Dolan writes, “that many congregations posted regular armed guards to patrol and protect their property.” (The American Catholic Experience, 201-202). The most famous of these were in Philadelphia, where, in 1844, St. Michael’s and St. Augustine’s churches were burned to the ground, as were the homes of significant numbers of Irish Catholics, who were particularly despised because of the large numbers of them arriving then.

Now it’s tempting to argue that this persecution of Catholic immigrants and the destruction of their convents and churches was totally unjustified because these Catholic immigrants were poor and innocent, whereas Muslims really did blow up the World Trade Center. But a quick review of the history of the Wars of Religion in Europe undercuts such an argument. The Catholic Church really did execute people for deviating from the “true faith” when it was in control.  I once saw a painting of the St. Bartholomew Day’s Massacre in which Dominicans carried axes on their way to execute the French Huguenots. By the same token, the Calvinists in Geneva executed Michael Servetus, the founder of Unitarianism, for not believing in the Trinity. Religious people have done some pretty awful things.  (And then there are the non-religious ones–but that’s another post.)

Besides these particular events–the burning of Catholic churches down the street from my alma mater in the mid-19th century–we Catholics have another reason for thinking twice before supporting discrimination against Muslims. In point of fact, discrimination against a particular religion is not so far removed from discrimination against religion in general. And maybe particularly, it isn’t far removed from discrimination against Catholicism, which, after all, is the second largest religious body in the world, exceeded only by–you guessed it–the Muslims. 

Consider, for example, the statement posted by Rita Nakashima Brock, the liberal postcolonial feminist religious studies scholar, on her Facebook page earlier this week. In the process of defending Park51, Brock writes, “Should Catholics be allowed to have churches near playgrounds?” Now clearly, this is a rhetorical question; Brock doesn’t really mean it. After all, she then goes on to ask whether an “old Burlington Coat Factory is  hallowed ground.” It’s entirely coincidental that Brock uses the Catholic tendency toward pedophilia to make her point.

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Fossil Fuel, the Savior of the World

August 4, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been reading Gwynne Dyer’s new book Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats.  I imagine Dyer will get some criticism for being unnecessarily incendiary, or something like that; as Ian Goodwillie writes in his  on-line review, if you woke up this morning looking for a book that will scare the living crap out of you, Climate Wars is it.

But even if you’re sceptical about how far Dyer’s scenarios go, there’s still something about them, and about the accompanying commentrary, that sticks with you, or at least they do with me.

One of the comments permanently  lodged in my brain comes in an early chapter where Dyer is discussing the relationship between climate change and massive looming food shortages. Dyer observes that over the past sixty years, as the population grew from 2 billion to 6.7 billion, we managed to triple the amount of food grown on virtually the same acreage we’d been using all along. Some attribute this to the “green revolution” but, Dyer tells us, it “owes more to brute force: in the postwar decades, we threw fossil fuels at the problem in a big way.” For example, the quantity of fertilizer (made mostly from natural gas) used on farmlands has increased tenfold; furthermore, the pumping of water from deeper and deeper aquifers, the other leg on which our post-war agricultural boom stands, also depends on fossil fuels. “Indeed, in a sense we are now eating fossil fuels,” Dyer observes (p. 51).

I must confess that I was aware of the connection between fossil fuels and fertilizers, and I also realized that the trucks and ships that move our agricultural products around the world depend on gas; I even grasped that much of the packaging of that food is made from or manufactured with the support of fossil fuels. But somehow, the notion that we are eating fossil fuels grabbed my imagination in a totally new way. WE ARE EATING FOSSIL FUELS, I repeated multiple times. 

It happens that I read the chapter in which Dyer makes this observation on a Saturday afternoon. So at five o’clock I walked over to the vigil Mass at my parish, Our Lady of Refuge here in Brooklyn. I’d like to tell you that I am a deeply spiritual person who is completely taken up in the experience  of the Eucharist. Truth is, sometimes my unruly mind wanders around a bit. On this particular afternoon, it kept wandering back to the “We eat fossil fuels” refrain right up till the second half of the liturgy, when the priest offers to God and then transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.  And as the priest was doing so I thought: Sweet Jesus, what if the bread that I am about to eat is also made from fossil fuels?  Was it grown on a farm that uses fertilizers and pump irrigation? Was it shipped to us in a truck from somewhere outside Brooklyn? 

Now the many Catholic bishops who read my blog may be shocked by such questions. I distinctly remember when they refused to allow gluten-free communion hosts to be distributed at communion, though doing so excluded the Catholics who suffer from celiac disease; the rules say wheat, and wheat it was going to be. Indeed, the official teaching about the Eucharist is, I believe, that after the consecration, it’s not bread and wine at all; it’s Jesus’s body and blood, plain and simple. So it can’t be fossil fuel. Right?

But it is something to consider that the host I’m swallowing and the wine I”m sipping at communion may be, in fact. fossil fuel (as well as the body and blood of Christ). Kind of fractures the Catholic sacramental vision of creation, or, perhaps, reminds us that sin messed up that same creation in the first place, and seems to be doing so again. I once read that some Orthodox Christians understand  the Eucharist to be the exorcism of the universe. Maybe by realizing that even while eating the body and blood of Christ we Christians are also eating the distinctly limited quantity of fossil fuels that is part of that creation, and  overheating the planet to boot, we’ll set in motion an exorcism of our own.

Prayer for Immigrants

August 1, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Trina Paulus, a Grail member, is active in a group called Parishioners for Peace and Justice at St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church in Montclair, New Jersey. The group is circulating this “Prayer for Immigrants.” Its simplicity and its request that God share God’s compassion with those on the other side of the debate appeal to me. Perhaps if we all say this prayer–then write to our Congresspeople! –things will get better.  (Apologies for the extra lines in verses two and three; for the life of me I can’t get rid of them. Maybe somebody half my age will stop by some day soon and show me how to fix this!) 

Prayer for Immigrants 
 

God of the journey, God of the traveler,
We pray for those who leave their homes
in search of new beginnings and possibilities,
may they know your presence with them. 

We pray that those who seek to make a home in this country
may find us welcoming 
and willing to help them find a path toward citizenship. 

We pray that our legislators, as they craft new immigration legislation 
may find the wisdom and courage 

to enact new policies that do justice for our country
and for those who would immigrate here. 

We pray for those who fan the flames of fear
and discrimination against the undocumented,
that they may be touched with your divine compassion.
We pray in Jesus’ name. 

Amen. 
 

(From the Archdiocese of Chicago)
 
 St. Peter Claver Church Parishioners for Peace & Justice 8/08/10 Issue 32 
  
 

 

 

 

 

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