The Food Stamp Messiah

January 21, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments
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As I am writing this, South Carolinians are going to the polls, perhaps making Newt Gingrich the front-runner in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. But I am still chewing on his comments about President Obama being the “food stamp president.” As Gingrich said to Juan Williams in the debate Monday night, “The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history…”

I have nothing to say about the rhetorical construction of Gingrich’s claim–about his implication that Obama is somehow forcing people onto the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Nor will I comment on the inaccuracy of Gingrich’s facts, or the racist underpinnings of his commentary, both of which the media has dealt with.

Instead, I want to address a question to Mr. Gingrich from one Roman Catholic to another: how can you, as a Christian, oppose feeding the hungry? I know, I know, you say it’s better for people to have jobs. But the point is, there aren’t jobs; this is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. And you know as well as I do that the requirements for getting food stamps are stringent; Americans receiving food stamps–many of them already employed in low-paying jobs, let’s be clear–have far less money, allowing for inflation, than the working class family I grew up in ever had. I am, to use an old-fashioned term, scandalized that a person claiming to be a Catholic would talk this way about feeding the hungry in order to win an election.

This way of talking is especially shocking to me as a Roman Catholic Christian because the miracle in which Jesus feeds a huge number of hungry people–“the multiplication of the loaves and fishes” as it’s called–is the most important miracle story in the New Testament. How do we know this? Because it’s the only miracle story to appear in all four of the Gospels; in point of fact, it appears twice in Mark’s Gospel.

Now Speaker Gingrich, not a person to lose a debate, would probably say here that there’s no resemblance between the people Jesus fed and the people President Obama has seduced into living off food stamps in lieu of work. The people in the Gospel story were just so mesmerized by Jesus that they walked out into the desert by mistake; if they could have gotten back to their homes, they’d have had plenty to eat.

I would point out, however, that Jesus said nothing to his disciples about checking the photo IDs of those lining up for bread and fish, or about making sure that nobody was hiding food under their cloaks, thus not deserving any more. “I have compassion on the crowd,” is what he said (Mk 8:2). In point of fact, the vast majority of the people Jesus ministered to were poor; and he didn’t have much good to say for the rich, either.

We hear a lot about Speaker Gingrich going to the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, the biggest Catholic church in the country,  to hear his wife sing in the massed choir that performs there. But this is not what generally goes on in Catholic churches across this country and around the world. What goes on is that ordinary men and women come to those churches hungry, and confess their sins, and hear a story about Jesus, and then are fed, week, after week, after week. Nobody ever tells us that we’re lazy, that we need to get a job, or that we should learn to feed ourselves.


Urination on Corpses? Outrageous! Killing People? Not so much.

January 15, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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I sat around earlier in the week, as I so often am, mesmerized by our distinguished leaders, in this case, expressing their outrage over US Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban they had killed in Afghanistan.

Now don’t get me wrong. Urinating on corpses is certainly a disrespectful thing to do. I am not actually defending these guys.

But it did strike me, as I listened,  that not a single one of our distinguished leaders alluded, even briefly, to the fact that these Taliban first had actually been killed, that is, had such damage done to their physical bodies that their lives had ended.

I don’t know about you, but as for me, I would vastly prefer to be peed upon than to be killed. But hey, that’s just me. Lots of Americans probably think that being killed in battle is far more honorable.

The pastor of my parish said this morning at Mass that some have attributed the urination, and the torture at Abu Ghraib as well, to the stress our men and women in combat are under. He thought that one solution would be for us to stop having wars.

But as for me, cynic that I am, I suspect that instead of solving this problem by renouncing war, our distinguished leaders will press ahead to have the killing of our enemies done more and more by drones, urination by drone being fairly  unusual, as far as I have been able to determine.

Good Luck to Catholic Theologians

January 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This week, an article in the National Catholic Reporter on-line discusses the struggle of US Catholic theologians to coordinate their roles as scholars and academics with their roles in the church. Written in the wake of the US bishops’ condemnation of Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God,  the article suggests that things on this front are bad and getting worse. In the article, Terence Tilley, the chair of theology at Fordham and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, says, “If the bishops continue along this path of censuring or making statements without engaging in dialogue with the theologians, theology may be laughed out of the university as mere propaganda.”

Now let’s be clear: contemporary Catholic bishops are not widely noted for their communication with the hoi polloi. A priest friend, the pastor of a good-sized parish, asked me not long ago to write a letter for him to the ordinary of his diocese requesting permission to start a Sunday night liturgy. Fool that I am, I wondered why he didn’t just ask the guy. “You think I talk with the bishop?” he replied.

But the current movement toward turning Catholic theologians into catechists is particular cause for alarm. Bear in mind that theologians–Aquinas, for example, and Rahner–spearheaded some of the most significant intellectual growth (God forbid that I describe it as change!) in the history of the church.

And now, the US Supreme Court, in a ruling passed on January 12, looks to make the situation of theologians in Catholic universities even worse. In Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the court “recognized a ‘ministerial exception’ to employment discrimination laws, saying that churches and other religious groups must be free to choose and dismiss their leaders without government interference.”

The case itself involved a female teacher with narcolepsy, Cheryl Perich, who was fired from a Missouri Lutheran Snyod school and then sued the school for discrimination against the disabled. The case was dismissed because Perich taught religion forty-five minutes a day, though she spent the vast majority of her time teaching secular subjects. Asked specifically about “professors at Catholic universities,” the lawyer who successfully argued the case, Douglas Laycock said: “If he teaches theology, he’s covered (by this ruling). If he teaches English or physics or some clearly secular subjects, he is clearly not covered.” And you can’t even blame the decision on the six (!!) Catholic justices on the court. The ruling was unanimous. As the editors of the New York Times argue, the ruling is far more encompassing than is good for either church or society. But that’s not much help to Catholic theologians whose jobs are now on the line.

All of this calls to mind a recent comment from a dear, life-long friend, an internationally recognized (and moderate) Catholic theologian. “I’m just grateful,” she said, “That the institutional church can no longer burn theologians at the stake, as they once could.” Maybe the institution can’t burn theologians any more, but as for job security, at least in US Catholic colleges and universities, good luck to them all.

From the New Breed of Catholics, O Lord, Deliver Us

January 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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To fully understand this post, there are some things about me that you should know. To wit, I am an “Irish-Catholic” of  a certain sort. My father’s mother, Rose Ronan, was an Irish immigrant who died when he was nine, at which time his father, the rotter Tom, vanished. Dad dropped out of high school after the ninth grade to join the Civilian Conservation Corps; the Irish aunts who had been raising him could no longer afford to feed him. After “The War” Dad worked shifts at the Philadelphia Electric Company, and eventually became the president of his IBEW local. Sometimes, at the dinner table, he would announce to my brother and me, “If you ever vote Republican, or cross a picket line, you will go to hell.” I consider this the beginning of my theological education. I was well into high school before it dawned on me that being Irish, being Catholic, being a Democrat, and being pro-union were not all one thing. One of my favorite stories from all of US history is how the Bronx’s Ed Flynn, one of the last great Tammany Hall bosses, worked to get FDR elected and to establish the New Deal, a program modeled on the social welfare that the Irish/ Democratic/Catholic machine delivered to its own.

So when, back in December, I came across an article in the Times titled “Newt Gingrich Represents New Political Era for Catholics,” I very nearly retched. I leave it to the pundits to comment on Newt’s six-year affair with the woman who eventually led him into the RCC and will  stick to Newt’s social positions, nearly all of which are at odds with Catholic social teaching. Take for example his advocacy of child labor as a means of undercutting the janitor’s union (perhaps he thinks that if my Dad had done more janitoring in grade school he wouldn’t have had to live off  government give-aways in the CCC ). Then there’s Newt’s deleting a chapter on climate change from his latest book even as the current “green pope,” Benedict XVI, calls on all people of good will to work to stop it. Or consider Newt’s $30,000 an hour non-lobbyist income from Freddie Mac; this is not, let me assure you, what the church means by a “living wage.”   Newt, baptized by a cardinal, seems to be more like the Piccolomini princes of the Renaissance, seduced by the church’s power and intellectual grandeur,  than like the nuns and priests and laypeople of my father’s generation of Catholics (and of my own)  laboring, as Jesus said, to bring “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).

Newt, of course, is not the only instance of this new breed of Catholics, or the Times article wouldn’t speak of a “new political era.” There are lots of others. Take, for example, Paul Ryan. Ryan’s budget is based in the same neo-liberal economic assumptions that inspired the British government to let a million Irish starve during the Potato Famine, so as to protect them from the dangerous notion that the world owed them a living. But Newt, somehow, is more offensive to me than all the others, sitting in basilicas listening to his wife sing in massed choirs before he goes out to preach a gospel of greed and dishonesty across the US.

I suppose I should just count my blessings: Sarah Palin, at least,  has abandoned holy mother church to share her wisdom and example with “Bible-believing” Christians around the world.

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