Sunday, May 31, 2009

Faithful? Progressive?

Blogs that wear religion on their sleeves tend to be, like churches, full of hypocrisy. I've already blogged on the Methodist preacher who, the nun who, and my latest find is Faithful Progressive, the title of which, after a little following, prompts the headline question.

The answer is "neither."

The blogger presents himself as theologically a liberal Protestant and politically as loosely left-of-center. The blogger claims to be "faithful" to Christianity and "progressive" aka "afraid to call myself socialist" but really willing to fly the flag of moral indignation.

In roughly a month or so of following the blog, FP has managed to:

-- pick the mote in the Catholic eye as regards the Nazis (without, of course, having anything new to say), while refusing to even look at the Protestant beam: the churches that allowed themselves to be merged by the Nazis into the Reich Church under Reich bishop Ludwig Muller;

-- flagrantly repeat and proudly use the schoolyard bully term "Ditchkins" (a conflation of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens) as the moniker for atheists of whom the writer is obvious afraid an in awe of; and

-- flaunt the blogger's vision of the language of Cervantes as a wetback language not deserving proper use by obviously translating "Congratulations Judge Sonia Sotomayor" through a computer translator, with the result "Congratulations have judged Sonia Sotomayor," which doesn't make sense in Spanish, any more than it does in English.

When I pointed out the incredibly stupid error -- clearly the machine interpreted "judge" to be a verb ("juzgan"), not a noun ("juez") -- the blogger changed it and pretended to have intended a "pun."

The blogger, who is apparently obviously angry at afraid of atheist critics, insists the originator of "Ditchkins" has written a "great read."

On the Nazi point, he pretended not to even hear the criticism.

And to my pointing that his blog, which has far too many quotes from other sources and exceedingly little original material, violated the Associated Press' copyright, he replies that "You[r] toady sucking up to the AP is also reflective of the tendency of the new atheists to be a reactionary cultural force."

So, there it is: faithful to Christian charity? No. Progressive? Only in the weasel sense.
 The guy doesn't have a clue.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It’s not a boy!

When is it good news that it's not a boy? When it's a woman. That, at least, is my take on the handsome Puerto Rico-born Cuban-American young Catholic priest photographed in an amorous embrace on the beach with ... wait for it ... an attractive, bikini-clad young woman.

The pictures of the priest, Alberto Cutié, also nicknamed Miami's “Padre Oprah,” for his Spanish language television and radio talk shows, appeared in a Spanish gossip magazine called TV Notas, leading to his suspension from parish work by the Archdiocese of Miami.

What the major Anglo press — or the Catholic hierarchy for that matter — doesn't get is the persistent cultural message underlying this kind of incident.

“If only it were the worst thing that a Roman Catholic priest has been caught doing,” Time's Tim Padgett took time out from the earthshaking news to editorialize in his lead. Meanwhile, to The New York Times' reporter Damien Cave, Cutié's problem is that he works in “South Beach, where even the mannequins have extra-large breasts.”

They're missing the point and it's not like they didn't have warning, either. Do you remember the last time a Hispanic clergyman got famously caught swimming in forbidden sexual waters?

It was Bobby Sánchez, the former archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who in the 1980s had more than a dozen angry women after him, once they all found out he was cheating on them with holy mother church.

Truth in commentary: Sánchez headed the U.S. Catholic bishops' Hispanic Affairs Committee, for which I once worked and I'd heard the stories about Sánchez and his womanizing long before it was headline news.

Yet precisely because the Sánchez and Cutié cases lie at the intersection of the two most misreported areas of news —` Hispanics and religion — no one has yet stumbled onto the most notable and historically consistent point that might be made about traditionally Catholic Hispanic men.

They like women.

They love to have a passel of kids with women, occasionally even with more than one woman at a time. Latin American literature, which is the informal sociology about things one does not bring up at the dinner table en familia, is replete with examples of such men – and they all ring true.

Moreover, they absolutely despise the notion of celibacy.

Want homegrown proof right here and now? The number of married Hispanic Catholic permanent deacons in the United States, who carry out some ministerial functions, albeit well short of a priest's, is very many times higher than that of U.S. Hispanic priests.

There are, too, Hispanics with vocations, my esteemed bishops. They just don't want to be celibate.

In Latin America, which has the world's largest Catholic population -- or about 350 million out of the nearly 1 billion Catholics in the world – there are fewer Catholic priests than the number serving the 60 million U.S. Catholics.

Until the very late 20th century, Bolivia, a country to which Spanish missionaries first went in the 1500s, had never had a native-born bishop. As with most of the Latin American Catholic clergy, they had all been imported.

And here's the one point Time and The New York Times should have been able to dig up all on their own: according to a well-known FBI criminal profile, 80 percent of all pedophiles are non-Hispanic white males. Hispanic males comprised a tiny sliver of the remaining 20 percent.

Look at the rogue's gallery of child-raping U.S. priests made infamous in the past decade or so: almost all of them are Irish-American, not Hispanic.

Ready to get an inkling about Hispanics in religion, major news media? Let me beat the horse just one bit deader than a doornail.

Time magazine headline writers had fun with the episode, dubbing the South Beach paparazzi shots "The Father Cutie Scandal." Get it? Alberto Cutié is a “cutie.”

But guess what? Cutié is pronounced coo-tea-EH, not as the Valley-Girl-speak word for handsome. That's OK, when it comes to Hispanics, major media journalists might as well all be Valley Girls.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Model for Pelosi

On one of my favorite blogs I recently caught the headline

Speaker quits 'for sake of unity'

then I realized it was not what I thought. But what a great idea for Nancy Pelosi!!!!!

Frankly, I don't care what the CIA told her or what she heard, but she has been such a spinelessly rotten vote counter, such a roll-over-and-play-dead Repub Democratic House follower leader that she really should quit while she's behind.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Problem with Being Kennedyesque

President Obama has turned out to be more Kennedyesque than some of his fans expected. One does not have to be an opponent of Obama, or of the once-young Boston-accented politician of the past, to mean "Kennedyesque" in the realpolitik and less than idealistic sense.

I was once told that when the beloved Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was shown where, as archbishop of Chicago, he would be buried, he learned that his spot was to the left of his predecessor, John Cody, who died just before the feds could indict him of misusing church funds.

"I was always a bit to his left," Bernardin is said to have quipped.

John F. Kennedy, since the 1964 Democratic Convention the icon of liberals, stood in many respects to the liberals' right. Barack Obama, in trying to reverse course on the Bush Administration's campaign of state-sponsored terror, has revealed himself more pragmatic about Guantánamo and torture evidence than his supporters from, say, Code Pink or Move On would like.

If Obama can compromise on Nuremberg-scale inhumanity, some worry, what will he give away to get something through in health, consumer protections and workers' rights to collective bargaining? To my mind, that's the wrong question.

Obama doesn't want to say the right things for eight years, as Bill Clinton did, so some Republican can come, like Bush did, and turn peace in Ireland and Yugoslavia into unending war throughout the entire Arab world. He doesn't want to tidy up the books, turning Republican deficits into surpluses as far as the eye can see, just so some crass successor can undo it with a sea of red ink and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

That would not be good for the country, any more than it would burnish Obama's legacy. As a man of extraordinary intelligence, Obama knows this. The man knows what he is doing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Three Deaths

George, Lew, my father. Two generational contemporaries dead within days, one dead almost 30 years ago recalled by fluke in the same week.

George was a humorous cyberfriend I never met in the flesh, but I had a good sense of his character.

Lew would not have died in the arms of his wife if I had not told him, years ago, that she planned to dump him as a boyfriend. And if he had not redoubled his campaign to win her heart.

My father's death was a tragedy for the personal mess he left in his wake, but it's a psychic mess I had long ago cleaned up until I ran into someone who asked me if I had heard of a man by the same name ... my father, by the details.

Then there's my own death, of which I have dreamed. I dreamed of everyone carrying on just fine without me. (Drat!) No funeral cortege to Arlington, no heads of state flying in. Nothing. Just another nobody gone.

Death talk is unfashionable in this society, in which we proclaim the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet death is a reality of life. Closer when those not far from one's own age begin to die.

Now you know why I haven't posted anything. I was thinking about death.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Gift for TANF Mothers

The term "welfare mother" has been so loaded that I chose for the heading the bureaucratic abbreviation of the current program. After all, ever since Ronald Reagan invented out of whole cloth a public aid cheater in Chicago, some people deem a welfare mom as practically a criminal -- all to justify sending poor mothers with infants to work outside the home.

Indeed, I found myself nodding when, during a visit to Washington a few years ago, the head of the United Kingdom's social programs under Tony Blair made clear that, forcing a mother with children under six to leave home to perform mindless low-skill work was so horrifying to the British public, that it had never been even suggested in Parliament.

What we have done since 1996 to poor women heading households with children in the United States is unspeakable. What we did before wasn't much better.

Now we tell them to go out get the first menial job they can, or else we'll cut them off the cash from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (the TANF in the heading) -- and amount ranging from about $230 a month in Mississippi to about $950 in New York.That's below poverty? Add SNAP (the new name for food stamps) and public housing subsidies. It comes close to the poverty line. Not much more.

Since when is making sure a child is fed, loved, cared for -- in a word, mothering -- less important than flipping burgers or sitting at a cash register?

Conservatives argue that these women make lousy mothers, since they are all on [add drug of the day here] and work as [insert sexual occupations serving conservative customers here]. Or they're lazy and uneducated and [add whisper] black.

In fact, most welfare mothers are white. Let's factually adjust the picture just enough to conjure up an image to which most Americans, even the stupidest, will react to with a smidgen of compassion. A poor white woman is a WPA work of art, no?

But even if we think the worst of welfare mothers, isn't the drugs, prostitution, compulsive TV watching, etc., largely a result of nurture rather than nature? Couldn't this behavior be changed?

Imagine a modern equivalent of a "sewing circle": a daily, neighborhood gathering of TANF moms with non-TANF peers and an older, motherly role model who had raised children of her own.There would be opportunities for peer-to-peer problem solving, career exploration, even eventual job search or home-brewed microenterprises (yes, I know all the lingo).

Wouldn't that be much, much better than merely throwing them out into the labor market with no skills? Wouldn't that be better than denying cash, food, housing? Throwing them and their children out like garbage?

Some brave people are attempting things like this, but it's far from being national policy with serious resources. That should be our Mother's Day's gift to all TANF moms.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Gay Style?

I am going to get killed here, but Andy of V and A in Milan prompted me to finally give vent to an idea I have had for many years when he wrote, in what seemed like a bit of exasperation, "I have been called the straightest of gay men."

The topic of our sermon, boys and girls, is: Is there a gay style and if so what should it be? This could also be: Is there a "straight" style and what should that be?

This is interesting to me, someone who is often taken in cyberspace to be a woman (see latest in the comments section here), even though I am of the male persuasion (although I have expressed an interest in becoming lesbian, for which I have been told I have an aptitude). Perhaps the confusion arises because I don't punctuate every sentence with "eff'in A!"?

This is also interesting because I was there when a college roommate declared himself gay at 3 am, after an evening at the local gay alliance; unfortunately, I had a final exam the next morning and really needed the sleep, so that discussion was postponed, much to his drunken chagrin.

CR, as I'll call him, had been up to that point a normal, average ... um, what am I saying? He liked opera, fer cryin' out loud! (OK, so my father loved opera -- his Italian heritage -- and that's why I hate it, but that's a whole other story).

All right, what I mean is that CR didn't have any noticeable mannerisms in his gesture or voice. He wasn't "affeminate."

Fast forward to a few years ago, when I hired him at what was his fast-approaching middle age (he is a few years older than I am). All of a sudden, he behaved like a typical 40-ish female secretary of the 1950s.

You know, the kind that has her hair up in a bouffant and whose fingers taper into painted claws and whose mouth and cheeks are rouged and powdered and whose perfume can be smelled a mile away. One day she quits in a huff and her desk drawers are found to be filled to the rafters with tissue paper and various female cosmetic and medical supplies. Gary Larson used to draw her to great effect (see here).

No, CR didn't look like one. He just talked like one, freaked out like one (you won't believe his antics on 9/11 ... OK, so we were a block from the White House, but honestly!) and generally behaved in a way that completely belied his physical appearance as a tall, lean, Brahmin WASP man.

What is it about a man's sexual preference for other men that demands behavior that apes the worst stereotypes of a traditional woman? I mean, most women today are more "macho" than that!

Give me a woman who knows how to handle a power drill any day.

Frankly, I have no answer. I am relieved to learn that Andy, a gay man, doesn't seem to have an answer, either. It shows that it's a not just me, a straight guy, asking an unreasonable question.

Monday, May 04, 2009

End of the American Façade

Most of us have been disappointed with some essentials of American culture, mostly because they were never any deeper, any more solid than a Hollywood set, since at least 1968. This is one of those moments in which such myths can be recreated or be superseded -- and this little essay aims to aid the latter.

Let's look at the year 1968 for a moment. That is the time when, to hear candidate Barack Obama tell it last year, one group of Boomers pit itself against another in a hatred that has lasted a generation.

The year 1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive, when the fortress myth of American invincibility was first breached in the war that would deal the nation its first defeat. That was the year Martin Luther King, Jr., and the notion of successful nonviolent change suffered a deadly blow. That was the year the last great white hope, Robert F. Kennedy, perished -- he was consumed, I still think, by the self-destructive forces of the power of money from which, ironically, he sprang.

The news media told us of students in Paris accused of instigating a deep crisis and later of peers in Prague hailed, from the West, as heroes -- yet all of them (us, it was my generation) were in the same dionysian revolt against our apollonian elders. And what did we achieve?

The cult of youth, too, turned out to be a false god, especially evident now that we are no longer young. The only surefire result of the Democratic Convention riots was the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 -- if only it could have been foreseen and prevented!

But it couldn't. At heart we Americans are much too fond of our essential self-delusion that we can overcome everything and anything.

Everything about an American and the degree of his or her success is fake. Fake it 'till you make it, runs what seems to be the quintessential American nursery rhyme. We spend lifetimes telling one another that "everything is great."

Happiness is a constitutional right, we believe (and no, it's not there). And it is a duty. If you are sick or you are poor, it's your damned fault.

Yet none of it is true. Indeed, not only is America the land of the false optimism, it's also the land of the scam.

Go back to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and even to Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. Our Protestant, Calvinist, capitalist ethos and its anxiety inspiring lies are writ large in our literature and culture.

Yet at times such as these, when the wages of our collective prevarication come due, we have the remarkable opportunity to tell ourselves the truth: perhaps we have just muddled through with a bit of luck and perhaps we could recognize that not all that glitters is gold. Or is that too Catholic, medieval and fatalistically feudal?