Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production


V077-02_Christ-RyanI probably would not bother to jump into this one were it not for the fact that my old ”friends” the Jesuits have a dog or two in the fight. Sounds like a perfect pay-per-view MMA (Moral-Metaphysical-Asswomp) if you ask me. Apostate me tends to take a perverse glee of satisfaction when Holy Mother Church finds it necessary to spank some of its errant bad boys.

Into the octagon for this brawl are the USCCB (that’s the US Catholic Conference of Bishops), (Catholic) Congressman Paul Ryan, author of the proposed Ryan Budget and, what really begins to make things interesting, the venerable, formidable Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. It is the Jesuits, about whom I have written with bounded respect and caution elsewhere in these pages,* who really tweak my interest in this matter. Looming over all of it of course is two of the most powerful organizations on earth: United States government and the Roman Catholic Church (which also has extra terrestrial connections).

So, before I totally bury my lead … And the prize? Surprisingly none other than those uncelebrated in all but the Eight Beatitudes and the welcoming refrains Emma Lazarus, the poor.

The poor, you say; nobody gives a rat’s ass about the poor. They don’t give money to political campaigns, they’re always clamoring for welfare checks that they collect by driving around in their Cadillacs, they ceasely bitch about not enough jobs, and then when they get sick, or they’re out of wedlock kids get sick, they sneak across our borders and show up in our hospital emergency rooms to freeload on our healthcare. They are, putatively, the ones the late humorist Henry Morgan was referring to when he remarked that “the housing shortage is an ugly rumor––circulated by people who have no place to live.” Yup, these are the same people who are allegedly “envious” of Mitt Romney because he has fifteen houses to live in. Curiously, if you survey people, nobody claims that they want to be poor. So why are there so many of them? Obviously, it’s a “lifestyle choice” they’ve made.

But why is there so much contention about the poor in the Roman Catholic Church these days? (These are all rhetorical questions, by the way, but feel free to dash off an email condemning my heretical ass to eternal damnation.) Well perhaps we should establish first that the poor, while they are a rather vexatious and sometimes obstreperous demographic that we are likely to always have with us, are not totally without function. Here I’m not entirely referring to the roles they perform of making the rest of us feel “superior” and” envied,” or that they are sometimes useful for yard and house work, but that they have a moral and political function as well.

It is this last function that the Ryan budget, and some of the stupid pronouncements of presidential wannabe Rick Santorum stepped on. This pair of “nice Catholic boys” (Ryan is the one with the lemur eyes who always looks like he was just caught playing with himself by Sister Mary Emasculata) might have raised sticky issues for Holy Mother Church. In politics and sectarian power numbers matter. So there are some dilemmas and paradoxes in dealing with the poor.

Take our new peripatetic pontiff, for example (please, God, take him soon). He sojourns to those latitudes in Africa and South America where there are large numbers of high-breeding denizens of the impoverished classes susceptible to Christian the eschatological offerings. We know how this works: “Bear up under the burdens of poverty, sickness and political oppression, Ye beloved poor, but keep the faith, be sure to drop a little coin in the second collection that mass, and eternal life with Jesus shall be granted unto thee. Don’t trouble yourself too much about that healthcare business, there’s always the Mother Teresa method of prayer over (and cheaper than) penicillin. And, by the way, no vulcanizing your weenies, because you’re progeny are likely to die off faster and we’re in a breeding competition here.”

The RCC has plenty of competition. In the old days it was the Protestant London Missionary Society battling with Jesuits, Marist’s, and such in the great game of soul snatching amongst the aboriginals. Of course, the Moslems are also on the field of play, and in the breeding game, with the advantage of multiple wives. But let’s not get into the Islamophobia stuff because we’re discussing some intra-Christian problems.

Blessed are the poor children, for they shall not go to the Snobby University

Education is always been a dilemma for religious and political conservatism. In the first place it is costly. It has been estimated that it might cost around a quarter of a million bucks in a first world society like the US to take kid from preschool to post grad so that can get them out of the house and get on with spending what ever you have left over for retirement. Realities like that lower the birth rate through birth control and abortion. Education does not however axiomatically results in the production of liberals, but it does produce minds that have difficulty blindfolding themselves to the legislative and ideological stupidities of the extreme political right, or of calculating personal social damage the extreme cultural right is capable of doing. This is of course the Santorum complaint. Education is a two-edged sword, particularly Catholic education/indoctrination. The Church must educate its young also to reach positions of economic and political power in the secular world if it is to remain competitive against rival faiths, but it must not allow the liberal thinking that breeds tolerance of them.

Blessed are the poor, for they shall not need Medicare

Conversely, in the Third World the high birth rate is not problematic. Education, at least of a formal sort, is not in the equation. A kid, by age 6 or 7, should pretty much be paying for itself working the fields, tending animals, begging, stealing, or prostituting. If that doesn’t work out, they get sick and die. Their vulnerabilities of course attract the soulsnatchers, and some secular well-meaning philanthropists and celebrities. But it doesn’t change the equation in societies that have little expenditure or inclination to install the sort of expensive social infrastructure that is necessary to lift legions of impoverished out of their sorry station. An afterlife hanging out with Jesus looks pretty good from there.

Blessed are poor women, for they are the fecund womb of Mother Church

The key to all this is how religions regard women. This is where the rubber meets the road on this issue. (Okay, okay, not the most apt metaphor.) Let’s not forget the Eve factor: she, fashioned from a rib, easily seduced by a snake, and handing the apple to her mate thereby blowing the whole Garden of Eden thing. The fair sex never quite gets fair treatment after that primal episode.

Flash forward and this is where United States Catholic conference of Bishops and the fundamentalist Christian right have been giving the Taliban fierce misogynistic competition. This is not so much a “war on women” as it is a war is on who should decide what women can do and not do, and when and how they do it––a war on women’s rights which these contenders regard as little more than the rights accorded to farm animals. We now all familiar with the legislative tsunami of draconian antiabortion bills that followed the 2010 tea party ascendancy and that shows no sign of abating. Indeed, thirty-one US senators recently voted against passage of legislation to curb acts of violence against women.

All of this has proven too much even for Holy Mother Church, or at least what remains mostly cloistered in its universities and in some closets of liberality, to break its vow of silence. There was demure, but determined, Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke symbolically raped and molested by Congressman Darrell Issa and passed out for more abuse by despicable Rush Limbaugh. Few if any alleged followers of the norms of charity expressed by Jesus Christ drew swords in her defense.

Some have said that this is a good move for the Roman Catholic Church, a good public relations opportunity to put some proactive social positions out there that will smokescreen the years of negative publicity around the child abuse issue. Maybe that’s even a little too cynical for me. Maybe the church I left four decades ago is trying to nudge its way back towards the Christian principles upon which it was putatively founded. Maybe holy mother church is making an effort to woo this wayward son back to her ample bosom. Maybe it will at last become an institutional force that truly cares for the poor** and the dignity of women.

But it is yet to be determined if voices like that of Thomas Reese, S.J. of Georgetown University managed to provoke a substantial chorus that represents beatitudes of charity, tolerance, and social empathy. Reese and the bishops have taken their coreligionist Rep. Ryan and his budget to task, but the Roman Catholic Church and the Christian evangelical right at a long, long way to go . . . and a lot to make up for. And, it’ll be a long, long time before you’ll catch me dropping coin in the second collection for pagan babies or Peters Pence.
© 2012, James A., Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 5.1.2012)

*47. 1: THE JESUITS, by Jonathan Wright BR 11.4.2007; 33. 6: It’s Greek to Me 6.21.2006; 30. 6: Xavier’s Toe, A Quasi-Spiritual Pilgrimage 3.20.2006; 31. 2: THE MEMORY PALACE OF MATTEO RICCI , by Jonathan D. Spence, 1984 [BR] 4.4.2006
**With apologies to those few priests and nuns who labor on their behalf, often with the threat of censure of their own authorities.