George Will really needs to look in a mirror. In a screed worthy of Fox News, he denigrates Pope Francis for proposing policy prescriptions that would “devastate the poor on whose behalf he purports to speak”. Yet while Will accuses the pope of being “fact free”, Will is the one who gets his facts wrong. Will is the one who seems completely out of touch with recent trends in the global economy.
For a piece centered on Pope Francis’s policy prescriptions, Will really doesn’t discuss them. So let me help him out. If we want to lay out the broad economic prescriptions associated with Pope Francis, we might point to: a fairer distribution of the earth’s resources and the fruits of human labor, the inclusion of everyone in development, the prioritization of employment, investment in sustainability and ceasing to harm the planet, and a financial sector that serves rather than rules the real economy.
It might surprise Will to learn that these prescriptions are not exactly controversial, and actually improve human welfare and the resilience of the global economy. They do good, not harm—especially for the poor and the excluded. In each of these cases, the moral choice is also the economically viable choice. Let’s explore this.Read more
Part of what I love about Catholicism is that it’s a world church.
In a recent post at Pray Tell, guest blogger Frank Klose noted the number and kind of choirs that will sing at the papal Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. One of the choirs is Vietnamese.Read more
Once he arrives in Washington D.C. tomorrow, Pope Francis’s itinerary includes the canonization Mass for Junípero Serra, a White House visit, and his address to Congress. What else is on his schedule? What Twitter hashtag you should use for the visit? Find out here.
In Washington, Francis will step into the political fray. How will his message be received by Republicans and Democrats? From the New York Times:
Even the pope is not immune to America’s divisions. While he has not changed fundamental Catholic doctrines, Francis has stressed the parts focusing on serving the poor and de-emphasized those reproaching abortion and homosexuality — what his biographer John L. Allen calls “his insistence on the primacy of compassion over judgment.”
Don't worry, I won't be parsing the latest opinion polls, or riffing on the recent outpouring of Francis-related commentary. (For those who might have missed them, see Grant Gallicho's round-up of examples of Francis Derangement Sydrome; you also should read Paul Baumann's thankfully sober-minded preview of the pope's visit.) Though I couldn't resist checking in on Pope Francis's arrival in Cuba, I found myself avoiding the news as much as possible and turning to a previous Catholic visitor to our land, the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville.
Readers of Tocqueville's Democracy in America will know that text is divided into two volumes. The first resembles travel writing in some ways; while much more than that, you get a feel for some of what Tocqueville saw here. He and his travel partner Gustave de Beaumont spent nine months in America in 1831, and in the first part of Democracy Tocqueville proceeds as an amateur sociologist of sorts. Tocqueville observes townhall meetings, talks to leading citizens, muses on our system of government, and praises our instinct for associations. He also seems fascinated by how Roman Catholics were faring here.
Among many other things, he notices that there were more than a million Roman Catholics in the United States when he arrived (about fifty years before his visit, he writes, the Irish "began to pour a Catholic population" into this country) and that, contrary to expectations, they formed "the most republican and democratic of all classes in the United States." At least in this country, Tocqueville observed, Catholics were a poor minority – but that turned them into believers in equality. Catholics understood that if rights started to be enforced selectively, they would be on the losing end of any such arrangement. Tocqueville tactfully notes that the experience of arriving here as vulnerable immigrants meant that Catholics were "led, perhaps in spite of themselves, toward political doctrines which, maybe, they would adopt with less zeal were they rich and predominant."
In other words, Tocqueville asked, why was a religion so identified with the Old World succeeding in the New? Why was the equality-loving United States a place where a "hierarchical" religion flourished? Weren't we, to borrow Jefferson's biting phrase, a place consciously founded on the rejection of "monkish superstition"?
Here's one reason Tocqueville saw Catholicism as a friend to democracy, and why it was thriving in America:Read more
A few weeks ago, James Blake, a retired tennis star was tackled and hand cuffed by NYPD officers in the course of investigating credit card fraud at a local hotel. The officers claimed he looked like one of the fraudsters they were after. Mr. Blake vigorously objected—rightly so—and the officer who arrested him has been suspended. The police officer is white, Blake biracial. This has been treated by the media—and almost everyone else—as a racist incident.
But was it? "Scientists, pointing to decades of research, believe something else was at work. They call it the “other-race effect,” a cognitive phenomenon that makes it harder for people of one race to readily recognize or identify individuals of another." A phenomenon called by researchers, "They all look alike to me."
Here is a fascinating article by Rachel Swarms NYTimes reporter interviewing "they all look alike" mistakes and researchers who have studied it. The explanation can seem obvious and the remedies as well. What is your experience? Either as mistaker or mistakee.
P.S. This post is for those who want a moment's respite from the Francis Fracas.
UPDATE: James Blake had a meeting with Mayor de Blasio and Chief Bratton on Monday urging them to institute greater accountability in the police department. In a press conference after, Blake praised the mayor's efforts and denied that his case was one of racial profiling. The story also reported that the officer had been previously accused of assault.
Pope Francis’s much-heralded first trip to the United States begins Tuesday, after what some consider a mischievous stop in the Castros’ Cuba. Francis’s distrust of U.S. economic and military hegemony is no secret. His condemnation of the first-world’s “throwaway” consumer culture has plenty of biblical warrant, but may not register with most American Catholics, who are doing quite well, thank you. Nevertheless, it is likely that Francis’s remarkable warmth and candor will succeed in charming his hosts, just as it has won the affection of just about everyone except bureaucrats in the Vatican and an outspoken group of self-styled “orthodox” Catholics who fear this pope is trying to impose a radical agenda on the church.
Francis will be stopping in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia. In Washington he will canonize Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan who founded many of California’s missions in the eighteenth century. Like most of the things this Argentinian Jesuit does, Serra’s canonization is controversial. Native American groups accuse the missionary of complicity in the genocide of California Indians. As Gregory Orfalea wrote recently in Commonweal, while denouncing the crimes of colonialism, Francis believes the historical record shows that Serra was a defender, not a persecutor, of the native population. He also wants to direct the church’s attention away from Rome to the “peripheries,” and making his first canonization that of a Hispanic from the American West fits the bill. At the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic, the pope will then speak to a joint session of Congress. No canonizations are expected to be made there now or in the near future.
In New York, Francis will address the UN, which is standard fare for popes. No doubt he will call for sheltering refugees and greater peacekeeping efforts from the international community. Much to the annoyance of some, the church has long been an advocate of international institutions. He will also decry climate change and the globalized economy’s impact on the poor, as he did in his recent environmental encyclical, Laudato si’. There will be a visit with the homeless and a Mass at Madison Square Garden. After that it is on to Philadelphia to help close the World Meeting on the Family, a kind of very chaste, very buttoned-upped Catholic Woodstock. Given the conservative bent of the American hierarchy, the meeting’s presentations and workshops are heavily stacked with advocates for the church’s prohibitions against contraception, abortion, civil divorce and remarriage, and same-sex marriage. The meeting’s agenda is no surprise. Philadelphia’s archbishop, Charles Chaput, is among the most dedicated culture warriors. He has confessed perplexity over Francis’s initiatives when it comes to marriage and the family.
If Francis remains true to form when it comes to Catholicism’s moral teachings, he will make a point of softening the tone with which the church interacts with the larger secular culture and with disaffected Catholics.Read more
Have you heard? This has made George Will go the full ad hominem:
Francis’s fact-free flamboyance reduces him to a shepherd whose selectively reverent flock, genuflecting only at green altars, is tiny relative to the publicity it receives from media otherwise disdainful of his church. Secular people with anti-Catholic agendas drain his prestige, a dwindling asset, into promotion of policies inimical to the most vulnerable people and unrelated to what once was the papacy’s very different salvific mission.
He stands against modernity, rationality, science and, ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources. Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.
It's made Will's employer repeat the thinly sourced claim that the Obama administration somehow insulted the Holy See by daring to invite a diverse crowd to the pope's reception at the White House. (David Gibson's sources say that's simply not the case.)
It's made that same paper publish R. R. Reno's purported review of Paul Vallely's updated biography of Francis, which is really a review of the pope, in which the editor of First Things floats the idea that "it's best to think of the Catholic Church as enduring pope Francis," whose "verbal extremism" he finds rather "exhausting."
It's made a U.S. Representative, a Catholic even, decide to boycott Francis's address to Congress, convinced that the pope will not address his preferred concerns. (I don't know anyone who has seen a copy of that text.)
But it's also brought smart commentary from, for example, my friend Bene Cipolla, who writes in today's New York Times about her father, a married Catholic priest.
And of course the pope isn't even here yet. He's in Cuba. Which you can read all about here and here and here (our curtain-raiser, by Tom Quigley). Washington is waiting. New York is Waiting. Philly is waiting. I recommend resting up. Could be exhausting.
True personality floats beneath surface consciousness, obscured by the fog of dementia or the fog of war. To meet what one is can affirm or destroy. This theme works its way ever so deftly through the parallel developments of two characters in Andrew O’Hagan’s The Illuminations. Anne Quirk resides in a care home on the Scottish cost, west of Glasgow. Luke Campbell, her grandson, soldiers for a Scottish regiment in Afghanistan. Their self-recognition, respectively and jointly, is the climax of the novel’s plot; hence the novel’s title, the grand lighting-up of the English seaside resort of Blackpool.
O’Hagan is a writer of many voices: he impersonates Marilyn Monroe’s dog in his earlier Life and Opinions of Maf, The Dog, and a pederast priest in Be Near Me. [The latter a work of insight and justice.] His third person narrations in The Illuminations offer us the surface life of the failing Anne through fragmented speech in dialogue and in carefully observed gesture or facial movement. In effect, O’Hagan takes on the fears so many of us have – the blank of demented senescence. He offers a conditional hope mediated by great respect. His male protagonist is a soldier, an officer, committed to his men, if not to his mission. Certainly his fractured self is alive in marvelously sustained dialogue, the “slagging” vulgarity which constitutes the verbal shield under which his squad operates amid the ambushes, the haze of marihuana, and the deceits of the Afghan war. The novel alternates its scenes between Lochranza Court, Anne’s care home, and a mountain road in Afghanistan where Luke and his men are in convoy on a so-say humanitarian mission. The venture ends in massacre and disgrace – the ignominious fall of Luke’s mentor, Major Scullion, and Luke’s own disillusionment.Read more
Gerald J. Beyer, associate professor of Christian ethics at Villanova University, has posted an interesting journal article that holds Catholic universities accountable for their treatment of poorly paid adjunct faculty. He writes:
Some Catholic institutions pay significantly above the national median per course, but the pay rate for most adjuncts on our campuses mostly mirrors national trends. Moreover, the fact that Catholic universities employ academics as temp workers as opposed to full time workers with decent benefits and job security is inexcusable -- even if they try to justify it with a utilitarian logic alien to Catholic social teaching. Saving costs on the backs of adjuncts to keep tuition down while spending money on highly paid administrators, athletics coaches, expensive athletics facilities, stadiums and luxury dorms runs afoul of the church's "preferential option for the poor." To add insult to injury, several Catholic university administrations have blocked the efforts of adjuncts to unionize, thereby stripping them of what John Paul II deemed an indispensable "mouthpiece in the struggle for social justice."
Also writing on the Catholic Church's teaching on the right to unionize, Jim Dwyer reports in the Times of support that Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of New York has shown for car wash workers who have unionized -- including a worker who will meet Pope Francis next week.
Whether for car washers or adjunct professors, this is how income inequality can be addressed. Catholic universities need to try harder to heed this tradition in Catholic teaching. No one is saying this is easy but, as Beyer notes, a good step would be to stop filing legal challenges to prevent adjuncts from unionizing.
In 1981, when I was a senior at Amherst College and dreaming of becoming a great American novelist, little did I know that someone else on campus was already well on his way. Did I ever notice a tall, longhaired, granny-glasses-wearing person toting his tennis racquet toward the courts? I didn’t know many first-year students, and David Foster Wallace – high school tennis star and future author of the novel Infinite Jest and other unclassifiable books of genius -- was just one of the many lowly Freshman I paid no attention to.
But Wallace, who suffered from depression and took his own life in 2008, was even then becoming known as a phenomenon. One legendary professor at Amherst, the late William Kennick, told me years later that in the four-plus decades he taught philosophy at the college, Wallace was far and away the most brilliant student he encountered, with the most powerful mind. At Amherst Wallace wrote not one senior thesis but two – a Pynchonesque novel, The Broom of the System, published soon after his graduation, and a critical inquiry into the work of American philosopher Richard Taylor, later published by Columbia University Press under the title Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will – and graduated with a double-summa degree. Years later he would add to his corpus a philosophical study of the history of the concept of infinity. At the same time, he produced a swath of articles taking up pop-cultural themes, like rap music, or political ones, like John McCain. And, of course, that enormous novel. His mind recognized few boundaries.Read more
T-minus any-minute-now, several dozen (or so) GOP hopefuls will assemble before CNN's finest to answer the American people's burning questions, such as: Does Donald Trump's hair look smaller since Tom Brady endorsed him?
Click on through to the comments for live updates. Opine early. Refresh often.
I don't believe it makes sense to call the United States a "Christian nation" – not now, and not in the past, however essential you reckon religion's place in America's history and development. Instead, I mean the rhetorical trope of lamenting our fall from virtue when public policy and the broader culture no longer privilege certain Christian teachings. Or rather the teachings some Christians have decided are central to their political project. When gays and lesbians marry, or when a transgender person reveals her struggle, or undercover videos surface, inevitably the disappointed (or outraged) comments on social media emerge, and our Professional Christians take to the airwaves and television studies to furrow their brows.
And yet I never see quite that reaction when a court decision confirms our country's commitment to executing its own citizens as a form of criminal punishment, even if that execution takes place in almost unfathomably cruel and incompetent ways. Compare, say, the hysteria surrounding the Obergefell decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide to what was generated by the Glossip decision handed down just three days later. How many of us even remember that a case involving the death penalty was decided this term by the Supreme Court — let alone it’s details? (If you missed Cathleen Kaveny's excellent column on Glossip decision, by the way, read it now.)
I mention all this because at 3 p.m. today, Richard Glossip was scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma. A state appeals court granted a fourteen day stay of execution as judges consider his latest appeal.
Glossip was convicted of hiring a 19-year-old named Justin Sneed to murder Barry Van Treese, a hotel owner and Glossip’s boss. Many think Glossip is plausibly innocent. Reason magazine’s Lauren Galik, in a helpful summary of the case, explains why:Read more
A couple few of us are going to take a crack at liveblogging tonight's festivities. The party start doesn't start till 8 p.m., which gives you plenty of time to fill out Rand's debate scorecard. BYOB.
Here is my guide to scoring candidates’ performances in tonight’s Republican presidential debate and how they will likely be judged, using metrics derived from this year’s campaign so far.
Did he/she show a detailed command of the issues, both domestic and international?
Did he/she explain those issues articulately and incisively?
Did he/she show the kind of temperament well-suited to being President?
Did he/she offer a compelling personal story outlining his/her qualification to lead?
Did he/she engage opponents on the issues, without resort to ad hominem attacks?
Did he or she succeed in putting forth an inspiring vision of our country and its future?
Did he insult women, Latinos, African-Americans and/or other groups?
Did he gloat over having fired employees, closed down companies, or defaulted on loans?
Did he boast about his good looks and/or sexual prowess?
Did he slander the masculinity of other male candidates?
Did he proudly list the politicians he has bought off over the years?
Did he manage to imply that the US is fast becoming a stinking rathole that only he has the power to fumigate and salvage?
Did he boost his bargaining position for returning to The Apprentice?
Feel free to add your own criteria.
Editor-at-large Mollie Wilson O'Reilly, moderator of the Commonweal panel discussion "Fortress or Field Hospital?" held last Saturday, opened the proceedings with "the bold claim that it has been, I'd say, a good few years for what has been called, sometimes hopefully and sometimes with a sneer, the spirt of Vatican II. And the excitement surrounding the Synod on the Family is proof of that." Things took off from there as David Gibson (national reporter for Religion News Service); Barbara Dafoe Whitehead (director of the John Templeton Center for Thrift and Generosity and former co-director of Rutgers’s National Marriage Project); Margaret Farley (RSM Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics, Yale Divinity School); and Cathleen Kaveny (professor of law and theology, Boston College) weighed in with their thoughts on what to expect, what to hope for, and what the bishops, prelates, and priests should do when they reconvene in October. Earlier this week, contributor Paul Lakeland touched on some of the points that got his attention; read his post, and, if you weren't able to attend or watch the live event, here's the video.
For those following the CMP videos, number 10 is on YouTube.
Top quote: "Everything we provide is fresh." But there's more.
Will Planned Parenthood give up this source of funding in order to keep operating?
It would seem prudent.
Broad interest was piqued by the flap over Vanessa Ruiz, the Arizona news anchor whose on-air Spanish pronunciation sparked controversy. Some listeners objected vehemently to the way Ruiz, who is American-born and bilingual, rolled her r’s while pronouncing Spanish words, and gave a Spanish lilt to Arizona place names, like “Mesa,” derived from that language. The Times reported that Ruiz “defended her pronunciation of Spanish words during English broadcasts, saying she delivers them the way the language is intended to be spoken.”
Well, yes... but by whom, and to whom, and where?
Leaving politics aside, Americans know that pronouncing foreign words in English can be a real mishmash. What are the guidelines? Certainly those people who push for Anglicizing everything have some cogent arguments on their side. When I refer to Paris I don’t say “Paree;” Munich isn’t “Muenchen,” and so on. Words and phrases borrowed directly from other languages, like “deja vu” or “zeitgeist,” moreover are typically not pronounced as they would be by native speakers; to do so – for example, to pronounce the initial consonant of “zeitgeist” as “tz” -- is to imply that you actually speak the origin language. (An amusing video, called “The Guy Who Over-Pronounces Foreign Words,” hilariously sends up these pretensions.) On the other hand, most American commentators do manage to pronounce “Angela Merkel” with a hard g, as Germans do; the second word of “noblesse oblige” is not given a long i; and so on. One is tempted to assert a pragmatic commonsense rule: use English pronunciation, unless and until a more authentic pronunciation becomes standard.Read more
In addition to what we've released in advance (like Rand Richards Cooper's review of James Ponsoldt's film about David Foster Wallace The End of the Tour, Dominic Preziosi’s interview with NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and The Editors's comments on the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East), the rest of the September 25 issue is now up on the site. Here are some highlights.
Rita Ferrone wonders why—since there are significantly fewer priests than there are sick people—non-priests can't anoint the sick. Margaret O'Brien Steinfels urges us to think papally, act locally, and consider the garbage we create. Frank Pierson tells how religious institutions and organizers in Nevada have responded to the underground sex trade deeply rooted in Las Vegas, despite the risks. In a book essay about unions and the democratic party, Steven Greenhouse reviews longtime Chicago labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan's new book about the many depressing ways American workers have been moving backward. And Mark Whitters recalls his visit to the Old Palestinian city of Hebron and the lessons in international diplomacy it (un)taught him.
Plus: Gary Greenberg reviews Alice Dreger's Galileo's Middle Finger, an account of her interviews with fellow academics who've been victims of smear campaigns largely brought on by "politcal correctness," and an analysis of the problems about science and democracy these stories reveal. Paul Lakeland reviews Kate Atkinson's companion novel to Life After Life, A God in Ruins. Gerald Russello reviews a new collection of a lifetime's worth of letters author James Agee sent to his childhood priest Father Flye. And Tom Deignan reviews Eddie Joyce’s Small Mercies, a novel that traces the affects 9/11 has had on families of service people who live on Staten Island—where 10 percent of the victims of the attacks lived.
Saturday's Commonweal event on marriage and the family was thoroughly informative (watch it here). Lots of good thoughts, so much common sense, but what stuck with me the most was David Gibson's question, given that the papal visit to the U.S. was already on the schedule before the election of Pope Francis, would he otherwise have made a trip over here a priority? Interesting to speculate, no way to be sure.
Two interrelated questions have been bugging me since the panel ended. First: if Robert Putnam's analysis in his latest book, Our Kids, so ably channeled by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, is correct, then the troubles with the family in American life are merely epiphenomenal, and to get at the roots of the marital crisis we have to solve the problem of inadequate income among those with less education. It's not a new idea to say that we would have much more social stability if we had an economy supplying jobs that paid a living wage at every level of our social hierarchy. But perhaps it puts questions about communion for the divorced and remarried into perspective. This is a serious issue and it ought to be solved employing the preferred papal virtue of mercy, but it won't do anything for the underlying social issues. And much the same can be said for loosening up the other issues around divorce and annulment and remarriage. Putnam shows pretty clearly that the plight of the poor has more to do with the absence of marriage or laxity about marital commitments than it does with agonizing over remarriage. If the church is truly a field hospital, as Pope Francis has suggested, then it has to practice triage, like any other field hospital. In other words, where are the really critical issues that require the most urgent attention?
My second question is about how the Synod on the Family is going down in the global south. We all know about conservative African bishops who think homosexuality is criminal and who take a dim view of how the church in the north approaches issues of sexuality and marriage. But isn't there just a bit of a danger that we in North America don't see that the priorities we would like to see addressed might come across in less affluent parts of the church as the whining of spoiled brats? If the synod can find its way to more compassionate approaches to divorce and remarriage or can loosen up its rules on receiving communion, how much does this mean for the large parts of the church where marriage is mostly common law marriage or where communion for anyone at all is a rare treat from the occasional visiting priest?
So I wonder if this Synod on the Family isn't in the papal mind an effort to clear away some of the less important issues that are causing unnecessary pain, so that the real issues of global poverty and the many ills that follow can become the real agenda for a church of missionary disciples.
In case you missed it, Peter Steinfels took to the opinion page of The Washington Post Friday to further the case he made in his recent Commonweal article, “Contraception and Honesty.” From his piece in the Post (in which he also calls Pope Francis “the U.S. church’s best chance of overcoming a bad case of spiritual anemia”):
The church’s unwillingness to grapple with a deep and highly visible gap between official teaching [on contraception] and actual practice undermines Catholic vigor and unity at every level. It encourages Catholics to disregard all manner of other teachings, including those on marriage and abortion. If the church wants to restore its moral authority, it must address this gnawing question.
Sample the reader comments at your discretion. Also, recall that we featured a video interview with Peter on this topic a couple of months ago. Watch below.