Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tone-Deafness, and Whiplash

In posting to Digg an essay from the Guardian on the pope's bizarre statement regarding AIDS-HIV and condoms (the title of this report--"Pope claims condoms could make African Aids crisis worse," also in the Guardian--pretty much sums up the bizarre part), I made the following comment:

    I am a Catholic who is developing whiplash by continuously shaking his head over all of the amazingly tone-deaf statements coming from this pope. I agree that condoms are not "the" answer to AIDS in Africa, if indeed there is any single answer. But to claim, as Benedict has, that distributing condoms somehow makes the problem worse is completely irresponsible!

You do have to wonder what the man is about. Keeping on the whiplash theme for a moment, I find myself constantly jerking between my initial impression of him (he's astoundingly tone-deaf, and always genuinely surprised when his comments turn out to create a hubbub) and my suspicious, cynical, and conspiracy-minded natural state (he's craftily steering the church on a rightward course, content to alienate its moderate and liberal wings in favor of a more fervent, more pliable church full of "true believers").

I suppose both could be true.

I agree with the assessment made this morning in a New York Times editorial:

    Pope Benedict XVI has every right to express his opposition to the use of condoms on moral grounds, in accordance with the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church. But he deserves no credence when he distorts scientific findings about the value of condoms in slowing the spread of the AIDS virus.
And this:

    But the second half of his statement is grievously wrong. There is no evidence that condom use is aggravating the epidemic and considerable evidence that condoms, though no panacea, can be helpful in many circumstances.
To be running around bereft of any evidence to back one's claim that condoms contribute to the AIDS epidemic in Africa is right up there with such assertions as you can unlock your car using your cell-phone or you should never return your hotel key-card to the desk because it's encoded with all of your credit-card information. That is, it's irresponsible balderdash.

It doesn't matter if it's the Bishop of Rome or your Aunt Matilda: Both are at best ignorant and careless, at worst malicious.

You can forgive it more easily in Aunt Matilda, of course, for I suspect the world does not listen to every bit of blather that escapes her lips. The pope, however, should know better, and he should be more careful. You know--all that think-before-you-speak stuff.

Unless he is thinking, and carefully dropping these little bombs as he goes on his way toward some calculated end.

And speaking of thinking: Where's the "news" media in all of this? Sure, following the pope's comment, everyone in the blogosphere hopped right on it. And today's news seems to have its minimum requirement of essays and editorials. But where were the media yesterday to challenge the pop to back up his outrageous claim with something approximating evidence? They appear to have been dozing, as is their custom.

The pope is making it more and more difficult for me to continue to identify with his church. (The main deal there is that I think of it as my church, and he's the one lousing it up.) Which may be his plan. And those in the "news" media are making it more and more difficult for me to continue to trust and respect them. Which I'm pretty sure isn't their plan.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Lesson for St. Patrick's Day

This is a picture of a shamrock:

Legend has it that St. Patrick employed the shamrock as a visual aid to teach the non-Christian Irish people about the concept of the Holy Trinity, the Three-in-One. Apocryphal, probably, but not unlikely and a good story anyway.

This is a picture of a four-leaf clover:
You can distinguish the latter from the former by the fact that the latter has, well, four leaves. The former has but three. I say you can distinguish between them, since it appears that advertisers cannot. Every year at this time I observe a distressing number of ads promising St. Patrick's Day savings or specials, which, to make that all-important link to the feast day, stick in clip art of...a four-leaf clover.

I don't think the saint employed a four-leave clover to instruct the Irish pagans about anything. Yet there it is, over and over, in print, television, and internet ads.

To be fair, the ads oftentimes tout the "luck o' the Irish" in their blather, which tends to mitigate my critique somewhat, since the four-leaf clover is considered "lucky." I'm not sure why the Irish are considered to be "lucky": It seems that much of the island's history consists of being invaded by others and oppressed in their own homeland, but whatever.

I can claim claim with certainty to no more than 25% Irishness--Grandpa Reynolds was proud of his Irish heritage, but in tracing antecedents back to about 1500, when the trail dead-ends, I end up in England, but Grandma Reynolds was the result of the joining of the McGrail and the Moore families, both of which hailed from the Old Sod. So my dad could be justifiable proud of being Irish, at least 50%. He would have been front and center at yesterday's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Sioux Falls, but alas. Like me, though, he would have been unhappy that someone--the organizers, the city, whoever--decided to relocate the parade to the nearest Saturday, after 20+ years of always being on March 17 unless the seventeenth was a Sunday. In the past, that tradition worked to the parade's favor: One year my wife and I and my folks ended up having lunch with a representative of the Irish government, based in Chicago, who could attend our parade only because it wasn't on a Saturday!

But so it goes.

It's annoying that the day has become an excuse for drunkenness, and annoying that various retailers and merchandizers play up on that. As someone of Irish heritage, I find placards such as "Irish Today, Hung Over Tomorrow" to be more than offensive. Or the T-shirt that reads, "I Still Can't Remember Last St. Patrick's Day." Charming. I have it on good authority that, in Ireland of all places, people who observe the day tend to do so by going to Mass, perhaps followed by a special dinner including a toast to the saint. What a concept! I'm told too that American-style parades are starting to pop up in some Irish cities, but that this is a recent development.

Me, I plan to secure a six-pack of Guinness between now and Tuesday, and come Tuesday evening will uncap one with a nod to my Irish ancestors. And maybe even St. Patrick himself...even though he wasn't Irish!