Friday, June 10, 2011

While I Was Away

Admittedly, the once-upon-a-time classically-oriented political theorist in me really rather likes it that way. But, like it or not, it seems that modern life abounds in meetings; and that's at least as true in church life as in comparable secular professions and activities. At the end of May, I attended a Paulist Fathers’ retreat in an oceanside setting in New Jersey. It was, as I wrote on these pages at the time, a powerful experience of Paulist community – three full days of hearing and responding to each others' stories of adversity and resilience – followed by an uplifting ordination ceremony and First Mass at the “Mother Church” in New York. Of course, whenever you are away for that many days, you may feel there is a price to be paid in the pileup of things that await you on your return! And then after a busy week of catching up, I was away again – this time for the annual Nashville-Knoxville priests’ convocation at Fall Creek Falls State Park. Again, another good meeting in a nice place, with great presentations and good fellowship! No cellphone service, however! And only limited access to email in the lobby! Hardly the end of the world, but an adjustment to what have become normal expectations!

Having no cell phone service and limited email may help in its own way to focus one's attention on the business at hand. However, there was still TV in one's room, and CNN was always there to keep one up-to-the minute, for example, on such matters of critical world-historical import as the ongoing saga of a certain New York Congressman and what he did - or didn't - do and (once he'd admitted what he had actually done) whether he should - or shouldn't - stay in Congress. So I was hardly cut off from the critical concerns of contemporary civilization, even while away!

Other than its apparent appeal as sheer spectacle, however, it is less than clear why any of this sad and somewhat sordid story deserves the enormous amount of attention it has received. (It's not like the world doesn't present any number of significant matters much more worthy of at least some of our attention). Of course, watching prominent people be brought down by their personal flaws has, I suppose, always been popular entertainment and for many of us may seem almost irresistible. The combination of apparently thoughtless lack of self-control with wealth, social status, and/or cultural or political prominence - and the apparent sense of entitlement prominence may breed - can almost turn such tabloid-like stories into morality plays. Almost, that is, because, when all is said and done they remain basically tabloid-like stories. When prominent people offend, their behavior is likely much more common than we care to admit and our public fascination with the personal failures of prominent people seems hardly justified by whatever moral lessons may be learned. As for whether politicians who get caught engaging in such behavior deserve to be hounded out of office, I personally remain quite content to leave that up to the offender's contituents to determine - on election day. That's how it ought to be, I believe, in a functioning democracy. Let the voters - not the media - decide. (For the same reason, I dislike term limits - even for President).

Meanwhile the world continues to turn.

1 comment:

  1. "...Our public fascination with the personal failures of prominent people seems hardly justified by whatever moral lessons may be learned."
    Very well said. This kind of fascination is not just.