Friday, September 30, 2016
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Monday, September 26, 2016
As the young adult numbers might suggest, abandonment of one's religion seems to occur early in life. Of the Nones, 62% say they abandoned their childhood religion by age 18.
Particularly revealing are the reasons cited for leaving one's religion. The most mentioned reason was ceasing to believe in the religion's teachings. The second was having been raised in a family that was never that religious. The third was the experience of negative religious teachings about or treatment of gays and lesbians. Catholics in particular cited this third reason more than others did.
There is a lot more in the Report, but these fundamental findings should be enough to inspire some serious self-examination among pastors, parents, and other concerned about the future of religious faith in America.
In a world in which church attendance is no longer a mark of social respectability, it should come as no surprise that many of those who grew up in religiously relatively lukewarm families have taken the next step and gone all the way to becoming unaffiliated. Still the number one reason given for disaffiliating is no longer believing church teachings. Of course, there have always been any number of reasons for unbelief, which have undoubtedly proliferated since the ascendancy of modern science. But, while there may be many reasons why religious belief seems increasingly implausible to so many people, surely the fact that so many report simply ceasing to believe in religious teachings ought to challenge those whose responsibility it is to pass on the faith to the next generation to consider why we have been doing so poorly.
Arguments about the language of the liturgy or whether we should all pray facing the same way or facing each other are not unimportant, but their salience diminishes if fewer and fewer people are even bothering to be there. And, while not everything can be blamed on the catastrophic collapse of effective catechesis, surely several decades of that have taken their toll on the mere plausibility of religious belief among those on the receiving end of inadequate instruction.
And then there is the third reason given for leaving religion. When 29% in general (and 39% of those raised Catholics) cite religious negativity toward gays and lesbians as a factor, that certainly says something significant - not least, perhaps, about the prudence of some apparent alliances between religion and right-wing politics in recent decades. (An obvious counter-example worth recalling would be how the Church first fought against the liberalization of civil divorce laws, but then - having decisively and irreversibly lost that battle - it stopped fighting the issue in the political arena, while still retaining its own beliefs about marriage within the life of the Church.)
This PRRI report raises important issues that are also themselves part of a larger and growing discussion about religion's changing role and uncertain future in American society. There are at least two recent books that go into these and related issues in a way which < I think, really makes them must reads for those who care about America's religious future. They are Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama (Convergent Books, 2016) by long-time Newsweek Religion editor, Kenneth L. Woodward, and The End of White Christian America (Simon and Schuster, 2016) by PRRI's founding CEO, Robert P. Jones.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
Friday, September 23, 2016
Toby's plan is actually quite clever. They only steal loose cash in the cashiers' drawers. Then they exchange it for gambling chips at a casino, which they then turn back in for a check, which can masquerade as gambling winnings. His biggest problem, however, is his hot-headed older brother, recently out of prison, who complicates the plan by taking excessive risks, which eventually lead (abetted by the ambient gun culture) to wider confrontations and eventual killings. Clearly Toby is not a killer by inclination, whereas Tanner seems to find it all quite exciting.
Meanwhile, Texas Ranger, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), and his half-Hispanic, half native American partner, are on their trail. Marcus, more than anyone else, seems to figure out the pattern to the robberies and so correctly guesses the final target.The various relationships and everyone's various interactions highlight the depressing lives and socio-economic conditions of the rural poor. That is what makes the brothers' plight somewhat sympathetic, despite their criminality. Toby in particular comes across as a sympathetic character. Needless to say, no one has a good word to say about the ultimate villain - the bank! Indeed, one telling scene is when Marcus asks some men in a diner across the street from a just-robbed bank, "Y'all been here for a while?" and gets the answer, "Long enough to watch a bank get robbed that's been robbing me for thirty years." That the system is malevolently stacked against them seems to be the common consciousness shared by all - except, of course, the villains who run the bank.
At the end, Tanner has been killed by Marcus, but no one has been able to pin anything on Toby, who has successfully executed his plan, saved the family ranch (with tis oil), set up a trust for his sons, and turned over the property to his family. Now retired, Marcus can't quite let go of the case (which cost his partner his life) and confronts Toby at the ranch. Marcus tries to figure out exactly why Toby did it and is surprised to realize that Toby himself has given everything away to his sons. They part, both mutually scarred, probably forever, by the experience.
In a year when American society seems to be rediscovering the plight of the poor white working class, this film sensitively highlights the socio-economic structures (institutionally represented by the banks) that have worked against the poor - generation after generation - but without sugar-coating the family dysfunction and outright pathology that increasingly accompany many of those lives.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
While the debates themselves have often been quite boring, they may provide that rare, unpredictable insight into the personality and character of the candidate. But this year, surely, don't we already know enough about both candidates?
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Like so many others, I have long lamented the gratuitous loss of the ancient seasonal Ember Days - days simultaneously so deeply expressive of our Latin liturgical tradition and so appropriately relevant to our contemporary concern for the care of creation. Now that they have been lost, we will likely never recover them, but we can still recall and appreciate their spiritual significance, their simultaneously traditional and contemporary message at the beginning of another autumn season.
I actually remember being quite conscious of what turned out to be among the last Ember Days to be observed. It was 49 years ago, on September 22, 1967, and I was attending my grandmother's funeral - still happily celebrated in black with the traditional Subvenite at the beginning and Absolution at the end. But, as my teenaged attention wandered during the Mass, my eyes focused on the side altars where other priests were celebrating their individual Masses for the occurring Ember Friday - all in violet vestments.
Interestingly, in 2008, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference decided to recreate two "Ember Days" - one on the first Friday in March, the other on the first Friday of September. Not unlike the ancient Ember Days, the post-modern Australian autumn and spring "Ember Fridays" are intended as days to petition for favorable weather and fruitful harvest. According to the Diocese of Brisbane, the aim of these days is to connect those traditional petitions "with our responsibility to care for the earth as stewards of the world's resources" and "with a conversion of heart in relation to our care of the earth." Fasting and Abstinence - traditional Ember Day practices - are recommended "to encourage restraint in our exploitation of natural resources" and "solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, especially those who suffer through famine and the inequitable distribution of the world's goods."
Ember Days were traditionally also associated with ordinations. How much more fitting and expressive of the true spirit of sacred orders would it be to reconnect those celebrations with a penitential conversion of heart and with a renewed focus on the multiple challenges the Church and the Church's ministers face in teaching and - witnessing to - the care of our common home!
In our poisonously polarized political atmosphere, where some may feel afraid to speak out for either conversion of heart or the care of our common home, having some sort of restored Ember Days to observe might offer at least a hint of an alternative to the ceaseless celebration of secular consumerism and the exploitation of our increasingly fragile planet.
In that regard, it would be well worth recalling how the Book of Daniel's account of the "Three Young Men," who were cast into Babylon's fiery furnace for standing up to the pagan king, was regularly read as the fifth prophecy on each of the year's Ember Saturdays - not a bad antidote to our debilitating fear of confronting that same secular consumerism and exploitation.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Monday, September 19, 2016
Today is the feast of San Gennaro (Saint Januarius, 272-305. Patron of Naples), devotion to whom traveled to the New World with the multitude of immigrants from southern Italy and is now institutionalized in popular Italian street feste such as the one in New York's "Little Italy" neighborhood (where my mother was born almost a century ago).
Gennaro himself was bishop of Benevento, some 33 miles north-east of Naples, and was martyred at Pozzuoli during the "Great Persecution" under the Emperor Diocletian, the last serious Roman persecution prior to the conversion of Constantine. His relics eventually made their way to Naples, including the most famous of his relics, a vial of his dried blood, which is believed to liquefy miraculously three times each year - on this his feast day, on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (to commemorate the transfer of his relics to Naples), and on December 16 (the anniversary of the day in 1631 when a flow of lava from Mount Vesuvius miraculously bypassed the city, thanks, it was believed, to his intercession).
The presence of Mount Vesuvius - a mere 9 miles from the center of Naples, highlights the paradox of Naples, a vibrant, exciting city, on a beautiful bay, in a setting of of incomparable natural beauty, blessed with fertile soil, but forever threatened by one of nature's most dangerous and unpredictable destructive forces. In a sense, Naples is like a parable of life itself - the blessings and dangers of ordinary human life on earth as well as of the spiritual journey through life on earth to the kingdom of God. How fitting then that the Neapolitans turn so regularly to a saint who has already passed through the blessings and dangers of this life to assist them as they struggle to do the same!
One can watch past years' celebrations of the miracle on YouTube. See, for example,
Friday, September 16, 2016
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Of course, in our private lives people often modify or circumvent the truth to avoid unnecessarily insulting or hurting someone's feelings. Generally speaking, the desire to avoid gratuitous insults or hurting other people's feelings is a commendable desire. Obviously, no one should ever take personal pleasure in insulting or hurting anyone's feelings or should aspire to do so. If acknowledging the facts and telling the truth has that unhappy result, we naturally weigh all the factors and try to balance different outcomes with multiple considerations in view.
But that has to do with our private individual lives, where the key word is unnecessarily. In a political campaign, it is precisely truth and facts which are so necessary, if in fact voters are to be able to make informed and wise decisions on which the future of the country - and even the world - will rest. Such decisions will be well informed and wiser to the extent that they transcend the limits of feelings. Unnecessarily hurting anyone's feelings always remains undesirable, but the calculus of what is necessary shifts in favor of telling the truth when the public good is at stake - even if, in our contemporary cultural context, truth will perhaps no longer be recognized as a common category by those who inhabit their own separate information silo where facts are pre-determined by their feelings.
An interesting illustration of this is the ridiculous media frenzy about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's recent "basket of deplorables" remark. What she now so famously - or infamously - said was:
We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.
Now, if I were a candidate, heariing myself say "grossly generalistic" might have caused me to pause before going any farther. Could, perhaps, the same or a similar point be made more precisely, less "grossly generalistic"? Couldn't she simply have said some or many of her opponent's supporters are deplorable while some or many of her opponent's supporters are people "we have to understand and empathize with as well"? Obviously from a factual perspective the gross generalization here was to measure the two "baskets" as equal halves. To propose a precise number - or a percentage - easily risks inaccuracy and opens one's larger argument up to greater criticism. That possibility would have been avoided simply by saying "some" or "many" instead of "half."
But, not satisfied with criticizing her for saying "half," many commentators have gone wildly critical of her for having supposedly insulted voters - as if her opponent hadn't been doing that all year! Or, more to the point, as if voters were coddled college students huddling in "safe spaces" because they are too fragile to hear anything (either true or false) that might possibly hurt their feelings - or the feelings of even a few of them!
Largely lost in such fulminations is the substantive issue of whether or not the claim is true. Are some of her opponent's supportersracist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it? And are some of her opponent's supporters people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change?
It is one thing for the Trump campaign - as a campaign strategy - to feign umbrage at the ostensible insult to the feelings of some of his supporters. It is quite another thing for analysts and commentators to continue our disastrous descent into the primacy of feelings over facts.