Blaise Pascal wrote once, "The multitude which is not brought to act as a unity is confusion." But in the same place he wrote immediately thereafter, "That unity which has not its origin in the multitude is tyranny." Translation: The multitude needs unity but unity, to be real, requires the assent of the multitude.
From Where I Stand
The closer the United States gets to choosing a president, the more the event begins to look like a papal election: it's all about religion and little about what religion teaches.
The United States, we love to say -- and Europeans repeat in a kind of incredulous wonder -- is the most "religious" country in the world. Meaning, of course, the most church-going country in the world. Whether or not going to church correlates well with religious values is clearly a debatable subject. To wit, the corporal works of mercy -- as in, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the imprisoned, visit the sick, and bury the dead. It is on these criteria in Matthew 25: 31-46, however, that Jesus rests his definition of salvation. No small thing for those who considers themselves "religious." No small thing, then, one would think, if a nation -- if a candidate for political office -- were really serious about being "religious."
President George Bush has managed to stir the waters again on the role of the United States in Iraq by comparing it to Vietnam. Bush is now saying we should not have left Vietnam so early, despite the fact that Vietnamese themselves are arguing that we should have left much earlier than we did. (See: Bush's invocation of Vietnam War pullout to defend his Iraq strategy rankles Vietnamese.)
[Editor's Note: Sr. Joan Chittister is taking a short break, so we have tapped into her archives. This column first appeared May 15, 2006.]
There's something intergalactic about hearing world news -- U.S. news -- in another country. Last week, for instance, I listened to the news in Tokyo. In the space of 24 hours, I heard a series of dizzying reports.
[Editor's Note: Sr. Joan Chittister is taking a short break, so we have tapped into her archives. This column first appeared Aug. 12, 2003.]
I asked a friend of mine what effect he thought the war in Iraq would have on upcoming elections. He paused only so slightly. "None at all," he said. I pressed the point: "Not even in view of the fact that we have alienated some of our strongest allies?" "Joan," he said in the kind of low, patient voice reserved for slow learners, "Europeans don't vote in our elections."
Perhaps one of the best ways to discover who we are as a culture is to go visit some other culture. The experience is an interesting one.
One of the most exciting parts of the excursion is the opportunity it gives us to discover the effects of history on us -- as a people, as a culture, even as a church.
It used to be that if you asked a question about the Catholic church, you got very straightforward answers. No, we did not eat meat on Friday. Yes, we had to go to church every Sunday.
It’s happening everywhere, I know. But I learned last week not to take it for granted. In fact, it may well be our major problem and it is hiding in plain sight.
With a measure of curiosity short of nostalgia but greater than personal interest, I found myself watching a series of local high school graduations on the public service channel last week. Why I paused -- and stayed -- on that particular channel, I’ll never know. But I’m glad it happened.
It was, in fact, a veritable “taste of America” moment that I haven’t seen too often since I left the scholastic world years ago. The graduates were combed, washed, heeled and proper. No goon show kids here. They wore their mortarboards flat and undecorated. Their gowns were pressed and glowing. Their smiles were broad, proud, satisfied.
Frankly, I thought the questions not only completely missed the mark, they trivialized the very subject they purported to talk about.
All right, now we've seen it with our own eyes. So now what?
The picture of a small girl, naked and screaming, running down a dirt road in Vietnam covered with U.S. napalm all over her tiny body galvanized this country against the Vietnam War. For the first time, we could see exactly what was happening there, exactly to what lows the God of War had taken us.