I got a good dose of U.S. politics last week, but it wasn't in the United States. I was at one of the Western world's rare institutions -- the Irish village dinner party. Here people from all over the world who happen to be in the village at the time sit alongside locals who, I am convinced, are among the best read people in the world. After all, computers and the internet have far less hold in an Irish village than in the States. And there aren't too many expensive TV packages either. Just book talk. And lots of it. Over the dinner table, late into the night, about everything on the globe.
From Where I Stand
Here's the problem with life: Some things count; some things don't. It's figuring out which is which that's difficult. Imagine, for instance, that you are teaching religion in the local parish school or church Sunday religious education program or neighborhood synagogue or mosque or temple. What answers about what is right and what is wrong would you have for the children these days?
One of the more interesting dimensions of the current presidential campaign is that we may all need to wrestle now with the question of which is more prevalent in US society -- racism or sexism. This is an alternative that strikes me as a very strange question to begin with, frankly. After all, all races have a male-female question since all men of all races have been raised in the historical mythology of male superiority. All males, any males, everywhere. Which means then that discrimination is also true for all women, any women, anywhere.
There are two winds blowing around the globe. The first, fundamentalism, brings with it the guarantee of absolutism and security. The second, inclusiveness, brings with it the promise of a new kind of future, ambiguous certainly but expansive, at least. Those two winds clashed last week and the whole world is waiting to see which of them is stronger.
Headline writers are a very special breed of print journalist. They have three major tasks: 1.) To get the reader's attention and, therefore, interest a person in the material being presented, 2.) To fill the column space allotted to the article with a font that gives design and balance to the page, and 3.) To tell the story by emphasizing its central thesis. If you're keeping score, I suppose two out of three is better than nothing. Nevertheless ...
There are some things in life which, if we want them badly enough, we simply have to do ourselves. I was in Korea last week, in tiny Hwacheon (Wa-shon) County, and I saw the proof of that with my own eyes.
There are some things that being born in the United States simply does not prepare a person to imagine. One of them is a headline on the front page of a local newspaper reporting a "debate" going on in Congress on the use of torture as a part of U.S. military policy. A debate? What's to debate about it? Unless, of course you, were working for the court of Philip IV in 14th century France.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, part of President George Bush's "Evil Empire" came to town last week. The question is who knows and who cares and who knows enough to care anything rational about it anyway? Good questions.
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.
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."