Praying the Post

Reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in one hand and a rosary in the other.

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Friday, May 17, 2002
If you can't be good, don't worry about it

God bless Richard Cohen.

This is a prayer, of course, not an affirmation.

In his column today, Cohen argues against federal funding of abstinence-only programs in public schools. To him, this "is a measure so illogical that just to contemplate it raises the sound fear that you will lose your mind."

What is the logic by which Cohen reasons?
But even if abstinence was the way to go, what could be wrong with teaching sex education as well -- just in case?

One thing he is missing is that abstinence-only plus condom education equals condom education.

More importantly, he miscasts the problem as one of knowledge, as though, "When you have sex, use a condom," isn't taught by rote by practically all teen angst dramedies and hip urban sitcoms on TV; or as though the statistics he quotes on teen pregancies and abortions go up with abstinence-only programs and down with condom education.

What children lack is not knowledge, but wisdom. They can know how to put a condom on a cucumber in under ten seconds; what they need is the wisdom to abstain from pre-marital sex. It's up to the adults, the putatively wise ones of our society, to give them that wisdom. Wisdom given with a wink, a nod, and a free three-pack imparts, not wisdom, but cynicism.

If there's one thing we shouldn't spend federal tax dollars on, it's teaching teenagers to be cynical.

Cohen's column is full of absurd rhetoric and just plain ugly writing, both of which could be explained by writing passionately on deadline, but there is no real excuse for this:
The program persists despite no evidence that it works and in the face of some evidence that it does not.

My objection is not that the statement isn't true -- although that weakens the impact of Cohen's closing exhortation to "tell kids the truth" -- but at the absurdity of the implication that the standard for funding an education program is that there is evidence that it works and no evidence that it doesn't work. Don't misunderstand: I think it would be a wonderful standard. But it is clearly not the standard used by public schools in this country, and not just for sex ed.

I did find one very sobering sentence:
It is a muddled aspiration, coupled with such sanctimonious nonsense about chastity until marriage that it simply cannot be taken seriously.

This is doubly sad: first, because Cohen himself is so obviously unable to take "chastity until [sic] marriage" seriously; and second, because he is right to imply that very few others take it seriously either.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!

Monday, May 13, 2002
Church acts like everyone else. Everyone else shocked.

There's a front-page Post story today on how the Church is playing hardball against those who have brought sexual molestation suits against it.

Not that many people have brought sexual molestation suits against the Church as a whole, which after all extends through purgatory to heaven. The opening sentence of the article refers to a lawsuit against "the Roman Catholic Church of Hawaii." Still, the Church is treated as a single, monolithic entity, comprising no one but church officials.

The article's writers do make a valuable point:

The church is not a Fortune 500 corporation that can rationalize bloodletting in service of the bottom line.... Forgiveness is woven into the church's fabric. But so is the bond between priest and parishioner.

Given this "moral conundrum," though, they don't seem to go anywhere with it. The implication seems to be, "The Catholic Church is acting just like any other organization would. This is wrong of the Catholic Church."

I think, in my innocence, that it is wrong of the Church. Most of the lawsuits seem to have been brought only after direct pleading with the diocese has failed. A bishop brings a lawsuit upon himself if he does not act like a good shepherd toward his sheep; he should be prepared to be humbled and chastised for his errors.

And yet, a lawsuit is a violent thing. The people who are suing their dioceses are doing violent things to their dioceses, and I am not swept away by pity at their shock that they are having violent things done back to them. If you slap a Christian on the cheek, then yes, he should turn and give you his other cheek, but don't be surprised if he doesn't.

But mostly what I note -- beyond the anti-hierarchy set pieces that open and close the article -- is the continuing cultural assumption that the Church ought to be what the Church says she is, even if the culture doesn't believe her. A psychotherapist is quoted as saying, "the church is supposed to be a moral force." I'm not sure if that's quite right -- God, I'd say, is the One who provides the force -- but certainly the Church is to be a moral voice. Somehow, it seems, this society that has no interest in following the voice still needs to be able to hear it.

Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use Java beans.

In his Regina Coeli speech for the Feast of the Assumption, 2002, Pope John Paul II pointed out that "il segreto di ogni azione apostolica รจ anzitutto la preghiera."

Which, thanks to Zenit and babelfish, I know means "the secret of every apostolic action is, first of all, prayer."

He was speaking about his message for the 36th World Communication Day, which I take as a reminder that the rosary is even more imporant than the coffee when I'm reading the paper.