Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Catholic Hospitals, From a Child's Viewpoint, Then and Now

I clearly remember being warned by one of my peers, about sixty years ago at age 9, that when I grew up and got married and my wife was having a baby that I should make sure she does NOT go to a Catholic hospital because they would let her die rather than allow any harm to come to the baby. I’m guessing my friend heard that from his parents. At least we know it didn’t come from TV. Well, that was the Southern Baptist environment of the small East Tennessee town I grew up in, just one tiny and very suspicious Catholic Church in the entire county, its members probably all Yankee transplants brought in by Alcoa. Aside from the misconceptions about Catholicism though, it is pretty neat that even as little boys we were talking about our future responsibilities as husbands and parents.

Catholic hospitals are in the news now because the Obama administration has determined that they must provide “free” chemical birth control and chemical (maybe) abortions to their employees as part of the health insurance plans they offer. Of course the Catholic Church, as I, a relatively new Catholic understand it, is not opposed at all to birth control and family planning. It just teaches that sex is for married couples, is primarily for procreation rather than recreation or stress relief, and that is it fine for such couples to engage in sex on a schedule or even at an age that makes pregnancy unlikely so long as they are aware of and open to the possibility of new life resulting from the encounter. The Church is opposed to chemical or mechanical, maybe even electrical, prevention of conception for the purpose of recreational or therapeutic sexual encounters. And of course the Catholic Church, along with Southern Baptists, is staunchly opposed to abortions. (Yes, I'm aware that many Catholics don't practice what the Church preaches and that lots of Baptists drink.)

So, what is the administration thinking? Is the objective to test the resolve of Catholics? Is it to put the Catholic health care providers out of business as part of the federal takeover of health care in the United States? Or maybe they are just thinking that it will be a great tragedy if, in the future, nine year old boys will have to warn their peers not to ever have a girlfriend who works at a Catholic Hospital because, if they do, they may have to pay for the birth control pills!

Please, can we get a little relief from government overreach?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Self Esteem, Sackcloth, and Ashes

Channel surfing while on the elliptical machine in the gym yesterday I ran across a panel discussion from David Axelrod’s University of Chicago Institute of Politics.  One of the panelists was columnist David Brooks and he was saying that, in his opinion, what we have lost over the past fifty years or so is what might have been called a culture of effacement, a general attitude that none of us, in spite of different skills, educations, talents, accomplishments, and levels of wealth, is fundamentally better than anybody else.  The data offered by Mr. Brooks in support of his hypothesis was a Gallup poll which periodically asks the question “Are you a very important person?”  In 1950, 12 % of high school seniors responded “yes” to that question.  In 2005, 80% accorded themselves that lofty status.  It’s like in Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average.  You can hear Mr. Brooks’ comments at about 54 minutes in this video.

Of course there were obvious, though unmentioned by Mr. Brooks, 1950’s exceptions to that culture of effacement, but I believe he argued correctly that it was after that time that what might be known as the “self esteem movement” took root and we made a gradual shift to a culture of self aggrandizement and the accompanying narcissism, conspicuous consumption, and self righteousness which have become hallmarks of life in America today.  Even McDonalds, in a 1970’s effort to get us to eat more burgers and fries, began proclaiming that we “deserve a break today.”  They never identified the merit on which that deserving was based.

I recall as a young adult, at the beginning of the self esteem movement, that the phrase, “God don’t make no junk,” from Ethel Waters’ autobiography, I believe, became popular among the youth in our church.   Biblical evidence of mankind being created in the image of God and being loved by God and being wonderfully formed in the womb would be cited.  And of course all that is true, but, while it may be helpful in bringing a defeatist to a more optimistic outlook, it is not a message needed by the majority of us today who already tend to think quite highly of ourselves.  A much more important message might be about purpose, that as St. Paul wrote (Ephesians 2:10), “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”  Well, it is difficult to reconcile narcissism and conspicuous consumption and self-righteousness with that.  (Let me hasten to add that, lest you think I have become a socialist, the invention, development, and commercialization of products and services and the creation and growth and management of companies to accomplish that and to create opportunities for us to earn livings (jobs) serving each other are, in my opinion, very good and essential works indeed.)

During Mass this morning, listening to the reading from Jonah about his preaching to the people of Nineveh, I had a flashback to the Brooks comment.  It’s not obvious what the people of Nineveh were up to, but I am suspecting narcissism and conspicuous consumption.  Maybe even self righteousness.  The reason is that the response of the people to Jonah’s very simple message, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” was that they “…believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.”

Many people of faith see the messages of the Bible as timelessly true in principle.  If they are, probably an excellent way to defuse the escalating class war currently being promoted by politicians and activists in the United States would be for us all to quit pointing fingers, tone down our narcissism, conspicuous consumption, and self righteousness, shift our focus to service and good works, and maybe even proclaim a fast and put on sackcloth.  Only the president, apparently, will need to go so far as to sit in ashes.

If we can’t do that or otherwise change the borrowing and spending track we are on to national bankruptcy, I fear that in forty years time, or maybe less, our grandchildren will pay a heavy price for the demands and wretched excesses of their grandparents.

And, if you can stand the salty language, Google "George Carlin on self esteem" for a rant by a man who probably really didn't think that much of himself.