In the four weeks I have been back in the US, the list of “persons of interest” in the Trump circle seems to have grown day-by-day: Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Felix Sater, Jared Kushner, Michael Cohen, and Boris Epshteyn… I may have missed a few.
Give the strange pro-Russian remarks by Trump during his campaign, followed by a string of overtures and both semi-public and clandestine meetings with Russian officials since then, it’s small wonder that a climate of consternation and outright worry has descended over Foggy Bottom (AKA “the Swamp”). To which concern must now be added the current unraveling of decades-old traditional alliances with European allies Germany and France and other NATO members. It might be well to remember that NATO was established to deter Russian aggression following World War II.
As Trump sinks alliances with democratic allies in western Europe but praises strongmen such as Recep Erdogan, the proudly murderous Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte, and most ostentatiously of all, Vladimir Putin himself (alternatively prime minister and president since 1999), how could the question NOT arise – who’s actually calling the shots in the White House? And, more importantly, why?
Having braved throngs of small children and big adults to see the latest Marvel-Disney installment of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (Vol. 2), it occurred to me about halfway through the film that I was witnessing either a blatant and potentially offensive religious rip-off or a brilliant bit of parody, or possibly a prophetic satire aimed at simplistic Christian incarnationalism. (See what comes of too much education?)
As satire, willful or otherwise, the film powerfully puts down the notion of a humanesque divinity intent on ruling the universe by actually merging with it… a sort of crazy-eyed pantheism. In a possible glance toward Process theology, this is no omniscient, really almighty, infinite, actually eternal, and ubiquitous spiritual presence, but an evolving deity… and not a very nice one at that. But in a deft move borrowed from STAR WARS and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, the locus of divine power is luckily found, whacked, and all ends more or less well in a paean to true fatherhood (motherhood having been sacrificed to the needs of plot development).
Over the last two weeks, when not enthralled with the Punchestown races, Ireland has been entranced by the publicity firestorm raging around the proposed relocation of the National Maternity Hospital from Dublin City to a new facility to be built on the grounds of St. Vincent’s Hospital, a large, up-to-date teaching hospital in South Dublin affiliated to University College Dublin. The burning issue is the transfer of ownership of the hospital to the Sisters of Charity who own the land. Although approved almost unanimously by the Board of Governors, the transfer of ownership was immediately denounced by a number of political and media figures. Two members of the board resigned in protest this week.
Although the hospital would be administered by an independent corporation, barring interference by the sisters or the Church, the tarnished reputation of the Sisters of Charity, who operated the now-infamous Magdalene Laundries in the mid-20th century, seems sufficient warrant to many for the objections. More is obviously at stake, however, as the rhetorical bombast has often centered on the Catholic Church itself.
Recent events added considerable fuel to the fire. The Mother and Baby Homes scandal, brought to light in recent months, involving hundreds of cases of infant deaths that were improperly reported and largely unexplained, figured prominently. But there were other instances that over the last few years have cast a very dark shadow over past Church-State social schemes, among them the shocking revelations involving the Industrial Schools, the Magdalene Laundries, dozens of clerical sexual abuse cases, the badly-handled Bishop Casey affair (resurrected by his death last month), and a long history of institutional misogyny and entrenched sexism.
According to the 2016 census, three densely populated areas, Dublin City, Dun Laoghaire, and Galway City, reported that more than a third of the population regard themselves as non-Catholic. Among counties, Tipperary had the lowest percentage at 12.9%. Civil marriage is on the increase, and the nationalization of church-run schools is well underway. Vocations have withered alarmingly. Many parishes no longer have residential clergy and some offer no services at all.
Most recently, an 18 months-long Citizens Assembly finished its deliberations regarding repealing or replacing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, introduced in 1983, which prohibits abortion. Last week the members of the assembly voted overwhelmingly (87%) to recommend that the Eighth Amendment should not be retained in its current form. Only twelve members (13%) voted to retain the articles in full, close to the 16% reported of Ireland’s citizens in a national poll.
It will probably take generations for the Irish Church to recover its credibility and moral authority. It is hardly surprising that church affiliation and attendance have declined markedly over the past two decades, especially among the young, despite occasional periods of recovery between scandals. Nor is it surprising that there is plenty of evidence today of bias and in some cases political as well as journalistic antipathy against religion itself in all its forms. It sells papers and creates celebrities. But it does not in itself solve deeply troubling moral dilemmas. That takes time and a commodity in increasingly short supply, good will.
Dear Mr. Pence (and those who sent you),
I realize that you do not have much time or perhaps inclination to read books, but you might find it instructive to note that the noted author G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” [What's Wrong with the World (1900)] Because something has not yet succeeded does not mean it has failed. Patience remains a virtue. Rashness and impetuosity (one might add “especially in foreign relations”) do not.
Examples of successful patience in the face of difficulty could be multiplied indefinitely. For impulsiveness, not so much. The North Korean policy has not failed, it has not yet succeeded. But, like the Christian ideal, it can. “A high hope for a low heaven: God grant us patience!” [Love's Labour's Lost, Act I, scene 1] Read more...