MORE CATHOLIC THAN THE POPE

I was born Catholic. My father was one of ten sons in a Polish Catholic family, and my mother was one of eleven children in a Polish Catholic family, and I had a great many Catholic aunts and uncles and cousins. I went to a Catholic grade school, a Catholic high school, and a Catholic college. I was an altar boy. I went to the CYO. I found it especially easy to root for my hometown Colts because Johnny Unitas was a Catholic. I married a Catholic girl from a big Irish Catholic family. At the time I graduated from college, I bet more than 90 percent of the people I had ever met were Catholics.

So I feel comfortable in generalizing.

There is one kind of Catholic who’s like me. I don’t practice, and I don’t believe, but the way I live my life is surprisingly and even annoyingly similar to the codes of conduct we learned from he priests and nuns.

There is another kind, the faithful, people who go to church regularly and who pray devoutly and who care very deeply about their faith. It gives them solace and strength and comfort. They are very serious Catholics, but their faith is between themselves and their God, and I admire them and respect them. Some of the people I love and admire most in the world are Catholic in this way.

And then there is the kind of Catholic like Rick Santorum is, the guy we used to describe, and not with admiration, as more Catholic than the Pope. I have know this type of person my whole life, and have seen in the living rooms of friends and family members, in class rooms and cafeterias and on campus. They are not intelligent enough to try to make their way through the mysteries of faith–its challenges and contradictions and painful choices–and so they do the oxymoronic things, and replace faith with certitude. They don’t need to think, because the church has supplied them with all the answers. And they don’t sin, sometimes because they have discipline, but often enough, because of their certitude that the things they do and believe simply cannot be sinful (ask a pro-lifer how he can countenance capital punishment.)

But they are quick to see the shortcomings of others, and to condemn it, taking satisfaction in their own purity, and in making sure, more in a pleased-with-themselves sadness than in anger, that the sinner is quite aware that he or she has broken God’s law.

I have seen this Santorum-like smugness all my life, and it makes me sick.

The good news is that I think it makes most other people sick as well.

This is Santorum on contraception: “One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.’ It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” How things are supposed to be? Says who?

Here is Santorum on being a Christian? “[I]s there such thing as a sincere liberal Christian, which says that we basically take this document and re-write it ourselves? Is that really Christian? That’s a bigger question for me. And the answer is, no, it’s not. I don’t think there is such a thing. To take what is plainly written and say that I don’t agree with that, therefore, I don’t have to pay attention to it, means you’re not what you say you are. You’re a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian. That’s sort of how I look at it.” I’ll respond with one name, the most significant American of the 20th century, the liberal Christian Martin Luther King Jr.

Can a mind get smaller? Here’s Santorum talking about the speech JFK gave on the separation of church and state. “The first substantive line says ‘I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.‘ I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. . . .What kind of country do we live in that says only people of non-faith can come in the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up.” Santorum gets kind of a two-fer there, deliberately misinterpreting Kennedy, and them responding with wretched self-dramatization.”

Last week, Bill Keller of the Times went on Morning Joe and said ““Remember earlier in the campaign when Newt Gingrich was worrying everybody about Shariah law — you know — the Muslims were going to impose Shariah law in America? Sometimes, Santorum sounds like he’s creeping up on a kind of Christian version of Shariah law.”

Good point–only Santorum is even more self-righteous than the mullahs. I don’t think Santorum wants people to stop behaving and believing differently than he does. I don’t think he’d know what to do with himself. I think he likes having people out there–maybe even a majority of people–to whom he can feel sorry for and superior to.

THE STREAKER

Terry Jones, whom some may call Reverend but not me, is the gun-toting pastor of a dinky, fifty-member church in Gainesville Florida, who has this week held the country in thrall with his ugly proposal to burn copies of the Koran. I know–if you’re like me, you’re thinking, Do I have a dog in this fight? Well, as it turns out, I reluctantly do. With this stunt, Jones, along with idiot imitators in Topeka and Tennessee and Wyoming, has caused an uproar in the all-too-easily incensed Muslim world (cartoons, anyone?), which inspired General David Petreaus, Defense Secretary Gates, Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama, among others, to all take time out of their busy days to ask the extravagantly mustachioed Jones to spare that Zippo lest American soldiers and tourists become targets of murderous reprisals. Like a streaker gamboling across centerfield in Yankee Stadium, only with insidious intent, Jones is interjecting himself in a world he does not belong, to the dismay of most except pinheaded yahoos who lack the judgment to choose peace over conflict. Two days ago Jones said he had struck a deal to call off the burning in return for an agreement on the part of Iman Rauf not to build his Muslim community center two blocks from Ground Zero. Rauf said he made no such agreement. Today, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Jones is in Manhattan seeking a meeting with Rauf. If I were Rauf, I wouldn’t be seen in the same state with this yokel, whose provocations are antithetical to the comity and understanding that Rauf is trying to create. Does anyone but me see the evil, manipulative hand of Roger Stone, Floridian and right-wing dirty trickster, behind Jones’s meteoric burst onto the world stage?

THE GREATEST STORY EVER RETOLD

2jesus-gun1A couple of weeks ago in London, at a fundraiser for a prisoners’ rights organization Reprieve, the British writer Philip Pullman, the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy (better known in the US as The Golden Compass) unveiled an alternative Bible passage that suggested a different fate for Jesus. According to a report in The Telegraph, Pullman, an outspoken atheist, imagined what would have happened if Jesus had had a fair trial. Which is all well and good, but my question is, If you’re going to start mucking about with one of the world’s best known stories, why limit yourself?
*
Slowly Jesus opened his eyes, Where am I, he wondered. He listened; from the other room, he could hear the sound of water running.
Confused, Jesus stepped into the hallway and pushed open the bathroom door. He was shocked to see a man inside the shower. “Good morning!’’ the man beamed.
“Bobby?’’ the mystified Jesus responded. “Bobby Ewing?’’
“What’s the matter. Jesus? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost!’’
“Oh Bobby, it was awful! I had a nightmare! When I woke up, I thought you were dead!’’
“Go back to sleep, Jesus,’’ said Bobby gently. “It was only a dream.’’
*
Jesus looked deep into Ilsa’s eyes. “If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not on it, you’ll regret it,’’ he said. “Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.’’
Ilsa’s eyes brimmed with tears. “But what about us?’’ she asked.
“We’ll always have Cana.’’
The couple turned towards Pilate. The urbane Roman consul shrugged. “Round up the usual suspects!’’ he barked.
*
Sprawled on the ground, bleeding from his wounds, the Scorpio Killer stared in the face of Jesus. His gun sat about three feet away. He knew it, and he knew Jesus knew it.
“I know what you’re thinking, punk,’’ Jesus said. “You’re thinking, `Did he recite all eight of the Beatitudes, or only seven?’ Now to tell you the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself a question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?’’
The killer lunged for the revolver, and Jesus fired.
“You forgot,’’ he said quietly to himself. “ Blessed are the peacemakers.’’
*
“I’m going back to Charleston,’’ Jesus said wearily, “where I belong.’’
Scarlett threw herself at him. “Please take me!’’ she begged.
“No, I’m through. I want peace. I want to see if somewhere there isn’t something left in life of charm and grace.’’
“Jesus, where shall I go? What shall I do?’’
“Frankly, my dear,’’ said Jesus, “I don’t give a damn.’’
“Then—who will?’’ Scarlett demanded. “You and your father—you’re the big damners. ‘’
For a moment, Jesus was dumbstruck. He had never thought of it that way. “Maybe you’re right,’’ he said tentatively. “Things would sure be different if there was less damning.’’
“More patience,’’ says Scarlett. “More encouragement.’’
“I could be a kind of a Live and Let Live Jesus.’’
“It’s worth a try, don’t you think?’’
“Well come on, then,’’ said Jesus, holding out his hand. “You going to have to help me explain it to Pop.’’
*
“Sit down, Judas,’’ said Jesus. “You have to answer for your actions. You fingered me for the high priests and the Pharisees. That little farce you played out in Gethsemane–did Caiaphis make you think that would fool the Son of God’’
“Don’t do this to me, ‘’ pleaded Judas. “I swear I’m innocent.’’
“Caiaphis is dead,’’ said Jesus quietly. “So is Pilate. So are the Sanhedrin. Barzini. Philip Tattaglia. Moe Greene. Tonight I’m settling all the family accounts. But don’t worry—I’m not going to make my sister a widow. Just don’t insult my intelligence.’’
“It was Caiaphis,’’ said Judas, weeping.
“Good. Now I’m putting you in a car to take you to the airport.’’
In the car, Judas sighed with relief. His shirt was soaked with sweat. He turned his head to see if he knew the man who was in the back seat. It was John, the Beloved Disciple, who at that very moment slipped his garrote around Judas’s throat.
*
They sped away in Osgood’s roadster. Everything had worked out. Joe and Sugar had found one another, and all of them had escaped the gangsters. But still Jesus didn’t feel right. Osgood was a decent man, and Jesus was ashamed that he had disguised himself and played on Osgood’s feelings.
“Osgood, I’m gonna level with you,’’ Jesus said. “We can’t get married at all. ‘’Why not?’’
“Well,’’ Jesus prevaricated, “in the first place, I’m not a natural blonde.’’
“Doesn’t matter.’’
“And I have a terrible past. For three years now, I’ve been living with a saxophone player.’’
“I forgive you,’’ said Osgood.
“And I can never have children! ‘’
“We can adopt some,’’ Osgood said calmly.
“But you don’t understand, Osgood! ‘’ Jesus finally exclaimed. “I am the Resurrection and the Life!”
“Well,’’ Osgood shrugged, “nobody’s perfect!