Random Ruminations #7

This Is a 'Sense of Sin?'... But Real Evil? Of That, Neither See Nor Speak

“Sex Work,” Trafficking, and Trucks

Pamela Paul reports in the New York Times (Aug. 17) that some New York feminists are fighting to get editors to drop the euphemism “sex worker” from their style books. She explains that many have adopted this linguistic stand-in because they don’t want to appear judgmental or stigmatizing (especially of women who claim “freely” to persist as prostitutes) and/or think that speaking of women as laboring “empowers” them and gives them “agency.”

Words are important for framing our reality, which is why liberals have engaged in wholesale sanitation of moral monstrosities in the name of a “value-free society” (at least until they get an itch to do their own moral labelling). Anybody who watched the movie “Sound of Freedom” shares Paul’s conclusion: “To help people hurt by the sex trade, we need to call it like it is.”

And we need to recognize it where it is. Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) is an organization seeking to mobilize American truckers into fighting sex slavery. Truck stops, trucker’s motels, and bus stations are often hubs for that lucrative trade. TAT wants to turn them into oases on an underground railroad to freedom. They’ve got a great video, here. Please watch and share it.


Human Ecology

Pope Francis says he plans to write a new version of Laudato sí, his encyclical on the environment. While he didn’t ask me for suggestions, I’m offering anyway.

If Francis wants to be a leader, not just an ecclesiastical cheerleader for secular ecology, he needs to make clear a bright red line: human beings are not just “another” species or life form alongside everything else material in the “circle of life.” The Judeo-Christian insight that man is the steward, and not just part of, creation is fudged if not denied by many streams of secular environmentalism that begrudgingly bemoan human beings, urging them neither to be born nor need “six feet from head to toe” (Tolstoy’s phrase) of land when dead.

Failure to demarcate that difference will simply turn the Church into another “corporate sponsor” of green ideology and, more importantly, enlist it alongside many other movements undermining human uniqueness and, therefore, human dignity.


This Is a “Sense of Sin?”

I subscribe to the New York Times not because I like it but because it’s a lucrative source of fodder about insane ideas that take no great effort, using Catholic thought, to demolish. Best $17 investment I make in a month.

On the last Friday of August, without much else to publish, the Times ran a bizarre story, “The Virtues of Being Bad” [here]. Sixteen “adults” (their word), most of whom you’ve never heard of (which will shock the Times, as so many are “journalists”) engage in public confession about the “bad” stuff they sometimes do. Their responses perhaps border on the line between serious and satire, which is a separate problem. The feature followed up on an essay by a therapist who is so befuddled about right and wrong that it boggles the mind anyone wants his “counsel.”

There’s so much that’s confused, if not outright wrong, with the Times piece that it’ll generate a full response, but one thing can be addressed right up front: confusion about “bad.” One claims to be a kleptomaniac who gets jollies out of pilfering small things from airport duty-free shops when the clerk isn’t looking. He might someday deservedly share a cell with Sam Brinton. But right next to Light Fingers Tom is a guy who — dear readers, hold the edges of your seats if you do not have any children nearby whose eyes you must shield — says he eats at Chick-Fil-A!

(Have the smelling salts kicked in?)

You might not agree with the views or politics of Chick-Fil-A. But I don’t go to Chick-Fil-A to make a political statement or to get its views on sexual morality. I go to have a good chicken sandwich. And, unlike some other now flailing corporations, they don’t serve my “Spicy Deluxe” with a side order of propaganda. And thankfully I don’t need to wash it down with a Bud Lite.

If a self-described “author” and “adult” imagines eating a chicken sandwich to be “bad” behavior, I neither want to know him nor waste my time with his scribblings. I prefer talking with serious people. He isn’t one.


But Real Evil? Of That, Neither See Nor Speak…

The Times also reports that the Yale Police Union has been handing out flyers to incoming students, warning them of crime in New Haven. The flyer carried an illustration of the Grim Reaper.

The “jarring” flyer was attacked by the city police and administration. The Times admits “the numbers are accurate,” but that didn’t stop their writer from branding them “cherry-picked.” Part of the background may be that the Yale Police are looking for a better new contract, but that doesn’t change the figures.

Check any real estate site about moving to New Haven and it’ll tell you crime in the Connecticut city exceeds the national average. Two months ago, the mayor admitted the 12 fatal shootings through June this year outstripped the five in 2022 but, of course, he wants to contextualize it.

Granted, New Haven doesn’t rival other urban paradises like Chicago and Philadelphia in raw numbers of killings, but it’s little comfort to the dozen dead who didn’t have to be. And clearly, what’s “jarring” is not the number of sins crying to heaven for vengeance from blood spilt from a brother but the fact one is so gauche as to note it.


So What Do You in a Marriage?

David Brooks wrote a provocative (in the sense that it rattled many readers’ cages, judging by the comments box) column in the August 17 New York Times. “To Be Happy, Marriage Matters More Than Career” [here] marshals the usual social science data (for which the National Marriage Project excels; see here) to argue that not just their children but the adults themselves are better off married. Still, Brooks touched a nerve when he observed merely that.

When I’m around young adults, I like to ask them how they are thinking about the big commitments in their lives: what career to go into, where to live, whom to marry. Most of them have thought a lot about their career plans. But my impression is that many have not thought a lot about how marriage will fit into their lives (emphasis mine).

Compare how young people and their parents prepare for college versus marriage. Consider the prep, the coaching, the networking. Then contrast that to the almost automatic-pilot hope that “someday” marriage will happen.

We have an entire industry to get kids ready for college. Colleges run whole “career development offices” to secure job placements.

Once upon a time, there used to be something called “matchmakers.” In the words of the Dubliners, their “trade’s a memory.” (In its mutated form, matchmakers rechristened themselves as “headhunters,” though I would rather not think of my future employer on the lines of Queequeg’s kin.)

Now, I’m not trying to resurrect Yente or other matchmakers in Tevye’s dreams. But Brooks is onto something in the disparity of attention we give to certain kinds of “success” compared to marriage.

I often tell the story of my experience at the Catholic University of Lublin, Poland. I originally started going there for their summer courses in Polish language for foreigners. I remember one year when, to stimulate discussion and just to use common words, the teachers threw out the question: “what kind of spouse do you want?” It was a group of mostly young people, mostly Americans, Canadians, and a few Brits. The silence was palpable. The teachers were surprised. A college student from Minnesota explained that “in America, people don’t often talk about that.” To which a teacher responded, “Then how do you know what you’re looking for?”

Familiaris consortio talks about various kinds of preparation for marriage, including “proximate” and “remote.” Proximate is probably what Catholic Americans call marriage prep. Remote usually occurs when one is talking about marriage in general, without a specific person in mind.

The problem is: we talk little, if at all, about marriage in general, whether in church, in catechism, in youth groups, in schools, even in homes.

So, perhaps, Brooks is onto something in asking what’s wrong with this picture.


Lastly, a Wedding Ring Question

Writing about the death of Bishop-Emeritus Howard Hubbard of Albany is somewhat distasteful. There is truth in the maxim not to speak ill of the dead, and each of us needs (and I pray for) mercy at that moment. But, at a certain point, “who am I to judge?” becomes “if no one judges in the face of public scandal, aren’t we saying it’s alright?”

Aren’t we sending a message to those who, less trained in subtlety, interpret silence not as discreet avoidance of something that reeks but as a suggestion that things are changing but we just won’t say so (yet)? It was not the Church which laicized Hubbard but his request that was denied, prompting a man who had been a priest almost 60 years to attempt a “marriage” that any seminarian in first year canon law would know to be invalid.

His death raised touchy questions for the Church: How does one coherently celebrate the funeral of a bishop who publicly said he would prefer to be laicized, which Rome refused, and then attempted civil marriage anyway? Is he buried as a bishop, which he is, scandal notwithstanding, or as a layman, which he was not? Catholics have a right to expect coherence from their bishops.

A man ordained a bishop normally receives an episcopal ring as a sign of his marriage to the Church and, in the case of an ordinary, to that local Church. My question is with which “wedding” ring did Hubbard go to his grave: that of his ordination or that of his attempted marriage?


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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