Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Catholic Hypocrisy: "Religious Freedom?"

"My house will be called a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves!" 
                                                                                                                  --Matthew 21:13

"Then Jesus asked them, "which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" but they remained silent."
                                                                                                                   --Mark 3:4

Having been raised Roman Catholic, gotten a master's degree in religious studies from a Catholic institution, and having taught high school religion at a Catholic school, I am terribly disappointed and ashamed of Catholic institutions suing the government over the HHS mandate with respect to the provision of birth control.  Instead of standing up for the health needs of all people, it has myopically become obsessed with a Pharisee-like legalism regarding the contraception issue.  The bishops and the religious in charge of so-called Catholic institutions have lost their way.   

Before World War II, the founder of the public relations industry, Edward Bernays, was asked by the head of an American tobacco company to help increase the cigarette smoking market.  It had been considered unfeminine for women to smoke.  Men would not let their wives or girlfriends smoke publicly.  So Bernays spoke with a psychoanalyst to see how to get more women to smoke.  

Bernays devised a plan.  First, he told women that cigarettes were "torches of freedom," and that anyone who told you not to smoke was actually opposed to you having freedom.  In reality, smoking cigarettes has nothing to do with being independent.  Then he told suffragette women to light up their torches of freedom during a parade, where the media would be present.  The women did so, pictures of them smoking went around the world, and anyone who opposed women smoking was subject to the rhetoric that their freedom was being denied.  Cigarette makers were happy, and smoking among women skyrocketed.  20 years later, so did the incident of lung cancer among women.

The Catholic bishops and the religious leaders of Catholic institutions have their own "torches of freedom", it's called "religious liberty."  What it really means is allowing employers to deny certain forms of health coverage to their employees under the guise of religious freedom.  The problem with this is that there are a number of religious employers in the United States.  To allow the Catholic Church an exception would be unfair not only to non-religious Catholic employees who were being denied low cost contraception, but also to other employers.  Any employer can claim that they must be able to ignore the provisions of the health care mandate because of any number of religious convictions.  Does a Jehovah's Witnesses employer have the right to deny blood transplant coverage to its employees?  Under the Catholic Church argument, the answer would be yes.  

The other issue is that of Catholic hypocrisy.  It's interesting how they can be filled with such conviction over such a small issue as contraception, while not seeming to raise a fuss about how the poor and the working class are taking an economic beating at the hands of the Republicans.  These bishops should have been rioting in the streets when Paul Ryan proposed his budget that made dire changes to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamp assistance to the poor and elderly.  Who cares about the disabled man down the street who would go hungry without food stamps, or the woman who would die without dialysis treatments?  Instead, the bishops are silent.  Apparently the lives of the already born are worth less than those of disjointed sperm and eggs.

Never mind the issue as to why some people use contraception.  There are some women who have endometreosis, a painful condition that is treated by the prescription of birth control pills to regulate the body.  This has nothing to do with preventing conception.  Or consider the case of married couples where one of the partners is in danger of dying from becoming pregnant.  Or the use of contraception to prevent serious birth defects in cases where the mother or father is taking drugs like Accutane that would cause extreme disability to potential offspring.

The Franciscan University of Steubenville, a place that likes to think of itself as pious and faithful, recently announced it would be dropping health coverage for its employees out of spite because of the health care mandate with respect to contraception.  This means Catholic employees with Type I diabetes will no longer be able to get the life-sustaining insulin they need to survive.  A number of families with sick children and sick parents are going to suffer now in real and concrete ways.  I suppose they think this is what Jesus must have wanted.  If Jesus were around now to see what is being done in his name, he would have been filled with righteous indignation and driven them out of the temple.

 The Catholic Church is acting like a spoiled child and a bully.  It is convenient for unmarried bishops to deny health coverage to others while they comfortably get to keep theirs.  If they wanted to avoid hypocrisy, they could give up their health insurance in solidarity with those whom they are denying coverage by virtue of their self-righteous "principles."  Right now, the cost for them is too cheap.

Catholics who attend church and attend religious institutions need to make their voices heard against the bishops.  They need to let them know that the collection baskets will be empty until they open their eyes.  These bishops and religious leaders live an incredibly privileged existence.  Just like major banks, they get bailed out when they mismanage things.  The average churchgoer pays the cost.  Remember the pedophile priest scandal?  The bishops concealed, hid, and covered up thousands of cases of abuse.  After the truth came out and the lawsuits were filed, many got to keep their jobs while parishes were closed.  Money acquired from churchgoers was used to help pay the lawsuit damages.  The bishops were bailed out.  All of the offending cover up artists should have been fired after the truth came out.  That never happened.  The moral authority of the U.S. bishops and religious leaders, such as those at Notre Dame and The Franciscan University of Steubenville is exhausted.

The current Catholic position by the bishops and religious leaders shows just how morally bankrupt they have become.  It is time for a renewal by the body of Christ--the actual members of the Church, to demand that the Church start acting Christian again.  Every Catholic who remains silent on this issue remains morally culpable for the eventual erosion of health care coverage for all. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Cost of Ignorance

I just spent some time checking the cost of tuition and room and board at my undergraduate alma mater, Ashland University.  It now costs $38, 360--per year.  This would mean over $150,000 in student loan debt for a four year degree.  And this isn't unusual.  Private liberal arts colleges have become totally unaffordable for all but the most affluent of families.

My parents didn't go to college.  They were excited for me to go.  Attending college was the most intellectually enriching experience of my life.  It changed the direction of my life for the better.  I was introduced to the classics of literature, art, philosophy, and religion.  I was exposed to ideas, history, and beliefs that I could never have learned on my own.  It was a monumental period of personal growth for me.  I can't imagine my life without that experience.  Because my parents didn't have that exposure, they couldn't have given that experience.  Despite the quality of my high school education, I wasn't mature enough and ready to grow at this level.  College wasn't just about learning vocational skills to earn money.  It was about sampling the history of Western civilization, about understanding the world and learning to think critically.  It was about learning what was needed to be an informed citizen and a non brainwashed consumer.  The experience was valuable in itself, apart from any monetary considerations or potential employment.

It saddens me to see that my future children, and my current niece and nephew, will never know that experience.  The cost of college has become prohibitively expensive.

This is all the same for the corporations.  After all, the more student loans people have, the more docile they will be when they start to work.  They become indentured servants.  The other issue is that critical thinking skills are simply not in the long term interest of the corporations.  This might lead people to avoid buying unnecessary junk.  Millions of dollars are spent trying to convince us to buy junk.  Not to mention that critical thinkers ask pesky questions, such as "why don't we have universal health care" or "why isn't everyone paying their fair share", or, even worse, "why are we going to war for oil industry profits?"  Plus, well educated people expect to use their degrees to earn money.  But if it is cheaper to hire well educated Indian workers, such as engineers and programmers at a fraction of the cost of American workers, then why educate Americans in the first place?  All this leads to is increased anger and hostility.  No sense in that.  Better off keeping everyone in America as ignorant and as docile as possible.

It's amazing to me how some people say that we can't afford to give people access to health care and education.  We are the richest nation in the world.  Our economy dwarfs that of countries like Sweden, Cuba, and even Japan.  Yet somehow these countries find the money to provide universal health care for everyone, and to educate their populace.  The literacy rate in Cuba, which has been suffering from U.S. economic terrorism for the last 50 years, is above 98%.  Their health outcomes are better, too.

The truth is that we can find the money to pay LeBron James, Jamie Dimon, and other jokers, but the reason we don't have the money is because we don't value education in this country.  Politicians can give lip service to education all they want, but just look at the hostile attack on teachers and No Child Left Behind (aka No Brain Cell Left Behind), which are both systematic attacks on teachers and education.

The real truth is that this country is very anti-intellectual, and it always has been.  How else could we have elected someone like George W. Bush, a man who mangled the English language with glee and who we loved because he was someone "we would like to have a beer with."  He wasn't all pompous and uppity like that nerd, Al Gore, or that Frenchy sounding John Kerry.  No way.  He was a "real man."  Look where that got us, two wars and an economic meltdown.

The saying goes, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."  And the taste is bitter but not at all sweet.  I mourn for the future generations, those like mine, who grew up in blue collar families who won't be able to send their children to college.  Perhaps we better start building more prisons.  After all, there is going to be a huge superfluous population of people who can't contribute anything to either the workforce or as consumers.  We need to keep them out of sight, out of mind so they don't make trouble.  Time to increase our petty drug laws and increase penalties for the use of marijuana.  Private prisons are profitable, too!

The whole situation is a damn shame, and we're too worried about the inconsequential differences between Obama and Romney to see how the entire system is rotten through and through, corrupted by money.  Perhaps we are better off worrying about what the next iPhone is going to do or whether this corporate team or that is going to win the Super Bowl, or whether our new video game has a good ending to it or not.