Community Service and the Virtual Reality of Academia
Esmee Cromie de Bellalta and Jessica McManus
In one class, a Saint Mary's student expressed her dilemma of wanting to "do something" in order to help with problems in her community, yet not having time because she was too busy preparing for her career. One could ask: Why this dichotomy between theory and practice?
We believe that working for justice, whether within the SMC-ND community or the local communities, can be the most important and instructive part of a student s education. This kind of work can easily be integrated with students' lives and into their careers beyond Saint Mary's and Notre Dame if only there was the will to do so. Yet the will, does not exist.
The commitment to community service is present in a few specific elective courses at the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College. Nonetheless, a more encompassing and participatory pedagogy -- one that is not merely elective -- has yet to be developed. The present opposition to incorporate into our academic curriculum the pedagogical praxis cycle which connects study and reflection with a commitment to act, stems from two different approaches.
The first point of contention involves the tension between individual and community values. In the original Jewish law, each individual was required to be just to, and responsible for the other. Christianity added the demand to "love your neighbor and your enemies. Today, however, there exists an overriding cultural emphasis on individualism and absolute choice. Consequently, the individual has been separated from public life in its civic and biblical forms. This worldview denies the basic quality of community where clarification, judgment, deliberation, creative power and the value of human life are experienced.
The second reason for dispute is expressed by some faculty, who claim that community service courses are not " academically rigorous enough." What the Greek philosophers knew of the relation between thought, experience and understanding is rarely considered as a legitimate form of education. Instead there is the present myth that voluntary service cannot be an academic requirement. Volunteer service, while implying a generous offering and dedication to the task at hand, is according to this view conceived as including the possibility to relinquish the work at will: no actual commitment is enjoined. This myth can only be resolved by a clarification of the generally accepted meaning of voluntary.
Take one example from the Justice Education Program at Saint Mary's College which incorporates a pedagogy of the praxis cycle. Consider a student who commits to work for an extended period of time for a local pre-school -- for example El Campito in South Bend -- teaching children of low income families. The student contributes to the lives of these children, while simultaneously she comprehends and learns to work within a different social structure. The student also develops an awareness of the relationship between helping the children acquire knowledge, and formulating new policies on a systemic level -- policies which may prevent some of the social injustices existing in our society. All this allows each student to work in order to make a difference beyond the confines of academia. By contributing time and effort into her community, she gains real knowledge and can take the related principles and themes she has studied and transpose them into an experience that is infinitely more rewarding -- both for her, her academic community and those with whom she works.
In the relationship between theory and practice in academia it is all too easy to fall prey to the "us" and "them" mentality. Service for social justice then becomes a theoretical, hypothetical discussion rather than people working together to improve society. Justice is not abstract. Father Michael Himes of Boston College, who warns that academic leaders "cannot permit [teachers] or [students] the mistake of thinking that 'out there [in the community] you do, in here we think.'" Much time on campus is spent learning about and discussing social issues, but at the end of the day students return to their dormitory havens and do not think about the issues until their exam on "Social Problems." We must get beyond this dualism. We must learn and act simultaneously.
The vestiges of the "ivory tower," as a place of pure book learning need to be transformed into a more multi-disciplinary and experientially inclusive academy. The resulting dialogue and critical reflections will enable everyone to become more fully human, and will create communities for the future without the limits of harsh social distinctions -- commitments based on participation, responsibility and love in serving others.
Esmee Cromie de Bellalta is the Coordinator of Justice Education at Saint Mary's College and is a Faculty Emerita at Notre Dame.
Jessica McManus is a junior sociology major at Saint Mary's College.
Back to top
Bishop Belo for Commencement Speaker
We are almost half way through the academic year, and it is time to begin thinking about who will be the 1997 commencement speaker. Common Sense would like to suggest Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo, the head of the Catholic Church in East Timor, a co-recipient of the 1996 Noble Peace Prize. Bishop Belo received this honor in acknowledgment of his ongoing struggle against the brutal occupation of East Timor, and for his tireless opposition to the US support of Suharato's regime. He would be an inspiring choice.
Indonesia's population of 200 million makes it the fourth largest country in the world, after China, India and the US. In 1965, General Suharto took over Indonesia via a military coup that destroyed the existing popular organizations, slaughtering about 700,000 people within a few months. From then on, Suharto has governed Indonesia with an iron fist. In order to ensure his success the US has supplied him with weapons throughout these years.
On December 7, 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor, a small island 400 miles northwest of Australia. According to Matthew Jardine, the author of East Timor: Genocide in Paradise, two days before the invasion President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Suharto in Indonesia's capital Jakarta. Jardine claims that "there is little doubt that Ford gave Suharto the green light to invade." At the time, 90% of Indonesian weapons were US made.
Two months after the invasion began, 60,000 East Timorese were killed. The former Catholic Bishop of East Timor's capital, Dili, described those first days of occupation: "The soldiers who landed started killing everyone they could find. There were many dead bodies in the streets -- all we could see were soldiers killing, killing, killing."
Today, 21 years later, East Timor is still occupied by Indonesia. Over 200,000 people of a total population of 700,000 have been killed, making it the greatest death toll relative to the population since the Holocaust. In 1994 alone, US corporations made an estimated $57 million in arms sales to Indonesia. These sales were approved by the State Department, regardless of the fact that the weapons are used to suppress the indigenous population of East Timor. At the time, Bishop Belo emphatically exclaimed: "We are dying as a people and as a nation." US guns and bullets, US tanks and rockets, have facilitated the massacre to which Bishop Belo is referring.
By inviting Bishop Belo to Notre Dame, we would be sending a message not only to the Indonesian government, but also to our own. On the one hand, we would be supporting Bishop Belo's appeal for self determination. While on the other, the invitation just might serve as a small contribution to Bishop Belo's struggle to stop the sale of US weapons to undemocratic governments like Indonesia -- governments which violate human rights and suppress political freedom. Bishop Belo's presence on campus would be a great honor. This is a man who, even when faced with great danger, never wavered in his courageous commitment to the good society. A better role model would be hard to find.
Those who would like to hear Bishop Belo at the 1997 commencement ceremony, please write President Rev. Malloy at Malloy.firstname.lastname@example.org
Back to top
The Boys in the Other Band: Remembering Gay History at N.D.
Daniel A. Burr
Unwittingly, in the spring of 1975 Notre Dame assisted in a production of sorts of Mart Crowley's play The Boys in the Band. The recent revival of the play in New York brought back my memories of this brief moment in gay history at the University. It had been more than twenty years since I read the play, so I decided to read it again and was surprised by what I found. The Boys in the Band, famous for its portrayal of eight unhappy gay men at a birthday party, did not make me angry or sad. Rather, it took me back to a time in my life--and the lives of gays and lesbians all over America--that was filled with promise. By the early 1970 s we knew who we were and, unlike most of the characters in the play, accepted our sexuality. Young and out, we were ready to make our way in the world. Curiously, part of the style with which we did this would be derived from The Boys in the Band.
By the spring of 1975 the Gay Students of Notre Dame had been in existence for nine months. Since fall we had met weekly in apartments off campus. I smile now when I think of how seriously we took those meetings. There was always a program, followed by socializing. Over and over we told coming out stories. Depending on their majors, our members gave presentations on every aspect of homosexuality we could think of: theological, historical, psychological, literary. Now we were approaching the final meeting of the year, it must have been May, and we wanted to end on a high note. Someone suggested we do a group reading from The Boys in the Band.
In 1975 The Boys in the Band had a strange status. The play was originally produced to great acclaim in New York in 1968. A few years later a movie was made, retaining most of the cast from the stage production. It was the sort of movie many people were afraid to attend. I remember seeing it when I was in college. I was on a trip to Canada, a safe distance from home, where no one in the theater could possibly recognize me. By the early 1970 s, if you were a gay man in America, you knew about, probably could quote lines from The Boys in the Band, even if you had never seen or read the play. Articles about the recent revival have pointed out that the self-loathing of the characters was rejected by people caught up in the gay liberation movement, which began within a year of the opening, and the play quickly fell into disfavor in the homosexual community. I think that is only part of the story.
The Boys in the Band was a public event that took us inside a totally gay world, a rare thing in the late 1960 s and early 1970 s, especially in the heartland of America. Besides the self-loathing, mostly the province of one character, there was glamour, humor, sex. We were thrilled to be there. We wanted to reenact the play, the fun parts at least, in our own lives. By 1975, at Notre Dame, we were wise enough to know we were not destined to turn into Michael, the bitter, alcoholic, lapsed Catholic who goes off to sober up at a midnight mass at the end of the play. But we hoped we could be as funny as Emory, as sardonic as Harold, or find a lover as handsome as Hank.
Our readers theater production of The Boys in the Band took some doing. We had only two copies of the play. This was a time when the only public photocopy machine on campus was located in the lobby on the second floor of the library. Who was going to stand there, in full view of the world, and make multiple copies of a gay play at a nickel a page on oily paper that was hard to read? Instead, we would type dittos of the sections of the play we wanted to read. I was a Teaching Assistant in the English Department. In the basement of the library TA s had access to a room with electric typewriters. Day after day I typed huge chunks of dialogue. Another member of GSND was doing the same thing elsewhere on campus. The two of us typed most of the play on those old two-part masters that would turn out purple prose once they were run through a ditto machine. Also in the basement of the library was the ditto center, available to faculty and TA s. No doubt blushing, I took the dittos to the counter, filled out a form indicating this was material for my English 109 course, and requested 25 sets. This was a lot of copying, but the woman asked no questions and told me to come back later. My trepidation sounds silly now, but it was 1975, it was Notre Dame, we had to account for copying done for our courses, and I wondered if she would read what she was copying. Apparently not, or at least she said nothing when she handed over the big stack of paper with its unforgettable inky smell.
We cast the play at our second-to-last meeting. To this day I, who minored in drama in college, am miffed that I didn t even get a part, but I was the leader of GSND that year and I had to be above personal interest. The copies were full of typographical errors--it was virtually impossible to correct a ditto--but they were readable. I do not remember if the cast got together for a rehearsal, but I will never forget the night we did the play. We were going to meet in the apartment of a professor, the only faculty member of GSND in those early years, a brave and charming man. A friend, driving a red convertible, picked up a couple of us at the library circle. The roof down on the car, we drove through South Bend gathering other members who lived off campus. We were in high spirits, as who wouldn t be on a spring evening in a red convertible with a bunch of friends. The movie version of The Boys in the Band begins with shots of the various characters traveling through New York--in the subway, in cabs, on foot--on their way to the birthday party for Harold. By the time we got to the apartment, those of us who had parts and those who didn t felt like we were living in the world of the play.
We didn t make theatrical history that night, but we laughed at the funny lines and were moved by some of the others. After the reading we talked about the issues raised by the play. Even then we knew it was dated, knew gay history had moved forward, knew we were not necessarily destined for guilt, remorse, drinking too much, loneliness. For nine months we had been meeting, without any help or sanction from the University, to do the opposite of what happens in the play. Instead of trying to destroy each other, we gathered to explore who we were and to support each other. Most of us still had problems related to being gay, but we also had friends with whom at long last we could be honest. Society teaches gay men and women to hate themselves; we don t unlearn this lesson alone. It was through the blessing of association with the other members of GSND that I learned to value myself as a gay person. We shared moments that were serious, silly, painful, embarrassing, and more often than not, like the night we read the play, wonderfully fun.
Today I do not know what has become of many of the boys who were there that night. I know that not all of them are still alive. In the coming years we would face dangers more deadly than self-hatred. I know some of us learned to value ourselves and some of us didn t, some of us have been lucky and some of us not. Still, looking back, I believe we helped prepare each other for what lay ahead. This is more than the University did for us in those days. Notre Dame provided the dittos the night we read The Boys in the Band, but little else. On campus we were invisible, the faculty and administrators we knew were gay were deeply closeted, nothing was said about the ways we might live our lives except to condemn our deepest feelings and natural impulses. The gay history of Notre Dame is the story of our refusal, and the refusal of the students who came after us, to accept this condemnation and our determination to forge an alternative vision of our lives.
The Boys in the Band was already a period piece when we read it in 1975. In 1996 the play shows us where we have been, reminds us of what we have gained and what we have lost. This is the point of recording gay. Notre Dame has yet to acknowledge, indeed seems determined to obliterate, our past. Today, as administrators move to supplant the Gay and Lesbian Students of Notre Dame-Saint Mary's with a puppet student organization, they are trying to wipe out more than twenty years of history, twenty years during which gay students helped each other while the University was at best silent, at worst part of the oppression. They will not succeed. It is up to us to remember the past and to make sure the lessons it teaches be known.
Daniel A. Burr received a Ph.D. from Notre Dame in 1977 and is presently a Student Affairs Officer at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
Back to top
The Strange Death of Liberal America: The Election of '96
"The people can elect anyone they want. I control the nominations."
--Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall, ca. 1870
Few myths die harder than that of continuous progress. Each generation believes that it has discovered political sophistication, like sex, for the first time. It adopts a patronizing air to all earlier generations, especially the one just past, and proclaims them to belong to a more innocent time. It has become at least impolite in this country to despise people on the grounds of race, gender, or national origin, but we have no trouble despising people who have the unfortunate characteristic of being dead. Undergraduates are encouraged to regard as naive the intellectual formulations of earlier generations, instructed as they are by those who came of age rejecting those formulations. The process is recognizably Oedipal and need not be taken seriously.
The late Christopher Lasch, author of the best debunking of the idea of progress in American politics, The True and Only Heaven, spoke of the danger of "casting off the accumulated wisdom of the human race." No such danger seems to have occurred to our national punditry, whose relentless present-mindedness contributed to the peculiar (even for the US) vacuousness of the recent federal elections.
I. SUBORNING LANGUAGE
The political game is largely over once analytic terms - terms that describe the content of political movements and ideas - become simply emotive ones. "Liberal," "conservative," "Christian right," and "big labor" now usually express merely a settled attitude. For some if a position is described as "liberal" there's no need to say more; for others, a position advocated by the Christian right is ipso facto ruled out. And those who - contrary to the laws of nature and nature's God - hold positions that could be described severally as "liberal" and "conservative" (I have in mind people like the columnist Nat Hentoff, at once a First Amendment absolutist and opposed to abortion) should prepare for the consternation of their friends. The political commentator Alexander Cockburn - whose Left credentials would seem in order - tells of being excluded from a panel of progressives in Oregon a few years ago because he'd expressed skepticism about reports of satanic child abuse.
We now have scholars of several persuasions assuring us that the gaps between these positions are so wide that all discussion is over - there can be no interchange between them. (It's recently been argued that the same is true in the American Catholic church.) That is particularly surprising because the content ofthe positions is so paltry and so largely symbolic, as therecent elections have shown.
In fact, as Noam Chomsky has argued, we seem to choose our President on the basis of whether he seems like a nice sort - since we know we largely disagree with his actual policies,whoever he is. Consider the "Reagan landslides" - strange landslides indeed, given that three-quarters of the electorate did NOT vote for Reagan in '80 or '84: all recent Presidents have been elected by 25% of the voters, because half the electorate doesn't vote. But even of that quarter, only 10% replied to a poll in 1980 that they had voted for Reagan because "he's a real conservative"; by 1984, after four years of "Reaganomics," that group had dropped to 4%! At the same time, "70% of all voters with an opinion on the matter OPPOSED Reaganite legislative programs, and public opinion studies showed a continuation of the steady drift towards a kind of New Deal- style welfare state liberalism on the part of the general population," as Chomsky points out.
Have those attitudes of a decade ago changed significantly now that a soi-disant Democrat is presiding over the dismantling of the New Deal? Not at all. Deep in Clinton's first term, an article in the New York Times included data showing that 65% of the public believed "the Government has a responsibility to take care of the poor" while fewer than 10% favored reductions in programs for poor children. But the sort of spin that the Times and other leading media put on such numbers is indicated by the headline on the story that contained them: "America Likes G.O.P. Agenda"!
It is a triumph of what has been called "the manufacture of consent" that most people who favor "a kind of New Deal-style welfare state liberalism" believe that their neighbors don't. Take the ideological flagship of the current attempt to cut back the gains made by the majority of the US population in this century: the balanced budget amendment. In spite of an intensive and extensive media campaign, when people are asked if they would favor a balanced budget amendment "if it would require cuts in spending on education," fewer than one in four say that they would.
Propaganda campaigns to demonize terms like "liberalism" and "welfare" are remarkably successful, even though polls show that more than 80% of Americans believe the US economic system is "inherently unfair." They believe that working people have too little influence and that the government is "run for the benefit of the few and the special interests, not the people." And a similar number think "the government has a responsibility to try to do away with poverty." But (in John Dewey's phrase) "the shadow cast by business ensures that they can do nothing about it except watch in dismay and unfocused anger as they sink into decline," writes Chomsky. "Unlike the peasants and slum-dwellers of Haiti, who were able to create a civil society rich and vibrant enough to establish a functioning democracy, people here are lost and hopeless - a fact that sheds light on the standard propaganda line that we have to teach democracy to Haitians."
Democracy and capitalism are of course contradictory, in theory and practice. There is agreement reaching even to the Supreme Court that democracy in the political world is a matter of "one person, one vote." But one's influence in the economic world is not even in principle egalitarian: it depends on how many "dollar votes" you control. The problem therefore for our economic elite - as it has been for centuries - is how to rein in the dangerous egalitarian tendencies in the political world. They've done it quite nicely, thank you.
Their worries about the dangers of democracy are even occasionally publicly expressed: in the wake of "the Sixties" (deeply hated and ridiculed by the propaganda system precisely because there was some slight opening of dangerous questions in that period), a consortium representing economic elites from Europe, Japan and the US published a book put together by several political science hacks entitled The Crisis of Democracy. The crisis, of course, was that democracy might break out. The danger was that people had gotten the cockamamie idea that they should run their own affairs, economic and political, in a democratic fashion. Much of American politics of the last twenty years has come from the attempt of those who like Boss Tweed control the nominations to make sure that this dangerous idea has no effect. Their latest instrument is Bill Clinton, the candidate of the right-wing DLC ("Democrats for the Leisure Class," said Jesse Jackson).
II. SUBDUING LAWS
The strangest sound in the '96 campaign was the basso continuo of the successive sickening thuds of liberals falling into line for Bill and Hillary. The Clinton administration had just carried out the most sustained assault on the Bill of Rights by any administration, Republican or Democratic, in living memory. Even Nixon's Watergate activities were covert violations of civil rights and liberties, not their wholesale revision. Habeas corpus, which Jefferson insisted be included in the Constitution, was gutted by the Clinton crime bill. The immigration bill removed the rights of thousands.
In its practice, this administration has been no more libertarian than in its theory. An ACLU official recently called it "the most wiretap-friendly administration in history." While Republicans are blamed for the Communications Decency Act that censors the internet, it was the President who decided to appeal a unanimous decision declaring it unconstitutional.
Many liberals held that the clinching argument for a vote for Clinton was the matter of judicial appointments. Things would be much worse, they said, if these were in the hands of a Republican. But as John Nichols documented in the September Progressive, "Clinton has consistently failed to advance nominees for federal judgeships who carry even the faintest whiff of liberalism." The "liberal" Stephen Breyer, whom Clinton appointed to the Supreme Court, "had a more conservative record on antitrust cases than any judge appointed by Reagan." In court appointments in general, "the President has - to a greater extent even than Ronald Reagan - limited his choices to the elite circle of lawyers whose experience lies in the lucrative field of defending corporate interests. Of Clinton's nominees so far, 34 percent have been millionaires. By contrast, 24 percent of Reagan's nominees were millionaires, and only 4 percent of Carter's..."
There was much talk amongst liberals before the election about "lesser evilism": sure, they didn't like what Clinton had actually done on many things - NAFTA, Welfare, etc., etc. - but he was clearly better than Dole, they said, and one must vote for the lesser evil. It was true that Bob Dole looked as though all his tolerance was spent on lactose, leaving very little for his fellow man (or woman?) - but the argument seems to me specious, grandly refuted by Eugene Debs, the Socialist candidate who polled a million votes for President in 1912 (and then was imprisoned by the Wilson administration during World War I): he said that it was better to vote for what you want and not get it than vote for what you don't want and get it. (So I wrote in Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke.)
Real economic distress was represented by the Buchanan vote, where it was mixed up with xenophobia, and by the militia movement, righteously and frantically condemned for its political fantasies by the major media. As Michael Moore wrote, "When over 100 million Americans choose not to vote that is not apathy or ignorance - it is a political statement, a virtual act of civil disobedience ... the richest 1 percent now have two political parties to do their bidding for them, and the other 99 percent have ... what?" When they did vote, voters in the '90's seemed to be voting AGAINST what they perceive as greater evils rather than for a lesser. Thus Clinton is elected in '92 largely on a vote AGAINST the recession - and therefore AGAINST the President the pundits pronounced unbeatable immediately after the Gulf War (one of the reasons an obscure Arkansas arriviste attained the Democratic nomination). In '94, the so-called Republican Revolution was accomplished by voters the vast majority of whom had never heard of the "Contract with America" and many of whom were voting AGAINST the first two years of the Clinton administration: as Silverstein and Cockburn showed in their excellent newsletter, Counterpunch, it was the Clintonoid "New Democrats who lost their seats at twice the rate of their more liberal colleagues." (The re-election of Wellstone in Minnesota this year suggests the continuance of that trend.) In the wake of the '94 Congressionalelection, the White House immediately understood that Gingrich was a godsend: it could run AGAINST Congress as Truman had in '48 - especially since many of the programs a Gingrich-organized Congress would promote - such as trade and welfare - were perfectly compatible with the administration's real positions. The strategy worked well: Gingrich is now, as Garry Wills says, "the most disliked figure in American politics ... the leader of a House whose members saved their own jobs by distancing themselves from him." It was hard to tell this November what the Democrats were for; but everyone knew they were AGAINST Gingrich.
III. SUBMERGING LIVES
With colleagues I do a radio show of political commentary in central Illinois. Shorty after the election of the Gingrich congress in 1994, we predicted that nevertheless Bill Clinton would be reelected; in 1995 we predicted that a Republican President would be elected in 1996. We didn't think we were contradicting ourselves, and we were of course correct both times...
That Clinton was a candidate of the business class is hardly to be denied. The complacency of the wealthy and powerful in the US in this last election grew out of the fact that they really didn't mind very much who was elected. Clinton had shown himself to be perfectly friendly to the business interests represented in his present cabinet by Robert Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury. When Labor Secretary Robert Reich made some intemperate remarks about "corporate welfare" that should be cut, Rubin disdainfully brushed them aside. The idea went away, as Reich soon will.
It is a serious mistake to think that the social sectors that preside over economic oppression in the US and around the world hold "rightist" views on social issues. A recent survey by Fortune magazine found that CEOs of US corporations are quite liberal. They don't want their children to go to schools where prayer and "creation science" are mandatory; they don't want their daughters to be denied opportunities; and 60% of them are "adamantly pro-choice." They support neither Christian Fundamentalism nor the political fantasies of the militia movement. As a group,their views are very much those of their front man, Clinton.
It is true that identity issues - race, gender, "lifestyle" - have served to prevent American workers from seeing their common interests on economic issues, but there is no reason that the totalitarian structures of our working lives couldn't continue in a race- gender- or style-blind fashion. (By workers I mean all of us who conduct our careers by renting ourselves to the owners of capital - the large majority of the population, including even quite privileged segments, like the readers of this newspaper).
Even modern feminism after some initial hesitation was welcomed by US industry: the increasing inclusion of women from the 1960's on suddenly doubled the size of the reserve army of the unemployed that was used to reduce labor militancy - and contribute to the more than twenty-year slide of wages and salaries in the US. A generation ago a Notre Dame graduate could typically find a job that would support his wife and children and afford him a house and a car. Now two such graduates are fortunate if they can procure jobs that together will afford them rent on an apartment. (Feminist demands for justice in the workplace were surely appropriate; but like those of the conservative unions in the US, they have the effect of reinforcing class exploitation so long as that is not challenged directly.)
The genius of capitalism - the wage-contract - means that capital never has to notice that there's a person and not just a worker on the other end of the contract - even if the worker has body piercings. What one historian has described as "the equal exchange between free agents which reproduces, hourly and daily, inequality and oppression" is not finally challenged by liberal demands on social issues; those who preside over that system generally accept those demands. Much of modern liberalism so concentrates on those demands as to acquiesce in that economic inequality and oppression. The subservience of liberals to the Clinton presidency is built upon that fact.
As head of the British government the awful racist Winston Churchill declared, "I have not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire" - but that is of course exactly what he did. Similarly, few who voted for Clinton in '92 thought he'd become President to preside over the liquidation of the New Deal - but that is precisely what he did. Churchill at least was reluctant.
As Chomsky puts it, "Leading sectors of wealth and privilege taste blood. They think, with some reason, that they have the world's population by the throat, and are in a position to roll back the hated welfare state for the general population and everything that goes with it: health and safety standards, labor rights and human rights generally, indeed any infringement on their right to pursue `the vile maxim,' as Adam Smith described the goal of the masters: `all for ourselves, and nothing for other people.'"
What is as surprising as it is appalling is the acquiescence of the liberals in this program. As Michael Moore noted, "Reagan and Bush never would have been able to get away with eliminating welfare or enacting Nafta. They needed a Democrat to pull that off." Liberal America didn't die a natural death in the elections of the 1990's, but neither was it murdered, exactly: it was a case of PAS - physician-assisted suicide - and Bill Clinton was the good doctor.
C. G. Estabrook teaches history at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign - as he once did, long ago, at the University of Notre Dame. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Back to top
Israel's Premier Leads Middle East to War
On December 7, 1989, some 20,000 Israelis, Palestinians, Europeans and Americans gathered together in Jerusalem under the official slogan "1990 -- a time for peace." Holding hands, the protesters slowly walked alongside Jerusalem's walls, trying to create a human chain around the Old City.
I stood at the entrance of the Nablus gate, located in East Jerusalem, singing peace songs with a section of the crowd. We could see our fellow demonstrators advancing from the other direction. But before they reached us, the police attacked -- dispersing the crowd with tear gas, water blowers and rubber bullets. Protesters, some of them with children in their arms, ran in every direction trying to hide. The violent action of the Israeli security forces was taking place the east part of the city where the majority of the protesting population was not Jewish, but Palestinian.
The events which took place on that particular day were symbolic of the ongoing, if fraught, Israeli-Palestinian peace process. After years of oppression and strife, a peace initiative finally began with the help of European and American mediators. Yet before it could mature and develop, and before trust could be built, hostilities had erupted once again.
The recent renewal of clashes between Israelis and Palestinians is not about a tunnel, or about Prime Minister Netanyahu's unwillingness to redeploy the Israeli troops in Hebron. The bloodshed is not a direct result of Netanyahu's decision to reinstate the strategy of demolishing Palestinian houses, nor is it a reaction to the destruction of eight Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem only a few days before the fighting began. I would even argue that the confrontations are not due to the government's resolution to resume the construction of 1,800 Jewish houses on Palestinian land. These are but symptoms of a policy which at its very core seeks to deprive the Palestinian population of the right to self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The central issue is the far from radical Palestinian demand for statehood. This is a basic right that we, the Jewish population living in Israel, have been enjoying for over 48 years.
By continuing to deny the Palestinians this right, Netanyahu is attempting to choke off the peace process. The recent deaths of over 60 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, including 10 children, and the injury of over 1,600 people is a direct outcome of the course he has chosen.
Since the bloody clashes, the Israeli authorities have imposed a military siege on the towns and villages of the West Bank; they have also hermetically sealed off Gaza Strip. Physicians for Human Rights - Israel (PHR) - reported that the movement of ambulances and medical personnel has been obstructed, especially to and from major clinics and hospitals. Medical supplies are not reaching pharmacies and hospitals. The situation is so precarious that PHR together with Rabbis for Human Rights are operating an emergency 24-hour telephone line for Palestinian patients who are delayed or stopped at checkpoints as they desperately try to make their way to hospitals.
This obstruction of free movement is not only a consequence of the recent violence; it is also causing the unrest. Netanyahu's rhetoric of "peace and security" is nothing but lip service. His punitive strategy is one of strangling the Palestinian population economically, an approach used following the suicide bombings in February and March.
The Gaza Strip's unemployment rate of over 60% and the West Bank's 50% are, in large part, a consequence of the ongoing closure -- the sealing off of the territories. The agricultural sector is suffering, as many farmers are not able to reach their fields. The closure also prevents farmers from marketing produce outside their place of residence. As a result, there are acute shortages of fruit and vegetables in the main towns. 120,000 Palestinians are prevented from reaching their workplace in Israel and East Jerusalem, while even the movement of workers inside the West Bank is often arrested. Since September 26, the Israeli authorities have denied Palestinian fishermen access to the sea.
Dr. Ruchama Marton from PHR asserts that due to the obstruction of movement of medical personnel, Palestinian doctors have lost over 14,000 workdays in the past half year. The closure is also disrupting education, particularly since it is common for students and teachers to study or teach in villages and towns other than those in which they live. Family visits to the more than 3,500 Palestinian political prisoners who are still held in Israeli prisons have been canceled until further notice.
Netanyahu's ongoing siege is in clear violation of the Israeli-Palestinian Agreement, particularly Article XXI(8), which emphasizes that "the West Bank and the Gaza Strip [are] a single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which will be preserved during the interim period." The restrictions on movement are measures of collective punishment that are in clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
As history seems to be repeating itself, with the region on the brink of a second intifada, it becomes more and more apparent that Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir, has triumphed. The murdered peace-maker has been replaced by a Prime Minister who uses the language of reconciliation while actively eradicating any possibility of achieving a just and peaceful settlement. For the first time in perhaps 29 years, Israeli tanks rolled down the streets of West Bank towns and Palestinian protesters were sprayed with bullets from helicopters. In short, it took Netanyahu a mere 100 days in office to destroy the modest amount of trust that Rabin had built up.
Reflecting the despondent mood of many Israelis, a journalist for Israel's most popular newspaper Yediot Ahronot sarcastically wrote: "Prime Minister Bibi toils diligently 18 hours a day, thinking seriously about absolutely everything. In fact, I've heard it said that Bibi has a name for the next war."
As Rabin s assassin rejoices in his cell, and Netanyahu leads the Middle East to war, President Clinton s ineffective and nonconfrontational words to the neophyte Prime Minister were highly inappropriate. If peace is the goal, his words were totally inadequate.
Neve Gordon is a graduate student in the Department of Government at Notre Dame.
Back to top
American Presidents and Business Versus Community
"The business of America is business."
-- President Calvin Coolidge
The well-known quotation above has almost assumed the status of sanctity in the minds of some (usually business) people but it is truly an ill-balanced and very pernicious idea. First, it suggests that the highest elected political figure in the country thinks that business is the primary, basic, most important activity of the nation. It also suggests that America's central elected official is not above the frenzy, ruthlessness and greed of the marketplace, but is in and for it. It grossly overlooks or ignores the fact that probably the majority of Americans are not business people or are only indirectly involved with business -- house wives/husbands, civil servants, factory workers, field "hands," employees, most military personnel, teachers, manual laborers and so on. It suggests further that the president (not to mention Congress) regards no little part of his role as the encouragement of business and thus of business values and interests -- of competition, profits, capital growth and the acquisition of foreign markets, both of which have enormous impact in the class-dividing of Americans as well as on the well- or ill-being of the inhabitants of countries vulnerable to American market pressures.
Probably one justificatory ideal behind this sentiment is, as a high-placed corporation official put it in the 1950s, "What's good for GE is good for the country." That remark comes across as more than mild irony in 1996 amidst brutal mid-level corporation job cuts and incredibly inflated CEO raises and other payoffs. Yet even back in the supposedly more financially level 1950s, what was good for a corporation was hardly good for not only, say, migrant workers but even for the adult average factory or service employee (not to mention the masses of adolescent workers). True, they had a job and some job security but their salaries were hardly within shouting distance of their bosses'. Well, the retort often is, they didn't have to bear the responsibilities, risks and stress of corporate management. Does that however justify a CEO's making 20 times as much as a company worker? Is it possible too that that disparity paved the way -- along of course with other factors like globalization of capital and of the major corporations -- for the incredible 225 to 1 CEO- employee income rations typical in the mid-1990s or for the fact that 48% of the nation's financial wealth is owned by 1% of its population?
Also where do working people and their exploitation by their bosses fit into Coolidge's blunt little aphorism? If business is concerned primarily with profits, and an employee's wages get in the way, who or what protects a decent wage for the employee? Employer benevolence? There are benevolent, humane employers oriented toward both making a profit and treating their employees decently. But the rise of unions in the latter part of the 19th century hardly occurred in a vacuum; it resulted from an urgent need -- to protect the rights of workers from unscrupulous or merciless employers. Whatever the excesses of some unions -- Mob infiltration or control, union leaders exploiting the membership, unions placing unfair demands on companies -- the fact remains that without unions, the basic work conditions of millions of Americans would not have significantly improved.
When a President of the United States virtually proclaims that the main concern of the country is business, rather than community, he is showing his hand, or a hand, and that hand is the influence and interest of Big Business on the thinking and values of the supposedly democratically representative, highest political figure in the nation. It is now common knowledge that Richard Nixon "was selected and financed for a political career by top corporate executives in Southern California." The same can be claimed for Ronald Reagan in regard to the presidency. Carmen Trotta, writing for The Catholic Worker, has made the arresting observation that Presidents Reagan and Bush levelling popular revolutionary potential in Central America by stigmatizing it as a sign of Communism cleared the way for the maquiladora system"
"...the Reagan-Bush administration channeled over a billion dollars through the United States Agency for International Development to Central America and the Caribbean basin to set up industrial parks designed to subsidize and facilitate the movement of US manufacturers away from the US workers to the phenomenally cheap, union-free pool of the Third World" (Aug- Sept. 1996, p.1). Both Bob Dole and President Bill Clinton have been deeply influenced by corporate interests. Even as supposedly and famously liberal a President as FDR, who came from the highest and most wealthy class in the United States, had close friends among big financiers and industrialists. Thomas Lamont, for example, a high-placed figure in J.P. Morgan and Co., connected Roosevelt with the U.S. Steel magnate Myron Taylor (Domhoff, 246). Roosevelt used such connections often enough to help both industry and labor, but the point here is that men in industry, business and finance have close and very effective access to the President and thus exercise major influence on presidents in a way few other Americans ever could. And that power is alarming, for if the public has become better educated about the massive impact of PAC lobbying on Congress and thus on the vitality and reality of representative democracy in this country, books like Domhoff's suggest that presidents not infrequently side with, are influenced by or even derive socially or culturally from the American upper class. Thus "the Business of America is Business," Coolidge's one contribution to Western Civilization and Bartlett's Infamous Quotations lets the cat out of the Capitalist bag indeed.
The business of America however should not be business; it should be community. But there is community, some would say. There is the Business community, the medical community, etc. To be sure, there is a community among, say, business people in terms of identical or analogous interests or a proclivity to regard value in identical terms: profit, the significance of interest rates, government subsidies and tax deductions, keeping employee costs down and so on. But by these very terms the public as consumer is usually not part of this community (and of course the individuals at the apex of the Business world, the CEOs, live in a little gilded world of their own, going to prep schools and prestigious colleges, intermarrying, interconnecting on numerous high-powered boards, even being buried on private burial grounds). The powerful people in finance, industry and banking indeed compose such a tight community and are so inexorably exclusive as to be more properly called an elite rather than a community.
A genuine community includes or attempts to include everyone, again, not in terms of their financial prowess or material acquisition but through the indissoluble reality of their basic humanness and the sense of their organic interdependence based on their humanness. Such a community is not pivoted on race or gender or income or family or prep school or college status but on the ineradicable and determinative fact of one's humanness.
"Humanness" here seems a very vague and broad criterion for community, but, conversely, the term suggests the force of its appropriateness. One's human status soliciting one's right to community transcends the more specific, traditional and excluding criteria like race or class or gender or education all of which delimit a community. This sort of delimiting results in numerous sub-communities warring with each other, some so powerful (such as the Corporate community) as to dominate or even destroy others.
Here one might observe that in modern mass industrial societies there are irresistible forces moving individuals and groups into collectives. Such a grouping tends to atomize people, making them more vulnerable to centralized control economically, politically, psychologically. That very atomization, that mass relation as a form of social organization, is the very opposite of true community. People in community relate as subjects, not as objects. They fiercely resist dehumanization by any abstracted central force like the nation, or, more extreme, the State. They are "subjected" only in the accessibility of their human dependence on and interrelatedness with others. And the others are not arbitrarily high-placed "authorities," but individuals more or less as dependent and vulnerable and, as a result, as compassionate and accessible as they. Indeed, the way power and its concentration are defused and minimized is by this mutual accessibility and dependency, what the sociologist Philip Slater and other communitarians have called interdependence. Political representativeness, supposedly unavoidable in our heavily populated modern societies, is better kept under control, as what used to be called "vested interests" are at least partly restricted by the empowerment of community relatedness.
This idea of interdependence may not seem very American in a country once flaunting (and now haunted by) such legendary culture heroes of rugged independence as Teddy Roosevelt, Horatio Alger and John Wayne, but it is an operative value and reality in the history of any country, including ours, that has evolved some cultural dimensions of mutual aid, such as our contemporary and invaluable support groups. The metaphor of society as a social body means that everyone is part of society, and thus deserves inclusion in regard to the basic needs of life -- food, shelter, work and play. This metaphor has been given religious expression in Christianity in the arresting mystical conception that we are all part of the Body of Christ. If one believes or accepts that, then excluding individuals, groups, or whole races becomes an act of sacrilege. Thus it would be contradictory and even hypocritical to call oneself a Christian, profit enormously from Capitalism (as, say, an investment banker or corporation head does), and yet not heed that religious body image for all the millions of people dehumanized by a profit-driven monopolistic economy. And millions of people are dehumanized if Gary Wills' recent claim quoted earlier is true, that one percent of the population in the United States own 48% of its financial wealth, "while the bottom 80% own only 6%."
A society primarily oriented towards business interests and the idolization of profits (especially high and quick profits) is bound to be ruthless in the pursuit of those goals and thus likely to need restraints imposed by some disinterested medium. Theoretically, that is the role of the government, and once in a while the Government has provided restraints in the form of anti- trust laws, occasional protection of workers through improving working conditions, wages and so on. But all too often it has failed to protect wage earners and working people against business, especially against Big Business, with all its ramifications of power, influence and presence in the halls of Congress, key congressional committees, semi-political, semi- economic and very exclusionary bodies like the Council on Foreign Relations and prestigious research institutions and universities. But then, "the business of America is business." As long as that deadly motto is believed and sustained by the most powerful economic forces in American society, there will never be community in the United States to a significant extent, "extent" defined as everyone counting, everyone included, surely not an unrealistic goal in the wealthiest country in history.
Donald Gutierrez is Professor emeritus at Western New Mexico University. He taught English at Notre Dame in the '70s.
Back to top
For just over two years now I've been logging onto the internet, using email regularly, and surfing the World Wide Web searching for the Virtual Promised Land. Maybe my modem isn't fast enough, or my video card powerful enough, but I just can't seem to find it. It's not that I'm one of those www.heavyhitters like my friends who say that surfing is a Zen exercise, gateway to a higher level of existence, a quest for enlightenment where net- searching replaces soul-searching. Whether they really believe this is up to them, and I won't judge how others find their personal meanings. For me, the journeys into cyberspace are for recreation, communication, and to see what's new. But often the hatred and vitriol that keep surfacing do my state of soul no good, and I am left feeling cheated, empty, and certainly not satisfied. But before I go ahead and demonize this great virtual amusement park, I should comment on its merits -- it has many, and I'm a fair sort of guy.
I am second to none in advising those still doing without to buy a computer, a fast modem, and multi-media software so they can really enjoy the internet. With Christmas coming, this is a very good gift. Cybersurfing can be an adventure, and investing all you can in a good system will make all other escapes seem trivial. There are games to play, ideas to be shared, people to meet, and who knows? maybe lovers to be found. There is something for every taste and interest from acrobatics to zoology, so go ahead and get the system for Christmas.
Apart from the fun and games, the internet allows convenient communication. For those of us fortunate enough to have academic accounts, it's also free communication with people all around the world. With more and more people around the world getting "wired", and tuning into the net, the world shrinks. Forget the office memos to multiple recipients, the internet is becoming the world's meeting place. And the technology remains cutting-edge: there are companies now competing to market hardware allowing internet access right from a television, eliminating the cumbersome and slothful computer/modem tandem. So this article, for example, is being written on a popular email program and will be sent directly to my editor. With a click of a mouse, we've eliminated fussing with a stack of pages, envelopes, and the long trudge to his office or the post office. The process is neat, clean, and efficient.
Sure, it doesn't always work perfectly. These things are human made and operated and therefore there will be human error. But when it does work, it works beautifully, and it doesn't stop here, this miracle of modern convenience. Writers can now compose their work at the beach on laptop computers, fax them to their agents or editors, and go back in for a dip. Likewise, a businessman in his Lexus can scan stock prices or the cost of Nike-exploited labor in Indonesia without waiting to get to the golf course. For sports saps like myself, getting play-by-play at work without a radio is as simple as dialing into a website with that service. (As a Yankee fan, I did this while working at the Reference Desk. I could monitor The Boys' progress between patrons.)
But there are the problems associated with computers, and they aren't all technical. In the rush to build cybertopia, ultra-fast microprocessors, and all the rest, something has been forgotten. Humanity. The palpable world in which I would deliver this in person, take exams at a desk, or debate issues in a classroom viva voce is fading quickly as technology takes over. Reach Out and Touch Someone? Forget it. Emailings, websites, and downloading have replaced human contact in the office environment, and they're spreading everywhere.
We lose more than we think when we lose face-to-face contact. Because there is no face on the monitor it is easy to write whatever comes to mind. Film critic Robert Ebert opined that the internet was a forum for teenagers to go and tell each other "you suck". This is often the sad truth. Sadder still is that a lot of these people are adults, not teenagers. The level of discourse on the internet can be degrading, mean, and downright spiteful. Individuals with little else to do in their lives take this opportunity to attack anyone who chooses to respond to their "flame bait". Inflammatory messages abound, and they're not cathartic. They're masturbatory. The people who write them don't care about release, they want to unleash their fury then sit back and admire it.
We have anomie here, a sign of our cultural breakdown, evidence of alienation. It's so easy to be alienated on the internet. With millions of users, breathing fire with impunity is a matter of just writing the words and sending them out. In this faceless forum the attacks can be inhuman. After all, they are going to an electronic address rather than a real person, right? That's how it seems. The textures, sounds, and smells of the real world are abandoned on this anonymous Net where anything can be said.
It is unfortunate that this is the case. The internet is really a fascinating thing. Where else can someone find DaVinci's drawings, watch a clip from 8 1/2 while reading a Fellini biography, then learn where to eat Italian in Manhattan in less time than it takes to make popcorn in a microwave? So go ahead and buy that Pentium or new PowerMac, the high speed modem, and all the bells and whistles. Have fun. But remember that the internet is a precarious place designed and traveled by real people. They leave their misinformation, frustrations, and bizarre world views for everyone to read. Hiding from them is impossible. It's best just to delete and continue.
John-Andrew Murphy is a Library Technical Assistant at the International Studies Resource Center at Notre Dame.
Back to top
The Grand Inquisitors
Fourteen percent of the American population, given the opportunity, would impose a Christian theocracy on the country. Formerly separated brethren, Catholic and Protestant, are busy burying the hatchet and avoiding old doctrinal differences in the interests of pursuing a common political vision - one nation of clean-cut conformist subjects, ruled by an omniscient, punitive male deity. The God they obviously have in mind is one who despatched his only begotten son into the world to get slaughtered so as to ransom the rest of us. The figure of 14% comes from a survey conducted by the Gallup International Institute for the American Jewish Committee, people who have good historical reasons to get the wind up when Christian nationalists are on the move.
How worried should the rest of us be - the 86% - who would not care to live under the 14%'s god? Realistically, are these new Christian nationalists all that scary? If the movement was a backwater phenomenon led by polyester-suited, blow-dried chaps of the Pat Boone variety, we might rest more easily at night. As it is, the leaders are slick influential types, masters of propaganda whose goal is the defense and maintenance of the American capitalist system. As that system comes under increasing pressure from destablizing forces, the drive is on to identify scapegoats. The constant barrage of sermons on the phantom decline in morals is a ploy to distract folk from focusing on their economic woes. The elite, shaping and directing this movement, is composed of powerful, well connected white men. One such, Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, has already descried the enemy in the form of a "kulturkamp" out to sabotaging the country's "cherished Christian beliefs."
Also in the Catholic column are Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak and the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John O'Connor. Neuhaus and Novak are seasoned barkers for American corporations. Neuhaus edits the Christian Capitalist's house journal, First Things, which is busy banging the drum, warning of the end of democracy and flushing out the usual suspects - liberal legislators, feminists and homosexuals. In Leninist mode, Neuhaus has revolution on his mind: "only the church collectively can decide at what point a government becomes sufficiently corrupt that a believer must resist...revolution can be justified from a Christian viewpoint." For years he and Novak have been meddling in politics via their Institute on Religion and Democracy which, during the eighties, was helping to micro-manage American colonialism in Central America, giving succor to murderous US satraps. Failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, is another member of the pack; he serves as a pamphleteer for the Christian Nationalist agenda. This man is a serious hater. His wretched, misanthropic screed, Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, had even the usually cool New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani, in a lather. Appalled by pronunciamentos, such as "the desire for equality is in large part rooted in self- pity and envy," Kakutani dismissed Bork's book as "ugly and intemperate."
One of the more disturbing aspects of this whole spectacle, is the confusion these religious nationalists generate in stretches of the secular media. Because they crusade under the Christian flag, the supposition is made that they are, indeed, what they say they are, namely, Christians. The truth is otherwise. There is about all these men a touch of the Dickensian caricature - they are villains in the Victorian utilitarian mode of a Josiah Bounderby. However, their strategy for the revolution -- to subdue the American demos -- owes more to a book written by John Locke in the 17th century, another period of social and economic upheaval. In The Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke advances the idea that Christianity is an excellent lever for social control. It mattered little if the elite itself was indifferent to the teachings of Jesus (Locke himself was almost certainly agnostic); Christianity's usefulness lay in its potential for getting a disaffected, possibly mutinous citizenry to accept a gospel of virtuous submission in this world, in return for the promise of a swank life in the hereafter.
There is something faintly comic about the picture of the 86% of us who do not want to join their revolution being berated by these hucksters for our self-indulgence and hedonism. Handsomely rewarded by capitalist foundations such as Scaife, Heritage and Olin, or the American Enterprise Institute, any tilt in the direction of Franciscan renunciation in their own ranks would be unthinkable. Which brings me to the obvious question the 86% should be asking: What in heavens name is the connection between Christian nationalism and the biblical Jesus? While the secular media continues to suffer from theological illiteracy, the Christian Right's dodgy theology planes will never be explored. For example, they are never called on their sleight of hand when they substitute for the Jesus of the Gospels with the mythical Christ figure of a triumphalist Christian tradition. It is a critical distortion which explains how they are able to distance themselves from a body of teaching that contradicts everything the religious right for.
I was struck recently by the power of myths and the ease with which they are constructed while reading the review of a book on Jackie Onassis. The reviewer, Christopher Hitchens, shows how quickly the known facts of her life have been swallowed by the myth. No matter that she was an empty vessel of no particular gifts or distinction (other than a voracious lust for money), iconically Ms. Onassis has come to represent the ideal of composure and superiority associated with good breeding and aristocratic taste. Hitchens writes: "This babe had always known the price of everything, and sensibly left the haggle over values to those who fondly believed that she was a lady to her fingertips." She never thought "it her mission on earth to raise the tone." This was a woman who had as her room-mate during her last years a vulgar diamond merchant, Maurice Templesman, a chum of Zaire's ghastly dictator, General Mobutu. Whatever the reasons for its utility might be, the myth has eclipsed the historical woman.
Something of this sort - though in reverse fashion - has happened to Jesus. If Jackie's myth reconstitutes her as something more than she was, the Christ myth diminishes Jesus the man. The documentary evidence of his short life is exiguous, and was in any case written retrospectively by guys with various axes to grind. In his book, Jesus: a Life, A.N. Wilson writes: "The chances in such circumstances of catching the ipsissima verba of Jesus are slight. And yet, if Jesus did not say some of the words that are attributed to him in the New Testament, we find ourselves in the presence of a remarkable body of sayings, and feel like the critic who said that if Bacon did not write the plays of Shakespeare, then he missed the opportunity of a lifetime....The stories of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the body of apophthegms known as The Sermon on the Mount, the dozens of parables, questions, moral saws and arresting psychological insights which have been attributed to Jesus cannot be ignored."
However, from the beginning Christians have subscribed to two very different images of Jesus. The first is the man who followed in the tradition of the Jewish prophets, the Galilean "Hasid" with quite a lot to say about how we should live with one another in the here and now, and who placed the new commandment, - "love they neighbor as thy self" - in the same category as the older one about loving God. Of this Jesus, Jewish scholar Joseph Klausner says: "In his ethical code there is a sublimity, a distinctiveness and originality in form unparalleled in any other Hebrew code." But this Jesus is demanding and leaves no room for complacency or self-congratulation. Redeeming the nasty stuff in our own natures and in society's, has to be a constant struggle. He makes no bones about the arena of greatest temptation - greed and the commodification of our neighbor. This Jesus is the sworn enemy of the Christian Nationalism's intolerance, avarice and cruelty towards people who have drawn the economic short straws in the crap game of the free market.
The prophetic Jesus cannot be tamed by institutional churches - never mind capitalist think-tanks. So it is to the other Jesus - the iconic Christ figure shrouded in myth and mystery, shorn of incarnational reality - that the Christian nationalists bow down. While this Christ floats above history he can be conveniently tethered to man-made creeds and theological formulations that serve personal, class or national interests. He has been worshipped on slave-holding plantations, in Nazi Catholic Bavaria and Protestant Prussia, as well as in fascist Spain and Italy. Crusades, Inquisitions and infamy of every stripe have been conducted under the sign of this Christ's cross. The real Jesus preached that God could be pleased only by kindness and goodness - that there was no substitute for justice and virtue. In contrast, the Christ of Christian nationalism is indifferent to the way men share their spoils or abuse welfare mothers and their children. Jesus warned of such false prophets: 'Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out devils, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matt. 7:22.)
Ann Pettifer is an alumna of Notre Dame.
Back to top
In the Nick and Trick of Time: An Ode
David Garrick, C.S.C.
On the occasion of the University administration's refusal to permit the College Democrats to sponsor an observance of Coming Out Day, since it had come to the administration's attention that an unacknowledged group of lesbian and gay Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College students had hoped that the College Democrats would do so.
In the nick and trick of time,
caught in the very act were several students
of that pack suspected
of an unsatisfactory desire,
an unfitting love--
students with unspeakable affections
(affections that were heretofore
best left unmentioned),
affections that allegedly were formed or founded
in the ciphers of helical codes
that constituted those students
(eighteen, nineteen, twenty years ago)
amidst the merge and process of their separate conceptions.
Caught red-handed, apprehended, were they,
in the very act of truth--
those young intrusive men and women,
students with those until recently unspeakable affections--
in flagrante delicto caught
with yet another reckless and unauthorized desire--
the craving for (of all things) equity.
Guilty were those students found
of having visions, dreaming dreams
of their own Coming Out Day sponsored
by a different--an acknowledged--student group
(a sympathetic crowd of feckless leftists,
whose consistency with Catholicity
has been--up till now--acknowledged
in the bright and highest places of the University).
Thus had they been dreaming that,
by this transparent subterfuge,
the powers of the University could be traduced,
and they, themselves, the students, would be
impotently permitted to commit,
on Friday October Eleventh, an illegal picnic,
with the waving back and forth of rainbow banners
round the fountains of the Peace Memorial.
Of this grand illusion they were quickly disabused--
and sentenced to silence for the vice
of wanting to distribute purple ribbons.
We have been saved,
saved from the unsuitable desires
of the students with those heretofore unspeakable affections,
spared the grating indignity
of having to glance at their banners,
and of having to think,
and of having to decide to wear or not to wear
their insidious and pretty purple ribbons--
those sly symbols of an unacknowledgeable day.
In the nick and trick of time we have been saved
from their gratuitous attempted act of truth,
saved from those intrusive students
and their thin minority affections--
protected from their craving for (of all things) equity.
Fr. David Garrick, C.S.C. teaches in the Department of Communications and Theatre at Notre Dame.
Back to top
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way"
Fourteen and frightened
"Behold, a young woman shall conceive"
Mary, handmaid of the Lord
more than a youth
but hardly a woman
"Overshadowed by the power
of the Most High"
Shaking her head in disbelief
but not doubt
"Then let it be according to your word"
For months the constant awareness
the tethering of two lives, one to the other
the mystery within
growing, stretching, becoming
the simple and wondrous inevitability
A child is going to be born
"Blessed are you, and blessed
is the fruit of your womb"
At meals, in her eating and drinking
thinking to herself
and smiling quietly at the miracle
Here, child, this is my body
this is my blood
Be nourished and grow strong
"And of his kingdom there will be no end"
Weary and hot
sweat glistening on her young brow
eyes squinting against the sun
and her belly a burden never set down
"And they went up
from Nazareth unto Bethlehem"
Slow and steady moved the donkey's feet
Quick and anxious moved the child's feet
Counting the days
Trudging from inn to inn
tired and impatient
angelic visits only a dim memory
"And the time came for her to be delivered"
At last a stable
at least a stable
with coarse straw, and just in time
"On that day all the fountains
of the great deep burst forth"
Water breaking, gushing endlessly
parting that the child might cross
Counting the minutes
"And she gave birth"
Fifteen now, still frightened
her whole world absorbed into contractions
wave-like setting the rhythm of birth
The whole season of Advent
painfully compressed into hours
Spine-tingling anticipation, excitement
"In the beginning"
This is it, child
there's no more turning back
Sweat glistening on her brow again
chilled in the night air
eyes opened wide, seeing little
"In pain you shall bring forth children"
laboring, breathing, straining
Salvation is hard work
fingers clenched, then stretched
and clenched again
The whole pressure of Advent between her legs, painful
"As the mountains were brought forth"
Gasping to herself, and vomiting
So this is the majesty of creation!
all thought of the child, any child
buried in the pain
Eyes opened more than wide, peering
into the darkness
Please can I stop?
But there is no more turning back
and prayers uttered in gasping breaths and pain
"All creation groans in travail"
And Mary pushing, aching
Must I die, Lord?
In order to save your people
must I die?!
"Not my will, but thine"
And more pushing
eyes staring wildly into pure darkness
hair stringy with sweat
oh, God, still pushing
fingers stretching to nowhere
And a head
at last a head
in the darkness, a child's head
"Glory to God in the highest"
And renewed pushing
then a body, a child's body
comes forth like a rushing wave
wet and bloody and struggling
already impatient with this world
Panting in aching exhilaration
eyes closed but seeing so much more
"The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light"
A new life, no longer within, untethered
Sensing that now
I must share this child with the world
Mary, handmaid of the Lord
soaked in sweat
peacefully holding her child, the child
"And she wrapped him in swaddling clothes"
Rags, and yet priceless tonight
Watching the child, her child
checking every feature and detail
marveling, so this is a baby!
my oh my, so this is a baby!
How can the world ever be the same again?
lifting the child
gently to her breast
tiny fingers touching a whole new world
a whole new world!
And a tiny mouth gently tugging
at Mary's nipple
"And you shall call his name
God with us"
David Weiss is working on a Ph.D. in Ethics at Notre Dame.
Back to top
Metal Finishing Work
It s only a summer job I was telling myself when
one of the black men who worked the floor with me
held up the joint that he and his friends were passing around--
Yo, college boy, you know what this is? You want some?
I heard a weary ghost saying yes. What did it matter?
In no time at all, the bullhorn would summon us back
to hell, and I'd be trapped inside a dead animal again.
Solemnly, I tugged that ache of smoke into my lungs,
and tried not to choke. Then I coughed until my eyes watered
and my nose ran. Well, they had just the remedy for
something like that: a slug of the barn fire that was
burning inside a brown paper bag; then a lukewarm beer
to chase it down. Let the good times roll, came
rumbling out of a car radio, and I was dancing
in place, drumming on the lid of a garbage can. It was
there a line of Hart Crane's first made sense. Blinking up
into the sun carpet-bombing our blue and proper alley,
I actually saw a rip-tooth of the sky s acetylene.
And so too they shamed me into tossing my chopped liver
sandwich. How could I be so close to Mama Lucinda's
and deny myself her famous pork barbeque? And though
my parents kept a strict Kosher table, I had to admit
the plain white bread sopping thick with axle-grease
and smoky, ash-crusted meat tasted sweeter
than the boiled chicken there would be no avoiding
that night. And they were also right about hell
looking better when you re all broken apart inside.
In the roiling broth, a universe was taking shape--
stars and planets blossoming forth. Brother,
ain't this shit work, or what, someone said. Shoulder
to shoulder, we dropped our nets into a sea of boiling
dragon s blood where bolts and rivets bobbed like broken teeth.
Max Westler teaches in the English Department at Saint Mary's College.
Back to top