Faith, Feelings and a Viral Video

I’m quite sure something happened in Washington DC last Friday.

What happened isn’t so certain.

Someone posted an edited video that went viral. There’s been outrage, apologies, and additional footage found that may not support the outrage.

I don’t know enough to have an informed opinion about whatever happened. That won’t stop me from sharing why I think what we do matters, and think acting as if I believe what I say is a good idea.


Choosing Right — or Wrong

Religion and politics can inspire emotions, and sometimes seem guided by them.

I sympathize, a little, with folks who think religion has no place in politics.

Maybe folks who think ‘religious people’ should keep away from politics see religion as essentially irrational. And often, if not usually, destructive. It’s not a new idea.

“Bunch together a group of people deliberately chosen for strong religious feelings, and you have a practical guarantee of dark morbidities expressed in crime, perversion, and insanity. This was aggravated, of course, by the Puritan policy of rigorously suppressing all the natural outlets of excuberant feeling–music, laughter, colour, pageantry, and so on.”
(H. P. Lovecraft, in a letter to Robert E. Howard (October 4, 1930))

“I do not think that the real reason why people accept religion is anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds. One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it.”
(“Why I Am Not a Christian,” Bertrand Russell (1927))

“Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.”
“So potent was Religion in persuading to do wrong.”
(“De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things),” Book I, line 101; Lucretius (1st century BC) (Alicia Stallings translation))

I’m no fan of Europe’s state-run churches. The ‘God agrees with me’ attitude I see in some — not all — politically conservative beliefs on my side of the Atlantic isn’t appealing, either.

W. J. Bryan’s 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech and its 20th-century analogs are among the reasons I don’t miss the days when America was a “Christian” nation.

Folks like Lovecraft, Russell and Lucretius lived during eras that didn’t encourage blind trust in traditional beliefs.

Lucretius started composing “De Rerum Natura” when Rome’s Senate was scheming itself into the Final War of the Roman Republic. Cicero coined “o tempora o mores” during that mess. It was not a tranquil time.

Lucretius inherited ideas about natural causes and divine pique we’ve traced back to folks like Hippocrates of Kos, Anaxagoras and Ajita Kesakambali.

Lovecraft and Russell watched Europe’s top diplomatic minds forge a plan for peace that led to global war and the dissolution of European empires. Again, not a tranquil era.1

Being Human

There’s nothing wrong with emotions. They’re a part of being human. Emotions connect “the life of the senses and the life of the mind.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 17631766)

Emotions aren’t good or bad by themselves. They just happen. (Catechism, 1767)

Emotions can tell me something needs attention. What I decide to do — that’s what can be good or bad. Ideally, my feelings and my reason would be working together. In any case, I’m expected to think. (Catechism, 1765, 17671769, 17771782)

We don’t live in an ideal world. That’ll likely become more obvious as America’s upcoming presidential campaigns get started. I expect the usual emotional appeals, demonizing and defamation — and other opportunities to practice patience and detachment.

Detachment??

I grew up in the Sixties, when many young Americans started wondering if there was more to life than making money and climbing the corporate ladder.

I was one of them. I never stopped being a Christian, partly because my parents practiced a sane sort of American faith.

On the other hand, I got exposed to enough rants and anguish over newfangled notions to encourage a somewhat skeptical view of traditional attitudes.

In a way, I don’t blame staunch defenders of propriety, God and the American way. Their world was crumbling around them. America’s youth seemed ill-suited for their assigned role as upholders of liberty, conformity and suburban living. (May 12, 2018)

Small wonder, from some viewpoints, considering ‘subversive’ ideas spread by mass media:

“…Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul
And make it hard for me to see….”
(“Pleasant Valley Sunday” The Monkees (1967))

“I’ll lie, cheat, steal for this company … but I will not give up my integrity….”
Brigadoon” (1954)(via springfieldspringfield.co.uk))

By the same token, I don’t feel like branding ideas as “Satanic” simply because they aren’t European imports or made in America.

Which brings me to why I see detachment as a virtue. Even though I keep running into the idea as something in Buddhism and other Oriental religions.

Basically, it’s because I’m a Catholic.

Detachment from wealth, making Jesus my top priority, comes with the package. (Catechism, 2544)

This is, again, not a new idea. And money isn’t the problem. It’s disordered love of money. (Sirach 21:8; Mark 12:4144; 1 Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5)

Folks needing reminders about what we believe isn’t new either.

“…Now the perfection of Christian virtue lies in that disposition of soul which dares all that is arduous or difficult; its symbol is the Cross, which those who would follow Jesus Christ must carry on their shoulder. The effects of this disposition are a heart detached from mortal things, complete self-control, and a gentle and resigned endurance of adversity. In fine, the love of God and of one’s neighbour is the mistress and sovereign of all other virtues: such is its power that it wipes away all the hardships that accompany the fulfilment of duty, and renders the hardest labours not only bearable, but agreeable. There was a dearth of such virtue in the twelfth century...”
(“Auspicato Concessum,” … on St. Francis of Assisi; Pope Leo XIII (September 17, 1882))

Free Will, Hypothetical Melodrama and Real Issues

I think I have free will. I can decide that I’ll do something, or not do it. I’m responsible for my actions. (Catechism, 17491756)

On the other hand, I’m only expected to make decisions based on what I know, and how I can act. (Catechism, 17351737)

Whether something is right or wrong depends on what my goal is, my reasons for wanting it, and the circumstances. Intentions matter, but ‘I meant well’ doesn’t make everything okay. Doing evil so that good will follow is a bad idea. (Catechism, 1750, 17551756)

Here’s where it can get a bit sticky. I can’t, or shouldn’t, kill another person: even if I’m doing it to help someone else. Not even if it’s legal in my part of the world, or I think I won’t get caught.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that one of my kids needs a new heart.

I know of a nearly-perfect donor, an orphan with no near relatives. There’s also a hospital handy with all the right equipment, staff, and flexible ethical standards.

Getting the orphan to the hospital, arranging a convenient accident, and getting my kid a new heart would be wrong. Even if my only motive was saving my child’s life.

It wouldn’t be right, even if American law was a bit less rigid about who’s a person and who isn’t.

The point in that melodramatic and hypothetical situation is not that organ transplants are Satanic. Or that helping the sick offends God.

Health is a gift from God. Taking care of my health, within reason, is a good idea. (Catechism, 2288, 2289, 2301)

What is, and is not, within reason depends on goals, intentions and circumstances; just like any other decision.

What’s tricky, I think, is remembering what’s right and what’s not during a crisis.

My experience strongly suggests that thinking clearly during an emotional meltdown is pretty much the opposite of easy.

But I’d still be expected to think, not just trust my feelings. Nobody said this was going to be easy, and that’s another topic.

Being Alive

Murders happen, but my guess is that most folks think killing an innocent person is wrong. And that it should be illegal.

I gather that suicide is more debatable. And debated.

My up-close-and-personal experience with suicide started with an impulse in my teens. At the time, I figured I’d probably last longer than the vexing situation. That was no great virtue.

I’m very stubborn, and even then recognized that there’s no future in suicide. Besides, I keep wanting to see how things turn out.

Decades later, after many more suicidal impulses and the death by suicide of someone very dear to me, I learned more about why it’s a bad idea.

And why I must not give up hope for folks who decide that life shouldn’t continue. (Catechism, 22802283)

Murder and suicide are big deals because my life, everyone’s life, is sacred. It’s a gift from God. We’re made in the divine image. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 2258, 2260)

That’s why I’m obliged to see murder and  suicide as bad ideas, refrain from kidnapping and take reasonably good care of my health. Among other things. (Catechism, 22582317)


Kentucky: Viral Video


(From Kaya Taitano/Social Media/Reuters, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Video of US teenagers taunting Native American draws fire
BBC News
(January 20, 2019)

Footage of a group of teenagers – many wearing Make America Great Again caps – taunting a Native American man in Washington DC has drawn criticism.

“The teenagers, students at Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School, are seen mocking Omaha elder Nathan Phillips as he sings and drums.

“The students were taking part in an anti-abortion rally on Friday, while Mr Phillips, a Vietnam War veteran, came for an Indigenous Peoples’ March….”

This is where I could start a rant about why folks in Kentucky hate the Omaha, the subversive nature of Catholic education, or how this is the president’s fault. But I won’t.

The first two probably wouldn’t get traction. It’s been some time since serious thinkers blamed the “city of hate” for a presidential assassination. Maybe we’ve learned a little over the last half-century.

I still run into Americans who apparently don’t like or trust anything Catholic.

But full-bore anti-Catholic bias seems to be out of vogue at the moment. At least as a mainstream, socially-acceptable attitude.

The assassinated president being Catholic may have had something to do with that, and that’s yet another topic.2

As for blaming what those kids did on the current president, I don’t see a point. There’s more than enough sound and fury on all sides of America’s current political fracas.

Criticizing BBC News for touching on American politics in the first and third paragraphs is an option, too. I can think of several reasons for mentioning “Make America Great Again caps,” a Native American being taunted and an “anti-abortion rally.”

Maybe they were seen as vital parts of the story. Maybe the idea was to imply that since some jerks display support for one side, everyone on that side is a jerk. Or maybe it’s just another attention-grabbing journalistic gimmick.

In any case, BBC News also quoted an excerpt from, and linked to, what the Covington diocese and the school said:

“The Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School have issued the following statement:

“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.

“The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.

“We know this incident also has tainted the entire witness of the March for Life and express our most sincere apologies to all those who attended the March and all those who support the pro-life movement.”
(Statement on the actions of Covington Catholic High School students, blog, Catholic Conference of Kentucky (January 19, 2019))

Make that what those kids may have done.

By Monday, BBC News had a follow-up article. And what I think is an interesting caption for the picture.


“…However, Additional Video….”


(From Kaya Taitano/Social Media/Reuters, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)

(Nick Sandmann (left) and Nathan Phillips (right) both said they were trying to defuse tensions
(BBC News))

US teen denies mocking Native American
BBC News
(January 20, 2019)

A teenager involved in a controversial encounter between a Native American man and a crowd of students has spoken out.

“A video appeared to show some of the boys laughing and jeering as Omaha elder Nathan Phillips sang and drummed in Washington.

“The footage, which went viral, led to widespread criticism of the boys.

“However, additional video footage has provided further details of the incident, while student Nick Sandmann has denied mocking Mr Phillips….

“…Mr Phillips – a Vietnam War veteran – and many other Native American activists were also at the memorial, having taken part in the Indigenous Peoples March.

“Meanwhile, a group of black men, who called themselves Hebrew Israelites, were at the scene. Video footage shows them shouting insults at many people, including Native Americans, as well as the schoolboys.

“As the group shouted at the students, some of the teenagers began chanting, and one of them took his top off.

“Mr Phillips then approached the students, singing and beating a drum, in what he said was a prayer to defuse tensions.

“He was surrounded by the students, some of whom began chanting and singing as well….”

I wouldn’t try, or hope, to convince someone with a ‘my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts’ attitude.

In my case, I don’t have nearly enough facts to have a reasoned opinion about what actually happened on Friday. And I am very glad I’m not expected to sift through what folks remember, what they think they remember, and verifiable facts.

Maybe the kids, seeing what may happen as a result of their actions, have decided on what they hope is a plausible but not entirely true story.

Or maybe they really were trying to defuse a tense situation. And did something that a diplomatic ambassador with decades of training and experience might not have.

I’m willing to accept option number two. I remember being a teen, and am grateful that I won’t go through that again.


Values


(From Thomas Nast, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(“The American River Ganges:” Nast cartoon in Harper’s Weekly magazine (1875))

As I keep saying, I don’t miss ‘the good old days,’ partly because many of my ancestors are Irish.

I probably look sufficiently “Anglo-Teutonic” to pass for part of  H. Strickland Constable’s “superior races.”

That doesn’t mean I think America should keep non-WASPs where traditional values say they belong: in the servant’s hall, fields and factories.

I couldn’t have that opinion, even if I was 100 proof Boston Brahmin with a lifetime Algonquin Club membership.3 Not if I’m going to take being Catholic seriously.

Having Boston ancestors wouldn’t be the problem. Keeping traditional ‘us and them’ values would be.

Loving God and my neighbor is a core Catholic value. Or, as our Lord put it, “the whole law and the prophets.” I’m also expected to see everyone as my neighbor. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 1789)

And I’m expected to see humans as people; no matter how young, old, or sick the person is. (Catechism, 22702279)

My country’s changed since the Sixties. I think we’re making real progress in accepting non-WASPs, and see that as a good thing.

What I call life issues is a somewhat different matter.

I think seeing folks who aren’t old or healthy enough to matter as “persons” is starting to catch on. I certainly see that as a good thing. I’ve spent my life being rather close to being Lebensunwertes Leben, life unworthy of life. I can’t reasonably support the idea. (November 10, 2017; August 14, 2016)

I see capital punishment as a life issue, too. Not because I think “a murderer is only an extroverted suicide,” as Monty Python’s cracked criminologist put it. Or expect every murderer, given a chance, to turn out like Alessandro Serenelli. (March 19, 2018; November 21, 2016)

Being “pro-life” and not in favor of capital punishment doesn’t mean I’m conservative, liberal — or confused. Just Catholic, and trying to act as if I take our beliefs seriously:


1 Viewpoints and wars:

2 Attitudes and a little history:

3 More attitudes and history:

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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2 Responses to Faith, Feelings and a Viral Video

  1. Thanks very much for this, Sir. While the incident brought some worthwhile (yet not really new) thinking points to mind, I’m now thinking all sides, including my own (whatever that is), could use a pause and chill right now. I mean, the tone and atmosphere of the whole situation has me feeling my stomach churning even with points worth thinking about from all sides, and I think of that feeling as a developing instinct that reacts to a lack of God-centered self-awareness, judging from my experiences with it. That, and it’s not like I may not be missing something, especially considering my age and my distance. God Almighty keep on helping us all, then.

    • Amen! We – all of us – can use all the help we get.

      I haven’t, happily, run into the ‘social media’ end of this situation yet. My contacts & groups are more the ‘writers and artists, science nerds and poets’ sort. Not necessarily the most level-headed folks around – who is? – but focused elsewhere.

      American news media seems to have decided on taking this ball and running with it, judging from what’s in my headline feed.

      The good news there is that the sound and fury may encourage some traffic to my stuff. The not-so-good news is that what little I saw is all too familiar. In a way, I’m a bit glad that the folks running that show **aren’t** particularly sympathetic to my viewpoints. ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?’ 😉

      I like your idea – – – that pretty much everyone would benefit from “a pause and chill.” The sort of emotions I was feeling, before sleeping on the news and reading Monday’s article, weren’t pleasant.

Thanks for taking time to comment!