Posts Tagged ‘Arena’

Witnessing the Show in New York’s Own Colosseum

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, JAN. 19, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On a recent trip to New York City, I was struck once again by the intense and dramatic contrasts that live side by side in this cosmopolitan mecca. The juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane that one witnesses there brings to mind some of the most dramatic moments in history.

Sometimes I can glimpse what it must have been like to be in Rome during the first years of legalized Christianity, when the pagans were desperately fighting the oncoming tide of conversion (a win for the Christians,) or in Paris during the Enlightenment when the secularists were mounting the offense against an established Church (things went badly for the Church on that one). Today it feels like another epic battle is raging over the soul of yet another city, and, as in the case of Paris and Rome, the result will have implications for the world.

The New York skirmishes and victories range from the sublime to the ridiculous. And while the political arena may seem to be the best place to watch the battle for America’s soul, I was actually more struck by stories from the contemporary Colosseum: the entertainment world. Amid the theaters and sound stages of New York, I saw innocents thrown to the lions of dance and music, the emergence of a new Ben Hur, and a quiet witness that has prayerfully watched the comings and goings for decades.

Lady Gaga gags the Gospel

Last Thanksgiving, while Americans were thanking God (or some unspecified, unseen benefactor) for their blessings, pop singer Lady Gaga, baptized Stephanie Germanotta, was offering thanks to herself for the gift of herself at her former high school, the Sacred Heart Catholic School in Manhattan.

Sacred Heart School was founded in 1881 by the French congregation of the Society of the Sacred Heart, and is the oldest private school for girls in New York. Ms. Germanotta filmed her “holiday” special at the school reflecting on the events and experiences of her 29 years.

Granted, Sacred Heart isn’t known for producing Nobel prize winners — most of the celebrity alumnae are actresses — but one wonders what alumna Eunice Kennedy-Shriver would have made of Ms. Germanotta crooning her hit “Born This Way” (the tired genetic excuse for unbridled sexual license) after Kennedy-Shriver’s lifetime crusade to help people born with disabilities to lead a life of dignity.

Ms. Germanotta is less known for her formidable singing talent than for her provocative get-ups and tawdry music videos, which are usually one step shy of pornography. Taking a page from her predecessor Madonna, Gaga has a penchant for using Christian imagery in her exhibitions, from wearing an upside down cross over her genitals to donning a parody of a religious habit in red latex and eating rosary beads. With this in mind one wonders whether she is truly the best role model for a K-12 audience in a “Catholic” school. As Catholics, do we honor anyone who achieves notoriety, or those who provide a model of Christian virtue?

More pointedly still, Ms. Germanotta is an active supporter of contraceptive and abortion providers, and a very determined proponent of gay “marriage.” Curious that this gave no pause to school leaders and parents who permitted 8-year-olds in their Catholic school uniforms to sing her anthems before a television camera.

This situation bears more than a passing resemblance to Notre Dame University’s 2009 decision to confer an honorary degree on the openly pro-abortion President Barack Obama. If we are going to offer platforms to those who denigrate our teaching, how can we be surprised if the faithful are confused?

But what is most striking to me, in the present climate of sex abuse and scandal, is that no one questioned Ms. Germanotta’s performance of her song “Bad Romance” in front of the high school students singing into a phallic-shaped microphone. Were a priest or a religious sister to do something of the sort, the law suits would (rightly) accumulate faster than Lady Gaga’s costume changes. As it stands, parents, children and teaching faculty proudly stood by and applauded. The New York notion of protecting youth and setting a good example for young women seems oddly contradictory.

This is not the first time Ms. Germanotta has returned to her old school. In 2010, she attended her sister’s graduation wearing a transparent lace bodysuit and black veiled hat, eclipsing the achievement of the graduates by drawing attention to herself. Even media sympathetic to the singer recognized that she was “getting even” with a school where she had felt “bullied.” Not unlike Lord Voldemort and Hogwart’s, Lady Gaga too got her revenge, unfortunately with the full support of the director of Sacred Heart School.

Book of Mormon vs. The Joy of Sex

Lady Gaga’s adolescent antics are minor compared to the expletive extravaganza set to music in the Broadway musical, “Book of Mormon,” which I saw together with a Mormon friend. Written by the authors of “South Park,” it opened in March 2011 to constantly sold out audiences. Critics heaped praise and awards on the musical, while detractors mutter that the teachings of the Church of the Latter Day Saints have been taken out of context. Yet most commentators suggest that it’s all fun and games set to catchy music.

I admit, I was an erstwhile fan of South Park and its equal opportunity satire, but Book of Mormon seemed less democratic in its jabs. The story is ostensibly about two young Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to share their scripture. The villagers are uninterested as their lives are consumed by poverty, famine and AIDS. When the local warlord plots to mutilate the women of the village, however, the villagers decide to feign conversion so as to flee. When they go for instruction from the Mormons they encounter an especially ignorant missionary who makes up his own revelation from snippets of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. When the ruse is discovered, all conclude that religion is better when taken as a metaphor instead of literally.

My first red flag went up with the portrayal of the Ugandans, seen as virtually illiterate, and enslaved by their sexual instincts. I don’t know what a Ugandan would make of being presented as almost bestial in his desires and with a vocabulary limited to profanity. (In the show, all but one of the 75 instances of foul language are uttered by the Ugandans.)

Furthermore, the story presumes that female genital mutilation is a normal practice despite the fact that Uganda outlawed the practice in 2009, blazing the trail for other African nations. And although the plot supposes that the overwhelming majority of Ugandans are infected with the AIDS virus, Uganda has been the most successful battleground against AIDS with its “ABC” policy, of Abstinence, “Be faithful,” and Condoms, with the latter seen as a last resort. Thanks to this program HIV has declined dramatically in Uganda, and between 1991 and 2007, HIV infection rates dropped by more than 50%.

Frankly, the AIDS question made me realize this was not merely a satire of what Mormons believe, but also an attack on any religion that teaches morals, especially sexual morals. From that moment on, I saw every joke about the Mormon angel Moroni as if it were about Gabriel and the Virgin Birth, and the show became less funny.

The next, very catchy, number was called “turn it off,” about leaving painful experiences behind and forging onward. If these were Catholic missionaries, it would be called “offer it up.” After a few desultory lyrics about authentic family tragedies, the song gets to its real point: homosexuality. At this point the missionaries are transformed into a pink-sequined kick-line of sexually repressed young men.

That’s when I started to do a little math. Proposition 8, the California amendment banning gay marriage, was passed in November 2008, largely with the support of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who provided a great deal of the funding and the door-to-door canvassing to pass the legislation. The Mormons were very hard hit in the backlash from gay activists with everything from protests, to vandalism, to threats of violence.

“Book of Mormon,” like Lady Gaga’s return to high school, smacks of revenge served with music and lyrics. The authors claim to have a long-standing interest in Mormons, but I suspect that the rewrites between 2008 and 2010 underscored the homosexual angle.

Again, it seems that by slapping the LDS, the writers were really after any church that stands by its teachings. As a Catholic watching Broadway bully the Mormons, I kept thinking, why don’t you pick on someone your own size?

“Book of Mormon” is weakened further by its relentless obscenity. Even The New York Times review of the play admitted that the musical was “more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak.”

A friend and fellow art historian had perhaps the most reasoned criticism of the show, “So much expense, so much work and so much talent … for this?” The sexual humor and profanity soon become tired gags.

Engaging the camera

While the dark clouds of sex and satire obscuring stage and screen may suggest a bleak forecast, I also witnessed a great force for the year of evangelization, in the newly nominated Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York.

The morning of Jan. 6, I went to morning Mass in the cathedral (silly me, I thought Epiphany was a holy day of obligation) and saw Cardinal Dolan just hours after the nomination, as TV cameras and reporters were piling into the church. Archbishop Dolan met the cameras with ease, explaining his new duties and his commitment to his present responsibilities with a clarity, confidence and joy that was more engaging than any show tune.

He then walked across the street to the set of the Today show, and, pre-empting politics and entertainment, used his new status for a few instants of morning evangelization.

My most memorable New York moment, however, was walking out of the “Book of Mormon” theater, relativist mantras still resounding in my head, and seeing a little chapel directly across the street. It was the Actor’s Chapel dedicated to St. Malachy, which has been quietly sitting on 49th Street since 1902. The prayerful space holds chapels to St. Genesius, the patron saint of actors and St. Cecelia, the patroness of music. Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, Bob Hope and Ricardo Montalban prayed here, and Jimmy Durante served at Mass.

The tabernacle with its little red Eucharistic lamp reminds us that Christ sees all. He has been mocked before, far more severely than any musical taunt could, and he has triumphed.

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The Vital Role of Spiritual Values

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 29, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The intersection between religion and politics continues to provide ample cause for debate, with contentious issues in the areas of bioethics, family policy and social justice. While some insist that religion should have no place in politics, a book published last year proposed that a pluralistic democratic society is in need of faith and religious arguments in public debate.

Brendan Sweetman explained his position in “Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square” (InterVarsity Press). Sweetman, a professor of philosophy at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, is convinced that attempts to remove religion from politics are based on a misunderstanding of modern pluralism.

Sweetman starts with an explanation of what he terms “worldviews” that underpin our concept of reality, the nature of human persons, and moral and political values. A wide variety of these worldviews exist, some of them purely secular, others that are based on religion. 

Proponents of secularism, the book explains, wish to exclude worldviews founded on religion because they are supposedly based on sources that are not reliable or are irrational. In a pluralistic society is it not sustainable, according to secularists, to introduce religious arguments because this is imposing elements of a religion on others who do not share these beliefs.

Rational

Sweetman quickly points out, however, such a position ignores the substantial part that reason plays in religion. Sweetman, who early on in the book declares his Catholic faith, cites the example of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” which contained a lengthy explanation on rational grounds for opposing abortion. 

“The secularist conveniently ignores the issue of the rationality of religious belief, or superficially denies that religious belief can be rational, or fails to compare the rationality of religious belief with that of secularist beliefs,” Sweetman argues.

It is time, he proposes, that we move away from the view that religion is somehow a synonym for irrational. The religious view of the world in general, Sweetman maintains, has nothing to fear from rational scrutiny.

The book also maintains that religion should not be considered as some kind of threat to democracy; on the contrary it can make a valuable contribution to public debates. For a society to be truly democratic it should take into account the worldviews of its members and allow them to participate by adding their voice, it says.

Religion can also make a valuable contribution to discussions on human rights, political values and the concept we have of the human person, Sweetman adds. 

He admits that religions do not always live up to the beliefs they proclaim, and that there is often disagreement among religions on moral, social and political matters. Moreover, not all elements of religion are suitable in terms of providing guidance for public policy, and Sweetman also explains that he is not claiming that all religious beliefs are rational. 

The religious worldview does, however, have a valid contribution to make and it deserves a hearing. In fact, suppressing a religious worldview without any chance of a public debate being held on the arguments it proposes is a violation of democratic principles.

One objection raised by secularists, Sweetman notes, is the argument that religion introduces division and dogmatism, or even violence, into the political arena. It is true that religion can divide, Sweetman admits, but this is equally true of purely secular-founded arguments. The 20th century provides abundant examples of excesses committed in the name of secular ideologies.

Catholics in action

A series of recommendations over religion’s role in politics came last year in the form of a question-and-answer booklet authored by the Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona. In his pamphlet, “Catholics in the Public Square,” published by Basilica Press, he recommends the faithful to be respectful of the beliefs of others, or of those who have no faith.

At the same time, however, “Catholics should not be afraid to embrace their identity or to put their faith into practice in public life.”

The Church, Bishop Olmsted continues, does not seek to impose its doctrine on others. It is, nevertheless, legitimately concerned about the common good, the promotion of justice and the welfare of society.

There is, unfortunately, he observes, discrimination against people of faith, and especially Catholics when they express their views in public debates. Not only is there misrepresentation of what Catholic view are, but there is also outright hostility to people of any faith.

“Nonetheless, it is our duty to engage the culture, not run from it,” Bishop Olmsted comments. People of faith, like others, have every right to bring their views and beliefs into public.

Basic values

Another recent contribution to the theme of religion’s role in politics came from Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl. On April 13 he spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

In recent years there has been a weakening of support in public opinion for the role of basic religious values as a support for laws and public policy, the archbishop commented. Instead of values that are common to many faiths there are increasing calls for purely secular justifications of governmental policy.

Archbishop Wuerl argued that this tendency is contrary to the prevailing views of America’s founders. There is one common principle in the American political experience, he maintained: “The belief in the binding character of moral law is fundamental to any understanding of American thought.”

Catholic thought is in agreement, the archbishop continued. He noted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the importance of the natural moral law and how the commandments are privileged expressions of the natural law.

“Religious faith has played and continues to play a significant role in promoting social justice issues as it does in defending all innocent human life,” the archbishop explained. Faith, he added, helps us to see our life and to judge right and wrong according to God’s wisdom.

Schizophrenic approach

Moreover, Archbishop Wuerl emphasized, attempting to separate morality and political life, or spiritual values from human values, is “a schizophrenic approach to life,” that only brings “devastation to the person and to society.”

“The secular model is not sufficient to sustain a true reflection on human action capable of giving guidance that is faithful to a life-giving understanding of human nature,” he concluded.

That argument is also frequently made by Benedict XVI. One of his most recent interventions on the need for faith and moral values in politics and society came in his July 5 speech to a group of bishops from the Dominican Republic, in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

It is the role of laypeople to work and act directly in constructing the temporal order, the Pope noted. Nevertheless, they need to be guided in this by the light of the Gospel and Christian love. 

Christians who are active on the public sphere should, the Pontiff recommended, give public testimony to their faith and not live two parallel lives: one which is spiritual; and another which is secular, dedicated to their participation in social, political and cultural activities. 

Instead, the Pope urged, they should strive for coherence between their lives and their faith, thus providing an eloquent testimony of the truth of the Christian message. A coherence only too often lacking among many active in public life.