Posts Tagged ‘UIC’

Dan Savage’s Brief Shining Moment

Friday, September 30th, 2011

A few years ago I attended for a time one of the world’s best business schools, and there I confirmed in “granular” detail (a B-school word) something I already knew: that after people reach a certain age, hardly anybody drinks certain brands of beer.

I have fond memories of these brands, not because I drank them–they had a taste that I never bothered to acquire–but because of their charming old advertising jingles and logos, and because of a silly joke my late Dad taught me when I was a little boy: “Albert, does beer make you smart?” . . . “It made Bud wiser.”

From a great business professor I learned of the herculean marketing efforts necessary to get people to keep drinking these beers, with inevitably diminishing returns as people reach the age of functional maturity. Just as car insurance companies know from long-collected empirical evidence that young people cannot generally make wisely considered decisions behind the wheel until about the age of 25, the major beer companies know, based upon similar research, that young people generally stop drinking their brand of beer by the age of 29–perhaps because they have finally made a few wisely-considered decisions. Therefore the big beer companies live and die by the tiny demographic margin generated by their ads.

One might say that these beers have each been branded as: “The beer America is still dumb enough to drink.”

We’ve all seen the beer ads with young, slim, attractive people having all kinds of fun in something of a Never Neverland of youth, where beer neither makes you drunk nor fat, and where the mere choice of a brand of beer impresses buxom and scantily-clad–and recently, clever and engaging–young women. Then some day reality hits, like the actual beer party that occurred when the cast of TV’s Cheers retired from the show, and some of cast got sloppy drunk by actually downing the amount of real beer equivalent to the fake beer that they pretended to consume on TV.

I have very unpleasant memories of these beers as well, and they have to do not only with the homeless alcoholics I tried to assist for over two decades, but also with the amount of swill consumed in the late 1960s and early 1970s by my contemporaries and some priest faculty at the now defunct Niles College Seminary, the former college seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago and my alma mater of unhappy memory. “Come for the priesthood, stay for the beer” seemed to have been the watchword at Niles College.

While the priests of my early youth “took the pledge” not to drink until they were thirty, the uncorked “spirits of Vatican II” changed all that. Niles College in my unhappy college years was a particular locus of alcohol consumption by students and faculty alike, and quite a shock to my, I suppose, naively pious expectations formed in the minor seminary. I recall one day when the liquor delivery truck arrived at the Niles College rectory, and unloaded what seemed to be dozens of crates and barrels of booze for a faculty soiree. This being the Archdiocese of Chicago, I then prayed for Eliot Ness, Rico, Lee, and Youngblood to pull up in their 1930s roadster and bust the place, but my prayers went in that respect unanswered. One of my proofs for the existence of God is that somehow a number of holy priests were ordained in Chicago despite everything they experienced at Niles College during that era.

Part of the “Niles Experience,” as we then called it, included the ribald, over-sexed, curse-laden, scatological, sometimes homosexual dorm humor that persists to some limited degree today among the clergy of the Archdiocese of Chicago of a certain age and outlook. This dorm humor is very similar to the dorm humor that has traversed colleges and barracks since time immemorial. This humor was also heard annually at Niles College around a beer party in the 1970s on the night of the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the quarters of a divine, a party that had a particularly defiling name for the Immaculate Conception that was finally squelched when John Patrick Cardinal Cody, several years into the recurrent celebration, got wind of it due to a dispute among the clergy when someone passed the word to him in retribution. This party for me, despite the abundance of drink, was a spiritual Dead Sea of the Archdiocese, from which sulphuric smoke followed for Chicago. What the seminary hath sometimes wrought! O tempora, O mores. . .

The seminary system of the Archdiocese of Chicago not long thereafter played a part for a year or so in the high school education of MTV personality and sex advice columnist Dan Savage, who later completed his apprenticeship in dorm speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (coincidentally, the alma mater of Hugh Hefner).

(Let me add a disclaimer here that the fine faculty of Quigley Preparatory Seminary North, as it was then called in the early 1980s, were a stellar group who wouldn’t dream of planting into Mr. Savage’s head some of the things which have issued therefrom since. Ditto for the faculty at UIUC.)

While every college dorm seems to have a guy like Mr. Savage, he has since brought dorm humor to the world in ways the world might not have imagined possible through the means of his sex advice column and television appearances. Mr. Savage writes the way some co-workers talk together privately on the job or some college students talk together in the dorm, in a coarse manner similar to the dialogue on the current popular cable TV show about New York firefighters, “Rescue Me.”

This mode of speech represents the underside of American Catholic culture. It is the way many Americans, and many American Catholics–to the shock of our Baptist and Evangelical brethren and “sisteren”–do talk informally, so it speaks to American youth in a particularly powerful way because they think that this is the way that grownups really talk, which is to a certain degree unfortunately true. In part to counter this cultural phenomenon years ago, the Holy Name Societies were founded. I’m expecting Archbishop Timothy Dolan any day now to enlist members of the NYFD to re-up in the Holy Name Society en masse for this very reason.

Mr. Savage differentiates himself from a marketing standpoint by including in this common mix of dorm speech his own variations in homosexual humor, which apparently help to keep the curious listening to him. He dispenses advice to the lovelorn by rather gleefully engaging in intimate sexual detail and pop pseudoscience, while also from time to time publicly hurling rather direct and violent threats and insults at those who anger him for various reasons.

Dan Savage’s sometimes violent writing persona is usually not that present in his public presentations to students, where he displays more honey and less vinegar, to use the celebrated distinction of St. Francis de Sales. One reviewer called Mr. Savage a “cool uncle” after his September, 2011 UIC MTV taping. His target demographic appears to be teens and young adults who still drink that certain brand of beer and who are still struggling to make wisely-considered decisions.

Mr. Savage’s knack for describing the same old sexual plumbing in hip, kaleidoscopic detail should not deceive: he is a sexual plumber who apparently loves his work, not an engineer who deeply understands it. Witness his dumb advice for couples to have affairs to spice up their relationships, trumpeted by the New York Times this past Summer of 2011 as if it was the first time human civilization had heard such a brilliant suggestion.

(Reserved for further extended comment at another time: Dan Savage’s understanding of heterosexual intimacy is almost completely blind to the experience of committed, long-term bonding as experienced by the female, and of the complex role that hormones like oxytocin and other physical and psychological processes play therein. The pictures Dan Savage draws of female-male committed love are clumsy, sad cartoons crushed down by pathetic, strained adolescent slapstick. Like the writers of “Sex and the City,” Dan Savage from time to time superimposes a gay male paradigm on the female.

If it’s any consolation, Mr. Savage is in good company. Michelangelo had a similar problem, in that, with the exception of masterpieces like the Pieta or the lovely image of Eve wrapped in the arm of the Creator in the Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel, many of the Master’s images of females appeared as “males with breasts.”)

Mr. Savage gives the lighthearted secular version of the “sex talk” previously administered in Catholic circles by physicians like my great aunt to Catholic high school girls in the 1940s, by straightforward Jesuits like Francis Filas, SJ in the 1950s and 1960s, and by Catholic couples in the 1960s and thereafter of his parents’ generation, who, like his parents, would participate in Marriage Encounter or other Catholic family activities. Mr. Savage thus represents in a way the secularized terminus of this tradition.

But Mr. Savage’s admirers or fellow activists rarely view Mr. Savage in a holistic, complete manner to the point of confronting the violence of his language. Dan Savage is on record for his scatological public threat in TV journalist Paula Zahn’s direction in 2006, and for his shared popularization of a new word for the refuse generated by anal intercourse rather spitefully assigned to former US Senator Rick Santorum in retribution for the Senator’s moral and political stances. This word is designed to appear prominently when the former Senator’s name is searched on the Internet. The Senator has been reported to be asking Google for relief from this prank, which has made Dan Savage a hero to those who can’t abide the former senator. Recently, Dan Savage stated in a televised appearance that he wanted to f___ the s____ out of Mr. Santorum. While it is possible to study anal intercourse in “granular” detail and speak as many words for offal as legend claims the Arctic clans possess for snow, such a feat buries itself in piles of its own insignificance.

Again, just about every big college dorm has, and probably always will, have its own Dan Savage.

After years of writing for newspapers handed away for free and appearing as an occasional TV talking head, Dan Savage reached national prominence and a White House invitation through his anti-bullying campaign designed also to assist LGBTQ youth, It Gets Better. I have already commented in an earlier blog on the incongruence of a writer with a history of violent language starting an anti-bullying campaign.

Dan Savage’s anti-bullying campaign has allowed him to cross over from speaking at predominantly LGBTQ events to a more general audience. Mr. Savage has thus found his way into national magazines, television, and of course the college speaking circuit where he is currently touring and taping for MTV appearances in which he dispenses sexual advice in a live-question format. His MTV taping appearance at the UIC campus in September, 2011 was not well subscribed, and staff reportedly had to rope in passers-by, but the campus newspaper gave him the obligatory puff treatment, citing merely his “sarcasm” directed at certain politicians, since after all, he is a celebrity who brought MTV to the campus. In general, the college press has been very kind to Mr. Savage, and has downplayed the violence that bursts out in his writing and occasionally on TV.

(The John Paul II Newman Center at UIC–not by any means asleep at the wheel–has like many other astute chaplaincies about the country caught on to Dan Savage. The JPII Center responded to Mr. Savage’s UIC campus appearance a few nights later with a talk to students by Dr. Ken Howell and JPII chaplains.)

Mr. Savage’s promotional photos show him in his T-shirt as the familiar “jock” who may have just stepped out of his dorm or basketball court. Born in 1964 in the last year of the Baby Boom, he is 47. Like Dick Clark and Richard Roeper earlier and many other journalist-entertainer personalities who maintained the puer aeternus mystique as long as they could, Dan Savage works the youth media circuit. For this reason I predict that some day Dan Savage will host the New York New Year’s Eve celebration, and lead the countdown from 10 to 1. Valuing authenticity, I do not expect Dan Savage to wear a wig.

I also predict that later in his career, when Dan Savage can bring only an ever smaller demographic to market, he may appear late at night squeezed in between Time-Life infomercials and old Dean Martin roast highlights, perhaps hawking his own Dan Savage brand of heaven knows what (ala Mel Brooks in the film “Spaceballs”: “Dan Savage, the lunch box. . . Dan Savage, the flamethrower”), with a cryogenic Hugh Hefner propped nearby leering his frozen endorsement from within a glass catafalque graced with frolicking images of girls he may have known, but not quite loved.

While Dan Savage has pronounced his atheism from time to time, has made a gross comment about Pope Benedict XVI’s derriere in 2009, and has criticized the Canadian Catholic Bishops for their advice against anal sex in January, 2011, Dan Savage appeared again on the Catholic radar in the Fall, 2011 when his name was associated with a series of symposia entitled “More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church” scheduled for Fall, 2011 at Fordham, Yale, and Fairfield universities, as well as Union Theological Seminary, where Mr. Savage is anticipated to speak on or about October 1, 2011.

Former New York Times writer and former Commonweal Magazine editor Peter Steinfels, who happens to be Dan Savage’s first cousin once removed, was chosen to be the moderator of the 9/16/11 Fordham event, and shared his reflections on the first More than a Monologue symposium on the dotCommonweal blog. Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights president Bill Donohue issued a preemptive criticism of the symposia on 9/15/11, as did the Cardinal Newman Society a few days earlier.

Peter Steinfels and I swapped exchanges on his blog from 9/23-9/25/11 on the violent and threatening nature of some of Dan Savage’s statements.

Now that Mr. Savage has reached national prominence and a bigger MTV gig, his overriding fiduciary obligation will be to bring to MTV the demographic group both dumb enough to watch him and also dumb enough, perhaps, to drink the beer and purchase other products being advertised during his programs. Since human gestation continues to generate people under the age of 25 who haven’t yet learned to make considered decisions behind the wheel of life, and won’t switch away from the swill they’ve been drinking until they are about 29, his success in this regard is almost guaranteed. However, I said “almost,” because Mr. Savage appears to not be able to contain his clever and uproarious wit.

(Here is a representative video vignette from Dan Savage’s presentations, containing his short comments on coming out to his mother within a Catholic context. Notable in the story is that the local priest rushed to the Savage home to calm Mrs. Savage down, and announced that he the priest was gay as well.

The rest of the video clip branches to a discussion of a sex act not for younger or impressionable viewers. But the quick shift of topic and mood is revelatory. Seconds after a heartfelt comment about his mother and something of a plea for understanding from the Catholic side, Dan Savage breezily advises a young woman who cannot sustain satisfactory suction in a sex act for her boyfriend to enlist the help of a mechanical pump. While this may have been just another day at the office for “America’s leading sex advice columnist” Dan Savage, this rapid, sad segue from soulfulness to hedonism bespeaks spirits restless and lost.

So tell me: To hear such a conflicted message was worth the Catholic Fairfield University to bus its students from Connecticut to New York for Mr. Savage’s appearance on 10/1/11?)

Like the old joke about the University of Chicago of the 1950s, where once atheists and agnostics taught the Catholic philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas to Jewish students, Dan Savage’s MTV show features a homosexual giving sex advice to mostly heterosexuals so viewers will stay tuned and buy cars, beer, or consumer package goods, or CPGs (a B-school acronym). For this, Dan Savage will probably be handsomely paid, as long as he can keep the show going. He can then endow the charities and causes of his choice until his demographic dies off (or grows up) and his infomercials inhabit the late night hours into perpetuity.

When I taught at Chicago’s St. Ignatius College Prep in the early 1980s, I taught Dan Savage’s generation of young Catholics roughly at the time of the discovery of HIV. I told my homosexual students that they were especially loved children of God. But I also taught all my students the Church’s teaching that sexual intimacy belongs for believing Catholics within a lifelong, marital, heterosexual relationship. To my former students and advisees who trusted to me their homosexual identification, I conveyed love and affirmation of their intrinsic capability for caring creativity on behalf of their family, friends, and the common good. I deeply regret that I did not more vigorously warn more of the young people whom I knew years ago away from anal intercourse, and share with them a more detailed vision of chastity, since now unfortunately, a few of them are dead. Any intimate action that requires a series of precautions against disease and injury is inevitably subject to error, and therefore inevitably subject to disease and injury.

The message that the Catholic Church offers, that of a life of chastity, is seen by some, both heterosexual and homosexual alike, in the same spirit of the definitive poem on the subject of joy-killing clergy by the poet William Blake (1757-1827). This is the first document that I had my high school students read during sexual morality classes in the early 1980s:

The Garden of Love

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And `Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turn’d to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

A Catholic response to the sentiments expressed above can be based upon the knowledge that, to the Catholic, the Garden of Love is not simply the Garden of Sex, but a much more broadly defined Garden of Love in the divine image.

To some engaging in sexual love outside the bounds of Christian love, the Christian admonition to their sexual intimacy is: Stop, and find another way to love.

This admonition is consistent with John 8:11: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”

This admonition almost never goes over well initially, whether it is from John the Baptist telling Herod to stop sleeping with his brother’s wife (result, the Baptist dead), to St. John Fisher defending the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon (result, St. John Fisher dead), to a parent advising a child not to cohabit prior to marriage, to a parent advising a child, “I love you and will always love you, but what you are proposing to do appears to be a sin that will harm you, to that sin I cannot agree, and I will continue to pray that you stop and find another way.”

These are not easy words to either live by or to deliver.

A number of writers, including the psychiatrist Miriam Grossman, MD, who unlike Dan Savage actually treated well over 1,000 college students, have pointed out that the same developmental forces that militate against young adults making sound decisions behind the wheel, militate against their making sound decisions about sexual intimacy.

This means that parents and grandparents and other close relatives should continue to play a necessary role in the successful growth of young adults, contra to the 1960s existential ideal of the fully-equipped 18-year-old leaving home and substantive conversations with Mom and Dad forever. With this in mind, Dan Savage’s parting advice to a UIC student fell a little flat:

“Someone will come along,” he said. “So much of love and relationship is kismet and chance. Your moment, and you will have many of them over your life, hasn’t come.

“Just chill.”

The Catholic parent’s message and the Catholic Church’s message to a young person contemplating sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage can be summed up as:

“I love you, but I cannot consent to the damage that sin may do to you. Please stop and reconsider.”

The Catholic call to conversion, heard long ago by St. Augustine when the little singsong voice called to him to tolle, lege, tolle, lege–take and read, take and read–has not changed in centuries:

And do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. Romans 13:11-14

Romans 13:11-14 calls upon believers to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and to leave the hedonism of orgies, drunkenness, promiscuity, licentiousness, rivalry, and jealousy–similar to the dorm lifestyle and dorm values prolonged in “alumni” singles districts in many major cities–for good.

But if one decides to stay in the virtual moral dorm, Dan Savage’s advice is right there online or down the street in a free newspaper to tell how to keep having lots of mindless fun.

The virtual moral dorm has important economic and political drivers with an interest in keeping young adults morally anesthetized and suspended without life commitments so they can remain ready, predictable consumers and contained within known and politically sure, manipulable boundaries.

For that reason, today’s young adult generation is the most heavily marketed and propagandized in human history. Little do young adults know the extent to which almost every consumer choice they face has been pre-selected from afar by sellers of clothing, entertainment, consumer goods, transportation, and housing. Similarly, political manipulators work to ensure that the strong peer orientation of teens be prolonged as far into the future life of the young adult as possible, since this trait enables easier generational manipulation by any number of Internet and media-enhanced political efforts. Likewise, this generation of young adults, with the exception of a rare TV show like “7th Heaven,” has almost never seen an intact, heterosexual family within a traditional marriage depicted on television on a continuing basis.

The humor that young adults consume has been infused with the presence of the unfortunate sitcom stereotype of the outrageous homosexual clown (which some day will be seen as inappropriate as the Stepin Fetchit character), who like the Shakespearean fool will say anything at any time to anybody. This generation of young adults has thus been carefully prepared to think that someone like Dan Savage, despite his lack of Shakespearean wit and artistry, is funny and entertaining. Because in his role as “America’s most popular sex advice columnist” Dan Savage brings together both consumer and political interests, his role as moral anesthetist and political agent temporarily has placed him in the cultural catbird seat–as long as those who like what he says don’t grow up.

Against these powerful forces of manipulation, the Catholic faith provides an invitation to grow into the fullness of human possibility through a life that values and honors procreation and the human beings who grow from it.

The Catholic message to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” does not include the incitement to violence, the permission to bully, or the rejection of personhood or integrity. It is a call to continue to grow and to love. It is in the highest sense a loving, parental duty. “To put on the Lord Jesus Christ” is the last thing postmodern parents are expected to say to their adult children, but it is in many cases both the true and right thing to say.

It is also right to oppose violence toward youth. As contradictory as Dan Savage’s own violent speech and his anti-bullying campaign might be to each other, his opposition to violence toward youth is a Motherhood issue.

But one cannot at the same time ignore the violent speech of Mr. Savage, proclaim it basically a joke with little consequence, and simultaneously assign to Catholic teaching the blame for violence against homosexual and transgendered individuals.

Despite his periodic rejections of Catholicism, Dan Savage is in many ways embedded in Catholic culture. While this may be his brief, shining, public moment in terms of notoriety and success, his obvious talents and the powerful grace of God may lead him in other positive directions.

There is an old Portuguese saying, in the Augustinian tradition, that God writes straight with crooked lines. Dan Savage’s violent speech may paradoxically and indirectly succeed now in revivifying the Holy Name Societies, provoke parents to teach their children that anal intercourse (whether for males or for females) is a bad thing, and cause a serious rejection of the work of Alfred Kinsey. But I also suspect that Dan Savage is capable of directly accomplishing a lot more good beyond the positive spin-offs of his anti-bullying efforts. This is worth a prayer or two.

(Left for another time will be a comment on how the definition of bullying is being ideologically expanded to proscribe religious objections to homosexual sex acts. Without mentioning Mr. Savage by name, President Obama referred to Dan Savage’s anti-bullying campaign during his 10/1/11 speech to the Human Rights Campaign, one of the leading LGBTQ rights organizations. If you do not think that the US is headed toward the proscription of religious objections to homosexual sex acts as the laws are enforced in parts of Canada, watch the President’s speech and think again).

Postscript:

Fairfield University provided transportation for its students from CT to travel to NYC on 10/1/11 to hear Mr. Savage say, according to the blogs:

“We have got to ignore the b___s___ in the Bible about gay people, just as we’ve learned to ignore what the b___s___ in the Bible have said about women, about polyester, about farming and about slavery. . . . ”

“They can’t see past our homosexuality to see our shared and common humanity, which is hugely ironic considering how many those priests behind those pulpits are gay. . . . ”

“For many LGBT people, faith is at once the affliction and the solution.”

Here’s an account of Mr. Savage’s 10/1/11 Union Theological presentation from the Fairfield Mirror. When a complete video or text appears, I will update the above information.

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I hope that the “More than a Monologue” series does not become simply “Another Monologue” by those who disagree with the Catholic teaching on sexual intimacy. While some have noted that the Catholic ministry Courage is apparently missing from the symposia, I should add also that Chicago’s Emmaus Ministries (for male prostitutes) also is apparently not included. To those who claim that the Catholic Church ignores ministry to male prostitutes, it should be noted that Cardinal Francis George wrote the introduction to the book, Streetwalking with Jesus, by Emmaus Ministries founder Deacon John Green.

One of initiators of the “More than a Monologue” series is Prof. Paul Lakeland of Fairfield University, who has stated, “None of these conferences has as its agenda to attack the church’s teaching on homosexuality.” Prof. Lakeland is no longer a Jesuit, but is rather stern in his own way about certain teachings of Catholicism.

In a Huffington Post article on 5/10/11, Prof. Lakeland made very clear his own differences with Catholic teaching on homosexuality:

When the Church requires life-long celibacy of all people who are not heterosexual (the demand it makes of homosexuals who wish to participate fully in Church life), it imposes a sanction which is, in effect, the imposition of a life of less love and human relationship than is available to heterosexual Christians. A call to be less loving, body and soul, is a call to be less in the image and likeness of God.

Sed contra, Prof. Lakeland. A call to chastity is to be more faithfully committed and loving with one’s sexuality, and a call to celibacy is to be more like unto Our Lord Himself. Why must we be afraid to heed God’s call to such perfection? Are not all Christians invited to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48)?

To imply that one must be sexually active in order to be fully human denies the humanity of Christ himself, not to mention those who either have lived saintly celibate lives like the Little Flower, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (a saint who is herself a great help to the sexually afflicted), or those who have struggled alone with their sexuality through a long life like Michelangelo, but whose faith, art, and creativity transcended their suffering.

Perhaps Michelangelo himself should be given a chance to speak on this very subject:

At times, pure love may justly be equated
With fervent hope; nor need it be deceived
If by all human loves the heavens are grieved,
Then to what end was the whole world created?

If I indeed honor and love you, Lord,
And if I burn, it is a heavenly calm
That emanates from you and makes me warm;
Such peace is far removed from all discord.

True love is not a passion which can die,
Or which depends on beauty that must fade;
Nor is it subject to a changing face.

That love is true and holy which finds place
Within a modest heart, and which is made,
Far above earth, a pledge of love on high.

Sonnet LX(ii), from The Sonnets of Michelangelo, Translated by Elizabeth Jennings, 1970, Doubleday, NY, p. 97.

Prof. Lakeland’s apparent teaching that one must be sexually active in order to be fully human is what I have called the “gospel according to Molly,” after Molly Bloom of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. This is an old, mistaken idea which swept through Catholic seminaries in the 1960s.

Prof. Lakeland in 2008 on the H-Catholic listserv called Humanae Vitae and Mulieris Dignitatem “two of the most destructive of recent Catholic documents,” and cited the idea of “non-reception” of dogma, a recurrent theme in his work, which also invokes his own characteristic appeals to the sensus fidelium. In my response in July of 2008, I challenged his position.

Here is a the text of my first reply to Prof. Lakeland:

Editor’s Subject: H-Catholic: Reflections on Non-reception
Author’s Subject: Reflections on Non-reception
Date Written: Mon, July 7, 2008 7:44 pm
Date Posted: Tue, 07 Jul 2008 21:59:46 -0400

Colleague,

The theory of non-reception has long intrigued me when it is invoked to justify withholding unpopular Christian teaching.

If non-reception inevitably leads to “ecclesial irrelevance,” then what are we to make of–

* “Love your enemies, forgive those who hurt you, bless those who persecute you. . . ”

* “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. . . ”

* “Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you shall have no life in you. . . ”

* “He who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. . . ”

* And the one that Peter initially “non-received,” which earned him the “Get behind me, Satan” comment from Christ:

“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. . . ”

Each of these teachings has had a long history of non-reception among Christians and non-Christians alike. Does that make them “ecclesially irrelevant”? And if not, what is the difference between these controversial teachings above, and other controversial Church teachings?

As Garry Wills noted in his 1978 book _Inventing America_, the US Bill of Rights, when parsed into survey questions, is often rejected on key points by large percentages the US population. In light of this, I struggle to understand what makes the theological theory of non-reception a persuasive idea.

I have observed over the years arguments similar to Prof. Lakeland’s as transmitted to H-Catholic on 28 Jun 2008 07:59:48, “Better to let them [non-received teachings] die the death and make it easier for a future pope to unsay the damaging parts of them.” To argue in such a manner seems to counsel a norm of silence on unpopular Church teaching.

I submit that there has been indeed a norm of silence among certain Catholic leaders on Humanae Vitae for more than a generation. I have observed this silence especially among the cohort recently passed of leading “labor priests,” who prior to their deaths became much more outspoken on the abortion question, while expressing some degree of regret for their roughly two to three decades of silence on it. They were, to a degree, conforming to a norm of silence, and to a degree for a time shared agreement with Prof. Lakeland’s apparent proposed norm of silence on un-received teaching. This phenomenon I began to describe as “The Stealth Church,” which through systematic patterns of silence attempted to nullify unpopular Church teaching.

Two recent popes have now made Humanae Vitae a centerpiece of their teaching. It is being taught worldwide to tens of millions of persons through the new Catholic media. It will certainly remain a centerpiece of Catholic teaching beyond Prof. Lakeland’s generation. When I began teaching again in Catholic schools twenty-eight years ago, I re-read and accepted Humanae Vitae’s teaching, reflecting that if I were to teach in a Catholic school, I should teach the faith completely as it is officially taught, or not teach in a Catholic school. I stand by this teaching today.

Forthright rejection of certain teachings in Humanae Vitae, such as those rejections as direct as those of Garry Wills, are rare among Catholic scholars. The stealthy answers, standing behind surveys and theories of non-reception as proxies, seem to me much more likely.

. . . .

I’m actually tempted to submit a paper on community life and urban development to the Notre Dame conference. But alas, administrative duties will probably stand in the way. . .

Cordially, with All Rights Reserved,

Albert J. Schorsch, III
Chicago, IL

You can read the complete exchange over the period 7/8-7/10/08 at the H-Catholic log.

The current collision of Prof. Lakeland, Peter Steinfels, and the topic of Dan Savage in Commonweal Magazine Internet space may represent something else: that Dan Savage also may mark the logical cultural terminus of the “Commonweal Catholic,” who rejects many of the Church’s teachings on sexual morality, and who, based on social justice claims, attempts to inhabit a position of moral superiority and exceptionalism within a Catholic Church he or she in fundamental ways rejects.

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Below, in case they are some day erased, are my side of the postings to the Peter Steinfels blog at dot.Commonweal:

Albert Schorsch, III 09/23/2011 – 3:04 am

Perhaps readers might consider the record of violent and threatening language invoked by Dan Savage before praising his wit. For some documentation, please see my post at–
http://sanityandsocialjustice.net/?p=4025

In Christ,
Albert Schorsch, III
Chicago, IL

Albert Schorsch, III 09/23/2011 – 10:39 am

Left out of the response above to Dan Savage’s statement “And I will personally track down and s_____ in the mouth of the next cable-news anchor” was his statement, “Consider yourself warned, Paula Zahn.—Dan.”

Understanding rage is one thing, but naming a specific individual in print after expressing the intent to track down and commit a very defiling form of battery upon another, is by any standard a violent threat. There are plenty of other examples of violent and threatening language directed at individuals in Mr. Savage’s statements, a few of which I documented in the blog previously referenced, including his recently broadcast statement that he wanted to “f___ the s___” out of a former US senator. This former senator BTW did not take it as a joke.

In Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III
Chicago, IL
All Rights Reserved

Albert Schorsch, III 09/24/2011 – 2:44 am

Agreed that LBGT voices must be heard in the Church. The academy, including the Catholic academy, is one place to listen and to share. No argument there. But there is no way to square the circle and urbanely bracket Dan Savage without confronting publicly and directly the violence of his language. This violence must be openly, clearly, and unequivocally repudiated if useful dialogue is to continue. This violent speech does not belong in the academy, nor in public discourse. This violent and outrageous speech may just be witty schtick now to Cousin Dan, but violent and threatening speech such as his is destructive also to the cause of LBGT. Mr. Savage might consider beginning his Retractations, and do a little 12 Step to get off the violent language thing. It would certainly help the credibility of his anti-bullying campaign. (I’ll reserve the rest of my comments to my own blog at another time.)

In Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III
Chicago, IL
All Rights Reserved

Albert Schorsch, III 09/25/2011 – 1:14 am

Peter,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I want you to understand my intent, so I lay down my barbs, and regret the one directed to you above in the form of the words “Cousin Dan.”

I have contemplated long and hard and have also written about the Christian duty to “disarm the aggressor”: “The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm (CCC 2265).” While these words are written about the duty of the state, we each play a part in achieving this common good.

While Dan Savage your cousin has proclaimed his atheism from time to time, you know him personally, and I do not. I began to pray for him a few weeks ago, because his celebrity has catapulted him beyond the stage of a naughty niche sex advice columnist in newspapers handed out for free, and an occasional TV talking head, to a cultural figure known to tens of millions, whose every word–ever–would be scrutinized, and who very likely will be cauterized in the process because of his–at best–careless bandying of violent language. But this violent language must be opposed, and, if you will, actively “disarmed,” because of the threat that such language poses to the common good. Dan Savage, after all, speaks to millions of teens and young adults.

I have come to the position that each Christian has an immediate, positive duty to speak out and act against unjust aggression within our own frame of influence, sooner rather than later. I regret not taking a much firmer and public stand when I first read Dan Savage’s violent words several years ago. So I have recently been making others aware of Dan Savage’s violent and threatening language in the hope that this language would not enter the heart of our culture, but remain forever recognized as disrespectful to human dignity.

It is rather sad, that–like Reynold Hillenbrand, George Higgins, Ed Marciniak, John J. Egan, Commonweal’s James O’Gara, all the way to EWTN’s Mitch Pacwa, SJ–Dan Savage was for a time a “Quigley boy,” an attendee at Chicago’s now former minor seminary. What is sad is that if the wisdom of our Faith were embraced by Dan Savage, he would not say the violent things he continues to say.

You and I have most likely not had the pleasure of meeting, but I did meet your spouse Margaret a few decades ago in Chicago when she was promoting Commonweal. We share, I believe, Eugene Kennedy as a teacher. I have major differences on life and other issues with Commonweal, and I ceased for those reasons to support Commonweal as an institution long ago after years of regular readership. So we can thank the Internet, or perhaps more than the Internet, that I found your blog when I searched for “Dan Savage Catholic.”

“Dan Savage Catholic” is a rather good prayer, so I’ll leave it there.

(I’ll have more to say about this at my own blog when time permits.)

In Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III
Chicago, IL
All Rights Reserved

© Copyright 2008, 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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On University integrity within a corrupt political environment

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

What I shared with my University colleagues earlier in October, 2010, and in an edited version on 11/3/10:

The author recalls the constitutional debate over the political independence of the University of California to seek a path for the moral independence of the University of Illinois.

Of interest to colleagues might be a few quotes from the convention leading up to the California Constitution of 1879, by a non-partisan, Columbia U.-educated San Francisco attorney, University of California regent, and civil rights advocate named Joseph Winans, who argued that the University of California be set up as a “public trust,” governed by an independent board of regents, separate from the corrupt California legislature.

To those who opposed such a public trust arrangement, Winans held that they “would not only throw the university into the hands of the Legislature, but make it the plaything of politics. . . as long as it is made subject to legislative caprice; so long as it can be made subject to the beck of the politicians; so long as it can be made to subserve sectarian or political designs, it will never flourish.” According to Winans, California’s university “must be beyond all power of assault and subversion.” Separately, Winans stated that he wanted UC to be structured outside of “all pernicious political influences.”

In the end, after a contradictory, topsy turvy battle, Winans’s position prevailed, and the University of California was structured as a public trust. The California Constitution read that the University would be “subject only to such legislative control as may be necessary to insure compliance with the terms of its endowment and the proper investment of and security of its funds.” According to the California attorney general, the University was a virtual fourth branch of government as a “constitutional corporation. . . equal and coordinate with the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive.”

Sources:

Douglass, John Aubrey, 2000. The California idea and American higher education 1850 to the 1960 master plan. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, pp. 67-69.

By the way, the 1880 state appropriation to UC was $10,000, or 8% of the total operating expenses, which arguably approaches the effective contribution, factoring in funds in arrears, of the State of Illinois general revenue funding of the U of I in a given month.

In part because of the lack of such a public trust arrangement in Illinois, over the past century and one half, our own University has been pressured to be a political jobs bank, to be a purchasing machine, to be a cash line of credit for the state, to accept buildings it did not plan for or need or couldn’t afford to maintain, to accept numerous unfunded mandates, to be publicly shamed in the integrity of its admissions and earlier its scholarship process while the legislative rascals who compromised the University walked away scot free, to be regulated at a higher standard than the Illinois Legislature would ever impose on itself and at an increasing rate inversely proportionate to the decline in state funding–and more–while University administrators have had to grin from time to time, and act as if they liked it.

That the U of I, including UIC, has accomplished all that it has is a testament to the savvy determination of its leadership and to the integrity of its faculty. However, the state of corruption in Illinois requires an ever more vigilant public attitude toward state government.

Therefore, the independence from political corruption of the U of I, including UIC, should be at the top of every government reform agenda in the state, no matter what one’s political persuasion. Independence from political corruption should not be limited to admissions, but include hiring, purchasing, scholarships, real estate, research, investment, in short, every kind of human value that can be turned by enterprising scoundrels into a political pay day.

While the U of I cannot be constitutionally independent of the political mess in the state–and may never be–it can be morally independent, by pursuing its missions of teaching, research, service, and economic development with absolute focus and integrity.

If we of the University transform ourselves along these lines, we can also hope to transform the state.

Never underestimate the transformative power of a university.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The White House 10/5/10 Summit on Community Colleges, and a comment on urban public education

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

The White House sponsored a Summit on Community Colleges on 10/5/10, attended by education and community leaders from around the US. Here is the background sheet for the Summit, which was also attended by Melinda French Gates, who simultaneously unveiled the competitive project designed to strengthen community colleges named Completion by Design.

During the closing session of the Summit (see minute 10:40 and following), the prominent business leader Penny Pritzker shared startling figures that 60% of students entering Philadelphia community colleges did not demonstrate sufficient literacy to be placed in classes, and that 90% of students entering Chicago City Colleges needed some form of remediation.

The urban US over the past two decades has seen a number take-overs of public schools by mayors and governors using the “CEO model” of school leadership by non-educators, now with mixed results. In Chicago in the mid-1990s, the public school system (CPS) directly marketed to Catholic school families (we received these mailings in our own home), and designed advanced schools to accommodate the children of Catholic school families after a dramatic capital campaign to build attractive newer schools. Arguably, these former Catholic and other private school children and their social networks helped raise the average test scores of the public school system, and the politicians declared victory. But also arguably, however, the low achievement of the poorest children by and large remained, and can be seen by the high levels of remediation needed by students trying to enter city and community colleges today to gain access to a profession.

I’m looking for a serious scientific study of public school achievement that separates out the addition of Catholic and private school families statistically to measure whether the poorest of the poor actually approved their academic achievement in urban public schools since the politician-led urban school reforms beginning in the 1990s. Please see the following account of a 2009 Northwestern University study, which apparently did not take into account the full impact of transfer of Catholic students into the public school system over the past two decades, and evidently used the Catholic schools as a control group. Here’s the link for the full Northwestern study, which assumes that the transfers of Catholic students to public schools was small after 2002, when in fact the exodus of Catholic students to public schools in certain urban school districts had begun much earlier.

Back on June 10, 2001, the Chicago Sun-Times published my letter on the departure of Paul Vallas as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, in which I wrote in part:

“Having taken the schools near the limit of improvements that can be based upon better facilities, Vallas showed a wisdom gained from experience in testing educational fads to their limits as well. CPS has ‘hit the wall’ in improvements, not because of Vallas, but because of the sad fact that children who do not read daily in their first three years of life face difficult barriers even state-of-the-art schools can’t easily improve.

Educational bureaucracies are in a league beyond that of park districts and libraries and mayor’s offices. Such leadership is not interchangeable. Once you fix the school buildings, only determined, incremental, decades-long bureaucratic trench warfare based upon knowledge of the trenches will produce improvements. History has shown that great advances in education are accomplished by those who spend the greater part of their careers at the task. Imagine where the universities of Chicago or Notre Dame would be with the presidencies of William Rainey Harper or the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh cut in half. Hesburgh talked a lot about the cemeteries being filled with indispensable people, but that was blarney. He kept the job for decades because his contributions were critical, and he knew it.

The Chicago Public Schools will not be advanced significantly at this point by bright new ideas brought back to Chicago from the last city that the mayor or his aides just visited. Vallas has learned enough to serve as the reality principle against rounds of educational gimmicks, and now this reality principle is about to go.”

For a sober series of scientific discussions on how to improve human capital policies to address inequality in our society, see Inequality in America:What Role for Human Capital Policies? edited by Nobel Prize economist James J. Heckman, Alan B. Krueger, and Benjamin M. Friedman.

Please see my earlier blog post on James J. Heckman, which is also pertinent to this topic.

Here’s an amazing and related statistic from Timothy Shanahan, Professor of Urban Education and Director of the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, on a study that showed the lag between children from low-income families and middle-class children when they start school, as quoted in the Sept. 29 Irish Times:

“One of the things they found was that the average middle-class first grader [aged five or six] had been read to for more than 1,200 hours. There were children in a lot of low-income families who would have been only read to 25 hours in their entire life. Think about that difference in terms of the amount of language experience.”

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The former Prof. Ayers and the Mark of Cain

Friday, September 24th, 2010

On 9/23/10 the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois denied the honorific designation of “Professor Emeritus” to a former university colleague in Chicago, Bill Ayers, who retired on 8/31/10.

According to an article in Chicago Breaking News and other press reports, Christopher Kennedy, the chair of the U of I Board of Trustees and son of former US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) stated:

“There are times like today when we must make difficult decisions and perhaps those that are controversial or simply create a spectacle.

In my decision-making capacities as a trustee, I am not given the luxury of taking a poll on every issue and simply voting with the majority.

Instead, like those leaders of our republic who serve our community in a representative democracy, I must ultimately vote my conscience.

Today we take up the topic of emeritus status.

There are provisions for emeritus status in the university-organizing documents.

The emeritus status is an honorific status.

It is a title that is one of prestige.

It is not earned by right, but it is given as a privilege by the board of trustees.

I need to point out that this is a purely optional act.

While the process of conferring emeritus status may end with the board of trustees, it is important to note that it must begin with the individual faculty member who must request this honorific status for themselves.

Apparently, Mr. Ayers, who has been a teacher at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has asked for this privilege and honor to be bestowed on him.

Our discussion of this topic therefore does not represent an intervention into the scholarship of the university, nor is it a threat to academic freedom.

It is, rather, simply a response to his request.

In my role, I am simply responding to something which has been presented to me.

I am guided by my conscience and one which has been formed by a series of experiences, many of which have been shared with the people of our country and mark each of us in a profound way.

My own history is not a secret.

My life experiences inform my decision-making as a trustee of the university.

In this case of emeritus status, I hope that I will act in a predictable fashion and that the people of Illinois and the faculty and staff of this great institution will understand my motives and my reasoning.

I intend to vote against conferring the honorific title of our university to a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father, Robert F. Kennedy.

There is nothing more antithetical to the hopes for a university that is lively and yet civil, or to the hopes of our founding fathers for their great experiment of a self-governing people, than to permanently seal off debate with one’s opponents by killing them.

There can be no place in a democracy to celebrate political assassinations or to honor those who do so.

We are citizen trustees whose judgments should be predictable to the community that we serve, and I would ask anyone who challenges my judgment, ‘How could I do anything else?'”

From: selected remarks of Christopher Kennedy as reported by the 9/24/10 Chicago Sun-Times.

Trustee Kennedy was referring to a 1974 book co-authored by Ayers, Prairie Fire, which was dedicated to, among others, the Robert Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan.

According to news accounts, U of I trustees then either abstained or voted against the emeritus honor for Ayers.

I have only been in the proximity of Prof. Ayers twice, once at a civic banquet over a decade ago, and another during a university senate executive committee meeting a few years ago, during which I answered a question he posed to me pertaining to senate business. I do not think this, nor the fact that Facebook keeps suggesting that I “friend” Bill Ayers, qualifies me for the Palinesque accusation of “palling around with a terrorist.” But I have long considered writing a short essay on Bill Ayers and the Mark of Cain.

According to the biblical book of Genesis, God marked Cain so that no one would kill him on sight for the crime he committed. In one use in common parlance, a person possessing the Mark of Cain is known as one who has been somehow cursed by an association with evil, remains an outcast, but is somehow also cursed with an aura of indestructibility.

An amazing number of people love and admire Bill Ayers. His mentors saw in him something extraordinary worthy of special consideration. Some students are drawn to his work to integrate social justice into education, and his encouragement of students to break down barriers in themselves and their surroundings to become better educators; these speak of his disarming charm and apparent transparent sincerity, especially in his raising the child of an imprisoned fellow fugitive. His peers in the education field have elected him to leadership positions in national education organizations, citing his social justice and small schools efforts, and have voted him an honorific title at his own university. Foundations apparently found his education work worthwhile, and directed millions toward his initiatives. His acolytes among Wikipedia editors have kept the entries for Bill Ayers and the Weathermen carefully scrubbed of references to bombing and murder, as have a number in the press.

But one does not have to look very far into the history of Ayers’s life to see that people around him were hurt, and that some died. Bill Ayers’s world now extends to Mexico and Venezuela, and to the dictator Hugo Chavez’s educational system, an item not reported very much during the 2008 presidential election. Accusations against Ayers framed in the most personal terms appear on the Internet. A police group in San Francisco still seeks to pin the bombing murder of a young police sergeant many years ago on Bill Ayers.

Yet today, one generally very quiet and unassuming man who has often eschewed the limelight spoke out, recalling a murder of international and historic significance, the murder of his own iconic father. One man said no to Bill Ayers, when so many others had said yes.

Trustee Kennedy made his statement after perceptive discernment. In a very important way, Ayers was denied emeritus standing not because of what he taught at UIC, but what he didn’t: In many writings over a period of years prior to coming to the University, Ayers called for violent acts. Ayers did not grace his decades at the University with a definitive rejection or unequivocal statement against his own calls for violence, but stayed within the boundaries of academic plausibility and generally maintained his silence on this issue.

For the very reason that Bill Ayers did not speak this essential truth of unequivocally rejecting violence, Trustee Kennedy realized that he must speak this truth himself in order to maintain the moral and intellectual credibility of the University in a democratic society.

Kennedy knew that the University isn’t the mythical Vegas, where what one “does there stays there,” and only faculty get to vote on what is decided based upon internal considerations alone. The University is a public trust that seeks the truth and witnesses to it. Trustee Kennedy understood he must both witness to a truth, that violence is not the answer, and repudiate an untruth, that violence is. In doing so, Trustee Kennedy taught more about the truth of non-violence in a minute than Bill Ayers taught in a lifetime.

And now that Ayers is no longer Professor Ayers, the Mark of Cain, somehow immanent, may be there for all the world to see: Denied honor’s veil, such a man may be cursed to live with himself for all eternity.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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A few lessons from the California constitutional convention of 1879

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

(What I will share with my University colleagues on 8/24/10) —

Colleague,

Here’s a few quotes of the day from the convention leading up to the California Constitution of 1879, by a non-partisan, Columbia U.- educated San Francisco attorney, University of California regent, and civil rights advocate named Joseph Winans, who argued that the University of California be set up as a “public trust,” governed by an independent board of regents, separate from the corrupt California legislature.

To those who opposed such a public trust arrangement, Winans held that they “would not only throw the university into the hands of the Legislature, but make it the plaything of politics. . . as long as it is made subject to legislative caprice; so long as it can be made subject to the beck of the politicians; so long as it can be made to subserve sectarian or political designs, it will never flourish.” According to Winans, California’s university “must be beyond all power of assault and subversion.” Separately, Winans stated that he wanted UC to be structured outside of “all pernicious political influences.”

In the end, after a contradictory, topsy turvy battle, Winans’s position prevailed, and the University of California was structured as a public trust. The California Constitution read that the University would be “subject only to such legislative control as may be necessary to insure compliance with the terms of its endowment and the proper investment of and security of its funds.” According to the California attorney general, the University was a virtual fourth branch of government as a “constitutional corporation. . . equal and coordinate with the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive.”

Sources:

Douglass, John Aubrey, 2000. The California idea and American higher education 1850 to the 1960 master plan. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, pp. 67-69.

and —

http://www.oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=hb4v19n9zb&doc.view=content&chunk.id=div00310&toc.depth=1&brand=oac4&anchor.id=0

By the way, the 1880 state appropriation to UC was $10,000, or 8% of the total operating expenses, which arguably is approximately the effective contribution, factoring in funds in arrears, of the State of Illinois general revenue funding of the U of I today.

In part because of the lack of such a public trust arrangement in Illinois, over the past century and one half our own University has been pressured to be a political jobs bank, to be a purchasing machine, to be a cash line of credit for the state, to accept buildings it did not plan for or need or couldn’t afford to maintain, to accept numerous unfunded mandates, to be publicly shamed in the integrity of its admissions and earlier its scholarship process while the legislative rascals who compromised the University walked away scot free, to be regulated at a higher standard than the Illinois Legislature would ever impose on itself and at an increasing rate inversely proportionate to the decline in state funding–and more–while University administrators have had to grin from time to time, and act as if they liked it.

That the U of I, including UIC, has accomplished all that it has is a testament to the savvy determination of its leadership and to the integrity of its faculty. However, the state of corruption in Illinois requires an ever more vigilant public attitude toward state government.

Therefore, the independence from political corruption of the U of I, including UIC, should be at the top of every government reform agenda in the state, no matter what one’s political persuasion. Independence from political corruption should not be limited to admissions, but include hiring, purchasing, scholarships, real estate, research, investment, in short, every kind of human value that can be turned by enterprising scoundrels into a political pay day.

While the U of I cannot be constitutionally independent of the political mess in the state–and may never be–it can be morally independent, by pursuing its missions of teaching, research, service, and economic development with absolute focus and integrity.

If we of the University transform ourselves along these lines, we can also hope to transform the state.

Never underestimate the transformative power of a university.

Cordially,

Albert Schorsch, III

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Our Lady and the Public Way

Monday, July 19th, 2010

During September of 2009, the statue of Our Lady of the New Millennium was displayed on the road outside the John Paul II Newman Center in Chicago.

Source: John Paul II Newman Center

This 33 foot tall, 8,400 pound stainless steel statue was commissioned by the late Carl Demma, designed by sculptor Charles Parks, and travels on a flatbed truck equipped with specialized hydraulics to raise the statue. In 1999 in St. Louis, Pope John Paul II blessed this statue, which circulates in Chicago and other areas during visits to hundreds of parishes and religious communities.

An interesting phenomenon sometimes occurs when the statue is present, in that people, especially older people, may bring out their lawn chairs, arrange them in rows, and then sit to contemplate the statue and pray the Rosary. Flowers and candles are often placed at the base of the statue.

During the period in which the statue was displayed in September, 2009, the Director of the Gender and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago adjacent to the John Paul II Newman Center raised objections on separation of church and state grounds against the statue being displayed in a public street, and made a complaint to local government authorities.

Below is my response to the university community, dated 9/16/09–

Re: Religious Statue on Morgan Street

Colleague,

In a free society, the public way, is just that, the public way.

What may not be widely known is that the public way in Chicago extends from the center of the roadway, across parkways and beyond the sidewalk, and usually a few inches into the front lawns of most properties. The public way is maintained at public expense for the benefit of all citizens.

On Morgan St. between Taylor St. and Vernon Park Place the road and sidewalk is maintained, at public expense, up to the boundaries of two religious-affiliated institutions, the John Paul II Center and the Levine Hillel Center.

In the constitutionally-protected free practice of their religions, participants at both of these two centers engage in activities which take them into the public way before, during, and after the practice of their religions.

Religious freedom implies public expression of religion. Public expression implies that this expression occurs where it can be seen and heard. Inevitably, in a free society, public expression of religion will take place in the public way, and the law has recognized the right of citizens to use the public way, within reasonable boundaries, for the purpose of religious expression.

From time to time, citizens can request a permit to close down a street for a party, or for a religious observance. The law respects the right of citizens both to congregate peaceably and to congregate for the purpose of the expression of their religion. Cities allow the temporary reservation of public space as consistent with both the right to congregate, and with the right to freely express religious belief.

There are some who would argue against the public expression of religion in any public space whatsoever, and who would reduce religious freedom, which implies the public expression of same, to the status of religious tolerance, which can imply the practice of religion, but religion kept out of the public way entirely.

The US Constitution guarantees religious freedom, not simply religious tolerance. Religious freedom, like other freedoms, inevitably is exercised in public space. As long as the practice of religion does not pose a continuing public nuisance that disturbs the rights of others to freely enjoy the tranquil use of their property, practitioners of religion are within their rights to step from time to time into the public way within the boundaries of the law to express their religion.

To deny the use of any public street under any circumstances by religious practitioners is to deny the practice of religious freedom.

Religious freedom is one of the foundations of this Republic, both in an intellectual and in a social sense. Such freedom drew and continues to draw citizens to our shores, and its very idea draws us together in diversity in a nation, because such freedom is mutually beneficial to a population in which there are substantial differences.

The establishment of religious freedom in America was an advance for humankind. It is essential for the diversity we have achieved as a nation. But religious freedom can only endure as it is continually practiced. One way to support religious freedom is to respect the rights of others who practice a belief that is different from our own. Such an act of respect provides a foundation for diversity.

If UIC truly respects diversity, then we will continue to respect the rights of others to publicly–and peaceably–express their beliefs in public space–even if this expression involves the transportation and display of a large statue for a limited time within the public way.

Universities have been for centuries the defenders of human freedom. It is therefore very contradictory for some at a university to argue against an essential human freedom.

I can’t very well advocate and work for diversity within the University, but to then take offense at the practice of diversity when it appears across the street.

Cordially,

Albert Schorsch, III

I add today, 7/19/10, that those who wish to reduce the American right to freedom of religion, which implies religion in public places, to the more restricted freedom of worship, which may not, are proposing to reduce an essential human freedom. Freedom of religion implies free public expression of religion.

© Copyright 2009, 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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