Army basic training involved precisely what the name implied ... basic training. Sometimes very basic. How to make a bed, keep a footlocker in order, polish shoes, stand straight, salute, shoot and clean a rifle ... the list went on and on for two months. And within those two months there were always and forever the lines to stand in ... lines for food, lines for shots, lines to get blankets, lines ... well, if there was an activity, there seemed to be a line that invariably preceded the activity itself.
And one day, we lined up to get dog tags, the small metal tags all soldiers wore around their necks for identification purposes. Like everyone else in line, I filled out the requisite form that asked for name, serial number, blood type and religion. The information would be stamped into two metal tags that would be worn around the neck ... one to be collected upon death; the other to be jammed between the teeth of the corpse so that the graves registration unit would know precisely which corpse they were dealing with.
The line shuffled forward to a table behind which there sat a young man with pimples and a southern drawl. He took the completed forms tendered to him, made sure they were correct and then called, "next." When he scanned my form, he suddenly looked up in surprise. "You wrote down 'not applicable' for religion," he said. "That's right," I replied. "You mean you are no religion?" "That's right." His face began to twist in confusion. "You've got to be some religion," he suggested. "No," I replied, "I'm not." "But...but ..." and his voice took on a heart-felt plea, "you've got to be something!" And his young, young face and the anguish on it touched me. What the hell, it was no skin off my ass: "OK," I said, "put down 'Unitarian.'" The confusion and hurt departed from his face and was supplanted with doubt: "What's that?" he asked as if I might be pulling his leg. "It's a kind of Christian," I said and then, because I thought it might help, I spelled it for him.
But still, the number and variety of religious iconography suggests that there's a whole lot of religion going on. Going on at Arlington, going on on the dollar bill ("In God We Trust"), going on in the Pledge of Allegiance ("one nation, under God...") and even going on in the misinformed minds of those who claim the founding fathers believed in God and wrote that into the nation's earliest documents. "Freedom of religion" is supported; you gotta have religion is not.
Like it or lump it, religion is woven into the United States. Little and large, subtle and gross, it is a part of the national DNA. And what is part of the national DNA makes religion everyone's concern, no matter how much they may abominate or adore it.
I guess all this came to mind when thinking about the Vatican's priest-sexual-abuse problems. I'm no Catholic any more than I am a Catholic-hater. Catholicism is part of a part of the DNA of my country, so I am interested and, in the case of Vatican-sponsored abuse, repulsed.
But I am also, roughly speaking, a contrarian: When something strikes me strongly, I like to think I will try to see it through the very lens I instinctively reject. I find the abuse of children heinous beyond naming, and a part of me would dearly like to apply sharia law to the lawlessness inherent in an organization that has (and probably continues) to abuse children and/or cover up that abuse. But...
Most of the Vatican abuses referred to in court cases these days relate back to times 20, 30, 40 or more years ago and one of the arguments not just of the Vatican, but also ordinary citizens, is, "that was a long time ago. Isn't it time to put that in the past and move forward?" How often can anyone listen to the recitation of Holocaust horrors before ... well ... it's in the past. It's gloomy shit. Why continue to air it out?
In addition, there is the true statement that the Vatican and its minions have done good work in their time. Shall those good works be overlooked or forgotten in a shark-like race for blood?
It's all so tiring and most people have a hard enough time overcoming their own fatigue without worrying unduly about the DNA of their environments. One man's tragedy is another man's boredom.
The pivot point for most of those concerned with Vatican depredations is the victims themselves. Once trusting children, they had their trust and their parents' trust betrayed by a bit of national DNA that was 'benevolent' and 'wise.' They have carried unspeakable wounds ... marriages that don't work ... sex that doesn't work ... a sense of shame and confusion and horror and endless helplessness. It may have been 30 years ago, but it is today. And no man or woman deserves such a fate in a country called the United States... or Australia ... or Ireland ... or Canada ... or Brazil ... or South Africa ... or the Netherlands ... or wherever all else.
The victims are the pivot point and I suppose everyone makes their own choice, but I have made mine: Helplessness is no way to live and I am ashamed to live in a country whose DNA is woven with a helplessness founded on hypocrisy and camouflaged cruelty and politically-connected connivance. To the victims who have found the courage to speak up and speak out, I owe a great debt. They have made my country and my world a saner, less venal, and less contrived place. They have made my DNA healthier.
Yes, Wall Street and bankers and corporations and politicians will get away with their depredations -- metaphorically (or perhaps literally) fucking whomever they can. Greed is not going to disappear any time soon. But not even a corporation or a bank promised to be honest. They promised to try to look honest, perhaps, but not to be honest. And in addition, they rarely despoiled children.
I have no doubt that there are men and women of good will who work within Vatican constraints. But I do hope that those of good will will apply their clear eyes and healing hands to the corruption and infamy that is tearing their beloved church to ribbons. How is the "love" they love to preach to be realized in the abuse of children? How is it to be realized in the denigration of homosexuals or women or others unwilling to toe the power-hungry mark? How is to be realized in cover-ups and dishonesty?
This is not just a white whine from another earthy-crunchy liberal. This is a serious question from someone who admires the courage and grace human beings can display and likewise abhors its capacities for cruelty and manipulation.
Among cells, there is a function called apoptosis ... a function in which a cell kills itself off as a means of aiding the body it inhabits.
Religious apoptosis ... Zen Buddhism advocates it.
And the Vatican might take a lesson from mindless cellular life whose wisdom is life-and-DNA-affirming.
PS. Anyone who thinks that what is above is little more than a self-anointing, jerk-off bit of outraged bile might want to look at a couple (among many) of evidentiary Internet sites: 1. the Abuse Tracker archive and 2. Gerald T. Slevin's open appeal to reporters in one Vatican abuse trial.