Sunday, April 29, 2012

In Search of a Hobby

As I move toward graduate study in the fall, I am excited to know that the next five years of my academic/professional life will focused primarily on the things that drive me--those are: education, international relations theory, academic dialogue and the study of religion and politics (by the way, do check out this blog post by Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times entitled, "We are All Nuns") . Delving back into the world of ideas, I feel that I am engaging in something of a second homecoming. However, if there is anything that Peace Corps has taught me,  it is to pay respect to balance in one's life to avoid going insane.

After completing the second installment of my reflection / rant on the state of political Catholicism I asked my father what he thought of the posts. "They were great," he responded. "But don't you have a hobby or something?"

I hadn't thought about that. In Peace Corps, my hobby had consisted of cooking imitations of foods from home, watching whole seasons of "The Wire" and "Six Feet Under," and studying for the GRE. Since I have been home, the closest thing I could think of was running and yoga. However, further consideration leads me to the conclusion that only the latter one counts-- the former is more of a lame way to allow for eating the amount of food that I do. Many of my friends run for "fun."As for me, the one time I experienced "runner's high," it felt like I was having a heart attack. So I do yoga. But really, one can only do yoga for so long before her body says: "Okay, that's enough om-ing--move on."

Herein lies my dilemma: I have a little less than five months to figure out another hobby to keep me balanced. Up until recently, I would revert to my old stand-by: reading. However, I think there needs to be something else at this point, given the fact that said activity is supposed to take me away from the world of graduate study (e.g. no reading). From there, the other limitations include the following:

  • I am not wholly creative and relatively cheap in my spending tendencies (thus ruling out painting, floral arrangement, stand up comedy, film-making, creative writing, scrap-booking, knitting,  photography, glass blowing, antique collecting, etc.)
  • I do not find fulfillment in sleeping outdoors (so absolutely no camping)
  • I am not musical or graceful (hence no dancing, singing or participating in a rock band)
  • I do not enjoy heights (ergo no base jumping, rock climbing, etc.)
  • Much of my wardrobe consists of items that I started wearing in high school (therefore, probably not so much on shopping--wait. Is that really a hobby?)
  • I am trying to master the vegetarian diet and am something of a pacifist (no fishing, hunting or paintballing)
So what do those restrictions leave me in finding a hobby? Could "sitting in bed drinking tea" count?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Paul Ryan: Catholic Social Teaching According to Ayn Rand or John XXIII?

Recently, a growing number of Catholic Bishops and lay people have begun challenging  politically and economically conservative arguments on religio-political ethics. The most recent development has manifested itself in Catholic responses to the Paul Ryan budget plan, a measure that President Obama castigated as nothing but "thinly veiled social Darwinism." The plan is an attempt to balance the budget by cutting spending while at the same time cutting taxes for some. The bottom line: At this rate we can look forward to a balanced budget as early as 2040. However, according to the Huffington Post: 

"It also cuts the top income tax rate by nearly a third, from 35 percent to 25 percent...Over the next decade, Ryan (R-Wis.) wants to cut $389 billion from Medicare, the public health insurance program for seniors. Over the same period, Ryan's budget puts $735 billion less toward Medicaid, which benefits Americans too poor to afford private insurance. Discretionary spending on domestic programs is also reduced by $923 billion." 

Like many Republicans, Congressman Ryan has referenced his own Christian faith as a driving force behind his policies: “So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?” Imagine his surprise,when Catholic leaders in both the clergy and the academe rejected his reading of said application. Herein lies a bit of humor for the Liberationist who says: "Welcome to the club, sir."

In an open letter to Representative Ryan, a series of Georgetown University theologians, scholars and clergy expressed similar concerns as those of the United Conference of Bishops, writing:

"...we would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely noted in several letters to Congress – “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” Catholic bishops recently wrote that “the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.”

Representative Ryan and his supporters have not taken kindly to these criticisms--in a Washington Post editorial, Mark Thiessen goes so far to say that recent Catholic criticism of the budget and call for "shared sacrifice" amongst people amounts to nothing more than "a reelection slogan for the Democratic Party." I have to hand it to Mr. Thiessen for keeping what I imagine to be a wonderfully convincing poker face. You are upset because religious dialogue is being used in a manner you deem inappropriate to achieve political ends? Once again, welcome to the club.

But I'll level with you. Your position is that progressive Catholics shouldn't look to achieve the Church's social teachings through governmental solutions. I get that (though I don't necessarily agree given the findings of a certain Second Vatican Council). It is during these conversations that I am reminded of a quote from the "the West Wing" in which Joshua Lyman says, "I like you conservatives who love small want to make it just small enough so it can fit into our bedrooms." Somehow, real economic problems do not have government solutions but the question of gay and reproductive rights do? If you are going to be a small government conservative, don't pretend that it comes from the example of Christ--at least be honest and cite Ayn Rand. 

In his recent speech at Georgetown University, Congressman Ryan once again defended his position as one grounded in his Catholic faith:

“I suppose there are some Catholics who for a long time have thought they had a monopoly of sorts, not exactly on heaven, but on the social teaching of our Church. The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it. What I have to say about the social doctrine of the Church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding to the problems of the day.”

A monopoly on the social teaching of our church? Liberals?

Have you asked practicing Catholics about "the problems of the day" as described by the majority of their churches? For most, it's not national debt. The last time I checked, Archbishop John Nienstadt wasn't calling on  St. Paul / Minneapolis Catholics to recite prayers about food stamps, conflict or health care. In 2004, Senator John Kerry wasn't refused communion because of his stance on economic injustice or capital punishment. Why don't we call a spade a spade: You don't have a problem with "some Catholics" thinking they have a "monopoly" on church teaching--you take issue when they aren't your Catholics. Either that or you are missing a good portion of the Christian New Testament when Jesus puts forth the imperative of "selling all one's possessions and giving to the poor"--not to mention his subsequent "rich man: paradise::camel:needle" analogy (Matthew, 19:21-24) . Perhaps you also missed the part in Acts, 2:41  when the Christian community is described as having "sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, accordingly as anyone had need" or Jesus' description of the rubric by which humanity-- that includes those both inside and outside government--will be judged in Matthew, 25:31 (hint: It wasn't based on balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and then justifying it through a call for small government).

Medicare? Please.