Bad Sports(Reprinted from the issue of February 16, 2006)
Despite my sorry record of late as a couch potato, I managed to stay awake just barely for this years Super Bowl. Not that Im proud of it. My waning enthusiasm for sports has been accompanied by an uneasy conscience about this national, even global, idolatry.
In his remarkable book Rosary, Kevin Orlin Johnson reflects on the origin of the word agony, used by St. Luke in its Greek sense of an athletic contest.
Johnson recalls (what I hadnt known) that the Church fathers, including St. Augustine, Tertullian, and Novatian, preached vehemently against sports, not only because of their frequent violence, but more precisely because they excited an un-Christian spirit of contention, contrary to charity, and fostering lust, sloth, and other vices. The early Church constantly urged the Roman emperors to abolish the hugely popular Olympic Games!
If this sounds un-American, so be it. Sports have become one of the decadent features of American culture. Wholesome exercise? Think of the idleness, the rivalry, the drugs, the trash-talking, the health hazards, the vain hopes, and the sheer waste of time and attention these things entail.
I thought of Johnsons meditation when I heard a local news report of a football player stabbed to death by kids from a rival high school.
But dont sports also promote real virtues, even heroism of sorts? Of course they do. But part of the tragedy is that these virtues are misdirected to bad ends. I hope Johnson will write the iconoclastic book this subject deserves and the country needs.
The Cartoon War
Once again, with the Great Danish Cartoon Flap, the world is witnessing the propensity of Scandinavian humor to fall flat.
Maybe it just doesnt travel well, especially in the Muslim world, where caricatures of the Prophet arent regarded as rib-tickling merriment.
As Western embassies went up in smoke, the Bush administration tried to pour oil slicks on troubled waters by deploring the offensive cartoon, adding scrupulously that freedom of the press is mighty important and that rioting is an inappropriate way to express disagreement.
But the Iranian government took another approach, retaliating by soliciting cartoons ridiculing an article of faith in the modern West: the Holocaust.
Irans president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a neoconservatives nightmare: a Holocaust denier who (as they think) seeks nuclear weapons. Since Iran controls much of the worlds oil supply, this poses a delicate diplomatic problem: To bomb, or not to bomb?
Even Bush officials have qualms about extending the pre-emptive war to Iran, but a leading neocon strategist, Edward N. Luttwak, writing in The Wall Street Journal, argues that a single night of U.S. bombing could suffice to cripple Irans nuclear production capacity.
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad is also sponsoring a conference of scholars from many countries who challenge the received account of the Holocaust, which is the only form of criminal blasphemy now banned in several Western countries; the historian David Irving is now in an Austrian prison awaiting trial on such a charge.
But though Irving is routinely described as a Holocaust denier in the Western press, I have seen no citations of his own words to support the accusation. In fact, Irving himself once told me, Im not a Holocaust denier; Im a Holocaust skeptic.
As far as I know, he denies only such details as that gas chambers were used at Auschwitz, which is a far cry from saying that Hitlers Germany didnt persecute, or even murder, Jews.
But Ahmadinejad and other Muslims perceive an anomaly in Western law and culture when it comes to this topic. No other opinion, especially an opinion about history, is subject to such taboos. In all other respects, it goes without saying, we take freedom of opinion for granted.
And this particular taboo is strangely involved with politics. When I began writing critically about the state of Israel more than 20 years ago, I was furiously accused of writing the sort of things that led to the Holocaust, in the words of a prominent neoconservative, and soon I was hearing words like genocide and yes, Holocaust denial, though I hadnt denied anything of the kind (and felt unqualified even to venture an opinion about it).
It is as if the legitimacy of Israel somehow depends on the sufferings of Jews under Hitler; and as if wrongs done to Jews in the past justify wrongs done to Palestinians today.
This seems to be the premise of U.S. foreign policy in the Mideast. So once again we find ourselves openly debating whether to wage aggressive war a war of choice, pre-emptive or preventive on a country that hasnt attacked us, hasnt threatened us, and can hardly be imagined as posing any danger to us. And we think the Muslims are fanatical!
Notably, the Israelis have long had the nuclear weapons that Iran is accused of coveting.
The obsequies for Coretta Scott King quickly turned into a rather bitter class reunion for liberals, reminding them of their better days.
Jimmy Carter seized the occasion to take a jab at George W. Bush, who was also present unprecedented behavior at a funeral, as far as I know.
Usually the idea is that the mourners refrain from assailing each other until the body is buried. Maybe Carter thought he was achieving another historic first.
Good News for Liberals
But just as liberals were watching their old icons die off, they got a happy surprise, of sorts, from New Guinea, where scientists have found an isolated region teeming with dozens of previously unknown species plants, birds, frogs, butterflies, and even mammals.
One of these is a hedgehog-like critter that lays eggs; another is what is called a tree kangaroo, which sounds like a contradiction in terms.
These discoveries are nothing short of astounding.
So why is this good news for liberals? Well, think of it! A whole fresh batch of endangered species, which will need to be protected from Dick Cheney and Halliburton, before they can start clubbing baby tree kangaroos to death for their fur!
This cause will invigorate countless liberals who have despaired that they have nothing left to live for. And no doubt they will find these creatures new confirmation of the Darwinian theory.
SOBRANS tackles (so to speak) assumptions that usually pass (so to speak) unchallenged. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.
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|Copyright © 2006 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission
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