Catholics, Kerry, and a Column

David McCarthy (Pitt News) wonders why a priest at the Catholic Newman Center
critiqued his writing. Perhaps this sloppy and uninformative segment
demonstrates why. By the way, this
is a follow-up to another
of his

Sitting down with a priest at the Catholic Newman Center,
I politely asked the clergyman’s opinion [about why many Catholics would
not vote for Kerry]. He started talking about the church’s views on
abortion and that despite how the media portrayed them, Catholics tend
to be relatively split between voting for Kerry and Bush.

He reminded me of the awesome knowledge members of the clergy
possessed and how, as a small child, hearing them speak always comforted
me. I even started to feel a little embarrassed for having taken such a
swipe at the Catholic Church in the first place.

But then the priest’s tone changed, and he started to question my
abilities as a writer. He told me that my piece was unconvincing and
even offered me some tips on how I could make it as a journalist.

I left the Newman Center feeling much the same way I did when I left
Catholic school: bad about myself. How could a Kerry supporter, a Bush
supporter, a Catholic and her mother, a celebrity and a superhero all
agree with and respect my writing if I lacked the ability to effectively
convey an opinion? I sighed when I knew the answer. While the Catholic
Church may offer holy teaching dating back to Christ, it hasn’t been in
touch with humanity for thousands of years. If I had presented the same
column to a priest in a different era, I probably would have been burned
at the stake or excommunicated.

I wonder which priest he interviewed. I wonder what he said about
the Church’s positions on abortion and pro-choice Catholic politicians.
I wonder what he said about why Catholics were split. If he was so awed
by the knowledge the clergy possess, why didn’t he share some of it with
his readers? Why did the priest’s criticism of his writing change his
feelings about the wisdom imparted to him?

The Pitt News allows readers to comment on articles. I invite my
readers, especially those in the Pittsburgh area, to respond to
McCarthy’s “journalism”. By the way, should Mr. McCarthy find his way
back here and criticize my writing, I won’t be upset. I’m not the one
pretending to be a journalist, writing for a rag that pretends to be a
serious publication.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

8 thoughts on “Catholics, Kerry, and a Column

  1. theomorph

    “[T]he awesome knowledge members of the clergy possessed…”

    Sure, whatever. The more I learn the more I know that nobody possesses truly awesome knowledge. Clergy are just human beings, too. They don’t impress me in the slightest.

    But some people feel the uncertainty of life (which is real, I might add) and like to think that somebody, somewhere has All the Answers. I have a friend who is a former member of the clergy. He tells stories all the time about people who came to him full of doubts and expecting him to have a perfect solution for everything like he was some kind of theological apothecary. Except the priestly model has always been a sham. Priests don’t have any secret knowledge. They’re just people who do religion for a living.

  2. EmilyE

    I attempted to post feedback on their website. I gave my name, my profession, my e-mail address, and tactfully told the writer that he should consider taking an expository writing course.

    My feedback was rejected. No reason was listed in the automated e-mail I received from the moderator. Apparently the Pitt News doesn’t want to post criticisms of their columnists.

  3. EmilyE

    Not that I’m necessarily surprised, mind you. A fellow journalism major and I wrote two letters to the editor criticizing the Pitt News’ journalistic practices and urging them to develop some sort of code of ethics — just because one *can* print something doesn’t mean one *ought* to. Needless to say, we never heard from them or had our letters printed.

    Still, I think it is worth criticizing the Pitt News. If they are criticized often enough, perhaps (just perhaps) they’d be willing to change a little.

  4. Jerry Nora

    True, they don’t have secret knowledge. Nor are they necessarily the most saintly folk. Nor do they necessarily know more than laymen. This may contradict the shaman/mystery cult model of priesthood, but not the Catholic/Orthodox understanding, where the priest is taking on a role in administering sacraments, not through his own power, but by God’s. It is an office (which is used by the Roman Church in the sense of its Latin root, which means “duty”, I recall), and one of great honor, as one is following the footsteps of Christ in a particular way by continuing His work as a pastor. Everyone’s understood that following Christ does not mean perfectly imitating Him. Otherwise, the Church would not have survived St. Peter’s vacillations or cowardice. Or St. Paul’s considerable temper.

    So I don’t know what exactly you mean by the priestly model when you call it a sham, but insofar as you’re denying those more superstitious ways of thinking of priesthood that I mentioned above, I can agree with you. The “just doing religion for a living” is perhaps a bit too simplistic and dismissive, but not without truth, either.

  5. theomorph

    What is “priestly” religion? This is the religion that interposes an individual or a small group of individuals between the greater population and the god they worship. These individuals regulate access to the divine–er, “administer sacraments”–by deciding whether a person can participate in the sacraments. In order to make that decision, this priest, this ordinary human being, must have something the laity does not have–knowledge, authority, or both. Even if you claim that he does this “not through his own power, but by God’s” then you are setting up the question of why this particular power of God’s flows through some people and not others. How is that different from a shamanic system where a shamans perform rituals and duties not through their own power, but by that of the spirit world? The only difference is the theological content and the outward ritual. The social function–an individual who mediates the divine to the rest of the population–is the same.

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