"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two women I'm jealous of

The first is Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for the London Times. And I'm only a bit ashamed to admit it. I'm not jealous because she has a significant other who isn't me; I don't know and don't care whether she has a significant other. For that matter, I don't know or care whether she has any money. No, I'm jealous about two other things.

One is that she's having a good time in Rome doing her job, as you can surmise from reading her most recent columns. I'd love to be working in Rome myself, and I'm pretty sure I'd have a good time doing it. Over the last few months, two well-placed friends have initiated contact with me about the possibility of teaching philosophy in Church-affiliated institutions there. It's been made clear, by the people in the best position to know, that there's a need for what I have to offer. So I've followed up. The problem is that the Italian Government, for rather understandable reasons, is very anti-immigration right now. They don't want foreigners taking jobs from Italians who could do them. I doubt it would help that I'm of Italian ancestry. Perhaps the solution is to go to Rome as a student to earn a papal licentiate in theology. I'd love that too, and I dream fondly of paying for it with a teaching fellowship. We shall see. In the meantime, Ruth makes me green.

Another thing I'm jealous of her about is her ignorance. In her most recent column, she writes:
...no-one has yet explained to me the moral justice of a situation where a priest sacked for child abuse could turn up at his local parish church and receive communion (after confession of course), while a perfectly good woman whose husband has run off with the nanny and who has been fortunate enough to fall in love and marry again but does not fulfil the requirements for an annulment, could be refused it.
Well, in the combox to that column, I and several others explained it to her. Given the Church's doctrinal premises, the juxtaposition of policies that Ruth finds so puzzling makes perfect sense. There have been times in my life when it would have been very convenient for me to be in Ruth's position of ignorance. But God has not granted me that luxury. So I'm jealous of Ruth on that account too.

The other woman I'm jealous of is Camille Paglia. Her most recent column for Salon.com, devoted chiefly to discussing the Sarah Palin phenomenon, reveals things about Paglia herself that are breathtaking in how they combine intellectual honesty and unapologetic vice.

A self-professed "atheist" and "libertarian," Paglia had never belonged to the herd of independent liberal-feminist minds. Consider this:
One reason I live in the leafy suburbs of Philadelphia and have never moved to New York or Washington is that, as a cultural analyst, I want to remain in touch with the mainstream of American life. I frequent fast-food restaurants, shop at the mall, and periodically visit Wal-Mart (its bird-seed section is nonpareil). Like Los Angeles and San Francisco, Manhattan and Washington occupy their own mental zones -- nice to visit but not a place to stay if you value independent thought these days. Ambitious professionals in those cities, if they want to preserve their social networks, are very vulnerable to received opinion. At receptions and parties (which I hate), they're sitting ducks. They have to go along to get along -- poor dears!

It is certainly premature to predict how the Palin saga will go. I may not agree a jot with her about basic principles, but I have immensely enjoyed Palin's boffo performances at her debut and at the Republican convention, where she astonishingly dealt with multiple technical malfunctions without missing a beat. A feminism that cannot admire the bravura under high pressure of the first woman governor of a frontier state isn't worth a warm bucket of spit.

Spot on, Camille. And her assessment of Palin is also spot on. But my question as I got into the article was, as always, about abortion. I soon got my answer:

But the pro-life position, whether or not it is based on religious orthodoxy, is more ethically highly evolved than my own tenet of unconstrained access to abortion on demand. My argument (as in my first book, "Sexual Personae,") has always been that nature has a master plan pushing every species toward procreation and that it is our right and even obligation as rational human beings to defy nature's fascism. Nature herself is a mass murderer, making casual, cruel experiments and condemning 10,000 to die so that one more fit will live and thrive.

Hence I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue. The state in my view has no authority whatever to intervene in the biological processes of any woman's body, which nature has implanted there before birth and hence before that woman's entrance into society and citizenship.

On the other hand, I support the death penalty for atrocious crimes (such as rape-murder or the murder of children). I have never understood the standard Democratic combo of support for abortion and yet opposition to the death penalty. Surely it is the guilty rather than the innocent who deserve execution?

How many "pro-choice" Democrats, i.e. the vast majority of Democrats, are willing to admit openly that they see abortion as "murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful," yet insist that the right of women to "control their own bodies" should be upheld even at such a cost? A few, perhaps, but not many. How many "pro-choice" Catholic Democrats who believe the same are nonetheless far from being "pro-choice" when it comes to the death penalty? I love the way Paglia busts open the categories of syndrome thinking. In fact, I'm jealous of her for how she manages to make a decent living out of doing just that. Also, the majority of her enemies are the right ones. I haven't managed that yet either in my life.

Of course maybe I shouldn't be jealous of Paglia. Like me, she had a Catholic upbringing in New York State, so she probably has less excuse for ignorance than Ruth Gledhill, if she can even be thought of as ignorant. But she sure has fun knowing what she knows and acting on it. I want some fun doing the same on my own account.

OK, don't worry. I have now taken a deep breath, apologized to the Virgin, and repented.

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