Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Interesting Reading & "Handmaid's Tale."

Courtesy of Ut Unum Sint we read this interesting interview by the Sanctificarnos blog of John Allen, Vatican-affairs reporter for the National Catholic Reporter. You can read it here. John Allen's column was the reason I finally decided to subscibe to NCR. You should go read the interview, which has a number of interesting insights like this one:

I think "secrecy" is one of the great myths about the Vatican. The real problem with understanding the Vatican is not that it's secretive, but that it's unique. Its culture is foreign to the experience of most observers.

To understand the Vatican, one must master three "languages": Italian, which is the working language of the papal bureaucracy; the specialized language of the Catholic Church, meaning a knowledge of church history, scripture, theology, liturgy and canon law; and the distinct argot of the Roman Curia itself, meaning its systems, culture and psychology.

Most people trying to understand the Vatican simply don't have this background. Hence what looks from the outside like secrecy is often really singularity. Let me be clear: As a professional communicator, I wish the Holy See did a better job of opening itself up. John Paul II in 1984 said the church should be a "house of glass," and we're not there yet.

At the same time, for the most part there is no cover-up, no dark forces orchestrating events behind the scenes. Most of the time, what you see is what you get, if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.

* * *

Some readers want to know why on earth I would like Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale. Several reasons. First, notice what happens when you intrude biblicalism into a community without a magisterium guided by the holy spirit. (Think the novel was wierd? There's been even wierder stuff in history than that!). Second, I enjoyed a thoughtful look at what happens when the Church's teaching on marriage and sexuality is ignored (is there really any difference between a "handmaid" and a third-party, IVF "birth mother"?) -- the result was sheer misery, an Orwellian suppression of the human spirit, which afflicted Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Satan hates us all, you know, not just the ones who've glommed on to the Gospel.

Dystopian literature is more accessible this way than utopian fantasies. To sign on to a utopian vision, you have to share the author's particular worldview in most of its signal aspects. (If I lived in Roddenberry's 24th Century, I'd be a secessionist urging my countrymen to kick those Godless Yankee Starships out of our solar system). To appreciate dystopian literature, however, one only requires some familiarity with the general run of human depravity. Knowing the good is sometimes more difficult than recognizing the bad, and so satisfying dystopian visions can come from all quarters.

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