November 06, 2007

Random Musings

Archbishop Tutu vs. University of St. Thomas (UST)

Archbishop, you won. Don't push your advantage with this misguided attempt at blackmailing UST into allowing Cris Toffolo to remain on the faculty. Give it up. Father Dease was man enough to back down, you may want to consider doing the same.

Parking problems

Memo to City Pages: The only "ambition" Father Dufner has is to bring souls to Christ. I bet there are a lot of parishes that wish they had the same growth "problems" that Holy Family does. It is inevitable that parking conflicts will follow in any neighborhood that shares it's space with a mix of residential, business, or church. When the balance is upset there will be problems. Holy Family is, by no means, the first Catholic parish to have issues with it's neighbors because of increased traffic and parking problems. Did City Pages bother to talk to, oh, say, St. Joan of Arc's neighbors? SJA and it's neighbors have had issues with each other for years. To their credit, SJA formed a task force and a committee to liaison with the neighborhood regarding parking problems. They also looked for alternate parking nearby (they use the parking lot at a nearby school). They encouraged parishioners to carpool and to respect parking rules. They have had mixed sucess with this but, at least, they are making an effort. Holy Family should have probably done the same before things got too heavy. Oh, well, it's never too late. Any big or popular parish is going to bring increased traffic to a neighborhood. St. Agnes does. I can't help but think that some of this would be avoided if people felt, or were able, to bear/attend their neighborhood parish instead of feeling like they have to drive and park somewhere else across town for Mass. But, we are a mobile society now and,unfortunately, there are parishes that are not for everyone. Some of them, I have to wonder, may not even be for Catholics. I pray for a fair and equitable resolution to this conflict.

The Handmaid's Tale

A concerned parent of a student at UST is unhappy that his daughter must read Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale as part of Common Text Week. Each Freshman English class reads and discusses the book. I’m assuming that this English class is the mandatory course that every Freshman must take regardless of their ultimate major.

Are there other books they could be reading? Sure. Am I up in arms that this novel is being read? No. Why? I am taking a guarded, watch and wait approach in this situation. I feel that a case can be made during discussion of Atwood's book for actually living a Catholic life and how Catholic teaching on appropriate expressions of sexuality could go a long way towards making sure society never becomes Gilead. I would be upset if Catholic teachings are not allowed to be discussed during class discussions of the book. But, I don't know what the discussion format will be. If there aren't discussions then I'm upset that there aren't. Yes, I have read Atwood's book. Many years ago.

This begs the question: why was I upset over The Pope and the Witch and now I'm not upset over this? The U of MN in a very half-assed begrudging manner allowed discussion forums but on a night when practically no one could go (which did not seem to be accidental). It was in Lent and the play has absolutely no other purpose then to be a direct attack on the Faith and the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. The entire event appeared to be orchestrated to create controversy and offense. So, ok, I bought it. If UST comes out with some lame response or word gets out that the discussions of the book end up being anti-Catholic, then I’ll be upset.

I don't have a problem with controversial or provacative material in general. I'd be more interested to know what they read in the Theology program at UST. If it's a bunch of dissenting garbage (like the stuff I read in my Theology days at College of St. Catherine), I'd be more upset by that and that I'd protest. Especially at a Catholic college. Hmmmm...wonder what they are reading in Theology at my alma mater St. Kate's these days? Still Rahner, Ruether, and Fiorenza and Daly or have they moved on? I may not even have a problem with those being read if a serious attempt at pointing out their errors was being made. In my day that was not the case. They were all accepted, and we were taught to view them, as accurate commentators of the post-Vatican II church.

I have an issue with the Catholicism, or lack therof, at our "Catholic" schools. I'm not going to make a stand for a piece of fiction. However, I must wonder: Why, as a Catholic school, are they not reading, in common, a work on or about Catholicism? For instance: The Story of a Soul? Or, how about the Holy Father's Jesus of Nazareth? Too bad, if not everyone at UST is Catholic and it would be too exclusive to read something Catholic. Jesus of Nazareth would be, I think, a book that can speak across Christian denominations and may, perhaps, be of interest to non-Christians as well. It is very interesting and well-written. I think it is approachable to many religious faiths.

For the record, my undergraduate degree is in English Literature. At St. Kate’s we also had mandatory reading/discussion groups. I seem to recall it during both my Freshman and Sophomore years. I think the program was called Reading Across the Curriculum. It was heavy on female writers, as you’d probably expect, but they were interesting books and the discussions were provocative. No, none of the books were theological. But, all undergrads were required to take at least one Theology course. Too bad, those Theology materials were so poor.

I also feel that the STUDENTS at UST should be the ones complaining. Why aren’t we hearing from them? I don’t have a problem with parental concern, but, I think a stronger case could be made if we were actually hearing from the daughter and not the father about this.


Blogger Ray from MN said...

Wow! Taking a break from blogging is good for the soul, and for the posts!.

Extremely interesting and well stated thoughts, Cathy!

November 06, 2007 9:09 AM  
Anonymous swissmiss said...

Great post, Cathy!

I'm linking to yours :)

November 06, 2007 2:42 PM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Where is Adoro on this? Why hasn't she commented?

November 06, 2007 8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The question about the "Handmaid's Tale" is a difficult one. I work on campus at UST and what is being said about the parents who object to the book has been most unpleasant and unkind. The student newspaper "The Aquin" is online so you could read the messages. The parents pay the bills for school and as such have a right as consumers to complain if they want to. A bigger question to me is about Catholic Identity and Academic Freedom. How does an institution balance these two issues? I think some Catholic colleges are "CINO Colleges." Just some thoughts. Good post!


November 07, 2007 9:30 AM  
Blogger Adoro te Devote said...

On one hand I think this book should be dropped from the curriculum. I've now read passages from it, and they are indeed outright pornographic. Such things have no place in legitimate literature.

They in fact provide an occasion for sin. Can the systematically induced occasion for sin be justified even if the book is discussed and refuted from a truly Catholic perspective?

For the record, Cathy, a few weeks ago I agreed with you. Having actually read some of the book now, however, I have changed my mind. A different actual literary selection should be made for that course.

A Catholic college should take care to include moral choices, not provide fodder for already over-sexed imaginations.

A professor pointed out to us last spring that what we read, what we hear, what we watch enters our souls.

It's called, in Catholic parlance, guarding our senses, for it is through our senses that sin enters into us and becomes a part of us.

After I read the sections of this book, I felt like I needed to go to Confession for having read pornography. Pornography is, in fact, an objective evil.

Yes, students do need to exposed to some ideas that are contrary to the Catholic faith, etc etc. No problem there. However, some things cross the line, and "A Handmaid's Tale" is one of them.

November 07, 2007 11:28 AM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Good comments above. That is the crux of the argument (in my opinion) when you attend a Catholic university-academic freedom and catholic identity. How should they best be merged?Thought provoking post, Cathy. Thank you!

November 07, 2007 2:14 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Katie: Thanks for the info. I'll check the Aquin. I had checked in early on when I first heard Mr. Bird had gone ahead with his protest and did not see anything then. From the sounds of it, they have info up on the Aquin now.

Adoro: You make a great point about creating sin. I'm still not condemning this particular book being read. If like Katie indicates there is some anti-Catholic bias perhaps raisings its head on a Catholic campus then I may have some issues with that but not so much the work itself.

I know during the Pope & the Witch thing the U of MN response really enraged me. Well, the play did too. Maybe I need both a poor institutional response as well as the work to get me going. Just musing aloud here.

Lisa: That IS the crux of it. How DO you balance the Faith with academic freedom. Excellent point.

November 07, 2007 9:04 PM  
Anonymous Michael W. Bird said...

This is Michael Bird, one of parents critical of The Handmaid's Tale. Please visit the website another parent and I created challenging the use of this book and calling for reform of the English Department:

I will try to respond to a few of the points brought up in these posts here.

Some students have complained, but it is difficult for them to go up against someone with a Ph.D, and who is going to grade them. I personally know parents whose son asked them not to publicly complain in any way because he fears for his grade and he is on a scholarship that requires a certain GPA.

I don't believe Catholic teachings are necessarily discussed. A lot of the teachers aren't Catholic, and some strongly disagree with the Church's sexual moral teachings. Here I would point to an article in the Sept. 16 StarTribune called "An Unavoidable Truth." The author of the article, who "teaches college English," says she "loves homophobes, but hates, hates, hates their lies" regarding homosexuality. There is a freshman English teacher at St.Thomas with the same name as the author of this article. If they are the same person, would she be likely to affirm the Church's teaching in her class? Or would she more likely agree with the woman who favorably reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on Amazon, saying "The book provides a warning of what could happen if religion becomes the ultimate law of the land, and if women are no longer free to make their own decisions, especially regarding sexuality and reproduction." How many other teachers with similar thinking exist in the Department?

It's proper for a Catholic university to discuss provocative or challenging literature, but it is not proper to actually promote literature that undermines the Catholic faith. A book such as The Handmaid's Tale might be proper in a senior or graduate level class in which anti-Catholic works such as The Deputy, The Pope and the Witch, The Davinci Code, Hitler's Pope etc. were discussed and refuted.

Academic freedom is not a carte blanche. What if one of the teachers wanted to use a book called, "How to make a low cost nuclear bomb," or the theology teacher converted to and started teaching Islam? Should parents or students just pay for the class and shut-up? There is an issue of justice here, of receiving what you're paying for.

November 08, 2007 4:55 PM  

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