Post 192

Utter Rubbish:
Reflections on an Article by Fr. George W. Rutler

Oh my.

I just finished reading the rest of his article.

Each sentence drips with self-satisfaction and bitterness.  He is so angry with any praise directed towards those who are, in his view, unworthy.  When a Catholic official or even a Catholic news service praises someone ‘bad,’ he gets vicious — just vicious.

He wants the Catholic Church to be as elitist as he is.


So let’s try to do this in an overview style, because, well, how much of our time does Fr. Rutler deserve?

Here are his major attacks:

CULPRIT: Cardinal Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture
CRIME: His statement quoted some of David Bowie’s lyrics.
IMPUTED INTENT: Mother Church appears ridiculous as Adolescent Church, as in the case of the Holy See lamenting David Bowie. The insatiable desire for approval by pop culture is beneath the dignity of the Church as the Mother of Nations.

CULPRIT: LOsservatore Romano
CRIME: Upon Bowie’s death, a writer praised Bowie’s musical ability and his personal sobriety, while excusing his “ambiguous image.”
IMPUTED INTENT: L’Osservatore Romano was aching to be the Church of Whats Happening Now. 

CULPRIT: Editor of LOsservatore Romano
CRIME: Upon Michael Jackson’s death, this editor said that Jackson had been a great dancer and said that his myth would live on, despite the serious and shameful allegations of pedophilia.  This editor also spoke in an uncritical way about the singer’s surgeries.  (I do not know if the editor was speaking about his facial surgeries or other ones, but Rutler seems to know what the editor meant.)

CULPRIT: Catholic News Service
CRIME:  Upon Versace’s death, a writer wrote: “Versace was noted for his sensual lines and eye-catching combinations of textural shades.”
IMPUTED INTENT: This simply is the diction of political correctness and it compromises the prophetic charism of the Church; for, as sages have observed one way or another, political correctness is the speech of those who are terrified by what might happen if they spoke the truth.

Then, for bonus points, Fr. Rutler just goes ahead and makes up a hypothetical.  Here we go:

HYPOTHETICAL CULPRIT: Editors of the gender-neutral New American Bible.
HYPOTHETICAL CRIME: Perhaps the next nervous surrender to fashion will be a declaration of Bruce/Caitlin Jenner as Person of the Year’”

(Hey, Fr. Rutler! How about if you limit yourself to mischaracterizing the motives and actions of different members of the Church, instead of dreaming up new things to be scandalized by?)

The other thing is that Fr. Rutler heavily slants things (as I mentioned in my previous post) with his choice of words. If he likes something, he makes it sound extra fancy.  If he dislikes something, he digs up as much dirt as he can, mentioning exactly which drugs were involved in the overdose, for instance.  He makes people sound silly and pathetic — the weeping of Sting and Elton John at a funeral, for instance.  And I note that the photo used of David Bowie was highly unflattering.  There are so many nice photos of him, but it’s all part of the negative theme.  Michael Jackson is referred to as a “crooner.”  He refers to Michael Jackson and David Bowie “and their sort.”  (And their “sort”!?  Oh gag!  Such a superior tone!)  He disparages at every opportunity, describing things to make people (and the Church) look bad.

He says that the Vatican plunged into mourning for this man.  He refers to the Vatican’s words as impulsive effusions of grief.  And with respect to the Catholic News Service’s piece about Versace, Fr. Rutler describes it like this: one thinks of the breathless Catholic News Service commentary in 2009. 


All of these words are intended to paint a picture of people who are overly emotional.

I don’t think they were.  I think they were focused on their own jobs at the moment, whether that was making a speech or writing an article in time for the printing deadline.

Mind you, if these people were emotional, that would be okay.  When people die, then sometimes other people mourn.  Sometimes other people are sad.  And it is possible for people to be sad when they hear of the death of someone whom they never met in person, such as a celebrity or a long-distance friend.

On Good Friday, people think about the death of Christ, and they are sometimes sad.

Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus.  He missed seeing him in person.

Grief is a normal thing, and there is nobody created who is unworthy of a tribute of some kind.  Every person was once a little baby, and in the eyes of God (and Mother Church), all people (even the rock stars, Fr. Rutler) are as precious as they were when they were first conceived.  People don’t escape the loving and watchful eye of God if they go astray.

You, Father Rutler, on the other hand, write an article called “Misplaced Grief,” and say (boastfully) that you did not know that David Bowie had been born.  (“Consequently, it was no surprise that news of the death of David Bowie was the first time I knew that he had been alive.”)   And of course, you go on to talk about what music you do like, as if we all care.

But this is not all.  He also labels everyone who mourns for these singers.  I missed it at first, but I see that at the bottom of his article, he says that the word “metrosexual” includes people who mourn for The Unworthy.  Of course, he doesn’t use the phrase ‘the Unworthy’ — he refers to people such as Michael Jackson and David Bowie this way: “paragons of degeneracy and paladins of vice.”  Here’s the same phrase with definitions in brackets: “paragons (=perfect examples) of degeneracy (=social ills and immorality) and paladins (=knights) of vice (=evil, immorality).”

He says that if you even weep for these people, you’re a metrosexual:

Christ was a carpenter and his apostles were mostly fishermen and none of them was what is called today a “metrosexual.” I am not sure what that term fully means, but it embraces anyone who weeps for paragons of degeneracy and paladins of vice.

According to Fr. Rutler, anyone who weeps for such people are covered by (embraced) this term.

That’s how he ends his elitist little article.

Uh, WTF?

Fr. Rutler, who do you think you are?

You apply a label to people all over the world who are sad about the death of Jackson or Bowie (or Prince or other famous actors/performers)?

You apply a label while declaring, at the same time, that you don’t know what it means?

Excuse me?

You carefully choose every multi-syllabic word to portray a nose flute or a didgeridoo as awesome and worthy of your time, and yet when you choose a word to stick onto people all over the world, you can’t be bothered to investigate what the word means?

I can’t believe this guy.

He makes JHW look almost cuddly.

Uh, well, maybe not.

(Mr. Weston, I think you should stick to having your photographs taken in colour.  This face-in-the-shadows look doesn’t really suit anybody.)

My point is that even John-Henry Weston didn’t assign labels to so many people at once.

But anyway, moving on, of course I detest Fr. Rutler’s snobby way of saying that when Chesterton criticized jazz music, Chesterton was having “an unmeasured moment.”

Who is he to say whether Chesterton was measured or unmeasured?

Ah, maybe that’s what he says when he finds statements that he dislikes, but cannot attack the person himself.

But look: if Chesterton didn’t like jazz, then he didn’t like jazz.  Don’t dismiss or downgrade his thoughts by classifying them with your overly-active adjectives.  “Unmeasured.”  Pah!

Be quiet!  You don’t know what you’re talking about, again.

But in an article where Rutler outdoes himself sentence after sentence in being as arrogant as possible, perhaps the worst section is the part where he presents himself as the tender pastor over a troubled flock, and he rises up to attack those who he presents as detached, away in lofty towers and out of touch with his hellish reality.

He gives his recent experiences as examples.  They are cases where broken people barely had a good chance at life (partly or largely) because they didn’t have a chance to choose classical music.  Poor sods.  All they had was the modern stuff and it messed with their lives.

But I am a pastor of a section of Manhattan called Hell’s Kitchen. I recently had the funeral of a young man who died of a drug overdose, and whose musical world was Corybantic. His cousin, a client of the rock and drug scene, is in prison for murder. So I speak not only as an aesthete who publicly avows that he prefers Mozart and Chopin to Jackson and Bowie, but as a priest who has to pick up the pieces of those who never knew they had a choice. And I object to comfortable prelates in a higher realm, penning panegyrics for the doyens of a culture that destroys my children.

Ah, what a bunch of crap!

(In particular, check out how he meanly characterizes other Catholic clerics: “comfortable prelates in a higher realm.”)

Penning panegyrics?

(Definition: “A panegyric is a formal public speech, or written verse, delivered in high praise of a person or thing, a generally highly studied and undiscriminating eulogy, not expected to be critical.”)

Doyens of a culture?

(Definition: A doyen is “the most respected or prominent person in a particular field”)

“My children”


In other words, on the one hand, there is the very concerned and fatherly Fr. Rutler, and on the other, there are the bad guys who are wrongly praising other bad guys in order to appear hip.

Now I agree: so much of what is popular music is very problematic.  However, do not write as if particular worldly conditions (regarding music or anything else) can lead to the ruin of people’s lives, causing them to lead immoral or corrupt lives.  Do not suggest this.  It is true that certain life circumstances are exceedingly difficult, but one thing does not go hand in hand with the other.  There is nobody in his parish or elsewhere who is or was unable to make a choice to lead a moral life.

The deceased drug-user may have listened to bad music, but one thing does not lead to the other.  There is no chain reaction.  Instead, you have one actor — one person — who made poor choices about using drugs and about listening to lame stuff.  It’s not a package deal; it’s not fair to describe it, as Fr. Rutler puts it, as a “rock and drug scene.”

Don’t delude yourself, Father, into thinking that if you gave this deceased man Chopin that he would have turned out differently.

It’s not as random as that.  In other words, God didn’t allow an oopsie here (forgot to give him exposure to Wagner) that ultimately resulted in the fellow finding other music and sliding down into an abyss of immorality.

It doesn’t work like that.

Don’t blame the music.  Don’t blame the “rock and roll genre” for the choices that your parishioner(s) or others make.

I agree, music is powerful, and I agree with Pope Benedict that the atmosphere at many music shows (and night clubs) is unnatural and highly problematic.  (I don’t have the full context of his words, but I suppose he was contrasting that with what you want as part of the liturgy.)  However, music is not so powerful that it can lead someone astray without their consent.  God is too good for that, and would not allow music to sweep us away like a leaf on a current.

And so Plato was wrong, when he said that music can make a soul graceful or ungraceful.  That is going too far.  Music does not have that much power.

Here’s the section that Fr. Rutler quoted.  Fr. Rutler said that Plato said that music “is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful …”

These Greek philosophers didn’t get everything right.

Someone should tell that to Fr. Rutler, who goes on to yak about muses:

Plato also knew the dangers of “anti-music” or Corybanticism, which perverted rhythms to stimulate the bodily humors in defiance of the good purposes of the muses. Its consequence would be a moral chain reaction, dissonant music deranging society and inverting virtue. The Corybants were priests of the Phrygian goddess Cybele, and their music was atonal, ecstatic, and dissolute. It was inimical to the ideal republic. But it incubated the ethereal realms of David Bowie and Michael Jackson and their sort.

Chain reactions?

No, no, no.

The spiritual life doesn’t work like an experiment in a chemistry lab.  There are choices, not chain reactions.  There are choices upon choices, at each and every moment of a person’s life.  Microseconds and milliseconds – these are all the junctions given by God for us to turn around and change.

Do not suggest that humans are so utterly vulnerable to the world around us.  This is false. We are not victims.  We may suffer, but we are not unable to choose what is good.  There is never a circumstance where a human soul is unable to please God by desiring, in his or her heart, to please him.

We can make our lives something which is pleasing to God at all times, no matter what song is playing on the radio.