This column comes to you from the twilight zone. I am writing it before the presidential election of 2008, and you will read it after that awesome event. I was thinking of writing about what I learned from the excruciatingly long presidential campaign, but there was precious little. I did, however, contract some strange diseases. Hypochondriac that I am, I searched the Internet for some syndrome that matched the symptoms that afflict me; but I found nothing. So I invented names for the illnesses I caught, as we hypochondriacs are prone to do. My afflictions are newsrosis, hypolitichondria and eccleseitis.
Newsrosis. Neurosis might have worked. After all, so many commentators have gotten on my nerves (neuron, root) in an abnormal (osis) way. But newsrosis captures it best for a news addict who overdosed with the lame excuse, “I have to keep up on everything to write this column.” The only relief came when Keith Olbermann (“The worst person in the wooooorld……”) and Chris Matthews, with his leg tingling at the words of Obama, apparently were demoted by their news corporation. These two, like so many other television talkers, have made a science of interrupting others. They are so into their own opinion, they answer their questions before they allow the respondent to utter a few words. As with most addictions, my first tactic was to compromise: “Well, I’ll just look at the nice people.” Brit Hume usually moderates a civil discussion, even though it is often weighted two or three to one in favor of the conservative side. George Stephanopoulos conducts a well-behaved discussion on his Sunday morning program. But soon enough, I give in; and I am back watching the verbal food fight of the McLaughlin Group and the video thuggery of Sean Hannity.
Hypolitichondria. This disease covers every kind of political affliction one might imagine, from a cramp in the mind to a jerk in the knee. Sometimes I can spot it in people who think I am a crypto-Nazi because I was sympathetic to McCain or a crypto-Communist because I was sympathetic to Obama. What really shows the symptoms is an accusation that I am a Chardonnay-sipping liberal who have never worked a day in my life while I shill for the Democratic Party that I left eight years ago. Such people are so mind-locked that when I inform them that the last major party candidate I voted for was Bob Dole, they think I am part of an even more sophisticated conspiracy.
The worse thing about hypolitichondria is what it does to oneself. I have become worried about everything, not only my own health (par for the course), but also the entire health care system, the health of the nation and the stability of the world. I have suffered from nightmarish fantasies like the thought that McCain is going to suffer some great physical trauma. Much worse, I have worried that one or two of those 20 million people who listen to Rush Limbaugh will be a crazy who really thinks “they love Obama because he loathes America” (July 21 broadcast). After hearing that, I decided that for the health of my soul, I should stop listening. It had become a near occasion of sin. If you fail to sympathize with me, type in “kill him” and “campaign” on YouTube. Look at the video of a McCain talk (not Palin) in which, after the senator says, “Who is this Barack Obama?” a voice from the crowd yells, “Kill him!” McCain himself shrinks back in shock. I just worry.
Eccleseitis. As a priest in the Catholic Church, I have acquired an inflammation. I do not quite know where it is located, but it has to do with the Mystical Body, not mine. Over the past many months I have been asked burning questions from fellow Catholics who are confused about our bishops and this election, about whether their teaching is unified and whether some teachings even make sense. I have not been able to give a reasonable response to many of their questions. Why is abortion the central issue? Are there not 10 commandments? Did God put them in a hierarchy? And if so, wasn’t the most important problem idolatry? Is there only one “deadly” sin? How did Jesus describe the “greatest” commandment? How is gay marriage (I am no supporter of it) equal to abortion as a non-negotiable? And this is the toughest one: If a candidate for office were to share the policies of Adolf Hitler but wanted to totally ban abortion, would we be morally obliged to vote for him? I just do not have the ability to answer them.
So what is the anti-inflammatory medicine for eccleseitis, as well as an antidote for newsrosis and hypolitichondria? For me it is this: All the comings and goings of the media personas, all their pretenses and postures are like nothing before the living God. All the fears we might entertain for ourselves, our nation or our world pale before the words of our Savior, who said, “Fear is useless; what you need is trust.” And all the pronouncements, rituals and edicts of ecclesiastics, as privileged as they are, do not save us. If Christ has not saved us and is not our hope, we have no hope; and all the pronouncements, like elections, are in vain.
If McCain does not suffer some health setback and if Obama does not suffer an attempt on his life and, by the time you read this column, one of them is elected, that president-to-be had better have some resources to turn to. It is hard to imagine why any person would want to take over at this time of such precipitous danger to our economy and the world order. We might hope that he relies on something other than his own authority and his toadies.