John F. Kavanaugh
'My afflictions are newsrosis, hypolitichondria and eccleseitis.'
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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.

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Comments

Anne | 1/2/2009 - 10:16am
Father, regarding abortion and the Sacrament of Marriage, the Sanctity of Life and the Sanctity of Marriage come directly from God, not Caesar. "I give you a New Commandment, Love one another as I have Loved you."-Christ If you get this part right, the rest is the details. It is the mission of the Catholic Church, His Church, to speak the Truth as He Has revealed Himself in the Trinitarian relationship of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Teaching of the Magisterium. He is with us now, in His Church,(which includes His chosen leader in this period of History, Pope Benedict XVI), His Word, and His Gifts of the Seven Sacraments. "I will not leave you orphans."-Christ May The Holy Spirit guide us with Wisdom.
MICHAEL LYDON | 11/23/2008 - 7:10pm
I revel in the creativity of Fr. Kavanaugh's afflictions; I think many of us suffer from them--I know I do. At the same time, I read an articulate advocacy of the pro-life cause in the St. Louis Review (11-21-08)recently. Authored by Fr. John Jay Hughes, "For pro-life cause, time for persuasion," he outlines a realistic political strategy while at the same time challenges the lock-step pro-choice crowd on their insistence that "privacy" trumps all cards, including fetal life. I can only hope that Catholic commentators, such as Kavanaugh and Hughes, will continue to write such thought provoking articles on moral issues in our day. Fr. Mike Lydon
Jim Lein | 11/14/2008 - 10:53am
Thank God the election is over. Maybe our campaign illnesses will soon be over too. And perhaps Catholics can heal our division and stop the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” labeling. These are not mutually exclusive categories. We are all pro-life, in different ways perhaps, but with few, if any, saints who are pro-life across the board. Regardless of our different emphases, we can all work to reduce abortions – some at overturning the law and at picketing clinics, some at increasing support services for troubled pregnant women and at creating a more welcoming environment for them. Some few may engage in all these works. More realistically, we can work toward the common good as team players, each where best suited. And we can all pray, individually and together, especially the rosary. Who better than Mary, the ultimate troubled pregnant woman, to guide us in understanding and helping these women? And how better, really, to support the unborn than by supporting the women carrying them?
Paul Kelly | 11/7/2008 - 5:00pm
Father John Kavanaugh, SJ, wrote what I felt for the last eight years and what I feel now and will continue to feel, because Hope is back. He said that I had three afflictions: Newsrosis; Hypolitichondria; Eccleseitis. It happened to me Tuesday evening. Metanoia. In 2000, disgust became the inside mood when I read, thought, spoke, wrote State. In 2002, disgust reached out and brought in Church. For eight years, I’ve been afflicted, squirming, twisting, trying to escape, looking for a way out. Knowing I could never leave either institution, I tried to elevate myself to hero status, to rise and stand and speak truth to power. Hah! The afflictions, like infections, grew. My mind was rancid with boils, oozing. I kept on seeing similarities in the two institutions: power, abuse on abuse of authority, degradation of the People. I thought I had lost not only faith and love, but also hope. While I knew I could never renew, rebuild church or state, I could holler my heart out, as both were declining and falling like empires. It wasn’t just the election Tuesday that did it, but it did. When the networks said that the President-Elect was Barack Obama, I wept, no, I sobbed, and felt the disgust beginning to wash away. Jean and I hugged. For a long time, we hugged, both crying. We both felt cleansed. We knew hope. And that’s what was the replacement: Hope. To me the biggest of the three: Hope, Faith, Love. For both State and Church. We felt way down as deep as we can feel: Yes. We can. Restore America. Renew the Church. Yes. We can.
Rober Gresch | 11/7/2008 - 3:48pm
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KC Mulville | 11/7/2008 - 3:43pm
A family friend is a local politician. He once explained how parties work. His party told him, if there is any issue you feel strongly about, go ahead and vote your conscience. But no one can be an expert on every issue. All we ask is that when it comes to the issues that you don’t know much about, give us your vote. The theory is simple. Because the other party members trust you on issues you know about, you can trust them on issues you don’t know much about, because you all likely have the same perspective anyway. But over the years, I’ve reflected on that mechanism, and I’ve watched human behavior (mine, and occasionally others -LOL). Instead of joining a party because they reflect your attitudes, you come to adopt the attitude of the party, simply because it’s your party. It’s easier just to take the party’s attitudes for granted. And once you’ve accepted the conclusion of your party, you tend to fill in the premises and twist the logic to arrive at whatever conclusion they’ve declared. Instead of joining a party because they reflect your ideas, you reshape your ideas to reflect the party. That creates the perfect conditions for circular firing squads. “I was for it because I thought you were for it.” “Me? I was only for it because of you!” And so on. An example: Terry Schiavo. When her case first came to national attention, politicians were reluctant to get involved, in the first few days. Both parties waffled. Many were skeptical about the husband, who was eager to terminate her, get the insurance, and move on with the woman he was living with. What people don’t remember about the Schiavo case was that it first became national news because of the husband. The first stories were about how heartless he was. But when Jeb Bush got involved, siding with Terry’s parents, you could feel the parties rushing to their respective corners. The same people who were saying, “Gee, I don’t know” were suddenly saying it was a slam dunk case. You know why you feel as if your head is going to explode? Because parties are applying pressure to your head. And why, John Kavanaugh, do you resist the pressure? Because you’re a philosopher. It’s simply not in your nature to allow ideas to penetrate your head through osmosis. I’m no doctor, but I’d diagnose your headaches as healthy.

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