Saturday, June 25, 2011

The New Penance

I hope that my Catholic friends do not take offense at what is written here, but I am taking a stance against the practice of penance. For uninformed Protestants and other non-Catholics who might happen to read this, penance is a sacrament of the Catholic Church whereby a person shows their true sorrow and penitence by performing certain kinds of works. It begins with confession of the sin to a priest and ends with absolution once all the appropriate works are performed. (Protestants just confess their sins to God directly and receive forgiveness by faith.) These works generally include prayers and fastings, but used to include acts of public humiliation, which are rare today. Absolution is complete only when the prescribed works are done.

But I am not writing about the value of the Catholic rite, but rather about its secular counterpart. I guess we could call it something like "politically correct penance" though I am sure that those, especially in the news media, who promote this practice would object to any such terminology as, well, politically incorrect.

What do I mean by this? I mean that when a person, especially someone in the public eye, makes certain remarks, he is called upon by the media to do a kind of penance. Take, for example, Tracy Morgan, the comedian, who recently had a rant against homosexuals. Now I do not know the exact content of all that he said, but apparently he was quite nasty. And I agree that an apology would be the right thing to do.

But as you probably know, that is not all that he did, nor is it all that is expected of him. He must do some works of penance. He did the right thing in apologizing to a crowd in Nashville where he made the remarks. (To me, that should be sufficient for our forgiving this rant.) Then he went on an 'apology tour' where he confessed over and over again his terrible sin. After that he went to a homeless shelter for homosexual teens. (Why do they need their own shelter?) Finally, it seems that the media is satisfied that Tracy Morgan has done all of penance and can now be given absolution, and we all learned a valuable lesson.

I personally think that this is all ridiculous. First of all, I know that people like comedians to say things that are politically incorrect, but we know that many are thinking it anyway. Rants are heard about all kinds of people and groups and much of it is truly offensive. This kind of talk is unacceptable for Christians and we should all expect appropriate apologies when they occur.

But we know that in a politically correct environment, it is not the fact that you said something bad about someone, but the fact that you said it against certain select groups. Kobe Bryant, the basketball player, cursed out a referee a while ago, and in the midst of the cursing used a homosexual slur. The media pointed out the slur and the league fined him for it. Why was that singled out? - Because it is politically incorrect. Now, it is okay to point it out, but does not the disrespect shown to a referee count for more? In my mind it does. That is what he should have been fined for and what the media should have focused on.

What have we taught our youth here? That using slurs regarding homosexuality is wrong, but gross disrespect to referees and foul language is not as bad. This is wrong. Morgan in another venue, on a sports program, made a sexually crude remark about Sarah Palin. The network apologized, but it seems that no penance was required. No public confession, no apology tour, no rehab, no media outrage. I guess it was just not a mortal sin, but only a venial one. If I knew that he spoke to her and personally apologized, that would be good, but we are unaware of any such thing.

The media obviously plays the role of the priest. (It's amazing how they can act in concert.) The 'sinner' is the one who violated the commandment against politically correct diversity or whatever. Multiple public confessions and humiliations replace a single private confession. Going to rehab or 'diversity training' or speaking to or in support of a special group is the works. Only when these are complete will the media grant absolution.

It's funny that the media, which loves to bash Catholics among other Christians, would unwittingly adopt one of their sacraments. For me, as Protestant as I am, I would take the Catholic sacrament over the new, secular one every time.

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