Letters to the Editor

Do Catholics deserve "Dogma"? Plus: You can't define the Net by its ghettos; what did the Bible tell white supremacist killers?

Published November 16, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

The new inquisitors


"Dogma" may, in fact, be a very good movie. We know in advance
of seeing it, however, that it treats very lightly subjects that are of supreme
importance to a believing Catholic. To suggest that it is offensive to
portray the Virgin Mary as non-virginal and her descendant as working in an
abortion clinic is not to say that such portrayals ought to be suppressed,
but only to state the obvious -- such a portrayal is offensive.

What is really at issue here is whether Catholics are wrong
to be so offended. No one would expect to start a civil conversation with a
Muslim with the opening premise that Mohammed was not Allah's prophet and
that anyone who thinks so is foolish. Yet, over and over again,
Catholics (and to a degree, all Christians) are asked to respond with unique
good humor to veritable broadsides against the content of our faith. Like
it or not, "Dogma" presents a mere caricature of Catholic faith and practice.
While it may, in a sense, examine "questions of faith," the fact that it
requires a foul-mouthed apostle, "fart and dick jokes," and other such
puerile devices does not lead one to confidence in the movie's ability to
answer said "questions of faith."

Caricatures of our faith are the concern of Catholics, and rightly so.
Their increased prevalence and acceptance in the minds and hearts of
so-called cafeteria Catholics and in the culture at large are negative, both
for believers and non-believers. They lead to statements like this one
in Zacharek's article, in reference to the painting of Mary in the Sensation
exhibit: "What's more, no Catholic group has mentioned this Virgin's color.
She's black, and you can't help wondering if Ofili's decidedly Afrocentric
treatment is an unspoken part of their problem: 'This isn't the Virgin we

Perhaps no Catholic group has mentioned it because such a sentiment is
racist and utterly alien to an authentic Catholic faith; perhaps no Catholic
group has mentioned it because such representations of the Virgin as black
(or Asian, or Native American, or whatever) have a place and a history in
Catholic devotion.

Perhaps those who write to exhort Catholics to be more open-minded ought to
make fewer and better-founded assumptions about what it is that Catholics

-- Sam Sawyer

Belief in a separation of church and state doesn't
negate the reasonable question from New York Catholics
(Rudy Giuliani included) regarding why their tax
dollars should be used to fund
exhibitions they find offensive, when no apparent
mechanism for accountability exists. Certainly, if black organizations, Jewish groups or
women's advocates raised concerns about their
depictions (or depictions of their heroes) in a
publicly funded art museum, their complaints wouldn't
be summarily dismissed. However, Catholics who raise a
fuss are pegged as troglodytic enemies of artistic freedom.

My life choices don't exactly position me as a
Catholic poster child, or even a clumsy apologist.
But like Kevin Smith (whose movie I plan to see), I
am grateful to have been raised in an on the whole
moral and excellent ecclesiastical tradition. My falling
away from the Catholic Church is a result of my
decisions alone, and certainly not an indictment of a
2,000-year-old institution.

Catholics do not eschew their rights as citizens when
they receive the host at Mass, and their outrage at
legion mischaracterizations and, frankly, attacks in
the media should not be automatically discounted.

-- John F.J. Sullivan

Dover, N.H.

Why does being critical of
something amount to an "inquisition"? Also, why is it that people are so
surprised when a movie or an art exhibit that so thoroughly insults and
disrespects a dearly held institution and its beliefs is criticized? I'm not
a Catholic, but I'm not so obtuse as to not understand what all the fuss is
about. Artists and filmmakers, you have the right to make any sophomoric
crap you can dream up, but please don't waste time whining when it gets

-- David K. Monroe

Kevin Smith made a movie that offended some people. And Chris Ofili painted a painting that some people didn't like. Some of those people were Catholic. Some of those Catholics were part of an organization called the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

To extrapolate from these facts that contemporary American Catholicism is a hotbed of fanaticism, or to imply that contemporary American Catholics form their opinions without seeing the works in question and prefer to defer to a group that is not even an official church organization is inaccurate, if not downright insulting.

Zacharek makes no effort to illustrate that there are Catholics, devoted ones even, who aren't herded like sheep by this 2,000-year-old institution she so condescendingly refers to. For heaven's sake, Pat Buchanan went to see the Ofili exhibit! If the hard-liner of all hard-liners was willing to go to the exhibit before pronouncing his opinion, why wouldn't the more moderate of us be willing to do the same?

Artists and filmmakers who make controversial work should not be surprised when their work stirs controversy. Neither should it be a revelation that some people are taking offense at these works. As for myself, I'll wait until I see the movie until I make my judgement, as so many other Catholics will.

-- Aimee Cooper


I doubt Stephanie Zacharek
has ever taken a theology class in her life -- most of those
who criticize the Catholic Church haven't. They're responding
to what they call their "personal experience," which they
feel was constricting and disagreeable. But the basis of the
Catholic Church is love and forgiveness, mercy and care
for those who can't help themselves; it's about putting others
before yourself. Lately, Catholic movements have been
portrayed as viciously reactionary -- but can you blame us?

-- Jacqueline Gecan


The Internet illusion

Thomas Scoville's review paints a picture
of a world completely Balkanized by the Net.
Gimme a break. People have always gathered into groups around similar
interests. But people have more than one thing they are interested in.
That's why some days on the Web you'll find me in a chat room discussing
University of Tennessee football, the next day surfing "X-Files" sites, the
next reading the text of last week's sermon at my church, and the next
looking at financial and business news that relates to the industry I
work in. Other days, you may find me exchanging e-mails with a group of
fellow freelance writers, or looking up information for my next

I -- and most people -- merely use the Web to gain faster access to
information on the large variety of things we are interested in, and to
sort through it all faster.

As for Scoville's assertion that the phone didn't mean the end of the
city, and that telecommuting is a "mixed blessing," he speaks too soon.
First of all, there has not been a new city downtown built in 80 years
-- Frank Lloyd Wright predicted that the auto, the phone and electricity
would make the classic city obsolete and he was right. Today, if an
urban core is thriving it is because the city has built an arena and
attracted entertainment and dining venues. Telecommuting is on the rise
now -- the phone, FedEx, the Net, cell phones, fax and other
technologies and advances are speeding that trend.

Will the Internet mean some additional balkanization? Will it mean there
will be some people who never come out of their basement? Of course --
but that's not the Net. It's just human nature.

-- Bill Hobbs


People are not the single-minded and one-dimensional automatons Shapiro
seems to think they are. Even though they may congregate around, say Beanie
Babies, the interaction inevitably broadens. For example: A woman I know who is enraptured with her 2-year-old runs a "mommies of boys" listserv. Fairly parochial and noncontroversial, right?
Well, one day one of the participants started including a tagline in her
messages that said she also belonged to a "lesbian parents association."
Instant controversy and diversity of viewpoints.

So much for parochialism.

The same has happened in every Web community I've ever joined. People may
all identify themselves as "Linux programmers" or "'Babylon 5' fans" or with
some other narrow-sounding rubric, but the minute they actually start
talking the conversation expands -- into politics, economics, ethics, personal
responsibility, etc. For the most part, people enter the Web with their whole selves, and for the vast number of people -- white, black, rich, poor -- the Web does nothing but open minds.

-- Hillary Rettig

Not all Linux users are libertarians. In fact, they're probably a minority. It might not
sound that way, though, because people like Eric Raymond have appointed
themselves Spokesmen of the Movement, and sometimes have trouble keeping
their politics separate from their technology.
I'm a heavy Linux user and a strong proponent of free/open-source software.
And I think that big government is a good thing. The thing is, I have a day
job and can't spend all my time making press appearances.

Sound bitter? I suppose so -- which addresses a second point relevant to
your article: There's more diversity among Slashdot readers than you give us
credit for.

-- Matthew Miller


Hot temper or just hot air?


I found it ironic that Arianna Huffington would dare to write contemptuously about
harping on politicians' "personal peccadilloes." She reported that "the press coverage sounded less like political analysis and more like a nursery-school report card." Well, if she spent more time on
self-analysis, she would discover that she is the poster child for the nursery-school profession, albeit
an X-rated version, due to her favorite topic -- Bill Clinton's supposed

-- Stephen Sigworth

Richmond, Va.

If Huffington wishes to defend McCain's temper, fine. However, more
revealing could be McCain's tasteless and hurtful joke re Chelsea
Clinton. Fortunately, most of the media did not repeat his
inappropriate remarks. Most likely they realized how awful McCain would
look in the eyes of the American public -- I doubt they were trying to
shield the president's daughter.

-- Linda Sparks

Orlando, Fla.

"I'm guilty of obeying the laws of the creator"

A thought for the Shasta County D.A.: Do not seek the death penalty for James
Tyler Williams. Let him squawk away his newsworthiness in prison. Let the
only lesson learned from him be this: Though you may think you've got God on your
side, don't expect the state to agree -- and don't expect anyone else to care.

-- Clay Stockton

Danville, Calif.

Does this mean we can finally put a parental warning label on the
Bible, claiming that the writings contained therein depict scenes of
violence and have been proven to incite murder? Will audio tapes of the
Bible be placed in the same section with Marilyn Manson and Judas Priest?

-- Kirstin E. Dand

The Williams pair need to read their Bible. It says in Romans 12:19, "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves ... for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' saith the Lord." It was not God who commanded the Williams duo to kill homosexuals, but the devil.

The Lord told us in Romans 12:21 to overcome evil
with good. By their actions, these fellows have denied our heavenly father's
ability to change the hearts of homosexuals -- though he has saved many a "gay"
person. These men have in fact cut off the lives of two men who might have
turned to Jesus Christ.

True faith means obeying the Scriptures, not using them as an
excuse to break the Ten Commandments. These boys should repent of their crimes, and
Christians everywhere should pray for them to repent. We should be more concerned with our own sins than someone else's, not go around sneaking into other people's bedrooms to murder them.
The Williams pair should have joined a good Christian church, where the
spirit of God prevails.

-- J.M. Rosenfield

I'm intrigued by a detail that is made significant by how much it is
underplayed. It seems the Williams brothers didn't attract the notice of
the local police until they ordered $2,200 worth of ammunition reloading
equipment over the phone and paid with a Visa card. The credit card
activity attracted the attention of the police, who staked out the "dead
drop" and surrounded them -- with guns drawn -- when they appeared.

Hasn't anybody asked how it is that $2,200 credit card charges
attract the attention of the local police? Or how it is that the order
of $2,200 worth of reloading supplies was deemed sufficient for a police
stakeout, and an arrest with guns drawn? And just what does $2,200 worth
of "reloading supplies" amount to?

It's lovely that these guys are off the streets, but doesn't the way
this case was broken raise the hackles on anybody's neck?
It sure scares me.

-- John Murdoch

Wind Gap, Pa.

Choice or corruption?


This was just one more example of the PRI's ability to manipulate and perpetuate a sense of change while underneath maintaining complete control. Fernando Gutiirrez Barrios conducted this with the backroom expertise of which he is a master. There was no conflict -- just a sense of one, to weaken the opposition and give the people straws to grasp at. The political sophistry in Mexico is much deeper than people realize. Nothing here is ever what it seems to be.

-- Michael S. Garber

By Letters to the Editor

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