Tag Archives: Religion

The Naming of Things

"The Thinker"

In Old Possums Book of Practical Cats the first line is “The naming of cats is a difficult matter.”

I’ve been thinking of naming conventions ever since I found a hint of bias in myself. Have you ever had one of those moments where you look at a thought and it terrifies you? I did when I realized I was reordering words.

I have a friend who identifies himself as an Arab-Muslim American. In my head I reordered this to be a Muslim American of Arab descent. I was lying in bed one of those sleepless nights and wondered about this. Why would I do this? And what was going on in my head that I would find this necessary?

I talked to myself for many hours that night and decided there was something going on. I don’t call Hispanic American’s American’s of Hispanic decent. So, how does this work and why has the naming of American’s become an issue.

I talked to a few friends and found that they had been exposed to the same thing I had. Media outlets that talk about Muslim American’s and wonder why they don’t put American first.  

While pondering this I came upon two examples of countries that place their Nationalism in front of their Religion.

When I was traveling to England in the 80’s and 90’s terrorism was an issue from the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Irish folks defined themselves as Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants. Religion last… Nationality first.   

I’ve been reading Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman. Lebanese, like the Irish, put their nationality first and their religion last. Lebanese Shi’a, Lebanese Sunni and Lebanese Maronites.

You might think that this makes them more patriotic. After all as Fox News would say they are putting their nationality first. But think about this… we are talking about Ireland and Lebanon two countries devastated by internal strife and terrorism.

It’s basic grammar.

Lebanese modifies Shi’a making Shi’a the noun and Lebanese takes on the role of adjective. Remember adjectives modify nouns. Yet somehow, in the US, this basic grammatical relationship has been blurred when the word Arab is placed with the word American.

The media should know better.  

I am a English-Irish-Scottish-Welsh-Scandinavian-Atheist American. No one would think to question my commitment to my nation. English to Atheist modifies American. I am defining the subset of who I am, the set, the whole is American. In the same way any Muslim American, Arab American, Chinese American, Catholic American, and Jewish American are.

This is my polite way of saying STOP IT!

If this subtle internal bias has made its way into my head, with my limited exposure to the media and my baseline lack of bias, what is it doing to everyone else?  

I have done nothing to earn the privilege of being an American except be born here. But every man and woman who serves in our military and works to protect us has. They put being American before all else.

It is such a subtle distinction that is being made but it is insidious and dangerous.

If you find it in yourself take it out, look at it, acknowledge it for what it is and let it go.

If you find someone else doing it politely explain the grammar behind our naming convention and remind them of what happend in Ireland and Lebanon when they became adjectives modifying religious nouns.

~ Tess


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Somehow we got on the subjects of Nuns.

Don’t ask me how – I’ve never been religious although I once played a Nun on the stage, in roller-skates no less. But it was interesting that we got onto the subject – for two women, one of which had no religious background (that would be me), we talk religion a great deal.

One of the things we noticed is that we weren’t seeing nuns very often anymore although there is a community of the Sisters of St. Mary near us. So, when I was coming out of the doctor’s office and a nun was walking in I just had to call and say I spotted one. It was kind of like bird watching.

Then, one of my new favorite business gurus, Kenny the Monk, sent a letter to the editor of the New York Times about the new papal administration opening its arms to conservative Anglican Clergy, even if married, while shunning Catholic women and gays.

“With one wave of the Vatican’s almighty hand, Anglicans who don’t like women bishops or gay priests are now welcome in the Catholic Church.  Even their married clergy can come along.”Kenny the Monk

Then in Maureen Dowd’s column yesterday she talked of the Vatican wanting American nuns to embrace more archaic and traditional roles. In Ms. Dowd’s words

“The Vatican is now conducting two inquisitions into the “quality of life” of American nuns, a dwindling group with an average age of about 70, hoping to herd them back into their old-fashioned habits and convents and curb any speck of modernity or independence.”Maureen Dowd

It got me thinking.

I keep hoping that one of the most powerful religions will make its way into the 21st century – but all my hope seems to be in vain. There was a glimmer when the Vatican recognized Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution but since then it has been all downhill. The pardoning of a bishop who claimed there were no Nazi gas chambers, continued belief that condoms don’t prevent AIDS, that women should hold only second class status in the church, and still considering sex education, of anything but abstinence, to be immoral. Guess they just threw in Darwin for irony since the church has ceased to evolve.

And just about now you are asking why I care, right? I’m not Catholic, wasn’t schooled by nuns, so why?

Because the Catholic Church could just as easily be a force for change as a force for repression.

Check out the Wiki site – the stats for the US are startling and show the divide between where US Catholics are headed and where the Vatican wants them to be led. As of 2005, there were the following…

 41,406 diocesan and religious-order priests

30,000 lay ministers of which 80% are women

17,000 permanent deacons (men)

63,032 sisters (down from 180,000 in 1965)

5,040 brothers

16 Cardinals

424 Active and retired Bishops  

If you do the math that means that 87,032 women are involved in the upper levels of organization in the Catholic Church as opposed to 69,886 men. What group in their right mind would want to jeopardize their relationship with 56% of their base?

And that doesn’t count all the women who do everything else….

150,000 Catholic school teachers teaching 2.7 million students

What do you want to bet the stats are on that – according to the US census bureau 71% of all teachers in the US are women (2004).

I have a feeling if the women in the Catholic Church actually returned to being “submissive partners” and cultivated their femininity which includes “waiting”, nothing would get done. Women are the backbone of the church and it bothers me that the Vatican is pulling them away from their rightful place as co-owners of the faith.

When you think about it, is it all that different than any other ultra conservative sect that keeps its women without power, education, and rights? And we know the Vatican is wrong…

Data shows that teaching abstinence doesn’t work

That condoms can be used to stop the spread of AIDS

That empowering women – educating them and giving them control of their bodies – is the best thing a developing country can do to move forward. Impacting not only the lives of women, but men and children too.

We are stronger when we are equal – and if the Catholic Church wants to continue to have the support of women and their energy and enthusiasm present in religious life, they need to start listening to them or eventually they won’t have them. At this point I think we have to reverse the statement.

Ask not what you can do for your church, but what your church can do for you.  

If there is a God I’m sure she isn’t amused.

~ Tess

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