Overheard in a NYC Japanese fast food restaurant

Japanese employee speaking to Hispanic employee:

“Miso soup, solamente! Rapido, he don’t want to wait!”

If Tom Friedman were here, he’d be putting together a 1,000 word essay
about the incident and how it demonstrates globalization. But he’s
not, so you’ll have to settle for this short blog post about how this
represents globalization. Which it does quite well.

“Raised Catholic”: Religion in Modern America


How many times have you heard someone refer to themselves as “raised Catholic”? Quit often, right? Of course, those describing themselves as such are usually implying that they are no longer practicing Catholics, and anyone can anecdotally say that there’s a pretty large contingent in America that describes themselves as such.

Now there are some hard numbers to quantify this phenomenon. According to a recent study as reported by the New York Times that surveys religious life in America, Catholicism is taking a big hit:

The Catholic Church has lost more adherents than any other group: about one-third of respondents raised Catholic said they no longer identified as such. Based on the data, the survey showed, “this means that roughly 10 percent of all Americans are former Catholics.”

The article goes on to describe other trends, such as the influence of immigration on all religious groups, but as one of those who were “raised Catholic” yet is “still Catholic,” the parts about my particular faith were the most interesting to me. So I’m taking this opportunity to do a little soapbox publishing about religion.

Consider, for a moment, the strong deterrents that orthodox Catholicism has against leaving the Church (or not practicing the faith):

  • Going to mass on a weekly basis is an obligation. Failing to do so is a “mortal sin,” i.e. if you don’t do it, you’re goin’ to hell.
  • Attending confession with some frequency: ditto.
  • As a Catholic, you have been given the supreme gift of being able to receive Christ’s true Body and Blood in the Eucharist at the above mentioned weekly mass. If you turn you back on that, well, see above for the consequences.

Now, I am leaving out a lot of nuancy in modern Catholic teachings about religious pluralism and exercising faith as a conscious choice, not out of fear or obligation. But for many of those who were “raised Catholic,” they had to overcome these and other detterents in abandoning the practice of their faith.

How does one go about doing this? Quite easily. The Church’s authority, by and large, rests in its claim to being God’s Institution on Earth: Jesus made Peter his representative on Earth before he left, who then gave it to the next guy, who then gave it to the next guy, and so on and so on up to and including John Paul II, the last pope, and the lovable Benedict XVI, the current pope. Popes have the power to invoke “infallibility” (though they rarely do so). Catholic doctrine is sold by the orthodox Church establishment as the immutable, non-negotiable, set in stone Rules of God.

The problem with this structure, of course, is that when someone comes around to thinking that the Church *might actually be wrong* about *even one small tenent* of Catholicism, then this begins the classic “slippery slope” process of gradually questioning more and more of the churches beliefs until one eventually gives up on the whole Gosh-darn thing.

Today’s modern theologians essentially accept that Catholics living in a modern world really can’t honestly be expected to abide by 100% of the church’s teachings. Gay marriage? Condoms? True Body and Blood in the Eucharist? OK, you can disagree with the Church on those things (and maybe a few others), but as long as you get the “big picture,” love your neighbor, do charitable works, etc., then that’s fine.

But in come the orthodox theologians who hold disproportionate sway over the Church hierarchy. They decry this “Cafeteria Catholicism” and say that “the Church is not a Salad Bar!” That “slippery slope” of questioning and rejecting eventually leads to a quagmire of moral relativism and hedonism. A Church without absolute rules on moral Doctrine is a meaningless Church.

As far as I go, I could easily be described as a “Cafeteria Catholic,” but I fully understand all of those “raised Catholic” and orthodox theologians who can’t deal with this uneasy middle ground. It’s a difficult place to be, and I struggle with it every time I think about these big cosmic questions about religion and morality.

But I think everyone can agree that the institution of the Catholic Church in the modern age is facing a true crisis. Look at the empty cathedrals of Europe. Look at the hard numbers from the recent survey. Look at the settlement figures from the sex abuse lawsuits.

Recently, management consultants and environmentalists (strange bedfellows as they were) have pushed through a new buzzword into the modern lexicon that aptly describes this sort of situation:

Unsustainable.

In closing, I do want to reemphasize that I simplify a lot of Catholic doctrine for the sake of playing the Devil’s advocate. I’m sure many of you out there could cite plenty of official documents that counter a lot of what I said, but the sad truth is that Catholicism still has a “do these 10 things or you’re going to Hell” reputation about it. Whether that’s deserved or not is a separate discussion, but it has a lot to do with why people so often these days describe themselves as “raised Catholic.”

Go Back to the zoo??? Angry Asian Male Rant Part II

I don’t really have the energy in me right now to fully deconstruct the awful SalesGenie.com Super Bowl ads from last night, but let me just do a little juxtaposition for you in case you missed it or in case you might not understand how this might piss a few AAM off:

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Exhibit C:

Which of the above might be considered unfavorable portrayals of Asian Americans in the media?

Is it:

Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C
or
All of the above?

Seriously….back to the zoo? WTF????

Moved Out; Still Gentrifying

Tonight I finished moving out of my old apartment on St. Mark’s Place between 1st and Ave A. This building is a hovel of spoiled yuppies and NYU students, but there are a few exceptions: elderly, single ladies who have lived in the building for years and are now protected by law from skyrocketing rents. There are these holdouts in apartments throughout the city: next to the shoebox 3 bedroom that goes for $3,000/mo is a normal sized 1 bedroom where a 70 year old lady pays about $500/mo.

I ran into one of these ladies in the stairwell as I was carrying garbage down. As we chatted, I learned that the landlord has been negligent in repairs recently in an effort to coax out this stubborn tenant to make room for more spoiled yuppies. I could sense the struggle in her voice; she was hanging on desperately to her home, but felt increasingly lost and threatened in a changing city. “It’s too hard to live in the city these days,” she said to me.

Her story came as no surprise, as this scenario is played out time and time again in buildings throughout the city. But as we spoke, I couldn’t help but think: does she consider me to be one of these spoiled yuppies pricing her out of her home? Does she consider me an agent of gentrification?

She wished me best of luck as she moved slowly up the stairs (bad knee), and I have no doubt she holds no ill will towards me personally, but to a certain extent, I did feel like I was at least a small part of the tidal wave of change sweeping across the city and drowning people like my old neighbor.

How far will this go? Will Manhattan eventually become an exclusive playground for the rich? When will I be priced off of the island?

I do know how far landlords will go. Earlier in the day, a coworker sent me a link to this company which specializes in helping landords “relocate sub-market tenants so they can optimize their full potential of their investments.”

The tidal wave sweeps on.