It’s time for another Maureen Dowd column. This time, I think I’ll write it for her.
Dowd, of course, is the snarky, sing-songy liberal columnist for The New York Times. Despite her writing being lighter than tissue and instantly forgettable, she is regularly praised by elites in the culture. So for any struggling journalists out there, it’s easy to achieve her status — to be like Mo. You just need to follow five rules: 1) Don’t fully research your topic; 2) Pop culture references are fun!; 3) Bring the snark; 4) Master the liberal art of judgmental non-judgmentalism; 5) Change the subject at will, even mid-column, if the potential of research that disproves your thesis arises. (By the way, if you remove 2 and 3, you’ve got E.J. Dionne).
For instance: For the first time in 40 years, the Catholic Church is revising the language of the Mass. After the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, the church tried for a new English translation that would be more accessible to the people. What we got was a stiff, lumbering, unpoetic mess. The new translation, which adheres much closer to the original Latin, is richer and more rhythmic. The change will take place in November.
Here is a perfect storm for MoDo’s poison pen. The story is about the Catholic Church, which Dowd despises the way Andrew Sullivan despises Sarah Palin. A few weeks ago Dowd authored “Cooperation in Evil,” a piece about John Banzhaf, a George Washington University law professor who is suing the Catholic University of America because the university is going back to single-sex dorms. Banzhaf is a liberal fascist. Dowd quotes Catholic University president John Garvey calling Banzhaf “notoriously litigious.”
Is he? That is, does John Banzhaf sue a lot, or not?
We never know from MoDo. When faced with the prospect of researching a claim, she simply changes the subject — in this case, going from Catholic University to the annual Red Mass in Washington. But a quick trip to Google reveals that Banzhaf is known as “the man who wants to sue America.” He’s been criticized in both American Lawyer and Reason magazines. Don’t tell MoDo! She’s on a roll. One of the best things about her is that she never has to directly say she hates the Catholic Church, or anything else. It’s all sarcasm and misdirection. She just changes the subject. Does it make sense for Catholic University to go back to single-sex dorms? Hey look, it’s the Red Mass!
The new Mass translation is right in Dowd’s wheelhouse. It hits the liberal trifecta of sex, (assumed) patriarchy, and religion (as opposed to “spirituality”). It’s important to remember that Dowd, like most liberals, is not someone who is uninterested in virtue. As Shelby Steele has noted, since the 1960s, liberals have shown virtue by expressing bad faith about America and traditional institutions. Dowd is no nihilist, but someone fired with false virtue. People like her are every bit as self-righteous as Pat Robertson.
So how to proceed? If you’re Dowd, it’s easy. There are various resources for a journalist interested in the facts about the new Mass — a website, pamphlets, videos. For my money, the best is the Magnificat Roman Missal Companion. It includes all the new changes, plus a wonderful essay, “On the Art of Translation,” by Professor Anthony Esolen. Esolen explores how small changes can have great soulful meaning. When the angel first visits Mary to tell her she will bear a son, the old translation had the Blessed Mother saying, “How can this be, since I have had no relations with a man?” The new translation, going back to the literal Greek and Hebrew, is, “How can this be? I know not man.” This harkens back to our first parents, when Adam “knew” Eve. It also sounds a lot better.
Esolen’s essay, along with one on the new Mass he just wrote for First Things magazine, is full of such insight.
If you’re Dowd, this is easy. Ignore Esolen. Don’t ask anyone who might know the topic — or if you do, make sure you don’t research the information given. Or better yet, hunt down a Catholic who agrees with you. Zero in on the fact that in the introductory rite Catholics will strike their breasts as they admit their sins: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” It’s physical, it’s about the reality of sin, it’s a manly gesture (Dowd hates men) — it’s comic gold.
Step two: bring the pop culture. Conservatives are wrong to think that most liberals are communists. Most of them are just slaves to cool. They are desperate to be liked by their hip friends and other cool people. It’s why in her last hysterical Catholic column, Down compared Antonin Scalia to Mario Lanza. Step three: snark is hip, giving the writer an ironic air of being above it all. It frees you from having to state an opinion while trashing your subject — step four — with glib judgmentalism. And remember, if things look bad for your thesis, you can just change the subject — step five.
Your MoDo erector set is ready for assembly. Want to write a Pulitzer-winning column? It will have to be a truncated one, because too much of MoDo gives me both nausea and insulin shock. Let’s give it a shot:
The Catholic Church is getting a lot less Vatican II and a lot more “The Da Vinci Code.”
The Church has just implemented new changes in the Mass. In the 1980s, Pope John Paul II, who was too busy bouncing altar girls out of church to notice or do anything about the pedophile priests crisis, decreed that the translation of the Mass needed updating. The people in the pews, which included gays, lesbians, and environmentalists, had gotten too close. It was time to go back to the 12th century.
And we think the Muslims are bad.
One of the new changes will have people in Mass literally beating themselves up. The church has gone back to the penitent admitting sin “though grievous fault” and striking themselves in the chest as they do so.
Get enough sinners in there and it will look like something from “Planet of the Apes” [note: this is actually a funny line, so MoDo may not use it]. One old priest said the new ritual was a way of raising us above the earth and the devil, “an evil entity.”
The Vatican, shaken by a world of gay marriage and female doctors, is going back in time faster than Marty McFly. “All the freedom, the openness that we got a taste of in the 1960s, it’s all evaporating,” said Sr. Mary Francis Lefty Wingnut. Sr. Mary is the head of “The Church is Jes Folks,” a group that is attempting to hold on to the freedoms won by Vatican II. “We are increasingly being ruled by men who are out of touch with reality,” she says. She also mentioned the pernicious influence of a woman named “Mother Angelica.” Sr. Mary then claimed that she had been threatened by authorities in the Church if she dissents.
Conservatives are really, really stupid.
The men in the Vatican want to take us back while at the same time merging church and state in today’s world. They want to outlaw gay marriage and abortion, and keep the people in the pews distracted with self-flagellation. These are the same bishops who do not speak out about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the death penalty.
At a recent conference at Catholic theology, I overheard a speaker say something about things that Catholic can disagree about — something about “Catholics and prudential judgment.” I’m not sure what that means.
The faithful won’t know either. They’re too busy breast-beating.
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.