I’m guessing most of my Catholic readers got subjected to their yearly anti-discrimination sermon–whoops, I mean “homily”– today. We all heard the story about how Jesus cured a leper. The priest then tells us solemnly that lepers were “considered unclean” back in Biblical times, and that there was an awful “social stigma” attached to leprosy. People would be mean to lepers, segregated them, and imagined that non-leprosy is somehow “better” than leprosy. Jesus, however, was all about breaking social barriers that keep people apart. So Jesus found this leper, (cured him) and made people stop discriminating against him and start treating him equally (by taking away his ghastly and potentially contagious disease). Let us all think about who the “lepers” are in our communities, and do likewise.
Morons. Morons. Morons.
First, let’s look at what’s wrong with this on the literal level. Leprosy is not a social construct; it is caused, not by prejudice, but by the bacterium Mycobacteriumleprae. It causes skin lesions, disfigurement, and severe nerve damage. And although official sources–more worried about preventing “stigma” than preventing spreading–like to say that it’s not “very contagious”, it is contagious. Note the recommended means of prevention:
Prevention consists of avoiding close physical contact with untreated people.
The “treatment” indicated did not, of course, exist until modern times. So, how many of you oh-so-morally-superior modern pricks feel like kissing a leper now? If you were an ancient people, and the only way you knew to stop the spread of a horrific disease was to quarantine those infected (and note only those definitely infected–not everyone who could have been exposed), would this be an entirely irrational and mean-spirited thing to do? In any event, should a Catholic priest be criticizing the Jews for doing what sacred scripture explicitly tells them to do? Remember, we believe as a matter of faith that the Torah comes from God. Even if we didn’t, it hardly takes a leap of religious faith to see the obvious and overriding common interest served by Moses’ law in this matter. Sure, segregating lepers might have made them feel bad, but it saved lives. Notice also that Jesus Himself never criticizes the Mosaic law on lepers. In fact, he has the leper he cured follow the regular procedure on reintegration into the community. Thus, it’s also silly for us to lament that ancient and medieval Christians “betrayed Jesus’ legacy” by continuing to quarantine lepers. No, they weren’t being bad Christians; they just weren’t being stupid either.
Leprosy, as I said, is a horrible disease, and comparing today’s pet minorities to lepers is just grotesque. On the other hand, the curing of the leper does have a symbolic value that previous generations of Christians did recognize. Instead of thinking of ourselves as the excluding Pharisees (as the VII priestards want us to do), let us realize that we are the lepers, that our souls are diseased and disfigured by sin as a body is by leprosy, and that Jesus Christ alone can cure us. This is supposed to be the point of the story. Unlike the “learning to accept the Other” story, it doesn’t trivialize a very real physical affliction. Someone with a sense of the gravity of sin–that is, the holy ones of previous generations–would realize that what sin does to the soul really is as bad as what leprosy does to the body. It really is that big a deal. As is the redemption from so ghastly a state brought by our Saviour.
One can see why our priests don’t preach that lesson from the Gospel: they have no sense of sin. They don’t believe that there is really anything wrong with anyone. They believe it so strongly that they are forced to the absurd conclusion that there’s nothing wrong with leprosy. Admitting that leprosy is a really, really bad thing might contribute to the social stigma which is the only evil they can recognize. Since there’s nothing really wrong with anybody, Jesus really doesn’t have any healing or redeeming to do, so that part is always deemphasized as much as possible. The only remaining point of Christianity is to carry the Good News that everyone is fine the way he/she/it is, and so we should therefore “accept” each other.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a sinner or a leper.” It’s a reducio ad absurdum of the Spirit of Vatican II, if another was needed.
Filed under: The Dark and Terrible Springtime of Vatican II |