Sunday, October 29, 2006

American aristocracies, academia, and bad sermons

So I went to Latin mass again, this time taking a few students from my graduate seminar. It wasn't as pleasant an experience this time, in part because the church was packed, mostly with young families teeming with crying babies and cranky toddlers.

[Totally tangential comment: there were multiple familes with five or more kids, one of them with seven. It's like they all woke up one morning and said, "You know, I'd like to be a walking stereotype of a Catholic family -- let's start breeding!" Seriously, when did this happen? I went to 12 years of Catholic school in the '70s and '80s and most families had 2 or 3 kids; we thought the unusual ones with 5 or more were serious throw-backs. Mine had 4 kids, but I was a big fat accident, 14 years after the last of the other three, and anyway, that's still under 5. This church was *filled* with families of 5 or more kids. How do they afford them all??]

Anyway, the priest's sermon also wasn't as good -- or rather, as useful for my purposes -- as the last one. Last time he talked about the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, as if he knew I was teaching medieval morality plays that very week! Too bad the students weren't with me that time. But this time, since it was the feast of Christ the King, he talked about metaphors of kingship, but not in a very interesting way, or in any usefully medieval way. He bulit up this awkward analogy of the aristocratic entourage that surrounds a king to the followers of Christ. (However, as awkward as it was, it did remind me a bit of medieval romance, where *everyone* is a king, queen, prince, or princess of some sort. But I digress.)

The most awkward part, though, was the vast middle section, where he assumed that none of his audience would know what an aristocracy was (well, maybe he's right -- I dunno, I prefer to err on the side of overestimating my audience) and so made less than effective analogies to three groups he called "American aristocracies": powerful CEOs of large corporations, wealthy people, and academics. Huh??? OK, first of all: which one of these things does not have the stock portfolio of the others? Great, so now all those people who don't know what an aristocracy is (he presumes) may now assume that academics are rich like CEOs and miscellaneous rich people. I was also thinking, "Hm, we must be those land-rich, cash-poor kind of aristocrats, because I'm not getting any of those aristocratic perks."

But then it got goofier. When he talked about all those groups, he talked about how they surround the king (not sure who the king is in each of these scenarios) and only associate with each other. When he got to academics, he even said, "They live with each other." Um, OK, well I live with an academic, but that's because he's my partner. But I assure you, I do have non-academic friends. I mean, I may usually scare them away from this blog with all the 'inside baseball' talk (as one friend once put it), but I can talk about other things! Really! And I don't think I'm too good for 'regular' people, either, which I was worried is what he was implying. After all, he was calling academia an aristocracy, and since I just saw Marie Antoinette last night, I was thinking, "How isolated and insular does he think we are? And when is the mob coming for our heads?" It smacked slightly of that anti-intellectual, pseudo-populism whereby educated people, and especially the people who educate them, are a despised and evil elite -- a kingdom of this world, versus Christ's kingdom of heaven. That spooked me. (And never mind that the populations of his congregation and of academics might even overlap!)

But the "they live with each other" really cracked me up. Because if we all lived in some academic group home, cut off from the World, associating mainly with each other except in our official capacities as teachers and advisors, wouldn't we be just like...priests and religious?? Project much, Father? (And of course, there's a historical connection between the university and religious education, but never mind that for now.) It was a confused sermon, to say the least. Really, I should've gone up to him after mass and said, "Hi Father, I'm Dr. Virago. See, we do get out sometimes!" Te-hee!


Chester N. Scoville said...

Aristocracy??? I must remember to tell my union rep.

Dr. Virago said...

Yeah, me too! And when do I get to release the hounds, dammit? Can I do that every time a student comes to complain about a grade?

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Wow. Just.... wow.

I think it's a good thing that I don't go to church. ;-)

Fast Fizzy said...

Since he said CEOs, maybe he meant University Presidents when he said academics. You're just part of the entourage - "water girl" maybe? ;-)

Virgo Sis said...

More importantly, was Marie Antoinette as bad as some reviews?

Karl Steel said...

Dunno. Maybe we're like Duby's juventes, ravaging everything we touch, but going home at night to live, like the Monkees, in our zany communal homes.

That would be the life, yeah?

Bardiac said...

But in some ways, academics are an aristocracy. Not in terms of money, perhaps, but maybe in some other ways? There's certainly a sense of privilege to the position, especially historically, perhaps? And there's a sense that people from educationally elite backgrounds tend to become academics more often than others.

How many profs at ivies were first generation college students? (I think that private institutions are what people think of when they think of academics, not their local community college.)

How many profs are children of academics.

I'm not being clear, sorry, and I'm sure you're right about the overall sermon, but I think there's a kernal in there that makes some sense.