Catholic Media: Right and Wrong Approaches to the Occupy Movement


Call it an occupational hazard, but I can’t look at Marybeth Hicks’ article without wondering, “What is this piece doing on a Catholic website?

To be fair, the article was written for the Washington Times where it possibly feels more at home in the larger context of her “conservative” political column.  Hicks has described that her own goal when writing is “to convince you that leftists in positions of power and influence over our children are seriously undermining the values and virtues essential to our national character and to American citizenship.”  I don’t think that we should be expecting something different from a person who got her start writing in the Ronald Reagan White House, but I find it a bit disconcerting that we as Catholics accept this style as our Catholic “daily bread” when we come online.

What is the style I’m talking about?  It is an approach in which, for these articles at least, Catholic beliefs play the role of support to a political ideology.  The main purpose of Hicks, and the plethora of other Catholic writers who employ the same tactic and are more properly called “conservative” writers who happen to be Catholic, is to battle their political rivals, as she herself says in the above quote.  I write “for these articles” because I am not attempting to make a comment upon their personal lives or relationship with God and His Church, as I do not claim to know that state of affairs.  I write though, as a fellow writing Catholic, questioning why an article like this appears equally in the Washington Times, at Catholic Lane, and the at Jewish World Review.  If I were Jewish I might ask, “What exactly is Jewish about this article?”  As a Catholic, I ask “What is Catholic about it?”

Beyond the general idea of whether or not our Catholicism should be subject to our political beliefs or our political beliefs to our Catholicism when we make our media choices, I take issue with some specifics in Hicks’ blast of the Occupy Wall Street movement and individuals.  I’m not necessarily attempting to ally myself with Occupy Wall Street and if you want to know where I feel our occupational efforts should be directed read my own blog post titled Occupy Heaven.

The first issue that I take with this article is the crass language and condescending tone that pervades it.  In a mere 647 words Marybeth Hicks manages to make reference to “bedsprings in a brothel,” insult thousands upon thousands of protesters’ mothers, refer to those she disagrees with as looking like idiots, state that the protesters have no integrity, say that their off-putting appearance is the cause of their assumed unemployment, and say… well, this: “You look foolish, you smell gross, you are clearly high, and you don’t seem to realize that all around you are people who deem you irrelevant.”  When she is not outright insulting people, Hicks is using pejorative language such as mentioning “colleges and hospitals don’t operate on rainbows and sunshine” and talk of the movement’s “fairyland agenda.”  Is this really the type of language that we want to put our Catholic name on?  The name of our Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Bride of which it is written He gave himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish? (Eph 5:25-27.) 

The next big issue I have is with her insulting language about the occupiers’ pursuit of fairness and justice.  Hicks lets us know that “the concept of justice” is “worthy and worthwhile” (Hey, at least we agree on something!) but that “life isn’t fair” and the protesters need to accept this fact.  She tells them “There is no magic money machine to tap for your meandering educational careers and ‘slow paths’ to adulthood.”

The big problem I have here is that there IS a magic money machine that the bankers and Wall Street finance companies use and it is called the Federal Reserve and their implementation of a fractional banking system.  The protesters are angry, whether they understand it explicitly or not, because the big financial institutions are allowed to create that free money that she says does not exist because they only need to hold a fraction of their customer’s deposits as reserves (hence the term fractional banking.)  That fraction is 10% for most of the large banks in the US, except for the Federal Reserve which gets first crack at making as much money as they wish.  So, in an easy-math example, I might depost $100 in a bank, which can then lend $90 which will likely eventually be deposited in another bank, which can lend $81 which will eventually be deposited in another bank, which can lend $72.90 to end up in another bank, which can then lend $65.61, and so on.  In that short example $100 deposited led to the quick entry of $309.51 into the market, while a total of only $32.85 is actually held by the banks in question; yet the depositors, at any moment, can still somehow remove their money from the banks.  Now imagine these figures in the billions or trillions of dollars.

“Life isn’t fair” doesn’t really seem to cover how banks get to do that but you and I don’t, huh?

Hicks also lets us and the protesters know there are “a few other things that are not free” including “the food that inexplicably appears on the tables in your makeshift protest kitchens.”  She tells them “Real people with real dollars are underwriting your civic temper tantrum.”  After the previous paragraph we might say real people with fake dollars are underwriting the tantrum, but I digress.  This is the same Marybeth Hicks who when asked in an interview with about her time working in the White House said, “It was such a blast. Basically, we spent the summer finding out how you could snag free food by going to receptions.”  I wonder if the free food at White House receptions was somehow more “explicable” than the free food of the protesters…  I suppose if we thought long enough we might be able to “explicate” where the money for that food came from.  (Hint: It wasn’t donated by local farms and individuals like what is happening  at Occupy Wall Street.)  I’m being slightly facetious here, but in all charity I would ask Marybeth to lighten up on the kids and their “free food” because she was there once too, eating food paid for by other people.  If she wants to make a big deal about it we could have a conversation about governmental waste and extravagance with taxpayer money, but I’m imagining she would rather not.

The last issue I’ll raise is with Hicks’ attack on the protesters’ joy.  She tells them “A protest is not a party” and “Serious people in a sober pursuit of social and political change don’t dance jigs down Sixth Avenue like attendees of a Renaissance festival.”  This attack on joy really offends the sensibilities of what it means to be Christian.  The Bible tells us, you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you (Dt 12:7).  Not just mankind but also, Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!”  Let the sea roar, and all that fills it, let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy before the LORD (1Chr 16:31-33.)  Of the condition of men the author of Ecclesiastes writes, I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live (Eccles 3:12.)  St. Paul teaches us Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice (Phil 4:4) and Christ Himself commands us to Rejoice and be glad (Mt 5:12.)

 I am not under any illusion that Occupy Wall Street is a Christian religious movement in which these individuals are rejoicing fully according to these verses from the Bible.  However, our Church should not be set up somehow against rejoicing and discourage it for as John Paul II said, ”We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”  As the Easter people we should be sharing joy with everyone we meet, not discouraging it.  Wouldn’t it be great if as they danced that jig down Sixth Avenue the protesters thought, “My! Aren’t we acting Catholic today?”


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  • Mary Kochan

    We are blessed to welcome our second James of the day — James Tucker. I appreciate his thoughtful critique.

    I would like to say in defense of Marybeth Hicks that her column IS writen for a secular publication and so I don’t feel that in that role she is putting her faith at the service of a political agenda. I can see how that impression could be made by a site like CL, or other “Catholic” sites that carry her column. My way of dealing with this is to try to provide the balance of a wide variety of opinions on this site, allowing dissent on those issues where Catholic may legitimately disagree, while staying faithful in matters of faith and morals.

    That being said, James’ article is a reminder to all of us in Catholic media that as long as we publicly identify ourselves as Catholic, people will get an impression of the Church itself from our individual actions and communication.

  • goral

    Repost. Yes Ma’am, Catholic Lane – fair and balanced.
    More fairness and balance to come.

  • goral

    Catholic Orthodoxy, Mr. Tucker, along with Friday fasting is here to stay.

    Reagan’s Catholic connection – CIA Director William J. Casey, Speechwriter Tony Dolan, Secretary of State Al Haig, Ambassador Vernon Walters, Press Secretary Pat Buchanan, national security advisers, Richard V. Allen and William P. Clark.
    Oh yes, and Marybeth Hicks who, by the way, got her start writing in the Reagan White House.

    Here’s her goal and statement: “to convince you that leftists in positions of power and influence over our children are seriously undermining the values and virtues essential to our national character and to American citizenship.”
    How sensible and universal and Catholic is that statement?

    The Reagan presidency was an era, “that’s era, not ERA”, in which Catholics were victorious.
    JP2 defeated Communism.
    Ronald Reagan defeated Communism.
    Ronald Reagan to Richard Allen: “Dick, my idea of American policy toward the Soviet Union is simple, and some would say simplistic. It is this: We win and they lose. What do you think of that?”

    The plan of conservative Catholics is simple, we win and the liberal catholics loose. It has nothing to do with political ideology and everything to do with sound, traditional, Universal Church Doctrine.

    Another Catholic Reaganism:

    “I’ve noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born.”

    How do you not love this guy and all the Catholics who associated with him?

    • “Catholic Orthodoxy, Mr. Tucker, along with Friday fasting is here to stay.”

      I am aware of Hicks’ Reagen connection and her writing goal, both of which I addressed in this article. And, as I stated there, I’m not even necessarily trying to ally myself with Occupy Wall street, nor for that matter whomever you mean when you say “liberals.”

      The problem I have with a statement like “we win and the liberal Catholics [lose]” is that we are one Body in Christ and as St. Paul says “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1Cor 12: 26.)” So while you and I might call ourselves “conservative” while other Catholics might call themselves “liberal,” we are still part of the same Mystical Body of Christ and we are not doing ourselves a favor by pitting members of the Body against one another in win-lose situations.

      St. James teaches us “My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (Jas 5:19-20)” and in Ezekiel we read “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezek 18:23.)”

      If you feel that your brothers are in error, I would suggest you try to persuade them, not make them “lose” so you can “win.” If we make our goal the destruction of our brothers and fellow members in the Body of Christ, we have already lost.

      • But what do you do with a member of the Body who is deluded? Instructing the ignorant is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Some have to “lose” in the sense that they give up their erroneous and harmful (i.e. heretical) ideas and are converted.

        The Church has fought heresy since Day One and I suggest that we frame the liberal vs. conservative controversy more as one of heresy vs. orthodoxy. Heresy is very, very, very damaging to the Body and if our concern is the integrity of the Body, then fighting heresy has to be our first priority.

        • We must most definitely fight heresy, I am in no way trying to deny that point. But our attacks should be focused on the heresy rather than the heretic. As we learn in James and Ezekiel it is preferable to God that the heretic be converted.
          I wouldn’t say they lost if they come back to the truth. They’ve won! If a doctor is working on an infection in an arm he may eventually have to amputate it, but that is always a last resort. If he first battles the infection and beats it, he will say I have saved your arm. Oh, that we could say we have saved a heretic!

          Liberal vs Conservative and Heresy vs Orthodoxy are not the same thing, although they are sometimes put in that light. The original Hicks article could most definitely be seen as a “conservative” vs those she perceives to be “liberal.” But in no way could it be framed as an orthodox position vs a heretical one. And, even if that were the case, the proper approach to dealing with heresy wouldn’t be calling people idiots and saying they smell bad and look ugly.

          • You are right. We must work for and hope for the salvation of all – and people do not “lose” when they are converted. My suggestion is only that we frame the discussion in terms of heresy vs. truth.

  • goral

    The information about Mrs. Hicks working in the Reagan White House, I got from your article, Jim. I added the, “by the way” so I wouldn’t have to quote it. Just using some of Al Gore’s literary tricks.

    All points well taken, careful about the “one Body” analogy. We can get into all sorts of metaphors and hyperbole about that. For example, what do we do with gangrene and cancer and those who are “seriously undermining the values and virtues essential to our national character”?
    How do we credibly reconcile Charles Manson or Stalin or Nazi Commandants, and so many others as members of the one Body?

    The Word of God cuts both ways. “Depart from me you evildoers” was (is) a healing statement for the Body.

    The unwashed mobs are not for real, although some of their gripes are. They and most liberals are the ones who want to tear the Body apart by making inaccurate stark distinctions about the Body.
    Read the Democratic platform about the “doctor” and the “mother” tearing up the little body in the womb.

    When I see “news reporters” showing signs that read:
    Michelle, stay out of our kitchens, we want to be fat!
    or, Obama, stop creating jobs, we don’t wanna work!
    Then they’ll have my support.
    Right now, they are nothing more than “heretics” and need to be admonished, (washed) in even stronger terms than Marybeth’s soft, motherly heart can muster.

  • Thank you, James. I read her article this morning and had to run out of the house. When I looked for it again to respond to it, I found yours. Taking deep breaths now. Thank you. 🙂