Saturday, September 6, 2014

Joan Rivers and the Culture of Death

When in in 1995 St. John Paul II issued Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), the encyclical and its implications lead to much discussion of what came to be called the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death. Although the focus of the encyclical was on life issues like abortion and euthanasia, it has come to be understood that "Life" touches on aspects not only of physical life (and death), but also to respect for human dignity. Conversely "Death" involves how people are mistreated in life in terms of such things as unjust treatment of workers, sexual exploitation, humiliation, and degradation. There is a range in those activities - from that which hurts to that which kills. And there are different levels of awareness. Some people may do things out of ignorance. Same may do them with malicious intent.

I thought of the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death after hearing of the death of Joan Rivers.

Rivers, who died September 4, has received lots of media attention since, with people pouring out all sorts of praise. The more I heard and read, the more troubled I became.

For in that outpouring of praise we seem to be forgetting that Rivers made her name (and lots of money) in part through sometimes viciously insulting and hurting others.

Now insult humor has been around for a long time. It can be done in a way that does not hurt others, even with obvious affection - watch an episode of Duck Dynasty, for example. But in Rivers' case, the humor sometimes went well beyond being good-natured to being downright cruel and insensitive.

I sure Rivers' defenders will say that it was all in the spirit of fun. Lighten up.

I don't lighten up when I hear people (or their children) being called fat, ugly, and so on.

That kind of humor seems to me to be part of the Culture of Death. It degrades other human beings. It may not kill them, but it certainly hams them.

I don't know why Rivers did and said what she did. Maybe she really was oblivious. Maybe she was exorcising personal demons. Maybe she just found it a way to make money.

But with her humor, she sometimes did not treat other people as human beings. She treated them as objects, as targets, as means to an end (fame, money, acceptance, whatever).

She dehumanized people.

Similar to the way abortionists and abortion activists dehumanize unborn children.

And even though she may not have killed, she and others like her helped to make us lest sensitive to the feelings of others - helping to lead to the kind of insensitivity that can lead to abortion, euthanasia, abuse of women, sexual exploitation, mistreatment of workers, selfishness, and so on.

She was part of a spectrum of people who helped to desensitize the culture through art, films, literature, magazines, and so on. She may have helped to open doors for people who went further than she did. She may have helped to make it easier for people to be cruel, and even more cruel.

She was part of the spectrum that helped to nurture the Culture of Death.

She helped to make violent films and games, graphic porn, 50 Shades of Gray, and so on "acceptable" with justifications being offered in the name of art or free speech or individual freedom.

Joan Rivers in her personal life may have been generous when it came to charity. She may have been a wonderful mother and a good friend. She may have been kind to puppies. She may have made the world a brighter place for some people.

Indeed, perhaps even as I write she is being embraced lovingly by God. I leave judging her soul to Him. I offered a prayer for her.

But when it came to her insult humor, in my judgment, I believe she helped to make the world a darker place.

Pax et bonum

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