Diss me, father
Expanded from the 7-15-2007 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Here I was, all set to deliver a ringing defense of the First Amendment while trashing and lamenting good guys and bad who have sullied the greatest paean to freedom ever composed.

In the process of looking up the dictionary definition of a particularly offensive word in the news of late, I came across one of my golden oldies and decided to lighten up. Another screed about word control and thought control won't do the world much good, but a few laughs might.

One of the main players from my oh-so-serious First Amendment draft has made the cut to this version: Pope Benedict Ratzinger dissed every other religion in the world last week. Benny ratted out half a century of good will by saying all non-Catholics are going to hell, or words to that effect.

Wha'dya expect from the former head of the Inquisition?

As Yogi Berra might say, if the wonderful Pope John 23 were still alive, he'd be rolling over in his grave.

Rubbing salt into old wounds, Benny even had the latter day version of the Inquisition deliver the damnation. What a guy. The only remaining step is mounting a new crusade to reclaim the holy land. (Got a hunch most people will say it stopped being holy a long, long, long time ago.)

Benny is an old man stuck somewhere in the 18th Century, and I'm being generous on the timeline.

The church doesn't need to go back to the future, it needs a modern marketing campaign. I am more than happy to help. Proving once again that I run way ahead of the times, His Holiness need look no further than the Barbwire of July 16, 1995:

Confessions of Episcopal-Catholics in cyberspace

In the midst of everything I was doing last week, I took a moment for lament. (No, lament is not a new French mouthwash or antacid.)

I said to myself, "self, here you are, pushing 50 years old, a genuine tip of the trend, market researchable, rock 'n' roll, first-wave Babyboomer and you haven't saved the world yet."

Sad, but oh, so very true.

Look around. Moslems fight Christians as they have for over a thousand years, and vice-versa. Israelites continue to kill their cousins, the Ishmaelites, as they have for more than 3,000 years. The cousins, of course, return the favor. All in the family.

Major and minor wars pitting tribes and mystical beliefs against each other infect the Big Blue Marble as they have for as long as anyone can remember. The family infighting in Northern Ireland continues apace. New unrest bubbled up a few days ago as Protestants prepared for annual celebration of some moldy battle fought hundreds of years ago by one William of Orange, best known today as the mascot of the Denver Broncos and ex-husband of Anita Bryant.

I used to think that every bloody stripe of conflict was readily available for the price of a cable TV hookup or a plane ticket, but I was wrong. Apparently, the Episcopalians are declaring war on the Catholics right here in the land of the free and the home of school prayer. I thought that the Church of England and the Vatican had decided to kiss and make up and forget about the indigestion caused by Henry the Eighth.

Think again.

An Episcopal-Republican friend of mine called with an item from a New York-based publication called Episcopal Life. It noted that the Diocese of Pittsburgh was inaugurating a 180-day trial of an electronic confessional, "penance online," a joint venture with Carnegie-Mellon University. The service has its own Worldwide Web page home address, according to Monsignor Timothy Blessing, who was quoted as saying "actual confession takes a little longer" this way because you have to type in your words, but 14.4 bps (modem speed) "makes things go faster."

He pointed out additional advantages, including no need to travel and reduced likelihood of long lines.

"Wait, there's more," said my Episcopal friend, barely able to maintain proper Protestant reserve. According to the article, the Catholics are also experimenting with a computer program to forgive venial sins. (For those who didn't grow up Catholic, mortal sins are the go-straight-to-hell moral equivalent of felonies, while venial sins are misdemeanors like traffic tickets.)

For such lesser wrongs, "a downloadable point-and-click, windows-based menu of offenses" is under development, "pending a review by ecclesiastical scholars in Rome."

At that point, my Episcopal pal lost all self control and any semblance of proper Goldwaterian conservatism.

Longtime readers know I'll print just about anything, but this one demanded a little old-fashioned Tribune investigative reporting. Sparing every expense, I called the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The first three secretaries I asked were speechless and couldn't wait to refer me elsewhere. One Father Vaghetto, chancellor of the diocese, very calmly told me he knew of no such thing.

Then I called the Episcopalian newspaper. A rather embarrassed newsman named Jim Thrall said "we've had several calls. We think it's a bit of a hoax."

Two days later, a more red-faced gentleman named Jerry Hames called. The item was indeed printed as a straight news story, not a spoof, he said. And they are still scrambling to find the source. He said he had tried the web address and found it non-existent. He also could not wait to end our conversation.

Not to worry. I think cyberspace confession is a damned good idea. People loosen up on the Internet faster than they do in front of a sympathetic bartender. I remember how we little kids feared going to confession before old Father Thunderthroat, whose plaints of "yooooou did whataaaaaaaat? Howwwwwww many times?" echoed throughout a packed church, imposing the ultimate penance for the very sorry sinner upon exit from behind the curtain.

The Catholics really should develop such innovative, high-tech marketing and send a letter of thanks to Episcopal Life for the suggestion. The Protestants already have drive-thru churches in California and we've done the same for wedding chapels hereabouts, so it's high time the Vatican loosened up.

Interactive virtual reality TV could easily take care of baptism, complete with holy water. Cyberspace marriage would cut travel expense and eliminate the hassle of pruning a guest list. Brides would never have to worry about crying babies, let alone what might happen when weird Uncle Charlie drinks too much punch.

Bless me, father, for I have sinned. I'm a computer addict who faxed a fib and I want to modem my way out of mortal sin and find the parallel portal to amazing grace.

With the right interactive software, Christian soldiers can venture onward via the information superhighway, attending worship and watching the Raiders at the same time. One Sunday religion need no longer compete with another.

After his resurrection, Jesus could be in two places at once. Now after 2,000 years, so can his followers.

When he said "I go to prepare a place for you," he didn't exclude cyberspace, did he?

There is no better or effective marketing tool than interactive TV. With all the help needed by the underpaid and underprivileged of this cow town, churches can electronically expand their effectiveness, better caring for the least of our brethren.

Pope John Paul II is due in the U.S. soon. Will he book through Ticketmaster or follow the lead of Pearl Jam and go independent? Maybe His Holiness can take reservations interactively and cut the concert promoters out of Pope Tour '95.

Take it to the people and to the streets.

Somebody e-mail this column to Rome and watch out for a Sunday attendance increase the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Crusades.

Hail Mary and hail modem, full of grace.

Be well. Raise hell.

The Dean's List

   The Dean of Reno Bloggers could very well be Andrew Barbano, self-described "fighter of public demons," who started putting his "Barbwire" columns online in 1996 and now runs 10 sites.

      RENO NEWS & REVIEW, 11-9-2006

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Andrew Barbano is a 38-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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