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Sunday, October 11, 2009
Secular Humanists push back against St Damien
By Andrew Walden @ 6:33 PM :: 11512 Views :: Hawaii History, Religion

by Andrew Walden

First they come so subtly as to barely elicit notice; bundled in thick layers of effusive praise for Hawaii’s newly canonized Saint Damien.

The Advertiser editorializes, “Hawaii’s saint fulfilled humanity’s ideals”.

No. Saint Damien of Molokai fulfilled God’s ideals.

Star-Bulletin editors look down from their collective nose to write:

Particulars of the Roman Catholic Church's process of elevating a deceased church member to sainthood might sometimes be of passing interest….The emphasis on miracles might bring sneers from those outside the Catholic Church and even from within.  The process should not color the justification of the result: Saint Damien."

Is Damien to become a secular humanist saint?

Star-Bulletin columnist Cynthia Oi leaves little doubt. Of all things, she chooses to draw a contrast between St Damien and Catholic US Supreme Court Justice Antoin Scalia’s questioning of atheist lawyers seeking to remove a cross honoring US veterans from its place on public land deep in the Mojave desert.

Wow.

Oi writes: “Another Catholic man presented a different spectacle of his faith this week. In recognizing Damien de Veuster, Hawaii Bishop Larry Silva set secondary the pomp of canonization, celebrating instead Damien's spirit, ‘his dedication to those who are in need.’”

Does Oi wish to claim St Damien would dedicate himself “to those who are in need” by removing all religious symbols from public property?  Or that Scalia fails to do so by defending the constitutionality of such symbols?

Father Damien erected crosses and built churches. Those churches and crosses now sit on the public land which makes up the Kalaupapa National Historical Park. Would a secularized Damien now dedicate himself to tearing them down?

The softly, softly version of a secular humanist Damien is that which paints his service and self sacrifice as the key to his success at Kalaupapa and Kawalo. Damien did indeed sacrifice everything mortal—but many people make sacrifices—and others made sacrifices at Kalaupapa.  That begs a question.  As Mahatma Gandhi explained:

"The political and journalistic world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai. It is worthwhile to look for the sources of such heroism."

The distinction between secular and godly is found in learning why and how Damien’s sacrifice succeeded.

Tucked below the sheer 3000 foot pali which separates it from topside Molokai, the Kalaupapa Peninsula appears as environmentalists’ nature-worshipping vision of heaven. But when the Hawaiian Kingdom began exiling lepers to this spot in 1866 with the idea the colonists would achieve “sustainability”, it quickly degenerated into hell on earth.

The colony was administered by quacks and ethically suspect human experimenters, and starved of funds by the spendthrift King Kalakaua. Becoming infected with leprosy was made into a criminal act. Lepers were declared legally dead, automatically divorced from their family, and estates settled. Lepers who did not have the requisite political connections were hunted down by police and shipped to the colony where they were often forced to swim to shore—or die trying.

The policy of exile became an integral part of political tensions between the maka`ainana (commoners) and Kalakaua. By the turn of the century, about 3% of Hawaii residents had been sent there to die. Almost every family in these islands was touched by exile.

Stripped of reason and literally placed outside the law, human nature reasserted itself in the colony. Ruled by fear, anger, and despair, colonists set upon each other. The living dead degenerated into a desultory orgy of drunkenness, gambling, violence, rape, and prostitution as the disease consumed their bodies. In spite of the presence of a leper sheriff and other religious leaders, nobody could bring order or peace to the colonists—until Father Damien arrived in 1873.

In the liberal religion, victims are the ideal followers—perfect dependents of the liberal elite. And surely the lepers of Kalaupapa were indeed victims. But Damien did not make them dependent on him, but rather led them to depend on God.  

In “The Colony”, author John Tayman explains:

On boat days, Damien would hurry from his tasks and travel to the waterfront, to see what the ships had brought. Exiles landed every week, arriving onshore damp and often in shock. Damien attempted to greet each newcomer personally. He made notes on which of the banished seemed willing to embrace his lessons, and which seemed poised to fall astray and possibly founder in drink and vice. These received unannounced visits from the priest. “Almost from one house to the next I have to change my tone,” Damien wrote, describing his outreach methods. “Here I give words of sweetness and consolation; there I mix in a little bitterness, because it is necessary to open the eyes of a sinner; finally the thunder sometimes rumbles, and I threaten an impenitent with terrible punishments, which often produces a good effect.”

The secular humanists fancy themselves to possess reason and imagine themselves to be “conscious, enlightened and progressive”--in contrast with ignorant and superstitious believers who fear “terrible punishments.”

Damien literally walked into hell and brought people who had abandoned all hope to heaven.  The "terrible punishments" were right here on Earth for the Kalaupapa exiles.  Damien's work saved them--both physically and metaphysically.

Trendy urban atheists simply have no idea what it is that they do not believe in.  And so here is the short version:

When all things began, the Logos already was. The Logos dwelt with God, and what God was, the Logos was. The Logos, then, was with God at the beginning and, through him all things came to be; no single thing was created without him. -- John 1:1-3

"What God was, the Logos was."  The secular humanists need to learn what “Logos” means.  Fortunately Pope Benedict answered that question in his September 12, 2006 Regensburg speech:

"Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: ‘In the beginning was the Logos.' ...Logos means both reason and word-- a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason."

It is therefore no accident that a reading from The Book of Wisdom was chosen to celebrate the canonization of Saint Damien at the Vatican.

"I loved wisdom more than health or beauty, preferred her to the light, since her radiance never sleeps. In her company all good things came to me, at her hand riches not to be numbered."

Wisdom.  Reason.  These are part of the “process” which Star-Bulletin Editors fear might “color the result.”

Kalaupapa may yet have another saint. Mother Marianne Cope, who continued Father Damien’s work until her death in 1918, became in 2005, the first person beatified by Pope Benedict--a stage of the “process” which may yet lead to her canonization.

Both Marianne and Damien are deemed patrons of those with HIV and AIDS—the signature disease of trendy urban atheists.

When a sectarian Honolulu Protestant Reverend C.M. Hyde questioned the works of Father Damien at the time of his 1889 death, Robert Louis Stevenson gave a response which secular humanists should take to heart:

“But, sir, when we have failed, and another has succeeded; when we have stood by, and another has stepped in; when we sit and grow bulky in our charming mansions, and a plain, uncouth peasant steps into the battle, under the eyes of God, and succours the afflicted, and consoles the dying, and is himself afflicted in his turn, and dies upon the field of honour - the battle cannot be retrieved as your unhappy irritation has suggested. It is a lost battle, and lost for ever. One thing remained to you in your defeat - some rags of common honour; and these you have made haste to cast away.”

---30---

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