Tag Archives: #occupy

Fall of Chivalry and the Knights of Columbus

In 1881, Irish-American Catholic priest, Father Michael J. McGivney gathered a group of men from Saint Mary’s parish in New Haven, Connecticut for the formation of a mutual benefit society which would eventually become the Knights of Columbus, one of the largest charitable, fraternal organizations in the world.

During the late 19th Century, a period of history characterized by the bustling growth of many fraternal organizations such as Free and Accepted Masons, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias and many similar groups, Roman Catholics were effectively barred from many of these popular fraternal organizations, or, as in the case of Freemasonry, forbidden from joining by the Catholic Church itself under the papal bull In Eminenti Apostolatus which states:

“We command most strictly and in virtue of holy obedience, all the faithful of whatever state, grade, condition, order, dignity or pre-eminence, whether clerical or lay, secular or regular, even those who are entitled to specific and individual mention, that none, under any pretext or for any reason, shall dare or presume to enter, propagate or support these aforesaid societies of Liberi Muratori or Francs Massons, or however else they are called… be enrolled among them, joined to them, be present with them, give power or permission for them to meet elsewhere… to be present or to assist them in any way; but they must stay completely clear of such Societies… under pain of excommunication.”

In this environment of American anti-Catholicism and under the threat of excommunication for those who would seek to join such organizations, the creation of the Knights of Columbus by Father McGivney provided American Catholics a viable, fraternal, alternative in which men could meet and engage in charitable activities without the threat of being separated from their faith as well as provide for the financial and social well-being of members of their community in need.

Although the zenith of fraternal organizations in the United States and North America has effectively subsided, the Knights of Columbus continues to exist as one of the Catholic Church’s primary relief organizations and has expanded throughout the world spreading with it the Knights’ principals of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. It is because of their continued existence that many Catholics and others are able to find housing, have insurance, go through seminary, and even gain employment. It is also because of the Knights of Columbus that some are prevented from optimally participating in the equal rights guaranteed to them under the provisions guaranteed to them under the civil protections of their country, and churches are denied the privilege to legally offer the Sacred Rite of Marriage to their congregants.

In 2008, California Proposition 8, called the California Marriage Protection Act by proponents, was passed, barring same-sex couples in the state of California the constitutional right to marry. In its wake, mass protests took place across the state and across the country by individuals wishing to demonstrate solidarity with those affected by the legislative act. Of the many organizations which donated money to ensure that the rights to marriage would be limited to opposite-sex couples, the Catholic Church through the efforts of the Knights of Columbus was able to donate one million ($1M) dollars to Protect Marriage, the organization which sponsored the initiative that placed Proposition 8 on the ballot and continues to support the measure.

In my own state, the threat that Washington State citizens may be denied their civil liberties is raising its head once again following the 28-21 vote on Wednesday night in favor of Senate Bill 6239, an act relating to providing equal protection for all families in Washington by creating equality in civil marriage which the National Organization for Marriage has promised to fight with the full support of the Archdiocese of Seattle and the Diocese of Spokane. Although Washington has historically been considered one of the most non-religious states, the Catholic Church represents the largest religious organization in this state with 1,058,721 members, inclusive of the Archdiocese of Seattle and the Diocese of Spokane.

Senate Bill 6239 only affects the civil definition of marriage only while protecting the rights of religious groups which can either affirm or discriminate for or against performing same-sex marriages in their respective congregations. As religious groups, such as the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Church, who oppose this legislation are preparing to raise money to prevent this change of definition of civil marriage in Washington, it is estimated that almost 23,000 people are homeless in Washington State and many thousands more, children and elderly, are uninsured or living in low-income housing with little or no assistance whatsoever. Additionally, there are thousands of children in Washington State who are without families or waiting for adoption. To this end, I call on the Catholic Church in this Washington to consider the gravity of these situations in comparison to the small-percentage of people who will be affected by the passing of SB 6239.

To the Knights of Columbus: you men, young and old, who will be demonstrating and raising money to overturn SB 6239 and who are bound to the principals of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism; consider for a moment that whatever actions you will take in this civil action will reflect on your principals as a chivalric organization. When there are those who are homeless or who are in need, what concrete charitable benefit could you be giving them by raising money that would prevent them from enjoying their basic liberties and access to assistance? What kind of unified society to you seek to create, when individuals you exclude God’s children from it? Are you fulfilling Christ’s teachings of brotherhood yet failing to keep your brothers and sisters as you would yourselves? Are you adhering to patriotism when you would destroy the duly passed measures voted on by your state?

The point at which the Knights of Columbus would sooner raise money to ensure inequality is the point at which they forfeit their chivalry and must acknowledge that their state is equally as fallen into idolatry. Next month, as the Knights of Columbus prepare to celebrate their 130th anniversary of their incorporation as a benefit society, charitable reports from 2008 and 2009 seem to indicate that more giving has gone to “family life” projects than they did to “community projects.” As an article in the National Catholic Reporter observes:

“On the surface this sounds benign, but “family life” is the Knights’ terminology for predominantly anti-gay initiatives, whereas “community projects” represents soup kitchens and food pantries…  Additionally, in 2009 and 2010, Knights officials contributed $200,000 as noted in annual reports to Vox Clara, the bishops’ committee responsible for turning back the clock on the liturgy and implementing the recent controversial language changes in the Mass. They have been a significant funder of the committee since 2006. Over the same time period, the Knights donated almost $1.2 million to fund the bishops’ newly created committee that works against equal protection for gays and lesbians and dubbed it “charity” in their annual report.”

The Catholic Church, of which the Knights of Columbus are a part, is the largest charitable and humanitarian organization in the world. As a former Roman Catholic, I deeply appreciate and admire everything the church has done that has benefited society even when it was inconvenient for it so to do. While I left over many key theological and philosophical incongruities, I consider myself indelibly marked by the catholic tradition and values which have been impressed upon me. It is my sincere hope that the Church in Washington State immediately remove itself from this particular legislative course which already ensures that its internal structure and values will be unaltered and unmolested, and that the Knights who are so eager to be stewards of lofty values think twice about raising their swords in an unnecessary battle.


A Season for Krampus

As I have written in previous entries, I am and remain a very strong supporter of the Occupy movement and what it represents as the largest and most diverse social, economic and civil rights demonstration of the past sixty years. While some may argue that it is too slap-dash and incapable of formulating a coherent set of demands, it is important to consider that it is a peoples’ movement and there are a lot of questions and concerns and demands on the plate that still need to be sorted out. Discussing politics is, however, not the purpose of this essay – instead I want to talk a little bit about Krampus.

Krampus vs. Guy Fawkes

Since the beginning of the Occupy movement, the most iconic image has been supporters and demonstrators wearing Guy Fawkes masks reminiscent of the one worn by the anti-hero “V” in the recent film, V for Vendetta based on a graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore. While I am definitely a big fan of the message of the film itself and think that there are many symbolic elements that can be utilized by participants in the Occupy, one must invariably consider that Guy Fawkes is something of a failed symbol in many ways despite the rehabilitation effort on part of the character, “V”.

The original Guy Fawkes, a British soldier and citizen, belonged to a group of provincial English Catholics who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 that was aimed at destroying the British Parliament and re-instating Catholic interests in post-Reformation England. Fawkes as inevitably discovered and was subject to trial during which he and his co-conspirators were to be “put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both”, their genitals mutilated and burnt before their eyes, their internal organs removed, their heads decapitated, and what remains survived be put on display as “prey for the fowls of the air”. Fawkes was the last to stand on the scaffold. He asked for forgiveness of the King and state, while keeping up his “crosses and idle ceremonies”, and aided by the hangman began to climb the ladder to the noose. Although weakened by torture, Fawkes managed to jump from the gallows, breaking his neck in the fall and thus avoiding the agony of the latter part of his execution. In short, he died and celebration of his death continues in England to this day in which his effigies are placed on public display every November 5th amidst chanting and celebration and publicly burned.

Guy Fawkes on Fire

Krampus, on the other hand, is an interesting symbol whose origins from the European Alpine region are largely shrouded in mystery.  In these regions, Krampus is represented by a demon-like creature accompanying Saint Nicholas, whose job it is to dole out frighten and doll out punishments to naughty girls and boys during the Christmas season. Throughout many cities in Switzerland, Austrai and Southern Bavaria, especially the market town Berchtesgaden; young men dress up as Krampus on the evening of the fifth of December and roam the streets frightening children with rusty chains and bells with the hopes of encouraging them to engage in more responsible behavior throughout the rest of the season and the year to come.

Krampus holding the torch

While there are many good reasons for members of the Occupy movement to related to the rehabilitated image of Guy Fawkes/”V”, I am personally convinced that the image of Krampus could potentially be a much more effective iconic symbol of the Occupy movement, especially in the coming weeks leading up to Christmas which is arguably one of the biggest and most lucrative times of year for large banking institutions and corporations that have been shown to have connections to less-than-equitable business practices. Krampus represents responsibility and accountability for one’s actions while more than willing to punish those who engage in harmful practices – business and otherwise.

Krampus has a long history of political action

Even though the image of Krampus is decidedly punitive in nature – a symbol that many in Occupy would gladly see extended to plutocratic industries – it is also creative in origin in that everyone can embody Krampus and each person who don’s that mask and costume puts their own creative faculties and energy into becoming something that is unique and individual and cannot be recreated or pre-packaged. Krampus very much represents community involvement on a highly radical level, something that many Occupiers can appreciate. In addition to the homespun creativity put into making Krampus come to life, there is music, dancing, and community celebration in addition to food. These elements, which are traditional to pre-Coca Cola Christmastide are also values that can be extended throughout the rest of the year as a part of radical self-reliance and community engagement. As an agrarian, pre-Christian folk deity; Krampus’ horns equally represent fertility and the hope for real change in the darkest part of Winter through the Spring.

For the above reasons, I propose the following “Top Five Reasons Why Krampus is Better Than Guy Fawkes” with the hopes that other readers will contribute their reasons in the comments:

Top Five Reasons Krampus is Better Than Guy Fawkes

  • Encourages radical community involvement.
  • Actually aims to punish wrong-doings.
  • Horns are much scarier than a mask and pantaloons.
  • Makes reasonable demands.
  • Hasn’t been usurped by Time Warner and was never a Papist tool.

While arguing over which symbol is better is arguably childish, the fact is that symbols do have their own peculiar power and can be used by those who seek to make radical changes. I’m not saying that Guy Fawkes/”V” is a bad symbol per se, however I personally feel that Krampus would be a more effective symbol for the needs and goals of the Occupy movement which, hopefully, could provide a little bit of levity as we enter into the darkest part of the year – both in terms of decreasing daylight and the overwhelming suffering brought upon millions by depression, mass-consumerism and a culture addicted to personal gain over community involvement.


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