Thanksgiving Column

Sydney Schuster and Denise Hanover and their daughter Melissa Schuster hosted Thanksgiving dinner at their Chicago penthouse this year. They invited some of Melissa's old friends from the Schuster/Murphy Experimental School to join them. Of course, Kevin did the cooking. He also sat at the table with the rest of the family like the matriarchs of traditional families from sea to shining sea.

Tashina and the Stein twins were the first to arrive with Maria, Rodney, and ten year old Joey next. Then Sam Smith and Moe Sashtri came bearing flowers and a bottle of wine. Father John Murphy was the last rounding out the group to a baker's dozen.

John shook hands with Sydney and hugged Denise. "It's been a while. Nice to be here. Thanks for inviting me." His eyes darted around the room to take in the familiar faces now ten years older than when he first encountered them. He was looking for one in particular. Every guest and every member of the host family was wearing black. Even Joey was dressed in black. John shrugged. "Did somebody die? What's going on?"

Tashina broke the silence. "We're mourning, father… the election results, you know."

John gave out with a heavy sigh. "I guess the conversation was bound to get around to the election results sooner or later." His heart sank as his eyes met with Sam's. Sam looked down at his feet. "No offense, father, but its religion that did it. That's what did us in."

"Wait a minute, Sam. There are a lot of Catholic Democrats who use reason to make important decisions. It's the extremists, the one issue voters, the ones who blindly follow authority that did us in." John felt his face getting hot. "I kind of thought maybe you'd be here, and that you'd try to pin the election results on us Catholics."

Sam's voice sounded cold as he spewed his accusatory comments. "If Archbishop Chaput was serious about wanting to discourage abortion, he should have advised Catholics to vote for Kerry, not Bush." He snatched an article from the New York Times out of his pocket and read from it. "Mark W. Roche, Voting Our Conscience, Not Our Religion, New York Times, October 11, 2004." His eyes scanned the room as if to make certain he had everybody's attention, then he continued to read. "During the eight years of the Reagan presidency, the number of legal abortions increased by more than 5 percent; during the eight years of the Clinton presidency, the number dropped by 36 percent." He looked straight at John before reading on. "The world's lowest abortion rates are in Belgium and the Netherlands, where abortion is legal but where the welfare state is strong. Latin America, where almost all abortions are illegal, has one of the highest rates in the world."

Sam sighed deeply as he continued to challenge John. "Catholics who truly oppose abortion should have supported an administration that had the best chance of lowering the number of abortions. Education, jobs, and a living wage, affordable health care for all our citizens and supporting stem cell research, the Democratic platform, will have a better chance to lower abortion rates than laws that prohibit women from having a choice and discourage family values for same sex couples. If they don't care about what works, if they just want to feel righteous Catholics should have voted as they did, for a president who insists on legislating the tenets of his religion and promoting an American Theocracy."

"Simmer down, boy." John put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "It looks like you came prepared for a fight."

Sam pulled away. "I'm twenty-five years old, Father. Don't call me 'boy'. "

John dropped his hand to his side. He knew he'd met his match and he admired his young adversary. "You're right, Sam. Old habits sometimes click in. I meant no offense. Besides," he smiled, "I agree with you more than you think."

"You do?" Sam's jaw dropped.

"Of course, I do. I'm as upset about this whole debacle as you are." John shook his head. "I don't understand it. President Bush refers to "Massachusetts liberals" as if they were lepers, but Massachusetts has a divorce rate of 2.4 per 1,000 population. The rate in Texas is 4.1 per 1,000. It would appear that people in Massachusetts preach family values less, but live them more. The percent of births by teenagers in Massachusetts is 7.4 per thousand. In Texas its 16.1 per thousand. What does that tell us?" John felt threatened by his young antagonist. He was out of breath. But never let it be said that John lost his thunder on the pulpit. He gulped and went on in a dramatically softer voice.

"We should offer a leg up to those less fortunate not because we fear the loss of heaven and the pain of hell but because a better world is in the best interest of all of God's children. We should take care of our environment for generations that come after us. Family values should not exclude homosexuals."

Sam's shoulders sagged but his eyes twinkled when he responded to John's homily. "What I learned more than ten years ago in the Schuster/Murphy Experimental School is that what works well is more likely to be used again and what turns out poorly is more likely to be discarded. That's the essence of evolution."

John smiled. "That's the hope of our future. We're still teaching that kind of cooperation at our school, thanks to you." He nodded toward Sydney.

Sam's face softened. He addressed John directly. "Perhaps the Democrats will become better at pointing out that real family values are played out in what works than in what's prescribed by law, authority, or religion. What's going on right here in this room and what we learned from each other ten years ago at the Schuster/Murphy Experimental School is what works. Benevolence, respect for others, and reciprocity" are the foundations of social order. The evolution of cooperation is possible."

There was a moment of silence before Sydney announced, "Fifty five million, three hundred and eighty four thousand, and four hundred ninety seven American citizens voted for John Kerry and John Edwards. That's 48% of the popular vote. Many of those who voted Democratic are Catholics and other Christians who understand the importance of keeping religion and government separate." He winked at John. "We should be thankful that we live in a country with that many forward thinking people for neighbors and friends. Let's eat."