(BRANDON NOBLES/Guest Columnist)
Last week, the media was completely abuzz with the photos of the world-renowned landmark, Notre Dame Cathedral, with its roof and famed spire completely ablaze, sending swathes of black smoke into the Parisian sky. Luckily, the brave firefighters of Paris were able to quench the blaze, saving the stone structure and the various relics – including the Crown of Thorns – and the various art pieces within it.
Plans immediately began for its restoration, with many wealthy businessmen donating millions to bring this cultural, spiritual and architectural achievement back to its former glory. While many were pleased to hear that Notre Dame has a future, there was no shortage of sabre-rattlers on social media decrying the donations and restoration, claiming that the money should go elsewhere, along with the usual passive aggressive tactics implying the presupposed avarice of the Roman Catholic Church. Many of these statements and the memes that have been spawned are quite factually – if not logically – inconsistent. While impossible to go through them all, I have created a series of rebuttals against what seems to be the “greatest hits” among them.
First, the Cathedral is not owned by the Catholic Church, but actually by the French government. So when the do-gooders of Facebook say that instead of restoring Notre Dame, the funds should be used to help American homeless or to fix the water supply in Flint, Michigan, one would immediately wonder at the idea of why would it be the French government’s responsibility to fix these things? Note: The Flint water issue is being taken care of this year with AMERICAN tax dollars.
Second, one meme claims that nature itself is a Cathedral and funds should be spent on environmental causes rather than something just man-made. The problem with this is that a cathedral is a place where a bishop has his cathedra (Latin for “chair”), so claiming a beach or a forest littered with garbage is a cathedral is well…linguistically incorrect.
Third is the claim that the 600-700 million donated already to the Cathedral’s restoration by billionaires could have stopped world hunger. People seemingly do not understand how much things really cost, since the Food Stamp program in America that serves only a tiny percentage of the population costs over 80 BILLION a year, thus the money donated would not make a dent in American hunger, much less world hunger.
Fourth, this idea that money can never be used on anything besides pressing global issues like world poverty, etc. The people who pontificate on this seem not to see the inherent contradiction and hypocrisy in what they are saying since they, themselves, plus the organizations they enjoy or are a part of (NFL, being a US citizen, going to college, being an average American consumer, etc.) spend billions on non-humanitarian goods, services and programs that make the Notre Dame restoration money a trifle amount.
Fifth and last, the old tired attack on the Vatican and its wealth and how if the Church really cared about the poor, then it would sell all of its riches to aid the poor. This way of thinking exposes multiple erroneous lines of thought. To begin, the Catholic Church is the biggest charitable organization on the face of the planet, so to voluntarily bankrupt itself would bring an end to all the good it does the world over (and the people that depend on the Church’s charity).
In addition, many complain about the Church’s massive collection of artwork, but fail to realize that if the Church sold these masterpieces to PRIVATE owners, they would end up in PRIVATE collections, and not the PUBLIC displays and museums in which they currently reside.
And even at a local level for Spokane and NE Washington, what would happen if the Church ceased to be? Well there goes all the hospitals, the biggest regional charitable program known as Catholic Charities, Gonzaga University, the homeless shelter, multiple food programs and the list continues.
It would be wise to recount that scene in the Gospel of John, where Christ has his feet anointed with an expensive perfumed oil. His future betrayer, Judas Iscariot complains – probably would have made a meme in present time – regarding how the money for the perfume could have gone to the poor. Christ dismisses him, knowing Judas’s true selfish intentions and how he actually cared nothing for the poor.
Not to be cynical, but whenever I see someone squawk regarding how so-and-so could have given X to a better cause known as Y, this story from the New Testament often comes to mind. I often wonder why this person has zero gripe with spending their own money on whatever frivolous care, or when it’s their team spending the money (be it political, religious, social, etc.), then all is well and good.
At the end of the day, Notre Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt to its former glory and beauty. And instead of just calling it just a building built of brick and mortar, people should recognize it for what it truly is, a symbol of French culture that rivals the Eiffel Tower, a monument to Catholic spirituality and an architectural triumph of Human will and spirit. Seeing it in those terms will open one’s eyes to why it needs to be restored, and why it will be worth every penny.