Monday, May 5


Family Research Council

Focus on the Family

Rod Dreher

and...Timothy Noah asks..Who ratted Bennett out?

Well, there you go:

Jonah Goldberg posts this statement from Bennett in The Corner, but doesn't give us a source...maybe it was in private email or something:

'A number of stories in the media have reported that I have engaged in high stakes gambling over the past decade. It is true that I have gambled large sums of money. I have also complied with all laws on reporting wins and losses.Nevertheless, I have done too much gambling, and this is not an example I wish to set. Therefore, my gambling days are over...'

One more note before I do final preparations for my talk

I'm extremely irritated by Catholics saying, "Well, you know....Bennett's a Catholic, and the Catholic Church doesn't condemn gambling..."

You know, this is the kind of thinking that not only gives the public a questionable image of Catholicism, but, more importantly, hurts Catholics seeking to understand how to live a moral life.

It is a minimalist, legalistic and a totally inadequate rendering of the depth and authentic direction of Catholic thought on the moral life. We are not called to live by a set of rules, sitting down each morning to see how we can rationalize their purpose and meaning to satisfy our own needs and desires. We are called to holiness. We are called to bind ourselves more fully to Christ each day, in every part of our life. This journey, of course, is not exactly the same for everyone, and there is an age-old, continual tension within Catholic life between the ascetic and the life that's joyfully grounded in enjoying the goodness of creation. There is room for both the St. Anthony's and the Chesterton's. I fear, however, that the recent resurgence of Catholic intellectual life in this country has taken too much safety and security in the Chestertonian model, and too easily dismissed what the ascetic element of our tradition has to say to us about the appetites, about moderation, and about how easily the things of this world can shift from being signs of God's presence to being obstacles to His presence in our lives. go over that talk one more time.

I will be back tomorrow morning with more blogging - the usual Monday morning wealth of links will be on Tuesday this week.


Another issue is the relationship that people who preach morality and religion to the money they make from that activity.

To me, that's a really important part of this story that a lot of people ignore, treating Bennett just as a rich guy who can do what he wants with his money. Well, there's more to it than that- it's how he's made his money and the root of his fame (not that he wasn't accomplished in other ways before he came to fame as Drug Czar and got into the Virtue Business, but the money has come from his renown in those activities).

I'm interested in this, obviously, because it strikes home.

Ever since I have been writing on religion, I have struggled with the issue of making money off of it. Well, maybe not when I was getting $25 a column from the Florida Catholic, but since I've started writing books. Not that I make a lot, mind you - I mean, it would take Bill Bennett less than half an hour to gamble away what I make in a year, probably. But it still seems to me not quite right - hoping for more sales, negotiating for a favorable advance, trying to think of an idea that will perhaps get the attention, not just of a Catholic publisher, but of a secular publisher that can distribute more widely and therefore make us more money...

Now, there are good reasons for hoping for good sales and wider distribution: you believe in what you're doing and want more people to benefit from it. Up to this point, I've written books mostly for Catholic kids and youth, and I get good feedback, and people tell me good is happening because of what I've written in the books they've bought. Hooray.But I still make money from it, and although it's money that we need, I still have to constantly clarify my motives and keep myself on course.

An example.

Last fall, I wrote something. It took me about an hour to write it, and it's published. My name isn't on it, but it's a ..thing...that's out there. I wrote it for a flat fee, and wasn't really in a position, for various reasons, to push for a royalty agreement, and the fee was good enough - more than enough for an hour's work.

Well, that ...thing..has made scads of money. It's at the point that if I had taken a standard royalty on it, I would have made as much from six months' of sales on that hours' work as I did on all the books, columns and articles I wrote all of last year. Every once in a while Michael comes home and ruefully tells me how much it's made, and sometimes, I get ticked off that I didn't get more agressive and go for royalties. But then, I think...that's just so...wrong.. to make that kind of money from one hour's work. It's just not proportionate. I'd probably feel like Tammy Bakker if I was sitting here raking in money for a thing that's supposed to be helping people in their spiritual growth, something that took so little effort on my part.

But then again...the company's getting the money, and they're not complaining. But of course - again - the profit is used to further promote and create more stuff that's supposed to be spreading the Good News...


My point is that the relationship between commerce and religion (or morality) is slippery. Making a living off of religion or the preaching of morality is a treacherous path. People who do so should always be scraping their consciences and willingly allowing those consciences to be pricked. Do I want this to sell so more people can get the message or so I can make more money? What responsibility do I have towards the money I make as I talk about spiritual and moral issues? And - always - is my life matching up to what I'm saying?

For me, this is interesting for the broader issues it raises.

Which is why I blog on it. I have no particular interest in William Bennett, one way or the other. I have a couple of his Virtue anthologies, but really haven't read anything else by him, other than op-eds or essays here and there. His gambling doesn't interest me on a personal level, for I don't look to people like Bennett as my moral guides, and I don't expect anyone on the planet to be any less than human, through and through.

But, as I said, it raises interesting issues:

I think the most interesting people to watch in this are going to be Bennett's social conservative allies who depend on evangelicals as their base: Dobson, Bauer, the Family Research Council, and, as a side note - the Christian Booksellers' Association. These are all people and organizations who do not look favorably on gambling, who see it, unlike Bennett, not just as a hobby, but as a pretty serious sin. If they excuse this (which I can't imagine they will), they - far more than Bennett - are the real hypocrites in the game. These are some of the same people, for example, who have excoriated the likes of Amy Grant for divorcing and remarrying, pulling her recordings from their shelves, devoting inches of column space and hours of radio time parsing her behavior and, for the most part, condemning her for it. If they give Bennett, a pass on this, I think they'll be quite open to charges, not only of hypocrisy, but of servile power-cravenness and even a bit of misogyny as well.

More on Bennett

Is this an invasion of his privacy?

Of course it is, but when you're a public figure, even if you're not in public office, you expect your life to be fodder for the public. It may not be fair, but it is, I fear, part of the trade-off, especially when a person's fame evolves from preaching morality - or preaching anything. If you take a strong, public stand in favor or against something, you just have to expect that your life will be considered fair game for those engaged in the sport of icon-bashing. It may be too bad, but there it is.


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