With the national assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious coming up Aug 7-11 in St Louis, it is time to look at the name of the people the gathering there. Catholic bishops earlier this year censured the organization, the largest and most important group of American sisters, for discussing (not advocating) women priests and equality for gay people. You may call these people “nun.” Say it out loud.
Word experts tell us words can sound alike yet have no connection of meaning. For example no historical connection exists between the two similar words “good” and “god.” But a connection exists, nonetheless, where it counts most, in your head. And what about “manor” and “manner”? A popular brand of “duct” tape calls itself “duck” tape. We don’t unite all homophones (www.Homophone.com ) but we regularly conflate their meanings when such mash-ups help us keep track of the world.
The human brain is a pattern recognition machine. Every day in every way, we see two facts and interpret to a third. It’s how we study, travel, work and generally make our way through a busy day surrounded by conflicting and unrelated facts and experiences. (For online support see http://www.dartmouth.edu/~physics/news/colloquium.archives/engelbrecht_10_27_06.pdf and http://www.understand-ultimate-reality.com/Chapter-11-Order-Patterns-Perception.htm. Also see Hudson, Valerie, ed. 1991. Artificial Intelligence and International Politics. Boulder: Westview; Margolis, Howard. 1987. Patterns, Thinking and Cognition: A Theory of Judgement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Political Psychology. 2003. “Special Issue: Neuroscientific Contributions to Political Psychology.” Political Psychology 24,4.)
So it is with nun and none. We don’t purposely mean zero when we say “nun.” But it’s what we feel. The accident of sound becomes a huge advantage in the Catholic bishops’ crusade against freethinking by American female religious orders.
When Rome announced the disciplinary action against the nuns, the sisters suggested dialogue on the issues. Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, responded, “If by dialogue, they mean that the doctrines of the church are negotiable, and that the bishops represent one position and the LCWR represents another position and somehow we find a middle ground about basic church teaching on faith and morals, then no, I don’t think that’s the dialogue the Holy See would envision.”
That’s the kind of thing you say to people whose worth you measure as none. I don’t think you are so dismissive of people called “Earth Angels,” “Equity Builders” or “Justice Warriors.”