So I’m flipping through channels the other night and there is Dr. Charles Camosy, born and raised in KTown USA on TV, on the national scene being added to a panel as an expert. I lost my mind!! How great that must be for your family and friends to see you on national TV.
It has been kind of surreal. The first time it happened I began getting these text messages and other notes from folks back home. On the one hand it is great, but on another hand it reminds me of how much I miss home. Midwest people, Wisconsin people, Kenosha people…they are the best people.
Can you help us understand your role, Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University?
I teach in the theology department at the Jesuit university in NYC, Fordham. Very similar to Marquette in many ways…except significantly worse in basketball. I focus my teaching and research on ethics and morality, especially when it comes to bioethics or medical ethics. I teach a lot of pre-health students about how to think about ethical issues in medicine. Those issues have been prominent during the pandemic, obviously…especially with the ethics of how we are treating older people in hospitals and nursing homes. And this is one reason some news programs wanted me on.
Other than the obvious size difference, what is the main difference between life in NY and life in WI?
Well, I guess people are more gruff, individualistic, aggressive, and self-centered. At least on the surface. Being on top of so many people all the time (at least before the pandemic) means that people guard their individual space carefully and get annoyed easily. But once you get beyond that, you find that most New Yorkers are really personable and even loyal and lovable. New York isn’t really one community, but rather a series of much smaller groups and neighborhoods where people know and care about each other. I spent my first four years after moving out here in Little Italy in the Bronx which was just such a neighborhood.
Your newest book, Resisting Throwaway Culture, crosses political extremes, Catholicism, a fractured society and a “throwaway culture”, how has this book been received considering it crosses many current important social issues?
Truth be told, when academics write books they aren’t going make the “best seller” lists. But a good number of people have read it, including in the college classroom, and the early returns are that there is much to agree with but also much to disagree with. But that is to be expected, isn’t it? We have such a diverse country with widely differing beliefs…even on the local level. (I certainly had some knock down drag out debates with your brother!) The key is to have those debates in ways where we genuinely encounter and engage each other–with goodwill–rather discarding our perceived opponents as obviously stupid or immoral.
When you are not a part of either extreme, you actually have to formulate an opinion on what may be the strengths and weaknesses of either side. How did you come to a point where you were not on a particular side, forsaking all else?
I’m still very Catholic and have the Gospel as “my side.” But that side, I argue, is politically homeless in the United States. In fact, I don’t think it is possible to be a good Christ follower and also be a good Democrat or Republican. I also think Wisconsin formed me this way. Not just as a product of St. John the Baptist, St. Mary’s, and St. Joe’s schools…but because it is such a “purple” state (neither red nor blue, right or left)–with lots of people with very different views living together–you just grew up quite used to having lots of people in your circles with wild diversity of thought.
What can you tell us about life in NY this past couple of months..perhaps something we have not seen or heard?
It has been something like a nightmare. I don’t know how closely your readers have been paying attention to NYC news (I can see how it dominates national news in ways that I find frustrating), but we came very, very close to having our hospitals completely overrun. In fact, based on conversations I’ve had with doctor friends of mine, it seems some hospitals did find themselves in this position…with patients drying on gurneys in the hallway untreated. I suspect this is also why the disastrous decision was made to put COVID+ patients in nursing homes (which caused mass death there)…they wanted to free up space in the hospitals.
Have you personally stayed locked down these past few months or have you been more mobile?
Well, we kind of have a unique family. My wife Paulyn and I adopted three older children from the Philippines four years ago…but then had a “surprise” miracle-ish baby named Thaddeus two years ago. Unfortunately, he’s had some serious lung problems which puts him at more risk so we’ve been really locked down. We go for drive around our town every now and again (we live in across the river in NJ…kind of like what Kenosha is to Milwaukee) but we don’t go in any stores or houses. We have everything delivered and either leave it outside for 24 hours or wipe it down.
Do you think Americans got a shock back to reality in terms of what truly is important because of this virus and subsequent shutdown?
I totally agree with this. How we treat the elderly. How important our relationships are. The radical interdependence of people…including with those “essential workers” who take away our trash, stock the supermarket shelves, keep our lights on, etc. I hope we can continue to engage with real people in real situations when the pandemic is over. Human beings need to be with other human beings. Not with robots. Not via Zoom or Skype. We need to be in each other’s physical reality and often mysterious presence and energy with which we connect. We all know how this is different, don’t we? But we struggle to explain it. I think this is a deeply theological reality–it is only through in-person relationships that we can fully connect to the spiritual reality of other people.
Does Fordham University plan on having in-person classes this fall?
We are going to be partially online and (hopefully) partially in person. We are trying to build flexibility into our plans rather than have a hard and fast plan. These pandemics often have waves…and no one really knows when or if a second wave will be coming. This virus is behaving in ways that have confused the best minds in the disease sciences. Anyone who is confident about predicting the future doesn’t know what they are talking about.
As a Triple Domer (BA, MA and PhD from Notre Dame), are you confident that the Fighting Irish can handle the Wisconsin Badgers in their upcoming football game at Lambeau Field? (assuming they play)
I’ve always rooted for the Badgers as a close second-favorite team to the Irish on fall Saturdays. So, in some ways, I’ll be both happy and upset regardless of what happens. But, to be honest, I’ve gone back and forth on football in recent years. Given what we know now about how football affects the brain, would you let your kids play? I’m not. So I’m currently trying to manage my football addiction and heritage (my dad, ND class of 72, met my mom on a train going to see the Irish play Alabama for the 1973 national title) with my real moral problems with the sport.
One final question, you and my younger brother were very close all through grade school and high school, do you believe that you and he are the best one-two punch in 5′ mini-hoop basketball to ever hit the trailer court?
Your brother is one of the most creative people I’ve ever met and managed to find an unbelievable number of ways to have fun. And boy did we have fun in the trailer park back in the day…whether it was playing home run derby (how many taped-up Wiffle balls did we hit onto the top of the Sears building?), one-on-one football (with passing to yourself!), or five foot hoop full court basketball. And countless other games. I kind of hate the “in my day” Grumpy-Old-Man arguments, but this must be said: our childhood now stands in stark contrast to those of most “kids today” who demand to be entertained by stuff on glowing rectangles all day long. In many ways I feel deeply sorry for them. So many will never know the kind of joy which a creative kid can nevertheless experience when “there’s nothing to do.”