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By Brad Miner   
Friday, 06 February 2009

Even when it’s not embroiled in controversies over Latin Traditionalists and Holocaust deniers, as it was this week, the Vatican can drive a man nuts.

Case in point: Last summer’s “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road” is a frontal assault on one of my cherished beliefs: that driving fast in a hot car is cool.

It fell to the Pontifical Council for the Care of Migrants and Itinerant People to come up with this directive, which includes a slightly redundant drivers’ “Ten Commandments.” Number One is “You shall not kill,” which in those better-known Commandments comes in only at #6. The Council writes that the Guidelines are concerned not just with motorists but also with rail travelers and transportation workers, “street women” and “street children,” those the document calls “tramps,” as well as pavement dwellers, street vendors, tourists, pilgrims, street actors, circus folk, and . . . gypsies.

Honestly, you’d think the document was cadged from a Fellini screenplay.

The heart of its message is this: drive safely, which means not operating an overloaded vehicle, especially at night, and especially not under the influence. There’s more, of course, so here’s a brief summary: Because driving can be dangerous to motorists and pedestrians, and because cars pollute, “it is a good idea to call for a commitment to avoid unnecessary car use.” (The document doesn’t define “unnecessary.”) The authors acknowledge the many benefits of transportation, most especially getting where you want to go, which may involve meeting new people.

And then there are emergency vehicles. Don’t forget them, because — if I read aright — they may take expectant mothers to the hospital, thus facilitating the “discovery of the beauties of creation, the sign of [God’s] boundless love for us,” especially when on the way you drive past churches.

The Bible tells tales of travelers, although the Guidelines eschew mention of rules for riding donkeys or camels. It does, albeit obliquely, recognize that there are some asses on the road, which is why it cautions against what over here we call “road rage,” even stating that operating a motor vehicle is a kind of ministry. Christian drivers

don’t only think about themselves, and are not always worried about getting to their destination in a great hurry. They see the people who “accompany” them on the road, each of whom has their own life, their own desire to reach a destination and their own problems. They see everyone as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.

So, the Guidelines may be serious to the point of silliness, but they clearly contain much good instruction too. But where’s the fun in that?

Back to the wackiness: Commenting on the frustrations some drivers feel about speed limits and other traffic regulations — that one may find them “humiliating” — the Guidelines observe that: “When driving a vehicle, special circumstances may lead us to behave in an unsatisfactory and even barely human manner.” It’s a jungle out there on the interstates and autobahns, since the need for speed causes some of us to “accelerate at will, setting out to conquer time and space, overtaking, and almost ‘subjugating’ other drivers . . .” (“Unless having fun has become a sin,” quipped Amedeo Felisa, an executive with Ferrari, “I don't believe it is wrong.”)

My wife hears my keys jangling with menace as I head to the car: “Where are you off to, hon?”

“Um . . . I’m going to . . . to the supermarket.”

“Oh?”

Her eyes narrow to a steely squint. “You’re going out to try to conquer space and time, aren’t you?”

Hear me, ye princes of the Church, I like powerful, fast cars, and I admit I sometimes honor speed limits more in the breach than the observance, but must I go to confession just because I’ve driven 60 in a 55? And I’ve neither purchased nor driven an automobile with the intention of seeking an “easy opportunity to dominate others.” For that I go bowling.

I can accept the “fact that a driver’s personality is different from a pedestrian’s personality should be taken into account,” but I fear the Pontifical Council’s members have made too many rush-hour crossings of the Via della Conciliazione.

I’m not one of the people who “identify themselves with their cars and project assertion of their egos onto them.” I drive a Mercedes-Benz — made by the same folks who provide wheels for the Holy Father. I know Benedict XVI doesn’t drive his own Mercedes, but if he did I doubt that he’d project his personality onto it — even though it’s called the popemobile. I don’t drive a bradmobile. It may be true for some that cars “tend to bring out the ‘primitive’ side of human beings,” but I swear I’m just going out for milk.

On second thought, I think I’ll walk. That seems less an occasion of sin.

Brad Miner is the author of five books, including The Compleat Gentleman, a new edition of which will be published this year by Richard Vigilante Books.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
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written by James, February 06, 2009
I thought "Thou Shalt Not Kill" was number 5 (see paragraph 3).
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written by William H. Phelan, February 06, 2009
Fr. Richard McBrien, never known for his orthodoxy, descibes many of his fellow priests as stunted, not fully developed emotionally or psychologically, incapable of dealing with adults. These must be the authors of this Vatican document as well as the recent one on Limbo which was another dud. We have to remove a place which was never de fide as so many children are being aborted or just never baptized and therefore damned.
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written by debby, February 06, 2009
when does Mary's 7 deadly sins series get featured again? lately it's been a sea of testosterone on this site....
i hate driving with my husband. i have a feeling i'd hate driving with you, too.
your wife sounds right, good, even holy! & what a waste of gas & time to run to get milk. pick it up on your way home from Adoration- silly man.
p.s. make sure you look both ways-2ce! and please try not to play your "gregorian chant" music so loud you can't hear the sirens behind you! God Bless...
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written by Brad Miner, February 06, 2009
James: See, this is what comes from my having grown up a Protestant. There are different ways of numbering the Commandments, and I was always taught that the Sixth is the prohibition against murder. But you're right that in Catholicism it should be #5. But give me time--I've only been Catholic for 35 years. I'll catch up eventually.
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written by debby, February 06, 2009
so, brad, you grew up a Protestant. i knew there was another reason i liked your input. that and your sense of humor.
um, could it be that there are places in the world where life is so cheap that drivers kill people recklessly?
maybe that is why this document came out.
i know we are Americans, we have so many opinions that must be expressed, just look at all these comments, self included, but i don't think we should second guess the Vatican, our Mother, Her motives. what do you think?
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written by Brad Miner, February 06, 2009
Debby: Well, I think your comment regarding sense of humor is the answer to your concern about second-guessing the Vatican. It can't be humorous if it doesn't poke fun--gentle fun, I hope--at authority. And (see, you've got me defending myself) I did mention that much of what's in the Guidelines is valuable. Am I in trouble now or something?
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written by Tom, February 07, 2009
I'm fully behind Brad here. I drive my black Prius like a bat out of hell, most of the time. But I don't seek to dominate - my goal is always to be the _second_ fastest driver on the road, up to 10 MPH above the speed limit. (Excepting Route 95, our Autobahn, where speed limits are group decisions and only following distance counts.)
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written by debby, February 09, 2009
to Brad,
no, my dear bro, i get your humor.
it's poor william h. pleban i'm worried about.
unless he's always busting the writer's chops on this site,
the poor man is going to die from high blood pressure.
maybe then he'll love the Mercy of God age we so undeservedly live in-i do think St. Faustina & St. Max Kolbe were Pre-Vat 2 but maybe because JP2 cannonized them, they don't count? i can only say that when it's my turn before our Father, i'm trusting all in His Great Mercy-like Padre Pio
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written by Jean, February 11, 2009
Well, I agree with the Vatican...I don't mind if someone wants to drive fast so long as they stay off my bumper, but it seems fast drivers also like to tailgate ("hurry up, you're in my way!"). It's initimidating - I have hit a deer on the road and I am glad I didn't have a bat out of hell on my bumper at the time I drive rush hour frequently and I try to use it as an opportunity of grace- if someone needs to change lanes.. I let them! I wish everyone drove as if Jesus was in the OTHER car.
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written by Jean, February 11, 2009
on second thought...since this seems to be a testosterone kind of thing, maybe everyone should drive as if MARY was driving the other car...

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