Month: February 2014

Andy Rooney and 60 Minutes – Memories and Lots of Words

“I’d be more willing to accept religion, even though I don’t believe in it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other, but I don’t think it does.” — Andy Rooney

Nobody likes the word “religious.” People prefer to say they are “spiritual,” or some other euphemism. In my personal experience from my years as an Evangelical Christian, some people like to say they do not care about religion, that they just care about accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and believe only what is in the bible. I am a Catholic Christian. Yes, Catholicism IS a Christian religion despite what some might say. I used to be what is called an Evangelical or a “born again” Christian. I believe differently now, so I don’t go by that title. I follow the tenets of my Catholic faith the best I can, though I am sorely lacking in this area most days. I do the best I can. If that qualifies me as “religious” then I am fine with that. I’ve been called worse and will be again. If anything, I am more flawed these days than I’ve ever been before, and I’ve got a LONG way to go in knowing how to love unconditionally. If there is a 1 to 10 scale of human defects, I’m off the chart and I’m not sure I can ever be fixed.

Being “religious” has never made me nicer. In fact, I was more judgmental when I followed hardcore religious principles. Gradually I started seeing that sometimes this Christian thing is more about judging others and making decisions about right and wrong for other people instead of correcting my own defects.

It is so easy to take the bible and bend it to our own ideas. When I started disagreeing with what preachers and teachers were saying, my friends said “But these people know the bible!” My opinion is that the phrase “know the bible” is open to interpretation, as is the bible. Lots of flawed people in history knew the bible. In the worst case scenario department, David Koresh and Jim Jones knew the bible better than they knew the back of their hands, book, chapter, and verse. They could rattle it all off in their sleep. They knew it well enough to take it and turn it in to weapons and vehicles of hate. Knowing the bible doesn’t mean one knows how to love, anymore than being non-religious makes us more loving and accepting of others.

Nobody wants to say they are religious nowadays. “Religious” and “religion” have become dirty words. Call it what you will. Spiritual, religious, Jesus-only Christian, Bible Believing Christian, agnostic, liberal, etc., I have found in my experience that being these things, any of them – just take your pick – does not make one necessarily a nicer person. It can, however, give one the supposed entitlement of judging those who are different from them. Nobody really knows what it is to “love like Jesus loves,” but those who consider it important keep trying to learn, but I digress.

My father loved 60 minutes, and the show was a staple of my childhood. Our whole huge family used to gather at my Grandma Nina’s every Sunday so the men could watch the Dallas Cowboys play (this was in the Cowboys’ heyday). 60 minutes always came on after the game was over. I learned a lot from this show as a kid. I learned about LSD and how our government once thought it’d make a very nice interrogation tool. It was on 60 Minutes where I first heard about cancer patients going to Mexico to get laetrile. The show also introduced me to the subjects of Laos during the Vietnam war, Agent Orange, the digitalis controversy, the effects of thalidomide on developing fetuses, and ohhhh so many more things. I remember the interview with Elvis Presley’s doctor, George Nichopoulos, who had freely prescribed large quantities of all the drugs Elvis was addicted to. Just minutes into the interview, Nichopoulos pulled off his mike and walked off the set. It made a deep impression on me. I still watch this show, and I guess it has had a part in keeping me informed about a lot of things.

Beginning in 1978, Andy Rooney was a staple of my Sunday night TV watching. I enjoyed hearing him rattle on humorously about the illogical way pharmaceutical companies put cotton in medicine bottles. I remember how Andy had several bottles of over-the-counter medications. He pulled out the cotton from each and compared the different amounts used by different companies. He thought it was a silly practice. I was touched when Andy did a piece on the death of his friend, Harry Reasoner (1923-1991), from lung cancer. He described going to visit Harry in the hospital, of watching Harry puff away on a cigarette despite having only one lung. Andy said “How is it that the smartest man I’ve known continued to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day? I’m sad but I’m also angry. Because Harry was so careless with the affection we had for him.” I felt bad for him and I kinda felt angry at Harry too.

I guess being less than a year away from 50 is making me a long-winded, verbose communicator. I have strayed from the subject I meant to touch on in this post, which is Andy Rooney’s quote at the top of my verbal meandering. In a nutshell, I think Andy was right, God rest his soul. He was a nice guy, if accounts from those who knew him are to be believed. He was not spiritual, religious, or a bible-believing, Jesus-only Christian, etc. He was just a regular, non-religious guy who had all the flaws that the rest of us do. He said those words above and I’m sure he received a lot of angry feedback from both religious and non-religious people. I’m sure he always got angry feedback when he mentioned those unmentionables of politics, religion, and sex. I agree with him, though, because I know religion has not made me a nicer person.

I continue to be Catholic, but it’s not my major motivator when I try to be nice. It would be too much pressure to attempt to live my life as a walking billboard for Catholicism. I think nice people become that way because the niceness is modeled for them by someone significant in their life. However, I also think that some people are nice because meanness and selfishness were qualities modeled to them by someone significant in their life and they remember the pain that it caused them. They were the victims of someone’s meanness and selfishness and it made them not want to be that way, and so they work hard to be what they wish someone had been to them. Some people are just born nice and stay that way. Some people are born nice and then their personalities warp into meanness and judgment and criticism by the circumstances in their life. Maybe they were abused, maybe they experienced poverty and hunger, maybe they took psychedelic drugs or became alcoholics, or experienced something tragic that made them bitter. There are a lot of reasons nice people become not nice. Religion might play a role in all of these situations, but then again, it might not. Andy Rooney didn’t delve into these accompanying issues because 60 Minutes and CBS gave him time constraints, but I’ll bet he thought about them all.

Because my father ruled the TV at our house (when he was home), his 60 Minutes habit became my own. At first I watched only because he had it on. Maybe I wasn’t even paying close attention, but you know how your ears and brain absorb things in your environment. I was very young, and in the beginning 60 Minutes was important to me only because it was important to my father, and then it became important because I like learning stuff.  My father worked a physically and mentally taxing job that he did not like. TV was his refuge and relaxation, third in line after his passion for playing guitar and reading books. He watched interesting programs like 60 Minutes, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Survival, the Jacque Cousteau specials, and any documentary he could find because he liked learning things. Learning and absorbing information were incredibly important to him.

I never told my father that he taught me more than 60 Minutes and Andy Rooney and all the schools and books ever have, but that’s okay because I don’t dwell on what I didn’t tell my father. Wow, I guess I do qualify as a somewhat religious person because I believe my father is in a better place, and I believe that he now knows all the things in my heart that I forgot to tell him.

I’m glad 60 Minutes is still on. I miss Andy Rooney. Most of all, I miss my father.