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Read the Warning Signs

The recent tragedy at the Penn State Fraternity that led to the death of one of its pledges is unfortunate in its avoidability.

According to a NBC News report, no one called 911 when one of the fraternity members first expressed alarm. Students, who by definition are not fully educated in their fields, allegedly rested on expertise of some majoring in medical related fields in the reason not to 911.

However, this is not a medical or legal column, it is a Catholic blog. Many years ago, I argued with an inner-city Confirmation student about the sinfulness of being part of a gang. I said it was sinful, he disagreed. Gang membership is also related to the prohibition against idolatry because one pledges fully into the gang usually in a pseudo-religious ceremony where the “god” is the gang itself. The activity of a gang is sinful and the method of getting into the gang is sinful. All of this is a warning sign. The Confirmation student later did seven years for a shooting. Believe it or not, his victim fared better than the young deceased fraternity pledge. He is, after all, still alive despite suffering a gunshot wound.

The similarities are not obscure, however. Granted a fraternity and a gang have two different purposes, but the warning signs are similar.

It is not unknown for some kind of hazing practices to happen at such fraternities and even other groups. Some forms of hazing are benign such as telling someone to go find a bucket of steam or a box of scruples. The practices cited in this tragic story of binge drinking and harassment are quite sinful to say nothing of dangerous physically, emotionally and spiritually. In a recent article in the Men’s Journal about the real men behind the movie Goat, also about frat hazing, Brad Land, whose experiences are the base of the movie, tells Men’s Journal: “If anyone says that that stuff doesn’t exist, they are woefully misinformed.” Like an invitation to join a gang, such practices are warning signs against the fraternity.

A practicing Catholic has no place in a fraternity that encourages such forms of hazing. If one is interested in entering a fraternity, sorority or any other group and such practices or even others including sexual practices are part of the pledging process, do not join it.

If you truly value your Catholic faith over your membership in a group, there should be no question you do not belong there. This issue is more than just the sinfulness of the practices and their danger, to say nothing about being an accessory to murder, the issue also includes the fact that at our baptism we have a calling to be witnesses. If one goes along with the hazing process to get into the fraternity, then your witness is valuing membership in the frat more than holiness and friendship with God. You are actually attesting to those skewed values.

Granted, many in the fraternity will laugh at the whole God thing, but then again ask yourself this: Remember those biology students who according to media reports were cited in the reason not to call 911? If they go on to complete their medical education, a long shot by any standard, would you want them to be your doctor? I would rather the doctor who got c’s and d’s who knew better than them with a’s and b’s.

There is a culture today that is rejecting God completely from society. Many preachers, including myself, warn that we are literally walking down the road found in Romans 1. We turn from God, we engage in idolatry (worship of ourselves is a form of idolatry) morality collapses and society follows suit.

If we are going to be Catholic, we are on the road to not only do the will of God in our own lives, but also witness to Christ in the world. That means we have to make choices based on who we are spiritually as well as physically and emotionally. Those choices do mean knowing when one is entering a situation such as what many fraternities and other groups practice in which case he or she needs to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction.

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