David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

In the Name of Jesus

Pope Benedict XVII’m having trouble wrapping my head around this latest papal crisis involving the Pope’s supposedly anti-Islamic statements. And that’s not because I have any difficulty understanding what he said. (My sympathies actually lie with the pontiff here, because despite the fact that the passage he quoted wasn’t particularly kind to Islam, it was just a quote.) I just don’t understand the modern-day Pope in the first place.

Insulting someone else’s religion isn’t what I’m trying to do here. I’m just trying to understand the concept, because at this point I’m really having a difficult time taking Pope Benedict XVI seriously. The position just seems so anathema to the entire concept of Christianity.

Keep in mind that I’m a non-believer. Keep in mind that I’m not particularly well-versed in the New Testament, and my knowledge of the Old is a little creaky as well.

But it seems to me that even a facile reading of the Gospels would lead one to conclude that, if Jesus were to suddenly drop by Larry King’s studio tomorrow night to speak his mind, he would advise the leader of the world’s largest Christian faith under no uncertain terms to:

  1. Sell off all his shit, including every last square foot of Vatican City real estate
  2. Get his ass out of that bubble
  3. Charter a plane to downtown Baghdad or sub-Saharan Africa
  4. Spend the rest of his life ministering directly one-on-one to the poorest and most disenfranchised of the world’s population

Again, I know this is coming off as pissy and disrespectful, but I really, sincerely don’t understand it and want someone to explain it to me.

Now, please don’t think I’m trying to claim the Pope is evil. I’m aware that Catholic charities and Catholic churches and just plain ol’ Catholics spend a lot of time and money and effort ministering to the poor. I’m aware that there’s much more to the faith than just shoveling money and blessings to the destitute.

But I don’t understand the palace. I don’t understand the splendor. Would Jesus have sanctioned a big, gaudy palace? Seems to me that the guy I read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John would have told his emissary on Earth to get the cheapest, sparest office he could find, somewhere in close proximity to the people who need him the most. Like Fallujah, or Darfur. Jesus was the guy who hung out with the lepers, beggars, and prostitutes. Shouldn’t the Pope be out there looking for the direst, most miserable spot on Earth?

Someone needs to explain to me how the modern concept of the Pope fits in with the things Jesus said in the Gospels, because I’m just too ignorant to understand it. And I know that saying I’m ignorant sounds snide and cutesy and dismissive, but that’s not my intention. There are many educated, rational, intelligent people around the world who believe in Catholicism and who believe in the Pope, and I just want to understand their thinking.

(While we’re at it, perhaps somebody can explain to me how anyone who believes in a man that advised us all to “turn the other cheek” could possibly countenance the U.S. invasion of Iraq, or the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan for that matter. George W. Bush and many of his Republican allies claim to be devout students of Jesus. Fine. But Jesus specifically said that when a bunch of violent, malignant fuckheads slam planes into the World Trade Center and murder three thousand innocent people, your job is to:

  1. Forgive the hijackers
  2. Pray for them
  3. Reach out to your enemies with love and understanding

(You can choose to believe that’s a wise course of action or not. There are plenty of neoconservatives out there that can make logical, rational arguments for our wars that have nothing to do with religion. But the New Testament is pretty clear about Jesus’ opinion. So do you believe in what the guy with the long hair and sandals said, or don’t you? How can you believe in the war — in any war — and yet still believe in Jesus?)

So I really would like someone to explain how people can claim to be devout students of Jesus and yet have such blatant disregard for the things he actually, you know, said.

* If you’re going to respond to this little unfocused rant, please don’t respond with any of the following:

  1. “Well, the liberals/Muslims/Jews/atheists/Democrats claim to believe x and yet they do y.” Yes, I’m perfectly aware that all of these groups are stuffed to the gills with hypocritical fuckheads too. We’ll get to them another time.
  2. “All religion is stupid and illogical.” Bully for you for believing that, but that doesn’t help me understand what’s going through these people’s heads any better. And I really, really, really want to.
  3. My religion/branch/sect/creed is much better than those rotten Catholics because…” Again, wonderful, rant about that all you want on your own blog, but I don’t want to hear it on mine. Here, we only rant about things that I want to rant about.

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  1. Mary Robinette Kowal on September 19, 2006 at 2:20 pm  Chain link

    You know, if you find out the answer to any of that, let me know. I don’t get it either.

  2. Dave Smith on September 19, 2006 at 3:36 pm  Chain link

    As far as the palace and stuff, I think a lot of it has to do with Catholicism emphasizing a lot on tradition. I’m not Catholic (I am a Christian, though), but in the dialogues that I’ve had with Catholics on faith, many of our differences seem to stem from the focus on the tradition and dogma that has developed in Catholicism over time. I mean this is a big reason the protestant movement started in the first place. They wanted to move away from things that had become tradition but weren’t necessarily supported by the bible.

    As for Bush and the Iraq War… I don’t really know. I remember once reading in one of Card’s Ender books (well, actually the books on Bean, since Ender never really appears) from a Catholic character (I think a nun) that war was another way to “love your neighbor.” I think the argument was that you had to love your neighbor enough to do whatever it took (including violence) to stop them from committing evil. It’s been awhile since I’ve read the book so I could be conveying the point incorrectly. I don’t really agree with it, but I always thought it was an interesting way to interpret that verse.

  3. Fiona Avery on September 19, 2006 at 4:01 pm  Chain link

    If you’d really like to know why in full, juicy detail, I suggest picking up the book Don’t Know Much About the Bible, which I have read several times, usually each time I go through the old and new testaments themselves. I have read the Bible cover to cover three times. (No, I’m not Christian.)

    You can blame Paul. Maybe a little blame can go to Peter for “location! location! location!” But mostly you can blame Paul. Paul set up the institutions you most dislike, the authoritarianism that left women out of the circle, and many other strict aspects of the modern Catholic church.

    On the other hand, if they didn’t have a bad cop like Paul to organize them, they would have been a rag-tag cult with high profile status that would have been discarded by another emperor of Rome later. Much like the sun worship of Egyptian pharoah Akhenaten, which was rejected by his successor.

    So, Paul preserved Christianity… You may now wish at your leisure that someone else had picked up that complex task and done a better job.

  4. Fiona Avery on September 19, 2006 at 4:45 pm  Chain link

    Oh! I forgot!

    Sorry for a double post but I just remembered to add that this is only one interpretation of what “turn the other cheek” meant.

    In Don’t Know Much About the Bible, it was explained within historical context. “To turn the other cheek” held a double meaning. In Rome at that time, to strike a servant or an inferior, you used your left hand. To strike an equal, you used your right hand. Jesus was therefore encouraging those slapped to turn the other cheek, in order to rebelliously change your social standing. That’s a slightly different message, wouldn’t you say? Kinda … cheeky.

    P.S. To add to our confusion, there are several things Jesus did not say that are attributed to him in the Bible. And many we are not sure he ever said, and a few we know he did say.

  5. David Louis Edelman on September 19, 2006 at 5:28 pm  Chain link

    Dave: Very interesting interpretation. Didn’t the Inquisitors have the same idea — i.e. we love you Jews so much we’ll torture you to save your souls?

    Fiona: You, my dear, are welcome to double post any time. :-)

    There definitely is quite a bit of room for interpretation in what Jesus actually said and did and meant… But whatever the literal truth, it’s still interesting how people who claim to follow the popular interpretation of “turn the other cheek” can believe that “shock and awe” is somehow a compatible philosophy.

  6. Ben Kelly on September 19, 2006 at 6:51 pm  Chain link

    That’s a lot of questions and while I can’t call myself an authority on the subject I have done a lot of study and research into Catholicism as I feel any good Catholic should. So let’s see…

    First, the position of Pope was first given to the Apostle Peter from Jesus himself saying, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” The position itself is rather akin to Frodo handing Sam his story before he set sail into the West saying, “Now it’s up to you to continue the story.” The Son of God left His words in the hands of mortal men. The seat of Peter has been passed down through the centuries to men of standing from the College of Cardinals whom are elected in to be first among equals. All this legislation was set up to, as Fiona put it, organize the Church from a cult into a religion. There is also the common misconception of Papal Infalibility. While the power does exist it has only been used twice through out the course of history and is not just the man saying, “I woke up this morning and God told me He likes orange, so henceforth all walls must be orange!” It a decision reached by the collective Church as an infalible truth that the representive of Peter, who was Jesus’ right hand man, declares from the seat of Peter as the earthly head of the Church. The Seat of Peter is perhaps better understood as a metaphor, though, as Peter spent most of his life travelling in Jesus’ footsteps, ministering to the poor and needy, and eventually ended up in a Roman jail cell for it all. As the Church grew the Pope was needed more as a principal in a school than as a wandering teacher, for there were plenty of those to spare. What was needed was someone to keep them all on track.

    Which brings me to location. Why Rome? Because for one, at the time it was the center of the Western world. And not just the center of the known world but one that was in general need of cleaning up according to moral standards. So why are they still there? In part it is tradition, but in the same aspect (as I see it anyway) as the way the Jews remember the Passover and their delivery from Egypt. It is the equivalent of planting the Christian flag on the strongest opposition to the faith and it’s people. The monolith in he embracing wings of the Vatican palace is none other than Nero’s Spire, the most prominant persecutor of Christians the world has probably ever seen. As to the splendor, you’re not the first to mention it and you won’t be the last. In fact St. Francis of Assisi was recorded to have asked the Pope why he surrounded himself in such splendor, much to the disapproval of the cardinals. The Pope, however, agreed fully with the little monk and broke down into tears at the sight of him, thanking him for the lesson. Despite the granduer of the Vatican the coffers of the Catholic Church are rather empty. The palace itself is a vault of keepsakes of historical or religious significance that has been built up over the years for reasons both good and bad I’m sure. In otherwords, it’s much like the White House or the Parliament Buildings: they don’t belong to the Pope, he just works there.

    So where does the Pope fit in these days? Well he’s the guy that acts as the mouth piece for the Catholic Church who takes advicement from the College of Cardinals. Instead of everyone running around claiming they know what is going on, the Pope is the voice of the unified Catholic Church that proclaims what is actually supported by the Church. Admittedly the beauracracy of it is horribly slow as everything is put through such a fine toothed comb and it can literally take generations to get the stamp of approval. Historically, the Catholic Church was begining to address the concerns that Martin Luther raised but having a bunch of power hungry German princes skewing your ideas gets things done far faster than putting it through the red tape of the Catholic Church.

    Fiona’s comment about not knowing exactly what Jesus said is also sadly true. Even if we do have the texts they have been translated from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to German to English…if we’re lucky. That’s a lot of room for things to get lost in translation. And while He said such things as turning the other cheek (and I’m prone to side with the camp that Fiona mentions as that makes the most amount of sense for the strong reaction to a carpenter than the flower child version we seem to think He was) He also said such things as “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) And there are other times through out the Bible where he can be seen as a rebel and sometimes a violent one, such as the incident with the money lenders in the temple. Jesus was not simple to understand, by any stretch of the imagination, and anyone who has read the scriptures has to acknowledge that. Two thousand years plus after the fact we’re still debating exactly what it is He said.

    As to the “War of Terror” I must take a stand with my own government, the Canadian, over most matters. I have always been proud to belong to a country that places a high value on peace keeping and maintains a stance akin to, “Never start a war, but always finish it.” Our numbers are small, but our troops are well trained and when they do go to war it is with the intent of defense. To my mind this seems the most “Christian” thing to do. However there are rules when you delve down deep enough about war. I believe it was Paul who said that peaceful solutions must be pursued as far as they can be, but if war is the only way then make preparations. There is also such things as the difference between killing and killing in self-defense. Old Testament laws even mention such things as if you’re being robbed at night you can kill the intruder but if it’s during the day you’ll be charged with murder if you strike them. The commandment is actually “Thou shalt not murder” not the mistranslation of “Thou shalt not kill,” and while the words are similar one holds the distinct possibility of defense. You may choose to view the Pope’s sentiments with this in mind.

    Still, don’t take my word for it. Fiona mentioned the book “Don’t Know Much About the Bible” and I would to. It is scholarly-theology-in-a-nutshell and the book touches on many things I learned in Catholic theology where we were taught to think in a critical fashion. It takes a non-biased stand point and presents the facts for what they are and points out where there are large gaps in the sacred text, and there are many. There are timelines and historical connections and not in the least bit derogetory to any side, it’s definitely worth a read if you have any questions on the subject of the Bible and it’s use in Christianity.

  7. Thom Stanley on September 19, 2006 at 6:51 pm  Chain link

    I’ve never completely understood Catholicism myself. It to me is an outmoded heirarchy of covering their own asses (no pun intended) and buying their way into heaven. Keep in mind I’m a non-Catholic from a Catholic family.

    Personally, I don’t think that people attempt to litericize the bible anymore. Does anyone here know anyone who takes the bible at face value, or does everyone you know take bits and pieces and mangle the rest? Anyone?

    I think, sadly, this goes for prominent world leaders, and the Pope as well. If the bible was taken literally and everyone was the faith they proclaimed, W. would be a cowering fundie, Osama would have reevaluated himself and focused more on reclaiming Israel, and the Israelis would have commited suicide by forcing their way back to their “Promised Land”.

    Can’t we just take those who fight in the name of religion, shove them into, say, Greenland, and (pun intended) let God sort them out?

  8. David Louis Edelman on September 19, 2006 at 7:04 pm  Chain link

    Ben: That was incredibly, incredibly, INCREDIBLY helpful and insightful. Thanks for that.

    Now, c’mon, where are all the vengeful, crazy, right-wing nutjobs that are supposed to come out of the woodwork when I post things like this? Certainly you can’t all be rational, reasonable people? :-)

  9. Thom Stanley on September 20, 2006 at 7:13 pm  Chain link

    What I find most interesting, David, is that you used the words “shit” and “fuckheads” in a post about religious leaders.

  10. Brian on September 21, 2006 at 8:58 pm  Chain link

    But I don’t understand the palace. I don’t understand the splendor.

    I can’t add anything to the above save my own snarky bits. The Roman Catholic Church is the world’s oldest bureaucracy. Any organization that lasts that long is going to accumulate cruft. Dogma, palaces, land .. I’m sure no one person set out to build the Vatican and accumulate vast amounts of earthly goods – it just happened as the result of a thousand choices over the centuries.

  11. John B on September 24, 2006 at 10:03 am  Chain link

    Ben – I read the post on the main site then came to leave a comment along those lines although I don’t know if I have the patience to have written it out that well. Thanks

    Brian -> Wrong on many points. As a catholic (maybe not a good one but one none the less) one must look at the social and moral history of the church. We see an organization that has survived civil wars, mass persecution, and one that has conducted persecution of non-catholics for non-religious reasons.

    As a product of Jesuit education I will admit that my views are not mainline catholic but they are not some fringe group either. As one of my theology prof’s told me “the bible is the bestselling work of fiction ever” (DLE you need to work on knocking it off the best seller charts). The point of the bible (with much of the new testament written from one primary source the “Q”) is to give guidelines for what humanity should do. Kind of like a grownup Aesop’s fable. That is why they include wine, money lenders, and debauchery.

    Now after that long rant how do I defend the Papal palace? It is a matter of goods, and what one can do to achieve the greater good. To review the comment made earlier that “Jesus would go on Larry King (since he was such a pr whore) and sell off all the land and goods the Pope had.” Is silly because doing good deeds on a global scale takes infrastructure. Giving 100$ to a poor man on the street is a good but it is a lesser good than giving 100$ to an organization that will buy food, prepare it, and serve it to 30 homeless people. In fact giving that 100$ to a single individual who likely suffers from mental illness or addiction is a terrible choice as you will not help him with your kindness but hurt him.
    The Pope exists to be the figurehead of the organization we refer to as the catholic church. He is the elected representative of the faith to the world. This gives the church as a whole greater influence because unlike protestants who have a million voices in the wind and hit problems like a sledgehammer the papal voice allows catholics to apply social force more accurately.
    Does it always work like that? No. The concept and application of force are always separated by the reality of the action taken and the spectrum of unintended consequences that follow.
    The papal lands and palaces are a legacy from the temporal empire the church once had. To simply throw up their hands and walk away from it would be ludicrous. Within this seat of power the church has created what Washington strove to do with the D.C. This is a place of power that all who enter understand and respect.
    Anyway I think that is enough from me. Thanks for the good question DLE.

  12. Brian on September 24, 2006 at 10:46 am  Chain link

    The Pope exists to be the figurehead of the organization we refer to as the catholic church. He is the elected representative of the faith to the world. This gives the church as a whole greater influence because unlike protestants who have a million voices in the wind and hit problems like a sledgehammer the papal voice allows catholics to apply social force more accurately.

    I don’t know that what you’ve said contradicts the notion of cruft but I’ll concede your point.

    Question for you, John B – what would it take to get the Church interested in long-term infrastructure projects ‘out there’?

    Consider terraforming Mars – it’s a long-term project by any definition. We look around for examples of organizations that are good at century-long projects and we come up with … the Roman Catholic Church.

    We might argue that this is desirable or not but the end result would be a benefit to humanity – more room to grow, a ‘backup’ terrestrial environment and so on.

    Who do we talk to about organizing a Papal Office of the High Frontier?

  13. John B on September 24, 2006 at 3:14 pm  Chain link

    Fantastic point!
    I actually took your comment and fwd’d it to a Jesuit I still talk to. Now bearing in mind I am a poli sci person and not a theology person I would say the churches stance on this would be as follows –

    1. This focuses to much on extending the longevity of humanity and not enough on the salvation of humanity. Mother Theresa has a bunch of great quotes but the one I am looking to cite verbatim escapes my google. It essentially says that she did not help the poor to make them feel better or alleviate their suffering she did those acts as a means to bring them to Jesus and know salvation. Ie temporal positions versus the here after. In church catechisms the sufferings of the flesh are present on the path to the road of redemption.
    Ultimately the church believes devoting resources to bring people to the faith is more important than the path to Mars or even global awareness.
    2. While the church has the intellectual might and probably the funding to begin a small space program it does not have the territory to setup the logistics of such a mission nor does it have the military need to go into space. Lets remember that space flight is a by-product of ICBM’s and not the other way around. Great human endeavors have always been, and in my mind always will be driven, by immediate conflict OR fear of the cultural “other”. In fact if we look toward the churches own history we see that only during periods of conflict were great theological leaps made (not all in the right direction).
    I would love to see the Vatican engage in some “out there” projects but first as a catholic I would like to see the following minor reversions in church doctrine.
    1. Female priests – Keep nuns/sisters just as we have brothers/friars – this goes back to the time of Christ through Constantine when women were as likely to say mass as men.
    2. Allow priests to marry and have children. Reverting the change from the 14/15th century that was made to prevent inheritance of church lands by non-clergy. Many popes had been married etc.

    Making those two small changes would revitalize the church. Now, in order to do that we would have to get rid of this neo-con Pope and undue all the bad works of JPII who laid the groundwork and packed the voting cardinals with neo-con clergy.

  14. Brian on September 24, 2006 at 7:36 pm  Chain link

    I’d be fascinated to talk to hear the reply from your Jesuit friend. I am not at all theological – hey I’m a cradle Episopalean, I don’t need to know theology – but my counters would be

    This focuses to much on extending the longevity of humanity and not enough on the salvation of humanity.

    The longer we’re around the longer we have to be saved. If it all ends (say) tommorrow from a dinosaur killer meteor that doesn’t do much for our chances of salvation. Okay, yes, great for the saved but what about people like DLE who have not had the change to know Grace?

    Another point – cathedrels were built to impress the hoi polloi with the majesty of Christ (yes I’m simplyfying) and to bring them in and keep them among the faithfull. The greatest buildings in a land where the only other impressive buildings were gloomy fortresses. A visible manifestation that God is a nice guy.

    Terra-forming mars could serve a similar purpose.

    While the church has the intellectual might and probably the funding to begin a small space program it does not have the territory to setup the logistics of such a mission nor does it have the military need to go into space.

    I wonder. The time is coming when you will simply be able to buy space you need to get to orbit – after which you’re half-way there. You don’t need to lease territory then – build it. If you need a base it wouldn’t be hard to – say – lease the appropriate territory from Panama for a few dollars a year, no?

    But I’m not talking about a space program per se but any of several long-term efforts that we’ll need to survive _in_ space. Terra-forming Mars. Science expeditions, or – long term thinking – a manned voyage to Alpha Centauri. Stuff that can ride on the back of an existing space infrastructure (you can buy rides to orbit on a Delta IV for example) but isn’t a seperate space program.

    There is a paper published that explored this in greater detail, from a few years back, I’m now recalling. I’ll see if I can dig that up.

  15. John B on September 24, 2006 at 8:39 pm  Chain link

    Now here is a question:
    Does the church need a god to exist or could it perpetuate forever on the weight of organizational inertia it has obtained?

  16. David Louis Edelman on September 24, 2006 at 8:52 pm  Chain link

    How in the heck did we get to talking about the Catholic Church terraforming Mars? :-) Not that I’m complaining, I like discussion on my blog. This debate is very interesting to read from the outside.

    Okay, yes, great for the saved but what about people like DLE who have not had the change to know Grace?

    I did know Grace. She was a fabulous gal, but we weren’t meant for the long term.

  17. John B on September 24, 2006 at 8:58 pm  Chain link

    No comments about the terraforming? Terrific plot for a sci-fi book church vs the free masons in a plan to colonize the world.
    Dan brown meets sci fi.
    Maybe Tom Hanks wouldn’t suck in the movie version of this film.

  18. Ben Kelly on September 26, 2006 at 5:33 pm  Chain link

    John – That would be like saying can a kingdom exist without a king? Without a god to a religion you no longer have a religion but a philosophy. Can this work? Yes, I suppose it could, but it ceases to be a religion without a god.

    Brian – Obscure Catholic Trivia time! The Catholic Church has long pondered such an idea as the salvation of those who die before they get the chance to choose. (We might remember the old concepts of unbaptised babies going to Limbo as their natural state is one of Original Sin. It was for this reason that babies are baptised as soon as possible as in the Dark Ages a lot of new borns didn’t make it so steps where taken to “save” the baby while they could.) Well the last theory I had heard theologians come up with is that there is not one type of baptism, but three. The first we all know, the Baptism of Water. The second is Baptism of Desire. This is the notion that if someone lives a good life in accordance with the Scripture (roughly) despite them never hearing it, they will be given an opportunity to enter Heaven. Kind of like a “late application.” The third is called Baptism of Blood. Simply put, if you’re martyed for the Faith you’ll probably get in whether you heard the Good News or not. Unless you really don’t want to…

    As to the colonization of Mars, if the Catholics get there first can we call it New Byzantium? Just kidding.

  19. Brian on September 26, 2006 at 7:59 pm  Chain link

    As to the colonization of Mars, if the Catholics get there first can we call it New Byzantium? Just kidding.

    Reason to colonize – you get to name the place. New Byzantium? Why not. Better hurry or it will be New Deseret . . .

  20. John B on September 27, 2006 at 5:23 pm  Chain link

    Ben – your obscure catholic trivia would also apply to those who live in areas to remote to have heard the “good word”. My understanding is that the church says Jesus opened the doors to heaven and all who are worthy may pass into it because of him rather than the limited interpretation protestants adhere to that one must pass THROUGH him to enter heaven.

    If I name a space colony it sure as hell is not going to be eden. I would pick a biblical name but something less than opportune so that it never has a chance to become ironic. Gesemenee (sp.) as in the garden of always seemed like a nice name to me.

  21. Thom Stanley on September 27, 2006 at 6:15 pm  Chain link

    Gethsemane (also spelled Gethsemani). And yes. It is a nice name. It’s just a shame; it would always remind me of betrayal. Which is why I wouldn’t name ANYPLACE Gethsemane.

  22. John B on October 1, 2006 at 9:32 am  Chain link

    Yes but that is the key. Name it after something bad so that you are covered in case something bad happens there AND if nothing bad happens it is kind of ironic.
    It is just all the good names Hope, Joy, etc always seem to end up being slapped on disasters. I would posit that they INVITE disaster by tempting fate. Therefore a name like that acknowledges human nature and keeps the citizens aware of the need for vigilance and trust.
    And if something bad happens, well then you can blame the idiot who named it after such a bad place.

    Point in Focus – the new TV show “Jericho”.
    As an aside I wish their theme song had been REM – It’s the end of the world as we know it” cause that is what I think whenever I see it.

  23. Thom Stanley on October 4, 2006 at 4:16 am  Chain link

    Good point. Amityville – Detroit, right?

    Is Jericho any good? Haven’t seen it. Hooked on Heroes though.

  24. The Advanced Soul on October 21, 2006 at 10:13 am  Chain link

    Is it just me, or has Larry King had like 5 heart attacks and 5 divorces. I guess that’d be a broken heart for each.

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