Sunday, June 24, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Be a Tailgating Jerk, and Other Holy Thoughts


By PETER APPLEBOME
Our Towns
The New York Times
June 24, 2007

SOMEWHERE ON LIFE’S HIGHWAY

It was a truly ecumenical moment last week when the Vatican brought the people of the world together to contemplate the one thing that we all increasingly have in common: the joys of sharing the road with idiots multitasking while their kids watch “The Little Mermaid” on the car video system.

For those who missed it, the Vatican’s “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road” combined the lessons of the New Testament and the AAA in a 36-page document meant to capture the wisdom of the ages and the moment. Whether you were stuck in traffic on the L.I.E. or the B.Q.E.; waving both arms and shouting while navigating your Subaru around Jerusalem; racing through stop signs in your Volkswagen Beetle in Mexico City; or trying to replace the broken fan belt on your 1954 Pontiac in Havana, the document is a source of spiritual balm in troubled times.

And distilled into its Ten Commandments of the Road, it provided even more grounds for nuanced thought than Don Imus’s banishment from morning drive-time radio. Yes, Commandment No. 1 (“You shall not kill”) does sound vaguely familiar. But no one who has ever been cut off by an 18-wheeler on the New Jersey Turnpike could avoid contemplating the layered moral imperatives suggested by No. 2: “The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.”

There’s a succinct, almost Biblical injunction about good works in No. 9: “On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.” And all children and their parents should be forced to discuss the various issues suggested by No. 5 over dinner: “Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.”

In fact, the full text is far richer than the Top 10 list would suggest. There are reflections on journeys in the Bible from the Exodus from Egypt to the journeys of Mary and Joseph, the Good Samaritan and Jesus’ disciples. “It has been shown that one of the roots of many problems relating to traffic is spiritual,” the document says. Who could disagree?

There are thoughts on road rage — “Cars tend to bring out the ‘primitive’ side of human beings, thereby producing rather unpleasant results” — the utility of prayer on the road, and the role of the vast apostolate at highway rest stops, filling stations and truck stops.

But here was the really surprising part. The document reminded us that way back in 1956, Pope Pius XII exhorted drivers: “Do not forget to respect other road users, be courteous and fair with other drivers and pedestrians and show them your obliging nature,” in his pastoral counsel on driving. And now some Biblical scholars are renewing the long-simmering debate over the disputed book of Edsel (supposedly a companion text to Ezekiel), which many have long-viewed as eerily prescient for modern drivers. Consider these excerpts: Blessed is the Prius, for it shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed, too, the Civic, the Jetta, the adorable Mini Cooper, because their gas mileage is pleasing in my eyes.

Blessed are those who keep their tires properly inflated, change their oil and filters, and drive the speed limit, because those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied.

OTOH, your fat, gaudy Hummer is an abomination in my eyes and, lo, the carnage I will unleash on that which abominates in my presence.

Of your rear-end wit, remember this: Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher. All is vanity. So enough GR8TKIDZ, enough LEGLEGL, enough ISUE, enough IMD. Thou art allowed one injunction about prying thy cold, dead hands off thy gun but not the entire N.R.A. agenda.

Thou are allowed one about the town in Texas missing its idiot but not a complete Dennis Kucinich campaign speech. And take off thy Kerry/Edwards sticker already. They lost.

Of thy music, be thy entertainment thine own. If the bass register on thy hip-hop is loud enough to shake the moving van in the next lane, if its language is full of words that sicken the righteous, turn down thy volume lest fire and hail and brimstone rain down.

Be prudent when driving. Banish thy cell and thy Blackberry from thy sight. IM-eth and Text-eth not.

Be of moderation. If thou must worship at the King of Burgers or the Arches of Gold, do so sparingly. Thy cupholders should not exceed the number of thy teeth.

On ice and snow, goeth slow, but not too slow — drive not like a Nascarite, but not like a terrified grandmother either. Even when provoked, issue forth no offending digit, because blessed are the peacemakers. But if one of thy Mafia brethren gets whackest in thy presence, step on the brakes.

Experts on the Bible are still trying to figure out what OTOH means, but the rest seems legit. As the Vatican scholars in both Texas and New Jersey have said: Drive Friendly.

E-mail: peappl@nytimes.com

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