On mercy mild

Jalapeño peppers come in many cultivars: some quite hot and interesting, others mild, dull and, you know, “Canadian.” I first encountered them in a hamburger joint, many years ago. They were then a “new thing.” These were fine, fiery jalapeños, unexpected from any purveyor of mass-market food. I gathered it was an experiment, so to tip the scale, I resolved to eat all future hamburgers in that shop. All continued well.

But one day something horrible happened. It had to do with the jalapeños. Some other variety had been substituted, that tasted more like lettuce. And I don’t like lettuce. I wanted an explanation.

And an explanation I received. Customers had complained that the “hot peppers” were hot. One said that her mouth was burnt off, another that his tongue had turned red, et cetera. Management found a new supplier, and there had been no complaints since. I thus took upon myself the moral responsibility to make as big a scene as I could, to compensate for all the silent types.

“So now you are offering hot peppers for people who don’t like hot peppers.”

“No, no,” the manager explained, “they want hot peppers, they still ask for them.”

“For hot peppers that aren’t hot.”


“So why don’t you tell them not to order hot peppers if they don’t like hot peppers?”

I left. I cannot argue with people who reject the law of noncontradiction.

The experience was not a dead loss, however. For a half-dollar (which was the price of a hamburger in those days), I had received an insight into capitalism, and a glimpse of the collapse of Western Civ.

The Catholic Church comes into this, of course. In the time since, I have noticed that her managers have been redesigning what they must think is “their product,” for people who don’t like it. It began with a Mass for people who don’t like the Mass. Now we have doctrines for people who don’t like doctrines. Lettuce options everywhere one turns. For some reason the customers have been disappearing; perhaps the lettuce is too crunchy.

When I write a piece like my column today at the Thing (over here), I get “letters.” Some will argue for “the new evangelism,” which is for people who don’t like evangelism. They say we can only approach those who don’t like Catholicism, by being softer. Maybe associate it with football, or environmentalism, or something. Something they like. Maybe that’s how we will attract new customers, from places where not one customer can be found. “It can’t hurt to try!”

True enough, it doesn’t hurt to sell out. It is, generally, the least painful option.

But if there were people who might like hot peppers, we will never know.

My approach would be more confrontational. I’d go 20,000 Scoville — the way Saint Paul used to do.

Then if someone doesn’t like it, tell him he has an easier choice.

“What can I do instead?”

“Go to Hell.”