Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Burning of St. Joseph's Cathedral

Before and after pictures of the interior of of St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hartford.

The original Gothic structure was burnt in a fire on Monday, December 31, 1956. New York Engineers presented three scenarios for the rebuilding of the Cathedral. The Archives document that the walls were structurally sound. While it could have been repaired, Archdiocesean officials chose to demolish the Portland brown structure, and replace it with a modern structure.

One simply has to wonder why a profoundly beautiful edifice would be replaced by such a monstrosity. Did people ever really think that Modernism was more beautiful than traditional styles? More "relevant?" Was it simply the self-aggrandizement of being able to award such a rich commission and put one's name to a new structure? I myself recall the crassness of those times. Of women's coiffures that no longer resembled human hair. Of furniture covered with plastic slip-covers that made them excruciating to actually sit on. Of fine restaurants that served frozen food. Clothes made of synthetic fabrics, cut to obliterate the human figure, and the heavy perfumes and antiperspirants necessary when human sweat fermented in fibers that could not breathe.

My motto:
Forward — to the glorious thirteenth-century!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Scrupulosity Disorder

It amuses me to no end when I find some old concept being touted as a "new idea." Malcolm Gladwell discovering the "Tipping Point" when this is no more than Frederich Engel's notion of the "Nodial Point," Protestant Evangelicals organizing their churches into "small, faith communities" as if it were an innovation, when both the KPD and NSBO were organized into "cells" as early as 1930, as if "globalization" and "offshoring" were anything more than Spengler's "Alienation of Tecnics."

Recently, I found a real lu-lu in the "8th Annual Year in Ideas" from the New York Times Magazine of 12 December 2008:

Scrupulosity Disorder by Jascha Hoffman

In a paper published in the August issue of The Journal of Anxiety Disorders, Chris Miller and Dawson Hedges of Brigham Young University estimate that as many as one million Americans may suffer from a moral-anxiety-cum-mental-illness known as “scrupulosity disorder.” They define it as obsessive doubt about moral behavior often resulting in compulsive religious observance — and they warn that it can lead to depression, apathy, isolation and even suicide.

As the believing man’s version of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the diagnosis raises questions about where, exactly, the line is to be drawn between probity and perversity. It isn’t obvious how to treat someone who can’t sleep for worrying about their rectitude — or a devout Christian who is seized by the urge to exclaim, Goddamn! and repeatedly reproaches himself for it. Rather than try to fight off obsessive worrying, therapists might ask patients to give in to it, so that they can see that their supposed transgressions might be harmless. “If you believe in a God that’s all-knowing, you should trust him to know these blasphemous thoughts are mental noise and not what’s in your heart,” says Jon Abramowitz, director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The diagnosis might raise some difficult issues. Ritual hand washing could seem compulsive in an atheist, but surely it isn’t for a Muslim, for whom such behavior is ordinary religious observance. Are the anxieties and fears that may accompany a passionate religious life themselves pathological? Abramowitz, who has treated scrupulous Christians, Muslims and Jews, is confident that a therapeutic approach to obsessive spirituality does not threaten religion. He says that when patients are gradually released from crippling doubt about their own virtue, they can emerge with a new sense of faith.

Compare this, if you will, to the entry for "Scrupulosity" from Donald Attwater's "Catholic Dictionary" (Macmillan Company, N.Y.C., 1931):

The promptings of a conscience which is led by insufficient motives to imagine sin where none exists or to regard as mortal sin that which is only venial. (This is the only use of the term recognized by spiritual writers and moral theologians.) Scruples have their use in inciting to greater care in the service of God, but they are dangerous to the health both of soul and body, especially in one who relies entirely on his own judgement. The best, and frequently the only, remedy is humble submission to the advice of one's confessor.

When we note that the Catechism of the Council of Trent (issued by order of Pope Pius V in 1556) deals quite clearly in condemning "despair of salvation," leading us in a foot-note to a lengthy discussion of scrupulosity in Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologica" from the thirteenth century, it becomes clear that this "new discovery" of scrupulosity is centuries old at the very least.

Saints have been afflicted with, and have over come, scrupulosity. Perhaps the most popular being Saint Thérèse of Lisieux who wrote the story of her life and spiritual progress through fear and scrupulosity to a deep understanding of the Fatherly love and mercy of God.

So why should scrupulosity be so remarkable now? Probably because of its rarity. Even fifty years ago, psychiatrists probably encountered this frequently (calling it "obsessive compulsive disorder"), but as the pieties of old have faded, not only must this have become more rare, but has probably become rarefacted in those who suffer from it.

We can draw a lesson from this "discovery" when we note that the opposite of scrupulosity is the sin of presumption - the belief that God will save me regardless of what I do, simply because He is all loving and all powerful, and therefore cannot allow me to be lost. How often do we hear people express the notion that they will be saved because "I'm basically a good person." Take my word for it, in this modern age, no psycologist will diagnose a plague of "Presumption Disorder."

Friday, December 12, 2008


I might not have this quite right, I was taking a shower at the time and couldn't take proper notes, but this morning on the radio I heard a commercial where a woman was complaining that "The holidays have become so commercial, that I call them the Mallidays ..."

I was dumbstruck. So, when I got to work, I did a quick Google search and turned this up from an article in the November 2000 issue of Practical Homeschooling:

No more "Mallidays"!
(gifts that have spiritual value can restore the meaning of holidays.)
Such a special time of the year--or such a stressful time. It all depends on whether we're celebrating the holidays ... or what I've come to call the "Mallidays." Mallidays are holidays based on materialism. Our mass-media culture does an excellent job of shaming us into believing we have to buy tons of heavily marketed stuff in order to properly celebrate ...

And I'm wondering: did anyone ever point out to these people that "holidays" is just a secular/materialist/consumerist way of not saying "Christmas?" Saying that the word "holidays" has been profaned is like saying Bozo has lost his dignity.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Good Advice

I went to confession today and I got some good advice:

"People can live without truth, but they can't live without explanations."
— Fr. Ken Sedlak, C.Ss.R.

What the father meant by this is that our whole consciousness is wrapped up in making sense of our existence. We try to take simple facts (like, things always seem to fall down) and try to explain them into truths (like, the Law of Gravity). Mostly we do this in our everyday lives.

— Why is Pod-Man getting C's and D's in math? : Because he won't apply himself.

— Why is Erin's speech slurred? : Because he's been drinking.

— Why am I so unhappy? : Because of my mother/father/wife/husband/rotten kid ...

The problem with most explanations is that they are self-serving. (Surely I'm not the problem!) If we could be really honest with ourselves, then we could formulate explanations that closely approximate the truth. Until we can do this, we have to doubt ourselves, ask if it isn't really our fault, give others the benefit of the doubt, perhaps even accept blame we feel we don't deserve. Sometimes we need to defy the obvious explanation, suspend judgement, and simply extend ourselves to be charitable.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Extremism In America: part II

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Years ago, when my son was seven or eight, we watched the Spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Pod-man loved it! It was fast, it was exciting, the music was thrilling, there were twists and surprises. But then the next day he came to me with a question. “Blondie is good, Angel Eyes is bad, and Tuco is ugly — but is Tuco good or bad?”

“Well — what does he do?”

“He’s greedy and he kills people, but he’s brave, and he loves his brother, and he prays for the dead, and he wears the scapular.”

“So —?”

“So — he’s a good person who does bad things!” Pod-man fairly shouted, delighted to have figured this out.

“Just like you!”

He sighed, crestfallen, “Just like me.”

Life is a Messy Business

I have noticed that while extremists reason in black and white (something is either right or wrong), relativists see everything in shades of gray (who are we to judge?), but that life itself is made up of spots of black and white. It is easy to point to specific actions we have taken and praise or condemn them as good or bad (acts of charity, nights of drunkenness, devoted service, neglected duty, willing sacrifice, wanton indulgence), but it is difficult to either beatify or condemn anyone we know well. Life is just a messy business. Good people do bad things. Sometimes the easy way out is just too easy not to take. Who cannot live without regret?

Please compare these two examples:

Mr. J— is a friend of mine who just got married. He’s prosperous, a professional, very ethical about his business. His wife is well-educated, good hearted, works for a non-profit organization accomplishing good things. For what it’s worth, they’re good-looking too. But I found out at their wedding that they have no intention of having children — ever.

Miss. H— is another friend. She’s also a professional, highly creative in her work, well respected in her field. She’s also a mom, and one of the best mother’s I know. Her daughter is bright, well adjusted, happy, and, for what it’s worth, cute as a bug. Miss. H— is also a lesbian.

Now — which of these people is part of the culture of death? The sterile heterosexual, or the fertile lesbian? There’s something to admire and condemn about each of them, isn’t there? Frankly, I am more disappointed by the selfish couple than by the lesbian, but you might add things up differently.

And who is a better example? I genuinely hesitate to have my kids abound a lot of DINKS (i.e. sterile couples, “Double Income No Kids”) but I really don’t think that Miss. H— is going to make homosexuality so glamourous as to entice my kids.

And what kinds of sins are being committed here? Both examples are being sexually selfish, but the sterile couple are being socially selfish as well, since they contribute nothing to the next generation.

It’s a messy business, isn’t it?

Familiarity Breeds Familiarity

It’s hard to hate someone you know, isn’t it? You might find Mr. J— and Miss. H— despicable from my description, but they are my friends and I like them despite their failings. It is telling that, in response to my last post on extremism, John Jansen and Maggie Lee (who both know me personally) never questioned the earnestness of my appeal, while RobK (who only knows me from our frequent web contacts) and Jill (who knows me not at all), were more critical.

Social scientists have long commented on how homogeneous groups become ever more extreme, while heterogeneous groups seek consensus. Private clubs become ever more disdainful of outsiders, while disparate groups of army conscripts form lasting bonds. America was once full of heterogeneous groups (not only draftees, but public school cohorts, “main line” churches, trade unions, neighborhoods) but less and less this is the case. Every demographic indicator shows that we are sorting ourselves out. People “shop churches” for ones filled with like-minded parishioners. Neighborhoods show ever more homogenous voting patterns and “life-styles.” Colleges and universities pitch themselves to differing cultural types. The three choices of network TV are replaced with a cornucopia of entertainment options. Why, in the 1960’s, when most households had but one television, Ed Sullivan, who offered “something for everyone,” was big; a rock-n-roll band for the kids, a night-club comedian for dad, and a crooner for mom. But now, who watches the same things that their kids do? Once “Top 40 AM” radio stations played songs that we all knew (we all had our favorites, but we knew and heard them all), nowadays the “top 40” is irrelevant. In our day, conservatives have given up on movies and network TV, liberals detest talk radio, greens and libertarians have given up on all mass media. I could probably name a dozen songs, movies, TV shows from the sixties that anyone my age would know; can you name one song, movie, or TV show produced in the last ten years that all of the people you know have actually heard or seen?

This can’t be good.

The Cost of Extremism

Judy Brown recently condemned a proposal to ban most abortions (excepting only rape, incest, and the health of the mother) in South Dakota and, possibly because of this, the proposal went down to defeat. Who among us would not prefer to see fewer abortions, yet her stance might just have insured that more abortions take place in South Dakota.

Have you ever met someone who thinks third-trimester abortion should be legal? I have, and they all give the same argument. None of them actually favor third-trimester abortion, but they all say something like “if we let them ban that, then pretty soon they’ll ban all abortions.” Do you suppose (maybe?) that they think this because the Pro-Life movement is dominated by unbending extremists like Judy Brown?

The vast bulk of the public thinks that first trimester abortion should be allowed, while second- and third-trimester abortions are an abomination. Virtually all European countries have laws to this effect: why not here? Probably because extremists like Judy Brown and Rad-Feminists are controlling our debate.

Suppose for a minute, that there were a mass movement, a ground-swell, to ban late-term abortion. Don’t you think that many Democratic politicians would sign on to it? Do you think that if the extremists were marginalized, instead of the majority, that both parties would compromise and come to a consensus that is better than what we have now?

If an orphanage were on fire, you’d run in and save as many babies as you could, right? You wouldn’t stand aside and say, “Since I can’t save them all, I won’t do anything!”

Extremism is Counter-Productive

Years ago, many years ago, when my college-age daughter was a pre-schooler, she and I were walking down Grand Avenue, when we ran into some Pro-Life activists protesting in front of an abortion clinic. I’ve lived in this town all my life, but I didn’t even know the clinic was there, so I was very surprised to run into protesters. And they had signs, very graphic signs, showing aborted babies (forgive me, I almost typed “fetuses”). Pumpkin was shocked and revolted. I hustled her right by, but she saw the worst of it just the same. That night she had nightmares. To this day she remembers those pictures — and she resents it. Far from having a salubrious effect upon her, she now thinks of all Pro-Lifers as being fanatics. There are probably many factors causing her to fall away from the Church, and for being “pro choice” (such as her “pro-choice” mother, her poor catechism, the liberal college she is now attending), but I will always think that this was the first factor that undermined the moral values that I tried to instill in her.

[When my friend John Jansen told me he would be part of a campaign to “show the truth of abortion” I discussed this with him. He thinks that showing such pictures has a converting effect (it is, after all, the truth of the matter), while I think it has an alienating impact. Just the same, when he was protesting downtown, my son and I stopped by on our way to work to show our support for him. He is doing God’s work and we can only hope that he is right.]

Contrast this, if you will, to my experience with my friend Moira.

I was first introduced to Moira by an associate from work, who was sure that we would not get along as Moira was a Radical Feminist and I a believing Catholic. But we talked, and she found me interesting, and we became friends of a sort. We saw each other from time to time, talked a lot, became closer friends, and she became curious about my faith. For I never condemned her, never criticized her, I understood where she was coming from (for my mother was totally secular and I had grown up around such people); I merely offered my own life and experiences as an example for her. And she responded. Her own life had been directionless, without sustenance, perhaps even meaningless, and she began to see that my faith was a distinct contrast to this. After a year or so, she told me that she was taking instruction in the faith. I had the great privilege of seeing someone that I had influenced be accepted into the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

And she met a fellow. They dated, became engaged, and then he too joined the Church. Now they are married, she is with child, and I fully expect to be Godfather to her child next May.

Her sister, without any prodding by Moira, came to see the real strength of Moira’s faith, and now she is enrolled in a RCIA program. She will probably become Catholic this coming Easter.

That’s how it’s done. By quiet faith, good example, friendship, and understanding.

Not by hectoring, condemnations, badgering, slurs, insults, intolerance, and all the rest that extremism entails.

Last Things

One day I will face God and his Perfect Judgement. On that dreadful day I will have much to answer for, but I will be able to point to Moira and say, “See — at least I have brought one of your sheep back to the fold.”

What will Judy Brown point to? All those needless abortions in South Dakota?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From the Observer's Guide to Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests and Religious

It was recently brought to my attention by a Religious Sister, that she was not a nun. Upon looking it up, I discovered that "monk" and "nun" refer only to cloistered religious, while "friar" (or "brother") and "sister" refer to religious who live an active vocation in the world of service to the needy, sick, poor, and uneducated. The confusion arises because, just as we address all priests as "father," so we address all male religious (who are not priests) as "brother," and all female religious (who are not abbesses) as "sister."

That's right — you weren't taught by nuns, you were taught by sisters!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Edwina Froehlich: Apostle of Breast-Feeding

Edwina Hearn was born in the Bronx borough of New York City in 1915 and moved to Chicago to attend Mundelein College in the late 1930’s. She was both socially conscious and a devout Catholic. She worked with the Catholic Family Movement and was national executive director of the Young Christian Workers, a Catholic lay organization. She married John Froehlich in 1948, at the rather late age, for that time, of thirty-three.

In the 1940's, Edwina witnessed her older sister Pauline go through what were then standard hospital childbirth procedures: plenty of drugs, the use of forceps and no fathers allowed. Her sister also was discouraged from breast-feeding.

Two years later, when she was pregnant with her first son, she was told that she was too old to breast-feed. She scoffed at this and the other conventional wisdoms of the time, gave birth at her Franklin Park home with her husband and an obstetrician attending, and breast-fed all three of her sons. At that time only 18% of American mothers breast-fed; it was considered old-fashioned, a cause of colic, and generally bad for babies.

At a Church picnic, in August of 1956, Marian Tompson and her friend Mary White engaged in a conversation about the joys and difficulties of breast-feeding. The two women decided that, in the face of the existing social opposition to breast-feeding, a community organization (what would nowadays be called a “support group”) should be formed and they immediately approached other women that they knew to be breast-feeding; Mary Ann Cahill, Mary Ann Kerwin, Viola Lennon, Betty Wagner, and Edwina Froehlich then pregnant with her third son. They met in the living room of Mary White’s home and founded what became known as the La Leche League. This name was chosen by the seven Catholic founders of the organization not only to honor of Our Lady of Happy Delivery and Plentiful Milk (“Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto”) but also because the word “breast” could not be used in the newspapers of the time.

The first formal La Leche League meeting was held in Mrs. Froehlich’s home in October, 1956. For the first several years, the league operated out of Mrs. Froehlich’s home in Franklin Park, Ill. She’d care for her children and do chores while walking around the house with a phone receiver tucked between her shoulder and ear, counseling women from around the country. A second line was installed in her home for just that purpose.

Mrs. Froehlich was the league’s executive secretary from 1956 to 1983 and remained engaged with the organization through the end of her life as a member of the founders advisory council. Today the La Leche League International counsels nearly 300,000 women a month in more than 20 countries.

In 1958 several of the founders, including Mrs. Froehlich, put together a loose-leaf binder of what they thought they knew about breast-feeding. They called it “The Womanly Art of Breast-feeding.” The first printed edition appeared in 1963 and now more than two million copies are in print.

This last June 8 Edwina Froehlich died at the age of 93 two weeks after suffering a stroke of apoplexy.

Mrs. Froehlich was the very model of what I consider to be good Catholic social activism. She saw a social need and organized her friends to meet that need. She embodied the Catholic virtues of charity, subsidiarity, and generosity. In 2058 I shall, if I am still alive, be 98 years old. I wish to travel to Rome in that year, where I am certain I shall hear Edwina Froehlich confirmed as a saint.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Extremism In America

Last night, in addition to being election day, was the last performance of Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera. I had planned on going to the Obama rally in Grant Park later but, right after the Opera, I went out for a quick drink along with most of my fellow supernumeraries . The results came so quickly that I never had a chance to get to the rally and I was having a beer at Stocks & Blonds when Obama made his victory speech.

Most of us were pretty happy, but my buddy Bill wasn’t. He’s a nice guy, friendly, easy to work with, conscientious; I’ve been in four or five operas with him and I can’t think of a bad thing to say about him. So I was surprised, not that he supported McCain, but that he talked about Obama as if he were Al Sharpton. He was genuinely concerned that Obama was some kind of race hustler who was going to enroll millions on welfare, create thousands of government sinecures for hordes of shiftless loafers, rig-up affirmative action so that masses of near-cretins would get all the spots in our best universities, and tax the productive sector into bankruptcy. Of course, Bill knew that I was an Obama supporter, but he held no ill will against me, and he knew that I certainly didn’t want any of these bad things to happen, yet he thought this election was nothing short of a catastrophe.

This got me thinking about extremism.

Now, I know a lot of different people. I used to be a Godless Communist and I still know lots of hard-core leftists. I go to the most conservative Catholic parish in Chicago. Most of my clients at work are designers, gallery owners, and restaurateurs, and I also work at Lyric Opera, so I talk to a lot of artistic types. I handle all of my deliveries myself, so I know the dock workers at the buildings, the drivers on the paper trucks, the bike messengers, all of them blue-collar guys. And I love to talk, so when I go to the Sox games or the Symphony I always strike up a conversation with the people in the next seat. My kids are in public school and I routinely talk to all the parents there. My best male friend is gay and we usually hang together in the toughest leather bar in Chicago, while my best female friend is a Maronite Catholic, recently married, who wants me to be godfather to the baby she is now caring. I am probably the only printer anywhere who has done pro bono work for the Midwest Workers Organization, Daughters of Saint Paul, West Town Bike Coöperative, Socialist Labor Party, Saint John Cantius parish, and some anarchists who were trying to get a fellow off death row. I think that I know more different people, from more different points of view, than just about anybody.

And I hear a lot about extremism.

I hear my Catholic friends speak of pro-aborts as being homicidal monsters with a crass indifference to human life. Yet none of the pro-choicers that I know regard abortion as anything less than a human tragedy, a last resort only to be used in a desperate position.

Similarly, my secular friends see the religious as a sort of American Taliban, intent upon depriving women of all rights and keeping them ignorant. Yet none of my pro-life friends favor the incarceration of women who have abortions and they all give their daughters excellent educations.

I know Republicans who are convinced the Democratic Party is full of socialists who want to string bankers up from lamp-posts, while my Democratic friends are convinced that Republicans want to return to the twelve-hour days of sweat-shop labor. Conservatives who think that a single-payer health system would mean vital care routinely denied to patients, and liberals who think that the poor are being allowed only third-world health-care in this the wealthiest of nations. Conservatives who think the liberals are trying to wreak the economy and Greens who think the capitalists are trying to ruin the environment. Those who favor the war see the peacenicks as traitors who want to capitulate to terrorist demands, while those against it see their opponents as warmongers embarked upon an imperialist adventure to pillage the oil resources of a country that had nothing to do with terrorism.

Yes, there’s a lot of extremism in America — but it all seems to be on the other side!

Most people seem to want a good education for their kids, an economy that provides a decent living for all, health-care for the sick, fewer abortions, security at home, and peace overseas. Everybody hates paying taxes and wants the government to leave them alone, yet they see certain services as essential and want the government to make the other guy behave. No one wants their kid to grow up to be a whore, or a drug addict, or a child molester. Everyone thinks they’re not paid enough, that things cost too much, and that their kids are growing up in a tougher world than they did. Who doesn’t think the culture is going to hell, yet who wants government censorship to clean things up? Everyone hates their government and loves their country. And they are also sure their enemies control the levers of power and are just ruining the country they love so much.

Really, we are not so different.

I would estimate that about one person in twenty is an extremist, conspiracy theorist, religious fanatic, predatory sexual deviant, sociopath, libertarian, hate-monger, racist, or some other kook you can’t deal with. But the rest are good folks.

When I have a party, I invite all my friends. I have never seen any discord between Brother Chad (of the Cannons Regular of Saint John Cantious) and Richard, a homosexual opera director; they both love choral singing. Nor any difficulty between Karl the anarchist and Ed the real estate speculator. No one cares that Gail is a lesbian or Arlene a vegetarian, and Michael the pacifist gets along quite well with Brian who is proud of his service in Iraq. And everyone looks after the kids, because you know, kids can get into mischief.

See — it’s really hard to demonize someone you know.

Part of this country’s problem is that there are so few things that bring us together. In my father’s day there was a draft and most men spent a few years in the service. This brought them together: north and south, rich and poor, Jew and gentile, they had to live and work together and they did. And churches were broad institutions. There were liberal Baptists in those days, and conservative Presbyterians. Most denominations held a spectrum of views, but now people have “shopped churches” and cluster together, conservatives in the Evangelical denominations, liberals in the “Main Line” denominations, Catholics distributed between “traditional” and “welcoming” parishes. And there was over-lap between the political parties. There were Liberal Republicans who favored small government, yet championed civil rights. And there were Conservative Democrats who were stridently working class, yet held to old values of patriotism and tradition.

All gone.

I’m against the war — must you question my patriotism?

I’m against abortion — must you call me anti-woman?

I’m against GAT and NAFTA — must you revile me as” protectionist?”

I favor a single payer health care system — must you jeer me as “socialist?”

I’m against gay marriage — must you call me a hate-monger?

I favor taxing the rich — must you deride this as “class envy?”

I’m a patriotic American — can’t you just accept that, even if I’m different than you?

We really are one nation, we are very close. The fellow voting the other ticket isn’t really an extremist, he just thinks that we need to take a different path to the things we all want. Talk to him and you’ll see.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Want to See This Film

Nestled deep in the postcard-perfect French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is considered one of the world's most ascetic monasteries. In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready. Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks' quarters for six months—filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one—it has no score, no voiceover and no archival footage.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What are the Moral Obligations of the Pro-Life Voter?

What are the Moral Obligations of the Pro-Life Voter?

The purpose of this essay is not to explain or justify a Pro-Life position but rather, to deal with the political and moral responsibilities of the Pro-Life citizen. I am a believing Catholic, I accept the whole of Catholic moral teaching, I am not only opposed to the Culture of Death in all its manifestations but I specifically oppose abortion. The question that I am dealing with here is what, as a Pro-Life voter, are my political options?

Can we get rid of abortion?

Americans overwhelmingly favor legal access to abortion.
Perhaps as many as two-thirds, but certainly more than 60%, of Americans believe that abortion is a private matter and that discretionary abortion should be available to women in the first trimester. Not only are these numbers are simply insurmountable, but they have not changed in thirty years! The idea that a Pro-Life government could be elected, much less impose a ban on abortion, is naïve at best.

Support of abortion rights is cultural and a culture cannot be changed by government fiat.
Since the advent of reliable contraception in the early 1960’s, women have come to expect that they will no longer have to plan their lives around pregnancy. They can delay marriage, take lovers, space their children as they please, pursue careers — all in complete disregard to the fertility that constrained the choices of previous generations. Most women, especially educated women, are not about to resume older modes of life. They expect — they demand — high-powered careers, exciting sex, and conveniently planned pregnancies. No amount of reasoning, moral or spiritual, will affect their essentially materialistic world-view. Similarly, the effects of medical developments, popular entertainments, and secular education cannot be reversed by government dictate. These ideas are fostered by the content of movies, books, academic curriculum, news reportage and everyday conversation. They cannot be fought at the ballot box.

A woman’s “right to choose” enjoys constitutional protection.
Whether or not you believe Roe v. Wade is good law, the fact is neither this nor any other Court is going to overturn it. The Court that ruled on Roe v. Wade was largely composed of Republican appointees, and newer Republican appointees (made by the supposedly Pro-Life Reagan and Bush) have shown no willingness to tamper with this decision.

Only a constitutional amendment can overturn Roe v. Wade.
No realistic effort exists to introduce, much less ratify, a constitutional amendment. Today, the legal situation is so nearly frozen that only nuisance laws can be passed and upheld. Laws that actually limit abortion are routinely struck down. I doubt that any law, passed at any level of government during the last thirty years, has actually prevented a single determined woman from obtaining an abortion.

Why have the Republicans
done nothing?

Where is the legislative effort?
Not only have the Republicans failed to start the process of amending the Constitution, but they have limited their efforts to banning a particular method of third-trimester abortion (“partial birth”) that would have left dozens of other methods available.

Why has impeachment not been tried?
Our Constitution provides Congress with the means to redress judicial malfeasance: impeachment. If, as is so often claimed, the Republican party thinks that Roe v. Wade constitutes a miscarriage of justice, then we must ask: Where is the Republican-led effort to impeach those justices “legislating from the bench”? The G.O.P. moved quickly to impeach a recent President over a tawdry dalliance with an ambitious tart, yet thirty years have passed without an effort to impose constitutional discipline on the High Court.

Only by perpetuating abortion as an issue can the Republicans hold captive a block of voters who find this practice abhorrent.
Certainly, some Republicans sincerely believe abortion is a crime, have done all they can to combat this evil, and do not court popularity with callous disregard to the sanctity of life. But the party as a whole has been calculating and manipulating the Pro-Life voter. By perpetuating the notion that this issue is in play, the Republicans have held Pro-Life votes captive for thirty years.

What are my duties as a citizen?

To function properly, a democratic government must respond to the will of the people.
If a sizeable block of voters take themselves “out of play” over one issue, then the government will simply stop responding to them. While some issues are dead (for example: prohibition, the gold standard, segregation) others are alive and being decided in the halls of government. A responsible citizen does not cast a “dead vote” based on issues that are off-the-table, but instead actively participates in the issues of the day. Tax policy, the environment, peace and war are all issues that change — and change dramatically — depending on the party in power. A vote for or against NAFTA, for or against school vouchers, or for or against increased environmental protections might actually affect these pressing issues. But a vote for prohibition, for the gold standard, for segregation — or against abortion — is simply wasted! I know cloistered monks who read the newspapers and vote according to the actual state of the world. Why then should secular citizens act like ostriches with their heads buried in a dead issue?

What should the Pro-Life citizen
when voting?

•An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that some forms of abortion should remain legal. Unless and until these attitudes change, an anti-abortion vote is a futile gesture at best!

•As the courts now hold abortion to be a constitutional right, only amendment or impeachment can serve as remedies.
And, as Congress controls both of these processes, abortion is irrelevant to the office of President and to any state or local office. Choosing a presidential candidate based on the his abortion stance is simply nonsensical.

•The Republican party has done nothing to actually reduce or eliminate abortion and we should not expect a change of course at this late date.
A vote for Republicans on the strength of this issue is a vote for mere lip-service.

What should all responsible citizens consider when voting?

•Since 1972, wages have fallen dramatically
by at least 15% (though perhaps as much as 30%). Family income has risen only because the number of hours worked has risen, typically because married women have been obliged to work. The policies that caused this constitute an assault on the working classes, something unjustifiable to a Christian morality that holds it a sin to defraud the working man of his wages.

•Since 1980, the tax burden has been shifted from the wealthiest, to the 60% of Americans in the middle, both by the drastic reduction of tax rates on the very rich and by an increased reliance on payroll taxes. This, too, constitutes an assault on the average working citizen, as there is no link between low marginal tax rates and economic growth.

•We are engaged in an immoral war.
Iraq had no ties to Al Quida and no weapons of mass destruction, yet we were given these reasons, whether through deceit or ignorance, as a justification for war. This war has been condemned by the Pope, the United Nations, and most of the nations that we once considered our closest allies. We are hemorrhaging both blood and money, our civil liberties are being eroded, and all decent Americans are ashamed of what happened at Abu Ghraib. A vote against this war might actually save lives.

• Global warming is real.
Ask any scientist — geologist, botanist, or even ichthyologist — and, if he doesn’t work for an oil company or conservative think tank, he will tell you that global warming is a clear and growing danger. A vote against this and other forms of environmental degradation is a vote for all the babies born today.

• The death penalty is a live issue.
The Pope is against it (albeit, not dogmatically) and the record of false conviction is disquieting. Make up your own mind and your vote just might affect things.

• The bottom has fallen out of the minimum wage.
If we adjust the minimum wage of the mid-1960’s for inflation, it works out to about $11— an hour! What percentage of American workers are making even this figure, much less a real family wage?

• Our manufacturing base is gutted. Our manufacturing capability is down about 35% since 1980, our primary steel industry is virtually gone, and we no longer produce such American-invented products as microwave ovens, tube-socks, and superheterodynes.

• Other life issues actually are in play.
Stem-cell research, cloning, euthanasia — these issues are going to be decided in the next several years, but Pro-Life voters will not influence the debate if they are still captive to the issue of abortion.

• Our health-care system is inequitable, costly, and inefficient.
Health-care expenditures in all other industrialized nation are lower while life expectancies are higher. Insurance premiums and Medicare taxes are going up, while doctors’ salaries are going down, yet genuine reform is nowhere in sight.

• The economics of abortion.
Many abortions are had by women who feel they “can’t afford the baby.” Such a thing was inconceivable when a typical workingman’s wage allowed him to keep his wife at home with their kids. We can probably do more to save innocent life by restoring the income of workers to a viable “family wage” than by pursuing the forlorn hope of a ban on abortion.

• We must reclaim our political system.
Current polls show that 80% of Americans favor drastic reform of our health-care system, 70% of Americans believe that immigration should be reduced, and at least 60% of Americans oppose GATT and NAFTA, yet neither party supports these positions. We will not compel action on any of these problems as long as we are captive to a moribund issue.

Think and Vote!

Compromise or Chäos — a reply to my friend Rob

If we are living in the world, the question is never are we going to compromise or are we going to remain pure. The question is always how much are we going to compromise. Ideally, if we had perfect discernment, we would know exactly how much to compromise to get as much of what we want as we can, but I haven’t perfect discernment, I only have opinion.

I am certain that you yourself have already compromised, possibly without thinking about it.

The Pill is well known as an abortifacient, you know that and I know that, but no one in this day and age is talking about banning hormonal contraceptives. Even Evangelical Christians, who are with us on the abortion issue, are against us on this one. And so I am sure you don’t even bother asking if a candidate favors banning the pill. I in fact recall, hearing Alan Keyes mention on a radio show here in Chicago, back when he was running for Senator, that he favored Natural Family Planning and thought it should be taught in the schools. Yet even he, whose pro-life credentials are among the best, made no mention of banning the Pill.

Similarly, we are both aware that fertilized embryos are routinely destroyed, discarded, or turned over to medical research because they have been harvested but not used for In Vitro Fertilizations. Think you can ban I.V.F.? It is way too popular and most people don’t even think of these embryos as babies.

If you would only vote for a candidate who was truly pro-life, and opposed the Pill, and the I.U.D. (which works by not allowing fertilized embryos to implant), and I.V.F. — would you have anyone to vote for?

I think not.

And this time around, are you voting for Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party? He promises that his presidency will end abortion. Or will you be voting for McCain, a waffler on the abortion issue.

You see — you have already compromised to what you know are political realities.

These are some political realities as I see them:

• Abortion isn’t going away.

We can cite polling figures from morning until night but at the end of the day they don’t count for anything. What does count is actual votes at the ballot box. And if South Dakota, one of the most conservative states in the union, rejects an anti-abortion measure by a large majority, then what makes you think that the rest of the country, which is far more liberal, would accept such a thing?

The political situation right now is that pro-aborts feel pretty secure in their position and only pro-lifers tend to be one-issue voters on that subject. Abortion has never really come before the American people as an up or down proposition and I fear you would be disillusioned if it did. Every so often we hear about how “young people are pro-life” but then this never translates into a pro-life vote ten years down the line. Why? Because it is very easy for a fourteen year old virgin living with her parents to adopt a hard-line pro-life position, but once she gets out in the world and has a few lovers, she decides that she’s not so eager to walk that tight-rope without a net. It is telling that, among women, only the very young and the post-menopausal (or those women who don’t “need” abortion) are pro-life. There is simply way too much self interest at play to get a working majority of Americans to agree to abolish abortion.

• It can’t get any worse.

America has just about the most liberal abortion laws in the world. Where else can you get a completely discretionary abortion in the ninth month? I like to shock my kids by pointing out that, five weeks after my Bean-Girl was born (she was premature), we could have legally aborted Pod-Man or Pumpkin who went full term. I show them photos of Bean-Girl asleep two weeks after she was born and point out that, were she still in the womb, we could have had her killed.

There’s really not much Obama could do to make things worse. FOCA only makes Roe v. Wade federal law, it’s completely redundant. Yes there are things he could do at the margins. He could reverse the Mexico City Policy and he could try to repeal the Hyde Amendment, but these are relatively minor. Most Federal employees, the Army and Navy, are already receiving tax-payer funded abortions and it is my understanding that the funding for abortion in the Third World that we do not provide is made up for with funds from Western Europe that would otherwise be going to digging wells and buying seed corn. Money is fungible, you know.

The Republican position on stem cell research and human cloning is not that they are against it,merely that they will spend no government money on the project. This is a crass calculation on their part that these are going to be very lucrative fields and they want their rich friends to cash in on it, not the taxpayer. [Just as their Medicaid prescription benefit was a huge give-away to the drug companies.] The Republicans are no more principled here than they are about anything else.

Lives will not be lost by a vote for Obama. I doubt if even a dozen more abortions will take place because of changes he puts through, yet I firmly believe that McCain’s warmongering will cost many, many lives. I believe the net gain is worth voting for.

• The Republicans have done nothing.

Why do you keep rewarding them for bad behavior? When will it be time to teach them a lesson?

Nine of the last eleven Supreme Court appointments were made by Republicans, and yet only two, Thomas and Scalia, are demonstratively pro-life.

More importantly: if I think they are lying, then why am I required to vote for them?

You have stated elsewhere that I am reluctant to mention Obama by name, and this is true. Because my message here is that the issue of abortion is not in play. I earnestly believe that no matter who we vote for the abortion issue is not going to change in the near-term. I am not trying to sway voters who favor Republican policies on the war, the economy, or any of the actual issues that are in play, to vote Democratic. I am merely point out that voting for the Republicans because you think they will do anything about abortion is a fool’s errand.

• Extremism leads to bifurcation and bad government

Back in 1952 and again in 1956 America had a choice between Adlai Stevenson and General Eisenhower. They were both decent, capable, patriotic Americans and either would have made an excellent president. They both spoke to the center, the differences between them were slight,they probably agreed on most principles and disagreed only in degree, in judgement, and in execution. And our democracy was much healthier for it.

Since then (and going into the why of this would take volumes) we have been splitting as a nation. Now we have two extremists running for office, campaigns are nasty, filled with lies,punctuated by dirty tricks. Our Supreme Court has been disgraced by its partisanship in the election of 2000.

I favor democracy, not because I believe that a majority of Americans define what is right and true, but because every dictatorship know to modern man has proven to be more repressive than any democracy. If we can’t make democracy work (as Weimar Germany, Republican Spain, or Kuomintang China couldn’t) then we are doomed to something worse.

And, democracy is the surest guarantee of religious liberty.

Compromise is the essence of the democratic process. A compromise on abortion would not only save lives, but it might just save our democracy.

Or, let’s put it this way: Stalin was pro-life; he banned all forms of abortion in the Soviet Union. Would you vote for him before Barak Obama?

• I am not like Biden or Pelosi.

I affirm the teachings of our Catholic Faith. Life begins at conception. It is a sin to destroy life. Neither Obama nor Biden represent my views on abortion. I have tried to instill in my children a horror of abortion. I have written frequently of my opposition to abortion and of my own experiences with it. I have gone to the protests, said the Rosaries, counseled my friends against it. By my efforts I have brought at least two people into the Church (both were radical feminists when I met them). I have done my best to toil in the Lord’s vineyard.

On election day I will be voting for peace and you for life, not because you don’t want peace, nor because I don’t want life, but because we both think we can get only the one and not the other.

Friday, October 24, 2008

An Answer to My Friend Rob

Recently, my buddy RobK wrote a reply to one of my posts:

Dutch, I notice that you like to compromise on this issue - and convince others to do the same.

The battle over life is the most fundamental human rights battle that we have ever faced as a people. Yet, you call those who are standing up and fighting the good fight "extremists." You have defended voting for the most extreme pro-abortion presidential candidate ever put forward. You suggest supporting a law that includes the notorious "health of the mother" exception is good enough. No one could accuse you of being an extremist on the right to life. Perhaps lukewarm?

Christ was seen as an extremist. Many of the saints, particularly the martyrs, were seen as extremists. They refused to compromise the truth, the values at their core. Yet you are willing to compromise for political expediency.

My friend, your political stance on abortion is flat out wrong. Whenever I cling to something wrong (as I once did on this very issue), it was because of my own sin and my wanting to be god. What are you clinging to that lets you make this compromise? Whatever it is, I pray you can let it go. You may not recognize it, but you are doing the work of the wrong side on this.

I was very touched to get this reply, especially by the last paragraph. From what I can tell, Rob is a great guy, he runs the Catholic Dads Blogspot, which is a wonderful resource, and I don’t doubt for a minute that he wrote this to me in a spirit of genuine friendship. Being called “lukewarm” in the Pro-Life cause was quite a rebuke, one that I hope I don’t deserve; because if it is true, then I will have to answer, not to Rob, but to my maker.

Rob is right in saying that I have been urging compromise on this issue. We have been batting the issues in this campaign around for some time now, and I don’t think that they need one more re-heating. What I would like to do here is address the issue of compromise itself, and why it is necessary.

We Must Not Compromise Our Faith

Rob is quite right in pointing out that the Saints never compromised and that is why they are Saints: they rendered unto the Lord what is the Lord’s. It is my fervent hope that I am as true in my faith as even the least of God’s Saints. Though I am a sinner, I am not a blasphemer, nor an heretic, nor a schismatic. I accept in its entirety the Teaching Authority of the Church and try to form my conscience in line with its teachings on faith and morals.

In a Free Society, in fact, in order for it to be a Free Society, everyone must have absolute religious liberty and, for the most part, we have that here. Jews are allowed to run Kosher butcher shops and to refrain from working on Saturdays. Dry Baptists are never forced to drink spirituous liquors. Jehovah’s Witnesses are never forced to accept blood products. Even during Prohibition, Catholic priests were allowed to use real wine when celebrating the Mass.

The only thing that I could see that would make me refuse to compromise on some issue is if it would not allow me to practice my Catholic faith in peace.

Democratic Government is About Compromise

There are thousands of sects, denominations, cults, and independent churches in the United States and I am free to go to any one of them. However — there is only one government and I have to share that with my fellow citizens. And the way Democracy works, when it works, is to arrive at a consensus position on the pressing issues of the day that most citizens can accept. In order to be good citizens we must participate in the process of arriving at this consensus. When this process of arriving at a consensus breaks down, then democracy ceases to work and the whole system is in danger of failing.

Take for instance Prohibition. This was put through on a wave of patriotism during the Great War. There was alleged to be a grain shortage because of its diversion to make spirituous liquors, drunkenness was alleged to be dragging down productivity in war plants, and, frankly, the spirit of the times didn’t allow “wets” (ho actually formed a majority) to publicly advocate their position. So an ill-conceived law was put into place and, precisely because there was a widespread consensus against it, the result was lawlessness.

Our Democracy Has Broken Down On The Issue Of Abortion

Are you against the pill and the IUD (both of which are abortifacients)? Are you against in vitro fertilization (which usually results in one or two births for every ten fertilized blastocysts)? Of course you are, and so am I. But society is not. Support for these things is simply overwhelming, so large that no one even bothers to collect polling data on them. The civic anti-birth-control leagues mentioned in Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt (1922) are a thing of the past. Everyone knows what Roe v. Wade is, but I doubt if even one in twenty registered voters has even heard of Griswold v. Connecticut. Will you admit that the battle here is lost?

Surely, you are not holding out for a candidate who is against every crime against the un-born, are you? No — you realize that an overwhelming majority of Americans want birth control and IVF, too many to be denied, and that they will have them. Similarly, a supermajority of Americans favors first Trimester Abortion.

But as soon as you get to third, or even second trimester abortion, support vanishes and even larger majorities favor outlawing these particularly horrific practices.

So why then do our laws not reflect this? A quick look at abortion law around the world shows ours to be the most liberal. Most countries have rather tight restrictions on late-term abortion, yet we do not, and I believe that this is because our democratic system has broken down on this issue.

The Democratic party is held hostage to a fanatical feminist pro-abort faction who will not stand to see the law changed, while the Republican party gives lip-service to the social conservatives that make up their coalition, while most Americans want this issue to be resolved with a compromise position (according to polls, only 29% feel there is no room for compromise on this issue).

Since we probably have no chance of getting an out-and-out ban on abortion, why not try to get a ban on late-term abortion? After all — it might just save a few babies!

Would A Ban On Abortion Be Effective?

Many years ago, I met a very nice, very carefully brought up, filthy rich widow. She told me that back when she was young, in the 1920’s, that girls in her “set” were so woefully ignorant of birth control that they just got pregnant and when to their society gynecologist for a “menstrual extraction.” She had had several of these, and it was years before she realized that this was just the polite euphemism for an abortion. Quite illegal at the time. You see — the rich have always had their abortions. The poor have always had them too, though usually at a higher cost in mortality. And we should add that a survey of Chicago Police blotters from the first three decades of the last century revealed that the most common form of homicide in Chicago at that time was infanticide. That’s right, even during the lawless days of Prohibition gang-wars, half of all murders in Chicago were committed on the newborn.

Abortion is completely banned in Chile, El Salvador, and the Philippines, yet they have some of the highest abortion rates in the world. Belgium, which has laws almost as liberal as ours, has the lowest.

Ask yourself: how best can we save babies? By enacting a lot of laws that will be dodged? Or by trying to change the culture?

We Must Change the Culture

We cannot vote in a new culture. We cannot vote away lust, or promiscuity, or the glamour of evil. These things are the fruit of the soil of culture. Movies, television, novels, popular songs — these are the things that shape the morals of a nation, not the ballot box.

Back when we were kids, broadcasters had a sense of public responsibility. Pre-marital sex was taken to be forbidden, a lot of “flesh” was not shown on TV, bastardy was stigmatized, criminal behavior was not glamorized, drugs were understood to be soul destroying. Now — I guess anything goes.

Okay — I don’t know what we can do about the pervasive degradation of our culture, but I do know that’s where the problem lies and, in a democratic society, we can’t change cultural attitudes at the ballot box.

The Failure of Democracy Is Possible

In July of 1932 the elections in Germany brought 319 Communist and Nazi deputies into the German Reichstag. This was more than half. This meant that a majority of deputies were committed to destroying the system, and that’s just what happened. By January of 1933 Hitler was Chancellor. It took him just over a year to completely dismantle German democracy. The extremists had won.

Now, I’m pro-life, but I’m not an extremist. Yes, I accept the Church’s teachings on this. Yes, I want abortion to be banned. In fact, I have an horror of abortion. But I am also well aware that the public does not agree with me on this.

We are, in this country, becoming very polarized. From my point of view (and, yes, this is a Democratic point of view) I am shocked at what I am seeing. Virulent postings on YouTube accusing Obama of not being an American citizen, of being a crypto-Moslem, of being in league with terrorists. I hear the shouts of people at McCain and Palin rallies calling for Obama to be killed, and don’t hear either candidate denounce such threats. I remember how the election of 2000 was essentially stolen by the Supreme Court and how Kerry, who had actually served in Vietnam, was slandered by Swift Boat Veterans as a coward, while Bush, a draft dodger, was let off.

A few weeks ago there was an ugly crowd in front of Chicago’s historic Water Tower. They held placards that said, “Don’t Make It the Black House” (try telling me that isn’t racist!) and they were yelling at anyone with an Obama button: “Baby Killer!” (Rob, would you yell that at someone? Anyone?)

What this country needs to do is to come together.

Not everyone who supports the war is a genocidal imperialist, any more than people who want peace are in league with the terrorists.

People who favor social justice are not fostering “class envy,” any more than people who are concerned about economic growth are merely being selfish.

And — there are people of good will on both sides of the abortion divide.

What Is To Be Done

I don’t think that any vote I could make this fall will end abortion, but I do think that we can vote for, and get, peace.

I, for one, am voting for peace.

Rob — I hope that this analysis has clarified my thinking to you, perhaps even made you see that I am not “lukewarm” about being pro-life, but whatever you think, please let us remain friends in Christ.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Top 10 reasons not to see The Da Vinci Code

Leaving mass yesterday, I mentioned to my buddy John Jansen that I had been one of the people who went to protest the opening of The Da Vinci Code movie a few years back. I told him I had compiled a list of Top ten reasons not to see The Da Vinci Code and protested with them listed on a big sign. John thought the idea was hilarious and asked to see the list.

Here it is:

Top ten reasons not to see The Da Vinci Code:

10] No one looks good in a mullet, not even Tom Hanks.
9] An albino villain is just not “PC.”
8] “Mrs. Jesus?” That’s not even in the Gnostic Gospels!
7] Seeing Audrey Tautou in this will ruin “Amélie.”
6] The Priory of Zion is Pierre Plantard’s hoax, but the Priory of Brion is Robert Plant’s new band.
5] You already wasted $24.95 on the book, why send good money after bad?
4] “Andy, you’ve got to do something! Opie’s gone and made a blasphemous movie!”
3] Tom + Audrey = all the chemistry of “Gigli!”
2] You’re going to see that when “Hoot” is on the other screen?
1] Why risk damnation over a lousy movie?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What does Judie Brown want?

Judie Brown is, for all pro-lifers, a very familiar name. She is not only the founder of the American Life League, but she is a widely published writer whose opinions frequently appear in Catholic and (conservative publications. I have written before about her "no compromise" stance on abortion and now I feel compelled to write again.

In 2006, a strong anti-abortion measure was put on the ballot in South Dakota and soundly defeated, loosing 55 to 45%. Anti-abortion activists responded by introducing Measure 11, a ballot initiative that would restrict abortion, making exceptions for the health of the mother, rape, and incest. The idea being that perhaps voters would accept a more lenient law than the one that was proposed two years ago.

(Think about it: this is how democracy works. Responsible statesmen look for compromises that most of the people will accept and then enact those compromises into law. It is authoritarian systems that dictate to the people what public policy will be in complete disregard of public opinion.)

Now, to my mind, this compromise saves babies. Sure, some abortions will be allowed, but many, if not most, will not. For that matter, even if only one baby would be saved, I would support this measure.

But Judie Brown and South Dakota Right to Life think differently. Judie Brown has written:

What this measure exemplifies is surrender to political polling and public opinion that will cost the lives of — only God knows how many — preborn children. It has always been my view that we who are leaders in the pro-life movement are supposed to set a standard of hope, confidence in truth and joy in defending it, regardless of polls, politics or pundits.

And regardless of political realities as well?

Does Judie Brown really think that voting for this measure will cost the lives of more pre-born children than voting against it? Is she delusional? Perhaps this measure is not perfect, but it is undeniably an improvement over the way things are now! Perhaps a stronger measure would be better, but what is to prevent us from voting in these restrictions now and then voting in additional restrictions later?

But no extremist ever favors a workable compromise, do they?

I suspect that what Judie Brown really fears is that a substantial improvement in the abortion laws would simply make the issue go away, and would make her leadership in the pro-life movement irrelevant, and that she likes being a demagogue more than she cherishes the lives of babies.

106-year-old Nun to vote for Obama

"I'm encouraged by Senator Obama," Sister Cecilia Gaudette, a member of the Religious Sisters of Jesus and Mary born on March 25, 1902. "I've never met him, but he seems to be a good man with a good private life. That's the first thing. Then he must be able to govern." Asked about her hopes for the US under an Obama presidency, she says: "Peace abroad. I don't worry about the Iraq war because I can't do anything about it. Lord knows how it will end."

Gaudette said the last time she voted in an American presidential election was in 1952 and she cast her ballot for President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Total Disaster?

From time-to-time I check out Catholic pro-life activist Matt C. Abbott’s blog. Recently he posted the following quote:

"It would be a total disaster if Obama were elected — abortion and homosexuality will go totally out of control. I understand that John McCain is not a perfect candidate, but if we don't stop Obama, he will put the nail in the coffin."
— Father James Farfaglia,
pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus
Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas

Now, “total disaster” brings to mind catastrophes along the lines of Hurricane Katrina, where lives and property are destroyed by an irresistible force, and calling an Obama presidency a “disaster” is well past hyperbole. Let’s look at the record.

Roe v. Wade makes just about every abortion, under any circumstance, legal. Unless we allow post-birth infanticide I really don’t see how things could be worse. And have the Republicans done anything about this? Aside from nuisance laws and completely marginal regulations (the Partial-Birth Abortion ban hasn’t prevented a single abortion) they have done nothing for the last thirty years. The record makes clear that we cannot expect McCain to actually do anything about abortion, and I don’t see how an Obama presidency would change anything about the status of abortion in America.

Homosexuality totally out of control? Like what — it’s illegal now? Does the good pastor really think that allowing same-sex marriage (which, for the record, I am against) would make homosexuality so attractive that myriads of otherwise straight men and women would go gay all of the sudden? Sure, social pressure can restrain homosexuality, but there is also a saturation point where all of those with homoerotic desires are “out” and active, and we have reached that point. Further liberalization would do nothing to increase the numbers of homosexuals and we cannot legislate a social climate that would bring back the social mores of the 1950’s.

How about the banking crisis? Is that a disaster? People are losing their homes and jobs, after all. Almost forty years of de-regulation, of dismantling the safety mechanisms that were put in by the New Deal has led to wild speculation and an inevitable crash. McCain promises us more of the same, would that be a disaster?

The war — that’s a disaster, isn’t it? Some 4,000 Americans lives wasted so far in a war based on lies and deception. McCain promises us another hundred years of imperialist adventuring, would that be a disaster?

Nearly 47 million Americans are without health insurance and this undoubtedly leads to higher rates of morbidity and mortality. Our for-profit healthcare system has left 16 percent of our population without access to health care, yet costs twice as much as the single-payer systems that every other civilized nation has. Yet McCain wants “the market” to solve this problem. How many have to die before that’s considered a disaster?

Friday, October 10, 2008

By The Numbers

Here is a chart of the composition of the Supreme Court by party affiliation since Roe v. Wade in 1973:

You will note that it was then, and has remained, overwhelmingly Republican. That's right
— Roe v. Wade was put through by a court that was 2/3 Republican! Since then, the balance has gotten even more lop-sided, why, there was a period there when Byron White was the only Democrat on the court!

So — do you expect me to believe that one more Republican appointed justice might just tip the balance? That we have to vote Republican to keep the Supreme Court from "going Democratic?"

Let me assure you that, based on the record, we can count on Republican justices to:

• Not over-turn Roe v. Wade. (e.g.
McCorvey v. Hill)

• Undermine the rights of citizens to sue corporations (
e.g. Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc.)

• Undermine our Bill of Rights (e.g. ACLU v. NSA)

• Steal elections from the people (e.g. Bush v. Gore)

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Martyr's Secret

"Men who love a crucified God need never think of torture as all-powerful."

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Douglas W. Kmiec on the "Pro Life" Republican Party

I regret to say the current Republican Party thrives on demonizing its opposition to win elections ... Talking strongly pro-life, Republicans often do little, promising that some judge not yet appointed is the answer or advocating leaving it all up to the states to decide, seldom acknowledging that many, perhaps most, states would end embedding the "legal status" of abortion.

Douglas W. Kmiec is Professor of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University School of Law. He headed the Office of Legal Counsel for both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He was Dean and St. Thomas More Professor of the law school at Catholic University of America (2000-2003). For nearly twenty years he was a member of the law faculty at the University of Notre Dame from 1980 to 1999. he founded the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Eucharistic Crimes and Misdemeanors

About two weeks ago PZ Myers, a biology professor from Michigan, carried out his threat to desecrate the Holy Eucharist and then bragged about it on his blog. He sent a nail though it and then tossed it in the trash along with a few pages of the Koran. (I’ll give him points for daring — desecrating the Koran has become a risky business lately.) I’m not one to quibble with him either, as some have done, he probably did get his hands on a bona fide Host. Given the laxity of liturgy in most parishes nowadays, it would be a simple thing for someone to accept Communion in the hand, palm the genuine Host and, by simple ruse, appear to have consumed it.

This just makes me sad and confused.

Sad, not only for Jesus whose sufferings have been compounded by this sacrilege, but sad for a man so consumed with an hatred for religion that he feels compelled to pull such loathsome stunts.

Confused, because when I was godless, I never had any quarrel with religion. Nor did any of my atheist friends. Most of the people who seemed to have a real issue with religion were self-identified “recovering Catholics,” or ex-Evangelicals or Pentecostals, all of whom had either a lingering belief in God or professed that “my problem isn’t with God it’s with what men do to him.” These people were not genuine atheist and Mr. Myers is behaving like them, not like the genuinely disinterested godless, which leads me to suspect that Myers is really angry at a God he claims not to believe in.

Meyers professes an hatred for religion because of its alleged baneful effects upon society, yet any objective analysis would have to conclude otherwise. Churchgoing has long been associated (especially in the Black community) with high levels of temperance, clean living, and a good work ethic. Most of our hospitals and universities were founded as religious institutions. Charitable giving is highest among the churched, and, unlike Islam and other proselytizing faiths, most Christian churches have always associated works of mercy with their evangelical efforts. Christianity has worked for the abolition of slavery not once, but twice (at the end of the Roman Empire as well as after its reintroduction by Moslems in the fifteenth century). Christianity was the first belief system that accepted women as being of equal worth with men, abolished human sacrifice wherever it encountered it, and postulated that rulers had moral obligations to their charges.

So what does he say about his actions?

He begins by mentioning that the Forth Lateran Council saying that “This is the event where many of their important dogmas were codified, including the ideas … that the Eucharist was the sacrament that only properly ordained priests of the Catholic church could give, and that the Jews were a pariah people, who could hold no public office, had to pay a special Jew tax for their right to exist, and were required to wear special clothing to distinguish them from Christians.” This statement is both false and misleading.

It is false because it had always been the case that only ordained priests could confect the Eucharist. The actual work of the council was in affirming that Transubstantiation is the mechanism of confection (as opposed to Consubstantiation or simply being an incomprehensible mystery).

It is misleading for two reasons, the first being that he implies, without actually stating, that belief in the Real Presence was an innovation brought in by the Forth Lateran Council and represents a “change” in doctrine. In point of fact, before the Protestant “Reformation,” every Christian denomination believed in the “Real Presence.”

Furthermore, Catholic doctrine on matters of faith and morals can never change, so it is disingenuous to equate this theological definition with a change in mere practice, which he does by mentioning the injunctions against the Jews in the same sentence.

For the record, we should also point out that these injunctions against the Jews were a Christian incorporation of Moslem practice. Moslems had since the days of the Prophet segregated every society they controlled by forcing non-believers to wear distinctive badges, hats, or medallions, and it was only for a brief time that the Church required this.

Myers then goes on to accuse the Church of inventing “stories of Jews and witches taking the communion host to torture … None of the stories were true, of course,” which makes one wonder of Mr. Myers has ever met an adolescent. From rolling your joints out of Bible pages to fornicating with the pastor’s daughter in the choir loft, profanity and sacrilege have always been one of the reliable tropes of adolescent pranks. Is it really beyond Mr. Myer’s imagining that no one, from 1215 to the present day, has stolen a consecrated Host and defiled it for mere amusement or to prove to his companions what a daring reckless fellow he was? And what about the petty ways that oppressed peoples strike back at their oppressors. Just as blacks in segregation days probably spat in the food they cooked for whites, or called them “honkey” behind their backs, or subverted the system in a thousand petty ways, I am absolutely certain that Medieval Jews from time to time stole the Body of Christ and defiled it. Why not? Even if it meant nothing to them, it was a cheap and easy way of getting back at the Goyim. And when you put these two trends together? What makes more sense than a teenage Jew desecrating the Host to impress his buddies? [Furthermore, it is axiomatic that anyone doing the Devil’s work is a de facto witch. Thus, anyone desecrating an Host is, ipso facto, that thing secular humanists like to insist don’t exist, a witch.]

Myers then goes on to give us a laundry list of persecutions allegedly brought on by specious claims of Host desecration that, naturally, he dismisses as “superstition.” What about xenophobia? Jews were, after all, a foreign element in European society and xenophobia is the normal situation for virtually every society on the face of the planet. Only in late, decadent periods (Egypt after the 18th Dynasty, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Hellenistic Greece / Imperial Rome, Han China, Carvakan India, Umayyad Spain, Modern Europe) are so indifferent to their own cultural heritage as to not be bothered with xenophobia. While not a good thing in itself, xenophobia is actually a sigh of an healthy society and should not be condemned in such an out of hand manner.

Myers concludes this list with the snotty observation “the last time a Catholic nation rose up to slaughter its non-Christian citizenry was a whole 70 years ago” thus blaming Christians for the genocide perpetrated by the pagan Nazis.

Next Myers deals with his critics many of whom have been writing in with hateful e-mails, letters, and pipe-bombs. Wait, no, there weren’t any pipe-bombs! Scratch that — I guess what I meant to say was prayers. Yes — Myers critics hate him so much that they are actually praying for him! Mark Sutton and Jim Nicholson both wrote letters cited by Professor Myers in which they have the effrontery to pray for him! Surely there must be some hate crime law prohibiting this loathsome sort of activity! This simply goes to prove Myers’ conclusion: “that religion breeds the most disgustingly vile haters in our country.”

Then he deals with poor Isaac who has the temerity to assert: “As a Christian it is an insult for anyone to call my beliefs stupid shit.” Myers goes on for a whole paragraph about how Isaac is somehow “closed minded” because he takes offence at his beliefs being called “stupid.” Now, last time I checked, “insult” meant “to treat with insolence, indignity, or contempt,” and that’s just what Myers has done. And he’s free to do so. We live in a free country and he’s free to insult anyone he chooses. But, as the purpose of an insult it to offend, it is rather disingenuous of Professor Myers to then act as if he’s been a gentleman all along, don’t you think?

It’s just tiresome, isn’t it? Myers trying to “prove” that religion is false when the whole point of religion is faith — that which cannot be proven. Pity the poor man who will never understand the words of Saint Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney:

“I often think that even if there were no other life than this one, it would be enough happiness just to love God here and to do something for his glory.”
— The Curé d’Ars and the Love of God

Very Effective

A tip o' the hat to John Jansen who found this first.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ex-Voto de 1662

On my one visit to Paris I set aside a whole day to see the Louvre. Wife-Mate and Pumpkin accompanied me in the morning, but in the afternoon they went shopping and left me with 6-month-old Pod-Man to see the more obscure galleries. As you go up from floor to floor, the ceilings get lower, the paintings smaller, and the artists more obscure. I was probably on the third floor when I stumbled upon this painting tucked away in a section full of the court painters of the Seventeenth Century.

I stopped absolutely dumb-struck: this painting was obviously about a miracle! I was touched to the core by how immediate, profoundly, and clearly this came to me. Unfortunately, when you get that far from the touristy first floor, all of the signs are in French, but, just the same, I pulled out my notebook and wrote down: Ex-Voto de 1662 / Philippe de Champaigne.

When I got home, I checked it out, and Ex-Voto de 1662 is indeed a votive offering (or ex-voto) by the painter Philippe de Champaigne which depicts the miraculous cure of his daughter that occurred at the Port-Royal de Paris Cistercian convent. In the painting, a ray of light illuminates Mother-Superior Agnès Arnauld, who experienced on the ninth day of her novena for Champaigne's daughter, Sister Catherine Ste. Suzanne, the hope that a cure would come for Sister Catherine. Catherine (seated, praying) was the painter's only surviving child, and had been suffering from a paralyzing illness. Until that point, prayer and medical treatments ("potions, baths, unctions, and thirty bleedings") had proven futile. After the Mother-Superior's novena, Sister Catherine soon attempted to walk, and found herself increasingly mobile; the illness no longer seemed present.

The painting includes a Latin inscription on the wall on the left of the painting. Neither the text nor the lettering were Champaigne's work.



AO 1662

The inscription, addressed to Christ, tells that Sister Catherine suffered for 14 months from a high fever and that half her body was paralyzed. She prayed with Mother Agnès and her health was restored, and again she offered herself to Christ. Champaigne offers the painting as a testament to this miracle and to express his joy.

This is one of the most amazing works of art that I have ever seen. Even reproductions, which do not ever capture the supernatural luminosity of the actual painting, never fail to touch me deeply. It reminds us always to trust in God's mercy and to renounce our attachment to worldly things.