Jun 30

Yes, the Obamacare HHS mandate does violate fundamental rights, said justices willing to state the obvious.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed into law under President Bill Clinton after near unanimous approval in the House and Senate in 1993, applied a two-pronged test to any attempt by government to impose a federal law that substantially burdens citizens’ free exercise of their religion. The first test requires the government to show it has a ‘compelling interest’ in enforcing such a sweeping law, and the second is that government was seeking the ‘least restrictive means’ possible to achieve its ends. There’s no way this federal fiat issued in January 2012 could possibly pass either of those tests.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty dubbed the HHS mandate ‘a contraception delivery scheme’, which describes it well. As the court cases piled up across the country and spectrum of employers from non-profit organizations to for-profit business owners, academic institutions to healthcare providers (see Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius), government lawyers could not defend their claims coherently.

Here’s the breakdown of current cases against the federal government when those arguments have been heard in courts at all levels. Monday’s Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby will impact a great number of others, and certainly scored a victory for religious freedom.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a landmark victory for religious liberty today, ruling in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that individuals do not lose their religious freedom when they open a family business. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of David and Barbara Green and their family business, Hobby Lobby, ruling that they will not be required to violate their faith by including four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan or pay severe fines.

“This is a landmark decision for religious freedom. The Supreme Court recognized that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they run a family business,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and counsel for Hobby Lobby. “This ruling will protect people of all faiths. The Court’s reasoning was clear, and it should have been clear to the government. You can’t argue there are no alternative means when your agency is busy creating alternative means for other people.”

The decision also has important implications for over 50 pending lawsuits brought by non-profit religious organizations, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, which are also challenging the mandate. In two different respects, the Supreme Court strongly signaled that the mandate may be struck down in those cases too. First, it rejected the government’s argument that there was no burden on the Green’s religious exercise because only third parties use the drugs. Second, it held that the government could simply pay for contraception coverage with its own funds, rather than requiring private employers to do so.

“The handwriting is on the wall,” said Windham. “The Court has strongly signaled that the mandate is in trouble in the non-profit cases, too.”

The Court upheld a June 2013 ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals protecting Hobby Lobby and the Green family from the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. That mandate requires Hobby Lobby and co-founders David and Barbara Green to provide and facilitate, against their religious convictions, four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan. The Greens argued that the mandate substantially burdened their religious beliefs in violation of a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Court stated:

The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate . . . against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs. . . . Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.”

Justice Kennedy’s concurrence added: “Among the reasons the United States is so open, so tolerant, and so free is that no person may be restricted or demeaned by government in exercising his or her religion.”

There will be plenty to cover and analyze on this in the days to come. But here’s some good background worth reading, artfully written with accurate citations by creative thinker Tod Worner, news coverage as a play in three acts. Written just over two months ago, after oral arguments were presented in the Supreme  Court by plaintiffs and government lawyers in the HHS mandate cases justices would decide later, it ended with this:

Plaintiffs and defendant would rest. The Court would adjourn. The verdict will come to us in June.

Who is this young, promising man – this main character in our play? Perhaps we can know by considering him in each act: The Speech, The Executive Order, The Court Case. Perhaps.

This play, in three acts, is far from finished. There is more to be said and done. Will it end as a comedy? Or a tragedy? How will it end? How, indeed? We shall see. We shall see.

We now see how the Supreme Court ruled on this day in this pivotal case. We’ll see what comes next. Stay tuned.

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May 19

ACOG, as in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the doctors who care for women through pregnancy and deliver their babies. If anybody knows the origin and development of human life, they should. Or did.

Years ago, they became very political and ideological, and thus very flexible with science and human embryology.

Journalist Mollie Hemingway picks it up from here, in commentary on a Washington Post piece that could have come from the Onion. It’s about the flap over remarks Sen. Marco Rubio made on global warming, and science.

Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio took some heat for saying that he was skeptical of global warming activism. He was asked about the reaction to some of his comments and he noted some hypocrisy he’s witnessed on scientific consensus:

A snip from his response…

All these people always wag their finger at me about ‘science’ and ‘settled science.’ Let me give you a bit of settled science that they’ll never admit to. The science is settled, it’s not even a consensus, it is a unanimity, that human life begins at conception. So I hope the next time that someone wags their finger about science, they’ll ask one of these leaders on the left: ‘Do you agree with the consensus of scientists that say that human life begins at conception?’ I’d like to see someone ask that question.

To which Hemingway responds

Now, it’s probably worth noting at the outset that everything Rubio said in this paragraph was true. Human life begins at conception and nobody is ever asked about whether they deny that.

But let’s look at what the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza tweeted out in response:

Marco Rubio demanded people look at the science on abortion. So we did.

Hemingway continues:

The blurb for the piece says, “‘Science is settled … that human life beings at conception,’ Sen. Rubio said. We spoke with an expert on the science who didn’t agree.”

The story itself, with the same UpWorthy headline, is written by one Philip Bump and reads, stunningly:

(repeat: reads, stunningly):

We reached out to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an association comprised of a large majority of the nation’s ob-gyns. The organization’s executive vice president and CEO, Hal C Lawrence, III, MD, offered his response to Rubio.

“Government agencies and American medical organizations agree that the scientific definition of pregnancy and the legal definition of pregnancy are the same: pregnancy begins upon the implantation of a fertilized egg into the lining of a woman’s uterus. This typically takes place, if at all, between 5 and 9 days after fertilization of the egg – which itself can take place over the course of several days following sexual intercourse.”

In other words: Consensus exists (if not unanimously), and the consensus is that uterine implantation is the moment at which pregnancy begins.

We presented that description to the senator’s office, asking if he wanted to clarify or moderate his statement. Brooke Sammon, the senator’s Deputy Press Secretary, told us that “Senator Rubio absolutely stands by the comment.”

Hemingway’s reaction:

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear…It is somewhat mortifying that the idiocy of this is not immediately apparent to everyone. Did you catch it? Are you smarter than a Washington Post reporter? Do you know that “when human life begins” and “when an embryo implants in the uterine wall” are actually not synonymous statements? I bet you did. Or I bet you could figure that out pretty easily.

See, you will not learn this — or much of anything else about the reality of abortion or unborn human life — from the media, but in fact there is consensus about when human lives begin. It’s almost a tautology to say what Rubio said. It’s like saying “human life begins when human life begins.”

See, here’s what gets me. That the term “consensus” is thrown about so loosely and on such fundamental truths as human life, truths for which there is scientific evidence and about which it’s either embarrassing or ridiculous or both to hear serious people even introduce the idea of consensus. As if there is a consensus on the sun rising and setting each day, as if there is consensus on the idea of “a day” and its parameters and duration, beginning and end.

Anyway, Hemingway then gets into the scientific “consensus” on when human life begins (to continue with this article). And for those who need show and tell, she provides video and emphasis on the parts to pay particular attention to, for better understanding.

So…

Who to believe, bloggers at the Washington Post or embryologists? I’m so confused! And the Post wasn’t just wrong but, like, so embarrassingly wrong as to require a correction, a mea culpa, and a serious amount of soul-searching. (I get a kick out of how the people who make these videos, which are used by medical and media sites, say “Low health literacy costs the US healthcare system between $106 billion to $238 billion each year. Please watch and share a medical animation to raise health literacy!” Indeed!)

You can’t make this up.

OK, so some people tried to gently point out the egregious and embarrassing error to Cillizza and Bump, who have steadfastly refused to correct the piece they promoted.

Stay with this. Hemingway wrote a long piece, but characteristically incisive and clarifying, like a blast of ice water to the face. Because that’s just what it takes, and even then some people won’t flinch.

Please note: Bump thinks the problem is not with his own flawed reporting and comprehension but with Rubio’s statement! Bump thinks this tweet and his piece do something other than make him look extremely bad!

But it gets worse:

(Bump writing here)…

There’s a blurry line between “pregnancy” and “life” in this discussion. When we asked ACOG if the two were interchangeable, we were told that the organization “approach[es] everything from a scientific perspective, and as such, our definition is for when pregnancy begins.” On the question of when life begins, then, the scientific experts we spoke with didn’t offer any consensus.

“Life” is something of a philosophical question, making Rubio’s dependence on a scientific argument — which, it hardly bears mentioning, is an argument about abortion — politically tricky.

Mollie Hemingway rebounds…

Uh, what? Let’s list the problems here:

1) Rubio didn’t mention anything about definitions of pregnancy, so there’s no blurry line in “this discussion” about his statement regarding when life begins and someone else’s statement about when pregnancy begins…

2) It’s probably a good time to mention that ACOG is a group known for its strenuous support of abortion. Beyond the question of why Bump used this group instead of embryologists as sources, there’s also the issue that he’s not identifying them as vehemently pro-choice (as in, they even support partial-birth abortions).

Don’t miss that point. It’s critical to this whole article, and more gravely, to the public debate over abortion, human life, women’s health, and frankly violations of law. Partial birth abortions: see Kermit Gosnell.

But stay with Hemingway for now…

3) No one is mentioned in this piece other than ACOG. Yet Bump claims, “the scientific experts we spoke with didn’t offer any consensus.” This is a difficult claim to swallow…Is there any evidence whatsoever that he spoke with anyone other than the pro-choice group?

4) Dude, life can be a totally trippy thing, I agree, but Rubio was not talking philosophy. He was talking science. And the question of when human life begins is not philosophical, it’s scientific. You might debate when you have the right not to be killed by someone else, be it three months’ gestation, five months’ gestation, or birth. Some deny the right to life of various classes of people long after birth, too. Philosopher and abortion advocate Peter Singer has said children don’t achieve full moral status until after two years. And these are, in fact, philosophical questions. But the scientific question of when life begins is actually pretty straight forward, if mysteriously unknown to some at our biggest media institutions. Or as Dougherty mocked, “Guys, guys. Human ‘life’ is an illusion created by social consensus, WaPo is breaking this whole thing open!” To me Bump’s bizarre statements are more reminiscent of a group of college students from a third-rate public university having what they think sounds like a really deep conversation after passing around the bowl.

So here Hemingway brings readers back to the present ‘Politics vs. Science’, because science has been politicized for an ideological agenda.

If this is long for some readers already, here’s a cue to pay close attention now:

Bump inadvertently hit on something in his final lines, when he wrote, “After all, if someone were to argue that life begins at implantation, it’s hard to find a moral argument against forms of birth control that prevent that from happening.”

Did you know that the definition of pregnancy was changed not long ago from beginning at “fertilization” to beginning at “implantation”? Did you know that this was a political decision? Did you know that some groups have even tried to say that implantation is when “conception” occurs, too?

Before we get into this story of politics and science, I might note a few statements from early in the birth control battles. Alan Guttmacher, former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and a leader in the International Planned Parenthood Federation said:

We of today know that man… starts life as an embryo within the body of the female; and that the embryo is formed from the fusion of two single cells, the ovum and the sperm. This all seems so simple and evident to us that it is difficult to picture a time when it was not part of the common knowledge.

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, said, “If, however, a contraceptive is not used and the sperm meets the ovule and development begins, any attempt at removing it or stopping its further growth is called abortion.”

Birth control pioneer Marie Stopes said, “A large number of the opponents of birth control deliberately confuse birth control with abortion. I suppose it is all right for me to explain to you that abortion can only take place when an embryo is in existence. An embryo can only be produced after the sperm cell and the egg cell have actually united, after their nuclei have fused and after the first cell divisions have taken place. The moment that that has taken place you have there a minute, invisible, but actual embryo, and anything which destroys that is abortion, and we never in our clinic do anything which can in any way lead to that destruction. But until the sperm cell has united with the egg cell, no embryo exists or can exist, and anything which keeps the sperm away from the egg cell cannot lead to or be abortion because no embryo can then exist.”

All of these statements are from the first few decades of the 20th century. As technology developed that enabled embryos to be destroyed before implantation, what was so “simple” and “evident” and “common knowledge,” in Guttmacher’s words, suddenly became none of those things.

There’s still much more in this article, fully available at the link and advisable to read and re-read and grasp in its scope. Hemingway realizes it’s long.

So she concludes:

OK, that was a lot to work through. And for people who value the sanctity of all human life, from actual conception to natural death, none of these semantic changes matter one bit. But you can see how they would help those activists with different views on when human lives can be ended.

The thing is that activists can redefine pregnancy all they want and it won’t change the central issue at hand — the question of whether it’s ok to end the life of a genetically distinct human. We won’t resolve that debate any time soon, but obscuring the facts on when and how human life begins will not help matters.

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May 01

Hollywood has a lot of power. But people are increasingly going around them to get stories told.

So this power duo of Ann McElhinney and her husband Phelim McAleer were doing what they do best, producing and directing documentary films like FrackNation, Mine Your Own Business, and Not Evil Just Wrong, among others with messages they believe in, without any affiliation with pro-life organizations or causes or much thought about it, in the film world. They were working on something else when they learned of the trial of notorious, infamous, murderous abortionist (a redundancy) Kermit Gosnell. They dropped everything once they learned the truths about the abortion clinic dubbed by authorities as a ‘house of horrors’, what went on there, what the team in Hazmat suits who investigated found there, what that abortionist did to women and babies, and how the media went silent on the trial once Gosnell went to court, with the full blown grand jury report detailing the most grisly acts and crimes again humanity, while media seats in the courtroom remained strangely empty.

Ann and Phelim swung into motion and started planning a film to document this historic moment in the the culture that spiraled out of control since abortion on demand became legal. It’s the logic of abortion taken to it’s conclusion, after all, and this case was emblematic. They had formerly worked with Kickstarter to fund FrackNation, and went back to that crowd source funding process for this project. After all, as Ann’s bio records,

FrackNation bypassed traditional funding methods and instead turned to Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website. In 60 days, 3,305 backers donated $212,265 to tell the truth about fracking. It was one of the most successful campaigns in Kickstarter history.

However, this time, Kickstarter kicked them out. The language used in the film was too offensive, the site organizers decided, and it had to be edited out and toned down.

Wait. What? The language in the film was the language of the grand jury report, finding what they found at Gosnell’s ‘clinic’ and describing it in plain spoken words. In other words, the filmmakers were rejected for describing the actual scene and details of the crime, and not soft-peddling the truth with fuzzier language and actual omissions.

Instead of doing that, Ann and Phelim went to Indiegogo and launched an awareness campaign to crowd fund the film project on a deadline. They are passionate and determined.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell is the most prolific serial killer in American History, but almost no one knows who he is.

The Grand Jury investigating Kermit Gosnell’s horrific crimes said this:

This case is about a doctor who killed babies … What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors …. Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here. But no one put a stop to it.

Gosnell is serving several life sentences but the media basically ignored his crimes and his trial. They ignored the facts that emerged from the trial, like the fact that the babies he murdered suffered terribly. Here is what a neonatologist told the Grand Jury:

The neonatologist testified… If a baby moves, it is alive. Equally troubling, it feels a “tremendous amount of pain” when its spinal cord is severed. So, the fact that Baby Boy A. continued to move after his spinal cord was cut with scissors means that he did not die instantly. Maybe the cord was not completely severed. In any case, his few moments of life were spent in excruciating pain. (Report of the Grand Jury)

The mainstream media or Hollywood don’t think this is a story.

That doesn’t matter, if enough people do, say the filmmakers.

It’s a frightening testament to the power of the media that very few people even know about Kermit Gosnell: America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer.

This is your chance to bypass the media “information gatekeepers” to get tens of millions of Americans thinking about what happened in Philadelphia.

How’s it going? I covered the Gosnell case and trial and repored here things that didn’t hit the mainstream radar, or stick for long once it did. It seemed at the time that this case may just be the one that turns the culture around on abortion, or at least generates serious public discussion about what this license has wrought in the four decades since Roe. It did that, for a short time. But things went back to business as usual soon after, and this story seems to have faded from memory in a culture that hardly grasped it in the first place.

So I was very interested in how this project is going, once I discovered it. Since I first had the dynamic Ann McElhinney on my radio show in early April, I’ve watched her and Phelim take their campaign to social media and mainstream media by leaps and bounds.

NRO reports, and get how the report comes out:

Ann and Phelim Media recently reached $1.6 million in donations to their Gosnell film crowdfunding campaign, with $500,000 left to raise before May 12.

The company switched to crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to raise the money to finance their film after claiming that their initial choice, Kickstarter, had attempted to censor the project.

On Tuesday, Ann and Phelim Media purchased a billboard ad, and placed it half a mile from Kickstarter’s headquarters in Brooklyn. The ad reads, “To Kickstarter — We Say . . . “You stink at censorship!”

Kickstarter’s CEO, Yancey Strickler, recently told National Review Online that the Gosnell project was not suppressed and the filmmakers blew an editorial exchange out of proportion.

What Kickstarter refers to as blowing “an editorial exchange out of proportion” is another way of covering up what really happened. Kickstarter couldn’t deal with the truth, in the plain language of the Grand Jury report the filmmakers report.

And as Phelim McAleer told the Hollywood Reporter:

“Kickstarter tried to censor us – it didn’t work. When faced with a different point of view, their first instinct was to censor,” McAleer said.

He adds, though, that he believes Kickstarter was within its rights because it’s a private company. “But they need to be honest and announce that certain opinions and ideas are not welcome,” he said. “It’s sad, but that’s the truth.”

With 11 days left, the Gosnell project has raised $1.66 million, 79 percent of its goal. If it reaches $2.1 million, it will become the most successful movie or TV project to raise funds at IndieGoGo.

Here’s the site.

Then there’s ‘Irreplaceable‘, a film about the state of the family across the globe. And though produced by MPower Pictures producer John Shepherd, it’s sponsored by Focus on the Family, an organization trying to shift its focus to a more pro-active effort as this, and it’s an admirable effort. I saw it last week in a private screening, and know what it’s about, how it’s done, and how it affected the packed theater in which I viewed it. I thought it would be a good effort, and effective to sort of ‘get the ball rolling’ on re-thinking the family, since we all have one and it’s in a state of crisis around the world.

But it’s remarkable, how simply they hit the primeval sense we all have of needing to belong, and knowing that we belong or grieving the loss of belonging to others in what civilization has always known as family. It’s so fresh, stark, and basic. The narrator and main researcher is a family man from New Zealand who sets out on a journey around the world to talk with experts and regular people about family relationships, the state of the family today, not so much to focus on what’s wrong but on what we might or can do to make it better for everyone. Because God knows, we need to.

From the website:

Every member of the human race has the desire for significance—a desire to belong. And the family is where those deepest longings are fulfilled.

Unfortunately, the word “family” has all but lost its meaning in our modern cultural landscape. And the fallout has been significant. Divorce. Crime. Poverty. Addictions. Abuse. Our attempts to redefine and reimagine the family only make these problems worse, not better. When the family is weakened, society suffers. But strong families make the world a better place.

Irreplaceable is the first in a series of feature-length documentaries that will approach the concept of the family from a number of different angles. The goal of each documentary is to recover, renew and reclaim the cultural conversation about the family.

And besides the series, it’s a new movement. It launches with a nationwide event on May 6th at 700 theaters nationwide in America, and goes from there. Details on the site.

I must admit, I was inspired by the project, and impressed by the producer in an interview we did on my radio program. But when the once-only screening happened on a work night, I was pretty tired and attended with the hope that it wouldn’t be long. After it got rolling, and the New Zealand narrator/researcher started traveling, interviewing, piecing together whatever he discovered on his journey, I got drawn in more.

But something happened around or just after the middle of the film, when the packed theater settled down from their popcorn munching and bobbing around, and grew more still and silent. And it built to a point when no one in the place moved, no one turned their head away, or made a sound. It was riveting, and a couple of people around me were quietly crying. I was moved, a bit choked up, but holding together and impressed with how well they did this film.

Then it blindsided me. Because it sort of seemed to blindside the narrator/researcher from New Zealand. He didn’t expect to have the deep revelation that hit him any more than I did, and by hitting him the way it did it hit me. Maybe that’s an excuse. Maybe it would have hit many of us deeply no matter what, because of the human truths about relationships and belonging and family, or whatever it was that made people cry. And I found myself wiping away tears. It was deep and rich and raw and human. And it was okay to be wounded and imperfect.

This May 6th event is intended to start something. I hope it starts the healing process. God knows we need it.

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Apr 14

We have devolved.

That’s not news, except to those people who haven’t been paying attention. How long ago did we actually exercise our right to disagree with facility and reason, in this representative republic, this exercise in democracy? And especially, with dignity?

Voltaire allegedly said ”I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Though he did not, his biographer did. But it’s a noble sentiment.

So about the concept and reality of dignity, let’s look at what’s happened lately in the cultural meltdown over social moral issues, or anything that even refers to the word ‘moral.’ Fires ignite. Flamethrowers start lighting their torches. That’s bad enough. But one of the disturbing things among many, is that we’ve lost the meaning of words in the first place, so what’s moral isn’t sometimes what’s legal, and vice versa. Which leads inevitably to the throwdown challenge, who decides.

As if there’s no reference point. As if it’s a matter of consensus maybe? Because that’s what drives our culture.

Just as the Little Sisters of the Poor lawsuit put the spotlight on government encroachment on religious liberty, the meltdown that put white hot light on the decline of our civilization is the whole Brendan Eich/Mozilla affair over the issue of gay marriage. This need not have happened this way.

So, what happened?

A rundown:

First Things ran this, under ‘Anonymous’, such is the atmosphere of fear of retribution these days.

Silicon Valley is in an uproar. Angry blog posts have been written, resignations tendered, and boycotts organized, with no sign that the furor is likely to abate. Seeing such ruckus, a casual observer might assume that some fallout had finally resulted from the shocking revelation that several of the largest names in the technology industry—including Google, Apple, Intel, and others—have secretly colluded to drive down wages among software engineers and executives for the better part of the past decade. In fact it concerns nothing of the sort, but rather the appointment of a man named Brendan Eich to the role of CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, makers of the popular Firefox web browser.

The one thing all sides can agree on is that Eich, on paper, is very well suited to the job. His most notable technical achievement is the invention of the Javascript programming language, and while some of us might sniff at the poor design decisions which made that language notoriously unpleasant to work with, it is incontestable that it forms the underpinnings of much of the modern web. Indeed, a great deal of the complexity in a modern web browser is devoted to interpreting JavaScript as quickly and correctly as possible, and a staggering amount of work has gone into finding ever more baroque methods of optimizing its execution. Eich himself is quite familiar with all of this labor, having served in senior technical roles at Mozilla since he co-founded it. In fact, he has worked there almost continuously for the past sixteen years—an aeon in Silicon Valley—and is widely-known and liked within the company, the non-profit foundation that controls it, and the broader community of programmers around it.

Why, then, the ruckus? Amazingly enough, it is entirely due to the fact that Eich made a $1,000 donation to the campaign urging a ‘yes’ vote on California’s Proposition 8. When this fact first came to light, Eich, who was then CTO of Mozilla, published a post on his personal blog stating that his donation was not motivated by any sort of animosity towards gays or lesbians, and challenging those who did not believe this to cite any “incident where I displayed hatred, or ever treated someone less than respectfully because of group affinity or individual identity.”

That is honesty. He’s saying, basically, ‘everyone has an opinion, a belief, and this is mine. By holding this belief I have in no way dishonored any person, or treated them disrespectfully.’

Then he reached out further.

Upon being named CEO last Wednesday, Eich immediately put up another post which among other things pledged in direct terms first that he would ensure Mozilla continued offering health benefits to the same-sex partners of its employees; second that he would allocate additional resources to a project that aims to bring more LGBTQ individuals into the technology world and Mozilla in particular; and third that he would maintain and strengthen Mozilla’s policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s worth emphasizing that Eich made this statement prior to the storm of outrage which has since erupted, and that with these policies and others Mozilla easily ranks among the most gay-friendly work environments in the United States.

Emphasis added there, because that’s a remarkable effort to show goodwill. It wasn’t made in response to outrage, but in advance of it. How many work environments have that policy in the US? Or anywhere?

None of this, however, would do him any good. Since then, the Internet has exploded with statements expressing horror, sadness, and anger at Eich’s appointment. Two board members of the Mozilla foundation have resigned, ostensibly because they felt the search committee was unduly weighted with insiders, and dozens of more junior employees and volunteers have left as well. Several major corporations have released official statements encouraging Eich’s resignation, though it is difficult to tell whether they are motivated by genuine moral outrage or by the potential for cheap publicity. Of course the tech media, preternaturally hungry for pageclicks, cannot get enough of the story.

One of the most widely-shared and lauded of the countless statements issued in response to the appointment was written by Owen Thomas, managing editor of Valleywag, a self-described “tech gossip rag.” This is such a remarkable document that I can’t help quoting from it extensively:

Go there and read it if you will. This post is long enough already.

Andrew Sullivan responded to the torching of Brendan Eich with his own horror.

The guy who had the gall to express his First Amendment rights and favor Prop 8 in California by donating $1,000 has just been scalped by some gay activists. After an OKCupid decision to boycott Mozilla, the recently appointed Brendan Eich just resigned under pressure:

‘In a post at Mozilla’s official blog, executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker confirmed the news with an unequivocal apology on the company’s behalf. “Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it,” Baker wrote. “We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.”

‘The action comes days after dating site OKCupid became the most vocal opponent of Eich’s hiring. Mozilla offered repeated statements about LGBT inclusivity within the company over the past two weeks, but those never came with a specific response from Eich about his thousands of dollars of donations in support of Proposition 8, a California ballot measure that sought to ban gay marriage in the state.’

End of statement. To which Sullivan responds:

Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.

Thank you, Andrew Sullivan. That is intellectual honesty. You made my point. Those who rightly expressed outrage at being bullied are now bullying others. Simply because they can. Which makes them just like their former opponents, certainly no better.

Joel Kotkin says it’s The spread of ‘debate is over’ syndrome.

In many cases, I might agree with some leftist views, say, on gay marriage or the critical nature of income inequality, but liberals should find these intolerant tendencies terrifying and dangerous in a democracy dependent on the free interchange of ideas.

There’s the key to understanding or at least beginning to see what’s going on here. There is no free interchange of ideas. Some ideas are not only vilified, but crushed to the point where those who hold them must be professionally ruined or destroyed.

This shift has been building for decades and follows the increasingly uniform capture of key institutions – universities, the mass media and the bureaucracy – by people holding a set of “acceptable” viewpoints. Ironically, the shift toward a uniform worldview started in the 1960s, in part as a reaction to the excesses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the oppressive conformity of the 1950s.

But what started as liberation and openness has now engendered an ever-more powerful clerisy – an educated class – that seeks to impose particular viewpoints while marginalizing and, in the most-extreme cases, criminalizing, divergent views.

Harsh words maybe, but well stated certainly.

Mollie Hemingway wrote this exceptional, challenging commentary and analysis.

Libertarian Nick Gillespie said he was “ambivalent” about Eich’s removal but that Eich’s resignation simply “shows how businesses respond to market signals.” And even conservatives weren’t rallying behind Eich on the grounds that marriage is an institution designed around sexual complementarity so much as by saying that even if he’s wrong, conscience should be protected.

At the end of the day, they’re all wrong. Or at least not even close to understanding the problem with Eich’s firing. Political differences with CEOs, even deep political differences, are something adults handle all the time. Most of us know that what happened held much more significance than anodyne market forces having their way. And Eich shouldn’t be protected on the grounds that one has the right to be wrong. See, Eich wasn’t hounded out of corporate life because he was wrong. He was hounded out of corporate life because he was right. His message strikes at the root of a popular but deeply flawed ideology that can not tolerate dissent.

And what we have in Eich is the powerful story of a dissident — one that forces those of us who are still capable of it to pause and think deeply on changing marriage laws and a free society.

Now Mollie gets into territory that rivets my attention, the work and writings of Vaclav Havel…

…the Czech playwright, poet, dissident and eventual president. Havel, who died in 2011, was a great man of freedom, if somewhat idiosyncratic in his political views. He was a fierce anti-communist who was also wary of consumerism, a long-time supporter of the Green Party who favored state action against global warming, and a skeptic of ideology who supported civil unions for same-sex couples.

“The Power of the Powerless,” written under a communist regime in 1978, is his landmark essay about dissent. It’s a wonderful read, no matter your political persuasion. It asks everyone to look at how they contribute to totalitarian systems, with no exceptions. It specifically says its message is “a kind of warning to the West,” revealing our own latent tendencies to set aside our moral integrity. Reading it again after the Eich dismissal, I couldn’t help but think of how it applies to our current situation in the States.

“The post-totalitarian system demands conformity, uniformity, and discipline,” Havel wrote, using the term he preferred over “dictatorship” for the complex system of social control experienced in Czechoslovakia. We also have a system that is demanding conformity, uniformity and discipline — it’s not just about marriage law, to be honest. It’s really about something much bigger — crushing the belief that the sexes are distinct in deep and meaningful ways that contribute to human flourishing. Obviously marriage law plays a role here — recent court rulings have asserted that the sexes are interchangeable when it comes to marriage. That’s only possible if they’re not distinct in deep and meaningful ways. But the push to change marriage laws is just one part of a larger project to change our understanding of sexual distinctions.

This commentary is just about the best analysis of the critical issues at hand out there right now. It should be engaged. The cultural battles have devolved into incoherence.

OK, let’s step back. What does any of this have to do with views on marriage? Well, I know that we’ve had years of criminally one-sided media coverage, cowardly political leaders and elite cultural views that have conveyed to you that the only reason anyone might think sexual complementarity is key to marriage is bigotry. You may have even internalized this message. You may need to hold on to this belief for reasons of tribalism or pride. But in the spirit of Jon Stewart’s poster shown up at the top, which reads, “I may disagree with you but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler,” let’s go on an open-minded journey where we seek to understand the views of others without characterizing them as Hitler-like. It’s difficult in these times, but we can do it.

She leads the reader through this dialectic journey.

So what is the difference between marriage and other relationships? There’s no question marriage has been treated dramatically differently than other relationships by governments and society. Why? Is it that it features a more vibrant or emotional connection? Or is there some feature that is a difference in kind – that marks it out as something that ought to be socially structured? We usually don’t want government in our other relationships, right? So why is marriage singled out throughout all time and human history as a different type of recognized relationship?

Well, read her article for the whole critical thinking exercise.

This is what marriage law was about. Not two friends building a house together. Or two people doing other sexual activities together. It was about the sexual union of men and women and a refusal to lie about what that union and that union alone produces: the propagation of humanity. This is the only way to make sense of marriage laws throughout all time and human history. Believing in this truth is not something that is wrong, and should be a firing offense. It’s not something that’s wrong, but should be protected speech. It’s actually something that’s right. It’s right regardless of how many people say otherwise. If you doubt the truth of this reality, consider your own existence, which we know is due to one man and one woman getting together. Consider the significance of what this means for all of humanity, that we all share this.

Now if one wants to change marriage laws to reflect something else, that’s obviously something that one can aim to do. We’ve seen the rapid, frequently unthinking embrace of that change in recent years, described one year ago in the humanist and libertarian magazine Spiked as “a case study in conformism” that should terrify “anyone who values diversity of thought and tolerance of dissent.”

Hang in there, even if you’re emotionally charged at this point. Because this appeals to reason and not emotion.

What is marriage? That’s a good question to answer, particularly if you want to radically alter the one limiting factor that is present throughout all history. Once we get an answer for what this new marriage definition is, perhaps our media and other elites could spend some time thinking about the consequences of that change. Does it in any way affect the right of children to be raised by their own mother and father? Have we forgotten why that’s an important norm? Either way, does it change the likelihood that children will be raised by their own mother and father? Does it by definition make that an impossibility for whatever children are raised by same-sex couples? Do we no longer believe that children should be raised by their own mother and father? Did we forget to think about children in this debate, pretending that it’s only about adults? In any case, is this something that doesn’t matter if males and females are interchangeable? Is it really true that there are no significant differences between mothers and fathers? Really? Are we sure we need to accept that lie? Are we sure we want to?

We are, she posits, slipping under ‘mob rule.’ But still at a warning point.

There’s much to be thankful for in aftermath of the madness of the Eich termination. For one thing, many people have rightly figured out that what happened there is terrifying. It’s not just natural marriage advocates but even some of same-sex marriage supporters most vocal advocates.

Such as the aforementioned and quoted Andrew Sullivan.

Far more than the political folks on either side, though, is the importance of what happened to the apolitical. In one sense, the most frightening aspect of the Eich termination was the message it sent to people throughout the country: Shut up or you will lose your livelihood. But in another sense, this dissident moment may spark something previously thought impossible.

Havel says that party politics and the law are the weakest grounds on which to fight against group think. Instead, he says that the real place for dissidents to fight for freedom is in the space where the complex demands of the system affect the ability to live life in a bearable way — to not be fired for one’s views, for instance. “People who live in the post-totalitarian system know only too well that the question of whether one or several political parties are in power, and how these parties define and label themselves, is of far less importance than the question of whether or not it is possible to live like a human being,” Havel said.

Exactly. Authentically.

It’s in this sense that Eich’s most important political work was not making a paltry $1,000 donation in defense of natural marriage laws. It was in refusing to recant.

Consider first the response of one of the activist’s calling for Eich’s head. After he resigned, activist Michael Catlin wrote that he never thought his campaign against Eich would go “this far” and that he wanted “him to just apologize.” So he was “sad” that Eich didn’t say the magic words that would have allowed him to keep his job. Yeah, he really said that.

And then think about how horrified people were that Eich lost his job for his views that men and women are different in important ways. Regardless of our previous views on marriage, we saw in Eich a dissident who forced us to think about totalitarianism and our role in making society unfree. Did we mindlessly put up red equal signs when we hadn’t even thought about what marriage is? Did we rush to fit in by telling others we supported same-sex marriage? Did we even go so far as to characterize as “bigots” or as “Hitlers” those who held views about the importance of natural marriage?

We must be able to engage these ideas, consider these questions, debate them and disagree, to hold onto and preserve our dignity and civilized society.

Whether Eich and other dissidents will crack our thick, hardened crust remains to be seen. Perhaps there will need to be dozens, hundreds, thousands more dissidents losing their livelihoods, facing court cases, and dealing with social media rage mobs. But all of a sudden, the crust doesn’t seem nearly as impenetrable as it did last week.

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Apr 07

Why the torrent of arguments and debates and angry comments in social media since this film came out, or even before it did?

Because it portrays a key event in the Bible and Torah, and offends the sensibilities of even the most open minded Hollywood insiders willing to give a creative license pass to respectable filmmakers. And the movie industry has a big impact on imaginations and subsequently, beliefs. Really.

Take it from Rabbi Benjamin Blech.

In a revealing interview with the New Yorker magazine, writer–director Darren Aronofsky shared his motivation in doing the movie with these words: “There is a huge statement in the film, a strong message about the coming flood from global warming.” Aronofsky told other entertainment reporters: “It’s about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now, for what’s going on this planet. … Noah was the first environmentalist.” And the reason for God’s anger with the world in Noah’s time that prompted the decree of divine destruction? Because Neolithic man was destroying his environment – although how he was able to do so without the carbon emissions resulting from a highly industrialized society is never explained.

Forget about the emphasis the Torah put on corruption and violence, or the fact that the first 10 generations never properly understood what God would later codify on the second tablet of the Decalogue summarizing the ethical responsibilities of man towards fellow man. “Now the earth was corrupt before God. And the earth became full of robbery. And God saw the earth, and behold it had become corrupted” (Genesis 6:11 – 12).

Right. In spite of creative license, filmmakers are free to weave whatever fantastical tale they want around any story, including the Bible, the Torah, or any Sacred Scripture, or just anything they believe in.

But therein lies the problem. Everyone has a belief system. And applying an ancient, faith-based one to a postmodern one, wrought in the forging process, plays and plays havoc with people’s deeply held beliefs, traditions and narratives.

So, Darren Aronofsky takes great liberties in his whole portrayal of scriptural account of the Great Flood, especially its central figure.

And pity poor Noah for the way Aronofsky – in the person of Russell Crowe – chooses to depict him…

How embarrassing to see the feverish, self-righteous and almost maniacal Noah portrayed on the screen – a man so deluded by a supposed mission from God that he comes seconds away from murdering his infant grandchildren.

And here Rabbi Blech makes a most important point.

The Noah of the movie is not a depiction but rather a distortion of the Torah figure chosen to be spared by the Almighty and with his family to begin the story of mankind anew. To know that millions of viewers, after seeing this film, will internalize Russell Crowe’s Noah as well as many other parts of the film’s storyline that have no basis in the Bible or any other reputable sources should be cause for much concern by all those respectful of Torah and the guardianship of its truths.

It was precisely in this spirit that the prophetic sages of the Jewish people years ago proclaimed the day of the first translation of the Torah into another language, the Septuagint, as a day (of) fasting. What troubled them was that a translation might become considered as much the word of God as the original text. Just imagine how they would’ve felt about a film that transforms a biblical story into a work of personal imagination with a contemporary agenda that bears no relationship to the original.

That’s representative of many other reviews, blogs and social network posts on this film that was considered a ‘dog’ by its investors, according to Hollywood insiders, unless it could whip up Christian reactions to it and cause a buzz. That seemed to have worked.

Hollywood insider Brian Godawa has been out in front of this from its pre-release through the first week it hit the screens.

The Noah movie is ugly. It’s anti-human exceptionalism. It’s enviro-agitprop. And it’s poorly done. I can’t recommend this movie, not just because of it’s godawful theology (or should I say “earthology”), but because it’s godawful filmmaking. Like The Last Temptation of Christ. All the controversy overshadowed the fact that it was just plain terrible storytelling. Same here.

And people complain about Christian movies being so bad because they are agenda driven while suffering from poor storytelling and preachiness. Well, how about a new term: “Bad atheist movies” that suffer from poor storytelling and preachiness.

That’s some candid analysis. So is this:

Christians, you are tools being played if you think that this movie is anything BUT a subversion of the Biblical God and an exaltation of environmentalism and animal rights against humans. Don’t listen to those who say that hurting the earth is just part of the sins of mankind in the story. No matter what “sins” of man that are portrayed in this story, they are clearly only expressions of the ultimate sin, which is to sin against the earth. Every time it talks about man’s sin and God’s intent, the context is always “creation” not God, and not man as God’s image. The guy who preaches “man as God’s image” is the villain. “Creation” as in “Nature” is the metanarrative here, NOT God.

For those of you Christians who are fooling yourselves, just ask yourself this: Does Aronofsky believe in the God of the Bible as holy or in the earth as holy? I think you know the answer. And it ain’t both.

The very first thing said and repeated later is “In the beginning, there was nothing.” Now folks, Aronofsky is an atheist. He is subverting your Creation narrative that says “In the Beginning God…” not “Nothing.” Atheism believes that everything came out of nothing. And they say Creationists believe in irrational anti-science fairy tales!

Even in the end, Aronofsky’s humanism subverts God when Noah has his revelation about God’s purpose. Why didn’t God tell him whether or not to kill those little granddaughters so that the human race would never again corrupt Mother Earth? He kept asking, but God was silent. His daughter-in-law tells him “because he wanted you to decide if man was worth saving.” You see, it’s all up to man. God is not the one to decide if man is worth saving, MAN is. Because of course, in Aronofsky’s humanistic atheistic universe, God is only a belief, not a real being, and man must make the ultimate decisions of value and dignity.

After I read Dr. Brad Mattson’s commentary ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ I had a far better understanding of this thing. It’s long but worth the time to read.

Godawa follows up with this.

In our postmodern world that has argued the death of the author, there is a disdain for objective meaning rooted in the text or authorial intent. Therefore, we have embraced a very subjective “reader response” way of interpreting things. People tend to be more concerned about what they see or get out of a story than what the author may have intended. Thus our narcissistic culture obsessed with what we subjectively feel over what is objectively true.

So since the film was released just over a week ago, there has been a torrent of reviews and responses, Christians battling Christians over the film’s meaning and importance, or some perception of its artistic rendering of such, that’s given the thing more press than it probably deserves, on its own merits.

Furthermore…

The problem is that dissenters against the film have been unfairly smeared as being obsessed with an unreasonable fidelity to factual Biblical details. Other than the usual few extremists, many of us do not mind that there is creative license taken. Earth to cynics: We get it. It’s okay to make changes to fit the theme of the movie or limitations of the medium. I took a lot of creative license with my own novel, Noah Primeval, and Christians have not attacked me (except for those handful of extremist fundamentalists). What we are concerned about is what the changes add up to mean.

Stay with Godawa here, he’s making good points.

What is the storyteller making the story to mean? In this way, dissenters are respecting the director more than the defenders. And since the “auteur” himself has expressed certain aspects of his worldview, such as being an atheist, and humanist with a touch of Kabbalah fancy, we would do well to consider that in our understanding of his movie.

And yes, just because the filmmaker is an atheist doesn’t mean he can’t retell a sacred story, or even do it better than some Christians could. But in many cases that atheism or humanism can actually “repurpose” the story to another view — and it often does. And that is what has happened. The sacred story of Noah has been subverted into a humanistic but ultimately pagan narrative.

Consider this thought experiment, he continues:

If someone made a movie about Martin Luther King Jr. and portrayed him as a religious nut who had hallucinogenic delusions thinking they were from God, and almost murdered white people before turning pacifist, the African American community would rightly be adamantly opposed to such a story (And Hollywood would never do that, would they?). It wouldn’t matter if the filmmakers said, “Hey, lay off, we showed that in the end he brought about real change for civil rights didn’t we?” It matters how you get there…

I don’t know how much clearer it can be. Aronofsky is an atheist. He does not believe in the God of the Bible. If you doubt this, ask him yourself, “Do you believe that the Biblical Yahweh really exists and is the one true God?” He has said that he believes the Noah story is merely a myth that is not “owned” by the Judeo-Christian worldview. So, Christians and Jews, when he is retelling your sacred narrative about Noah, God is merely a metaphor to him for something else much more important to him. For a different god. It has to be, by his own self-definition…

Of course, the original sacred narrative requires a “god” in the story, but an atheist director wants to deconstruct that god into a being who is merely believed in, but ultimately is no different than humans making our own meaning. Effectively there is no difference between this “god” and no god at all. This is a common belief of humanism that even if there was a God, he wants us to decide for ourselves. To give us all those nasty commandments is just a jealous judgmental deity who doesn’t want us to grow up and be mature and decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.

Sound familiar, all you Bible scholars? Call it the influence of gnosticism, call it humanism, call it atheism, or not. Just throw out all the “isms” if it’s all too much academic-speak. The point is that all these trajectories have the same origin point: The lie of the Serpent. They all try to circumvent God by positing that man can “know good and evil” for himself. Man is to decide his fate and destiny, NOT God.

Take away God’s propositional personhood and you’ve already reduced him to the functional equivalent of mere subjective belief, which is no different than delusion. This is using a story about God to subvert that God.

That’s only a drop in the bucket of the flood of reactions to this film. Deserved or undeserved, it’s getting a startling amount and degree of attention. So potential viewers, be aware.

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Mar 17

He is the spiritual father the world is looking for, whether they realize it or not.

That’s how papal biographer and Vatican analyst George Weigel put it when we spoke the other day to mark the first anniversary of Jorge Bergoglio’s papacy.

The analysis of his first year, and what it’s the first year of, continues.

A year into the papacy of Pope Francis, however, the world and the Church continue to wonder just what this pontificate will bring — and no small part of that puzzlement, it seems to me, has to do with the “narrativizing of the pope” that has been underway in much of the world media for the better part of a year. Perhaps now, on this first anniversary of his election to the Chair of Peter, it’s time to set aside the narratives and look at what the pope has actually said and done, in order to get a better sense of where he may be leading more than 1.2 billion Catholics and those outside the Catholic Church who look to Francis for leadership and inspiration.

This is incisive.

His most significant papal document to date, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, showed him to be a man completely committed to reenergizing the Church as a missionary enterprise. This evangelical vision of the Catholic future, which was the dominant motif of the last half of the pontificate of John Paul II, is also in continuity with a regularly repeated injunction of Benedict XVI: The days of culturally transmitted Catholicism, or what some might call Catholicism by osmosis, are over and done with.

Though the continuity in teaching and tradition remains unbroken and unchanged, there’s a new tone and style and character in the chief shepherd’s office.

For all his high media profile throughout the world, Pope Francis is actually committed to a certain downsizing of the papacy. His recent complaint about the image of the pope as “Superman,” in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, is not simply a matter of Bergoglio’s objecting to journalists’ turning him into something he knows he isn’t; it reflects his sense that, when the pope is the sole center of attention in matters Catholic, all others are getting a pass on their evangelical responsibilities. Much attention has been paid, over the past year, to what are essentially symbolic aspects of this papal downsizing…

Check them out, he names several.

At the same time, this papal downsizer has shown himself to be a deadly serious reformer of the Roman Curia: a task, he told the Corriere, that was the primary concern of the conclave that elected him. His creation of a new secretariat for the economy as one of the premier offices of the Curia, and his naming of the no-nonsense Australian cardinal George Pell to head it, is little less than an earthquake in the structure of the Holy See. Finance, personnel policy, and administrative oversight have been taken away from what Francis evidently regards as a sclerotic Italian bureaucracy. And those responsibilities have been given to what is expected to be a lean (and, when necessary, mean) operation, which in its crucial first years will be headed by one of the toughest and shrewdest of churchmen, who (not unlike Francis) combines a priest’s heart with a keen nose for corruption.

Francis’s challenge to his newly named cardinals — that they think of themselves as servants, not courtiers — is another expression of his determination to challenge everyone in the Church to greater evangelical fervor. So was his recent charge, to the Vatican office that helps the pope select bishops, to search widely — perhaps more widely than has been the case in the past — to find for Catholicism the local leaders it needs: men of proven evangelical determination, who can call both priests and people to live their missionary vocation more actively, often in difficult cultural circumstances.

Anyone who followed the naming of new cardinals noticed immediately that the pope went, literally, to the ‘existential peripheries’ to which he refers often.

Which brings us to something else that ought to have been learned about Pope Francis over the past year: this is a man with a deep, compassionate, yet searching sense of the profound wounds that postmodern culture inflicts on individuals and societies. Many regarded it as something of a throwaway line when, in one of his daily Mass sermons, the pope made a positive reference to Robert Hugh Benson’s 1907 novel Lord of the World, the first of the 20th-century literary dystopias. But the more closely one reads Pope Francis, especially in those daily homilies, the more one begins to get the sense that Benson’s vision, of a world in which power-madness and aggressive secularism masquerade as reason and compassion, is quite close to Bergoglio’s vision of what he has sometimes described as the idolatries of our time. The pope has spoken passionately about those who have been left behind, materially, in the world economy. But he has spoken just as passionately about the spiritual and cultural impoverishment that comes from imagining that everything in the human condition is plastic, malleable, and subject to change by means of human willfulness.

This is important, in any hope of understanding this pope and where he is leading people.

The pope knows that, amid the polymorphous perversities of postmodernity and the pain they cause, the Church attracts primarily by witness, not by argument. To those who imagine themselves beyond the reach of compassion, the Church offers the experience of the divine mercy. No one, the pope insists, is beyond the reach of God’s power to forgive. That experience of mercy, in turn, opens up its recipient to the truths the Church proposes: the truths the Church believes make for the human happiness that is being eroded by the idolatries of the age, especially the idolatry of the imperial autonomous Self. Mercy and truth are not antinomies, in the Catholic scheme of things. Mercy and truth are two entwined dimensions of God’s reach into history, and into individual lives.

Time [magazine] read the Pope’s self-query, “Who am I to judge?” as the opening wedge to that long-awaited concession by the Catholic Church that it had been wrong, all along, about the sexual revolution. That is not what the pope thinks, having gone out of his way in Corriere della Sera to praise the “genius” and “courage” of Pope Paul VI for “applying a cultural brake” in the encyclical Humanae Vitae, for standing fast against the tidal wave of Sixties permissivism that has led to so much unhappiness and sorrow, and for opposing “present and future neo-Malthusianism.” When Francis asked, “Who am I to judge?” he was responding as a pastor to the particular situation of a man experiencing same-sex attraction. And as the pope said, if that man was trying, with the grace of God, to live an honest and chaste life, he ought not be judged by his temptations, any more than anyone else in this world of endless temptation. Mercy and truth, as always, go together. For the mercy that tells us that we are not beyond the pale of forgiveness is the mercy that leads us into the truths that make for genuine human happiness.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a very old-school Jesuit, and it’s clear that, as such, he is going to be pope his way, not anyone else’s…

And as such, he is capturing the world’s attention, for reasons they may not even know or be correct in identifying. All they know is that he is reaching the human heart and mind and soul on a depth not even perceptible to the senses, except for that of the transcendent. Many people who are not Catholic, including the altogether un-churched, have called him ‘our pope’. And so he is.

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Mar 13

First year anniversary of this papacy. First pope named Francis. First Jesuit pope. First from the Americas. But the 266th Peter, in continuous succession of the first rock on which the Catholic Church was built.

Though some people see his ‘difference in style and tone’ as translating to a whole new package of different governance of the church all the way to changing church doctrine, this is not the case. That needs clarification.

Fr. Bernardo Cervellera clarifies here.

One year on from the election of Pope Francis as successor to the Apostle Peter, we are becoming increasingly aware that he is guiding the Church towards a revolution, fought not by the sword but by personal witness, without throwing away the past, but by helping authentic tradition to flourish once again.

This has been evident right from the outset, that first evening of 13 March, when presenting himself to the world from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica he asked us to pray together, and silence immediately descended on the packed square, which previously had been full of restless murmurs. Instead of proclaiming programs, he called for silence to listen to God’s program (the one that “always precedes us”).

The Bishop of Rome asked for the prayers of the faithful. Some naive television commentators saw this gesture as a sign that he would dispose of hierarchical clericalism. Indeed, with his silent bow, the Pope lowered himself: to show that he is not a monarch, but a person with a mandate, someone who takes very seriously what one billion Catholics do every day with the rosary: “We pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be for the intentions of the supreme Pontiff”. The most traditional element was expressed in unison with the single most revolutionary, most ….progressive element.

The uniting of these two elements, the traditional and the progressive, appears to be characteristic of Francis.

Which needs continual clarification.

From this point of view, Francis is the ripest fruit of the Second Vatican Council, and especially of a “sound” reading of the Council. In these intervening decades – as was masterfully explained by Benedict XVI – the Church has been divided between a hermeneutic of rupture and a hermeneutic of continuity. The former read the Council as a watershed between the past and present-future: the latter read the development of the life of faith in unity with the past, albeit a past that is re-read and re-applied to the needs of modern man…

And now, Francis comes along.

50 years after the Council, Pope Francis goes beyond these two ruptures, the right wing and the left wing, and reaffirms the Council and the reading thereof as an exegesis of continuity. This is why his every action is both traditional and modern; he spends time in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and in a moving and loving silence draws close to the long lines of the ill and sick who each Wednesday fill the front rows at the general audience, worshipping both the “body” and the “flesh of Christ.”…

However, the world and those on the fringes of the Church are precisely those unlikely to understand this Pope’s witness, in their tug of war pulling him from the right and from the left, from above and below, without ever really allowing themselves to be touched by his vital message .

That is a key insight. Stay with that thought.

Alongside those who ask him to clarify his teaching, speak out in defense of those “values ??” that contemporary society wants to rid the world of, there are those who see him merely as a representative of Latin America, an emblem of how the Church from the developing world has defeated the wealthy Church of the North Americans and Europeans…

There are those who pull him even further, applauding his “openness” (real or supposed) towards homosexuals, gay marriage, communion for the divorced, women cardinals, in a rush toward the future.

But none of these interpretations stop to consider the present: a transparent man in his faith and the joy of his relationship with Christ, which is why he does not offer the world a doctrine or an ideology, but an encounter with Christ himself.

Full stop. That is Pope Francis, summarized in a sentence. It’s the Francis the pop culture media don’t yet get.

The pope, who – in keeping with the tradition of the social doctrine of the Church – said that an economy can not exist without ethics, is accused of being a Marxist. At the same time, those who seem to applaud him as a revolutionary at every unusual gesture, are turning him into a “cult” icon of mass consumption, without being touched in the slightest by his invitation.

That came up on my radio program this week in a compelling conversation with Word On Fire’s Fr. Steve Grunow, and National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez. Kathryn summarizes well here.

The viral photos. The magazine covers. “The Francis effect.”

But as my friend Father Steve Grunow, CEO of Word on Fire (the people who brought us the Catholicism series that partially aired on PBS in recent years), put it earlier this week, there is a danger for the faithful and for interested observers that we treat Pope Francis a little like a St. Francis statue in a garden: It feels good to have him there. He’s popular. He’s holy. I feel good about the Church now, some say. But the point is that he wants to bring people to Christ and challenge Christians to be real. To simply feel good about him or dismiss his challenges — which are the radical challenges of the Gospel – misses the message.

The message is simple. So simple, modern culture that politicizes and complicates everything, needs help even grasping it. Here’s help.

There is something about Pope Francis that has captured the aspirations of the world. It’s something of God. He is a humble servant who points us in the direction of the compelling, joyful alternative that is the life of the Gospels. It’s a self-sacrificial alternative. He seems to be just the tender father we needed as a guide…

The pope has referred to the Church as a field hospital. We go to the doctor for checkups, for advice, for medicine. And so it is here. Come to Church, all who are weary, is again and again the pope’s message. There is love there — for you — from the Creator of the universe. There is mercy there: Never tire of asking for God’s forgiveness. There is such grace-filled liberation in this…

Perhaps that’s all you really need to know about Pope Francis: He is invitational; he invites everyone to the life he has dedicated his life to, walking other people through it, because in it he knows the peace and merciful love the world needs. It’s an ecumenical blessing as it offers healing and flourishing. And, yes, a light that illuminates everything.

The world is noticing, whether they really see what they’re gazing at or not. Yet.

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Mar 01

Some big questions have demonstrably true answers. But when they don’t fit powerful narratives, some powerful people are making the questions irrelevant.

Or coming up with pragmatic answers, you know, whatever works at the moment to dodge the truth.

As the Planned Parenthood president just did this week, saying that when life begins is not really relevant to the abortion debate.

“It is not something that I feel is really part of this conversation,” Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos on Thursday. “I don’t know if it’s really relevant to the conversation.”

When pressed, Richards said that in her view life began for her three children when she delivered them.

She explained that the purpose of her organization is not to answer a question that “will be debated through the centuries,” but to provide options for pregnant women.

People who choose to deny the facts may find them debatable or beyond their ability to debate, or just reduce them to an incoherent diversion.

But it is not debatable when life begins. It is scientific fact.

Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards dodging the question of human life by saying it’s irrelevant to the abortion debate is seriously dishonest and disingenuous, at best. It provides the occasion to recall former abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the original architects of the abortion movement in America, telling the story behind the lies and deceptions for many years after his conversion. Late in his life, in a dramatic effort to help secure legislation in South Dakota that would strengthen informed consent laws, he made this video admission that as one of the original founders of NARAL, they made up the numbers and the ‘facts’, to ‘save abortion at all costs.’

His lesson about the importance of devising and driving a narrative “at all costs” applies to the whole choice movement, and Richards’ response reveals where incoherence inevitably leads.

It happens in other kinds of politics, too often. Remember Hillary Clinton facing a congressional task force inquiry into what really happened in the notorious Benghazi attacks, finally and angrily shouting ‘what difference does it make?

Political commentator Charles Krauthammer says there’s all the difference.

There’s a difference between the truth and a lie. The difference is that people in high office with public trust ought not lie. And if it was a lie, for whatever political or other reason, it shouldn’t have happened, and the administration itself should have traced it down and corrected it. And they didn’t. And that’s what is disturbing and remains disturbing.

And some people are still seeking the truth about that.

Ans, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught, there is an eternal truth, and it applies to all social issues. And those who seek it will find it.

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Feb 20

Wait. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

Why is the federal government studying the plan of putting monitors in media newsrooms?

The Obama Administration’s Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is poised to place government monitors in newsrooms across the country in an absurdly draconian attempt to intimidate and control the media.

Before you dismiss this assertion as utterly preposterous (we all know how that turned out when the Tea Party complained that it was being targeted by the IRS), this bombshell of an accusation comes from an actual FCC Commissioner.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai reveals a brand new Obama Administration program that he fears could be used in “pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.”

Wait. Elite media have been covering the president very favorably, for a very long time. With no pressure.

As Commissioner Pai explains in the Wall Street Journal:

“Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run.

This sounds so surreal.

The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”

In fact, the FCC is now expanding the bounds of regulatory powers to include newspapers, which it has absolutely no authority over, in its new government monitoring program.

Wait. Wait. There’s everything wrong with this picture. Bias?! Who can remember when there wasn’t media bias? But bias is in the eyes of the beholder, and for the past half dozen years at least, it certainly favored Barack Obama. So what’s the administration seeing now that makes them leery enough to go where no administration has gone before? Talk about ‘red lines’, the executive branch of government does not cross over into the free press to exert its power.

I don’t usually or ever cite Wikipedia as a source, but it helps here. Why is the free media called the Fourth Estate?

“Fourth Estate” most commonly refers to the news media; especially print journalism or “the press”. Thomas Carlyle attributed the origin of the term to Edmund Burke, who used it in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on the opening up of press reporting of the House of Commons of Great Britain…

In current use the term is applied to the press, with the earliest use in this sense described by Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship: “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

Not so in this modern era. They long ago lost their credibility with the people, as public opinion polls continue to show. However, the media always retained their power and a certain influence that went with it to tell the people what’s happening in the world, in their country, and in their government, however they see fit to print or report the news. If wielded with responsibility and accountability, that power could and should be the people’s check on the government they elected.

Now the government is thinking of acting like this is a totalitarian state, a dictatorship.

The FCC has apparently already selected eight categories of “critical information” “that it believes local newscasters should cover.”

That’s right, the Obama Administration has developed a formula of what it believes the free press should cover, and it is going to send government monitors into newsrooms across America to stand over the shoulders of the press as they make editorial decisions.

This poses a monumental danger to constitutionally protected free speech and freedom of the press.

Every major repressive regime of the modern era has begun with an attempt to control and intimidate the press.

As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

The federal government has absolutely no business determining what stories should and should not be run, what is critical for the American public and what is not, whether it perceives a bias, and whose interests are and are not being served by the free press.

It’s an unconscionable assault on our free society.

Media pundit Howard Kurtz asks ‘What is the FCC thinking?

The Fairness Doctrine, which once required TV and radio stations to offer equal time for opposing points of view, is no more, and good riddance (since it discouraged stations from taking a stand on much of anything). The Obama administration swears it’s not coming back.

How, then, to explain this incursion into the substance of journalism, which seems utterly at odds with the notion of a free and unfettered press?

An attempt at an answer in a moment. But by the way, Kurtz adds:

The government has no business meddling in how journalism is practiced. And if George W. Bush’s FCC had tried this, it would be a front-page story.

That is getting to be a tired tag line, true as it is.

So, how to explain this?

“What are they thinking?” Mr. Kurtz, it’s pretty obvious; they’re thinking no one in the mainstream press has asked them a difficult or challenging question in 7 years, so why would they start now.

They’re thinking an obsequious press that couldn’t be bothered to sustain outrage over intrusions into its own phone and internet records won’t have a problem with the government parking itself into the newsroom.

They’re thinking that if the mainstream press could forgive them for considering espionage charges against a member of the press — for doing what reporters are supposed to do — and then re-commence their habitual boot-licking, there is no real risk of media folk suddenly calling out a “red line”, or even being able to identify one.

They’re figuring that with this president, the mainstream media has no idea what “a bridge too far” might mean. Nor, “abuse of power”; nor “cover-up”; nor “mendacity”, “incompetence”, “ineptitude” or “constitutional illiteracy.”

They know that half the people in the newsroom are either married to (or social buddies with) influential members of this government, and that everyone is all comfy and nicely settled in for the revolution.

They know that the press willfully surrendered its own freedoms some time ago, in the interests of ideology, and so they really won’t mind a little editorial supervision from the masters:

. . .we no longer need wonder why the mainstream media seems unconcerned about possible attacks on our first amendment rights to freedom of religion and the exercise thereof. They have already cheerfully, willfully surrendered the freedom of the press to the altar of the preferred narrative. People willing to dissolve their own freedoms so cheaply have no interest in anyone else’s freedom, either.

They know that if they like their newsroom, they can keep their newsroom, once it has been correctly updated. A Mad Man might sell the scheme as Prexy-Clean. Journalism “new and improved with powerful cleansing agents!”

I hope that helps, Mr. Kurtz.

And that’s as close as it gets to the truth of the matter, and truth matters more greatly than the media have collectively or in man cases individually considered in quite some time. This is what happens when you throw in with the powers that be, and those powers know they have you in their grip.

Like Elizabeth Scalia, I haven’t wanted to touch a political story lately, for quite a while. I try to find and focus on stories of human dignity and rights, faith and reason and justice in the balance. Not everything is political, but politics have invaded everything.

And now the federal government is considering going into media newsrooms.

So Scalia’s closing words here stand for both of us:

I didn’t want to write about this today. The truth is, I don’t even want to write about politics, anymore, because it’s all distraction and illusion and theater. I’d be happy to write about prayer and scripture, and nothing else, for the rest of my life, and maybe that’s what I’ll be doing, soon enough. But I am passionate about journalism, passionate about the need for a free press, and so I had to write, today. Without a curious press interested in protecting its own freedoms, there is no there, there. We might as well just put down the mics and turn out the lights, because it’s over.

Amen, sister. It’s not over, we’re still at our keyboards and mics, and our passion for a free and unfettered press will keep us busier than we want to be for a long time.

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Jan 31

They get rock. But this is way beyond their reach or grasp.

The Rolling Stone magazine followed the trend or path of several other secular, popular press publications and put Pope Francis on its cover, accompanied by a lengthy cover story inside. How did they handle it?

Fr. Steve Grunow, theologian and CEO of Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire media ministry, sees it this way.

Pope Francis is hot right now, by which I mean that his SEO ranking continues to impress and media outlets remain fascinated by this first pope from the global south. Not a bad thing, but also not a new thing. Some decades ago a pope “from a far country” was the preoccupation of the media, namely Blessed (soon to be saint) John Paul II. Benedict XVI received his own share of media attention, there was a kind of fascination with him, but minus the accolades that Pope Francis currently enjoys.

Benedict never caught a break during his pontificate.

Which brings me to the text of the article that lay beneath the cover image of the smiling Pope Francis on the cover of Rolling Stone. What precisely is the article about? Not so much Pope Francis himself, but someone and something else. That someone in question is Pope Benedict and the something in question is a Church. Pope Francis is, according to the author of the article, a repudiation of both. Really?

The article has been written by Mark Binelli and it seems to be his purpose to present the Holy Father as a Clintonian-style Democratic liberal who will cast off the conservative overlay of traditional Catholic teaching (especially in regards to sexual morality) and unleash the ideological progressivism that is latent with the Church. I guess in this construal of things the previous pontificate of Benedict XVI is to be accepted as a shill for the ecclesial version of Reagan-style Republican conservatism.

The narrowness of Binelli’s worldview is breathtaking. But people give us what they have. The vision in which everything is but a participation in the American political ethos is a totalizing vision that serves many as the ultimate explanation of all things. This totalizing vision is evidently Binelli’s creed.

But more striking than Binelli’s totalizing vision of the American political ethos, is the venom which he spews in the direction of Pope Benedict, who is characterized by the author as akin the horror villain Freddie Krueger and whose pontificate is situated in relation to some the most notorious men who have been pope. What gives here? Is any reasonable person expected to take anything written in the article subsequent to his screed against Pope Benedict seriously? Some do and the article panders to this sentiment that has been used to malign Pope Benedict even in the years prior to his election as Successor of Peter. The dialectic at play in the article is evidently that Francis is the anti-Benedict, the new antithesis in contrast to an old thesis. The synthesis that is meant to emerge from this a Catholic Faith wholly accommodated to secular modernity- which along with the American political ethos, we are expected to believe is the measure of all things.

That last part is the money line, really.

Fr. Steve and National Review Online’s Kathryn Lopez were my guests on radio Thursday for a roundtable discussion of media fascination with the pope, and the Rolling Stone story in particular. We really didn’t get past the Rolling Stone piece, it’s so lengthy and filled with so much material to discuss. Not that it had depth and heft of any theological or philosophical kind. It did not. It was an offering from the cult of personality to a distorted reflection of itself. And Francis just happened to be a convenient prop to hold up that reflection.

As Fr. Steve said early out of the gate, the writer made it sound like ‘this guy is one of us and reflects our beliefs.’ And by nasty contrast, Benedict not only did not, he was a nasty guy who headed a “disastrous papacy” that represented an archaic, corrupt, desperately behind the times, oppressive regime behind the walls of an “absurd, impossibly baroque backdrop of the Vatican.”

This was a hit piece on Benedict, and by extension, the magisterium of the Church he led, consistent with his predecessors on matters of faith and morals. What Rolling Stone’s writer needs to realize, said Fr. Grunow, is that Francis is “not the CEO of Corporation Church.”

But besides the business model, there’s the political, which is really underlying this piece. And the writer and magazine’s editors and other media outlets would benefit from Fr. Grunow’s insights that American media commentators tend to see the world through the lens of American political ideology.

Perhaps Pope Francis, whose vision of the Catholic Faith is illuminated by a Light different than the contrary lights of secular modernity, knows that a Pope is not measured by the standards applied to political authority or executive office or celebrity, but in his willingness to bear witness to a Faith that has endured since the time of the apostles. Maybe [writer Mark] Binelli believes that Pope Francis does this better than Pope Benedict, but none of the categories of understanding he employs in his article evidence that he actually knows what the Apostolic Faith is or what Francis and Benedict themselves believed about it. Binelli doesn’t even try in this regard and this is the main reason one comes away from the article with the sense that the purpose of the piece was to convince us that if Pope Francis isn’t the person described by the author, he should be. This isn’t journalism in service to truth, it is propaganda in service to ideology.

And though that would have been the best final line on this piece, Fr. Grunow actually delivered one on the radio show, right near the end of an hour of compelling conversation. On a positive note, he said, the smiling face of Francis on the cover of Rolling Stone may represent the first time that magazine prominently featured someone who is free, a person with freedom from slavery to obsessions, freedom from imprisonment to idols. “He’s saying what the world offers is not replenishing the human spirit. Leave that behind, that doesn’t renew your spirit. There’s encounter, there’s trust building, there’s a truth telling that liberates. Pope Francis is a free man, he’s not held bound by any of those spectacles, but I just don’t think they get it.”

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