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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Jan 28

It takes many forms, and it snakes its way through cultural relativism. But it’s alive and very active.

The topic is probably worth a book, certainly a long article or series. For purposes of a manageable blog post for now, let’s look at some recent events in light of other related events and see how the pieces fit together to form a picture.

Fr. Robert Barron is the force and the voice behind the Catholicism Series. So he’s an important voice to listen to when he speaks out about some recent anti-Catholic outbursts, and why they should bother everyone.

Last week two outrageously anti-Catholic outbursts took place in the public forum. The first was an article in U.S. News and World Report by syndicated columnist Jamie Stiehm. Ms. Stiehm argued that the Supreme Court was dangerously packed with Catholics, who have, she averred, a terribly difficult time separating church from state and who just can’t refrain from imposing their views on others. Her meditations were prompted by Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s granting some legal breathing space to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were objecting to the provisions of the HHS mandate. As even a moment’s thoughtful consideration would reveal, this decision hadn’t a thing to do with the intrusion of the “church” into the state, in fact just the contrary. Moreover, the appeal of American citizens (who happen to be Catholic nuns) and the decision of a justice of the Supreme Court in no way constitute an “imposition” on anyone. The very irrationality of Stiehm’s argument is precisely what has led many to conclude that her column was prompted by a visceral anti-Catholicism which stubbornly persists in our society.

Clearly and correctly stated. This is true.

The second eruption of anti-Catholicism was even more startling. In the course of a radio interview, Governor Andrew Cuomo blithely declared that anyone who is pro-life on the issue of abortion or who is opposed to gay marriage is “not welcome” in his state of New York. Mind you, the governor did not simply say that such people are wrong-headed or misguided; he didn’t say that they should be opposed politically or that good arguments against their position should be mounted; he said they should be actively excluded from civil society! As many commentators have already pointed out, Governor Cuomo was thereby excluding roughly half of the citizens of the United States and, presumably, his own father, Mario Cuomo, who once famously declared that he was personally opposed to abortion. Again, the very hysterical quality of this statement suggests that an irrational prejudice gave rise to it.

This needs to be addressed and confronted. Fr. Barron takes us back through historical anti-Catholicism and it’s good to remind Americans of what it was.

But…

What is particularly troubling today is the manner in which this deep-seated anti-Catholicism is finding expression precisely through that most enduring and powerful of American institutions, namely the law. We are a famously litigious society: The law shapes our identity, protects our rights, and functions as a sanction against those things we find dangerous. Increasingly, Catholics are finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, especially in regard to issues of sexual freedom. The HHS mandate is predicated upon the assumption that access to contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs is a fundamental right, and therefore to stand against facilitating this access, as the Church must, puts Catholics athwart the law. The same is true in regard to gay marriage. To oppose this practice is not only unpopular or impolitic, but, increasingly, contrary to legal statute. Already, in the context of the military, chaplains are encouraged and in some cases explicitly forbidden to condemn gay marriage, as this would constitute a violation of human rights.

And this is why the remarks by Andrew Cuomo are especially chilling. That a governor of a major state — one of the chief executives in our country — could call for the exclusion of pro-lifers and those opposed to gay marriage suggests that the law could be used to harass, restrict, and, at the limit, attack Catholics. Further, the attitude demonstrated by the son of Mario Cuomo suggests that there is a short path indeed from the privatization of Catholic moral convictions to the active attempt to eliminate those convictions from the public arena. I would hope, of course, that it is obvious how this aggression against Catholics in the political sphere ought deeply to concern everyone in a supposedly open society. If the legal establishment can use the law to aggress Catholics, it can use it, another day, to aggress anyone else.

Which recalls Martin Niemoller’s ‘First They Came…”

Which precisely gets to the point of the Nazi Holocaust and the belief in ‘lebensunwertens lebens’, or ‘life unworthy of life’, when an entire class of human beings can be denied any human rights when another class has power over them.

And that gets to this past week’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade in America, 41 years of abortion on demand. And President Obama’s remarks to observe that anniversary. And Fr. Barron’s assistant Brandon Vogt taking those remarks to task, challenging the message.

Here’s the message:

Statement by the President on Roe v. Wade Anniversary

Today, as we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health. We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom. And we resolve to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, support maternal and child health, and continue to build safe and healthy communities for all our children. Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

Here’s Brandon Vogt’s challenge:

Though relatively short, the President’s statement is packed with several confusing assertions. I’d like to respond to some of them:

“[W]e recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.”

It’s true that every woman should have liberty to make decisions regarding her own body, but not the body of another. Modern embryology affirms that a new human life is created at fertilization (i.e., conception.) Therefore abortion intentionally destroys the life, and thus the body, of an innocent human being. We all should have choices, but nobody should have the freedom to murder anyone else.

“We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care.”

Everyone agrees that women (and men) deserve safe, affordable healthcare. That’s not the question. The question is whether the restrictions put in place by Roe v. Wade constitute healthcare. Unfortunately, they primarily concern the right of mothers to uninhibitedly take the life of their children. It’s not healthcare to disrupt a healthy and normally functioning process (e.g., pregnancy) nor is it healthcare to destroy the health of unborn babies.

“[We reaffirm a woman’s] constitutional right to privacy”

Like many Constitutional rights, the right to privacy is not absolute. In the eyes of the law, what a woman does with her own body in her own environment is her own concern. Yet when her choices threaten the lives of innocent others, the common good trumps her right to privacy. We all intuitively understand this. It’s why we agree that invading drug labs trumps a drug dealer’s right to privacy. The same principle applies here: women have a right to privacy, but not at the expense of innocent lives.

“[We reaffirm a woman’s] right to reproductive freedom.”

I agree! Women should be completely free to reproduce however and, with certain qualifications, wherever and with whomever they will. But Roe v. Wade doesn’t concern reproduction at all. It regards what happens *after* reproduction occurs, after a new, unique, individual human has already been produced by his or her parents. I agree we should promote reproductive freedom but not the freedom to terminate any resulting children.

This is intellectual honesty we seldom see, directed at each line of the president’s remarks. This is engagement we need.

“[We resolve to] support maternal and child health”

I struggle to see how the Roe v. Wade decision supports child health when it seems that 100% of the children it directly affects are no longer alive.

Yet it doesn’t support maternal health either. By violently disrupting a healthy bodily function, abortion leads to increased depression, cancer, mental illness, future pregnancy complications, and more.

Also, note the President’s chilling word choice here. He didn’t resolve to support women’s health, but specifically “maternal” health. The word maternal connotes motherhood, and you can only be a mother if you have a child. This subtle choice insinuates that the President knows well that pregnant mothers carry children, not some abstract clump of cells, and therefore abortion is not a neutral surgical procedure. It involves a mother intending the death of her child.

“[We resolve to] build safe and healthy communities for all our children.

Again, I struggle to see how the Roe v. Wade decision supports children. Abortion doesn’t result in safe and healthy communities for children. It results in less children.

“Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.”

I wholeheartedly agree! And that’s why Roe v. Wade should be overturned. The misguided court decision crushes the rights of unborn citizens for the sake of born citizens. It smashes their freedom and opportunity on the altar of false liberty. Everyone in this country deserves the same rights—men, women, and children—especially the smallest and most vulnerable among us.

Argue with that, and you are defending age discrimination, among other class distinctions.

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Jan 09

As they say in politics, the optics are bad in this one.

A legal expert on my radio show this week said their firm, extensively involved in lawsuits against the administration’s HHS mandate, said they were frankly surprised that the administration continued to push forward on the unprecedented mandate after the 2012 election at all, much less pushing it vigorously and committing teams of lawyers to defending it in courts across the country in 91 different lawsuits representing institutions, corporations, small business owners and individuals. But they have.

It was always destined to go to the Supreme Court, and will in March, since the high court decided to hear two key cases involving what some call the ‘contraceptive mandate’ and others the ‘contraception delivery scheme mandate’. It’s stayed off the public radar for the most part, largely due to media ignoring it and Americans being inundated with so many other cases of big government overreach, in other areas.

That hasn’t stopped the vigorous movement to hold off, reverse, overturn, or declare unconstitutional the Obamacare HHS mandate. It’s all here.

Including the New Year’s Eve ruling by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were hesitant to even go to court, their lawyers tell me. They’d rather be doing everything they’ve done for 175 years to take care of the sick, elderly, dying, and just caring for people. They didn’t want this fight. But they won’t give up on it the way they never give up on the sick and needy.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Little Sisters of the Poor run a nonprofit Colorado nursing home and hospice and therefore ought to be exempt under what the White House calls its “accommodation” for religiously affiliated institutions like parochial schools, hospitals and charities.

The problem is that to qualify under the “accommodation,” religious organizations must sign a legal contract with their insurer certifying that the religious organizations refuse to subsidize contraceptive services. “This certification is an instrument under which the plan is operated,” the contract notes, then informs the insurer of its “obligations” under the rules.

Those include a command that the insurer “shall provide” contraception to all enrollees, supposedly independently and for free. The political point of the accommodation was to pretend that the costs of contraception or abortifacients are nominally carried by a third-party corporation, but the insurers are really only the middle men. The Little Sisters thus argue that signing the certification contract directs others to provide birth control in their place and makes them complicit.

Boiled down, the Justice Department’s legal response on Friday was: Shut up and sign the form.

Yes, ‘it’s just a piece of paper,’ they contended.

Within hours, dozens of news stories appeared online that put the sisters at the center of a contentious national debate on what constitutes strong-arming a religious congregation to provide contraceptives and other abortion-inducing drugs to its employees.

The sticking point for both sides is a waiver/authorization form that the Little Sisters must fill out to take advantage of a so-called accommodation for non-profit ministries. The form, however, has a dual purpose—it signals opposition to the mandate, but also authorizes a third-party to provide the services it finds morally objectionable.

“The Little Sisters and other applicants cannot execute the form because they cannot deputize a third party to sin on their behalf,” stated the Becket Fund, which represents the Little Sisters, in a brief responding to the Obama administration. The group added that the administration is “simply blind to the religious exercise at issue.”

The Obama administration minimalized the importance of the form, enticing the Little Sisters to “secure for themselves the relief they seek” …“with the stroke of their own pen.”

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the nuns, said in a statement Friday that the administration was “trying to bully nuns into violating their religious beliefs.”

If the sisters don’t sign the waiver/authorization form, or if the courts don’t uphold the injunction, they could be subject to devastating IRS penalties that could add up to millions of dollars a year.

As Fr. Dwight Longenecker notes, we’ve seen this scenario before.

Where have we heard this before? Henry VIII and the Act of Supremacy. In November 1534 the English Parliament decreed that King Henry VIII was the “only supreme head on earth of the Church of England.” Everyone who held public office had to take the oath of supremacy, and most did. After all, it was “only a few words…only a pen stroke if you like…only a piece of paper.” At first the authorities even made it easier for people with tender consciences. A clause was added to the claim that the king was the head of the church: “insofar as the law of God allows.” Many of the clergy took the oath while they kept their fingers crossed with the compromise clause.

Once they got most to comply the compromise clause was removed. Those who had compromised now found that they had sworn the oath in the original form and they were held to it. When Henry’s illegitimate wicked daughter Elizabeth came to the throne the Oath of Supremacy was extended to schoolteachers, local authorities, university students–virtually anyone in any position of authority. To refuse to take the oath was treason, and the oath was demanded by the officers of Elizabeth’s police state.

The issue here is of the tactics used to suppress opposition. An oppressive government will insist that those with religious objections conform. They will say, “It is only a piece of paper. It is a mere pen stroke. What harm can there be in taking this way out we have offered you?” However, if it is a mere pen stroke or only a piece of paper, then why does the government insist on conformity of the Little Sisters of the Poor? If it is only a piece of paper or a pen stroke, why bother? Because it is most assuredly not a mere piece of paper or a pen stroke. It is the violation of the sister’s conscience by the government authorities. Why does the federal government insist on this detail? Because they know that if one group is allowed to have an exemption on religious grounds, then all groups may claim a similar exemption because of religious beliefs.

If this religious belief is honored, then every other religious belief on every other issue must also be honored. What is at stake in this argument, therefore, is not the comparatively minor issue of whether some Catholic sisters should authorize a third party to pay for contraceptive services, but whether any group, individual or business has the right to opt out of a government program which imposes on their lives and their beliefs. This government, like Henry VIII’s and Elizabeth I’s and all other tyrants, says “No. The will of the state takes precedence over religious opinions. You will conform.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, newly elected head of the US bishops conference, the body which found unusual unanimity in standing against this violation of religious freedom and basic conscience rights, explains.

Pope Francis inspires Catholics and non-Catholics alike with his focus on the gospel call to serve “the least of these.”

Our faith calls us to put first the needs of our brothers and sisters who suffer in poverty, and Catholics are justly proud of our network of schools, hospitals and social service ministries that work every day to help the poor and vulnerable.

Yet the ability of these ministries to live out the fullness of our faith is in jeopardy.

The mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services forces countless Catholic schools, hospitals, and social service organizations to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception in violation of Catholic teaching. The mandate went into effect on Jan. 1; ministries now are faced with the choice of violating our deeply held beliefs or paying crippling fines.

If these ministries don’t comply, the financial penalties may mean that some may have to close their doors. As that happens, the poor and those who serve them will be hurt the most. Forcing our ministries to divert funds from serving their neighbors to paying government fines will have real consequences for real people.

Archbishop Kurtz, a wise, kind, gentle and devoted shepherd, is trying to strike the right balance while serving needs justly.

We have spent significant time and effort seeking sincere dialogue with the Obama administration in hopes of preventing this impasse, and we are long-standing advocates of accessible, life-affirming health care. Yet our concerns continue to go unheard. The administration has crafted an “accommodation” that continues to compel our ministries to participate in providing drugs and services that violate our deeply held religious beliefs.

With the implementation date now upon us, we have made one more effort at dialogue, again asking President Obama to exempt nonprofit institutions caring for those in need from the harsh penalties imposed by the mandate.

The administration has shown flexibility in implementing other provisions of the Affordable Care Act, issuing numerous delays and exemptions for many employers and individuals.

We’re only asking that it offer that same consideration to those who want to live by their religious beliefs without facing government penalties for doing so…

On behalf of those served by our schools, hospitals and social service ministries, we will continue to resist the burdens imposed by the HHS mandate.

We hope and pray that the administration and Congress will protect us from those burdens, and that the courts will uphold our freedom to serve those who depend on us.

Some members of Congress are trying, relentlessly, to protect conscience rights and religious freedom. They need support and encouragement. Though everything is not political, everything is made political. In that world, the term ‘optics’ is often applied to actions that will be reported on and judged by the public.

The Little Sisters of the Poor in court seeking protection from administration lawyers is not good optics. To say the least.

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Jan 05

“I just think it’s inhumane to not feed my child, to not refer to her by her name, and stop us in our tracks.”

Chilling. It’s happening again. As it has many times over since Terri Schiavo was starved and dehydrated to death on court order in March 2005 and plunged the issues of biomedical ethics, healthcare for the cognitively impaired, ‘living wills’ and advance directives and euthanasia straight into the headlines and center of many family conversations.

This time it’s teenager Jahi McMath, whose family is battling to save her “from doctor-ordered starvation after a routine tonsillectomy left her brain-damaged and unable to breathe on her own.”

Since then, the hospital has been fighting to remove the eighth-grader from all life support, even going so far as to persuade a judge to declare her “legally dead” in the eyes of the state of California, where the law defines death as an absence of brain activity.

That’s the crux of the problem and issue at stake in this case which stands to carry a lot of weight in healthcare decisions for impaired individuals. There are two definitions of death involved, ‘brain death’ and ‘non-heart beating death’, and most people don’t know that or how much depends on which definition is used. Like organ harvesting.

…since the early 1990s, a little-known but disturbing revolution has been occurring in organ donation. A new procedure now called “donation after cardiac death” (DCD) has been quietly added to brain death organ donation in more and more hospitals in the United States and in other countries. It was made possible by linking the so-called right to die with organ donation…

In 1993, a whole issue of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal2 was devoted to discussing a new pool of organ donors — patients who are not brain dead but who are on ventilators and considered hopeless in terms of survival or predicted “quality of life”. In these patients, the patient or family agreed to the withdrawal of life support and to a “do not resuscitate” order. The patient was then taken to an operating room where the ventilator was withdrawn. When (or if, see below) the breathing and heartbeat stopped within about one hour, doctors waited for usually two minutes before then pronouncing cardiac death rather than brain death. The patient’s organs were then harvested for transplant. At that time, this was called non-heart-beating organ donation (NHBD) but since then, some insisted that the term was confusing and the name morphed to donation after cardiac death (DCD). However, since hearts have now been transplanted and thus are obviously not dead, there is a current proposal3 to change the name to donation after circulatory death and keep the acronym DCD.

NHBD/DCD was unknown to the American public until 1997 when many viewers were shocked by a report on the influential US television show 60 Minutes that revealed little-known policies called NHBD at some hospitals that would allow taking organs for transplant from persons who could be, in narrator Mike Wallace’s words, “not quite dead”.

The 60 Minutes story explored the possibility that these NHBD policies were allowing doctors to discontinue life support, administer possibly harmful medications to some potentially salvageable patients, and harvest these patients’ organs for transplants using cardiac rather than brain death criteria.

This CNN article on Jahi McMath highlights the controversies. They are growing more urgent, for the cause of human dignity and the fundamental human rights of the most vulnerable.

And they’re still in flux, and still breaking news. Read and listen carefully to terminology.

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