Feb 24

It depends on how carefully you choose your words.

This Washington Post headline was attention grabbing: ‘The progressive ideas behind the lack of free speech on campus.’

It has a provocative opening setup.

Is an academic discussion of free speech potentially traumatic? A recent panel for Smith College alumnae aimed at “challenging the ideological echo chamber” elicited this ominous “trigger/content warning” when a transcript appeared in the campus newspaper: “Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, antisemitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence, references to antisemitic violence.”

What?

Challenging an “ideological echo chamber” is a good idea. What went wrong with that good intention?

One of my fellow panelists mentioned that the State Department had for a time banned the words “jihad,” “Islamist” and “caliphate” — which the transcript flagged as “anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language.”

I described the case of a Brandeis professor disciplined for saying “wetback” while explaining its use as a pejorative. The word was replaced in the transcript by “[anti-Latin@/anti-immigrant slur].” Discussing the teaching of “Huckleberry Finn,” I questioned the use of euphemisms such as “the n-word” and, in doing so, uttered that forbidden word. I described what I thought was the obvious difference between quoting a word in the context of discussing language, literature or prejudice and hurling it as an epithet.

Two of the panelists challenged me. The audience of 300 to 400 people listened to our spirited, friendly debate — and didn’t appear angry or shocked. But back on campus, I was quickly branded a racist, and I was charged in the Huffington Post with committing “an explicit act of racial violence.” McCartney subsequently apologized that “some students and faculty were hurt” and made to “feel unsafe” by my remarks.

Unsafe? These days, when students talk about threats to their safety and demand access to “safe spaces,” they’re often talking about the threat of unwelcome speech and demanding protection from the emotional disturbances sparked by unsettling ideas.

This is intellectual dishonesty, bankrupt ideology and ‘politically correct’ bullying carried through to its logical conclusion. Though the irony is, those who do it can’t discern logic.

“Unsettling ideas”? What is academia about, if not ideas that provoke thought, challenge debate, fire neurons and engage critical thinking skills. Whatever happened to the art of argument? Forensics?

Progressivism, that odd misnomer.

How did we get here? How did a verbal defense of free speech become tantamount to a hate crime and offensive words become the equivalent of physical assaults?

You can credit — or blame — progressives for this enthusiastic embrace of censorship. It reflects, in part, the influence of three popular movements dating back decades: the feminist anti-porn crusades, the pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses.

What to say? This could launch a book, or three. Read the piece and digest its arguments, it’s revealing.

But as for the “feminist anti-porn crusades”, there’s plenty to say that could fill volumes alone on that topic, on how very selective feminists have been in the past few decades to speak out against objectification of women. The latest of which is the vile ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ campaign, which has predictably taken its first publicized toll (with no way to account for the private ones).

Here’s the real anti-porn crusade. And here.

As for the “pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses”, this will take truthful, dedicated and committed rehabilitation – not just efforts but movements – to really recover what’s been lost in the decades of groupthink that took over academia and legitimate intellectual inquiry, and turned out reactionaries who no longer know the rich history of civil, religious and humanitarian rights, first principles, and the consistent ethic of human life and dignity that undergirds them.

They may get annoyed by technological devices constantly feeding them ‘auto-correct’ and ‘auto-suggest’ replacements for what they really feel and think and want to say. But they fail to see it happening in more consequential communications in the classroom, the debate halls and in the public square.

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Feb 17

The film’s opening exposed a deep wound. It needs healing.

Whatever happens to the book and film franchise, the real life toll of human torture it exposes has to stay prominent in public debate and social action. It’s been in the shadows for far too long, and done incalculable damage.

There’s pornography addiction. Which this group of innovative human rights advocates calls ‘the new drug.’ The site is loaded with information and resources.

Dr. Peter Kleponis told me on radio that after spending nearly two decades in marriage counseling, something changed, and the reality of the scourge of pornography addiction started becoming more apparent and more urgent in the crises he found himself dealing with, though nobody would talk openly about it. That was eight years ago, and he’s been working on treatment for men and couples over those years.

Why the silence? Fear, shame, confusion, the mainstreaming of the porn culture. Which became more prominent with the release of this film. Look at this middle-school class project, worked into a crossword puzzle.

There’s the dismissive excuse that as long as people consent to what they’re doing, it’s nobody else’s business. But with cultural dysfunction, sometimes consent is not enough.

“As long as he or she is consenting, it’s OK.” No it’s not, because people consent all the time to practices that they know are destructive and this doesn’t make such practices right. First, people can be pressured by their culture or their peers into things that they know are harmful to them. The fear of being left out or laughed at can motivate the teenager to do drugs that are physiologically damaging to his body. He may know that they are harmful and that he will suffer consequences for doing them. But he doesn’t want his friends to think that he isn’t cool enough to do things that are physically risky. So he ‘consents’ in order to fit in. His ‘consent’ may seem voluntary but really he is being pressured by the people in his surroundings, and his fear of social rejection overcomes his better judgment. Women and men all the time are afraid of not fitting in or being part of the cool crowd. So they ‘consent’ to sexually exploitative practices that they know are damaging in order to be accepted. The sixteen-year-old girl ‘consents’ to sext pictures of her naked torso in order to fit in with the social climbers at school…

The point is that history is full of examples of mass cultural delusions. Just because large numbers of people think that something is right or intriguing or cool doesn’t make it in fact right or intriguing or cool. A democratic majority is a poor basis for a healthy sexual morality.

A lot of times my students these days tell me that they want to help stop the sexual trafficking industry. They are shocked by the idea of exploited women – girls, even – being made to do things that are predatory and damaging. Whenever they say this to me I always respond, “do you really want to do something to stop sex trafficking? Change yourself first before you try to change others. Don’t look at porn, don’t promote sexual practices that are exploitative of others, and don’t put money in the hands of people whose movies stir up a desire in the culture for the trafficked girls.” “Fifty Shades” is wrong because it is stirring up a desire in people for exploitative sexual practices. It makes people want to do things that enable predatory industries like sex trafficking to flourish.

This MSU study bears out the harm that comes from exposure to pop culture porn, like ‘Fifty Shades.’

Young adult women who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner, finds a new study led by a Michigan State University researcher. Further, women who read all three books in the blockbuster “Fifty Shades” erotic romance series are at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.

All are known risks associated with being in an abusive relationship, much like the lead character, Anastasia, is in “Fifty Shades,” said Amy Bonomi, the study’s lead investigator…

Compared to participants who didn’t read the book, those who read the first “Fifty Shades” novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them; 34 percent more likely to have a partner who demonstrated stalking tendencies; and more than 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids or fasted for more than 24 hours.
Those who read all three books in the series were 65 percent more likely than nonreaders to binge drink — or drink five or more drinks on a single occasion on six or more days per month — and 63 percent more likely to have five or more intercourse partners during their lifetime.

Bonomi, who has a doctoral degree in health services and a master’s in public health, said she is not suggesting the book be banned or that women should not be free to read whatever books they wish or to have a love life.

However, it’s important women understand that the health behaviors assessed in the study are known risk factors for being in a violent relationship.

And they don’t end up the way Hollywood portrays in this film series.

“They’re making out as if this caught on all by itself, but it wasn’t organic growth. There’s been a juggernaut of media behind this, and it’s selling to women an image that somehow if you love a sadist out of his (abuse) you’ll have a great life,” (Dr. Gail Dines) said.

“When in reality, how ’50 Shades’ would end is that she’s running for her life to a battered women’s shelter, with children in tow, she’s got her front teeth knocked out, she’s got cigarette burns up and down her arm…she’s living off the grid without a bank account or a cell phone, cause these sadists never let go.”

The media celebration of the books and movies shows an irresponsibility and an ignorance about how violence against women is perpetuated, Dines added.

“You have a media who’s celebrating this violence against women,” she said. “No other group would be celebrated when they’re beaten and tortured like this, it would be considered an outrage. For any other minority group, if you had a film that would eroticize them being violated, people would absolutely be tearing down the cinemas in the streets. And what do we have here? We have a massive media juggernaut promoting it.”

Dines, who is also a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, said she believes “50 Shades of Grey” has also caught on because we live in a culture where pornography is considered acceptable.

“If you want to understand the popularity of this, you have to look at the way pornography has literally hijacked the way people think about sex and sexuality,” she said.

As a sociologist, Dines said she has seen a lot of research about the effects of pornography on the brains of boys and men. The younger someone becomes addicted to porn, the more difficult it is to break away, she said. Furthermore, regular viewing of pornography is re-shaping the way boys’ brains are forming.

“We’ve got 40 years of experimental psychology research which tells us that the more porn men look at, the more boys look at, the more they believe it,” she said. “The jury’s not out about that – that has been known in the science literature for years and years.”

There’s also plenty known by the international experts in human trafficking, like Elizabeth Yore, who tells me that the film ‘Fifty Shades’ portrays torture as romance, and helps predators groom their victims. Help stop this. Be alert to signals that it may be happening right around you.

And be aware of the porn effect. And resources available to eliminate it, and heal the wounds it causes, no matter how deep or dark they seem.

If all of this helps just one person, it will have served its purpose. And if ‘Fifty Shades’ has any redeeming value, it’s in opening this critically needed public discussion, exchange and forum for help to protect and restore human dignity.

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Feb 06

Cover for all sorts of grime.

However the book series Fifty Shades of Grey came to be wildly popular, I’ll let social scientists figure out and help us sort through the ravages of our culture for the past five decades or so. But because it has turned into a heavily funded, slickly filmed and produced, and very cleverly marketed big budget film about to be released for Valentine’s Day weekend – a real twist of ironies there – people need to be aware of what this is all about. So many aren’t. Zac Alstin tried to help out here.

From its first pages Fifty Shades of Grey is firmly situated in the realms of mediocre fan fiction, beginning with an awkward and clichéd scene in which the protagonist helpfully describes her own appearance in the mirror. It continues with a quality of prose and characterisation that would be hard to reconcile with the book’s success but for the knowledge that the “erotic romance” genre is underpinned by readers’ sexual fantasies – in this case, the sexual fantasies of a hundred million Twilight readers already primed for an R-rated elaboration of their favourite tale of forbidden love…

As one author put it: “Two years ago, it was all vampires. Now it’s BDSM. Kink is the new vamp.”

Unfortunately BDSM does actually exist, whereas vampires do not…

Put those thoughts together and go to Miriam Grossman, featured here already for her expert insight and advice on the issues related to the themes of Shades of Grey. She speaks with expertise of those young readers primed for an elaboration on tales of forbidden love, without understanding the true nature of love. In fact, Dr. Grossman has written a four part series to help navigate this cultural minefield. It’s well done, from the first post, a parent survival guide on how to talk with teens and young adults about the subject.

There’s a lot for them to figure out, but they’re utterly lost. What do I want, and how do I get it? How do I deal with peer pressure and navigate the hook-up culture? Are there consequences to sex, or is it just about fun? What’s normal? What’s not?

Please know, these are kids who by and large do well in other areas. They’re successful at school and with friends; some of them are accomplished musicians and athletes. But romance? That’s where they’re thrown off-track, and there are lots of tears, anger, and regret.

I often wonder to myself, I know this kid has responsible, loving parents…where are they?

Moms and dads, guardians and grandparents, I urge you: no matter how awkward it is, you must speak to your children about intimacy – what it is, and what it is not. I’m talking not only about teens, but also tweens who are mature, or who hang out with teens.

Now brace youselves…

The perfect opportunity is here. Hollywood’s gift to us this Valentine’s Day is Fifty Shades of Grey. With Universal Picture’s mega million dollar publicity campaign, and a soundtrack by Beyonce, your child is about to be bombarded with a dangerous message about romance.

That’s a gift?

Fifty Shades of Grey teaches your daughter that pain and humiliation are erotic, and your son, that girls want a guy who controls, intimidates and threatens. In short, the film portrays emotional and physical abuse as sexually arousing to both parties.

You know these are foul lies, but your kids may not be sure. If the world was a better place, they would never hear such awful things. But this is the world we live in.

The good news is you can turn this to your advantage. Don’t dread all the hype, because it’s a chance to connect with and help your child in a big way. Every billboard, preview, and sound clip is a precious opportunity, a chance to warn your child about being manipulated. It’s a springboard for discussion about disturbed relationships – how to recognize and avoid them.

You can prepare for this with a little homework.

1. Learn about the film’s plot and main characters, Christian and Anastasia – this will give you credibility. Do this by reading a synopsis such as the one on Wikipedia. If you want more than that, there’s a long, detailed one at thebookspoiler ( warning: obscene language ).

2. Identify some opportunities for private and uninterrupted time with your child. Perhaps in the car, or while working together in the kitchen or garage. If you don’t think it’s going to happen, consider a bribe: There’s something really important I want to talk about. If you turn your phone off for fifteen minutes while we chat, I’ll give you five bucks. There’s nothing wrong with this.

My goal is this: by Valentine’s Day, you’re going to say: thank you, Universal Pictures. I used to procrastinate about talking with my child about this difficult subject. But Fifty Shades is so extreme, so over the top, that I had to step up to the plate. And I’m so pleased I did…because we had one of the most important conversations of our lives.

Good advice. Because these young people engaging entertainment media and pop culture all the time are sure confused. But so are their parents. I had Patrick Trueman on my program this week, former Justice Department head of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and current President of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, to discuss how his organization is engaging this rollout of what he repeatedly called hardcore porn pitched as romantic fantasy. He said the film promotes torture, abuse and sadomasochism, normalizes domestic violence, and particularly violence against women.

That same afternoon, a young friend excitedly planning her wedding told me, anxiously about two women she knew who were planning to see the film when it comes out on Valentine’s Day weekend. One was her mother-in-law to be. The other is her friend who works at an abused women’s shelter. This, declared my friend, is the extent to which people are clueless about the harsh, perverse and graphic reality of this film. And it highlights the need to inform them.

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Feb 03

The truth and the lies have become clearer.

Vast numbers of young people turning out for the March for Life in Washington DC, other such rallies across the US, and in the groups, operations, organizations and services dedicated to daily outreach and care for women and children, are survivors of the Roe generation. They’ve lost siblings, classmates and peers, some even their own child in a surprise and unintended pregnancy, and they know the toll it has taken on them, their parents, families and society. They’re the most life loving, fiercely determined, committed and outspoken generation of pro-life activists. Abortion activists saw that years ago, the evidence that their generation was dying off as a natural consequence of devaluing human life and motherhood and the natural bond between the generations.

There are so many ways this story is coming out and reaching people. Star Wars fans, humanitarians in general who aren’t used to these types of personal accounts, look at this one.

In 1914 Agnes Cuff, a flighty and unstable young woman with few prospects and little money found herself pregnant. The father didn’t want to be involved. She was alone, shamed, poor and pregnant.

Today she would be encouraged to get herself to an abortion clinic and end the unwanted pregnancy.

Instead a little boy was born.

English actor Alec Guinness, most famous for his role as Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars was Agnes Cuff’s only child. On his birth certificate he is named “Alec Guinness” but those were only his first names. The place for the child’s last name is blank. So is the column where the father’s name is listed.

It has never been confirmed who Guinness’ father was. Some speculated that he was a member of the Anglo-Irish Guinness family. Alec Guinness himself thought his father was a banker named Andrew Geddes.

Alec Guinness converted to the Catholic faith in 1956 and was a faithful Catholic for the rest of his life. His delightful conversion story is told in his autobiography Blessings in Disguise

CNN runs a piece by a feminist against abortion.

Abortion betrays women by having us believe that we must become like men — that is, not pregnant — to achieve parity with them, professionally, socially, educationally. And if we are poor, overwhelmed or abandoned by the child’s father, or if medical expenses would be too great for us or for our child, social “responsibility” requires us to rid ourselves of our own offspring…

Is this really the equality we were looking for 42 years ago?

I think most women want to see a culture that respects and honors women not only for the myriad talents we bring as individuals to our professions, our communities and our country. Women also want to live in a society that, at the very same time, cherishes our shared, and indeed, wondrous capacity to bear new human life. We want to be respected for the work we do as mothers.

What about a culture where women’s childbearing capacity is recognized not as an impediment to our social status and certainly not as the be-all and end-all of women’s capacities as it once was, but as that which calls upon all persons in society to show a bit of gratitude? Rather than structure society around the wombless, unencumbered male, ought not society be structured around those who, in addition to being able to do all that men can do, can also bear new human life?

Such a cultural restructuring in support of caregiving — one that pro-life feminists seek — would benefit this generation’s fathers as well. Many men today would prefer to dedicate far more time and attention to their children than fathers of prior generations did, or could. Pro-woman, pro-child, pro-family policies would enable just that.

Not all women become mothers, but those who do so depend upon a cultural esteeming of both pregnancy and motherhood for their social and professional support. When we belittle the developing child in the womb, a scientific reality that most pro-choice advocates have come to admit, we belittle and distort that child’s mother. We make her out to be one with property rights over her developing unborn child (much as husbands once had property rights over their wives).

We give her the inhumane (but for 42 years, constitutionally protected) right to decide the fate of another human being, of a vulnerable child — her child — to whom she properly owes an affirmative duty of care. We do all this rather than offering her the myriad familial and social supports she needs, whatever her situation, and cherishing her role in the miracle of human life.

Those supports are being offered, in something like 2,500 crisis pregnancy centers, otherwise known as pregnancy help centers, across the US, a service expanding abroad as more service providers are training teams of caregivers and organizations outside the US. They cover everything a woman might need in what’s frequently called a ‘crisis pregnancy’, from medical aid to legal, financial, material, spiritual, and maternal aid once the child is born, when mothers choose to care and provide for their babies.

The Monday after the Super Bowl in the US always draws a great deal of media attention to the sports hype aftermath, and the commercial hype as well, especially rating the commercials that aired at extravagantly high cost during those hours of one of the most highly viewed sports games of the year.

Look how one well known and long established American company handled their ad.

This new ad by Pampers had 950,000 views on YouTube before it ran during the Superbowl. Babies are the focus here—born and unborn—and its message is that every first is significant, no matter how small it seems. The ad begins with a sonogram and goes on to show the many firsts between children and parents. It’s a heart-warmer, even if it is about diapers.

Especially because it is about diapers, which means a new life in the world, in the life of a couple, which now makes them a family. Well done. The pandering has stalled, and the pampering has shifted, back to where it belonged.

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Dec 15

And countless others she personifies.

Whoever originally uttered the much misattributed statement that the death of one is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic, it’s been often cited and reapplied for good reason. It fits the Twentieth Century and first decade of the Twenty-First.

So personalizing the threat to one endangered, vulnerable, persecuted woman, man or child personalizes and humanizes the ongoing daily, hourly plight of countless millions of others we don’t see and easily forget.

Nina Shea, Nina Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, has been a frequent guest on my radio show for her exhaustive work in protecting endangered religious minorities around the world. She’s one of the forces behind Persecution Report. Look it over, read it and weep. It’s so much worse even than it appears there, because the administrators are too busy fighting to save lives to update a website.

It was from Nina that I first learned of Asia Bibi. Here’s an update she published.

On October 16, for the first time, an appeals court affirmed a death sentence for blasphemy meted out to a woman. A Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 after fellow field hands complained that, during a dispute, she had insulted the prophet of Islam. No evidence was produced, because to repeat blasphemy is blasphemous. Similarly, anyone who defends an accused blasphemer risks being labeled a blasphemer; two officials who made appeals on Bibi’s behalf—Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities affairs—were assassinated in 2011. Bibi has one last legal recourse, an appeal to the federal Supreme Court, but now no public official dares speak up for her—or for any other blasphemy defendant.

Accusations of blasphemy are brought disproportionately against Pakistan’s Christians, some 2 percent of the population. Intent is not an element of the crime, and recent years have seen cases brought against illiterate, mentally disabled, and teenage Christians. Each case seems to heighten the sensitivities of the extremists and further fracture society. The flimsiest rumor of a Koran burning can spark hysteria ending in riots against entire Christian communities. Lahore’s St. Joseph Colony was torched last year in such a pogrom.

The American Center for Law and Justice relentlessly drove a social media campaign to save Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s life, which probably did, in the end. They have pursued the same aggressive campaign of awareness and engagement for Pastor Saeed Abedini (who is American, by the way) and Asia Bibi.

A committed Christian. A mother of five. A loving wife. A servant of all.

But will she also be a martyr?

That’s Asia Bibi. She’s been sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan’s Shariah blasphemy law. She was targeted as a member of the sole Christian family in her small Pakistani village. She was falsely accused of “blasphemy” – for supposedly speaking against the prophet Muhammad.

Last week an appeals court in Lahore, Pakistan upheld her execution sentence.

Here’s how this valiant Christian woman describes her plight, in her own words:

I’m the victim of a cruel, collective injustice.

I’ve been locked up, handcuffed and chained, banished from the world and waiting to die. I don’t know how long I’ve got left to live. Every time my cell door opens my heart beats faster. My life is in God’s hands and I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. It’s a brutal, cruel existence. But I am innocent. I’m guilty only of being presumed guilty. I’m starting to wonder whether being a Christian in Pakistan today is not just a failing, or a mark against you, but actually a crime.

But though I’m kept in a tiny, windowless cell, I want my voice and my anger to be heard. I want the whole world to know that I’m going to be hanged for helping my neighbor. I’m guilty of having shown someone sympathy. What did I do wrong? I drank water from a well belonging to Muslim women, using “their” cup, in the burning heat of the midday sun…

It’s as simple and devastating as that. For five years, she’s been imprisoned on death row over a cup of water. But what’s really at issue here is her Christian faith.

To her radical Islamic community and under Shariah law in Pakistan, her Christian faith is her “crime.” It’s her death sentence.

Her family is in hiding, fearing for their lives. In addition to the death sentence, Asia Bibi has a price on her head. A radical cleric has implored the Taliban to carry out her execution sentence before the Pakistani government does. Two Pakistani government officials who have spoken out on her behalf are now dead, murdered in cold blood for standing up for her human rights.

This atrocity cannot stand. No one – anywhere – should ever be put to death because of their religious beliefs.

All of us who have the freedom to speak out have the responsibility to speak out. It’s incumbent upon all of us to demand her freedom.

Though she has one final appeal at Pakistan’s Supreme Court, it is often public pressure and not a legal argument that wins freedom in these cases.

Asia Bibi has made a final plea to the ‘international community’ we speak of so often but specify and scrutinize so little. Who are ‘they’ and why aren’t ‘they’ doing more in these cases? This case provides another chance to engage the radical forces behind these crimes against humanity.

From her prison cell in Multan, Asia Bibi has become a symbol of the struggle for religious freedom in the world.

With social media, blogs and Facebook posts and Twitter hashtags, elite media notwithstanding, her rescue should be a viral story. For crying out loud, it’s well past time to use all these means of global communication to spread awareness and demand human rights be upheld. Not knowing is not an excuse anymore.

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Dec 02

Will we ever get there?

As this is written, it’s still December 1st in the US, the exact date in 1955 ago that Rosa Parks made her quiet but firm stand for justice by refusing to give up her seat on a bus merely because of the color of her skin. And on this date in 2014, racial tensions in the US are inflamed still.

Yes, still, not ‘again.’ I wanted to learn which of the two references applied, so I asked Bishop Lance Davis on radio Monday, a friend and guest of the show who brings depth of experience and insight to conversations about social issues of the day, which it is in the reality of African American communities and individuals. Long story short, it’s ‘still.’ We didn’t get over racism in America, it never went away, it’s been a reality for far too many Americans for far too long, for many reasons. And as terrible as Ferguson has been for months, as exploited as it has been by people and factions for whatever their reasons, it provides an opportunity to face the realities and determine what we will do about them. Together. Because if it’s fractured into actions and reactions by identity groups, we won’t get anywhere to to advance an answer to the problem. We’ll only continue to be part of the problem.

Bishop Davis has been on my radio show to talk about the African American Clergy Coalition working together with Catholic bishops of Illinois to uphold marriage law and “getting our priorities straight”. His main points were outlined simply but clearly: “What really impacts the average black person? Do our priorities line up with that of our elected officials and community leaders?”

He and fellow clergy asked why state leaders were ignoring the most glaring issues their communities faced, most importantly inadequate education, high unemployment, injustices in the penal system, and the politics and political scandals that politicians were so caught up in. They held press conferences last year with the message that “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”

They have never let up in their efforts to effect change for inner city schools, state funding to build more schools, allow students books instead of forcing them to leave the book under the desk in each class for the next student, and so on. But they never got the attention they sought from politicians who could make a difference.

Bishop Davis told me about driving his son to college in late summer, crying – not as or why most of us do when driving our child to college, but – because his son made it out of the neighborhood alive, and had that opportunity for a future, which so many young black men did not, for so many reasons.

I venture to say that while we know of gang violence and social breakdown in the inner cities, most whites don’t know this.

As one of the few black male reporters at The [Wall Street] Journal, I’ve had experiences over the years that are unknown among my white colleagues, though anything but unique among other black men. We’ve all had our encounters; we’ve all been in situations where being black becomes synonymous with being suspicious, where demanding rights and respectful treatment can be seen as resisting law enforcement.

How aware are you of the experiences some of your accomplished, talented, intellectual, impressive colleagues or friends in the professional world – who happen to be black – have had to face while growing up and coming of age? Read that whole WSJ article.

As a teenager, I could be a doofus, but I knew even then that my margin for error was nonexistent compared with that of my friends and co-workers. On a perfectly beautiful day, I could be suspicious enough to a police officer that I would end up on the wrong end of a gun barrel.

For many black men in America, that margin of error has not improved. I don’t condone the rioting in Ferguson, but it might help if the rest of the country had some small sense of the frustration and anger that this situation continues to cause.

My friend Tod Worner, who thinks like a brother I didn’t know I had, wrote this. In citing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the nature of his protests on behalf of the great Civil Rights Movement, for human dignity and “all God’s children”, a hero truly honest and honorable, who saw justice and injustice through the lens of history and Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, Tod’s post speaks profoundly well to and of the protests still festering in and about Ferguson.

I wrapped up Monday’s show saying there are three options and two are unacceptable. We can’t be complacent, complacency is not an option. We can’t be part of the problem in the many ways that provision is being offered to the American public. So we have to be part of the solution. I pray we each see the way to be that.

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Nov 19

This extremely diverse group was unified by their profound, fundamental belief in the definition of marriage, and its importance.

Haven’t heard much about it in the media? Is that surprising? Is the Pope Catholic?

The answers are probably no, no and a resounding yes.

Here’s Francis on marriage:

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience.

He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it’s an association. But it’s not marriage! It’s necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed.

He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

Then Monday, the Humanum Colloquium convened at the Vatican on “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.”  The three day, international, inter-religious high level gathering got an opening address by Francis. It was dynamite.

Complementarity, the Pope said, “is at the root of marriage and family.” Although there are tensions in families, the family also provides the framework in which those tensions can be resolved.” He said that complementarity should not be confused with a simplistic notion that “all the roles and relations of the sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern.” Rather, “complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children.”

Pope Francis stated frankly, “In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis.” The “culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. “This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.” The Pope said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”

To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

He also called on participants in the Colloquium “to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people “who represent our future.”

Finally, Pope Francis said the family is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact.” That is, the family is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but is a reality that transcends ideological labels.

Pope Francis concluded his address with the hope that the Colloquium would be “an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.”

How do you follow that?

With some powerful talks and addresses given by other Catholic leaders, along with officials and representatives of Protestant, Muslim, and Jain traditions. As well as leaders and scholars from Eastern Orthodoxy, the LDS Church and the Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist traditions.

Some of the best of those coming in the next post. Consider Francis first. And meanwhile, explore Humanum.

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Nov 05

When it became obvious, Democratic pundits did everything to spin it as anything but what it was.

By election day itself, the New York Times reported that ‘Washington was the biggest loser.’ As in, ‘everyone is disenchanted with the whole crowd in government. We don’t trust anyone. Throw all the bums out.’ That way, it wasn’t a referendum on the president, or any favored candidates, as much as a disgruntled public unhappy with the whole lot of them. Trouble is, it wasn’t exactly true.

Even as results started coming in to newsrooms doing live coverage on election night, some in-house Democratic strategists claimed that there was an ‘anti-incumbent’ sentiment among voters across the US on election day. But the results pouring in showed that GOP incumbents mostly held on to their seats, while Democratic incumbents lost theirs.

On the Fox News election team, Democratic commentator Juan Williams, in apparent denial, claimed  ‘It has to do more with Republican obstructionism than a wave of anti-Democrat sentiment.’ Longtime Washington correspondent Brit Hume responded ‘I don’t think it has anything to do with being obstructionist. Nor is it a vote against Obama as a person. It is, however, a wave of sentiment against policies. People have not felt, personally, any relief from an economic recovery for instance. There’s been a string of other crises this president hasn’t handled well…’ And his remarks were almost inaudible at that point.

Another commentator on the team questioned ‘If this was an anti-incumbent election, why would some incumbents who spent twice what their challengers spent lose their elections?’ Good question. It was a way to tease out the obvious. This was a referendum on the president’s policies and his party’s handling of their control of the Senate, and the complete lack of willingness to compromise or even listen to other ideas that has marked the past several years of business on Capitol Hill.

My computer homepage is a Google aggregator of top news headlines and blog posts I’ve customized to stay on top of current affairs and breaking news and the latest coverage of important national and international issues. The top box is the New York Times. As election night advanced, all top five NYT headlines were about GOP victories in major races against Democratic incumbents or challengers. Republicans needed to pick up a net gain of six new seats in the Senate to take over as the majority. Before the night was late, they had gained seven.

Respected political commentator Charles Krauthammer said ‘This election was not about Republican ideas, it was about an end to Obama governance.’

And it was more.

Krauthammer continued: “I think this is the end of the ‘war on women’, and the Democrats have been defeated’. “I think the Democrats are going to learn a lesson from this.” One can only hope, given that the party spent their last convention in the summer of 2012 celebrating abortion all week, and have driven the message of birth control and abortion rights into the ground, underestimating women in great magnitudes. Ever since the January 2012 announcement the the Department of Health and Human Services issued the mandate that employer health care insurance coverage must provide access to drugs like the ‘morning-after pill’ among other abortifacients, prompting dozens and dozens of high profile lawsuits by companies and institutions against the government for violation of the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it’s been one long battle between the people and the government over basic rights involving religious liberty and radical redefinitions of rights.

The results on Tuesday bore witness to the truth that the so-called ‘war on women’ was both a trumped up ploy, and it was over.

“This has much less to do with the Republicans than it does with the self-destruction of the Democrats,” said Krauthammer of the results of Election 2014.

Even in the president’s state, known for ‘machine politics’, in which Democratic party politics rule and rule out any challengers, the Republican candidate for governor beat the sitting Democrat. ‘Illinois is extraordinarily debt-ridden, as close to an Argentina as we’re going to get here,’ said political analyst and commentator George Will, to punctuate the point of how bad things had to get to get to these results of this election.

In one of the victory speeches of the night, Wisconsin’s embattled but victorious governor Scott Walker announced ‘Tonight, we’re all Americans more than we are Wisconsinites.’ It did seem like a new day had begun.

In fact, in the middle of the evenin

g, the announcement came out suddenly that the president had called for a bi-partisan meeting this Friday.

“The results of the Obama presidency have not been good.” Brit Hume, in grand understatement as is his style, and this came late in the evening when results poured in showing just how badly the results of this presidency have struck engaged Americans.

Finally, those who went to the polls to elect pro-life leaders who would uphold, protect and defend the sanctity and dignity of all human life, celebrated the victory of having at last a pro-life Congress.

Until they are sworn in for the new session in January, the lame duck Congress and its lame duck president are rumored to be considering a number of moves to push their agenda forward while they can. That somehow seems less likely at the end of such a sweeping election victory for Republicans, sweeping key members of the Senate, among others, out of office, by the will of the people.

Watch this space. It’s a new day in American politics, it’s going to be very interesting, and the next presidential campaign season will probably begin just after this new Congress is sworn in, if not sooner.

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Nov 04

Thank God.

I probably shouldn’t write anything when feeling this frustrated, that’s my default mode. Generally, it’s a good policy, and I should practice it now. But as I write this, we’re mere hours away from the 2014 mid-term elections, driving the news cycles and campaigns hitting us from mail to telephone calls (many of them a day, every day) to television ads, and yes, there’s very much at stake. All elections are consequential. Haven’t we learned this by now?

Haven’t those who claim distaste for politics (hey, I’m with you, but I cover it for a living so I’m in the thick of it)…haven’t they learned yet that when you don’t exercise your right, privilege and responsibility to vote you abdicate your right to complain about the results?

The past (how many?) election cycles prove not. By the time you read this, polls will be open in most places across the US and the process will begin, to determine what the next two years of governing the nation will be like. Many people will sit out the election again, and this is maddening, given how much is determined in elections, whether mid-term or general (Congressional and Gubernatorial, or Presidential, to oversimplify it). People die in some countries fighting for the right to self-determination in a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people.

But wait…that’s supposed to be America, and government has not carried out that time honored tradition in any number of ways for a while. How can people neglect to vote? Why does anyone able to vote not bother? You cannot complain about anything government does if you don’t at least try to shape what government is, what it can do, and what it can’t do.

There’s so much analysis and commentary out there (and I’ve digested a great deal of it and will spare you), I just want to get to the results of this election and move forward, in whatever shape government takes after Tuesday. Or after the president and lame duck session of Congress does between the day after election day and the January swearing in of the new session of Congress. (Rumor is, it may be plenty.)

I’ve followed news and elections since I was about 8 or 9 years old, certainly by 10 I was reading the daily newspaper with my Dad and following the evening newscasts on one of the three ‘big networks’ of ABC, NBC or CBS . I asked tons of questions and listened intently to the newscasters, but questioned. When Walter Cronkite said at the end of each newscast ‘And that’s the way it is’ on such and such a date, I thought…what if that’s not the way it is, really? Says who? Prove it.

Which is why I’ve always been a dogged journalist, and even as a blogger, have sourced my references and quotes with more attention and precision than some reporters in big media. I didn’t work at Time Magazine for 20 years as an amateur.

And now we face yet another election with many candidates for public office who come off as amateurs. Even if they’re incumbents who’ve been in office for years. Which gets to what’s really irritating about these campaign ads.

Among all the demographic groups they’re targeting, the ‘women vote’ has been a prized one and everyone is talking about it. So who speaks for women?

On the eve of the election, I saw too many times the campaign ad that shows a montage of women with computer devices checking out candidates and complaining to their women friends that the candidate they opposed voted not to include contraceptive drugs in healthcare coverage, while a friend expressed utter disapproval. And ‘did you know that (a certain candidate) voted to defund Planned Parenthood?!’ And the friend responded with shock, ‘that’s basic healthcare for women!’

Wait. Really? You’re pitching this as the scare ad to get the women to vote for you? I’m insulted, and so are many women in this country. We care about this, in a very different way, about women’s health and stopping the juggernaut of the highly profitable Planned Parenthood receiving taxpayer funds for a for-profit industry that already makes so much money on ending women’s pregnancies without informing them of the fundamental truths of the human life they’re carrying, that abortion will terminate the life of that human life, and that the procedure carries a high risk of terrible side effects demonstrable in irrefutable evidence on record.

But aside from that, women care about religious freedom. Because women who hold religious belief of any faith or denomination will likely view the spectrum of life’s issues of liberty and justice differently than those who do not. The latest radio program I did on this the other day was with Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List and Helen Alvare of Women Speak for Themselves. They were eloquent and showed understanding and magnanimity far beyond anything I’m hearing in campaign ads from many candidates.

Peggy Noonan wrote this for the Wall Street Journal on Election Eve, and she talks about political graciousness. That would be very nice to hear and see, for a real change. I’ll be satisfied with a fair election, results that reflect the choice of informed and engaged people, citizens respected as Americans more than the identity groups into which they’re sub-divided. And a government that finally reflects and respects this representative republic, gender and age aside, including ‘the least of these’ as the president has referred to many times, which covers both ends of life.

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Oct 15

No. There’s no change whatsoever in the Catholic Church’s teaching and doctrine on marriage and sexuality, contrary to what you may be hearing.

The Synod on the Family is wrapping up its second and final week for now, making news by the day and even by the hour it seems. Some of it is generated by ravenous media bereft of information and even opportunities for the feeding frenzy of press briefings other than what individual bishops will give them after the sessions.

Just when I was cheering on Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama speaking boldly to the West about trying to export ideas about marriage, family, human life that are foreign to African’s ideas, for trying to make Africans accept the West’s ideas and adopt them in Africa in spite of their direct conflict with what Africans’ believe and stand for in defense of human life and dignity, Germany’s outspoken Cardinal Kasper speaks out again, on the record with Zenit.org, about how “impossible” it is to reason with people of such beliefs.

The problem, as well, is that there are different problems of different continents and different cultures. Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

(However, it sounds like he just did.)

ZENIT: But are African participants listened to in this regard?

Cardinal Kasper: No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].

ZENIT: They’re not listened to?

Cardinal Kasper: In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.

See? An admission that the African contingent is simply rendered irrelevant, not listened to, except among themselves, on their own continent. How dismissive.

ZENIT: What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod?

Cardinal Kasper: I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general crite

ria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.

That’s interesting, given that Archbishop Kaigama said he same thing days earlier.

We get international organizations, countries, and groups which like to entice us to deviate from our cultural practices, traditions, and even our religious beliefs. And this is because of their belief that their views should be our views. Their opinions and their concept of life should be ours…

We have been offered the wrong things, and we are expected to accept simply because they think we are poor. And we are saying poverty is not about money. One can be poor in spirituality, poor in ideas, poor in education, and in many other ways.

So we are not poor in that sense. We may be poor materially but we are not poor in every sense. So we say no to what we think is wrong. And time has gone when we would just follow without question. Now, we question. We evaluate. We decide. We ask questions. This is what we do in Africa now.

Catholic scholar and Vatican expert George Weigel was my guest on radio Wednesday, and said “These northern European bishops seem not to have understood that conceding to the zeitgeist, conceding to the sexual revolution, which they have been trying to do since Humanae Vitae, is one of the reasons why their churches are empty. There is no future for dumbed-down Catholicism in this culturally challenging moment. The notion that the way you deal with this cultural tsunami that is sweeping across the western world is to bend before it, is foolishness of the first order. And that is what the African bishops are saying to the Europeans: ‘Don’t you impose your Western decadence on us,’ and good for them for saying it.

Weigel referred to Kasper’s interview as trying to silence the Africans by telling them ‘shut up, we’re not listening to you.’ Which he called “astonishingly arrogant,” and “which I hope he gets called to task for severely, publicly.” He called the expressions scandalous, and added that he’s “frankly glad it’s out in the open.” But he strongly asserted that Cardinal Kasper’s brother bishops and cardinals need to respond to those remarks. “This was an act of cultural snobbery.”

Weigel had just published a good piece in National Review trying to calm nerves over what is and isn’t happening in Rome at this Synod.

For the better part of a half century, the New York Times, and similarly situated purveyors of news and opinion, have eagerly awaited the Great Catholic Cave-In: that blessed moment when, at long last, the Catholic Church, like many other Christian communities, would concede that the sexual revolution had gotten it right all along and would adjust its teaching and practice to suit. A Times “breaking story” on October 13, under the headline “Vatican Signals More Tolerance Toward Gays and Remarriage,” might have struck the unwary or uninformed (or those equally committed to the Times agenda in these matters) as a signal that Der Tag, the Day, had finally arrived.

Thus Elisabetta Povoledo wrote that “an important meeting at the Vatican used remarkably conciliatory language on Monday toward gay and divorced Catholics, signaling a possible easing of the church’s rigid attitudes on homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage.” It would be hard to cram more misinformation into one sentence.

Weigel proceeds to dismantle the false reporting in the piece, and all other false ideas of Catholic teaching not up for amendment in this synod.

The 2014 synod is an agenda-setting exercise that was intended by Pope Francis to help prepare the work of the 2015 Synod on the Family. The pope knows full well that marriage and the family are in crisis throughout the world. In his own remarks before the synod, he said that he hoped the synod would lift up the beauty of Christian marriage and Christian family life in a world too dominated by what he’s often called a “throwaway culture,” the throwaways all too frequently including spouses and children…

The synod fathers are wrestling with difficult questions. How does the Catholic Church best approach, in a pastoral and charitable way, those who are living in what the Church has no option but to consider, objectively speaking, irregular situations? How does a Church of sinners — which is what all of us Catholics are — call people in those situations to the conversion to which all Christians are constantly called? How can it bring people to see the truth of their situation, and how can it best help them deal with that? These are not simple matters; matters of the heart rarely are.

Similarly, Princeton Professor Robert George published this commentary in The Public Discourse with the challenging question ‘Has the Catholic Church Changed its Teaching on Sex and Marriage?’

When you went to bed this past Sunday evening, the Catholic Church taught the following:

Marriage is indissoluble.

Catholics who attempt marriage following a divorce—without a declaration that their first bond wasn’t after all a valid marriage—enter a (presumptively) adulterous relationship. So long as they maintain a sexual relationship with their new partner, they cannot judge themselves to be in a state of grace and therefore cannot worthily receive Holy Communion.

To return to the sacrament, the partners must repent—which requires ending the new sexual relationship—and be absolved.

Marriage is the conjugal union of sexually complementary spouses—husband and wife.

Non-marital sexual acts, including all same-sex sexual acts, are seriously sinful.

Same-sex sexual desires are intrinsically disordered: that is, not ordered to the good of conjugal union. Experiencing such desires or inclinations is not sinful, but acting on them is.

The next day, Prof. George wrote, you would find that the Catholic Church teaches exactly the same.

“Hang on there, professor. Haven’t you heard? On Monday the Catholic Church changed its teachings on marriage and sexuality. There has been an ‘earthquake,’ a ‘seismic shift.’ Things will never be the same. The Church now welcomes remarried people to communion, has dropped its objections to homosexual conduct, and denies that homosexual desires are ‘intrinsically disordered.’ Or it’s about to do all of that. Francis is a new kind of Pope, and it’s a new day. He has brought Catholicism into line with the teachings of the Episcopal Church USA, the Unitarian Universalists, and the New York Times editorial board.”

If you are indeed thinking something like that, it’s because you’ve heard about something called a relatio post disceptationem, a document released on Monday as an interim report on discussions occurring at a Vatican synod of bishops (called an “extraordinary” synod because it is preparatory to a larger synod—an “ordinary” synod—that will occur next year) on contemporary challenges to the family.

The relatio, then, is raw material for this week’s discussion, which will prepare for next year’s discussion, which may provide fodder for a document by the Pope.

So it’s conducive to something preparatory to something (possibly) advisory.

It has no teaching authority whatsoever.

What’s more, it proposed no changes—none—in the doctrine or moral teaching of the Church.

Why did some people think it did? More on that next time. (Short answer for now: translation.)

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