Jun 14

Or does it just seem that way all of a sudden, from high profile news stories?

Gender and race have featured prominently in media lately under the whole category of the ‘trans’ movement.

A few thoughts…

What does the transgender movement do to the feminist movement? The Federalist considers.

A central theme of modern, or third-wave feminism is that women should not be treated merely as sexual objects. A central theme of the trans movement is the presentation of trans women as hypersexual objects. Feminism is not big enough for both of these themes. Either being a woman is essentially defined as being alluring to men, or it isn’t. Either the playboy bunny defines the essence of womanhood, or it doesn’t. At the moment, the trans movement opposes more than a century of feminism on this point. Third-wave feminists, in their eagerness to be allies, have abandoned this basic tenet. It must be reclaimed.

How have we arrived at a point in which feminists fundamentally alter their definition of womanhood to accommodate men?

This is a good examination of conscience for the feminist movement, among others, but chief among others.

There is nothing male about pants, muscles, and short hair. Just ask Rosie the Riveter. The social constructs of feminine and masculine are totally up for grabs, and that’s fine, but a masculine woman is still a woman, and there’s nothing wrong with that, or with that woman living however she wants to. The same goes for feminine men.

The problem here is how Annie Leibowitz and Vanity Fair set about showing us that Jenner is truly a woman. They did it by painting precisely the pinup we teach our daughters to reject as their central aspiration. The sexual objectification of trans women is used as proof of their womanness, but the sexual objectification of non-trans women is considered demeaning because it associates their primary worth in relation to male desire. Being oppressed by men is being oppressed by men, even if those men are wearing dresses.

Speaking of oppression, the Rachel Dolezal story took social identity politics to a whole new level.

A prominent civil rights activist who heads a Washington state NAACP chapter has apparently been identifying herself as African-American for years despite being white, her mother revealed Thursday.

Rachel Dolezal, president of NAACP Spokane and adjunct professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University, is a leading voice in the local black community, and was even invited by the city to chair a police oversight commission.

So, a white lady posing as a black lady, better to identify with blacks, is bizarre. And unnecessary, as her mother attests.

Rachel’s mother attributed her daughter’s behavior to being raised among four adopted African-American siblings, during which time Dolezal began to “disguise herself.”

“Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable, and she would have been more effective, if she had just been honest with everybody,” Ruthanne Dolezal told the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Those high profile identity stories breaking as close together as they did in news cycle time led some commentators to draw comparisons. First Things Magazine’s Carl Trueman was one.

To him,

the point of comparison is rather obvious: If identity is a matter of psychological conviction and can override and even directly contradict biology, then we have no basis to privilege the soft biology of race over the much more significant biology of sex. Nor can the possession of a history of oppression lead to such privileging. Talk to any feminist. They can tell you something about oppression.

Into the upheaval came Pope Francis, steeped in the long history of human anthropology, and usually with something to say that applies them to these confusing times. Especially about the transgender movement, so widely covered in recent days and weeks.

One week after Bruce Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair wearing an ivory corset declaring he is a woman, Pope Francis again denounced gender ideology as an aberration.

Speaking to the bishops of Puerto Rico on Monday, June 8th, during their ad limina visit to Rome, the Pope said the ideology is among the most pernicious threats to marriage and family life.

“Let me draw your attention to the value and beauty of marriage,” he said. “The complementarity of man and woman, the crown of God’s creation, is being questioned by so-called gender ideology, in the name of a freer and fairer society.”

But “the difference between man and woman is not for opposition or subordination, but for communion and procreation, always in the ‘image and likeness’ of God,” he said…

Pope Francis explained that while contemporary culture has opened new opportunities for understanding the sexual difference, it has also introduced “many doubts and much skepticism.”

“For instance,” he said, “I wonder if the so-called gender theory is not also an expression of a frustration and resignation, which aims to eliminate the sexual difference because it no longer knows how to face it.”

“The removal of the difference, in fact, is the problem, not the solution.”

(Where did that get covered in big media?)

He therefore urged the bishops of Puerto Rico to “safeguard the treasure” of marriage, which he called “one of the most important of Latin American and Caribbean peoples.”

The Pope also called on the bishops to defend and protect the family from the many social problems that afflict it, including: “the economic situation, migration, domestic violence, unemployment, drug trafficking, and corruption.”

Always directing attention to the existential peripheries, Francis took this opportunity to say, in so many words, that certain First World ‘ideologies’ are remote from the realities of tragic Third World struggles unimaginable to the privileged political classes and cultural elites in the West.

We have poverty, joblessness, lack of access to education and opportunity, community safety and solidarity, and the existential peripheries here too. We just have to focus attention on these social problems. Which should be easier once we recognize how connected they are with the stories grabbing headlines for other, more sensational reasons.

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Jun 02

Marketed under terminology crafted to trigger sympathy and compliance, it still is what it is.

The former Hemlock Society changed its name to Compassion and Choices. Sounds nice and fuzzy. So does Death With Dignity, though less so Aid In Dying although that still softens the fact that someone is ending someone else’s life. At least Mercy Killing uses the word, though softened with the spiritual concept of charity.

Working closely with Terri Schiavo’s family and some of their legal and spiritual counselors during that ordeal which erupted on the national and then international consciousness in early 2005, I did investigative reporting that turned up facts, claims, contradictions and records that mostly didn’t make it to big media reports on the story, though my radio network covered it all. Someone sent me a letter from a man in the Netherlands warning that if America let this woman die by court ordered starvation and dehydration, Dutch euthanasia would come to this country. How prescient that was.

Not long after, Hollywood gave the euthanasia and assisted suicide movements huge momentum, though not without warning there, either. Hollywood professional Barbara Nicolosi laid it all out here.

The evidence is undeniable: Somewhere in the middle of the Terri Schiavo tragedy, Hollywood and the cultural left climbed aboard the latest human-killing bandwagon and have since thrown the weight of their talent and creativity behind it. As with abortion, the forces of darkness are outmaneuvering the forces of good on what will certainly be the moral issue of the 21st century.

If we lose the fight on euthanasia, we lose our souls. By removing suffering and the meaning of suffering from our culture, we make the final step in denying and defying our creature-hood. Once again, the seductive lie of Eden will trip us up: “If you will do this thing, you shall be like God.”

Our response to the mercy-killing machine must be more than an occasional op-ed piece; we need a shrewd and all-encompassing cultural strategy if we are going to make a good fight in the euthanasia war.

Shrewd means that we fight smart. It means appealing to the emotions of the masses through stories, not non-fiction tomes. Songs, not philosophical tirades. Heroes, not pundits.

That was 2011, we’ve had heroes and storytellers since then, but we still need that shrewd and all-encompassing cultural strategy. Because death has been peddled as an available and increasingly acceptable option, through semantic engineering. Barbara Nicolosi, one of the heroes, swung for the fences in this appeal to awareness and action, sanity and reason.

If we’ve learned anything from the abortion wars, it’s that the words “choice” and “right to choose” set our cause back decades. We need an emotionally winning language for this fight. The other side should not get away with christening themselves “mercy killers”; they are “death dealers,” “elder abortionists,” “needlers.” Please, not “death with dignity”; let’s get there first with “medical murder” and “unnatural death.” Not “end-of-life clinics” but “human garbage pits.” We need slogans like, “Make your insurance adjuster’s day; let him kill you.” Or, “Everything we know about euthanasia we learned from the Nazis.”

We must be aggressive in exposing the deceptions driving the euthanasia movement — lies like the implication that personhood can somehow disappear from a wounded human body. Or that a human life could ever lose its value. Or that suicide can be a courageous act. We must contradict the notion that suffering is the worst thing that can happen to a person.

That message got a lot of currency with the sad and tragic Brittany Maynard story used to the advantage of the assisted suicide movement and sensationalized by complicit media. What didn’t get so much coverage were the stories, names, faces and voices of others who faced and knew extreme suffering, and tried to witness to the truth of Nicolosi’s message about human life, dignity, and living through suffering.

Like the seminarian who kept trying to reach Maynard through Facebook posts and interviews, mostly in pro-life media, with true compassion. Philip Johnson had the same diagnosis and knew the pain.

And Lauren Hill, the determined teenager, who played her beloved sport of basketball even through pain and increasing disability, because her motto was “never give up.” If you don’t click on these hyperlinks to check out the stories, at least read this short one on her legacy, written on a Marine news site by Pfc. Ned Johnson.She was a basketball player — an athlete. She scored legitimate points for her junior college. But more importantly, she scored a lot of points in life.

Hill was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Cancer. In high school. At 18.

That’s when Hill proved she was more than many of us could ever hope to be. She went to college with this tumor. Then she made the basketball team, scored 10 points across four games before her body became too weak for her to continue.

She started a fundraiser that raised more than $1.5 million for pediatric cancer research…

There are many others who witness to courage and hope and true dignity, through their own suffering. Mark Davis Pickup is one, and he’s appealing to California legislators to consider the gravity of the bill before them this week, and the consequences of their vote.

I am a Canadian. As you know Canada’s Supreme Court recently struck down my nation’s laws against assisted suicide, opening wide the gates for physician assisted killing of suicidal sick and disabled people. Please do not take California down a similar path. It is not the hallmark of a “civil society”. There is nothing civilized about euthanasia or assisted suicide. Do not be fooled by euphemisms for killing like “death with dignity”. Dignity is not bestowed on people by injecting them with poison when they are at their lowest point. That is abandonment not dignity. Death with dignity is not an event, it is a process, the end result of having lived a life with dignity, benefiting from the best 21st Century palliative care (which is capable of eliminating physical pain), and being surrounded by loved ones.

Someone may say “What about those who do not have loved ones?” Precisely! What about them? Is the answer to euthanize them or seek to include them within the tender embrace of community? Another person may say, “I should have the autonomous right to determine the time and place of my own death.” Really? That presumes decisions only affect the individual making them. That is not true. Our decisions always impact others. The idea independent personal autonomy is diametrically opposed to the concept of interdependent community.

If I choose suicide (assisted or otherwise) it will not affect just me: It will affect my wife, children and grandchildren. It will impact my community and my doctor for I will ask her to stop being my healer and become my killer. And it will affect my nation by helping to entrench the notion that there are some lives unworthy to be lived.

Doctors, patients and healthcare experts are appealing likewise to California lawmakers and the people who elected them to protect and defend human life at all stages. That state’s lesislature is poised to vote one way or the other on the assisted suicide bill before them. Stephanie’s Journey puts a personal face and family on a profound call for care taking in this delicate process. Carolyn Moynihan covered it well here.

Disability Rights & Defense Fund expert Marilyn Golden testified before the California State Senate Health Committee with this comprehensive, riveting report, so lawmakers at least would make an informed vote.

I’m covering this on radio Wednesday with a California expert speaking for the disability community, to hear what he’s been saying in calls to legislative offices in the state, and hearing in response.

Because as Terri Schiavo’s family continues to proclaim, in carrying on her legacy and give voice to the voiceless, where there’s life, there’s hope.

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May 21

But they’re missing the most important threat to their lives.

Nail salons proliferate across America. Probably much of Europe and the elite stops of the world as well. Speaking from the US, I can say they’re so ubiquitous, these strip mall, storefront shops are competing with established hair salons and day spas for business to a degree that’s had the bigger, established businesses worried for years. Even former big salon workers opening their own breakout small nail businesses are concerned, as much about sanitation and regulation as by competition. I knew this already from some scattered experiences with one of them, as a woman professional with an increasing public event schedule that required an encounter with such places for a more ‘polished’ appearance, when time allowed.

I also learned the story from the other side, when I either had to run into a strip mall shop for an impromptu visit without appointment for a hurried nail polish before a special event, or when I was surprised by a guest on human trafficking on the air on radio who turned the conversation to what goes on in strip mall nail salons. Most of these are run and/or staffed by Asian women and even young men, most to my knowledge are Vietnamese (at least in my area around Chicago). The atmosphere in the only shop I visited was ‘off’ for some reason, one that made me instinctively uncomfortable for some reason I couldn’t discern.

I was shocked when international human trafficking expert Liz Yore was on my show for headline news, and delved deeper into the issue raising the disturbing fact that many suburban nail salons in America are staffed by victims of human trafficking. As we delved into the topic, we got a caller from Minnesota, a member of the police force in his city who affirmed what we were saying and expressed gratitude that we were making it public. Law enforcement can only address problems that are suspected, reported or identified. That takes a community effort. But the community has to be aware in the first place. So we did all we could, in a few different radio shows, to address this, and continue to, in the many ways people are being victimized by traffickers.

So now, along comes news stories in big media on nail salons , and I’m hoping the truth is finally coming out about that hidden, dark secret keeping so many people enslaved. Turns out they’re about the health hazards of the products used in nail salons, and the working conditions and wages.

Like this New York Times article. It goes through the conditions of the salons, and the reactions of Korean and Hispanic workers in them, to the fact that regulations were finally being addressed, and they were finally being informed.

But overlooked in the story is still the darker one, of human trafficking. Liz Yore put together this list of questions, to help identify possible sites for follow up investigation. The warning signs she spoke of on my show fit the workers in the salon I dropped into a couple of times. Though I do simple nail polish myself these days, I think of the workers I encountered those times, and how uncomfortable it would be to ask them these questions.

Thinking through it further, I realize how unfortunate, unjust and possibly tragic it would be if customers knew the questions, but were too uncomfortable to ask.

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May 21

Free to be bound only to the Communist Socialist State.

Really? Really.

China’s president warned in a key policy speech that religions must be independent from foreign influence, as the government asks domestic religious groups to pledge loyalty to the state.

Which keeps ‘influence’ in domestic, socialist hands.

China is ruled by the officially atheist Communist Party, and Beijing attempts to control a variety of religions and their spread.

“We must manage religious affairs in accordance with the law and adhere to the principle of independence to run religious groups on our own accord,” Xi said at a high-level party meeting that sought to unite non-Communist Party groups and individuals. His comments were widely reported in state media.

There’s an oxymoron for you.

“Active efforts should be made to incorporate religions into socialist society,” Xi said, adding that the party’s religious work should be about winning over the hearts and minds of the public for the party.

Which proves wholly and completely, if such proof were necessary, that such (or any) totalitarian ideologies are totally incoherent. Say whatever you will.

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May 11

No case for rights of any sort can be made by those who insist on the lawful ability to kill babies.

It doesn’t get more basic than that.

Feminist author Naomi Wolf made an important and intellectually honest statement of fact in her 1995 article “Our Bodies, Our Souls: Re-thinking Pro-Choice Rhetoric”. I cited it in my book Non-Negotiable: Essential Principles of a Just Society and Humane Culture.

But to its own ethical and political detriment, the pro-choice movement has relinquished the moral frame around the issue of abortion. It has ceded the language of right and wrong to abortion foes. The movement’s abandonment of what Americans have always, and rightly, demanded of their movements–an ethical core–and its reliance instead on a political rhetoric in which the foetus means nothing are proving fatal…

By refusing to look at abortion within a moral framework, we lose the millions of Americans who want to support abortion as a legal right but still need to condemn it as a moral iniquity. Their ethical allegiances are then addressed by the pro-life moevement, which is willing tos peak about good and evil.

But we are also in danger of losing something more important than votes; we stand in jeopardy of losing what can only be called our souls. Clinging to a rhetoric about abortion in which there is no life and no death, we entangle our beliefs in a series of self-delusions, fibs and evasions. And we risk becoming precisely what our critics charge us with being: callous, selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of human life.

This comes to mind now as Congress prepares, again, to vote on the so-called ‘20 Week Abortion Ban‘.

Pro-life leaders are applauding the US House of Representatives for scheduling a vote this week on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy…

Eleven states have approved similar measures to H.R. 36. The New York Times reports that 37 new rules on abortion have been enacted in 11 states already this year. Arkansas alone approved six new laws. On Thursday, Wisconsin legislators proposed banning any abortion after 20 weeks.

In clearer language, abortion on a five month old baby.

In the meantime, while much of the new legislation focuses on waiting periods, counseling, and what doctors can say to patients, The New England Journal of Medicine last week published a study showing that severely premature newborns at age 22 weeks (some weighing 1.1 pounds at birth) may survive with intensive treatment with few lasting developmental problems.

Which wound up on the front page of the New York Times last week in a revealing article accompanied by a compelling photo of a young girl on a swing, fully healthy and alive, who represented those babies born so prematurely who received such life-giving treatment and clearly not only survived but thrived.

The issue of ‘viability of the fetus’ is a turning point in this debate over when abortion is ‘acceptable’ and must be protected as a ‘right’, and when it pushes the limit.

Abortion pushes the limit of what civilized society should allow from the very beginning of life when that society fights so many other battles to serve vulnerable minorities of other sorts in other conditions to secure their rights. Before they are whatever other identity in a protected class, they are first human.

This vote Wednesday better happen, and pass. Until the deception and insanity of Roe v. Wade can be undone, incremental common sense laws establishing long overdue limits have to work their way forward to protect the most innocent, youngest class of brothers and sisters among us. It is the civil rights movement of our time.

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May 07

It stated the obvious.

But on Thursday, this story appeared on the cover of the New York Times, prominently, above the fold, with a photo to help illustrate the point. First of all, look at the photo and read the caption. That pretty much sums up the story. Which became much more difficult to access online the very day it appeared.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

A small number of very premature babies are surviving earlier outside the womb than doctors once thought possible, a new study has documented, raising questions about how aggressively they should be treated and posing implications for the debate about abortion.

Several things about that. The photo shows a thriving young girl who was born ‘very prematurely’, illustrating the full humanity of life at all stages. The opening sentence in the piece emphasizes “a small number of very premature babies”, planting the idea that these babies are “very premature’ (so what?), and that only a “small number” of the them survive outside the womb if delivered that early (so…we should disregard them?). Oh, and another thing downplayed in the lead. It was documented in “a new study”.

What was buried deeper in the Times story was that this study was produced by the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine.

There’s a lot to say about this report, a lot to unpack. But for now, the clear and delightful humanity of the little girl on the swing in the photo accompanying the story says it all. And the implications this has on the debate about abortion…no question. After the Gosnell trial there were enormous implications. Truth has a way of coming out in spite of efforts to suppress it.

Across America, states are introducing bans on abortion after 20 weeks. That’s a five month old baby. This New England Journal of Medicine study will certainly add information to that heated debate, which is nothing more than a radical, ideological drive in the first place.

How the abortion movement has sustained power and influence after these many years is the bigger story.

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Apr 28

Whatever happened to hope and change? Ferguson showed how much things had changed for the worse. Baltimore is Ferguson on more petrol.

What did we learn from Ferguson?

The talking heads and the politicians keep stressing that we should learn from our mistakes, that we should change things. But what, exactly, do they want to change? They’re vague and purposely so. Should we change the way we talk about race in America? Perhaps, but it’s become so easy, and profitable for some, and we’ve memorized the rituals and we know the symbolism. I don’t think we’ll change it any time soon.

John Kass is right.  That was last November, when activist Al Sharpton – who even some of the locals in Ferguson, Missouri wanted to keep out of their town on this occasion – made his usual declarations about racial inequality and injustice, and his usual demands for attention.

“Let the record be clear,” Sharpton, speaking of (prosecutor Robert) McCulloch, told a news conference at Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. “You have broken our hearts, but you have not broken our backs. We are going to continue to pursue justice.”

Justice? What about justice for (local bakery owner) Natalie Dubose, and other African-Americans who saw their businesses ruined? Where’s their justice?

I wish I could tell you we learned something from Ferguson, but I can’t. All I’ve been hearing is the old tired politics, and the old tired excuses.

Now Baltimore, which devolved in a surreal sequence of escalating violence live on American television screens Monday night. This seems like a return to decades ago in America. Is it? Or has it been festering all this time, totally unresolved? Partially unresolved? Or did a set of circumstances incite feelings to such conflagration over time?

As Monday night devolved, there was a complete absence of any mitigating force, any authority whatsoever. That’s emblematic of the social and political problems America is struggling with, seemingly in worse ways than we have in decades.

The president has spoke out a lot over his tenure about specific incidents and social, racial, political, cultural ramifications. What did he have to say about Baltimore, still smoldering and partially shut down from riots that haven’t been stopped yet?

The president waxed noble about police excesses, the aspirations of those born into poverty, and the need to create opportunities for millions of primarily minority city dwellers. But he admitted that he has nothing even resembling a plan to lift America’s minorities out of poverty when he resorted to lamenting the lack of infrastructure spending out of a recalcitrant Republican-led Congress.

It’s all political. It’s all spin.

In response to a question about the violence in Baltimore posed during a joint White House press conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama delivered a perfectly anodyne and unremarkable 15 minute lecture about the lamentable state of affairs in America’s cities. There wasn’t much to object to in his response; it was a platitude-laden sermon about the school-to-prison pipeline, criminal justice reform, and excessive drug sentencing. Many leading Republicans would agree with the president’s assessment of the social ills that plague urban centers. Don’t believe me? Check The New York Times.

But the president conceded that he has no real plan to address the chronic hopelessness that bedevils cities like Baltimore when he claimed that what this moment truly called for is more infrastructure spending…

That might have made the president’s dispirited liberal base voters, many of whom reside in these hopeless urban environments, feel better, but this is about as naked an admission of powerlessness as you could get. And the president is correct to concede his impotence. The federal government has squandered much of its credibility among urban minorities…

The ratio of black unemployment to white unemployment that was narrowing to near parity before the 2007-2008 recession is again a measure of dispiriting inequality. African-American unemployment rates remain persistently higher than those of whites…

These problems predate Obama’s presidency, and they will persist long after he leaves office. The persistence of these issues also puts the lie to the notion circa 2008 that the president’s administration would put an end to systemic inequality along with halting the rise of the tides. Obama acknowledges his own powerlessness with yet another plaintive appeal to the value of roads and bridges.

What we need is a bridge over the divide of Americans.

What did we learn from Martin Luther King Jr.? Why have his speeches and letters and addresses been quoted and recalled so selectively? How about this one:

We had to make it clear that nonviolent resistance is not a method of cowardice. It does resist. It is not a method of stagnant passivity and deadening complacency. The nonviolent resister is just as opposed to the evil that he is standing against as the violent resister but he resists without violence. This method is nonaggressive physically but strongly aggressive spiritually.

NOT TO HUMILIATE BUT TO WIN OVER

Another thing that we had to get over was the fact that the nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. This was always a cry that we had to set before people that our aim is not to defeat the white community, not to humiliate the white community, but to win the friendship of all of the persons who had perpetrated this system in the past. The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. A boycott is never an end within itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption.

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Apr 23

The essence of the man was a humble, missionary spirit devoted to truth and the shared identity of humanity.

That’s about it, in a sentence. But volumes can be written about Francis Cardinal George and his life, leadership and legacy of steadfast devotion to God and the people of God, even those who oppose religion and the tenets of faith. No one was beyond reach, and he reached for everyone. By the time “the Lord took him home” last Friday, in the words of his successor, Cardinal George had left a huge impact on much of the world, beyond the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Popular evangelist Fr. Robert Barron called him ‘A Lion of the American Church‘, and then went on to explain how he engaged the universal Church and people across the globe.

As the vicar general of his order, he undertook travels to six continents, dozens of countries, visiting with thousands of OMI evangelist priests. I was continually amazed at his detailed knowledge of the politics, culture, and history of almost any country or region you could name. It was born of lots of direct experience.

This missionary consciousness is precisely what informed the intellectual and pastoral project that was closest to his heart, namely, the evangelization of the contemporary culture.

Internationally renowned Catholic scholar George Weigel paid tribute to ‘the man who reshaped U.S. Catholicism.’

In the first place, he refused to think of the Church as something that could be defined in terms of “liberal” or “conservative.” As he said at his first Chicago press conference in 1997, the Church is about true and false, not left and right.

Cardinal George never wavered – couldn’t waver – from that incisive vision of truth and falsehood, which was clear in every address he gave, every column he wrote, every letter to members of government he sent. His engagement of hot button issues was crystal clear and irrefutable, so politicians and activists tended to avoid confronting the truth statements by attacking the man and putting him into a box with labels, though neither fit.

Vatican watcher and correspondent John Allen encountered that in this conversation with Cardinal George.

He spurns the entire left/right dichotomy, calling it “destructive of the Church’s mission and her life.”

“For us, the category that matters is true/false,” he said. “I reject the whole liberal/conservative deformation of the character of our lives. If you’re limited to that … then somehow or other you’ve betrayed your vocation as a bishop and a priest.”

His vocation as a priest was essential to his whole life, even as he became the preeminent American prelate, elector of popes, consultor to popes, head of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Last November, at the press conference introducing his successor to take over the Archdiocese of Chicago, allowing him to become the first Archbishop of Chicago to actually retire, reporters asked how he would spend his retirement. Battling cancer and its effects, he did note that his health would determine that to some extent, but allowed the opportunity, he wanted to read more, write more, continue to be present to attend all sorts of events, and hear confessions. At core, he was a priest who wanted to continue to hear confessions, to be close to the people.

So I have a confession to make. I have over-thought this. I’ve gone over so much material I have saved over the years written by and about him, and the many tributes written since his passing, and devoted radio show hours to his thought and teaching and witness for the past week, that in whatever time I could emerge from the work bunker I’m still in, I couldn’t assemble it into a personal account of the man I’ll forever be grateful to have known.

My family has not only known, but encountered and engaged in services, events and conversations with him since just about the time he arrived in Chicago, over 17 years ago. That grew into friendships, with me and my priest son especially, but he always asked about other family members. We had some very special, memorable, profound conversations. My son’s appreciation for Cardinal’s great philosophical mind led to great conversations between the two of them, which led to long conversations between my son and me about the philosophy of relationship and identity, the basic theme of Cardinal’s book The Difference God Makes. I’ve given talks on that book, it’s so fundamentally true. And challenging.

Like this snip about being ‘counter-cultural’, even though talking about faith in a secular culture that grows increasingly hostile to Christianity sure seems counter-cultural.

A faith that demands that culture change is sometimes called “countercultural.” The adjective is unfortunate if it leads believers to see themselves on one side and their culture on another. Our culture is as much in us as we are in it. Religious critics of a culture can imagine a bad system opposed by good people, but the distinction is too facile. If our social system and culture are, at least in part, evangelically deficient or even corrupt, so are we all. The evangelizer begins by taking responsibility for the culture to be evangelized.

This is another reminder, as was his whole public life, that Francis Cardinal George did not fit labels or boxes.

The above links to tributes and article on Cardinal George were written by friends, and ‘friends of the show’, somewhat regular guests on my program. Here’s another, by good friend Mary Hallan FioRito, his longtime executive assistant. She wrote it when he retired. It’s good to recall now.

Many have already offered comment on the Cardinal’s legacy: his brilliance as an intellectual and scholar (he holds two Ph.D.’s, one in American Philosophy from Tulane University and an S.T.D. in Ecclesiology from the Pontifical Urban University in Rome), a man of languages (he speaks five) and culture (his weekly columns in the Archdiocesan news media often tackled issues of the day) and a popular author (“The Difference God Makes” and “God in Action”), a sought-after lecturer and public speaker. He loves to engage in debate and discussion, and his Q & A sessions on college campuses always received rave reviews from students, even when they disagreed with him.

I never understood how anyone intellectually honest could refute his arguments. But as well know as he is and was for his intellect and clarity, relatively few knew how humble he was, and devoted, and deeply committed to serving human dignity and the common good.

Over the years, he attended countless wakes and presided at hundreds of funerals, comforting those who were grieving. Speaking on behalf of those who had no voice in the public square, he prayed in front of both an abortion clinic and in front of a government deportation center. As the member of a missionary order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, he had traveled to many of the places where the poorest of the poor call home…

And in the past 17 ½ years, the Cardinal has truly shown himself a neighbor, offering help in times of need, advice when asked, a friendly smile when greeting you, an encouraging word if you appeared down. At his final Mass at Holy Name Cathedral last (November), Francis our Archbishop, our pastor, and yes, our neighbor, remarked that many have asked him what his legacy here would be. He noted in his homily that God has given us, the people of the Archdiocese, to him as a gift and he in turn has tried – like the good and faithful servants in last Sunday’s Gospel – to use those gifts wisely, to teach us, to help us to be holier, more generous, and more responsive to the Lord’s call in each of our lives. “YOU are my legacy,” he concluded.

May each of us live up to it. Thank you, Cardinal George, good and faithful servant.

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Apr 14

Summed up in a few lines, in a week of ‘big announcements.’

Like Peggy Noonan, I have emerged from a virtual bunker packed with too much work to allow blogging, only because she says it here.

Two points on the general feel of the 2016 campaign so far.

One is that in the case of Mrs. Clinton we are going to see the press act either like the press of a great nation—hungry, raucous, alive, demanding—or like a hopelessly sickened organism, a big flailing octopus with no strength in its arms, lying like a greasy blob at the bottom of the sea, dying of ideology poisoning.

Yep, that’s it in brief, pithy, well-defined sum.

Please God, let us have a press acting once again like the press of a great nation, hungry, raucous, alive, demanding. And further…challenging, engaging, insightful (and dear God, let them finally be self-reflective for a change, examining how they’ve handled political reporting for years and decades now). And finally, honest and honorable. Is that too much to ask? A lively and engaged press, open to all sides and all views, eager to enter the arena of ideas and work them out and pick them apart and apply critical thinking skills so we can once again have vigorous, robust debate covered well by professional journalists?

Or will we continue to get ‘the blob, dying of ideological poisoning’? So much is yet to be determined, some of it now declared.

A bit more on that in the early going, from Noonan’s WSJ column:

On the Republican side there is a good deep bench and there will be a hell of a fight among serious and estimable contenders. A handful of them—Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rubio, maybe Bobby Jindal—are first-rate debaters, sharp advancers of a thought and a direction. Their debates, their campaigning, their oppo geniuses, their negative ads—it’s all going to be bloody. Will the American people look at them in 2016 and see dynamism and excitement and youth and actual ideas and serious debate? Will it look like that’s where the lightning’s striking and the words have meaning? Will it fortify and revivify the Republican brand? Or will it all look like mayhem and chaos? Will the eventual winner emerge a year from now too bloodied, too damaged to go on and win in November? Will the party itself look bloody and damaged?

On the Democratic side we have Mrs. Clinton, gliding. If she has no serious competition, will the singularity of her situation make her look stable, worthy of reflexive respect, accomplished, serene, the obvious superior choice? Or will Hillary alone on the stage, or the couch, or in the tinted-window SUV, look entitled, presumptuous, old, boring, imperious, yesterday?

Will it all come down to bloody versus boring?

And which would America prefer?

Enough said, for now.

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Mar 29

Someone ask the flamethrowers if they’ve read the law. It’s nothing new.

So much has erupted in big media and social media since Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law the other day, sanity is another thing we need to restore.

On Thursday, Indiana governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law, and some celebrities, politicians, and journalists–including Miley Cyrus, Ashton Kutcher, and Hillary Clinton, just to name a few–are absolutely outraged. They say the law is a license to discriminate against gay people

which is simply not true. However, they’re making that perception a reality in people’s minds by repeating that exact mantra often and everywhere they can.

So calmer, wiser voices are speaking up to clarify just what this is all about. There are primers on RFRA all over the place, for those interested in knowing the truth behind the blowup. Here’s the Weekly Standard.

Is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act really a license to discriminate against gay people?

No. Stanford law professor Michael McConnell, a former appellate court judge, tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD in an email: “In the decades that states have had RFRA statutes, no business has been given the right to discriminate against gay customers, or anyone else.”

It’s actually the opposite. It’s a protection of individuals, business owners, others, from being discriminated against for conducting their business according to their beliefs. Which applies in any number of possible scenarios, some offensive to one group or another, but necessary as a uniform framework law.

So what is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and what does it say?

(this is important, pay attention:)

The first RFRA was a 1993 federal law that was signed into law by Democratic president Bill Clinton. It unanimously passed the House of Representatives, where it was sponsored by then-congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and sailed through the Senate on a 97-3 vote.

The law reestablished a balancing test for courts to apply in religious liberty cases (a standard had been used by the Supreme Court for decades). RFRA allows a person’s free exercise of religion to be “substantially burdened” by a law only if the law furthers a “compelling governmental interest” in the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”  (emphasis added)

So the law doesn’t say that a person making a religious claim will always win. In the years since RFRA has been on the books, sometimes the courts have ruled in favor of religious exemptions, but many other times they haven’t.

However, the Weekly Standard notes the dramatic overreaction to the perception of the law since it passed late last week.

Meanwhile, activists are calling for a boycott. The CEO of SalesForce, a company that does business in China, is pulling out of Indiana. The NCAA has expressed concern about holding events there in the future. And the city of San Francisco is banning taxpayer-funded travel to the state.

Mollie Hemingway takes a closer look at that SalesForce boycott, among others, in this piece at the Federalist.

SalesForce is a $4 billion cloud computing company based in San Francisco. And its CEO Marc Benioff opposes religious liberty protections. He’s so extreme about it that when Indiana passed a bill that protects religious liberty, he announced he was pulling business out of the state….

Benioff argues that protecting religious liberty makes travel to Indiana unsafe for customers or employees. This would be a foolish slander about any state that protects religious liberty. But have you been to Indiana? They’re almost too nice. This is a shockingly stupid claim for someone to make about liberty protections. Besides, this bill protects people from improper government restrictions on religious liberty, contrary to most media coverage of the bill.

Anyway, it’s worth looking at who Benioff happily does business with.

The company has a branch based out of Beijing in the People’s Republic of China, a Communist-controlled country that is a human rights nightmare.

There’s a nicely revealing snip there from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom report on China detailing some of that country’s latest abuses.

Then Hemingway makes a point of what the RFRA is, both the federal and state versions. And applies critical thinking to this exercise in knee-jerk reaction.

The United States has since 1993 had a federal version of the bill signed by Gov. Mike Pence yesterday. And Indiana joins 18 states with versions of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

If SalesForce CEO Benioff is going to be consistent, he’s not only going to have to lay off everyone who works out of his Chicago, Indianapolis, Tampa and Northern Virginia offices, but he can’t even do business in Alabama, Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

And there are more to consider. Check out the specifics in the thorough piece.

Also, Benioff may want to review his many contributions to candidates. He’s given a ton of money to candidates who voted for state or federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, President Barack Obama, and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Here’s a helpful primer the Gospel Coalition’s Joe Carter put together. At bottom,

Many media outlets identified the Indiana bill as being “anti-gay.” Unfortunately, rather than being outraged at finding they were lied to by politicians and journalists, most Americans will not bother to learn the truth and will remain ignorant about these important laws that protect our “first freedom.”

And for those who want to perpetuate the distortion that this latest extension of a longstanding, bipartisan protection of religious freedom is ‘anti-gay’, here’s what law professor Daniel Conkle wants to share, which he did in USA Today.

I am a supporter of gay rights, including same-sex marriage. But as an informed legal scholar, I also support the proposed Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). How can this be?

It’s because — despite all the rhetoric — the bill has little to do with same-sex marriage and everything to do with religious freedom.

The bill would establish a general legal standard, the “compelling interest” test, for evaluating laws and governmental practices that impose substantial burdens on the exercise of religion. This same test already governs federal law under the federal RFRA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. And some 30 states have adopted the same standard, either under state-law RFRAs or as a matter of state constitutional law.

Applying this test, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a Muslim prisoner was free to practice his faith by wearing a half-inch beard that posed no risk to prison security. Likewise, in a 2012 decision, a court ruled that the Pennsylvania RFRA protected the outreach ministry of a group of Philadelphia churches, ruling that the city could not bar them from feeding homeless individuals in the city parks.

In sum,

The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land. It is anything but a “license to discriminate,” and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.

There’s plenty more to say, and since this story is exponentially growing bigger and hotter, ballooning with the help of media and social media campaigns fueled more by visceral reaction and emotion than information and consideration, there will be more opportunities, with all this attention, to focus on the truth of the matter.

Meanwhile, here’s the text of the Indiana law.

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