“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.”

Gems of wisdom.

Who is speaking with such bold clarity, and to whom? Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, to a Vatican press briefing during a break in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

What he said is compelling.

We are confronted with some issues, and sometimes [they are] quite perplexing. We recently had a big conference on pro-life issues, and in that conference, we came out very clearly to ascertain the fact that life is sacred, marriage is scared, and the family has dignity.

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 say, “No we have come of age.” Most countries in Africa are independent for 50, 60, 100 years. We should be allowed to think for ourselves. We should be able to define: What is marriage? What makes the family? When does life begin? We should have answers to those [questions].

We are wooed by economic things. We are told, “If you limit your population, we’re going to give you so much.” And we tell them, “Who tells you that our population is overgrown?” In the first place, children die — infant mortality — we die in inter-tribal wars, and diseases of all kinds. And yet, you come with money to say, “Decrease your population; we will give you economic help.”

Now you come to tell us about reproductive rights, and you give us condoms and artificial contraceptives. Those are not the things we want. We want food, we want education, we want good roads, regular light, and so on. Good health care.

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.

Reading that, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Where are we hearing such strong voices of clarity and conviction these days?

This is an important voice and message, and we need to pay it respectful attention. Note what Vatican analyst George Weigel said in this piece ahead of the Synod.

The collapse of marriage culture throughout the world is indisputable. More and more marriages end in divorce, even as increasing numbers of couples simply ignore marriage, cohabit, and procreate. The effort to redefine “marriage” as what we know it isn’t, and to enforce that redefinition by coercive state power, is well-advanced in the West. The contraceptive mentality has seriously damaged the marriage culture, as have well-intentioned but ultimately flawed efforts to make divorce easier. The sexual free-fire zone of the West is a place where young people find it very hard to commit to a lifelong relationship that inevitably involves sacrificing one’s “autonomy.” And just as the Christian understanding of marriage is beginning to gain traction in Africa, where it is experienced as a liberating dimension of the Gospel, European theologians from dying local churches are trying to empty marriage of its covenantal character, reducing it to another form of contract.

The Christian understanding of marriage, which is the understanding of a sacramental covenant between man and woman is “beginning to gain traction in Africa, where it it experienced as”…what?…liberating. Imagine that.

It’s time the West becomes aware of and comes to terms with what we – through any number of proxies – have been exporting to Africa and other developing countries.

This Washington Post interview with Bill Gates is revealing.

Ezra Klein: Your letter talks a lot about the myth that aid will just lead to new problems through overpopulation. I was a bit surprised to read you focusing on it. Are fears around overpopulation an impediment in your day-to-day work?

BG: It’s a huge impediment in convincing rich-world donors that they should feel good about these health improvements. Our foundation focused in the 1990s on reproductive health. We weren’t nearly as big then. But we wanted to make contraception available because we thought population growth would make everything so difficult, whether it’s the environment or feeding kids or stability. It was only when we found out about this phenomenal connection between improved health and reduced population growth that we felt: Great, let’s just make the foundation as big as possible to go after these health problems. Because before then the commonsense thing was more kids would make these problems less tractable.

I don’t think people like to say out loud that we want to let these kids die because there are too many of them. But by choosing not to get into health in our early days I was a victim of the myth around overpopulation.

And here we are today:

An African archbishop attending the worldwide meeting of Catholic bishops frankly criticized Western attitudes toward his continent Wednesday, lambasting imposition of foreign cultures on African people.

Africans “have come of age,” said Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama. “We should be allowed to think for ourselves.”

“We are wooed by economic things,” said Kaigama, who heads Nigeria’s Jos archdiocese. “We are told if you limit your population, we’re going to give you so much. And we tell them, ‘Who tells you that our population is overgrown?'”

Good. Question.

Pope Francis, global village pastor

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

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

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

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

This is incisive.

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

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

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

Check them out, he names several.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama campaign ads

The president’s campaign is running some ads aimed at ‘the women vote’ that are more revealing of how he regards voters than anything else. And they reveal a lot about his character.

First we got the Life of Julia ad campaign.

The slide show narrative follows Julia, a cartoon character, from age 3 to age 67 and explains how Obama’s policies, from Head Start to Obamacare to mandated contraception coverage to Medicare reform, would provide Julia with a better life than Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan could.

Julia is not your typical all-American girl, but an obviously independent, yuppie liberal woman. She goes to public school, graduates college, and becomes a Web designer. She is able to pursue her career because, at age 27, “her health insurance is required to cover birth control and preventive care, letting Julia focus on her work rather than worry about her health.”

At age 31 she “decides to have a child,” with no mention of a father or husband. Her son Zachary heads off to a Race to the Top funded public school, while Julia goes on to start her own Web business. She retires at age 67 with Social Security and Medicare supporting her financially and spends her later years volunteering in a community garden.

Julia’s happily-ever-after tale is remarkably void of reality. Nowhere in her fictional life is it mentioned that Head Start has done little, if anything, to improve elementary education, that she will likely graduate with $25,000 in student loan debt, that she has a 50% chance of being unemployed or underemployed after college, that Medicare and Social Security are headed toward insolvency, and that her share of the national debt is $50,000 and growing.

For Republicans, Julia’s story might seem like a joke too good to be true, but they should take it very seriously. Because buried within “The Life of Julia” is the ideological vision of modern liberalism — to create a state that takes care of its people from cradle to grave. The story of Julia is a microcosm of Obama’s vision for America and emblematic of his view of the government’s role in an individual’s life.

That whole thing was demeaning to women who don’t rely on government as their provider and caretaker. Women who don’t place a primacy of importance on government provision of their birth control and reproductive choices.

 Like Women Speak for Themselves women, like Helen Alvare and Kim Daniels and Colleen Carroll Campbell and Jenn Giroux and Carrie Severino and others.

Kathleen Parker recently weighed in on the bogus ‘war on women’ campaign and the nonsense that feeds it.

Then came the latest, the YouTube ‘first time’ video.

This week marks an especially repugnant page in President Obama’s catalog of attempts to woo young female voters.  In an online ad titled “Your First Time,” featuring actress Lena Dunham, the President’s campaign drew an offensive and distasteful parallel between losing one’s virginity and the “awesome” experience of voting for Mr. Obama.

Explaining that it’s “super uncool” to abstain from the election, Miss Dunham says she became a woman when she voted for the President, and was honored to “do it” with a guy who cares about her right to taxpayer-funded birth control.

Until very recently, it would have been unthinkable for any politician, let alone the President of the United States, to endorse an ad that so trivializes sex and demeans the importance of a chaste lifestyle.  Mr. Obama apparently thinks he speaks for women by endlessly insisting on their right to taxpayer-funded birth control and abortions. But in fact, Gallup polls show that social issues and birth control rank among the least important issues in this election cycle. The economy, which voters deem as their greatest concern, has plagued women during Obama’s presidency. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment among women has risen from 7 percent to 8.1 percent and from 12.5 percent to 14.4 among young women during his administration. Women have regressed during the last four years, and many are now supporting Governor Romney.

President Obama enjoys indicting his opponents as propagators of a “war on women.”  But what is truly demeaning is to suggest that the womanhood of female voters depends on his reelection, and a few newly minted goodies that will make it easier to have uncommitted sex without regard for the sanctity of life.

Catholic scholar George Weigel calls it the ‘Lolita ad’, for obvious reason.

In it, Lena Dunham, the creator of HBO’s smutty Girls, offers advice to seemingly innocent young women and other onlookers. The 26-year-old star, who has the look and mannerisms of a 13-year-old, channels her inner Lolita and coos the following:

Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy. It should be with a guy . . . who really cares about and understands women.

A guy who cares about whether you get health insurance, and specifically whether you get birth control. The consequences are huge. You want to do it with a guy who brought the troops out of Iraq. You don’t want a guy who says ‘Oh, hey, I’m at the library studying,’ when he’s really out not signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Or who thinks that gay people should never have beautiful, complicated weddings of the kind we see on Bravo or TLC all the time . . .

Think about how you want to spend those four years. In college-age time, that’s 150 years. Also, it’s super uncool to be out and about and someone says, ‘Did you vote?’ and ‘No, I didn’t vote, I wasn’t ready.’ My first time voting was amazing. It was this line in the sand. Before I was a girl. Now I was a woman. I went to the polling station and pulled back the curtain. I voted for Barack Obama.

Voting as analogy to recreational sex underwritten financially by tax dollars: That’s what the Obama campaign imagines to be a winning strategy in fighting what it is pleased to call the “War against Women.” Showcasing Sandra Fluke at the Democratic National Convention was not, as the Marxists used to say, an accident: This is an administration that seems to imagine that America is a nation of Sandra Flukes (and their gigolos), and that this is a Good Thing.

Even attempting to parse this kind of vulgarity seems demeaning, although it’s clear enough that the administration is committed to an ideology of lifestyle libertinism that it is eager to “impose on a pluralistic society” (as the vice president would not put it). So let’s just say that the Lolita ad is ugly, coarse, breathtakingly stupid, and profoundly anti-woman — which tells us something about the character of the people who create and authorize such ads, even as it further clarifies their vision of the American future.

Beauty is a window into what is true and good and life-giving. Ugliness helps us understand what is base, ignoble, and dehumanizing. That’s worth keeping in mind when entering the voting booth.

Tim Tebow’s faith in football

It’s about standings. Sort of…

He has an uneasy celebrity status in the NFL. Many athletes are Christians and visibly show or express their gratitude to God before, during and after games. But there’s something differently, prickly to the media, about Tim Tebow.

If there’s any question about the level of religious divisiveness in America, just look to the NFL, and the cult of personality, punditry, and outright passion surrounding Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. The former Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida, a devout Evangelical Christian who isn’t shy about spreading the gospel, has completed just 45 NFL passes through the first one and a quarter seasons of his career.

However…

Tebow seems to have crossed a line that most athletes have respected. They’ll celebrate their own faith, but won’t challenge yours. “This is a sticking point,” says Arthur Remillard, a religious studies professor at St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa., who teaches a course on sports and religion, and starts it off with a Tebow discussion. “It’s one thing for an athlete to say ‘Thank you, Jesus,” on a Sunday afternoon. It’s another for him to make what amounts to a declaration that ‘I am morally superior to you.’ There’s a segment of the fan base that’s not too keen on hearing that.”

Is that what they’re hearing? Or more accurately (and there’s a difference), is that what he’s saying?

George Weigel says the reaction to Tebow is irrational.

Tebow is the son of an evangelical pastor and spends some of his vacation time working with his father’s mission in the Philippines. He famously wore eye-black with Bible verses inked on it in white during his Florida career, and he is not reluctant to share his Christian faith in other public ways. He visits sick kids in hospitals; he has said that he is a virgin who believes in saving himself for marriage; he and his mother taped a pro-life commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. There is not the slightest evidence that Tebow has ever forced himself and his convictions on his teammates or on an unsuspecting public.

And if Catholics would find his theology a little questionable at points, there is nothing of which I’m aware that would suggest that Tim Tebow wouldn’t be interested in sitting down and having a serious conversation with knowledgeable Catholics about how God saves those who will be saved. A guy who can command respect in the moral and cultural free-fire zone of an NFL locker room (not to mention the Southeastern Conference, which hardly resembles a network of Carthusian monasteries) is not likely to be shaken by a serious conversation about his understanding of how the Lord Jesus and his Father might effect the salvation of those who do not explicitly avow faith in the Lord Jesus and his Father.

No, Tim Tebow is a target of irrational hatred, not because he’s an iffy quarterback at the NFL level, or a creep personally, or an obnoxious, in-your-face, self-righteous proselytizer. He draws hatred because he is an unabashed Christian, whose calmness and decency in the face of his Christophobic detractors drives them crazy. Tim Tebow, in other words, is a prime example of why Christophobia—a neologism first coined by a world-class comparative constitutional law scholar, J.H.H. Weiler, himself an Orthodox Jew—is a serious cultural problem in these United States.

And the fact that it’s George Weigel writing this signals that the problem, reaching this height in major league sports in the US, is serious.

Tolerance, that supreme virtue of the culture of radical relativism, does not extend to evangelical Christians, it seems. And if it does not extend to evangelicals who unapologetically proclaim their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior and who live their commitment to the dignity of human life from conception and natural death, it will not extend to Catholics who make that same profession of faith and that same moral commitment. Whatever we think of Tim Tebow’s theology of salvation, Tim Tebow and serious Catholics are both fated to be targets of the Christophobes.

Their war on Christianity is getting more radical, as Weigel notes in his concluding remark, which questions how democracy will survive this culture war with religion. It’s a recurring theme, gaining urgency. In the past two weeks, I’ve personally heard three bishops, two cardinals, one congressman, two constitutional law experts and several scholars express heightened concerns over the assault on Christians that’s reached unprecedented levels.

Without risk of exaggerating the football analogy, it’s clear they’re prepared for both defense and offense.