Thursday, July 28, 2011, 2:30 PM
Archbishop Charles Chaput has written two useful meditations (“A Principled Charity” and “Catholic Charity in Secular America”) for our On the Square page on the nature of Christian charitable practice in general and the organization Catholic Charities, USA in particular. Archbishop Chaput lays out general principles by which a Christian charity must operate in order to be useful to the Gospel, and not just to some vague ideal of social betterment. Above all, he says, “Catholic ministries have the duty to faithfully embody Catholic beliefs about marriage, the family, social justice, sexuality, abortion and other important issues.”
This is timely wisdom. The Washington Blade, which bills itself as the nation’s leading gay news source, recently ran a piece about Catholic Charities’ use of the Sheridan Group, a lobbying firm owned and founded by Tom Sheridan, to draft an anti-poverty bill to be proposed in Congress. Why is the Blade interested? Sheridan is a noted gay advocate, and both he personally and the Sheridan Group as an organization have a long history of involvement in lobbying for gay issues.
Not everyone who works at a third-party group hired by Catholic Charities has to be Christian (Sheridan himself identifies as Catholic) or completely on board with Catholic social teaching, but surely there is a prudential problem with employing a lobbying firm with an extensive gay-rights portfolio at a time when the Catholic position on homosexuality has been taking an unprecedented legislative drubbing.
Many conscientious Christians will boycott organizations that give money to or lobby for causes opposed to Biblical Christian belief, like euthanasia or abortion. Can Catholic Charities “faithfully embody Catholic beliefs” about pressing social issues like sexuality if the organization is not willing to put its money where its mouth is (or should be)?
Catholic Charities could have hired any number of successful Washington lobbying firms to draft their poverty legislation. By hiring the Sheridan Group without apparent regard for its policy portfolio, Catholic Charities sends a clear message: paying lip service to Catholic teachings is more important than following them. Nor is this message lost on the public:
Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Catholic nun and one of the founders of New Ways Ministry, which provides support for LGBT Catholics, said Catholic Charities USA and some local Catholic Charities agencies have provided behind-the-scenes support for the LGBT Catholic community.
“Catholic Charities in general have been the most progressive wing of the church other than the nuns,” she said. “In some cases, Catholic Charities USA has supported our events. I feel they personally are pro-gay but they can’t do this publicly.”
Hiring a group that actively works to advance a position on homosexuality that the Church has continually opposed creates a cognitive dissonance, separating what Catholic Charities says about its adherence to Church teachings and what it does. And when it comes to being Catholic, actions speak louder than words.
Monday, July 18, 2011, 11:25 AM
On a visit to the Statue of Liberty with some international guests this weekend, I noticed a series of poster boards set up just inside the pedestal of the statue. Seeing the official National Park Service emblem and design at the top of each poster, I mentally consigned them to the fetid swamp of “edutainment” that the NPS usually produces and prepared to move on. But it turns out these posters weren’t fun facts about how many golf balls could fit inside Lady Liberty’s left foot or how many kilowatts of energy the torch would produce if it were really aflame.
In fact, they weren’t even about the Statue of Liberty at all. “Barack Obama declares LGBT history month” proclaimed one poster. Another listed landmarks in the LGBT experience, with a newspaper-style treatment of the same-sex marriage law that just passed in New York. Nowhere on the posters did a connection to the Statue of Liberty, New York City, or the national park system appear at all. The poster makers couldn’t even be bothered to make a cheap linguistic attempt to connect LGBT anything with liberty (e.g. gay rights->freedom to marry->civil liberties->Statue of Liberty). As tawdry as such an attempt would have been, at least it would have given the posters a fig-leaf raison d’etre.
The result instead is ideological propaganda distilled to its purest form. Sure, the declaration of LGBT history month has absolutely nothing to do with this park or its iconic statue, but what does that matter? What’s important is that the 3000 daily visitors to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty need to know that to be an American means celebrating and fighting for the ability of the LGBT community to do whatever they want (get married) and not to do whatever they don’t want (get married).
I rather hope that using tax dollars to plug unconnected ideological causes at national parks doesn’t become a trend. What’s next? A stern lecture about proper condom use at the Liberty Bell? A triumphant display of abortion-rights options at Yosemite? Informative posters about socialized medicine at the Grand Canyon?
Wednesday, July 6, 2011, 11:12 AM
A short street in southwest Brooklyn has given some militant atheists the opportunity to prove once again that being angry against God turns one against man, as well.
Richards Street has been renamed “Seven in Heaven Way” in honor of the seven local firefighters killed on 9/11. Colloquially, the group has been known as the “Seven in Heaven” for years, so the moniker struck the right tone, memorializing the sacrifice of these men in the very words of their friends, neighbors, and families. The name is a little campy, perhaps, not very highbrow, but it’s a charming example of the fierce and well-deserved pride in one’s neighbors and neighborhood that Chesterton lionized in The Napoleon of Notting Hill – an increasingly rare commodity.
Cue the protests of the wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth crowd. The word “heaven,” in case you didn’t know, is offensively religious, and thus cannot be emblazoned on a publicly funded noun. (I wish I could say the protesters were biblically literate enough to protest that “seven” is an offensively perfect number and should be similarly verboten.) Dave Silverman of American Atheists implores the city to respect the constitution by avoiding the H-word: “Call it ‘Seven Heroes Way’. Call it ‘Remember Seven Way’. But leave Christianity out of it – it wasn’t involved.”
Such a delirious allergy to all things vaguely associated with Christianity deserves little comment, as the phenomenon is both widespread and frequently addressed in these pages. What’s particularly outrageous about this event is the protesters’ casual willingness to brush aside a real, colloquial name with flesh-and-blood ties of love behind it in favor of a bland, neutered, ideologically sanitized version of the same.
Apparently the humanists don’t have much of an ear for what humans really love. People in mourning and people remembering loved ones don’t want generalized statements of universal applicability – that’s why renaming Richards St. Freedom Way or Sacrifice Way or Prosocial Genetic Behavior Way or even Seven Heroes Way wouldn’t appeal. They want the specific character of their loved ones to be forever remembered in the way their friends and families knew them – in this case, as the “Seven in Heaven.”
No one can really get upset at the evangelical atheists for railing against religion – after all, they can’t help it. What’s really strange about them is how easily they rail again natural, human goods as well. It’s almost as if there were a connection between religion and being human.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011, 10:38 AM
Mara Hvistendahl, author of Unnatural Selection, has been making the rounds in the media drawing out some of the shocking and under-appreciated consequences of sex-selective abortion around the world (we’ve talked about her here and here), but all the while assuring readers that the catastrophic problems she’s describing have nothing to do with abortion per se, only with its application.
Be that as it may, her latest piece in Foreign Policy points out what pro-life groups have been saying for over thirty years: that Western reproductive ideology funded, fueled, and enabled abortion around the globe as a means of population control.
Then I looked into it, and discovered that what I thought were right-wing conspiracy theories about the nexus of Western feminism and population control actually had some, if very distant and entirely historical, basis in truth. As it turns out, Western advisors and researchers, and Western money, were among the forces that contributed to a serious reduction in the number of women and girls in the developing world. And today feminist and reproductive-rights groups are still reeling from that legacy.
Those “very distant and entirely historical” connections turn out to be intimate and recent, as she argues in the paragraphs that follow. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, panic over the coming population explosion resulted in a major campaign by Western intellectuals and NGOs to stem the tide of babies with which the third world seemed poised to drown the planet. In the late 1960s,
Monday, June 27, 2011, 2:29 PM
Friday’s same-sex marriage vote in New York makes one thing abundantly clear: an organized minority will trump a disorganized majority. The push for gay marriage was well planned and carefully executed, while the traditional-marriage folks were, for the most part, like a team of wild horses, pulling in every direction and getting nowhere, muddying the waters with irrelevant questions like the genetics of homosexuality or how many legal protections would be needed to make same-sex marriage safe. The lack of unity allowed lukewarm supporters of traditional marriage to be picked off one by one.
But in the end two groups let this bill happen: Catholics and Republicans.
Although the outcome was different, the debate on the floor of the Senate featured the same emotional speeches delivered by members of that body in 2009: “I was raised Catholic,” they invariably began, and just as invariably followed a tortuous path of anecdote, sentiment, and lawyerly language that led to a confident “And I support same-sex marriage.”
The specific arguments that rang hollowly on the Senate floor are less important than the sheer fact that they were made. Why did so many Catholics profess to feeling lost and uncertain about a question that the Church is actually quite clear on? The New York Times has an illuminating, if not flattering, answer to the question:
Wednesday, June 22, 2011, 11:10 AM
The wholesale slaughter of unborn girls that has ravaged countries like China, India, and Korea is perhaps the most characteristically modern tragedy, perfectly fitted to a fleshless Internet age. There are no stacks of bodies, no horrified crowds of onlookers, no fiery speeches. Just bureaucracy, choice, and a chilling absence.
But that absence is undeniably present, and will become more present to the public mind thanks to Mara Hvistendahl’s new book Unnatural Selection. Jonathan Last’s review provides some powerful data from the work:
In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. This ratio is biologically ironclad. Between 104 and 106 is the normal range, and that’s as far as the natural window goes. Any other number is the result of unnatural events.
Yet today in India there are 112 boys born for every 100 girls. In China, the number is 121—though plenty of Chinese towns are over the 150 mark. China’s and India’s populations are mammoth enough that their outlying sex ratios have skewed the global average to a biologically impossible 107. But the imbalance is not only in Asia. Azerbaijan stands at 115, Georgia at 118 and Armenia at 120.
What is causing the skewed ratio: abortion. If the male number in the sex ratio is above 106, it means that couples are having abortions when they find out the mother is carrying a girl. By Ms. Hvistendahl’s counting, there have been so many sex-selective abortions in the past three decades that 163 million girls, who by biological averages should have been born, are missing from the world. Moral horror aside, this is likely to be of very large consequence.
The chaos that could very well result from multiple countries having huge populations of poor rural (and urban, for that matter) men and no women on the scene is hard to overestimate. The inherent instability of groups that skew unnaturally male, combined with the impending population collapse in China thanks to the One-Child policy and population collapse in Russia, Japan, and much of Europe thanks to a culture of sexual selfishness, could result in a very changed global landscape in a hundred years.
Hvistendahl adduces a host of other problems resulting from the absence of girls, both in the short and long term. So the problem is clear: sex-selective abortion has led major portions of the globe down a rabbit hole from which there may be no escape. The solution? Abortion!
Tuesday, June 14, 2011, 9:58 AM
Is the increasing secularism of modern society getting you down? Do you lament the loss of biblical literacy? Do you shed quiet tears when your well-timed comments about bricks without straw fall on deaf ears?
Well, weep no more! Ignition Games has finally found a way of making the dusty old Bible awesome. Enter El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.
The game draws out the obvious implications of Genesis 5:24, using some motifs from the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Here’s the official website’s plot synopsis:
In the beginning, God appointed a group of angels to watch over the world. These angels were called the Grigori. Over the ages they became fascinated with humans.
Until succumbing to temptation they abandoned Heaven for Earth.
The Heavenly Council decided to send a great flood to stop humanity from proceeding down this unintended course.
But a human named Enoch, who served as a scribe in Heaven, objected. The Council agreed to rescind its ruling if Enoch could capture the renegade angels. And so begins Enoch’s long quest to save the world…
Scribe in heaven? Capturing angels? Heavenly Council? One man turning back the divine plan by using celestial weapons like The Veil and The Arch? How come we never hear about this stuff in church?
The game is currently only available in Japan, where it is already winning awards – and souls for God. But look out, English-speaking world. Your New Evangelization will begin with the game’s American release date: July 26, 2011.
Monday, June 13, 2011, 3:49 PM
Here’s a fascinating article discussing the findings of experimental psychologist Adrian Raine, who has spent his career researching physical characteristics of the brain that seem to correlate with a future history of violence and psychopathy.
My hackles bristled when I saw the article, and I was tempted to dismiss it as yet another materialist, determinist neuroscientist crowing about having isolated the criminal type, brain size, gene, toothpaste, or whatever. But Raine’s findings merit a more serious examination.
His findings indicate that certain developments or under-developments in the brain can lead to an inability to recognize the normal signals that an action is a bad idea:
There is a theory behind this, and it’s about being insensitive to fear. Normally, a startling noise races the heart and sends the body into a high state of alert, which is what the skin electrodes pick up. But research indicates that children who are not alarmed don’t react to the threat of punishment when they misbehave. Nor do they react to the distress shown by other people. They don’t learn that their bad actions, like causing others pain, have bad consequences for those people. The pattern builds on itself until—maybe—it creates a person who wraps a telephone cord around his mother’s throat.
To Raine’s credit, he and some other researchers on the subject are clear that while changes to the brain’s normal structure may produce dispositions more common to violent criminals, they are not determinative: “The changes are themselves changeable.” Nature is a real factor in violent dispositions, but nurture may be able to affect the outcome:
Thursday, June 9, 2011, 10:25 AM
With the death of Dr. Kevorkian a few days ago, it’s worth taking a moment to assess the health of right-to-die movement he fostered.
This op-ed from the New York Times suggests that the right to die might be wheezing toward its end, at least in America. The citizens of Washington State and Oregon raced each other to the finish with legalizing physician-assisted suicide, but other states have been slow to follow. Could it be that the death of Dr. Kevorkian might take the movement off life support?
The Times‘ piece is itself a heartening sign, in that it pulls no punches about the squishy, manipulative language often used to justify euthanasia. The author makes a fairly strong secular argument for the idea that assisting suicide is an intrinsically evil act:
… The moral case for assisted suicide depends much more on our respect for people’s own desire to die than on our sympathy for their devastating medical conditions. If participating in a suicide is legally and ethically acceptable, in other words, it can’t just be because cancer is brutal and dementia is dehumanizing. It can only be because there’s a right to suicide.
And once we allow that such a right exists, the arguments for confining it to the dying seem arbitrary at best. We are all dying, day by day: do the terminally ill really occupy a completely different moral category from the rest? A cancer patient’s suffering isn’t necessarily more unbearable than the more indefinite agony of someone living with multiple sclerosis or quadriplegia or manic depression. And not every unbearable agony is medical: if a man losing a battle with Parkinson’s disease can claim the relief of physician-assisted suicide, then why not a devastated widower, or a parent who has lost her only child?
This isn’t a hypothetical slippery slope. Jack Kevorkian spent his career putting this dark, expansive logic into practice. He didn’t just provide death to the dying; he helped anyone whose suffering seemed sufficient to warrant his deadly assistance. When The Detroit Free Press investigated his “practice” in 1997, it found that 60 percent of those he assisted weren’t actually terminally ill. In several cases, autopsies revealed “no anatomical evidence of disease.”
There’s good reason to be cautious of Kevorkian’s attitude. An earlier article about the results of legalized euthanasia in Washington and Oregon reveals that, according to state records, “all who died [from assisted suicide] cited ‘loss of autonomy’ as a reason for seeking it. Most also said they could no longer enjoy life and feared losing “‘dignity.’” Of course, the terminally ill aren’t alone in feeling a “loss of autonomy.” Should those who feel weighed down by federal government expansion enjoy the right to die as well?
Real virtues like courage and justice will always be powerful sources of human action. But petty, ambiguous modern virtues like “autonomy” and “dignity,” free as they are from any historical grounding or real meaning, weaken more quickly. Have they already lost the power to drive the right to die?
Tuesday, June 7, 2011, 9:26 AM
National Geographic has a fascinating article on the recently-discovered Gobekli Tepe religious site. Built around 9600 B.C., the site predates Stonehenge by about 6600 years and places the origins of human religious experience much farther back in the historical progress of our civilization than scholars previously believed possible.
Until the discovery of Gobekli Tepe, archaeologists assumed that religion started only after the hunter-gatherer societies had settled down into more stable agricultural groups. In that narrative, religion would be a luxury, an artifact of economic and environmental forces. This new find upends that story, as the society that built Gobekli Tepe appears to have been purely hunter-gatherer. The implication of the find is that religion might in fact be as old as man is, and therefore something essential to what it means to be human. Bad news for the new atheists, perhaps, but a good confirmation of what Christians have always held to be true.
The whole article is well worth reading and is accompanied by some marvelous photographs, but the closing paragraph sums up the importance of the site:
Schmidt emphasizes that further research on Göbekli Tepe may change his current understanding of the site’s importance. Even its age is not clear—Schmidt is not certain he has reached the bottom layer. “We come up with two new mysteries for every one that we solve,” he says. Still, he has already drawn some conclusions. “Twenty years ago everyone believed civilization was driven by ecological forces,” Schmidt says. “I think what we are learning is that civilization is a product of the human mind.”
So maybe humans are more than machines, and religion more than a corruption of our programming.
Monday, June 6, 2011, 10:17 AM
Many thanks to the New York Times for cluing me in to the existence of Liturgy, a black metal band committed to turning the genre’s deep-seated nihilist beliefs into a positive, life-affirming philosophy. The band’s improbably named lead singer, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, proudly proclaims that, “spiritually,” the band’s music “transforms Nihilism into Affirmation.”
Sure, that doesn’t make sense. But happily Mr. Hunt-Hendrix has elucidated his philosophical theories in Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium, a book of proceedings from the world’s premier (read: only) conference on the black-metal genre.
The work is available on googlebooks, and makes for gripping reading, if you can take twelve pages of writing like this:
Friday, June 3, 2011, 10:47 AM
Bret Lythgoe provided some thoughtful responses to yesterday’s post about animal activism in China:
For me, there is no problem being religious, and for animal rights. The only consistent view, is to be against abortion, euthanasia, and killing and exploiting animals.
Then in another comment:
But you seem to imply that, since these people who exploit and kill dogs for food, are poor, and this gives them employment, it’s justified. Wrong. It’s morally wrong to be involved in the killing of dogs for food. [...]
Animal rights is about peace. And if stopping animal abuses cannot be done peacefully, it should not be done at all. [...]
This is what concerns me, about the animal rights movement, which I otherwise support: that some elements use violence to achieve their goals. This, just like antiabortion activists, who use violence, is completely morally reprehensible, and has no place in fighting animal abuses.
Peace and non-violence are certainly laudable goals, and I respect Bret’s disavowal of the means these particular activists chose to attain their goal. But there are fundamental issues with conflating animal rights and human rights that these objections don’t address.
Thursday, June 2, 2011, 11:42 AM
The Washington Post reports a comic incident in the Chinese battle for identity that seems more appropriate for a Walker Percy novel than real life: last month a wealthy urbanite forced a delivery van packed with pooches destined for dinner tables off the road and sparked a 15-hour roadside siege between animal rights activists and normal people. Activists declared the incident to be a rousing success, even though it has left a number of the working poor jobless, and has given the activists ample cause to fill their dog-free plates with crow instead:
The debate is the latest sign of China’s rapidly changing mores and culture. For centuries, dog meat has been coveted for its fragrant and unique flavor; it is an especially popular dish in the winter, when it is believed to keep you warm. But pet ownership has skyrocketed in recent years as China’s booming economy produced a burgeoning middle class with both money and time for four-legged friends. And with the new pet stores, a once powerless animal rights movement is slowly gaining traction.
The highway incident has been its biggest success thus far. The mob of dog lovers finally won the standoff by pooling together more than $17,000 to pay off the truck driver. But their victory was quickly eclipsed when they soon realized they had no idea where to house the hundreds of loud, wild and decidedly not housebroken canines.
Even after combining forces, the handful of animal rights groups in the region had trouble handling the overflow from the truck. Most of the dogs they unloaded were strays, and many were dehydrated, malnourished or suffering from deadly viruses. Several have died since the rescue. Dozens this week remained under treatment at animal hospitals around Beijing.
“We are a small organization. We haven’t even tried to pay the animal hospital bills yet,” said Wang Qi, 32, who works at the China Small Animal Protection Association. “There was so much enthusiasm when the dogs were first rescued, but our worry is, what happens now?”
Dog day afternoon, indeed!