Kenya’s constitutional referendum has been, for the past several months, the source of some controversy in the United States with suggestions that the United States has taken a heavy hand in advocating for its approval. It would seem that the reported $23 million spent by the U.S. Agency for International Development to influence Kenyan voters to vote “Yes” has paid off.
The new constitution was approved by a majority of close to 70 percent in a referendum on Wednesday. The new constitution enshrines the right to abortion when “in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger” as a “fundamental right and freedom.” This is a departure from the previous constitution which made no mention of abortion and the Kenyan penal code which allowed for abortion for the sake of preserving the life of the mother. The provision for abortions in the new constitution comes just two lines after the statement “Every person has the right to life. The life of a person begins at conception.”
The incongruity of thought displayed in this one paragraph of the new constitution was reflected in the country’s decision to ratify it; Kenya is, according to a March 2010 poll, an overwhelmingly pro-life country. In response to the referendum results, the Catholic Bishops of Kenya have published a statement that reminds the people of Kenya, that despite the widespread support for the new constitution, “truth and right are not about numbers. We therefore, as the shepherds placed to give moral guidance to our people, still reiterate the need to address the flawed moral issues in this proposed constitution. That voice should never be silenced.”
Yesterday, reporter of all things Catholic John Allen covered the story of the pentennial International Pilgrimage of Altar Servers that brought an estimated 50,000 alter servers to Rome for a rally with the Holy Father. Of particular interest, Allen notes, was the predominance of female attendees:
For the first time this year, the female altar servers in attendance outnumbered the males. According to organizers, the balance was roughly 60-40 in favor of females. The official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, pointed to the turnout as a symbol of “the massive entry in recent decades of girls and young women into a role once reserved exclusively to males.”
That’s striking given that in some quarters, the very idea of altar girls remains controversial.
There are many fine altar girls out there, and their desire to serve is admirable. It reflects, in fact, a very feminine quality, like Martha, they feel compelled to serve the one they love. But as the 1994 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship permitting girls to serve on the altar noted, the tradition of having boys serve at the altar “has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue.” But the predominance of altar girls would suggest that allowing girls to serve negatively effects groups of altar boys. In fact, they are driving boys away from altar serving. And for those boys who do continue to serve, the presence of altar girls makes it difficult for altar serving to be considered an apprenticeship for the priesthood. If altar serving is going to continue as a way of fostering priestly vocations, it seems that another form of service needs to be found for altar girls.
Dr. Kenneth Howell, the professor from the University of Illinois who lost his job for his explanation to his Introduction to Catholicism class of the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality, will be allowed to continue teaching the course this fall, according to a letter, dated July 28, from the University to the Alliance Defense Fund:
The School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics will be contacting Dr. Howell to offer him the opportunity to teach Religion 127, Introduction to Catholicism, on a visiting instructional appointment at the University of Illinois, for the fall 2010 semester. Dr. Howell will be appointed and paid by the University for this adjunct teaching assignment. Read more
This is certainly good to hear, but it’s a far cry from the University admitting any wrongdoing for dismissing Dr. Howell in the first place, though the letter mentions that the University Senate Committee’s investigation into the decision to remove Howell’s teaching responsibilities is still ongoing. It’s also worth noting that this will be a new teaching arrangement, with Dr. Howell teaching as a visiting professor paid by the University rather than by the Saint John’s Catholic Newman Center—perhaps that’s all the religion department wanted to begin with.
An order of Benedictine nuns near Avignon have just signed a record deal with Universal Music—the same label that brought you Lady GaGa and U2—for an album of Gregorian Chant.
The nuns are from the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l’Annonciation in Le Barroux and their congregation was selected from among 70 convents around the world to record the album which is itself a follow up to the 2008 recording of the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz which has sold more than a million copies.
The only bothersome thing about the video and the BBC News report is the characterization of the nuns as “reclusive.” This brings to my mind the image of a convent full of old Miss Havisham’s from Great Expectations, cut off from the world and stopped in time, with their mansion crumbling around them. But these cloistered nuns don’t remove themselves from society in contempt. As Pope Benedict observed last month, cloistered religious are the heart of the Church, that in their lives “hidden with Christ” they are “instruments of salvation for every man that the Lord has redeemed with His Blood.”
As World Cup football fever dies down, the Salesian News Agency has suggested that the sport needs a patron saint:
In spite of the fact that FIFA had forbidden the use of religious symbols and gestures most of the players don’t seem to take any notice and openly express their religious faith. Maradona, for example, during the World Cup has been seen with some rosary beads as the matches are played.
In fact many professional and social settings have their holy protector; St Isidor of Seville is the patron of the Internet, St Clare of Assisi of the television, St Joseph of Copertino of space travel, the Archangel Gabriel of telecommunications. Although some sports have patrons such as St Sebastian for athletics, football still lacks its holy protector.
Not to worry though, the Salesians have someone in mind, who else but the Salesian Society’s founder Saint John Bosco:
Just a week after the lower house of French parliament passed a measure banning burqas amid charges of discrimination and xenophobia, Syria’s Ministry of Education has rather quietly banned the niqab—a veil that leaves only the eyes uncovered—from public and private universities. And this ban came just a month after the Ministry transferred hundreds of teachers who wore the niqab at government run primary schools to positions outside the classroom.
It would be a stretch to suggest that the Syrian ban is the result of a widespread fear of foreigners as three quarters of the country is Sunni Muslim. It reflects, rather, as R.R. Reno suggested of the French ban, a desire to protect a secular civil society. While the French dressed up their defense of Laïcité in women’s rights clothes, the Syrian Minister of Education has admitted that the niqab ban is to protect the “‘objective, secular methodology’ of Syrian Schools.”
On the heels of the implementation of a new abortion law in Spain that declares abortion as a right, allows unrestricted abortions performed during the first fourteen weeks of a pregnancy, and lowers the age of required parental consent for abortion to fifteen, Archbishop Francisco Gil Hellín of Burgos has published a statement urging Spanish Catholics to civil disobedience of the law:
Let us diagnose it with total clarity: this law is no law, although it is presented as such by some political and legislative bodies. And it isn’t because no one has the right to eliminate an innocent. For that reason, it doesn’t obligate. Even more, it demands a head-on opposition without reservation. Right reason cannot admit as a right the killing of an innocent person. . . . It is a fallacy to affirm that this law has been approved by the majority of the Parliament and that this represents the majority of the citizens, or to say that if the Constitutional Tribunal decrees its conformity [with the Constitution] it would be disobedience to oppose it, and would deserve a punishment. The fallacy consists in attributing to politicians, judges, or citizens a right that they don’t have, and no one has the right to legislate that an innocent can be killed.
It’s not clear to me why any Spanish Catholics would find themselves in the position of having to disobey the law. From what I have read, the law does not explicitly require doctors to perform abortions—though it does set the stage for a clash between the right of conscientious objectors and the newly found right to an abortion. The archbishop’s words do seem to reflect, as John Allen wrote a few weeks ago, the Church’s growing perception of herself as a minority. Recounting recent events, Allen noted:
The police raids in Belgium, the refusal by the Supreme Court in the United States to block a sex abuse lawsuit against the Vatican, and the European Court of Human Rights challenge to display of Catholic symbols in Italy all suggest that the final pillars of deference by civil authorities to the Catholic church are crumbling. . . . A growing band of Catholic opinion, certainly reflected in the Vatican, believes that a ‘tipping point’ has been reached in the West, in which secular neutrality toward the church, especially in Europe, has shaded off into hostility and, sometimes, outright persecution.
Following the old rule of thumb: “Y goes before C, except when C stands for something that could be embarrassing,” the YMCA—formerly known as the Young Men’s Christian Association—has decided to lop off the last three letters of its name and will now be known simply as “the Y.”
One of the nation’s most iconic nonprofit organizations, founded 166 years ago in England as the Young Men’s Christian Association, is undergoing a major rebranding, adopting as its name the nickname everyone has used for generations.
“It’s a way of being warmer, more genuine, more welcoming, when you call yourself what everyone else calls you,” said Kate Coleman, the organization’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer. Read more.
Now this may be a sign that I’m a crank, but I can’t help but suspect that the decision had more to do with distancing the organization from the labels “Men” and “Christian” than being warm and genuine.
Here’s the latest development in the ongoing story of Dr. Kenneth Howell, the former adjunct professor at the University of Illinois, who recently lost his job for teaching his students the Catholic Church’s position on homosexual acts in an introductory course on Catholicism.
First Things has obtained a letter sent today by the Alliance Defense Fund to the University of Illinois on Dr. Howell’s behalf. ADF has charged the university with violating Dr. Howell’s First Amendment right, citing numerous cases where the Supreme Court has upheld the right and emphasized the value of university professor’s freedom to debate and share ideas. Read the letter here.
No gum is allowed during an exam: chewing could disguise a student’s speaking into a hands-free cellphone to an accomplice outside.
The 228 computers that students use are recessed into desk tops so that anyone trying to photograph the screen—using, say, a pen with a hidden camera, in order to help a friend who will take the test later—is easy to spot.
Scratch paper is allowed—but it is stamped with the date and must be turned in later.
When a proctor sees something suspicious, he records the student’s real-time work at the computer and directs an overhead camera to zoom in, and both sets of images are burned onto a CD for evidence.
This seemed a little draconian to me until I read further down in the piece that “in surveys of 14,000 undergraduates over the last four years, an average of 61 percent admitted to cheating on assignments and exams.” And that’s only the students who admit to cheating! This picture is quite the opposite of my own college experience—which was just a few years ago. At Thomas Aquinas College, we took our exams entirely unmonitored and were allowed to leave the classroom for a breath of fresh air or a smoke break. Perhaps I was oblivious to it, but I don’t think that many students took advantage of this honor system to cheat—unless you consider a nicotine boost an unfair advantage. Small, young schools like TAC do have an advantage here though; they have no brand name recognition so the students they attract are, by and large, there for the sake of the education, not just the diploma.
On the Guardian’s language blog, Roz Kaveney—I dare not attempt any further description—complains of the linguistic difficulties in naming transgendered people:
As a trans man or woman, you soon notice how many people have what Daffy Duck called ‘pronoun trouble’.
No matter how supportive of your transition they claim to be, and how much well-intentioned advice they give you about your new hairstyle, or the name you always used in your head but only just told them about, they misgender you every other time they open their mouths, and get quite upset if you call them on it.
You’re being too sensitive, they say, or it’s too soon. Families, in particular, think it’s too soon even after years. Getting your name right is a minimum requirement of respect— referring to you in the third person by the wrong pronoun means that respect is only superficial politeness.
I used to think that straight men particularly tended to misgender me if they were losing an argument; now I’ve seen them do it to trans men too. Misgendering is sometimes cluelessness, but more often it’s quiet, hostile aggression, especially if we aren’t gratefully deferential for whatever crumbs of acceptance we are thrown—if we speak up as freely as if we were actual, you know, human beings.
Oh, and a word to far too many columnists and pub philosophers: the only time ‘it’ is acceptable is with neutrois-identified people, some of whom regard it as mandatory. And if that’s one rule too many to keep in your social vocabulary, well, tough.
Emily Post is certainly right that addressing someone by their proper title is one of the most basic and easiest ways to show respect, but the etiquette of gender identity can be truly exhausting.
Even if it passes constitutional muster, the “all comers” policy could lead to bizarre results, such as a Jewish group having to admit Christians or a pro-life group being required to let abortion-rights activists seek leadership positions. The best argument against the policy is that it actually undermines diversity by making every student group potentially interchangeable in its membership. A better way to promote diversity of viewpoints is to allow groups on campus to define their beliefs — including religious beliefs — and compete for the allegiance of students. Hastings should give it a try.
It’s a common enough pastime on lazy summer days to lie on the grass gazing up at the sky and look for figures and faces in the clouds. But two professors at Johns Hopkins University, the New York Times reports, have turned their gaze from fluffy cumulonimbus clouds to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and believe they have discovered an anatomical drawing of the human brain hidden in plain sight in the first of Michelangelo’s nine panels on the book of Genesis where God separates light from darkness. The viewer of this panel sees God from below as he looks up and rends the darkness from the light. And if the viewer looks closely, Professor Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo insist, they will see in the bulging neck of God “the underside of the brain and the brain stem, with parts of the temporal lobe, the medulla, the pons and other structures clearly drawn.”
It’s probably worth noting that Suk and Tamargo are a medical illustrator and a neurosurgeon respectively. If this were a Rorschach test I would say they’ve got brains on the brain a little to much.
The people have spoken, the results are in. Pluralities or majorities in eighteen of twenty-two countries surveyed for the Pew Global Attitudes Project think that Americans are not religious enough. According to the report “this is especially true in all three Arab nations surveyed—Jordan (89%), Egypt (81%), and Lebanon (64%)—as well as in Indonesia (67%) and Pakistan (55%). Majorities also hold this view in India (57%), Brazil (55%), Mexico (56%), Kenya (53%) and Nigeria (57%).” For that matter, 64 percent of Americans surveyed think that Americans are not religious enough.
While there is general consensus that America should be more religious, I suspect that this reflects nothing more than the general consensus that religion is a good thing and you can’t have too much of it. It would be interesting to know what manifestations of religiosity in American public life the individuals polled in each country were considering when giving their answer. Especially the pluralities in Great Britain, Germany, and Japan and the majority (71%) in France who think that the United States is too religious.
There’s a figure in all this—a metaphor, perhaps, or a synecdoche—for the condition of American Catholicism. Its long history, certainly, from the Spanish colonial beginnings on. But, most of all, San Juan Capistrano seems an image for recent decades—because sometime around 1970, the leaders of the Catholic Church in America took a stick and knocked down all the swallows’ nests.
They had their reasons. What was anyone to make of those endless 1950s sodalities and perpetual-adoration societies, the Mary Day processions, the distracting rosaries shouted out during the mumbled Latin Masses? The tangle and confusion of all the discalced, oblated, friar-minored, Salesianed, Benedictined, Cistercianed communities of monks and nuns?
The arcanery of decorations on albs and chasubles, the processions of Holy Water blessings, the grottos with their precarious rows of fire-hazard candles flickering away in little red cups, the colored seams and peculiar buttons that identified monsignors, the wimpled school sisters, the tiny Spanish grandmothers muttering prayers in their black mantillas, the First Communion girls wrapped up in white like prepubescent brides, the mumbled Irish prejudices, the loud Italian festivals, the Holy Door indulgences, the pocket guides to Thomistic philosophy, the Knights of Columbus with their cocked hats and comic-opera swords, the tinny mission bells, the melismatic chapel choirs—none of this was the Church, some of it actually obscured the Church, and the decision to clear out the mess was not unintelligent or uninformed or unintended.
It was merely insane. An entire culture nested in the crossbeams and crannies, the nooks and corners, of the Catholic Church. And it wasn’t until the swallows had been chased away that anyone seemed to realize how much the Church itself needed them, darting around the chapels and flitting through the cathedrals. They provided beauty, and eccentricity, and life. What they did, really, was provide Catholicism to the Catholic Church in America, and none of the multimedia Masses and liturgical extravaganzas in the years since—none of the decoy nests and artificial puddles—has managed to call them home. All the mission bells will ring, / The chapel choir will sing, / When the swallows come back to Capistrano.
Maybe so. Or maybe the swallows have just found better digs. The Orange County Register reports (hat tip Margaret Cabaniss over at InsideCatholic) that this year the swallows bypassed the Mission heading instead for the brand new Vallano Country Club:
The private community boasts a golf course designed by Greg Norman, 200 luxury homes, and a spacious clubhouse with nest-worthy stucco high off the ground. (Click here for map.)
Facility director Travis Blaylock says the birds’ arrival took everyone by surprise.
“I saw a few one day and then it’s like they went and told all their friends, ‘Hey, I found the spot.’”
For a hot summer day, the New York Times brings us the history of “cool”
Already by the time of “Beowulf,” a millennium ago, the original low-temperature meaning of cool had veered into the realm of human emotion — or rather the lack thereof. From Old English to the ages of Chaucer and Shakespeare all the way to the present, cool has been able to mean “dispassionate, calm, self-composed.” Some of our latter-day cool expressions — “stay cool,” “play it cool,” “cool as a cucumber,” “cool customer” — play off this ancient connotation of implacability.
By the early 18th century, emotional coolness had branched off in another direction: “assured and unabashed where diffidence and hesitation would be expected,” as the O.E.D. has it. This impudent style of cool — no longer in common usage — is the one that turns up in the examples from Abraham Lincoln and Wilkie Collins given by the T.L.S. readers. Lincoln’s line, “That is cool,” from his 1860 speech at Cooper Union, was a response to the audacity of secessionist demands. Collins, likewise, has a character in his 1868 novel, “The Moonstone,” say, “Cool!” when presented with an insolent request. In both cases, cool was used disapprovingly, quite distinct from later, more positive uses.
Those early instances of cool are easy enough to explain, but what of the intriguing contribution to the T.L.S. colloquy from Allan Peskin, a biographer of President James A. Garfield? Peskin found an 1881 letter by Garfield’s teenage daughter Mollie to a friend, telling of her crush on her father’s private secretary, Joseph Stanley-Brown. “Isn’t he cool!” Mollie gushed in the letter. The “audaciously impudent” sense of cool wouldn’t seem to work here, since, as Peskin points out, Mollie went on to marry Stanley-Brown when she came of age. Could Mollie have been ahead of her time, already using cool to mean “sophisticated, stylish” or “admirable, excellent”?
Though it would be indubitably cool to find a hidden connection between schoolgirl talk of the 1880s and later hipster slang, my best guess is that Mollie was describing her future husband with the older “cool, calm and collected” nuance. “As a private secretary,” Peskin told me when I asked about Mollie’s letter, “Stanley-Brown demonstrated the customary diffidence that was expected of someone in his position.” Still, Peskin said he finds it difficult to believe that a teenage girl would be infatuated with a man for being dispassionate. read more
Agenzia Fides, the Vatican’s missionary press agency, has published the names of Catholics killed while on mission in 2009. According to the report, 30 priests, 2 religious sisters, 2 seminarians, and 3 lay volunteers were killed last year—nearly twice the number killed in 2008. The report hesitates to call these men and women who died while serving the Church martyrs because the circumstances of many of their deaths are unknown. But reading through the short biographies of each pastoral worker a pattern emerges, entire lives dedicated to serving Christ in the poor: Fr. Joseph Bertaina, 58 years a priest, over 40 years a missionary in Kenya; Fr. Ramiro Luden, 34 years a missionary in Brazil; Fr. Mariano Arroyo Merino, 39 years a priest, 12 years a missionary in Cuba; Fr. Jean Gaston Buli, 24 years a priest in Congo; Fr. Jeremiah Roche, 41 years a missionary in Kenya.
We can surely hope that they have been greeted as we all hope to be greeted some day: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. . . . Come, share your master’s joy.” Fides’ list and a short biography of each of the missionaries killed in 2009 can be found here.
An interesting article in the New York Times on the decline of black congregations in Harlem:
All Souls’ Church, on St. Nicholas Avenue, and any number of the traditional neighborhood churches in Harlem that had for generations boasted strong memberships — built on and sustained by familial loyalty and neighborhood ties — are now struggling to hold on to their congregations.
The gentrification of Harlem has helped deplete their ranks, as younger residents, black and white, have arrived but not taken up places in their pews. Longtime Harlem families, either cashing in on the real estate boom over the past decade or simply opting to head south for their retirement, have left the neighborhood and its churches. Then there are the deaths, as year by year, whole age bands are chipped away.
Without a sustainable membership, and with no fresh wave of tithe-paying, collection-plate-filling young members, these churches have struggled to keep their doors open, to maintain repairs and to extend their reach in the community.
The USCCB has announced that it will have to cut its ties (a paid membership) with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights after the LCCR endorsed President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan. Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Peace explained:
In light of recent events, it has become increasingly clear that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ continued membership in the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights is not possible because of the LCCR’s expanded and broadened agenda. The interests of the Leadership Conference and those of the USCCB have diverged as the LCCR has moved beyond advocacy of traditional civil rights to advocacy of positions which do not reflect the principles and policies of the bishops’ Conference. In recent years, the Leadership Conference has joined others in advocating or opposing nominees for the Supreme Court, a practice which clearly contradicts USCCB policy and compromises the principled positions of the bishops. The latest example of this is the LCCR support of the Solicitor General’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
More specifically, as Deal Hudson chronicled over at InsideCatholic, the LCCR has been advocating pro-abortion nominees and opposing pro-life nominees for the Supreme Court as well as lobbying against bans on same-sex marriage and for abortion. Practices which even more clearly contradict the principled positions of the bishops. Pulling out of the LCCR in no way signals a change in the USCCB’s “commitment to oppose all forms of racism, unjust discrimination, and bigotry,” as Bishop Murphy emphasized in his statement. Rather, it emphasizes the bishops commitment to the principle underlying these worthy causes: the dignity of every human person.
On Friday, the New York Times reported on the “chilling and ghoulish” case of William Melchert-Dinkel, a Minnesota man who haunted pro-suicide websites and coached at least two people to their deaths all for the “thrill of the chase,” in his own words.
Today I learned (hat tip Matt Archbold) that Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa are now performing “telemed” abortions. Operation Rescue published a special report on the practice in March and the story was picked up by the DesMoines Registerthis week. According to the Register:
The first-in-the-nation system allows a Planned Parenthood physician from Des Moines to visit with each patient by videoconference, then press a computer button to open a drawer in front of the patient, who could be seated up to 190 miles away. The patient then reaches into the drawer and withdraws the abortion pills.
This may not have been what Romano Guardini had in mind in The End of the Modern World, but it is certainly a consequence of ignoring him. Man has, Guardini said, rapidly made many spectacular technical advances, and, consequently, has increased his power without ever having learning to govern it. But power is not the same as natural energy, power requires a will to direct it, and when men neglect to do so, it becomes demonic. It will be the great task of our time, Guardini warned in 1949, “to integrate power into life in such a way that man can employ power without forfeiting his humanity. For he will have only two choices: to match the greatness of his power with the strength of humanity, or to surrender his humanity to power and perish.”
When the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle was completed in 1885, it fulfilled the dream of the founder of the Paulist Fathers—Servant of God Fr. Isaac Thomas Hecker—to build a noble basilica. The Gothic exterior reflected European influence and continuity with the past, while the interior was decorated by American artists. Today, the church’s two 114-foot granite towers are dwarfed by fifty-story apartment buildings, and this mother church of the Paulist Fathers sits in the shadow of the Time Warner Center. The facade’s striking mural of St. Paul being thrown from his horse still dominates this stretch of Columbus Avenue, however, and the bright colors of the interior—the arcades that flank the nave and the chancel are painted in a pallet of vermillion, cadmium, lilac, and teal—reflect well a still-vibrant parish.
The pews were full at 10 a.m. for the principal liturgy on Sunday, May 16. The celebrant was Fr. Ronald Franco, CSP, the church’s associate pastor and vice postulator for Fr. Hecker’s canonization cause. In his homily, Fr. Franco chose to reflect on the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, which recounted the martyrdom of St. Stephen. The Church, said Fr. Franco, has always emphasized the importance of the martyrs; but in the pages of the martyrology, St. Stephen stands out for his perfect imitation of Christ. Fr. Franco pointed out the parallel between Christ’s last words, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” and St. Stephen’s, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
The anniversary of the Pill is, as Gail Collins phrased it in her celebratory op-ed, a moveable feast. The FDA actually approved the Pill on June 23, 1960, but it announced its intentions to do so on May 9 and a Mothers Day celebration of the Pill was just too good for the media to resist. The anniversary was marked in the media by mostly positive pieces; Timeproclaimed that the Pill—the only pharmaceutical to commandeer a definite article—had “rearranged the furniture of human relations in ways that we’ve argued about ever since.” On the Square today, Stuart Koehl argues that the rearranging really got started decades before the Pill’s approval:
Because of its scope and intensity, World War II shattered an existing moral consensus, creating a socially unstable situation in which “ordinary” morality was jettisoned. People lived very intensely and with the knowledge that everything, including life itself, was transient. The typical American serviceman in World War II had four sex partners, not counting prostitutes. Venereal disease rates for U.S. servicemen in Europe and Australia reached epidemic proportions that eventually required the military to license and regulate brothels. As Kipling wrote, “Single men in barracks don’t grow into plaster saints.” . . .
Many of the behaviors predisposed by the pill were already common, albeit covert, features of American life once the pill became available. The pill added fuel to a smoldering fire; it didn’t start the blaze, but it certainly accelerated it and ensured its spread.
If “ordinary” morality was jettisoned during WWII, the Pill has certainly helped change what is considered “ordinary.” As Mary Eberstadt and Joseph Bottum observed two years ago on the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, all of Paul VI’s predictions for the Pill have come true: a lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.
Not all of the mainstream media coverage has been entirely positive though. In her New York Times op-edElaine Tyler May admitted that the Pill did not turn out to be the miracle cure people had hoped it would be: The divorce rate in the United States more than doubled in the sixties and seventies and unwed pregnancies increased. Meanwhile, Geraldine Sealey proclaimed on Salonthat she “hates the Pill” because it lowers her libido (Timenoted that there is new research to support this) and mentioned in passing the bevy of other side effects that women on the Pill endure: depression, nausea, weight gain, high blood pressure, and blood clots to name a few. But all of this is endurable and the Pill is still worth celebrating, as May concluded, because the Pill emancipated women. If only. As Timothy Reichert demonstrated in the May issue of First Things—and to finish our little round up here—the Pill has caused a massive redistribution of wealth and power from women to men. There just doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate at all.
Babies, Running Time: 79 Minutes, In Theaters: May 7, 2010
Babies! Eighty glorious minutes of babies. That is French filmmaker Thomas Balmès’ new documentary in a nutshell. It is actually eighty glorious minutes of four babies, as Balmès and his camera crew follow Ponijao, from Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal, from Bayanchanmani, Mongolia; Mari, from Tokyo; and Hattie, from San Francisco, for the first year of their lives, from first breaths to first steps.
Balmès believes that babies, like good bourbon, are best served neat. After each infant is introduced to the audience in a caption that gives his or her name and location, the film has no other captions, no voice-over narration, and no interviews with parents or experts. The only accompaniment to the images and sounds captured by the filmmakers is Bruno Culais’ lighthearted score. The movie depends on (and simultaneously reminds viewers of) the fact that babies are delightful, adorable, oh so lovable, and, of course, funny. And the babies do not disappoint. There are beautiful shots of wrinkly newborn feet, first smiles of recognition, wide-eyed wonder on encountering a pet cat (or rooster) for the first time, and baby mouths voicing cackles of surprise and delight.
The film moves back and forth among the four babies to highlight the similarities and differences in their experiences. In one sequence the film cuts back and forth between Bayar, sitting alone in a tent, tethered to a bedpost, working assiduously to grasp a roll of toilet paper just out of his reach, and Mari, sitting alone in her playroom, trying to stack rings on a pole. Bayar squeals with delight as he finally gets his hands on (and teeth into) the toilet paper. Mari wails with frustration and collapses to the ground in a heap of utter despair when her hand refuses to do just what she wants it to. The laid-back parenting style of Ponijao’s mother, who often leaves the little girl in the custody of one of her eight siblings and laughingly watches as Ponijao and a dog swap spit, is contrasted with that of Hattie’s parents, who are shown reading a book called Becoming the Parent You Wanted to Be.
Happy Arbor Day! In honor of Arbor day Time has a list of the top ten coolest “trees” of all time. How the Keebler elves’ tree ranked higher than Tolkien’s Treebeard is beyond me. Also among the top ten was Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, a tree that was the topic of much debate in the pages of First Things some years ago. It was, interestingly enough, mostly the female participants in the Giving Tree Symposium—Mary Ann Glendon, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Midge Decter—who thought the The Giving Tree a bad example for children and a warped view of motherly love. As Mary Ann Glendon described the tree who gave of herself until there was nothing left of her but her stump, “Tree’s qualities would make her a terrible mother—a masochist who, quite predictably, has raised a sociopath. . . . Whatever it means to say she ‘loved’ Boy, she did not care for him enough to set him straight on a few minor points, like saying ‘thank you,’ or treating others as fellow human beings rather than as instruments for the satisfaction of his own desires.”
Most of the male participants thought the Tree an admirable example of self giving and I’m inclined to agree. The fact that the boy is not as grateful as he ought to be emphasizes that truly selfless love is, as Gil Meilaender said, “is not without risk.” Because we want and work for the best for the people we love is no guarantee that it will finally work out. The Tree, after all, gave selflessly but not recklessly; the things the Boy wanted were all human goods—money, a home in which to raise a family—the Tree was not foolish to think that she was contributing to the Boy’s happiness. “Is this a sad tale?” Timothy Jackson asked of The Giving Tree?
Well, it is sad in the same way that life is sad. We are all needy, and, if we are lucky and any good, we grow old using others and getting used up. . . . Our finitude is not something to be regretted or despised, however; it is what makes giving (and receiving) possible. The more you blame the boy, the more you have to fault human existence. The more you blame the tree, the more you have to fault the very idea of parenting. Should the tree’s giving be contingent on the boy’s gratitude? It it were, if fathers and mothers wiated on reciprocity before caring for their young, then we would all be doomed.”
“To live with dignity, to die with dignity” is the motto of the Zurich-based assistant suicide clinic, Dignitas. But apparently not to rest with dignity. Divers have found, according to the British Daily Mail, “scores of urns containing human ashes” at the bottom of Lake Zurich near Dignitas’ facilities.
The urns were discovered by chance when divers from a rescue service were looking for a lost sunshade from one of their boats.
After retrieving 13 urns they notified the Environment Agency and police divers were called in.
One said: “After 50 we stopped counting. They lay there in a big heap.”
Environment Agency spokesman Wolfgang Bollack said: “We have filed a criminal complaint against unknown persons for disturbance of the dead.
“The retrieved urns are being kept in a place respecting their dignity.”
The irony is obvious, but the epithet “hypocrite” should not be so quickly hurled at the undignified Dignitas. The idea that suicide is a human right is based upon the belief that human beings are completely autonomous, that autonomy is, in fact, the very essence of human nature and therefore human dignity. In this view, there is little reason to respect the human body as it is nothing more than an instrument for executing the will. It has no more dignity than that of a can opener: Once it fails to get the job done it can be carelessly chucked in the trash—or the bottom of a lake.