John Dickerson at Slate has an entire article comparing President Obama to Commander Spock. Spock is famously logical and not prone to emotional outbursts, but he could also enter the minds of others and was therefore more empathetic than his human colleagues. These traits reminds Dickerson and others of our president, especially on occasions like his speech at Notre Dame. Wesley Smith has a good critique of that speech, but the analogy has another problem.
If Barack Obama is like Spock, what happens when every seven years he goes into heat, contracting a blood fever, becoming violent, and dying if he does not mate? A question that provokes much deep thought in Star Trek-loving political analysts everywhere, to be sure.
According to Gallup, 51 percent of Americans are calling themselves pro-life compared to 42 percent who identify as pro-choice— the first time Gallup has found a pro-life majority since it started asking the question in 1995.
Why the change? Their hypothesis is a rallying among Republicans and moderates in the face of the pro-choice presidency:
With the first pro-choice president in eight years already making changes to the nation’s policies on funding abortion overseas, expressing his support for the Freedom of Choice Act, and moving toward rescinding federal job protections for medical workers who refuse to participate in abortion procedures, Americans—and, in particular, Republicans—seem to be taking a step back from the pro-choice position. However, the retreat is evident among political moderates as well as conservatives.
It is possible that, through his abortion policies, Obama has pushed the public’s understanding of what it means to be “pro-choice” slightly to the left, politically. While Democrats may support that, as they generally support everything Obama is doing as president, it may be driving others in the opposite direction.
Before there can be any intelligent discussion about self-produced child pornography, there must be a common understanding of the images in question. First, images properly considered for prosecution are not “borderline” images, but must meet the definition of child pornography. For many jurisdictions, although not all, there is a fairly candid definition of child pornography referencing depictions of sexually explicit conduct that include graphic depictions of sexual activity or lascivious exhibitions of the genitals or pubic areas. Secondly, self-produced child pornography only references situations in which a minor creates the image with no encouragement or coercion from an adult. When there is such pressure, the child is clearly the victim of exploitation or enticement and any consideration of prosecuting the juvenile is misplaced. Finally we need to stop using the term “sexting.” This word was created by the media to sensationalize a serious, multi-faceted problem. Furthermore, the media has used the term to over-generalize and place under one heading such diverse behaviors as one minor sending one picture to a perceived significant other, a minor taking pictures of more than just himself engaged in sexually explicit conduct and distributing them to others, a minor posting such pictures on a web site, an older teen asking (coercing) his or her girlfriend or boyfriend for such pictures, and an adult possessing such pictures. These are all very different behaviors and calling them all “sexting” brings us no closer to understanding their legal and social significance.
Over at the New Liturgical Movement, Br. Lawrence Lew, O.P. provides a helpful, brief introduction to the theology that helped produce Gothic cathedrals. A sample:
St. Thomas Aquinas famously said that “pulchra enim dicuntur quae visa placent”, “beautiful things are those which please when seen.” As such, beautiful things, which participate in God’s beauty and receive their proper beauty from him, was apprehended through the human senses, and especially through one’s sight. Sight is an important part of understanding the medieval world view, and the vision of God, by which St. Thomas meant that the glorified human intellect can come to know God “as he is,” is central to Scholastic theology, for “the ultimate beatitude of man consists in the use of his highest function, which is the operation of his intellect”. Hence, St. Thomas asserts that “the blessed see the essence of God”. Thus, to know God—in so far as creatures are capable of doing so—is to see God, just as we might say “I see” when we mean that we have understood something. Therefore, Otto von Simson notes that “the Gothic age, as has often been observed, was an age of vision”.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that St. Thomas affirms that “it is impossible for God to be seen by the sense of sight, or by any other sense, or faculty of the sensitive power” because God is incorporeal. Hence, God’s essence is not seen by our eyes. However, our eyes can “receive some form representing God according to some mode of similitude; as in the divine Scripture divine things are metaphorically described by means of sensible things”. Therefore, the medieval imagination is suffused with a sacramental view of the world, so to speak, in which corporeal things represent incorporeal things, and it is through the material that we can perceive the spiritual. Abbot Suger, who was responsible for what is often recognized as the first Gothic church, said that his abbey church of St. Denis transformed “that which is material to that which is immaterial”.
This idea, which had been expounded by Blessed Dionysius the Areopagite, is firmly rooted in the Incarnation, and following in this tradition, St. Thomas would say that, “our intellect, which is led to the knowledge of God from creatures, must consider God according to the mode derived from creatures”, and, “signs are given to men, to whom it is proper to discover the unknown by means of the known”. This is possible because created things participate in the truth, beauty and goodness of God. As St. Thomas, commenting on Dionysius’ The Divine Names says, creaturely beauty is nothing other than the “likeness of divine beauty participated in things”. This fundamental idea, which permeates the practice of medieval art, is what lead Abbot Suger to say that “the dull mind rises to truth through that which is material”, thus giving a strong symbolic, even sacramental sense, to the arts. Émile Mâle, in his study of the religious art of thirteenth-century France, thus said that “medieval art was before all things a symbolic art, in which form is used merely as the vehicle of spiritual meaning”. The chief form of this symbolic art that dominates the landscape of the Middle Ages, is the cathedral, on which we shall concentrate in this essay.
Earlier I mentioned parts I and II of Daniel Patrick Maloney’s series at Public Discourse on reducing poverty by reducing the number of poor children. In part III Maloney, a former FT associate editor, examines the Medicaid policies that result from this belief and how they could be changed. A sample:
In 1993, the Clinton Administration approved a plan whereby states could expand Medicaid’s free family planning services to those who were too rich to be eligible for Medicaid. There was a catch, however—a state could have access to Medicaid’s contraception money only if it could promise that it would save the government money in the long run by “averting births” of children who were likely to be a drain on the welfare system. The Guttmacher Institute had been publishing papers since the 1970s arguing that averting the births of the poor would save money set aside for helping the poor; now the federal government was demanding that the states adopt this perverse argument in order to have access to more of Medicaid’s millions. . . .
As long as Medicaid is structured this way, Pelosi’s eugenicist statements will accurately describe the intellectual justification for U.S. contraception policy. Congress could fix that with three modest changes: reimburse family planning services at the same rate as other services in Medicaid, make contraception an optional part of a state’s Medicaid plan (like most other services in Medicaid), and defer to the states’ policies on parental notification and consent. In other words, it could stop giving contraception special treatment, so that promoting the health of the poor would become at least as important a national priority as preventing them from having children. In that case, federal policy would treat contraception as an individual’s choice for which the state provides moderate financial assistance, rather than as a government priority with which the person on welfare is pressured to cooperate. There are stronger measures that could be taken, and many would dispute that Medicaid should pay for contraception at all, but these three steps would be enough to distance the federal government from an unsavory policy with a dark history.
Poor Sarah Palin, Joan Vennochi writes today in the Boston Globe: Even though she has no shot at the presidency, Republicans and Democrats still fear her and attack her.
And her teenage daughter, apparently. Right across the New York Times editorial page from Nicolas Kristof’s column on the sex trafficking of teenage girls, Gail Collins tears into eighteen-year-old Bristol Palin:
But surely, when it comes to combating teen pregnancy, the Palin family has done enough damage already. What worse message could you send to teenage girls than the one they delivered at the Republican convention: If your handsome but somewhat thuglike boyfriend gets you with child, he will clean up nicely, propose marriage, and show up at an important family event wearing a suit and holding your hand. At which point you will get a standing ovation.
Interesting. I thought that the message the Palin family sent was: If you get pregnant outside of wedlock, your family might support and embrace you, despite the fact that they do not approve of pre-marital sex and that difficult times lie ahead. Maybe that message is unrealistic and dangerous to teenagers. Maybe it will tell young women and their families lies that will further teen pregnancy. Would Gail Collins have preferred not to have Bristol Palin on stage with the rest of her family? Would she have preferred a public condemnation of the girl?
Collins continues, “Now a single mom on the outs with the father of her baby, Bristol wants a new kind of happy ending. ‘I just want to go out there and promote abstinence and say this is the safest choice,’ she said on “Good Morning America.”
Going on national television and telling America that you made a mistake is not what I call a happy ending. But that aside, Bristol Palin is right: The safest way to avoid pregnancy is not to have sex. She isn’t lobbying for abstinence-only education; she’s reminding young women of the empirical fact that sex can result in pregnancy and that pregnancy can bring unplanned complications.
But Gail Collins agrees with Levi Johnston, Bristol’s “thuglike” ex-boyfriend, that such reminders aren’t going to work: “Because Bristol’s own philosophy seems, at minimum, tentative, it’s hard to tell whether she believes that cheerleading for abstinence should be coupled with education about birth control methods. She and Levi used condoms, except when they didn’t.”
Of course, “They used condoms, except when they didn’t” has absolutely nothing to do with Bristol Palin’s views on abstinence-only education and everything to do with how all people use condoms. Plenty of teenagers and adults thoroughly educated in safe sex have “used condoms, except for when they didn’t” with similar results. Claiming that imperfect use of birth control means support for abstinence-only education is, to put it mildly, a flawed argument.
But when a teenager goes out on this kind of mission, you have to wonder where her parents’ heads were. What does this say about Sarah Palin’s judgment?
Although we’ve sort of answered that question before.
As despicable and illogical as a column like this is, there’s a reason behind its venom: Liberal America still hates Sarah Palin not for her proposed policies, but for who she is. Ironically, of course, Palin is exactly the kind of person that liberal Americans like Gail Collins claim to care about most. They are, after all, the people who love working class families, women rising in politics, pregnant teenagers, and ordinary folks.
But when those ordinary folks hunt caribou, when their daughters date scary hicks, when their sons are Trig and Track, when their husbands don’t apologize for working an oil pipeline, when their wives fail to abort disabled babies and aren’t the right kind of working-class woman—then there’s hell to pay. Then teenage girls get savaged on the editorial page of compassionate liberalism’s most prominent newspaper.
Gay activists have waited for the man they voted into office to throw them a bone, and none has come. So they’re going to start mounting the pressure for him to act, says the New York Times today. The article mentions that Obama could appoint a gay man or woman to fill Justice Souter’s vacancy on the Supreme Court, and gives a reaction from the opposition:
“That would be tantamount to opening the gate for the other side,” said Bishop Harry J. Jackson Jr. of the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., who is organizing protests in Washington, where the City Council passed an ordinance this week recognizing same-sex marriages in other states. “If he meant what he said about marriage then I think he has got to stand up and be a president who acts on his beliefs.”
The fact that this opposition comes from the pastor of a black church is telling. In California, Proposition 8 was heavily supported by black voters, who remain one of Obama’s key constituencies, and heavily opposed by most social liberals, obviously another key constituency for Obama. Keep an eye on the conflict between those two groups over same-sex marriage and the way Obama chooses to respond.
If you’ve ever wondered just what happens behind the scenes of an opera company, especially one as grand as the Metropolitan, check out Judith H. Dobrzynski’s article in the Wall Street Journal. A sample:
If you have never understood why an old saying calls opera “the most expensive human endeavor, with the possible exception of war,” a day at the Metropolitan Opera explains it. The divas, maestro, managers and orchestra are just part of the equation. So much else goes into the productions, made more complicated by the Met’s tradition of staging operas in repertory. The Met is often a 24-hour operation. Make that a 24/6 operation, and occasionally 24/7.
In the past 24-hour cycle, the night gang had “struck”—that is, broken down—the “Don Giovanni” set, holding it in-house for its next performance, so that by 8 this morning, when the day crew arrived, it was gone. They set up “Götterdämmerung,” and they’ll take it down, allowing assembly of “Il Trovatore.”
And in this highly complicated logistical puzzle, what’s happening on the main stage—which isn’t a monolith, by the way, but rather a series of “lifts,” each strip six- to eight-feet-wide, that rise and decline hydraulically, as needed, for effect—is only a fraction of what’s happening in the house. Elsewhere—in halls, studios and an underground stage—other rehearsals are taking place, though only a few use scenery and usually not much. Upstairs, in “shops” built around the stage well (which rises nine stories), employees are making costumes, wigs, scenery and other operatic necessities. And don’t forget white-collar functions such as finance and marketing. Everyone hears what’s happening on the main stage via a PA system, because everyone needs to know.
Is the East Coast more lustful than the West? Greedier? When you look at the seven deadly sins mapped across the country, the East Coast and the South turn out to be the most prideful, which in these charts meant the most sinful, period. But the charts only factor in reported crimes, which might mean that the East and the South are more honest. I’ll keep telling myself that.
Earlier I mentioned part I of Daniel Patrick Maloney’s series at Public Discourse on reducing poverty by reducing the number of poor children. In part II, Maloney, a former FT associate editor, looks at transcripts from Senate Finance Committee hearings in the 1970s and argues
that the committee enacted these policies out of racist, eugenicist motives. While the motives behind the American welfare system were originally idealistic—providing temporary assistance to needy families while they climbed out of poverty—the committee hearings show that the senators believed that the mostly black welfare population was incurably lazy, promiscuous, intellectually substandard, and a burden on public schools, and, moreover, that they probably would remain so indefinitely. Birth control, therefore, was in their eyes a way to reduce the number of these undesirable people.
Read the rest of part II and look for the final part in the coming days.
Between August and late October 2008, the proportion supporting legal abortion ranged from 57 percent (in mid-October) to 53 percent (in late October), before declining to 46 percent currently. Though opinion among some subgroups varied significantly across those surveys, some trends are apparent, aside from the falloff in support among men.
There has been notable decline in the proportion of independents saying abortion should be legal in most or all cases; majorities of independents favored legal abortion in August and the two October surveys, but just 44 percent do so today. In addition, the proportion of moderate and liberal Republicans saying abortion should be legal declined between August and late October (from 67 percent to 57 percent). In the current survey, just 43 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans say abortion should legal in most or all cases.
Among religious groups, support for abortion has steadily declined since August among white mainline Protestants (from 69 percent then to 54 percent currently). And just 23 percent of white evangelical Protestants now favor legal abortion, down from 33 percent in August and mid-October and 28 percent in late October.
The change has been less pronounced among white non-Hispanic Catholics: In August, 51 percent said that abortion should be legal in most or all cases; in both October surveys, 55 percent favored legal abortion. In the current survey, 49 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics say that abortion should be legal while 42 percent believe it should be illegal.
Thinking about these numbers in chart form is easier, so I recommend visiting Pew’s website and taking a look. The biggest change in opinion has come from older men and women, mainline protestants, moderate Republicans, and independent voters.
Why these folks, and why the sudden decline in general? The only answer that comes to mind for me would be an increase in campaigning by pro-lifers after threats of FOCA, the reversal of the Mexico City policy, and other presidential matters, but I’m not fully satisfied with it. If other contributors have hypotheses, fire away.
In the first of what will be a three-part series of articles, Daniel Patrick Moloney at Public Discourse examines the thinking common to both major political parties: that an important way to reduce poverty is to reduce the number of poor children. This viewpoint was most recently articulated by the Speaker of the House when she proposed that promoting contraception among the poor should be part of the economic stimulus package, but is unique neither to her nor to the Democratic party. In his article, Moloney discusses Pelosi’s remarks, the backlash they provoked, and how the common viewpoint they show plays out in Medicaid policy—with more on that subject to come in subsequent articles. Read part 1 of the series here and keep your eyes peeled for the rest.
Justin Cardinal Rigali shoots straight from the hip. When Doug Kmiec published a column entitled “New ethically sensitive stem-cell guidance from the Obama administration,” the Cardinal replied with a column of his own. It began:
On April 17 the National Institutes of Health released new draft guidelines for federally funded embryonic stem-cell research. Federal tax dollars will now be used, for the first time, to encourage the destruction of innocent human beings for their stem cells.
Law professor Douglas Kmiec states in an opinion piece distributed by Catholic News Service that the new policy is “ethically sensitive” and in important respects “more strict” than President George W. Bush’s policy that preceded it.
The truth is the opposite.
The policy issued by Bush in August 2001 allowed the federal government to fund research using embryonic stem cells only if the embryos had already been destroyed for these cells before the date of his policy announcement. Thus no researcher could destroy embryos in the future to qualify for federal stem-cell grants.
The new NIH guidelines are more sweeping, encouraging the destruction of new embryos, including those not yet conceived. While Kmiec says embryos will be donated using a “strict” process by which the parents give consent, that is surely broader than not allowing them to be donated for destruction at all.
Kmiec says the new guidelines are limited to embryos created for fertility treatment that “would have been discarded if not devoted to medical research.”
That is also not true.
Parents will be invited to consider donating their embryonic sons or daughters for research at the same time that they are considering whether to save them for their own later reproduction or donate them so another couple can have a baby. The new guidelines will encourage destruction of some embryonic human beings who could otherwise have lived and grown up to adulthood.
In key respects, these guidelines are broader than any proposed in the past for destructive embryonic stem-cell research by any president or Congress.
Fetching, no? That’s how Bill Murchison describes much of mainline Protestantism today:
The present presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, when asked by Time magazine a few years back to specify her focus as head of the church, replied, “Our focus needs to be on feeding people who go to bed hungry, on providing primary education to girls and boys, on healing people with AIDS, on addressing tuberculosis and malaria, on sustainable development.” And . . . and . . . On God, too? On Jesus? On sin and salvation? Not as the lady allowed. Not a word issued forth from her about those concerns for which the Episcopal Church—and all other churches—had supposedly gone into business.
The Peace Corps in ecclesiastical drag is what modern churches often resemble. You want to work for sustainable development? Well, then, off to church we go. It sounds a little silly, because it is silly. The government and a complex of secular organizations already address these concerns, often quite intelligently.
Which is not to say that the Church should not be engaged in feeding the hungry, but that she should make sure to provide the Bread of Life, too.
Judging by Timothy Dolan’s interview in the New York Post today, the new Archbishop of New York is the eager teacher of the faith he was expected to be. Dolan tackled clerical celibacy, traditional marriage, Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame, and the Church’s pro-life message, all in a genial, firm way:
A burly Irishman who has charmed Gotham with his jokes and penchant for beer, cigars and baseball, Dolan yesterday firmly defended traditional Catholic values, even while arguing that “we can’t allow ourselves to give ammo to our enemies who want to picture us as just this stern, mean, naysaying church.”
For example, while calling abortion “intrinsically evil,” Dolan cited the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities arm for advancing a “pro-life” message by operating a nursery for babies born to inmates at the Bedford Hills women’s prison in Westchester County, which he visited this week.
“That’s pro-life at its best, and that’s where we gain credibility for our message—if we are giving the kind of creative, life-giving alternative to what we call the ‘culture of death,’” Dolan said. “So it’s not just that we’re constantly condemning something, it’s that we’re proposing an alternative.”
“And how does the Church propose?” Fr. Neuhaus loved to ask in speeches and sermons. “Winsomely, persuasively, and persistently, like a lover to the beloved.” Like Timothy Dolan does and, please God, will continue to do for years to come.
Wondering how to spice up the Easter liturgy next year? You could try musical additions. Or you could take a cue from the Greeks and fire rockets at the neighboring church that is firing rockets back at you. During the liturgy.
Earlier I mentioned a conference on historical criticism and the Qur’an taking place at Notre Dame this week. In today’s New York TimesNicholas Kristof describes some of the topics the conference will cover:
At Notre Dame, scholars analyzed ancient texts of the Koran that show signs of writing that was erased and rewritten. Other scholars challenged traditional interpretations of the Koran such as the notion that some other person (perhaps Judas or Peter) was transformed to look like Jesus and crucified in his place, while Jesus himself escaped to heaven.
One scholar at the Notre Dame conference, who uses the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg for safety, has raised eyebrows and hackles by suggesting that the “houri” promised to martyrs when they reach Heaven doesn’t actually mean “virgin” after all. He argues that instead it means “grapes,” and since conceptions of paradise involved bounteous fruit, that might make sense. But suicide bombers presumably would be in for a disappointment if they reached the pearly gates and were presented 72 grapes.
I know I would be. But as my colleague Amanda pointed out, they would probably be good grapes.
What would Pride and Prejudice and Zombies be like? You probably saw the book mentioned somewhere (in the recent Public Square, perhaps) and found yourself intrigued by the title. It turns out that taking the abridged text of Pride and Prejudice and adding “unmentionables,” vomit, muskets, kung fu, and ninjas is not as consistently entertaining as someone who was once a thirteen-year-old boy might expect. Most of the book is dull, but the occasional gem shines through:
The third was unusually tall, and though long dead, still possessed a great deal of strength and quickness. Elizabeth had not yet recovered from her kick when the creature seized her arm and forced the dagger from it. She pulled free before he could get his teeth on her, and took the crane position, which she thought appropriate for an opponent of such height. The creature advanced, and Elizabeth landed a devastating chop across its thighs. The limbs broke off, and the unmentionable fell to the ground, helpless. She retrieved her dagger and beheaded the last of her opponents, lifting its head by the hair and letting her battle cry be known for a mile in every direction.
Elizabeth found herself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.
Religion Clause, the blog for all things First Amendment, reports that the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has set up six task forces to advise the President on the following topics: “(1) reform of the faith-based office, (2) fatherhood, (3) U.S. economic recovery, (4) interreligious dialogue, (5) global poverty, and (6) the environment and climate change.”
All of these are par for the course—except for that committee on fatherhood. Someone in that office thinks that the paternity crisis in America is pressing enough to be up there with global poverty, climate change, and the economic recovery. That is no small estimation and is a welcome sign. Keep an eye out for what the committee finds.
Also speaking will be Christoph Luxenberg (famous for his theory that Muslim martyrs will receive grapes not virgins) and Gerd Puin (famous for his work with the mysterious Qur’an fragments discovered in Yemen).
China’s one-child policy should be the dream come true of population-control advocates. But there’s just one problem: The Chinese prefer boys to girls, so girls are more likely to be aborted than boys. Sixteen million girls, to be precise, between 1985 and 2005, a slaughter of Stalin-esque proportions.
That number astounds even the Chinese government, who now faces a society with many more males and many females and is trying to get people to keep a girl as their one child. It also astounds William Saletan at Slate. Why?
It’s a terrible convergence of ancient prejudice with modern totalitarianism. Girls are culturally and economically devalued; the government uses powerful financial levers to prevent you from having another child; therefore, to make sure you can have a boy, you abort the girl you’re carrying. . . .
Part of me wishes this turnaround [in numbers of girls aborted] were being driven by a better motive. But perhaps we should be especially relieved that pure self-interest is behind it. If the devaluation of women, and the expression of that devaluation through sex-selective abortion, becomes a broadly understood threat to regimes worldwide, women won’t need to persuade men to value and treat girls more fairly. The population numbers will do the talking.
It’s not the sixteen million children dead; it’s that they’re all girls. It’s not that abortion is wrong. In fact, abortion for a number of reasons is just fine. It’s that abortion for the wrong reason (in this case, sexism and government pressure) and in large amounts is wrong. You have the total freedom to abort, but you should stay within the bounds of propriety.
Interesting. I seem to remember that one lesson of the twentieth century is just how many millions can be slaughtered within the bounds of propriety.