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.
My freshman year of college I first encountered the Regina Coeli from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, sung after Mass on Easter Sunday in place of the Angelus. The Regina Coeli lasts only a few seconds, however, before a rollicking Easter hymn begins:
Inneggiamo, il Signor non è morto.
Ei fulgente ha dischiuso l’avel.
Inneggiamo al Signore risorto—
oggi asceso alla gloria del Ciel!
Let us sing hymns, the Lord is not dead.
Shining, he has unsealed the tomb,
Let us sing hymns to the risen Lord—
ascended today to the glory of Heaven!
This repeats and builds until the final chords, which make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, if not reduce you to tears. There are many versions available online, all filmed clips of the opera. But my favorite is still the (quicker) version performed by the choir of S. Clement’s, Philadelphia.
Those interested in new Christian publications should check out The Christendom Review. The journal describes itself as follows:
The Christendom Review is a literary journal dedicated to the Diaspora of Christendom, that remnant of people who either deliberately or intuitively subscribe to the Judeo-Christian and ancient Greek traditions of the West and to a particular vision of humanity, a vision explored by many of our finest writers: that man is an ensouled creature made in the image of God, “born to trouble” (Walker Percy) because of original sin, and in need of a rescue that cannot be delivered by Specialists. As Andrew Lytle’s character in The Velvet Horn, Jack Cropleigh, reflects, “Travel as he will, a man is only circling his predicament.”
We also subscribe to the philosophia perennis, the view of the artist inherent among all traditional societies, from Neolithic man to Christendom: that the artist is one who “makes” rather than one who “creates.” Poet, sculptor, architect, and painter, indeed the practitioner of any craft, “works with givens, the stuff of creation” (Darius Lecesne). Such an artist recognizes the givenness of his or her own being as “intellectual soul incarnate” (Marion Montgomery) and is aware that he or she imitates the Creator in a very indicative way: that is, he or she “manufactures,” in the old sense of the word, things (e.g. poems, paintings, wood carvings, furniture, tapestries). “If the work is beautiful, then God is praised, for phenomenal beauty invariably points to transcendent beauty, and hence to beauty’s source, God Himself” (Darius Lecesne). As Jacques Maritain observed, when we “experience beauty” it leaves us with the residue of both our ancient stain and our hope, “a longing for a more perfect Beauty” (Darius Lecesne).
If that sounds like your cup of tea, visit their website.
At the first Easter Vigil I ever attended I heard Edward Bairstow’s “Sing Ye to the Lord.” The choir begins with a triumphant singing of the beginning of the Song of Moses: “Sing Ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously! Pharoah’s chariots and his horse hath he cast into the sea.” The triumph fades and a joyous and beautiful verse from “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” bubbles up:
Mighty Victim from the sky,
Hell’s fierce powers beneath Thee lie;
Thou hast conquered in the fight,
Thou hast brought us life and light;
Now no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
Thou hast opened Paradise,
And in Thee Thy saints shall rise.
Our former assistant editor Mary Angelita Ruiz has a beautiful remembrance of Fr. Neuhaus in the new issue of Dappled Things, the magazine she helped found. The beginning is especially nice:
Richard John Neuhaus sang “Come Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing,” that stalwart American hymn, as though it were a rollicking drinking song, the rhythm swinging like a full tankard in a fist. His voice was rumbling and huge and pleasantly out of tune and his eyes lit up as he sang:
COME thou fount-of EV’RY ble-ssing
Tune my HEEAART to singthygrace!
STREAMS of mer-cy NE-VER cea-sing
Call for SOOONGS of loudestpraise!
It was a favorite hymn of the Community of Christ in the City, the little ecumenical community in Manhattan that was Father’s home for over thirty years, and my home for almost three while I worked for his journal, First Things. We always sang the hymn this way, though its words are raw. Father’s rendition may have been rollicking, but it was also tender, even confessional. When he sang
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood
he sang with an immediacy that made clear he was singing not about an abstraction but about a daily meeting with one man. He was the same in conversation, speaking of “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” with awe but also easy familiarity—the way one might say “Abba,” daddy. He had a childlike faith.
Equally beautiful, but more haunting is Victoria’s first tenebrae responsory for Holy Thursday. Notice how the verse ends with “se suspendit”—he hanged himself—a line reflected in the music with a half note and rest where you would expect a whole note to resolve.
Amicus meus osculi me tradidit signo:
Quem osculatus fuero, ipse est, tenete eum.
Hoc malum fecit signum,
qui per osculum adeimplevit homicidium.
Infelix praetermisit pretium sanguinis,
et in fine laquaeo se suspendit.
Bonum erat ei, si natus non fuisset homo ille.
My friend betrayed me with the sign of a kiss:
The one whom I will have kissed, he is the one, take him.
He made this evil sign,
he who through a kiss carried out murder.
The unhappy man passed over the price of blood,
and in the end with a noose he hanged himself.
It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.
I first came to appreciate Holy Week my freshman year of college when I attended the parish of S. Clement’s, Philadelphia, whose liturgies were long, rich, and full of the majesty of the Triduum. On Holy Thursday they sing des Prez’s Missa “Pange Lingua,” whose music gives a beautiful, haunting look at the events that lie ahead. Here is a video of the S. Clement’s choir singing the Kyrie, with images of Holy Week at the parish playing throughout.
From the tenebrae service for Holy Saturday, here is Victoria’s “Ecce Quomodo Moritur” sung by Harry Christophers and the Sixteen:
Ecce quomodo moritur iustus
et nemo percipit corde.
Viri iusti tolluntur
et nemo considerat.
A facie iniquitatis
sublatus est iustus
et erit in pace memoria eius:
in pace factus est locus eius
et in Sion habitatio eius
et erit in pace memoria eius.
Tamquam agnus coram tondente
se obmutuit et non aperuit
os suum de augustia, et de
iudicio sublatus est.
Behold how a just man dies,
and no one perceives in his heart.
Just men are taken away,
and no one considers it.
From the appearance of iniquity
the just man is taken away,
and his memory will be in peace:
His place is made in peace
and his habitation in Zion,
and his memory will be in peace.
Like a lamb before one sheering
him he becomes silent and does not open
his mouth from difficulty, and from
judgment he is taken away.
A Way of the Cross procession will take place the night of Good Friday at 8:30 p.m., beginning at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Mott St. and Prince St.). The procession will move through the East and West Village and will be accompanied by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and seminarians from the Archdiocese. Last year’s procession provided a great witness for the city, so consider coming if you’re in the New York area.
College students interested in learning more about the social significance of marriage might be interested in a summer conference held by the Ruth Institute at the University of San Diego on August 6—9. For more information, visit the Institute’s website.
As we have discussed previously in articles and blog posts, President Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services are planning to rescind conscience-protection regulations for pro-life healthcare workers. Americans United For Life sent us a note with links to send comments to the HHS and to members of congress:
Right now, HHS is accepting comments from you about whether they should keep or rescind these important regulations protecting pro-life healthcare professionals. Whether you’re a patient or healthcare professional, I need you to send your message to HHS through the Freedom2Care.org website and tell them to keep the rules in place and prevent discrimination against pro-life doctors.
A bill in the Oklahoma Legislature would allow pregnant women to use deadly force in order to save the lives of their babies.
The bill stems from a Michigan case where a woman who was carrying quadruplets stabbed and killed her boyfriend after he hit her in the stomach. The woman lost the babies and was convicted of manslaughter.
Oklahoma lawmakers said they want to make sure that a woman can legally protect her unborn child.
Oklahoma already has a law allowing a person to use force to protect himself or another person from someone else. The new bill includes an unborn child as “another” person. Oklahoma has also had a law covering the murder of unborn babies since 2005.
I’m not sure what they mean by that last sentence, but it sounds like a good thing. In any event, the bill is expected to pass both houses and go to the governor’s desk. More steps in the right direction . . .
The new head of the department of homeland security now refers to “man-caused” disasters instead of terrorist attacks. Why, you might ask? “That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.”
But if Napolitano wants to change our psychology, I say give it a try. I guess that means that coastal Southerners should prepare for those risky a hurricanes, without embracing the politics of fear that hurricanes might bring. Or is hurricane no longer an acceptable term? And are crimes against humanity “man-caused” disasters? How about genocide?
Also, Anthony Sacramone notes the patriarchalism in that statement, which is a slur to female suicide bombers everywhere. Oh, how forgetful of me. It’s a slur to the female causes of “man-caused” disasters.
An old man said, “Even if someone sins in some way in your presence, do not judge him but consider yourself more of a sinner than he is, for you have seen the sin but you have not seen the repentance.”
Our old friend Paul Stallsworth is hosting an ecumenical conference on the Theology of the Body in New Bern, NC on May 21, 2009. The conference is sponsored by Lifewatch, the New Bern District of The United Methodist Church, and Transforming Congregations. More information on the conference can be found here and registration forms are available here.
As people like David Rothkopf continue to accuse Benedict XVI of furthering the pain and suffering of Africa by not advocating condoms as the best way to prevent AIDS, Ross Douthat asks where exactly they see the evidence for this Catholic malfeasance:
Do religious Africans have higher infection rates than the irreligious? Do heavily-Catholic populations contract HIV in higher numbers than Muslim, Protestant, or animist populations? Are frequent mass-attenders more likely to contract the disease than infrequent churchgoers? Do graduates of Catholic schools have higher infections than their peers? Are Africans who seek treatment at Catholic hospitals more likely to pass the disease along than people who get their medicine from secular institutions?
“The most striking thing about these articles claiming the Vatican makes Africans die from AIDS is the dearth of factual material,” Brendan O’Neill wrote during the last spasm of outrage on this front. His cursory look at the data suggested that no, there was no correlation between being the sort of African most likely to listen to the Pope about sex and being the sort of African most likely to contract HIV. But that was several years ago: Perhaps some new evidence has come to light that Rothkopf would like to share with us. If he has any, I will happily publish it.
In the interim, though, I would suggest that take a step back and consider that Benedict XVI is the head of an international institution that does as much to fight disease and poverty as any NGO in the world. The Church runs hospitals, clinics, and schools; it channels hundred of millions of dollars in donations from the developed world to the wretched of the earth; it supports thousands upon thousands of priests, nuns and laypeople who work in some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions in the world. And it does so based on the same premises—an attempt to be faithful to the commandments of Jesus Christ—that undergird the Pope’s insistence on preaching chastity, rather than promoting prophylactics.
Biscuits aren’t just a staple for judges. According to Ben Schott, in the RAF a “meeting without coffee” means a dressing down by a senior officer. And for serious malefactors the penalty is more severe: “In the Royal Air Force one is summoned to a ‘meeting with tea and no biscuits, or even no tea and no biscuits, depending on the gravity of your crime.’”
George Weigel, writing in the Denver Catholic Register, give a good summary of Barack Obama’s decisions on stem cells, particularly the four fibs and waffle he offered to the American public. Here are the first two fibs:
Fib One: According to the President, his executive order will “lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research.” But as Ryan Anderson, editor of Public Discourse, Ethics, Law and the Common Good, quickly pointed out: “There never was a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. President Bush was, in fact, the first president in history to fund embryonic stem cell research.” The Bush compromise was to order funding restrictions that prevented the further destruction of human embryos in order to obtain their stem cells. Federal funding of research using existing stem cell lines was permitted.
Fib Two: President Obama claimed that the Bush compromise was a “false choice between sound science and moral values.” That is a false portrait of the choice Bush made, and of its effects; for by following the path of moral reason, President Bush pushed science in a more fruitful direction, such that stem cells that have the same properties as embryonic stem cells can now be obtained by morally acceptable means. Furthermore, what “moral values” inform an executive order condemning the smallest members of the human family to death?
Ryan T. Anderson wrote a nice piece on the recent flurry of commentary over the Pope’s remarks on AIDS and condom use in Africa. Now Christianity Today has an interview with Edward C. Green, the author of the FT article on the topic, in which he comes to Benedict’s defense:
Is Pope Benedict being criticized unfairly for his comments about HIV and condoms?
This is hard for a liberal like me to admit, but yes, it’s unfair because in fact, the best evidence we have supports his comments—at least his major comments, the ones I have seen.
What does the evidence show about the effectiveness of condom-use strategies in reducing HIV infection rates among large-scale populations?
It will be easiest if we confine our discussion to Africa, because that’s where the pope is, and that is what he was talking about. There’s no evidence at all that condoms have worked as a public health intervention intended to reduce HIV infections at the “level of population.” This is a bit difficult to understand. It may well make sense for an individual to use condoms every time, or as often as possible, and he may well decrease his chances of catching HIV. But we are talking about programs, large efforts that either work or fail at the level of countries, or, as we say in public health, the level of population. Major articles published in Science, The Lancet, British Medical Journal, and even Studies in Family Planning have reported this finding since 2004. I first wrote about putting emphasis on fidelity instead of condoms in Africa in 1988.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
Those are not the words of the usual religious conservative suspects. They belong to William Saletan, writing in Slate on Obama’s federal funding of embryo-destructive stem cell research. Saletan stands in the middle on embryos, seeing them as early-stage human beings who are not owed the rights and protections of fully developed humans. For the benefit of liberals who might not understand the trouble with embryo-destructive research, Saletan offers a comparison with torture and rigorous measures of interrogation. These liberals reject “the Bush administration’s insistence on using all available methods rather than waiting for scrupulous alternatives” in the interrogation of prisoners. Saletan sees a similar dilemma in the stem cell debate, only the political tables are turned:
Proponents of embryo research are insisting that because we’re in a life-and-death struggle—in this case, a scientific struggle—anyone who impedes that struggle by renouncing effective tools is irrational and irresponsible. The war on disease is like the war on terror: Either you’re with science, or you’re against it. . . .
Think about what’s being dismissed here as “politics” and “ideology.” You don’t have to equate embryos with full-grown human beings—I don’t—to appreciate the danger of exploiting them. Embryos are the beginnings of people. They’re not parts of people. They’re the whole thing, in very early form. Harvesting them, whether for research or medicine, is different from harvesting other kinds of cells. It’s the difference between using an object and using a subject. How long can we grow this subject before dismembering it to get useful cells? How far should we strip-mine humanity in order to save it?
If you have trouble taking this question seriously—if you think it’s just the hypersensitivity of fetus-lovers—try shifting the context from stem cells to torture. There, the question is: How much ruthless violence should we use to defeat ruthless violence? The paradox and the dilemma are easy to recognize. Creating and destroying embryos to save lives presents a similar, though not equal, dilemma.
Saletan also echoes what Ryan T. Anderson and Joseph Bottum found in their essay “Stem Cells: A Political History“: The facts of embryo destruction get obscured in Orwellian language and sliding conventions of acceptability that take the place of moral principles. He writes:
The danger of seeing the stem-cell war as a contest between science and ideology is that you bury these dilemmas. You forget the moral problem. You start lying to yourself and others about what you’re doing. You invent euphemisms like pre-embryo, pre-conception, and clonote. Your ethical lines begin to slide. A few years ago, I went to a forum sponsored by proponents of stem-cell research. One of the speakers, a rabbi, told the audience that under Jewish law, embryos were insignificant until 40 days. I pointed out that if we grew embryos to 40 days, we could get transplantable tissue from them. I asked the rabbi: Would that be OK? He answered: Yes.
Of course Anderson and Bottum also said that the conservatives had won the stem cell wars because the scrupulous alternatives they advocated turned out to be more effective and less expensive than embryo-destructive research. Oddly Saletan omits these scientific advances from his exhortation of caution to the liberals, who, he says, have won the stem cell wars.
That omission may explain why Saletan thinks that stem can keep their victory ethical by keeping the ethical dilemmas alive instead of, say, focusing on non-destructive research before resorting to destructive ones. As an example of keeping the dilemmas alive, he quotes President Obama’s acknowledgement that there is much disagreement over stem cells. But Saletan doesn’t see that Obama’s acknowledgment of the dilemma did absolutely nothing to change his decision. Weighing the arguments of the other side often succumbs to acting on a pre-determined principle.
And the self-proclaimed liberal principles have carried the day. At one time, liberal principles claimed to defend the weaker party against the interests of the strong. Not so today. As Saletan concludes,
The stem-cell fight wasn’t a fight between ideology and science. It was a fight between 5-day-olds and 50-year-olds. The 50-year-olds won. The question now is what to do with our 5-day-olds, our 5-week-olds, and our increasingly useful parts.