Thursday, January 22, 2015

Abortion and poverty

Today is the 42 anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, in which the allegedly learned justices reached into their penumbras and pulled out what they referred to as “emanations” which, to them, and in combination with the equally evanescent Doe v. Bolton decision, suddenly and magically gave every American woman the unbridled right to kill their children at any moment up to birth.

The human toll of that moment of judicial flatulence is horrifying.  Almost 57 million unborn children dead.  Women dead too, killed by legal abortion.  Women wounded and scarred, physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Men also suffering the loss of fatherhood, their children killed without their consent.

Abortion has been deadly for children, horrible for women, devastating for men.  Yet it continues. And the anger of the pro-life movement today directed against the cowards in Congress may finally force pro-life Americans to realize that the GOP, at least at the national level, is not and never has been a true friend to life.

The work of the pro-life movement goes on, in legislative efforts, in marches and protests, in education and prayer, in solid and real help to women facing crisis pregnancies and to their children.  This work will continue regardless of the legislative climate and without faltering in the face of the scorn of the media, whose members are increasingly out of touch with a rising generation of young pro-lifers from all faiths and none, from all ethic backgrounds, from all income levels and ways of life.

And there are new, creative efforts going on, not only in education and outreach, but in legislative efforts as well.  Nearly 70 percent of women who obtain abortions are low-income, and 42 percent of them live below the federal poverty level.  While the GOP continues the rhetoric of “makers vs. takers,” those of us who make saving the lives of unborn children a priority can’t help but think that women in those economic demographics may be choosing abortion because of their dire poverty and out of grave fear of not being able to support a child--or, in many cases, another child, since many of these women are single mothers already.

I have heard fellow Catholics saying that we really can’t, and shouldn’t, support public policies that would give more aid to women experiencing out-of-wedlock pregnancies.  In the viewpoints of some Catholics our economic aid to unwed mothers already encourages women to engage in casual sex, and making it even more possible for women to choose life for their unborn babies will only feed a culture of promiscuity and irresponsible sexual choices.  The most extreme members of this group even think that if a woman works for the Church in some capacity, a crisis pregnancy should get her fired.  In their minds, there is no such thing as a “crisis” pregnancy anyway, because women who are virtuous never experience such a thing.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the Pharisaical attitude on display in those kinds of discussions, there remains the reality that for Catholics to be so unconcerned for women and children in poverty is a scandal.  Yes, in a perfect world no one--male or female--would ever sin, and no out-of-wedlock pregnancies would ever occur.  Yet I don’t recall anywhere in the list of the Corporal Works of Mercy an asterisked footnote that appends to “Feed the hungry...clothe the naked...welcome the stranger...” the instruction “Except for sinners, because if you meet their material needs they won’t have any incentive to stop sinning.”

I realize that there are good, well-founded, and thoughtful debates about whether certain public policies or initiatives will actually help the people they are meant to help, or only create more poverty.  Nothing I’m saying here is intended to oppose such debates--except when they are used either to end all discussion on the one hand or as a kind of “shorthand” in favor of one’s political party on the other.  But one thing is clear: we should not use our debates and conversations as if they absolve us from action.  If we insist that private charity can do all that is necessary to help the 70% of women who choose abortion from a place of poverty, we’d better be prepared to do some massive fundraising and donate to the point of personal discomfort--and to accept, even when we do that, that some measure of publicly-funded relief for the poor may still be necessary.

No woman, regardless of the morality of her--and the child’s father’s--behavior, should have to choose between allowing her unborn child to live or being able to meet her own basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter.  In a nation of plenty, that so many women might still be in such a place is horrifying.  On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, let us, in our marches and prayers and efforts to end abortion, remember especially our sisters in poverty, and do what we can so that no woman chooses abortion solely or primarily from the pressures of economic distress.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why, no, we’re not rabbits

Of all the teapot-tempests I’ve witnessed in the Catholic blogosphere, the Great 2015 Rabbit Debate has to take the cake.

There are blog posts and articles.  There are heated debates on Facebook.  If we all lived in the same neighborhood someone would probably have resorted to festooning someone else’s trees with toilet paper by now.

And all because the Pope said this:  “Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits – but no.”

To be fair, there was a somewhat unclear anecdote about a woman the Holy Father spoke to in a parish who has had seven c-sections.  And people seem to think it’s not quite cricket for a pope to go using personal examples like that, especially since the tendency of many people who either have many children or have had many c-sections is to think that the pope was personally dissing them--an unfortunate, if human, reading of the example.

Given that not that long ago Pope Francis went out of his way to praise big families, you would think that people would understand that he was not saying, by these two quotes, that nobody should ever have more than a few children, or that it’s always and everywhere imprudent to have multiple c-section births, or that people with large families are necessarily behaving like rabbits. People with quite small families can be behaving like rabbits, too, after all.  Having many children isn’t a sign of rabbit-like behavior, and having few children isn’t a sign of virtuous marital asceticism and the avoidance of too-great a carnality or uxoriousness, either, especially in our contraceptive age.

Having said all that, I have to back up to what the pope is quoted as saying: that some people think that to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits, but that this is not true.

What, exactly, is wrong with that?

Rabbits, after all, mate rather indiscriminately and unthinkingly. They have long breeding seasons, short gestational periods (about a month, for some species) and produce several litters a year, with twenty offspring in that time not uncommon.  But they will only live for a year or two; the males take no interest in the young and may even kill and eat them, and will mate with many different females.

How, exactly, is it insulting to be reminded that we human beings are not and should not be like that?

Nothing a follower of Christ does should be mindless and indiscriminate, but for married couples, the idea that something as important and awe-inspiring as bringing new children into the world not only should be but must be so is really wrong-headed.  And yet--it is an attitude that is out there. There really are people who assume that holiness comes from the number of children you have, or that only the most dire peril can permit you to use NFP--and not even then, really, because you should be ready to become pregnant just in order to die in childbirth like St. Gianna Molla (and I think the good saint would be horrified by her name being used in that context).

There are also Catholic married couples who seem to think that any form of abstinence from marital intimacy is so unfair, unjust and burdensome that unless they are facing maternal death or dire poverty the wife has a duty to satisfy her husband (it is possible that there are examples the other way, but this is the more common iteration).  Male rabbits may only communicate with female rabbits by mating, but human beings are supposed to be capable of things like conversations and hobbies or pastimes enjoyed together and the sort of intimacy that comes from the deep bond of real spousal friendship, a bond I have seen in elderly couples whose state of health had not permitted marital intimacy for some time, but who still clearly and deeply loved each other and were pleased simply to spend an hour in each other’s presence.

Rabbits have a lot of young for one reason: because they are prey animals--and most of their children born in the wild will be eaten, sooner or later.  Catholic human beings, again, being very different from rabbits, have a duty not just to have children but to care for them, to raise them, to teach them the Catholic faith, to form them as best we can before sending them out into a world that has predators of its own, but that is also the Kingdom.

I understand that large families in America in 2015 have more than their fair share of discouragements and criticism.  I realize that it’s hard not to take this sort of thing personally, especially if you are the mother of a large family and you have faced a difficult or dangerous pregnancy, perhaps more than once.

But the pope isn’t saying you can never prudently choose to seek to become pregnant in spite of a potential health risk, or that if you should become pregnant in spite of NFP use you should rail against God for putting you in danger.  That’s not the point here, not at all.

The point is that we’re supposed to think about these things.  We are supposed to take the incredible responsibility of bringing new life into the world with suitable gravity and good judgment. For the young couple just starting out, that gravity and judgment may be nothing more than a mutual agreement that no good reason to avoid pregnancy exists (or, in those honeymoon days, can even be imagined, in many cases).  For the couple nearing 50 who already has six or seven or eight or nine children the calculation may be different, especially if maternal health or financial need or the care that is duly owed to the existing children outweighs the desire to add to the family.  And for couples in the continuum between honeymoon and late middle age, and in all stages of health and finances and needs and challenges, the decision may be easy or hard, simple or complicated, and it may change on a more frequent basis than that honeymoon couple could ever have dreamed.

Rabbits don’t much care about their mates, their offspring, or their lives--and they don’t have immortal souls.  We are very different, and should not take offense at being reminded of that simple fact.

The ugly bigotry of Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni, writing an op-ed in the New York Times, has apparently decided that the problem with religious liberty is the “liberty” part:
They and their churches inject themselves into political debates while enjoying tax-exempt status. They get public support in questionable circumstances. After a student Christian magazine insisted on its right to funds from the University of Virginia, the Supreme Court decided in 1995 that if a nonreligious publication got financial help from a public school, so must a religious publication, even if it’s proselytizing.
And churches have been allowed to adopt broad, questionable interpretations of a “ministerial exception” to anti-discrimination laws that allow them to hire and fire clergy as they wish.  [...]
Baking a cake, arranging roses, running an inn: These aren’t religious acts, certainly not if the establishments aren’t religious enclaves and are doing business with (and even dependent on) the general public.
Their owners are routinely interacting with customers who behave in ways they deem sinful. They don’t get to single out one group of supposed sinners. If they’re allowed to, who’s to say they’ll stop at that group?
I respect people of faith. I salute the extraordinary works of compassion and social justice that many of them and many of their churches do. I acknowledge that we in the news media, because we tend to emphasize conflict and wrongdoing and hypocrisy, sometimes focus more on the shortcomings of religious institutions than on their positive contributions.
And I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish — in their pews, homes and hearts.
Big of him, isn’t it?

No, of course not.  What it is is bigoted.

Bigoted, in the sense that Bruni wants to put religious people, religious speech, and religious acts into a kind of closet.  Bigoted, in the sense that Bruni thinks religious people, religious speech, and religious acts should not be allowed in public--not if they’re not prepared to bow down and worship the idol of same-sex “marriage."

Bigoted, in that Bruni insists that cake bakers, innkeepers, and florists aren’t being asked to violate their religiously-informed consciences when they refuse to take part in what is to many of them nothing more than a wicked parody of marriage, about which they have strong religious views.

And they--we--have the right to have these views.  We have the right to express them in public and to refuse to accommodate, recognize, acknowledge or serve same-sex “marriage" in any way on the grounds that to do so violates our freedom of religion as guaranteed to us in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Bruni, as Mark Shea points out, does not recognize that right.  Rather, he proposes--as many liberals have done--a diminished and inferior shadow of that right, the so-called “freedom of (or freedom to) worship.”  This concept would permit--grudgingly, as if by special privilege--those of us who think that marriage is only between a man and a woman to keep saying so in our churches and homes.  But it would forbid us to act according to that belief, to teach or speak it openly, or to order our lives as if that belief is in any way important to us--when, in fact, it really is.

For those of us who are Catholics, this idea that Catholics (or Christians in general) should have to keep our mouths shut and our heads down as the price of being just barely tolerated is an old, old tune.  It has been sung in many countries and with many different verses, whether we’re talking about the penal laws of England or Ireland or the long history of anti-Catholicsim in America or other, older examples such as the persecutions of ancient Rome.  It’s unvarying note is one of hatred for the followers of Christ, a hatred that causes exclusion, discrimination, division, restrictions on freedom, punishment for “wrongthink,” and even violence and death.

To Bruni, it is so important to silence those of us who don’t believe in gay “marriage” and will not ever equate it to real marriage that it doesn’t really matter if religion gets tossed out the window altogether.  But he’s willing, for now, to let us believers continue to pray at home and in churches, so long as we don’t bring our faith with us when we go beyond those spheres.

So we should keep feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, instructing the ignorant, and otherwise doing works of mercy (at least, the ones Bruni approves of).  But we are supposed to wear a muzzle while doing so, and never betray by word or action that we don’t think that two men are a “married couple,” because Bruni thinks the State ought to force us to pretend to accept its authority to redefine marriage in such a way that the very word and concept no longer makes the slightest bit of sense.  And that, brothers and sisters, is what Bruni thinks the State should mean by “religious liberty.”

Only someone who is deeply bigoted against religious believers could possibly approve of so weak a notion of religious liberty.  Only someone who wants religious believers closeted, silenced, and eventually destroyed could agitate for such a thing.  And only the New York Times could ever publish such a screed with such blatant and fawning approval.


Monday, January 19, 2015

A few questions for my readers

Some extremely kind person has nominated me for the 2015 Sheenazing Awards under the category “Best Under-Appreciated Blog.”  Thank you, whoever you are!

Sometimes blogs seem to have fallen by the wayside, but there are still several I check and read daily, and I hope you do too.  Facebook and similar social media sites are all very well and good, but blogs are a chance to do some real writing, and I appreciate having readers who still check in here.

Let me ask: since my blogging has become a bit more sporadic, are there certain things you wish I’d do differently?  Would a daily post, however brief, be better than longer occasional ones?  Are there topics you wish I’d address, or address more often?

Let me know in the comment box or via email if you prefer.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ten quick rebuttals

I want to preface this blog post by saying that I have not, not at all, jumped on the “free community college” bandwagon.  There are a lot of questions I would have before I’d support such a thing, and this despite the fact that my two oldest daughters are currently attending a community college for their first two years of education.  I’d want to know who would qualify, how it would be paid for, and how much state and local control would remain.  It would be a bad idea to federalize education at the community college level, for instance, and there are other bureaucratic pitfalls that would have to be avoided.

Having said all of that, I have to react to this incredibly horrible article a point at a time because it just cries out for that kind of treatment:


1. Stealing?  Really?  The author, Joy Pullmann, claims that “free” community college would be “stealing” from hard working taxpayers (with the implication that the money would go to the slackers and leeches who haven’t managed to earn their own way).  If that’s the case, though, then the government is also “stealing” from me when they collect my property taxes and other taxes, which go to fund local public schools, because my kids have never gone to the public schools.  Why should I pay for other people’s kids to go to school?  Simple: we, as a nation, tend to think it’s a good idea to have an educated population.

2. In her second point Pullmann says that no one owes anybody a college education.  This is, technically, true.  And nobody owes anybody public roads, public libraries, public parks, etc., either, but we sort of think these are nice things to have and nobody but the most extreme libertarians seem to think otherwise.  If an educated populace is a benefit to society, why shouldn’t society create a pathway for those students for whom even a community college education is an otherwise impossible goal?  The hypothetical eighteen-year-old Pullman discusses, the one who has been sponging off of his parents and grandparents for the last 18 years, is not the one who needs help with community college--it’s the kids who have grown up with single parents or in foster homes or in dire poverty, the ones working while taking classes and hoping to be able to keep paying for it all.  Pullmann may not know any kids like that, but my daughters have met some of them, and there are probably some at her local community college if she would go and talk to them.

3. The “entitlements” buzzword: why is it that so many people can make anything sound crappy and expensive (to use Pullmann’s terms) by calling it an entitlement?  I think she makes a big mistake by lumping the G.I. Bill in with her other list of complaints, though: the G.I. Bill has helped a lot of veterans go to college (and I say this as a wife of a veteran who served, most unfortunately, during a time when the G.I. Bill was not in force and who had to figure out how to pay for his own education after having served overseas for four years first).  If a “Community College Bill” had the same effect as the G.I. Bill on our nation, it would likely boost productivity and income and help more people get ahead--and what’s wrong with that?

4. Pullman cites the low graduation rate of community college grads.  Her thinking seems to be that these kids are wasting their time in college and should just give up.  That may be true for a handful of them, but I think she’s missing a key point: lots of kids who don’t finish community college don’t manage to finish precisely because they can’t afford to pay for it.  But we’ll revisit that point later.

5. This one’s a head-scratcher: Pullmann says that in the good old days an eighth-grade graduation was better than today’s community college degree.  I might tend to agree a bit, so long as we leave computer  classes and technology courses out of the equation, but the real question is: so what?  Educational standards have slipped across the board.  You don’t have to be fluent in Hebrew, Latin and Greek to go to Harvard or Yale anymore, either.  Nostalgia for the past isn’t going to help actual college students in the year 2015.

6. Pullmann thinks we shouldn’t “trap” kids in school longer.  Oh, right.  Because so many kids are graduating from high school and stepping straight into lucrative careers these days.  Somehow I doubt Pullmann views the kids going to Ivy League schools and pursuing masters’ degrees or doctorates as being “trapped” in school.  But, hey, those kids have earned the right to be in those schools by virtue of...trust funds, or something.

7. This one made me laugh out loud.  Everybody can afford community college already?  Everybody?  Really?  I know we’ve been able to help our girls with the local community college tuition, but it helps that they live here at home and that they’ve earned scholarships and found campus jobs and so forth. The part that really made me chuckle was this quote: “A 40-hour, minimum-wage job over 12 weeks of summer will earn a tax-free $3,480 (tax-free because no one earning this little pays taxes).”  Leaving aside her ignorance about the fact that taxes including Social Security will, indeed, be confiscated from that income, there is the total breathtaking ignorance about how easy or possible it is for a college student to get a summer job where he or she will get anywhere near 40 hours a week!  And then there’s her equally blithe assumption that students will be able to work fifteen hours a week or so while taking classes--has she never heard of the scourge called “on-demand scheduling” that forces college students to skip classes in order to take hours the boss demands at the last minute? It’s not like a college student working off-campus can go in and say, “Here are the hours I can’t ever work because I’m in classes then.”  In this day and age, the hiring manager will just shrug and say, “I can find plenty of people who are available 24/7--why should I bother hiring you?” and show them the door.  My girls have known kids who have had to choose between staying in school and keeping a job.  The job usually wins.

8.  No one would be happier than I would be if the “college bubble” really were about to burst.  But with companies still demanding huge increases in the number of H1-B visas because they allegedly can’t find qualified Americans to do technical work, I wouldn’t advise any young students to place their career eggs in this “college bubble about to burst” basket.  I am cynical enough to believe that some high-tech companies may be trying to convince American students that “credentialing” is all that matters, so they can turn around and go to Congress and say (with their hands out) “Why, look!  The number of Americans graduating in tech fields has dropped yet again!” at which point the next wave of cheap third-world programmers can come in on visa waves and take the jobs Americans “can’t” do--because the Americans believed the hype about credentialing and never got a computer degree.

9. Pullmann claims that the next wave of job growth will happen in fields that don’t need college degrees.  If you follow the links in her piece, you will see these new hot jobs listed: janitor, personal care aide, various low-level health care workers, retail sales jobs.  These are not careers that will support a family--these are jobs that will continue to pay rock-bottom salaries to people who--like many of the workers at big-box stores--have to apply for welfare and Medicaid just to make ends meet.  How does it help the economy to create a new serf class instead of helping young people have a better future?

10.  Last, but not least: Pullmann is right that we’re hugely in debt, as a nation.  Perhaps we could decrease that debt significantly by ending corporate welfare and investing in our children’s futures instead.  I’d be willing to listen to some ideas along those lines.

It may yet end up that fully funding the first two years of college education for those students with good grades who choose to attend community colleges will be an unworkable idea.  But I am amazed at the “let them eat cake!” attitudes displayed by Pullmann in her piece.  Anybody who thinks that community college is something all young Americans can easily afford and that the poor already get for free (as she says) has probably never talked to students at a local community college.

And when our country has made a college degree a requirement for even entry-level jobs, it is rather cruel to prefer the status quo, which makes college all but mandatory for those who want a better life than endless minimum wage jobs without benefits, yet all but impossible for those students whose parents are among the working poor.  After all, if these seven countries can manage to charge little or nothing for college, why is it that in America college is still often seen as a privilege for the rich rather than a necessity for the many?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I remain unconvinced

Recently, a website called The New Emangelization interviewed Cardinal Burke.  This interview has been discussed elsewhere, and some who have discussed it have been accused of “spinning” what Cardinal Burke actually said.  So let’s take a look at some of the cardinal’s own words:
Unfortunately, the radical feminist movement strongly influenced the Church, leading the Church to constantly address women’s issues at the expense of addressing critical issues important to men; the importance of the father, whether in the union of marriage or not; the importance of a father to children; the importance of fatherhood for priests; the critical impact of a manly character; the emphasis on the particular gifts that God gives to men for the good of the whole society. [...] 
The Church becomes very feminized. Women are wonderful, of course. They respond very naturally to the invitation to be active in the Church. Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women. The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved.
Men are often reluctant to become active in the Church. The feminized environment and the lack of the Church’s effort to engage men has led many men to simply opt out. [...]
Aspects of the Church’s life that emphasized the man‑like character of devotion and sacrifice have been deemphasized. Devotions that required time and effort were simply abandoned. Everything became so easy and when things are easy, men don’t think it is worth the effort. [...]
The loss of the sacred led to a loss of participation of women and men. But I think that men were really turned off by the loss of the sacred. It seems clear that many men are not being drawn into a deeper liturgical spirituality; today, many men are not being drawn to service at the altar.
Young men and men respond to rigor and precision and excellence. When I was trained to be a server, the training lasted for several weeks and you had to memorize the prayers at the foot of the altar. It was a rigorous and a carefully executed service. All of a sudden, in the wake of Vatican II, the celebration of the liturgy became very sloppy in many places. It became less attractive to young men, for it was slipshod.
All of the bolded emphasis in the above is mine.  I do encourage you to read the whole thing, especially if you are convinced I’m picking and choosing things in order to put some kind of “spin” on them.

Other writers are talking specifically about Cardinal Burke’s dislike of female altar servers, so I won’t repeat their points, though I do encourage you to read them: Kerry Weber’s piece is here, and Deacon Kandra’s is here.  Both are well worth the time.

Now, I’d like to discuss what are, to me, the implications of what Cardinal Burke is saying, especially based on those bolded sections above.  This is my own opinion, of course.  I’m not trying to put words into the cardinal’s mouth, but just to discuss the words he is actually using, one point at a time.

Point 1: Cardinal Burke seems to be saying something I’ve heard other traditional Catholic men say: that paying attention to women at all, to our spiritual needs, to our place in the Church and in society, to those issues that are important to us, necessarily and (in their view) unjustly takes the Church’s focus away from men.  The Church can’t, apparently, talk to women honestly and sincerely and respectfully without by that very conversation dissing, neglecting, and harming men.

I haven’t noticed the Church being shy about speaking to fathers, about fathers and fatherhood, and in particular about the responsibilities that come with fatherhood and the spiritual harm of shirking those duties.  I also haven’t noticed the Church being shy about the particular gifts that come from men--we are still (and always will be) a Church with an exclusively male priesthood, for instance.  Then again, I haven’t noticed the Church spending a lot of time “constantly address(ing) women’s issues” let alone doing so at the expense of being able to talk about men.  Pope Francis made a mild comment about the Church perhaps needing a theology of women, and many of the Catholic blogosphere corners I’m familiar with went into full-freakout mode.

What “women’s issues” is the Church “constantly addressing,” anyway?  What does that even mean?

Point 2: I’ve heard this one before, too, the claim that the post-Conciliar Church has become “feminized” and that the overwhelming femininity of parish activities has repelled men so that they don’t want to get involved.  I have to get this out of my system: balderdash and poppycock.  How exactly has Holy Mother Church become more feminine than she was for the first nineteen hundred and fifty-odd years of her existence?  I’ve seen more pink marble in hundred-year-old sanctuaries than I ever see in more recently built churches.  All kidding aside, I think it would come as a great surprise to my late grandmothers or late great-grandmothers, this idea that up until 1955 or so all Catholic men were eager and willing to sign up for parish activities and took over so many responsibilities that there wasn’t much for the female Altar Society to do except wash and iron the altar linens (since men could hardly be expected to do women’s work).  At the parish where I am a member now, there are both male and female volunteers in significant numbers; I was surprised by the number of eager and willing male volunteers, having never seen so many men sign up for things in a parish in my whole life of moving all over this country and attending too many parishes to count.  The riddle was solved on the first Veteran’s Day when, at a special blessing for Veterans, roughly 50% of the parishioners (both men and women) stood for the blessing (if I’m exaggerating, it’s only slightly).  In other words, what makes the people at my little mission parish different from most Catholic parishioners at most Catholic parishes I’ve attended in my lifetime is not that the women sit back with proper feminine demureness and modesty and flutter our eyelashes at the big strong men so they will sign up and do things, but that the men (and women) have come from families where sacrificial service was a given, to the extent that many of the men and more than a few of the women served in America’s military at some point in their lives, and having done so they seem to find it a natural and fitting thing to go on serving when service is needed.

The lesson here is simple: if you want to foster a spirit of willing service and volunteerism at your parish, it is not necessary to make the women believe that they are both unnecessary and unwanted. It may help to have a lot of military families, but I bet that similar results could happen just by patient teaching and an express appreciation of the work that volunteers do.

Point 3: This one, the idea that “manly” devotions, the ones that take time and effort and sacrifice, the ones that aren’t easy, have been abandoned or deemphasized (with the subtext that, again, the “feminized” Church is at fault)--this one really bugs me.  I think it’s because I find the idea insulting to both men and women.

It insults men because it tacitly assumes that men are only motivated to practice devotions by a kind of spiritual pride. “What--your parish only says five decades of the Rosary before Mass, not the full 20?  And you don’t have perpetual Adoration, just hours of Adoration scheduled here and there when people can easily be present?  And you only have Stations of the Cross on the Fridays of Lent, not every Friday of the year, and you use a booklet that only takes 30 minutes to pray? And your Midnight Mass starts at 11:30 p.m.?  You wusses--I’m outta here!” says the caricature of the man implied.  Some may think this is unfair of me--but what is one to think when the idea is being presented that men are “turned off” by “easy” devotions?

And the implication that women have driven this change in favor of these “easy” devotional practices is also rather insulting.  I realize that there was a time when women were viewed as “the weaker sex,” and in terms of sheer physical strength that is, for most of us, still the truth.  But the lives of so many saintly women have been filled with examples of things that were far from easy, whether we speak of St. Joan of Arc or St. Catherine of Siena or St. Gianna Molla or any other example you like--and that’s before we consider the “easy” life of many orthodox Catholic women today which involves things like marriage and multiple childbirths and homeschooling or contributing to the family income or both.  Just where did this idea that women, in our spirituality, prefer trivial and easy devotional practices such that the manly and rigorous souls of our husbands or sons are left unfulfilled even come from?

Point 4: This last point has to do with the idea that men (more than women) are “turned off by the loss of the sacred,” and that young men stopped being attracted to the liturgy or to altar service because after Vatican II the celebration of the liturgy became “sloppy” and “slipshod.”  Since girls, once they were permitted to serve, did so in spite of (or perhaps even because of) liturgical sloppiness, the implication once again is that women don’t really care about the sacred or the loss of it, and that women are perfectly happy to take part in slipshod liturgies and to serve as altar servers amidst liturgical sloppiness.

The fact that men, and only men, could have been responsible for this liturgical sloppiness in the first place is incontrovertible, since only men can be priests.  A question arises: why, if men are turned off by a loss of the sense of the sacred and liturgical sloppiness, did so many priests in the wake of Vatican II create and sustain that very loss of the sense of the sacred and that selfsame liturgical sloppiness?  Were they not men, too?  Is it that most of the priests ordained just before Vatican II were somehow lacking in the proper manly character that would have made them appreciate a rigorous, manly liturgy characterized by precision and excellence, since these things are, apparently, what men really want?  But if they were lacking in that proper manly character, where did that lack come from?  The Church they grew up in was not feminized.  She didn’t talk endlessly (or even much at all) about women’s issues.  There were plenty of really, really hard devotions and spiritual practices, some of them mandatory.  Quite a few of the immediately post-Conciliar priests grew up, for instance, in a time when they were forbidden to swallow even a drop of water after midnight on Sundays if they planned to receive Holy Communion, and when fasting throughout Lent was also mandatory--so how did they end up being so much in favor of slipshod liturgies and weak devotions?

I am not unaware that there are plenty of Catholic men today who would agree with Cardinal Burke that the Church ignores men, focuses on women, and has gone out of her way to create a sloppy, comfortable, easy liturgy with a few simple devotions because that’s what women want.  I remain unconvinced that this is actually the case, and I think that it is unfortunate that the cardinal’s views seem to be pitting men against women instead of calling all of us to work together to build up the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

That old corollary

Yesterday’s murderous attack against the journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo has, rightly enough, captured the lion’s share of blog posts and opinion pieces.

I didn’t write a post yesterday because I was unsure I could add anything much to the discussions.  On the one hand, there is no doubt that the murders ought to be condemned in the strongest terms, and I think everyone wants the murderers caught and brought to justice.

On the other, I was uncomfortable with the “je suis Charlie” meme, because, as several people said on Facebook and elsewhere, no, I am not Charlie.  I may defend the freedom of the press and believe to the core of my being that no one should ever be killed for writing (or drawing) something unpleasant about someone else’s deeply-held religious beliefs.  But I didn’t particularly like the examples I saw of Charlie Hebdo’s anti-Catholic writings and illustrations either.  What it boils down to for me is this: you may have the right to create deeply offensive anti-Catholic or anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim speech (written or visual), and no one has the right to stop you or threaten you for doing so.  But I also have the right to find that sort of speech rather reprehensible and juvenile. I think we can all agree that it is heroic and noble for people living in Islamic states to stand up against Islamic fundamentalism, often risking their lives to do so (see:  Malala Yousafzai).  To the extent that creating anti-Muslim speech, even offensive examples of it, involves standing up against Islamic fundamentalism I think we can see a similar sort of heroism, but that doesn’t mean we have to like the actual speech involved in every instance.

Combing through these sort of nuances in the aftermath of tragedy is a human thing to do, though I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that prayer for the victims and their families ought to take precedence over such things.  But combing through these sort of nuances is a far cry from being told (as some have reported) that, after all, Christians react with violence when anti-Christian stuff gets said, or that even if it’s not really “violence,” Christians used to punish blasphemy with murders just as heinous as what happened in France so no Christian has the right to criticize any Islamic fundamentalist, ever.

And here I thought that old corollary of mine had served its purpose years ago.

Years ago, frustrated at the turn a discussion at Rod Dreher’s old Beliefnet blog had taken along those very lines, I dashed off this little thing:
Manning’s Corollary to Godwin’s Law: In any online conversation about an incident of violence perpetrated by adherents of Islamic fundamentalism, the conversation will inevitably devolve into claims that Christians commit the same type and degree of violent acts, regardless of how demonstrably false that is; further, the claim will be made that past historical violence involving Christians means that present-day Christians are morally incapable of denouncing current violence involving Muslims.
If I had it to do over, I’d try to be less wordy.  I’d probably fail, but at least I’d try.

That aside, though, the depressing thing is that there still seem to be an awful lot of people who honestly believe that Hobby Lobby going to the Supreme Court in order not to be forced to pay for other people’s abortifacients or contraceptives is exactly the same thing as armed terrorists walking into the office of a satirical weekly paper and shooting and killing twelve people and wounding several more.  Or they honestly believe that because Christians in ages past fought actual wars against actual Muslims, no Christian today has the moral standing to point to the murder of twelve people and say, “That is wrong, and heinous, and those responsible must be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

How did this happen?  How is it that so many Americans seem convinced that you can use the phrase “Christian atrocities” as if this is some sort of current, present, ongoing problem?  How is it that some commenters regularly use the term “Christianist” to mean “fundamentalist Christians who, if not restrained by the Enlightenment and the secular state, would probably go around shooting and killing everybody they disagree with too?”

Most Christians I know, for one notable example, think that the Westboro Baptist Church people are totally vile and not Christ-like at all, and we strongly repudiate their words and their tactics whenever the opportunity to do so arises.  But the Westboro Baptist Church’s “fundamentalist terrorism” amounts to: protesting.  That’s it.  Showing up at inopportune times in totally inappropriate ways to hold up badly-written signs and say uncouth and mean stuff.  Yet when you get into an online discussion about Islamic fundamentalists who just, you know, killed twelve people there’s nearly always sure to be someone sputtering, “But...but Christianists!  But...but you guys do this stuff too!  But...but Westboro Baptist Church...” as if the sanity-challenged folks protesting outside funerals are exactly the same as people who bomb or gun down or behead or otherwise kill people.

Again: how did this happen?

We could blame the media, or we could blame the current state of public education, or we could blame secularism generally, or we could point to pop culture or the currently-irreligious level of society, and all of those things could be part of it.  Myself, though, I think it runs deeper.  I’ve heard too many people, online and in real life, lump Judaism, Christianity, and Islam together as if all three were basically the same religion and as if all three were equally falsified by a “proper” understanding of the “real” world.  To people who hold that view, the only reason Christians don’t go around killing anybody who disagrees with us today is because we’re restrained by modernism--and that if modernism’s restraints slip even the tiniest bit, all Christians will receive some sort of “marching orders” that will incite us to wage war against those who don’t accept our beliefs--because this, they honestly believe, is how Christians lived up until the modern era.

And people who believe this not only don’t understand Christianity; they also don’t understand Islam.  They tend to think that the way to “fix” Islamic fundamentalism is to import modernity and secularism until the Islamic fundamentalists quit killing those who disagree with them and start begging for blue jeans and condoms.  They think that just as Christians could be weaned away from our “murderous” ways by an inundation of bread and circuses, or fast-food and infotainment, so, too, can Islamic fundamentalists--some of whom are fighting the same wars they’ve been fighting for six hundred years.  And just as the people who believe Christians=Muslims are wrong about Christians, who in following Jesus Christ were told to put away their swords, turn the other cheek, etc., so are they wrong about fundamentalist Muslim terrorists, who believe they are serving God and his prophet when they kill unbelievers, and who aren’t likely to change that view just because reruns of Friends are being streamed into their homes.

When an attack as horrible and evil as the one launched against Charlie Hebdo occurs, it’s disheartening to have to drag out that old corollary again.  Because one would think that the repeated acts of violence and terror by fundamentalist Islamic terrorists would show not only that these terrorists are unlike Christians but also that they are unlike the many good Muslims in the world who reject these violent acts in the strongest of terms.  Alas, to many in our country, the only difference between a “Christianist” and a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist is that the “Christianist” lives in an enlightened nation that keeps him from shooting his neighbors for their unbelief.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 Catholic blogosphere year in review

I’m a big fan of Dave Barry’s “Year in Review” columns.  Alas, this year’s installment just didn’t seem as funny to me as previous years’ columns have been.  Maybe the year itself just wasn’t funny enough. Maybe we’re in a time of--dare I say it--malaise.

Or maybe Dave Barry just had an off year.

But what a nationally-known and syndicated columnist can write (even in an off year), a nearly-anonymous and totally unknown Catholic blogger can attempt too.  Oh, not for Big National Events; Barry already covered those.  But it occurred to me that we here in the tiny insignificant St. Blogs Catholic Blogosphere corner of the Internet could use our own Year in Review too.  So here it is:

In January, legions of high school students at Eastside Catholic High School in the Archdiocese of Seattle reacted with shock and horror to the news that, apparently, and despite the plethora of evidence to the contrary, they were an actual Catholic high school.  “We didn’t sign up for this,” claimed potential valedictorian Bunny O’Donnell, one of the many students carrying a misspelled protest sign outside the school amidst a typical Seattle-area January mist-storm.  “Everybody knows that the Catholic Church is bigoted and homophobic and anti-woman.  We were promised that none of the ‘religion’ stuff would be important here, and we expect the school to keep that promise.”  School officials reportedly issued an apology and promised to do a better job of making the school exactly like Seattle’s public high schools, with the exception of their $20,000 a year price tag, which is non-negotiable.

Also in January, a group of geocentrists released the movie The Principle, which sadly did not turn out to be a story of a school administrator who believed the earth revolved around him, because that would have required the -pal ending to “principal.”  Instead, The Principle takes the position that the Earth really is the center of the universe and that this justifies tricking voice actors and scientists alike into appearing to agree with the idea, because a God who places Earth at the center of the universe doesn’t mind a bit of dishonesty here and there.  The estimated tens of people who saw the film could not be reached for comment, but Catholic bloggers who did not plan to see the film and did not see it wrote blog posts and articles excoriating it, thus keeping alive a proud Catholic blogging tradition of not being  made to endure nonsense before pointing it out as such.

Bad movie news continued in February, as several Catholic commenters noticed that, after all, it was a really, really dumb idea to turn Tolkien’s The Hobbit into three feature-length films.  There were also some warning shots fired re: Noah, and Mark Shea may well have been the first Catholic blogger to mention that a new Left Behind movie, starring Nicholas Cage, was going to be inflicted on the unsuspecting movie-going public.

February also kicked off “Pre-Synod Catholic Blog Fretting Season,” to be followed in later months by “Synod Catholic Blog Fretting Season” and “Post-Synod Thoughtful Catholic Blog Analysis.” Okay, who are we kidding?  It was followed by “Post-Synod Uber-Hysterical Catholic Blog Fretting,” which continues at present, and includes various fantasies under which Pope Francis throws Church teaching on marriage out the window, freeing everybody up to become Eastern Orthodox, because they already have remarriage after divorce. (Wait.  What?)

In March, our little Diocese of Fort Worth Texas made Catholic Blogosphere News, when it was reported that a small traditional faithful Catholic Latin Mass-friendly college was coming under fire for being friendly to the Latin Mass.  Pixels flew with various accusations until it turned out that the college in question was not being penalized in any way for being friendly to the Latin Mass, but for a host of other problems, including some rather serious financial ones, at which point those E.F. Mass supporting bloggers who had assumed the bishop was unfairly attacking Latin Mass communities immediately and publicly apologized and promised not to jump to such unfounded conclusions ever again, and went on to admit that it’s “no big deal” whether or not women wear veils at Mass.

Meanwhile, Charlotte Catholic High School students reacted with outrage when an actual habited nun came and gave an actual talk on actual Church teaching.  “First Seattle, now us,” said tearful junior Ashley Ashleyson during a school-sponsored listening and healing session.  “What is this, the Inquisition?”  Ambulances were then called to the scene to remove history teacher Jane Smith, who had fainted upon hearing Ms. Ashleyson use a historical term in a sentence, something that has never happened at Charlotte Catholic before.

April brought with it news that Brenden Eich of Firefox was forced out of the company for daring to think that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, because apparently Mark Shea has been right all along: Tolerance is not enough; you must approve!  In a stunning show of solidarity, six or seven Catholic bloggers all wrote posts within days of each other pointing out that we Catholics are going to be in the crosshairs of the New Tolerance, after which we all got back to sniping at each other over politics, liturgical matters, and whether or not women can wear slacks.

April also brought the release of Jennifer Fulwiler’s long-awaited memoir, Something Other Than God, which some speculate will eventually be a movie, a TV show, an award-winning Broadway play, a yearly inspirational gathering of insightful women, and a “Seven Quick Takes” footwear product capable of transforming from a simple flat flip-flop to a high-heeled boot with seven easy attachments.

In May a Catholic writer boldly asserted that the really traditional thing to do in regard to a pope who isn’t doing things the way you would do things if you were pope is to stand up for the Church against the pope, which is not at all the same thing that liberal Catholics do when they don’t like what the pope is doing, for reasons that are too complicated for anybody to understand. Meanwhile, at another Catholic blog where it is still 1955 or so, the blog author indulged in his annual Ascension Thursday Rant over the practice in most dioceses of the United States of transferring the Ascension Thursday feast to the nearest Sunday, because in those places where it is still 1955 the only thing stopping any Catholic in America from attending Mass on a weekday Holy Day of Obligation is either a) too much option-overload from all the many, many possible Masses he can go to beginning the night before with three or four vigil Masses within a two mile radius of his home or office and continuing on to the next day when Average Joe Catholic can attend Mass at nearly any hour of the day from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. because of all the many, many Holy Day Masses scheduled for his work-day convenience, or b) Average Joe Catholic’s selfishness in refusing to go to Mass at either 8 a.m. (a whole hour or so, in 1955-mind, before he has to be at work!) or at 6 p.m. (again, a whole hour or so, in 1955-mind, after he gets off of work!) which can only be attributed to Average Joe Catholic’s laziness and selfishness in wanting to sleep in until 8:30 a.m. on workdays before rushing off to be at his desk by 9, and then going to catch a ball game at 5 p.m when he leaves work instead of going to Mass, because isn’t that what a typical work day in America in 2014 looks like?

In June Catholics celebrated the news that the Supreme Court of the United States was not going to force Hobby Lobby to pay for abortions or abortifacient contraceptives by rushing out to buy glue guns and glitter even if we didn’t need those things and, in fact, cannot be trusted to use a glue gun unsupervised (I am speaking of myself only, as I am the sort of Catholic who would not get into Heaven if it required a craft project portfolio or even a felt banner).  Also in June the news world in general, and the Catholic blogosphere right along with it, reported breathlessly that some nuns in a place called Tuam in Ireland had overseen the deaths (maybe by neglect! maybe worse!) of some 800 babies, or if not, had at least thrown the babies’ bodies into a septic tank, or if not quite that, then probably something even worse, because nuns orphanage evil Catholics etc. It turned out that what had really happened was that over a 36 year period some 796 children in the area had died, some of them orphans, and some of them--perhaps a hundred--may have been interred in a crypt (not a septic tank, and not even a water tank) following proper Christian burial. The death rate, by the way, was lower than that of most orphanages in nearby England in that time--a time in history when infant mortality rates were generally quite high across the board.  But none of that Fit the Narrative, so the embarrassed mumbling corrections caught a lot less attention than the sensational spins had done, human nature being what it is.

Catholic bloggers were stunned to learn, in July, that despite all the thousands and thousands of hours and dollars spent making lay Catholic volunteers learn all about how to recognize child predators and report them and keep children safe, children were still being abused in the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and there were credible accusations against lay volunteers choir members extraordinary ministers of holy communion  priests.  Calls for priests in the archdiocese to have to take the same “Keeping Children Safe” classes as lay people were reportedly dismissed as being far too extreme.

In August, hundreds of planned posts about modesty in dress and the problem of people wearing shorts or sleeveless dresses to Mass unaccountably failed to appear on schedule.  Rorate Caeli allegedly drew a connection between the absence of the seasonal modesty posts and Pope Francis’ failure to wear the camauro or to restore the train on the papal cassock, a custom ended by that known modernist Pope Pius XII.  Rumors that EWTN was planning a new series titled What Not to Wear to Mass turned out to be unfounded.

In September, Cardinal Dolan of New York shocked the Catholic blogging world by deciding that it’s just no big deal for a parade in honor of a saint to be hijacked by groups of people clamoring for sins against the sixth commandment to become mainstream and normalized.  Cardinal Dolan plans to lead this parade, though it is unclear whether Adultery Pride, Cohabitation Pride, and Self-Pleasurers Pride groups will be permitted to march alongside the Gay Pride groups in the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York.  There will not, however, be a Pro-Life Pride Group, as this would be upsetting to those marching under the Aborters and Contraceptors Pride Banners (slogan: we do a better job of getting rid of the Irish than the English ever did!).

October is annual Let’s Fight Over Trick-or-Treating Month on Catholic blogs, but this year’s fights were somewhat tame.  This is because most of those fights have been moved to Facebook, where stunned Catholic moms can see a quick, cute post like “Here are my kids in their Halloween Costumes!” or “Here are my kids in their All Saints’ Day Party Costumes!” blow up into comment threads where dozens of women they barely know will tell them why they are doing Halloween/All Saints’ Day/The Hallowmas Triduum totally and completely wrong, and give them detailed instruction as to how to do things properly.

A lot of things--many of them bad--happened in November, but if you were reading Catholic blogs, the happenings you would be most aware of were these: 1) Holy Innocents Church in New York, which offers a daily E.F. Mass, was not, after all, on the list of prospective parish closings in the Archdiocese of New York; 2) Cardinal Burke got sent to Malta, thus ensuring his easy victory in WDTPRS’ “Man of the Year” post in January, 3) The Vatican invited Patti Smith to sing at the Vatican’s Christmas Concert, 4) Pope Francis prayed at a mosque, 5) Pope Francis bowed his head for a blessing from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  Whether these were good things, bad things, or a mixture of both depended on the blog you were reading at the time.

And in December, the Catholic debate about the morality of torture was reignited by the Senate Torture Report; depressingly enough, there appear to be a greater number of Catholics than ever who seem to believe that a) drowning someone via waterboarding isn’t torture, b) the Catechism’s prohibition against torture doesn’t forbid torturing possibly innocent people who haven’t had any due process at all because they are being questioned about Ticking Time Bombs and there’s no time to play nice with people who are only going to be innocent civilians 26 times out of 119 or so, and c) the Catechism was written by a bunch of lily-livered liberals who hate Latin and tradition and Republicans and America, so who the bleep cares what it says anyway...

...which brings us to 2015, which promises to be a really, really different year in the Catholic blogosphere, if for no reason other than that there are strong rumors that Simcha Fisher plans to live-blog the birth of the newest Fisher baby, Mark Shea and Jimmy Akin will trade places for a week to see if anybody notices, Matt Archbold will trick his brother Patrick into making a felt banner and will secretly video the whole prank, and the Eye of the Tiber blogger will film a Catholic comedy web series that will be purchased by EWTN and will become the network’s top-rated and most-watched program within six weeks after the first episode airs, leading to serious questions about whether Larry D and the Curt Jester are interested in coming up with similar concepts, both of which new programs would then be hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler.

Happy New Year!

UPDATE: Welcome, New Advent readers!  Thank you for stopping by! :)