Monday, June 30, 2008

Playing a Foolish Game

Last week, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama met in the tiny town of Unity, New Hampshire, to celebrate their--er, unity.

And today, Barack Obama decided to talk about patriotism--in Independence, MO:

As for his own patriotism, Obama said he chose Monday's topic in part because of questions raised during the presidential race so far, even though he had always considered his love of country a given, in fact his inspiration for running for office.

"I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged — at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for," he said before a crowd of a few hundred people at the Truman Memorial Building.

"I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign, and I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine," he said.

Laying aside the inconvenient fact that Obama's patriotism is being questioned more because of his wife's words and his own twenty-year membership in a church whose pastor called upon God to condemn America, there's another troubling element emerging from this campaign: the manipulation of the press.

"Unity" in Unity, NH? "Patriotism" in Independence, MO?

Granted, Obama has every reason to suspect that the press is on his side. From near-hagiographical pictures to fawning media coverage to softball interviews, the press has shown itself to be solidly in the Obama camp, so much so that you can forgive the candidate for forgetting that they're not an unofficial, unpaid group in his communications and advertising division.

But the media doesn't like it when their loyalty and partisanship is taken too much for granted. There were already grumbles about the Unity, NH photo-op, in that it was a little too trite, a little too obvious to appeal to the kind of coverage the media likes to offer. In this latest Independence speech, the press has been playing up the "Harry Truman's birthplace" angle and downplaying the name of the city; some in the media are already making fun of the name choices.

In the spirit of nonpartisan friendliness, I'd like to remind the Obama campaign of something they seem to have forgotten: the media doesn't work for you. They may have given that impression, but they don't like it when you take them for granted. You're supposed to leave the inspired headlines and clever regionalisms to them--manipulating the situation to force the press to report from Unity, NH or Independence, MO or, perhaps in the future, Hope, AR or Plain Dealing, LA or Friendly, WV is eventually going to make them show their dislike of the situation.

The media in the United States may be overwhelmingly Democratic in terms of political proclivity, but first and foremost they vote for themselves. If you make them look foolish by scheduling speech after speech in cleverly aptronymic towns across this great nation, they may decide at some point to return the favor: running some less flattering photos, for instance, or openly mocking the campaign's choice of locations as a cheap trick--which, in fact, it is.

So before you decide to talk about our nation's priorities in Askew, MS, or plan a rally in Progress, TX--or ask that a debate with McCain be set in Truth or Consequences, NM--you might want to think seriously about whether, and for how long, the press is likely to put up with such obvious shenanigans.

It would be much better for the Obama campaign to give this up on their own. Otherwise, the national media is quite likely to issue a serious call for the campaign to cut the Crappo, Maryland.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Just Winging It

Today is the last Friday in June, by which time I'm sure all of my homeschooling mom readers have ordered all their books and materials for next year, planned all of their lessons, purchased and organized a year's worth of craft supplies, and are eagerly deciding which of several extracurriculars to pursue with their happy children beginning in late August or early September.

I'm kidding.

If you are that organized, congratulations! Now slow down and give the rest of us a chance to catch up.

If you're like me, and haven't quite finished the grading from the last school year, and looked at today's date on the calendar with feelings of shock, wondering what the heck happened to June, relax! You're far from alone, and many homeschooling moms are in the same bind.

Novice homeschoolers sometimes think that all homeschoolers are like the handful they've met at extraordinary events or read about or even seen on television. You know, the people whose classroom would make a Yale instructor jealous, whose six-year-old is mastering deponent Latin verbs while the ten-year-old has moved on to Greek; the family where the mother has created an entirely new method of teaching math such that the three-year-old is doing differential calculus, all while the family runs a busy and successful home-based business creating and manufacturing home-tapestries for the home liturgical altar. This mom's lesson plans were all completed while the oldest child was in utero, though she admits with a giggle that she fine-tunes them incessantly (the plans, not the children)--and while the television special's camera sweeps across their immaculate home to show the eight-year-old busily crafting toys for the new baby's imminent arrival, the only Latin word you can remember, to your shame, is vomitorium.

In reality, of course, even the TV or magazine homeschooling families aren't that perfect. And a lot of us in the homeschooling trenches are ready, willing and able to admit that quite a lot of the time, we're winging it.

I order my books in mid-July, much to the consternation of curriculum providers. I write up lesson plans only a week at a time--I used to try to plan for a month or so in advance, but one good family-crippling stomach virus was all it took to make us spend the rest of a semester "catching up." I'm not as organized as I should be, and sometimes my most ambitious plans are the ones that crash and burn the most spectacularly.

And despite it all, or because of it all, my children are learning.

They read, and remember. They do interactive games or watch educational television, and somehow retain complex facts. They share interesting tidbits of information with each other, and absorb more than I could ever possibly teach them, no matter how organized or driven I was. They ask to do science experiments, and remind me to pick up the materials. So far two of them have taught themselves hand sewing with only minor instructions--and I think they grasp the whole principle of clothing construction far more than I ever did.

It isn't necessary to be an ubermom, a Superwoman, a paragon of organization, education, and talent to teach your kids at home. The most necessary quality is simply the desire and determination to do it--and the rest will fall into place, over years of practice and habit and experience and the joy of just being there to be a part of it all.

So, I haven't ordered our books or supplies yet. What's the rush? It's only the end of June.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Personal God

Over at Mark Shea's blog, there's a discussion about one of the many dismal statistics to come out from the Pew Religion Survey: the fact that only 60% of Catholics say they believe in a personal God. He links to this discussion of the matter at Intentional Disciples.

As I said in the comments at Mark's, though, I think that analyzing this statistic has some pitfalls. For one thing, as Mark alludes to, we don't know if people who self-identified as Catholic are active Catholics or people who haven't set foot in a church for a couple of decades.

But another thing is that most of us have overwhelmingly encountered the word "personal" in relation to God when a Protestant friend or acquaintance asks us, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ to be your personal Lord and Savior?"

So seeing that question on a survey may cause a reflexive moment in the mind of a cradle Catholic, where he identifies the question with Protestant Christianity (and especially Evangelical Protestant Christianity), checks the "no" box and moves on. If you were to ask him about the Three Persons of the Trinity he most likely will be able to tell you about them, and if you were to ask whether the Second Person, our Lord, would have endured His Passion and Death just for him, just for any one individual on the face of the earth, he would probably be able to give the correct affirmative.

But that means a belief in a very personal God, in a God Who loved the world enough to send His Son, and in a Son who loved us all enough to die for us, and in a Holy Spirit who loves us enough to remain with us through His Church.

It's just that Catholics don't generally put it that way. We may think about our relationship with God as very personal indeed, when we ask Him for His help in our daily lives, when we examine our consciences before confession to see with sorrow how we've offended Him, and when draw inspiration and strength from the prayers and examples of His good friends, the saints.

In fact, I've started to like the negative British term "Godbotherer" to describe someone who is religious--if my persistent habit of discussing things with God and spontaneously thanking Him for something He did two days ago or asking Him for sudden help in moments of chaos isn't "Godbothering," then I don't know what is.

So Catholics may not be all that familiar with the language of the personal God, and we may need to remedy that. But for many of us I suspect the problem is more one of semantics than reality--that we do see our relationship with God as intensely, even dramatically, personal.

Especially when we see Him, in the Eucharist. Especially when we receive Him, in the Eucharist. Especially when we adore Him, in the Eucharist.

Our relationship with God isn't just personal--it's immediate, and intimate, and tangible. "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord" isn't pious symbolism--it's an imperative and physical relationship with the One Who died to save us.

It's hard to imagine a relationship with God that is more personal than that.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Darkness Inside

It has happened before, and will happen again: a disgruntled worker enters his place of business and starts to kill people before taking his own life.

A community is left behind, grieving, to ask all the usual questions and seek in vain for the answers. Were there signs? Could something have been done? Did the shooter's girlfriend dismiss his violent threats, and if not, then why didn't she warn somebody? Why did this happen, and why did the innocent have to suffer?

Since the day that Cain in angry hate ended the life of his own brother, mankind has wrestled with these questions. What causes something to go so wrong in the mind and soul of a man, that killing people seems to be the way to solve whatever problems or ease whatever suffering or vent whatever wrath he is experiencing?

Our materialistic culture will seek materialistic answers. We will look into the man's upbringing and home life, history of any trouble with the law, violent outbursts--or sullen aloofness--and at all the sifting details of a short life.

But while some answer may be culled from all that sifting sand, at a level many people don't even admit to anymore we know that we will not find the answers to the problem of evil in such trivia.

There is a darkness at the heart of man, a darkness wholly inexplicable to the evolutionists, who can't possibly explain how man should have evolved to carry within him the seeds of his own destruction. The shooter in Kentucky was not acting out of motives of self-preservation, after all; and what possible evolutionary reason for suicidal and murderous self destruction could there be?

To the Christian, the answer isn't that difficult--man is not what he was intended to be. That shadow that can drift across his soul until all light and goodness is obscured by something so heavy and dark that it chokes off all impulses to love, kindness, peace, happiness, or joy--that tenebrous weight which crushes grace and destroys hope--it is sin. It is, moreover, Original Sin, which stained us by the actions of our first parents, who chose for us all when they chose to turn away from God and seek power at the hands of the enemy.

And that capacity for sin has weakened us; that allure of the enemy's empty promises is more appealing to us than it would ever be, had we the undarkened intellect and will our first parents enjoyed in the Garden.

Whatever the details of the case in Kentucky, disturbingly like so many other things our eyes have seen, we know that the darkness inside is not a murkiness unfamiliar to us. Though by God's grace we may be far from falling to such a horrible depth, it is no merit of our own that we have been so preserved. When we pray "Lead us not into temptation," it is this sort of trial, this kind of test, we are begging to be spared--and God hears that prayer, and places a loving hand of protection over us, to keep the shadow of evil far from our souls. May it please Him to do so always!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Family and Friend

I sometimes hear either directly or on Internet blogs and forums about how isolated some homeschooling moms can sometimes be. Perhaps they live in a rural area or a place where there are few homeschoolers; perhaps the specific circumstances and demands of their lives leave little time to seek out the companionship of like-minded homeschooling moms to share the little slings and arrows of daily misfortune with, and, by sharing, to decrease them.

This is a hard burden to carry. Our world today doesn't value motherhood in itself very much; the question "What do you do?" implies something other than the tasks associated with the caring for, raising, and even teaching of children.

The saddest stories to me are the ones where in addition to having limited contact with friends, a mom also deals with opposition from one or both sides of the family to the choice to homeschool. This can be very demoralizing, and when coupled with relative isolation or a lack of a sounding-board can lead to total homeschooling failure.

I'm one of the lucky ones. Not only do both Mr. C's family and my own fully support homeschooling, but my mom homeschooled most of my siblings and I after a certain point. My oldest sister, the only one who missed out on the homeschooling opportunity because she was already in college when my family started, is now a homeschooling mom herself, and handles the task of raising and instructing her seven boys with considerable flair and energy.

And I have one other homeschooling "sister." Actually, she's my sister-in-law, but she's very much like a sister to me, and I value the friendship we have as one of the most important things in my life.

Maybe it's because our children's ages run pretty close, or maybe it's because we live in the same town, or maybe it's because we have as many differences as similarities--for whatever reason, my sister-in-law and I have become close. We chat on the phone about the little things and the big ones, we call each other up for "direction de-coding" (you know what I mean, moms! It's those moments when even the teacher's manual seems to have been written in Swahili), and we hash over the questions of the day, from who should run our country to what color to paint a room that has the frustrating ability to tamper with paint shades every time the angle of the daylight changes.

And that kind of family friendship is important--especially so, I think, to those of us on the SAHM-homeschooling journey together. There's nothing quite like a moment of contact that involves polysyllabic conversation, commiseration over the fact that a certain religion text's workbook frequently leaves out words on the Word Search pages, the sharing of a new easy dinner idea, and the honesty and unpretentiousness you can only get from family.

My school days would be a lot longer, and my life a lot less interesting, without the friendship of my sister-in-law. She amazes me with her creativity and talents, she makes me smile when we talk, and she's generous with her time and with everything she does and is.

Some of you know her as Matilda. And let me tell you, having Matilda in my family is every bit as wonderful as you might think.

Happy birthday, dear sister!

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Significant Ommision

If you read this story, you'll read about the terrible torture of a five-year-old boy at the hands of his mother, and other women, one of whom is described as a "roommate."

This story says the woman is a "friend" of the abusive mother.

And this story goes a bit farther, calling her a "live-in girlfriend."

But only this World Net Daily story uses the "L" word, calling Starkeisha Brown a lesbian.

Now, child abuse is a terrible crime no matter who's committing it. And the fact that Brown and her lesbian girlfriend, along with a third woman who's so far just being called the "babysitter," made this young boy's life a living hell is horrible regardless of the relationship between--or among--the women.

But in any other case of parental involvement in child abuse, the media falls all over itself telling us exactly how each or both parents were involved. We've seen headlines screaming about husbands who beat their children and wives who drown them, about foster parents who abuse and about grandparents who molest.

Reading the first two articles, especially the LA Times article, the reader learns that the boy's mother was involved in this poor boy's torture--but that another woman or women were also involved, for reasons that remain ambiguous and hidden unless you seek other sources for this sad, sad story.

Why would a California newspaper, one that's been pretty celebratory of all those lesbian weddings since last week, suddenly turn coy and display reserved propriety about mentioning the lesbian relationship involved in this ugly story?

One reason, I'm sure, is because of the media's complicity in the whole gay marriage story--they can't switch from their "yay lesbians!" hat to their "uh-oh, girls behaving badly" hat without highlighting their cheerleader outfits. (HT: Some Have Hats). But another reason is that the media simply can't afford for people to start asking the tough questions now about the potential of harm to children that may or may not come in the wake of widespread gay marriage.

Lest anyone think I'm saying all gay people raising children are physically hurting those kids, I'm not, emphatically. Our Catholic Church does teach, though, that those children are being spiritually harmed by being presented with a model of the family that is completely out of line with God's plan. And while the data is hard to track, there is evidence that suggests that same-sex couples experience higher rates of domestic violence then heterosexual couples. There is no data available on whether rates of child abuse will be higher among these couples--but no one will know, if the rates end up being as hidden as the lesbian status of the partners in this current example of abuse.

The fact of the matter is that no one really cares whether gay marriage ends up hurting kids, literally or spiritually/emotionally/psychologically. Just like no one cares whether gay shacking-up contributed to the harm done to Ms. Brown's little boy. It's politically incorrect even to wonder about such a thing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

First Day of (Some)mer

It's the first day of summer, and boy is it hot here in Texas!

I did some chores around the house--emphasis on some. I vacuumed some, but not all, of the house; I folded some, but not all, of the laundry; I cleaned some part of the bathrooms, but the girls did the rest.

I'm making some pasta salad for dinner--it's almost finished. I'm sure there's some dessert around here (I know there's still some Father's Day cake).

I've been keeping busy with some things, dealing with some others, and getting frustrated or annoyed with some more.

I'm starting to think that we need to do something about the chore situation; during the school year I may have to nag the girls some of the time to check the chore chart and keep on schedule, but it seems that all our schedules have blown right out the window, and we're having some trouble keeping up with the daily basics.

I think we need some balance, and maybe some focus. We may have to find some more activities for the girls to keep them occupied during these long, hot afternoons; while I don't mind letting them spend some time on the computer or playing other electronic games, I do have some problems with the notion of too much time spent on either. And as for the television--well, after some unfortunate indulgence in that arena I made it clear that some occasional video watching would be all right, but they had to find something else to do most of the time (I suggested some reading; I always do!).

Sometimes I love summer, finding it relaxing and freeing. But sometimes I forget that even though summer has come there are still dentist appointments and roof replacements and birthday plans and follow-up cavity filling appointments and follow up roof leak fixes and inspections and the nice man who came out and made a DSL adjustment of sorts and the person who still has to come out to confirm whether the repair to our a/c someone else recommended really needs to be done and...and...

Sometimes things get so hectic and out of control you almost forget it's summer. But some golden light filters in through the blinds, and some joy in a cold supper and pink-cheeked children reveling in even some outdoor play will be the reminder that, yes, after all, summer is sometimes wonderful.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hope and Sensitivity

I appreciate the discussion going on in the comment box below yesterday's post about the difference between despair, gloom and doom, and true Christian hope. Naturally, I agree with those commenters who think that simply discussing the reality of events and situations in the world does not mean an abandonment of the virtue of hope. But as Christians we know that our hope is neither in this world nor in the things of this world. God has not promised in any sense to shield His followers from the disturbing and painful consequences of the decline of the City of Man, but only to lead them securely to Him at the end of their earthly lives, should they remain faithful.

But I do understand that for some people, discussion of the sad situation of our culture is a source of temptation to despair. Though on one level they may both believe and accept that God could indeed allow hardships of all manner to impact them and their lives, they really do have a difficult time separating out their fear of such terrible things from their trust in Him. And I want to be clear: I respect that. We don't choose our crosses, but are chosen to bear them; and while I have no particular problem myself remaining cheerful--if ready for action--in the face of bad news like we've seen from California all week, I know that others really will become depressed or weighed down by such things.

I do believe, however, that it is important not to confuse God's providence with the need for man's vigilance, that is, to think that because God can do all things we need not do anything. God is, indeed, in charge, but He allows sinful man to do what he will, and when this is multiplied into the kind of cascade of evil that has begun to spill down upon our country, we can't pretend that we won't be needing some umbrellas. We must do something; if we can't take up the cause through some kind of action, or speech, or writing, or public presence of disagreement, we can all join in the first action of Christians faced with the kind of danger we are now facing--we can pray.

Some of us will be called, as a professor I heard once put it, to "get up off our knees and do something about it." But the call to active involvement against the evils of our day will not be issued to all, nor will it be the same for all. Some of us may find ourselves in the position to defend the Church's teachings in some wide arena; others, only with family or friends who attack us for it; still others, peacefully within our own homes as we raise and educate our children in our faith and in God's ways. But we are all fighting the same fight.

It is our hope for eternal happiness that gives us the strength to fight, whatever our particular battle may be. But as the oft-repeated saying of Burke's has it, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." We can't afford to pretend that there is nothing wrong, that as long as we can live in relative freedom and some sort of peace, however uneasy, with our neighbors, all is really well.

God is our strength. He alone knows how much He wants us to know about, or to do, or to contend against. He has planned out our lives for us, and we serve Him by following His will for our lives. We should not force anyone to take action, even against these ills; but we must never pretend the ills are not real, or that we are not required to beseech our Heavenly Father both for swift and just resolutions of all these matters, but that He will reveal to each of us in due time what it is we ought to be doing about any or all of it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Social Decay

What happens to a society when the Catholic Church, and eventually all of orthodox Christianity, is slowly forced out of any active role in the social structure or culture?

We may be about to find out.

In one sense, we can look at past examples of militantly secular societies for a clue: we can take a peek behind the old Iron Curtain, or consider the suffering of the Church in present-day China, or look to dozens of other examples of places where Marxist ideology took over and forced the Church underground, at least temporarily. What we see from those examples is hardly encouraging: the deterioration of the human rights and freedoms of all the citizens, not just the Christian ones, the rise of totalitarianism, the poisoning of the public life and culture so that everything even associated with Christianity becomes not just taboo, but dangerous for its possessor, and so on.

But, it is often objected, that's hardly what we're talking about here. Christians, Catholic and other, will not be forced to stop practicing their religions, and priests or ministers won't be forced to marry gay couples. No one will be silenced or persecuted, and there won't be any "ripple effect" on the rest of society, either. Right?

Right?

The truth is that we don't really know. In one sense, the rise of Communist governments was like the swift strike of a deadly snake, that injected its fatal venom into the body politic, and initiated the death of the state which they overtook; the cultures of the states they infested became deathly ill, and even those which have today escaped Communism are struggling to overcome its dire effects: poverty, immorality, extremely low birthrates, the despair and apathy of citizens inured to hopelessness, and the vacuum left behind by the Church, which is struggling to re-establish itself and become once again a vital point of the life and culture of the people. I'm thinking mainly of Russia, here, but nearly any formerly Communist country is in a similar bind--the people are once again free, but free for what, and to do what? They have forgotten, though the sight of an icon or the faint sound of monks chanting may stir remembrance.

The cultural decline we're experiencing in America is different, as godless Communism differs from godless Materialism. But with each new strike at our former shared Judeo-Christian culture's values and mores, Materialism grows beyond mere consumerism to a deadly philosophy which admits to no reality save the empirical reality of the senses, and seeks to remove from all laws, ethics, and cultural values anything which can't be physically experienced, seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted, or in any way known or believed outside of this very limited physical reality. A snake may destroy with a venomous bite, or it may squeeze its victim slowly to death; and this second type of destruction is, I think, what we are experiencing now.

Contraception's widespread use and acceptance put asunder forever the automatic connection between sex and reproduction; if we are mere physical beings, why not see sex as a means of temporary pleasure, of no more meaning or purpose than the scratching of an itch? Reproduction itself became a mere collection of physical processes, such that an increasing number of people see nothing at all wrong with creating several embryos outside the mother's womb, sometimes with the sperm of a man she'll never even meet--all so a baby who is wanted in the same way a new pair of shoes are wanted can be implanted in her womb; she is more landlady than mother, and perhaps not even that, should a surrogate be deemed necessary. And if life can be created so cavalierly, why can it not be ended as well? So abortion on demand was imposed upon the people wholly, at the time, against their will; and the continued weakening of the bonds of love and trust necessary for the sustaining of the family were the result of this hellish practice. But if we can kill humans in the womb, why not kill other humans whom we don't want around? Euthanasia is the evil twin of abortion, for once life is seen as the sum total of its physical experiences then the ability to experience the world unimpeded by age or handicap becomes the default definition of human life. To this we must add ESCR, which will cure the handicapped or ill at the price of an innocent human being--but the one human may be able to leave behind an illness which impedes his experiential reality, and the other human is tiny and invisible and not yet capable of experiences he/she can ponder or savor or remember, so he/she is the more expendable of the two.

Against all of this madness has been raised the voice of the Church, though sadly the strong roar of truth coming from Rome has often weakened into an ineffectual bleat by the time some of our bishops get to it; and some of them seem to have perpetual laryngitis, too--but more on that another time. But now we approach a new frontier.

The madness that is "gay marriage" is so far limited to Massachusetts and California in this country, but that will undoubtedly change, barring a miracle. When it does change, the anti-discrimination policies already in existence will have the effect of defining anyone who believes that two men or two women ought not marry, or that such a couple is intrinsically and inherently different not only physically but morally as well from a heterosexual married couple, as a bigot.

The Catholic Church will be considered by the State to be a flawed and bigoted institution. Any ties between Church charities or organizations and state ones will have to be severed; many organizations will suffer the fate of Catholic Charities' adoption services, which did not receive state money but which had to be licensed by the state to continue operating. If Church charities, ministries, schools, hospitals etc. do not agree to abide by federal and state anti-discrimination policies which will in many cases include a push for overt acceptance by Catholic officials and Catholic employees of Catholic organizations of gay marriage, they will be shut down. In other words, Catholics will be forced to choose between their Church's teachings and their participation in public activities.

This will also be true for many, many Christians, too, as I outlined in yesterday's post. But what effect will the silencing and marginalizing of those of us whose disagreement with gay marriage is not mere opinion, but deeply held religious belief stemming from our understanding of morality and the dignity of the human person?

In the first place, a precedent will be set that religious beliefs, even those held by large and ancient Churches, are less important to preserve or allow in freedom than those things which can be physically experienced, such as abortion, euthanasia, or gay marriage.

In the second place, equating the longstanding religious beliefs of millions of Christians in America (and the world) with bigotry will have the effect of marginalizing those beliefs, and the people who hold them. While our Constitution forbids a religious test for public office, for instance, how comfortable will political parties be running "bigoted" candidates for public office?

In the third place, cultural references to or recognitions of Christianity will begin to contain an asterisk, to the effect that the religion behind these events does not live up to the standards of modernity, further weakening Christianity's effect on society.

The more Christianity is weakened as a social force, the more society as a whole is weakened--or, perhaps more accurately, replaced with a different social/cultural structure that does not acknowledge in any way the link between the Christian faith and a free and democratic society.

But that link is unmistakable. Societies and cultures prior to Christianity had no problem with such evils as infanticide and the mistreatment of women and the poor, with huge chasms between the powerful and the weak, with no middle class or middle ground, with no inherent respect for the dignity of the human person, with no limits to the raw power of the state, and with no real hope of change or improvement from the standpoint of any but the wealthy and well-connected. There were no discussions of the morality of preemptive warfare; taking out your potential enemy before he was strong enough to turn against you was an act of prudence, and the consequential suffering of the innocent would be met with a shrug; why should it matter? Similarly, other moral and ethic notions which the materialists among us believe are self-evident principles are not: they are Christian principles, or perhaps more accurately Judeo-Christian ones; they represent a certain type of culture and society, and when you have successfully eradicated that culture and that society you will find that notions like "Love your enemy" or "Do unto others as you would have them do to you," have been labeled fool's ideas and pipe dreams, and have vanished in a Randian/Darwinian synthesis that rewards only material success, and punishes those foolish enough to believe that any other good exists.

America was not founded on the principle "Every man/woman/LBGT for him/her/it/them selves!" But that will be the only principle left standing when the Christian roots of our nation's ethical ideas have been rotted away like the erstwhile flesh of a long-dead skeleton.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Reaping the Whirlwind

In yesterday's post I made a reference to the social and cultural destruction about to be unleashed on this country by the push to legalize gay marriage; nobody thinks the homosexual population will be very long satisfied with just Massachusetts and California, which means that what happened yesterday in California is just the point of the spear, the camel's nose under the tent, the first raindrops of the approaching hurricane. (I offer several phrases in the hopes that we can allow the poor frog to stay away from pots of tepid water, as I've encountered that analogy with increasing frequency, each time explained in tedious detail as if the reader has never heard of it before--but I digress).

In the comments below yesterday's post Irenaeus of Retractiones, whom I admire tremendously, asked if I'd elaborate a little on the idea of the nascent social and cultural destruction. I'm happy to do that, but if you all don't mind, I'd like to approach the subject a little differently than I have before.

Imagine an American Christian family in the not-too-distant future. Like many families today, they're unhappy with the public school their children attend, but can't afford private schools, either. They've thought about homeschooling, but since the passage of the Educational Diversity Act of 20--, they know that even homeschoolers must use "approved diverse" textbooks and materials, which include units on homosexual families, pictures of gay men and lesbians with the children they are currently raising, and even "sex ed" materials that include discussions of heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender, and other "options" which the child is encouraged to explore in order to discover "hyser's" orientation ("hyser," of course, being the new gender-neutral singular possessive pronoun which has replaced "his" and "hers," in much the same way that "shehei" has replaced he/she). So although homeschooling would avoid some of the troubles of the public school, it wouldn't avoid them all; while homeschoolers initially fought this Act, they lost when its proponents repeatedly compared them to people who only want to see white couples in textbooks, and questioning whether "known bigots" should have the right to teach their children at home in the first place.

The children go to school. One of the girls has a married lesbian teacher this year; the teacher has a wedding picture of herself and her spouse on her desk, and talks openly to the children in the classroom about her spouse's pregnancy. The Christian family has already had to answer questions about this, as their daughter wanted to know how two women could make a baby; she also asked questions about why Mom decided to marry a boy instead of a girl. Though the family did their best to explain their values, their daughter is very angry at them, because when she repeated the family conversation in school she was sent to the principal, who assigned her to mandatory counseling to, as he put it, "counteract your parents' heterosexist/heteronormative bigotry." From the school's point of view the counseling, which is putting a rift between the daughter and her parents and causing the child to reject the Christian viewpoint they have tried to instill in her, is working perfectly.

The father goes to work. On his way he stops to pick up a co-worker, who kisses his male spouse at the door. The father has been assigned to carpool with this co-worker because of the company's new green energy policy; this particular co-worker was assigned to his carpool, the father suspects, because his boss knows that the father is a committed Christian whose church lost its tax-exempt status over their refusal to stop preaching against gay marriage and encouraging people to vote for a Constitutional amendment to stop it once the Supreme Court made it the law of the land. So far the father has kept quiet about his religious beliefs despite the fact that the co-worker openly calls him a "breeder" and insults his Christian faith at every opportunity; the father knows it's a setup to get him fired, ever since the company found out about his religion.

The mother, who stays at home with the youngest child, a toddler, goes out to get the mail. There are advertisements and catalogs who have adopted the country's new diversity guidelines by enthusiastically incorporating all sorts of "couples" into their ads; a man in a dress is comically depicted in an ad for a laundry detergent for "delicate undergarments," while a wedding caterer's ad proclaims, "We accept all clients, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, as directed by state anti-discrimination law." Before her marriage the mother once worked for her parents' bridal shop, which went out of business when a lesbian couple threatened to sue her parents for discrimination. In fact, her parents had only informed the couple that it wouldn't be possible to get the dresses both "brides" wanted in the extremely short time period they demanded; but the threat of a lawsuit was the last straw for her sad parents, already demoralized by the conflict between their work life and their Christian beliefs.

Another piece of mail is a curt letter informing the family that their son's Scout troop is disbanding. Only a handful of Scout troops remained active in America anyway, and now that their troop was being forced to hire a gay scout leader to prove that they were in compliance with anti-discrimination policies the troop had decided to cease to exist, instead. A rival organization, the "Gay Scouts," dedicated to the self-discovery of gay or questioning boys between the ages of eight and eighteen, was flourishing in terms of grant money and public funding (though their membership remained rather low).

At least the Christian book ordered on the Internet had come with the mail; most small Christian bookstores, including Catholic ones, had closed up shop rather than face endless legal harassment by gay activist groups insisting that the shops promoted "hate speech" and ought to be shut down. Since the pressure was growing for America to conform with European and Canadian standards for the definition of "hate speech," the bookstores might have been wise--even the publishing companies might soon be sued out of existence, if the redefinition of "hate speech" proceeded the way gay activists wanted it to.

This fictional family of the future no longer has a television, as the gay programming and advertisements have become more and more graphic; they no longer go to movies, because even in children's movies at least one gay film will be among the previews; they avoid most public events, because public decency laws have been struck down as "unconstitutional" in light of the Court's decisions on gay marriage and the right of people to define the pursuit of happiness however they want. They pay increasingly high taxes for the privilege of being defined as "bigots" and "haters" because of their religious beliefs; one daughter has already started to agree with society, and may avail herself of the "right" to leave her family and be raised by strangers, which exists due to the adoption of the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child.

And this is a relatively benign view of the likely future of a post-gay marriage America.

We are venturing into uncharted territories, but what we do know from every other state or country that has legalized gay marriage is that religious people suffer the loss of rights and freedoms at an alarming rate, all to make us conform to the prevailing social view that there is nothing at all different or special about the heterosexual married couple and the children who are their gift from God. Although God Himself is the architect of the family, although it pleased Him to make us male and female, and give us the command to be fruitful and multiply, our hubristic and selfish generation sees no harm at all in tampering with that Divine ordaining and command, and to raise up as an equal to the family a sinful disordered image of it which is as perverse as it is untrue. Satan can make nothing new; he can only bend and distort what was intended to be good into something ugly and destructive; and the destruction may be much, much worse than I've described here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Thing One and Thing Two

Barring an extremely unlikely court action, today gay couples in California will be able to buy marriage licenses and gain access to civil marriage in that state.

They won't really be married, of course, any more than the plural wives of the FLDS are really married to their husbands (except for wife number one), or any more than children who dress up and drag a stuffed dog down the "aisle" set up in the living room are married, or any more than various adulterers or serial marriage pretenders are really married. They'll be as married as poor Anne Boleyn was to Henry VIII--not at all, and probably not for long, the vast majority of them. They won't suddenly and magically radiate social acceptability for their perverse and twisted lifestyles or deviant behaviors; they'll be just as abnormal and perverted tomorrow as they are today. But they're going to get to pretend, for a little bit, that sticking two little groom-figures or bride-figures on a cake makes any kind of reality other than a sad, sad one.

And just like their Massachusetts counterparts, they'll be a tiny number, a fraction of a fraction of the population. Most gay couples didn't rush to Canada or Massachusetts or Europe for a gay wedding, and I expect the same situation to unfold in California: a rush to the altar for the most activist of couples--and a disproportionate number of them will be lesbians--followed by a slacking off and a slowdown to the point where it becomes obvious that the vast majority of people engaging in homosexual activity have no desire to be married to their current companion(s); this article suggests as much. In fact, without the lesbian component to this whole debacle gay marriage would still probably be a figment of a diseased imagination; but lesbians are known for their rush to "commitment": this article references a longstanding lesbian joke which allegedly asks "What does a lesbian take along on a second date? A U-Haul!"

And since we all know what happens when people rush into marriage, it seems pretty obvious that soon a "gay divorcee" won't necessarily be a merry person at all. Instead of somehow "helping" the marriage crisis in our nation, gay marriage is likely to add to our societal dysfunction in ways that will make ordinary divorces seem like relatively sane and quiet affairs.

Those of us who are Catholic, and other Christians who share our beliefs about the sanctity of marriage, might wonder whether any of this is really going to matter. A civil marriage license is barely worth the paper it's printed on, anyway--so long as our rights to religious freedom are protected, should we care that our culture is lurching forward into its own dissolution?

The thing is, gay marriage isn't just changing marriage for them. It's changing it for the rest of us as well.

Parent contact forms, such as those issued by schools, camps, daycares, and so on, in many places now list "Parent One" and "Parent Two" instead of "Father" and "Mother." We can't cause people who are by nature incapable of reproduction to experience hurt feelings, now can we? But the rest of us have lost the right to be considered our children's mother or father.

Here is a link to an old marriage license application for the State of California (I've linked to the HTML rather than the PDF file). Notice the areas that say "Groom" and "Bride"? Well, guess what: the new marriage forms now say "Party A" and "Party B," which means the rest of those getting married in California have lost the right to be acknowledged as a bride or a groom. And someday we'll all have lost that right.

Remember old-fashioned marriage ceremonies, the ones that ended with "I now pronounce you man and wife,"? Well, in California from now on:

"Here's the wording recommendation from the County Clerks Assn. of California: "By virtue of the authority vested in me, as a Deputy Commissioner of Marriages for the County of XXX, I now pronounce this couple united in marriage under the laws of the state of California.""

Gosh, how romantic. Not.

In this giant game of "Let's pretend that two men or two women make exactly the same kind of couple as a man and a woman, well, except for that tiny inconvenient thing about having at least some possibility of reproducing, but we enlightened moderns have decided that breeding has nothing whatsoever to do with marriage anyway, which is all about love, even the kind of love that's going to condemn Party A and Party B to an eternity of suffering in hellfire, if you're still so medieval as to believe in any of that anyway, in which case we now get to call you a bigot and silence you at every opportunity," those of us representing the sanity of the status quo of untold human centuries are the losers. We're exactly like the hapless children in Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, who watch horror-stricken as the Cat's wild and uncontrollable friends, Thing One and Thing Two, destroy their house with their mad games--only unlike the Cat in the story, the cultural forces at work here have no intention and no hope of a near-miraculous clean-up before the bill for what we have wrought comes due--and then, believe me, there'll be hell to pay.

California marriage licenses might as well abandon the terminology of "Party A" and "Party B" in favor of "Thing One" and "Thing Two." The little nod in recognition to the social and cultural destruction they're about to unleash would be at least be comparatively honest.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I'll See Your "Ineffable" And Raise You A "Sublime"

Bishop Donald Trautman is in the news again, for repeating his contention that John and Mary Catholic are too dimwitted to understand polysyllabic words. Many Catholic blogs have already commented on this, with palpable humor, irascible wit, and a touch of deja vu.

I asked our oldest girl, Kitten, if she knew what "ineffable" meant. She didn't, but took a shot at defining it before I gave her a quick definition. I then asked her what she would do if the word were used at Mass, and she didn't understand it. "I'd look it up, or ask you," was her response. Then I mentioned Bishop Trautman's problem with the word, and asked her whether she agreed that the words at Mass should reflect common speech. She was indignant; her choice of words surprised me: "That would be an insult to the Presence! Using higher words makes us think of higher things."

Kitten is twelve years old.

If the fictional "John and Mary Catholic" have less of an understanding of the sublime realities of our faith than a twelve-year-old, then we Catholics are in serious trouble, indeed; and it's not the sort of trouble you can fix by taking the current language used at Mass and making it intelligible to the average four-year-old.

The truth of the matter is that when we talk about God, we are touching upon realities and mysteries that are already beyond human comprehension. We may be more familiar with words like "Trinity" or "Incarnation" or "Paraclete," than we are with "ineffable," but the familiarity we have with the words themselves doesn't alter the fact that the wonders these words convey in our poor human speech transcends our reason, our senses, and our experiences as the heat at the heart of the sun transcends a wood fire.

And we do not go to Mass to "share our experiences" or "celebrate ourselves" or for any other purely human reason. We go to prostrate ourselves in worship of the Almighty God, to beseech Him to forgive our transgressions and to grant us prompt succor in our needs, to immerse ourselves in humble prayer as the propitiatory sacrifice on the gibbet of the Cross is re-presented in an unbloody way upon the holy altar by the power conferred upon the priest at his ordination, and then, to take and eat Christ's Body and to receive Him Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the miraculous reality that is called transubstantiation. There is nothing ordinary or everyday about this experience, which is available to us every day and which we are commanded to be present for each Sunday as one of the precepts of the Church.

Over the past forty or so years, Catholics have been hard-pressed to remember that this experience, this entering into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the purpose of uniting our prayers of praise, penitence, petition, propitiation, and thanksgiving, is the reason we go to Mass on Sunday. I wouldn't be surprised if quite a lot of Catholics thought that the purpose of the Mass was to take turns at the various "lay ministries," announce special events in the lives of parishioners, and be affirmed in our okayness both by the understanding pastor (who tells us we're all doing splendidly and never embarrasses us by mentioning any of those controversial sins like contraception or abortion or homosexual activity) and by the sheer genial neighborly relaxed country-barbecue atmosphere of it all. Of course, there is a moment during the Mass when we all fall silent and look smilingly at the altar, during the highest and most important part, the Rite of Summoning the Children for Dismissal So They Can March Out in Procession To Go Color Things; but after that we can sidle back in our pews, tap our feet to the catchy music, and listen for the sounds of coffee and doughnuts being set up in the church hall.

Of course, there is one encouraging thing about the bishops' prolonged fight about the translations of the prayers--it means that the bishops have read them. Bishop Lynch is even quoted at the above link thus: "“It’s a good thing that we’re supposed to pause before the orations,” Lynch joked, “because we’ll have to gather enough breath to pray the prayers.”" Which, of course, means that the bishops have at least heard of the rubrics before, as well. Given the predilection in many dioceses for the ad-libbing of all prayers and a "make it up as we go along" style of liturgical celebration, it's unaccountably reassuring to know that the American Bishops at least realize that they're supposed to stick to the texts of the prayers, and to pause (and bow and kneel and so forth) at various places during the Holy Sacrifice.

So the fact that several bishops appear to be bent out of shape by the new translations would almost seem to mean that they intend to instruct the priests in their dioceses to stick to the actual words of the prayers at Mass, instead of indulging in off-the-cuff prayer and commentary as so many are wont to do. Of course, it would be much wiser to pray the Mass as the Mass is supposed to be prayed, because if the God we believe in is Who He says He is, offending Him by such grotesque disobedience within what is the highest act of worship we can offer to Him on this earth seems to be a chancy game to play.

That we would ever foolishly allow such offenses against His August Majesty or fail to acknowledge just how sublime and ineffable our God is for the sake of our own human desire to reshape everything to suit our lowest and most selfish impulses is nothing more than a gamble, and it's not a gamble the bishops of this country ought to be taking.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, Hatchick!

Today we celebrate the birthday of our youngest daughter, affectionately nicknamed "Hatchick" for her love of hats! She wears hats to Mass on many Sundays, wears hats outside to play, and sometimes wears them "just because." Her sisters admire her fashion sense and her ability to put together cute outfits, complete with hats!

She has a small menagerie of stuffed creatures who live on her bed and all around the room she shares with Bookgirl--she has always loved stuffed pigs, also loves stuffed elephants, and has a camel and a rhinoceros which St. Nicholas brought to her over the course of a couple of Christmases. She is planning to visit the zoo today and to make a special stop to see the penguins, so I won't be unduly surprised if a stuffed penguin comes home with us to live among her ever-growing collection of unusual critters.

Hatchick loves to do many different things. She's an avid reader, and among her current favorites are the old-fashioned "Cherry Ames" nurse books which have recently been re-released. She's also quite good at games, especially video games, and is more likely to beat her father at several of the games she and her sisters play with him than either of the other two girls are. Hatchick is an especially good "driver" and wins video racing games with ease. She can give her sisters a run for their money at non-electronic games, too, like chess, checkers, and card games--but she has learned to be a good sport on the (rare) occasions when she does get defeated. She loves to ride her scooter outdoors and fly a mini-kite in the back yard; a good day for Hatchick is one where she never had to be still for very long!

Despite her competitive spirit Hatchick has a very tender heart. She can't help but find certain pieces of classical music to be "sad" even if that wasn't necessarily the composer's intention; a frown or pout on anyone else's face usually makes her run to deliver a cheering hug, and she hates for someone to be feeling blue. Her temper may be on the quick side, but her desire to make amends and be at peace with everybody is even quicker than her temper.

Though she's had a whole decade to be the baby of the family, she'd love for God to send her a little brother or sister, because "babies are soooooo cuuuuute!!!" I hope her wishes in this regard will be answered, but in the meantime I'm happy to celebrate the tenth birthday of my 'littlest' girl, whose cheery smile and mischievous antics bring delight to my heart.

Happy birthday, Hatchick! May God bless you as he did me, when he picked you out to be an important part of our family!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Vice, Dressed Up as Virtue

Most anyone who survived high school literature has heard of the notion of the tragic flaw. While this term is defined in different ways, the main idea is that the protagonist of a tragedy has within his character or personality some particularly deep, if hidden, weakness that ultimately leads to his ruin.

One of the more interesting college literature professors I had disagreed with this notion, especially as it was applied to Shakespeare's tragic heroes. He argued that what led to the downfall of most of Shakespeare's protagonists was not a flaw at all, but rather a "tragic" excess of virtue--that what they really wanted was something that in itself was a good thing, but that ultimately given their stations in life, responsibilities etc. this good thing they desired led inexorably to their undoing.

While I appreciated this more original and unusual view, ultimately I came to reject it. It is not Romeo and Juliet's "virtuous" desire to marry rather than settle for some less honorable connection that condemns them--it is the vice of lying by omission, when they can't admit that they are married and thus keep Juliet from being forced into a second, and bigamous, marriage to Paris. Further, the Elizabethan audience would have understood that the secret marriage of Juliet to a man who was the son of her father's enemy, conducted without the permission or approval of either family, was in itself a vice, not a virtue. In any case, the secret and ultimately tragic stratagems they attempt to employ to keep Juliet from having to explain just why she can't marry Paris are the direct cause of their doom.

Similarly, King Lear is not motivated by great love for his daughters, but great pride in forcing them to prove their love for him, and great blindness to the faults of his older two daughters and the goodness of the youngest; Hamlet is not excessively virtuous in wanting justice for his father's murder, but is driven simultaneously by the desire for vengeance and his own vacillating nature; Othello isn't excessively in love with his wife, but excessively and morbidly afraid that he will lose her affection, and thus plagued by the vice of jealousy; and as for Macbeth--well, it's hard to see how anyone could put a positive spin on his bloodthirsty ambition.

To me, the very fact that tragic heroes often cloak their inmost motives in trappings of virtue says something about the nature of vice that is worth reflection. Evil and sin are part of the human condition, since the Fall--but Our Lord Himself was comparatively gentle with tax collectors, prostitutes, the woman at the well, the woman taken in adultery; and He was comparatively harsh on the scribes and Pharisees, who cloaked their vices in a cloud of false piety and vain show, and whom He called hypocrites, whitened sepulchers, and broods of vipers.

Parents know that the child who comes to them openly and sadly confessing to a childish fault or sin is easy to forgive, while the child who tries to argue about his conduct, blames others for leading him into the error, or makes the case that really, he was trying to do good, when through no fault of his own things went wrong--is much harder to excuse. I think we readily recognize this fault, the tendency to dress vice up as virtue in order to get away with it, because it is a fault that dogs at our heels, and whispers foul temptation into our own ears, throughout our lives.

We are tempted again and again to tell ourselves that God understands, that He'll overlook this sin or bad habit or wrong behavior, which really isn't bad at all. We try to convince ourselves that this thing we're attached to is really okay for us, for now, for our particular circumstances. We put layers of finery around our pet vices, and clothe, for instance, untruthfulness as a form of charity, rash judgment as a type of "good advice," laziness as a habit of contemplation, failure to discipline our children as respecting their independent spirits, unkindness as being realistic, and so on.

The most dangerous aspect of dressing vice up as virtue is that we fail to see it for what it really is. It is comparatively easy to see open wickedness for the wrong that it is; but when vice puts on the garments of virtue the destructive consequences may take a while to recognize.

Perhaps I can illustrate that point with a story. Suppose a wealthy and influential Catholic man--we'll call him Hal--has a wife and daughter, and is open about wanting more children; but, sadly, Hal is known to be unfaithful. Despite his reputation for infidelity Hal has lots of friends and followers; it's all too true that vice is often overlooked when a person has enough money and power to make what would seem unforgivable conduct in one person acceptable in another.

A young married woman, whom we'll call Mary, moves to Hal's city and becomes one of his many mistresses. Her conduct is notorious, and there are rumors that at least one of her children has been fathered by Hal. Mary doesn't pretend to be virtuous, and neither does Hal, but everyone around them keeps up appearances, even if they all, Hal's wife included, know the real story.

Then Mary's sister comes to visit, and decides to live in the same town, too. Soon it's obvious that Hal is enamored of Mary's sister, and it seems inevitable that she, too, is going to end up like her sister, the mistress of a rich and powerful man. But Mary's sister, Anne, is steadfast--she is a good girl, she is not going to lose either her virtue or her reputation, she won't play along.

If that were as far as it went, we could admire Anne's virtue while clucking at Mary's lack of it. But Anne isn't really virtuous--she is ambitious. She isn't willing to settle for being yet another of Hal's girlfriends; she has her eyes on his wife's position, and wants that for herself. If she meant her refusals seriously, she would leave town to avoid Hal's company; instead, she is constantly with him, and just as constant in her refusal to become his mistress.

Anne's greed, her ambition, her willingness to inflame Hal with desire while insisting on marriage--knowing that he has a wife already!--are nothing like virtue. But they are effective; Hal divorces his wife, leaves the Catholic faith and his family--and that's the least of his actions.

Mary, the 'wicked' sister, may eventually have repented; in any case, she became a widow, then married a nobody, and lived the remainder of her life very quietly, far from the city and from Hal.

But Anne, the 'good' sister, caused by her actions so much evil that it's hard to contemplate; and though she got what she wanted, the position as Hal's wife and all the power and authority this implies, it didn't last long: just less than three years after her wedding day, Anne Boleyn was executed by her husband Henry VIII's orders, to make room for his new interest, Jane Seymour, whom Henry married only eleven days after Anne's execution.

There is nothing good about a vice dressed up as a virtue. Real virtue has no hidden agendas, no ulterior motives; real virtue doesn't need excuses or thrive on deceit or vain ambitions. Real virtue is of God, and as such has nothing to do with evil, which God hates in all its forms. We can never fool Him into thinking our actions are good when we know, deep inside, that they are not; and trying to fool others into thinking us good even when we know we are lacking in true goodness will ultimately lead to our unmasking and humiliation--if not in this life, then most assuredly in the next.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Till the Fat Lady Sings

I hate to link to the New York Times two days in succession, but do go and read this thought provoking article about famed operatic soprano Deborah Voigt, and her return to a role from which she was once fired for being too heavy to wear the little black dress that was supposed to be her costume:

To recap the controversy: After Ms. Voigt was fired from the production, she kept quiet about it for several months. When she finally went public, her story provoked infuriated reactions from opera buffs around the world and widespread coverage in the mainstream news media. A leading dramatic soprano, especially acclaimed for her singing of Strauss and Wagner, had been fired for being too fat: a blatant case of discrimination.

But the incident prodded her to action. It was during the very period when she was scheduled to appear in “Ariadne” that she underwent gastric bypass surgery, an operation subsidized by the substantial fees Covent Garden was contractually obliged to pay her. The procedure produced significant results. Ms. Voigt, having noticeably shed pounds, talked about her surgery, and her struggles with obesity since adolescence, for a New York Times article in March 2005.

Ms. Voigt, like many women, has had a lifelong weight problem, and her courage in tackling it, perhaps prompted by this incident, is truly commendable. But while most of us would agree that the results of this situation have been good for Ms. Voigt's physical health, career, self-image, and willingness to take a leading role in talking about the problem of children's obesity, there remains the disquieting fact that one of the things that can lead to poor self-image and weight problems was the initial cause of her new direction: that is, that she was judged, and excluded, solely because of her weight and appearance.

Her ability to sing was not affected by the extra weight she was carrying; in fact, some opera buffs insist that the warm, rich tones of her voice that were her signature style before the gastric bypass surgery which began her impressive weight loss are now gone. Ms. Voigt does admit that she has had to adjust vocally to her new figure, and to a different sort of resonance that her slimmer body produces. Granted, no one would want a woman to remain unhealthily fat for the sake of a beautiful voice, but there was no question that Ms. Voigt could sing the role in "Ariadne auf Naxos" without losing the weight--that she was fired in the same way that a business tycoon a few decades ago might fire a secretary who had added pounds to a once-curvaceous figure. Her ability to sing wasn't enough, by itself--she also had to look the part, and that meant she had to be slender.

We don't have to look very far to see what a double standard that is. Would anyone have ever told the late Luciano Pavarotti that he was too hefty to be a believable romantic lead, that if he wanted to play, say, Rodolfo or Manrico with any sort of verisimilitude he would have to lose some weight?

The reality is that weight is a complicated problem for women, a blend of cultural expectations, physical standards, genetics, emotional issues, comparisons, and stereotypes. The woman who is heavy faces the reality that she will never be good enough--even if she's an acclaimed operatic soprano!--until she is also thin; the woman who is thin struggles to stay that way, and agonizes over the appearance of the slightest bulge around the waist or hips, or the smallest increase in the numbers on the scale.

No matter how thin she appears, a woman is likely to answer in the affirmative to the question, "Do you think you should lose some weight?" and the number in her mind may be anywhere from five pounds on up. Few women are ever in a state of being satisfied with their appearances, and the sheer amount of money spent each year on weight loss meals, products, equipment, support groups, and so on boggles the mind.

And so an incident like the one described in the Times article is less than encouraging; our society still puts more value on a woman's physical appearance than on her other talents and qualifications, even when we're talking about a golden-voiced operatic soprano who could clearly sing the role for which she was hired--even if the costume choice needed to be changed. Though I'm glad for Ms. Voigt's sake that she has found better health and greater happiness by tackling the problem of her obesity, it would be more gratifying to reflect on her success had it been her idea, not a decision prompted by someone else's shallow and superficial notion of what women should look like. But then, will women ever be able to seek health without identifying that with slenderness, or lose weight more for their own reasons than under the pressure of society's tendency to judge and condemn the overweight?

Someday, maybe. But not till the fat lady sings.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Doctors and Drug Companies

From the New York Times comes this troubling story: child psychiatry experts who pioneered the diagnosis of bipolar disorders in children and who recommended the use of powerful antipsychotic drugs in pediatric patients failed to disclose just how much money they were being paid by the drug companies:
In 2000, for instance, Dr. Biederman received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study in children Strattera, an Eli Lilly drug for attention deficit disorder. Dr. Biederman reported to Harvard that he received less than $10,000 from Lilly that year, but the company told Mr. Grassley that it paid Dr. Biederman more than $14,000 in 2000, Mr. Grassley’s letter stated [...]

In the past decade, Dr. Biederman and his colleagues have promoted the aggressive diagnosis and drug treatment of childhood bipolar disorder, a mood problem once thought confined to adults. They have maintained that the disorder was underdiagnosed in children and could be treated with antipsychotic drugs, medications invented to treat schizophrenia.

Other researchers have made similar assertions. As a result, pediatric bipolar diagnoses and antipsychotic drug use in children have soared. Some 500,000 children and teenagers were given at least one prescription for an antipsychotic in 2007, including 20,500 under 6 years of age, according to Medco Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefit manager.

The Times article points out that the diagnosis of these types of disorders in very young patients remains a subject of controversy, and that the drugs in question are known to have more severe and lasting side effects when used by children. However, the Harvard researchers mentioned in the article were operating under an "honor system" of reporting income from drug companies; few safeguards are put in place to make sure that income from sources that might show a conflict of interest are openly disclosed.

One of the doctors the Times article mentioned is Dr. Joseph Biederman, who is on the staff at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. In addition to his work with bipolar children, Dr. Biederman is known for work with children with ADHD as well. An article on the MassGeneral website quotes Dr. Biederman as saying the following:

“Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential so that ADHD can be managed, giving patients and parents a sense of control and peace of mind,” emphasizes Dr. Biederman. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends stimulant medication to treat core symptoms combined with behavior therapy to improve functioning. Although some parents worry that medicating a child for ADHD may only encourage that child to use illicit drugs later on, Dr. Biederman and his MassGeneral colleagues have conducted studies suggesting the exact opposite. They authored one widely quoted 1999 paper in Pediatrics, for instance, which showed that children with ADHD who were treated pharmacologically in childhood were three times less likely to develop substance abuse four years later in adolescence than those who were not treated. In the years since, they have published additional research—including a 2003 meta-analysis in Pediatrics— documenting how treatment for ADHD significantly reduces the risk of alcohol and drug abuse later on.
It's unclear at this time whether Dr. Biederman was underreporting grant money from ADHD drug manufacturers when he recommended the above course of action.

Frankly, the problem of the financial ties between doctors and pharmaceutical companies is one that is largely undiscussed in the mainstream media. While an egregious conflict of interest like the one displayed by the Harvard researchers might be noticed, lesser perks doctors receive for giving Big Pharma reps access to them--and thereby to their patients--is just part of how modern American medicine works. Pharmaceutical companies spend staggering amounts of money each year in their efforts to convince doctors to push their products; patients generally have no idea that the great new drug their physician seems so enthusiastic about paid for his dinner last night or his vacation last month.

But patients trust their doctors to be ethical in their recommendations for new drug treatments, and would likely be troubled by the conflicts of interest between doctors and major pharmaceutical corporations if they understood the extent to which these conflicts exist. The Harvard researchers' behavior may involve greater sums of money than most doctors will see from a BigPharma corporation in a given year, but to some extent most if not all doctors are accepting some sort of compensation from drug companies, and are then quite likely to turn around and prescribe a medication with little information other than the pharmaceutical company rep's glowing report. This isn't just wrong; it's dangerous. An estimate of the number of deaths due to prescription drugs puts the number at more than 100,000 a year. Granted, not all of these adverse events and deaths were caused by doctors prescribing new products based on a rep's sales pitch without having researched possible side effects and complications their specific patients might experience--but just how many deaths do occur for that reason is likely to remain unknown.

The reality is that Dr. Biederman and the other Harvard researchers were behaving no less unethically than most American doctors do; the difference in their behavior is one of degree, not of kind. The extent to which our doctors are in cahoots with major pharmaceutical corporations is part of the American medical landscape--but the fact that it's common makes it no less troubling.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Freedom of Summer

It's here!!!!

Summer vacation, that is.

I can't believe another year of school has raced by. I can't believe we've finished everything we set out to do back in late August. I can't believe I'm going to be teaching an eighth grader next year--didn't we just start kindergarten yesterday, sweetie?

My work may not be completely done--there are still tests to grade, end-0f-year report cards to write out (I only do a "real" report card at the end of each year, since the purpose of report cards is to inform parents of student progress and since as a teaching parent I'm pretty sure where my students are at any given moment during the year) and a few of those sorts of loose ends to tidy up; of course, the work of planning next year's school year will also begin, though knowing me I'll put off even thinking about it until about Bastille Day, which for some reason is when I realize that if I don't get those books ordered yesterday...

And rumor has it that the high-school age brother I'm allegedly tutoring will be sending me a few more things to grade over the summer (and if you're reading this, smile! I can't wait to get the first report; oh, by the way, you can simply begin a new paragraph at each section of the book report form I sent you). But even this is going to seem like leisure more than work, after the full school year that has just ended.

I know that I'm going to want to postmortem this past year, and I'll cheerfully admit that there's lots of room for improvement before we hit the books again next fall. While some subjects went well, others were a struggle; my husband observed one day when he was working from home that the children have gotten into the habit of using mom as a "crutch" instead of tackling something challenging on their own, once appropriate examples and instructions have been given. This is a fair observation, and something our homeschool family needs to work on.

But today, this evening, I'm just happy and pleased, glad that the books have been piled (not so neatly) back on the shelf, and that the warm embrace of summer can now sweep over us, instead of having to be held at bay while we finished up some math and grammar and history. I'm full of ideas about the things I hope to accomplish during the course of the next three months, and am especially looking forward to a return to my favorite pastime, fiction writing. There's a book that's been drifting around inside my head since sometime last year, and I can't wait to start tackling the story in earnest, to draw the characters slowly out of my brain and into an existence that's more tangible than their current reality inside my imagination.

There are so many other things to do, too! The girls are going to write their usual list of things they'd like to do this summer, and they're in the process of choosing their "Twelve Books of Summer," a family-created summer reading program which keeps them reading and earns them a reward when all the books have been read. Hatchick is eagerly planning her birthday, which is next week; she wants me to make a hat-shaped birthday cake, and is quite kind about the possibility that, given Mom's struggles with the decorative arts, the "hat" may be a bit unusual.

But the best part of summer has nothing to do with all the plans we're making, or the lists we're writing, or the fictional plots we're devising, or the little jobs of grading and so on that will come my way. The best part of summer isn't even about catching up on all those good books I've been meaning to read, or perusing the catalogs full of interesting curricula for next year.

And it's not the hot days or the shrieks of sprinkler-dashing swimsuit-clad children or the tinkle of ice cubes in tall frosty glasses or the light salad recipes bursting with raw vegetables and fresh fruits; it's not the chance to get caught up on chores or organizing tasks; it's not any one particular thing, at all. It's all of it, and none of it: it's the freedom that glitters like sun struck dew on an early summer day, or waves like a cooling breeze refreshing us with its restorative powers. For three short months there is room in each day just to live, just to be--and it's a freedom that, as a homeschooling mom, I look forward to as eagerly as my children do.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Public Displays of Infection

From the ever-invaluable Mark Shea (hint, hint) comes this report on this story, which could be subtitled "Just Another Day on the Front Lines of the Culture War." Excerpt:
SEATTLE (AP) - Most of the time, a kiss is just a kiss in the stands at Seattle Mariners games. The crowd hardly even pays attention when fans smooch.

But then last week, a lesbian complained that an usher at Safeco Field asked her to stop kissing her date because it was making another fan uncomfortable.

The incident has exploded on local TV, on talk radio and in the blogosphere and has touched off a debate over public displays of affection in generally gay-friendly Seattle.

"Certain individuals have not yet caught up. Those people see a gay or lesbian couple and they stare or say something," said Josh Friedes of Equal Rights Washington. "This is one of the challenges of being gay. Everyday things can become sources of trauma." [...]

On Thursday, after an internal investigation, the Mariners said in a news release that their seating staff had acted appropriately, and the couple was approached because of their behavior—which included "making out" and "groping" in the stands—and not their sexual orientation.

There's a lot of debate about whether or not the lesbians were merely kissing or doing something more; there's the usual outcry from the gay community which sees anything less than the total embrace and encouragement of all forms of gay behavior as somehow bigoted. But the sanest quote in the article, to me, was this one:

"I would be uncomfortable" seeing public displays of affection between lesbians or gay men, said Jim Ridneour, a 54-year-old taxi driver. "I don't think it's right seeing women kissing in public. If I had my family there, I'd have to explain what's going on."

Gay rights activists are inclined to scream over quotes such as the one above, and make endlessly stupid comparisons involving people's discomfort with mixed-race couples a generation ago. What they tend to forget, though, is that while prohibitions against mixed-race marriages went against human history and, especially, the history of marriage, and were confined to a few cultures of which our own was sadly one, prohibitions against same-sex couples (not "marriages;" nobody until virtually yesterday would ever have supported such a depraved notion) have been widespread throughout human history, and have been founded on such basic concepts as the importance of reproduction, the need to preserve the family structure, and avoiding the general decadence that accompanies the tearing-down of cultural taboos against profligate and degraded forms of sexual perversion, which by nearly every culture's definitions included homosexual activity.

Now, some people would say that nobody should be engaging in noticeable or egregious public displays of affection, regardless of sexual proclivities, and to a certain extent they're correct. A little hand-holding or a quick smooch is one thing, but I've had the experience of having to move my children to a different grocery-store line because the man in front of us couldn't keep his hands out of his wife's back pockets; truly, people have no idea what's appropriate in public any more.

But the decline in general manners aside, the taxi-driver quoted above has gotten to the heart of matters in a way that is admirable in its simplicity. If a small child sees a man and a woman kissing in public, he will likely relate this behavior to the sort of kiss his mother gives his father when his father leaves for work, or some such thing (provided we're talking about a simple kiss, of course, and not one of those egregious displays I mentioned above). Likewise, a man holding a woman's hand, or a woman snuggling under a man's arm, is going to be recognizable behavior to a young child.

However, aside from the handful of children actually being raised by gay couples, children aren't in the habit of seeing two women or two men engage in such intimacies in public, and the witnessing of these things is going to produce questions, questions which quite frankly should not have to be answered. Children don't deserve to have perversion shoved into their faces, and parents shouldn't have to field these questions from the precocious set.

There was a time when all adults, whatever their private beliefs, behaviors, or appetites, maintained a G-rated facade in front of the innocent. But our culture has become infected with the notion that if someone doesn't like "X" behavior, then it's the obligation of that person to look away from it, not the obligation of the person engaging in the unduly provocative or obnoxious behavior to be mindful of the public eye. This puts an unnecessarily heavy burden on parents, who instead of being able to trust society to aid them in the job of parenting must now view society as a hostile entity, which carries within it so many strains of disease which target the innocent for destruction that the parents can never relax their vigilance, but must instead think of every public venue as another potential attack on the innocence of their children.

Sadly, we've all but become accustomed to this, hissing "Don't look!" at our kids when we pass the magazine rack at the grocery store, resigning ourselves to a very limited selection of radio stations when the kids are in the car (or bringing CDs of kiddie music for longer trips), limiting or doing away with television altogether, avoiding movie theaters if the posters or previews are liable to feature scantily-clad women or four-letter words, and on and on. But the cultural infection keeps spreading and mutating past our efforts to inoculate against it, and the next thing we'll have to start doing is avoiding those places where same-sex couples are likely to engage in some public acts of perversion in full view not only of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public, but of all the little Publics, too. And that will only work for so long, before openly gay advertisements and openly gay magazine covers and even openly gay toys (perhaps a same-sex couple doll house family) start maneuvering themselves into our children's line of sight.

The cultural infection which festers in our sick society is going to continue to grow and spread; public displays of this infection are going to increase in their prevalence. And those of us who object, like Mr. Jim Ridneour, are going to be told that the problem is all ours, that there is no such thing as moral or immoral, normal or abnormal, healthy or perverted; because the first thing this virus does is to convince the organism it infects that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Marriage, From the Pulpit

Since my "NFP Battle" post has been linked to by some Really Big Blogs, it's gotten a tad more comments than my usual posts do (heck, more then five would have been "a tad more," but who's counting?). I especially liked the comment from an anonymous poster (timestamped 2:53) which in part reads:

It seems that the conversation about NFP has sometimes gotten boxed into a corner and there's very little coming from the pulpit that addresses married life specifically that has clarified any of the confusion or soothed any of the burden of trying to make a marriage work with another human being. I have heard 1 sermon in the last 20 years about NFP specifically and heard only very general comments about the marital bond during Sunday homilies. Doesn't it make sense that a lot of people are in the dark about how to improve their marriages and obtain that wonderful marital bonus of "wonderful communication as a benefit of NFP" when the average Catholic hears little or nothing from the pulpit about it?

This is, I think, a very just observation.

There are several times during the liturgical year when it would be very appropriate for the priest at Mass to discuss the subject of marriage and family life from the pulpit. I'm not talking about the secular holidays of Mother's Day and Father's Day, either: instead, any time the Gospel makes some mention of the topic, or when the epistles touch on the marriage imagery used to represent the Church, the priest could take the opportunity to say a few words about the vocation to which an overwhelming number of people are called in every generation.

Perhaps a few people are blessed to attend parishes where the subject is, indeed, brought up on a regular basis, but I had to think about it, and I honestly don't think I've ever heard a homily on the subject of the vocation of marriage. Sure, maybe it's been mentioned a time or two somewhat tangentially, but you'd think that given the fact that so many Catholics are called to the married state there'd be the occasional focus on this topic.

Of course, I know that there are other times within the life of the Church that marriage gets its share of the attention--during marriage preparation classes, for instance, or when a retreat is offered for married couples. But such things are likely to be few and far between, while marriage is every day, day in and day out--and if a husband and wife need some encouragement or some direction or some reminders or just some sense that they're doing the best they can, well, a retreat that took place five years ago when your children were too young for you to leave them with a sitter so the two of you could go isn't going to be much help.

Now, plenty of lay Catholic writers speak and write on topics related to marriage and the family, but as my anonymous commenter points out, such people often come from really wonderful marriages (which is quite natural, when you think about it). Still their addressing of the problems and quirks of married life aren't necessarily going to be helpful to people who are struggling in some way, and may even tempt them to believe that the faults in their marriage are specific to their marriage, and quite likely come from their own particular spouse, since everybody else is so happy...

Which is not really a productive way of looking at things.

But a priest, especially a pastor, can speak about the vocation to marriage in more general and more spiritually-focused terms. He can look to the writings of many saints on the topic of Holy Matrimony; he can draw from his own memories of his parents' lives together; he can speak with many different married couples within the parish, to hear from them what their problems or concerns or vocational struggles are like.

He can exhort and remind and encourage all married people to take seriously the Church's teachings on marriage, on the openness to life and the sinfulness of artificial contraception; he can also discuss NFP in a balanced and focused way.

He can talk, especially, to married men, to fathers, because he himself is a father; though his fatherhood is quite different it is no less a constant challenge to live sacrificially, and to die to himself for the greater good of his parish family--an analogy that ought to be quite moving to husbands and fathers who have not forsaken the joys of matrimony and its consolations in the way the priest has, but who do sometimes forget that there is no "I" in "spouse," and that they, too, are called to die to selfishness or the desire to live as they did when they were unencumbered with a wife and children.

He can remind wives and mothers that men don't respond well to constant nitpicking or nagging, and that they, too, are called to die to selfishness, and not to insist on having everything their own way. He should warn gently about the poisonous feminism that sees marriage as a battle between two opposing rival forces, where every dispute becomes somehow symbolic of a male/female power struggle; instead, he should tell them, for followers of Christ marriage is a powerful symbol of another sort, of the union and mystical cooperation between Christ and His Church, which ought to be grounded in sacrifice and harmony, and productive of both physical and spiritual fruitfulness.

He should challenge both husbands and wives to seek to outdo each other in their demonstration of charity, peacefulness, patience, cheerfulness, kindness, compassion, and heartfelt consideration each for the other. He should remind them to seek opportunities to converse as eagerly as they seek opportunities for a different form of intimate contact, and to practice the art of compromise when disagreements arise, as they will. He should speak seriously of the duty to set a good example for the children, to raise them in faith and surround them with love.

In all of this he can point to the Holy Family of Nazareth as the model for all Christian family life, and encourage devotion to the Holy Family among his parishioners, especially for the sake of strengthening marriages.

I think that if a pastor were to take it upon himself to preach in this vein about marriage a few times a year, the benefits for his spiritual family would be immeasurable.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The War Against The Family

From a diligent poster at the 4 Real Forum comes news of the passage of Colorado's SB 200, which is quite likely the most sweeping pro-perversion piece of legislation ever signed into law.

Not only are parts of the law quite likely to be found unconstitutional in their breathtaking disregard for the rights of free speech, freedom of religion, and peaceful assembly, but as dedicated pro-family groups point out, the effects of the law are going to involve the violation of women's rights, especially their right to use gender-specific private areas like dressing rooms, bathrooms and health club facilities without having to worry that a man is in the area.

Under SB 200, how a man decides he feels about his gender is more important than what his gender actually is. So any man who claims to be transgendered can walk into women's restrooms, locker rooms, health clubs and retail-store dressing rooms without having to announce his presence; he doesn't even have to be dressed like a woman to have this "right."

And since the word "transgender" isn't defined either in the bill or in Colorado law, any man can claim to be "transgendered" and saunter casually into any female-specific public area--he can't be stopped, questioned, or arrested. The bill's ambiguous language will have the effect of making the whole concept of gender specificity illegal or dubious at best, meaning that eventually every public accommodation will have to be unisex or face threats of lawsuits from various so-called "sexual minorities."

Of course, as some business owners have already discussed, the fear of these lawsuits will eventually amount to special treatment for all gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered, questioning, species-confused, and any other category of sexual perversion that might eventually be created. One landlord used the example of non-payment of rent: if he tries to evict a couple only to discover that they're in a "special" category, will he face legal action? I can imagine other business owners being alarmed about this; last time I checked, most restaurants had signs claiming the right to refuse service to anyone, but I'll bet in the future the unspoken concept behind those signs will be "anyone but specially-protected sexual minorities, because if we refuse them service even if they come in drunk and abusive, we'll get sued out of business."

And then there are other possible results of this unconscionable law: will stores have to show same-sex couples and transgendered people in every advertisement if they want to do business in Colorado? Will story books for children have to feature a certain number of "sexually diverse" families to be sold in bookstores in Colorado? Will public schools in Colorado be sued for failing to teach kindergarten students what the word "transgender" means, possibly employing dolls and puppets who morph from Dan to Dana and back again? Will women's lingerie shops be sued for failing to provide brassieres suitable for male-to-female gender transitioning?

Although SB 200 defines churches as not being places of public accommodation and therefore not required to implement all of the insanity this law requires, it's pretty obvious that the exemption is for church buildings alone, and not for religious believers. So if you own a Catholic bookstore, for instance, you'll have to follow this law as it applies to your business--which may mean that shelves devoted to gender-specific religious books won't be allowed, and if you carry "his/her" bridal rosary sets you'd better be prepared to sell "his/his" and "her/her" sets as well, or some perverted loon will slap you with a lawsuit for failing to pander to his sad and sinful conception of him/her/itself.

It's hard to see these sort of things happening and not see the hand of Satan. His undying hatred for all that is good or noble or innocent is unleashing the most furious attacks on the family that have ever been witnessed; his agents and tools will not rest until the concept of Holy Matrimony and its accompanying duties of husband and wife, of parents and children, of family and society, are swept away and replaced with the hellish vision of miserable souls degrading themselves and each other, and dragging the innocent with them into the pit. This contemptible law thrust like a poisoned dagger into the hearts of the good families of Colorado is yet another salvo in this war that is not only a war on culture, but on the foundation and source of all human society--the family.