Monday, August 29, 2011

Blogging break

I will be taking a week-long blogging break from posting here at And Sometimes Tea (and my other two blogs as well, but as those are updated so sporadically no announcement is really needed).

The reason is quite simple: that stupid summer cold I've been battling for a month now finally drove me to the urgent care doctor on Sunday, whereupon the following internal dialog occurred:
Stubborn redhead: Great. I'm at the doctor's office on a Sunday. For a stupid cold. I'm a world-class wimp.

Rational redhead: I've had this "stupid cold" for a month. I've been coughing for a week, a week, I might remind me, in which I got nothing done, got almost no sleep, and didn't even make Mass this morning because I was coughing so much I would have alarmed the entire congregation.

Stubborn redhead: But that's only because it's a small church. And the fever this morning--low grade. No big deal. I'm a world-class wimp. Why didn't I wait and call the doctor on Monday?

Rational redhead: Because I might not have gotten an appointment right away. And I'm tired of sleeping in 30 minute snatches between coughing fits.

Stubborn redhead: I know what's going to happen. The doctor's going to come in, and she's going to pat me on the head (figuratively speaking) and tell me it's a virus and there's nothing she can do and I should go home and get some rest and drink some juice.

Rational redhead: Maybe...but I have been resting and drinking juice for a month!

Stubborn redhead: Ha! My idea of "resting" apparently means sticking to the laundry, dishes, and cooking and putting the plans to clean out and reorganize several closets on hold for a bit. And blogging every day. And wandering around aimlessly doing chores in between blogging because it helps the writing process. And staying up past midnight to plan a literature schedule and finish the book orders for the upcoming school year. And as for juice--if you can call that "grown-up" Koolaid(tm)-esque sugar water "juice," I still don't drink nearly enough of it. I am here because I'm a world-class wimp, and that's exactly what the doctor is going to say...

Rational redhead: Hmmm. I really am a world-class wimp...
So when the wait was over and the doctor heard me coughing from outside the exam room and strode in saying in a cheerful, hearty, yet concerned voice, "You sound terrible! How long has this been going on???" I was paradoxically relived. And when she quickly and competently diagnosed a bronchial infection and wrote out a prescription for a potent antibiotic and also ordered an antibiotic shot right then and there, I was both relieved and grateful. The bottom line, for me, is that I may be a wimp, but at least I'm not a world-class one.

But I am going back to bed, in the middle of the day. Because even if she's wrong about the "world-class" wimp thing, my inner stubborn redhead had a major point about my idea of resting when sick. :)

And I'll return to the blog next week--or, if I really can't stand it and my poor children have to hold my hands down to keep me from typing, perhaps late Thursday or early Friday-ish. We'll see.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Vigil

Please pray for the father-in-law of blogger Magister Christianus tonight. Magister's father-in-law is dying of COPD, and is near the end. If you happen to be up in these late hours--or if it's not late where you are--a prayer for the dying may bring comfort to this suffering family this night.

Prayer for the Dying:

May Christ Who was crucified for your sake
free you from excruciating pain.
May Christ Who died for you
free you from the death that never ends.
May Christ the Son of the living God,
set you in the ever green loveliness of His Paradise,
and may He, the true Shepherd
recognize you as one of His own.
May you see your Redeemer face to face
and standing in His presence forever,
may you see with joyful eyes
Truth revealed in all its fullness.

Amen.

Update: Magister Christianus posts that his father-in-law has entered eternal life as of 5:35 p.m. Saturday. Please continue to pray for the repose of his soul and for his family--especially, for my Catholic readers, as we attend Sunday Mass this weekend.

Friday, August 26, 2011

On dissent

A while ago, in the comments below this post, regular commenter Diamantina da Brescia asked this insightful question about Catholics in the state of dissent:
If a confessor/spiritual director advised a person to abstain from Communion because of his or her struggles concerning a grave matter dealing with faith or morals, and the person's conscience could not satisfactorily resolve the issue (i.e., he or she could not see it the Church's way, yet the person still believed that the Church is the ordinary means of salvation for all humanity) for several years, how would that person be able to perform his or her Easter duty during that time? Go to Confession, see whether he or she is allowed to receive Communion, then attend Mass as usual? And would such a person still be allowed to serve in church ministries (other than EMHC, of course), be active in the Legion of Mary and/or Knights of Columbus, be a lay member of a religious order, etc. during that time, if such a person were previously active in those ministries and groups? And how could a person not allow his or her faith wither and/or falsify one's conscience in Confession when one is not permitted to receive Communion for a protracted, indefinite period of time?

This is a hypothetical, but I wonder whether some practicing Catholics fall under this category. I suspect that most people who struggle with the Church's stance in faith and morals either stop practicing Catholicism altogether or evade the matter when they go to Confession. Some confessors might tell struggling penitents to continue receiving the Eucharist, but I can imagine that other confessors would not.
I have to admit that I had never thought about the Easter duty in regard to a person's struggle with persistent and serious dissent from Church teachings. For those already separated from the Eucharist by their actions, e.g., those who have formally or informally left the Church, or those who are living in an irregular marriage situation and thus can't receive Holy Communion, I suppose the need to confess a failure to make the Easter duty while in this state of persistent separation might exist, should the person attempt to be reconciled with the Church.

But what of those who don't actually leave, and who are not in a state of grave sin--but who nonetheless are in a state of honest dissent from some essential Church teaching? I promised to consider this thoughtful question and write a post about it...and then I got busy with other things for too long, for which I apologize.

Some bishops have written that Catholics in a state of dissent from Church teaching have a duty to refrain from receiving Holy Communion. But is that just because they are public figures? Or is there something about dissent itself that needs to be examined, here?

What, exactly, is dissent?

To break this down a little, let's look at some selections from an article by Dr. William May:
As scholars such as the late great Dominican theologian, Yves Cardinal Congar, have noted, the term magisterium has such a long history and during the Middle Ages it referred to the teaching authority proper to theologians, i.e., those who by study and diligence have achieved some understanding of the truths of the faith and their relationship to truths that can be known without the light of faith. [1]

But today this term has a very precise meaning, one given it by the Church herself in her understanding of herself as the pillar and ground of truth (see Tim 3:15) against which the gates of hell cannot prevail (Mt 16:18; Gal 1:8), and as the community to which Christ himself has entrusted his saving word and work. According to her own understanding of the term, the Church teaches that the magisterium is the authority to teach, in the name of Christ, the truths of Christian faith and life (morals) and all that is necessary and/or useful for the proclamation and defense of these truths (see Dei verbum, 8). This teaching authority is vested in the college of bishops under the headship of the chief bishop, the Roman Pontiff, the "concrete center of unity and head of the whole episcopate," [2] the successor of the Apostle Peter (see Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 22; Vatican Council I, DS 3065-3074). [...]

At times the magisterium proposes matters of faith and morals infallibly, i.e., with the assurance that what is proposed is absolutely irreformable and a matter to be held definitively by the faithful. At other times the magisterium proposes matters of faith and morals authoritatively and as true, but not in such wise that the matter proposed is to be held definitively and absolutely. But still the matter proposed is to be held by the faithful and to be held as true. Note that the proper way to speak of teachings proposed in this way is to say that they are authoritatively taught; it is not proper to say that they are fallibly taught.
So, in other words, the Church has her teaching authority which is entrusted to her by Christ; she teaches some things infallibly and others authoritatively and as true; but everything taught by the magisterium, whether infallibly or authoritatively, is counted among those things to which a Catholic refers when he says, "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God."

Does this mean that a person has to assimilate fully every single teaching before he or she can be really Catholic or approach communion? Not necessarily; but he or she must be able to give what is called the religious submission of the will and mind (in Latin: obsequium religiosum). This religious submission does not forbid a lack of internal assent, according to Dr. May, when one is engaged in a scholarly pursuit of the truth--so long as one is prepared to accept whatever the Church decides when her proper authorities decide it. But it doesn't apply to magisterial teaching, whether infallible or authoritative:
But it taught one is not giving a true obsequium religiosum if one dissents from magisterial teaching and proposes one's own position as a position that the faithful are at liberty to follow, substituting it for the teaching of the magisterium. But this is precisely what has been occurring. Dissent of this kind is not compatible with the obsequium religiosum. In fact, those who dissent in this way really usurp the teaching office of bishops and popes. Theologians, insofar as they are theologians, are not pastors in the Church. When they instruct the faithful that the teachings of those who are pastors in the Church (the pope and bishops) are false and that the faithful can put those teachings aside and put in their place their own theological opinions, they are harming the Church and arrogantly assuming for themselves the pastoral role of pope and bishops.

Dissent, understood in this sense, is thus completely incompatible with the obsequium religiosum required for teachings authoritatively but not infallibly proposed.
What does all of this mean?

I am not in a position of authority, of course, and would be subject to correction on this as on all Catholic matters. But from a common sense perspective, what this means to me is clear: Catholics in good standing are required to give the religious submission of mind and will to all that the Church teaches whether infallibly or authoritatively. While some scholars, theologians, and even ordinary lay people may at times propose hypothetical questions or discuss an infallible teaching as if it were theoretically possible for it to be different than it is, such discussions only happen in good faith if the person raising the question has formed a firm purpose of adhering to Church teaching whether or not his point or objection or hypothetical is answered as he wishes it to be.

If a Catholic reaches the point where he or she simply cannot give the religious submission of the mind and will to Church teachings, it would seem, based on what various pastors and bishops have taught, that they ought to absent themselves from the Eucharist rather than participate in a sacrament which emphasizes the unity of the faithful. But I think there are many steps along the way to actual dissent, and that a person who is merely wrestling with some teaching while giving it the proper religious submission--in other words, a person who says "I don't really understand this teaching and it seems wrong to me, but I'm prepared to accept it and will study the matter as deeply as is necessary while asking the Holy Spirit for enlightenment," would probably (ask one's pastor to be sure, of course!) be fine to continue to receive communion.

But what of the person who is in a case of stubborn and persistent dissent?

Not to pick on any specific issue, but let's take a look at the Church's teaching against artificial contraception.

Suppose person A was hopeful before 1968 that the Church's teaching against artificial contraception was going to be amended to allow the birth control pill. This person, while engaging in theoretical theological discussions about the matter, was not in dissent from the Church. Then Pope Paul VI promulgated Humanae Vitae, and the matter was closed: artificial birth control is gravely morally evil and not permitted for Catholics. Though person A experiences some human feelings of disappointment and is not sure he fully understands this teaching, he resolves to give assent to it while studying the matter and reflecting on it. Person A is not in a state of willful, persistent dissent and can probably receive communion regardless of how long it takes him to embrace this teaching wholeheartedly (provided, of course, he's living according to it the whole time).

Suppose that person B was a friend of person A's on the "discussion committee" that hoped for birth control to be allowed. When Humanae Vitae is released person B declares that the pope was wrong and that he is personally free to reject this teaching; he is open about his use of artificial contraception within his marriage. Person B further declares that it is fine for him, a Catholic, to reject Church teaching whenever his conscience (however ill-formed it is), showing that he fundamentally misunderstands the Church's teaching on the conscience, too. Person B is in a state of willful, persistent dissent and is no longer really united to the Church, and thus probably should not receive the Eucharist.

But what about person C? Person C was born long after this whole controversy. Person C attended schools that told him he should use condoms for his early sex exploits, which they clearly expected him to start having when he was still a very young teen. Person C grew up in a non-Catholic family where artificial contraception was as natural as microwaved dinners and MTV. Person C became a Catholic because it was the easiest way to marry that Catholic girl he fell in love with (and lived with) in college, but now she's taking the faith seriously and has said some things that alarm him. C's wife wants him to let her go off the pill; though he agrees, reluctantly, he doesn't want to use NFP either, and is secretly relieved when they learn her fertility is not what it once was back when they had their two children. Though contraception use is no longer an issue, agreeing with the Church about the wrongness of it is--C's wife thinks he needs to study the issue and come to understand it, while C says so long as he's not using it does it really matter what he thinks of it all?

Should C receive communion?

And what of person D, who disagrees strongly about artificial birth control even though she is a chaste single woman in her late 40s? She's studied, she's read Church documents, she's attended workshops and asked questions--and what it boils down to is that she just doesn't agree with the Church. She still thinks the Church is the Church founded by Christ as the ordinary means of salvation for sinful humanity, but her dissent makes her think twice about approaching the Eucharist. Yet, there's that Easter duty question: should she, or shouldn't she?

Should D receive communion?

Each of these people could be described as dissenting (or, in the case of A, having withheld assent). But each will require a different pastoral approach, which is why I think it gets terribly tricky to start to say who should and who shouldn't receive. And in the case of the Easter duty, specifically, I think it's more important to determine first if one actually is in good standing as a Catholic, which is something one's pastor can certainly help one to recognize, before we begin to worry about obeying the precepts of the Church.

But I can say this: if a person starts from the place of religious submission of the mind and will, it's a lot easier to come to accept a Church teaching even if you don't understand it or accept it at first. Believing that Christ founded His Church and gave Her the teaching authority means that we accept that the Church will be a sure guide in matters of faith and morals. In other words, instead of saying to ourselves "I think the Church is wrong about X!" we could try saying, instead, "I'm not sure why Christ has led His Church to teach this about X. What is the Holy Spirit trying to say to us with this teaching, which seems so difficult for me, personally, to accept right now?"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Temporary comments policy

Because of a truly obnoxious troll calling himself/herself "Beth" who has been posting anonymously on this blog, especially below this post, I have had to turn off anonymous commenting for the time being. I very much dislike doing this, as many of my regular readers/commenters do not have "open ID" or Google accounts which will allow them to comment when anonymous commenting is turned off. However, "Beth" is becoming increasingly vile and using obscene language, and for his/her own sake it is best that I remove his/her ability to fling excrement around in the comment box.

Some of my regulars occasionally find my comments policy a bit frustrating, as I will let people get quite heated about issues they care passionately about. My response to this is: so long as they are heated about issues, but not flaming other commenters, they are welcome to continue. Civil discourse does not preclude strong and even passionate disagreement, after all.

That said, I have no problem taking action when lines are well and truly crossed. "Beth," who just showed up here today, is banned for behaving like an obnoxious child. He/she will probably try to spin this as "That blogger just can't stand for anybody to disagree with her and stand up for the TRVTH!!!" but to be honest, I have saved "Beth's" potty-mouthed rantings and can prove that he/she deserved to be booted, if that should become necessary.

To my valued regular readers and commenters: if you usually post anonymously because you don't have a Google account or open ID etc., you are more than welcome to email me your comments for the next few days, and I will post them for you--I believe we had to do this before, and though it's not a foolproof method it is less "clunky" for me than comment moderation (because that would stop everybody from commenting until I had the leisure to read through and approve all the comments, and that would make conversation pretty much impossible).

I apologize for the inconvenience, which I am sure will be temporary; it has been my experience that when trolls are deprived of their ability to misbehave, they will go find other places to indulge their juvenile pursuits. I am sure that I will soon be able to return comments to their usual friendly, open status for all, including the anonymous.

Your patience, as always, is appreciated.

The male-only sanctuary: yes or no?

I wrote a while back that I needed to stay away from Father Zuhlsdorf's blog, particularly because of his commenters; in light of yesterday's post I hope it will be clearer why I felt the need to take such a step. What is a temptation for me (to superiority, liturgical snobbishness, and so forth) is not for everyone.

That said, though, I do end up there from time to time; usually I will click a link from someplace else and find myself on WDTPRS. Which is fine; like I said in the earlier post, so long as I stay out of the comment boxes there I'm avoiding unnecessary temptation. Sure, I don't always stay out of the comment boxes--but I'm getting better at it.

That's how I noticed this poll that Father Z is running (on a totally-safe, no comment box post!), and which he has asked other Catholic bloggers to link to:

Does an all-male sanctuary foster vocations to the priesthood?

You can click on the link to vote (and if it doesn't work for some reason, let me know). But before you do, may I ask that we take a look at that question?

In light of the recent decision by the pastor at the Phoenix cathedral to limit the role of altar server to boys only, many people will probably click the "yes" button on that poll without really thinking about it--as in, yes, having only male altar servers does foster vocations to the priesthood. I tend to think that is true, myself. I don't know that having only male altar servers is the only or best way to foster vocations to the priesthood, but it is a time-honored way to do so.

But that's not really what the question is asking. It is asking whether an "all-male sanctuary" fosters vocations to the priesthood. As in, no women on the altar. No female lectors unless they can read from somewhere other than the altar (if that's even permitted, which I don't know). No females making announcements before or after Mass; no females serving as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (which would be one way of getting rid of EMHCs, as the handful of men still willing to show up would not be enough to increase the speed at which Communion is distributed, let alone to offer Communion under both species). No women, period, in the sanctuary, just like back in the "good old days," when women were only permitted up there outside of Mass to clean.

(Of course, that's where I do bristle, just a little. If the Church in her wisdom decides to let only men be present in the sanctuary, that is absolutely fine and dandy with me, so long as the men also take over all of the responsibilities of sweeping and dusting and removing candle-wax from floors and furnishings and washing and caring for the linens and washing the stained-glass windows and polishing the wood and vacuuming or cleaning carpets or rugs and decorating for the liturgical seasons as appropriate and everything else that needs doing. "No women in the sanctuary" should NOT mean "No women in the sanctuary except when there's 'women's work' to be done and nobody is going to see them doing it and get offended that they are there." You can't have it both ways, gentlemen, in my opinion.)

Now, if the Church in her wisdom decides to have an "all-male sanctuary," in order to foster vocations, I think it's fair to ask how, exactly, having married adult males in roles such as lector etc. does this. It is my understanding that the reason these roles were taken over by adult lay men who were not pursuing priestly vocations was that there simply weren't enough men who were pursuing vocations to do them. That is, there was a time when the "all-male sanctuary" was made up of both clergy and lay men--but the lay men were on their way to becoming clergy in a real sense, having received the minor orders and so forth. True, not all of them would reach that goal. And true, the youngest altar servers were not on that path--yet. But if a seminarian reads the readings and the deacon proclaims the Gospel and gives the homily (his proper role) and the priest recites the Canon and confects the Eucharist--is that really the same draw to the priesthood to the young men serving at the altar as having Mr. Smith (Tommy's dad) read the first reading and Mr. Brown (Amy's father) read the second reading and Mr. Thomas (the second-grade teacher at the parish school) read the Prayers of the Faithful and, after Communion, having Mr. Gray from the parish council (a grandfather of many!) read some brief announcements before the final blessing?

In other words, is there something mystical about having males only on the altar that makes young boys want to grow up to be priests--or must those males be predominantly clergy or on their way to ordination for that beneficial effect to occur? In the second set of examples I give, might not the young man serving at the altar be just as likely to think that he'd like to grow up to be a husband and father (and, eventually, grandfather) like most of those other men as to grow up to be a priest? Without the seminarians and deacons and associate pastors and pastor, in other words, will removing women from the sanctuary be enough by itself to cause young men to open themselves up to God's call to the priesthood?

Please note: I think this is a very different question from the question, "Should we go back to the practice of having only altar boys, and not female altar servers, at Mass?" There might be many good reasons to encourage young men to be altar servers as a possible doorway to their contemplation of a priestly vocation. I'm just not sure that widening that idea to ban all women from the sanctuary will indeed bring about the beneficial surge in vocations to the priesthood which some seem to think will happen.

Whatever you think about this, I hope you'll share your "vote" over at Father Z's blog, and that you'll also let us know in the comment box what you think of this whole issue!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Truly True Secret Catholic Preservation Society

Last week, Mark Shea wrote a piece defending Michael Voris and his employee Simon Rafe from some allegations of financial irregularity and the impropriety of one of Mr. Rafe's hobbies as reported by the Catholic News Agency. The result, predictably, was a comment box brouhaha.

This week, Mark Shea has written a piece criticizing Michael Voris and some of his supporters for the way they chose to spin the first matter (as proof that a secret cabal of their secret enemies secretly met and secretly agreed to make secret anonymous reports to CNA until CNA looked into things, at which point the secret enemies of Voris rubbed their alleged hands in secret glee. Secretly...). The result, predictably, was a comment box brouhaha.

Which proves nothing. Except that the word "brouhaha" is ridiculously fun to type. Go ahead; try it. I'll wait...

Okay.

While these things don't prove anything, they do suggest something. To me, anyway. They suggest that the temptation to believe that one is somehow part of the Truly True Secret Catholic Preservation Society (TTSCPS) and is carefully and heroically preserving the Faith from bad bishops, liberal priests, pantsuited nuns, squishy lay volunteers who do tons of work at the parish yet (one is somehow sure) doubt the Real Presence, the sinfulness of abortion and contraception, and the utter necessity of voting for Republicans is just as prevalent today as it was back a couple of decades ago, when I was an enthusiastic member of the TTSCPS.

Yes, I was a part of the heady movement to Take Back The Church From The Bishops And Other Evildoers back when we met in parish basements (with the full permission of the Right Sort of pastor, of course), drank ridiculously good coffee in actual cups (not to be environmentally friendly or anything suspiciously liberal like that, but because that's what the parish had), got the business of a shared rosary and an edifying talk from someone at Catholics United for the Faith out of the way, and then settled into a comfortable griping session about our horrible bishop and the horrible chancery and the horrible feminist nuns and the horrible music at that church across town and the horrible way most Catholics received the Eucharist as if He were popcorn and anything else that would let us fixate with deep intensity on the "fake Catholic" splinters in the eyes of our perceived enemies, without ever noticing the huge plank called "Unholy Pride" jutting out of our own.

The story of how I eventually realized that this sort of thing wasn't actually good is a long, convoluted, and not particularly edifying one. And in some senses it's not over; I still have to fight my knee-jerk "blame the bishops!" reaction on occasion, along with my "If this dreadful music would just go away!" reaction (which is pretty ironic considering I'm in the choir and am one of those singing it). But the choir was actually one of the keys to my understanding just how wicked I'd become in my heart.

It was at our previous parish, when we'd joined the choir there. I had planned to sign up alone; our dear late director was the one who invited the whole family, even though the girls were still pretty young at the time. We attended our first practice, and for the most part I enjoyed it. Then Pat, our director, turned to lead us in prayer at the end.

I braced myself for the usual, happy-clappy sort of prayer intentions. Prayers for the rainforest or the plight of the immigrant would not have surprised me at all. No such intention came up--but the whole choir prayed together for respect for human life and an end to abortion.

And I was surprised. Shocked, even.

And then I was ashamed of myself.

Had I really decided that these nice people, these fellow Catholics, these members of my parish family would necessarily be soft on abortion or even in favor of it? Because they were the choir? Because they were not "Us" but "Them" in the time-honored TTSCPS way of looking at things? How horrible was that, of me? How much evil had I allowed to take up residence in my heart, in the name of tribalism and of believing that I was one of the handful of elite select Catholics who knew without knowing how that there was an inevitable link between felt banners, communion in the hand, bad music, and grave moral evils such as acceptance of abortion?

I felt pretty awful, and I felt worse when I realized, as we got to know this choir, that this particular intention was a "regular." Other prayers would come and go, but until the last choir practice of his sadly short life Pat always, always, ALWAYS prayed for an end to abortion, and his dear wife and all the other choir members solemnly added our prayers to his.

I'm not completely over my impulses to slip back into TTSCPS mode. Maybe I never will be. Maybe because I grew up during the post-Vatican II silly season it will take me a long time not to see a nun in slacks and have my first thought be to thank God for her service instead of to wonder how much of a dissident she must be. Maybe because I sat through guitar-and-tambourine Masses back in the late 1970s I'll sigh every time I hear these instruments in a church building instead of finding out from the choir after Mass how hard it has been to do anything since the old organ died and Father can't budget for a new one when they're trying to build a new church...and maybe, just maybe, I'll never find it in my heart to call the dismissal of children for Children's Church anything other than the Rite of Sending Forth the Children so They Can Go Color Things--even though I admit that the lady who runs that program at my parish is a holy, patient, faithful woman whose kindness and generosity are known to all who know her.

But at least I know that my desire to consider myself one of that elect number of the Truly True Secret Catholic Preservation Society members was never a good or laudable thing. Deo gratias.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eight short rules

Why is it that so many mentions of modesty and/or appropriate clothing for Sunday Mass end up devolving into a discussion of that article of clothing aptly called "shorts?"

One sometimes gets the impression that three-fourths of all adult Catholics in America show up at Mass during the summer months dressed in bottom-baring shorts and frivolous flip-flops. Perhaps that is true in some places. It isn't true here where I live, though, and considering how hot it gets here...but then again, maybe that's just it: maybe people in northern climates don't own suitable summer-weight dress clothes to wear to their non-air-conditioned churches during the two weeks of the year when the temperature hovers dangerously near ninety, and thus the shorts appear. It's possible.

What is definitely true is that shorts are now considered acceptable attire for many places and occasions where formerly they were not; or, to put it more accurately, the entire country has become so casual about dress that one is likely to see shorts in places and occasions where they are actually not appropriate, but no one really seems to care. The only standard of dress today seems to be that there are no standards.

No universal ones, that is.

I have my own set of standards about the wearing of shorts. Just for fun, and because it's that sort of day, I'm going to list them. These are my rules. They may be yours; they may not. But here they are:

1. Shorts are to be worn only as follows:
  • At the beach, pool, or other aquatic venue;
  • For the participation in or observance of outdoor sports activities or indoor or outdoor exercise;
  • To a backyard barbecue where it is clear that the hosts intend the event to be ultra-casual;
  • For hiking, camping, and similar outdoors activities;
  • Around one's own home, including in one's own yard or garden particularly when gardening in summer heat;
  • As part of a uniform such as that of a mail carrier or bicycle police officer, when circumstances and employment conditions demand it.
2. Even for women (and I speak only of women here for a reason) who adhere to rule 1, shorts should be retired from one's wardrobe altogether sometime between the ages of 35 and 45 (the exact point will become glaringly obvious to a woman if she is honest with herself). This is for your own benefit, as few parts of one's body broadcast one's actual age so clearly as one's knees do (and for the same reason, above-knee skirts, if one actually owns any, should also be retired). The "retirement" does not extend to items one wears only at home, of course, and professional female athletes who still train and compete after age 35 are also exempt, as are those who must wear shorts as part of a uniform (and this would include gym teachers and swim coaches as well as the above mentioned mail carriers or bicycle cops).

3. For those women who wear shorts, it should be noted that shorts do not especially flatter the following figures:
  • petite women (because shorts act like a visual karate-chop instead of helping to create the long, smooth line petites try to create to add the illusion of height);
  • very tall women (unless the shorts are extremely long; otherwise, tall women will tend to look rather like beanpoles from the sheer expanse of leg showing);
  • plump women (because there is not a bit of fat or cellulite that will not be enhanced by rather than hidden by most shorts on the market);
  • extremely thin women (because they will look like adolescent boys)
None of these points matters, however, if rule 1 is being strictly adhered to; still, there are other choices that may better suit some of these figure types, such as capri pants, skorts, split skirts, and the like.

4. Every now and then, fashion companies will try to sell so-called "city shorts," designed to be worn to the office and accompanied, frequently, by a matching jacket, heels, and stockings. I myself fell prey to this fashion trend in the early 1990s. It was as silly then as it is now. The worst part is that no sooner have you convinced yourself that it really is possible to wear "dressy shorts," the trend evaporates, and you're stuck with dated clothing that no woman in her right mind would wear to the office or anywhere else nice, for that matter. (The last time this trend really rose up was around 2005 or 2006; it had peaked by about 2007, and though designers always threaten to return it there hasn't been a lot of interest lately. Maybe when the job market is shaky and lots of people are out of work, showing up for work in shorts just doesn't seem like the greatest idea.)

EDITED: 5. No invisible shorts. Thanks to Larry D for suggesting it when Freddy noticed that my numbers got out of whack (which happened because I was moving some of these points around and got sidetracked). :)

6. Despite the efforts of designers in number 4, shorts remain, for adults, ultra-casual wear. They aren't suitable for sit-down restaurants, for business offices unless they are part of the "uniform," or for Sunday Mass. If you are an adult and you are wearing shorts of a decent length inside a church building outside of Mass because you are cleaning or decorating or helping with a food-pantry located in the parish hall or some such thing, or if you stop in for Saturday confession on your way to a picnic, you're probably okay. If you show up for Sunday Mass in shorts I will assume you have no better clothing available and will pray that the exigencies of your situation improve dramatically in the near future.

7. Children under seven or so are not bound by these rules. While I think teens who show up for Mass in shorts look extremely silly and out-of-place, I know that teens delight in looking silly and out-of-place, and will probably deeply regret such things when they are adults.

8. Men over the age of 65 or so will sometimes signal their absolute surrender in terms of things like fashion or good taste by wearing knee-length shorts with mid-calf or knee socks and sandals out in public. They will compound these errors by pairing a dress shirt or collared polo shirt with the shorts regardless of how casual the shorts are; the shirt will bulge out at the waist, because they will still be shopping for their shorts or pants based on the waist size they had ten years ago. Respect for our elders (and we must, in charity, assume that any man who dresses like that is at least 65 years old) decrees that they should be humored and their fashion faux pas ignored by everyone--except for their wives, who may continue to nag them not to appear in public like that.

Some of you may agree with these rules; some will agree with some and violently disagree with others; and some will disagree with all of them. Which is why blogs have comment boxes. :)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Blaming the women

First, some housekeeping: the blog postings may be a bit lighter this week, and a bit less frequent. We're getting ready to start school next week; ordinarily we'd be starting this week, but I made the "executive decision" to hold off until next week to get my plans in order and to get through one more week of triple-digit temps before attempting to resume our school schedule. (Not like we won't be doing our school work in triple-digit temps anyway; at this rate, I'd be pleasantly surprised if we hit the lower nineties by Thanksgiving.) Your patience is, as always, appreciated.

I've got two seemingly unrelated items to share. The first is out of Phoenix:

Girls no longer will be allowed as altar servers during Mass at the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, SS. Simon and Jude.

The Rev. John Lankeit, rector of the cathedral, said he made the decision in hopes of promoting the priesthood for males and other religious vocations, such as becoming a nun, for females.

Made up primarily of fifth- through eighth-graders the altar-server corps in American churches has included girls since 1983 in many places. Girls and boys regularly serve together at churches throughout the Phoenix Catholic Diocese. [...]

At SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, the girls will be offered the role of sacristan, the person who prepares the church and the altar area before Mass.

And the second is a piece about modesty from the RenewAmerica site:
'This post consists of excerpts from a letter I wrote to the pastor of a Catholic parish about a certain incident that occurred at his church. I have omitted all references as to the church's location. The church is semi-circular in design, and we were sitting in the last pew near the center isle, which afforded us a clear view of almost the entire congregation. I started my letter with a compliment as to how nice the newly-remodeled church looked. I then ask the pastor to please consider the following hypothetical situation.

'A priest enters the confessional for the usual Saturday morning or afternoon confession time. During this time a young man enters the confessional. 'Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.' From the sound of the voice on the other side of the screen, the priest surmises that the person is a teenager or young adult. The confession continues: 'It was a week since my last confession. I'm guilty of many lustful thoughts, and I looked at some very immodestly dressed women more times than I should have.' [...]

'The priest: 'Why did you continue to look at them? Why didn't you go someplace else, away from them?' [...]

''No, Father,' said the young man, 'I was at your noon Mass last Sunday, and two scantily-dressed girls were sitting in the pew right in front of me, along with their parents. I couldn't move because my parents were on either side of me.'

'While I said that the above story was hypothetical, in reality it is not. The Mass in question took place this past July at a prominent Catholic parish in a town my wife and I were visiting. It was the main Mass of the day and the church was quite full.

'The young man in the confessional could have been any one of the many young men in the church. The two 'scantily clad' girls were real and were sitting about six pews in front of us with their parents.

'From the area where we were sitting, we observed, in addition to the two girls mentioned above, approximately a dozen very immodestly dressed women, with the majority of these being young girls in their teens and early twenties. Bare backs and shoulders, low-cut tops, strapless sun suits, short shorts, mini-skirts and tight-fitting tops were plainly visible.
Now, what could these two pieces possibly have in common?

Before I answer that question, let me say the following, for the record: First, I am not opposed to any priest or bishop deciding to return to the age-old practice of permitting only male altar servers; while I know many fine young ladies who volunteer their service in this way, I agree that there are laudable goals in regard to encouraging priestly vocations that can be addressed by returning to the traditional practice of male-only altar servers. Second, I agree that both modesty in dress and the issue of dressing appropriately for Mass are real problems; I've written about both before, and continue to agree that there are actual concerns for pastors and others related to both matters.

A third thing also needs to be said: the reason for including the story out of Phoenix with the second piece is not because of the story itself, but because of the jubilant reaction to the story which I've seen in some corners of the internet. I don't want to cite any specific comments because I'm not out to start a blog/FB/etc. war, but there have been more than a few of which the tone has been something like "It's about time they kicked those blankety-blank girls off of the altar--they've ruined everything."

And that brings me to my point.

When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, the first thing he did was run off and leave Eve alone to deal with the serpent (which, according to Dr. Scott Hahn, was a fearsome dragon-like beast, not merely a little garter snake). The second thing he did was let Eve convince him to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. And the third thing he did, when God asked him about it, was to point the finger of blame at the woman who was of his own flesh and say, "Hey, it was her fault! She made me do it."

Given how longstanding a tradition it is, then, for men to tend to blame women for things that go wrong, it shouldn't be surprising to encounter that attitude in regard to such things as female altar servers, immodestly dressed churchgoers, and (if we may be honest) tons of other church-related issues, from issues dealing with women who have the audacity to show up with the noisy, wiggly products of their fertility in tow (and who, gasp, sometimes even nurse them while still on church property!) to women who sing at you to women who get up and do some of the readings to women who respond when Father asks people to help out as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. All of this, if you have a certain male mindset, is the fault of the women. It is not the fault of men who gave permission (however it was granted) for female altar servers; it is not the fault of men who let their daughters out their front doors dressed for Mass as if they hoped to solicit in the parking lot afterward (if, indeed, things are really that bad; I've never encountered anything quite so horrible as the writer of the second piece describes, but then, I'm female, and tend to see in unfortunately-revealing clothing nothing but a fashion mistake that the woman will hopefully correct when she becomes aware of the problem); it is the fault of women for having children and expecting those children to attend Mass--or for not arranging for babysitting etc. so the children don't have to bother anyone until they're old enough to be altar servers; it is the fault of women that women tend to outnumber male singers in the average parish choir by a ratio of at least three or four to one; it is the fault of women that women also outnumber the men who are willing to lector at Mass; and it is clearly the fault of women that male priests ask for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and that, once again, far more women than men show up in response.

Sigh.

I have admitted before to being a bit of a feminist, but only in a completely Christian, women of Proverbs 31 kind of way. I'm fine with the all-male priesthood and with the idea that some of us find our fulfillment in totally traditional roles; but I'm also opposed to the notion that women are a sort of inferior reflection of God who can't possibly be intelligent or capable, or that men would never be bothered or tempted or otherwise harmed if women weren't around. That's pretty much the extent of my "feminism," which actual feminists would dismiss out of hand; but it's enough to get me condemned by some of the male Catholic contingent bent on promoting the idea that what's wrong with the post-Vatican II Church is that there are just too many damned (maybe literally) women running around trying to run things. Even if that were true--and I'm not saying it is--who would be at fault for it?

The kind of man who likes to blame the women is the kind of man who thinks that the world would be perfect if men would go back to being in charge in the way he imagines they were in 1940 or 1950. He never seems to stop to reflect on the reality that if women have, indeed, taken over since then, it has to be the fault of the men who gave up their pristine and perfect authority over them--either that, or that authority was never what the gentlemen imagine it was in the first place.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dead wrong: Rick Perry and the death penalty

Yesterday I covered some basics as to how the Catholic Church views the death penalty. Below that post a reader commented: "Unaddressed in this post, but hopefully to be addressed in your follow up is the duty of a non-catholic politician to live up to the highly evolved Catholic position on the death penalty and a Catholic citizen's duty to hold them to such a position."

I'm aware that Catholic citizens don't appear to feel they have much of a duty at all to hold non-Catholic, or even Catholic, politicians to positions of morality as voiced by the Church. Take, for instance, our apparent willingness to overlook a politician's "exceptions" on abortion, his support for ESCR, or the universal support among American politicians for public funding of birth control via programs like Medicaid (and now in all health insurance plans as well). There seems to be little limit to what we can overlook when the politician in question is one of "our guys," and that goes for Catholic Republicans and Democrats alike.

Nevertheless, I think that examining Rick Perry's record on the death penalty is a helpful look at his positions and even, to a certain extent, his character. It may not make some Catholics any less inclined to vote for him, but I would think that addressing these sorts of questions now, while we are still in early-primary days and the field of Republican hopefuls is quite crowded, might be a beneficial thing to do.

Let's begin with a look at some factual information:

In tough-on-crime Texas, supporting the death penalty is practically a political prerequisite, and Gov. Rick Perry has nailed that qualification, overseeing the executions of 230 prisoners, more than any other modern governor of any state.

“He certainly would stand out among other governors,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “But that’s just sort of a given in Texas.” [...]

During his 10-year tenure, Perry has overseen nearly half of the 470 executions in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated in 1974. In that time, public opinion about the death penalty has evolved as DNA evidence and other modern forensic science developments have cleared many wrongfully convicted inmates across the country. More than 130 death row inmates nationwide have been exonerated since 1973 — including 12 in Texas — according to the Death Penalty Information Center. A 2010 Gallup News poll found that public approval of the death penalty had dropped from an all-time high of 80 percent in 1994 to 65 percent in 2009.

Perhaps more troubling than the number of executions that have taken place on Governor Perry's watch is this fact: while other governors or officials of other states grant stays of execution or clemency fairly often, Governor Perry has only done so about thirty times--and 28 of those cases involved an order by the U.S. Supreme Court:

HOUSTON - In nearly nine years as Texas governor, Rick Perry has only once delayed an execution and has never spared a life based on a claim of innocence, according to a Chronicle review of public records, clemency statistics and information from the governor's office.

During that same period, officials in other death penalty states granted clemency for humanitarian reasons at least 200 times - 171 based on questions of innocence in Illinois alone.

Texas has executed 200 convicts under Perry's watch, but he has spared just one condemned man's life in a case in which he wasn't compelled to do so by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In that case, the inmate Perry saved in 2007 wasn't a killer, but the admitted driver of a getaway car, condemned alongside the triggerman in a joint trial under Texas' tough "law of parties."

One inmate sent to his death was paranoid schizophrenic Kelsey Patterson; Governor Perry ignored the recommendation of the Texas parole board for clemency, along with appeals by international groups for mercy based on the man's history of mental illness and apparent lack of awareness that he was even going to be executed.

But the execution of Kelsey Patterson is not the most troubling execution which took place under Rick Perry's governorship. That dubious honor belongs to the late Cameron Todd Willingham, a man executed for the arson-murders of his three young children: except that there appears to be little doubt today that the fire was only a tragic accident, that the Willingham children were not murdered at all, and that Texas did, indeed, execute an innocent man:

And yet, just when you start thinking the death penalty isn’t such a bad idea after all, another house-fire murder case comes back into view, this one in Texas. Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murder in 1992 after testimony that the house fire that killed his three young daughters (his wife was elsewhere) had been arson. But the conviction was based on junk science claiming evidence of accelerants where none existed. In the years since, nearly a dozen top fire inspectors have ruled out arson. A jailhouse snitch essentially recanted his testimony.

No matter. Willingham, the subject of a New Yorker piece last year, was executed in 2004. Afterward, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now clinging to a lead in the polls over former Houston mayor Bill White, seemingly did everything he could to cover up evidence clearing Willingham. Instead of allowing an investigation to proceed, Perry last year fired members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission who exposed the “evidence” used to convict him. (Perry felt the commission was biased.)

Biased in favor of the truth, perhaps? Some members of Mr. Willingham's family probably think so--at least, they are trying to have Mr. Willingham posthumously exonerated.

At this point, some might object: sure, it looks now as though Mr. Willingham was innocent--but could Governor Perry have possibly known? The answer is yes: see here:

Two of Texas' highest-profile death penalty recent cases continue to shadow Perry. The case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for an arson that killed his three daughters, has roiled the criminal justice community in Texas and nationwide. Since Willingham's execution, public reports have revealed that Perry’s office was aware that serious scientific questions had been raised about evidence used to convict Willingham. Perry has dismissed the reports of scientists who concluded Willingham was not responsible for the blaze and has called him a guilty “monster.” The Texas Forensic Science Commission continues to investigate the science used in the Willingham case, and the Innocence Project continues its fight to prove that Texas killed an innocent man.

...and here:

AUSTIN - The Houston Chronicle and Hearst Newspapers LLC are suing Gov. Rick Perry in an effort to force the release of a clemency report Perry received before denying a stay of execution to Cameron Todd Willingham.

The report is a summary and status of the case against Willingham and was given to Perry at 11:30 a.m. on the day of Willingham's execution, in 2004, in the fire deaths of his three daughters. Anti-death penalty advocates say modern fire forensics show that the blaze cannot be proven as arson.

Perry's office has refused to release the report, claiming it is a privileged document. It was used by Perry in the process of deciding whether to give Willingham a 30-day stay of execution. [...]

Willingham was put to death shortly after 6 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2004, just 88 minutes after the governor's office received an expert's report that the fire that killed Willingham's children could not be positively attributed to arson. It is unknown whether the report by Perry's general counsel included any mention of the arson controversy in the Willingham case.

If a report from one of the most noted experts in the field comes in just 88 minutes before a man's execution stating that modern scientific methods do not agree with the original fire investigator's conclusion that the fire which killed the Willingham children was arson, you would think that any reasonable governor would approve a thirty-day stay of execution simply to allow the Death Row inmate's lawyers to have a look at the document. In the case of Governor Perry and Cameron Todd Willingham, however, you would be wrong. Dead wrong.

As if that wasn't worrying enough, take a look at how these sorts of things are viewed by supporters of Governor Perry:
Veterans of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s unsuccessful 2010 primary challenge to Perry recalled being stunned at the way attacks bounced off the governor in a strongly conservative state gripped by tea party fever. Multiple former Hutchison advisers recalled asking a focus group about the charge that Perry may have presided over the execution of an innocent man — Cameron Todd Willingham — and got this response from a primary voter: “It takes balls to execute an innocent man.” [Emphasis added: E.M.]
No: it takes something ranging between egregious negligence and outright evil to execute an innocent man. At the very least, it takes someone with major character flaws. But there's no evidence that Governor Perry has ever taken seriously the scientific evidence that casts such grave doubt on Cameron Todd Willingham's conviction: Perry says Willingham was a monster, end of story. And that's troubling--because if the fire that swept through the Willingham home wasn't arson, then despite Mr. Willingham's admitted flaws, he was neither a monster nor a murderer.

Governor Perry's record on the death penalty, the sheer number of executions which have happened on his watch, his tendency not to grant humanitarian appeals, appeals for clemency, or the like, and his involvement in the Willingham execution are all causes for concern. It is one thing to expect a non-Catholic politician to have developed the same moral position concerning the death penalty as the Church teaches (though quite a lot of Americans are reaching that moral position regardless of religion, on their own). It is another altogether to pass over as nothing the instincts of a politician who is, quite frankly, dead wrong about the death penalty. Whatever Catholic voters do when the Republican nominee is actually decided, I think it is unseemly at this early stage of the election process to be enthusiastic champions of a man who falls so far short of the Catholic view of the death penalty.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Death is irrevocable

I'm working on the Perry/death penalty post; expect to see it tomorrow.

In the meantime, though, as I began to gather my links and thoughts about it all, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to review what the Church teaches about the death penalty, and what my own ideas about it are. Otherwise the post tomorrow will be much too long for anyone to want to read (especially on a Friday).

To begin with, let's look at Church teaching, as summed up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2266 The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.67

2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
"If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
"Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]

What do we take away from this passage in the Catechism?

First: the use of the death penalty is not something that is intrinsically evil; in fact, it is something that is seen as a legitimate use of the authority of a State.

Second: notwithstanding the State's right to execute criminals, it is a better treatment of the dignity of the human person to avoid execution whenever possible. Given the modern ability to incarcerate criminals indefinitely, it is rare that the death penalty will be required.

Two those two points I would add these others, often brought up in death penalty discussions among Catholics:

Third: it is never right or just to see the death penalty as a form of vengeance enacted by the public upon the criminal, regardless of the hideousness of his crimes. This is wrong not because it damages the criminal so much as it is wrong because it damages the person seeking and feeding his impulse toward vengeance--and when the person is, in fact, a whole large group of people or society itself, the potential harm is very great indeed.

Fourth: it is not just for the death penalty to be indiscriminately applied to the poor, especially when this happens simply because a wealthier person accused of a crime will have access to highly-trained lawyers, expert witnesses, and other resources that the poorer person will not have available. Note: I don't mean to denigrate the honest and sincere efforts of public defenders when I write this; but it is simply a reality that a poor defendant relying solely on public defenders may not, despite their best efforts, learn of things that could truly impact his case or his appeal. If the death penalty ceases to be the impartial result of the justice system for all criminals accused of certain types of crimes, and instead becomes applied disproportionately and unjustly to those who lack the monetary resources to defend themselves or create reasonable doubt in the minds of juries, then can the death penalty really be said to be just?

Fifth: the Catechism itself says that the death penalty may be justly applied when the identity of the criminal and his responsibility for the crime have been ascertained fully and completely. But we know that this is not the standard by which the death penalty is applied in America; it is certain that innocent people have been executed in the past and will continue to be executed in the future. Such a thought should fill our souls with horror--and yet accepting the broad use of the death penalty means accepting that some innocent people will likely be executed for crimes they have not committed.

I realize that it is slightly obnoxious for me to quote an earlier writing of mine; but I addressed my own slow journey to full acceptance of the Church's teaching at the Coalition for Clarity blog last year, and would like to share those thoughts here as well:

I personally struggled to embrace this view of the death penalty. For a long time I saw it only as a matter of meting out to violent murderers their "just desserts." I ignored tales of innocent people being executed (or released from Death Row years after being convicted), and of the disproportionate justice offered to the wealthy, who could afford expensive lawyers, and the poor, who had not these means to defend themselves against criminal charges. I didn't think about that corporal work of mercy which orders us to visit the imprisoned, or consider the impact on the souls of victims' families when they would publicly demand the death of the criminal as a kind of revenge for their suffering and loss.

Surprisingly enough, it was a purely secular source that led me to rethink my position in favor of the use of the death penalty as it is used here and now, in 21st century America. It was the late Erle Stanley Gardner's book, The Court of Last Resort, that first made me rethink my assumptions in favor of the death penalty. At the time I read this book, I'd been presented with Catholic arguments against the death penalty--I had just rejected them as "liberal" without really thinking about them. Mr. Gardner's book, detailing cases where men were waiting to die when there really was reasonable doubt that they were guilty--and in some cases, abundant evidence that they couldn't possibly be guilty--made me think about the issue in a new way.

Death, after all, is irrevocable. If an innocent man is executed, there is nothing that can be done to remedy the matter. But if a guilty one merely lives out the rest of his life in prison--who, exactly, is harmed? Society is not harmed--because we can't execute prisoners merely to avoid the cost of housing them. Society would only be harmed if the incarceration were lacking and the prisoner continued to hurt or kill people while behind bars--which does happen, and must be addressed.
I eventually came to realize that while States may execute criminals, this does not have to be the first or only response to violent crime, and is subject to so many misuses and miscarriages of justice that any society should proceed with great caution before executing anyone at all. This puts me at odds with a certain faction on the Right, which equates being "tough on crime" with being adamantly in favor of the death penalty and unwilling to discuss its merits or its just application regardless of what the Church teaches.

For the Church teaches that a man doesn't lose his intrinsic dignity even if he has sinned so greatly as to commit violent acts of murder and mayhem; he is still our brother, and we are still his keeper. It is a work of mercy to pray for prisoners, to visit them, to continue to speak to them of God's mercy and of the possibility of forgiveness.

And so I find myself disturbed by the relish with which the death penalty is often spoken of by people whose political views I might otherwise share (at least to some extent). But more about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Last echoes of the lullaby

I have not forgotten my promise to delve into the specifics of Rick Perry's support of the death penalty, but unfortunately I'm in the midst of finishing up my school book orders for the year. The strange slowness of various textbook sites, the need to triple-check who needs which text and who just needs workbooks for texts we already own, and my ability to get distracted by such things as laundry and kitchen chores is bad enough without my attempting to write what will probably be a lengthy post requiring research--but until I'm done ordering books I don't have the leisure to drop everything and focus on it. Your patience is appreciated.

In the meantime, I've been wanting to share this horrific piece that has been making the rounds since last week:
As Jenny lay on the obstetrician’s examination table, she was grateful that the ultrasound tech had turned off the overhead screen. She didn’t want to see the two shadows floating inside her. Since making her decision, she had tried hard not to think about them, though she could often think of little else. She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment — and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny’s abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt.
“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.” [...]
Jenny’s decision to reduce twins to a single fetus was never really in doubt. The idea of managing two infants at this point in her life terrified her. She and her husband already had grade-school-age children, and she took pride in being a good mother. She felt that twins would soak up everything she had to give, leaving nothing for her older children. Even the twins would be robbed, because, at best, she could give each one only half of her attention and, she feared, only half of her love. Jenny desperately wanted another child, but not at the risk of becoming a second-rate parent. “This is bad, but it’s not anywhere as bad as neglecting your child or not giving everything you can to the children you have,” she told me, referring to the reduction. She and her husband worked out this moral calculation on their own, and they intend to never tell anyone about it. Jenny is certain that no one, not even her closest friends, would understand, and she doesn’t want to be the object of their curiosity or feel the sting of their judgment.
The wise blogger Sister Toldjah weighs in here:
The indifference to human life in this piece is staggering – almost literally – to me,and I say that as someone who, again, has read/heard/watched a lot of information on this topic. Thank God none of our parents viewed us – twins or not – with the same cold, clinical detachment as these “mothers” (and most pro-aborts in general) viewed the pregnancy process. Once again, the “pro-choice” culture of death is exposed for what it is: bloodless, soulless – and most of all, heartless. Think about these vain, selfish people next time you read about a mother and father who eagerly wanted to carry a twin pregnancy to term but lost one at birth due to delivery issues or unexpected health complications. My heart goes out to them. To pro-twin reduction types, I have nothing but contempt. [Link in original--E.M.]
Of course, "Jenny" in the NYT Magazine piece--and the other pseudonymous twin-killing "moms"--can look to this woman as their patron saint in the art of soul-killing selfishness; nothing sends shivers down an actual human being's spine like the idea of slaughtering your two healthy twins in utero (and allowing the singleton to live--the triumph of 'choice,' ladies!) because otherwise you might have to live on Staten Island and shop for big jars of mayonnaise at Costco (horrors!).

But this is what happens when you stop viewing children as God's gifts sent to bless a man and a woman united in marriage, and start viewing them as the ultimate consumer accessory, the Prada shoes or Birken bag of pets, the best possible toy for the adult who already has everything--which is how our selfish, consumerist, post-Western Christendom sinkhole of a culture sees the little tykes.

Think I'm exaggerating? Take a look at this story from Australia:
A MAN who donated sperm to a lesbian couple will have his name stripped from their child's birth certificate after a successful legal bid by the birth mother's ex-partner.

The woman took the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and biological father, to court in May to have his name replaced with her name in the document.

The female child was born in 2001 and the women split in 2006, although they continued to share parental responsibility.

The man also played a role in the child's life. [...]

Outside court the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said he was devastated and labelled the outcome an injustice.

"She's not my daughter as far as the law is concerned," he said.

That's because the law sees children as costly little playthings, and not people. People--actual human beings--each have one father and one mother in the biological sense; any other legal fictions we create (stepparents, gay "parents") come after that fact. But today's manufactured organic sentient beings can be declared the property of two woman just as if the little girl was somehow magically created by the various sex acts her "mothers" used to engage in, back when they were together. The man--the child's father--for whom I have some sympathy, unfortunately contributed to this whole mess when he saw his act of giving the lesbians his sperm with which to manufacture "their" child as a good thing; he is now reaping the sorrowful consequences of having made the artificial fabrication of a human being outside of a loving relationship between a man and a woman possible in the first place.

IVF, twin (or more) reductions, reproductive prostitution, and the artificial assembly-line production of consumer-goods children--all are nothing but the last echoes of the lullaby for the dying narcissists of our age, as they fade into the oblivion of history, soon to be replaced.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The cult of self-esteem

A lot of news organizations are carrying this story of an exchange between President Obama and a Tea Party member:

President Obama came face-to-face with the Tea Party last night in Iowa, clashing with a member during and after a town hall last night.

Ryan Rhodes, a group leader in the Hawkeye State, stood up and shouted a question during a town hall, asking the president how he can call for more civility when "your vice president is calling people like me, a Tea Party member, a 'terrorist.'" [...]

After calling another person, Obama circled back to address Rhodes' question: "First of all, in fairness to this gentleman who raised a question, I absolutely agree that everybody needs to try to tone down the rhetoric.

"Now, in fairness, since I've been called a socialist who wasn't born in this country, who is destroying America and taking away its freedoms because I passed a health care bill, I'm all for lowering the rhetoric." [Emphasis added--E.M.]
I realize that I may be reading a bit too much into this exchange; off-the-cuff remarks rarely hold up well to scrutiny no matter who utters them. But to me, the phrase of President Obama's which I put in bold print illustrates something that has long troubled me about Americans and our cult of self-esteem.

The president seems to be saying that the rhetoric which criticizes him for passing a health care bill (and not just any health care bill; Obamacare has thus far not fared entirely well in federal courts and may, indeed, represent a legislative attempt to confiscate some American freedoms like the freedom not to be forced to purchase insurance, etc.) is the exact same thing as rhetoric which claims that he was born outside of this country or that he is a socialist. In other words, the president's own rhetoric here seems to imply that legitimate criticisms of his policies and agenda, of his ideas, that is, is somehow no different from illegitimate or baseless criticism of him personally.

I will say again: it may simply be an unfortunate turn of an off-the-cuff phrase. But I noticed it because I've noticed similar things quite a lot from people of our generation and the generations younger than both President Obama and me: there is a strong tendency on the part of many Americans to think that saying "I think you're wrong about this, and here's why," is exactly the same thing as saying "I think you're a fuddy-duddy poopy-head and your mother dresses you funny."

Here on this blog, I've always had a fairly open comment policy. I don't mind at all civil disagreement with my ideas, even when that disagreement is strongly phrased. This means, sometimes, that the comment boxes are a turn-off to people who dislike that sort of thing, especially when a commenter seems to be running off on a tangent in order to showcase his or her general disagreement with me, with religious believers generally or with conservatives generally, and so on. Still, I think it's better to let people have their say, so long as we don't drift too far off-topic and nobody starts lobbing personal attack firebombs in the direction of nice commenters who are minding their own business. Letting people have their say tends to lead to conversation, and conversation tends to promote understanding--even if sometimes that understanding and feeling of fellowship is limited, as it will likely be, to patchy stretches of common ground.

But there are some other blogs (and I'm not naming any, because truthfully I'm not thinking of any specific blog here) where strong disagreement is considered an attack, and where telling someone you think they may be wrong about something is a hurtful jab intended to damage that person's fragile, delicate ego and glass-spiderweb of self-esteem.

If this sort of thing were limited to blogs, I suppose it wouldn't matter much. But it's not. I've experienced it in real life, too, as I'm sure some of you have: the immediate harrumphing and subject-changing that can occur the moment a conversation drifts into potentially troubled waters. Sure, there are times when it's best not to wade into controversy: times when the number of little pitchers with big ears is far greater than that of adults, perhaps, or when groups of people who already disagree radically and strongly with each other have gathered for some reason and are firmly committed to a peaceful and tranquil experience (such as a wedding, a family Thanksgiving dinner, or a cease-fire negotiation). But other times it seems as though the average American has become almost pathologically afraid of being disagreed with, as though having someone disagree with your ideas is like having someone punch you in the face and laugh at you while you're falling to the ground.

Are we really that dainty? Have we really bought into the notion that all negativity and criticism are bad, that challenging each other to defend our ideas or positions is an act of hostility, that saying "You're wrong!" is just like saying "You're a brainless twit who would have to reach up to grab hold of stupidity!" in terms of its effect on our self-esteem?

I certainly hope not. But I do think that a couple of generations of misguided educational theories have contributed toward making self-esteem a sort of false god. And like other cults that worship false gods, the cult of self-esteem is far more brittle and easily damaged than most people realize.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Not tempted to break my pledge

As I pondered the recent Republican presidential debate, Michele Bachmann's win of the Iowa straw poll, and Rick Perry's formal decision to enter this race, I had to admit: my pledge is likely going to save me from any agonizing decisions come November of next year.

Then again, the Republicans are doing a pretty good job of preventing conservative Catholics from having to make any agonizing election decisions all by themselves.

There was a chance--a slight one, perhaps, but a chance--that some really intelligent principled pro-life anti-torture anti-foreign entanglement/wars of expansion pro-American pro-traditional marriage anti-debt anti-big corporation anti-big government pro-small business pro-family pro-solutions to poverty anti-confiscatory taxation pro-reasonable taxation social and fiscal and otherwise conservative Republican would somehow elbow his or her way onto the national stage--but at this point, I have to wonder if any such person even exists in the GOP, or at all, anywhere outside of my hopeful imagination.

Living, as I do, in Texas, I've been asked to share my reasons for not particularly wishing Rick Perry to seize the Republican presidential nomination. My short, glib answer is that Rick Perry is Mitt Romney with less hair and more cronyism. To take a longer look at Perry's record is to delve into two specific matters that have been addressed before and then to look at Perry in the whole.

The first matter is a little thing you've probably never heard of, called the Trans-Texas Corridor. Here's what it was supposed to be:

How to bridge the gap? In 2002 the governor, Rick Perry, offered a grand vision: the Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of highways criss-crossing the state. The centrepiece would be a 600-mile (1,000km) thoroughfare running the length of the state, roughly paralleling the existing Interstate 35, from Mexico to the Red river. It would be 1,200 feet (370 metres) across—the width of four football fields, in Texas terms—with plenty of room for cars, trucks and trains. It would be expensive, but never fear: the state would work with the private sector, and companies would run the corridor as a toll road. “Toll roads, slow roads, or no roads,” explained Mr Perry.

Critics howled. They said that carving out the corridor would require unprecedented use of eminent domain to swallow private lands, and fretted about traffic from Mexico and the cost of tolls. Under fire from all sides, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) killed the corridor last year. But the issue is very far from dead. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the state’s senior senator, who is challenging Mr Perry for the 2010 Republican nomination for governor, argues that the “concepts and strategies” of the corridor are still alive and well. They certainly are. Work on toll roads and public-private partnerships is continuing, although in smaller, less showy stretches.

Yep. A road the width of four football fields, owned and run by private companies from foreign countries, along which a handful of restaurants and gas stations would have a veritable monopoly, and on which trucks from Mexico and South America could drive without needing to bother with silly border formalities when they entered Texas from Mexico--that was Governor Perry's baby. And though he pulled the plug on the project in time for last year's election (when he was reelected governor of Texas), he has said that he still wants to achieve many of the TTC's goals--but under a different name and with less obvious eminent domain grabbing and foreign country giveaways, so as not to rile the Texans who were already mad about this the first time around.

The second matter was Governor Perry's attempt to mandate the Gardasil shot for all Texas sixth-grade girls. He says now that it was still a good idea--but that he went about it the wrong way:

A few hours after unveiling his campaign for president, Perry began walking back from one of the most controversial decisions of his more-than-10-year reign as Texas governor. Speaking to voters at a backyard party in New Hampshire, Perry said he was ill-informed when he issued his executive order, in February 2007, mandating the HPV vaccine for all girls entering sixth grade, unless their parents completed a conscientious-objection affidavit form. The vaccine, Merck & Co.’s Gardasil, would have protected against the forms of HPV that cause about 70 percent of all cervical cancer, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

"I signed an executive order that allowed for an opt-out, but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry," Perry said at the Manchester, N.H., event in response to an audience question about the HPV controversy, according to ABC News’ The Note. "But here’s what I learned: When you get too far out in front of the parade, they will let you know, and that’s exactly what our Legislature did, and I saluted it and I said, 'Roger that, I hear you loud and clear.' And they didn’t want to do it and we don’t, so enough said.”

Instead of making the vaccine mandatory, "what we should of done was a program that frankly allowed them to opt in or some type of program like that," Perry told the New Hampshire gathering.

The battle over mandatory Gardasil shots gets cast in the above article, as it usually does, as a battle between social conservatives who think the shots encourage promiscuity and the rest of the world who doesn't want girls to grow up and get cervical cancer regardless of their sexual habits; this is actually rather insulting, as no social conservative I know thinks that at all. However, a look at the reality can be had here; yes, it's an anti-Gardasil site, but it's one of the few places that has been tracking the number of deaths reported to follow Gardasil as well as the very serious reported reactions that go far beyond the warnings contained in the vaccine insert. The site has counted 73 deaths so far from the vaccine, a number which is not that far from the number reported to VAERS (the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System) which included 68 deaths as cited here. Despite the fact that Gardasil is only supposed to be given to healthy girls, though, the CDC believes that these deaths are not linked to the vaccine and that in general information reported to VAERS doesn't ever show evidence of safety issues with a vaccine.

Still, we're talking about a vaccine which may or may not prevent cervical cancer (it will take a few decades before we can really say whether girls vaccinated with Gardasil have lower cervical cancer rates than others) and which has had significant negative press associated with possible dangerous side effects. Why the rush to mandate this vaccine for all Texas sixth-graders, forcing parents who didn't want the shot for their daughters (or wished to delay it, etc.) to opt-out? One possibility is suggested by the first article about this issue I linked to above:

Perry was also dogged by accusations that he was close to Merck, at the time the sole manufacturer of the vaccine. Mike Toomey, his former chief of staff and longtime adviser, was reported to be one of Merck’s three lobbyists in Texas. Merck’s political action committee donated $6,000 to Perry’s re-election campaign. Perry said the donations, small in the relative scheme of big-money Texas politics, had no influence on his decision.

Didn't we already learn that Texas-style cronyism has a dampening effect on conservatism?

And when it comes to slap-on-the-back cronyism, Perry's alleged ties with Merck may be the tip of the iceberg:
The Emerging Technology Fund was created at Mr. Perry's behest in 2005 to act as a kind of public-sector venture capital firm, largely to provide funding for tech start-ups in Texas. Since then, the fund has committed nearly $200 million of taxpayer money to fund 133 companies. Mr. Perry told a group of CEOs in May that the fund's "strategic investments are what's helping us keep groundbreaking innovations in the state." The governor, together with the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the Texas House, enjoys ultimate decision-making power over the fund's investments. [...]

All told, the Dallas Morning News has found that some $16 million from the tech fund has gone to firms in which major Perry contributors were either investors or officers, and $27 million from the fund has gone to companies founded or advised by six advisory board members. The tangle of interests surrounding the fund has raised eyebrows throughout the state, especially among conservatives who think the fund is a misplaced use of taxpayer dollars to start with.

"It is fundamentally immoral and arrogant," says state representative David Simpson, a tea party-backed freshman from Longview, two hours east of Dallas. The fund "opened the door to the appearance of impropriety, if not actual impropriety."

In April, the state auditor's office called for greater transparency in the fund's management, and some legislators began looking for ways that the fund might be reformed. With the state facing a $27 billion budget shortfall in the last legislative session, Mr. Simpson filed a motion in the Texas House in May to shutter the fund and redirect the money to other portions of the budget. That measure passed 89-37 to cheers from the chamber. But the fund was kept alive by the legislature's conference committee. The fund currently has $140 million to spend, according to the governor's office.

Michael Quinn Sullivan, the president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, sees in the Emerging Technology Fund a classic example of the perils of government pork. "The problem with these kinds of funds is that even when they're used with the best of intentions, it looks bad," says Mr. Sullivan. "You're taking from the average taxpayer and giving to someone who has a connection with government officials."

Which is politics as usual, these days. But is that really conservatism? More to the point: is that really the best challenge the GOP has to President Obama?

As I said above, I'm sticking to my pledge, which means I'm not planning to vote for anybody but third-party candidates anyway. But it would be nice if I could at least be tempted by somebody in the GOP field.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A little child shall lead them

I was going to post today about yesterday's debate, why it's Exhibit A in why the GOP doesn't seem to know what the heck it's doing anymore, and why--alas!--I don't think Rick Perry is a good alternative for post-party Catholic conservatives such as myself.

But that will have to wait.

Because this story is much, much more important:
Andrew Adansi-Bonnah is 11. And during his eight-week school holiday, he wants to raise 20 million Ghanaian cedis — or about $13 million — for his cause by walking office to office collecting donations in Ghana's capital, Accra. [...]

Andrew said he was inspired by images of skeletal babies and stick-thin children he saw on television, which led him to name his campaign Save Somali Children from Hunger.

"There are hungry people in Ghana but our situation is not as desperate as the people of Somalia," said the skinny, soft-spoken boy.
Beautiful, no? But it gets better:
Andrew said he is confident he can raise all of the money. Ghanaians on average earn $2,500 a year, compared to Somalia's average yearly income of $600, according to 2010 CIA estimates. [...]

"This is a moment that mankind can touch lives," he said. "There is no point for others to have so much to eat while others have nothing to eat. It is not right."
No, sweet boy, it's not right.

I went here right away to make a small donation; Catholic Relief Services may at times draw my ire for various reasons, but at least I can be fairly sure that money donated to CRS to provide emergency food and water supplies to the people of East Africa won't be spent on condoms and IUDs instead.

Like many people, I've been horrified at the stories coming out of Somalia and other parts of East Africa. The thought of those long, desperate treks across hostile land in search of food; the horror stories of parents abandoning dead and dying little ones along the road; the slow and sometimes indifferent-seeming response of the international community to the crisis--all of these things make for hard reading or viewing.

But it's easy to feel helpless, to get bogged down in everyday life and forget one's good intentions to help out through whatever donations one can make and to add these suffering brothers and sisters to our daily prayers; I've certainly been guilty of that.

If you can--if it is financially possible for you to do so--can you send a little relief to Somalia today? The link to Catholic Relief Services' East Africa Drought appeal is here; feel free to add links to other organizations in the comment boxes if you think these will be useful (but only links for direct aid to Somalia/East Africa are sought at this time).

An eleven-year-old boy in Ghana, a country that has had its own share of desperate poverty, believes that his efforts to raise money for the suffering in Somalia can make a difference. Let's be inspired by that trusting faith, and add our efforts to his, here in this land of plenty!