Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Make room for Him

I think that somewhere in a lot of our minds, we have visions of a perfect Christmas that continue to lurk, and by which we--especially us women--tend to judge ourselves.

We, the children, and everybody on our guest list will be perfectly healthy and in a good mood.  We will go to Mass at the ideal time in the ideal church and everything will be reverent and solemn and prayerful and lovely.  The gifts beneath the tree, whether left by St. Nicholas or Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa, will all be nice, simple, meaningful things that delight the hearts of young and old while not being too materialistic.  Christmas morning will pass in a haze of happiness while we sip indulgent rich coffee and eat a delicious brunch before getting a leisurely start to our well-planned, simple, yet stunning Christmas dinner, which will be the joy of everyone who will be seated around our Christmas table.

And while we are cooking, the youngest guests will be playing happily while the older ones chat about Aristotle or Tolstoy and the even-older reminisce about those authentic Simple Christmases they grew up knowing well; and if the weather cooperates there will be outdoor activities, such as sledding to our north and a pleasant walk or an impromptu football game in the back yard for those of us in warmer climes; and everybody will bring a healthy appetite to the table and leave it with a rosy glow of inner happiness (we should just call that dish Inner Happiness Sweet Potato Puff, and be done with it!), and no one will be cranky or disappointed or sulky or moody--and no one, absolutely no one, will be sick.

Unfortunately, life isn’t like that.  I’ve been seeing some reports of illness from fellow Catholics on Facebook, as they contemplate having to miss Christmas Mass altogether, or take split shifts with the healthy people.  Even when everybody’s well, that ideal Mass may be less than ideal--too crowded, or too far, or too difficult to reach in dangerous weather conditions as may yet arise in some American towns by tomorrow night or Thursday morning.  Gifts don’t always please, and sometimes people will buy your kids plastic things with batteries and flashing lights and noise, and sometimes those “people” may even be you, yourself.  Christmas morning may be all but over before the coffee or tea kicks in, and there’s nothing leisurely about making a big holiday meal, though it doesn’t have to be exhausting if you’ve done enough of the cooking ahead of time (or if you follow Simcha Fisher’s advice and order Chinese).

The youngest children are likely to be like youngest children everywhere and be overtired and overstimulated and cranky and tearful; the older kids will be hiding or playing video games; and if Great Aunt Ludmila complains one more time about how much more perfectly everything used to be done in her day, you will not be responsible if somebody spikes her coffee with an adult beverage.  And even that, you think to yourself as you race to the bathroom with the third-youngest child and a mop and bucket, would be preferable to a sad, lonely Christmas taking care of small cranky ill people with the certainty that you will come down with whatever the heck this thing is just in time for your husband to head back to work after the holiday.

But we’re in luck.

Because the perfect Christmas already happened, and it was the first one.  And judged by externals, how perfect was it?  The Baby was born--but in a stable, in total anonymous poverty.  His mother and foster father were exhausted from a difficult journey.  They were probably low on food, too.  I bet all they wanted was to sleep quietly, but no--the Heavens burst into song, some rather chatty angels told the locals where to find them, and the locals--mostly shepherds--showed up to see this Child (and probably, human nature being what it is, to give His parents some totally unnecessary but well-meant advice on How to Take Care of a Newborn).  When people did show up bearing gifts (possibly quite a bit later), they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh--gifts of great meaning and significance, but I wonder if St. Joseph thought for a moment, “Now how am I supposed to keep those safe for Him and get it all home without being robbed on the way?”  And that’s before we even get to the bit about the murderous insane king plotting to kill Jesus before He was out of swaddling clothes.  Amy Welborn said it all, and much better, almost a decade ago.

So how do we have a perfect Christmas?

Accept everything that happens, as it happens.  And, most important of all: Make room for Him.

Make room for Him in the middle of the night when you’re tending to a sick child, all your dreams of Christmas crashing into ruins around his tiny bare feet as he races to the bathroom.  Make room for Him when you have to go to the earlier vigil Mass at the ugly church ten minutes away because your littlest ones aren’t ready for the thirty-minute drive at midnight yet.  Make room for Him when Christmas morning is a wrapping-paper-strewn clutter-fest; make room for Him when something really major goes wrong with Christmas dinner--or when something minor burns and fills the kitchen with noxious smoke.  Make room for Him among the slings and arrows of the misfortune of Great Aunt Ludmila’s nitpicking mouth; make room for Him by smiling at the video-gaming teens instead of scolding them for daring to have fun on Christmas.

Make room for Him: and Christmas will be perfect.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Parsing the Catechism on torture

As nearly everybody who has taken part in this discussion knows, the Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses torture here:
2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.
There has been a lot of parsing of the Catechism’s definition by those people who think that we should be able to use physical and moral violence against our enemies, and are trying to come up with a justification for that.  One of the most commonly used justifications is this one: “The Catechism never says we can’t use ‘enhanced interrogation’ methods to get important information in a ticking-time-bomb or similar scenario, so that must be allowed, right?  It must not count as torture.”

The people who make this particular rationalization fall into two basic errors.  The first error is to assume that this thing called “enhanced interrogation,” whatever it might be, is not the same thing as torture, whatever that may be (and we probably can’t really figure it out, so it doesn’t matter anyway).

The second error is to assume that “obtain information from a prisoner” is a separate category from the things listed in the Catechism’s definition.

Taking the first error, the question we might ask the defender of “enhanced interrogation” is this: by what means do you “enhance” the interrogation?  Do you ask more questions?  Do you ask questions for a longer period of time than is customary?  Are you shining a bright but non-painful light in the prisoner’s face to make it harder (theoretically, anyway) for him to lie to you?

If the person defending “enhanced interrogation” is being honest, sooner or later he will have to admit that what he means by “enhanced” is the infliction of some sort of pain or suffering.  But you cannot directly and intentionally inflict pain and suffering without running afoul of the Catechism’s prohibition against physical or moral violence.  And no method under discussion, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation, fails to be an act of physical or moral violence (or, in some cases, both).

Now, I know that some defenders of “enhanced interrogation” like to pretend that the word “extreme” comes in the Catechism’s definition before “physical or moral violence.”  They argue that some degree of physical or moral violence must be permissible when you are dealing with prisoners, and that thus the Catechism must mean to bar extreme acts of this kind.  Prisoners, after all, sometimes have to be put into handcuffs; sometimes they refuse to comply with legitimate orders and have to be restrained, even forcibly, and so on--so “enhanced interrogation” can’t be wrong.

The problem here is that while prisoners do indeed undergo various things as a result of their incarceration, those things are not direct and intentional, but a legitimate response to various circumstances that can arise in a prison setting.  A prisoner being moved from one prison to another may have to be handcuffed, and he may even be kept awake longer than usual in the process, but there is no direct intent to harm him, nor is harming him seen as a means to some ulterior purpose.  If he should lash out and try to escape, and physical force must be used to subdue him, that force and any unintended harm it may cause will end as soon as the prisoner is once again secure.  The difference between these things, and drowning a man who is handcuffed and strapped to a board, unable to move and completely in your power, should be evident.

As to the second error, the argument goes like this: “Nowhere in the Catechism does it say that you can’t use physical or moral violence to make someone give up information he is unlawfully withholding from you.  If you have a terrorist in your power, and he knows where the Ticking Time Bomb is and/or how to disable it, you have the right to hurt him in order to make him tell you what he knows.”

But the Catechism does say that you can’t use torture to extract confessions.  So let’s look at this hypothetical situation:

Good Guys: Tell us where the TTB is.
Suspected Terrorist: I don’t know.  I’m not a terrorist.
Good Guys: Tell us where the TTB is.
Suspected Terrorist: I don’t know!
Good guys: Tell us where the TTB is!  Or we’ll kill you this time!
Suspected Terrorist: All right, all right!  It was at Location X last I heard.  But they know I’ve been captured.  They’ve probably moved it by now...

Suppose the Good Guys now rush to the location and do not find any Ticking Time Bomb.  What does that mean?  Either:

A: The suspected terrorist lied under torture,
B: The suspected terrorist did not lie, but the TTB has been moved, or
C: The suspected terrorist is innocent and not even a terrorist at all.

Now--even if the Good Guys do find a TTB at the location, there are possibilities:

D: The suspected terrorist is a terrorist and told the truth.
E: The suspected terrorist is not a terrorist but overheard others talking about the TTB.
F: The suspected terrorist is totally innocent and his desperate lie by an amazing coincidence turned out to be the actual location of the TTB.

Even granting that “F” is highly unlikely, it is not impossible--and no matter what the outcome actually is, whether it is A, B, C, D, E or F, the effect of the torture has been to extract a confession, an admission of guilty knowledge, which the Catechism is quite clear you may not morally do!

So, no, even in a Ticking Time Bomb scenario you are not allowed to inflict physical or moral violence on a prisoner in your power to make him talk, because anything he says will be a confession, and quite possibly a false one (whether he is guilty or not).  The Catechism says you can’t do this, that this is, in fact, an immoral act of torture.

Starting from the principle that torture is intrinsically evil and that you may not directly and intentionally use physical or moral violence to inflict pain and suffering on prisoners regardless of what they are suspected of doing is the only way to safeguard the intrinsic human dignity not only of prisoners but of all of us.  There is no loophole to allow waterboarding or sleep deprivation or any other unjust act.  The sooner Catholics stop parsing the Catechism looking for such loopholes and accept the plain meaning of the words, the better it will be for us all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Torture, First Things, and that honorary degree

Not long ago, a hapless young man called me from my alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville.

I say “hapless,” because I had been dodging their telemarketing calls.  But as the calls increased in frequency, I realized that I would have to answer one sooner or later, because I once worked in the telemarketing office at Franciscan myself--so this hapless young man was the one on the other end when I at last picked up the phone.

I hated that job.  As I explained to the young man on the other end of the phone, telemarketing at Franciscan was the one job that made me think going back to cleaning restrooms for work/study would be preferable.  At least the restroom job was only physically dirty--telling cloistered nuns that their five dollars a year in spending money would be put to good use to help students, when in fact students like me who relied on heavy financial aid were becoming rarer and rarer while the nuns' spending money would go to help build the fancy new (back then) athletic center was dirtying my soul.  I got out as soon as a new job opened up, and I never looked back.

I also explained to the young man on the phone the other night that as a Catholic homeschooling family living on one income there was no way our own daughters could afford the $32,000 a year FUS now charges for students, and I’ve personally come to see it as morally problematic to let young people saddle themselves with fifty to a hundred thousand dollars in debt for a college education, even if that education is well-grounded in Catholic morality--so, no, I wouldn’t be contributing money that I knew perfectly well would go for new buildings or an expansion of the Austria program (I never went to Austria, myself) instead of helping scholarship kids.  What I didn’t tell him was that I no longer believe that an education at Franciscan University of Steubenville really grounds its graduates in Catholic morality.

I myself struggled with the Church’s teaching against torture when the issue first came up.  Gradually, thanks to the patience of people smarter and better educated than I was, I came to see that, no, we’re not allowed to hurt people who are completely in our power no matter how much we might justify it or wish to do so.  One would think that a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, a college that prides itself on its pro-life ethic, would not find it hard to understand that drowning people or depriving them of sleep to the point of hallucinations or otherwise harming them is morally evil.  But in casual conversations with fellow Catholic FUS grads, I found more than a few of of them willing to condone torture, to rationalize it, to insist that “pouring water on someone’s face” isn’t torture--and, hey, even if it is, terrorists are Bad Guys so they deserve it.  Against this backdrop, it wasn’t all that surprising--though quite horrifying--to realize my alma mater had awarded an apparently unrepentant torture apologist--ex-CIA director Michael Hayden--an honorary degree.

This was disheartening enough.  But J.D. Flynn’s recent piece in First Things (which I attempted to comment on, but my comment was apparently rejected) (UPDATE: my comment is there; I apologize for missing its approval) is even more so.  Flynn dances all around the issue of torture and comes up with the “heroic” conclusion that really, if Franciscan University were to revoke Michael Hayden’s honorary degree, it would somehow lose an opportunity for heroic witness to the value of human life:
Nevertheless, I’m not yet inclined to sign the petition asking that Mr. Hayden’s honorary degree be rescinded. I don’t know, as some have said, that the University should “repent” or denounce Hayden. By nature, I am uncomfortable with the idea of a post-facto denunciation. But Mr. Hayden is of little help to those who, like me, are inclined to counsel prudence. He disputes certain elements of the report, but his basic line of defense seems to be that barbarous acts were more effective than the Senate report admits. The utility of immorality is really not the question. The matter of the degree is a prudential judgment for the administration, and I trust that, if need be, the university will disavow his behavior with clarity. Disavowal, though, is probably the least important thing Franciscan University can do right now.
My admiration for Franciscan University comes down to her willingness to live the vocation of a prophetic witness. When it was commonly misunderstood, she witnessed to the power of the charismatic renewal. When it was openly mocked, the university witnessed to the authority and wisdom of Ex corde ecclesiae. And for more than forty years, she has witnessed to the dignity of every human life, created in the image of God. [...]
Even without commenting on the Senate report, Franciscan University might immediately offer a strong statement affirming real Catholic principles of just war, human dignity, and universal human rights. In the spirit of St. Francis, Fr. Scanlan, and Pope St. John Paul II, she could condemn the consequentialist practice of torture, by any administration or agency, and propose something far greater.
So: it wouldn’t be a good idea to rescind Mr. Hayden’s degree, and FUS doesn’t need to bother with disavowing his behavior, but in keeping with FUS’s tradition of pro-life witness, the university should issue a statement.  On just war, human dignity and torture.  But not mentioning the Senate report, or anything like that, for reasons which Mr. Flynn doesn’t mention, but which probably have to do with the potential of making the University’s Republican-voting donors uncomfortable.

Issuing such a statement would, in Mr. Flynn’s words, be “prophetic witness” in keeping with the University’s proud pro-life traditions.

Well, okay, then.

I’m not denigrating Franciscan University’s proud pro-life traditions.  My alma mater’s witness to the sanctity of human life and the evils of abortion are good things, and things that the University can justly be proud of.  But such a weak, milquetoast response on the evil of torture is not anything prophetic or much of a witness at all.  Mr. Flynn admits that he himself isn’t really sure where the lines should be drawn regarding torture, though I give him credit for accepting that waterboarding is torture.  The problem is that if you’re still trying to draw lines around torture, you are not that different from the person who thinks first-trimester abortions are okay--such a person is asking, “But when is it okay for me directly and intentionally to get rid of the contents of the womb?” and the torture-line-drawing person is asking, “But when is it okay for me directly and intentionally to harm the prisoner who is wholly in my power?” The answer to both questions is quite simple: Never.

It’s not all that different from my boss in the telemarketing department telling us work/study students who were doing telemarketing to stress whatever the person on the other end of the phone wanted to hear: if they want to believe that their money will go for scholarships, why, what’s the harm in that, especially when as far as you know some few dollars of it might actually go there?  But when you are (as I was, at the time) aware that the whole goal of the telemarketing department in our day was to raise money to build the kind of gym facility that the wealthy parents simply expected their kids to have access to--well, pretty soon your hopeful optimism about scholarships starts to sound like lying.  Which is another intrinsic evil, and one no Catholic university should condone, let alone encourage.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Following our usual Gaudete Sunday tradition, we decorated and put up the trees today (yes, trees; the girls each have a little one in their rooms).  By “we,” I mean my awesome daughters, who had the trees up and ready for decoration while Thad and I did some Christmas shopping this afternoon.

Hatchick grabbed this awesome shot of Smidge admiring the shiny new scratching post in the living room:

Happy Gaudete Sunday! :)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I am against torture. And drone strikes. And abortion, too.

I keep seeing various conservative Catholics out there who are defending torture who are insisting that the release of the information about the CIA’s torture practices is just political, that those of us who insist that torture is intrinsically evil didn’t care about Obama’s drone strikes, and that we’re probably not all that pro-life, either.

I invite anybody who thinks I’m not pro-life to do a blog search under the word “abortion.”  Your results list will be huge, so I’ll be patient.

Now, as to drone strikes: I’ve objected to those, too:


and here

and here, for example.

Let me just reiterate: I think that most, if not all, drone strikes fail to abide to the principles of Just War theory, in particular the ideas of proportionate means and no disproportionate civilian casualties.  While it might be possible to support a limited use of drones on the battlefield against legitimate military targets, I’m not convinced that in the real world a moral use for these machines of death is possible.

In truth, many of the means of modern warfare are problematic for the serious Catholic.  This may be why, in part, several of the most recent popes have spoken out so strongly against so many wars.  When the evils left in the wake of a modern war are graver than the injustices the war sought to correct in the first place, it behooves all of us to consider carefully not only whether a particular war is just, but whether it is justly conducted and justly resolved as well--and if there is no confidence that it may be justly conducted or justly and equitably resolved, there are grave questions about whether the war itself is just in total.

Having said that, the thing that concerns me more here is the knee-jerk partisanship (of which I was at one time as guilty as anybody) which seeks to defend, excuse, or rationalize torture because Our Guys did it, while condemning drone warfare because Their Evil Guy is responsible. The danger here is that if one of Our Guys is the next president and makes use of both torture and drone strikes in the prosecution of wars that do not meet the Just War criteria some may find themselves arguing in favor of drone strike, too--so long as Our Guy is the one ordering them.

That this is wrong, and dangerously so from a moral perspective, ought to be clear.  The morality of actions like torture and indiscriminate civilian casualties does not depend on whether there is an “R” or a “D” after the name of the president.  Catholics should know better than this, and we should hold “Our Guys” even more accountable when they commit, support, or justify acts that are, in clear Catholic teaching, intrinsically evil.

Abortion, after all, is just as evil when Republicans support it.  It shouldn’t strain the intellect of Catholic thinkers too much to realize that the same thing is true of torture and drone strikes, too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Torture and Bishop Fulton Sheen

Have you read about the torture report?  Here’s a look:

The report is reigniting the partisan divide over combating terrorism that dominated Washington a decade ago. Democrats argue the tactics conflict with American values while leading members of the Bush administration insist they were vital to preventing another attack.
It contains grisly details of detainees held in secret overseas facilities being subjected to near drowning, or waterboarding, driven to delirium by days of sleep deprivation, threatened with mock executions and threats that their relatives would be sexually abused.
The central claim of the report is that the controversial CIA methods did not produce information necessary to save lives that was not already available from other means. That is important because supporters of the program have always said that it was vital to obtaining actionable intelligence from detainees that could not be extracted through conventional interrogations. [...]
"In many cases, the most aggressive techniques were used immediately, in combination and nonstop," the report says. "Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in painful stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.”
In one facility, a detainee was said to have died of hypothermia after being held "partially nude" and chained to a concrete floor, while at other times, naked prisoners were hooded and dragged up and down corridors while being slapped and punched.
Multiple CIA detainees subjected to the techniques suffered from hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia and tried to mutilate themselves, the report says.

There are more gruesome details reported here, including details about sexual assaults, rectal feeding, threats to torture or kill family members of those imprisoned, ice water baths and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques.  And reportedly twenty-six of those treated this way were not guilty of anything, including two men who had been CIA sources before being arrested and tortured.

Some Catholics will read the report, shake their heads, and say that all of this was perfectly justified and morally right in the War on Terror.  They are wrong.  Torture is intrinsically evil, and this is just the latest in a series of proofs that this is so.

In Life is Worth Living: First and Second Series, Bishop Fulton Sheen described a Communist torture cell this way:  
The two ledges at the sides suggest beds for rest, but the slanting position makes it impossible for anyone to rest on them...The bricks fastened to the floor make it impossible for a person to sit, or even stand at ease...The Communists found after they used these torture chambers that they could drive people mad by making them stand for days and nights before a blazing light.  (Fulton Sheen, Life is Worth Living: First and Second Series, Garden City Books, 1955, p. 276)

Bishop Sheen then describes torture by the Chinese Communists of that day:
...the principle is to break down the mind through fatigue...When arrested, he (the prisoner) is kept standing before a blazing light for seventy hours or more.  Then he is told he may sleep.  The prisoner sleeps for fifteen minutes, then is kept awake for eight hours; is told to sleep again, but is awakened after six hours.  This goes on for months...(Fulton Sheen, Life is Worth Living: First and Second Series, Garden City Books, 1955, p. 276-277)
Bishop Sheen was warning the people of his day about the evils that people in Communist regimes had accepted as necessary for public safety and state security.  I wonder what he would say if he knew that some of the people who make the case for sleep deprivation and other forms of torture today are not only Americans, but Catholic Americans?  I have a feeling he would be shocked and appalled.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Camel on the Mantle

The other day I wrote this on Facebook.  People seemed to like it, so I’m sharing it here too:
Catholic mommy friends with young kids: I have a Catholic alternative to Elf on a Shelf (TM) (who appears to be creepy and sadistic). It’s totally free: Camel on the Mantle.

Get a small camel statue (from your nativity set, or from an old nativity set you’re not using, or print off a free camel coloring page and glue that sucker onto some cardboard or something). Put him (or her, if you like) on your mantel or some other protrusion (bookshelves will work).

Tell your kids the camel is journeying to your nativity set for Christmas, and will be helped by their good deeds and acts of kindness. Then move him a bit each night in the general direction of your nativity set.

He doesn’t need to flit all over your house. He certainly doesn’t make messes. Sometimes he might help the Laundry Fairy fold the laundry in the living room, or the Dishwasher Fairy move the dishes out of the sink, but it totally depends on whether the Fairy in question is in the mood for a camel’s help.

If the camel makes it to the Nativity set by Christmas: Great! If he doesn’t make it until Epiphany: still great! If he shows up sometime around Candlemas: you’re still good! And if you’re some sort of super-uber mommy type, you can have the camel leave a little treat of cookies or candy or something when he reaches the Nativity set.

This idea was inspired by our youngest daughter and her love of camels. She has one presently leading a procession of teapots in our living room:


A couple of things:

First, no, this idea isn’t terribly original.  The Wisemen Adventures predate the Camel idea by a long time, and I recall my sister-in-law’s family having some fun with that!  But I think these various Catholic takes on the Elf on the Shelf (TM) should be tailored to whatever works for your family.  Advent can be a stressful enough time without having to follow the rules of a cleverly-marketed game in such a way that your children’s elf’s antics will cause tears of envy at school. Who needs that?

So whether you do something with a camel or some wise men or the angel from the Nativity set or some totally different thing that works for your family--the important part is the “works for your family” part.  We had to give up on our old tradition of slowly moving the pieces of the Nativity set towards the stable after we got cats, for instance.  Nobody wanted to be looking for the Blessed Mother under the couch on Christmas Eve (and “under the couch” would be one of the good places...)

Second, the question arose on Facebook: how does the camel know if you’ve been good?  Clearly this isn’t some sort of creepy spy camel.  One good suggestion was that the children’s guardian angels might keep the camel informed.  I think young children would be satisfied with “Wise camels just know...”  One of my nephews, though, thinks he should report to the camel, and I think a “nightly camel report” could be really cute!  The kids could share at the dinner table or before evening prayers what good deeds they’ve done that day.

Third: if your family already does “Elf on the Shelf” (TM) and loves it and enjoys it, there’s no need at all to go with a Catholic substitute, because all of these things are extras and add-ons to help the littlest ones participate in the joyful and prayerful anticipation through Advent that points to Christmas.  While I tend to sympathize with those people who find “Elf” difficult and a little overwhelming (honestly, I was sort of glad that my girls were already too old for it when this trend really took off), I know that not all Catholic moms are like me--some of you don’t break out in hives at the sight of craft materials, for one thing, and some of you are super-organized, for another, so for some of you “Elf” is fun and enjoyable, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

UPDATE: One of my girls reminded me that we had sort of stopped the Nativity set moving before we got the cats, but when we talked about going back to it we looked at the cats and thought--no. Because our cats really, really like Bookgirl’s Nativity set. They keep stealing the sheep.  :)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Marsala: we’re Republican, but not too Republican...

If you’re a relatively new reader of this blog, you may have missed a silly annual feature I did for several years: the Pantone Color of the Year post.

I stopped doing it in December, 2011 (which would have been the 2012 color) because some comment box ridiculousness led to me questioning whether I should even keep blogging, and I hadn’t written the Pantone post yet that year.  By the time I resumed blogging the Pantone post would have been outdated, and somehow I never got around to doing it in 2012 or 2013 either.

But this year it seems like a good idea to go back to this lighthearted and fun--very tongue-in-cheek, by the way--“analysis” of what Pantone’s color pick means for us this year.

This year’s pick is Marsala, which the Pantone site describes this way:
Much like the fortified wine that gives Marsala its name, this tasteful hue embodies the satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal while its grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness. This hearty, yet stylish tone is universally appealing and translates easily to fashion, beauty, industrial design, home furnishings and interiors.
Of course, when I see this particular shade of reddish-brown or brownish-red, it says something else to me.  It says: “We’re Republican--but not too Republican.”

Oh, sure, for the first time in quite a while we’re going to have a Republican-controlled Congress. But how Republican are they?  These aren’t, by and large, the fiery-red patriots of the Tea Party who tried to make something out of conservatism (whether what they tried to make of it was actual conservatism is a conversation for another day); these are the moderate Republicans, the country-club set, the “Chicken Marsala on Every Plate” Republicans.

These are the Republicans who voted for Obamacare so they could, along with Princess Nancy, find out what was in it--and then they found out it was expensive, especially for their CEO pals and cronies (GOP’s unofficial motto: we put the “crony” in “crony capitalism...”).  These are the Republicans who are quite willing to be outraged about amnesty so long as they don’t have to do anything to stop the floods of cheap undocumented labor from coming into our country, because some of these same CEO cronies expect to be able to indulge in a little domestic offshoring from time to time to enrich the bottom line.  These are the Republicans who get nearly as much campaign cash from wealthy liberals as they do from wealthy conservatives--they’re completely inclusive when it comes to the color green!

But Marsala isn’t just a good color to wave as a banner over the incoming 114th Congress.  It’s also a good symbol of the “jobless recovery” and the economy so vibrant that Sears is planning to close double the number of stores it originally planned to shutter, while the retail sector holds its collective breath and hopes that the dismal Christmas opening sales won’t set a trend for the whole season.  When you’ve been told that the economy is in great shape and that the country is doing really well, it’s sort of a wake-up call to realize that people who are unemployed or underemployed while the basic costs of living have gone up are people who don’t have much to spend on Christmas gifts.

So maybe Marsala could be called “Black Friday Red,” since Black Friday isn’t putting as many companies in the black, economically, as it used to.  As a nice, dim red, Marsala shows that companies aren’t totally in the red--but they’re not in the black, or in the clear, either.

As if Marsala weren’t already a fine choice what with “Not too Republican Red” and “Jobless Recovery Red,” there’s a third possible significance (however unintentional) to this year’s Pantone choice: China has now officially passed America as the number one economy in the world.  Yes, America is now number two.  And maybe it’s just me, but I think Marsala is awfully close to being the color used in this particular logo.  We can call it “Bank of China Red,” if you’d like.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Shortest blog post ever

I had a terrific birthday today, thanks to my awesome family.

That is all.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Merry Christmas and the Two Minute Hate

So, there I was yesterday on Facebook, minding my own business...wait, scratch that.  There I was yesterday on Facebook minding everybody else’s business in the form of clever status updates and cute memes and tons of reminders of how badly I’m failing at Advent already (thanks, fellow Catholic Facebookers!) and all innocently I stumbled into yesterday’s approved Two Minute Hate.

What was it?  Well, let me give some background, first.

You see, boys and girls, once upon a time in the not-so-recent past a whole bunch of retailers and corporate types and Madison Avenue bright boys decided that, while they definitely wanted people to go Christmas shopping and buy Christmas gifts and Christmas decor items, they couldn’t risk offending the tiny handful of people who are actually offended by the word “Christmas,” most of whom work for the New York Times.  I wrote about it at the time, and then again a couple of years later when this “War on Christmas” was in full force--though, to be fair and accurate, it was more like a "Wimpy PC Skirmish Against Saying the Word Christmas Out Loud" than an actual war.  The worst offenders were two groups: catalog retailers who would actually have pages of “Holiday” gifts and decorations and then a couple of specific pages of Hanukah gifts or decor and/or Kwanzaa gifts or decor (which was inadvertently insulting to Hanukah and Kwanzaa because of the implication that whatever the heck they were, they weren’t “Holidays”), and other retailers who not only forbid their minimum wage clerks from saying “Merry Christmas” to customers (no, I’m not a “guest” in your store, so let’s forget that nonsense), but labeled absolutely nothing in their stores as a “Christmas” item, so that a search of their online presence under the word “Christmas” came back with zero results (along with the condescending yet unintentionally hilarious “did you mean....?” suggestions).

Well, at about the time I was writing about this stuff on my tiny and insignificant blog (say, five to seven years ago) lots of other Christmas shoppers (some of whom had large national platforms) started getting a bit miffed as well at the idea that Christmas was the Holiday that Must Not Be Named (but please line up here to spend your dough so we can stay in business).  Interestingly, some of the people most offended by the PC pile of excrement were not Christians, but Jewish and Muslim and even pagan people who while not actually celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday had no problem with the word “Christmas” or with the idea of Christmas parties, Christmas music, Christmas trees and lights and stockings, and Christmas feasting and merriment.

And the retailers noticed the fuss.  And some of them quietly started to change.  The “Christmas” word began appearing here and there.  Employees were allowed to say “Merry Christmas” if they wanted to. And this particular Christmas I keep getting catalogs advertising Christmas sales and Christmas gifts and All Things Christmas (this company is particularly notable, and they also stayed closed on Thanksgiving, making me want to shop with them this year).

All of which is a good thing, right?  It’s good that the PC silliness of Never Naming Christmas is fading away, right?  It’s good that more and more people, even in liberal urban enclaves, are quite comfortable wishing others a merry Christmas without having to ask themselves if people will be offended first, right?

Well, not according to the Two Minute Hate on Facebook yesterday.

You see, according to them, none of the above ever happened.  What happened was that sometime last week the Powers That Be at Knee-Jerk Right Wing Enterprises sent out a marching order to all of their readers/listeners/followers instructing them to post cute things on Facebook like “Just Say Merry Christmas!” as an evil passive-aggressive way to politicize Christmas and point fingers of anger and blame at those terrible “Happy Holidays!” folks who are today’s iteration of the non-star-bellied Sneeches, poor innocent victims of the ever-churning misplaced outrage of the Right.

And, right on cue, the pile-on began.  How dare people insist on “Merry Christmas!”  Why, “Happy Holidays” was good enough for Bing Crosby and it can be good enough for you, too!  When somebody says, “Happy Holidays” to you and you reply, “Merry Christmas,” that is the exact same thing as using the F-word!  (No kidding, a commenter actually said that.)  “Merry Christmas” is the new Conservative Christian Swear Word, having edged out both “Bless your heart,” and “I’ll pray for you,” the other contenders, to take the throne!

I can almost imagine some of my fellow Catholics reading that sort of bilge and rushing to Confession: “Bless me, Father, for I wished a whole bunch of people a Merry Christmas without trying to find out first if they were Wiccans or something...” “For your penance, read Commonweal...” etc.

Look, I get that there actually are some passive-agressive Christians out there who might secretly take delight in wishing people a Merry Christmas in the hopes that they will be uncomfortable, but most of the Christians I know who say “Merry Christmas” just mean it.  And many of the people who say “Happy Holidays” are still a bit shell-shocked from the years when they were instructed at school and at work that it’s an unforgivable social solecism to say “Merry Christmas” outside of church; many will be quite glad to hear you say “Merry Christmas” back to them and may even relax a little and admit to random acts of Yuletide here and there, so long as the boss isn’t listening.  What could possibly be wrong with that?

And if you accidentally wish a Jewish person or a Muslim or an atheist a Merry Christmas, most of them will return your greeting with a smile, because most of them are quite aware that some 90%of their neighbors will be celebrating Christmas on December 25--and some of them may even join us, which the Child who came to be a light to the Nations likely doesn’t mind in the least.

What the Two Minute Hate people don’t perhaps realize is that it is perfectly possible for us to have gone through a silly season where Christmas was the only holiday that was never really named AND to be in a better place now such that most of us don’t pay the least bit of attention to Right Wing Noise Machine Memes and are not wishing people a Merry Christmas in order to get off a good Christian swear word.  Some of us just like Christmas, and want lots of people to have a Merry one.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Blogging will resume shortly...

...but this is what I’ve been up to lately:

This November was one of my best years ever!  I wrote the entire first draft of Book Six in the Tales of Telmaja series, over 72,000 words, in 28 days.  This is going to put me ahead; usually I spend way too much time fretting about finishing a book and then finally finishing it just in time to start writing the next one.  With this draft done, I can consider 2015 “The Editing Year.”  At present, counting Book Three of the Tales of Telmaja series, I have five total books to edit and publish (four T of T, one non-series book).  I don’t know how many of them I will get done, but I am optimistic that it will be a number greater than one. :)

Speaking of that, Book Three is in the hands of my awesome and capable and talented Advance Reader Team even as we speak.  I had initially hoped to have Book Three available by Christmas, but since I didn’t get it to my A.R.T. until rather late this year, the book probably won’t make an appearance until sometime after the first of the year.  Truth is, my A.R.T.s comments, proofreading skills, and input have been tremendously valuable to me so far, and I’d rather publish the book a bit later than I had planned than publish it without their help and comments.

As we head into the Advent season blogging tends to be a bit sporadic anyway, but for those who still check in here--and I appreciate you!--the blog will start to be updated more often now that NaNoWriMo 2014 is a sweet memory.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Singing Cookie Recipe Song; or, why I can no longer sing a certain hymn with a straight face

I just now realized we’re singing “Gather Us In” at Mass tomorrow.

And ever since I wrote the Singing Cookie Recipe Song, I just can’t sing “Gather Us In” with a straight face.

So if my IRL friends and family see me fighting back giggles during the entrance hymn, this is why:

The Singing Cookie Recipe Song

Here in this place, the oven's preheating,
Now is our hunger banished away,
See in this space, the mixer is whirring,
Making us snacks for to brighten the day.

Gather them in, the sugar and butter
Gather them in, the eggs and the flour;
Wash and prepare each cute cookie cutter
Have them at hand for the time and the hour.

We are the young--and baking's a mystery,
We are the old--we've done this before,
Careful, say moms throughout human history:
Sugar's a mess to clean up from the floor.

Gather them in, the salt and vanilla
Gather them in, the rest as you know;
Add soda too, but just a scintilla,
Stir it and make it to form a soft dough.

Here you must chill the dough till it's ready:
Here you must roll and cut--the next phase--
Here you must bake, with hands that are steady,
All of the shapes in the oven on trays.

Give us to eat the golden-brown cookies
Give us to drink some milk with them, too,
Nourish us well, the chefs and the rookies
Make everybody clean up when we're through.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

On the death of a suicide activist

I wrote this on Facebook, but am sharing it here by request (just slightly altered for the format):

I won’t be reading any of the gushing congratulatory MSM articles about the death of a certain suicide activist.  Instead, I have only this to say:

1. Suicide, in Catholic teaching, is a terrible sin. If committed with full knowledge and sufficient consent of the will its eternal consequences can be dire. Many if not most suicides are operating under diminished capacity due to fear, mental illness, etc. and we pray that God will have mercy on their souls. But we don’t owe a pro-suicide activist/advocate this level of pandering publicity.

2. Euthanasia, also in Catholic teaching, is a grave and horrible sin. Not only those who “choose” to die but those who participate in those deaths are complicit in this great evil. In countries which have adopted “voluntary” euthanasia it is only a matter of time before involuntary euthanasia of the elderly, the unconscious, children or the mentally impaired becomes a reality. Catholics must stand unequivocally against this evil and be united in our opposition to it.

3. When the medical principle is, “Kill the PAIN, not the PATIENT,” the innocent are safeguarded and the sacred value of human life is affirmed. The cry of the euthanasia advocate is, “Kill the PATIENT to stop the pain.” But suicide doesn’t end pain--no, not even the pain of the deceased, who must now live with the eternal consequences of that act (and, again, we hope for diminished capacity and pray for God’s mercy). But the pain of those left behind, whose increased grief and suffering due to watching a loved one die by his or her own hand, can hardly be expressed. Suicide magnifies every pain it pretends to heal, and it is not uncommon for the loved ones of a suicide--even a “mercy killing” suicide--to attempt or succeed in committing suicide themselves during episodes of intense grief.

4. Let Catholics understand this clearly: at Mass today our priest spoke beautifully about the Anointing of the Sick and the graces it can bring, including the remission of sin. But a Catholic who commits the great sin of “assisted suicide” or euthanasia will not be permitted to receive this Sacrament, as you cannot pretend to have sorrow for a sin you are fully and intentionally planning to commit in the near future.

5. In our prayers let us remember all who suffer pain and are tempted to commit this sin, whose temptations will be increased by seeing all the accolades and approvals showered on this person who has killed herself. For them we should show our utmost concern, and never cease our reminders that their lives are worth living, that their pain should be addressed without killing them, and that every moment of their earthly existence is precious in God’s eyes and in the eyes of all those who love them, including ourselves.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The trick-or-treat wars

Hello!  I’m still out here.  My blog break is mostly going to continue through November, though, because National Novel Writing Month will help me write the first draft of Book Six in the Tales of Telmaja series.

For those who are interested in my fiction writing but not following the Tales of Telmaja Facebook page (all 1.5 of you), I can report that a) I have finished the first draft of Book Five in the Tales of Telmaja series, b) I have finished the first draft of the as-yet untitled Young Adult mermaid/vampire novel, and c) I am almost finished with the initial editing pass for Book Three in the Tales of Telmaja series (Advance Reader Team: expect an email from me before the end of the week).

Now: why am I posting?  Well, it’s sort of been an And Sometimes Tea tradition to kvetch a bit about Halloween, and while I was going to give it a miss this year, something turned up to raise my redheaded ire (right on schedule).

No, this year it’s not a Catholic Mommy Blogosphere Cat Fight (e.g., “Trick-or-treat!”  “All Saints’ Party!” “Trick-or-treat!”  “All Saints’ Party!”  “Both!”  “Shut up, crazy overachiever!” etc.).  It’s just another exhibit in the Why I Think Halloween Has Gotten Crazy display.

The starting point was this alleged letter allegedly sent to Dear Prudence at Slate, in which the alleged writer allegedly complains about having to give out treats to the poor kids who inundate the rich neighborhood full of one-percenters where he lives every October 31.  I say “alleged” because some of the letters sent to Dear Prudence rather defy reality, and this does seem like one of them.  At the very least it allows Prudence to bristle with righteous indignation and tell the writer to get to Costco (tm) and quit being a cheapskate (she doesn’t actually say “Republican,” but it’s implied).

Now, nobody could possibly complain about dear Prue’s advice in this instance because the deck is clearly stacked against the richy-rich writer who apparently spends Halloween channeling the spirit of the as-yet unreformed Ebenezer Scrooge.  Lost in the narrative, though, is a really good question: wasn’t trick-or-treating always a local, neighborhood, community event?  Wasn’t it always about your kids getting ooohed and ahhhed at by the neighbors while you reciprocated when their sweet little ones showed up at your door looking for candy?

I live in a far-from-rich neighborhood with modest homes that are squeezed rather close together. And the fact that our houses are squeezed close together, along with the fact that we have sidewalks and really short driveways, means that every Halloween we get the phenomenon of “drive and dump” trick-or-treating.

The way “drive and dump” trick-or-treating works is simple: parents drive their kids to our neighborhood, dump the kids at one end of the street, drive, engines idling, to the other end, and pick the kids up in order to drive them to the next street.  Once the kids have raced through our neighborhood with the help of the driving parent, they head to the next neighborhood where the houses are close together, and there are sidewalks and short driveways.  In this way in the three or four hours of trick-or-treating they can hit hundreds of houses and collect huge amounts of candy, presumably so their parents won’t have to purchase lunchbox snacks until the child is in graduate school, or something.

If this were simply about letting poor kids from the nearby apartment complexes get a chance to experience “real” trick or treating, I think most people would smile and buy some extra candy.  But that’s not what this is.  This is trick-or-treating, contact sports style.  This is yet another manifestation of a culture based on materialistic greed.  This is trick-or-treating with an underlying message--coming from parents, not kids--that you haven’t really “won” the game of trick-or-treating unless you gather three or four times the amount of candy and treats that you handed out at your own home.

If you even hand out treats at your own home, that is--because sometimes when one parent is driving the kids, the other leaps out of the car to walk with the kids from house to house, urging them along quickly so they can cover the most ground possible before it gets too late and those “stingy” people start turning off their porch lights.

Truth is, I suspect that it has been this phenomenon, more than anything, that has made more and more people in my neighborhood decide not to turn the porch lights on in the first place.  And then a vicious cycle ensues--because if fewer people are participating in the trick-or-treat thing, then the houses where you can get candy are father and father apart, so your parents will have to drive you someplace, and so on and so forth.

I can’t remember ever being driven someplace to go trick-or-treating.  Then again, I didn’t trick-or-treat any later than the eighth grade (if then), because when I was a child trick-or-treating was for the little kids.  I remember helping to take my younger siblings a couple of times, but those of us who were the guardians didn’t carry bags or pillowcases and certainly didn’t ask for candy--but the increase in the age of trick-or-treaters is a subject for an entirely different rant, so we’ll leave it at that.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How much does a Catholic college cost?

Well, I’m not supposed to be blogging; I’m supposed to be writing fiction.  But things keep turning up.

For instance, I saw the press release for the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College turn up on a lot of blogs and websites.  Now, I’m not opposed to Catholic colleges and universities.  I put choosing a Catholic college in the “do what works best for your family” box.  If your family includes a child who desperately longs to be a combined humanities/theology teacher at a Catholic high school someday, then you’re going to need that Catholic college, because no secular college will be able to tailor the right degree program for that child, just for one example.

But one thing that bugs me about these “best Catholic colleges” lists is that nobody really talks about the cost of a Catholic college or university education.  I was interested enough to try to find out, so I started checking the colleges one at a time.  Initially I intended to make a list of each college’s average costs, but about halfway through the list I realized two things: one, that some of the colleges make it rather hard to get specific data about how much a degree will cost (for instance, one lists a three or four semester option while another only lists costs per credit hour which would take a lot of calculating to come up with an average dollar amount), and two, there was no way I had enough time.

So in the end I only listed the costs of 14 colleges.  And I tried to keep it to “Room/Board/Tuition for a full-time on campus undergraduate,” but even that was a bit tricky, since some colleges bundled various fees into the cost estimates and some did not.  Still: this is roughly what a year at each college will cost for a full-time, on campus student for room, board, and tuition--you may have to add mandatory fees as well as variable costs such as books and expenses (and some colleges helpfully estimate that, too, but I’m a big believer in used textbooks and other ways to keep personal expenses down during one’s college years).

Here’s what I came up with:
Aquinas College (Nashville, TN): $28,700

Ave Maria University (Ave Maria, Fla.) $27,686

Belmont Abbey College (Belmont, NC): $24,500

Benedictine College (Atchison, Kan.) $29,850

The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.) $54,244

Christendom College (Front Royal, VA): $32,600

The College of Saint Mary Magdalen (Warner, N.H.) $29,200

DeSales University (Center Valley, Penn): $44,112

Franciscan University of Steubenville (Steubenville, Ohio) $32,070

Thomas Aquinas College (Santa Paula, Calif.) $32,450

The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (Merrimack, N.H.) $29,800

University of Dallas (Irving, Tex.) $44,000

Walsh University (North Canton, Ohio) 30,000

Wyoming Catholic College (Lander, Wyo.) 28,150
Keep in mind, these are just estimates.  Also I was an English major so my arithmetic might be wrong.  But the average cost of a Catholic college or university, based on these schools, is $33,383 a year.  I highly doubt that adding the other schools in (if I have time later) will lower that number.  So you’re looking at around $120,000 to $130,000 for a four-year degree.

Of course, all of these colleges stress the huge availability of financial aid, which may make a college that seems impossible turn out to work for a particular student.  But since the average college student graduating in 2014 will have to pay back about $33,000 in student loan debt, I think that in general it is best when the Catholic college can offer academic and other scholarships and grants before student loans are discussed.

Are the rising costs of college, not only of Catholic colleges but of public colleges and universities as well, sustainable over the long-term?  A lot of observers think they aren’t, and that the “college bubble” will one day burst like the real estate bubble did.  Given that the medial US household income is just above $51,000 a year and has remained stagnant while the costs of an education continue to skyrocket, I think those observers may be right.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The new strategy

My friends, we need a new strategy to stop same-sex marriage.

In some ways, I think we’ve been making some of the same mistakes that were made when the abortion issue first began.  It’s not surprising.  We Americans like to think of ourselves as a lawful people, and we expect, when a whole state votes a certain way to protect life or defend marriage, that such legislative decisions will be respected by our courts.

It is long-since past time to realize that our courts are staffed, by and large, by power-hungry narcissists anxious to leave their marks on history.  Twisting and turning in the prevailing winds of the zeitgeist, our nation’s judges are nothing but black-robed tyrants bent on destroying the rule of law and replacing it with the rule of judges.  The recent events regarding the sickening fantasy called gay “marriage” are just one example.

But while I don’t advise anyone to give up the legal fight--it is far too early for that--it is time for us to take this fight in a new direction.

My idea is simple.  We need a consensus of people of faith and people of reason to go after one of the biggest and most deadly weapons of marriage destruction.  We need to form a coalition to end no-fault divorce in America.

No-fault divorce got its hooks into the destruction of marriage long before gay couples started insisting that gender difference in marriage was optional instead of being, you know, the whole point.  With no-fault divorce every single marriage license in states which passed such laws went from being contracts with a certain expectation of durability or even permanency to contracts which can be dissolved easier than a business partnership.  Not only that, but most contracts require both parties to be involved in any dissolution; most no-fault statutes permit a marriage to be destroyed by one person for no reason at all, leaving the other person an innocent victim to his or her spouse’s random act of cruelty.

Because of no-fault divorce, most marriage licenses aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.  Marriage has become a sort of “at-will” state, with either party to the contract completely free to walk away at any time for any reason, or no reason.

Here are some of my ideas, in no particular order:

1. Demand legislation to end no-fault divorce in every state where it exists.
2. Require strict criteria for divorce that would include abuse, adultery, and abandonment, but would also require a high level of proof for anything other than abuse.  (I make that exception because it is unfortunately known that even with no-fault divorce, abused spouses find it hard to leave their abusers, and we don’t want to make things worse for them.)
3. Even if a divorce proceeding is allowed to go forward, require a minimum of two years between filing and the decree for a marriage in which there are no children, and a minimum of five years between filing and decree for a marriage in which there are children (again, I would exempt abuse cases, but nobody else).  It should be difficult to end (legally; Catholics don’t believe valid sacramental marriages can end at all) a civil marriage, and especially difficult if there are children of the marriage.  And it should be impossible to enter a “new” marriage right away.  If the state has an interest even in marriages between two adults who can’t possibly generate children, then the state’s interest should include promoting the durability of that marriage.  Anybody who doesn’t agree can just avoid getting married in the first place.
4. During the time lapse between filing for the divorce and receiving the decree, require marital and family counseling.  For those without children, a minimum of one year of counseling that is geared toward reconciliation should be required; for those with children, a minimum of three years of counseling should be required.  The third year of counseling for those with children who have irrevocably decided on divorce should be focused on the couple’s ability to engage with each other in a civil and friendly way for the sake of the children.  The completion of this counseling will be a necessary part of custody arrangements.
5. To minimize divorces in the first place, require a waiting period of three months (or more) between the application for a marriage license and the actual marriage ceremony.  This could be waived in certain circumstances such as unexpected military deployment but would be generally applied.

Some people may complain that this will make marriage harder for people.  My answer to that is: Good!  Marriage shouldn’t be so easy to enter and so much easier to leave.  There should be no quickie Vegas weddings and no quickie divorces, either.  Marriage is already treated like a cultural joke of sorts--it’s just the big wedding party for the two fornicators who have been shacking up for years while they saved up for their Hollywood wedding extravaganza in all too many cases.  Having actual rules that would make it harder for people to leave a marriage might make people realize that marriage is a serious business.

And for those who object that my ideas would make the marriage rate decline--it’s already in a free-fall.  Many people no longer see a reason for “that piece of paper.”  They know in their hearts that that piece of paper--the civil marriage license--is meaningless in the shadow of no-fault divorce.  Those who marry in churches or synagogues or mosques which teach that marriage is permanent are an exception to that rule, but most of them wouldn’t be deterred by the rules I’m proposing anyway.  If anything, the young people whose religions take marriage seriously would be heartened by seeing City Hall stop treating it as a lewd joke.

Would my rules end same-sex “marriage?”  Not by themselves, perhaps.  But when fewer than 2% of all Americans identify as gay and only 600,000 of those are in some sort of domestic partnership that is attempting to look like marriage in the first place, I think ending easy divorce would impact the demand for gay “marriage.” In most states that have passed gay “marriage” laws, an initial rush to the altar has been followed by a whole lot of nothing, illustrating that few gay people even want to pretend that their relationships are anything like marriage.

If we can reform marriage in America to be something that is much harder to break apart, we will be doing a great good thing for most marriages.  And, as a side effect, I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of gay couples would look at the new rules and decide that civil marriage isn’t really what they want--because as it stands right now a vast majority of gay couples have already decided they don’t want marriage itself.  What they want is “marriage rights” to use to beat those of us who believe that gay sex is gravely sinful into silence.  And as long as marriage is a trivial legal state that can be broken more easily than a software agreement, we’re the ones handing them the club.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Light posting ahead

...well, and behind, if you’ve noticed.

I don’t manage to post daily anymore, which is okay, but I still like to post at least a few times a week when I can.  Unfortunately I’m trying really hard right now to make a couple of self-imposed fiction writing deadlines.  So even though I keep seeing things I want to write about (Ebola! Catholic writers on the Internet!  Lesbian IVF customers who were dissatisfied when the sperm they ordered came from a black man instead of their preferred white male donor, leaving them with a mixed race child who they are worried won’t fit in to their stodgy white community which apparently isn’t stodgy enough to mind with the whole “married” lesbians manufacturing a baby thing in the first place, but a mixed-race child--gasp!  Etc. ad infinitum!) I’m trying to be disciplined.

We’ll see how long I can go before I crack.  :)  In the meantime, your patience is, as always, greatly appreciated.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Catholics and concepts of patriarchy

Over the weekend I engaged briefly in a Facebook discussion with another Catholic female blogger about the concept of patriarchy.

She’s for it.  She said that patriarchy is God’s will for everyone.  She didn’t give me a definition and says a definition is unnecessary, but she also insisted that since patriarchy is present throughout Scripture and Church teaching it is clearly something Catholics should embrace.  She also referred to a book called Why Men Rule (which I am unfamiliar with) as sort of “proving” that only patriarchal societies work, and all others are doomed to failure.  Oh, and she says that Christian feminism is nonexistent because feminism is based on Marxist theories which are incompatible with Christianity (she couldn’t explain the early feminists who wanted women to be able to vote and own property and who were active before Marxism really got going in the West, but apparently that’s not important somehow).

Naturally, I find these ideas less than compelling.

As a Catholic, I think that married men--husbands and fathers--do indeed exercise a spiritual headship over the family.  This headship is based on the idea that the family is journeying together toward holiness, that each member is called to help in that journey and that ideally the father should be leading that journey.  That leadership should include setting an example for the whole family of Mass attendance, prayer, and following the teachings of the Church in his life; working alongside his wife to fulfill the important role of being the children’s first teachers in the faith; teaching his children (and in a special and important way, his sons) to respect and honor their mother and to give her the same lawful and diligent obedience they give him; and taking responsibility for the family’s well-being according to the best of his abilities and talents.

In Casti Connubii Pope Pius XI points out a couple of important things in this regard: one, that none of this means the husband gets to act like an autocratic dictator who treats his wife as if she is a child, and two, that in the cases, sadly not as rare as they should be, where the husband is failing to lead, the wife not only may but must do so in his place, and until (hopefully) he returns to a sense of duty and responsibility for his family.

Unfortunately, I get the feeling that some of my fellow Catholics (not this person necessarily, as I was unable to determine from our conversation) are not thinking at all of the spiritual leadership of the family when they speak positively about patriarchy, or wish for a return to it.  Rather, they are thinking of various ways in which societies were ordered in the past, and believing that our present societal ills could be fixed more or less instantly if we returned to some past era where men were in charge and women were more or less invisible.  And some of the Catholics who want this (which never ceases to surprise me) are women themselves.

Why would it not necessarily be a good thing for patriarchy to return?  First, it’s absolutely essential to define what one means by patriarchy.  I know, for instance, that what the Quiverfull Patriarchy Protestants mean by patriarchy is the absolute authority of the husband over the family, an authority which he retains over his sons at least until they move out of the family home (with his permission) and over his daughters, forever, until or unless they exchange his authority for that of a husband (again, with his permission, or even by his express command).  In this sort of patriarchy the wife is not treated like an adult human being but like a child who is always in danger of becoming rebellious, and the children are also not treated with the full dignity they deserve--they, too, are treated like infants or toddlers well into their adult years in terms of having any ability to make their own decisions.

When people point admiringly to the patriarchy exhibited by ancient Rome, they are forgetting that at times in ancient Rome the paterfamilias literally had the power of life and death over his children.  Or, if the patriarchy of Jane Austen’s England seems attractive, recall that it was not uncommon in those days for a husband to require his wife to ask for even such trifling amounts of money as she needed to purchase personal items, or to demand, quite angrily, an explanation from her in the event that the household expenses exceeded the sum of money he had allowed her for those expenses (even if he, himself, was in debt due to gambling and the money and jewelry he was lavishing on his latest mistress).

So I don’t think I can approve of a Catholic push to “restore patriarchy” without knowing what, exactly, my fellow Catholics want to restore, and why.  I have a suspicion that some Catholics believe that restoring patriarchy along the lines of some past society or other will solve every societal problem we currently have as if by magic, but that kind of magical thinking is unwarranted.  It is not as though when men ruled men didn’t sin, after all; no amount of insisting that men call all the shots all the time both in their own homes and in the world will erase the effects of Original Sin.

There are excellent reasons for those of us who have received the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to encourage and foster our husbands’ spiritual headship of our families and to assist, from our rightful places at their sides, in the progress of our families on our journeys to holiness.  There are not such excellent reasons to make an idol out of some secular concept of patriarchy and pour one’s efforts into agitating for the reestablishment of such a thing.  There may even be good reasons not to do so at all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

And another reason for that Theology of Women...

This must be “Theology of Women” week at And Sometimes Tea.

I don’t normally read Matt Walsh.  But when I saw people passing around links to this piece on my Facebook feed, I decided to read it.  And I’m glad I did:

In any case, I want to begin by telling you about a grown adult male who, last week, beat a woman to a bloody pulp in front of a cheering crowd. As he gloated about his physical dominance over this outmatched female, media outlets and advocacy groups hailed him as a pioneer.
In fact, beating up women is literally this dude’s job. His latest victim ended up with a concussion, a broken orbital socket, and several staples in her head. Yet, still, the man who stomps women and brags about it on Twitter, is, according to our progressive cultural ringleaders, a hero. A superhero. [...]
How can this startling contrast be explained?Well, our hero, Boyd Burton (alias “Fallon Fox”) went overseas and had his penis chopped off, then came back and became a “transgender female” MMA fighter.
Don’t you see? It’s OK for him to break a woman’s face because he likes to pretend he is one.
It’s that simple. Want to give a girl a concussion? Just slap on some lipstick, take a few hormone pills, and you’re good to go. Society won’t merely accept your behavior; it will sound the trumpets and roll out the red carpet for you. It will tell tales of your epic bravery and even hand you a coveted spot in the Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.
Do you understand how this work? It’s cool to pound your fists into a woman’s cranium as long as you feel like a woman while you’re doing it.
That’s just good science.
Or “science,” as the case may be.
Welcome to contemporary America, my friends.

Read the whole thing here.

Yesterday, I was posting examples of why a really wrong idea about male headship, women’s submissiveness, and the tendency of certain men to see all women as future sexual temptresses, actual sexual temptresses, or former sexual temptresses, none of whom can’t be trusted not to flaunt their immodest clothing at virtuous men at every possible opportunity (including Latin Masses) has actually done some harm to Christian women who internalize this view of women as stubborn, rebellious renegades who will default into being sexual temptresses without the constant rule and governance of either their fathers or their husbands.

Today, I’m highlighting the other side of the chasm: when a really wrong idea about what men are and what women are makes some people write, with a straight face, that of course men can be pregnant and lactate and become La Leche teachers, or have surgery and become female MMA fighters despite the obvious benefits of a male bone structure and physiognomy when it comes to beating actual, real, natural-born women (I refuse to use the silly “cis” nonsense) to actual, real, concussed pulps.

It’s strange to contemplate, but we have become really far removed from knowing what men and women actually are.  The transgender movement is only the next step in a continuum that began with pitting women against our unborn children as if they were the enemy, and teaching women to hate our actual female bodies and natures.  And yet, to hear some Catholics and other Christians tell it, the way to fix all of that is to role-play “Little House on the Prairie” until Pa manages to horsewhip all that uppity feminism out of Ma and their daughters, who ought to revere and obey him as second only to God, all the time, no questions asked.

It would not help the real problems of the modern world for followers of Christ to adopt an exaggerated stereotype that treats women like dolls or infants while seeking to punish them for all the problems of feminism--or all the problems any specific man has had with actual real women, which sometimes gets confused.  But we can’t help the real problems of the modern world, either, by solemnly agreeing that a man who has a specific male organ removed has suddenly and magically turned all his other organs into female ones: his heart, his lungs, his muscles, his skeletal system, are still all those of a male human being, and he remains a man, no matter how many female garments he uses or female pronouns he adopts.

What would help would be an ongoing and systematic exploration of just what the Church teaches makes women unique and different, how these qualities go beyond stereotypes or roles--e.g., how being a woman is something we are, not something we do or some way we act or some garment(s) we wear.  In other words, what would help would be that Theology of Women some say the Church doesn’t really need at all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Addendum: another reason for a theology of women

I was going to post this as an update to the post below this one, about why we need a theology of women in the Church.  But I think this needs its own post: a priest in Phoenix has decided to reinstate the ancient liturgical custom of men and women sitting on different sides of the church during Mass.  Here’s why, from Father’s list:

1) Men can identify with St. Joseph and try to be holy like him.
2) I contend that it is good so that we men are not distracted by the women around them and are not sexually tempted by their sexy clothing in church. (You have no idea how many times men confess sexaul temptations in church by how the women are dressed).One friend of me told me he no longer went to church because he was always distracted by the women in front of him, especially their beautify hair.
3) Boys can identify with their dads and learn how to be a man who prays.
4) Women can identify with Our Lady and be holy like she is.
5) It helps women to be themselves and to not have to show off to get men’s attention. They can pray in peace.
6) Girls can identify with their mothers and how women pray.

Why do we need a theology of women in the Church? Because when a priest who serves a traditional Catholic community, celebrates the Extraordinary Form Mass, and writes blog posts which include charming lines like this: "Thank God Padre Pio died in 1968 before the real immodest dressing took place. Immodest feminist women would chase Padre Pio out of church today...” also seems to think that a big problem at his own Masses (Latin Masses!  E.F. Masses!) are all those immodestly dressed sexy female temptresses with their “beautify" (sic) hair showing off to get men’s attention instead of praying such that putting men on one side of the church and women on the other is a really good idea--well, clearly something should be articulated along the lines that such deep suspicion of the motives of women who are coming to E.F. Masses (often with nursing infants and toddlers in tow) is really not actually Catholic thinking at all.

One reason why we need a theology of women

I read this last week, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head:
Whenever I talk about my escape from the Quiverfull movement, Christians immediately dismiss my experience by saying, “Your problem was not with Jesus or Christianity. Your problem was that you were following an extreme, legalistic cult. Let me tell you about my personal relationship with Jesus.” It can be extremely frustrating. I was in a close, personal relationship with Jesus for over 25 years. But rather than telling you about the beginning of my relationship with this man, I am going to spare you the long story and skip straight to the break up.
The end of my life as a “Bride of Christ” came after a visit to Bright Horizons, which is the local domestic violence shelter in my hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska. I went there for help in filing a restraining order against my husband, whose emotional and mental abuse against me and my children had escalated to the point that I was in the midst of a complete mental and physical breakdown. He had taken 6 of our 7 children to a town three hours from our home and was preventing me from having any contact with them unless I agreed to his terms for our “reconciliation.” [...]
Coercion and threats … “No,” I told Deb, “he never threatened me.” I *willinging* went along with all the harsh demands of the Quiverfull lifestyle, and in many instances, I was the one who pushed patriarchy and headship ON HIM. Why would I do that?
Because I believed our family had an ENEMY who was determined to steal, kill, and destroy our souls, and the souls of our children, for all eternity! Our only protection from spiritual disaster, was within that one little secret spot of safety which Corrie ten Boom called, “The Hiding Place.” “The Hiding Place” isn’t any physical location … instead, it is a very specific, very narrow position … directly in the center of God’s will. There, and only there, we could safely trust in God’s protection.
He never had to raise his voice to keep me and the children in our place. And when he did raise his voice, well that was “speaking the truth in love.” When he constantly criticized and complained about all the ways in which the children and I failed to live up to God’s perfect standards, he was “hating the sin, but loving the sinner.” He didn’t have to brandish a weapon in order to control our every action, indeed even our thoughts and feelings. All he had to do was fulfill his God-appointed role of Patriarch; to love us as Christ loves the church.
A lot of people seemed to read this and then go exactly where this woman, Vyckie Garrison, said they would: they told her she was following a false branch of Christianity, with a demonstrably false Christ at the center of it all, and that was the real problem here.  I believe that is true--but at the same time, it isn’t the whole truth.
The whole truth includes the uncomfortable reality that for a far-too-long period, Christians of all sorts, including some Catholics, had no real problem projecting a similar view of marriage and especially women and of their role in married life upon the women in their churches.  It wasn’t too hard to find Scripture references and bits out of history to support the idea that women really were inferior to men and that their salvation depended on their humble subservience to the appropriate male authority, whether that authority was her father, her husband, or her spiritual leader.
If anything, the Catholic Church offered a slight glimpse of a reality that didn’t include this exact paradigm, because a religious sister or nun was subject to her Mother Superior.  This didn’t mean that her father confessor and/or the priest who said Mass at the convent didn’t have authority, too, but it did mean that the idea that women couldn’t run things without male dominance was going to fall a little flat (especially in parishes where a convent of active sisters assisted in the rectory and school and, truth be told, pretty much ran things in many places).
What frustrates me is that there are Catholic men out there today who would say that Mrs. Garrison’s problem was just feminism, plain and simple, and that her inability to accept her husband’s headship over the family was clearly the cause of all the tension and angst in the relationship, not that her church’s idea of a husband’s headship goes far beyond what the Catholic Church teaches.  I’ve quoted this before, but as Pope Pius XI wrote in Casti Connubii:
27. This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is not customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.
28. Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degree and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact .
The kind of subjection demanded by the Quiverfull patriarchs is at odds with this idea of the true hierarchy of the family, especially in the sense that the wife is not to be treated by a minor, that she is not required to obey every request her husband makes, and that the real liberty which truly belongs to her should not be denied nor taken away.  But this Catholic understanding of the hierarchy of the family is also under attack from two sides in our own culture: from secular feminism, which views the very idea of even this sort of mutual respect and understanding with suspicion, and from what I called “Internet Catholic Masculinism,” which, sadly, exists in the real world as well.

One reason why I think that we really do need a theology of women in the Church is precisely so that these sorts of teachings from the past can be combined with more recent encyclicals in order to illustrate to the patriarchal, Quiverfull, and similar movements within Christianity that the idea that this way of viewing the relationship between men and women, with men the perpetual adult in the relationship and women the grown-up child who must always fight her “rebellious" spirit and her desire to have a say in things as if that desire is wrong somehow, is in fact not consistent with true Christianity.  It’s easy to tell women in the Quiverfull movement that the real abuses many of them have endured were not particularly Christian.  It’s harder, though, when some of the men in our own parishes assume that what the Quiverfulls believe--all of it--is really a more traditional and more appropriate way to view women, and that women who object are not actually thinking with the Church, when, in fact, we are.