Sunday, June 29, 2008
The Culture of Death and the Decline of the Great Powers
In a culture that celebrates licentiousness one can no longer be counter cultural by using illegal drugs, having children out-of-wedlock or viewing pornography. As America arguably lurches toward a post-Christian future, being counter cultural is as easy as questioning the judgment of those who lavish "love" upon cats and dogs instead of persons, be they children, friends or even neighbors.
Treating animals as if they were children is not new, of course, we learn in Plutarch's Lives that Caesar observed this very thing in his day. We're told that upon seeing foreigners in Rome playing with monkeys and puppies, Caesar asked "whether the women in their country were not used to bear children: by that prince-like reprimand gravely reflecting upon persons who spend and lavish upon brute beasts the affection and kindness which nature has implanted in us to be bestowed on those of our own kind."
In a kind of odd coupling, the Catholic Church (which certainly has had its disagreements with Roman emperors) echoes the essence of Caesar's critique in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affectation due only to persons."
In my pedestrian observations here in suburban California, I would say that for young couples, dogs are in, while children are out. A new study by the Center for Strategic & International Studies suggests that what Pope John Paul II called the "Culture of Death" is now catching up to us in the most of the industrialized world. Countries like Japan and Italy are now in what demographers call a Death Spiral where the fertility rate has dropped below 2.0. In the case of Japan, it appears that Japanese women are simply refusing to have children, which for a homogeneous country with no immigration to speak of - is clearly a vote against the future (much of this has been chronicled with flare by Canadian writer Mark Steyn in this book American Alone).
It's clear that 30-plus years of abortion and birth control, coupled with an increasing selfishness among people who prefer exotic vacations, big homes and "freedom" to the serious demands of being parents and raising the next generation - we've been left with too few children in the first-world. In this climate it seems quite fitting that animals with their rather narrow set of needs and short lives (not to mention their disposability: one can always drop a dog off at the Animal Rescue League when he causes trouble) should be preferred to the self-sacrificing, long term project of parenthood.
These developments, however, didn't sneak up on the Catholic Church, which was blessed with a prophet of sorts in Pope Paul VI, who in his 1968 encyclical letter Humanae Vitae declared that birth control was intrinsically evil and that Catholics were obligated to stay clear of it in all its manifestations. Pope Paul VI - several years before Roe vs. Wade - made the connection that birth control ultimately leads to the objectifying of women and a decline in general morality. The Pope states: "Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires."
One certainly doesn't need to be Catholic to sense that when members of a civilization lose hope, they will generally stop sacrificing for the future and live for the present. It's worth noting that most of the babies being born today in Europe are from Muslim parents. It’s said that the most popular boy’s name in Belgium and Holland these days is Mohammad.
Those who are most associated with the culture of death - groups like Planned Parenthood, the A.C.L.U., Moveon.org, elements of the Democratic Party, the U.N., Hollywood, etc. claim to cherish human rights, education, science, technology, tolerance, separation of church and state, equal rights, etc. It would probably come as a shock to these groups that these values are largely the result of Western Culture; the products of Athens and Jerusalem so to speak. It is the inheritance of Christian European civilization (built on the classical learning of Greece and Rome) which we have until now enjoyed abundantly. If the culture of death continues in all its forms: the attack on marriage, population control, the destruction of embryos, abortion and the like, than those populations with high fertility rates will certainly assume cultural control in the years to come.
It's anyone guess if an Islamic Europe, for example, will be a hotbed of individual liberty, technological development and international trade - but this is what the western world appears to be betting on. I do have a suspicion, however, that Muslims thank God for the children that He sends them, and that they give them more consideration, attention and love than the mangy dog lounging under the date palm outside.
(I'd like to acknowledge that many of the ideas of this essay come from the fine book by Dinesh D'Souza entitled The Enemy at Home)
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Marriage and the Whisper of Natural Law
In the wake of the California Supreme Court's ruling that it is unconstitutional to deny gay men and women the right to marry, media outlets have been routinely framing the decision as a conflict between Judeo-Christian traditionalists and those individuals seeking equal rights under the law.
It’s certainly true that the most articulate and weighty critique of this challenge to traditional marriage comes from the Catholic Church, evangelical Christians and what remains of an orthodox Jewish community in America, but the importance of your average American's "gut instinct" on this issue is what will probably overturn this ruling in November when Californians vote on a ballot referendum to define marriage as a union between a man and a women only.
It's been pointed out many times before that homosexual activity has been documented in most (if not all) cultures and civilizations. Perhaps the most infamous reference to such behavior in the ancient world, of course, is from the Old Testament. In classical Greek and Roman civilizations, this behavior was commonplace with married men engaging young male prostitutes and slaves without much shame. Yet history tells us nothing about these societies attempting to elevate homosexuality alongside what is now increasingly known as "traditional marriage." And yet despite the vagaries and immorality that existed in these pagan cultures, (infanticide, slavery, abortion, pederasty) the Greeks and Romans knew (How? One might ask) that this behavior was not something their society could encourage nor institutionalize.
Of all the philosophies, cultures, religions and civilizations we know of in recorded history, there is no evidence of any society allowing men to marry men with the full blessing of the state or culture. And if we set aside liberal regions of the U.S., Canada and parts of Western Europe, we conclude that in our world today there is still absolutely no tolerance for the idea that marriage is other than what it has always been.
Two men in Tokyo, Beijing or Bombay can certainly try to obtain a marriage license from their local city clerk, but in all likelihood they will be laughed out of the building. And the interesting thing is that this poor “couple” won’t be able to blame the children of Abraham for their troubles. It’s probably a safe bet that the county registers in Tokyo prefer reading manga over St. Paul’s letters, and I’m almost positive one won’t find Hindu public servants quoting the Book of Genesis as they slam shut their customer service window. One must assume, therefore that this clear, historical, cross-cultural rejection of this behavior throughout history points to something disordered and objectionable about the behavior and that societies have always known it.
We might speculate that what the Catholic Church as well as many philosophers have termed the Natural Law may inform people as they ponder this radical social experiment with no precedence in human civilization. Most people, regardless of religious affiliation, "get" that marriage is a marvelous incubator for successfully raising new human beings. And one of the best ways to ensure that children get a good shot at being stable adults is to make sure they have both a mother and a father. So if we talk about rights in this context, we must insist that a child's right to both a mom and a dad is always considered above the sexual expression of adults.
When Californians vote this November, I wonder how many will simply listen to the whisper of the natural law written on their hearts, and decide in the interests of truth and sanity that only a man and woman can marry in our world or any other.
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