Saturday, July 26, 2008
The Catholic Church and Birth Control: 40 Years Later
This past week a collection of dissident Catholic groups took out an ad in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera seeking once more to have the Holy Father and the Church rescind its teaching that contraception of any form is intrinsically evil and to be avoided by Catholics.
In 1968 Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae definitely codified what the Church had taught for two millennia: that sexual relations in a marriage must be both unitive (husband and wife giving themselves completely to each other) and procreative (being open to possibility of children). In the 40 years since 1968, the Mystical Body of Christ has been involved in a theological civil war over the issue with casualties throughout the Church and the world.
Many of the so-called “Catholic groups” who signed onto the ad, beat the familiar drum of same sex marriage, women’s ordination, support of abortion and the promotion of birth control. It’s worth noting that Catholics, who knowingly dissent from the Church on these issues, threaten to separate themselves from communion with Rome.
At the heart of this dissent seems to be a peculiar ignorance among Catholics about whom the Pope is and how he shepherds the faithful. In the Book of Matthew we learn that Jesus singled out St. Peter for a special mission in his new Church: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall no prevent against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew, 16:18).”
We clearly see that Jesus established a Church with St. Peter at the helm; we also learn that he has the authority to forgive men for their sins here on earth. Before he was crucified in Rome, we know that St. Peter’s office was the Bishop of Rome; although Joseph Ratzinger is called Pope Benedict XVI or the Holy Father, the name of his office remains the Bishop of Rome. And for 2,000 years it has been the Bishop of Rome who has settled disputes and ruled on controversies in the universal Church. We see in the current implosion of the Anglican Communion, how vital it is for Christians to have an authority to settle difficult issues.
And once we recognize who the Pope is, we must appreciate what his function is. Regarding questions of faith (scripture) and morals, the Pope is guided by the Holy Spirit and is infallible (cannot pronounce error in the narrow filed of faith and morals). Infallibility should not be confused with impeccability, which means free from sin. The Pope is a man, and therefore a sinner like all men, yet when teachings on issues of faith and morals, Catholics can take it to the bank that this is the will of Jesus Christ for His people. One of the great joys of being Catholic is know that when you faithfully live out the Chruch’s teaching, you are pleasing our Lord – to trust the Holy Father is to trust our Lord who is the head of the Church.
For non-Catholics who might be puzzled by this row about birth control, it’s worth reading Pope Paul VI’s encyclical and learning just how prophetic he was in asserting that acceptance of birth control would lead to abortion, divorce, promiscuity, decline of the family and the degradation of women.
We see in Africa today that one of the only countries that has made progress in reducing HIV/AIDS is Uganda, which has focused on abstinence, marital fidelity and traditional Christian morality. Elsewhere in Africa, secular westerners swoop in and shower the population with condoms – making no attempt to address the issue of sexual promiscuity. A recent article in the Washington Post by a Ugandan minister exposes the pressure African nations receive from U.N.-type agencies to not “restrict people’s sexual freedom.”
This year New York City began a marketing campaign to raise awareness about condom use; the campaign included free condoms and flashy ads encouraging sexual license. Not long after, a study appeared documenting that STDs in the city were at an all-time high. Little wonder that secular, progressive types have little to offer Africa in the way of health advice.
Catholics are blessed to have Jesus’ representative among them guiding them back to the father in heaven – it’s time the members of the Mystical Body of Christ began acting accordingly.
Labels: Catholic Church
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Pelosi Calls Bush 'a Total Failure'
This hatred of President Bush by the American left has been non-stop since the build up to the invasion of Iraq. Now there is no denying that objecting to the invasion of Iraq was a legitimate and reasonable political stance for Americans of all stripes to take; and one can certainly find substantial Bush policies that both figures on the left and right disapprove of. Yet it’s this intensely personal hatred of President Bush that has blinded many to initiatives that historians will surely praise: defense of the unborn, unparalleled generosity in fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa, preventing another 9/11 style attack and keeping American troops in Iraq long enough to see progress.
By labeling Bush a “total failure,” the left has shut down any attempt to reevaluate the war in Iraq, consider the importance of promoting abstinence in the fight against AIDS or acknowledging the fact that many millions in Africa consider Bush a hero for his generous patronage.
Stifling debate on large issues, whether they’re historical or contemporary, has been modeled to millions of Americans by professors, media elites and Hollywood activists. I was reminded of this reality a few days ago, when a colleague mentioned in the context of the American Revolution that we had “wiped out the Indians.”
There is no doubt that American Indians were deceived, killed, uprooted and all together treated with disdain by many Americans from the beginning of the colonies to the beginning of the 20th Century. However, to say that “we wiped them out,” is accusing our forefathers of genocide.
It’s worth noting that millions of Indians are still alive today all over America – the most superficial example being the Indian casinos that millions of American visit each year. Secondly, there was never a stated, intentional program to systematically remove Indians from this land by killing them. In our traditional celebration of Thanksgiving, we recognize that the early colonists and the natives had interactions that were far from genocidal.
We also know that Indians during the colonial days commonly joined sides with the British, French and Spanish to gain advantages, and were know to make war on the colonists when it benefited them and their allies. What did develop over time, was expansionist colonists and later Americans encroaching on the traditional lands of Indians; this clash was often violent, cruel and unfortunate – yet it was never genocide and the violence and cruelty flowed from both sides. And if one is tempted to justify the many murderous raids Indians made on innocent frontiersmen, then one finds himself in league with such modern day terrorists like the P.L.O and Osama Bin Ladin, who believe that those who have territorial and cultural disputes may kill people to resolve them.
The people of the United States must ask God for forgiveness for their sins against the native peoples; yet these injustices do not cancel out, nor negate the remarkable achievements in liberty, self-government and religious tolerance that have flowed from the founding of this country. Any sane view of human nature, assumes that human beings are sinners, who habitually fail to do what’s right. Yet we are also creatures of reason who are capable of understanding complex realities like the founding of America, and so when we blanket an entire epoch of American history with a statement like “Oh, of course - we wiped out the Indians,” we allow our intellects to atrophy.
President Lincoln had to tackle a similar issue when he spoke out against slavery; he understand as a Christian that slavery was a violation of the moral order – men can’t own other creatures of God. Yet President Lincoln was not an extremist, he knew that Southerners were wrong on this issue, but he refused to demonize them knowing that they were fellow citizens and that one day Americans North and South would need to reconcile. Instead of dismissing his opponents in the South as “total failures” or condemning them as many abolitionists did, he said this:
“Only a small percentage (of the people) are natural tyrants. That percentage is no larger in the slave states than in the free. The great majority, south as well as north, have human sympathies.”
President Lincoln reminds us that we must strive to see the common humanity of our political opponents; we must engage them on the field of debate, using reason and logic to make our points. And when we are tempted to dismiss ideas, political opponents or historical epochs with a hurtful remark or canned idea, we should bite our tongue a bit, remind ourselves of the responsibility of charity and rely upon respectful debate as our guide.
President Bush is not a tyrant and neither Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain hold tyrannical ambitions despite what their detractors may say about them.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Obama and the Rush Toward ‘Change’
U.S. Presidential elections always serve to stir the pot on what Americans believe they believe about themselves; what they hope to believe about their national leaders and what candidates are hoping to have us belief about them (somewhere in there, thankfully, we get bits of truth that are priceless to our understanding of America).
Some criticized Mr. Obama early on in the Democratic primary race for not wearing an American flag lapel pin, which has become de rigueur for American political leaders since the September 11 attacks. Mr. Obama stated, quite reasonably, that patriotism isn’t evaluated by such accessorizing; yet it’s worth noting that the decision not to wear one for a presidential candidate must have been a conscious one, which begs the question of what Mr. Obama was hoping to signal to supporters and opponents alike by excluding the pin.
Now that Mr. Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee, the pin is on his lapel and he has since made patriotic stump speeches with the Stars and Stripes filling the backdrop. The shift proves that even candidates from the far left, who may privately associate patriotism with nationalism or militarism, must at least make of show of national pride if they want the American public to take them seriously.
One conservative commentator (whose name I don’t know) recently summarized the message of Mr. Obama as: “America is the greatest country on Earth…And it’s my intention to completely change it.” The quote is funny, but it goes right to the heart of the American progressive message that appears, on one hand, to laud the greatness of America, but then seems determined to dismantle or change the very things that have made it great.
Pope Benedict XVI in his book Values in a Time of Upheaval writes eloquently on people’s expectations these days that politicians must promise “change” and that change is itself always desirable. “Politicians of all parties take it for granted that they must promise changes--naturally changes for the better,” the Pope writes. “So since the general consensus is that the essential task of politics is to improve the world, indeed to usher in a new world, it is easy to understand why the word ‘conservative’ has become disreputable…”
It appears that members of the left appear, once more, to be rushing the windmills of utopia, hoping that if the correct set of elites govern society then man can finally be freed from his ills, evils, failings and sins. The 20th century produced atrocities on a historical scale because political elites in China, Russia and Germany believed that original sin was simply a fairy tale and that once the people “were properly enlightened” a perfect, harmonious society of love and congeniality would appear.
It’s not the intention of the author to put Mr. Obama in such a category. He is without much experience and arguably holds political views out of the mainstream, but he is someone who the constitution and laws of this country will manage as they’ve managed other executives for the past 230 years; but there are certainly strands of socialism that waft through his rhetoric.
There is no reason to question Mr. Obama’s Christianity or his belief in Christ, yet there is a strong hint of liberation theology in this statements and the religious company he keeps. And as many commentators have pointed out, liberation theology (particularly in the 1980s in Latin America) was often a way for communists to cloak their designs and beliefs under the respectability and traditions of Christianity. Mr. Obama is certainly no agitator, but it’s worth observing if his campaign attracts those with more strident socialistic beliefs, which nowadays are articulated in the language of climate change, population control, attacks on the family, etc.
Mr. Obama and those pushing for political change would do well to remember that things can always be worse; the liberal imagination focuses on utopia instead of appreciating the blessings that exist here and now. It’s not cynicism to understand that things could always be much worse, and that current institutions, values, traditions and morals may actually be keeping the forces of evil and disorder at bay.
For those of us with a personal savior and a religion already, we expect simply that our next president will operate within the boundaries of the constitution, focusing on the rule of law and the promotion of the common good. To quote a Brazilian immigrant and U.S. citizen on NPR who supports Mr. McCain: “We don’t want change – we love this country the way it is. If the American people want change, they should go out and buy a new suit.”
Labels: Presidential Election
Monday, July 7, 2008
The Family is Prior to the State
Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made an executive decision recently to keep certain inner city parks open until Midnight from the Fourth of July weekend until Labor Day. It’s hoped that the open parks will occupy youngsters who otherwise might be tempted to break the law.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “each park will be supervised by at-risk youths 17 to 20 years old, who will receive training and a stipend and work closely with adult gang-intervention worker.” This peer-watching-peer program will cost the city $950,000. It seems reasonable to ask why local governments are charged with minding young people in their neighborhoods. Where one might ask, are the parents? And if one were to be particularly bold, they might even question why young people are even up at midnight, let alone out and about.
Having conducted no polls on the subject, I can’t say what the reaction to such a proposal is, but I’d venture to say that it would be seen as proactive, progressive, community-minded, and the like. If one is to assume the very best of the Mayor’s intentions, it would seem he believes supervised arts and recreations programs will engage the youngsters, teaching them virtue, creativity and the futility of idleness.
The principal at work here – one which is common in large American cities – is that delinquency, crime and low academic performance among young people is the result of bad schools, poor recreations facilities, missing after-school programs or the absence of music, art, algebra, or (fill in the blank) classes for young people. And if teen pregnancy or HIV/AIDS is the concern, then surely a lack of sex education is the culprit. In short, the “community” under serves the area’s young people, resulting in predictable social pathologies, which signals that the state must do a better job of producing well-adjusted human beings.
It's important to understand that passing on the job of parenting to the state is a dereliction of duty, to say the least. Area schools, for example, indeed have important things to teach children, yet the most fundamental lessons on morality, self-control, religion and self sacrifice are entrusted to parents and not the local high school. “The education of the child belongs properly to the parent, and not to the state,” states Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc. “The family is prior to the state in right, and this is particularly true over rights of children.”
The Catholic Church has always understood the family as the original cell of social life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that “authority, stability and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God and make use of freedom.”
We now have a family breakdown in America. The most extreme example of this is in America’s black community. According to a recent story on National Public Radio, “recent figures suggest that now, almost 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.” Correctly understanding marriage as the precursor to having children, we can see that many of our communities will be places of chaos even if we managed to provide violin lessons, advanced placement calculus classes and Ivy Leagued-educated teachers.
There is certainly a place for government social programs, yet before we throw money at problems, those who claim to be leaders may find it cheaper and more honest to first challenge the culture of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, sexual promiscuity and the increasing approval of disordered lifestyles, along with the abortion clinics that set up in poor and minority neighborhoods. Christian churches, in particular, should once more emphasize traditional Judeo-Christian morality, self-control and the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions.
We should demand – at the very least – that parents are responsible for making sure that those under 18 are in the house and not out committing crime on a warm, summer night in Los Angeles.
Labels: The Family
Friday, July 4, 2008
Independence Day Wisdom
We celebrate this Independence Day amidst a protracted presidential campaign and two wars; we also celebrate alongside fellow citizens who seem tired (if not embarrassed) of its founding fathers, its shining accomplishments and its long-cherished belief that we are separate, set apart and certainly the world's "Last Best Hope."
Former Secretary of Education, Dr. William J. Bennett, has written a charming two-volume American history entitled, America: The Last Best Hope. In the first volume he chooses wonderful bits of wisdom from our founding fathers to flesh our nation's tale.
Hamilton, the country's first Secretary of the Treasury under Washington, and author of many of the articles in the Federalist Papers, has this to say about the origin of our rights as men. And his thoughts below help us to appreciate the Constitution of the United States in a particular way, reminding us that the rights of men don't spring originally from the Constitution (though this is absolutely necessary for a just and democratic society to govern itself effectively), but from their unique status as creations of a good and loving God. He writes:
"The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchment or musty
records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the
hand of the Divinity itself and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power."
President Washington has this to say to us:
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are
indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should
labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of
men and citizens."
Something for all Americans - as well as free men everywhere - to ponder.
Labels: 4th Of July
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