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Saturday, April 24, 2010
The Third Rail of Satire

David Harsanyi looks at what's Next on Cowardly Central:

"South Park" is the program that featured an image of Jesus Christ defecating on President George W. Bush and the American flag. It's the program that featured the Virgin Mary gushing blood while undergoing menstruation and Pope Benedict XVI inspecting her in a truly distasteful manner.

"That's where we kind of agree with some of the people who've criticized our show," Stone once admitted to "ABC News." "Because it really is open season on Jesus. We can do whatever we want to Jesus, and we have. We've had him say bad words. We've had him shoot a gun. We've had him kill people. We can do whatever we want. But Muhammad, we couldn't just show a simple image."

For those who bellyache about the impending Christian theocracy, it might behoove them to be a little more irritated at the thought of a television network censoring any depictions of a religious figure over some implicit threats.

There's a simple and obvious solution to the problem. Catholics need to start driving airplanes into buildings, cutting off people's heads, and sticking knives into the chests of anyone who produces any work of art that in any way offends Catholic sensibilities, real or imagined. Such a zero tolerance policy seems like it's worked wonders for reducing the mockery of Islam.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Appallingly Ignorant Diatribe

The May edition of First Things rocks. Well, as much as any periodical devoted to serious discussions of religion, culture, and public life can.

Mary Ann Glendon looks at God and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Timothy Reichert examines how widespread contraception has been a Bitter Pill for women and children.

Joseph Bottum describes the Bad Medicine Americans will be swallowing after the passage of ObamaCare.

And I haven't even read George Weigel's piece called Truths Still Held?:

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of John Courtney Murray's We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition--arguably, the most important such reflection composed in our time.

But my favorite article has to be David B. Hart's lament on the decline of respectable atheism:

The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today's most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one's conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).

But how long can any soul delight in victories of that sort? And how long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists--with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral "truths," their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about "religion" in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for?

I am not--honestly, I am not--simply being dismissive here. The utter inconsequentiality of contemporary atheism is a social and spiritual catastrophe. Something splendid and irreplaceable has taken leave of our culture--some great moral and intellectual capacity that once inspired the more heroic expressions of belief and unbelief alike. Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets--a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties.

But a true skeptic is also someone who understands that an attitude of critical suspicion is quite different from the glib abandonment of one vision of absolute truth for another--say, fundamentalist Christianity for fundamentalist materialism or something vaguely and inaccurately called "humanism." Hume, for instance, never traded one dogmatism for another, or one facile certitude for another. He understood how radical were the implications of the skepticism he recommended, and how they struck at the foundations not only of unthinking faith, but of proud rationality as well.

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

The entire article is a must read. As is the entire issue.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Does The Press Wear A Funny Hat?

The recent efforts by "truth-seeking" journalists to leave no rock unturned in hopes of finding any thread that remotely connects Pope Benedict XVI to "cover-ups" of sexual abuse by Church authorities has demonstrated once again that the only thing that matches the levels of their invective against the Catholic Church is their ignorance of the Church and its workings. They frame the unfolding "scandal" with the same familiar narrative structure that they have so often employed with politicians. The problem with this approach--one of many--is the Pope is not a politician and serving as an effective Pope is not a popularity contest best measured by approval ratings. They've also been quick to pounce on anything that reinforces the story they want to tell and reluctant to report facts that contradict the conclusions they're all too eager to reach.

In today's WSJ, William McGurn has a piece on this shoddy journalism called The Pope and the New York Times:

A few years later, when the CDF assumed authority over all abuse cases, Cardinal Ratzinger implemented changes that allowed for direct administrative action instead of trials that often took years. Roughly 60% of priests accused of sexual abuse were handled this way. The man who is now pope reopened cases that had been closed; did more than anyone to process cases and hold abusers accountable; and became the first pope to meet with victims. Isn't the more reasonable interpretation of all these events that Cardinal Ratzinger's experience with cases like Murphy's helped lead him to promote reforms that gave the church more effective tools for handling priestly abuse?

That's not to say that the press should be shy, even about Pope Benedict XVI's decisions as archbishop and cardinal. The Murphy case raises hard questions: why it took the archbishops of Milwaukee nearly two decades to suspend Murphy from his ministry; why innocent people whose lives had been shattered by men they are supposed to view as icons of Christ found so little justice; how bishops should deal with an accused clergyman when criminal investigations are inconclusive; how to balance the demands of justice with the Catholic imperative that sins can be forgiven. Oh, yes, maybe some context, and a bit of journalistic skepticism about the narrative of a plaintiffs attorney making millions off these cases.

That's still a story worth pursuing.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Back Where We Started

Interesting to note that the common thread in two articles in the February edition of First Things is the return to religious orthodoxy and the decline of the modern alternatives to it in both Christianity and Judaism.

Mary Eberstadt has a lengthy piece on the failure of Christianity Lite:

Even so, it is the still longer run of Christian history whose outlines may now be most interesting and unexpected of all. Looking even further out to the horizon from our present moment--at a vista of centuries, rather than mere decades, ahead of us--we may well begin to wonder something else. That is, whether what we are witnessing now is not only the beginning of the end of the Anglican Communion but indeed the end of something even larger: the phenomenon of Christianity Lite itself.

By this I mean the multifaceted institutional experiment, beginning but not ending with the Anglican Communion, of attempting to preserve Christianity while simultaneously jettisoning certain of its traditional teachings--specifically, those regarding sexual morality. Surveying the record to date of what has happened to the churches dedicated to this long-running modern religious experiment, a large historical question now appears: whether the various exercises in this specific kind of dissent from traditional teaching turn out to contain the seeds of their own destruction. The evidence--preliminary but already abundant--suggests that the answer is yes.

If this is so, then the implications for the future of Christianity itself are likely to be profound. If it is Christianity Lite, rather than Christianity proper, that is fatally flawed and ultimately unable to sustain itself, then a rewriting of much of contemporary thought, religious and secular, appears in order. It means that secularization itself may be fundamentally misunderstood. It means that the most unwanted and unfashionable traditional teaching of Christianity, its sexual moral code, demands of the modern mind a new and respectful look. As a strategic matter, it also means that the current battle within the Catholic Church between traditionalists and dissenters must go to the traditionalists, lest the dissenters or cafeteria Catholics take the same path that the churches of Christianity Lite have followed: down, down, down.

All these are just preliminary examples of what is at stake in contemplating the great experiment of Christianity Lite--which is why the evidence for its failure is so compelling and important.

In a review of a book called "Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal" by Dana Evan Kaplan, David P. Goldman finds similar trends at play and even some shared root causes:

Orthodox Jews are having many children while non-Orthodox Jews are having very few and marrying half of those few to Gentiles. An often cited assessment of these trends by Antony Gordon and Richard Horowitz has made the rounds for years, showing that within four generations the total number of American Jews will double if present trends continue, and 95 percent of them will be Orthodox. Linear forecasts are unreliable, to be sure, but the one thing on which the Orthodox and Reform communities appear to agree is that the former is growing and the latter is melting down.

Kaplan cannot bring himself to report the despair of Reform Jewish sociologists, but despair nonetheless pervades his pladoyer for an "inclusive," "nondenominational," and "moderately affiliated" Judaism. No stunt is too silly for anti-traditional synagogues to get warm bodies into the pews. It would be instructive to disentangle the cause-and-effect relation between the degraded practice and the deteriorating demographics of anti-traditional Judaism. Are Jews leaving Reform, Reconstructionist, and related congregations because the services ape popular culture, or do the services ape popular culture because "progressive clergy" will do anything to get "moderately affiliated" members in the door?

It's becoming increasingly evident, at least within Christianity and Judaism, that people don't choose to leave religions or abandon their practices because the religious beliefs and obligations are too challenging or demand too much of them. Rather, it's when these beliefs and obligations are watered down, modernized, and popularized to better fit the secular culture that decline in religious affiliation, attendance, and practice take place. As these trends continue play out they will alter the religious landscape in the United States and globally. It's also interesting to consider what they may mean for the future of Islam. Is it too a religion where orthodoxy will ultimately prevail and if so what does that mean for its relationships with other religions?


Thursday, March 11, 2010
The Emperor Has No Garment

Question for all those Catholics out there who voted for Barack Obama because--despite his clear and consistent views and record on abortion, stem cells, and other life issues--he would do more to help promote "social justice." You know people like Douglas Kmiec and other ProLife ProObama folks who claimed that being pro-life was more than just opposing abortion and anyway as president Obama would take actions that would "drastically" reduce the number of abortions.

More than a year into the Obama presidency, what exactly has President Obama done that in any way could justify your vote? What has he done in the name of "social justice" that President Bush didn't do? The stimulus package and extending unemployment benefits seem like pretty weak tea given the expectations. What about health care? Last time, I checked the USCCB still opposed any bill that included funding for abortion and the President seems intent on ramming just that through.

What about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that left-leaning Catholics have opposed? Still going on. Guantanamo Bay? Still open. The anti-terror provisions of the Patriot Act and other executive powers claimed by the Bush Administration to fight terrorism? Still being used by the Obama Administration.

So while it's perfectly clear to see the moral ground that has been lost under President Obama when it comes to abortion and stem cells, it difficult for me to see what pro-Obama Catholics can claim has been gained since his election. Douglas Kmiec got a sweet gig as U.S. Ambassador to Malta, but what about the rest of you?

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Thursday, February 25, 2010
Off Key

The National Catholic Educational Association is holding their annual Convention and Expo in the Twin Cities from April 6th to the 8th. And when a national Catholic organization comes to town who would they want to deliver the keynote address but the thrice married, Episcopalian (currently) public radio funny man Garrison Keillor?

It's a curious choice for a number of reasons. While Keillor is best known for being the soft spoken, mild-mannered host of "A Prairie Home Companion" when it comes to politics he's one of the more divisive, inflammatory, and mean-spirited voices out there. Examples of Keillor's demagogic political rhetoric abound. There's this classic screed against Republicans:

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong's moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt's evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we're deaf, dumb and dangerous.

I for one am still waiting for Keillor to apologize to the hirsute marsh improvers he so recklessly defamed.

Then there's Keillor's call to literally pull the plug on the GOP:

...if Republicans should be cut out of the health-care system entirely and simply provided with aspirin and hand sanitizer. Thirty-two percent of the population identifies with the GOP, and if we cut off health care to them, we could probably pay off the deficit in short order.

Nothing like bringing in a keynote speaker who's quite open about the fact that he despises half the country (especially those darn tea baggers). In the same piece where he fondly dreamed of death panelling the GOP, Keillor also offered us this:

The so-called cultural wars over abortion and prayer in the schools and pornography and gays, most of it instigated by shrieking ninnies and pompous blowhards, did nothing about anything, except elect dullards to office who brought a certain nihilistic approach to governance.

Last time I checked the Catholic Church had a rather vested interest in these so-called cultural wars. In fact, you could argue that the Church was often the one "instigating" them with its vocal opposition to abortion and gay marriage. Perhaps someone at the NCEA convention could ask Keillor is he considers the Pope a shrieking ninny or a pompous blowhard.

This is another reason why the decision to have Keillor keynote the convention is raising eye brows. His views on abortion and gay marriage--while not as extreme as those of many on the left--don't exactly fit well with those of the Catholic Church. And even if he personally favors private schools for his own kids, you have to wonder about what Keillor really thinks about Catholic education given some of his past comments, especially on vouchers:

"The American public school, how remarkable it will seem someday. With the introduction of school vouchers, you got to send your kids to schools where they learned the TRUTH-- your truth--Our Lady of Sorrows, Foursquare Millennial Gospel, Moon Goddess, Malcolm X, the Open School of Whatever, the Academy of Hairy-Legged Individualism, the School of the Green Striped Tie, you name it, and who could argue with the idea of free choice? --until you stop and think about the old idea of the public school, a place where you went to find out who inhabits this society other than people like you."

-- Garrison Keillor (talking about other people's kids), "The Future of Nostalgia," New York Times Magazine, 29 September 1996

But as a Minnesotan of the Catholic persuasion, what really irks me most about having Keillor keynote a Catholic education convention in the Twin Cities is that no one probably has done more to propagate the illusion that the people of Minnesota are all Lutherans of Scandinavian descent than him. After all, this is a convention about Catholic education. Why not have, you know, someone from Minnesota who's actually Catholic be the keynote speaker?

If you're outraged about this decision (and if you've been paying attention how can you not be?) you can let the NCEA know how you feel by dropping a note to:

Dr. Karen M. Ristau, Ed.D.
President, National Catholic Educational Association
1005 North Glebe Road
Arlington, VA 22201

Or you can e-mail Dr. Ristau at

Be courteous and respectful, but be sure to express your view that Keillor is a below average choice for keynote speaker.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Contemporary Comedy Service

Over at First Things, Patrick Rostrum has an on-going series of what he calls "Sermon Reviews." In these reviews he looks at different aspects of the church and the service that he attends. He rates the following areas on a scale from 1-10:

- Physical Aesthetics of the Church
- Precision, Reverence, and Aesthetics of the Service
- Precision, Reverence, and Rhetoric of the Sermon
- Music

These reviews have generated some controversy, especially over whether it's really appropriate to rate such things as sermons on a numeric scale. The latest sermon review of St. Ignatius Loyala in NYC lead to this comment from Commander Craig:

It's well worth arguing the relative merits of church architecture and rubrical adherence, and it's certainly worth calling attention to the homiletic purveyors of heretical Christology. However, a liturgical Michelin Guide, which would attempt to shoehorn the irreducible experience of the Mass into a ratings system, is a questionable project.

What's next, hiring the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to do silhouetted running commentary?

While I'm sure all us of have sat through our share of sermons where an appearance by the MST3K crew would be a most welcome addition, it probably would prove to be too much of a distraction from the solemnity of the sacred proceedings to have them riffing during Mass. You'll have to content yourself with bad movies guys. We'll have to endure the pain of bad homilies laugh free.


Thursday, December 24, 2009
Even Skeptics Get The News

David Harsanyi finds many reasons to celebrate the Christmas season--even for an unbeliever:

It's this kind of close-mindedness many atheists find most annoying. For a long time, in fact, I believed H.L. Mencken's line that, "God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable."

But then poll after poll illustrates that religious people-- in the throes of ignorance, granted--are far happier, far more charitable and far from helpless.

On an ideological front, it dawned on me long ago that though didactic Christians may attempt to limit personal freedoms, they are rank amateurs compared to environmentalist moralizers or "social justice" moralizers or economic equality moralizers of the left.

God or no God, one of these groups generally believes in free will and the others generally believe taking is an ethical pursuit.

Other curiosities invaded my thinking, as well. It is common, for instance, for free-thinking acquaintances of mine, ones who sneer at the very thought of Christianity, to buy into every half-baked mystic-sanctioned cure available.

These same folks who have no compunction comparing evangelicals to the Taliban demand I demonstrate more deference to the misogynistic, homophobic and anti-intellectual theocrats elsewhere in the world. For peace.

So while, today's nonbelievers tend to focus on the ugliest aspects of organized faith-- and there is no dearth of opportunity--they ignore that this nation's tradition of liberty, economic freedom and unmatched tolerance (sure, we could always use more) was driven and tethered to Christian ideas.

Maybe, it's not worth believing. But it's worth a holiday, at least.

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Friday, December 04, 2009
The Little Differences

One of the many things I enjoy about traveling is the opportunity to attend Mass in various locales. There's a certain comfort in the way that different people in different places gather to celebrate the Eucharist of the Lord in a common manner. Whether in Minneapolis, Manila, Mexico, or Miami it's one Church of believers joined together in communion.

Of course there are also many differences to observe. The language, the music, the particular customs and the traditions, and the church buildings themselves vary from place to place.

My experience attending Mass in Miami last week provided another example of this. The one thing that really stood out was how light the attendance was. When the Mass began, I doubt if more than 10% of the pews were occupied. By the time the Gospel was read, the house was maybe 20% full. It almost felt like I was at a Marlins game not a Mass, a feeling reinforced by the turquoise pew coverings.

Judging by the size and age of the church itself I would think it a decent sized parish. Perhaps the sheer number of Masses offered--two on Saturday (one English, one Spanish), four on Sunday morning, and one on Sunday night--meant that attendance was spread out among them. But I was at the 10am Sunday service, which I thought would have been the prime time showcase.

And those that did show up tended to arrive late and leave early (what is this, a Dodgers game?). By the time the last note on the closing hymn was sounded, the pews were almost entirely empty. Seriously, there were probably eight other people beside me still inside the church at the close. The rest apparently had places to go and people to see.

The standard of dress and conduct was also different. Not too often that you see people wearing fashion sunglasses throughout a Mass in Minnesota. Or talking on cell phones literally right up to the point when Mass began. And on a day when temps were in the mid-seventies (very mild for Miami), shorts were ubiquitous. Sisyphus would have felt right at home in his standard summer outfit of shorts, sandals, and a Hawaiian shirt as the two gentlemen who were seated in front of me obviously did.

Other minor differences were that there were no altar boys. Just the priest and deacon assisting him. And no wine at communion which always bugs me. It's the body and blood of Christ, isn't it? One might have chalked that up to overblown H1N1 fears, but since we engaged in JB's favorite "introduce yourself to your neighbors and shake hands" pre-Mass ritual I doubt that's the explanation.

Lest you think me too negative on the experience, I should add that the music was quite good. The choir was small but powerful and the cantor really belted it out. The priest also delivered a solid homily on the how to resist the secular temptations of the Christmas season and maintain focus on what truly matters.

Attending Mass in other places is always different. But it's also always good.


Monday, November 30, 2009
The Truth Isn't Popular

The December issue of First Things includes Joseph Bottum's piece calling Christians to more forcibly (and effectively) defend their religious freedoms called A Demand for Freedom (sub req):

Still, America's religious believers are not wrong to feel ringed in, somehow--teased and ragged and bullied and pressed in on. And they have responded, generally, like the bewildered boy surrounded by bullies. Take Fr. John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, for example. This is not a stupid man. At the very least, he's one of those sharp, get-ahead people with an ability to tell which way the wind is blowing. And there's no gainsaying the fact that, with healthcare reform, changes in the tax code, and homosexual rights routinely posed against religion, the wind is blowing hard against Notre Dame and all the other limicole institutions--hospitals, schools, and charities--that stand between the Catholic Church and the state. But somehow, despite his cleverness, Jenkins has chosen the big, tormented, clumsy boy's solution: stupidly hoping that the cool kids will like him if he tries to do the same things they do. They won't, and in the meantime he succeeds mostly at kindling anger in all the pro-life people who ought to wish Notre Dame well.

The clumsy boy trying to appease the cool kids seems like a perfectly apt analogy for Fr. Jenkins and his actions. Bottum closes with a clarion call to action:

As Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants of many denominations, Christian believers do not hold all the same beliefs. But all believers must stand up now and make a declaration. We must demand from the powers of the world genuine freedom for believers: the freedom to earn their livings, the freedom to educate their children, the freedom to practice their charities, and the freedom to speak the truth--all without compulsion to violate, along the way, the conscience formed by faith in Jesus Christ.

We must demand, as well, genuine freedom for the churches: the freedom to proclaim the gospel, the freedom to persuade conversions, the freedom to make the case for Christianity by participating in public discourse, the freedom to operate charitable and educational organizations, and the freedom to decry sin wherever it is found.

Finally, we must call the churches of every Christian denomination to cast off their torpor and compliance--to shed their fear of scorn and disapproval. The churches must take up their first and greatest duty: the proclamation of the Gospel of Life in a time increasingly enticed by death--the proclamation of the Gospel of Light in a world increasingly stumbling in darkness.


Monday, November 23, 2009
Mass Casualties

A few thoughts/questions on mass.

1. When it did become acceptable to break out into applause during the service? I don't remember it ever happening in the 70's or 80's. 90's perhaps? I find it grating, to say the least. During Sunday's service there was not one, not two, but three outbursts of applause.

That is three too many.

One was after a visiting Indian priest gave his homily, which had me zoning due to his over-use of cliches and general bromides, which have nothing to do with Truth (you know, the reason we're there!). I remember thinking during the homily that people had better not start clapping when he got done. Then he finished and there was no clapping. I took the opportunity to make sure my boy was behaving himself in Sunday school and I was walking back into church I hear the clapping start.

The second was because some altar boy had just done his first mass. Whippty-doo.

The third was after the choir and congregation finished singing the song "Soon and Very Soon". For whatever reason during the song some saps decided to start some rhythmic clapping. There were maybe 30 people clapping--some on the back beat, some on the beat, others somewhere in between. It was a mess. Plus the song is Soon and Very Soon, a song about when we will die:

"Soon and very soon, we are going to see the king"

I don't know about others, but I am not necessarily looking forward to my day of reckoning with the Lord, so I wasn't happily singing along with ersatz joy.

And while I'm at it, perhaps someone could tell me when the priests decided to start singing practically the entire mass?

The Lord with you
And also with you
We lift up our hearts
We lift them up to the lord, etc.

Was something wrong with simply saying the words? And is it up to the priest if he wants to sing? What if he can't carry a tune in a bucket?

Besides the modern sappy feeling I get from hearing the singing, it also makes the mass last a lot longer.

The good news is that this H1N1 scare has put the kibosh on the ridiculous announcements at the beginning of mass like: "So that there be no strangers among us, please take a moment to greet those around you." So I was at least happy to avoid that bit of forced happy-sappy nonsense.


Thursday, October 22, 2009
Taking What They're Giving

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has an excellent piece in the current edition of First Thing on the current threat to Catholic charities and the historical relationship between the Church and state in America:

As a result, the original links between freedom and truth, and between individual rights and moral duties, are disappearing in the United States. In the name of advancing the rights of the individual, other basic rights--the rights of religious believers, communities, and institutions--and key truths about the human person, are denied.

In squeezing the Church and other mediating institutions out of the public square, government naturally assumes more power over the nation's economic and social life. Civil society becomes subordinated to the state. And the state then increasingly sees itself as the primary shared identity of its citizens. But this is utterly alien to--and in fact, an exact contradiction of--what America's founders intended.

America's original vision conforms closely with subsidiarity, a core principle of Catholic social teaching. Through mediating institutions like the Church, America has always sought to meet people's needs at a local and even personal level, thereby keeping the state properly limited. As civil authorities intrude on the daily work of mediating institutions, they also substitute themselves for the role of the Church and other similar groups. These tendencies are reinforced by a strong secularist spirit among America's knowledge classes. In education, scientific circles, and the mass media, religion is often seen as a backward social force, a source of division and violence. The language of pluralism and diversity is misused to advance the antidemocratic goal of marginalizing believers and religious communities from the national conversation.

Today's distaste for religion among America's leadership classes has created disarray in our civic philosophy. The American proposition, while nonsectarian in nature, has always been marked by a belief in God?s sovereignty over human affairs and the importance of religion in personal and public life. The secularization of America's political and intellectual life has weakened these tenets that shaped our common identity. Without God, without the natural-law and the natural-rights tradition, we no longer have any broadly shared moral consensus in which to ground our politics, and from which to draw a common purpose.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009
No Atheists in Radio Talk Shows

How do you know when you're really getting to an atheist? When you force him to cry out to an ostensibly imaginary supreme being for help.

Hugh Hewitt accomplished just that in his interview/debate with anti-christ Superstar Richard Dawkins yesterday:

RD: There's massive archaeological evidence [of ancient Roman history], there's massive evidence of all kinds. It's just not comparable. No ... if you talk to any ancient historian of the period, they will agree that [the Bible] is not good historical evidence.

HH: Oh, that's simply not true. Dr. Mark Roberts, double PhD in undergraduate at Harvard has written a very persuasive book upon this. I mean, that's an astounding statement. Are you unfamiliar with him?

RD: All right, then there may be some, but a very large number of ancient historians would say?

HH: Well, you just said there were none. So there are some that you are choosing not to confront.

RD: You sound like a lawyer.

HH: I am a lawyer.

RD: Oh, for God's sake. Are you?

We can all relate to the surprise and disgust Dawkins feels upon realizing he's talking to a lawyer. Maybe he can get a pass for that little theistic slip. But what comes later in the transcript, there can be no Earthly explanation:

RD: You cannot seriously be saying that the case for the existence of the Roman Empire is as weak as for Jesus.

HH: That's not what I'm saying at all. I didn't say that. I said that your argument, by analogy, to a Latin teacher being harried by people who deny certain things, but especially your idea of a detective using evidence at a crime scene, that it doesn't comport with your dismissal of the evidence for Christianity and the historical Jesus.

RD: Okay, do you believe Jesus turned water into wine?

HH: Yes.

RD: You seriously do?

HH: Yes.

RD: You actually think that Jesus got water, and made all those molecules turn into wine?

HH: Yes.

RD: My God. I've realized the kind of person I'm dealing with now.

Again, with the plea for divine intervention! From one of the foremost divinity deniers on the planet. It's the miracle on AM1280 the Patriot. Our buddy HH gets one more of these and he's on his way to canonization.

Actually, I doubt Dawkins was having a conversion experience. He was using a common phrase for expressing shock. Apparently, Dawkins was stunned, gobsmacked, that the guy he was debating, the guy who was defending the religious perspective and Christianity (the dominant view in the culture), would actually believe one of the miracles noted in the Gospels. Shocked, shocked was he that Hugh was one of "those kind of people." My God, indeed!

Dawkins is an Oxford professor, a media fixture, a culturally aware guy. The idea that a conservative American commentator like Hugh Hewitt believes in the Gospels would be stunning to him is less plausible than turning water into wine.

Instead, it seems to be Dawkins trying to marginalize the expression of mainstream Christian beliefs. Perhaps that's a feature of the New Atheism, something we all have to look forward to seeing more of in the future. No chance of him backing down Hugh though and his response was well played:

HH: Yes. My God, actually, not yours.

UPDATE: Associate professor of biology at UM-Morris, PZ Myers, chimes in with his scholarly opinion on Harvard man, law professor Hugh Hewitt:

Hewitt is a ridiculous puffed-up blowhard of very little brain, and a remarkably calm, polite discussion while he ducks and dodges and blows a dog-whistle for his crazy listeners doesn't work very well.

Ah, the evidence-based, dispassionate analysis of a scientist!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Fly Away

More than two years ago, the Flying Imams case was dismissed by the local monopoly newspaper as unworthy of further investigation. The story included elements of vital issues such as terrorism, religious intolerance, transportation security, witness intimidation, government entities getting sued for big bucks. And the essential facts of the case were still in dispute by the parties involved (the imams, the airlines, and the police/airports commission). Yet, in the considered editorial judgment of the Star Tribune, the story was a total snoozer. From the editor then running the show:

I don't think the paper dropped this story, but I do think it had run its course. I would like to have seen a story delving into who these folks were, a good suggestion, but I don't think it's timely at this point. I think this is one of those stories that runs for a couple of days, then subsides.

Shortly thereafter, the Star Tribune editorial page looked forward to finally getting to the bottom of this case. Not through their own reporting, mind you. No, they were happy to complacently outsource the reporting to another entity, the US District Court.

The lawsuit that six Muslim clerics filed against US Airways on Monday is likely to prove as divisive as the incident which prompted it -- welcomed by those who see the episode as a case of religious discrimination, derided by those who believe US Airways responded prudently to suspicious passenger behavior. But the trial could prove useful to the larger public if it finally clears up what actually happened at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Nov. 20 -- the facts are still much disputed -- and if the judge sets out some guidance on what's appropriate behavior when cultures clash.

As I said at the time:

Yes, thank goodness the court system will be there figure out this "divisive" situation for us. Lord knows we don't have any other institutions in town with the resources and expertise to investigate facts and report them.

This just in, bad news for the Star Tribune staff patiently waiting around for the past 30 months for the court to finally clear up what happened.

A settlement has been reached in the "Flying Imams" federal lawsuit that was filed by six Muslim men who claim they were falsely arrested on a US Airways jet in the Twin Cities three years ago because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds.

One of the imams, Marwan Sadeddin of Phoenix, told the Associated Press that the settlement does not include an apology but he considers it an acknowledgment that a mistake was made. He said he couldn't divulge the terms because both sides had agreed not to discuss them publicly.

I guess we'll never know the facts now. And that's the final straw! I'm cancelling my subscription to the US District Court.

As far as the Star Tribune goes, I guess you have to admire their efficiency. They agreed not to discuss the case publicly years before the plaintiffs and defendants did.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Now That's What I Call Praying

In this era of apparently ascendant secular, libertine, and Democrat party values, it is easy for those dedicated to pro life positions to get discouraged. Even formerly trusted, bedrock institutions like Notre Dame have gone wobbly. I'm sure many have begun to doubt the potential for turning back this tide. Maybe started to wonder whether continued dissent from the dominant cultural mindset is worth effort and personal cost.

The prayer below was handed out on a small yellow card after Mass in Stillwater on Sunday. I find it spot-on in its tone and themes and especially effective in inspiring an essential ingredient for improbable victory, the will to succeed.

For Faith

Lord, give me faith ... faith in the pro-life cause. Let me believe that this is the most important issue of our time. Let me believe that with Your help we will succeed. Let me remember that faith can move even the mountains of legislative intrigues, unjust courts, and the growing selfishness of American society.

Give me faith in myself. Let me believe even my small efforts to save Your children are important. Help me never to apologize for my convictions, but rather to be happy to share with others my belief in the sanctity of all human life.

Give me faith in You. You are the author of all life. You know and love every human being. How You must weep for Your children who die and for Your other children who kill them! Help me to believe the power of Your grace will eventually triumph over every obstacle.


Amen indeed. It even inspires a little elevation to boot.

Cursory Googling on the text show it popping up elsewhere in a limited fashion. No indication of the source or author though. That's just as well.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009
Marching For Life Onward To Victory

Last spring, Catholics debated the University of Notre Dame's presenting President Obama with an honorary degree and inviting him to to speak at commencement. My position on the issue was that the university was in the wrong by openly defying the American bishop's 2004 statement "Catholics in Political Life," that required Catholic institutions refrain from honoring pro-abortion politicians. Essentially, my position is that an educational institution could allow such a politician to speak, but could not bestow an honor on him. An honorary degree is, by name, an honor.

That argument is over. The powers that be at Notre Dame made their decision and it is done. However, there was another aspect of the debate that was overlooked. In a sense, it is more important than the question of a one-day visit. That is the issue of what is Notre Dame doing to further the pro-life position in America today and every day?

Notre Dame's President, Father John Jenkins, announced an answer to this question this week. In a letter to alumni and friends of the University he stated:

Coming out of the vigorous discussions surrounding President Obama's visit last spring, I said we would look for ways to engage the Notre Dame community with the issues raised in a prayerful and meaningful way. As our nation continues to struggle with the morality and legality of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and related issues, we must seek steps to witness to the sanctity of life. I write to you today about some initiatives that we are undertaking.

Each year on January 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, the March for Life is held in Washington D.C. to call on the nation to defend the right to life. I plan to participate in that march. I invite other members of the Notre Dame Family to join me and I hope we can gather for a Mass for Life at that event. We will announce details as that date approaches.

On campus, I have recently formed the Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life. It will be co-chaired by Professor Margaret Brinig, the Fritz Duda Family Chair in Law and Associate Dean for the Law School, and by Professor John Cavadini, the Chair of the Department of Theology and the McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life. My charge to the Task Force is to consider and recommend to me ways in which the University, informed by Catholic teaching, can support the sanctity of life. Possibilities the Task Force has begun to discuss include fostering serious and specific discussion about a reasonable conscience clause; the most effective ways to support pregnant women, especially the most vulnerable; and the best policies for facilitating adoptions. Such initiatives are in addition to the dedication, hard work and leadership shown by so many in the Notre Dame Family, both on the campus and beyond, and the Task Force may also be able to recommend ways we can support some of this work.

I also call to your attention the heroic and effective work of centers that provide care and support for women with unintended pregnancies. The Women's Care Center, the nation's largest Catholic-based pregnancy resource center, on whose Foundation Board I serve, is run by a Notre Dame graduate, Ann Murphy Manion ('77). The center has proven successful in offering professional, non-judgmental concern to women with unintended pregnancies, helping those women through their pregnancy and supporting them after the birth of their child. The Women's Care Center and similar centers in other cities deserve the support of Notre Dame clubs and individuals.

Our Commencement last spring generated passionate discussion and also caused some divisions in the Notre Dame community. Regardless of what you think about that event, I hope that we can overcome divisions to foster constructive dialogue and work together for a cause that is at the heart of Notre Dame's mission. We will keep you informed of our work, and we ask for your support, assistance and prayers. May Our Lady, Notre Dame, watch over our efforts.

For those of us who were disappointed in Notre Dame's decision this spring, this is a positive step.

The Elder Adds: True, but it will get a fraction of the attention that Notre Dame's original decision to honor President Obama did. It will take many more such steps to make up for the damage caused by that unfortunate act.

I also find it ironic that while the Nihilist is staunchly pro-life, he favors the immediate imposition of the death penalty in the case of Charlie Weis.


Saturday, August 08, 2009
Trading In and Up

Creative Minority Report unveils Mass For Clunkers!:

Are you tired of having that same old dinosaur? Have you been worried for years about the deleterious effect that those old clunkers have had on the environment and art in our worship? Have you been thinking about upgrading but were just not sure if now was the right time? Well think no more!

Thanks to an exciting new Vatican Program you can trade in your tired, old, progressive Priest, Liturgist, or Music Director for a brand new--certified orthodox--model.

The Vatican has begun a a new program officially called "Faith and Tradition Recovery Act" but otherwise known as "Mass for Clunkers." Under this program you can trade in your harmful old "Community Faith Director in the Catholic faith tradition" for a brand new Priest in the Order of Melchizedek! This exciting program also applies to progressive liturgists and music directors.

A brand new orthodox model comes with many benefits! First and foremost, a new model is guaranteed to save more souls! These antiquated and out of date models have wrecked our churches for too long! Save our environment and trade in your old progressive clunker now and as a bonus you will receive a 4500 days indulgence absolutely free!


Monday, July 27, 2009
All In All

Yesterday's second reading at Mass was from Ephesians
Chapter 4 verses 1-6

Brothers and sisters:
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.

One sentence that manages to say it all.


Monday, July 13, 2009
State of the Church

Earlier this year, Archbishop Nienstedt began a Planning Process for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A Strategic Task Force for Parish and School Planning was created:

Its purpose is to listen, study, evaluate, discuss, and only then propose, how the Archdiocese can best serve the spiritual and community life of its people and the faith and educational development needs of its children now and in the future. The planning process will focus on both parishes and schools, seeking to build a sustainable way of organizing to effectively do the mission of the Church.

Although that's worded a bit awkwardly (do the mission of the Church?), essentially what the Archbishop is looking for is a strategic plan for how the Archdiocese is going to realize its mission in the coming years. Too often in the past, the Church has neglected to engage in such strategic and forward looking thinking. Usually to its detriment. I applaud Archbishop Nienstedt's action in this area and look forward to seeing the results that the task force comes up with.

Progress in this planning process has been communicated through a series of parish bulletin articles. The latest included a wealth of data on the demographic makeup of the Archdiocese, the financial situation at parishes and schools, and the state of Catholic education. Here are a few highlights that caught my eye:

* The total number of Catholics registered at parishes is estimated to be 650,000. The historical growth rate for registered Catholics is approximately 7.0%. By 2016 the number of Catholics registered at parishes will be approximately 695,000.

For a state known for its Scandinavian Lutheran roots, the Catholic population in the Twin Cities is impressive.

* Current Mass attendance is reported to be estimated on Saturday evening and Sundays to average a total of 223,275 people in this Archdiocese. This represents 34% of registered Catholics. This Archdiocese is aligned with the national estimate.

While that figure is not surprising, it is still distressing. Only one-third of registered Catholics attend Mass weekly?

* There is one Korean parish, two Vietnamese parishes, one Hmong parish and Mass is offered in French each Sunday for West African parishioners. Two priests serve approximately 10,000 Filipino Catholics spread across the Archdiocese.

I had no idea there were that many Filipinos in the Twin Cities.

* The growing diversity of the Catholic population is creating an increasing number of parishioners who do not register at a parish, but who regularly attend Mass in their parish of choice.

* Parish membership is less defined by geography than in the past. The average number of zip codes represented in a parish of this Archdiocese is 36.

* Destination parishes defined by personal preference, a specific pastor or by convenience are becoming more common.

The fact that many Catholics no longer choose to follow the traditional practice of attending Mass and registering at their "neighborhood" parish is not a surprise. However, the average number of zip codes in a parish figure is higher than I would have thought.

The issue of "destination parishes" is one that the Church is going to have to address in the planning process. While I believe the official position is still that Catholics should attend their local church, the reality is that people are going to flock to those parishes that are meeting their spiritual needs and many will tend to shun those that don't. It's a thorny matter to be sure. On the one hand, the tradition that Catholics support their local parish helps build community and helps keep resources more evenly distributed throughout the Archdiocese. On the other hand, should parishioners have to put up with pastors and parishes who are ineffective or who stray from the Church's teaching just because they happen to live nearby?

* There are currently 217 parishes in the Archdiocese

* The Archdiocese now has ten less parishes than it had ten years ago.

* There are currently 182 priests eligible to be pastor and there will be a total of 163 priests eligible to be pastors in ten years time: a drop of 19 pastors.

Looking to the future, a key challenge will be how the Archdiocese copes with more parishioners (and hopefully more attending Mass) with fewer priests and almost certainly fewer parishes. Consolidation is not a question of "if" but of "how."

* In FY 2009 there are 55 parishes being monitored by the Archdiocese because of debt and operational budget issues. In 2003, there were 33 parishes being monitored.

* The financial condition of the Archdiocese as described existed prior to the current general economic downturn. The downturn exacerbated and exposed the existing problem.

So even before the economy tanked, more than a quarter of all the parishes were facing financial difficulties. That is a worrisome statistic.

* According to baptismal records, there were 82,948 infants baptized between 1993 through 1999. In 2004-05 most of these children should have been enrolled in Kindergarten through Grace 6 programs. Roughly 38% of those baptized between 1993 and 1999 are not served by any religious education program or Catholic school in the Archdiocese during this year of 2008-09.

* In 2008-09 most of these same (baptized 1993-1999) children should have been enrolled in Grades 4 through 10. Roughly 41% of the same group was not served by any religious education program in the Archdiocese during this year.

Another unfortunate trend that I only see continuing to go the wrong way.

* In 2003-04 enrollment in Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese was 38,186. In 2008-09 enrollment was only 5% less, at 35,335. This is consistent with changes in public school district enrollment change, and accurately reflects changes to the age structure of the population in the Twin Cities area.

From on overall perspective, that doesn't sound too bad.

* In the last five years 60 elementary schools lost 5% or more of their enrollment.

* In the last five years 32 elementary schools lost 20% or more of their enrollment.

* Growth in enrollment has been in new Catholic schools, schools targeted at niche populations and in suburban areas where there is significant population growth.

Building new schools in fast growing areas is obviously necessary and it's good to see the demand. However, you have to wonder about the sustainability of the schools that have lost more than 20% of their enrollment and whether a Catholic education option will be available in the future in those areas.

* 2.4% of school personnel are priests or religious.

* 97.6% of school personnel are lay people (not priests or religious).

That's a distribution that's definitely changed over the years. In grade school, I'd guess that close to half the teachers I had were nuns. The figures were lower in high school, but there were still a fair number of brothers and sisters in the classroom.

Tuition has increased 36% since 2003-04. The average tuition has gone from $2,251 in 2003 to $3,063 in 2008 for the first child in parish sponsored Catholic elementary schools.

That's a tough nut to make, especially for parents of larger families (which still seems to be at least somewhat correlated to Catholicism). Vouchers? Tax credits? Something needs to be done here.

Again, I've just touched on a few of the facts and figures contained in the article. There's a lot more to chew on and consider, which I'm sure is what thoughtful Catholics in the Archdiocese will be doing in the months ahead.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Keep 'Em Separated

At First Thoughts--A First Things Blog, Sean Curnyn has a post on the Ryan Report of child abuse at industrial and reform schools in Ireland. It includes a reminder that the end result of countries not embracing a separation of church and state is often detrimental to the church:

The report's focus was on abuse in reform schools, where the relative isolation and dramatic absence of accountability allowed the most heinous crimes to flourish, but there's not much doubt that a culture of harsh authoritianism and excessive corporal punishment pervaded the ordinary Irish school system for decades, administered as it was largely by the religious orders in question. Aside from the chief and most obvious tragedy--the suffering of the abused--there is also surely the tragedy of how this has played into the alienation of so many Irish people from their Christian heritage. The forces of secularization, consumerism, new age-ism and the like have surely found fertile ground in a populace where memories and anecdotes of brutality via "the Brothers" are so commonplace. The face of the Church?indeed of any church?should never be transformed from one of Christian charity to one of abusive authoritianism. Ironically, it is how close the Catholic Church was to the political establishment in the Irish Republic--the very lofty position it held--that helped enable this kind of evil to run unchecked.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Counter The Culture

Yesterday at NRO's The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru speculated on the fallout from Notre Dame honoring President Obama:

Many other commentators have pointed out that most Catholics approved of Notre Dame's invitation and, indeed, voted for Obama. This seems to me an awfully short-sighted view of the fallout. Notre Dame's invitation was valuable to Obama because of its status among American Catholics. Does anyone think that status is now higher than it was before the invitation? In helping Obama, Notre Dame diminished itself. And the same polls that showed that most Catholics approved of the invitation showed that a plurality of weekly churchgoers do not. Which group do we expect to have more influence over the future of Catholicism in America: self-described Catholics who attend Mass weekly or those who don't? I'm not saying that the traditionalists have the upper hand here, only that a quick look at the polls may not be a reliable guide to the long-run consequences of this episode.

Those who believe that this is just another controversy of the day that will soon blow over and become yesterday's news fail to appreciate the depth and breadth of the reaction that this event has generated among traditional Catholics.

In the June issue of FIRST THINGS, Joseph Bottum has a lengthy and insightful article on the matter. He notes that this is hardly the first battle between the Catholic Church and Catholic universities and it certainly won't be the last. He recounts the behavior of Notre Dame's president Fr. Jenkins in the controversy (which he describes as "execrable"), the political implications of story, and most interestingly, points out that Notre Dame's decision was as much (if not more) a rebuke to American Catholic culture as it was to the Church. Fortunately, his piece called "At The Gates Of Notre Dame" is already available for all at the FIRST THINGS web site:

It is a horrifying fact, in many ways, that Roe v. Wade has done more to provide Catholic identity than any other event of the last fifty years. Still, for American Catholics, the Church is a refuge and bulwark against an ambient culture that erodes morality and undermines families. Catholic culture is their counterculture, their means of upholding the dignity of the human person and the integrity of family--and, in that context, the centrality of abortion for American Catholic culture seems much less arbitrary than it first appeared.

This is what the leaders of Notre Dame need to grasp, along with those at Georgetown, Xavier, Sacred Heart, and all the rest. They do not necessarily have bad theology--although the bishops have argued that they do--when they equate the life issues with other concerns. They do not have bad faith just because they see the war and capital punishment as matters of equal weight with the million babies killed every year in this country by abortion. But they lack the cultural marker that would make them distinctively Catholic in the minds of other Catholics. Abortion is not the only life issue, but it is the one that bears most directly on the lives of ordinary Catholics as they fight against the current to preserve family life. And until Catholic universities get this, they will not be Catholic--in a very real, existentially important sense.

This is why this incident will not be soon forgotten by traditional Catholics. As watered down and diluted as American Catholic culture has become over the years, it still has importance and meaning for millions who remain faithful to the Church's teachings. And--as Bottum notes--as they fight against the current to preserve family life, they will be looking for Catholic leaders and institutions to stand beside them in battle. Those that choose not to will likely forfeit their support and may no longer be considered part of their shared culture.


Monday, May 18, 2009
Keep 'Em Talking

Usually I'm not a big fan of media pledge drives where the goal seems to be cajoling, annoying, and guilting listeners/viewers to open their wallets. However, in the case of Relevant Radio's appeal to "Answer The Call," I'm more than prepared to make an exception. Because the mission is critical, now more than ever:

Relevant Radio exists to assist the Church in the New Evangelization by providing relevant programming through a media platform to help people bridge the gap between faith and everyday life.


Monday, April 27, 2009
The Real Meaning of Honor

First Thing posts the Letter from Mary Ann Glendon declining Notre Dame's Laetre Medal:

A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame's decision--in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops--to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church's position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.

Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops' guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame's example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.

It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.

Glendon's decision was obviously a very difficult one, but also clearly the right one. Once she realized that Notre Dame was using her appearance to defend their decision to honor President Obama at the same event, she decided that she couldn't be a party to it. Now that this fig leaf that the school was using for justification has been removed, their already tottering position becomes completely indefensible.

At this point, I don't hold out much hope for Notre Dame doing the right thing. It is uplifting however to see that Mary Ann Glendon has.


Thursday, April 23, 2009
Devoured Not Deflowered

Last night, while reading The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd I came across a passage I wanted to share. Since content from that particular book is not yet available online, here are More's relevant words from another book on his life. For background purposes, Anne Boleyn was about to become Queen and some of the same Bishops who, along with More, had opposed Henry VIII's attempts to throw Catherine of Aragon to the curb in violation of the Church's teachings had now decided that they better play ball with King Henry by attending the coronation of the new Queen.

It fortuned not long before the coming of Queen Anne through the streets of London from the Tower to Westminster to her coronation, that he received a letter from the Bishops of Durham, Bath and Winchester, requesting him both to keep them company from the Tower to the coronation, and also to take twenty pounds, that by the bearer thereof they had sent him, to buy a gown withal ; which he thankfully receiving, and at home still tarrying, at their next meeting said merrily unto them:

" My lords, in the letters which you lately sent me you required two things of me : the one, sith I was so well content to grant you, the other therefore I thought I might be the bolder to deny you. And like as the one, because I took you for no beggars, and myself I knew to be no rich man, I thought I might the rather fulfill, so the other did put me in remembrance of an emperor who ordained a law that whosoever had committed a certain heinous offence (which I now remember not), except it were a virgin, should suffer the pains of death such a reverence had he to virginity.

Now so it happened that the first committer of that offence was indeed a virgin, whereof the emperor hearing was in no small perplexity, as he that by some example would fain have had that law put in execution. Whereupon when his council had sat long, solemnly debating this cause, suddenly rose there up one of his council, a good plain man, amongst them, and said, 'Why make you so much ado, my lords, about so small a matter? Let her first be deflowered, and then after may she be devoured.'

And so though your lordships have in the matter of the matrimony hitherto kept yourselves pure virgins, yet take good heed, my lords, that you keep your virginity still. For some there be that by procuring your lordships first at the coronation to be present, and next to preach for the setting forth of it, and finally to write books to all the world in defence thereof are desirous to deflower you, and- when they have deflowered you, then will they not fail soon after to devour you. Now, my Lords, quoth he, it lieth not in my power but that they may devour me, but God being my good Lord, I will so provide that they shall never deflower me."


Sunday, April 12, 2009
Non Nobis Domine


Saturday, April 04, 2009
Still More McCollum

Thanks to Mitch Berg and the First Ringer for their support of my Congressperson Ridicule Parity Initiative. It is clear that my fellow bloggers have a fever for curious comments by our local Representatives and the only cure is more Betty McCollum. Their wish is my command.

Once again, all of these statements are available to mainstream media members wishing to apply the Bachmann treatment of context stripping and out of proportion blowing.

Following on the last episode's pattern of absurdly grandiose plans and irresponsible treatment of tax dollars, we get more from McCollum on what she thinks should be a PRIORITY in spending of our money.

It is the power of women and their work that must be made a priority of the United States in not only in speeches and congressional resolutions, but our policies and the dollars we put behind those policies.
Not something that would be nice in a perfect world. Not something to get to if and when all the Constitutionally mandated responsibilities are adequately addressed. Not something to do only after we get our economic heads above water again, or even when we manage to plug the deluge surging into our lower decks. No, the power of women and their work across the world gets put to the front of the line.

Until our sisters around the world are made a priority, our foreign policy goals of fighting poverty, disease, and hunger, and promoting democracy, economic opportunity, and human rights will not be achieved. Maximizing the enormous potential of women and girls to transform societies and economies will, I hope, become a top priority for the Obama Administration.

Our prospects for success in saving the world are dependent on achieving a feminist utopia. And you thought merely fighting poverty, disease, and hunger, promoting democracy, economic opportunity and human rights across the globe was going to be easy!

The President also recognizes that as the world's superpower we also need to be a "super partner" and I will work to support his agenda of expanded engagement and his efforts to increase the foreign assistance budget.

Note, this speech was made on March 10, when all of our government leaders were painfully aware of the economic crisis we face. And she continues to write out more blank checks for this utopian agenda.

In case you thought the responsibilities of being a "super partner" might still be reasonable, abandon all hope by reading these details:

So what should be done? How about a long-term strategy, a generational strategy? Let us focus on girls from birth to 20 years and women between 20 to 40 years old. Let's dedicate a continuum of investments which can yield success for individuals, families, communities, and entire countries.

Let us start with investments in successful birth outcomes for moms and newborns and keep going by focusing on nutrition, water and sanitation, education, and delayed childbearing.

As girls transition to adulthood there must be an economic foundation for them to use their education, earn income, and stay healthy and productive -- an adult continuum.

To unleash the full potential and power women have to contribute greater efforts are needed to promote violence free homes, to expand access to reproductive healthcare, and to increase participation in political decision making.

To summarize, she's pledging our tax dollars to yield success for entire countries by feeding, watering, cleaning up after, educating and providing condoms and abortion services to women from birth to age 40 across the globe. Oh yeah, and provide violence free homes, don't forget that. Not bad for a day's work. But her neglect of the needs of women for premium cable TV packages and a decent manicure tells me there is still room for something in next year's budget increase proposal.

Amid the cash register ringing, note her emphasis on "delayed childbearing" and "reproductive healthcare." I suppose the inclusion of these items in an economic and foreign aid bill isn't surprising for a liberal feminist. They are virtual sacraments for them. In fact, she might be willing to compromise on the feeding and health care stuff, as long as those other important items gets funded.

Her record on the life issues is clear. Unyielding, unwavering, unrepentant support for the contrary positions. A short summary from the non-partisan web site, On the Issues:

Voted YES on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines.

Voted YES on allowing human embryonic stem cell research.

Voted NO on restricting interstate transport of minors to get abortions.

Voted NO on making it a crime to harm a fetus during another crime.

Voted NO on banning partial-birth abortion except to save mother's life.

Voted NO on forbidding human cloning for reproduction & medical research.

Voted NO on funding for health providers who don't provide abortion info.

Voted NO on banning Family Planning funding in US aid abroad.

Recommended by EMILY's List of pro-choice women.

Rated 100% by NARAL, indicating a pro-choice voting record.

Starting to see a pattern here?

Betty McCollum is also a Catholic. I don't know to what extent she practices the Faith and I don't care. She may be ardent and practicing. She may be ardent and practicing in the Nancy Pelosi sense. Either way, she has a right to privacy in her exercise of her personal religious beliefs.

The problem, fellow citizens, is that she doesn't keep her faith private or separate from her public responsibilities. She wraps herself in Catholicism when convenient, and advertises it for the purpose of furthering her political career. For example, this "Statement of Principles" she signed on to, which begins:

As Catholic Democrats in Congress, we are proud to be part of the living Catholic tradition ...
Apologies to Archbishop Nienstedt and his now sodden computer screen if he happened to be drinking a cup of coffee while reading this.

Another example, her promotion of attending Mass and Catholic shrines on her official Web site.

McCollum will also attend Palm Sunday Mass at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Final example, this jaw-dropping statement released during the Pope's visit last summer:

McCollum expressed hope that Pope Benedict would speak out about his moral
opposition to capital punishment in meetings with high-level U.S. officials and during public appearances around the country. "The Supreme Court's decision
today was painful for those of us who believe the death penalty is immoral. No one can respond with greater moral authority or spiritual wisdom on this subject than His Holiness."
To be clear, that would be this subject and this subject ONLY. On embryonic stem cells, abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, artificial contraception, etc. please ignore the man beneath the white mitre.

They hypocrisy evident in using the Pope's moral authority in support of one of her pet causes while stridently rejecting his views on a multitude of others is astounding. The positions are irreconcilable. If the press is paying attention to anything this woman says, and believes they have a responsibility to hold our public officials accountable for their logical and policy related inconsistencies, this issue should play some role in press conferences, media interviews, and debates.

Speaking of accountability, St. Paul, and the rest of her district, is full of Catholics. She couldn't be elected without their support. Yet she gets huge majorities all the while making a mockery of Church beliefs on these issues. How does this happen? Archbishop Chaput of Denver recently addressed this, with regard to Obama's election:

"Some Catholics in both political parties are deeply troubled by these issues. But too many Catholics just don't really care. That's the truth of it. If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn't need to waste each other's time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow 'balanced out' or excused by three other good social policies."
The point being, if politicians like Betty McCollum knew there would be electoral consequences for such lockstep adherence to anti-Catholic policies, most probably wouldn't bother with it. They value their cushy jobs and power even more than advancing their vision of world wide "delayed child bearing" and "reproductive health". And even if they didn't and still wanted to push it, a Catholic electorate which cared would never allow them access to power in the first place.

Those reviewing McCollum's margins of victory may despair that it's too late now to do anything. But Chaput provides some additional words of wisdom:

After listing the ways to be a more faithful Catholic in the public life, the archbishop reminded his audience that even if they haven't adhered to the Church's teachings in the past, "every breath we take is an opportunity for conversion and a new beginning."


"Catholics in America, at least the many good Catholics who yearn to live their faith honestly and deeply, can easily feel tempted to hopelessness," he concluded. "It becomes very burdensome to watch so many persons who call themselves Catholic compromise their faith and submit their hearts and consciences to the Caesars of our day."

But Archbishop Chaput closed by encouraging Christians to remember the words of Jesus:

"In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

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Thursday, April 02, 2009
Considered By Many...

John C. Nienstedt, Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis weighs in rather forcefully with a letter to Notre Dame's President on the University's decision to honor President Obama:

I have just learned that you, as President of the University of Notre Dame, have invited President Barack Obama to be the graduation commencement speaker at the University's exercises on May 17, 2009. I was also informed that you will confer on the president an honorary doctor of laws degree, one of the highest honors bestowed by your institution.

I write to protest this egregious decision on your part. President Obama has been a pro-abortion legislator. He has indicated, especially since he took office, his deliberate disregard of the unborn by lifting the ban on embryonic stem cell research, by promoting the FOCA agenda and by his open support for gay rights throughout this country.

It is a travesty that the University of Notre Dame, considered by many to be a Catholic University, should give its public support to such an anti-Catholic politician.

I hope that you are able to reconsider this decision. If not, please do not expect me to support your University in the future.

The Archbishop is not a man to mince words. And that's something that local Catholics should be very grateful for.

UPDATE-- It hasn't been widely reported, but I understand the Archbishop also added a post-script:

"How 'bout them Beavers?"


Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

Tuesday night, I attended my local GOP Senate District convention. Such affairs are usually quite staid in off-election years and this event followed the pattern. A couple of speeches by candidates seeking higher offices within the party, reports from the finance and fundraising folks, and a vote to elect delegates to state central. Another night of grunt work for one of life's little platoons.

I happened to be seated next to a woman who I've come to know over the years of participating in politics at this level. She's a school teacher who's looking to retire from the classroom, but hasn't been able to make the numbers work just yet. Last night, she happened to mention that she and her sister have also started a business and she's hoping that eventually this might allow her to escape the blackboard jungle.

Not surprisingly, it's been a struggle to find the time to build the business and the money to really help it take off. She mentioned that advertising is pretty expensive and one of their big challenges has been to get the word out.

The company is called Rest On His Word:

We are a company dedicated to God and Family, producing high quality pillow cases imprinted with holy art and scripture to bring His Word closer to your head and heart.

You don't see a description like that too often in the corporate world. Or a mission statement like this:

To provide primary educators of our children tools to educate them to be virtuous citizens and provide comfort and rest in your life, no matter what your age, physically and spiritually with God's holy word.

The art is actually from antique holy cards and matched up with appropriate prayers. There are a variety of images and prayers available, some for particular occasions and age groups. If you're looking for an truly unique and inspirational gift for Easter or another upcoming occasion, you might want to consider a pillow case from Rest On His Word.

They're sold locally at Apostle Books and Gifts in Minnetonka or you purchase them on Rest On His Word site.

UPDATE-- Laura e-mails with a personal endorsement:

I know these ladies from Rest in His Word. I bought three for my kids with a Christmas flavor and we use them during the season. Kind of a neat tradition the kids look forward to.


Thursday, March 26, 2009
For Good Reason

Ross Douthat offers an excellent rebuttal to those trying to lay the blame for the spread of AIDs in Africa at the feet of the Pope:

In the interim, though, I would suggest that he take a step back and consider that Benedict XVI is the head of an international institution that does as much to fight disease and poverty as any NGO in the world. The Church runs hospitals, clinics, and schools; it channels hundred of millions of dollars in donations from the developed world to the wretched of the earth; it supports thousands upon thousands of priests, nuns and laypeople who work in some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions in the world.

And it does so based on the same premises--an attempt to be faithful to the commandments of Jesus Christ--that undergird the Pope's insistence on preaching chastity, rather than promoting prophylactics.

There are many other NGOs working in Africa that proceed from different premises, and take a different attitude toward matters sexual as a result, and if David Rothkopf prefers their approach that's perfectly understandable. But unless he's willing to tell the Catholic Church that it should fold up its charitable operations in the developing world and go home, I'd prefer to be spared the lectures on how the Pope is responsible for "massive death and suffering" among populations for whom Catholic institutions have provided lifelines beyond counting over the years, just because he isn't willing to to use his pulpit to preach the importance of playing it as safe as possible, health-wise, while you're committing what the Church considers mortal sin.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009
An Existential Loss of Hope

Much has already been written about the cultural, spiritual, and demographic decline of Europe. In the March issue of FIRST THINGS, Jean Bethke Elshtain gives voice to the concerns in a piece called While Europe Slept (sub req):

Democracies often have a difficult task in figuring out how to deal with internal threats, with those within the body politic who would destroy it if they could: Witness Weimar dealing, or not dealing, with Adolf Hitler. Perhaps Europeans today are altogether too complacent, too convinced that economic rights and expressivist self-sovereignty can carry us through. But no one can miss the signs of cultural slackness and exhaustion all around in today's Europe. Demographic collapse is one sign of an existential loss of hope and a turning of the self inward on the self, refusing to extend the self to a child and thus abandoning the task of civic formation on this most fundamental and private level.

Europe suffers from many self-inflicted wounds--the wounds of indifference, the wounds of self-absorption. Will Europe be able to deal with all the daunting challenges she faces, including destabilization, economic stagnation, a resurgence of anti-Semitism, and all the rest? Only if she remembers who she is, with something precious and valuable to offer, which means accepting her religious heritage and its normative constraints on what people are permitted to do and how they may do it. Only if Europe can sustain principles and commitments that are historically derived from presuppositions of divinely sanctioned human dignity. I speak here not of faith but of sustaining cultural memory, including that which resolutely rejected the view that we are all forced to choose between faith and reason, which would rule Europe's historical dialectic irrelevant.

Will Europe awake from this slumber in time to regain its cultural confidence, faith, and hope for the future? I'm afraid I'm not confident.

I'm also afraid about the prospects of the nihilism and relativism that is corroding Europe coming to our shores. One of the reasons that America is not yet facing the same bleak future as Europe is the secular acceptance of America's religious heritage and cultural memory. You don't have to believe in God to believe in America. But as our secular culture becomes more self-absorbed, more indifferent, more adverse to the ideal of divinely sanctioned human dignity (in other words more Europeanized), we may be well headed down the same path of civilizational decline.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009
Real Prophetability

Keith Pavlischek questions how courageous it really was for Ronald Sider, Jim Wallis, and David Gushee to endorse President Obama's nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services in a post At First Things called The Self-Proclaimed Prophethood of Evangelical Believers:

But if you are going to get into the rough and tumble of everyday politics and if you are going to take the side of President Obama, the most powerful man in the world, against evangelicals and Catholics leaders in the pro-life movement on a cabinet appointment, could we at least be spared all the self-righteous drivel about being "prophetic," and "speaking the truth to power." You can be a flak for the Obama administration on things like cabinet appointments. Or, you can claim to be a "prophet" and "speak the truth to power." But you can't be both. It seems obvious what the Wallis, Sider and Gushee crowd have chosen.

If my fellow evangelicals want an example of how to be prophetic with regard to Gov. Sebelius' stance on abortion, they might take a clue from Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City , Kansas. Last May, Archbishop Naumann reacting to Sebelius' veto of state Senate Bill 389 and the subsequent House version, titled the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act, declared that Sebelius' stance on abortion had "grave spiritual and moral consequences." He asked that Sebelius no longer receive Communion until she repudiated her stance and made a "worthy sacramental confession."

To this evangelical, that sounds a tad more "prophetic," than the hack politics of Wallis, Sider, Gushee. In any case, it will be something to keep in mind next time this crowd gets on its high horse and denounces the religious right for compromising its prophetic voice in pursuit of political power.


Thursday, February 26, 2009
Oh Don't Sorrow, No Don't Weep

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and so I went to a church near work for my obligatory ashing. During his homily, the priest described Lent as a time when we should pause, step back, and focus on whether or not our lives are on the right path. That path is the one we begin when we were born and continue on through our lives as part of the journey home. Home to God.

Last night, while catching up on my back issues of First Things, I caught this at the end of Father Richard John Neuhaus' On The Public Square jottings in the February 2009 edition (sub req):

As of this writing, I am contending with a cancer, presently of unknown origin. I am, I am given to believe, under the expert medical care of the Sloan-Kettering clinic here in New York. I am grateful beyond measure for your prayers storming the gates of heaven. Be assured that I neither fear to die nor refuse to live.

If it is to die, all that has been is but a slight intimation of what is to be. If it is to live, there is much that I hope to do in the interim. After the last round with cancer fifteen years ago, I wrote a little book, As I Lay Dying (titled after William Faulkner after John Donne), in which I said much of what I had to say about the package deal that is mortality. I did not know that I had so much more to learn.

And yes, the question has occurred to me that, if I have but a little time to live, should I be spending it writing this column. I have heard it attributed to figures as various as Brother Lawrence and Martin Luther--when asked what they would do if they knew they were going to die tomorrow, they answered that they would plant a tree and say their prayers. (Luther is supposed to have added that he would quaff his favored beer.) Maybe I have, at least metaphorically, planted a few trees, and certainly I am saying my prayers.

Who knew that at this point in life I would be understanding, as if for the first time, the words of Paul, "When I am weak, then I am strong"? This is not a farewell. Please God, we will be pondering together the follies and splendors of the Church and the world for years to come. But maybe not.

In any event, when there is an unidentified agent in your body aggressively attacking the good things your body is intended to do, it does concentrate the mind. The entirety of our prayer is "Your will be done"--not as a note of resignation but of desire beyond expression. To that end, I commend myself to your intercession, and that of all the saints and angels who accompany us each step through time toward home.

Father Neuhaus did go home to God on January 8th of this year. As we begin this year's Lenten season, we realize just how wise he was in understanding the truth of the ultimate matters of life and death and just how much he will be missed in this world.


Friday, February 20, 2009
Love in An Elevator

A few weeks ago I wrote about the emotion of "elevation" and how many in the secular world interprets its origin as, well, secular in nature. Whereas the more religiously inclined credit a higher power. The Night Writer picks up the theme in this excellent analysis, and provides a little elevation of his own:
Yes, I've felt and enjoyed "elevation" in watching certain movies or reading certain books or hearing certain speakers, but I've also felt it most profoundly when infused by a Trinity that's anything but pop. How ironic, it appears to me, that the learned experts can walk right up to the edge of revelation and stop themselves just short, as if it were a cliff they dare not let themselves go over.

Amazon's editorial synopsis of Keltner's book includes the following description (emphasis mine):

"A new examination of the surprising origins of human goodness. In Born to Be Good, Dacher Keltner demonstrates that humans are not hardwired to lead lives that are 'nasty, brutish, and short'? we are in fact born to be good. He investigates an old mystery of human evolution: why have we evolved positive emotions like gratitude, amusement, awe, and compassion that promote ethical action and are the fabric of cooperative societies?"

Evolved? Could, perhaps, those emotions have been implanted in us by God? Could they even be the essence of what "being created in the likeness and image of" means? That is, not so much a physical likeness but a spiritual harmonic that resonates in the presence of goodness? I have been suddenly "elevated" while singing praises to God, or in the midst of praying for someone, or when a revelation crystallizes suddenly in my half-alert mind. It doesn't happen every time I do these things; in fact it usually happens when I'm not expecting it to. In the middle of a song that we've sung dozens of times, for example, or in half-way through praying for someone when ? whoosh elevation! (Actually, in our circles, we call it "anointing") It seems to wait for that split-second when I stop thinking about myself to manifest itself and I know that I've made a different kind of connection, or been a conduit for one.

It's not a self-congratulatory wave of emotion from taking pride in my doing something "good", either; in fact, that kind of thought quenches the feeling immediately. It's another demonstration of what St. Paul (the apostle, not Brian) wrote when he urged us not to be "conformed" to the world and all of its selfishness, but to be "transformed" by the "renewing of our minds" when we ever-so-briefly touch something larger than ourselves.
(Note, the title to this post was so bad, it had to be used).


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