Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The public square

Around St Blog's (or St Blawg's? not exactly :), a good deal of discussion about Kerry the not-so-Catholic, sparked by the candidate's recent highlighting of faith-based comments and interviews (in Time, particularly). Professor Bainbridge comments on the Left's anti-Catholicism, while Mirror of Justice notes that while Kerry planned to attend Mass in St Louis, he apparently didn't. (Not wanting to invite confrontation with the bishop who is making an issue of Kerry's pro-abortion stance, perhaps?) GetReligion reports that the Time article actually did highlight some of the contrasts between Kerry's professed faith and his actual works (such as voting for partial-birth abortion).

I've written about the subject of Catholics in political life in general here and the Church's role in the public square here. Generally speaking, there is a signficant problem with "Catholic" politicians describing themselves as such while publicly opposing Catholic teaching on fundamental moral issues. The Church teaches that on most political issues there may be many valid positions to take - that is, religion would not compel a particular answer in, say, the question of whether California should get a grant to build a museum, or whether the maximum speed limit should be 55 or 70. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Church does not (nor would it) require that Catholic politicians vote to enact theological precepts of their faith. But certain questions are more fundamental than tax subsidies and more universal (thus having a legitimate place in a democratic republic) than theological doctrine. The right to life, for instance, is the most basic one we have, and so all Catholic politicians are called to respect this right - as they speak publically and vote - when confronted with questions of abortion or euthanasia. The doctrinal note on participation of Catholics in public life speaks to this issue:

Living and acting in conformity with one’s own conscience on questions of politics is not slavish acceptance of positions alien to politics or some kind of confessionalism, but rather the way in which Christians offer their concrete contribution so that, through political life, society will become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person.

If John Kerry wants to quote Scripture, question the president's commitment to his faith, and tout his own religion, Kerry should try to make sure he himself is acting in conformity with - instead of flaunting - what his faith actually teaches according to that same Scripture.

Odd headline

From CNN (on the main page right now): "Bush defends cooperation with 9/11 panel." I haven't been reading enough to really form an opinion on this subject as a whole (though I come down on the side of Rice testifying - I suppose I think she should) but that just struck me as funny. Who's attacking Bush for cooperating - hasn't everyone been pressuring him to do just this? "You're cooperating! J'accuse!" Hmm.

On the merits

A large part of my issue with judicial activism is the idea that process matters. I don't want to lose on the merits of the SSM debate in the public square, but I would accept it so long as I felt I had had my fair say in our democratic system. The courts for the most part are designed to be beyond public accountability, however, and when they start making policy judgments the validity of our entire system is undermined. As Justice Scalia noted in Casey, the people shouldn't be lobbying courts for their preferred outcomes of cases (keep abortion legal! outlaw abortion!) because judges aren't supposed to take account of personal preferences (as expressed by the public or themselves) at all, but are only supposed to interpret the laws as written or gauge their constitutionality with narrow reference to what the Constitution actually covers. Lobbying and popular persuasive efforts should properly be directed towards legislatures - the policy-making bodies. We accept the results of such efforts because we have all agreed to accept the process by which such results are derived. But with the courts jumping in to make non-constitutional policy judgments, whole segments of the population are denied their fair chance at the process. The process - the rule of law, our agreed-upon method of self-governance - should be protected.

Coming back to the idea of a federal marriage amendment, Maggie Gallagher discusses the Musgrave (original) proposal as compared to Senator Hatch's. Along the lines of the two argument threads I make below, she believes the FMA is necessary as a procedural matter but also on the merits, to define marriage. (I don't mean it to sound as though she's responding to me, of course! But I did write my post before I read this article - had been meaning to read it since I noticed it on NRO yesterday :) On the question of whether Hatch's more limited language would suffice, Gallagher writes:

That depends in part on what the problem is. In my view, the ongoing damage that is being done to marriage cannot be captured solely by the idea of "judicial activism." An ongoing, very public effort to deconstruct and privatize the meaning of marriage is being pursued not only by courts but by other legal elites (including attorneys general such as New York's Eliot Spitzer, who advised state officials that same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions are legal marriages in New York) and political officials (such as the mayors of San Francisco; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; New Paltz, NY; Nyack, N.Y.; and Asbury Park, N.J.). Individual ministers as well as courts are now asserting their private right to define marriage as they choose.

In the middle of a broad cultural attack on the very idea of marriage as a key social institution, reducing our rallying cry from "save marriage" to "leave it to the states" suggests that in a profound way we agree with these critics: Marriage is not a key social institution, it is one of many "social policies" best left to individuals or to the states to work out.

The problem, both legally and politically, with the Hatch language is that is changes the topic from marriage to federalism.

I note that Gallagher's argument is addressed primarily to conservatives who might already favor an amendment in principle, since she means to respond to NR's Ramesh Ponnuru's favoring the Hatch language. But I think the argument is more broadly valid, as well.

Activism, restraint, and shibboleths

I'm a bit late in responding to Foolsblog on our discussion about the Washington Post editorial position on SSM, and whether a national solution really is necessary. I do wish to respond, however, to some of the good points he raises here. Fool appears to have conceded my point that the WaPo's position on a federal marriage amendment - that it's wrong because no logistical problems within and among states exist at all that would require a national solution - is, as he puts it, "tenuous at best." Logistical issues will and already do exist; the Post would do better, if it wants to oppose an amendment, to do so on principle. (I obviously disagree with the principle, but at least I respect that as not being disingenuous as the Post's stated position.) Fool then moves farther afield from this topic, to the judicial activism in general that I believe is causing much of the need for an FMA. He asks:

With regard to judicial activism, first, why is that suddenly so wrong? Certainly, most – if not all – of us today would agree that Brown v. Board of Education was the “right” decision. However, that decision can reasonably be deemed an “activist” decision. Moreover, it didn't have overwhelming popular support. Some of the most important decisions rendered by the Supreme Court fall into the category of “activist,” why is “activism” now a bad thing?

Roe v. Wade was an “activist” decision. Griswold v. Connecticut was an “activist” decision. Truth be told, Gore v. Bush can be viewed as an “activist” decision. Ah, but that one benefited GWB, so we shouldn’t discuss it.

Here's the thing: it's not "suddenly" so wrong, in my view; it's always been wrong. As far back as the creation of this country, some of the framers were worried about the capacity of this ostensibly "least dangerous branch" to overstep its bounds. They were right to be concerned. From the moment Chief Justice Marshall articulated judicial review in a case which would seem not to have raised the issue at all, the Court has interpreted its power quite broadly. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not quibbling with Marbury v. Madison at this point, since Marshall pretty brilliantly made his case and it's obviously a long-settled and necessary principle with regard to separation of powers. However, the exercise of restraint has never been the Court's strong suit. And in the last fifty years in particular, where the Court's heady sense of its own great wisdom and moral authority have led it into the realm of creating policy and inventing rights, the Court has greatly overstepped its own bounds. The examples Fool gives - Brown, Roe, Griswold, Bush - he no doubt intends to show that "activism" is a dubious proposition and/or really isn't so bad after all. But I see those as the quintessential examples of activism, precisely making my point.

Brown is supposed to be the one unassailable decision in judicial history, reaching as it did a moral, just, and constitutional decision. But my quibble with the case is that it did so in the wrong manner - which then paved the way for the subsequent social activist decisions of the subsequent half-century. Brown overturned the previous activist decision of Plessy v. Ferguson and the "separate-but-equal" doctrine. All it needed to do to overturn that most despicable of decisions was to look straight to the Constitution, as is its mandate: the clear terms and original meaning of the 13th, 15th, and 14th amendment in particular prohibit the denial of equal protection and due process of law to all citizens in this country - as Justice Harlan wrote so eloquently in dissent in Plessy, "Our constitution is color-blind." The Brown court could simply have recognized that separate-but-equal directly offended the Constitution, overruled its clearly erroneous precedent, and the ruling would still have kept its enormous significance. Instead, it felt that it needed to offer psychological and social science evidence to justify its ruling. The psychology and social science were accurate, but should not have been needed to decide the constitutional question.

But having thus asserted its standing as a great moral arbiter, in the manner it did, the Court proceeded to take it upon itself to read into the Constitution rights not therein asserted, and policies not thereby covered, in a more expansive manner. So we got penumbras and emanations out of shadows of suggestions (or something) in the Bill of Rights to create a right to privacy. Fine, good; I like privacy too, and think in the context it was originally framed in (as a right to *marital* privacy) it made sense; but like Justice Black, I could not see where the Constitution denied the state the right to step into it. States were already on their way to legalizing contraception as it was, and surely would all have reached that point shortly, but it did not rise to the level of a right protected by the Constitution. Then out of those penumbras and emanations the right to privacy somehow reached out to definitively encompass a constitutional right to abortion (hugely controversial, and nowhere mentioned in the document). Then it covered nonmarital privacy. Then it came to encompass everyone's right to determine the concepts of their own existence (how inspiring!) Sweet mystery of life, indeed. And if anyone questioned the rights to privacy, abortion, gay sex, etc., strictly as matters of constitutional law, or if anyone wondered why it was that the Court should be considering itself an equal to the legislature in making policy decisions (subject to lobbying, social science data, "emerging awarenesses," etc.) those people were told very politely to accept the Court's moral authority as decisive, and be quiet. Cf. Planned Parenthood v. Casey. "Substantive due process," in addition to being a contradiction in terms, has, in my view, led to decision-making far beyond the scope of what a prudent Court would properly see as within its bounds.

Fool is right, of course, that the Court is a countermajoritarian (or at least, not majoritarian) institution. Just because many people believe something doesn't make it right, and just because many people believe something doesn't make it constitutional. In that sense, with regard to SSM, I am indeed making two separate arguments, the second of which leads to my support of a federal marriage amendment on the terms of my first. I don't believe SSM is right as a moral or social matter - but I also don't believe it is protected anywhere by the terms or original meaning of the Constitution. Because I believe there is objectively no "right" to marry someone of the same sex anywhere to be found in the Constitution, I think it should therefore (as a matter reserved to the people) be for people to decide whether they will recognize such a right or not. And currently, the people are fairly clearly against SSM, at least as demonstrated by the national DOMA and 38 state ones. But two points: one, marriage is not a matter that, for the purposes of SSM, can be workably implemented in one state without affecting others; and two, the Court as demonstrated by its precedent is unlikely to resist overturning DOMA, on the grounds that SSM is a "right" (even though it's nowhere to be found in the Constitution - and certainly marriage is a public institution far beyond Lawrence's protection of private spheres of activity). Given those two points - the Court is likely to overturn DOMA, but states cannot have a patchwork of laws on SSM - I support a federal marriage amendment to enshrine the principles of DOMA. This would be (have to be, in order to pass at all) in accordance with the will of the people.

We can absolutely argue over whether the FMA on its terms is just or moral. Fool and many others would believe that DOMA or FMA are immoral and unjust. They have every right to believe that, and to work to persuade everyone of their position, as they do. But I don't believe the Constitution covers the matter, and the Court should so rule. I also don't believe the courts are there to decide morality or social policy, but only constitutionality. Fool writes of cases like Plessy, "These cases illustrate the dangers presented when courts follow the will of the people as opposed to the Constitution." But other cases illustrate the dangers presented when courts follow their own will about the most desirable, in their view, public policy, as opposed to the Constitution. The aim should be, for the Court, only to judiciously (in the sense the word means 'with restraint') interpret the Constitution. And then the rest of us can have it out, as we are doing, on the actual merits of policy outside the Constitution.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Legal fictions

Note from Elizabeth Marquardt on Massachusetts' plan to put new gender-appropriate language in marriage and birth certificates for the May court-directed commencement of legal SSM:

I'm dying to know what these new birth records will look like. How exactly will these revised birth records get around the fact -- fact -- that all babies are born, somehow, of a mother and a father? . . . And if Massachusetts does put three parents on birth records, get ready for some horrible custody cases. You think cases where two parents fight over the child are bad enough? Try three. Indeed, if it were not for the fact that actual children will suffer, I would look forward with glee to the "good divorce" rationales that will be called up when married SS couples who involved a third parent in the child's life split up and try to justify shuttling a child between three homes for the rest of his life.

Remember (as Mark Shea likes to note), adults are fragile. Kids are resilient!

It must be springtime

Because instead of salt on my car after today's drive home from D.C. (where I spent spring break), I had bugs. However, the weather was fantastic so I was able to wash both the salt and the bugs off when I got home, and for the first time in months my car looks its actual color. So does the grass. How is it that it seems to turn green instantly at this time of year? In any event, I love it. It was a *long* first ten weeks of the year in typical Columbus weather-drabness. But now, even though I haven't been diligent over break like some people :) I think having had a week off and now having a little sun will help me focus for these last few weeks on Tax and Evidence, and the confusing abstractness that is Copyright. Then again, there's always basketball to watch . . . :)

Rigid tolerance

Southern Appeal points to this WSJ article on the apparent disqualifying (for place in the public square) nature of "deeply held [religious] beliefs." Just shows again how important it is for the GOP to hold (gain in) the Senate this fall.

The secret to success of Western Civilization

Hint: it wasn't dead white guys, and it definitely wasn't anything to do with Christianity. Nope: history is owed all to the women and minorities! Brilliant.

Every time I read something like this I think it must be a joke. Unfortunately, thanks to the exquisite sensitivity to everything except historical fact, textbooks for primary and secondary education ain't what they used to be. (Is our children learning? Apparently not :) One issue seems to be that there are very few publishers providing books to the majority of school systems around the country, and these publishers write their books to comply with the guidelines set by the largest state purchaser: California. So when California promulgates its PC regulations (and then the publishers conscientiously ban such obviously offensive words as "man" on their own), everyone else gets bland, PC history too. It's an academy-wide problem, though. I remember hearing that the A.P. European History test when I was in high school had as its main essay question something having to do with "Women of Science in the Seventeenth Century." Now, I'm sure there were some women out there, and if there were, great, but the reality is, pretty much every European scientist in the seventeenth century was a man, and wishing (or pretending) it were otherwise is rather pointless. Shouldn't we learn about and appreciate achievements in science largely independent of the gender or minority status of the scientist? Shouldn't we learn about and appreciate individuals of great accomplishment on their own merits? Or must everyone have merit only as a representative of a designated interest group? If we're emphasizing non-offensiveness and the wonderfulness of inclusiveness at the expense of teaching actual facts (such as that no, MacArthur was not at Yorktown), that seems rather sad.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Far from Selma

Shelby Steele supports civil unions but rejects comparisons between the Civil Rights movement and the movement for SSM: "The civil rights movement argued that it was precisely the utter innocuousness of racial difference that made segregation an injustice. Racism was evil because it projected a profound difference where there was none--white supremacy, black inferiority--for the sole purpose of exploiting blacks. But there is a profound difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality."

Sed Contra comments here:

Racism flowed from a human construct that was tied to prejudice and preconception; whites expected "savages" in Africa and so found them. But the difference between how we might act sexually with members of our own sex and those of the opposite sex flow from our very nature and bodies as men and women. It's not just an accident that we have the forms and structures we do and it would be an error as great as racism to simply act as those these differences were meaningless or do not exist. Where racisim was a human construct imposed to deny a reality, a dogma of "all sexual expression is the same" would also be a human contruct imposed to deny a reality.

In other words, men and women really are different, and it would be irrational to deny that reality or to deny that right sexual expression between them is different in form, structure, and significance than sexual expression between two of the same sex. But race is a morally neutral characteristic, to base substantive differences on which is indefensible and morally reprehensible. Actions have moral content and cannot, without more, be equated to characteristics which are morally neutral.

Bringing it all together

Hey - speaking of "Life of Brian," and in light of my posts about the Passion, and absurd inventions of "rights" in our culture, and entitlement, I post the classic scene for your enjoyment :)

Reg: Why don't you shut up about women, Stan, you're putting us off.
Stan: Women have a perfect right to play a part in our movement, Reg.
Francis: Why are you always on about women, Stan?
Stan: (pause) I want to be one.

(pregnant pause)

Reg: What?
Stan: I want to be a woman. From now on I want you all to call me Loretta.
Reg: What!?
Stan: It's my right as a man.
Judith: Why do you want to be Loretta, Stan?
Stan: I want to have babies.
Reg: You want to have babies?!?!?!
Stan: It's every man's right to have babies if he wants them.
Reg: But you can't have babies.
Stan: Don't you oppress me.
Reg: I'm not oppressing you, Stan -- you haven't got a womb. Where's the fetus going to gestate? You going to keep it in a box?
(Stan starts crying.)
Judith: Here! I've got an idea. Suppose you agree that he can't actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody's fault, not even the Romans', but that he can have the *right* to have babies.
Francis: Good idea, Judith. We shall fight the oppressors for your right to have babies, brother. Sister, sorry.
Reg: (pissed) What's the *point*?
Francis: What?
Reg: What's the point of fighting for his right to have babies, when he can't have babies?
Francis: It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.
Reg: It's symbolic of his struggle against reality.

Call me Loretta

I'd forgotten just how savage the British press can be sometimes, until I read a sampling of their reviews of The Passion, which just opened in the UK. American critics were also quite unforgiving of the film, most of them not for cinematic reasons but really (in my view) a failure to "get" the film. But some of the scathing reviews coming in from Britain are something else entirely:

The Independent: "An appalling pageant of blood-spattered cruelty and sadism . . . psychotic detail . . . a terrible misrepresentation . . ."

The Guardian: "Foolish and shallow . . . an incredibly obtuse piece of macho-masochism . . . facile and belligerent . . . a bizarre make-up bloodbath."

The Scotsman: "An angry, vengeful film . . . Fight Club in sandals . . . ventures into accidental comedy on several occasions . . . partly hysterical . . . a relentless polemic."

The Financial Times: "The last, powerful, frightening word on what makes the Bible's special brand of propagandist sado-mysticism unpalatable . . . demented . . ."

Even the Telegraph: "Preposterous and spiritually impoverished for sure . . . the New Testament rendered as a snuff film . . . We are spoon-fed visual gimmicks . . .

It's not all negative - the Times, the BBC, and some others express some skepticism but come out appreciating the film as art and as message. But I think part of what surprised me was the obnoxiously (deliberately) flip and irreverent tone toward Christianity itself in the former as opposed to the latter. It's true that Britain has long been more secularised than the US - as the Telegraph notes, "[O]ur default position is irony and cheeky secularism." That's all fine and good. I get a kick out of "Life of Brian" too - and I don't think Gibson's film is the definitive Christian work such that one must believe it's a perfect representation. But I do think it's powerful, and I don't think the film should be dismissed based on critics' tangential issues with Christianity itself. For example:

FT: "A religion predicated on blood, murder and the irrational has strewn blood, murder and the irrational down the centuries. The only excuse for this bequest is that Christ himself taught compassion and ethics. But then they had been taught before by Aristotle and Plato, who didn't need Sturm und Drang martyrdom scenarios."

Independent: "One feels that a terrible misrepresentation has been perpetrated by Gibson's film, not against Jews or Romans but against the spirit of Jesus Christ, whose essence, for all that he suffered, was love and forgiveness. Neither is discoverable in this lurid venture into Grand Guignol - just degradation, misery and hatred."

Guardian: "This is the Christ of Gibson's movie. Staying on his feet no matter what the bad guys hand out. What an hombre. . . . [Remember] the long-forgotten controversy around [King of Kings or] Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ in 1987, with Jesus coming down from the cross to live a quiet life with Magdalene. For all their virtues and faults, they were films about a walking, talking, arguing and thinking Jesus, not simply a blood-stained, suffering mute."

Christianity isn't predicated on "blood, murder and the irrational." Aristotle and Plato didn't rise from the dead, didn't take on the sins of mankind, and neither claimed to be nor actually were the Son of God. The essence of Christ included tremendous love and forgiveness (Christ is love, His existence was for forgiveness of sins and our salvation), but it was also about the Truth: that only the perfect sacrifice could atone for the sins of the entire world, and that obedience to God (perfectly modeled by His Son) and following in the footsteps of Christ (by taking up our own crosses) is also necessary to salvation. Thus meditation on the incomparable physical and spiritual suffering is entirely appropriate. Finally, secular reviewers may prefer a Jesus whose "arguing and thinking" and complexity included lust, abuse of power, and resentment of God: but according to Scripture, Christ was sinless. That faithful rendition is what Mel Gibson depicts. Complaints and gripes about the actual or imagined or more preferable (to the critics) nature of Christianity itself are (or should be) extraneous to any criticism of the film . . . It will be interesting to see how it ends up playing in Britain.

Friday, March 26, 2004

No Catholics need apply

...to the debate on SSM? Nope - unless they're pro-, of course. Inquires Maggie Gallagher on the Marriage Debate blog, regarding this article from the Boston Phoenix (a local paper): "Is it only Catholics who aren't allowed to influence democracy, or does the Boston Phoenix condemn the Unitarians who are trying to creatre same-sex marriage with equal fervor? Silly question."

The Church is showing some spine in Massachusetts with new archbishop Sean O'Malley, by actually standing up for marriage and lobbying Catholic legislators to do the same (via a grassroots campaign to Catholics in the state, personal lobbying from the archbishop and public support for pro-family rallies). The sensitive legislators are naturally feeling "stunned," "abused," "threatened," and "intimidated." The lobbying campaign, they say, is "diabolical," "thug-like," "vicious," "aggressive," and constitutes "harassment." Now, it seems some individuals have indeed gone beyond the pale in calling legislators' parents or sending personally ugly letters - which is wrong and inappropriate - but these are not done at the directive of the archbishop, who is using traditional political lobbying tactics. Rather, what the legislators seem to object to is the fact that the Church should be involved at all in such a coordinated campaign. As Maggie Gallagher notes, however, one would suspect that the legislators would not object so strongly were they being lobbied in the opposite direction, or by any other church. So we see, from the Phoenix, all the standard stereotypes and insinuations we would expect in the vein of the last acceptable prejudice of anti-Catholicism (as distinct from mere opposition to a Church position, policy or individual action). The Church is large, centrally and hierarchically organized, and unapologetic in taking moral positions. To secular liberals, whose positions and claims to moral authority the Church challenges, this makes it a perfect target. All the old characterizations are brought out in this article: charges of hypocrisy, sexual deviancy, hostility to women and minorities, reactionary oppressionism, and of course the sinister and secretive hierarchy. In this article, it's not even subtle.

The Weekly Standard addressed the issue of modern anti-Catholicism in society in this way:

Catholicism . . . has never held that individual Catholics, even members of the clergy - including the pope - are immune from normal human failings. In fact, there is a long tradition of Catholics upbraiding their leaders for immoral or injudicious behavior. (St. Catherine of Siena once wrote of three heretical cardinals that their "stench . . . makes the whole world reek," and told the pope to his face to act like a man.) While the Church considers itself guided through history by the Holy Spirit, it is of course left to fallible men to enact the divine will. So Catholicism can handle human failings, and the earthly Church exhibits those failings frequently. To point them out is not anti-Catholicism . . . [But] modern anti-Catholicism . . . derives its vigor from the Church's unique position as an international institution that presumes to intrude on political and cultural debates. Catholicism understands itself to be a comprehensive system, and acceptance of the doctrines of the Church has implications for how Catholics conduct both their spiritual and temporal affairs. . . . [T]he Church will not abandon its beliefs, and anti-Catholic activists will settle for nothing less. From the collision of immovable objects and irresistible forces inevitably comes conflict and bias.

It doesn't bother me at all, really; I just find it a bit tired and amusing that the same stereotypes are trotted out whenever this "immovable object" is encounted standing in the way of secular liberalism :)

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Entitlement, updated

From Thomas Sowell: "The old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish has been updated by a reader: Give a man a fish and he will ask for tartar sauce and French fries! Moreover, some politician who wants his vote will declare all these things to be among his 'basic rights.'" :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

A national solution

Fool has responded to my criticism of the Washington Post's editorial position on SSM (see below). Before I answer him, I must thank him for his characterization of my comments as being in "Scalia-like-dissent fashion." That's high praise indeed :)

Looking at all the potential problems that could arise in other states from one state's having legalized SSM, Fool wonders why the solution must be (as I suggest) a national prohibition of SSM instead of a national recognition of it. That too, he points out, would solve the problem of a variety of marriage laws leading to uneven or confusing enforcement of the law: "An 'inclusive' policy would be equally as effective as Bush’s 'exclusive' policy at avoiding these complications." This is a true statement. However, the reason that the federal marriage amendment seems necessary to me is to protect - from single liberal states like Massachusetts - most of the rest of the country from being forced to accept SSM against its expressed will. Thirty-eight states have passed Defense of Marriage Acts. The U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed its own DOMA for federal purposes in 1996 - a bill signed into law by President Clinton. The not unfounded concern is that activist judges in other states, or the Supreme Court, might see fit to strike or evade these democratically enacted statutes when confronted with suits for recognition of SSM licenses validly granted in a state like Massachusetts. So in other words, an amendment is necessary as the only sure means of DOMA staying law as it is for the nation, and as the only sure means of the three-quarters of states with their own DOMAs not being forced to recognize SSM. This would impinge on the eleven or twelve states like Massachusetts or Oregon, yes, but it wouldn't take away their (or any other states') rights to enact civil unions as they wish (thus granting benefits while at the same time protecting marriage, in accordance with a supermajority of states and the national government).

I believe Fool has a point that if some people's only reason to oppose SSM and support an amendment was to avoid logistical problems, that would be an insufficient reason in itself. If logistical problems (i.e., a patchwork of laws) were their only concern, an "inclusive" solution would indeed be just as good as a federal marriage amendment to solve the problem. However, most people supporting an amendment, in my estimation (myself included), do so on the merits, not solely to prevent confusion. Furthermore, the point of my post was that the Washington Post apparently supports SSM but opposes the FMA because, it maintains, no logistical problems exist at all that would require any national solution ("states can take care of themselves," it assures us). I believe this is a willfully disingenuous argument to make. I think the Post would do better to oppose an amendment on principle - for instance, because they believe SSM is a right - but not because no logistical problems will arise: they will. They already are. The Post supports SSM as policy and claims no right, but by supporting the courts as equal policymakers to the legislature, it shows no respect for the concept of judicial restraint where courts would make policy. I simply take issue with that argument as presented.

Old World religion

GetReligion also comments on Hollywood's failure to recognize that Mel Gibson's Passion would connect so strongly with Hispanic (largely Catholic, some Evangelical) viewers. Citing an article from Nikki Finke on LA Weekly about strong exit polls from Hispanic viewers, Terry Mattingly notes:

Now this trend is probably not a shock to veteran God-beat reporters who have walked through the doors of Roman Catholic sanctuaries in Hispanic neighborhoods. Stunningly literal images of the Stations of the Cross are the norm and the prayers of the Rosary are recited far more often than in the typical Anglo parish. Suffice it to say that most Hispanics will recognize that the Rosary provides the central structure of Gibson's film, even if most film critics and journalists did not.

From my own experience, I can affirm that the Passion has very Old World devotional sensibilities such that many viewers were less shocked by the violence than secular Hollywood (which adores violence in other contexts) supposed. In earlier Christian art, when Christ was depicted on the Cross, his face would be calm and without pain. Late medieval artists then shifted to graphic depictions to emphasize Christ's suffering. Renaissance and later Protestant art or depictions of the Cross would return to showing Jesus without pain, emphasizing Christ's perfection as God and Man, or simply have the Cross without the corpus. But the more realistic images persisted in Catholic artwork and crucifixes, particularly in Latin and South America, Spain and Italy. Meditation on Christ's suffering is part of the rosary (the Sorrowful Mysteries) and the whole point of the Stations of the Cross (usually observed each Friday during Lent). If you go into most any church in Latin America or hang out with little old Spanish ladies (as I have had much occasion to do :) you will see bloody images of the crucifixion of Christ. So it is a generalization, but Hispanics (particularly, I would imagine, first-generation immigrants) were not shocked by the Passion - many meditate on it every day. The film is a work of meditational art for our age.

I note that some of Ms Finke's language as to the political implications of this is rather obnoxious:

So here's Mel, not just pulling in Latinos but even Latino families. He did what no one else has been able to. Frankly, it never occurred to the godless Hollywood liberals — as the folks at Fox News Network and wacko right-wing Web sites refer to us — to use religion as bait for Latinos. And it never occurred to the Democratic Party, pal of most Hollywood filmmakers, to embrace Gibson or his movie. Big mistake. Huge!

Religion as bait for Latinos? What are Hispanic voters, dumb fish to be caught by whichever party has the more attractive lure? It's a bit more complicated than Ms Finke thinks than to suppose all Hispanics are Democrats and this film will suddenly cause many of them to swing Republican. Hispanic voters aren't monolithic as it is. Since religiosity is the strongest correlator with party preference, it is possible the movie could have some effect if it causes a strengthening of faith in individuals (as it has done for many viewers). But I haven't, so far at least, seen any conservative politicians seizing on this as a "cornerstone of the Republicans’ strategy to divide this country culturally." The cultural divide exists already; its creation is not part of any political strategy. And Gibson did not make this film as a cynical political exercise, but out of sincere religious belief. It says more about Hollywood, if Ms Finke is at all representative, that, not understanding the deep chord this film has struck with millions of viewers, Hollywood would attempt not to appreciate the film on its own merits, but to lament only missed opportunities to grab the cash and to cynically exploit religion as "bait" to keep Hispanic voters. I hope Hollywood keeps right on displaying that "godless liberal" contempt so that no one misses it: religion's a tool, and apparently so are Hispanics. Everyone got that?

Who can cover whom (and what)

Thanks to Eve Tushnet, I have just discovered the blog GetReligion. The blog is run by two veteran reporters who point out instances of the media's general failure to "get" religion or religious people - but they also add, "We want to highlight the good as well as raise some questions about coverage that we believe has some holes in it." In this post, Terry Mattingly considers the question raised by the SF Chronicle's decision to remove from covering the gay marriage issue, two women reporters who themselves were "married" during the incidents last month. I think it's fairly clear that raised a serious conflict of interest, but other lines can be harder to draw. Almost no one would suggest that those two reporters, for instances, couldn't cover any gay-related issues - that would be going too far. When it comes to religion, where should the line be drawn?

There are editors who, for this reason, believe that people who are religious believers of any stripe should not cover the world of religion. Some do not even want reporters who have studied religion to be on the beat. This always amazes me. Try to imagine a similar approach being taken to coverage of, oh, football, politics or law. Try to imagine having opera writers who do not want to go to operas and have no desire to study the world of opera.

Let me stress that these issues are very serious. I know that from first-hand experience. . . . [O]ne of my editors made several points that I have always remembered. He said it was crucial that I not be involved in news events. Never cover your own story, he said. Also, he stressed that the issue was not the ideas in my head but the accuracy and the fairness of the information in my stories.

I think that's fair. It would be silly to suggest reporters who know something about a subject be barred from covering that subject in news articles - we would all much rather have knowledgeable people writing. If I were covering a story from the Vatican about a new encyclical, it might prove useful that I can fill in some context by my knowledge of other Catholic teachings. By the same token, a writer's experience or history should never be a secret, and if clear conflicts of interest do arise, journalistic ethics should require a writer to withdraw from covering a story. If I were assigned to cover a story about my own diocese or parish, depending on the issue it would probably be prudent to withdraw because I might have a stake in the outcome. In any event, the goal should always be conscientious "accuracy and fairness."

I believe this is somewhat similar to lawyers' codes of professional conduct. You don't have to withdraw from a case just because you happen to know a little bit about the case, or because you're friends with your client. But if you have a personal stake in the outcome of a case (or writing of a will, or success of a business you're serving as attorney for) then you have an obligation at the very least to fully inform everyone of that conflict, and most likely to withdraw. There will always be someone more disinterested and just as capable to do the job instead.

A real class act

If this incident happened as described, it is shameful. (Link via SA.)

The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has refused to respond to requests for comment as to why a campaign staffer destroyed a woman's sign at a recent Kerry rally. Kerry saw Rebecca Porter's sign, saying "My Abortion Hurt Me," and a staffer tore it to shreds only moments after.

As a note, I have added a link to After Abortion to my blogroll. Maintained by several women hurt by the evil of abortion, the site is a strong resource for anyone struggling with abortion, and a sign that good works and healing can come even after tragedy.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Concerned about the right things?

Courtland Milloy is running a good series about Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s new book, America Behind the Color Line (first articles here and here). Gates has studied African-Americans in American society since the death of Martin Luther King, and is concerned about what he sees.

There was a time, not long ago, when African Americans were on a march toward freedom, using education, discipline, sacrifice and courage as weapons in a war against racial segregation. . . . But just as victory appeared to be in sight, something went wrong -- something that Gates believes too few black leaders are willing to talk about.

"If Wallace and Faubus had been sitting around in 1963, wondering how to stop the [civil rights movement], and one said, 'We are going to persuade them not to embrace deferred gratification, that education is a white thing, throw in some bling-bling and persuade them that authentic black identity is some kind of thug ghetto anti-education identity,' the other would say, 'Oh, man, nobody is that stupid.' "

This is not new information. Widespread rejection of education, a culture which seems to idolize gangsters and has high levels of incarceration, and a 70% rate of single parent homes have all combined to produce tragic situations for many black Americans, and Gates believes the problem cannot be ignored: "Our leaders need the courage to stand up and say - behind closed doors and in public - that we have internalized our own oppression, that we are engaging in forms of behavior that are destroying our people." Many leaders are in fact out there and have been speaking on these issues (like Thomas Sowell or Walter Williams), but it has to become a broader and more popular movement.

If Gates, who is a respected and widely influential scholar, can have an impact on the situation, that would be a great thing. I have to wonder at a few of his comments, however. He suggests that some people aren't standing up for education because "they are afraid of being appropriated by the right, or afraid they are going to sound like Clarence." As in, Justice Thomas. This strikes me as somewhat wrongheaded. First, why should educated people be afraid of being "appropriated" by anyone? Isn't the point of education that you know enough to think for yourself? (Gates hasn't ever had any problems on this account.) And if education is a good in itself (which the professor believes) then shouldn't it be pursued even if one happens to become a conservative? (Horrors.) Second, the reflexive distancing from Justice Thomas is distasteful. Clarence Thomas stands for most every value the professor wants to champion. He was born in rural, backwoods Georgia in poverty and raised from an early age by his grandparents, who taught him the value of hard work and education even in the face of very real prejudice. He worked his way up through college, law school, a legal career and political administration, up through the federal court of appeals to the Supreme Court. He should be regarded as an outstanding example, not derided as a "hypocrite" just for opposing affirmative action (which he reasonably believes only perpetuates low education and bigotry) or avoided just for being a moral and social conservative. If being afraid of "sound[ing] like Clarence" is enough to make some black leaders shy away from embracing education as a value, then frankly, they need to rethink things. It's more important to come back to the belief that education is a way out of poverty and into better lives, than to risk hurting children who continue to believe valuing education is "acting white," by happening to sound, perhaps, like Justice Thomas.

Nevertheless, if Professor Gates needs to distance himself from Justice Thomas and social conservatives to confront these issues, then so be it - at least he is still confronting these issues. And the only way the problems will ever be able to be successfully addressed is by shining light on them and speaking honestly.

God matters - but so does religion

Amy Welborn links to a WaPo article about teenagers and religion.

Here's a crazy idea: After all our ambitious child-rearing with Discovery toys, Suzuki piano lessons, conflict-avoidance classes, 4 a.m. swim practices, SAT prep classes, driver education and summer flights to study folk music in the Republic of Georgia, we might have done as well (and saved a lot of money) by just sending our kids to church, temple or mosque.

Late last year, a commission convened by Dartmouth Medical School, among others, studied years of research on kids, including brain-imaging studies, and concluded that young people who are religious are better off in significant ways than their secular peers. They are less likely than nonbelievers to smoke and drink and more likely to eat well; less likely to commit crimes and more likely to wear seat belts; less likely to be depressed and more likely to be satisfied with their families and school.

As Amy sums it up briefly: "Yup." Scientists can analyze stress hormone levels all they want, but the fact is God is more than that. Although Dallas Morning News's Rod Dreher sounds a more cautionary note, noting that some of the teens in the article think God and truth may be found equally in all types of styles of worship: "All I'm saying is that it's not unqualified good news that teens are more open to religion. It all depends on what kind of religion they are adopting and/or willing to adopt, and are being presented with." Which is true, especially considering the way in which the Post chooses some of its profiles. Religion is a positive force, but one of the best kids here in the story is one who is a "questioner" who wins arguments on SSM without reference to the Scripture of her religion, and another one who likes God but thinks Wicca (with God *and* goddess!) fits her pretty well. So religion isn't just these stuffy traditional ones. Justin Katz makes the point here.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Parsing the arguments

The Washington Post supports same-sex marriage, and opposes the federal marriage amendment. Fine: this is not a unique position among newspaper editorial boards, in particular. It would do better, however, not to imagine that there is any way this can remain a state issue without one liberal state affecting the rest of the country. Massachusetts hasn't been tyrannized by its judges, the Post patiently explains, since the people aren't totally powerless:

Massachusetts legislators, to start, gave preliminary approval to a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages and establish civil unions. The amendment has a long way to go before it actually becomes law, but the vote is a good reminder that judges never have the final word on political issues if the public objects strongly enough to their interference. The Massachusetts political system is groping its way toward a political compromise. And there is no reason to doubt that it is capable of finding one, and no justification for short-circuiting its consideration by imposing a federal ban.

There are many problems with this paragraph. If the Post believes SSM is a right (as the Mass. SJC found), then it should say so, and it shouldn't have any problem with courts deciding this right is required under state constitutions or even the federal Constitution. It should encourage everyone to recognize this right, if it really is fundamental. It should oppose an amendment on the grounds it is wrong - but not because states can realistically expect to handle the matter themselves.

Because if SSM is merely a political issue with many legitimate possible outcomes subject to state determinations, the judges shouldn't have been involved the way they were at all - they aren't there to make policy. But the Post seems to be saying it's okay with judges making radical decisions on political issues, since people can "object" if they want to. The Post neglects to observe, however, that while the people are busy objecting to the SJC decision and "groping ... toward a political compromise" (which must be made because the situation has been forced by the courts), the SJC decision will have become law and been in effect for at least two years before any possible compromise/objection can have even a chance to be enacted. In other words, legislature policy on this issue: can't even possibly take effect for two years. Court policy on this issue: takes effect in May, because the court says so. Does the Post really see no problems arising from the many same-sex marriages which will be performed, in accordance with court decree permitting them, during those two years? Does the Post believe that no couples will move to other states and sue for recognition of their valid Massachusetts licenses, causing judicial headaches in other states? (I believe that's already happened with a couple from SF moving elsewhere.) What about questions of the type posed by David Frum - if two women, for instance, are married and divorced in Massachusetts, and the biological mother of their child moves to Connecticut, does Connecticut have to recognize parental visitation rights of the other woman when she sues?

The Post supports SSM as a matter of policy, and it isn't bothered if that policy objective is furthered by courts such that SSM becomes a fait accompli before the people have a chance to object. The paper seems not to recognize any principle of self-restraint on the part of judges not to interfere in the first place, and leave policy to the governmental body whose job it is to make it. It shouldn't have to be up to the people to object to policy determinations by the courts the people object to, it should be up to the courts not to make those determinations in the first place. If the courts won't restrain themselves, then because marriage laws in this country cannot realistically remain intrastate matters but will as a matter of course have effects in other states and with regard to the federal government, an amendment is, in fact, needed.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Human worth, and the ongoing struggle against utilitarianism

Thoughtful article in this month's First Things (article not available yet online), on the subject of "Alzheimer's and Grace." Alzheimer's (and dementia) is a frightening and particularly devastating disease, as it steals reason, faculty of language and thought, and memory - all of which things help make us who we are, on the most fundamental level. Stephen Post, a bioethicist at Ohio's Case Western, acknowledges the "terribly painful" nature of this disease to the afflicted and to their family members or those who care for them. Yet he reminds us that even though the suffering is difficult to deal with or even contemplate, "[t]he Lord has purposes in the domain of dementia, however mysterious these might be." One of these purposes may be to remind us that human worth is not dependent on our ability to reason.

Equal regard under the love of God, coupled with the remaining emotional, relational, and symbolic-expressive aspects of persons with advanced dementia, leads us to reject the rationalistic outlook captured in the expression "I think, therefore I am." In its place a less arrogant conception is possible: "I feel and relate, and under God, I am."

. . .We must set aside the distorted position that a person's worth, dignity, and status as a human being depend entirely on cognitive capability. We must develop a view of personhood that takes into account the emotional, relational, symbolic and even spiritual capacities of the person. We live in a culture that is dominated by heightened expectations of rationalism, clarity of mind, and productivity. We internalize these expectations; thus when someone we love is diagnosed with early dementia, our reaction is likely to be despair. Our goal, however, must be to remember that the deeply forgetful are neither "shells" nor "husks"; they have not become subhuman; they remain part of our shared humanity. About this we must be clear, lest we succumb to the banality of evil.

It is indeed an insidious and subversive belief that worth is dependent on productivity or rationality; most of us have, as Professor Post notes, internalized these to some extent. On one level, it's why mothers who choose to stay home with their children often have to struggle to believe in the value of what they are doing, since the productivity value of coloring with crayons and changing diapers seems pretty low compared to authoring briefs for a Circuit Court or landing an account for a prestigious ad firm. On another level, it's why Terri Schiavo's parents have to take on an entire society, inclusive of several Florida judges, that would allow their disabled daughter to starve to death by removing her feeding tube, since the productivity value of a woman living in a nursing home seems low compared to the money that could be saved by not feeding her. Elite appraisals of Terri's quality of life deem it to be low; therefore, in spite of her happy reactions to her parents and even, more basically, her clear consciousness, it is argued that it would be more "humane" to let her die. The decree of lower personhood status for the unborn has presaged a subtle shift in our evaluation of the personhood of others who do not have reason and the ability to live independently. Costs make persuasive arguments. If it's more expensive to keep people alive who cannot work to support themselves or even who no longer can reason, subtle but unmistakable pressure exists to lower costs. Who can doubt that if euthanasia were legal, elderly people would not feel pressure to cease "being a burden" to people, or society would slowly get to a point where that decision would be made for them? As the Terri Schiavo case shows (not to mention examples from that world leader in morality, the Netherlands), courts are even now making such decrees. This dehumanizes us all.

It is imperative to remember and live the message that all of us have value simply for being human beings. It's difficult to confront that fact sometimes, since we (myself definitely included) often shy away, uncomfortable, from those we cannot engage on a rational level or those whose quality of life seems to be so low. But love and compassion is Christ's calling and example to us. As a bishop from the Vatican's Pontifical Council for life has recently affirmed, "As long as there is life in the person, that person continues to exist in all of his or her dignity, with all of his or her soul." (Cf. CCC 2258) Moreover, we must not be so proud as to imagine that our own ability to reason and be productive is anything of our doing; it is by God's grace alone we have our abilities and freedom, and at any time all of it could be taken away. This reality should only be cause for profound humility.

Scalia smackdown

Southern Appeal links to this amusing summary of Justice Scalia's response yesterday to his critics re: duck hunting. Justice Scalia's memorandum is here, and it's a fine example of the typically pithy and pointed writing we all know and love (or generally love to hate, if you're a liberal). (NRO's Peter Robinson describes it as "composed of equal parts of wit, erudition, and entirely justified condescension.") I don't think it's condescending, but it makes the point quite well. If Justice Scalia truly had reason to excuse himself in this case, he would (as he has done in the Newdow Pledge of Allegiance case); but in this case the allegations of impropriety are not justified. Justices speak at schools and to interest/policy groups all the time, without real suggestion that that compromises their impartiality. Justices also, as Justice Scalia points out, often have friendships with people in high executive office, without real suggestion that that compromises their impartiality where those friends are named in suits in their official capacities. There's no reason for Justice Scalia to recuse himself here, and he handles his critics quite (as one would expect) ably.

EDIT: As I have been clicking around the blawgosphere since posting this, it seems Scalia has persuaded even some of his usual critics with this memorandum (see Chris, and Heidi Bond).

One year later...

Whether one was for or against going into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from leadership, it is hard to argue today that the Iraqi people aren't better off today than they were a year ago, and that terrorists have one less home base from which to launch international attacks (even though internally, Baath terrorist holdouts still attack civilians daily). Nina Shea on NRO looks at some of the causes for optimism in the country now. There is greater freedom for women, greater political freedom, and constitutional freedom of religion.

The country continues to suffer from economic underdevelopment, elections are still a year off, and civilian casualties mount from a guerrilla Baathist insurgency and Islamist terror. Despite all this, under the sovereignty of the Coalition authority, Iraqis have been enjoying unprecedented individual freedom and human rights. Appreciation of this fact can only account for the results of last month's poll by Oxford Research International, in which 70 percent of the Iraqi respondents said that things in their lives were going "very" or "quite" good.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

People aren't roses

By any other name, our whole identity and sense of self would change. It's why the issue of whether a woman will take her husband's name is such an interesting one today. Amanda Butler has been blogging about the topic here (scroll up for related posts from the co-bloggers at Crescat).

But really, as much as I grumble about my name, I can't think of myself as anyone but Amanda Butler. Fits the reactionary tendancies some say I have. Even if that image isn't grounded in anything easy to explain or even very strong, the personal preference I have in that direction still strikes me as more compelling than any reason I've heard for changing it.

But Amanda's sister replies that she will change her name when she gets married, and "there are plenty of non-oppressive logical and emotional reasons for my decision." I think it's a personal decision, and respect that there are many reasons a woman might want to keep her maiden name. Especially in a professional setting, where all of your degrees and your career may have begun under one name, to change it might be difficult as regards your own identity. I also know women who are the last in their family to carry their last name, and want to keep it because no one else will be able to pass it on.

Certainly names are central to who we are. Yet for myself, I do believe there is something to be valued in changing one's name upon getting married - "non-oppressive logical and emotional reasons," even. I like my name, but I feel there is something more than symbolic in taking your husband's name. It really is a sign that you have become one family; though it is a change, it need not be a loss, of identity. For practical and emotional reasons, I would not want my name to be different than my children's, and I would assume my children would have my husband's name: so why I should make myself stand apart from them? It would seem like I would be making a deliberate point every time someone addressed me by my assumed name to demonstrate my independence. Yet I think I am confident enough of my own identity not to feel it would be lost by joining a new family. Also, I like the way that a name connects you to your history. My mother's grandparents, for one example in my family, were Jose Genovevo Garza and Virginia Guerra Garza; her father, Felipe Garza. Her family can trace through her father's mother the de la Guerras back through Mexico to Spain 400 years ago. Looking at a family history compiled by some distant relatives, I've seen copies of birth certificates issued in the late 1600s. Even with Spanish names being complicated sometimes, I think it's really neat to be connected to a strong name that goes back so far (on my father's muddled side, the records don't go back as far, but the surname does trace back quite a ways, with a few good Irish names in there :). I think a sense of connection to that history can be lost when one creates an entirely new last name, for instance, or gives each of the children a different name (one the wife's, one the husband's) just to be "fair." Isn't that confusing? Granted, a new name doesn't mean one can't trace family history (spellings change a lot through the ages on such arbitrary bases as immigration agents transcribing them wrong). But it does seem to mean one rejects, to an extent, that history. Or maybe not; these issues seem to be tied up in a lot of feelings which are hard to articulate properly, and there are obviously different legitimate choices to be made. Ultimately, I suppose I believe that while there are many legitimate reasons not to change your name, I don't think opposing a patriarchal custom really is one. If I were a man, I think I would hope that my wife would want to take my name even though it is just a custom.

An interesting article from Leon and Amy Kass in First Things considered this question at length a few years ago (scroll down to part IV). I think they're fair to realizing different points of view, but do come down on the side of the English custom.

If marriage is, as we believe, a new estate, in fact changing the identities of both partners, there is good reason to have this changed identity reflected in some change of surname, one that reflects and announces this fact. If marriage, though entered into voluntarily, is in its inner meaning more than a contract between interested parties but rather a union made in expectation of permanence and a union open (as no simple contract of individuals can be) to the possibility of procreation, there is good reason to have the commitment to lifelong union reflected and announced in a common name that symbolizes and celebrates its special meaning.

Whether they intend it or not, individuals who individualistically keep their original names when entering a marriage are symbolically holding themselves back from the full meaning of the union. Fearing "loss of identity" in change of name, they implicitly deny that to live now toward and for one's beloved, as soul mate, is rather to gain a new identity, a new meaning of living a life, one toward which eros itself has pointed us. Often failing to anticipate the future likelihood of having their own children, and, more generally, unable or unwilling to see the institution of marriage as directed toward or even connected with its central generational raison d'etre, they create in advance a confused identity for their unborn children.

The irony is that the clear personal identity to which they selfishly cling (in tacit denial of their new social identity) is in fact an identity they possess only because their parents were willing and able to create that singular family identity for them. We are, of course, aware that massive numbers of our youth stem from parents who divorce or remarry, and that the insecurity of identity already reflected in their having different names from their birth parents may lead them to cling tenaciously to their very own surnames, lest they lose the little, painfully acquired identity they have left; yet if they truly understood their plight, they would be eager to try to prevent such misfortunes from befalling their own children, and would symbolically identify themselves in advance as their (unborn) children's lifelong parents.

Help, help, I'm being repressed!

You can't make this stuff up: at the Augusta, Georgia St. Patrick's Day parade today, a youth group was prohibited from carrying crosses because they - wait for it - might offend somebody. (Link via Tongue Tied.)

"Our position is we cannot be a platform for anyone's views, standpoints on politics, religion, race; it doesn't matter," parade Chairman Earl Lovering said. "We're basically celebrating St. Patrick's in the way the holiday has become [sic] to be known."

Bill Conkright, who runs the Alleluia Community's youth ministry, said he couldn't believe his ears when he heard it, so he called the society's president, Sean Burke. Conkright said Burke told him the society had decided not to allow anything in the parade that would be controversial.

Now, last I checked, St Patrick himself had a definite view and standpoint on religion, seeing as how he was a Catholic bishop, responsible for converting Ireland to Christianity and so the patron saint of the country. Even aside from that, since when was a cross, the central religious symbol to at least two billion people around the world today, so controversial that the delicate sensibilities of some unknown parade watchers would be so offended by the mere sight of it? In Georgia? Obviously the holiday is not so much religious today, and I don't question the right of parade organizers to do what they want, but come on, the holiday wouldn't even exist but for a certain religious standpoint. (Perhaps it would have helped Mr Burke to consider that the millions of immigrant Irish were once a Designated Victim Group (tm), and so he wouldn't want to offend them, either. But that would have created quite a headache - who should we protect most from offense?)

Oh well. Carry that secretly subversive shamrock instead :) Go Irish.

Blarney

Happy St Paddy's day!

First, though, a killjoy, from my favorite social commentator (British physician Theodore Dalrymple - the single most insightful book I've read in the last five years is his Life at the Bottom) in the Telegraph yesterday (link via SA). Drunkenness is no sign of high culture:

No doubt it will be pointed out that at least some young men have always had a macho drinking culture. But young women? And what is also depressing and alarming about the current cult of drunkenness is not that it should exist, for it has always existed, but the sheer scale and uniformity of it: across the social classes, men and women, the intelligent and stupid, the educated and uneducated, on every possible occasion. It seems that the acme of modern British experience is oblivion preceded by nastiness. . . .

The drunkenness has an ideological component as well. To lack social or personal inhibitions is to distinguish oneself from those poor, misguided older generations who believed that self-restraint, at least in public, was a virtue. What terrible harm all those inhibitions and ideas of self-respect did! Everyone knows that you have to let your hair down at frequent intervals, and that if you do not, you will harm your health and emotional well-being most terribly.

The young drunks in the centre of our towns and cities are not just drunk, they are triumphantly, ostentatiously drunk. They are celebrating the triumph of the egotistical lowest common denominator that has so thoroughly vanquished any idea that there is a higher and a lower, a better and a worse, in our culture.

Well, that's depressing.

But wait! I won't end on that note, really :) Rather, I shall end with the lyrics to a good Irish Wolfe Tones song, which singing takes me back to good times at Notre Dame, in Stanford Hall, at certain events called Antiquity. Yep, those were fun. Repeal the 18th!
Here we go again, we're on the road again.
We're on the road again, we're on the way to paradise.
We love the jungle deep, that's where the lion sleeps
For then those evil eyes, they have no place in paradise

Graffiti on the walls, just as the sun was going down
I see graffiti on the walls - for the Celts! for the Celts!
Graffiti on the walls says we're magic, we're magic,
Graffiti on the wall . . .

It says oh ah up the ra, say ooh ah up the ra!

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Hollywood considers strange phenomenon of "Christians"

Rightwing Film Geek highlights the unintentionally funny plans of Hollywood to try to imitate Mel Gibson's success with The Passion. Apparently C.S. Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" is being filmed, and the filmmakers want to make the allegorical story Christian, but not *too* Christian. Quite.

I also note this quote from the NYT article he links to, from a filmmaker who is "alarmed by the violence" in The Passion:

"I would not think of making a religious movie that speaks to this aspect of the audience," Mr. Nozik said. "I don't know how you speak to that audience as a filmmaker. But as a businessman you have to go, `God, there's something there.'"

There's so much cluelessness in that statement it's hard to know where to begin. Though one could start by noting Mr Nozik is currently working on a film about a communist revolutionary. Presumably any and all violence has been excised from that film. . . .

Monday, March 15, 2004

Spain capitulates to terrorists

Will withdraw peacekeeping troops from Iraq. Discussion over at Southern Appeal and on The Corner here (Kurtz), here (Goldberg), and here (Frum).

Inconvenient biology

Steve at zipsix thinks (scroll up) that I'm "pro-life to the point of blindness," and he even suspects me of being "some sort of counter-Constitutional subversive plot-deviser hoping to install Ireland's pseudo-theocratic semi-reign by the Catholic church." Well, I'm glad to know he cares :)

On the merits: the other day I posted about abortion and the right to life, as weighed against the "right" not to be pregnant, once you are. Steve characterizes this argument as "my-morality-is-better-than-yours and 'yes, that means I get to control your uterus.'" Two initial points. First, sometimes one person's morality is, in fact, better than another's. If A's morality held that slavery was right and good, and B's morality held that it was wrong and abhorrent, then we would all (I should hope) feel comfortable making an evaluation that B's morality was better (more just, more protective of natural rights and liberties, more respectful of human dignity) than A's. Thus, the suggestion that it is never appropriate to objectively or relatively evaluate moralities is not ultimately sustainable. Reason may be employed to demonstrate that one may be preferable to another. (Steve, in fact, makes precisely the moral judgment he professes not to make: he appears to believe not that pro-life is equally as valid a morality as pro-choice, but rather that the pro-life morality is worse than the pro-choice morality.)

Second, I note that, while I do not ascribe this motivation to Steve personally, in general it is rather self-serving of men, as a group, to be in favor of "reproductive choice" - it gives them an easy escape from taking responsibility for a pregnancy should one result from a sexual experience (which happen regularly outside of marriage). Leave it up to the woman; it's her problem. But examine: what is her "problem"? It is the fact that, absent natural miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion, a baby will be born in about nine months. That is, another human being. By disclaiming responsibility, men then frequently put women in the position of choosing to have a child alone, or killing the child. Lots of women aren't exercising aren't exercising a free and easy "choice" on that option: many feel driven to it by desperation and fear. I know this can be a truly frightening reality to many women - we should support them. More to the point, no one is controlling anyone's uterus, per se, in the abortion debate; what is at issue in a pregnancy is not simply an organ like a kidney or a lung (or a uterus in the absence of pregnancy), but rather a genetically unique, distinct, self-generating (in the sense that once the cells start dividing, they go on until natural death) human being. This biological fact may be inconvenient, but needs no recourse to religion to be true nonetheless.

Steve believes that human beings acquire the right to life when they are born. He does not articulate what substantive difference exists between a child an hour before it is born, and an hour afterwards, such that a right to life should suddenly have inhered. Surely the child was equally human, equally formed, differing only in location at those two times? Even the Supreme Court, which as Steve accurately notes protects the right to life for those who are born, also articulates a state interest in protecting unborn children's lives after a certain point, tacitly recognizing that a child does in fact have a right to life. The Court purportedly draws the line at viability, the time at which a child could survive outside the womb. But the question still remains, what substantive difference is there between a child in the moment after viability is reached, and the moment before? Surely it is the same child. In fact, it is the same human being, genetically and biologically speaking, from the moment of conception through viability, birth, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. So at what point does the right to life inhere? Or is it, as Jefferson and Locke would likely have supposed, that the right to life inheres in every human being by virtue of being a human being? The argument needs make no recourse to religion to conclude that any point after the life is created would be an arbitrary (even if seemingly reasonable) one at which to suddenly say the right to life now exists.

The language of rights again: "The right to life of those not yet born does not and should not trump the rights of actual citizens." Yet what rights are being weighed here? Certainly, the right to life of the unborn is no stronger than the right to life of a woman, or any other person. The right to life in general, however, is stronger than the right to convenience, the right to autonomy, the right to privacy, the right to be free of social obligation, or in fact any other right we possess (or claim to). If, as an abstract or real principle, the right to life (for any person) outweighs the right to privacy (for any person), then the right to life of an unborn child must outweigh the right to privacy of a woman who simply wishes not to be pregnant.

For the constitutional argument, I side with Justice Black in Griswold: "I like my privacy as well as the next one, but I am nevertheless compelled to admit that government has a right to invade it unless prohibited by some specific constitutional provision." The constitutional guarantee to life and equal protection must certainly override any claim to privacy - especially since that claim rests on such tenuous constitutional grounds. Certainly as a moral proposition (one subject to objective rational evaluation), the idea that privacy may trump life is fatally flawed.

Standard of review...

The group from En Banc has reformed at a new blog, launched last night: De Novo. Welcome back! Count me among those with blog envy :) The first day's posts include an impressive collection of essays on how to think like a lawyer - definitely a worthwhile read.

Cause and effect

Excellent article today on the WSJ's Opinionjournal.com, surprisingly (from my Catholic perspective) from a Methodist minister. Donald Sensing comes to the depressing conclusion that the battle to preserve marriage was already lost, forty years ago, when contraception (in the form of the Pill) became widespread. This is a dicey topic, since so many people, including many devoutly religious people, use artificial contraception, but sometimes realities can be painful. Rev. Sensing observes that the advent of easy contraception meant sex could be divorced (no pun intended) from procreation and from marriage. Broken from these moorings that had existed literally since the beginning of humanity, our culture was changed in radical ways - in many ways, for the worse.

The impulse toward premarital chastity for women was always [aside from religious conviction] the fear of bearing a child alone. The Pill removed this fear. Along with it went the need of men to commit themselves exclusively to one woman in order to enjoy sexual relations at all. Over the past four decades, women have trained men that marriage is no longer necessary for sex. But women have also sadly discovered that they can't reliably gain men's sexual and emotional commitment to them by giving them sex before marriage.

The problem is, of course, that in spite of contraception, pregnancies still occur (it is, after all, the reproductive act that couples engage in). When that happens outside of marriage, women are stuck with the "problem," men too often abdicate responsibility (having never been impelled to accept it in the first place), and everyone is the worse for it - most especially the children who grow up in single-parent or unmarried homes. Marriage is devalued (as it is now in our society) and so are individuals, in spite of their triumphant claiming of sexual freedom.

Pope Paul VI warned of all this in 1968, in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. At the time (still by many today) he was scornfully dismissed as hopelessly, even criminally, behind the times. Yet he was right.

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

When the mainline Protestant churches abandoned their previous opposition to contraception, a great disservice was done to society. It also remains a painful stumbling block in many cases between Evangelicals and Catholics, who otherwise agree on so much with regard to the right social and moral order. With the embracing of secular values by most of Western European and American society, it wasn't hard to predict the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

I don't necessarily agree with Rev. Sensing that the battle is already lost; that is, I believe it is worth it to continue the struggle. But he is right to recognize the origins of the struggle: I truly believe we aren't here by accident.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Leadership redux

Last week, I posted how my evaluation of Tony Blair had changed in light of his principled stance on the war on terror. Agree or disagree with the man, he took a stand that was not based on a slavish following of the focus groups, not carefully designed to be as politically bland as possible, not done in the model of Clintonian triangulation, or the Third Way. Instead, he realized that "leadership is about deciding," and he made a decision and stuck to it, staking his political career on it.

José María Aznar made the same decision in the war on terror. In eight years, he's helped revitalize Spain's economy, been tough on Basque terrorists, been a leader in Europe. (I disagree with NRO's Peter Robinson that he's especially telegenic, but maybe that's just my minor American bias against mustaches on politicians. In any event, when I was watching the 2000 campaign in country, Aznar always seemed a bit more wooden on television to me - lots of expression in his voice, no visible expression on his face.) When Aznar hosted the Azores summit before the Iraq campaign, he cast his lot with the US and the UK, along with dozens of other countries, to take a principled stand against terrorism. It now appears that Thursday's bombings in Spain were in retaliation for that decision. And unfortunately, it also now appears the people have chosen to blame not al Qaeda, but Aznar's party for the attacks. I'm disappointed that the Socialists won the election on this issue. New PM Zapatero has promised his first priority will be to fight terror, but given his earlier secret meetings with Basque terrorists and ties to Catalan nationalists as well, I hope "fighting" for him won't mean negotiating. Aligning more with Franco-German interests instead of Anglo-American would, I think, be ill-advised. Al Qaeda doesn't want anything the Spanish can give (seeing as how they basically seek the destruction of the West and Wahhabi Islamization of the world), and isolation would not only serve to embolden the terrorists but also would guarantee no immunity for Spain.

Nevertheless, I hope the new government is successful in its efforts, and that the country will rebound from the tragedy of this week to continue its strong growth and increasing stature in the EU.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Selling your soul?

Jeremy Blachman, whose blog usually has me laughing out loud, has posted a few quite serious reflections on life (or lack thereof) at the Big Firm. I definitely encourage reading this. What struck me personally was this, from a lawyer's comment:

Second, the other associates will just bloody crucify you [for leaving work one day a week at 6:30 to take care of your kids]. For example, I have found that the female associates in our group - and they are wonderful, tough lawyers - really give it to the women lawyers who have to leave early for hubby or the children. For several reasons, I have had some heart-to-hearts with some of the more vociferous objectors and they tell me that every time a women in my group doesnt't pull her full weight, it reflects on all women and they can't have that, since they have worked, are working and will work too hard for anyone to hold them back or diminish them because of their sex.

I'm looking forward to my job this summer and (hopefully!) after graduation, and I expect to work hard, to devote time and energy to doing quality work that clients can be happy and the firm satisfied with. I know how much time that will demand. But I also believe in taking care of yourself, and keeping real, not just nominal, balance in your life. In all likelihood, I'm not going to be on the partnership track (because I want to stay home with my children someday, if I'm fortunate to have them) and so while I will absolutely work hard, I will not kill myself out of some greater obligation to my sex. I've worked hard to get to this point and earned my opportunities, and I'll make the most of them. But if it comes down to dealing with resentment from other women or spending some quality time with friends and family outside of work, well, I have learned the lesson at other times of my life that friends and family are not worth sacrificing for work. I am optimistic that the firm I'll be working for is sincere in valuing people's outside lives.

But I will admit to uneasiness in the face of these comments Jeremy links to about the intensity and even hostility that goes along with accumulating those all-important billable hours.

Marching for something

In her article (see below), Clift also promotes an upcoming event (which will feature "Catholic" John Kerry, he of the "personally opposed" - or not - group):

Women’s groups are gearing up for what they’re billing as the “March for Women’s Lives” in Washington on April 25. It’s the first time since 1991 that women have turned to a protest march to educate women about what’s at stake when it comes to abortion rights.

Funny, that. As I noted, women's lives are not at stake in probably 98% of actual abortions, nor is that right to life at risk in the law. I am also interested to see the actual turnout for this event, and the kind of coverage it receives. Pro-choicers haven't done a march in 13 years. Pro-lifers have held one every year since 1973, with tens of thousands showing up in the cold on Janurary 22 to mark a peaceful vigil in support of women who have suffered with the tragedies of their own abortions, in support of men who have also been affected by the tragedies, and in support of the unborn. The media, of course, usually either misses or dismisses these events (though the WaPo did feature an article this year - progress!), but they are there, and they're full of young people, including thousands of young women, energized by the fight in support of life, grateful - perhaps? - for the fact that their own mothers chose life, and saddened by the loss of an entire generation. As NR reflected in 1998:

Everything abortion touches, it corrupts. It has corrupted family life. In the war between the sexes, abortion tilts the playing field toward predatory males, giving them another excuse for abandoning their offspring: She chose to carry the child; let her pay for her choice. Our law now says, in effect, that fatherhood has no meaning, and we are shocked that some men have learned that lesson too well. It has corrupted the Supreme Court, which has protected the abortion license even while tacitly admitting its lack of constitutional grounding. If the courts can invent such a right, unmoored in the text, tradition, or logic of the Constitution, then they can do almost anything; and so they have done. The law on everything from free speech to biotechnology has been distorted to accommodate abortionism. And abortion has deeply corrupted the practice of medicine, transforming healers into killers.

We can stop the corruption only by protecting that most basic right, the right to life, and accepting responsibility for the exercise of our other rights.

More rights, less responsibility

I'm probably going to lose the slight agreement I garnered from zipsix and Foolsblog by noting that one of the biggest areas where "rights" have trampled over any corresponding acceptance of responsibility is in the area of "reproductive choice." Eleanor Clift is upset that the South Dakota legislature recently voted to make abortion illegal, except where necessary to prevent death or serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function, by defining life as beginnning at conception. Since several Democrats as well as Republicans voted for the bill, it is, as Clift huffs, a "bipartisan trashing of women’s reproductive rights." Here we see the language of "rights" being employed again, as it is so often, by abortion supporters. Pro-lifers also talk about rights, of course, but they're on more solid ground: the right to life is the most basic and fundamental we all have. None of our other rights matter if we do not have the right to life. (This is why being against abortion doesn't have to be, nor should it be, just a religious or conservative thing, because of the nature of the right at stake.) It is why Locke and Jefferson listed it first in their discerning of basic human rights. If we all are unique, distinct human beings from the moment of our conception - after which point, unless naturally miscarried, stillborn, or actively killed, we will be born naturally about nine months later - then we all possess the right to life from that moment on. It may not be the right to a good life, one free from hardship or obstacles or difficult moments, but it is a right to life in the first instance.

In contrast, whence comes the "right" to abortion? As a natural right, it doesn't exist. Of course abortion has always existed in some forms, but not because any "right" to commit it necessarily protected it. As a constitutional right, it's on shaky ground as well. Grounded in the right to (marital) privacy, which itself was discovered a mere 40 years ago in penumbras and emanations of some amendments, this argument holds that because babies are part of women's bodies during their gestation, and women generally have autonomy over their own bodies, they therefore have the right to exercise their autonomy and procure abortions. That niggling problem of another distinct body being involved in this particular process, however, has led to the rewriting of constitutional support for abortion (from a more arbitrary trimester framework to a supposedly lesser one of viability outside the womb), professed uncertainty about when life begins, and ultimately a justification of, "People rely on precedent, this is precedent, so we're just going to keep it and y'all would do well to shut up and accept our authoritative settling of this issue." Cf. Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

What's really at stake here in the vast majority of cases is the "right" to sexual freedom, the belief that one has a right to engage in sexual activity as well as a right to be free of consequences of that action. But most actions have consequences - be they positive or negative - and when a particular "consequence" is the creation of another human being with what should be a full and equal moral claim to life, one should not be able to avoid responsibility for that life (at least until birth, at which point responsibility for raising that child could be given up to adoptive parents) by killing the consequence. There is no "right" to kill. And in what other context does any of our rights to live depend on someone else's determination of our status of personhood? The Constitution, if one looks at rights, does say that the state may deprive us of our right to life after due process of law, but aborted children are innocent of wrongdoing. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, at least 96% of all abortions (40,000,000 in this country alone since Roe) are done for reasons not relating to rape, incest, or life of the mother. I know it can be an anguishing realization for some women to realize they are pregnant, and be truly scared about what to do. But having made, in most cases, the choice to have sex, where pregnancy is an entirely foreseeable and not unlikely outcome of the action between men and women, women (and men) should also accept responsibility for those actions. Especially since, in this case, another life is at stake - even if it's too small for you to see. And help is out there for those who are scared, from great and caring groups like the Crisis Pregnancy Network.