Monday, June 28, 2004

A few good men

The question has been floating around the blogosphere lately, what do women want or need in men? What makes men attractive? A few posts have been brought together. First, Maggie Gallagher wrote about the crisis of fatherless homes, especially in the African-American community. One of the problems is that good men are hard to find. But some of the best men are those informed by a Christian ideal of duty toward family, responsibility, and sacrifice.

Second, Eugene Volokh posted letters from a few correspondents reflecting on what "professional coastal urban women" (or gay men) find attractive in a man. Women want more than just success, or a man who listens or has a good job; they want a "certain kind of behavior, attitude, whatever it is that they see as sexy (still a mystery to me, by the way)." Men usually don't try to change or improve themselves, preferring not to become sexy, but rather to make sexy them. And maybe there's something to this, he writes: the trick to being attractive is "to adjust oneself so successfully that it looks like one isn't trying to adjust oneself at all."

Justin Katz* tied these seemingly disparate threads together:

Dare I suggest that the conclusion to which all of these people are gravitating is that rich women want what poor women so desperately need? The educated professionals of Volokh's correspondence will likely reject the idea, including protestations from the women (for all I can say) that they are most definitely not interested in such men, but that need only mean that the oversight is mutual between the seekers and sought. Aren't the women looking for a certain mold of the religious man? . . .

Volokh notes the seemingly unattainable state of being in which one adjusts "oneself so successfully that it looks like one isn't trying to adjust oneself at all." I see ultimately the insouciance of manifest self-improvement as it derives from a focus on something higher. Men will not lose motivation if they are striving for the approval of God, rather than of a woman, and yet, if that God demands a sacrificial devotion to the woman, the man will listen, will see through her eyes, and will seek to provide for her.

As I wrote at Justin's site, from my perspective of a currently-coastal-and-urban professional-in-training woman, I think Justin is on to something. I think that one of the real crises of our culture is a lack of understanding about what it means to be a man. It's impolitic, after all, even to believe that there even is something to being a real man. It often seems that we're supposed to be shooting for androgyny, stamping out any overly masculine qualities of men (yet allowing women to take them on). And yet, and yet. People still know on some level that there is something to the idea of duty, love and responsibility towards family, honor, courage, not-overbearing confidence - all not exclusively, but traditionally, manly virtues. That "something" to the idea of manliness really can be found through faith, which is why, as Maggie Gallagher notes, you will find that the man who honestly and self-consciously strives to be Christian in his love for and responsibilities towards others seems to embody that ideal.

One of the things I believe tends to inform the coastal urban women of Professor Volokh's acquaintance is insecurity. If men embody traditionally masculine virtues, that must threaten women's ability to also be successful, independent, and strong. I don't see a conflict, though. Women can be feminine and still be strong and independent; men can be masculine and not threaten the success of others. Besides, total independence is an illusory concept in the end. We all need other people to help us grow, to support us, and (the part overlooked by many) to help us strive toward lives of grace. To take an example: the women of "Sex and the City" may not have acknowledged that "grace" part, but even they (well, excepting Samantha until the end), as they celebrated their sexual and professional autonomy, seemed to know that they wanted to find the right man. And so the show wrapped up with everyone more or less rather conventionally settled and happy with the right men. But it took a long time of these women variously adopting the worst aspects of the more undignified masculine traits (crudeness and promiscuity) and showing some insecurities that relationships could compromise their independence. Was there a way to just be successful women and not act like men? Is there a way for men not to fall into the stereotypes of promiscuity, or the faux confidence of the metrosexual, and be good men? I think so.

The difficulty, of course, anymore is that it's hard to find the right models for how to be confident women and honorable men. Children who grow up without fathers desperately lack role models for how to become real men, and no matter how loving mothers are or how hard they work, it's hard for women to provide that model. And the divorce culture has affected the rich just about as profoundly as the poor - they also lack models for how to be (or look for) a good man.

Fortunately, if one takes example from Christ, the answers can be there to help make up for what is often lost (and help strengthen those who are already trying to do the right things.) Christ gives us an example of sacrificial love and heroic virtue, acceptance of responsibility, humility and strength. Men who strive to achieve these virtues are the kind of family men - just good men - whom we need to encourage, support, and recognize. In my opinion, that's attractive.

*Note: Congratulations to Justin and his wife, who just had a new baby this week :)

More on bishops and voters

I forgot to link yesterday to this section of the bishops' statement having to deal with Catholic voters.

It is important to note that Cardinal Ratzinger makes a clear distinction between public officials and voters, explaining that a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil only if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion. However, when a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted if there are proportionate reasons.

Therefore, based on the traditional practice of the Church and our consultation with members of our conference, other episcopal conferences, distinguished canonists and theologians, our Task Force does not advocate the denial of Communion for Catholic politicians or Catholic voters in these circumstances.

No one should mistake our task force’s reservations about refusing Communion or public calls to refrain from Communion as ignoring or excusing those who clearly contradict Catholic teaching in their public roles. Those who take positions or act in ways that are contrary to fundamental moral principles should not underestimate the seriousness of this situation. We insist that they must study Catholic teaching, recognize their grave responsibility to protect human life from conception to natural death, and adopt positions consistent with these principles. However, in our view the battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable should be fought not at the Communion rail, but in the public square, in hearts and minds, in our pulpits and public advocacy, in our consciences and communities.

This fits with what I have said before about voters: "[I]t's not a mortal sin to do so [vote for a pro-abortion candidate] (only more tricky if it's done with the express intention of furthering abortion)." To act as one of what Mark Shea calls "Scorched Earth Catholics" in using Communion as a weapon is lacking in charity and inappropriate for pastors. It also obscures the true meaning of the Eucharist and can politicize it. I think Cardinal McCarrick is clear here, then, that there are serious reservations about refusing Communion, but recognizes that individual bishops may after time come to feel that is necessary. But that should not be the case with voters; coming to Communion should be left to each person's reflection and efforts to be free from serious sin. In the meantime, the bishops will hopefully be working on bettering their efforts to preach the Gospel clearly.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

The bishops' statements

The statement from Cardinal McCarrick and the bishops' task force on Catholic bishops and Catholic politicians had some good reflections. As for how bishops should conduct themselves in standing up for the faith and responsibly engaging the culture:

- We need to be political, but not partisan. Politics is about moral questions of life and death, war and peace, who moves ahead and who is left behind. But we cannot be chaplain to any party, cheerleader for any candidate. We leave particular choices to the informed consciences of the Catholic faithful.

- We must be principled but not ideological. We clearly cannot abandon the unborn, who have first claim on our consciences, and the poor and immigrants. But we must be open to a variety of ways to protect life, empower the poor and welcome immigrants.

- We should be civil, but not soft. A Church that preaches justice and charity in public life must practice it. No cause is advanced by calling names or impugning motives. However, we will not stand by silently as politicians distort or dismiss Catholic teaching.

- We should be engaged, but not used. Political photo-ops are not a substitute for policies which protect human life and dignity and serve the least of these.

I think these are good guidelines for the bishops, and I hope that they take them to heart in speaking up more on critical issues in our society. Part of the reason there has been such a furor in recent months as some bishops have spoken out is the fact that more of them did not speak out in the past. Everyone knows the Church opposes abortion, but how many understand why? It is part of the bishops' job to teach, guide and lead, so that misguided ideas (such as that one may be "personally opposed" to abortion but publically support it) are not allowed to gain credence as being legitimately Catholic ideas. The bishops are also right to avoid partisanship, attaching themselves to ideas and teachings rather than to political parties. (I don't think they were attaching themselves to political parties, but that impression has unfortunately been left with many recently.)

The Cardinal did make a veiled reference to the backlash that has been seen against the Church in the matter of John Kerry:

Other questions were raised about where the process might lead--who would be impacted and what other issues might lead to denial of Holy Communion. We fear that it could further divide our Church and that it could have serious unintended consequences. For example, it could be more difficult for faithful Catholics to serve in public life because they might be seen not as standing up for principle, but as under pressure from the hierarchy. We could turn weak leaders who bend to the political winds into people who are perceived as courageous resistors of episcopal authority. In the past such actions have often been counter-productive. We also fear it could push many people farther away from the Church and its teaching, rather than bringing them closer.

These are valid concerns, but I think if the bishops keep the above strictures in mind they will lessen such unintended consequences. Above all, this has been a failure of teaching and communication to American Catholics, compounded by things like Senator Kerry's insistence on describing himself as a Catholic while openly and publically opposing essential precepts of the faith. The bishops can't necessarily impact Catholic politicians who oppose Catholic teaching - but they can at least encourage these Catholic politicians to examine their own consciences and right teaching, take disciplinary action if it is ultimately found to be appropriate, and do a better job themselves of being clear voices on matters of the faith.

Finally, the bishops did also say that no honors or platform should be given by Catholic institutions or universities to those who are clearly opposed to Catholic teaching. Catholic Kerry Watch has reactions to the bishops' statements here and here.

Faces of evil

Terrorists have discovered that they can get more press out of beheading someone every few days than they can by the random bombings (though they continue with those too, of course). Americans, South Koreans, Turks, Pakistanis, and Iraqis themselves: cowardly terrorists are murdering all of them, trying to threaten governments, causing untold grief to families. And for what? The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger reflects on the terrible acts and says "evil" is the only word that can possibly describe them:

These beheadings come before us as a peculiarly modern atrocity. The captors use television and the Internet to display their victims before a world audience, eyes tightly taped and arms bound behind. The "negotiation" is a charade that merely increases the pain of the victim's family and friends. Then, crudely, they cut off his head. In terms of the degree of civilized behavior the West admits to since perhaps the French Revolution, these beheadings are evil. If they are not evil, then the West no longer accepts the possibility or idea of evil. And indeed some would prefer not to.

Andrew Sullivan hopes that the outrage will eventually be enough to finally discredit the terrorists in the eyes of Iraqis and the world:

The hope, of course is that the sheer insanity of these monsters - who are vying to turn Iraq into an even worse dictatorship than Saddam's - will become apparent to ordinary Iraqis. Unless the pathologies of contemporary Islam in the Middle East have already done too much damage. That, I guess, is what we shall soon find out.

Where's a superhero when you need one?

I was thinking today, looking at these numbers, that I was really not looking forward to an entire week of stories trumpeting the odious Michael Moore's film as "The number one movie in America!" (This look at the film by Christopher Hitchens helps explain why I have zero desire to see it. As Hitchens writes, "Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.") Fortunately, Spiderman 2 is opening on Wednesday, and should be posting its own blockbuster numbers for the Fourth of July weekend, so hopefully Moore's film will drop off the radar screen shortly. Thanks, Spiderman.

On the other hand, maybe we want DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe and Senator Tom Harkin publically lending credence to theories that the war in Afghanistan was all about oil contracts, instead of, you know, toppling the despotic regime that served as a base for a large number of al-Qaeda terrorists and their training camps, including the specific ones who masterminded the hijacking of four planes and attacking the U.S. Perhaps if they, along with Moore, propound these theories in Boston next month, it will serve to show how absurd the apparently Democrat-endorsed positions really are.

UPDATE I: I have been chastised by a reader for suggesting that prominent Democrats support "blood-for-oil" theories, because they didn't say that and Moore didn't either. Well, I defer to those who have seen the movie on what it says. My pardon. But what McAuliffe said was that he thought the movie was 'fair and factually based,' and that he believed Moore's account of the war in Afghanistan after seeing the movie. (Senator Harkin said: "It's important for the American people to understand what has gone on before, what led us to this point, and to see it sort of in its unvarnished presentation, which Michael Moore has done.") That account apparently included this narration:

Was the war in Afghanistan really about something else? Perhaps the answer was in Houston, Texas. In 1997, while George W. Bush was governor of Texas, a delegation of Taliban leaders from Afghanistan flew to Houston to meet with Unocal executives to discuss the building of a pipeline through Afghanistan bringing natural gas from the Caspian Sea. And who got a Caspian Sea drilling contract the same day Unocal signed the pipeline deal? A company headed by a man named Dick Cheney. Halliburton. And who else stood to benefit from the pipeline? Bush's number one campaign contributor, Kenneth Lay, and the good people of Enron.

It is true that I have not seen the movie, and of course I realize that most people's view of the war is more nuanced than to think the war was about oil profiteering. Personally, I have long had reservations about the war in Iraq, in particular. But in being skeptical about the original urgency for going to war, I do not believe the President is an evil man (ignorant and yet somehow simultaneously a mastermind of public manipulation) with sinister motivations - which is what a lot of opponents of war (like Moore, who is very much anti-Bush) seem to believe. If the Democrats endorse those views of Bush, I will continue to be unsympathetic to them. But it's not to be personal against all Democrats or all people who oppose war.

UPDATE II: Jonah Goldberg is, how shall we say, rather more strident in his refusal to see the film, and definitely interesting in his own defense on why he won't see it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Double take

So the other day a got a phone call from one of the attorneys in charge of assigning projects to us summer associates, and after asking me a few questions about my current projects, he asked, "So I was wondering if you knew anything about Irish law?" Yikes! It wouldn't be such a big deal if he knew about my blog - everyone who knows me knows that this is my blog, and I often use my name elsewhere on the blogosphere, but I like my little pseudonym here and don't necessarily want the blog widely known at the office. (Aside from my summer officemates, who use it to start very interesting discussions around here : )

In any event, fortunately I waited a moment before responding, so I could find out that in fact, I was being assigned a project requiring research into actual Irish law. Which, in addition to being amusing to me personally, has actually turned out to be quite interesting. It's also the reason I haven't had much time to post lately, though I have a few topics in the wings which I would like to get around to posting sometime soon. So hopefully that'll happen tonight or tomorrow sometime. A ver.

And now, back to Irish law : )

Monday, June 21, 2004

So many lawyers, so little trust

The Wall Street Journal's John Fund is concerned that both parties seem to be lawyering up in advance of the November elections - instead of figuring out how to fix potential problems with voting machines.

The level of suspicion between the two parties is greater than ever. John Kerry says he believes Al Gore "won" the 2000 election and has assembled a team of 2,000 lawyers to "challenge anyplace in America where you cannot trace the vote and count the votes." Republicans have their own legal team to combat fake voter registrations, absentee-ballot fraud and residents of nursing homes being overly "assisted" to cast votes. Maria Cardona of the New Democrat Network dismisses such concerns, saying "ballot security and preventing voter fraud are just code words for voter intimidation and suppression." Liberal legal groups are suing to set aside laws in some of the 11 states that require photo ID at the polls on the grounds they discriminate against the poor and minorities.

It doesn't help that the federal government is way behind in implementing the Help America Vote Act. HAVA is designed to distribute $3.9 billion to the states for election improvements, but many states will be in no better shape come November than they were in 2000. Some 50 million Americans will vote on ATM-style touch-screen machines, but many of those will lack a paper trail. Internet chat rooms and talk radio shows are filled with speculation that these "black boxes" won't count votes properly. In January, a special election in Florida was decided by 12 votes, but touch-screen machines failed to record the votes of 134 people who signed voting registers. No recount was possible; there was no paper trail.

I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist, and I don't think our system is in imminent danger of collapse; I think most people still generally trust (rightly or wrongly) that the system works overall. But I agree that it would be good to get paper trails on electronic voting machines to help increase voter confidence (giving that "extra indicia of reliability," as we said in Evidence) and accuracy -- and I'm surprised these changes haven't yet been made. Both sides have real incentives to make sure the system is more trustworthy. We really don't want a repeat of the uncertainty of four years ago, and we really don't need all the lawyers involved again.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Why do you blog?

La Shawn Barber posed the question recently to readers of her site, and has now posted a sample of the responses she received here and here. I thought the responses were interesting to read (of course, "why do you read blogs?" is the second question posed, so I suppose one of my answers would be there's lots of interesting stuff out there :). "The main reason we blog is to get our opinion out there from our small corners of the world," La Shawn says - but there are lots of other reasons given too. Check it out.

Keeping fathers in the picture

This just in from San Francisco (via Marriage Debate): it turns out that fathers are irrelevant.

Brian, a bright and personable third-grader, brought home from school a form that frustrated him: his family tree, complete with empty spaces for mother, father and four spaces for grandparents. Brian's parents are a lesbian couple, his father is an unknown sperm donor. Brian's mothers worked to persuade their son that nothing was wrong with his family -- instead, something was wrong with the school form.

As same-sex parents are getting married, families such as Brian's are transforming our family trees -- and the nation's landscape. Challenging our convictions about gender, sexuality and parenthood, they are providing us all with a new set of family values -- based not around traditional "Father Knows Best" precepts but an adaptable and sturdy code of parenting that transcends gender.

Oh, where to begin. Start with the requisite picture of a happy, well-adjusted child of gay parents, then present the suggestion, causing our otherwise happy family to be frustrated and sad, that something might be amiss. Well, yes, the child was born of a mother and father, and each of these had their own mother and father - that's how biology works, after all, and acknowledgment of this fact is a basic premise of the organization of most human civilization. But that's so passé, and if something makes reference to general facts of human existence but might possibly cause anxiety to those who choose purposely to live differently (and to those children who unfortunately never got to make that choice), why then, we must transcend these old notions and rewrite society. After all, same-sex parents are getting married now, we're told (skip the fact that in San Francisco, it is illegally so), and so these traditional "convictions" that children might do best with their own mothers and fathers must be challenged. That's so 1950s, and everyone knows 1950s America was a positively backwards society. We're beyond gender now, dear.

The article is full of the commonly relentless determination to ensure that we stop thinking that our sex may have something to do with our lives, for if we think that men and women have real and important differences that matter (especially to children), then we might not wholeheartedly endorse gay parenting as a legitimate norm. And that is, of course, unacceptable. But aside from this, at the heart of this article is a massive contradiction. On the one hand, we're told that sex doesn't matter, so parents of either sex can raise children equally well and in the exact same way. This is the "transcendence" point. But on the other hand, the article is full of tacit acknowledgements that men and women are different, because the entire point of the article is to assure us that boys will still be real men even if they're raised by two mothers instead of their mother and father. Thus we are told, "So-called masculine and feminine qualities are in fact human qualities and can be nurtured by either moms or dads," and then we are assured that don't worry, boys raised by lesbians "exhibit all the usual traits of manliness, including athletic interests and skills." Well, which is it? Is there such a thing as manliness, or not? And if so, doesn't it make sense to suggest that maybe manliness is best learned from other men?

The truth is that boys and girls are different, and men and women are different, in important ways. It belittles neither sex to acknowledge that. And generally the best way children learn how to grow up into responsible men and women is by watching their parents. Boys need their fathers to learn how to become real men, and to learn how to treat women well (by their father's model of his relationship to his wife). Girls need their fathers as well, to show them love and to understand how to find a man. (Mothers are also, of course, important to their children in their own unique ways, but it is less frequently asserted that they are unnecessary.) In families where circumstances have made it impossible for one or the other parent to be present, of course the other parent will do their best to raise his or her children well. We should acknowledge and support these parents, and always support and affirm their children. But these situations are different from those where from the beginning, by design and intent, one parent is not present. Elizabeth Marquardt of Familyscholars.org, who supports civil unions, has nonetheless expressed concern about efforts to pretend that children do not need their mothers and fathers:

[The redefinition of marriage and dismissal of social science data about children] is all too reminiscent of the divorce revolution in the 1970s, when, based on enthusiasm for adult choice (and a handful of preliminary social science studies), "experts" concluded that divorce was fine for children. It took 30 years of painstaking research and a whole generation of adult children of divorce revealing their own experiences to reverse that adult consensus about what children need. Our culture of marriage has not yet fully recovered.

This ceaseless push to show that kids don't need mothers and fathers (particularly their own), in order to serve the gay agenda, is beyond troubling. It's reminiscent, as Elizabeth says, of all the studies that insisted children of divorce and remarriage all thrived - until 35 years of reality finally convinced even the agenda-pushers otherwise. Most children are fine, but much higher percentages than among intact families are not fine, and that is something to worry about. I'm sure that most children of gay parents do fine, just as most children of divorce do fine - but I'm equally sure that any pain and difficulties in their lives aren't solely attributable to discrimination, as the agenda-pushers suggest. It's because fathers matter, and today on Father's Day it is good to remember and recognize this. If we can help support a culture where fatherhood is valued and good men are affirmed, all of us will see the benefits.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Gracias a todos

Sometime last week, I passed 5,000 unique visits for this site. I know that's small potatoes to most blogs, but I was quite happy nonetheless at the modest achievement that number represents. Particularly given the fact that when I started this blog earlier this year, I had little expectation of anyone outside of my loyal family and boyfriend reading. So, I just wanted to express my appreciation to all my readers (across the political spectrum :) for the fact that y'all keep coming back. Thanks for stopping by!

Sure, we laugh now . . .

Yesterday, our group of summer associates was able to tour the Supreme Court building. It's a beautiful building, and we saw a few things off the beaten track (I never knew there was a basketball court directly over the courtroom, for instance). Apparently Justice Thomas was the last justice to play regularly, but he doesn't anymore, so it's left to the clerks. Speaking of Justice Thomas, we caught a glimpse of him in chambers, which I thought was pretty cool (forget Hollywood stars - well, except Benjamin Bratt - I'd be more likely to stumble over my words if I ever met a Supreme Court justice :)

One interesting note: there are several references to the Ten Commandments in the building, including in the series of friezes in the main courtroom (Moses, in line with other historical lawgivers like Hammurabi, Confucius, and King John, is holding the Ten Commandments). In light of this Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence and all the contests surrounding this issue in our country, the joke in the Court is apparently now that everywhere the Ten Commandments appear (or tablets with the Roman numerals so signifying), they are really signifying the Bill of Rights. It's funnier when you see in the frieze that the tablets Moses is holding are written in Hebrew. Did you know the Bill of Rights was handed down from on high in Hebrew to the Israelites? Good grief :)

I'm no great sympathizer of Roy Moore, and I know the "Roman numerals = Bill of Rights" thing just a joke in the Court, but nevertheless I am mildly irate. It's not so implausible to suppose that, considering the ACLU's overzealousness, at some point this might be challenged as establishing religion somehow. The fact that one can't dismiss the possibility out of hand is, to my mind, bothersome.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Mr. Bush goes to Rome

Amy Welborn links to this NYT article (registration required), which reports that during his visit to the Vatican, President Bush indirectly asked Pope John Paul II for help in supporting marriage by encouraging the bishops to speak out more. Half the blogosphere is outraged, saying that this violates the separation between church and state, and is a cynical ploy for voters. Chris Geidner goes further, calling the visit a "sick method of electioneering":

Some might try to defend this action as simply another attempt by Bush to draw out conservative voters, but for Bush to travel around the world asking the Catholic Church to provide anti-gay fuel to his hateful fire is despicable. This might be drawing out conservatives from the pews to the polls, but it also is a sign that the GOP is still Pat Buchanan's "culture war" party -- not Steve Gunderson's "accepting, Log Cabin" or even John McCain's "tolerance" party. This is a party whose aim is to stay in control by exploiting the fears and ignorance of others about LGBT individuals.

Putting aside Chris's suggestion that opposition to same-sex "marriage," or the Church's millennia-old beliefs about the sacramental nature of marriage, must be merely products of fear and ignorance about GLBT individuals; and also putting aside the old suggestion that opposition to SSM by a federal marriage amendment is "anti-gay" and hateful (I don't suppose it could ever be the product of reasoned or dispassionate consideration?); there are a couple of thoughts that occurred to me. One, a president's meeting with the pope and discussing important issues (with attendant charges of playing politics) is hardly a unique occurrence. I found this somewhat cheeky reference in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article during the pope's visit to St. Louis (and fourth meeting with President Clinton) in 1999:

President Lyndon Johnson was the first president to greet a pope on American soil, when Pope Paul VI visited New York in 1965 - the first pope to visit the New World. The meeting was low-key, prompting minor mentions in newspaper accounts.

But Pope John Paul II's 20-year reign has changed all that, beginning with his 1979 meeting with President Jimmy Carter that ended up in Carter's 1980 campaign spots.

For American politicians, the pope is hot. "I've had politicians offer to fly to Rome just to get their picture taken with the pope," said Raymond L. Flynn, who served from 1993-97 as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

"Some try to use it for their political advantage," Flynn added. "There's no downside to being identified with this pope."

Slate noted at the time that the European press observed of Clinton that "no American president had ever met a pope more often, nor made such a public display of his Christian faith than Clinton." Très intéressant.

Two, the Catholic Church has positions that are wholly independent of political parties and of attempts to exploit them. Those who seek to use the pope (especially this pope) merely for their political advantage will generally meet with little success. Pope John Paul II was equally critical of President Clinton's and President Bush's strategies in Iraq, for example. The Church will generally promote moral and social teachings independent of political proddings, but encourage politicians to take strong stands for life of the unborn, protection of the disabled, social morality, the family, social justice, and peace. Her positions are well-known. President Bush asking for solidarity on the protection of marriage shouldn't be surprising, since the Church clearly opposes SSM and so also does President Bush. Their interests may happen to align here, but it is not as though the Church would suddenly start talking about marriage only because the president brings it up at their meeting.

But three, I see it as pretty sad when the president must ask for solidarity from the bishops on an issue that the bishops should already be at the forefront on. If marriage isn't an issue to galvanize the Church, what is? Usually the Vatican is in the position of encouraging leaders to focus more on building a culture of life and protecting the family -- not the other way around.

I actually believe that this is not a cynical electioneering ploy by President Bush, because I think the president's faith is sincere and that he honestly believes in protecting marriage -- and Catholic voters aren't likely to swing one way or the other because of his meeting with the pope. As has been noted, all voting analyses show that one of the single best predictors of party vote, aside from race, is frequency of church attendance. In other words, the Catholics who go to church regularly are already likely Bush voters, and those who don't, aren't. Bush has little to gain or lose by visiting with the pope. It seems that he has a deep respect for the pope, and that the pope likes him -- although it is not as though the pope ever lets up on challenging Bush on issues where he thinks Bush is not helping to build the culture of life (like the death penalty or Iraq). I think marriage is an issue where there is genuine agreement and understanding between the president and the Church. I wish the Church didn't need the prodding to speak up on the matter.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

The mysteries of our faith

Cardinal McCarrick stopped by to celebrate Mass at our parish last night for Corpus Christi. He was heading out of town this morning on his way to the bishops' conference this week. The Cardinal's homily was very good, as he focused on (appropriately, since it is the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ) the meaning of the Eucharist. He said that while the reality of the Eucharist may be hard to understand or accept, it is the central mystery that we have been handed, and it is the life of the Church so we must emphasize it. Many people who might accept the faith hesitate before accepting that the bread and wine are transformed substantively into the Body and Blood, even though to all our senses they retain the same form. Yet this mystery, he said, cannot be harder to grasp than the mysteries of Christ being fully human and fully divine, or God being One in Three Persons; and Christ himself told us that the bread and wine were his own flesh and blood, not mere symbols of it. This is something I do not think we really reflect on that often, but I remembered that Pope John Paul had written an encyclical on it fairly recently so I went back and was reading it (Ecclesia de Eucharistia). In troubled times, but in all times, the mystery of Christ's sacrifice and our sharing in it is what can sustain us. I'm not very good about reflecting on this, but I guess it helps to start just by reading, praying and reflecting, and today is a good day to do that.

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas, we shall continue to sing with the Angelic Doctor. Before this mystery of love, human reason fully experiences its limitations. One understands how, down the centuries, this truth has stimulated theology to strive to understand it ever more deeply.

These are praiseworthy efforts, which are all the more helpful and insightful to the extent that they are able to join critical thinking to the “living faith” of the Church, as grasped especially by the Magisterium's “sure charism of truth” and the “intimate sense of spiritual realities” which is attained above all by the saints. There remains the boundary indicated by Paul VI: “Every theological explanation which seeks some understanding of this mystery, in order to be in accord with Catholic faith, must firmly maintain that in objective reality, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the consecration, so that the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus from that moment on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine”.

The saving efficacy of the sacrifice is fully realized when the Lord's body and blood are received in communion. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is intrinsically directed to the inward union of the faithful with Christ through communion; we receive the very One who offered himself for us, we receive his body which he gave up for us on the Cross and his blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). We are reminded of his words: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (Jn 6:57). Jesus himself reassures us that this union, which he compares to that of the life of the Trinity, is truly realized. The Eucharist is a true banquet, in which Christ offers himself as our nourishment. When for the first time Jesus spoke of this food, his listeners were astonished and bewildered, which forced the Master to emphasize the objective truth of his words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you” (Jn 6:53). This is no metaphorical food: “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (Jn 6:55). (EDE, 14-15)

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Humility and strength

I really appreciated (as I thought I might) Peggy Noonan's reflections Monday on former president Reagan. In her quiet but moving style, she looks at the president's accomplishments in the context of his character:

In his presidency he did this: He out-argued communism and refused to accept its claim of moral superiority; he rallied the West, rallied America and continued to make big gambles, including a defense-spending increase in a recession. He promised he'd place Pershings in Europe if the Soviets would not agree to arms reductions, and told Soviet leaders that they'd never be able to beat us in defense, that we'd spend them into the ground. They were suddenly reasonable.

Ronald Reagan told the truth to a world made weary by lies. He believed truth was the only platform on which a better future could be built. He shocked the world when he called the Soviet Union 'evil,' because it was, and an 'empire,' because it was that, too. He never stopped bringing his message to the people of the world, to Europe and China and in the end the Soviet Union. And when it was over, the Berlin Wall had been turned into a million concrete souvenirs, and Soviet communism had fallen. But of course it didn't fall. It was pushed. By Mr. Know Nothing Cowboy Gunslinger Dimwit. All presidents should be so stupid. . . .

What an era his was. What a life he lived. He changed history for the better and was modest about it. He didn't bray about his accomplishments but saw them as the work of the American people. He did not see himself as entitled, never demanded respect, preferred talking to hotel doormen rather than State Department functionaries because he thought the doormen brighter and more interesting. When I pressed him once, a few years out of the presidency, to say what he thought the meaning of his presidency was, he answered, reluctantly, that it might be fairly said that he 'advanced the boundaries of freedom in a world more at peace with itself.' And so he did. And what could be bigger than that?"

Interlude

I find that an entertaining and particularly mindless way to spend an evening is watching Univision. Of course, not all the programming is silly or mindless, but you haven't seen bad acting and cheesy melodrama until you've watched some of the telenovelas (soap operas). I remember watching one show which featured two women chasing each other out of a hospital -- one's boyfriend was, dramatically, in the hospital -- across a bunch of streets, in stiletto heels, trying to hit each other with their purses. It was hilarious. Also check out "Sabado gigante," a Saturday night variety show whose host, Don Francisco (very popular in American Hispanic culture), is an older, rotund gentleman who is frequently surrounded by scantily clad women for no apparent reason except that I imagine men wouldn't tune into the show to watch Don Francisco by himself. (As it is, there's always a lot of guys in the audience.) (I roll my eyes frequently.) No matter what happens on the show -- singing women being pulled off-stage by a guy in a lion costume, women in heels and bikinis walking poodles in themed costumes, comedians telling jokes to try to get out of makeshift "jails," couples having cream pies thrown at them as they try to make it down an obstacle course, little kids putting on sombreros and trying to sing Mexican classics -- Don Francisco will be there to tell the audience to applaud ("¡Un aplauso para ellos!"). It's so bizarre, and then you keep watching and you begin to understand why a sizeable segment of America is glued to this program on Saturday nights, and you begin to laugh with the audience. It really is fun. Plus the music makes you want to dance.

I like Univision :)

Napalm in the morning

Mark Shea takes on what he calls the "Scorched Earth Catholics" who would be happy to expel everyone from the Church who isn't 100% orthodox, 100% of the time (see also here). This is a misguided attitude, he says, because often the failure of Catholics to believe Catholic positions is simply because they are poorly catechized, not because they fully know and openly reject right teaching -- and this is at least partly reflective of a failure on the bishops' part to communicate the Word in ways that people will understand today. So Francis Cardinal George told Pope John Paul II last week, at any rate: "The Church's mission," he said, "is further weakened by her inability to shape a public conversation that would enable people to understand the Gospel and the demands of discipleship. The public conversation in the United States speaks easily of individual rights; it cannot give voice to considerations of the common good." Mark writes:

What bothers me about Scorched Earth Catholics is that they appear to me to be thinking with their glands, not their brains, here. It is one thing for Abp. Burke to (very rightly in my view) tell Kerry, "You can't receive communion here" since Kerry has openly and clearly advocated the Sacrament of Abortion as the summum bonum of all that is holiest to the Democratic party. In so doing, he makes it clear that he rejects the teaching of the Faith in a matter of grave import.

But it is entirely different for a *voter* who goes into the booth faced with choices between candidates who both represent and betray things which are vitally important to him, to the common good, and to Catholic teaching. The Church enjoins participation in the process of government as a *grave responsibility*. In short, we *must* vote. Yet typically, when you go to the polls you will have, for instance, a candidate who supports abortion vs. a candidate who supports stem cell research. A *choice* must be made to try to limit the amount of damage Caesar can do to innocent human life. So I would unhesitatingly vote for Bush, despite his support for stem cell research, and I would not go to confession for having done so. Why? Because I was making a prudential judgment and trying to pursue the good, not blowing off the teaching of the Church.

Scorched Earth Catholics (much like liberals who think they "done something" if they tie a red AIDS ribbon to their car antenna) often seem to approach the Church, not as though it is a mystery or a revelation of a person, but as though it is a system of laws and shibboleths which, if all goes well, will exclude Those Bad People Over There While Bestowing the Warm Sense of Anointing on My and My Tribe. So there is mindless applause when a bishop starts kicking Those People Out even if Those People aren't actually doing anything wrong (such as voting for Bush in an attempt to limit the damage that Caesar can do).

I've been thinking about this issue a lot over the last few months, and I agree with Mark. I don't buy for one second the proposition that John Kerry is "personally opposed" to abortion, since all of his public actions and words say exactly the contrary. His active support for abortion, in addition to being wrong in itself because abortion is a grave moral evil, is compounded by the sin of scandal; when he publically rejects Church teaching on a nonnegotiable matter and also publically takes communion, this is wrong. I believe he should refrain from taking it. I believe most people who actively reject Church teaching should refrain from pretending to be in communion with the Church. But except for the cases of public scandal, it does no good to start issuing edicts and trying to get into people's hearts and consciences. Many people, after all, as noted, don't reject the Church's teaching because they are fully aware of it and knowingly reject it, but because they simply don't understand why the Church teaches what she does. And voting for a candidate who perhaps supports stem cell research but strongly opposes abortion might be okay, when faced with an alternative of someone who actively supports abortion rights. I don't think Catholics can in good faith vote for Kerry. But it's not a mortal sin to do so (only more tricky if it's done with the express intention of furthering abortion). Nevertheless, angrily excluding people on a wholesale basis only hurts the Church, it does not strengthen her.

Now not all American Catholics are [] badly catechized. But a huge number are. And there are two basic responses to this situation. You can say: "We have to do a better job of catechesis" (which is what both Rod and Cdl. George (and I, for that matter) are saying) or you can take the Scorched Earth Catholic approach and lay the entire blame on the unwashed slobs who Don't Get it and Never Will. Then you can start issuing black and white edicts saying (to the popular ear) "If you vote for anybody who supports gay marriage, stem cell research or any other form of assault in innocent human life, you are in mortal sin." No nuance. No discussion of the principle of double effect. Just an edict. Not surprisingly, as Gary chronicled yesterday, the people who are going to be thrown into turmoil are not the people who hold the Church's teaching in contempt. They'll love it and smell blood in the water as they seize on it as a pretext to attack the Church. No, the main people it will hurt will be the many under-educated people who are trying to be faithful. . . .

If they're not learning, you're not teaching. Issuing edicts founded on the false premise that whatever the bishop declares to be a mortal sin is a mortal sin is not teaching. It's rule by force.

And that's what bugs me about the Scorched Earth approach. My orientation is toward teaching, toward helping people Get It. Because when people get it, you don't have to Rule by Decree. The law is written on the heart. As both Cdl. George and Rod have pointed out, the bishops have done a very bad job of helping people *get* Catholic teaching. In a word, we know what the Church teaches but not why. Scorched Earth Catholics seem to me to be interested in simply trying to impose an external conformity to Catholic teaching by main force. They don't seem to be interested in the fact that such an attempted imposition will, in this culture at the present time, only result in a large scale abandonment of any connection to the Church at all.

Sorry for the long excerpts, but I think they're worth considering.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

"Coin with two sides"

I don't know how I missed finding her blog before now, but I've only just discovered the outstanding Juliette Ochieng at baldilocks, thanks again to La Shawn Barber. It is fairly well-known at this point the extent of the tragedy faced in so much of the black community in this country: that 70% of children are born without fathers. (It's 33% for the country as a whole, with Hispanics at an also-highly-alarming rate of almost 50% illegitimacy. I've got more than a few personal connections to the realities of that last statistic.) Many commentators and leaders have long decried the abdication of responsibility by black fathers. Few people look to the flip side of the coin: who are the women who continue to have so many children out of wedlock? Juliette in this post takes on the issue with some harsh but dead-on accurate comments.

“I don’t need no man to raise my baby!” How many times have I heard that mantra? Well, girlfriend, you may not need a man, but your child most assuredly does, be it girl or boy. Black women notoriously display a certain amount of independence, yours truly included. (One may accurately term much of it as bravado.) However, no one is independent of the consequences of his/her choices. When the prospect of a new life looms on the horizon, created by choice—and outside of rape, when a woman has sex with a man, she has made a choice that can lead to the (pro)creation of a life—it is no longer just about that woman. It is no longer just about that man. Both have made the choice to take the chance that a new life may be created, promises of birth control being consumed and use of condoms notwithstanding. And that new life doesn’t care about her “independence”; it doesn’t care about his “freedom.”

As they say, read the whole thing.

Remembering the Gipper

My favorite memoir on Ronald Reagan is When Character Was King, written by the extremely talented writer and former Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan. I expect she will have something on the WSJ opinion page tomorrow, which should be a very good reflection on this man who really helped change the world. For a good round-up of links to tributes to or commentaries on the life of Ronald Reagan, see La Shawn Barber's post here.

I also appreciated today reading this tribute from Mr. Reagan's contemporary, Margaret Thatcher, as she spoke in 2002 here (link via SA):

President Reagan didn’t just abhor communism, mistrust socialism and dislike bureaucracy, he truly loved liberty – he loved it with a passion which went far beyond anything else in his political life. It was what brought moral grandeur to his vision of America and to his dreams for a better world. It was directed not mainly at earthly powers and principalities but rather at the infinitely precious, utterly unique human being, wherever he or she was yearning to breathe free.

Mrs. Thatcher also made this comment earlier in the speech:

We live in an era of sound bites and spin doctors, of false sentiment and real cynicism. That’s why just reading – or hearing as we shall - the words of Ronald Reagan is so refreshing. They remind us that men and women were born for high ideals and noble purposes.

My college thesis, as I have written about before, was on election campaign management as it developed on both sides of the Atlantic. And I believe that Mrs. Thatcher and former President Reagan were two of the people who were most responsible for developing that hyper-controlled professional style of media campaigning that resulted in sound bites and spin doctors, focus polling and photo ops (witness Mrs. Thatcher's sweeping people out of the way during a 1979 stop at a farm, so photographers could have a nice pastoral background to the photos of her with a baby calf: the photographers were "the important things of this campaign," she said). The Democrats and Labour perfected the "permanent campaign" in Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, through their heavy reliance on pollsters and managers such as Dick Morris and Alastair Campbell, persistent focus-group testing of positions, direct mailing, and other media-controlling techniques. Ultimately, despite the fact that both sides have done the costly professional campaigning and that style of managed campaigns is now firmly entrenched, I was far more critical of Clinton and Blair than of Reagan and Thatcher (my opinion has since changed somewhat about Mr. Blair), and Mrs. Thatcher gets at why in her comments about Mr. Reagan. It's precisely because their sentiment was not false. Yes, they used polling and focus groups, but at the end of the day their conception of leadership was not to follow the polls, but to do what they firmly believed was right and then to use the powers of their office to persuade. In other words, behind the professionalization of their campaign management was a veritable ideology and set of coherent beliefs: Communism was wrong. Peace could not be won with complacency or weakness. Economic freedom was essential to free society. Agree or disagree with the ideas, one could respect the strength of the beliefs - and the ideas and beliefs ultimately helped change the world as we knew it, for the better. The power of the unions (that so hobbled British society in particular through the 1970s) was weakened; the Soviet Union and the stranglehold of communism on Eastern Europe collapsed; the Western economies greatly improved throughout the 1980s.

Mr. Reagan was not a perfect man, but then none of us are. I don't think everything he did was fantastic or that he was flawless, as he certainly made mistakes in his life - some of which had far-reaching consequences. But I do have a great deal of respect for him as an individual and for what he helped accomplish in the world through the strength of his character and conviction. R.I.P.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Happy mediums

The other week I blogged a bit on the compatibility of libertarianism and Catholicism (at "Life in two kingdoms" and also here). Somewhat along those lines, Justin Katz ("turn light on" if you can't read the post easily) has a post this week about pigeonholing libertarians. Justin considers the views of Ilya Shapiro, a writer who belongs to "Purple America" - i.e., has the mix of liberal (blue state) and conservative (red state) views that tend to characterize libertarianism - who takes some pride in (he says) defying partisan stereotypes and confounding conventional wisdom. Libertarians don't have much patience with faux-diversity, they're patriotic, and they want small government, Shapiro says, but they don't care who sleeps with who as long as their tax dollars aren't involved. Justin's take is that Shapiro is somewhat, without much cause, "self-congratulatory":

There are real disagreements about values [between liberals and conservatives], and what makes each stereotype accurate, in its way, is that those values are applied across a range of issues more or less consistently. For example, in the conservative view, it matters what people do, whether or not it is federally subsidized. Shapiro apparently empathizes, because he claims on behalf of Purple America belief "in personal responsibility, discipline, civil society, spontaneous order, ordered liberty, and that the best thing government can do is not get in the way." Yet he apparently wishes to deny a practical consequence of that collection of principles: that some other structure than government must ensure responsibility, discipline, and so on. Believing in small government doesn't mean that we can "care less," but that we must care more.

The danger, a particularly libertarian one, of seeking to transcend the political order is that it leaves one with no independent ground on which to stand. Those who fall prey to the temptation are no less easily pigeonholed for the fact that they are floating.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Tolerance and the Church

Interesting posts over at Mirror of Justice in the last few days. First came this note from Professor Vischer:

From teaching ethics to law students, I know that the sin of all sins today is to purport to sit in judgment of someone else, so I could have guessed that the poll numbers [on whether bishops should have any influence on Catholics in public life] would be trending in the direction of our unique brand of American hyper-individualism on all things moral, but the numbers themselves are still surprising.

Later comes a somewhat related discussion about how the Church should act when it comes to "tolerance" (I put it in quotes only to refer to the word as the euphemistic virtue, without context or limits, that I think it is commonly used to mean today). Certainly the Church should welcome everyone with compassion; in fact, we are called to do more than merely welcome everyone, but to love everyone as we love ourselves - that's the paramount command. But does that mean never making ourselves uncomfortable by recognizing that we all fall short of following Christ's command to be perfect? If we get too comfortable or are told and so pretend that all our actions are equally okay, then something is wrong: we can't be complacent because we are, in fact, all sinners and have not yet become perfect in Christ (cf. Phil 3:12, 1 Cor 13:10). As we are called to help each other on the journey, it would hardly be loving or compassionate for the Church to seek to gain members (by accepting everyone without challenging everyone to abandon sin) at the expense of ceasing to exhort us to lead better lives. The goal of the Church isn't to get more members for the sake of getting more members, it is to be a witness to and teach the truth. That may (should) entail making us uncomfortable sometimes as we accept responsibility for sin in our own lives, and seek to correct it. The Church, through Christ, can help us on our way, but she cannot compromise (in order to give false comfort) the teachings of the truth that comes from God. Professor Sisk comments (read the whole thing, as they say, it's good):

The message of hospitality is always comforting, but the welcome extended to all by Christ’s Church cannot be divorced from the vigorous challenge offered to all by the Church’s teaching. The Church must always energetically exhort its members to live and act according to the mission, especially when the Church speaks to those possessing or seeking the political power to alter and reform society. Without that integral element of responsibility and accountability, Father Radcliffe’s statement strikes me as radically incomplete as a description either of Church or of home. . . .

In framing his message of welcome and church as home, Father Radcliffe says that when we come to the Church, we should be left “untroubled and unafraid.” When seekers and sinners came to Jesus and after they had been greeted in love, did he not then exhort them to live as His disciples and to witness His truth to the world? Was Jesus constrained to leave those who heard him “untroubled and unafraid,” carefully choosing his words and actions with nuance and sensitivity so that no one would feel unwelcome, no would be subjected to pointed questioning, no one would be offended, no one would be left to conclude they might be in serious error, etc.? I seem to recall Jesus uttering the rather direct, arguably intolerant, words, “Get thee behind me Satan!” And, note, that this strong rebuke was directed toward a particular individual in a position of some or potential authority. Jesus’s words of correction were unequivocal, although the hope and ultimately the reality of reconciliation remained available after repetenance. Might there not be a message here for the Church today as well?