YES, Minnesota!

October 30, 2012

At the beginning of this political season, as our national political conventions were underway in the swing states of the southeast, I paid a visit to my home state of Minnesota, that liberal bastion of the frigid plains, where political passions were swirling like a January blizzard over a ballot initiative to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

I’ve known about the marriage amendment for some time thanks in part to the unsolicited opinions various Minnesotans have shared on that modern day heir to Plato’s Academy and Rome’s Forum—Facebook.  Most of those favoring me with their opinions have supported homosexual “marriage”.  I must say that I’ve been disturbed by many of these comments—not because I disagree with them, nor even because they employ the atrocious grammar that seems to be the common idiom of Facebook, but because of their increasing stridency and self-righteousness.

I can’t, to be sure, entirely fault the supporters of homosexual marriage for their erroneous opinions (or even for the sentence fragments with which they express them).  While the argument for homosexual marriage is deceptively straightforward (it’s equality, stupid), that for defending traditional marriage is rather more complex and has not always been made particularly well.

Contrary to what our opponents often imply, those of us who defend traditional marriage do not do so because we are hateful bigots, nor because we find anal intercourse particularly distasteful, nor for any of the myriad ways our beliefs are commonly distorted.  We do so because we think that privileging traditional marriage is conducive to the common good.

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What makes Rick Santorum so threatening – and what’s at stake in the HHS battle

February 29, 2012

I haven’t been at all surprised by the vitriol of many of the attacks on Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum I’ve seen on the internet recently.  They’ve been personal and vicious and have largely focused on his Catholicism.  Many of these attacks have come from Catholics themselves.

In the Washington Post, a columnist accuses Santorum of wanting to rule by “fatwa,” while in the Huffington Post a self-described Catholic accuses Santorum of belonging to a “barbaric…cult” where “black-robed cleric[s]” cast spells over followers’ “cannibalistic reverie.”  Santorum is also accused of waging “jihad,” which makes me wonder whether it would be permissible to use references to Islam as an insult if the candidate were actually a Muslim.

I’ve been a little bemused, but not surprised, at some of the Catholics I’ve seen posting on Facebook attacking Santorum in unusually nasty terms; bemused because I’ve heard many of these same people talk about how we need to put our faith into action, about how Catholicism is not only about worship but contains an integral social dimension.  Mr. Santorum clearly believes the same thing, and yet the attitude of many of his Catholic critics seems to be “How dare he talk about how faith informs his social vision?”

While no one has to agree with Santorum on every issue, shouldn’t we at least be happy that a public servant clearly takes his faith seriously and is unafraid to talk about it in public?  Yet it seems Santorum threatens something quite fundamental in the worldview of his critics, and the vitriol flows out of this threat. Read the rest of this entry »


Hurrah for Mormons!

October 31, 2011

As for this mortal life, which ends after a few days’ course, what does it matter under whose rule a man lives, being so soon to die, provided that the rulers do not force him to impious and wicked acts.

—St. Augustine

Augustine’s above words might need a bit of contextualizing—clearly some rulers are better than others—but they do provide a healthy dose of perspective for faithful citizens as the race to chose Caesar’s modern day successor comes to occupy more and more of our airwaves and much of our mental territory as well.  The political process itself can become an idol, particularly in the age of cable television and the blogosphere, when off-hand comments by politicians and their supporters are whipped into a froth of headlines, commentary, and spin to feed the never-ending news cycle.

Some of this dynamic—our media addiction to controversy and spin—has been in play over the past several weeks in the brouhaha over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.  Talking heads nearly spun with glee when a supporter of one of Romney’s opponents, a Baptist minister, declared that Romney isn’t a Christian.  Other candidates and observers were quick to pounce.  Time’s Jon Meacham used the opportunity to attack the “religious right” and its “religious bigotry.”  Romney had already declared, according to Meacham, that “he would be loyal to the country and the Constitution, not his church.”

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Contra Dennett I: Stuffing a straw man

June 14, 2011

I’ve made little secret on these pages of my disdain for the crop of neo-atheists who have gotten so much acclaim over the past several years. Most of their arguments wouldn’t merit a passing grade for a high school sophomore.  (No offense intended to our exceptionally bright high school readers, especially those from MUHS.)

Nonetheless, Pope Paul VI in 1966 entrusted the Society of Jesus with the mission to make a “stout, united stand against atheism,” so I’ve devoted some time in my philosophy studies to the work of these neo-atheists.  Of the bunch, Daniel C. Dennett has a reputation for seriousness in part because he is a philosophy professor at Tufts, so I decided to review his book Breaking the Spell for a philosophy of religion class—and to share parts of my critique with you, dear readers of Whosoever Desires.

Dennett frames his book as a plea for the rational study of religion, a rather innocuous suggestion to which believers themselves should pose no objections.  I wish, in fact, that Catholic leaders would study seriously the research done by sociologists such as Christian Smith or Rodney Stark.  (Stark’s analysis disproves the common assumption that the growth of religious communities comes by loosening religious demands, when quite the opposite is true.)  Dennett claims that the only “prescription” he intends to make “categorically and without reservation” is to “do more research.”

Unfortunately, Dennett’s true agenda is revealed at the end of the book when he advocates a program of worldwide reeducation into a “historically and biologically informed” view of religion in order to combat “those who would betray our democracy in pursuit of their religious agendas.”  Such reeducation would be conducted “gently, firmly,” Dennett reassures us, but would necessarily involve depriving parents of the right to bring up their children in their own religious tradition.  Rather more than research is involved in the spell Dennett attempts to cast.

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Catholics and abortion: Single-issue voting? (Part III)

January 31, 2011

Today’s post, my last in this series, is also likely to be the most controversial.  I nonetheless hope that any discussion it engenders can still be reasonable.  I decided not to post this series during an election season because the emotion and loyalties campaigns arouse make such discussion difficult.  Voices in the Catholic media begin to treat the Church’s social teachings as ammunition to be used in defense of their predetermined party of choice rather than looking to the Church as a genuine guide.  Sometimes the loyalty Catholics show to their candidates and parties borders on the idolatrous.

I’ve argued that for both theological and practical reasons, Catholics should prioritize opposition to abortion above other political issues.  Today I’m going to get a little more specific in discussing what I think are the real world consequences of this argument.  When we get to the point of concrete political decisions we have to be a bit more specific with our terms than I have been in my earlier posts.  So when I say that I think abortion should be “issue number one” for American Catholics, I mean specifically that working to weaken and overturn Roe v. Wade must be our top priority.

There are lots of other ways to combat abortion, after all, such as volunteering in crisis pregnancy centers or subsidizing adoption, all of which are praiseworthy—but none of which are a substitute for overturning Roe.

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Catholics and abortion: The question of priorities (Part II)

January 24, 2011

Last week, I argued that how Catholics respond to attacks on the lives of the unborn tests whether or not we believe the Lord’s words in Matthew 25.  My comments were in response to the question of whether it is appropriate for American Catholics to prioritize the issue of abortion to the degree that they have.  In today’s post, I will argue that for practical, as well as theological, reasons, it is right for Catholics to make abortion issue number one.

While opposition to abortion has been a part of Christian teaching since the Church first encountered the practice in the pagan world—as seen in the Didache, possibly the earliest non-Biblical source of Christian moral teaching, which states explicitly, “You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb”—the pro-life movement is by no means limited to Catholics, or even Christians.

The basic ethical insight I discussed in last week’s post—that human dignity does not depend on a person’s utility or how we feel about that person—has been adopted as the foundation of our modern system of human rights.  In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson—no lover of orthodox Christianity—declared the right to life to be “self-evident” and “unalienable” because it is derived directly from the Creator.

In this foundational insight, American ideals and Catholic social thought overlap, so it is appropriate that American Catholics have shown particular leadership on the right to life issue.  As one prominent American archbishop put it, abortion is “the preeminent civil rights issue of our day.”  Some, however, such as Commonweal’s George Dennis O’Brien or Newsweek’s Lisa Miller have lambasted bishops who have taken such a stand, often insinuating that they are either gullible Republican dupes or scheming partisans themselves.

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The Pope is right, and the Pope is still right: Benedict and condoms

November 24, 2010

I feel great sympathy for the secular media.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Other Catholic bloggers have criticized the media for its coverage of Pope Benedict’s recently released comments on AIDS and condoms (reproduced in their entirety below), but on this one, to be fair, journalists are in a bind.

They know the Pope didn’t change Church doctrine on contraception, nor—the wishful thinking of a few familiar “religion experts” aside—did he even edge closer to doing so.  But at the same time, what the Pope said was unexpected and significant.  Several of the articles I’ve read in the secular press have hinted at just how hard it is to do justice to the Pope’s comments in a headline.

And the press has good reason to be confused.  The reason coverage of the Holy Father’s words—such as his March 2009 comments on AIDS and condoms—is often so unbalanced is that what he is offering is not so much a political “stance” on an issue, but a complete—and, for many, completely foreign—vision of what human sexuality means.  His comments in Light of the World, like his March 2009 comments, are intended to invite people to give this vision a second look.

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