Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reason As The Source Of Natural Law

Father Geoff Farrow has an insightful take on the theology of Robert P. George. George is supposedly the Catholic neocon replacement for Fr. John Neuhaus. The New York Times writer, David Kilpatrick, did an extensive piece on George in December. Fr. Farrow's post deals with specific quotes from the article. It's well worth taking the time to read.

In my own writing today, I want to deal with something else about Dr. George's thinking. It's his insistence that man's faculty for reasoning is the shining light which illuminates the truth of George's natural law position. This optimisitic assessment of reason is the ground on which the rest of George's position on moral issues resides. Somehow the light of reason is immune from the dulling aspects of Original Sin:

I asked George several times if he was really hoping to ground a mass movement in abstract principles of reason so at odds with the prevailing culture. It was a bet, he said, on his conviction about the innate human gift for reason. Still, he said, if there was one critique of his work that worried him, it was the charge that he puts too much faith in the power of reason, overlooking what Christians describe as original sin and what secular pessimists call history.

It is a debate at least as old as the Reformation, when Martin Luther broke with the Catholic Church and insisted that reason was so corrupted that faith in the divine was humanity’s only hope of salvation. (Until relatively recently, contemporary evangelicals routinely leveled the same charge at modern Catholics.) “This is a serious issue, and if I am wrong, this is where I am wrong,” George acknowledges. (Well, you are wrong, but not for the reasons that worry you.)

Over lunch last month at the Princeton faculty club, George noted that many evangelicals had signed the Manhattan Declaration despite the traditional Protestant skepticism about the corruption of human reason. “I sold my view about reason!” he declared. He was especially pleased that, by signing onto the text, so many Catholic bishops had endorsed his new natural-law argument about marriage. “It really is the top leadership of the American church,” he said.
“Obviously, I am gratified that view appears to have attracted a very strong following among the bishops,” he went on. “I just hope I am right. If they are going to buy my arguments, I don’t want to mislead the whole church.”


Dr. George is wrong about reason because it is not the penultimate intellectual capacity of humanity. It is just one crayon in the whole box of crayons of human neurological ability. The only way it becomes the brightest crayon in the box is to arbitrarily dismiss the importance of any of the other crayons, especially the crayons whose colors are the foundation for that penultimate crayon. Dr. George does this especially in regards to emotional intelligence. This is a typical statement of his: In a well-ordered soul, reason’s got the whip hand over emotion,”.

Kilpatrick then illustrates more of George's 'reasoning': In George's view, if I have no rational basis for picking one goal over another, then I have no free choice, only predetermined “passions” — the result of genetics, a blow to the head, whatever made me prefer either curing the sick or killing the Jews. We have reason and free choice, he teaches, or we have amorality and determinism.

One of the flaws in Dr. George's position is his dismissal of emotion. His emphasis on the importance of reason makes him feel more comfortable and less anxious. In other words, I could just as easily state that in his case, leaning on his reason is a method of reacting to the the emotion of confusion, fear, and the subsequent anxiety these emotions generate. In this case 'reason' is a tool of his brain operating in reaction to his fears.

The scientific fact is the higher reasoning functions of the neo cortex are built over and connected to the lower or more primitive reptilian hind brain and the reptilian hind brain is quite concerned with over all organism survival. It generates a number of neuro chemicals associated all of our survival needs and often times those invoke fear. The neo cortex, in many many ways, serves the activities of the reptilian hind brain in alleviating those fears. Reason does not control the emotions of the hind brain. It can however, construct ideas which serve to mitigate the chemical processes these meta concerns of the hind brain generate.

Unfortunately for Mr. George, reason does not operate in altered states of consciousness like dream states, highly emotionally charged events, or young children where the neo cortex is not really on line. In these states the emotive hind brain and it's meta programs just keep on keepin on and reason is overwhelmed or inoperative. The hind brain reacts to the concepts of the neo cortex really well when one lives in a highly safe and controlled world like Princeton or Cathedral chanceries in the wealthy and stable west. It's a different story elsewhere.

Dr. George's use of his dominant reason has led him into what a psychologist could only call compartmentalization and rationalizing. The are two very important defense mechanisms used by reason to ignore conflicting reality. Take this for instance:

On the question of capital punishment, George says he is against it but he considers it a matter of interpretation about which Catholics can disagree. The intentional killing of innocent civilians in war is as grave a moral crime as abortion, George says, but what constitutes a “just war” is a more complicated judgment call. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he wrote an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal arguing that the attack was not necessarily unjust and might even be a moral obligation. “On the evidence that Hillary Clinton voted for the war on and George Bush went to war on, I thought it was justified,” he told me.

The “rights” to education and health care are another matter, George told his seminar. “Who is supposed to provide education or health care to whom?” George asked. “Health care and education are things that you have to pay for. Resources are always finite,” he went on. “Is it better for education and health care to be provided by governments under socialized systems or by private providers in markets or by some combination?” Those questions, George said, “go beyond the application of moral principles. You can get all the moral principles dead right and not have an answer to any of those questions.”

In my opinion Dr. George has a problem here. He can't reasonably get around the fact that the intellectual attribute of reason necessitates education of some sort in order to construct solutions and be communicable. Additionally, a lack of consistent health care is a survival issue. Reason does not operate well if the brain is compromised by poor health or is in a continual survival mode. Reason does not function in a physiological vacuum. Precisely because it is a latter development of the neo cortex it necessitates the providing for the necessities of the lower states. A starving sick body with it's starving sick brain will not reason well. Nor will a poorly educated one. Perhaps this is why Jesus made healing and educating prime directives of His personal mission.

Reason, as a justification for natural law, is only available to those whose brains are healthy, fed, secure, and educated. In this sense, it is only the spiritual tool of an elite population. Perhaps this is why the spiritual intellect transcends reason and takes into consideration the totality of human need and experience. The spiritual intellect does not seek just reasonable truth. The spiritual intellect understands that truth is far more than reasonable. It needs to be holistic and incorporate more than the skills of the neo cortex.

There is truth in the emotional intellect every bit as much as there is truth in the rational intellect. That's probably why Jesus taught the meta organizing principle is love. Jesus wasn't talking about love as need fulfillment, which is the understanding of the hind brain, nor love as a controlled emotion of reason. He was talking about love interpreted by the spiritual intellect which expresses love as connection and compassion. He was talking about intellectual assessments which see similarities in others and does not seek out and isolate differences.

He encouraged His disciples to question accepted reason as well as unfettered emotion. He consistently showed them, and made them live the fact, that what they thought was the truth of their world was not the whole truth. Not gravity, not solidity, not sound, not light, not resource scarcity, not even death. He told us the one constant thing about our universe is love. He mandated providing for the survival needs of the poor, and the teaching of His principles. It was in this way that everyone would know His definition of love and overcome sin.
Perhaps the problem for some of us is that His definition of love is not 'reasonable'.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What Does This Silence Betoken?

Bishop Olmstead ministering to his large flock of residents in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's tent city.

It seems that the Feds are finally going after the self proclaimed 'toughest sheriff' in America, Maricopa County Arizona's Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Joe has made quite the name for himself for his immigrations sweeps, tent cities, chain gangs, and other novel ideas about criminal investigation and enforcement. Oh yea, and using his extensive deputy force to investigate and intimidate oppositional politicians, government employees, and journalists. I guess he's over done the latter and that has resulted in the convening of a Federal Grand Jury.

Sheriff Joe has generated tons of controversy in his four terms as sheriff. He has incurred the wrath of international human rights groups, immigration reform advocates, state and local community groups, and engendered and lost quite the number of law suits brought by folks who didn't enjoy his novel concepts of incarceration. Yet in spite of all of this, he is still one of the most popular elected officials in Arizona--especially since he began his infamous sweeps for illegal aliens. I'm sure part of his popularity has to do with the fact he only goes after the illegal alien part of our immigration problem and not the employer part.

Not surprisingly he is also under federal scrutiny for racial profiling and has had his ability to conduct immigration sweeps curtailed by the Department of Justice. Racial profiling is an issue which effects a lot of legal American citizens in the Southwest. Families of Hispanic and Indigenous origin have been American citizens for hundreds of years and being cited in one of Sheriff Joe's 'sweeps' --mostly for vehicle violations--is unappreciated. I imagine it is very irritating to observe that the car with the cracked windshield being driven by a white person is not stopped while yours is.

A person can spend hours reading about Sheriff Joe and one thing you can't help but notice in the reading is that while religious leaders of other denominations have spoken out against some of Joe's behavior precisely because it is inhumane and racist, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J Olmstead has uttered not one peep. His official spokespeople say he is working quietly behind the scenes.

I find this quite interesting from a bishop who had no qualms about castigating Fr. Jenkins for inviting President Obama to speak at Notre Dame, or denying communion for ex Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano, or sending 50,000 dollars of Diocesan money to Bishop Malone of Maine to interfere in Maine's political battle over gay marriage. For some reason being vociferous and upfront on these issues is his duty, while being silent on Sheriff Joe and his predations on the Bishop's own Hispanic flock demands 'silently' working behind the scenes.

Could this difference possibly indicate that in the Diocese of Arizona there are two distinct approaches for the flock? A very vocal one for progressive Catholics who support positions which violate Catholic sexual morality and a very silent one for conservative Catholics whose policies violate Catholic social justice positions? Or are there two positions based on something else? Maybe there are two distinct Catholic churches in Arizona in that wealthy conservative white Catholics get one message, and poor Native and Hispanic Catholics get another message?

The silence of Bishop Olmstead bothers me for what it actually says about the coming immigration battle in Congress. This will be an ugly battle not just for politicians of both parties, but for the Roman Catholic Church. Does the American Catholic community include all Catholics, or just some Catholics? Will Catholic immigrants be seen as truly our brothers and sisters in Christ? Or does their national origin and legal status make them a second class of Catholics not worth our concern except to see they go back where they came from? Sheriff Joe is definitely in the second camp and Bishop Olmstead is silent.

I've written before that I really think the coming battle over immigration will be as divisive, if not more so, than the ones over gay marriage and abortion. This is a battle that will have lasting consequences for the American Catholic Church--a truly defining moment. The silence of Bishop Olmstead with regards to the blatant excesses of Sheriff Joe Arpaio is not acceptable. Whether he likes it or not, his flock is much bigger than just those who can afford to donate. He has a moral obligation as a bishop to defend those other Catholics and especially from the excesses from another part of his flock. He set that precedent for himself when he very publicly acted to deny communion to Janet Napolitano, castigate Fr. Jenkins, and send diocesan money to Maine.

Bishop Olmstead can not be a 'silent' cafeteria bishop when it comes to immigration and still claim to be the shepherd for his entire flock in Arizona. That is he can't unless we really do have one American Catholicism for those who can donate, and another for those who can't.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Does The Assurance For The Few Outweigh The Frustration Of The Many?

Bishop Vasa of Oregon would keep diabetics away from Mary Poppins and her notions of spoonfuls of sugar just as he would keep Catholics away from Catholic politicians whose policies recognize the US is not a Catholic theocracy.

Bishop Vasa explains use of excommunication and communion denial
Bend, Ore., Jan 7, 2010 / 04:17 am (CNA).-

A bishop’s power of excommunication in grave cases is like that of a doctor who cuts off a diabetic patient from sugar, Bishop of Bend, Oregon Robert Vasa has said. Explaining the practice, he noted that excommunication is an act of charity intended to instruct a wayward Catholic about the gravity of his or her situation. (Actually excommunication is more like a doctor cutting off someones head to save their own.)

Writing in his Jan. 7 column for the Catholic Sentinel, Bishop Vasa noted that bishops are “extremely reluctant” to take the step of excommunication.
Accusations of abuse of power towards bishops who talk about excommunication are “unfair,” the bishop said.“Excommunication is a declaration, based on solid evidence, that the actions or public teachings of a particular Catholic are categorically incompatible with the teachings of the Church,” he explained. “It is intended primarily as a means of getting the person who is in grave error to recognize the depth of his error and repent.”

Bishop Vasa added that a secondary reason for the practice is to assure the faithful that what they believe to be Catholic teaching is true and correct. (It assures some faithful and alienates more faithful. The question is, does the assurance for the few out weigh the anger of the many?)

“Allowing their faith to be shaken or allowing them to be confused when Catholics publicly affirm something contrary to faith or morals, seemingly without consequences, scandalizes and confuses the faithful. This is no small matter.” (I'm glad a bishop finally explained that for some of them the idea is to cater to those whose faith is not internal and integrated but external and subject to peer pressure.)

The bishop noticed that he receives “a significant number” of messages from supportive Catholics when he speaks on matters of morality and discipline. Further, allowing public error to stand without comment is “discouraging” to faithful Catholics and may give the impression that the error is condoned by the bishop and the Church.

He compared excommunication to a doctor’s treatment of a diabetic patient.

“Accusing the doctor of being a tyrannical power monger would never cross anyone’s mind,” he noted. When a doctor “excommunicates” a diabetic man from sugar, Bishop Vasa explained, “it is clear that his desire is solely the health of his patient.” (The good bishop needs to update himself on diabetic treatment for starters because diabetes is about insulin not sugar, but I forget, the good bishop is justifying a spiritual treatment from the middle ages.)

Any doctor who encouraged a diabetic patient in destructive habits, he noted, would be “grossly negligent and guilty of malpractice.” (And any doctor who limited his treatment to cutting out sugar would be equally guilty of malpractice.)

Bishops must tell the faithful when they are gravely wrong and out of communion with the Catholic faith, he said.

“In serious cases, and the cases of misled Catholic public officials are often very serious, a declaration of the fact that the person is de facto out of communion may be the only responsible and charitable thing to do,” the bishop added.

Not naming an error for fear of causing offense is not compassionate or charitable, he continued.
“Confronting or challenging the error or evil of another is never easy yet it must be done,” Bishop Vasa concluded his Catholic Sentinel column.

“In an era when error runs rampant and false teachings abound, the voice of the Holy Father rings clear and true. The teachings of the Church are well documented and consistent. Bishops and the pastors who serve in their Dioceses have an obligation both to lead their people to the truth and protect them from error.” (Especially if you buy the 'parent/child' mode of spiritual leadership.)


I really wish some bishop, maybe even Pope Benedict himself, would get honest about whose spiritual needs they think the Church should care about. That might be the first step in a transparency that Catholicism desperately needs. Let's stop ignoring this particular elephant. The current Church leadership either does not care about people who have moved up the spiritual maturation ladder, or is incapable of dealing with them given it's current structure. I don't understand this at all because historic Catholicism has plenty of examples of people who have moved beyond a pre adolescent level of spiritual maturity.

This letter from Bishop Vasa is simplistic in the extreme. Excommunication is not like a diabetic being told to quite eating sugar. Excommunication effects the totality of Catholic practice, not just one aspect of it, because it theoretically removes a person from everything the Church offers for spiritual solace. It bans one from the community. Diabetics are not told to stop eating and leave their families out of some sense of 'love'. Besides sugar is only one of a number of foods on the glycemic index a diabetic has to watch. Stevia, as well as other artificial sweeteners, are alternatives that can replace sugar. Excommunication as a spiritual therapy offers no such alternatives. Excommunication says such spiritual alternatives do not exist inside 'god's' church.

If it's so important to 'assure' the few at the expense of the many, and the lack of concern for the vast numbers of faithful who have left the Church seems to prove this point, then please come out and say this honestly and give your reasons--if you dare. As it stands now, I'm of the opinion that bishops like Vasa are terrified that their real reasons for cultivating the needs of the few have a less to do with protecting them from confusion and scandal, and a great deal more to do with pleasing certain wealthy benefactors and apostolates and furthering their own ecclesiastical careers in the process.

If official Catholicism is to be the Church of the beginning stages of spiritual development then come out and say so because all the excommunications you throw out will not force people who have moved up in spiritual maturity to revert to previous levels. Spirituality doesn't work that way. Maturing in spirituality moves one away from black and white regulations towards non judgmental compassion, sharing, and the universal recognition of our similarities not our differences. Human consciousness is maturing exactly along these lines.

The current Church is setting itself up in opposition to this trend rather then encouraging it's development. This is so unfortunate given the biggest boost to this development was Jesus Himself. But then He suffered the ultimate form of excommunication for His speaking out against rigid adherence to Jewish law in it's zealous need to supersede compassion and human decency. In a very real sense Jesus taught about the necessity to maintain relationship with our fellow man at all cost. He instructed Peter that forgiveness was so important Peter must be prepared to forgive seventy times seven.

Yes, Jesus frequently suggested people he healed 'go and sin no more'. But he didn't add, "and if you don't, you are dead to me". It's not the hierarchies place to declare who is and who is not dead to Jesus or His Church. That's a choice we make as individuals and that choice does not reflect on the real truth or lack there of in the Church. To think it does is not a particularly mature response and shows a stunning lack of belief in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and protect the Church.
**Personal note. My daughter is a type I diabetic and has been since she was nine. I wish for her sake that managing this disease was as simple as cutting out sugar. If we had taken that simplistic a position she would have died a long long time ago. Simple solutions to complex problems rarely work. Bishop Vasa is not doing diabetics or Catholics any good with his simple understandings and solutions.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Progressives Must Stop Ignoring Certain Conservative Beliefs About Holiness

There is a reason for the obvious lack of any medical equipment in this clinic of Mother Teresa's and it's not lack of donations.

Sometimes I come across articles that leave me pondering for quite awhile. This happened to me the other day when I came across an article written by Susan Shields for the website "Council for Secular Humanism". Ms. Shields an ex member of Mother Teresa's Sister's of Charity. I'm going to quote the part that caused me a certain amount of mental angst:

Three of Mother Teresa's teachings that are fundamental to her religious congregation are all the more dangerous because they are believed so sincerely by her sisters. Most basic is the belief that if a sister obeys she is doing God's will. Another is the belief that the sisters have leverage over God by choosing to suffer. Their suffering makes God very happy. He then dispenses more graces to humanity. The third is the belief that any attachment to human beings, even the poor being served, supposedly interferes with love of God and must be vigilantly avoided or immediately uprooted. The efforts to prevent any attachments cause continual chaos and confusion, movement and change in the congregation. Mother Teresa did not invent these beliefs - they were prevalent in religious congregations before Vatican II - but she did everything in her power (which was great) to enforce them.

Once a sister has accepted these fallacies she will do almost anything. She can allow her health to be destroyed, neglect those she vowed to serve, and switch off her feelings and independent thought. She can turn a blind eye to suffering, inform on her fellow sisters, tell lies with ease, and ignore public laws and regulations. (These behaviors are endemic to every single one of the right wing traditional apostolates approved of and singled out for praise by the Vatican in the last forty years.)

Women from many nations joined Mother Teresa in the expectation that they would help the poor and come closer to God themselves. When I left, there were more than 3,000 sisters in approximately 400 houses scattered throughout the world. Many of these sisters who trusted Mother Teresa to guide them have become broken people. In the face of overwhelming evidence, some of them have finally admitted that their trust has been betrayed, that God could not possibly be giving the orders they hear. It is difficult for them to decide to leave - their self-confidence has been destroyed, and they have no education beyond what they brought with them when they joined. I was one of the lucky ones who mustered enough courage to walk away......


Taken together these three beliefs describe a very sad definition of the path to holiness. They also describe logical extensions of the belief that man's material existence has meaning only in terms of his soul and that since the fall of Adam and Eve, our bodies are condemned to suffering in order to appease God and purify our immortal souls from the filthy stains of material existence.

Take the first one for example: "the belief that as long as a sister obeys she is doing God's will."

There's no question that with in the Sisters of Charity, as it is in Opus Dei, the Legionaries, or any number of other twentieth century apostalates, obedience to the will of the founder was equated with obedience to God. This was not just an attitude freely assumed by members, it was promulgated by the founders themselves and they were backed by the Papacy. Why wouldn't they be? This demand for obedience to the founder is exactly what the Vatican demands of every Catholic with regards to the Pope.

The problem is neither the Pope nor any given founder is God. Jesus did not say God is obedience, He said God is love. Every parent has experienced the fact that our children can still love us dearly without feeling the need to obey every jot and tittle of what we say. And if a parent matures with their child in parenting, one finds that they actually love their children more when those children think for themselves, act decently on their own initiative, and stop demanding approval for everything they do.
None of those free acts of a maturing child is an assault on the fundamental parent/child relationship. It is instead both a deepening and a broadening of the relationship. What a parent really learns as their child matures, is the reason for and nature of, forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a 'get out of hell' free card. Nor is it a reset button to engage in the same failed strategy. It's an opportunity to change direction, learn a lesson and grow some more. Parental forgiveness is often the weedkiller in our children's garden of life

The second belief is in some respects even more damaging than the first: "the belief that the sisters have leverage over God by choosing to suffer. Their suffering makes God very happy. He then dispenses more graces to humanity." There are so many fallacies here. No human person has the capacity to leverage God. That's a description of a very small god, but it gets worse. The thought that this god is happy being leveraged by our suffering makes him an even smaller God. That he would then dispense more grace to humanity because of his happiness with our suffering makes him very very minuscule on the god scale. Puts him about as far up the god scale as the parent who beats their child to get the rush when they cry and then gives the child candy to shut them up until the next time. It's called abuse dynamics.

Then we come to the third belief: "that any attachment to human beings, even the poor being served, supposedly interferes with love of God and must be vigilantly avoided or immediately uprooted". For Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity this belief can be restated as the love of the concept of poverty as a path to holiness. Their ministry actually has very little to do with an effective realtional love with the poor. It has to do with their individual choice to live in, and surround themselves with institutional poverty.

This is probably why Mother Teresa never built a world class hospital with all of her hundreds of millions in donations, or did a great deal to eradicate poverty in the areas in which her convents and clinics operated. These initiatives served as way stations for sufferers in which her sisters were given the opportunity to evangelize and 'save' souls. It was this that took precedence over alleviating suffering or providing real medicine. The truth is she didn't need a world class hospital to evangelize and save souls--she needed hundreds of convents and that's precisely what she built.

In honesty, Mother Teresa never claimed to be in the business of lifting the yoke of poverty or eradicating disease in the areas in which her enterprises operated. She forthrightly said she was in the business of Catholic evangelization and the saving of souls. The poor people she worked with were not victims of choices not their own. Instead they had been given a wonderful opportunity from God to both achieve her definition of holiness, and offer their unchosen suffering for others. And of course, they provided the means by which she and her fellow sisters could achieve their definition of holy poverty. In this respect, she would have been working against her definition of their best interests to do otherwise.

Not one of these three beliefs are espoused by LCWR congregations, which makes me wonder if that's not part of the problem they are having with the Vatican. There's nothing like making poverty a short ticket to heaven to soothe the consciences of people whose own greed makes that poverty possible. No wonder Mother Teresa had many good things to say about the Duvalier's in Haiti. Just think of all the opportunity the Duvalier's provided for the people of Haiti to experience holy poverty.
I think progressive Catholics need to put some time and effort in understanding this dynamic in the traditional and conservative Catholic mind set. Ignoring it will not make it go away nor lessen it's influence in the Vatican and subsequently on Catholic laity.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Not Exactly The Manhattan Manifesto

The Manhattan Manifesto certainly has it's adherents, but there is another, kinder, gentler manifesto making it's way around the globe:

The Charter For Compassion---A call to bring the world together

(Compassion is not just a sloppy emotional bonhomie; it requires a serious intellectual effort to learn about one another, even if it’s unflattering to ourselves.)

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.


The Charter for Compassion is the brain child of religious author Karen Armstrong. Religion Dispatches has an extensive interview with Armstrong in which she explains the reasoning which birthed the charter. Although it is a product of her own experience, it also speaks to the experience of a lot of religious and ethical people around the globe. The following is an excerpt from the RD interview in which Karen explains some of the concepts and her hopes for it's implementation.

In the Charter for Compassion, you’ve started a movement via the internet in which we restore compassion to the center of our everyday practices. In addition, people pledge to give accurate and respectful information about each other’s traditions. This movement is impressive in that it seems to combine the best of education about religion with the best of a commitment to a different kind of spiritual practice that both embraces and transcends particular traditions. How has it been working so far?

This is going to be a very long process. I do not expect people to turn themselves around immediately! And in many ways, compassion is counterintuitive to our Western culture, which is very quick, in the media and politics particularly, to point a finger at others’ failings without taking the time to check out the details and form an accurate assessment. There is a lot of education around the issue of compassion still to be done and we will be addressing this need in our Web site in the New Year. Each week there will be more issues to discuss, refinements and questions answered, and I hope to write a piece weekly about such topics as the compassionate interpretation of scripture, the importance of acquiring accurate information about other people, and what it means to “love” our enemies.

There has been a lot of interest in the Charter. One of the things that made me want to undertake this project was the fact that wherever I went in the world, East or West, I found that people were hungry for a more compassionate form of religion, are unhappy that their faith has been hijacked by extremism, dogmatism, or intolerance, and want to make a difference in the world. But so far not as many people as we hoped have actually signed on to affirm the Charter. This is just a first step. We hope to send the Charter, with all the signatures, to five world leaders whose nations are currently embroiled in conflict. We want to make this a grassroots movement that will compel our political and religious leaders to take notice.

As you write in The Great Transformation, you are interested in the Axial Age religious leaders because you find their more practical ethos of compassion a way of healing the contemporary world. My guess is that this intellectual commitment also led to your idea of a Charter for Compassion. And yet compassion during the Axial age was primarily a local, village, or kingdom-based affair. How might we re-think the question of compassion in a global digital age?

What we call the Axial Age occurred in four different regions—India, China, Greece, and the Middle East—from about 900 to 200 BCE, during which time all the major world faith traditions which have continued to nourish humanity—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism, philosophical rationalism, and monotheism, for example—either came into being or had their roots. Each tradition is wonderfully different; each has its own genius, and each its particular flaws or failings. But they do bear a strong family resemblance.
And each one puts compassion—the principled determination to put oneself in the shoes of another—and the Golden Rule (“Do not treat others as you would not wish to be treated yourself”) at the heart of the faith. This is the litmus test of true spirituality; it is what brings us into relation with what we call God, Nirvana, Brahman, or Dao. And this intellectual commitment certainly drove me to the project of creating a Charter for Compassion, written by leading thinkers in all the major faiths, in order to make this ethos a dynamic force in our polarized world. The fact that this principle was formulated independently by the great sages of all these faiths (the rishis of the Upanishads, the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, the Prophets and Priests of Israel, Socrates, Aeschylus) indicates that this is the way human nature works; people have found that by living compassionately—“all day and every day,” to quote Confucius—they have activated aspects of their humanity that normally lie dormant, escape the prism of selfishness, and gain enhanced capacities of mind and heart.

I can not begin to over emphasize the importance of that last sentence. Every single spiritual or psychic teacher I have ever worked with has made this same statement. Love expressed through compassion is the key to activating dormant talent and enhancing the capacities of mind and heart. One can not intellectualize their way into mystical experiences, but one can certainly rationalize and intellectualize their way out of them, prevent them from ever happening, and there by keep God at a safe distance.

I have had two very instrumental mentors make this point to me over and over again. The first was my theology advisor who we all called "Fr. Love." Everything for him came down to love and compassion and how we acted out those concepts. I can remember in one class when he asked the question about how we should respond if we knew he was driving drunk to say Mass at a small parish one hundred miles from campus. This was not an idle question because he did that every Sunday--drive the hundred miles to say Mass.

One very pious girl said she would pray the rosary with the intention that he arrive safely. He looked at her and ruefully said, "wrong answer". Needless to say that shocked us all. How could praying the rosary be the wrong answer? One confused seminarian then suggested one of us could drive him. "That's a better answer." he said. One wag then said "We should take your funnel away from you Saturday night." The class cracked up. He did too and then told us that was the correct answer. That if we cared for him with real love and compassion we would intervene before his drinking became an impediment to his ministry. We would act on our compassion, not pray out of compassion. Obviously, that was a lesson I've never forgotten, even if I've failed too frequently to act on it.

Fast forward twenty some years and I'm working with a very gifted Native American medicine woman. As she got to know me better she told me that every time I intellectualized an experience she was going to poke me in my chest to remind to get out of my head. The issue was to do from the heart not think from the head. It got to the point where I put some one else's chest between me and her before I finally surrendered to her point. Believe me it was a surrender.

My capacity to intellectualize everything was my best weapon against dealing with my emotions. I intellectually understood one needs to deal with and credit the truth of their heart in order to progress on the spiritual path, but true to form, I wouldn't let myself feel it's truth. I waged quite the battle and I got quite the bruise to show as a battle scar. I'm surprised my mentor doesn't have a deformed finger.

Surrendering is so much a part of the spiritual path and one I don't think gets emphasized enough. It's way too easy to obey another than it is to really surrender to what they are trying to teach. Especially if that teaching involves personal defense mechanisms designed to protect the ego. In the West we seem to be trained to intellectualize as our first strategy. The Manhattan Manifesto appeals to that aspect of the Western mind, the Charter for Compassion is calling for something else. The Charter is calling for an educated heart. It's calling for surrender, not dominance. The challenge is do we each have the heart to sign it and act on it?
(Should you go to the site and sign the Charter, be sure to check out the video--especially if you are from Maine or California. I cracked up because one other lesson I've learned is compassion comes with another heart attribute--humor.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Will The Rock Of Consequences Roll All The Way Up To The Rock Of Peter?

The force of justice is starting to pull the personal consequences for the clerical abuse scandal up the clerical hill. In time the clerical Vatican may come tumbling down.

The following is an excerpt from an article posted on Clerical Whispers. I have extracted the first part because I want to focus on what this Irish writer has isolated as the probable excuse for the Irish hierarchy protecting the Church before exercising compassion for abuse victims.

Survival, not compassion is priority for the Church

The campaign of Diarmuid Martin, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, to be rid of turbulent bishops who, he believes, shared corporate responsibility in the diocese for the concealment of clerical child abuse seems unfair and quixotic.

Unfair and quixotic, because it is not these bishops who are primarily to blame for the concealment of this abuse. It is the culture, the ethos, indeed the very being of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Diarmuid Martin has not acknowledged this, maybe because he can’t, for it would defy his own identity as a major functionary of that Church.

And before I proceed, an acknowledgement.

I appreciate the Catholic Church is precious to many Irish people, including many readers of this newspaper, and that a challenge to the culture, ethos and being of that Church may seem tantamount to a challenge to them as worthy people, so entwined is identity often with religious affiliation.

And a related acknowledgement: there are many fine people in the Catholic Church, including Diarmuid Martin and many other clerics and ‘‘faithful’’. Nothing I write here (or otherwise) is intended to impugn their integrity or their worth as persons. Back to my point.

If someone believes in the following:

* that there is an all-powerful deity, who has created the world, who intervenes directly in our lives and with whom we have or can have a personal relationship;

* that there is an afterlife, encapsulated at least in part by consignment to either heaven or hell for eternity and that the deity will determine to which we will be assigned, on the basis of adherence to his/her laws and requirements;

* that, so distressed was this deity by the sinfulness of humankind that he consigned his son to earth to save humanity for its own evil and therefore from hell; and

* that this son, Jesus, who is also the deity, established a ‘‘one true church’’, which is the Roman Catholic Church, for the purpose of enabling the salvation of human kind (ie the avoidance of hell in the afterlife); if one believes in all this, then, unavoidably, one believes that the protection of the Church takes precedence over every other consideration and value, including the sexual abuse of children.

If, therefore, the exposure of the scandal of the abuse of children by functionaries of that Church which Jesus founded would damage the status and reputation of that Church, thereby weakening its capacity to enable the salvation of humankind, then that is the price which has got to be paid.

Those bishops who concealed the crime of clerical child sexual abuse may have done so for what they regarded as the best of reasons: the protection of the vehicle created by Jesus to ensure the everlasting happiness of humankind.

What weight has even the sexual abuse of children by priests of the Church by comparison with the everlasting happiness of humankind? (Reminds me of the Star Trek movie in which Spock tells Kirk the good of the many demands the sacrifice of the few.)


This article has certainly hit on the justification for the pursuit of an immoral strategy by the Hierarchy. I have no doubt at all that many bishops who obeyed the Vatican strategy of denial and cover up felt they were doing 'the right' thing. The protection of the reputation and mission of the Church necessitated the sacrifice of the bodies (and potentially their souls) of the few for good of the many.

There is a difference though between Spock's observation and the hierarchy's decision to cover up abuse for the greater good of the Church. Spock made his statement in context of a freely made choice on his own part that effected his life; the hierarchy made choices for other people and those other people paid most of the consequences. Now thank God, slowly but surely those consequences are rolling up hill, and like the author of this article, I too firmly believe the resignations of individual bishops is not rolling far enough up the hill. The summit of that hill is the very definition of what we mean by Jesus's church and how much authority the official church actually has for our individual salvation.

In researching this article I have spent a great deal of time rereading parts of the New Testament. There seem to be so many contradictions. It finally dawned on me that Jesus was actually teaching on different levels, attempting to meet people where they were in their spiritual development. John's Gospel stays at stage four or stage five thinking where as Mathew's flips back and forth between stage five and stage two. It's no wonder that true believers and progressives can find individual passages which confirm their world views. Sometimes these passages follow each other. Here's an example in Mathew:

Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (18:18)

We are all familiar with the above because it is used to underline the teaching authority of the Institutional church ad nausea. But, Jesus follows this statement directly with these statements:

19 Again, (amen,) I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

How are we to take these following statements, as some sort of Universal Law of Religious Chaos? That when ever two of us get together and pray for something on which we agree, that Jesus and His Father will grant their blessing?

Well, their does seem to be an implied caveat, the two or the many, have to be gathered in Jesus's name and Jesus certainly didn't condone every thing. He gave us two great commandments which transcended the individual stipulations of Mosaic law. Love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul and mind, and Love our neighbor as ourselves. In other words, what we pray for in His name, is to be prayed for in love, for love, and with love.

The truth is we can spend our entire lives trying to come to grips with these two laws, so it's no wonder as time went on we concocted reams of individual rules to make things less open ended and very much more black and white. Historically we took Jesus's stage five thinking and encoded it into man's stage two rules.

Jesus was well aware of this kind of thinking. Just previous to the above quoted verses Jesus is asked by a disciple, "who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" This is a perfect example of stage two spiritual thinking. It's hierarchical. Jesus pulls a child to Him and says these words:

3"Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
6 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

7Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!

It seems to me that we, the entirety of the People of God, Jesus's Church on Earth, should take heed of the very next statements of Jesus:

8 If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire.
9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.

10"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.

Our self proclaimed eyes and hands and feet, our institutional structure and it's clergy, have truly sinned. It is better, Jesus says, to be maimed, crippled and half blind, than to lead the flock, especially it's children, into sin.

Perhaps it would be better for Catholicism if our hierarchy accepted they would be better off if their notion of clerical privilege was reduced--if they cut off a hand and a leg and poked out an eye, metaphorically speaking, rather than ever again put a millstone around their necks by thinking their concept of Church and their place in it was more important than the little ones.

Until that happens, and it maybe never, I will remember that two or more of us gathered in His name will be blessed, and our prayers answered.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ireland's Anti Blasphemy Law Goes Into Effect--Seriously

With all the publicity in Ireland about the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, the fact a blasphemy law was passed this past July is mind boggling to this American Catholic. When I first read this I said to myself "Holy Cow" and then realized in the context I used this phrase it might be considered blasphemous by Hindus......

Irish Atheists Challenge Nation's Blasphemy Law
CNN World Jan. 2, 2010

An Irish atheist group has published a series of quotations on religion in an attempt to challenge a blasphemy law that went into effect on New Year's Day.

The 25 "blasphemous" quotations include the words of Jesus, Mohammed, Mark Twain, Salman Rushdie and Bjork.

Atheist Ireland published the list on its Web site Friday.

It says it aims to challenge the law, which makes blasphemy a crime punishable by a $35,800 fine.

"Despite these quotes being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by various religions, we unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them," the group said on the site.

"We unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of being criminalized, and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement."

Lawmakers in staunchly Catholic Ireland passed the law in July, but it came into force January 1. A person breaks the law by saying or publishing anything "grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.

"Those found guilty of breaking the blasphemy law may try to defend themselves by proving that a reasonable person would find literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value in what they said or published, the law says.

Atheist Ireland called the law "silly and dangerous," because it provides an incentive for religious outrage. (As if Ireland and it's Catholicism hasn't generated enough of that on it's very own.)

"We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly," the group said.

"Blasphemy laws are unjust: They silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilized society, people have a right to to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous."

The group urged the Irish government to repeal the law. It also asked lawmakers for a referendum on removing all references to God from the Irish constitution.


First off I want to thank frequent contributor butterfly for the link to this article. It's worth following the link provided in this article to read the twenty five utterances. I wonder if certain Irish legislators, given recent events, would like to turn back the clock and revisit a certain July vote.

This kind of legislation is so divisive. One man's blasphemy is another's call to crusade. I'd love to hear what the thinking was in the minds of the legislators who voted for this bill. Is blasphemy against the protestant notion of Jesus as bad as blasphemy against the Catholic notion of Jesus? Would one have to pay the big fine for calling the Pope the Antichrist and a little fine for calling Martin Luther or John Calvin the Antichrist?

Personally, I'd like to see Ireland keep this law on the books and then prosecute clerical abusers and their enablers for blasphemy. It seems to me that violating the innocence of God's smallest is blasphemy of the worst kind because it destroys their chance to find a God they can believe in and trust. Isn't that at bottom what blasphemy is all about---purposefully destroying a God others believe in and trust?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Maturing In A Purposely Driven Adoloscent Culture

David Brooks has written an important column about the Detroit terrorist attempt and our collective response. What's interesting to me is that my daughter and I were talking about this incident the other night and we made some similar observations. The most effective deterrent is normal people making the simple but courageous decision to intervene. Government security measures can only go so far, and too many of them seem to be based on the unfounded assumption that normal people will not intervene. We have a great deal of evidence to the contrary. Normal people will intervene. They do not childishly rely on Big Brother in all things at all times. It is the single most important lesson about terrorism we should have learned from 9/11. Normal people will do singularly courageous acts without thought for their own safety, whether that is a passenger on an airplane or a fire fighter on the ground. They can and do act like adults.

It's a lesson in maturation we are being purposely taught to ignore.

The God That Fails
By DAVID BROOKS New York Times December 31, 2009

During the middle third of the 20th century, Americans had impressive faith in their own institutions. It was not because these institutions always worked well. The Congress and the Federal Reserve exacerbated the Great Depression. The military made horrific mistakes during World War II, which led to American planes bombing American troops and American torpedoes sinking ships with American prisoners of war.
But there was a realistic sense that human institutions are necessarily flawed. History is not knowable or controllable. People should be grateful for whatever assistance that government can provide and had better do what they can to be responsible for their own fates.

That mature attitude seems to have largely vanished. Now we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved. We seem to be in the position of young adolescents — who believe mommy and daddy can take care of everything, and then grow angry and cynical when it becomes clear they can’t.
After Sept. 11, we Americans indulged our faith in the god of technocracy. We expanded the country’s information-gathering capacities so that the National Security Agency alone now gathers four times more data each day than is contained in the Library of Congress.

We set up protocols to convert that information into a form that can be processed by computers and bureaucracies. We linked agencies and created new offices. We set up a centralized focal point, the National Counterterrorism Center.

All this money and technology seems to have reduced the risk of future attack. But, of course, the system is bound to fail sometimes. Reality is unpredictable, and no amount of computer technology is going to change that. Bureaucracies are always blind because they convert the rich flow of personalities and events into crude notations that can be filed and collated. Human institutions are always going to miss crucial clues because the information in the universe is infinite and events do not conform to algorithmic regularity.

Resilient societies have a level-headed understanding of the risks inherent in this kind of warfare. (A level headed understanding of risk is an adult response.)

But, of course, this is not how the country has reacted over the past week. There have been outraged calls for Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security to resign, as if changing the leader of the bureaucracy would fix the flaws inherent in the bureaucracy. There have been demands for systemic reform — for more protocols, more layers and more review systems.

Much of the criticism has been contemptuous and hysterical. Various experts have gathered bits of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s biography. Since they can string the facts together to accurately predict the past, they thunder, the intelligence services should have been able to connect the dots to predict the future.

Dick Cheney argues that the error was caused by some ideological choice. Arlen Specter screams for more technology — full-body examining devices. “We thought that had been remedied,” said Senator Kit Bond, as if omniscience could be accomplished with legislation. (Isn't this a shock, that Dick Cheney thinks this is the fault of ideology---except 9/11 of course.)

Many people seem to be in the middle of a religious crisis of faith. All the gods they believe in — technology, technocracy, centralized government control — have failed them in this instance.
In a mature nation, President Obama could go on TV and say, “Listen, we’re doing the best we can, but some terrorists are bound to get through.” But this is apparently a country that must be spoken to in childish ways. The original line out of the White House was that the system worked. Don’t worry, little Johnny.

When that didn’t work the official line went to the other extreme. “I consider that totally unacceptable,” Obama said. I’m really mad, Johnny. But don’t worry, I’ll make it all better.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration has to be seen doing something, so it added another layer to its stage play, “Security Theater” — more baggage regulations, more in-flight restrictions.

At some point, it’s worth pointing out that it wasn’t the centralized system that stopped terrorism in this instance. As with the shoe bomber, as with the plane that went down in Shanksville, Pa., it was decentralized citizen action. The plot was foiled by nonexpert civilians who had the advantage of the concrete information right in front of them — and the spirit to take the initiative.

For better or worse, over the past 50 years we have concentrated authority in centralized agencies and reduced the role of decentralized citizen action. We’ve done this in many spheres of life. Maybe that’s wise, maybe it’s not. But we shouldn’t imagine that these centralized institutions are going to work perfectly or even well most of the time. It would be nice if we reacted to their inevitable failures not with rabid denunciation and cynicism, but with a little resiliency, an awareness that human systems fail and bad things will happen and we don’t have to lose our heads every time they do.


David Brooks has a lot of meaningful lines in this op-ed piece, but the one that really struck me is this one: "We seem to be in the position of young adolescents..." I maintain this is because we have been purposely conditioned in general to act like adolescents. Any Madison Avenue ad exec will freely tell you how important that adolescent demographic--especially male--is in their plans. The preponderance of what passes for entertainment in this country is aimed at that actual age dynamic and/or the people whose maturation level has not passed beyond that dynamic. This happens because this age bracket has discretionary income and rarely any adult responsibilities tagged to that income.

This is the age in which the higher cognitive states come on line, the sexual hormones activate, and the adult identity is beginning to form. It is the stage in which we move from ego centrism to social awareness. It is a highly malleable stage, one in which the environment one is formed in can have huge impact on one's adult life. When the greater culture is aimed at providing for the whims of this age bracket, and enticing them to stay there, maturing beyond it is an iffy proposition.

There's very little about our culture that encourages people to move beyond adolescence and that is especially true for our cultural leaders. This certainly includes our religious leadership. Since loyalty and group identity is a big deal at this stage of maturity, it makes sense that religious leadership would keep yanking the loyalty and identity chains with constant appeals to the importance of this for our own security and salvation.
At the adolescent stage loyalty is given on the basis of perceived personal acceptance. A person is loyal to the group because they feel part of the group, irrespective of any other issues. The adult gives loyalty on the basis of the integrity inherent in the actual performance of the group or it's leadership and is willing to accept ostracism or reject membership as a consequence of perceived failure in the group or leadership. Given enough provocation adults will demand these organizations grow up, get accountable, and quit trying to snow people.

I hope 2010 is going to be rife with questions about the level of maturity for both American culture and Roman Catholicism in particular. Both cultures need to grow up-- and soon. The issues facing them and the consequences they engender for humanity demand mature responses. To religiously preach or politically speak or economically advertise almost exclusively to the adolescent mentality, especially male adolescent mentality, is not at all healthy for society. In fact most cultures have traditionally bent over backwards expressly to mature young adults through this stage. I suspect the reason it's stopped happening in the West is because keeping people dependent, free spending, and obsessed with identity issues is both highly lucrative and perpetually entrenching for our leadership.

I hope and pray that this coming year more Americans and Catholics find themselves acting like courageous adults because both our country and our church were hi jacked a long time ago by interests who have little interest in seeing we do.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ringing In The New And Opening The Tabernacle

I am very excited because tonight, 1/1/01, is the opening of a brand new website. It's a cooperative venture amongst six of us progressive blogger types. It's title is The Open Tabernacle and I truly hope that is exactly what it will be for progressive Catholics and any other spiritual seekers who search for an open progressive oasis in the desert of the mostly conservative blogosphere.

I especially want to encourage any of my readers who wish to add their own articles or have found an especially interesting link to contact myself or one of the other editors. The whole idea is that the Tabernacle is open, and that means to everybody.

Rest assured that I will continue full bore with Enlightened Catholicism while adding my two cents worth to the Open Tabernacle. I have great hope for this new blog for purely selfish reasons--I still miss the old NCRcafe. I hope you look it over and actually like it. If not for the articles, at least for the links!

Finally I'd really like to thank Terence Weldon for the all the work he's put into the technical aspects of getting The Open Tabernacle up and running. If he hadn't been gently cracking the whip the grand opening might have been 1/1/11.

When Criminalizing Abortion Becomes The Litmus Test For Real Catholicism The Baby Really Has Been Thrown Out With The Bathwater

Happy New Year one and all. I wish you a happy, peaceful and joyous 2010. I also know that's probably not too likely because Catholic swords will clash more than ever in the coming year and the points of contention will be the same as the past year. One should never forget there are elections this coming fall and the culture warriors will be out in full force.

For us who claim any Catholic affiliation, the points of contention will continue to be abortion, gay rights, and the politicization of the hierarchy. This serves a two fold purpose. The first is it keeps the culture wars brewing, distracting us from other issues. The second is it keeps the focus on the teaching authority of the hierarchy rather than the systemic structure in which the hierarchy operates.

This is a very useful strategy to keep the Irish sexual abuse crisis and it's forced resignations of bishops from engulfing the USCCB. Imagine if that solution were used in the States where we know that two thirds of our bishops did exactly what the now resigned bishops in Ireland did. Chaos would reign in the Vatican and the USCCB, but probably not so much in our parishes and dioceses. In fact we might all come to learn we could get along just fine with out Vatican sycophants for bishops.

But in the meantime, Deal Hudson is keeping the abortion issue in front of us. He has taken umbrage with a Huffington Post article written by Byran Cones, the Managing Editor of US Catholic Magazine. Cone's article was in response to a previous article of Deal Hudson's. The very same article I responded too in which Deal tells his readers that the Catholic Hospital Association and the LCWR have no authority to speak for real Catholics. Real Catholics could not support the Senate health reform bill.

It's not so much Deal's latest article that I found of note, but one of the comments posted in response to Deal's article. The gloves are coming off. Real Catholics must support the criminalization of abortion. There is to be no more beating around the bush on this strategy.
The following is an edited version of the comment...

Individuals of the Catholic left claim to be pro-life because they want abortions reduced. But I hold that some of them are actually pro-life, whereas others are just shamming.

We may test which camp a given Catholic leftist is really in, by asking two questions: (1.) Do you want abortions reduced to as close to zero as possible, or just to a lower number than today? and, (2.) Is it morally licit for governments to outlaw murder, rather than just using economic incentives to discourage it? (This question completely ignores the whole debate of when human life begins by assuming the default 'at conception' point of view. Which of course, has never been the traditional church position. It is a very recent position.)

For, you see, if there remain any abortions after all the economic incentives are applied, the Catholic Church will not cease to teach that we are obligated to use the normal means of government to reduce them still more. And of course criminalization is the normal means by which government reduces murder.

The Catholic Church will only stop saying, "Okay, and what next?" when there are zero abortions, or when all of the morally licit means of reducing abortion have been exhausted and only morally illicit means remain.

If you think the morally licit category includes criminalization, why, then, you must assume that the Catholic Church will eventually require it...and then, to be a faithful Catholic, you too must require it. (I don't have to assume this position at all to be still be a faithful Catholic. The Communion of Saints is full of Catholics who did not accept criminalization by the state for certain behaviors the church at one time
taught were criminal.)

So for a Catholic leftist to oppose criminalizing abortion, he must provide a reason why it is not morally licit to outlaw murder generally; or else provide a reason why abortion is different from other murders in this regard; or else admit that he dissents from the Church on this view. (Here's one. How do you tell abortion from miscarriage short of violating all other kinds of privacy laws? Any law which is patently unenforceable and unprovable is unjust.)

Don't Make Me Think! The logic spelled out above leads leftist Catholics to uncomfortable conclusions...uncomfortable, because it requires them to sacrifice their ties with some of their favorite political allies. It obligates them to give up the "moderated, nuanced" policy positions which make their Catholicity palatable at dinner parties. (In your dreams it does.)

For this reason, the most common leftist-Catholic response is not to engage the arguments on a logical level, but to say, "La, la, la, I'm not listening." This technique happens not only in conversation with the faithful, but inside the mind: One gradually develops habits of thinking which carefully step around those uncomfortable conclusions to which an honest thinker would be inevitably drawn. (An honest thinker would not denigrate his debate partner by assuming they can't engage in logic or that they refuse to listen.)

But were they honest with themselves, they'd either support Criminalization of Abortion as an end-goal, or just give up the whole "Catholic" thing. I suspect many of them would opt for the latter. (If I truly believed Jesus meant my Catholicism to be determined by criminalizing abortion rather than what He actually taught, I would give up that Catholicism in a flash.)


I could write a great deal more about the kind of thinking embodied in the above comment and fostered by the Deal Hudson's and Robert P George's of the Catholic right. I'm not going to today because I'm sure I'll be given plenty more opportunity in the future. Besides I'm still trying to get my head around the concept that being Catholic requires state criminalization of abortion.

That's quite a leap in the boundaries of what it means to be Catholic. If being a real Catholic is now to include extending personal faith belief to state enforcement of those beliefs, that's really a leap backward. That's not just pre Vatican II, that's pre Enlightenment.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stuck On Rewind

I thought I'd check and see what I wrote last year on December 31st, and after reading it, decided to rewind it.

Again another year has just flown by and the same issues are even bigger than last year. As to Barack Obama, he looks to be another rewind of Bill Clinton---a centrist Democrat. This basically boils down to placing corporate rights and well being over individual rights and well being. This can be seen in the bushel baskets of money tossed at Wall Street coupled with the health reform legislation whose definition of extending health care really means legally forcing thirty million uninsured to buy health insurance from for profit health insurance companies. Wait a minute--whose health is really being insured here?

Here's last year's offering:

I don't know if I'm getting a little older or what, but this year has gone by extremely fast. It feels like it should be September or something. I look out my window and see snow, so Mother Nature has kept pace with the pace, but I know I haven't.

In other respects time seems to be dragging. It seems like Barack Obama was elected two years ago rather than just under two months ago. Maybe that's just me getting impatient for a change from the Bush/Cheney years, which now that I think about it, seems to have lasted three decades.

In too many respects the Bush/Cheney years actually have lasted three decades. Bush/Cheney were nothing more than a direct extension of the Reagan revolution, and since we learned nothing from the Reagan years, we get an even deeper recession and even more unfathomable debt this time around. And like last time, our corporate and family elites got a lot richer at the expense of our futures and our children's futures, and probably their children's futures. Good for them.
For the last couple of days I've been researching Pope John Paul I. That has put me back 30 years ago and has sparked a lot of memories, and a lot of connections.

1978 marked the mid point of the Carter administration. It was a time of inflation and recession and the world's poorest were paying the biggest price. AIDS was just coming on the radar screens, although most people were only aware of it if they had gay friends. Iran had 50 some American hostages and it's successful revolution had brought about the first real Islamic theocracy. Our CIA, along with Britian's MI6, was heavily involved in raising and supporting right wing dictatorships in Latin America. The Roman Catholic Church was in the midst of it's own theological war and that war revolved, not around Latin and sexuality, but around the issues of social justice, poverty, and papal authority.

John Paul I represented the liberal wing of the Church. He had some serious ideas as to how the Vatican would operate in the future. In his last television address before he died, JPI had this to say:
"Believe me, we who live in opulence, while so many are dying because they have nothing, will have to answer to Jesus as to why we have not carried out his instruction, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself'. We, the clergy of our church and our congregations, who substitute gold and pomp and ceremony in place of Christ's instruction, who judge our masquerade of singing his praises to be more precious than human life, will have the most to explain." (Here in the US our priority seems to be loving our corporate neighbors.)

This Papal statement is 180 degrees away from the interests of our current Vatican which is following in JPII's reformation and precisely putting the pomp and ceremony and singing praises, above human life. JPI believed the Church had amassed it's gold and opulence on the backs of the poor, and it should start giving it back to the people from whom it was taken. In some respects, Jimmy Carter was the American equivalent of JPI. In both situations they paved the way for the resurgence of the right.

Some of the things I learned do not fit well into the myth of St John Paul II the Great. Within days of his election to the papacy he authorized a 250 million dollar renovation of Castel Gondolpho and the Papal palace. The heated papal swimming pool at Castel Gondolpho is probably the most famous. The very next day after his election he put the Vatican bank directly under his own control, meaning he was not accountable to the curia for any of his transactions with regards to this bank. (The now cleared to be Beatified John Paul The Great. The myth rolls on.)

The Vatican Bank is not a bank so much as a financial clearing house for religious organizations and Peter's Pence. It's day to day management was in the hands of members of Opus Dei, and it did numerous transactions for a group of neo fascist Free Masons known in Italy as P2. In fact the treasurer of both the Vatican Bank and the P2 was the same member of Opus Dei. The biggest religious institutional depositor, by far, was Mother Theresa. JPII's renovations were financed by this bank. Under his laisez faire leadership it became a major source of money laundering for the Mafia.

Today the Vatican Bank still makes the top ten on a list of financial institutions suspected of money laundering. This is not surprising given that it is completely free from international scrutiny and answerable only to Benedict. It's lack of transparency and recent history, make it ripe for this list. "By their fruits you shall know them."

I'm not making any of this up. Do a simple google search and you will be directed to The Vatican Bank scandal. There are numerous citations of testimony from court cases involving all the major players except for the ones JPII protected with diplomatic immunity when he made Opus Dei a personal prelature. The prelature decree was post dated to the day before the scandal blew up in his face. Somehow he still managed to come up with 250 million dollars (this is close to a billion in today's money) to return to investors whose money had been 'lost' through Vatican Bank transactions. The numbers of assassinations and 'suicides' associated with this scandal is mind boggling.
I bring all this up to explain something we will all see more of in the coming year. One of JPI's assertions is that greed and bigotry go hand in hand. Someone must be put down in order for other's to climb over to keep their excessive portion of the pie. When threatened, the powers that derive the most benefit from unequal distribution of wealth, identify an 'other' to stir up fear in populations to keep themselves in power. After the depression, it was the Jews. In this deep recession, just like the one Reagan put us into, it will be gays and abortion, but mostly gays. The powers don't give a damn about gays. They do care about how the issue plays politically. It plays well, far better than abortion, especially with minority groups.

The object is not to convert the left, or the right, the object is the center. It was the centrists in Germany who brought Hitler to power, and by the time they woke up, he had already made his position certain and unchangeable. The International wealthy, who have no national allegiance, will use the collusion of the Vatican to play the gay card against the center. GW Bush even went so far as to travel to the Vatican in 2004 to ask that more pressure be put on American Bishops to speak out on the gay and abortion issues. This pattern will continue and intensify. (And so it has.)

My hope is that in 2009 more Catholics will begin to understand that the Vatican (as opposed to the Church) is very much a political organization before it is a spiritual organization. I hope that more Catholics will look into the connections between Opus Dei and the intelligence and financial communities. Opus Dei has way too much influence in the Vatican. I hope Catholics will look past the "gays threaten civilization' garbage, understanding these are the same things said about the Jews during the last Great Depression. (Uganda certainly bears this out.)

I hope people will read this article so they can see how this scenario played out for the German industrialist Fritz Thyssen and his good American buddy George Prescott Bush and really really understand there is no such thing as National Interests when it comes to making and keeping personal family fortunes.

I hope Catholics come to understand that the real oppressors and threats to humanity are those who are bound and determined to keep the world enslaved to unfettered unregulated greed. It's time we understood that the Vatican has amassed a great deal of wealth through criminal capitalism and that it too has thrived on the poverty of others. It's time to stop confusing the Vatican with Christ and way past time to hear the words of John Paul I. "It is the inalienable right of man to own property. But it is the right of no man to accumulate wealth beyond the necessary while other men starve to death because they have nothing."

May 2009 bring the Change We Seek.

OK, it didn't happen this year, and unless things really change it may not happen in 2010 either. For whatever reason we do seem to be stuck on rewind.