Sunday, January 31, 2010

Using Our Free Choice To Cement Ourselves As Slaves

It is incomprehensible that a loving Creator would desire self imposed physical slavery and the physical bondage that that notion implies. That's the thinking of the other side of the spiritual equation.

Just a short post to let folks know I'm taking a short sabbatical. I realised I have been at this blogging thing for almost three years and maybe it was time I took a break and recharged the batteries. I want to thank the people who have made these past three years such a pleasure and let you all know that I will be back at it in the near future. It always good for people to break their routine once in a while.

Before I extend my break, I do have one thing to comment on. I found the recent revelations about JPII and his penchant for self flagellation unsurprising. It is consistent with his inconsistencies. What I have found surprising in the lack of commentary is how his own treatment of his own body stands in stark contrast to his writing in Theology of the Body. Reminds me of a bulimic who extols on the virtues of nutritious healthy eating and then runs to the bathroom to forcibly expel that nutritious healthy food. The message of course is two fold. One the bulimic is addicted to the endorphin release and subsequent lessening of physical anxiety, and two, the lectures about healthy food apply to everyone else but the bulimic. Somehow their universal rules for others do not apply to their personally unique situation.

In reading the NCR article on JPII I found it very fascinating that JPII would make it look as if he slept in his bed on those nights he prostrated himself on the cold floor and used a 'normal' looking belt to flagellate himself, and that none of the witnesses to his self abuse were named. This penchant for secrecy is a huge red flag which every bulimic I've ever talked with has become masterful at maintaining. It's their 'dirty' little secret shared between them and the porcelain goddess they sort of worship. They know it's not healthy or normal--period.

The question which really needs to be meditated on is why we are to find this behavior of JPII's saintly. This is especially important in that he came of age in a period of time in which totalitarian leadership of both communist and fascist persuasions had no regard for physical suffering and used it to their advantage specifically to underline the point that individuals were not in control of any aspect of their lives. This is a lesson JPII apparently took to heart. Beating himself bloody was a mechanism in which to deal with a fundamental sense of having no control.
Are we being prepared for some type of suffering by being re accustomed to the thought of the benefits of enforced suffering for our own good? Is that why we are being told the devil is alive and well and we are in a virtual war with the powers of evil? Is that why Catholicism's most influential lay apostolates are obsessed with issues of control and authority and the inherent spiritual benefits of personal suffering. Is that why they so infrequently speak of compassion and love. Are we being prepared for something in which negating our own value is important?

Here's what I think. I think we're in a war all right, but it's a different kind of war. It's all about a choice we have to make about where we put our trust. Is it in authority figures like JPII, or Rush Limbaugh, or Barack Obama, or Wall Street? Is it in the value of personal suffering and purifying ourselves of personal autonomy? Or is it in our own capacity to reason to truth and make informed choices? Is our spiritual evolution to be one of submission to an external authority or one of maturing in personal responsibility and love?

This spiritual decision has practical consequences. Will we place our trust in the continued search for technology which mimics our innate capacities and enslaves us to those who control those technologies or will we understand what Jesus was teaching about the real ability of humanity and how we can effect change on the quantum level through intentional focus and the real power of love?
Whipping ourselves with a tool of self flagellation into an endorphin rush is not spiritual. Instead it's an admission of feeling out of control and powerless. It's the act and the choice of a slave. It is not the act of someone who feels liberated and empowered in Christ.

Until next time.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Parable For The Week

One of the things I've really appreciated in my working with spiritual folks from other traditions are the creation stories and teaching parables. I thought I would dedicate Saturday to some of these intriguing stories. This first one has a lot of food for thought and I suspect that some of you have come across this previously. It's pretty basic stuff and that means it's really important.

A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks right to the top, rocks about 2" diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full? They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them in to the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The students laughed. He asked his students again if the jar was full? They agreed that yes, it was.

The professor then picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He then asked the students if the jar was full? They agreed that it was. He proceeded to pour a cup of wine into the jar and shook it as the wine slipped between all the sand."Now," said the professor, "I want you to recognize that this is your life. The rocks are the important things - your family, your partner, your health, your children - anything that is so important to you that if it were lost, you would be nearly destroyed.

The pebbles are the other things in life that matter, but on a smaller scale. The pebbles represent things like your job, your house, your car.

The sand is everything else, the small stuff. If you put the sand or the pebbles into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, material things, you will never have room for the things that are truly most important. Pay attention to the things that are critical in your life. Play with your children. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal."

Take care of the rocks first - the things that really matter. Set your priorities.The rest is just pebbles and sand. And remember, there is always room for wine.
The only clarification I would add to the story is that the rocks are always relationships. Even health is all about the relationship you have with your body. And of course two of the most important rocks would be the relationships you have with God and the one you have with the world.
All of Jesus's teaching parables were about relationships. Sometimes I think we forget that in all the other issues and sometimes it seems as if the only rock that counts for Catholics is Rock of Peter. Not so. That would be one of the pebbles. It becomes a rock when a person relates to an individual pope as an individual and not as a stagnant symbol of authority. Just as Jesus can easily become a pebble when one relates to Him as an already defined symbol rather than a living breathing individual----and sometimes that Pebble can be in your shoe forcing you to acknowledge Him if only to stop stepping all over Him.

Friday, January 22, 2010


I guess SCOTUS forgot about the reasons for some of the legislation around the teapot dome scandal. Now we are really back to the future.

Robert Weissman - President of Public Citizen - Huffington Post - 1/22/10

Today, in Citizens United v. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence election outcomes.
Money from Exxon, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer and the rest of the Fortune 500 is already corroding the policy making process in Washington, state capitals, and city halls. Today, the Supreme Court tells these corporate giants that they have a constitutional right to trample our democracy.

In eviscerating, longstanding rules that prohibit corporations from using their own monies to influence elections, the court invites giant corporations to open up their treasuries to buy election outcomes. Corporations are sure to accept the invitation.

The predictable result will be corporate money flooding the election process; huge targeted campaigns by corporations and their front groups attacking principled candidates who challenge parochial corporate interests; and a chilling effect on candidates and election officials, who will be deterred from advocating and implementing policies that advance the public interest but injure deep-pocket corporations.

Because today's decision is made on First Amendment constitutional grounds, the impact will be felt not only at the federal level, but in the states and localities, including in state judicial elections. (The local impact may be exactly where the most damage is felt. Hello Walmart, hello immanent domain abuses, hello corporate towns.)

In one sense, today's decision was a long time coming. Over the past 30 years, the Supreme Court has created and steadily expanded the First Amendment protections afforded to for-profit corporations. (Important point here. Your average 501c3 isn't rolling in billions of third quarter profits like Goldman Sachs or Exxon.)

But in another sense, the decision is a startling break from Supreme Court tradition. Even as it has mistakenly equated money with speech in the political context, the court has long upheld regulations on corporate spending in the electoral context. The Citizens United decision is also an astonishing overreach by the court. No one thought the issue of corporations' purported right to spend money to influence election outcomes was at stake in this case until the Supreme Court so decreed. The case had been argued in lower courts, and was originally argued before the Supreme Court, on narrow grounds related to the application of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. (I think we really need to digest this fact. No one expected this kind of universal blanket decision from this case. It's like taking a local sodomy case and jumping it up to allow gay marriage rights. It's called right wing judicial activism like the left never ever considered.)

The court has invented the idea that corporations have First Amendment rights to influence election outcomes out of whole cloth. There is surely no precedent to support this outcome, since the court only created the rights in recent decades. Nor can the outcome be justified in light of the underlying purpose and spirit of the First Amendment. Corporations are state-created entities, not real people. They do not have expressive interests like humans; and, unlike humans, they are uniquely motivated by a singular focus on their economic bottom line. Corporate spending on elections defeats rather than advances the democratic thrust of the First Amendment.

We, the People, cannot allow this decision to go unchallenged. We, the People, cannot allow corporations to take control of our democracy.....(More here


I haven't been this angry since our conservative court gave GW the presidency. Now our conservative court has given Exxon our democracy. I guess we can forget any real ecological, financial, or health reform. By 2014 we could truly be represented by the Senator from Koch Industries who happens to live in Texas.

What really bothers me though, is the thought that Goldman Sachs as a corporate individual apparently has the same constitutional rights I do as a human--without any of the responsibilities. Mr Sachs has no children to worry about which really effects a person's bottom line. Mr Sachs has no health problems to worry about which really effects a person's bottom line. Mr Sachs doesn't have to worry much about his house being foreclosed on, or where his next meal is coming from, or whether his car is going down the tubes. Even if Mr Sachs did have to worry about any of these humdrum issues, Mr Sachs has plenty of mine and your assets to help with such issues. Mr Sachs has already been defined by our government as 'too big to fail' where as us mere human individuals are too often defined as 'too little to care about'. SCOTUS has just decided to put us mere human individuals permanently in our very little place.

I looked up this morning what it takes to impeach a Supreme Court Justice. I think it would behoove our current government to investigate some of the members of this court. Maybe some of them have holdings in off shore accounts. Holdings which don't compute with their salaries or other perks. It's just a thought. Here's another thought--judicial malpractice.

Some angry folks are discussing a constitutional amendment to define the rights of corporate individuals vis a vis the first amendment. This could actually get bi partisan support since SCOTUS also extended this benevolence to unions. Then again it may not because it wouldn't take long for a corporate democracy to legislate unions off the face of our map, especially on the state level. I mean the greatest leverage an individual can have over other individuals is their pay check. How many Americans are really able to vote their conscience or speak their mind if it might cost them their pay check? I guess only those who have already lost their paycheck.

This is bad news folks. If this isn't stopped we will have no real democracy. If tea baggers and right wingers think this is in their best interests, just wait. Exxon only cares about how much money tea baggers are willing to pay for a gallon of gas or home heating oil. Just like the rest of us.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Captain Calls For Ward Room Meeting For Officers Of Sinking Ship

Apparently the Vatican has forgotten the 'unsinkable' Titanic was also built in Ireland.

Bishops of all 26 dioceses in Ireland have been summoned to Rome next month by Pope Benedict for an unprecedented emergency meeting on the child clerical abuse scandals.
The two-day meeting at the Vatican on February 15 and 16 will hammer out the initiatives that will be proposed by the pontiff in his special pastoral Lenten letter addressed exclusively to the Catholics of Ireland.

Details will be announced by the bishops on their return to their dioceses on Ash Wednesday, February 17.

Intense preparations for the Rome Summit will be conducted at an extraordinary meeting of the Bishop's Conference on Friday in St Patrick's College, Maynooth.

Today's 'Irish Catholic' newspaper reports that Pope Benedict decided to call all Irish bishops to Rome because of what he perceived to be a very serious situation in Ireland.

An index of the urgency surrounding the Rome venue is that the heads of the major Vatican Congregations will take part in the talks in a desperate bid to address the anger and shock felt by Catholics since the publication of the Ryan and Murphy reports.

Leading the Irish side will be Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin.


By the end of the Rome summit, agreed concrete proposals will be incorporated by the the Pope in his Lenten letter, which will be published to coincide with the return of the bishops to their dioceses for the Ash Wednesday liturgies.

Meanwhile, Irish bishops and priests will be asked by Pope Benedict XVI to hold public services of repentance as atonement to victims of clerical abuse.

Pope Benedict will make the request to leaders of the Catholic Church in the pastoral letter, the Vatican has confirmed.

And he will call for more lay participation in the running of the church. (Participation is one thing, sharing authority and accountability is quite another.)

His letter will also include a strong condemnation of "heinous crimes" perpetrated by priests against children. (This is only half of the equation. What about the 'heinous crimes" perpetrated by supervising bishops?)

Last month, the Pope said he shared the "outrage, betrayal and shame" felt by Irish Catholics after the publication of the Murphy and Ryan reports into the way abuse claims were handled by church leaders.

Sources said Pope Benedict's letter would not, however, contain a detailed blueprint for the reorganisation of the Irish church, such as the holding of a national synod or assembly of bishops, priests and laity. (Of course there won't be any such thing. That could get to the root of the whole problem.)

Archbishop Martin has predicted that the Pope's letter will be "quite a significant document".
He said it would mark the beginning of a process whose ultimate aim would be "a very significant reorganisation of the church in Ireland".

"The climate in the church, which allowed abusers to go unpunished, will only change once there is a renewal, a willingness to publicly accept responsibility for one's actions and greater involvement by lay people in all areas of church life," Archbishop Martin said. (AB Martin gets it. The question is does the Vatican have any desire to "get it."


If the Pope's letter is just a beginning that would be one thing, but if it is the final definitive statement, that's quite another. I suspect this beginning will also define the ending. I suspect that because the Vatican response is being determined by the very same authorities who caused the 'very serious' situation in the first place.

There will be no lay involvement, no parish involvement, no rank and file priestly involvement, and no Irish governmental input in determining the response. It will be determined with passive input from Ireland's bishopric and by Pope Benedict and his handpicked 'ward room'. Which means Ireland will be given the opportunity to participate in spiritual Masses of atonement while the Vatican continues to support legal attempts to avoid material atonement.

In the meantime this will also allow the Vatican to present the abuse crisis as an "Irish" problem, not one endemic to it's entire global structure. We've already been told these concrete proposals won't call for nor approve an Irish Catholic synod or any kind of national gathering which includes others not wearing purple. These concrete proposals will not contain any kind of meaningful reorganization or course correction. They will be limited to moving the purple chairs around on the sinking Irish Catholic ship.

I say let it happen, and let no one be deceived. I don't think AB Martin is deceived at all. I think he knows he is being asked to over see the sinking of the Irish Catholic ship. The Vatican will insist on their prerogative to captain this ship and maintain total control over it's course. That this will result in this Irish ship continuing to grind itself to pieces on the Rock of Peter is of no moment.

As the senior Irish prelate, I hope AB Martin chooses not to go down with the ship. I hope he chooses to throw out the life boats and plots a different course. If he does, he may find out he has more crew members than he ever thought possible and that the Holy Spirit will see he has an endless supply of life boats.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Difference Between Deaf And Selectively Deaf

Bishop Williamson says Vatican-SSPX talks “dialogue of the deaf”
Reuters - Jan 19, 2010 - 17:51 EST

Bishop Richard Williamson, the ultra-traditionalist prelate whose denial of the extent of the Holocaust created an uproar in the Catholic Church and with Jews early last year, has said the discussions at the Vatican to rehabilitate his Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) are a “dialogue of the deaf.” Williamson, one of the four SSPX bishops whose bans of excommunication were lifted by Pope Benedict only days after his controversial views were aired on Swedish television, said the two sides had “absolutely irreconcilable” positions.
In a 15-minute interview posted on the French video-sharing website Dailymotion, Williamson discussed a number of issues with a man identified by the Paris Catholic daily La Croix as a minor French far-right politician named Pierre Panet. When asked about the negotiation under way at the Vatican to reintegrate the once-shunned SSPX into the Roman church, he said in fluent French:

“I think that will end up as a dialogue of the deaf. The two positions are absolutely irreconcilable. 2+2=4 and 2+2=5 are irreconcilable. Either those who say 2+2=4 renounce the truth and agree that 2+2=5 — that is, the SSPX abandons the truth, which God forbids us to do — or those who say 2+2=5 convert and return to the truth. Or the two meet halfway and say that 2+2=4-1/2. That’s wrong. Either the SSPX becomes a traitor or Rome converts or it’s a dialogue of the deaf.”

Williamson’s negationist views of the Holocaust caused such an uproar early last year that the head of the SSPX, Bishop Bernard Fellay, issued a gag order for him. It was so embarrassing for Benedict that he had to issue a letter to Catholic bishops around the world explaining his decision. Williamson was quickly removed from his post as head of the SSPX seminary in Argentina and sent home to Britain, where he lives in an SSPX home in the Wimbledon section of London. Asked about his life there, he said with dry British humour: “This is an unexpected but quite agreeable sabbatical year.”

Asked how he spends his days, he said: “Dormir et manger” (sleeping and eating), as well as writing his blog Dinoscopus, which was quickly turned into a private blog after the controversy last year.

When Panet asked for his views about Israel, Williamson said: “Many people think this state is legitimate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.”

La Croix quoted a Rev. Jacques Masson, a former member of the SSPX, as saying of Williamson: “He belonged to the group that was the most intransigent with Rome. I suspect that they pushed (SSPX founder) Archbishop (Marcel) Lefebvre to harden his line and finally go into schism.” The SSPX, which rejects the Second Vatican Council and the Catholic Church’s reconciliation with the Jews, broke from Rome in 1988 when Lefebvre disobeyed Pope John Paul and consecrated four bishops, including Williamson. Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications in 2009 and the negotiations with the Vatican aim at finding a way to reintegrate these traditionalists into the Church.

Pope Benedict recently said he hoped to reestablish full communion with the SSPX.


I've written a great deal lately about spiritual intelligence and spiritual maturity and why this is such an important concept. I posted the above article on Bishop Williamson because it demonstrates how difficult it is to penetrate stage I spiritual thinking. Williamson's use of simple math to illustrate his thinking is almost too perfect. Unfortunately for Williamson spiritual relationships work far more like the never ending Pi ratio than they do 2+2=4.

Here's another take on this same theme of spiritual maturity. In some respects this is one of the shortest and best explanations I have read in a long while. It's a reflection on the Irish abuse crisis.

GERARD CASEY Professor of philosophy, University College Dublin

“I can’t understand people losing faith because of scandals. I’m not making light of what happened, but for me it’s not where faith comes from. Religion and morality are not the same thing, but for most Irish Catholics the two are one and the same. When you tell them the moral code associated with Catholicism is pretty much the same as in any religion, they find it hard to believe. (The hierarchy has lately been bending over backwards to 'help' us think that Catholic morality and Catholic spirituality are exactly the same thing.)
"You have to get morality from reason – morals are either a set of conventions in a utilitarian way or a real code to live by. The problem with utilitarianism is that morality only survives when the going is good, otherwise it’s every man for himself. There is nothing specifically Catholic about natural law. When you look at what human beings are, you see they have needs and that means we know the kind of actions that are [morally] destructive. (We are currently seeing this played out by some groups in Haiti. As survival needs become imperative, morality becomes very frangible.)

“A classic way of looking at morality is from Confucian philosophy. “There are four concentric circles. The innermost circle is the basic, natural state where we individually are the centre of the universe. We understand this in children and find it quite cute, but it would be sinister in an adult. The next circle is the utilitarian level: we still want things for ourselves, but have to at least simulate an interest in others. (Some would say this is the current philosophy of the Democratic party and most other politicians.)

“The breakthrough comes at the next moral level – this is when you recognise that other human beings are exactly like you: each has hopes, dreams and fears. There can be a sense of shock when we realise this.

“The final circle is the transcendent, where the human world is understood in a larger context. Traditionally this has been religious, but it can be other things, such as politics, for example – anything that says there is a dimension above us.

“The key for us as individuals is to match up the emotional and the intellectual sides of our lives. It’s a developmental process and, to some degree, a pattern of habituation.” (One could also use the term enculturation as well as habituation.)

These four stages also mirror neurological development, which is why they are most frequently described in terms of chronological development. The problems in maturation develop generally because habituation or enculturation preclude more development, or just as frequently, by the amount of trauma experienced in earlier stages of neural development. This is why it is paramount that we 'match up the emotional and the intellectual sides of our lives." As Terence Weldon wrote recently on his own blog, quoting theologian Fr. John McNeil "it is not possible to separate sound theology from sound psychology". In theory, that is.

Bishop Williamson is still functioning from a world view encased in the first circle. For him all issues come down to the concrete notion that they will reduce to the simplicity of 2+2=4. Most of us move out of that kind of thinking by the time we reach puberty and experience the fact that not everything boils down so easily.

There was another example of William's type thinking on the web this morning. It was part of a story on the Mexican hierarchy and their reasons for desiring to deny gays the ability to adopt children. The article cited the website of a Canadian woman as proof of their concerns of the damage gay parents do to children.

This woman had a very difficult upbringing, but the problem is her experiences are hardly unique to children of gay men. The fact is they are far far more likely to occur to children of parents in heterosexual relationships, especially in those relationships in which chemical dependency is a factor. The fact the Mexican bishops can call for social policy legislation on a data point of one, ignoring all other data points, is not indicative of higher reasoning processes. In fact those same reasoning processes, based on millions of data points, would be to deny adoption and marriage to divorced heterosexual men. To advocate for this position would also conform to Church sexual morality.

The fact the Mexican bishops are not calling for this kind of blanket ban on marriage and adoption for divorced heterosexual males tells us that their essentially childish reasoning only applies to gays, not heterosexuals. This would put these bishops into the outskirts of the second concentric circle, in that it is a suspiciously utilitarian reasoning. It also demonstrates just how selectively deaf they are to the arguments of the third and fourth circles. In this case 2+2=4 for gays, but something else for heterosexuals.

Or maybe the logic is based on the equally simple equation peg A must fit into slot B where slot B has little or no choice and the well being of the = C part of the equation is left totally to chance factors. That would very much be circle one thinking.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Wake Up Call For Rahm Emanuel, Your Last Name Is A Cosmic Joke On Democratic Progressives

For the Democratic Progressives this photo of Rahm Emanuel is worth a thousand words.

Massachusetts votes today for the senator who will replace Ted Kennedy. Polls have the Republican hopeful Scott Brown in the lead--in Massachusetts, for Ted Kennedy's seat. My oh my. A wake up call indeed.

A Wake Up Call
Robert Kuttner- Huffingtton Post- 1/17/109

How could the health care issue have turned from a reform that was going to make Barack Obama ten feet tall into a poison pill for Democratic senators? Whether or not Martha Coakley squeaks through in Massachusetts on Tuesday, the health bill has already done incalculable political damage and will likely do more. Polls show that the public now opposes it by margins averaging ten to fifteen points, and widening. It is hard to know which will be the worse political defeat -- losing the bill and looking weak, or passing it and leaving it as a piñata for Republicans to attack between now and November.

The measure is so unpopular that Republican State Senator Scott Brown has built his entire surge against Coakley around his promise to be the 41st senator to block the bill -- this in Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts. He must be pretty confident that the bill has become politically radioactive, and he's right.

It has already brought down Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, a fighter for health care and other reforms far more progressive than President Obama's. Dorgan championed Americans' right to re-import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, a popular provision that the White House blocked. Dorgan, who is one of the Senate's great populists, began the year more than twenty points ahead in the polls of his most likely challenger, North Dakota Governor John Hoeven. By the time he decided to call it a day, Dorgan was running more than twenty points behind. The difference was the health bill, which North Dakotans oppose by nearly two to one. The fact that Dorgan's own views were much better than the Administration's cut little ice. He was fatally associated with an unpopular bill.

So, how did Democrats get saddled with this bill? Begin with Rahm Emanuel. The White House chief of staff, who was once Bill Clinton's political director, drew three lessons from the defeat of Clinton-care. All three were wrong. First, get it done early (Clinton's task force had dithered.) Second, leave the details to Congress (Clinton had presented Congress with a fully-baked cake.) Third, don't get on the wrong side of the insurance and drug industries (The insurers' fictitious couple, Harry and Louise, had cleaned Clinton's clock.) (Apparently Rahm thinks it's better to be on the wrong side of all those supporters he and Obama used to ascend to the White House.)

But as I wrote in Obama's Challenge, in August 2008, it would be a huge mistake to try to get health care done right out of the box. Obama first needed to get his sea-legs, and focus like a laser on economic recovery. If he got the economy back on track, he would then have earned the chops to undertake more difficult structural reforms like health care.

Deferring to the House and Senate was fine up to a point, but this was an issue where the president needed to lead as only presidents can -- in order to frame the debate and define the stakes.

Cutting a deal with the insurers and drug companies, who are not exactly candidates to win popularity contests, associated Obama with profoundly resented interest groups. This was exactly the wrong framing. This battle should have been the president and the people versus the interests. Instead more and more voters concluded that it was the president and the interests versus the people. (Maybe that's because this is exactly what it is.)

As policy, the interest-group strategy made it impossible to put on the table more fundamental and popular reforms, such as using Federal bargaining power to negotiate cheaper drug prices, or having a true public option like Medicare-for-all. Instead, a bill that served the drug and insurance industries was almost guaranteed to have unpopular core elements.
(Like being legally forced to buy insurance from for profit leeches?)

The politics got horribly muddled. By embracing a deal that required the government to come up with a trillion dollars of subsidy for the insurance industry, Obama was forced to pursue policies that were justifiably unpopular -- such as taxing premiums of people with decent insurance; or compelling people to buy policies that they often couldn't afford, or diverting money from Medicare. He managed to scare silly the single most satisfied clientele of our one island of efficient single-payer health insurance -- senior citizens -- and to alienate one of his most loyal constituencies, trade unionists.

The bill helped about two-thirds of America's uninsured, but did almost nothing for the 85 percent of Americans with insurance that is becoming more costly and unreliable by the day -- except frighten them into believing that what little they have is at increased risk of being taken away.

All of this made things easier for the right, and left people to take seriously even preposterous allegations such as the nonsense about death panels. It got so ass-backwards that the other day Ben Nelson, who successfully held out for anti-abortion language and a sweetheart deal for Nebraska's Medicaid as the price of his vote, found himself facing a wholesale voter backlash.
Nelson began running TV spots assuring Nebraska voters that the Obama health plan is "not run by the government." That's one hell of a slogan for a party that relies on democratically elected government to offset the insecurity, inequality and insanity generated by private commercial forces. If not-run-by-government is the Democrats' credo, why bother?

So we went from a politics in which government is necessary to provide secure health insurance -- because the private insurance industry skims off outrageous middlemen fees and discriminates against sick people -- to a politics in which Democrats, as a matter of survival, feel they have to apologize for government. Thank you, Rahm Emanuel.

The budget-obsessives around Obama also insisted that most of the bill not take effect until 2013, so that all of the scary stuff gets three years to fester before most people see any benefit. Call it political malpractice.

Finally, the health insurance battle sucked out all the oxygen. When Obama made time to work the phones personally, it wasn't to enact serious financial reform (this was left to the tender mercies of Tim Geithner) or to fight for a real jobs program (deficit hawks Peter Orszag and Larry Summers got to blunt that one). No -- Obama got on the phone and met with legislators to round up the last vote or two for a sketchy health reform that crowded out far more urgent issues. (And this in the end, may be exactly why Obama and Emanuel pushed for health care reform, so all the other issues which are killing the middle class would be ignored and Wall Street and the Military Industrial Complex could continue to enjoy their pre Obama successes.)

As a resident of Massachusetts, in the last two days I've gotten robo calls from Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Martha Coakley, and Angela Menino, the wife of Boston's mayor -- everyone but the sainted Ted Kennedy. In Obama's call, he advised me that he needed Martha Coakley in the Senate, "because I'm fighting to curb the abuses of a health insurance industry that routinely denies care." Let's see, would that be the same insurance industry that Rahm was cutting inside deals with all spring and summer? The same insurance industry that spent tens of millions on TV spots backing Obama's bill as sensible reform?

If voters are wondering which side this guy is on, he has given them good reason.

Looking forward, one can imagine several possibilities. Suppose Coakley loses. Obama and the House leadership may then decide that their one shot to salvage health reform after all this effort is for the House to just pass the Senate-approved bill and send it to the president's desk. They can fix its deficiencies later. This is an easy parliamentary move. But the bill passed the House by only five votes; many House members are dead set against some of the more objectionable provisions of the Senate bill; a Coakley loss would make the bill that much more politically toxic; there will be Republican catcalls that Congress is using dubious means to pass a bill that has just been politically repudiated; and the House votes just may not be there this time.
Alternatively, let's say Coakley narrowly wins, the Democrats have a near death experience, and the House and Senate stop squabbling and pass the damned bill.

Either way, the Massachusetts surprise should be a wake-up call of the most fundamental kind. Obama needs to stop playing inside games with bankers and insurance lobbyists, and start being a fighter for regular Americans. Otherwise, he can kiss it all goodbye.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect, a senior fellow at Demos, and author of Obama's Challenge.


I'm no longer sure which is worse, being manipulated by fear, which is the Rovian Republican strategy, or being manipulated by hope, which is the Rahmian Democratic strategy. In either case the bottom line for Americans is "No We Can't". It would have been real honest of Obama to have told us that "Yes we can", doesn't refer to human individuals. It only refers to corporate individuals. But that kind of transparency probably wouldn't have resulted in his election or the super democratic majority. Yes, that majority has been real super.

I don't know that the election in Massachusetts is so much a wake up call for the democratic party as it is a wake up call for Americans. In my book there is very little difference between government socialism and corporate socialism. It doesn't really matter if one is taxed into poverty or profiteered into poverty. Poverty is poverty and in neither case do individuals matter as much as their pocketbooks. Not too mention government force is used in both cases.

As to being pro life, that's a kind of a joke for both parties. Both of them have shown they are really all about being pro corporate profit. Maybe that's why Obama can extend 100 million in aid to Haiti at the same time Goldman Sachs announces 3 billion in quarterly profits. Since we had to bail them out just last year and it cost a whole lot more than 100 million, maybe that's the strategy for Haiti. Forget being a sovereign nation, just incorporate. Both Rahm and Rove would have your back and for much bigger bucks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Two Island Nations, One Message

Catholic Church can still inspire us to be of service
Colum Kenny -Irish Independent- Sunday January 17 2010

Benedict XVI is writing a special Lenten letter to Irish Catholics. What can he say that will make a difference? Who is informing him about Ireland?

It is a sign of the times that Dublin councillors are to consider changing the official name of Merrion Square, currently Archbishop Ryan Park. Not many people know the park as anything other than Merrion Square, but it is officially named in honour of the late Catholic archbishop of Dublin who transferred ownership of it to the city in 1974. The park previously belonged to the church and had been earmarked for a new cathedral.

A suggestion by one councillor that Merrion Square might now be renamed in honour of Oscar Wilde, who lived opposite it as a young child, seems strange.

Given that the impetus to change its name arises from Judge Yvonne Murphy's criticism of the late archbishop's management of child sex abuse cases, calling it instead after someone who frequented London rent boys and secured youngsters for sex in North Africa (whatever Wilde's undoubted literary merits) is not the best option. (It isn't the best option; but perhaps the intent was to make a point about procurement of teen age boys and various means of doing so.)

But the idea of renaming the park reveals the depths to which the reputation of the Catholic Church has sunk. Pope Benedict's Irish pastoral could in fact make matters worse if he fails to accept responsibility on behalf of the Vatican, or if he does not announce practical steps to ensure that Rome discloses the full extent of its knowledge or involvement in Irish sex abuse matters.

Rome must not play dumb, as if it knew nothing. The refuge given in the Vatican to Cardinal Bernard Law has been disturbing, not least because of close ties between Ireland and the diocese of Boston where he failed sex abuse victims. Now Pope Benedict needs to rebut clearly Cardinal Desmond Connell's rationalisation for misleading people about sexual abuse matters by means of "mental reservation". (As far as I'm concerned this use of 'mental reservation' must be repudiated.)

To let the cancerous concept of "mental reservation" stand could destroy the future credibility of cardinals and other church leaders, not only in Ireland but also internationally.

At this point, apologies by the Pope or bishops are hardly admirable. Caught red-handed, the Irish hierarchy has gradually been forced to eat humble pie (even as some bishops appeared to choke on it). Something more radical is needed in the Pope's pastoral letter.

It would be wonderful if Benedict could use this opportunity to inspire and excite people. This will be the most important papal statement on Ireland since John Paul II spoke against violence at Drogheda during his visit to Ireland in 1979.

Irishmen and women are feeling pretty bleak at present, being battered by financial woes, political ineptitude, bad weather and a loss of faith in their institutions.

Many have also lost that childlike innocence or ignorance about religion that was based partly on historical loyalty to a particular form of nationalist identity that no longer seems as essential as it once did.

The Pope is wasting his time if he just pens some pious truisms. If he hopes to revive the Catholic Church in Ireland then he needs to signal a willingness to do business differently and to reach out to all those who used to be called "lapsed Catholics", in a way that really engages them intellectually and spiritually. (And in a way that treats them like thinking adults.)

But perhaps the main purpose of his pastoral letter is not to address the church in general about its deepest needs but to achieve an administrative restructuring of his organisation in Ireland.
Events in the Irish church are an embarrassment to Rome, and many of those involved in child sexual abuse in dioceses outside Ireland appear to be Irish or of Irish origin.

Given that Ireland is no longer a big breeding ground for priests, nuns and missionaries, Pope Benedict might be tempted to depict the Irish church as exceptional and unique.

In an interview last week with the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, the Prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, acknowledged that instances of priestly sexual abuse were "extremely serious and are criminal facts that the church can never tolerate in any way". But he signalled that no generalisation should be drawn from the Irish experience. The Irish hierarchy may become the Pope's scapegoat.

That would be ironic given the self-pitying tendency of some bishops at their last meeting in Maynooth to see themselves as victims of secular scapegoating. The Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey advised that "people should attend very carefully to what they say. Otherwise there's a danger we're just looking for bodies, as they did in pagan times, to throw in a river to placate the gods". And the bishop of Galway Martin Drennan later stated: "I feel we have been through a spiral of revenge."

There is a surfeit of bishops and auxiliary bishops in Ireland, especially given the big decline in vocations to the priesthood.

However, reorganising diocesan structures should not be dressed up as some kind of heartfelt response to the real spiritual needs of Irish people, who have been let down by those who mishandled the child sexual abuse scandal. What is the point of even restructuring dioceses while members of the hierarchy are institutionally compromised by the Murphy report? Judge Murphy's work was confined to the Dublin Archdiocese, but its findings place a question mark over the role of every other bishop in respect of every other diocese that has not been investigated.

Reorganising dioceses at this point looks like an attempt to rearrange deck-chairs on The Titanic. No structural reform on its own will go near restoring the confidence of laity in the forms and content of a religious tradition that long served our ancestors relatively well. There is a crisis of faith in Ireland, over and beyond any of the more immediate problems. A policy of promoting the safest pairs of hands, allied to the practice of ostracising some of the more imaginative Christian minds, has resulted in an institution that appears to be unable to grasp and respond to fundamental problems in church structures and teaching.

Some citizens welcome the demise of the Catholic Church. They see the child abuse scandal as having revealed a fundamentally dishonest and repressive institution.

But many aspects of that institution, including its transmission of the Christian gospels and the practice of compassion by so many of its ordinary members, helped to sustain Irish people through great trials.

Without such an anchor, we are more likely to be wrecked by current storms that assail this nation.

The crisis within the Irish Catholic Church is a crisis for the Republic of Ireland and not just for the Vatican. There is no going back to the old days of Mother Church and its obedient or cowed faithful. But the Catholic Church can still be a force for good, inspiring people to put service before self. Had the church cared more about society than sex, and confronted greed rather than concealed abuse, it might have helped to avoid our current crisis.
As the former Cardinal Ratzinger prepares to put the finishing touches to his pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, he needs to ask himself if he really believes in the power of Christ to light up the Celtic world in compelling ways.

Or is his purpose to deny the possibility that Irish practices reflected deeper problems within the universal church relating to both power and sexuality?


I can't help but ponder the fate of two island nations. In Ireland we are witnessing the results of a spiritual earthquake because of the abuse of power, and in Haiti the catastrophic results of a physical earthquake whose damage is vastly multiplied because of a similar abuse of power. In both cases Roman Catholicism is both a primary enabler of the abuse and the helping hand most likely to be instrumental in healing the damage because both island nations are over eighty per cent Catholic.

The question is which strain of Catholicism will come to the forefront? The one that desperately tries to hold onto it's secular and political power, or the one that sees the needs of it's fellow man and truly tries to live the Gospel message it was originally empowered to live and teach?

The Rev. Eric Toussant said Mass yesterday in the ruins of the Cathedral of Port Au Prince. Although what he said was in the context of the society of Haiti, his words and the place he spoke them could be as equally prophetic for the spiritual life of Catholicism in Ireland--and elsewhere:

“I watched the destruction of the cathedral from this window,” he said, pointing to a window in what remains of the archdiocese office. “I am not dead because God has a plan for me.”

“What happens is a sign from God, saying that we must recognise his power – we need to reinvent ourselves.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Has Archbishop Burke Actually Read Thomas More's Utopia?

Archbishop Burke was given another pulpit as a forum to preach to tea bagger Catholics. In this case the Diocese of Phoenix by Bishop Thomas Olmstead. I just wrote about Olmstead and his strange silence about Sheriff Joe Arpaio's interesting treatment of Olmstead's Hispanic flock. It's sort of disingenuous of them to think that Thomas More, the champion of London's lower classes, would support either of these two clerics.

A society that masks 'totalitarianism' with 'hope' will destroy itself, warns Archbishop Burke
Phoenix, Ariz., Jan 13, 2010 / 12:11 am (CNA).-

Using the example of St. Thomas More, Archbishop Raymond Burke exhorted legal professionals present at Tuesday's Red Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral to keep God before their eyes as they strive to administer justice amidst a “society which is abandoning its Judeo-Christian foundations.”

Archbishop Burke flew in from the Vatican to celebrate the Mass at the invitation of his long-time friend, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix. The Red Mass is the only event on the archbishop's short itinerary.

“As a Catholic lawyer, it is an incredible honor to be graced with the presence of Archbishop Burke at the Red Mass,” John Kelly, general counsel for the Diocese of Phoenix, told The Catholic Sun. “This is also a man who has publicly and unabashedly defended the teachings of the Church on the sanctity of life. An opportunity to celebrate Mass with someone like this does not come along very often.”

The archbishop began his homily by explaining the origins of the Red Mass, a tradition dating to the Middle Ages. Noting that there was a stronger understanding of the “essential unity” of faith and reason in that time period, he said that celebrating Mass “at the beginning of the new judicial year pointed to the irreplaceable foundation of the service of pronouncing the just and the right on behalf of one’s brothers and sisters. (Not exactly what More actually wrote.)

He also explained that red vestments are worn during the Mass for two reasons: judges in the Middle Ages wore red robes and because they remind “us of the perfect obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ” in obeying the call of the Holy Spirit to lay down our own lives.

Archbishop Burke then presented the story of St. Thomas More, a lawyer who was martyred for choosing to serve God instead of the king. The patron saint of lawyers, the archbishop reminded, is known for exclaiming, “I die the king’s good servant, and God’s first.”

“Saint Thomas More understood that there could be no contradiction between his service of his nation and his service of God, and that, in fact, he could only serve his nation truly and faithfully by his true and faithful service of God,” Archbishop Burke declared.

As he reflected on the calling of those in the legal profession, the archbishop called to mind the traditional formulation of a definitive sentence, “the judge, in giving the final disposition of the sentence, always first declared: 'Having God only before my eyes.'”

“The minister of justice bears a most heavy burden, the burden of emptying himself of himself, in order to have God alone before His eyes, in declaring what is just and right on behalf of his fellow citizens,” noted the archbishop. “At the same time, he enjoys the grace of the Holy Spirit for the carrying out of his service.” (Then the minister of justice is not serving on behalf of his fellow citizens, he is serving on the basis of his notions of God. He should then be a spiritual leader and not a secular judge. Judges must judge on the basis of secular law.)

This is no easy task, the Vatican-based archbishop noted as he assessed the current state of the American society.

In our culture, “the law more and more dares to force those with the sacred trust of caring for the health of their brothers and sisters to violate the most sacred tenets of their consciences, and to force individuals and institutions to cooperate in egregious violations of the natural moral law,” he said. (The US Constitution is not limited to Catholic notions of natural law.)

“In such a society, the administration of justice is no longer a participation in the justice of God, an obedient response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but a façade cloaking our own selfishness and refusal to give our lives for the sake of the good of all our brothers and sisters.”

“It is a society which is abandoning its Judeo-Christian foundations, the fundamental obedience to God’s law which safeguards the common good, and is embracing a totalitarianism which masks itself as the 'hope,' the 'future,' of our nation. Reason and faith teaches us that such a society can only produce violence and death and in the end destroy itself,” Archbishop Burke warned. (Apparently what the Archbishop desires is totalitarianism by Christianity. That's been tried. Many Indigenous populations found it results only in producing labor exploitation, resource theft, violence and death. Ooops I forget, this sermon is being given in Sheriff Joe country, to Sheriff Joe supporters.)

Addressing the lawyers and politicians present, he stated, “All of us depend upon you to speak what is just and right on our behalf and on behalf of all our brothers and sisters, especially those whose lives are in any way threatened.” (Unless they are illegal immigrants. Then it's OK to defend only some brothers and sisters lives.)

Acknowledging the difficulty of this task, he prayed that all ministers of justice would always enjoy the comfort, strength, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Archbishop Burke concluded his homily by praying, “Let us lift up to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus those charged with the administration of justice on our behalf, imploring for them the gift of the Holy Spirit to inspire and strengthen them in declaring what is just and right on behalf of all our brothers and sisters, especially those who are in most need."


I can't help but wonder if AB Burke has actually read St. Thomas More's Utopia. I mean the whole book is dedicated to the thought that reason alone can be used to determine decent, humane, and appropriate behavior. Thomas More was after all a HUMANIST. He believed that these values of fairness, justice, mercy, and compassion were intrinsic to humanity, part of our nature, our deepest and most truthful impulses. These values could be discovered and acted upon without knowledge of Christianity or God for that matter. They were not exclusively Christian or theistic concepts, but universal to man's nature.

I could make the case Thomas More's martyrdom was as much a statement about the separation of Church and State as it was an affirmation of Catholicism. He objected to Henry VIII's usurpation of Church authority because Parliament did not have such authority. But, Thomas was equally appalled by the usurpation of secular authority by Church clerics.
Yes Thomas battled with Luther, but more so over Luther's means to Church reform, not the need for reformation. Essentially Thomas objected to Luther's throwing out the baby with the bath water and encouraging others to follow him. He saw Henry doing the same thing for even less reason in that Henry's schism was political not theological. It was one thing to criticize the clerical system, but quite another to criticize and reject the totality of the Catholic faith. Thomas could not tolerate schism yet he was still no supporter of unfettered clericalism.

Here's a couple of quotes from Utopia that Archbishop Burke should meditate on:

I can have no other notion of all the other governments that I see or know, than that they are a conspiracy of the rich, who, on pretence of managing the public, only pursue their private ends, and devise all the ways and arts they can find out; first, that they may, without danger, preserve all that they have so ill-acquired, and then, that they may engage the poor to toil and labour for them at as low rates as possible, and oppress them as much as they please

E]very man might be of what religion he pleased, and might endeavour to draw others to it by the force of argument and by amicable and modest ways, but without bitterness against those of other opinions; but that he ought to use no other force but that of persuasion, and was neither to mix with it reproaches nor violence
And then there are these words on capital punishment:
But if one shall say, that by that law we are only forbid to kill any except when the laws of the land allow of it, upon the same grounds, laws may be made, in some cases, to allow of adultery and perjury: for God having taken from us the right of disposing either of our own or of other people’s lives, if it is pretended that the mutual consent of men in making laws can authorise man-slaughter in cases in which God has given us no example, that it frees people from the obligation of the divine law, and so makes murder a lawful action, what is this, but to give a preference to human laws before the divine? and, if this is once admitted, by the same rule men may, in all other things, put what restrictions they please upon the laws of God.
St Thomas More was a lot of things, but he was no tea bagger.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pray For Haiti In A Special And Intentional Way

This will be a short post with a big request. The situation in Haiti, as bad as it is, could get infinitely worse. The unpreventable delays in providing food and water to the massive numbers of survivors is becoming an acute situation. It has now been four days since the quake. Shock, grief, thirst, and hunger, combined with the perception that no one cares because these desperate people are not receiving help is a potential for another catastrophic situation. This is not about a couple of thousand people. It's about two million people searching for food, water, and care for their loved ones. It's about basic survival.

Various aid groups are well aware of this potential. If you are inclined towards prayer or meditation, now is the time to pray for calm. Send money by all means, but pray for calm and that the numerous bottle necks can be overcome. The situation in Haiti is not like any other catastrophe we have witnessed in this young century. There is no workable infrastructure, no government, little communication, no central authority or organization, no heavy equipment, and very limited means of moving aid from the airport. The majority of security forces will not be on the ground until Monday. It is imperative the population find some inner strength to stay calm because everything around them will work against it. It is imperative relief workers maintain their focus and not despair of the situation. They too need our intentional support. Collective prayer does work. Pray for calm. Pray for strength. Pray that hope overcomes despair.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Vatican Rationalization In Support Of A Core Delusion

Irish abuse not typical - cardinal
PADDY AGNEW Irish Times 1/14/10 Rome

The clerical sex abuse scandals in Ireland are not representative of the behaviour of the vast majority of priests in the Catholic Church, a senior Vatican figure has said.

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, said the abuse by priests in Ireland constituted “painful” and “criminal” behaviour.

However, in an interview yesterday in the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, he said it would be wrong to “make generalisations” as a result of the Irish experience.

The cardinal was asked if events “in certain parts of the world” did not suggest that something had “gone wrong” in relations between bishops and their priests.

“The painful Irish happenings – which by the way have seen some bishops assume their responsibilities and resign – simply do not relate to the entire episcopal ministry.“The bishops are good fathers for their priests,” he said.“Certainly, there are some unbecoming situations but they are very limited in number. Unfortunately, we are talking about situations linked to the human condition. And that’s what happened in Ireland. (They were also terrible fathers for their lay children. And that is the problem. Interesting that the 'soul' murder of thousands of children is now 'unbecoming'. Maybe it's the translation.)

“This is a very painful business which, it is true, hurts above all the victims but it also profoundly wounds the heart of the church. Once responsibility for so much evil has been objectively established, then we need to go all the way, handing the matter over to the state judicial authorities.” (Which does not include criminal conspiracy charges for bishops. This is not 'going all the way".)

L’Osservatore asked Cardinal Hummes if, in his view, the credibility of priests worldwide has been undermined by such scandals: “Unfortunately, in a society that has little inclination to dig deep in its search for the truth, [such scandals] damage the image of the priest. Above all because the media concentrate on these events rather than on all the good that is done by the vast majority of priests.

“It is undeniable that painful episodes have happened but we are talking about a limited number of cases which, according to the numbers, are proportionately modest.

“These are of course very serious, criminal happenings which the church can in no way tolerate. But let me repeat it, the vast majority of priests worldwide are decent people, committed to their ministry, ready to give their entire lives, often lose their lives, for the Gospel.” (Except it has for centuries until it was exposed by 'the media' concentrating on the truth.)

Appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, Cardinal Hummes is a Franciscan who himself was often considered a possible candidate for pope at the 2005 conclave which elected Benedict. He is known as a moderate on social justice issues.

Cardinal Hummes’s reference to Irish church scandals is further proof that, while the Vatican may well have kept a very low initial profile with regard to the fallout from the Murphy report, the matter of the Irish church, its scandals and its reorganisation is currently weighing heavily on Holy See minds.

Pope Benedict is to deal with all these matters in his forthcoming pastoral letter to the Irish faithful, expected on or before Ash Wednesday, February 17th.


It looks to me as if the Vatican strategy in dealing with abusive priests is to make the case it is primarily and Anglo/Irish problem. Cardinal Hummes is ignoring the entire problem as it exists in Hispanic countries, and of course, totally ignores the abuse of women. Abuse of women and girls is a global phenomenon. Well, so is pedophilia, but it's only been widely exposed in Anglo countries.

It will be most interesting to see if Legionare founder Marcial Maciel is treated as another statistical aberration, an aberration not indicative of pedophilia having spread outside the Irish/Anglo lavender mafia. I'll be interested in reading Pope Benedict's letter to the Irish just to see if he treats sexual abuse as the power issue it is, or if he maintains it's part of the homosexual disorder as the Vatican has in the past. Just guessing here, but since Hummes completely leaves out the abuse of women I suspect Benedict will not be treating the Irish situation as an issue of power. It will be an issue of sexual disorder, and ignore the whole power thing.

And speaking of power, there may be a very unwelcome lesson being driven home to the Vatican in the Irish response to abusive priests and all the hierarchical power dynamics that kept it going in secret for so long. That lesson is the clerical caste only has the power their people allow them to have and no more. There is nothing intrinsic in ordination that makes priests uniquely powerful without the consent of the laity. Once the laity wake up to this fact, all the clerical glitter and gold can't hide this truth.

The good priests that Cardinal Hummes reference know this fact. Their authority, as opposed to power, comes from their service and the authentic way they live the message they preach. Jesus knew something about real spiritual authority when He told His disciples they must be servants to the servants. They must go where the people are at. This is what He Himself lived after all. It's one reason He drug the disciples around for three years.

I'm sure if Jesus thought He could get His message across in a truly meaningful way by setting up His own statically positioned temple, He would have done just that. He would have used His power and majesty to force people to come to Him. If secular power was truly part of His spiritual authority He would have dressed the part like a temple priest. He would have buttressed that notion by insisting on worship. But He did none of those things, and when tempted with them He told Satan to go to hell. Literally.

Somewhere along the line the leadership of the Church decided Satan had a better idea about leadership, authentic spiritual authority, and power. The Irish, but especially the victims of this notion of spiritual power, are forcing a systemic re evaluation of what constitutes authentic authority. Should Benedict ignore this aspect of the abuse crisis with more rationalization, denial and scapegoating, he will send a very powerful message: that the Vatican prefers to preach Jesus's message of service, while living in and affirming Satan's notions of power.

Jesus determined in His temptation in the desert that basing spiritual authority on the foundation of secular expression of power is a seductive delusion, but no matter how seductive, it is still a delusion. Irish Catholics are demanding a reality check. They will not abide any more rationalizations in support of delusion. Archbishop Martin gets it. The question is, does the Vatican?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Disaffected Catholics--It's About The Feeling Not The Reasons

One example of a 'total body' experience, if just a little disorganized and messy. Mabye this is how God sometimes see His human creation.

Fr. Richard McBrien has posted his weekly article at the National Catholic Reporter. It's entitled "Disaffected Catholics and 'bad' Catholics." In it Father McBrien raises the question about ecumenism with in Catholicism as perhaps being more important that ecumenical efforts with other denominations. He points to the fact that disaffected or lapsed Catholics are the second largest 'denomination' in the US. He wonders what the USCCB contributes to the exodus and what they can do to invite these Catholics back or stem the tide of the exodus. He notes the exodus is especially heavy amongst the younger generations.

There are a lot of comments, but two struck me as pertinent to my own theory, which is that the spiritual level of Western Catholics is at a place that the Institutional Church is not itself, or refuses to acknowledge. The first comment I've chosen to hi lite could have been written by my own daughter:

I guess I'm one of these disaffected, lapsed Catholics.

I wish I could tell you the one good reason that I don't come back, but I can't. Only that I feel as if I don't fit anymore with whatever is going on in the Church.

I am still spiritual. I still pray. Sometimes I still call myself "Catholic", because in some strange way, I still feel Catholic.

But whenever I consider becoming again a practicing Catholic, it feels too much like I'm joining a club, or political party, or an argument. Or that I am faking piety.

I don't know how this will be resolved, or even if it ever will be. It seems that I've confused "institutional" Church, with what Church really is. And I don't know what Church really is anymore.

There is a great deal of honesty in the above comment. First off it expresses the cognitive dissonance experienced by many of us. What ever the Church is, it doesn't feel right to us. We feel outside the circle of Catholicism. It's not about one reason, it's about an holistic feeling. Something strikes us as not being whole with this Catholicism.

The idea of faking piety is very strong with my daughter. Her spiritual practice incorporates aspects of Catholic ritual, especially Marian ritual, but not for the reasons the Church teaches. For her, praying the rosary is not so much devotional but meditative and provides a safe opening into deeper trance states in communion with Marian energy. For her, Mary is not the queen of heaven, but more like the mother I am not. In a sense this is a projection, but it is also a process of profound personal healing and my daughter is perfectly aware of the fact of her projection. In this open meditative state she is safe enough to be told that projection is precisely what she is doing. She is also gently guided past the projection. For her the rosary is not rote or safely pietistic. It is the door to spiritual development and personal challenge. This is not easy and it is not amenable to black and white thinking. She is being led to view life from a much bigger perspective. She may have originally started this discipline as a way to deal with her own personal suffering, but it's developed into something way beyond her original intent.

She tells me she could attend Mass if they stopped giving sermons and just let Mass be Mass. In other words to let the mystery effect us individually without being forced or guided to a particular interpretation. Which moves me right into the last observation of the above comment, confusing the institutional church with what the Church really is.

It does seem the Institutional Church is making a purposeful effort to do just that, at best confuse the two or at worst demand they be synonymous. In the latter, the Power of Jesus is purposely taught to be the Power of the Church. The sexual abuse crisis pivots on that confusion. Pedophile priests used this confusion in the minds of children to get their way. The Institutional Church itself operates from the same dynamic in it's perception of the 'simple' faithful and the need to use the rationalization of 'protecting' this defined laity from 'scandal'. Confusing their ordination with the mystery of Jesus is the penultimate delusion that allows them to continue in their own projections.

Then we have the following comment:

"bishops whose very language and actions demonstrate every day how they really wish the Second Vatican Council had never happened."

'well may those sinners who have stained the white robe of their sacred baptism fear the just punishments of God. Their remedy is "to wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb", to restore themselves to their former splendor in the sacrament of Penance, and to school themselves in the practice of Christian virtue. Hence the Apostle Paul's severe warning: "A man making void the law of Moses dies without any mercy on the word of two or three witnesses; how much worse punishments do you think he deserves, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant through which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? ... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."' - JPII

What exactly is wrong with this language?

There's nothing wrong with that language if you concede that Jesus left all of His Authority in the hands of ordained men. That Jesus will abide by their judgments about each of us and that the only path out of hell (and by extension into heaven), is by the authority of these ordained men. To actually believe this means you have to consign the vast vast majority of humanity to hell. What it describes, ironically, is not the 'hands of the living God', but the enslavement of a dead one to the Masters by Ordination.

Many of us feel God still has a free will Himself. We've also been led to believe that no matter how badly we screw things up, God's understanding of our humanity and His belief in the innate goodness of humanity vastly surpasses any of our own understandings. Why else send Jesus to teach us The Way?

Truly this is not an easy Way. It's not easy because it asks us to reflect on our own misunderstandings and sinfulness, to stop projecting our failures and need deficits on others, and to really feel at our core we are all loved by our Creator. It also asks us to believe and recognize that at that level of truth, we really do love others as we love ourselves. The trick is to heal the personal wounds which preclude us from touching that truth and which alienate us from our true selves and each other.

Anything which helps heal those wounds and puts us in touch with our core truth is sacred. It will feel correct and whole. Anything which diverts from our uncovering that truth will feel wrong, and this feeling supersedes our thoughts. Rationalizing the feeling away will only increase our anxiety. Intellectually appealing to some outside authority is a temporary band aid. It will cover the wound, keep us from seeing it, but it won't heal it.

Humanity is a creature of sense perception and the most defining sense is not vision, but touch. Why else material reality if not for the expression of the sense of touch. This truth is precisely why feeling transcends thinking. It is why we must get our thinking in line with what we feel. When we feel something is right and whole, this is not just an emotional response, it is an integrated sense perceptual response felt through out the body. Though this feeling may be described by the dominant sense of how we learn when we say things like "I see what you're getting at" or "I hear what you're saying". It is still a total body sensation. Our whole body will react.

I think the institutional church could go along way towards reconnecting with all those disaffected Catholics if it understood that faith is not just reason, but a total body experience. Our Eucharistic theology makes the same claim. A Eucharistic Community is a total body experience. It's not just the head.

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'.