Thursday, December 18, 2014

Being Christian in the Age of Esau

One Old Testament passage that has stayed with me for a long time is the story of Jacob and Esau from Genesis (chapter 27). As a little boy I was fascinated by Jacob’s trick (well, his mother Rebecca’s trick) of using goat skins on his hands to fool his blind old father Isaac into believing him to be his hairy brother Esau, and so obtain the father’s blessing. Later, when I was a father myself, I was also impressed by the obvious importance of the paternal blessing (which I have generously bestowed on all my children). But I was always troubled by the fact of Jacob’s dishonesty in obtaining it.  The Bible wasn’t condoning lying, was it?


     Of course, it’s not; but how to explain the apparent contradiction?  There are many cases in Scripture in which apparently shocking details serve to grab our attention and direct it to a main point.  We see Jesus do this in the Gospels.  In Luke, for instance, when he says: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.”  (Luke 16: 9) We know that Jesus can’t really mean that we should use “unrighteous mammon [wealth]” to make friends, or that such friends could possibly offer us “eternal habitations”.  We need to read on to see where he’s leading us:

"He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." (Luke 16: 10-13)

We are drawn into thinking about his point more deeply (which is that only God, not mammon, can save us), because we want to resolve the apparent contradiction.  We see something similar in the parable of the wedding guest who is “bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness” simply because he’s wearing the wrong clothes (Matthew 22:13) and in many other places as well.
     In the story of Jacob and Esau we need to look two chapters earlier to get the context for Esau’s loss of his father’s blessing:

Once when Jacob was boiling pottage, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. And Esau said to Jacob, "Let me eat some of that red pottage, for I am famished!" (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, "First sell me your birthright." Esau said, "I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?" Jacob said, "Swear to me first." So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Gen. 25:29-34)

Having read the earlier passage, we know that Esau doesn’t deserve his father’s blessing, because he “despised his birthright”; he willingly gave it away even before Jacob and Rebecca’s trickery.  He loses both birthright and blessing because he has his priorities reversed: he has given immediate material things priority over those things that are truly important. 
     We see this same basic message many times in Scripture, as when St. Paul says:

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven . . .  (Phil 3:18-20a)

Esau and the people St. Paul speaks of are extreme examples; it is possible to fall into lesser degrees of the same problem, as we see in the case of the sisters Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42).  Martha is too distracted by the various details of hospitality to pay much attention to the Divine Guest in her house, while Mary, who sits at the feet of Jesus, “has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her”.
     We know that in spite of what happens in this passage, Martha loves Jesus very much, and of course it is right for her to be concerned for the comfort of her guest. The problem is that she becomes so tangled up in means that she forgets about the end to which they are directed.  Her example should be a warning to us: we don’t have to be an Esau to get our priorities reversed.  We all have causes that are important to us, but we can’t let them become our guiding principles: our actions in these causes should be an expression of our faith (see James 2:18), not the focus of it.  While this failing may be endemic to the “social justice” wing of Catholicism (the CDF document Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation”here, explains beautifully; thank you yet again, Cardinal Ratzinger), the rest of us are susceptible, too: it’s a rare Catholic indeed who has not been a Martha, or worse, on more than one occasion (mea culpa!).  We need to be on guard all the more because we live in an Age of Esau that exalts Action and the Here and Now, and denies the Transcendent.
     So, what to do?  How to avoid falling into the trap?  Someone with much more experience in such things once directed me to this passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

And one of them  a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him.  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the law?  And he said to him. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  (Matthew 22:37-39)

We must always remember that the “great and first commandment” is to love God; that takes priority.  If we put loving our neighbor before, or instead of, loving God, then our actions will be disordered and won’t bear the intended fruit.  Therefore, we need to pray first, make sure our course of action is guided by the teaching of Christ through his Church and the Scriptures, and remember that "here we have no lasting city, but we seek the City which is to come" (Hebrews 13:14) if we wish to avoid being a Martha or, even worse, an Esau.

An earlier version of this post was first published on May 9th of this year.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Abortion Myth #13

MYTH: "Legalized abortion is necessary for the protection of women’s rights."

TRUTH: Abortion demeans and exploits women.

-Pregnancy is a natural, healthy state for women; it is the most significant difference between women and men.  Treating pregnancy like a disease implies that there’s something wrong with the nature of women's bodies and therefore with simply being a woman.  The group Feminists for Life says in their Debate Handbook:

When women feel that a pregnant body is a body out of control, deviant, diseased, they are internalizing attitudes of low self-esteem toward the female body.  These attitudes contradict the rightful feminist affirmation of pregnancy as a natural bodily function which deserves societal respect and accommodation.

-It is also natural for women to want to protect and nurture their children; to destroy their own children when they are most in need of protection violates an essential part of women's nature.


Mother and Child, by Frederic Leighton

-Abortion denies the most basic right, the right to life, to hundreds of thousands of unborn women every year.

-Most women who abort do so because they believe they have no choice: many are coerced, and they are often abused and threatened with violence, with loss of employment or educational opportunities, or with other adverse consequences if they don’t abort (see http://www.theunchoice.com/coerced.htm ). Shouldn't we protect a woman's right not to be forced to kill her own children?

-Legalized abortion empowers irresponsible men, because it enables them to exploit women sexually without having to accept the responsibilities of fatherhood.

-Pro-abortion activists fight strenuously at every turn against laws requiring women be given information about abortion and its alternatives.  What about women's right to make informed choices?

-The original feminists (Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, for instance) opposed abortion on the grounds that abortion was a crime against women as well as their children.  Alice Paul said “Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women.”

DON’T BUY THE LIE!


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  


Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link)


Links to entire Abortion Myths Series:

Abortion Myth # 1 [link

Abortion Myth # 2 [link] 

Abortion Myth # 3 [link]

Abortion Myth # 4 [link

Abortion Myth # 5 [link

Abortion Myth # 6 [link

Abortion Myth # 7 [link

Abortion Myth # 8 [link

Abortion Myth # 9 [link

Abortion Myth # 10 [link

Abortion Myth # 11 [link

Abortion Myth # 12[link

Abortion Myth # 13 [link

Abortion Myth # 14 [link

Abortion Myth # 15 [link

Abortion Myth # 16 [link]




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Christmas Conversion of St.Thérèse

The future St.Thérèse (R) with sister Pauline
        In the lives of the Saints we can find some amazing stories of Conversion: the Risen Lord literally knocking his persecutor Saul to ground and blinding him, in order to raise him up as St. Paul; the rich and spoiled son of an Italian cloth merchant who needed a year in a dungeon as a POW followed by a near fatal illness before he cast off self-indulgence to become St. Francis of Assissi; the vain and vainglorious Spanish nobleman who had his leg nearly shot off with a cannonball, and then went through months of excruciating recovery, before he could begin to see God in All Things as St. Ignatius of Loyola.  How startlingly different, and yet how strikingly the same is the conversion of the little French girl Thérèse Martin, now St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, as she tells it her autobiographical Story of A Soul

     I had a constant and ardent desire to advance in virtue, but often my actions were spoilt by imperfections. My extreme sensitiveness made me almost unbearable. All arguments were useless. I simply could not correct myself of this miserable fault. . .  A miracle on a small scale was needed to give me strength of character all at once, and God worked this long-desired miracle on Christmas Day, 1886. . .
     Now I will tell you, dear Mother, how I received this inestimable grace of complete conversion. I knew that when we reached home after Midnight Mass I should find my shoes in the chimney-corner, filled with presents, just as when I was a little child, which proves that my sisters still treated me as a baby. Papa, too, liked to watch my enjoyment and hear my cries of delight at each fresh surprise that came from the magic shoes, and his pleasure added to mine. But the time had come when Our Lord wished to free me from childhood's failings, and even withdraw me from its innocent pleasures. On this occasion, instead of indulging me as he generally did, Papa seemed vexed, and on my way upstairs I heard him say: "Really all this is too babyish for a big girl like Thérèse, and I hope it is the last year it will happen." His words cut me to the quick. Céline, knowing how sensitive I was, whispered: "Don't go downstairs just yet—wait a little, you would cry too much if you looked at your presents before Papa." But Thérèse was no longer the same—Jesus had changed her heart.
     Choking back my tears, I ran down to the dining-room, and, though my heart beat fast, I picked up my shoes, and gaily pulled out all the things, looking as happy as a queen. Papa laughed, and did not show any trace of displeasure, and Céline thought she must be dreaming. But happily it was a reality; little Thérèse had regained, once for all, the strength of mind which she had lost at the age of four and a half.
     On this night of grace, the third period of my life began—the most beautiful of all, the one most filled with heavenly favours. In an instant Our Lord, satisfied with my good will, accomplished the work I had not been able to do during all these years. Like the Apostle I could say: "Master, we have laboured all night, and have taken nothing."
     More merciful to me even than to His beloved disciples, Our Lord Himself took the net, cast it, and drew it out full of fishes. He made me a fisher of men. Love and a spirit of self-forgetfulness took possession of me, and from that time I was perfectly happy.

The Lord didn’t need to knock Thérèse down, beat her up, or have her shot in order to get her full attention; all he needed was to allow her to overhear a couple of stray comments from the father she loved so dearly.  That wounded her deeply enough to reveal to her the reality of her own selfishness, and to open her up completely to Christ’s Grace.  The meaning of Conversion, after all, is to “turn around” from a way of life dictated by our own desires to one truly centered on God.
     Now, most of us need a wake-up more like that which was granted to St. Paul or St. Francis; perhaps not quite as dramatic, but most of us, I suspect, are much more wrapped up in our sin than was little Thérèse Martin.  But that is precisely why the Little Flower’s conversion stands out: even someone who seems to be doing just about everything right is still in need of conversion, and not just in one instant, but continuously over a lifetime (and of course she did experience greater suffering later in her short life). Sin will always be trying to turn us back. 
     St. Thérèse’s conversion story reminds us of something else.  There will always be opportunities for conversion.  We don’t need to go out looking for trouble, because we will all have ample opportunity to experience The Fall in our lives.  The more enmeshed we are in sin, however, and the higher the walls between ourselves and God, the harder our fall must be.  Wouldn’t it be better to come to Christ like Thérèse did, without too much collateral damage to ourselves and to others?
     Finally, St. Thérèse learned to turn her hurt and disappointment into generosity of spirit, her selfishness to selflessness.  When I think back on her Christmas of 1886 I am reminded that I need to ask my Lord for the Grace to do the same. O come, O come Emmanuel!

     

Monday, December 15, 2014

Of the Father's Love Begotten

"Of The Father's Love Begotten" is a beautiful and ancient hymn.  Written in Latin in the 5th century by Aurelius Prudentius (translated in the 19th century by Henry W. Baker and J.M. Neale); the tune is Divinum Mysterium, an 11th century chant.  You can find a good discussion of this hymn, along with other typically incisive insights here, in an article by the indispensible Anthony Esolen.  May you have a Blessed Advent.






Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unwearied praises be.
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (Gaudete Sunday 2014)

     Gaudete!  Today, on this the Third Sunday of Advent, we look forward with Joyful Hope to the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas, and at the End of Time.  Welcome also to Sunday Snippets (a Catholic Carnival); if you’re a fan of Catholic bloggery (and if you’re not, yet, you should give it a try), this is the place to go on the Lord’s Day.  Not simply my little corner of the party, but the main gathering at This That and the Other Thing [here], where a varied collection of Papist bloggers gather around RAnn’s Advent Wreath to share their posts from the past week.

The reredos at the Franco Center in Lewiston, ME
     Before I get to my own snippets, I’d like to share a couple other things from my week.  First of all, a pleasant surprise Friday night. My family and I attended a concert by a local youth orchestra in which the daughter of family friends was participating.  The youth orchestra was to be accompanied by a madrigal group from a local public high school.  We anticipated that the orchestra and singers would be good (and we were not disappointed), but given their secular affiliation (especially for the high school group), we didn’t expect that we would hear much about Christmas at this “Holiday Concert”.  The event was taking place in the auditorium of another public school, where a poster advertising the student production of a musical called “Urine Town” (no, I’m not making this up) tended to confirm our suspicions.  I am pleased to report, however, that not only did the student musicians beautifully perform songs about Christmas, but songs celebrating Christ.  Among other things, “I Wonder As I Wander”, which featured a lovely young soprano singing:

            I wonder as I wander out under the sky
            How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
            For poor orn’ry people like you and like I
            I wonder as I wander out under the sky

The players and singers concluded their concert with a glorious rendition of Handel’s “Halleluiah Chorus”, with the clearly energized young people in the orchestra putting forth their best performance of the night, and the chorus joyfully singing out “And He [i.e., Christ] shall reign for ever and ever!”  No, it was not a religious observance, but it wasn’t supposed to be: it was, simply, a performance.  I found it refreshing that, at least in a small town in Maine, a group from a secular school can still sing Christmas songs at a Christmas concert without causing a Constitutional Crisis.
     It also brought to mind another experience from a few days earlier.  We attended a talk Wednesday night at a place in Lewiston called the Franco Center, formerly the Franco American Heritage Center, and before that, for most of its existence, St. Mary’s Church.  There’s always something sad about a former Catholic church building converted to secular use.  I couldn’t help but notice that this one retained an unusual number of churchy details, no doubt because of the important place Catholicism played in the lives of the French Canadian community for so many years: there was a large crucifix in a glass display case in the lobby, very few of the architectural details had been removed or hidden, and the display cases inside the nave contained, among other historical artifacts, vestments and prayer books.  The biggest surprise, however, was yet to come: in order to accommodate theater-style seating, a new floor had been built that sloped up from front to back, until it reached the pointed tops of the Gothic arches beneath which worshipers had entered in years past.  When we climbed atop this structure to our seats we were greeted with an unexpected sight: although the high altar itself had (of course) been removed, its towering wooden reredos remained (or better yet, this having been a French-speaking parish, it’s retable).  The niche for the tabernacle was still visible, the red Alpha and Omega still stood out prominently, and above all, a big beautiful Madonna holding the Baby Jesus.

Interior of the Franco Center, formerly St. Mary's Church
     It was a wonderful sight, but it prompted thoughts both negative and positive.  On the negative side, I was struck with the realization that this secular hall still looked more like a Catholic Church than many recent church buildings still being used for that purpose.  On the plus side, however, and the more lasting impression: I was reminded that, however difficult things may look along the way, the Gates of Hell will not prevail.  As with the Christmas concert, the Christian roots of our culture have a way of showing up in all sorts of places. It’s good to be reminded from time to time.
     As for the week’s snippets from Principium et Finis, I found myself giving more attention, sadly, to some of the more negative trends in the culture, particularly as the week wore on:

    
Monday – Another beautiful Psalm setting from another great, but neglected, composer: “De Profundis (C.W. Gluck)” [here]


Wednesday – “A person is a person”, Dr. Seuss assures us, “no matter how small”.  Well, not everyone agrees:  “Abortion Myth #12” [here]


Thursday – A revamping of a piece from this past Spring, this one examines some of the consequences of family break-down for the health of the Republic:  “Marriage, Family & Liberty” [here]


Friday – Dispatches from the Brave New World of sex education: “A Couple Paving Stones On The Road To Hell” [here]  


Finally, this being Gaudete Sunday, let’s end on a positive note:

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Couple Paving Stones On The Road to Hell

      There’s an old saying: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”  It’s a little odd, when you think about it: shouldn’t our intentions be good?  The road to Heaven certainly isn’t paved with bad intentions, is it?  The answer, I think, is that the second half of the proposition is left out.  It's about good intentions that are not grounded in reality, or in wisdom, or in God’s law: they create more problems than they solve (if, indeed, they solve anything at all).  
     A classic example of the Road to Hell Principle is the thoroughly modern practice known as “Sex Education” (Sex Ed informally).  A concern, and I believe a sincere one in most cases, for the well-being of young people in an increasingly sexualized world has led to instructional programs in schools (and not just public schools) that, because they are disconnected from God’s law, and Natural Law, and plain common sense, promote the very harm they are intended to ameliorate.
     One such program has been in the news recently: a class run by a Planned Parenthood chapter in California that was invited to teach a class on sexuality to 9th graders in the local public high school.  According to the Fox News story [full story here]: 

. . . some parents are irate that their children’s sex ed class at Acalanes High School in Lafayette is being taught by employees of Planned Parenthood without their prior knowledge. They are also fuming over the methods and materials being used, including a checklist that asks students if they are “ready for sex” and another worksheet that describes how to give and obtain consent, as well as a diagram that uses a "genderbread" person for lessons in gender identity. 

The Gingerbread Person is a cute little fellow who clearly was designed to appeal to children, much like the old Camel Cigarettes mascot “Joe Camel”; and like the much maligned cartoon camel, who was criticized for promoting an unhealthy product to children, Gingerbread Person offers reassurance to the very young that whatever they want to express or do sexually is not just all right, but good and desirable.  Things, perhaps, that had not even occurred to them before.  As for the class itself, many of the children “felt the sessions were pressuring them to have sex” or, as one parent put it, “Some of the kids were distracted because it was divergent from what they were taught at home.”  Indeed. For example: 

Included in the materials provided to students were documents and worksheets that included a checklist entitled, “Sex Check! Are You Ready For Sex?” in which the 13 and 14-year-old students are asked questions such as if they have water–based lubricants and condoms and if they could handle a possible infection or pregnancy. Another worksheet reads like a how-to on obtaining consent from a possible sexual partner and offers possible statements like “Do you want to go back to my place?” and “Is it OK if I take my pants off?” 

There are more problems with school-based sex ed classes that I can get into here.  I will point out that the foregoing tends to support what many of us have been saying for a long time: that such classes not only debase sexuality and separate it from it’s appropriate place in a loving marital relationship, but actually encourage (or even “pressure”, as the students say above) early and promiscuous sexual activity.

     Here’s another case, this time from the UK [full story here].  After a sex ed class, a thirteen year-old boy and girl  

. . . went to a secluded area where they discussed what they had just been taught about sexual intercourse.
The boy said that he asked the girl if she wanted to "try sex." Although the young girl repeatedly said "No," the schoolboy proceeded to pin the girl down and rape her. Afterward he allegedly told the girl, "You can go now." 

This is only one case to be sure, but we can see a clear connection between the instruction and the act.  And, as it turns out, many British students have misgivings similar to those expressed by their American counterparts above.  From the Life Site story: 

Earlier this year a poll of UK teenagers by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) [here]found that a large majority of both boys and girls complained that sex education often presents promiscuity as normal, putting additional pressure on them to become sexually active before they might otherwise do so.
Many of the teens criticized the sex education lessons they had received at school for not doing enough to discourage them from becoming sexually active.
One 18-year-old girl responded to the poll question about her sex-ed experience: "I always felt pressured by teachers, like, 'sex is normal, just be safe OK' when actually I wasn't interested in having sex at the time and was happy to wait for the right person.”
"I don't think sex should be taught as 'the norm'. I think people should be made to feel comfortable and teachers should say, 'you should wait, the law states 16, don't be pressured'."
 
According to Dr. Philip Ney, a retired professor of psychiatry, there is plenty of research to show that the negative effects of sex ed programs are very real.  In an essay he wrote for Life Site News [full article here] he says:

It is quite conclusive now, that the more sex education, the more sexual activity and all the problems that go with that.  The introduction of sex education is well correlated with the increase in abortion, STDs and boy-girl interpersonal problems. Good education gives people the desire to try it out or learn more experientially.  Paradoxically, in that respect, current forms of sex education are good education but have the wrong results . . . The earlier the sex education, the younger children explore sex and try various sexual techniques. Present evidence makes it possible to also conclude that the earlier the sex education, the earlier the sexual behavior. Thus sexual education is sexual titillation. 

Despite all the evidence that these programs do the opposite of what they intend, the “experts” have nothing to offer but more of the same.  In response to the British case above, one such expert said that “in her opinion the solution to this type of misbehavior is more sex education, ‘and much earlier than 13, I would say.’”  
     This whole situation brings to mind an old saying: “Insanity is to keep doing the same thing, while expecting a different result”.  But what else can they do in the public schools, or in the secular world in general?  They have rejected a worldview in which healthy sexuality is nourished and supported.  They have torn down the social attitudes and institutions that protected people from the consequences of lust run amok. In a world where the most important thing is feelings (and isn’t that what the Genderbread Person is all about?), right and wrong are random abstractions.  That’s why even abstinence classes, while better than the Planned Parenthood inspired alternative, are still not enough.  Young people need to be taught not simply the (negative) practice of abstinence but the (positive) virtue of Chastity, and not just in a classroom: they need to see it as part of a coherent worldview, as something that not only works but can be lived out joyfully, especially by the example of the adults in their lives. 
     There are many reasons why Christianity spread as quickly as it did throughout the Roman Empire in the first few centuries after Christ.  I have heard that one of them was that pagan Romans saw the joy in the lives of their Christian neighbors, not the least part of which was the love and respect Christian men had for their wives.  In a culture that more and more encourages people to use each other for pleasure rather than embrace each other in love, we are again called to show a more excellent way.  We need to understand, and help our fellow Catholics see, that Church teachings on sexuality and marriage are not so much a series of prohibitions as they are a road map to happier, more productive, and holier lives. We need to rebuild, one person, one family, at a time a culture where Christ is King. 







Thursday, December 11, 2014

Marriage, Family & Liberty


     There are few societal issues or problems today that are not related, very often closely related, to the well-being of families; the family itself is dependent on the health of the institution of marriage; stable marriage, in turn, only flourishes in an environment shaped by sound morality.  This is a principle I’ve addressed numerous times, from various angles (here, here, here, and here, among others), but the most direct way of putting it is this: our moral choices do not affect ourselves only, but have an impact on society as a whole.  For this reason, issues that seem to be economic or political are often, at their root, the product of moral trends; the political and economic aspects are really only symptoms of the underlying cultural problem.  To the degree that our religious freedom is tied to liberty more generally (and I argue that it is), we ought to be concerned about some of the things that are brewing in the culture.

     Let’s start with something that is normally discussed as a partisan political issue here in the United States, but is actually something that goes much deeper: the so-called “gender gap”. In federal elections in the U.S. for the last forty years women have cast proportionally more votes for Democrats (who are generally more amenable to welfare state policies than Republicans) than have men, and since 1992 the overall female vote has gone to the Democratic candidate every time.  But there’s more here than meets the eye: as Kay Hymowitz points out in an article in City Journal [here],  women who are married have voted for the Republican every time, except 1996 when they chose Bill Clinton over Bob Dole by a slim margin; single women always have broken decisively for the Democratic candidate every time. In reality, the gap is between married and single women, and as the proportion of adult women who are not married grows, the apparent gap between women and men follows.

Rome in decay: The Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema


     Why the difference?  Meg McDonnell, writing at MercatorNet [here] offers the explanation that women who lack the support of a partner in the more traditional person of a husband are more likely to look for help from the government, and so support the candidate who’s offering more government services.  Hymowitz argues instead that the difference results from the fact that marriage is less prevalent in minority groups, who tend to favor the Democrats.  I don’t see the two causes as being contradictory; there are any number of factors in play, including the possibility that fewer intact families are among those things that draw minorities to the Big Government party.  Also, pollsters don’t seem interested in breaking down married women by race, but the information I’ve been able to find suggests that single white women do lean more to the left than their married sisters.
     Naturally, it is perfectly understandable that single women, who might be raising children alone or facing the prospect, would look for support.  I know from experience that even in a household with two healthy, well-educated parents who are committed to the family it can be overwhelming at times.  But this is also a reason why encouraging and supporting intact families is essential for maintaining freedom (which means not just political but religious liberty).  Not only are single mothers more likely to be dependent on government than women in intact families; their children, on average, are more likely to suffer from a whole host of issues, as detailed in my post “Where Have All The Fathers Gone?” [here], problems involving  “poverty, emotional/behavioral problems, maternal & child health, crime & incarceration, sexual activity & teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug & alcohol abuse, childhood obesity, education”.  In other words, they will be more likely to need government assistance, or other (less friendly) attention from the government.  Either way, the result is a bigger and more intrusive government, and citizens less equipped to take care of themselves.  And this problem is growing. McDonnell tells us that “for the first time in Census history, marriage rates are below 50 percent with only 48 percent of households married.”
     I have previously [here] quoted John Adams to the effect that “Our constitution was made only for the government of a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”  In other words, not everyone is equipped govern themselves.  Or, as Ben Franklin said after the Constitutional Convention, when asked whether the United States was going to be a monarchy or a republic: “A republic – if you can keep it.”  We could easily lose it, and with it any protections we have from a rapacious and ever more secularist government. The ancient Romans “kept” their republic for five centuries, twice the time that has elapsed since Franklin’s remark.  In the end, their republic collapsed, undermined by moral disintegration and the refusal of leading families, who were too busy with various amusements and self-satisfactions (and killing each other), to perpetuate themselves.  The direction of public affairs that had been in the hands of free Romans was subsumed by a sprawling tyrannical bureaucracy while ambitious generals killed each other for the brief honor of sitting at its head.  The same nation that produced Cincinnatus eventually gave itself up to Heliogabalus. Don’t think it can’t happen here.

      Today’s post is a revamping of an earlier piece published on May 5th called “Marriage and Liberty, part II", a follow-up to "Traditional Marriage: The Liberty Argument" [here].   














Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Abortion Myth # 12

MYTH: "It’s not wrong to abort 'fetuses' because they are not yet persons"

TRUTH: “personhood” is a subjective criterion, dependent on the opinion (and often the convenience) of whomever has the power to decide who is a person and who is not; it has no objective or scientific basis.  Therefore:

Prof. Peter Singer: even newborns are not "persons"with a right to life

1)      A common pro-abortion argument is that the unborn are not technically persons under the law, and that it is therefore permissible to kill them.  This is a false argument because the law cannot make us human beings; that is an objective reality regardless of what the law says.  If it were true, then there was nothing wrong with the mistreatment and killing of African slaves in the United States before the Civil War, because they were not full persons under the law; likewise Jewish people killed in Nazi Germany.

2)      Criteria offered for philosophical definitions of personhood that exclude the unborn also apply to other people who have been born, and whom the proponents would not advocate killing.  For instance:

-          Consciousness – We all lack consciousness when we sleep; some people are unconscious for long periods in comas.  May we kill them?  Also, we don’t really know how early we acquire “consciousness”, but unborn babies do exhibit extensive mental activity well before birth.
-          Dependence on the mother’s body-  Newborns are not much less dependent than the unborn, and actually require much more conscious effort from their care-givers than unborn babies, a dependence that diminishes only gradually over a number of years.  If dependence renders someone a non-person, we should also be free to kill very young children or anyone else who is seriously disabled.
-          Viability – that is, the baby’s ability to survive outside the womb.  Viability, also, is a subjective term: it is a measure of our ability to care for newborn babies, not something inherent in the babies themselves.  We can keep much younger premature babies alive today than we could just a generation ago. And again, this is an argument for killing anyone who is unable to survive on their own.
-          Whether or not the baby is wanted -   It is a measure of how debased the arguments for abortion have become that some people seriously put forth the proposition that some other persons wanting you can determine whether or not you are a human being.  Shall we “abort” homeless adults if there is no family to claim them?

3)      The only objective, rational, and incontrovertible criteria for determining “personhood” are being A) alive and B) human.  From the moment of conception, whether we call them blastocysts, embryos, or fetuses, unborn babies meet both of these requirements.  They are indisputably alive (contrary to Roe vs. Wade, there is not, and has not been for the past two centuries, a scientific “debate about when life begins”); they are also genetically complete, and already have all the genetic material they will need, everything they will ever need, in fact, except food and protection.

4)      It follows that if we can declare living human beings in the womb non-persons, then we have the power to declare other people non-persons as well.  This is already happening in regard to people in the final stages of life, and in some places to the very seriously disabled, if not yet in law at least in practice.  We even see apparently respectable (!) “authorities” such as Princeton Professor Peter Singer argue for the right to kill newborn babies.  None of us are safe from a state that can declare entire categories of human being expendable.

(Randy Alcorn's Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments provided much of the material for this post)


DON’T BUY THE LIE!


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link)


Links to entire Abortion Myths Series:

Abortion Myth # 1 [link

Abortion Myth # 2 [link] 

Abortion Myth # 3 [link]

Abortion Myth # 4 [link

Abortion Myth # 5 [link

Abortion Myth # 6 [link

Abortion Myth # 7 [link

Abortion Myth # 8 [link

Abortion Myth # 9 [link

Abortion Myth # 10 [link

Abortion Myth # 11 [link

Abortion Myth # 12[link

Abortion Myth # 13 [link

Abortion Myth # 14 [link

Abortion Myth # 15 [link

Abortion Myth # 16 [link]





Monday, December 8, 2014

De Profundis (C.W.Gluck)

    Christoph Willibald Gluck was one of the most influential composers of his time in the mid 18th century; he had an enormous impact on Salieri (whose Requiem Mass we've been sampling for the last couple weeks), Mozart, and many others. Perhaps no composer of his time had a greater influence on the development of the operatic genre. While his music is performed somewhat more often today than that of his protege Salieri, he is no longer one of the better-known composers.
     While Gluck's primary area was opera, he also composed musical settings for a few Psalms, few of which have survived. One that has come down to us is this hauntingly beautiful setting for Psalm 130 (linked below), a performance of which Salieri conducted at his old friend and mentor's funeral in 1788.
   

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (2nd Sunday of Advent 2014)

     A Blessed Second Sunday of Advent to all, and welcome to Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival, a weekly convocation of bloggers in union with the Church and the Successor of Peter (a.k.a. the Pope) who share their work from the past week at the main gathering (i.e., the Big Top) hereat This That and the Other Thing, home of our hostess RAnn. 

   Speaking of Popes, we have had a very unusual situation the last few years, unprecedented in modern times - we have two men living who have borne the title and filled the office of Pope: Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict.  No Pope had resigned for centuries before Benedict XVI, mostly to avoid destabilizing the Church.  A retired Pope could undermine the authority of the reigning Pope, or become the focal point, even if he didn’t wish it, of a schismatic movement.  While he papacy doesn’t wield the sort of secular influence it did in the Middle Ages, and Popes are no longer in the habit of imprisoning rivals, the danger still remains of a former Pope complicating the work of his successor, and confusing the faithful.
     I was acutely aware of this tricky situation this past week: I had two items featuring the recently retired Pontiff that were ready to post, but I was a little apprehensive about seeming to be disloyal to Pope Francis, or to be offering up an underhanded criticism by paying too much attention to his predecessor.  I chose in the end to publish both items, but I assure you that they ae not intended to cast any sort of negative light on our current Vicar.  The fact is, from his time as Pope, before that as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and even before that as a leading theologian, Joseph Ratzinger has left a substantial and important body of work, which we’ll be talking about for some time to come.
     Pope Emeritus Benedict himself understands quite well the delicate situation he brought about when he stepped down from the Papacy. He has stayed out of the way, making very few public appearances and even fewer statements.  That’s why apologist Jimmy Akin [article here] is so intrigued by the Pope Emeritus (sort of) publicly countering Cardinal Kasper’s most recent attempt to change the Church’s ancient practice of withholding Communion from divorced and remarried Catholics.  Cardinal Kasper has floated this same proposal several times over the last few decades, but every time he runs up against the same obstacle: Joseph Ratzinger.  This time, Akin surmises, Kasper thought he could take advantage of his long-time adversary’s public reticence, this time boldly citing an essay from 1972 in which a much younger Father Ratzinger seemed to be endorsing Kasper’s current view.  Ratzinger rejected that view decades ago, however, and now a republication of his earlier works has afforded an opportunity to subtly, but clearly, counter Kasper’s fancy footwork.  Read Jimmy Akin’s article to get the full story.

      But perhaps you were wondering when I’d get to the snippets?  Of course.  Here is what was happening at Principium et Finis over the First Week of Advent:

Monday – A follow-up to last week’s post; this composer, in my view, truly deserves to be heard more often: “ Antonio Salieri – Requiem in C Minor: ‘Agnus Dei’” [here]

Tuesday – Sure we love fetuses, but other than that we Pro-Lifers are a hard-hearted lot, are we not?  “Abortion Myth #11” [here]

Thursday – The first Ratzinger post of the week, featuring a document issued by the CDF when he was its head honcho: “On Being A Christian In Public Life” [here]

Friday – Jolly Old St. Nick was not a one-dimensional Saint:  “St. Nicholas: Lover, or Fighter?” [here]

Saturday – Here Joseph Ratzinger appears as Pope Benedict XVI, along with Russell Moore of Southern Baptist Conference: “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Ecumenism?”[here]

Finally, Here's one of our favorite Advent Hymns, based on today's Gospel: