Friday, June 15, 2018

Pope Francis on the equality of women

Before you read these recent words of Pope Francis, just remember that the Holy Father has already made it clear that women's ordination is completely off the table (as, indeed, it always has been and always will be; Pope St. John Paul II made it abundantly clear that the Church doesn't have the ability to ordain women to the priesthood). I just wanted to get that clear up front, because there are too many Catholic men who read the slightest bit of praise or encouragement of women, or the tiniest criticism of some unhelpful attitudes men have sometimes had about women, as proof that the Church is going to go off the deep end and become feminists and ordain women. So: not going to happen.

With that out of the way, though, please do take a minute to look at what Pope Francis is actually saying:
“Jesus dignifies women and puts them on the same level as men because he takes that first word of the Creator, both are ‘the image and likeness of God,’ both of them; not first the man and then a little lower down the woman, no, both are. And a man without a woman beside him - whether as a mother, as a sister, as a bride, as a working companion, as a friend - that man by himself is not the image of God,” the pope continued. 
However, Francis pointed out that women are still objectified in today’s world, and images used in advertising often “humiliated” women or featured them “wearing no clothes.” 
He said women were victims of a “disposable mentality,” not just in “far away places,” but all around us. 
“This is a sin against God the Creator, rejecting women because without her we men cannot be the image and likeness of God. There is an anger and resentment against women, an evil anger,” the pontiff said.
Pope Francis then linked this attitude toward women with the widespread sexual exploitation and trafficking of women:
Francis spoke about women being sexually exploited - used and sold as if they are in a market. He said this happens in neighborhoods even in Rome. 
“But, even in our everyday life, without going to those places, there is this ugly way of thinking, of rejecting women or seeing her as a ‘second class’ person. We need to reflect more deeply about this. And by doing this or saying this, by entering into this way of thinking, we despise the image of God, who made man and woman together with his image and likeness,” the pope said. 
“This Gospel reading helps us to think about the marketing of women, a trade, yes, trafficking, that exploitation which is visible but also that trade which we can’t see but is taking place out of sight. A woman is trampled underfoot precisely because she is a woman,” he said.
Now: remember how I began this post, with that little caveat? I did so because there is a type of man, and even a type of Catholic man, who thinks that any focus on women, any discussion of the problems of attitude that the Holy Father is talking about, any attempt to reinforce the idea that men and women are in fact equal in the eyes of our Creator, is nonsense. They call it feminism; they dismiss it as frivolous; they laugh it to scorn. Sure, they might say, sex trafficking is wrong and immoral. But just go and arrest the women, and the problem is solved. After all, they're the ones breaking the laws against illegal immigration and prostitution. Punish them, and the problem will go away--and the idea that the problem has any connection whatsoever to what they see as a man's proper belief that women are secondary, that God created them as an afterthought for the man, that women are unimportant and that some of them may even be disposable continues to escape them.

The Holy Father is rightly drawing a connection between a male attitude (and in some times and places, an all-too-common one) of dismissiveness and denigration toward women in general to the particular problem of the abuse and trafficking of women. Pope Francis is pointing out that the same male attitudes that see women as inferior by definition and place her permanently in a kind of secondary humanity also make it possible for other men to treat women like disposable objects, to denigrate them in immoral advertising, to abuse them, and to sell them into sexual slavery in every corner of the world.

He's not wrong, you know. Some Catholic men tend to bristle at the idea that what they see as men embracing a proper and dominant household role which keeps their wives subservient and their daughters under stricter rules than their sons has anything to do with the misuse and abuse of women elsewhere. But while a man who conducts his family that way may find sex trafficking morally abhorrent and prostitution disgusting, and be willing to work in opposition to both, what he may fail to see is that by modeling for his sons an attitude which suggests that their mother is best treated as a doormat and their sisters exist to save them the labor and bother of "unmanly" household chores from which they are "rightly" exempt, he is creating for them a philosophical model of contempt for women as a virtue, and ensuring they, too, will pass this attitude down to their own sons. And contempt may not inexorably lead to abuse, but it is certainly a necessary step in that direction.

Even in Catholic and Christian households which do not go that far, I have sometimes seen or heard of some troubling things, such as:
  • brothers being encouraged to tease and harass their sisters, while their sisters are told to "get over it" and to find a sense of humor;
  • girls chided for not being bright and pleasant, or unfailingly cheerful, especially around their fathers or other male relatives;
  • sons being praised extravagantly for their academic achievements, while daughters' similar achievements are expected, ignored, or even belittled (e.g., "An A in science? You must have an easy teacher this year...");
  • girls expected to babysit or care for younger siblings while boys the same age or older are excused from doing so on the grounds that they don't need to learn anything about babies.
There are other examples, but those will do for now.

The point here is simple. Catholic men and Catholic women should both see each other as equals, and should not react as if praise given to one sex is automatically a denigration of the other. When it comes to our culture's relentless objectification of women, though, and the grave harm that is causing in so many areas, though, Catholic men may need to think about whether they have internalized an attitude of misogyny that contributes to the objectification of women. If Catholic men instinctively think of women as less intelligent, less capable, and of lesser worth than women; if Catholic men teach their sons to devalue women by belittling such things as "women's work" or equating feminine qualities with weakness or emotional instability; if Catholic men read blog posts like this one and immediately think, "Yes, but after all lots of women really are [fill in the blank] and cause most of their own problems, but because of feminism men get all the blame..." then those men may, as Pope Francis suggests, be part of the problem.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Keeping Faithful Citizenship

It comes as no surprise to any Catholic that the United States bishops are deeply divided when it comes to politics. But it can be a little unsettling to see that division in action:
Preceding the debate was a presentation by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who chairs the bishops’ working group on Faithful Citizenship. The working group is already looking ahead to the 2020 presidential election, and wants to produce “user-friendly” supplements to the document. 
Gomez noted that Faithful Citizenship “has lasting value” but is too long, and perhaps not particularly accessible to those in the pews. While it does an excellent job of conveying information, he said the document lacks the ability to inspire voters, “so the task before us is to motivate the people to pray and to act.” 
Archbishop Gomez noted three priorities for the working group: reminding Catholics that faith is prior to partisan politics- that faith “shapes Catholics first”, and they are “members of a political party second (or third or fourth)”; that Catholics are called to be faithful citizens at all times, continually; and that public discourse should be always civil. 
The first bishop to respond to the Los Angeles archbishop was Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who said he planned to vote against the working group’s proposal, citing an apparent need to replace Faithful Citizenship with an entirely new document reflecting the “new body of teaching” from Pope Francis on issues including climate change, poverty, and immigration. 
“The way he presents those is a body of teaching we need to integrate into what we’re talking to our people about,” the cardinal stated.
Just a point or two to start with:

1. Faithful Citizenship is a USCCB document (full title: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship).  You can read it here, if you like; it's a 42 page pdf booklet, and print copies can also be ordered. It's quite a useful resource, actually, but I suspect the reason the lay faithful don't see it too often is that roughly half of them will dislike the parts about opposing abortion, euthanasia, the redefinition of marriage and of the family, and unjust attacks on religious freedom, while the other half will dislike talking about the preferential option for the poor, the dignity of migrants, the opposition to lavish consumption, and the need to fight against unjust discrimination.

2. As the faithful, so the bishops. Alas, the near-total inefficacy of the American bishops when it comes to opposing abortion has left a decades-long trail of destruction, and among today's bishops there are more than a few who simply do not emphasize the duty of every faithful Catholic to stand firmly against abortion, to witness tirelessly to the dignity and humanity of our unborn brothers and sisters, and to pray and act for real change (which is far more than a matter of picking political candidates). In fact, some bishops seem to support the "New Pro-life Movement" approach, which, as I understand it, means that you can't call yourself pro-life if you pray and counsel women outside of abortion clinics, or offer free sonograms to the undecided, or run crisis pregnancy centers to meet the needs of pregnant women and their babies before and after the child is born, but you can call yourself pro-life if you sign an online petition about climate change. Some of the bishops do seem to agree with that approach:
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego charged that the current edition of Faithful Citizenship (last revised in 2015), doesn’t engage with current issues and “Catholic teaching as it is now.”
Since the 2016 election, he said, “legal and political institutions are being atrophied” and we are in “a radically different moment”, noting widespread opposition to immigration, profound racial divisions, and school shootings. 
According to Bishop McElroy, Faithful Citizenship “doesn’t reflect the full-bodied teachings of Pope Francis,” mentioning in particular Gaudete et exsultate, saying that a wide variety of issues have “not a secondary, but a primary claim on conscience,” and that Faithful Citizenship “undermines that by its tendentious use of ‘intrinsic evil.’”
What followed this was a back-and-forth between bishops who supported Faithful Citizenship mostly as is but with some additional supplemental materials, and bishops calling for the whole thing to be scrapped and rewritten along entirely new lines. I do encourage you to read the whole thing, if for no other reason than to see the names of the various bishops insisting that because of Pope Francis we need a whole new document.

In the end, the bishops did vote to keep Faithful Citizenship and add the supplemental videos. But the CNA author summed up the whole controversy this way:
Amid repeated reference to “new teachings” of Pope Francis, the unexpected argument demonstrated a deep division among the US bishops.
My advice: keep a close eye on those bishops who insist that Pope Francis has created a whole new teaching on social justice that somehow removes the intrinsic evil of things like abortion and euthanasia while requiring recycling under penalty of sin, or whatever it is their excellencies are thinking. It's people like that who created the alleged "Spirit of Vatican II" out of whole cloth, and cherry-picked a few phrases here and there out of perfectly ordinary documents in order to smash Communion rails, destroy statues, dismantle devotions, weaken moral teachings, and unleash a wasteland in what had been a promising garden.

Faithful Citizenship is a rather balanced document, one that every Catholic should be able to agree with. Unbalancing it by weakening the moral teachings against the unique evils of abortion, euthanasia, and every form of unjust killing while emphasizing social injustices that may have many possible prudential solutions and/or that may not even be able to be directly affected by average citizens (such as the excessive use of drone warfare or the implementation of clean-energy laws) would be a step backward. Unfortunately, it is a step that some bishops seemed to want to take.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The great tragedy unfolding in Ireland

Ireland seems to be determined not just to abort her children, but to make sure the survivors have to be educated in secular schools so that they, too, can grow up to be LGBT-friendly abortion loving hedonistic sexually profligate mindless consumers with substandard reading ability just like a good many of the kids educated in US public schools and other secular education systems.

Just consider this:
Same goes for McKenna’s partner, Diarmuid. They met at 19, have two kids now, and they live outside of Dublin. But they both stopped going to church years ago.

When they had their first child, Alice, they decided not to get her baptized. Why bother, if they’re not religious? At least, that’s what they thought at first.

A couple of years later, it came time to start thinking about finding a school for Alice. At that point, McKenna said she and Diarmuid had changed their minds about baptism.

“Basically, what it came down to was, after doing our research, we decided we had better get her baptized, just in case.” They were worried about finding an opening in a local kindergarten. [...] 
“It put me in a really uncomfortable situation. I could totally understand why he came to visit and asked us why we were choosing to do this as an unmarried couple who were not church-goers who he had never seen before,” McKenna said.

“I told him a lie basically. I told him that, you know, we had decided that we wanted to bring Alice up in the same faith that we were brought up in.”

McKenna said the whole experience made her feel like a hypocrite. She and her partner have no interest in going back to the church. Nonetheless, they decided to get their second child baptized too, just to boost his chances of getting a spot in the local Catholic school.
So a couple of unmarried fornicating apostates lied their way into Catholic baptisms for their two children because they thought (and the Church in Ireland says it isn't true) that their kids would get a better chance at a particular kindergarten if they cynically and falsely went through the form of baptism for them, and the problem here is that the Catholic Church needs to get out of the Irish education system so that these two fine parents won't have their delicate little consciences bruised by feelings of hypocrisy? Oh, cry me a river.

The great tragedy that is unfolding in Ireland is like the old curse that goes, "May you get everything that you wished for." Because when the new Irish pagans get what they want, when they destroy the Church in Ireland and remove her from public life, when they tear down the churches and secularize the schools and hospitals and shut down the crisis pregnancy efforts and destroy the faith-based charities and eradicate every trace of Catholicism from Ireland, the new Irish pagans will have gotten exactly what they want, and with it will come higher taxes and the suppression of freedom and the rising cost of health care and the troubled schools and the decimation of the population due to abortion and the growing crisis of the poor, who will require even higher taxes to be cared for.

Someday, there will be Catholics again in Ireland. I predict that they will come from Africa and India to settle in an empty, decaying land that will be desperate for their help. And I don't think it will take more than a century or two for this to happen, because when a Catholic nation embraces so much evil so fast the reckoning can't be far off, either.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Cry havoc, and let slip the chicken sandwiches of hate

As you probably know already, the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, committed one of the worst sins a progressive type can commit, and during the Holy Month of Pride, too. No, he didn't accidentally throw a recyclable container into the trash; and he didn't kick any puppies either. It's much, much worse than that:

He ate at Chick-Fil-A. Worse, he tweeted about it. Happily. Perhaps even (gasp! horror!) with pride.

Now, everybody knows that during Pride Month you are only allowed to be proud of two things: one, you are, yourself, gay and living a gay lifestyle, or, two, you are not gay and are tragically unable to live the gay lifestyle but you are an ally, which means you clap every time you see a rainbow and sigh with happiness every time you see two men or two women canoodling in the park (or wherever). And if you are the second sort of person, you can only be a little tiny bit proud of your ally status, because after all you're not the one doing all the hard work of being gay; you're just a supporter.

But being a supporter means that at all times and in all places you must earnestly, tirelessly, worriedly ask yourself this crucial question: WWMGFD? That, as everyone knows, means "What Would My Gay Friends Do?" and it is a really, really important question, because otherwise you might accidentally do something really horrible, like buy and eat a Chicken Sandwich of Hate.

Chickens aren't literally haters, of course; in fact, they tend to be polygamists, which while not as good as gay is still way better in the eyes of our culture than boring heterosexual monogamy. So why should the answer to the WWMGFD question always be, "My gay friend would NEVER eat at Chick-Fil-A! Especially not in June!" anyway?

Luckily, Hayley Peterson at Business Insider can explain it all for us:
The backlash shows Chick-fil-A still has lingering problems with its brand image following remarks six years ago by the company's CEO, Dan Cathy, regarding his views on same-sex marriage. 
Cathy set off a fury among gay-rights supporters in 2012 that led to nationwide protests after he told the Baptist Press that the company was "guilty as charged" for backing "the biblical definition of the family unit." [...] 
Since then, Chick-fil-A has worked to shed its controversial image, and over time, protests against the chain have largely dissipated. 
Given the backlash against Dorsey's Chick-fil-A meal, however, it seems the fast-food chain still has some work to do to move past Cathy's comments.
See, the worst thing any American can do is say out loud, publicly, that he or she is actually sort of uncomfortable with the notion of a two-man or two-woman marriage, and that in fact the definition of marriage that limited it to one man and one woman was actually sort of a good idea, and that his or her church, synagogue, or mosque teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman and he or she is sort of okay with his or her church and whatnot. Because that belief is absolutely, completely out of line these days when the Supreme Court in its almighty wisdom decided that marriage is pretty much undefinable so everybody can have one except for single people and groups including more than two, because so far Justice Kennedy hasn't had any "sweet mystery of life" visions about polygamy or the single person, but he's sniffing the penumbras of the Constitution on a regular basis and hopes that something will emanate soon.

But since Dan Cathy actually admitted that he believes in the traditional definition of marriage, his chicken is and always will be Hate Chicken, and thus unfit for consumption by gay people and their allies.

Of course, the problem here is that a lot of people pay polite lip service to the idea of gay marriage, and will even sign up as an "ally" at work for no reason at all other than that they might get fired if they don't. But secretly, even in the hearts of a lot of people who honestly don't care if two men want to have a  wedding and call themselves spouses, there is still this lingering heteronormativity that thinks of a wedding as something a man and a woman have, and a marriage as something  that involves people who are not the same sex. And more than 97% of the time--they're right. So they will have to wrestle with the question: "Am I the sort of ally who can't eat Hate Chicken, or can I ignore this stuff and get my usual order to go?"

For those of us who are unabashed, unapologetic "bigots" (if we define "bigot" as "anybody who, informed by deeply held religious beliefs or deeply held philosophical beliefs, doesn't think that two men or two women are a real marriage"), we have a deal of freedom that poor Mr. Dorsey (an ally!) simply doesn't have. We are free to eat Hate Chicken. We are free to go to Chick-Fil-A every day in June, if we want, except the Sundays when the restaurants are closed. We can do it for no reason other than that we really love those chicken sandwiches and nuggets and lemonades and waffle fries. Or we can do it because it's sort of nice to support a place that treats its workers well and closes on Sundays so their employees can go to church and/or spend time with their families. We can even do it because we also believe in the traditional definition of marriage and the heteronormativity of the nuclear family which, under the usual sort of heterosexual marital activity, leads to an appreciation for indoor play spaces and a pretty good kids' meal menu.

So while our progressive friends are wringing their hands, asking in fearful whispers "WWMGFD?" and scrutinizing the Approved Gay Ally Lunch Location List, we can be all, "Cry havoc, and let slip the chicken sandwiches of hate!" Once in a while, you know, turnabout is fair play.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Heart so pierced, so wounded

Today has been the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for us Catholics. Wikipedia's entry about the devotion is actually pretty good; I especially liked the way that the article traces the devotion back to a time far earlier than St. Margaret Mary Alacoque's visions in the mid-to-late 1600s; rarely does a Church devotion arise all at once out of nowhere, and the devotion to the Sacred Heart is no exception.

During one of St. Margaret Mary's visions, the Lord reportedly spoke to her about this feast that we still celebrate today:
"Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this Sacrament of Love. But what I feel most keenly is that it is hearts which are consecrated to Me, that treat Me thus. Therefore, I ask of you that the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi be set apart for a special Feast to honor My Heart, by communicating on that day, and making reparation to It by a solemn act, in order to make amends for the indignities which It has received during the time It has been exposed on the altars. I promise you that My Heart shall expand Itself to shed in abundance the influence of Its Divine Love upon those who shall thus honor It, and cause It to be honored."
The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus rests upon the knowledge that God Himself became Man, and then suffered and died for us out of pure love, and that with that same pure love He seeks to save each and every one of us, all of humanity. The indifference of human beings for God, and in a special way the indifference and neglect shown to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament by His own priests, is what a devotion to the Sacred Heart seeks to repair. There are few enough among His followers who can say that we truly reflect upon Christ's passion and death with anything like the proper sense of sorrow and gratitude for so unfathomable a Love. The very Heart of God beats unceasingly with a love beyond our imagining for every single person who has ever come into being, even for children never born or the aged alone and forgotten, for the small and the unnoticed and those buried in their own tombs of flesh long before they leave this life.

To that Loving Heart, then, we entrust all who are suffering, all who are ill, all who are dying, and all who have died. In particular in this week, the week between the Feast of Corpus Christi and the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I think it is proper to offer prayers for people I don't know but whose suffering and deaths have been in the news, everyone from the children who have drowned in local swimming accidents (and their shattered families) to the famous man who draws near to death to the two famous people who in spite of everything visibly good about their lives chose the tragic recklessness of suicide.

We cannot love more than Love, and God is Love. That He took upon Himself a human body with a beating heart to express that inexpressible Love is already more than we could possibly deserve; that He then suffered, died, and rose again to open what was closed and restore what was lost is great beyond any telling of the story. And that Heart is with those who struggle, and sin, and weep. He does not abandon any of us, and He will pour out oceans of His mercy upon the faintest last whispered cry. We do not presume upon His mercy, but what else beside Love and Mercy can be pouring forth from a Heart so pierced, so wounded--and yet so victorious?

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Catholics and the Perfect Dream Beach Wedding

As you may have already read, the Diocese of Baltimore is allowing some Catholics to have their weddings outside of a church:
The Archdiocese of Baltimore recently launched (this past Valentine’s Day, as it happens) a 12-month trial period during which couples can seek permission to hold Catholic weddings outside churches and chapels. The new policy states that the preferred location for weddings is still the home parish of the bride or groom, but it allows for holding weddings at other locations, including outdoors. Couples must approach a priest at least six months before their desired wedding date, and the priest must then seek special approval from the archdiocese. 
Dianne Barr, the archdiocese’s chancellor, told America that the policy went into effect in February and that about 50 applications have been approved. “So far, the requests for a particular request have been well thought out,” she said, adding that some couples who had already planned ceremonies outside a church with an officiant who is not a Catholic priest or deacon have learned about the new policy and sought to include a Catholic minister. 
Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, Ms. Barr said, and some locations are still off limits, including casinos, bars and nightclubs. Though Baltimore is located on the water, boats are also off limits because of the possibility that during the ceremony, the boat could float into jurisdiction not covered by the archdiocese or the appropriate civil authorities. For outdoor ceremonies, locations must have an indoor facility available in the event of inclement weather, and the standard norms for a Catholic ceremony must be followed, including the use of sacred music.
Let's start with the obvious first: bishops are in charge of their dioceses, and the Archbishop of Baltimore's decision to try this out is fully his business, in that it's the sort of decision an archbishop has the jurisdiction to make. It's not anyone's place to say otherwise; nothing that follows should be taken as an attack on the archbishop's authority.

Having said that: this is a bad idea

It's one thing to have a very quiet sort of policy in place so that if the bride's or groom's family is not Catholic and is actually rather anti-Catholic and refuses to set foot in a Catholic parish or something, an alternate place for the wedding can perhaps on occasion be worked out very privately with the pastor and the archbishop. It's another thing altogether to make it seem as though anybody can get married in a local beauty spot just because they want to for those perfect wedding photos, and after all they're not really practicing Catholics anyway, and they didn't even intend to have a Catholic priest present but if the Church will just get over herself and let them have the Wedding of Their Dreams, they'll go ahead and pretend to be going through the motions of Getting Married in the Church (though not actually in a church, because that would be tacky) by having a Catholic priest or deacon present.

I know what the concern is here: the concern is that by saying "no" to the bride who is demanding a gorgeous wedding on a beach or in the library that costs $7,500 to rent (and that's without food or anything), you are just going to drive the couple out of the Church altogether, because every young person believes it's the Church's job to affirm you in all your life choices and never to say "no" to anything you might want to do or bore you with talk about sin or eternal destinies or anything like that. But let's talk about what kinds of couples, generally speaking, want to get married someplace other than their parish church: to begin with, it's a couple without a parish. In fact, it's a couple who doesn't go to Mass regularly at all, a couple neither of whom has set foot in a Catholic parish since they "graduated" from Church at their Confirmations. They have no intention of living as practicing Catholics. They are openly living in sin and have been for some time now. They will not separate before their marriage, nor will they seek sacramental confession as they are not sorry at all for living together and having sex on a regular basis without being married. They use artificial contraception and plan to continue doing so for the duration of their marriage--which may not be forever, because they also don't believe marriage is a permanent commitment. The odds of them having either of their carefully planned children baptized is slim to none, and really depends on whether either one has a Catholic grandmother who will insist on it (and whether she has any money to leave them). Though they may promise to raise their children in the Church there is practically no good reason to think that they will do so. The Church is not even important enough to them to make them want a nuptial Mass in a church, and by failing to teach them why Catholics value such things but instead giving in to their shallow and vapid demands, Church officials are essentially sending the message that they can have what they want from the Church without all that silly bother about religious practices.

If anything, the Church's willingness to "bend" and allow them their Perfect Dream Beach Wedding will convince a lot of young couples that they really aren't missing anything by skipping Mass on Sundays. On the slight chance that they do want to sign their eventual children up for First Holy Communion, they're going to be annoyed by the two-year class requirement, outraged by parishes that expect you actually to come to Mass on Sundays with your child during those years, and indifferent to the pastor's plea at the First Communion Mass that you will return the following Sunday, because he knows and you know that your child will next be seen at church when it's time for Confirmation, or when grandma takes him to Mass, whichever comes first.

The abysmal catechesis of the last four or five decades has borne nothing but rotten fruit. I understand the concerns of pastors who think that being too strict with young people who ask for marriage will only lead them to enter invalid marriages outside the Church--but are we doing any favors by letting them enter possibly invalid marriages inside the Church? When Pope Francis said that many if not most marriages these days are invalid, he wasn't talking through his papal hat: he is in a position to know. But the same thing can be observed by weary pastor after weary pastor who has tried again and again to teach couples who come to be married that they can't expect to live in sin, reject all the Church's teachings on marriage and family life, and still form a valid bond.

Those same valiant pastors have held the line on this one thing: that Catholic weddings have to take place in a Catholic church, and that only under the most extreme circumstances will the Church ever make an exception to that rule (such as, the bride is under treatment for a terminal illness in the hospital, or the groom's family are all Buddhists or Hindus or something and are not comfortable coming to a Catholic church, because unlike most Catholics they still take the idea of "sacred ground" seriously). By opening the rules to allow bridezillas to choose beauty spots for no good reason at all for their "Catholic" weddings, the effect is that the good pastors are being thrown to the wolves. Again.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What the other side thinks about religious liberty

I can't say that I'd recommend you read this whole opinion piece by Julie Burkhart at The Hill, because quite frankly it's nonsense on toast, making the kind of muddled arguments that would get a D minus grade in most high schools. Here's a small sample:
But doctors and nurses are already protected from performing abortions and other procedures they object to. In fact, the fear, as baseless and discriminatory as it may be, has been a forceful reason why abortion care has been pushed into their own clinics. 
Isolating abortion providers from the medical community has been the longstanding strategy to limit resources and access to these providers. The ownership of hospitals by religious organizations has further pushed providing abortion care — even at serious and fatal risks to the woman — out to independent clinics with no or few connections to the hospital. 
But abortion care is not any different from any other private medical treatment. In fact, it’s just that. Abortion is health care. 
What I think I find most puzzling is the push to alleviate doctors and nurses from performing procedures they don't want to do. What about alleviating the burden of an unwanted pregnancy from a woman? What about the oath to do no harm as a doctor?
I'll spare you the rest; you may abort the hope that the thinking in Burkhart's piece ever improves, as it certainly does not.

Still, I make it a practice on occasion to go and see what the other side thinks about issues like conscience protection and religious liberty, and I am never really surprised. The view on the Left about religious liberty these days seems to boil down to:  a) when religious freedom is requested by small, non-Christian religions and/or invoked as a reason why a church won't do business with a polluter or a gun manufacturer, religious freedom is an awesome part of our Constitution, but b) when religious freedom is requested by a Christian who doesn't want to kill unborn humans or celebrate same-sex weddings it's an obnoxious threat to liberty that should be crushed as soon as possible.

In Burkhart's piece, for instance, we have the claims that doctors and nurses don't have to worry about being forced to perform abortions because they already have conscience protections; that abortion is just health care so doctors who don't want to do that kind of health care should be go into branches of medicine that don't deal with pregnancy (the fact that some pregnant women would actually prefer to have their babies delivered by doctors who don't kill other women's babies seems to escape her); that really doctors should be forced to do abortions because otherwise they're just trying to control women--but hey, nobody needs to worry that people will ever be forced to kill babies in utero because abortion is health care. 

And refusing to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex wedding is apparently a slippery slope to ending LGBT rights--if you read Louise Melling's piece in Slate:
Opponents of LGBT equality are already mischaracterizing the court’s decision as holding that religious freedom authorizes denials of service to LGBT people. This despite the court’s recognition that exemptions from anti-LGBT discrimination are inconsistent with the equal dignity for LGBT people the court embraced in its marriage equality decision. Indeed, anti–LGBT civil rights activists have vowed to make Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision that recognized same-sex couples have the freedom to marry, the new Roe v. Wade. For example, conservative writers Ryan T. Anderson and Sherif Gergis have said, “The law after Obergefell should treat those who believe that marriage unites man and woman … as it has treated prolife hospitals, doctors, and others in the wake of Roe v. Wade.” Alliance Defending Freedom—the very same legal organization that argues in courts across the country for ever-increasing religious exemptions in the reproductive rights space—asked the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop to create an unprecedented religious exemption from a law barring discrimination against LGBT people. (Disclosure: I was part of the ACLU team representing the same-sex couple in Masterpiece Cakeshop.) 
The decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop will not deter opponents of LGBT equality from pursing this strategy. They will continue to argue in the courts that the Constitution and statutes protecting religious liberty give them the right to discriminate. And they will argue for statutory exemptions, as a compromise necessary in state legislatures and Congress, for the progress on LGBT rights that we very much need.
In Leftist Land, religious people are "anti-LGBT" and want, for no reason at all except for hateful bigotry, to discriminate against gay people and engage in "...denials of service..." and other acts of hostility, you see. Meanwhile, in reality, that nice Muslim or Orthodox Jew or Christian who runs a business that intersects in some way with gay marriage (not merely gay people) and who does not recognize two men or two women as a marriage based on deeply held religious beliefs about what marriage actually IS, just wants the right not to be forced to serve what is to him or to her a lie about marriage as a precondition of earning a living in his or her small business. If you don't believe that two men or two women can actually get married because your religious faith and tradition say they can't, in other words, it's sort of rude for the State to force you to take photographs or make custom cakes for the event in violation of your faith and your conscience. 

One thing I noticed as I read these two pieces is the way the ground continually shifts. For Burkhart, the idea that some woman somewhere might allegedly need an abortion right that second is a serious matter that requires all doctors in obstetrics to be forced to provide them; but for Melling, the slight inconvenience involved in having to call the next baker on your list of possible cake providers is profe enough that the vile discriminators are negatively impacting your self-esteem and must be stopped by the full power of the law before people start thinking they have the right to discriminate, or something.

The interesting thing about both pieces is this: they seem to take it for granted not that religious liberty is not threatened by the modern progressive state and its own religion of secularism, but that it ought to be so threatened, and even destroyed if  that is what is needed to create the utopia of easy abortions and gay weddings that everyone is forced to celebrate (or, at least, to pretend to celebrate, under threat of fines or jail time or loss of livelihood, presumably). It is pretty clear that many leftists share the view of religious liberty which redefines it as "freedom to worship," meaning that if you absolutely must, for quirky reasons which nobody quite understands, go to a church or mosque or synagogue and pray a bit on a semi-regular basis, well, it's probably all right. It's not the sort of thing the state actually wants to encourage or look upon favorably, but nobody's going to stop you, at least not officially. But don't think you can carry that faith life with you beyond the church or mosque or synagogue doors; you'll offend somebody, and probably discriminate against someone in your innermost thoughts, which will require an expensive dose of re-education. 

That kind of religious liberty was last seen behind the Iron Curtain, and it wasn't much of a freedom at all. It doesn't surprise me that many on the Left still admire it, but it does surprise me a little that they're willing to be so open about their hostility to faith, in the wake of a SCOTUS decision that pretty much chided them for giving the show away to an extent that made the court rule for the Christian baker.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

America's established church of secularism

I'm writing this blog post in between my ongoing search for a title for an unpublished manuscript. The book is an alternative universe Regency-esque tongue-in-cheek paranormal romance/fantasy featuring mermaids, vampires, and a curse. It will be published as a YA novel because the subject matter is a little much for my usual reading age group of intermediate fiction readers; however, as always, the book contains no overt or graphic sexual content (though in line with the whole "Regency-esque" thing a major plot point involves the untiring attempts by the heroine's aunt to find the heroine a suitable husband).

The title search will take a while; the best I came up with so far was "A Vampire of Quality," and I agree with some friends and family members who think it's kind of lackluster. So as I continue to search and play with title generators, I thought it was a nice opportunity to pop in here and talk about the First Amendment. If you've forgotten what it says, you can read it here.

Most of us who live here in America take our First Amendment freedoms for granted. We understand that not all nations protect these freedoms: the freedom of religion, and of speech, and of the press, and the right of people to assemble peacefully and to petition the government. But we have a tendency, at least those of us who are middle-aged or older, to think that everybody agrees with these freedoms and wants to work to protect them.

This isn't, however, always true. Though the SCOTUS decision yesterday did ultimately protect Jack Phillips' right to refuse to design and create a cake for a same-sex wedding, it did not really address some of the more burning questions: do our rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion allow us to dissent from the secular state's redefinition of marriage in tangible ways?

Some younger Americans think that a new American value, "diversity," is more important than freedom of speech or freedom of religion (and even possibly of freedom of the press, depending on which media outlet you're talking about). While people of my generation were taught that, yes, even people who hold rather obnoxious opinions have the right to express them, including the right to do so publicly, and that this right can only be abridged in some tiny circumstances (e.g., no yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, no inciting a mob to commit violent acts, etc.), today's young people seem to think that free speech can and should be restricted by both private and public authorities in the event that the speech itself is offensive.

And when it comes to freedom of religion, well, a lot of young people seem to be rather confused. They seem to think that while everyone should freely choose what religion to practice, nobody's religious beliefs ought to be present in the public square in such a way as to inconvenience anybody else.

This is why a whole lot of people seem to think that cake bakers and florists and so on must be compelled to take part in gay weddings, because the state has redefined marriage in such a way as to require all citizens to accept the idea that two men or two women can get "married" in the same way that a man and a woman can. If you don't accept that idea, you don't, according to a lot of people (not all of them young) have the right to say so in public or to act on that belief.

Similarly, if you are a pro-life doctor, and the government has redefined abortion as "health care," you must participate; your freedom of speech doesn't let you vocalize your disapproval while on the job, and your freedom of religion just means you can privately dissent from the government's redefinition of "health care;" it doesn't give you the right to refuse to kill babies in the womb--according to how a lot of people seem to think these days.

And if you are an observant Muslim, and your employer orders you to remove your hijab not for any reason of actual health and safety but because, say, you work in a government office--again, the new thought seems to be that your employer can order you to set aside your religious garb while at work, because you are free to wear it on your own time.

Our Founding Fathers would be pretty appalled by these notions of what free speech and the free exercise of religion are starting to mean in popular thinking (if not yet, thank goodness, in law); by these definitions our ancestors who fled from England and Europe because their freedom to live according to the dictates of religions apart from the established churches was under attack were just being silly, and should have accepted the reality that they weren't going to get to live openly as dissenters in the first place.

Many people of faith today, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others, are actually dissenters from America's de facto established church of secularism. Occasionally, as in yesterday's SCOTUS ruling, there is a glimmer of hope in the sense that some of our governing bodies do not yet see secularism as America's established religion and are willing to rebuke those who are overtly hostile to other religions as they attempt to proselytize for and impose secularism on an unwilling populace; but these hopeful lights are few and far between, alas. The views expressed by many young people today would actually increase the rush to establish secularism as America's official faith, by treating all dissent from things like gay "marriage" and abortion and other secular values in much the same way religious dissent was treated by governments in the past. It is a good thing that the Supreme Court, while probably an ally of the religion of secularism in many ways, is not yet willing to make it America's established church.

Monday, June 4, 2018

A few thoughts on the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision

I haven't had the time today to read as much as I would like on the Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. As you know, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. But some conservative commenters are counseling caution; the decision was narrow in its scope, and does not address many potential conflicts that may yet arise between religious believers and LGBTQ citizens. Other commenters are more hopeful; I admit that I am, too, because it seems like this is the first time in a long time that a government body has recognized that a religious belief in the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman, and only that kind of union, simply cannot be dismissed as a kind of irrational animus against gay people, but may even be the kind of belief that must be given equal respect to the belief that the definition of marriage is infinitely malleable.

I have no expertise in the law whatsoever and will avoid commenting on the legal issues. I don't have any particular expertise as a Catholic, either, as I'm a lay woman of average religious education, but I do know what the Church teaches when it comes to people who are attracted to their own sex. Here's what the Catechism has to say on the subject:
Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
I think in the light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, it might be a good idea to look at that phrase, "unjust discrimination," and talk about what it does, and doesn't, mean.

Human beings in general have certain basic rights, and they don't lose those basic rights just because they are sinners (since we are all sinners). Even if they are obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin they still have the right to food, clothing, and shelter, and to access to essential medical care. They have a corresponding right to attempt to find work to help them meet these needs, and should not, generally speaking, be barred from employment for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability to do the work. In a just society their basic needs should be met even if they are unable to work at all due to disability or for some other just cause.

However, when it comes down to the details, there are limits to the way those rights can be exercised. A starving man who has no way to buy food or obtain it legally from charities, etc., may not sin if he steals what he needs, but grocery stores are not obliged to hand out all their food for free. A person who has been in an accident must be treated at the nearest hospital regardless of his ability to pay, but somebody still has to pay the doctors and the nurses; they cannot be compelled to work for free (though many medical professionals do generously volunteer to help those who have no way to pay). A landlord cannot in general turn away a potential tenant because he discriminates against people of a certain ethnic or religious background, but a potential renter cannot claim discrimination if he cannot meet the rental requirements in terms of deposit and credit rating. In other words, there is always a balance, even when we are talking about basic, essential human needs.

A person who identifies as gay and lives a gay lifestyle should not be barred from exercising his basic, fundamental human rights. A grocery store that refused to sell food to gay people would be acting unjustly; a restaurant that refused to serve gay people would also be acting unjustly, and the same is true for the other basic needs. Regardless of what the law would say about such a situation, I think it should be obvious that the Catholic Church would view such an act as a sinful act of unjust discrimination.

So what makes the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision different? Why should religious liberty make it okay not to sell a gay couple a cake for a gay wedding?

In the first place, nobody has a fundamental human right to buy a wedding cake. In addition, the right to practice one's religion in the public square does sometimes include the right to refuse to participate in someone else's acts or events if those acts or events are at odds with one's religion. Catholics, as well as other Christians, do not believe that it is even possible for two men or two women to be "married" in any real sense that does not make total nonsense of the word "marriage." For someone like Jack Phillips to be forced to use his considerable artistic and culinary skills to create a custom wedding cake for the celebration of something which he does not believe to be a wedding is an unjust violation of his right to exercise his religion freely.

Finally, Mr. Phillips has sold and says he will always sell regular baked goods to gay couples, including cookies or birthday cakes. This, to me, strikes exactly the right balance: he is not unjustly discriminating against gay people, to whom he will sell most of his confections; but he will not design and create a custom wedding cake for an event which his faith forbids him to think of as a wedding at all. And he shouldn't have to.

I have read concerned opinions from LGBT people about how this ruling makes them fearful that Christians will try to deny them various goods and services. I would tell them not to worry. The Christian tire shop owner will still sell you tires; the Catholic lady who owns a coffee shop will be glad to sell you coffee. It's only when you try to force Christians to accept the redefinition of marriage that our rights and your wishes may collide.

The reason religious liberty is important, though, is because it goes far beyond questions of LGBT people and marriage; it goes way beyond Christian beliefs, too. Should the Muslim girl working at a big-box grocery store be forced to remove her hijab lest people are offended by it? Should the Jewish deli owner have to cater a white supremacist rally? If saying "no" to a customer is always discrimination and bigotry, does that mean that owners, employers, and employees have no rights?

Today's decision makes me hopeful that common sense and a desire for balance are coming back into fashion. We can only hope. And I am hopeful that my fellow Christians will see this as an opportunity to reiterate to the LGBT community: we do not hate you. We cannot accept certain aspects of your lifestyle and we reject the redefinition of marriage, and we understand that you don't agree with us on this. But if you are experiencing actual and unjust discrimination in terms of the basics of life, we will help you as we would help anyone in that kind of situation. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Families are more important than school

In Germany, where homeschooling is illegal, parents are not allowed to take their children out of school for much of anything--including an attempt to make travel plans over a three day weekend:
It’s not uncommon for parents to take their children out of class a day before the school holidays begin in order to get a cheaper flight or avoid the rush. 
But in the southern German state of Bavaria you do so at your peril. Police were deployed to the region’s airports at the start of the Pentecost holidays last week to check any children of school age. 
Parents travelling with children between the ages of four and 16 were stopped and ordered to show a letter from their school showing they had permission to be out of class.
Eleven children were caught at Nuremberg airport and another ten at Memmingen airport, near the Bavarian Alps. 
Their parents could find themselves returning from holiday to a hefty bill. Under Bavarian law parents can face fines of up to €1,000 (£880) if they take their children out of school without permission — enough to wipe out any savings they are likely to have made by getting cheaper flights ahead of the rush.

It could have been even worse for the families involved, according to a police officer at Memmingen airport who told Spiegel magazine he could have made them miss their flights and ordered the children back to school.

“We call the school to check if they are out of class without permission. If the teacher insists on the presence of the children, we have to bring them back,” the unnamed officer said.
In America, you might get a nasty letter from the school system if you take your child out of class to travel on a family trip, but at least nobody thinks posting truancy police at the airport is a good idea, let alone fining families whose kids miss school. Yet.

This sort of thing, though, is what happens when you forget two very important concepts: first, the idea that the parents' relationship with their child is more important than the relationship between the child and the state; and second, the notion that education does not merely consist of sitting in a dull classroom for six or seven hours a day, studying approved subjects, listening to lectures, and taking endless numbers of standardized tests.

Given how little time there is in modern life for families to spend actual quality time together, I would be willing to bet that most school-aged children learn more, reflect more, and experience more during a simple family trip than they do in weeks of classroom education (unless it's a really unusual and creative kind of classroom--I do know those exist). And, quite frankly, most teachers would agree, and would be horrified at the idea that cutting down on the amount of time parents and children get to spend together is somehow better for the child's educational and personal development than looking the other way if Johnny and his family sneak out of town on Friday for a holiday that is supposed to begin on Saturday.

Now, no one wants to condone educational neglect, and if a child is absent from the classroom again and again on the flimsiest of pretenses, or on no pretense at all, it is certainly right and proper for the teacher and the principal and even, if necessary, the local school district to get involved. But it is not rocket science to figure out that if a handful of kids go missing a day too early for a three-day weekend that nobody is trying to sabotage their math-learning efforts; in fact, savvy teachers will probably already have realized that attempting to contain the children's enthusiasm for the upcoming holiday will be an uphill effort, and will not have scheduled any very strenuous learning initiatives for the last day before even a brief vacation.

But that kind of common-sense approach requires an understanding that families are more important than school, and that children are not the property of the State--two concepts which appear to be increasingly hard for the modern secular state to accept.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

#metoo and the NFL

Is the #metoo movement about to impact the NFL? Possibly, and maybe it's about time.

You really should read the NYT's Juliet Macur's whole piece on the subject of the NFL's "Alternate Cheerleaders" instead of just reading the excerpts below. What's an "alternate cheerleader?" I didn't know either:
In interviews with a dozen women who have worked for N.F.L. teams as noncheering cheerleaders and six others who had direct knowledge of the noncheering squads, they described minimum-wage jobs in which harassment and groping were common, particularly because the women were required to be on the front lines of partying fans. The fans had no reason to believe these women were not actual cheerleaders because the women often dressed exactly like the cheerleaders dancing on the field or nearly the same.
“It’s a really big secret, and now you know about it,” said Jackie Chambers, 33, a model with more than a decade of experience who worked as a Houston Texans noncheering cheerleader last season. “But teams don’t want fans to know about it. All of the cheerleaders are supposed to blend in with each other.”

The Texans, the New England Patriots, the New Orleans Saints and the Washington Redskins are among the N.F.L. teams that use or have used an alternate roster of so-called cheerleaders whose primary task is to charm spectators at the game.
So why have women who look, dress, and act like cheerleaders, but who don't actually dance on the sidelines or do anything an actual cheerleader does? Keep reading:
The Redskins use their cheerleader ambassadors — their name for noncheering cheerleaders — in their promotional material for luxury suite sales. Their suites, like others in the N.F.L., provide a huge chunk of guaranteed revenue for the team, as each suite could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per season. In the Redskins’ online sales video for these suites, they feature photos of suite owners posing with the team’s cheerleader ambassadors. Having close interaction with the ambassadors is a tacit perk of the elite club. As a voice-over in the video says, “membership has its privileges,” the video pans over a photo of a woman in a bikini. [...] 
“The Redskins wanted to come up with extra ways to make money, so they dreamed up the idea of the ambassadors,” said one woman who was one. “We were made to look almost exactly like cheerleaders, but we weren’t a member of that society. We didn’t get the perks of dancing. We were just low-paid, underappreciated, exploited moneymakers in a huge moneymaking scheme.” 
She added: “We wore low-cut tops with cutouts and your butt cheeks would be sticking out the back. That’s how they sell the suites.”
What was the work environment like? About like what you'd expect:
In interviews with six former Redskins ambassadors, the women described the job as being more of a sexualized saleswoman than a cheerleader. [...] 
Another former ambassador said she dreaded working at team-sponsored tailgate parties, where fans were invited to chug beer. Intoxicated men would grab them and hug them, she said, and make inappropriate comments. [...] 
One of the former ambassadors said: “It was like, if you want to make the cheerleading team, you’d better do all this stuff, and that included going to parties where there was a lot of drinking and there were definitely underage ambassadors. It might not be the best experience for the ladies, but you just shut up and do it because you want to be a cheerleader.” 
For $7.25 an hour, the women were expected to put up with whatever happened in the stands or the suites:
Before one game, Chambers and two of her teammates said, Gary taped a cheerleader’s stomach with thick tape to make it appear flatter under her shorts. 
“That was a memory that was so vivid, I’ll never forget it,” Chambers said. “I can’t believe that it was even happening, but the girl did as she was told. It was exactly like a master controlling a puppet.” 
The appearance team cheerleaders would be on the field for player introductions or special events like giveaway contests, but once the game began, they would head into the crowd and into the suites. In the suites, women would “get touched a lot because the men are intoxicated and think they can try anything,” she said. 
She often would go into the stands to give fans prizes, like coupons for free furniture or tacos for a year. On one occasion, a fan ran his hands over her crotch. She notified a police officer and told the team, she said, but nothing was done about it.
Honestly, go and read the whole article, if you can stand it.

As Macur reports in the article, other sports are moving away from overly-sexualized female employees whose main job is to provide a bit of eye candy for the male sports fans. But not the NFL, at least not these teams, which have found a way to hire attractive women, pay them minimum wage, make vague statements about how they're improving their chances of becoming "real" cheerleaders by working these jobs, and then essentially providing them as a kind of human perk to the fans attending the game--especially the rich fans who occupy the suites during the events.

Let's face it: everybody who has ever watched an NFL game on TV realizes that the connection between "manly" sports and the selling of sex has always been a factor in these contests. But signing women up to be harassed, abused, manhandled and treated like sex objects is just as wrong in the NFL as it is at Hooter's or other so-called "breastaurants," or anywhere else where it routinely happens. It would be a really good thing if the #metoo movement made at least a few men reconsider the attitude that women exist to be ogled, harassed, fondled and assaulted by every man who sees them (except, of course, for one's own mother, wife, sisters and daughters). It would also be a really good thing if our culture's promotion of the objectification of women started to be seen as the archaic and immoral mess it really is.