Archive for the ‘Catholic Teaching’ Category

A Political Desecration

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Yesterday, Fr. Frank Pavone, the leader of Priests for Life, went live on Facebook to endorse Donald Trump for President. That’s his right as a U.S. citizen, and one can agree or disagree with that as a matter of course. But the way he did it was absolutely appalling, and deserves to be repudiated by all of us who consider ourselves to be pro-life in the fullest meaning of that word.

What did he do? He used a dead aborted baby, laying naked and bloody on an altar, as a prop for his video.

Yes, you read that correctly.

A priest of the Catholic Church publicly displayed on a sacred altar a dead baby who was the victim of a terrible crime as part of a propaganda video in favor of a political candidate.

It is hard for me to express in calm, measured terms, the revulsion I feel about this. I know that the pro-life movement has long had a debate about the use of graphic images to reveal the reality of abortion. The discussion has always focused on a cost/benefit analysis of their effect of the viewer versus the risk of alienating those who don’t want to see such things, especially on women who are post-abortive and have not yet healed.

But that’s all beside the point. The real question is, what about that baby as a human being? That baby is an individual human person, someone’s son or daughter, made in the image and likeness of God, unique and unrepeatable, and deserving of our love and mercy. To use her body in this way is to treat that poor lost girl or boy as an object to be used — which is the antithesis of love  — and not as a brother or sister to be mourned.

Who would ever wish that their body be used in such a way?  Who would ever want that for a loved one?  Can any of us imagine that being the right way to treat the remains of our dead son or daughter?

And to place that baby’s body on an altar, which has been sanctified for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? To treat the altar of God as if it’s a mere podium for a political speech?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection.” There is no ambiguity there.

A human being has been sacrificed and the altar of God has been desecrated, all for politics. Everyone who respects the dignity of every human person should reject and disavow this atrocity.

Pathological Politics

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Politics is a dirty business and anyone who is involved in it, even just as a spectator, has to have a thick skin and a high tolerance for invective and hyperbole. Even by the standards of ordinary politics, though, the current Presidential campaign has certainly hit a number of new low points in the behavior of the major party candidates — including juvenile name calling, deranged conspiracy theories, unfounded accusations of bigotry and hatred, and the dismissal of a large percentage of the population as being “deplorable”.

The level of discourse among the general public has also been lamentably awful, as any reader of a Comments Box or Facebook feed can attest. On the whole, this year has not presented an edifying display of democracy at its best.

All of this might easily be dismissed as “politics as usual”. But things are certainly getting worse, and it is a very dangerous trend. This was brought home to me the other day when I received a troubling email from a very respectable Catholic gentleman. In the email, he said that the Democratic presidential nominee “is pure evil and very powerful because of her allegence [sic] to Satan”.

When uncharitable and unjust things like this are being said by Christian people, we should be seriously alarmed. If we as Christians cannot engage in strong political discourse without resorting to calling people “pure evil” or alleging that someone is a servant of the Evil One, then there is something sick about our political climate.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised. A recent study by the Pew Center on “Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016″ found that Americans are not just divided by politics, but that the divisions have reached the level of fear and loathing. For example, the study found that “A majority of Democrats (55%) say the GOP makes them feel afraid, while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party. And nearly half of Democrats (47%) and Republicans (46%) say the other party makes them feel angry”.

Things have clearly gone beyond robust disagreement about policy proposals. This personal animosity is the fruit of a political culture that cares little for policy discussions, but is instead infected by ideological media like “comedy” talk radio shows that show contempt for opposing viewpoints and politicians, and thrive on stirring up feelings of anger and indignation against the perceived enemy.

I understand that many people firmly believe that imminent disaster is at hand if one or the other of the major party candidates is elected. I certainly share the concern about the intensification of the Culture of Death and attacks on religious liberty. I also am disturbed by the prospect of immoral, unstable and untrustworthy people being elected to high office.

But as Catholic laypeople, we cannot be satisfied with this state of things. We are called by our faith to enter into temporal affairs, including politics, in order to bring to others the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must advance our positions while still remaining disciples of the Lord. As our Bishops say in their document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, “We are committed to clarity about our moral teaching and to civility. In public life, it is important to practice the virtues of charity and justice that are at the core of our Tradition” (FC 60).

Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC, has said it very well:

We need to look at how we engage in discourse and how we live out our commitment to be a people of profound respect for the truth and our right to express our thoughts, opinions, positions — always in love. We who follow Christ must not only speak the truth but must do so in love (Eph 4:15). It is not enough that we know or believe something to be true. We must express that truth in charity with respect for others so that the bonds between us can be strengthened in building up the body of Christ.

As Christians, we cannot participate in pathological politics. Our society is indeed sick, and desperately in need of healing. But the solution is the message of mercy and love of the Gospel, emphasizing the dignity of every human person — including those with whom we disagree about politics.

Voting as a Catholic

Monday, October 24th, 2016

As Election Day approaches, there is a great deal of confusion and angst among Catholics. The Presidential race has garnered so much attention that it has overshadowed many other essential races at the federal and state levels. These other races will have an impact on key issues that affect our lives – the legalization of assisted suicide, regulation of abortion, religious liberty, war/peace, health care, etc. As in every election, there is much at stake, and we have a duty to be responsible citizens and vote.

When approaching our election decisions, it is vital that we act as Catholics – as disciples of Jesus Christ. We do not have to be locked into the arbitrary binary categories that the world seems caught up by – Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, etc. Instead, we follow St. Paul’s advice, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)

So our task is to think with the mind of Christ, and look for ways to build the “civilization of love” (a phrase first coined by Pope Paul VI) that is at the heart of the social mission of the Church. In doing this, we as laypeople have the crucial role. It is our duty to engage in secular affairs and transform them in light of the Gospel. Politics is our responsibility, and the more Catholic we are, the better citizens and voters we will be, and the more we will advance the Kingdom of God.

To do this, we first have to form a correct and Catholic conscience about public affairs. Fortunately, the Bishops of the United States have given us an excellent tool for this, the document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. This document provides practical advice on how to form one’s conscience in keeping with the teachings of our Church, and how to apply it to the political choices that have been presented to us. The goal is to foster political engagement that is “shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable” ( FC 14).

The first question that we must ask ourselves when considering how to vote is the character, philosophy and integrity of the candidates ( FC 41). It is essential for the health of the nation and for the common good to elect persons of good moral character who are responsible stewards of the power that we delegate to them. There have been too many examples in our history of the terrible consequences of electing people of bad character (see the Watergate scandal), and we should have learned this lesson by now. Public morality and private morality are connected, and we desperately need both.

We then must evaluate the positions of the candidates and their parties in light of Church teaching. We cannot responsibly vote based only on party labels or self-interest ( FC 41). Instead, we have to inform ourselves based on reliable and serious sources (i.e., not comedy shows). An excellent source for this kind of information is a party’s platform, which shows in broad strokes what the party stands for and what they hope to accomplish in office. This takes a little research, but with so much information on the Internet it is not too difficult for the average voter.

In doing this, we must keep the Church’s teaching in the forefront of our attention. Faithful Citizenship highlights several essential concepts that must be at the heart of a Catholic’s voting analysis: the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death, the pursuit of the common good for all persons in society, subsidiarity (addressing social problems as close as possible to their source and respecting families and local institutions), solidarity (the unity of the human family), and the special obligation to protect the weak and the vulnerable.

Within that general framework, some issues are clearly more important than others. Our Church has consistently emphasized the preeminent place of the protection of human life at all its stages. We must oppose all kinds of intrinsically evil acts that endanger human life and dignity, such as abortion, euthanasia, destructive embryo research, the redefinition of marriage, racism, terrorism, torture, wars of aggression, human trafficking, pornography, and inhumane working conditions. All of these are utterly incompatible with human dignity and the common good.

This creates an obvious dilemma when we are confronted with candidates who are in favor of legalized abortion. We obviously cannot vote for a “pro-choice” candidate in order to support or perpetuate legalized abortion — “in such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil” (FC 34). The Bishops advise, however, that we may vote for a “pro-choice” candidate — but only “for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (FC 35) What constitutes a “truly grave moral reason” will obviously depend on the circumstances, but it would appear to mean something that involves opposing another seriously immoral act, such as preventing racism, defending against serious threats to religious freedom, or stopping an aggressive war.

One thing is clear. Although we are not “one issue voters” and we should evaluate all of a candidate’s positions, “if a candidate’s position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support” ( FC 42). So it is a perfectly responsible position for a Catholic to rule out voting for any “pro-choice” or racist candidate for that reason alone.

The hardest case for a Catholic is when we are presented with a choice between candidates who all support grave and intrinsic evils. In this case, the Bishops offer this advice: “The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods” ( FC 36). This is not “choosing the lesser of two evils”, but instead is an effort to mitigate or minimize the damage that will be done by imperfect candidates. This is a difficult balance to draw, and one that should be approached very carefully. Balancing evils and predicting the future are fraught with the possibility of error, so a Catholic should proceed with great caution.

When faced with that situation, we can leave a particular ballot line blank and move on to other races, or we can look beyond the partisan binary – there’s no requirement in our faith that we must vote for a major party candidate. In many races, particularly the Presidential race, there are other people running whose positions are compatible with Church teaching, and a Catholic can therefore use their vote to make a principled statement. So we should look at minor parties (e.g., the American Solidarity Party) and other independent candidates.

Voting as a Catholic is not easy in this fallen world, but it is something that all Catholics are capable of. To do this, we can’t give up on politics as if it is hopeless to have good moral candidates and to improve our society. The quality of our politics depends on the quality of our participation. We must be aware of what is happening, and stay informed by seriously researching the positions of parties and candidates and the teachings of the Church. We should also pay close attention to all the races on the ballot, not just those on the top. We should certainly put in as much effort in voting as a Catholic as we do in selecting a cell phone. We should also stay engaged all year long, particularly by joining advocacy efforts like the New York State Catholic Action Network or the Human Life Action network.

The most important thing in this, as in any moral decision, is to call on the assistance of God. Pope Francis, when asked recently about our elections, gave this advice: ” Study the proposals well, pray, and choose in conscience.” Prayer is essential for any Catholic who seeks to do their duty as a voter. Because, as the U.S. Bishops have noted, “It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation ” (FC 38).

The Need for Political Morality

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Recently, I read a journalist’s account of the Watergate scandal. It was actually a bundle of inter-related illegal acts and conspiracies that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. One of the things that struck me was the astonishing and complete lack of morality among “All the President’s Men”. These were the most powerful men in the country, most were lawyers, and all considered themselves to be religious in one way or another. Yet they acted in total disregard for the law and for basic morals. They committed a series of crimes with no compunction — burglary, theft, bribery, illegal wiretapping, violations of campaign finance laws, and obstruction of justice. The amount of lying was breathtaking — a systematic campaign of perjury and knowingly false public statements. They never asked themselves “is this right?” but only cared about “will this work”.

I was a teenager when all this happened, and I remember following the stories with great interest. But I didn’t appreciate the sheer scope of all of it until I read this book. And, naturally, it led me to reflect on the current political climate, and on the desperate need for “political morality”.

There are two components to political morality. One is the personal morals of those who hold public office — are they people of integrity who can be counted on to obey essential principles of honesty, financial responsibility, lack of self-interest, fairness, seriousness, humility, etc. I utterly reject the notion, which is usually attributed to Macchiavelli, that rulers are not bound by ordinary moral laws, but are free to do things that would be illegal or immoral if done by ordinary citizens. No matter what public office one holds, the Ten Commandments still apply, and personal virtue will lead to good government.

The other component is constitutional morality — do they respect the rule of law, the process of law-making and governance, the rights of citizens, the notion that nobody is above or outside of the law, etc. I’m not as cynical as most people think, and I actually believe that a sound legal process will lead on the whole to sound results. I believe that the principles embodied in our Constitution — separation of powers, limits on the authority of the government, checks and balances, protection of fundamental rights, and federalism — provide a rich and fertile soil for living a peaceful and just life.

These elements of political morality were utterly lacking in the Nixon Administration. The Watergate scandals and their threat to the constitutional order were the direct result. The similar lack of political morality in the current climate fills me with dread for the future of our Republic.

At all levels of politics, we are repeatedly presented with — and we routinely elect — candidates who have a propensity for falsehood, whose financial affairs are deeply suspect, who treat people as instruments to be used and then discarded, and who seem obsessed with personal power rather than selfless public service. It has become unremarkable for candidates to affirm that they will use their power to commit gross moral evils, like abortion on demand, torture, aggressive war on civilians, and racial and religious discrimination. Candidates openly show disdain for the proper Constitutional process and promise to rule unilaterally by decree. And candidates and political advocates make crystal clear that they will use the levers of power to punish their enemies, and all those who disagree with their ideology.

The men who built and established our Republic understood very well the need for political morality. George Washington, who was an exemplar of this, said, “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” John Adams, who was no stranger to the rough and tumble of partisan politics, said “Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”

The current state of affairs in our political system would horrify the Founding Fathers. They should equally horrify us.

Looking for Voting Choices

Monday, September 19th, 2016

How many of us have heard or uttered this statement: “I don’t know how I’m going to vote this year”. Many Catholics are struggling to decide how to vote. That should mean that they’re trying to form their consciences in a correct and Catholic way. And they should be looking for choices that allow them to “see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city” ( Gaudium et Spes 43).

Unfortunately, we have the prospect this year of having some of the most deeply problematic major party candidates for president in American history (which is quite a statement, considering that Aaron Burr, Richard Nixon, Strom Thurmond and George Wallace are on that list). Several of them have significant character problems and all support some kind of intrinsic moral evil (i.e., laws and policies that are always wrong, like permitting abortion on demand, legalizing assisted suicide, or the deliberate killing of civilians in wartime).

I’m not a member of any of the major parties, so loyalty is not an issue for me — candidates don’t have a right to my vote, they have to earn it. To me, casting a vote is a moral act, a statement that I wish this candidate to serve in a particular office. It means that I believe the person is qualified for the office, and that I want them to fulfill their campaign promises and positions. If I know that this candidate will support intrinsically evil policies, I am giving my permission for those evil acts and I am therefore complicit (however remotely) in them.

This is a very troubling moral dilemma. Our Bishops have advised us that we can vote for a candidate who promotes an intrinsically evil act, but that can only be for truly grave moral reasons — which does not include party loyalty. The Bishops have also advised that we can “take the extraordinary step” of not voting for any candidate, or we can vote for the candidate who is likely to do the least harm. This is also a hard decision to make — how could there possibly be a sufficiently grave reason to vote for a candidate who favors abortion on demand, the killing of civilians in war, torture of captives, the redefinition of marriage, or proposals that are openly racist. Given the Law of Unintended Consequences, and the impossibility of predicting the future, it is also extremely hard to make a determination as to who would cause the least damage to our vulnerable republic and world.

Many people are considering to cast their vote for one candidate as a statement against one of the other candidates. But we don’t have an electoral system where we can “Like” or “Unlike” candidates. To vote against one, we have to vote to put the other one in office — which is a problem if we know that they will support evil policies.

But there are alternatives to voting for any of the major party candidates. One could leave the line blank — a vote of “none of the above” — but still vote for candidates in other key races. But that’s not satisfactory to those who want their vote not just to express dissatisfaction with the candidates that have been offered, but to support a positive agenda.

Another option is to look at some of the “minor parties” that have proposed candidates. I find one of these minor parties, the American Solidarity Party, to be very intriguing. It seems to be building its platform on Catholic Social Teaching. The party is not strictly Catholic, but falls in the tradition of “Christian Democratic” parties, which have been so influential in Europe and Latin America but which have never gained a foothold in the binary party system here in the United States.  On the issues I consider most important, the ASP is right on point: they are consistently pro-life, defend religious liberty and the authentic definition of marriage, oppose the use of torture and the killing of civilians in war, and support the right of parents to control the education of their children and the duty of the state to support them. I don’t agree with all of their platform, and I am not endorsing them or any other candidate for office. But I am interested in any political party or movement, however small they may be, that tries to advance the Church’s positions on policy issues.

Obviously, these kind of parties have no chance of winning this election. Most probably won’t even be on the ballot in New York, given our notoriously byzantine ballot access laws, so a write-in vote would be necessary.

But for voters who are looking for options, a minor party vote may allow them to vote according to their conscience. And that is not a “wasted vote”. As John Quincy Adams once said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

A True Understanding of Sexual Identity

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Having written a number of blogs about the nonsense of gender ideology, it’s only fair that I outline the true vision of sexuality presented by the Church.

It’s very important to understand at the outset that this vision is part of a coherent system of thought about human nature — anthropology in the real sense. It is informed by faith and revelation, but it is also confirmed by reason and science. It is not to be accepted just because the Church says so. It is proposed for acceptance because God has revealed it to us, and also because it makes sense.

First, let’s lay out a few definitions of terms.

  • “Sex” means whether a person is male or female.
  • “Sexuality” is a much broader term that encompasses one’s biological sex, but is not limited to our reproductive anatomy. It includes the characteristics that have been identified by science (e.g., psychology, neuroscience) to have an impact on the way we experience the world as males or as females. It also has an element of divine will in it – we are made deliberately by God as male or female, and are intended to express and receive love as men or women in all our relationships with family, friends, spouses, etc.
  • “Sexual identity” is the way that we integrate our sexuality into the overall self-understanding of who we are as persons.
  • “Gender”  I have serious misgivings about using this word.  The way it is currently being used, it means both too much and therefore virtually nothing at all, and it presupposes an irrational complete separation from biological sex. However, I think the term has some validity if it is understood in the narrow sense that Pope Francis uses it in Amoris Laetitia: “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. So in this limited sense, the term “gender” would mean our biological sex, including the innate characteristics that flow from that, plus socially-defined ideas and expectations about men and women.

Having said that, there are several points that serve as the fundamental foundation for our view of the human person, and thus of human sexuality.

  • Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. We are not just accidents of an impersonal evolutionary process (although we have certainly evolved in many ways from earlier forms). Instead, each person is directly willed by God and brought into existence. We are, each and every one of us, good in God’s eyes, even with all of our faults. And we have a purpose in life — to be happy in this life, and to be happy with God forever in the next.
  • Human beings are not just material, but are the union of soul and body. Our soul is our spiritual component, the part of us where we experience feelings, thoughts, dreams, knowledge, personality, and free will. Our lives are a constant partnership of the physical and spiritual, in which we live in both the world of our senses and in our inner life. The physical and spiritual are intrinsically united, and I cannot even exist without both — their separation is the actual definition of death.
  • Every human person is made male or female. Our sex is a definitional part of who we are — God deliberately made each one of us, both body and soul, as a man or a woman. This is part of the innermost core of our being. This is crucially important — we are not male and female just because of our biological sex, we have that biological sex because God has made us male or female. Our anatomy is one of the ways that our male or female identity is revealed, but we can also see it in so many aspects of our lives.  We don’t know this just because of revelation, but it is confirmed by the evidence of science. Genetics, physiology, neurology, and psychology all recognize the intrinsic differences between the sexes. These can be seen in the ways that men and women experience the world, have feelings, and form our relationships. The differences between men and women do not in any way imply inequality. Instead, “Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. ” (St. John Paul II, Letter to Women, 7) This complementarity and equality of male and female has a deep meaning and significance for who we are and what we are meant to be.

The Church proposes a vision of human nature and sexuality that brings these principles into harmony and allows every human being to develop and flourish as God desires, so that we can find genuine love and be truly happy.

We hold firmly to the truth that we cannot separate sexuality or sexual identity from biological fact. The reality of our biological sex “is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love”. (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educational Guidance in Human Love, 4). So our sexuality is not just a physical phenomenon. It helps to define every human being on every level – emotional, psychological, and spiritual.

Indeed, since by our very nature we are ensouled bodies, there can’t be a radical separation of the physical and spiritual. Our true identity depends on both — we are male or female in both our body and our soul. Our bodies are not just raw material to be changed and adjusted to match our feelings, no matter how transitory or deeply-seated. Every person is a man or a woman, regardless of how they might feel, or how they might change their anatomy. I would be operating under a serious delusion if I were to make a mistake about this.

As a result, we have no need for notions of “gender identity” or “gender expression” that are at odds with our biological sex. Remember, as those terms are used in our culture nowadays, they mean one’s subjective attitude and experience of one’s “gender”, and how one expresses that. But it makes no sense to adopt an identity that denies an essential fact about myself (i.e., that was made by God as male or female), to define my identity based purely on transitory cultural norms, or — even more so — to trade one socially-defined “gender identity” for another. People can accept or reject social norms as much as they want — it’s a free country, after all — but it isn’t healthy to deny the truth about our sex, and what it means for who we are.

Instead, a healthy sexual identity is always rooted in the reality that we are male and female in both body and soul. We then seek to integrate our feelings, personality, self-image, etc. with that fact, and express ourselves accordingly in our relationships. In this way, there is no separation between a person’s “gender identity” and their sexual identity.

To do this, it is vital to understand that my sexuality is not just about me. The physical reality of male and female anatomy itself shows that we are created for others, and that God did not intend for us to live in isolation. After all, “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) In fact, we believe that human sexuality is fundamentally ordered towards the union of man and woman in matrimony – the unique loving relationship that involves a gift of self to another that is designed to bear fruit.

This means that every person is called to develop their sexual identity in a way that integrates their masculinity or femininity, and their call to live in relationship with others. This is a life-long task, and it goes through stages of development. Frequently, we find this to be difficult. There is often a tension between our physical impulses, our feelings, and God’s will. Society sends us conflicting signals about how to deal with this, signals that are becoming more and more confusing.

The way to integrate all of the elements of a healthy sexuality and sexual identity is by working on developing the virtue of chastity. That word is typically understood to mean abstinence from any sexual behavior, but in our view it actually means living our sexuality in the fullness of its deeper meaning, according to our state in life. “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” ( CCC 2337) Chastity is expressed in different ways, in different relationships, according to God’s will.  For example, chastity means continence for single people and fidelity for married people.

Of course, it is not easy to live a life of chastity, and our present cultural values make it particularly difficult. But by developing this virtue with the help of God’s grace, we can harmonize our physical reality (e.g., our bodies and sensory desires), our spiritual nature and our affective experiences (e.g., our feelings and personality), and live in authentic loving relationships. We can thus truly be ourselves, on all levels of our being.

That is how a fully and properly ordered sexual identity works. We don’t try to change reality, nor do we deny human nature. We embrace them, and learn to live with them, however difficult that may be. But in the end this is the way to true happiness, by living according to the plan that God has set out for each one of us.

(Special thanks to my friend and colleague, Alexis Carra, for her contributions to this article, particularly her challenging questions that helped greatly to clarify my thinking and language)

Speaking About Social Justice and Inequality

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

In this political season, we have heard much about “inequality” and “social justice” from the candidates in the Democratic primaries. These are certainly subjects worth talking about. Let’s do so.

In 1972, the Court of Appeals of New York State said the following: “The Constitution does not confer or require legal personality for the unborn”. ( Byrn v. NYC Health and Hospital Corp.)

In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States added this: “the word “person,” as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn”. ( Roe v. Wade)

So our Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers on the Courts have thereby expelled an entire class of human beings — those who haven’t been lucky enough to be born yet — from society. They have declared them to be beyond the protection of the laws. In the English legal tradition, this would make them “outlaws” — stripped of any legal rights, liable to be killed with impunity without trial. It is equivalent to being legally dead, and nobody can lend them any assistance. They have less legal protection than animals or property.

It was to eliminate the inherent injustice and inhumanity of “outlawry” that motivated the guarantees of the right to trial and to the writ of habeas corpus in the Magna Carta and subsequent laws. It eventually led the Founders of our nation to enact the ban on bills of attainder, and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of our Constitution. Their purpose was to ensure that everyone is within the protections of the law, that nobody is an “outlaw”, that nobody can be cast out of society.

So let us take a close look at Presidential candidates who speak of “social justice” and denounce “inequality”, yet support the unlimited power to abort an unborn child up until the moment of birth for any reason, who oppose any and all regulations of abortion, who campaign openly in favor of it, who accept the support of organizations that profit from it. Let’s ask them a few questions:

What concept of “social justice” permits unborn boys and girls to be treated as “outlaws” without any protection of the law, and thus liable to being killed with impunity?

Is it “social justice” to treat unborn boys and girls worse than African-Americans were treated under the Jim Crow regime? Or was the Supreme Court right in its infamous Dred Scott decision — in which they said African-Americans have “no rights which the white man was bound to respect”?

Do we still reject as impermissible “inequality” the legal segregation of an entire class of humans into second-class status? Or was Brown v. Board of Education wrongly decided?

The answers to these questions are obvious. In a dissenting opinion in the Byrn case, one of the judges of the Court of appeals said this:

The fundamental nature of life makes impossible a classification of living, human beings as nonpersons, who can be excluded from the protection of the Constitution of the United States so that their right to life can be taken from them in spite of the due process clause and equal protection clause.

Yes, by all means, as this Presidential race develops, let us speak about “social justice” and “inequality”. And let us judge the candidates based on how they answer our questions.

Irrationality, Magical Thinking, and Gender Ideology

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

The drive to enforce universal acceptance of gender ideology is accellerating in our country. Government action, coupled with cultural propaganda, is seeking to transform our understanding of the nature of the human person as male and female. I have been having a number of discussions about this with my friend and colleague, Alexis Carra. She has a background in academic philosophy, which gives her very valuable insights into the problem. She recently wrote me an email that I thought was worth sharing, along with my responses (her thoughts in italics, mine in plain text):

First of all, why have we so easily accepted the distinction between biological sex and gender? Who suddenly defined gender as “an individual’s actual or perceived sex, gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned at birth”? Just because new concepts have been invented doesn’t mean we must accept them, let alone accept them without any sort of debate with regards to their correctness or truthfulness. 

The short answer, I’m afraid, is that people are acquiescing in this patent nonsense out of fear and cowardice. Smart people in academia, law, and the public square willingly submit and fail to resist, out of concern that they will be marginalized, penalized, and ostracized. Administrators of universities and schools bow to decrees from distant government agencies out of fear of conflict, and to sustain funding streams. Debate is stifled, or never initiated, because those who object are stigmatized as bigots and haters.

One would think that scientists – and those who like to style themselves as the “reason-based community” – would be the first to resist those who deny the reality of sexual difference. Just think of how vigorously people denounce “climate change deniers”, for even the slightest variation from “orthodoxy” on that issue. The science on the sexual differences between male and female is hugely developed, and indisputable in its conclusions. So why aren’t they in the forefront of the debate?

Philosophers, too, should see right through this kind of shoddy reasoning.  They certainly should realize that gender ideology is incoherent at its core. Gender theory holds that the idea of being male and female has no inherent meaning, that sexual identity can be defined independently of physical reality, and that the physical differences between men and women are irrelevant or meaningless. But if that is so, then what could it possibly mean for a person to claim to be a “transgender man” or “transgender woman”? “Male” or “female” can’t simultaneously both mean something and mean nothing. That violates a basic rule of reason, the Law of Non-Contradiction. Any philosopher should be able to see that this is irrational, and that the ideologues actually wish that “gender” simply means whatever any individual wants it to mean, at any given day. That is intellectual anarchy, not reason. But the philosophers are silent.

Secondly, aren’t we concerned that adhering to this ideology reinforces a lie? Namely, I can, by virtue of my will, create reality. There are no external forces beyond my control (i.e., the laws of nature, the laws of biology, the laws of logic, etc.) that shape reality. As such, I can be whoever or whatever I want, even if nature/biology/logic says otherwise.  A person may be born male, but can magically identify as female if he so chooses! And we all must now refer to him as such!

Gender ideology adherents promote the strangest kinds of ideas. One recently wrote this about the simple, straight-forward statement that “transgender girls are biologically male”:

That is an offensive and inaccurate notion… But transgender girls are not “biologically male.”… [People] might believe that a person’s genitals define their “biological” sex, but that does not make it so. Continuing to put forth that narrative without challenging it as an ideological position, as opposed to a fact, is extremely harmful.

This is magical thinking. It denies a fundamental truth about reality, namely that things exist independently of anyone’s beliefs, language usage, feelings, conceptual ideology, etc. One cannot reason with a person who believes that they can change reality by waving a mental magic wand. The fundamental differences between men and women do not disappear, do not become a mere “narrative” or an “ideological position”, merely because someone wishes it to be so. They remain facts. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

As a lawyer, I also am dumbfounded at the way that gender ideology turns anti-discrimination law on its head. The traditional understanding of anti-discrimination law is that there are certain inherent qualities (e.g., race, sex, national origin, disability) that absolutely cannot be taken into account when making certain decisions (e.g., employment). This is an expression of the value that all persons must be treated equally under the law. Yet the drive to include “gender identity” in anti-discrimination laws actually does the opposite. It requires people not only to recognize the existence of this alleged quality, but to make it the essential factor in granting favorable treatment when making decisions (e.g., about bathroom access). In this one case, failure to use “gender identity” would be made unlawful. All this, based not on an immutable characteristic like race or sex, but instead on a purely self-defined, malleable concept that is entirely subjective and not related to any kind of reality.

Thirdly, why is this being perceived as compassionate? There is nothing compassionate about reinforcing lies. In fact, if we reinforce a lie held by another person, we not only harm the person by allowing him to continue living the lie, but we also rob him of an opportunity to know the truth. And as Christians, there are few roles of greater importance than proclaiming the truth to others.  

One does not have to be a Christian to understand that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). Anyone with any degree of self-awareness and knowledge can tell that they cannot live in a coherent way if they deny the truth. Lies imprison us, truth liberates us. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, on the day that he was arrested by the Soviet secret police due to his dissent from Communist ideology, wrote a great essay, “Live Not by Lies”. In it, he said this:

the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me… It’s dangerous. But let us refuse to say that which we do not think.

People who are struggling with their sexual identity are troubled, and need help. But we do them no favors if we continue to participate in the lies. More than anything, they need to be liberated from the irrationality and magical thinking of gender ideology. All it offers them is continued enslavement to false ideas about reality, sexuality, and the way to achieve happiness. Accepting the truth about our human nature, about our maleness and femaleness, has to be the foundation of the development of a healthy sexual identity.

The Danger is Clear and Present

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

There are many people who continue to scoff at our warnings about the gravity of the threats to religious liberty, and our fears of outright persecution by our government. They accuse us of scaremongering, and insist that “that will never happen”.

The skeptics need to come to New York. The threat is real, and it is here, right now — a government mandate that private health insurance plans cover elective abortions. And it is happening with all the classic characteristics of New York government — secretive, devious, duplicitous, unaccountable, and arrogant.

To understand this, you have to have a small bit of background. The New York State Department of Financial Services regulates the insurance business. They have to approve every health insurance policy by the beginning of the new year, to make sure that it complies with all the various legal requirements in New York law. To make this easier, DFS issues what it calls “model language” for health plans. Although one would think that “model language” is merely a suggestion, in reality it is required, because no health plan would be approved without it. So every health insurance company just falls in line, and the person obtaining the insurance really has no choice. So the “model language” is actually a legal mandate, dressed up in other clothing to hide the truth.

Here’s where the classic New York underhandedness comes in. Last year, DFS put out draft “model language” for small employer policies that included coverage for so-called “therapeutic abortions” — which really means abortion on demand, for any reason whatsoever. Now, of course, there is no legal authority for this — it isn’t authorized by legislation and it’s never been put through the normal process for issuing regulations. But that has never stopped a New York executive agency before — they typically act as if they were a law unto themselves, and they just make up new “laws” as they wish.

Objections were made to the crypto-mandate, and so DFS went into “rope-a-dope” mode. They promised to study it, to discuss it with superiors, etc., etc. Nothing happened, despite repeated requests for clarification. The effect of this obfuscation and delay was that they ran out the clock until the end of the year, when every insurance plan has to be submitted for approval, including the model language.

As the deadline approached, DFS dropped the real bomb, the one that shows such patent bad faith that even completely cynical watchers of New York government were appalled. In an off-handed comment, a DFS official told a representative of the Catholic Church words to the effect that “Oh, what’s the problem, you’re already paying for therapeutic abortions”. When our representative picked himself off the floor and asked “how?” and “since when?” and “why didn’t you tell us?”, the bureaucrat said that it had been the case for a long time,  and that it was all under the rubric of “medically necessary surgery”, which is automatically covered in all health insurance policies. And, of course, there’s no exemption for religious employers or anyone else who objects to paying for the killing of unborn children.

So a sneaky, duplicitous state agency has been making Catholic institutions — and everyone else — pay for elective abortions for years and lying about it being “necessary surgery”. And this is all done without any public awareness or scrutiny — it’s just a secret fiat from some nameless bureaucrat who is accountable to nobody. So much for the rule of law.

Fortunately, people are pushing back against this gross abuse of power. A lawsuit has been filed by the Dioceses of Albany and Ogdensburg, Catholic Charities agencies, religious communities, and a number of non-Catholic institutions, including the Episcopal Diocese of Albany. This lawsuit raises major issues about religious liberty, and how to put limits on an arbitrary, unaccountable government that is insistent on imposing morally offensive mandates on religious groups and people.

Don’t listen to the skeptics. The threat to freedom of religion is real and present. And it will not go away, because the pro-abortion ideology is so deeply ingrained in our state government that they will brook no opposition, and will use any available tactic, until they enshrine abortion in every area of the law and drag everyone into complicity with the destruction of the innocents.

The Danger Signs on Suicide are Clear

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

It is hard not to have sympathy for those who are advocating for the legalization of assisted suicide as a way of alleviating suffering. Suffering is a terrible reality of human life, an experience of evil that cannot be avoided. Without a Christian understanding of the meaning of suffering (see St. John Paul’s magnificent letter Salvifici Doloris), it is a fearsome thing to face.

But even a non-believer should be able to discern the clear danger signs about the inevitable effects of legalizing any form of suicide, and step away from that precipice.

The experience of European countries that have legalized assisted suicide are test cases. We can see the way that the practice spread from the terminally ill, to those with chronic illnesses, to those with psychiatric or developmental problems, to minors, and utimately to people who were put to death even though they never requested it. It is abundantly clear that there are no limiting principles that can stop the spread of assisted suicide, and its progress to outright euthanasia.

The danger signs can also be seen in the most recent statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control on the incidence of suicide in the United States.

The situation is truly alarming — suicide has increased dramatically over the last two decades. Here are some of the lowlights of the report:

  • From 1999 through 2014, the suicide rate increased 24%, with the pace of increase accellerating after 2006.
  • Suicide rates increased from 1999 through 2014 for both males and females and for all ages 10–74.
  • In 2014, the rate for males was more than three times that for females, but the percent increase was greater for females (45% increase) than males (16% increase).
  • Although there were few suicides compared with other age groups, the suicide rate for females aged 10–14 tripled.
  • In both 1999 and 2014, suicide rates were highest among men aged 75 and over. Men aged 45–64 had the second-highest suicide rate for males in 2014 and the largest percent increase (43%) in rates.
  • Suicide is increasing against the backdrop of generally declining mortality, and is currently one of the 10 leading causes of death overall and within each age group 10–64.

With this information, how can it possibly make sense to legalize assisted suicide, which sends a clear, strong message that some lives are not worth living, and that death is the solution? Shouldn’t we instead redouble our efforts to convince people to reject suicide?

Advocates for assisted suicide insist that society defer absolutely to their autonomy, based on a notion that people have absolute liberty to do whatever they like. Yet our society has never done so. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said in his famous dissent in the Lochner case, “The liberty of the citizen to do as he likes so long as he does not interfere with the liberty of others to do the same, which has been a shibboleth for some well known writers, is interfered with by school laws, by the Post Office, by every state or municipal institution which takes his money for purposes thought desirable, whether he likes it or not.” The idea that people have complete autonomy is both incoherent and an invitation to anarchy.

Again, the suffering of individuals is compelling and naturally rouses sympathy. We must do everything we can to alleviate the physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual suffering of all our brethren.

But the particular desires of individuals cannot be the basis of making law for our entire society. St. Thomas Aquinas defined law as “an ordinance of reason for the common good”. The good of all of society must be the controlling concern when we make law, not the idiosyncratic interests of some people or groups.

The danger signs of relaxing our immemorial ban on suicide are very, very clear that it would lead to many more unnecessary and tragic deaths. We must continue to resist any effort to legalize any form of suicide, for the good of all of society.