Archive for the ‘Catholic Teaching’ Category

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.

The Dangerous Falsehood of Transgenderism

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Recent news has once again brought to the forefront the issue of “transgenderism”.  This phenomenon is based on something called “gender theory”, and it is a critical issue that far transcends arguments about who can use which bathroom. Society is being pressured to accept something about the very nature of the human person that is fundamentally false and dangerous.

The whole idea of “gender theory” is, in my opinion, so nonsensical that it is hard to believe that anyone actually accepts it. The argument is that “gender” is not determined by one’s biological sex, but is a separate matter that is defined according to the subjective desires of an individual. To these advocates, one’s biological sex is an arbitrary classification that is “assigned” at birth, and has no intrinsic connection with one’s actual sexual identity.

This is a bizarre and dehumanizing idea.  It denies the unity of body, mind and soul, and it rejects the logical and scientifically undeniable understanding that biological sexual difference is essential to human nature.  It treats the body as a mere physical shell that can be used or manipulated as one wishes. People become just raw material, to be fashioned and changed — and mutilated, as happens with “gender reassignment surgery”.

This ideology is contrary to reason and science, much less faith.  Science has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that sexual difference is a significant part of human biochemistry, physical structure (not just our reproductive system, our brains too), behavior, and psychology.  It is also at the heart of an authentic Christian anthropology, which recognizes the inherent complementarity of the sexes, and their dignity as man and woman, made in the image and likeness of God.

Pope Francis directly confronted the danger of gender theory in his encyclical on respect for reation, Laudato Si.  In his typical pithy way, he said:

Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it”.

Several years ago, in his annual address to the Curia, Pope Benedict went even deeper and confronted the philosophical flaws in gender theory, and its larger significance (my emphasis is added in bold):

[T]he question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human…

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.

The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves.

Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed…. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. 

The debate over “gender” is, at its heart, not just about bathroom access and kindness to those who have difficulty accepting their sexual identity.  It is about the nature of the human person and our relationship with the created world and ourselves.  The stakes are very high. We are fifty years into a massive social experiment that has revolutionized the understanding of sexuality based on a distorted view of human nature.  We are living with all its disastrous consequences. Gender theory takes us a bridge too far, to a place where human life loses its meaning.  And those of us who dissent are already facing legal pressures to conform.

A healthy society cannot continue to substitute falsehoods for truth, and expect people to thrive.. We must stand firm on the truth about man, woman and human nature.

Notre Dame’s Tragedy

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

Notre Dame University has long held itself out as an exemplar of Catholic higher education. And in fact, they have had a great many admirable Catholic scholars, and wonderful Catholic alumni.  But they have clearly lost sight of what Catholic education is meant to be.

The University has decided to grant their Laeatare Medal (the name means “rejoice”) to Joseph Biden, the Vice President of the United States.  According to their website, this award “is presented annually to an American Catholic in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and society”.

There is nothing to “rejoice” about in Joe Biden’s public record.  I dare anyone to identify anything that Joe Biden has done in service of the Church that can in any way be described as “outstanding”.  Indeed, in their press release, the university didn’t even bother to try to describe any such service.  I also dare anyone to make sense of Notre Dame’s incoherent argument that by honoring the man, they are not endorsing his policy positions.  After all, what “service to society” has he given, except by his public acts?

The fact of the matter is that Mr. Biden has a long track record of public policy positions that are in direct contradiction to the Catholic faith, and that flout the specific and grave duties of a Catholic public servant.  Specifically, he has long been a supporter of abortion.  When in the Senate, his voting record can only be described as “mixed”, with some pro-life votes (including votes in favor of the partial birth abortion ban), but an increasing number of pro-abortion votes in recent years. He was a very prominent front man for the Administration’s endorsement of the redefinition of marriage.  And he has done nothing publicly to defend the Church’s religious liberty by mitigating his Administration’s iniquitous contraception/abortion health insurance mandate, and, in fact, publicly defended it with an outright falsehood during the 2012 campaign.

But don’t just take my word about his attitude about abortion rights, listen to what he wrote:

I remember vividly the first time, in 1973, I had to go to the floor to vote on abortion. A fellow Senator asked how I would vote. “My position is that I am personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t think I have a right to impose my few on the rest of society. I’ve thought a lot about it, and my position probably doesn’t please anyone. I think the government should stay out completely. I will not vote to overturn the Court’s decision. I will not vote to curtail a woman’s right to choose abortion. But I will also not vote to use federal funds to fund abortion.“  I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than 30 years. I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding, and I’d like to make it easier for scared young mothers to choose not to have an abortion, but I will also vote against a constitutional amendment that strips a woman of her right to make her own choice.

Now, contrast that with the authentic teaching of the Church about the duties of a public servant:

Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good. (US Bishops, Catholics in Political Life)

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection…. In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it.”  (St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 73)

Presumably, these official Church documents are available somewhere in the Notre Dame library.

This tragic decision represents yet another example of the complete failure — and in some cases, contumacious refusal — of many institutions of Catholic education to understand their role and nature.  In his Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, St. John Paul made clear that the necessity of acting in accordance with Catholic identity is one of the core obligations of a self-described Catholic university:

Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities, while the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected.  Any official action or commitment of the University is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.  (General Norms, Article 2, §4, emphasis added)

Ex Corde Ecclesiae also emphasizes that “the institutional fidelity of the University to the Christian message includes a recognition of and adherence to the teaching authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals.” (27)

Notre Dame’s decision to honor the Vice President is just another confirmation of a sad state of American universities that once were Catholic, but are now something lesser.  Notre Dame, of course, is named after Our Blessed Mother.  I cannot imagine her rejoicing at this decision made in her name.

How Will We Be Ruled?

Friday, January 29th, 2016

America is once again at the threshold of another presidential election year.  The early campaigning has been done, and the voting will soon begin in primaries across the nation.

The electoral process is more than an question of who will best fill the position of president, but it is a moral testing ground.  What kind of person will we choose to head our government?  What kind of standards will he govern by?  What are the moral implications of his decisions?

For Catholics, this is a time for us to challenge our consciences.  Are we making political decisions based on our faith, or on other criteria?  Are we voting like Christians, or like members of a political party or ideology?

The bishops of the United States have published a document every four years, in preparation for the presidential elections, entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.  It lays out the Church’s perspective on the policy issues that are facing our nation, and calls Catholics to use it as a guide to their moral decision-making.

But the real challenge to us involves more than just a decision about who will temporarily hold an office.  It is a much deeper question — will we live according to God’s standards, or man’s?  This is a test of faith, and it is one that our nation seems to be failing.  The evidence is all around us — idolatrous consumerism and materialism, widespread sexual immorality, ethical relativism, the collapse of social support for authentic marriage, denial of the true nature of the human person as male and female, and the increasing reach of the Culture of Death.

Every year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe.  This feast encourages us to contemplate the Kingdom of God.  All too often we only view God’s Kingdom as an abstract idea, perhaps something for the distant future, or a goal to be aspired to.  But it actually has tremendous significance for the way we live right now, and for our political decisions.  A few years ago, in a homily for the feast, Pope Benedict pointed out that “The kingdom of God is a kingdom utterly different from earthly kingdoms”, because it is founded on justice, love, peace, and service, and not on power or force.  He also reminded us that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God “is a pressing invitation addressed to each and all: to be converted ever anew to the kingdom of God, to the lordship of God, of Truth, in our lives.”

Are those the standards we apply in making political decisions?

We are not unique in having to decide how God’s standards can be instituted in our earthly realm.  This has been a struggle faced by God’s people throughout history.  And, all too often, we have chosen badly.  I am reminded of a passage from the First Book of Samuel, in which the prophet issues a stern warning to the Israelites, who have clamored to be ruled by an earthly king, instead of the prophets and judges appointed by God.

Samuel said to the people, “Fear not; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart; and do not turn aside after vain things which cannot profit or save, for they are vain.  For the LORD will not cast away his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.  Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.  Only fear the LORD, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.  (1 Samuel 12:20-25)

How are we responding to the Lord’s invitation — and Samuel’s admonition — as we consider our upcoming political decisions?  Are we choosing to be ruled by God’s standards, or by man’s?

The Absurdity and Danger of Gender Theory

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Recent news has once again brought to the forefront the issue of “transgender” people.

This phenomenon is based on something called “gender theory”. The whole idea of “gender theory” is, in my opinion, so patently absurd that it is actually hard for me to accept that anyone could possibly believe it. The theory is that “gender” is not determined by one’s biological sex, but is a separate matter that is defined according to the subjective desires of an individual. To them, one’s biological sex is a matter that is “assigned” at birth, and has no intrinsic connection with one’s sexual identity.

This is an echo of an ancient philosophical, scientific and anthropological error of dualism, which separates the body from one’s mind or soul. It rests on the proposition that one’s real essence is separate from, and merely resides in a physical shell, which can thus be used or manipulated however one wants.  This denies the integrity of mind and body, and soul and body, and makes a person’s identity something that can be determined independent of biological reality. This error — which was also an ancient Christian heresy of Gnosticism — continues to pop up in different forms, and the latest is “gender theory”.

It is a dehumanizing point of view, because it denies the logical and scientifically clear understanding that biological sexual difference is essential to human nature. Sexual difference has enormous significance for our biochemistry, physical structure (not just our reproductive system, our brains too), behavior, and psychology.  This is also at the heart of Christian anthropology, which recognizes the inherent complementarity of the sexes, and their dignity as creatures made in the image of God.

This is a critical matter in our modern world, and not just because of arguments about who can use which bathroom. It goes directly to the very heart of human nature, and errors about that key question can have disastrous effects on morals and on society.  The separation of mind from body inevitably leads to the misuse of the body, and even of nature in general.

Several years ago, Pope Benedict addressed this point definitively in his annual address to the Curia — what you might call his “State of the Church and the World Address”. His comments are worth quoting at length (my emphasis is added in bold):

[T]he question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.

The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves.

Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed.

But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.

The Holy Father got right to the center of the question — the debate is, at its heart, about the nature of the human person. It is in the end a question about “who created me”. The modernist approach is to create myself in my own image and likeness, making myself into my own little god, answerable to no objective or higher truth.

We’re already at least fifty years into a society-wide experiment that denies the true purpose of sexuality, and we are now moving into an unknown territory with the denial of the nature of the human person.  We’ve seen the destructive results of this experiment all around us, and can only wonder about where “gender theory” will lead us and our descendants.

Hunger

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

I’ve just finished reading Fr. Walter Ciszec’s amazing account of his years as a prisoner in the Soviet Union, With God in Russia.

For those who are not familiar with the story, Fr. Ciszek was a Jesuit, and was sent into Poland in the late 1930’s, with a dream of someday ministering to Catholics in Russia.  After Russia conquered the eastern part of Poland, he went into the Soviet Union to begin fulfilling his dream.  Unfortunately, after a short while, he was arrested as a spy, and then spent the next fifteen years in captivity first in the notorious Lubyanka prison, then in the labor camps of the Gulag.  He was tortured, harassed, forbidden to communicate with his family for twenty years, subjected to harsh punishments, and treated as a slave at hard labor.

But throughout it all, Fr. Ciszek never lost his faith and his trust in the Providence of God’s holy will.  Every chance he got, he celebrated Mass, heard confessions, baptized, married, and counseled the people he lived with — and was frequently punished by the Communists for doing so.  His story is a profound testament to faith, and I strongly urge people to read both With God in Russia and his magnificent spiritual memoir, He Leadeth Me. 

Throughout his memoir, Fr. Ciszek repeatedly writes about hunger.  Food was very scarce in the prison and the Gulag, and even after he was released, in the Siberian towns where he was living.  The prisoners constantly thought about food, schemed to get food, and even fought over food.  Deep physical hunger was a daily reality for these men, and it was rarely, if ever, fully satisfied.

But Fr. Ciszek also encountered another hunger — for the sacraments, for Mass, and especially for the Eucharist.  Religious practices were systematically suppressed in Soviet Russia, and the people rarely had the chance to worship and receive the sacraments.  At one point, Fr. Ciszek wasn’t able to celebrate Mass for over five years, until he finally encountered another priest in the Gulag:

… he asked me if I wanted to say Mass.  I was overwhelmed! … my joy at being able to celebrate Mass again cannot be described… I heard confessions regularly and, from time to time, was even able to distribute Communion secretly after I’d said Mass.  The experience gave me new strength.  I could function as a priest again, and I thanked God daily for the opportunity to work among this hidden flock, consoling and comforting men who had thought themselves beyond His grace.

I was reading this during the Synod of Bishops, which was meeting to discuss the challenges and pastoral needs of families.  Here in America, the awful media coverage of the Synod was dominated by their obsession with two issues — whether divorced people who enter into a civil marriage can receive Communion, and how to include homosexual people in the life of the Church.

Considering these issues, I couldn’t help but think of Fr. Ciszek’s experience of hunger that so rarely was satisfied.  These issues present hard questions, because they must be confronted within the very clear and unchangeable moral teaching of the Church and of Christ himself that all sexual activity outside of a valid marriage is immoral (see Mt 5:32, and Mk 7:20-23).

Yet they must be confronted.  There is a sizable number of people who hunger for the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  Many of them have been led to believe that they may even be beyond God’s grace.   Too often, I take my daily access to Confession and Communion for granted, and can’t conceive of the hunger that must be in my brothers’ and sisters’ hearts.  I hope and pray that our bishops and the Holy Father can find an answer.

I think of the story of Jesus encountering the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4).  Jesus confronted her plainly but gently with the fact that she was living in an immoral relationship, with a man who was not her true husband.  And he spoke to her of the living water and the true food that all of us desire — His own body and blood.  This is a powerful story of Christ’s willingness to encounter and accompany the Samaritan woman — an outcast in the eyes of the Jews — while at the same time calling her to transform her life in accordance with God’s will.

There are no easy answers.  Chastity is a virtue that all must live, but it is very hard for many of us.  And the hunger in our hearts continually yearns to be satisfied.