A True Understanding of Sexual Identity

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

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

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.

A Holy Warrior for Our Time

May 31st, 2016

Yesterday was the anniversary of the martyrdom of my favorite saint — she called herself Jeanne the Maid (“Jehanne la Pucelle”), but we know her better as Joan of Arc.  She was a beautiful person, simple, humble, devout and strong.  She rose from total obscurity in the backwater farm country of France, and accomplished one of the most remarkable feats in human history.  Hers is such an amazing story that it sounds like fiction — an ignorant seventeen-year-old girl, with no military experience whatsoever, leading the army of a defeated and demoralized nation to impossible victories, restoring the true king to the throne, only to end in tragedy.

But her military accomplishments aren’t the most important thing about her, even though they remain astonishing and unmatched in history.  Her entire mission was not intended to glorify herself, but was carried out in humble obedience to the will of God, communicated to her through visions of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret.  She never wanted anything more than to return to her home, yet she obeyed God and set aside her own desires, in order to bring peace and justice to her homeland.

The price she paid for this devotion was appalling.  After all her triumphs, she was betrayed by the same king whom she raised to the throne, abandoned by her comrades in arms, persecuted by hard-hearted enemies, tortured and condemned by corrupt Churchmen, and cruelly put to death in one of the most painful ways imaginable.

Jeanne’s beauty of soul and her sterling faith shone through it all, even in battle and even in the darkest days of her cruelly unfair trial.  Here is what she said at the trial, when asked about who carried her standard (i.e., her flag): “It was I who carried the aforementioned sign when I charged the enemy. I did so to avoid killing any one. I have never killed a man.”  She wept over the loss of life in battle, strove to minimize it, insisted on sparing prisoners, and comforted dying enemy soldiers.  At her trial, Joan offered a statement that sums up her character, and could have been her battle cry:  “I came from God. There is nothing more for me to do here! Send me back to God, from Whom I came!”

Jeanne rejected worldly honors, and refused to accept titles for herself.  Serving God was the entire purpose of her mission and her life, not personal glory.   As a sign of this, she wore only one piece of jewelry, a simple gold ring, a gift from her mother, with the plain engraving “+Jhesus+Maria+”. As she was suffering at the stake, she had a cross before her eyes and she died with the name of Jesus on her lips. Those who witnessed her death finally understood that they had condemned a saint.

She is, in my opinion, the most outstanding example of a brave and Christian warrior, whose love of God inspired all that she did, whose nobility of character inspired deep love and devotion among the hardened soldiers who followed her, and whose courage under persecution is a shining beacon of purity and virtue. Her life continues to inspire biographers to this day, and even the cynical Mark Twain, who wrote a beautiful novelization of her life, considered her to be the most remarkable person who ever lived.

Back in 2011, Pope Benedict presented a series of reflections on the great female saints, at his regular Wednesday address.  One of those he spoke about was Jeanne, and he said this: “Her holiness is a beautiful example for lay people engaged in politics, especially in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every decision”.

She is a saint for the ages, and she is particularly important for this age.  The Church and people of faith need holy warriors now more than ever, people who are willing to stand for the truth, for God’s will, and for the sanctification of their homeland.  I pray to Jeanne every day, and in times of trial I feel the strength of Jeanne’s patronage.  I ever make it to heaven, she will be one of the first saints I seek out and thank for her help.

A New Disgrace in Albany

May 20th, 2016

The appalling New York government never fails to disappoint in its ability to be shameless. This time, it’s not just a matter of their reprehensible ethics. Now it is literally a matter of life and death.

With no prior public notice or advance warning, the long-time anti-life Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, Dick Gottfried, has scheduled a committee vote on the recently-introduced physician-assisted suicide bill. This was learned on Friday afternoon, and the vote is scheduled for Monday. The committee meeting has been called “off the floor,” which means that nobody in the public will have any idea ahead of time where or when it will take place. It’s a stealth meeting on an issue of monentous importance.

This is an outrageous abuse of power. The issue of assisted suicide is deeply controversial and highly complex. If it is going to be considered by the Legislature, it demands a full and extensive debate, with all sides having a chance to be heard. Evidence needs to be considered, the moral arguments have to be heard, and a careful weighing must be made of the consequences for the public good.

That, of course, is a nice ideal, but it surely is not the way the New York Legislature does things. Instead, this kind of legislative skullduggery is a violation of every principle of good government and fundamental fairness. Even if it is not a technical violation of New York’s Open Meeting Law, it surely violates it’s spirit and intention. Those who are most at risk in this area — elderly and disabled people — are being betrayed by those who are supposed to represent them.

If the bill’s supporters are so sure of the merits of their argument, why are they resorting to such a sneaky tactic? Could it be that their arguments have now been rejected unanimously by two New York courts, and they realize that the more people learn about assisted suicide, the more they are leery about legalizing it?

New York’s government is notoriously dysfunctional, and deserves its reputation as one of the worst in the country. This latest maneuver brings it to an even more disgraceful low point. The Assembly leadership should feel ashamed — if they’re even capable of it.

Victory for Religious Freedom

May 17th, 2016

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited ruling on the HHS Mandate cases that involved the Little Sisters of the Poor, several Catholic dioceses, and a number of other Christian organizations. It is a bit of a disappointment that the Court didn’t rule explicitly on the merits of the religious liberty issues, and the case will linger on for a while in the lower courts. Still, given the divisions in the Court after the death of Justice Scalia, I have to consider this to be a major victory.

The Court unanimously decided to send the cases back to the Circuit Courts, which had previously issued split decisions on the cases. The Supreme Court instructed the lower courts to work out a resolution that would ensure that the religious non-profits would not have to do anything to facilitate the provision of morally offensive services beyond contracting with their insurance company for a policy that excludes them. That will then permit the government to come up with a way to ensure that the services are still offered to the employees of the non-profits. Most important, the Court also ruled that the religious non-profits could not be fined or penalized by the government for taking their stand in defense of their religious liberties.

There are a couple of crucial take-aways from this.

  • All along, the argument by the religious non-profits has been that they don’t want to be involved in providing abortion and contraception services that they find morally offensive.
  • This ruling vindicates that argument, and sends a clear signal to the government that they can’t force religious people to violate their religious beliefs by threatening them with ruinous fines.
  • The ruling also makes clear that it is not the business of the government or courts to tell people when their religious beliefs are burdened by a law. The Court’s decision is a direct rebuke to the lower courts who substituted their judgement about Catholic and Christian belief for the plaintiffs.
  • The government has not been told in no uncertain terms that they have to be more accommodating of religious belief, and more creative in coming up with ways to achieve their goals without burdening religious beliefs.
  • The government’s parsimonious view of religious freedom has now been dealt its fourth consecutive major blow — starting with the Hosanna Tabor case, through Hobby Lobby, and now with Zubik, the Court is sending a clear message that the constitutional recognition of religous freedom has to be given special weight when it is negatively impacted by government policies.

Major kudos have to go out the defenders of religious freedom at the Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom, who gave these cases the benefit of their great legal skills. But more than anything, credit must be given to the Little Sisters of the Poor, Bishop Zubik, Archbishop Wuerl, Priests for Life, and the Christian Colleges who were the plaintiffs in these cases, and who carried the banner for our natural right to practice our faith free of government coercion.

James MadisonGeorge Washington, and Thomas Jefferson would be proud.

The Danger is Clear and Present

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.

More Gender Ideology Madness

May 5th, 2016

It is axiomatic that a sound understanding of the nature of the human person is essential to a rational system of morality and public policy. The converse of that principle is equally true: an incoherent misunderstanding of the nature of the human person leads to nonsensical morality and public policy.

The best evidence for this are the ongoing lawless actions by the Administration to impose gender ideology on our nation, not by making law in the legitimate way established in the Constitution, but by issuing arbitrary edicts that purport to find new meanings in existing law, in ways that no rational person could ever consider sensible.

Let me be specific. Over the past several years, minor unelected officials in federal agencies (no doubt acting with the approval of high-ranking members of the Administration) have issued letters claiming that existing prohibitions against sex discrimination also ban any differential treatment of persons who consider themselves to be “transgender”. No acts of Congress have been enacted saying this, and no regulations have been issued through the normal course of rule-making. But that hasn’t stopped the Administration from making up law as it goes along, arbitrarily arrogating power to itself to re-define what it means to be human.

The most recent example is a threatening letter sent by the Justice Department to the State of North Carolina. That state recently passed a law declaring that multiple use bathrooms and locker rooms could only be used by persons of the appropriate sex, as determined by their biological sex as stated on their birth certificate. The Justice Department has decided that this law violates the federal civil rights statute, usually referred to as “Title VII”, and that the entire state could lose all federal funding as a result. Their reasoning, if you can call it that, is the bizarre notion that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of “sex” also includes a ban on any differential treatment of “transgender individuals” due to their “gender identity”.

Of course, Title VII says nothing about “gender identity” or “transgender individuals”. Nobody understood it that way at the time it was passed in 1964.  And nobody interpreted it in that way until this current Administration decided to do so. In fact, Congress has flatly refused the Administration’s request that they amend Title VII to include “gender identity”, an amendment that would surely not be necessary if the term “sex” already included that meaning as well. This is not an isolated case, by the way. The Administration has also pushed this agenda in other areas — education, health care, and government contracting.

The whole idea makes no sense at all. Set aside for a moment the fundamental nonsense of gender ideology, which I have written about before. In this case, the government is arguing that acting on the basis of biological sex is discriminatory against people who think that biological sex is meaningless, and who are defining their identity in a way that they feel has no relationship with their biological sex. They also claim that the state is treating people badly on account of their “gender identity”, even though the state is completely disregarding the person’s claimed identity, and is instead using the person’s undisputed biological sex as the relevant standard.

There is no way to extract any intellectual coherence from the Administration’s position. But reason has little force when people in power are pursuing an ideological crusade to re-make man in their own image and likeness, when they have no trouble running rough-shod over the rule of law in order to impose this new orthodoxy, and when they will brook no opposition or dissent.

We Need to Talk Frankly

May 3rd, 2016

On April 19, the Governor of Utah signed a resolution, which had been passed by a unanimous legislature, declaring pornography to be a public health crisis. The evidence supporting that conclusion is massive, and unequivocal. So why aren’t we talking about it more?

Pornography is ubiquitous in our society, and exposure to porn is virtually universal among adolescents and young adults — precisely the times when people are supposed to be maturing in their personalities and sexuality, and preparing for marriage.  The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has an incredibly detailed set of studies about the evil effects of porn. Just a sampling of their findings, all of which are backed by academic studies, is that among adult males, exposure to pornography is connected with:

  • Greater acceptance of sex before marriage
  • Having more sex partners
  • Considering their partner to be less attractive
  • Less satisfaction with partner’s sexual performance
  • Greater desire for sex without emotional involvement
  • More callousness in sex
  • Acceptance of “rape myth” (i.e., that raped women enjoy rape and “got what she wanted”)
  • Trying to get partners to act out scenes from pornographic films
  • Going to prostitutes and strip clubs
  • Greater acceptance of adultery
  • More likely to have an affair
  • Using more negative and sexual terms to describe women
  • Less child centeredness during marriage
  • Reduced desire for female children
  • Sexual dysfunction with their partner (but not with porn)
  • Engaging in more aggressive sexual behavior
  • Committing date rape
  • Abusing sex partners
  • Coercing sex
  • Using alcohol or drugs to coerce sex
  • Engaging in marital rape

One particularly horrifying reality about porn is the level of violence and degradation against women.  The NCSE’s studies of this are appalling — they found, in a random sample of popular porn videos, that 88% included actual physical violence against women. It has even gotten so bad — but accepted in the industry and market — that popular porn sites actually categorize videos by the kind of violence they depict. The NCSE compares this disgusting attack on women to be tantamount to torture, and for good reason — the accounts of former porn performers are horrific. It is deeply disturbing that men are deriving sexual pleasure from watching women be degraded, abused, and raped.

Many people find it difficult to talk about porn, for a variety of reasons. But we can no longer allow our squeamishness to prevail. Lives are being ruined by porn. Relationships are twisted and destroyed. The crisis demands a response.  One thing that we must do first and foremost is clearly identify the distorted sexual desires that lead people to porn, and the way to counter them.

The sexual activity shown in porn is not normal, healthy, or good, and the desire to have that kind of sex is not properly ordered towards its real purpose. The true goal of human sexuality is not to achieve an orgasm at all costs, without any human contact. That’s the lie that porn teaches — it is fundamentally artificial, because it only shows a two-dimensional image of a person, removed from any real sense of humanity. It is, on many levels, inhuman.

The real goal of human sexuality is to lead us to a real relationship with a real person of the opposite sex. Our sexuality is designed to be expressed and experienced not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually — in a way that involves the entire person. And ultimately, it is designed to bring us to the communion of persons that can only be fully achieved in the permanent and exclusive self-giving bond of man and woman. Real sexual desire is ordered towards marriage, and is deeply human.

We need to talk frankly about this to young people, to encourage them to resist the lie, and strive for the truth. Even the most habitual user of porn can — admittedly with difficulty — re-train their sexual desires so that they are correctly ordered. The first, and most important thing they must do is to get off the internet. Single people then have to seek out healthy, chaste dating relationships. Married people need to re-focus their desires towards their spouse and no other. It takes practice to minimize our disordered desires and build up our properly ordered desires. Vice is all too easy — it’s as close as our smartphone. Virtue takes hard work and patience.

This can be done. Many men and women have struggled with this temptation, and have achieved some level of success. But nobody will ever be victorious, unless we talk frankly about the evils of porn.

The Danger Signs on Suicide are Clear

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.