Message for World AIDS Day
Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General
This year, which marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, also marks a major milestone in the long struggle against this disease. Well over 3 million people in low- and middle-income countries are now receiving life-prolonging antiretroviral therapy. Such an achievement was unthinkable 20 years ago, when the world was just beginning to comprehend the significance of this disease and its catastrophic impact on individuals, families, and societies.
AIDS is the most challenging and probably the most devastating infectious disease humanity has ever had to face. And humanity has faced this disease, in equally unprecedented ways. The international community has rallied at levels ranging from grass-roots movements to heads of state, from faith-based organizations and philanthropists to research institutions, academia, and industry.
On this 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, I find it appropriate to reflect on some of these achievements. The response to AIDS changed the face of public health in profound ways, opening new options for dealing with multiple other health problems. It showed the power of determination to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Civil society brought the disease – and the needs of those affected – to the forefront of world attention. Attitudes changed. Treatments were developed. Clinical schedules were streamlined and standardized. Funds were found. Prices dropped. Partnerships were formed, and presidents and prime ministers launched emergency plans.
The response to AIDS also reaffirmed some of the most important values and principles of public health. The AIDS epidemic showed the relevance of equity and universal access in a substantial way. With the advent of antiretroviral therapy, an ability to access medicines and services became equivalent to an ability to survive for many millions of people. The epidemic focused attention on the broad social determinants of health, the vital role of prevention, and the need for people-centred care. In so doing, it helped pave the way for a renewal of primary health care.
These achievements show the power of determination and global solidarity, but they also remind us of the challenges. I believe that the theme selected for this year’s World AIDS Day captures these challenges well.
Leadership is needed to ensure that vigilance and diligence in responding to the epidemic remain steadfast. Despite the global financial crisis, funding absolutely must remain predictable, sustainable, and substantial. We must ensure that the current unprecedented rollout of treatment reaches more people and is fully sustainable. Stepping back or slowing down on treatment is not an acceptable option on ethical and humanitarian grounds.
Empowerment is critical for an effective response, and most especially so for prevention. We must do much more to empower adolescent girls and women, both to protect themselves and to act as agents of change. We must work much harder to fight stigma and discrimination, which are huge obstacles to all forms of prevention, treatment, care, and support. In many countries, legal as well as social and cultural barriers prevent groups at risk from receiving the interventions and knowledge needed to reduce harmful behaviours.
Finally, we must deliver. In many countries, the weakness of health systems limits the ability to reach those in greatest need with sustainable services. I believe we now have an historic opportunity to align the agenda for responding to AIDS with the agenda for strengthening health systems. As noted in this year’s World Health Report, primary health care is the best way to operationalize a commitment to equity and social justice, to realize a focus on prevention, and to reach marginalized groups. These values and principles are the very foundation for the future of the AIDS response.
On this World AIDS Day, let us redouble our determination to build on past success and to rally our forces against the remaining obstacles – in a spirit of solidarity and for the sake of human dignity.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Message for World AIDS Day
Science now has proven there are moral and ethical alternatives to using stems cells from human embryos. The most recent success transplanted a new windpipe into a 30-year old woman suffering from tuberculosis. The procedure used tissue from the women’s own stem cells. Adult stem cells have also cured over 70 diseases in other men, women and children. By contrast, research using embryonic stem cell research has not cured a single disease in a single person.
Congress is expected to debate the use of stem cells from human embryos early in the 111th Congress. This is a crucial time to educate President-Elect Obama that it is time to end the debate on funding embryonic stem cell research and put our limited funds toward research that is curing and saving lives. The Obama Transition Team is asking for your vision for the next four years. Please share your views that we must follow science on stem cell research and use the moral and ethical alternatives to embryonic stem cells that have suceeded and do not sacrifice one life to potential save another.
From the Democrats for Life of America:
DFLA -The pro-life voice within the Democratic Party
Pro-Science and Pro-Life: The Most Promising Stem Cell Research Does NOT Require the Destruction of Human Embryos
Medical research involving “stem cells” is often presented as a false dilemma. It is a falsehood that one must be either pro-science or pro-life; that in order to advance medical and scientific research, one must push aside ethical issues relating to the creation, cloning, and destruction of human embryos. This common misperception is not just oversimplified and misleading – it is also outdated.
Today, scientists can create the most powerful type of stem cells without destroying embryos. Researchers have generated a new kind of stem cell that shares the helpful characteristics of embryonic cells, while avoiding the many moral and practical problems. The new, non-embryonic cells have shown tremendous promise in clinical studies, and scientists have only begun to explore their potential. They add to an already lengthy roster of medical treatments
utilizing “adult” stem cells.
What are “Stem Cells”?
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that can replicate themselves and produce more specialized cells. The most powerful stem cells are “pluripotent,” which means capable of developing into any type of cell.
Stem cells come from a variety of sources. Embryonic stem cells are those obtained by destroying a human embryo in the early stages of its development. Adult stem cells refer to stem cells from adult tissue, umbilical cord blood, or placenta.
In the past, it was believed that embryonic stem cells were unique in their ability to transform into any type of cell. We now know that this is not the case. Researchers have learned to manipulate the genes of adult cells and convert them into the equivalent of embryonic stem cells.
These breakthrough new cells – known as “induced pluripotent stem cells” or “iPS cells” – were created from adult skin cells. Like embryonic stem cells, they can be transformed into any type of tissue, including lung, brain, heart and muscle.
Proven Benefits of Adult Stem Cells
A flurry of research has followed upon the published discovery of iPS cells in late 2007. Clinical studies in mice have already shown progress in treating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell anemia, and in restoring blood circulation and function to damaged limbs. More studies are underway.
For many years prior to the discovery of iPS cells, the other types of adult stem cells have provided important medical benefits. Blood-forming cells from bone marrow have been used in transplants for 30 years. Adult stem cells are in widespread use treating many types of cancer, heart disease, and spinal cord injury.
Clinical trials have benefitted patients suffering from conditions including corneal damage, sickle-cell anemia, and multiple sclerosis. Adult stem cells, including iPS cells, permit doctors to treat a patient using cells from the patient’s own body. The advantage is that the cells will not be rejected by the immune system, as would be the case with stem cells from an embryo.
Another advantage of adult stem cells is that they are not as likely as embryonic cells to form tumors – and the advantage now extends to iPS cells. In September 2008, Harvard University scientists announced that they had succeeded in engineering iPS cells so they were not prone to causing cancerous tumors. This feat has so far eluded researchers working with embryonic stem
cells, and it raises the possibility that iPS cells may be used in human studies much sooner than once thought.
Problems with Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of a human embryo. In some cases, an embryo is created for the express purpose of destroying and harvesting its cells. Supporters of embryonic stem cell research seek to avoid the moral and ethical objections by arguing that the end – the possibility of a breakthrough that might advance medicine – justifies the means – destroying human embryos to harvest stem cells. This dubious argument loses all credibility in light of the research developments involving non-embryonic stem cells.
In addition, major practical hurdles continue to confront embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells are valued for their capacity to grow and reproduce very rapidly, but that growth is difficult to control. In simple terms, embryonic cells are prone to forming cancerous tumors. To date, concern about tumors has prevented studies of embryonic stem cell treatments in human patients. Immune system rejection is another problem with treating patients using
cells from a destroyed embryo. The high risk of the patient’s immune system rejecting tissue grown from the embryo would mean a lifetime course of immunosuppressive drugs. The tissue rejection problem has led some researchers down a worrisome path.
Their “solution” is to create an embryo cloned from a patient’s own cells, terminate the cloned embryo after roughly 5-7 days development, and harvest the embryonic stem cells. The clone’s stem cells could then be used to grow transplant tissues or even whole body parts. They call this process “therapeutic” cloning.
“Therapeutic” cloning has progressed relatively slowly. The cloning process requires large quantities of human eggs and, so far, there is a shortage of donors. This is hardly surprising: egg donation is a time-consuming process that poses medical risks to the donor. She is subject to multiple office visits, daily hormone injections, and a surgical procedure under anesthesia to harvest the eggs. Even under normal doses, the hormone injections can lead to occasional serious (in rare cases, fatal) complications caused by excessive stimulation of the ovaries. To make matters worse, the commercial value of cloning research means that the doctor would have a financial incentive to administer high doses of egg-stimulating drugs, in order to produce as many eggs as possible. Given the health risks to women and the speculative benefits of the research, the National Academy of Science advises against compensation for women who
donate eggs for research purposes, and such compensation has been banned by California and Massachusetts, two large centers of stem cell research.
A shortage of human eggs available for cloning led researchers in the United Kingdom to use cow’s eggs instead, creating a human-animal hybrid embryo. Termed a “chimera,” the hybrid embryo was reportedly destroyed after five days. The “ends” justifying the “means” argument can be stretched very far indeed.
Recent developments may well make embryonic stem cells obsolete. At a minimum, scientists must be encouraged to harness the enormous potential of powerful new stem cells created without destroying human embryos. With limited dollars available for medical research, legislators should ensure that taxpayer dollars fund research that has tremendous potential for breakthrough cures: adult stem cell research.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
To speak of American "materialism" is...both an understatement and a misstatement. The material goods that historically have been the symbols which elsewhere separated men from one another have become, under American conditions, symbols which hold men together. From the moment of our rising in the morning, the breakfast food we eat, the coffee we drink, the automobile we drive to work--all these and nearly all the things we consume become thin, but not negligible, bonds with thousands of other Americans. -- Daniel J. Boorstin
What's wrong with American culture? This question has become prominent in Christian circles as the moral course of the United States becomes more and more frightening. The answer, in one respect, lies in the materialism of the American people. This is not materialism, in the philosophical sense, where all that exists is matter and one denies the existence of God -- though that sort of materialism easily establishes this second sort. This materialism is the fruit of avarice and greed. It's a common mentality -- we're all guilty of it -- that we don't really care about things per se; we know who we are without our possessions. Our sense of self is not bound to the material world. Of all the so-called "-isms" of our time, none has ever been more misunderstood, more criticized, and more relevant than materialism. Who but fools and the occasional nutty libertarian rise to its defense? It's safe to say that while materialism may not be the most shallow of all the "-isms" plaguing the world, it certainly is among those that have triumphed.
There are two questions that come to mind. Both are profoundly interesting. (1) Why are we so materialistic? (2) Why are we so unwilling to acknowledge and explore what seems to be one of the central aspects of modernity?
This consumerism is not forced on us. We're just overwhelmingly attracted to the world of goods. That's why we call them "goods" and not "bads." Perhaps we should call them "bads." Across the ocean, American culture is criticized for being too materialistic -- we're only 10% of the world's population and yet we're leaders in the consumption of the world's resources. While percentage may shift, the shame remains. Its been said that Americans aren't materialistic, if anything, we are not materialistic enough. If only Americans desired objects and knew what they meant, there wouldn't be signifying systems of marketing, packaging, fashion, and branding to get in the way. Theoretically, Americans would collect, use, dispense, etc. based on some inner sense of value. It is precisely that inner sense of value that we don't have.
In many ways, consumption of goods and their meanings is how most Western young people cope in with the existential anxiety that is only more acute since "modernity" has dismissed traditional religious meanings. The culture of America is one in which most people can have practically anything. The common sayings "use it up, wear it out, make do with, or just do without" don't exist anymore. Thanks to credit cards and installment debt, we can be instantly gratified and all before middle age -- no need to work for it, no need for a sense of value or meaning, no need for accomplishment.
It's fairly simple. Play by the rules and you'll have a lot in life. What are the rules? They're fairly simple. Finish high school, go to college (maybe), get a job, don't get pregnant or get someone pregnant -- luckily, we have abortion now, right? -- don't become addicted to drugs and you'll make it in America. The dramatic change in American culture in large part has something to do with the fact that in the last thirty years -- for the first time in Western culture -- lower economic classes have had access to "goods" that were previously reserved for the wealthy. It's a gift so great that we've lost all sense of personal responsibility.
Humans, by their nature, are consumers. Humans use tools because what they create with the tools are useful. In other words, tools are not the ends but the means. If "modernity" tells the story, materialism does not destroy one's sense of spirituality; spirituality, rather, is the substitute when "goods" are lacking -- what else are humans to do? When you don't have anything, you sit around and "invent" a life to come that is rich and splendid because it's the obvious psychological projection man would make. Heaven is just mythical nonsense, isn't it? On the other side of the coin, when you possess plenty, the "goods" began to enchant you. The life to come is obscured by the here and now. "I deserve richness now, not in the life to come." Right? This cycle is self-nurturing. There is a circular route from desire to purchase to disappointment to renewed desire. It's in fact what advertisers want. After all, we are consumers of everything--of health services, education, political representation, and the list goes on.
Given all this, is it worth it? Does it make us happy? Do some suffer inordinately for the excesses of others--does it even matter? Why should we care? The more relevant question, perhaps, is what are we going to do with all this stuff we have bought when it becomes junk? What's the link between our rate of consumption and thus our culture with the fact that America leads the industrialized world in rates of murder, violent crime, juvenile violent crime, imprisonment, divorce, abortion, single-parent households, obesity, teen suicide, cocaine consumption, per capita consumption of all drugs, pornography production and consumption?
There is yet another consideration. Given this unquenchable desire for goods, we can only appreciate how poverty can be so crippling in the modern world. Since meaning derives from owning and possessing, it logically follows that poverty is not just a lacking of things, but meaning as well -- the exclusion from the most important aspects of modern life. When one hears that some young African American male has killed someone over a pair of name-brand sneakers or a monogrammed athletic jacket, it becomes painstakingly clear that the chronically poor, unemployed youth are living the absurdist life described by modern existentialists. It, too, becomes clear that such people are after what all people want: association, affiliation, inclusion, and purpose; the problem lies in the fact that they are being bombarded, as is everyone else, with commercial promises of being "cool," etc. Meaning is added to objects by advertising, branding, packaging, and fashion because that meaning--which should be called "status"--is what we're after. Why else would some woman spend thousands for Prada besides the mere possession of such a product "says" something about her? She's a woman of status. Right?
Social identity by means of consumption can be summarized in the popular catchphrase "you are what you eat." In the same way, Americans are what they wear, what they drive, how they spend their vacations, where they live, and what they watch on television. In these terms, what's being packaged is not the goods as much as the buyer of the goods -- man is looking for an identity because in a godless world, there is no such thing. In an open market, we consume both real and imaginary meanings, fusing objects, symbols, images, and ideas together, and so rather than living lives, we live lifestyles. For good or for ill, lifestyles are more or less secular religions and consistent patterns of valuing objects. One's lifestyle is not related to how much one makes, per se, though that's part of it -- it has more to do with what one buys.
One reason (and this is my personal opinion) that we use terms like "hippies" or "Generation X" is that we don't understand social class anymore -- what we understand is lifestyle. It seems that we might not be able to say how much money it takes to be a hippy, or how old you have to be, but we all know where hippies gather, how they dress, what they play, what they drive, what they eat, and what their general worldview as a group is. The same is true of nerds, jocks, druggies, etc. In a movie, we immediately can identify a person with such a stereotype simply by their dress and by their action. These images imprint upon us and in many ways, we attempt to live them out. We conceptualize everything, which is not a bad thing; the problem is that we seem to have programmed ourselves to live up to conceptualized models instead of toward the fulfillment of our human nature.
Given that this is the age of empiricism and data, a marketer can easily chart your shifting purchases. If a consumer specialist knew, say, your purchases for the last year, they might -- with some accuracy -- be able to predict what you'll buy in the next year and attempt to sell it to you. This is both good and bad depending on their intention and the effects of such action on society. People are "labeled" -- we're a nation that conceptualizes and puts people into groups using models. Therefore, to a consumer specialist, an American consumer fits into a group and not a social class -- we're beyond class barriers, remember? This means that the group you affiliate yourself with, in many ways, has more to do with the brand of computer you bought last week and how expensive it was than with your income, age, education, job, or religious views.
In many respects, commercial culture is playing out the historic role of "organized religion." The daily concern for piety has been replaced by daily concern of consumption. The concern is pocketbooks and not prayer books. The concern is not for the priest who preaches about God and heaven, but the salesman who talks about "goods" and services -- which will, of course, bring us the same joy. The language of community and shared values is now on the package, in the brand, and in style. All one has to do to confirm this is argument is turn on the television and watch the flood of commercials -- sitting before the electronic altar that owns the souls of millions of Americans, we immediately began to take in the sermons of corporations on how to get the "most out of" their products. The organization and swiftness in which they evangelize should be of concern to Christians trying to "sell" the Gospel of Life to sinners. What is most concerning is that the marketing industry has little moral taste in how they make their money, e.g. half-naked women on a magazine cover. (On a brief tangent -- often enough the cover of a man's magazine is a beautiful woman, yes? She is lovely and there is a sense that one must live up to a certain identity to have a woman like that. This is especially the thinking of younger men. If you look at the cover a woman's magazine, often enough it's a woman. She's so slim and beautiful. What does a young woman think? "I have to look like her and act like her for a man to notice me." At least that's how I perceive it).
The real work of advertising is subliminal. What's so fascinating is not only do we lend ourselves to the creation of advertising, but we proceed not only to buy the products but the aura around it. The great irony of the American culture of individualism is that it's profoundly a culture of conformism. Fit in, don't stand out, be cool, chill out. Does the current identity you have conformed to not work anymore? Well, that's no problem! You are not what you make, you are what you buy. Don't like who you are? Buy different brands. Shop for a new lifestyle. American youth, don't like the Abercrombie & Fitch image and lifestyle? Visit Hot Topic -- be "emo" and gothic. Nevermind the two stores have the exact same owner. If you don't like either of those, you can go buy saggy jeans and let them hang down to your knees.
Another problem is that these images are delivered to us in abundance by the mass media. Think of the show Beverly Hills 90210. Perhaps, you haven't watched it. God has blessed you if that's the case. Nevertheless, the audience is invited to experience the lifestyle of affluent Southern California teenagers. But is the show's portrayal how California teenagers really are? It doesn't matter really, one might say, so long as the fictional characters are somewhat congruent with the audience's expectations. Regardless, the image now imprinted on America is that the life of a teenager in California involves trips to health spas, wearing midriff-exposing t-shirts, and driving fancy cars. Would it surprise you that people try to live out that image? Strangely enough, the desperation to become some image -- not the image of God -- actually gave rise to "knock-off" brands. If you can't have the real thing, there's always the next best thing. But doesn't that involve a risk of rejection? People who wear "knock-off" brands aren't good enough for the real thing; often enough, they aren't real supposedly. They're fakes, or to use the common term of American youth, they're posers. Realness is allegedly based on how well one sells an image and not having the right brand can be a bad start--it has nothing to do with the interior self, whatever that is.
This all presents a profound challenge to say the least. All of this demonstrates all the more, the necessity and urgency for Catholics and people of good will to live moral, upright lives in accord with the will of God and not that of this world. The eternal words of God's Wisdom is ever more revelatory in light of this reality: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and stea. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. (Matthew 6: 19-21).
Note: Here I argued that Americans divide themselves into subcultures that in many ways become monolithic. Might there be some connection between consumerism, identity, and the socio-political groups in which we divide ourselves? Thoughts?
Thursday, November 20, 2008
No one should be shocked to discover that, in his transition to the presidency, the "inexperienced" former senator from Chicago has turned to the last Democratic administration that had experience in Washington. It seems, however, that the Obama team is doing so big time. Looking at lists of early appointees for the transition period and the administration to come, from Rahm Emanuel on down, you might be forgiven for concluding that Hillary had been elected president in 2008. Clintonistas are just piling up in the prospective corridors of power.
You might also be forgiven for concluding that just about no one else in America had ever had any "experience." Late last week, the website Politico.com did some counting and came up with the following: "Thirty-one of the 47 people so far named to transition or staff posts have ties to the Clinton administration, including all but one of the members of his 12-person Transition Advisory Board and both of his White House staff choices." More have been appointed since then, including, as White House Counsel, Gregory Craig, the lawyer who defended Bill Clinton in impeachment hearings, and evidently as Attorney General, Eric Holder, who worked in the Clinton Justice Department. And, of course, everyone in America now knows that Hillary herself is being considered for a cabinet post.
This is change and a "new kind" of politics, or is it old politics repackaged?
Monday, November 17, 2008
From The Washington Times: "GOP gets wake-up call on minority vote"
Virginia Republicans say the overwhelming support by blacks and Hispanics that led to big wins for Democrats on Election Day taught them a valuable lesson: The party must work harder to make minority voters feel included and involved or pay dearly at the polls.
President-elect Barack Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to win Virginia, and Senator-elect Mark Warner scored even better than Mr. Obama among blacks and Hispanics in the state.
"That Obama and Warner were able to attract large numbers of minorities suggests to the Republican Party that we need to be better at getting out our message," said Chuck Smith, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia's Welcoming Committee. "We are the party of values and freedom."
To get their message across, Republicans need to focus on a message of "inclusion and involvement," he said.
In Prince William County, for example, Corey A. Stewart, a Republican and chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors last year led one of the country's most stringent crackdowns on illegal immigrants, which sparked fear and flight among that Hispanic community.
Fabiola Francisco, chairman of the Virginia chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, said the crackdown showed a huge messaging problem that the party must correct.
"The party has to do a rebranding campaign and make sure the truth is really out there, that we're not against immigrants or we're not against other minorities or anything like that," she said. "The Prince William campaign may have had good intentions, but it did cause an uphill battle for our groups."
The county this year had 23,500 new voter registrations while nearby Loudoun County had 16,903.
Mrs. Francisco also said that while Republicans have attempted to reach out in such places as churches and stores frequented by minorities, the party needs to cast a wider net with its grass-roots efforts to include such venues as community festivals and soccer tournaments.
Jeffrey M. Frederick, a Hispanic who is chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and a Prince William County state delegate who backed the county's immigration crackdown, shared similar thoughts.
Republicans need to narrow their focus from a broader policy of inclusion to building one-on-one relationships in communities, he said, and emphasize stances on issues of which minorities and the party agree: small government, lower taxes and family values.
His party also has to overcome the anti-immigration label it's been given and the fact that many minority cultures associate themselves with the Democratic Party by cultural default, Mr. Frederick said.
"The fact of the matter is our values as Republicans more closely align with the values of these ethnic minorities," he said. "You name the issue, and they're going to agree with us more than with the Democrats."
Mr. Obama defeated Republican Sen. John McCain with roughly 53 percent of the vote in Virginia. Mr. Obama won the support of 92 percent of black voters and 65 percent of Hispanics in Virginia, according to exit polls used by MSNBC.com. In cities with large black populations, such as Hampton, Norfolk and Richmond, Mr. Obama earned a greater percent of the total vote than Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry did in 2004.
Mr. Warner, a former Virginia governor who is white, won a Senate seat with a higher percentage of black and Hispanic voters than Mr. Obama: 93 percent and 71 percent, respectively.
The number of Hispanics in Virginia increased from 329,540 in 2000 to 470,871 in 2006, according to the most recent census figures. And the number of blacks increased from 1.4 million to 1.5 million over the same period, according to the census .
Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said his party focused on a program that included visiting different communities and using Spanish-language materials in some areas prior to this year's elections.
Mr. Frederick said his party also "reached out this campaign season, [but] I think we need to do more reaching out." And even Mr. Leopold said the battle between the parties to win minority voters isn't nearly over.
"If Republicans speak to communities about the issues that they face, I think that will be a battle for us," Mr. Leopold said. "I don't think that voting bloc is solidified for Democrats for all time."
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Brothers and Sisters,
The 2008 presidential election is over and done with. Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate has won. In unity with all Democrats around America, I am excited about the end of George Bush's presidency. The current president has proved to be a disaster for our country. In regard to President Bush -- I repeat -- no Democrat will find any disagreement with me. However, as a pro-life Catholic, I am terrified by the incoming Obama Administration.
Catholic Democrats are needed now more than ever. I'm not talking about the modern pro-sexual revolution feminist Catholic Democrat, who undoubtedly supported the right candidate, but pro-life traditionalist Catholic Democrats. Why? President Obama has an unprecendented position on abortion that's so extraordinarily horrifying, so unusual, and so scary that it demands immediate attention and the response of the pro-life movement. The agenda that President Obama has promised to deliver would be the greatest blow to the pro-life movement since the 1973 decision to legalize abortion.
With little surprise, the mainstream media glossed over abortion extremism as they literally campaigned for him. I know many of my fellow Catholics in the Democratic Party voted for our party's candidate. I didn't. None of that matters now. What matters now is that we all unite with the single goal of ensuring the common good, which particularly involves opposition to President Obama's agenda on abortion and embryonic stem cell research -- the latter of which, he has already indicated that he is going to reverse Bush's policy and expand efforts and fund the massive killing of embryonic human life with federal tax-payer dollars.
On the issue of abortion, Obama's actions and statements are not only outrageous morally, but they are outrageous by the standards of the Democratic Party. Obama blocked legislation to provide life-saving medical care to babies that survived abortions in an Illinois state version of a bill that soared into law unopposed in the Senate, even by staunch abortion rights' advocates like Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer. Once Obama left the Illinois Senate, the bill unanimously passed in the state legislature. It is no exaggeration to say that the incoming President of our nation preserved a literal form of infanticide.
As if that isn't bad enough, Obama has championed the Freedom of Choice Act which would eradicate every pro-life law since Roe v. Wade. This would effectively -- in one stroke -- wipe out all fully bipartisan initiatives passed by both Democrats and Republicans in legislatures all over America to reasonably restrict abortion. It's pure madness. To "top off" this madness, Obama advocates funding abortion with tax payer dollars through the medium of a national health care plan -- as if healing a human life with medical care is fundamentally no different than destroying one in the act of an abortion.
This just begins the list. Obama doesn't support funding pregnancy crisis centers because they allegedly spread lies about women's health issues and hinder women from making choices about their health -- in essence, they don't promote and encourage abortion the way Planned Parenthood does. The list goes on.
This nightmare couldn't have worse timing. The next president is likely to nominate one or two Supreme Court Justices and the highest ranking court is finally at a tipping point, where the court had McCain won could have been in position to overturn Roe v. Wade. Now it seems that Roe v. Wade might survive another generation or two. This is not good news. Since Roe became law in 1973, in this nation alone nearly 50 million unborn children have perished. This sort of death toll makes American casualities in World War II (300,000 dead Americans) look like a picnic. In fact, the American casualities in Iraq are at best 15 days of abortion. This, of course, isn't to demean any American that has died in war or to devalue the worth of their life. But it does show the extent and seriousness of the attack on unborn human life.
We all bear moral and spiritual responsibility for the decision of America to elect Obama. Some 2,000 years ago, a good people were offered a choice between Life itself and a murderer. They chose Barabbas. Please don’t misunderstand: I’m most definitely not comparing John McCain to Jesus Christ or calling Barack Obama a killer. I’m talking about rejecting rather than choosing a Culture of Death.
We must recognize that abortion is going to be with us for some years to come. The number of years is entirely contigent on the effort we put in to stopping it. We cannot continue falling for the fancy rhetoric and word gymnastics pro-choice Democrats put forth to establish themselves as better in combatting abortion than their Republican foes. It's simply not true. Obama doesn't even support the Pregant Women Support Act advanced by pro-life Democrats. How can he find common ground with Republicans on abortion if he won't even listen to members of his own party?
What we need to realize is the chilling similarities between the arguments for slavery and thosed used to defend abortion and the absolute aburdity in rhetoric that Democrats use, i.e. "reducing the number of abortions" as common ground, as if anyone would agree to leave slavery legal and only reduce the number of slaves. Like today's pro-choicers, slaveholders said they weren't forcing anyone to own slaves. They simply pleaded for the "right" to do what they wanted with their own "property" -- conveniently, blacks didn't meet their criterion for personhood. The word "property," of course, disguised the fact that human lives and the inalienable right to liberty was at stake. The question that pro-choice Americans ask today is similar: "Do we not think a woman has a right to do what she wants with her body?" The question similarly disguises the fact that exercising these so-called "rights" involves the deliberate murder of another human being. The slaveholders' pro-choice argument also lives on in bumper stickers that read: "Against abortion? Don't have one." As if, the slogan "Against slavery? Don't own one" would be in any sense tolerable though the logic is entirely consistent from issue to issue.
For months, I watched as Catholics fell one by one into the temptation of voting for the Democratic candidate despite his pro-choice position. It was all well-crafted and well-protected behind the controversy of "single issue" voting. In doing so, many Catholics (Doug Kmiec) began to qualify Obama's pro-choice position while maintaining that they themselves were "pro-life." The same thing happened n the 2004 presidential election. There was a wave of pro-choice Americans following John Kerry's twisted logic on abortion. As the science rolls in and the facts become impossible to refute, the latest tactic was to shift the focus. Right? They'll concede it is a human life, but it does not constitute a person -- therefore, it doesn't have any rights. This rolls into the dangerous game of defining personhood based on functions. A person, in this view, is a conscious, self-aware, independent, capable rational creature. We can see where this goes in the case of euthanasia and so many other issues, e.g. people who are mentally disabled. It's even present in the argument for slavery when "personhood" conveniently defined only includes whites. Blacks didn't constitute a "whole person" and didn't have rights as a consequence.
We cannot call ourselves Catholics and tolerate this. Abortion is not just one issue among many. It's curious that we are capable of making a distinction -- when pregnancy is embraced, it's obviously a child growing in our midst; yet when it's not wanted, it's a fetus--an instantly different thing.
Those who insist on a vastly improved, compassionate network of support for women are absolute right to do so. But to suggest that the Church herself has advocated anything short of this in both action and in preaching is bogus. The allegations made by progressive Catholics about obsessive "single-issue voting" driven by some pelvic theology is junk. No one is voting on a single issue, but there is one issue that is so fundamentally evil that it constitutes a decisive opposition to a candidate endorsing it -- in the same way, the same people attacking pro-life Catholics voting against pro-choice candidates themselves would not vote for a racist candidate no matter what, nor would they vote for a pro-slavery candidate, nor would they support a pro-Final Solution genocide of the Jews candidate. Yet, when a candidate supports the federal (as well as international) funded, systematic genocide of unborn children, issues of minimum wage and the economy are of paramount importance as if human life can be priced.
The singular issue of the right-to-life is the cornerstone of all human rights. We, Catholics, are not "single-issue voters." But we cannot deny that there is one issue, without which, the ennobling others have no hope of any stability. Building a society on the right to "choice" instead of the right to life is like building a house on sand.
President Obama has been called the personification of the hope and change we all need. That's not true. The hope and change we need already came. It's the Wisdom personified that was foretold in the Old Testament. The Wisdom of God -- the Logos -- God incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.
We Catholics have so much to contribute to the unfolding American political experiment -- far more than we tend to imagine -- because we bring the mercy and justice of God to society. When Americans are as ashamed of abortion as we now are of slavery, the battle will be won. I'm in trenches as a pro-life Catholic fighting for the soul of our party. Will you join me?
- Just Another Catholic Democrat
Saturday, November 15, 2008
STATEMENT of the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
“If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil.” (Psalm 127, vs. 1)
The Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States welcome this moment of historic transition and look forward to working with President-elect Obama and the members of the new Congress for the common good of all. Because of the Church’s history and the scope of her ministries in this country, we want to continue our work for economic justice and opportunity for all; our efforts to reform laws around immigration and the situation of the undocumented; our provision of better education and adequate health care for all, especially for women and children; our desire to safeguard religious freedom and foster peace at home and abroad. The Church is intent on doing good and will continue to cooperate gladly with the government and all others working for these goods.
The fundamental good is life itself, a gift from God and our parents. A good state protects the lives of all. Legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed when the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade in 1973. This was bad law. The danger the Bishops see at this moment is that a bad court decision will be enshrined in bad legislation that is more radical than the 1973 Supreme Court decision itself.
In the last Congress, the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) was introduced that would, if brought forward in the same form today, outlaw any “interference” in providing abortion at will. It would deprive the American people in all fifty states of the freedom they now have to enact modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry. FOCA would coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their tax dollars. It would counteract any and all sincere efforts by government and others of good will to reduce the number of abortions in our country.
Parental notification and informed consent precautions would be outlawed, as would be laws banning procedures such as partial-birth abortion and protecting infants born alive after a failed abortion. Abortion clinics would be deregulated. The Hyde Amendment restricting the federal funding of abortions would be abrogated. FOCA would have lethal consequences for prenatal human life.
FOCA would have an equally destructive effect on the freedom of conscience of doctors, nurses and health care workers whose personal convictions do not permit them to cooperate in the private killing of unborn children. It would threaten Catholic health care institutions and Catholic Charities. It would be an evil law that would further divide our country, and the Church should be intent on opposing evil.
On this issue, the legal protection of the unborn, the bishops are of one mind with Catholics and others of good will. They are also pastors who have listened to women whose lives have been diminished because they believed they had no choice but to abort a baby. Abortion is a medical procedure that kills, and the psychological and spiritual consequences are written in the sorrow and depression of many women and men. The bishops are single-minded because they are, first of all, single-hearted.
The recent election was principally decided out of concern for the economy, for the loss of jobs and homes and financial security for families, here and around the world. If the election is misinterpreted ideologically as a referendum on abortion, the unity desired by President-elect Obama and all Americans at this moment of crisis will be impossible to achieve. Abortion kills not only unborn children; it destroys constitutional order and the common good, which is assured only when the life of every human being is legally protected. Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion.
This statement is written at the request and direction of all the Bishops, who also want to thank all those in politics who work with good will to protect the lives of the most vulnerable among us. Those in public life do so, sometimes, at the cost of great sacrifice to themselves and their families; and we are grateful. We express again our great desire to work with all those who cherish the common good of our nation. The common good is not the sum total of individual desires and interests; it is achieved in the working out of a common life based upon good reason and good will for all.
Our prayers accompany President-elect Obama and his family and those who are cooperating with him to assure a smooth transition in government. Many issues demand immediate attention on the part of our elected “watchman.” (Psalm 127) May God bless him and our country.
The Anniversary of Humanae Vitae
By Joseph Bottum
You know the story. Forty years ago—on July 25, 1968—a tired, grumpy, and celibate old man in Rome issued an encyclical called Humanae Vitae, solemnly declaring that birth control is bad, and half the world responded with a shrug. The other half responded with a sneer.
It’s hard to imagine a worse moment for Pope Paul VI to denounce contraception. The Second Vatican Council had finished its great shake-up of Catholicism only three years before, and even the most serious Catholics were still picking themselves up off the ground and trying to figure out what had happened. As for non-Catholics, well, in the summer of 1968, across the civilized world, aroused young people were declaring their freedom from all the senseless old restrictions and chastities. Even if Paul VI was right, there was no one ready to listen to him.
But, of course, the pope wasn’t right. We all know that. Humanae Vitae was treated as a joke because it was a joke, wasn’t it? Vatican roulette, rhythm-method babies: The official Catholic view of sex was a gift to stand-up comedians around the world. A gift to politicians and public figures, for that matter. Want an easy stick with which to whack around, say, the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion? Point out that those nutty Catholics are against birth control, too. Whenever public Catholics need a quick way to ingratiate themselves with non-Catholics, they announce their dissent on the Church’s teaching about birth control. And why not? It costs nothing, and it lets them pose themselves as rebels and independent thinkers, under no one’s ecclesial thumb.
It’s hard to remember all the joys we were told that contraception would bring, back in the day. For generations, from Victoria Woodhull all the way down to Margaret Sanger, birth-control activists had insisted that abortion would cease if we allowed access to contraception. In the 1965 decision Griswold v. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court placed decisions about birth control at the center of the marriage bond. The smutty theaters, the back-room racks of pornography, the venereal diseases, the crushing down of young women into a life of timidity, the out-of-wedlock births, the masturbatory shame—all the sicknesses of a repressed culture would be swept away in the free love that contraception allows.
Free love—forty years on, the phrase has a marvelously musty sound to it, like the fragile violets of a Victorian spinster’s girlhood, pressed in the fading pages of her remembrance book. Things didn’t work out quite the way we were promised. In fact, the results were pretty much what the pope had said they would be. A funny thing happened on the way to the orgy, and—as Mary Eberstadt notes in her superb essay in the current issue of First Things—if there’s a joke buried in Humanae Vitae, the joke is on us.
Simply as a piece of argumentative prose, the 1968 encyclical was badly constructed. It lacked the romantic elements that Pope John Paul II would later put in his far more persuasive Theology of the Body, and it appealed to the authority of Christian tradition at a moment in which hardly anyone was willing to listen to authority. Still, along the way, Paul VI issued four general prophecies in Humanae Vitae, and on about all four of them, he seems to have been right.
He said, for instance, that universal acceptance of contraception would have the social consequence of creating men who had lost all respect for women. No longer caring for “her physical and psychological equilibrium,” men will come to “the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” In any great social movement, what’s cause and what’s effect is always hard to figure out, but, at the very least, all you have to do is sign on to the Internet to see that this much is true: Widespread access to birth control certainly didn’t bring us the end of pornography and the objectification of women’s bodies.
Paul VI predicted, as well, that the institution of marriage would have trouble surviving “the conjugal infidelity” that contraception makes easy. Far from strengthening marriage as the Supreme Court seems to have imagined, the advent of birth control left marriage in tatters, as the sexual revolution roared through town. If many more people use contraception today than they used to—and do so certainly with less shame—then why have divorce, abortion, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and venereal disease done nothing but increase since 1968?
Humanae Vitae added that the general acceptance of contraception would put a “dangerous weapon” in the hands of “those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies.” And, from forced abortions in China to involuntary sterilizations in Peru, non-democratic governments have seen that there aren’t many steps between allowing people to limit birth and forcing them to.
Finally, the pope warned that contraception would lead people to picture their bodies as somehow possessions, rather than as their actual being. If a woman can paint her house, then why shouldn’t she get her nose bobbed and her breasts blown up with silicon to the size of beachballs? It’s what men seem to like, after all, and the body is just a thing, isn’t it?
Well, no, the body isn’t just a thing. The universal acceptance of contraception changed not just our behavior but the way that we think. It created a chasm between sex and procreation, and into that chasm fell social good after social good. You can’t say Paul VI didn’t warn us.
Joseph Bottum is editor of First Things.
Many facets of American secular culture is contrary to basic Christian ethics, which as a consequence, requires a response on the part of the faithful. One of these issues is "tolerance" and homosexuality. The Christian committment to protecting marital dignity and the family is absolute. The profound temptation in politics, given the "us" versus "them" mentality, is to lose a sense charity that is due to our neighbor, even those with whom we disagree. It happens all the time. Just this week, one of my roommates -- who is entirely oblivious to my sexual orientation -- made a discourteous statement about "fags." It was hurtful. Given our friendship, if he knew I am homosexual, perhaps he wouldn't have said that. But that's not sufficient. I would rather he -- because of interior conviction -- would refrain from such comments, not simply because of his audience. This should be true of all Catholics.
There is no disagreement here on the sanctity of marriage and on the disharmony of homosexual acts with the complementarity of the sexes and the sexual design itself. The point of interest here is the approach one ought to take to the debate about marriage, family, and the rights of homosexual people. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to speak about homosexuality without stirring up preconceptions or emotional reactions. Nearly everyone comes to the subject of homosexuality with some agenda -- often enough, their position is non-negotiable. Perhaps, it shouldn't be. After all, what does the other side possibly have to say that is relevant? Nevermind the sarcasm. This is often how we think. The problem with agendas is that they can take on an importance and value that closes us off from empathy, compassion, and understanding.
The fundamental question I'm concerned about is this: how can Catholics be faithful to the constant and clear teaching of the Church on the issue of human sexuality and still be inclusive and sensitive to the plight of homosexuals, both in the Church and American life? Let's move past the basics. No, homosexuals cannot marry. No, homosexuals should not adopt children. No, same-sex sexual activity is not equal or comparable to marital love. Despite these moral truths, most Americans have a profoundly different view of human sexuality than the Catholic Church. There must be dialogue with those who disagree with us and we have to educate our Catholic brothers and sisters, as well as everyone else with the authentic Catholic view.
There is yet another question. How did this "hot-button" issue become the problem that it is? This is a question that often goes unnoticed and unanswered.
Many gays and lesbians drift away from their faith. Often enough, a sense of alienation or hurt isn't traced to a particular event or person, but it's there nonetheless. Personally, I am friends with many homosexuals, both male and female. I'd say less than half of them believe in God; I've discussed sexuality with many of them and have listened to stories of their quiet drift away from faith into skepticism and their sense of liberation away from religion and religious people. The others who believe in God, particularly those who are in some sense religious, do not share my view on living the Christian life as a homosexual person. But is this really surprising? What my friendship with them has offered me -- which I hope to share with everyone I can -- is profound insights that have formed my views and approach to homosexuality, marriage, and family life.
In my discussions with other homosexual men and women, there is a single reality that we all unfailingly describe. It has effected all of us -- regardless of our experiences or views -- and that reality is silence. People often talk about what is important to them. Given this, silence can have many meanings. It can be perceived as a form of denial of another's presence or existence in the community. This silence to many homosexuals means "you don't matter." In a debate about whether the Church loves gays enough to support those who live chastely, a homosexual Catholic said to me, "Eric, never once is a prayer uttered for homosexuals -- for their souls, for their struggles, or for their concerns -- in prayers of intercession during Mass." I haven't forgotten it and I think about it daily at Mass during the prayers of the faithful; it's always the prayer I hold in my heart that the priest commends to God with all others. But truly, such an omission is especially noticeable because we usually pray for literally everything else under the sun.
Back to the theme of silence -- what does a homosexual person do in this silence? He or she typically internalizes the negative messages they hear. I've always found that the so-called "gay lifestyle" people talk about, which encompasses a subculture of anonymous sexual encounters, sex clubs, pornography, drugs, and an overidentification with one's sexual orientation, to be grossly applied to all homosexual people in an unfortunate generalization--especially by fundamentalist, conservative Christians. This is not the experience or way of life for many gays. There's not a moment of my own life when I wasn't aware of "being different" and in my adolescence, this view deeply upset me. I've never been promiscous. Many homosexuals aren't, but admittedly, the danger to be promiscuous is there. Never once in my life have I attended a gay pride parade. I thought the entire idea was stupid. To say "I'm a human being with equal dignity, deserving of rights and respect" seemed dubious if one is willing to stand on floats cross-dressed, often enough half-naked, behaving in a flamboyantly sexual manner with people of the same-sex. It was ridiculous. I never once wanted to flood the education system with programs to teach children that homosexuality is a normal, acceptable alternative lifestyle and violate others' rights to have their view on homosexuality. Surely, more gays and lesbians than we imagine simply want to be able to visit their loved ones in the hospital and make decisions for them when they're dying without being prevented from seeing them or making health care decisions solely because they aren't married and as well enjoy other benefits -- that don't necessarily require the status of 'marriage' or undermine marriage -- while living quietly and peacefully without disturbing anyone.
Much of the talk about homosexuality and generalizations made about us often don't take into account or reflect our actual lived experience. Even within the Catholic Church, the talk about homosexuality hardly ever has anything to do about homosexuals themselves. There is hardly a word uttered about our pain, our journeys in faith, the hard questions we face, and so much more. I'm saying we're more of an abstract subject than people. We're also spoken to (don't act out on your sexual impulses) or about (homosexuals in general). But no one hardly ever speaks with us. Listening is not always about agreeing with all that one hears.
I mentioned that there isn't a moment in my memory of consciousness when I wasn't aware of a "difference" and it didn't take me long to realize what it was. This isn't the case for all gays as individual testimonies will affirm; some realize it later. But for some reason unbeknownst to me is that I never dared to mention it to anyone. It was a secret. In fact, the complete absence of any note of the subject in my family, in school, in television, in newspapers, or in books I could get a hold of, made the reality much more interesting and more difficult to deal with. I wondered if this curious reality -- this unmentionable fact -- had any physical manifestation. This in many ways deeply shaped my views later when I was certain there were others like me and how negatively society seemed to view us and treat us.
I remember reading a letter written by a homosexual Catholic quoting Will Rogers who once said, "An Indian always looks back after he passes something so he can get a view of it from both sides. A white man doesn't do that. He just figures that all sides of a thing are automatically the same. That is why you should never judge a man while you are facing him. You should go around behind him like an Indian and look at what he is looking at, then go back and face him and you will have a totally different idea of who he is." The Catholic in question practices his faith, loves God, and is deeply religious. He also dissents on the issue of homosexuality. From his perspective, most Catholics don't take the time -- and aren't interested -- in learning about the lives of their homosexual brothers and sisters, or imagining what it is like to walk in their shoes. "Look and listen before you judge and speak," he said.
What is the experience of gays?
The "gay experience" is the experience of being different. Long before I was conscious of sexuality, I was different.
The "gay experience" is one of being bad. The topic is often avoided all together. It's discussed in hushed tones or it's discussed angrily. Often enough, the whole experience is reduced to genital acts. Regardless of sexual orientation, sexuality is an important element of human personality, an integral party of one's overall consciousness. It is both a central aspect of one's self-understanding and a crucial factor in one's relationships with others and influences how one relates to others. The common expression "homosexuality is a sin" can be very misleading and easily misinterpreted by a homosexual person, particularly an adolescent struggling already in the period of their life where the focus is self-identity and that is even more difficult with a powerful sense of difference that in our society they feel they cannot talk about. In listing homosexuality -- "the sin of homosexuality" -- in a list of sins, without explanation or clarification that is found in Church teaching can be simplistic and again, misleading. This is not just for homosexuals, but for everyone. All Catholics can misrepresent the Church's teaching without proper clarifications being made. But all of this is especially harmful for homosexuals who recognize their sexual orientation as a discovery of an already existent condition.
The "gay experience" is the experience of secrecy. Don't ask. Don't tell. Nevermind the interior destruction it may cause you. All that matters really is that others are uncomfortable with it -- the homosexual condition is inconvenient and disturbing to them, so keep it to yourself. In essence, keep it quiet and in the closet. Become two people. Live in two worlds. Why reveal it? Who wants to be called a "fag" or "dyke" anyways? This may not be the intention of others, but it is often enough how it's experienced and in many respects what it translates into in practice. Demanding hiddeness and secrecy is truly a type of rejection. Additionally, this isolation inflicts further damage and hurt on homosexual people who already by their condition have lost capacity to fulfill the desire for marital love and intimacy that is wired into human nature, which includes all that comes with it: family life with a spouse, children, grandchildren, and so many other blessings that most people simply take for granted. Some people choose to become priests and religious, others choose to stay single; for homosexuals, there doesn't seem to be much of a choice on the road to Heaven and alienation only makes it more difficult.
The "gay experience" is the experience of loneliness. Years can be spent carrying a secret that cannot be shared. This reality creates a rift in even the most profound and closest of friendships. Everyone knows the "façade-me," but not the real me. The problem goes beyond sex because sexuality is not only about sex. All humans are sexual beings and the real challenge for homosexuals, practicing and non-practicing, is intimacy, self-disclosure, acceptance, and love. This sense of loneliness is the breeding ground for dysfunctional lifestyles, compulsive sexual behavior, depression, and even suicide.
What is often the result of this experience?
The "gay experience" is the experience of freedom -- transcendence, may be a better term. Homosexuals can make a clear analysis of what others often take for granted because they, at times, look from the outside. But this is not all that "freedom" means. In modernity, this "freedom" is a movement away from the rigid definitions of manliness and womanliness because to abolish this, seemingly, is the only way for homosexuals to gain recognition and acceptance. What do they want this for? Peace. A chance at not living a fragmented, broken life -- showing one face to the world and living with another. This is the heart of the "gay movement." Years of loneliness and isolation -- that should and could have been avoided -- brings gays together in a sometimes nihilistic movement for self-affirmation.
The "gay experience" is the experience of compassion. How can anyone who experiences so much exclusion not become experts in inclusion? Since it is traditionally conservatives who oppose homosexuality (in the broad sense), this movement often manifests itself as opposition to anything conservatives support. The gay rights movement links itself to the "pro-choice" movement because allegedly all pro-life conservatives care about is unborn babies -- what about everyone else?
The "gay experience" is one that is paradoxically and ironically open to God. Homosexuals can be deeply religious. Jesus of Nazareth is a misunderstood, alienated figure. He is the "suffering servant" that the prophet Isaiah talks about. Suffering is an experience that homosexuals easily identify with. But homosexual religiosity is often done in a free form way, away from organized religion, away from structure because homosexuals don't feel that these communities are very welcoming. If it is done in a religious community, it usually occurs in one that is politically liberal and affirmative of gay rights.
We all know that gays "come out." But what we all don't realize is that "coming out" is not a once in a lifetime thing. It's a daily task. Gays live out their lives in a predominantly heterosexual world. It's always presumed that everyone is heterosexual. Often enough, gays are faced with the question of whether or not this or that occassion calls for revealing one's sexual orientation and it always involves risk -- risk of alienation, rejection, misunderstanding, violence, loss of a job, or a rift in a relationship. When a gay person "comes out," often enough, the most difficult person to tell is their own self. Homosexuals condition themselves to not accept and recognize who they are. The false identity, in a way, becomes their identity because no one can simply "act" for so long without the false realities imprinting on them. It's the worse kind of sin, the worse kind of oppression. Self-deception. It opens millions of doors to other vices, particularly moral compromise. In such dire circumstances, one might do anything to gain the approval of others.
This is fundamentally the story of homosexuality in the lives of many men and women. It begins as considerable time and effort doing everything possible to rid themselves of any outward sign of one's own homosexual desires, that is, by crafting an elaborate system of hiding true feelings and acting "straight." Some even attempt marriage and even parenting, which only ends in heart break or a life of self-deception and internal destruction. The energy it takes to hide and pretend is too costly: ruined marriages, disrupted relationships, double lives of secrecy, loneliness, internal conflicts and isolation.
It makes sense then that after experiencing such isolation, homosexuals often have an overidentification with their sexual orientation. They finally can "be themselves" and that "self" that they never were, is a homosexual and it maintains a lot of their attention.
Gay subcultures don't exist to ensnare people into a certain way of living. To be sure, there are destructive elements to such environments. But most certainly, it is more liberating and comparatively a more safe environment from the perspective of a homosexual who has lived in silence, in a heterosexual world. I can easily see why one would choose such a path. The reason homosexuals seek out each other is not because of in-built pervesion, but from misunderstanding and an often a lifetime of loneliness and a universal need for intimacy, and for that embrace they feel they never had. The sense that no one in the world cares nor understands, can lead to in the long run compulsive tendencies (after you've revealed yourself), to rebellion, and to the pull of homosexual company where one is at home with people who care and people who understand -- away from a lifetime of gay jokes and haunting words like "fag" and "dyke."
The public debate on homosexuality leads to a more fundamental question. What is the origin of homosexuality?
It's the age-old question: is homosexuality the result of nature or nuture? Truthfully, little is known or understood about the origin of homosexuality with any kind of certainty. The fact that certain theories are politicized makes answering this question all the more difficult.
Again, when you think about it, what do we know about the origins of heterosexuality? Sure, it is evident that is apart of the creative order, but children generally show a "repulsion" ('eww girls!') or uneasiness about the opposite sex at a young age. Why the shift for the majority? And how do we accomodate this or that theory when even with modern knowledge, we don't know what over half of the human genome actually does, that is, what 'this' or 'that' gene is for. It seems that what is normative is taken for granted. And while this question doesn't bear the same urgency that homosexuality does, I think it's a humbling question. There is much to learn about human sexuality.
I certainly have my views on the origin of homosexuality and I have no interest in trying to make a case for them. Several studies, including one by The Kinsey Institute, reported that no one knows what causes homosexuality. In fact, they argued, scientists are more clear on what does not cause homosexuality. Parenting in itself doesn't cause homosexuality. Children raised by same-sex parents are no more likely to grow up homosexual than children raised by heterosexual parents. This isn't to deny other ill-effects of having same-sex couples parenting, but to show that homosexuality is not solely caused by "bad" parenting.
Homosexuality possibly has a genetic foundation. Many Christians don't like this idea because it seems that God causes homosexuality. But it doesn't mean that God actively intends it rather than passively allows it. The same is true for a person who may be genetically inclined toward alcoholism or aggression. These things wouldn't be termed "good," but they certainly have a biological foundation. In a fallen world, Dawkins' idea of "selfish genes" is not entirely impractical. Moreover some things don't make sense in solely genetic terms. It doesn't make sense in terms of pure biology for a person to use contraception, since their genes lose out due to this decision. In certain circumstances, it doesn't make sense for organisms to act altruistically -- e.g. humans sacrificing their lives for others -- in terms of reproduction. Even then, a biological foundation doesn't make alcoholism moral -- no matter how strong the inclination. In the same way, a biological foundation of homosexuality wouldn't change the morality of homosexual sexual behavior. Why? Free will doesn't change. Metaphysics doesn't change. Men and women would remain complementary to one another based on their ontological, metaphysical differences and their union would reflect the inner unity of the Creator. This would occur still in their striking way of cooperating with God in the transmission of life and still remains that choosing a partner of the same-sex would be to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the built-in goals of the sexual design. That is to say, ultimately, human nature does not evolve. It is objective and shared in common by everyone. It's not based only on genes because genes vary person to person.
A genetic inclination toward homosexuality is an example of what may be a fundamental, universal cause of homosexuality. If homosexuality doesn't have a biological foundation, it is more difficult to account for. Why? If homosexuality is entirely, say, psychological, then one of the challenges any theory would have to meet lies in the fact that there is no one way that all homosexual men and women feel and act. All homosexuals have entirely different life experiences, which leads to different psychological experiences. Arguably the rift in parent-child relationships between homosexuals and their parents may not be the cause of homosexuality, but a result of homosexuality--the "rift" is due to the secret that you can't share, that disables you from in some sense from identifying with things masculine and feminine, etc and maybe not the other way around. It could very well be the former. Nevertheless, to accomodate this position, I've seen many make the case (which I'm not arguing for or against--here, at least) that there are probably a number of "homosexualities" -- since human beings are multidimensional (more than just biology), situational (unique in their own life experience and interpretation of it), and contextual (in a particular culture at a specific time). Homosexuality then is compromised of a variety of experiences and expressions. This view, potentially would even include a possibly genetic inclination toward homosexuality as well as other types of conditions that result in same-sex attraction. Given this complexity, it seems that speaking about a "homosexual lifestyle" can really be unfair at times because what one is trying to conceptualize in such a phrase may be grossly inaccurate.
Given that the genesis of homosexuality is obscure, it is increasingly more difficult to define it. So then what is a homosexual person? "A homosexual person is a person who sustains a predominant, persistent and exclusive psychosexual attraction toward members of the same sex. A homosexual person is one who feels sexual desire and a sexual responsiveness to persons of the same sex and who seeks or would like to seek actual sexual fulfillment of this desire by sexual acts with a person of the same sex." That's the best definition I've ever encountered and it includes pretty much all we know about homosexuality and homosexual people -- very little.
How are Catholics to respond to homosexuality?
When gays rebel, or "act out" -- particularly when they do something religiously offensive, e.g. dress up like nuns -- there is an immediate temptation to respond to such outrageous behavior with divisive comments that are just as outrageous that accomplish nothing and fuel the fires of hatred against the Catholic Church. When rage meets rage, the Devil has met his goal. How can we be proactive and not reactive?
The scriptures give a clear and consistent condemnation of same-sex sexual activity. However, the research of the natural and social sciences and the lived experience of ordinary Catholics should all play a part in how we approach the issue of homosexuality -- particularly in subjective culpability and how the truth is to be preached. I find that a rigid and coldly objective application of the Church's teaching can be most discouraging. The least effective way is to be stridently objective, not taking into account the spiritual journey of the person you are advising. When we focus on the homosexual orientation, we're ignoring the whole of the person. Each human person is a story in his or her self. A person that is thrown into the mystery of life, trying to uncover its meaning, living in a world with all its unanswered questions of history, of competing philosophies and religions with even more stark differences in how they view the human person, as well as with different life experiences that influence how we respond to the question of what it means to be human. Sexual orientation does not encompass the entirety of humanity, but it does play a vital role and this needs to be taken into account, not just in the Church but in American life, particularly in our public policies.
In dealing with the complex issues surrounding homosexuality, it is very easy to give simple and at times caustic answers. It is more difficult and more rewarding to travel the road less traveled and to listen with an open heart and apply objective moral norms sensitively to basic human needs, concerns, and aspirations. Conversion is normally not something that happens in an instant or overnight, it is an ongoing process; we grow only gradually.
A simple insight into the general Catholic response to the "problem of homosexuality" lies in parish life. When one thinks of ministry that involves "family life" how quickly do we think of homosexuality? Not very quickly, I'd imagine. Why isn't homosexuality considered a part of family life ministry? Homosexuals have families, are apart of families, and parents often have a hard time dealing with the revelation that their son or daughter is homosexual. It's a family issue. So why do we hardly talk about it? In fact, how frequently does one see a ministry in support for homosexual Catholics trying to live in accord with the Church's teaching in parishes? In the U.S., the sole ministry to homosexual Catholics, Courage, has about 100 chapters. This is good news and bad news. It is good that there are so many chapters. It is bad that there are so few. Only about half of the dioceses in the country have a chapter. In most dioceses, only one parish has one. What does that say about the Catholic Church in America? In my view, Courage does not get remotely the support it should from bishops and clergy.
It seems that homosexual Catholics hardly get the support they need from their Catholic brothers and sisters. It is absolutely true that Catholics have an obligation to build a moral and just society. However, there seems to be a hypocrisy in the way Catholics and other Christians make extraordinary demands on homosexuals in American life on the basis of "loving them", yet the amount of effort spent in offering support and educational awareness of the plight of homosexuals and how to accomodate them sensitively within a Catholic moral framework is very disheartening. How many chastity resources for homosexuals can one think of that is secular, that may appeal to homosexuals who have struggles with approaching anything religous? What are non-religious homosexuals to do? Moreover, just how much do we actually think of the concerns and journey of homosexual people when considering public policy?
Much more can be said. But I think one thing is clear: before we, as Catholics, critique the moral inadequacy of society, perhaps we should reflect just on how much we contribute to and perpetuate that inadequacy. By reflecting on the common experience of homosexuals, we can take it into account as we develop our views of public policies about family life, particularly in terms of marriage and homosexuals in America.
Pro-Life Democrats Get Five Congressional Seats Despite Pro-Choice Obama Win
by Steven Ertelt
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) -- Pro-choice Democrat Barack Obama may have captured the presidency, but the pro-life group working within the party to change its pro-choice position has a reason to celebrate. Democrats for Life of America backed several pro-life Democrats for Congress and five won their races Tuesday night.
"The pro-life Democratic Caucus will once again increase," Kristen Day, the director of the group told LifeNews.com.
"This will be only the second time in 30 years that the number of pro-life Democrats increases instead of decreases," the said. "The first time we made gains was in 2006 due to the work of pro-life Democrats all over this country advocating on behalf of the pro-life cause."
Twenty-six pro-life incumbent members of Congress kept their seats on Tuesday night. They will be joined by five other pro-life Democrats.
Bobby Bright won the Congressional race in Alabama's second district, Parker Griffith won in the Alabama fifth district, Steve Driehaus is the new congressman in Ohio's first district, Kathy Dahlkemper now represents Pennsylvania's third distract, and John Boccieri won in the 16th district of Ohio.
Some of the victories are much-needed because less-than-stellar congressmen are on their way out.
The Griffith win is good news for pro-life advocates because he replaced pro-choice Democrat Robert Cramer and Boccieri replaces retiring mixed-record Rep. Regula.
However, the other victories came at a price -- with pro-life incumbents losing seats.
Driehaus defeated pro-life champion Steve Chabot, who was the main sponsor of the partial-birth abortion ban that Congress approved and the Supreme Court upheld. He will have big shoes to fill and pro-life advocates in Cincinnati will be making sure he is as vocal of an advocate.
Dahlkemper defeated long-time pro-life rep. Phil English, who always maintained a 100 percent pro-life voting record. Bright replaces retiring pro-life Rep. Terry Everett, a Republican.
The pro-life Democrat group could find another friend in Congress depending on the results of a December Congressional runoff.
In the fourth district in Louisiana, Democrat Paul Carmouche will face off against Republican winner Dr. John Fleming and independent candidates Chester T. "Catfish" Kelley and Gerard Bowen Jr.
They are vying for the open seat vacated by retiring pro-life Rep. Jim McCrery of Shreveport.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Now that America is post-Election 2008, the news media and political pundits -- as well as both the Democratic and Republican parties -- busy themselves with a host of questions. What went wrong? What went right? What could we have done differently? How can loss ground be made up in the 2010 Midterm Elections and again in the 2012 Presidential Elections? In many ways, people are baffled by the outcome of this election. A few people claimed that there was no way Barack Obama could win as he is the most liberal candidate to run for the United States' highest-ranking office. Obama not only won, he carried the three major swing states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida and topped it off by turning Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia from "red" to "blue." Clinton made the argument in the primary season that no Democrat since 1916 has made it to Pennsylvania Avenue without winning West Virginia. Obama didn't carry West Virginia. It isn't conclusive yet, but it seems that he even loss Missouri by a small margin -- a state virtually no president (except one) has made it to the White House without winning for over a century.
The election is over. But what's striking to people is the electoral map. It changed. Have the demographics altered or is there something else? I think the "new kind of politics" movement -- which is essentially old politics calling itself something different -- and "Change You Can Believe In" really begs a more fundamental question. What does this "new kind of politics" consist of? What are its moral values? What will the government be like and how will the American people reach common ground ? The more specific you get with these questions, the more you realize that the Democratic President-elect Barack Obama is only delivering the Democratic Party's platform and nothing else -- nothing new, nothing wide-ranging, and nothing bipartisan.
But back to the fundamental questions that the notion of "change" brings to the table, there is a more fundamental reality that often goes unnoticed, that is at work that needs our attention. I've said before that as a Catholic Democrat, I can't help but notice the hyper-liberal, pro-sexual revolution and radical feminism movement in my party and how it has managed to silence the rest of us. To this day, I agree with Democrats often enough on policy, e.g. universal healthcare, but not always on principle, i.e. the view of the human person, of marriage, of society, and on the nature of morality and thus the content of those policies. Modern liberalism is deeply influenced by Enlightenment thinking. The human person is an arbitrary being with no real "nature." Marriage is nothing but a legal contract recognizing that two people are committed to one another -- if anyone cares -- that want government benefits. Society has no real standard or moral objective norm to live up to because human's have no inherent nature and because this is so, society is something that evolves -- it is artificial and arbitrary -- and thus it can be influenced as we see fit. This view is not the liberalism I subscribe to as it is not compatible with my Christian faith.
Though in realizing this, it strikes me that the "culture wars" in America and the political divide that is even finding its way into our churches all point to one fundamental reality: identity. In the modern world, as is held by contemporary liberalism, the notion of God is both arbritrary and dubious. Supposedly, the presence or absence of God from one's life has no substantial bearing on that person. An atheist is just as moral as any Christian. That may be well and true, but from a Christian perspective that atheist is majorly lacking. An atheist may be say "pro-life," but if human beings are nothing but a random meaningless arrangement of matter in motion -- no different in substance than a chair or a tree -- on a tiny dot called earth in a sun-beam, in a vast, cold purposeless cosmos, the idea that human beings have some sort of "dignity" or "value" is questionable. Why not destroy a few tiny cells or abort a baby? Why not kill a criminal? What really is "justice?" Why should murder be wrong, if there is no universal reason as to why it should be so? Without God, there is no objective giver of the moral law, thus no moral laws. Morality collapses on itself and becomes truly relative. But how an atheist, whose mind is composed of only matter and whose thoughts are the results of the random interaction of atoms, with no objective end or goal in mind (thus not concerned about the subject knowing any objective truth because no such reality exists), comes to any conclusion about truth, about God, etc, presupposing their views are true is beyond me. It's logically impossible.
Back to the notion of identity, America has no cultural identity. What does it mean to be an American? What are "American values?" It seems to me there are as many answers to this question as there are American people. "We the people..." as our Constitution reads have never ever been a monolithic in our way of life. This is both good and bad. Another point that is particularly relevant, especially from a Catholic perspective, is that the American political experiment in which has set the structure and molded the society in which we carry out our daily lives is wholly and entirely a Protestant experiment. In Europe, Protestantism had to establish itself within a society and culture dominated by over a millennia of Catholic intellectual, spiritual, and moral influence. Protestantism in the "new world" from its beginning did not share this dilemma, which is a manifest uniqueness to America. While Protestants share with Catholics a love of God, acknowledgement of sin and the need for conversion, a biblically-based moral system, and the necessity of family and community, Protestants also have given this country a radical emphasis on freedom, individualism, personal conscience, self-determination (versus discovering), etc. It is self-evident that the American notion of "freedom" is profoundly different than the Catholic understanding of freedom. The radical individualism, which is a result of a "sola scriptura" faith and a break from authority, imprints upon us -- I think -- a tendency to have concern only for ourselves.
Samuel Huntington, a political scientist wrote a book entitled Who Are We? He basically asserts that American identity has become increasingly more obscure. He stridently attempts to address the question in the terms of what he calls "the American Creed," which encompasses the values present in the debate that shaped America’s founding—"the essential dignity of the individual human being, of the fundamental equality of all men, and of certain inalienable rights to freedom, justice, and fair opportunity." Huntington -- before he starts making claims that I disagree with and won't go into here -- believes a central problem with American political identity is the growing immigration challenge. I agree with this to an extent. The decisive turn around in American sentiment on immigration is the composition of the American immigrant populace—for the first time in our history, the majority of immigrants in the United States speak one language and are from one country—Mexico. This unprecedented reality presents a real challenge to the question of American cultural identity.
Immigration in itself naturally leads to the development of subcultures that assimilates into some larger culture. But since those subcultures are so many, so large and so dramatically different in the United States, the larger culture is simply mere co-existence, usually with a lot of tension. There was a point in early American history where people believed in manifest destiny—the notion that the United States was destined to span from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean. The people of the United States, while not monolithic, really shared a common experience; this is especially true for the immediate generations after the American Revolution. But in modern America, there is no singular national destiny. Huntington says that "Americanization" -- which means things such as making English the national language or requiring that everyone at least know how to speak English -- of these groups are now-a-days really "un-American." Any attempts toward "Americanization" in Huntington's view are easily dismissed as connotative racism, sexism, class domination, religious intolerance, and so on. In essence, contemporary political correctness and cultural thinking by its design complicates attempts not only to lay down defining parameters of American identification, but toward the unity of American subcultures versus the tension of co-existence.
Most recently, I read a book called The Big Sort by Bill Bishop which I can't recommend enough. He is more on point than Huntington in my view. Bishops' thesis is simple: Americans have segregated themselves both politically and culturally. It is a natural human tendency to gravitate toward like-minded individuals. Given that at the social level, humans seek those whom they can identify with and given that the ownership of private property is a right, it follows that, if possible, people will move to places where there are people like them, which naturally makes them more comfortable. However, the often unseen consequence is that America has divided itself into communes which are entirely culturally and politically conservative or liberal. Bishop puts it this way:
America may be more diverse than ever coast to coast, but the places where we live are becoming increasingly crowded with people who live, think, and vote like we do. This social transformation didn't happen by accident. We've built a country where we can all choose the neighborhood and church and news show — most compatible with our lifestyle and beliefs. And we are living with the consequences of this way-of-life segregation. Our country has become so polarized, so ideologically inbred, that people don't know and can't understand, and can barely conceive of "those people" who live just a few miles away.This evident tendency is self-reinforcing. The more a specific region is monolithic politically, the more extreme the group can get. This, of course, turns-off people of the opposite view or those of a more moderate view, which allows the region to be even more monolithic. At the political level, local election between two parties is absurdly non-competitive. Depending on the demographics and thus, the political orientation, one party usually wins the area in a landslide. Local, or even state parties have enough support to tackle virtually every issue. As can be seen, political party primaries are dominated by partisan, party activists. At the national level, this reality translates into the non-existence of moderate candidates, a partisan nightmare, and an eternal gridlock of legislative action in Congress, a war for the presidency, and most troubling of all, the Supreme Court has become a pantheon of nine gods who we fight over to ensure they share our views. [This cannot be over-emphasized!]
This living dynamic reaffirms the tendency to only listen to opinions one agrees with, have little tolerance of other views, and to become all the more extreme in one’s own perspective. A simple glance at a presidential electoral map -- broken down into county, city-wide, state, and regional patterns -- confirms this observation (view the map and click state by state and look at the breakdown by counties.) Urban areas vote dramatically different than rural ones. People at the bottom of the socio-economic scale vote dramatically different than those at the top of the socio-economic ladder. The differences in these groups matter because if like-minded people flock toward one another, prosperity can be found at its highest where the most socio-economically advantaged reside. Bishop notes that education had always predicted city growth and after the 1970s the cities that grew the fastest and the richest were the ones where people with college degrees congregated. It's not really news that intellectual elites tend to vote Democratic and not so surprisingly, the most esteemed universities and colleges in America are in areas where the wealthy and well-educated commune.
This dynamic has found its way into American churches. Many evangelical, fundamentalist Christians – in concert – enter the world of politics with concern for abortion, marriage and family issues as top priorities – none of which are negotiable. They are the current base of the Republican Party. Other Christian denominations may emphasize a "social gospel" which entails social justice, fighting oppression and bigotry, promoting personal "choice" on abortion, and accepting gays and lesbians, which leaves them in the Democratic column. In essence, religion in America is now being interpreted through the framework of political concepts, i.e. secular schools of thought. There is "liberal" Christianity and "conservative" Christianity. Many churches have become monolithic in their political views because people even prefer to worship in like-minded congregations. It's why many Protestants "church hop," particularly if they are say, a pro-choice liberal, and the pastor consistently condemns abortion and gay rights. They'll find a church that shares their view. It seems then that the measure for the "true" church or a "good" church is how it lines up with our own political views. The use of religion as political mechanism has only deepened the divide between the people and it's alienating people from God.
Just recently in listening to two political analysts debate, one of them made the comment "the values of Republicans and Democrats [the mainstream base of both parties] are very much at odds. We do not agree about the most fundamental issues." The fundamental issues are many: abortion, birth control, gay unions, guns, education, and the environment, and many more. The parties (and the people) not only disagree on policies, but on principle. The fact that the country segregates itself into isolated communities reaffirming their own beliefs versus having a meaningful dialogue only deepens the problem. It's a spiraling cycle.
Americans have arranged themselves geographically in terms of economics and politics in the last thirty years. While the free choice of where to live is wonderful, it also naturally generates economic inequity, cultural and social misunderstandings, and political gridlock. Bishop wrote an interesting line in his book: We have created, and are creating, new institutions distinguished by their isolation and single-mindedness…we have worked quietly and hard to remove any trance of the ‘constant clashing of opinions’ from daily life. It was a social revolution…entirely unnoticed.
Fundamentally, the American people isolate themselves into groups that inevitably become partisan, political think tanks form with whole, entire comprehensive agendas that are often not open to debate or revisions by opposing groups. The question of American identity, I think, is fundamental to how the country moves forward. The question of identity must be answered before you can decide what direction you need to go. A world without God is a world without an identity. American cultural identity is one of clashing and disagreement about what America is and what she should be. In some sense, that has been America’s identity since the days when the Founding Fathers debated over the Constitution of the United States and the role and structure of the government. Today, even, that same question is still being debated.
As Roman Catholics, we may not all agree with everything I've said -- all of which are not necessarily my own view, but it should give us pause. If partisanship and factions, even within the Church, is the norm of our "culture," it is ever more pressing that we be counter-cultural. We can't ever fully support secular schools of thought because they can never, no matter how well reasoned they are, encompass the fullness of truth that is in the Gospel. It's easy to fall into the temptation of partisanship, of cultural divides, and accepting the status quo, but that's not how we're called to live. Let's hold each other accountable. It's been said that because we've been conditioned by our culture, American Catholicism is -- and I quote -- "nothing more than another form of Protestant Christianity." Let's pray that the thinker who made this claim is wrong in the long-term. If we're going to advocate social change, insight as to how we have decided to arrange ourselves may prove to be useful.