Showing posts from March, 2015

Douthat on Indiana's SB 101

As I've said before, while I don't agree with Ross Douthat on many things, I think he is by far the most worthwhile and thoughtful conversation partner on the right.  His post from yesterday is an example of why I think he brings a lot to the table.

Douthat hits on the spectre that floats around the gay marriage discussion in the United States, and that is the Civil Rights Movement.  On January 14, 1963, upon his inauguration as Governor of Alabama, George Wallace gave his infamous "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" speech.  Eighteen years later, the United States Supreme Court stripped a private religious college in nearby South Carolina, Bob Jones University, of its tax-exempt status for mandating segregation among its students.  In eighteen years, the notion of overt segregation between black and white went from a mainstream part of political discourse in the South to so beyond the pale that it was completely unacceptable to be advocated …

Making a Mess in San Francisco

Pope Francis memorably called upon people to "make a mess" in the Catholic Church.  If you would like to see what a "mess" looks like, San Francisco would be a good place to start.

As most people know, San Francisco is maybe the most progressive city in the United States.  What few know is that San Francisco has a strong and diverse Catholic presence and Catholic identity.  Now, because of the first part the Catholic identity tends to be on the progressive side, but nevertheless the Catholic Church is a significant, visible presence in the city.  The current Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, is a serious culture warrior--in fact, he is the point man for the efforts of the U.S. bishops to oppose gay marriage.  His selection by then Pope Benedict was seen, and it is hard to argue with this, as a bit of stick in the eye of the city that has always been at the forefront of gay rights issues since the 1970s.  It was basically inevitable that there would…

Beyond the Abortion Wars, Chapter 2: The Philosophical Question

Chapter 2 explores the question of the moral status of the fetus.  Here, a quick note--Camosy uses the term "prenatal child" in places as a substitute for "fetus."  He says that his use of the term is not a polemic, but I confess to a bit of skepticism on that point.  I have never encountered the term "prenatal child" before reading Camosy's book, whereas "fetus" is a real medical term.  Given the politicization of language in the context of abortion, I think Camosy's language choice is unfortunate, as it detracts from his attempt to forge some kind of middle ground.  I'm going to go with "fetus" throughout, because I think medically-approved terms are the closest we are going to find to neutral ground.

Anyway, Camosy begins by doing important work in defining the question that one is trying to answer with this exploration.  It is not, as many assert, an attempt to figure out whether the fetus is "alive," as teleg…

Why Oscar Romero Matters

A shade over 35 years ago, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Archbishop San Salvador, El Salvador, was assassinated by government-backed gunmen while he was in the middle of saying Mass.  There was no dispute regarding the motive behind the killing--Romero was outspoken in his opposition to the government on the side of the poor.  He was, like many of his generation among the Latin American clergy, a leftist, a proponent of liberation theology.  Was he a Marxist?  Not really.  As his contemporary, Dom Helder Camara of Recife, Brazil, famously said "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." [Ed. note: I butchered the quote in a previous version.  My mistake.  BTW, Dom Camara may be on his way to sainthood as well].

In a couple of months, Oscar Romero will be beatified, the "level below," if you will, being named a saint.  No one seriously doubts that he will be canonized is due course.  Pope Francis will…

Beyond the Abortion Wars, Chapter 1: State of Play

Camosy begins the book by laying out the state of the issue of abortion in the United States.  In doing so, his core point is that there is a fundamental discontinuity between abortion rhetoric and abortion practice, as seen in several dimensions.

First, Camosy notes that the general rhetorical position of pro-choice advocates, especially pro-choice politicians, is some version of the formula "safe, legal, and rare," emphasizing the idea that abortion is, and should be, a low frequency occurrence.  And yet, as Camosy points out, the abortion rate in the United States is quite high.  Camosy cites a figure of 1.2 million abortions per year, which corresponds to figures from the Guttmacher Institute of 1,287,000 abortions in the U.S. in 2003.  That works out to 21 abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age, or 31 abortions per 100 live births.  It should be noted, however, that this figure has been declining since the middle 1980s, and in 2011, the figures were 1,058,500, …

Being Adults and Telling the Truth

Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, wants to run for President of the United States.  In doing so, he is going to be asked about gay marriage.  But, Governor O'Malley has a problem--he's a Catholic.  So, he is going to be asked about how the Catholic position of the question impacts his own views.

He gives a typically political, mealy-mouthed answer.  And, equally typically, he gets slammed for it by people like Deacon Kandra.  Indeed, Kandra cites to some document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which purports to outline obligatory standards for what Catholic politicians should do in the context of the gay marriage debate.  And this document is unambiguous:

When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the commo…

(Another) Another Theology of the Body Project--Beyond the Abortion Wars

One topic I haven't discussed in my Another Theology of the Body series is the question of abortion.  In part this is due to my own conflicted and uncertain thoughts on the topic.  Since I don't clearly know what I think on the topic, I don't have much to say.  Nevertheless, it is clearly an important topic, and it is something that is worth exploring and talking about.

Along those lines, I just finished a book entitled Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation by Charles Camosy.  Camosy is a professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University in New York City, which happens to be the alma mater of the older of my two sisters (making me, obviously, well disposed toward his work).  The thesis statement of the book is that there is a way forward from the polarized and fossilized abortion debate in the United States, one that takes seriously the commitments of pro-life people while respecting the concerns of (at least some) pro-choice folks.  To the end, he…

How Pope Francis is Changing the Church

I stumbled upon this video the other night by accident, looking for something else (like all good things).  My initial attraction to the video was the presence of Jim Martin, S.J., whose work I've looked at here.  Martin was fine, but really the highlights were Dr. Natalia Imperatori-Lee and, especially, Andrew Sullivan.  It's long (90 minutes), but worth your time.

Here were some highlights for me:

1.  Dr. Imperatori-Lee made a simple, but profound point about the distinction between "style" and "substance."  One is tempted to dismiss changes in "style" as being "only style," and not substantive.  But, in a Church that takes seriously the idea of sacraments and the Incarnation, the externals (i.e. the "style") are substance.  The style/substance distinction is, and must be, a false one in Catholic thinking.  Again, a subtle point, but a good one.

2.  I don't agree with Andrew Sullivan about everything.  He got visibly unc…

Some Thoughts on Douthat vs. Bruenig

So, Ross Douthat took to his NY Times supported blog to throw cold water (if respectfully) on Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig's cover story in The New Republic on Pope Francis.  Before I get into the substance of Douthat's piece, I suppose I should engage in full disclosure.  I have become, in the last couple of months, a pretty serious Bruenig fanboy.  I think her New Republic stuff is smart and funny and on-point and always impeccably written.  She's great, and everyone should read her stuff, and big thanks to Frank from Letters to the Catholic Right for directing me to her pre-New Republic material.  Her twitter feed is great, too.  So, if you think I'm biased in favor of Bruenig, you are probably right.

With that out of the way, Douthat basically makes two criticisms of Brueing's basic thesis that conservatives hate Pope Francis and his agenda and are looking to undermine him at every turn.  First, Douthat suggests that we should distinguish between various flavors of…

Another Theology of the Body--Addendum to My Last Post

I stumbled across this old article this morning.  Here, Fr. Bill Daly, who I've talked about before, gives a Real Talk assessment of the role of NFP in his parish.

There is a line in this article that reinforces the division between "birth control" and "expected value reduction" that I spoke about in yesterday's post.

Most couples in our parish, like couples in most parishes in the developed world, are certainly using artificial contraception. Practically every young family has two or three children. I doubt that they are practicing natural family planning.

Why does he doubt that these young families with two or three kids are using NFP?  If Fr. Daly believed (as he says he does when he claims that NFP "works") that NFP allows for the kind of control comparable to artificial methods, then there is no reason for that skepticism.  Why would it?  If the effectiveness claims of NFP were true, then there would be no reason to doubt that a particular cou…

Another Theology of the Body, Part XVIII--I Take Back Everything I Said (Sort Of) About NFP

When people start talking past one another, the solution is almost always to reframe the parameters of the discussion.  On complementarity, I relied on a professional theologian to help reframe the issues.  Unfortunately, I could not find anything Professor Coakley has written about another issue that has become completely stuck (at least among Catholics)--birth control.  So, I did the next best thing--I called my friend Jason.

Now, my friend Jason is Jewish, and generally speaking identifies with the Reform movement in Judaism.  The truth is that I asked Jason to think through and give his perspective on this topic because he is my friend and that I knew he would do it.  But, as it turns out, Jason is a perfect conversation partner for this topic.  As someone who takes his Judaism seriously, he is open to the idea of moral and ethical rules that are derived from religion, even if they are counter-cultural.  On the other hand, the Reform approach to Judaism encourages critical, but re…

Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, March 2015

It was her idea to get certified for scuba diving.  Prior to her suggestion, I had never really thought about it, one way or the other.  I was not opposed to the idea, nor was I particularly excited about it.  She wanted to do it on the trip to Mexico, and I wanted to go on the trip.  So, I got certified.

The first part of getting certified to dive is classroom stuff, followed by some dives in the pool.  Those were fine--the physics and biology of diving is interesting, and I didn't have too much trouble with the skills (one woman in our group panicked immediately upon going under water in the pool--claustrophobia).

Getting into the ocean, on the other hand, was a different matter.  Twenty minutes into the first dive and I was hooked forever.  I just knew it.  It's a physical skill, but it is also relaxing.  There is an element of being alone, just you and the sound of your breathing, but it is an activity you do with other people--you and your dive buddy and being alone toget…

Key West, Florida, March 2015


When this winter started, there were two things I thought we going to happen before it was over.  First, I was going to get out of the snow before it was over, to go scuba diving and to get some sun and to recharge from the grey and the shoveling and all of that.  Second, I was going to take concrete steps to leave the Catholic Church.

Well, it is clear now that only one of those is going to happen.  And I am sitting in Key West, Florida, watching the sunrise. . . .

Bruce Springsteen's sixth album, Nebraska, is a dark work.  It is just Springsteen, his guitar, and a harmonica.  The themes are violence and hopelessness, with crime as the link between those two.  It's a haunting album.

But the genius of the album, for me, is the last song, Reason to Believe.  After the despair and alienation of the previous nine songs, Reason to Believe changes the conversation.  It is not in any way upbeat--it involves a dead dog, a woman abandoned by her man and a m…