Monday, January 31, 2005

Are Bush's Policies Evil? The Executive Summary

My post last Friday became lengthy and unwieldy. It was written in response to a reader who can't understand why I think almost everything Bush does is immoral. There's so much to be mad about.

I write this as a regular church going fiscally conservative pro-life Roman Catholic and registered Republican. I am actually more of a theological liberal than a political liberal. My liberalism is on issues like women's ordination and married priests.

Below the asterisks is the executive summary of my Friday post highlighting the gravely immoral policies of the Bush Administration. All of these policies are a matter of Bush's public record.

Each position is unsupported by the Vatican and the American bishops. Most of Bush's policies involve what the Church labels "intrinsic evils" and "grave matter", and few are negotiable issues that allow "wiggle room".


Bush approves of abortion in cases of rape and incest, where the Vatican teaches all abortions are intrinsically evil.

Bush has explicitly promised not to consider abortion in appointment of Supreme Court Justices.

Bush has presided over an increase in the abortion rate that is likely caused by his cuts to social services.

Bush has never asked Congress for a Right to Life Amendment.

Bush recently stated criminalization of abortion is a "ways away".

Bush referred to the embryos merely as "potential for life" when he approved federal funding of embryonic stem cell research on existing lines.

Bush was the fist President to approve of embryonic stem cell research in American history.

Bush has been silent on euthanasia and human cloning, as have his opponents.

Bush has flip-flopped on gay marriage. His current position is no different than John Kerry's was, and his original position was no different than Kerry's. It seems he is willing to pander to homophobia if it wins elections. (I support gay civil unions as a theological liberal, but if Kerry was wrong, Bush is wrong today. If Kerry was right, Bush was wrong when he pandered to homophobia claiming he wanted a Constitutional Amendment against gay marriage).

Bush gives tax cuts to those who use sex during prime time to sell violent video games, guns and other "goods" to the American people.

Bush has repeatedly stated that the use of aggressive and deadly military force is appropriate against a threat that has not yet materialized. The Church teaches that the "strict and rigorous" criteria for a just war demand that a threat is "imminent" and "lasting, grave and certain"

Bush has waged an actual war of aggression and hinted he might do it again.

Bush presided over the first federal execution in 34 years. The Holy Father and the bishops support a consistent ethic of life that considers the death penalty immoral in today's world.

Bush led the free world in state executions as Governor of Texas.

Bush refused to allow DNA evidence to be considered as new evidence that may exonerate convicted felons.

Bush once mocked a woman on death row in public.

Bush has explicitly stated that torture can be legally and morally authorized by the President of the United States. The Church lists torture with abortion as a grave and intrinsically evil offense against human diginity.

Bush continues to keep those who actually gave orders to use torture employed.

Bush has supported policies that erode our civil rights.

Bush has created the largest deficit in American history. This is not fiscal conservativism or fiscal responsibility in any way, shape or form.

Bush spends more on the military than the rest of the world combined, and did so prior to 9/11.

Bush has undermined efforts to stop nuclear proliferatin and seeks to increase American nuclear capacity.

Bush has undermined the authority of international institutions such as the United Nations. The Church supports these institutions.

Bush actively opposes the Holy Father's notions of a living wage and universal health care.

Bush spends proportionately less on the Tsunami than smaller and poorer countries.

Bush has yet to deliver the money to Africa for AIDs that he, himself promised.

Bush is the first president in decades to have higher unemployment at the end of his first term than the beginning.

Bush presided over an increase of those living below poverty of roughly thirty one percent.

Bush seeks to privatize social security, which is the only government program running at a surplus. This violates the fourth commandment to honor our parents.

Bush cut successful social services fostering education like Headstart, and failed to fund his own "no child left behind" program.

Bush has undermined Church supported efforts to protect the environment.

Bush opposed affirmative action, snubbed the NAACP, and campaigned at the Bob Jones University where interacial marriage is considered an abomination.

Bush has interpreted his re-election as a mandate to make his irresponsible tax cuts to the rich the highest priority of his Administration. The Holy Father has called poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor the most pressing issue of our times.


No matter how nice a guy we think George W. Bush might be, and no matter how many times he uses the name of the Lord, and no matter how many times he sprinkles "culture of life" into his speeches, his policies are not Christian, are not compassionate, are not pro-family, are not pro-life, and are not conservative.

Even if a Catholic honestly believes Bush was a more moral choice than Kerry, the specific policies of the Bush Administration are gravely immoral by Catholic standards. Just because Kerry might be wrong does not mean Bush is right.

How I wish Catholics who voted for Bush would simply admit that these policies are extremely problematic from a Catholic point of view.


Fr. Jim on Difference Between Roman and American View of Law

Father Jim Tucker is specifically referring to recent smoking bans passed in Italy, but there is something else worthy of consideration here.

Father Jim highlights that Italians, and particularly Romans, tend to see law as an ideal towards which one strives, but does not actually always achieve. Laws in Italy are often not enforced. Many American priests I know who have studied in Rome confirm this perception.

In his example, the very government officials who passed laws banning smoking in a public building will smoke in their office or in parliament committee meetings.

Anyone who has driven in Italy knows the disregard for traffic laws that Americans take very seriously.

Americans tend to think of laws as absolute minimum standards of conduct that absolutely must be met, or one will face consequences. Law is not an ideal, but a lowest common denominator in a pluralistic society.

For an American, the ideal we strive to achieve is always beyond doing merely what is legal.

This attitude also carries over into the spiritual life and even attitudes towards the moral and canon laws of the Church.

For example, Italian Catholics take for granted that married people often have a lover, and see no reason to divorce over this. Even when entering into marriage, some Italians take for granted that there will be cheating.

Americans see adultery as just cause for divorce, and would discourage anyone from marrying who doesn't fully intend fidelity.

We see the same attitude expressed in the way Vatican actually treats dissent, which confuses many conservative American Catholics. Italians actually allow a whole lot of wiggle room before a person would be sanctioned by Church officials.

Furthermore, sanctions are far more likely to be earned for questioning "the ideal" than failing to live it.

This is why the Vatican has generally had a hard time understanding the impact of the sex abuse crisis on the American Church.

When we Americans say that a priest has committed a crime, we generally mean that he should be put in jail, and any systematic effort to cover for him should also be punished by law, and laws should have the effect of eradicating the criminal behavior.

The ideal towards which the priest should strive is perfect chastity with all people, which goes far beyond merely avoiding sex with a minor.

Rome issues statements calling the sex abuse of minors a crime and an immoral act, but she doesn't grasp that when she calls it a crime, Americans expect legal action to follow. We really mean to eradicate it, and Rome may not "get it".

On this issue, it is important to note that the Pope is not an Italian, but a Pole. I am not familiar with how the Polish view law. His own attitude when he called sex abuse a crime may be more similar to Americans.

Yet, Italian Vatican officials may not understand what the Pope or Americans mean when we call sex abuse of a minor "a crime".

Many in Rome consider the issue solved by merely having called the act a crime. The ideal was reaffirmed even if imperfect people have a hard time living the ideal.

As another example, Italian Catholics are satisfied for the Church to call all homosexual acts a sin even if people are openly living in gay relationships.

American Catholics feel that if homosexual acts are a sin, openly gay relationships are to be discouraged in society.

Even take the issue of abortion. In Italy, a Catholic politician is considered pro-life if he or she merely says he or she has some moral reservations about it. In America, a Catholic politician is not considered pro-life by bishops unless actively working to criminalize abortion.

I'm pro-life by American standards, and I think the Pope probably is too, but we need to recognize that there is a difference in what is meant by "pro-life" between Americans and many Italian Catholics.

The list could go on and on, but it is an important idea to help American Catholics understand that the Vatican isn't always saying what we presume.

Often times, we presume a Vatican directive is an absolute, inflexible minimum standard that we must meet or leave the Church. An Italian Catholic would shake his or her head at such a notion.


Iraqi Elections Appear to be a Success

Despite insurgent threats to make the streets run with the blood of voters and several break-outs of violence, Iraqis turned out to vote. Many voiced a willingness to give their life just to exercise the right to vote, regardless of who won. It will take a couple of weeks for all votes to be counted.

Daily Kos reminds us of past attempts to either impose democracy or to hold elections amidst terrorism that were intially considered succesful and later failed. Among these were South Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador, Columbia, Sri Lanka, and Peru.

Nevertheless, the degree of participation and optimism of the Iraqi people is encouraging, and despite my opposition to the U.S. invasion, I hope the Iraqi people experience true liberation, peace, stability and prosperity.

Let us pray that the process works for the Iraqi people.


The Danger of Video Games

Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, has proposed legislation to ban the sale of video games to those under the age of eighteen. The entertainment industry has attacked the proposal.

The article points out that the top selling video game, called Grand Theft Auto features gang warfare and the killing of prostitutes.

Another video game involves players stepping into the shoes of Lee Harvey Oswald to try to assassinate President Kennedy. Other games have various forms of graphic violence, including human mutilation, rape, and killing as well as forms of sexual content.

I confess that the very idea that such games are on the market repulses me about as much as the idea that there are people who view child pornography.

If you don't feel as repulsed, consider the possibility that your spiritual life is probably suffering and in need of nurturance. And if you are using child pornography on top of this, please seek professional and sacramental help immediately.

The article highlights that parents are often unable to monitor their children's game playing because games are now sold on small portable devices, and the games involve a progression through various levels such that a parent would have to watch a child constantly for up to weeks to discern the content of the highest level of play.

My only daughter is only 108 days old (just under four weeks).

I haven't ever been a big fan of video games, and always got bored with them even when I was ten, eleven and twelve years old. By the time I was thirteen or so, I almost fled the room if the other guys my age only wanted to play video games.

I was not what one would call sports fanatic at that age, but I did like sports and riding my bike or skate-boarding better than video games. Heck. I liked hide-and-seek better than video games. I find it hard to believe that most boys would prefer to sit inside and play video games rather than play basketball in the driveway.

When I wasn't in the mood for outdoor activities, I preferred strategic board games like chess or Risk over video games. I have fond memories of playing these games with my buddies, and I think all of us preferred them to video games.

As a teenager, I preferred going anywhere there were girls my age over video games. Whatever concerns this may raise for parents, what normal teenage boy locks himself in the house playing video games when he could be out meeting girls?

Back in my youth, the big games were Asteroids, Space Invaders, and very simple games like table tennis. I recall that we used Atari systems, which almost seemed to have a monopoly back then. We played them occasionally, and some of my buddies liked them more than I did, but none of us played as frequently as today's youth seem to play. By the time Pac Man became popular, I pretty much was ignoring the video game industry as a waste of time.

I have younger cousins, and nephews and nieces that play these games, and some of their parents are concerned, but not enough to take the games away. It seems many of the kids' fathers are hooked on some of these games. I know co-workers who love these games.

Personally, the few times as an adult that I have tried to play a game with a nephew or a brother-in-law or co-worker, I feel just like I did when I was twelve: bored and wanting to flee the room.

I don't even own a video game player, and my advice to parents would be not to own one. But it's easy for me to say that when I can't stand playing these types of games primarily because I find them so utterly boring.

A man who recently married into the family and is not the biological father of a ten year old cousin claims he wants to take the boy's video games away because he honestly believes that these games were created by the U.S. military to train young people for war.

I tend to agree with him when I've looked at the games this ten year old is playing.

The biological mother doesn't want to put her foot down on the issue, because it keeps the son quiet and occupied and he likes the games so much. Video games seem to be used as a sort of baby-sitter when the kid gets bored with cartoons (which present a whole another set of issues).

My wife wants to throw the TV out into the trash before our daughter becomes old enough to notice it missing. She also doesn't want any video games whatsoever.

On the flip side, I have always thought that video games might have great educational value for kids who like those sort of games if they were created properly.

Even games that require fast reaction to visual stimuli might build better hand-eye coordination. Games such as car racing, or video games of basketball wouldn't seem harmful to me.

Beyond this, games could be created that require strategic thinking like chess, or games could actually impart useful information or require problem solving and critical thinking skills to move onto higher levels.

What I fail to understand is why the industry is trapped into marketing games that involve death, mutilation, and sex. Don't misunderstand me. I understand that these types of games must sell better, or the industry wouldn't produce so many of them.

What I don't understand is why these games sell so well and other types of games don't. There are so many other types of games I'd rather play.

What's my point?

I don't really have a point, except maybe to challenge parents not to buy games for themselves that may have a harmful effect on the psyche of young people. Perhaps I'm inviting the parents (and particularly male parents) to consider other activities that are simply more fun than violent video games if given half a chance.

Rather than attacking the video game industry per se, I'm wondering if there isn't a bigger problem in our society.

Perhaps there is a bigger danger to our youth today than the video games by themselves. Parents use TV and video games to pacify their children, and that is the problem.

Get up off the couch and shoot some hoops with your kid (even your daughter will enjoy this, if my eight year old "girly" niece is any indication of what girls like to do).

Toss a football around, play baseball, go golfing or swimming, or just wrestle on the living room floor.

Take a family bike ride.

Build a snow man in the front yard.

Play a game of chess or scrabble or bridge. Try Trivial Pursuits or Outburst or Pictionary. If you own a pool table or ping-pong table, put it to use with your kids.

Try twenty questions or "I spy" or other kid games that can be played without any other accesories than the mind.

Read to your child, or listen to some good music. Better yet, learn an instrument together and form an amateur family band, or join the church choir together (we have three parent child duets in our choir).

Pray together once and awhile (preferably daily).

Just talk once and awhile.

Heck. Once in a while, it may even be OK for the whole family to agree to quiet down and take a Sunday afternoon nap at the same time.

Eat together and do household chores together as well as playing together. A little play with a common meal and a little working together on common projects builds up a sense of belonging to a community.

These are all activities my parents engaged in with the nine children they had.

Maybe they were too tired to each do it every single night, but between the two, there was some sort of these types of activity most nights, and we children were able to fend for ourselves when both parents were too tired to play.

I get the impression sometimes that other families don't have this type of interaction ever in today's day and age. Everybody runs off to their private rooms to engage in solitary activity, and since video games and TV watching can be done alone, that's what kids turn to for entertainment.

It strikes me as very sad.

We complain that we're too busy at work, and it is true that most of us work longer hours than my parents' generation, and we have longer commutes to work, and we rely more on dual incomes, bring our work home with us, etc....

But I know that somehow parents are finding time to play the video games and watch TV, and I'm wondering why we limit our options to such mind-numbingly boring activities.

I'm convinced that most kids would not be as hooked on video games as they are today if parents simply engaged the kids in some other more active pursuits.

Would the Governors laws also help?

Maybe they would and maybe they wouldn't. My concern is that there I think there are almost as many adults hooked on these games as kids, and the real problem is that parents are using TV and video games to "pacify" kids so that they don't have to interact with their children.

I'm sure there will be those who want to check back with me in a few years to see if I'm following my own advice. Well, whether I do or not, I mentioned already that there are some parent-child duets in my choir, and I can see through empirical observation that parents who are more active with their kids raise happier, healthier, and more "holy" kids.

Lent is comming upon us. Perhaps as a penance this year, shut off the TV and take the batteries and power cords off the video games and commit to some quality time with the family.

Give it a try.


Citizens of the World?

This Commonweal editorial asks if Americans are being good world citizens in response to the Tsunami.


Is God Responsible? by John Garvey

This Commoneweal article explores why God allows suffering using the recent Tsunami as the springboard for reflection.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

A Gay Priest Speaks Out

This article captures very well the dilemma I suspect many priests face as discussion of banning gay priests swirls and orders of silence on gay priests are imposed. The author even had to use a pseudonym. How sad.


Friday, January 28, 2005

A Reader Writes....

After constantly quoting the number of abortions in comments to posts that had nothing to do with abortion, to which I continually responded that I am pro-life and don't understand his point, the reader writes:

...,all the liberals reading Joe's blog can pat themselves on the back for their hatred of the Bush administration....,

...., Just as y'all seem to tire of my "harping" on abortion (even though it is THE most pressing issue of our time, Joe's opinion on the war notwithstanding), I get a little weary of Joe's constant labelling of nearly everything President Bush does as being evil. A bit arrogant, as I see it. You see, there were a LOT of good Catholics who voted for and support President Bush. People who are every bit as knowledgable regarding the issues as you believe you are. Your contiuous barrage of venom spewed towards whatever actions President Bush takes leads me to believe that you must think all his supporters are either ignorant or evil. Talk about disrespecting over half of the voting public!!!
I suppose that the Sadduccees and Herodians associated with King Herod and his coutiers and other Jewish supporters could have said much the same thing to John the Baptist.

In general, however, I don't see most Catholic Bush supporters as the equivalent of King Herod's court or the Sadducees. I am simply not sure if everyone of these Catholics has considered all the things this Administration actually does in light of their own faith.

I am not disrespecting people. I am disrespecting specific policies: specific deeds that are deeply immoral.

If the Bush Administration's policies are actually immoral, I don't see any reason to "respect" those policies no matter how many people support those policies, and no matter how many people support the person regardless of the policies.

It doesn't matter whether Bush alone makes immoral decisions, or whether fifty nine million people make immoral decisions. Those decisions are immoral when put into practice.

I don't typically like to argue from authority alone, but let me clear that on nearly one hundred percent of the positions where I disagree with the decisions and policies of the Bush Administration, the Vatican has taken my side, as have the bishops.

I am not saying the Vatican wasn't also troubled by John Kerry's stand on some issues. I am merely saying that Bush takes some stands that the Vatican, and I, and probably 55 million other Americans consider deeply immoral.

Even if he were right on one or two issues, that's no reason not to call attention where his policies are immoral if they are immoral. I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time arguing in this post why I take each of these positions. Rather, I just want to run down a list one by one demonstrating that Bush takes positions that the VATICAN considers as immoral as I do.

Let's accept momentarily that abortion is the most pressing issue of our times as my reader states. It is not the Vatican's position that abortion is morally licit or should be legal under civil law in cases of rape and incest, but this is George W. Bush's position. I share the Vatican's position wholeheartedly. Bush is not pro-life.

On the abortion issue alone, it is true that the Vatican would permit a Catholic to vote for a candidate with Bush's position over a candidate with John Kerry's position. Yet, Bush's position is immoral. It is simply the lesser of two evils, and nothing to get excited and defensive about when he is called to the carpet on his inconsistencies on this issue.

Furthermore, nothing in Church teaching indicates that we are to be single issue voters. One can build the case that abortion is among the most important of issues based on Vatican teaching, and I personally hold that opinion. However, one cannot possibly defend the notion that abortion is the only issue worthy of consideration based on Vatican teaching or the teaching of the bishops.

President Bush has explicitly promised that abortion will not be a litmus test in his decisions for Supreme Court Justices, and as an example of what he means, he was considering Alberto Gonzalez as a potential appointee prior to John Ashcroft's resignation.

Gonzalez has ruled on cases supporting Roe. Pro-lifers seem to want to believe that Bush is using code to say he will appoint pro-life judges, but the simple matter of the fact is that there is no evidence that Bush doesn't mean exactly and precisely what he promised. He simply does not consider abortion at all in his decisions for judges.

What about some of the legislation that Bush has passed such as signing the partial birth abortion ban or the Mexico City policy or legislation to punish criminals for two crimes when the crime is against a pregnant woman?

The simple fact is that according to current federal court cases, the partial birth abortion ban was known to be unconstitutional prior to its passage.

I am not saying that I do not personally oppose partial birth abortion. I do oppose partial birth abortion and wish it illegal, as do the bishops.

I am saying that if you are going to create a law against it, that law has to pass constitutional muster in the courts in order to be enforced. An unenforceable law does need to be supported by a Christian even when the goal of the law is to enforce a morally correct position. Thomas Aquinas states exactly this opinion!

Passing an unconstitutional law is a waste of everyone's time, but it's great politics for Republicans who can claim to have done something to stop abortions without really doing anything.

The Mexico City policy has not stopped a single abortion, and it aimed to not only cut off potential funding of abortions, but funding for programs that would help women chose to keep their children, such as pre-natal care. This was not a real pro-life effort. This was an attempt to offset irresponsible tax cuts to the rich.

I'll grant that the legislation to charge criminals for two crimes if the crime was committed against a pregnant woman is a symbolic victory for pro-lifers, but it doesn't stop a single abortion. I support this policy of the Administration, but do not see this legislation as decisive.

The simple fact is that the abortion rate has gone up under the Bush Administration compared to the decline in abortion rates under the prior Administration. Bush has promised nothing but lip service to pro-lifers, and he is delivering exactly what he promised. Just last Monday, he told those marching for life that criminalization of abortion is a "ways away".

I support a Right to Life Amendment to the Constitution. If the President of the United States wants an Amendment, he can use his leadership and authority to ask for one and to cut deals with Congress to get it through. Bush has not done a thing to persuade or motivate Congress to pass a Right to Life Amendment, and when asked if he would support one, he hedges and starts talking about exceptions for rape and incest.

Does Bush really believe that the unborn are human beings?

When he decided to federally fund embryonic stem cell research, he referred to embryos as "potential for life". Though Bush uses rhetoric that appeals to pro-lifers at election time, I have never heard him explicitly refer to the unborn as actual living human beings. Where does anyone get the notion that Bush has any firm conviction that abortion is murder?

I would rejoice if Roe were overturned, but I see absolutely no signs from Bush that he seriously intends to put pro-life judges on the Supreme Court bench. Even if this were his intention, overturning Roe would not make abortion illegal, and it would take decades for the Court to slowly chip away at Roe.

While the possibility that this could happen causes anxiety to ardent pro-choicers and becomes their reason for voting against Bush, I have never placed much hope in the Courts or Bush's appointments as a pro-lifer. In other words, as much as I would like to see Roe overturned, I honestly think the pro-choice camp's fears are unsubstantiated. It isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

I think an Amendment holds far more promise.

Faith without works is dead faith. I want results, not mere rhetoric. Jesus tells a parable in the Gospels about two sons. The older tells his father he will do what is asked, but doesn't do it. The younger son says he won't do it, but goes ahead and does what is asked. The younger son is the righteous one.

Ideally, we would say we will obey and actually obey in practice. But push come to shove, what matters to God is results. Did you actually do anything to reduce abortions?

I don't care what John Kerry says about abortion. If his policies would have reduced abortions more than Bush's, he was the right choice in the 2004 election.

In the absence of an Amendment, I want a President who does more than throw around the phrase "culture of life" at election time. I want a President who will produce results in reducing abortions. I am open to a two-fold approach that addresses the reasons women choose abortions through increased social services, and that simultaneously seeks to pass every prohibition on abortion Roe permits.

I simply fail to understand why pro-lifers see Bush as our man when the abortion rate is rising due to his policies. He is not promising to appoint pro-life judges. He does nothing to pass an Amendment, and none of the prohibitive measures that might work are being actively pursued. Words are empty if unsupported by deeds. Why do pro-life Catholics come so close to canonizing the man on this issue?

I understand and agree with pro-lifers who believe that John Kerry's rhetoric on abortion was far worse than Bush's in the sense that being pandered to by Bush is better than simply being ignored.

But make no mistake, Bush is not so much pro-life on abortion as he is a politician who understands that we pro-lifers are a large enough voting block to be worthy of some pandering at election time. I want more than pandering. I want results. What's wrong with that?

Let me switch gears now from the abortion issue.

President Bush has explicitly said on numerous occasions that the use of deadly military force is appropriate to stop a threat before it materializes. Not only has he said it, but he has put it into practice in Iraq, promised he would do it again, and hinted Iran could be next.

This is very clearly an immoral principle that rationalizes wars of aggression.

The Church's teaching on the criteria for what constitutes a just war are referred to as "strict and rigorous", which seems to clearly indicate that the criteria for just war can be called a non-negotiable issue. While a just war is not intrinsically evil, by definition, an unjust war is intrinsically evil or it wouldn't be called unjust!

To call something intrinsically evil is to say that a particular act is never justified under any circumstances. That is the definitition of "intrinsic evil" to the Vatican. How can there ever be a just use of unjust war?

There can't. A just war is always and everywhere a war of defense against an imminent threat that is lasting, grave and certain. A threat that has not yet materialized is not imminent, lasting, grave or certain. Bush's war policy is an unjust war policy and therefore is intrinsically evil.

Wars of aggression are intrinsically immoral, and every life taken on the side of defense is an innocent human life - including the combatants on the side of the defense. Unjust war is a moral issue regarding the dignity of human life just as surely as abortion, and the Holy Father has made this equation himself!

Even if Bush were a strong proponent of a Right to Life Amendment and were actively working to reduce abortions in numerous ways, he doesn't get a free pass to go around blowing up people's countries without provocation.

When the state mandates the death of innocent people, as it does in an unjust war, this is comparable to the state mandating abortions.

To deliberately vote for a candidate for President who holds what you believe to be an unjust war policy is a more proximate material cooperation with evil than the remote material cooperation with evil involved in voting for a candidate who would allow, but not mandate abortion, and whose views you do not share.

The proportionate reason to vote for the pro-choice candidate who opposes an unjust war is that it is always true that one should chose remote material cooperation with evil over a more proximate material cooperation when the same object is at stake. The object of both abortion and unjust wars is the death of innocent human beings.

Thus, unless one agrees with George Bush's war policy, over and against the authority of the Church, the war in Iraq and Bush's general war philosophy was actually more pressing than abortion in the 2004 election.

I became even more passionately opposed to Bush's war in Iraq when I discovered that as early as 1997, most of his Administration, including Cheney, was arguing for an invasion of Iraq in order to have a permanent presence in the Gulf to control oil and maintain dominance over the United Nations and the emerging European Union.

This is a more immoral rationalization for a war of aggression than the already immoral position of destroying a threat before it materializes. Add to this that Cheney's old company, Halliburton, is profiting from the war, and the whole thing stinks of foul play.

The principles I am using to argue this case are solid "orthodox" or "conservative" Catholic principles supported by the Vatican, itself. It is true that the Vatican never explicitly said we must vote against Bush. She never explicitly commands us to vote for a particular individual. Rather, she supplies the principles that inform our consciences.

Of course, someone who was ignorant of the Church's teaching on war or various degrees of cooperation with evil does not sin if they voted for Bush. In response to my reader's assertion that I am saying many Catholic voters were either "ignorant or evil", I do believe it highly possible that many Catholics are ignorant of these teachings.

I also believe much of the American public was ignorant of how much information was publicly available prior to the war disproving that Iraq possessed WMDs or that Iraq was tied to 9/11.

Those of us who knew the case against Iraq's possession of WMDs or ties to Al Qaeda before the war are wondering how Bush did not know better than we. Our information was published in normal mainstream media, and not weird "liberal" journals. We understand that not everyone reads the same articles in the news, but it distresses us that the President himself was implying things that were demonstrably false prior to the beginning of the war.

Lying, even by implication, is immoral.

We were right and he was wrong. If the President is not simply malicious, he's incredibly uninformed. If he was as informed as we and he still chose war, he is malicious. Either way, Bush deserves to take some heat for waging an immoral war.

And even if you think I am mistaken in my reasoning that places the war in Iraq above abortion, you still need to deal with the fact that Bush's war policy is immoral.

The very principle that it is justifiable to wage war against a nation before a threat materializes is an immoral principle.

Even if he was the right moral choice for 2004 simply because the alternative was a greater evil of abortion, Bush is still carrying out an immoral war!

The Holy Father's opposition to the war in Iraq has been "unequivocal", and the principles I am using to explain why the war is worse than permissive abortion laws are sound Catholic principles, and Ratzinger was clear that proportionate reason to vote for a pro-choice candidate can exist.

Let's quickly review where we are so far. Bush is not against abortion in any way other than some references to a "culture of life" at election time, and his war policy presents an issue that itself is proportionate reason to vote for someone who is pro-choice.

Add into the equation the following "moral values" issues:

The Catholic Right to Life League criticized Bush's stance on embryonic stem cell research stating that it undermines the value of life. Not only did he refer to embryos as mere "potential life", but he funded this type of research for the first time, opening the door to future funding.

He has never even hinted such research should be illegal. Bush is not opposed to embryonic stem cell research in the least, though he is supportive of any cap on spending that justify his tax cuts to the rich.

Was Kerry's position on embryonic stem cell research worse? Yeah. So what? Bush is still wrong on the issue.

On human cloning and euthanasia, Bush has been silent, as his opponents have largely been. There is no way to use these issues as indication that Bush is more or less pro-life than his opponents based on these issues that many Catholics consider non-negotiable.

I have now covered four of five issues identified by "Catholic Answers" as non-negotiable issues for Catholic issues. Those five issues were abortion, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, euthanasia and gay marriage. Let's turn now to gay marriage.

The first point on gay marriage and Bush is that he has flip-flopped all over the place on this issue, and currently holds the same position Kerry consistently held.

He seems to be willing to pander to the worse fears in people of homosexuals to win an election and then drop the issue. That's not moral behavior.

If Kerry was wrong according to the Vatican on this issue, then Bush's original position and the position he holds right now are wrong.

But I'd say there is another Vatican teaching on gays that I apply to Bush. I think this other teaching leaves me in the 100 percent ballpark of support from the Vatican, even on this issue where I am "liberal" - but if you reject all I have to say on this issue, consider my Vatican support at maybe 90 percent.

That other teaching is that it is wrong to treat persons with same sex attractions with unjust discrimination or disrespect. Bush's pandering to people who are demonstrably homophobic in order to win an election is immoral.

Even if the Church holds a position on gay marriage that I don't share, she holds a position on homosexual people that I do share, and Bush's politics on this issue violate those principles.

Gay marriage makes the "Catholic Answers" list because the Catechism defines homosexual acts as "intrinsically disordered". However, I think it a mistake to place gay marriage with four life issues.

Gay marriage involves sexual morality, and a far less grave matter. Masturbation is also an "intrinsically disordered" act, and nobody is saying it is a non-negotiable political issue.

For that matter, contraception is considered an "intrinsic evil" by the Vatican, and, if we agree with the Vatican, contraception is more directly threatening to heterosexual marriage than homosexuality. More people engage in it!

Certainly it has become difficult in our era to maintain marriages. Divorce rates and cohabitation are rising. Raising our children to embrace chastity and avoid moral pitfalls such as drug and alcohol abuse, gambling and immoral sexuality has become more challenging than ever.

Catholics and other people of faith are rightly concerned about this state of affairs. Yet, is scape-goating those who experience predominant or exclusive same sex attractions really the answer to the problem?

Most of what concerns us are the sins of heterosexuals. Partly, this state of affairs is caused by cultural pressures beyond the direct control of the government. Advertisers and media use sex to sell. In other words, rich people who benefit from Bush's tax cuts are the people putting sex into our living rooms during prime time.

I don't feel any pity for these rich folks if we take back some of their money earned on our backs as they make us work overtime away from our families. I don't have any moral qualms about taxing rich folks at a higher percent in order to make it easier for working and middle class families to build themselves up.

Again, the Vatican explicitly agrees on principle. Use money raised from taxing the rich to cut middle and working class taxes on married couples, and provide health care to the uninsured and education assistance to children. This will more directly save the institution of marriage than a ban on gay unions.

As far as gay marriage goes, the states have been doing just fine for 200 plus years regulating marriage in the minds of most Americans. Equal protection under the law in no way entails "special rights".

Furthermore, there are some good theological reasons to wonder if homosexual acts truly are intrinsically evil. Perhaps some sort of permanent monogamous gay union might even blessed by the Church one day. Whether you agree or disagree, Kerry never promoted gay marriage and said he opposed it.

Like many Americans, Kerry felt the states can regulate marriage just fine while we all work this issue out more slowly for ourselves. Bush panders to fears of gays to try to generate votes, and that is wrong.

Even if we want to take it slow as the Church discerns this issue over time, we simply don't need to make this a non-negotiable issue for Catholic voters in Presidential or Congressional elections anymore than we need to pass a Constitutional Amendment against contraception and masturbation which are labeled intrinsic evils of the same nature, gravity and category as homosexual acts.

One can be pro-family without being anti-gays.

Having addressed all five of the so-called non-negotiables and the war in Iraq, which I also consider a non-negotiable based on Catholic principles, let us look at some other Catholic moral issues.

As Governor of Texas, Bush lead not only the nation, but the entire free world in the number of state sanctioned executions. In many cases, he refused to permit DNA testing that might have exonerated a victim of the death penalty.

As a candidate for President, he stated he supports the death penalty and as President, he presided over the first federal executions in 34 years - executions he had the power to stop.

He once mocked a woman on death row in public!

The Holy Father has been clear that he believes the death penalty is immoral in this day and age, and he stated this position in his famous Evangelium Vitae, which so clearly opposes abortion.

Indeed, despite the tendency of some conservative American Catholics to scoff at a notion of a consistent ethic of life, this ethic is very clearly the Holy Father's own position. Why is it wrong to point out that Bush's position is immoral? Who are the real cafeteria Catholics?

Kerry wasn't perfect on the death penalty either. He would use it against convicted terrorists. Just because Kerry was also wrong on this issue does not mean Bush is right. Bush has what is arguably the worst record in the free world when it comes to the use of state sanctioned killing.

President Bush has explicitly said that even though he has not ever personally authorized the use of torture, he believes it is within the President's legal and moral rights to exercise such authority. That's an immoral position, plain and simple.

Furthermore, Donald Rumsfeld has admitted to authorizing certain degrees of torture at Guatanamo Bay, where he feels it was legal since the location exempts the military from national and international laws.

Maybe it is legal, but is it moral?

Bush hasn't fired Rumsfeld over this issue because Bush does not accept the simple truth that torture is intrinsically evil.

The Church lists torture with abortion in Gaudium et Spes as an intrinsic evil against the dignity of the human person. This is not in the category of gay sex at all. The Church places the gravity of torture closer to the gravity of the life issues.

In labeling torture an "intrinsic evil", the Church is saying this is a non-negotiable issue. Absolutely nobody is ever authorized to use torture in any circumstance - not even the President of the United States in an effort to prevent terrorism. I agree with the Church on this issue.

While a life issue is more grave than the issue of torture, Bush's position on torture is immoral from a Catholic perspective, plain and simple.

So, Bush is wrong on the life issues so far, and he is wrong on other intrinsic evils such as torture!

Stemming from Bush's attitudes on human life and dignity, Bush has supported policies such as the Patriot Act that erode a number of civil liberties. In America, on Bush's watch, at the behest of his leadership, people have been detained without due process. I believe this is immoral. In her decrees on liberty and the dignity of the human person, the Vatican would agree.

Despite his desire to cut federal spending on social services, Bush has increased federal spending on the military to a level that has created the largest deficit in our history.

I do not know whether deficit spending is strictly a moral issue or not, but it is irresponsible and I do believe that it is a moral issue that we spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined and can only produce a measly $350 million for victims of the worse Tsunami in decades.

I also believe it is irresponsible to try to make tax cuts to the rich permanent when these cuts were intended as a short term spur to the economy during what was supposed to be a short recession.

Again, while I am not wholly convinced deficit spending by itself is a moral issue, Bush's economic policy is simply reckless and seems to have had the effect of increasing poverty 31 percent and unemployment as well.

Whether deficits are a moral issue or not, poverty is a moral issue, and failing to address it is a moral issue.

Add to the list that Bush's environmental policy undermines many Vatican and Church related efforts at protecting it.

Let me once again clarify something by reiterating that I am personally a registered Republican who defines himself as a fiscal conservative.

To me, fiscal conservativism is balancing the budget and avoiding harm to the economy through excessive taxation or excessive regulation. Taxes and regulations are necessary, but we need to be careful to apply principles of prudence and subsidiarity to ensure no harm is done.

There are many issues upon which I would disagree with a Democrat like Bill Clinton, and I even would say Clinton did many things immoral.

The Lewinsky scandal was a matter of personal immorality, but raised issues about his overall public integrity and honesty. He did lie under oath at one point, which is illegal as well as immoral. He also supported abortion, the death penalty, and he used the military in ways I consider morally questionable.

Yet, as a Republican fiscal conservative, I have to admit that Clinton proved something to me that I did not fully believe before he held office. His economic policies, despite taxing the rich at a much higher percent than the poor, actually seemed to work - or at least cause little to no harm.

He was the first President in history to preside over a budget surplus while the stock market climbed, unemployment went down, inflation remained low, real wages went up, productivity increased, poverty decreased and abortion rates went down.

Bill Gates III (the MS founder's father) has presented a moral case against capital gains tax cuts, cuts to inheritence taxes, and other pro-rich policies. He points out that the accumulation of the type of wealth he personally possesses is impossible without the national infrastructure constructed through taxation.

In other words, rich people "owe" society for the very ability to accumulate wealth. I think Gates and the Vatican are on the same page.

Against my readers assertion that abortion is the most pressing issue of our times, the Holy Father stated in his January 1, 2005 message for World Peace Day that world-wide poverty is the most pressing issue of the day.

Evangelical Protestant Christian, Jim Wallis, points out that the Bible mentions poverty over 3,000. It doesn't explicitly mention abortion and gay marriage once, though Wallis, the Pope and I would all agree abortion is among the most important issues of the day. Nobody on my blog yet is denying abortion is a very abortion issue, but my reader cannot seem to grasp that it is not Church teaching that we become single issue voters.

As a fiscally conservative pro-life and pro-family Catholic Republican who attends Mass nearly daily, I am saying Clinton's economic policy was more effective at the economic goals I consider important than either of the Bushes' economic policies. The economic goals I refer to are what the Vatican calls the common good. Poverty is a moral issue, as is fiscal responsibility to some degree.

Some want to share the credit of the economic success of the Clinton years with the Republican Congress and the tech boom. That's fine. Even if we do, taxes on the rich were higher in those years, and it did not wreck the economy the way Bush claims it should.

And if we're going to hold it against Clinton that he had personal sins that effected his public life, let us not forget that George Bush admits to being an alcoholic and has long been suspected of having been a former cocaine user, which is illegal, and he may have lied about how recently he used it in his campaigns.

I'll grant innocence until proven guilty, but I simply don't think Bush is any paragon of moral rectitude and personal righteousness the way others seem to feel. At best, he's an average George, and no Mother Teresa.

Some Catholic Republicans or other Catholic Bush supporters have been frustrated with the liberal language of victimization used over the past several decades. The feeling is that Americans are losing a sense of personal responsibility that contributes to a moral decline.

In actual fact, productivity per hour on the job is up and has been climbing for quite some time. The so-called blue states that went for Kerry have the best marriage statistics. Democrats and Independents are incorporating a "personal responsibility" theme into their speeches and policies.

Look at Democrats like Barack Obama or religious writers like Jim Wallis. During the Clinton years, there was reduction in rates of teen pregnancy. My point is that personal responsibility is important, and many liberals don't deny this, nor do their polices discourage this.

At least some liberals have learned that there is a component of personal responsibility that needs to be encouraged. There is a movement affot to speak the language of personal responsibility and a basically socially conservative message that is pro-family and pro-life while avoiding meanness to gays and also being pro-poor, liberal on economic justice, the environment, and cooperation with the international community. I think this is the direction our country should be headed.

Liberals understand personal responsibility. But have any social conservatives figured out that what the Church calls "structures of evil" exist as well?

Injustice does occur, and people are unjustly victimized by the rich and powerful, and this is Church teaching. I'll grant that some issues are more important than others, and the victimization of the unborn may be more horrendous than the victimization of some other groups and classes. Yet, all injustice is immoral and needs to be addressed.

We are to have what Paul VI called a preferential option for the poor, and what John Paul II calls a preferential love for the poor. John Paul has also been very clear and explicit that we are morally obligated to address these issues through public institutions, including international institutions, in addition to private charity.

The Church teaches the principles of economic justice very clearly. Why is there so much resistance to these principles among conservative American Catholics who want to support Bush? What's wrong with telling Bush that when he promised compassionate conservatism, we expected some follow through in the form of deeds?

Critics will ask me about Bush's religious faith. What about the fact that for once we have a President who is public about his faith in Jesus Christ? Doesn't this count for something?

It is a sin to use the Lord's name in vain. Using the name of God to justify all the policies described above is sacriledge.

If I were to try to guess the political position of John Paul II regarding America's 2004 election, I think he would have voted third party or wrote in "Jesus Christ".

I honestly believe that the Holy Father is very deeply troubled by President Bush and would agree almost entirely with my critique of the Bush Administration's policies.

I honestly believe that the Holy Father would have considered it a sin on his part to vote for George Bush. Pope's never make their political opinions on a specific candidate a doctrine, so I am not saying the Pope thinks other Catholics who voted for Bush sinned. I'm just saying that I honestly believe he would have considered it a sin for himself to support Bush. The Pope has been quite critical of Bush and rebuked the President to hi face on occassion.

Why do some conservative American Catholics consider any form of criticism of Bush to be near blasphemy? If the Pope can do it, why shouldn't the rest of Catholics?

At the same time, I don't think the Holy Father wanted to face the public perception nightmare of a pro-choice Catholic President in the world's remaining superpower. His opposition to Kerry would be less because of any deep belief that Kerry is a greater evil than Bush, and more that Kerry presents practical problems he wouldn't want to face as the Pope.

I also honestly believe that the majority of American bishops voted for John Kerry, though there was obviously an outspoken minority who seemed to prefer Bush.

Like my reader, this small minority believe that abortion must be considered the most pressing issue of our times.

Are these Bishops who feel this way "ignorant or evil" ?


In my opinion, they are mistaken, but not out of ignorance or malice.

I've corresponded with Bishop Chaput and written to Bishop Burke, though Burke never wrote back. Chaput's argument is that he isn't entirely sure that the war in Iraq is an unjust war, where he is entirely sure that John Kerry's stance on abortion was wrong.

I would make two points. First, the Holy Father has been "unequivocal" in his opposition to the war in Iraq, and Chaput seems to be outnumbered greatly on this issue by his brethren.

Second, while I share the Bishop's concern about Kerry's stance on abortion, I have been clear that I have questions about Bush's own sincerity on abortion based on his lack of deeds matching his words.

There are those who simply "like" President Bush. They like the Texas swagger and his simple straight talk. They think he's "a nice guy" - a "regular guy". Even if one disagrees with his policies, they resent calling those policies evil. My response is that I am not judging the man's hearts. I am judging his specific policies - public actions. Those acts are immoral, no matter what his intentions.

But regardless of whether a Catholic can or should have voted for John Kerry, I see absolutely no reason to let Bush off the hook for all his immoral policies. To my knowledge, his policies are the most immoral of any President we have ever had.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

More Thoughts on Conflict Between 2 Great Commandments

I got to thinking some more about the post I made this morning on whether the two great commandments can ever conflict. The greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart, our whole mind, and our whole soul. The second is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Back in my youth, I would have thought that there might instances where obedience to God involved acting in ways that seemed contrary to love of neighbor. This caused me a lot of stress and worry.

During this period of my life, it was the story of Abraham that puzzled me so. Abraham felt called by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, and God credited Abraham's faith to him as righteousness.

What if God told me to kill another person? Wouldn't it be a sin to disobey God?

Actually, it would be a sin to disobey the voice of God,..., or maybe I should say it would be foolish to disobey a direct command from God, whether you consider disobedience a "sin" or not.

As I pondered the story in Genesis, some things began to slowly sink in that helped me understand that God would never command such a thing - meaning God never directly told Abraham to kill Isaac.

Of course, higher critical studies have helped me tremendously to understand the passage even better than I did when I first came up with a resolution. I don't want to share the fruits of modern Biblical studies in any depth here though, because even a fairly fundamentalist reading of the text would lead to the conclusion that God probably did not tell Abraham to kill Isaac.

The story is in Genesis 22. The first two lines do clearly say that God told Abraham to kill Isaac, so how can I deny the plain words of the first lines of the text?

Well, first, as I was praying over this text decades ago, I thought to myself that one should definitely do whatever God asks you to do, no matter how incomprehensible it seems - but you must be sure it is God speaking to you.

This raises the obvious questions: How did Abraham know that it was God speaking, and not the devil? How did Abraham know he wasn't simply going insane? And what did he plan to tell Sarah after the sacrifice, and what was going to help her believe that it was God who told Abraham to kill her son?

It began to dawn on me that these questions are impossible to answer, even by Abraham himself!

What's my point?

Perhaps I can make my point clearer by asking the reader to imagine themselves in a similar situation.

Imagine Jesus Christ, himself, appeared in his glorified body at your bed-side and told you to kill your child. Would you automatically assume that what is right before your eyes is real? Wouldn't you question your own sanity? Even if you had no doubt that some strange thing is objectively happening, what guarantee do you have that it isn't the devil disguised as Jesus?

You have no guarantee.

My point is that no matter what you experienced, it cannot ever be said with absolute certitude that it was God issuing a command to kill. And doubts will increase as time passes after the initial experience.

The most that can be said with absolute certitude in any description of an encounter with God is that the subject believed it was God speaking at the moment in time of the experience.

Nobody - including Abraham or the original human author of Genesis - can say with absolute certitude that it was actually God speaking!

What can be said with absolute certitude (if we assume the event happened at all) is that the author intends to say Abraham believed in the depth of his conscience that God was telling him to kill Isaac.

Let's probe just a bit more into the nature of this experience that lead Abraham to believe God commanded him to kill Isaac.

In verses 11 and 12, the text says that God's messenger (or angel) told Abraham not to kill Isaac.

Think about that very hard.

If you honestly believed that God told you directly to kill someone, and you were sure it was God in your perception, would you believe a mere angel who told you to do otherwise?

How was Abraham sure that this angel wasn't a demon, or that God wasn't putting him to a test by sending an angel to tempt him away from obedience to the clear command?

It seems clear to me that if God really told Abraham directly to kill Isaac, Abraham's response to this angel should have been, "Bug off. I got my orders from the big guy himself. If he doesn't want it done, I'll hear it from him, and not you."

If the Pope makes an infallible definition, and your bishop says the Pope is wrong, who are you going to believe? If your boss' boss gives you a strict order, and your boss questions it, who are you going to follow?

But Abraham somehow knew that this angel represented God's true will, and whatever he experienced prior was not God's true will.

Now take all of this just a step further and relate it to your own experiences. I assume most of my readers have not seen angels or Christ standing by their bed-sides.

We Christians who accept the reality of a devil seem to have no problem with the notion that demons tempt us at times through our thoughts. Demons are fallen angels.

If the fallen angels communicate to us through our thoughts, why wouldn't the good angels do the same?

Nothing in the text indicates any physical description of either God or this angel.

So, I would hold that even a literal reading of the text confirms that Abraham thought God wanted him to kill Isaac, and then Abraham thought better of God, and decided that his God was not a God desiring human sacrifice.

And even without appealing to a bunch of modern Biblical scholarship, the literal reading of the Old Testament as a whole indicates that Abraham lived in a region where many people around him thought human sacrifice was desired by God (whom they gave a different name, such as Moloch or Baal).

What is occurring here, if we assume the text is history, is that Abraham lives in a society that promotes the sacrifice of the oldest son to a god. So, Abraham, desiring to be a good and upright person in the eyes of the god has the thought that he should sacrifice Isaac. He calls this thought a command from God.

But when he actually goes to carry out the plan, another thought enters his mind - an "aha moment" which is sheer grace in its historical context, because none of the neighbors had the insight.

As he is preparing to perform the customary sacrifice of his oldest son, Abraham has the sudden insight that God is not like Moloch and Baal. Abraham has the capacity to imagine God differently than everyone around him.

The God of Abraham is a god who would not demand the sacrifice of a human child. And it is the sudden assent of faith in the goodness of this new conception of God that is credited to Abraham as righteousness.

Consider the story of Moses and the burning bush. Assuming some history behind the text, is it possible that what is being described is an "aha moment" using fantastic language similar to modern people saying, "The light bulb went off in my head" ?

In other words, in every case of a description of an encounter with God throughout the whole Bible, we can never be absolutely certain that the person is encountering God in a way that is radically different from the experiences of God those of us reading the text two or three thousand years later have in our own lives.

Some of us have great stories to tell of encounters of God. Perhaps, some of us really do see with our eyes visions of Christ, or Mary, or an angel. Yet, even when such things are seen with physical eyes, that doesn't mean any one of us can be certain that what we see is truly God.

So, how do we know an encounter with God is real, and what can we learn from Abraham?

One of the things we learn if we were to sit down and read the Bible front to back (which I have done) is that the stories describe a series of "aha moments" over the course of centuries where "prophets" gain new insight into the goodness of God. This series of "aha moments" is ever more expansive until it culminates in Christ.

In Christ, it is made perfectly clear that the love of God never demands us to act unlovingly to our neighbor.

I would argue that we see this same trajectory continue to develop in the history of the Church as errors such as rationalizations for slavery are rejected, while infallible definitions continually emphasize the incomparable dignity of the human person revealed in the incarnation event.

What we learn from Abraham is two lessons. We learn that we must always follow our conscience, and we learn that if the same God speaking to Abraham's conscience is speaking to us, he is the type of God who does not desire human sacrifices, no matter what everyone around us thinks.

Modern higher-critical Biblical scholarship simply adds depth and substance to these insights by highlighting how the stories in the Bible employed common literary devices, human idioms, creative narrative, metaphors and poetry and so forth to express religious truths in ways that are different than twenty-first century Americans.

We tend to express ourselves with concern for "objective facts", "verifiable history", "hard science", "logical consistency" and so forth.

The Biblical authors did not concern themselves with such things. Thus, we can even go so far as to speculate the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac may have never happened, and may have been crafted creatively to make the point that the God of Abraham does not require human sacrifice to a culture surrounded by people who performed such sacrifices.

Yet, even if we reject the insights of modern Bible scholarship, a literal interpretation of the text still does not tell us what God actually did so much as what Abraham experienced - and the Bible does not rule out the possibility that Abraham's experiences of God and angels are different than our own.


Is the Bush Administration Contemplating a "Salvador Option"

Newsweek reports that it has information indicating that Pentagon officials under Donald Rumsfled are contemplating reinstituting policies allegedly used by the Reagan Administration to quell rebel forces in El salvador in the 1980's.

faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.
It is important to point out that this is terrorism, plain and simple.

Any effort to sanction detainment or worse without due process and adherence to legal standards on the treatment of prisoners is immoral and a violation of both national and international law, even when done to stop other terrorists, and even when done through proxies, and even when sanctioned by the federal government.

Rumsfeld does not admit that a Salvador Option is being discussed. It would be wrong to even consider it.


The Two Great Commandments: Do They Ever Conflict?

In the post below this one, I highlighted that in an interview of Jim Wallis of Sojourners with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, Wallis explains that the measure of our love for God is how we love God's children. I agree with Wallis, but got to thinking about something I used to worry about in my youth.

In the days I would have defined myself as a conservative, I puzzled over how to resolve a situation where love of God and love of neighbor seem to conflict. I no longer puzzle over this, because I have come to the conclusion that it is literally impossible.

The mistake of my youth was failing to fully comprehend what love is. I had inklings, and I am still learning, but I realize these days that I had distorted perceptions sometimes.

Perhaps I can describe this best by way of analogy to a few examples of moral dilemmas people may feel they face.

Let's say you are a young adult who wants to live according to God's will. You are dating someone who tells you that he or she loves you, and she or he wants to express this love sexually. Both of you are in agreement that you aren't quite ready for marriage.

In such a situation, many young people would say that there appears to be a conflict between love of God and love of neighbor, because they come to a conclusion that it is unloving to deny the other the desire for sexual expression of love.

But as we grow older, it becomes somewhat obvious that there is nothing at all unloving about saying, "I love you too, and because I love you, though I share your desire for sexual expression of this love, I'd prefer to wait until we are married so that it can be as meaningful as possible for both of us."

It's such a simple thing to say. If there is true mutual love involved, the other person will naturally respect the desire to wait. On the other hand, if this causes a rupture in the relationship, one has to wonder whether there was true love in the first place.

Some folks may object that the reason to wait is still not clear. This is where I think age may be a benefit. The simple fact is that the older we get, the more we see that sex expressed outside of a permanent and monogamous relationship can cause damage.

The reason for waiting is not because one is certain that a damaged relationship will happen, but because one understands the risk of a damaged relationship involved in not waiting. Compared to the fact that there is absolutely no risk involved in waiting, true love would dictate the safer course for the sake of the relationship itself.

Even those of us who may have made mistakes in this area in our youth can recognize in hindsight that no harm to others or self would have been done by insisting with our partners that we wait. Even if an adult has come to believe that premarital sex is not always "sinful", it is never a moral obligation.

Note that I am not talking about abstract fear of hell or blind obedience to an authority on this issue, or placing God's commandments over love others without reason.

Instead, I am claiming that all adults with some experience under their belt - even atheists - know that sexuality expressed outside of a committed relationship runs a much higher risk of causing pain in this life than remaining chaste. Even an athiest would advise their own child to be careful if not perfectly chaste.

Some people accept this risk, and believe it is morally permissible so long as their partner understands the risk.

The Catholic Christian position is simply that because we can never fully comprehend the heart of another person, we should never assume our partner understands this risk even if she or he says they do on their lips. The more loving act is to assume your partner does not fully understand the risk, and make your decision how to act based on this assumption.

Some folks may ask how allowing a relationship to fall apart because of the refusal to have sex is loving?

But I never said one should say to the other that you intend to end the relationship over the desire to have sex. Indeed, it should be made clear that you want the relationship to continue.

If the other person decides that this is a reason to break-up, that's not your fault. You are not the one who caused the break-up. It was not your choice. You are not the person who acted unlovingly.

Rather, you were unjustly hurt because you have loved greatly enough to avoid the risk of hurting the other. You bore your cross out of love for the other person. This is precisely what it means to be Christian: to love others until it hurts, but not to hurt yourself without reason (which would be unloving to the self).

Take an example like drug use. Some young people may think that if you love your friends, you will want to share their experiences. If my friends are doing drugs, it seems unloving for me not to participate.

Again, the wisdom of age tells us that we have seen enough people destroy their lives completely through drug use that we elders can assure you that it is never loving to encourage illicit drug use.

While there is no 100% guarantee that drug use will destroy your friend's life, the risk is so high that you might as well be playing Russian roulette. What kind of friend claims to love another while putting a gun to his or her head, even if only partially loaded?

Some older conservatives probably feel that on some issues where they disagree with me, they would like to make the same point.

In some cases, they may be right.

Where I frequently find myself in disagreement with conservative Christians is not with the principle that there may be value in traditional moral teachings on issues like contraception or gay marriage or whatever issue we are debating.

The problem is that I never see or hear them pointing out how a married couple using contraception discovered it was the direct cause of pain in this life to one another. I never hear them telling me how a gay couple in committed partnership came to see that their relationship, precisely because it was a gay relationship and not some other reason, was causing each other pain in this life that is greater than not being in relationship at all.

Instead, the appeals are to blind obedience to authority, which doesn't explain how love fits into the picture.

Or I hear threats of hell-fire and brimstone as the demonstration of love. I am asked, how can you send your partner to hell? How is that loving?

But, of course, if I can't see pain directly caused by an act in this life, I have absolutely no way of extrapolating there is any pain the next life caused by an act.

Further, nowhere does Jesus or the entire Bible explicitly say homosexuals are going to hell, or that married people practicing contraception are going to hell, or that women desiring priesthood are going to hell. The threat of hell is an unsupported claim without any way of empirically verifying it.

Occasionally I hear an explicit appeal to placing the love of God above love of neighbor, which seems absurd.

I have basically come to the conclusion that a good God who loves each human person with an unimaginable infinite love would never place love of himself over one of his children.

What kind of human father would deliberately pit his children against one another by saying, "If you really love me, you'll hurt your sibling" ?

Is God less just and less capable of fatherly love than human beings?

It's simply absurd.

It seems to me that the love of God never, under any circumstances, conflicts with love of neighbor.


Jim Wallis Video on Jon Stewart's Daily Show

The video is humorous and poignant. Wallis describes himself as an "Evangelical Christian" and briefly, simply and with humor summarizes some main points of his book God's Politics.

Wallis believes there is a movement afoot of dedicated religious people who reject the current Administration's hijacking of moral values.

Here are some paraphrased snippets:

- I find it hard to believe that Jesus' top priorities were a capital gains tax cut and the occupation of Iraq.

- When did Jesus become pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American?

- The Hebrew prophets used humor and truth telling to make their points. Wallis implies Jon Stewart is a Hebrew prophet.

- Who consciously votes for immoral values? Everybody, even agnostics, supports moral values.

- How did moral values discussion become so narrowly focused on two issues of abortion and gay marriage? The Bible references poverty over 3,000 times, and abortion not once. There is more on the environment in the Bible than there is on either of these two issues. Torture is a moral values issue.

- Wallis quotes an anonymous African American Christian woman working for racial justice when asked where the Martin Luther King's of today are:

We are the ones we have been waiting for.
Wallis speaks of two conversions in his life.

Tongue in cheek, he says his first experience occurred when he was six years old. A preacher pointed at him during a sermon and said that if Jesus came today, his parents would be taken to heaven and he would be left behind. Realizing he'd have a five year old sister to take care of, he repented of his six years of sin and embraced the Gospel.

Later in life, he reflected on Matt 25 - the passage referring to what we Catholics call the corporal works of mercy. In that passage he came to understand that the measure of our love for God is how we treat God's children, regardless of our religious affiliation or creedal beliefs.



Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

Saint Paul is arguably the most influential person who ever lived from a secular perspective. Sure, we Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the most influential person who ever lived, but without Paul, most of us wouldn't be Christian today.

In the readings linked above, we hear Luke's account of Paul's conversion. Interestingly, Paul's writings do not contain this account and hint at a longer process and a period of disciplship under Peter and James.

Where Luke and Paul agree is that Paul was a Pharisee who was zealous for the law and considered the early Christians a heretical sect worthy of persecution. Paul's conversion was not simply a conversion to accepting a creed, but a complete change of heart about how he felt about other people and how he would treat other people.

To sum it up simply, he converted from a hard-line conservative stance that excluded the possibility of salvation to Gentiles, to a liberal progressive stance that not only accepted the possibility that Gentiles might be saved, but insisted they were exempt from the ceremonial law, and even dissented with Pope Saint Peter regarding Peter's "conservative" treatment of the Gentiles!


Monday, January 24, 2005

Bush Tells Pro-Life Marchers That End of Abortion is "Some Ways Away"

The link above is to an article already published in The Washington Post after today's march for life.

Those who voted for "W" based on the hope that they would see abortion made illegal in the next four years should consider what Bush is saying now.

I meant to write on it after Bush appeared on 20/20 with Barbara Walters on Friday, January 14, 2005. During that interview, Bush stated that if he were going to use abortion as a litmus test to appoint Supreme Court Justices, the potential appointee would be legally required to recuse himself, and would therefore be ineligible for the Supreme Court.

Thus, Bush holds that he has no litmus test for Supreme Court appointees, and that he sincerely does not ask the question.

I went to the 20/20 site to see if I could get the exact quote from the full transcript. They do not have a transcript.

I have it on homemade VHS. I found the section I am referring to quoted here, but it's not a full transcript of the entire interview.

At any rate, this site proves he said what I am claiming he said:

Walters: I want to turn to domestic issues. You will be sworn in by the Chief Justice Rehnquist. But he has been ill, and there is some speculation that there will soon be an opening in the Supreme Court. Now you have said that there will be no litmus test for judges. But one assumes they will be of a conservative bent. The majority of Americans do not want to see the Supreme Court overturn the right of a woman to have abortion, especially within the first three months, Roe v. Wade. But they're afraid that a conservative court may do that. In your heart of hearts, do you want Roe v. Wade overturned?

G. W. Bush: There will not be a litmus test on this issue. And I want judges who will strictly interpret the Constitution, and not legislate from the bench

Walters: Do you want Roe v. Wade overturned?

G. W. Bush: See, that's the litmus test. That's exactly what you-

Walters to Laura Bush: I'm not getting anywhere. I'll try with you.

Laura Bush: Don't try it with me.

Walters: Mrs. Bush, you're not going to answer me, either, whether you want to see it overturned? Because it is one of the major issues that comes up again and again and again.

G. W. Bush: I know, but you see, it is an issue. If a person is asked that in a hearing, they become -- or answers that question, they become, they have to recuse themself from the case. And so, in terms of screening judges, that is not a question we ask in the White House.
What is my point?

Prior to the 2004 election, I argued the case that John Kerry had to say that he would appoint judges who accepted Roe, because to say anything else as a Presidential candidate is to say you plan, in effect, to violate constitutional principles.

Neither Kerry nor Bush could actually promise the public in clear and uncertain terms that they would appoint a judge who will overturn Roe, and Bush has never made such a promise.

A judge must say he or she accepts the Roe decision (at least broadly) in order to be eligible for the Supreme Court, and can only hint in the most indirect ways at the possibility that he of she may find aspects of Roe worthy of challenge.

In response, some readers have argued that Bush is using code.

Consider the fact that Bush was considering Alberto Gonzalez as a Court Appointee prior to Ashcroft's retirement. Gonzalez had made specific rulings as a judge upholding Roe. I'm not at all convinced Bush ever intended to stack the courts to overturn Roe.

Some readers argue the case that I'm obviously misinformed, because Scalia has said that Roe was an unwise decision that he would overturn.

Two points must be made about Scalia's position that clarify:

First, Scalia has not explicitly said the entire decision can be overturned in one fell swoop, and he never argued that there is a right to life for the unborn spelled out in the current Constitution.

Second, because he is on the Court already, Scalia can get away with saying more than someone who has yet to get through the Senate confirmation hearings.

Nevertheless, Scalia's remarks on Roe are not against the entirety of the decision, but aspects of the decision. Scalia believes Roe and other cases interpret privacy too broadly in his opinion. He also believes that there are aspects of the decision that ignore the compelling interest of the state to defend the potential for life at the stage of viability.

As valid as Scalia's points may be, I don't think the pro-life movement is concerned with unborn children only at viability. We value human life from the moment of conception!

Scalia's approach is an incremental approach of chipping away at pieces of Roe through a process that may take decades. It is not a promise that a conservative Court will make abortion illegal overnight, or that a conservative Court will even completely overturn Roe in one fell swoop.

And any judge in agreement with Scalia needs to be very careful how he lets this become known, lest he force himself into a position where he needs to recuse himself - as Bush admits!

This is the reason people like Souter and O'Connor get appointed by Presidents who claim to be pro-life.

How can one be sure exactly how a judge will rule on an abortion case if it is basically quasi-illegal to ask the judge how he or she will rule? If the judge must publically show some sort of acceptance of at least some of the guiding principles of Roe to even be considered, how can we ever be sure a pro-lifer si on the Court?

As worthy as this effort at gradual chipping at Roe may or may not be, I don't think this is quite what many pro-lifers had in mind when they voted for Bush, or placed abortion above the war in Iraq, the federal death penalty, and other life issues.

Don't get me wrong, I'd rejoice if Roe were overturned. I simply don't think it is a realistic hope that such a thing will happen anytime soon.

Even if Bush has the opportunity to put three, or even four Justices on the Court who are sympathetic to pro-lifers, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to completely overturn Roe by the time more seats open on the Court. Bush seems know this, or he wouldn't feel any need to speak in code if he is using code at all.

Whatever success they have in chipping away at Roe will also depend a great deal on the merits of the case(s) set before them.

Furthermore, even if Roe were completely overturned in one fell swoop, which is highly improbable, the overturning of Roe would not make abortion illegal.

Rather, it would return the right to regulate abortions to the states, and some states will keep abortion on demand, while many states will seek some sort of compromise position. Few, if any states will make all abortions illegal.

I have consistently argued that if we really want to make abortion illegal, the way to do this is an Amendment to the Constitution for the Right to Life defining human life as beginning at conception.

In order to pass an Amendment, we need a widespread consensus in society.

In order to gain such a consensus, we need to do two major things: We need to address the reasons women chose to have abortion by offering a better alternative, and we need to present the case for making abortion illegal to the average voter in a way that reaches, rather than repelling.

I support a Right to Life Amendment. I do not believe many of my fellow pro-lifers are doing a good job of creating the consensus needed for a Right to Life Amendment. We rely too heavily on shame tactics and place too much hope in the Courts instead of the democratic process.

As far as Presidential candidates go, I believe that any candidate who isn't publicly calling for an Amendment the way Bush asked for a marriage Amendment, isn't sincerely seeking to making abortion illegal with the same passion and vigor pro-lifers believe in the cause.

Anything less than a call for an Amendment is mere lip service in my mind, and no matter how much we want to believe our pro-life interest are being served, they aren't.

In 2000, under challenge from John McCain on the issue, Bush said he would support a Right to Life Amendment with exceptions for rape and incest. McCain blasted Bush's position as inconsistent with the Republican party platform position, which did not have these exceptions. McCain seemed to understand what it truly means to be pro-life.

More importantly to me, Bush has never shown that he really wants a Right to Life Amendment.

He has not asked Congress for one. He has not tried to cut deals with Congress persons to gain buy-in for one. He has done nothing to try to reduce abortion rates by offering women a choice as a stepping stone to building a consensus. His rhetoric does not seem intended to reach the opposition in a persuasive fashion, but instead seems polarizing and aimed at leading pro-lifers into believing he is one of them even if nothing happens at all to abortion rates over the next four years.

What about the Mexico City policy or other legislation Bush has signed?

The abortion rate has gone up. Nothing short of an Amendment will really make abortion illegal, and the if we are not going to make abortion illegal, the only way to reduce abortion rates that seems proven to work is to increase spending on social services.

I want more than lip service on this issue, and even in 2000, I felt "W" offered nothing but lip service. At that time, lip service seemed better than what Gore offered, but in the past four years, Bush needs to be measured on the abortion rate, where he has no success.

If any candidate is not sincerely seeking to make abortion illegal by calling for a Right to Life Amendment, we need to look at the issue differently than whether abortion will be made illegal in the next four years.

We need to look at whether the candidate has a plan to reduce the abortion rate - and there seems to be empirical data suggesting the Democrats have done better at this than the Republicans.


Letters to the President

The link above is to a blog hosted by Daniel Sinker, the editor of Punk Planet.

Sinker sends an email every day to the President, sometimes addressing policy, and sometimes just updating the President on what is going on in his life. Here is Sinker's motivation according to the Sinker himself:

After spending a day depressed over the results of the 2004 election, I decided that simply being upset wasn't helping. Instead, I wanted to channel that energy in a more constructive, so I decided to open a dialogue with the person that was creating so much tension in my life: George W. Bush. This site documents the daily e-mails I am sending Mr. Bush for the next four years, in the hopes of allowing him to gain a better understanding of me.
Keep it up Daniel!


Friday, January 21, 2005

The Scandal of Evangelical Conscience: by Ronald Sider

I came across this article via Unapologetic Catholic.

Sider seems to write from an Evangelical or born-again Protestant perspective and is dismayed by consistent polls done by respectable organizations indicating that those who believe in the literal and miraculous power of Christ to transform lives do not seem to live the Gospel.

Among various findings:

- Divorce is more common in the Evangelical community than the general population.

- Evangelical males are more likely to beat their spouse.

- Only 6 percent of Evangelicals tithe.

- White Evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race.

- Cohabitation before marriage is similar to the general population.

- Evangelicals are among the least concerned with the poor.

- Evangelicals watch seven more hours of TV per week than they spend in prayer and Scripture study.

It should be noted that if you read the entire article, Sider points out that pollsters analyzed the data more deeply. They came up with different sets of questions that identify with that within the entire Evangelical or born-again Protestant movement, there is a very small minority. This minority are deeply committed people who are not racists, give generously, care about the poor, volunteer, have a Biblical world view, pray and live chastely.

His point is that the transformative power of Christ is possible, but too many people are merely paying lip service to it, and in doing so, commit what he calls "treason" against the Gospel. Perhaps the same could be said of many Catholics.


Tamilda Explores Various Definitions of the Word "Christian"

She literally quotes various dictionary definitions, pointing out how different the definitions are. I would never have thought to look it up, much less check several dictionaries. Fascinating stuff.


The Curt Jester Does a Year in Review of Parody

Jeff is definitely on the right, and some of his paraodies will tick off progressives and liberals....but sometimes he cracks me up regardless of the fact that I disagree with him much of the time.


If I Were a Certain Kind of Conservative Christian, I'd Wonder...

I'd wonder why there were a record number of 27 federal disasters declared by FEMA last year, with four hurricanes hitting the red state of Florida that gave Bush the 2000 victory and is governed by his brother (see link above for FEMA info).

I'd wonder why American troops are bogged down and dying in Iraq 20 months after the supposed end to combat.

Sure. Everybody is concerned about these things, but certain Christian conservatives see God's hand at work in everything such that events like this have cosmic meaning. God uses natural disasters, disease, economic collapse and war to punish evildoers.

G.W. is presiding in age of the worse natural disasters in U.S. history, the largest terrorist attack on American soil, our troops bogged down in a losing war, the only President in decades to enter a second term with unemployment higher than his first term, a climbing deficit, in an era of a global AIDs epidemic, where the U.S. leads the world in gun deaths by astronomic proportions.

I'm not one to automatically see a whole lot of meaning in natural disasters, or even loss of wars. Christ seems to indicate bad things can happen to good people in Luke 13:1-5. I don't think the victims of the recent tsunami did anything to deserve what happened to them. And no matter how much a person sins sexually, nobody deserves AIDs.

Suffering is a mystery.

Sin does have negative consequences, and justice will be fulfilled, if not in this life, then in the next. At least some suffering is the result of sin, but not all of it.

Furthermore, the mystery of suffering when it occurs to undeserving people is ultimately rooted in the general condition of sin that exists after the Fall. There is a sense that while our suffering can be disproportionate to our acts, none of us are entirely innocent of sin.

Sometimes, our suffering is a direct result of sin. If I drink too much, I can become nauseous and have a hangover if I don't have a fatal accident first. If I commit adultery, there will be pain involved in the ruptured trust in my relationships. If I lie habitually, people will stop believing anything I say and I'll grow lonely.

Justice works like the Hindu notion of karma and smacks us in the face sometimes when we do wrong.

But Christ suffered and he was innocent. So was the virgin Mary innocent, and yet she suffered deeply. Bad things do happen to underserving people.

I have written in the past that I believe the call to take up our cross is less about asceticism, and more about loving others until it hurts.

And suffering seems to happen that is completely dissociated from any personal sin, and any act of love. This is the greatest challenge to faith.

We cannot avoid suffering by avoiding sin, but we can mitigate it for ourselves and others. Ultimately, we will all bear a cross in life, and if we hold fast in faith, there will be resurrection too.

I've written more extensively on the mystery of suffering and shared my views before that I do not believe suffering is always deserved, nor is it always explainable as God's will.

Indeed, I personally hold to the notion that in Christ's cross, God is telling us that God is with us when we suffer, and in his resurrection, he is telling us that there will be a better day when all tears will be wiped away and suffering will be no more. I believe that suffering and death are never God's will, but for some reason beyond my comprehension he allows it for the time being.

Enough of my view though.

There is another view on suffering that is very common among certain Christians who would classify themselves as more conservative than I. For these Christians, suffering is always God's will, and there is always a reason for it - something we are supposed to learn, or some act of justice reaching fruition.

For American Christians who hold this view, doesn't it seem that God is punishing us for some reason?

And to be more specific, doesn't it seem he is punishing Bush and/or his supporters?

Red states have suffered more natural disasters. The economies in red states are poorer than blue states. More troops from red states have died in a war that seems to drag on forever. The gun death rates are higher in red states. And all the most horrible things that have happened to Americans in a long time have occurred on W.'s watch, from 9/11 to four hurricanes hitting the state of Florida in a single month to snow closing Reagan National Airport for several hours as people tried to get to the inauguration.

If I were the type of Christian to find divine meaning in suffering, it would seem pretty clear to me that God is dumping more and more punishment on America until we repent of putting W. in office.