Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Right way to Look at War

I've been hunting for an online version of the complete text of a speech given by Pope Pius XII that indicates a just war is always a defensive war.

I ran across a very short blog post linked above dealing with an entirely unrelated quote by our current Pope Benedict XVI:

..., war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors.
Benedict said this while referring to the two world wars as examples.

This touched off a firestorm a couple of months ago among some Catholic pundits and bloggers about how he could imply World War II was not a good war - the epitomy of a just war.

The short post above explains Benedicts comments perfectly (IMHO) this way:
If an injustice is being inflicted on me, it is a good thing to remove that injustice - but that does not move me one inch closer to Heaven (which is the only measure of true positive good).
What is the true positive good we seek?

How do we live in God's reign here and now, as preparation for living in that reign eternally?

While searching for the Pius XII quote, I also ran across a former Catholic military chaplain's reasoning on torture.

This articles alludes to Stanley Hauerwaus, a leading "pacifist" in the United States, who says that instead of asking "What ought I to do?" we should be asking "Who am I?"

Who are we as Christians? How does who we are inform our attitude towards war?


Monday, October 30, 2006

A Funny Catholic Blog

Dirty Catholic left a comment with a link to her site - which is hilarious. Check it out.


Some GOOD Catholic Voter Guides

I went on a tirade about the weaknesses of a 2006 voter guide published by Catholic Answers last Friday.

Let me focus more on the positive. There are some good voter guides out there.

For those seeking an easy to read guide that does a decent job summarizing how to apply Church teaching in voting, I recommend Voting for the Common Good: A Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics.

This guide does a great job as a summary and quick reference point for those either too busy to do a full course in social justice doctrine, or those who simply seek a refresher.

It is published by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

Ultimately, above any other short guide for American Roman Catholic voters in a current election, I highly recommend turning to Faithful Citizenship.

The strength of this guide is that it has some authority as a reflection of authentic teaching because it is published by The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

They publish these every election cycle, and again, it is a great summary.

If one seeks more depth and the global perspective of the entire college of bishops in union with the pope, it is hard to out-do an ecumenical council.

I recommend Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World) which is a pastoral constitution of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council.

Published in 1965, it is remarkable how contemporary this document remains.

Any adult educated Catholic who believes faith might have an impact on politics should read Gaudium et Spes at least once before you die - preferably before the next time you vote.

If you keep up with the news and apply these three guides, you'll probably do a pretty good job of voting or deliberately abstaining with an informed and clear conscience.

Of course, if one really wants to dig deeply into primary source material, open your Bible on a daily basis and consult a copy of The Catechism of the Catholic Church to see how the Church interprets the Bible.

One who is passionate about social justice teaching could even examine Church teaching and bishops statements dating back to Pope Leo XII's Rerum Novarum published in 1891 by going to this site with a fairly exahaustive collection of social justice documents.

If you want to go nuts with your research into the fullness of the tradition, I found a link to a short but fairly decent introduction to Saint Thomas Aquinas' notion of the common good that includes some quotes and some allusions the earlier work of Augustine.

This could begin a life time of reflection on how to bring the fullness of the Catholic tradition to your voting habits and other aspects of your life.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Catholic Answers 2006 Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics

I don't know why I let myself look at this thing. I am so steamed up.

Let me make this perfectly clear - this thing is a crock of shit that no truly "serious" Catholic should take seriously as reflecting Church teaching.

It grossly oversimplifies and narrows the issues to five - just five issues.

It is not that the issues chosen are not important. Here are the issues and my own stance:

1. Abortion = I'm passionately against it.

2. Euthanasia = I'm passionately against it.

3. Embryonic stem cell research = I'm passionately against it.

4. Human cloning = I'm against it, though it is hard to get passionate about something nobody is doing yet.

5. Homosexual marriage = The guide is against even civil unions, which I do not oppose.

The reasoning presented is that these issues are labeled by the Church as "intrinsically evil" (see page 5).

The author states that this means "non-negotiable".

On page 16, the last page, he admits that there are some "intrinsic evils" or "non-negotiables" that are "not in play" - like contraception and genocide.


I'm glad he brought that up, because there are more than 5 intrinsic evils that ARE in play.

Torture is an intrinsic evil that is very much in political play these days (see Veritatis Splendor no. 80).

Torture (mental or physical according to VS) is a non-negotiable.

It is a mortal sin, according to the reasoning of this guide, for a serious Catholic to vote for anyone who supported recent legislation that allows torture.

There is no room for debate on this by the reasoning of this guide.

VS 80 also lists the following as an intrinsic evil: "degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons."

That is a "non-negotiable" folks - and decent jobs, safe working conditions, and living wages and so forth are very much a part of every election.

And while we're on the subject of intrinsic evils, one that is "not in play" but probably should be born in mind is masturbation!

Why isn't this gravely and intrinsically disordered action (CCC 2352) in political play?

I hear 9 out of 10 American males are doing it at some time or another. Someone needs to put a stop to this!

I suppose that the ten percent of males who do not masturbate are supposedly the priest who aren't molesting boys.

Why isn't contraception considered "in play" by the guide?

Maybe it is in play. Catholic hospitals might be forced to provide it, and there may be new federal funding of it to help reduce abortions.

How did gay marriage make the list with four life issues, but masturbation and contraception did not make the voter guide list?

On the other hand, Aquinas held that the purpose of civil law is to prevent direct harm more than teaching virtue.

Maybe we shouldn't have laws forbidding contraception in general, or gay marriage specifically.

Why does the guide say genocide is not "in play"? Hello. Darfur?

How did gay marriage make the list, but torture did not?

How does the guide explain the fact that Theodore Cardinal McCarrick stated that we could live with gay civil unions without a reprimand from Rome?

We also have to ask if the assertions in the guide about gay marriage are true.

Will allowing gay civil unions really encourage people to persist in homosexual acts who are not already engaging in such acts?

Not only does this idotic guide narrow down the issues too much, and treat them poorly, but it leaves out important caveats to Vatican documents.

Page 15, for example, quotes Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, when he highlighted the distinction between intrinsic evils and more contingent evils in his guidence for voting.

Thus, Ratzinger highlighted that there may be particular instances where two Catholics might disagree on whether a particular war is a just war or not. But Catholics should be united on abortion.

OK. Fine.

What if I am the Catholic who thinks a particular war is unjust, and what if Ratzinger even agreed with me that this specific war were unjust - like the war in Iraq?

I agree that abortion is wrong, and I think the invasion of Iraq is wrong.

What am I supposed to do if the more anti-war candidate is pro-choice, and the pro-war candidate is moderately pro-life?

Ratzinger did provide a way to approach an answer that was conveniently ommitted from this voter guide:

A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.
What if in addition to the issue of a war, I believe a pro-choice candidate's economic justice policies will reduce abortions more than the moderately pro-life candidate's?

The guide is silent on this sort of prudential judgment, though the Church seems to allow it.

What is the most infuriating thing about this stupid guide is the use of the word "non-negotiable".

"Intrinsic evil" does not mean politically "non-negotiable" in Catholic moral theology. Nor does it mean "really, really bad".

It means that in the level of personal morality, it is always and everywhere opposed to virtue, and therefore immoral to some degree to intentionally participate in it.

Yet, we live in a world where political compromise is sometimes necessary - where prudence must be applied and proportionate reason sometimes must be employed.

I am not suggesting that there is no such thing as intrinsic evil.

Nor am I suggesting we should do nothing to prevent it. We should cultivate the corresponding virtue that the vice opposes.

The deliberate destruction of an innocent human life is intrinsically evil according many Church documents - and I agree. That seems critically important to me.

Waging a war with modern weapons causes civilian casualties.

If it is evil to deliberately act in such a way as to destroy innocent life, modern war probably should not be considered morally licit.

Ratzinger has stated exactly this as well. Now he is pope.

Proportionate reason allows us to weigh two equal issues - such as two life issues - by such factors as our own degree of cooperation in the evil, our capacity to limit the harm, and so forth.

In other words, we must negotiate life.

We are also encouraged to weigh issues such as economic justice where prudential judment allows wider latitude, but a commitment to the poor - a preferential option - must be clear.

The Church also encourages us to consider issues like the environment and immigration, peace, international development, solidarity and the common good.

There are no quick and easy short cuts to prudential judgment.

Maybe simply pulling out your favorite political issues that could be counted on one hand and arguing that because those involve intrinsic evils, they're all that matters, is iself wrong and lacking in serious reflection.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

An Idea

In a recent post about my bout with the blues, I wrote of my frustration with my job in the information technology sector serving insurance companies.

I stated basically that I feel my talents are being wasted.

A reader made the following comment in response:

You have such a gift for writing your thoughts and making clear the progressive points! We all need you to communicate your thoughts to the confused and doubtful. I think you would do well to write either a book or magazine articles, so that you could reach many. I am praying for you.
In humility, this is just one reader's opinion, though I found it quite flattering.

When I mentioned writing a book once before some time back, I was advised by a different reader that I need a very good editor.

To me, the implication was that my work needs some help.

When I read the more recent comment, I felt a moment of inspiration, and sat down and just started writing off the top of my head to see where it would go.

I got to eight pages of what would be an introduction, though I really should start with an outline.

In this introduction, I am trying to lay out my purpose.

It hit me as I was trying to circle in on my purpose that my purpose is to meet a need for the reader - and my work does need help - and that means YOU.

That's my idea. To ask for help.

For those who do think I could write a book, what sort of book would you expect from me that you would likely want to read?

What would be the key topics you would want covered?

What style of writing would you expect and want?

Who would you see as my target or primary audience?

What habits of writing have you noticed that should be avoided?

What habits of writing work well?


New Jersey Court Recognizes Same Sex Unions

I tried to post this yesterday, but blogger was acting up.

Infertile heterosexuals can marry, both legally and sacramentally.

The Church teaches that fertile heterosexual married couples can deliberately practice natural family planning to avoid conception while still expressing unitive love.

The Church teaches that heterosexual married couple can continue to express conjugal love even after the woman passes the age of menopause.

Obviously, the conjugal act is not solely about procreation. Sex is about self donation of one person to another in act we have come to colloquially refer to as "love making".

The courts do not rule on the validity or invalidity of sacraments for the Church or God, but they do rule on the equal application of civil law.

Where two consenting adults are willing to commit to a monogamous loving union, perhaps even wishing to raise children through adoption if necessary, why should that couple be denied the legal benefits other couples enjoy?


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

An Intersting Essay

I ran across this doing some random surfing. It's an article by Jonathan Rowe, and I confess I don't know who he is, or don't recall the name if I knew it at some time.

Here's the opening paragraphs to pique some curiosity:

I am not one who gets worked up because some people have more money than I do, even a great deal more. When I read about the mansions and yachts, the private jets and bottles of wine that cost enough to feed my family for a month, I feel pity more than anything else. What small and insecure people, to have to pile up so much stuff to feel that they are worth anything.

I tend to think this way even about the growing - and much publicized-gap in income and wealth. It really doesn't matter much to me whether Bill Gates has a gazillion more than I do, or merely a bazillion more, so long as the rest of us have enough, and so long as there are no toxic side effects. Gates' garage holds more than a hundred cars while mine holds one plus a lawnmower and some paint. Big deal. He can have it.

The trouble is, the consequences of the wealth gap are getting to be as big as the gap itself. Political power is not the least of these; and when the people who run the country are insulated from the travails they visit upon the rest of us -- when they can oversee military invasions from which their own kids are exempt, for example - the result is carcinogenic, politically speaking. But the thing that concerns me in particular today is something more concrete: namely, homes.
The rest is about how those rich enough to buying up second and third homes (accounting for 62 percent of new home purchases) are destroying local economies, the environment, and even breaking up families by forcing adult children to move far away from their parents.

He proposes some solutions that seem fairly consistent with fiscal conservative philosophy and common sense if you ask me, with some great quotes from Thomas Jefferson to back up his points.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Rod Dreher's Conversion to Orthodoxy

Published almost two weeks ago, this is probably old news to more conservative readers.

Dreher, an adult convert to Catholicism, was a darling of the Catholic right who published in NRO. His more recent conversion probably comes as a shock.

The sex scandals play a major role in his conversion.

What struck me as I read his story - and what maybe conservative laity maybe fail to grasp - is that the left is as tempted as the right to just pack it up and leave for many of the same reasons.

For us, the more socially liberal Anglicans probably present the greater "temptation" than the more socially conservative Orthodox, but the reasons for sometimes wanting to leave are in some ways the same.

I want to highlight a couple of key quotes:

I had to admit that I had never seriously considered the case for Orthodoxy. Now I had to do that. And it was difficult poring through the arguments about papal primacy. I'll spare you the details, but I will say that I came to seriously doubt Rome's claims. Reading the accounts of the First Vatican Council, and how they arrived at the dogma of papal infallibility, was a shock to me: I realized that I simply couldn't believe the doctrine.
Well, I do accept the doctrine. But like a bad tasting medicine mixed with a lot of sugar, I smother it in nuance to make it palatable.

There exists a sort of simple minded, almost fundamentalist way many Roman Catholics turn to Mt 16:18-19 - as though Jesus intended to appoint a sort of 'successor king' while consciously envisioning Pope Benedict XVI as he said those words to Peter.

From a historical perspective, the fundamentalist notion is indefensible, but that doesn't mean, as Rod implies, that the whole idea is unbelievable.
"Well, Rod's still looking for the perfect church, I wonder what's going to become of him when he figures out that the Orthodox Church is screwed up too."....I am incapable of being the kind of gung-ho Orthodox as I was a gung-ho Catholic. I've learned my lesson.
Actually, what keeps me Catholic is pretty much the truth of this statement - all churches are screwed up, and if there was a perfect church, it wouldn't accept me as a member.

There is a paragraph all conservatives should ponder.

He speaks of how a friend considering Catholicism was turned off by the arrogance of conservative Catholic intellectuals, and then relays this anecdote:
Without quite realizing what was happening, I became a Professional Catholic, and got so caught up in identifying with the various controversies in the American church that I began to substitute that for an authentic spirituality. This is nobody's fault but my own. Part of that involved hero-worshipping Pope John Paul II, and despite having a healthy awareness of the sins and failings of various bishops, exaggerating the virtues of bishops my side deemed "orthodox." Bernard Cardinal Law was just such a bishop. I count it as one of the most shameful acts of my life the moment when I rushed across a courtyard in Jerusalem to kneel and kiss Cardinal Law's ring. I don't count it as a sin to kiss a cardinal's ring; what was wrong was my motivation for doing so: I felt so much pride in showing myself to be an orthodox Catholic paying due homage to an orthodox archbishop in that public way.
The bold is in the original for that paragraph.

Then, a little bit later, he describes how he hopes his own conversion will mean something to others - not in drawing others to Orthodoxy, but in avoiding where he felt he went wrong as a Catholic:
I hope also that my own example will encourage others -- Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant -- to look seriously into their hearts, and detach themselves from both idolizing the Church in the place of Christ -- this is partly what led to the Scandal, and partly what led me to put myself in a position where the Scandal destroyed my Catholicism.
In this case, the bold is NOT in the original, and I have no clue what happened to the "and clause" that should follow the word "both", but I want to highlight what Rod says, because he is on the money here.

It is the idolatry of hero worship and "apologetic" thinking that always defends the Church without thinking critically that, at least in part - and probably a lion's share of the part - led to the sex scandals.

It is NOT, in my opinion, "dissent" that led to the scandals. Indeed, without trying to do so, Rod supplies plenty of evidence to the contrary in his conversion story.

I hope every bishop, priest and deacon and religious - and maybe even the pope - takes to heart the impact this scandal is having in stories like Rod's and so many others far more wounded than he was (He is not a survivor of personal abuse by a priest).

As an editorial in Commonweal that I am not going to bother digging up stated back in 2002 or so, when you have the far right and the far left ticked off at you this much over the same issue, you know you have a major problem.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Why I Think I'm Down in the Dumps

I wrote last Thursday that I am feeling sort of in a funk, and this funk is interfering with my ability to write much lately.

Maybe I need to get what's bugging me off my chest to unlock some writer's block.

I probably blog as much as I have over the past three years because of the simple fact that my paying job doesn't challenge me enough.

When I think about it, it is remarkable that I can away with spending so much time blogging and responding to comments and surfing the news or other people's blogs for material.

I feel like my talents are buried and being wasted.

I should not have this much time to blog.

I should be doing a full time job that utilizes my greatest natural talents with zest and enthusiasm that doesn't leave this much time for blogging every day.

Or, if writing is my natural talent, maybe I should be paid for writing.

I suppose that one solution is to begin submitting articles, try to publish a book, and become a writer. I don't really know how to begin at this.

I'm also not entirely sure how I feel about being paid to do what is currently a hobby that I can offer for free here.

It would feel like getting paid to just talk - to simply spout my opinion - which is all I do here.

Then again, why not get paid to have fun if someone else is willing to pay you?

On the other hand, would I find myself forced to change what I write by those paying me?

I suppose my greatest "fear" in professional writing, however, is that I simply don't know how to make a stable living at it. Am I even good enough at it?

Sure, a single piece of writing that becomes a million dollar best seller might solve everything, but I suspect only a handful of religious writers make that sort of money - and why should a religious writer get rich off her or his writing?

To summarize, I'm ultimately not even sure how to begin at becoming a professional writer, or how to make a stable living doing it, or how I would feel about it if I actually succeeded.

It would probably be fun though if I figured out how to make a living doing what I enjoy doing as a hobby,....

Of course, returning to the issue of being underchallenged on my current job, one solution to boredom on the job could be to go into my boss' office and say, "I'm not challenged enough. I want more to do."

I've done that in the past. Many people probably have at one point or another.

Yet, as frequent readers know, I am sort of ideologically opposed to the idea of anyone working more than 30 to 40 hours per week.

If the boss knew I was underchallenged, one of three things could happen.

I might be given something that is interesting, but also requires working 50 or 60 hours, or requires extensive travel, or more training after hours, or something else that takes me away from my family.

The work may be rich and fulfilling, and help lead to increased salary or promotions. I've done that in the past.

Yet, I don't live to work. I work to live. I've had this experience on the way to where I am now in the company.

Since the birth of my daughter two years ago, I avoid taking on the type of work that is going to have me spending too much time in the office as much as I possibly can avoid such work.

Occassionally, a special project comes along that interests me, but I am leary of overcommitting long term to anything that will increase my hours on a regular basis these days.

I'm actually kind of "lucky" right now that I can work (or, more precisely, be in the office) pretty much 9-5 Monday through Friday without staying late or working weekends. And for the amount of work I actually accomplish, I am adequately paid.

If I told the boss I'm underchallenged, I could also be given a ton of routine uninteresting tasks that aren't getting done right now by anyone until I am overwhelmed. At that point, you are still bored, and you wind up pushing back to avoid doing overtime.

I'm not looking for more uninteresting work, and I don't want "interesting" work that will have me working 50 or 60 hours per week.

The third possibility, of course, is that the boss simply doesn't have anything more for me to do, and starts thinking that if I am underchallenged, maybe my position, or someone else's, could be eliminated and my current tasks could be combined with someone else's.

The only question is which of us will remain employed.

I don't want to be forced into unemployment, nor do I want to be part of putting someone else out of work.

It's not only that I don't have enough challenge on the job to keep me busy. That's a big part of my feeling a sort of funk, but it's not the whole. The other part is that when I am focused on the job, I hate it. It's drugery.

It's not that there is no meaning in my work in some sort of objective sense.

I suppose that if someone is willing to pay for your work, and the work is not illegal or immoral like drug dealing or prostitution, it must serve the common good in some way. Why else would you be paid for it if someone isn't satisfied that your services meet some sort of need?

On the flip side, some paid work does seem to have more inherent meaning than other paid work.

To use two examples that have nothing to do with my work, it seems obvious to me that doing something like running a transitional shelter for homeless people has more inherent value than designing a marketing campaign for lipstick. Yet, the latter probably pays better.

My point is that I feel a bit like I'm working at something more like marketing lipstick than running a transitional shelter for homeless people.

Actually, my work is sort of in between. I work for an information technology company providing services to insurance companies. I cannot write too much more about this because someone is always out to sue insurance companies, and the IT industry is bogged down with all sorts of confidentiality agreements.

In an idealistic sense, insurance companies help rebuild lives after tragedy strikes, and I try to remind myself I am part of that. Many of my more energized co-workers have a sense of mission around this sort of vision.

To those who like to sue insurance companies, I will say that many insurance professionals do have an idealistic sense of their business at some level.

Yet, I don't work for a non-profit.

The ideal is great to keep in mind, but we're about making money too. Claims are denied. Rates are increased. Rules become more cumbersome. Services or positions might be eliminated if too costly. Indeed, information technology is all about efficiency, which should reduce labor. Decisions are made based on the bottom line.

Change keeps us techies employed, and I managed to get myself in a spot where nobody knows what the heck I do all day, so long as certain things get done.

So I'm a lucky guy in one sense.

I have a 9-5 job Monday through Friday with little accountability that pays a salary decent enough where I can take care of a wife and daughter. The job probably does contribute in some way to the overall common good, and I should just be grateful that I have such a cushy job.

But instead of feeling grateful, I feel like I'm wasting my entire life.

Don't get me wrong. When I am feeding my daughter, giving her a bath, or just spending a Saturday afternoon with her because I can, I feel a deep sense of purpose.

I paid my wife's way through nursing school. If I died today, I feel good about that.

After our daughter was born, she has been able to reduce her work to the bare minimum to keep her license so that she can stay home with our daughter.

I feel good about that too.

I also manage to do a little volunteer work on the side. I have taught ESL to immigrants through a diocesan program for the last five years. I am currently participating in a parish JustFaith program. I am a lector, and have been involved on and off in some other ministries.

Nevertheless, I don't feel like a couple of hours of volunteer work, even on a weekly basis, amounts to fully utilizing my talents.

I also am in a unique position where I have some time to pray. I manage to make it to a daily mass during my lunch hour most days, and I can say the hinge hours of the liturgy of the hours most days, and even manage to slip in five decades of the rosary many days.

And we try to tithe with our income, which gives some meaning to a job that pays well enough to have something to give.

But I sort of feel sometimes like a lone ranger Christian, if that makes any sense.

When I was in formation with the Friars, one thing I liked was a sense that my whole life was one whole - that everything (except sin) was being done for the glory of God and the good of the Church.

I kind of feel like my work has little to do with making the reign of God happen - and the fact that I get away with goofing off blogging while at work makes me a sort of thief of sorts.

A few times over the past few years, you may recall some prayer requests for a job interview I had here or there. I have been looking for something else.

There were sixty candidates for the position of Executive Director for a metropolitan area chapter of Habitat for Humanity back in about 2001 that paid almost exactly what I was making in my current company back then. The sixty candidates narrowed down to two candidates. I was one of them. The other person got the job.

There was a job with the Jesuits where the interview went great, and we got down to an offer, and I just could not responsibly take the salary. This was about a month after my daughter was born.

A short while later, I got a call from Sojourners magazine. They could not even afford half my salary at that time. The same thing happened with some positions at a couple of Catholic schools.

Some time ago, a metropolitan food bank was offering a starting salary that is only about $3,000 short of what I make right now. I'd take the job today, even with this modest cut. At the time, that was a little more than I was making then, which was an added bonus.

I managed to get an interview there. Unbeknownst to him, my old spiritual director, who had left the priesthood to marry, got that job. He truly was the more qualified candidate, though neither of us knew the other was applying at the time.

And so it goes.

If I could, I'd like my natural talents to somehow be utilized helping the poor of the world in a real way.

That's what the sorts of jobs I applied for meant to me. I want to make difference - leave my mark on the world - exit at death having done some good.

I don't mean to suggest that there need to be people in destitution in order for me to have meaning in my life.

Rather, as long as there are people in destitution, I would find my paid labor more meaningful if it were somehow helping to lift those in destitution up.

As time passes, I am making more money which will make the transition to non-profit work more difficult if an opportunity arises.

I am underchallenged, and taking on more challenge in one way or another seems to be the only way "out".

Indeed, part of me realizes that I could be putting myself in a dangerous position if I don't take on some more challenge.

Ultimately, my job really should be combined with someone else's.

Maybe everyone's insurance premiums would be some fraction of a penny cheaper if my job were gone, though it is more likely the salary of eliminated jobs would go to line the pocket of a CEO a few more cents.

But the bottom line is that I am expendable. A smart manager would realize this, and part of my present good fortune is simply that my manager hasn't figured it out yet.

I feel I need to take on the extra hours doing work I don't find meaningful, or be ready to transition to something else soon.

So I need to take on new challenge, but I'm frustrated trying to determine what that means.

Ideally, I still want the 9-5 Monday to Friday hours. I want to be challenged, but in a way that uses my natural talents and is not boring. I want to make a difference, particularly helping the poor. Yet, I want no decrease in salary.

Indeed, I maybe could use a little extra income, since the cost of housing for our modest 1,269 square foot townhome is taking up around 41 percent of my net income (37 percent of my income combined with my wife's), one of our cars is twenty years old (and almost dead), and the other ten years old, I wear my clothes until they are frayed, and we don't have much saved for our daughter's college or our own retirement.

We live fairly simply, though there is some frivolous spending I could cut out - maybe about $1,500 to $2,000 per year that we could save for our daughter's college or give more to charity....

My wife would like to keep staying home as much as possible with our daughter and any future children.

Note that I am saying all of this despite the fact that only a short while ago, I wrote that a household that has more than about $10,000 per person is "rich" by global standards.

I do make more than that, and should be counting my blessings instead of moaning and feeling sorry for myself.

So, here I am feeling a slight tinge of guilt that I am not satisfied with our rich standard of living by global standards, and I want to somehow work in "meaningful" occupation like running a transitional homeless shelter or a food bank, and instead of doing that, I am working for an information technology company servicing insurance companies where I am actually paid obscenely when one considers that I don't do that much while I'm in the office.

I feel somewhat trapped.

My wife knows how dissatisfied I am with my current job.

She feels strongly that she does not want me spending a single hour more than I currently do away from the home. I feel very much the same about not wanting to look back at my whole life and wishing I spent less time at the office like so many other older men do. I've met too many older men with regrets about working too much in life.

At the same time, we do not want her to work more than she does already, if not even less.

I've tossed out the idea to her that we could sell our townhome and go abroad as lay missionaries.

That scares the heck out of my wife for reasons most folks probably understand. Maybe it's escapist, but I tend to want to believe that somehow the Lord will provide....

Maybe this is all hitting me harder lately because I am 41 years old - maybe the beginning stages of the mid-life crisis?

I just feel that I have 72 graduate credits in theology, a passion to be working in a field more like a minister's, reasonably simple desires for what constitutes material success,....

And yet, I can't seem to figure out how to fulfill the material needs of wife and daughter without, in effect, selling my soul to the market.

Well, I don't know yet what the answer is, and I don't expect that writing out the problem on a blog is going to magically lead to a solution.

Yet, that's what's on my mind and why I'm feeling sort of down of late.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Something to Ponder

Is an undercover police officer or undercover intelligence officer committing an immoral act of deception by disguising his or her identity in the course of the job?


Prayer Request

It's nothing urgent.

Nobody I am close to is dying or anything like that. My physical health is fine. The marriage is going fine. I ain't broke.

I'm just in a deep funk and feeling the need for some guidence out of the funk.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Rhetoric of Abortion: Reflections from a Former Pro-Life Activist

This article by Elizabeth Wardle, PhD, is excellent.

I haven't read anything else by her, and know nothing about her.

She begins by describing how she was a passionate Christian pro-life activist as a teenager.

In college, studying feminism and meeting new people, she began to see some shades of gray, but could never quite bring herself to self-define as pro-choice.

She examines the rhetoric of both sides, and suggests an alternate way to frame the debate that establishes common ground around solutions that maybe both sides could accept.

And she does it all in less than 1700 words (about four pages in 12 point font in Word).


Excerpts From David Kuo's "Tempting Faith"

The link above is to excerpts posted to beliefnet from David Kuo's book on Bush's faith based initiative program. Kuo was second in command in the office for faith based initiatives.

Time Magazine also has a different set of excepts.

Kuo also has started a blog.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Humor by Pat Oliphant


Israel Kills Six Palestinians During Incursion in Gaza

The Israelis claim they were responding to missile fire from a large crowd of Palestinian demonstrators.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Pope Gives Latin Mass a Boost

I'm not against the Latin Mass. It's beautiful and could be celebrated far more widely. Our diocese already offers it in a few places.

I just want the vernacular Novus Ordo to remain the norm even if the option of the Latin Mass is more widely available.


Representative Ney Convicted in Abramhoff Scandal

Ohio Republican, Robert Ney, is the first Congressman to actually be convicted of bribery involving Jack Abramhoff.

The Abramhoff scandal brought down the House majority leader, Republican, Tom Delay, earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the current Republican House speaker, J. Dennis Hastert, and some others are under pressure to resign due to covering up child solicitation by Republican representative Mark Foley.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Compassionate Conservatism Behind Closed Doors

More than five years after President Bush created the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, the former second-in-command of that office is going public with an insider's tell-all account that portrays an office used almost exclusively to win political points with both evangelical Christians and traditionally Democratic minorities....

He says some of the nation's most prominent evangelical leaders were known in the office of presidential political strategist Karl Rove as "the nuts."

"National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as 'ridiculous,' 'out of control,' and just plain 'goofy,'" Kuo writes.

More seriously, Kuo alleges that then-White House political affairs director Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use the office, and taxpayer funds, to mount ostensibly "nonpartisan" events that were, in reality, designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races....

In fact, when Bush asks Kuo how much money was being spent on "compassion" social programs, Kuo claims he discovered "we were actually spending about $20 million a year less on them than before he had taken office."

The money that was appropriated and disbursed, however, often served a political agenda, Kuo claims.


Interpreting God's Silence

I wrote yesterday that I am taking part in a program called JustFaith and we are reading Jonathan Kozol's Amazing Grace.

The book is about the life of children in the South Bronx.

To bring the book to life a bit, we had a speaker last night from a Baptist youth ministry in the inner-cities.

Like many African American Baptists, the man had a story of personal conversion to tell and spoke of his relationship with God as two men in a casual conversation.

A couple of things struck me listening to him, but one point hit me like a sledgehammer.

He was describing his ministry with young black males who may be caught up in drug dealing, drug use, or violence, and he stated he never preaches to them or tells them "Don't do that".

Instead, he states that he simply tries to love them and let his light shine through his works.

As far as his works, he tries to meet an immediate need to get involved in the young man's life, which may be simply offering food or companionship.

Then, maybe he asks a lot of questions about the young man's plans for the future - trying to encourage him to dream and plan and recognize that life is about choices.

Eventually, he wants to get to know the young man's teachers, family, and friends. When he meets with them, he wants to know their needs.

Then he looks for ways for the church or the government or local businesses to help him meet those needs.

The way he put it was that he seeks to get to the whole family through the youth.

Sometimes, this leads to an entire family becoming involved in the church and being "saved", as the Baptist would put it.

Yet, he doesn't preach to anyone. He simply tries to meet needs.

Philosophically, I like his approach.

Youth ministers reading on may want to develop similar strategies if they haven't already.

This minister quoted Saint Paul's "Be all things to all people" as a primary scripture defining his approach, and he alluded to other scripture as well.

In my own mind, I thought of Saint Francis saying "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words."

What struck me most, however, was not the work itself. It was his personal conversion story of comming to this approach through prayer.

He stated that for a long time he prayed to God saying "What I am supposed to do?"

Not recieving any sort of answer, he interpreted God's silence as God's way of saying "Why are you asking me. Ask them."

From then on, he states, he never asks God what he is supposed to do. He asks people what he is supposed to do, and asks God, "Ok Lord. You told me what I'm supposed to do. Now show me how to do it."



Engaging Islam Beyond Photo-ops

I started to draft a lengthy reaction to this NCR editorial, and decided against posting it.

Ultimately, there is nothing I disagree with in the editorial, except for a certain tone implying that we cannot or should not ask hard theological questions when we engage in inter-faith dialogue.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Kozol

The link above contains lengthy excerpts from the book written more than ten years ago, but as contemporary today as it was on publication.

The excerpts are on Kozol's site.

I am reading the book for a program I mentioned a few days back called JustFaith.

Having done inner city ministry, this book is causing "flashback" experiences for me.

What Kozol puts on paper is real, and true, and captures the essence of what it is like in an inner city in America.

This book is deeply moving in a very painful and disturbing way, but it is not rhetoric or argument that makes it so.

It is the acuity of his perception and his ability to put raw experience into words on a page.

I recommend reading the excerpts linked above.

My own feeling is that exposure to the underside of American life sort of trivializes almost everything discussed in Catholic blogdom (including much of what I write).

It's as if our discussions are just so much straw in the face of the enormity of some other people's pain.


Disputed Study Claims 655,000 Iraqi Deaths

The spin supporters of the war take is that the study is "politics" and it is no coincident that it was released so close to November elections in the United States.

The study was conducted by means of household surveys of deaths in what is claimed to be a statistically valid representative sampling.

Comparing death rates from the sample to pre-war death rates, the study claims that the total civilian casualties for the country are over 600,000 that would otherwise still be alive.

They also report that while higher death rates due to cancer or heart disease do count (presumably since stress in an atmosphere where hospitals are damaged leads to such deaths), the major cause of death is gunfire.

This study was led by Dr. Gilbert Burnham, of the John Hopkins School of Public Health, and was published The Lancet medical journal.

A private group called "Iraqi Body Count" provides a very conservative estimate of 44,000 to 49,000 civilians killed based solely on confirmed media reports of deaths.

Once again, whether 44,000 or 655,000 dead, my question remains how the United States managed to raise over $300 billion we thought we did not have prior to 9/11 to kill people without wrecking our economy, but we haven't ever been able to raise those kinds of funds to save lives by combating the global economic destitution of three billion people living on less than two dollars per day?


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Deal Hudson is Back

The recent issue of the conservative Catholic magazine, Crisis, features an article entitled How to Vote Catholic by its former editor, Deal Hudson.

Those who know the biography of Hudson also know that it might be considered ad hominem for me to adress his article by speaking about his background, so I won't (anymore than this sentence does).

I want to engage his article, which is overall not terrible, but can be slightly misleading.

Let me start with a high compliment. His treatment of the very complex issue of bioethics issues, including IVF, cryopreservation of embryos, embryonic stem cell research and human cloning is excellent. He hits all the important issues accurately and in short space.

Overall, heavy quoting and allusion to official teaching documents translates to fairly accurate presentation of much of the Church's official teaching on key issues such as abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, the aforementioned bioethics, population issues, the death penalty, war, and terrorism.

He adds a section on judicial issues, criticizing the opposition to recent Catholic judicial nominations. This section is weak, because the Church has no official teaching on the role of American federal judges, but it will resonate with many Catholic voters.

The introductory sections of the article address some general principles and the role of faith in informing politics.

It seems that Hudson is trying to relativize certain teachings that do not make it into his article, while also affirming that faith demands something of the Catholic voter.

A primary weakness, therefore, right from the start is that we are not getting the full depth of Catholic tradition as it applies to politics.

Hudson has attempted to distill the tradition to what he feels are the Vatican's and the bishops' highest and clearest priorities - or maybe his own priorities seeking doctrinal support.

Anyone familiar with what the popes and bishops have actually said would find this distillation process, itself, to be disengenuous.

In other words, it is not what Hudson says about abortion or other issues he choses that is necessarily wrong. It is what he doesn't say about other issues he choses not to include that is the most misleading aspect of the article.

This said, it is important to look at the issues he raises - and he will make many Catholics on the left uncomfortable - and often with good reason. I think Hudson is correct that abortion is a "dominant" issue and can often be the deciding factor in a Catholic vote.

This said, I don't like the way Hudson makes it seem that abortion is always and everywhere THE dominant issue. For example, he states the following:

Catholics know that the protection of the unborn is the "dominant issue" among all political issues. Though some have criticized Catholics as being "single-issue" voters, the principle underlying the rejection of abortion extends to other issues, such as bioethics, population, euthanasia, and defense. The mandate to protect life in politics is unconditional and should be our foremost consideration.
In my not so humble opinion, this sentence should read as follows:
Catholics know that the protection of the unborn is a "dominant issue" among all political issues. Though some have criticized Catholics as being "single-issue" voters, the principle underlying the rejection of abortion extends to other issues, such as bioethics, population, euthanasia, and defense. The mandate to protect life in politics is unconditional and should be among our foremost considerations.
Why do I say this is the proper way to frame this sentence?

Imagine that in some furture election, a pro-choice Republican like Arlen Spector is running against a pro-choice Democrat like Howard Dean, and the Green party still offers a pro-choice equivalent of Ralph Nader, and even the Reform party has a pro-choice candidate. Yet, the Neo-Nazi party offers a pro-life candidate.

Must I vote for the Neo-Nazi party simply because they are the only party oppossed to abortion on demand?

Must I abstain if I otherwise agree with Spector or Dean or Nader and/or have reason to fear a Nazi takeover to mass misunderstanding of the Church's teaching?

In trying to show that abortion is THE dominant issue that may sometimes trump economic justice considerations, Hudson correctly points out that the U.S. Bishops pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All states the following:
We do not claim to make these prudential judgments with the same kind of authority that marks our declarations of principle.
Yet, he conveniently leaves out this quotation from Economic Justice for All:
Decisions must be judged in light of what they do for the poor, what they do to the poor, and what they enable the poor to do for themselves. The fundamental moral criterion for all economic decisions, policies, and institutions is this: They must be at the service of all people, especially the poor." [Italics in original]
While the bishops are not telling us specific political solutions to poverty, it is very clear that we must ask the question "How does this help or hurt the poor?" on every policy issue, and in our overall vote.

The bishops see poverty as the highest issue. The letter in question also states:
The fulfillment of the basic needs of the poor is of the highest priority.
It is not my intention to downplay abortion.

Indeed, one could argue that the unborn are the poorest or most vulnerable among us, and the basis for our concern for the poor is the dignity of the human person, which entails a right to life.

Frequent readers know that I wholeheartedly support a constitutional amendment protecting the right to life from the moment of conception until natural death.

I am not opposed to, and even support the idea of incremental restrictions on abortion in the meantime.

Knowing that there is not a large enough pro-life consensus to pass a right to life amendment, I would also seek to reduce abortions through economic justice initiatives that decrease the demand for abortions.

This is probably an easier sell in the current political climate in a pluralistic society.

I would add that we must support women's rights in other areas to have credibility on abortion.

Indeed, I am convinced that unless we do this, we cannot build a consensus around a right to life amendment, and economic justice and human rights are a moral imperative anyway.

Thus, reducing the abortion rate through economic justice may be a priority over restrictions for now, though I believe restrictions are inevitably the goal.

I agree with Hudson that abortion is a dominant issue in our voting.

Being unsure of the effect of some specific legislation on behalf of the poor, I am like many social conservatives is seeing that an effective restriction on abortion is more important than a specific minimum wage bill that may not seem effective to me.

Yet, if a candidate or party is opposed to abortion while being clearly calloused towards the poor, or worse, proposing a platform that will clearly harm the poor, I do not owe that party unqualified support.

Life issues can be legitimately seen as "foundational" in a certain sense. If a person is hungry, but not literally starving to death, I may be able to do something for him or her tommorow that I cannot do today. Yet, I can do nothing tommorrow for the unborn child aborted today.

In that sense, protecting innocent human life from harm will always have a certain precedence or "dominance" in the heart of a Catholic voter, and Democrats would do very well to understand the urgency and importance of this issue to people of faith.

Simply put, many of us Catholics feel that abortion is legalized murder!

The Church doesn't officially teach the precise moment after conception that a human being becomes a human person or has a soul, but we Catholics presume personhood where there is doubt.

I am firmly convinced that the Democrats have lost millions of Catholic votes over this issue, and probably deservedly.

The answer for Democrats does not lie in trying to change Catholic convictions on this subject, nor in attempts to trade off another issue for abortion. That simply isn't going to happen.

Nor is the answer in Democrats adopting religious rhetoric. Voters can smell insincerity, and even if one is sincere, one can be wrong.

If the Democrats want to recapture the Catholic votes they once had locked up, the Democratic party must change direction on abortion. It is that simple.

That said, Catholics do not need to feel obligated to vote Republican, and nobody should ever claim we are morally obligated to make abortion the most important issue always and everywhere, because such a claim is simply false.

I am not trying to minimize abortion so much as point out that even when we say life issues are dominant - and particularly the life of the innocent and vulnerable - this dominance cannot lead to single issue voting around a specific solution.

There is more than one way to reduce abortion, and more than one life issue on the table.

If people are hungry but not starving to death today, effective restrictions abortion may trump their immediate concern.

Yet, if people are literally starving to death today, their lives are no less valuable than the unborn.

Moreover, if we wage an unjust war causing the collateral death of civilians, that takes the life of innocent and vulnerable human beings no less valuable than the unborn.

Indeed, we could argue, as I have, that our material cooperation with evil as voters is more immediate or proximate to the acting moral agent when state authority is used to kill unjustly than when private citizens take innocent human lives.

We often unfortunately but justifiably feel that the best we can do is add up some sort of sum total of a candidate's positions to determine which is more pro-life overall than the other.

This is especially true for sincere consistent ethic of life voters who care about economic justice and the environment too.

Abortion is very important issue - a dominant issue for the Catholic voter. Sometimes, it is the deciding factor in a particular voting decision.

Deal Hudson and I can agree upon that.

Yet, abortion can never be considered THE dominant issue at the exclusion of other sanctity of life issues in an absolute sense. Hudson is wrong to imply that.

Hudson states the following:
The Church teaches very clearly that the political order is not separate from the divine order revealed by faith ( Gaudium et Spes , 74).
I read GS 74 three times after reading this line, and I don't quite see how it says "the political order is not separate from the divine order revealed by faith".

What GS 74 seems to say to me is that the political order is not separate from the moral order discerned by natural reason as the natural law written on the human heart.

There is only a single sentence in the passage saying that just resistence to despotic political authority is limitted by natural law "and the gospels", which is about as close the entire section comes to a reference to revelation.

The distinction I am making here is that while natural law never contradicts "the divine order revealed by faith", the former is a small subset of the latter.

Natural law is available to even an atheist, and can be debated rationally without any appeal whatsover to revelation if necessary.

What GS 74 is saying seems to me the opposite of what Hudson is saying.

GS 74 is saying that if you cannot back up your platform with natural reason, you are very likely imposing your religious values on others in an illegitimate way.

I am not suggesting we cannot also appeal to the language of faith in politics to inspire action.

As Barak Obama stated in an article I posted yesterday, it is foolhardy for politicians not to appeal to the language their constituents use to make decisions.

However, this needs to be done cautiously lest we take the Lord's name in vain, violating the second commandment.

If one cannot appeal to natural reason for one's politics, it is even highly possible that an appeal to the language of faith is a misuse of religious language bordering on idolatry, violating the first commandment.

Revelation should never be appealed to in politics divorced from reason. The moment it is, flags should go up in the mind and heart of the Catholic believer that he or she is being manipulated or deceived.

Further, GS 76 very clearly makes a distinction between Church and state and sets forth as doctrine a legitimate autounomy between the two.

We could add this that GS 28 affirms the primacy of conscience and warns against judging others, while GS 43 warns against confusing a specific political solution with the teaching of the Church.

Further, the entire document adresses a wide range of issues of economic justice, peace, the environment, as well as issues regarding the sanctity of human life. Single issue voting is not encouraged by Gaudium et Spes.

While it is true that faith will set forth principles that inspire and inform all political decisions, the Church does not and will not ever specifically tell us how to vote or try to establish any sort of theocracy ruled by the pope.

Hudson states the following:
Those who treat abortion as just one of many issues are misleading Catholic voters. Abortion is unique among policy issues because it is not a matter of prudential judgment. [Italics in original]
This is true in a certain context, but very doctrinally misleading the way Hudson states it.

Some Catholics have tried to downplay the gravity of abortion to justify voting for a pro-choice politician who they supported for a reason that is not proportionate to abortion.

Nevertheless, before he was made Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger clearly stated that one could have a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-choice candidate you would otherwise not support.

What does Hudson mean when he says that abortion "is not a matter of prudential judgment"?

What Hudson seems to be referring to is the principle that abortion is called an "intrinsic evil" which means that it is immoral "always and everywhere" - semper et pro semper (see Veritatis Splendor no. 82).

There is no room to justify direct abortion by intentions or circumstances as a prudential choice.

On the other hand, a war may be just or unjust depending on circumstances and intentions. War allows for prudential judgment under strict conditions.

Abortion is not the only act VS or the CCC define as intrinsically evil. Torture is another.

Indeed, deliberately acting with foreknowledge in such a manner that one will take an innocent human life is intrinsically evil, raising questions in the mind of Pope Benedict whether any modern war can be called morally licit given the collateral damage caused by war.

He has explicitly stated this concern in nearly those exact words before he was elected Pope!

Abortion, torture, and unjust war are all very serious issues - what the Church calls "grave matter".

War is not "intrinsically evil", but an unjust war is gravely evil - more grave than the intrinsic evil of masturbation.

Not every "intrinsic evil" is as grave as these issues.

Though masturbation can be a mortal sin in Church teaching, and is considered grave and intrinsically disordered, nobody, not even the most conservative theologian, would argue we need a law against masturbation, or that it is as serious or grave as murder or pedophilia.

Again, it is not my intention to downplay abortion as an important issue.

My intention is point out that we cannot jump from saying that there is no wiggle room - no room for "prudential judgment" - on an issue to the conclusion that the issue in question trumps all others.

In a popular Catholic voter guide issued during the 2004 election, abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and gay marriage were described as "non-negotiables" because they refer to five issues the Vatican has defined as "intrinsic evils".

Even if we accept that these five issues are "grave and intrinsic evils" it does not follow that one or all of them is more important than other issues.

Indeed, in that list, the four life issues are more important than the issue of gay marriage, even according to the Vatican.

And there are plenty of theologians who question the Vatican on whether gay unions or gay marriage is really intrinsically evil in the first place.

Even if all five are "intrinsically evil", it still does not follow that they "non-negotiable".

These issues are not "non-negotiable" in any technical sense. As we will see, even Deal Hudson, based on Pope John Paul II, admits we can take an "incremental" approach to issues like abortion.

An incremental approach means, by definition, negotiation!

If we chose a different and more precise term than "non-negotiable", it simply does not follow that all grave and intrinsic evils take precedence over injustices that are recognized in prudential judgment.

Part of the reason it does not follow is that there are many things defined by the Church as "grave and intrinsic evils", and not all of the things on the list need to be dealt with by legal remedies.

I mentioned masturbation, and most American Catholics probably do not believe that we need laws against the sale of contraception, which is also called a grave and intrinsic evil (Hudson would seem to favor such laws).

The Vatican would clearly place the evil of an unjust war above the evil of masturbation.

According to John Paul II, the list of intrinsic evils includes fornication, adultery, blasphemy and idolatry (VS 81).

Laws against such things may be impractical or infringe on a higher value, such as legitimate religious liberty or the value of mercy in a compassionate society that does not stone adulterers or put a scarlett letter on their clothing.

The list of what the Vatican calls grave intrinsic evils also includes "whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons" (VS 80)

I seldom hear my fellow pro-lifers or other social conservatives speaking as passionately about degrading working conditions, treating labourers as mere instruments of profit, or subhuman living conditions as they speak on abortion - and there is no room for "prudential judgment" on these issues - they are "intrinsically evil".

Hudson states the following:
The Church allows support for politicians "whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known" and who take an "incremental" approach to restoring the culture of life ( Evangelium Vitae, 73).

In other words, it's permissible for a Catholic voter to vote for a politician who attempts to pass, for example, the ban on partial-birth abortion. The support for such a ban is not to be construed as political indifference to the millions of other abortions.
The partial birth abortion ban was struck down in federal courts.

It was predictable that it would be, because it did not contain very specific language that the Supreme Court had already mandated prior to its passage regarding protection of the life of the mother.

Don't misunderstand me. Polls showed that eighty percent of the American people wanted the practice of late term partial birth abortions banned. It is an abhorrent practice that would never be medically necessary.

I oppose partial birth abortion along with most Americans.

Passing the bill was an important symbolic victory for the pro-life movement, but everyone in Congress who voted for it knew this was not a law that would ever be enforced.

This was not an "incremental" restriction on abortion. It was political theater.

There is no moral obligation on the Catholic politician or the Catholic voter to support an illegal law or a law that one believes will never be enforced, no matter how theatric or how symbolic the effect.

Hudson is engaging in some political spin here, and perhaps tacitly taking a swipe at Catholic Democrats like John Kerry, who opposed the ban because it contained (by ommission) language the courts already ruled as unconstituional.

Whatever we think of Kerry, or some other Catholic Democrat, it is important to realize that being pro-life is more than kicking around a political football through symbolic gestures with no real teeth.

We are not obligated to vote for laws that cannot or likely will not be enforced.

If Republicans really want to keep the pro-life Catholic votes they have gained in recent decades, they better pay attention to what conservative Catholics are starting to grumble already - that we're on to the game, and we won't be used.

Either pass an enforceable and meaningful restriction on abortion, or stay out of the game.

If restrictions that can be enforced are not passed, we have no alternative but to look to the Democrats with their 95/10 plan to reduce abortion through economic justice.

The Democrats have recently proposed two bills aimed at this, one with a contraception package, and the other without. The bishops support the latter.

Any Republican who resists these initiatives already in the house out of partisan bickering should feel the wrath of the Catholic voter.

It is interesting that Hudson explores the morality of the death penalty and concludes that it is immoral in the United States of America. Good for him.

He elaborates by saying the following:
However, what is true in the United States and other developed countries may not be true in less developed parts of the world where prisons provide security for neither those on the inside nor the outside. Prudential judgment is required to apply this teaching to circumstances.
On the one hand, I want to pat Hudson on the back for opposing the death penalty in America.

Yet, I cannot help wondering if his effort to imply that it may be moral somewhere is an attempt to downplay the importance of this grave life issue involving the use of state authority to kill.

John Paul II did not hesitate to say that situations where the death penalty would be moral today are "very rare, if not practically non-existent."

I take "practically non-existent" to mean "in practice, not existent today, if existent in theory in another age".

On war, Hudson states the following:
The Church has never taught pacifism as an option for those in charge of the common good, only for individuals in certain circumstances...In certain cases, war can be a moral duty. [Italics in original]
It may seem like quibbling with linguistics, but the Church does not teach that "war can be a moral duty".

What the Church teaches is that those vested with responsibility for the common good have a right and duty to impose the obligations necessary for the national defense, while they must respect the rights of those who remounce violence for the sake of the gospel.

My point is that the duty towards "national defense" does not automatically translate to "war", and regardless, the duty of national defense never means a pacifist or practioner of active non-violence must be forced to take up arms.


Not really.

If the Church acknowledges that there are those who renounce violence for the sake of the gospel, and that their decision is "legitimate" and a witness to "evangelical charity" to be honored by public authorities (paragraphs 2306 and 2311 of the CCC), it is simply not possible that a universal duty to wage war is incumbent on all citizens capable of serving in the military.

If an entire society (such as the Amish) refused to take up arms, the duty for national defense would likely entail some sort of collective effort at non-violent conflict resolution.

A duty to act to protect the innocent is universal. Waging war as the means of acting to protect the innocent is not ever a clear duty.

Just war doctrine is to be interpreted with a presumption against war (CCC paragraph 2308).

The conditions for just war that Hudson quotes verbatim from the CCC in his article clearly imply aggression is in progress when legitimate military defense is invoked.

As Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) stated in early 2003 prior to the invasion of Iraq, "preventive war is not in the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

This brings me to the following sentence in Hudson's section on dealing with terrorism after his attempt to trivialize the bishop's direction to deal with terror by adressing social justice issues:
In short, the best defense against aggression combines three elements: first, a military prepared to implement a proportionate and effective response; second, international diplomacy that identifies and resolves the causes of conflict before military action becomes necessary; and third, a foreign policy that seeks to correct social conditions that foster aggression and terrorism, through international cooperation.
Hudson has the priorities in the exact reverse of what I believe the Church actually teaches, and he leaves out important caveats.

The sentence should read as follows, with my added caveats in italics:
In short, the best defense against aggression combines three elements: first, the highest priority must be placed on a foreign policy that seeks to correct social conditions that foster aggression and terrorism through international cooperation; second, international diplomacy that identifies and resolves the causes of conflict before military action becomes necessary; and third, a military prepared to implement proportionate and effective response to agression in progress, after non-violent conflict resolution has failed, and without foreseeably causing civilian casualties under any circumstances.
Finally, let me conclude by repeating what I have said in recent weeks that is consistent with Economic Justice for All.

I know this speculative, but it seems intuitively on the mark to me.

If we are to view policy decisions with an eye to how the poor are effected as "the highest priority", and we are to embrace a consistent ethic of life, it seems clear to me that spending over $300 billion dollars on killing people in Iraq is not as effective as spending $300 billion on saving lives.

If, instead of waging war in Iraq, we were tackling poverty at home and abroad, maybe abortion rates would be down.

If abortion rates were down, maybe we Catholics could begin to dialogue with radical feminism about ways to join forces to promote women's liberation, such as ending sex trafficking.

If radical feminist felt they had an ally in the Church in a world where abortion is seen as unnecessary, maybe we could pass a right to life amendment.

And if America were leading the world in international development, maybe terrorist would not be supported by states that currently feel threatened by us, and the war on terror could be waged through limitted international police actions.

To me, it is all interconnected. Where you spend your money, there your heart is. Budgets are moral documents.

That discernment should have an impact on how we vote as Catholics.


Russian Journalist Executed

Anna Politkovskaya, a 48 journalist and critic of President Vladimir Putin and the Russian military for conduct in the war in Chechnya was murdered in what appears to be a contract killing.

The CNN article linked above reports that Russia is the third deadliest country for journalist after Iraq and Algeria.

President Putin has promised President Bush in a telephone conversation an objective investigation into this "tragic death".


What Kind of People are These?

Joan Chittister's regular column for NCR is particularly moving this week. Here is a portion of the column:

..., it was not the violence suffered by the Amish community last week that surprised people. Our newspapers are full of brutal and barbarian violence day after day after day -- both national and personal.

No, what really stunned the country about the attack on the small Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania was that the Amish community itself simply refused to hate what had hurt them.

"Do not think evil of this man," the Amish grandfather told his children at the mouth of one little girl's grave.

"Do not leave this area. Stay in your home here." the Amish delegation told the family of the murderer. "We forgive this man."

No, it was not the murders, not the violence, that shocked us; it was the forgiveness that followed it for which we were not prepared. It was the lack of recrimination, the dearth of vindictiveness that left us amazed. Baffled. Confounded....

You can't help but wonder, when you see something like this, what the world would be like today if, instead of using the fall of the Twin Towers as an excuse to invade a nation, we had simply gone to every Muslim country on earth and said, "Don't be afraid. We won't hurt you. We know that this is coming from only a fringe of society, and we ask your help in saving others from this same kind of violence."

"Too idealistic," you say. Maybe. But since we didn't try, we'll never know, will we?


Monday, October 09, 2006

Unjust and Indefensible

In the most recent issue of Commonweal, a former naval officer who believes in just war and is now studying theology examines the invasion of Iraq as a case study in just war doctrine.

He pours over the details of this specific conflict compared to the invasion of Afghanistan, ultimately coming to the conclusion that all criteria of just war failed in Iraq.

Having admitted that, which he says was difficult for him to admit as a Bush supporter, he thinks troops must remain in Iraq for now due to the civil war.

It's a shame he did not realize that the criteria failed until after we are three years into the war.

The author, Chris Dowd, states repetively that the bar is very high for a just war, and I think he sets the bar too low, even though we both agree Afghanistan is likely a just war, and Iraq is not.

Also, unlike me, he presumed in early 2003 that there was top secret information the Administration was withholding that would have made it clearer that the cause for war was just.

And therein is the one thing I hope American Catholic supporters of just war doctrine have learned:

The case for war - the jus ad bellum question - must be made in public assuming public authority has the time to do so.

Yet, if you have time for a public debate, you very often aren't talking about a just war.

That really is the paradox of just war doctrine.

If you have time to think about it and debate it and plan it before doing it, it likely is not just.

So, the next time a president is debating a war for weeks on end before waging it, we should have red flags going up in our minds and hold his feet to the fire and demand that he expose every thread of evidence of agression to the public before going to war.

Of course, as a believer in active non-violence, I will continue to hold just war advocates' feet to the fire on the criteria of last resort, critiquing such evidence ruthlessly if it were offered (which is what I was doing with Powell's presentation).

I will continue to ask money spent on military could be better spent before war begins on saving lives and promoting peace rather than killing.

I will continue to suggest other ways to resolve conflict.

Yet to me, I'll concede a just war can be waged to defend innocent life as a last resort - which always means innocent people are currently under attack.

Being under attack is simply not something that we need to speculate about as classified information.

Innocent people within the domain of responsibility of those vested with authority to wage war are either under attack or not.

Even if launching a preemptive strike with no time for public debate, you should be able to go on TV to the entire world with sound evidence that innocent people within your domain of authority were under attack.

In my mind, you are not at last resort until aggression has already occurred or is underway. The threat must be imminent, grave, certain and lasting.

It's the simplest condition of a just war and applies always and everywhere. If you have months and months to debate going to war, you probably aren't waging a just war.


Jim Wallis on Bush's Theology

Jim Wallis quotes some of Bush's speeches and press conferences to establish that conservative National Review editor, Richard Lowry is correct in saying, "Bush's faith in the rightness of his strategy in the broader war is deep - seated — it is, indeed, a product of faith."

Wallis then says "I don't doubt his personal faith, but Bush's bad theology (they are evil and we are good) is the foundation for his bad foreign policy and reveals an alarming lack of capacity for self-examination."


One Nation...Under God?

Senator Barack Obama offers his reflections on on the role of religion in politics for Sojourners.

If I were to try to summarize his thoughts, it seems he is arguing for two things: (1)authenticity or honesty and more than anything else, and (2) commitment to dialogue.

On authenticity, he warns politicians operating out of a secular agnostic system of morality and ethics not to fake religiousity, but he also warns politicians who have religious beliefs not to hide those beliefs.

On commitment to dialogue, he points out that America is a pluralistic society that works because of the separation of Church and state, while pointing out that the separation of Church is meant to provide freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

I'm paraphrasing, but that seems to be his point.

He makes an interesting distinction between faith and politics. For him, politics is the "art of the possible", while faith is the "art of the impossible".

That may need some clarification. he is not saying faith is literally impossible, especially since he affirms that he is a committed Christian.

Here's what I think Obama is saying....

For Obama, faith calls us to work towards that which at first glance seems impossible - faith moving a mountain.

It Martin Luther King Jr. believing in his dream decades before he has seen any results.

Politics, on the other hand, works towards what everyone can accept right now as possible - the compromise we make in the here and now.

It is the small steps that were taken along the way to the civil rights bill, and subsequent legislation or cultural change since Martin Luther King formulated his dream.

Politics requires a willingness to continue the dialogue and plod methodically and clowly towards faith's goal - but faith often inspires the vision where we are going, and cannot be expluded from the public square.


North Korea Tests Nukes: Bush Warns of Consequences

I don't think the world needs anymore nuclear weapons, and I don't want North Korea or Iran or anyone else to obtain them.

Yet, I cannot understand how the nation in possession of the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons has any moral legitimacy in claiming we will not tolerate nuclear proliferation.

Until America disarms itself of weapons of mass destruction, I don't think we have a right to tell others not to seek the same weapons, especially if those others see our doctrine of preemptive war as threat to their own sovereignty.


Brief Reflection on Yesterday's Readings

Yesterday's Gospel portrays Jesus referring to the first reading from Genesis in his opposition to divorce. You can view both readings in the link above.

What struck me in both the Gospel and the first reading from Genesis is that the unitive dimension of human sexuality seems primary, with no other dimension even explored.

Indeed, the first reading implies that God did not make marriage between man and woman as some sort of absolute rule.

This creation account (which is the second in Genesis), portrays God giving Adam choices. God marches several animals in front of Adam before presenting Adam a woman.

It's as though God sanctions bestiality!

Further, when Adam sees the woman, he selects her because she "is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh".

To me, that sounds like an argument for gay marriage!

Of course, heterosexual marriage is clearly sanctioned in the text, and as a heterosexual, I'm glad it is.

My point, however, is that God allowed Adam a choice, and he allowed the choice to be based on a principle of likeness and similarity.

A man is more like me than a woman when push comes to shove.

Therefore, if Adam held out just a bit more, it seems implied he could have married a man if he wanted to do so.

I'm not saying Adam would have married a man if given the choice. Nor am I arguing he should have married a man. I'm merely saying the text implies he could have if he wanted to.

When opponents of gay marriage argue that a gay marriage is like a person marrying a dog, I typically ask which human person is to be considered the dog?

But another point made in scripture is that God gave Adam the freedom to even marry a dog if he chose to do so.

Adam chose not to marry a dog, but one like himself. Thus, a man leaves his father and mother to cling to a partner where "the two of them become one flesh."

Jesus sees this unitive dimension of human love to be central to the correct understanding of marriage, making divorce morally questionable.

Unitive love has more to do with commitment to another person in love, not with body parts fitting together.

People will say this reading is strained, but I don't see how the texts at face value don't imply exactly this point.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Help My Daughter Raise Funds to Fight AIDs

Thanks to those who have already made a donation!

For those who have not and would like to help, my little angel, turning two on the 15th, is marching in an AIDs walk tomorrow.

At the link above, you can see a picture of the young activist and make a donation.


GOP Losing Ground with Evangelicals

It seems poverty, the war in Iraq, torture, education and the environment are becoming issues of concern to Evangelicals that they don't see the GOP adequately addressing.

At the same time, abortion and gay marriage remain hot issues to many evangelicals.

Maybe recent Democrat initiatives to reduce abortion through economic justice will adress the concerns of some pro-lifers.

David Ignatius argues that the Democrats have a perfect opportunity to become the party of accountability.

He states that in light of the Delay scandals with Jack Abramoff, news that Bush's advisers told him a long time ago to fire Rumsfeld, and now the Foley scandal, the Democrats should promise and deliver on serious bi-partisan ethics and campaign finance reform.


God Doesn't Register to Vote

This is a talk given by NCR editor, Tom Roberts, on faith and politics.

He builds up steam as he goes along, and close to the end of the speach makes what I take as the the central point:

We people of faith ought to make all politicians, left, right, and center, nervous with our convictions. We shouldn't sell our franchise on the cheap or make ourselves predictable. Politicians ought to fear losing our votes beacause of what they do or don't do....


Ethics Committee Broadens Inquiry to House, not Foley

I haven't written on the subject of Mark Foley, and largely don't see the point of beating up on a man caught doing something wrong after he is being dealt with by the law.

Indeed, as wrong as his actions were, and as seriously as I think protecting our children is as a parent, I kind of feel a little bit sorry for the guy. He seems to be messed up and in need of prayer.

There appears to be evidence, however, that others knew about Foley's behavior who were responsible for doing something about it and didn't - such as J. Dennis Hastert.

I don't feel sorry for those who take part in cover ups allowing harm to minors. That burns me up more than Foley's reprehensible behavior. Of course, he needs prayer too, but I'm just saying it makes me madder.


John Allen's 'All Things Catholic'

Allen has a very interesting interview with Avery Cardinal Dulles on Christian and Muslim dialogue.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Follow Up to Yesterday's Posts

Yesterday, I made three interrelated posts.

In the first, I wrote a short piece on the inspiration of the poverello (little poor one), Saint Francis of Assisi, in honor of his feast day.

The second was some reflection on an article by Lou Dobbs posted to CNN entitled Are You a Victim of a Class War.

Looking at Dobbs' statistics indicating that the rich are getting richer in America while the middle class is losing ground, I wondered aloud how many Americans can call themselves poor.

I posed the question of just how much money is there in the world, and what would equitable distribution look like, at least in theory, assuming all things are equal?

In that second post, I also affirmed that not all things are equal. Not everyone has the same needs, and not everyone makes the same contribution to the common good.

Yet, I felt it an important question to ask what equitable distribution would theoretically look like in order to establish which side of class war a typical American really belongs.

In my third post, I posed a simple thought experiement with some information I found via google indicating that the global GDP per capita is around $10,166.67 per person in U.S. dollars.

All things being equal, if all wealth were distributed equally, every person on earth would get approximately $10,166.67 annually in real purchasing power by American standards.

If we have more than this, I suggested we are on the side of the rich in a class war.

A frequent reader has objected to this entire exercise, and I want to share my responses in context.

The reader states the following:

Even before getting at the methodology were one to accept the premise, the nomenclature is itself, shall we say, problematic. It assumes a dichotomy: rich/poor. You can only be one or the other. If you are above the average (or median) you are rich. If not, poor.

And then only in the material dimension. Hello, Clarence Oddbody?

You get lost right away from those faulty premises.
I fisked this response as follows:

Even before getting at the methodology were one to accept the premise,...

I don't know your specific critique of methodology.

I will admit up front that I am attempting a sort of thought experiment intentionally designed to be easy enough for a child to perform.

A child looking at unequal distribution can figure out, "One for you, and one for me. One for you, and one for me, etc..."

....the nomenclature is itself, shall we say, problematic. It assumes a dichotomy: rich/poor. You can only be one or the other.

Maybe you did not read the earlier post today.

The dichotomy was in reference to an article I linked by Lou Dodd entitled Are You a Victim of a Class War? and my thoughts on that article and some other reading I have been doing that contains some heavy emphasis on "class conflict" in a book entitled The Challenge and Spirituality of Catholic Social Teaching by Marvin L. Krier Mich.

Of course, it is also the feast day today of Saint Francis, who emphasized solidarity with the economic poor radically in his life-style.

I am a former Franciscan who served in inner cities and in some poor areas of Puerto Rico. Since leaving, I married an African woman and have in-laws living in conditions unfathomable to most Americans. Solidarity with the poor is part of my life. I care about people I know personally who live very economically poor.

Finally, as I have mentioned in the past, the theme of economic justice with a stark dichotomy between economic rich and economic poor is a dominant theme in the Bible, likely rivaled only by idolatry. This theme finds constant expression in tradition, and particularly the Church's social justice doctrines in the last 100 years or more. It is also expressed among more progressive theologians in liberation theology in very stark economic dichotomy.

If you are above the average (or median) you are rich. If not, poor.

The term "middle class" is not in any translation of the Bible I know.

Over one billion people live on less than one dollar per day in real purchasing power. Another two billion people live on less than two dollars per day in real purchasing power. This means 3 billion people have net monetary assets of less than 5 billion dollars. Over 3,000 people die of starvation every year right here in America, where 700,000 people are homless every night.

Meanwhile, a mere 400 people have assets at 1.25 trillion dollars, and a billionaire with only one billion dollars is too poor to make that list.

Six percent of the world's population (America) consumes twenty five percent of the world's resources and controls twenty percent of the world's wealth.

Within America, the top two percent control eighty percent of the wealth - meaning they also own or sponsor media and entertainment outlets, contribute most of the money to elections, and make most of the business decisions in America.

We are a nation at war with another nation that never attacked us. We have sent 140,000 troops and spent $300 billion on killing somewhere between 40,000 and 1000,000 civilians and nobody knows how many others.

We spent all this time and effort killing people while other people starve.

American interest in the region are undeniably economic.

There is a war today between the global rich and the global poor. America is in that war. We've been in that war for decades.

In the book I mentioned above, the author states that those who seek to privatize religion and remain politically neutral are actually taking a side. There is no neutrality. To do nothing to change the global situation is to accept the status quo where 3 billion people live on one or two dollars per day so that Americans can drive their teen pregnant daughters in their SUVs to an abortion doctor's from their three car garage.

America, as a nation, must change course - and I mean far more than choosing Democrats over Republicans, or voting third party, though such options may be a place to start in the immediate future.

If it isn't clear to a particular American that the Biblical warnings to the rich and powerful apply to her or him, I am offering a very simple thought experiment that might indicate it does.

The real issue is that if you must chose sides, rich against poor, whose side are you on?

And then only in the material dimension.

I have never denied there are other forms of poverty than material poverty, and I call attention to some of these others forms on this blog. Indeed, in my references to special needs in the original post, I am acknowledging some forms of poverty that are not monetary - and there are others that money can't fix.

Why are you throwing out this red herring to distract from the fact that economic injustice does really exist and it is evil?

The reader responded again as follows:
No. While I agree with many of your goals and some of your assumptions, this way of argument is facile and wrong. It will not lead where you want it to lead.
Here is how I want to respond:

I am not a communist, though you never stated such.

I make this point merely to say that I am certainly not advocating forced redistribution of the world's wealth so that everyone gets their approximate $10,166.67 adjusted for local economies in purchasing power parity.

If the post were read this way, my point was missed, and if you want to criticize me for implying such simplicity, I'll grant some folks would predictably read it in such a manner. Given such a reading is predictable, it might be argued that maybe I shouldn't take this approach.

There are some themes in Catholic social justice teaching that I am mulling over because I am particiapting in a program called JustFaith (and some of the reading I am refering to is part of this program).

The terminology of the themes is familiar to most of us in Catholic blogdom. We hit themes like the common good, preferential option or preferential love for the poor, the rights and dignity of the worker, participation, community, family, the sanctity of life, solidarity, subsidiarity, care for the environment, compassion, the universal destination of goods, etc....

And we seem to be headed to analyzing some of the "-isms" such as racism, sexism, and so forth.

These terms are all rather abstract if you ask me. And tackling the big "-isms" can be rather despairing because we don't even know how to do it.

So what am I trying to do?

This post is what I claim it is. It is a simple thought experiment - with emphasis on simple.

It is not a solution proposed for serious consideration as though forced wealth redistribution is going to solve the problem of inequity. Forced wealth redistribution won't solve anything.

No sooner do you redistribute the wealth and someone will squander their $10,166.67 on the frivolous, while another person figures out how to swindle his or her neighbors to amass wealth, while still another person accumulates more than $10,166.67 through honest hard work and innovation, and then passes that accumulated wealth on to his or her kids who use it immorally. We'll wind up back where we started.

And if we force continual redistribution, as the communist attempted, the honest hard worker with innovative ideas may be less incented to bring innovation to market. The cure for AIDs could sit on the shelf because there is no incentive to invest the energy in getting it out to everyone who needs it. Even if the person who discovered the cure were incented by nothing but Christian charity, he can't get it distributed by himself.

Maybe there are some ways and means of economic reform other than forced wealth redistribution that would work. The Republicans have long argued that rather than giving everyone an equal slice of the pie, the answer is to grow economies such that we have a bigger pie. What if we had more than $61 trillion in real purchasing power parity to spread around the globe? Maybe people would get more than $10,166.67 if we could bake a bigger pie?

While searching for the global GDP figures I used in the post, I ran across a blog book that argues for an economic theory that by eliminating interest on debt from the capitalist economy, we could actually have a more stable growing economy that does justice to the poor.

I'm going to go back and read this blog more carefully before posting a link, but the notion is intriguing, especially since it seems consistent with the long standing position of the Church against usury.

I have written in the past of the One Campaign. Organizations like Bread for the World, with the support of prominent economists like Jeffrey Sachs and big money funding from the Gates Foundation posit that we could halve global poverty by 2015 if countries like America gave a mere 0.7 percent of their GDP and 1 percent of their national budgets to the U.N. Millenium Goals project.

We are not doing this, though many Americans are under the impression we give far more than 1 percent to international development, and would gladly give more if they were simply aware that we don't.

Others focus on forming communities of alternative lifestyles, though I see this as possibly escapist if it doesn't eventually lead to changing the larger structures of evil. Yet, maybe a solution will emerge out of small base communities.

I've tossed about a couple of times an idea of instituting a universal draft in America with an option to serve in the Peace Corps or a sort of reformed Civil Conservation Corps.

This would allow pacisfists and/or practioners of active non-violence (like myself) or others highly concerned about poverty issues a well funded, fully staffed and well organized opportunity to serve the country and promote global peace by alleviating human suffering.

For those who cannot trust in non-violence, this draft would also likely allow America to maintain a strong enough conventional military force to deter agression or secure homeland security without reliance on weapons of mass destruction or other tactics of warfare that typically cause civilian casualties.

My point here is that the actual solution may be (to be cliche) "out of the box".

So, if I am not proposing a solution, what is the point of such a simplistic mental excercise?

The point is to incent American Catholic or Christian readers, and maybe some of our English speaking European Catholic or Christian counterparts, to actually begin to think about all of this,..., to make global economic justice a priority in our lives that will be reflected in the way we vote, the wars we support or do not support, the way we run our businesses, or handle our home budgets, or spend our time.

If nothing else, maybe those of us who bring home more than $10,166.67 per person in our own households might be incented to actually give a tithe to charity by cutting out some of our own needless spending.

Most Catholics and most Christians in America do not give anywhere near a tithe, and yet we pat ourselves on the back because no nation gives more than we do. Looking at figures like I did exposes we are not doing enough.

And maybe we might give some serious consideration to whether we could free up an hour or two a week for some type of volunteer work too, considering that time is money and the poor need human resource help as much or more than money.

Maybe pro-lifers might consider adopting poor orphans.

Returning to the way we vote for a moment, you know very well that I am a registered Republican who has been going through somewhat of a conversion experience in politics since the neocons took over my party.

Do you remember the shock our nation felt when Bush asked for a mere $87 billion to fight his war?

We've lost all sense of shock at these numbers. For me, that was a major turning point in my political economic thought. I was already against the invasion of Iraq based on the clear principles of just war doctrine and the sanctity of human life issues involved in war, but the $87 billion dollar question went beyond whether the war is just or unjust.

The question that lept immediately to my mind is how we can suddenly raise $87 billion for killing people, but had argued for decades as Republicans that the money simply wasn't there to care for the poor.

The mere fact that this money suddenly appeared out of thin air proved the falsity of my party's long standing claim that money for the poor simply is not there. It is there if we have the political will to make it appear.

My fellow Republicans instinctively fear fostering individual dependence and a false sense of entitlement, and that's all fine and good. But beyond dependence or independence is the notion of interdependence.

We have one life to live on this earth. People are starving to death right now while you and I are on this planet.

What are we, the well fed doing about it? If we should not give a hand out, should we not give a hand up? If giving a fish is not the best solution, are we spending any money on fishing rods or fishing lessons?

And now that we have already spent over $300 billion on war, the stark simplicity of the question continues to linger in my mind, and I think every single Republican in the country needs to come up with an honest answer in the very depths of his or her conscience: How is it that we managed to raise $300 billion to kill people while other people are starving?

That question cuts through all the fog of this war and begs us to look at our national priorities.

The war on terror is simply not a priority. Terrorists kill a few thousand, but poverty kills millions, if not billions. If we can raise $300 billion in three years without wrecking the economy to wage a military war, we could have and should have been doing the same for a non-violent war on poverty long before 9/11!

And the Democrats aren't off the hook either. If they are attempting to appeal to some sort of class war between middle class Americans like myself and the super wealthy American like Bill Gates, that doesn't cut it. Questions about the distribution of wealth between Bill Gates and I are an in-house debate among the rich of the world.

That's something I intend to point out in my post.

By the way, as an aside, I have noticed that Bill Gates has been giving a tremendous amount to what I consider some of the most worthy and effective causes since he got married.

It recently came to my attention from a professional fund raiser that Melinda Gates is a Catholic with a strong sense of social justice. If most of us Americans are in the same club with the Gates, let us follow the example and encourage more of this.

What I am positing is really simple: America has a grave moral obligation to make international development and extreme poverty relief at home its number one national priority. Each and every decision we make politically must answer the question in some manner, "How does this help improve the lives of the poor?"

That's what I mean when I say America must change course. We must not allow politicians to scare us into thinking the war on terror or class conflict between the middle class and super rich are the priorities.

The number one priority of this nation from a Christian moral perspective must be waging a non-violent war on global economic destitution, and if we do not do that, we do not deserve to call ourselves Christian.

If our leader professes to be a Christian without making global poverty the top priority, and we go along with her or him patting ourselves on the back, we are following the spirit of the anti-Christ who merely appears to be Christian in order to decieve the faithful.

In saying that a war on global economic destitution should be our number one priority, I do not mean to imply that there are not other forms of poverty and suffering in the world. Having a top priority does not mean that we have no other priorities at all. Other forms of suffering are just as real and demand some form of attention.

Often, there may be ways of tackling material poverty and other forms of poverty with one and the same solution. There are also other moral issues such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research that weigh into discerning the means of waging war on poverty and influence our votes as well, and you know I am pro-life on these issues.

But as long as there are one billion people living on less than a dollar a day while most of us - myself included - bring home more than $10,166.67 per person per household, global economic destitution must be our highest priority. Maybe the poor will always be with us, but can we eliminate destitution?

Any candidate or any platform that does not have alleviating global economic destinition as the highest priority is probably a platform we should not even consider as Christians.

And therein lies a problem. I don't even know of a party or candidate who has the elimination of global economic destitution on the agenda. Maybe you do, and if so, please share. If a thought exercise like mine somehow becomes a small spark that ignites what eventually becomes a blaze, then it is well worth it to do the simple exercise.

And if this little exercise doesn't work for anybody but me, I'll try something else as I think of it. Until then, I move forward with what I have conceived in my mind so far.