Friday, March 30, 2007

Casti Connubbii Condemns NFP

I've covered this ground many times before, and it has come up again recently.

In the year of our Lord, 1930, Pope Pius XI issued an Encyclical (linked above via the Vatican web site) that reiterated the Church's condemnation of birth control.

Here's a critical sentence, no. 54, quoted in my comboxes recently as evidence that NFP is not condemned, but soley artificial contraception:

Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.
Yes. Those who practice NFP are doing nothing during the conjugal act to frustrate its natural power. But why is frustrating the natural power of procreation during conjugal acts considered immoral?

The answer lies precisely in the very sentence quoted (supported by others). In the very sentence quoted, frustrating procreation during the act is immoral because the "conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children".

This is not only its power, but its purpose.

In no. 17, we see this little nugget:
The primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children.
Granted, that speaks of marriage overall, rather than specific acts.

In no. 59, we have the phrase that would eventually lead to the development of NFP.

As you read this passage in a moment, bear in mind the historical circumstances.

The process of conception was only discovered in the nineteenth century.

Natural family planning as practiced by conservative Catholics today could not possibly date to Apostolic times, when conception was not understood for 1900 years.

Some theologians throughout the centuries had speculated prior to this discovery that all non-reproductive sex was murder, under the mistaken impression that the sperm contained a full person.

While this mistake never really caught on with the majority consensus, for 1900 years, the Church had taught officially that the primary purpose of sex was procreation.

With the possible exception of the period of menstration, it was commonly believed that all sex acts had procreative potential up until the nineteenth century.

And the Book of Leviticus forbids sex during menstration, which most traditional societies just consider gross.

It was even debated whether infertile heterosexuals could marry prior to Casti Connubbii.

NFP as we know it was not developed at the time Pius XI wrote Casti Connubbi - nor was the rythmn method a common idea yet, if it was known to the Pope at all.

Furthermore, in the immediately preceeding paragraphs to the passage that would give rise to NFP, it is clear he is addressing confessors.

Pius seemed concerned that by upholding that procreation is the primary end of conjugal acts, some confessors may be too harsh to promote scupulosity.

He also seemed concern that people may use the periods of infertility in a woman's cycle to deny that the purpose of sex remains procreation.

The concern no. 59 will address is not how to avoid conception, but whether it is appropriate to unintentionally have sex on days you discover were infetile.

With all of this prelude, here's no 59, which would lead to the development of NFP, with bold added for emphasis:
Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.
All other ends of conjugal love must be subordinated to the primary end, which is already established as procreation.

My question is this:

When a couple deliberately avoids conjugal acts during fertile days, and deliberately engages in conjugal acts on days where infertility is a certainty, how are they acting in a manner that "subordinates" matrimonial rights to "its primary end" ?

Let's look at an earlier passage, no. 55, quoting Augustine:
Intercourse even with one's legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it.
It is argued that Onan deliberately frustrated the act itself.

Most contemporary Bible scholars, referring to passages such as Dt. 25:5-10, believe that Onan's sin was refusal to carry on his brother's line.

But let's ignore the entire sentence about Onan, and what do we have in this quote from Augustine as used in Casti Connubbii?
Intercourse even with one's legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented.
Doesn't NFP involve intercourse with one's legitimate spouse where the conception of offspring is prevented?

Yes, it is prevented by an ommission (as Onan omitted to ejaculate inside of Tamar while she was fertile).

NFP should be immoral according to the clear and consistent reasoning of Casti Connubbii.

Many readers are familiar with the SSPX (Society of Saint Pius X).

This is a large schismatic sect devoted to the Latin Mass that broke away under Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre after Vatican II.

Interestingly, most of them read Casti Conubbii exactly the way I do.

Some folks ignore this since the SSPX is schismatic.

My point is that this group of schismatics rejects all deveopments in theology that have occurred since 1962, and reflects much of the common thinking of the Pre-Vatican II Church.

Thus, they provide living and breathing evidence that the way Pius XI intended to be understood was nothing at all like what Paul VI wrote in 1968 in Humanae Vitae.

That is my point.

As hard as it is, we must try not to read Casti Conubbii through the lens of later developments.

We must pay close attention to what it actually says in its own historical and literary context.

When we do this, it becomes clear how radical Humanae Vitae is by permitting intentional non-reproductive sex and even encouraging it if it expresses unitive love.

Humanae Vitae admits that "responsible parenthood" may legitimately lead a couple to desire to limit child births. It admits that conjugal acts can be celebrated with no procreative intentions through natural family planning. Unitive love can suffice as the sole purpose in expressing conjugal love.

This is a radical break with the past.

This completely pulls the rug out from under why we thought using contraception was intrinsically immoral.

We already saw in the first quote above that the reason deliberately frustrating procreation in conjugal acts was considered immoral is that procreation was seen as the natural primary end of conjugal acts and their very purpose.

Thus, if conjugal acts may be intentionally engaged in that are known to be infertile, there is no longer a reason to say contraception is intrinsically evil.

It is a genuine change in doctrine!

And if the Church could change that radically, we can ask if further development of this notion of unitive love may lead us further in radical changes in the ways we think about morally licit sex?


What If God Commanded Us to Brush Our Teeth?

I was checking out the blog of a new reader I picked up recently, and I love this post made on Wednesday. I think the blogger's onto something here with this analogy attempting to describe what the unforgivable sin may be.


The Conservative Nanny State: by Dean Baker

Here's a guy who practices what he preaches.

Believing that copywrite laws are a way the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, this economist allows you download his entire book for free!

I have no clue how he makes a living doing things like this - but he seems to be a pretty smart guy.

I'm about half way through the book, and so far, it's great - and very easy to read for those of us who are not trained economists.

It seems to have good reviews from Kos, Thomas Frank (author of "What's the Matter With Kansas?....) and some other popular politically progressive voices too.

Check it out.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pray Over Some People

Here are some people who really need our prayers:

Theo Albrecht
Paul Allen
Anil Ambani
Stefan Persson
Roman Abramovich
Karl Albrecht
Mukesh Ambani
Prince Alwaleed
Liliane Bettencourt
Larry Ellison
David Thomson
Li Ka-shing
Amancio Ortega
Sheldon Adelson
Lakshmi Mittal
Ingvar Kamprad
Carlos Slim helu
Warren Buffett
William Gates III

These are the 20 richest people on earth in reverse order according to Forbes on 03/05/2007.

We should add to this list prayers for the other 926 billionaires Forbes was able to confirm. The complete list taking up 38 pages is here.

Add the most powerful or influential heads of government or state too: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Stephen Harper, Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Horst Kohler, Ehud Olmert, Shinzo Abe, Manmohan Singh, Romano Prodi, Hamid Karzai, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Nouri al-Maliki, Hugo Chavez, Guy Verhofstadt, Joseph Kabila, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, John Kufuor, Martin Torrijos, Nicanor Duarte, Alan Garcia, Thabo Mbeki, Hamad ibn Khalifa Al Thani, Kim II Sung, Ayatollah ali Khamenei, Muammar al-Qaddafi, Pervez Musharraf, Bashar al-Assad, Fidel and Raul Castro.

This is all of the U.N. Security council and G8 nations, and a few of their rivals and other influential leaders. For a complete list of heads of state and government, go here.

Pray for all who work with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization.

Pray for Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zarawhi.

And finally, pray for all people employed with or owning major stock in the following corporations:

General Motors
General Electric
American International group
Bank of America
Berkshire Hathaway
Home Depot
Valero Energy
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.
Verizon Communications
Cardinal Health Altria Group

These are the largest corporations in America from 2006.

And pray for all involved in the United Nations.

And pray for all of Congress and our Judiciary and all who work in our Executive, and all Govorners, and all who work in American government down to the local level.

Pray that all of these people will know God's love and be moved to make business, legal, and policy decisions that are guided by love, wisdom, justice and the highest ethical standards known to humanity.

Pray they will discern the natural law written on the heart and discerned by natural reason enlightened by faith, hope and love. Pray all will be saved.

Pray that they will uphold the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life. Pray that they will uphold human rights and act with and encourage in others responsibility. Pray that they will nurture families and local community building. Pray that they will protect the worker and humanize the workplace. Pray that every decision will reflect a commitment and option for the poor and marginalized. Pray that they will build up a spirit of global solidarity. Pray that they will all exercise responsible stewardship of the environment. Pray for legitimate freedom everywhere. Pray for the salvation of all souls. Pray that poverty, war, economic inequity, and all forms of discrimination will come to an end.


Catholics and the "Gay Thing"

I tried to post this yesterday, and blogger seemed to eat it.

This is a fantastic article by James Alison. Thanks to *Christopher for providing the link.


How Many Sacraments Are There?

Seven if you are born a herosexual male.

Six if you are born a heterosexual female.

Five if you are born gay, whether male or female.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Do the Means Justify the Ends?

This is one of those post dealing with very abstract issues of moral theology in pretty technical terms.

Pretty much all Catholic bloggers are familiar with the Church teaching that the ends do not justify the means.

The Church teaches that some actions are intrinsically evil, and therefore these actions cannot be considered the means of achieving a good end result.

Whether we agree or disagree with Her, we all know that the Church teaches that direct abortion, euthanasia, contraception, homosexual acts, torture, genocide, slavery, even masturbation, and so forth are intrinsic evils.

To call an intrisically evil does not necessarily imply that it is really, really bad according to the Church. The Church uses the term "grave" to refer to the seriousness of the offense.

Intrinsic evil simply means that a certain action inherently offends against a human good. It is possible for an intrinsically immoral act to be a venial sin.

Thus, direct abortion terminates an innocent human life, which is both grave and true always and everywhere.

John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae admitted that while contraception is an intrinsic evil, and stems from the same mentality leading to abortion, it is not as grave as direct abortion.

Masturbation is also considered intrinsically disordered, and can be grave, but is not considered as grave as abortion. Furthermore, there are circumstances where subjective culpability for sin involved in masturbation can be "reduced to a minimum".

Direct abortion is always grave because it violates what some call a "foundational" human right. It offends against the sanctity of human life created in the image of God with incomparable dignity revealed in the incarnation.

Torture, like direct abortion, is considered both grave and intrinsically evil. Thus, no circumstance real or imagined can entirely justify it. Ticking time bomb scenarios do not provide a reason to employ torture according to the Church.

In Veritatis Splendor, John Paul was very clear that the designation the Church uses in calling certain acts "intrinsically evil" is to assert that such acts are always and everywhere immoral - semper et pro semper - inherently immoral - never justified by intentions, end results, circumstances, or the means used to perform the act.

So, the basic and preliminary answer to my title is that the means do not justify the ends. It does not matter if you murder an innocent human person by means of poison, a gun, a knife, or your car.

It does not matter whether your intentional homicide is committed by a comission, or an ommission - such as starving a prisoner to death. Murder is intrinsically evil.

So far, so good. Agree or disagree with the specifics, what John Paul is conveying in his language is clear enough in its intent.

It seems to me to also be reasonably clear that the Church seeks to call certain actions intrinsically evil because those actions offend against a human good. I suspect little argument against this basic proposition.

Thus, slavery offends against the dignity of the human person and legitimate freedom. Genocide offends against the sanctity of human life. Homosexual acts are said to offend chastity broadly, by offending against the human goods of procreation and gender complimentarity more specifically.

I like frame teachings like the Ten Commandments in the positive. Rather than saying "Thou shall not lie", I prefer to say "Thou chall respect the truth in all you do and say."

I think that when we view the acts the Church calls "intrinsically evil" in this manner, we can turn every negative command into a positive. "Thou shall not procure a direct abortion" would become "respect all human life, even in the womb". We could rephrase "Do not commit euthanasia" as "respect all human life, even the elderly and chronically ill".

Again, so far, so good. I don't think anyone self-defining as an orthodox or conservative Roman Catholic would disagree with a word I am saying.

What I am trying to cull out of this body of official teaching, however, is that the idea of intrinsic evil does have something to do with our intentions.

And I am not headed in this direction in order to build an argument that our intentions justify doing evil. If you self define as orthodox or conservative, you can relax.

I'm willing to go along with the old maxim that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and our intentions alone can never justify doing what we know to be evil.

The ends do not justify the means.

The word "end" conveys something of the nuance of "end result" or consequence. It is distinguishable from intention. Yet, intention is part of the end, since the end result is the intended result or consequence.

And again, relax. I am not headed towards consequentialism or proportionalism or utiliarianism or any other relativistic theory here. I'm just trying cover the basics of what I think we can all agree the Church actually teaches - whether we agree with that teaching or not.

When we speak of ends, I think it is safe to say that while we are technically and precisely speaking of a direct consequencial result of an action, we are also secondarily speaking of the intention of the act.

Direct abortion is not immoral solely because it causes a death. It is morally illicit to desire the death of an unborn child. I am basically rephrasing the teaching of the Gospels: if you harbor rage in your heart, you have already committed murder; if you lust in your heart, you have already committed adultery.

We need to be on guard against the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, anger, lust, glottony, avarice, and sloth. What we seek as Christians is an inner transformation whereby we not only act rightly, but think rightly and order the passions rightly and take on the mind and heart of Christ.

We do seek purity, not only in our actions, but in our very hearts: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

This purity of heart is not a state of apathy and total detachment from reality where we feel nothing and go through life with the cold logic of a Vulcan from Star Trek.

The goal is to order all of the passions towards love: loving God with our whole being, and our neigbor as ourselves, and ourselves as the image of God loved by God with unimaginable love.

Thus, anger, in itself, is not a sin. Rather, when anger is not just, or becomes a spirit of vengeance, it is morally problematic.

Yet, there is no sin in being angry at a person causing direct harm to another human person, precisely because we love the victim of injustice.

The anger is not hatred for the sinner or desire for vengeance. It is aimed at correcting behavior. Jesus, himself, expressed just anger.

Sexual desire is not a sin. Rather, when sexual desire is improperly ordered such that it does not express its unitive and procreative ends, then we have sin. Yet, conjugal acts within a marriage are morally licit and even holy.

When trying to defend the Church's teaching on sexuality, the way I would put it is this:

The Church wants you to have really great sex. Scripture, tradition, natural law and human experience affirm that sex is the greatest when it is consensually celebrated in the context of a permanently and publicly committed monogamous relationship and the act is open to procreation.

The further we move from this, the less great sex becomes. We can move so far from the ideal that it is a sin.

This is a long build up to the question I am really trying to ask by the title: Do the means justify the end?

Yesterday, I made a short post regarding tubal ectopic pregnancy.

It seems to me that any act of human intervention that has the end result of terminating the life of the embryo implanted in the fallopian tube prior to its natural death is a direct abortion.

One reader posted an article posted to Catholics United for the Faith that suggests that it may be morally licit to remove a section of the fallopian tube containing the embryo in order to save the mother. However, no direct attack can be made on the embryo.

My "problem" with this argument is that removing a section of the fallopian tube is an attack on the embryo, and it seems like a semantic game to claim it is not a direct attack.

I would rather say that destroying the embryo is morally permissible as a means of self-defense than try to argue that this procedure, compared to other procedures, is not a direct abortion.

My reasoning is simple.

If I pushed an innocent human person off a boat in the middle of the ocean and sped the boat away, I cannot argue that I did not intentionally attempt to murder that person.

Removing a human person from the means of life support is murder - just as it is with removing a feeding tube in the case of euthanasia.

In other words, wether we actively or passively kill another human being, we are acting with the end result of death.

Removing an embryo from a mother's body will kill that embryo, even if we remove it by removing part of her own body with it.

Removing an embryo by removing the fallopian tube in which it is living is a direct abortion, if there was no other medical problem with the fallopian tube other than the fact that it has an embryo in it.

The means do not justify the end.

If we want to justify a procedure that saves the life of a woman with a tubal ectopic pregnancy, I do not see how any other argument than self defense applies.

If self defense does apply, however, then it is not true that all direct abortions are intrinsically evil.

If we wish to maintain that all direct abortions are intrinsically evil, even in the case of self defense, then it would seem a woman can do nothing to rectify a tubal ectopic pregnancy until after her tube bursts and internal bleeding has begun.

I could apply this to two other scenarios.

If what I had said about sex is true, the practice of natural family planning as a method of having sex without procreating is immoral because it wrong to intentionally have sex that is not open to procreation. It falls short of the ideal. The means do not justify the end.

If it is intrinsically evil to kill an innocent human being, it is also immoral to wage a war for any reason that has the foreseeable consequence of causing the death of a single non-combatant.

Only in the case where the death of non-combatants was not foreseeable may a war be waged - which may have been the case in the days when wars were fought with swords and clubs on designated battle fields chosen in advance.

It is insufficient to argue that collateral damage was not intended and every effort was taken to limit the harm as much as possible. The means do not justify the end. If the end result is the foreseeable death of non-combatants, war cannot be the means of defense against an agressor. Non-violent means of resistance must be sought.

Of course, the Roman Catholic Church doesn't teach this sort of highly consistent absolutism.

Because she doesn't, she is accused of inconsistency, and very often has difficulty explaining how "proportionate reason" explains her teaching without leading to the overarching theology of proportionalism, which the Church condemns as relatavism.

What is the solution?


Monday, March 26, 2007

Tubal Ectopic Pregnancy and Abortion?

It is my understanding that all direct abortions are considered by the Church to be intrinsically evil.

If an embryo implants in the fallapian tube, there is no chance of delivering to term.

Further, there is a danger the embryo could rupture the fallopian tube and cause internal bleeding that could kill the mother.

Unlike removing a uterine cancer with the indirect end of terminating pregnancy under the principle of double effect, removing an embryo from the fallopian tube seems to be a direct abortion.

Thus, the principle of double effect does not seem to apply.

Is this correct? If so, would a right to life amendment have to forbid this type of abortion to be morally licit according to the Church?


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Kucinich in '08?

People who support Bush call him a flake. Moderate to conservative Democrats call him a flake. He hasn't really attracted the independant, middle or swing voter's attention.

At five foot seven and with a light frame, he doesn't seem to look presidential.

He is a twice divorced Catholic who has shifted over the years from favoring restrictions on abortion to wanting to reduce abortions through economic justice measures without restrictions.

Those facts can't be appealing to all Catholics, and I expect the bishops would give him some flack in the unlikely event he emerged as a front runner.

Still, I don't think these factors alone would dominate the minds of all Catholic voters.

His nuanced view on abortion and his divorces may even be a plus to some Catholics.

He rose to Congress from a background of poverty (even living in a car for a period) and has been a tireless promoter of worker's rights, unions, and issues like universal health care.

Whatever else we say of the guy, he's literally and figuratively an advocate for the little guy if there ever was one.

He's a vegan and passionate environmentalist opposed to the death penalty and militarism who seems to encourage his supporters to use visualization and meditation techniques to advance his candidacy.

He seems to have something to say on every concievable issue, and offers more substantive comments than most politicians running for president.

By "substantive", I do not mean to say that he is right or wrong. I mean that he is more specific about what he would do than most politicians.

There's a refreshing lack of spin or political correctness, in a manner that doesn't seem intended to offend anyone. He simply has different ideas than the mainstream, and he knows it.

He opposed the war in Iraq from the very beginning.

He recently raised the question of whether Congress should impeach Bush, and he clearly believes Bush has actually violated U.S. law providing the grounds to do so.

He would set up a Department of Peace along-side the DOD, get the U.S. out of Iraq, and bring the U.N. in, and generally wants to work to strengthen international cooperation, international institutions, and respect for international law.

He supports the Kyoto Treaty, Nuclear Non Proliferation treaty, and other treaties that do not have neoconservative support. He supports funding the U.N. Millenium Goals.

With this support for international institutions clear, he is very concerned about the negative effects of globalism manifest in negative results at home and abroad from NAFTA and the WTO, both of which he would cancel. He also wants to review and reform the practices of GATT, the IMF and the World Bank.

On the issues, I think that I agree with him about 90 percent. Maybe more.

I don't know why I hesitate to say that I like Kucinich - but the bottom line is that I think I do, even if people are going to label me a flake for saying so.

What do readers think of Kucinich?


What American Sacrifice?

Thanks to Jim McCrae for posting this very good editorial in my comboxes.


Monday, March 19, 2007


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Overlooked Schism: by E. J. Dionne, Jr.

Subtitled America's religious communities and the battle over government, this article highlights some of the things I have been writing in my comboxes over the past few days.


Budgets Are Moral Documents: by Jim Wallis

This is Part II of a series on addressing our national priorities as reflected in our federal budget.


Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales Stir Up a Firestorm

Then White House Counsel, Harriet Miers, suggested firing all 93 U.S. attorneys at the beginning of Bush's term. Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, decided to only fire eight of them. Critics believe the firings are politically motivated. White House Spokesperson, Dana Perino, states they firings were based on job performance and managerial decisions.


Monday, March 12, 2007

TV News Anchor Tells of Personal Sexual Abuse by a Priest

Headline News Anchor, Thomas Roberts, shares his personal story of being sexually abused by a Catholic priest when he 14 years old, and its impact on his later life.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Cecil's Law

I have been mulling over how to articulate the principles of Catholic social economic justice for quite awhile, and I think I have finally come up with a law or maxim that may work within Catholic social justice doctrine.

Here it is:

Within a human community where persons live in dehumanizing conditions, and as long as more than fifty percent of the control of aggregate wealth of the community is concentrated to less than fifty percent of the population, it is morally appropriate and often necessary to tax the top fifty percent of the population at a higher rate than the lower fifty percent (in a graduated progressive tax system) and use other verhicles of state power on behalf of the lower half until equilibrium on both sides of the economic mean is achieved or the dehumanizing conditions are eliminated, whichever comes first.


What Darwin's Champions Won't Mention

Darwin's blatantly racist views and support of eugenics does not have any bearing on the truth or falsity of the theory of evolution.

Peter Quinn is not making this case by pointing out just how brutally racist Darwin was in this Commonweal article.

However, Quinn is taking on the type argument people like Sam Harris are making these days.

It simply is not true that calm and well reasoned humanists who reject religious belief and embrace rigourous empiricism make better moral choices than those whose ethics are informed by religious traditions.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Day With the Homeless

I mentioned on Monday that I had attended a "Journey to Justice" day last Saturday with my JustFaith group.

The biggest part of the day's event was visiting sites that have received funding from The Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

I visited The National Coalition for the Homeless, linked above as well, and I wanted to share some of what I experienced.

The most remarkable aspect of NCH was that it assists homeless people to advocate for themselves. Indeed, most of the workers and volunteers in the organization are currently or formerly homeless people.

In other words, currently or formerly homeless people work with other homeless people to become advocates to end homelessness.

We listened to four speakers, all of whom were amazingly articulate.

David is 32 years old. David appears to be bright and articulate, and can rattle off statistics and facts about homelessness with ease at appropriate moments to highlight a point he makes from his personal story.

He worked as a restaurant manager until he was 29 years old, when he had a psychotic break that sent him on a journey across the country as a homeless person. He received treatment for his schizo-affective disorder and clinical depression only after being arrested and forced into treatment as a condition to stay in a city run shelter.

He became a political advocate when the shelter was threatened with closing to be purchased at a discounted rate by hotel magnates. In his own words, the idea of being pushed back onto the streets so that rich people could have a bed "pissed me off". With two notebooks, two pens and 45 cents, the residents of the shelter took on city hall and the corporations and won.

What David wants us to consider is that despite the success that making treatment a condition of his receipt of shelter had for him, there is wide-spread empirical evidence that providing "shelter first" actually helps those with neurobiological disorders more effectively than "treatment first". His former work as a manager shows as he speaks to the cost effectiveness of a "shelter first" approach.

Robin concurs.

Robin is 46 years old, and has the same diagnoses as David.

She became homeless in 1996 when her disorder lead her to lose the first job she held after being discharged involuntarily from the military due to her condition.

It took several years for her to realize that counselors at various shelters were probably trying to help her, rather than hurt her. Part of her disorder leads to a degree of paranoia.

What Robin wants us to understand is simply that homeless people seek dignity.

The entire time she has been homeless, she has worked some sort of job, even if only part time at sub-minimum wage. She also managed to get a loan to attend college, and took courses while living in shelters. She was even elected to public office on a neighborhood advisory council. She had to resign that position when forced to move to another shelter outside of the neighborhood.

In addition to supporting "shelter first", Robin believes that setting time limits on a person's stay in a public shelter doesn't work. For those who find themselves homeless, finding the way out can seldom be done in a period of thirty days. It is difficult to find a decent job, or complete and education, or stay on needed medication when you do not have a permanent address.

Elaine's story was very different from David and Robin. Born "before World War II", and raised in a politically progressive home, she was a Peace Corp worker on her first job out of college. She and Bill Moyers actually were in the Peace Corp at the same time, and she has followed his career with interest. After the Peace Corp, she worked a number of federal government jobs as a generalist where she did not pay into Social Security and rented an apartment.

Elaine's parents became ill, and she stopped working to care for them. When they died, she discovered that their home was left to a corporation in the will. She tried to contest the will, but lost. All of the sudden, she was homeless.

Elaine does not suffer mental illness, and has not used drugs. What she wants people to understand about homelessness is that the current system is intentionally or unintentionally designed to keep people from "breaking out".

For example, not wanting to pan-handle, she tried to take advantage of a city program that provided bus and metro passes to the homeless so that they could get to job interviews and medical appointments and so forth. The simple wait in line was so long that she missed a promising interview.

Elaine has spoken to city council members and even senators about homelessness. She states that she has debated whether housing "should be" considered a right. She admits that she was set back when city council members asked her if we considered housing a right, what would happen if the need was greater than what the budget allowed.

Elaine suggested that by addressing root causes of homelessness, perhaps we could prevent that.

I stated to Elaine that she needed to examine her rhetoric. The question is not "Should housing or shelter be considered a right". Rather, she could say, "Shelter is a right. If it isn't in your budget, you need to revise the budget."

Elaine was appreciative of this insight.

Aside from the ways that the system seems to prevent "break out", Elaine also wanted us to understand that homelessness is not caused solely by mental illness and drug addiction. In fact, these are the third and fourth major contributors to homelessness.

The first and second contributing factors are unaffordable housing and the high cost of health care. On any given night, between 700,000 and 800,000 people are homeless in the United States.

In many cases, a family sleeps in a car or a shelter or the home of friend or relative because they could not afford to buy a home or make rent fast enough to keep up with life's circumstances. Granted, in many of these cases, homelessness is very temporary for the individuals, but the aggregate number remains constant. When the system is designed to effectually punish the homeless as though everyone is lazy, drug addicted, or insane, it prevents break out for other severe cases.

Finally, we heard from Jerry.

Jerry is proud to be working for NCH full time, though his pay does not yet allow him to rent or buy a place of his own. He currently lives with his mother, despite that his hair is graying.

Jerry runs a newspaper written by the homeless on homeless issues and sold by homeless vendors. This provides a means for the homeless to make their issues known, and earn a little money through other means than pan-handling.

Jerry once worked in telecommunications and earned a salary of $72,000 per year several years ago. After a bitter divorce, he became depressed, and admits he made some bad choices. Before long, he was pan-handling on the streets, sleeping under bridges, and eating from garbage dumpsters.

Jerry doesn't want pity from anyone, and he doesn't think those who have not been homeless can comprehend the reality of homelessness. All he asks from those who have never been homeless is that we do what we want to do to help the homeless help themselves, and nothing more.

I asked Jerry what he thought about giving money to pan-handlers today, now that he has his newspaper. Jerry stated that if you want to give, give. If you don't want to give, just tell the beggar, "I don't want to give anything right now, thank you" and move on. Don't feel guilty, Jerry says. These guys have learned to manipulate your feelings, he warns.

His advice is that you carry whatever you want to give in a separate pocket from your other money, and you give no more than that. If you prefer to give to charities that help the homeless, rather than giving directly to the homeless person, that's fine by him. It all helps. Don't feel any obligation to more than you want to do and can do.

Jerry would rather see us focus on legislation than whether to give a quarter to a panhandler. He wants us to push for a right to housing, and he wants hate crimes legislation to include growing violence against homeless people. He also wants us to be aware that young people are purchasing videos of violent acts against the homeless from stores like Barnes and Nobles. He would far rather we voiced our concerns over this than give him a dollar.

But he sure would appreciate if you'd buy his newspaper, called Street Sense, which you can purchase for a dollar.

In every issue, you will read about current legislation effecting the homeless, statistics and facts on homelessness, profiles of homeless people, inspiring stories of people who have found their way out of homelessness, and articles simply describing what it is like to be homeless. For example, one entry in the current issue tells how and where many homeless people go to the bathroom and how they feel about it.

Jerry worked with David to fight city hall on the closing of a shelter to be sold at discounted rates to a hotel. He is a strong believer that advocacy is done best when those effected are involved.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What Are the Moral Implications of Getting Rich Off the Lottery?

The link above is to an article about how the multi-state mega million lottery jackpot is up to a record of $370 million.

I've heard the lottery referred to as a tax on people who are bad at math, and a way of stealing from the poor.

In some Protestant circles, gambling is often seen as a sin. Further, the scriptures warn that the love of money is the root of all evil.

On the flip side, every dollar given to the state lotteries helps to fund some projects supporting the common good. Most states use the money for education.

If we think of the purchase of a lottery ticket as a fun way to make a donation, maybe it's not so bad. Catholics have often supported their churches through moderate gaming.

What if you won?

I suppose I'd feel obligated to exercise good stewardship with $370 million - trying to find ways to make that money work to further the inbreaking of God's reign.

Yet, it would be extremely difficult not use a little for myself - at least pay off the mortgage, and ensure my children's education. Where do you stop?

I don't know. What do readers think? Is playing the lottery moral, immoral, or morally neutral?


'Scooter' Libby Found Guilty on Four of Five Counts

I probably need to go to confession due to my elation over this verdict.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Who is the Samaritan?

We all know the story of the good Samaritan, which is probably second only to the parable of the prodigal son in popularity in Christian circles.

One day, a man was headed down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was mugged and left unconscious on the side of the road. A priest and a levite passed by, crossing the road to avoid the man left for dead. Then, a Samaritan comes along and tends to the man's wounds and puts him up in an inn, leaving a couple of coins and promising to come back and pay more if needed.

The story is told by Luke's Jesus in response to a religious leader who correctly summed up the entire law and prophets in the two great commands, to love God with all our being, and our neighbor as ourselves.

The parable answers the specific question, "Who is our neighbor?" and we are told to go and do likewise.

Last Saturday, I spent the day on a "Journey to Justice" with several JustFaith groups meeting throughout our diocese.

There were probably over 35 or 40 people involved. We are more than half way through this eight month faith formation program, and all groups were at about the same point.

There was much fodder for writing in the day's events, and I thought I'd start where we started - with the opening prayer session.

We gathered to begin the day in prayer and sat at five tables with about seven or eight people per table.

The day began with with a prayerful reading of The NAB version of "The Parable of the Good Samaritan" from Luke 10:25-37, also linked in the post heading.

We were invited to try to listen to the parable as though we were hearing it for the first time, or with an openness to hearing something new.

After the story was read, we were asked to discuss the parable with those at our table, answering the questions, "What struck you in the passage? What characters did you identify with from the story? What does it mean today? How do we apply it?"

Following a rather too brief period of discussion, the prayer leader read the following commentary by Father Thomas Keating on the Good Samaritan.

Keating emphasizes that Jesus' listeners would not have identified with the victim, or with the priests and levite.

They likely expected Jesus to tell a story of the good Israelite layperson.

Jesus' message contained a totally unexpected twist that is sometimes lost to those unfamiliar with the historical context.

The idea of a "good Samaritan" would have also been inconceivable, because the Samaritans were hated as religiously corrupt and racially impure apostates from Israel dating back to the time of King David.

Samaritans claimed to be Jews, but had intermarried with outsiders over the centuries and refused to worship at the temple in Jerusalem or follow the law in the manner more pure Jews always had.

I believe it was safe to assume that everyone in the room already knew the twist to the story.

If they did not know it prior to doing JustFaith, it has been mentioned in our weekly readings.

Our leader then re-read the parable from Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch Gospel version of the Good Samaritan.

For those unfamiliar with Clarence Jordan, he was a Protestant with a doctorate in scripture who decided in the 1940's and 1950's to begin a farming cooperative in the south that included white and black members.

Jordan believed that common ownership of land across racial boundaries was a symbol of God's reign breaking into our current reality.

Jordan was doing this before the civil rights movement had picked up steam, and he was threatened a number of times. Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, had spent time on Jordan's cooperative.

Jordan's "Cotton Patch Gospel" re-set the Gospel narratives in the rural south of Jordan's time.

Thus, in his telling of the parable, the victim is robbed on the road from Atlanta to Albany. A white preacher and white Gospel song leader pass by. A poor black man with only two dollars in his pocket until the next pay-day becomes the good Samaritan.

After this reading, we were asked to share any reflections with the whole group, rather than simply our tables.

One older gentleman who had been very active in the civil rights movement stated that he felt a little insulted because nobody in the room was unaware of the evil of racism.

A woman responded that it was true that we may not be racist, but racism is still deeply entrenched in parts of America. Another man offered that maybe we should think of the parable in terms of class.

I offered a different opinion, which seemed to be well received. So, I offer it here.

I stated that when we were first listening to the NAB version, I already knew before we got to that part of the story that the Samaritans were supposed to be those who I would feel are somehow heretical, or impure, or inferior, or despised as a group by me.

And my mind raced to imagine who it is that deliver any of that sort of shock to me.

I told the group that what emerged in my imagination is that, for me, the Samaritan might be a born again conservative Evangelical Protestant who supports George W. Bush.

The room burst into lafter for a moment, followed by looks of "Aha" as I went on to say that for the Samaritan I just described, his Samaritan might be a Muslim with the appearence of a terrorist.

For the Muslim listener, Jesus might have had an orthodox Jew being the one who would show compassion.

For someone else, it may be a black man, while to some black people, it may be a white person.

For someone else, class would deliver the shock Jesus intended.

For another, the Samaritan would have to be gay to deliver the same shock Jesus originally conveyed.

Or a cross-dresser.

Or a Catholic priest.

Who is your Samaritan?

That is what we need to ask ourselves in the depths of conscience.


Friday, March 02, 2007

The Historical Jesus and Christian Theology

This lecture, presented by N. T. Wright, and published in Sewanee Theological Review 39, 1996, is an excellent short portrayal of what the real Jesus may have been really like using historical methods, and how we come to the Christ of faith out of Jesus' life.

I ran across it following some links to the Jesuit blogs linked below. And I confess that I am not as familiar with Wright's work as I probably should be.

I think Wright's own caveat is important in my presentation of this link:

This bald, unsubstantiated summary of several lengthy historical arguments will not, perhaps, convince by itself.
My point in linking this is not to present an historical argument, because this text doesn't offer one.

Rather, I want to highlight the picture of Jesus that Wright draws - a picture that I believe is likely a fairly accurate rendition (at least in the style of impressionism) based on other scholarship I have read.


New Blogs by a Jesuit

I received an email from a Jesuit priest who liked some of my posts.

He indicated that he had started blogging himself, and I checked out his sites (he has three interconnected blogs).

All three sites offer very simple meditations on finding God in day-to-day life, and they are worth checking out:

The Good News of Christ

Living Christ's Eucharist in our Daily Lives

Did God Find You Today?


Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Global Banquet: Politics of Food

The link above is to an order form for a VHS video produced by Maryknoll.

The basic gist of the movie is that American corporations and trade policy in conjunction with the WTO and IMF are devastating the lives of billions of people.

I watched this last night as part of the JustFaith program I am going through in my parish.

We are reading Mark Kramer's Dispossessed: Life in Our World's Urban Slums along side of this video.

Globalized mega-farming and other effects of corporate globalism create and unfair advantage to a small pool of wealthy stock owners who drive people off their land into and informal settlements around cities, where up to 600,000 people may live in an area of 300 square yards without plumbing or electricity.

We currently produce enough food globally to feed everyone on earth a three to four thousand calorie per day diet, driving down the cost of food to the consumer everywhere.

However, this does no good to literally billions of people who cannot find the means to buy even such cheap commodities after being displaced and dispossessed.

The book is good, but a bit heavy as an introduction to the topic of global hunger.

The film, on the other hand, is well worth twenty bucks and a couple hours of your life.

It will make you think.

You may even decide to never drink a coca-cola product, buy a tomato that isn't locally grown organic, or eat animal flesh ever again.