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A favorable confluence of time and energy now allows me to write about something that up until now I considered a daunting task. I address this more to fellow Catholics, but also broadly to anyone else who can read and has thought about the matter of gay marriage.
I’m not what you’d call a frequent reader of the Advocate, but they have one article from a conservative politician who supports gay marriage that I thought I would comment on. I first have to say that the author, former Massachusetts state senator Bob Hall, worked a little too hard to establish his conservatism at the onset.
I’m a Marine Corps Vietnam vet who has deep regrets about that war—mostly I regret that we didn’t kill twice as many of those murdering totalitarian bastards.

____________________________________________________________

And I’m a death penalty advocate who thinks we should run it like a barbershop—two chairs, no waiting.

OK Bob, we have established that you are no William Buckley, & thanks for indulging every stereotype about conservatives except homophobia. Hall goes on to voice his opposition to a proposal to ban gay marriage in his new home state of Wisconsin.

Trust me, no true heterosexual wakes up and thinks, Hey, I’m really angry with my partner. I think I’ll try dating someone from my own gender from now on. So who has destroyed traditional marriage in America?

How about men—and increasingly women—abusing their spouses? How about the heterosexual trend toward infidelity, led by the example of our highest elected leaders? How about men fathering and then abandoning children to poverty and state support? How about a large number of straight people deciding serial marriage and divorce is a cool lifestyle?

Doing something about those trends would really protect marriage.

The anti–same-sex-marriage amendment isn’t going to help my marriage by so much as a red whisker. If you think it will protect your marriage or any marriage, that marriage is already shot.

This is a poor argument. I forget the actual term for the technique he employs, but arguing in favor of something by deconstructing the alternative implies that what you support cannot stand on its own merit. Is the best argument for free enterprise, the greatest creator of wealth known, that it won’t inhibit the vows of poverty for the Franciscan Friars? Hardly.

After thinking about this issue for a number of years, and seriously examining the underpinnings of my own sensibilities on the matter (such as the presupposition that a marriage intrinsically involves a husband and a wife), I think that on the whole, Catholics can support gay marriage in good conscience, regardless of whether they buy into the Vatican’s stance on the sinfulness of homosexual acts or not. This is not the convoluted leap you might initially think it is. It helps more than it hurts, and I am dubious as to whether or not it actually hurts at all.

We first have to recognize the distinction between the Sacrament of Marriage and the marital contract. Marriage as a sacrament, blessed by the Church, is not what those who support gay marriage seek. Nor is it sought by people married in civil ceremonies, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, all other denominations of Christianity, or any other type of marriage. The Church does not recognize those marriages (a divorced person who was married outside the church skates through Pre Cana in comparison to one married in the Church. Short of annulment or death of the spouse, they are out of luck for the rest of their life), but it certainly doesn’t oppose those unions. So from a sacramental point of view, there is no threat to Catholic Marriage (the weaker argument) and we have no recorded substantive explanation to oppose any union outside the Church. That is, unless Catholics suddenly want Canon law to be the law of the land, which would be unprecedented and untrue.

From all that I can see, this is an equal protection under the law issue, more related to fair housing, fair taxation, life & death and custodial decisions, inheritance, and other matters of civil law that have more in common with lawful contracts than sacraments. In America, you can leave your estate to your spouse, cat or college. You can name Michael Schiavo or Jack Kovorkian to be the guy in charge in your DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form. You can go out and form all sorts of proxy corporations to shield yourself from tax exposure. These things are done all the time, legally and without even reaching the radar of the bridge club gossip. Those in a marital union have these and many other rights bundled in their civil contract. Gay people have to do this stuff a la carte, if at all, for obviously far more money (OK, that might be debatable for those of us that know the costs of marriage, but it varies with your choice of spouse), with the nagging fear that:

  • a) They missed something that might bite them in the rear eventually, or
  • b) Their arrangement, or parts of it, will be encumbered or denied by some statute.
Let’s just take the bedroom out of the equation for a moment. Would we deny these rights to an Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, who, though straight as arrows, had lived together for 40 years and were the closest thing to family after that time? Who should make the decision to pull Oscar’s plug, Felix, or 2rd cousin Mel from Omaha? I also recall an "All in the Family" episode where Edith, recognizing that her departed cousin’s partner was more deserving of inheriting a china set than she, tells Archie that the partner was her cousin’s real family. Before I get accused of taking my moral teaching from TV sitcoms, let me remind you that art imitates life, not the other way around (nor do I think that the moral teaching of the Augustinian Fathers at Villanova or those of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion at JF Kennedy Catholic High were lacking in clarity). We can deem whomever we want as our custodian, our heir, and our beneficiary, but if they are the same gender as we, there are barriers that would not otherwise exist were it not for society’s attachment to the status quo. More on that later.
If economic justice is important to you, then Catholic conservatives and Catholic liberals alike can agree that anything that stimulates growth & productivity, while not raising government spending, is a good thing. I’ll share something with you I have learned by having gay clients. Couples, no matter how you mix them, buy homes. And washing machines. And paint. And lawnmowers. And cars. And Computers. Marriage stabilizes the hell out of the economy. Anytime you give tax incentives or allow a group of any kind to buy in bulk, whether it is insurance, mortgages, legal services, or anything else, productivity increases. This goes hand in hand with allowing gays to have civil marriages. If the economy benefits, everyone wins, which is especially crucial to the poor. Christ said to feed the hungry, and there was no small print attached.
There are some devout Catholics that view supporting gay marriage as condoning sinful behavior. This is the same argument used to oppose condom distribution and many other sex education issues, but I don’t have all day. I can understand that if in one’s conscience they have a problem with supporting something as sinful, even if done passively, it creates a moral crisis and is no small issue. To those people I would answer that we must, as imitators of Christ, aspire to the best proportionate morality we can under the circumstances. Is lying bad? Is it bad to lie to SS officers about the Jews hiding under the floorboards? Is killing bad? What about the maniac who just broke into your house and is strangling your daughter? When Jesus cured the Roman guard’s daughter he didn’t discriminate. We are obligated by the Beatitudes and other teachings of Christ to treat the least of His brothers as we would Him, with, from my reading of the scripture, no prejudice for personal lifestyle. Nor should we deny rights, the exercise of which help everyone economically, because of something that we wouldn’t otherwise care about if we weren’t told.
There is no type of legal or civil contract that I know of that the Church opposes. And I could make a list as long as my arm of sinful things that the Bishops may preach against, but would never try to outlaw. So why the opposition to allowing gays to obtain a civil & contractual bundle of rights we would not begrudge to heterosexual couples, even same-sex straight couples like Oscar and Felix or my two departed, spinster great aunts? Moreover, if there is a legal arrangement we should argue against, let me suggest former multi-millionaire and VP candidate John Edward’s having formed an S corporation to skirt $600,000 in Medicare taxes as a start.
As I see it, there are two hang-ups here from the great middle of the citizenry who still resist gay marriage. One is a resistance to change. Status quo, in a real sense, contributes to our continued existence. In the not too distant past, when we ate what we killed, those with antipathy about change did not live long enough to begat descendents. We evolved this way. The fight-or-flight reflex to change accounts for the survival of our species. Put another way, in a non-scientific context, as sure as Augustine and Aquinas said in their writings, it is our intellect, reasoning, and ability to make enlightened distinctions that elevate humans above animals and validate our divine creation. We can get our minds around this and in doing so we can edify our Creator. Does this mean that if you believe homosexual acts to be sinful that allowing gays to marry means you have changed your morals? Certainly not, and not more than denying constitutional protections to any other lifestyle you disapprove of, like people who use artificial contaception. Think what you want, but let it be between them and God, not between you and their civil rights.
The other hang-up is all the energy we place on the word "marriage" for reasons that I assert are more tied to religious and sacramental reasons than mere linguistics. I again state that gay marriage is not the Sacrament of Marriage. It is a civil contract. If you dislike the use of the word marriage, let me remind you that we marry bottles of wine, ideas, and many other non-sacramental abstractions that already water down the word. If that bothers you, then I would point you in the direction of Mr. Hall’s argument. Call it what you want, civil unions, domestic partnerships, letting men schminkle men and women gerblatz women, but the common vernacular will bubble to the surface inside of about 2 hours.
At the end of the day we have to reconcile ourselves to edifying the rights of others and how we treat them before we appoint ourselves (or, God help us, the government) as judges of lifestyle. Christ had no vetting process for mercy or compassion. Rights are inalienable for all, not just heterosexuals. Regardless of how you feel about any lifestyle, simply allowing people to have rights that benefit us all on a number of levels should not be subordinated to confusion about moot sacramental implications, objections to nomenclature, or, for that matter, aversion to well thought out change. 
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…on Intelligent Design in science class and I’ll tell you how wrong you are. I, like most Catholics and unlike the Pat Robertsons of the world, have insisted that ID has no place in science class. If you want to teach it, teach it at home or in Sunday school, because it isn’t science. The Vatican agrees with me.
The official Vatican newspaper published an article this week labeling as "correct" the recent decision by a judge in Pennsylvania that intelligent design should not be taught as a scientific alternative to evolution.

"If the model proposed by Darwin is not considered sufficient, one should search for another," Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, wrote in the Jan. 16-17 edition of the paper, L’Osservatore Romano.

"But it is not correct from a methodological point of view to stray from the field of science while pretending to do science," he wrote, calling intelligent design unscientific. "It only creates confusion between the scientific plane and those that are philosophical or religious."

The article was not presented as an official church position. But in the subtle and purposely ambiguous world of the Vatican, the comments seemed notable, given their strength on a delicate question much debated under the new pope, Benedict XVI.

Advocates for teaching evolution hailed the article. "He is emphasizing that there is no need to see a contradiction between Catholic teachings and evolution," said Dr. Francisco J. Ayala, professor of biology at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Dominican priest. "Good for him."

As with the recent statement on gays in the priesthood, this is not official Canon law and there will be debate, but as the article says, it is certainly an accurate representation of the Vatican position on the matter. There is plenty to be critical of Church leadership of in recent years, but the intellectually dishonest canard of Intelligent Design in science class isn’t one of them.

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Epiphany

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas, otherwise known as Epiphany. Church tradition is that Epiphany marks the arrival of the The Wise Men.

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“Exremist” Catholics

This editorial in the National Catholic Reporter illustrates the divide between Catholics who are politically liberal and Catholic conservatives. It is a discussion of the recent Catholic Charities of Greater Boston Christmas Dinner which honored Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, in which some, including Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley, boycotted over Menino’s pro choice and pro-gay rights politics. The author calls those people extremists.
Obvious as the point may be to some, it is worth noting here that such scrutiny is likely not to be applied to politicians who advocate slashing benefits for the poor and/or the ill; who vote for preemptive war and the development of weapons of mass destruction; who argue for exemptions to allow torture; or who support the death penalty. They will avoid scrutiny not because it is patently stupid to expect the activities and votes of a politician to match up line by line with church teaching but because gay issues and abortion, unfortunately, have become for many the only proof texts of Catholic orthodoxy.

That is unfortunate because in areas where the government actually makes great demands of its citizenry — in the billions we are required to pay for war and other military adventures, in our acquiescence to state-sponsored killing on death row, in votes on budget priorities that further marginalize the marginalized — the Catholic voice has grown weak.

Well, this guy sure has everything figured out, doesn’t he. He goes for the theological soft tissue of Catholic conservatives on issues like the death penalty while ignoring the obvious shortcomings of Catholic liberals, and in doing so, makes it OK to claim his side is the Catholic voice. How arrogant can you get?

For Catholic liberals, the biggest issue is something known as the preferential option for the poor, which, as interpreted by all too many, says that we don’t care if the elected official runs a brothel, sells heroin and is a contract killer, as long as he’s for more entitlements, he’s for us. They have an astonishingly nebulous attitude about good and evil; they are anti death penalty, and anti war (who is "pro war?") but often shrug their shoulder on abortion and will accuse you of being a "one issue voter" if you call them on it. They aren’t one issue voters. Oh, no. They are intellectual. They grasp nuance. They care.

I once attended a lecture at Villanova by Rev Robert Drinan, a Catholic priest and former pro-choice(!) Democratic congressman, on how a good Catholic should evaluate candidates for the 2004 election. He was very insistent that the preferential option was not an option, and not-too subtly suggested that anyone who cared for the meek of the Earth should vote Democrat.

Someone in the audience asked Rev Drinan if the Preferential Option for the Poor applied to the unborn. He said it did, but then went into a long convoluted diatribe about how abortion will always be with us and that we should just resign ourselves to that and stop trying to change things. I found it interesting that he would be such a pragmatist about abortion and have his head in the clouds about poverty. At this point, one of the professors from the socialism Peace and Justice department got up and went on a red faced, vein bulging piss fest on how sick he was of pro lifers making elections about abortion and nothing else. He poured on plenty of righteous indignation, but wouldn’t admit that he too, was a one issue guy: maximizing the redistribution of resources from everything and everyone to the poor. This is not atypical. He’s not "extremist." Only those who disagree are.

Catholic conservatives view the liberal interpretation of the Preferential Option as more of a preferential option for the government. They object to the presupposition that the poor, especially in America, are so helpless that the only public policy to ameliorate poverty is income redistribution. Liberal & conservative Catholics can look at a blighted high rise public housing project and see two entirely different things; liberals see something that we should blame evil corporations and Republicans for. Conservatives see the failure of the welfare state. How interesting that the business-friendly Clinton era, which liberals love to point to as a proof that democratic policies work, was due to the good climate for capitalism and welfare reform. It was the anti-Great Society.

It is ironic to me that Catholics who throw politicians mulligans over being pro choice label Catholics who dissent from their lofty view as extremist. I don’t see income redistribution and government poverty programs as helping the poor, I see those programs as institutionalizing and solidifying poverty. I cut my teeth in Camden, North Philly, New Orleans and Washington DC. That hardly makes me an ivory tower theorist, like say, a professor who spends his career on a campus. It galls me that people like this, who are so ostensibly intelligent, are so utterly naive about the veracity of evil in the world and the need to prevent and or fight it. "It will be a happy day when the military needs to have a bake sale to buy a missile." Gag me. The day we disarm is the day we are destroyed.

Each side will continue to point to the other and claim they have a blind spot. For conservatives, it is abortion. For liberals, it is income redistribution. I tend to side with conservatives more because this is a clear life and death issue.  I reject the liberal view because it is feel good theory and is quite debunked by the actual results over the past 40 years. That is an oversimplification, and the issues transcend the these two categories, but overall I see things as fairly consistent. Catholic conservatives are far more pragmatic and vindicated by empirical results than politically liberal Catholics, who are seduced by theory. It is the height of hypocrisy, in my view, for one side, especially Catholic liberals who stand on weaker ground, to label the other side as extreme while claiming to the the voice of the Church. I have less of a clear cut view on the theological divide between conservative and liberals in the Church outside politics relating to Church policies, but that will have to wait for another post.

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Limbo is in Limbo

People, mostly non-Catholics from what I am reading, have noted that the idea of Limbo is being dispensed with by the Vatican. I don’t understand the hubbub. Limbo was never a Church Doctrine. There is no reference to it in scripture, and Christ never said anything that would even lead one to conclude it exists. It was always a theological theory. It is an ecclesiastical urban myth. It is an arcane concept postulated thousands of years ago that had more use by non-Catholics to tease the Catholics in the school yard than anything else.
If the discussion of theological theory gets you a better parking space, somebody please let me know. It doesn’t make a difference in making you a better person. It is the spiritual equivalent of arguing over which end of the egg to break. However, if that’s what you like to prefer to talk about instead of baseball or Dungeons & Dragons, so long as you don’t use it to justify demonizing certain segments of the population, live and let live.

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Two Catholic high schools have canceled their respective proms out of concern for how decadent and contrary to Catholic teaching they are perceived to be.

Underlying the concern seems to be a widespread uncertainty about the coming-of-age ritual embodied in the modern prom – the $500 to $1,000 spent on dress, limo and parties before and after the actual event. It has become not uncommon for parents to sign leases for houses, where couples room together, for post-prom weekend events or for parents to authorize boat excursions in which under-age drinking is not just winked at but expected.

Trumping it all, of course, is the uncertainty about sex.

"Common parlance tells us that this is a time to lose one’s virginity," Brother Hoagland and other administrators of Kellenberg High wrote in a letter to parents in March, warning them that the prom might be canceled unless parents stopped financing what, in effect, the school considered bacchanals. "It is a time of heightened sexuality in a culture of anything goes," the letter added. "The prom has become a sexual focal point. This is supposed to be a dance, not a honeymoon."

A few observations…

  • If it is just occurring to school officials that prom night is "first home run night" they are atrociously out of touch with things. My senior prom was 1985 and it was a common expectation back then too. So much so that when one was asked who they were taking to the prom, they were quick to clarify whether it was "that" kind of date or the "other" kind. This was a Catholic high school as well. When I was a child in the 70’s prom night was also a popular night for people to get engaged, a practice that has fallen away as people wait to marry.
  • The kids who were on "that" kind of date were lost to their parents’ expectations of Catholic virtue long before the prom arrived, and they didn’t need a prom to do the Deed any more than any other Friday night out.
  • These parents are OK with their kids getting a hotel room (usually paying for it) and rationalize it as some sort of drunk driving avoidance tactic. Ditto for the limo.
  • When I was in school my best pal’s dad threw the after-party at his own house. We all crashed there that night. Years later Ralph explained his modus operandi: he wasn’t being a nice guy, he just did it so he’d know where we were all night.
  • Canceling the prom is taking the easy way out instead of tackling these issues the previous four years.
It disturbs me when conservatives pick the wrong battles, and in my view they are in this case. People who object to what happens on prom night are targeting the symptom, not the cause. There are things to worry about on prom night even if your son or daughter are model citizens. However, you can’t lock them in a basement. Worrying is part of the deal when you have children. Teenagers have to live their lives, and stealing landmark occasions from their youth because you are insecure about how well you’ve parented them over the years cheats everyone.

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Advent

The Curt Jester has an, um, informative posting on the Season of Advent. He’s also provided the code for the neat Advent wreath now located on my sidebar under ‘Net Stuff. I’d have it higher on my sidebar, but I don’t know how.

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