THERAPEUTIC FOR WHOM? With regard to the news that scientists in South Korea have successfully cloned a human embryo and "harvested" stem cells from it, I'm inclined to resurrect one the earliest pieces I wrote on Sursum Corda on the subject of cloning. Click here if you are interested. I also posted something on the topic after the President's Commission on Bioethics released its report in 2002. Click here to read it.
HOLDING UP MORE THAN HALF THE SKY:Oxfam has a new report out on the impact of economic globalization on women. Women in developing countries are increasingly drawn into the paid labor force, but often face very difficult working conditions:
Globalisation has drawn millions of women into paid employment across the developing world. Today, supermarkets and clothing stores source the products that they sell from farms and factories worldwide. At the end of their supply chains, the majority of workers – picking and packing fruit, sewing garments, cutting flowers – are women. Their work is fuelling valuable national export growth. And their jobs could be providing the income, security, and support needed to lift them and their families out of poverty. Instead, women workers are systematically being denied their fair share of the benefits brought by globalisation.
One of the good things about Oxfam is that their critique of globalization is sophisticated. They understand the importance of exports in economic growth and have been consistently critical of efforts by agribusiness in industrialized nations to keep agricultural trade barriers high while they flood markets in developing countries with low cost produce, devasting local farmers. Increasingly, the debate isn't about "free trade" versus "protectionism," but about who gets to write the rules under which trade is conducted.
ALICE PAUL: This Sunday HBO will premiere a film, "Iron Jawed Angels," which portrays the struggle of Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and their fellow suffragists for the passage of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote. Feminists for Life is celebrating the memory of Paul, who marched, was thrown in jail, was the author of the original version of the Equal Rights Amendment and was also strongly pro-life. Page three of this issue of FFL's newsletter has more information about Paul.
What's interesting is that Obey does not seem--at least by his voting record--to be a particularly aggressive spear carrier for the pro-choice cause. If you look at his Planned Parenthood scorecard, you see that he has voted in favor of the PBA, parental consent, the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, and to reauthorize the Hyde Amendment. While his voting record with NRTL is only 26 percent, he gets dinged on votes (e.g. US contributions to the UNFPA) where a lot of prudential judgements about issues other than abortion clearly come into play. NARAL's most recent voting record for Obey (for the 2002 session) puts him at 19 percent, less than he got from NRTL.
I have a love-hate relationship with politics. I was raised to love it. I was stuffing envelopes for political candidates by the time I was six years old. The day I turned 18 my mother slapped a voter registration card in my hand and said “fill this out. I’ll let you know who to vote for in November.” I’ve done door knocking, lit drops, and phone banking. I’ve scarfed down cannoli while walking precincts in South Philly and poured over voter lists for good GOTV prospects while drinking bad coffee in a diner in New Hampshire. I got a degree in public policy because I cared as much about the prose of governing as the poetry of campaigning.
But I’ve grown to hate it. I still follow the returns and analyze the strategies. My pulse quickens while surfing through the on-line edition of the Washington Post. But at some very basic level, I’ve ceased to care. Every election cycle seems to deepen my bitterness and cynicism. This isn’t healthy for me and I know it. And yet there I am, surfing the net for early exit poll results on Election Day because God forbid I have to wait until the polls actually close.
I heard a radio commercial the other day that just made me want to drive my car off the road. It was for a ballot initiative out here that would lower the threshold needed to pass a budget in the legislature from 2/3 to 55 percent. It makes perfect sense. It’s good public policy. So what did the add focus on? The fact that the initiative would require a balanced budget (already the law, technically) and withhold pay from the legislators until a budget was passed. No mention of the threshold change. It was a fundamentally dishonest ad that failed to come clean about the core issue at stake.
Today I was in a bookstore. On the table of new paperbacks was a book entitled “The ‘I Hate Republicans Handbook.’” This is what political discourse has come to, stuff like this and Ann Coulter’s “Treason.” Liberals seem to have become convinced that the only way they can compete with Rush Limbaugh is to become just like him. Al Franken and Michael Moore have become the public face of a once proud political tradition.
Wesley Clark and John Edwards are down in South Carolina and Tennessee trying to tell textile workers that the Democrats can save their jobs when there is virtually nothing a President can do—or should do for that matter—to save those jobs. Any effort to raise U.S. trade barriers in textiles would damage the economies of a number of Central American nations and both candidates are smart enough to know it. They are playing games with people’s hopes and fears.
But please don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m feeling any more favorably toward the Republicans right now. Under the inspiration and leadership of Tom Delay, the Republican majority in the House has learned as much about the abuse of power in ten years as the Democrats learned in four decades (and the Democrats learned quite a bit). Both sides seem to have safely gerrymandered their seats to such an extent that incumbents worry more about challenges from within their party as they do a candidate of the opposing party.
And, of course, we have the current occupant of the Oval Office, whose investigation into the “intelligence failures” that led him to invade Iraq will not, of course, include a searching inquiry into the role of certain people on his staff who pressured the intelligence agencies to produce intelligence more to their liking. We could get into quite a contest comparing the relative mendacity of the Bush and Clinton administrations. There’s so much material.
I could go on. But it’s just too damn depressing. There’s so much that needs to be said that’s not being said, and so much that’s being said that is little more than noise pollution. And, of course, I was hip deep in the “culture of spin” for years so I’m guilty too, so who the hell am I to be telling anybody anything?
Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to claw my way out of this. As the saying goes, I’m taking it one day at a time. I’ve tried to extricate myself from the culture of mindless partisanship—whether for a candidate, a party, an issue, or an ideological position. I’ve tried to be very aware of the “little white lies,” the small (and sometimes not so small) exaggerations we’re tempted to use when making our case. I’ve developed a healthy suspicion of the noble cause. What I want is not be a cynic, but to live truthfully, with at least some small measure of integrity. I’m not there yet, but it’s something to shoot for.
READ NOW, AVOID THE RUSH: The USCCB Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs is publishing a collection of key documents of Catholic teaching on the Church's relationship to the Jews and its opposition to anti-Semitism. The volume is entitled "The Bible, the Jews and the Death of Jesus: A Collection of Catholic Documents." Included is the BCEIA's 1988 "Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion." To order the book--which won't be available until the 23rd--you can call toll free 800-235-8722.
There was something about the public nature of this event that struck me. For a moment, the public space of the town square had become a sacred space merely by being within earshot of the bells. It was also something of a urban moment, because it was made possible by the high density of the downtown area, where churches, houses and businesses all share the same space. The rest of my town is a traditional California suburb, but the downtown dates from the 19th century.
I don't have any conclusions to draw from this right now. But it was a moment of grace and one I wanted to share with you.
It should be noted that the formal teaching of the Church on the subject of what individual Catholic voters must do when they are confronted with a choice of candidates is much less clear than about what Catholic legislators must do when confronted with a particular piece of legislation that relates to human life. The CDF’s Doctrinal Note on these questions was far more specific with regard to the latter category than the former. The recent USCCB statement Faithful Citizenship notes that “a Catholic moral framework does not easily fit the ideologies of "right" or "left," nor the platforms of any party.” That statement goes on to examine a very wide range of issues that individual Catholics should consider when making a choice of candidates. While the document argues that a “consistent ethic of life should be the moral framework from which to address issues in the political arena,” nowhere does it explicitly declare that any single issue within this framework must necessarily trump all others when making a choice among candidates.
Now as it happens, I do believe that a candidate’s position on abortion and other issues related to the protection of human life should weigh heavily on the conscience of an individual Catholic when making a choice among candidates. But I think a few other questions need to be asked.
First of all, is the issue likely to be on the legislative agenda in a meaningful way in the time period covered by the election? We are electing a President who will govern from 2005 through 2008. Are we likely to see meaningful proposals aimed at regulating abortion during this period, or are we going be treated to the same kind of legislative Kabuki theater in which legislation that is mostly symbolic—such as the Partial-Birth Abortion act—is treated as a major achievement that will actually save lives? It is hard to imagine any significant breakthroughs in the current legislative deadlock over the next four years.
Ah, but some progress is better than none, I hear you argue. And you may be right. But if the expected gain is so minimal, it’s harder to take seriously the claim that the choice in November is really as stark as supporters of the current Administration would have me believe.
Ah, but what about the judges? The only way that significant regulation on abortion can occur is if Roe v. Wade is overturned and for that you need two more pro-life judges, which means you need a President willing to appoint those judges. Well, I have to note that we’ve had Republican presidents rhetorically committed to the pro-life cause for 16 of the last 24 years and that these presidents have appointed the majority of the sitting justices. My understanding is that the pro-life movement is gravely disappointed with a number of these folks.
Ah, but we won’t make the same mistake again. President Bush is committed to appointing candidates who are much more explicitly committed to overturning Roe v. Wade. Well, yes he is and the Democrats (and a few Republicans) have taken great pleasure in preventing many of those nominees from being confirmed. And those were only for federal judgeships. It seems unlikely that a candidate explicitly committed to overturning Roe v. Wade could win a vote in the Senate. There might not even need to be a filibuster.
Ah, but that is why we need to elect pro-life Senators, not merely a President. I see. But you would need to elect quite a lot of them, at least 60 to prevent a filibuster. That is certainly not going to happen in 2004, and quite frankly it is extremely unlikely to ever happen. It is very rare for a single political party to control the Senate to that extent and given that you would need to put together a group of 60 pro-life Senators, it is even more unlikely still.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The truth is that despite the protestations from the partisans from both sides, it is hard to see that the course of the nation—with regard to abortion or anything else—is at stake in this election. John Kerry may fulminate about the loss of manufacturing jobs, but there is virtually nothing he can do to change it. President Bush may occasionally make the right noises about abortion, but is unlikely to expend any political capital to do anything about it. Kerry may be angry about the way we got into Iraq but he, like Bush, needs to find a way to conclude a just peace there, and the debacle of post-war Iraq pretty much guarantees that neither guy will be rolling the tanks into Iran anytime soon. The size of the deficit is a serious issue, but we’ve been there before and the ultimate solution will be some combination of tax increases and spending cuts.
In the end, I can see Catholics coming to prudential judgements to vote for candidates of either political party (or even third parties) based on a range of judgments that are consistent with Catholic teaching. I think Catholics should vote, and even work for candidates because it’s the responsible thing for citizens in a democracy to do. But the Church has, quite frankly, more important work to do than trying to make marginal improvements in the workings of capitalist democracies. As Stanley Hauerwas once noted, “the Church doesn’t have a social strategy; the Church is a social strategy.” That, I think, should be our starting point.
FULL FAITH AND CREDIT: Dahlia Lithwick at Slate takes a look at the legal issues raised by the Massachusett's SC's decision supporting gay marriage. She suggests that fears that the "full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution would require other states to recognize gay marriages contracted in Massachusetts are overblown.
VOW OF STABILITY:The Tablet has a nice story about a woman who found herself becoming something of a youth minister to boys in her neighborhood who would show up to hang out at her flat. The closing graf is food for thought:
Those of us who are winners can change jobs, churches, relationships, houses when it suits us. The poor cannot. They get left behind. In the long term this, I believe, has a destabilising effect on the whole community because nobody feels he belongs or feels safe, even the rich. Everyone fears losing out or being left behind or alone. Deep in our psyche we need stability. We need stable people in our lives. And more and more it has come to me that in our frenetic post-modernist age, maybe one of the callings of Christians is simply to stay put and to be. As Christians our rock is Christ, so we can be anywhere. We don’t need what others spend their lives chasing because we have found the treasure beyond price. We can stay and trust God whatever happens, good or bad, and in denying ourselves in this way, I believe God will restore the community we have lost. There is no quick short political fix for our social problems because it is about people, and it needs hearts to be changed and only Jesus Christ and his grace can do that.
ABSOLUTE HELL:CNS reports on a massacre at a refugee camp in Northern Uganda committed by members of the Lord's Resistance Army, an insurgent group that has been fighting the Ugandan government since 1986 with the backing of the Sudanese government. The LRA is one of the more brutal insurgent groups in the world today, with a reputation for indiscriminate killing of civilians, the forceable induction of children into its ranks, and the selling of young girls into sexual slavery.
ARE WE ALL FEMINISTS NOW?Amy Welborn and Lynn Gazis-Sax both have posts up that explore, from different perspectives, the question of how women's lives have changed over the last three decades. The question of what role feminism has played in those changes, and whether all the changes have been positive, is also engaged. Rather than trying to pick out "nut grafs," I'd just suggest going and reading both.
This is an issue that interests me for personal as well as philosophical reasons. My mother was part of that so-called "Second Wave" of feminist activism in the 1960s and early 1970s and founded the National Organization for Women chapter in my hometown. She worked on a number of political campaigns for women candidates (and ran successfully herself for the local school board) and volunteered for Planned Parenthood. I have this rather odd memory of her using some toy street signs I had gotten for Christmas one year to direct traffic to our house for a meeting. So feminism was not for me--as it was for my mother's generation--something that challenged my worldview. It was my worldview, a way of looking at the world that I absorbed at my mother's knee.
It is hard not to feel that in some sense we in the United States are--as Nixon once said of Keynes--all feminists now. In one sense, the gender revolution of the 20th century was as dramatic a paradigm shift as the industrial revolution of the 19th century. As in the later case, the revolution in gender roles has had positive and negative aspects. Sometimes in the writings of feminism's more vociferous critics I hear a voice similar to the 19th century populists who decried the institution of wage labor (read Christopher Lasch's book The True and Only Heaven if you want to understand this debate). Those populists were not entirely wrong about the negative aspects of the wage labor system, but in the end there was no turning back.
This is not to argue that all changes are "progress," nor that all changes are historically inevitable. But history does move forward, closing off certain possibilities and opening others. The historical triumph of capitalism as an economic system does not meant that there is no room to criticize and improve that system. It does mean, though, that reforms aimed at returning us to an idealized agrarian past or moving us forward toward a system of centralized economic planning are unlikely to be taken seriously. As the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci once remarked, "one must bear one's mind, violently, to the situation as it is, and not as we would like it to be."
The same might be said for the Church's efforts to evangelize in a culture shaped by feminist assumptions. While the Gospel must transform culture, it must also engage it if it is to do so. Early Christian preaching and theology were decisively shaped by the encounter between messianic Judaism and Greek philosophy. It was a successful fusion that allowed the Gospel to speak to those not raised as Jews. When attempts at this kind of fusion fail (e.g. the Chinese Rites controversy, the reaction of the 18th and 19th century Church to democracy and liberalism) the Gospel may not be heard. On the other hand, there is always the risk of the Gospel being adulterated by our efforts to inculturate it, in which case we have failed even if we succeed. There is no way for the Church to live without that risk if we are to be true to the Great Commission.
I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with people about my faith where I am not, at some point, asked the question: "How can you be part of a Church that doesn't ordain women?" The question is usually asked in curiosity more than anger, and the people who ask it are often not people who would describe themselves as "feminists." I have also learned that it is a question that goes far deeper than the Church's theology of Holy Orders. When people see news stories about USCCB meetings, they see a group that looks like a General Motors Board of Directors meeting from the 1940s: row upon row of identically dressed middle-aged men. Every layer of authority in the Church is dominated by men in a way that seemed natural and ordinary only a half century ago, but that now is viewed with suspicion.
None of what I have written is meant to suggest that all the changes that have occurred in the lives of women (and men) over the last half century are uniformly positive (for a good book that gives a sense of the ambiguities of modern feminism from the perspective of a Second Wave pioneer, read Anne Roiphe's book Fruitful). Those who came before us may well, in some ways, lived happier lives than we do now. But it is fair to ask whether, if they (and women in particular) were so content, the revolution occurred at all. In any case, we who live in the post-revolutionary era must find a way to live lives of meaning and purpose--and, if we are Christian, lives of Christian discipleship--in this new time.
Both the words and tone of voice Saint Paul used toward the people of Corinth show that some members of the church in that city continued to have problems of faith, as if some people doubted that Jesus rose from the dead. In the name of charity, I would like to believe that the people who doubted the Resurrection were believers who simply struggled with the problem of understanding how it could happen. In the name of hope, I would like to believe that these people finally understood that new wine causes old wine bags to burst; therefore, along with accepting the Resurrection in good faith, perhaps these doubters were willing to believe that nothing – truly, nothing – was impossible for God.
As much as many students do not like math because the work involved with math seems tedious, these same students find comfort in math because there are strict limits to what can happen in a certain circumstance. If we add one and one, then the answer is going to be two. We can prove it. Anyone who seeks to deny the accuracy of a proven mathematical equation wastes his time; even the problem child who has to test everything will surrender at some point. The problem child will simply accept at some point that one and one makes two. Math involves absolutes. Mathematical equations beget certain results. Math provides certainty amidst chaos.
The sciences seek to provide certainty in the same manner that mathematics provides. All sciences seek to provide absolutes in life; sciences depend upon reliable methods. Not everything in the world has been proven as an absolute, but scientists constantly work to prove that certain characteristics are as reliable and as absolute as simple mathematical equations. Many of the subjects of the arts have incorporated the scientific method as part of their research. History relies on this method in order to verify events of the past. As a holder of an undergraduate degree in History, I have studied enough and used certain popular methods enough to know that many people would love to be able to prove validly and accurately each historical event the same way we can prove the validity of a correct mathematical equation. I also recognize that many people would like to erase and disprove anything that cannot be methodically proven.
Now we have returned to the problem of the Resurrection and we encounter a problem similar to the one Paul sought to settle. We do not have pictures of the Resurrection. We do not have an account of the Resurrection as it happened. We do not know the how of it; therefore, some people doubt it happened at all.
I have not been a priest for many years, but I have encountered and served enough believers to discover that belief in the Resurrection as an event is really not a big issue with Christians. Almost all Christians accept that Jesus rose from the dead. Yet while many believers whom I have encountered do not doubt that the Resurrection took place, they do wonder about how they can encounter the Risen Jesus. Disciples do not want to believe passively in Jesus as the Risen Lord, they want to bask in the power and the glory of the Lord revealed to them. These believers do not want the Resurrection simply to be a story to be told, a catechetical lesson to be taught, an article of faith of which to agree, a ritual observed, or something that must be proven; these believers want to be in the presence of the Risen Lord. So many disciples of the present day are like the disciples who walked to Emmaus – their hearts were somewhere between confused, weary, and unable to identify that deep burning that was within their hearts. They knew they felt something, but they did not know in depth what or who caused that burning sensation.
The Resurrection will always be a mystery of faith. Humans will never be able to prove on their own that the Resurrection happened. We grow in faith and understanding of the Resurrection in the same manner Saint Paul described concerning his faith and the faith of others: disciples believe that the Risen Lord has revealed Himself to them. Disciples believe not merely in the Resurrection as an event, but in Jesus as being the Resurrection and the Life. We cannot prove this, but if our heart is willing to accept something greater than our own ideas, then God will prove to us that he is Life. But God proves this only so we can share in it and bring others to share in it.
Fr. Shawn O'Neal is the Pastoral Administrator at Saint Joseph's Saint Joseph's Catholic Church in Bryson City, NC and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Cherokee, NC.