January 31, 2006

2006 Catholic Blog Awards

Nominations are open for the 2006 Catholic Blog Awards, and will remain open until 4:00 P.M. EST on Friday, February 3. I'm not going to nominate Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, but I'm not above letting our readers know that there are categories for Best Blog by a Group, Best Political Analysis, and Best Social Commentary Blog. Do with that knowledge what you will!

January 30, 2006

Brownback and "Fruits," Redux

On January 27, I reported on Sen. Brownback's (R-KS) apparent manipulation and abuse of scripture in order to make a pun in which he referred to Swedish gays and lesbians as "fruits." Sen. Brownback's press office responded today to the press release issued by the Human Rights Campaign:



January 30, 2006

Contact Brian Hart/John Rankin


WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Sam Brownback today issued the following statement concerning his recent comments in Rolling Stone magazine about same-sex marriage in Sweden:

"When quoting Matthew 7:16, 'Ye shall know them by their fruits,' I was in no way referring to sexual orientation.

"While this biblical passage was pertinent to our overall conversation about faith and deeds, it apparently led the writer to believe I was making a joke; I was not and would never do so with such a personal and sensitive issue."

The author of the Rolling Stone article in question, Jeff Sharlet, left a comment on my initial post and said that although he didn't know whether or not Sen. Brownback intended to make a pun, "the awkward moment that followed -- and the fact that his press secretary later told me that the interview had made Brownback uncomfortable -- suggests that he was aware of the possible interpretations." I find it improbable based on what Mr. Sharlet said and plain old common sense that Sen. Brownback didn't recognize the implications that such a comment would have.

Be that as it may, I suppose that I have no choice but to accept what Sen. Brownback says at face value, since it would be impossible to prove either way what he meant by making his remarks. I withdraw my condemnation of Sen. Brownback's remarks and my demand for a retraction and apology, but I would like to call upon Sen. Brownback to be more careful when he is citing scripture in the future, because scripture can be and has been used to hurt gays and lesbians many times in the past. It would be easy to misinterpret the kind of remarks that Sen. Brownback recently made.

January 29, 2006

Toward Palestine

After mulling over Michelle's take on the recent Palestinian elections and after taking a look at the resources she brought to my attention, I've begun to reconsider my initial reaction to the sweeping victory of Hamas. I have to admit that my initial response was really a kneejerk reaction, inspired by a post-9/11 paralyzing fear of terrorism and by what I was hearing on the news. I did not research the reasons behind the Hamas victory, nor did I bother to look for alternative perspectives. I'm usually much more thoughtful in responding to complex situations, and I apologize to our readers for reacting so hastily. I have given the issue more thought, and I'd like to share what I've come up with.

To begin with, I think that Israel's response to the Hamas election has primarily been motivated by its very reasonable fear of Hamas. I don't blame the Israelis for reacting in the way that they have, and I think their reaction has in many ways been quite restrained. But I'm not sure that the Bush administration's reaction is motivated by fear as much as it is motivated by aggravation that it has now completely lost control of the situation. Like it or not, this election is the first step toward Palestinian statehood, because it is the first time that the Palestinians have really taken responsibility for themselves and for their future.

To the casual observer, electing Hamas is an irresponsible move that will jeopardize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but when one looks at the domestic situation in the Palestinian Territories one quickly realizes that the Palestinians were not acting irresponsibly in international affairs so much as they were acting responsibly in domestic affairs. They recognized that there could be no Palestinian future without domestic stability in the Palestinian Territories, and Fatah was not providing such stability. Fatah was not moving the Palestinian people toward a viable future as a Palestinian state, nor did it show any signs that it would begin moving in that direction anytime soon. Fatah was facilitating just the kind of corrupt, Third World conditions that would always leave the Palestinians embroiled in violent conflict and unable to achieve viability as a state. Fatah was encouraging violence not only within the Palestinian Territories, but also against Israel, by leaving the Palestinians in hopeless conditions that can only lead to desperate acts like terrorist violence. Speaking of the domestic situation, then, the Palestinians have acted quite responsibly by ousting Fatah and choosing its only alternative: Hamas.

This frustrates the Bush administration, because it did not give the Palestinians permission to take responsibility for themselves. This was not at all part of the Bush administration's unilateral "road map to peace," a road map which has proven itself a dead end for Middle Eastern peace. The Bush administration cannot possibly be upset that the Palestinians have elected a radical Islamic government, because that is exactly the kind of government that the Bush administration itself has facilitated by supporting the new Shi'ite government of Iraq. Rather, it would seem that the Bush administration is upset because the status quo has now effectively been toppled.

It is a certainty that Hamas will contribute positively to the domestic situation in the Palestinian Territories, for they cannot possibly do worse than Fatah. Once the domestic situation improves and statehood becomes a viable option, the Palestinian people will only be more willing -- certainly not less willing -- to work with Israel in order to facilitate Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank and the creation of a Palestinian state. Whether or not Hamas is willing to work with Israel will be largely irrelevant, because the Palestinians have now demonstrated that the government will do their will, not its own will. If Hamas does not do the will of the Palestinian people in this regard, there is every probability that they will be ousted and replaced by a party that will.

This must all be very upsetting for the Bush administration, because anyone who's been paying attention can see clearly that the Bush administration does not want a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the Bush administration does not want a Palestinian state, despite their many platitudes to the contrary. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict gives the United States a strong foothold in the region, because it leaves both Israel and the Palestinian Territories in need of our constant assistance. Israel needs us to help negotiate with the Palestinians and protect them from hostile Arab neighbors like Iran and Syria, and the Palestinians need us as an ambassador to Israel. Once the conflict is resolved, Israel will not need us to negotiate with the Palestinians and the threat from Iran and Syria will diminish, even while the Palestinians cease to need our mediating presence. If the conflict is resolved, the United States will lose its strongest foothold in the Middle East and all power we currently hold over the Middle East will be lost.

And so we had concocted a brilliant plan in the so-called "road map to peace." We would continue to string the Palestinians along with a promise of statehood always just a little out of reach. We would mostly favor Israel, our great preserver of the status quo in the Middle East, only lightly slapping their wrists to make it look like we really did have the best interest of the Palestinians at heart. When Hamas began moderating itself in order to become a political entity and when it established a truce with Israel, we made an alliance with the Fatah party, because the Fatah party also had an interest in preserving the status quo. As long as there was no viability for a Palestinian state, no real peace with Israel, Mahmoud Abbas could continue to live in his $2 million mansion and Suha Arafat could continue to live richly on the backs of the Palestinians without the restraints of statehood to hold them accountable. So the unholy alliance was formed: the United States, Israel, and Fatah, all preserving the status quo and making a future for the Palestinian people impossible.

And now the Palestinian people have seen through it and toppled everyone's plans.

It will be impossible for Hamas not to moderate itself and work with Israel. In fact, it has already shown its willingness to do just that by making and sustaining a truce with Israel and by removing its call for Israel's destruction from its charter. Although Israel says now that it will not work with a Palestinian-Hamas government, the truth of the matter is that it will have no choice, since the infrastructure of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories depends upon some basic cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

As Hamas improves the domestic situation in the Palestinian Territories, the Palestinian people will push Hamas even harder to work with Israel. Hamas will do it, but they won't do it the way Fatah did it; they won't be subservient to Israel and the United States, and that's what has us all worked up. Hamas won't be interested in maintaining the status quo as Fatah was -- the Palestinian people will demand, and Hamas will work toward, true independence and statehood. There will be progress, but it won't be on our terms, and that's what has the Bush administration so upset. It will no longer be only our interests and Israel's interests involved in the peace process; Hamas will ensure that the Palestinian people's interests are equally considered.

Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the State Department, has recently said: "A two-state solution to the conflict requires all participants in the democratic process to renounce violence and terror, accept Israel's right to exist, and disarm, as outlined in the 'road map.'" That's true, and if Hamas doesn't do this, there's every reason to believe that the Palestinian people will oust them and replace them with a chastised Fatah party that will have no choice but to reform. But it is also true that a two-state solution to the conflict requires all participants to renounce violence and terror, including the violence and terror of withdrawing economic aid. It is also true that Israel and the United States must now accept Palestine's right to exist, because the Palestinian people have said in no uncertain terms that they will move toward viable statehood and then they will have a state. And it is also true that a new road map has now been drawn, one which finally includes a self-reliant and self-governing Palestinian people, and we will have to learn to work with this new road map.

Hamas Resources

Michelle Strausbaugh's internet service is down until Wednesday, but she posted a few resources on Hamas and their sweeping victory in the recent Palestinian election to her own blog, Behind the Surface. I don't think she'd mind if I reproduced them here for our readers.

Churches for Middle East Peace has a lot of information on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, including information on Hamas.

EI: The Electronic Intifada has widespread coverage of the Hamas victory, not to mention an abundance of other resources.

Miftah also has information on the Hamas election, including why the Palestinians' democratic choice must be respected.

Ha'aretz has a blog post on "Introducing Hamas - the new Likud."

As our readers have likely observed, Michelle and I have significantly different views when it comes to the new Palestinian-Hamas government, and this is probably the most serious disagreement that has ever arisen between the SRS writers. Believe it or not, we actually do live in near-perfect harmony most of the time. ;) For my part, I would like to say that I may have been a bit hasty in absolutely condemning the results of the Palestinian election. While I am still uncomfortable with the prospects that a Hamas government raises for Middle Eastern peace, I look forward to hearing more of what Michelle has to say on the subject since she is pursuing a Master's Degree in the Israel/Palestine Conflict and I, frankly, am not.

January 27, 2006

Catholic Senator Refers to Gays as "Fruits"

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) manipulated and abused scripture in order to refer to Swedish gays and lesbians as "fruits." Here is the unaltered, in context quote from the interview:

It doesn't bother Brownback that most Bible scholars challenge the idea that Scripture opposes homosexuality. "It's pretty clear," he says, "what we know in our hearts." This, he says, is "natural law," derived from observation of the world, but the logic is circular: It's wrong because he observes himself believing it's wrong.

He has worldly proof, too. "You look at the social impact of the countries that have engaged in homosexual marriage." He shakes his head in sorrow, thinking of Sweden, which Christian conservatives believe has been made by "social engineering" into an outer ring of hell. "You'll know 'em by their fruits," Brownback says. He pauses, and an awkward silence fills the room. He was citing scripture -- Matthew 7:16 -- but he just called gay Swedes "fruits."

I call upon all Catholics, particularly Sen. Brownback's supporters at Catholics in the Public Square, to join me in condemning Sen. Brownback's bigoted remarks and in demanding both an apology for and a retraction of those remarks. I also call upon all Catholics to think long and hard about supporting the bid for the presidency that Sen. Brownback is sure to make -- and ask yourselves, reading the article carefully and paying close attention to his words, if he is even really Catholic. I do not see a Catholic in his words, but a fundamentalist pseudo-Christian hiding behind the relative normalcy of the Catholic Church.

If you would like to e-mail Sen. Brownback with your own thoughts on his bigoted remarks, you can do so here.

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See Also: HRC president Joe Solmonese's press release.

Petition for Alito Filibuster

Yesterday I endorsed a fax campaign by People for the American Way, supporting the efforts made by the Democratic senators from Massachusetts to filibuster Judge Alito's confirmation to the Supreme Court. Today, I am also endorsing an internet-based petition drive by Sen. John Kerry to let the senators know that we want Judge Alito's confirmation to be filibustered. I urge our readers to both send a fax and sign the Kerry petition.

Living with democracy

It was about ten years ago when a Palestinian friend of mine and I were talking about the recent Israeli election. Benyamin Netanyahu had won and my friend's response was to shrug, put his hands up and say "hey, we did our job. We elected the guy we were supposed to elect."

The guy was, of course, Yasir Arafat, who easily won the first popular vote inside Palestine made possible by the Oslo Accords of 1993. In order for the peace process to continue, it was assumed, the Palestinians would elect Arafat and the Israelis would elect Shimon Peres, the right hand man of the late martyr, Yitzhak Rabin and everybody would live happily ever after.

However, after Hamas' terror campaign of suicide bombers blowing up buses and Peres' apparent inability to stop it, the Israeli electorate was in a less peacemaking mood and found the vengeful rhetoric of Netanyahu far more appealing. In Netanyahu, it was the Palestinians who lacked a "partner for peace," and indeed, Oslo died a painful, miserable death just as Mr. Netanyahu wished.

The sweeping victory of Hamas yesterday is really no surprise, except perhaps in just how overwhelming it was. Fatah, the most popular of the Palestinian parties to make up the PLO and later the Palestinian Authority, had long lost any credibility among the Palestinian population. Mahmoud Abbas, who has taken Arafat's place, has a $2 million mansion in Gaza, the most densely populated place on the planet. The corruption is so bad that even my Jordanian-American godfather admitted to me that if he were Palestinian, he would have to think twice about voting for Fatah, and he's Christian!

So, now it's the Palestinians who have not "done their job." They elected the "wrong guys," and the Bush Administration, the Israelis, even Jimmy Carter insist that there is no way they will deal with Hamas as it is a terrorist organization (which is only partly true) and does not recognize the right of Israel to exist (though it has dropped its call for the destruction of Israel from its charter). Yet, as my godfather, a political economist, pointed out to me the other day when Hamas' triumph was imminent, there really is no legitimate reason why this should be problematic for the international community.

"Nobody in the West screamed when the Israelis made Ariel Sharon prime minister. The Good Lord knows that Mr. "Jordan is Palestine," the Butcher of Sabra and Shatila himself didn't come with sterling credentials for peace."

Why is it that the Americans can work with an Israeli who doesn't recognize the rights of Palestinians but not the other way around? Why should we assume that the Israeli government is any less of a terrorist organization because it uses F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters within densely populated regions not only to assassinate terrorists but also with the aim of getting the civilian population to withdraw support for Hamas et. al.?

While I do not agree with Hamas' use of suicide bombing, I know its members are not a bunch of madmen (and women). It is an astute political organization that knows what it can and cannot get away with. And while the Palestinian people may have given them political power, Hamas also knows that Palestinians by and large do not support its refusal to recognize the State of Israel. Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki has found that “for the first time since the start of the peace process, a majority of Palestinians support a compromise settlement that is acceptable to a majority of Israelis.” Michael Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum continues to quote from Shikaki's report:

According to the USIP-sponsored poll “a majority of Palestinians are willing to accept the two-state solution by which “Palestinians recognize Israel ‘as the state of the Jewish people’ and Palestine [the West Bank and Gaza] ‘as the state of the Palestinian people.’ In June 2003, 52 percent supported and 46 percent opposed this formula, and by September 2005 support rose to 63 percent and opposition dropped to 35 percent.”

He goes on to explain that, "the Shikaki poll shows...that Hamas will have no mandate to reignite the intifada."

We may not like the results of the Palestinian election but if they are designated “free and fair” by the US National Democratic Institute and the other international observers, we will have to figure out some way to come to terms with them.

And here’s the good news. A Hamas in power will itself have to come to terms with a Palestinian populace that supports its social programs and lack of corruption but opposes its stance on Israel.

That is why the diplomatic process will survive next Wednesday’s Palestinian election (and certainly Israel’s on March 28). Public opinion matters in democracies which is why a democratic Palestinian election is a step in the right direction even if we don’t like the guys who win.

If the U.S. is truly serious about creating democracy in the Middle East (and I admit, I'm a bit skeptical of this administration's motives here), then we have to learn to live with what democracy produces. If democracy is good enough for Americans (and to all you out there who might think otherwise after November 2004, it really is) and good enough for the Israelis, then certainly it's good enough for the Palestinians

January 26, 2006

Alito Filibuster

Tell key senators to stand up for our democracy, to refuse to be traitors to their constituents and cowards in the face of tough opposition -- tell them to support the filibuster of Judge Samuel Alito's confirmation, being led by Sen. Edward Kennedy and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

The Hamas Government

The new shocking international development this morning was the news that Hamas had become the democratically elected government of the Palestinians, indicating for anyone who may have had their doubts (myself included) that the Palestinian people cannot possibly be committed to the peace process. Although I have never been a big fan of Israel, I agree with its decision not to work with any Palestinian-Hamas government -- it is impossible for the Israeli government to work with a Palestinian government which not only refuses to recognize its validity, but which has been actively committed to killing the Israeli people whose common good the Israeli government is responsible for protecting. It would be tantamount to the United States working with a nation whose government is controlled by al-Qaeda.

For once, I also agree with President Bush's decision not to work with the Hamas government. I believe that both the United States and the European Union should continue to view Hamas as a terrorist organization, and I don't think that any nation committed to peace and an end to terrorism should recognize the Palestinian-Hamas government. The Hamas government must be marginalized by the world in such a way that the Palestinians will realize by the time the next election comes around (or perhaps before then) that it is not feasible for Hamas to continue as their democratically elected government. The Palestinians must be forced to realize that there will be no hope for a Palestinian state or any peaceful future while their elected leaders are committed to the destruction of Israel and endless hostility toward the United States and Europe. If peace is to be had, if a Palestinian future is to be had, the Palestinians must now work for it by ousting the government that they have so foolishly elected.

To conclude, I hope that the nations which currently recognize the Palestinian government -- including Vatican City -- will sever all ties with it until such a time as Hamas is no longer in control of it. A Palestinian-Hamas government is not just a threat to Israel or to the Middle East, it is a threat to the world and it must be treated as such by all civilized peoples and their governments.

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See Also: "Living with democracy," a post written by my co-editor Michelle Strausbaugh, expressing a different view of the new Palestinian government.

January 25, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 12

Gaudium et Spes Part I, Chapter I is titled, "The Dignity Of The Human Person" and runs for eleven sections. Henceforth, I'll transcribe the full footnotes into the text, for your convenience.

According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to (humanity) as their center and crown.

I was struck by this. Environmentalist-leaning people might dispute it. Radical traditional Catholics, too, probably. But the notion is Scriptural. Let's leave it aside for the moment, unless somebody feels urged to make a strong case for the Green side.

But what is (humanity)? About (themselves they have) expressed, and (continue) to express, many divergent and even contradictory opinions. In these (they) often (exalt themselves) as the absolute measure of all things or (debase themselves) to the point of despair. The result is doubt and anxiety. The Church certainly understands these problems. Endowed with light from God, she can offer solutions to them, so that (humankind's) true situation can be portrayed and (their) defects explained, while at the same time (their) dignity and destiny are justly acknowledged.

More of the same theme from the introduction: an acknowledgement of the created goodness of humanity, yet the helping hand of understanding and clarity is offered. The rest of GS 12 turns to Scripture to provide the theological basis for this contention:

For Sacred Scripture teaches that (people were) created "to the image of God," (are) capable of knowing and loving (their) Creator, and was appointed by Him as master of all earthly creatures(Cf. Gen. 1:26, Wis. 2;23) that (they) might subdue them and use them to God's glory.(Cf. Sir. 17:3-10) "What (are we) that you should care for (us)? You have made (us) little less than the angels, and crowned (us) with glory and honor. You have given (us) rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under (our) feet" (Ps. 8:5-7).

But God did not create (human beings) as a solitary, for from the beginning "male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). Their companionship produces the primary form of interpersonal communion. For by his innermost nature (humans are social beings), and unless (they relate themselves) to others (they) can neither live nor develop (their) potential.

Therefore, as we read elsewhere in Holy Scripture God saw "all that he had made, and it was very good" (Gen. 1:31).

In sum, we have a statement of which Matthew Fox would approve. Overall, the document takes this original aspect of creation as a launching point for what follows. Our longing for God and for right relationships with God and one another will color how the Church sees its relatinship with the modern world.


Deus Caritas Est

Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, was published today. It's well worth the time it takes to read it. Here's a quote from the encyclical which seems particularly relevant to our readers:

The Church's social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being. It recognizes that it is not the Church's responsibility to make this teaching prevail in political life. Rather, the Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest. Building a just social and civil order, wherein each person receives what is his or her due, is an essential task which every generation must take up anew. As a political task, this cannot be the Church's immediate responsibility. Yet, since it is also a most important human responsibility, the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically.

The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply (Deus Caritas Est, #28a).

There is so much in the pope's first encyclical that is encouraging, but I find this particular passage very encouraging for progressive Catholics who are concerned about social justice, but who nevertheless believe in an appropriate separation between Church and State. Most progressive Catholics agree that the Church has a meaningful role to play within political and social life, and I think Pope Benedict XVI has hit the proverbial nail on the head: "...it is not the Church's responsibility to make this teaching prevail in political life. Rather, the Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly."

It is not the Church's job to run the State or to coerce political leaders into following its own teaching, rather it is the Church's job to offer wise counsel for the formation of consciences and to offer insight into the requirements of justice. It is heartening to see that Pope Benedict XVI: a) does not believe or teach that the Church is the sole arbiter of what is just or what is unjust; and b) that he believes the conscience, formed by but not replaced by the teaching of the Church, should still be the prevailing factor in political life. Maybe Pope Benedict XVI's progressive understanding of the separation of Church and State, and the Church's role in society, will help all of the lay faithful come to a similarly progressive understanding in which the Church is not dictator over the State but one participant among many in social and political life.

January 23, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 11: To the Heart of the Document

Part I of Gaudium et Spes is entitled "The Church and Man's Calling" And yes, we're just getting to Part I. (Don't be alarmed; the document contains only 93 sections.)

The People of God believes that it is led by the Lord's Spirit, Who fills the earth. Motivated by this faith, it labors to decipher authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the happenings, needs and desires in which this People has a part along with other(s) of our age. For faith throws a new light on everything, manifests God's design over (the total human vocation), and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human.

Okay. So faith is a motivating factor for looking out, not exclusively within. Note also that non-believers are part of God's plan. And thirdly, the Church is to seek "fully human" solutions to modern challenges. What does this last point mean? Humanistic in a Christian sense, certainly. "Solutions" that treat not only the spiritual calling to which all people are invited, but also the physical and psychological aspects of the human condition.

This council, first of all, wishes to assess in this light those values which are most highly prized today and to relate them to their divine source. Insofar as they stem from endowments conferred by God on (people), these values are exceedingly good. Yet they are often wrenched from their rightful function by the taint in (the human) heart, and hence stand in need of purification.

This is constructive: looking at the values (labelled "exceedingly good") in harmony with God, yet realizing that the taint is a problem also with believers. In this sense, Christians and non-Christians alike stand before God with certain positive values which reflect the divine, but we also stand in God's presence as sinful beings, sharing the tendency to pervert grace and sully what God would affirm in us.

What does the Church think of (people)? What needs to be recommended for the upbuilding of contemporary society? What is the ultimate significance of human activity throughout the world? People are waiting for an answer to these questions. From the answers it will be increasingly clear that the People of God and the human race in whose midst it lives render service to each other. Thus the mission of the Church will show its religious, and by that very fact, its supremely human character.

Catch that? Mutual service to one another. A human relationship between believers and non-believers.


No on Alito: A Message from Sen. John Kerry

From the desk of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA):

Dear Reader,

I've studied Judge Alito's legal record. I met with him one-on-one. After all this, I am left with one simple conclusion: if Judge Alito becomes Supreme Court Justice Alito, he will move the Court backwards.

I will vote against Judge Alito's confirmation, and I hope a majority of Senators choose to join us on the Senate floor, voting and speaking out against him. I know we face tough odds, but this is an important fight.

The bottom line is Judge Alito cannot be trusted on the Supreme Court. We can't trust him to stand up to government abuse of power. We can't trust him to ensure all citizens enjoy equal protection under the law. We can't trust him to protect our right to privacy. We can't trust him to defend mainstream American values.

To muster enough Senators to defeat Judge Alito, the American people have to make it clear that they are against his nomination. That's where you come in. By speaking out, you will help us convince other Senators to join our fight.

Stand with us today against Judge Alito

If you want to understand why Americans don't want Judge Alito on the Supreme Court, just take a look at his record. It paints a disturbing picture.

When it comes to standing up to the abuse of executive power and protecting our right to privacy, he barely has a record. Judge Alito refused to hold the government accountable for excessive force when an unarmed boy was shot and killed, or when an innocent 10 year old girl was strip-searched.

In a speech in 2000, Judge Alito even endorsed a theory suggesting that independent agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which holds companies responsible for making products safe for kids, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which stands up to corporate abusers like Enron, are unconstitutional infringements on the President's power.

With this record, how can we expect Alito to stand up to the President when he breaks the law to eavesdrop on American citizens or authorizes the torture of detainees?

Judge Alito's record on civil rights is no better. He saw no legitimate question of discrimination in allowing an all-white jury to sentence a black man to death for killing a white man. His own colleagues have criticized him for ignoring employees' rights to be free from job discrimination. Judge Alito's clear bias is to keep victims of discrimination out of the court system - and to rule in favor of corporate interests.

Judge Alito's record on privacy rights is worst of all. In 1985, Judge Alito actually wrote a memo outlining a strategy to undermine Roe v. Wade by slowly chipping away at its protections. That same year, Judge Alito wrote in a job application that he did not believe in the constitutionality of the right to privacy. Judge Alito's views on privacy rights are not ambiguous; they are openly hostile.

Stand with us today against Judge Alito

Your voice is essential in this fight.

We have no reason to be hesitant in fighting to keep Samuel Alito off the Supreme Court. None of our fears are based on inference, speculation or assumption. His record speaks for itself -- and it speaks on behalf of extreme ideology and powerful corporations -- not the rights guaranteed by our Constitution.

To join this fight, please sign our letter. When I go down to the Senate floor to speak out against Judge Alito, I'll enter your name in opposition to Alito into the Congressional Record as well. And I'll show my Senate colleagues that as far as the American people are concerned, this is not some inside the beltway conversation; this is a landmark struggle for the future of our nation.

Please join us in this fight for our most cherished rights and freedoms.


John Kerry

P.S. Please pass this letter on to your friends. We need as many voices as possible joining us and speaking out against Alito.

January 21, 2006

Living the Gospel of Life

Thirty-three years ago, seven Supreme Court justices, led by Justice Harry Blackmun, issued their controversial ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court ruled that women have a constitutional right to privacy which includes the right to have an abortion, and the furor over this decision has continued right up to the present day. Concerned Americans, a large majority of whom have been people of faith, have gathered every year since 1974 to memorialize and protest the decision made in Roe and to call for its revocation. It must be noted that Catholic Christians have always been a significant force in the movement to overturn Roe.

I join my sisters and brothers in their concern over Roe v. Wade and its insistence upon a constitutional right to legal abortion. I do not believe that our God is an impersonal creator, but a faithful Father who loves each of his children from the moment of conception and beyond natural death. I also believe that abortion can have a significant and negative impact upon the mental, emotional, and physical health of women, particularly young women -- and this leads me to be concerned not only for the human beings killed by abortion, but also for the women whose lives are so often destroyed along with the lives of their preborn children. Nevertheless, I lack my brothers' and sisters' certainty that America is ready to end the practice of abortion. I fear that overturning Roe would only drive abortion underground, having little significant impact upon the abortion rate and making abortion even more dangerous for the women who seek it in desperation. That is why, even while I join my sisters and brothers in their concern and their belief that abortion is gravely immoral, I cannot join them in their certainty that Roe should be overturned.

While I cannot join in the call to overturn Roe v. Wade, I do call upon our government and our society to act. We cannot, must not, sit idly by while more women and children are destroyed by abortion; it is imperative that we work now to create a culture which welcomes human life and consistently respects it. Relating this consistent ethic of life to pregnancy and abortion, I call upon our society to have greater respect for the women who are bearing these fragile lives within their wombs. This respect must begin not merely with charity, but with concrete economic and social justice: in order to create an environment in which women feel secure in the decision to carry their children to term, we must create a society in which their most basic needs are met during pregnancy and beyond. Creating a culture of life requires a commitment from all of the American people and the government which acts on our behalf to respect life and to respect those who bring life into the world.

In closing, I reiterate my enduring conviction that respect for a consistent ethic of life is fundamental to creating a culture of life. When a pregnant Iraqi woman and the child within her die in the destruction wrought by American bombs, have we not performed an even more sinister form of abortion? When we sit by and do little or nothing to lighten the burden of those dying under the yoke of extreme poverty in the developing world, have we not performed a more subtle but equally horrifying form of euthanasia? How can we truly create a culture of life at home when we do not fully respect life in other parts of the world? And when someone's child dies under the yoke of poverty within our own borders, when the elderly and the disabled and the seriously ill suffer and die without adequate health care, when we demand that children be brought to term only to watch passively while they suffer through plagues like hunger and homelessness and lack of adequate education -- what does that say about we who call ourselves "pro-life"?

In order to create a culture that respects life, we must create a culture that respects all life. I look forward to the day when I will be able to say that the March for Life in which so many of my sisters and brothers participate is a March for All Life. Then and only then will we move on from mere partisan politics toward abundantly living the Gospel of Life. May the Lord Jesus bring us to that moment -- and soon.

- - -

It must be noted, especially on a subject as controversial as this one, that my views are always my own unless otherwise noted and do not necessarily reflect the views of my co-bloggers. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis has no official opinion on abortion and the complex issues surrounding it. While we may disagree over these difficult issues, I invite my co-bloggers and our readers to rise above the issues and commit to unified action. Monday, January 23 has been designated by the American bishops as a day of penance for sins committed against human life; therefore, I invite my co-bloggers and our readers to join me in prayer and fasting, asking God our Father to give us the strength to put an end to all offenses committed against human life which is made in his image and likeness. I hope you'll join me.

January 20, 2006

"Blame anyone who is not 'us'"

Independent Online Edition > Robert Fisk

The Indy rarely puts Robert Fisk's articles in their free section so head on over as soon as you can before they put it in the "portfolio" section. I figure you got about two days or so.

Robert Fisk is a journalist who has focused on the Middle East for a good 30+ years or so. His Arabic is superb and his analysis first rate. He's also one of the few westerners to have ever interviewed Osama Bin Laden.

January 19, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 10

The lengthy introductory section of Gaudium et Spes concludes with this section.

The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart(s) of (people). For in (the person) many elements wrestle with one another. Thus, on the one hand, as a creature (they experience their) limitations in a multitude of ways; on the other (they feel themselves) to be boundless in (their) desires and summoned to a higher life.

The balance of our creatureliness, our mortality, our sinfulness, if you will, and the call to realize the potential of having been created in the divine image.

Pulled by manifold attractions (they are) constantly forced to choose among them and renounce some. Indeed, as weak and sinful beings, (they) often do what (they) would not, and fail to do what (they) would.

St Paul said it so well, of course, capsulizing the very nature of addiction, compulsion, and all the graded steps from these terminal conditions to that of the freedom offered in Christ.

Hence (they suffer) from internal divisions, and from these flow so many and such great discords in society. No doubt many whose lives are infected with a practical materialism are blinded against any sharp insight into this kind of dramatic situation; or else, weighed down by unhappiness they are prevented from giving the matter any thought. Thinking they have found serenity in an interpretation of reality everywhere proposed these days, many look forward to a genuine and total emancipation of humanity wrought solely by human effort; they are convinced that the future rule of (humanity) over the earth will satisfy every desire of (their) hearts. Nor are there lacking (those) who despair of any meaning to life and praise the boldness of those who think that human existence is devoid of any inherent significance and strive to confer a total meaning on it by their own ingenuity alone.

The Church takes a useful and compassionate tack here: appealing to the fruitlessness of establishing one's own happiness. A sensibly adult approach which resonates (in my thinking) with Luke's father of two sons (15:11ff). The younger son's crudity is shocking, but the father gives the son his freedom. He does so to allow him discover for himself and come to his own conclusions about his place in life. Wrenching as it may be, parents must let go. A returning child does so for her or his own good and well-learned reasons. That seems to me to be the genius of the Gaudium et Spes approach: the Church awaits you.

Nevertheless, in the face of the modern development of the world, the number constantly swells of the people who raise the most basic questions of recognize them with a new sharpness: what is (humankind)? What is this sense of sorrow, of evil, of death, which continues to exist despite so much progress? What purpose have these victories purchased at so high a cost? What can (a person) offer to society, what can (a person) expect from it? What follows this earthly life?

Does the Church have these answers? I think so. I'd hope I'd be able to communicate them. And as disciples and self-styled Christians, the very least of our abilities should be able to respond to these basic questions about existence.

The Church firmly believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all,(2) can through His Spirit offer (people) the light and the strength to measure up to (their) supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under the heaven been given to (them) by which it is fitting for (them) to be saved.

(The Church) likewise holds that in (our) most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and the goal of (the person), as well as of all human history.

Can't get more explicit than that.

The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, Who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.

No relativism here.

Hence under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of every creature, the council wishes to speak to all (people) in order to shed light on the mystery of (humanity) and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time.

And so the preface material concludes. One might conclude the spirit of openness to the world, to non-believers, is a quiet and confident approach. We don't need to hammer away with our beliefs because we hold them as self-evident.


January 18, 2006

Wedgie '06

You can tell that a campaign season is about to begin when the life issues once again take the center stage, becoming "wedge issues" by which America can be easily divided between Right and Left. Well, get ready everyone, because it's time now for Wedgie '06.

The first news item sure to send both the Right and the Left scrambling to divide the nation is today's Supreme Court ruling which established that a New Hampshire parental notification law was too hastily overturned by the lower courts. I can almost hear the Right claiming this as a victory for the more conservative Roberts Court, even though this was a unanimous ruling and even though it was sent back to the lower courts so that they could revisit whether or not the parental notification law must contain a provision for the health of the patient, a provision which would effectively render the law meaningless. Meanwhile, I can almost hear the Left claiming that our whole American way of life is at stake just because the Supreme Court doesn't think that minors have a constitutional right to abortion without their parents being notified -- even though minors don't have a right to most other medical procedures without parental notification and consent, and even though this ruling was unanimous, joined even by the most liberal justices on the Supreme Court. The unanimity of this ruling diminishes its "wedge" potential, though.

The second news item has more "wedge" potential, in that it involved a 6-3 decision in which the more liberal and moderate justices on the Supreme Court, including Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, lined up against the three conservative justices. This will likely have some impact on the Alito confirmation, since Judge Alito would replace Justice O'Connor and probably make a future assisted suicide ruling an even closer ruling, although still in favor of assisted suicide. That, in turn, has the potential to impact the 2006 and 2008 campaigns, since now an argument can be made that upcoming retirements from the Supreme Court and future appointments could significantly affect the future of assisted suicide in the United States. If the polls are right, however, the Left may be able to use this as a wedge issue more effectively than the Right, because it seems that most Americans support an individual state's right to determine assisted suicide laws.

The third news item comes to us from our friend David Schrader (Catholics in the Public Square): a bill introduced during the last congressional session by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the Right to Life Act. Essentially, the Right to Life Act would implement equal protection under the 14th Amendment "for the right to life of each born and preborn human person." It has often been assumed that a constitutional amendment would be necessary to abolish Roe v. Wade, but it seems that a provision in Roe could allow for an act of Congress establishing the personhood of the fetus. That's what the Right to Life Act is designed to do. The Right to Life Act has great "wedge" potential.

At its most basic level, it would allow Republicans to continue claiming the banner of the "pro-life party." The sponsorship of the bill is already lining up along party lines. But there are elements of the bill which could backfire on the Republican Party. First, the Right to Life Act would have a different effect on abortion law than if the Supreme Court itself overturned Roe v. Wade. Whereas overturning Roe would return the legality of abortion to the state legislatures, establishing the personhood of the preborn and giving them equal protection under the 14th Amendment would have the effect of outlawing abortion in all fifty states. The electorate may not be as receptive to a federal ban on abortion as it would be to overturning Roe and returning the matter to the state legislatures. Additionally, the bill would define personhood as beginning at "the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being" -- having the potential to impact the legality of so-called "abortifacient" contraception such as the birth control pill and fertility procedures such as in-vitro fertilization.

Even if people are receptive to a ban on abortion, they are less likely to be receptive to a ban on birth control and in-vitro fertilization, but that is exactly what this bill could end up doing. If the Left were to approach the Right to Life Act from the correct angle, it could turn into a political victory for the Left rather than for the Right.

In any event, it will be interesting to see how these three issues impact the 2006 congressional campaign and the 2008 presidential campaign.

- - -

For the record, I support parental notification laws and I oppose legal protection for assisted suicide. I am ambivalent when it comes to the Right to Life Act, in that I do believe that human personhood begins at the moment of conception, but I think the Right to Life Act or any ban on abortion would drive abortion underground and have little significant impact on the abortion rate, while making abortion even more dangerous for the women who seek it. I am also concerned that once Roe v. Wade is effectively overturned, the pro-life social and economic movement which has sought social and economic justice for pregnant women in order to curb the abortion rate would cease. In any event, the above analysis was intended to be a purely political analysis, discussing the effect that these "wedge issues" could have on the political climate in 2006 and 2008 -- it has nothing to do with my actual views on abortion and assisted suicide.

January 17, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 9

The introduction of Gaudium et Spes continues with the acknowledgement of the high hope for justice based on human power:

Meanwhile the conviction grows not only that humanity can and should increasingly consolidate its control over creation, but even more, that it devolves on humanity to establish a political, social and economic order which will growingly serve man and help individuals as well as groups to affirm and develop the dignity proper to them.

This might be one area in which the world has seen a significant change in the intervening forty years. I don't think there's as much of a sense of human control in the secular world. The past few decades have reinforced the notion that there is no such thing as a new world order, at least not a more just one. Communism is replaced with organized crime in Russia. China makes just about every consumer good. The rich, at least, seem to profit more from a pseudo-peace in developed countries. I just wish they'd find something more lucrative than weapons for war.

As a result many persons are quite aggressively demanding those benefits of which with vivid awareness they judge themselves to be deprived either through injustice or unequal distribution. Nations on the road to progress, like those recently made independent, desire to participate in the goods of modern civilization, not only in the political field but also economically, and to play their part freely on the world scene. Still they continually fall behind while very often their economic and other dependence on wealthier nations advances more rapidly.

Nothing's changed.

People hounded by hunger call upon those better off. Where they have not yet won it, women claim for themselves an equity with men before the law and in fact. Laborers and farmers seek not only to provide for the necessities of life, but to develop the gifts of their personality by their labors and indeed to take part in regulating economic, social, political and cultural life. Now, for the first time in human history all people are convinced that the benefits of culture ought to be and actually can be extended to everyone.

Still, beneath all these demands lies a deeper and more widespread longing: persons and societies thirst for a full and free life worthy of (men and women); one in which they can subject to their own welfare all that the modern world can offer them so abundantly. In addition, nations try harder every day to bring about a kind of universal community.

The "universal community" is more a fact of the dominance of western culture and the phenomenon of computer-aided communication than any political reality. Here, too, I think GS betrays a blind confidence in the political world of the 60's. Perhaps colonialism and the alliance against fascism hid too much of the undercurrent of simmering ethnic tensions in eastern Europe, African and south Asia. I'm sure a rewriting of GS today would have to include the tendency of the world community to split itself along lines of historical resentment, religion, and ethnic rivalries.

Since all these things are so, the modern world shows itself at once powerful and weak, capable of the noblest deeds or the foulest; before it lies the path to freedom or to slavery, to progress or retreat, to brotherhood or hatred. Moreover, (people are) becoming aware that it is (their) responsibility to guide aright the forces which (they have) unleashed and which can enslave (them) or minister to (them). That is why (they are) putting questions to (themselves).


January 16, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 8

This section might be subtitled for its last sentence, naming us as both cause and victim of our own conflicts and hardships. Gaudium et Spes 8 has a good bit of material worthy of reflection. Reminder that this section continues the bishops' diagnosis of the world situation in 1965: this is not church teaching as such; it is an assessment. We keep in mind how much of this continues to ring true in the Information Age.

This development coming so rapidly and often in a disorderly fashion, combined with keener awareness itself of the inequalities in the world beget or intensify contradictions and imbalances.

Read this next portion over. As I read of the struggle of the modern intellect, I'm struck at the lack of grasp of the concept of mystery. I'm not a big believer in the notion that technology has complicated the moral decisions we face. Cloning is complex. The sociology and politics behind abortion on demand or embryonic stem cell research is complex. I don't find the application of Christian morals to be particularly difficult in the abstract.

However, my personal experience is that the current drags me along until I come face to face with a moral dilemma nobody of a previous generation has had to face.

I've blogged earlier that my daughter's doctors tell us that due to her heart condition, she will be a virtual 100% death risk for carrying a biological child to term. As of last summer, no woman with her condition survived a full-term pregnancy. I was reflecting a few months ago about theoreticals: what if she suffers rape and conception occurs. Would an immediate abortifacient be more moral than an attempt at carrying a pregnancy to term only to determine future medicine and health are insufficient? The Church of a hundred years ago would never have a ruling on this. First, nobody with the condition survived infancy. Second, we just didn't know.

Anyway, here's more of GS:

Within the individual person there develops rather frequently an imbalance between an intellect which is modern in practical matters and a theoretical system of thought which can neither master the sum total of its ideas, nor arrange them adequately into a synthesis. Likewise an imbalance arises between a concern for practicality and efficiency, and the demands of moral conscience; also very often between the conditions of collective existence and the requisites of personal thought, and even of contemplation. At length there develops an imbalance between specialized human activity and a comprehensive view of reality.

We have certainly lagged behind in our ability to contemplate, reflect, ponder.

An accurate diagnosis, then and now:

As for the family, discord results from population, economic and social pressures, or from difficulties which arise between succeeding generations, or from new social relationships between men and women.

Differences crop up too between races and between various kinds of social orders; between wealthy nations and those which are less influential or are needy; finally, between international institutions born of the popular desire for peace, and the ambition to propagate one's own ideology, as well as collective greeds existing in nations or other groups.

And making our own bed:

What results is mutual distrust, enmities, conflicts and hardships. Of such (are people) at once the cause and the victim.

Relatively speaking, the science is easier than the morality that accompanies it. There's a temptation to say that new developments have completely put the old order out of business. That seems to be too easy an answer for me.

Perhaps my future adult daughter will accept the risk if bearing a child becomes a priority for her and her future husband. It's possible science will permit such a thing. Or perhaps not at that time. Where the Church may falter is the absolute back-application of such situations to teachings on sex, gender, and other long-held propositions. There's some of this stretching to be seen in the Church's possibly wild attempts to make sense of same-sex attraction and what that might mean for suitability for ministry.

As we delve deeper, there arises considerable food for thought. And we haven't hit core Church teaching yet.

"Martin Luther King died daily..."

Martin Luther King died daily, as St. Paul said. He faced death daily and said a number of times that he knew he would be killed for the faith that was in him. The faith that men could live together as brothers. The faith in the Gospel teaching of nonviolence. The faith that man is capable of change, of growth, of growing in love.

- Dorothy Day, on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr's assassination.

(Via Fr. Jim Tucker at Dappled Things).

January 15, 2006

Domestic Suspicion

President Bush and his administration insist on the need for quick judgment unencumbered by the judicial process when the need arises for spying within the nation's borders. An executive order to spy on citizens and non-citizens alike has been in place since late 2001. This means letters, e-mails, phone conversations, and anything the federal government believes will help it combat terrorism: it's all open season. This news was leaked and confirmed last month as the renewal of the Patriot Act was before Congress. The White House line was anger over the leak. Comfort to the enemy and all that, so it was said.

The president makes a case that such powers are needful. More than that: they should be secret. Domestic spying has prevented human death and suffering within our borders since 9/11. One member of Congress criticized "King" Bush last month for taking power that was not his to take. But what is the moral assessment of the president's position? But is being a "king" immoral? Or does it just fly against our American perception of the power of government? As significant as our view of legal processes and executive power may be, is President Bush committing an immoral act by spying on people without permission? Or is he just violating our political proprieties? Or m aybe he's on firm moral and legal ground?

The argument for and against the president on legal grounds has been made elsewhere and continues to be made. This essay's focus is on the Church's approach to the powers President Bush has shouldered. The core relevant section of Church teaching with regard to this is found in Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes 73 and the sections that follow.

Acknowledging the trend toward protection of human rights, GS makes a case that "the protection of the rights of a person is indeed a necessary condition so that citizens, individually or collectively, can take an active part in the life and government of the state."

Does government tapping into conversations prevent monitored (but innocent) persons from this activity? Not yet it hasn't.

However, those political systems, prevailing in some parts of the world are to be reproved which hamper civic or religious freedom, victimize large numbers through avarice and political crimes, and divert the exercise of authority from the service of the common good to the interests of one or another faction or of the rulers themselves.

It is true that law enforcement officials make mistakes. Local, state, federal, and shadow agencies have all blundered from time to time in the war on terrorism, detaining the innocent and in some heinous or error-prone cases, causing physical injury or death. Does the case for a freer hand in domestic spying increase such cases? Probably, but the tightening of the judicial process for anti-terrorism efforts would not eradicate such mistakes. We're only human, after all.

The Church's concern -- and ours -- should rise if and when such efforts at spying were made to divert attention away from terrorists and to the political opposition. Political leaders might be uncomfortable about Cindy Sheehan, or other war opponents. But political distrust does not equate with a reasonable terrorist threat and the tapping of anti-war phones or computers.

It is said that the administration would get just about every warrant for which it asked. Either that means our spies are skillfully accurate at determining suspects, or that the judiciary provides a rubber stamp for whatever the spies ask.

I knew friends who were wiretapped in the 80's for supporting the Central American sanctuary movement. So I don't take domestic spying too lightly. But for now, I have trouble mustering moral outrage at Mr Bush. There's circumstantial evidence afoot that the moral underbelly of politics is hardly pristine. Let me boil this down to some simple yes and no questions:

Do I feel safer with the Bush policies?

No. More spying means more information. Integrating information means wisdom, and is far from being a given. I hope the low level anti-terrorist folks in the government are doing a wise job intercepting information. They were asleep at the wheel on 9/10 and maybe now they have a drive to make up for that lapse. Thirty years of no airline hijacking in the US and then four within an hour on that fateful day? Domestic law enforcement still has something to prove. If they're stopping terrorist threats but nobody's talking about it, they have to keep working without the public gratitude the military receives. And obviously, I'd feel a whole lot safer if we hadn't invaded Iraq. Bush and his oil buddies picked the number three (at best) threat. So much for wisdom at the top.

Am I concerned about spying without judicial approval?

Sad to say, not yet. I tend to think the courts will pretty much give the feds what they want. There's no reasonable sign the peace movement is being targetted. As long as Bush doesn't pull a Nixon, I'd say he's overstepped his authority, but I also don't doubt he thinks its morally justified. The rubber-stamp courts are what bother me.

So what's the moral bottom line?

If the Bush administration (or that of a future president) makes a move on non-terrorists, then I think the moral case for domestic spying will topple, taking the legitimacy of the president in office along with it.

Isn't that harsh?

No. Stepping over the line to seek a political or economic good, even in a questionable case will open the legal and moral doubts too much. I can't say it would be an impeachable offense, but I would say the executive branch would tumble from the moral high road.

Bottom line politically?

It's not a front line consideration. Not yet. The patriot card is still a valuable one for Mr Bush. But the Republicans as a whole are on shaky ground. We know it's going on--that's a good thing. I suspect our terrorist adversaries also knew it was going on. If they're getting caught, they have some clue as to how that's happening. I think Mr Bush would prefer not to be scrutinized by concerned Americans.

And morally?

The Republicans have more up front moral concerns in the public eye. My sense is to go with what we know and cut loose any politician in obvious moral doo-doo. Wait and see what happens with the president.

Gaudium et Spes 7

This section of Gaudium et Spes attempts to diagnose the problem of society's upheaval. Is it a problem with rebellion? Are the present (1960's or 21st century?) institutions capable of rising to the task? The question is raised, but without an answer:

A change in attitudes and in human structures frequently calls accepted values into question, especially among young people, who have grown impatient on more than one occasion, and indeed become rebels in their distress. Aware of their own influence in the life of society, they want a part in it sooner. This frequently causes parents and educators to experience greater difficulties day by day in discharging their tasks. The institutions, laws and modes of thinking and feeling as handed down from previous generations do not always seem to be well adapted to the contemporary state of affairs; hence arises an upheaval in the manner and even the norms of behavior.

Religion is undoubtedly affected. The council bishops were aware that in 1965, the world was already experiencing a disconnect between large numbers of people and their religion. There was a good side to the experience of the modern world, namely the separation of the magical from the religious.

Finally, these new conditions have their impact on religion. On the one hand a more critical ability to distinguish religion from a magical view of the world and from the superstitions which still circulate purifies it and exacts day by day a more personal and explicit adherence to faith. As a result many persons are achieving a more vivid sense of God. On the other hand, growing numbers of people are abandoning religion in practice. Unlike former days, the denial of God or of religion, or the abandonment oœ them, are no longer unusual and individual occurrences. For today it is not rare for such things to be presented as requirements of scientific progress or of a certain new humanism. In numerous places these views are voiced not only in the teachings of philosophers, but on every side they influence literature, the arts, the interpretation of the humanities and of history and civil laws themselves. As a consequence, many people are shaken.

The shakenness remains with us today. Sixty to a hundred years of separation from values (I would date the modern decay at last to the period after the Great War; the 60's was merely continuing a trend begun earlier as far as the disconnect between Christian values and society is concerned) has spread to more than just the examples given here. The influence of television and global economic structures is undeniably a part of it.

Anything the bishops or I have missed you'd care to elaborate upon?

Happy Birthday, Rev. King

Although Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will be observed tomorrow, his birthday is actually today. To commemorate the life of one of America's greatest patriots, I have decided to post a rather long quote, but quite worth the read, from a speech that he delivered at Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967. The speech was called "Beyond Vietnam":

Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, "What about Vietnam?" They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

For those who ask the question, "Aren't you a civil rights leader?" and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957, when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: "To save the soul of America." We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:

O, yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath-
America will be!

Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read "Vietnam." It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that "America will be" are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1954. And I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances.

But even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men-for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

Finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

Rev. King's words are timeless, and they speak to our own situation today. Humanity cannot truly pursue its own good in any area unless it is also pursuing peace. Let us then work to be peacemakers and thus inherit the blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

January 13, 2006

Progressive Christian Leadership Summit

In case you hadn't heard, CrossLeft and several other progressive Christian organizations are sponsoring a Progressive Christian Leadership Summit on the weekend of February 4-5 in San Francisco. Full details are available on the CrossLeft website. I don't know if any of the contributing editors or writers from Sollicitudo Rei Socialis will be able to attend -- I know for sure that I won't be able to -- but our prayers will be with the summit, and we'll be there in spirit.

January 12, 2006

America, Turn to the Dark Side

It seems to me that I remember, back when Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith came out, that there was a bit of a flap over whether or not George Lucas intended to speak to our own American political situation through his movie. At this point, I should warn the readers who have not seen the Star Wars prequels that they should not read on, because this will spoil those movies.

But think about it. In Revenge of the Sith, Emperor Palpatine expands his executive power by provoking an unjust war between the Galactic Republic and a separatist group, an insurgency if you will. The war itself is not really the point, although Palpatine has no qualms about killing; rather, the point is to so vastly expand his executive power that, by the end of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine has gone from chancellor of the Galactic Senate to emperor of the new Galactic Empire. He did this primarily by means of the war he provoked, but he also did it by taking control of both the Galactic Congress and the courts, leaving no one to oppose him. We were told that drawing comparisons between Emperor Palpatine and President Bush was absurd: first of all, he did not provoke the war with Iraq based on lies, although we now know that he did; and second, surely we could not believe that he was trying to expand his own executive power so that he could become emperor of a new American Empire.

But we now know that he is trying to do just that.

It is primarily through the Iraq War and the War on Terror that President Bush has expanded his executive power; the false fear he provoked prior to the war led us into the war, and the fear he has provoked since the war began has kept the American people docile and unwilling to oppose the expansion of his executive power. I believe this is the real reason for the Iraq War; some will say it's about oil, others about revenge against Saddam Hussein, but I think it was just a convenient means by which President Bush could go from being mere President to Emperor in a matter of two or three years. But there has been another, more subtle means by which President Bush has attempted to expand his executive power: taking over the legislative and judicial branches.

In fairness, President Bush did not really "take over" the legislative branch. The American people did that for him. But he has done a good job, with help from the rubber stamp formerly known as Congress, of taking over the judicial branch; he has packed the courts with ideologues who have only one thing in common. And no, it's not what you're thinking. It's not a desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, because not all of President Bush's judicial nominees are opposed to abortion. Rather, the one thing that all of President Bush's judicial nominees have in common is the doctrine of the "unitary executive," a doctrine which would vastly expand the President's power and undermine the constitutional separation of powers. This is the only context in which Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court made sense; this nomination, which left the Religious Right scratching its collective head, made perfect sense to the White House, because what President Bush is looking for in his nominees is not a pro-life judicial philosophy but a pro-executive judicial philosophy. It seems that he wants the judiciary in his pocket so that he can continue to expand his own executive power.

And so it is with fascination that I have watched as the Democratic minority in the Senate has begun to question Alito's views on executive power, leaving aside the issue of abortion for a moment to peek outside their box and realize that there are other issues to consider. I just hope they're not too late. In Revenge of the Sith, by the time the few remaining Jedi and opposition senators realized what Palpatine was up to, it was way too late: he had already built his army, declared himself emperor, and begun construction of the Death Star. In President Bush's quest for the expansion of his own executive power, he is not far behind Emperor Palpatine. He has built an army of unquestioning supporters ready to aid him in anything, constitutional or unconstitutional, moral or immoral, all in the name of national security; he has expanded his power so that he can defy our most important laws pertaining to torture, due process, and privacy. What's left to do?

What's left for President Bush to do is name his new apprentice and build his Death Star. His new apprentice, friends and neighbors, is Judge Samuel Alito. He is the Darth Vader to President Bush's Emperor Palpatine. And the Death Star, the final blow to our democratic republic, is a Supreme Court ruled by John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and others like them, others who embrace the doctrine of the "unitary executive." Congress has already become President Bush's rubber stamp; if the courts do the same, we can kiss our democracy goodbye. Who will be there to tell the President that the expansion of his executive power is unconstitutional, if not Congress and the Supreme Court?

Toward the end of Revenge of the Sith, Senator Padme Amidala, the doomed wife of Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader), says: "So this is how liberty dies -- with thunderous applause." Let us hope not.

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See Also:
"Against omnipotent rulers," Philocrites; "Schumer questions nominee's theory on executive role," The Boston Globe