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Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Building the Wall

“Religion and politics makes a volatile mix,” or so many are in the habit of saying. That is, after all, the basic justification for Thomas Jefferson’s famed “wall of separation between Church and state,” a wall that was out of date almost from the New Year’s day in 1801 when it was proposed. To see why, let us consider our present situation.

Communism and socialism are the purest of economic theory, completely unencumbered by any hint of Christian fundamentalism. Yet, together, the rulers of communist and socialist nations have imprisoned, maimed and slaughtered more people than the last two world wars combined. According to the UN Genocide convention, Stalin alone killed 62 million people, slaughtering more Ukranians then his nearest mustache-laden rival.

Likewise, Mao tse Tung produced 3 million body bags, all opponents of his economic policies, in his first five years in power. The number who died in subsequent years, especially during Mao’s Great Leap Forward, the economic policy that drove huge sections of the countryside to starvation and cannibalism, will probably never be known.

Pol Pot only killed a million, but he did as well on a per capita basis as either of his more well-known rivals. And, of course, we can’t leave out the most well-known economist of all, the national socialist Adolf Hitler. Though he started well, he was relatively ineffective, killing only 12 million in death camps during the war and several hundred thousand in the years leading to it.

It is, of course, unfair to limit ourselves to the 20th century. Essentially every European war since the mid-1700’s has been driven in whole or part by the science of economics. The French Revolution guillotined tens of thousands, millions more died during the Napoleonic wars that subsequently swept the whole of Europe. The American Civil War tested the economic viability of slavery. England killed tens of thousands of Chinese in the Opium Wars, a kind of reverse drug war. In that episode, the British trade imbalance with China was solved by forcing China to become a nation of opium addicts – the British controlled the opium trade, you see.

Clearly, we cannot be too careful. There should be a wall of separation between economics and the public sphere. After all, economics and politics are a volatile mix, as two centuries of decaying corpses illustrate. But wait. There’s more.

What about biology? Ignore the dissected frogs and newts, concentrate solely on severed human heads. Darwin published Origin of the Species in 1859 and The Descent of Man in 1871, just a year after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war. Most people don’t realize just how strongly Darwin’s work influenced European intelligentsia. In the dozen years between 1859 and 1871, the ruling class of Europe embraced the “survival of the fittest.” They spoke of the “French race”, the “British race”, and the “German race.” The Franco-Prussian war was seen on all sides as an expression of scientific principles, a necessary Darwinian struggle. Of course, that war led directly to World War I which itself led directly to World War II. Indeed, many historians refer to this three-fold slaughterhouse as the modern Thirty Years’ War, our hymn of praise to the science of biology.

John Dwyer, in his remarkable work War Without Mercy, demonstrates that World War II was just as much about race as the Franco-Prussian war. The Japanese saw the Chinese as inferior, Americans saw the Japanese as inferior, and Germans saw Jews and Slavs as inferiors. The rationale that allowed Auschwitz also allowed the US to build Japanese internment camps for West-Coast citizens and prompted FDR to suggest that the entire German people should be sterilized; separated by a wall of impotence from the rest of human kind.

Obviously, biology and politics are a volatile mix. Federal grants for biological research, like tuition vouchers, violate this much-needed wall of separation. The wars of biology have built a much higher pile of corpses than all the wars of religion combined, while the internal and external wars of economics dwarf them both. If religion is banned from the public sphere, can anyone really assert that the others can safely stay?

Why did Jefferson think this wall of separation was needed? Because the American Revolution happened two hundred years too soon. Thomas Jefferson, was a well-read man, but he was completely ignorant of evolutionary theory. How could he be otherwise? It wouldn’t be invented for another fifty years. He knew Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, but knew not a thing of what Marx would write twenty years after Jefferson died. Besides, Jefferson was the man who re-wrote the Gospels by taking out all references to miracles. He didn’t believe in them, you see. He thought Jesus was a nice moral teacher, but not God. C.S. Lewis was not yet a gleam in his father’s eye, so Jefferson was unaware of the Liar, Lunatic, Lord argument, and he wasn’t smart enough to figure it out for himself.

Because economics was just barely becoming a science, Jefferson could not fully appreciate to what extent it contributed to the widespread carnage it wreaked even in his own day. Similarly, biology was not yet on a scientific footing, and its potential to promote slaughter was not appreciated.

Jefferson and his associates wanted a wall between religion and politics because religion was the only known cause of war. Take away religion and you take away reasons for conflict. They didn’t realize that religion was the language of war for the simple reason that it was the only mature system of thought Europeans possessed, the only language articulate enough to speak. No other system of thought had been sufficiently developed. Thus, when someone wanted to justify a war, a pillage, any sort of carnage at all, they used the only words available – religious words.

But here’s the interesting thing. As other systems of thought were developed, people had a choice: they could use religious rhetoric or they could use scientific rhetoric. As even a simple study of armed conflict since the Enlightenment shows, the ruling class has consistently used the language of science to justify their aggression, not the language of Christian faith. The reason is simple: Christian faith does not really lend itself to war. As soon as other languages were sufficiently strong to bear the burden, “Christian rationales” dropped away.

We should be clear. For whatever reason, the words of religious faith are still the preferred language for war in many parts of the world, but it is worthwhile to note that these rationales almost never employ words of Christian faith. Hitler invoked Wotan, jihadists invoke Islam, Indians invoke Hinduism, and the West uses the priests of science, but progressives who seek a firmer road towards mass murder have abandoned Christianity. For them, Jesus Christ is not the door. He is a wall that blocks their road.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Preparing for The Passion

We’ve all seen the advertisements and the reviews. Mel Gibson’s The Passion is an enormous event – if you’re like the rest of us, you’re actually looking forward to Ash Wednesday instead of Fat Tuesday this year. After all, Ash Wednesday, 2004, is the movie’s U.S. release date.

As we get ready to see Gibson’s masterpiece, we may be making lists of people we would like to take with us. Perhaps my semi-Christian next-door neighbor, or the atheist who helped the family so wonderfully last year. Or maybe my old high-school buddy, who is “spiritual, but not religious” - he doesn’t go to church anymore, but does believe in UFOs. Or, more likely, a brother or sister, father or mother, daughter or son who fell away from the Faith. We’ve been waiting to ask them, trying to figure out the best way, hoping they say yes.

Well, what if they do? Maybe you and I will actually convince such a friend or relative to accompany us, and we will see the movie with them - but what will happen after the movie? How will we answer the questions about God, about Jesus, that Gibson’s work is bound to raise? You know the questions:

“Why did God have to take flesh and die?”

“If the smallest drop of Christ’s blood is sufficient to pay for all the sins of mankind – past, present and future – wasn’t the circumcision enough? The scourging? Why that?”

“What is Faith, exactly? How do I know if I have it? What about Hope? Love?”

“How am I supposed to make sense of what happened?”

How do you answer questions like these?

The word “crucial” comes from the Latin “crux”, or “cross.” Questions like these are crucially important to Catholic Faith. These are questions about the folly of the Gentiles, and the stumbling block of the Jews; they are questions about the Cross. They must be answered.

Mel Gibson and the people associated with this film spent years of their lives and millions of dollars preparing this one magnificent spark of evangelization. If we don’t spend a few hours preparing ourselves to view it, we will have wasted their efforts. So, let’s think about how to prepare.

Before the movie

Pray. A half an hour in adoration, fifteen minutes, even a sign of the Cross as you drive past your Catholic Church on the way home from work. Do it. Ask God to prepare your heart, mind and soul to help someone else find Him.

Read. Start with the four Passion accounts. They aren’t very long. In the Gospel of Matthew, that would be chapters 26 and 27, Mark is chapters 14 and 15, Luke is chapters 22 and 23, John is chapters 18 and 19. For a quick overview, take a look at the free one-page Gospel concordance of the Passion, the Passion Timeline.

Read at least one good commentary on at least one of the Passion accounts: the Navarre Bible study series is excellent, and any of the Gospel studies would work well for this purpose. So would any commentary collection of the early Christian Father’s on the Passion narratives.

Learn one or two basic logical arguments supporting the existence of God. Memorize three Scripture passages that tell us why priesthood is necessary, or memorize three Scripture passages about suffering such as Heb 5:7-8, Gal 6:2, or 1 Cor 12:24.

Or, best of all, learn how to talk about the Passion using John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. One such book, Sex and the Sacred City, uses the enormous conversion power of the pope’s synthesis to describe who God is, why He took on flesh, and why He went through that enormous suffering. It describes the purpose of the Church, the sacraments, the family, even God Himself, through a serious study and deep understanding of the one thing we always have with us – our bodies.

The great virtue of this book lies precisely in its clarity and precision. A busy person can read it in a day or two, or read it twice in a week. Short, clear useful resources are the key to fanning an evangelistic spark into flame. In the days leading up to the movie, look for more gems like this.

After the movie

Be ready to listen. We cannot predict what questions will arise. It is important that we answer their questions, not simply parrot our answers. Give a hammer to a three-year old and suddenly, to him, everything looks like a nail. We are the same way. If we have only one bit of Catholic doctrine in our head before the movie, we may be tempted to trot that one answer out, no matter what the question is. Don’t fall into the trap.

Once you are consciously prepared to listen, ask your movie partner for comments. Listen carefully to questions, think carefully about whether or not you know the answer, and then answer honestly. “I don’t know,” is a superb answer, as long as it is followed up with, “but I would like to know as much as you do. Let’s find out.” Then go and do just that.

Locate deeper resources now. You don’t have to read them all right now. Just find books and people who can help steer you and yours in the right direction, take note of where you can lay your hands on those resources when you need them and be prepared to use them when the time is right.

There are other ways to prepare yourself as well, ways known only to you and to God, but this will give you a start. Buy your tickets, invite your movie partners, and get ready to handle the questions that are sure to come. Mr. Gibson has done an enormous amount of work just to give us the single spark – we must do at least a little work ourselves so as to be ready to feed the flame. Honor both the artist and the Artist who guided him. Prepare.

Monday, January 12, 2004

You Were Once Exiles

“You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

Now, some people would find that kind of Scripture quoting offensive. Indeed, some would simply mutter “and the devil himself uses Scripture for his own devices.” And they would be right. A single verse does not an argument make. However, the debate about immigration is raging, and we have all heard from the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and independent quarters. It might be worthwhile to find out what the Catholic take is.

The Church has actually said quite a lot about immigration. The issue first came up in Scripture, with the migration of Abraham in the Old Testament and the migration of the Holy Family in the New. In the medieval period, the fourth Lateran Council (1215) began the first modern conversation on the problem: “Since in many places within the same city and diocese there are people of different languages having one faith but various rites and customs, we strictly command that the bishops of these cities and dioceses provide suitable men who will, according to the different rites and languages, celebrate the divine offices for them, administer the sacraments of the Church and instruct them by word and example.” Over the intervening centuries, as the Church has contemplated the movements of peoples, She has had time to reflect on what is just. Though She has written much in the last thirty years on the problem, these two millenia of reflection can be boiled down to essentially six principles:

1) There is a natural human right to migrate in search of a better life.
2) Although the right to migrate is not an absolute right, it can only be restricted for grave reasons related to the common good.
3) Immigration laws should be generous.
4) Immigration laws should not favor the most well off, skilled immigrants, and such people should not emigrate for selfish motives.
5) Immigration laws should favor the unification of families.
6) Immigration workers have a right to be treated equally with other workers.

Clearly, given post-9/11 America, good Catholics can disagree about how these principles might best be implemented. People who prefer stricter immigration controls would undoubtedly emphasize the “grave reasons” (terrorist concerns) of the second point, while those who prefer greater immigration would emphasize the first and third points. But it is in the fourth point that the trouble lies.

America’s immigration policy is weighted to keep “useless eaters” out. We look for the most well off, skilled immigrants; we intentionally siphon the best and brightest out of other countries in order to stay ahead in the world. It reflects our capitalist outlook – when a resource is limited, the price goes up. We limit how many people we allow in, so we demand that those who enter pay a high price in terms of marketable skills and intellect.

In this regard, the flood of illegal immigrants could be viewed is an interesting corrective to an unjust immigration policy. But putting it in these terms is really not very helpful. There is another way to look at it.

Whatever one may say about America’s history as either a Christian or a secular nation, one thing has always been true: America has always been anti-Catholic. The forms of anti-Catholicism in America have been many and various.

The Know-Nothing Party formed in the 1840's as a reaction to the heavy influx of Irish Catholics. When the Pope donated a granite stone in 1853 to be placed in the Washington Monument, a group of masked men, either Freemasons or Know-Nothings, threw it into the Potomac river. The 1915 formation of the Ku Klux Klan was the violent anti-Catholic response to a similar wave of immigration from Catholic Southeastern Europe.

The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) establishment viewed Catholic immigrants as something lower than pond scum. The country violently divided over the possibility of having a Catholic president twice in sixty years, once in 1928 over Al Smith and again in 1960 over John Kennedy. Some of the country’s most prominent figures, from Abraham Lincoln to Mark Twain to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black were virulently anti-Catholic. Today, Protestant anti-Catholicism has been replaced with secular anti-Catholicism. The opponents have changed, the sentiment has not.

Now consider another fact. Like the rest of the developed world, America is not replacing its own population. If it were not for both legal and illegal immigration, we would have a negative population growth. Alan Greenspan described the consequences: “[T]he aging of the population in the United States will have significant effects on our fiscal situation. In particular, it makes our social security and Medicare programs unsustainable in the long run, short of a major increase in immigration rates, a dramatic acceleration in productivity growth well beyond historical experience, a significant increase in the age of eligibility for benefits, or the use of general revenues to fund benefits.”

We are lucky. Europe faces an even worse situation, and her immigrants are primarily Muslim, not Catholic. Fifty percent of Dutch children, for example, will be born to Holland’s Muslim immigrants by 2020.

So what are Catholic Americans supposed to be upset about? America needs immigrants. U.S. immigrants, legal and illegal, are primarily Catholics with a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin, a much superior translation of the Mass, and wonderfully rich Catholic devotions. Get an English translation of a Spanish hymnal or discover the origin of posadas and pinatas, for instance. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. Sure, these immigrants pose a strong threat to America’s current Protestant-atheistic culture, but that’s a good thing, not a bad one. We get rid of a culture of death and replace it with a culture of life. We may have to add a second language (Spanish) to our skill set, but in return, we get a pension system that is much less likely to go bankrupt and a liturgy which is more accurately translated and richer than the one we have. Finally, we don’t have to face the prospect of living under the Muslim law of sharia within two generations, as the Europeans do.

In short, don’t panic. They’re Hispanic. Thank God.

My commentary on Abraham Lincoln was in error.
Abraham Lincoln on Catholics

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Harrowing Hell

“We anathematize [both] the inventors of the new error… [and the pope] who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted.” With this statement, Pope Leo II affirmed the conclusion of a general council: Pope Honorius was condemned as a heretic.

In the early 600’s, Pope Honorius faced a heresy within the Church. When he was asked how to handle the heresy, he replied by forbidding discussion of the topic at all. Because he failed to teach the Faith, and because he forbad the use of both orthodox and heretical phrasing, the council found him derelict in his duties and condemned him as a heretic. His condemnation was confirmed by two ecumenical councils and the very liturgy of the Church, which for two centuries repeated the condemnation in the papal oath. The condemnation still stands.

Note well: he was not a heretic for having mis-taught. No Pope has ever mis-taught Church doctrine. Rather, his heresy lay in his silence.

Now, he was a good bishop in all other respects. He did much good for the people of Rome and for the Church as a whole. He died well-respected in most circles. But, his silence on one point of doctrine eventually condemned him.

From all the evidence, he was silent because he didn’t know what to do. That’s the problem with being infallible: infallibility means you won’t teach the wrong answer. Sadly, infallibility doesn’t mean you know the right answer, or that you are able to competently teach the right answer even if you do know it. Competent teaching is a skill like any other skill: use it or lose it.

As everyone knows, North American bishops have had a similar problem. Many of them dealt with actively homosexual priests primarily as if they suffered from a psychological problem instead of a sin problem. When the psychology Ph.D.’s treated these priests and told the bishops the priests were cured, the bishops believed the experts. They put the priests back in ministry.

Bishops don’t know anything about psychology. They had to rely on the secular experts. They had to rely on psychologists about sex because they had stopped teaching Church doctrine about sex. Since they weren’t regularly teaching sexual morality, they lost their ability to think clearly about it. They didn’t know the right answers anymore. That’s why they were stuck with the answers of lay Ph.D.s.

When did bishops stop teaching sexual morality? We in the United States can point to June 22, 1965 and Boston’s Cardinal John Cushing amazing statement, "I could not in conscience approve the legislation [supporting legalization of contraception, but] I will make no effort to impose my opinion upon others… I do not see where I have an obligation to impose my religious beliefs on people who just do not accept the same faith as I do."

Every bishop and every priest is responsible for the salvation of every person living within his diocese and/or parish. He is not just responsible for teaching and sanctifying the Catholics in his diocese, he is responsible for teaching and sanctifying everyone in his diocese. What would we say of a math professor who said, “I do not see where I have an obligation to impose my belief that 2 + 2 = 4 on students who just do not accept the same mathematics I do.” The Catholic Faith is more true and certain than the sunrise, indeed Catholic truth is the source from which the sun draws its ability to rise. But Cardinal Cushing reduced the eternal and divine Truth to the level of human opinion. He repudiated his responsibility to teach this Truth to the people of the world.

Pope Honorius was condemned simply because he forbad discussion of a doctrine. In a single statement, Cardinal Cushing denied both the truth and his own office. He labored under a materially heretical misunderstanding. The religious beliefs he held were not his anymore than the Mass he celebrated was his or the baptisms he conferred were his. These are all Christ’s, that is, they are all God’s. He did not hold beliefs, he held truths. We believe these things because they are true, and they remain true whether or not we believe them.

It is important that we fully understand this point. The Creed I repeat every Sunday is not a statement of what I believe, it is a statement that I recognize reality. The secular world has a somewhat similar practice: psychologists will sometimes ask a mental patient what year it is. If the patient answers correctly, it is likely he has at least some grip on reality. So it is with the Creed. I repeat the Creed at Sunday Mass to demonstrate that I am not yet theologically insane. I hold to the teachings of the Church because I am made for Truth, and this is it.

It is therefore somewhat disconcerting to listen to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). In the December 12th New York Times, Cathy Cleaver Ruse, the pro-life spokeswoman for the USCCB said, "When it comes to contraception as a policy issue - access, availability - the Catholic bishops do not get involved in that debate. But when it comes to abortion, that's a different matter. It's far greater than just a religious issue. It's a human rights issue."

The statement is breath-taking on several levels. Let’s consider a few.

First, every hormonal contraceptive acts as an abortifacient. The morning-after pill is the same damned thing (literally) as the birth control pill. Neither one really prevents ovulation, rather, all hormonal contraceptives keep the developing embryo from implanting in the uterus. That is, all hormonal contraceptives interrupt an existing pregnancy by causing a chemical abortion. Now, the bishops are no more embryologists than they are psychologists, so we can, perhaps, forgive their abysmal ignorance on this point.

But even if we ignore their ignorance of biology, it is certainly the case that abortion becomes necessary in any culture that sanctions contraception. The U.S. Supreme Court specifically recognized this fact when it upheld legal abortion in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey. Abortion is a necessary backup for contraceptive failure. The Pope understands and acknowledges this connection. So do secular American judges. Why doesn’t the USCCB?

And what on earth could the spokeswoman mean by implying that contraception is “just a religious issue”? As has been pointed out in an earlier column, religion binds back together what is broken. Part of what is broken in us human persons is our human rights. We are only fully human when we are free from sin. Thus our right and ability to be fully human is inseparable from religion, the binding together of the human nature broken by sin. Whenever we consider a truly religious issue, we are necessarily dealing with a human rights issue.

That’s why Cushing’s statement was material heresy, after all. He thought it was alright for the non-Catholics in his diocese to be slaves to sin, just as his American Catholic bishop predecessors prior to the Civil War heretically taught that it was sometimes alright for non-Catholics to be slaves to other men.

The Canadian bishops are scarcely better off. Consider the Winnipeg statement ( ) issued by those bishops in 1968. For nearly forty years, both secular and heretical Catholic commentators used this strangely worded statement as proof that contraception is acceptable for Canadian Catholics. For nearly forty years, the Canadian bishops have done essentially nothing to contradict this idea. They could elaborate, they could give a detailed explanation of the statement to demonstrate that it does not support the use of contraception. Instead, they are as silent as the USCCB, as silent as a condemned pope.

It is a matter of supreme irony that the Comstock laws, the American laws which made the sale or use of contraceptives in the United States illegal, were almost entirely the work of Protestant churches and politicians near the end of the 1800’s. These Protestant laws were overthrown by secular courts nearly a century later precisely because the Catholic bishops were silent at precisely the moment their voices were most needed. Many still are. Apparently, slavery loves company. It is not for nothing that St. John Chrysostom, a father and doctor of the Church, said, “The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.”

But all hope is not lost. Nearly a decade ago, the bishops of the Philippines discovered their voices, saying:

"It is said that when seeking ways of regulating births, only 5% of you consult God. In the face of this unfortunate fact, we your pastors have been remiss: how few are there among you whom we have reached. There have been some couples eager to share their expertise and values on birth regulation with others. They did not receive adequate support from their priests. We did not give them due attention, believing then this ministry consisted merely of imparting a technique best left to married couples.

Only recently have we discovered how deep your yearning is for God to be present in your married lives. But we did not know then how to help you discover God’s presence and activity in your mission of Christian parenting. Afflicted with doubts about alternatives to contraceptive technology, we abandoned you to your confused and lonely consciences with a lame excuse: 'follow what your conscience tells you.' How little we realized that it was our consciences that needed to be formed first. A greater concern would have led us to discover that religious hunger in you."

A few bishops on this continent have also begun to re-join the eternal college of bishops and are now speaking out against contraception. Continue to pray for the bishops, to sacrifice for them, and to make your voices known to them. Commemorate the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Write, phone, talk to your bishops, request private audiences throughout this coming year and personally insist on public orthodoxy and public teachings against contraception. This insistence on the part of the laity is a spiritual work of mercy towards the bishops, and God insists we be merciful.