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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Cutting Loose Baby

"Fetus Cut From Slain Woman's Body" the headlines screamed, as schizophrenia became the order of the day. Virtually every article on the latest incident of in vivo tissue-knapping vacillated on correct terminology. Should they refer to the contents of the uterus as a fetus or a baby? Was Bobbi Jo Stinnett, the murdered woman, a mother or a mother-to-be? The Amber Alert, an emergency response developed to help find missing children, was issued "for the missing fetus." But, within a day, the little one had become a "baby… named Victoria Jo." Fox News showed the most wildly inventive mix of terms in a single sentence, "Montgomery was in possession of the infant believed to be the stolen fetus when police found the baby on Friday, ending a day of frantic searching. DNA tests will confirm whether the girl is Stinnett's."


Whew. You’ve got to wonder how many editors threw their two cents in on that sentence.


Unfortunately, however, given all the hoopla, none of the news agencies took the opportunity to clarify exactly when the child transmogrified from fetus to baby. It clearly didn’t happen when Bobbi Jo Stinnet’s belly was sliced open, as the Amber Alert testified. It didn’t happen when the umbilical cord was cut. It didn’t happen when the child was carried away. Perhaps it happened when the little girl was named Victoria Jo, but that’s open to debate.


The number of issues inadvertently raised in this case are legion. The news media seems to be in a consensus on at least one issue: a fetus clearly doesn’t become a child upon taking first breath, despite what the unconstitutionally clear federal law on partial-birth abortion says. Fair enough.


After all, we are supposed to have a separation of church and state in this country. The rule that a child only exists at first breath is based in Jewish belief. Thus, for the secular media, the idea that the fetus becomes a child simply because it is breathing outside the womb is ridiculously Jewish, just as the idea that a child exists at the moment of conception is ridiculously Christian. Christianity and Judaism, gutter and ghetto faiths respectively, must be kept out of the discussion.


But once the fetus becomes a child, the issues keep coming. For instance, it gives a whole new dimension to the "every child a wanted child" conversation. After all, Victoria Jo was wanted very much, and by multiple people: Mr & Mrs. Stinnett, the Stinnett grandparents, Lisa Montgomery, the police – the list is rather longer than usual. Oddly enough, even though she was arguably the most wanted baby in the nation, that quality doesn’t seemed to have worked out well for any of the people involved. Montgomery killed a mother and aborted the wanted child (fetus?) precisely because she wanted the little one. Wantedness doesn't seem to reduce the incidence of abortion after all.


And that’s the most interesting part. The charge against Montgomery is not illegal abortion – although that is clearly her crime – the charge is kidnapping with a death involved, which makes a lot less sense. How can you kidnap something that isn’t a kid until after it is taken? Why issue an Amber Alert for a child who isn’t a child? And where is Planned Parenthood on all of this? They grumbled, albeit quietly, over the Laci Peterson case, but they seem to have gone completely silent on this most newsworthy event. It reminds one of the Columbine Public High School massacre, when the ACLU famously refused to utter as much as a peep of protest against all the government-sponsored prayer that public school teachers and students engaged in (on government property, no less) during the school day. It is deeply saddening to see such stalwart institutions fail to fight for the important issues.


One can only hazard general guesses as to why Montgomery is not being charged with illegal abortion. We might begin by noting that with this abortion, the mother died, not the baby. But this is not all that unusual. If only Montgomery had been an abortionist puncturing a uterus or sucking out a woman’s intestines at her clinic, none of this would have hit the front page. But the terrible tragedy resides in her lack of medical credentials, which just goes to show how important college degrees are.


We could also hazard the guess that a forced illegal abortion is not a crime. After all, the US Supreme Court ruled in Buck vs. Bell (1927) that the nation had a right to forcibly sterilize its own citizens, and that ruling was never overturned. On January 23rd, 2004, the United States’ Eleventh Circuit Court ruled that an abortionist could forcibly abort a woman as long as he felt medically justified in doing so. The refusal to prosecute Lisa Montgomery for performing an illegal abortion is, in a certain sense, merely an extension of that principle. Montgomery is not being prosecuted for murder or abortion, but only for kidnapping. If she had simply left the child (fetus?) to die after performing the abortion, if she had only been a doctor, she would presumably be in a much better legal position. She certainly wouldn't have made front-page news.


Of course, the greatest irony lies not in the event itself, but in the juxtaposition of another news story with this one. Just five days after the Bobbi Jo Stinnett’s forced abortion, readers were treated to the gushing December 21st headline from CNN about the birth of a premature twin at Loyola Medical Center in Chicago, "Smallest baby a 'great blessing', says mom."


The 8.6 ounce premature twin was never once called a fetus in all the news articles that appeared, and it is again only with greatest difficulty that we can hazard guesses as to why the differences occurred. One might display enormous cultural insensitivity by pointing out that the Amber Alert fetus was torn from the body of a Christian, while the "smallest baby… a blessing" was born to a Muslim couple, so we won’t mention that little irrelevancy. Still, the mystery appears impenetrable unless we conclude that Christian women only carry fetuses, while Muslim women carry children.


Hmmm.... Science can be quite confusing, it seems.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Enlightened Heresies

"Muslims need … a new Enlightenment, a movement away from brutality." This remark came from a friend of mine as we were discussing the problem of faith in the public square. My friend is by his own description, "a militantly agnostic Jew", a philosophy professor who loves to debate anything that comes to hand.

His remark was in response to a discussion of Islamic law. While I acknowledge Muslims are to be admired for their rigorous prayer life, their marvelous emphasis on almsgiving and their belief in Jesus’ virgin birth and consequent great respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Islamic system of law is another matter. Sharia is brutal and cannot be permitted to exist.

My friend did not disagree, but he did point out something worth considering. Islamic sharia is not substantially different from the Mosaic criminal code in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Both permit polygamy. Both require the stoning of adulterers, blasphemers and those who lead others away from the faith, although for adultery, Hebrew law required the death of both parties, not just the woman. Both permit the death penalty for children – Hebrew children could be stoned to death for disobeying their parents. The similarities are really rather striking.

However, there are differences. The most obvious? One faith still insists on following a brutal law. The other does not. Why is that? My friend insists on the need for a new Enlightenment, but it was not the Enlightenment that caused Jews to stop stoning disobedient children.

The Real Enlightenment

It may not be politically correct to say this, but the primary reason the law code in the Torah is no longer followed is simple: from the late 300’s AD through the 1900's, Jews lived entirely under the dominion of Christian rulers who forbad the enforcement of Hebraic criminal laws. While the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D. thereby destroying the entire Hebraic system of animal sacrifice, it was Christianity that weaned Jews away from the sharia-like aspects of the Hebraic law.

To this day, polygamy is not illegal in Judaism – rabbis simply forbad the practice in the Middle Ages because it brought undue attention from Christian authorities. Similarly, while many of the Jewish rights to execute were taken from them by pagan Rome, the pagans had not removed all rights of execution. Both Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, for instance, attest that Jewish authorities could execute anyone who defiled the Temple, even a Roman citizen.

But, since 391 A.D., when Theodosius I made Christian Faith the official religion of Rome, that same Christian Faith has influenced the creation and application of law ever since. Because of the Christian dominance, Jews lost the ability to implement any part of their criminal law code. They retained only the right to continue the ritual worship aspects, such as circumcision and the observance of holy days like Yom Kippur and Passover. The Christian enlightenment which began in 391 fundamentally changed Jewish faith practices. No one talks about this, but it is the case. Instead, everyone talks about the Enlightenment and its civilizing influence on the world.

The French Enlightenment

Did the French Enlightenment bring a civilizing influence to the world? There is scant evidence for it. Like my professorial friend, many people suffer from a misunderstanding of what the movement was about. Despite its protestations to the contrary, it was not about human freedom, sweetness and light, liberty, equality or fraternity. The French Enlightenment was about manipulating blood-thirsty mobs in order to commit outrageous barbarities: nothing more.

The French Revolution, the child of the Enlightenment, produced the first totalitarian state. As revolutionaries seized power, mass slaughter became the rule of the day. Like Lenin’s grab for power in Russia over a century later, the French Revolution was primarily an urban phenomenon, in fact, primarily a Parisian event. Indeed, Marx, Lenin and the butchers who followed their logic consciously modeled their work on the French. For this reason, the atheistic appeals to reason and the barbarously violent attempts to crush all religious sentiment are different only in degrees of horrific magnitude.

In France, enlightened revolutionaries required neighbor to inform on neighbor and children to inform on their parents. Parisian jails were emptied, everyone within being mercilessly torn apart by bloodthirsty crowds who paraded through the streets with human heads on pikes as their banners. Priests, nuns and other religious were tortured to death, beheaded, burned alive, or tied together on rafts that were then sunk in the river. The decapitated corpses of men and women were joined in obscene ways and displayed for public amusement while still living men and women were stripped of their clothes, bound together naked and thrown alive into the river in a "republican wedding."

When the Vendee region fought the obscenities of Parisian revolutionaries to the extent of raising an army to repel Parisian soldiers, they were ruthlessly put down and a campaign to exterminate every man, woman and child in the region was begun.

Pregnant women were sliced open and left to bleed to death as their children, with umbilical cords still uniting them to their mothers, were stomped into bloody mush before their eyes or sliced to pieces. Women and girls were repeatedly raped, used again and again until they died, but though many died during the course of the brutalities, this did not stop the violations of their bodies. Corpses littered the streets; in some areas the dead were so numerous they formed pyramids. The enlightened revolutionaries also enjoyed roasting women and children alive – maximal pleasure was gotten by placing the victims in a cold oven that was then heated. Alternatively, children were thrown out of windows and caught on bayonets.

The revolution not only beheaded nearly every one of its own original leaders, it also ended by producing Napolean, the short Corsican whose war upon the continent of Europe would be emulated by atheists like Stalin and Hitler. Of course, these would in turn be emulated by other atheists, mass murderers like Pol Pot and Fidel Castro.

This is the Enlightenment. To insist on enlightenment rather than sharia seems hardly worth the effort.

Choose

It is a commonplace to point to the hundreds of Christians throughout history who have launched barbarities similar to those sanctioned by the criminal law codes of Islam, the Torah, or the Enlightenment. However, a further fact is not so often noted. Only the Christian faith has been powerful enough to stop those who launched such barbarities. Whether Christian or Jew, Muslim or enlightened atheist, the only law that forces each human being to respect the dignity of every other is Christian law. If Islam is still barbarously cruel, if Islam has never been enlightened, that is due to the fact that Islam has never fully been brought under Christian dominion.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Wonders of Science

A few weeks ago, I attended a philosophical debate on the merits of abortion. Shortly after the discussion began, I pointed out that this act destroyed a human person.

"Do you have proof of that?" asked several members of the panel simultaneously.
"Of course," I replied, "proof that cannot be controverted."
"What proof would that be?"
"The declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception," I replied.
"That's not proof!" they shouted.
"Oh, but it is," said I, and proceeded to demonstrate how.

In 1931, a Czech mathematician named Kurt Godel demonstrated that any logical system as advanced as arithmetic is built on foundational premises which can neither be proved true nor false within the system. That is, every logical system as advanced as addition and subtraction is a faith-based system. The impact of Godel's observations have yet to be felt in blue-state America. It is rarely put this way, but the physical laws of the universe are testable only in the sense that a tautology is testable, for all of physics, chemistry, indeed any science, is but an exercise in tautology. Any good physicist can demonstrate how the chain on one side of the equation makes that quantity identical to what lies on the other, but that's all he can do. "Testability" means only the ability to observe that black crows are black.

Remember this the next time someone with a blue-state mindset tosses aside a statement of religious faith with a sneer and the exclamation, "That's not science!". Religion is exactly as much a science as particle physics or chemistry in terms of the ability of each to logically demonstrate the truth of the propositions contained within the respective disciplines. Every one of these disciplines is faith-based.

What is Faith?
But what is faith? Faith is not a blind leap. Faith is based in facts. For instance, if I enter a McDonald's and order a hamburger, I have made an act of faith. I do not know that they have hamburger (they may just have run out). I do not know that their hamburgers are edible (perhaps they were yesterday, but the cook is drunk or sick or gone today). However, I have lots of evidence that they can give me a hamburger. There is a sign out front saying they serve hamburgers, a menu instead that lists hamburgers, tables for dining on hamburgers, accoutrements for eating hamburgers (napkins, ketchup, etc.), and people behind a counter who look for all the world as if they wanted to serve me hamburgers and profess that they do when I ask them. Faith is not a blind leap. It is always fact-based. In that sense, it is testable.

Blind faith, on the other hand, is a contradiction in terms. A man who operates on blind faith would enter a hardware store, see the bins of nuts, bolts and various tools, hear the man behind the counter explain how to install a kitchen sink, and then ask that clerk to supply a hamburger. That's blind faith.

If he gets the hamburger, that's a miracle. Religious faith is based in facts. Just as particle physics is based in the historical events of superconducters and the overwhelming witness of people to the events these superconductors produced, so religion is based in the historical events of miracles and the overwhelming historical testimony to the existence of these miraculous events.

Science IS Religion
This has no small bearing on our lives today. Those who would manipulate human life at the most basic level, at the embryonic level, argue that humans now have the information and most probably the technology to 'create life'. This is hardly news. We have possessed the technology for millenia. The necessary tools are called are called "the penis" and "the womb." This is the delivery system designed to unite two gametes together so that a new human person might be formed.

Unfortunately, the blue state mindset that insists on teaching every child the mechanics of using those tools does not understand their purpose. Blue staters are mere technicians. You see, God will create and infuse a human soul no matter how we decide to go about uniting the gametes. We can use the original method (which I find delightful), we can use IVF or similar present-day technologies, or we can do the futuristic things the starry-eyed priests of science dream of. It doesn't matter. From the perspective of life creation, the mechanics won't stop the process. God will infuse a human soul whether we unite gametes using the original method or some new method we thought up ourselves.

The capability to do a thing one way rather than another is really a trivial mechanical question. The only difference reason one might use one method instead of another is the morality involved, a question upon which science is silent. For instance, science gives me a wide range of things to do with a piece of lead: I can make a tin soldier, a pipe or a bullet. Similarly, science allows me to place that lead wherever I want: on a table, in a sink, or force it at high velocity through someone's skull. However, science is unable to comment on the morality of the different actions. Religion, on the other hand, was designed to comment on the morality of these actions. It lays out a perfectly obvious rule: just because we can do something doesn't mean we ought to.

An Attack of Hubris
"But human beings are on the verge of being able to create life, something the morbidly religious assert is reserved to God!" cry the blue-states. Well, it is true that some say this. But those who do betray an extremely basic misunderstanding of how reality works.

Start with the basic fact: God created everything good and He holds all things in existence from moment to moment. Thus, if I were to pick up a chair and beat you to death with it, God would be holding that chair in existence during my entire violent interaction with you. If He - at any point - decided to allow that chair to drop out of existence, I would have no tool with which to beat you. But He doesn't do that. He respects my decision to kill you violently with that chair, even though that decision is completely at odds with what He desires for both of us. Now change the chair to an embryo and watch: the argument doesn't change.

Anyone who says only God can create life makes a true statement, but tells only half the story. We are co-creators with God. That is how reality is supposed to work - that is why reality doesn't warp in and out of existence as we attempt to abuse it. He holds it in existence for us, no matter how bad our temper when we arose this morning. He desires us to act as He does - in perfect love. But we can act in a perfectly beastly manner if we wish. He gave us the honor of being co-creators and He isn't going to withdraw the gift.

So, sure, only God can make a human life, but He will do this only through our agency. We must first do something, we must first choose to participate in the creation of an immortal human being. We do our part by providing the body - the union of gametes. When we do that, no matter how we choose to do that, He will infuse a human soul. In the same way, He will allow me to die if you expressed a very strong desire that I do by firing a bullet through my skull. But firing that bullet with scientific skill does not make it moral. Whether we are manipulating very small children or very small pieces of lead, we will create unhappy and unforeseen consequences that will tear at our society, both the smaller and the larger society, of which we are a part.

Back to the Beginning
This brings us back to the problem of the human person and the human embryo. It is important to remember that the word "person" is a religious term. It was taken over from the Greek word for the mask worn by a stage actor during the Greek plays. Tertullian used it first in a religious sense in the late 2nd century in order to describe how God exists in himself. Boethius defined it in the sixth century and Aquinas explained the ramifications of the definition in the twelfth century.

If modern society is serious about separating church from state, then the state must surrender its use of the word "person." It has no more or less a place in the secular vocabulary than does the God whom it is meant to describe. But all of this does not answer the first question. How do we know a person exists at conception?

Simple. We know that human persons begin at the moment of conception because Mary has always been understood to have been immaculately conceived. Now, the Immaculate Conception means only that she had no stain of original sin upon her at the moment she came into existence. Only persons can sin. Chairs, stones, trees, dogs none of these can sin because none of them are persons. So, if we say Mary was free from sin at the moment of conception, we are simultaneously saying Mary was a person at the moment of conception. Since she is only a human person and no different from the rest of us (apart from this lack of original sin), whatever we can say about her we can say about us.

If she is a person at the moment of conception, so is each one of us. Contrary to popular Massachusetts opinion, we know for a fact that the human person begins at conception because the science of theology tells us so, and we have two millenia of witnesses to back it up.

Isn't science wonderful?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Life in a Graveyard

It has literally been nearly twenty years since last I sat down to intentionally watch a broadcast television event. The occasion? Mitch Albom’s book-turned-movie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. It may become for the pagans what It’s a Wonderful Life has been for Christians – a ritual holiday event.

Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, have been raging for years about the Hollywood elite and their stranglehold on the culture. Nearly 20 books have been written on the slanders propagated by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code alone (and I must say, I contributed to that particular double-digit assault). We complain, and rightly so, about "art" like Piss Christ and the dung-smeared "portrait" of the Blessed Virgin, we wail about the Kinsey movie, we defend the Passion of the Christ against scurrilous attacks, in short, we get so defensive that we see demons behind every door.

It is an unfortunate mind-set. Why?

When something good comes along, we should trumpet it to the heavens. Instead, tired from our defense of Christianity and culture, we tend to collapse into the nearest soft chair and exclaim quietly to ourselves, "Finally! Something nice!"

This is likewise unfortunate. We should spend as much time, more time, applauding the good than we do excoriating the bad. But it is a sign of original sin that we do the reverse.

So, today I again fight against my own nature to point out this fact. The Five People You Meet in Heaven may have been written by a non-Christian, it may even have certain New Age tendencies, but it is an essentially Christian work. For those who have been exposed to neither the movie nor the book, the story is relatively simple. Eddie, a maintenance man at an amusement park dies and goes to heaven, where he meets five people who help him understand his life, where it was right and how it went wrong. The premise of the movie corresponds almost exactly to the Catholic understanding: nothing unclean can enter heaven, so we need to be cleansed of our imperfections before we meet God. This can happen on earth (though few of us spend enough time doing it) or in heaven’s mud-room, Purgatory.

Christian symbolism and references abound in the book, and to a lesser extent, in the movie. Four of the five encounters have implicit baptismal references (seashells, driving rain, ankle-deep snow and a river), while the fifth revolves around weddings. In each encounter, the person Eddie meets explains how some vice kept him from realizing a virtue. The story never uses the words "vice" and "virtue," of course, nor are the discussions even obviously a dialogue about these concepts, but that is what lies at the center of each discussion.
Though God’s name is only mentioned twice, and almost in passing, each mention turns out to be pivotal to understanding Eddie’s situation. Scripture references to both the Old and the New Testament are rich and tightly woven into the story line, written in with such enormous skill that most strike us only on a subliminal level.

While this would be enough to recommend the book to any Christian heart, the central importance of the book/movie is much deeper. Precisely because it discusses the virtues and vices in the context of pain, suffering and death, the book allows us to begin a discussion about death itself, a topic frequently and deliberately ignored in this culture.

You may think it odd to say death is ignored here and, to be sure, the cinematic depictions of explosions and corpses, mutilations and dismemberments are too numerous to count. Hollywood loves shows about coroners and suicides, murders and mayhem. But death, the contemplation of death that strikes any thinking person who walks through a cemetery, who tries to imagine each marker a coffin, each coffin a body, each body centered within a somber circle of family and friends, and the flesh encased in the dark earth, this is not encouraged. Understandably so. Nothing quite strikes the soul as the silence of the graveyard when a light breeze blows, caressing the cheek and waving the grass gently over the insensible dead. If your mind is racing, this will quiet it. The time spent there does not lend itself to fueling a shopping spree.

"As you are, I once was/As I am, you will be" – these are lines that could only be found in a graveyard. The reality is hard, especially hard for those who do not know God or do not trust what they know of Him. It is, for this reason, quite a remarkable thing that Mitch Albom’s book has been so popular. Our culture knows that it lacks, but it knows not how to answer that lack. For those who avoid Scripture like the plague, this story fills a void that cannot be filled. In short, like all good stories, it is para-Scriptural.

Tolkien used to describe Beowulf as a Christian story deliberately paganized in order to make it more palatable to a profane culture. Coming from a professor of medieval literature who used the same technique in his wildly successful Lord of the Rings novels, he clearly understood what we need today. A post-Christian culture won’t read Scripture because its members think they already know what is in it. They reject religious writings as childish baubles, religious faith as a relic of the unwashed savage. So, the savage culture their attitudes engender can only be returned to Christian virtue by deliberately masquerade.

Now, those who believe in evolution must necessarily also believe in devolution – the fact that some organisms will become extinct, cast aside by evolutionary process as useless. It never strikes the post-Christian savage that he may be numbered in that group. However, devolution, degeneracy, also called original sin - this is, of course, the central Christian doctrine describing man. Christians too often forget this. We treat with our opponents as if they had power when they, powerless, have really only a child’s crying need for God. Like a parent who delivers the necessary bitter medicine in a sweet ice cream treat, we might consider following the lead of Tolkien and Albom, deliberately paganizing the message so that the savage pagan children around us more easily accept the instruction.

To that end, there is a book that can help. Effective Habits of the Five People You Meet in Heaven, available through Bridegroom Press (www.bridegroompress.com) highlights the Scriptural and theological aspects of Albom’s story, helping Christians discuss it with their pagan friends. Once you see the references to Habbakuk and Genesis, to James and John, you can better discuss the power of the story that surrounds them. Pagans always seek out power, and that is the lever which will turn their hearts. We can teach them what they yearn to know. They would discover why Albom’s story is so powerful: well and good. We can show them the Cross that empowers it.