Monday, December 15, 2008

On the Bioethics Front...

In the past week, two fairly noteworthy documents have been released...

1. Dignitas Personae

The CDF released an update to Donum Vitae entitled Dignitas Personae. A summary and a Q and A have also been released. The document focuses primarily on beginning of life issues and reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization. The document also addresses several new issues and technologies which had not yet been formally discussed by the Magisterium. The Q&A doc explains:
Some very new issues are discussed here for the first time. Some proposed methods for altering the technique for human cloning so it will produce embryonic stem cells but not an embryo (e.g., “altered nuclear transfer”) are judged to require more study and clarification before they could ethically be applied to humans, as one would have to be certain that a new human being is never created and then destroyed by the procedure. (These cautions do not apply to an even newer technique, using genetic or chemical factors to reprogram ordinary adult cells directly into “induced pluripotent stem cells” with the versatility of embryonic stem cells. This clearly does not use an egg or create an embryo, and has not raised objections from Catholic theologians.) Proposals for “adoption” of abandoned or unwanted frozen embryos are also found to pose problems, because the Church opposes use of the gametes or bodies of others who are outside the marital covenant for reproduction. The document raises cautions or problems about these new issues but does not formally make a definitive judgment against them. The document also goes into far more detail than past documents in raising moral concerns about use of “germ-line” genetic engineering in human beings, for treatments and especially for supposed “enhancement” or tailoring of human characteristics.
Despite all the cautions, the CDF attempts to emphasize that the Church's overall attitude toward bioethical research is a positive one, provided that the dignity of the human person is always respected and made a top priority of all research. The document explains:
Behind every “no” in the difficult task of discerning between good and evil, there shines a great “yes” to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single and unique human being called into existence.
Interesting stuff. I only wish they had addressed end of life issues. Important and difficult questions remain, but an update to Donum Vitae was needed and is helpful.

2. The Dignity of Chimeras

For those of you who may not know, a chimera is some sort of hybrid animal, in this case, part-human part-something else. Chimeras have for the most part been creatures of fantasy and sci-fi... up until now. Crazy stuff!

The British Parliament has drafted a Human Tissue and Embryo Bill. One of the issues addressed in the bill is chimeras. If the bill is passed, "the creation of animal-human embryos - created by injecting animal cells or DNA into human embryos or human cells into animal eggs" - will now be legal. Wow! Another instance of scientists using the dangerous philosophical approach of "let's see what we can do" rather than asking "should we even be doing this." This could potentially be very dangerous stuff, which is why the bill mandates that if a scientist chooses to create chimeras, the part-human/part-animal hybrids must be destroyed within two weeks.

This is where the Scottish Catholic Bishops' Conference stepped in. Now if you read about the bishops' statement on a secular news site, you will probably only hear that the bishops said that the chimeras must be treated with dignity, their right-to-life must be respected, mothers whose eggs are used to create chimeras must be given the right to bring their child to term, etc. Predictably, that's not an entirely accurate representation of what the Scottish bishops had to say.

First they called for the bill to be rejected by Parliament saying that creating human hybrid creatures is horrific and breaks a moral boundary which is not to be crossed. Only after denouncing the bill in toto and calling the creation of chimeras alarming and horrific did they proceed to add that if a chimera were created, "it should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them" and "Such a woman is the genetic mother, or partial mother, of the embryo; should she have a change of heart and wish to carry her child to term,
she should not be prevented from doing so." The bishops conclude "at very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings and should be treated accordingly."

This makes sense to me. The bishops are right to be alarmed to call for the denunciation of this "research." However, we cannot know whether or not these hybrids would be persons or not. In order to play it safe and prevent ourselves from murdering innocent persons with intrinsic dignity and an inherent right-to-life, we must allow (and demand!?) that they be taken to term and treated as any other person once they are created.

Sigh... God help us!

More coverage here and here.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

From around the Blogosphere and such


It's been too long since I've posted, and I still don't have the time or focus to put together anything original or intelligent. Nevertheless, what follows are some stories or thoughts which have caught my eye recently. Let me know what you think.

On the Peace and Nonviolence Front...

Catholic Lt Col at Gitmo chooses the Cross over the Flag

Darrel Vandeveld is a devout Catholic. Not so long ago he was also a military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay. However, what he saw and experienced there struck him as immoral and un-American. His well-formed Catholic conscience was not comfortable. He emailed Fr. John Dear, a peace activist, and after much mental anguish chose to quit the US military. Watch the BBC's interview here and read more here

US Torture policies in Iraq have lead to the Deaths of countless Americans

Matthew Alexander was an interrogator for a special ops task force in Iraq in 2006. Other people in his position chose to torture alleged and/or known terrorists to attempt to get what they wanted. Alexander refused, and in an article titled "I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq" for the Washington Post he writes:

Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there's the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.

Read the entire article here.

The FDA: What were they thinking?

This is Silly: Prescription Handguns!??

According to their website, the mission of the FDA is as follows:

The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. The FDA is also responsible for advancing the public health by helping to speed innovations that make medicines and foods more effective, safer, and more affordable; and helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to improve their health.

If that's the case, why are they approving a miniaturized thumb-triggered handgun as something which can be prescribed? What!? Oh! In the near future it may be covered by Medicare. Ladies and Gentleman, your tax dollars hard at work!

More here.

This is dangerous and reprehensible: Gardasil - Bad for women (a shocker I know)

Remember how Gardasil was supposed to help prevent much of cervical cancer? Forgetting for a moment that you shouldn't have to be vaccinated for a disease caused by STDs, because... you know... your free will, chastity, abstinence, the moral life, etc. Forget about all that. Generally speaking a drug might be considered a good thing if it can prevent a large portion of the population from getting a deadly form of cancer. Well, as it turns out, Gardasil may actually make things worse.

Natural News reporter Mike Adams has uncovered some interesting facts about this vaccine. The FDA has been aware since 2003 that Human Papillloma Virus [1] does not cause cervical cancer. The Gardasil vaccine is unable to eradicate HPV virus from women who have been exposed to HPV (nearly all sexually active women). This makes vaccinating all young women in Texas against HPV virus a very questionable decision.

To make matters even worse it has now been learned that vaccinating women with Gardasil may actually increase the risk that those women harboring a benign cervical HPV viral infection have a 44.6 percent increased risk of having their benign HPV infection converted into a precancerous state by the HPV vaccine administration. Thus women vaccinated with Gardasil not only receive no benefit those who were sexually active before the vaccine administration have become at increased risk for developing cervical cancer.

Read the entire article here.
Hat tip to feminine-genius.

Anyone have any thoughts on any of this? Let me know.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thesis Thoughts 2 - Rahner's Philosophical Background

For my Master's thesis I will be researching and writing on the debate between Karl Rahner and Hans urs von Balthasar regarding their conceptions of Christology and the salvation of non-Christians. I shall attempt to post summaries of research, random quotes and the like on a somewhat regular basis. Please feel free to share your own thoughts, ideas, questions, sources, etc.

Before diving more directly into the thought of Karl Rahner or Hans Urs von Baltashar and their soteriologies, we would be imprudent to ignore the historical and philosophical situations to which they are responding and in which they are living. If Plato lived today the manner in which he communicated his genius would certainly be quite different that it actually was. The same could be said of Nietzsche have lived in pre-Christian times. Therefore we must consider Rahner’s philosophical sitz im leben before attempting to grasp his system.

For most of the middle ages and up until the 17th Century most people in the Western world saw Jesus Christ as the universal redeemer. In other words, their world view suggested that whatever could be said to be universally or generally meaningful or significant for humanity must in way relate to Christ (Marshall 2). However, Deistic thought countered that Christian presumption, reasoning that for something to universally valid and meaningful, it must also be universally and generally available to everyone. At this time the world was realizing that knowledge of Jesus was not, or had not been, readily available to all people, specifically those living in the Americas. (Marshall 3-4)

Many Christians embraced this Deistic critique while attempting to maintain the universal meaningfulness of the historical Jesus. John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity is a prime example of such an attempt. German Christians made the most profound attempts at finding a middle ground between these two assumptions: that of Jesus’ universal significance, and that of the necessity of universally availability of that which is said to be significant. They attempted to reinterpret the heart of Christianity, which saw Jesus as the unique historical redeemer, in such a way as to maintain the concrete notion of the Christian understanding of redemption while dissolving the “indissoluble bond to Jesus” (Marshall 4). [It is because of this new understanding of redemption that Marx can posit a world in which man is redeemed on his own merits with a Christ figure.]

Thus, Kant enters the scene with his transcendental approach and states that “the unique redeemer is an ideal of perfection, a moral archetype for which we need no empirical example, since the archetype ‘is to be sought nowhere but in our own reason.’”(Marshall 5), leading to Schleiermacher, who offers the most profound and powerful statement of the coalescence of the new deistic assumptions with redemption as posited by Christianity.

Schleiermacher develops a general criterion for redemption – the relative domination of a universal God-consciousness (‘feeling of absolute dependence’) in all experience. All people can experience the need for God in their dependence. (Marshall 6). He argues that the Christian concept of redemption exemplifies the most clear coherence with this criterion. Ever since, transcendentalists, Rahner included, have adopted Schleiermacher’s general approach and method while modifying the criterion necessary for a meaningful understand of redemption which generally available to all of humanity.

At this point, before jumping into Rahner we must consider a couple other thinkers who are especially relevant to any discussion of Rahner and Balthasar and who critiqued and revised some the thought of those mentioned above.

Joseph Marechal, a Jesuit priest from Belgium, critiqued Kant for failing to account for the dynamism of the human intellect since objective knowledge can only be obtained from categorical judgment of speculative reason. (McCool xiv). Marechal attempted to remedy Kant’s transcendental approach to make it cohere with the foundations of St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought. “Marechal believed that the transcendental method could be extended beyond epistemology and could be used to ground a general metaphysics whose form and structure would resemble the metaphysics of St. Thomas” (McCool xvi). Rahner, following Marechal, becomes the most influential proponent of Transcendental Thomism. However, he attempts to improve upon Marechal’s approach by developing a self-grounding metaphysics rather relying on epistemology and by putting more emphasis on the conscious of the human person.

Around the same time, a Protestant theologian by the name of Karl Barth is heavily critiquing Schleiermacher and his method. “Barth saw Schleiermacher as adapting to modernity where he should have resisted it, and distorting theology by moving its center from God and God’s revelation to man” (Kilby 257). Barth was especially critical of the anthropological turn taken by Schleiermacher and others as well as of the notion of having a anthropological or transcendent system on which to rely. Barth countered, “I have no Christological principle and no Christological method. Rather in each individual theological question I seek to orientate myself afresh…not on a Christological dogma but on Jesus Christ himself)” (quoted in Marshall 116).

To a certain extent, Balthasar will take a quasi-Barthian approach. His critique of Rahner vaguely parallels Barth’s critique of Schleiermacher, and his Christology attempted to be Christocentric, like Barth, rather than anthropocentric, like Rahner and the other transcendental Thomists.

In our next post we shall look explicitly at Rahner’s philosophical system and transcendental method.


Kilby, Karen. “Balthasar and Karl Rahner.” Cambridge Companion to Hans urs von Balthasar. Oakes, Moss, ed., Cambridge UP: 2004

Marshall, Bruce. Christology in Conflict: the identity of a Savior in Rahner and Barth. NY: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1987.

Rahner, Karl. Rahner Reader. Ed. McCool, Gerald. London: Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd, 1975.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Concerned Catholics for the Future of America - Open Letter to Obama

November 14, 2008

Open Letter to President-elect Barack Obama

President-elect Barack Obama,

As American Catholics, we, the undersigned, would like to reiterate the congratulations given to you by Pope Benedict XVI. We will be praying for you as you undertake the office of President of the United States.

Wishing you much good will, we hope we will be able to work with you, your administration, and our fellow citizens to move beyond the gridlock which has often harmed our great nation in recent years. Too often, partisan politics has hampered our response to disaster and misfortune. As a result of this, many Americans have become resentful, blaming others for what happens instead of realizing our own responsibilities. We face serious problems as a people, and if we hope to overcome the crises we face in today's world, we should make a serious effort to set aside the bitterness in our hearts, to listen to one another, and to work with one another

One of the praiseworthy elements of your campaign has been the call to end such partisanship. You have stated a desire to engage others in dialogue. With you, we believe that real achievement comes not through the defamation of one's opponents, nor by amassing power and using it merely as a tool for one's own individual will. We also believe dialogue is essential. We too wish to appeal to the better nature of the nation. We want to encourage people to work together for the common good. Such action can and will engender trust. It may change the hearts of many, and it might alter the path of our nation, shifting to a road leading to a better America. We hope this theme of your campaign is realized in the years ahead.

One of the critical issues which currently divides our nation is abortion. As you have said, no one is for abortion, and you would agree to limit late-term abortions as long as any bill which comes your way allows for exceptions to those limits, such as when the health of the mother is in jeopardy. You have also said you would like to work on those social issues which cause women to feel as if they have a need for an abortion, so as to reduce the actual number of abortions being performed in the United States.

Indeed, you said in your third presidential debate, "But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, ‘We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.'"

As men and women who oppose abortion and embrace a pro-life ethic, we want to commend your willingness to engage us in dialogue, and we ask that you live up to your promise, and engage us on this issue.

There is much we can do together. There is much that we can do to help women who find themselves in difficult situations so they will not see abortion as their only option. There is much which we can do to help eliminate those unwanted pregnancies which lead to abortion.

One of your campaign promises is of grave concern to many pro-life citizens.
On January 22, 2008, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when speaking of the current right of women in America to have abortions, you said, "And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president."

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) might well undermine your engagement of pro-life Americans on the question of abortion. It might hamper any effort on your part to work with us to limit late-term abortions. We believe FOCA does more than allow for choice. It may force the choice of a woman upon others, and make them morally complicit in such choice.
One concern is that it would force doctors and hospitals which would otherwise choose not to perform abortions to do so, even if it went against their sacred beliefs. Such a law would undermine choice, and might begin the process by which abortion is enforced as a preferred option, instead of being one possible choice for a doctor to practice.

It is because of such concern we write. We urge you to engage us, and to dialogue with us, and to do so before you consider signing this legislation. Let us reason together and search out the implications of FOCA. Let us carefully review it and search for contradictions of those positions which we hold in common.

If FOCA can be postponed for the present, and serious dialogue begun with us, as well as with those who disagree with us, you will demonstrate that your administration will indeed be one that rises above partisanship, and will be one of change. This might well be the first step toward resolving an issue which tears at the fabric of our churches, our political process, our families, our very society, and that causes so much hardship and heartache in pregnant women.

Likewise, you have also recently stated you might over-ride some of President G.W. Bush's executive orders. This is also a concern to us. We believe doing so without having a dialogue with the American people would undermine the political environment you would like to establish. Among those issues which concern us are those which would use taxpayer money to support actions we find to be morally questionable, such as embryonic stem cell research, or to fund international organizations that would counsel women to have an abortion (this would make abortion to be more than a mere choice, but an encouraged activity).

Consider, sir, your general promise to the American people and set aside particular promises to a part of your constituency. This would indicate that you plan to reject politics as usual. This would indeed be a change we need.


Deal W. Hudson
Christopher Blosser

Marjorie Campbell
Mark J. Coughlan
Rev. James A. Nowack
Craig D. Baker
Susan DeBoisblanc
Megan Stout
Joshua D. Brumfield
Ashley M. Brumfield
Michael J. Iafrate
Natalie Navarro
Matthew Talbot
Paul Mitchell
Henry C Karlson III
Darren Belajac
Adam P Verslype
Josiah Neeley
Michael J. Deem
Katerina M. Deem
Natalie Mixa
Henry Newman
Anthony M. Annett
Mickey Jackson
Veronica Greenwell
Thomas Greenwell, PhD
Robert C. Koerpel
Nate Wildermuth

New Online Signatures
William Simon
Deacon Keith Fournier
Mary Ruebelmann-Benavides
Jesus Benavides
Steve Dillard
Toby Danna
William Eunice
Mark Shea
Fr. Phil Bloom
Christopher Gant
Robert King, OP.
Peter Halabu
Kelly Clark
Eric Giunta
Mark Gordon
Linda Schuldt
Michael Mlekoday
Bryan McLaughlin
Victoria Hoffman
Jonathan Jones
Jim Janknegt
Marcel LeJeune
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
Ken Hallenius III
Zach Gietl
Megan Bless
Kathy Myers
Timothy M. Mason
Kevin Koster
John Anthony D’Arpino
Brian Desmarais
Mary C. Borneman

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thesis Thoughts - Historical Background

For my Master's thesis I will be researching and writing on the debate between Karl Rahner and Hans urs von Balthasar regarding their conceptions of Christology and the salvation of non-Christians. I shall attempt to post summaries of research, random quotes and the like on a somewhat regular basis. Please feel free to share your own thoughts, ideas, questions, sources, etc.

In our pluralistic society, what is the state of Christology and the Christian dogma that Jesus Christ is the universal savior of mankind and the cosmos? Before focus our efforts more directly on the above question and the specific theologians at hand, we would benefit from a brief historical overview of the topic.

From beginning of Christianity, throughout the New Testament we are confronted with seemingly contradictory passages on the universal or not so universal salvific will of God. Avery Cardinal Dulles, in his First Things article "Who can be Saved?" lists a series of Biblical texts which seem to indicate that salvation requires faith and belief in Jesus Christ. In this regard, he quotes St. Paul, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9) and St. Mark "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16), among others, and draws the
conclusion that
"according to the primary Christian documents, salvation comes through personal faith in Jesus Christ, followed and signified by sacramental baptism."

On the other hand, in his book Dare We He 'That All Men Be Saved'? von Balthasar convincingly shows that this conclusion is not so clear. He contrasts Jesus' statement of condemnation with statements of Jesus' or God's universal salvific will. We can here cite St. Timothy who writes, "This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:3-6). Balthasar, quoting St. Peter, adds that "God does not wish ' that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Pet 3:9).

What are we to make of this? Certainly we cannot expect a just and loving God to
condemn to hell those who have never even had the opportunity to hear the Gospel preached. But how can they be saved with belief in Christ, without Baptism, without being the Body of He who is life?

Dulles shows that some of the early Church fathers held exceptions to the necessity of explicit faith in Jesus for some of the ancient philosophers who seem to have found Christ in the truth of natural
wisdom and philosophy. On the other hand Augustine taught that those who had never heard the Gospel would be denied salvation because salvation comes this faith, which they clearly could not have had. They would suffer eternal punishment for original sin and their own personal sins. Dulles informs us that this Augustinian view held sway "throughout the middle ages."

In his Papal Bull Unam Sanctam, Pope Boniface VIII writes clearly and forcefully, "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human
creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
" Additionally,the Council of Florence mentions "pagans" (not merely heretics and schismatics) for the first time in this regard, teaching "The holy Roman Church…firmly, believes, professes and preaches that "no one remaining outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans", but also Jews, heretics, or schismatics, can become partakers of eternal life; but they will go to the eternal fire."

However, starting in the 19th Century the Church's understanding of salvation "outside" the Church
begins to develop. In encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerore (1863), Pope Pius IX writes matter of factly "We all know that those who suffer from invincible ignorance with regard to our holy religion, if they carefully keep the precepts of the natural law which have been written by God in the hearts of all persons, if they are prepared to obey God, and if they lead a virtuous and dutiful
life, can, by the power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life." The Second Vatican Council affirmed Pope Pius' statement in Lumen Gentium which taught that Christ is the
sole mediator of salvation and the Church is necessary for salvation, but adds that "Divine Providence [does not] deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part,
have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life."

The fathers of the Second Vatican Council were allegedly strongly influence by the thought of Rahner and his "anonymous Christianity" in developing and formulating the relevant passages of Lumen Gentium. Therefore, in attempting to understand how non-Christians can be saved, theologians have often adopted and adapted Rahner's method and framework in order to discuss Christ as universal savior in a pluralistic society. However, after the Council, Rahner has been looked upon less favorably by the Magisterium, and Balthasar, whose thought Pope Benedict seems to especially appreciate, became one of Rahner's harshest critics.

Balthasar does not disagree with Rahner so much on the idea of salvation outside the [visible] Church (in Dare We Hope he comes closer to apokatastasis than Rahner ever did), but he is wary and harshly critical of Rahner's method, which has been termed, "Transcendental Thomism."

In my next post I shall explore some of the philosophical and historical influence which led Rahner to choose his method and led Balthasar his.


Balthasar, Hans urs von. Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? San Francisco:Ignatius Press, 1988.

Dulles, Avery Cardinal. “Who Can Be Saved?” First Things. February 2008

Dupuis, J., and J. Neuner. The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents
of the Catholic Church. Alba House, 1983.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

MacIntyre on voting

I just stumbled across an exerpt from Alasdair MacIntyre's "The Only Vote Worth Casting in November" in which he discusses how to approach a situation with two "politically intolerable" candidates.

MacIntyre writes:

When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives. These are propositions which in the abstract may seem to invite easy agreement. But, when they find application to the coming presidential election, they are likely to be rejected out of hand. For it has become an ingrained piece of received wisdom that voting is one mark of a good citizen, not voting a sign of irresponsibility. But the only vote worth casting in November is a vote that no one will be able to cast, a vote against a system that presents one with a choice between Bush’s conservatism and Kerry’s liberalism, those two partners in ideological debate, both of whom need the other as a target.

We note at this point that we have already broken with both parties and both candidates. Try to promote the pro-life case that we have described within the Democratic Party and you will at best go unheard and at worst be shouted down. Try to advance the case for economic justice as we have described it within the Republican Party and you will be laughed out of court. Above all, insist, as we are doing, that these two cases are inseparable, that each requires the other as its complement, and you will be met with blank incomprehension. For the recognition of this is precluded by the ideological assumptions in terms of which the political alternatives are framed. Yet at the same time neither party is wholeheartedly committed to the cause of which it is the ostensible defender. Republicans happily endorse pro-choice candidates, when it is to their advantage to do so. Democrats draw back from the demands of economic justice with alacrity, when it is to their advantage to do so. And in both cases rhetorical exaggeration disguises what is lacking in political commitment.

In this situation a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote case for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives. The way to vote against the system is not to vote.

I tend to agree. What do you think?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Venting on Voting

Disclaimer: (1) If I had to vote today, my conscience would not allow me to vote for either McCain or Obama. In other words, I have no political horse in this race. What follows are not political frustrations, but frustration with an unacceptable Catholic approach. (2) This is not directed to any one person in particular, but is a response to a false narrowing of orthodoxy to a particular issue or political ideology. (3) This is very one-sided post, and intentionally so. I am writing directly in response to those Catholics who claim it is a sin to vote for Obama. If I were to come in contact with an abundance of Catholics making similar errors in reference to McCain, I would respond similarly.

I am sick and tired of hearing or reading that Catholics cannot vote for Obama. I do not mean to implicate your everyday Catholic who might be ignorant of the complexities of moral theology or the breadth of orthodoxy or a proper understanding of conscience. Rather, I am absolutely frustrated with Catholics who should know better - priests, deacons, theologians, intelligent and intentional Catholics - who insist upon focusing squarely and exclusively on the issue of abortion. They claim it is sinful to vote for a pro-choice candidate and implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) state that Catholics MUST vote for McCain. In doing so they obliterate the role of conscience in voting, which should be a personal prudential decision made with an informed conscience.

The Church’s teaching on this is clear. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated it in their document Faithful Citizenship:

A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity... There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil...In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching...As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.

It really is that clear. A Catholic may, without committing sin, vote for Obama provided he is voting in spite of, not because of, Obama’s position on abortion. Period. Each Catholic, as an individual person, is responsible for informing himself on the Church’s teaching on the issues, on the candidates’ positions on the issues, on the integrity, qualification, etc. of the candidates. Once the person has informed himself, he should, in prayer, make a decision according to his conscience. No one should tell anyone that it is a sin to vote for either of these two candidates. (However, it would be a sin to vote for Obama because of his pro-choice position.)

Furthermore, these people reduce the Catholic consistent ethic of life to abortion, and in doing so, they brush aside the fact that McCain is simply not a pro-life candidate. 1) He is not against abortion in cases of rape, incest, etc. 2) As far as I can tell, his proposed policy is that the legality of abortion should be left up to the individual states. While this is an improvement over the current state of the law, it cannot be called a pro-life position in any sense of the term. 3) McCain is currently for embryonic stem cell research, which is basically abortion at an earlier stage and for the purpose of research. How can someone really make the claim that he is a “pro-life” candidate?

Everyone should educate themselves on the issues and a Catholic understanding of them. Everyone should educate themselves on the candidates. After reading, learning, praying, and discerning, everyone should feel free to vote their conscience. It is not a sin to vote for either candidate provided you are not voting for them because of their support for an intrinsically evil act.

I may disagree with your prudential judgment. You may disagree with mine. We can talk about it. We can debate it. But we should never threaten anyone with the guilt of sin due to their prudential judgment as a Catholic voter.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Random thoughts, some intelligent, some... not much

1. Transcendence and sport

Man, as a being made in the image and likeness is a being open to transcendence. Animals are not open to transcendence. Plants are not open to transcendence. Only we have the ability to not only conceive, but to also to experience that which draws us entirely outside of ourselves and into contact with the absolute spiritual horizon of being.

I have certainly experience transcendence several times in my life in the face of love, self-sacrifice, the Mass, the Eucharist. However, many do not open themselves up to perceiving transcendence as such.

I was at the Saints - Vikings game Monday night. I was at the Monday night Saints home-opener against the Falcons after Katrina. Reggie's punt returns against the Vikings, Gleason's blocked punt against the Falcons -- these were events with the potential to jar to the most secular individual, those most numbed to their intrinsic transcendence, into awareness of the horizon of being. Man, woman, and child forgot about themselves, lost themselves in the euphoria, hugged random strangers. Against the Falcons, the city, a unity, as a body, experienced real hope for the first time since Katrina. A meaningless event, a spectator sport brought the body of man in New Orleans back from the edge of despair.

I don't intend to exaggerate the importance of such events. These are not deeply meaningful transcendent events as the birth of a child might be, but each time I experience them I am struck by the very real transcendence of the moment and of humanity. There cannot be transcendence without the Transcendent. These very experiences of losing ourselves in communion, in hope, are experiences which can remind us of He who emptied himself for us so that we might Hope in the face of death and despair.

2. Presidential Debates are pointless

I really don't have a lot more to say, and I really don't mean quite as broadly as I made it sound, but watching and listening last night to the two men who are vying to be "the most powerful man in the world" in a "town hall" setting nearly made me sick. The VP debates had more substance. I can get more honesty and integrity from a high school student caught cheating. I am not at all excited about either candidate.

3. When Voting Season rolls around Catholics forget about the Seamless garment

I am so tired of hearing whom I generally respect reduce the election or being "pro-life" down to one or two issues. I am so tired of hearing those Catholics tell other Catholics that they HAVE to vote for this candidate or that one, or else they will in sin. What frustrates me so is that people are often people who know Church teaching on this. They know it is morally legit to vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsically evil act as long you are supporting him/her in spite of their position on said issue. Nevertheless, when it comes time to vote, it is a sin and a crime to vote for Obama in spite of his position on abortion and ESCR or McCain in spite of his position on war and ESCR. Everyone has the right and the duty to inform their own conscience on the Truth and on the candidates and to make a free and informed and prayerful decision according to their own conscience. No one has a right to say anyone must vote this way or that.

As I have said in my series on Being a Catholic in America, we are called to be pro-life, but this does not mean we are merely anti-abortion. It means we are in support of a consistent ethic of life, a seamless garment which upholds and respects and demands respect for human life at all stages. This is consistently talked about, but rarely lived out. Instead people focus only on abortion and only on the Republican platform to end abortion by legal and judicial means. However, the Republican platform does little to nothing to help those who are in difficult situations, situations which may make abortion seem like an attractive alternative. Furthermore, an unjust death is an unjust death. It should not matter whether a person is killed by an abortion, for ESCR, in an unjust war, by Capital punishment, etc. We should not and must stand for any of these. We should be outraged at all of them.

Where are the seamless garment Catholics?

4. Who are prophets?

The OT prophets were, generally speaking, neither of the priestly class nor of the ruling class. They were set apart. They preached the Word and Will of God, called for repentance and purity. Each and every Christian is baptized priest, prophet, and king. We, as Church, as the Body of Christ, are called to be set apart, to be a prophetic witness to the Truth and Hope and Life we've found in Christ. Why then do we turn to the media for truth? to Obama/Biden or McCain/Palin for hope? to money and consumerism for life? Too many of us remain more American than Catholic. This is not acceptable. Dare we witness to Christ? Dare we take up our crosses and follow Him?

5. Interesting stuff...

Katerina wrote a great post entitled "Knowledge, Freedom, Conscience and the Politics of Incompetence:
my Case Against Obama… and McCain."
I strongly suggest you read it. It was part of the inspiration for point 3, above.

A synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church is currently taking place. Stay tuned. We won't won't see anything groundbreaking, but, when you are talking about the Word of God, its always good stuff.

This blogger is also doing some interesting and related writing on peace, war, non-violence in the OT. Check him out.

6. Thesis...

I am currently researching and will be writing my thesis for my MA in Theology. I will be exploring how non-Christians might be saved. Specifically I will be looking at the dispute between Rahner and Balthasar on this issue. Although it probably will not specifically play into my research or writing, this is connected to my thought on non-violence. The Body of Christ has ascended into heaven and into eternity. The Church is the Body of Christ. The Church conists of the Church militant (those (explicitly ?) within the Church on earth), the Church suffering (those in purgatory), and the Church victorious (those in the Heaven). Vatican II asserts that non-Christians can be saved, thus even if a person is not part of the Church militant explicitly, he may become part of the Body of Christ in purgatory and eventually in heaven. [This is not entirely precise, but it is sufficient here.] We must not wish or commit violence against the Body of Christ or anyone who is or may be part of the Body of Christ. We do not know who will become part of the Body of Christ. Therefore we must not wish or commit violence against any one.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Kudos Supreme Court; Shame, shame Jindal - Death Penalty for Rapists

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, said that imposing the death penalty in child rape cases violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Around the same time, Louisiana's "Catholic" governor, Bobby Jindal, signed Louisiana bill, SB 144 into law. "It gives the court the option of castration on a first conviction of aggravated rape, forcible rape, second degree sexual battery, aggravated incest, molestation of a juvenile when the victim is under the age of 13, or an aggravated crime against nature. Castration is required on a second conviction of the listed crimes."

Recently, Jindal and Louisiana (and the Bush administration) challenged the Supreme Court decision and ask the SC to revisit their ruling. The Supreme Court declined to change their opinion, amending it only slightly to account for a military law. In response, Jindal fired back:

“The Supreme Court was dead wrong in their ruling," Governor Bobby Jindal said. "It is disappointing that they did not take this opportunity to move quickly to rehear this case and examine their legally improper and absurd decision to remove death as a penalty for the horrific crime of raping a child. The fact that they based their ruling on their own perception of a ‘national trend’ against the death penalty is outrageous and harms the credibility of the entire Court. We will continue to work to evaluate ways to amend our statute to maintain death as a penalty for the incredibly brutal crime of raping a child.”

Our bishops have been calling for an end to the death penalty for 20 years. Jindal response and actions are not acceptable for a Catholic. (For more on these read USCCB link or this from Archbishop Chaput.)

I voted for Jindal, and depending on his opponent would consider voting for him again, but this is very disheartening. I understand why abortion is considered a "bigger" issue. I understand why it gets more attention. I don't have a problem with that. Nevertheless, Jindal's blatant slamming of Church teaching on Catholic punishment is very problematic, in ways similar to Biden's and Pelosi's stance on abortion.

Will Archbishop Hughes or Bishop Muench make a statement? I'm not even sure one should be made (publicly), but it is frustrating to see Catholics (of both political parties) consistently showing they are more American or Republican or Democrat than they are Catholic.

Shame on you Bobby Jindal

Monday, September 29, 2008

Christ our Hope... OT Appendix

The following is a response I wrote to a comment on a previous post. Someone suggested I make it a post of its own, so here it is.

The commenter wrote: "It is not congruent with a pacifist deity." [Here it references some actions of God in the OT, specifically death of the first born at Passover and "wiping out" "wicked people"]

I’m not at all making an argument for a pacifist deity. I am not really sure what that means. The God who is Being or Existence, whose name is I AM, who is eternal and the Author of all created things, cannot rightly be called either pacifist or violent, etc--that would be, I think, of anthropomorphism akin to that of the Greek gods. We may be able to debate whether He reveals Himself in Scripture to just and loving God or malicious and cruel, but as Creator he cannot rightly be called violent or pacifist. A limited being, like human, we he discovers another being, has only finite authority over that being, if any at all. However, the Maker of a being has infinite authority over that being--the authority to choose to give life or to revoke that gift, etc.

I am not arguing that God is a pacifist deity.I am claiming that the most virtuous response, the Christian response, to conflict is a non-violent response. Hopefully the difference will be becoming more clear in the final few posts.

There are certainly incongruencies and perhaps even flat out contradictions between the OT and NT. Heck, Jesus himself admits as much in the “you have heard that it was…., but I say to you…” sermon. Nevertheless, for the Christian, Jesus is the Christ, the Word made Flesh, the full and complete self-revelation of God, thus he is the final interpreter of Sacred Scripture.

Also, as I mentioned before, God is revealing himself slowly to sinful humanity, and in doing so, he is slowly revealing man to himself. This revelation is also completed and perfected in Christ.

Finally, the Bible is not primarily a history book, or a science book, or even a morality book. It is primarily a book of proclamation. A legit use of the historical-critical method reveals that ancient literature did not so much intend to convey fact as to convey truth. Thus “what happened” and “what is true” do not always coincide perfectly (although it is difficult if not impossible for us to draw that line).

The Bible tells a story. It tells us about Salvation history. It speaks Truth, but this Truth is not always historical or scientific fact or moral platitude. God works with us where we are. Thus it is possible to conceive that what is in the OT is a lot of an imperfect and muddled following of God’s will. They may have intended to do what He willed, but were incapable of conceiving of the radical Hope they could have in him. This becomes more explicit later in the OT. As Israel is responding, perhaps “justly” and perhaps not, according to the reason of men, the prophets are calling for peace and mercy and repentance. Even David, who despite his obvious flaws, could be called a “saint” of the OT, is denied the honor of building the Temple because he has blood on his hands.

David, it seems to be, could be a microcosm of what I am talking about. God calls him and blessed him. David sins and repents. God forgives him and blessed, granting him success and kingship, but God tells him that his hands are stained with blood. He may not build the Temple.

Considering briefly your question about Passover, I would like to make a few points. We must ask ourselves a series of questions, questions for which I do not yet have well articulated answers.

What is being proclaimed here? What is the historical situation of the event? Of the authorship of the story?

We can say that it was Pharaoh who initially ordered to killing of the Hebrew first-born. Thus the Passover is not rightly conceived absent from this. This is yet another case of self-inflicted judgment, and God, as God, has the right to judgment. However, I would add that his judgment cannot be separated from his mercy. Thus Pope Benedict argues that the transcendent concept of Justice, which can never be achieved on earth (how then was it originally conceived?) is itself an argument for the afterlife. Thus God, who is God of both the living and the dead, who is the Author of Life, has the authority and ability to the judge the Egyptians in this way, but in His justice, may reward to the “innocent” children infinitely more than justice would demand.

Much of this is somewhat speculative and will probably come across as grasping for straws, but I can only add this. For me, Jesus is no longer merely some piece of information I was taught in school and raised to believed. Jesus is a person whom I have encountered in very real, but unempirical and difficult to articulate ways. I do not question the existence of God or the Love of Christ anymore than I question the love of my wife or parents. The Christ whom I have encountered is the Word made flesh. Integrity and authenticity compel me to interpret life and scripture in light of Him. I do not fully understand the intricacies of the Bible. But I trust in its Truth and hope to grow in understanding. I thank you for continuing to push me, because it is forcing me challenge some of my preconceptions and helping my knowledge to grow in depth.

Finally, I would suggest listening to the following, which is a little more coherent although less specifically directed to your question, than my response: click here


Friday, September 26, 2008


This is the conclusion of a series entitled Christ our Hope in the Face of Violence and our Witness to Nonviolent Love. Part 1 served as an introduction and Part 2 considered God as a God of Peace in the Old Testament. Part 3 and Part 4 began to consider what Christ has to say on the issue of violence and war and . Part 5 looked at the witness of early Christianity and the changes which took place after Constantine along with the thought of Augustine and Aquinas on the issue. In part 6 we studied the witness of the contemporary Church. Part 7 examined the thoughts of some recent American Catholic theologians on the topic. Part 8 explored the way of violence.

Genesis reveals to us the presence of violence at the onset of history. Ever since, mankind has chosen to express its jealousy, vengeance, and hatred with violence. Christ calls us to move past this. He institutes the new law. He tells us no longer an eye for an eye, but love, forgiveness, prayer, sacrifice. Why does Christ not want us to use violence to mete out justice? Because, “Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”[1] Not only will violence not bring about lasting peace; to the contrary, violent war devastates what it claims to defend, human life, dignity, and freedom. In light of this knowledge and the indeterminate violence of modern warfare, the Compendium adds,

“War is a ‘scourge’ and is never anappropriate way to resolve problems that arise between nations, ‘it has never been and it will never be.’ In the end, war is ‘the failure of all true humanism,’ “it is always a defeat for humanity,’ ‘never again some peoples against others, never again! ... no more war, no more war!’[2]
Again we hear reference not only to our Christians brothers and sisters, but to humanity as a whole. Because of our understanding of the Communion of Saints, we can understand that when a Christian merely wishes harm upon a brother Christian, he harms and desecrates the Body of Christ. However, what we easily forget is that we are merely temporal. We cannot know when, how, or if a person may convert and choose to walk with Christ. Therefore, we must treat all humanity as our brothers. We must treat all humanity as we would treat Christ. For Christ intends to drawall men to himself,[3]and we, as the living Body of Christ, must be his hands and feet, must witness to his love to all mankind. Christ tells us that he, as the Divine Physician, comes for sick, the sinner, those who really need him;[4] we, as his Body, must especially strive to love those who are so lacking in the peace of Christ that they would turn to violence, hatred, and evil.

We can turn to the Communion of Saints, the Body of Christ, for examples and inspiration in this regard. Franz Jagerstatter, a German Catholic during the reign of the Third Reich, who
was martyred for refusing to join the army, even though his priests and bishop gave him permission, writes, “As a Christian, I prefer to do my fighting with the Word of God and not with arms. We need no rifles or pistols for our battle, but instead spiritual weapons — and the foremost among these is prayer.”
[5] Nearly two millennia earlier, St. Justin Martyr writes, “We who formerly murdered one another now not only do not make war upon our enemies but, that we may not lie or deceive our judges, we gladly die confessing Christ.”[6]

We have testimony to the love, the self-sacrificial love, which the holy ones of God embrace as Christ embraced his cross. We must live and love in solidarity with all humanity. Here we can gain confidence from the efficacy and success of this new way when it is actually attempted on the large scale. Even Weigel affirms this. He writes, “By igniting a revolution of
conscience in Poland in June 1979, John Paul II had a decisive impact on shaping the nonviolent politics that eventually produced the revolution of 1989 in east-central Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.”
[7] However he adds that it is unreasonable to believe that this example can be universalized. We must address this critique before concluding our analysis.

Weigel may be correct. He is not correct that this is the inevitable state of things in a fallen world. But, he is right because too few Christians have considered and attempted Jesus’ nonviolent love. Instead of hoping in the witness of Christ, we hope in the power of the U.S. military. Now that the Church is no longer wedded to the state, the Church, the Body of
Christ, no longer has need of military force. We Christians, we faithful disciples of Christ, must remember that we belong to the City of God first and foremost. With Origen, we can theoretically or potentially confirm the justness of certain secular wars, but as Christians we can no longer allow the Body of Christ to be associated with the violent destruction of life. Origen argues that Christians are doing more good for justice by praying than are those who
take up arms in the name of righteousness.
[8] Just as the pagan priests were kept from warring to keep their hands clean for sacrifices, so we, a “holy priesthood”, must keep our hands free from human blood and worthy of offering “spiritual sacrifices” to God.[9] Over time, the powerful witness[10] of the Body of Christ loving and, in some cases, dying in solidarity with the
poor and the violent will bring the Truth of Christ’s victory to all nations, such that those who are willing to take up the sword, or the gun,
in the name of justice will dwindle in number. However, those violent aggressors will also dwindle in number. This would be a long and slow solution, but it is the divine way of bringing about peace and justice without sacrificing the Gospel.

This witness cannot and will not merely happen by force of will, on the practical realm; we, the Body of Christ, must mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically prepare ourselves for nonviolent resistance, just as soldiers prepare themselves for violent resistance. We must educate ourselves in peace and nonviolence. We must recognize that there is no guarantee that it will succeed in every instance, but neither does violence. Furthermore, Blessed Theresa of Calcutta reminds us that we are not called to be successful, but faithful.

Jesus’ new way, the way of kenotic nonviolent love is not easy. Because, “the only real difference between violent force and nonviolent force is who we are willing to sacrifice –
ourselves and our enemies,”
[11] Self- sacrifice is certainly not easy, but “there is no greater love than this.”[12] It will be more challenging than resorting to violence. Nevertheless, we must
answer this call to sacrificial love and witness. We can only accomplish this if we give attention to the spiritual realm as well. We shall listen to the advice of Pope Benedict XVI in his recent Encyclical
Spe Salvi in this regard. The Vicar of Christ writes:

“the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme.

“Yet once again the question arises: are we capable of this? Is the other important enough to warrant my becoming, on his account, a person who suffers? Does truth matter to me enough to make suffering worthwhile? Is the promise of love so great that it justifies the gift of myself? In the history of humanity, it was the Christian faith that had the particular merit of bringing forth within man a new and deeper capacity for these kinds of suffering that are decisive for his humanity. The Christian faith has shown us that truth, justice and love are not simply ideals, but enormously weighty realities. It has shown us that God —Truth and Love in person—desired to suffer for us and with us… in truly great trials, where I must make a definitive decision to place the truth before my own welfare, career and possessions, I need the certitude of that true, great hope of which
we have spoken here. For this too we need witnesses—martyrs—who have given themselves totally, so as to show us the way—day after day. Let us say it once again: the capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity. Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon. The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.”[13]

All Christians share a universal call to holiness. We are all called to be saints. If our hope is in Christ and his victory over death, and if we have hope that God is justice and peace and mercy and love, then we can have the courage and faith, to follow He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life to the death if necessary for love of his children, our brothers and sisters, even if they happen to be our enemies.

If we can be faithful in following Christ, God will work through us and bring Christ, bring hope, to those who may want to kill us.

[1] CSDC, 496.
[2] Ibid., 497.
[3] John 12:32.
[4] Matt 9:12.
[5] "Franz Jagerstatter: The Blessed Objector." Whispers in the Loggia. (accessed April 25, 2008).
[6] St. Justin Martyr, "First Apology." Early Christian Writings: New Testament, Apocrypha, Gnostics, Church Fathers,” (accessed April 25, 2008), 39.
[7] Weigel.
[8] Orgien, Contra Celsus, (248), VII, 73.
[9] 1 Peter 2:5.
[10] Part of our witness should also be lobbying our countries to spend time and money researching and developing nonviolent weapons that could rend unjust aggressors unable to cause harm without violating the dignity of the person.
Nate Wildermuth, “Militant,” Vox-Nova, (2-20-08). I am in debt to Nate for much of his research and thought on this topic.
[12] John 15:13
[13] Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Spe Salvi, (2007),38-39.