Thursday, January 31, 2008

Being a Faithful Catholic in America: Part III – Racism

[This is part III of a series I began here. Part II is here]

We have briefly considered the universal call to holiness, to which we should all, by virtue of our Baptism, respond with an honest effort to be saints. We have spoken of the consistent life ethic which reminds us of the inherent and irrevocable dignity of every person and serves of the foundation of all moral issues; now we can proceed to consider some of those issues that the US Bishops have spoken of as being problematic.

In its Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the USCCB lists racism as intrinsically evil, something that can never be supported. In this reflection I shall follow the lead of our shepherd, Archbishop Hughes, in his recent document, Made in the Image and Likeness of God: a Pastoral Letter on Racial Harmony. Archbishop Hughes indicates that, although the term “racism” generally draws forth wide ranging emotions and is often avoided in conversation, the Church has not hesitated to define it “as both a personal sin and a social disorder rooted in the belief that one race is superior to another.” Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that "every form of social or cultural discrimination of fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God's design."

Based on the Church’s characterization of racism as both a personal and a social problem, Archbishop Hughes adds that when it occurs on the personal level it generally takes the form of slurs, unprovoked fear, unfair stereotypes, etc., while institutional racism takes place in educational systems, judicial systems, and our housing and living situations. I think we are all on some level aware of these problems, even if we are much more comfortable ignoring them and forgetting about our own participation in them than confronting them. However, it is not enough for us to know in our heads that racism is wrong and what it looks like, we must understand why it is wrong and, if we are to take Christ’s call to holiness seriously, we must work to eradicate it from our own lives and to help those who are victims of it. Let us therefore consider in more depth the Church’s teaching on the issue.

The Word of God in Sacred Scripture teaches us that God created all humanity, male and female, equal and “very good.” Due to the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, all humanity, white, black, yellow, red, brown, etc., have fallen into a state of separation from God, which we daily live out in our selfishness and sinfulness. But, just as through one man, Adam, all of us inherit Original Sin, so through one man, Jesus Christ, all of us, brown, red, yellow, black, white, etc., have been redeemed and offered the gift of salvation. Christ does not differentiate by color, sex, age, wealth, health, etc. We are created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore we are all very good. As people who are part of the Body of Christ through our Baptism, we are called to be His hands and feet, which means we are called to be color blind, to love all other members of the Body of Christ and the Body of Adam (all humans including non-Christians) equally and without reservation. That is what Jesus would do.

Certainly, no serious political candidate supports racism or overtly racist policies. But I think we need to dig a little beneath the surface, especially given the appalling history of racism in the United States (Archbishop Hughes calls it our nation’s Original Sin!), where up until a few decades ago it was considered the norm for blacks to be treated as inferior. For what was once overt (obvious) in political and social discourse still lurks in the background, but remains covert (hidden), only rearing its ugly head occasionally– think of the Jena 6 scandal. This all begs an important question: if racism is real, but not overt, does this make it any less evil? Does this diminish our responsibility as Christians? I think not.

In fact, I think most (if not all) of us can see undercurrents of racism active at different times and situations in our schools, jobs, and relationships with others. We tend to be more fearful around black men than white men. Why is that? The implication is that we believe that people who are black are more violent than people who are white. This is scientifically and morally false. We tend to assume, again generally speaking, that people who are black are less intelligent than people who are white. Again, this is patently false. It is true, however, that nutrition, family environment, parental expectations, and perceived safety play large roles in academic achievement. Because of the Original Sin of our nation, people who are black also tend to have a lower socio-economic status. Therefore, people who are black tend to come from families who are less able to provide good nutrition (this is especially relevant during pregnancy), stable family situation (parents are more likely to be forced to work long hours to support the family), and safe environment (poor neighborhoods breed desperation which leads to crime).

Many people also claim prison statistics -- based on percentages of the national population, people who are black are more likely to be criminals and to be on death row -- to support their belief that people who are black are more violent, criminal, even more evil than people who are white (although we would never say it this way). However, the statistics are very misleading, and such a belief is again absolutely untrue and offensive to our God who loved each one of us into creation. Regarding the statistics, we first must not reduce the issue to merely an issue of skin color. Human behavior does not change based on skin color, but it does change based on poverty and living conditions.

“Ironically, one of the few areas of racial equality in the United States is drugs. Americans who are black and Americans who are white use them at essentially the same rate. The shocking disparities come in enforcement—from arrests, to charges being filed, to convictions, to length of sentences—where African American males go to prison at far higher rates for the same crimes than everyone else. We know this from systematic studies as well as the many examples of white conservative politicians whose own drug crimes, or those of their kids, result in no prison time, the same crimes that send thousands of young, poor, black males to prison for shockingly long sentences (see the Bishop’s “three Rs” statement on criminal justice for more on systematic injustice in sentencing generally). On the death penalty, even different rates of violent crime don’t explain differences. Just among those who commit murder, African Americans murders are far more likely to get the death sentence than white murders. The even greater disparity, however, is in the race of the victim—murdering a white person is many times more likely to get you the death penalty than murdering a black person. “ (from a comment by David Cochron on the blog Vox-Nova)

The point is twofold: 1) Most of our preconceived notions which denigrate people of races are often false and are misguided by overly simplified views of complex situations. 2) Jesus Christ demands that we move beyond the implied racism of our society. Regardless of race all persons are children of God and, as Christians, we are called to love all persons as ourselves. We are called to stand up for the dignity and rights of those who are subject to discrimination and prejudice. Again, it is what Jesus would do and it is what we, as Christians are called to do as we strive to live as saints.

"Going Green" and the Pill

As I watch all the efforts of corporations to "go green" and the craze in our country to consume organic, natural, or more healthful products, I can't help but see a paradox. Over 30% of women in the U.S. were on the Pill in 2002 (see here), presumably more now. The Pill uses artificial hormones to control a woman's fertility. So as we worry over what hormones are in the meats and milk we consume (see here), we willingly pump our bodies full of hormones to control fertility. I honestly don't get it. 

My husband's and my reasons for using natural family planning have more to do with our understanding of the meaning of human sexuality as God-given than not wanting extra hormones coursing through my body to "fix" my unbroken reproductive system, but there is a growing trend of health-conscious people - especially vegans and vegetarians - who recognize the paradox and are using some form of natural family planning or fertility awareness method.

As many are "going green" because they want to prevent global warming, I wander how many people are aware of the possibility of global infertility. Aside from the low fertility rate, that is the reproducing at such a low rate (less than 1.5 children per woman in most first-world countries, as far as I know) such that whole countries are in danger of not replacing themselves, there is another, scarier potential problem. With the high numbers of women on the Pill in addition to the tendency to "flush" pills down the toilet, there has been documented such high levels of synthetic estrogen in natural waterways that there are male fish becoming infertile and producing eggs! The question is how high the levels have to be to effect male humans. (See here, here, and here.) 

It's one thing to make a conscious decision not to reproduce, but it is another altogether to have your reproductive capabilities stolen from you. This is the stuff of science fiction. (Has anyone seen Children of Men?) It also reminds me of a hypothetical situation posed in one of my moral theology classes about a tyrant who puts some kind of contraceptive chemical in his country's water supply to prevent his people from reproducing. We tried to determine the moral licitness of actions of different people in such a situation (i.e. the couple who is aware there is contraception in the water and wants to contracept, the couple who is aware but does not intend to contracept, the couple who is not aware, the tyrant). Such a scenario may be less hypothetical than I realized. I wonder if the Culture of Death has become the tyrant.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Family Planning among Christians

I found a blog post from last year titled "providentialism, NFP, and contraception" in which the author discusses "the attitudes towards family planning and married sexuality" among Christians, which fall into three basic groups - giving the post its title. She makes several good points, and I would like to hear your thoughts!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Being a Faithful Catholic in America: Part II – A Consistent Life Ethic

[This is part II of a series I began here.]

In my last post I briefly discussed our universal call to holiness and the idea that all of us are called by our God to honestly try to become saints. This call to holiness and any desire we might have to answer that call should not stem merely from some command of an authoritative Church. Rather we should be motivated to strive for holiness by our love for our God. Jesus indicated this to us when he sums up the whole Old Testament with His two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Mark 12:30-31)

This idea of loving the Other, be it God or neighbor, lies at the heart of all Catholic teachings on the political issues at hand. Be it abortion, embryonic stem cells, immigration, marriage, torture, war, etc., the Church’s understanding of these issues flow out of love. To help educate us on the universal implications of this love the Church teaches a consistent life ethic, which the U.S. Bishops describe in this way:

“Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, each person’s life and dignity must be respected, whether that person is an innocent unborn child in a mother’s womb, whether that person worked in the World Trade Center or a market in Baghdad, or even whether that person is a convicted criminal on death row. We believe that every human life is sacred from conception to natural death, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it protects and respects the life and dignity of the human person.” (USCCB, Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, p. 13)

This means that in all that we do as individuals and in our institutions (families, businesses, communities, countries, etc.) we must always uphold and fight for the dignity of every human being involved. Jesus emphasizes the dignity of every person by associating all with him:

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'” (Matt 25:34-40)

Because we are all one body in Christ, because of our love for Christ, because of our universal call to holiness, we have the holy duty of upholding the dignity of all persons in all that we do. This makes things difficult for those of us who are trying to determine which candidate to vote for because neither the Democrats nor the Republicans uphold this consistent ethic of life. Stereotypically each party pushes their agenda on certain life issues, but both are also notoriously bad on other life issues. For example, one party claims to be pro-life but also pushes the death penalty and torture, while the other claims to stand for the poor while advocating pro-choice policies.

As we continue to investigate and consider the intrinsically evil acts which the bishops warn us about, we must strive to move beyond whatever preconceived notions we have developed after following the political leanings of our party of choice. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are living up to the call of holiness. Therefore, in educating ourselves about these issues we must move beyond these somewhat shallow political teachings and listen to the voice of Truth, Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Church. Let us continue to keep in mind Jesus’ consistent ethic of life and examine our consciences and our thoughts.

Part III: Racism]

Monday, January 21, 2008

Being a Faithful Catholic in America: Part I - Introduction

I am writing this in response to a call given by Archbishop Hughes, our shepherd and a successor of the Apostles, at a conference I recently attended. What follows is a reflection meant to help each of us examine and form our consciences to better enable us to live our lives as faithful Christian Catholics in America, specifically in preparation for the upcoming elections. I do not claim to have complete knowledge or understanding of the truth, but I do claim to be repeating what the Church teaches and demands of us as members of the Body of the Christ.

In his homily at the opening Mass for the 2008 Hoffinger Conference, Archbishop Hughes spoke of the universal call to holiness. He, as our shepherd, wants to remind each one of us that we are all, every single one of us, called to be a saint. Holiness is not reserved for a chosen few. God loves us unconditionally and wants us to respond to His gift of self with our own limitless gift of love for He who is Love. We all need to honestly strive to rid ourselves of our sinful tendencies, prejudices and preconceived notions, and to work toward sainthood.

This requires, among other things, that we learn to identify ourselves first and foremost as Catholics, as members of the Church which is the Bride of Christ and which is guided “in spirit and in truth” by the Holy Spirit. We must pray for the humility to submit ourselves to the wisdom and prudence of the Church’s teachings. We should not ignore or belittle the wisdom of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Church in favor of the beliefs or standards or our nation, our political party, our school, or ourselves. We are not primarily Republican or Democrat, American or New Orleanian. We are Catholic, which means we are members of the body of Christ along with millions of other people from all over the world. Our primary love and allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ, our Savior and King
The Archbishop of Denver, who was also at the conference, put it this way,

“Catholic is a word that has real meaning. We don’t control or invent that meaning as individuals. We inherit it from the gospel and the experience of the Church over the centuries. We can choose to be something else, but if we choose to call ourselves Catholic, then that word has consequences for what we believe and how we act. We can’t truthfully claim to be Catholic and then act as though we’re not. Being a Catholic is a bit like being married. We have a relationship with the Church and with Jesus Christ that’s similar to being a spouse. If a man says he loves his wife, his wife will want to see the evidence in his love and fidelity. The same applies to our relationship with God. If we say we’re Catholic, we need to show that by our love for the Church and our fidelity to what she teaches and believes. Otherwise we’re just fooling ourselves, because God certainly won’t be fooled.” (

As Christians we should be the leaven which raises the morality and holiness of our community, indeed of our country, to higher levels of holiness. However, if we examine American society we cannot noticeably see the good witness of Christians in our culture. Instead of being witnesses to the Truth of Christ as the apostles were, we have tended to blend in with the rest of our society which can NOT rightly be called good or virtuous. Because of our Catholic identity and our universal call to holiness we must always inform and examine our consciences on the issues in our country and never settle for the opinions of the authorities in our preferred political parties or talk shows.

In light of this, the successors of the Apostles, our American Bishops write the following, “There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions” ( The bishops include the followings actions in this category: abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, genocide, torture, racism, unjust war and unjust immigration laws.

In the following days and weeks I shall attempt to offer reflections on some of these issues in order to better educate myself, and all of us, on them and to challenge to submit to the wisdom and guidance of Mother Church. I invite you all to participate in these reflections by sharing your thoughts in the comment boxes.

Part II: Consistent Life Ethic
PartIII: Racism
Part IV: Immigration