Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Thomistic understanding of Law and its Implications for gay marriage

Morning's Minion over at Vox-Nova recently wrote critiquing the Supreme Court's decision on D.C.'s handgun ban. I believe some of his reflections on the nature of Law and a Catholic understanding thereof can shed some light on the role of the government in legislating marriage, specifically gay marriage. [Note: In this post my intention not so much to develop a natural law argument for traditional marriage, but to show that the arguments for gay marriage are intrinsically flawed]

MM writes the following:

The US Supreme Court has declared the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns to be unconstitutional as it violates the so called individual “right to bear arms”. We need to unpack this. The Catholic perspective is to start with Aquinas, who viewed law as “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community”. The Enlightenment era gave us another view of the law, predicated on the notion of individual liberty as the foundation of society. In other words, the person has the right to do as they wish in search of personal fulfillment, as long as it does not impinge upon the rights of another. Law is then all about the enforcement of social contracts.

It would be erroneous not to credit the Enlightenment with its achievements. Too often, rulers abused the notion of “common good” (if they even bothered to seek a rationale) to trample upon human rights and human dignity. In re-discovering and liberating this essential Catholic teaching, we must be grateful to “Enlightenment values”. But we cannot go too far, for the underlying anthropology is false. It is used to support laissez-faire liberalism, based on the notion that market exchange is a “free” exchange that reflects natural differences in the various actors. This approach as been condemned vociferously by the Church from Pope Leo XIII onwards, for the Church looks at these issues through the lens of the common good, the way Aquinas viewed the law. The ethic of private liberty has led directly to gay marriage, where the goal is simply the satisfaction of personal desires as opposed to the common good which would emphasize the bearing and rearing of children. And of course abortion is justified in this manner: the “right to privacy” is paramount, and the unborn simply cannot be active participants in a social contract.

This is a rather lengthy introduction, but, I believe, an essential one. For the right to bear arms that the Supreme Court upheld today comes directly from this notion of personal liberty trumping the common good. For the authorities charged with the common good in DC, an area suffering from extremely high gun-related violence, felt that a ban on handguns was appropriate. Of course, this ban can have limited effect absent border controls at the Potomac river. But is this a valid argument for inaction? To use that logic, the ability to travel means that no laws restricting abortion should be enacted either.

I wish specifically to focus on his treatment of Law. According to Aquinas, the Law is always meant to serve the common good. Furthermore, human laws can only truly be considered laws if they do not contradict the higher orders of law (natural law, divine law, and eternal law, which it is not my purpose to delve into here). While not necessarily applicable to gun laws, it is certainly pertinent to marriage laws, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

MM also adds a critique of our current Enlightenment-influenced understanding of law which has led to all the rights-based talk we see today. A right to privacy, a right to choose, a right to abortion, a right to guns, a right to do what I want when I want as long as I don't harm others, as long as I don't break the social contract. This very concept is illogical, contrary to the common good. For example, there is no way of knowing what hurts others, (private actions do have real effects) . Furthermore the governing bodies become the arbiters of rights. Thus we end of with people deciding that this or that is a legitimate right even though it may be harmful to society and contrary to the common good. We must not continue to base our Law on this thinking, which is a slippery slope that will ultimately lead to the further destruction of the family and of society.

MM explains that this faulty understanding of law logically leads to a right to choose abortion and a right to gay marriage.

So what might a proper understanding of law have to say about gay marriage? In order to more fully understand the implications of this question, we must consider how natural marriage serves the common good. Marriage/ Family is the foundation of any stable society. It expresses an accurate anthropology of the complementarity of the sexes where man and woman can help each other persevere through life's troubles and share life's joys. It offers a stable environment for the conceiving and rearing of children, who have the right to a safe, stable home life, a right to be educated, and a right to be loved. Statistics show that children who are deprived of these basic rights are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, are more likely to suffer from depression, are more likely to engage in promiscuous activities, etc.

In other words, the positive advantages of marriage for a civil society are numerous and nearly incalculable. Traditionally, this is why governments have offered incentives (tax breaks, etc.) to encourage marriage and stable family life.

Gay marriage does not offer many of these advantages. Furthermore, it is contrary to the natural law. Without using the flawed slippery slope of rights-based Enlightenment influenced argumentation, on what basis can one argue for a law allowing Gay marriage?

Torture Revisited, USCCB on Torture

The USCCB has released a Catholic Study guide on Torture, a 40-page document consisting of four chapters.

Chapter 1 is devoted to Catholic thought on the dignity of every human person. For when Catholic leaders today turn attention to the use of torture in prisons of any kind anywhere in the world, they consistently view it as a violation of the human person’s God-given dignity.
Chapter 2 focuses on torture itself, and the reasons why it is a source of such concern for the Church at this point in the third millennium. What forms does torture take? What reasons are given for the torture or abusive treatment of prisoners today? What specific objections are lodged by Catholic leaders against torture?
Chapter 3 closely examines Jesus’ Gospel instruction to love our enemies. Is it actually possible to love enemies in these threatening times of terrorism? Is it possible to love an enemy who may harbor information we seek to defend ourselves? The teaching of the Gospel on love for our enemies is not easy to follow, but Catholic leaders tell in this chapter why they view it as a teaching of utmost seriousness.
Chapter 4 is designed to promote discussion of actions that individuals, families, small groups in parishes, schools and others might take to address the issue of torture, and to raise awareness of its importance as a moral matter.
Finally, in an appendix to this discussion guide, you’ll find the text of a letter written in late 2007 by Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to members of the Senate. This appendix serves as a valuable overview of the Church’s reasons for opposing torture.
This looks like an excellent resource and should be fruitful for two purposes: 1 - laying the smackdown to any Catholics still defending the Bush regime's use of torture, and 2 - guiding local parish groups in discussion and action and advocacy on the topic of torture.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Voting: Can a third party vote be justified?

To be completely honest, I am not at all excited about either of the candidates in the upcoming presidential election, and I am generally jaded by and disappointed in both the Republicans and the Democrats.

If I had to vote now I would probably vote for a third party candidate. When I mention this, most persons kind up turn of their nose and mention something about wasting the vote. My response varies from a shrug to something like the following...

In voting for a third party candidate I may be voting for someone who has no reasonable chance of winning. However, I am honestly placing my vote for the person whom I believe in. I feel like our 2-party system forces us into a false dichotomy. I don't feel like my interests are represented by either of the parties. Maybe, if enough of us express similar feelings on the current political climate, some change could take place. I'm not sure.

At least, that was by general thoughts, but now... I'm not so sure.

About a week ago I read a pos
t on Vox-Nova by Henry Karlson entitled, In The Real World, We Can’t Get Away From Evil. He gave the example of Saints, like our own patron St. Thomas More, who cooperated with regimes committing evil deeds while refusing to directly participate in evil in the hopes of bringing about the greater long-term good.

I am attempting to discern the juxtaposition of voting for the person whom I believe is best vs. voting for someone who participate in evils but who may also bring about a better situation than the other primary candidate.

I encourage you to read the entire article. But even if you don't...what are you thoughts?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sex and the City revisited

Recently I wrote on two different (Catholic) perspectives on Sex and the City discussed on Vox-Nova. Katerina believed that the show and movie were inconsistent with Catholic/ Christian life and damaging to culture by promoting and sensationalizing immoral actions and attitudes. Radical Catholic Mom, however, that the show was an exaggerated glimpse into the struggles we all have and was indicative of our need for more than selfish desires in order to find fulfillment. Over at Catholic Educator's Resource, Colleen Campbell argues that the show is problematic to say the least. She concludes:

For all their pretensions to envelope-pushing, the movie's producers apparently could not improve on the age-old answer to a woman's romantic yearnings: the very ideal of traditional marriage so often disparaged by the series. Even the promiscuous, materialistic fashion plates of Sex and the City ultimately succumb to the desire to direct their erotic energies into something more enduring than one-night stands and shopping sprees. They want, as most women do, the kind of lifelong love that can survive wrinkles and stretch marks and the dowdier duds of old age.

Of course, such happy endings may prove more elusive for viewers. Decades of bed-hopping and gold-digging look glamorous on television, but in real life, a woman who sleeps with scores of men is more likely to wind up with a sexually transmitted disease and an attachment disorder than a doting husband and storybook marriage. And in real life, a woman who postpones motherhood until well into her forties faces the very real chance that she never will conceive.

The popularity of Sex and the City suggests that many women accept the show's premise that a woman can spend decades treating people like things and things like people without compromising her future prospects for marriage and motherhood. That one TV show could sell that canard to so many women indicates that Sex and the City is more subversive than either its fans or its fiercest critics imagine.
My inclination is to side with Colleen and Katerina. Although I understand RCM's point, I think the majority of the people who watch the show/movie are not as savvy in reading and interpretating media as she is. I think most just see, they are doing it, so can I. Some of the statistics quoted by Colleen in her article bear this out.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Immigration Revisited

Previously, in my series on Being Catholic in America, we have discussed
Immigration issues in a general and cursory manner.

Recently, Zenit, a non-profit news agency which reports news from the Vatican and other Catholic sources, published an interview with Johnny Young the director of the U.S. Bishop's Conference on Migration and Refugee services.

Mr. Young has several important and timely points to make about immigration reform and the upcoming election. I shall quote a few, but I suggest you read the entire article linked above.

Young explains the myths and misconceptions about immigrants which result from fear and ignorance and are often passed off as reasons for limiting immigration reform or to simply "keep them out." Young says,

In terms of the undocumented, the problems are numerous. For example, there is the myth of the undocumented not paying taxes and draining the system of resources for social service benefits of one kind or another. The empirical evidence demonstrates otherwise. They do pay taxes and are not an undue burden on social services.

In terms of taxes, they have paid billions into the Social Security system and will not collect a penny from it. They are in effect, helping to keep the Social Security system afloat. This, of course, is in addition to what the undocumented pay in income, real estate, sales and other federal and state taxes.

Then there is the forgotten fact that the undocumented are no different than any of us in wanting to do the best for their families.
Clearly, we must remember that these immigrant, documented or undocumented (NOT LEGAL OR ILLEGAL!!!) are human persons made in the image and likeness of God. Generally speaking they have the well- being of their families at heart, and they do a lot more than simply drain on our economy.

Most important of all is that the plight of the undocumented is part of a dilemma that has the American people in a conflicted situation of wanting it both ways, i.e. having the benefits of the labor and sweat of the undocumented, but without allowing them a pathway to citizenship for what they have contributed to our well-being and country.

This problem could, of course, be corrected through passage of a comprehensive immigration reform law.
Therefore, Young can add that,

From a Catholic perspective, once parishioners become better informed of Catholic social teaching, one would expect that they would become more welcoming of the stranger. After all, that is part of what their faith is all about. Unfortunately, not enough of our Catholic brethren are sufficiently grounded in these teachings, which are based on biblical principles and are all intended to open the heart to the wonders of God’s love.
Finally, paraphrasing some of what Pope Benedict XVI had to say in him visit the US, Young concludes,

[Pope Benedict] not only reminded us of those historical and biblical facts [which us to welcome the stranger and to care for the migrant], but reminded us of our duty to be kind to them, as the nation had been in the past. He was being the good shepherd in trying to steer his flock and the nation to which it belongs in the right direction.

If that simple reminder were being followed today, this country would not be experiencing the kind of turmoil it is presently undergoing in trying to come to grips with a totally broken immigration system.

We Americans derive many, many benefits from the sweat and hard work of immigrants and accept the benefits derived from their work as God given advantages and part of the blessings bestowed on this great country. At the same time, though, we don't want to give those who have "paid dues" through their labor and hardships a pathway to citizenship. This is simply not fair or just.
As Catholics we are called to follow the teachings of Christ and His Bride, Holy Mother Church, and our Holy Father Pope Benedict on this very important social issue. Let our opinions be led by the Spirit of Love and Hope and not by our political affiliations.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in us the courage and the hope to challenge our politicians and our government to work towards immigration reform that is just and charitable to all involved.