Thursday, March 31, 2005

Terri R.I.P.

The other day someone asked me why, if they believe in Heaven, religious people are so distraught about Terri's impending (now accomplished) death. The question is a good one, and points to the lesson I hope we draw from Terri's fate. Here my guide is St. Augustine. I recall reading recently a statement he made on warfare. Just war, he said, is not primarily about minimizing death. Everyone who dies in war would die anyway; the true Christian cares much more for their eternal fate than the number of short years they eke out on this earth. Just war is not primarily about security but about justice, about virtue. Murder is wrong, and murderous warfare is wrong. Our eternal fate is connected to what we do on this earth. For the sake of our own souls, we must refrain from doing evil and proactively do good. This includes our rulers, who also have a special responsibility to uphold tranquilitas ordinis, the tranquility of moral order, that earthly order that promotes virtue and/or the conditions necessary for the cultivation of virtue, a task that leads not only to a greater degree of earthly security and prosperity but also to the best overall chance at cultivating moral uprighness.

The fundamental problem is not that Terri Shaivo died today rather than yesterday or a decade from now. Given the way her husband was allowed to torture her, I am fairly sure she is better off dead than alive. God will be far kinder to her than her faithless spouse. The problem is that Terri Shiavo was murdered, and that our 'legal' system allowed her to be murdered, blocking all attempts to protect her. This means we have -- in part -- a system working definitely against tranquilitas ordinis, and in favor of the Satanic rebellion against moral order. As citizens we had the duty to oppose this miscarraige of justice as long as there was hope of averting it; now that that hope is gone we have the duty to turn more carefully but resolutely to our laws and see what must be done to reform them so that monsters like Michael Shiavo are no longer permitted to dictate death to innocents who stand in the way of their so-called autonomy.

As I said, the people's instinct to guard its separation of powers is somewhat healthy if sadly crippled by civic malnourishment (we don't know what that separation really means anymore). I hope the next thing that happens is reflection on the substance of the 'laws' that permitted this crime and the building up of the political knowledge and will to fashion laws that actually live up to the word.

Observing the Niceties

From the Feb 28 National Review:

LeMoyne College, in Syracuse, N.Y., has expelled a student for writing a paper in which he defended the use of corporal punishment in schools. The offender, Scott McConnell, was studying for a masters of education. He was raised in Oklahoma, where, he says, he was himself paddled in the fourth grade for unruly behavior, and benefited greatly from the experience. Oddly, the paper in which McConnell stated his position was graded A-minus and handed back to him without further comment. Only when he later attempted to enroll in classes for the spring semester did he learn that his presence on LeMoyne’s campus was no longer desired. There are other oddities here, too. LeMoyne is a Jesuit institution, and Jesuit schoolteachers were until recently known for being rather free with ferule and switch. Perhaps this is a case of the excessive piety of the converted, the Jesuits of LeMoyne having been converted from the original stern precepts of their society to the doctrines of universal niceness and “sensitivity” in which our poor culture is now awash.

The Seven Deadly Sins are Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Lust, Avarice, and Gluttony, traditionally remembered with the aid of the acronym PEWSLAG. Well, goodbye PEWSLAG, hello CABDHGS. A polling organization in Britain asked a thousand citizens to modernize the list. The new deadlies are, in descending order of sinfulness: Cruelty, Adultery, Bigotry, Dishonesty, Hypocrisy, Greed, and Selfishness. Note the interesting shift of emphasis visible here. Formerly the essence of sin lay in offending God by failing to curb one’s lower nature. Nowadays sin means causing pain or mental distress to other people. To put it another way, virtue used to consist in moral cultivation of the self; now it consists in being nice. Something has been lost here, surely.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Americanism and Calvinism

This trio of pieces interviewing Robert Kraynak, author of Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World, contains so many gems it's hard to quote anything less than the whole. I'll leave it for now to two passages that touch on themes often treated here:

Q: In the late 19th century, Pope Leo XIII condemned the heresy of what he called "Americanism." Has the Church's perspective on the American experiment changed since Leo's time?

Kraynak: It is not entirely clear if Cardinal Ratzinger's cautious endorsement of the American model reflects a change of attitude about the American experiment since Pope Leo XIII.

That is partly because Leo's condemnation of Americanism was not a rejection of American democracy or religious liberty per se -- which he said could be acceptable under certain circumstances. Leo defined Americanism as the tendency to trim the Catholic faith to fit the fashions of the time -- something that today is called cafeteria Catholicism or progressive Catholicism.

I think Cardinal Ratzinger is fully aware that Americanism in Leo's sense is still present in America and in every other modern democracy.

. . .

I do not think that Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II have any illusions that Americanism in this sense has disappeared. Nor are they uncritical of many features of American society -- such as consumerism, inequalities of wealth, Roe v. Wade and American unilateralism.

So, Pope Leo XIII was not rejecting the American model of democracy in all cases, and Cardinal Ratzinger and John Paul II are not endorsing it wholeheartedly, either.

What may be new is an acceptance of the American principles of disestablishment, God-given natural rights, and religious pluralism as the best arrangement for Christianity in the future. . . .

The Church, after all, has always distinguished the Two Cities -- the city of God and the earthly city -- and held that the eternal truths of the spiritual and moral realm are compatible with changing prudential judgments in the temporal and political realm.

In the present circumstances, the newer American model looks comparatively better than the older European one; but the American model also has weaknesses that may lead it down the path of Europe and Canada.

In that case, we will have to devise different strategies for spiritual renewal amidst a variety of hostile forces -- a situation that will look a lot like the early Church and that will require similar kinds of martyrs, saints, and heroes to begin rebuilding the city of God on earth.

. . .

The relation between Catholicism and Americanism is a complicated story, although it usually boils down to two schools of thought. One school views the relation as inherently harmonious, the other sees inherent tensions.
The school of "harmony" is very popular and includes influential figures such as John Courtney Murray. The school of "disharmony," however, is gaining adherents and includes Francis Cardinal George, David Schindler of Communio and many traditional Catholics.

While I lean to the second school, I disagree with Cardinal George about the causes of the inherent tensions. He dislikes the competitive individualism of America because it seems incompatible with Catholic notions of solidarity and the common good, and he rejects a consumer-entertainment culture that trivializes spiritual life. He traces these tendencies to the "secularized Calvinism" of America.

Certainly, Calvinism is a crucial part of American history because the early Puritans were Calvinists, and their theology was intensely anti-Catholic -- many Puritans viewed the Pope as the Antichrist.

But Calvinism is not the best explanation for the social trends that disturb Cardinal George because Calvinism, even in its secularized forms, is not especially individualistic or materialistic. The Puritans favored a theocratic Christian society that emphasized America's national covenant with God -- a New Israel -- and the rule of the "visible Saints" -- God's predestined elect.
Cardinal George seems to equate Calvinism with Max Weber's "Protestant work ethic" in order to explain America's obsession with competitive individualism, economic success and materialism.

But these features are not so much products of Calvinism as of modern democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville shows in "Democracy in America."

In fact, Tocqueville praises the Puritans for creating strong local communities, and he traces the weakening of Puritan communalism to the democratic idea of "equality of condition" -- which causes Americans to seek upward mobility through economic competition and to withdraw from public into private life.

I agree with Tocqueville in seeing individualism and materialism as products of the mass culture of democracy, which means Catholicism is in tension with both the anti-papist theology of original Calvinism and the social forces of democracy that are independent of Calvinism.

Happy Easter Octave!

O Christians, to the Paschal Victim bring:
Of praise the sacrificial Offering.
For the sheep the Lamb His Blood did shed:
The sinless Christ in the sinners' stead:
With God the guilty reconciling.
The Life with Death did fiercely strive:
Through dying the Leader now reigns alive.

O Mary, what did your wond'ring eyes adore?
"I saw the tomb of One Who dies no more!
The glorious risen Lord was shown to me:
The napkin, linen cloths there lying:
I heard the angels testifying.
Yes, Christ is ris'n and you shall see
Your Hope and mine in Galilee!"

We know that Christ rose from the grave:
O conqu'ring King, us sinners save.
Amen. Alleluia.

Sacred Doctrine

For some time now I've been studying St. Thomas Aquinas on the side -- going on the assumption that the Angelic Doctor is the best guide to what the Christian faith requires of us intellectually. As part of this project, I've embarked on a slow translation of the Summa Theologiae (slow in part because I am learning Latin by reading it; slow also because I want to think it through as I go). At this point, I have begun to type up some of my notes and include a commentary that I hope will illuminate the text somewhat, or at least stimulate me to think more profoundly about it. It ocurred to me that posting my translation and notes would reveal my work to those who know infinitely more than I do about these things, thus exposing me to a) great embarassment, b) potential correction or advice. I resolved to give it a shot, so here goes!

The first intallment is a bit lengthy, as I'm reflecting on what the backdrop of this immense work is and where it might be going. (So, of course, is Thomas.) Hope this is interesting to my readers, and please fire away with responses!

St. Thomas Aquinas

Summa Theologiae


Because the teacher of Catholic truth ought not to instruct only the advanced, but to him it belongs to educate even the beginner, according to the Apostle in I Corinthians III – as to the small in Christ I gave you milk to drink, not meat – the proposition of our intention in this work is to relate what belongs to the Christian religion in such a way as befits the education of the beginner. For we have considered novices in this doctrine who have been much impeded by diverse writings, partly indeed on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles and arguments; partly too because that which it is most needful to know is not set down according to the order of a discipline, but by the requirements of a book’s exposition, or according to the occasion offered by the argument; partly indeed because a surplus of frequent repetition generated both disgust and confusion in the soul of the reader. Therefore, striving to avoid this and other such things, and confident of divine assistance, we shall attempt to set down what belongs to sacred doctrine as briefly and clearly as the matter allows.

[Commentary: What are we to make of this claim to brevity in a 3,000 page work? The implication would seem to be that the Christian religion raises numerous difficulties for us. This is further confirmed by the situation as St. Thomas sees it, one of repulsive confusion in prior articulations of Christianity. But St. Thomas also wrote truly brief (and very good) catechetical works – explanations of the creed, the ten commandments, etc. So something else is going on here. I think we can take our bearings in large part by his only biblical citation in this forward. As my 1952 Confraternity editors say, Corinth was “materially prosperous and morally corrupt”. “After his disappointment in the use of a philosophical approach to Christianity at Athens (Acts 17, 15ff) Paul used at Corinth a simpler presentation of his doctrine.” More specifically, St. Paul denounces the wisdom of this world and praises the “foolishness” of the revelation of “the cross of Christ” which saves us – an object of ridicule to the wise. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men” – revelation seems to be in conflict with human reason.

[This would seem at first glance to dispense Christians of the need for worldly knowledge: “the foolish things of this world has God chosen to put to shame the wise . . . lest any flesh should pride itself before him”; “Christ Jesus . . . has become for us God-given wisdom . . . [so] I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified . . . that your faith might rest, not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God”.

[To see the true import of this, we have to note that St. Paul himself had first turned to philosophy to elucidate the universal truths of Christianity (in Acts 17ff). As Cardinal Ratzinger argues, not only Christianity but the Wisdom literature of Judaism itself was more akin to ancient philosophy than to ancient religion – both philosophy and monotheism rested on an “enlightened” critique of pagan idols as manmade, fanciful, and vain. The problem St. Paul encountered would seem to be that philosophers were disposed to place Christianity – especially the Incarnation and Resurrection – in the same category as idolatry. There is wisdom in Christianity, but it is “the wisdom of God, mysterious, hidden”, and inscrutable to those whose only reference point is this world. Christianity requires that we transcend what eye has seen and ear has heard – that we abandon the insistence on proof that defines philosophy. Its truths have no reference to what can be verified by rational inquiry: “the things of God no one knows but the Spirit of God . . . These things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in the learning of the Spirit, combining spiritual with spiritual.” Philosophy may be able to tell us that we are all God’s offspring (Acts 17, 29), but it cannot tell us the hidden mind of God which revelation discloses to us. “the sensual man does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God, for it is foolishness to him and he cannot understand, because it is examined spiritually”.

[What then is the relation of philosophy to religion? This seems to be the problem St. Thomas is alluding to in citing this epistle. The ultimate answer is seen in St. Paul’s next words: “the spiritual man judges all things . . . for we have the mind of Christ”, who is the Logos by which all things on heaven and earth, visible and invisible, were made. As the Fathers established, this means that reason rightly understood cannot contradict revelation; that true philosophy is possible from the Christian perspective, so long as it accepts the spiritual truths that it cannot by itself establish, and which cannot contradict right reason. Needless to say, such philosophy presupposes a prior conversion to the faith, without which the whole package cannot but appear constraining rather than liberating to the mind. Although St. Paul is probably not making the Corinthians out to be philosophers, this seems to be what he has in mind in saying that he must begin with spiritual milk, not meat: “nor are you now ready for [meat], for you are still carnal”. That is, they are not ready to philosophize, because they have not yet reached the level of faith that permits of right reason rather than proud pseudo-wisdom.

[I could go on: the sequel establishes that nature itself is subordinate to God’s miraculous grace and that the latter is the only solid foundation for a human life. The whole idea of virtue acquired by human effort and unaided rational deliberation is repudiated. This is the backdrop against which St. Thomas begins his most comprehensive account of sacred doctrine; these are the deepest “disputes” he thinks the tradition has failed to resolve “according to the order of a discipline”. Right away we can see, though, that St. Thomas’ response is not, with St. Paul, to turn to “a simpler presentation”, though he does promise the simplest presentation “the matter allows”. In his view, anything simpler than the Summa apparently does not do justice to the matter at hand. Why not?

[The fundamental answer becomes clear when we note the first of the questions St. Thomas will address: whether it is necessary, besides the discipline of philosophy, to have another doctrine. Though the answer is of course yes – namely, sacred doctrine – the manner of his approach is telling. St. Thomas is famous for attempting the harmonization (and the Church would say, succeeding at the harmonization) of Christian dogma and Aristotelian philosophy. The significance of Aristotelianism (or Latin Averoism) at the time was its carnality and its insistence that philosophy be independent of theology. St. Thomas begins with St. Paul’s rebuttal of such a position, but shows in his own treatment that he thinks the issue is not so easy to resolve. Though St. Thomas will also subordinate philosophy to theology, he will face the challenge of a would-be sovereign philosophy head-on. This is made possible and accentuated by the disputational style of his writing, which as Joseph Pieper has said allows Thomas to enter into the mindset of his opponents and see their point of view in its strongest iteration. If the spiritual man judges of all things, Thomas seems to imply, he can be held to no lower a standard than to surpass philosophy on its own terms. Though “he himself is judged by no man”, the spiritual man would have to judge himself deficient were he not able to do so. A mature Christendom must continue what St. Paul began but under verious circumstances had never been finished: to speak wisdom "among those who are mature", after leading them from childhood to maturity. In light of this proposition, “the matter allows” only the “brevity” we find in this massive tome.]

Terri Shiavo

Much has happened since I last commented on this case. I'm not sure how useful anything I can say may be. My impressions are somewhat scattered, but perhaps it will help me at least to put some of them down.

I was initially impressed at the political response to her case. Americans are a judicial people who respect the rule of law, but when it became clear the courts were going to drop the ball on this one, the national legislature went into action. For better or worse, though, it turns out that no legislature or executive is willing to take the matter completely out of the hands of the courts -- what they have done amounts to little more than special pleading for one woman. The problem is the courts have definitively hardened their hearts, and are happy to issue fatwa after fatwa against Terri, each appeal simply giving them one more opportunity to embrace the ideology of death of which they have become so deeply enamored.

Can our politicians do more? Here my knowledge of law and politics falters. One error must surely be avoided. The Lizard King, in his televised assault on all Shiavo supporters, relied on the trope that we are a nation of laws. This ignores that the courts had not yet made a final decision as of that time, but the outcome was predictable in any case. Should extraordinary means be used by legislatures and executives against lawless courts? I think it unwise to advocate actual rebellion against the courts, though I wouldn't make obedience absolute in the worst cases. There is however the Lincolnian option -- mere obedience with the firm declaration of the court's erroniousness. Nothing obliges us to accept that rulings are right when they are wrong, even if no further appeal can be made in the present case.

This points to the issue of public discourse concerning this case and its implications. Some sappy commentators said that whatever happens at least the American people will have talked about it. That's stupid. But the issue is important. Here there's room for great disappointment. Polls purportedly show that, despite having some sympathy for Terri, most people think politicians should stay out of this. As I said, we're a judicial people and one that believes in the separation of powers, both of which are good. But both of those things work only as a framework for the pursuit of the good and the just. They will not operate on auto pilot. A people too apathetic to want to wrestle these things out will soon surrender its rights, as is currently happening at a fairly rapid rate. In this regard, our discourse is currently as vapid as can be, and our constitutional/judicial instincts, while still recognizable, are becoming merely vestigial, our current nature being that of administrated beings, not citizens.

A major component of this discursive degradation is our media, whose efforts to cloud the issues at stake and tilt perceptions in favor of evil knew no bounds. This was consistently reported as a circumstance of tragedy rather than a case of justice (or injustice). That language alone could tell the whole story, but many other details are worthy of note. The dispute comes down to a clash of what are commonly referred to as ideologies, though the media did its best to smear the pro-Shiavo side with that term while screening her executors in faux-objectivity. Her supporters are, of course, religious zealots; they are not doctors (as the Lizard King screamed) and therefore not objective. When they are doctors (as with the fellow who went on record saying she is not in a PVS) they have records of pro-life activism and are therefore to be despised. Fair enough, many viewers likely thought when they heard these criticisms.

But this should be beneath any half educated citizen. There is no articulation of what our country is and what its government can and must do that does not presuppose an ideology or, better put, a considered view of the cosmos and our place in it. The one animating Terri's enemies is clear enough. The dynamo behind her death is her husband, who solemnly declared that he is killing her to uphold her "dignity and autonomy". This is the late-enlightenment theory that all meaning derives from the human will, which despite reluctance to admit it we now know is arbitrary. This view collapses into nihilism, or what the Holy Father more poetically calls "the culture of death". This is the evil spirit infesting our courts. It explains why "The Supreme Court, in its 1990 Cruzan v. Director decision, held that an individual has a right, in certain dire instances, to insist on the life-ending withdrawal of nutrition." This is from the court that holds that each of us has a right to decide for ourselves the meaning of the cosmos, as if we were little gods. But if we are little gods, we are little mortal gods, and wimpy ones too, since we settle for lives of vulgar pleasure and painless death. The same spirit explains why the Florida courts routinely decided that a man can conveniently declare that his apparently vegetative wife, whom he has dubiously tried and failed to revive, wanted to die, and on the basis of the thinnest and most suspect of evidence, without the solemnity of trial by jury or review by higher courts, sentence her to death by starvation.

Her death is part of a crusade to argue and affirm through this public sacrificial ritual that we are the masters of our destiny and that nothing can stop us from controlling it, even to the grave. What really irks these people -- the Lizard King, the judges involved -- is the religiosity or respect for life over choice in those who would protect Terri. They are anything but objective in their hatred -- not truly contempt! -- of her supporters.

Dr. Ronald Cranford, the expert relied on in Terri’s case, . . .doubles as a euthanasia and assisted-suicide activist, and who has written that he believes Alzheimer’s patients should be starved. (link)

George Felos, Michael Schiavo's lawyer, . . . described having visited Mrs. Schiavo, who at that point had gone eight days without food and water. "Frankly when I saw her . . . she looked beautiful," Felos told the assembled reporters. . . . Felos's views on the "right to die" are informed by a "syncretistic" spirituality that "mixes diverse religious traditions--including generous citations from the Bible and references to Jesus Christ--creating a composite of his own spiritual worldview."

In a 2003 article, Florida Baptist Witness editor James Smith . . . quotes at length a story from Felos's book about Estelle Browning, the subject of Felos's first right-to-die case: "I felt the mid-section of my body open and noticed a strange quality to the light in the room. I sensed her soul in agony. As she screamed I heard her say, in confusion, 'Why am I still here . . . Why am I here?' My soul touched hers and in some way I communicated that she was still locked in her body. I promised I would do everything in my power to gain the release her soul cried for. With that the screaming immediately stopped. I felt like I was back in my head again, the room resumed its normal appearance, and Mrs. Browning, as she had throughout this experience, lay silent." (link)

This sounds like an out-of-body mercy killing -- just the kind of thing we expect from our scientifically objective rulers!

A scary thing is happening in America. The old view that we are a nation under God, that the rights and liberties our country must protect derive from our collective and individual subordination to a higher power -- whether or not we all agree on His precise nature -- is giving way to the idea that each man can be his own demiurge. I don't think this is positively supported by the majority, but it is enthusiastically proclaimed by the institutions to which the common man traditionally looks -- or in a mass society must look whether he likes it or not -- for guidance. The common man is not going to resist this onslaught alone; he always has and always will need true leadership to counter demagoguery. What we need are good judges and good public commentators who can refute liberal sophistry in convincing terms. Nothing else will save us as a people or the poor souls like Terri Shiavo whom a corrupt people are wont to sacrifice to the idols of its own error.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Only in America!

It may be a bit of an exaggeration, but that is the phrase that comes to mind now as I consider the "Palm Sunday Compromise" which has just passed Congress and been signed into law by the President. This is no resolution to the crisis:

The legislation says the federal court, after determining the merits of the suit, "shall issue such declaratory and injunctive relief as may be necessary to protect the rights" of the woman. Injunctive relief in this case could mean reinserting the feeding tubes.

"The bill guarantees a process to help Terri but does not guarantee a particular outcome. Once a new case is filed, a federal judge can issue a stay at any time," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. "The judge has discretion of that particular decision; however, I would expect that a federal judge would grant a stay under these circumstances because Terri would need to live in order for the court to consider the case."

What I find striking is how both sides are approaching this issue. A Democrat whose name escapes me was quoted yesterday as saying that Congress is tresspassing against the sacred rights of the courts to legislate as they will. Sheer absolutism? Not quite. A misinterpretation of our constitutional structure. The concept is deeply embedded within our souls:

Rep. Jim Davis, D-Fla., said the congressional action was "a clear threat to our democracy." Congress, he said, was ignoring the constitutional separation of power and "is on the verge of telling states, courts, judges and juries that their opinions, deliberations and decisions do not matter."

The mistake is to think that our constitutional mechamisms are supposed to operate on autopilot. In fact, they depend upon checks and balances. That means that the branches correct each-other when one gets out of line. In my view, it is good to have a powerful judicial branch to keep populism in check. But currently, our "robed masters" as they are called are in flagrant rebellion against our Constitution and against all decency and justice. They need a massive dose of correction, and in a democratic republic that is going to come through the people's representatives.

This, too, makes me think, "only in America": the whole machinery of the most powerful government in the world (the world's only hegemon, super/hyper-power, empire) stopping -- in this case our lawmakers' and President's cherished leisure being cast aside -- to focus on saving the life of one woman, unexceptional except that her innocent life is being threatened. Why intervene?

"As millions of Americans observe the beginning of Holy Week this Palm Sunday we are reminded that every life has purpose and none is without meaning," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a leader in crafting the bill.

"In cases like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life," Bush said in a statement after signing the bill.

There are those who still understand that our system exists to help us achieve substiantial goods -- such as the preservation of the dignity of life. Who still gets it?

After over three hours of debate, House leaders called for a vote. The measure was backed by 156 Republicans to 5 who voted against it and 71 who did not vote; 47 Democrats voted in favor, 53 against and 102 did not vote. The lone independent in the 435-member house did not vote.

The Senate unanimously passed [the bill] on Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Leo XIII on America

We highly esteem and love exceedingly the young and vigorous American nation, in which we plainly discern latent forces for the advancement alike of civilization and of Christianity. . . Without morality the State cannot endure – a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom we have just mentioned [‘the great Washington’] with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. . . Thanks are due to the equity of the laws which obtain in America and customs of the well-ordered Republic. For the Church amongst you, unopposed by the Constitution and the government of your nation, fettered by no hostile legislation, protected against violence by the common laws and the impartiality of the tribunals, is free to live and act without hindrance. ( Longinque Oceani; January 6, 1893)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Fatwa for Peace

Spanish Muslims Issue Fatwa Against Bin Laden 

Friday, March 11, 2005 3:48 p.m. ET
By Emma Ross-Thomas and Daniel Flynn

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's leading Islamic body has issued a religious order declaring Osama bin Laden to have forsaken Islam by backing attacks such as the Madrid train bombings a year ago.

The Islamic Commission of Spain timed its "fatwa" for Friday to coincide with the first anniversary of the attacks, which killed 191 people and were claimed in the name of al Qaeda in Europe.

The commission's secretary-general, Mansur Escudero, said the fatwa had moral, rather than legal weight, and hoped it would spur similar pronouncements from Muslim groups worldwide.

"We declare ... that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization, responsible for the horrendous crimes against innocent people who were despicably murdered in the March 11 terrorist attack in Madrid, are outside the parameters of Islam," the commission said.

The commission, whose elected leaders represent the Muslim community in talks with the government, said the Koran barred Muslims from committing crimes against innocent people. . . .

"The terrorist acts of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization ... which result in the death of civilians, such as women and children ... are totally prohibited and are the object of strong condemnation within Islam," the commission said in a statement quoting extensively from religious texts.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Nice Symbolism!

U.N. approves call for ban on human cloning

Vote a symbolic victory for Bush

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday urged governments to ban all human cloning, including the cloning of human embryos for stem-cell research, in a divided vote that handed a symbolic victory to the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Capping four years of contentious debate, the 191-nation assembly voted 84 to 34, with 37 abstentions, to approve a nonbinding statement on cloning.

The United States did not play a public role in promoting the statement. But it had worked behind the scenes, hand-in-hand with U.S. anti-abortion groups, to obtain a call for a blanket ban on all cloning.

The measure was proposed by Honduras and generally supported by predominantly Roman Catholic countries, in line with Pope John Paul's condemnation of human cloning. It was generally opposed by nations where stem-cell research is being pursued.

Unusually, the United States and Britain, traditional staunch allies in the United Nations, were on opposite sides of the issue, and Britain condemned the "intransigence" of nations opposed to cloning for medical reasons.

Many Islamic nations were among those abstaining, on grounds there was no U.N. consensus on the hot-button issue of whether stem-cell research was a valid medical pursuit or the destruction of human life.

Opponents said the text was not legally binding and would have no impact on their scientists' pursuit of stem cell research.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Look Out

Often we may look to Canada for examples of what we have thankfully thus far avoided, but perhaps not for long. A case in point, from David Warren:

The creepiness of life and law in the New Canada was illustrated by the passage of Ontario Bill 171, the Spousal Relationships Statute Law Amendment Act, Feb. 24th. It was rushed through the Legislative Assembly in three days, with all-party collusion, and without a single recorded vote. . . .

The Bill presented itself innocuously as an administrative measure, to remove "gender and gender-specific language from Ontario definitions of spousal terms" in 73 statutes. Such words as "husband", "wife", "man and woman", "widow", "widower", "opposite sex", were permanently retired from provincial law, to be replaced with such terms as "spouse", "spouses", "person", and "two persons". Even the distinction between married and unmarried was being erased, with the replacement of "same-sex partner" with the word "spouse".

Tacked on to this, rather incongruously, were amendments to the Marriage Act and the Human Rights Code, establishing the right of "religious officials" to refuse to solemnize a marriage, and to refuse the use of his or her "sacred place", if he or she found the marriage unconscionable. This was a sop to the large number of religious people who were bombarding their MPPs with questions and protests.

And it worked: the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops were bought off by it. They issued a statement warmly supporting the tack-on part of the legislation, that could easily be interpreted as lending their support to the whole Bill. . . .

My guess is that the next wave of the assault will be the removal of tax-exemptions from any religious organization which refuses to solemnize same-sex marriages. The idea has already been floated by the activists.

Moreover, while bona fide "religious officials" may have some formal protection in law, the general body of the faithful now have none. Lay people who object in good conscience to such things as same-sex marriage, but have no "licence to preach", may soon find themselves obliged to hide their views, or risk prosecution for a "hate crime". Even those with such a "licence to preach" will find that it doesn't allow them to preach against sodomy from the pulpit. . . .

The new Ontario Act has, in addition to what it accomplished directly, made a powerful indirect contribution to that revolution, by identifying the very words that may, in the near future, be ruled discriminatory. The "spouse" who refers publicly to "my husband", or "my wife", is now saying something merely politically incorrect. But the grounds have now been laid, to make today's faux pas into tomorrow's criminal infraction.

Of course, see the whole article for yet more chilling thoughts.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


Thank God for David Warren. "So many people ask me, sarcastically, how can I like Americans, and how can I like Bush?" His answer.

Prudence and Politics

A sober assessment of Bush's Inaugural Speech in the Feb 14th NR, "Freedom's Address":

President Bush’s foreign policy has been, roughly, neoconservative in its aggressively idealistic expression and realist in its practical application. At no time has the dichotomy been more evident than during his inaugural speech and its immediate aftermath. The speech was beautiful, achingly idealistic, and at times almost totally unrestrained in its ambitious sweep. Of course, its grander pronouncements were not meant to set forth day-to-day policy. When has an inaugural address, the prose-poem of American politics, ever served that function? But the misunderstanding of the press corps was such that administration officials had immediately to give background briefings to say, “No, we aren’t going to cut off every undemocratic government on earth from relations with the United States.”

Although the most ringing lines understandably won the headlines, Bush’s speech contained many necessary qualifiers and caveats. His vision of democratic advance, he said, is “not primarily the task of arms.” He stated that “freedom, by its nature, must be chosen” and in other countries will “reflect customs and traditions very different from our own.” He stipulated that freedom’s spread around the globe is “the concentrated work of generations.” The emphasis wasn’t placed on these lines, because no speechwriter is ever going to write an address declaring, “Prudence, that indispensable guide to all human action, that magnificent faculty given to us by God to fix our conduct, will determine how we gradually spread our ideals through an ever-shifting mixture of diplomacy, foreign aid and trade, moral suasion, and force of arms.” But such is the true Bush policy (or what that policy tries to be).

After recounting a few of his rhetorical excesses, there follows:

Let us return to the example of Reagan. He too spoke with passion about the spread of freedom around the globe and harbored unrealistic visions — in his case, the elimination of all nuclear weapons. As it turned out, he fell short of these dreams. For the most part, he “only” spread freedom to the Soviet empire and some of its Third World outposts. And in collapsing the Soviets, he “only” made the threat of nuclear armageddon a thing of the past instead of abolishing nuclear arms altogether. But in those accomplishments he made the world a better place and the U.S. safer. If Bush “only” begins to transform the Middle East, he too will have an honored place in the history books. And the debate over his inaugural speech will seem so much nit-picking.

Wise thoughts to keep in mind as things develop in the Middle East . . .

A Sordid Presidency

From the Feb 14th NR ("The Week"):

We note the thirtieth anniversary of the bombing of Fraunces Tavern in New York City. Four died in that atrocity and more than 60 were injured. The bombing was the work of FALN, a Puerto Rican terrorist group with ties to Cuban intelligence. Among the events that followed that bombing was one of the most sordid acts of a sordid presidency. In 1999, then-President Bill Clinton offered executive clemency to 16 FALN members. Of the 14 FALN terrorists still jailed at the time, 11 accepted the mild conditions of Clinton’s offer and were promptly released. Hillary Clinton was eyeing one of New York’s U.S. Senate seats, you see, and there are lots of Puerto Ricans in New York. This is a useful thing to remember when evaluating remarks by Clinton apologists like Richard A. Clarke to the effect that terrorism was the highest priority of the Clinton administration.

Friday, March 04, 2005

A Tougher Stand

From Catholic Citizenship:

U.S. Demands U.N. Say Women Not Guaranteed Abortions

Tuesday, Mar. 1, 2005

Ten years after a landmark U.N. conference adopted a platform aimed at global equality for women, the United States is demanding that a follow-up meeting make clear women are not guaranteed a right to abortion.

The high-level U.N. meeting attended Monday by more than 100 countries and 6,000 advocates for women's causes is taking stock of what countries have done to implement the 150-page platform of action adopted at the 1995 U.N. women's conference in Beijing to achieve equality of the sexes.

But in informal consultations ahead of the meeting, the United States raised the abortion issue as a first order of business.

The U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, which organized the meeting, had hoped the two-week session would focus on overcoming the roadblocks to women's equality in 12 areas from health, education and employment to political participation and human rights. But the dispute over abortion is likely to dominate the gathering.

The commission drafted a short declaration - reaffirming the Beijing platform - which it had hoped to have adopted by consensus before Monday's opening session.
But at an informal closed-door meeting on Thursday, the United States said it could not accept the declaration because of concerns that the Beijing platform legalized the right to abortion as a human right, according to several participants.

On Friday, the United States proposed an amendment to the draft declaration that would reaffirm the Beijing platform and declaration _ but only "while reaffirming that they do not create any new international human rights, and that they do not include the right to abortion," according to the text obtained by The Associated Press.

Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said "These amendments are consistent with U.S. government views."

At the 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo, delegates approved a platform recognizing that abortion is a fact that governments must deal with as a public health issue. At Beijing the following year, delegates went further, asking governments to review laws that punish women for having abortions.

But attempts to approve stronger language on access to abortions failed at Beijing, and references to sexual rights and sexual orientation were dropped. Nonetheless, the Beijing platform stated for the first time that women have the right to "decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality ... free of coercion, discrimination and violence."

The Vatican and a handful of Islamic and Catholic countries opposed any reference to abortion at those conferences, while the West and hundreds of women's rights activists supported them - including the administration of former President Bill Clinton.

But his successor, President Bush, has taken a much tougher stand against abortion, as reflected in the proposed amendment.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Love and Knowledge

Knowledge takes place accordingly as the thing known is in the knower; but love as the lover is united to the object loved. Now higher things are in a nobler way in themselves than in lower things; whereas lower things are in higher things in a nobler way than they are in themselves. Therefore to know lower things is better than to love them; and to love the higher things, God above all, is better than to know them.

St. Thomas, ST, I 108 6 ad 3
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