Wednesday, December 14, 2016

the mythico-aesthetic bump in the night

The opposite of the pro-life position on conception is not a feminist position. Feminism, qua feminism, doesn’t have a position on when life begins. Where and how: yes. When: no position.

I think it matters to understand the opposite of the pro-life position. It is the heart of eugenics.

The pro-life position can be unpacked; it includes several separate assertions. (1) life has a beginning; and (2) the beginning is non-arbitrary; and (3) the beginning is discernible; and (4) the beginning is fertilization; and (5) from fertilization forward there is a separate and independent human entity, with all relevant rights and privileges. Pro-lifers want to argue about #4. But the real disagreement is about #1.

Biology, unlike physics and chemistry, is allergic to bumps and bangs. In the study of biology, sharp edges get sanded off. This isn’t a matter of science, nor of religion; it’s a matter of taste. Biologists live with the underlying story of evolution, tiny changes adding up incrementally to something new – or newish, anyway. So the “moment” of fertilization seems exciting to pro-lifers, but habits of biology train observers to see the smooth continuum from arousal to coitus to the sperm races to fertilization to implantation to embryo to fetus to infant to toddler to adolescent to adult to senescence to fertilizer.

The most persuasive eugenicist of the 20th century denied he was a eugenicist. That was E. O. Wilson, who taught biology at Harvard, and loved ants. Ant colonies are fascinating! But what he taught was that individual ants are devoid of meaning; to understand ant-ness, you have to understand the colony. Read Wilson! Or, perhaps, just recall a novel (and series) based on Wilson: “Ender’s Game.” In Wilson’s thought, genes matter, and the race or colony matters – but the individual is meaningless, devoid of meaning or significance. The individual carries genes from one generation of the race to the next generation. When people fuss about the individual ant (or human), that’s sweet, and it might serve some evolutionary purpose; but it’s actually just silly.

That’s the enemy.

Pro-lifers are addicted to a different mythico-aesthetic approach, which is related to science and related to religion, but really isn’t either one. The difference between us and eugenicists is that our imaginations are full of creative and decisive and explosive moments.

Count to three if you can

There is a coalition joining feminists who defend the rights of women to -- to what? -- to a very different entity or force or mindset. In the past, when I have gone to pro-choice events and talked to people about China, I found a split, about 50-50, on the matter of forced abortion. That is, I found many people who defended the rights of women to bodily autonomy, but also found many people who identified themselves as “pro-choice” but who did not defend a woman’s right to give birth if she so chose. This second group: (1) is still there; and (2) is very large, perhaps a third or a half of the people who identify themselves as “pro-choice”; and (3) is often overlooked, and often un-named.

To put it another way: regarding abortion, there are people who identify themselves as pro-lifers who emphasize and defend the rights of the child (and try to assert the rights of women as well, but do not consider abortion a right), and there are people who identify themselves as pro-choicers, who emphasize and defend the right of a woman to decide what to do about an unplanned or unforeseen or unwanted pregnancy (and defend the rights of a child as well, but only after the child achieves some degree of size or independence). These two groups are familiar. But there’s a third group, comparable in size to the previous two groups.

The roots of the third group are clearly in eugenics; no serious historian today denies that Sanger built a coalition of feminists and eugenicists. Further, this third group supports population control, subjecting the rights of the unborn and of women, both, to some theory of the good of society.

I’m open to explanations if someone wants to give this third force in the abortion debate a name other than eugenics. When someone insists that I not use that I not use this horrible word with its dreadful history, I’m ready to listen – until it becomes clear that my critic is unaware that this third force or entity or mindset or perspective exists. If you don’t see it, and/or don’t have a name for it, then I will use its name from history.

There are three perspectives on abortion. If you can’t or won’t count to three, your contributions to the debate have sharply limited value.

This third force is not found only in the pro-abortion-rights coalition. It has emerged with dramatic force within the pro-life movement. Today, people who identify themselves as “pro-life” can be divided into two very different groups, depending on whether they defend a child’s right to life as a God-given (and therefore international) right, or as an American right, a proud detail of American history. The pro-life movement is splintered, but the deepest split is about immigrants and refugees. Some pro-lifers – including the entire Catholic hierarchy – defend the rights of migrants. But a large portion of the pro-life movement, including the leaders of the most visible national groups, are neutral or even opposed to the rights of migrants, up to and including a flat refusal to provide asylum to Latino or Muslim refugees – including pregnant women.

I am not sure how much power this third force has. I wonder whether this third force – which I call eugenics, although I am open to another label if someone wants to offer and explain a different label – I wonder whether it is more powerful than feminism or the pro-life movement, either one, taken alone. I do not think that it is more powerful than both together.

Monday, December 12, 2016

strategic symmetry -- 2 on 2

December 12 is a day for long-term strategic planning.

I understand the plans of most pro-life leaders: educate, then change the law so it protects children again. This plan is and always has been lunacy, with no precedent in recorded human history; nonetheless, it is the plan of most pro-life leaders. And now, in pursuit of the impossible, pro-life leaders have enlisted a great promise-maker, who promises to fulfill all wishes. Okay. That’s one strategy.

I offer a different strategy. (1) We must reach out to every sector of society that is interested in justice to help us, and (2) we must re-build a campaign of nonviolence.

The abortion movement makes two arguments of immense power – arguments that most pro-lifers do not understand, let alone answer.

One of these pro-abortion argument is, “I am not an asshole like them” [“them” – pointing at us]. This is not a logical argument. It’s an ad hominem argument, based on snobbery. And so it’s very powerful indeed! The effective response to this snobbery is to fight against every injustice that currently plagues our society, especially against those evils that are part of the eugenics movement, which is the heart and soul of abortion. Understand and fight against eugenics wherever it rears up. It matters that we fight broadly, and – sorry to say it – it also matters that we be seen in every fight. We need allies! Reach left! Leave tracks, and be patient.

The second pro-abortion argument also has immense power that pro-lifers generally misunderstand or ignore. The “argument” is loyalty to family and friends who have chosen abortion. The argument is rarely stated bluntly, but it’s pretty simple. “My mother/sister/wife/girlfriend is not a murderer, and if you call her a murderer, I will fight you forever.” The response to this admirable loyalty cannot be words alone. The answer to this argument must be an action, sharing the intense vulnerability of a mom at an abortion clinic – as well as the vulnerability of the child. So study the Sermon on the Mount, and Gandhi’s use of it, and King’s work. That is, our response is a campaign of nonviolence.

Brief re-cap. (1) To answer the first argument effectively, fight eugenics, with every ally you can find. (2) To answer the second argument, read and act on the Sermon on the Mount every day until you’re in jail, and don’t stop then.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Juan Diego -- unifying left and right

Today is the feast of St. Juan Diego. For four days in 1531, the story goes, he saw Mary on a hilltop in Mexico City. The vision he saw was imprinted on his cactus-fiber cloak. For years, Catholics have recalled this event on December 12, the day the image showed up on the cloak. And since 2002, we have celebrated the feast of Juan Diego on December 9, the day of the first vision – when Mary sent a Mexican peasant to talk to the bishop.

A few years ago, Hillary Clinton saw that beautiful image on the rough cloak, and asked who painted it. That was a great question! When I think of her, I pray with all my heart that she gets a clear and satisfying answer to that question!

I saw the image in 1972. That was the beginning of my pro-life work: I organized a small pilgrimage from Boston to Guadalupe, praying for unborn children and their mothers. Roe v. Wade was already decided, although it was not announced; I had no idea what was about to happen.

There was a period of time when historians wondered whether Juan Diego ever existed, or whether he was just a pious legend. He’s canonized now; the historical debate subsided. But there’s a startling detail in the image itself. It’s about as clear as a cloud that looks like a camel, or an early ultrasound image: maybe you see something, maybe you don’t. But in the image (on rough cactus), in the pupil of Mary’s eye, some people think they see a reflection of a narrow face with two eyes, a nose, and a beard – Mary looking at Juan Diego.

Be clear: if Juan Diego wanted to immigrate, he would bounce right off the border. He was not wealthy, and was not a physician or specialized engineer. He would not be welcome here. We do not have a line, long or short, that he could get into if he wanted to wait patiently. St. Juan Diego would never ever be eligible for immigration into the United States.

Be clear: Juan Diego knew he was second-class (or much lower) in European-controlled Mexico. He had no European ancestors, and he was treated with disdain – not by everyone, but by many proud Spaniards. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Be clear: the miracle in Mexico (assuming, as I do, that there was a miracle) involved a deliberate and unmistakable choice by Mary to take her place with the poor and dispossessed. That’s not Communist revisionism. In the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, she does not look European; she looks like a native of Mexico – and that was deliberate. She is covered in non-European symbols. The missionary to the Irish was Patrick; the missionary to the Germans was Boniface; the missionary to Japan was Francis Xavier; etc, etc. But the missionary to the Mexicans was Mary.

If Catholics are willing to accept it, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a unifying figure. She is the Patroness of all America – not the north, nor the south, but all.

If Catholics are willing to accept it, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a unifying figure. She is considered by many pro-lifers to be the patroness of the unborn. And she is the voice and protector for mestizos, the people of mixed heritage in America.

If Catholics are willing to accept it, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a unifying figure. Migrant farmworkers (frequently undocumented immigrants) and pro-lifers look to her for inspiration and support.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Beat him with a stick

Grumpy priests

My friend, Imam Ammar Najar, grew up in Jordan. He played soccer with Christians and Jews, in the street. When someone had to leave for prayer, the others sat down and waited for a while, then returned to the game. The town had bells and chants and calls to worship on Friday, and on Saturday, and on Sunday.

Ammar lived next door to a church that had walls around the church yard. Sometimes someone would kick the ball over the wall, and that would be exciting. Someone would have to go retrieve the ball, and the priest would lean out the window and holler. You had to climb the wall fast, in both directions!

Grumpy priest with a stick

My wife’s uncle, Uncle Jim, grew up in Clare, Iowa. It’s 6,396 miles from Amman, Jordan, to Clare. In 1930, the population of Clare was 254, and 12 of them were Cavanaughs. Jim’s oldest brother was Dave, my father-in-law. The pastor at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Clare was an Irish import, a crusty old man. When Jim and his friends played in the school yard, sometimes some fool would hit the ball into the yard around the rectory. Then someone had to retrieve it. And often, the pastor would see the intrusion, and lean out the window, hollering, “Come up! Come up, while I beat you with a stick!” Sometimes the boys would get the ball and get away; but sometimes as soon as the ball went toward the rectory, they would run for home. That stick was for real.

Elijah and the stick

I don’t recall ever hitting anyone with a stick. Maybe I did, but I don’t recall it, and I doubt I ever did it. But I do remember vividly the first time I wanted to hit someone with a stick. It was actually fairly recently, three or four years ago. I was reading every text I could find in the Old Testament about hospitality, and I was fascinated by the story of Elijah and the widow who fed him in a town named Zarephath. In his career, Elijah the bachelor was an odd eater. At the beginning, he lived in the desert and a raven fed him. But then he moved on to Zarephath. There, at the entrance to the city, he met a woman, and asked her for water. She started off to get it, and he called after, adding to his request: please bring me some bread. She said, I am almost out of food. My plan is to cook the end of my flour and oil, and then my son and I will die. And Elijah said, feed me first.

Well. Feed me first. I don’t care who he is, I want to hit him. I want to hit him in the head. In fact, for the first time in my life, to the best of my recollection, I want to hit someone in the head with a stick. Feed me first! Dusty grimy dirtball. Who in hell did he think he was?

I can’t hit him; he’s dead and gone. Well, I guess that’s a little complicated; he’s the one who left in a fiery chariot instead of dying. And he showed up with Moses to chat with Jesus at the Transfiguration. So he’s not dead and buried and gone. But he’s unavailable to get hit with a stick.

Anyway, beating prophets is probably a bad idea. It’s an act with an abundant history, none of it good for the attackers.

And anyway, he wasn’t just being a jerk. He knew she was going to be okay, knew that he could and would take care of her and her son until the end of the drought that was killing everyone.

Actually, it was a fascinating meeting. All over Scripture, you read about God’s special concern for widows and orphans. If you don’t take care of widows and orphans, you have no understanding whatsoever of God’s love for his people. But attached to that – not every time, but most times – there’s a third protected party: strangers. And welcoming strangers, in Scripture, is not exactly the same as caring for widows and orphans. Care for widows and orphans is a deep and repeated detail of love for all mankind; but welcoming strangers is attached to the command to worship. The “stranger” in front of you may be God, or an angel – or, in this case, a prophet. Love of God and love of neighbor cannot be separated, but they aren’t identical, and love of God takes precedence. So perhaps welcoming strangers takes precedence over care for widows and orphans. And, perhaps, when the widow and orphan met Elijah the stranger – Elijah the Tishbite sojourner – at the gates of Zarephath, all three knew that among civilized people, the guest eats first.

Forget the stick

Let me re-tell the story of Fatima and her son Ammar at Zarephath, in Syria. Zarephath is in the region of Sidon, northwest of Jordan. This is stick-free fiction.

Fatima was the beautiful daughter in a proud and ancient Syrian family. When she was 12, men started fighting over her. But in good time, she married happily, and her husband was devoted to her. She was very happy, until a wealthy brute tried again to capture her, and killed her husband. She refused to submit to her captor, and lived proud and independent for some years. But when the drought hit, she did not have a network of support.

Fatima was not afraid of death. Her parents had taught her well, and she trusted God. She had seen her parents die peacefully and gracefully. She was nervous when she thought she was going to die soon, because she had never done it before. Nervous, but not afraid.

When the wild-eyed man come into town from the desert and asked for water, she was glad to help. In fact, she set off to get water for him to drink, plus some to cool and clean his dusty feet.

When Elijah asked Fatima for food, it was a very interesting moment. She was not afraid of death, but she was planning to have one more meal before she did it. So she went back and looked the man in the eye, and told him her plan.

And he looked her in the eye, silently for a few moments. And she remembered what her father had taught her. God loves us, and watches over us, always. Always walk proudly, because you are beloved by your parents and your family and your God. And she remembered that her father had also taught her that strangers come from God. And so she decided that her dignity – the dignity of her proud nation, and her proud family, and her proud self – meant that she would always welcome guests properly. Always! So she thought to herself, “Perhaps the last thing I will do on earth is serve this stranger. I will do it freely, with all my heart, and offer this service as a sacrifice to God. And then, having given my all, I will die – my son and I.”

As she decided, she saw love in the stranger’s eyes. Then Elijah spoke, and said, “Serve me – first.” And Fatima knew that he meant she would serve someone else second and third and more. She would not die. She was ready to die – peacefully, as a beloved child, as a cherished wife, as a proud and independent widow. She was ready: she had given her all to God. She had offered the sacrifice of hospitality.

She was ready. But it would be delightful to die later.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

St. Ambrose and the pagan immigrants

We cannot support those who would expel strangers at the very time when they ought to help, says St. Ambrose. “Wild beasts and animals consider the food which the earth supplies to be owned by all; they all give assistance to those like themselves. But man, who ought not to consider anything human to be foreign to himself, fights against his own.”

In the decades after the Edict of Milan, which ended the era of persecution and opened the way to a Christian empire, some struggles continued over remnants of ancient Roman religious practices. One such practice was about the Altar of Victory outside the Roman Senate. There was a statue at this altar, and it was custom for several centuries to burn incense to Nike, the god of Victory, when Senators were on their way in for a vote. The Senators would pass through a cloud of smoke, an offering to the Nike. Christians objected, and the altar was removed by one emperor, then replaced by another, then removed by a third. Then there was a famine, and some devotees of the Roman gods – pagans, from a Christian perspective – said the famine was due to the disrespect shown to Nike.

St. Ambrose was prominent in the debate about restoring the Altar of Victory. He opposed it strenuously. But his arguments about pagan worship did not lead him to treat non-Christians with disrespect.

Some of the pagans who wanted the Altar of Victory restored were from villages outside Rome that had been subjected by Rome. The inhabitants were not Roman citizens; in fact, they were often treated as slaves. They raised food for the Romans, and sometimes came into Rome as laborers. In the city, they were regarded as immigrant labor.

At the time of the famine, there was a debate about whether to expel the outsiders. The arguments included questions of citizenship, kinship, religion. The outsiders were pagans, migrants, laborers, outsiders, and strangers. So in a time of famine, should they be expelled?

Regarding them, St. Ambrose wrote:

“Those who would close the city to strangers cannot have our support! They would expel strangers at the very time when they ought to help. They would refuse them a share in the food that is meant for all, and close down human contacts that have already begun. They are unwilling, even in a time of necessity, to give anything to people who have enjoyed their rights in common. They refuse to share what they have. Beasts don’t drive out beasts, but man shuts out man. Wild beasts and animals consider the food which the earth supplies to be owned by all; they all give assistance to those like themselves. But man, who ought not to consider anything human to be foreign to himself, fights against his own.”

(St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. Duties of the Clergy, Book III, chapter 7. St. Ambrose is among the Great Fathers of the Church, the second of the Great Latin Fathers. Excerpt from Philip Schaff’s Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.)

wild stats #2

Jeff Koczela asked for clarification about my wild stats post, especially about a campaign of nonviolence. Here's an expansion, with a list of books at the end.

Jeff, thanks for the question. (Did I pay you yet?)

My take.

1.       The political approach is putting the tassels on the canopy on the cart before the horse. The idea that we will change the laws before we change society is a silly dead end fiction. For over 40 years, the pro-life movement has been chasing one mirage after another. What a waste!

2.       It was a union of the feminist movement with the eugenics movement that brought us modern abortion. That coalition is still visible: ask “pro-choicers” about forced abortion in China, and you will see the fault lines. That coalition can and will be broken apart, although not this year. It was pro-lifers and feminists who wrote pro-life (anti-abortion) laws 150 years ago, and we will do it again.

3.       The environmentalist movement is among the most deadly opponents of life today. The idea that “population = pollution” is common, catchy, and murderous. But Pope Francis, following St Francis (and Pope Benedict), has encouraged Catholics and pro-lifers to build (re-build) a new and healthy environmental movement that recognizes that humans actually belong on earth, are part of the global ecosystem and are not extraterrestrial invaders. If we do as the Pope suggests, we will scrub out a bloody and deadly myth that currently provides a rationale for coercive population control in Africa and Latin America.

4.       I still haven’t gotten over the stupendous burst of joy that emerged from jails in the 1980s. Tens of thousands of Catholics and Evangelicals went to jail together for blocking access to the portals of death, taking the place of the intended victims briefly, urging peace between generations, daring to hope that parents could parent in peace. Tens of thousands. What was on their minds was protecting children and women, but something else happened as well. In the 1960s, Evangelicals “knew” that Catholics were going to hell; Catholics, for their part, “knew” that Evangelicals were dumb hillbillies. By 1990, both prejudices were gone. Traces remain, but the deep and widespread biases are gone. And a part of that was an accidental outgrowth of the coalition Catholics and Evangelicals entered into to resist abortion. No one on earth planned to put them in jail together in order to promote the unity of the Church. But it happened.

Today, I believe, there’s a similar miracle unfolding. It’s not complete. In fact, it’s barely visible, just beginning. In our time, in this generation, Christians and Muslims are coming together in ways that were hard to imagine 50 years ago. Leaders on both sides are talking and working. But separately, regular folk on the ground are examining each other. Right now, it’s mostly tender shoots. But solid and unbreakable bonds are coming fast. And I expect that global resistance to population control will cement us together.

Example? The best glimpse is Tanzania.

5.       Right now, pro-lifers are being recruited by the millions into population control activism. Pro-lifers aren’t doing the aborting and sterilizing; their job is to shut the escape routes, keep the victims tied down in place. We close our borders; Planned Parenthood does the killing. The way pro-lifers fell into this perversion just shocks me, appalls me. I don’t quite see how to get confused about hospitality to the challenging strangers at the border and hospitality to the challenging strangers snuggled up against the placenta. Both have their own schedules, both make demands, both offer huge promises for the future, both are known to be under God’s special protection throughout all history and into eternity, both are bursting with hope and joy, both are Christmas all year (both deposit poop inconveniently).  This total perversion of the pro-life movement will not last! It will clear up! And when it clears up, the pro-life movement will flower, flourish, burst spring-like into unimaginable African Latino Himalayan Pacific Australian blossoms. Not now, but soon. Watch the Filipinos who are the modern Irish, spreading across the world to save civilization!

6.       The eugenics movement is stronger today than ever before. But its opponents will not stay fragmented forever!

7.       The 20th century saw the emergence of colossally powerful new weapons of destruction. But also, that same century saw the emergence of colossally powerful new forces of transformation – in India, the American South, Poland and the Warsaw Pact, the Philippines, South Africa. Right now in America, well educated people think that “nonviolent” refers to minor drug dealers; but this shocking ignorance will not persist. True nonviolence, explained at length in the Sermon on the Mount, will re-emerge. The Holy Spirit is not a minor drug dealer.

For more, go get:
Emmanuel, Solidarity: God’s Act, Our Response [about nonviolence]
The Roots of Racism and Abortion: An Exploration of Eugenics
21 Stranger Claims in the Old Testament [immigration]
The Persistent Other [immigration]
Introduction to Eugenics

Reach Left

wild stats

Sometimes numbers can clarify an issue, even if the numbers are rough and speculative.

Let me try a question. A thought experiment, not a proposal. Suppose you were intent on protecting children and women from abortion, and could have control of some of the following. Which would you choose?

1.       The American government
2.       the feminist movement
3.       the environmental movement
4.       Christian-Muslim relations
5.       global migration policy
6.       education policy on all matters touching eugenics
7.       a movement of pro-life nonviolence

Nearly every pro-life leader has made clear in the past year that they would want #1. They consider the choice obvious, and will promptly sacrifice all the other six to get #1.

May I try to explain an alternative view using numbers that are little more than wild guesses? I just want to try to make a point. How many lives (and moms) are at stake with each of these seven entities? If you try to gain control or have some influence on them, how many lives are you trying to protect? There are about 60 million abortions annually, globally. How many can you influence?

The numbers overlap, and do not add up to 60 million. But:

1.       American government: 1.2 M lives (and mothers) at stake
2.       feminism: 30 M lives (and moms) at stake
3.       environmental movement: 20 M
4.       Christian-Muslim relations: 30 M
5.       global migration: 20 M
6.       all matters eugenic (includes 2&3&5): 55 M
7.       nonviolence: 55 M

This is not meant to be definitive or anything – more of a take-off point for a conversation.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Tone and the Dubia

I have been reading the “dubia” – the five questions posed by Cardinal Burke, together with the texts it cites. There’s not really all that much to read, but I’m slow, and I’m not finished. Still, I think my initial reaction was right.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the “splendor of truth.” Pope Francis wrote about the “joy of love.” It is a little odd that the latter encyclical doesn’t cite the former – unless they comprise a single text with two parts. The splendor of truth and the joy of love are obviously a matching set, no?

Kindness and truth are often in tension. Justice and peace are often in tension. It is always easy – in theory – to solve this tension by obliterating one side or the other; but we would all prefer not do that. To me, the sweetest of the messianic prophecies is that “kindness and truth shall meet, justice and peace shall kiss.”

Tone. Suppose Francis writes about marriage for 300 pages or some such ridiculous length, and says nothing that is substantively new. That would be unforgivably prolix if he just wanted to alter some disciplines and procedures! But I think his intention was to change the tone. 300 pages to change the tone.

Regarding substance: when splendor and joy collide, can we leave it to the responsible parties closest to the collision to sort it out? Why do the advocates of splendor talk about subsidiarity so much until it comes to a relationship between two people – count them! TWO! – and then suddenly we have to refer cases up through several levels of bureaucracy to get an acceptable solution?

Tone matters.

I remember going to court on many occasions, with a noble intention and a silly question. The silly question before the court: should people who saved a child’s life by trespassing go to jail for it? This is way beyond silly; it’s citron-speckled fruitcake. I have next to no interest in the answer to that question. Yeah, yeah – precedent and necessity defense and jury nullification and Roe. But go free for a good deed? Cool! Go to jail for saving a life? Even better! What a joy! Should we cross-examine their second witness and show that he’s lying? Sure, if you want to. But what matters to me is, what shall we sing? Christmas carols? Easter bursts? Latin booms? Charismatic paradoxes? All of the above? Law, schmaw; let’s do something real! Let me teach you to sing the Magnificat as a round!

Once upon a time, there was a significant pro-life case before a significant Federal Circuit Court Very Most Highness Be-robed Be-spectacled (albeit un-be-wigged and unpowdered) Justice surrounded by pomp and sitting on an expensive polished hardwood throne mounting up and up and surrounded by armed guards. The Very Most Honorable Justice instructed me not to say the word “baby,” because it is an emotional word. That’s true and factual; the Lord upon the Golden Throne did so instruct. But I recall this very most honorable day with great joy, because a few of us tested the acoustics inside that courthouse, with its atrium reaching up 40-50 honorable feet with gleaming walls. We sang, “Non nobis, Domine,” and made the gleams vibrate. Now, that was a gift fit for a heavenly king!

Tone. Stay strong! 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

More than a Slogan

More than a Slogan

“Did you say that pro-life activists who are also conservative Republicans don’t care about racism or justice or anything like that? You are so ignorant! Conservatives are always more generous giving money and time to help – to help in every way you can think of! Check the data any way you want to slice it!”

Whoo-ee. I hear the anger and frustration.

I’d like to explain something. It’s not a bumper sticker slogan: the explanation will take a little time.

The history of hospitality in the Bible and the Church for the past 3,000 years has five distinct phases. To understand why liberals and conservatives who are serious about helping their neighbors are at each other’s throats, it may help to look at the five stages.

1.       Old Testament: a national approach
2.       New Testament: a personal approach
3.       early Christian life (325 to ~1400): an ecclesial approach
4.       Reformation to 1891: era of excommunication, serving “us” not “them”
5.       Social Gospel: a global approach

I think that I can explain a huge part of the deep anger between good people, by reviewing attitudes in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hospitality is an issue I understand; I think other issues follow the same pattern, but I don’t know that. So this is in part about immigration, but what I’m after is more general – making it easier for pro-lifers and social justice activists to understand each other.

There are five different approaches to welcoming strangers that are all in play today; and if you understand only one approach, or maybe two, then you may resent and resist the other three or four.

First: the Old Testament approach was national. The Law that Moses laid down included personal hands-on service, but it was national. Moses commanded: “Welcome strangers, because – remember! – you too once were a stranger in a strange land.” He asks us to recall a national memory, and draw inspiration and insight from it. I personally was not a slave in Egypt, nor were you; but “we” were. The nation of Israel was oppressed by the nation of Egypt, and God punished the nation of Egypt to save the nation of Israel. And later, when the nation of Israel abused strangers, God punished the nation of Israel by sending Israel into exile in the nation of Babylon.

One other example: the Book of Ruth. Her story is about hospitality, especially the welcome (and love) that one man named Boaz offered to one woman named Ruth. But remember her song: “Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” National.

Second: New Testament approach is much more personal and individual. Jesus affirmed the teaching of Moses unequivocally, but applied the command to individuals, not the nation. The nation was under occupation, and asking the nation to act properly was meaningless. So when Jesus talks about welcoming strangers, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan, one individual who helped one victim of one robbery. And when Jesus described the Last Judgment, his words can be read as applying to societies, but they seem to be personal – at least at first glance: “I was a stranger, and you (singular) welcomed me.”

Another example: look at St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon, about freeing a slave. Some people insist that the letter is not applicable to the social evil of slavery, because Paul appealed to one slave-holder (Philemon) on behalf of one slave (Onesimus). I think that’s pernicious nonsense, and that the principles that Paul lays out (treat your brother as a brother) can be extended to society. But it is certainly true that the letter – and indeed the New Testament – deals with problems on an individual basis.

Third: the approach in the Patristic era and for centuries afterwards was ecclesial. The early Church built squarely and explicitly on Scripture, Old and New. However, the pattern of response to strangers was not the same as that of Moses nor of Jesus. The Church responded as a church. St. Jerome offers a clear example: he built a hostel attached to the monastery in Bethlehem. The hostel served pilgrims, obviously, but also served all visitors and guests and strangers.

Jerome was explicit and forceful about universal welcome, pointing to Virgil’s “Aeneid” to explain. He wrote: “I am forced to cry out against the inhumanity of this country. A hackneyed quotation best expresses my meaning:

     What savages are these who will not grant
     A rest to strangers, even on their sands!
     They threaten war and drive us from their coasts.
          [Aeneid, Book I, 539-541]

Jerome continued: “I take this idea from a Gentile poet so that anyone who disregards the peace of Christ may at least learn its meaning from a heathen.” (The excerpt is from Jerome’s letter to the Presbyter Marcus, in Philip Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.)

Jerome’s hostel set a pattern for the Church. It was an institution built by the Church to serve those in need. St. Benedict adopted Jerome’s idea, and Benedict’s Rule makes hospitality central in monastic life: strangers are to be received as Christ.

St. Ambrose affirms the requirement to welcome strangers. It’s noteworthy that Ambrose writes about hospitality in a work devoted to the duties of the clergy – not the nation, and not every individual, but specifically the clergy.

Some centuries later, this pattern as still in place. St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed that the precepts of Jesus, including the command to welcome strangers, are mandatory, and that a failure to obey these precepts is mortally sinful. But Aquinas made clear that some duties, including this one, are usually delegated – in this case, to a church-run hostel attached to a monastery. So the duty to welcome strangers can be fulfilled by supporting a monastery that welcomes strangers.

It’s immensely important to see and understand this third pattern of response to strangers! Many Christians today hold up the example of Jesus, and insist that we today should follow that example. What Christian wants to say no to that? But when you understand that Moses and Jesus and the Fathers all demanded, unequivocally and forcefully, that we welcome strangers – and then you also see that they responded in a variety of ways – then you can move ahead determined to get the job done, without being tied to a single model.

Fourth: during and after the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, hospitality was often side-lined by a new emphasis on EX-communication. During the era of excommunication, there was a pattern of defensive retrenchment in our tradition that must be acknowledged and understood. In my view, it wasn’t a healthy response; it was a contraction, not a positive development. But good or bad, there was a period of several hundred years when the Church’s hospitality was different from the Old Testament pattern, different from the New Testament pattern, and different from the Patristic pattern. The Church turned inward, and focused on serving her own members – and often refused to serve others. Far from welcoming each other, Catholics and Protestants made war on each other. The command to welcome strangers shrank; the Church worked to shelter the homeless in our midst, but turned away from Protestant or Jewish or Muslim or other strangers. It was a time when excommunication was in vogue, and may have been more important that community in the thinking and practice of many people. For many Christians, the first and sometimes only service that we offered to non-Christians (or to non-Catholics) was proselytization.

The pattern of defensive suspicion rather than reflexive hospitality is perhaps among the greatest evils of the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. In my view, the division in the Church damaged a great treasure in ways that we are still struggling to understand and reverse.

This is grossly over-simplified. Many great things happened during this period. But look at the teaching of a great hero of hospitality, Pope Pius XII. Many efforts to explain the Church’s approach to welcoming immigrants start with his encyclical about life in exile, “Exsul Familia Nazarethena.” The letter opens saying that when Joseph and Mary took Jesus and fled to Egypt, they became the archetype of every refugee family. The Pope said that when they fled to escape the fury of an evil king, they became, “for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind.” All … all … every … of whatever kind. The Pope said explicitly that this includes those who are compelled “by fear of persecution or by want.”

The letter is powerful and moving, and no one who supports care for immigrants will criticize the letter. Nonetheless, it’s noteworthy that as the letter proceeds, one of his major concerns is meeting the needs of Catholic refugees, and ensuring that Catholics have proper spiritual guidance. His concern is universal, but still he has a special concern for his own – that is, Catholics.

Fifth: the Church’s response to strangers today is global. This new pattern began to emerge in 1891, and burst forth in the Second Vatican Council.

In the past century, there has been a revolution in the Church’s understanding of who we must serve. Pope Leo started the revolution in 1891, with his encyclical “Rerum Novarum.” Leo was committed to the principle of subsidiarity, the idea (roughly) that the smallest social unit capable of handling a problem should do so, without interference from others. (There’s far more to be said …) If a family can deal with a problem, the village should stay out of it. If the village can handle a problem, the state should stay out of it. If the nation can handle a problem, the world should mind its own business. Fine. But Leo also saw clearly that there are some problems that cannot be solved locally or even nationally. The one that pulled him into action was the question of labor in an industrialized society. The dehumanization of workers, treating the children of God as cogs in a machine, was not something that could be solved by an employer and a worker over a beer. It was an international problem, and protecting the children of God required a global response. So the Church declared – addressing a global issue – that workers have a right to organize and strike, if all else fails.

Leo’s teaching was explosive. There are other problems that are global – problems that cannot be solved locally or nationally. And the Church is not silent in the face of these problems, nor restricted solely to pious prayers for divine intervention. The problems that creep across national borders include: plagues that refuse to obey no trespassing signs, drought and starvation, war, poverty, pollution – and migration. In response, the Church serves individual people in need. But also, the Church teaches and leads, when appropriate. Including: the Church asserts that there is a God-given right to migrate in search of a better life.

The change from previous patterns of response is made clear at the beginning of “Gaudium et Spes.” One of the key documents of the Second Vatican Council was this “pastoral constitution of the Church in the modern world.”  It opens: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”

The problems that we consider “ours” – our own – are the problems of all humanity.


Is it useful to understand these five approaches? Consider the following (edited) exchange.

JCOK: Restricting immigration during a global refugee crisis will drive abortion way way up. There are about a million pregnant women on the road annually, fleeing persecution and war and violence. Have you ever anywhere heard a pro-life speaker talk about that?
MB: I would direct those women to my local pregnancy center [in New York City].
JCOK: We aren't communicating effectively. These million pregnant refugees aren't in America. You will not refer them to your local pregnancy center. Quite likely, you won't let them get within a thousand miles of your pregnancy center.
MB: Oh, you're giving us crap about border patrol. Last I checked we're allowed to protect our borders.

A key problem in that exchange, I think, is that MB has one model of hospitality in mind: a personal, one-on-one encounter. No Christian in his or her right mind is going to criticize that approach! But you can’t deal with a million people that way. You need a national or international approach.

But many pro-lifers are attached to a slice of conservatism, and have learned to be suspicious of large government. AC, in the same Facebook exchange, remarked:

AC: I don't know if a global/One World outlook is good either. It's nanny statism on a larger scale.

But we need a global outlook. If you see abortion as the decision and act of one trapped mother and one abortion profiteer, it’s not possible to understand many aspects of abortion, and it’s definitely not possible to see how to end abortion. There are some problems that are complex and global, and they require a complex and global solution. One such problem is the scourge of population control, which includes restrictive immigration. If you restrict immigration into America, you must believe that America can’t sustain millions more people flowing in. We’re not mixed out, but we’re stretched. BUT: if you think America is crowded, then the world as a whole is vastly over-crowded. And if you believe that, then Planned Parenthood has a solution, and you support them, although you might want to tinker with the tools a little – maybe a little more contraception and sterilization and a little less abortion.

CS: Statistically, people who are pro-life – with abortion being the obvious crux of valuing life – do MORE in other arenas of social justice. To imply that somehow anti-abortionists don’t care about other social justice issues is creepily dishonest and meant to diminish dishonestly their actual contribution to the pro-life cause. Where does this myopic view of charitable humanity even come from?

I have spent most of my adult life amongst pro-life activists, and I consider myself blessed to have lived among heroes. However, the myopic view that CS refers to arises from a disagreement about the Social Gospel. I don’t think my pro-life friends are careless about other social justice. Rather, I am quite sure that they are often committed to models of thought and action that don’t fit our time. Global problems need global solutions.

We need new and renewed habits of understanding and cooperation.