Friday, October 30, 2015

Saints & Heroes

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The Saints are often thought of as the heroes of the Catholic Church -- and rightly so.  To be recognized as a saint means that person has "made it."  They have "run the race" and "fought the good fight," as St. Paul puts it (2 Tim 4:7), and now reside with God forever in heaven.  They are our inspiration and our intercessors.  They are the Catholic superheroes, with one important caveat.  We can fall into a trap of sorts when we think of a saint as a hero in secular terms.

What most often comes to mind when we think of a hero today?  The superhero genre is currently popular, so we might think of the Avengers, Spider Man, Superman, or the Fantastic Four.  These fictional characters all have special abilities which they use to save lives, help others, and make the world a better place.  There are often good lessons to be learned about sanctity in the stories of superheroes -- lessons about self-sacrifice and putting the good of others before your own concerns.  But in the end, these are fictional heroes.  We may look up to them in a way, but we know we will never be able to fly, have super-human strength, or run at lightning speed.

Thankfully, not all heroes are fictional.  There are plenty of real life heroes to emulate.  For too many, however, their heroes are famous athletes, singers or movie stars.  Don't get me wrong; a lot of hard work goes into singing, acting and athleticism, if any of these things are to be done well.  It is right to admire these skills that take much discipline to develop.  But the fact that someone has honed their craft doesn't necessarily tell us anything about their moral character.  All too often we hear of celebrity break-ups and break-downs, athletes landing in jail, or succumbing to drug use.  When we make heroes out of the famous, we will be disappointed more often than not.

Then there are those that might be called true heroes.  These are the everyday people that make sacrifices for the good of others.  The doctors who perform life-saving surgeries.  The fire fighters who pull accident victims from a burning vehicle.  The police officers who keep criminals off the streets.

A common thread that runs through all these types of heroes is a sense that they are somehow exceptional.  The super-heroes have special abilities that we can never have.  The celebrities all have special skills that we know, realistically, most of us cannot attain to.  Even the true heroes are recognized for their above-average bravery and dedication.  We are not all cut out to be first responders.  We admire these people, but see them as the exception rather than the rule.  They stand out because they are not the norm.  Most of us will never be like them.

The saints are Catholic heroes, but with a difference.  They are exceptional, but not for any special skill or ability.  They are exceptional for their sanctity.  The word "sanctity," like "saint," comes from the Latin word sanctus, which means "holy."  When we call someone a saint, we proclaim their holiness.  In a manner of speaking, that is their "superpower."  But unlike the special powers or skills of secular heroes, the superpower of the saints is one we can all possess.

The Church speaks of the universal call to holiness (CCC 2013).  Several times in the Bible God tells us to "be holy, as I am holy" (Lv 11:44; 20:26; 1 Pt 1:16).  God would not command us to do anything we are not capable of doing -- or that He would not make us capable of doing.  So we know each of us can be holy because God tells us we can; not just that we can, but that we should.  It is expected of us.  Holiness should be the norm, not the exception.  We should all be saintly superheroes.

So what is holiness?  How do we become holy?  By cooperating with God's sanctifying grace.  "Grace" is a gift from God, and so "sanctifying grace" is that gift from God that makes us holy.  The Catechism defines sanctifying grace as that grace which heals and perfects our soul.  In other words, it does not give us any super-human ability that is outside of our nature.  Rather it perfects our nature and makes us who we are supposed to be; sanctifying grace reveals our true selves, without sin.

This is why the saints are so different, and so interesting.  Each one is unique.  When we look upon a saint, we look upon a perfected human being -- someone living just as they are meant to live as they were created in the image and likeness of God.  A saint can be a little French nun who spent most of her 24 short years in a convent (St. Terese of Lisieux).  A saint can be an ornery old abbot who was so strict his monks tried twice to poison him (St. Benedict of Nursia).  A saint can be a young man who enjoyed mountain climbing and hiking and was concerned with social reform (Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati).  A saint can be a mystic who receives visions and writes great works of music and poetry (St. Hildegard of Bingen).  A saint can be a husband or a wife who suffer the loss of four of their children and who struggle to deal with a rebellious daughter (Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin).  In other words, a saint can be anybody.  A saint can be you.

The Church honors the saints because they are Catholic superheroes.  They serve as our role models in the faith.  They show us what it is like to be holy.  They show us how to grow closer to God.  They show us how to love more perfectly.  But more than simply being examples to emulate, they are people we can be in relation with.  And so we invoke their intercession and ask them to pray for us and help us on our own journey toward sanctity.  For we can follow the same path they have chosen, the path to our true and perfected selves.

Get to know the saints.  Become friends with them here in this life, so that you may be united with them in the Beatific Vision of perfect love in eternity.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Standing on our Heads

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It seems to me that everyone who denies the existence of God does so for the same reason.  Oh, they will give different reasons, some intellectual, others emotional.  But when you dig down beneath the surface and examine the heart of their argument, it usually boils down to this: If I were God, things would be different.  Things are not different, therefore there is no God.

We are told that God is omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing).  We are also told that God is perfectly good and perfectly just.  Yet we look around and see suffering in the world.  Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.  How can a God who is both all-good and all-powerful allow this?

Philosophers have been addressing this problem for ages. Perhaps God is not good.  Perhaps He is indifferent.  Or perhaps God is not omnipotent and is powerless to stop suffering.  But if God is not good then where does goodness come from?  Why do we even have a sense of goodness and what does it point to if not God?  And if God is not omnipotent then how did He create the universe?  It takes an infinite power to create something out of nothing.  Perhaps God does not exist at all, which is the position the atheists take.  In that case we are the most pitiable of all creatures, with a finite, pointless existence that means nothing to an uncaring universe.

But we approach the question wrongly by thinking this is a problem with God.  It is not.  It is a problem with us.  We look at the world around us from our limited perspective and declare it unjust.  But what do we know of justice?  We suffer and complain it is not good.  But what do we know of goodness?  We have a limited understanding of these concepts but God created them.  So if God fails to live up to our expectations, which is more likely; that God is wrong or that our expectations are wrong?

God has a way of defying our expectations.  Throughout the course of history, anyone who has had a direct encounter with God has been completely changed by the experience, from Moses and Job, to Peter and Paul.  God changes our perspective.  He shatters our assumptions.  He stands us on our heads.

We demand explanations from God and expect Him to give us an answer.  But God does not answer to us.  It is we who must give answer before God.  This is why Jesus never seems to give a straight answer to any question He is asked.  He turns things back to the questioners in a way that demands a response from them.

In this Sunday's gospel (Mk 10:35-45), James and John, two of Jesus' closest disciples, tell Him, "We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."  Isn't this how we often approach God in our prayers?  Do for me whatever I ask of you!  And when we do not get the answer we expect, we find fault with God.

What  James and John ask for is to share in Christ's glory, which indeed is a good desire.  But Christ shows them that they have no idea what that means.  For His glory is not in His greatness and power, but in His meekness and weakness.  His glory lies not in majesty but in humility.  Of course Christ is great and powerful and majestic.  But his greatness lies in His love, and lovers sacrifice themselves for their beloved. Christ loves more than anyone and so He suffers more than anyone.  He is greatly humble.  He is powerfully meek.

Christ turns our expectations on their heads.  He says, "whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant," and, "whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all."  He says He "did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life."  When James and John ask to share in Christ's glory, they are asking to share in His sacrifice.  When we pray to become more Christ-like, we ask for the same thing.

When we ask God, "Why is there suffering in the world," God turns the question back on us.  If He were to look down upon you from the cross and ask you why He is suffering, would you have the guts to admit that it is for your sake?  That it is because He loves you?  He shows us that we are worth suffering for.

God's answer to our big questions is not a formula or an argument or an equation.  God answers us in a way that we never could have imagined, and certainly do not deserve.  He offers us not an answer.  He offers us Himself.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Earthly vs Spiritual Goods

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Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending a talk given by two economists, one Catholic, one Protestant, on the topic of whether free market economies are compatible with Christianity.  Pope Francis has criticized the negative aspects of capitalism, and some of these criticisms were addressed during the presentation, including the oft-quoted passage from Evangelii Gaudium at right.

Does Christianity endorse the ownership and free exchange of private property?  On the one hand we have the example of the first Christian community described in Acts 2:44 as having "all things in common," selling their property and dividing it evenly among themselves according to need.  On the other hand we have the prohibition in the Ten Commandment against stealing (Ex 20:15), which presumes and affirms the right to private property.

The presenters at the talk highlighted the good that has been brought about by free market economies, most notably the overall reduction of poverty and the increase in beneficial goods and technologies including medical advances.  They made the argument that a free market economy is the best way -- or at least one good way -- to love your neighbor and minister to the poor and hungry, as Jesus commands.

If that is the case, then why does Jesus seem to have such a problem with wealth?  In this Sunday's gospel reading (Mk 10:17-30), Jesus tells the rich man to, "Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."  We are told that the man went away sad, because he had many possessions.  Why was it so hard for this man to do the one thing Jesus asked him to do?  Why does Jesus say that it is "easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God?"  Is money truly the root of all evil?

In showcasing the benefits of the free market, the economists focused on earthly goods -- things such as food, land, money, housing, medicine and all the other things we human beings may need or desire to help us along in this world.  The Church is also concerned with earthly goods.  She wants to make sure, as a matter of justice, that the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are sheltered and so forth.  But the Church is primarily concerned with spiritual goods.  Earthly goods are temporary and fleeting, whereas spiritual goods are eternal.  So the Church rightly teaches that earthly goods ought to be at the service of spiritual goods.  Elsewhere in the gospels (Mk 8:36), Jesus asks, "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?"

This distinction between earthly and spiritual goods is the key to understanding this Sunday's gospel.  The rich man has not sinned simply by being rich.  Indeed, we are told that he has kept the commandments his entire life.  Moreover, he's asking the right question ("What must I do to inherit eternal life?") and asking the right person, Jesus.  By all appearances he's well on the way to sainthood!  In fat, Jesus tells him that he lacks only one thing -- and no, it is not simply to sell all that he has.  He must sell all that he has and follow Jesus.  In other words, given the choice between his wealth and his Savior, the rich man chose his wealth.  He valued earthly goods above the greatest spiritual good of all.  Therein lies his fall.

People say that money is the root of all evil, but this is a misquotation of 1 Tim 6:10, which actually reads, "the love of money is the root of all evils."  It is the disordered love of a lesser good over a greater good which corrupts.  Rather than condemning wealth per se, St. Paul instructs Timothy on how to advise the rich.  "Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.  Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life" (1 Tm 6:17-19).  In other words, the rich ought to use their earthly goods at the service of the spiritual good.

It has been observed that the most generous people tend to be those who have little.  The homeless man who has two dollars freely gives half of his wealth to his friend so that they can both enjoy a sandwich.  Meanwhile the corporate CEO donates 1% of his income to charity and makes sure that a flattering press release is issued to improve his public image.  The CEO may have donated a higher dollar amount, but the homeless man has gained more treasure in heaven.

I wish the speakers at the talk I attended had mentioned spiritual goods -- but they are economists, not theologians.  Using the lens of spiritual goods, I would argue that a free market is compatible with Christianity for the simple reason that it is free.  Two scenarios will illustrate my point.  In each, I have two sandwiches and my hungry neighbor has none.  In the first scenario, in solidarity with my neighbor and out of love for him, I give him one of my sandwiches to eat.  In the second scenario, a man with a gun tells me, "I see you have two sandwiches and your neighbor has none.  That does not seem fair.  Give him one of yours."  I comply out of fear of punishment.

In terms of earthly goods, both scenarios seem to have the same result -- my neighbor and I each have a sandwich to eat.  In fact, one could argue that the second scenario is the more reliable way to ensure everyone gets a sandwich, because it is not dependent upon on my free will choice.  But from the perspective of spiritual goods, the first scenario is superior.  By freely choosing to share a sandwich with my neighbor I have engaged in an act of charity.  I have grown in love, and thereby grown in holiness.

Freedom is a prerequisite for love.  This is the answer to the perennial question, "Why is there evil in the world?"  It is because the same free will that allows us to do great evil is the only thing that allows us to love.  

Jesus is, of course, correct when He says it is hard for the rich to enter heaven.  The more wealth you possess, the greater the risk that it will come to possess you.  Greed can make you a slave to your wealth, just as every sin can make you a slave to something less than God.  But greed and generosity have more to do with the size of your heart than the size of your bank account.

Wealthy or not, we all face the same choice Jesus offers the rich man.  Stay bound to your treasure on earth, or bind yourself to Christ and gain eternal treasure in heaven.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

What Pro-Choicers Must Deny

לא תרצח׃ ס

Those Hebrew words above are from Exodus 20:13, which is generally rendered in English as "Thou shalt not kill."  Many modern English translations more accurately translate the text as "You shall not murder."  There is a difference between murder and killing.  Killing someone in self-defense or while involved in a military engagement may sometimes be morally permissible.  Murder never is.

The original Hebrew word means unlawful, violent killing, and so "murder" seems to be a more precise translation.

Those who are pro-life believe abortion to be wrong because abortion is equivalent to murder.  Both involve killing an innocent human being.

Those who take the pro-choice position must disagree with at least part of the preceding statement.  They must deny either that abortion ends a life, or that the life it ends is human, or innocent.  Let's look at each of these three points in turn.

1. Does abortion end a life?
If the unborn fetus is not alive then it either is dead, like a corpse, or made up of some non-living matter, like a stone.  But a dead corpse or a non-living stone cannot magically turn into a living human being.  The question of when life begins in the womb is surprisingly simple to answer.  There is always life!  A man's sperm cell (which is alive) unites with a woman's egg cell (which is alive).  The DNA of the two are combined to form a brand new zygote, which from the very moment of conception is also alive and growing.  Abortion ends that life -- that is the whole point of abortion, after all.

We end life all the time.  Whenever we swat a fly or pull a weed from the garden, we kill something that is living.  Neither of these actions is murder, because murder involves the taking of a human life. Many pro-choice advocates claim abortion is no more immoral than swatting a fly or pulling a weed. So our next question is important.

2. Does abortion end a human life?
If the unborn fetus that is killed by abortion is not human, then it must be something else.  It must either be some other species that somehow becomes human at birth, or some sort of non-differentiated bio-mass that morphs into a human baby at some point.  Both of these positions are easily proven false with basic science.  When a human male and a human female reproduce, they form a human child.  From the moment of its conception, that child is identifiably human.  Its DNA can be identified in a lab as that of a human being.

Some may argue that even a fingernail clipping has human DNA -- and indeed some say abortion is no more immoral than getting a hair cut or clipping your nails.  But this argument is absurd on the face of it.  A fingernail -- or even a finger or a hand -- is but a part of a human being.  Removed from the whole it withers and dies.  A fetus, though small, is a whole being.  Yes, it is smaller and less developed than a baby, just as a baby is smaller and less developed than a toddler or a teenager.  We are talking about human beings at different stages of development, not different species (although teenagers can sometimes seem like a different species).

3. Does abortion end an innocent human life?
The first two arguments for abortion -- that the unborn either is not alive, or is not human, and therefore it is permissible to kill it -- are easily dismissed.  It is a matter of science that the unborn fetus is a living human being in the earliest stages of development.  It would seem obvious that the unborn fetus would by definition be innocent.  After all, what could be more innocent than an unborn baby?  The unborn can commit no crimes, no offenses.  They have done nothing deserving of the death penalty.

Yet some pro-abortion advocates argue this precise point. They recognize that abortion means ending an unborn human life, but argue this is permissible because the fetus is not innocent.  They take the position that the fetus is an unwanted aggressor, a parasitic invader in its mother's body that can legitimately be killed in self-defense.

This is best argued against by appealing to common sense.  An invader is someone aggressively inserting himself where he does not belong.  But where else does a human fetus belong but in the womb of its mother?  Indeed, the womb is the fetus' place of origin.  The womb is where the new human being was created. The womb is its home.

The female reproductive system is designed for gestation.  It is precisely where new human life is meant to develop and grow.  So rather than being an aggressor fighting against the mother, the fetus works with the mother's body to carry out the purpose of engendering new life.  Yes, pregnancy can sometimes lead to complications (as can any function of the human body).  In only a tiny fraction of a percentage of all cases do those complications endanger the life of the mother.  There are approximately 4 million births in America each year.  According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 600 women die each year in America from childbirth or pregnancy related complications.  In other words, in 0.015% of cases does pregnancy end in maternal death.  In fact the true percentage is even lower, as the above calculation is based on number of births in America.  The number of pregnancies would be much higher as many pregnancies end in miscarriage or -- tragically -- abortion.    It is estimated that about 20% of all pregnancies in the US end in abortion.

To return to our question, is the developing human life innocent?  Or to phrase it another way, what crime has the fetus committed?  She is exactly where she is supposed to be, and doing exactly what she is supposed to do -- growing and developing in her mother's womb.  Her only offense seems to be her existence.  To allow abortion for this reason is to allow one human being to say to another, "Your existence offends me; therefore I can kill you."  This is the justification for every holocaust or genocide ever committed.  Is this really the argument anyone wants to make for abortion?  Yet it seems to be the only honest argument.

The Fourth Denial
Sadly, there is one other position the abortion advocate can hold. The pro-abortion advocate can understand and admit that abortion means killing an innocent human being, but deny that killing an innocent human being is always wrong.  All but the most hard-hearted sociopaths recognize the fact that killing an innocent human being is evil.  Even most murderers have to first convince themselves that their victims somehow "deserve" it in order to justify their violent crimes.  But this is exactly the position of all those who are "personally against abortion" but feel the decision needs to be left up to individual choice.  It is the relativist position that says, "it may be wrong for me, but it may be right for you."  It is a tacit acceptance that it can sometimes be legitimate to choose to end the life of an innocent human person.

That, my friends, is never permissible.  As Mother Theresa once famously said, "If abortion is not wrong, then nothing is wrong."

October is Respect Life month.  I encourage anyone who holds the pro-choice position because it seems non-judgmental or compassionate to reexamine their beliefs about abortion this month.  Look at it honestly, with open eyes, and see it for what it truly is.  Don't be fooled by euphemisms such as "terminating a pregnancy" or "product of conception."  Abortion means killing an innocent human life -- every time.  To be pro-choice means shutting your eyes to this reality.  October is a good month to open your eyes.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bill Nye and the Breakdown of Reason

I finally got around to watching the four-and-a-half minute long Bill Nye “scientific defense” of abortion.  Surprisingly, it’s worse than I thought.  Most of the video has nothing to do with science.  What we are presented with is Bill Nye putting forward some of the most illogical arguments for abortion I’ve heard in a long time.  Were I a pro-abortion advocate I’d find Nye’s defense of the position an embarrassment.

Before we take a look at his arguments, let’s remind ourselves who Bill Nye is.  He was the host of the well-known children’s show Bill Nye the Science Guy that aired from 1993 to 1998 and won several Emmys.  It was a good show that taught a lot of kids some good things about science.  But being the host of a children’s show doesn’t make Bill Nye a real scientist.  Bill Nye has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.  That’s as far as his formal education goes.  He’s done some consultation in the aeronautics industry, but seems to have no special qualifications in the arenas of biology or medicine.  Ironically, Pope Francis’s master’s degree in chemistry makes the Holy Father a more qualified scientist than “the Science Guy.”

Mindful of his background and qualifications, let’s take a look at what Bill Nye tells us about the science of reproduction and the implications for abortion rights.  In the first 27 seconds of the video, Nye tells us:

Many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans. Eggs get fertilized and by that I mean sperm get accepted by ova a lot. But that’s not all you need. You have to attach to the uterine wall, the inside of a womb, a woman’s womb.

This, right here, is the sum total of the “science” contained in the 4:37 video.  And it’s wrong.  Yes, many eggs are fertilized that don’t lead to successful pregnancies.  Miscarriages happen a lot.  But Bill Nye is wrong when he says many more eggs are fertilized than “become humans.”  Maybe he means to say, “fully developed humans,” which would be more accurate.  But as it is, he implies that when a human egg is fertilized by a human sperm, the product of conception is something non-human that later somehow becomes human.  

If the product of conception (zygote) is not human, then what is it?  It’s a fair question to ask.  Is it some other species?  Or is it some sort of non-differentiated generic life form?  If I took a zygote to a lab and said, “I don’t know what species this came from.  Can you do a DNA test on it for me?” would the lab technicians, after running the test, scratch their heads and say, “Sorry, we don’t know what species this is?”  No, of course not.  They’d easily detect human DNA and say, “It’s human.”  But Bill Nye and other abortion rights advocates insist in telling us it is something less than human, a potential-human perhaps.  So what, in their view, makes a zygote or embryo human?

According to Bill Nye, it’s like Real Estate.  It’s all about location, location, location.  Once the zygote attaches itself to the uterine wall, it becomes human.  But that’s ridiculous on the face of it.  Since when does location define a species?  Why would Bill Nye use implantation in the womb as the starting point of human life?  The answer has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics and pharmaceutical profits.  It has to do with how we choose to define pregnancy.  

If you went back in time a few generations and asked any doctor (or just anybody in general) when pregnancy began, you’d get an answer something like how Webster’s Dictionary defined pregnancy in 1913: “The state of a female who has conceived.”  If you conceive a child, you are pregnant, right?  Seems pretty straightforward.

If you ask an average person that same question today, you’d likely be told the same thing.  Unless you asked a politician.  Or someone from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or the American Medical Association, who define pregnancy as beginning when the zygote is implanted in the uterine wall.

Implantation in the womb is one of many milestones that a developing unborn human reaches before birth.  Why choose this one in particular to define the start of pregnancy?  Because it can take several days for the zygote to implant, and if a drug kills a zygote before implantation (such as “Plan B” and even most birth control pills), we can pretend that it’s not an abortion because “technically the mother isn’t pregnant yet.”  See how that works?

What Bill Nye does here is take it one step further and claim not only that pregnancy does not begin until implantation, but that human life doesn’t begin until then.  To be very clear, there is no scientific basis for this definition.  It is a definition of political expedience.   

This is the extent of the “science” Bill Nye addresses -- four sentences in a four-and-a-half minute long video.  From this point forward, he doesn’t even attempt to address matters of science.  Instead he gives us his opinion based on deeply flawed logic.

But if you’re going to hold that as a standard, that is to say if you’re going to say when an egg is fertilized it’s therefore has the same rights as an individual, then whom are you going to sue? Whom are you going to imprison? Every woman who’s had a fertilized egg pass through her? Every guy who’s sperm has fertilized an egg and then it didn’t become a human? Have all these people failed you?

Um.  Sometimes you hear arguments so unhinged from the real world that they stun you for a while.  You are unsure how to respond because sure, surely, you are missing something.  Surely he’s not saying what it sounds like he’s saying.  But then you listen to it again and realize, yes, he is saying just that.  

Bill.  Dear, dear, Bill.  There is a difference between someone dying by natural causes or by accident, and someone being intentionally killed.  Your argument basically amounts to, “Since some babies die before birth anyway, it’s OK to go ahead and kill them if you want to.”  Would you use this argument for infants?  Toddlers?  How about teenagers (some of whom really have their moments)?  Or older people in nursing homes?  Lots of them die of natural causes.  And that would really save us on medical costs.

The fact that you think this is a good argument frightens me more than a little bit.

It’s just a reflection of a deep scientific lack of understanding, and you literally or apparently literally don’t know what you’re talking about.

Remind me again what is the science I’m not understanding here?  And how do I “apparently literally” do something?

This is really – you cannot help but notice, I’m not the first guy to observe this — you have a lot of men of European descent passing these extraordinary laws based on ignorance.

Nye doesn’t tell us what “extraordinary laws” he’s talking about.  I assume he means laws meant to prohibit or limit abortion -- such as the laws that existed in every state in America before 1973.  But assuming he means laws that limit abortion, those laws exist mainly in places such as South America or Africa or the Middle East -- you know, places where brown people live.  It’s in Europe and places Europeans have colonized, such as US, Canada and Australia, where you find permissive abortion laws.  I look around the globe and I see a lot of men of European descent passing extraordinary laws based on ignorance that allow the killing of unborn children in the womb.  Is that what you’re talking about here, Bill?

Sorry, you guys. I know it was written, or your interpretation of a book written 5,000 years ago, 50 centuries ago, makes you think that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse they always have a baby. That’s wrong, and so to pass laws based on that belief is inconsistent with nature. I mean it’s hard not to get frustrated with this, everybody.

Bill Nye here seems to think that the only conceivable (ha!) reason to be against abortion is because the Bible tells us so.  I’m presuming he means the Bible, even though the oldest books in the Old Testament were written about 3500 years ago, not 5000 years ago.  But if we can’t trust Bill Nye to get his scientific facts right, why expect any different when it comes to historic facts?  

Leaving that aside, Bill Nye’s assumption doesn’t address why Muslims oppose abortion, or why you have groups like Atheists Against Abortion, Secular Pro-Life, Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League, or Pro-Life Humanists (all of which are non-religious pro-life groups that I found in about five seconds on the first page of a Google search).  

But what is Bill Nye actually saying here?  He claims that our (presumably the average pro-life Christian) interpretation of the Bible leads us to believe that sexual intercourse always leads to a baby.  Who believes that?  I know no one who believes this.  It’s certainly not taught by my church, the Catholic Church, that actually makes use of the fact that for most of her cycle a woman is not fertile to naturally help husbands and wives space pregnancies.  It’s called Natural Family Planning.  Any “Science Guy” should like NFP; it’s very scientific.  

You can’t tell somebody what to do.

This is the kind of argument made by a spoiled child on the playground, not by someone purporting himself to be an exemplar of reason.  One of my college students currently doing a semester of student teaching at a local elementary school told me just yesterday about a little boy in the class who got in trouble for telling his teacher, “This is a free country, you can’t tell me what to do!”  That child was disciplined because he was wrong.  

Laws in general tell us what we can and cannot do in a civilized society.  Pro-lifers believe that abortion is one of those things what we cannot do, because it denies the most innocent and vulnerable among us -- the unborn -- of the fundamental right to life.  Bill Nye has yet to come close to addressing this argument.

I mean, she has rights over this, especially if she doesn’t like the guy that got her pregnant.

So an unborn baby’s right to life is dependent upon whether and to what extent the mother “likes” the father.  Is there a way to scientifically measure this?

So it’s very frustrating on the outside, on the other side.

Imagine the view from the inside -- inside the womb, that is -- with your very life hanging in the balance based on whether your mom likes your dad.  I imagine that’s rather frustrating, too.

We have so many more important things to be dealing with. We have so many more problems — to squander resources on this argument based on bad science, on just lack of understanding.

So far I haven’t squandered anything but a Saturday afternoon arguing against Bill Nye’s bad science.  I wonder how much time was squandered making his video?  But this seems to be an attempt to basically say, “abortion’s no big deal anyway, so let’s just not talk about it anymore.”  This sounds like the sentiment of someone who knows they are losing an argument.  1.5 million babies die per year through abortion in our country alone.  If you don’t think that’s a big deal, you must not even bat an eye over war casualties, school shootings, or terrorist attacks.

You wouldn’t know how big a human egg was if it weren’t for microscopes, if it weren’t for scientists, medical researchers looking diligently. You wouldn’t know the process. You wouldn’t have that shot, the famous shot or shots where the sperm are bumping up against the egg. You wouldn’t have that without science.

Yes.  All very true.  Science is good.  Hooray.  I’m not sure how this backs up the arguments for abortion presented so far, however.  If anything, scientific advances as described have helped us to see more clearly the humanity of the unborn.  

So then to claim that you know the next step when you obviously don’t is trouble.

The next step in what?  Did I miss something?  I am guessing that Bill Nye is meaning to say the next step for a woman who learns that she is pregnant.  In that case, he is correct, it would be impertinent for me or anyone else to claim to know what the “next step” is for her.  What’s best for her to do at that point depends on a whole host of factors in her life.  But I do know that what’s best for the baby at that point is not be killed.  Killing an innocent human is never “the next step.”

Let me just pull back. At some point we have to respect the facts. Recommending or insisting on abstinence has been completely ineffective. Just being objective here. Closing abortion clinics. Closing — not giving women access to birth control has not been an effective way to lead to healthier societies. I mean, I think we all know that.

Here Bill Nye shifts from talking directly about abortion to talking about abstinence education and the availability of contraception.  I would argue with him against both of these claims (that abstinence education is ineffective and that access to birth control leads to healthier societies).  But then this article would be even longer than it is, and these are not really Nye’s main points, anyway.  Suffice to say, these issues are not nearly as cut and dry as Bill Nye makes them out to be.  So no, Bill, we don’t “all know that.”

And I understand that you have deeply held beliefs, and it really is ultimately out of respect for people, in this case your perception of unborn people. I understand that. But I really encourage you to look at the facts. And I know people are now critical of the expression “fact-based,” but what’s wrong with that?

I’m glad that Bill Nye at least concedes that the pro-life cause is ultimately about respecting all people -- even unborn people.  Because that is really true.  Pro-lifers want to make sure that everyone enjoys their unalienable right to life.  We stand against any attempt by our government to legislate away someone’s humanity, be they the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, the infirm, black people, Jewish people, or whomever.  We all have a right to life.  

Bill Nye encourages us to be “fact based.”  But here we are at the tail end of this video and so far Nye has not presented us with any “facts” to support the continued practice of abortion.  What we have been given are his opinions, which have not been based on science or sound reason.  

Nye ends his video with a plea for unity.  “Come on, come on, let’s all work together.”  But the question is, work together to what end?  Because I’m not going to work together with anyone to encourage the practice of killing the unborn.  That’s what abortion is.  And that’s what Bill Nye is advocating is permissible in this video.  So I am sorry, Bill, but I cannot work together with you on that.  

Now, if you want to put your knowledge, talent and notoriety to work helping to make sure that no expectant mother feels like abortion is her only option, to make sure that every unborn child is given a chance at life, and to make sure that big companies like Planned Parenthood are no longer able to take advantage of vulnerable young mothers, then yes, I will gladly work together with you toward that end.

Friday, October 2, 2015

From the Beginning

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Those who make the claim that Jesus never said anything about same-sex marriage would do well to read the text of today's gospel reading (Mark 10:2-16) in which our Savior explicitly says that man was created male and female, and that a man is to cleave to his wife so that the two become one flesh.

But I'm not going to address same-sex marriage.  Instead, I am going to address two things which, like same-sex marriage, go against the very nature of marriage itself, and yet are widely accepted by our society.  I speak about divorce and contraception.

Jesus does not mince words when it comes to divorce. "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery" (Mk 10:11-12).  Lest we think adultery is a light matter, a few verses on (Mk 10:19), Jesus lists it alongside murder as examples of grave sin.

But how can it be adultery if one marriage is ended and another contracted?  Divorce is widely practiced in our society, as it was in Jewish society in Jesus' time.  There is nothing new under the sun.  But Jesus asserts that this is not the way marriage is meant to be.

Most see marriage as a contract.  If one party ceases to be faithful to the contract, the faithful party is considered relieved of their obligations.  But Christian marriage (that is, marriage between two baptized people) is not a contract.  It is a covenant.  And a covenant remains binding even if one party is unfaithful (for example, God always remains true to His covenant with us, even when we sin against Him).

This is why it is considered adultery for a baptized Christian who has been divorced to marry another person. The fact that you have left your spouse, or been abandoned by your spouse, does not negate the marriage covenant.  The only thing that negates the marriage covenant is death ("till death do us part").  Therefore, while either party is still living, neither is free to marry another person because they are, in fact, still married to one another.  Any relations outside of that marriage covenant are adulterous.

So what is the Catholic Church's teaching about divorce and remarriage?  It is exactly the teaching of Jesus in Mk 10:11-12 -- no more, no less.  This may come as a surprise when one considers the many Protestant churches who claim to base their teachings on the Bible alone, and yet allow divorce and remarriage.  Even the Eastern Orthodox, who remain so close to Catholic teaching in most every way, allow divorce and remarriage.  Only the Catholic Church holds fast to this teaching for the simple fact that it is the clear teaching of Jesus which the Church has neither the authority nor desire to change.

It is no coincidence that Jesus moves directly from talking about marriage in Mk 10:2-12 to talking about children in Mk 10:13-16.  Children naturally follow from marriage.  The Second Vatican Council reminds us that "by its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory" (Gaudium et Spes 48).  In other words, children are an integral part of the nature of marriage itself.

Does this make marriage between a naturally infertile couple any less of a marriage?  No.  But the exception does not make the rule.  Marriage, as an institution, is directed toward the procreation of children.  Contraception perverts the meaning of marriage.  It prevents husband and wife from truly becoming "one flesh" (Gen 2:24).

The word contraception literally means "against the beginning."  Contraception stands against the beginning of new human life.  But it also stands against the beginning of the marriage covenant itself.  When Jesus talks about marriage "from the beginning," as He does in today's gospel, he refers back to our first parents, Adam and Eve.  The first command that the first married couple received from God was "be fruitful and multiply."  Contraception stands against this command.

Contraception not only acts against the natural end of marriage, but against the supernatural end, as well.  For the Christian, marriage is one of the two sacraments of service -- the other being Holy Orders.  Just as the man ordained to Holy Orders is ordained for the service of others, so is the married couple consecrated for service.  Where the married couple is called to serve is principally in the home, to serve both one another and their children.  Children teach their parents vital lessons in selflessness, sacrifice, patience and love, and so help their parents grow in holiness.  Contraception says "no" to the rich blessing of children.

To put it bluntly and biologically, our reproductive systems are meant to reproduce.  Sexual intercourse is how we do that.  This is basic biology and not rocket science.  It can also be a very enjoyable and bonding experience, bringing husband and wife much closer together.  But these factors do not negate its primary purpose anymore than the good taste of food and the bonding that comes from a shared meal negates the fact that food is meant to provide nutrition.

When they enter into marriage, a man and woman enter into that shared vocation of Adam and Eve, assisting God in His act of creation by their procreation.  To separate children from marriage is akin to separating the soul from the body.  One belongs to the other; without the other it is only a ghost or a corpse.

If marriage is not about starting a family, then there is no reason for marriage to be life-long.  And so we see the rise in divorce rates accompany the rise in contraception usage in western society.  If marriage is not about procreation, then there is no reason to limit it to two people of the opposite sex.

When people talk about marriage being under attack, this is what they refer to.  It did not start a few years ago with the push for same-sex marriage.  It started back in the 1930s when Protestant churches began to change their teaching about contraception, which led to wide-spread acceptance of them in the 1960s.  This was followed shortly by a loosening of our nation's divorce laws, to where now anyone can divorce his or her spouse for any reason, and many couples enter into marriage with no intention of it being a permanent commitment.  Half of all marriages end in divorce and half of all children are born out of wedlock in our country.  Marriage is a mess.

But from the beginning this was not so, as our Lord reminds us today.  Each generation is a new beginning.  Each new marriage is a chance to do it right.  Most of you reading this today are not married, but most of you will be in the future.  The way to "fix" the marriage problem in our society is not with laws and Supreme Court rulings, but with an increase of faithful, life-long, holy marriages.

Speaking of the blessing God bestowed upon Adam and Even, Pope Francis recently said that “if we have sufficient faith, the families of the peoples of the earth will recognize themselves in this blessing.” The world continues on, and this world “is born in fact of the family, of the union of man and woman.”  Your marriage, or your future marriage, can help to give birth to a holier and happier world.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pelosi's Question

Today a reporter asked Nancy Pelosi a rather odd question:  "Is an unborn baby with a human heart and a human liver a human being?"  The question seems to have taken the pro-abortion Pelosi a bit off guard.  In her response she seems unable at times to complete a full sentence.

Part of me sympathizes with Nancy Pelosi.  Really.  This is a rather bizarre question to be asked, and is obviously designed to set her up.  If I were giving a press conference and someone came at me out of the blue with an odd-ball question meant to entrap me, I'd be tempted to blow them off, too.

But here's the thing.  What makes the question so bizarre is its obviousness.  Can you imagine someone asking an horticulturist, "If a tomato seed grows into a tomato plant and bears fruit, is that fruit a tomato?"  Or asking a veterinarian, "If my dog breeds with my neighbor's dog, are the puppies also dogs?"  The questions strike us as ridiculous because the answers are so self-apparent.

Sadly, it has become necessary to ask such obvious questions of our policy makers when it comes to human life.  Yes, questions like this are meant to entrap and embarrass -- and they work.  If Pelosi had said "no," that an unborn baby with a human heart and human liver is NOT a human being, she would have looked like a self-deluded fool.  On the other hand, if she had said "yes," that the baby is a human being, then she would have been forced to address the real elephant in the room -- why is it permissible for us to end the life of that human being?

In refusing to answer the question, Pelosi does more than evade the issue.  She shamefully invokes her faith and her motherhood.  "I am a devout, practicing Catholic," she asserts. "I have five children . . . I think I know more about this subject than you."

I cannot judge Pelosi's devoutness, because I do not know Pelosi's heart.  But to invoke her Catholic faith while at the same time defending the practice of abortion is a grave scandal, as horrific a thing as invoking her motherhood while defending the practice of killing children in their mother's wombs.

Lest anyone think that the Catholic Church condones this practice, this is the official teaching of the Catholic Church, directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which any devout, practicing Catholic should have in their homes and refer to often).

  • "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.  From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person -- among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life" (CCC 2270).
  • "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.  This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable" (CCC 2271).
There is no nuance here.  No advanced degree in moral theology or philosophy is required to understand that the intentional killing of an innocent human being is grossly immoral.  No advanced degree in biology or medicine is needed to know that the living product of human reproduction is a human being.  All that is required is common sense -- an open mind, open eyes, and open heart. 

Asking ridiculously obvious questions like the one posed to Pelosi today may just help us to shine the light of common sense on this issue.  May God help us to become a society that will no longer condone the killing of its children.