January 2014 Archives
January 3, 2014
What Kind of Poverty
I had occasion to visit and revisit some Catholic documents in regard to how to relate to the poor recently. What follows below is open to revision if someone can propose a more appropriate reading of these documents, but here is my opinion.
There is in many Catholic circles a very common phrase, “preferential option for the poor.” As far as I am aware, this phrase is of relatively new coinage, first being used immediately after Vatican II (by Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez in 1967 with the introduction of liberation theology), and used often (almost non-stop) since then. Fr. Gutierrez’s idea may be encapsulated so:
[T]hree bottom-line principles about life and death at the bottom. First, material poverty is never good but an evil to be opposed. "It is not simply an occasion for charity but a degrading force that denigrates human dignity and ought to be opposed and rejected."
Second, poverty is not a result of fate or laziness, but is due to structural injustices that privilege some while marginalizing others. "Poverty is not inevitable; collectively the poor can organize and facilitate social change."
Third, poverty is a complex reality and is not limited to its economic dimension. To be poor is to be insignificant. Poverty means an early and unjust death.
Two more recent and moderate expressions of the concept are:
When instituting public policy we must always keep the "preferential option for the poor" at the forefront of our minds. The moral test of any society is "how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation.
“love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel”.
Without attempting to parse out all the flavors and, since 1967, all of the corrective qualifications imposed on the concept to conscript it away from heretical liberation theology and bring it into modern Catholic proposals, here are three expressions – if not of the term itself than of the underlying thought - from JPII who more or less initiated the official adoption of the social mission of the preferential option, though working off the prior work of John XXIII and Paul VI.
(U)njust distribution of wealth and engrained, structural injustice require the Church’s spirited advocacy for—and in defense of—the rights of the poor. (Homily at Yankee Stadium Oct. 2, 1979)
“[T]here arises a grave structural conflict: ‘The growing affluence of a few people parallels the growing poverty of the masses.’ ” … “[T]his poverty is not a passing phase. Instead it is the product of economic, social, and political situations and structures . . . [that] create a situation on the international level where the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, who get even poorer.” (Puebla opening address, 1979)
Do all that you can, especially you who have decision-making powers, you upon whom the situation of the world depends, do everything to make the life of every person in your country more human, more worthy of the human person. Do all you can to ensure the disappearance, albeit gradually, of that yawning gap that divides the few “excessively rich” from the great masses of the poor, the people who are subjugated in grinding poverty. (1981 Philippines.)
This was all a precursor to the eventual movement of the “new evangelization” that appears to explicitly place solicitude for the material ills of the poor as a foundational aspect of extending the good news of the Gospel.
The problem I am trying to come to grips with in all of this is that it seems to ring hollow every time I look at it carefully. From every aspect, it seems to be a bit of a flummery.
January 6, 2014
What do I think of the Jahi McMath case?
Some readers may be wondering whether I am going to weigh in on the case of Jahi McMath. Here is the latest news story on that situation, and you can research it further from there.
I have said for years that when it comes to brain death, the pro-lifer has to be constantly pushing in two different directions: On the one hand, the genuine attempt to diagnose the cessation of function of every part of the human brain is arguably a fairly rigorous approach, if we must be diagnosing death in some way other than the commonsense way of having people's hearts and breathing stop, waiting for them to get cold and declaring them dead. It's important to emphasize the rigor of the criteria for what is deemed to be true brain death in order to distinguish the narrow, medico-legal notion of brain death from a so-called "persistent vegetative state," which unfortunately even some medical personnel and lots of laymen call "brain death," but which is vastly different. In a so-called PVS there is no question of the cessation of activity of the patient's brain stem. The patient breathes on his own and even has sleep-wake cycles. On the other hand, a patient diagnosed as brain dead by the rigorous criteria that are supposed to be used cannot breathe on his own, and the claim is that his brain stem as well as his upper brain has completely ceased to function. That's an important distinction.
It's also important because all of this gets tangled up with organ transplant. Arguably taking organs from someone diagnosed as brain-dead is more defensible than taking them by the infamous Pittsburgh Protocol, even though the PP is weirdly defended by some opponents of brain death. The problem with the Pittsburgh Protocol is that the rush to get the organs "fresh" makes it pretty definite that the person is not even brain-dead when they are taken. Most macabre of all, in the PP the patient is reconnected to oxygenating machines, meaning that he may be accidentally revived (!!) if the flow of oxygen to the brain is not artificially blocked. Which is horrible and blatantly immoral and makes brain death harvesting almost look good by comparison. I discuss that in the second half here.
January 10, 2014
John Zmirak vs. the extremists
John Zmirak has an article that is, to my mind, quite good on the subject of the disturbing remnant, or perhaps resurgence, of authoritarian political views on the Catholic right. Actually, he also gives an example or two on the Catholic left, but most of his examples come from the right.
A couple of disclaimers at the outset. First disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of every word that proceedeth from the word processor of Zmirak. For example, he appears to think that the state can and should "get out of marriage," a libertarian view which conveniently leaves out the entire issue of, y'know, children, and which I have criticized before. And no, that's not an invitation to discuss that topic on this thread, merely an example of a place where I disagree with Zmirak.
Second disclaimer: As a Protestant, I do not claim to know whether this or that statement by a pope was infallible or whether this or that document was binding, nor am I deeply interested in researching all of Zmirak's interpretations or history of the documents of Vatican II. I'm more interested in his broader points.
Third disclaimer: I have not verified all of the strictly historical claims Zmirak makes, though I find some of them verrry interesting. The one about the agent of the Inquisition who was, fortunately, kicked out of New Orleans in the late 1700's after pressuring the governor to help him get started appears to be true. I don't actually know independently, though I'd find it interesting to check out if I have time later, that "[t]he fear of revolutionary violence was enough to make Pope Pius IX side with the tsar and his Cossacks against the freedom-loving Catholics of Poland, and with the British Crown against the Irish," so I'm not in a position to endorse that statement.
January 14, 2014
Germany's new wall
In this entry I discussed the horrible treatment meted out by Sweden to the Johannson family, whose son was snatched from them off an airplane by government representatives because his parents were planning to go back to his mother's home country of India and (shock) home school him there. As one commentator pointed out, in effect this means that Sweden has an iron curtain for home schoolers. This was further confirmed by a commentator with additional knowledge about Sweden's lynx-eyed watch lest you appear to be planning to move from Sweden to Finland in order to home school your children.
Similar news now comes to us from Germany. And let there be no doubt: The government officials in Germany are absolutely explicit that they are withholding custody from the Wunderlich family, which wishes to emigrate to France, because the family hopes to home school in France. Moreover, the German judge is absolutely explicit that his intent is to weaken the ties, which he believes to be too strong, between the Wunderlich parents and their children. He believes that the Wunderlich parents have too much influence with their children (heaven forbid) and characterizes this as their isolating the children. Apparently, however, the only "isolation" the Wunderlichs were carrying out was not sending their children to public school in Germany. Now, under court order, they have sent their children to public school, but the custodial right to decide their children's location is being withheld from them so that they will not emigrate and home school elsewhere. The German government regards home schooling as being that horrible. So they are holding the children hostage so that the parents cannot take their children out of the country.
January 19, 2014
Recycling: I believe in exploitation. Now what is it?
Wesley J. Smith has a new post up in which he dissents from a Wall Street Journal article urging that kidneys should be bought and sold, both from live donors and from cadavers. (Selling someone else's kidney after he is dead? The mind boggles.) The authors are apparently pretty blase about the probability that the poor would sell their organs (or, I suppose, the organs of their dead loved ones) to the rich.
This all brings back a piece I did here at W4 over five years ago which is probably worth bringing back out and dusting off. In it I used the example of a rich man's buying a kidney from a live donor who is very poor as a sort of paradigm case of exploitation. I then asked whether it is possible to get some sort of clue as to the intrinsic nature of exploitation from this example, and I gave a thought experiment that involved trying to induce a (possibly reluctant) poor man to engage in a risky rescue by offering him a lot of money.
The comments thread was interesting. Responses ranged from those, on the one hand, who thought it might not actually be wrong to buy and sell organs to those, on the other hand, who were rather peeved about the fact that I was not willing to carry my conclusion to the point of a full-scale "just wage" theory for all paid labor. Here is the original piece, sans a couple of links to stories about Westerners buying organs from donors in the Third World.
January 22, 2014
God and Time: relational facts are not illusions
I've been having a discussion of the meaty topic of God and time on Facebook recently. Some philosophers (in this context, we were discussing the views of William Lane Craig) have held that God is in time. One argument given for this conclusion is that one must hold to an "absolute now" because the flow of time does not seem to be a mere illusion but rather an objective fact. If there is an "absolute now," then that "absolute now" must be known by God, must bear some objective relationship to God, and therefore in some sense God must be in time. That, at least, is how I understand the argument. I gather that the picture is of God in some sense going through our time with us so that God knows the tensed fact, "It is now Monday, January 20, 2014" (or whatever day it "really is" right now).
The dark anniversary
Every year comes the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and every year I tell myself that it just isn't possible to come up with something to say about it. Other people do that sort of thing so much better. (See here and here for two good posts at Redstate today.) The very importance of the issue leaves me with few words, though I have spent so many words over the past twenty-odd years, in one forum or another, on the abortion holocaust. So every year, here in the dark time of the year, only a month past the solstice, I tell myself, "This year, I won't even try to write anything. It will give people more time to read what others write, which is so much better." Every year, I think that this year I will write, if anything, about something else instead. Meanwhile, I wait for the Sun of Righteousness to rise with healing in His wings.
But not writing anything is hard to do. (See here and here for the last two years' posts.) For we would not have you think, readers, that we at W4 are ever, no matter how many years pass, indifferent to the silent slaughter that goes on, day after day, year after year, in this our beloved land and in many other lands. But especially here, under the cover of a vile lie about the Constitution on which our beloved land was founded. That lie will never grow less vile or less worth mourning, no matter how many years pass. Please God, there may come a day, though, when we can mourn it as something that really is past, that has been repealed and in some measure nationally repented of.
January 26, 2014
Kenneth Miller hearing tomorrow
Kenneth Miller is a Mennonite pastor who helped a repentant former lesbian named Lisa Miller (not related to him) escape the country with her daughter. She had to flee the country--that's right, flee the USA--because a Vermont state judge had ordered that full custody of her daughter be given to her unrelated former lesbian partner who was still in the homosexual lifestyle. She apparently successfully fled to Nicaragua with the help of Mennonites in Virginia, including Pastor Miller. I have previously blogged about the case here, here, and here (in backwards chronological order).
The feds immediately took up a vendetta against Pastor Miller and prosecuted him for aiding in a kidnapping! That is, to recap, the "kidnapping" was a mother's fleeing the country with her own child to keep the child from being turned over, body and soul, to an active lesbian who had no relationship, either emotional, social, or biological, to the little girl. The fugitives have now been gone for several years, and the federal administration is trying to make sure to punish all those who helped them to flee.
Pastor Miller has been an inspiration to me not only because of the nature of the case and his courage but also because of his demeanor throughout. He has been respectful of the judges involved and utterly without any desire for revenge, yet he stands by his action. The combination of courage, respect, calmness, and dignity is a model of how Christians should behave in any case that verges on or constitutes civil disobedience. I do not believe that I could bear myself as Pastor Miller has borne himself in this situation.
This site, apparently run by Pastor Miller's friends, is updated from time to time, and checking it the other day I learned about a hearing tomorrow on his appeal. There is also an entry with an inspiring excerpt from Pastor Miller's diary during the mercifully relatively brief time he spent in federal prison.
The site now also has some nice harmony versions of hymns sung by Pastor Miller and his family.
The appeal is based on a claim of wrong venue. Namely, that the federal government should not have tried the case in Vermont, since the alleged crime neither took place nor was planned in Vermont. A three judge panel will be deciding, at this level, on the merits of the appeal on those grounds.
We should pray for Pastor Miller and his family.
January 29, 2014
False flag maneuver on the right
In 2011 Anders Behring Breivik committed the mass murder of unarmed teenagers at a political camp in Norway. (If all were as it should be in the world, Norway would have a death penalty and he would already, by now, have been solemnly executed by the rightful civil authorities.) At the time Breivik put out a "manifesto" claiming to have been influenced by Robert Spencer and blogger Fjordman as representatives of the anti-jihad movement in the West. The MSM eagerly seized upon this and blamed those who oppose the jihad as witting or unwitting inciters to murder.
Now Breivik, who is despicably evil and may also be crazy as a coot, those two not being mutually exclusive, has written a new statement claiming that he is really a Nazi and that his earlier citations of Spencer and Fjordman were deliberate attempts to send the leftist media after them in a witch hunt. The idea is that he did this because Spencer and Fjordman are not race-nationalists like Breivik himself, so he wanted to purge them and others who oppose the jihad for the "wrong" (non-racial) reasons.
This should be rather interesting news, but it is not being reported in the MSM at all. One scarcely has to wonder why. It would be an admission that they were manipulated, for they did indeed join heartily in smearing the counter-jihad movement with the moral responsibility for Breivik's evil acts.
Fjordman puts it very well:
The attacks of July 22[,] 2011 are first and foremost a story about how many families lost their loved ones due to the actions of a sadistic and deeply sick individual. However, these events were cynically exploited in a political witch-hunt, much to the satisfaction of the terrorist himself. The media who participated in this witch-hunt have so far been unable or unwilling to engage in some healthy self-criticism over their unfair smears against their ideological opponents.
And I would add: This ought to remind us that the kooks of Breivik's sort are around and that vigilance is needed. Others are probably more canny than he is and realize that co-opting counter-jihad groups, or recruiting from within them, is smarter than murdering a bunch of children as a bid for racialist power. As I put it here, if the people you are hanging out with on the Internet are creeping you out, speak up and, better yet, distance yourself.
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