Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Saturday, January 21, 2006Google Ad Disclaimer
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When he was known as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI wrote some, as usual, insightful comments on true beauty. In fact, he wrote that the best apologetics for Christianity is the beauty reflected in the saints and in all the other aspects of the faith (Ratzinger, On the Way to Jesus Christ, Ignatius Press, 2005, p. 38). We see the truth of this statement in the magnetism that figures such as St. Francis of Assisi and of Mother Teresa exercise in our times. And, of course, we must include John Paul the Great in that number. We also see the pull that the beauty of Christian art, music, architecture, and proper liturgy have on so many of us living in a culture that revels in the ugly. These things continue to gain the attention of many, even in and especially because of the wasteland produced by the flattening out of our horizons, both social and personal, by the regnant secularism.
Ratzinger sees true beauty facing a two-front assault. On the one hand, there is the nihilism that denies that there is beauty, truth, and goodness. He calls it the "cult of the ugly" (p. 40). On the other hand, there is the deceptive beauty that, instead of leading us out of ourselves in love, leads us into ourselves. He describes this deceptive beauty in these words:
Such beauty does not awaken a longing for the ineffable, a willingness to sacrifice and to lose oneself, but instead stirs up the desire, the will for power, possession, and pleasure. . . . Could anyone possibly be unacquainted with the images, for example, in advertising that are made with the utmost shrewdness so as to tempt a man irresistibly to grab what he wants, to seek momentary satisfaction rather than to set out on a path toward the other?
Ratzinger, p. 40.
What Ratzinger is getting at is a recovery of the old Platonic sense of Eros. Today, we mistakenly think that Eros is the same as the sex act. Nothing could be further from the truth. Eros is the passion for true beauty that finds its satisfaction in the contemplation of that beauty. Certainly, in this world, Eros can and should for many, within marriage, find fulfillment in sexual union. But, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, the physical union is, in effect, an afterthought, it is icing on the cake. Lewis even made it a point to distinguish the merely sexual from Eros by referring to the merely sexual as "Venus." Eros can exist without sexual expression or "Venus." Ultimately, the Bible points to Eros as an image of our desire for the perfect beauty that is God, as unforgettably expressed in the Song of Songs. St. Augustine has forever enshrined this truth in his lyrical Confessions. Eros is not the will to power and mere physical conquest.
Thus, Christianity is not an opponent of beauty or of Eros. In Jesus Christ, Christianity points to true beauty and to the real Eros. Here is the alternative to the sea of deception in which we swim. Let us see if in the Pope's first encyclical, due out on Jan. 25th, we see more on this timely countercultural theme.
Friday, January 20, 2006The Agenda Continues
The latest sally in the effort to make the gay lifestyle mainstream is the apparently popular movie "Brokeback Mountain." Yes, it's about two gay cowboys! So now the message is that the quintessentially American masculine image--the Marlboro Man--is consistent with homosexuality. It's as if the strategy has been planned with psychological precision to brainwash America in record time. But, of course, it has been planned. The current effort to normalize homosexuality comes on the heels (historically speaking) of the now overwhelmingly successful effort to normalize heterosexual fornication.
We have to realize that not only are we in a Culture of Death in which abortion became normalized but that we are in a Culture of Death in which the gay lifestyle is becoming normalized for many minute by minute. Ruling over this Culture of Death is the Kingdom of Lies. Where can we turn to in a situation in which we are awash with messages that are deceptive and false?
The Jewish people looked (and many still do, of course) to the Torah as the guide that would, as N.T. Wright puts it, make Israel "the people who know the secrets of the universe and are called to live by its otherwise hidden rules, while the other nations blunder around in darkness" (Wright, Paul [Fortress Press, 2005], p. 22). We as Christians look to both the Old and New Testaments. And, of course, the Scriptures themselves are the ongoing target of deconstruction just as masculinity is the latest ongoing target of deconstruction in the entertainment industry. Yet, to Scripture, we go.
Scripture is the message from the Creator. It is not mere literature or perspective. Scripture is the perspective, the only one that counts. (We Catholics also have the teaching authority of the Church which also points us to and develops the revelation given in Scripture.) We must come to Scripture with great seriousness expecting to hear a message from the power that governs the universe. We should not come to it as if we were just picking and choosing what will make us feel better or serve our purposes. We cannot treat Scripture as merely an echo of our own agenda. In the light of the torrent of lies in American culture, I predict an even greater hunger for Scripture among all Christians and a greater emphasis on the Bible as a tool of evangelization.
And, as to the agenda of "Brokeback Mountain," the Scriptures are clear: the gay lifestyle is death to man. So, when you hear the phrase "Culture of Death," think not just of abortion and euthanasia but also of another source of death: the lie that males were made to lie with males. We are being offered poison at every turn. We refuse it out of hand. The great Book stands in subversive contradiction to the agenda of the rich and powerful. It has always been so. We do not choose to "blunder around in darkness."
Thursday, January 19, 2006Lies and Consequences
I recently bought the Jan./Feb. 2006 issue of Atlantic magazine because the cover story was about the papal transition. The papal article was interesting but still a big disappointment because the author seemed bent on trying to cast a sinister shadow over every move made by Cardinal Ratzinger before the conclave. It was a transparently misleading effort by the author. Then I turned to an article in the books section that I would have rather not have read--but we must be Christian realists.
This article was on the apparent "epidemic" among young girls of performing what I will delicately call the "Lewinsky act" on boys with whom they have no relationship. (I use the euphemism to avoid inappropriate Google ads being attracted to my website and to avoid trouble with well-meaning internet filters.) The author is apparently of Catholic background. If she is still a practicing Catholic, then she is definitely mired in major confusion and error. Parts of the article are indeed prurient and show that the author really has a long, a very long, way to go in appreciating the powerful beauty and idealism of respecting one's body (or to use the precise term: chastity).
At one point, the confused author is beginning to get close to the truth of the matter, but then drops the ball:
How did we go from a middle-class teenage girl . . . who will have sex only if it's with her boyfriend, and only if her pleasure is equal to his, to a middle-class teenage girl . . . who wants to kneel down and service a series of boys? . . . . In the mother's generation [the author is comparing different fictional accounts of the sex lives of young girls from different eras,] sex was contained by marriage; in the daughter's it was contained by love and relationships. The next point on this progression ought to be a girl who feels that nothing save her own desire should control her choice of sexual partners. Instead we see a group of young girls who have in effect turned away from their own desire altogether and have made of their sexuality something that fulfills all sorts of goals, but not . . . that it be sexually gratifying to themselves.
Caitlin Flanagan, "Are You There God? It's Me, Monica," The Atlantic, Jan./Feb. 2006, p. 173.
Why didn't the progression imagined by those, like the author, who saw premarital sex as liberating, occur as anticipated? Among parents of baby boomers, sex, at least for good girls, was contained by marriage. Then baby boomers, including people even my age who were not born until the sixties, were fed the line that premarital sex was OK if you "were in love." Of course, no one defined "love " for us. But nature abhors a vacuum, and so love became synonymous with intense desire and attraction. For us males, this intense desire was almost always lust; but the word had fallen out of use. Now, the same people, including the Atlantic writer, who still embrace this baby boomer recipe for disaster are shocked that their "liberating" project has degenerated into recreational and casual Lewinsky encounters with acquaintances.
My question: where have they been? They proceeded to separate sexual pleasure from marital commitment and from the procreative intent embedded in marital commitment. By making this separation, the premarital sex advocates arbitrarily determined that a girl's interest in sex was and ought to be just as physically focused as that of a male. But that lie won't work. I submit that girls want to be loved in the sense of being emotionally treasured, not in the sense of fulfilling a drive for physical gratification, a drive that is so emotionally predominant in the male.
Thus, the programme that the premarital sex advocates outlined for girls was, in effect, one of trying to make girls into boys. Girls engaged in premarital sex to try to please boys and keep their attention. All the while the "progressive" adults thought the girls were really interested in and obtaining the great physical pleasure that was supposedly so liberating and crucial. To me and to others who think like me, it is absolutely no surprise where we have ended up: the girls, brainwashed by a previous "progressive" generation into premarital sex, now refuse to make any pretense that they are enjoying it. They simply act out mechanically, coldly, and instrumentally.
In the end, it's all about desire: a girl's desire is for the type of love that comes with marriage. Let's admit it, and let's put sex back where it belongs--in marriage. It will take great humility for the premarital sex advocates to make that move because it means admitting a great and tragic mistake. Don't hold your breath. Pride has a way of preferring continuing disaster over the humility that exposes so much stupidity and irresponsibility that demand reparation.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006Oregon Assisted Suicide Decision
As most know by now, yesterday, the Supreme Court rebuffed the attempt by the Attorney General of the United States to deny prescription licenses to doctors who participated in the Oregon assisted suicide program by prescribing drugs to end life. According to the analysis in the N.Y. Times, the ruling was narrow and technical, limited to saying that the federal Controlled Substances Act did not give the U.S. Attorney General the power to interfere with the medical profession as regulated by each state (see link).
As an attorney, the first thing I would point out is how technical indeed the decision is. Non-lawyers should not expect clarity or seamlessly intelligible logic in court decisions. That just is not reality, although it is highly desirable. What appears to have happened here is that the court stuck to a narrow interpretation of the reach of a particular statute: whether the federal government could use the federal drug control statute to undermine the Oregon death program. But, in the course of so ruling, the opinion, like all opinions, engaged in what lawyers call dictum, that is, broad language that explains but is not strictly necessary to reach a particular decision. Dictum is a sort of extra commentary. In that commentary, the opinion affirms that the general assumption is that the regulation of the medical profession belongs to the states, not to the federal government.
As one reader pointed out to me by e-mail, that general assumption seems to have been rejected when it comes to the Supreme Court interfering in the state regulation of abortion. And so the dictum points out how contradictory the case law of the Supreme Court is. Consistency is another thing a non-lawyer should not expect from the Supreme Court. My own controversial personal opinion is that the brain power is not just there in sufficient quantity to make the desirable ideal of consistency a reality.
And, of course, like many other court decisions, there is a strong element of absurdity: the majority opinion in effect says, in the course of interpreting the statute, that assisted suicide is a "legitimate medical purpose." So in this latest decision we have all the elements that we have grown so depressingly used to in court decisions: a technical decision embroidered with unnecessary commentary or dictum, lack of consistency with other court decisions, and a strong dose of absurdity in calling black white and white black. There are going to take a few more vacancies before we start getting decisions that stick to the issue at hand without unnecessarily broad commentary, decisions that aim for logical consistency with other decisions, and decisions that interpret statutory language with common sense. You have seen in this latest decision again how much of our court system is no more than a confederacy of mediocrity, to put it diplomatically. Mediocrity occupies the commanding heights.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006The Roe Reversal Myth
The great myth that social liberals propagate is that the reversal of Roe v. Wade means that abortion will become automatically illegal throughout the nation. Unfortunately, that is not the case. A reversal would merely allow each state legislature to decide for itself the status of abortion in its own boundaries. So that for pro-lifers, the battle then moves to the state level. Governors and state legislators will be forced to take a stand on abortion instead of saying that it is a matter for the courts that is out of the hands of state politicians. RealClearPolitics.com carries an article by Mark Davis ("What Planet are Democrats From?") pointing out this very reality which either obtuse or demagogic Senators refuse to disclose to the American people (see this link).
With a reversal, power returns to the state level. Different states will take different stands. But pro-life activism will grow and grow as the ability to influence legislative votes becomes a reality. No longer will it be shaking our fists at the Supreme Court and waiting for a vacancy to occur. Pro-life activism will be local and direct. I predict that it will transform the state politics of many states. Whether a state politician is pro-life or not will become crucial for the first time in over 30 years. Maybe, that is what the Democrats really fear with the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Monday, January 16, 2006The Lydia A. Clarke Story
It is providentially apt that today on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I have a story of personal liberation that I heard from the most powerful pro-life speaker that I have ever met. Her name is Lydia A. Clarke. When she was 15, her mother made the decision to have her abort her child. Lydia never felt loved as a biracial child rejected by both blacks and whites (notice how racism is present in all races). And so, as a teenager, she turned to sex to find love, but instead, predictably, found disaster. Now, in her thirties, she carries on an active Christian ministry of post-abortion healing. Her powerful thesis drawn from her years of pain and anguish is that abortion is a violation of a woman equivalent to rape or other forms of sexual abuse. Thanks to Jesus, she is now healed of her trauma. I cannot do justice to the power of her story here (you can order a copy of her book Can't Keep Silent by contacting her at email@example.com or through Tate Publishing).
My own intuitive hunch is that her thesis equating the culturally acceptable practice of abortion to a violation of a woman as occurs in rape and other sexual abuse can be extended to include contraception and sex outside of marriage. The Catholic view is that contraception and fornication are also violations of a woman that wound deeply. But, as in the case of abortion, our culture does not connect these culturally accepted practices with harm to women. As Lydia Clarke points out, she never imagined that all her years of personal anguish were due to that distant teenage pregnancy. She also notes that women who have suffered sexual abuse have told her that they can identify with the anguish she describes in her book. I wonder how many women who are deeply unhappy might not be able to trace that unhappiness to past promiscuity as a violation similar in impact to abortion and sexual abuse. Yet, our culture celebrates female promiscuity as "liberation" in popular media and entertainment.
And so consider buying Lydia's book at the links above or supporting the organization that participated in her presentation: Pinckney Pro-Life (c/o Stephanie Hastings), P.O. Box 131, Pinckney, MI 48169; Tel. 734-954-0225; although its name sounds local, this pro-life organization has national ambitions).