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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Really, the CIA Said It?
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Saturday, September 09, 2006Really, the CIA Said It?
That's my reaction to the latest partisan tempest in a teapot in today's headlines: a CIA report supposedly asserted that Saddam Hussein did not work with Al Qaeda. So we have more apparent ammunition for another Bush-hating splurge. But let's read critically: the CIA! This is the same agency that was savagely criticized for failing to see in the eighties that the Soviet Union was teetering. Now, the Soviet Union was not a small, clandestine band of terrorists but a superpower terrorist state in its own right. The Soviets were the focus of CIA sleuthing for decades during the Cold War. Yet, even the late Democratic Senator Daniel Moynihan of New York wanted to get rid of the CIA because he saw no redeeming value in it.
This is the same CIA that did not give us any concrete warning about September 11th, even years after Islamic terrorists had tried to blow up the World Trade Center. Pardon me, but I do not put much stock in reports from the CIA. So a story waving a CIA report should not have much credence among sensible people, unless of course partisan attack requires using any slim reed available to try to win the fall elections. The key issue about the fall elections is this: who will aggressively fight against Islamic terrorism at home and abroad? For Christians especially, the other key issue is who better represents the Culture of Life, which now includes the defense of marriage. On those two questions, the answer that this lay Catholic citizen is perfectly free to give is obvious: vote Republican (unless there is a pro-abortion Republican running against a pro-life Democrat--a rare and probably non-existent scenario). I am a lay Catholic who, of course, does not speak officially for the Church. Catholic Analysis is not a clerical site. It represents the reasoned views of one Catholic analyzing current events. As such, the civic responsibilities of my lay state require and obligate me to take an explicit stand on crucial political and social questions, especially in these times. There's my stand. There is the blessed freedom, dignity, and privilege of the laity. When so many lay people are strangely focused on trying to imitate the clergy and take over the functions of the clergy inside parishes, here we have an example of the great calling to direct civic involvement that is a privilege of the laity that the clergy do not have. As laity, our distinctive mission is extra ecclesiam, outside the Church, however controversial that may be.
Friday, September 08, 2006The Stupidity of the Specialist
Our blog's Rhode Island reporter submits a story about a young, brain-injured British woman in a vegetative state who has "stunned" neurologists by obeying their instructions as shown by MRI results. The story is at the Washington Post. We obviously think back to Terri Schiavo and the great certainty with which so many neurologists pontificated that she had absolutely no awareness. Well, the same guild of specialists is now "stunned" at the results in Britain documented in a new study.
In fact, the article quotes the common sense reaction of Terri Schiavo's brother that science is learning new things every day about the brain. Yet, the article also quotes this stunningly obtuse statement by a U.S. neurologist: "It's a little disturbing . . . . This suggests there may be things going on inside people's minds that we can't assess by interacting with them at the bedside" (emphasis added). I give that appraisal as Exhibit One in the category of stupidity of the specialist.
The results are more than a little disturbing--they are quite disturbing in the face of the false certainty bandied about by too many neurologists concerning the state of persons in vegetative states. The evidence rises to more than a mere suggestion that there may be things going on inside the minds of these patients that we can't assess through bedside interactions. The evidence utterly contradicts the primitive overreliance on bedside interactions. These persons' tragedy is precisely the inability to engage in normal bedside interactions. That's why we call them "vegetative." So it is absurd to use their inability to engage in precisely those same interactions to rule out consciousness. It's like a teacher concluding that someone who can't read lacks intelligence because he can't read the sign you put in front of him. If he can't read, you are going to have to find another means of assessment.
But yet this obtuse quote from the U.S. neurologist reminds me of those similarly absurd statements made on cable TV news shows by some other neurologists determined to bury Terri Schiavo. If we needed further proof (which we really don't) that experts with multiple credentials can be more obtuse than anyone off the street, we just got it again.
Now, the studies will continue; and more will be discovered about awareness. But the moral focus is all wrong. The worth of life does not depend on empirical proof of awareness or on reaching a certain, arbitrary level of awareness that we can confirm with tests. The worth of life does not depend on any arbitrary standard that scientists or any others conjure up at any particular moment in history. The worth of life is intrinsic to life. As long as there is life, there is infinite worth, regardless of abilities, awareness, or levels of interaction. The natural law in our hearts calls us to recognize the sacredness of all life because we ourselves are alive. In addition, in the most dramatic way possible, we, as Christians, recall that God died for the sake of all life and that God did not run an MRI on anyone before handing himself over to his executioners.
Thursday, September 07, 2006"Without Mass Immigration, Low Birthrates Doom Society"
That's the headline from an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal from 1992 Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker of the University of Chicago. Here is the link. Between abortion and contraception in many nations, we are now discovering the obvious that doesn't take an economist, much less a Nobel laureate, to point out: declining population will mean less innovation, less growth, and a declining standard of living for everyone. Economists have a knack for pointing out obvious, non-economic truths; but, then again, modern economics is nothing more than an adjunct of common sense formalized for academic number crunching by those seeking tenure.
The Catholic analysis would point this out: the declining birth rates are not surprising in societies that share several characteristics. These characteristics include: 1.) loss of faith in God which makes you more pessimistic and fearful about the future since you reject any divine providence looking out for you and yours; 2.) the wide availability of sexual gratification outside of marriage reduces the incentive to marry at all and contributes to more marriages taking place later and later at an advanced, less fertile age; 3.) even those who are married bring into marriage a selfish, hedonistic mentality that prizes contraception; and 4.) materialism raises extraordinary expectations for expenditure levels supposedly needed for raising children. The old Christian hostility to contraception was right: if you divorce sex from child-bearing, you end up both trivializing sex and impoverishing our lives with less children. We didn't need an economist to point that out, but the only prophets materialistic societies tend to listen to are economists.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006Undistorted Femininity & Masculinity
In one resort town, I saw a very "cute" downtown with tasteful boutiques in pastel colors. It was clean and affluent. But the sense I got was of an effete place. There are at least two types of decadence in a commercial area: the decadence of the high crime, dirty part of town and the decadence of the effeminate, affluent part of town. In between these two forms of commercial decadence, I place my hometown's famous Bourbon Street which draws from both ends of the spectrum. I like none of these types.
Why is effeminacy so repelling? It's a distortion of the true feminine. Our model of the true feminine is, of course, the truest woman, Mary, the Mother of Jesus. In Rome and in countless reproductions, you can see Mary holding the body of her dead Son in the famous Pietá. The first thought is certainly of motherly love and suffering. My second thought is of toughness, the toughness of a woman who stood by the cross and did not flee. The woman who was tough enough to stay to hold the body of her dead Son. The true feminine is as strong as a rock; or, in this case, stronger than a rock since Peter, the Rock, was apparently not there at the crucifixion. In contrast, effeminacy as distortion of the true feminine repels because it is narcissistic self-gazing lost in frivolous gestures.
While in Mary we see the true feminine, in her Son we see the true masculine. The distinctive distortion of masculinity is brutality (effeminacy is a distortion of both femininity and masculinity). In her Son, we see true masculinity: gentleness combined with the toughness of someone who knew how to challenge and how to die. After the agony in the Garden, he simply got up and told his disciples: "Rise, let us be on our way" (cf. Matthew 26:46; Mark 14:42). He knew what that meant for him. He knew what was coming every time he challenged the world of his enemies and stoked their hostility and hatred with the truth.
In contrast, we see brutality masquerading as masculinity in much of our society: the brutality of exploitation in crime, in mistreatment of women, in abandonment of children, in attacks on children, in the fascination with pornography, and, of course, in violence and ruthless greed and amoral competition. Add to all of that the less obvious but also brutal reality of verbal mockery and abuse. The bully is the distinctive distortion of the masculine. In glaring contrast, Jesus challenged the bullies of his time and lifted up those under the heels of the bullies.
The Mary-Christ pair gives us undistorted femininity and masculinity. We need to gaze at that reality more than ever as we look for alternatives to the distortions.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006Removing Clouds & Counting Talents After Labor Day
In many areas of Michigan, you can look out and see the mighty and impressive Great Lakes. In the sunny sky, the waters can be a rich, luminous blue that remind us of Mary. But when the sky gets even a little cloudy, the same luminous blue waters become a cold and dismal grey. The waters always retain their capacity to become that rich deep blue again, but the clouds block the sun and make them a dull grey. It doesn't take much analysis to see that we are like those waters, always capable of a rich, wondrous blue as long as the Son can shine on us. We shine because of his reflection and merits, not because of our own. We glow with the blue of Mary, who perfectly reflected the Spirit of God who shone completely in her.
But what are the clouds? The clouds can be tragic events that dim our faith. The clouds can be our pride, envy, lust, sloth, covetousness, anger, and gluttony. We become grey and are no longer pleasant to be around. We ask: Lord, what are the clouds that must move on so I can again reflect your wondrous glory, the glory concretely signified in the sacrament of the nature you created?
One great cloud is envy. We have heard many times the famous parable of the talents. To different servants, the master gave differing amounts of talents. He then returned and rewarded those who used their talents and rebuked the one who, out of fear, buried his talents. And so, rightly, we take away the lesson that we should drop fear and generously risk our talents in this world of work that we now enter fully after Labor Day.
But let's think a bit more: "to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability" (Mt 25:15a). What we so often do is create an unnecessary cloud that obscures our vision and makes our work impossible: we are disturbed and troubled that the Master gave someone else more talents than he gave us. God does give different talents to different people; and, yes, He does give more talents to other people. We cannot cover up this reality with a false egalitarianism. Some, many people have more talents than we have.
But how useless and absurd to get caught up in comparing the differing amounts granted to us as servants. What if in the parable, the servant who was given only two talents was obsessed with the fact that the first servant got five. The servant with two would have wasted his time (precious time because the Master would return) fixated on the extra three talents his colleague received. If he had wasted his time on that envy, he would have done nothing with the two talents he did get and would have also been rebuked like the servant who buried his one talent.
But, yet, that envious, dead-end fixation on the extra talents given to others, is what many of us do sometimes and even, in some cases, much of the time. We have received according to our ability, as the Scripture quoted above says, from the one who knows our abilities since He made us. Let's get about using the talents we have received and multiply them without giving a second thought to the extra talents received by others of differing ability. God knows our abilities and has wisely given us what we need to be fruitful. Finally, notice in the parable that the two diligent servants (the one who received five talents and the one who received two talents) both end up with the same praise from the Master (Mt. 15:21, 23). We must not waste time comparing the differing amounts of talents received. In that way, we can remove one great big cloud that makes us unnecessarily grey.