Wednesday, March 27, 2013

As a Catholic, I Support Marriage Equality

Equality is one of those interesting words that everyone claims to want, but no one is quite sure what it means.  W.C. Fields once proclaimed himself to be free of all prejudices, “I hate everyone equally,” he remarked.  Barry Goldwater, no opponent of “gay rights” himself remarked that “equality... as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty, wrongly understood as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.”  I am not entirely certain what Goldwater meant, but as our society debates the question of marriage rights and equality, a man may be hardly certain what he ought to think about it.  Nonetheless, whatever he may think, what a person ought to think is clear enough:  He ought to support marriage equality.

As a Catholic, I strongly support marriage equality.  I support the right of all men to marry women and the right of all women to marry men.  A man should never be prevented from marrying a woman by the color of his skin, nor should a woman be prevented from marrying a man because of the color of hers, or her social or economic status.  An Italian man should not be denied the right to marry an Irish woman if she will have him, though he may do so at his own peril.  As a Catholic, I recognize that there is no basis in natural law (or history) to deny a black man the right to marry a white woman and that those who until recently would have denied this marriage equality were creating a new and artificial definition of marriage where it required spouses to have the same skin color.  Nonetheless, this unequality was an artificial novelty creating a new definition of marriage with no basis in natual or common law.  As such, it was a violation of marriage equality.

Just as a I support marriage equality, I support the right of all children to have a father and a mother.  I support a marriage equality that attaches mothers and fathers for the purposes of raising children, providing each child with a father and mother.  Regardless of the child’s social and economic status, his religion, his race, or any other factor, each child has an equal right to be raised by a father and mother.  This provides children with greater stability than those denied a father and mother, as well as models for the development of their own sexuality (1).  Children all have the equal right to be raised by a father and a mother for their own sakes, not to become tools for the fulfillment of adult desires.

Just as I support marriage equality, I support the right of those with homosexual inclinations to be supported in their struggle with those inclinations.  I support their right to be loved and not merely tolerated, “which parodies love as flippacy parodies merriment” (C.S. Lewis).  No one who loves anyone ever merely tolerates them.  A wife who loves her husband would never merely tolerate his alcoholism, not even were he born that way.  Mere tolerance is always easier than real love.  It is always easier to give alcohol to an alcoholic than to support him in giving it up.  It is always easier to tell a  person he is fine with the way he is, than that he needs to change.  This may be tolerance, but it is not love. 

Finally, because I support marriage equality, I do not support changing the definition of marriage to include sexual relationships by members of the same sex.  There is no basis for it in natural law, common law, or history.  It is a modern, artificial creation, created by the state and needing  a state to defend it, just like laws that changed the definition of marriage so that it only included members of the same race.  But changing the definition of a thing, never changes its nature.  Because I support marriage equality I support the right of persons with homosexual inclinations to be supported in their struggle with those inclinations so that they too may be able to enjoy true marriage in fact, not merely by redefinition.  To do otherwise would be like claiming to help a blind man “see” by changing the definition of “sight.”

For more on the benefits of a father and mother on a child’s upbringing see the above study by Regnerus and another article responding to debate of it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Is the Church "Out of Touch"?

A recent poll in the New York Times found that a significant majority self professed Catholics claim that the Catholic Church is "out of touch" with the world (1).  The complaint is hardly a new one as modern man demands that the Church be in touch with his needs, wants, and desires.  He wants contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage.  He wants to be his own standard of truth and his own yardstick.  The Church, the complaint runs, should get out of the dark ages and get with the times. 

The complaint is hardly new.  The Church has been out of touch with the world before and she will be again.  Ancient Rome, for instance, commonly practiced infanticide.  The pater familias had the power of life and death over his family and he exercised it; hence infant girls in particular were being exposed in remarkable numbers.  Opposing this infanticide, as well as divorce and adultery, the Church was "out of touch" with the world.  Later too, the Church opposed slavery in a world that demanded it.  The Church was out of touch; slavery was an economic "necessity."  This did not stop Pope Paul III from forbidding it as he wrote,
                We…noting that the Indians themselves indeed are true men…by our Apostolic Authority decree and declare by these present letters that the same Indians and all other peoples—even though they are outside the faith…should not be deprived of their liberty or their other possessions…and are not to be reduced to slavery, and that whatever happens to the contrary is to be considered null and void (2).
The Church in both cases was out of touch with the world, and thank God it was.

If the Church has been out of touch with the world, this is hardly surprising.  God Himself, when he walked the Earth, was out of touch with the world.  When the world demanded it let it stone the woman caught in adultery, He told the man without sin to cast the first stone.  When He ate with tax collectors and sinners, healed the sick on the Sabbath, and forbade divorce, He was out of touch with the world.   And so the world crucified Him, for it could not stand a God who was not in touch with the spirit of the world. 

If the Church is out of touch with the spirit of the world, it is because it is in touch with the Spirit of God, Who also was "out of touch" with the world.  For this reason, Fulton Sheen wrote,
                 Look for the Church that is hated by the world, as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times, as Our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned... Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men... and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly, it is other-worldly... and therefore is divine (3).

Elsewhere Fulton Sheen warned against the man would marry himself to the spirit of the age for, he said, "to marry the spirit of the age, is to be a widow in the next."   The Church, though, is not married to the spirit of the age but to God and she will never be a widow.  Nor will she simply "go with the flow."  Chesterton wrote that "a dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."  Civilizations, cultures, and empires have risen and fallen; even Rome lasted a thousand years, but fell in the end; so too all the rest, one dead thing after another, in touch with the world, going with the flow, swept off in the stream.  But through it, the Church remains, writing the epitaph of one civilization after another, out of touch with a passing world, because she is in touch with an eternal one. 

If the Church is out of touch with the world, it is only because the world is out of touch with God; so much the worse for the world.   


Friday, March 1, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI

Thoughts about the last eight years with Benedict as Pope
As of yesterday, Benedict XVI is no longer Pope; the Sede Vacante has begun.  I remember how strange it seemed when he became pope.  For my age group, John Paul II had "always" been pope.  Even though I wasn't religious at the time, it still seemed pretty surprising not to have John Paul II as Pope anymore.  "Benedict our Pope" in the Eucharistic prayer sounded totally weird.  (And I didn't even go to Mass much then).  A lot has changed for me since then.

During the period while Benedict was pope, I came back to the Church, which is probably the most important fact about my life during that time.  If John Paul II was the Pope of my childhood, Benedict XVI was the Pope of my conversion back to the faith.  This is not to say that him being Pope had anything specifically to do with it.  But his papacy spans from my being an indifferent Catholic to being an active and more faithful Catholic.  And from being a single person to a married person, which probably the second most important thing to happen in my life.  So many of the ideas I had before about the Church, about my life are different now.  Some are more developed, some more mature, some almost opposite (in a good way).  I have learned that conversion is an ongoing journey of faith, and I am still on that journey.  

In April of 2008, my senior year of college, Benedict came to the United States for a visit.  I was able to go with a group of friends and classmates to the youth rally held in Yonkers.  It was a great experience.  After it, my dad encouraged me to write down my memory of the day, while it was still in my mind.  I did, and I still have it.  Here's part of it:

            When it gets closer to time, we all gather near the center aisle [of the field], thinking that’s where he’ll come up in the pope-mobile.  We watch him in the seminary on the big screens, and hear that he is meeting with “an ailing cardinal,” and thought it must be Cardinal Dulles.  (Speaking with a colleague at work Monday night, he confirmed that it was.  The Holy Father jubilantly had gone into the Cardinal’s room, saying “Your Eminence!”).  We finally see him arriving in the pope-mobile! He comes around the back, from the seminary.  But he doesn’t go up the aisle. He goes around the side. Our side. Everyone runs! We all run across the field to the other fence and swarm around it.  My friend caught this on video. It was just surreal. I will never forget running across that field.
            Then he goes up to the stage, and the crowd was cheering like crazy.  Several different chants came up throughout the whole time, "Papa," "Viva Papa," "Benedict 16 Benedict," [that one still makes me laugh] and "We Love You" (of course).  We tried to start "B-16," but it didn’t really catch on.  The whole thing was like a prayer service and he addressed us.  His address was great, I need to find a transcript [darn, I don't think I ever did].  When he spoke to us it was very personal.  It wasn’t only him as Pope, it was him as a person.  We also sang Happy Birthday to him in German, and he specifically thanked us for doing that and gave us “A+ for pronunciation.” 

Christianity and Gun Control

G.K. Chesterton once remarked that the expression “birth control” was something of a misnomer since those who used the expression typically favored neither birth nor control.  The dangers of discussing gun control are not precisely the same, but the expression is sufficiently vague to require clarification if we are going to use it.  It might mean simply owning a gun responsibly, using it carefully, and keeping it locked when not in use.  Today, though, when people speak of gun control, they mean efforts to restrict or ban the ownership and use of guns in society at large.  I want to consider to what extent Christianity allows or mandates such “gun control.”  To what extent is “gun control” part of creating a culture of life?

First, what I will not discuss.  I am not interested in what the second amendment of the  U.S. constitution says or means.  That deals with the legality of gun control, I am interested in its morality.  The lawyers and Supreme Court may argue questions of legality, but legality does not imply morality.  Everything Hitler did in Nazi Germany was legal.  Nor am I much concerned with arguing whether or not a magazine holding 20 bullets is moral and one holding 25 immoral.  Such a question may be worth asking and answering, but I do not offer such an answer here.

I begin by assuming that a Christian is not obligated to pacifism.  The words of Jesus Christ to “turn the other cheek” are most typically cited by those who think a Christian should be a pacifist.  Such an interpretation of His words ignores a certain incident where He armed himself with a belt of cords and proceeded to defend His Father’s house, violently driving out those who had no right to be there.  When soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do to be saved, he told them to stop extorting money and to be content with their wages, but never suggesting they give up soldiering (Luke 3:14). 

On the contrary, it is plausible that forcible defense, of self or others, might not only be a right, but a duty in certain situations.  That Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, calls self defense “not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm” (2265).  Surely this is much more plausible than not.  If a man is walking down the street with his wife and three men attack them and try to force the man’s wife into a car, presumably he has not only the right, but the duty to defend her.  If an intruder armed with a knife or gun breaks into a man’s house and heads for his child’s room, presumably we would think less of a man who did not defend his child than one who did.

Active defense, then, of self or others, may not only be a legal right, but even a moral duty.  This leads to the next point.  If a man has the right or duty to defend himself or others, then it follows that he has the right to tools that will be adequate to the task.  It is vain to claim that a man has the right to life, but not to eat.  It may be that in some cases ownership and use of a gun is necessary for effective self-defense.  Indeed, it would border on folly to argue that a man could effectively defend himself against two men (or even one) armed with knives with anything less than a gun.  Or suppose a weaker man of slight build without great physical strength, or an older man, or a 100 pound woman.  Such people have no less a right or duty to defend himself or their families than those of greater physical strength.  

Banning guns would not necessarily create a “culture of life,” it might just as easily lead to a society where the physically weaker members are at the mercy of the physically stronger.  It could lead to a world where a father is unable to effectively defend his children against an armed invader or a 65 year old husband is unable to defend his wife and home against a younger invader.  Surely in at least some cases, the man (or woman) who picks up a gun to defend self or others is doing far more to create a culture of life than he would be if he ignored his duty to active defense. 

This, of course, says nothing about which type of gun should be owned or banned or not.  On this, I am open to speculation.  For many, a shotgun may suffice, but for some women or weaker men (the present author perhaps), a shotgun may be difficult to use effectively and an AR-15 more practical.  Second, a shotgun is less easy to carry about and since one’s duty to defense of self or others does not end when one leaves his house, I would be skeptical of attempts to ban or overly restrict handguns.  Such points may be debatable.  If I have shown, however, that in principle it is plausible that a man may have the moral right and perhaps even duty to own and be able to use a gun, I am satisfied.