Monday, December 31, 2007

Free Information Builds Freedom

The great history of radio as a bearer of free information remains a potent force in bringing the values of freedom and dignity into the developing world.

A Voice for Freedom
U.S.-backed broadcasts remain the ultimate in "soft power."
Saturday, December 29, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

PRAGUE--Can radio change the world? It used to. On the walls at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty here hang pictures of Solidarity rallies in Poland and a smiling Vaclav Havel. The message isn't subtle, or inaccurate: This legendary U.S.-funded broadcaster helped win the Cold War.

The glory days are past at RFE/RL, and for American public diplomacy as a whole. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, when history ended and freedom triumphed (or so it seemed), Munich-based RFE/RL landed on the chopping block. It was saved, on a threadbare budget, partly thanks to then Czech President Havel. In gratitude, he offered cheaper digs in a communist-era eyesore here in Prague that previously housed the Czechoslovak Parliament. Yet in the public mind, the station founded in 1950 by the likes of George Kennan and John Foster Dulles might as well be gone.

"We're trying to revive it," says Jeffrey Gedmin, the broadcaster's new president.

Doing that, and making the station a valued tool of U.S. foreign policy again, won't be easy.

The neoconservative expert on Germany, and longtime denizen of Washington's think-tank world, makes an energetic pitch. In his nine months in office, Mr. Gedmin has told anyone who'll listen that government-funded, robust "surrogate broadcasting"--a stand-in where the real thing is missing--matters as much as ever. "Massive evidence suggests that it irritates authoritarian regimes, inspires democrats, and creates greater space for civil society," he says.

The mission at RFE/RL, a pioneer in U.S. international public broadcasting, didn't end in 1989. It merely moved further east and south. (The Europe in its name is an anachronism; the original Central European stations were shuttered years ago.)

RFE/RL broadcasts in 28 languages to some of the highest-priority and most difficult countries for U.S. foreign policy today. It's the most popular station in Afghanistan (with a 67% market share in a country where radio is the main source of information), and one of the last free broadcast outlets in Russia, Central Asia and Belarus, and the American voice in Persian in Iran.

But there are several strikes against them. The first is the new "media rich" environment. With so much competition from the Internet, podcasts, widespread satellite television and radio--none of which existed in Cold War days--the surrogate stations, such as RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia or Radio Marti for Cuba, are struggling to hold on to listeners and influence, along with the rest of old media.

In addition, the "surrogates" suffer from an existential crisis of their own. The nine-person Broadcast Board of Governors, the federal agency responsible for all government-supported international stations, is bipartisan, but deeply politicized and with a reputation for micromanagement. Recent years saw the division blurred between surrogate (epitomized by RFE/RL's stations) and traditional public diplomacy broadcasting that had been the preserve of the Voice of America, which as the name suggests is tasked with explaining U.S. policies to the world.

The board experimented with different approaches, pushing a commercial radio model on the stations intended to win young listeners with music and playing down the old staple of serious programming about politics, the economy and culture. Old timers were aghast. "The war of ideas has been demoted to the battle of the bands," noted one participant at a McCormick Tribune Conference earlier this year on the future of U.S. international broadcasting.

The quality and professionalism of the stations have come under attack as well, most notably at Radio Farda, the Iranian service, until recently run jointly by RFE/RL and Voice of America. Alhurra, the television broadcaster to the Arabic-speaking world, got into political trouble earlier this year for airing interviews with terrorists. Its director resigned.

The final strike is structural. Government-run agencies tend to be bureaucratic and inertia-bound; in other words, wholly ill-suited for the fast-paced media world. Marc Ginsberg, an Arabic-speaking former U.S. ambassador, says "public diplomacy needs to evolve" and tap the best of America's private sector expertise in Hollywood or on Madison Avenue.

Mr. Ginsberg co-founded a nonprofit television production company, Layalina, which makes shows that are then sold to Arab-language networks in the Middle East. Its "On the Road in America," which followed four Arabs on a 10-week trip across the U.S., was one of the most popular shows in the Arab world this year.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

St. Thomas Beckett

A great man, caught up in the politics of his day, chose to stand firm and paid with his life, reminding us again of what saints are made of, and what we need to look for in our political leaders, the integrity to tell the truth and suffer the consequences, and we are very fortunate that there still exist many willing to do this.

December 29, 2007
St. Thomas Becket

A strong man who wavered for a moment, but then learned one cannot come to terms with evil and so became a strong churchman, a martyr and a saint—that was Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his cathedral on December 29, 1170.

His career had been a stormy one. While archdeacon of Canterbury, he was made chancellor of England at the age of 36 by his friend King Henry II. When Henry felt it advantageous to make his chancellor the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas gave him fair warning: he might not accept all of Henry’s intrusions into Church affairs. Nevertheless, he was made archbishop (1162), resigned his chancellorship and reformed his whole way of life!

Troubles began. Henry insisted upon usurping Church rights. At one time, supposing some conciliatory action possible, Thomas came close to compromise. He momentarily approved the Constitutions of Clarendon, which would have denied the clergy the right of trial by a Church court and prevented them from making direct appeal to Rome. But Thomas rejected the Constitutions, fled to France for safety and remained in exile for seven years. When he returned to England, he suspected it would mean certain death. Because Thomas refused to remit censures he had placed upon bishops favored by the king, Henry cried out in a rage, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” Four knights, taking his words as his wish, slew Thomas in the Canterbury cathedral.

Thomas Becket remains a hero-saint down to our own times.


No one becomes a saint without struggle, especially with himself. Thomas knew he must stand firm in defense of truth and right, even at the cost of his life. We also must take a stand in the face of pressures—against dishonesty, deceit, destruction of life—at the cost of popularity, convenience, promotion and even greater goods.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Family Values

Though lighthearted, this brief piece makes a good point, that the fundamentalist ideology driving many social issues that are covers for amassing political power are wildly contradictory; just what you would suspect and why they are called hidden agendas.

And it further leads to the conclusion that the theology, or what lies behind the ideology of elected politicians or political advocates, is crucial.

In that sense a strong stand for human freedom and dignity gives us a clue to political positions, and advocating for free choice means killing babies, while those standing for life stand on the firmest ground of all.

Theodore Dalrymple
Separation Anxiety
Divorcees are bad for the environment. Do environmentalists care?
27 December 2007

A small item in the British Medical Journal recently caught my eye. It was a brief digest of a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the environmental impact of divorce. Researchers from Michigan found that people in divorced households spent 46 and 56 percent more on electricity and water, respectively, than did people in married households. This outcome is not all that surprising: marriage involves (among many other things, of course) economies of scale.

One of the interesting questions that this little piece of research poses is whether the environmentalist lobby will now throw itself behind the cause of family values.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Catholic Social Teaching & Public Leadership

The current presidency of George W. Bush, contains essential elements of Catholic social teaching with his compassionate focus on the immigration issue and a clear pro-life stand, among other issues.

It has led to some difficulty with his political party, but by following principles he feels are more important to his political careers than allowing those principled positions to be subject to political whim, he represents among the best of the expectations of Catholic social teaching for public leadership.

The Church, the sign in history of God's love for mankind and of the vocation of the whole human race to unity as children of the one Father[21], intends with this document on her social doctrine to propose to all men and women a humanism that is up to the standards of God's plan of love in history, an integral and solidary humanism capable of creating a new social, economic and political order, founded on the dignity and freedom of every human person, to be brought about in peace, justice and solidarity. This humanism can become a reality if individual men and women and their communities are able to cultivate moral and social virtues in themselves and spread them in society. “Then, under the necessary help of divine grace, there will arise a generation of new men, the moulders of a new humanity”[22]. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, # 19)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tony Blair Becomes Catholic

The conversion of Tony Blair has been discussed for several months and now has become complete, wonderful news for him and his family.

From Times Online
December 22, 2007
Tony Blair converts to Catholicism
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent, The Times

The former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been received into the Roman Catholic Church.

Mr Blair was received into full communion with the Catholic Church by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, during Mass in the chapel at Archbishop’s House, Westminster, on Friday.

Mr Blair, formerly a member of the Church of England, has been receiving doctrinal and spiritual preparation from Mgr Mark O’Toole, the Cardinal’s private secretary.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said: 'I am very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church. For a long time he has been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he has been following a programme of formation to prepare for his reception into full communion. My prayers are with him, his wife and family at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together.'

His conversion follows months of speculation. As long ago as May, The Times reported exclusively that he was intending to become a Catholic after he left Downing Street.
Political and interdenominational sensitivities meant he felt unable to follow his spiritual heart's desire while in office.

He was once chastised by the former Archbishop, the late Cardinal Basil Hume, for receiving communion alongside his Catholic wife Cherie and his children at their former church in Islington. Inter-commununion is banned by the Catholic Church although permitted by Anglican bishops.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

US Ambassador to the Vatican

An absolutely wonderful appointment!

Senate confirms Mary Ann Glendon as U.S. ambassador to Vatican

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Senate confirmed Mary Ann Glendon, a U.S. law professor and president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, as the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Dec. 19.

President George W. Bush had announced plans to nominate Glendon Nov. 5. In the flurry of end-of-the-year activity, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the nomination on the morning of Dec. 19 and the full Senate approved dozens of nominations and military promotions in its next-to-last action before adjourning that evening.

Glendon, a Catholic, will succeed Francis Rooney, a Catholic businessman who has held the post since October 2005. A date for Rooney's departure has not been announced.

Glendon is a law professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and has been a member of the social sciences academy since its founding in 1994.

In March 2004 Pope John Paul II named her president of the academy, marking the first time a woman has been named president of one of the major pontifical academies.

The social sciences academy focuses on issues related to the social sciences, economics, politics and law. Although autonomous, the academy works in consultation with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Glendon, 69, also serves as a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Policy and chaired its task force on Iraq.

She was the first woman named to head a Vatican delegation to a major U.N. conference; in 1995, Pope John Paul named her head of the Vatican delegation to the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing.

Glendon's research has focused on bioethics, human rights, the theory of law and comparative constitutional law.

Since 2001, she also has served on the President's Council on Bioethics, which advises the U.S. president.

In addition to teaching at Harvard, where she is the Learned Hand professor of law, she has been a visiting professor at the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University and the Legionaries of Christ's Regina Apostolorum Athenaeum, both in Rome.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Religion in Public Square

It is heartening to have validated what one believes to be true, the reality of faith in the life of Americans is strong.

Science in America: Religious Belief and Public Attitudes
December 18, 2007
By Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research, Pew Research Center; David Masci, Senior Research Fellow; and Gregory Smith, Research Fellow, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

The United States is the most religious of the advanced industrial democracies. At the same time, American scientists are recognized to be leaders in many areas of scientific research and application. This combination of widespread religious commitment and leadership in science and technology greatly enlarges the potential for conflict between faith and science in the United States.

And indeed, a close reading of survey data shows that while large majorities of Americans respect science and scientists, they are not always willing to accept scientific findings that squarely contradict their religious beliefs. Furthermore, where scientific evidence and long-held religious belief come into direct conflict, many Americans reject science in favor of the teachings of their faith tradition.

At the same time, such conflicts -- where scientists and people of faith explicitly disagree on concrete facts -- are not common in the United States today. Indeed, the theory of evolution as a means to explain the origins and development of life remains the only truly concrete example of such a conflict. To a lesser extent, faith also plays a role in shaping views about the nature of homosexuality and, to a much smaller degree, global warming.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Earthly Powers & Sacred Causes

I am currently finishing up a two book read that is just the best combined compilation of the involvement of faith in politics around the western world I have ever read.

Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War & Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror, both by Michael Burleigh, both recount the many weird, wonderful, and terrible manifestations of corrupt and brutal state power working through the auspices of one faith or another.

Burleigh writes about history and the movement of faith within it as if he is telling us a story, vast as centuries but as close as the neighbors, and it is a very compelling story, as he notes:

“If Robert Owens was the first person to use the term ‘socialism’ in print, in 1827, the first documented use of the word ‘Communism’ was by a conservative German newspaper in March 1840 which darkly noted: ‘The Communists have in view nothing less that a leveling of society, substituting for the presently existing order of things the absurd, immoral and impossible utopia of a community of goods.’ Such people had existed in France for a decade, though there was nothing so formal as a ‘Communist Party’ as opposed to a halfway house for displaced intellectuals and exiled artisans.

“Communists emphasized equality and identified with the most drastic, Jacobin phase of the French Revolution. On these grounds Communism was distinct from utopian socialism, which had little time for equality, rejected violent revolution and was more concerned with how to achieve harmony that with how to capitalize upon human strife. What it could not ignore in socialism was that it had got there first in providing workers with rudimentary organization. In a zoomorphic sense, Communists resembled those aggressive African bees that colonize and transform more placid hives.”

(Earthly Powers, pp. 243-244)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Death Penalty & Natural Life in Prison

The death penalty or natural life in prison is an appropriate response to criminal evil, which should be extended to include (in addition to murder) the crimes of rape and child molestation.

The death penalty is often the only effective social method available to protect the innocent, and applied with dispatch after legal review of the crimes charged and determining the fitness of its application, should be considered an appropriate sentence for (in addition to murderers) rapists and child molesters; who, knowing the time of their death, are able, with certainty of their remaining time to do so, seek God’s forgiveness.

From the Vatican Catechism (2007):

"Capital Punishment

"2266 The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.67

"2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.

"If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

"Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'"[John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 56.]

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Global Environment

Most of us don’t really know what’s going on with this issue as the politics around it are almost too fervent to place much faith in, but the more reasonable perspective put forth by the Vatican, and most recently in this New Year’s Message for Peace, seems to portray the issue just perfect, as this excerpt notes.

The family, the human community and the environment

7. The family needs a home, a fit environment in which to develop its proper relationships. For the human family, this home is the earth, the environment that God the Creator has given us to inhabit with creativity and responsibility. We need to care for the environment: it has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion. Human beings, obviously, are of supreme worth vis-à-vis creation as a whole. Respecting the environment does not mean considering material or animal nature more important than man. Rather, it means not selfishly considering nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests, for future generations also have the right to reap its benefits and to exhibit towards nature the same responsible freedom that we claim for ourselves. Nor must we overlook the poor, who are excluded in many cases from the goods of creation destined for all. Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow. It is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances. If the protection of the environment involves costs, they should be justly distributed, taking due account of the different levels of development of various countries and the need for solidarity with future generations. Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.

8. In this regard, it is essential to “sense” that the earth is “our common home” and, in our stewardship and service to all, to choose the path of dialogue rather than the path of unilateral decisions. Further international agencies may need to be established in order to confront together the stewardship of this “home” of ours; more important, however, is the need for ever greater conviction about the need for responsible cooperation. The problems looming on the horizon are complex and time is short. In order to face this situation effectively, there is a need to act in harmony. One area where there is a particular need to intensify dialogue between nations is that of the stewardship of the earth's energy resources. The technologically advanced countries are facing two pressing needs in this regard: on the one hand, to reassess the high levels of consumption due to the present model of development, and on the other hand to invest sufficient resources in the search for alternative sources of energy and for greater energy efficiency. The emerging counties are hungry for energy, but at times this hunger is met in a way harmful to poor countries which, due to their insufficient infrastructures, including their technological infrastructures, are forced to undersell the energy resources they do possess. At times, their very political freedom is compromised by forms of protectorate or, in any case, by forms of conditioning which appear clearly humiliating.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Social Teaching: Definition & Sources

The definition of the social teaching is from the Catechism:

III. The Social Doctrine of the Church

2419 "Christian revelation . . . promotes deeper understanding of the laws of social living."198 The Church receives from the Gospel the full revelation of the truth about man. When she fulfills her mission of proclaiming the Gospel, she bears witness to man, in the name of Christ, to his dignity and his vocation to the communion of persons. She teaches him the demands of justice and peace in conformity with divine wisdom.

2420 The Church makes a moral judgment about economic and social matters, "when the fundamental rights of the person or the salvation of souls requires it."199 In the moral order she bears a mission distinct from that of political authorities: the Church is concerned with the temporal aspects of the common good because they are ordered to the sovereign Good, our ultimate end. She strives to inspire right attitudes with respect to earthly goods and in socio-economic relationships.

2421 The social doctrine of the Church developed in the nineteenth century when the Gospel encountered modern industrial society with its new structures for the production of consumer goods, its new concept of society, the state and authority, and its new forms of labor and ownership. the development of the doctrine of the Church on economic and social matters attests the permanent value of the Church's teaching at the same time as it attests the true meaning of her Tradition, always living and active.200

2422 The Church's social teaching comprises a body of doctrine, which is articulated as the Church interprets events in the course of history, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, in the light of the whole of what has been revealed by Jesus Christ.201 This teaching can be more easily accepted by men of good will, the more the faithful let themselves be guided by it.

2423 The Church's social teaching proposes principles for reflection; it provides criteria for judgment; it gives guidelines for action:

Any system in which social relationships are determined entirely by economic factors is contrary to the nature of the human person and his acts.202

2424 A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable. the disordered desire for money cannot but produce perverse effects. It is one of the causes of the many conflicts which disturb the social order.203

A system that "subordinates the basic rights of individuals and of groups to the collective organization of production" is contrary to human dignity.204 Every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves man, leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheism. "You cannot serve God and mammon."205

2425 The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with "communism" or "socialism." She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of "capitalism," individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor.206 Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for "there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market."207 Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church 2419-2425)

In addition to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the two most significant resources for the study of Catholic social teaching are the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and the
Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought

Regarding the Catechism, I would suggest using the online version from the Vatican as the definitive source, and here is why, using the example of how the United States Catholic Bishops version is subtly different in how it translates the entry on the death penalty.

Catholic Catechism Death Penalty Positions:

US Bishops & The Vatican

Though there are several differences in the two versions, the most significant is in the use of the language as in “authority will” (2267 second paragraph, highlighted) used by the US Bishops versus the “authority should” (2267, second paragraph, highlighted) used by the Vatican, certainly leaves a different impression and could explain the death penalty abolition position largely taken by much of the institutional Catholic Church in the United States, as part of the “consistent ethic of life” approach to the sanctity of life espoused by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

US Catholic Bishops Website Catechism

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.67

2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."68 (Highlighting added)

Vatican Website Catechism

Capital Punishment

2266 The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.67

2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.

"If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

"Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.] (Highlighting added)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Terrorism & Just War

I believe that the War on Terror the United States is leading, with its central battlefields being Afghanistan and Iraq, and which our Commander in Chief, President George W. Bush, is so effectively pursuing, meets the requirements for Just War according to the Catechism:

2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

- there must be serious prospects of success;

- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

“These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.

“The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.”

And, in addition to it being a just war, it is also congruent with the broader and deeper concept of helping our neighbor, which today, is the world, as noted in a recent talk by Cardinal Rumi: discussing the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan from the book by Pope Benedict XVI, "Jesus of Nazareth", we see the extension of that to concern for Africa, and, I would add, Iraq and Afghanistan, where horrible tyrannies were deposed.

“With the parable of the good Samaritan, however, Jesus shows us that there is no question of establishing who is or is not my neighbor: the question concerns me, I must become neighbor, so that the other - anyone else, universally - matters as much to me as I do. The relevance of the parable is obvious. If we apply it to the dimensions of globalized society, the robbed and plundered populations of Africa – and not only of Africa – concern us intimately, and demand our attention from a twofold point of view: because through the events of our history, through our lifestyle, we have contributed and still contribute to despoiling them, and because, instead of giving them God, the God who is close to us in Jesus Christ, we have brought the cynicism of a world without God.

“Nietzsche's criticism of the "morality of Christianity," by which he means precisely the manner of life indicated by the Sermon on the Mount and by the Beatitudes, and which he accuses of being "a capital crime against life," as if it were a morality hostile toward joy, a religion of envy and resentment, has had a profound effect on modern consciousness, and to a great extent determines the way in which life is viewed today. But the experiences of totalitarian regimes, and also the abuse of economic power, which lower man to the level of a commodity, begin to give us a better understanding of the meaning of the Beatitudes: these are certainly opposed to our spontaneous gusto for life, they demand conversion, the reversal of the spontaneous tendencies.”

Friday, December 14, 2007

Human Sexuality & Public Policy

The Catholic perspective on public policy often revolves—in its elemental formations in the United States—around human sexuality, with the continuing prohibition of abortion and same sex marriage, and considering that issues of sexuality lies also at the center of much of public life, that is to be expected.

There is research that contends the Reformation was propelled by the Catholic priest Martin Luther’s desire to engge in sexual relations as he wished and that any attempt to restrict sexual expression was the devil’s work since the sexual drive was unable to be controlled, a belief that also strongly informed the Sixties and has been embraced by many New Age and Protestant groups.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) comments on the book about this that Martin Luther considered his most important work:

“A book that helped to depopulate the sanctuary and monastery in Germany, one that Luther himself confessed to be his most unassailable pronouncement, one that Melancthon hailed as a work of rare learning, and which many Reformation specialists pronounce, both as to contents and results, his most important work, had its origin in the Wartburg. It was his "Opinion on Monastic Orders". Dashed off at white heat and expressed with that whirlwind impetuosity that made him so powerful a leader, it made the bold proclamation of a new code of ethics: that concupiscence is invincible, the sensual instincts irrepressible, the gratification of sexual propensities as natural and inexorable as the performance of any of the physiological necessities of our being. It was a trumpet call to priest, monk, and nun to break their vows of chastity and enter matrimony. The "impossibility" of successful resistance to our natural sensual passions was drawn with such dazzling rhetorical fascination that the salvation of the soul, the health of the body, demanded an instant abrogation of the laws of celibacy. Vows were made to Satan, not to God; the devil's law was absolutely renounced by taking a wife or husband.”

(Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, Martin Luther entry, para.60)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI on the Human Family

One of the reasons I became a Catholic was the long and deep intellectual history of the Church, from the many famous scientists of the past who were Catholic priests to the great literary figures; the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the Saints and the great teaching Popes, all bringing their thought and contribution to the Church, deeply informed by their faith.

This continues with Pope Benedict XVI, one of our greatest theologians, who, in discussing many issues impacting the family, reminds us of first principles.

This is an important reminder when analyzing current public issues, how they impact the human family, the most important social structure on earth, which the Pope writes about in his annual message, an excerpt here:



1. At the beginning of a New Year, I wish to send my fervent good wishes for peace, together with a heartfelt message of hope to men and women throughout the world. I do so by offering for our common reflection the theme which I have placed at the beginning of this message. It is one which I consider particularly important: the human family, a community of peace. The first form of communion between persons is that born of the love of a man and a woman who decide to enter a stable union in order to build together a new family. But the peoples of the earth, too, are called to build relationships of solidarity and cooperation among themselves, as befits members of the one human family: “All peoples”—as the Second Vatican Council declared—“are one community and have one origin, because God caused the whole human race to dwell on the face of the earth (cf. Acts 17:26); they also have one final end, God”(1).

The family, society and peace

2. The natural family, as an intimate communion of life and love, based on marriage between a man and a woman(2), constitutes “the primary place of ‘humanization' for the person and society”(3), and a “cradle of life and love”(4). The family is therefore rightly defined as the first natural society, “a divine institution that stands at the foundation of life of the human person as the prototype of every social order”(5).

3. Indeed, in a healthy family life we experience some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them. For this reason, the family is the first and indispensable teacher of peace. It is no wonder, therefore, that violence, if perpetrated in the family, is seen as particularly intolerable. Consequently, when it is said that the family is “the primary living cell of society”(6), something essential is being stated. The family is the foundation of society for this reason too: because it enables its members in decisive ways to experience peace. It follows that the human community cannot do without the service provided by the family. Where can young people gradually learn to savour the genuine “taste” of peace better than in the original “nest” which nature prepares for them? The language of the family is a language of peace; we must always draw from it, lest we lose the “vocabulary” of peace. In the inflation of its speech, society cannot cease to refer to that “grammar” which all children learn from the looks and the actions of their mothers and fathers, even before they learn from their words.

4. The family, since it has the duty of educating its members, is the subject of specific rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which represents a landmark of juridic civilization of truly universal value, states that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”(7). For its part, the Holy See sought to acknowledge a special juridic dignity proper to the family by publishing the Charter of the Rights of the Family. In its Preamble we read: “the rights of the person, even if they are expressed as rights of the individual, have a fundamental social dimension which finds an innate and vital expression in the family”(8). The rights set forth in the Charter are an expression and explicitation of the natural law written on the heart of the human being and made known to him by reason. The denial or even the restriction of the rights of the family, by obscuring the truth about man, threatens the very foundations of peace.

5. Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary agency of peace. This point merits special reflection: everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of a new life, everything that obstructs its right to be primarily responsible for the education of its children, constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace. The family needs to have a home, employment and a just recognition of the domestic activity of parents, the possibility of schooling for children, and basic health care for all. When society and public policy are not committed to assisting the family in these areas, they deprive themselves of an essential resource in the service of peace. The social communications media, in particular, because of their educational potential, have a special responsibility for promoting respect for the family, making clear its expectations and rights, and presenting all its beauty.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Golden Compass

The US Catholic Bishops removed their positive review of the movie and the fight about what Catholic leadership feels is appropriate for Catholics to partake of, continues.

Just as with the fight over the Da Vinci Code—the book and the movie being very enjoyable from my perspective as a movie and book that while obviously anti-Catholic still spun a very interesting yarn, and I can take the good and discard the bad—the question one should be asking is not what will threaten Catholic faith, since most everything of the world does that, but what can one do to ensure their faith is strong.

Study and prayer.

Study the Magisterium of the Church and you will not be confused by false doctrine or misrepresentations.

Pray and you will be strengthened in your faith from the very source of it.

One of the great strengths of the traditional Jesuits—as they were then deeply strengthened by daily use of the Spiritual Exercises of their founder, St. Ignatius—was their ability to confront and defeat the destructive tendencies of the world on the world’s own turf, a mission Opus Dei is able to accomplish today due to their daily use of the spiritual teachings of their founder, St. Josemaria Escriva.

The Catholic Church and their apostolate workers are absolutely correct to warn Catholics of anti-Catholic material, but, as this review of The Golden Compass indicates, saying no is not an option in our media saturated culture.

Amy Welborn makes some excellent points on what the Church could be doing regarding the arts.

Published: Friday, December 7, 2007
'Compass': Challenging believers to articulate faith, values
By Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP

New Line Cinema's latest contribution to the fantasy film genre is director/writer Chris Weitz's "The Golden Compass," based on the 1995 award-winning book of the same title by Phillip Pullman. New Line --- the studio behind "The Lord of the Rings" --- may have another hit trilogy on its hands.

"The Golden Compass" is Book I of Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy; the others are "The Subtle Knife (1997) and "The Amber Spyglass" (2000.) More than 15 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide. Pullman says he has borrowed from every book he has ever read to create this best-selling and controversial trilogy and these include the fantasy writings and mythic imagination of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein.

"The Golden Compass" is a very exciting film about a young girl, Lyra and her animal-shaped spirit companion, Pan, voiced by Freddie Highmore (called a daemon in the film) who guided by a golden compass embark on an odyssey to rescue their friends. It will engage young and old alike (scenes of peril and fantasy violence may scare very younger children.) There are missing children, interesting daemons (in Greek mythology, these are spirit beings who can be good or malevolent), terrible scientific experiments, great polar bears and witches, and the Authority, or Magisterium, that controls the universe.

The seamless animation and brilliant special effects should attract some awards. Dakota Blue Richards, not burdened by excessive cuteness, plays Lyra with strength and courage. Nicole Kidman is positively chilling as Mrs. Coulter. My favorite character is the great armored polar bear, Iorek Byrnison, voiced by Sir Ian McKellan. Along with Lee Scorsby, an "aeronaut" from Texas, played by Sam Elliott, he is Lyra's brave and loyal champion.

The Controversy

Pullman (b. 1946) is a professed atheist: "Although I call myself an atheist I am a Church of England atheist, and a 1662 Book of Common Prayer atheist, because that's the tradition I was brought up in and I cannot escape those early influences" (quoted in "Killing the Imposter God: Phillip Pullman's Spiritual Imagination in 'His Dark Materials,'" 2007, JosseyBass).

Some critics believe that Pullman's fantasy epic is an expression of an atheist agenda. The Catholic League ( agrees and has published a pamphlet about the book trilogy and sent it to all Catholic schools in the U.S. The Catholic League's website states that seeing the film --- even if it is not as troubling as the trilogy --- will cause children to want to read the novels and this would harm their faith. The Catholic League's website says that Pullman has twin goals "to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity to kids."

Others, such as Donna Frietas and Jason King, admit to Pullman's atheism in their book "Killing the Imposter God," but think he employs feminist and liberation critical theology in his writings, and that using these lenses reveals truth rather than denies it. Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware concede Pullman's darkness but also find and explore religious themes in "Shedding Light on His Dark Materials: Exploring Hidden Spiritual Themes in Philip Pullman's Popular Series" (2007, SaltRiver/Tyndale.)

Source material

Pullman's theological and spiritual source for "His Dark Materials" seems to be principally derived from the epic scriptural/theological poem "Paradise Lost" by John Milton (1608-1674). Milton's influence on Pullman's worldview cannot be underestimated.

Moreover, "The Golden Compass" film challenges believing adults to articulate their faith and values and to brush up on Church history, theology and literature and literary forms. It is a difficult assignment, but an excellent way to engage in our culture. To "just say no" is not a valid option in today's media world.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Catholic Public Thought

I have been reading a new book, "Heroic Conservatism", by Michael J. Gerson (2007), and came across a wonderful comment:

“The two intellectually vital movements within the Republican Party today are libertarianism and Roman Catholic social thought.” (p. 160)

I have felt for some time that Catholic social thought was playing a very large role in the debate around public policy in the United States, and having it validated by someone with such an excellent position to determine that kind of thing—Mr. Gerson is the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush—is wonderful news, and has led to the creation of this blog.

Over the coming days I will be bringing you more good news about the role Catholic social thought is playing in our nation's public life, as well as commenting on current events from a Catholic perspective.

This weblog will be part of the Lampstand Foundation, whose mission is informed by Catholic social teaching's impact upon public policy.