Friday, February 29, 2008

Peter & the UN

The wonderful impact of the leader of the Catholic Church speaking to the United Nations is only part of the testament to the farsighted policy thinking of the people, mostly Americans, who long ago realized the importance of establishing this global organization—even though it continues to have problems acting responsibly—and this excerpt from a First Things article validates that policy vision.

The Pope and the United Nations
By Douglas A. Sylva
Wednesday, February 27, 2008, 7:50 AM

The pope has John Allen worried. In a column published in the New York Times, Allen, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, frets that Pope Benedict will offend during his upcoming address to the United Nations General Assembly. After all, “this cerebral pope has a track record of blurring . . . compelling arguments during his biggest turns on stage.” He makes “cosmetic missteps that distract attention from his message” and exhibits a “worrying insensitivity to how unfamiliar audiences are likely to hear what he says.”

But Allen should relax. As he is undoubtedly aware, this pope, like all the popes that have reigned during the age of the United Nations, has recognized great potential in the institution. If Benedict says anything that may prove difficult to hear on that April day, it will not be because he is insensitive to his listeners but because the Church knows and appreciates the founding values of the U.N. and seeks to hold the U.N. to those values. In this effort, Pope Benedict will show the way forward to a more vigorous organization, by calling for a restored commitment to the United Nations’ own avowed principles.

The Vatican’s long-standing hope in the institution is tied to its catholic perspective. A worldwide institution, properly constituted and properly administered, could propel the earth toward an ever closer approximation of the universal common good, the rewards of peace and justice that would emanate from worldwide respect for human rights as manifestations of natural law.

This view is not based on blindness to the multifarious corruptions and mal-administrations of the United Nations but on the painful lessons of twentieth-century European history, when ideologies in opposition to the universality of human dignity swept the continent, unconstrained by anything beyond the ambitions of individual nation-states. Looking about them at the rubble of European civilization after the world wars, and forward toward a divided continent under the shadow of nuclear war, the popes deemed it obvious that this combination of ideology and nationalism needed to be supplanted.

A transformation of relations between states would be necessary. In his 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, Blessed Pope John XXIII explored this transformation, a moral and philosophical conversion, of sorts, from a Hobbesian state of nature—of strong states dominating the weak—to relations based on mutual understanding, cooperation, and reconciliation.

A key point for John XXIII is that natural law regulates states, and interactions between states, as much as it regulates other spheres of human interaction: “The same law of nature that governs the life and conduct of individuals must also regulate the relations of political communities with one another.” This natural law, “inscribed” in “man’s nature,” teaches that there are objective human rights. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church expands on this point, describing the natural law as “the living expression of the shared conscience of humanity, a ‘grammar’ on which to build the future of the world.”

For this conversion of relations between states to occur, nations would need to accept two novel applications of natural law: States must treat other states as entities with standing according to the law, and states must recognize and promote the rights of extraterritorial humans, of noncitizens, since the natural law teaches that human rights are universal.

And, in this regard, the objective, universal nature of human rights would best be promoted by an institution with worldwide authority. As the Compendium summarizes: “Concern for an ordered and peaceful coexistence within the human family prompts the Magisterium to insist on the need to establish some universal public authority acknowledged as such by all and endowed with effective power to safeguard, on the behalf of all, security, regard for justice, and respect for rights.”

That “universal public authority” is the United Nations.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Catholic Social Teaching (Part Five)

This article, excerpted here, makes a good case for the Catholic whose life revolves around the dogma of the social teaching being “politically homeless”.

The reality is that if you place the weight on the social teaching it demands, particularly towards the primary teaching—protection of the life of the unborn—then political partisanship is relatively easy for many Catholic voters as the Republicans are the only party with a pro-life platform.

However, perhaps the soundest political stance is non-partisan, remaining independent, and with Catholic social teaching and your own reflection as your guide, vote and act upon those social and political issues as your faith, good sense, and the common good lead you.

To give a sense of how the two parties feel on the primary life issue of the Church, here are excerpts from their party platforms.

For the Democrats

“We will defend the dignity of all Americans against those who would undermine it.

Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman's right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.”

(Strong at Home, Respected in the World: The 2004 Democratic National Platform for America p. 42)

And for the Republicans

“As a country, we must keep our pledge to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence. That is why we say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions. We oppose using public revenues for abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life.”

(2004 Republican Party Platform: A Safer World and a More Hopeful America, p. 84)

To reaffirm the centrality of the pro life position in the social teaching, the Catechism notes:

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.

“This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.

“Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

“You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.

“God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves.

“Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.

“The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.

"A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae," "by the very commission of the offense," and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.

“The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy.

"Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.”

And this from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical "Evangelium Vitae":

“Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

“The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. "Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action".

“As far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality is the basis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such, can only be founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every man and woman as a person and not as an object to be used. Before the moral norm which prohibits the direct taking of the life of an innocent human being "there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the ‘poorest of the poor' on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal".
(Pope John Paul II (1995) Evangelium Vitae #57)

Social Ministry Day Two: Catholics 'politically homeless,' bishops' staffer says
By John L Allen Jr Daily
Created Feb 25 2008 - 10:25
Washington, D.C.

American Catholics are often “politically homeless,” according to the U.S. bishops’ top officer for social action, given that neither of the two major parties fully embrace the church’s social teaching – from opposition to abortion, for example, to support for health care and an end to the war in Iraq.

“We don’t fit with the right or the left, with Democrats or Republicans,” said John Carr, who directs the office for Justice, Peace and Human Development.

Referring to the annual Social Ministry Gathering, Carr said, “I sometimes think of us as a self-help group for the politically incorrect, for people who insist on standing both with the unborn and the undocumented.”

Nevertheless, Carr said this morning, this makes it “a great time to be a Catholic preacher, teacher or leader, because no one can accuse us of being shills for a partisan position.”

Carr, a veteran staffer of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, argued that a genuinely Catholic approach to politics cannot "cherry-pick" or be "selective."

“Catholic progressives ought to be measured by how they stand up for human life,” he said, “and Catholic conservatives by how they defend human dignity.” The “consistent ethic of life,” Carr said, “doesn’t give any of us a free pass.”

Describing the political context for Catholic social ministry, Carr spoke of tremendous polarization in Washington.

“The debate used to be within the 40-yard-lines,” Carr said. “Today everybody’s in the end zones.”

Carr related, for example, that when the U.S. bishops were recently asked to meet with members of Congress to discuss the war on Iraq, they requested that the session be bipartisan – only to be told, Carr said, “that’s not how we do things here.”

Carr described a sort of hyper-individualism on both the political right and left that both obstruct compassionate social policy.

“On the right, there’s the individualism of the market,” he said. “On the left, there’s lifestyle individualism, so that choice becomes the defining virtue of public life.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Pope’s US Visit

And its possible impact on the politics in this presidential election year, is looked at in this excerpt from an excellent article from the "National Catholic Reporter"

Many are curious about Vatican’s take on ’08 presidential race
Posted on Feb 21, 2008 21:45pm CST.

Next week, the annual “Catholic Social Ministry Gathering” will take place in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by 19 Catholic organizations, it’s an important annual get-together for Catholics who, in one way or another, are involved in social action and political advocacy on behalf of human life, justice and peace.

The theme is “Faithful Citizenship: Promoting Life and Dignity, Justice and Peace,” a reference to the U.S. bishops’ recent document on Catholics and the ’08 elections. I’ll be on the scene covering the event for NCR, both our Web site and the print edition. (I will also, by the way, be standing in for David Brooks on a panel with Mark Shields towards the end of the agenda.)

Inevitably, the elections and the question of the “Catholic vote” will be much in the air. It’s likely, too, that talk around the edges will focus on how Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming April 15-20 visit to the United States might be read in terms of the dynamics of an election year.

I can certainly guarantee that the question of political fallout from the pope’s visit will be much on the minds of journalists covering it, having already taken part in several meetings and conference calls with TV producers gearing up for Benedict’s arrival. (Not everyone is focused on politics, however; one producer from the Los Angeles market asked me if she could expect any “celebrity presence” during the pope’s stay, obviously construing Benedict’s agenda by way of comparison with the Dali Lama and Richard Gere. I patiently tried to explain that Robert De Niro or Al Pacino would not be introducing the Holy Father at gala fundraisers.)

I spoke at the lovely Cathedral of St. Francis in Metuchen, New Jersey, Tuesday night, and I also sensed curiosity about the political dimension of the pope’s trip at the Catholic grass roots.

Because neither of the presidential candidates in ’08 is likely to be Catholic, Benedict at least will not have to face questions about whether he would give communion to John McCain, Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton. Pundits and news producers will, however, be scouring the pope’s commentary to see if it seems to cut in one direction or another. If he delivers a strong pro-life message, that might be spun as favoring the Republicans; if he accents the church’s stands against the war, that might be seen as a boon for the Democrats among Catholic voters.

If, as is likely, he makes all of these points in some form, the picture will obviously be more muddled.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Peter & The World at War

During the First World War, the influence of the Pope was significant, and as our country prepares for a Papal visit in April, it is interesting to remember papal influence during times of war, particularly in the context of the huge role played by Pope John Paul II during the cold war.

This excerpt from an excellent book, "Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe from the French Revolution to the Great War"
addresses papal influence during World War I, and the parallels to the current situation with Pope Benedict XVI are striking.

“The moral pronouncements of the pope [Pope Benedict XV], as the pre-eminent religious leader in Europe, were a universal currency worth having. All belligerents attempted to persuade him to abandon an institutional stance of studied impartiality…
The Central Powers had three representatives at the Vatican, from Austro-Hungary, Bavaria and Prussia, and German Catholics, then as now, were among the Vatican’s chief source of financial support, although they were already being eclipsed by America. Britain and France endeavoured to make up lost ground. Although France had broken off diplomatic relations in 1905, it quickly repositioned an unofficial envoy to the Vatican. The British returned an envoy to the Vatican in December 1914. Diplomatic relations were also repaired with the Netherlands and Switzerland, which with Spain and the US constituted a potentially important “league of neutrals”. Relations with the Tsar’s representative continued to be cool because of Russian policy in Catholic Poland. The Italian state quietly opened a back channel through one of Benedict’s closest friends.

"At various times the pope was accused of a bias towards the Central Powers, up to and including allowing an alleged German agent to operate in the Vatican, who was suspected of having helped sink two Italian battleships in their harbours, charges which had no basis in reality. All of the warring powers were incensed by the pope’s refusal to move beyond general condemnations of wartime atrocities and illegalities to the specifics of whatever outraged them. There was talk of the ‘Silence of Benedict XV’ long before graver charges were aimed at Eugenio Pacelli, his successor but one as Pius XII. In fact, Benedict did intervene to stop German deportations of Belgian civilians and to protest against the Turkish massacres of the Armenians; what he could not do, since all sides were flooding him with denunciations of their opponents, was to condemn this side or that. Evidence of atrocities built up in a series of coloured books, together with the perpetuators’ counter-accusations." (pp. 457-458)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Church Leadership in the World

Those who are the leaders of the Church in the world are the consecrated religious; the priests, sisters and other consecrated whose very lives testify to the revealed truth of the Church, magnifying it in the world, and it is vital that they live according to the Magisterium, that they live according to the truth of the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks to this in this recent talk
, which is excerpted here.

"Next to these difficult situations, which should be looked upon with courage and honesty..."

by Benedict XVI

Dear brothers and sisters, at the end of this morning of common reflection on some aspects of consecrated life that are especially relevant and important in our time, I would first of all like to thank the Lord for offering us the possibility of this encounter, which has been very profitable for all. We have been able to analyze together the possibilities and expectations, the hopes and difficulties that institutes of consecrated life encounter today. I listened with great attention and interest to your testimonies and your experiences, and I have taken note of your questions.

We all recognize how in modern globalized society it is becoming increasingly difficult to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel. If this is true for all of the baptized, it is all the more so for the persons whom Jesus calls to follow him in a more radical way through religious consecration.

The process of secularization that is advancing in contemporary culture does not spare, in fact, even the religious communities.

But we must not allow ourselves to become discouraged, because if today, as it has been opportune to recall, there are not a few clouds forming on the horizon of religious life, there are also emerging, and indeed growing constantly, signs of a providential reawakening that is providing reasons for consolation and hope.

The Holy Spirit is breathing powerfully everywhere in the Church, prompting a new commitment to faithfulness in the historical religious institutes, together with new forms of religious consecration in harmony with the needs of the time.

Today, as in every age, there is no lack of generous souls willing to abandon everyone and everything in order to embrace Christ and his Gospel, consecrating to his service their existence within communities marked by enthusiasm, generosity, and joy. What distinguishes these new experiences of consecrated life is the common desire, shared through an eager response, for evangelical poverty practiced in a radical way, for faithful love of the Church, for generous dedication to one's neighbor in need, with special attention toward those spiritual forms of poverty that strongly characterize the contemporary period.

Many times I too, like my venerable predecessors, have wanted to repeat that the men of today feel a strong religious and spiritual urging, but that they are ready to listen to and follow only those who consistently bear witness to their own adherence to Christ. And it is interesting to note that the institutes with a wealth of vocations are the ones that have preserved or chosen a tenor of life that is often very austere, and in any case faithful to the Gospel lived "sine glossa."

I think of the many faithful communities and of the new experiences of consecrated life that you know well. I think of the missionary work of many ecclesial groups and movements that are giving rise to many priestly and religious vocations. I think of the young women and men who abandon everything to enter cloistered monasteries and convents.

It is true – and we can say it with joy – even today, the Lord continues to send workers to his vineyard and to enrich his people with many holy vocations. We thank him for this, and pray to him that the enthusiasm of the initial decisions – many young people, in fact, set out on the road of evangelical perfection and enter into new forms of consecrated life following emotional conversions – that, as I was saying, the enthusiasm of the initial decisions may be followed by the effort of perseverance in an authentic journey of ascetic and spiritual perfection, in a journey of true sanctity.

As for the orders and congregations with a long tradition in the Church, we cannot fail to note, as you yourselves have emphasized, that in recent decades almost all of these – both men's and women's communities – have passed through a difficult crisis due to the aging of their members, a more or less pronounced decrease in vocations, and sometimes even a spiritual and charismatic 'weariness'. In certain cases, this crisis has become worrying.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

American Exceptionalism

This way of seeing our country has driven public policy for many generations and has a rich history of analysis by varied observers, but as we see in this excerpt of an excellent book review of Walter Russell Mead’s recent book, "God & Gold: Britain, American & the Making of the Modern World"

A unique set of circumstances have given us the opportunity to be able to provide the type of leadership that has resulted in the exportation of the very qualities that have made us unique; democratic freedom, respect for the individual, technological progress, and universal education, and though we are a nation with deep Protestant roots, these ventures are certainly congruent with Catholic Social Teaching.

Exceptionally American
By Peter Berkowitz
Peter Berkowitz on God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World by Walter Russell Mead
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD. God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World. ALFRED A. KNOPF. 449 PAGES. $27.95

IN THE ATTEMPT to explain America’s rise to global preeminence — as in ambitious explanatory efforts more generally — historians, political theorists, and social scientists typically succumb to the temptation to isolate a single cause. Favored single-cause explanations for the unprecedented power that twenty-first century America exerts in world affairs include its military might and distinctive strategic doctrines; its geography — guarded by two great oceans, sharing the continent with benign neighbors to the north and south, and blessed with extraordinarily varied and abundant natural resources; its free market economic system grounded in the priority that the law gives to the protection of private property; and its Protestant religious spirit that has encouraged disciplined productivity, deferred gratification, and the propensity to seek progress through social change.

In fact, these causes and more, Walter Russell Mead shows in his marvelous book on the making and meaning of American power, cannot be isolated. They have combined and intertwined in America to form a nation whose ability to project military force to all parts of the world, to expand the international economic order and integrate its commercial life with nations around the globe, and to disseminate its moral principles and popular culture far and wide greatly surpasses anything ever before seen. With due appreciation for the folly, hypocrisy, and injustices that have accompanied America’s exercise of power, Mead’s book also concludes that on balance the world order that America has taken the lead in making has served humanity’s interests because it is well-suited to human nature.

With God and Gold, Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, cements his reputation as one of our nation’s most learned and lucid students of foreign affairs. In Special Providence (2002), which won the prestigious Lionel Gelber Award, Mead argued against a consensus that held that America lacked an authentic foreign policy tradition, showing instead that America has a fertile tradition of thinking about foreign affairs that extends back to the Founding and, when well understood, helps makes sense of current challenges.

Mead discerned four strands running through the tradition. He named them after four legendary figures, but they describe idealized sensibilities or outlooks rather than settled doctrines or organized schools. Hamiltonians put the emphasis on making America a world power by forging a stable international order hospitable to commerce and trade among nations. Jeffersonians tend to downplay America’s role in the world by defining U.S. foreign policy in terms of what is necessary to preserve and promote democracy at home. Coming into their own in the twentieth century, Wilsonians contend that moral principle and political interest converge in obliging America to bring all nations of the world into the family of democracies. And Jacksonians are driven by a populist pride that distrusts international institutions and is inclined to leave the world alone provided that America is undisturbed — but when the nation is endangered, Jacksonians seek to marshal the full force of American power to crush the adversary. Versions of each can be found on the left and the right. Moreover, these ideal types, Mead emphasized, rarely exist in isolation: "Various blends coalesce in the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens, office holders, and policymakers. Because each sensibility captures an important aspect of the American spirit and reflects a significant interest of the American people, the task of statesmen is to strike the proper balance among them."

STRIKING THE PROPER balance or giving competing claims their due is a pervasive, if understated, theme of Mead’s new book as well. In exploring the causes and consequences of American power, Mead demonstrates the importance of the country’s genius in reconciling the claims of rival outlooks and undertakings, institutions and associations, interests and ideas. But this genius did not burst forth suddenly from the New World in the late eighteenth century. American power and the American order are outgrowths of British power and British order.

Accordingly, argues Mead, it is misleading to attribute the rise of the modern world to the West or to Western Civilization. This “disguises one of the oldest and most bitter clashes of civilization in world history: centuries of warfare between the Anglo-Saxons and continental Europe.” And it conceals the victory of the Anglo-American order, dominated since the end of World War II by the junior partner, which over the course of four centuries has repeatedly defeated its chief competitors for global preeminence — Spain, France, Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union. In the process, American has inscribed its language, its economic system, its morals, and its political ideals on the international system and the family of nations that participate in it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Heroic Conservatism

Another take on a book I highly recommend, "Heroic Conservatism", which contains this wonderful statement, which I agree with

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

This excerpt is from an article in "First Things".

Heroic Conservatism
By Stephen H. Webb
Wednesday, February 20, 2008, 7:10 AM

Defenders of the separation of church and state deplore no period of Christian history more than the Constantinian epoch. They suspect that Constantine made the world safe for Christianity only by making Christianity a danger to the world. Christian soldiers replaced bleeding martyrs as the altar fused with the sword. The theorist behind Constantine’s political revolution was the much maligned Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea. Unlike Augustine, who dismissed Rome as a bastion of brigandage, Eusebius thought the empire was a gift from God, and he was convinced of Constantine’s cosmic importance. Eusebius thought he was living during the climax of history, with church and state uniting under the one aim of divine providence. His panegyrical style strikes us as purplish today, but to his contemporaries, his coordination of historical events with the coming Kingdom of God was inspiring and credible. He was more eloquent than Constantine, but he was only translating the emperor’s self-understanding into a viable idiom. If he were alive today, he would be a presidential speechwriter.

Arguably, he would be Michael Gerson. I mean that as a compliment. Eusebius praised Constantine from afar, but Gerson observed President Bush up close. A graduate of Wheaton College who now writes an op-ed column for the Washington Post, Gerson was President Bush’s chief speechwriter and policy adviser for five years. In his new book, Heroic Conservativism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America’s Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail if They Don’t), he explains how President Bush “came to rely on me to help collect and express his intuitions.” He transformed President Bush’s wishes into words, but he was much more than the president’s muse. Gerson shares with the president a providential reading of history. Like Bush, Gerson is convinced that freedom is the goal of history—because he believes that freedom is God’s gift to everyone.

Bush intones his speeches with a Texan flatness. Gerson embossed them with biblical cadences. The most prominent example of Gerson’s influence occurred during the 2003 State of the Union address, when Bush declared that “there is power, wonder-working power,” in the idealism of the American people. When journalists complained that Gerson was hiding religious messages in the president’s speeches, he would explain that “these are not code words, they are literary references understood by millions of Americans.” For Gerson as well as for President Bush, political freedom is too precarious to have been brought to the shores of America by any means other than providence, and too important for providence not to extend to the rest of the world.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Public Policy & Globalization

The animating drive of globalization is the spread of Western principles of individual freedom, respect and dignity each individual has as an inalienable right, and when we examine the current state of the society in India, as this excerpt from a recent article does, we see the vital importance that this work be continued.

India's Two Plagues: The "Missing Women" and Violence Against Christians
The first of these number in the tens of millions, killed in their mothers' wombs or as infants. As for anti-Christian intolerance, the latest explosion has taken place in Orissa. Behind it are fanatics of Hinduism and of the higher castes
by Sandro Magister

ROMA, February 20, 2008 – As well as in China, the Catholic Church is also being harshly tested in the other Asian giant, India.

There are two issues above all that the Catholic Church of India must face.

The first concerns "the promotion of woman in the Church and in society," the title of the plenary assembly of the Indian bishops, who are meeting February 13-20 in Jamshedpur, 800 miles southeast of the capital of Delhi.

Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the pontifical council for the laity, came from Rome to inaugurate the important assembly, which is held every two years.

In his inaugural address, he placed the emphasis on the plague of female feticide and infanticide.

The killing of girls both in their mothers' womb and after their birth – often by feeding them poisonous plants or drowning them, to simulate an accident – is a very widespread practice in India. In many families, the birth of a daughter is considered an unbearable burden, partly because of the very expensive dowry that must accompany her future marriage. The possibility of knowing the sex of the unborn child in advance has increased beyond measure the selective abortion of girls.

To halt the slaughter, the Indian government has prohibited the identification of a child's sex before birth, but this ban is largely circumvented. The effect is an astonishing demographic imbalance between males and females, which in some places has reached radical extremes. In the state of Madhya Pradesh, in the districts of Bhind and Morena, there are now only 400 women for every 1,000 men.

The Catholic Church is fighting to oppose this phenomenon and reawaken consciences, in accord with other religious confessions. The latest initiative in this vein is an appeal launched at the end of January by 200 Indian religious leaders, of the Christian, Hindu, Islamic, and Sikh faiths, against this "crime against God and against humanity."

A no less vigorous international campaign against the plague of the "missing women" of India and other countries was begun in Italy last September by the secular intellectual Giuliano Ferrara, director of the opinion daily "il Foglio."

The second reality that is harshly testing the Church in India is the anti-Christian violence on the part of fanatical Hindu groups.

It is a violence that has risen to a crescendo in recent years, especially in certain states. Gujarat and Orissa are among them. In Orissa, which faces the Bay of Bengal, south of Calcutta, Australian Protestant missionary Graham Staines and his two children were killed after their car was set on fire in 1999.

Those who are hostile toward Christians accuse them of proselytizing, and therefore violating the Hindutwa, the identification between India and Hinduism asserted by intolerant Hindu nationalist currents. In reality, out of 1.2 billion Indians, Christians of all confessions make up little more than 2 percent. And they are not expanding, but slowly declining: from 2.6 percent in 1971 to 2.3 percent in 2001.

But at the same time, Christians run one of every five elementary schools in India, one of every four houses for widows and orphans, and one out of three houses for lepers and AIDS patients. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is the nation's pride. Except among fanatical Hinduists.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Liberal Christianity

As a counterpoint to yesterday’s post, the form of faith that bends to the world rather than holding fast to revealed truth is dying, as its essential hollowness becomes more apparent, as this excerpt from a recent article notes:

Liberal Christianity is dying, Orthodox Bishop says

Geneva, Feb 15, 2008 / 07:36 pm (CNA).- Russian Orthodox bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the Moscow Patriarchate’s delegate for international relationships, said on February 15 that liberal Christianity is on its way to extinction.

"Liberal Christianity will not survive long and political correctness within the Christian environment is destined to die," said during a conference addressing the Ecumenical Council of Churches at Geneva, Switzerland.

The Orthodox bishop also criticized the words of the Anglican primate, Rowan Williams, regarding the "inevitability" of introducing the "sharia" (Muslim Law) in England.

"I would like to warn you about the perils of liberal Christianity," a trend, he said, that has sharply divided the Christian community in the last decades.

"Today we can't talk about Christian morality because the standards of 'traditional' and 'liberal' Christians are dramatically different and the abyss between these two branches of Christianity is growing," he added.

"We are hearing from some Christian leaders that marriage between a woman and a man is not the only possible option for the creation of a Christian family, that there can be other type of couples and that the Church should be 'inclusive' by recognizing such lifestyles and grant them a solemn blessing," Hilarion also said.

The Orthodox bishop also said that "we have heard that the human life is a negotiable value, to the point that it can be aborted in the mother's womb." "What has happened with Christianity? In a confused and disoriented world, “Where is the prophetic voice of Christians?" he asked.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Priestly Secularization

The great difficulty Catholics have learning about and adhering to their faith is not helped by the tendency, in America in particular, of priestly secularization and is noted by the Vatican in this recent interview:

“Priests becoming too worldly, Vatican prelate says"

Rome, Feb. 15, 2008 ( - The prefect of the Congregation for Religious has lamented that many Catholic priests are neglecting their duties under the pressure of conforming to secular culture.

In a February 14 interview with the Italian ANSA news agency, Cardinal Franc Rode said that priests today tend to be less obedient to the Church and more responsive to the world. He cited reluctance to wear clerical dress as a symptom of this trend.

“A drift towards bourgeois values and moral relativism are the two great dangers that weaken religious life," said the Slovenian cardinal. "The biggest problem today is the climate of secularization-- present not only in Western society but also within the Church itself.”

Cardinal Rode said that young people continue to hear God's call to a vocation in the priesthood or religious life. But he suggested that a lax model of priestly or religious life is not likely to encourage vocations. As evidence the cardinal pointed to the young Catholics who are attracted to contemplative life in highly disciplined religious orders. "They are attracted because it is a radical life choice," he said.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Environmentalism as Religion (Conclusion)

Concluding with more from the Judeo-Christian perspective is this from the Acton Institute’s Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship (2000):

“Many persons who are concerned about our impact on the environment believe that linear thinking and action violate the Creator’s intention of a permanent and stable natural order. However, this is a point where both revelation and man’s achievements—particularly in the arena of good science—will correct this misperception. Nature and human society are dynamic systems that depend on both change and continuity for their existence. In any faithful reading of either the book of nature or Scripture, we can see that, despite our concerns about what the short-term environmental effects of development might be, we must continually raise our eyes to the larger perspectives of God’s providence and his intentions for humanity. Environmental stewardship consists in discovering how to properly understand the relationship between cyclical processes and linear developments, present in both nature and human civilization, so that they coexist harmoniously, and direct us toward the ultimate good, which is God himself.

“Basing our existence upon cycles alone would be a great limitation on human civilization. The great Christian theologian, Saint Augustine, who was familiar with the cyclical views of antiquity, saw in the Christian vision a great liberation of the human race. He states, “Let us therefore keep to the straight path, which is Christ, and with Him as our Guide and Savior, let us turn away in heart and mind from the unreal and futile cycles of the godless.” (City of God 12.20)

“Elsewhere, Augustine speaks of God as marvelously creating, ordering, guiding, and arranging all things “like the great melody of some ineffable composer.” (Epistles, 138.1) As a reflection of this, the human person, who is made in the image and likeness of God, composes, writes, paints, dances, grows food, makes tools, manufactures, and brings forth many new things from the intelligibility inscribed into the very order of creation. Because man cannot create ex nihilo as God does, it is precisely the cycles and logic of nature that assist man in exercising his creative inclinations. In other words, while we depend upon the cyclical dimensions of nature for how we develop in our own earthly existence, we have within us the same creative thrust that set in motion the whole history of the universe. In effect, our creativity can bring nature to a higher degree of perfection. Thus we are faithful to the potential God has placed within us when we affirm what is intrinsically good in nature by developing new and previously unrealized goods.”

(Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship (2000) Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Wisdom on the Environment. (Michael B. Barkley, Ed.) Acton Institute. Washington D.C. (pp.36-37)

Final Thoughts

Environmentalism, deep ecology, green politics, and the various perambulations of nature-based thinking claiming to be based on truth—whether scientific or spiritual—are based on thinking that is very old, stemming from first century Gnostic thought, the original heresy and still living attack on the Catholic Church, claiming a mystical connection to secret knowledge able to be possessed only by adepts and other spiritual favorites, usually connected to some guru, teacher, or master, who more often than not, takes much more from their followers than is ever given to them.

God’s earthly creation will provide all that the human summit of His creation require, fully embracing the multi-billions of human beings yet born—including the millions being destroyed by the horror of abortion, which we must end—as long as we continue encouraging the best minds of people of good will in the development and sharing of knowledge and technology able to help all people in the world live lives of peace and prosperity.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Environmentalism as Religion (Part Seven)

Wrapping up this series with the most astute analysis—from a global perspective—and this comes from the Vatican’s Pontifical Council (2003), who examines environmentalism in the context of other modern movements falling under the rubric of the New Age:

“2. New Age is not a movement in the sense normally intended in the term “New Religious Movement”, and it is not what is normally meant by the terms “cult” and “sect”. Because it is spread across cultures, in phenomena as varied as music, films, seminars, workshops, retreats, therapies, and many more activities and events, it is much more diffuse and informal, though some religious or para-religious groups consciously incorporate New Age elements, and it has been suggested that New Age has been a source of ideas for various religious and para-religious sects. New Age is not a single, uniform movement, but rather a loose network of practitioners whose approach is to think globally but act locally. People who are part of the network do not necessarily know each other and rarely, if ever, meet. In an attempt to avoid the confusion which can arise from using the term “movement”, some refer to New Age as a “milieu”, or an “audience cult”. However, it has also been pointed out that “it is a very coherent current of thought”, a deliberate challenge to modern culture. It is a syncretistic structure incorporating many diverse elements, allowing people to share interests or connections to very different degrees and on varying levels of commitment. Many trends, practices and attitudes which are in some way part of New Age are, indeed, part of a broad and readily identifiable reaction to mainstream culture, so the word “movement” is not entirely out of place. It can be applied to New Age in the same sense as it is to other broad social movements, like the Civil Rights movement or the Peace Movement; like them, it includes a bewildering array of people linked to the movement's main aims, but very diverse in the way they are involved and in their understanding of particular issues….

“2.3.1. The perennial philosophical question of the one and the many has its modern and contemporary form in the temptation to overcome not only undue division, but even real difference and distinction, and the most common expression of this is holism, an essential ingredient in New Age and one of the principal signs of the times in the last quarter of the twentieth century. An extraordinary amount of energy has gone into the effort to overcome the division into compartments characteristic of mechanistic ideology, but this has led to the sense of obligation to submit to a global network which assumes quasi-transcendental authority. Its clearest implications are a process of conscious transformation and the development of ecology. The new vision which is the goal of conscious transformation has taken time to formulate, and its enactment is resisted by older forms of thought judged to be entrenched in the status quo. What has been successful is the generalisation of ecology as a fascination with nature and resacralisation of the earth, Mother Earth or Gaia, with the missionary zeal characteristic of Green politics. The Earth's executive agent is the human race as a whole, and the harmony and understanding required for responsible governance is increasingly understood to be a global government, with a global ethical framework. The warmth of Mother Earth, whose divinity pervades the whole of creation, is held to bridge the gap between creation and the transcendent Father-God of Judaism and Christianity, and removes the prospect of being judged by such a Being…

“ But it is not only something which affects young people; the basic themes of esoteric culture are also present in the realms of politics, education and legislation. It is especially the case with ecology. Deep ecology's emphasis on bio-centrism denies the anthropological vision of the Bible, in which human beings are at the centre of the world, since they are considered to be qualitatively superior to other natural forms. It is very prominent in legislation and education today, despite the fact that it underrates humanity in this way.. The same esoteric cultural matrix can be found in the ideological theory underlying population control policies and experiments in genetic engineering, which seem to express a dream human beings have of creating themselves afresh. How do people hope to do this? By deciphering the genetic code, altering the natural rules of sexuality, defying the limits of death…

“ The move from a mechanistic model of classical physics to the “holistic” one of modern atomic and sub-atomic physics, based on the concept of matter as waves or energy rather than particles, is central to much New Age thinking. The universe is an ocean of energy, which is a single whole or a network of links. The energy animating the single organism which is the universe is “spirit”. There is no alterity between God and the world. The world itself is divine and it undergoes an evolutionary process which leads from inert matter to “higher and perfect consciousness”. The world is uncreated, eternal and self-sufficient. The future of the world is based on an inner dynamism which is necessarily positive and leads to the reconciled (divine) unity of all that exists. God and the world, soul and body, intelligence and feeling, heaven and earth are one immense vibration of energy.

“James Lovelock's book on the Gaia Hypothesis claims that “the entire range of living matter on earth, from whales to viruses, and from oaks to algae, could be regarded as constituting a single living entity, capable of manipulating the Earth's atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts”. To some, the Gaia hypothesis is “a strange synthesis of individualism and collectivism. It all happens as if New Age, having plucked people out of fragmentary politics, cannot wait to throw them into the great cauldron of the global mind”. The global brain needs institutions with which to rule, in other words, a world government. “To deal with today's problems New Age dreams of a spiritual aristocracy in the style of Plato's Republic, run by secret societies...”. This may be an exaggerated way of stating the case, but there is much evidence that gnostic élitism and global governance coincide on many issues in international politics.

“Everything in the universe is interelated; in fact every part is in itself an image of the totality; the whole is in every thing and every thing is in the whole. In the “great chain of being”, all beings are intimately linked and form one family with different grades of evolution. Every human person is a hologram, an image of the whole of creation, in which every thing vibrates on its own frequency. Every human being is a neurone in earth's central nervous system, and all individual entities are in a relationship of complementarity with others. In fact, there is an inner complementarity or androgyny in the whole of creation.


"It is difficult to separate the individual elements of New Age religiosity – innocent though they may appear – from the overarching framework which permeates the whole thought-world on the New Age movement. The gnostic nature of this movement calls us to judge it in its entirety. From the point of view of Christian faith, it is not possible to isolate some elements of New Age religiosity as acceptable to Christians, while rejecting others. Since the New Age movement makes much of a communication with nature, of cosmic knowledge of a universal good – thereby negating the revealed contents of Christian faith – it cannot be viewed as positive or innocuous. In a cultural environment, marked by religious relativism, it is necessary to signal a warning against the attempt to place New Age religiosity on the same level as Christian faith, making the difference between faith and belief seem relative, thus creating greater confusion for the unwary. In this regard, it is useful to remember the exhortation of St. Paul “to instruct certain people not to teach false doctrine or to concern themselves with myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the plan of God that is to be received by faith” (1 Tim 1:3-4). Some practices are incorrectly labeled as New Age simply as a marketing strategy to make them sell better, but are not truly associated with its worldview. This only adds to the confusion. It is therefore necessary to accurately identify those elements which belong to the New Age movement, and which cannot be accepted by those who are faithful to Christ and his Church."

(Vatican, Pontifical Council for Culture & Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. (2003). Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life A Christian reflection on the “New Age. n.p. web document)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Environmentalism as Religion (Part Six)

Thomas (1983) writing of the development of environmental and related attitudes in the eighteenth century:

“The embarrassment about meat-eating thus provides a final example of the way in which, by the end of the eighteenth century, a growing number of people had come to find man’s ascendancy over nature increasingly abhorrent to their moral and aesthetic sensibilities. This was the human dilemma: how to reconcile the physical requirements of civilization with the new feelings and values which that same civilization had generated. It is too often assumed that sensibilities and morals are mere ideology: a convenient rationalization of the world as it is. But in the early modern period the truth was almost the reverse, for, by an inexorable logic, there had gradually emerged attitudes to the natural world which were essentially incompatible with the direction in which English society was moving.

“The growth of towns had led to a new longing for the countryside. The progress of cultivation had fostered a taste for weeds, mountains, and unsubdued nature. The new-found security from wild animals had generated an increasing concern to protect birds and preserve wild creatures in their natural state. Economic independence of animal power and urban isolation from animal farming had nourished emotional attitudes which were hard, if not impossible, to reconcile with the exploitation of animals by which most people lived. Henceforth an increasingly sentimental view of animals as pets and objects of contemplation would jostle uneasily alongside the harsh facts of a world in which the elimination of ‘pests’ and the breeding of animals for slaughter grew every day more efficient. Oliver Goldsmith wrote of his contemporaries that ‘they pity and they eat the objects of their compassion’. The same might be said of the children of today who, nourished by a meat diet and protected by a medicine developed by animal experiments, nevertheless take toy animals to bed and lavish their affection on lambs and ponies. For adults, nature parks and conservation areas serve a function not unlike that which toy animals have for children; they are fantasies which enshrine the values of which society as a whole cannot afford to live.

“By 1800 the confident anthropocentrism of Tudor England had given way to an altogether more confused state of mind. The world could no longer be regarded as having been made for man alone, and the rigid barriers between humanity and other forms of life had been much weakened. During the religious upheavals of the 1640s and 1650s contemporaries had been shocked to hear sectaries like the Ranter Jacob Bauthumley asserting that ‘God is in all creatures, man and beast, fish and fowl, and every green thing.’ But, in a secularized form, this kind of pantheism was to become very general in the eighteenth century, when it was widely urged that all parts of creation had a right to live; and that nature itself had an intrinsic spiritual value. Not everyone now believed that mankind was uniquely sacred. Some Romantics preferred the once-condemned mystical view that ‘each shrub is sacred, and each weed divine’, as William Blake put it, ‘Every thing that lives is Holy.’

“Of course, most people in practice, like G. M. Trevelyan himself retained their faith in the primacy of human interests, even if they lamented the effect of material progress on the natural world.

“(Whether trees, or animals, ought to be preserved ‘for their own sakes’ [wrote Trevelyan] is an interesting question on which different opinions might be held. But the argument for the preservation of natural scenery and the wild life of English fauna and flora may be based on motives that regard the welfare of human beings alone, and it is those arguments alone that I wish here to put forward. To preserve the bird life of the country is required in the spiritual interests of the human race, more particularly of the English section of it, who find such joy in seeing and hearing birds.)”

“As Trevelyan implied, it was not for the sake of the creatures themselves, but for the sake of men, that birds and animals would be protected in sanctuaries and wild-life parks. In 1969 the United Nations and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature defined ‘conservation’ as the rational use of the environment to achieve the highest quality of living for mankind.’

“But even in the early modern period there were some perhaps hypersensitive persons who were prepared to go further than this. For them it was increasingly difficult to accept the primacy of human needs when to do so involved inflicting pain on domestic animals or eliminating whole species of wild ones. In more recent times these difficulties have been widely perceived. Today there are writers of books who refer to the extermination of the wolf as a ‘pogrom’ or ‘holocaust’; and the law journals carry articles on whether trees have rights.

“The early modern period had thus generated feelings which would make it increasingly hard for men to come to terms with the uncompromising methods by which the dominance of their species had been secured. On the one hand they saw an incalculable increase in the comfort and physical well-being or welfare of human beings; on the other they perceived a ruthless exploitation of other forms of animate life. There was thus a growing conflict between the new sensibilities and the material foundations of human society. A mixture of compromise and concealment has so far prevented this conflict from having to be fully resolved. But the issue cannot be completely evaded and it can be relied upon to recur. It is one of the contradictions upon which modern civilization may be said to rest. About its ultimate consequences we can only speculate.” ((Thomas, K. (1983). Man and the natural world: Changing attitudes in England 1500- 1800. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 300-303)

Applying this to America is the seminal essay in which Arnold (1996) remarks on the use of the pastoral ideal:

“The pastoral ideal has been used to define the meaning of America ever since the age of discovery, and it has not yet lost its hold upon the native imagination.

“Since 1964, the rise of environmentalist ideology has pushed the pastoral ideal increasingly toward nature, striving to redefine the meaning of America in fully primitivist terms of the wild….

“…Public policy debate over the environment and the meaning of America has been clamorous these thirty years. Its terms were succinctly put by Edith Stein:

“The environmental movement challenges the dominant Western worldview and its three assumptions:

• Unlimited economic growth is possible and beneficial.
• Most serious problems can be solved by technology.
• Environmental and social problems can be mitigated by a market economy with some state intervention.

“Since the 1970s we've heard increasingly about the competing paradigm, wherein:

• Growth must be limited.
• Science and technology must be restrained.
• Nature has finite resources and a delicate balance that humans must observe.”

(Arnold, R. (1996). Overcoming Ideology, Essay from: A wolf in the garden: The land rights movement and the new environmental debate. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Environmentalism as Religion (Part Five)

As practiced currently, environmentalism clearly has strong political and even religious aspects.

Environmental groups who lead the efforts to stop the building of dams or new development, seem to be acting in a way that is almost religious in its intensity, but with clear political objectives.

This blending is political religion and has been with us in many forms for quite awhile, and as the British historian, Michael Burleigh (2005) reminds us, is

“…the areas where politics and religion intersect…what are called ‘political’, ‘secular’ and ‘civil’ religions, and how these related to Christianity... (p.xi)

“The term ‘political religion’ has a more venerable history than many may imagine…the aristocratic scholar Alexis de Tocqueville…[made reference to it] when he wrote about the Jacobins during the French Revolution...” (Burleigh, M. (2005). Earthly powers: The clash of religion and politics in Europe from the French revolution to the great war. Great Britain: HarperCollins. p. 3)

Perhaps a harsh comparison, but this from a talk given by Michel Crichton (2003) might be as harsh:

“I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.

“We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we're told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems. Every one of us has a sense of the world, and we all know that this sense is in part given to us by what other people and society tell us; in part generated by our emotional state, which we project outward; and in part by our genuine perceptions of reality. In short, our struggle to determine what is true is the struggle to decide which of our perceptions are genuine, and which are false because they are handed down, or sold to us, or generated by our own hopes and fears.

“As an example of this challenge, I want to talk today about environmentalism. And in order not to be misunderstood, I want it perfectly clear that I believe it is incumbent on us to conduct our lives in a way that takes into account all the consequences of our actions, including the consequences to other people, and the consequences to the environment. I believe it is important to act in ways that are sympathetic to the environment, and I believe this will always be a need, carrying into the future. I believe the world has genuine problems and I believe it can and should be improved. But I also think that deciding what constitutes responsible action is immensely difficult, and the consequences of our actions are often difficult to know in advance. I think our past record of environmental action is discouraging, to put it mildly, because even our best intended efforts often go awry. But I think we do not recognize our past failures, and face them squarely. And I think I know why.

“I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can't be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people—the best people, the most enlightened people—do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.

“Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is
environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

“There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs imbibe.

“Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday—these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don't want to talk anybody out of them, as I don't want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don't want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can't talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.

“And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren't necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them.” (Crichton, M. (2003). Environmentalism as a Religion. Talk given to the Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, September 15, 2003)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Environmentalism as Religion (Part Four)

While the movements and organizations founded by Muir, and inspired by Carson become the foremost evangelists of modern environmentalism, perhaps the most important person in regards to the broader study of nature in America was John Burroughs.

Burroughs—loved dearly by Roosevelt who called him ‘Oom John’—is described by Kanze (1993), who tells us about the effect he had on nature study, America’s most popular recreation.

“In the late twentieth century, among active forms of recreation, nature study is more popular than baseball, football, and tennis combined. According to recent estimates, more than 80 million Americans watch birds, and they spend more than $14 billion annually on birdseed, nesting boxes, feeders, baths, binoculars, books, and travel. Impressive as these figures are, they are not comprehensive. In the woods, meadows, deserts, prairies, and oceans of the world, bird-watchers are joined by hordes of avocational botanists, herpetologists, mammalogists, nature photographers, whale watchers, mycologists, entomologists, and others with particular interests. “Ecology” is a buzzword among children and adults. Around the world, national parks, established as reservoirs of solitude, serve as meeting places for movie stars and heads of state. To sleep in the woods at Yellowstone and Yosemite, it is often necessary to reserve a campsite more than a year in advance. No suburban town is complete without a “nature center”.

“The nature study movement is a juggernaut. Among the men and women who helped to get it rolling, Henry Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, and a few others proponents of conservation and the simple life stand out. But the single greatest push may have come from the writing of John Burroughs. As Paul Brooks observed in Speaking for Nature (Houghton Mifflin, 1980), Burroughs made more converts to nature appreciation than anyone else, and “they and their successors have been fighting our conservation battles ever since.”

“If I were asked to bestow a single honorific upon Burroughs, I would call him the Father of Recreational Nature Study. Unlike Thoreau, who used nature as a rock from which to mine ethical principles, and Muir, who sang of the sublime beauty of wilderness, Burroughs looked upon the natural world as a source of simple joy.” (Kanze, E. (1993). The world of John Burroughs. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers. p. 142)

Roosevelt (1999) in a letter to Burroughs, said:

“Dear Oom John:—Every lover of outdoor life must feel a sense of affectionate obligation to you. Your writings appeal to all who care for the life of the woods and the fields, whether their tastes keep them in the homely, pleasant farm country or lead them into the wilderness. It is a good thing for our people that you should have lived; and surely no man can wish to have more said of him.”
(Roosevelt, T. (1999 [first published 1905]). Outdoor pastimes of an American hunter. Birmingham, Alabama: Palladium Press. p. v.)

The focus on conservation and nature study lasted for many years, but then, largely because of Rachel Carson’s writings, the work of the Sierra Club and similar groups, it slowly became modern environmentalism, about which a recent report by Shellenberger & Nordhaus (2004) said:

"Environmentalism is today more about protecting a supposed “thing”—“the environment”—than advancing the worldview articulated by Sierra Club founder John Muir, who nearly a century ago observed, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” (Shellenberger, M. & Nordhaus T. (2004). The death of environmentalism: Global warming politics in a post-environmental world.

In an interview with Michael North, president of Greenstar, from Grist Magazine (2004), a couple of the practical aspects of this are explored:

“Grist: What's one issue about which you disagree with other environmentalists?

“Michael North: That protecting endangered species and ecosystems is more important than protecting people, communities, and culture. Implicitly, by their actions, environmentalists sometimes overlook the historic human element, the fact that people are part of the global ecosystem too. Environmentalists would never actually say this, of course, but sometimes their actions express it -- and people in developing countries detect this quickly.

“Grist: What could the environmental movement be doing better or differently to attract new people?

“Michael North: Have a more constructive attitude toward business, especially small businesses and entrepreneurs, who are creating all the jobs these days and employing more and more people. Environmentalists often treat business people as exploiters and polluters, as the enemy. They try not to, but their instincts need a lot of retraining. Even very large global businesses (like Shell, BP, HP, many others) can see the moral and practical value of sound environmental practice and will do real, influential things if you communicate thoughtfully with them, learn to listen, and reward them when they do something positive.”

Grist Magazine, (2004) Online Interview with Michael North, president of Greenstar.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Environmentalism as Religion (Part Three)

American environmentalism, though rooted in its English history, grew out of the conservation work of President Theodore Roosevelt, and became environmentalism partly through the work of his sometime traveling companion, and Sierra Club founder, John Muir.

Morris (2001) describes a trip Roosevelt and Muir took in 1903:

"…Roosevelt lay high in Yosemite, on a bed of fragrant pine needles, looking up at the sky. On all sides soared the cinnamon-colored shafts of sequoia trees. He had the feeling that he was “lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful that any built by the hands of man.” Birdsong filled the arches as the sky darkened. He identified the treble tessitura of hermit thrushes, and thought it “an appropriate choir for such a place of worship.”

"His companion was John Muir, the glaciologist, naturalist, and founder of the Sierra Club. Since early youth, Muir had roamed Yosemite, carrying little more than “some bread and tea in an old sock,” returning to civilization as infrequently as possible. At sixty-five, he knew more about the park, and loved it more passionately, than any other American. Roosevelt had booked his exclusive services well in advance: “I want to drop politics absolutely for four days, and just be out in the open with you.”

"The President was disappointed to find that Muir had no ear for bird music. He was Wordsworthian rather than Keatsian, revering only “rocks and stones and trees.” Garrulous, erudite, and wall-eyed, he talked a pure form of preservation that Roosevelt was not used to hearing. He had no patience with the utilitarian “greatest good for the greatest number” policy of Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot, the President’s very good friend. Conservation favored business at the expense of nature, and property rather than beauty. “The ‘greatest number’ is too often found to be number one.”

"Whatever resonance such views found in the President’s own developing awareness of the “democracy” of national parks, he would have preferred to hear less of Muir and more of the hermit thrushes. Eventually he fell asleep, in the piney air. Another bird chorale saluted him at dawn.

"For the next forty-eight hours, the boy in Roosevelt, never quite suppressed, reveled in his wild surroundings. “This is bully!” he yelled, when Muir burned a dead tree for him and the sparks hurtled skyward. After another night out, he awoke at Glacier Point, and was intrigued to find himself under four inches of snow. “This is bullier!”

"On May 17 [1903] he came down from the peaks in dusty khakis, his eyes sparkling, “I never felt better in my life!” Muir, too, was elated, having confessedly fallen in love with the President’s “interesting, hearty and manly” personality. The substance of their camping conversations remained tacit, suggesting some philosophical difference on the subject of Gifford Pinchot. Muir won at least an immediate presidential order to extend the California forest through the Mount Shasta region, and a promise that Yosemite’s over-commercialized valley would be ceded back to the national park system. Roosevelt’s next conservation statement, on 19 May, was obstinately utilitarian, yet an eloquent plea later that day echoed the preservationist sentiments he had expressed at the Grand Canyon. Speaking in Sacramento, he begged Californians to preserve their “marvelous natural resources” unimpaired. “We are not building this country of ours for a day. It is to last through the ages." (Morris, E. (2001). Theodore Rex. New York: Random House. pp. 229-231)

However, it was the publication of Rachel Carson’s "Silent Spring" that created the story framing that propelled the environmental movement forward.

Her memorable opening pages, which framed the story in tragic terms, enlisting all in a great cause, became a paradigmatic anthem.

"There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings…Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change…There was a strange stillness…The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus…of scores of bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh." (Carson, R. (2000). Silent Spring. London: The Folio Society, p.17)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Environmentalism as Religion (Part Two)

It is the type of thinking that philosophy professor Dr. Alston Chase (2001) warns us about:

“From America’s long-term infatuation with primitive wilderness the [environmental] movement derived the notions that preservation meant “restoring” these prehistoric “conditions” by leaving nature alone. From preservationists such as Thoreau and Muir it inherited a Calvinistic certainty in the righteousness of its cause which justified moral exclusion of those deemed to be damned.

“Borrowing from European ideas, it transformed ecology from a promising science into a highly political one. From thinkers such as Hegel and Naess it derived a monistic metaphysics justifying activism and absolutism, and a belief that nature was the source of political truth. The vision of all things as interconnected led to the idea that all things were equally valuable. Positing ecosystem health as the supreme value diminished the standing of individuals.”

"Out of this odd coupling of mystical American ideals with systematic European philosophies rose a doctrine that was neither fascist nor entirely home-grown but something new—biocentrism, which held that the best way to preserve nature was to leave it alone, and that the supreme good to which society should dedicate itself is not human happiness, but the health of nature. The ecosystem became the model for culture, and global survival was deemed to depend on promoting “diversity” by social engineering or by force."(Chase, A. (2001). In a dark wood: The fight over forests & the myths of nature. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers. p. 412)

Forgotten were essential American traditions Chase noted: “If humanity is the standard of value, then policies must be measured by the extent to which they enhance human life.” (ibid. p. 417) and the natural preservation principles embodied by the work of Fredrick Law Olmstead and the English Garden Ethic which influenced him, also noted by Chase:

“Rather than halting or reversing disturbances [in nature], we should embrace change. Rather that excluding man from the garden, we should welcome his cultivation of it. Rather than feeling compelled by metaphysical imperatives to save pseudoscientific “ecosystems,” we should seek to sustain a variety of landscapes simply because they please us.” (ibid. p. 418)

The concept of protecting the natural world, including animals, for purely utilitarian reasons (or by the very wealthy as exotic pets) was ancient, but protection for its own sake was much newer and the concept of conservation began in the middle ages, as Thomas (1983) writes:

“The earliest use of the term ‘conservation’ (originally ‘conservacy’) seems to have been in connection with the river Thames. The Lord Mayor and Alderman of London were ‘conservators’ of the statues made in the later Middle Ages for the upkeep of the river and thus came to be entrusted with its ‘conservacie’. ‘The word “conservacie” ‘, explained a later commentator, ‘doth extend itself to the preservation of the stream, and the banks of the river, as also the fish and fry with the same’ (John Scow, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, enlarged by John Strype.” (1720), i.38) (Thomas, K. (1983).Man and the natural world: Changing attitudes in England 1500- 1800. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 276)

The protection of all creatures of the natural environment also grew out of religion as Thomas (1983) tells us:

“There was therefore nothing new about the artificial preservation of ornamental or unfamiliar creatures or the cherishing of exotic birds and animals for amusement and display. More novel, however, was the growth of inhibitions about eliminating any wild animals, whether ornamental or not. ‘We dispute in [the] schools’ wrote John Bulwer in 1653, ‘whether, if it were possible for man to do so, it were lawful for him to destroy any one species of God’s creatures, though it were but the species of toads and spiders, because this were taking away one link of God’s chain, one note of his harmony.’ The continuation of every species was surely part of the divine plan.

“The modern idea of the balance of nature thus had a theological basis before it gained a scientific one. It was belief in the perfection of God’s design which preceded and underpinned the concept of the ecological chain, any link of which it would be dangerous to remove. The argument for design contained a strong conservationist implication, for it taught that even the most apparently noxious species served some indispensable human purpose.” (p. 278)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Environmentalism as Religion (Part One)

The impact environmentalism has on public policy is strong and examining it from the perspective that it is a religion, as many observers have noted, helps put its proclamations and practice in a better relation to Catholicism.

A good starting point is to contrast the control of water by human technology, as it is viewed by the Dutch and an environmentalist writer on Hoover Dam.

The Dutch favor optimal thinking as it relates to protecting their country from flooding.

Optimal thinking is doing whatever we can do to ensure that there is no possibility of flooding.

Optimal thinking is what the Dutch—and the Japanese—apply to flooding. They are the world’s experts on flooding, possessing the need and the will to protect their citizens from floods.

Stoner (2005) contrasting the flooding in New Orleans and the Netherlands said:

“As the world now knows, not the river [Mississippi] but the lake [Pontchartrain] was the cause of the terrible flooding of New Orleans. The lake rose as the storm surged water in from the Gulf and added rains of its own, and it soon broke through a couple of levees….

“Lake Pontchartrain is geologically very similar to the Zuider Zee in the Netherlands. [where thousands died in flooding over the centuries] But the Zuider Zee has been tamed by human engineering. A 1918 act initiated the project after flooding two years before, and by 1932 a dam had been completed across its mouth. Some land behind the dam has been reclaimed in polders, some for dwelling, some for farming. What is essential is that the Zuider Zee has never flooded with waters from a North Sea storm since the project was completed, even in 1953 when a winter storm devastated Holland’s then-unprotected south. The replacement of individual dikes with a uniform dam and sea wall…effectively removed vulnerability from the Zuider Zee. A modern series of movable sea walls and dikes has since been built in the southern region, allowing continued tidal flow in fair weather but closable in foul. Modern engineering, with increasing sensitivity to the natural environment so far as is consistent with protecting human life, has restored to the “Low Countries” of Europe the kind of wealth they had known several years before.” (Stoner J. R. Jr. (2005, September 25) Saving a Great City: Why America should rebuild New Orleans. Weekly Standard, p. 23-24)

This is optimal thinking—the Dutch way—and is the way in which we should be approaching our flood protection.

It is certainly not the way Leslie (2005) sees dams and the flood protection they provide, much preferring the free-flowing river:

“Hoover’s [Dam] image became one of the nation’s most popular exports: after it, every country wanted dams, and every major country, regardless of ideology, built them. Between Hoover and the end of the century, more than forty-five thousand dams—dams at least five stories tall—were built in 140 countries. By now the planet has expended $2 trillion on dams, the equivalent of the entire 2003 U.S. government budget. The world’s dams have shifted so much weight that geophysicists believe they have slightly altered the speed of the earth’s rotation, the tilt of its axis, and the shape of its gravitational field. They adorn 60 percent of the world’s two-hundred—plus major river basins, and the water behind them blots out a terrain bigger than California. Their turbines generate a fifth of the world’s electricity supply, and the water they store makes possible as much as a sixth of the earth’s food production. Take away Hoover Dam, and you take away a bearing, a confidence, a sense of what nations are for.

“Yet in a sense, that’s what’s happening. Even if Hoover lasts another eleven hundred years (by which time Bureau of Reclamation officials say Lake mead will be filled with sediment, turning the dam into an expensive waterfall), its teleological edifice has already begun to crumble. In seven decades we have learned that if you take away Hoover, you also take away millions of tons of salt that the Colorado once carried to the sea but that have instead been strewn across the irrigated landscape, slowly poisoning the soil. Take away the Colorado River dams, and you return the silt gathering behind them to a free-flowing river, allowing it again to enrich the downstream wetlands and the once fantastically abundant, now often caked, arid, and refuse-fouled delta. Take away the dams, and the Cocopa Indians, whose ancestors fished and farmed the delta for more than a millennium, might have a chance of avoiding cultural extinction. Take away the dams, and the Colorado would again bring its nutrients to the Gulf of California, helping that depleted fishery to recover the status it held a half century ago as an unparalleled repository of marine life. Take away the dams, finally, and the Colorado River returns to its virgin state: tempestuous, fickle, in some stretches astonishing….[however what also is lost is] Hoover provides 90 percent of Las Vegas’s water…take away Hoover, and you might also have to take away the Allied victory in World War II, which partly depended on warplanes and ships built in Southern California…and take away modern Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix: you reverse the twentieth-century shift of American economic power from East Coast to West.” (Leslie J. (2005). Deep water: The epic struggle over dams, displaced people, and the environment. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. pp.4 – 5.)

This is the thinking that places nature above human beings, this is the thinking that sees—as more than one environmentalist has remarked—“human beings are a cancerous virus upon the earth”.

Part two tomorrow.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pope Leo XIII & Unions

The right of labor to join together to negotiate with capital is a vital right in this increasingly global world and by all accounts, the Catholic Church virtually began the modern union movement with the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII in 1891,Rerum Novarum and this excerpt from it is worth reflecting upon during this period of time when, after many years of shrinkage, modern unions appear to be once more growing.

46. If a workman's wages be sufficient to enable him comfortably to support himself, his wife, and his children, he will find it easy, if he be a sensible man, to practice thrift, and he will not fail, by cutting down expenses, to put by some little savings and thus secure a modest source of income. Nature itself would urge him to this. We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.

47. Many excellent results will follow from this; and, first of all, property will certainly become more equitably divided. For, the result of civil change and revolution has been to divide cities into two classes separated by a wide chasm. On the one side there is the party which holds power because it holds wealth; which has in its grasp the whole of labor and trade; which manipulates for its own benefit and its own purposes all the sources of supply, and which is not without influence even in the administration of the commonwealth. On the other side there is the needy and powerless multitude, sick and sore in spirit and ever ready for disturbance. If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, the consequence will be that the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be bridged over, and the respective classes will be brought nearer to one another. A further consequence will result in the great abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them; nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. That such a spirit of willing labor would add to the produce of the earth and to the wealth of the community is self evident. And a third advantage would spring from this: men would cling to the country in which they were born, for no one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life. These three important benefits, however, can be reckoned on only provided that a man's means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation. The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair.

48. In the last place, employers and workmen may of themselves effect much, in the matter We are treating, by means of such associations and organizations as afford opportune aid to those who are in distress, and which draw the two classes more closely together. Among these may be enumerated societies for mutual help; various benevolent foundations established by private persons to provide for the workman, and for his widow or his orphans, in case of sudden calamity, in sickness, and in the event of death; and institutions for the welfare of boys and girls, young people, and those more advanced in years.

49. The most important of all are workingmen's unions, for these virtually include all the rest. History attests what excellent results were brought about by the artificers' guilds of olden times. They were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art, as numerous monuments remain to bear witness. Such unions should be suited to the requirements of this our age - an age of wider education, of different habits, and of far more numerous requirements in daily life. It is gratifying to know that there are actually in existence not a few associations of this nature, consisting either of workmen alone, or of workmen and employers together, but it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient. We have spoken of them more than once, yet it will be well to explain here how notably they are needed, to show that they exist of their own right, and what should be their organization and their mode of action.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI and Islam, Part Two

An excerpt from another update on the planning for one of the most important global discussions being undertaken, which was blogged on in January

The importance lies in the subject of the discussions which will center around religion and violence.

The discussion was stimulated by this excerpt from the talk the Pope gave at the University of Regensburg in September of 2006.

“In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to some of the experts, this is probably one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”[3] The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".[4]”

Five Muslims at the Vatican, to Prepare the Audience with the Pope
They are the representatives of the "letter of the 138" written to Benedict XVI last October. Here's who they are, and from where they come. One of them, Yahya Pallavicini, tells in a book about how to live as Muslims in a Christian country, in peace between the two religions
by Sandro Magister

ROMA, February 6, 2008 – In the two days before this Ash Wednesday, the first meetings were held in Rome in preparation for the scheduled visit to the Vatican of a representative group of the 138 Muslim scholars who in October of 2007 addressed to the pope and to the heads of the other Christian confessions a letter with an offer of dialogue entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You."

The meetings will be held at the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue, and will be presided over by cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran. The schedule arranges for the Muslim representatives to meet with Benedict XVI and other Church authorities beginning next spring. And they will hold study sessions in institutes like the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, the PISAI, headed by Fr. Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot.

The Muslim delegation was composed of five Muslims scholars from as many nations:

– Ibrahim Kalin, from Turkey, director of the SETA foundation in Ankara and a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.;

– Abd al-Hakim Murad Winter, from England, a professor of Islamic studies at the Shaykh Zayed Divinity School of the University of Cambridge, and director of the Muslim Academic Trust of the United Kingdom;

– Sohail Nakhooda, from Jordan, director of "Islamica Magazine," an international magazine edited in the United States;

– Aref Ali Nayed, from Libya, a member of the Interfaith Program of the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, a former teacher at the International Institute for Islamic Thought and Civilization in Malaysia, and at the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in Rome;

– Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, from Italy, imam of the al-Wahid mosque in Milan, president of the ISESCO council for education and culture in the West, and vice-president of the Islamic Religious Community of Italy, the COREIS.

All of these are part of the group of experts coordinated from Amman by Jordan's Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, president of the al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, the leading promoter of the letter of the 138 and the protagonist behind the exchange of events that took place in November and December with Benedict XVI, through cardinal secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone, in preparation for the future meetings.