Contracepting Religious Freedom

Thank God the bishops are using their clout against the attempt of the Obama administration to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception. Although I do not agree with Paul Moses entirely, I believe he has a point in suggesting that the effort could backfire.  But that is a risk we have to take.

Unfortunately, politics today is largely part of our sound bite culture.  So many people are more interested in the outcome of the Twitter war than they are about having an in-depth and clear understanding of the problem at hand.  Political persuasion is to a great extent about perception. Winning a debate  seems more important than dealing with the fundamental issues. Clarifying first principles often clouds the particular agenda and appeals more to the intellect than it does to the emotions. Emotional arguments work better.

Partisanship is also an issue.  I am all for distinctions and hard ones when they reflect reality, but Republican vs. Democrat generally does not reflect the complex reality of peoples real interests and positions.  Certainly, neither political party represents the fundamental interests of the Catholic Church.

Yet the current problem does reflect a reality that could be conveyed easily on Twitter.  It is President Obama against the Church.  The interests of the bishops relative to this issue are not political.  They are not even confessional.  It is the age old problem of the Church maintaining its liberty from incursions into relgious matters by civil authorities.  And the issue even simpler than the current debate frames it.  The real question is not whether religious institutions should be exempted from paying for something considered immoral by their confession.  The real question is why anyone at all is being forced by the government to act contrary to fundamental religious convictions rooted in natural law and in legal history of our country.

During the last presidential campaign Doug Kmiec successfully convinced many Catholics that Barack Obama was the most pro-life candidate in the race.  Many of us were astounded.  Recently, Kmiec wrote to the president in respect to the present debacle.  He said:

In deciding against a reasonable accommodation of Catholic concerns in the implementation of the health care program, you lost sight of your own beliefs.  For this reason, your words this morning touched neither soul nor heart in the room. . . .

Today, Sir, I ask you no longer as an Ambassador, but simply as a friend, why put the cold calculus of politics above faith and freedom?  Please respond, for friendship will not permit me to disregard duty to faith and country.  The Barack Obama I knew would never have asked me to make that choice.

I still think Kmiec is very naive–at best.

Politicians, journalists, pundits and bloggers will now “soundbite” and “twitter” us with irrelevancies about women dying from a lack of birth control because Catholics don’t want to pay for it and about how the bishop’s are too conservative and partisan.  Unfortunately, many will buy it, which is very ironic, since the official voter’s guide of the USCCB is hardly a conservative or partisan representation.

Another irony is Paul Moses’ suggestion that the bishops employ the methods of Saul Alinsky.  This, he says, could build consensus.  Moses counsels the bishops to garner enthusiastic support by community organizing.  Grassroots support, of course, if helpful.  However, the quintessentially alinskian element here is the way in which grassroots support is generated by the ulterior motives of radicals in order to implement a preconceived and elitist agenda.  Moses rightly points out that Obama knows all about this.  But this is not the mission of the bishops. The Church is a voluntary society.  No one has to belong to it, but those who do have an inalienable right to follow its precepts without the interference of the state.   This is not about political maneuvering.  It is about keeping the claws of the government out of religious matters.

Politics is tricky.  We cannot do without consensus because politics is a matter of persuasion.  However, I can hardly think of a situation that is more simple than the present one.  The Church must not sacrifice her independence and the general principle of religious liberty for the sake of some vague measure of political coexistence and popular support. There is hardly any way to prevent those who support Obama’s agenda from casting the bishops’ position as a partisan one.  Caesar must not be conceded an inch of God’s territory even if there are political costs.

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All Is Not Fair in Love and War

Some time ago, I posted a poll about whether the proverb All is fair in love and war is true or not. At the time, I did not say that I was posting on the subject because it was part of my discussion in the paper I had been working on. In any case, most of you agreed with me.

That being said, I post below the introduction to the paper that I will be giving in about 20 minutes in Fatima.  I will be reading an abbreviated version due to time constraints.  More excerpts to follow.

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All is fair in love and war.

Traced back to the 16th century work, Euphues written by the Englishman John Lyly, this proverb expresses the rejection of the standard of fair play where matters of the greatest importance are concerned.  It also conveys the paradox, or coincidence of opposites, concerning love and war, viz. that while the one connotes a state of peace and the other conflict, the two are never really far apart.  In fact, the very Prince of Peace came not to bring peace, but to bring the sword.  In other words, the unity of love is never attained by man after the Fall without conflict.  On the cross, Christ is both Warrior and Bridegroom.

But the question is whether or not “all” is really fair in love and war.  It seems to me, in this respect Lyly’s proverb is more or less in accord with the present zeitgeist.  At least there is no universally accepted standard by which to determine what, in the main, the common good actually is, so we bump around in the dark until we arrive at some measure of tolerance for one another—a very utilitarian standard of fair play, indeed.  The very same feminists, for example, who in the 1960’s and 70’s wished to deliver themselves from the disparity of subjugation to men as sex objects and insisted on birth-control and abortion in order to accomplish this, now affirm their right to be sex objects as long as they are in control and have something to gain.  Birth-control and abortion have assured that everyone gets what they want, everyone, that is, except the victims of the silent holocaust.  In this way, without an objective measure of fair play, the battle of the sexes has reached a sort of precarious détente, which some of us might argue is more like the threat of “mutually assured destruction.”

Cervantes took up the proverb and put it on the lips of Don Quixote who finds himself breaking up a brawl caused by an absurd romantic trick.  The maiden Quiteria has consented to marry the rich Camacho solely for his wealth and in so doing jilts her true love Basilio.  At the wedding before the vows have been exchanged, Basilio shows up and throws himself upon his own rapier in front of the wedding couple.  As he lay dying, Basilio refuses to confess to the priest unless Quiteria agrees to marry him.  As soon as he has obtained her consent Basilio jumps to his feet and reveals his “suicide” to be a trick, and in spite of the deceit Quiteria remains firm in her intention to have him.  A brawl between the parties of Camacho and Basilio ensue and Quixote intervenes, crying:

“Hold, sirs, hold! . . . we have no right to take vengeance for wrongs that love may do to us: remember love and war are the same thing, and as in war it is allowable and common to make use of wiles and stratagems to overcome the enemy, so in the contests and rivalries of love the tricks and devices employed to attain the desired end are justifiable, provided they be not to the discredit or dishonour of the loved object.

Cervantes never tires in poking fun at the literature of chivalry, which often promulgated a code of ethics for love and war that mandated contradictory behavior; Don Quixote speaks of rights but in the same breath denies rules of fair play.  In fact, foolish, romantic sentimentalism by definition discredits and dishonors the loved object.

But it is not only the fictional literature of chivalry that reveals the contradiction.  The 12th century work In The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus, written at the request of the Marie de Champagne, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and followed by many of the courtiers of Europe, we are given an adulterous mandate as the first rule of love:  “Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.”  Then, having said this, Capellanus absurdly exhorts his readers that they should “be mindful to completely avoid falsehood.” So much for the Lancelots and Guineveres of the world.

But love and war have always been pretty much the same thing, at least since the Fall.  God created Man, male and female.  Marriage is the first sacrament established by God.  Theologians call it a sacrament of nature.  In America, where the battle over same-sex marriage rages (more love and war), the proponents of sodomy assert that it is solely the State, not the Church, that creates and has the right to define and regulate marriage.  In fact, marriage arises from neither the Church nor the State.  Marriage exists because man is male and female; it is a sacrament of nature.  Both the Church and the State take in interest in marriage because it is a fundamental good for both, but it pre-exists both the Church and the State.  (Relative to the Church, of course, the solemnization of the union is also Sacrament of the New Testament established by Christ, but that does not change the fact that neither the Church nor the State has created marriage).

Again, without universal standards we bump around in the dark unable to perceive any objective definition of our fundamental institutions and settle on dogmatizing a standard of tolerance which is intolerant of everything but tolerance.  Nothing has really changed since the garden of paradise.  Fallen man is still a usurper.  He reaches out for love, but by denying the source of love the result is war.

The temptation of the serpent is an act of consummate violence.  The sin of our first parents is an arrogant and petty assault on heaven.  The subsequent history of mankind is a family feud, whose body-count is virtually numberless.  The primordial prophecy and promise of our redemption reveals that human history will be the recounting of a nearly endless war, in which finally victory will only come at the end of the world, when the Immaculate foot of the Woman will have stamped out the last efforts of the serpent to win over souls to his lie.  The Father of Lies knows of no code of ethics in regard to either love or war.  And from his point of view, love and war are the same because lust and hatred are espoused in the darkling rites of the netherworld.  But, in some sense, they are the same also from God’s point of view because both courtesy and courage will be forever united by the bond of a brotherhood in arms against all that is godless.

Our first and fallen parents are types of the new man and woman, by which the rest of us are recreated—not only in the image of God, but also in the image of the new and true Adam and Eve.  Christ and Our Lady are the new couple, the heads of the new family that is the Church.  Their story is an adventure of the most epic proportions and it concerns entirely the working out of ultimate love and ultimate war.  If we are honest we will have to admit that our salvation is all about love, but it is also all about war.  There is no use in living in denial, by pretending that some fuzzy and warm concept of the universal brotherhood of man will save us, but neither will we get away with fighting our way out of the mess we are in without a code of warfare.  Love and war are close allies, but all is not fair in love and war.

Damsels in Distress

kill-bill

I started on this post more than a year ago and have come back to it from time to time.  While I am up at Mount St. Francis, hiding in my cave and working on my paper for our Coredemption conference in July, I thought I would finally knock it out.  I shot a video on the same topic  a while back.

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As one interested in helping to bring about a revival of Christian Chivalry, I have thought fondly of the image of the “damsel in distress” as being both iconic and inspiring of the chivalric ideals. I was horrified, then, to see such an honorable term being disparaged by those otherwise promoting the ideals of chivalry. Call me naive or nostalgic (or worse), but I cannot for the life of me see anything wrong with it.

I will admit, if we understand “damsel in distress” as it is caricatured, for example, by the film image of the pretty woman being tied screaming to the train tracks by Dastardly Dan and then being rescued by Agent Jim West, then there is much to be disparaged. The poor helpless thing is abused by one womanizer only to be rescued by another, and all the while is oblivious to everything but the attention she is getting. The ideals of chivalry have always been partially obscured by the cult of “courtly love.” There is nothing new under the sun.

Television and film have that curious ability of turning unalloyed gold into lead, and contrariwise, of cultivating a fondness for the most obvious absurdities. We have learned to despise feminine vulnerability and celebrate the wonders of the Bionic Woman.

So what is the “damsel in distress,” and why should her place in the venerable history of womanhood be preserved and honored? To answer this question we must first examine the contemporary feminist trend to idolize the Amazon.

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Hope of the World?

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Adulation and finger-pointing are the order of the day in this post-election period. Everything from the supernatural powers of The One, to the shortcomings of Sarah Palin have been attributed to the success of the Man with No History.

I, for one, would not rule out a preternatural influence. Interestingly enough, Father Rutler came pretty close to connecting Obama to the Antichrist the night before the election. See for yourself. (The Lord of the World is well-worth the read. I have referenced it here before.)

Even so, if I were to have to choose between which one of our enemies had the greatest effect in bringing about the outcome (the world, the flesh or the devil), I would still say it was mostly the flesh, namely, that interior disorder due to original sin that is the constant companion of those who live this side of heaven.

I pointed this fact out in my pre-election homily. In my opinion, this fact’s importance cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, this is precisely what is happening. Catholics Democrats are living in a dream world, and the Republican Party is in shambles because none of us want to face the music. We have lost our chastity and we don’t want it back.

The vast majority of Catholics don’t have the moral fortitude or political will to really be pro-life, because we have been evangelized by the purveyors of lust. We have not been witnesses to Christ and we don’t have the determination to be so, because we have put our trust in the world and what it has to offer.

How many people, even those in the pews, actually believe that fornication is a sin, let alone pornography, masturbation and lustful desires and thoughts? In principle most Catholics do not believe that lust is wrong unless it “hurts” someone else—whatever that means. So how can anyone like this be expected to put aside all their personal opinions and political fears and vote for someone they cannot stand because the Church says that we must vote pro-life?

Five minutes spent watching television will remind us how far from the Catholic vision our country has gone, even if we still remain one of the most religious countries in the world. Even Sarah Palin said she wouldn’t dream of having any more children and supports contraceptive sex education. (Could you imagine what would happen if a vice-president became pregnant during her administration?)

But of course this will largely remain undiscussed in the post mortem, even in conservative circles. Many conservatives will even argue more strenuously that the social cons are a drag on the Party. In part, this is the motivation for the scapegoating of Palin.

We must have our contraception and our dirty little fun. Kids must be “protected” from anything that is not “age appropriate,” that’s true, but we wouldn’t dream of depriving anyone of their “rights,” or even presume to know what’s best for society at large when it comes to matters of sexuality.

I will go a step further and critique the whole “new chastity movement.” I use that term so as not to be construed as disagreeing with the “Theology of the Body” of the late and saintly Pope John Paul II. I agree that that a more positive approach to the teaching of chastity is necessary, and that the insights of the Theology of the Body are important. However, some (notice the emphasis) of the promotion of these insights seem a bit gnostic and disingenuous.

I say gnostic, because it is asserted that this new way has been kept a secret until now, and with the new indoctrination all the old problems of original sin, scrupulosity, prudishness and guilt will be minimized. It is suggested that we will be naked without shame almost to the point of original innocence. Who is kidding who?

I say disingenuous, because there is an underlying cause for the new approach that has nothing to do with a “new revelation.” That underlying cause is simply the fact that the vast majority of Catholics refuse to give up their contraception. Some alternative had to be devised, just as some alternative had to be devised for Catholics who refuse to give up divorce and remarriage.

I believe many use Natural Family Planning for the right reasons. I also believe that many use it as a substitute for contraception, because that is the way it has been promoted and because many of us have lost hope that there is an alternative.

The fact is chastity is not possible without supernatural grace and hope. The only way someone will go into a voting booth and say, “I don’t care how I feel about this election; I will vote pro-life no matter how I feel, until my party takes me seriously,” is when they are willing to exercise the same kind of trust in matters of chastity and family life.

We really don’t want pro-life candidates because we really don’t want to be chaste. We don’t have the moral fortitude and political will because we have not yet humbled ourselves to beg for the grace we need—the grace we really need.