Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reading this debate on illegal immigration from a religious worldview has brought up for me some thoughts about how as Americans our outlook on the issue is influenced by politics more than faith. How many Catholics, beholden to the Republican Party, turn their backs on their needy brothers and sisters in Christ and defend a nativist agenda that just 150 short years ago was used against their own ancestors by the same Protestant establishment that is driving the agenda in the present day? How many Episcopalians reject that bias of their ancestors in faith, driven more by their allegiance to the Democratic Party than any stirring of faith-based social justice? Just as with the issue of torture, our political leanings seem to matter much more than the churches and faith communities to which we belong when it comes to determining our positions on issues of great importance.

The indisputable fact, of course, is that things cannot continue the way they are now. Our current system not only creates an underclass that drives down wages for all laborers and violates the basic concepts of freedom upon which our nation was founded, but it also facilitates the entry of fugitives including violent criminals into our territory. Neither of these consequences is desirable to anyone who desires peace or justice. We must create a system that discourages illegal immigration while providing a just result for those who are here already. Many would argue that discouraging illegal immigration should be brought about by making it as difficult and painful to immigrate as is possible, to litter the desert with the corpses of failed attempts so that nobody will think of making the trip in the future. I would argue that the more humane solution is to eliminate the need to immigrate illegally at all. Our current immigration policy is backwards, it gives priority to those who don't have to leave their home countries in the first place while making the desperate wait much longer than they are able. The very fact that legal immigration can take several years would seem to remove it as a possibility for those who face imminent starvation or who flee violence or oppression. The ubiquitous image of immigrant day laborers in our cities and suburbs would seem to show that, if those in need were given a legal and fast avenue of immigration, they would show themselves to be industrious workers and would contribute greatly to our economic well-being. Removing these workers from the shadows, where they are easy prey for unscrupulous employers who force on them meager wages with the threat of deportation, would also solve the problem of wage deflation by allowing such workers to demand fair payment for their labor.

In contrast to the popular opinion, the Catholic Church's position on this issue is not motivated by self-interest. Many of the Latino immigrants into this country either arrive as Protestants or convert once they arrive due to heavy evangelization by those groups in urban areas, and there is also a growing Muslim population in the immigrant community. I'm sure there are also many Latino atheists and agnostics as well, due to the growing "evangelical" movement among the New Atheists. Even among those who remain Catholic, many are poor or at least not rich and after paying their bills and sending some money home to their families probably don't add enough to the collection plate to justify such claims of "self-serving" interest by the hierarchy. The Catholic Church is simply responding out of its concept of broad social justice, advocating for the dignity of the immigrant just as we would work to safeguard the rights of the unborn and the infirm.

We must work to create an immigration system that protects the territorial integrity of our nation while also safeguarding the dignity of those who feel no other choice but to flee their countries and enter ours. Perhaps we should focus on deporting those who engage in criminal activities, checking immigration status on those caught in police raids of gang organizations while allowing those who only desire a better life to live in peace. We are a nation of immigrants after all, and those who criticize Latino newcomers for not learning the language should remember that many of those who came in previous decades and centuries from countries like Poland and Italy also never learned it and left that aspect of assimilation to their children. Many of the children of Latino illegal immigrants understand English, learning it in their schools while their parents work multiple jobs to provide basic necessities and never have the chance at an education. We have a responsibility to our descendants to ensure that our country will be prosperous and safe in the future, but we also have an obligation to justice to ensure that our country will remain the "land of the free." This goal is not realized by turning our nation into a police state with identity papers and racial profiling, nor is it obtained by maintaining the status quo of second-class personhood and economic oppression. We must reform our immigration policy by making it more just, or else risk becoming a nation that will resemble those from which our immigrants are currently fleeing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

It is always disturbing to come across things like this when surfing the web. It really makes me sad when people talk about Catholic faith as if it's some sort of ultra-liberal form of non-religious spirituality, like Episcopalians but with even less theological foundation, diametrically opposed to the bishops and to everything that came before 1962. St. Vincent DePaul? Sure he fed the hungry and clothed the naked but he should have agitated for legalized abortion too. Dorothy Day? Perhaps she would have had more of an impact on poverty if she had demanded that the bishops allow puppet masses. I've never understood this mentality that Catholicism began at Vatican II and everything that happened before that is irrelevant and needs to be overcome in order to create the Church that we need. Liberals ascribe all sorts of motivations to Popes John XXIII and Paul VI in their intentions for Vatican II. It's as if they wanted to completely remake the doctrine of the Church, which is puzzling because the Council did not produce any new doctrine and obviously didn't seek to eliminate any old doctrine. There is a disconnect among some, a sort of amnesia that leads people to believe that the Church is supposed to be a completely different entity post-Vatican II as compared to what it was pre-Vatican II.

The thing that I was most reminded of here was the statement of the Dixie Chicks in 2003 where they said that they were ashamed to be Americans because of our President. Obviously being a citizen of a country is not as easy to change as being a member of a religious group (unless of course you can afford to emigrate and gain citizenship elsewhere), and therefore ideological agreement is not as essential in a nation as is doctrinal agreement in a dogmatic religious group, but the sentiment was the same. Many liberals, this one included, seem almost ashamed of their Catholicism and are always offering apologies as if their religious beliefs are an offense that they must atone for. Far too many Catholics on the liberal side find it necessary to say "I'm a Catholic, but not that kind of Catholic," which is no way for a faith community to operate.

I am not saying that liberals should be rounded up and thrown out of the Church, after all Jesus did not exclude people, but what we must remember is that Jesus required repentance just as much as he offered forgiveness. We are not supposed to remake the Church in our own image, but are rather remade by the Spirit to be what God desires us to be. Liberals want the Church to support abortion and gay marriage because these are the things that the world supports, and they hate the Church just as the world does because the Church does not conform to the world but rather seeks to have the world conform to her. There are not two Catholic Churches, one populated by well-meaning nuns and laity in groups like Call to Action and the other made up of sinister priests and bishops who click their tongues while the world burns. There is one Church, comprising both the faithful laity and the clergy entrusted to protect them spiritually. I suppose that it is possible to call yourself a Catholic while condemning the bishops who are our spiritual foundation, although it is also possible for me to wonder why such a person would remain Catholic in the first place. If you are ashamed of your religion, regarding it as a source of distress, then perhaps it's time to find a religion that you feel good about. Those in the world have always looked upon the Church, the hierarchy as well as those working on the front lines of social justice, with distrust and revulsion because we don't act as they do and don't hold the same things valuable that they do. We should be proud of our Church for the many good works it does and work to correct the ways in which we do not mirror Christ, but we must also remember that our concern for the weak and voiceless on issues like abortion and euthanasia is not a source of embarrassment but rather a cause for celebration. Some people seem to have forgotten this, I pray that in time they may remember.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

God bless this man, his victims, and all those who suffer through our vengance-based form of "justice."

It was thoroughly unnecessary to kill this man. Not only was he apparently repentant, thereby posing little if any threat to the community, but the jail in which he was incarcerated seemed to have no trouble separating him permanently from society. In a civilization that has such wonderfully built and guarded prisons as our own, there is simply no need to go to such extremes for the good of the population. If he had been allowed to live he would have continued repenting for his sins and presumably bringing his soul closer to God in anticipation of his natural death. As it is it would seem, if he was genuine in his repentance and conversion, that his soul is now with God although the process was somewhat shortened by its unnaturalness. If he is indeed with God now then he is at peace, which is a wonderful thing. The people I am most concerned about, and for whom I pray, are those who participated in the execution and the family members who worked to bring it about. Revenge is a very ugly emotion, and one that nobody should keep within their heart for such a long time. Forgiveness is very liberating, and while it can be difficult it is obviously something that we're called to do. I understand that the wounds created by this man's actions make it hard for the families to believe him when he asks forgiveness, but he had no reason to lie once he was on the table and his fate was sealed and besides it harms them none to grant such forgiveness even if it is requested insincerely.

There is something tragic in the support given to the death penalty by people who follow Christ. It is one thing for the world to support this, because it is all about easy answers and visceral emotions, but we are told by our Lord and Savior to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. As Christians we should remember Matthew chapter 5 and forgive, but all too often we fall back into the bloodlust and hatred that were put to death in us by the sacrifice of Christ. Why is it that liberals who seemingly have no concept of the sanctity of human life, looking at abortion and euthanasia as if they were nothing to be concerned about, are more likely to recoil from these acts of state-sponsored murder than the followers of a man who was himself executed and prayed for the salvation of his executioners? Why is it that conservative Catholics who chide liberal "Cafeteria Catholics" for their selective acceptance of the Church's pronouncements choose themselves to either ignore or condemn statements by the Bishops and indeed the Pope about the death penalty while in the same breath praising these men when they talk about abortion or stem cell research? It would seem that we are all selective in our acceptance of Church teaching, praising the bishops when they confirm our beliefs and deriding them as out of touch when they challenge them, and it is something for which we should all pray.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A thought about the recent nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court

We have here a new moment in time, a strange road marker on the journey that is our country's history. For the first time in our history, Protestants will be completely absent from the Court. Even stranger, they've been replaced by members of the two religious groups that have the longest and most bitter history of discrimination in our nation. Just fifty years ago it might have seemed strange that our High Court, the part of our government most entrenched and therefore most protected against the will of the people, would be populated entirely by members of these two groups that had held the contempt and hatred of the majority for the previous two centuries and several more in the countries of our origin. Perhaps this should be a day of celebration for the members of these two groups, a day to celebrate their acceptance into a country that once viewed them with disdain. However...

The catch in all this, the asterisk next to the interesting statistic, is that these six men and three women were not chosen by the (still exclusively, save one exception) Protestant men who govern our country because of their religions or the feelings of those Protestant Presidents toward those religions. Rather, these men and women were chosen because of the political ideologies that govern their positions more than their religions ever would. The two Presidents Bush and President Reagan did not nominate the four reliably conservative justices because they were Catholic, but rather because they were willing to ignore the Church's teachings on the death penalty, concern for the poor, and just war while latching on to the Church's opposition to abortion for purely political reasons. Likewise, President Clinton did not nominate Justice Ginsburg nor did Obama nominate Sotomayor and now Kagan because of their religion but rather because of their ideology.

If Elena Kagan is confirmed by the majority-Democratic Congress, it will not be because they've decided that Jewish people are to be trusted and respected. This respect may already exist, but it will have nothing to do with the decision to make her a Supreme Court Justice. Rather it will be due to her support for Democratic objectives like legalized abortion and gay marriage, and for the Obama supporters it will be because of her support for a supremacist interpretation of the power of the Executive Branch. Her nomination and subsequent confirmation will have less to do with changing American attitudes toward religious minorities than it will have to do with her support for the assaults on habeas corpus and Miranda notification that were started by Republicans and have recently been taken up by the Democrats upon the restoration of their power.

The religious beliefs of the Justices may not be Protestant, but the ideologies that bring them there and guide their decisions most definitely are. This is still a Protestant nation, guided by Protestant ideas and parties that are of a Protestant nature (Episcopalian for the Dems, Baptist and Evangelical for the Reps), and that will not change regardless of who is nominated for the Court. Tragically, if their religious beliefs have anything to do with their nomination it will be as a shield against criticism by political opponents. The most recent President Bush repeatedly used the accusation of anti-Catholicism against Democrats who opposed his nominations of Alito and Roberts, and Obama may very well try to use accusations of antisemitism against Republicans on the Kagan nomination because of their reliance on conservative Jews and Evangelicals who support the nationalist policies of the Israeli state. An entire Supreme Court of "token Catholics" and "token Jews" may be a strange thing to envision, but in a country where getting a Court nominee confirmed can become extremely contentious it is perhaps the only way left to fill a vacancy.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Exposing children to pornography is not right under any circumstance

Regardless of how you feel about teaching gay pride to high school students, pornography should definitely be out of the question. Would we put copies of Penthouse Forum or Playboy in high school libraries? At least Playboy has something other than pornography, in fact in the past it was known as a source of top-quality short fiction. Even if the one picture mentioned is the only pornographic thing in the book, even that is too much. Obviously the creator of that picture was trying to send a message, ridiculing the Boy Scouts by portraying the sexualization of two of their young members at the hands of two homosexual men. Last time I checked, exposing children to pornography is a crime even if it's done by their school's librarian. This book should have been taken from this school, and indeed from every school, a long time ago, and certainly the only reason it wasn't was because the schools were afraid of being sued by GLAAD or some similar organization.

The school kept the other two books, of which I know nothing and therefore cannot give an opinion, but this one was certainly outside of what could be considered appropriate by anyone other than an ideologue for the gay cause. Even if you think that children should be exposed to the idea of homosexuality as a proper lifestyle, it's obviously just as wrong to expose them to gay porn as it would be to have copies of Playboy to be checked out by students. One of the people who objected to the ruling brought up Catcher in the Rye as an example of a book considered obscene in its time, but as far as I know that book isn't illustrated with pictures of graphic sex or children being exposed to such images.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

This is a bad omen for the direction in which our world is heading

While I obviously don't think that every abortion supporter would condone such a horrible thing, nor do I think that every abortion provider and referrer would commit such actions, there seems to be a thin line between "this is something that should be available" and "I think that certain people should be forced to do this, and I should be allowed to decide who" in some people's minds. Not only did they coerce a minor into killing her child, using the threat of losing custody of her other child, but they disregarded the authority of her guardian and actually took her across state lines (a crime last I heard) because they couldn't procure the abortion legally in her home state. The message that this sends is that the government can force you to kill your child, regardless of your "choice" or the choice of your parent or guardian. A government that can't even give a child Tylenol without a parent's permission and can't set a broken bone if a child's guardian is a Christian Scientist who doesn't believe in medical intervention can force that child to take a human life without so much as asking permission.

This is where we're heading in the United States, it's been moving that way since long before Obama was elected and it will continue long after he's left office if we don't stop it. There is a reason why the Church has always objected to abortion, not only because it is a wrong in itself but also because it leads to other things that are also wrong. We were told that abortion would eliminate child abuse and other sorts of domestic violence, and yet these things have skyrocketed since the early 70s even as we kill millions of children every year. Not only this, but the "disposable people" mentality inherent in abortion has led to an increase in many other forms of violence and disregard for human life. Would we be moving toward legalizing euthanasia if we hadn't opened the door with abortion? Would we have so many instances of girls throwing their children in dumpsters if those girls didn't make the logical movement from disregard for pre-birth children to disregard for post-birth children? A society that despises purity despises its own children, or so I've heard, and a society that kills its own children is a society without a future.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It is my hope that this blog can become a place to talk about the issues of the day from a Catholic perspective. I sometimes feel as if I am stuck between two forces in society, criticized by extreme conservatives for not bowing to Republican policies on torture and the death penalty and by extreme liberals for not supporting abortion and gay marriage. I also feel that this split has affected the Church, with one side supporting women/homosexual priests and a liberal attitude toward abortion and birth control while the other side supports anything that comes from the Republican agenda and considers Christian charity toward non-Catholics to be heresy. Those of us in the middle, allied as we are with the Bishops who should be the unquestioned voice of the Church in this country, feel as if we are besieged and our status as "true followers of Christ" is questioned from all sides. To conservatives we are too willing to enter into dialogue with the world, and to liberals we are too unwilling to acquiesce to the world's demands. It is this disconnect, this position outside of the assumed left/right dichotomy that defines our society, that makes the Church so important to our culture and its future. It is this outside status, derided by all and trusted by none, that makes the Church a voice for those who are ignored by the political structures that exist throughout the world.