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"In Paradise" - Another View

I found myself disagreeing with Paul Johnston’s review (3/6/15) of In Paradise, Peter Matthiessen’s last novel. I fear that his sober, almost disappointed judgment, putting stress on the author’s failure to engage the Shoah with sufficient spiritual vision, will put readers off.  Johnston asks for a novel that “requires us to remember – to insist- that the world is God’s creation and not our own, and that all people, including those unlike ourselves, are created in the image of God.” One can scarcely disagree with such a belief in the Incarnation, but Johnston is really posing a broader question: can literature, fiction, say anything adequate about the Holocaust? He raises a standard that is exclusive, and I would hold absolute in a way the hedges out the imagination. In the course of the review, I find that Johnston’s shows his own hesitation at the conclusion he reaches. While he admits Matthiessen achieves partial success, he notes that Matthiessen’s Buddhism keeps his vision from transcendence. As if looking back over his shoulder, Johnston can’t help but admire that struggle that is this artistic grappling with the past. The failure of the novel is what it says or doesn’t say to us and to those in the future. 

In Paradise takes us to an interfaith retreat at Auschwitz fifty years after the liberation of the camp. The participants are Buddhists, Jews, Christians, atheists, relatives of former Nazi guards, local Polish residents, and Clements Olin, a Polish American academic with family roots in Oswiecim, a town near the camp. Olin is the center of consciousness, ostensibly doing research on a Holocaust survivor, Tadeusz Borowski, and author of This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. He is also attempting to discover his own family history, especially the facts surrounding his birth and sudden removal to the USA. The novel explores the holocaust through Olin’s interactions with the other participants and those residents of the Polish village of his birth. The plot structure allows Matthiessen to provide a chorus of voices, some pious, others abrasive, some accusatory, and other proprietary. In sum, the characters grope in speech to confront the events that took place around them fifty years before. The weight of genocide burdens those in silent vigil upon the entry ramps. Their evening statements of witness after long reflection in silence find not consensus but divisiveness, and provide real opportunities for the novelist’s characterization.

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Drawing a bath for organized labor.

On Monday, Governor Scott Walker made Wisconsin the twenty-fifth state to enact “right to work” legislation. The law is not a jobs program. Neither is it a workers' bill of rights. It permits private-sector workers to opt out of paying fees to unions that negotiate their wages. In other words, it allows such employees to be freeloaders. Federal law already lets employees refuse to join a union, but in states without right-to-work laws employees must pay “fair share” fees to the union that secured their contract. For decades, right-to-work laws have been signed by governors across the South and West. But only recently have Republicans been able to pass them in the labor-strong states of the upper Midwest; Michigan and Indiana adopted right-to-work in 2012, and the new GOP governor of Illinois ran on it. President Barack Obama decried the Wisconsin law as “anti-worker.” The day after Walker signed the bill, the AFL-CIO, along with two other unions, filed a lawsuit challenging the statute—a pro-forma protest. Union leaders know that similar lawsuits in other states have always failed.

Given the Republican dominance of the Wisconsin legislature, the bill’s passage was a fait accompli. But the state senate and assembly held hearings anyway, during which a parade of critics—who vastly outnumbered supporters—voiced their concerns about right-to-work. Union members condemned the measure as an attack on labor. A bankruptcy attorney winkingly begged the legislature to pass the bill because it would be good for his business. And in written testimony the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC) delivered a stirring defense of labor unions, affirming over a century of church teaching promoting their expansion. Or at least that’s what one might expect Catholic bishops to say about anti-union legislation. Instead, Wisconsin’s bishops offered what amounted to an extended shrug.

Quoting from its 2015 public-policy position paper, the WCC insisted that “the economy must serve people, not the other way around.” It continued: “If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers, owners, and others must be respected.” Those are the kinds of noises one expects to hear from bishops of a church whose popes have promoted labor unions for over a century. “There are not a few associations of this nature,” Pope Leo XIII wrote in Rerum novarum (1891), and still “it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient.” Leo’s wish has not been granted. In Wisconsin, for example, the percentage of employees who belong to unions has dropped from 14.2 percent in 2010, before Walker became governor, to 11.7 percent last year. Yet, reading the WCC’s testimony, it’s not easy to tell whether the bishops think that’s a bad thing.

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“Tilled too much and kept too little”: An Outline of the Ecology Encyclical?

Last week Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Ghanaian prelate and President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, gave a lecture at St. Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth. He titled it “Integral ecology and the horizon of hope: concern for the poor and for creation in the ministry of Pope Francis."

But he might well have titled it, An outline of the Pope’s forthcoming encyclical.

Vatican expert and papal biographer Austen Ivereigh called the lecture “a curtain-raiser” from “the man whose council wrote the first draft.”

The lecture’s overall themes and key phrases resound with the language Pope Francis has used since day one of his pontificate. But more importantly, it signals both how scripture will be interpreted anew against the backdrop of ecological degradation and how Francis’s teaching on “integral ecology” builds on the magisterium of the previous two popes.

The phrase “integral ecology” seems primed to become the encyclical’s central idea. Turkson describes it as “the key to addressing the inter-related issues of human ecology, development and the natural environment.”

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The Impeachables

Forty-seven Republican Senators have written to the "leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran," warning them that whatever agreement President Obama and Secy. of State Kerry might come to on Iran's nuclear progrgam, there's a good chance it will be dumped in a new administration. (Wonder which new administration?)  Here's the NYTimes story with over 3500 comments.

Is this an Impeachable offense? Oh wait! Would these 47 have to bring articles of impeachment against themselves?

The Iranians seem to know enough about the U.S. government to call it a "propoganda ploy"; that's a little stronger than the President's observation calling the letter "somewhat ironic," putting the Senators on the same side as Iranian hardliners. Here's the letter; check out those signatures! From satirist Andy Borowitz: "Iran Offers to Mediate Talks Between Republicans and Obama."  Amy Davidson at the New Yorker  points out that the senator who wrote the letter has been in the Senate for two months. Marking the fence posts? Jim Pauwels points out below that they may have all used the same blue pen to sign.  Even the Daily News!!  And The Logan Act (1799) (text below) HT: Pat Lang.

March 11 @10:33: Having just finished reading the paper, I am thinking maybe this mess could prove a turning point. 1. The Democrats are backing away from new sanctions legislation; 2. Herzog and Livni running against Netanyahu are pulling up in polling; 3. Tom Frideman does a fact-filled column on how Sheldon Adelson is buying U.S. and Israeli politics.  (Cites below in comments @10:44). Too pollyannish?

Ecclesial Movements

The lead article in the current issue of America, "Rediscovering Jesus," is by Timothy Schilling (who often contributes to Commonweal). Tim, as some know, has been working in pastoral ministry in the Netherlands for many years. His article is a pastoral reflection upon Pope Francis's Evangelii Gaudium and its challenge to renew our relationship with the living Christ. Among other points, Schilling writes:

Interesting to see in the Netherlands is how helpful new ecclesial movements and small Christian communities can be in promoting a vital relationship with Christ. The Focolare movement, Sant’Egidio, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the Emmanuel Community and many others prioritize the personal relationship with Christ and send forth believers who are ready to share their faith with others. At the national resource center for parishes where I work, we are looking into how parishes can do more of the same.

Coincidentally or providentially, Pope Francis delivered three important addresses last week (March 4, 6, and 7) to three ecclesial movements: Focolare, The Neocatechumenal Way, and Communion and Liberation. Though these talks are not yet posted in English on the Vatican's website, it's worthwhile to keep checking in for their appearance. If anyone has seen them in English elsewhere, please share the link.

 

The new issue is live

Our March 20 issue is now on the website. Among the highlights:

A three-part story featuring Lisa Fullam, Marian Crowe, and Christopher C. Roberts writing on contraception and Catholic identity -- from Natural Family Planning to the difference between belief and practice to the possibility of revisiting doctrine.

Paul Elie on the Community of Sant’Egidio’s work to end capital punishment.

William L. Portier with a review of Gary Wills’s The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis, and Valerie Sayers with a review of Michael Laub’s Diary of the Fall.

See the entire table of contents here.

Salvation (Lila pp. 177 - 261)

She said to the child, “Now I been in Gilead a pretty long time. A lot longer than I expected. And you’re going to be born here. If I leave I’ll take you with me, I will for sure. I’ll tell you the name of the place, though. People should know that much about themselves anyway. The name of your father. Could be I won’t ever leave. The old man might not give me cause.” And then she almost laughed, because she knew he never would. She said, “That old man loves me. I got to figure out what to do about it.” 221

It’s easy to love. It’s hard to believe that you are loved. You are the only one who can know if you truly love and at the same time you are the person who cannot know that someone loves you. There is no “proof” that can convince someone of what is in someone else’s heart. Our knowledge that we are loved comes not from reasoned argument or from dialectical proof. Our knowledge that we are loved comes from faith. After so much practice, Lila Ames is starting to believe that she is loved.

In an important way, the question every Christian must ask himself or herself is simply: do you believe that God loves you? For God loving the world, and loving you as part of that world, is the central message of the New Testament. Jesus’s Good News is that God loves human beings and so human beings are called to love God and each other. The presence of such love is the mark of the kingdom of God. This kingdom will continue in the new creation that Christ promises, where men and women who are judged worthy will share in God’s love, and God will be all in all. But, and this is just as important, Christ’s message is that the kingdom of God starts now.  Lila has begun to learn that she doesn’t have to wait for the general resurrection to believe that she is loved.

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Monday Morning Links: March 9

Apple shows off its smartwatch today, which is apparently be available in April, further blurring the lines between its role a tech company and a lifestyle company.

Right after International Women's day, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Melinda Gates are in New York today to address the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women conference. Meanwhile, Republicans are criticizing donations to the Clinton Foundation from countries like Saudi Arabia. From the New York Times

The donations from countries with poor records on women’s rights, however, presented a difficult appearance problem for a candidate running in part as the embodiment of women’s aspirations to equality.

On the New Yorker's  Page Turner blog, Paul Elie looks at Thomas Merton as a searching man. "Here was a person who resolved not to miss the meaning of his life in the living of it. Here was a dangling man who was determined not to go slack."

It's not The Da Vinci Code, but it's close. The L.A. Review of Books reviews possibly the worst book ever written about Jesus

In the New York Review of Books, David Cole looks at the torture report, arguing the CIA's continuing tactics came down to nobody stepping forward to stop them.

The newly declassified CIA documents depict an agency whose leadership knew that what it was doing was wrong, and therefore was never fully confident that the authorizations it received from the executive branch were enough—even though they came from the president, the vice-president, the attorney general, and the national security adviser, as well as from senior lawyers in all of those offices. . . . The agency comes across as so skittish about the program that had anyone had the temerity to say no, the program almost certainly would have halted.

Las Hermanas Conference, March 19-21

A good friend of mine is organizing a conference in San Antonio, TX to "honor the history, development, and legacy of Las Hermanas, a grassroots Latina movement formed 40 years ago to challenge and change the church and its role in society." It will be held March 19-21, and it looks like they have a great program of spearkers including:

  • Lara Medina, Ph.D., author of Las Hermanas: Chicana/Latina Religious-Political Activism in the U.S. Catholic Church (Temple University Press, 2004).
  • Timothy Matovina, Ph.D., author of Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church (Princeton, 2012).
  • Sister Yolanda Tarango, Ph.D., co-author of Hispanic Women: Prophetic Voice in the Church (Fortress, 1992).
  • Theresa L. Torres, Ph.D., author of The Paradox of Latina Religious Leadership in the Catholic Church (Palgrave MacMillan, 2013).

So, If you find yourself in San Antonio later this month, check it out. You can register here: http://uiw.edu/lashermanas/.

What's Changed Since Selma?

Saturday marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom March across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. On hand for the jubilee celebration will be Barack Obama. Last November, on the night it was learned that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the shooting death of Michael Brown, the president spoke briefly on the rule of law and the need for peaceful protest. He went on to say: "What is also true is that there are still problems, and communities of color aren't just making these problems up. Separating that from this particular decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion. I don't think that's the norm. I don't think that's true for the majority of communities or the vast majority of law enforcement officials. But these are real issues. And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down." 

What would seem a blow against entrenched denialism was struck earlier this week when the Justice Department released its report detailing civil rights abuses by Ferguson's police force and municipal officials -- practices that Conor Friedersdorf likened to the kind of criminality favored by the Mafia. The repugnance of the behaviors documented (including taser attacks, canine attacks, physical and verbal intimidation, unlawful detainment, and implementation of an extortionate system of compounding fines for minor traffic violations, all targeting people of color) support the analogy. Not all municipalities resemble Ferguson; the problem is that any do. “What happened in Ferguson is not a complete aberration,” the president reiterated Friday. “It’s not just a one-time thing. It’s something that happens.” Meanwhile, criticism of the Justice Department's report from certain quarters as politically motivated isn't just off-base, or offensive; it also simultaneously reflects and reinforces what's illustrated by the findings.

Last year, which in addition to the police-related death of Michael Brown also saw those of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Akai Gurley, marked as well the twenty-fifth anniversary of Spike Lee's film Do the Right Thing. The 1989 release was preceded by a stream of ugly commentary masquerading as criticism from nominally reputable pundits and reviewers who took issue with the movie's climactic depiction of a riot. David Denby: "If some audiences go wild, he's partly responsible." Joe Klein: "David Dinkins [then running for mayor of New York] will also have to pay the price for Spike Lee's reckless new movie about a summer race riot in Brooklyn, which opens June 30 (in not too many theaters near you, one hopes)."

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The Continuing Martyrology

Today the Church commemorates the Martyrs Felicity and Perpetua killed in Carthage in 202 A.D. Each left behind a young child.
 
From the account of the Martyrdom of Felicity and Perpetua:
Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honors, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less significant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendor and immeasurable power for all the ages. Amen.
And here are the names of the Coptic Christian Martyrs slaughtered in Libya in 2015:
Milad Saber Mounir Adly Saad, single from Menbal village;
Sameh Salah Farouq, married, one child, from Manqarius village;
Ezzat Boshra Nassif, married, with one son of 4 years, from Dafash village;
Mina Shehata Awad, from Al-Farouqeyya village;
Louqa Nagati Anis Abdou, 27 years, married, with a baby of 10 months;
Essam Baddar Samir Ishaq, single; both from al-Gabaly village.
 
All the following are from Al-Our village:
Hany Abdal-Massih Salib, married, three daughters and one son;
Guergues Milad Sanyut, single;
Tawadraus Youssef Tawadraus, married, three children from 7 to 13 years old;
Kyrillos Boschra Fawzy, single
Magued Soliman Shehata, married, two daughters and a son;
Mina Fayez Aziz, single;
Samouïl Alham Wilson, married, three children, 6, 4 and 2 years old;
Bishoï Stephanos Kamel, single;
Samouïl Stephanos Kamel, single
Malak Abram Sanyut, married, three children;
Milad Makin Zaky, married, one daughter;
Abanub Ayyad Ateyya Shehata, single
Guergues Samir Megally Zakher, single;
Youssef Shukry Younan, single;
Malak Farag Ibrahim, married, a baby daughter.

The 8th Sacrament

Among Catholic high school alumni of a certain age with vivid, if not entirely reliable, memories of their athletic exploits, one sport is regarded with almost sacramental reverence: basketball.

Count me among those whose identities as Catholics and proud members of their urban parishes were formed by the grace of the city game. A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer (and available here) by columnist Frank Fitzpatrick reminded me of how deep the connection runs.

A life-long Philadelphian, Fitzpatrick is a product of the city’s parochial school system and is still actively involved in all things Catholic (and athletic) in the area. He admits to pulling out his high school yearbook “at least three times a week” and is immodestly proud of his ability to “still recite the 1967 all-Catholic basketball team.”  

In another place and time, his musings could be chalked up to nostalgia. Not in Philadelphia, however, where, he notes, “Philadelphia's parochial-school graduates are as parochial as they come.” A good number of his contemporaries, many of them successful college and pro basketball coaches, still live and work in the area. And they share a common bond:

Life's journey, for many of us aging Philadelphia Catholics, will always be more comprehensible and pleasant because of the basketball-flavored network of parishes, gyms, and Catholic League high schools we have in common.

Understanding this phenomenon begins with our childhood parish, the Rosetta Stone to our identities. When we ask, "Where you from?," it's the parish, and not a neighborhood or town, we want to know.

The parish tells us which nuns, priests, and coaches shaped you. It pinpoints the corners and playgrounds where you likely hung out, the athletic talent you played with or against, your friends, your rivals, your taste in sandwich shops.

The same can be said, I imagine, for most Catholic city kids who played varsity ball in high school or who were members of their parish CYO teams.

For those of us who moved away from our home towns and parishes ages ago, the past might not intrude on our daily lives the way it does for Fitzpatrick and his cronies. But the game’s influence on our lives and Catholic identities is somehow ever present. Some of us, like Dan Barry, continue to play in cramped church gyms, “breathing in the stale, familiar air of the Catholic Youth Organization past.” (His wonderfully evocative account of his “Sunday Obligation” can be found here.) Others, like former pro basketball player Earl Cureton, return each year to the schools that launched them.

And for the rest of, no matter the distances we’ve traveled—or the current state of our games—basketball remains a signal experience in our lives.

More on Relativism and Politics

As a moral theologian, I often think that claims about “relativism” infecting our society are overblown. Most people, most of the time, do not act as consistent relativists—at most, they view particular issues as relative, and even in these cases, their actual practice suggests implicit moral convictions. However, a recent New York Times piece about teaching a supposed “fact/opinion” distinction to second graders worried me. Domimic Preziosi also noted this piece, connecting it to the problems of artificial intelligence. But my worries are a bit more immediate and political.

The article makes some disputable particular points, but overall, the author rightly shows that a strong distinction between fact and opinion is not coherent. A supposed “fact/value” distinction was in ascendancy in some philosophical circles a century ago, but has been cogently criticized for at least fifty years. Innumerable examples can be adduced to suggest fluidity in both directions: one can have a difference of opinion about who is the best baseball player, but such opinion is itself constrained by facts—there may not be one right answer, but there are very many clearly mistaken answers. From the other direction, how one construes what “the facts” are (or at least what their significance is) is affected by what we value, the moral commitments we have. Again, from this side, we can’t completely “make up” facts, but even contemporary neuroscience affirms that what we actually “see” is affected by our commitments.

Oftentimes, it is good practice to ignore comment boxes (except at dotCommonweal, of course), but my concern was amplified by the comments that followed. The Times curates the comments, and so its “picks” rise to the top—and, astonishingly, most of the picks represent quite sane and rational responders who strongly reject the author’s claim, and who want very strongly to adhere to this distinction. As one commenter put it:

After reading many of the comments, it seems as though the great majority of the adults reading this blog don't believe in moral facts. And yet, many of them express this by vehemently claiming that McBrayer is WRONG to impose his view on others (implying that it is a moral fact that one shouldn't do this). Believing in moral facts allow us to call certain practices wrong. I believe slavery was and is wrong and that those who ever thought it was permissible had false beliefs—not just that we happened to change our feelings about it. One can believe in moral facts without being the moralistic monster many are claiming Professor McBrayer is (a judgment that seems to be based on the fact that someone apparently noticed he teaches philosophy of religion—an ad hominem if I've ever seen one). The extreme reactions here astound me.

Count me astonished, too. It is well-known that, with a depressing frequency, those on the far Right abandon reasoned discourse about what we should do; it is a supposed virtue that the political Left is more careful about these matters—say, on the economy or the environment. Yet here we have apparently well-educated Times readers displaying very fundamental irrationality. The great achievements of the Progressive Left in the last century—the New Deal, unionism, and civil rights—all sprang from quite firm moral convictions. And indeed, I still think many of these commentators in practice retain these convictions. What is alarming is that they reject a public discourse that could appeal to these moral commitments…at least as anything other than majoritarian preference.

What is going on? Another comment on the McBrayer piece might illustrate the problem:

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Elsewhere

In a piece titled "The Robots Are Coming," John Lanchester explains why technology may one day force us to choose between capitalism and democracy. The word "socialist" does not appear until the last sentence of the piece, but the drift of Lanchester's argument is clear. And compelling.

A great deal of modern economic discourse takes it as axiomatic that economic forces are the only ones that matter. This idea has bled into politics too, at least in the Western world: economic forces have been awarded the status of inexorable truths. The idea that a wave of economic change is so disruptive to the social order that a society might rebel against it – that has, it seems, disappeared from the realms of the possible. [...]

The scenario we’re given—the one being made to feel inevitable—is of a hyper-capitalist dystopia. There’s capital, doing better than ever; the robots, doing all the work; and the great mass of humanity, doing not much, but having fun playing with its gadgets. (Though if there’s no work, there are going to be questions about who can afford to buy the gadgets.) There is a possible alternative, however, in which ownership and control of robots is disconnected from capital in its current form. The robots liberate most of humanity from work, and everybody benefits from the proceeds: we don’t have to work in factories or go down mines or clean toilets or drive long-distance lorries, but we can choreograph and weave and garden and tell stories and invent things and set about creating a new universe of wants. This would be the world of unlimited wants described by economics, but with a distinction between the wants satisfied by humans and the work done by our machines. It seems to me that the only way that world would work is with alternative forms of ownership. The reason, the only reason, for thinking this better world is possible is that the dystopian future of capitalism-plus-robots may prove just too grim to be politically viable. This alternative future would be the kind of world dreamed of by William Morris, full of humans engaged in meaningful and sanely remunerated labour. Except with added robots. It says a lot about the current moment that as we stand facing a future which might resemble either a hyper-capitalist dystopia or a socialist paradise, the second option doesn’t get a mention.

A letter from Athens by the American poet A. E. Stallings:

So far, the fledgling government has been struggling to do what it was elected to do—to issue a “great No” to austerity. Now we are in Lent, a season of repentance and second thoughts. But the rhetoric on the banners of Athens would suggest that, even faced with sombre repercussions, the sea of people still thinks it is the right No.

Brenda Wineapple on the extraordinary life of Sybille Bedford:

To this day, I [...] remember her bright blue eyes, her mumbly voice, the bottles of dark wine lined up on the small wooden table in her very small but amply book-lined apartment. I remember that our first talk lasted far into the night. I remember that she was then and continued to be forthright, funny, and scrupulously frank. I remember thinking and then later writing, and considering even now, how remarkable it was that one of the finest stylists of the twentieth century, bar none, with a prose of incomparable precision and grace, would candidly acknowledge her daily battle against discouragement, distraction, and doubt. But that was typical.

I also remember that on September 11, 2001, she was the only friend from afar who telephoned to check on my husband and me. Then again, her life and her work were all about accountability. “Our capacities for suffering are not usually so extensible as are the means of inflicting it,” she once observed. "We bear, and may derive strength from having borne, comfort from being still there, comfort from any mercy: the faith of friends, the match struck by a stranger, discovery of reserves."

That is survival.

Indian bishop: remarried Catholics shouldn't be 'rudely refused' Communion.

“I have heard of so many Catholics being rudely refused Eucharistic Communion because they are divorced persons and have remarried," said Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona, India, during a February 25 conference of priests. "We need to be kind and compassionate in communicating the Church doctrine and dogma," he continued. "We should have polite dialogue with the faithful instead of rudely turning them away.”

The seventy-five priests had gathered in central India for a meeting on “effective ministry to families in the light of the Synod.” Bishop Dabre also criticized the "contraceptive mentality," especially the widespread availability of condoms. “Sexual morality has sharply and widely declined and has been trivialized. So many betrayals and crimes take place because of the easy accessibility of contraceptives,” he said. Dabre serves as a member of the Indian bishops conference Office for Doctrine.

Read the rest at Vatican Radio.

Common Ground

From the editorial boards of America magazine, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, and Our Sunday Visitor:

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Glossip v. Gross, a case out of Oklahoma that challenges the most widely used lethal injection protocol as being cruel and unusual punishment.

The court took up the case in January after a year of three high-profile, problematic executions in three states. The court will likely issue a ruling by June. Our hope is that it will hasten the end of the death penalty in the United States.

The rest is here.

Moral Relativism & Super-Intelligence

It's not actually messy, you only think it's messy

Can the bedroom of an eleven-year-old girl be objectively a “mess”? To a pair of exhausted, exasperated working parents the answer is obvious. But when the girl in question notes that “mess” is a value claim and thus is not a matter of fact but an opinion, the point must be grudgingly conceded -- though allowance may still be withheld.

Pride in the growing ability of your child to articulate the difference between fact and opinion is tempered by the realization that it’s being turned against you, and that it will soon be deployed in disagreements inevitably more fraught than whether the dirty socks and Taylor Swift t-shirt need to be picked up right now. That my daughter has learned this skill in school on one level validates our decision to enroll her where we did, though on another it suggests continued vigilance is warranted: The Common Core curriculum, under fire from numerous quarters for a number of reasons, is now also getting the attention of moral philosophers who say it “embeds a misleading distinction between fact and opinion.” From Justin P. McBrayer at The Stone blog of The New York Times:

[O]ur public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths.

The inconsistency in this curriculum is obvious. For example, at the outset of the school year, my [second-grade] son brought home a list of student rights and responsibilities. Had he already read the lesson on fact vs. opinion, he might have noted that the supposed rights of other students were based on no more than opinions. According to the school’s curriculum, it certainly wasn’t true that his classmates deserved to be treated a particular way — that would make it a fact. Similarly, it wasn’t really true that he had any responsibilities — that would be to make a value claim a truth.

McBrayer says he’d realized many of his college students already don’t believe in moral facts, and that conversations with other philosophy professors suggest “the overwhelming majority of college freshmen … view moral claims as mere opinions that are not true or are true only relative to a culture.” The implications are obvious and relevant to the recent discussion here concerning curricula at Catholic universities. Concerns about moral relativism in academia are established, though, and it’s too soon to know how anything specifically inculcated by Common Core will have an effect. College students were cheating, for example, long before Common Core; so were corporate executives; so were spouses. But it bears watching, of course, given that millions of students in more than forty states are being educated according to the standards -- which themselves might have arisen out of the academic environment McBrayer describes.

Plus, given the pace of technological development, it might one day be not just human beings that need moral compassing.

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Bankruptcy lawyer to Wisconsin legislators: Pass right to work

"For the benefit of personal bankruptcy attorneys all across Wisconsin, I urge you to pass this bill." -- James Murray

 

African bishop on polygamy, homosexuality & divorce (oh my).

In a wide-ranging, at points jaw-dropping interview with Aleteia, Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana, signaled his openness to finding a way for remarried Catholics to be readmitted to Communion--and suggested the church might reinterpret Scripture to allow the "unbinding" of marriages. Palmer-Buckle, who is sixty-four years old, was selected by his brother bishops to represent Ghana at this October's Synod on the Family. Early in the interview, the archbishop makes it clear that he takes seriously Pope Francis's call for open discussion of the challenges facing Catholic families today.

There are people in polygamous relationships, who were involved in it before becoming Christians. Their family had to make a choice: to let go of one women or two women with all their children without hurting the children, without hurting the wives. So it is an issue.

How do I baptize children of polygamous marriages? What do I teach them? If I’m going to tell them, “Your daddy must let go of your mommy,” will that not hurt the child emotionally, even spiritually for the rest of his or her life, to the point that he or she may even decide the Church is bad because it broke up my family?

I can tell you for sure that there are polygamous marriages where you will be amazed at the harmony between the husband and his different wives, among the different wives, and among their children. It’s amazing. There are many, many other instances where there is so much hurt going on among the different women, among the different children, and these must be brought to the fore. How do we help all of those involved to look at Christ, and to what Christ invites them to?

On the question of gay people, despite the fact that "Africa has always frowned upon that," Palmer-Buckle refuses to "close my eyes to the fact that there are instances in Africa of homosexuals, people with homosexual tendencies, people with lesbian tendencies." Of course the church teaches that all men and women are created in the image and likeness of God, Palmer-Buckle says; that dignity must be protected. "And that is why we must help that individual listen to what God says about his or her state," he continues. "And I think that is the beauty of what the church teaches us."

This vexes the interviewer, Diane Montagna, who asks Palmer-Buckle whether last October's synod could have been clearer about what the church really teaches about homosexuality. Wasn't he worried that some had "hijacked" interim report--which suggested there might be "positive values" in "irregular" relationships--to claim the church was poised to approve of gay relationships. But the archbishop doesn't share her concern.

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Ted Hesburgh, S.J. UPDATED...

The headline in a piece in NCR Today:  "University presidents reflect on the life of Jesuit Fr. Ted Hesburgh". 

Irony? Freudian slip?

But now I see that he's been de-Jesuitized in the headline, and an apology issued.