Of all the things President Obama said in the long New Yorker profile-interview last week, I found it interesting how many people seized on his remark that he wouldn’t let his son play pro football. Syria? The ACA? Obstructionist Congressional Republicans? There were about seventeen-thousand other words to choose from, but with the two-week gap between conference championships and Super Bowl Sunday, maybe people were itching for something, anything, football-related to talk about (surely it wasn’t just another reason to criticize Obama for positing “imaginary” offspring and apologizing for America?).
The president said something similar this time last year, only then it was that he’d have to think “long and hard about it.” Of course, the twelve months between have served up still more stories of players now living with (and dying from) the effects of catastrophic brain injury tied to playing football, and still more data confirming the connection. So maybe it’s understandable that his position has solidified. And yet then came what he called his “caveat emptor,” that current NFL players “know what they’re buying into. It’s no longer a secret. It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”
Just how responsible are fans and viewers of football for the well-being of the people playing it?Read more
The Republicans have finally gotten serious about health care reform. The bad news for them is that they are four years too late.
Earlier today, Senators Hatch (R-UT); Burr (R-NC); and Coburn (R-OK) released the details of their Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility and Empowerment Act (a.k.a. “Patient CARE Act). Hatch, in particular, is no stranger to health care issues, having co-sponsored the State Childrens Health Insurance Program back in 1997.
The bill largely follows the outlines of a health care reform proposal developed by a group of conservative policy wonks dubbed the “reformocons.” In an article published in Commonweal’s print edition in December, I questioned whether the wonks would find Republican politicians willing to carry their water. I am happy to have been proved wrong, as the return of Republicans to the actual work of legislating is a welcome development.Read more
Our special issue on theological books is now live on the website.
Among the highlights: another excerpt from Elizabeth A. Johnson’s forthcoming book on ecological vocation; Bernard G. Prusak on the principles governing the resort to war vs. the principles governing the conduct of it (subscription); and Gabriel Said Reynolds on John L. Allen Jr.’s The Global War on Christians (subscription). Plus, Michael Robbins writes on David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God, an excerpt of which follows:
…[T]he New Atheists ingeniously deny the existence of a bearded fellow with superpowers who lives in the sky and finds people’s keys for them. Daniel Dennett wants to know “if God created and designed all these wonderful things, who created God? Supergod? And who created Supergod? Superdupergod?”—thereby revealing his lack of acquaintance not only with Augustine and Thomas but with Aristotle.
It was Aristotle who wrote that “one and the same is the knowledge of contraries.” Denys Turner, in his recent Thomas Aquinas (which makes a fine companion piece to The Experience of God), puts the matter like this: “Unless…what believers and atheists respectively affirm and deny is the same for both, they cannot be said genuinely to disagree.”
There are, then, a great many people who say “God” and mistakenly believe that they have the notion, at least, in common. Hart is interested in clarifying the notion, and one of his deeper points is that the major theistic religions do indeed have something in common when they say “God.” In a churlish review for Harper’s, Jane Smiley writes that Hart “is robustly convinced that there is only one definition of God, and that is his own.” She then quotes Hart’s “own” definition: “one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things.”
As Hart makes plain, however, and as anyone even slightly familiar with the history of metaphysics is aware, that definition is not Hart’s, but one shared by most major religious and philosophical traditions. It is as much Aristotle’s definition as it is Moses Maimonides’s and Thomas Aquinas’s and Mulla Sadra’s and, indeed, Spinoza’s. It describes equally Brahman and Yahweh. Nor is Hart here proposing a dilution of the real differences among religions, à la Huston Smith; he is interested in what the theistic traditions disclose, a common conception of the ultimate transcendental ground of being.
See the full table of contents for the February 7 issue here.
from this morning's homily by Pope Francis, commenting on the anointing of David:
But, Father, I have read in a newspaper that a bishop has done such a thing, or a priest who has done this thing.’ Oh yes, I read it, too. Tell me, though: do the papers carry news of what great charity so many priests, so many priests in so many parishes of the city and the countryside, perform? Of the great work they do in carrying their people forward? No? This is not news. It is the same as always: a single falling tree makes more noise than a forest that grows. Today, thinking about this anointing of David, it will do us good to think of our brave, holy, good, faithful bishops and priests, and pray for them. We are here today thanks to them.
Prayers as well for the Ursuline Sisters on this feast of Saint Angela Merici!
On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Chicago released six thousand pages of documents related to the cases of thirty priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. The files, made public as part of a settlement with victims' attorneys, offer a predictably depressing view of archdiocesan failures over the past several decades. You know the dirge: priests quietly shuttled from parish to parish, civil authorities kept in the dark about some cases (and colluding with church officials to keep others from public scrutiny), laypeople and clergy failing to report allegations, bishops refusing to suspend dangerous priests.
For releasing these documents and for making public the names of known abuser-priests, Cardinal Francis George--archbishop of Chicago since 1997--takes some credit. "Publishing for all to read the actual records of these crimes," he wrote in a letter warning Chicagoans about the document dump, "raises transparency to a new level." Perhaps. But he didn't volunteer these files. They wouldn't have come out if it hadn't been for victims who pressed for their release as part of a legal settlement. Still, it's difficult to take seriously Cardinal George's brief for transparency when he seems so intent on obfuscating his own role in the scandal.Read more
Adam Shaw (he of the "Pope Francis is the Catholic Church's Obama" fame) has posted another column attacking Francis, which is sure to go viral. Here is how it starts:
Pope Francis has declared war on those who aspire to provide a better life for themselves and their families, expressing the misguided snobbery of a man for whom money has never been an issue.
In the first week of his papacy, when briefing the media, the pope exclaimed:
“Oh how I long for a poor Church for the poor!”
This statement is a perfect summary of Francis’ papacy, a primary theme of which has been a peculiar dislike of prosperity. His first major document, -- “Evangelii Gaudium” -- was a prime example of his disdain for those who are not content to soak in poverty or to submit to socialism.
It just gets better from there, with Shaw taking umbrage at how the Pope is disparaging his efforts to put bread on the table for his young family.
I suspect some of you will become incensed over this, but to be honest I just laughed out loud. It's painfully obvious that Shaw has figured out that his surest path to becoming a big wheel at Fox is to follow the Ann Coulter model of employing ridiculously over-the-top rhetoric to make his points. I predict that television appearances will follow and perhaps a full-length book attacking Francis will appear in the next year or so.
I generally don't begrudge a man who's just trying to make a living, particularly (as I am painfully aware at the moment) it will be hard for Shaw to send his kids to Catholic high school on a Fox junior editor's salary. So as a father who also is trying to put bread on the table for his family, I wish Shaw well in his efforts to monentize his purple prose.
At MOJ, Rick Garnett has posted some thoughtful remarks on the situation at Eastside Catholic. Although I am inclined to agree with him that (at least for Catholic elementary and secondary schools who do not accept state funding) this is a choice for the Church to make, it seems to me that the Church has left itself the space to make a different choice in these situations. It could choose to view the injustice it sees in gay marriage as (in its view) one that is perpetrated by the state, and not by the participants in gay marriages. Consequently, as to actual gay couples, it could simply treat the marriages as a nullity and ignore them. On this view, the Church's beef is with the state, not with the gay couple. If it is willing to hire someone who is gay, it should not fire him/her for taking advantage of a set of secular benefits that the state has chosen to exend to him/her. Of course, I reject the Church's teachings on homosexuality, so I would favor an even easier way out by treating committed gay relationships as morally valuable. I take inspiration in my own marriage from the committed gay couples I have known. But even for those who accept the Church's teachings, I think there is ample room for a change of course. And this seems to me to be the students' principal insight.
East Side Catholic, widely covered on dotCommonweal, made it big today: Front Page treatment by the NYTimes (print edition, January 23, 2013). Top people at the school have bailed. There is concern about future enrollment and current donors (though the story gives no data). The schools contradictory statements and decisions have it in a tangle. The students are in charge. Story here.
Time to close the school down?
Just for fun: the story is by Michael Paulson, once at the Boston Globe where he shut down Cardinal Law.
UPDATE: Given the direction of the discourse here and other relevant posts, perhaps I should have headlined this post: THE TOWEL WILL BE THROWN IN suggesting that the school is unlikely to survive the controversy, having nothing to do with the bishop or the church's teachings, as such, but with the conclusions, economic and political, of the parents of all the students (protestors and non-protestors as well as next year's applicants).
We've posted a few new items in recent days, including the editors on the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for the dismantling of its high-level uranium-enrichment programs:
This diplomatic breakthrough is something to be guardedly hopeful about, not to scorn as hawks in Congress and Israeli leaders are doing. In threading this needle, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have shown both a necessary skepticism about Iran’s intentions and a sober understanding of the costs and limitations of military action....
No one thinks a permanent agreement is a foregone conclusion. President Obama gives it a fifty-fifty chance of succeeding. Those opposed to the interim deal believe that the mullahs in Tehran cannot be trusted and that regime change is the only way to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. But if one considers negotiations a naïve gambit, one should be even more skeptical of seeking regime change. Iran lost hundreds of thousands of men in its war with Iraq, a catastrophe that cost half a trillion dollars, yet the regime remained resolute. It has already spent perhaps $100 billion on nuclear development, and endured another $100 billion in losses from sanctions. Obviously, Iran is willing to pay a very high price to exercise its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.
And, if you haven't done so already, see what E. J. Dionne Jr. has to say about the state of "hope and change" as Obama enters his sixth year in office, and take a look at Marc O. DeGirolami's piece on the language of civil benedictions and new legal challenges to legislative prayer.
The fallout continues:
The president of Eastside Catholic School has resigned amid the fallout from her decision to dismiss the school’s vice principal for marrying his gay partner. . .
Her resignation, submitted to the Eastside board of trustees Sunday, was effective immediately, and in an email sent to parents, staff and others on Tuesday evening the school said a search for her replacement will begin right away.
The handling of Zmuda’s dismissal has presented a public-relations challenge for Eastside, with Tracy’s statements about whether the vice principal was fired or resigned, and what role the Seattle archbishop played in that decision, appearing at times to contradict those of the school's attorney and the archdiocese.
Band of Sisters, a new documentary film now showing at New York City's Cinema Village until January 30th, features sisters from eleven different congregations who all share the unique story of being American Catholic nuns who entered convents before Vatican II, and whose vocations were radically transformed by the council's documents.
American women religious are portrayed as themselves -- obedient risk-takers whose elevation from selfess servants to community leaders is natural and justified. The sisters narrate their story against a backdrop of juxtaposed images and stories: black-and-white footage of thousands of habits bending to pick lillies on convent grounds; today's sisters in overalls showcasing their organic farms; hundreds of pews full of heads bowed in prayer; nuns well into their eighties lobbying for access to immigrant detention centers; the letter from Pius XII urging U.S. congregations to create "a network" that would become the LCWR; Rome's investigation of the LCWR's "faithfulness to mission" under Benedict XVI; collared schoolmarms keeping order in classrooms; grey-haired women getting arrested at the School of the America's protest; and much more.
My nickname is Pat, but the Egyptians named me Mr. Bat, since Arabic has no “P” sound and they liked to pretend that they couldn’t pronounce the letter.
When I went to Cairo in 1976 to visit my high school friend Ken (known to the Egyptians as Mr. Kent), I was an uptight Catholic working class boy. Although I had grown a beard to annoy my boss at work (and to hide what I thought were my overly youthful features) and although I had long hair like everyone else in 1976, I was no hippie. I certainly wasn’t a confirmed pot or hash smoker. I was very straight-laced for the time.
I expected the Egyptians to be straight laced too. If I can put a word to what I expected, that word would be austere. Although I was aware that Egypt was a more open society than, say, Saudi Arabia, I expected it to be chaste and humorless, rather like Massachusetts in the 17th century.
This is probably why it took me about two weeks to get the first joke that was played on me. The morning after I had arrived, I noticed that Ken was still wearing a gallabiyah (a robe like outfit that most non-Westernized Egyptians wore). He usually did so in the apartment. It seemed cool in both senses of the word, and I asked him if I could borrow one. He readily agreed and he loaned me three of them for my own use. I was delighted and I put one on immediately.
What he didn’t tell me was that the three that he loaned me had belonged to his ex-girlfriend Shelley. There are subtle (to a Western eye) differences between a man’s and a woman’s gallabiyah that I didn’t see and for two weeks Ken and his friends and neighbors enjoyed the spectacle of me dressing up as Ken’s girlfriend. I now understood why I got such strange looks from the postman, the doorman, the garbage collector, and the laundry man.
Pharrell Williams is arguably the most influential producer in the American music industry. He's also a talented and successful singer, rapper, songwriter and musician.
On first listen, his latest hit song, "Happy", is four minutes of pure pop confection---one written for the soundtrack of Universal Pictures' billion-dollar hit movie Despicable Me 2.
The video is a sweet confection too: shots of Pharrell and seemingly random Angelenos lip-synching and dancing around their city to the song. (Because this is Los Angeles, it also includes celebrities like Kelly Osborne, Magic Johnson and Steve Carell. Because there's a movie tie-in, it includes characters from Despicable Me 2.)
But "Happy" is much more than that, because there's "24 Hours of Happy".Read more
Here’s an update on the practice of capital punishment in the US.
The objection of European Union and American drug companies to the use of the anesthetic sodium thiopental for capital punishment has caused a scramble for new means of killing people “cleanly.” The 3-drug protocol (usually sodium thiopental, the muscle paralytic pancuronium bromide and the heart-stopping potassium chloride,) was the most common technique for capital punishment in the US until 2010. The problem is that sodium thiopental is a commonly used anesthetic. Hospira, the only US company that manufactured the drug, was unable to assure authorities at the manufacturing site in Italy that the drug would not be used for capital punishment, so it stopped production in 2011. As supplies dwindled, last-minute sources were tried, one being a British company called Dream Pharma, run from a driving school in west London, but eventually these sources too were shut down.
Oklahoma was the first of several states to switch to pentobarbital, a drug commonly used for euthanasia by veterinarians, and sometimes used for physician assisted suicide in Oregon. Pentobarbital is made by the Danish company Lundbeck, which rapidly ran into the same legal and ethical objections raised against the use of sodium thiopental. Even when Lundbeck sold manufacturing rights to Texas-based Akorn, Inc., they did so stipulating that they would follow the same distribution restrictions that Lundbeck had--no pentobarbital for executions.
What's an executioner to do?Read more
I just finished another Sirico essay, "Pope Francis without the Politics," printed first in the Detroit News, and now reprinted over at the Acton blog (http://www.acton.org/pub/commentary/2014/01/08/pope-francis-without-poli...). I understand the imperative behind pieces like this, but one grows tired of the constant, clearly procrustean attempt to fit Pope Francis’ critical vision into the libertarian/free-market box. Why? Here are some proximate causes:
1. There’s no economics without politics. Any turn in the direction of economics (free-market/neoliberal or otherwise) is fundamentally a continuation of political discussion. Attempting to “depoliticize” any discussion can itself be a political move of the highest order.
2. Sirico’s first question “What excludes the poor from the process of prosperity?” misses the point entirely. As Benedict was fond of saying, it’s quite possible and perhaps even common to be materially prosperous but spiritually empty and unhappy. Indeed, critics on the right and left both have diagnosed this as part of the modern condition. What is more, the “process of prosperity” that Sirico lauds is part of this condition. For everyone, a certain amount of material abundance is necessary; what matters for the poor especially is dignity. Is Sirico suggesting that market value (and not religion) confers dignity?
3. Sirico’s second question refers to the poor as “potential shapers of their own destiny.” This is fine. The problem is that market processes are profoundly indifferent to this question of self-determination; for rich and poor alike, the market strips individuals and communities of autonomy just as often as it grants it. And besides, to return to my point above, the issue of self-determination is fundamentally political rather than economic. The truly and fully self-sufficient individual is nothing more than a Randian fiction, which means that issues of “destiny” in secular space, here and now, are collective. They can only be addressed as a question of community. The fullest and fairest expression of community is in democracy, which means one simple thing: letting the poor think and speak and act for themselves.
Sirico’s so-called solution to the poor – for individuals and nations alike – is the fantasy of making them more like the rich. I think it’s safe to say that this has nothing to do with Pope Francis’ message.
The life of a scholar can be lonely at times. In working on a big writing project, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in your own head and your own questions, and to lose the sense that you’re part of a wider community and a broader discussion. That sense of isolation can make it hard to do your work.
But the field of moral theology/Christian ethics is blessed to have in its midst a person who has consistently modeled the life of the mind as lived within an intense, communal conversation: James Keenan, S.J. , the Founders Professor of Theology at Boston College.Read more
Robert Gates memoir, Duty, has gotten a rough reception in the media. But considering his view of the media, and of Congress, and of Obama staff, that should be no surprise. That's why Tom Rick's opening paragraph in his front-page review at the NYT Books is refreshing with just the right splash of vinegar.
"As I was reading “Duty,” probably one of the best Washington memoirs ever, I kept thinking that Robert M. Gates clearly has no desire to work in the federal government again in his life. That evidently is a fertile frame of mind in which to write a book like this one."
Duty seems to be the story of a dutiful guy who has served, it says, eight administrations and went to the Department of Defense in the nadir of the Iraq war. I am a few chapters in and what I find is instructive so far:Read more
I don't know much about the Central African Republic, where fighting among local militias has driven nearly a million people from their homes. Like most people, I've pretty much ignored the suffering that's been going on there.
But there is an opportunity find out more in a letter the bishops of the Central African Republic have issued in a call for peace. (Zenit carried it on Jan. 15.) They downplay the religious role in the conflict, fought between what news reports describe as Christian and Muslim militias, and say it is primarily political and military. Concerning Muslims, the bishops say:
Our faith commits us to be at the heart of the battle for life and the promotion of human dignity. What are we doing with it at this moment of crisis? The temptation to seek vengeance is great. Muslims, rightly or wrongly accused of being accomplices of the seleka, have been delivered up to mob justice and executed without reason. Let us remember that life is sacred: "Thou shalt not kill" (Dt 5:17). Let justice be done according to the principles of the law.
Working together, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Imam Imam Oumar Kobine Layama have tried to defuse the religious tensions. It's a brave mission for peace.Read more
When I read in the National Catholic Reporter blog that thirteen German moral theologians and pastoral theologians signed a document critiquing Catholic moral teaching on sexual issues, it did not surprise me or raise my expectations for the Synod on the Family. After all, theologians have been reflecting on sexual morality in various thoughtful and rigorous ways for years. Not all of their conclusions match those which have been proposed by the magisterium. But almost no one in the hierarchy seems to listen to those whose conclusions do not match theirs, so it has virtually no effect on deliberations in Rome.
To be sure, the theologians made some worthwhile suggestions. These included a “new paradigm for evaluating sexual acts” that would consist of at least three dimensions: a caring dimension to protect what is fragile; an emancipatory dimension which takes “the side of those who lose in relationships, the ones who are left and hurt to the core;” and a reflexive dimension which honors the joy of intimacy along with the vulnerability it entails. All good thoughts. But who is listening?
The recent observations, on the other hand, made by Martin Gächter, auxiliary bishop of Basel in Switzerland and published in his diocesan newspaper and the Swiss Catholic publication KIPA, did surprise me—both for their candor about the extent of the problem and for the bishop's admission that the Church doesn’t have all the answers. He said we must seek a common understanding through respectful, open exchange and patient listening. In his own words:Read more