Lisa Fullam

Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

By this author

Francis Hints About Same-Sex Civil Unions

In the same Corriere della Sera/La Nación interview referenced in Mollie's post below, Francis struck an ambiguous note on the topic of same-sex civil unions. Here's NCR's Joshua McElwee:

Asked about same-sex marriage, he responds: "Marriage is between a man and a woman."

"The secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of living together, driven by the need to regulate economic aspects between people, like ensuring health care," he states, saying he can't identify the ways different countries are addressing the matter.

"We need to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety," he states.

HuffPo reports on the same interview, including a brief overview of the good news and the not-so-good news from Francis on civil unions:

While he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010 and Argentina was on the brink of legalizing gay marriage, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio support legalizing civil unions as a compromise. He also called same-sex marriage “an attempt to destroy God’s plan” and said gay adoption was a kind of discrimination against children. LGBT rights organizations and gay Catholics have hailed Francis' for making more positive statements on gay people during his papacy.


R.I.P. Pete Seeger

American folk music icon Pete Seeger passed away at 94, reports the New York Times. Money quote:

“My job,” he said in 2009, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”

Update on Capital Punishment

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? 

Box of Books for Francis--Poll Results

In response to a call from Pope Francis for a "new theology of women," I invited people to nominate books to send to the Holy Father. Then, people were asked to vote for their top 10 of the more than 60 nominated. Here are the results (There are more than 10 books here because of a tie for 10th):

Johnson, Elizabeth. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroad, 2002.

Farley, Margaret. Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006.

Talkin' Bout a Revolution

Here's Tracy Chapman performing at the 1988 London concert celebrating Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday. Mandela would be released from prison 2 years later. It strikes me as a great song both for remembering Mandela and for the season of Advent, when we anticipate that God will cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lift up the lowly. And that revolution sounds like a whisper...


Box of Books for Francis--The Poll! UPDATED

A while back, I asked you to suggest books that might be sent to Pope Francis as helpful resources for his call for a "new theology of women." You made LOTS of excellent suggestions. I've turned them into a SurveyMonkey survey, and here's your chance to vote for the final 10. Vote for your favorite 5-10, and one vote per person, please. It's a long list, so read through before you vote!

Box of Books for Francis?

Pope Francis has suggested that "we" need a deeper "theology of women," (itself a problematic phrase, emblematic of the usual us-them in which women are "them.") But he seems like a genuinely nice guy who's sincere about wanting to explore new territory. So, here's my idea...

Of course there are any number of books that could help Francis begin to sort out his ideas in this regard. Let's send him a starter set. 

What are, say, 10 books that could help Francis in his revision of the Church with regard to women?

The End of the Para-Creed?

For much of recent history, (say, 30 or 40 years,) if you asked random people on the street what the Catholic Church teaches, you'd likely get a pretty short list: no contraception, no women in authority, no abortion, no remarriage after divorce (without annulment,) no marriage for priests, no gay sex, and (more recently,) certainly no same-sex civil marriage. These teachings had become a tidy para-creed often used to label those of us who quibbled with any of these items "heretics."

Murmuratio About Priestly Celibacy

When the Society of Jesus gathers its representatives to elect a new boss, part of the process is several days of "murmuratio," essentially water-cooler chat about who might be a good candidate. No electioneering is allowed, but this informal dialogue among the members is an important aspect of the election.

There seems to be underway a murmuratio of another sort. Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Pope's Secretary of State has noted that celibacy is an open question: "Celibacy is not an institution but look, it is also true that you can discuss (it) because as you say this is not a dogma, a dogma of the church."

Absolutely true. And it immediately sparked sharp reaction from the right. Here's Jimmy Akin at The National Catholic Register, insisting that nothing significant was said and we should all just ignore it: "What significance does this actually have? Not much. There is, actually, nothing new here. The archbishop is correct in stating that clerical celibacy is not a dogma."

Parolin did go on in the same interview (this from John Allen at NCR,) both to shore up the tradition of priestly celibacy, but also to make this intriguing comment:

Spirituality and Genetics

Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, reported recently on studies indicating that spirituality is genetically influenced. Money quote:

Twin studies conducted around the world in the U.S., the Netherlands and Australia as well as ours in the U.K. show a 40 to 50 percent genetic component to belief in God.

This isn't the first time such a link has been shown: D. T. Lykken, T. J. Bouchard, Jr., M. McGue, and A. Tellegen, writing in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 1993 (Vol. 78, No. 4, 649-661,) also found evidence of genetic factors in behavioral traits, including "religious orientation." Working on a large population of twins from Minnesota (no, not the baseball players...) they concluded: 

These findings extend the already large body of evidence that indicates the important influence of genetic factors on virtually all traits that are of interest to applied psychologists. 

And this takes us back also to the hotly-debated 2005 book by Dean Hamer, the director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes. (NB: Spector and the Minnesota twin researchers don't point to a specific gene, as Hamer did.) 

Behavioral genetics is tricky business, and it's important not to overreach. There was criticism of Hamer's work, both scientific (is it replicable? does he over-interpret his data?) and theological. Among the theological skeptics was John Polkinghorne, an Anglican priest and member of the Royal Society and Canon Theologian at Liverpool Cathedral. Commenting for The Daily Telegraph, he said "The idea of a God gene goes against all my personal theological convictions. You can't cut faith down to the lowest common denominator of genetic survival. It shows the poverty of reductionist thinking." Hamer insisted, (correctly, I think,) that his thesis was not about the existence of God, but about human capacity to experience what we might describe as spiritual awareness.

Of course, it's possibe to consider these findings from a more scientific perspective. Human beings are adept at perceiving patterns, whether or not they're actually there. (Two easy examples are the way we so easily see a face on the moon, or the way superstitions arise from temporally-but-not-causally related events.) Obviously this deep trait is adaptive—one can imagine the usefulness for hunters of being able to infer from this set of imprints in the mud that a deer walked here. A more ethereal version of the same would be spiritual awareness. One could also posit a strong community-building function to spirituality, regardless of the nature or existence of its referents. 

But is there another way to think thelogically about this?