Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In what year was Jesus born?

In my epic, award winning post "When was Jesus Born?" we examined the reason for celebrating Christmas on December 25th. This post answers the second part of the question by examining in what year Jesus was born. Again the short answer is "nobody knows." And once again, the modern calendar used the best information at the time to "draw a line in the sand".

That line was drawn in the 6th century by Dionysius Exiguus. He calculated the year of the birth of Christ using all the data available to him. He calculated Jesus' birth as occurring in the 753rd year of the Roman empire, which we now call the year 1 AD. This method of dating the year was not generally accepted for hundreds of years, but has been nearly universally adopted today.

The bible tells us that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod, and a contemporary historian, Flavius Josephus, tells us that Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon. The likely eclipses were:
  • Two total eclipses in 5 BC
  • A partial eclipse in March, 4 BC
  • A total eclipse in January, 1 BC
It is commonly believed today that the eclipse of 4 BC was the one Josephus mentioned, which means Jesus had to have been born before that. Generally 5 to 7 BC is cited. However, some sources claim that this notion is due to an error made in 1544, and Josephus was actually describing the 1 BC eclipse. In support of that theory, Josephus notes that Herod came into power in the year of the consulship of Agrippa and Gallus, which would be 37 BC, and he reigned for 37 years.

The distinction is important in modern theories of the Star of Bethlehem, which will be another post.

Friday, December 25, 2009

When was Jesus born?

A friend asked me today "when was Jesus born?"

The short answer is "nobody knows", but that does not a blog post make. Also, two shows I watched this week ("Good Eats" and "Big Bang Theory") both proposed that Christmas is a recent invention by the (by implication evil) Church to try to suppress Saturnalia, a pagan holiday.

The problem (if you want to consider it a problem) is that Jesus' birth date (and in fact birth dates in general) was not recorded in any official document. Biblical accounts give a description of the year in very vague terms, and say nothing about the day of the year. About all we "know" is that it took place during the reign of Herod. The exact years of Herod's reign are a matter of historical debate as well. I'll say more about that in a future blog post. And so a "line in the sand" was drawn and the best information at the time was used to determine the year when the modern calendar was invented.

Why choose December 25th to celebrate the birth of Christ, of we don't know the original day? That's a much simpler question. Recent (like last 300 years or so) scholars have proposed all sorts of reasons, but I think we can apply Occam's Razor and come up with a much more plausible reason for picking that date.

You see, in the early Church, Christmas was not celebrated. That Christ was born was certainly acknowledged as fact, but the important aspect was not that He was born but that He became man. Since it was always recognized by the Church that life begins at conception, the important Holy day to celebrate was Jesus' conception, the feast of the Annunciation. On that day, the angel appeared to Mary and she consented to bear a son conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Of course that date was not recorded either, so what day should the Church fathers celebrate it on? There are several lines of reasoning that all lead to picking one particular day. For one thing, we are told in the bible narrative that Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who six months pregnant with her child, John the Baptist. Luke's Gospel further tells us how the angel Gabriel announced John the Baptist's conception to his father, Zechariah, when Zechariah was serving as high priest on the Day of Atonement (in September), around the autumnal equinox. Therefore, Jesus' conception would have been around the spring equinox. Also, even without this evidence, if you wanted to pick an "auspicious" time for Jesus' conception, the natural time to pick would be around the spring equinox, when the growth of life all around us would be a symbolic reminder of the Christ child growing in the womb of His mother.

For whatever reason, the date of the Annunciation was set in the very early Church to be March 25th, and that was the day it was celebrated, even to the present time. Add nine months, and you come up with Jesus' birth being on December 25th. The first record of Christmas (the feast of the Nativity) being celebrated was in 336 AD, nearly 300 years later. Saturnalia (December 17-23) certainly was a Roman feast around that time, and so was Sol Invictus (December 25). Was Christmas "moved" to coincide with those feasts, or is Christmas a "continuation" of those feasts? Certainly not, I would claim. When the date of the Annunciation was set there was no knowledge that Christ's birth would also be celebrated 300 years later, so the choice of December 25th is coincidence.

Now, was the celebration of Christmas used to replace these feast days? Perhaps. It was a common practice of the early Church to incorporate customs and traditions of other cultures into the Church's tradition. The intent was to make it easier for converts, by using symbols familiar to them, rather than forcing them to abandon family customs and their own culture. Finding an existing feast day that corresponded with a Roman feast day would no doubt be easier for Roman converts than making them change their routine and calendar to correspond to a different set of feasts. In that sense, the popularity of Christmas today may be due to those earlier pagan feasts, since prior to Rome embracing Christianity, the feast of the Nativity was not considered an "important" feast day (like Easter or the Annunciation).

However, to say that Christians are "celebrating" Saturnalia is false. we are celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Of course, falling on the same day as Sol Invictus (the "Unconquered Sun") is kind of a cool coincidence, since Christ is our light.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Why Nelson's compromise might be a good thing

Pro-life folks (myself included) felt betrayed and dismayed by Senator Ben Nelson's about-face on abortion language in the health care bill. I was originally thinking of writing something along the lines of Nelson's one vote being akin to the one Apostle who betrayed Jesus. However, it is true that "God draws straight with crooked lines" and I'm starting to think this may actually be a blessing in disguise.

Here's what I think. This compromise is anathema to pro-life and pro-choice people alike. I just read that Planned Parenthood, NOW, NARAL Oppose Abortion-Health Care Funding Deal because it allows the opt out, while Stupak Knocks Senate Abortion Health Care Compromise. That means the compromise bill may turn out to be unpassable.

Not that I'm happy about this or anything, but rather than curse the darkness, I'm going to sit back and trust God.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Psalm 32

Blessed is he
       whose transgressions are forgiven,
       whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man
       whose sin the LORD does not count against him
       and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
       my bones wasted away
       through my groaning all day long.

For day and night
       your hand was heavy upon me;
       my strength was sapped
       as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
       and did not cover up my iniquity.
       I said, "I will confess
       my transgressions to the LORD "—
       and you forgave
       the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you
       while you may be found;
       surely when the mighty waters rise,
       they will not reach him.

You are my hiding place;
       you will protect me from trouble
       and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
       I will counsel you and watch over you.

Do not be like the horse or the mule,
       which have no understanding
       but must be controlled by bit and bridle
       or they will not come to you.

Many are the woes of the wicked,
       but the LORD's unfailing love
       surrounds the man who trusts in him.

Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
       sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Guarding Life

Once upon a time, a long time ago, people recognized the need for there to be lifeguard - someone whose job it was to save the lives of swimmers. Of course back in the day, there were no certifications or official titles, people just did what they did. Over time it was recognized that where there was someone who was not swimming, but watching the other swimmers, people were safer and society benefited. Recognizing that these people, by giving up swimming themselves to watch others, were performing a sacrifice, they were awarded certain privileges and given a higher status in society.

After a time people developed a more formal notion of the lifeguard, and started having special training and certification of people with that calling. There was an organization, called the Wholly Sea, that among its other services, certified lifeguards. For a lifeguard to be certified by the WS, he or she had to go through training, agree to certain principles and work ethics, and take a pledge to guard the lives of swimmers. Lifeguards certified by WS were highly regarded.

Of course not everybody who was a lifeguard went through the WS, but WS acknowledged them as lifeguards in good standing, as if they had. Some people went through no official certification at all, but had themselves declared by the state to be lifeguards. Again WS recognized these people, since although they had no training they at least pledged themselves to the saving of lives. Perhaps they didn't save as many lives, or even any, but WS gave them the benefit of trying.

One day a group of beach frisbee players began a protest. They wanted to be acknowledged as lifeguards. They pointed out that lifeguards were often seen on the beach, and since they were too, they should not be denied the right to be called lifeguards. In fear of being called bigots, many states began giving the frisbee players some or all of the privileges that lifeguards were entitled to. But that did not satisfy the frisbee players.

They demanded that the definition of the word "lifeguard" be changed to mean anyone who is on the beach, even if they are just playing. Some organizations even went as far as according the frisbee players the title of lifeguard, to the detriment of the swimmers nearby. WS stood firm in denying that frisbee players were lifeguards and was brutally attacked for it. The frisbee players went as far as to have courts attempt to change laws and rulings to redefine lifeguard, but in all cases the public, when allowed input, reaffirmed that lifeguards are people who save swimmers, not just people on the beach, and especially not people who were ignoring the swimmers, playing a game.

Some think WS is wrong and that "lifeguard" means whatever you say it means. Others agree and say that you shouldn't get the title and privileges for playing, but for watching swimmers. What do you think?

Monday, December 14, 2009

To "Allah" or not to "Allah"?

Couldn't help posting this, as I read these two news stories back to back. The red text is my emphasis.
An elementary school in Indiana reportedly removed a mention of Allah in its holiday show after protests from a national conservative Christian group.

Thompson said officials removed the phrase "Allah is God," however, after the American Family Association complained about the program on its electronic newsletter. The alteration was made because no other deities were named in the program....
Shariq Siddiqui, executive director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana, told the Web site that the decision to remove the word Allah was most certainly not inclusive.

"It's unfortunate if that was removed from the program just because of Islamophobic feelings," Siddiqui told the Web site. "Schools are a place where we should learn more about each other rather than exclude each other based on stereotypes and misconceptions."

Siddiqui said "Allah" is the Arabic word for God and is used by Jews, Christians and others in Arabic-speaking nations.

This is the kind of thing I'd expect on a slow news day. What made it interesting was the next article I read:

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church urged a court Monday to let Christians use "Allah" as a translation for God and overturn a government ban that has become a symbol of religious grievances in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

The High Court began hearing legal arguments in the dispute, which began in late 2007 after the government blocked non-Muslims from translating God as "Allah" in their literature, saying it would confuse Muslims.
Authorities have insisted that Allah should be used exclusively by Muslims to refer to God, and its use by other religions would be misleading.
So I guess Muslims in Indiana have a very different perspective than those in Malaysia.

How Much is that Healthcare in the Senate?

I was thinking about the more than $1,000,000,000,000 price tag of the health care bill and started wondering "how much"?* I remember a few years ago I was laid off and had to get my own insurance. I was amazed that it was around $700/month to get COBRA insurance for my family (of 5). That's $8,400/year for 5 people or $1,680/year/person. Looking at what other insurance plans cost, that's exceedingly high, but hey, it's COBRA, it's "temporary" insurance. But it did get me to thinking, how much will the proposed healthcare bill cost to provide insurance per year per person?

We don't have exact numbers, but the figure is "over $1 trillion and rising". I'm going to round it up to $1.2 trillion, assuming it is going to go there (and beyond if past government projects are any indication), just to make the numbers work out evenly. Hey, $100 billion more or less won't change the conclusion (sadly). So, the $1.2 trillion is supposed to cover the plan for 6 years. That's $200 billion/year. If I believe the predictions, it will cover 93% of the population. Currently 46 million people are not covered by insurance, and we have a total population of roughly 300 million. So 7% or 21 million people will still be not covered with this plan in place.

Still with me? Subtracting the 21 million from the 46 million means that the plan will cover 25 million who are not covered now. That means we will be spending $200 billion a year to pay for insurance for 25 million people. If you do the math, we will be paying $8,000/year/person for insurance! According to AHIP the average single member insurance plan cost in the US is $2,600/year/person and Medicare costs $4,000/year/person.

Those are the cold hard facts, but if we are willing to dig a little, it gets worse. According to The U.S. Census, 38% of the uninsured live in households with annual income over $50,000/year. Since the health care plan will require these people to buy their own insurance, we can take them out of the 25 million additional Americans that will be covered by public plans. 38% of 46 million is 17.5 million. So we have 25 million minus 17.5 million or only 7.5 million people who would be getting their insurance paid for by our tax  dollars. That makes the figure per year per person to be $200 billion / 7.5 million or about $26,700/year/person for insurance!

Does this make sense?

* Before you start saying "but the bill is 'funding neutral' because we can save $1,000,000,000,000 from government waste" let me point out that we can and should cut the waste independent of any health insurance bill. Even if we were handed $1,000,000,000,000 gratis by someone, that doesn't mean the healthcare bill doesn't cost that much.

Totally Lost

Last night, my wife was out shopping, and my 12 year old son was supposed to be practicing his saxophone. He brought a chair and music stand into the living room to practice where I was sitting. He also brought a glass of ice water, which he put on the floor next to him.

We have a standing house rule that liquids don't leave the kitchen and dining room area (without special dispensation) and glasses don't leave the kitchen and dining room area (without special dispensation). This has been the rule since before he was born, and he should know it. I told him to get rid of the glass of ice water right away.

At this point, my 9 year old son wanted a glass of apple cider, which he poured at the dining room table into a very tall glass (most of you can see where this post is going). I hear a "clunk" and dash into the dining room, where the apple cider has spilled all over the table. My son has placed a bunch of napkins in the center of the spill and is pushing them around, sending waves of apple cider onto the carpet and the stack of cookbooks that are on the table to start or Christmas baking (which we never did due to this and other interruptions).

I'm upset, but that's just phase one. As I'm grabbing towels trying to contain the spill I hear another "thunk" coming from the living room. My 12 year old has dropped his (rented) saxophone on the glass of ice water, which exploded and threw shard of glass in a 7 foot radius circle around him. He, of course, is barefoot. His sax is dented and scratched. There is glass embedded in the carpet, sofa, saxophone and everywhere.

So I lost it. I totally lost it. I yelled and yelled. It was like I was standing next to myself, listening to a raving lunatic screaming, but I couldn't stop. I can't recall having ever been that angry before. I sent him to his room (the 9 year old had already slunk up to his room while I surveyed the damage) and continued my litany of anger over the next half hour or so as I washed and dried books and the table, tried to soak cider stains our of the carpet, picked up shards of glass in places I didn't even know existed, and vacuumed the carpeting four times (until I couldn't hear any more bits of glass being sucked up).

At the end of it the two boys were still in their rooms. I stopped off at the 9 year old's room first, and explained to him that I wasn't angry at him at all, his spill was an accident. He said he already knew that. We talked about strategies like only filling tall glasses half full so they don't spill so easily. That was the easy part.

Then I went to my 12 year old's room. I held him. What could I say? He is old enough to know the rules. Even if not, I told him not five minutes before to move the glass of ice water, and he ignored me. Because of that he might have been seriously hurt. The sax is just money but he and his brother are irreplaceable. How do I explain this to him?

For that matter, how do I explain why even after I knew he was unhurt I screamed and yelled like a maniac? Can he understand the adrenaline that pumps through your veins when a calamity happens, even if it's only a near calamity? Do I explain the frustration a father feels when everything goes wrong, at the same time? How sometimes fathers are not perfect and behave like children? Do I talk about responsibility and duty? Sin and redemption?

In the end all I can think to say is "I love you."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Relativity and Advent

We were moving things around, getting out Christmas decorations, etc. in preparing for the upcoming holiday, and of course that means finding things that have been lost for a while. One of those things happened to be a paper with some information on old friends of my wife with whom we've lost touch over the years.

On the paper it notes that they have two daughters. Elise who is three, Natalie is one, and they are expecting another in May. Wonderful news, except this paper has been in a box for who knows how long. How old are those children now? We don't know.

Which got me to thinking. If only we had written down something like "Elise born in '01, Natalie in '03, expecting baby in 5/05" we would know a lot more than we do now. In fact even just writing the date the note had been made would have given us a reference point for determining the current ages of the children.

So why blog about finding a note? Because I was explaining to my son today what moral relativism is, and finding the note reminded me of the conversation. Without an absolute, there is no basis for anything. In the note, for instance, without an absolute date, there is no way to make the information on the note useful. as time goes by the confidence in the information becomes less and less until anything is possible.

The same is true morally. Even if you start out with a good standard for society, without acknowledging an absolute standard of right and wrong, good and evil, the concepts drift over time and become less and less meaningful. In the end, anything is possible. Murder becomes "God's work". Greed and theft become the gold standard of law.

Of course, you could point out that even if we had put a date on the note, dates are not absolute. They are just measuring the time relative to an event. In our calendar system that one absolute event is the birth of Christ. Everything else is based on Christ. I find that hair-raisingly significant.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Divine Sense of Humor

Functions and Objects - Computer Science Week

You may have heard of object oriented programming, in phrases like "java is an object oriented language". Fewer people have heard of functional programming. But what do these terms mean? They represent two extremes in the way we look at computing.

In general we think of computing as data and things you do to data to change it. Like in English we have nouns and verbs. You can think of object oriented programming as a language with only nouns, and functional programming as a language without nouns. You'd think neither system was workable, but in practice, they are two (radically) different ways of thinking about the same thing (data, and ways to change it).

Object oriented programming makes data the king, in the form of an "object". Objects know how to change their state, and you simply send them messages about what to do. For instance, in an object oriented programming language, "1" is not data, it's an object. "1 + 2" sends the object "1" a message to add "2" to itself (of course giving "3" as the resulting object). Object oriented programming's strength is that objects are self contained, so it is easier to write a program without having to consider what every part of it does. You can trust that the objects know what they're doing (if they are written correctly).

In functional programming we do away with the notion of data completely. Everything's a function, just like in math class. "1" is not data again, it's a function (that always returns "1"). The big strength of functional programming is that there are no "side effects". In other words, without data, a function always returns the same result with the same inputs. That makes it possible to reason about a program and mathematically prove whether it is correct or not.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It Aint So Bad...

With Christmas and other holidays approaching, and the days becoming shorter, some people feel depressed. This week it seems there is a lot to be depressed about, especially if you are a person who values human rights and life. The news is full of stories.

Despite the fact that no useful therapies have been developed, or are close or even likely to be developed by embryonic stem cells, the Obama administration announced the approval of human embryonic stem cell lines for use in federally funded experiments. Our tax dollars are supporting this waste of money and lives.

Our senate has voted down the Nelson amendment. That amendment to the health care bill would have preserved the status quo by preventing our tax dollars to directly pay for elective abortions. In this, the senate disregarded precedent, the will of the people and our consciences.

In more local news we have stories like gay marriage being approved by the NJ senate judiciary committee. Then there's the Vermont court that violated the rights of a biological mother and further rejected the rights of families by awarding custody of a woman's only child to her former lesbian lover. We have the story of a New York woman how tried to force another woman to have an abortion, and when the baby was born alive in spite of her, tried to murder it.

Nor are things better internationally, where Ireland's laws that protect the life of unborn children are under attack by the European Union. In Africa we have the sad case of a law that provides the death penalty for gays. In Copenhagen we have more bad science used to justify discarding human rights with the climate conference.

Our country, and indeed the world are suffering from economic crises and moral decay. Yep, there's a lot to be depressed about. And yet, there's also a lot to be hopeful about. This is advent, a season of hope. Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI said in an address for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Every day, through newspapers, television and radio, evil is recounted, repeated, amplified, making us accustomed to the most terrible things, making us insensitive and, in some way, intoxicating us, because the negative is never fully purged and accumulates day after day. The heart becomes harder and thoughts become darker. For this reason, the city needs Mary who ... brings us hope even in the most difficult situations.
The media, he said, tends "to make us feel like spectators, as if evil regards only others and certain things could never happen to us." Instead, "we are all actors, and for better or worse, our behaviour has an influence on others."

And of course he is right. If we listen to the news of the day, we can get so bogged down with the evil in the world we forget the Truth; that Christ has already conquered sin and death - that Christ died for us, personally. We have been assured "the gates of hades shall not prevail against the Church".

So don't give in. Be hopeful and have a blessed Advent.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Recursion - Computer Science Week

Another concept in computer science is that of recursion. Recursion is defined as "repeated application of a rule", but that's not quite accurate. Recursion is the ultimate in "divide and conquer".

A recursive algorithm consists of two parts. The "divide" part turns a problem into two (or more) simpler problems, and the "conquer" part solves the most basic case for the problem. They are an alternative to "iterative" algorithms, which solve a problem by performing the same simple steps over and over. An example of a recursive algorithm is the "merge sort". To sort a list of names in alphabetical order we can do the following:

If the list has one item in it, it is sorted. we are done.
Otherwise, split the list in 2 parts, sort each part and merge the two sorted lists.

Recursive algorithms generally require more memory and computing resources than iterative ones, but they are great for today's supercomputers which have many CPUs, because each one of the "simple" problems can be computed in parallel on a separate CPU. So even though more resources are involved, the problem can be solved faster.

When the last step in the recursive algorithm is the "go do the simpler problem" part, the algorithm is called "tail recursive". Tail recursive algorithms can be transformed (often automatically by today's tools) into iterative algorithms, which makes them more suited to single CPU computers, where resources are limited and running in parallel isn't an option anyway.

Indirection and Parameters - Computer Science Week

This is the second post for Computer Science Week, on random topics in computer science. There is an old saying attributed to David Wheeler "All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection". Kevlin Henney's corollary to this is, "...except for the problem of too many layers of indirection."

Indirection is simply something pointing to something else. It is often used to mean pointers or references in computer programming, but in a more general sense of computer science, a "handle" or a "parameter" is a mechanism for indirection. For instance, if I were writing a program to control robot, I would not want to make code to move the arm forward one inch, more code to make it move two inches. Instead, I would write code to move the arm and parameterize it to specify how many inches to move.

As long as we're doing that, why not parameterize the direction to move? Or which arm to move? Or whether to move an arm of a leg? Ultimately, indirection lets us factor out common attributes at the expense of potential complexity in a subcomponent, when the parameter is accessed and the data is "dereferenced."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Boolean Algebra - Computer Science Week

Ok, a brief respite from my usual blog topics for National Computer Science Education Week. Each day this week I'm going to blog about some topic in computer science. My goal is to make these topics introductory enough so that anyone can read them and learn something, and perhaps get an interest in learning more.

Today's topic is Boolean Algebra. I know the work "algebra" scares people off. Months of sitting in school trying to fathom what "x" was has left a bad taste in the mouths and minds of millions. But the word actually comes from the title of a book, עilm al-jabr wa'l-muḳābala ‘the science of restoring what is missing and equating like with like,’ by the mathematician al- K wārizmī. So let's restore what is missing in algebra - fun (well, maybe not, but we'll try).

You're familiar with arithmetic operators, + - x and /. George Bool came up with a system of operators on the values TRUE and FALSE. There are three basic operators (which can actually be reduced to 2), that describe all the things you can do. They are AND, OR and NOT, and they are pretty simple to understand.

"I'll eat chicken OR beef." Means I will eat chicken. I will eat beef. I will eat both. The only way this is FALSE is if I will eat neither chicken nor beef.

"I had bacon AND eggs for breakfast." Means I had both, I could not say this if I didn't have bacon or if I didn't have eggs.

"I did NOT eat the peas." This of course, would be false if I did eat the peas.

Pretty simple, and yet George made it complicated by adding formal equations and parentheses and varous properties. The nice thing that falls out of it are some general principles that let us simplify logic. For instance, the sentence:

"If it is NOT Tuesday OR it is NOT raining I will NOT have duck for dinner."

can be shown to be logically the same as

"If it is Tuesday AND it is raining I will have duck for dinner."

Of course, that sounds obvious, but just like numerical algebra, you can use boolean algebra to take some complicated logic problems and find a simpler form that is equivalent. For more information see Ones and Zeroes: Understanding Boolean Algebra, Digital Circuits and the Logic of Sets.

The Beam in Thy Own Eye


You spent quite a while lecturing me on how Bush was evil. You spoke to me of his condoning the torture of prisoners, the killing and degradation of innocent people just because they lived in a country that supported terrorism.

Yet you yourself condone and even encourage the torture and killing of innocent women and children, while sitting on your high horse lecturing me about morality. Torture? You are incredulous. Don't be.

Four thousand times a day in this country a living baby is dismembered, or burned by chemicals for 24 to 48 hours of agony until it dies, or denied food for days until it slowly starves to death. I can't imagine how you could not consider that torture. How ignorant can you be? Apparently pretty ignorant, because you only listen to sources that support your narrow minded point of view.

But it's not just the children whose torture and death you support and actively encourage. Women are told that they have no worth, that being a mother isn't wanted or useful. That their role is to serve their betters (men) by holding down a "real" job, and by providing sexual pleasure without tying their men down with responsibility. Yes, if women don't provide you with money and pleasure they're of no use. You listen to music and laugh at jokes in which women are called "bitches" (in other words, sub-human) and lecture me about women's right? You hypocrite!

You degrade and devalue women and children so, then insist that the way to stem the rising tide of violence against children and young women is to do more of the same.

You speak of abortion being the way to make "every child a wanted child" but the reality is that child abuse rises with the abortion rate. If a child is considered disposable, it continues to be treated that way. You don't teach people to love children by telling them that children are not valuable.

You speak of anti-abortion violence, but ignore abortion violence. you speak of George Tiller but ignore James Pouillon. And when I mention him you attack him and justify the fact that he was gunned down? You disgust me.

You speak of the women who would be killed in back alley abortions if abortion wasn't legal, yet the leading cause of death of pregnant women is murder. Murder by their husbands/boy friends/partners who are enraged by the fact that they would dare to "punish" them by having a baby (in the words of your great leader).

You have zero credibility to speak about torture or murder to me. The next time you want to lecture me about morality or human rights, just shut up. Or better yet, open your eyes, remove that beam, and learn something.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Jersey and Same Sex "Marriage"

Hey Mike, how can the church be against gay marriage and yet recognize civil unions of heterosexual couples? They must just hate gays.

In 2003, New Jersey became the second state (after California) to have "domestic partnerships" recognized. In 2006, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill permitting same sex civil unions and recognizing those of other states. So in effect, the only thing that's missing is the term "marriage". That is now being pushed for, but the movement does not appear to have enough support to pass at this time.

Last week, the New Jersey bishops instructed priests to read and distribute a letter affirming the church's teaching on marriage. Sadly, this letter was not read at any of the parishes of my friends here in NJ. Since there is no mention of it online or in any of the Diocesan publications that I can find, I can't comment on the exact content.

I can, however, comment on my understanding of the issue. First let me state unequivocally that the Catholic Church does not hate gays, nor condone violence or discrimination against gays by anyone. Through programs like Courage the Church tries to reach out to those with same sex attractions. However, it is an uphill battle because people who put sex above God have taken a position that any criticism of one's sexual antics is persecution of the person. Of course, many of those same people criticize the actions of churchgoer, and fail to see the irony. I can see that it's a natural thing to resent criticism of your actions, be they good or bad. For instance, an alcoholic will react viciously against someone who tries to point out their drinking problem. However, an alcoholic doesn't have the media and lobbying groups fighting for their right to drink.

But to get to the point. If the Catholic Church recognizes Protestant marriages, and Buddhist marriages and Muslim marriages, and even civil marriages and common law marriages, why not gay marriages? It has to do with what a marriage is, and why it was instituted in the first place. Huh? Marriage is when two people love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together, right?

Wrong. Certainly that is necessary for a good marriage, but not sufficient, and not what marriage is about, either religiously or in secular society. Marriage is the basis of the family. It is when a man and a woman who have no relationship to each other come together as one, for the purpose of forming a family, and raising children. The family in turn is the basis of society. It ensures that the next generation will carry on not only our genes, but our society. It is the unit from which clans, tribes, towns, cities, states, nations, and ultimately civilization itself is formed. It is the method of continuation of the species.

Can't two men or two women form a family? Isn't a family defined by love, not by DNA? Again, love is necessary but not sufficient for a family, Disney movies notwithstanding. God created two sexes to complete each other. This is reflected in nature. It takes a male and female to reproduce. The family in nature is the group which ensures that children are protected and nurtured.

At this point I usually hear things like "what about couples who can't have children. Are they not married?" Yes, they are. Not everything on this Earth is perfect. People don't always succeed at their goals, but that doesn't mean that the goal is not a valid one, or reduce the worth of those who try. Nor should we hold a sterile couple up as the ideal by which we judge marriage.

OK, but what about homosexuality in nature? First off, we can't really label animal behavior as "good" or "bad", since animals don't have free will as we do - they are governed by instinct. We have the ability to decide to act in contrast to our instincts, which is where good and bad come in. Yes, I have heard that some animals commit homosexual acts, but that is not the basis of animal families. Marriage is about families, not sex, remember?

One other thought occurs to me. There are stories of various state legislatures attempting to (or at least considering) defining the value of pi to be 3 instead of 3.14159... Of course, we all laugh at how ridiculous this is. Government has no business trying to redefine laws of nature to suit political whim.