Saturday, March 24, 2012

Where is the US?

I recently came across this news article, "Egypt Remains on the List of Worst Religious Freedom Violators". The article talks about the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's report released on March 20. From the article:
The commission's most recent reporting period was also a time of difficulty for religious believers in the People's Republic of China, where authorities have pursued a policy of nationalistic control over the Catholic Church and other institutions.

In its 2012 report, the commission said the Communist nation “continues to interfere in the religious activities of Chinese Catholics,” particularly through its harassment of both state-recognized and unregistered clergy.

Commission members accused Beijing of blocking Catholic clergy from communicating with the Vatican, and said the government “continues to deny Catholic leaders the right to abstain from activities that contravene Holy See policies.”
[emphasis mine] and
In his announcement of the report's release, commission chair Leonard Leo explained that governments “too often stand idly by in the face of violent attacks against religious minorities and dissenting members of majority faiths.”

He described religious freedom as “inseparable” from other civil rights, noting that it is often “the first human right threatened by tyranny.”

During 2011, the commission's own work was threatened when a bill reauthorizing its existence was stalled in Congress. According to CQ Weekly, which reports on developments in Congress, the re-authorization stalled because of a “hold” placed on it by Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

The last-minute re-authorization, passed in December 2011, established term limits and travel restrictions on the commissioners. Its provisions called for five of the nine commission members to resign their positions on March 21, one day after the release of its 2012 report.
Interesting, and I could see why the administration would want to remove this committee. If you look at the part in bold above, the Chinese government “continues to deny Catholic leaders the right to abstain from activities that contravene Holy See policies.”

Last I looked, paying for abortion and contraception was against Holy See policy. In fact, the Catechism says:
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,"77 "by the very commission of the offense,"78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.
...and I believe with the HHS contraception mandate Catholic leaders are not allowed to abstain from paying for abortifacients and contraceptives.

So, where is the US on that list?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Special Scout is Born

When my wife was pregnant with her first, we were overjoyed. And so it was quite a shock to us when the doctor told us that preliminary tests indicated our baby might have a genetic defect. Up to that point I had never given it much thought. We asked the doctor what the next steps were. He indicated that we could have another, more accurate test done. OK, then what? Then we could decide to "terminate".

My wife and I talked it over, and given that "termination" was not an option, we saw no reason to have any more testing done. We worried for a while. It turned out that our son was "normal", and we were relived, but it always left me with the nagging thought that of the 90% of Down Syndrome children who are killed before they see the light of day, maybe some of them were "false positives" on the test. I doubt many people who abort have the fetal remains tested and check the results. I doubt many doctors would suggest it, since it would expose them to a potential lawsuit.

Fast forward to the present. I have sons in Boy Scouts. In our troop there is a boy with Down Syndrome. He has made me realize that the reluctance I had (and the world has) to face these people and welcome them is just completely wrong. Although he can't do all of the things the other kids can do, he is a warm loving caring perfectly wonderful human being, and a great asset to our troop. I can't imagine it without him.

Far from teasing him or getting frustrated with him, the other boys respect him and stand up for him. They watch out for him, and make sure he is included in everything. So last week, not only did we win the football game, but the boys made sure he got a chance to score. At Summer camp last year he was sick and had to be hospitalized. The boys visited him religiously, and brought him toys and games. And when he got out of the hospital and came to a troop meeting, he got a standing ovation. He was too weak to stand much that night, so he sat in a chair and the other boys carried him and the chair around all night so he could be in the middle of all the activities.

They don't do this because we tell them to (we don't), or because they pity him (they don't), but because they love him. That's not to say he is a perfect scout, or a perfect person, but he has changed the way I look at the "disabled" for the better. On this World Down Syndrome Day I just wanted to say "thanks."

[N.B. The title of this post is a riff on the book A Special Mother is Born by Letitcia Velasquez. If you are interested in learning more, or helping people with Down Syndrome, check out the Jerome Lejeune Foundation or Reece's Rainbow.]

Monday, March 19, 2012

An Open Letter

Well, I know this is lazy of me, but I can't come up with anything more clever or cogent than what Marc has written at the Bad Catholic blog. Some excerpts (although please read the whole thing here - it is well worth a few minutes:
Catholicism, an antiquated, dying religion without many members — oh, snap, wait, I meant the largest form of Christianity in America and the largest religion in the world — teaches that the use of artificial contraception and sterilization is wrong, and thus does not allow its institutions to provide it. Here’s where everyone flips out and loses sight of the argument, so let me be absolutely clear: I am not arguing that the use of artificial contraception is wrong. I do believe this, and firmly, but this is neither the time nor place to argue the point.

In fact, it would be best for all of us — Catholics included — to think of this particular Catholic teaching as silly, overbearing, and unfit for the modern mind to contain. Think of this teaching as you might think of the Jewish prohibition on pork, or the Hindu’s holding of the cow as sacred. Why? Because prohibiting the free exercise of religion does not become allowed in cases in which you happen to disagree with the religion, no matter how vehemently, unless that religion is directly violating an individual’s rights.
Marc then goes on (with big steaming chunks of wit and wisdom) to demolish the "reasoning" that is usually used to defend the indefensible.

Really, read it. What are you still looking at this for?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I once belonged to a group that met regularly. The place where we met raised its rates, and we could no longer afford to meet there without significantly raising dues. After a few weeks of calling around, a nearby Lutheran Church offered us a very good deal, and we moved our meetings there. It was wonderful. The church had a huge meeting room, with nice padded chairs and A/V equipment. The pastor bent over backwards for us. We were allowed to use the kitchen and to store our equipment in a storage room, and he even gave us our own key so we could use the place whenever it wasn't being used otherwise.

Two members refused to attend meetings there. The reason they gave was that the building was owned by a church, and they had to see a cross when they went into the building. They mounted a campaign, and when our agreement with the church was up, the membership voted overwhelmingly to move to a different (smaller, more expensive) place (with limited meeting hours). The reason put forth was that the club was excluding people unfairly by meeting in a building owned by a church.

Afterwards I spoke to a friend about it, a practicing Catholic friend. He told me how he felt we had to be inclusive, and of course it was wrong to meet in a church building. I asked him if he thought we should cater to bigotry like that. He said it wasn't bigotry because it was a religious thing. After all, they are entitled to their beliefs.

I had a similar moment with the recent anti-Catholic New York Times ad, and the recent anti-Catholic HuffPo article (I'm not linking to them here, I'm sure you can find them if you want to). Several friends have told me "oh, that's not anti-Catholic, that's just expressing how people feel" and "it's a religion - everybody's entitled to their religious belief." And everybody is entitled to their religious belief. But that still doesn't justify bigotry.

So what's the litmus test for bigotry? Mine is this. If you substitute "black" or "Jew" or "women" or "gay" or any other "protected" group for the group in question, would you say it is bigotry? Suppose the gentleman in my original example refused to go into a building owned by African Americans, specifically because it was owned by them, and because he had to see a picture of a black person when they went into the building. Would you call that bigotry? Suppose the NYT ad was encouraging gays to leave the gay lifestyle and become chaste? And suppose it did so by calling them all the kinds of things they referred to in the anti-Catholic ad. Do you think the NYT would even carry it, let alone survive the outcry that would result? Suppose the HuffPo article was talking about Jews, using all the stereotypes and attitudes of antisemites. Would it still be just a humorous article? Would you laugh?

How is it different when it's Catholics?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

It's not a tumor!

The other day at the dinner table my son asked about tumors. Specifically, what's the difference between a tumor and normal tissue growth. I explained that in a tumor, the growth is uncontrolled and the cells are undifferentiated and uncoordinated. If you have a tumor on your kidney, for instance, it is not more kidney cells that are growing. In fact, if you did organize the cells, and grew a third kidney, it would not be a tumor, but an organ. There is a biological difference between normal tissue and a tumor.

Which meshed nicely with an online discussion I had recently about fetal development. Some pro-choice folks put the embryo in the category of a tumor, and that is completely inaccurate, scientifically. They don't consider the baby to be human until it has developed the things that they consider make a being human - a heart, brain, fingers, etc. The discussion involved when does a human being begin to develop these things. Some pro-lifers gloss over the issue and say "heart beat - 21 days" and be done with it, but the reality is more complex. Just as a baby doesn't magically form from a mass of amorphous tissue as it exits the uterus, so there is no "bright line" where you can say there is a heart, or brain. Those organs develop over time.

So I began looking up information on fetal development. The information I'm about to present is available from embryology texts, although much of it is echoed here and timetables can be found at and

Although most of us don't think about the development of specific features before the fetal stage, the zygote does indeed, have marked cellular differentiation. In fact, at fertilization the egg itself becomes asymmetric and the first two cells of the zygote are distinct, one going on to form ectoderm and mesoderm, the other to form the endoderm. So if we're using differentiation and organization as the criteria, then is it clear that from fertilization on these traits are present. The first cell of you was not a tumor.

Some people want to use something like the brain as a criteria for humanity. First off, note that the human species is quite accurately defined, scientifically. Any attempt to require more than membership in the species is an attempt to exclude some members of the species from attaining their legal rights. The question to be asked is "why is not being a human being sufficient to be treated as one?"

But let's talk about the brain anyway. How much brain is enough brain? The embryo begins forming the nervous system with the primitive streak at about 14-16 days. The nervous system has formed visibly at 21 days. The human brain isn't fully formed until about 21 years after birth. So those who argue on brain function don't really have a leg to stand on.

Some will argue on the basis of brain function, not brain development, but aside from the obvious "why" question, how much brain function is "enough" and how does one measure it?

Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, in their paper entitled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” argue that a human has no rights until he can be "self aware". What does it mean to be self aware, and how can we know if someone is? Should we apply intelligence tests to everyone each day, and those who score below a certain rank lose the right to live?

The point I'm trying to make is that there is no "bright line" in development from conception to birth, or after. Any point we choose, whether it be the beginning of brain development at 21 days heartbeat at 22 days, neural waves detectable with current technology at 42 days, "awareness" at two years after birth etc. is merely an arbitrary point on a continuum. Attempts to justify abortion (or in the last case infanticide) based on development is an attempt to say "I can kill these humans but not those humans." Why should we accept killing humans at all?

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Remember back, back to ninth grade. Try to remember what your goals were in life at that point. I know what mine were. If you asked me to list them, it would look something like this:
  • Get married to the woman I love
  • Have six to eight children
  • Become a famous inventor
  • Solve world hunger
  • Live in a big house on a lake
  • Spend time with my family
  • Go on awesome vacations with my family to interesting places, like the Grand Canyon
  • Drive a cool car
Of course, although I knew exactly what I wanted to do, I had no clue what path to take to get there, and so I wasted a good 20 years. By that point many of these goals were unreachable. I do love my wife, we do have children (though not the quantity I expected), I do live relatively near a lake, and we have been to the Grand Canyon.

A friend shared with me a project her daughter did for school on what her goals were. But they weren't given a blank sheet of paper. I guess that would be asking too much of them, to know what they wanted. Instead, they were given a list of suggested goals and asked to prioritize them. What dismayed my friend (and me) was that the things that we would have chosen for goals were nowhere to be found. Here is the list:
  • Making it on my own
  • Getting an education
  • Making a lot of money
  • Getting along with my parent
  • Having a romantic relationship
  • Living according to my religious beliefs
  • Staying out of trouble with the law
  • Having a friend I can always count on
  • Having a job I really like
  • Having sex with someone I love
  • Being in good physical condition
  • Doing something that makes a difference in my community
  • Having time alone with myself
  • Becoming famous
  • Avoiding HIV infection and other sexually transmitted disease
  • Being successful in sports
  • Being in style
  • Having others look up to me
  • Having children when I feel ready to raise them
  • Having fun
  • Write your own here
While I have (and intend to continue to) avoid HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, I'd hardly call it a goal. Yet this young lady put it as her number one goal. Likewise high on her list was having sex with someone she loves. I guess she'd better hope that person has the same number one goal.

What a sad commentary on our public schools when children have their goals handed to them by people with an agenda to deny culture and civilization.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Just for fun

recreational drug - any substance with pharmacologic effects that is taken voluntarily for personal pleasure or satisfaction rather than for medicinal purposes.