Tag Archives: Politics

A Little About Father James Altman

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“Priest Making Waves” might not be trending on Twitter, but if it were there would be a picture of Father James Altman. Those who have been longing for a courageous Priest to tell it like it is are embracing him as a new hope that not all is lost in this world or in the Catholic Church. Those who are a little more “conciliatory” have taken great offense. “You Can’t be Catholic and a Democrat. Period.” OK, Father – tell us how you really feel!

I’m not here to argue on behalf of the good Father. He can handle himself. I have seen a couple silly attempts at rebuking him through “analysis” and feel inclined to at least mention a couple things about that. Firstly, anyone who starts off an analysis by proclaiming himself as neither a Republican nor a Democrat in order to assuage the critic of his own passivity and neutrality so as to give the appearance of someone better served to analyze remarks than someone who is a Democrat or a Republican is engaging in psychological sleight of hand. Arguments and analysis stand on their own merits. The fact that someone is too jelly-like to stand firm on one side or the other, to take a stand, or just actually admit they are one thing or the other hardly elevates their logical credentials. It’s as if to say an agnostic is better served to analyze a religious opinion as opposed to an atheist or those pesky Christians.

Secondly, when the first segment of analysis takes Father Altman’s words about not loving anyone in Borneo and goes into a full-throated admonishment of that statement from a Priest as some unbelievable offense against God and Church I know I’m not dealing with an honest reviewer. It is so self-evident that it need not be explained – except apparently to this guy – that by saying he does not “love” anyone in Borneo he is not talking about a general love of mankind that desires everyone to be treated with dignity, fairness, justice, and to live a life of freedom and liberty while working out their salvation. He is obviously saying he does not “love” anyone in Borneo in the sense of relationship. Just like none of us grieve and mourn over the death of every person around the globe every day because we don’t “love” them in a familial relationship or as a close friend, it makes perfect sense to say that one doesn’t “love” everyone in the context that he is talking about. He didn’t say he didn’t care about anyone in Borneo. He didn’t say he wishes ill to those people. He was making an obvious point that only someone being purposely obtuse wouldn’t understand.

Thirdly, going into a criticism about using the Baltimore Catechism as some nefarious mechanism in making a subversive point instead of the Catechism we “should” use (the Cathechism of the Catholic Church) is simply silly. I have no issues with the CCC. It’s a fine work. As is Father Hardon’s Catechetical work. As is the Baltimore Catechism. One does not negate the truth of the other. The Baltimore Catechism didn’t cease to be relevant just because there is a new version any more than St. Thomas Aquinas ceased to be relevant when subsequent Theologians wrote their insights in the centuries that followed.

This is about as far as I got in reading that particular review because it was clear at this point it was not the supposedly neutral and balanced assessment of Father Altman’s words promised by someone staking that claim by proclaiming his absence of partisan affiliation.

But all that is really unimportant. So, here is my disclosure. I am an unapologetic Republican not because every element of their platform or everyone they elect is perfect – far from it. But because we have a two party system and one party is diabolical and evil. Period. So yes, I agree with Father. And while some may appease their consciences by not voting at all or voting for a third party this simply moves the sin from complicity to passivity. I will grant that if there is any remote realistic chance that a third party candidate might win, then go ahead and campaign and contribute and do all you can to give him or her a chance. But as it becomes perfectly clear prior to the election that this will not under any circumstance actually occur, then you are doing the equivalent of standing by idly and doing nothing about evil occurring right in front of you. Sometimes it’s not good enough to just not participate in evil, sometimes you need to stop it. Period.

My other disclosure is that I am in the same diocese as Father Altman. I know him casually. He probably doesn’t even remember me. I spoke with him at a friend’s house one day at a party. I have been to Mass with him when he was in his previous assignment, but I was not a member of his parish. I have gone to confession with him.

Here is my insight about the man from those few occurrences. One, for someone who is as forthright and – at times – scathing as he can be towards the targets he feels deserves rebuke, I have never experienced a more gentle, compassionate, and joyful confession. One might think his “fire and brimstone” homilies indicates a no-nonsense guy with little patience for imperfection. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, he loves hearing people confess because he believes in the power of the Sacrament. His issue – like Jesus – is not about the average person struggling in a world of sin and falling for various traps, stumbling, and falling. His rebukes are for those who are leading people into that sin, especially those who should be doing just the opposite. Going to confession takes courage, and he loves courage.

My other takeaway is that at the heart of everything he says it’s because he wants people to go to heaven. You can critique whether or not his approach works, but it is his firm belief that milquetoast sermons and spineless priests and bishops who are afraid to call a sin a sin are making people feel good in the here and now at the potential expense of eternal salvation of souls. As a parent, I feel a desperation of sorts to make sure I am doing everything I can do to see my kids grow up and have not only temporal opportunities, but to know God. At times I may switch gears from gentleness to firmness. I may even yell and punish, but don’t hold that against me… Father Altman, I believe, feels a desperation of sorts for his spiritual children – which is all of us. Countless priests talk about all the comfortable and nice things about faith and God – which is fine as far as that goes – but can lull people into a false sense of security. You feel pretty darn good about yourself, feel no need to challenge yourself to grow in faith, tend to be less introspective and recognize your faults, etc. So Father Altman, I think, feels a strong need to counter this and get real with folks. Our modern politics, politicians, and unfortunately many Bishops and clergy are failing us and they need to wake up. And the flock needs to recognize that they are not being fed and they need to wake up. And the only way to wake up is for a jarring bell or buzzer that is extremely uncomfortable to go off.

That’s my view. So even if you side with those who believe he is being “too political,” “too harsh,” “too judgmental” I can say with confidence that he fully understands the gravity of his own words and he is prepared to take them and lay them at the Savior’s feet. And if Jesus tells him he went too far he will humbly acknowledge it and accept his fate. But don’t question his heart, his motives, and his love for all. He wants souls saved, and right now too many are being lost. We see it on our screens every single day. If you want to complain that he dare say that hell exists and if you support infanticide then you’re at risk, well I might suggest you take a moment and think about who will have more to explain on judgment day. And if you take it to heart, you can thank him personally when you arrive.

A View of Trump’s Immigration Policy

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Well, the whole world has blown up, apparently, now that President Trump has actually done what he said he was going to do – start restricting immigration from certain countries, and limiting refugees from entering the country.

As a Catholic, I think it is incumbent upon me to try my best to separate politics from the moral questions that come into play with certain complex issues.    I don’t think there is a strict right or wrong way to look at this.   It’s complicated, there are a number of considerations that come into play, and in many ways this is a good example of looking at an issue and trying to come up with the least problematic of bad options.

So, let’s start with our moral obligation to others, just on a general basis:   Every individual has the infinite dignity that comes with being made in the image and likeness of God.   Every individual needs to be treated with this dignity and respect.   Further, Jesus is very clear that we have an obligation to the poor.   In particular, those in dire situations who are the victims of war or civil/social unrest, forced to leave their homes are people who desperately need our help.   To completely turn our backs on these people is morally reprehensible.

Now, let’s move first to the administrative approach of the President’s order.   It is clear that there are some deficiencies in the details here.   Whatever one might think of the temporary ban of people from the seven specific countries and the stay on refugees, it is hard to imagine that it was intended that people in flight should be held indefinitely at an airport, or that anyone with an approved green card should be refused entry back into the country.    It certainly does seem like there are some holes in the declaration as issued, and that corrective action is in order.

Now, we get into the muddy waters of conflicting moral questions:  (1) Our obligations to help those in need of help, and (2) the safety and security of our nation.    The Catechism itself recognizes (and the Pope – sympathetic to the plight of immigrants as much as any Pope has ever been – recently recognized) the authority of a nation to define its border and immigration policy.   The Bible also recognizes the borders and governance of nations as being divinely ordained.    While this doesn’t automatically suggest that a country can do whatever they want without there being moral implications, it does suggest there is latitude that is given to countries to make governing decisions they feel is appropriate.

The question is one of intent.   In the medical field there is an issue of double-effect, when treatment for one condition could lead to the death of a fetus, or even the individual.   If the intent is to treat the medical issue, and the intent is NOT to cause death, then a death caused by that treatment is tragic, but not morally problematic.     Likewise, as a country, our leaders have primary duties and obligations, and the defense of our nation is at the very top of that list.   This primary duty has always been, in traditional times, defense against a nation-aggressor.    But times have changed.   The real threat of terrorism, and terrorists themselves saying they plan on coming into our country to do us harm, has made the defense of our nation more complex, and almost by the terrorists’ own intent intermingled with the debate on how to deal with immigration questions in our country.

People are concerned, and rightly so, that the Executive Order may cause harm to innocent refugees who now have one less place to go.   It is a difficult thing to say that “there is no room at the inn.”    People also are concerned that there is a purposeful targeting of Muslims with the Executive Order.   This also is a difficult question of intent.   Nobody who is rational can deny that the threat of terrorism rests squarely on Islamic extremism.   It can be a difficult thing to bifurcate the subset of perpetrators of evil from the whole set of the religion that they practice.    These concerns are considerations in the debate, but in the end they cannot outweigh the more rational consideration of what is the right thing to do to protect our nation.

There is a clear and obvious example on a personal level that has been used many times before, but is worth repeating.   As the father of my family, I have a lot of obligations.   Setting aside the obligation to raise children who believe in God and to set them up as best I can to live a life that gets them to heaven, I also have obligations in the material world.   Foremost among those obligations is to protect them as best I can.   If I kill an attacker who wishes to kill or harm in a violent way my wife or children, this is a tragic obligation.   But I also protect them in other direct ways, and in other passive ways.    Firstly, I may choose where my house is to raise my family in a safer area.   Some may see this as discriminatory or judgmental, because a safer neighborhood may look different from an unsafe one.    It may also place more distance between us, so my ability to help make that neighborhood a better place to live is more difficult.   That’s all too bad, but my primary moral obligation is to my family.   My obligation may change if I were single and only have myself to worry about.   But that is not the case.   Secondly, I lock my doors.   yes – I keep out those who I have not invited.   Not because I hate everyone outside of my home, but because I don’t know who might come in, or their intent.   People are free to come over, even uninvited, and make the case for why I should let them in.   But it is up to me entirely who I let into my house.  I may turn people away.   I mean no ill will, and perhaps my criteria for selection is overly cautious and even discriminatory.   But these considerations do not outweigh the assessment that this is what I must do to protect my family.    Now, I may be misguided in some ways, and I may learn to relax my standards, but nothing I have done is morally wrong.   (Now, this doesn’t mean I can’t find ways to offer aid and kindness to others.   I need to do that – it is an obligation.    But I will find other ways that do not breach the fundamental responsibility of protecting my family.)

This is directly analogous to our country and its borders.   Those who claim it is not are not thinking reasonably, in my opinion.

So, good and honest people can disagree as to what is the right or wrong way to go about protecting our country.    We can and should have a discussion about how we may be able to help people in other ways whom we otherwise refuse to let in.    We may even have a reasonable discussion about the moral balance of the position we are taking, and learn and grow from it so that we find the proper moral balance wherein we maximize our ability to help and aid others without compromising the primary obligation of defense.

What I am seeing, mostly, at the moment is not rational argument.    I am seeing horrible claims that if you worshiped Jesus on Sunday and you agree with the Executive Order, you are a hypocrite and un-Christian.   [Most of these claims come from people who aren’t particularly religious]    I’ve seen claims that you need to rip the Pro-Life sticker off your bumper if you agree with these immigration reforms.   [Usually these posts are from people who aren’t Pro-Life, except apparently in the case of Syrian refugees]

The main issue is the hyperbole of all this:

Jimmy Carter suspended immigrants from Iran.   Barack Obama (remember him?) suspended immigrants from Iraq.   This may be on a wider scale, but it is not without precedent.

The suspensions are temporary.    The idea is to ensure a vetting process sufficiently rigorous to better know who is coming into the country.

The suspension of Refugees is similar.   The order does not eliminate an inflow of refugees.  It puts the number (50,000) at approximately the levels prior to the previous couple years.

Yes, the countries are Muslim.   But what are you going to do?    It’s an unfortunate reality that these countries have produced terrorists.   If anything, it seems more reasonable to argue that this order didn’t go far enough.   Saudi Arabia, for example, is not on the list.   Nor is Pakistan.     If anything, the criticism might be that the countries selected are not internally consistent and other considerations were made that may have had more influence than it should have in our national security conversation.

The discussion is a good one, and Christians do need to step back and try and do whatever we can to make sure that our intent here is not to harm or discriminate, but to protect our country.   In my opinion, it’s a bit sloppy and needs improvement, but the primary goal here is to protect our country.   That there may be the “double-effect” of some harm to immigrants and refugees who could benefit from entry into our country is unfortunate, but it is not morally problematic because that is not the aim.    It does mean we have an obligation to expedite our vetting, establish clear parameters for entry, and do everything we can to aid them in other ways in the meantime.

 

Marching Women

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I have no issues with anyone marching or protesting on whatever it is they want to march and protest about.    It is one of our rights as a U.S. citizen to exercise our voice and freely express our opinion.

That doesn’t mean I find the free speech in question good or honorable.   It just means I believe in the rights of people to be wrong or make fools of themselves.

I have a few issues with the hundreds of thousands of people who marched on Saturday, supposedly to give women a voice.

  • There was no particular thing they seemed to be marching about. I have no issues with a desire for equal treatment, equal pay, equal dignity, etc.    But this seemed much more like a pro-abortion, pro-planned-parenthood march garnished with a general tantrum about the outcome of the election.
  • If you are claiming that being a woman is your unifying parameter, then women should not have turned away other women from joining in the march.    Women wearing Trump hats or carrying pro-life signs were turned away.
  • If you’re going to start a movement that endears yourselves to others and to change minds and hearts, adopting Madonna and Ashley Judd as your spokespeople is not a good place to start.

The Climate Change Pope, Part 3

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I’ve spent a couple blog posts giving the background on why I believe the Pope is wrong about climate change.   Let me start this post by stating my areas of agreement with the Pope.

  1. I am not deligitimizing the overall, general issue of stewardship of God’s creation.     I am not suggesting the Pope has no authority in this area, nor that he should be silent about these concerns.   I am not even saying that the Pope has no right to an opinion on whether or not human-caused global warming (or climate change) is real.    He, as does every person, has a right to an opinion.    As Pope, he has the obligation to instruct the faithful.   More generally speaking, it is proper and correct to challenge all of us as to whether or not we are striking the proper balance between respect for human rights and progress and respect for God’s creation.
  2. There should be many things that we see that should not be particularly debatable as either a good thing or a bad thing in the realm of stewardship of the earth.   Dumping of toxins, breaking the law, leaving a plastic bottle in the woods – some are clearly more serious than others, but all are wrong.   The Pope is correct to suggest that knowingly doing something that is harmful to the planet is sinful.    This statement is not Gaia-worship, it is a simple acknowledgment that we have a responsibility we need to take seriously to keep this planet as healthy as possible, because God made it good, and also because it’s in our best interest to do so.    No matter how pro-capitalism one might be, this should not be debatable.
  3. Consumerism is a somewhat strange word, but we should all be able to agree that, while the economic system is not inherently problematic, the human conditions of jealousy and greed are.   You can point to any economic system ever put in place anywhere, and you will have one thing in common:   greedy people will find a way to take advantage of other people, and will exploit the system to their gain.    I personally believe that the Pope is often a bit too hard on capitalism, as if the system itself is flawed.    Compared to any other system devised, I actually thing it produces the most superior of moral outcomes – you earn what you deserve (generally speaking) and it forces allocation of resources in the most efficient way for a thriving economy, which benefits everybody.     Clearly, there are shortfalls, as will be the case with every system, and we continue to try to create the perfect variant of a social-capitalistic system, which will never happen.   But having said all that, it is certainly worth noting the personal pitfalls of this system.   Capitalism does offer the opportunity for great wealth.   That’s not bad, but is the question is why is that wealth being pursued?     It’s one thing if natural interests or a great idea that can add to the quality of life of others is the reason for the pursuit.    It’s also another thing if an opportunity exists to make your life better without sacrificing other good things (God, family, etc.).   It’s quite another if the drive is purely materialistic, and the time and effort is sacrificing time and energy on more idealistic pursuits.   This is where capitalism, while not bad in and of itself, can be a source of temptation for those who may have a personal weakness in the area of covetousness or greed.    This goes hand-n-hand, then, with the stewardship of creation.   Most Corporations are good, all of which are filled with working people – I hate the generalization of all Corporations as somehow innately evil. This doesn’t mean that greed cannot infect the principal owners/board members of an organization.    As Christians, we can both believe in the goodness of capitalism while speaking out against environmental injustices when they happen.
  4. There are grey areas in the area of stewardship that can be legitimately debated.    Is it immoral to build a factory that will employ people who will be able to provide for their families if it means the endangered snail darter will be at serious risk?    Is it immoral to shutter the entire project, causing community disruptions, lost jobs, and so forth because of an overscrupulous view of stewardship?    Good and honest people will disagree on the moral high ground here.   Perhaps there is a middle ground that makes sense.    One thing is almost certain – not everyone will agree, and it’s almost impossible to say that one side is sinning and the other is not.

So, I think the Pope makes many great points, and challenges us to make sure we are not letting politics steer our religious or moral obligations.    However, where I do take issue is moving from the moral directives to a much more specific proclamation of what our obligations are as a world community, as governments, and as individuals in response to the threat of human-caused climate change.

It is one thing to take a position that dumping a known toxin into a river is a sinful action, and it is quite another to suggest that driving a car is a sin if the option of a bus is available.   If the moral instruction is based on a belief that fossil fuel use is causing destructive warming, it is understandable why that instruction takes place.   But if that underlying premise is false, then the moral instruction is also false.    Put differently, if I do not accept the science-based premise that leads to a particular moral instruction on the basis of that scientific premise – not on simply obstinate grounds, but on grounds of experience and research and (to the extent possible) unbiased human reasoning – then am I obligated to accept the moral instruction that is a response to the flawed scientific premise?    This is different from just saying “I studied the Bible and I don’t believe in Purgatory.”    That is not a scientific question that leads to a religious doctrine.   So, I am not saying that whatever I don’t accept I don’t need to listen to.  In fact, I accept that the moral issue of stewardship is an obligation on my part.   It is the specific nature of this issue that I have a problem with.

One may simply ask, “What’s the big deal?”    Well, it is a big deal, actually.    If the Pope gives moral authority to governments, the UN, and other secular organizations on this issue, it sets the stage for a much more aggressive response with the justification that the Vatican is on board.   I think the Pope, in his own way, has this vision of the goodness of they types of choices that will be made – people just decide to buy fewer things, drive less, think about the environment more, and participate less in the types of things that will drive climate change.   Governments will do reasonable things that benefit everyone.

There is good there, and the good things are the things we should do anyway, irrespective of climate change.   But going beyond personal choices, everything else is problematic even if the theory is correct.   And if the theory is wrong, then everything else is horribly flawed. Governments will tax – inefficient, and a displacement of resources that can help people.   Governments will regulate and restrict production, will deviate resources to unnecessary and expensive areas, and will be an overall drag on growth and incomes.   But far worse will be the continuation and escalation of social engineering:   (a) abortion on demand will continue, be promoted as a good, and will escalate in the areas of the world where it has yet to gain a foothold; (b) people will be encouraged to outright “fear” having children, further encouraging use of contraception,  (c) personal property rights and use of property will continue to be diminished and attacked, and (d) marriage will continue to devolve into an institution of self-happiness rather than as an institution of rearing the next generation.

Now, the Pope doesn’t want fewer children via an increase in abortion and contraception.   And he would condemn that approach.   But the secular world doesn’t care what the Pope thinks, except when he thinks something they can use to advance their agenda.   While it should not be the case that the Pope should never speak pastorally or on social justice issues due to the risk of progressives selectively choosing the words of his they want to use for their purposes, neither should the Pope dismiss or ignore the fact that this reality exists.   He should understand the consequences of his instruction, and at the very least make it clear that when he speaks of these things, he condemns absolutely a number of the human “solutions” or agendas around this issue.

He should, in my opinion, also not speak so absolutely about the truth of climate change as a result of human activity, but instead focus more generally on environmental stewardship and our moral responsibility.

The Climate Change Pope, Part 2

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In my recent post The Climate Change Pope, Part 1, I provided a brief historical context as to why I believe i can speak to this issue with some clarity from the standpoint of science and mathematics, as well as modeling.    I have done my best to take an unbiased look at the data, and have also studied a number of the less black and white issues around the idea of human-caused climate change (which used to be global warming, but I’m convinced that it became obvious that this claim was going to be problematic – nonetheless, climate change is still, generally, used synonymous with a precept that the planet is warming, and that is undergirded by a precept that the warming is caused by humans).

My past history has led me to the conclusion that the theory that humans cause global warming is mostly false.   Call it the Diatribe-o-facto-meter.   I say mostly false because I think there does appear, in my past research, that over the past few decaded the temperature anomalies ride slightly higher than what is otherwise nicely explained by incorporating cyclical trend analysis.   The differential, however, is not what I would call significant.    The fact is, there are very long term warming and cooling trends that take place over time.   We all know this without being science majors – there have been series’ of ice ages and series’ of warmer ages.   One can easily find historical charts dating back millions of years that show these cyclical patterns, determined through different scientific analyses.   Then there are intermediate term cycles withing these longer term cycles.  Finally, we know of at least two sixty-ish year cycles that take place with ocean warming and cooling patterns.    Throw on top of that the solar cycle that lasts a fraction of that time, and it’s easy to see why trying to jump to conclusions by looking at a 10, 20, or 30 year temperature trend needs to consider all sorts of things before you can start talking about what the actual impact of human activity does.

In my past blogging, I attempted to do just that, and my conclusions are that we are in a long/intermediate trend of warming at about 0.4 degrees Celsius per Century.   This has nothing at all to do with human activity.    From the mid 1970s through the 1990s we were in one of the short-term upward cycles.   My analysis showed that we peaked a few years ago, are on top of a wave where temps would be relatively stable, and then start a gradual decline for a number of years before starting to increase once again.    I posted this observation a number of years ago and it’s exactly what happened.

My analysis also showed that recent anomalies where slightly elevated after considering these cycles.    This could have to do with recent solar cycle contribution, or it may well have to do with human contributions.   So I accept a contributory impact.   But it is such a small contribution that it cannot possibly justify back-breaking action.

So, moving on from all that, why is this important?    I have always felt it is important, primarily, because I think we are victims of a combination of honest mistakes and outright lies.    Honest mistakes can be reviewed and debated and corrected.   Outright lies means that there is something more to the story.   The question is, “why would they lie about something like this?”

And this is where the Pope becoming complicit (I believe with good intentions) is quite problematic.    The goal of those who really, really understand the science behind this issue is to promote a particular socioeconomic outcome.   Increase taxation, disallow more and more land use, thus reducing private ownership of land (I just read today that during Obama’s 8 years, he has federalized enough land to fill Texas three times – that is alarming and something we should resist greatly), and – the greatest evil of all – to paint human beings as intrinsically at odds with creation and of lower value than planet earth.

In my next, and final, post on this, I will further explain my position.   In a nutshell, I am not suggesting the Pope doesn’t have a proper concern in making sure we are reminded of our human responsibility to care for God’s creation.   He makes great and humbling points that need to be considered.   My issue is moving beyond the more general spiritual directive in reminding us of our overall responsibility and the broad considerations we need to make in all our actions, and moving into much more specific case of climate change and fossil fuels.   There is a very real danger in how his words will be taken by many odd bedfellows, and in my opinion not only creates potential confusion but also actually, albeit indirectly and unintentionally, aids in the advancement of evil.

To Trump or not to Trump – Notre Dame’s Question

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I have a few thoughts regarding the issue about Notre Dame publicly considering not inviting Donald Trump for a commencement speaker.   Here’s a link to a Washington Post article.

Here are a few excerpts from the article.

Notre Dame University may not extend an invitation to President-elect Donald Trump to this year’s graduation, a move that would break with a decades-long tradition of inviting presidents in their first year to deliver the main commencement address at the South Bend campus…

University President John Jenkins said the 2009 commencement featuring President Obama was a “political circus” that he is loath to repeat at this year’s ceremony…

“My concern a little bit is that, should the new president come, it may be even more of a circus,” he added.

This is the strongest valid point I believe Notre Dame has in taking this position.    I think it’s proper and valid to assess whether or not the speaker is being a major distraction and somehow affecting what should be a celebration of the graduates.    With as politically divided as this country is, it is probably reasonable to believe that people would not be so courteous as to not protest or take the new President’s presence as some personal affront to them.

I have a couple issues with this, but I also understand the reality.   My issues are (1) people should grow up and be respectful, and this shouldn’t be a concern to begin with, (2) I have a real question as to whether or not this is really an honest conclusion on the part of John Jenkins.    Is he prepared to say that, going forward, no Presidents will be invited under the current political environment?    If so, then fine.   But I can’t help but suspect that had Hillary Clinton won, she would be invited to speak.   I can’t know that, but I strongly suspect it.  (3) Why did Notre Dame so adamantly stick to their guns on this in Barack Obama’s first year?    They knew it would be a circus, at least from the standpoint of being a Catholic Institution.    Now, having said all that, if this is a new policy where Notre Dame says that going forward, we just want the day to be about our graduates and our politics are toxic and from this day forward no President or President-Elect will be invited, well, then that’s not a problem.

 

And then there is this:

“I do think the elected leader of the nation should be listened to. And it would be good to have that person on the campus — whoever they are, whatever their views,” Mr. Jenkins told The Observer, the student-run publication of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

 

This is hogwash.     At least the “whatever their views” part.   This is an academic institution, but it irks me to no end that these Catholic higher institutions consider discourse of ideas to be a higher calling than their own Catholic identity whenever that discourse of ideas runs afoul of Catholic teaching.    I have no idea with the idea that we should listen courteously to Barack Obama talking about general topics, or religion-neutral policies, whether I agree with his perspective or not.    I take great issue with having Catholic doctrine openly challenged on a Catholic campus.   And it is a perfectly reasonable position, if someone holds very public views expressedly contrary to Catholic Doctrine (not just differences in preferred opinion), to not invite any person – regardless of status or position – who holds those views.

 

Finally:

Conservative cardinals and bishops opposed the invitation of Mr. Obama at the time, citing his views on abortion which run contrary to church teaching. Prominent alumni also lobbied the school to disinvite the president.

Mr. Jenkins has expressed disapproval with the president-elect’s stance on immigration.

 

Eight years ago, Notre Dame ignored Bishops and Priests and expressed that the god of Academia reigns Supreme, and they had to know it would rankle people.   But now, there is no such dilemma.   Yes, it’s true that Trump is controversial, has said some things that are not all that nice, and has in the past held views contrary to Catholic views.   But as a candidate, and so far as a President-Elect, he has taken positions that can only be described as pro-religious freedom, pro-life, and simply not contrary in any way to Catholic doctrine.     Yes, it’s true that there is all sorts of disagreement about how to deal with immigration, and we need to have that debate.   And there is a real moral component to that, but there is room for disagreement.

In the end, I understand where the folks of Notre Dame are coming from.    I just wish I could really believe them.   They do not have a history where I trust that this isn’t just another response by sore-loser, snowflake-ridden, progressive academia presented as something else.

 

 

A Heartbeat Away

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In an interesting look at the up, downs, simplicities, and complexities in advancing a Pro-Life agenda, looking at what has recently happened in Ohio makes for interesting debate.

On the one hand, an “incrementalist” view is favored in some segments of the Pro-Life community.   Depending on the lens with which one looks, this is either a horrible compromise or a solid strategic way of making progress that has more of a permanent foothold.   It can be best viewed as trying to meet the public where they are willing to be on this issue in a way that changes opinions, hearts, and minds with far less risk of a sudden backlash.    The downside, of course, is that it is a compromise.   A strategic vision is in place that tries to assess the reality around us, work within that reality, accepting that abortion is still the law of the land, while continuing to poke and prod, slowly and incrementally changing where that acceptable line is.    One consideration is public backlash and the other is an assessment of court rulings.   The fear on the judicial side is that a negative ruling sets things back and erodes prospects for future progress.

There are other segments in the pro-life community that take a more simplistic and pure view – that we should push for everything we can whenever we can, and setbacks be damned.   This really is a play of principle in a lot of cases – it is known that certain laws that are passed will not only be challenged in court, but will also almost certainly be declared unconstitutional under the current make-up of the federal courts, particularly SCOTUS, and that precedents aren’t on the side of drastic changes.

Both sides have a solid argument.   From a purist perspective, one cannot accept something that is intrinsically evil.   There is nothing wrong with incremental changes when that is your only option, but to reject more dramatic action when made available is very problematic, regardless of the claims that this is in the long run a better strategic approach towards attaining more permanent and significant change.

The incrementalist view has good intentions, and perhaps has strategic merit.  I think it is wrong to consider these persons as “not really” pro-life.   I think it’s more that they are scared to death of losing whatever it is they have gained to date, and the fact that they fear negative court decisions and public backlash.

While I think we need to remain charitable with respect to what labels we assign to the different camps, and I think it’s worth understanding the perspectives, I think there is also a time where we need to look inward and ask the question about the fundamental message we are giving by the stance we are taking.

So, back to the Ohio example.   The Ohio state legislature passed a fetal heartbeat bill that disallowed abortions after a heartbeat is detected.   This effectively limits abortions to the first 6-8 weeks of pregnancy.    At the same time there was a different bill that simply limited abortions to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, with no considerations for technical viability, detected heartbeats, etc.   Governor Kasich signed the 20-week bill into law, and vetoed the fetal heartbeat bill.

The explanation given by Kasich, and it should be noted that this was supported by Ohio Right to Life, is that similar attempts to restrict abortion at this level invited defeat in the courts, so signing this would have set up lengthy and expensive court battles.   The President of Ohio Right to Life, Mike Gonidakis, went so far as to say “By endorsing the 20-week ban in lieu of the heartbeat approach, Gov. Kasich provided strong pro-life leadership to finally engage a winnable battle with the federal judiciary while saving countless babies.”

I think the heart is generally in the right place, but I also think this approach is flawed in a number of respects.    First of all, Ohio already had a viability law in place.   Every life counts, but the relative increase in babies saved with this restriction will not be countless.    This is a very incremental improvement.    Standing alone, it is welcomed, and is a good thing.    Considering this a huge step forward is really not factually correct.    This is still allowing abortions for nearly the first 5 months of pregnancy.   Five months is still a long time of risk for a baby in the womb.    Further, health exceptions are still firmly in place.

The other issue I have is that he didn’t have to choose one or the other.   He could have signed both.    So, making the argument that he signed one in lieu of the other is erroneous.   He signed one and vetoed the other, pure and simple.   Had both been signed, and the more restrictive law found to be unconstitutional, then the other would still be in place.   This was a punt.

I appreciate the incremental gains we’ve made.   But I think there is also such a thing as overanalyzing things in order to get to a certain end.    There are times where a strategic approach to achieve the best end is not problematic.   An example was the Presidential Election.   If one firmly believed that there were truly only two options, then voting for the least imperfect candidate is not an immoral thing to do, nor does it compromise your principles.    This is not an incremental decision.   It’s a binary one.   But this is not true of the pro-life issue.

We are obligated to communicate the entire reason we are pro-life.   It’s murder.   It’s immoral.   The baby is a human being.    The womb should be safe.    Like the election decision, if the choice is between a slight restriction and no restriction then you take the slight restriction.   You are not immoral because you sign a ban after 20 weeks that still allows abortion in the first 20 weeks if the only other choice is that the status quo is 24 weeks.    But rejecting a more restrictive law for strategic reasons goes beyond a binary decision.    Especially with the Supreme Court in flux, and the fact that nobody can predict the future, to somehow state with certainty that this is a loser is probably not the best position to take to begin with.   But even if it is, there is a very real moral question involved here.    Why in the world is it not in our DNA to fight as hard as we can for an injustice to be corrected?    Why aren’t we willing to die on that hill?    Even if the courts shoot us down, why do we care?    I do understand there is a resource issue – but millions of people will support these expenses.

I have had people who are not pro-life ask me in the past that if we think abortion is essentially the killing of an innocent human being, then why are there exceptions for rape and incest?    The question was not necessarily meant to support the idea that they want us to fight for a comprehensive abortion ban, but it is an honest confusion about the message we are sending as a pro-life community.    If it’s a person, then why are we agreeing to certain lines of differentiation in treatment?    If they are confused by that, then how much more confusing is the message (real or perceived) that we are OK with abortions up to a certain number of weeks, but not after?    And that we’re willing to draw one line, but not another?

The danger here is also something I’ve heard:  that pro-lifers don’t really want this issue to be ever completely won, because it takes away the life issue in the political conversation.    I don’t believe this to be true for most people, but I do think the incrementalist approach feeds into that perception.   It’s confusing and contradictory in many ways, and the only actual way to explain it is in terms of politics and strategy.    This is problematic as far as messaging goes, any way you slice it.

Sadly, there may also be some truth to that perception.    I think a lot of politicians are nominally pro-life, but it is not what they would consider to be a crtical issue.    They would never personally have an abortion, and being pro-life is a winning issue for their particular constituents.    Small progress is a win, and they can tout it as progress.   But they have no stomach for any political fallout on this issue at all, so they would never support harsh steps even if they could be had, because it makes it more of an issue and could be politically damaging.

I don’t know if Kasich is in the “nominal” category, or if he truly believes he just did the best thing to get where we need to do and would be willing to go further if he feels it would be upheld.   But his approach is most definitely incremental, and for the good it does for some babies, it pulls the plug on a potentially much greater opportunity.    But that would be bold.   And who needs that?

Caliexit Dreaming

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This is a bit silly, but I thought I’d comment on it anyway.   California is mad.    Why?   because the rest of the country is not like them.   Without California (and really a few counties in California) Hillary Clinton does not win the popular vote.   And while we know that this doesn’t actually matter with respect to the Electoral College, it matters to some people.

As an aside, I saw some headline today of some article that said something along the lines of how the rest of the country is being held hostage by flyover country.    This couldn’t be a more asinine view of things.   When there are 3,141 total counties in the U.S. and one candidate wins 3,084 of them, it is not the people in the 3,084 counties that are holding the other 57 counties hostage.   That defies all logic.   No, if the Electoral College were discarded altogether, it would be a few large counties holding the rest of the country hostage.    And this is why the Electoral College makes sense.

Anyway, back to the wonderful folks in California.    There is a movement afoot to secede from the Union.   Now, this is probably never going to happen, because it’s not like a state can just decide on its own to pick up and leave.   Once part of the Union, you’re part of the Union.   To dissolve that, the state needs to initiate it, then the people of that state need to agree it’s a good idea, and then they can only leave if Congress grants them permission to do so and then the states ratify it.

None of that will happen, but as a non-Californian, I’m openly going to question whether or not we should stand in their way.   California claims to pay more into revenues than it receives.    That may or may not be true, and there’d be a mess trying to figure out how to transfer any future payment obligations to citizens in a seceded state.   My guess is we could get that all figured out, if not simply, at least in a manageable way that may span over a couple decades.

Personally, I’m not the least bit convinced that this would be a net loss in the fiscal sense.   Even if the math points in that direction today, I think in the future California will be a larger and larger drain.   They openly encourage a welfare state, sanctuary for illegal immigrants, etc.    Imagine what they’d do as their own country.    You want to see a grand socialist experiment?   I say, let ’em give it a shot.

For the rest of us, I think we would agree that the values of the West Coast are simply not aligned with the majority of the rest of the country.    So, take Oregon and Washington with you.   In terms of the future of politics, that is 73 Electoral votes for all three states (55 for California alone) that are for the foreseeable future going to go blue.   So, for those of us who want a more conservative bent, this only helps.    Further, I suspect there may be some self-selection happen between the Socialist Republic of the American West Coast and the rest of the country as well.    Some liberals in otherwise “purple” states may flock there to bask in the joy of their utopian dream, while the few remaining conservatives will emigrate to Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, helping those states turn or stay red.

It’s all a pipe dream, I know.   Pointless musing.    I know I am not supposed to root for this kind of secession or division, but then again I don’t really want them influencing my life either.   So, see ya.

Electoral Meanderings

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As a Catholic, I have a lot of thoughts about the Electoral College vs. Popular vote, etc.

OK, so being Catholic has little or nothing to do with that, but since this is called Catholic Diatribes I figured I’d remind everyone that I’m Catholic.

In no particular order of points, here we go:

  • The debate about whether or not the Popular Vote should be the determining factor in deciding the winner of the Presidential Election is understandable if viewed from a high-level perspective without a lot of deeper thought. Sure, it’s simple enough to think in terms of the democratic process – one person, one vote, most votes win.    But actually, this is not at all how our country is constructed.    And to view it in this way completely dismantles the way our citizens are represented, and the way our country actually operates.   We are not simply one country as a singular unit.   We never have been.    We are a country formed of fifty states plus the District of Columbia, joined together to form a country, but with each of those units having a say.   As I discuss some of the other points, this is the underlying issue that must be considered.    We are not, never have been, and barring a rewrite of the Constitution never will be a pure democracy.   We are a Republic.    Each unit in that Republic engages in a democratic process, but only to elect those who will then represent us.    We don’t vote on every law or regulation or issue – we elect someone who will on our behalf.   So we are not a pure democracy.
  • Making the argument that the Electoral College is unfair because it doesn’t amount to perfectly proportional weight of each individual’s vote can be extended to representation. Right now, every state, no matter how big or small, gets equal representation in the Senate.    Because of this, the folks who live in the least populous state actually have the largest voice in Congress on a per capita basis.    And even though the House of Representatives is proportional representation, there is still a minimum of 1 representative for the smallest states.    So, even in the House, the smallest state has the weightiest representation per person.   Our entire system is designed to make sure that the most populous states have a lower overall weight so that a small area of the country that has a high population density is less able to dictate policy to the rest of the country, potentially extending to large geographical regions.
  • Making the argument that the Electoral College is unfair is arguing that the states do not matter, and that – for this exercise, anyway – the country is a singular entity. This is simply not how we operate on anything.    Yes, there are federal laws and regulations, but those layer on top of state laws and regulation.    In this case, we are saying that we need to replace state elections with a federal one.    Maybe this is reasonable, maybe it isn’t, but it is a very fundamental difference from how we operate today.
  • There are some fun facts around the latest results that help demonstrate the wisdom of the Electoral College. Probably the most amazing statistic is this:   There are 3,151 counties in the United States.   Donald Trump won 3,084 of those counties.    And yet, Hillary Clinton is going to win the official Popular Vote.     That is actually really amazing.    And while I can sort of understand this whole “popular vote” argument, I simply cannot fathom how someone can’t see the wisdom in having a system that allows for the case where the candidate that wins 97.9% of the counties really deserves to be the President, even if he/she loses the total popular vote.
  • Another thing that needs to be considered as well is whether or not the actual results of the Popular Vote would have been the actual result if the winner was determined by Popular Vote. People are suggesting – either correctly or incorrectly – that the results of the election would be the same regardless of how the winner is determined.    This is far from certain.    Think about the fact that Donald Trump spent ALL of his time campaigning in the swing states.   California?   New York?    Almost no time at all, even though they have the highest two populations.    Illinois?    Since that state is driven by the results of Chicago, very little time was spent there.     The reason is simple strategy and resources.    Donald Trump may well have been able to get an extra million votes or two had he needed to spend money and time in those popular areas.    But he didn’t.   Why?    Because it made no sense with the Electoral College.    Losing California by 100 votes is no different than losing California by 3 million votes.     While this may not seem fair, because it means the candidates don’t go to fight for votes in those states, that’s just the flip side of what would happen if elections were driven by popular vote.    In that case, it wouldn’t just be a particular state getting ignored, it would be most of the United States.    The vast majority of campaigning would be in all the most populous areas.   Not necessarily the states, but just those zip codes or counties.    There are 45 counties in the United States that have 1.0 million or more people living in them.    Those 45 counties represent about 25% of the total population of the US.    County #100 has over 600,000 residents.    The top 100 counties represent just over 3% of total counties in the US, but you can bet that the majority of campaigning would be in those counties.    If ALL campaigning was centered on urban areas, the President would end up being even more out of touch with ordinary Americans than they already are.
  • Another fun map to look at is a red/blue map of who won which counties and overlay that with a red/blue map of highest crime rates. Just sayin’.
  • If you still need to be convinced about this, suppose we don’t talk about counties but we talk about a single state that has 51% of the population and all other states having an equal 1% share of the remaining population (for this exercise ignore Washington DC). Theoretically speaking, that one state could dictate who the President would be for the remaining 49 states.    While it may be a stretch to think that everyone in that state would vote similarly, it certainly isn’t a stretch that the difference in popular vote could be gigantic – all one need to do is look at the fact that 4 counties in NYC contributed over a 1.5 million vote advantage for Hillary Clinton – nearly 75% of the total popular vote gap.    California alone is going to have a 3 million vote difference.
  • The reason the Electoral College works is because it is a balance of Popular Vote and equal representation of the states in selecting the President of the entire U.S. – not just a few counties. The Electoral College count is 538, which is the total of Representatives and Senators (plus 3 for Washington DC, which in my opinion was unnecessarily overstated – I’m not sure why they felt it was necessary to treat that like a full state – but whatever).  The House generally represents the states in proportion to population, while the Senate does not.   So, the Electoral College lands in between the two – balancing geography and population.    Quite frankly, it’s genius.