The Tree of Life may be the finest film I have ever seen. While I often heard it provoke a particular question (“what the hell was Tree of Life all about?”), this tended to reflect, to me at least, more of the viewer than what was being viewed. Having now been brought into contact with To the Wonder, the first film of Terrence Malick since The Tree of Life, I find myself in an uncomfortable position: I could answer those questioning The Tree of Life, but I have much more difficulty responding to those who, introduced to the struggles of Neil and Marina and Fr. Quintana, ask “who the hell cares?”
This is a video making the rounds on my Facebook feed with the caption, “If every straight person honestly answered this question, we’d wipe out homophobia tomorrow.”
Um, no. We wouldn’t.
The premise of the video is that if we can convince people that gay people are born gay, homophobia will disappear. This is patently false. Read more…
Imagine, if you would, a female victim of sexual violence placed before a physician who, perhaps, operates in an emergency setting. Potential consequences of sexual violence can include impregnation and this concerns she who has experienced assault. I wonder of the extent to which readers are familiar with how Catholic moral tradition engages with such a scenario.
Consider Directive 36 of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. The Directive states, among other things, that “a female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault … [that] she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization.”
If interest exists — I do not presume interest — I would like to reflect upon considerations of apparent moral impact surrounding the administering of emergency contraceptive measures. To the extent that interest exists, I anticipate four posts. The first two will surround administering emergency contraception for the purposes of preventing pregnancy (in the first of these, I would like to reflect upon emergency contraception in the context of self-defense and, in the second, would like to reflect upon the abortifacient potential of emergency contraceptive measures and how that potential impacts moral assessment). In the third post, I would like to reflect upon the moral impact of administering emergency contraception for the purposes of impeding implantation and, in the fourth, I would like to conclude by identifying some protocol which have been established; protocol which strives toward care of the victim by conscious application of Catholic moral teaching.
So … emergency contraception as self-defense.
In one of his regular pieces on Fox News, Jon Stewart recently played a clip of Sean Hannity loudly proclaiming that the Boston bombing suspect should be waterboarded. He defended this by saying that he did not believe enhanced interrogation was torture.
This was Steward’s answer: “You don’t believe enhanced interrogation is torture? Because torture, like Tinkerbell, depends on if you believe“?
Without knowing it, Stewart hit on a profound point here, taking on moral reasoning based on a personal and subjective approach to intention.
Here is what Elizabeth Anscombe had to say about that: “Now if intention is all important – as it is – in determining the goodness or badness of an action, then, on this theory of what intention is, a marvellous way offered itself of making any action lawful. You only had to ‘direct your intention’ in a suitable way. In practice this means making a little speech to yourself: What I mean to be doing is…”
Of course waterboarding is torture. So are the other enhanced interrogation techniques. They have always been regarded as torture, and always will be seen as torture. Deploying the Tinkerbell approach doesn’t make this go away.
Incidentally, I’m still waiting to see those who support the Burkean approach to Canon 915 call for the likes of Hannity to be denied communion for public support of torture, an intrinsically evil act of high moral gravity.
If there is still violence, it cannot any longer, even in the remotest sense, claim to be of God or try to cloak itself with his authority. To do that is to drive the idea of God back to its primitive stages, which modern religious and civil conscience rejects. Better atheism than that. Better not to believe that there is a god at all than to believe in a god who would order us to kill innocents. — Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Homily for Good Friday 2004
Sometimes it is hard to believe in God. Over the past four years I’ve found my faith tested by family life, job uncertainty, and a general isolation from the world. I often felt as if God were planting a finger on my tiny ant-like existence, pushing hard enough to pin me in pain, but not quite hard enough to squash me. At many points in my struggle, I found myself even thinking, “Does God care? Does God even exist? How could God exist and let me endure this kind of pain?”
Then I remember genocide, war, holocaust, and I remember the Cross. Part of me still believes in a God who orders bloodshed, who demands the death of innocent first-borns and cute little animals. Part of me still believe in a God who wages war, who deems pagans and their children worthy of rock-dashing, dismemberment, and total annihilation. Part of me believes in a God who wins through violence. And so it seems natural that the violence I suffer comes from a violent God. And that makes me hate him.
It would be better not to believe in God than believe in a God who tortures me and humanity, and requires us to torture one another. Read more…
Catholic writer Brandon Vogt has launched Strange Notions, a site he intends to be a place of fruitful dialogue between Catholics and atheists. I’m glad to see Leah Libresco among the main contributors. Frankly, it would have been a sin not to involve her in this project.
Dialogue is essential in the pursuit of truth, and I hope the contributors and interlocutors can achieve it. We each seek the truth situated in a different place, meaning we perceive it and interpret it differently, making sense of the big questions (a relative description, really) as best we can from where we happen to stand. Dialogue doesn’t have to reach agreement to have merit: it’s worthwhile if it expands our own horizons and those of others, if we all come better to understand the place of one another. Dialogue and world-building go hand-in-hand.
A note of friendly criticism: I would’ve liked to have seen Strange Notions launch with a few atheists among its contributors, particularly as it describes itself as “the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists.” I don’t buy the rationale that the success of a site such as this requires one perspective on the inside. Both perspectives inform my way of thinking about these questions, and I’ve turned out all right. You need commonality, but you can find that elsewhere than in religion. To their credit, the founders say they plan eventually to host atheist contributors. Good plan.
Seven participants in the Mennonite/Catholic ecumenical group Bridgefolk have written public responses to the election of Pope Francis and the initial weeks of his pontificate, each from a particular angle, which have been posted on Bridgefolk’s website over the past week.
Abbot John Klassen of Saint John’s Abbey, who is co-chair of Bridgefolk, notes the significance of the name Francis.
By choosing the name Francis (after Francis of Assisi) the Pope evokes the spirit of a saint who is beloved and admired by all Christians. The name Francis is associated with humility, simplicity, compassion, keeping the Gospel in focus at all times, always watching out for the poor.
Marlene Kropf, a denominational minister of Mennonite Church USA and Bridgefolk’s other co-chair, tells how Pope Francis resonates with Mennonites.
The letter sent by Mennonite Church USA leaders affirmed his choice of a name that “reminds us of Francis of Assisi, a follower of Jesus who loved peace, cared for the poor, and cherished creation.” They concluded, “Most of all, we appreciate his profound commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Though Mennonites know that a single leader, no matter how powerful, cannot renew the church by himself, they are deeply hopeful that Pope Francis I will continue to nurture the friendship that is growing between Mennonites and Roman Catholics. Beyond that, they look forward to seeing how the new pope will work toward the unity of all Christians and extend a hand of friendship to all people of faith.
Msgr. John Radano, the newest member of the Bridgefolk board, who previously served on the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, highlights the continuity of Pope Francis’ “ministry of unity” with that of previous popes.
Over the last century, especially starting with Pope Leo XIII (+1903), popes have contributed to the unity of Christians in different ways…. Pope Francis I, in accepting this office with its ministry of unity, stands on the ecumenical shoulders of those Popes. Let us pray for him as he fosters unity.
Darrin Snyder Belousek, a Mennonite professor and author and the executive director of Bridgefolk, writes more specifically on how Pope Francis is demonstrating his own commitment to ecumenism.
It is no accident the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, attended Francis’ inauguration mass in St. Peter’s Square. This marked a first since the Great (East-West) Schism that divided the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions in the 11th century. Upon Francis’ election, Bartholomew I, who had friendly relations with John Paul II and Benedict XVI, commented confidently that the new Pope “will give a new impetus to the two Churches’ journey towards unity.”
…Francis then confirmed that “in continuity with my predecessors, it is my firm intention to pursue the path of ecumenical dialogue” and thanked the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which has conducted dialogues with various ecclesial bodies (including Mennonite World Conference), for its work in service of the church.
Gerald Schlabach, a founding member of Bridgefolk who teaches at the University of St. Thomas, reflects on the significance of a pope from the “global South”.
He is an experienced bishop from the streets and barrios of Argentina. He has named himself after Francis of Assisi, who is not only Catholicism’s most beloved saint but an exemplar of cross-class simplicity and cross-cultural peacemaking. He has de-vested himself of the most ostentatious trappings of clerical privilege. Disappointing traditionalists immediately, he has washed the feet of Muslims and women.
But sooner or later, on some issue or another, Francis will disappoint the rest of us too. And that is okay. Christians from the global South do this (not just Catholics). They are delightfully frustrating for North Americans and Europeans in their tendency to reshuffle our categories of left, right, progressive, orthodox, liberal, conservative. We deceive ourselves if we claim to champion just relationships between North and South yet disparage their voices.
My own reflection focuses on Pope Francis’ potential to bridge intra-ecclesial divides within the Catholic Church.
As an Argentinean with Italian parentage, Francis comes to the papacy with an understanding of the concerns facing the Church in multiple contexts. He has demonstrated a deep concern for the poor and marginalized which has already become a defining feature of his pontificate, while also acknowledging the “spiritual poverty” that pervades much of the industrial West. Not only does he show strong commitment to social justice as well as doctrinal soundness, he has a remarkable way of showing by word and deed that the two are inseparable.
…His deep love for the poor and his deep commitment to the Catholic tradition cannot be set against each other, in short, because he is Catholic. Hopefully, what he teaches by example can inspire us to bridge divides in our own corners of the Catholic world.
Finally, Ivan Kauffman, who, along with his wife Lois, essentially pioneered the Mennonite-Catholic connections that led to Bridgefolk, writes on Pope Francis’ continuation of the commitment to peace demonstrated by his predecessors.
For the past half-century, ever since John XXIII and Vatican II, the popes have been strong advocates of peace. Since John Paul II they have been non-Italians. And beginning with John Paul they have been increasingly attractive to the evangelical community. If early indications endure, this trend will continue under Pope Francis—and if so it will be strengthened, and likely become permanent.
All of these reflections are available in full here.