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Pro-Life Feminism in the Spotlight

January 29, 2017

Infanticide is on the increase to an extent inconceivable…. a recent Medical Convention [in rural Maine] unfolded a fearful condition of society in relation to this subject.  Dr. Oaks made the remark that, according to the best estimate he could make, there were four hundred murders annually produced by abortion in that county alone.  The statement is made in all possible seriousness, before a meeting of ‘regular’ practitioners in the county, and from the statistics which were as freely exposed to one member of the medical fraternity as another.

There must be a remedy even for such a crying evil as this.  But where shall it be found, at least where begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of woman?

–Editorial, The Revolution, March 12, 1868

In the decades following Roe v. Wade, abortion access has become largely synonymous with women’s rights in much of public discourse and the popular imagination. Yet historical evidence shows that this has not always been the case.  19th-century “first-wave” feminism is best known for its primary emphasis on women’s suffrage, and when the suffragists did speak about abortion they universally condemned it, both as a terrible act of violence in itself and as a symptom of other social problems, particularly for women.  In fact, it was men (namely Larry Lader and Bernard Nathanson, the former especially being more concerned with population control than women’s rights) who convinced initially reluctant later feminists to add abortion to their platform.

Nevertheless, a recent kerfuffle over a billboard by Feminists for Life prompted Deborah Hughes, president of the Susan B. Anthony House, to claim that Anthony never took a public position on abortion.  Carol Crossed, who is president of the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum, offered the news station in question (which she is local to) evidence to the contrary from The Revolution, the suffragist newspaper Anthony managed with co-editors Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury.  The station has apparently not produced any follow-up to the original segment, but relevant scanned pages from The Revolution can be found on the Birthplace Museum’s website.  (And while FFL’s billboard didn’t mention Anthony directly, they have a nuanced historical examination of her views and those of some of her colleagues and contemporaries here.)

Then, independently of all that (though Hughes and Crossed both responded afterward), Saturday Night Live went there.  The sketch in which Anthony appears to a group of modern women, who first greet her warmly but quickly grow indifferent until she offers the jolting parting shot, “Also, abortion is murder!”, could be read a few different ways: as a cursory nod to pro-life feminism, or a commentary on the superficiality of a merely touristy interest in the accomplishments of historical figures like her, or an attempt to contextualize away her pro-life position as a mere product of her time, as antiquated as her high Victorian collar and stone-heated stove.  But however it was intended, it sparked some timely conversation prior to the Women’s March and the March for Life – especially for those concerned with the intersection of the two.

The Consistent Life Network has an ongoing petition to media outlets to broaden coverage of the pro-life movement to include feminists, peace advocates, and others who fall outside the conventional stereotypes.  Ironically, the exclusion of pro-life feminist groups by the organizers of the Women’s March has to some extent made that happen.

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It’s the end of the world as we know it…

January 28, 2017

And I feel far from fine.

After this first week of the Trump era, I am left without words. I’ll be back in touch when I find them again.

For now, I have three things for you. The first is a quotation from the gospel of Matthew:

¨I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.¨ (Matthew 25:35).

The second is a website that, if you oppose anything you’ve been hearing over the past week, will give you ideas on how to turn discontent into action.

And finally, a poem of mine. I wrote it years ago. Please tear down the walls. Good fences do not make good neighbours.


She is my sister.

I had never visited her family’s shanty,
just as she’d never seen my home in the suburbs.
She always wore the same yellow dress
on her way to the market to sell chewing gum,
while I wore a starched plaid uniform
on my way to school.

Each morning we met on a grassy field
halfway between our homes.
We walked hand in hand,
picking flowers,
sharing secrets
that only the ground beneath could hear.

Then, one morning, they came with their shovels.
“Stand back,” they cried out.
Dazed, we watched
as they started to dig a ditch
and built a chain-linked fence
separating us.

After they, with their shovels, had left,
we passed friendship bracelets
through holes in the fence,
picked dandelions that grew alongside
and blew their seeds so they would grow
thick and fast and knock the fence down.

As teenagers, we found
the chain-linked fence replaced
by a wooden one
with gaps as thin as wafers
through which I barely glimpsed her face.
We still wove flowers through grooves,
still scattered seeds.

Now that we are adults, a brick wall divides us.
Each morning, I go alone,
wondering if she is on the other side,
if she too is pressing her hands against the wall,
kneeling down to plant seeds that
will one day be climbing roses

Somehow I know she too believes
we are sisters,
that halfway between our homes
there is still an open grassy meadow
with only the sky and the ground
as fences.

Fear, Loathing and Donald Trump

January 28, 2017

Over the next four years, I’m going to make a distinction in my posts between Donald Trump and the people who voted for him.

Donald Trump is a narcissistic, grandstanding blowhard, whose presidency is likely to make the venal, corrupt incompetence of George W. Bush’s administration look like the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

With his self-aggrandizing lies, and his more or less constant taking to Twitter to complain about people who are mean to him, I’ve concluded that his presidency is either Dadaist performance art, or that he literally has the emotional maturity of a spoiled 11-year-old girl – one who has the  launch codes to the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

His cabinet picks are “diverse” in the sense that they are largely composed of two groups:

A. People covered head to toe in Wall Street and plutocrat pocket lint, and
B. The people from whose pockets that lint came.

Surprisingly, one of the administration’s first priorities is the passage of a $10 Trillion tax cut, whose benefits will be heavily tilted toward the Wall-Streeters-and-Plutocrats set.

President Trump spent the transition period flouting every ethics convention followed by virtually all of his predecessors. Contrary to long-standing tradition, he has not put his business assets into a “blind trust”, but instead handed control of his businesses off to his family members, and pinky-swears that he won’t listen when those family members sit in the oval office and discuss “their” business dealings in loud voices right in front of him, honest he won’t.

I expect that we will see grift and corruption on an absolutely heroic scale in the next four years.

Perhaps I should be clearer here: I think it is safe to say I’m not Trump’s biggest fan.

All that said, let me shift gears and discuss the people (not all, but a good fraction) who elected Donald Trump to be our president.

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The Verdict of Future History

January 17, 2017

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.
–Abraham Lincoln

The broad and unsentimental sweep of history gives ample evidence that nations great and small arise, thrive to some degree and for a time, and then decline and come apart.

History offers no exceptions.

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On married priests

January 9, 2017

At least since Vatican II there has been discussion about married clergy in the Western Church, with many people advocating for it to address the vocations crisis, and with equal numbers arguing in support of the current discipline.  Often missing from these discussions is the fact that the Church has been quietly experimenting with married clergy in the Latin Church (as opposed to the Greek Churches, which have always had a married clergy).  Beginning under Pope John Paul II, exceptions have been made to allow Episcopal/Anglican and Lutheran clergy who convert to Catholicism to be ordained even though they are married.   This process accelerated slightly under Pope Benedict XVI, who created a mechanism for Episcopalians/Anglicans to be received while maintaining some of their traditional forms of worship.

But recently Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a priest from South Carolina, wrote a column about his personal experiences as a married Roman Catholic priest.    Since it appeared at Crux, which no longer allows comments on its articles, I am going to copy some pieces of the article here to open a discussion on this subject.  I urge you to read the whole piece.    He addresses some concerns, such as time management (can a married man devote enough time to his congregation?) and commitment (what about the conflict between serving God and serving his wife?).  He tackles the financial issues (will Catholics be willing to pay to support a priest and his family?) and touches on divorce and contraception (though I think shallowly).

In the end, despite his status as a married priest, Fr. Longenecker is generally opposed to ending the practice of clerical celibacy, except in limited circumstances:

[T]here is another option. Rather than allowing all priests to marry, the Vatican could delegate to individual bishops’ conferences the authority to consider some older married men for ordination.

As most of us are living longer, active lives, there are many married men who are financially secure and whose children have grown up who could well serve the Church as mature priests.

To lay my cards out on the table:  he raises some good points, but none that are overwhelming or support his argument that they tip the scales (along with the standard theological and historical arguments for a celibate clergy) in favor of maintaining the current discipline.  Rather, his arguments put me in mind of something I believe Chesterton said about Christianity:  It has not been tried and found wanting, but rather was found hard, and so not tried.  Though I do not think it would be a panacea, and would be hard, it is something I think the Church should consider.

Your thoughts are welcome.  Also, I feel like we have discussed this before, but a search of the archives at Vox Nova did not turn anything up.  If anyone can find older posts, please add them to the comments.

Vermin Supreme, Anarchy and the Election

January 5, 2017

Vox Nova is pleased to present the following guest post by Ben Johnson.

The turbulence and division caused by the most recent presidential election reminds me that we are not immune to chaos. We are in an already shaken nation. No matter how safe we feel, destructive, chaotic events simply occur in nature and take us by surprise when they do. What will we do when we are swept into it? How can we calm the storm? One hopeful answer, which was oddly enough revealed through the events of the 2016 Republican National Convention, is this: “Make them laugh… and give them a pony.”

The RNC, held in Cleveland, had the potential to erupt into fatal chaos. Many of the participants, the protesters, and all the police were armed. In addition to the large number of firearms present, there we many angry people and several reputedly incendiary groups including the Westboro Baptist Church and the Ku Klux Klan. This could have become a terrible tragedy if someone had fired a shot, but no one did. There were events which could have escalated into armed conflicts, but they were de-escalated before that could happen. How? While there are many reasons, not the least of which being that people generally want to avoid large gunfights, there was a notable primary agent of this de-escalation. A strange man with a boot on his head, yelling into a bullhorn. His name is Vermin Supreme.

His description and behavior may suggest a person who is just going to add to the pandemonium. Instead, he tells jokes. He reads police manuals on crowd control into his bullhorn. He comically acts as though he is in charge and the police are just following his orders. As a result, he turns the tense atmosphere between protesters and police into a comedic play.

“Between the cops and the protesters, there’s a vacuum. That’s the space I occupy.”

His performance presents the event as an absurd farce in which both of the divided parties are willing participants. He creates a space in which both the police and the protesters can have the awareness that they are creating this scene together. They all have the power to keep the situation from degrading into complete chaos because they are all actors on the same stage.

The joke may be lost on much of the crowd, but it still has the effect of easing tension and keeping the peace. When he starts to perform, people get somewhat confused. So, instead of yelling in outrage, many are momentarily stunned. Surely the confusion at the RNC only grew when he announced that he was a candidate in the presidential election.

“If you were watching me down in the delegate zone, you’d see so many Trumpsters love me,” Supreme says, “But I’m seeking Cruz delegates, trying to flip them, maybe in the third ballot or something like that.”

He ran on a platform stressing mandatory tooth brushing, and switching to a “pony based economy.”

My free-pony platform is of course a jobs creation program. It will create lots and lots of jobs once we, ah, switch over to pony based economy. It will also lower our dependence on foreign oil, we will also be able to turn all that pony poop into methane gas and wonderful compost, and we will be able to re-up our soil that is being depleted by aero-chemicals, etcetera. etcetera. Etcetera.

Again, his performance is presenting the event, in this case presidential election, as an absurd farce. His character promises to implement programs which will force people to brush their teeth for health reasons and completely control our transportation. In addition, he promises to not keep his promises. He is being explicit and honest where other candidates have simply lied.

My name is Vermin Supreme. I’m a friendly fascist, a tyrant you can trust, and you should let me run your life because I do know what is best for you. Yes I’m a politician and I will promise you anything your electoral heart desires because you are my constituents, you are the informed voting public, and I have no intention of keeping any promise that I make. Vote Early. Vote Often. Remember a vote for Vermin Supreme is a vote completely thrown away.

He knows he will not win. His intention is not to be president. He is a performance artist who seems truly on a mission for peace. He is targeting events where there is great division among people, and he is attempting, somewhat successfully, to calm turmoil. He has no governmental authority, but people voluntarily submit to his influence. From an Anarchist perspective, this is a true and legitimate authority.

I live and work in a catholic worker house of hospitality where the chaos levels can rise very quickly. The founders of the catholic worker movement, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, believed in social transformation through personalism. They embraced anarchism as a method for achieving social change from the “bottom up” rather than the “top down”. In one of his “Easy Essays,” Maurin states,

People who are in need
and are not afraid to beg
give to people not in need
the occasion to do good
for goodness’sake.

Maurin believes that anarchism best facilitates this goodness because it is easier to give from the heart when not forced by a centralized authority. Our personal relationships with each other can can be what unite and organize us to positively change society. This practice is also based on the teachings of the Catholic Church that all individuals are created in the image and likeness of God; therefore, they have inherent dignity and the “goodness of God” within them. All of this leads to a lovely idea which is very difficult to live out. It gives us complete freedom to be the best people we can be, but it often results in conflict, violence, and eventually madness.

In anarchy (by this I simply mean any system which has no ruler) chaos and order work together. When a system is in a chaotic state, spontaneous order naturally occurs. Vermin Supreme is jumping into chaotic situations and seemingly acting as a catalyst for peaceful order.

In this I see a strange and comforting answer to handling potentially chaotic situations. When in the midst of intense conflict and division, we need effective and non-violent ways to exist together. We also need to feel safe and protected against potential harm. Many at the RNC were armed to control the potential chaos. To transform it took a clown.

Below are urls to articles on Vermin Supreme.

A native of Minneapolis, MN, Ben Johnson currently lives and works at Hope House, a catholic worker house of hospitality in Dubuque, IA.

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