Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Ten Reasons For Hope

In the Bible, the book 1 Peter, the author writes to the often-suffering Christian converts in Asia Minor with advice and counsel.
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.
CatholicVote.Org has done that with their year-end list, Top Ten Reasons for Hope. I've selected just these few highlights from CatholicVote's list, leaving readers to peruse the full list at leisure.

Their number 1 is Bishops with Backbone. I learned in 7th grade that it was the monasteries that kept the 'light of learning alive' during the Middle Ages. I'm convinced it is the Catholic Church that will again prevail over our dissolute and materialistic culture, and it will help if the leaders of the Church act like leaders. New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan looks to be such a bishop. He's holding a mass for members of the diocese in Washington DC during the March for Life, and he's apparently been outspoken that parish priests should expand upon the Church's teachings on the dignity of life regularly during homilies. Dolan has taken on the NY Times, as already noted on this blog on November 30th, and he goes about his work with the 'gentleness and respect' that 1 Peter also speaks of.

CatholicVote's number 5 would be my number 2, Religious Leaders Unite to Sign Manhattan Declaration, already covered on this blog (December 9).

My own number 3 is CatholicVote's number 6, Maine Delivers for Marriage. Despite appearances--and that's all they are-- to the contrary, Americans do not support homosexual marriage. As CatholicVote says,

In November, the voters struck back at the ballot box and overruled their Legislature by returning marriage to the traditional definition of one man and one woman. This means that marriage has won 31 out of 31 times when put before the people for a vote!
CatholicVote puts at number 7 what I choose as number 4, Priests, Religious and More Priests. Yes, it's good to have more priests, but it's even more encouraging to see that the new young priests are dedicated to the Magisterium of the Church.

Number 4 on CatholicVote's roster is Bart Stupak and the Rise of Pro-Life Democrats. Here I would have to disagree. Perhaps cynicism is rearing its ugly head, but I feel a certain impatience with our congressmen and women at the moment. Where have these pro-life Democrats been all along? What sort of conviction do they really have?

Better to close out the year on a high note, however. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans 12:12,
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pregnant Female Soldiers

The subject of pregnancy in the military arose earlier in the week when Major General Anthony Cucolo announced that he would punish female soldiers who become pregnant in the combat zone as well as the male soldiers involved. While court martial would be a possible punishment under Cucolo’s decision, it sounds as if he did not necessarily intend that this most drastic of punishments be implemented. Rather, he must have intended to underscore and control the seriously debilitating effects of pregnancy on troop and unit strength and was pointing out that pregnant soldiers are unable to carry out their responsibilities and so are a liability.

Kind of obvious, isn’t it? The Major General's stance was, of course, unpopular because it makes so much sense. That is, it is politically incorrect for a military commander to come out and state the truth. Cucolo's decision was also an uncomfortable reminder to our rights-crazed culture that, while men and women are equally entitled to the rights due all of us as human beings, men and women are not entitled to act the same because, quite simply, they are not the same.

Cucolo’s policy was over-ruled by higher authorities and a new policy will begin on January 1st which will prevent commanders in the field from implementing sensible policies like Cucolo's . Although the reporting on this subject consists mostly of snippets, Blackfive went into a bit more detail and mentioned a paper written back in 1999 on the subject of how pregnancy affects U.S. Army readiness. I’ve only read about 10 pages of this 36 page paper, and I’m not quite sure which side of the issue the author ends up on, but so far I remain wedded to my position that while women can and should find appropriate ways to serve their country, they should not deploy in company with men and they should not expect to serve in the military in the same capacity as men.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

LGBTI and the United Nations

Last week I paid a visit to the United Nations on behalf of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-Fam), a group that monitors social policy at the UN, especially with respect to family and the dignity of life.

Attending a UN meeting is preceded by a flurry of official hubbub. One must be identified, cleared, photographed and given a pass to enter the halls of this strange insitutiton. After stopping in at three different offices close to but not inside the UN, I got my clip-on affiliate ID for the day and proceeded to the UN proper,through security screening and into the cafeteria to eat a sandwich and breathe in the air of the multicultural and peace-loving UN movers and shakers.

This particular meeting, a panel discussion entitled 'Opposing Grave Human Rights Violations on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,' aimed to bring attention to acts of violence and discrimination against LGBTI people as part of celebrating the 61st Anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Notice that's LGBT with an 'I.' For the uninitiated, you have L for lesbian, G for gay, B for bi-sexual, T for transgender or transsexual and I for intersex. The five panelists from India, Honduras, the Philippines, Uganda and Zambia gave what essentially amounted to personal testimonials about the injustices and hurts they've endured as members of one or another sexual orientation group.

All five panelists were free in citing religion as the cause of oppression of LGBTI persons. The Rev. Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia specifically charged "conservative Christians" from the United States as being responsible for the criminalization of homosexuality in Uganda. The Honduran panelist declared that (Catholic) Opus Dei must cease and desist in its anti-homosexual actions. Religion should not be 'motivation to hate.'

Sass Rogando Sasot, a founding member of Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines and apparently something of a heroine in her particular sexual orientation community in the Philippines, told us that the root of LGBTI oppression is believing that 'there's only one way to be male or female'. She explained that we are duped into thinking that gender is defined by 'what's between our legs.' According to Ms. Sasot, gender can't be based on biology because there are people who don't conform to gender norms!

I wonder if she would also argue that lying, cheating, stealing and murder must all be moral and licit acts because there are people who engage in these activities. The problem with what Ms. Sasot and other panel members had to say is that they've turned the natural world upside down. Our biology does matter. In Prof. Robert George's words, our body is not a 'mere instrument of the person, the body is intrinsically part of the personal reality of the human being.' We are not, says George, "consciousnesses, or minds, or spirits inhabiting and using nonpersonal bodies. A human person is a dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit."

The LGBTI group relies heavily on the language of human rights to plead their case. But being a homosexual or a transsexual or an intersex person isn't any more of a human right than being a hypochondriac or a baseball fan or a traveling salesman. Despite their trying, the world was not created by five LGBTI panelists and their supporters. God created the natural order of the world with two sexes, male and female. There are many kinds of people in the world with a range of talents, personalities, but there are not many ways to be male or female that are moral, normal and that contribute to the general good of society. There is one way to be male and another different way to be female, and, contrary to our culture's almost manic belief in the supremacy of the individual, we are not free to do or be whatever we want. (The LGBT community themselves make that quite clear--we are not free to disagree with them, we're not free to prevent them from marrying, etc., etc. )

I, along with all rational people of good will, including the Roman Catholic Church, deplore violence against gays (and all the other letters) in much the same way we deplore violence and despicable acts of torture and repression against any people.  Yet, it is a challenge at times to believe that panel discussions like this one are for real. But this discussion varied only a bit from the side-events I attended last spring at the UN's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) conference. The LGBTI activists I heard speak there have co-opted the language of both the feminist and the civil rights movements of the 60s. They speak of 'bodily autonomy,' and the right to control 'decision-making around our bodies.' They freely toss around the phrases 'sexual rights ' and 'reproductive rights.' They see themselves as the invisible and dismissed members of society who suffer ostracism at the hands of their families and are persecuted with forced pregnancy, 'curative rape' (?), beatings, murders, imprisonment and torture at the hands of their respective governments. But, as they describe it, with courageous resistance and activism they are on a 'trajectory toward justice.' They even use an occasional phrase with a pro-life ring to it as in 'being free from getting killed is a fundamental right' and the 'right to life of LGBT people'.

This is one of those times when a document like the Manhattan Declaration helps to articulate the difference between the two sides of the culture chasm. As the Manhattan Declaration states,
there are those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships, just as there are those who are disposed towards other forms of immoral conduct. We have compassion for those so disposed; we respect them as human beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity. . . We, no less than they, are sinners who have fallen short of God’s intention for our lives. We, no less than they, are in constant need of God’s patience, love and forgiveness.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and we have only five days more of waiting for the joyous event marking the beginning of the celebration of Christmas. As Fr. Rutler here in NYC at the Church of Our Saviour puts it, on this Sunday "the Church contemplates the fact of Hell in defiance of the pumped-up jollity of early Christmas parties."

In addition to the early Christmas parties, there is also the premature jollity of early Christmas music. If there was anything to be learned while a Presbyterian at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, it was that Christmas carols--Joy to the World, Angels We Have Heard on High, Silent Night, Away in a Manger, Once in Royal David's City and all the rest--are not to be sung until Christmas Day. While there's no hope for department stores and school concerts featuring Jingle Bells and Here Comes Santa Claus, WQXR has, lamentably, been offering Christmas carols all week including Handel's Messiah.

During Advent we are watching and waiting and doing penance in preparation for the birth of the Lord. During Advent we are to sing Advent hymns--On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry, Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus, Watchman Tell Us of the Night, Jesus Comes with Clouds Descending and O Come, O Come Emmanuel. And we are to contemplate not only Hell but Death, Judgment and Heaven as well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

A friend of mine, let's call her Friend No. 1, maintains that when all is said and done, the major divisions in our modern day society eventually boil down to abortion. Which side are you on. On the other hand, another friend, let's call her Friend No. 2, dismisses as folly the notion that anyone cares about abortion, and she scoffs at the suggestion that presidential elections would ever be won or lost over the rights of the pre-born.

I think Friend No. 1 is daily being proven true. If there is to be a showdown, it's not the war in Afghanistan, the economy or Climategate that may ultimately cause a rift between friends and family. Rather, what divides our society are the culture wars as defined by the three issues identified in the Manhattan Declaration: the sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage as between one man and one woman and the matter of conscience rights and religious liberty. In fact, I'd go yet a step further than Friend No. 1 and say that, ultimately, everything boils down to whether or not you are a relativist. Do you believe in objective truth, God's Truth, as opposed to the shifting flights of fancy that masquerade as truth in our post-modern American culture.

The Manhattan Declaration comes out boldly and identifies Truth as " Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life." It is, needless to say, a Christian document, its full title being the Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience. It is a manifesto of sorts, a position paper by Christians and for Christians, regardless of denomination, to "proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good." It is a "call to discipleship" and action if necessary. Its drafters are Professor Robert George of Princeton University, Professor Timothy George of Samford University and Chuck Colson, former Nixon administration Special Counsel who now heads the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. To date the declaration has 275,792 signers, and among the list of religious and public leaders who have signed on is our own Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

The Manhattan Declaration is a kind of mission statement and, if a mission statement defines who you are and who you aren't, it also separates you from others and sets your boundaries as well as your reach. The Manhattan Declaration could be said to draw a line in the sand between them and us, between a culture of death and a culture of life or between a culture of secularism and a culture of faith, or, a culture of materialism and a culture that upholds Man as created by God in God's image. The declaration clearly lays out and supports (with meaty analysis) a position about the unborn, marriage and religious liberty, making it easy, if not necessary, to read the document and be either wholly for or wholly against. No politically correct nuance or tolerant agree-to-disagree discussion. No PC hiding behind cheap slogans and throw-away jargon about meeting half-way and finding common ground when there really is none. While this may seem unnecessarily bold and harsh, it is actually to society's benefit to clarify what separates us even if it isn't immediately possible to bridge the rift.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

West Point As Stage for Obama, III

The fallout from Obama's speech at West Point continues. I refer not to the tactical military analysis; I leave that to the military blogs and other commentators. I refer rather to the spin and interpretation of the various media and other interested parties. As told to me by a reliable source, the cadets had to report to Eisenhower Hall, in dress gray, three and a half hours prior to Obama's speech. They could bring one book and one notebook, no cell phones, no computers and no food. Bathroom breaks were scheduled by group. All this was for security purposes.

As for cadets sleeping, there's some rumor that the camera was panning the cadet audience prior to the speech. The fact that a cadet may have dozed during the speech wasn't particularly flattering to the Academy, but it had little to do with Obama or his speech and more to do with sitting in an auditorium for hours and maybe also the media's camermen searching for an interesting tidbit.

Chris Matthews' remark about the "enemy camp" I found to be quite accurate, thinking he meant that Obama sees anything military as, if not the enemy camp, then at least as a foreign and undesirable force that Obama can neither identify with nor understand. I think there's evidence for that, as I tried to show in my article of two days ago at American Thinker, which is why Obama's choosing to deliver his speech at West Point was so hypocritically abrasive in my view.

Apparently, though, Matthews did toss off his "enemy camp" characterization in the spirit of unkindly bigotry toward the military. His apology states clearly that he embraces the stereotypical notion of the soldier (or cadet) as being a hawk who can't wait to go out and shoot 'em up, and that, naturally, such a person would be skeptical of Obama and his plan. There is almost no other word to waste on Chris Matthews than 'jerk.'

On the other hand, West Point English professor Elizabeth Samet had an article that probed more deeply. She is the author of Soldier's Heart, a book that discusses her experience as a civilian teaching Shakespeare and poetry to cadets who are also studying for the Profession of Arms. In the article, Samet opines that outside speakers often pander to the cadets rather than offer them "questions, difficulties and specifics." She seems to be suggesting that Obama overcame this tendency. Samet points out that cadets, who are "accustomed to being exhorted,become adept at responding with an automatic enthusiasm." Being exhorted during a briefing may indeed bring out an automatic response, but her suggestion, that Obama gave them something serious to think about and so they responded with genuine interest, is misleading.

From my second-hand observation, it appears that cadets constantly deal with difficulties and specifics and are routinely confronted with things to think about that elicit genuine interest. West Point is a bustling, interesting place where the range of individuals and opinions represented defies stereotyping, and where professors are involved with their students (as Samet is), and visitors of note engage close up and personal with the cadets in a variety of venues. And that's only a fraction of what's going on. Perhaps Samet only wants to cast the Corps of Cadets in the best possible light or maybe it's Obama whom she wants to prop up.

In contrast to Samet's view that Obama's presence at West Point was "an act of honesty," here is another article that begins ,"Never before has a speech by Barack Obama felt as false as his Tuesday address. . . "

Finally, it always makes sense to hear what a cadet has to say.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

West Point As Stage for Obama, II

As the adage goes, when you stand for everything, you stand for nothing. During his speech at West Point last night, Barack Obama tried to put on a gritty, wartime president face, but would then switch it for his we-are-the-world-hands-across-the-peacetable, global president face. The changing faces of Barack Obama become tiresome.

He didn't indulge as heavily as I expected in hand-wringing over the pain of military service, but he did work it in.
Most of all, I know that this decision asks even more of you — a military that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens. As President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars. I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed. I visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I've traveled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning home to their final resting place. I see firsthand the terrible wages of war. If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.
The number of "I"s in the paragraph above is apparently an indicator of his admiration and thanks for how his fellow Americans serve their (and Obama's) country. When, exactly, does he see the 'terrible wages of war'? During date-night with Michelle? Lobbying for the Olympics? Behind closed doors since August working out how he can fight his 'war of necessity' and still get re-elected for a second term?

He put the military on notice that he may not be able to do much about their budget because the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have already taken too much money.
We've failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills. Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce. So we can't simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.
Our president lets us know he has better things to do than worry about national defense, and, not coincidentally, Obama quotes a Republican president to bolster his point.
I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I don't have the luxury of committing to just one. Indeed, I'm mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who — in discussing our national security — said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."
Obama is on more familiar turf when he mentions a return to national unity. He can be comfortable and straightforward on this topic because he doesn't need to be substantive. Criticism, albeit subtle, will do. His posturing at this point in the speech is particularly offensive. It is Barack Obama's party that created the national schism over the Iraq war. After members of Congress voted along non-partisan lines to support the Authorization for the Use of Force bill in 2003, it was the Democrats, with Al Gore in the lead and a complicit liberal press close behind, who proceeded to harangue the American public day in and day out that 'Bush lied.' Neither the Democrats, the liberal media or Barack Obama have let up since.

Barack Obama's speech last night showed that our feminized president is an embarrassment as a leader of our military. Obama managed to mention terrorism twice, once to refer to terrorism against the Pakistani people and a second time to refer to our country's "debate" over terrorism. He certainly didn't mention victory. He didn't characterize our military as brave or strong. He used the word 'courage' once to refer to the Iraqis and the word 'courageous' once to characterize wounded soldiers.

The closest our cowardly-lion president came to a call to arms was to declare that the military must "end wars and prevent conflict." Our military must apply "growing pressure." God help us. What sort of leader protects his country with such timidity? The answer is a non-leader who is neither manly nor principled and that, shamefully and unfortunately, is who we have elected as president.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

West Point As Stage for Obama

When it was announced that Obama had chosen the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as the venue for unveiling his plans for Afghanistan, my formerly bright day grew cloudy. Obama has already been confirmed as the Academy's graduation speaker in May of 2010. How much Obama can one military academy stand? Obama has chosen to address the country from West Point rather than from the Oval Office for opportunistic and selfish reasons. I wrote about it in this article which appeared at American Thinker.