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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On the meaning and overuse of words...

Today on Facebook, I ran across this link on the Trevor Project's feed.  I was struck by the use of the word "homophobic" and decided to view the video and see what the "casually homophobic question" was.  I was expecting something more than what we got.  The video is of Ewan McGregor being asked by George Stephanopoulos (in 2010) about a kiss between Ewan and Jim Carrey at an awards ceremony (or something similar).  I definitely approved of Ewan's answer which was basically to ask why it was a huge deal, but I couldn't help but wonder why the question was deemed "homophobic."  After all, homophobia is "unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality." (Dictionary.com).  The question, while silly and a little ignorant, does not seem to rise to the level of homophobia.  This thought then got me thinking about the use of certain pejorative terms in out political and social discourse.

My problem with the terms stems not from the terms themselves, but rather from the fact that they are massively overrused by all parties concerned.  We blithely throw around words like "hypocrite", "homophobic", "sexist", "misogynistic", or other similar terms to denigrate views or people we disagree with.  The problem with the way we throw the words around is that they come to mean really nothing at all.  After all, if everyone who disagrees with what the gay community wants is homophobic, then we have stripped the word of its meaning.  In our desire to protect ourselves or our opinions, we have in reality hurt them.  You can disagree with a certain perspective without being unreasoningly fearful of it.  There may be a valid reason behind the disagreement.

The other problem is that words like this shut down discourse.  After all, if the person you are arguing/debating/discussing with immediately resorts to these sorts of terms, they really don't have a good case to fall back on.  After all, resorting to ad hominem type arguments (like these) is the last refuge of a bad case.  Or at least, it should be.  All too often, it is the first resort of any type of case.  A good discourse requires that both sides be open to the possibility that the other side has a point.  After all, if that is not the case, then why are you discoursing?  Do you have to agree with them?  Of course not.  But you do need to acknowledge that they might have a point and it is worth considering.

But if the other person is throwing out baseless or overblown charges/names, then (naturally) you aren't going to talk with them because those sorts of actions indicate a closed mind that is not open to discussion.  It indicates a certain dogmatism or strict doctrinarity that impedes the search for the truth and a good discussion.

So, the nest time you see something like this, ask yourself:  Is this word really true?  Is it necessary?  If the answer to either is no, don't use it.  Restore the meanings to the words.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Reflections on today and sound public policy

Ok, so obviously something horrible happened today.  I am, of course, referring to the school shooting in Connecticut.  After any such event, people naturally react by demanding that immediate action of one sort or another take place.  This is a huge mistake and (I think) almost morally abhorrent.

Before I go any further, I want to state that is is not a piece for or against gun control.  That is not a discussion that I am looking to have right now.  The discussion I want to have is about how we should react on a political/government/public policy level.  Almost any time the government reacts in a knee jerk manner, the result is tragic (PATRIOT Act anyone?).  The *ONLY* way to get sound public policy is to have a rational and reasoned debate about the issues which cannot happen in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy of any sort.

Part of the reason for this is that people look for the quickest and easiest suspect/scapegoat.  After 9/11, we turned on Muslims and anyone who looked like them (Sikhs anyone?).  After a shooting, we turn on guns and gun owners.  Understandable, but misguided; well, at least partially.  After all, what is the one thing (besides guns) that links these tragedies together?  Mental illness.  A lot of the people who go around shooting others like this are mentally ill.  We need to first look at how we can help them.  Now, will that stop all shootings?  Absolutely not, but it will help.

After we try and solve the horrific lack of mental help for people, we can then have a calm and reasoned discussion about guns.  Here is the problem with that:  People are so caught up in seeing the world in black and white, that they won't have a reasoned discussion.  So, I would like to set forth what I would consider some important prerequisites for any talks.

[1] There will be no blanket ban on all guns.  This is a pipe dream and guaranteed to be a non-starter.  People like to hunt and they need guns for that.  Also, guns are guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment, so unless that is going to change (which I so don't see happening), a blanket ban is a non-starter.  Part of the problem is that there are those who are seriously advocating for a blanket ban and that is putting many people who might otherwise agree to reasonable restrictions in a bad spot.

[2] There must be some limits on the ownership of guns and the type of guns that can be owned.  For example, there is really no legitimate reason for a private citizen to own an AK-47 or another assault rifle.  Like there are those who advocate a blanket ban, there are also those who say that any restriction is inherently bad.  Like the other side, they are wrong.  We need to have some sort of restrictions.  Do I know what these restrictions are?  No.  But I do think they are needed.

Getting back to my larger point, as a nation we need to embrace the rational side of public policy.  All too often, we react to a situation without thinking our way through it.  As almost anyone should be able to tell you, knee jerk reactions are not good reactions.  They are emotional and not thought out, which on a personal level is bad enough.  To make the same sort of decisions on a governmental level is horrible and (as I said above) morally abhorrent.

Say what you will about our Founding Fathers (and yes, they made plenty of mistakes), but they did do something brilliant in how they distributed power.  By taking power and diffusing it, they ensured that it would be hard (albeit not impossible) for one event to dramatically change the course of the government.  By placing the Senate beyond the reach of the public passions (a move unwisely changed), they made it a check on the people's passions as expressed in the House of Representatives.  This was a move that made sense then and still makes sense today.

People; whether as individuals or in groups; do not react well to tragedy or other sudden changes and we often need to be saved from ourselves.  And don't get me started on the whole bogus notion that your emotions are *ALWAYS* right.  Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't.  They have a place in decision making, but it is unwise in the extreme to allow them a ruling place in any decision making process.  As a teacher, I understand that a gut feeling is important in some cases, but those cases tend to be in smaller decisions and are the result of the mind subconsciously reasoning out to a decision and not emotions overruling the intellect.

As human beings, there are two things that set us apart from animals: our soul and our intellect.  Can animals think or feel pain, love, joy, etc.?  Of course they can, but they do not (I believe, after all, it cannot be proven) have souls neither do they have the intellectual capacity of humans.  While we may share some of their more base instincts, we do have a duty to use our God-given intellect to rise above this instinctual level.

I know people are going to disagree with me and that is fine.  I am making assertions that they will disagree with.  As always, I simply ask that if you disagree, give me a reasoned basis for disagreeing and not some emotional reaction.  If we, as individuals, cannot rise above our knee-jerk reactions, how can we expect our government or other institutions to do so?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On Participating in the Political Process and Term Limits

I was on Facebook today and I saw a link on a friends page for a petition to Congress.  The petition was to a page entitled "Congressional Reform Act of 2012" and listed several reforms that people want Congress to make.  I agree with some of the ideas, but some of the ideas are either bad or things that we can already do.

The main thing I like is holding Congress to the same laws as everyone else.  Currently, Congress does not have to follow all of the laws that they pass, which is frankly ridiculous.  There are proposals there to end Congressional pension and retirement plans, which is excessive to me.  So long as Congressmen and women pay into a retirement system, they should be able to keep it.  They should also pay into Social Security, but that falls under the first point above.  As for the healthcare idea, again, so long as they pay for it themselves, I see no issue with it.

The main argument I have with the proposal lies in two points.  First, the idea that Congressmen and women should be term-limited.  Honestly, I am not fond of mandatory term limits for anyone because I see it as a massive cop-out.  Too many people do not participate in the political process and then proceed to rip the people who participate or who are in the process to shreds.  Seriously, if you don't vote, sit down and shut the hell up.  By not voting, you have totally abdicated any rights to complain.  If everyone who complained about Congressmen/women voted; and voted against their Congressman/woman; then term limits would effectively be in place.  Making term limits mandatory is a way for people to complain about their Congressman/woman and not do anything about it.  Vote and participate in the process or don't and stay out of it.  Period!  I think that all term limits should be repealed and if people want to change things, they should actually participate in the process and vote.  If not, then they deserve whatever they get.

My second argument with the petition is the idea underlying it that the members of Congress were meant to be citizen legislators.  That may be true, but I've never seen the logic of it at all particularly given what we ask government to do today.  Is government too big and complicated?  Maybe.  But we do ask it to do a lot and therefore it will be big and complicated.  Should Congressmen/women be part-time legislators?  No.  On a state or local level that would work, but given how much we ask of the national government, it does not work at all.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Some Post-Election Thoughts

Well, I certainly had a busy day yesterday.  I was working as an election judge, so I was at a voting precinct from 6 am until 9:45 pm and then got home around 10:30.  Fun and rewarding day, but very long.  Came home and turned on the news to watch the election results.  Kept fading in and out, so I missed alot, but I did get caught up this morning.

Late last night my sister asked me if I thought the Republicans would learn from this election and distance themselves from the Tea Party.  She also asked me if I was pleased with the election results.  I want to deal with the first question first.

I certainly hope the Republicans learned from what happened.  Based on history, this should have been a relatively easy election.  You had an unpopular incumbent and a troubled economy, which usually spells trouble for the incumbent.  Unfortunately, the Republican party took a dramatic (although not sudden) turn to the right as a result of the rise of the Tea Party in 2010.  The GOP lurched so far to the right that they have to look to their left to see Genghis Khan.  As a result of this lurch, all of the GOP presidential candidates had to turn to the right as well.  Another result was many more moderate Republicans (voters and officials) ended up getting pushed out of the party because they were not conservative enough.

My hope is that the GOP will realize that the xenophobia and intransgient reactionary conservativism of the Tea Party will doom the GOP.  They need to accept more conservative members along with more moderate or liberal members.  Sadly, I do not think this will happen.  Given the history of the conservative movement, I suspect that they will say that Romney was not conservative enough and that he ran the campaign wrongly.  If only he had run more solidly on "conservative" (not really conservative, more like reactionary) principles, he would have won.

As for my reaction to last night, while I can appreciate a lot that President Obama brings to the table, I could not bring myself to vote for him.  Nonetheless, I was relatively pleased that he won.  I am annoyed that the Congress is still split between the parties, but hopefully they will actually try and work together.  In Maryland, I was delighted to see that most of the questions I voted for went the way I wanted, particularly Question 6.

So, overall I can say that I was pleased with the results.  We'll have to see if it stays that way moving forward.

[Edited 11/8/2012, 9:21 AM]  I just had to throw this in.  A little after I posted this, CNN.com had the following article up: "TRENDING: A day after loss, conservatives point fingers"  As I predicted, the leaders of the conservative movement are saying that Romney was not conservative enough and that "Tea partiers will take over the Republican Party within four years[.]"  Sigh....

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On the Political Spectrum

I was having a nice chat with my sister yesterday about politics (something we discuss quite frequently).  It started when I saw in a friend's post on Facebook that I was tagged.  It was a blog post about abortion.  I have many fundamental disagreements with the author which my sister and I were discussing.

Anyhow, our discussion evolved (as many of our discussions do) into a look at different political philosophies and the political spectrum.  Now, most people (if not everybody) is familiar with the idea of the left (liberal) and right (conservative) wings of the political spectrum.  This familiar 2-dimensional version of the political spectrum is convenient, but it is inaccurate in many ways.  It does not take into account that the far right and far left actually have several things in common.  So it seems that a circle might be the best version of the spectrum to show this effect.  I, however, tend to favor more of a diamond.  While this is not the best quiz, the Advocates for Self-Government have an interesting quiz.  It is a little simplistic for my tastes, but it decent starting point.  Another decent quiz is here.  I have also tried this one or this one from PBS and the Pew Research Center.  For the 2012 election, there is a great quiz about the Presidential race from isidewith.com.  There are oodles of other ones as well, so look for several and see where you land.

Anyways, now that I have listed several good resources to look at, I guess should talk about my own.  Personally, I prefer the more nuanced quizzes because they give a better idea of where you lie.  Well that and the fact that the shorter quizzes tend to phrase the questions in such a way as to elicit a certain response.  Unsurprisingly, I am slightly left of center on social issues.  This (I think) mainly stems from my support of same-sex marriage while opposing abortion and espousing several more conservative political side.  Economically speaking, I am much further to the left.  This stems from the social justice teachings of the Church, as well as my own experiences over the past few years.

Before I go any further, I wanted to talk (briefly) about the origins of the 2 sided political spectrum.  It comes from France.  During the 18th century, the French Parliament was divided in such a way that the more conservative members were on the right side of the chamber and the more liberal members were to the left.  Very clean and simple.

Now, one problem with the simple breakdown of the spectrum (in addition to the problem mentioned above) is that as a result of the opposing ends actually agreeing on alot, the ends can be moved around.  For example, many people place fascism on the right side of the spectrum, where it sort of fits, but not really.  In the same way, communism (as opposed to communitarism or communalism) is placed to the left of the spectrum, which some people don't like.  The advantage of the diamond shape from the Advocates for Self-Government is that it gives more of a three dimensional picture of the political spectrum, taking into account that some people may be on one side economically and the other side socially.

Oh, yes I know this has been all over the place, but that is the way I am.  Let me know if you find another quiz you like more or if you disagree with me.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

On Question 6


Ok, I know I said no more election posts.  However, I recently saw a link to an opinion piece in the Baltimore Sun on Facebook and had to comment on on particular part of the piece.

First off, the piece is by Matt Birk, who plays for the Baltimore Ravens.  I don't watch football (and really don't care about it), so I don't know this guy from Adam.  I must say that most of the piece is your standard boiler plate anti-gay marriage fare.  How it is best for children to be raised by a mom and dad, how marriage is sacred, etc.  Then there was this paragraph:

                                 If marriage is only about recognizing the love between
                                 two people, then why shouldn't the government bestow
                                 the benefits of marriage on two elderly sisters living
                                 together? Or two heterosexual men who are college
                                 roommates? If Maryland dismantles marriage, then what
                                 is the rational basis for deciding which relationships the
                                 government will recognize?

First, the comparisons that are made are not at all relevant to the discussion at hand.  How are two sisters living together (presumably non-incestously) or two roommates comparable to a loving relationship between two gay men or two lesbians?  Answer: THEY'RE NOT!  These comparisons are so far off that I am forced to wonder about either his intelligence, his logical abilities, or his honesty.  I do not understand how anyone can make this argument with a straight face.  Even my brother, who is against Question 6, looked at this argument and said that it was one of the worst defenses he had ever heard.

What is worse, the Maryland Conference of Catholic Bishops linked to this on their Facebook page (which is how I saw it) which is giving it at least tacit approval and agreement.  This is the sort of argument that turns alot of people off to religious institutions.  After all, if the leaders of a religion are going to agree with such a weak argument, does that mean that the followers of that religion are going to have to turn their brains off to agree with it as well?  I know I don't, not do many other Catholics (and I am not only talking about supporters of Question 6).

Then there was the last statement.  While not especially problematic (I have raised this concern myself), if you remember in my October 17th post, I had a friend who made a very interesting suggestion.  Eliminate marriage from the legal lexicon and recognize both same-sex and different sex relationships for tax and legal purposes.  Now, would the same apply to polyamorous relationships?  That is a story for a whole other time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Final Election 2012 Post (I think!)

Ok, this may not be the last, but it is the last one I am planning on.  On Sunday, I made a decision about who I am voting for.  In this post, I am going to explore that decision as well as an issue that has been sort of talked about in my previous posts, but I want to talk about more clearly.

The issue I want to discuss prior to revealing my decision and its reasons is the idea of the supremacy of conscience.  In the Catechism Part III, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 6 (http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s1c1a6.htm) the Church talks about the conscience.  What is a conscience?  The conscience is a part of every human being and tells us if we are doing right or wrong.  It is the "judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins [a person] to do good and to avoid evil." (Paragraph 1778)  In Paragraph 1782, the Catechism says "Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. 'He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.'"

In other words, the conscience is the supreme arbiter of what you should or should not do.  However, it should also be noted that just because you follows your conscience it does not mean that you are allowed to do whatever you want.  A conscience can be misformed or badly informed and therefore lead you astray.  In paragraphs 1783-1785, the Catechism says:

                     Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A
                     well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its
                     judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good
                     willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience
                     is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative
                     influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to
                     reject authoritative teachings.

                     The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest
                     years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the
                     interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches
                     virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment
                     arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human
                     weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees
                     freedom and engenders peace of heart.

                     In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our
                     path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice.
                     We must also examine our conscience before the Lord's Cross. We
                     are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or
                     advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the
                     Church.

Thus, we see that it is our obligation thoroughout our lives to form our consciences properly so that they can lead us in the proper path.  This idea of the supremacy of conscience is actually a widespread idea that exhibits itself in a variety of circumstances.  Conscientious objectors, civil disobedience, and prisoners of conscience are all examples at how pervasive this idea is.  You can also look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscience for how some other religions or philosophies look at conscience.

So how did this affect my vote?  If you have read my prior posts, you know that I have wrestled with various issues (most notably abortion) and how they affect how I look at the different candidates.  After weeks of wrestling with myself, I made a decision that I could not; in good conscience; vote of any of the candidates I talked about.  All of them have beliefs which violate my conscience and my deeply held beliefs in some way, shape, or form.

Therefore, I decided to vote for Santa Claus.  And yes, Santa Claus is actually an official write-in candidate for Maryland (see http://elections.state.md.us/elections/2012/general_candidates/gen_listings_2012_4_001-.html about halfway down!).  The rest of the ballot I had filled in previously.

So that is the end of Matt's 2012 election meltdown.  Well, until Election Day itself when I am a chief judge.  But that is a whole different story....

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Political Beliefs

Ok, haven't done this in a little while (I think), so I wanted to explain my personal political beliefs.  I think I will break this down by areas, because I do not follow any consistent label as recognized by most people.  My beliefs are consistent within themselves, but not necessarily within a normal defined context.

My beliefs stem from two sources.  First and foremost, they stem from Catholic teaching.  Secondly, they stem from life experiences and events that have shaped me.

Since I spent a lot of time talking about this, let me start with ethical matters.  There are several different issues that fall under this topic.  These include abortion, marriage, and capital punishment.  I will start by saying that I am pro-life without reservations or exceptions.  I know that is not the most popular opinion, but I believe very strongly in the sanctity of life and I also believe that it should never be unjustly taken away.

That word "unjustly" is specifically picked because I do believe in capital punishment; which is not inconsistent with either Catholic teaching or being pro-life.  I the Catholic Catechism (Second Edition), Part Three, Section 2, Article 5, paragraphs 2263-2267 talk about legitimate defense.  [Note: In the 2005 Edition, it is slightly different.  Go to Part Three, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 5, paragraphs 2263-2267]  Paragraph 2267 says:

                          Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility
                          have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the
                          Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if
                          this is the only possible way of effectively defending human
                          lives against the unjust aggressor.

                          If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and
                          protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will
                          limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with
                          the concrete conditions of the common good and more in
                          conformity to the dignity of the human person.

                          Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the
                          state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who
                          has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without
                          definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming
                          himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an
                          absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."
                          (Paragraph 2267: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2267.htm)
                          (Part Three: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a5.htm)

In other words, the official teaching of the Church is that capital punishment is acceptable if it is necessary.  To use the mantra of the pro-choice crowd, it should be "safe, legal, and [very] rare."  I do also wish reference the Summa Theologiae, Second Part, Part II, Question 64, Article 3 in which St. Thomas Aquinas says:

                         I answer that, As stated above (Article 2), it is lawful to kill
                         an evildoer in so far as it is directed to the welfare of the whole
                         community, so that it belongs to him alone who has charge of
                         the community's welfare. Thus it belongs to a physician to cut
                         off a decayed limb, when he has been entrusted with the care of
                         the health of the whole body. Now the care of the common good
                         is entrusted to persons of rank having public authority:
                         wherefore they alone, and not private individuals, can lawfully
                         put evildoers to death.
                          (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#article3)

So, as long as capital punishment is proportional to the crime, we are sure of the guilt of the person to be executed, and there is no other plausible recourse, capital punishment is justified, moral, and ethical.  Please do note that I am not cheerleading a bevy of executions, rather I am recognizing that capital punishment is not an intrinsic evil.

Next, I turn to abortion.  Unlike capital punishment, abortion is an intrinsic evil  In other words, it is evil under any circumstances and can never be justified.  This is why I use it as a deciding factor in any political race that I am voting in.  To vote for someone who supports an intrinsic evil is to support that evil by default.  Therefore, I cannot in good conscience vote for someone who supports abortion.  Now if every candidate supports an intrinsic evil, then I have the choice to sit out that particular race or to vote for the one who will do the least amount of damage.

Third is marriage.  This is probably one of the stickiest situations for me personally.  Marriage is a sacrament, and as such, Catholic teaching must play a part in my views.  However, marriage has increasingly become an institution with civil implications that are separate from its religious implications.  Because the US government extends tax breaks and other benefits to those who are married, I can support civil marriages.  I am unalterably opposed to any law that might force churches to preform marriages that are against their beliefs, but for civil purposes, I do think marriage is a right that must be recognized for the sake of justice and equality.

[Added 10/17/12, 4:54 pm]  Had a talk with a friend not too long ago who read this piece and she had an interesting idea.  She had been talking with mutual friend and one of them came up with the following idea.  Eliminate the term "marriage" entirely from the legal lexicon and replace it with "civil union", thereby reserving the term "marriage" solely for religious ceremonies.  People would still go through the same steps as a marriage now and can privately call it a marriage.  What this idea does is provide the same benefits legally to same-sex or opposite-sex couples, while simultaneously not redefining the concept of marriage.  I really like this idea and it satisfies my reasons for supporting same-sex marriage.

There are many other ethical considerations that I could go into, but to keep this at something of a managable length, I will stop there.  Let's move onto other issues.

Economically speaking, I tend to be more conservative than I am otherwise.  That being said, there are definite exceptions based in the concepts of justice and equality.  Since all life is sacred (cradle to grave), people have a certain dignity that must be upheld and maintained by the civil authorities as a part of their obligations under the social contract that undergirds any society.  This social contract basically says that the people will give over some of their power to the government in exchange for protection and other purposes.

Now a part of this protection is that the government has an obligation to ensure that all people have a reasonable chance to support themselves and their family.  This has implications in a living wage, healthcare, and other social welfare programs.  Now, do these programs *HAVE* to come from the government?  No, but the government does have a moral obligation to ensure that its citizens have a chance to live with dignity.  This also impacts regulation of businesses.  A government with laissez faire policies is not acting in a fashion that is consistent with its moral obligations.  The government needs to ensure that businesses are treating their workers in a manner that is consistent with human dignity.  If they are not, then the government has a moral obligation to step in and take the necessary steps.

In 2000, I was a staunch supporter of the future President Bush for one reason: compassionate conservativism.  The idea undergirding this philosophy was that the government had the obligation to care for its citzens and protect their welfare, but should do it in a manner that was responsible and consistent with conservative political principles.  See Compassionate Conservatism: What it is, What it Does, and How it Can Transform America by Marvin Olasky for a good explanation of the principles of compassionate conservativism.  I do not think this philosophy was ever implemented fully and think it is the closest branch of conservativism to Catholic teaching.

Now, the government; and in fact people in general; also have an obligation to care for the planet that we have been given stewardship of.  This means that environmental concerns must be taken into account when looking at candidates.  Development is not inherently immoral, however uncontrolled or unsustainable development is.  We need to be careful and use resources in a responsible manner that is not destructive and will not harm future generations.

Those are the big issues.  There are all sorts of side issues I could explore (and I may do so in the future), but I think this gives enough to help people understand where I would come down on various issues.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Election 2012 Post #2- Narrowing down the choices

Ok, so it is 3 weeks until the presidential election and I cannot decide who to vote for.  Each candidate has aspects that I like and aspects that I dislike.  In fact, each one has things that would make it virtually impossible for me to vote for them under normal circumstances.  So, that leads to the question: Do I vote for none of them?  Or, do I vote for the one who is the least evil?  In other words, do I hold my nose while voting?  What I've decided to do is to write up how I see the pros and cons of each candidate and see if I write myself into voting for one of them.

Let's start with President Obama.  While I like the fact that he is trying to ensure the welfare of people through healthcare, training, etc., I fundamentally disagree with his position on abortion and (as mentioned before several times) his contraceptive mandate.  I have taken a few quizzes and tend to agree with most with President Obama, but I do not think I can get past his support for abortion.  I know that this may piss off alot of people, but I honestly do not see any circumstances where abortion should be legal.  The only possibility is when the mother's life is endangered, but I think (and I could very easily be wrong here, so not a doctor) that even then every step should be taken to preserve the life of both rather than abort the baby.

As for Mitt Romney, the man has done so many flip-flops on issues and has twisted himself into such a pretzel to accomodate the Tea Party that I don't know what he truly believes anymore.  I hope that he is sincere about his anti-abortion beliefs, but I don't know if I can believe it.  Between these and his support of issues not congruent with Catholic social teaching (especially within his own family), I am very hard-pressed to vote for him either.

Then there is Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.  To be honest, I have never liked the Libertarian Party.  The Libertarian Party (from everything I have read about them or learned from discussions), basically wants to reduce the government to a tremendously small size.  While I admire the Party's stands on issues regarding election reform and other similar issues, I feel that they come too close to approaching anarchy.  Not no government, but a government where the only rule is to not infringe on the rights of others, which is an unworkable practical government.  In a perfect world where people are angels, it would work, but people are not angels.  People are flawed and need some sort of guidance to choose what is right or wrong.

The next choice is Jill Stein of the Green Party.  Here, I admire the social justice aspects and the dedication to political equality, I again choke on her beliefs in regard to abortion and other contraceptives.  She seems to want to give on-demand access and government funding of these, which is far worse than President Obama's support.  I must say that much of what she says I agree with.

Next, we have Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party.  Virgil Goode is the only thoroughly pro-life candidate on the ballot.  I like this, but what I do not like is that the Constitution Party is more or less the same as the Tea Party, only not within the Republican tent.  As such, there are some differences, but many of the problems that I have with the Tea Party and the Libertarian Party are also applicable here.

Finally, we have Rocky Anderson (I believe of the Justice Party).  Like Jill Stein, we have a man who is dedicated to political and social equality, which is good.  On the abortion issue, he fully supports Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.  Once again, a candidate I cannot get behind as a result of this fundamental issue.

I know this may sound like I am a one-issue voter, but really I am not.  It is just that this issue of abortion is one of the utmost importance to me.  All life is sacred and must be protected from being unjustly taken.  Without the right to life, no other right is worth a damn.  That is why it forms the cornerstone of my voting patterns.

In closing, I do want to say that if you think I have misrepresented your favorite candidate/party, plese feel free to tell me so *IN A CIVIL MANNER*.  Anyone who starts yelling, screaming, cursing, or being abusive will be ignored.  I love having good, thought-provoking, civil discussions and welcome people to help me make-up my mind by making me think about things I haven't thought about before.

Thanks!

[Post edited at 3:15 pm on 10/16/12, in the Jill Stein paragraph changed "last choice" to "next choice", added paragraphs on Virgil Goode and Rocky Anderson per comment]

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Is Bipartisanship a Good Thing?

I ran across an interesting opinion piece in USA Today from Tuesday.  It was entitled "No, we shouldn't get along" (go to http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2012/10/09/bipartisanship-election-congress/1620775/) and was written by a man named Duncan Black.  What I found interesting about the piece is that he argues against a certain type of bipartisanship.

Basically, he argues that for many people, bipartisanship seems to be an end in and of itself.  He also argues that politicians often use the idea of bipartisanship in order to avoid taking blame for something.  He also argues that many people use bipartisanship to fudge the differences between the parties.  So Mr. Black  argues that true bipartisanship requires that the people involved talk and come to a true consensus.

Overall, I have to say that I agree with Mr. Black.  Bipartisanship, agreements, etc. should never be an end in and of themselves.  Rather, they should be a means to an end.  In the case of bipartisanship, the end should be laws passed for the common good.  The two parties need to come together and have an honest discussion of their differences in order come to an agreement.  In any good compromise, neither side will get everything that it wants nor should either side give up on important, basic principles.

Now we come to the current circumstances in DC.  The main problem is that you have two completely different mindsets about government.  [Before I continue, I am going to be making some generalizations.  I know that what I am about to say does not apply to every Republican or every Democrat, but for the purposes of this discussion, let's assume they are monolithic entities.]  The Democratic Party looks at government as having broad powers to remedy injustices and care for people.  The Republican Party holds that the government has certain strictly defined powers.  The government may not venture outside of these powers and if it does, it is violating the Constitution.  One corollary to this belief is the idea that by paralyzing the government, something of substance is being achieved.  So gridlock tends to be something that the Republican Party would favor by default.

This is even more true now the the Republican Party has been captured by the Tea Party.  The Tea Party basically is a coalition of the ultraconservative parts of the country.  They are inveighing against any compromises because they view any compromise as a betrayal of central principles.  This is in part a reaction to the broken promises of both President Bushes and in part a reaction to the election and principles of Obama.  As I mentioned in my election post yesterday, some people hold their political principles to be almost divinely inspired, and that is a large part of the reason behind this thinking.

So, where am I going with this?  I guess what I am saying is that Mr. Black is correct.  Bipartisanship is a laudable thing if it is used prudently and in moderation.  Unfortunately, given the current conditions of the country, bipartisanship is pretty much useless at this point since one side will not compromise.

One other point, I want to make is that another reason for the difficulties passing laws is that the Republican Party is acting like a loyal opposition party from a parliamentary democracy.  Under a parliamentary democracy, the job of the minority is to oppose everything the government wants to do.  Sound familiar?  That's because this is how the Republicans are acting.  Rather than trying to act like the Congressional majority and affect change, it is acting as a stumbling block.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My 2012 Election Post

And here is is, my election post for the year.  I have to say that I am more conflicted this year than I was in 2008 for several reasons and over several issues.

First off, I have discovered over the past couple of years that the Republican Party has drifted so much further to the right than I am comfortable with.  I have also moved a little to the left myself, but I really feel as if the Republican Party has gone so far to the right that it is unrecognizable.  Part of the problem is the Tea Party which counts it as a point of pride that they do not compromise.  The problem?  Compromise is a part of politics.

Another problem is that many people have taken to the idea that somehow in order to be a good Christian, you *MUST* be a conservative Republican, as if it is a doctrinal or dogmatic point.  Conflating religion and politics in this manner is dangerous in the extreme.  I strongly believe that your religious beliefs could (and do) inform your political beliefs, however political beliefs should not dictate your religious beliefs or act as a litmus test for how religious (or not) you are.

Having said that, I do believe fiercely in the freedom of priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, etc. to advocate (peacefully!) their political beliefs, so long as it is clear that they are discussing their personal beliefs/opinions and not trying to indoctrinate or imply that in order to maintain good standing you must agree with them.

So basically, I am caught in the awkward position of not agreeing entirely with either political party.  The Republican Party that I grew up in is gone and replaced by a shell of its former self.  The Democratic Party is so caught up by its own special interests that I cannot stand that I have a hard time going with them.  So what do I do?

On the one hand, I want to vote for Mitt Romney because I do believe that he is more moderate than he has claimed in this election.  Sadly, he is probably going to be captive to the lunatic fringe of the Republican party and unable to do nearly as much as I would hope.  On the other hand, Obama (who I actually agree with on a lot of issues), is a strong supporter of abortion and his HHS contraception mandate is an atrocious violation of religious liberty.  So which one do I vote for?  Someone who is known to violate some basic precepts of my conscience or someone who is likely to violate other precepts of my conscience?

(Added 10/10/12) Ok, have learned some new information about Romney that makes me even less likely to vote for him.  Turns out that while at Bain Capital, he invested in a company that destroyed fetuses collected from abortion clinics (see http://www.politicolnews.com/mitt-romney-fetus-disposal-capitalism/).  Also, he is in favor of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (aka torture) (see http://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/09/28/us/politics/election-will-decide-future-of-interrogation-methods-for-terrorism-suspects.xml).  Additionally, one of his sons has used a surrogate mom impregnated via IVF to have 3 children (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0512/75939.html).  Now this last one is probably the least offensive of the lot, but lets be honest.  If we are knocking Obama for supporting abortion (an intrinsic evil), then we have to knock Romney for also supporting intrinsic evils (abortion, torture, and IVF).  So this complicates matters even further.

Also, there is the question of Question 6.  Question 6 is a question on the Maryland state ballot about whether or not to legalize same-sex civil marriages.  The language explicitly exempts religious groups and institutions from its reach.  Honestly, I want to support this measure and feel comfortable doing so solely because it is restricting its reach to the civil authorities.  The hitch comes from the fact that I believe that the Church has stated that even civil marriages should not be supported.

My issue with this lies in a basic matter of justice.  Why should a relationship based on love not be allowed to have the same civil benefits (taxes, healthcare, etc.) simply because it is between 2 men or 2 women?  Now, I do want to say that I am leery of this because this argument has the potential to be turned andused to advocate for polygamy or polyamorous relationships.  How would that be dealt with?  I don't know, but I could see limiting marriage to 2 people.

Hope this makes sense, and I am anticipating some possible disagreements from people, but that's cool.  Just keep it civil.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

On the PPACA Decision

I have had several people ask me about the Supreme Court decision last week regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (i.e. Obamacare) in the case National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. ___ (2012).  I did read the entire thing last Thursday when it came out and, as is my wont, I decided to wait a while to digest the decision and reflect on it before writing anything about it.

Basically, I liked the decision.  Also, I was happy that most of my predictions for the decision came true.  Ok, here is a breakdown of what the issues in the decision:


  • Whether Congress had the power under Article I of the Constitution to enact the minimum coverage provision.


  • Does PPACA's mandate that virtually every individual obtain health insurance exceed Congress's enumerated powers and, if so, to what extent (if any) can the mandate be severed from the remainder of the Act?


  • Does Congress exceed its enumerated powers and violate basic principles of federalism when it coerces States into accepting onerous conditions that it could not impose directly by threatening to withhold all federal funding under the single largest grant-in-aid program, or does the limitation on Congress's spending power that this Court recognized in South Dakota v. Dole no longer apply?


  • Whether the Anti-Injunction Act, which stipulates that "no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person, whether or not such person is the person against whom such tax was assessed" 26 U.S.C. §7421(a), bars the pre-enforcement challenge by the respondent's to the minimum coverage provision of the PPACA.
(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Federation_of_Independent_Business_v._Sebelius, section entitled “Preliminary Activity at the U.S. Supreme Court”)
On the issue of the AIA, the easy call was that the Court would say that the AIA did not apply and therefore the challenge could go forward, and this is exactly what happened.  On the issue of the mandate, I guessed correctly that it would not be upheld under the Commerce Clause ("To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes."; Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 3), however, I (like most people) discounted the taxing power.  There was so little time spent on it that I ignored the possibility of its being used.  Oops.  Severability (whether the law could stand or not if the mandate fell) is moot, but I gave it a 50-50 shot after arguments.  As for the final argument about the Medicaid expansion, I was honestly unsure, but I think I gave that one a 50-50 shot too.  Yes, a classic hedge and CYA maneuver.

Here is what the decision by Chief Justice Roberts said:

[1] The law was not a tax for the purposes of the AIA because it was not designated as one by Congress.
[2] The mandate is unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.  However, the mandate was a constitutional exercise of Congress’ power using the power to tax.
[3] The Medicaid expansion is constitutional; however, the federal government cannot force states to accept the monies at the risk of losing all Medicaid money.

There were 3 dissenting opinions.  One was by Justice Ginsberg which was joined by Justices Sotomayer, Breyer, and Kagan.  This decision concurred in part with the majority opinion and dissented in part.  The second was written by either Justice Scalia or Justice Kennedy (have heard either at one point or another) and joined by Justices Alito and Thomas.  The final dissent was a 1 paragraph dissent by Justice Thomas.  Basically, it seems that the entire court agreed on point 1 above; the first part of point 2 was agreed to by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas and the second part by Roberts, Ginsberg, Sotomayer, Breyer, and Kagan; and point 3 was agreed to by all except Ginsberg and Sotomayer.  Now, the 4 more conservative Justices did not officially agree to any part of the decision, but their thoughts lined up there, hence my counting them as part of it.

Ok, now to my thoughts.

First, I want to address the mandate.  A lot of people say that they do not understand why the mandate was deemed unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause when the government can force you to buy other types of insurance (car, home, renters, etc.).  The difference between the mandate and the other insurances is that you are only obligated to get those insurances if you are going to use what you are insuring.  In other words, you only need to buy car insurance if you are going to drive.  So, purchasing insurance is a requirement to entering the market.  Note however, that the consumer chooses to enter the market and is then required to purchase the insurance.  So, a choice is being made here.  That is what the Court noted in the opinion.  Under the mandate, everyone would be forced to purchase insurance which would mean that Congress would be creating commerce rather than regulating it.  That is why the Court ruled it unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.

However, the Court did say that the mandate was a constitutional use of Congress’ taxing power.  Now, this leads to the obvious question: If this is using Congress’ taxing power, then isn’t it a tax and therefore subject to the AIA?  Basically, the Court played with semantic technicalities.  Because Congress did not label the law a tax, it was not one under the AIA.  However, because the IRS is the agency who is collecting the penalty, it uses Congress’ taxing power.  Yes, the reasoning is a little tortured, but it is viable and as Chief Justice Roberts said (paraphrasing), if grounds can reasonably be found to hold a law constitutional, it should be held constitutional.  This is judicial restraint and deference.

So basically what the Court said is that because the consumer is given a choice (buy insurance or pay the tax/penalty), there is no coercion and therefore the mandate is constitutional.

Now, another issue of the mandate; this part was not a part of the decision, but I want to mention; is that the mandate was originally an idea from the Heritage Foundation.  I had heard this from several sources, but have never been able to find the original document.  However, since I have found this news on several different sites of different ideological leanings, I will accept it as fact.  Now, the first thing to note is that the mandate was thought up as a more conservative option to President Clinton’s healthcare plan.  The mandate was also pilloried by the more conservative elements in the US.  So the mandate is actually more of a moderate idea, not conservative.  Second, the Republicans supported the mandate until it was proposed as a part of the PPACA.  Can’t say I am fond of the switch done on political gamemenship grounds rather than principled grounds.  Period.  If you support something, support it no matter who introduces it.

As for the Medicaid portion, basically all the Court said is that the federal government cannot withhold all Medicaid monies if states do not go along with the PPACA, only the portion given under the PPACA can be withheld.  Not much to say about it.

I know when I read the ruling that I was impressed with the opinion.  It was not perfect, however, I felt that it struck a good balance between the sides and gave everyone something, which makes a nice compromise.  I know my initial thought was of Chief Justice Marshall and his decision in Marbury v. Madison (1801).  Bit overblown perhaps, but that is what was in my mind.  I appreciate the fact that Chief Justice Roberts took a step back from his ideology and considered what was best for the nation as a whole and considered judicial deference.  Too many judges (on all sides!) don’t do this and it was nice to see it happen.

Any thoughts or comments?

Friday, March 9, 2012

The New (well, relatively) Contraception Mandate

Sorry for the length of time between this and the last part, life got in the way. In this final part of my examination of the HHS contraception mandate, I will look at the new mandate.

The new mandate is a slight improvement over the prior one. The new mandate states that church affiliated groups (hospitals, schools, etc.) do not have to directly pay for contraception. Instead, the insurance company will make arrangements with individuals to pay for it directly. Therefore, it is supposed, the objection of paying for something that offend the religious beliefs of a group while simultaneously allowing contraception to be paid for. While this may sound nice, it will almost certainly have at least one of several unavoidable side effects. Since insurance companies are for-profit companies, they will charge religious institutions more to cover the cost, they will not cover religious institutions, or they will raise costs on everyone else to recoup the money. A basic law of economics (as well as common sense) tells us that if taxes or costs are raised, then the prices of products will also be raised in order to recoup that money. Therefore, the institutions will end up subsidizing birth control anyways which will render the "accomodation" meaningless.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Request

I would love to see how many people view each of my blogs on a regular basis, so if you can follow/friend whichever blog (bab5guy-tvreviews, bab5guy-politics, bab5guy-personal) you read, that would be awesome. I will be putting this up on each blog. Thanks!

Monday, February 20, 2012

On "Cafeteria" Catholics

On washingtonpost.com, there is an opinion piece entitled "Media should challenge Santorum and Gingrich’s ‘cafeteria Catholicism'". (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/post/media-should-challenge-santorum-and-gingrichs-cafeteria-catholicism/2012/02/15/gIQAD77AGR_blog.html) The author, James Downie, argues that both Gingrich and Santorum are "cafeteria Catholics" because he thinks they reject certain teachings of the Church. While I can certainly see that in certain cases (Gingrich's 2 divorces and 3 marriages ring a bell?), based on what he says in the article he is totally off.

First off, a definition.  A “cafeteria Catholic” is a Catholic who picks and chooses which beliefs to follow and which to not follow.  This term (to my knowledge anyway) has generally been used to discuss progressive “Catholics” (most of whom aren’t really Catholic at all, but that is another story) due to their embrace of come more outlandish ideas.  So what the author is saying is that Santorum and Gingrich (as well as most conservative Catholics), are cherry picking what to believe or not believe based on their political ideologies.

The author clearly does not understand the levels of Catholic teaching and collapses different levels into one. This is not the place to get into an extended discussion of the levels of Catholic teaching, but let it suffice to say that not all statements made by the Church are of the same authority.  For example, where the death penalty is concerned, the Church’s official teaching (per the Catechism Paragraph 2267) says:

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

In other words, capital punishment is not against Catholic teaching per se.  Rather, capital punishment should be a last option in necessary cases.  In the article, the author states that because Santorum and Gingrich agree with the death penalty, they are being “cafeteria” Catholics.  As can be seen above, they are not.  Rather, they are supporting what the Church has deemed to be legitimate, although it is not completely necessary.

I won’t go through every case that the author states, but I will point out that the author is basically using a politically liberal (maybe “progressive” is the more appropriate term here) stance to evaluate Catholic teachings.  The problem with this is that the Church cannot be defined based on the narrow political strata that the secular world uses.  The Church is both conservative and liberal depending on the issue, so to use either side solely to malign politicians is to do a grave injustice to the subtlety and nuances of the Church’s teachings.  The author’s unspoken assumption (though barely unspoken) is that it is impossible to be both Catholic and politically conservative.  He holds that the only truly Catholic solutions to social issues are the ones that the Left espouses.  This is blatantly untrue.  You can be against the welfare state and still follow Catholic teaching by helping private charities or helping the poor directly.  You can be against the state mandated minimum wage while still working for a living wage.  To embrace Catholic social teaching does not require you to become a political liberal or progressive.  To say otherwise is to twist the Church’s teachings in a way that they were never meant to be twisted.

Contraception and Church-State Relations

In this third part of my examination of the contraception controversy, I will focus on church-state relations.  Before I get to the meat of the matter, I feel compelled to mention something.  Given the limited space I have imposed on myself (no more than 2 pages), this part; like the prior parts; is of necessity cursory and in no way meant to be definitive.  This means that there will be issues that I don’t address due to space.  Consequently, I will be missing some of the subtleties and intricacies of the various areas as will happen when an immensely complex subject is boiled down to a brief area.

Now before I can properly address the current issues related to church-state relations in the United States, the phrase “separation of church and state” needs to be understood.  As a part of that understanding, it is necessary to look at the history of church-state relations prior to the enactment of the Bill of Rights in 1791.

Throughout history, church and state have generally been mixed.  From ancient tribes where medicine men and shamans held power to ancient India where Hinduism held sway to Greece where Socrates was executed for preaching against the gods to Rome where people were punished for atheism if they did not believe in the Roman gods to the Byzantine Empire and the Caesaropapism inherent in its system to the Peace of Augsburg and its ideal of “cuius regio, eius religio("whose realm, his religion", or "in the Prince's land, the Prince's religion") to the establishment of the Anglican Church by Henry VIII (and I could keep going) the history of having a state-accepted or state-dominated church was the norm.  Even when the Puritans came to America to practice their religion freely, they also established their church as the state church.  It was only in very few places that there was no official church, notably Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.

Interestingly, it was in Roman Catholic Western Europe that the authority of church and state was the most bifurcated.  When the Western Roman Empire fell, there was no secular institution or ruler that could readily take its place.  Instead, the Catholic Church entered the gap and there were bishops who became local landlords and protected the population.  With this came the rise of feudalism and eventually the rise of the nation-states of Europe.  During the Middle Ages, there were several controversies related to church-state relations including the Investiture Controversy between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry II of the Holy Roman Empire.  Ultimately with the Concordat of Worms in 1122, the separate powers of church and state were delineated.

When the colonies revolted from Britain and the United States was formed, there were still established churches in many colonies.  With the adoption of the Constitution, this idea started to lose its hold.  In the Constitution itself (Article VI) the idea that there should not be a religious test in order to hold office is set forth.  In the Bill of Rights (Amendment I) the idea of an established religion is rejected as is the idea that people should not be free to exercise their own religion.  The phrase a “wall of separation between church and state” is never in the Constitution and is in fact based on the writings of Thomas Jefferson who took no part in the Constitutional Convention or in its ratification.  I find it confounding how the ideas of a man who was not present during the debates over the issues involved are considered dispositive; but then again I am not a fan of Jefferson, so that may have something to do with it.  Besides, the “wall” which Jefferson speaks of is not the modern unbreachable rampart imagined by so many secularists and atheists.  Rather it was a way of ensuring that people would be free to practice their own religion without government interference.  Put another way, it was meant to keep the government from interfering in the internal affairs of a church, *NOT* to ensure that the church had no part in the political sphere.

Put this way, it becomes easier to understand the position of the Catholic Church and other religious organizations towards the contraceptive mandate.  The religious organizations are objecting to the fact that they are being forced to pay for something that goes against their religious tenets.  Remember, the First Amendment (even according to Jefferson) was meant to protect the freedom of people to practice their own religion.  Therefore, forcing religious organizations to choose to either follow the law or follow the dictates of their faith is to interfere with their Constitutional rights.

Now, there are a lot of people asking about the people who work for a religious organization, but don’t share its faith.  Doesn’t it impinge on their rights to allow their employer to not pay for contraception?  The answer is no.  The Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception is not a secret and in choosing to work for a religious organization, they choose this path.  Also, they can still get contraception on their own.  No one is stopping anyone from purchasing contraception on their own.  In addition, free access to contraception is not a constitutional right.  The only right involved in contraception at all is the right to privacy as laid out in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965).  To argue that something that is not even a right somehow outweighs an explicitly guaranteed Constitutional right is beyond ridiculous.

I do wish to touch on a very tangential point that I have seen raised in relation to this discussion.  That point is that churches have no part to play in public life and that if they do so, they should be stripped of their tax-exempt status because they are violating the “wall of separation between church and state”.  As has been demonstrated above, that “wall” was never meant to prohibit churches from expressing their ideas in the public marketplace, but rather it was meant to keep the government from interfering in the internal affairs of the churches.  So let us dismiss this argument as the nonsense that it is.

Contraception and Church Governance

Ok, now for part two of my four part exploration of the contraception controversy.  In part one I examined various non-sequiturs related to the controversy.  In this piece, I will examine the Church’s governance, particularly in how it relates to the aforementioned controversy.

The Church’s government is hierarchical.  At the top of the hierarchy (well, on Earth anyway) is the Pope.  The Pope is the Bishop of Rome and represents Christ on Earth.  Beneath the Pope are cardinals, then archbishops and bishops, then priests, then deacons, and finally the laity.  Members of religious orders fall outside of this particular hierarchy and do not directly affect the issues that are discussed here.  To boil everything down to its simplest form, the Pope is the direct head of the Church and the laity is the support.  Now, to a lot of people, this would seem to mean that the laity has been reduced to mindless drones, endlessly spewing forth ideas forced upon them by the hierarchy.  That is not true.  It is true that the Church is not a democracy and the laity does not decide on what is to be taught.  But that is not to be confused with the Church teaching that the laity has no voice at all.  In certain matters, it does.  But in matters regarding doctrine and dogma, the Pope and hierarchy have the final say on what is taught, period.

Before I go much further, I want to clearly set forth the Church’s teaching on contraception.  I am indebted to Sex and the Marriage Covenant by John Kippley for helping me to understand what the Church teaches.  The Church holds that sexual relations have two purposes.  The first is procreation; that is to make babies.  The second is as a renewal of the marriage vows.  If either (or both) of these purposes are blocked or hindered in any way, the sexual act has been desecrated.  This is why any premarital sex (or any sex outside of a marital relationship) is intrinsically disordered and sinful.  Contraception purposefully hinders the first purpose and is therefore sinful, period.  On a side note, this is also why the Church teaches that any form of artificial insemination or any surgical procedure that renders someone incapable of procreating is also wrong.

I know someone is going to bring up the idea of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and claim that it is “Catholic contraception” and that is entirely wrong.  In true NFP, every sexual act is open to the possibility that a pregnancy can result.  What NFP does is to track when the woman is fertile and abstain from sex during that time.  However, any sex which is had when the woman is not in her fertile period is still open to the possibility that she can get pregnant.  This mindset of trusting God is vastly different from the mindset of contraception which puts oneself in the place of God.

I saw one blog which claimed that since the bishops aren’t chosen by the people, they cannot represent them.  This idea shows a total lack of awareness of the realities of the governance of the Catholic Church as delineated above.  The Church is not a democracy where the leaders are chosen by the people.  Rather, as Jesus appointed Peter to be the head of the Church and the apostles to help him, the leadership is passed on to those who followed; namely the pope and the bishops.  Since the Church’s leadership has been bestowed directly by Jesus, it does not depend on any mandate from the laity to continue.  In a democracy the power of the government comes from the governed, that is why the governed have a right to speak up in what the laws are.  Since the Church was established by God Himself and gets its legitimacy directly from Him, there is no need for the laity to choose who leads them.  This is a crucial distinction that must be understood.


In the encyclical Humanae Vitae, written by Pope Paul VI in 1968, the Church reaffirmed her opposition to any artificial form of birth control.  This encyclical was preceded by Casti Conubii written by Pope Pius XI in 1930 in response to the Lambeth Conference, where for the first time in the history of Christianity, contraception was openly accepted as legitimate under certain circumstances.  After the Lambeth Conference of 1930, Pope Pius XI wrote Casti Conubii to reaffirm the Church’s traditional teachings in regards to sex.  Then in 1950, with the advent of the oral contraceptive, Pope John XXIII was asked to create a commission to look into the matter of contraception and he agreed.  I do not know the entire history of the Commission and will not pretend to.  What I do know is that any commission within the Church is not binding and that final teaching authority; as we have seen; lies with the pope.  In addition, the Commission included several non-theologians, all of whom sided with the majority report (see below).  In 1966, the Commission produced a report that advocated for a relaxation of the rules in regards to contraception and birth control.  A minority dissented and advocated for the rules to remain as they were.  This minority report was made exclusively of theologian priests and bishops or cardinals.  And so the matter was closed.  While people may not like the decision, all faithful Catholics are called to submit to it.

In the next piece, I will examine the idea of the separation of church and state and how it impacts this issue.