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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.