Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reaching peak idiocy

Yes, things are that bad.  How do we know?  Because there's a college professor in New York who's sired twenty-two children.  Yep, 22.  He's fielded a football game--not just one team of eleven.

Here's the catch:  he clearly feels no compunction about it.

For lesbian couples and single ladies looking to have a baby without the expense of going through a sperm bank (which can run in the thousands of dollars), he’s the No. 1 dad.

His oldest child, now 12, was conceived with a woman he was in a committed relationship with, but all of his offspring since, he says, have resulted from his donations.“This isn’t time-consuming, and I’m doing it anyway,” he says of his hands-on hobby. “It’s very easy for me to do.”

About half the time, he provides his seed the old-fashioned way. Sometimes, a lesbian looking to conceive will have her partner in the bed for moral support while she and Nagel engage in intercourse.
“She’s never slept with a guy before, so the partner’s in bed, holding her hand,” Nagel explains. “Sometimes, it could be a little painful, then after a few times, they’re comfortable to do it on their own.”
Other times, he supplies his goods in a cup, which he prefers.
“I’m not doing it for easy action,” Nagel says. “Isn’t that what Tinder is for?”
He often uses public bathrooms, like those at Target and at Starbucks shops, to procure his samples and hand them off to ovulating women.
“You don’t want to do it in one where people are knocking,” he notes.

Once again, cue the AFLAC duck:

I would say "Theology of the Body to the Rescue!", but I wonder if that might be like trying to feed a starving man an entire beef Wellington with a Caesar salad and a fine Burgundy.  Maybe something a bit simpler is better.  Part of the problem is the story itself, written cheekily e.g., "his hands-on hobby."  Mostly, though, it's the man himself and a culture that has so thoroughly mechanized and depersonalized sex--did you catch the part where he impregnates one lesbian while her partner sits nearby holding her hand?--that the expected reaction is merely "...meh."  We're not supposed to care at all.  Love wins, after all.  This is why Carl Trueman writes that we have unchained the earth from the sun.  How could there not be consequences?

Thank God for His Mercy.  The inability of creation to merit grace need look no further than 2016 America for overwhelming evidence. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Light in the East

Over the almost four years of this blog it's been a gift to see the number of readers from eastern Europe and Russia. Poland and Ukraine seem to generate the most hits, but Romania appears frequently, too.  With that in mind, rousing cheers for eastern Christianity!

St. John Paul II's pontificate (1978-2005) sparked a renewal in East-West Christian dialogue, and something similar will emerge from the eastern Church's struggles under ISIS and the broader Islamic resurgence.  May our Christian sisters and brothers in the East pray for, and continue to inspire, us!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Spiritual Veganism

In an ongoing attempt to hash out some of this blog's animating ideas, a few words on spiritual diabetes' inverse:  spiritual veganism.

Type II diabetes, recall, generally emerges as a result of overconsumption.  Veganism, on the other hand, is a dietary lifestyle predicated on restrictions, namely the prohibition of animal products whatsoever.  So, vegetarians don't eat meat; vegans likewise abstain but also forgo honey, butter, eggs, cheese, etc.  And many ideological vegans extend their abstinence to apparel (e.g., no leather) and lifestyle (so, I'm guessing, no football?).

Now, the following is not an indictment of either Type II diabetes or the vegan lifestyle.  (Vegan cookbooks nowadays demonstrate handily that "vegan" food cannot be equated with "boring.")  I do, though, think those dietetically-related issues provide great analogies for discussing American spiritual choices and world views.  Hence this blog.  The diabetic condition centers on consumption:  overconsumption and then, following diagnosis, a program of perhaps restructured consumption.  Spiritually speaking I think this appears in places like victorious political campaigns (which feast, after long work periods, on the fruit of their labor), championship sports seasons ("WE finally won..."), and, on an individual level, the willingness to interpret every material gain or possession as some sign of divine blessing and favor.

The vegan condition takes a different path.  The reward here seems to come from the results of not consuming; thin (emaciated?) body and pride in having overcome one's dietary demons.  Spiritually speaking, this brings its own pride and self-congratulatory world view.  Almost a decade ago I wrote the following:

'However, like its dietary counterpart, this appears quite heroic and wins a few, hyper-zealous converts, but really offers no solution at all.  Instead of extolling spiritual consumption, spiritual vegans—much like their dietary counterparts—refuse any “product” that bears the taint of the pedestrian, suburban, or mass culture.  Obviously a certain elitism functions here, and quite openly so.  A 2002 Washington Post columnist once referred to vegans as “the Hezbollah of the vegetarian world”, and there’s some truth to that.  Vegans really do believe that their dietary radicalism not only effectively combats the culture of death surrounding the American diet, but also that only through such extremism does one really enjoy any chance at survival.  In other words, “eat like us or die!”  

I still stand by that.  The spiritual diabetic stands, bloated and yet never quite full, looking for the next spiritual meal or snack: another prayer, new contemporary worship and praise music, gothic nostalgia, a new spiritual advice book, whatever. (Quite frankly, I wonder if this entire blogosophere-social media-Twitter-Facebook world is a shining example!)  Originally I conceived "spiritual vegans" effectively to be the emerging "nones" -- folks without any religious inclinations whatsoever.  More and more, though, I'm wondering if the vegan mentality can actually inhabit quite successfully a quite conscientiously spiritual mindset.  In other words, like the dietary vegans these spiritual counterparts limit their spiritual consumption to only a few "pure," "compassionate" sources and then condemn the rest as unhealthy.  No, spiritual vegans aren't Protestants.  The sources are instead worldviews and cultural perspectives that, to the vegans, seem unassailable...and thoroughly life-sustaining.  In fact, what's pushed my thinking towards this reconsideration has been the Catholic theological establishment.  And like the critic of vegans, who looks at an array of vegetables and non-animal recipes, I want to ask several of my colleagues:  "Is that all we really have to live on?"  On this the day after the 2012 election, obviously, the victors can point to their results. Still, should the successes of one particular diet become the consumption platform for us all?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

in today's show: convenience

Shot: Euthanasia helps those suffering.  End a life before it becomes a life filled only with suffering.

Chaser:  We, the ones in power, and the not suffering, will be the ones determining what "suffering" is.  This is the nasty reality underlying the recent movie Me Before You.  The culture now tells itself that enabling a loved one to die is actually the humane thing to do because, well, we wouldn't want to live as they do.  Besides, health costs are, well, expensive.

There is pushback, thank God. After all, when the physically-challenged themselves speak, they often express the same desire for life the rest of us seek.  Why do we want them dead?


Photo courtesy Aleteia post by Ella Frech--keep riding!

The Church's Gospel of Life, of course, combats (peaceably!) this seductively corrosive and self-applied secular acid.  Life, a complex mystery given by the loving God, involves the capacity for equally stupefying heights and lows.  St. John Paul II embodied the path he showed the rest of us, a path given him and us by Jesus:  love.

The New York Catholic Conference thus maintains its opposition to physician-assisted suicide.

Given today’s aging population, the significant spike in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the increasing evidence of elder abuse, and the escalation of health care costs, the risks of coercion and abuse are very real.
New York State rightly spends millions of dollars each year in efforts to prevent suicide. There are suicide hotline numbers, anti-bullying campaigns, programs to recognize suicidal symptoms and government-sponsored signs that read “Life Is Worth Living.” Legalizing assisted suicide would send an inconsistent message by saying that some lives are not worth living. This double standard would be based entirely on disability, as patients fear “losing autonomy” or “being a burden” to others because of their disabilities from terminal illness.
Lifting New York’s ban on assisted suicide would provide a deadly, unnecessary option to patients, many of whom legitimately fear pain, depression and abandonment. These persons can be significantly helped through pain relief, palliative care, the hospice environment and compassionate loving care.

In a nutshell, the convenience of physician-assisted suicide, or any other form of euthanasia with even fewer restrictions, should be resisted.  It is convenient only when we are the ones in power.  Once the tables are turned, when we are the ones in need of care, we hope those then in power act with compassion, not convenience.  But then it will be too late, because then our own lives won't be the ones worth living--and that's a recognition none of the euthanasia-supporters want to confront.  Their lives will always be worth living;  it's always somebody else's life that's inconveniently long.  The Sheriff in Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men captured it this way:

I dont like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I dont think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I dont have much doubt but what she'll be able to have an abortion. I'm goin to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she'll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.”

Exactly.  Some day that empowered call you so desire will be turned against you...and then what?

St. John Paul II and the Catholic social justice tradition do not want to end the conversation so much as to infuse end-of-life decisions--another reality we must face--with love and justice for all involved, not just those who temporarily hold the reigns of cultural and personal power. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Saint Anthony of Padua, My Favorite Saint

Saint Anthony of Padua, My Favorite Saint:

Saint Anthony Basilica and Tomb

Photo courtesy Virginia Lieto

Virginia Lieto's post recalling her visit to St. Anthony's basilica in Padua, Italy.  Touching the tomb, Lieto recalls, was transformative:

As I touched the cold stone slab, I felt this surge of energy flow through my veins. It was so warm, and filled with love – I didn’t want to let go!!!! Ever!!!! I started to cry; no, make that sob; so much so, that I had to let go to blow my nose. I then touched the tomb once more, and again I felt that wonderful feeling. Was it a piece of Heaven residing in temporal form on earth? I’m not sure. All I can say is that it was a wonderful experience for me. What made it an extraordinary experience is what happened next.
After we left the Basilica, we journeyed across the street to have lunch at an outdoor café. I felt compelled to share my experience with my husband, Nick, if only to explain why I was sobbing in the Basilica. When I told him what happened, he simply said to me, “I felt it too.” That sent chills done my spine on a warm summer’s day in an Italian outdoor café.
God sends us miracles of His presence every day, if we are open to receiving them, and willing to use our eyes of faith. Saint Anthony helped me to find something that day, as he is so well known for finding things that are lost. Saint Anthony helped me to find Christ’s peace, a peace that continues to reside within me to this day. Thank you Saint Anthony! Happy Feast Day!
I'm glad Virginia wrote this.  Hey, sometimes God reaches us where we are...and sometimes we find God waiting for us...and thus his reach surprises and refreshes all the more.  Sometimes this occurs through locations themselves, sometimes through the saints, and, as Virginia blogs here, sometimes through a saint's particular location.  And it is miraculous.

Follow Virginia's blog for quick, clear doses of Catholic spirituality and, importantly, reflections on the virtues.  Her children's book Finding Patience will charm young readers in your family.

Please Don’t Say These Six Things at My Funeral | ChurchPOP

Please Don’t Say These Six Things at My Funeral | ChurchPOP

Chad Bird's post on ChurchPOP makes for fun reading about that which we all fear:  funerals.  Like other life celebrations--weddings, graduations--these events have become so scripted and filled with bland assurances that the events--as rituals--have been drained of meaning.  No wonder Donald Trump is doing so well in general election polls:  all the institutions that once underwrote American cultural meaning(s) have been shown to be unloyal, unworthy of trust, and quite corrupt in themselves.  So why not bet all the money on something new that promises a fix?  (That, btw, is a great story in itself; read that here.)

not my image--from the internet

So do funerals matter?  Absolutely--and not, as the old saying goes, for the living only.  The dead, Bird reminds us, still care.  Bird:

 They say the dead don’t care, but I’m not dead yet, so as long as I’m still alive, I’d like to have some say in what goes on at my funeral. And, truth be told, I think the dead do care. Not that they will be privy to the details of what happens at their own funerals, but they still care about the world, about their family, about the church. The saints in heaven continue to pray for those who are still on their earthly pilgrimage, so how could they not care about them?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Does Nice Deliver the Goods?

Leo Durocher said it--or something close to it:  "Nice guys finish last."

Here's Leo managing the New York Giants at Braves Field in Boston, perhaps August or September in the 1948 season.  source: Creative Commons

Machiavelli recognized the conundrum five centuries earlier:  you get better results once you learn to appear to be good and religious.  People who actually are good and religious usually get clobbered.  (See Chapter XVII.)