Friday, April 29, 2005

This Is Very Good News

Democrats For Life Propose the 95-10 Plan, a set of policy initiatives with the ambitious goal of reducing the abortion rate in America by 95% in the next 10 years. They think this goal is attainable through policy because, like me, they believe that the current culture and standing policies create huge barriers, real and perceived, to bearing an unplanned child.

While reading the blog After Abortion, I am struck by the frequent stories of women who went to have an abortion, believing before and after that it was wrong, but who felt they had no other viable option. These women write that abortion was not some empowering choice for them, but a false promise of a solution to an impossible situation. They often write that the support they needed didn't exist for them, or that they didn't know of the existing institutions.

So it stands to reason that such policies as a national toll-free help line, safe haven laws, abortion counseling on college campuses, or extra support for adoption, will lower abortion rates substantially.

At first glance, I support the vast majority of these proposals (you can probably guess which one I would lobby them to drop, and which one I might lobby them to alter). I am glad, even more, that the Democrats for Life are doing this. I truly believe that if the status quo of 4000 abortions a day is to change, the impetus must come from the Democratic Party.

Currently, it looks like the Democratic Party has been presented with two strategies to win back those voters it lost in 2004, who are on most issues allied with the Democrats but couldn't let themselves support an abortion plank straight from NARAL. The first strategy looks to be a repackaging of the same policies, a marketing job in which Democratic candidates mention God a lot and call abortion "tragic", but refuse to do anything different besides shed a tear. The second is the path presented by the Dems for Life, that of substantial work to combat what is at the very least an endemic social ill. I pray that the Democratic leadership decides on the latter strategy.

But of course I want to go farther with this. I want to see such changes in policy, but I want direct changes in abortion law too. In fact, I believe them both necessary.

Much is made of the high number of illegal (often dangerous) abortions done in the 1960s. What is not as often considered is that there were far fewer abortions per capita in previous decades, after the feminists of the 19th Century succeeded at prohibiting it in the first place. A recent systematic study* concludes that not only was the number of illegal abortions between two and three hundred thousand in 1961, but that it was one-fifth that in 1950 (a difference far surpassing the demographic shift caused by the baby boom). What happened to make the difference? I say it's culture- in the 1960s, the incentives for risky premarital sex increased, while the difficulties of bearing an unplanned child stayed the same (or even increased; motherhood was a far less respected status in general).

So a repeal of Roe v. Wade without better social policies would bring us back to the 1960s, with illegal abortion still all too common. But a change in law coupled with a change in policy would be another thing entirely.

But why not just the policy side? Why legally forbid the practice of abortion as well? Isn't this being harsh on the women in difficult situations about whom I was just talking?

Three things.

1. Laws need to reflect the way human nature actually is- otherwise the falsehood grows within the system. (The chief problem with many communist systems, it seemed to me, was that they were based on a false concept of human motivation, and because of that flaw the idealists didn't see that eventually the workers would stop caring, the officials would turn to corruption, and the leaders would resort to oppression.)

The ideology implicit in Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood is that personhood is determined at society's convenience. There is no philosophical basis for the moment of birth as the stage of life at which we ought to regard a human being as deserving of rights, and the supporters of abortion in general make no such argument. The rationale seems to be that there is no objective truth of the matter, there is no such thing as a person deserving of human rights, and we might as well apply our laws to just those human beings that happen to suit us. I think this is wrong, in an extraordinarily dangerous way, and that it bodes ill for societies like ours and the Netherlands (where they are currently in the process of legalizing euthanasia for infants with Down's syndrome and other disabilities).

2. The fundamental laws are not suspended in cases of need; a starving man is not given license to steal food. The justice system may (and ought) show mercy, direct him to a shelter instead of sending him to jail, but this is not an exception to the laws of private property. Similarly, I (and the mainstream pro-life movement) see no justice in prosecuting the women desperate enough to seek abortions, but we ought to direct them to resources rather than allow them to do that deed. I only intend that the abortion clinics close their doors.

3. The other important reason has to do, again, with the mother and with the image of abortion as an easy way out of pregnancy. It is increasingly clear that abortion is, for many women, no such thing. See the Silent No More campaign. The problem with leaving it legal is that abortion offers the false promise that it will be as if the pregnancy never was. Any person in a difficult but manageable situation is strongly affected by a claim for an easy way out, even if they think it's immoral, even if they believe they'll regret it later. The "choice" for abortion is really a strong temptation, day in and day out, to escape through something that nobody would choose for itself. That's why I believe that the choice itself is toxic.

Well, thanks for listening. I know that some of you disagree with me strongly. I ask all of you to be cordial in the comments. And I ask those of you who disagree with me on the legal side to decide whether you can agree with the Dems for Life on the policies they suggest. I am not satisfied with just a reduction, but a significant drop in the numbers would still be a cause for great joy.

*Syska, Hilgers and O'Hare: An Objective Model for Estimating Criminal Abortions and Its Implications for Public Policy. It's currently in the Reg; I'll look it up and double-check the methodology.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

My dorm, the Shoreland, is playing a colossal game of Assassins. The organizers e-mail each player with the name of their target; when you have assassinated them (with a squirt gun), you get the next name- unless, of course, the person after you (whose identity is totally unknown to you) takes you down first. The rules are cleverly constructed to keep the game exciting and fair. (Especially the part about Terminators.)

I am, alas, already dead. Yesterday morning, I checked the hall carefully before leaving my room (a Safe Area) and made my way to the elevator alone. A student I'd never seen before got on the elevator at a lower floor, waited till the door closed, then turned and shot me! I thought it must have been dumb luck, but I was mistaken: the guy had been staking out my room from the stairwell for hours; he dashed downstairs when I opened the door in order to catch my elevator. I had to give him props for that.

But drat, nonetheless. And I did so well last year! You can take a look at the board to see (by code names) who's still alive.

At least I have a comfortable office chair to sit in now. A friend of mine, Ben, heard about a day-trade business closing an office downtown, and that they were giving away old furniture. He didn't have a car (his initial plan was to bike downtown with a roll of duct tape, attach a table to himself, and pedal back to Hyde Park). I, however, have a car, so I drove with Ben and picked up a padded vinyl swivel chair for free! (The upholstering is worn out in places, but I'm not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth.) It has already contributed to my procrastination: I used to read blogs till my butt hurt, now it's until my eyes hurt.

UPDATE: The new furniture has helped me in Assassins, ha ha! Bringing the table upstairs was the perfect excuse to Terminate (see the Rules) my target, Ben's roommate.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

1. Where I Am

2. Where I'm Going

And I think I've made the right decision. I talked to a lot of professors in the Analysis group, and believe I can find someone great to work with. Plus, there are at least five other students entering their department from the U of C. Plus, I'll be just a BART ride away from San Francisco and Alice.

Of course, I don't know where I'll live. To afford the area, I'll need roommates. If any of you nice Bay Area bloggers know of Catholic/Christian gents on the Oakland side in need of another roommate, I'd be much obliged for the tip.

Ditto for another thing I want to find in the area: a good place for daily Mass. (Father Keyes: I'm not traveling 20 miles to St. Edwards each day, so don't even suggest it!)

3. My Classes This Quarter

Latin 103, L. Behnke: Now dropped, sadly. I couldn't keep up with requirements, what with grad-school visits and getting sick and senioritis. But it won't be the last Latin course for me, God willing. I talked to Mrs. Behnke yesterday, and she more or less forgave me.

Analysis, Math 314, C. Kenig: Complex analysis, direct from Rudin's Real and Complex. The midterm was yesterday; I think I survived. It bodes well that I know what I'm doing with the Riemann sphere and residue theory. I like the subject, Kenig is good-natured and brilliant, the class is a pleasure.

Differentiable Manifolds, Math 274, S. Bloch: FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD, AVOID THIS PROFESSOR LIKE THE BLACK DEATH. He sucks the life from mathematics; in the two classes I've now taken from him, I haven't been able to pay attention for five consecutive minutes without wanting to defenestrate myself. Thank God it's an easy class (how did I find it so difficult last year, when I dropped after three weeks?), or I'd be failing.

Speaking of failing...

Algebraic Curves, Math 243, M. Nori: Man, is this class ever beating the mathematical stuffing out of me. So far, it has been entirely abstract commutative algebra without motivation (from an analytic standpoint), he writes so fast my hand hurts trying to keep up in my notes, and I've been lost since Week 2. Or as he put it, "We could finish the course in the next three weeks without ever saying what it's about!" Seriously- no mention of actual algebraic curves, all Dedekind Domains and exact sequences and fractional ideals, things that make my poor non-algebraic head throb. But of course I'll have to learn this all now or later, and it's better for me if it's now.

4. Signs of A Good Shepherd

What a gifted homilist our new Pope is! I ran into this online, and was stunned into reflection. What John Paul could do with an image, Benedict can do with words. The exegesis he makes of the readings is spectacular, both in its connections with patristic tradition and in the ever-new force of its imagery. The homily is deep and erudite without being pretentious, and I urge you to read the entire document if you can. One excerpt that moved me:

The symbol of the lamb also has a deeper meaning. In the Ancient Near East, it was customary for kings to style themselves shepherds of their people. This was an image of their power, a cynical image: to them their subjects were like sheep, which the shepherd could dispose of as he wished. When the shepherd of all humanity, the living God, himself became a lamb, he stood on the side of the lambs, with those who are downtrodden and killed. This is how he reveals himself to be the true shepherd: “I am the Good Shepherd . . . I lay down my life for the sheep”, Jesus says of himself (Jn 10:14f). It is not power, but love that redeems us! This is God’s sign: he himself is love. How often we wish that God would make show himself stronger, that he would strike decisively, defeating evil and creating a better world. All ideologies of power justify themselves in exactly this way, they justify the destruction of whatever would stand in the way of progress and the liberation of humanity. We suffer on account of God’s patience. And yet, we need his patience. God, who became a lamb, tells us that the world is saved by the Crucified One, not by those who crucified him. The world is redeemed by the patience of God. It is destroyed by the impatience of man.

This goes no little way in reassuring me that Benedict can win hearts and minds from the Chair of Peter, if his words can be made to reach them. The springtime of evangelization may have just begun in the West.

(more writing to follow soon)

Friday, April 22, 2005

Complete Unexpected Change of Pace

Your Linguistic Profile:

75% General American English
10% Dixie
10% Upper Midwestern
5% Yankee
0% Midwestern

Your Brain is 33.33% Female, 66.67% Male

You have a total boy brain
Logical and detailed, you tend to look at the facts
And while your emotions do sway you sometimes...
You never like to get feelings too involved

Your Travel Profile:

You Are Very Well Traveled in the Midwestern United States (75%)
You Are Well Traveled in Western Europe (50%)
You Are Well Traveled in the Southern United States (46%)
You Are Well Traveled in the Northeastern United States (43%)
You Are Somewhat Well Traveled in Southern Europe (27%)
You Are Somewhat Well Traveled in the Western United States (26%)
You Are Mostly Untraveled in Canada (20%)
You Are Mostly Untraveled in the United Kingdom (13%)
You Are Untraveled in Africa (0%)
You Are Untraveled in Asia (0%)
You Are Untraveled in Australia (0%)
You Are Untraveled in Eastern Europe (0%)
You Are Untraveled in Latin America (0%)
You Are Untraveled in New Zealand (0%)
You Are Untraveled in Scandinavia (0%)
You Are Untraveled in the Middle East (0%)

So, Patrick, what do you think of Benedict XVI?

In short, I am hopeful, and I feel the need to pray as well.

In a more expanded form:

1. Many, not all, of the people (Catholics and non-Catholics) who are worried or disappointed about the election of Cardinal Ratzinger are so because they had hoped that the next Pope would change some area of Catholic dogma. Let me tell you a secret: Catholic dogma (as opposed to disciplines*) will not change, regardless of who is Pope. All the Cardinals are such because they believe wholeheartedly that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit to reveal certain eternal truths about God and humanity. The Church cannot decide these matters as She sees fit.

Concrete example: If the issue of contraception had been tackled under Pope Bl. John XXIII rather than Pope Paul VI, guess what? The teaching would be just the same as Humanae Vitae. The encyclical would have been worded differently; perhaps because of that, and because of John XXIII's better public persona and portrayals, it might have been better received, and we would not see such great dissent in America and Western Europe. But John would have had to reach the same conclusion as Paul, because of the underlying truth of the matter.

But you say, "That can't be right! John XXIII was a progressive, so of course he would have decided it differently than that conservative Pope Paul VI!" Okay, follow me here. Why is John XXIII portrayed as a progressive and Paul VI conservative? Because the act deemed most important of John's papacy (the opening of Vatican II) made American progressives happy, and the act deemed most important of Paul's papacy (Humanae Vitae) made the American conservatives happy (or is it more accurate to say, it made the American progressives angry?). Fidelity to the Church doesn't fit neatly into the current left or right; it combines the preferential option for the poor with the defense of unborn human life, to cite two examples.

Benedict's former position as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which he corrected Catholic theologians when they taught error, made it abundantly and publicly clear that he believes firmly what the Church believes. The other cardinals believe the Church's dogma as well (as evidenced by their support of Ratzinger), but it has not been as public. Thus some dissenters had hoped that another papabile would have led the Church to forget some of Her inconvenient teachings. This hope would have been disappointed, of course; the accession of Ratzinger to Pope Benedict XVI simply made it clear immediately that the Church will teach what She has always taught.

I think Francis Cardinal George said it well in the post-conclave interview: "There's a certain clarity of teaching that has been associated with [Benedict]. Fine. I think clarity helps us all. If that's a problem, well then the problem isn't with this particular pope or man or his predecessor, the problem is with the Catholic faith itself and then people should ask, well, where am I? If I don't hold the Catholic faith, where does that leave me? It's a personal question."

I hope that those Catholics who have been disappointed for this reason will reconcile with the Church rather than leave it. The one thing I think is more difficult with Benedict following John Paul II is the suddenness of the shock, for those who believed that the Church would conform itself to modernity within their generation. It will not. It cannot do so, any more than it conformed to Roman mores as it grew to encompass Rome.

2. That said, there is a concern that I find reasonable about Benedict. He is a very smart man; he understands the world better than you or I. But I worry that he will not be able to make to world understand him, considering the labels he has been given before doing anything in his pontificate. I hear that he writes brilliantly, as I know John Paul II did; but how few Catholics indeed read anything that JPII had written! The respect of the world for our previous pope was gained not through any words, but through images and stories: forgiving his assassin, placing a prayer in the Wailing Wall, embracing a child, lifting the chalice with hands weary and trembling. Benedict is now known to the world for two things: the incredible homily he gave at the funeral for John Paul II, and the refrains of "reactionary, medieval, repressive" that are everywhere. He has only words to combat words, and few enough of those. The previous Pope had time to win the world's trust; Benedict has no such honeymoon. We Catholics must pick up the slack, must be honest and loving in our defense of the Church. That is why I pray.

3. Why am I happy with the new Pontiff? Because I think that Pope Benedict will be a help to the sad state of liturgy in America. I know that there are many issues you might think more pressing, but the vanishing of faith in the developed world is not unconnected to the state of liturgy; Christ is still present in a badly done Mass, but it is harder for us to know Him there.

So what's the problem, as I see it, with Catholic liturgy in America? At many parishes, the liturgy seems to be an afterthought, stripped down to the least effort that keeps the bishop from intervening. It is not even the situation of the 1970s, wherein people were highly motivated to 'bring the Church alive' through often-silly music and actions hastily cobbled together. The prevalent situation now is apathy (possibly a consequence of the sort of piety that is completely disconnected from the rich tradition). It looks like to many pastors, organizing the parish barbecue or the Young Adult Group is more important than preparing one's best for the Mass.

And the English liturgy, I think, needs a translation that works better as poetry, as subject for meditation. Maybe the Latin text of the Novus Ordo should be rewritten in parts, too (though I'm not enough of a Catholic Nerd to be clear on this, I'm told that the borrowing from Eastern Rite Eucharistic Prayers was mangled). And we should do something about bishops who forbid their priests from saying any Mass in Latin. The vernacular is good in general, and here to stay, but there are those of us who'd like the option of occasionally responding "Et cum spiritu tuo".

Pope Benedict, I hope, will continue the dedication to good liturgy that he has shown in his writings, and correct silliness and apathy alike.

Okay, whoa, this is a long post and I'm tired. If you're mad at me for espousing what the Church teaches, we can discuss it. I'm going to sleep now.

*Note: Dogma is different from disciplines. The Church can decide practical matters of the best course to pursue; it is only in teaching eternal truths that the Magisterium is protected from gross error. Disciplines include matters such as whether priests can marry, whether Mass should be in Latin or the vernacular, when Catholics should abstain from eating meat, etc. These issues are situational, and certain concerns (Latin no longer being the lingua franca of the Christian world, etc.) can make one option suitable for one moment but not for another. Dogmas hold for all time and all situations: that God is a Trinity, that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, that suicide is objectively wrong, etc. Vatican II changed many disciplines, but not a single dogma.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Habemus Papam!

In case you've been living under a rock...

Thursday, April 07, 2005

As we speak, the largest crowd of pilgrims in modern history is gathered in Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. I will be watching it myself on television, 3 AM or not.

I remember what we teenagers shouted in the Kiel Center when the Pope came to visit Saint Louis in 1999, so loudly it washed in waves over my ears:

"J-P-Two, We Love You!".

When he had mounted the steps to the altar (difficult for him already) and he waved us silent, he grinned slowly and responded to the gathered 60,000 youth:

"John Paul II, He Loves You!"

I've learned just how characteristic that was of his sense of humor. It wasn't a joke; it wasn't said to get a laugh, or to attempt coolness through irony. The joy in his face, the passionate emphasis in his slow speech, ruled those out. The Pope simply dispelled in one statement the anxiety that many of us still felt in meeting the head of the visible Church. He opened our hearts so that we would hear him talk about Christ, rather than focus on him.

I didn't know then just how much I would grow to love John Paul II, both for who he is (the philosopher, the artist, the speaker, the man of humility) and for what he is (the Vicar of Christ and the visible sign of the Church). I still had so much of the Church to discover- the rich theology of twenty centuries, the haunting modes of medieval chant, the diverse radiance of the many saints, the simplicity and sublimity of the Sacraments. But I could tell by the end of the night just how holy, how loving, how sincere was this man.

There is much else I want to post about all of this, but I just don't feel like writing so much. Grief does that to me.

And if you were wondering, I'll be going to Berkeley next year. I'm very happy about that. Just not at this moment.