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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Seven Sorrows of Our Lady and Bioethics

Last September, on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, I put up a post relating the devotion to bioethics.

The feast day of September 15 was established in 1814 and occurs fittingly on the day after the Exaltation of the Cross. However, since the 17th century in various parts of the world and especially in devotions of several orders, the Seven Sorrows were commemorated on the Friday before Good Friday. It was extended to the whole Church in the early 1700s but in the 20th century it began taking a back seat to the feast in September. Today is that Friday this year, and it is still listed in the "old calendar" of saints.

Go to my post of last September for more about the devotion to the Seven Sorrows and links to the sites dedicated to it. I reproduce here some of that post pertaining to bioethics.

The first principle of ethics is "do good and avoid evil." Bioethics is the subset of ethics that deals with man's life and health, so this principle applies also to bioethics. But it must be applied to what constitutes man's true and highest good (and its opposite) pertaining to health and life.

"What man is" determines "what man ought to do." Secular bioethics is basically atheistic and has a concept of man as merely biological, a sophisticated body with bodily processes. Dislodged from any authority higher than man himself, indeed denying any moral authority higher than the individual who is contemplating what he should and should not do, ethics in general and bioethics in particular degenerates into a free-for-all, an ethical anarchy. Any semblance of respect for law and order comes only from the power of the forces of the law to punish lawbreakers, or from a personal decision that the laws make sense (as opposed to submission to universal principles of justice to which laws ought to conform). This power of law to coerce is not lost on secular "ethicists" as they play to courts and legislative bodies to get their way and force it on all of us, in the name of stopping others from forcing their views on them.

In the end, bioethics has largely become an exercise in finding a plausible rationale to justify what you want to do, to placate or intimidate naysayers into silence. The rationales employed by secular bioethics appear to be largely lip service to existing laws. In the end, secular bioethics can justify anything. It indeed justifies the complete destruction of the human race and its replacement by something that some few human beings deem in their idiosyncratic judgment to be a better life form. It's called posthumanism.

In secular bioethics there can be no agreement as to what constitutes man's highest good, because every individual will have his own idea of it. There can be no consensus except regarding the most general of platitudes, like the elimination of disease and aging (which some believe can be dealt with ultimately only by eliminating the human body altogether... but if man is only his body....) And, individuals find it difficult to separate their own personal highest goods (whatever they individually might decide them to be) from their goals for the human race. In the end, it is about the right of some few to impose their concept of the good and of morality on the whole human race, and to eradicate those who oppose them.

It is more complicated than that. I oversimplify. But that's the gist.

In contrast, an authentic bioethics has to consider an authentic anthropology, which is necessarily theological. Man is God's image. If so, then man's highest good is not determined by consensus or opinion dislodged from universal principles and from God but by the nature of man as image of God. And that highest good is God himself. The first principle of an authentic bioethics, then, is "refine and do not damage the image of God." Authentic bioethics must regard man's physical life and health as ordered to his spiritual life and health. People reveal and form themselves by their choices. They need to choose well, particularly in bioethics, if they are to reveal and form themselves as images of God. Otherwise, they reveal and form themselves in other ways, and field of bioethics will go astray in the ways noted above.

As an image of God, man is constituted as a union of body and soul, and not just a body, and not as a soul that happens to be locked in a body. The second principle of authentic bioethics -- "perfect and do not damage the union of soul and body" -- relates to this fact. Union of the soul and the body constitutes bodily life, the primary concern of bioethics. Separation of the body and soul constitutes death. Sin disrupts the union between the body and soul and is the cause of some degree of separation. Sin is the beginning of death in man. Because of this, sin is a legitimate concern of bioethics.

The devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows pertains to combating sin. It pertains to our individual battle against sin. It pertains to the general battle of God against sin and His gift of mercy and salvation to sinners. It is about our attitude to suffering and death and how these facts of life have spiritual value. 

Note, however, that if suffering and death have spiritual value, this does not justify imposing suffering and death nor in failing to relieve suffering and forestall death to the extent that we can. But we cannot eliminate either completely. To that extent, if we say suffering and death have no value as atheists must conclude, then we must also conclude that life has no meaning and our actions regardless of what those actions may be have no meaning and moral content whatsoever. If on the other hand we believe in God, then life and health, death and suffering, and all of our actions have meaning.

So I am beginning a novena to Our Lady of Sorrows today and ending it on Holy Saturday. On Good Friday begins the Divine Mercy novena. 

And boy does the world need both of these devotions.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"But they all ate organic rice!"

Woody Allen's Sleeper.

Haven't seen it in a LONG time, and if I saw it again now I would probably be shocked I liked it when I saw it last. On the other hand, there are some amazing jokes in it and one or two bits of prophecy. Like this:
Dr. Melik: [T]his morning for breakfast, uh, he requested something called wheat germ, organic honey, and tiger's milk.
Doctor: Oh yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak, or cream pies, or hot fudge?
Doctor: Those were thought to be unhealthy. Precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
(Thanks to Dr. Sanity for pulling the quote a few years back on a related topic.)

OK, we're not quite there with deep fat frying, but depending on the fat you use, it is quite on the way to being rehabilitated. But FoxNews.com has a story on previously forbidden foods that are now considered good for you. Among them are eggs, nuts, chocolate, and potatoes. I am a fan of limiting carbohydrate intake -- not in an Atkins kind of way, but really downplaying carbs in meals. Meat and vegetables. Cheese. Eggs. Less pasta and bread (tough for me to admit, being of Italian descent) and rice (tough on my Asian wife and my kids). The article in question has rehabilitated pasta, but note, it is whole wheat pasta. Whole grains are way better as carb sources than refined grains for many reasons. And for potatoes, the assumption is that you're eating also the skins. And in any case, even if you include these in your diet, there is always the question of how much.

How and what we eat, and how much, are bioethical decisions. Very often, we wish to eat what we want and take a pill to treat the sicknesses we get from our eating. Overeat with the wrong things, too fast, too late at night, but that's ok, take a heartburn drug and feel fine. Eat tons of sweets and don't exercise, gain weight, and take a pill for diabetes, and another for blood pressure, and another for cholesterol.

Now, ok, sometimes these diseases occur also in people who eat right, control their weight, and exercise regularly. And they take medication. I'm not talking about them. And I know first-hand how hard it is to control weight and exercise consistently and to resist the left-over desserts from the big lunch meeting at the office. This isn't about judging anyone. It's about a propensity in our society to expect medication to cure the ills we create for ourselves.

I have been watching the news on what's been happening regarding Obamacare and the Supreme Court, and I have to say, a lot of people are talking about unnecessary drains on our health resources. On the one hand, as Wesley Smith points out, making everyone pay for everyone's health insurance means making healthy people resent those who actually use health resources and who got us into this mess, with lots of finger pointing as to who is a health parasite. On the other hand, our health system is inundated with avoidable diseases and their treatments. As Dr. McCoy will say in a few hundred years, "I can do more for you if you just eat right and exercise regularly."

My own cholesterol was well over 300 a few years back. What did I do? I exercised a lot -- did a lot of walking, used an elliptical machine a few days a week, lifted weights, took up fencing. I also cut WAY back on my carb intake, without restricting proteins and fats. I lost a little weight, mostly intra-abdominal fat (the bad kind). The subcutaneous protective padding to this day obscures my 6-pack abs, however. I also took supplements (fish oil, niacin, and red yeast rice, the latter having similar effects as statin drugs but much milder). My cholesterol went to 205. I slacked off and it went back up a bit, but it's back down again. My blood pressure is fine. My blood sugar is fine.

This is the way to fix our health system: For everyone to not need it as much as possible. Health care begins with people caring for themselves. Our dietary and other lifestyle choices are bioethical issues.

So back to Sleeper. I think the exchange above goes on to talk about how good cigarettes are for your health. That's not likely to pan out. But I think my favorite part was where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are in the cave and find a 1970s VW Beetle fairly well preserved. They climb in and Allen turns the key and it starts right up. "Man, they really built these things," he said. Loved the original Beetle.

Is choice of car a bioethical issue? I dunno. Everything we choose to do reveals us to others and forms us as the kind of person to do that sort of thing. I drive a 13 year old Volvo station wagon. Geesh. I'm getting a Mustang in 2014 if I can afford it. (50th anniversary year for you non-pony fans.)

What's on Obama's Mind

As I said in a post the other day, I wonder what's on Obama's mind by a) requiring all health insurance to cover promiscuity-encouraging products and procedures and b) requiring everyone to have health insurance.

Well, Fr. Z relates his take on an interview done by Fox News' Bill Hemmer. The representative of the left side of the aisle has apparently unmasked the liberal agenda in this regard: Sex is for recreation and the Church is the enemy.

I guess I can stop wondering now.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Stem Cells and Creating Life

Two stories collected from the web by bioethics.com caught my attention today. The first one pertains to stem cell research and the other to genetic engineering.

The stem cell story comes from the Chicago Tribune. Researchers are using a patient's own stem cells to improve heart function in people with heart failure. They have used stem cells derived from the patient's bone marrow and fat tissue and have found that both kinds of cells offer benefit, but the cells from fat tissue work especially well. And no embryos were created or destroyed in the process. Any supporters for embryonic stem cell research reading this? Please post links to therapeutic successes using embryonic cells in the combox. Thanks.

The genetic engineering story comes from the BBC. Researchers are crafting new DNA sequences to modify existing organisms for particular purposes. On the one hand, this only represents an advancement of technique, not intent. The Bible relates the efforts of Jacob to breed sheep with a particular trait. Jacob used breeding to modify the DNA. Modern science simply modifies the DNA itself. I say "simply" in a relative sense, since the process is not really simple at all.

On the other hand, the potential for misuse and mistake is exceedingly high. Many of the organisms are bacteria. A nefarious person could easily create DNA for a highly infections germ that is also resistant to all antibiotics and which the human body cannot fight. Or a germ that transforms organic material into oil and somehow propagates on, say, vegetation and destroys all life as we know it. If you can dream it, you can make it. Such things can be weaponized or made by accident, and they can be unleashed by intent or by accident. It's not limited to bacteria, either. We already see in the news controversy over genetically modified foods and express horror over human and animal hybrids and so forth. And just as breeding techniques, which include preventing undesirable specimens from breeding, can be used to "improve" the human race, so can genetic engineering be used to create some sort of super-human or trans-human being. Think super-strong soldier or super-smart elitist politician.

I am not afraid of breeders doing things to come up with a meatier cow or a beta-carotene-rich form of rice for some reason. I guess because human breeding is left up to individuals. It is really hard to breed a special race of humans. But it would be easy to build one.

The thing about humans, though, is this. The way humans really improve themselves is spiritually, not physically. A new, genetically engineered body with a super-duper brain will still be a person who will be either good or evil, and if evil, that body will be just a bigger impediment than it would be for the rest of us. Harder to control, harder to restrain for the good.

Authentic bioethics has to keep in mind that human beings are spiritual. Whatever choices researchers make, they affect themselves as persons. Not bodily, but in their attitudes and inclinations. Choices reveal and reinforce a person. This happens spiritually. Bioethics is not only about what we do to others, but what we do to ourselves in our choices that affect others. Our ultimate good is God. Take God out of the equation, and there is nothing left to say but that man is god. And not man as a whole, but the individual "I" is god. Anarchy or totalitarianism of the powerful. Chaos or oppression. Only if there be a GOD is there any freedom and order. Bioethics has to include that perspective or it fails to be a system to guide or assess human action.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Some pondering as Obamacare goes to the Supreme Court

a) Obama has mandated that all health insurance policies include free contraception, sterilization, and other anti-reproductive products and procedures

b) Obamacare has mandated that everyone has to own health insurance

So I gotta ask: Does this guy have something on his mind?

Catholics are sometimes criticized for being preoccupied with sex. That's a myth of course. We're preoccupied with the context for having sex. It's gotta be just right. Circumstances do a lot to the ethics of a particular choice. Circumstances can make a good act, like sexual intimacy, to be bad. It's some other group, decidedly not Catholic, that is preoccupied with sex itself, making it a part of the educational system they control right at first grade, endorsing it as the content of TV, movies, internet sites, and so on. If Catholics, who say keep sex in the right context, seem preoccupied with sex, it's only because everyone else keeps shoving it in our face.

Now, the circumstances facing Catholics if the Supreme Court upholds Obamacare is this. It will be impossible for Catholics to offer or purchase health insurance that doesn't include costly coverage of undesired and unethical products and procedures. If you are courageous enough to pay the fine or go to jail over this, God bless you. I'm not so sure it's necessary to do that. Most of us who don't work for the Church already face this dilemma with our secular employers' health plans. It's like buying cable TV. It would be great if the cable company didn't offer objectionable channels and all the channels avoided objectionable content, but are you gonna do without ESPN and EWTN because you don't want MTV, which you can't not get? My family needs coverage. I cannot afford it otherwise. I'll save going to the rack for when they want me to deny my faith.

But that does not mean this is not an important matter. It is. It is a huge violation of the Constitution and a tyrannical governmental intrusion into private affairs. We must resist it vigorously.

Yet, if it's not our sin, then whose sin will this be? It will be on him who wrote the rules of the game.

Poor Obama. Poor, poor Obama. The sins of tens of millions of Catholics on his poor soul.

Do the Math on Contraception

Stacy Trasancos has a great blog called Accepting Abundance. She's a scientist and a homemaker and a convert to the Catholic faith. She has an interesting mathematical analysis about contraception.

If you recall, the Obama Propaganda Machine has said that 98% of Catholic women have used birth control at some point and that therefore Catholic women want free birth control just like everyone else. Of course, that number is just made up. But it is an "over time" number, not a "snap-shot" number. At some point between the ages of, say, 15 and 50, a woman who has ever been Catholic might use artificial birth control at least once. Yeah, that figure might just be up there in the high 90s. But look at it. If a woman was baptized Catholic and never set foot in a Church afterward, she counts. If she was a pagan prostitute her entire adult life and became a Catholic a year before hitting menopause, she counts. If she was engaged and used a condom once with her fiance and married the guy and never used birth control ever again, she counts. How many Catholic women (or men for that matter) are sinners? 100% of course (not counting Our Lady). How many who have any relation to the name Catholic have ever, ever used any kind of birth control ever? Quite possibly a very high number.

But how many active, devout, practicing Catholic women are using birth control right now? (I mean by "right now" not this exact second, but as part of their current way of living their lives.) That is, how many practicing Catholic women are actual, current users of birth control? I think that that number will be way less than 98%. I personally doubt that it is 0%, because none of us are perfect. But it is not 98%.

The difference is the over-time/real-world picture versus a focused, snap-shot picture. Birth control advocates play both sides, depending on how it suits them.

Birth control is usually presented in an idealized, snap-shot view. Birth control pills are claimed to have a success rate at preventing pregnancy also in the high 90s, for instance, 99% of women using the pill perfectly for one year (not counting mistakes, illnesses, other drugs that reduce the pill's effectiveness, etc.) will avoid pregnancy in that year. The question is, how many real women between the ages of 15 and 50, using the pill in real life (that is, imperfectly), will get pregnant over the years they use birth control, despite using birth control at the time of pregnancy?

Stacy does the math. It's a lot like compounding interested on your credit card. Assuming the birth control manufacturer's claim of 8% of real-world women will end up pregnant in one year, more than half will end up pregnant within 10 years. During 20 years of using the pill, and some women use it that long, 81% of women will have had at least 1 pregnancy they were trying to avoid. In those 20 years, 81% of sexually active women using birth control become potential customers of abortion providers at least once. The basic failure rate is even higher for teenagers.

There's also a lively discussion going on in her combox. (Lucky lady. My wife says that God reads my blog. He hasn't commented yet, though.) Some interesting objections, some good responses. There are a lot of assumptions with the model. A particular woman's likelihood of getting pregnant will be higher or lower depending on just how active she is, since the pill has to fail to prevent ovulation at the same time as she is, umm, active.

The one thing I want to focus on in terms of ethics (because there are very many) is why an outfit like Planned Parenthood would want to offer birth control if they make WAY more money off of abortions. They are banking on that birth control failure rate. They believe that a woman who comes to them for birth control will probably be back in a few years for an abortion.

Recently, the state of Texas has been criticized for de-funding PP through Medicaid, with the charge that poor women are ending up without birth control. That is, PP is turning poor women away because PP doesn't make any money off of them. Because of course PP is all about caring for poor women and making sure they get their birth control. It's a business ordered to a profit, and they would prefer to turn a poor woman away (expecting her to somehow afford an abortion when she needs one) than to offer her services out of charity.

So why doesn't PP just stop offering birth control altogether? They are afraid that if a woman cannot get birth control, she'll do something drastic, like not have sex at all, except with a man who loves her and who will stand by her and raise their child with her. Birth control (and abortion, by the way) does that. It makes it easier for more women who do not want to get pregnant to have sex, making the pregnancies that do occur all the more unwanted because they are seen as a bad outcome of sex.

The more people engage in sex not wanting a pregnancy, the more unwanted pregnancies that will occur. You do the math. PP has.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Incarnation and Bioethics

The Feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the Incarnation. God took to himself not only a human body, but a complete human nature. It's worth thinking about from a bioethical standpoint.
Bioethics as a field is primarily concerned with man's body, which is to say, that bioethics is not concerned primarily with man's soul. There are as many opinions as to the nature and dignity of man and his body and whether or not the soul is a real thing as there are bioethicists it seems. Depending on which opinion one holds, what is deemed ethical or not ethical can vary greatly. Even if the ethical reasoning were good and precise, the conclusions could be wildly wrong if the underlying opinion about man and his body are flawed. An authentic bioethics has to get to the root of the question, What is man? Not just which idea of man do I like best, nor which one best justifies what I want to do, but what is man, what is he really? It is a humbling question to ask because it requires humility to accept the possibility that one's treasured idea could be wrong.
I start with the premise that God exists, that God created man by intent, and that man of all bodily creatures shares in a preeminent way in some of God's highest attributes in a way that far surpasses all other known biological life. God is not bodily Himself, for if the divine nature were bodily, it would not be divine. Therefore, God's highest attributes are spiritual, meaning that man's highest attributes are also spiritual, although unlike God man's spiritual powers are dependent upon the body. I am talking about the power to think, to know, to reason, to imagine, to intend, to plan. It follows that man's ultimate destiny and his greatest good is God Himself, and that man's greatest welfare is spiritual and not bodily.
(Those who take the opposite view of God of course end up in a different place regarding man's greatest good. Man's greatest good for them can only be bodily. But they also undermine the authority of their conclusions, whether they believe so or not, because in denying God they deny any objective concept of good and evil, right and wrong, that compels assent by other reasonable people. If there is no God, there is no compelling basis for any ethical system. No matter what they say, one could always say, "So what?")
Man's greatest good may be spiritual, but man lives his earthly life in his body. Man's nature is to be bodily. We say that death occurs when the body and the spirit are separated; life for man therefore is the perfection of the union of body and soul.
Authentic bioethics must consider man as a whole, as a union of body and soul. Moreover, it must consider man's greatest good as being his union with God. What man does with his body reflects on the welfare of his soul. Authentic bioethics, in considering the right and wrong of human bodily life and health, needs to keep in mind man's authentic good, that bodily life is ordered to spiritual life. Since the Incarnation is the perfect union of man and God and the perfect union of human soul and human body, it reveals much to us about human nature and therefore authentic bioethics.
First of all, the Incarnation reveals how the human body has such dignity that it can be God. Now, we must be careful when we say that a bodily thing can "be" God. For one thing, properly speaking, what is united to God in the Incarnation is not merely a body, but a complete human nature consisting of body and soul. For another, only the body of Jesus Christ can "be" God in this way, since no other human body belongs to God in the same way as that of Jesus. The Incarnation shows, however, that the human body is in some sense able to be united to God through grace (that is, not by human power, an important point to keep in mind). Every human being that comes into existence from conception to death is capable of spiritual union with God. Every living human body manifests this capability and makes it visible. Every human being is thus also a sign of the Incarnation. 
Two important implications for bioethics can be mentioned in relation to this exalted dignity of the human body. One is that man’s general attitude toward the body has bearing on his general attitude toward God. We must treat human bodies with awe, including our own, and do nothing to any human body that impedes our or another person's capacity for union with God. If the body in general is abortable, manipulatable, a thing to be created at will, experimented upon, used, and finally killed when it becomes useless to others, then so would be Christ’s body. In a way, all disordered or inauthentic bioethical positions are a repudiation and disparagement of the Incarnation.
The second implication is that the body is not really the impediment that man thinks it is. So much in the area of trans- and post-humanism pertains to physical enhancements through drugs, surgery, genetic engineering, and so on. But physical enhancements are necessary only if the body is seen as a limiting factor for  happiness. Man's body and soul will be perfected in the resurrection in which the body will be physically perfected and subjected to the soul united to God by grace. Furthermore, participation in the divine nature (as in 2 Peter 1:4) entails participation of the whole human person in infinite life, power, and knowledge. Therefore, the ultimate goals--except for one--of trans- and post-humanism are superabundantly achieved not through technology but through holiness. The one goal that is not achieved is re-creating man in the image of man rather than of God.
            Holiness, however, is not easy and in the short term seems actually a failure. Holiness requires that man at least discipline they body and cultivate a life of grace. Man must at least discipline the body and strengthen the soul by not giving in to the body’s cravings and passions except insofar as they conform to reason (cf. I Cor 9:23-27). But it may also result in the ultimate sacrifice, the death of the body, a death that leads to greater life. Dying per se may not have any intrinsic value, not even dying by violent death, unless one pours out one’s life in sacrificial love. Such sacrificial love may be a single, fatal act, but even prior to that final act, it comprises a life-long commitment to serving God in which one’s whole life and not merely one’s death becomes an act sacrificial love. Man’s supreme vocation is to love, which Christ came to make clear. In sacrificial love, man is perfected as an image of God—man is not only the image of God insofar as God is Life, but also insofar as God is Love, love that is life-giving. Sacrificial love gives life to another. Man therefore perfects himself as the image of Life through imitation of Christ.
            Once again, disordered or inauthentic bioethical positions seem to focus on the self, what “I” want, rather than on self-discovery and self-fulfillment through self-gift and self-sacrifice, and therefore are anti-Incarnation and all that the Incarnation reveals to man. Death and suffering lose their significance in terms of self-gift, becoming things to be avoided. Suffering in particular is feared more than death and the value of death becomes merely its power to end suffering. Yet the suffering incurred in the imitation of Christ is the way to life. St. Paul tells us that we are “always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake; that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4:10-11).
            The life of Jesus was made manifest first by Jesus himself, of course, who stands as our model of holiness and its effects on the body. Prior to his death, Jesus' body was perfectly subordinate to his soul, but "perfectly" is used in a qualified and not absolute sense. His body was subject to weariness, hunger, and injury, but its cravings and passions were never disordered from reason and never overcame reason. This is what it means that Jesus was "one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin" (Heb 4:15). He gives us an example that human bodily life can be lived virtuously. In the Resurrection, Jesus' body and soul were united in absolute perfection, endowing the body with properties such as immortality and  ttained true life in the resurrection, with effects such that the body’s subordination to the soul enable it to defy its earthly material limitations. Many disordered positions in bioethics circumvent the ordering of the body to the soul and seek to dominate the body; instead of the integration of the human person, they seek to reveal and reinforce the rift between body and soul.
            Lastly, every human body is created by God for eternal life such as that enjoyed by Christ in the body: God wills that all be saved. Therefore, every human body from the moment it comes into existence until natural death must be fostered and nourished for eternal life. No human body is a legitimate object of exploitation.
            It is important to note, also, that bioethical decisions affect not only someone else, such as abortion or euthanasia involve taking someone else's life. These decisions also affect the one making the decision, and the one carrying it out. All of our acts reveal us as people who do those acts, and they reinforce or habituate us to similar sorts of actions in the future. Our actions also influence others. It's not only about "me," but about us all.
            On this feast of the Annunciation, let us keep in mind that our bodies are not strictly our own. They belong to God.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Give me liberty or give me...

On this day in 1775, Patrick Henry gave his famous speech in which he said, "Give me liberty, or give me death." I thought with the 150 or so protests for religious liberty that it might be fitting to post the text of Henry's speech. Here it is. One of my favorite lines: "Mr. President, it is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope."

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope that it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen, if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve.
This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty towards the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings. 
Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation?
For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth -- to know the worst and to provide for it. I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House?
Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation -- the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motives for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies?
No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer on the subject? Nothing.
We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer.
Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament.
Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope.
If we wish to be free -- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending -- if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!
They tell us, sir, that we are weak -- unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?
Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of the means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.
The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable -- and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come!It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, "Peace! Peace!" -- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Genocide is on its way

This post might seem a bit disjointed, but so be it. I've been brooding about the coming dark days in bioethics, indeed, they are upon us already. And it's not just about people believing that words create rather than reflect reality, although that is a significant part of it.

Genocide. It is leading to genocide.

In the words-create-reality department, people are are defining "person" however they wish, and are exceedingly bold in asserting that it is perfectly permissible to kill non-persons. Non-persons do not have rights. Non-persons have no capacity to assess value or experience pain or pleasure. Non-persons' value to the rest of us is determined by others. If there is no value to the non-person, the non-person can be killed.  Right now, persons are defined in terms of cognitive ability. Unborn and recently born babies, and persons -- ahem, I mean human individuals -- in a persistent coma, for instance, are non-persons. And we can kill them if we want to. Well, laws against that sort of thing might persist, but it's not unethical (in this view).

This was all outlined in a recent article under the term "after-birth abortion." Termination of a pregnancy, after the pregnancy is over by giving birth. Talk about denial of reality.

But note: It's about two things: The right to define person as one wishes. And the right to kill those defined to be non-persons. If yesterday a person was any living individual of the species Human, and today we say a person is an individual of the species human having the capacity to think, then it is only a matter of time before people like me are defined as not being able to think.

Meanwhile, the influential Muslim religious leaders in Saudi Arabia are advocating the destruction of Christian churches. The desecration and destruction of churches. You see, in that mentality, if you do not belong to their religion, you are not thinking clearly. You therefore do not have rights. You are a non-person.

I have wondered why the media are reluctant to publish stories on the slaughter of Christians at the hands of Muslims in Africa. They give some lip service to the plight of Egyptian Christians, but not the details. Why does the denial of a building permit for a mosque near Ground Zero in NYC cause an uproar, and the genocide of Christians in sub-Sarahan Africa get nothing?

Call me cynical, but I believe the media and the people behind the media are jealous. The media can only use ridicule and spin to eliminate Christians, especially Catholics, and have to look with green-eyed envy on those who just go out and bomb churches with families inside worshipping God.

I am telling you: It is only a matter of time before Christianity is considered a mental disease, one indicating the loss of person-defining mental faculties. OK, we're quite a ways from that, I admit. But we are without a doubt heading in that direction. Just fill out the table below, and notice just who is pro-killing and who isn't.

Mainstream Media


Pro-assisted suicide

Pro-embryonic stem cell research


Pro-moral relativism

Pro-enemies of Christianity

So, you can't tell me that godless people preoccupied with having the right to kill others to better society are kindly souls looking out for the little guy.

Nobody who has a godless preoccupation with the right to kill others is a kindly soul. They might be nice to the people they like, just as Sister What's-her-name of the (so-called) Catholic Health Association is well-liked by the media. Because she's a "good" Catholic, the kind that rolls over when asked, barfs up the party line on cue, and undermines Catholic doctrine reflexively. Everyone else is a just a few words away from being redefined as a non-person. And what do we know about non-persons? That's right children! It's OK to kill non-persons!

Genocide is on its way. Can't happen here? We'll see.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Dark days are coming

Man, I can't tell you how disheartening I find things these days. 

First of all, people really seem to think that words create realities. That is to say, if we assert something, we define things the way they really are. So if we make it illegal for insurance companies not to cover unethical products and procedures, we can "say" that people who buy that insurance are not buying coverage for those products and procedures. And honestly believe it to be true, that people are not buying that kind of coverage when in fact they are. If we define "marriage" to include same-sex pairs, then marriage itself includes them, even though the life-long commitment of one man to one woman with the prospect of raising a family who are the biological or adopted children of both of them, which is not the same any any same-sex relationship no matter how committed, etc.

And people who think like that grow up to become president.

At SecondhandSmoke, Wesley Smith has a post about human exceptionalism. I made the mistake of omitting the word "other" as in "other animals," to distinguish humans from animals. I said, "When animals can write novels about empathizing with humans and philosophizing about rights, then I think we can deny human exceptionalism." And people got on my case over there with comments like, "Animals CAN do the same, last I checked human beings are animals. You should have learned this in 5th grade." It's stupidity like that, that could make me doubt human exceptionality. Except for the fact that only humans can be THAT exceptionally... well... stupid.

And then there's moral relativism. There was a post last month at KevinMD about abortion, written by a student of medical ethics who was all gung-ho for moral relativism as if he had just discovered the first antibiotics. My first comment there was about the moral relativism itself, not about abortion. I mean, people really do believe that "It's wrong to force your morality on others." But in preventing people from forcing their morality on others, you force your morality on them. The principle is violated in enforcing it. Therefore, it's self-contradictory and therefore a false principle of ethics. Yet, people say it, and in saying it think that it becomes a reality.

Bioethics is fast becoming an exercise in crafting plausible rationales. That is to say, SPIN. It is becoming a matter of controlling the dialog, of speaking the loudest, of repeating your view until people believe it, and of shutting up the opposition.

And the forces of darkness are very active. And very powerful, at least in terms of politics.

Authentic Bioethics, however, remains committed to an authentic anthropology and the rule of Charity as the form of all ethical reasoning.

I hang in there because I know how it all ends. It's getting through the darkness that's hard.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Playing with Fire

Seven-year-old kids lighting fires in church. Under the watchful gaze of parents, but sometimes all on their own. 

No, this isn't arson. It's piety.

I'm talking, of course, about votive candles. I especially love to watch children light the candles, although I do believe I see the kid inside of the adults come out when they light candles, too. Imagine it: What would get kids into big trouble at home, they are encouraged to do at church, so it's a moment of great joy for them.

They grab the wooden stick and hold it into the flame of one of the lit candles. They hold it there not just long enough to get the stick lit, but good and long, to get it good and lit. Their eyes light up almost as much as the stick. 

Then they pick a candle to light and make sure it's good and lit too. Then they pull away the stick and watch the flame slowly crawl up its length. Not real long, but long enough to stoke their fascination with fire, and as long as they can get away with before they get scolded for fooling around.

Now comes the part with style: The extinguishing of the stick.

Some blow it out, risking of course putting out some of the candles in the process. The risk is all the greater for those who intentionally blow gingerly, to make the fire dance a bit before it goes out.

Others simply put the stick into the tray of sand and ashes. These are typically adults, inhibited as we are from externalizing what goes on inside our heads.

But the boys, they externalize. And what exactly goes on inside their heads? Some thrust the flaming stick into the sand like they were skewering an Orc. Others torture the flame (or the Orc for all I know), using several smaller thrusts until it goes out.

And then they turn, kneel at the rail, and offer a prayer. Perhaps part of their mind is saying a Hail Mary. And the other part is planning the next Orc-skewering.

I don't like my kids to handle fire, but this is one exception, and they know it. They save their quarters and dollars, and if they don't have any money, they ask me for some, just so they can play with fire at church. And if I have small bills or quarters, I give it to them. At first I would go with them to make sure they didn't fool around (too much). But now I just watch from the pew.

Playing with fire without getting hurt is part of growing up. Risking pain for piety is also a good lesson to learn.

But there is more to learn than that from a real flame. Every time I watch one of my kids or anyone else light a real candle at church, I am reminded of the cheesiness of the electric votive candles. Seriously: Playing with fire, or pushing a button to make fake fire. What lessons are learned in each case?

I hate electric votive lights, of course. They are just plain stupid. I used to think they were ok, and and that they were probably installed because of insurance issues involving open fires inside a public building. Now I am convinced they were installed to diminish piety. To all you pastors out there with electric votive candles: I am NEVER going to pay MONEY to you for the privilege of turning on a cheesy LED light. Sorry. Our God and our Saints don't need the light, and I can pray without using excess electricity. For FREE. Those who don't light candles don't care. And those who do are discouraged by the artificiality and cheesiness of it. It makes the devotion itself cheesy, and makes us not want to do it. I truly believe that this is the intended effect of replacing real votive candles with electric ones, so that they can get rid of them altogether. ("We modernized with electric candles. And practically no one lit any. Since no one is interested in votive candles anymore, we put the rack into the basement." Get it? People are interested in votive candles. Switch to electric. People lose interest because they're cheesy. Claim the lack of interest is in votive candles.)

But a real candle, now that's worth a buck. Even a little tea light will burn for a couple of hours anyway, and the flame is real. The flame first of all symbolizes many things, such as the Holy Spirit, and the light of Christ. It reminds us of the (hopefully real) candles on the altar, the Easter candle, and the candles used at the vigil Masses of Christmas and Easter. And the latter Mass includes the blessing of fire. Most people at home light candles only on special occasions, such as birthdays and festive, formal dinners. Whoever heard of electric birthday candles? An electric light, by virtue of its light and not what it is, may symbolize the light of Christ, but we are so inundated with electric lights that the associations are more toward commerce and garishness than they are toward piety.

A real flame also interacts with the air around it, the natural flow of air caused by Divine providence in the organization of the world, and the gusts caused by passersby. Human and divine activity cause the flickering of the flame of other people's prayers. We're all involved. Electric lights flicker artificially and technologically on their own without any reference or reaction to the world around them. It is fake flickering, an initiation of involvement and interaction.

A real flame generates both light and heat. Along with a little smoke. As with incense, the heat and smoke of the candle rise up, symbolizing our prayers. LED lights especially generate little heat, and so nothing symbolizes our prayers except the artificial light.

We light our votive candles from those already lit. Our individual prayers pick up where the prayers of others leave off, and others light their candles from ours.  Our prayers are united in a single shared flame. Electric lights are wholly individual in this regard, too. "My" button turns on "my" light.

Candles consume real matter--they are burnt offerings. Moreover, ideally, they are made of minimally artificial components, namely, natural wax and cotton wick, elements that God provides through HIs providence. Electric lights consume electricity. Perhaps somewhere, miles and miles away at the power plant, some bit of uranium or coal (also provided by God) is being consumed to generate the electricity that electric lights use. But it is not "my" uranium. When a person puts money in the slot to buy a candle, that candle is his. The wax and the wick belong to him. He could, in theory, take it home. But instead he burns it up, serving no practical purpose of light or heat, but as an offering to God, a sacrifice. I suppose one could say there is a kind of sacrifice to light an electric light, but the light itself is not a sacrificial offering, it is merely light. It costs a buck, a person might as well put an extra dollar into the collection. Or not.

Finally, there is no fun in electric lights. We constantly flip switches to turn lights on and off. There is no danger and no room for imagination. There is no responsibility to be careful, no possibility of error. Perhaps electric lights limit the possibility of mischief, too, since kids if left unattended could wreak havoc at a rack full of votive candles. But the problem in that case is not the candles, its the discipline that those kids need. While I would scold any kids misusing votive candles, I would not for the world deprive them of the opportunity to get into trouble because doing so deprives us of the reality of a votive flame lifting our prayer to God.

Does any of this have anything to do with bioethics? I suppose there are lessons to be learned, but I don't want to stretch things too far. Suffice it to say that we are easily seduced by technology. We often do things because we can, and not because they are the best or most right things to do. Technology simply is not always the answer when it comes to the most important things in life. We seem to enjoy substituting reality with artificiality, the natural with the man-made.

And when we try to do things our way, we also play with fire. I'm not talking about little candles though. Think brimstone.