Monday, January 19, 2015

Ashley Bridges: true maternal love and the ultimate sacrifice for her unborn child

This post is about the inspiring tragedy of a mother who chooses to die so her baby can live - and who makes that choice long before the baby is ever born. It is a tragedy because it is hard, real death. It is inspiring because it is a witness to the infinite value of even one unborn human life.

If she were Catholic, we would surely call her a saint. But Ashley Bridges doesn't appear to have adhered to a religious faith. At 24 years old, she was cohabiting with her boyfriend and already had a young son.

Then she became pregnant, and 10 weeks into the pregnancy she was told by doctors that she had aggressive bone cancer in her knee. Surgery was planned and she was told to start chemo immediately.

At that point, her unborn baby was barely over an inch long but already growing tiny fingernails. Doctors told Ashley that her baby would likely not survive the chemo treatments. And here is what Ashley says about that:
"They told me what would likely happen to Paisley, that you know, she most likely wouldn't make it and I just knew. It wasn't a choice to me. It was like this is what needs to be done. She's first. I'm not going to kill a healthy baby because I'm sick. There's nothing wrong with her. Her life is just as important as mine if not more important. I mean as a mother my job is to protect my kids." 
Wow. Just wow. Not just hats off. A 21-gun salute.

This young woman is a true hero. 

She carried out her resolve. She had no chemo. She gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby girl. Then she had a full-body scan which revealed that the cancer had spread throughout her body, even into her brain. She cried, but she kept going.

She is still going, hoping each month to make it to the next. She has been given months to live.

Saints are made of this

Ashley's choice is as morally good as it gets. And yet, even if she were Catholic, the Catholic faith would not have morally required Ashley to die in this way. She could have chosen chemotherapy while hoping that her baby would defy the odds and survive.

This is called the Principle of Double Effect, and it leads Catholics to the following conclusion:
...a pregnant woman who is faced with the grim reality of impending death short of the use of, e.g., chemotherapy or hysterectomy, may use these and other morally licit medical treatments an procedures for the reasonably grave reason of saving her life, as long as the death of her unborn child is not directly intended as the end (or purpose) of using these procedures, or is the means by which her life is saved, but only allowed or permitted to happen as an accidental by-product of these medical actions, and no other reasonable medical treatment is available. 
So women are not required to die to save the life of their unborn babies. But making that choice is what saints are made of.

Saints like St. Gianna Molla, a Catholic who made the same decision as Ashley.

How much a baby's life is worth

Ashley's choice is a testimony to the true worth and dignity of an unborn baby's life.

Juxtapose that with the reality that many young women today have abortions for many far less deadly reasons. In fact, of the 1.24 million abortions in America each year, the majority take place between 8-10 weeks of pregnancy.

May Ashley's decision inspire many other young women to do the right thing.

10 weeks gestation.

10-week gestation photo: andrew k via photopin cc

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pope Francis is wrong on free speech

Pope Francis has staked out his position in the free speech debate, so let's take a closer look.

Charlie Hebdo as the bully, terrorists as the victims of human nature?

Just like Bill Donohue and Bernard Toutounji, whom I wrote about earlier, the Pope argues that if you offend someone's religion then you are asking for a violent reaction. In other words, Charlie Hebdo had it coming to them. He says
“If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
...And so many people who speak badly about other religions, or religions [in general], they make fun of, let’s say toy with [make into toys] other people’s religions, these people provoke and there can occur what would happen to Dr. Gasbarri if he said something against my mother. 
(Here is the full transcript of the Pope's remarks at the bottom of this post).
The implication here is that Charlie Hebdo was an insulting bully who taunted the terrorists, and they fought back in the most natural way that is to be expected. Not that it's good to punch anyone, mind you - the Pope doesn't go so far as to condone the resulting violence, but his stance can be summed up as: Charlie Hebdo, what did you expect? It's only "normal" that you got a punch in the nose.

Does this give legitimacy to the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo? Hard to see it any other way. The Vatican issued a damage control statement in the wake of the Pope's interview, clarifying that the Pope "in no way intended to be interpreted as justification for the violence and terror that took place in Paris last week." Obviously not. However, the Pope's statement still comes across as speaking from both sides of his mouth - condemning the violence on the one hand, but also excusing it on the other.

Moreover, is it really "normal" to hit someone who insults you? And should we tolerate this kind of reaction and build our free speech laws around it? One Muslim blogger put it this way: "I am appalled that Pope Francis would justify hitting someone in response to an insult. Words, after all, should only be met with words – or by simply ignoring the remark". 

Even if some people have the natural tendency to get fired up and punch back in response to an offensive remark, such a Neanderthal response should hardly be tolerated, encouraged or even made to seem somehow appropriate by pushing for tougher limits on free speech. Isn't the role of religion in particular is to raise people to a higher standard? What happened to "turn the other cheek"?

Where should we draw the line for free speech?

The Pope appears to support at least self-censorship if not outright legal limits to freedom of speech. What's more, in the quotes above, he would draw the line where one "provokes", "insults" or "makes fun" of any religious faith. He also put it this way:
[T]here is a limit. Every religion has dignity; every religion that respects life, human life, the human person. And I cannot make fun of it. This is a limit and I have taken this sense of limit to say that in freedom of expression there are limits, like that in regard to my mother.
This is what the Pope is really saying: lay off religions and show us some respect. It's a message that makes sense, especially from the head of a major world religion. But just how much would it really restrict free speech?

Consider that satire is a classic form of political speech that has been around since ancient times. Here are some online definitions:
"The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues." (google) and;
A way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc. (1) : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn (2) trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly (Meirriam-Webster)
The one thing that satire does NOT do: satire does not show respect. Quite on the contrary, satire is in the business of stripping respect off any targeted area and showing that the emperor has no clothes.

Obviously, those who are targeted often don't take well to that. In 1599, the Archbishop of Canterbury even issued a decree banning the publication of satire, and ordered the burning of satirical works.

But political satire is an important part of free speech. It can definitely lead to anger, offence and misunderstanding. but at its best, it can hold up a high-definition mirror to our faces and show us the warts that we don't want to see.

Is there a case to be made that satire which includes a religious figure or which focuses on the main beliefs of a religious faith should be treated differently, and should perhaps be banned or tightly regulated? Some have made that case, and various countries have different approaches to dealing with this topic. But in countries where satire is so tightly regulated, I believe political speech is impoverished and the public exchange of ideas loses out.

What's more, there is the small matter of: if we are to legislate rules, then who will decide what is offensive? And why should religions get special protection when atheists hold certain beliefs just as close to their hearts? Many people have replaced religions with their own "secular sacred" core beliefs, such as abortion, feminism, homosexual rights, etc. Perhaps these beliefs too, then, should be exempt from the heat of satire or other "offensive" speech.

"I claim my right not to be offended!!!!!!!"

Looking around at our current social climate, it seems that the right NOT to be offended is on its way to becoming a constitutional right in many countries. After all, for the atheist liberal culture that has washed over the Western world, tolerance is the pinnacle of all virtue, and tolerance seems like the antithesis of offending someone by pointing out the errors of their ways. To make matters worse, many people are very easily "offended" by just about anything.

However, the usual suspects in the societal fight to root out offensive speech are (drumroll)... conservatives and Christians. Here in Canada that is particularly obvious. At this very time, Trinity Western University is fighting for the life of its law school, because lawyers across Canada have decided that they will not allow among their ranks those who don't support same-sex marriage. The new sensibility among the legal elite appears to be that saying "marriage is between a man and a woman" is equivalent to hate speech against the gay community. Christians are now the new racists.

Prolife Christians are also the ones standing around abortion facilities, disturbing the mental peace of abortion providers and procurers with uncomfortable truths, whether spoken or graphic. While our speech is not satirical, it is nonetheless highly "offensive" to those whom we target.

On many fronts, Christians are well acquainted with fighting for our right to speak out. We are dealing with increasing efforts to muzzle us. In fact, how often do we get a chance to stand against free speech? Suddenly, here comes our chance: Charlie Hebdo has mocked Christianity. How will we react?

If we react just like the liberal atheists do, then they are right and deserve to win.

Here we are, we have been offended. If we immediately start to clamor for shutting down the speech of those who "offend" us, then we are just like them. Then it's all just about power, isn't it? When they are in power, they muzzle us, and when we are in power, we will muzzle them. If it's not about truth and freedom to present ideas regardless of whom they offend, then it's really just a plain old political power struggle.

If we are just like them, then we are just sore losers. It's hypocritical to cry "free speech rights" when we are on the losing end, then "right not to be offended" when we are on the winning end.

Let freedom reign
Free speech.

Freedom of speech is not the enemy of religion. In fact, satire won't do much beyond "offending" its target unless there is some truth to the ideas that it is putting across. So the best response to satire is just to ignore it and to prove it wrong.

On the other hand, shutting down speech to preserve status and respect in the eyes of others will backfire. Look at Saudi Arabia to see how far that can go.

Freedom is perhaps the most important condition for humanity. We cannot genuinely find our way to God unless we are truly free to think and choose our own path in life. Why weren't we made as automatons who couldn't sin? Because forced goodness is not a real goodness.

When we impose restraints and limits on people's behaviour, we need to tread very carefully. There are many laws these days, rules in every direction. Sometimes there is a genuine need for these constraints. But speech is an area so vital to the freedom of the human spirit that it deserves very particular protection.

If I err, I would rather err on the side of freedom.

Let the bells of freedom ring.

Photos: top photo: colemama via photopin cc; bottom photo: Oldmaison via photopin cc

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Charlie Hebdo and the limits of free speech

I keep coming across people who seem to believe that Charlie Hebdo overstepped the proper limits of free speech. The trouble seems to be that aside from insulting Muslims by portraying Muhammad, Charlie was also publishing highly offensive cartoons which targeted Catholics.

A common opinion among Catholics thus appears to be that such insulting cartoons should not be legal, or at least, that Charlie Hebdo should have been self-censoring and not producing them. Some Catholic commentators have even gone so far as to suggest that Charlie Hebdo provoked the terrorist attack and that these journalists are in some way responsible for their own deaths.

Here in Canada, such reactions are to be expected. After all, Canadians have already become accustomed to living under the oppression of hate speech laws and arbitrary leftist Human Rights Commissions, We don't expect to have free speech anymore. As Neil MacDonald discusses it on the CBC:
My guess is that an English-language version of Charlie Hebdo wouldn't last even a few days in Canada before concerned Muslim or Christian or Jewish citizens would be demanding charges be laid under Canada's hate-speech laws, or dragging the magazine before one of our provincial human rights commissions that specialize in rooting out offensive expression.
Were Charlie Hebdo's cartoons "hate speech"?

For good or ill, many Western countries today have hate speech laws. That includes France. As described in one article, the French law is that "insulting people based on their religion is a crime punishable by a fine of €22,500 and six months in jail. In addition to religion, that law covers insults based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or disability."

So why wasn't Charlie silenced under the French hate speech laws? Well, it wasn't for lack of trying. An Islamic Mosque already sued Charlie Hebdo under these laws, but the magazine won the case in 2007. The judge concluded that some of the cartoons in question were targeted only at violent Muslims, while another cartoon, albeit shocking and potentially insulting to all Muslims, was newsworthy because it furthered the public debate.

Frankly, I have to agree with the court decision there. Op-ed cartoons are classic free speech. They are aimed at stirring up public debate. They may be shocking and provocative, but their main purpose is satire to make a greater political point.

While Muslims are forbidden to portray Muhammad or even to write his name, Charlie Hebdo is not a Muslim publication, and cannot possibly be expected to be bound by the rules of Islam, whether this particular rule or any others. Muhammad may be sacred to Muslims, but the rest of the world is still free to comment on him and on the Muslim religion, and to criticize as they see fit.

But what about the cartoons that so disgracefully offend Catholics? They were never tested in court, to be sure. However, chances are that they too would be cleared as free speech. As offensive as they are to members of the Catholic religion, these cartoons are very arguably at the 'racy' or 'extreme' edge of permissible political speech. They are still intended as satire, to stir up public debate and to make a greater political point (albeit in a distasteful way).

Should hate speech laws be more strict, to muzzle Charlie Hebdo? 

I've heard people say that Charlie Hebdo only got away with their cartoons because France is a racist country. I've heard people say that their cartoons weren't even speech. To such people I pose this question: would you outlaw these cartoons in your own country?

It's easy to support free speech when we agree with what is being said. It's harder to support free speech when we oppose the message. And it can be extremely difficult to support free speech when we feel insulted and offended by the speech in question, because it is attacking or mocking something that we hold close to our hearts.

It's understandable that many Catholics have turned their backs on Charlie Hebdo. But before we start calling for stricter hate speech laws, we need to consider the full consequences of what we are asking for. As I discussed in my previous post, the most likely targets of stricter hate speech laws would be Catholics and Evangelical Christians, not Charlie Hebdo and similar publications.

Hate speech laws are controversial because the right "not to be offended" is a very dangerous right. Feeling offended is in the eye of the beholder, and one person's definition of hate speech is another person's definition of free speech. The result is that the values of the predominant culture define the terms - atheist liberalism determines what is too "offensive" and qualifies as hate speech. This is not good news for Catholics, whose views on homosexual behaviour are increasingly perceived as akin to racism.

Should Charlie have censored themselves?

Should Charlie have voluntarily toned down their cartoons? Should they have held back from portraying Mohammad? Should they have stopped themselves from putting out offensive cartoons against Catholics?

As a starting point, I agree with Michael Cook's analysis on MercatorNet, where he writes:
It may be a democratic right to be offensive, but so is respecting your daughter’s right to marry a convicted rapist or her right to live as an anorexic. Is it really the high point of Enlightenment values to defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish cartoons of the Pope sodomising his priests? Surely democracy means more than this.
My Catholic gut screams out: of course Charlie should NOT have printed such offensive cartoons! However, I have to pause myself there. How much of my reaction has to do with the fact that I am Catholic?

Moving on to Islam, the fact is that I support Charlie Hebdo in publishing cartoons of Muhammad. I do believe that these cartoons had political value as speech, despite the fact that they were offensive to Muslims. Just look at their latest cartoon (post-massacre), with Muhammad holding the sign "Je suis Charlie" under the sign "all is forgiven". CLASSIC free speech, excellent biting satire. Irrespective of how offensive this is to Muslims, this cartoon speaks volumes - the old adage applies, a picture is worth 1000 words. Yes, they should be publishing this!

So back to offensive cartoons of the Pope and nuns. To be consistent with my views above regarding Islam, maybe I do need to admit that Charlie Hebdo didn't need to censor themselves with regard to Catholics either. If they really believed that their cartoons were making some leftist political or satirical point, they had a right to print them, irrespective of the sensibilities of Catholics. Just maybe I have to admit that my own religion can be mocked too, even to the point where the cartoons get me very angry.

For those who disagree with the cartoons, rather than calling for self-censorship or outright censorship, perhaps the best response is just to ignore them. The ol' cold shoulder still works just fine. Starve them out by not supporting them financially. This was already happening, really. Not many people supported Charlie Hebdo in France: they had a base of 60,000 subscribers in a country of 66 million. They were virtually unknown and invisible.

Today, thanks to the terrorist massacre, Charlie has been catapulted to the world stage. Their latest issue looks to have a print run of 3 million copies, to be distributed worldwide. Charlie is no longer just a wacky fringe magazine - it has become a global movement. So much for destroying Charlie, you terrorists.

Will I be publishing the cartoons?

Somehow I feel like I should address this, given my pro-Charlie stance. Kudos to Kate of Small Dead Animals for apparently being the only Canadian website to publish the latest Charlie Hebdo cartoon.

As for myself, I will not be publishing it, because I declare myself to be a chicken - you never know what some crazy people will do, and I don't walk around with a security force. So yes, I am picking my battles, and while I support Charlie's right to publish their stuff, this is not high enough on my list to follow suit.

In that connection, I stand convicted by Mark Steyn, who has pointed out that the "I am Charlie" slogan is devoid of meaning since many publications uttering it were too afraid to print the cartoons. How, then, were they really Charlie? Touche. I guess that while I wish to express solidarity with the victims, I am not willing to die at the moment. I have to recognize that the Charlie journalists were far more courageous in that sense. 

Photo: Drriss & Marrionn via photopin cc

The lesson of Frozen: there is no right and no wrong

I've heard lots of good things about Disney's Frozen from a number of friends, including Catholic ones whose children love the movie and the Frozen songs. So I finally brought it out again for the children to watch. (We had gotten it as a gift last year and we did try to watch it earlier, but they didn't seem interested at the time).

The first time the children watched it, my husband and I didn't sit through it with them. They loved it. Our two girls started singing the songs around the house, dressing up and pretending to be the two sisters, Elsa and Anna. My husband and I thought it was so cute. Looks like a great movie, right?

Then, at my daughter's request, I found Elsa's song "Let It Go" on youtube. I didn't realize it at the time, but this is the main anthem of the movie. Due to the incredible popularity of this Oscar-nominated song, Disney has since produced a version in 25 languages.  My red flags went up when I heard Elsa sing the following:

...the fears that once controlled me
Can't get to me at all
It's time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong,
no rules for me,
I'm free!

So the main character is now free of any concern for what is right and what is wrong? Interesting. She has become liberated by letting her 'true self' break through the repression that had been forced upon her by society and by her own parents since childhood. Here is the song on youtube (the full lyrics are here):

The main theme of Frozen

Many of the words of this song were concerning, so I thought I had better find out more about the actual plot of Frozen. I decided to watch it myself.  So, here is the main plotline in a nutshell.

Elsa and Anna are sisters. Anna is completely ordinary, but Elsa is 'different.' At a young age, Elsa discovers that she has a special power: when she touches things, they turn to ice. What's more, her feelings are the trigger for her power: the more feelings she experiences, the more her ice power 'acts up' and freezes things.

Elsa believes this power is fundamental to her 'true self', and at first she delights in it. But after she accidentally ""zaps" Anna and makes her unconscious, she comes to fear her power and starts thinking of herself as some kind of a monster. Her parents seem to share these fears.  While they know that Elsa was born that way, they teach her to hide her power: she should keep it secret, wear gloves at all times. etc. They want her to conform to the norm, as a way of protecting others from harm.

Repressed Elsa does not have the chance to learn to control her powers. Instead, she lives in fear of herself. Here is how Elsa reflects on this early life in her power balad:

Don't let them in,
don't let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don't feel,
don't let them know

Later, through a series of events, Elsa ends up accidentally "outing" her power in a public way, which leads to exactly what she feared: she is called a monster. She runs away into the mountains, where she doesn't have to worry about hurting anyone. There, she finally unleashes her power. She sings "Let It Go" as she throws ice strands in all directions and builds a fantastic ice castle. She finally feels liberated. She puts it this way:
Couldn't keep it in;
Heaven knows I've tried
...Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don't care
what they're going to say
...And the fears that once controlled me
Can't get to me at all
...That perfect girl is gone 
Elsa's fears of being seen as a monster only last for a little while. Anna goes searching for her, and when she finally makes it to the ice castle, she is full of love and tolerance, singing:
Please don't shut me out again.
Please don't slam the door.
You don't have to keep your distance anymore
'Cause for the first time in forever,
I finally understand.
For the first time in forever,
We can fix this hand in hand.
We can head down this mountain together!
You don't have to live in fear...
Cause for the first time in forever
I will be right here.
However, Elsa doesn't agree to come down the mountain and go back home. She is still worried that going back would mean a return to her life of repression and self-denial. In a song entitled "Life's Too Short", which was cut from the movie but is included on the deluxe edition of the soundtrack, Elsa explains more:
Elsa: Well this is who I am, welcome to the real me
You have no idea how great it feels to be free
...Anna: We've been falling out for way too long, so let’s forget who’s right
Elsa: And forget who’s wrong
Both: Okay!
...Anna: I just assumed that you'd have to...
Elsa: That I'd shove on the gloves, that’s how your story ends!
Anna: It does! It's just like it was, except for we’ll be best friends
Elsa: So that’s been your plan ? To force me back in a cage!
A bunch of action scenes follow where Elsa and Anna fight off the villain and his crew. Anna performs an act of true love towards Elsa and thus saves her life, and this teaches Elsa that true love is the key to controlling ice power. Harmony and happiness are restored as the sisters start a new existence as best friends, with Elsa embracing her true nature as ice queen, no longer afraid of herself but confident in her own identity and in control of her powers.

The main lesson: liberate yourself from right and wrong

Having watched the movie, what jumped out at me was the incredible similarity between Elsa's story and the dominant narrative of the LGBTQ struggle: born that way, repression by self and others for fear of being seen as deviant, then a courageous "coming out" and finally, acceptance and celebration by others. 

In fact, allusions to homosexuality are central to this movie, and you don't have to dig deep to see them. Others have already discussed this topic in some detail and I agree with their observations. One thing in particular is interesting: while Anna has longings to meet the "one" and get married, Elsa doesn't seem at all interested in men. The guy who courted Anna in fact admits that he would have preferred Elsa but “no one was getting anywhere with her.”

There also appears to be a gay family in the movie, as blogger Steven Greydanus pointed out:
It turns out that giant man in “Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Sauna” is probably gay. When he throws in the sauna package for Kristoff, he turns to say “Hello, family!” and BAM! there they are.
The adult in the sauna is clearly implied to be his husband. Best yet, Oaken and his partner have a family — and it’s not even a thing. In the few minutes that he’s on screen, Disney manages to make a compelling character of Oaken…
Given all the above, I find it very hard to NOT see an agenda in this movie. To me, it is clearly intended to normalize LGBTQ, and it is teaching the following things to children:
  1. Gay feelings might start at a young age, like Elsa's ice power; 
  2. Gay people are born that way, and they cannot change. Being gay is a fundamental part of one's true nature; 
  3. You should not repress your feelings or try to conform to society, because that will only result in anxiety, depression and unhappiness (like it did for Elsa);
  4. They key to happiness is to follow your feelings and act out your inclinations or desires, regardless of any concern for the consequences, especially moral ones.
In sum, the idea of right and wrong is tossed aside, and what triumphs is the pure narcissism of following one's 'true' feelings at any cost and any price, along with a tolerance and acceptance of others who act on their own feelings in that manner.

While this movie seems mainly focused on LGBTQ themes, the dominant lesson could really apply to many other situations in our society. After all, people who put their own feelings and desires above all else are also often headed into affairs, divorces, and whatever else is often done in the name of being "true to oneself" - often these behaviours involve using other people as objects.

Surprising? Not really. These creeds have become the dominant philosophy of the society that we live in. It's not a shock that they should find their way into a movie, even a movie for small children.

What are we teaching our children about Frozen?

Through the attractive, shiny and engaging Frozen, the misguided culture that we live in is already reaching for our children through enculturation. It is presenting the values of a morally relativist and secular society as the greatest good.

Our girls are now singing: "No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I'm free!" While they may not consciously think about it, those words are conveying a subtle lesson: that moral rules 'repress' people in a negative sense, and liberation from moral constraints is a positive way of obtaining true freedom.

My husband and I don't want to make a big deal out of prohibiting Frozen to our children, and we don't regret letting them watch it. Disney movies are a major part of the shared cultural experience of children, and I don't want them to feel somehow deprived or too sheltered, unable to engage in normal conversations.

But it's good to be aware, so we can discuss these themes and the lyrics of the songs. This is going to be more and more necessary as they get older, but it has to start today given the lyrics that they love. 

Happily, when we talked to Hannah about Let It Go and brought up the part where it says that there is no right and no wrong, Hannah responded: "It doesn't make sense! There is a right and a wrong. So that is confusing."

Wisdom from the mouth of a 5-year-old.

Top photo: JeepersMedia via photopin cc

Sunday, January 11, 2015

This Catholic is Charlie too

It is an embarrassment to Catholicism and badly misguided PR when the largest Catholic civil rights organization in the United States reacts to the Paris terrorist attack with a press release that focuses on why Charlie Hebdo deserved it. Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, responded to the mass murder with a press release entitled "Muslims are right to be angry."

Donohue says in part: "what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction." He continued:
Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him.
Sadly, Donohue's own anger against Charlie Hebdo only comes across as giving legitimacy to the terrorist act. Here is how The Independent presented Donohue's reaction:
An American group that claims to represent the interests of US Catholics has criticised the French magazine where 12 people were killed yesterday, arguing that the victims “provoked” their own slaughter.
Thanks Mr. Donohue, for creating the public perception that Catholics are taking sides with the terrorists. And Donohue is not the only one. Respected Australian Catholic writer Bernard Toutounji also focuses on why  "those workers at Charlie Hebdo were not innocent heroes." He blames them for provoking the terrorists:
...if a school child repeatedly taunts another child with insult after insult, eventually it can be expected that the child bearing those insults will snap and retaliate; it doesn’t make the retaliation right, but who is truly to blame? For many people, an insult to faith is far greater than an insulting remark about their own mother. 
Shamefully, Toutounji ends up coming across as excusing the violence. Consider that he concludes by laying the ultimate responsibility for the carnage squarely on the shoulders of Charlie Hebdo: "Yes, it was the gunmen who fired the physical weapons, and there is no excuse for murder; but in the strangest and saddest twist of fate, it was the pens of the journalists that really took the lives of the twelve people in Paris."

Rabbi Bulka nails it

Charlie Hebdo was no friend of Christians. Their cartoons have shown masturbating nuns and popes wearing condoms, among other things. Easy to see why Catholics have their own axe to grind with Charlie Hebdo. 

But in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack, the only response that makes sense is one of solidarity with the victims and a clear show of resistance to the terrorist bully. When we skew the discussion to criticizing Charlie Hebdo and advocating for the self-censorship of journalists and cartoonists, we are letting the terrorists win.

Those guys with machine guns were hoping for exactly the kind of public reaction shown by Donohue and Toutounji. They wanted us to condemn Charlie Hebdo, they wanted us to pressure journalists to lay off Islam. Ottawa's Rabbi Reuven Bulka said it well in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen:
“'there’s nothing more wrong' than the murders that took place in response to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, which is why any discussion about censorship should not take place in the wake of the attack.
“I’m really not comfortable at all with the suggestion,” he said. “What becomes dangerous here is that by doing so — and by doing so immediately — it’s almost as if we’re acknowledging there was some legitimacy to their action.
Bulka is right, and most people got that point. That's why many newspapers around the world reprinted the cartoons, and the universal call has become "I am Charlie."

In the face of bullies like the Muslim terrorists, we need to lay aside our ideological differences and stand united to take away the power of the bully.

Freedom of speech is for our enemies too

And another thing. It's easy to have tunnel vision regarding freedom of speech, and to end up supporting freedom only for the speech of those with whom we agree. In this connection I am reminded again of Martin Niemöller's famous poem:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
Here's the problem. If we cheer for censorship of our enemies, our own speech lies on the chopping block next. When it comes to liberty, we must all stand together regardless of viewpoints and beliefs, because divided we will all fall. The only winner will be the party in power, because only their speech will remain in the end.

In Western Countries today, conservative Christian views are far less popular than the leftist slant of Charlie Hebdo. The ruling class of liberal atheist intellectuals will chuckle at Charlie, but they won't find much to smile about regarding the Catholic stance against condoms in Africa or the Church's views of homosexual activity as 'gravely disordered'. So if state censorship starts aiming its restrictions at anyone at all, in the end it won't be Charlie Hebdo. It will be us.

Think about that, Mr. Donohue and Mr. Toutounji.

Photo: the_apex_archive via photopin cc

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Catholics need to be thumped with a Bible

I have a proposal. Hear me out.
(or scroll down to read it immediately)

Consider this: an important new report by the Austin Institute just revealed that only 58% of self-described "traditional" Catholics attend Mass every Sunday. We already knew that lots of Catholics skipped church on Sundays, but did you know that this included 42% of the most devout group of Catholics? "Traditional" Catholics are those most likely to know and follow the Church's teachings, such as the one about Sunday Mass attendance being mandatory. Among other Catholics, such as self-described liberal Catholics, weekly attendance sits at 21%.

Now let's get the full bad news. It's time to look at self-described "traditional Catholics" in more detail:
Now, let's check out what is happening among Evangelicals:
The conclusion: Evangelicals are spiritually healthier in almost every way when compared to traditional church-going Catholics. Why is that? 

Proposal: 'Evangelical' Catholic Mass

Yesterday I tuned in to our local Christian radio station, 99.1 CHRI, and a preacher came on the air. The first thing he said was: "Open your Bible and turn to..." . He proceeded to give a sermon about a part of Philippians, and occasionally referenced other parts of the Bible, expecting his flock to flip through their Bibles and read alongside him. Nothing unusual here: seeing Protestants flip through their Bibles during sermons is common, as those who watch Christian television have surely noticed. 

But then it hit me: this is a big part of the Catholic weakness. Our institution has made things SO easy and smooth for us that we have become comatose. We never have to crack open a Bible at Mass (or anywhere else). It is all done for us, without any work or involvement required on our part. In fact, Bibles have been eliminated from Catholic churches - instead we have the Sunday Missal, which only contains random scraps of the Bible.

Yes, the Missal is made up of wisely selected excerpts organized into a 4-year cycle. While it is nicely planned out, so that if a parishioner reads the Missal each Sunday for four years straight, he/she will get exposed to a significant portion of the Bible, it doesn't quite work out that way in practice. The actual result is more like this: many church-going Catholics never hold a Bible in their hands, much less open one and read it on a regular basis. They also never pick up the Missal, as I know from many Sundays of observation.

What would happen if Catholic priests got more demanding? Imagine for a moment that your priest tells you one Sunday that he is trying something new. Imagine that he asks his parishioners to bring their own personal Bibles to Mass. Imagine coming to Mass the next Sunday and seeing many people around you pull out (brand new) copies of various Bibles. The rustling of hundreds of Bible pages turning as the priest asks people to turn to a specific section. What, they are actually going to pay attention to the homily? They are actually going to do work?

There are big advantages to the Bible over the Sunday Missal. One of the main ones is that over time, people will become intimately familiar with the founding document of our faith. The fact is, the Bible has proven its power of evangelization for two thousand years. It is a more effective tool of evangelization than the words of any priest. We need to put those Bibles back into our people's hands, and let them experience first-hand the power of that incredible Holy Book.   

What's more, the Sunday Missal is a hodge-podge. When they read directly in the Bible, people can check out what happened before and after every reading. They learn its place in the big picture. They can gain a more complete understanding of our faith.

Bottom Line

Given the present state of our Church, most Catholics will not inform and form themselves unless they are forced to. They won't lift a finger in their free time. They won't do anything on their own. Sadly, I don't expect most Catholics to take advantage of great programs like the Symbolon program that is being offered at St. Leonard's, one of our local parishes, because it has to be done at home or in special evening sessions.

We only get ONE chance: Mass. That is the only place where most Catholics can be trapped into being catechised. And the only part of the Mass where this will happen is the homily. Those few precious minutes are all we get, once a week. They need to be used to the max.

Oh and on that note, here is a sub-proposal: lengthen that 10-15-minute homily and make it 20-30 minutes. Come on, this is your only chance to preach it and bring those stray sheep back to the fold! They can wait a bit longer before they dash to their pre-heated cars and rush off to get their Sunday shopping done. If the Protestants and Orthodox can hang out for most of their morning at their churches, then why can't we? Let's stop being a drive-through church.

Stick a Bible into the hands of the flock. 
Make them open it. 
Take your time.
Speak like Bl. Fulton Sheen. 
See things change.

Photo: stʲuːwɐt (non-rhotic) via photopin cc

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Christmas Greeting

"And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."
1 John 5:11

May you have a blessed Christmas
filled with the joy of a newborn Prince of Peace.


Animated gifs courtesy of and