Archive for June, 2012

Standing in the Cornerstone Corner, 6/21/12: “For Greater Glory”

June 22, 2012

An occasional review of news and views from The Cornerstone Forum.

ImageGil Bailey has accolades for the new film, “For Greater Glory,” starring Andy Garcia. The film is based on the true story of Mexico’s Cristero War (1926-29), which pitted Catholics against a newly-elected government headed by President Plutarco Calles. In response to Calles’ often brutal enforcement of anticlerical provisions in the 1917 constitution, the Church hierarchy suspended all religious services. Bereft of the sacraments on which they depended for salvation, lay Catholics throughout Mexico rose up in arms against the federales. As the conflict worsened, churches were burned, nuns were harassed, priests were murdered, and peasants were publicly hanged.

“A moving and powerful film,” Bailie writes.

The release of the film—and Bailie’s recommendation—were well timed for the beginning of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ “Fortnight For Freedom” conference, which ends July 4. The bishops have called for “prayer and public witness for religious freedom,” which they believe is under attack by the Obama administration on account of the contraception coverage mandate in his Affordable Care Act. Get it? Obama = President Calles, and U.S. Catholics = Mexican Catholics of a century ago. Watching this film could really get your ire up, and the bishops are waiting at the phone banks for your call.

Film dramas based on historical events have an unfortunate tendency to, well, dramatize those events. Audiences like stories with heroes and villains—the more Manichean, the better—and most producers are more than willing to deliver, even if that means ignoring historical context or neglecting the grey shades on their palette.

Daniel Ramirez, writing for Religion Dispatches, (“Religious Freedom Gets Hollywood Treatment,” 6/17/12) is not nearly as impressed with the film as Gil Bailie. He points out that the conflict underlying the Cristeros War was rooted in long-standing tensions between the Church and the State. Since the mid-19th century, Mexican liberals (including many liberal priests) had tried to untether the two in order to break the Church’s monopolies and secure for Mexico church-state separation like that of their neighbor to the North.

The problem from the separationists’ point of view was that the Church had over-weening power in matters of birth, marriage, and death, and it used state power to enforce its tithing requirements. It also held vast properties from which it derived considerable economic clout.

The 1857 Constitution and Reforma laws restricted the Church’s power and established religious pluralism in Mexico for the first time, but the matter was far from settled from the Church’s point of view. The hierarchy fought the liberals tooth-and-nail for decades, during which the country was repeatedly torn apart by violent struggles over religious freedom—on the one hand, the Church’s presumed “freedom” to dominate and monopolize religious life in Mexico, and on the other, the freedom of Catholics and non-Catholics alike to live outside the Church’s sphere of control. (The vast majority of the separationists were in fact Catholic.)

In his review, Daniel Ramirez finds fault with the film for revealing so little about the historical context and instead focusing only on the outrages committed by one faction at a particular stage of the conflict. This imposes a heavy burden on history-challenged audiences (even Mexicans, as it happens), especially when the film’s producer (Pablo Jose Barroso) has publicly stated that his sympathies are with the Church. Were he to offer up a historical drama based on the French Revolution, I think we can expect that the violent anti-clericalism of that period would be depicted without reference to France’s centuries-long struggles for religious freedom, going back at least to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) and the Edict of Nantes (1598).

“For Greater Glory” has not been well-received by American film critics. Roger Ebert writes, “…it is well-made, yes, but has such pro-Catholic tunnel vision I began to question its view of events.” Stephen Holden of The New York Times has compared it to Christian mega-hits of the 1950’s such as The Robe. Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times has called it a “stodgy, repetitive, and overblown slog.”

Where Sister Gramick Stands on the Contraception Coverage Issue

June 21, 2012

Sister Jeannine Gramick

A Catholic nun says the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have embarked on a concerted effort to deprive women of religious freedom in Catholic workplaces and to penalize them financially for using contraceptive services. Watch Sister Jeannine Gramick’s statement here.

Maybe There’s Hope After All

June 21, 2012

Chicago Christians show up at a gay pride parade to apologize for homophobia in the church:

A reaction from one of the marchers:

Joseph Backholm’s Greatest Fear

June 17, 2012

Joseph Backholm of Preserve Marriage Washington

Like many other GLBTs who follow the debates on same-sex marriage (SSM), I’ve often suspected that the professional marriage traditionalists are not leveling with us about what really drives their concerns. Nor do they necessarily understand their deeper motivations. We know that anti-SSM organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC) and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) constantly hone their messages and field-test their talking points. It’s for their opponents to guess which of these talking points are still in testing stage, how vulnerable they may be, and how firm a grip the spokespersons have on them.

In February of this year, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill approving same-sex marriage. Earlier this month, opponents of the bill submitted enough petition signatures to challenge the legislature’s decision by public referendum on the November ballot. The referendum’s sponsor is Preserve Marriage Washington (PMW), headed by Joseph Backholm.

In a June 6 live-chat organized by the Seattle Times, Backholm made a curious claim about the “true” motivations of the marriage equality movement. But in so doing, he revealed one of the deepest concerns of his own movement. Here are his words:

Ultimately this movement is not about marriage. Does anyone really think [GLBT] lobbying efforts will shut down if same-sex marriage becomes law in Washington? I think the goal of the movement is to eradicate from the public sector any notion of the idea that there is a difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality. That is why, whether they go to a photographer, an adoption agency, a courthouse, a doctor’s office, or a counselor’s office, they want to make sure they will never encounter someone who feels free to express their belief that there is a difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality. If that is the goal, it can only be accomplished with a significant reduction in freedom for a huge percentage of the population. [italics mine]

Backholm would have us believe the marriage equality movement is part of a sinister stealth strategy aimed at eradicating the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality—a difference that he believes to be so important that he alludes to it twice in this short statement, using almost the identical words each time. The GLBT movement, in his view, hopes to enlist state power in an effort to suppress all recognition of that difference. Woo-woo!


Anyone who has studied anthropology or social psychology knows that fears of indifferentiation run deep in human societies: social order is based on difference, and any blurring of distinctions—e.g., between male and female, sacred and profane, mother and lover, god and mortal—threatens that order and will almost surely produce minotaurs and cause violators to pluck out their eyes. (See image.) Taboos exist to preserve difference and hierarchical structure, and we moderns are as much in thrall to them as were our early ancestors.

What we need to understand about taboos is that some are conducive to survival—e.g., the taboo against careless handling of blood and feces—while others are purely contingent—e.g., the Mosaic prohibition against eating shellfish. But not everyone does understand this, and Backholm is playing to our ignorance and our fears. If effective use of highly emotive words were our only measure of merit in this debate, then Backholm should be congratulated for homing in on that single word, “difference.” But it is not. Truth claims are still important to some of us and should be carefully scrutinized.

His statement goes off into the weeds on three tangents:

First tangent: The implicit “stealth” claim. There’s nothing stealthy about the GLBT rights movement. Its goals have been fully articulated by legislative leaders (e.g., Senator Ed Murray, D-WA), public intellectuals (e.g., Michelangelo Signorile, Andrew Sullivan), and professional rights advocates (e.g., Evan Wolfson). Put simply, our goals are full equality under the law and an end to state-sanctioned discrimination. Marriage equality represents a giant step toward these goals.

Second tangent: The claim regarding state suppression of ideas, or “notions.” No one holds that traditionalist views about homosexuality or marriage must be suppressed by law. That would be not just undesirable, but impossible. Our hope is to garner popular support for legislation and judicial decisions that will put an end to discrimination. Our goal is to change not only laws but also hearts and minds. That said, many or most of us believe that our constitutional right to equal protection under the law should never be put to a popular vote. In a constitutional democracy such as ours, majorities may not vote to deprive minorities of their rights.

Third tangent: The “reductions in freedom” claim. Backholm’s dire warning to his supporters that they will ultimately lose their freedoms if GLBT activists accomplish their goals is only partly true. No one can deprive Americans of their freedom to believe or profess whatever they like, but our courts have repeatedly placed limits on religious practices for over 150 years. For example, federal and state statutes prohibiting gender or racial discrimination do not typically exempt discriminatory practices motivated by religious belief, except in core religious institutions (churches, synagogues, etc.). Thus, the Catholic church may refuse to ordain women as priests, but a private hospital may not refuse to treat African-Americans, even if it owned by a religious denomination that holds segregation to be part of God’s plan (as Mormons and Southern Baptists once did). So yes, we would like legal protection from discrimination, and this means that some people will lose their “freedom” to discriminate.

So that’s the part of Backholm’s “warning” that is true. What is not true about it is the presumption that GLBTs are united against the “notion” of difference in sexual orientation. This is just frothy nonsense, and he knows it. If he insists on making this preposterous claim, he should be required to offer evidence.

No one wants to “eradicate all differences.” What we would like to see eradicated are differences in treatment and opportunity. This is what true equality means: not that we are identical to one another in every respect, but that each one of us has equal access to opportunities and a fair chance to succeed. Backholm is both bright and well-educated, and there can be little doubt that he is aware of this critical distinction.

Backholm is deliberately vague about this word “difference” and dares not unpack his own rhetoric because it comes so dangerously close to the truth. The talk about loss of freedom to express beliefs about “difference” is code that many in Backholm’s movement are capable of deciphering. The ones who cannot decipher it will take it at face value, which is also fine for Backholm’s purposes. How much of all this he actually understands at a conscious level is anyone’s guess.

So what is the real fear?

It is the same fear that Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage has expressed so often in the latest phase of her propaganda efforts.

It is the fear of the huge shift that is happening in public opinion about homosexuality. That is no small thing to fear, and we must never underestimate its power to motivate resistance to change. Growing acceptance of gays and lesbians has been steadily destabilizing moral discourse around two issues that are always in some sense front-and-center in our psyches and our social interactions: sexuality and gender. What used to be wrong is now right, what was shameful is now a source of pride, and what used to be unspeakable is now considered respectable. As old taboos lose their potency, new ones surface to replace them: anti-gay rhetoric is now more often associated with religious bigotry than with righteousness or respectability, and our movement’s anti-discrimination victories—patchy and uncertain as they are—have radically unsettled the cultural assumptions of millions of Americans.

It’s not pleasant to tell a joke, only to be told it is in poor taste.

It is not pleasant to rant about gays and lesbians, only to realize everyone thinks you are a fool.

It is not pleasant to quote Bible verses condemning homosexuality, only to be reminded that others in your company don’t really give a damn what the Bible says.

It is not pleasant to realize that your nephews and nieces consider your anti-gay views a sign that you are now old and out-of-touch.

It is not pleasant to be stigmatized.

The Civil Rights era was an exceptionally stressful time for many white Americans. The old taboos were being replaced by new ones—their opposites. Where mixing of the races was once taboo, now segregating them was taboo. The familiar polarities of insider/outsider, hateful/good, and right/wrong were reversed in a relatively short period of time, and a whole generation of racists were morally marginalized.

Marginalization looks to be Joseph Backholm’s greatest fear.

 What can Backholm and his supporters do to stay in the mainstream? Here’s one idea.

The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom

June 15, 2012

Peter Singer

by Peter Singer / Project Syndicate, June 11, 2012


The Obama administration’s requirement to provide health insurance that covers contraception does not prevent Catholics from practicing their religion. Catholicism does not oblige its adherents to run hospitals and universities. (The government already exempts parishes and dioceses, thereby drawing a distinction between institutions that are central to the freedom to practice one’s religion and those that are peripheral to it.)

Of course, the Catholic Church would be understandably reluctant to give up its extensive networks of hospitals and universities. My guess is that, before doing so, they would come to see the provision of health-insurance coverage for contraception as compatible with their religious teachings. But, if the Church made the opposite decision, and handed over its hospitals and universities to bodies that were willing to provide the coverage, Catholics would still be free to worship and follow their religion’s teachings.

Read the entire article here.

The Cornerstone Forum Once Again Refuses to be Confused by Facts, Alternative Opinions, Data, Evidence, Documentation, Reliable Information, or Scientific Studies.

June 13, 2012
“I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of my gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night.”  — Sir George Sitwell, English Eccentric

Since its inception, Gil Bailie’s Facebook page for The Cornerstone Forum has sought to interpret and respond to contemporary culture “from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to the social teachings of the Church.” This is because Bailie sees Catholic faith and practice as increasingly caught “in the crossfire,” as he puts it. And he is a faithful son of the church.

Benedict XVI and Gil Bailie

But Bailie’s use of the “crossfire” metaphor is a mite disingenuous. It implicitly casts the Church in the role of an innocent bystander or a disinterested third party—despite all indications that it is not and has never been either of these. Just in recent months, Catholic institutions have sued the U.S. government over the HHS contraceptive coverage mandate, thrown their full weight behind anti-same-sex-marriage initiatives, chastised nuns for focusing on poverty and hunger rather than abortion and homosexuality, bullied the girl scouts over including a 7-year-old transgendered girl, excommunicated doctors and nuns for saving lives, and joined Republican efforts to restrict women’s access to abortions at the state level. Over the years, Church institutions have lied about contraceptives to poor Africans, obstructed patient access to accurate information and services in secular hospitals, and purged scholars who attempted to build bridges to other faiths. (For details on several of these points, see “8 Ugly Sins of the Catholic Church,” by Valerie Tarico on Alternet.)

There can no longer be any doubt either that the Church has a horse in the race or, in the case of Gil Bailie’s unfortunate metaphor, that the king has no clothes: the Church is not “caught in the crossfire.” It is firing mortars at its enemies.

Bailie’s attempt to propagate an essentially hermetic and authoritarian ideology via the Internet was a tricky proposition from the start. The Internet is by design an open, expansive, inclusive, and anti-authoritarian medium—a “real” forum, unlike the “gated” one Bailie would like to cordon off within it. People come and go, expressing all kinds of opinions willy-nilly, in a real marketplace of ideas. It’s like a Turkish souk alive with chatter and dissension. You can buy anything there, but you’ll have to negotiate—sometimes loudly.

So, The Cornerstone Forum has indeed had visitors from all kinds of people from all parts of the world—England, Austria, China, Italy, and Australia, to name a few—and, surprise!—not all of them have expressed views that perfectly match Bailie’s own. Some of their voices have been more strident than his. Some of them have been highly articulate and even argumentative, as if they had no idea of the gravitas of The Cornerstone Forum’s founder or the unassailability of his views.

Flat earth orbited by sun and moon

A large part of the disputation at The Cornerstone Forum has concerned issues of truth. The thread I have reproduced below is typical: Bailie informs his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall, and then he seems genuinely offended that they don’t buy it. (Well, actually, some do.) At that point, facts and logical arguments are offered—always by readers, virtually never by Bailie—and he ignores or dismisses them with smug little retorts like, “We’ll see.” A few weeks later, he puts up another post informing his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall.

This has been the pattern during the many years that I have visited The Cornerstone Forum’s pages, where we’ve learned that climate change is a hoax, homosexuality is gravely disordered, same-sex marriage will cause civilizational collapse, religious freedom is under attack, the Obama presidency is precipitating totalitarianism, the Muslims are taking over Europe, and secularism is to blame for everything that is wrong with the world.

About a month ago, Bailie reacted to the growing chorus of dissent by issuing a warning similar to the one you will find in the thread below. When it was not heeded, he issued a second one and expelled one of the most insightful and articulate of his critics, George Dunn. All traces of Dunn immediately disappeared, and dozens of threads no longer made sense without his voice. If you’ve ever seen photos of Stalin’s politburo with purged officials airbrushed out, you’ll get the picture.

Today, Bailie issued a third warning. This time, the one expelled was I. Here is the conversation:

Gil Bailie:

I am currently researching the worldwide demographic decline and its enormous consequences. The evidence for the decline is overwhelming, but so are the studies that trace it and the data confirming the researchers’ conclusions. I cannot claim to have a complete grasp of the problem, but I have arrived at a preliminary hypothesis:

Whereas some animals don’t breed when in captivity, humans apparently don’t breed when in metaphysical despondency, regardless of how unacknowledged and embedded in material prosperity that despondency might be.

Doughlas Remy:

There is no “worldwide demographic decline.” However, there are declining birth rates in certain countries, such as Japan and some countries of Europe. The world’s population, now slightly over 7 billion, is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. That’s really rapid growth, so rest assured there’s no lack of breeding going on.

I’m not sure how you measure “metaphysical despondency” or whether there is in fact such a thing. But surely people in certain high-growth societies (e.g., in parts of Africa and East Asia) have much more reason to experience metaphysical despair than Europeans and Japanese, and it is not slowing them down.

Birth rates in Europe and Japan are falling because women are now better educated and have more options. And yes, low birth rates can pose social challenges, but so can high ones, as we discussed earlier. See my article about this on The Bent Angle.

Darrick Northington:

This seems like an impossible argument to make. I echo Doughlas, given that every human belongs to some demographic and earth’s human population is in fact growing rather than declining, the claim that we’re experiencing some kind of “global demographic decline” is false.

Gil Bailie:

We’ll see.

Doughlas Remy:

@Darrick: I’m surprised The Cornerstone Forum is again making this bizarre claim after the earlier discussion we had, where so many facts were laid out. And these facts are incontrovertible. Population growth, fertility rates, and youth/elder bubbles can all be measured. We’re talking hard data here.

It’s like one of those strange experiences where somebody points up to the blue sky and tells you it is green. You say, “No, it is blue, and my spectrograph will back me up on that.” And they say, “No, to me it’s green. And what’s a spectrograph?”

Patrick Daoust: 

The Economist recently published a book called Megachange, the world in 2050. I’m currently reading the chapter on demography. Mr Remy’s numbers fit with data in the book.

This said, we must ask ourselves why so much of Europe has such a low fertility rate – I think it’s about 1.3 in Spain and Italy. This is quite a problem for policy makers to deal with. My intuition is that in modern western societies the freedoms normally associated with men are seen as more desirable. A lot of feminist movements fight for equal rights with regards to salary, women in high profile jobs, etc. As a whole, our society seems to have stripped away all pride in motherhood.

Darrick Northington:

‎@ Patrick, it sounds like you think mothers have to be second-class citizens. In my opinion, motherhood and fatherhood are both consistent w/ equality, and any definition that necessarily subordinates one to the other is wrong. To suggest that our society doesn’t take pride is wrong, too. I think this kind of talk has more to do with white male dominance than motherhood…the kind of thinking that says a woman’s place is in the home, in the kitchen, and a man’s place is king.

By the way, birthrates in Spain have increased every year for the last 12 years.

Doughlas Remy:

@Patrick. In connection with your final sentence, about society stripping away all pride in motherhood, here is an interesting opinion from Gail Collins of the NYT:

If you look back on what’s happened to women over the last half-century – how the world has opened up for them to have adventures, pursue careers, make choices about the kind of lives they want to live – it all goes back to effective contraception. Before the birth control pill came along, a woman who wanted to pursue a life that involved a lot of education, or a long climb up a career ladder, pretty much had to be willing to devote herself to perpetual celibacy. That’s what contraception means to women.

Iron Woman. Photoshop rendering by Dean Hansen

So, maybe other life paths are simply more attractive to women. Motherhood, after all, is damned hard work, it’s unpaid and under-appreciated, and raising a child is more expensive than ever. Yearly tuition at state universities in Washington State, where I live, is now over $12,000.

In the face of all these obstacles, we have in this country a political party that wants to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids. These cuts are part of a larger proposal to cut social services block grants to the tune of $17 billion over ten years. These grants support Meals on Wheels, child welfare, and day care for children. State legislatures are also unable to raise revenues in the face of anti-tax initiatives.

Child-bearing may also about to become riskier to women if hospitals are allowed to let a woman die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.

Because of the work that I do, I’ve had countless more-or-less unstructured conversations with Japanese mid-career professionals over the years, and we always talk about Japan’s birth dearth. They say raising a child is just too expensive. They value quality education and would feel shamed if they couldn’t give their children access to one.

I think there are ways women can be incentivized to have children, but governments like our own seem intent on disincentivizing them. Banning contraception is not, of course, an option, and it shouldn’t be. Women’s need for choice in these matters is paramount. The demographic problems will take care of themselves as we begin to think creatively about them.

Gil Bailie:

Let me try once again to explain why this Facebook page exists. It exists to offer encouragement to those who share its point of view. It does not exist to argue with those who don’t.

This is not a bulletin board or campus kiosk. It is a Cornerstone Forum page, and its purpose is that of the Forum, namely: to encourage and, with God’s grace, occasionally to inspire, those who share our vision and concern. The Forum and this Page exist to give an account of the contemporary cultural and moral crisis from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to Magisterium and the social teachings of the Church, and to do so, when appropriate, by drawing on the extraordinary anthropological insights of René Girard and the theological riches of Benedict XVI, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and others. It is also our purpose here to bring these perspectives to bear on the sundry cultural and moral issues we now face, paying special attention to what we regard as the gravest moral and civil rights issue of our age – abortion – and the gravest anthropological blunder – the evisceration of the meaning of marriage and the demise of the traditional family.

“Censer,” by Dean Hansen

We are not surprised to find that many do not share these concerns, and we offer our best wishes to those who don’t, but we will no longer allow this Facebook page to become an outlet for points of view that are wearily familiar to us, the refutation of which would be as tedious an exercise for us as it would be entirely unconvincing to our naysayers.

To those more sympathetic to our efforts, we are grateful for your interest, and we will continue to try to be as useful and encouraging as possible. If we occasionally point to certain unhappy developments in our cultural life, it will only be for the purpose of encouraging resistance to them for the sake of our children’s children.

Doughlas Remy:

Gil, I think your only option may be to “de-friend” those who do not share your point of view, as you did to George Dunn about a month ago. The Cornerstone Forum will no longer be an open forum, but at least you will have an echo chamber where you can get validation from your supporters and carry out your mission of channeling the church’s (and dare I say, the GOP’s) talking points on issues of the day. I hope you will be fair with your visitors, however: Let them know up front that they will be de-friended if their opinions diverge too much from your own.

As I said in an article on my own blogsite, it’s obvious you don’t value the time and thought that your readers devote to responding to your posts. That is a shame, and it is why I hope to provide a truly open forum on The Bent Angle for some of the issues that you raise. As you will notice, I have already begun to port some of the discussions over there, for fear they will suddenly disappear from TCF. So far, the idea hasn’t caught on with your visitors, and it may not, but I’ll continue the mirroring effort, as I think it is important.

I continue to maintain that truth is important and that none of us has a lock on it, or exclusive rights to it. We reach the truth through dialog.

The Left’s Problem of Ethical Insecurity

June 12, 2012

by Tony Judt, excerpted from his book, Thinking the Twentieth Century (The Penguin Press, 2012)

Michelle Armas: The Truth About Lies

Today it takes a very considerable degree of ethical self-confidence to say, as people used to as recently as the Watergate era, that such-and-such a person is a bad politician because he lies. Not because he lies as a spokesman for the arms lobby, or the Israel lobby, or the gun lobby, or whatever it might be—but because he lies. And if you make that case for honesty today, you’re likely to get a raised eyebrow. We all lie, they all lie, goes the reasoning. The question is: is he your liar or my liar?

The historical background to this disturbing loss of moral confidence seems to me in large amount the collapse of the old Left, with all its faults, and the attendant ascendency of the soft cultural Left. Thus American liberals feel vaguely uncertain about what exactly the ground is that they stand on when they say that they disapprove of something. We’re easier with the problem of good and evil if it is unambiguously located in another time (or place); we’re more comfortable saying we don’t like witch dunking, or we don’t like the Gestapo. But we are not always quite clear how we should state our opposition to, e.g., female clitorectomies in East Africa—for fear of giving cultural offense. And that hands huge hostages to those (normally but not always on the right) who, in a much cruder way, think they know exactly what’s right and wrong, false and real, and so on. The problem of ethical insecurity has kneecapped two generations of liberals.

Catholic Media Begin Piling on Sister Farley’s “Just Love.”

June 11, 2012

Sister Margaret Farley

Robert Royal, editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, doesn’t care much for Sr. Margaret Farley’s new book, though he admits (in “The Real Taboos,” June 11, 2012) that he has only dipped into it here and there. Farley’s Just Love, which has catapulted from 142,982 to 16 in Amazon’s rankings due entirely to the Vatican’s recent censure of the work, approaches masturbation, homosexuality, and divorce from an ethical perspective that does not perfectly match the Vatican’s own.

Royal characterizes the book, which he hasn’t read, as “utterly tired,” and “not Catholic” (though she disclaims any intent to channel Catholic moral teachings), and he dismisses her positions as “essentially congruent with the untroubled assumptions of the Zeitgeist.” What Royal fails to do, however, is address any of her arguments. Maybe that’s because, not having read her book, he doesn’t know what they are.

He concludes,

But the advocates of new approaches aren’t really interested in [fresh, alternative voices] and instead dedicate themselves to defending ideas and currents that over the past half-century have wrecked families, harmed children, and made the proper taming of erotic impulses – a task every civilization prior to ours has known is crucial to human happiness and calls for great wisdom – one of the real, not imagined, taboos in American society.

Mary E. Hunt, herself a Catholic a regular contributor to Religion Dispatches, hits the nail on the head when she writes apropos of Sister Farley’s comments about masturbation: “Sexual power is power, and more and more women have it. Apparently the struggle to wrest it back is high on the agenda of those who live on the 110 acres called the Vatican.”

Indeed, the Vatican’s teachings about sexuality seem intended for one purpose only: to uphold a patriarchal system of power over people’s very bodies and the most intimate aspects of their lives. And those teachings are consistently out of step with current medical knowledge about sexual and reproductive health. The Church’s sorry record in dealing with clergy sex abuse and with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is only matched by its obstinacy in challenging the entire medical community over homosexuality and reproductive health.

It’s one thing to deplore or dismiss “new approaches” to these issues. It’s quite another to demonstrate their inefficacy, and this is where Royal’s critique falls short.

Drone Equation

June 10, 2012

by Dean Hansen

Over the past ten years, the use of pilotless drones has steadily been increasing, first for clandestine surveillance purposes, and finally with lethal payloads, allowing us to kill targeted enemies by remote control, with the not infrequently troublesome results spewed out in the incidental and euphemistic military language of collateral damage, ordinance deployment miscalculation, and extra-judicial killings. Now we are experimenting with domestic use of drones to monitor the U.S.-Mexican border.

One can only wonder when the expanding surveillance machinery of the military will be adopted by civilian police forces for monitoring streets, yards, and bedrooms with night vision cameras deployed at a quiet and inconspicuous distance above our homes. Will they ultimately be armed, as their foreign cousins are? Does the prospect make you feel comfortable and secure?

Since their use in Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan, the drone has become almost a cornerstone of our military’s tactics and policy in areas of the world where our jurisdiction and control are in dispute or where we are in outright conflict. How are we to weigh the sovereignty of a nation’s borders against the “humanitarian advance” of killing targeted people with such stealth and ease? Or the zero-sum equation of diminished unnecessary casualties? Is this all it takes to make us comfortable turning off our moral sense? We have slipped into a comfortable and convenient indifference to the drone’s ubiquity. President Obama has already relied on them over 150 times and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

Drone warfare is another proof of a little-discussed fact of war. We want a distancing mechanism that shields us from the horrors of conflict without robbing us of participation in a blurred and ill-conceived idea of victory. Isn’t war hell? It used to be. It still is for anyone on the business end of a weapon. Yet, here is a scenario where it ceases to be hell for the combatants on one side in the conflict. The “soldiers” are no longer soldiers but technicians in darkened rooms. Soldiers of an earlier era would have repudiated this style of “fighting” as dishonorable and cowardly.

Haven’t we fumbled the ball somewhere? When technology succeeds in severing the feedback loop that reminds us of the physical and psychological cost of murder, then war becomes a cost-effective write-off to the engineers who’ve turned it into a capital gains calculation, factoring out whatever post-traumatic stress their imagined immunity may have helped them avoid.

There should always be a cost for actions made vile by the endless justifications that undergird them. That cost should burn its way into our skulls, no matter how efficacious or necessary we convince ourselves it is. It should remind us that this is not the normal course of action for a people claiming cultural and moral provenance. When we are moving toward real and severe jeopardy, the cost factor should boldly appear on signposts pointing in the other direction. And what if the jeopardy disappears? If war itself is not horrible enough to stop war, will it become invisible enough for one side to promote its seemingly endless continuation without oversight? War should never be a scramble for new “toys” to amend the slaughterhouse of human depravity by shielding us from its horrors. Kill, and you risk being killed. That should remain the unmoving tenet of a harsh reality. Alter that dynamic technologically, and everything changes for the worse.

This distancing mechanism in the form of a drone is an illusion. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that war has somehow been made acceptable if we can cut our losses and increase the cost to the latest enemy. War is therefore an ongoing excuse for maintaining and improving the machinery that makes it happen, as well as for promoting new and more threatening enemies as each previous one is beaten into imaginary submission. Remember the Maxim machine gun? The inventor earnestly believed that the horror of the weapon would turn people off to war completely. His was an embarrassing miscalculation in a field of endless miscalculations. Remove the danger from the equation without removing or remedying the equation, and you have a perpetual growth industry, unchallenged by the real agonies of conflict.

There’s another growth industry which is far more perilous and urgent to our imaginary safety: the absolute, unrequited, poisonous hatred and loathing that these weapons generate exponentially in their victims. Is it really the policy of this country to make enemies of everyone in the world? What happens over the course of time as our enemies find ways to equip themselves with the same advantages, thereby leveling the playing field? The history of military conflict proves that the immunities we achieve through technological superiority are never more than fleeting at best.

The first pilotless drones were large, expensive, cumbersome, and impossible to aim. Collateral damage was the whole point. They were also used by a regime that spoke German and wore swastikas on their uniforms. What was intended to coerce the British into surrender only strengthened their resolve and increased their determination to keep fighting, which they did until they were joined by allies who utterly defeated their common enemy, despite its “superior” technical ingenuity.

What future allied powers will link their destinies against us in an effort to blunt and neutralize the comforting illusion we’ve fastened to our neck like an albatross? Time, along with reverse engineering, will most likely tell.

Dallas Pastor Preaches Compelling Endorsement of Marriage Equality, Says Baptist Church Should Change Its Views

June 10, 2012
Think Progress / June 8, 2012

Pastor Frederick Haynes of the Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas gave a powerful sermon in support of President Obama’s recent endorsement of marriage equality. Haynes notes that during his oath of office, Obama vowed to uphold the constitution, not the Bible. During his sermon, which criticized both fellow pastors and the congregation for their condemnation of marriage equality, “the congregation stood up and shouted their disapproval at him.” Haynes argued that the congregation should change its views.

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