Friday, August 18, 2006

I'm a survivor

This post at HMS reminded me of a story I heard about Blessed Mother Teresa (perhaps apocryphal, source anyone?):

When asked why God hadn't sent someone yet to cure cancer Mother Teresa replied, "God did, but he was aborted."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Honesty regarding human embryos

I've discussed here and here the need to be honest when debating beginning of life issues (e.g. embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and abortion). The question is NOT when human life begins, but rather what value we should recognize in nascent human life. I also contend that this is not a religion vs. science debate that can be dismissed with a wave to "the separation between church and state."

Dr. Robert P. George, joined by Dr. Alfonso Gómez-Lobo, of the President's Council on Bioethics wrote a statement as an appendix to Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry (2002). In it, he argues with perfect logic and clarity that human embryos deserve full moral respect. It is the best argument I have encountered against human cloning, ESCR, et al.

The most important starting point in debating the moral respect owed to human embryos:

A human embryo is a whole living member of the species homo sapiens in the earliest stage of his or her natural development. Unless denied a suitable environment, an embryonic human being will by directing its own integral organic functioning develop himself or herself to the next more mature developmental stage, i.e., the fetal stage. The embryonic, fetal, infant, child, and adolescent stages are stages in the development of a determinate and enduring entity – a human being – who comes into existence as a single cell organism and develops, if all goes well, into adulthood many years later.

...The combining of the chromosomes of the spermatozoon and of the oocyte generates what every authority in human embryology identifies as a new and distinct organism. Whether produced by fertilization or by SCNT or some other cloning technique, the human embryo possesses all of the genetic material needed to inform and organize its growth. Unless deprived of a suitable environment or prevented by accident or disease, the embryo is actively developing itself to full maturity. The direction of its growth is not extrinsically determined, but is in accord with the genetic information within it. The human embryo is, then, a whole (though immature) and distinct human organism – a human being. (emphasis added)

This point is based upon what the embryo is according to science, and not upon any religious beliefs. We MUST acknowledge that embryos are human beings before proceeding in any further debate.

Since this is true, it immediately follows:
To deny that embryonic human beings deserve full respect, one must suppose that not every whole living human being is deserving of full respect. To do that, one must hold that those human beings who deserve full respect deserve it not in virtue of the kind of entity they are, but, rather, in virtue of some acquired characteristic that some human beings (or human beings at some stages) have and others do not, and which some human beings have in greater degree than others.

Dr. George goes on in depth to argue why he believes this position to be untenable. You may disagree with his conclusion about the morality of using human embryos as mere instruments in scientific research (I think his argument is irrefutable), but you MUST admit that your position casts certain human beings into a sub-category undeserving of even life itself. In the words of Dr. George, "The proposition that all human beings are created equal would be relegated to the status of a superstition." There is then nothing in principle that would prevent casting other classes of human beings into the same category.

I am not willing to make this step in the name of science. If you are, please be honest about what is up for debate.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Divisions in the body

Dave Armstrong over at Cor ad cor loquitur has posted a detailed discussion of the problem of authority in Protestantism. His thesis is that sola scriptura logically and inevitably leads to an individualism that cannot resolve doctrinal disputes. In the end, a Protestant can always appeal to his own interpretation of scripture against that of another Christian and be acting logically from a sola scriptura position.

When faced with this dilemma,

the Protestant is forced to appeal to one of two equally insufficient and most unsatisfactory solutions:

A) Claim (on no persuasive or compelling grounds, once adequately scrutinized) that their own brand of Protestantism is the true one and to be believed above all others. This was, of course, the standard approach taken by virtually all the early Protestant factions. But since they denied apostolic succession as historically understood, the appeal to one's own truth became entirely arbitrary and a-historical (the very grounds which could make such a claim believable or plausible in the first place, per the methodology of the Church Fathers and Catholicism).

B) Pretend that doctrines where Protestants disagree (which are almost all doctrines other than where they agree with even Catholics and Orthodox) are "secondary" and not important enough to fight over in order to arrive at and determine truth in those matters. I have argued that this is a de facto relativizing of a host of doctrines, whereas the Bible shows no such indication that this should be done.

I discussed this briefly here with my friend Matt who I consider to be a very thoughtful Protestant Christian.

My question is this: If all that Jesus intended to teach with clarity was a "mere Christianity" and all other doctrines (e.g. nature of the sacraments, church governance, disputed moral issues, forms of worship) are matters of speculation without hope of final resolution, why don't Protestant churches unify so as to provide a clear witness to the world of the truth of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 17:20-23)? Can (orthodox) Protestants justify divisions in the Body of Christ for matters of preference?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Catholic Carnival at Tom Reagan's blog

This week's Catholic Carnival is now up, hosted by Tom Reagan. This is my first week participating, and it will be linked from here weekly. What is the Catholic Carnival?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Marriage and the common good

Ryan T. Anderson at First Things brought to my attention a newly published booklet entitled Marriage and the public good: Ten principles, referred to as simply "The Princeton Principles." It is the fruit of scholarly meetings in Princeton, NJ, begun in 2004 by professors of various discplines and institutions. It is a complete and concise document in defense of traditional marriage against current trends toward a culture of divorce, illegitimacy, cohabitation, and same-sex marriage. Traditional marriage contributes to the true common good in society.

You must go read this! It gives voice to those who wish to clearly defend marriage in the public square. Some nuggets:

Principles 9 and 10 (section II) -

9. The laws that govern marriage matter significantly.

Law and culture exhibit a dynamic relationship: changes in one ultimately yield changes in the other, and together law and culture structure the choices that individuals see as available, acceptable, and choiceworthy. Given the clear benefits of marriage, we believe that the state should not remain politically neutral, either in procedure or outcome, between marriage and various alternative family structures. Some have sought to redefine civil marriage as a private contract between two individuals regardless of sex, others as a binding union of any number of individuals, and still others as any kind of contractual arrangement for any length of time that is agreeable to any number of consenting adult parties. But in doing so a state would necessarily undermine the social norm which encourages marriage as historically understood - i.e., the sexually faithful union, intended for life, between one man and one woman, open to the begetting and rearing of children. The public goods uniquely provided by marriage are recognizable by reasonable persons, regardless of religious or secular worldview, and thus provide compelling reasons for reinforcing the existing marriage norm in law and public policy.

10. "Civil marriage" and "religious marriage" cannot be rigidly or completely divorced from one another.

Americans have always recognized the right of any person, religious or non-religious, to marry. While the ceremonial form of religious and secular marriages often differs, the meaning of such marriages within the social order has always been similar, which is why the state honors those marriages duly performed by religious authorities. Moreover, current social science evidence on religion and marital success affirms the wisdom of the American tradition, which has always recognized and acknowledged the positive role that religion plays in creating and sustaining marriage as a social institution.4 The majority of Americans marry in religious institutions, and for many of these people a religious dimension suffuses the whole of family life and solemnizes the marriage vow. It is thus important to recognize the crucial role played by religious institutions in lending critical support for a sustainable marriage culture, on which the whole society depends. And it is important to preserve some shared idea of what marriage is that transcends the differences between religious and secular marriages and between marriages within our nation's many diverse religious traditions.

The intrinsic goods of marriage (section IV) -

Marriage offers men and women as spouses a good they can have in no other way: a mutual and complete giving of the self. This act of reciprocal self-giving is made solemn in a covenant of fidelity-a vow to stand by one another as husband and wife amid life's joys and sorrows, and to raise the children that may come as the fruit of this personal, sexual, and familial union. Marriage binds two individuals together for life, and binds them jointly to the next generation that will follow in their footsteps. Marriage elevates, orders, and at times constrains our natural desires to the higher moral end of fidelity and care.

The marriage vow by its nature includes permanence and exclusivity: a couple would lose the very good of the union they seek if they saw their marriage as temporary, or as open to similar sharing with others. What exactly would a temporary promise to love mean? Would it not reduce one's spouse to a source of pleasure for oneself, to be desired and kept only so long as one's own desires are fulfilled? By weakening the permanence of marriage, the contemporary culture of divorce undermines the act of self-giving that is the foundation of marriage. The marriage vow, seen as binding, is meant to secure some measure of certainty in the face of life's many unknowns-the certainty that this unknown future will be faced together until death separates. At the same time, marriage looks beyond the married couple themselves to their potential offspring, who secure the future from this generation to the next.

Marriage is thus by its nature sexual. It gives a unique unitive and procreative meaning to the sexual drive, distinguishing marriage from other close bonds. The emotional, spiritual, and psychological closeness of a married couple is realized in the unique biological unity that occurs between a man and a woman united as husband and wife in sexual intercourse. In marital sexual union, the love of husband and wife is given concrete embodiment. Our bodies are not mere instruments. Our sexual selves are not mere genitalia. Male and female are made to relate to and complete one another, to find unity in complementarity and complementarity in sexual difference. The same sexual act that unites the spouses is also the act that creates new life. Sharing of lives is, in sex, also a potential sharing of life. In procreation, marital love finds its highest realization and expression. In the family, children find the safety, security, and support they need to reach their full potential, grounded in a public, prior commitment of mother and father to become one family together.

This deeper understanding of marriage is not narrowly religious. It is the articulation of certain universal truths about human experience, an account of the potential elevation of human nature in marriage that all human beings can rationally grasp. Many secular-minded couples desire these extraordinary things from marriage: a permanent and exclusive bond of love that unites men and women to each other and to their children.

The main point to take away is that civil marriage is an institution based upon human nature, not sectarian religious grounds. As such, it is justly privileged and encouraged by the state.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Logical end: same-sex "marriage" to polygamy

Robert George posted at First Things:

A group of self-identified “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and allied activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers” has released a statement explicitly endorsing “committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner.” Got that? More than one conjugal partner.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The morning after pill as economic exploitation

Posted by Pamela Pilch at HMS:

[W]omen are being economically exploited by the morning after pill. Because women can only become pregnant for a few days per cycle, many women will use the morning after pill on days on which they couldn't have gotten pregnant anyway. For each dose of the morning after pill, they are paying as much as they would pay for a whole month's worth of regular birth control pills ...

This burden will fall most heavily on young girls who are too scared to go to a physician for regular BCPs, but who engage in unprotected sex several times a month. ...

So...women will be ingesting higher levels of hormones, and spending several times as much money, without the monitoring from a doctor that would be required for regular ingestion of lower levels of hormones for less money. ... (Never mind the free availability of NFP, the freedom from doctor visits for monitoring for health risks and the absence of artificial hormones...) ...

Women should be very angry about this. This is not "reproductive health." This is economic exploitation - and the commodification of women's bodies.

I find the argument convincing that providing the MAP over-the-counter to teenagers would provide a way for teens to engage in what they believe is "safe sex" without having to endure the perceived embarassment of talking to an adult. We would further cut teens off from the much needed guidance of parents and trusted elders.

Pilch also makes the good point that the use of the MAP relies on the ignorance of women toward the way their bodies work. Far fewer women would have to purchase and take the MAP if they knew that it wasn't a fertile day! Ironically, the more a women emphasizes the use of her body for purely sexual entertainment the less she needs to know about it. Such a disconnect and use of the body leads to the abuse of "commodification" Pilch mentions.

However, NFP views the person holistically - mind, will, soul and body. Once the body is not merely an instrument of pleasure, the more a person (especially a woman, I think) can see and understand the purpose of the human body. And the more it is respected and appreciated.

Family pics

Pictures from July of my family, courtesy of Amy at Against the Grain. Photos taken outside were before it was crazy hot!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mel Gibson's heart

Dennis Prager commented today about Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic remarks by stating, "There is no doubt that he has anti-Semitic beliefs." Mr. Prager reasoned that when drunk, a person's inhibitions are removed and his words reveal what's truly in his heart. With this I agree. But what of Gibson's interviews surrounding the release of The Passion of Christ where he claimed that he is not an anti-Semite? Also, in his most recent apology Gibson says, "But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot."

Some may think that Mel is being insincere when sober and secretly harbors hatred towards the Jewish people. His recent explosion confirms the fears of those who suspected The Passion was just another excuse for Christians to blame Jews for the death of Jesus.

But I don't think so. His inexcusable words don't necessarily reveal his deeply held beliefs, but merely his thoughts and feelings. (Perhaps Mr. Prager would agree if given the chance to clarify.) If we're honest with ourselves, each of us thinks and feels things of which we are ashamed. While these evil thoughts are temptations to sin, they are not sin themselves. It is possible to feel or think in a way contrary to one's beliefs. The path towards virtue involves rising above our fallen minds and hearts, and praying for God to purify them by the fire of his indwelling Spirit.

Mel Gibson's behavior was inexcusable. He is right to take responsibility for it, to repent and to seek reform. But his critics would do well to remember that, one way or the other, they can't know from this unfortunate episode the beliefs of his heart.

(Robert Gotcher has similar good thoughts over at Heart, Mind & Strength.)