Democrats for Life membership

I’ve been following Democrats for Life of America for a while now, after discovering them last year. I’ve written about my perspective on building a culture of life in America, and specifically on the need to create a true spectrum of choice in terms of our thinking and public policies. I joined Democrats for Life as a basic member today because I heard good things about their recent conference in Philadelphia and particularly because I’m impressed with their successes in advancing the Pregnant Women Support Act through the Affordable Care Act:

The Pregnant Women Support Act – the Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) is one of our proudest accomplishments. Signed into law as part of the Affordable Care Act, 17 States received PAF grants and are now helping pregnant women. It is not enough to simply oppose abortion; we must provide support and provide options for women facing unplanned or crisis pregnancies.

Senator Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation to expand the PAF. Please contact your Senator and urge him or her to support S. 144, the Pregnancy Assistance Fund Expansion Act.

Background:

DFLA proposed a comprehensive plan that will reduce the number of abortions by 95% in the next 10 years by promoting abstinence, personal responsibility, adoptions and support for women and families who are facing unplanned pregnancy. The 95-10 Initiative seeks to reduce the number of abortions in America through Federal, state and local efforts as well as support and encouragement to volunteers and dedicated people on the front lines helping pregnant women. Much attention has been given to ending abortion or keeping it legal. We believe that we must do more to reduce the abortion rate by helping and supporting pregnant women. …

We support helping pregnant women who wish to carry their children to term but because of lack of resources believe abortion is their only option. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Congressman Lincoln Davis (D-TN) and Pro-life Democrats in Congress who share this same commitment introduced the Pregnant Women Support Act in the U.S Senate and U.S House. The legislation is a comprehensive approach to provide support for pregnant women who want to carry their child to term. Most of the provisions were included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) under the Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF).

Some of the programs included are:

  • establish a toll-free number to direct women to places that will provide support
  • collect accurate data on why women choose abortion
  • provide Pregnancy Counseling and Childcare on University Campuses
  • provide accurate information to patients receiving a positive result from prenatal testing
  • provide counseling in maternity group homes;
  • increase the adoption tax credit and it permanent
  • eliminate pregnancy as a pre-existing condition with respect to health care;
  • provide grants for ultrasound equipment;
  • support informed consent for Abortion Services;
  • increase awareness about violence against pregnant women;
  • require the SCHIP to cover pregnant women and unborn children;
  • provide free home visits by registered nurses for new mothers.

I would support Planned Parenthood if they no longer performed abortions, and instead focused on delivering on their pro-choice philosophy in a life-affirming way that equally supports both mother and child. In the meantime, measures like the ones Democrats for Life advocate are necessary steps toward public policy that recognizes that abortion should be “rare” as President Clinton envisioned. Today it’s not rare, and I have to think a huge part of the reason is because culturally we’re not empowering mothers and fathers to feel that they have any practical alternative other than abortion.

Penn State Greeks’ green shoots

I shared my perspective on Penn State’s fraternities and sororities last month, and it seemed to be well received by many both inside and outside of the Greek life community.

Administrators at Penn State continue to tighten what’s likely a noose around the necks of fraternities and sororities, however, even while the university’s official Office for Greek Life continues to lack any leadership that could serve as liaison between administration and students. In other words, full-time students are being asked to come up with what amounts to a revolution in the cultures of their fraternities and sororities without any vision or direction from Penn State administrators who seem transparently concerned only with the question of legal and reputational liability. But a smaller, less chaotic system of fraternities and sororities might be exactly what’s needed at this time in Penn State’s history.

Two “green shoots” amidst all of this.

First, the “Greek Support” program that fraternity students are trying to launch:

Now more than ever Penn State’s Interfraternity Council is seeking to foster a better relationship with the State College community. The IFC announced it will begin a new platform to work on this relationship: Greek Support.

Basically, anyone in State College who needs some extra man power for a project can request Greek Support for help from fraternity members. The program is not for profit and it’s open to requests from anyone — small businesses, individuals, or other organizations.

If Penn State administrators have any vision for fraternities and sororities, this would be the sort of program to latch onto and promote very aggressively as a unifying force for good through the campus and town communities.

Second, this open letter from Interfraternity leadership to Penn State officials:

We are committed to enacting significant measures to increase safety and enhance accountability throughout our community. We cannot do this alone and need the support of the Penn State family we love so much.

To President Barron: We want to work with you to address critical issues through measures we know are necessary. We are ready to change, but transformation cannot happen without partnership and a willingness to listen to and work with one another. Instead of talking through open letters in the media — it’s disappointing we have to communicate in this manner—meet with us, work with us, and collaborate with us. We are your students, too.

We also need consistent support from the University with a fraternity/sorority life staff focused on the needs of one of the largest Greek communities in the country. We appreciate the support of the current staff, but it is extremely concerning our community has been without a full-time Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life for almost two years. We have one of the least supported communities, not only in the Big 10, but the entire country.

Further, much of what has been tried in the past has been focused on top-down, university-mandated policy or programs. After promising to engage us in critical change conversations, yet again, administrators passed down more edicts without student input. We may have fallen short in the past, but for cultural change to occur, students must be at the core of those efforts through meaningful partnership.

We Are a community of 8,000 students, and inside that community lies the solution. Because we have again been cut out of the process, it will be even harder to create ownership for change.

To the Fraternity/Sorority Community: We need to make real change, and each member must share responsibility in that. We need to work together across chapters and councils and begin to have the difficult dialogue to address the issues of alcohol abuse, hazing and sexual misconduct that plague Penn State. We must take responsibility for our community and can no longer make excuses for bad behavior. …

To Penn State Alumni: We need your help and mentorship. Thank you to those who have supported us and continue to invest in the Penn State fraternity experience. Much has changed over the past decades, but we continue to need active alumni to serve as advisors, coaches and mentors. …

These strike me as genuine and heartfelt words from young Penn Staters desperate for a human (rather than bureaucratic) relationship with their peers and other community members.

Why not take them at their word, and collaborate on a grand vision for Penn State fraternity and sorority life with real deliverables, deadlines, and consequences for failure (including the shuttering of the system), hire the appropriate staff, and then get to work?

Dissonance in Milwaukee

I went for a run in Milwaukee the other day. Along Lake Michigan’s shore the Milwaukee Art Museum stands out, suggesting itself as a symbolic anchor of the city skyline. It seems to me like the boldest declaration of a post-20th century reinvention of Milwaukee as a great midwestern city. The Art Museum’s “wings” appear to “flap” over the course of each day. It’s a fanciful and striking structure both from afar and close up.

As you come upon the museum however, you find a startling and depressing piece of public art: a literal wreck.

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I thought about searching online for the story of this wreck, if there is one. But I realized it doesn’t really matter. Whatever it’s supposed to represent, it’s just a wreck. I have hope that it’s meant to speak to something like the need to prevent auto accidents. Maybe even that’s wishful thinking.

In any event, is this the best the Milwaukee Art Museum has to offer? There will always be a higher number of people visiting the courtyard of the museum and enjoying the shorefront like I was than there will be actual visitors admitted inside the museum. And with that in mind, this is what was chosen as the most prized and most visible piece of art the museum has to display:

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In its own way, it’s perfectly symbolic of so much of the artistic sensibility of our time: a grand and boastful exterior that–whatever it contains in its interior–makes no attempt to compliment the beauty of its surroundings or console the common person.

Lefebvre on human dignity

Where has the idea of “human dignity” come from? What is its intellectual genealogy? 

In evolutionary history, we understand all the ways in which a creature takes on slightly different form over time as the genetic structures adapt and change in an attempt to fit their circumstances. The same is true in exploring the genealogy of philosophical and theological history. What this means is that a simple phrase like “human dignity” carries within it the “genetic” memory of debate and discourse as men and women attempt to reach the essential truth about mankind that it attempts to speak to. What makes us distinct? Where is our dignity located? Why is it worth conserving? What does it ask of us?

David L. Schindler and Nicholas J. Healy, Jr. capture some of the history of the debate over human dignity in their book Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity: The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. An interesting excerpt:

The opposition between Murray [freedom, rights] and Lefebvre [truth, duty] appears to be, and in a crucial sense is, fundamental. … Regarding the operative dignity of man, Lefebvre says that it “is the result of the exercise of his faculties, essentially intelligence and will.” (20). “To the perfection of nature is added to man a supplementary perfection which will depend on his actions” (20). Man’s operative dignity, thus, “will consist in adhering in his actions to truth and goodness” (2). It follows for the Archbishop that “if man fails to be good or, if he adheres to error or evil, he loses his dignity” (20). In a word, for Lefebvre the dignity of the human person, in the operative sense, “does not consist in liberty apart from truth … Liberty is good and true to the extent to which it is ruled by truth”(22).

Lefebvre’s problem with the teaching of Dignitatis humanae, in sum, is that it roots the right to religious freedom not in this operative dignity of man, which consists in “the actual adherence of the person to the truth,” but rather in the ontological dignity of man, which “refers only to his free will” made in the image of God (33). In the view of the Declaration, “any man, regardless of his subjective dispositions (truth or error, good or bad faith), is inviolable in the actions by which he operates his ‘relation’ to God” (31). But, according to Lefebvre, this is false: “when man cleaves to error or moral evil, he loses his operative dignity, which therefore cannot be the basis for anything at all” (33).

Thus, regarding the logic of Lefebvre’s and Murray’s positions with respect to each other: on the one hand, Lefebvre recognizes that there is in man a “transcendental relation to God” and a “divine call” that founds man’s duty and dignity, and hence his right to search for the truth. But this relation and call have been profoundly affected by sin, to the extent that man’s original natural orientation to truth and God are now conceived as only “potential,” not yet in any proper sense actual or effective. Hence the operative dignity of man, the dignity that truly qualifies him as a subject of the right to religious freedom, is for Lefebvre tied to the exercise of his faculties of freedom and intelligence in the actual realization of truth and goodness in relation to God. Murray, on the other hand, locates human dignity, for purposes relevant to man’s being recognized as a subject of the right to religious freedom, in man’s exigence for exercising initiative, abstracted from man’s relation to the transcendent order of truth.

Easter

Happy Easter. I have long struggled with Easter, I think largely because I’ve struggled with springtime as a time of in-betweens that has often felt uncomfortable. In recent years I’ve become more at peace with this time of year. And I’ve fallen more in love with Eastertime, the central time of the Christian calendar when Christ reformed death from a nothing into a something by bringing down the great and thorny bramble wall and forging in its place a narrow path.

It’s that path that provides the basis for our hope of resurrection, which is a new and transfigured life. I’ve included here my favorite depiction of the resurrection, Sir Stanley Spencer’s 1920s masterpiece that hangs in London’s Tate Museum that shows so well the alarming nature of Christ’s promise.

Bishop Barron has a great reflection on Easter that’s worth watching in its fullness:

I’ve also been receiving Bishop Barron’s Lent reflections, and while each has been rewarding it is Easter’s that I’ve found the most arresting and worth sharing. It speaks to the Easter Gospel, John 20:1-9:

Friends, our Easter Gospel contains St. John’s magnificent account of the resurrection. It was, says John, early in the morning on the first day of the week. It was still dark—just the way it was at the beginning of time before God said, “Let there be light.” But a light was about to shine, and a new creation was about to appear.

The stone had been rolled away. That stone, blocking entrance to the tomb of Jesus, stands for the finality of death. When someone that we love dies, it is as though a great stone is rolled across them, permanently blocking our access to them. And this is why we weep at death—not just in grief but in a kind of existential frustration.

But for Jesus, the stone had been rolled away. Undoubtedly, the first disciples must have thought a grave robber had been at work. But the wonderful Johannine irony is that the greatest of grave robbers had indeed been at work. The prophet Ezekiel says this, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.”

What was dreamed about, what endured as a hope against hope, has become a reality. God has opened the grave of his Son, and the bonds of death have been shattered forever.

Christ is truly risen.

Will we become machines?

Joseph Bottum reviews a slew of recent books on the coming of the machine age, and reflects on what it might mean (or not mean) for the future of humanity. It’s worth reading in whole for how well he skewers confused utopian thinking. In short, we cannot make ourselves immortal by destroying what we are: embodied and finite creatures. There’s also this, which I’m included here as something to look back upon in the years to come as a test of its skepticism:

We seem to have some weakness that lures us to think fundamental change is barreling down upon us. As it happens, the utopians and dystopians do share one thing in common: For centuries now, neither group has been much more successful at predicting the future than the gypsy lady who reads palms down on 18th Street. But still we imagine that this time, it’s going to be different. This time, the world will change.

The current futurists tend toward happy visions of the world to come, but along the way to their utopias they take our susceptibility for the new and divert it to the old, old belief that there’s something ugly and vile, something outrageous, about life in a fragile material body. Why should the new gnostics differ much from the old? Each of them longs to be an animal, a tree, a stone, an angel, a machine—anything but a human being.

Good Friday and shamanism

Rod Dreher shares a really remarkable encounter he had with a young man in an airport recently:

On the bus north from the Denver Airport, I sat next to a clean-cut young white guy, maybe in his early 30s, who was well dressed, in a business casual way. Turns out he was a trained shaman transitioning to a real estate career. “Six months ago, I had hair down to my waist,” he said. It turned out that his Indian spiritual master told him to leave the reservation and return to the world, and take up a normal career. “That is your path,” he quoted the old man saying.

Turns out this guy had spent many years in South America, studying in various shamanic traditions. He knows a lot about ethnobotany. I could have talked to him all day. The conversation was deeply fascinating. At one point I lad my cards on the table, and told him I was an Orthodox Christian, and though I very much disagree with his metaphysical and spiritual take on the world, I do agree with him about the profound mystery of our existence. I tell you, this neopagan was in some ways talking like an Athonite monk.

“You cannot put God, or reality, in a box,” he said. “You just can’t. So many people figure if you can’t prove it, or can’t conceive of it, it doesn’t exist. I don’t even argue with those people. It’s fine with me if they think this way. I know that’s not true, because I have experienced so many things.” …

What that young man and I have in common is the conviction that the material world is not all there is. That living is an encounter with mystery. That most people, for whatever reason, cultivate deadness to that mystery, and to grace. Why? I didn’t ask him for his opinion, but my sense is that it frightens them.

Dreher quotes C.S. Lewis:

The christening of Europe seemed to all our ancestors—whether as themselves Christians they welcomed it, or like Gibbon deplored it as humanistic unbelievers—a unique, irresistible, irreversible event. But we’ve seen the opposite process. Of course, the unchristening of Europe in our time is not quite complete. Neither was her christening in the Dark Ages. But roughly speaking we may say, that while as all history was for our ancestors divided into two periods, the pre-Christian and the Christian, for us it falls into three, the pre-Christian, the Christian, and what may reasonably be called the post-Christian.

This surely must make a momentous difference. I’m not here considering either the christening or the un-christening at all from a theological point of view. I’m thinking of them simply as cultural changes. And when I do that, it seems to me that the un-christening is an even more radical change than the christening. Christians and pagans had much more in common with each other than either has with the post-Christian. The gap between those who worshipped different gods is not so wide as that between those who worship and those who don’t.…

I find it a bit hard to have patience with all those Jeremiahs in press or pulpit who warn us that we are relapsing into paganism. What lurks behind such prophecies, if they are anything but careless language, is the false idea that the historical process allows simple reversal, that Europe can come out of Christianity by the same doors she went in, and find herself back where she was. That isn’t the sort of thing that happens. A post-Christian man is not a pagan. You might as well think that a married woman recovers her virginity by divorce. The post-Christian is cut off from the Christian past and therefore doubly from the pagan past…

Good Friday is a day we celebrate because a man who was God died to liberate us from meaninglessness, died to free us from the darkness and bring us into the light. We seem to be living through an historical interlude, where the memory of our Christian past is giving way to something new. I suspect that newness will turn out to be a new Christianity, rather than a truly post-Christian time.