Miscellany for the Last Week of February

student debtAs a follow up to my column on the universal money pit that is the modern university, it turns out, as the National Post reported last Friday, now that the federal government has foisted $295 million in defaulted students loans onto the taxpayer (yes, you and me).  That is on top of the  $ 837 million they have already given up any hope of collecting and, therefore, yes, you guessed it…I wonder how many utterly useless degrees in Queer and Gender Issues and Postmodernist literature that billion-plus dollars was wasted on?   As a previous post made clear, we already paid for a good portion of those ‘degrees’, and now we’re on the hook for the rest.  Of course people walk away from these loans, for there is little or no return on them, and, apparently, no incentive to pay them back.

 

On a similar note, another article castigated Canadians for carrying a personal debt load greater than the income that they are taking in, maxing out their credit cards and bank loans.  You don’t say?  I wonder whom they are imitating?  Could it be Ontario, currently spending about $12 billion a year more than it is taking in?  Or how about lowly old Toronto, currently $5 billion in debt, that is just one city.  Why would Canadians save if their own government, one of whose primary tasks is to ensure a stable currency, devalues the money they do save on a daily, monthly, hot tubyearly basis.  Unless you are virtuous, and that means acting well even if you do not see the fruits thereof, why not party like there’s no tomorrow?  After all, as Keynes so famously said, in the end we’re all dead.  So much for future generations. But, hey, in the meantime, we can go ice fishing in the brand new ATV, loaded on to my four wheel Toyota Tundra, then go back and party in my house, in which I am over-leveraged by about 25%; but we can forget about that as we soak in the hot tub on my $12,000 deck, and….Well, see my last sentence, above.

 

But, all is all right, for Wal-Mart in the U.S. has just raised its minimum wage to $9 an hour…After popping some champagne, well, make that sparkling grape juice, I would imagine the workers would rejoice they share so fully (0.2%) in the megastore’s $497 billion in sales.  Wal-Mart walmart greeterembodies just about everything wrong with laissez-faire, pure free market capitalism.  Profit is the bottom line.  Make cheap, sell not-so-cheap, but just a bit cheaper than everyone else.  Read the fascinating book   that takes a rather balanced approach to this behemoth of United States capitalism, the Wal-Mart Effect.

 

 

Due to the slump in oil prices, Canada’s inflation rate, so said the article, “could briefly nudge…into the negative territory”.  But, rest assured, that would not constitute deflation.  No, no.  That is simply negative inflation, quite different, apparently, from deflation.  Much like the HowsMyGougingdifference between a negative increase and decrease?  Or losing a game and ‘not winning’?  Well, ‘deflation’, continued the article, would require “a decline in consumer prices across the board”.  But what, one may ask, is to stop companies from simply charging the same amount, even if deflation is occurring, much like airlines are still charging the same for flights, even though the drop in oil prices is saving them up to 25% in costs?  Of course, those savings are not transferred to the customer, but to the company, the CEO and the shareholders, who will receive a windfall.  I think the same is happening to oil, as the price per barrel drops, but the price at the pumps continues to rise…The money is not going into our pocket.

 

February 25, 2015

Fifty Shades a Christian, Grey

Corruptio optimi pessima, the corruption of the best is the worst, a Latin aphorism that has been adopted into Catholic theology, is a pithy, three word description of the effect of the metaphysical basis of evil:  Evil, as a privation of good, must always exist in good.  As something ‘good that is missing but that should be there’, evil itself does not really have existence.  Rather, it is a corruption of the good.

 

The corollary, of course, is that the more good something is, or has, the more evil of which it is capable. Or as Peter Parker’s Auntie May tells him, with great power comes great responsibility.

 

This is why the Church, and our society, place an emphasis on sex, for our sexuality is the greatest purely physical power in Man (prescinding, of course, from his intellectual and spiritual faculties).  Sex is what gives us the most physiologically intense pleasure (of course, there are other pleasures which are greater and more lasting), what forms the most solid bonds, is the basis for the family structure, gives impetus to much of what we do (at some level, whether sublimated or not), and defines who we are at the most basic bodily level as man and woman, male and female, masculine and feminine, husband and wife.

 

The virtue which perfects our sexuality is chastity, given a bad rap in today’s world, as something weak and effeminate:  Au contraire, chastity is a powerful and necessary virtue, which the Catechism defines as the ‘successful integration of sexuality within the person, and  thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being”.   Chastity allows us to be in charge of and to own ourselves, and so capable of giving ourselves to others in a way and manner of our own choosing, again in accordance with reason and virtue, instead of blind and selfish passion.  Not that passions are bad, but, without reason, they can and usually do wreak great evil.

 

The opposite vice is lust, the habit by which we misuse our sexuality for our own self-gratification, in the process also using others, either in real life or in our imagination, to satisfy base, primal urges.  As one might expect, lust leads to the dis-integration of the person; he does not own himself, but is a slave to every whisper of desire.  Saint Thomas writes that nothing so clouds and distorts the reason as lust, due to the vehemence of the sexual desire, and the fact that our sexuality, in some way, touches all of our powers.  The man in the grip of lust, contrary to what the movies tell us, becomes effeminate, soft, weak, and much less a man, much less, well, ‘masculine’. So much for the great fornicator, James Bond (at least in his film adapatations which, I must confess, I have enjoyed); in real life, the British spy would be a rutting, distracted animalistic man, with little or no powers of attention, and certainly not much courage in his pleasure-addicted body.

 

sherlock holmesContrast Bond to Sherlock Holmes, who is seemingly immune to the allures of lust, and thus able to sharpen his reason and focus his mind intently.  I truly loathe the distorted Benedict Cumberbatch (per)version on BBC, where in one episode Holmes falls in love with a prostitute, after seeing her for a protracted period of time in a state of complete, shall we say, divestiture, and this says nothing of what they do to assassinate the character of the honorable Dr. Watson who, in an early plot line, just wants to ‘score’ with a young (female…I suppose one must specify nowadays) physician, and is frustrated with Holmes for foiling his intent (accidentally, in turns out…Of course, we would not want Holmes or anyone else passing judgement on someone’s sexual proclivities).  In Conan Doyle’s stories, Watson would not even hear of dishonour to a woman, not least his fiancee, whom he, guarding both their chastity, scarcely touched until their wedding.

 

Where was I?  Oh yes, lust…Lust also affects women, but in a different way.   They become less feminine, more brutish and hardened and, to be quite honest, far less alluring.  There is nothing that turns a man off, at least a normal man, than a predatorial woman, sometimes referred to anthropomorphically as a cougar.

 

Either way, lust, paradoxically, makes both of the sexes (and, yes, there are only two) become less attractive, and less attracted, to each other.  Sex becomes less fun, less enticing, more just scratching a darned itch.  Hence, the seeking out of new stimuli, new pleasures, ever-more novel ways of regaining the rush of pleasure one first felt.

 

Which brings us to Fifty Shades of Grey.  I must admit at the outset that I have not seen the movie, nor read the book, and have no plans to.  Lust is the one sin and temptation from which one must flee, and not stand and fight, as many a repentant man can tell you.  In fact, I was hesitant even to write on this theme, but a priest friend asked me to, since the sexual deviance portrayed in this novel, and its film adaptation, is washing over our culture like toxic sludge.  Know thy enemy, says Sun Tzu in the classic Chinese treatise, the Art of War.

 

So, I delved into the sludge enough to know something about the phenomenon, surprised to find that the book, written by a middle aged woman who seems, at least from appearances, to have lived a rather ordinary life, sexual and otherwise, is the biggest selling single book in British history.  The film adaptation raked in over $80 million on its opening weekend.  Really?  Who is reading and watching Shades of Grey?  My hunch is that it is primarily women, with some men dragged along on movie dates.

 

The protagonists in the movie are both young, beautiful and nubile.  The man, Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan, is a playboy billionaire, who lives in a plush condo, can buy whatever he wants, physically is in top condition, drives an Audi SUV and so on.

 

 

The woman, Anastasia Steele, a co-ed played by Dakota Johnson (who, I discovered, is the daughter of the two eighties ‘sex symbols’, Don Johnson and Melanie Griffiths), is alluring and not-so-young that it looks creepy (in real life, Dornan is 32 and Johnson 25).  One could believe, looking at the two actors, that, yes, they could very realistically fall in love…But then we would just have another boring old romance, wouldn’t we?   The movie, rather, follows the corruptio optimi principle, taking this great potential good, and twisting and perverting it, but, and here is the point, not so much that the beauty is lost.  Rather, much of what is good, the ‘optimi’, in this whole mess, to some extent, remains.

 

Their initial attraction, not itself bad, (for why would they not be attracted?), becomes lustful; fornication ensues; then, since this does not titillate enough in our bored culture, the man’s dominance (in what little I know of the plot) becomes psychologically manipulative, then violent:  hitting, slapping, bondage, anything to raise the tension level.  The clear difference in their levels of power ratchets up the drama.  The audience is, I gather, supposed to be shocked and fascinated by the juxtaposition of such great beauty with such ugliness and sadism.  I have heard the movie tones things down a bit from the book, which has the advantage of stimulating the imagination far more powerfully than any visual image.

 

The Marquis de Sade in late 18th century France was the first to really tap into this satanic mix between the beauty of sexuality and the viciousness of violence.  His writings, a recounting of his own deviant sexual escapades, spawned a genre, and his work is still required reading on many college campuses (the tragic Marquis, like Nietzsche, also a sex addict a century later, spent much of his life in various insane asylums, vindicating Saint Thomas’ teaching on the link between lust and the loss of reason).  Sadism, the practice which adopted his name, has travelled some distance in the intervening centuries, but it is still the same sad story.

 

So, the author of Shades has followed vicariously in the footsteps of the Marquis, tapping into a great need and desire in our society for, not be trite, true love.  Women, whether they fully express this or not, do want a dominant man who knows his mind, but one who can court and romance her honorably, with some degree of aggression, or one might better say confidence, making her feel, yes, ‘desired’.  Christian Grey fits the aggression bill, and the fact he is chiseled, handsome and rich helps.  What women do not want is a wan, pale metrosexual following them around like a lap-dog, who has an i-phone app blocking him saying anything even remotely offensive or politically incorrect (and, in consequence, he is of course devoid of a sense of humour).

 

Men, on the other hand, want a woman willing to be so desired, who will respond to their advances, but demurely, with some caution, waiting for them to prove themselves  by deeds of chivalry and valour; certainly any man worth his salt wants a woman who will hold out for that final expressed commitment, what has been called ‘matrimony’, before submitting to the sexual desires of both.

 

Alas, although Shades of Grey taps into many of these latent desires, it also indicates that we are deviating more and more from the traditional, and moral, norm; although people are still seeking the good, true and beautiful, they do so in all the wrong places and in many of the wrong ways, with all of the evil consequences flowing therefrom.  The great and holy good of human sexuality, which has the power to unite the couple and give life, is instead used to fill a physiological and psychological void, to humiliate and to inflict pain and suffering.  What have we become?

 

young married coupleDeep down, however, we all still desire these fundamentals of courtship and romance which, although they have taken various forms through our ages, retain the same essentials.  Hence, the popularity of the ‘love interest’ in just about every movie under the sun, including Shades.  Although most film romances are also to some degree vitiated by the disordered view of sexuality in our culture, their plots generally follow the traditional pattern, with boy-wins-girl and true love for evermore, the end.

 

What we need is a Christian Grey who is a true Christian, a modern-day man who does not use his riches to lavish upon himself, who helps the poor and ensures that the wealth of his holdings are justly and equitably distributed, in particular that his workers receive a just wage (he need not be a billionaire, but rather a still-quite-comfortable millionaire, or even a hundred-thousand-aire); who has integrated his sexuality through a disciplined life and thereby owns himself, and who is able to court and win the heart of a beautiful young woman in chaste romance and, yes, build together a home full of children who will grow tall, strong and confident in their beauty; for there is nothing wrong with beauty, nor with our sexuality, so long as they are not squandered on ourselves and our own selfish pleasure, but offered to God in the vocation to which he calls each of us.

 

At least, that is how the story should go.

 

February 21, 2015

Saint Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

My Big Fat Greek Bailout

greece lighting

Greece-ed lightning

The headline in the National Post this morning read that Greece has surrendered to the Germans.  No, it was not from April, 1941, but February, 2015.  Germany, victorious in 1941, was the poor man of Europe by 1945, is now again the European economic powerhouse, and carries most of the responsibility of bailing out the poor Greeks whose country they once invaded.  What is, is what has been.  However, there are conditions to the Germanic ‘loan’, as there must be to any loan.  The Greeks have apparently agreed to most of the terms of the proposed bailout, but Germany has now declared that that is not enough:  It seems, in an ironic turnaround to the end of the last world war, unconditional surrender is what it will take.  And this just after the Greeks elected a government that was pledged to ‘no more austerity, no more conditions’.  Oh, the shame of it all…

 

At stake here is the unreality of Greece’s economy; well, everyone’s economy is to some extent ‘unreal'; it’s just that Greece is more desperate than most, and thus is in the spotlight.  Greece is dependent upon Germany to keep her economy, which is well beyond bankrupt, afloat.  Economists say that without the influx of a whole lot of German Euro-Deutschmarks, Greece would run out of money by the end of this month.  Even though this is a leap-year, that date is rapidly approaching…

 

You may have read one of my last posts, that an economy in massive debt (read:  Every economy on Earth at present, with the exception perhaps of Monaco, supported by the rather fake economy of rich nobility gambling) has already ‘run out of money’.  Canada is out of money ($620 billion in debt); the U.S.A ($17 trillion in debt) and Russia (about 260 billion in debt in U.S. dollars).  Add to all these figures ‘and counting’ (just see the debt-clock figures for a more depressing visual real-time view). The deeper principle here is, will anyone continue to loan you money?  Is the credit card finally going to be shred?  And, it seems, the Greeks got the short end of the stick, for no one seems to want to lend them money, at least not without a whole lot of strings attached.

 

Greeks rioting

Stand back, officers, the drachma ain’t worth enough to walk through fire…

These ‘strings’ include what is, perhaps inaptly, called an ‘austerity package’, with the proviso that the Greeks at least try to get their financial house in order, and live even somewhat within their means.  These austerity measures, which in the end are milder than they might be, have caused Greeks to riot in the streets, burn buildings and refuse to work.  Well, I am not sure the last effect implies any change.

 

As of writing, no one is sure how Greece will respond to Germany’s demands.  The Greeks, like most of us, have become accustomed to living well beyond their ‘means’.   A majority of Greeks, like Quebecers (another failed economy), work for the government, or government-sponsored unions, receiving salaries and pensions that bear little connection to what might be called the ‘real’ economy.

 

Ah, yes, the real economy, something that now lives, ironically, in fantasy land.

 

To understand what the real economy is, we should go back to the original social encyclical of the Church, Rerum Novarum, promulgated in 1891, and a line from Pope Leo XIII that I do not see quoted very much, but which I consider very significant:  “It is by the labour of working men that States grow rich”

 

I have pondered much on that phrase.  Who are these mysterious ‘working men’?  And how do they make us ‘rich’?

 

Pope John Paul II, in his Laborem Exercens, defined work as any activity of man, especially those activities that fulfill us as human beings, and perfect our capacities and potential.   Everyone, to some extent, works, in the sense that they subjectively perfect themselves by what they do.  Of course, some activities are more ‘perfecting’ than others.  Learning a Bach two-part fugue, or how to bake a perfect tiramasu, is more beneficial than getting to the tenth level in World of Warcraft, if one could even argue the latter activity’s benefit at all.

 

However, work also has an objective dimension, measured by what it produces for the economy, and there are certain kinds of work that have a more direct bearing on a nation’s wealth.  ‘Wealth’, as I have mentioned before, may be defined as ‘what people value’.  In strict economic terms, wealth comprises those things that other people, whether within or outside the nation, are willing to trade and pay for.

 

This is the basis of the real economy, in the production of things (usually material products, but they may take the form, as John Paul says, of ‘technology, know-how or skill’) traded, bought and sold for other things.  Those who produce such ‘things’ are those ‘working men’ who make a state rich.

 

Yet many economies have come to rely less and less on such working men, whose work is undervalued and exploited, to feed an ever-more-remunerated politically-connected class, who do little of the economically productive work that make us ‘rich’.

 

Consider for a moment the jobs with the greatest remuneration in our society, and you won’t find many of the productive jobs amongst them.

 

Ponder:  Most provincial police officers, after a few years on the job, receive close to or well over the sunshine quota of 100 grand, plus benefits, overtime, and a very generous early pension plan.  Their work, in theory, is necessary to protect property and our own safety, but they do not directly produce wealth.  Rather, their task is to protect the wealth that is already being produced, and they are, at least in theory, paid by such wealth.  The same may be said of firefighters, whose starting salaries are now approaching the sunshine figure.

 

Politicians, whom I have discussed in a recent column, have starting salaries of  $163,700 (federal) and anywhere from $115,000 to nearly $200,000 (provinicial), again excluding expenses, golden pensions, benefits, second apartments in the capital, lip balm benefits, and so on.  Yet they also produce no direct wealth.  Sure, we need them, or at least some of them, but  their paycheques, again, require that the wealth already be there.

 

Physicians and nurses and the whole myriad health-care apparatus that currently absorbs over one half of Ontario’s entire economy?   Yes, we need them, my own father is one of them, and I value their services and work, but they too do not produce wealth in the tradeable sense (prescinding from those few who invent new drugs and medical procedures that can be bought and sold); rather, they produce health, so that we, and in particular the ‘working men’, can then go out and produce wealth.  Health to no purpose (so we can sit around all day) does not wealth produce.

 

Do not misunderstand my point:  All of these occupations work, and they may work very hard, but their work does not directly add to the Gross National Product of a nation. We need them, but we also need many more of those who do add to the GNP, who make us, yes, you said, it, rich.  Yet in the rural area in which I live, any one of these non-wealth-producing jobs can make three times or more as much as a laborer in the local sawmills, and significantly more even than the tradesmen and construction workers who build and repair things, whose work is often seasonal and haphazard.  Factory workers in Canada, if you can find a job, now generally make a starting wage of about $12 to $25 per hour ($24-48,000 per year), often with little or no benefits or pension, unless they are unionized (and just try getting into a union now).  Contrast this with one recently suspended 42 year-old police officer whose base salary was $132,000 (the  O.P.P. union apparently has a clause in their contract that they have to be the highest paid police force in the province, leading to a ratcheting effect on salaries).  Psychiatrists, opthamologists and other specialists in medicine can make salaries approaching the half million mark.

 

Where does Canada’s real wealth come from to pay for all this?  Well, from agriculture, manufacturing, small businesses, construction, retail, timber, mining (potash, nickel, etc.) and, not least, Albertan oil, what was once considered black gold.  These economies, and those who move the products by truck, train, through depots and stores throughout and beyond our land, all done by ‘working men’, these actual real products, are what make us rich, at least in the non-spiritual, economic sense (I will write later about spiritual riches, a much more important category).

 

However, we may not be as rich as we think, as we read of the precipitous drop in the price of oil especially, and the other products are not faring much better.

 

Yet the governing class (legislative, judicial, executive: besides the politicians and police, lawyers, judges, their myriad office staff, the thousands in the military and so on), and  all those who depend on the government either for a paycheque or welfare (too long to list, but, as a sample, besides the already mentioned physicians and nurses, teachers and educational administration, city and social workers, CSIS, Canada Revenue, and every bureaucrat in all those offices in Ottawa, everyone in prison and everyone on a government pension, just for a start), has become rather too accustomed to living off the avails of these ‘working men’ and the products they produce.  They, and the vast swath of people who depend upon their handouts, consider themselves, as a rule, fully justified in what they receive, and regularly demand and give themselves raises (‘cost of living or proportionate adjustments’), even if the real economy continues to bend and crack under the strain.

 

Greek beach

Beautiful, but bankrupt…

The test case for what happens when the strain becomes too much, and, like the crumbling Gardner Expressway, things break apart, will be Greece.  What products does Greece produce to keep its real economy afloat?  I like olive oil, but it only goes so far as an export, and there is not much timber or farms  in the birthplace of democracy, nor, as far as I know, are there oil deposits off the Mediterranean coast (thankfully, beautiful as it is).  Sure, tourism goes some way, but not when your whole economy is collapsing, and you never know whether or not your plane will fly you home, or the airport shut down due to a strike or riot.   I wonder how many Europas have flocked to Greece’s fair beaches of late.

 

Economists say that Greece’s collapse could have a contagious effect on the economy of Europe, leading domino-wise to the drying up of credit country by country, many of them much bigger than Greece (the unfortunately-named P.I.G.S, Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain), leading to one default after another, and the whole shell-game will be shown up for what it is.

 

There are, basically, two ways to face reality:  Before the disaster, and avert it, or afterward and reap the consequences.  I relish not the effects of such a calamity, but I do believe reality will have to be faced someday, somehow.

 

I am a great believer in the ‘before-disaster’ model, turning the car around as you see the cliff approaching.  But many, it seems, including our own benighted leader Kathleen Wynne, to say nothing of Trudeau and Mulcair licking their socialist chops in the wings off-stage,  just want to clamp down on the accelerator.   Harper is not much better, but at least he wants to speed up a little more slowly.

 

thelma and louise

yolo!

Reality, however, is a hard taskmaster, and many would rather enjoy the ride, listening to the music with the wind in their hair, until the day of reckoning comes.  Well, the wind gets a lot stronger when you fly off the edge of the Grand Canyon, and the landing, I suspect, not all that pleasant.

 

I have often wondered what life would be like if we were indeed forced to live within our means, and stopped kicking our debt-load onto our great-grandchildren several generations down the road, like a drunken sophmore in Vegas with daddy’s gold American Express.  Perhaps our great-grandfathers lived in such a way, even our grandfathers, the benefits of whose hard work and sacrifice we have reaped.  In our own day, I suspect the Amish do.  So, also, the Trappists and the Missionaries of Charity.  There may even be those in rural sections of Canada that strive also to live within the realm of what wealth they actually produce.  It was the baby-boomers, those born post World War II, who grew up in the great liberal-democrat-socialist experiment begun under Roosevelt in the States with his ‘New Deal, and with Trudeau Sr. up here with his ‘new Canada’, who really separated the fantasy economy from reality.  Their heirs have not changed course.  We are all Greeks now, and there aren’t enough Germans to bail us out.  In fact, there aren’t enough Germans to bail the Germans out.

 

But, hey, once the dust settles, we will all get to find out what simplicity is like.  If we can avoid or hold back the barbarian hordes, I suspect we who value civilization and culture will have to live more simply, equitably and truthfully; and life, although perhaps harder,  will also be more beautiful.   If it is anything like the Trappists, at least the beer will be better.

 

And if the barbarians storm over the crumbling gates?  Well, heaven awaits.

 

One way or the other, the truth, besides being free, always makes you free.

 

A blessed Lentendtide to all!

 

February 19, 2015

Conscientious Objection: First, Do No Harm

medical symbolThe College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has recently drafted a policy on the “Professional Obligations and Human Rights”, which will change the way physicians approach treatments for their patients, especially in light of moral or religious objections.  The College has requested input on this document from the general public, so I advise all readers to do read over the four-page document and offer their feedback.

 

One particularly troubling phrase in the draft runs as follows:  “Where physicians are unwilling to provide certain elements of care due to their moral or religious beliefs, an effective referral to another health care provider must be provided to the patient.  An effective referral means a referral made in good faith, to a non-objecting, available and accessible physician or other health-care provider”.

 

Ponder that sentence for a moment.  At first, it seems as though the College is allowing conscientious objectors to morally or religiously objectionable practices (like abortion, euthanasia, sterilization and so on) a way out.  Why, if you cannot do the procedure, just refer to another physician who will, and, lo and behold, problem solved.

 

This reasoning ignores the fundamental distinction between what is termed formal and material cooperation in a moral act.  We may contribute to an act in a purely material way.  If a gun shop owner sells someone a gun in good faith, and that gun is used in a murder, the owner has contributed in some way ‘materially’ to the murder, but in no way formally.  That is, unless he could know that the buyer would likely commit the murder.

 

Take another case:  Suppose a member of a Mafiosi family objects to killing; he has adopted a kind of pacifist stance based on ‘moral and religious’ objection.  However, the family asks that if a legitimate request comes in for a ‘hit’, he refer the person to another member of the family, say his second-cousin, who has no such objections, and will oblige.  In this case, the pacifist doing the referring is both materially and formally involved.

 

The ‘allowance’ or ‘freedom’ given to the conscience makes the physician like the Mafiosi rather than the gunshop propreitor.

 

The distinction lies in the degree of the involvement of one’s will, or what we might term voluntariness.  We say an act is imputable to an agent, or ‘culpable’, either 1)  when he does the act, or 2)  helps in performing the act, or 3)  does not put up reasonable obstacles to the act.  In this last case, we must ask, could and should he have done something to prevent the act to which he morally objects?

 

This is indeed a complex issue, offering no easy solutions, but some cases are relatively clear-cut.  A physician who does not want to perform an abortion, or assist in a patient’s suicide, must, according to the draft policy, refer ‘in good faith’ to another who will do so.  That is, his formal cooperation is compelled, making him to some degree morally culpable for the act.  He knows full well that he is helping in the performance of the act, under some degree of coercion to be sure, and he is not (and by law cannot) put up any obstacles to the act, either by his own words or his actions.  The natural law obliges us always and everywhere to avoid committing moral evil, especially grave moral evil.  The excuse of the Nazis that they were ‘only following orders’ and ‘they didn’t actually commit any murders’ was, really, did not excuse them entirely.  In fact, such a shifting of blame could, in one sense, make one more morally culpable.

 

This, to put it mildly, is in no way granting a moral escape clause for an objecting physician, but rather a sop thrown out to convince a casual reader that the College is in fact permitting such ‘freedom of conscience’.  In the end, it would force physicians to violate their conscience.

 

If this policy is passed, we will soon only have medical students and, then, physicians who have no moral objection to killing their patients, including the unborn, the elderly, the disabled.

 

Please do write and object to the College, before such a brave new world comes to pass, one in which freedom is lessened, not strengthened, one in which physicians trained to heal are, instead, licensed to kill.

 

February 14, 2015

 

Saints Cyril and Methodius

 

Thanatophilia: For the Love of Death

Supreme Court Canada

Appointed for life, not one made a stand for life.

A week has passed since the Supreme Court’s unanimous 9-0 decision to strike down the laws prohibiting what is euphemistically called ‘physician assisted suicide’.  In a nutshell, the Court has decided the current law prohibiting physicians to commit what really amounts to murder is ‘unconstitutional’.  That is, the current proscriptive law violates the 1982 Charter’s rights to autonomy and freedom of conscience.  At the order of the Court, Parliament now has one year to pass a law framing under what circumstances people may request help from a physician to commit suicide.  So much for the Hippocratic Oath’s first premise:  First, do no harm.  But that Rubicon was passed nearly half a century ago, with Trudeau Sr.’s 1969 Omnibus Bill permitting abortions.  Of course, there were numerous restrictions added to that original law, all of which are now dust in the wind, especially since the Court’s 1988 ruling to strike down the laws governing abortion in Canada.   The judges back then expected Parliament to draft a new and ‘improved’ law on abortion, something the MP’s under Brian Mulroney never got around to, leaving Canada one of the few nations in the world with no laws governing abortion (except various medical provisos, like only physicians can perform them).

 

The same may well happen for so-called euthanasia.  For the next year, at least, the Court has left the current law in place (since when did the Court become a legislative body?), and physicians will still be charged if they kill their patient.  Thank God for small mercies.  After that, who knows?  Will there be a law, or will Parliament again not want to touch the issue, as it does want, even to this day, to touch the issue of abortion?  Will physician-assisted suicide, like the killing of the unborn, be left ‘decriminalized’, a personal decision between a patient and his doctor?

 

Yet, as Father Raymond de Souza put it well in a recent column, it will be the weak, the deformed, the poor, those who cannot speak and have none to speak for them, who will suffer.  Sure, in the short term, the rich and powerful will decide when and how to die.  But what of those who cost the system so much to keep alive?  Our health-care system (along with everything else in the province) is in a state of near-financial collapse, so the motive of money may do the talking or, more accurately, the killing.

 

We are a society in love with death, a paradoxical proposition for a society that claims to live to the full.  But that is just the problem.  When one is no longer able to live ‘to the full’, to gather the rosebuds and frolic in the sun, when old age, dementia and stiffness in the bones sets in, then what is there to life?

 

The crux here, really, is the question of suffering:  Are we just animals, in whom suffering is basically pointless?  Or is our suffering redemptive, worth something in the eyes of God and eternity?  We have no moral problem (or should not have) euthanizing animals who are in great pain.   Their suffering is limited to a bodily dimension; therefore, if we can end it, we should.

 

Not so human beings, however, who are made in image of God, and whose sufferings have a spiritual quality and worth, which can be, should be, offered up in union with the sufferings of Christ and His Mystical Body.

 

This, of course, will sound strange to an atheist or agnostic; indeed, many Christian and non-Christian religious communities have lost sight of the spiritual value of suffering.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said that he was dismayed at how much suffering in hospitals went ‘unused’, since it was not voluntarily united with Christ’s.

 

Hence, the vast groundswell of support for euthanasia across our fair, now-nearly-pagan land.  Some may hesitate to accept euthanasia based on the slippery-slope argument:  Where do we draw the line on who lives and dies?  Who decides?  What constitutes ‘consent’ for suicide?  One need only witness the current labyrinthine discussion attempting to figure out the basis of ‘consent’ for casual sex, to predict what will happen when we try to decide what constitutes consent for death.

 

These a posteriori arguments, convincing others from the evil effects of allowing euthanasia, are good, and should be used to full effect.  However, they are not enough. One must accept, a priori, that human life is sacred and inviolable, because, as the Catechism reminds us, “from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end.”  Therefore, as the paragraph continues “God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being”.  (#2258; italics added)

 

Need we remind ourselves that the Nazi ‘final solution’ began with psychiatrists being given the right in law to kill off ‘mental defectives’ in 1930’s Germany?  Have the Court justices never read history?  Is there not one amongst them with the wisdom and foresight to see what they have begotten?  It makes me despair even further of our educational institutions and our culture.

 

I recall years ago visiting what used to be called the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for the Incurables (its name has since changed in our politically-correct age).  Therein, I saw patients in varied, but radically debilitating, stages of suffering.  Malformed women, microcephalic, with little more than stumps for arms and legs, hooked up to tubes, and moaning all day; people in comas, with bedsores; brain-damaged people, with enough memory just to be aware of the neglect of their families.  And so on.  Each of them costs perhaps hundreds of dollars a day to ‘keep alive’, to nourish, bathe, medicate.  Part of me thought, why?

 

Of course, we keep them alive because our culture just does not kill people.  After all, we are a Christian nation…or were.   Our Christianity has now dwindled to minority-status, and with its decline, the moral foundations it offered have also attenuated.  Can we now articulate why we keep all those ‘incurable’ patients alive?  Is there in fact such a thing as a life not worth living?

 

Our Supreme Court has answered that question with a resounding and unanimous, yes, and it is up to you, at least for now, whether your own life is ‘worth living’.  Soon, likely enough, others will decide for you, especially if you are weak and vulnerable.

 
There was a 1967 novel called Logan’s Run, (turned into a cheesy 1976 movie with Michael York which has, apparently, a number of shots of gratuitous nudity; I am so glad the 70’s are over, but their effects remain; read the book: as per usual, it is better).  Anyway, the novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic underground society where, to control the population, everyone is voluntarily ‘euthanized’ at age 21.  An embedded crystal in your hand tells you when your time is nearly up, by turning red.  Of course, there are those who don’t want to die, and who try to run.  They are invariably captured by a police force termed ‘Sandmen’, who track them down and euthanize them, often by more violent means.  Logan is one such Sandman; but when his time comes, and his own crystal glows ruby-red, well, guess what, he too realizes that life is worth living, and tries to run…

 

I, for one, have no plans to go peacefully into that great goodnight at the hands of our medical profession.  You may see me running one day.  I am a few years past the tender age of 21, but could still, I hope, outrun most of the doctors.  Perhaps, however, it won’t be physicians chasing us, and our benign State will have their own Sandmen in the near future.  After all, once some deaths are seen as a ‘good thing’, it won’t be long before avoiding some deaths will be seen as a ‘bad thing’…

 
Bishop Sheen’s popular 1950’s television show (at the time, it drew in 10 million viewers a week, an unbelievable number, competing with the king of television, Milton Berle) was in fact called ‘Life is Worth Living’.  Even if we do not always experience the fullness of that ‘worth’ in our own, or others’, lives, we are bound by the command of God, to whose authority alone it belongs to give life, or take life.  For we all return to Him in the end, but at the time of His own choosing.

 

 

February 13th, 2015

Not-so-Super Bowl: Sports as Idol

As the world burns, and our Supreme Court here in Canada is about to decide tomorrow on whether or not physicians should be permitted by law to kill their sick patients, a word on the extravaganza the Americans call their ‘Super Bowl’,
to distinguish it from any other kind of ‘Bowl’ which, in the U.S. of A., refers apparently to any football event.  I know from second-hand accounts that the game ended on a controversial note, with the Seahawks QB attempting to pass on the one-yard line, when he had three downs to go, and one of the best running-backs in the league.  Conspiracy theories abound, swirling around like a vortex after the ridiculous ‘deflategate’, with the underinflated football used in the game penultimate to the Super Bowl which, for some mysterious reason, favoured the passing style of Tom Brady.

 

It would be difficult for me to care less, but please do not misinterpret that comment as a dislike or even hatred for sports.  In fact, I love sports, and have enjoyed many pleasant hours playing various kinds of them at a recreational level, even though, partly via the circumstances of my life, I mostly enjoy solitary physical activities, like cycling, kayaking and hiking.  Perhaps I find them more conducive to prayer and reflection, or perhaps it is due to the memory that no one wanted to pick me for a team as a wee lad.  You know, past traumas and all that.

 

So allow me to clarify that I find it very difficult to care about professional sports which have, by and large, become a bloated, idolatrous entity, blown vastly out of proportion to their importance to our culture.  As the well-worn analogy goes, sports arenas are our new cathedrals, and the players our new panoply of saints, to whom we offer devotion and praise.  Grown men quite literally weep and gnash their teeth when their team seems to be on the verge of losing, or winning; people riot on the streets regardless of the outcome.  Much of our lives revolves around sports, and even those who are not ‘fans’ (short, of course, for ‘fanatics’) are caught up in the hype of the big events, Stanley Cup, playoffs, Super Bowl, and so on.

 

I, for one, bowed out of this charade a long time ago; in fact, I cannot ever being a member, not least for the reason that I would rather play sports than watch other men play them.

 

Tour de FranceOf course, watching sports gives one a sense of vicarious enjoyment, especially if one does play the sport in question.  Seeing the cyclists of the Tour de France pedalling through the glorious scenery of the Pyrenees, one can imagine oneself doing the same thing, perhaps a tad slower, of course, on a less expensive bike, and with a bit more clothing.

 

Yet what have sports become?  We may judge the value with which we hold a thing by how much money and time we are willing to spend on it, and we as a culture spend far too much money and time on the ultimately rather utilitarian activity we term ‘sports’.  Parents devote their entire weekends driving their children, boys and now girls, from game to game, tournament to tournament.  Sunday Mass or service?  Cultural activities?  Reading?  Music?  Do they even consider such a scale of priorities?

 

At the professional level, sports have become a money-driven machine, with their millionaire players selling their set of skills to the highest bidder amongst the billionaire owners.  Team loyalty?   So long as they pay me enough; and if ‘my team’ does not perform well, I can be traded before the playoffs.  Geographical loyalty, and rooting for the ‘home team’?  How many players are actually from the town or city whose name the team adopts, or even from a contiguous region or country, for which they play?  How many actually even live there outside of training season?

 

The Olympics brings this charade to its apogee, with untold billions now thrown into its gaping, insatiable maw (the impoverished Russians, mostly the already-burdened taxpayers, will be paying off the $15 billion tag for Sochi for a long, long time to come); we watch the desperate athletes, after spending their entire lives training, trying to shave thousandths of a second off the last recorded time, a result dependent upon so many other factors (wind, a cold virus, altitude, cloud cover, you name it) that ‘chance’ has about as large a role as ‘effort’.  Their whole lives
revolve their body and its training until, in their mid-twenties, it is worn out, and they are left disillusioned.  I wonder at times especially of the female athletes, delaying marriage and family, as they train and morph their bodies into muscular male-like strength and proportion for the sake of attaining ‘gold’, or something far less.  No matter how much a human trains (world record for the 100  metre dash, Usain Bolt, 9.58 seconds), some animal will always beat him handily (100 metres easily in 5.95 seconds by Sarah the 11 year old cheetah, well into late-middle-to-old age for the large cat, and ‘Sarah’ does not even train, but lies around most of the day).

 

The Church warns against the danger of such a ‘cult of the body’, a “neo-pagan notion” leading one “to sacrifice everything for (the body’s) sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports”.

 

Of course, I hope most athletes do develop other skills and virtues, particularly of the mind, to which the body is most definitely subordinate, so they can thrive in terms of what it really means to be human, beyond their brief athletic careers.

 

We must always bring ourselves back to reality and realize with the full focus of our intellect that most sports are simply a bunch of guys throwing, hitting and chasing a piece of rubber around various kinds of surfaces.  They are not the point of life.

 

Yet much of our ‘lives’ are consumed by them, and many men spend their weekends and time off watching younger, fitter men, often in tight suits and skimpy rugby shorts (yes, I know, a cheap shot…I know it’s all for reducing wind resistance and surface area to grab, but still…), running or skating around an arena.  Harmless fun, to an extent, a vicarious form of warfare preventing other real strife, perhaps, a way to perfect one’s body, yes, but only if one participates in ‘real life’.

 

I read recently one author claim that the prestige of Notre Dame University in Indiana as America’s ‘flagship’ Catholic educational centre rests largely on the strength of its football team.  I suppose there may be a convoluted connection between such athletic prowess and academic success but, if so, we might want to reconsider the connection, especially given ‘Notre Dame’s’ own questionable fidelity to the truth, especially of the theological sort.  What are the Fightin’ Irish fightin’ for?

 

Again, however, even with the many positive aspects of sports, let us bring things back to reality.  Case in point:  I wonder how many Canadians realize that as I write, our Supreme Court is about to decide on the euthanasia question, turning our physicians into legally sanctioned murderers (as they have already done with the ‘abortion question’ four decades ago).  I fear that a much larger percentage of the men, and of course women who now make up many of the ‘fans’, of our land neither know nor care, but are more than ready to tune in to the big-budget-but-perennially-losing Maple Laughs, sorry, Leafs… (tomorrow, Friday, 7 pm against, ironically enough, the New Jersey Devils…and, yes, I had to look it up).

 

February 5, 2015

 

Saint Agatha (3rd century Virgin and Martyr, and, I presume, not a sport-watcher)