Seared Conscience

There is a lot of confusion amongst people in this fair land that law and morality are the same thing.  Not so, as recent history has taught us.  What is moral is not necessarily legal, and what is legal, not always moral.  The problem is that law works two ways, pedagogically, by teaching us the right thing to do, and coercively, by forcing us to do it (whether we agree with the law or not).  Hence, under its pedagogical aspect, over time, we tend to think that things that are legal, are moral; the two spheres of law and morality, which should ideally overlap, tend to coalesce in our minds over time.  Eventually, as I described in the Mask of Evil, the corrupt underbelly lying beneath unjust laws sometimes bubbles forth for all the world to see.


Here are two examples over the past week.

In an undercover video Planned Parenthood ‘Doctor’ Deborah Nucatola describes in bland, medical detail their policy of selling baby parts from partial-birth abortions, all the while sipping her glass of vin blanc, while ‘Doctor’ Mary Gatter of the same entity wants the price-point of these ‘body parts’ to be such that she can finally afford that Lamborghini she has always coveted.  I suppose she would have it painted blood red?


I will spare you the details of these macabre conversations, which read like something out of a dystopic science fiction novel, but, as they say, the future is already here (you can get Mark Steyn’s take here and the reliable Father Rutler’s here).  Suffice to say that the diabolical evil of this largest-abortion-provider in the world is finally being brought to light.


How much do we have to know about the abortion industry to realize that future history, presuming there is such, will judge us as harshly as we judge the Nazis?  Any society that murders its nearly-born infants for profit, then sells their parts for even more profit, does not deserve to survive.


Finally, today, Canada’s food and drug administration just approved the RU-486 pill, a chemical abortion cocktail that women can take at home.  The dangers and side effects of this gruesome pharmaceutical nearly defy description, selectively edited by the fawning CBC, but nothing compares to what is done to the developing baby, who is poisoned and forcibly miscarried.  It is, quite simply, a human pesticide.


Abortion is ‘legal’ (or in our country, ‘decriminalized’), but that does not make it moral.  Selling body parts is still illegal, but why should that
stop the vaunted ‘physicians’ at Planned Parenthood?  Our society is more concerned with Cecil, the 13-year old lion killed by an American dentist (lions live for about 14 years, so dear old Cecil was already on his way out.  That said, I do not advocate the kind of puerile hunting described here.  Cecil was shot with a bow and arrow from the safety of the back of a pickup…I mean, if you are going to hunt a lion, at least hunt the lion and put yourself at some degree of risk…This pseudo-macho photo-op here pictured is rather sad and pathetic).


Cecil aside, to paraphrase Christ, one unborn baby is worth many, many lions…


Law is a nothing but a means to help us become more morally virtuous, and a society comprised of individuals of seared and warped conscience, who see nothing wrong with getting away with as much as they can, even infanticide, cannot be governed, and cannot endure.


Yes, we must bring our laws back to some kind of common moral sense, but we must bring ourselves back first.


July 30, 2015

Saint Peter Chrysologous

Tattoo You

tattoo manRick Genest’s body is mostly covered in permanent ink drawings, embedded in the lower layers of his dermis, a phenomenon we call ‘tattoos’, derived from its Polynesian origins.  Mr. Genest has parlayed his tattoo-ness, mysteriously, into some kind of successful renown; his fifteen minutes of fame derive largely from his appearance in a 2011 Lady Gaga video.


Although on the extreme end of the spectrum, Genest signifies the recent and growing popularity of tattoos, in previous ages relegated largely to sailors, who derived them from pagan cultures with whom they came into contact (particularly in the South Pacific).  Now, everyone seems to be getting tattoos, and with the current cachet that such body-art-work offers, students every year ask me in class whether they are good or evil, prudent or dumb.  What is wrong with a small cross on one’s arm, depicting one’s adherence to the Faith?  Or the name of one’s wife?  Or a picture of Our Lady?  Debates swirl into the wee hours of the morning, emotions are engaged, and the stakes are drawn…


tattoo removalThe question of tattoos is not easy to answer, but answer it one must.  My own response is that tattoos are a form of mutilation tattoo removal 2of the body.  Ponder: Would you be angry if someone tattooed you while you were asleep? (presuming such is possible…perhaps while anesthetized).  How many people regret their tattoos?  On tattoo parlours, one often sees a sign also for ‘tattoo removal‘ (difficult, expensive and more painful than getting the tattoo).  I wonder whether the parlours make more money putting them on, or taking them off (I doubt they would want this statistic publicized).  At the very least, the number of advertisements for tattoo removal signifies some level of popular and widespread regret.  How many brides want a tattoo showing against their wedding dress?


People answer my characterization of tattoos as mutilation with the response that mutilation has to result in the loss or diminution of the proper function of some part of the body.  Tattoos, they argue, do not diminish the skin’s physiological capacity (e.g., as a barrier to infection, as a transfer membrane for heat and moisture and so on).


I might dispute that, for tattoos can lead to infection and long-term problems.  The ink may be the same as that in your pen or office printer, and the water used to dilute the ink for ‘shading’ improperly sterilized and filled with germs such as myobacterium.  But, let us presume professional tattoos are by and large medically benign.  Our skin, however, is not just for physiological purposes.  Rather, our flesh signifies in large part who and what we are.  It is what people ‘see’ of us, that aspect of our being that is presented to the world, at least our faces, our hands and limbs, and other parts in more intimate settings.  It is the most visible part of the imago Dei that is our bodies.


Of course, our bodies are always changing, either with our own efforts, or by nature.  Tattoos differ from haircuts and developing our bodies through exercise and such.  In the latter, we are actualizing an inherent potency in the body, perfecting it according to its natural capacity.  There is no such ‘potency’ in the skin for an ink drawing.  It has to be embedded in the deep layers of the dermis via needles, cutting and blood (hence, back to infections).


There is a limit to how much we can modify our bodies (see my previous post on ‘Caitlin’ Jenner).  In fact, our ‘flesh’ is sacred, with a deep spiritual and human significance. Should we try to ‘improve’ upon this beautiful exterior, given to us by God?  Is our skin a canvas upon which we (or more properly others) can etch and carve permanent drawings?


jack nicholson

I would argue a most definite ‘no’. My own reaction to tattoos is some degree of revulsion, or at least pity for the person so scarred (and, at least medically, scars they are).  Regardless of the ‘beauty’ of a tattoo, the tattoo, permanent and unalterable, does not belong on (or in) human skin.  We should ponder that most are not beautiful…I once saw a man at a beach with Jack Nicholson’s face on his shoulder in its ‘Heeer’es Johnny‘ grimace from that awful movie The Shining….  When I tried to find a copy on line, wondering whether I could (would anyone else be so dumb?), I found with amazement this this tattoo is actually popular.  Are people as insane as Jack in the movie?


Even if it is not Jack, but a copy of a Da Vinci, art belongs on non-human, and generally non-living, material.


The human body is God’s work of art.  Let us leave it as it is, beautiful and pristine, and prepared for the resurrection, where, regardless of the natural blemishes we may develop in this vale of tears, we will then appear ‘without spot or wrinkle’.


July 22, 2015

Saint Mary Magdalene

Kill Shorty?

el chapoEl Chapo (or ‘Shorty’, whose real name is Joaquin Guzman Archivaldo Luera), the infamous fifty-something-year old drug lord, recently made a dramatic escape through an elaborate tunnel from a maximum-security, and supposedly el chapo tunnel‘inescapable’, prison in Mexico.  This raises a number of questions, such as, a propos, whether Mexico is a failed state.  Does that even bear asking?  Would you want to live there?


But here is one question that came to my mind:  The proper use of the death penalty. In class, commenting on John Paul II’s teaching on capital punishment in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (par. 56), I point out that the Holy Father does not outright condemn putting criminals to death. Unlike abortion and euthanasia, capital punishment is not intrinsically evil.  However, the Pope does limit its application:


This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offence”.46 Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.47


It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.


In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person”.48


In other words, we cannot put people to death out of revenge, but rather only to ensure public safety. Are ‘concrete conditions’ such that if and when El Chapo is caught again, he should be executed, Mexican style? (I would guess that would be by firing squad).  I struggle in class to come up with examples where a morally justified use of the death penalty is applicable, but it may be so here.  Shorty seems to have so much money, influence, power, connections that no prison, at least no prison in Mexico, can hold him.


Then again, perhaps he could be extradited to the United States (as the U.S. authorities originally requested).  I am not so sure he could escape from a SuperMax prison, but one never knows…Napoleon, sort of a 19th century El Chapo (not a drug dealer, so far as we know, but they were the same height, 5’6″), was exiled to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean, from which he escaped to lead another bloody uprising in France (ending with his capture after Waterloo).  After that, he was sent even further into the nether-world of the South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, with its damp air and climate (the South Atlantic is not quite the same as the South Pacific), where Napoleon, alone and reflective, eventually met his natural and God-appointed end, apparently reconciled to his Creator and his fellow man.


james holmesWe are facing the same question of punishment with the case of James Holmes , the infamous ‘Joker’ killer, who on July 20, 2012, stormed in to a screening, ironically enough, of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, with 420 people in attendance. He was bullet-proof vested, armed with a smoke grenades, Glock pistol and shotgun.  People thought it was part of the show, until the bullets started flying.  In all, he killed 12 people in cold blood, ranging in age from a six-year old girl to a 51-year old father of four, and wounding seventy others, all the while listening to heavy metal music on his ear-buds; one may surmise, he did so to drown out the screams and any pangs of conscience to which such might give rise.


The jury has rejected his plea of insanity.  Rightly so, it seems, given the degree of planning and forethought he put into the massacre (including a distraction-causing bomb in his own apartment).


As a rather pathetic, maladjusted loner, no one is likely to storm any prison, or build a tunnel, to help Mr. Holmes escape.  There is no reason to put him to death, besides a rather misguided sense of revenge and retribution.  He may well repent in his time in prison, like Alessandro Serenelli in the early twentieth century, the would-be rapist of Maria Goretti; the young saint resisted so forcefully that he killed her, puncturing her body   with an awl (a sort of ice-pick) fourteen times.  The mob would have meted out swift justice had it not been for the intervention of the police.


Alessandro was sentenced to life in a forlorn Italian prison, later commuted to thirty years.  For three years, he was uncommunicative and showed no remorse.  Maria appeared to him, whether in a dream or vision, after which he converted, and began a penitential life of conversion. One of his first visits after his release was to Maria’s mother, before whom he begged forgiveness, which she gave; as the elderly Mrs. Goretti replied, since her daughter forgave him on her deathbed all those years ago, she could do no less.


Alessandro joined a local monastery as a lay-brother, spending the rest of life in prayer and penance, and was present at the his victim-saint’s canonization in 1950.


The jury is still out on what punishment to give Mr. Holmes, with the death penalty one realistic option.  However, we should not be so quick to seek an ‘eye for an eye’, or a life for a life, but rather give the opportunity, and the time, for God’s grace to act upon a soul.  As I have mentioned before, John Paul II dramatically declares in the same encyclical quoted above (par. 3) that in all the heinous crimes against life, more harm is done to the perpetrator than the victim, for spiritual death is far worse than physical.


James Holmes, and even El Chapo, deserve a chance to repent, so long as they are kept secure from committing any further harm.  I just hope Shorty is found before such is too late.


July 18, 2015

Grexitus Maximus

greek bailoutThe world is waiting in anticipation to discover whether Greece, after their referendum last week voting a resounding ‘no’ to austerity, will accept the conditions attached to a bailout deal, or face expulsion from the European Union.  Like some finale to a Bond movie, Greece has been given 72 hours to submit, or accept life in the darkness outside the ‘Euro zone’.


Greece is a significant test case for what happens when a country can no longer pay its bills.  I have written before on the scandal of debt, both individual and societal, and the danger, both moral and practical, of kicking our financial burdens many generations ahead of us, onto our children and grandchildren.


But what if the creditor comes calling before then?  What if a country cannot even make the bare minimum of payments on its debt load?


debtors' prisonFor individuals who could not pay their debt, at least until not so long ago, there were debtors’ prisons, whose lurid and subhuman living conditions were made infamous by authors such as Dickens.  People were locked up in crowded jails, until they could ‘pay the last penny’.  But, in a classic catch-22, since they could not make an income in prison, the sentence often dragged on for years, until the debtor died of disease or starvation.


We more or less got rid of prison sentences for debt, and being sentenced for non-payment of loans is in fact illegal in the U.S. and Canada.  Well, sort of.  There are some debts that can send you to jail, for example, not paying a fine; the judge, however, has to determine some level of willingness not to pay, what is termed mens rea, or a guilty mind.  Basically, if you can and should pay, then you must pay.


If you simply cannot pay for reasons beyond your control, we have lenient bankruptcy laws, wherein one can ‘start over’, or ‘restructure’ one’s debt.  We should keep in mind, however, that for those (hopefully) few who declare bankruptcy, someone, somewhere, sometime, is paying their bills. That unpaid debt gets washed into the system, absorbed.  Hopefully, like a bit of dirty water in a vast ocean, it does not make that much difference and we, as a society, have been willing to help the minority who fall on hard times.


Problems arise, however, when we apply this principle not just to individuals, but to entire nations.  Bankruptcy becomes vastly more complex when a whole country, like Greece, applies for financial protection and help.


Here is one rub:  Greece, like most developed (and even undeveloped) nations on our planet, has a bloated, overpaid public service, many of Greek retirees on a beachwhose former employees are now living on rather generous pension plans.  As Mark Steyn writes, the myriad of public servants enjoy 14 monthly paychecks a year, and retire at the tender age of 58, so many Greeks live for decades on the public purse, enjoying fine wine and the white beaches and turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.  One can imagine the frustration of the Germans being forced to pay for this largesse.


Is this what bankruptcy looks like?  For individual debt, declaring bankruptcy requires that one seriously reassess one’s financial situation, and begin to live within one’s means.  But any hint of ‘austerity’, to use a word from their own language, is anathema to the Greeks, as last week’s referendum demonstrated.


Furthermore, even if the Greeks do accept the bailout conditions, the European financial system, like a cheap paper towel, is running out of absorbing power for bad debt.  In a society, if 1-2% are insolvent, the other 98% can see them through. But what if 50% go bankrupt?  What if, perish the thought, we are all bankrupt, and the whole Ponzi scheme will be shown up for what it is?


As the Holy Father says in Laudato Si, there is a vast and increasing dissociation between the artificial economy (what he terms ‘finance’) and real economy (the true wealth of a nation), and this divide is being put on full display in Greece, the disintegration of whose economy has already begun.  People are now trading in Gucci handbags and bagels, and airlines will only accept American currency.


zimbabwe-currency.siWhat do you think would happen if Greece is cast off from the Euro and forced to go back to the drachma, which is likely worth not much more than a Zimbabwean dollar?  (Curiously, just last month they stopped printing currency in the south African nation when it topped out at 35 quadrillion to one U.S. dollar.  I am not even sure what a ‘quadrillion’ is, and fear to look it up).


The current bailout, like the previous two totaling one-third of a trillion dollars, will only buy some time until they, and we all, can begin to live within the confines of the ‘real’ economy.  So far, the fake-Euro has masked any earlier Greek financial reckoning (as it has the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Irish and so on), by artificially buoying up their currency, allowing Greeks and the rest to live well beyond their means.


As Saint Thomas says, following Aristotle, a small error in the beginning leads to a big and difficult-to-correct one in the end, and one implication of this principle is that the farther one deviates from reality, the harder is the contact when one finally meets it:  Correcting a mistake in math is easier when one first learns addition and subtraction than when one faces calculus; ending a bad romance is easier soon after the first date than when one or the other is in too deep; jumping from the first floor onto terra firma is better than the 24th; and paying back what is owed soon after one starts borrowing is far better than getting hooked on other people’s money.


Alas, the Greeks, and most of us, have drifted quite a ways into uncharted levels of debt, and no one quite knows where we are going.


greek forgive debtWhat we do know is that the fateful day of Greek reckoning will come, as it will for us all, but in the meantime, the island nation will have tgreece no to austerityo accept the austerity measures which will hopefully bring them some little ways back to economic truth.  But even the multi-billion dollar package, or even an outright ‘forgiveness’ of the debt, will not mean much unless they radically correct course. Otherwise, Greece will soon be in the same leaky and sinking financial boat.


But from the looks of things in Greece, that will be a hard sell for Prime Minister Tsipras.

Greeks celebrating

As the old saying goes, manducemus et bibamus, cras enim moriemur.


July 13, 2015

Saint Henry I, Emperor


A Queer Take on Marriage


the new Magisterium?

Mark Steyn is right, that the recent Supreme Court ruling in the United States, officially legalizing ‘same sex’ marriage in all fifty states, with a sop thrown in, for now, for religious exemption, says far more about our culture than about our laws.  As I wrote a few posts ago, law is a fruit of culture, or more specifically the customs that arise from one’s culture.  To a lesser degree, laws also shape culture, but we generally get the laws we want, or deserve.  That is why the main battle is on the cultural front, of forming hearts and minds.


Justice Anthony Kennedy (the usual ‘swing’ vote on the nine-man, er, person, Supreme Court) waxed eloquently as part of the majority opinion about the pleasures and joys of homosexual love, and how dare we as a society bar such couples from marriage.


Ah, yes, love…It is sad that we in English have only one word for love.  Greek has at least four, as C.S. Lewis discusses in his influential book The Four Loves.  Even within the many notions of love, there are good loves and bad loves, true loves and false loves.  The most perfect kind of love discussed by Lewis, the same term adopted by Christ in the New Testament, is agape, to will the good of the other for his own sake, even though one may receive nothing in return.


The specific kind of love proper to marriage is a type of agape; this love need not even be romantic or erotic, nor even affectionate (although these do help!).  Marriage, in its essence, is founded on the complementary kind of love requisite for family life:  Husband, wife and children must will the good of each other in what is required for the maintenance and prospering of family life.


This kind of love is necessary for the very survival of society, for marriage is a public and legal institution necessary for maintaining society.  Without marriage and family, there is no society.


married couple handsOf course, society is not just about the family.  There are many other types of loves and friendships outside of marriage, and other kinds of subsidiary societies, but Society as the universal grouping of us all (as a country or a State) has a right and a duty to protect the natural and legal institution of marriage, and the kind of ‘love’ that underpins it.


The question revolves around whether other types of love can form the basis for family life.  Can two men?  Two women?  A group, threesome, foursome and then-some?



Is it the camo?

The opinion of Anthony Kennedy and the other four majority-opinion justices, implies as much.  For now, they will try to hold the line at ‘two men’, ‘two women’, or a ‘man and a woman’, but the philosophical-marriage horses are  already bolting from the opened floodgate (not to mix metaphors).  Nathan Collier of Montana is already claiming the right to marry his two brides; I suppose he thinks there is more than enough of him to go around, and one woman ain’t enough for this good ol’ boy.


As Mr. Collier put it:


Everyday, we have to break the law to exist as a family. We’re tired of it. Ours is a happy, functional, loving family. I’m not trying to redefine marriage. I’m not forcing anyone to believe in polygamy. We’re only defining marriage for us. We just want legitimacy


But are they not ‘forcing’ people to believe in polygamy when they ask for legitimacy?  After all, that term means ‘recognition by law’, which in turn means putting his polygamous relationship on the same status as someone else’s monogamy.  Why stop at a threesome and not go for the Islamic allowance of four wives (or more for those like Mohammed given a ‘special dispensation’).


The whole problem is cultural, which is to say, religious:  What is one’s view of human nature?  Are we bodily creatures, made by God, and does our very incarnation as ‘man’ and ‘woman’ limit what we can do, especially in the realm of marriage and family?  The Church and, until recently, every society in the history of the world has said so.  Even the ancient Greeks and Romans, although dallying in and tacitly permitting homosexuality, would never have thought to make this kind of ‘love’, as one might term it a (disordered) erotic affection, the basis for marriage and family:  Two men, nor two women, could never in their minds be ‘spouses’.


To grant the legal and societal rights of marriage to anything but an eligible man and a woman (with all of the duties, obligations, benefits, tax-breaks and so on) is to introduce a counterfeit marriage, which, like counterfeit money does to real money, devalues true marriage, and leads to the breakdown of society.


In the post alluded to above, Steyn admits that he respects the Irish referendum on ‘gay marriage’; let the people decide!  But he is wrong. Some things cannot be decided even by majority vote.  We are not, for example, permitted to sentence innocent members of society to death, as we have done with the unborn, and are soon to do with the elderly and sick, even if the majority wants it.  We are also not able to redefine marriage, try as we might.


jp ii preachingThere are things that precede democracy, or any form of government, without which no democracy, indeed no society, can function.  As John Paul II puts it in Centesimus Annus:


a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.


One of the principal ‘values’ that we must hold as a society is what it means to be ‘married’, and what a ‘family’ is.  In fact, one may truly say that government, and all of its laws, are simply a means to protect, foster and perpetuate marriage and the family.  When they cease to do so, when they in fact undermine marriage, they become worse than useless; they in fact become evil and, as Justice Scalia in his dissenting minority opinion implied, the seeds of revolution are sown.


In the face of God, the Church, civilization, and thousands of years of human history, it is only now, in 2015, that the Supreme Court has had the hubris to redefine what marriage, and what family, is.  We were ahead of the curve here in Canada, legalizing same-sex ‘marriage’ by parliamentary decision, under Paul Martin in 2005.  The criteria of ‘affection’ and ‘self-affirmation’ are vague indeed. Is any convenient relationship based on one’s private notion of ‘love’ the basis for family life?  Should we not stop and ponder where some relationships are objectively more suited to complementarity, mutual perfection, and the raising of children than others?


Douglas Farrow in a recent forthright essay, claims that by legalizing ‘gay marriage’, we have put the family, ourselves and our children, officially into the hands of the State and its functionaries.  They now decide who is, and who is not, a ‘family’, a husband, a wife, a child.  If they can decide that by judicial or parliamentary fiat, what is there left?


We are all now children of the State. In Farrow’s provocative, but true, words the United States has now joined our happy company here in Canada by becoming a nation of bastards.


Welcome to the brave new world. Time to set up the ramparts.


July 6, 2015

Saint Maria Goretti