A Potpourri

  1. Abortion


This week has been another anniversary of the infamous Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S. about 1972.  It is also a time when many anti-abortion forces get together to march, to demonstrate and to proclaim the wrongness of that decision.  These people are mostly very conservative, both church-wise and politically.  If you look for any liberals/progressives on that side of the issue, you will not find many, if any at all, and that is really sad.  The issue has polarized the body politic and the faith community in such a strange way that it is difficult to talk about.


Since 1972 something like 50 million abortions have been performed in the U.S.  This includes everything–from the disposal of zygotes, the fertilized ovum-sperm cell, to an almost fully formed baby who is killed by having its head crushed or its spinal cord cut.  Not many could actually stomach seeing the actual medical procedures if they had to, and you wonder if their advocacy of abortion would be so strong.  However, even abortion-rights defenders often say that they are not so much “pro abortion” as they are defenders of a woman’s freedom of choice, to decide for herself if she wants an abortion.  Thus their banner reads: “Pro Choice.”  These are very often very well-meaning and well-intentioned people—they are not really “killers” as some anti-abortion people would have it.  However, once the situation is analyzed in terms of “rights” it becomes a lost cause—meaning we can never resolve it in those terms.  Once we put it in these terms: the rights of the mother to choose what to do with her own body vs the rights of the unborn one to life—well, that is an impossible dilemma to resolve.  But “rights language” is practically all that our ethical and political ethos knows.


Just to scratch the surface of the multi-faceted complexity in this issue, consider this.  The so-called “right” to an abortion is built on a so-called right to privacy for the mother–legally and constitutionally speaking. Choice is the fundamental value. What is here avoided is the status of the fetus.  Do we have personhood or human-beingness here, or do we not?  And who decides that and on what basis?  And what gives the right to anyone to choose to take the life of another person?  At one point in our history the Supreme Court had ruled against the personhood of Black People, thus justifying slavery and later segregation.  In 16th Century Spain there was a vigorous debate whether Native Americans were really human beings.  This seems outrageous today, yet we as a society seem to have no trouble in denying personhood and human-beingness to the fetus.  On what basis?  Even if we take an “agnostic position”–we are not sure when the fetus “becomes” a human person–we should be much more circumspect about supporting abortion or choice.  Naomi Wolf, a vocal feminist, has said that abortion is an evil, but at times a necessary evil.  Perhaps a problematic way of putting it, but at least an honest way.


Now on the other side of this issue are all the conservative church people and political people who have championed the “pro-life” cause.  What is tragically sad is that to the extent they are on the good side of this issue, they are terribly wrong when they latch this issue to a whole mindset that allows for an authoritarian church life and a political and economic order that leads to the destruction of  truly human well-beingness.  Very often these people seem not to be bothered by the death penalty, by our proclivity for wars, by a selfish, self-centered, greed-driven economy.  Very often these people ally themselves with the Republican Party, but as one commentator put it, each election cycle the Republicans speak out against abortion; what they deliver is tax cuts for the wealthy.  But these people keep coming back to that.  One begins to suspect that a lot of conservative Catholics and evangelicals have their anti-abortion views mixed up with a whole bunch of reactionary, anti-liberal views.  It is part of a culture war that is taking place in our country.  What is truly ironic is that statistically the number of abortions went down in this country during the Clinton years, while it went up during the Reagan and Bush years.




  1. Holiness and Sanctity

What a complex subject—just a few thoughts and questions.  Recently there was the announcement that Pope John Paul II will be beatified—a step on the way to being declared a saint in the Catholic Church.  I am sympathetic to anyone who has problems with all this.


First of all a clarification: holiness and sanctity are not exactly the same thing.  Holiness is a state of heart and mind which are more and more attuned to the reality of God; it is not a static thing, but a dynamic growth in the life of God.  In another tradition one might want to call it “an enlightened life,” etc.  Sanctity is the public display of that life, a public acknowledgment that one gives witness to that life.  The community begins to see someone as being a “bearer of the Spirit” and so begins to call that person a “saint.”   Now none of this means that the person is perfect in any sense, even a spiritual or religious sense.  They may in fact have a lot of real flaws in their personality.  However, there are flaws and then there are FLAWS!   Mother Teresa took money from and associated with some very nasty people–kind of giving them a “cover” for their nasty deeds.  And her spiritual director for many years turns out to have been a major child molester.  Strange stuff indeed!  But then go back in time and what about someone like St. Bernard calling for the killing of Moslems and being recognized as a saint.  And there are so many others that you have to wonder about this church mechanism of “proclaiming  saints,” and claiming to be “infallible” in doing so.


Now about this JPII stuff.  I am sure he was a decent person and a sincere follower of Christ.  However, there are many indications that he was preminently concerned with the institution of the Church–to an unhealthy degree.  There has been evidence, some of it just came out recently, that during his pontificate there was a definite policy of keeping child-molesting priests hidden from civil authorities.  This was done to protect the image of the Church.  It’s not that he didn’t know–that is not possible given the evidence that has come out–he just chose the reputation of the Church over the well-being of the victims of all these priests—and all over the world.  Proclaiming such a person a “saint” is a bit of a problem.


I think we should just ignore all this “saint” stuff and leave holiness in the Mystery of God.  There definitely are many holy people around, some hidden, some not so hidden, but what’s most important is our own seeking and thirsting for holiness.  Be wary of adulation and a kind of religious “fandom.”  Recall the Gospel, Luke 18: 18:  “And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.”




  1. State of the Union


This country is in deep, deep trouble–politically, economically, socially, and, yes, even religiously.  Just a few comments.  Listening  to the President’s State of the Union message and the commentators afterwards made me think how bad off we really are.  This President sounds good, especially in contrast with the absolute craziness, the absolute irresponsibility, the absolute awfulness of the “other side”–the present-day Republicans.  He seems like the “most reasonable” man in Washington wanting to work with everyone.  He has positioned himself in a kind of political center in order to win the 2012 election.  However, “left,” “center,” and “right” are not static, fixed positions.  The fact is that this country is moving toward the right whether it realizes it or not.  What is considered the “center” now would have been considered “right” some years ago.  The center itself is now fairly far right in terms of the political map of some years ago. This started with the “Reagan Revolution” –the beginnings of the dismantling of the New Deal and a tremendous redistribution of wealth toward the top 5% or so of the population.  President Obama is more like Eisenhower or Nixon(except for Nixon’s paranoia and lack of ethics) than he is a traditional Democrat–yet in the national media and in the popular image he seems like a “liberal” or a little to the left of center.  What you have to do is look beyond his rhetoric and at what he actually does and look closely at his language.  Let us take some examples:


1. Language:

  1. President Obama had adopted the Republican narrative about the Iraq and Afghanistan.  There is no questioning of the war.  The Bush justification of the war has been accepted.  The fact that we were “lied” into Iraq seems to have no consequences, opening up the possibility of this happening again and again.  The two wars have cost us trillions of dollars—there would be no budget deficit otherwise and we could provide health care for all the American people.
  2. The Republican narrative about the economy has also been very quietly imbibed.    Please note this comment from George Lakoff, a linguistics professor at UC Berkeley:



“Conservatives are trained not to use the language of liberals. Liberals are not so trained. Liberals have to learn  to stick to their own language, and not move rightward in language use. Never use the word “entitlement” – social security and medicare are earned. Taking money from them is stealing. Pensions are delayed payments for work already done. They are part of contracted pay for work. Not paying pensions is taking wages from those who have earned them. Nature isn’t free for the taking. Nature is what nurtures us, and is of ultimate value – human value as well as economic value. Pollution and deforestation are destroying nature. Privatization is not eliminating government – it is introducing government of our lives by corporations, for their profit, not ours. The mission of government is to protect and empower all citizens, because no one makes it on their own. And the more you get from government, the more you owe morally. Government is about “necessities” – health, education, housing, protection, jobs with living wages, and so on – not about “programs.” Economic success lies in human well-being, not in stock prices, or corporate and bank profits.”


Note what President Obama said about social security.  He said he does not want to “endanger” the benefits of current retirees.  But that leaves open the question– what about future retirees?  He said he will not allow the “slashing” of benefits.  But that leaves open the possibility of a compromise with the Republicans and “reducing” benefits.  “Reducing” is not “slashing.”  See how tricky that language is.  A true, old-fashioned Democrat would have said that social security is completely “off the table”, end of story.  It is NOT the problem with the budget or the deficit.  It does need some help because both sides have raided the social security fund to pay for other things.  And if people who make over $100,000 a year had to pay into social security–now they don’t!!!–there would not be ANY problem with social security.  But Obama did not say that.  And his “sliding” language is just one little indication of a problem.


2. Actions:  Note President Obama’s most recent appointments:  Immelt has become one of his chief economic advisors–he comes from GE and was one of the chief architects of their outsourcing of jobs from the US to China and elsewhere.  This man is not the friend of American workers or the middle class.  Then for his chief of staff  he chose a former lobbyist for financial companies like Goldman Sachs.  Very troubling.  The corporate oligarchy is slowly getting a stranglehold on the American economy, and we are in big trouble.  Another example: Obama proposes the availability of high-speed internet for all Americans.  Good, but his Justice Dept and his Administration allow the merger of Comcast and NBC, which many media experts say allow for an increased monopoly control over what we will have access to in all media.  So we will get it “fast” but that “it” will be under the control of a few “corporate interests.”




  1. Finally….

An amazing science story.   We have a tiny fuzzy image of a galaxy that may be something like 14 billion light years away.  Amazing.  Just think….light travels at 186,000 miles a SECOND, and the light from that galaxy that reaches us now, started out something like 14 BILLION years ago.  Mind boggling!  How awesome, how amazing, how large the universe is!  And who is this God who has made such an amazing reality!!   No need to sweat the small stuff!!!!





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