This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Birth Control and Stem Cell Research (Geocities Rescue)

Part of being Christian is to believe that there is such a thing as a soul. Human life is generally thought to begin when the soul enters the body. After this point, the individual is morally entitled to protection. Before this point, no protection is required. Classical philosophy, starting with Aristotle, teaches that living matter follows spirit, that the soul controls and creates its body, which houses the spirit. This control at the start of life is as physically demonstrable as the loss of it at death, though measurement of it is more difficult. The key question on the beginning of life is when can it be shown that the soul has entered the body and assumed control?

Human life does not begin at fertilization. Identical twins are two beings from the same original fertilized egg. As souls are unique to the individual two souls do not occupy the same cell at the same time. Hence, the newly fertilized egg has no independent soul, but must be a part of the mother. The vast majority of conceptions never get to the stage where they can even host a soul, as they contain life-ending mutations from genetic code that is flawed, are from two different species or just do not work well together. If conception is the start of life then medical science is obligated to save every defective embryo, which is undesirable for both the embryo and the species.

The beginning of life is not at what American law calls "viability." The soul has clearly been implanted before this point. With the advance of medical science the term looses meaning, as the age at which a fetus is kept alive outside the womb is made earlier all the time.

Between these two points is the large gray area where the start of an independent genetic life is demonstrable. This point is when the genes of both parents control the development of the embryo at gastrulation. Before gastrulation twinning occurs and the embryo is properly described as a part of its mother's body, its development controlled solely by her genetic code. At gastrulation the father's genes begin to actively influence development. If an unnatural product is created, either by flawed genetic code or cross species fertilization, the embryo dies. After gastrulation the organism is genetically independent, which demonstrates the presence of a soul that will remain with the body until death. Because of that genetic independence it has a right to life in its own body.

Many in the pro-life camp object to birth control as much as to abortion. Such objections may be appropriate for the teaching of personal morality, but have no place in public policy. As a Roman Catholic I am expected to follow the teachings of the Church, not blindly but using a well-formed conscience. In this case, my conscience is guided by what I know of science. Because the genes of my father were not operative in my development until after gastrulation, I do not accept that I existed, other than in the mind of God, before that point. As a citizen in a republic I must act in the best interests of the body politic as a whole. The position of the church is to teach and to offer example, not to coerce policy or personal choice. For the Church to coerce moral behavior removes the volition from it - debasing the individual and the church itself. The era where all Catholics (especially Catholics in government) do what the Church says for the sake of obedience alone is over. The Church's proper place is to be a light of truth and faith, not an inquisitor of loyalty.

The desire of the institutional church to appear morally consistent has produced teachings that are not easily defended in the realm of sexuality, especially with regard to the use of birth control by those who are promiscuous. Promiscuity itself is disordered precisely because it alienates an individual from the impulse to fidelity that is inherent in the sexual act. Promiscuity creates misery in the individual, even without physical consequences. Does it not compound the sin of promiscuity, however, to also put another individual and ones self at risk of sexually transmitted disease, or to put a woman at the moral risk of an unplanned pregnancy where the temptation to abortion is very real? It simply does not make moral sense to preach against birth control in this situation, precisely because it encourages bad outcomes to promulgate this teaching.

The subject of stem cell research follows from these conclusions on birth control. Stem cells are harvested before gastrulation occurs. Indeed, stem cells are separated into groups and implanted into separate embryos to produce identical twins or triplets. They are only potential human life, so experimentation on them is morally no different than experimentation on any other type of human cell. Their state outside the mother offers them no more protection then when inside. Inside the mother, stem cells existing in their natural form in an embryo die more often than not. Society has no more obligation to protect cells outside the mother as it does to make sure that every embryo conceived survives. Any moral or religious teaching that ignores this obvious fact is, by nature, in error. The most that can be argued from a religious perspective is that birth control and stem cell research are not aesthetically pleasing, morally ideal, or virtuous; hardly a basis for public policy.

It is only after gastrulation when these cells are demonstrated to have a soul. Of course, possession of a soul and citizen in the United States and the legal protection thereof are two very different things, as is discussed in the next essay.

Roe v. Wade and Reproductive Freedom (Geocities Rescue)

The anti-choice movement believes that morally, Roe v. Wade is a human tragedy. They forget that in the largest states abortion had already been legalized prior to Roe, or the criminal code has since been amended to legalize abortion. If Roe were overturned tomorrow, abortion is still legal in many places. However one feels about the morality of abortion, Roe is also constitutionally correct. Two constitutional principles apply: privacy and legal existence. The right to privacy is subservient to that of existence, as any act between two or more persons is regarded as public when the question of life is at stake. The involvement of a physician adds a third person, the conduct of which is also public when the fate of a protected individual is at stake. The whole question of whether this individual is protected legally is the crux of the privacy issue.

Regardless of the child's physical and moral existence it has no legal standing before its birth under the currently accepted interpretation of the United States Constitution. Under Article One of the Fourteenth Amendment legal existence is granted to those born or naturalized in the United States. A fetus is neither. As this determination is made in the federal constitution, the individual states have no standing to vary from it. States rights in this area are as dead as legal segregation.

Article Five of the same Amendment lodges the enforcement of the Amendment with the United States Congress. Part of this enforcement power is to further define when life begins, and when it must be protected. Neither the Court nor the States hold this power. Therefore, for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade would be a mistake, undoing Federal sovereignty in civil rights cases. Of course, this reading of the amendment gives Congress the power to lay waste to the right to legal abortion, which it won’t do.

When I was an intern in college in the office of ultra-pro-lifer, Roger W. Jepsen, I broached the subject of the Fourteenth Amendment with one of the Legislative Assistants responsible for this issue. She offered that, given public opinion on the issue, Congress is not about to sneak in a ban on abortion. This is not a change that any congress is willing to make just because it has the requisite number of votes.

Those who seek to ban abortion need to ask themselves how much police intervention they wish to accept to secure a prohibition on abortion. Is it ever possible to eliminate abortion with the police power of the state in such a way that no abortions in fact occur, including those that are self-induced? How much intrusion into the life of fertile men and women, especially married couples, are they willing to accept in the areas of individual privacy and sexuality? I contend that police intervention into sexuality or the doctor-patient relationship is not to be undertaken lightly.

Enlightened societies set forth and guarantee basic rights for minorities in an attempt to limit the advance of a police state. The state has a responsibility to protect human life. However, if protecting all is not possible the state must protect the largest number. It is not enough to protect just the innocent. The state, and the people who make up the state, are responsible for the full effect of its actions, including those who are injured or die as a result of defiance. The rights of all are to be protected in a manner that is agreeable to all, or the society itself is poorer. An outright ban on abortion is not a solution that makes society either richer or holier, since a police state is never holy.

The rights of women vis-à-vis the state in the matter of reproductive choice must be considered and guaranteed. The question of the rights of women as a class is important. However, the main protection the society grants are to individuals. As a class, women rightly rise up so that their rights are respected. The major argument for legal abortion is the woman's right to control her body. This argument is not to be taken lightly. The decision to bear a child is the most personal of decisions a woman has to make. The role of the state in such a decision is a touchy matter, especially in societies that call themselves free. As legally the primary interested party is always the woman, the issue deeply involves women's rights as a whole and reflects their place in society.

Women must also be conscious of how the right to abortion is misused. Sex selective abortion is becoming a fact of life in many societies (it is even practiced just north of the border), often at the expense of female children.

We have now set up quite a quandary. As Christians, we accept that at gastrulation, the point of ensoulment, a child has basic human rights. As Libertarians, however, we do not countenance using the criminal law to protect these rights. How to resolve that quandary is the topic of the next essay.

Abortion and the Christian Left (Geocities Rescue)

There are three factions in the abortion question. They are the pro-lifers, who believe that abortion is wrong and must be banned, the pro-choicers, who believe that society has no business regulating a women’s right to an abortion, and the Mushy Middle, who do not like abortion nor the criminalization of it. The mushy middle is where you find the Christian Left. It is also the likely plurality position, meaning there are more of us than either of the other two positions. Any solution to the abortion question comes from this perspective. Finding such a solution is desirable, if only to make the other two points of view shut up. The political parties and associated interest groups on both sides of this question gain a lot of mileage and raise a lot of money behind this issue. It is possible that neither really wants it resolved. This is all the more reason to seek a solution from the Christian Left.

There are two ways to come at this issue. The first is to balance the interests of the mother against the interest of the child, both of which have a right to life, although only the mother has a right to liberty. The pro-life movement’s disregard of the mother’s rights to both life and liberty poisons the debate. It is as important to protect the life of the mother as it is to protect the life of a child. The shared heart example illustrates this.

The Shared Heart Example
Imagine waking up in a hospital after a period of unconsciousness and finding a total stranger sharing your heart. Are you within your rights to have the stranger immediately removed in a way that preserves your life, even if the other were to immediately die? Of course you are. It is even more permissible to have the other removed it if the attachment procedure was accomplished against your resistance.

In both cases doctors are allowed to assist you, as doing it yourself certainly causes your death. In the second example it is just for the state to pay for it. It is even just for the state to pay for it if the only alternative was to do the procedure your self.

However, what if you were deliberately frequenting the place where shared heart donors gathered, and avoided using various devices that prevent the procedure from taking place? The right to have the other removed is not as strong. It is even weaker if you have filled out a donor card, consenting to have the procedure done if it is required for the life of the other. Substitute fetus for heart sharer and you can see where the argument is going. Of course, this approach only goes so far, since the analogy is not really the same. Eventually, it leads back to the question of the use of criminal force to stop abortion, if only to prevent those abortions where the woman is not likely to resort to a self-induced or “back-alley” abortion. As Libertarians, we do not trust the government, or even ourselves, to make this distinction. Luckily, there is a second option.

Removing the Incentives to Abortion
As Libertarians, criminalizing abortion is forever off the table. However, this does not mean that governmental means are not to be used to discourage abortions. There are many reasons why women chose to have abortions. Young women, especially teens, are often pushed into abortion by parents who see having a child as a bad career move. In today’s society, they are right. The job of the Christian Left is to make them wrong by establishing a society that emancipates young people when they become pregnant and provides an education to anyone and everyone to their fullest ability, regardless of their family situation, through both public and private means. In a real pro-life society, women on the Mommy Track lose no ground just because they keep their babies, regardless of marital status. Any parent who is caring for a child under one year of age has their position and seniority guaranteed while they do so. In fact, their career advancement does not stop while they do so. Time parenting is of equal value to time working in terms of seniority. To do otherwise is anti-family.

Families sometimes have abortions because they cannot afford additional children. In today’s economy, many cannot. It is up to the Christian Left to change this. Alter the tax code so that every family is assured an adequate income for the number of children in the family. This is either done by increasing and broadening the Earned Income Tax Credit for personal income tax filers, or by doing so as part of a comprehensive tax reform. Under the latter reform personal income taxes on all but the richest individuals are eliminated, the responsibility to pay taxes on this income is transferred to the employer and a tax credit, payable to the employee as part of his or her wages, is given to the employer for each dependent child and stay-at-home parent of each of their employees. To take away the fear of paying for college, establish a system of public and employer funded higher education, including the payment of wages and living expenses for going to school. These solutions will be explored in more depth in other essays, although the topic demanded that they be mentioned here.

Society can also discourage abortion through education and through the requirement that any fetus to be aborted must be anesthetized once there is a heartbeat. This is both out of respect for the child’s humanity and to drive home the point to all concerned that it is a human being, even if it does not have rights. Free access to birth control for any who need it also lessens abortion.

The Church (both Catholic and Evangelical) must change its line of argument on this issue. It must stop resisting birth control, since the science on the subject shows that Church is ignoring rather obvious scientific fact. A sensible stand on birth control and stem cell research increases it’s credibility on abortion. The hierarchy must listen to the wisdom of the faithful in this regard, since the faithful are also the Church. Abandon efforts to use the power of the state against women and doctors. Such power is persecution and not fitting for a Church that was once persecuted. Instead, the Church needs to become the vanguard seeking economic incentives for life – especially those fiscal measures I have mentioned here. Provide any young woman who has a child the means to support the child, encouragement to marry the father and opportunity through a funded education for both parents to succeed at their full potential. Celebrate each child, regardless of its parentage, since many abortions occur to hide the stigma of teenage pregnancy. The Church needs to get into the business of providing education to these young families, rather than merely encouraging adoption, and fight for the dignity of mothers who work, and for the dignity of mothers who take a break from work and seek to re-enter the work force after their children are in school with no loss of career advancement. Unlike civil society, it should not simply push for the equal rights of women, it must push for the superior rights of women. Finally, a truly pro-life church excommunicates members who own businesses (either as operators or stock holders) who do not pay a just wage to growing families, i.e. giving a raise for every new child (and practicing this principle with its own employees). If it takes these steps, it is serious about advocating for Life.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

What is the Christian Left (Geocities Rescue)

The Religious Left is a world-view based on Judeo-Christian values which emphasizes social justice rather than personal morality. The Religious Left is also called religious humanism, where the purpose of morality is the benefit of humans and discipleship consists of justice for the oppressed rather than a stand for personal righteousness. Since the advent of Rush Limbaugh, Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition, radio listeners and broadcast experts have been speculating on the possibility of a radio talk show capturing the other side. The Voice of the Religious Left is an attempt to do just that.

These musings summarize possible Religious Left positions for your education and entertainment. They are a product of years of study and thought about the problems of this world and some possible solutions. They are a presentation of my personal philosophy and the nexus of four key beliefs systems that I feel are stronger in combination. They are Christianity, Cooperativism, Libertarianism and Internationalism.

The musings on Christianity reflect my own faith journey. They come from a Christian perspective because that is what I know. This does not mean I exclude fellow liberals from other religious or moral traditions, including and especially Judaism, which is the source for all of the teachings of Jesus. I relate my Christianity as a social ideology based in the teachings of Christ that all can join in, whether Christian or not. I am going to attempt to claim the ground that the Christian Right seeks to claim for itself. I refuse to let them have a monopoly on God.

For me, the core difference between the religious right and the religious left is how God is defined. The religious right, including many in my own Catholic faith, hold fast to the idea of an angry God who demands perfection in every detail. In doing so, they justify themselves as the righteous voices of an angry God. Those who oppose their view of God are outside the bounds of faith and damned to eternal Hell. Religious conservatives look at man as basically evil and fallen, doomed to hell without the church, which stands between man and an angry God. To reach heaven in this church, the anger of God must be satisfied. This has led to a self-important church focused too much on the things of this world, such as monetary success and political power.

The Right's view of God as angry is a reflection of their own anger at those they disapprove of, but this anger has little to do with God. However, as long as we allow the religious right to define God in terms of their anger, that anger dominates public policy. It also leaves many that are otherwise saved by a gentler theology in the wilderness of unbelief. In essence, the harshness of the conservatives is counter-productive because it keeps people away from God. Many do not see a God of anger as a God of Love, which leaves them outside the comfort of God's mercy which the church provides in the here and now. The horrific vision of an angry God leads many to go so far as to deny the very existence of God.

Let us redefine God as a lover of mankind, who rescues us from the self-imposed exile of suffering. Seeing God in this way allows a renewal in the relationship between God and people, justifying our call to constitute a polity of service to others and of human freedom. I address some interesting questions that may help non-Christians understand Christianity from a different perspective. The Jesus I present is a humanist, rather than an absolutist, and His sacrifice is put in terms that the average seeker can understand, rather than as a grand mystery. My Christianity is infused with a healthy dose of humanism, which leaves room for liberty that the group dynamics of dogma do not allow. It is also infused with the Cooperativism of the early church, which was abandoned when it became the state church of the Roman Empire. Such an infusion defeats the atheism of Marx and Lenin and allows Christianity to reclaim the high ground in the battle for workers rights.

The Cooperativism presented here is a free market alternative to state socialism. It strives for the same type of worker equality that socialism strives for, but attempts to surmount the allocation problem inherent in state control. The goal of Cooperativism is the equality of workers at the corporate level, rather than the political level. It is also described as Inter-Independence, working in an interdependent manner so that each worker is financially and environmentally independent. My Cooperativism is also internationalist, so as to avoid nationalism and protectionism, which so often taint the struggle for workers rights. Previously, this topic was called corporate socialism. I have since learned that this term is in use by Ralph Nader to describe corporate welfare. This is not that. I use Cooperativism to describe the free association of workers for their common independence in a way similar to the way Silas Allen, my great-grandfather used the term when he helped start the cooperative movement.

My Libertarianism is richer than that which is practiced by those on the right. It is more than a reaction to governmental power, it is an affirmation of individual rights in all organizational settings, from the church to the office to the condominium association. If right wing Libertarianism were to ever succeed, big government would surely be replaced by big employer. I will not replace a tyranny where I at least have a vote with one to which I must bear allegiance or starve. I will not give up on liberty in the workplace and on the rights of workers as individuals to economic justice. My Libertarianism is also tempered with Internationalism. I stand for the rights of people everywhere, not just within our borders. The isolationism which Libertarians propose reminds me far too much of the isolation of the 1930s, which allowed tyranny to hatch on a global scale, leading to world war. Finally, my Libertarianism is tempered by my Christianity. While I believe in freedom, I do not believe in moral license or the freedom to ignore the suffering of others. Freedom and liberty serve the cause of human dignity, they are not an end in themselves.

My Internationalism is in the service of people, not national or economic interests. Current international bodies are collections of sovereigns. I believe Internationalism is more than that. I stand for the exporting of the values of liberty, tolerance and human dignity to all nations who have relations with us, and for the election of a sovereign legislature by all people who share these views. Such an Internationalism guarantees the rights of workers and stamps out slavery with overwhelming force where ever it again rears its ugly head, whether in sweatshops or in forced prostitution. Such an international government is a limited government, whose main focus is to protect the liberties of its citizens from tyrannical local government (even when democratically elected) and exploitive employers and lenders.

If everything I am suggesting in these Musings comes about, the result is the end of government as we know it, not only in the political realm but also in every facet of life. The practice of democracy in the religious and industrial sectors refocus both of these areas in a way that allows the now ever present hand of government to be withdrawn from all of our lives. Churches abandon Moralism and take on service, leading to an end of religiously and racially based laws that bring America closer and closer to a police state. Employee-owned businesses plan for the long-term rather than the short term bottom line and provide safe products and a safe workplace. This new business climate diffuses through multi-national firms to the rest of the world, leading to the end of both tyranny abroad and an all present defense-industrial complex at home. The aerospace industry then concentrates on the peaceful exploration and colonization of space and man begins to realize his true destiny, exploring both his soul and the cosmos. For these things to occur, however, action is necessary. Institutions do not transform on the weight of logic but on the actions of everyday people. The first action which is necessary is to talk. A link is provided below to get involved in the discussion online. Use it. I have no monopoly on the truth and I am sure that you will let me know this. I look forward to hearing from you soon. This should be an interesting journey. I hope you enjoy it!

A Catalogue of Musings (Geocities Rescue)

A Catalogue of Musings is identical to the summary on the Christian Libertarian Party blog, which you can find here:

The Christian Libertarian Party: Christian Libertarian Summary (Geocities Rescue)

Proof of God (Geocities Rescue)

I am beginning these musings on a high note, if not the highest: proof that God exists. This discussion reflects those proofs which I have found convincing in my faith journey. It is at the beginning of these musings because my view of morality flows out of my personal conception of God. This conception is from a Christian perspective. It is my hope that non-Christians find some understanding of the Christian perspective, leading to greater peace among the monotheistic religions.

As Cooperativism, which is in some ways akin to Socialism, is a major component of my personal philosophy, I must first show my religious colors so as not to be immediately labeled a Marxist-atheist. While I agree with Marx on the inevitability and justice of some form of common ownership of the means of production, I disagree with it being state based, a product of revolution or atheistic. I invite Socialists to consider whether one can both believe in God and reject Capitalism. I concede to them that a belief that we are children of God leads to a rejection of violent revolution as a tool wherever possible. However, this does not mean that justice for the oppressed must waits until the next life, as a Religions Left God is a God of justice that expects believers to work for justice now. A large number of workers adhere to some religious faith. For social change, it is time to abandon atheism and its close cousin secularism. This essay provides a rationale for Socialists to examine. While some of this analysis relies on scripture as evidence, the vast majority is not and should not be dismissed out of hand.

Many non-believers deny the existence of God based on the actions of the Church. I grant that the church has not exactly been pure and just. It has often been led by those who were hardly godly or God fearing. To give credit to the Marxists, it has been used to control and oppress workers and peasants. It has not always been thus. Early Christianity and several of the Jewish prophets have a rather radical commitment to the rights of workers. This voice has not died, despite the best efforts of both Catholic and Protestant churchmen, especially those in the fundamentalist right. The Church is filled with pesky human beings, who are far from perfect. A proof for me of the existence of God is that, many times in spite of the Church people have, throughout the ages, found Christ. Frequently, the Christ they find is a Christ for the workers. Centuries after century, believers and saints live holy and just lives after the model of Christ; lives which all can see are the example of a higher power not of this earth.

As a Catholic, I claim a personal experience of God, as do many others. When Christians partake of certain rituals, particularly Eucharist and Confirmation, they encounter God in a meaningful way. Alcoholics and addicts of all sorts find God in their twelve step fellowships. Their chief proof of God is their continuing recovery. While these experiences cannot be measurable in a lab, they are no less real. Not all knowledge is amenable to scientific investigation. Some things are found out on the individual level, especially those things that make us truly human, like the experience of God and grace, and the experience of ourselves as individuals. Oft times the most convincing path to faith is surrender: the willingness to be helped. The other side of this coin is that the best demonstration of the existence of God is to help others (whether one claims God or not), and this is the best way for the religious left to distinguish itself.

The existence of God has been debated for century upon century, into prehistoric times. Saint Thomas Aquinas had five proofs of God, the most noted being that God started all motion (which is out of date according to the laws of physics) and that the intricacy of the universe shows that there must be some designer. Of course, direct evidence is impossible as by definition the creator is outside of creation. The existence of God again comes down to a personal decision. In looking at creation, you have to ask yourself: Can an imperfect universe cause and maintain its own existence? For that matter, can an imperfect man be the cause of his own existence (as New Age believers claim when they state Thou Art God)? If the universe can do this, there is no need for a God. However, if an imperfect world must have a cause then that cause must be perfect and that perfection must be God. This is a leap of faith - though it is a small and perfectly rational one. It implies a decision: that life has meaning and that there is such a thing as existence. This small leap also implies that man exists, that he has a soul or spirit (or both). To better define how we know God, if he does exist, we need to examine this soul, which we will do on the next page.

The Nature of Soul and Spirit (Geocities Rescue)

If you depend strictly on scientific verification, you almost have to believe that there is no such thing as a soul. Sociology and psychology explain how morality develops out of group dynamics, that groups define themselves by a shared belief in what is good and what is evil, and whether conformity within the group is enforced, as in hierarchies, or dissenters are expelled, as in egalitarian groups. Free Will is explained away by Chaos Theory. Using the fractal geometry, scientists map patterns of thought in the brain, as long as they know which brain cell is linked to which thought, the human will is highly predictable. We only appear to be free because the random cycling of our brain waves gives us that illusion. In time, most of what we think is understood. Psychology and genetics further explain most human action. It is perfectly rational to contend that man is not free at all. If this is position is accepted, the whole proof of God musing, and indeed the whole site, is just so much wasted bandwidth. You might as well stop reading now and surf porn instead.

Of course, if you are still with me then you must be interested in the counter-argument. First, let us further define what it is to be human. Decartes launched the enlightenment with the words: Cogito ergo sum - I think therefore I am. This is a modern claim that we exist, that we are beings rather than animals, and that we are free. Of course, some people are freer than others. People with lesser language skills have limited options and limited freedom. Others, because they mold their language as much as they are molded by it, are freer, having original insights outside of current usage. Back in college, in an intro to philosophy class, I learned that the human mind is spiritual because thinking is self-reflective act, we think about ourselves thinking. Physical things are not self reflective, as you do not see yourself seeing or hear yourself hearing. Thinking about thinking is beyond the physical world and is a projection into the spiritual, whatever that is.

In the Hebrew creation story, God breathed a soul into Adam. I believe this story, not as a historical fact, but as a way of stating that God breathes a soul into each of us. (The discussion of when this happens has to wait until the discussions on birth control and stem cell research). As such, the soul is a reflection of God. Again, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the soul contains the Will - the desire for the Good, which leads man to seek God, perfection and goodness, and the intellect, which informs the will. Through the intellect comes inspiration. Every inspiration is a sharing in the world created by God, and in God's knowledge of His own creation. This is why people feel joy when inspired - and why education is called a drawing out of knowledge you already have breathed into your soul by God. There is nothing new in truth, as all truth is a part of God, and to know it is to know God.

I believe that the intellect has two parts, the spiritual intellect and the biological brain, which is the link between soul and body. Both are interwoven to form the whole person. The third part of the soul is the Id, which is purely physical, the Freudian sum of the drives and longings. Without the brain and the Id we are angels. Without the Will and the inspirational intellect we are animals. Of course, we are both. We are free because of the spiritual side of the soul. Therefore, thought is more than just random chaos. The more the Id is integrated into the whole personality and under the control of the spirit the freer the person is. Those whose Ids run unchecked are controlled by their passions. They are not free. The integrated person choses Good and experiences higher and higher levels of truth as it is instilled in the soul.

This view of the soul also explains why we have evil in the world, because people are free to choose it, not because God created it. The existence of evil in the world does not disprove the existence of God, it proves the freedom of man. Here is how freedom works. The Intellect can only inform the God-seeking Will with what it knows. Since God in its pure and unmasked form is not present inside its own creation, the Will settles for lesser goods. Thus, the Will is free unless it is exposed to its ultimate desire, God, or unless it has no freedom because it is under the control of either the Id or some disease or defect, such as mental illness or addiction

With evil, comes blame. Again, from the creation myth, Adam and Eve brought blame into the world when they ate the apple. In the story, Adam and Eve consumed the forbidden fruit because they blamed God for not making them perfect. This sin is reflected in their explanations to God, Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent, who tempted them with the thought that God made them inferior. Acting on that blame, they sinned. Blame is evident in the self-justification and self-loathing that go hand in hand with sin. The only way out of the blame trap is forgiveness. Jesus taught that to be forgiven and escape blame, one must forgive others. It is interesting how much this is ignored in social policy by the religious right, which seems to push punishment in the criminal justice system rather than treatment and forgiveness. Of course, there I go again, casting blame on the religious right.

I feel that we are basically good, though we spend too much time blaming others (and ourselves) for afflictions and insults. We dwell on the evil in the world. However, because neither the world nor people are perfect, evil has to exist. If the world and man were perfect it would be unchanging - we would be dead, or alive in the next world. As it is we are alive and in this world, in a state of change. However, with change comes pain, which is thought of as evil. In the next world there is no pain and no change, as we will encounter the essence of God, the next subject in this discussion.

How Christians Understand God (Geocities Rescue)

Accepting God as central to our human existence, we can then examine God further. Let us start with a few of the standard assumptions about how God has to be. By definition, God is perfect and infinite, the Supreme Being. My father once told me that God knows the past, present and future. This gave me some trouble, as I could not reconcile this with free will. It was not until later that I concluded that, because God is perfect, he acts perfectly toward his creatures within time, while also being outside of time. God is like someone who always knows the right thing to say.

God is self-sufficient, meaning that God does not need us, we need God. Further, and this is important to later discussions, God cannot be diminished or harmed by his creatures. Nothing we do on this planet has any impact on him. For this reason, the Church came up with the concept of the natural order, which is damaged by the actions of man. I submit that this concept is the Church trying to have its cake and eating it to. There is no natural order, there is only each person's relationship with God and others.

Christians believe that God is triune, one God in three persons. As much of what follows in this musing is based on that belief, it is time to discuss it. The Trinity is the major point of difference between Christianity and the other monotheistic religions, Judaism and Islam. When monotheism was battling polytheism, in ancient times in Israel and in Arabia during the time of the Prophet, the focus on One God was justified. Now that monotheism is firmly established, a deeper discussion of the Trinity is less controversial.

Christians believe that the Three aspects of God do not divide God. They make God a complete Whole, and all the more Beautiful. The Blessed Trinity is one of those truth's that man is incapable of coming up with on his own. It is only known because Jesus revealed it.

This is how I understand the Trinity. To be utterly satisfying God is Perfection itself. This Perfection is God the Father, the ultimate Good. This Perfection has Knowledge of Itself. The Knowledge is so Perfect and so complete that it is called God the Son, the Truth, the Word of God. Perfection and the Knowledge of It without Love is hollow truth and ugly. The Knowledge of Perfection Loves the Perfection, and the Perfection Loves the Knowledge of Itself. This Love is also so strong as to be personified, and is the Holy Spirit, the shared Love between the Father and the Son. This is the utterly complete God, which is our reward in the next world.

Understanding our belief in the Trinity is essential to understanding how Jesus could be born and live as a man, die on a cross, and still be God. Our next step is understanding the passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Members of the religious right will not like the explanation I am about to provide, as it illustrates the key difference between the left and the right

A key point in understanding the Passion is an inquiry into what Jesus knew about himself. Let me digress for a moment to what Christians believe about Jesus. We are taught that Jesus was both true God and true man, that He was born of a virgin through the action of the Holy Spirit, therefore the Son of God. (This is not to be confused with the Immaculate Conception, which is the teaching that Mary was conceived without the sin of Adam, the tendency to blame, which I discussed previously.)

Jesus, the Real Evidence revealed that virgin birth with male offspring occurs in nature, though it is rare, provided the mother has an extra Y (or male) set of genes. As you recall from the ultimate proof of God, that He is the cause of existence itself, God has plenty of space to work through the natural world. The Virgin birth makes sense medically while still allowing for a transcendent, or spiritual, explanation. Every birth is, in fact, a miracle, though the birth of Jesus is more so. The story of the virgin Birth orginates with Mary, his mother. We infer this because scripture states And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. (Luke 2:19). We then infer that one of the ways Jesus knew of his divine origins was from what Mary told him. Luke also relates that Mary was a good liberal. When she visited her cousin Elizabeth, she said, He has deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. The hungry he has given every good thing, while the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:52-53). No wonder the more conservative Protestant sects do not like the Catholic stress on the importance of Mary.

The other way he knew himself was through scriptures, as this is how he explained himself to his disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27). We know that he acquired this knowledge at a young age, at least from the time he was lost at the temple when age twelve when he insisted that his place was in his Father's house (Luke 3:49). When his parents did not understand what he was referring to (the first of many times Jesus would be misunderstood), he yielded to their wishes and lived as a carpenter until age 30. It was then that he was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, which descended upon him like a dove, with a voice from heaven stating You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests. (Luke 3:22). I assert that until that day, he was guided by what he was told by his mother, by his knowledge of the scriptures and by his faith. Until his baptism, he did not get any special favors. Even his miracles, including raising Lazarus from the dead, were due to his faith and the faith of those healed, rather than some raw exercise of divine power.

The letter of Paul to the Philippians quotes an early Christian hymn, which states that Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with god something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8). Next we will discuss this death.

The death of Jesus and it's meaning for us (Geocities Rescue)

The Christian Right, both Catholic and Protestant, teach that the death of Jesus is a sin offering to a just God, removing the stain of the sin of Adam from all who believe. This belief is seen as essential to attaining heaven. True believers feel that unless one accepts salvation in this way, salvation is impossible. In the Christian Left, we believe there is more to the story of the passion and death of Jesus than meets the eye.

My first exposure to the Passion story was in fourth grade at St. Helen's Elementary School in Dayton, Ohio. On Palm Sunday, the Passion was read at Mass. It was really the first time I was open to the story. Later that night, for some reason I was upset that Jesus had to die this way. It just made no sense to me. Now, I understand the theology behind the traditional explanation. I do believe that the sufferings of Jesus are the key to our salvation, but I do not believe that the mechanism for this is the placation of an angry God. Such a terrible God did not pass my personal smell test then, and it does not now.

That same week, school was closed on Good Friday. Since I had been confirmed just a month before and was going through my holiness phase, I went to afternoon services. I remembered from the Gospel the night before the words of Jesus stating that he would not drink of the fruit of the vine until he did so in his Father's kingdom. However, in the Gospel of John, Jesus clearly drinks wine before he dies. I found this odd, to say the least.Years later, in religion class at Regis High School, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the part of the Passion story where Christ says "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" was being discussed. At the time, I was sure that Jesus was saying this to fulfill prophesy, and that his faith was not truly shaken. However, the discussion started me thinking. Years later, while channel surfing late at night, I came across a discussion of the same passage on a Christian station. The theologians were discussing what brought Jesus to this point, concluding that it was one of the great mysteries of salvation. This added another question to my personal inquiry. Years later, while in doctoral school at American University in Washington, I finally did what I had been promising myself I would do. I looked at all the Gospels to figure out the order of events and see if they answered any of my questions. I will duplicate that sequence now, and explain my conclusions.Catholics believe that the holy sacrifice of the Mass is the re-enactment of the passion and death of the Lord. This passion began with the Last Supper, which tradition tells us was held Thursday, April 6, in the year 30.

"When the hour came, he took his place at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; because I tell you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. Then he took some bread and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body which will be given for you; do this as a memorial of me. He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you." (Luke 22:14-20). Matthew and Mark relate the story in the same way.

When he is first crucified at 9:00 the next morning, he honors his promise. "When they reached a place called Golgotha, that is, the place of the skull, they gave him wine to drink mixed with gall, which he tasted but refused to drink." (Matthew 27:33-35) On the cross, he is taunted by the soldiers, the leaders and one of the thieves crucified with them, though the other believes in Jesus and is told I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise. Clearly then the kingdom arrives that day, not the day of the resurrection.

At almost 3:00, after a night of trial and torture and a six hour ordeal on the cross, the Kingdom is almost at hand. Jesus is truly broken and he knows he is about to die. All his disciples have fled save one, John. Returning to the scriptures. "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near, Jesus said to his mother, Woman, this is your son. Then to the disciple he said, This is your mother."(John 19:25-26)

With these words, Jesus gives up everything he was, both human and divine. Mary and John were the two main people in His life. Mary holds a unique place in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She was and is his most beloved friend, as well as his most perfect creature. Even before his birth, she begins his message of social justice in the Magnificant to her cousin Elizabeth. More importantly, she symbolizes to him the very essence of his most unique self. Because of the way he was conceived, she is the physical manifestation of both his human and his divine origins, which he knew of originally through her telling of the story of his birth. I expect that she could not look at him in her grief.

In like manner, John was the symbol for his mission, and for all who would believe in him. John was the last disciple, as all the others had fled. By giving John up to his mother, he both abandons and joins us. He is utterly emptied. At this moment his identity as God-man, son of the Virgin, his role as savior and teacher, are all gone! He has now been reduced to a state of complete isolation and hopelessness. It is a state that, as God, he does not know. Only by emptying himself and accepting this suffering does he ever know the despair and separation from God that each and every sinner feels.

"And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which means My God, my God, why have you deserted me? When some of those who stood by heard this, they said, Listen, he is calling on Elijah."(Mark 15:33-35)We know from the Gospel of John that salvation is now achieved. "After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfill the scripture perfectly he said: I am thirsty. A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth." (John 19: 28-29). Mark continues "Someone ran and soaked a sponge in vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink saying, Wait and see if Elijah will come to take him down. "(Mark 15:36)John continues, stating that "After he took the vinegar he said, It is accomplished and bowing his head he gave up his spirit." (John 19: 30)

Completing the story with Luke, "...and when Jesus cried out in a loud voice, he said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. With these words he breathed his last." (Luke 23:46)Crucifixion, at the end, is a lot like a bad asthma attack. The lungs are filled with fluid and each breath is impossible. I have no doubt, as one who has suffered from asthma, that the last words of Jesus are best translated as Its over!

Of course, it is not over. It is the very beginning. The mechanism for human salvation must be understandable to humans, as it is for humans. As presented above, the origins of our salvation are obvious. Jesus suffered for God to know human suffering first hand. With this knowledge, he reaches out the suffering sinner and offers salvation. This suffering is what saves those who believe in him. This presentation of the passion helps us understand God, as well. To save man in this way God must be a Trinity. Without His humanity, the Son of God could not experience the abandonment of the crucifixion. If he had suffered abandonment in His purely divine form existence or all would have ended.

This version of the passion also helps Christians understandthe perfection of God. The essence of salvation is what it does for the sinner, not what it does for God. It was not a blood offering to satisfy an angry God. God is not moved by anything! An angry God is not perfect, as that anger is moved by the actions of mere creatures, both in sinful man and in His sinless Son, who became a creature. The unmoved Will of God is His Love, which is a free gift without hint of anger. The God Christians come to in faith is not some distant icon of perfection, but a God who, in Jesus, shares the experience of isolation. Humans do not reach God on our own, so he comes to them in their pain. Understanding this, people understand the meaning of salvation, because it makes right in our hearts what sin makes wrong.

What is the proof of this proposition? The scriptures show that the Kingdom of God had come when Jesus drank from the fruit of the vine on the cross at the moment of his death. He had promised at the Last Supper that he would not drink of the fruit of the vine until he did it with us in his Father's kingdom, yet the scripture is clear that he took the wine on the cross. For salvation to be effective, it is accomplished without blemish. Had Jesus taken the wine before the completion of salvation, he would have rendered it impure and void. This, of course, is not so. Christianity is not some colossal practical joke with a secret meaning saying that we were all just kidding or some divine exercise in prophetic ticket punching. This is the proof Christians need to believe that the passion was real for Jesus, and that in it he joins mankind, not as a sin offering, but as a fellow sufferer. Ultimately, the proof is born out by the Resurrection, which shows that Jesus, who drank of the fruit of the vine just before his death, was justified by God. Christians are confident that as he died as they die, they will rise as he rose.The passion also shows Christains how to seal their salvation. They seal it in his Blood, which comes to them through the fruit of the vine. Whenever Christians drink of His Blood in Communion, we share in the second covenant. This removes all taint of sin, and brings them back to God. They come back to Him in confidence, because they know that He knows the emptiness and pain of the sinner. God loved mankind so much that He sought the pain it feels when it is apart from Him. As Christians drink His Blood at the altar, they share in the kingdom and fulfill his command. For he said "...if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you." (John 6:53)

There is a price for salvation, however. That price is forgiveness, not for the individual first, but for others. Jesus was very clear on the necessity of forgiving others in order to accept His Divine forgiveness. In his Sermon on the Mount, he states "If you forgive the faults of others, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours. If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you." (Matthew 6:14-15) Forgiving others is an essential step in personal salvation, as one cannot ask forgiveness of another, or of God, until one forgives them first. Granting and receiving forgiveness is necessary to escape Hell, not in the afterlife, but in this one. Indeed, the next life is only an extension of the current life. Living in a world where you do not forgive is creating your own Hell. Granting forgiveness to others is a release from despair. Peace and salvation are not sought for the next world, but for this one. Those who have been saved, but have not forgiven, are on dangerous ground. This is why, even as a leftist, I still believe in Purgatory. I do not believe it is possible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven anger is purged. Forgiveness has a social dimension as well, which I address in the essay on criminal justice. Of course, prior to discussing this we face how this view of the passion of Jesus impacts how we view morality. But first, I conclude this part with a bit of verse for your consideration:

In Light of our salvation,
The mercy of God being what it is
We do not suffer in the afterlife
For the sins which we ourselves commit,
But for those sins which we refuse to forgive.

Liberation Morality (Geocities Rescue)

The result of changing the way we look at the sacrifice of Christ is a new way of looking at morality. Under the old model of morality, life is a moral testing ground, the purpose of which is to determine who is worthy of the kingdom of heaven and who is to be damned for all eternity. Like as not, membership in one particular church or nation is a requirement for the fellowship of God and eternal life, while outsiders are damned for their defiance. Morality is promulgated by the leadership of the church or nation, based on their personal authority as divine spokesman. God, the terrible judge, is to be feared, and in the Christian tradition is so fearsome that the only way to appease him is the free sacrifice of His Divine Son.

To be fair, the picture I have just painted is a bit of a caricature. Especially in the Catholic Church, morality is linked to natural law which is knowable by reasonable beings (as originally expressed in classical philosophy), which is based in the eternal law, as created by the maker of man. The Church considers itself the arbiter of natural law morality. In doing so, the Church misses the point on the nature of natural law. Natural law must be definable solely by reason by any reasonable person. Once it refers to its infallible Magesterium it is relying on authority, rather than reason. Rome cannot have it both ways. Whether the church has honestly discharged its obligation to teaching truthfully is an open question. Gary Wills, in his book Papal Sin rather effectively indicts the stewardship of the Church in this area, especially in his critique of the doctrine of papal infallibility, as promulgated by Pope Pius IX. I am not going to rehash what he said here, but will instead talk about how natural law is known from a Christian Humanist perspective.

The Christian Humanist interpretation of the Crucifixion of Jesus provides a starting point. If, as I have stated above, the purpose of the Crucifixion was not appeasement but instead was a kind of divine vision quest into the soul of man, than the Divine purpose of morality also has more to do with man than God. Instead of morality being the rules to some test of loyalty, perhaps the purpose of morality is the happiness of mankind in this life. The Our Father states, Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven. Our view is that Jesus is the ultimate humanist, giving even his life so that man may rise again with Him in the resurrection.

God is perfect. Moral law is not for Him, nor can our adherence or violation of them move him at all, except as a parent is moved by a child who suffers. Perfection cannot be changed. God does not require moral behavior on our part to be happy. God is Happiness Itself! We cannot make God sad in His Divinity.

Liberation Morality starts from the premise that living a moral life is easier than living an immoral life. The precepts of liberation morality allow the Christian Humanist to avoid evil in this life, as the afterlife is but an extension of the current life. Jesus told his disciples to Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light. (Matthew 11:28-30). Living as a Christian Humanist means one is at peace with oneself and ones neighbors (including employees and members of the opposite sex). Practicing liberation morality means to not harm anyone, either through commission or omission. All moral teaching must meet this test, that it makes life less of burden for the individual and all of ones fellows. Liberation morality is not an excuse for license, rather it is a tool for looking at moral precepts in a new way to winnow the wheat from the moralistic chaff.

A Christian Humanist viewpoint often comes to the same moral conclusions as the conservatives, but arrives by a different road. For example, murder is wrong, not because it offends some divine prerogative, but because a culture which condones murder is unsafe. Indeed, the murderer is often later a target of murder, as is often the case where civil law breaks down. Condoning such killing, for example withholding testimony against a murderer, is almost as evil, as it allows the murderer free reign. If the community adopts such an attitude, it increases the possibility that those who step forward against killers are themselves killed, which makes the community responsible for each such killing. This is as true in neighborhoods plagued by guns as it is in villages that support terrorism or states that support oppression. Murder is murder, whether committed by gang members in Simple City, D.C., by suicide bombers in Tel Aviv or Israeli soldiers in Gaza. Accepting a culture of murder and retaliation invites further murder and retaliation. This is why many civilized people oppose the death penalty and some oppose abortion, because they fear that in each instance, a culture of death is arising (I will deal with both punishment and abortion in other essays).

Sexual sins are not sins because of how they offend God, but are offensive to God because of how they affect people. Adultery destroys trust in a marriage and results in actual physical injury to your spouse through the spread of venereal disease. Promiscuity is wrong because it does violence to the natural connection between two people that is inherent in sex, as well as causing pregnancy out wedlock and spreading disease. Masturbation is wrong not because, as Monty Python says, every sperm is sacred, but because it results in isolation and often goes hand in hand with the exploitation of women (and sometimes children). Of course, it is doubtful masturbation is the great evil that some pious theologians have made it out to be, and I am suspect in light of the recent sexual abuse scandal of a church which commands young males to confess the practice to a priest. The question of the morality or immorality of homosexuality is dealt with in an essay of its own. Suffice it to say that the chief tenant of the discussion is what works for all concerned. Clearly, promiscuity does not work. As clearly, condemning someone for expressing their sexuality, which God created within them, is contrary to the assurance of Jesus that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

Respect for property is another area where the benefit of virtue is its own reward. If one do not steal or condone stealing, your property is safer. There is truly no honor among thieves. Liars and perjurers not only lose the trust of others, but also lose the ability to trust. One of the biggest indictments of the modern Catholic Church, as exposed in Gary Wills, is its acceptance of organized lying under the guise of doctrinal consistency. Whether this involves keeping the sexual abuse of children quiet or condemning birth control when many theologians in its own ranks have shown this position is in error, lying breaks down the moral fabric of the Church. (Birth Control is also addressed in another essay).

It is usually at this point that conservatives wag their fingers and say You liberals! You are denying the existence of truth! Don't you know that there are absolutes!

To this I respond that there are indeed absolutes. Let me say it slowly. Truth exists on its own in the mind of God. It is the conservative monopoly on truth that I am questioning. I ask them, who told them that they know the truth? Where is their direct knowledge of the absolute? Let me tell you a secret. They do not have any more access to it than you or I. They learn of it as we do, through language and culture. As I stated above, even the great absolutist, St. Thomas Aquinas, agreed that in this life we could not know absolute truth (which is God). We have Free Will precisely because that which we are attracted to (the absolute Good) is not present here in its pure form. We can have a fleeting experience, but do not have the pure experience of Truth, which is God, without dying. Jesus said that he was the Way, the Truth and the Life. Christians learn about Jesus within the bounds of culture and through language, and possibly with some direct spiritual inspiration. Non-Christians can also experience the presence of God directly, as God speaks to anyone who calls upon His Name.

For some of you, I am sure the question now arises, why am I still a member of the Catholic Church if I so disagree with the way it presents morality? Like many others, I remain in the Church in spite of itself. I was raised Catholic and most of my family is Catholic, so some of it is cultural. I also derive great comfort from the Sacraments, finding Jesus in Holy Communion. Leaving is the cowards way out. Instead, as a member, I adovate rebuilding it.

Rebuilding the Body of Christ (Geocities Rescue)

The first step in rebuilding the badly fractured Body of Christ is to confront the question of whether personal salvation from sin is sufficient to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. My impression of both the Traditionalist Catholic and Evangelical Protestant branches of the Christian Right are that they answer yes, although the Evangelicals say that being saved is the key, while many Catholic traditionalists rely on adherence to the Magesterium and the avoidance of sin. The Christian Left takes a different view. While personal salvation is an essential first step, as is the avoidance of sin, to stop at one's personal salvation is self centered, and is not worthy of people who call themselves children of God. Many moral people will be surprised on judgement day if they stop at mere personal salvation. The essential response to the message of Jesus is to take up his work, his cross, and begin to follow in his footsteps. The way I see it, the cross has a double meaning. The traditional meaning is that the Christian must die to sin and undergo self-mortification. This meaning misses a whole dimension of discipleship, building his Church and serving the least of Jesus brethren. Jesus was known to be a carpenter. When he first commanded his followers to take up the cross, they heard him in that context, to take up their end of the cross beam and build the Kingdom of God.

When Jesus was on earth, the way he built up the kingdom was to cure the sick, feed the hungry and comfort the oppressed. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, he states that those that do not do likewise will find themselves in Hell on the last day, even those who think themselves saved. If Christians everywhere, and indeed non-Christians as well, heed this message, we are well on the way to rebuilding the body of Christ. Putting on Christ involves an openness to his message of service, to other Christians and the world at-large. Jesus said in his last discourse This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another. (John 13:35). Unless the various sects put down self-righteousness and take up love and service, there is no hope for Christian unity. To be born again is to have an openness to our fellows, acceptance of Love, and an end to blame. It is time to stop accusing and start doing the work Jesus commanded in the parable of the last judgement. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me. (Matthew 25:35-40). When we do these things we create the kingdom on earth (as it is in Heaven).

Part of doing Jesus work is to work for justice for the oppressed, to do charity on a societal level. The Church must teach mercy and forgiveness, rather than focusing on morality as a fetish. Individual moral justice is less of a concern than personal salvation and forgiveness. It is not the Church's place to sit as a judge of morals. It is the Church's role to teach forgiveness, healing and a moral life for happiness in this world as much as the next. To reiterate, faith is all that is needed for salvation, though, forgiving the sins of those who harm us is necessary for forgiveness. All this is for naught without a response of love and works of mercy to fellow Christians and to all of God's children. If we can agree on all of this, we can settle the political and organizational issues.

A good first step is ecclesiastic humility, especially in the Roman church. However the office of bishop evolved, it became perverted into a feudal honor in the Middle Ages. This is contrary to the lesson of Jesus during the Last Supper when he washed the feet of the apostles and demanded that he who would lead must serve. A step in that direction is for Bishops and the Roman Curia to forsake earthly power and wealth and give administration and finance over to a lay deaconate (both male and female, as in the early church). Bishops and priests then stick to teaching and ministry. A church leadership without worldly power more effectively teaches social justice and performs it. It emphasizes that morality is humanizing, that salvation comes from a God who understands what emptiness is, and that doing the work of Jesus is the reason He established His church.

Healing is necessary in a sinful world. Ways are needed to increase reception of both of the healing sacraments: confession and Christian healing. There has been reluctance in recent years to seek the former from a celibate clergy. It is natural to want to take everyday sins and problems to someone who better relates to them. One way to accomplish this is to give the power of absolution to both male and female deacons, as well as male and female priests. In the early church the Agape Meal, which was the forerunner of the Mass, was often led by women. When the Roman culture of misogyny seeped into the newly official church, this practice stopped. It is time to bring it back.

Another example of this misogyny is priestly celibacy. Religious historian Philip Jenkins reported in an op-ed in The Washington Post that the true origin of priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite is not, as many wrongly suppose, the desire to keep control of Church property by making Episcopal heirs illegitimate. Its origin also has nothing to do with the modern justification that the vow of celibacy frees Priests to fully minister to their flocks. He reveals that in the ancient church, priests were required to abstain from sexual intercourse the night before offering Mass. When they began to offer Mass on a daily basis, celibacy became a practical necessity. If this is the case, and I have no doubt that it is, then priestly celibacy is based on what most modern Catholics view as a warped notion of sexuality, particularly sexuality within marriage. If sexuality is a gift from God, which is part of being a whole person, than such a reactionary view of sex has no place in a mature spirituality. As a married person, I find such a view of sexuality in this day and age to be deeply offensive, as well as an insult to my wife. Perhaps the best reason to end priestly celibacy is to dignify marriage, women and sexuality within marriage.

The clerical system currently in place in the Church is a reflection of a feudal system that no longer exists. In the Protestant denominations, the administrative arrangements are more reflexive of democratic structures originating in England and America, which are growing in popularity world-wide. Perhaps the best way to meet the Protestants half way is to adopt a political structure more like theirs.

At the parish level, the people can select a lay deacon-administrator to manage the physical plant, the finances, and the school - all the non-sacramental duties that a pastor performs. There are still priests and a pastor for each parish, but their work is confined to teaching, counseling and celebrating the Sacraments.

At the diocesan level, the deacons elect from their own number a diocesan administrator and meet as a council to decide issues of policy not related to doctrine and celebrating the Sacraments. The diocesan administrator nominates the director of the local Catholic Charities agency, the superintendents of schools and the heads of any church owned hospital and mental health facilities (all of whom are deacons), with the advice and consent of the assembly of deacons. On a national level, there is an assembly of diocesan administrators, who elect a President. They decide issues of national policy, again not related to doctrine.

More democracy is also possible in clerical affairs. The election of the bishop by the local clergy should be final, not advisory to the Holy See, provided three bishops are found to consecrate the bishop-elect. On matters having to do with the personnel, a more collegial structure is appropriate - especially given how the bishops mishandled the recent scandal - mostly by accepting the legal strategy proposed by the lawyers they employed. As much as possible Bishops oversee and teach rather than attempt to control the priests. Diocesan tribunals on such things as discipline and annulments are constituted of both deacons and priests, appointed by the bishop and the deacon-administrator.

On the national level, the National Council of Catholic Bishops is to be strengthened. One way to do so is to create more patriarchs in the western Church. There is nothing doctrinal which prevents this, and everything to recommend it. Patriarchs are needed for both the Latin American and English speaking churches. It seems healthy under ecumenism to have a Patriarch in the Western Church for every continent, rather than on relying on the Bishop of Rome for this role. This eases the reunification of the Catholic and Anglican churches.

Where would this leave Rome? The Roman Patriarch, and his successors, is the first among equals of a Council of Patriarchs. He or she is the symbol of Christian unity, rather than the ruler of the Catholic Church. Where does this leave the Curia? Each member serves his own Patriarch, and the Roman Curia serves Western Europe, not the planet. Hopefully most go to ministry rather than administration. The Pope then rejects the royal power assumed over the centuries. As reported by Gary Willis in his second book, Why I am a Catholic, the Pope was originally the symbol of Peter, rather than the administrative head of the Church. It is sad that what was once a symbol of Christian unity is now a cause for division. By emptying himself of secular power and administrative authority, the Pope again becomes that symbol of Christian unity that Jesus intended. Such a symbol ends the current sectarianism that runs so counter to what Jesus commanded, allowing the Church to fulfill the mission of service Christ set out for it.

Education, Welfare and Religion (Geocities Rescue)

One of the most controversial issues is the topic of religion and the schools. This is especially the case since the Supreme Court affirmed that school vouchers are constitutional. The issue driven by the ongoing crisis of under-performing urban schools. The other side of the coin is the teaching of religious concepts, such as Creation Science or Intelligent Design, in public school, as well as prayer and values education. These issues are always controversial, and into this controversy walks the Christian Left, leading with its chin. Many of us favor some sort of support for religious schools, although we are less than satisfied with the level of pay they offer teachers or their traditional bias against organized labor. We are also not necessarily averse to all religious expression in schools, although we think the religious right sometimes takes these issues a bit too far. This issue has begun to turn into a sideshow about values, rather than about education. It is time to get serious.

People who study education find there are two key factors in determining whether a school is successful: the economic and social class of the parents and strength of the principal. If we are to succeed as a culture, a nation and a species, we must pay attention to both factors. Because parents are the most important factor in this equation, we will start with some suggestions on how to raise their social and economic class so that their children succeed.

Adult Literacy
The Bush marriage initiative is a step in the right direction, provided the President puts his money where his mouth is (update - he didn't). Making a commitment to marriage as a component of welfare reform has to mean making sure that fathers have the education and skills with which to succeed or else it is hollow rhetoric. Such a solution involves spending more money, not less, to be thought of as more than a play to the Republican political base, our friends in the religious right.

If children have a right to universal public education, regardless of immigration status, then so do adults, both men and women. As I write this, Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) is undergoing reauthorization. A needed component of this program is the right to literacy at the Tenth Grade level for every adult resident of this country (provided they have children born here). Every adult citizen with less than this level of education, whether they have children or not, must be provided with it and be paid to do so at a rate high enough to support his or her family. No other work is to be required of anyone who is pursuing his or her education in this manner. Individuals who are already employed, but who are educationally deficient, are better off quitting their jobs and become literate. This simple, though expensive step does more to eradicate poverty than any thing else society can do. Additionally, locate the machinery of social service in schools and make the pursuit of literacy a requirement for public assistance. Make all forms of public assistance, from energy to housing to food stamps, available where classes are held.

It is also past time to expand the number of providers of adult education. To expect the public educational system, which largely failed this population in the first place, to turn around and reach it now is ludicrous. The Catholic school system has been much more successful in providing quality education to all comers, including the children of poor parents. The lack of a system of Catholic adult education is a major flaw in this system, a flaw to be remedied through the founding of such a system of adult remedial and technical high schools. With the exception of the religious education department (the use of which must be optional to non-Catholics), the entire cost of building and operating these schools, with the related social welfare system, is a public obligation. Recently, Catholic Charities agencies have been forced to turn back grants because state governments have been underfunding grant operations, assuming that the balance is funded with donations. My grandmother had a term for what these states are doing, imposing. It is just plain rude and it is time for it to stop. The provision of education and social services is a public good to be funded through mandatory contributions, better known as taxes.

These measures improve the educational performance of children as much or more than any other reform of the school system. Studies show that a key predictor of whether a child succeeds educationally is the educational and economic level of the parents. Therefore, if we provide for the parents, we provide for the children and for the future of all of us.

Reforming Public Education
Schools systems around the national are said to be in crisis. Inner-city schools continue to be plagued by out-of-control classrooms. Aging facilities are crumbling and the money to repair them is not to be found. In suburbia, sprawl is overtaking the ability of expanding jurisdictions to build schools. Advocates of school vouchers are making in-roads in the public conversation, with the Mayor and School Board President of Washington, D.C. asking for and receiving federal money for the creation of a voucher program. Nationwide, there is a funding crisis at the state and local level as jurisdictions are unwilling to raise tax rates that were cut when the tech bubble filled public coffers, with no end in sight. Property tax-based funding systems continue to provide unequal educations between urban minority and suburban white districts. In many systems, central administration continues to provide an example of how not to run a school system, from the failure to maintain order to zero tolerance policies that penalize students for taking aspirin.

As public school systems fail, the Catholic parochial system continues to win accolades, even after the child sex abuse scandals in Boston and other places. This excellence causes some to continue to campaign for school vouchers. Defenders of the public schools argue that private schools are better because they have to attract students to survive, and that they can reject students that do not meet their standards ("creaming"). This is not the case in the Catholic system, which traditionally takes all comers, especially in the inner city. Other explanations for the success of the private, and especially the Catholic system, is that parents are more invested in the system because they pay for it. This may be partly true, but does not take into account the fact that many parents in the Catholic system receive lower priced tuition based on need. Perhaps a more fruitful place to look, especially when proposing reform, is at how the Catholic educational system is organized and how to duplicate it.

A crucial difference between public and private schools is the strength of the Principal versus the central administration. In public systems, authority comes from the people through the School Board to the Superintendent and central administration to the Principals and the unionized teachers. In the private system the Principal is in charge and often reports to a Pastor and a Board elected by the parishioners. The Diocese exerts little control over individual schools. In the public system, Principal is often a stepping stone to better-paid administrative positions on the track to Superintendent. In the private system, Principal is the last stop on the career path. In public schools, facilities, food service, purchasing, curriculum, and grants are centralized, with Principals often having no say in activities in their own schools. In the private system, each Principal is in charge of everything, with help from the Pastor in the Catholic system. Whether the Pastor is involved or not, however, the focus of all attention is on one school, not a school system.

Perhaps competition through school vouchers is not the answer to school reform. Perhaps the answer is to organize the public system so that it works the same way as the private system. The first step in this process is to create individual "school boards" for each institution. In essence, this turns each school into a charter school. Each board then hires the Principal and teachers, and is a collective bargaining unit. The parents select the majority of board members, with the teachers and the local neighborhood (and in secondary schools the students) selecting the balance of the members. The school district still assures financial integrity, especially the integrity of the student count, compliance with safety and equal opportunity standards, and the distribution of additional funding. School closing decisions are up to individual school boards, rather than the system, who follow guidelines drafted by the State Office of Education.

This approach is also adaptable as a way of funding private schools as an alternative to a school voucher approach, by turning each parochial school into a charter school. Without such a charter, which includes equal access for students and parents to serve on the board, public funding is objectionable. A private charter school receiving public funds gives a representative of the chartering institution, such as the local parish or community group, a seat on the board, but is still dominated by the parents and includes teacher and community representation. Additionally, each such school gives their teachers an opportunity to unionize (and is able to afford to pay higher union salaries given the addition of public funds).

Private charter schools receiving public funds must meet standards for the teaching of the core subjects, especially math and science. Funds for religious instruction, as well as funding for physical plant maintenance, are the responsibility of the sponsoring organization. Tuition is no longer charged at such institutions, although a purely voluntary donation is requested. Finally, religious instruction is only mandatory for members of the sponsoring faith.

Both the public and private charter options have some interesting consequences. Public charter schools bring excellence to public education. Private charter schools increase accountability in private education and introduce price competition to the private school arena like never before. As test scores improve more students flock to reformed public and private schools and educational attainment increases.

The demands on the public treasury increase to fund the education of more students. While lower administrative costs take off some of the pressure, taxes will increase. As education is a basically redistributional activity, increasing income tax rates, especially for higher income individuals who now pay private school tuition, is preferred. Society must move away from funding schools with property taxes, which are regressive and fund education for poor students poorly.

The debate on private charter schools will be the most fascinating thing of all. It will illustrate the anti-union bias of much of the current school voucher debate, as well as the lack of willingness to fund the education of children from poor neighborhoods which has always been a part of conservatism. Religion, Prayer and Intelligent Design Theory

The question of how much prayer is offered is less important in the parentally controlled schools just described. Minority rights are protected by parents calling the Principal or Board Members with concerns rather than first filing a lawsuit. The key is to practice tolerance before any type of prayer is established. Those who wish some form of Intelligent Design theory taught are able to do so, as long as state curriculum standards that mandate teaching the evolutionary paradigm are met.

The intelligent design theory hearkens back to the proofs of God offered by St. Thomas Aquinas, which I mention at the outset of the book. I suspect that this is not the intelligent design theory that most neo-creationists wish to teach. It is more likely that the Book of Genesis is the planned source material. Now, it is obvious at this point that teaching about an intelligent design leads to a discussion of the intelligent designer. Such a discussion has no place in a junior high school science class. Hopefully, the creation of private charter schools with privately funded religious instruction takes the impetus away for bringing God into biology class. If I were an advocate of teaching Intelligent Design, I would not be so quick to bring it into the science curriculum. Doing so leads to a discussion, possibly a state sponsored discussion, into the authenticity of the creation story and its evolution from the Sumeric creation myth (which teaches that with each day of creation, one god defeated the god of the prior day, until on the last day the gods got together to create man to serve them and their priest kings). Such an exposition casts doubt upon the theory that God dictated the Bible to Moses. My bet is that in the end right-wing fundamentalists do not want the state education office to go anywhere near that discussion, applying pressure or suing to stop it.

Public and private charter schools are also a better place to offer values education as a preventative to alcohol and drug abuse. When I was in the prevention field, everyone thought values education was a key preventative. Today, I am not so sure. Prevention only goes so far against what is arguably a genetically programmed disease. Altering the mix of peers young people are exposed to has more impact, especially at the junior high school level.

The Division of Grades
The division of grades merits attention. Starting High School at eighth grade separates the seventh from the eighth and ninth graders. This lessens the likelihood that seventh graders are exposed to alcohol and drugs, as is commonly the case in junior high schools which go from grades seven through nine. In the new division, secondary school would go from grades eight through ten. The current standard high school curriculum is too advanced for the non-college bound students while it is too slow for the more advanced student. Non-college bound students have no need for the level of education they are being offered, making it more likely that they are being forced into an education that frankly does not interest them. It is no wonder that students with lower skill levels or interest in academics drop out. Allow these students to end their formal academic educations after the tenth grade and give them earlier vocational technical education and union apprenticeship programs. Tune the workforce development system to provide each individual on this path with a full range of opportunities befitting their talents and interests.

On the other end of the spectrum, gifted students have little use for much of the mandatory waiting period that is high school. They are better served by beginning college earlier. When they finally arrive at College they are faced with required basic education and divisional courses best handled in high school, had they only been given the opportunity. I propose combining the last two years of high school and the first two years of college into one program. Students live at home or are emancipated and live in dormitories. This level of education is publicly funded and results in an associate's degree. After this level is complete, advanced students take a specific major combined with a masters program, thus avoiding some of the duplication that also occurs between advanced undergraduate education and graduate school at the M.A. level. In order to enroll in the advanced levels, students find a corporate sponsor who pays for their education and housing, offers them work experience and pays them a salary. Other students who require only a general education end their academic careers after grade fourteen and enter their careers two years earlier. Most are well prepared for the world of work at this point. This paradigm for higher education is discussed in more detail later on in these Musings.

College athletics also transform. Both technical schools and academic schools in grades eleven through fourteen field teams. The number of schools is greater than the current collegiate system but less than the high school system. The big business aspect of national collegiate sports diminishes in a way that is healthy, although the hybrid between varsity and collegiate sports is likely fun to watch. As importantly, especially in football, amateur sports careers are shortened so that those who are not professional caliber are at less risk of permanent injury, while those who are at that level can begin their careers two years earlier.

Drugs, Mental Health and Crime (Geocities Rescue)

The issues of drugs, mental health and crime are considered in the same space, as they are intimately related. These issues speak to the core questions of the rights of the individual versus the rights of society as a whole, between liberty and morality. Of these three, the question of drugs is probably the most contentious. As much as or more than the sexual revolution, the emergence of drug use in the late 1960s divided American society between the old and the young.

The War on Drugs
If society is to be true to its values, it must rethink the current war against drug users. Such a rethinking is inevitable as the Baby Boomers age and more of the population has used drugs or condoned their use by friends. As this group grows older either attitudes shift on drug use or harsher measures will be necessary. If the latter path is chosen liberty diminishes, both for drug users and non-drug users. This path has been tried in recent memory in the area of alcohol, with little success then or now in stemming the demand for intoxication. All that the War on Drugs has accomplished is the jailing of many otherwise harmless citizens and more lying on survey research and background questionnaires.

A key element in understanding the war on drugs is the culture itself. The harshness of the War on Drugs has as much to do with racism, the suppression of the counter-culture and the protection of morals as it does with public health. These dynamics explain why Crack is more heavily punished than powder cocaine and why the majority of Crack convicts are African American, even though whites are as likely to use Crack as Blacks. It is also why marijuana, the drug of choice of the counter-culture, has failed to receive a fair hearing as an anti-nausea drug, as to do so would damage the cultural credibility of the drug warriors (that, and the fact that the drug industry is not be able to control the supply or that if it were legal many prefer it over alcohol, which is much more harmful). Not all drugs are the same. Not all of them cause violent behavior or lead to addiction. Society has no place regulating the peaceful behaviors of its citizens. The resort to criminal sanction violates the right of the individual to be left alone. Unless a behavior is disastrously harmful, society has no business regulating it. The cultural elements of drug law are tyranny against dissent and are best abolished.

Marijuana, raw coca and hallucinogenic mushrooms are safe for the vast majority of occasional users, who need not be treated as criminals by society. Doing so is actually counter-productive. Legalization of these substances frees scarce resources for the fight against drugs that are truly harmful. For these drugs, as well as prescribed drugs and alcohol, intervention is needed only if it is found that the individual is using addictively. Other drugs almost always lead to addiction, such as Methamphetamine, Heroin and Cocaine. Such addiction often leads to crime within the home and sexual crimes including rape, sex abuse, date rape and involvement in prostitution to pay for drugs with easy money. The health effects of addiction, again mainly for alcoholism, are also staggering. Use of any drug in an addictive manner, or any use of drugs which are always addictive, must lead to automatic hospitalization when addictive use is confirmed.

Under the right circumstances, drug testing is a useful tool in the hands of competent mental health professionals (rather then police). Testing is necessary upon complaint by family member, school or employer or upon observation of dangerous behavior by a police officer including public intoxication, drunk or drugged driving or causing violent incidents when intoxicated.

Another consequence of the war on drug users is the creation of new and more lethal organized crime. Additionally, criminalization increases the price of drugs, turning addicts into thieves and robbers in order to obtain money to purchase drugs. To alleviate this, some form of legalization is good for society. If less harmful drugs are legal, consumption of dangerous drugs is more controllable, as is the experience in the Netherlands with Cannabis. Among legalization options are over-the-counter sales of Cannabis, Hashish and certain other drugs in less pure form to adults. Given a legal substitute, many drug users leave the more dangerous drugs alone. For those who use drugs that are always addictive, mandatory treatment is essential.

The Need for Mandatory Treatment
Clearer voices on the drug issue favor medicalization, which promotes treatment rather than prison for drug offenders. Criminalization has only one thing to say for it, that it makes treatment mandatory for those who are caught. With the deinstitutionalization of the 1970s, treatment is no longer forced on unwilling mental patients or addicts. This has led to widespread homelessness, as the group homes promised for released patients have never materialized and have been actively resisted in most communities. Nowadays, the largest provider of mental health and addiction services is the criminal justice system. There has to be a better way, as locking people up for what are essentially illnesses borders on tyranny. If one considers the extent to which the War on Drugs is funded by asset seizures in civil proceedings, society has likely crossed that border. Perhaps it is time to cross back toward our original values and to find a middle ground between the absolute right to refuse treatment and what is essentially the criminalization of addiction and insanity.

Currently, the alcoholic or drug addict must hit bottom on his own to obtain treatment, or be ordered into treatment in connection with the commission of some crime, like possession or drunk driving. The mentally ill must be an actual danger to themselves or others. In both cases, the patient is able to leave once the immediate danger is passed, even when the prognosis for long term recovery is grim. Family members are powerless to rescue a loved one until it may be too late to do so, leading to what is arguably an epidemic in suicide, especially among the young. The homeless are allowed to rot on the street, even though we know there is a better way. Given society's role in allowing these individuals to forgo treatment, the blood of these poor souls is on all of our hands.

It is within the power of state governments to change the law and restore the protection of asylum to the alcoholic, the addict and the insane. It is time that this power is used. Granted, protections are necessary for patients suffering from misdiagnosed health conditions that mimic mental illnesses. Such procedures must also protect against family members who use the mental illness of a relative as a means of theft. Some patients are chronically ill and in need of long term care. These patients go in and out of hospitals and treatment facilities on a fairly regular basis. For these patients, we must change the standard for release from "no immanent danger to oneself or others" to the more difficult "probable danger" that the individual will resume addictive behavior or discontinue use of medication/therapy. For those who are released, monitoring is necessary, with re-hospitalization in the event of relapse or non-compliance. While it is important to allow individuals the freedom to change treatment regimens, forgoing all treatment should never be an option. Once a patient is in the system with a validated diagnosis of mental illness or addiction, re-hospitalization requires a lower threshold of proof than initial commitment. If someone has been diagnosed and treated and they are found living on the street or under the influence, this is enough for immediate re-hospitalization in a sane and compassionate society.

Crime and Punishment
Society must rethink its attitudes about crime and punishment. While we have made great strides with an end to public flogging and a decreased use of the death penalty, there is still a long way to go.

The current system has resulted in gross injustices, such as mandatory minimum sentences for drug users. Such sentences, along with trivial felonies are used in some parts of the country as a way to systematically disenfranchise African American males. Trivial felonies are those crimes that are used in joke books and comedic monologues in late night television for a laugh, but in the hands of a racist prosecutor are deadly serious for the political rights of minorities. Both mandatory minimum and trivial felony laws must be repealed in the interest of justice. Another gross injustice is the use of the courthouse stool pigeon. No person convicted of a crime on the testimony of a witness who has been granted immunity in exchange for testimony has received due process of law, especially when the witness was not involved in the crime. Free all those convicted at either the State or Federal level solely on the word of a witness granted immunity, unless corroborating testimony or evidence exists which is untainted in the matter and that they are not suffering from some condition that makes them dangerous to society or themselves.

The Indictment Game also leads to gross injustice. Prosecutors, sometimes motivated by a desire for political office, often seek or issue an indictment for the highest charge allowable. This also strengthens the State position in plea negotiations with often underpaid public defenders. Whether publicly paid or not, most defense counsel is complictious with the indictment game, as there is a chance that the jury will see that the indictment and evidence do not match, leading to an acquittal. This happened in the Baby Shaking Case, where a nanny was tried and convicted of second degree murder by a jury. It happens a lot. A few reforms are in order here. The first is that all indictments must be reviewable before trial by an independent panel to insure that particulars of the indictment match the letter of the law. Review murder and rape cases automatically, as salacious crimes lead to overcharging. The second is to increase the pay of public defenders so that it is in line with the pay for prosecutors, and to set compensation limits for the pay of private lawyers. Not to do so leads to unequal justice before the law.

The uneven application of the Death Penalty is another gross injustice. Blacks who kill whites are almost assured of execution, while in some jurisdictions it was recently the case that whites that kill blacks may not even be convicted, let alone executed. It is time for a thorough review of the cases of all who are on death row or who are in prison for life without parole, which to my way of thinking is a more polite form of execution since the state's incarceration of the prisoner is the proximate cause of death. For each case, review the quality of representation, the evidence, the appropriateness of the indictment, the mental state of the inmate and the possibly of treatment or rehabilitation, as well as whether the inmate is a danger to his fellow inmates. Treat or rehabilitate all those who are able and release those who are likely innocent. Those who are untreatable, who are found guilty after a second review and who are a danger to the other inmates are best euthanised, not in the interest of justice but in the interest of safety for the society, both outside and inside the prison. In a democracy, we collectively take on the role of sovereign. The sovereign's chief responsibility is the protection of life. To allow a killer to prey upon fellow inmates or reenter society is a violation of that responsibility, and caging him in solitary confinement for the remainder of his life is crueler than euthanasia.

Criminalization is a failure in the area of firearms and other contraband. By making the ownership of certain firearms and drugs criminal, the full legal weight of the constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure fall upon the police. However, if possession were regarded as unhealthful and dangerous, rather than criminal, the possession of firearms is treatable as a public health concern rather than as a criminal matter. This would give society more freedom to seize such items as unlicensed handguns, handguns kept in homes with children without trigger locks, automatic weapons and hard drugs. When a dangerous disease is loose, public health officials have considerable leeway. Similar leeway is desirable here. It is much more important for society to remove such substances from homes and communities than to fill the jails with those who possess them. Seizure without sanction has an additional effect, it lessens or removes the profit from the enterprise.

Many people who are incarcerated would no longer be a danger to themselves or society given proper treatment and education. Drugs and alcohol, poverty and illiteracy motivate most crimes. Warehousing offenders is simply not the answer. The public system of justice has failed, largely because the education and treatment of prisoners is often seen as an easy area to make budget cuts. When incarceration occurs without needed education and treatment programs, often a more dangerous criminal is released than the one locked up in the first place. There has to be a better way.

Most violent crime is the result of addiction or mental illness. Most sexual criminals are in fact sexual compulsives. No one who commits murder can be regarded as sane. Most property crime and assault results from the use of addictive substances or from the need to obtain money to obtain them. Even sociopaths are insane at some basic level.

Andrea Yates, the woman in Texas who killed her children while in the throes of post-partum depression, is a case in point. She clearly suffered from a mental defect and in fact the public did not know that she had been treated for bipolar disorder. Still, she was held legally responsible for actions beyond her control. If she was found insane, she would have been eligible for release as soon as she was medicated. To hold her responsible at all meant life in prison and possibly death. The main travesty is not the choice of verdicts or punishments, however, but the fact that she was tried at all.

For her case, and most cases of violent crime, the correct plea is guilty but insane. Such a plea option spares us salacious trials and assures that many receive much needed treatment. While Mrs. Yates is likely receiving anti-psychotic medication in prison, it is unlikely she is getting the counseling required to work through the awful events that occurred while her disease was active.

A guilty by reason of insanity plea, if accepted by the State, results in automatic confinement in the state mental health system for at least the minimum sentence. Make it available for all crimes where the accused was affected by mental illness, rage, diminished mental capacity, alcoholism and substance abuse or addiction (including white-collar crime). If the state does not accept the plea, allow the judge to do so based on the evidence presented in the indictment and any evidence offered by the defendant's counsel. If not accepted by the judge, a panel of judges and doctors review the case and rule on whether to accept the plea. Empower juries to issue the verdict guilty but insane with the same effect.

Under such a plea, the victims have the right to petition the court to order restitution - thus taking away the argument that this is some device to coddle criminals. Victims have a right to be heard in the judicial process. A single prosecutor is not enough to do this, especially when caseloads are high and the temptation to settle is great. Taking care of the victims is important, since a major reason for a criminal justice system is to prevent vigilantism. Providing for the victims allows medicalization to occur and not have it appear to be coddling criminals. Individuals confined under this plea serve at minimum the minimum statutory sentence and are only released when no longer a danger to society - but with mandatory monitoring for the maximum length of sentence. Allow individuals who respond to treatment who are no longer a danger to society, but who have not yet completed their minimum sentence, to participate in work release and transfer them a minimum security situation where their families reside with them. No one is to be released, however, until they are handling restitution to the victims responsibly.

Individuals who are still a danger to themselves and to society are subject to civil commitment - although this is not be some catch-all to incarcerate all offenders, as seems to currently be the case with sex offenders in California. Use such a procedure selectively, under strict judicial scrutiny. Allow individuals currently incarcerated to petition for new sentences under this arrangement - especially drug offenders. Transfer patients to mental health facilities as they become available.

Who should provide these new facilities? The government has already proven unworthy to do so, as shown by the rate of recidivism and the frequency of overcrowded prisons. Private for-profit prisons are even worse. Often these prisons cut corners on correction officer training, medical services, food and any service that diminishes profit. Private prison companies are also in the vanguard of those calling for harsher sentences, thus diminishing liberty in the name of private profit. The prospect of tyranny again raises its ugly head.

Private non-profit correctional and mental health facilities are our only way out. There is nothing in the law that says a non-profit institution cannot be the prime contractor for correctional services contracts. Faith-based institutions are ideal for this purpose. Recall that the Society of Friends constructed the first penitentiary. While this was abandoned because the isolation prescribed led to psychosis (as it currently does in Superfax facilities), the problem was not the operator but the treatment modality. Catholic hospitals are already among the largest providers of health care in the nation. A good first step in reforming prisons is the establishment of a church sponsored hospital for non-violent drug offenders in need of treatment more than incarceration. Another step is a medium security facility for mentally ill prisoners. Currently, some Catholic Charities agencies act as a subcontractor providing addiction services on private prison contracts. It is better to have them as the prime, subcontracting limited services to for-profit firms for such items as security or construction. Of course, there are a few cautions. As in education, do not allow the state to under-fund correction services in the hopes that donors will fill the gap. All costs that fill a secular purpose, especially in regard to food service and physical plant, are to be fully funded by the state. Finally, assure that religious institutions do not substitute a sectarian treatment program in place of twelve-step programs, which have been proven to work with great effect for alcoholics in all settings, including prisons.

A final issue is the treatment of prisoners and their families. Incarceration often leads to divorce and/or leaves the family destitute. A radical option for criminals who are not a danger to their families is the creation of penal colonies where families live in a secured environment and rehabilitation, employment (including family support and restitution), education and therapy are offered for the offender and the family. Offenders are not allowed to leave the colony, though family members have free entry and exit upon inspection.

Take a similar tact for addicts in treatment. Currently, when the parents go into treatment, the children are likely to go into foster care. After a brief period of time, both public and faith-based social service agencies seek to place the child in a permanent, adoptive home. It is no wonder addicts avoid treatment! This is legalized kidnapping. It is better to find foster parents who will take on the entire family, the children and the parents in early recovery. More addicts seek treatment if they know that doing so does not lead to losing their families forever. Foster parenting is a service generously provided, not a back door method to steal someone else's children. It is time to preserve the families of prisoners, addicts and the mentally ill, thus breaking the cycles of incarceration and addiction that are all too prevalent.