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, December 23, 2009

Gratitude this Christmas

The great thing about having an explicitly Christian blog is being able to write about Christmas rather than the Holidays (even if Jesus was born in April according to Ptolmeic astrology). Please link here to see my DC Examiner Post about my experience with our current national healthcare system, which I am definitely grateful for.

The last attack on healthcare reform

The GOP is pulling out all the stops to try to prevent healthcare reform, hauling out protection of small business and the Constitution. Pretty pathetic.

On the Constitutional issue, the government power to tax incomes is enough authority for individual health care mandates.

On the small business front, most people are employed in an environment of monopsonistic competition, which means there is bargaining, but ultimately the employer sets the wage. Under such environments, such mandates as the increased minimum wage, mandatory leave and the imposition of health care payroll taxes do not result in a loss of jobs.

I hope the Democratic Senators hang together today and vote for cloture on final passage tomorrow. If there are flaws, the Conferenc Committee is the place to raise them. It might have been better to start with a Joint Committee to write and mark up the bill, but what is done is done.

Let's move this forward today.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Pagan Christmas!

No, this is not a shout to the motorcycle gang. I am publishing it now for two reasons. I will tell you why at the end. This essay is somewhat of a Christmas tradition for me. It is based on a response on the Washington Post's On Faith blog I made to the question of keeping Christ in Christmas in 2007, which I crossposted on another of my blogs that year and updated on my Daily Kos blog last year.

The original author commented on Christ's birthday being December 25. This is not really true. Jesus was actually born April 17, 6 BCE according to researchers who are knowledgeable about the astrology of that era (essential knowledge if you wish to duplicate the work of the Magi who found Jesus based on his astrology).

Christ is only about Christmas because early Christianity hijacked the winter solstice, which at the time was dated December 25 (due to the progression of the equinoxes). I stridently reject calls to keep Christ in Christmas or to ignore the traditions which have their roots in paganism. Pagan celebrations were not about the Roman, Celtic or Norse gods. Rather, the pagan gods are explanatory tools to better explain man and how he deals with the world around him.In the northern latitudes, people get depressed as the shadows grow longer. Pagan rituals, as well as the placement of Christmas in December , where it no longer conflicts with Eastertide, have the purpose of raising our spirits - often with spirits and revelry, as well as the lighting of fires and candles (note Chanukah). It fulfills a deep need within us, regardless of the deity we accept or reject. This is also why many groups of Alcoholics Anonymous have "Alcathons" this time of year.

Those of us who are Christians proclaim Jesus as the light of the world, so the placement of Christmas here is appropriate for Christians. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Christmas cycle is the lighting of candles in a dark church at midnight Mass - which also occurs at the Easter vigil. The roots of this are all pagan. However, we must mind our manners when dealing with unbelievers. Jesus did not condemn the unbelievers. He saved and saves his wrath for those who profess to follow him but practice intolerance toward others.

Now, why am I doing this column today? The first reason is that the solstice is almost upon us, so it is topical now. Indeed, Chanukah is in full swing, making publication now even more timely, The second reason is that I am having surgery next week, so I won't be writing a column any time after Monday. Indeed, this may just be the last one for a while unless the bishops give me some reason to do so in the next few days.

So let me say it now. Happy Pagan Christmas!

Mary and Advent (Jesus is Coming)

Last week was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, where Catholics celebrate the fact that Mary was conceived without original sin. This is different than the Feast of the Annunciation, which was nine months ago and celebrates the fact that Jesus was conceived without Mary having "known man." This Sunday, the Gospel of the Annunciation is used for a third time this year to signify that Jesus is coming.

Mary is central to the message of the incarnation, as is her conception without sin. By Jesus birth to Mary, He is one of us - fully human. By his birth to someone conceived without sin, he himself is spared the inheritance of original sin. Indeed, her sinlessness combined with her fertility may have been all that was necessary for the incarnation - although she was given a choice to say yes, just as God freely created her without sin. This is in contrast to the choice of Adam and Eve to sin (although this choice is mythical) and is a foreshowing of the choice of Jesus to follow the Father's will and be crucified for our salvation.

Of course, this brings up the topic of what sin is anyway. Many Church doctors, starting with St. Augustine, believe that original sin arises from the experience of sexual pleasure in conception. This is, of course, poppycock. The Bible is quite clear what the original sin is - blame. This is evident by what happened in the Genesis story when God came back to the Garden. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the Serpent (who had blamed God for depriving Eve of the knowledge of Good and Evil). Jesus breaks that cycle by forgiving and by mandating forgiveness as a necessary condition for being forgiven. Mary was blameless in God's sight, not because of any lack of sexual pleasure on the part of her parents (which would be quite mutually ungenerous of them in a loving relationship), but because she did not blame. She was meek and humble, although the Magnificant showed she thirsted for righteousness - which is about justice, not purity.

In this Advent season, she must be our example. She thirsted for the Kingdom of God. Indeed, according to scripture, she named her sons for the Maccabees (Jesus, Judas - aka Thomas the twin because he looked like his elder brother, and Simon - the zealot).

If we follow her example, we will not only do small acts of charity, but will take on the big ones as well - like calling our Senators and demanding that health care be passed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Iran and Israel

Danielle Pletak writes in yesterday's WashPo on how Iran can't be contained. She argues that we should not assume Israel will take care of the situation if military action is required.

There is a fallacy in this argument. If our "national interest" in keeping Iran nuke free is the protection of Israel, then it is not at all unreasonable to expect Israeli action. Indeed, the rhetoric on mutually assured destruction does apply here - although not to the US. If Iran nukes Israel, there is no doubt that Israel would return the favor (or vice-versa). Of course, Iran doing so is unlikely, since both Iraq and Iran are downwind of Israel. Even if Israel could not get off a missile, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran would all get fall-out from a strike on Israeli soil. It would also kill many Arabs (both Israeli and Palestinian). Only the most doctrinaire neo-con would ever think that Israel is at risk from an Iranian nuke (including one provided to terrorists - since that nuke would still kill Arabs).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

John the Radical

Today is Gaudate Sunday in the Church - a time to rejoice over the coming of the Messiah. Some should look at the reading, however, and have great fear.

When one thinks of repentance in the Church, one expects to hear about repentance from personal sins, however in Luke's Gospel today, John does not talk about that kind of sin. He talks about sins against justice. He tells those with two cloaks to give one away and to those with food to feed those who are hungry. He tells tax collectors and soldiers not to take more than their due. In all of these things, he challenges the hierarchical society of the time. He also threatens those who do not heed his words, that the coming Messiah will cast them into the unquenchable fires. If one is in a position of comfort, these words cannot be comforting.

They are about more than personal charity this season (although the Church is wise in taking up a collection today for Catholic Charities). These are words of justice. Today the tax collector and the extorting soldier have been replaced with the capitalist and the CEO who demand princely salaries in return for keeping the salaries of their workers as low as possible. While this makes sense from a total cost standpoint, it is not just. A just distribution of wages would have the children of the janitor able to afford the same schools as the children of the CEO. It would have the least worker make enough so that she would not have to take a second job to feed her children. Money is not the only factor in quality of life - she would also be able to take off with pay when her child is ill or needs an annual checkup and have the same quality health care as the people whose offices she cleans (and the same influence in the political process through a path to citizenship if she is an immigrant).

Of course many will cry out that the current climate of injustice is not their doing - its the System! To some extent, that is true. It was true in the time of John and Jesus as well, however. Both of them preached not only personal transformation (although that is important), but also societal transformation in a coming Kingdom of God. It is up to all of us to help bring about the Kingdom, indeed, we pray to do so in the Our Father.

If John's words were heeded, both personally and systemically, there would be no opposition to health care reform by any Catholic. The tax code would not subsidize million dollar homes while poor families struggle to make rent or live in shelters. Instead it would give each family a tax credit for each child that is large enough for all to have housing. The Church would not be concerned with the abortion rate, because with justice flowing like a river, women and girls would not resort to abortion out of fear that they could not sufficiently care for the child.

John's words are a cause of rejoicing for the poor, however, as he demands justice on their behalf and promises a Redeemer who will bring this justice to them.

Are we willing to heed John's words, which sadly in a society which calls itself Christian, are as true now as they were 2000 years ago?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Spend it forward this Christmas

If you have not guessed by now, this site has a definite Catholic bent. If you hadn't, this post will definitely prove that I do not buy into Calvinist ideas of thrift.

Even after a fall quarter with an increased growth rate, the economy at large is still sluggish as people prefer saving to spending.

As a personal strategy, some restraint is possibly a good thing - especially if one is burdened by high interest credit card debt. If one has saved enough or paid down enough to have some breathing room, however, spending NOW is more prudent.

The economy relies on spending to pay people's salaries. When these people get paid, they pay other people. Eventually, this money comes back to you in your salary. So, if you are feeling a little insecure about your job security, the best thing to do this holiday season is to spend some money. This is good for both the people you spend money on and the people you buy from.

The other reason to spend money this Christmas is because the people you buy from need the money more than you do. They are often in lower wage jobs and your decision to slightly improve your financial situation may deprive them of the ability to eat during this holiday season, or soon after.

Spending it forward has its virtues. Do it this weekend, if not sooner.

The Nelson amendment and health care reform

The Nelson amendment to add the Stupak language to health care reform has failed 55-45. The question is now, will a bill clear the Senate at all? Nelson is negotiating to get language he can agree with, which is a good thing since Stupak admittedly went a bit farther than simple abortion neutrality, especially given the fact that 87% of abortions are paid for with cash anyway and that those that are paid for by insurance are already subsidized by tax expenditures to employers who provide insurance to their employees.

Note that we all subsidize abortion in some way with most economic transactions. If we buy anything that is taxable, that tax money is part of the pool that leads to tax expenditures which pay for abortions, as well as providing health coverage for the employees of the entire supply chain for the item purchased, much of which either provides coverage for abortion or pays employees who have abortions and pay with cash. This is especially the case if you buy things where some or much of the staff is either young or among the working poor. If you buy at the GAP, some of your money may pay for an abortion. If you go to McDonalds or a major sporting event, it is likely that someone who provided the product or service will use the money to procure an abortion in their next paycheck.

The answer, of course, is not to stop buying at such places, but to create a health care and economic system so that poor people and youth don't need abortions. Providing health care is part of that, as is providing education where parental support is not required and affordable housing. One way to do the latter is to shift tax subsidies for mortgage interest and property taxes to an expanded refundable child tax credit (since people will use such money to better their housing).

As to the bill, my gut instinct is that some compromise will be worked out, although it will take some doing. That compromise must placate five Senate Democrats or the underlying bill must placate five Senate Republicans for the magic number of 60 votes to stop debate (or some combination along those lines). At this point, all that is needed is to get enough votes to pass the bill and move it to conference committee (unless the House accepts it, although this is likely if a compromise is not found to Stupak). The conference committee will likely find some compromise which is really abortion neutral while dealing with the public option (or lack thereof) in such a way as to pass both chambers.

The important thing at this point is to move the bill along. Not expanding health care is not an option. Too much posturing over abortion will lead most to conclude that this issue is more about tribalism than the unborn, which will further erode the credibility of the Catholic bishops.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

15 seconds of fame on global warming

Jack Cafferty asked last night on the Situation Room whether anything would really come out of the climate summit in Copenhagen.

As usual I commented. When I looked on this blog today, I found that he actually used my comments. Here is what he asked:

Here’s my question to you: What do you expect to come out of the global warming summit in Copenhagen?

Michael from Alexandria, Virginia writes:
Like you said, Jack, a binding treaty is never gonna happen. I doubt that we will get honest science on this (which would discount warming). I would much rather we give up on warming and instead target actual pollution of air and water in the developing world. Of course, the Chinese would block this too -as would the U.S., who benefits from both Chinese and Mexican pollution run amok.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Spirit of Prophesy in the Church

This is the second week of Advent, where we are introduced to St. John the Baptist, whose task it is to prepare the way of the Lord.

John is not just about historical significance, or even repentance, although his message was and is significance in both of these areas. He also challenged both the political and religious establishments of the time. He was not fan of either the civil government nor the religious authorities. In this, he is part of a long line of prophets who protested how Israel treated its poor under its ancient kings. He is also an archetype for those in the early Church who were gifted with the Spirit of Prophesy.

The Spirit of Prophesy was rather specific. It did not include seers, but rather a kind of self-criticism, pointing out where the Church and its early leaders were coming up short of the Gospel ideal (including and especially the oral Gospel which existed before it was written down).

The Holy Spirit is still expressed in this way in the modern Church. She does this on both sides of the aisle. (She is correct biblically, since Spirit is expressed in the feminine gender in biblical Greek). When the Church demands that abortion be minimized, She is speaking. When the Church demands that health care be considered as a right and not a privilege, She is speaking.

She is also speaking when there are objections within the Church to how women and gays are treated. She speaks when the faithful protest when the hierarchy hitches its wagons to one party or another, particularly when untruths are involved (like the FOCA campaign the assignment of more relevance to a politicians view's on Roe v. Wade (which are irrelevant) than how the poor are treated.

Voice of the Faithful is another example of the Spirit of Prophesy alive in the Church.

Sometimes, the Spirit of Prophesy is not welcome in the Church. Indeed, rather shamefully, some bishops do not brook dissent well, when such dissent can be an avenue of learning for them. Woe to these bishops who do not welcome this Spirit. One can only imagine what St. John the Baptist would say about them.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Gay Marriage and Catholic Charities in DC

The Council of the District of Columbia is in the process of enacting legislation establishing same-sex marriage within its borders. No church is required to celebrate these unions (although undoubtedly, some will), however if they are employers, they must cover gay spouses as if they were straight spouses. The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has threatened to close up shop on Catholic Charities in D.C. if it must cover these spouses.

There has been quite a bit of blowback on this, with many posting rather nasty things about the Church on the Washington Post blogs on the story. Is it deserved?

Some of it is bigotry, however I think some of it is deserved, since it is a response to bigotry by the Church's leadership.

The Church itself is not just the hierarchy. It includes the priests (some of whom are gay - possibly up to half according to survey research) and the people (many of whom have a gay child, sibling, parent or cousin). I think the underlying reason for the hierarchy's opposition is not because they would have to compromise their beliefs, but because by the District opening up the door on marriage, they will face internal pressure to re-examine the issue - something they are loathe to do.

The question of whether the Church is being bigoted should be examined in how it treats heterosexual spouses of those married in non-religious ceremonies. In terms of Church doctrine, these marriages are as illicit as a gay marriage (although, in truth, sacramental marriage results when the people concerned promise fidelity to eachother, not when the priest says the magic words). If the Church really has a problem providing benefits to people in illicit unions, it should object to providing benefits to spouses not married in a Christian ceremony.

Since it does not make such distinctions, and indeed should not be able to do so under law, it stands to reason it should also respect the civil law regarding gay marriage as an employer, and that failure to do so is bigotry.

In prior days, Catholics rallied around the Church leaders, even when they were wrong. We don't do that any more, since most of us are a bit more free thinking than we used to be, having utilized Catholic education, including a fine collegiate system.

Sorry, Archbishop Wuerl, but I won't back your play this time. I also will withhold future contributions to Catholic Charities if you do anything to diminish services. I suspect there are other Catholics who will do likewise.

As gay marriage becomes recognized more and more, probably due to an eventual Supreme Court decision affirming the overturning of Proposition 8 in California (since the 9th Circuit will undoubtedly rule against it), many of us will demand that the Church actually celebrate gay unions (which, I suspect, is what the Archbishop is really afraid of).

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Day Labor

Jack McCafferty asks what it means when more peope are doing day labor on his CNN blog. Here is how I responded:

It means the economy is bad, undocumented workers are going home and the Republicans have broken the back of the Union movement. Day labor should be through a Union hall rather than a street corner.